Monday, 30 September 2013

The Fall of Empires ...

I have recently been re-watching Simon Sharma's History of Britain and it reminds me, in places, of other histories I have read of Rome, Greece, Persia and even China and India. They all begin in the same manner, and they all end up going down the same route to collapse. The key elements always seem to be the same, first is expansion, usually driven by ambition (though frequently disguised as 'trade'), then comes the opportunistic building of personal wealth, fiefdoms and power bases, followed by a period of consolidation. Then greed, usually for power and wealth sets in, generally as those who first established the situation make a little room for the second and third tiers of society and allow them a small share of power or wealth.

These 'lesser' magnates are generally the root of the problem. They envy everyone above them and conspire to grab as much of that wealth as they can - often hiding behind the mask of 'striving for a better dispensation for those less fortunate than themselves. The reality is that they generally take to themselves power, and with power, wealth, or at least the access to great wealth for their friends and supporters. In the process they use and abuse the populations they have taken control over. Add in a rich mix of totally unscrupulous adventurers to be found in any society, and you have the seeds for the fall of any empire ready grown. The signs are there in every society, there rises an 'elite' class that subsume to themselves the key positions in government and the supporting bureaucracy, academia, the media and information sources. Then they, in their turn, take care of those most useful to them (usually people from the same 'elite' class as themselves) in key positions in commerce and industry.

One finds them using many, many ideological cloaks for their real agenda most of them very attractive to those remote from power and the sort of wealth these elites have at their beck and call. The bottom line is that they control the access to the type of education they enjoyed, they are also gate keepers to the sort of key positions they award themselves and their friends, and though they give every impression (to the gullible) of being concerned about this or that section of any community, the reality is that they will sacrifice anyone and everyone to remain in power and to keep the wealth they have accumulated. If, at some point, there were perceived to be an advantage - say the acquisition of technology from aliens - that gave them some major advantage, there would be little hesitation in sacrificing the greater part of the human race (out of sight of TV and the media) in order to obtain it. Study the wider origins of the first world war and it quickly becomes apparent that there was a substantial "war party" in Britain manipulating any and every situation because they perceived that destroying Germany and regaining a dominant position in Northern Europe would boost trade and industry - and profits. German trade and industry was 'stealing' the market and had to be destroyed. (See the reasons Britain insisted on all goods imported from Germany having to be labelled 'Made in Germany'. It backfired. It came to be seen as a mark of high quality.)

Plato wrote at length about this trend toward the amassing wealth and power in a small group in his treatise on government "The Republic". Frankly, we should make it compulsory reading for everyone. I suspect, however, there will always be those who have the ambition, the drive and the Machiavellian streak in them, to delude enough people to support them in whatever they wish to embark on.

Long ago I was taught to look behind the ideology, to break it down and ask the important questions such as "who will decide what is fair? Who will apportion the rewards? What will they get if this comes to pass?" It is frequently informative.

As Simon Sharma has reminded me, the British Empire was supposed to be benign, based on mutual support and mutual trade. It failed because the men of power decided to plunder the treasuries of the colonies and the subjected peoples. India was turned into a fiefdom for the sons of the wealthy and for 'adventurers' with the wit to run what would today be termed fraudulent scams. When the colonies demanded (like the Americans in 1776) more say in return for their taxes, they were, if not vilified, at least treated with contempt. And, when the colonists became too inconvenient, or a hinderance to the latest schemes in Whitehall - they were, in many cases, thrown to the lions.

It will not end there either. The current political elites in the western world are already shifting their (and our) wealth to new ventures in new nations. When the time is right, they will abandon their current crop of 'beneficiaries' and move on. Since they also control the media and education, they will continue to blind a majority to the reality of the world they have created right to the last.

Sadly, they'll probably get away with it as well.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Shifting Tides of Politics ...

It is, for me, a fascinating study to watch the to-ing and fro-ing of the various parties here in Germany as they jockey for position to form the new government. One of the things I find particularly interesting is the prospect of three 'minority' parties (none of them polled a major share of the votes, though the largest, the SPD, got 25.6%) might, by holding out and refusing to join the popular choice of the CDU/CSU (41.5%) in a coalition, become the government. That to do this they would have to accept sharing power with Die Linke (8.7% of the vote) is sufficient to make me wonder at how politicians have nothing but contempt for the voters. Die Linke is, after all, just the rebranded Communist (Partei des Democratischen Socialismus and before that the Socialistichen Einheits Partei, Deutschland)) Party that ruled (perhaps misruled is a better term) the former East German State known as the GDR.

That's right, the Party that built the Berlin wall, spied on its population, shot those who tried to escape and still defend this on the grounds they were "protecting" the people from the "evils of capitalism" and western lies. Yup, politics makes strange bedfellows for the power hungry, and gives short memories.

The Four Patries that have won the seats in the Bundestag (minimum 606 but may rise to accomodate 'extras' due to the way the seats are allocated by the dual vote system) gives Mrs Merkel's CDU/CSU the lion's share of the seats (the system allows for the 'direct' election of 299 of the seats, with 299 allocated from the party lists on the basis of the second vote for a party rather than a candidate, plus an allocation of 'extra' seats determined by vote share. Thus the new Bundestag will have 630 members.) with the SDP having the next largest portion, followed by Die Linke and the Greens. As the voter turn out was far higher than I have seen lately in the UK, I would say the result is certainly reflecting 'the will of the people', but this is where it gets tricky.

The CDU/CSU doesn't have enough of the seats to form a government on its own. It needs a coalition partner to have a majority in the Bundestag. This is not unusual in German politics, in fact, I suspect, the German's like it this way. It means one doesn't get the lurching from left to right and back again every five years, but this time round it is extremely likely that the SPD will end up in power supported by Die Linke and the Greens, all three leaning sharply to the left. The Greens in particular seem to be trying to get as far 'left' as they can. Of course, Die Linke are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of gaining control of key ministries which they will demand (and probably get) as the price of their support.

The final seat allocation is as follows -
CDU/CSU   311 plus 13 allocated
SPD             192 plus   9 allocated
Die Linke      64  plus   4 allocated
Green             63 plus    2 allocated

The FDP (Liberal), Alternative fur Deutschland and The Pirates all polled below the magic 5% and are therefore not allocated any seats in the Bundestag. (Source: The Federal Returning Officer)

Of course, it could go the other way. Today several key players in the SPD seemed to be trying to draw back from a commitment made by their Chancellor candidate during the election in which he proclaimed he'd 'never' form a coalition with Mrs Merkel. Funny how that is changing as their grass roots have started to make clear they don't like the idea of supporting or being supported by Die Linke. There have been a few resignations from both the SPD and the Greens (all for reasons NOT related to coalition partnerships, but ...) and the noises coming from the Party leadership are now a lot less confrontational.

Similar machinations are going on in almost all the Landestags as well, Bavaria being the only one where the CSU won an outright majority.

As someone who isn't directly involved (though I will be affected by it) I'm finding it fascinating. One thing is for sure though, it is, in my view, a lot better than the system of winner takes all I've always lived with. Here at least, even a vote for 'the other side' counts. There are no 'safe' seats and no predictable outcomes. The people speak.

For now, I predict "interesting times" among the politicians in Berlin.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Living with the Sheltie ...

Harry has grown into a a very handsome Sheltie, now 11 months of age. He has learned fast, is obedient (mostly), playful and absolutely devoted to 'his' sheeple. He doesn't like to let us out of his sight, and if one of us is away for any reason, the other has to be guarded constantly.

So, if I am upstairs, I get the Sheltie stare when he thinks its been long enough and when that doesn't work, then it's time for a nudge or two with the nose. Always gentile and very polite about it, but very, very definite. Then, with your attention grabbed, it's time to produce the toy to be played with, and an invitation to do so.

Come out to play and put that camera thing away ...

Walks are fun, a time to explore the 'marker posts' and leave a few yourself, to chase the crows, the butterflies and sometimes the Red Kites if they are sat on fences along our route. Tiny movements in the grass must be pounced on and investigated with a great huffing and puffing and the slightest excuse is enough to engage in a little high spirited racing across the fields or any meadow. The sheer joy on the face of this little chap as he hurtles toward you, to swerve aside at the last minute and race away again, is pure pleasure to behold.

C'mon, put that thing down and play!

I'm besotted. Does it show?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Biting off more than they can chew?

I will confess to some satisfaction at seeing the latest Greenpeace "direct action" attempt dealt with so firmly and decisively by the Russians. To my way of thinking these terminally fundamentalist "Greens" are irresponsible, misguided and dangerous. Their attempt to board and "occupy" the exploration rig was foolhardy to say the least. It endangered themselves, and it placed the crew of the rig in danger as well. It may not be strictly an "act of terror", but it most definitely is a form of terrorism to attempt to seize and deny the use of a ship, platform or building to its legitimate owners, crew or occupiers.

It is probably too much to hope that this will be the start of a change of heart globally toward these starry eyed eco-activists and their multi-billion pound organisation, but it will, hopefully, make some of them think twice about what they are being urged to do. The Russians are unlikely to kowtow to "world opinion" (read Western Media hysteria), and will prosecute the boarders and the crew of the ship that took them into action. It will cost Greenpeace a lot of money - and I will not be offering them a single cent to help. They've had this coming for years, and I'm right behind the Russians on their firm handling of it.

Let's be clear, I am NOT in support of drilling in the Arctic. I am NOT in favour of opening sea routes for massive ships with ice breaking capability through this ecologically sensitive part of the world. I simply do not believe the economic gains will be worth the real cost in terms of the ecological damage it will do. One has only to look at the impact of the Russian mega dams on the rivers feeding the Caspian Sea to realise that, not only is the irrigation they provided now ruining the land it once made fertile, but the Sea itself is in danger of total disappearance. There are some things we simply should not mess about with. The same is evident in the Colorado basin where the draw off of water for swimming pools, extravagant fountains in places like Las Vegas and other desert cities is reducing the levels in the river and in the natural lakes it fed on its way to the sea.

What has remained hidden is that almost all the "eco-protection" organisations have fallen under the control of ideologists whose "future vision" is heavily flavoured by socialist ideals, by visions of "village life", "ecological harmony" and a reduction of human populations. It's that last bit they like to keep quiet about, it smacks of all manner of unsavoury practices, but it lies at the heart of a document called "Agenda 21" dreamed up in the latter part of the 20th Century by a mishmash of UN aparatchiks, "Green" NGOs and politicians. The Agenda requires deindustrialisation, redistribution of wealth, "sustainable" agriculture (read no GM, no fertilisers, no fungicides, no pesticides ...), conversion of everything to "renewable" energy from wind, solar and perhaps hydro (caveat - no dams), and the phasing out of all "fossil" fuel use. Oh, and a population level fixed at 4 - 6 billion.

You could be excused for feeling the Luddites are now in government everywhere in the west at least. It is most notable that it is the "developed" nations which have quietly adopted this Agenda - to the amusement and benefit of the despots everywhere else who are busily "redistributing" all the AID they get to their Swiss Bank accounts. Organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others all benefit as well, drawing down "research" funds and handouts from many taxpayer sources as well as from the gullible public beguiled by images of lonely polar bears or weeping seal pups. All of them have become multi-billion pound organisations by playing on the fear of the gullible of anything they can.

In recent years I have watched in amazement as more and more violent protests are excused as a "right to protest" against anything and everything. It is now, apparently, acceptable for a group of protesters to storm into a bank or some other organisation they don't like, and disrupt business, smash the furniture, throw fire extinguishers at people or computers out of windows. It is acceptable to intimidate staff by daubing their cars and homes with threatening slogans or blockade their access to their employment. All because some legal beagles have managed to twist the law so that "legitimate protest" now means conduct a campaign of terror and total disruption.

At least the Russians have drawn a line in the sand (or the ice in this case). Perhaps it is time the rest of the world did as well.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Elections, German Style ...

It is very interesting watching the election here, not least because the outcome gives a very clear mandate and 'majority' to Frau Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU party (the Christian Social Union is essentially the Bavarian version of the Christian Democratic Union everywhere else) but it still does not, under the German voting system, give her a majority in the Bundestag. There are 606 'seats' (this isn't 'fixed' as it can increase if the 'directly elected' number is over the 299) in the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) and to have a majority and rule on its own, a party must win 304 of them, but it certainly isn't as easy a calculation as it looks.

The German electoral system is a mix of 'first past the post' and proportional representation, with roughly half the seats being directly elected, and the other half coming from the Party lists. Now come the complications. Each voter has two (2) votes, one for a candidate (sometimes more than one 'direct' vote for several candidates) and one for the Party of choice. It is not unusual for people to vote for a candidate from one Party and then cast the second vote for another Party. Add to this the Constitutional requirement that, to appoint anyone to the seventeen Landestags or the Bundestag, a Party MUST poll a minimum of 5% of the vote. This is a qualification introduced to prevent the sort of situation that arose during the Weimar Republic where the fragmentation of Parties meant that literally dozens of competing Parties had seats and could paralyse the proceedings - leading directly to the situation in which the Nazis were able to first, disrupt the Bundestag and force a new election, then to seize power.

There are currently seven Parties in German politics, the CDU and their sister CSU, the SPD (the oldest political party in Germany, founded in 1848 and 'Socialist' in flavour), the FDP or Free Democratic Party (Liberal), the Reunion 90-Green Party (Reunion Party from the former GDR joined to the Green Party), Die Linke (the former Communist East German Party), the National Democratic Party (former NASDP of 1933 - 1945 infamy), the Alternative for Germany Party (think of the UK Independence Party) and the Pirate Party. The FDP, NSP, AfD and the Pirates all failed to achieve the 5% threshold, so have no representation in the Bundestag or any of the Landestags (the NSP typically gets around 2% and the Pirates about 3%), which leaves us with the seats going to four Parties for the first time in quite a while.

The winners are clearly the CDU/CSU, but here is the rub, with 301 seats, they are 3 seats short of being able to form a government. Their former coalition partners, the FDP are no longer in the parliament. The other 305 seats are held by three Parties, the SDP with 189, the B90/Greens and Die Linke holding the rest, but where the CDU/CSU polled 41.5% of the votes, these three polled respectively 26.5%, 8.4% and 8.7% with the latter two actually seeing the vote share fall by a substantial amount. Coupled with a high voter turnout (around 70% of the 62 million registered voters actually voted), this means, under any other voting system, that the CDU/CSU are the clear winners, not quite so easy in a country where the norm is to have a coalition! Over the next few weeks we will see a lot of negotiation going on between the Parties as they try to put together a coalition and thus a government.

All three of the smaller parties have a problem or two when it comes to a coalition with Frau Merkel. She grew up under the Communist regime of the GDR and has put a lot of clear blue water between herself and the Linke (who hate her). The SDP leadership fought the current campaign on a platform which attempted to polarise the voters and it has backfired. The Greens shot themselves in the foot by promising to raise taxes (already high) to pay for more "green" energy, to introduce compulsory "meat free days" in canteens and restuarants to "reduce carbon emmissions from animal production" and they will oppose any attempt to keep the nuclear power plants on the table, or to build the new coal plants on the cards. They want more windmills (opposed by the people living where these things will be built) and more subsidised solar power and a closer of everything else. Oh, and they want Germany out of NATO and a ban on weapons production and sales.

So, the possibility exists that, though she clearly won the election, Frau Merkel will still have to step aside and let the losers form a tripartisan coalition, one which will once more give the Communists control of Ministries. The SPD may regret the day it does that. Their alternative is to go into a "Great Coalition" with the CDU/CSU and swallow their pride (possibly ditching their current divisive leaders). One of the more interesting aspects, for me, has been the fact that the Alternative for Germany Party was formed only a few months ago. It is anti-European and anti-€uro and has obviously hit a resonance in the electorate because they have taken votes from all the major Parties in this election, actually coming very close, with 4.8% (again something very unusual), to gaining seats in the Bundestag. The Greens lost a very large chunk of their support, as did Die Linke, both dropping from above 10% vote shares, to just above 8% and the SPD barely held its own. This seems to reflect a commentary I read some months ago which suggested that Left and Centre-Left Parties were all losing their appeal and support.

As I said earlier, it will be interesting to see where this ends up. As they say round here, "Es ist nicht so Einfach!"

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Living on our past ...

Sometimes one stumbles across something prescient when looking for something else. I am often astonished at some of the things I find when researching history and today turned up a gem. It was written when the British Empire was at its height, and perhaps the denizens of Westminster and Whitehall need to have their noses rubbed in it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the following poem after HMS Foudroyant was wrecked at Blackpool in 1897. She had served as Admiral Nelson's flagship at the Battle of the Nile, then in various roles until she was sold to become a 'school ship' in the 1860s. What incensed Conan Doyle (among others) was that the wreck was stripped of her fittings, the copper from her bottom being turned into medallions to be given to school children a few years later, and the hulk sold to a German salvage company for two hundred pounds.

The interesting thing is his tirade against those who can only see a monetary value in everything to do with Britain's heritage. That is a problem that is still with us, we seem to be in the hands of a political class who are prepared to sell the very pavement from beneath our feet if it serves their purpose to do so. Read Sir Arthur's tirade and weep -

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Who says the Nation's purse is lean,
Who fears for claim or bond or debt,
When all the glories that have been
Are scheduled as a cash asset?
If times are bleak and trade is slack,
If coal and cotton fail at last,
We've something left to barter yet
Our glorious past.

There's many a crypt in which lies hid
The dust of statesman or of king;
There's Shakespeare's home to raise a bid,
And Milton's house its price would bring.
What for the sword that Cromwell drew?
What for Prince Edward's coat of mail?
What for our Saxon Alfred's tomb?
They're all for sale!

And stone and marble may be sold
Which serve no present daily need;
There's Edward's Windsor, labelled old,
And Wolsey's palace, guaranteed.
St. Clement Danes and fifty fanes,
The Tower and the Temple grounds;
How much for these? Just price them, please,
In British pounds.

You hucksters, have you still to learn,
The things which money will not buy?
Can you not read that, cold and stern
As we may be, there still does lie
Deep in our hearts a hungry love
For what concerns our island story?
We sell our work perchance our lives,
But not our glory.

Go barter to the knacker's yard
The steed that has outlived its time!
Send hungry to the pauper ward
The man who served you in his prime!
But when you touch the Nation's store,
Be broad your mind and tight your grip.
Take heed! And bring us back once more
Our Nelson's ship.

And if no mooring can be found
In all our harbours near or far,
Then tow the old three-decker round
To where the deep-sea soundings are;
There, with her pennon flying clear,
And with her ensign lashed peak high,
Sink her a thousand fathoms sheer.
There let her lie!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Forward in Faith

Yes, I do know it's the name of a very 'Traditional' and conservative Anglican Group that rejects women in the priesthood - indeed, in any ministry involving the sacraments. I have labelled this post by that title for a different reason, one I hope will become clearer as you read.

In my exploration of my own faith and beliefs I have found many things to challenge me. More than once I have had to reappraise and undertake study or review of some aspect, and more than once have found that what I believed, was in fact erroneous. It has, at times, been a rough ride, and not necessarily only in the journey of discovery in faith. Perhaps this is why I feel drawn to the less rigid and more relaxed theology of the Early Church, and before anyone points it out, yes, they had their fallings out and disagreements as well. The attraction though is that it did encourage each and every member to contribute, to seek understanding and to share that with others.

It did not take me long, once I approached the issue of woman in the priesthood with a more open mind, to discover that there is a wealth of evidence to support the claims that the exclusion of women followed the "official" status of the Church following Constantine's conversion. Suddenly the rich and powerful wanted a piece of it and, naturally, control of it. That mean women had to be relegated to roles acceptable politically. Much is made of Paul's strictures in his letters, yet, if one studies the background to the letters, and the reasons for his responses, one discovers that they were not attempts to ban women from ministry. On the contrary, they were aimed (in particular his stricture regarding women 'speaking' in church) at gossip mongering during worship. One has to remember that the Early Church was, to a large extent, centred on Synagogues and followed Jewish worship practices. Anyone who has attended a Synagogue will know it is not unusual to see quite heated discussions going on between members of the congregation as the Rabbi preaches. Usually it is a discussion centred on some point of religion, but in Paul's day (as now) it could sometimes be just scandal or gossip.

In a recent argument with a Roman Catholic 'traditionalist' and hardline supporter of the Papacy (he doesn't approve of what Francis I is doing), I found myself having to remind him that the Vulgate version of the Bible he relies on as the source of his views, is the product of a Council set up in 1513 to find a single agreed text to be used by everyone in Western Europe. Why was this necessary? The answer was that the copyists over some 1,200 years since Jerome first assembled what became the approved canon, had made mistakes, 'corrections', 'clarifications' and 'improvements' to the texts they copied. It had become a case of there being almost no two copies of the Vulgate Bible that said the same thing. To say that it had been a bone of contention for some years is to understate the case!

In England, the Bishops decided to make a completely new effort to get a single text, resulting in 1511, in the publication of the "Authorised" Version, known everywhere as the King James Bible. They sought out and used the earliest and most authentic copies of original, Greek and Latin texts they could find for their effort, and did a pretty good job of it. The Authorised Version replaced umpteen different versions then in use, including the "Bishops Bible", John Wycliffe's sterling effort and several others. To produce it the scholars had drawn on the Jewish "Babylonian" Canon. This has a slightly different organisation to the "Septuagint" Canon used by the Vulgate, which gives different titles to some books and has some eight more books than the KJV, and the most reliable and original copies of the New Testament available. It must be said that the Vulgate Canon is used very widely almost everywhere outside the "English Speaking World" despite the efforts of the Bible Society and others, but it is probably not that close to Jerome's original text.

The Roman scholars took several years and examined minutely the various texts, comparing these to the oldest versions they could find and came up with the text in use today. It is interesting for the fact that there are some variations in the way things are presented between it and the Authorised Version, many of them actually giving a subtle change to the meaning of some aspects. What both sets of scholars appear to have lacked is any understanding of the Jewish society of the first century which underpinned and shaped the understanding of those first writers and authors. As I have learned in my own seeking and journey, many things we take at 'literal' value do not mean what we think they mean when read by a Jew.

The recent vote by the Church in Wales, to elect and consecrate women into the episcopacy, has brought out all the Anglican bashers from the RCC and from the 'Anglo-Catolic' wing of the Anglican Church. That is a pity, for, though I regard myself as an 'Anglo-Catholic' by default, I do not share their  rejection of the measure. So what if the RCC and the Orthodox Churches do not ordain women as priests and won't consider them as Bishops? One of the beauties of the wider Anglican Church is that its bishops are chosen by the people of a diocese, not selected from a list by the Curia or the Crown Appointments Committee and presented to the 'electors' of a Cathedral Chapter or Diocesan Clergy with the instruction "elect him". In my former Province, a bishop was elected after much prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, discussion and study by a process using an electoral College comprised of three 'Houses', Laity, Clergy and Bishops. Only rarely did the Bishops actually cast a vote, though they often offered guidance to the other two. Only when a candidate got the support of both the lower Houses, would the Bishops affirm that decision. In one such election, the bishop elected was not one of the original candidates, he was a tie-breaker, yet, in the final vote, got almost all the votes in one House and a very substantial majority in the other. The Holy Spirit didn't just speak, it was a shout!

What I have found very sad in reading the various comments posted on blogs and in online articles, is the refusal of many 'traditionalists' to explore beyond what they have 'received' from others of their own mindset. It borders on the approach of the Pharisees and Sadducees toward the teaching of Christ. They allow no possibility that the Holy Spirit may well be at work in this and other changes the Church is making. Yes, I too am saddened at the way some things are 'watered down'. But, if I challenge myself, and really analyse why I feel that way, I find it is generally because I simply want things to be the way they were when I was sixteen and being confirmed 51 years ago. If I am really truthful, I have to confess that what I believed and understood then, is NOT what I understand and believe now. I have grown in both faith and understanding from that point, but many of those I read at present appear to have never left that starting point. That saddens me.

It apparently saddens several senior Roman Catholic Cardinals as well, one of whom is in todays newspapers in Germany saying that Rome must soon allow the marriage of priests, and explore women's ministry. Is he being 'radical' about this? No, as the Vatican confirms, the celibacy 'Rule' is not, as many think, a dogma, it is a 'Discipline' - one many priests find it impossible to keep. Change will come, and where then will those who refuse to accept it find refuge. Married priests is the first small step Rome will take in a much larger debate.

I have no doubt that the Church will continue to change and perhaps to grow again once it learns to adapt, respond and include those who differ from the norm. I am pretty sure that the Church which will eventually bury me will be very different from the one that confirmed me in 1962. Is that a 'bad' thing? I don't think so.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Roman Conceit?

I have been following with both interest and some irritation, a discussion (in the comments) on the estimable Blog Cranmer. I don't happen to agree with what has been written by the Rev Dr Mullen on this occasion, concerning the decision by the Church in Wales to consecrate women bishops. Frankly, if you ordain women or men, then you have to accept that they can also be consecrated into the bishopric. The fact is that there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that this is exactly what happened in the Early Church before the Council of Nicea.

My ire has, however, been raised by the supercilious and often patronising comments being made there by a number of people who are apparently converts to Roman Catholicism and one or two others who consider that Wikipedia articles give them all the information they need on the theology of the Anglican Church. One or two, in particular, simply ignore every argument they cannot refute with anything other than "Rome says" and have even managed to presume to tell some Orthodox Jews what a fundamentalist Rabbi has written as if it was the mainstream of Jewish thinking. The irony is that these trolls seem to be blissfully unaware of the row in Germany between the rigidly anti-women in the Church and the modernisers which has got the Bishop of Limburg (among others) into the headlines.

The problem with the RCC is that it cannot decide whether it is an inclusive church, or an exclusive one. In fact, it often seems that the "Church" is the clergy and the laity are merely "sheep" for the clergy to herd. There is no open discussion on anything, it is a case of "my way, or the highway" on everything. If that is how you like your faith to be, then fine, go there, but I am very, very certain, that is NOT how Christ intended it to be.

Reading the comments of the pro-RCC commenters as they denigrate everything about everyone else's faith, but particularly the Anglican Churches, one could be forgiven for wondering which century they live in. Prime among their arguments at the moment is the validity of Anglican Ordination. According to one man who seems to spend all day digging around Wikipedia, the Anglican Church 'lost' the Apostolic Succession in its Episcopacy at the Reformation. His source is a Wiki article that points to the Anglo-Catholic Revival in the 19th Century where some, concerned at the suggestion that the 'touch of the Apostles' had been lost, invited some Dutch Old Catholic Bishops to take part in their consecrations. In fact, this article and the event it describes, is not the entire picture. Even after the Papal excommunication of all England, there were still some 36 Bishops in post who continued the traditions of ordination and consecration. Read the 1662 Prayer Book Ordination Services and you see this clearly.

Even during the abomination of the Puritan and Presbyterian years of the Commonwealth, Cromwells efforts to expunge the Bishopric from Anglican life failed. Enough bishops went into hiding and exile to preserve the Apostilic link to restore it to the church as it emerged from the excesses of the Puritans, Iconoclasts and Presbyterians. As the Presbyterian and Puritan grip slackened on the church (it still remains in the form of Parliament's having a say in its governance) the true 'Catholic' nature of the church was able to re-emerge. One of the ironies that seems to have escaped one of the more rabid RCC commenters, is that the Archdiocese of Sydney is trying to revert to the Puritan ideas of the 17th Century, yet this man holds it up as an example of the church as a "woman free church".

Rome insists that to become a valid Church the Anglicans MUST bow the knee to the Popes, accept all Roman dogma and doctrine and the revalidation of all the Ordinariate. The claims of 'superiority' all hinge on one line from the Gospel of St Mark (taken completely out of context since, if read with what goes before and after and in the context of all the other gospels it is clearly a reference to all the faithful) and what, in the Vulgate, is refered to as the "Synod of Jerusalem" in which James (The brother of Christ) expounds at length on how he will implement Peter's directives in 'his' See (Jerusalem). The fact there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any of the Apostles who out lived Peter, ever acknowledged his successor as exercising the authority they ascribe to Peter, is simply ignored or brushed aside.

The Dogma of Papal Infallibility is a major sticking point for many. In fact, it refers only to matters where the Pope speaks "ex-cathedra" and any such proclamation must pass three "tests". In fact it is usually a declaration made after years of preparation and study by a team set up for the purpose. It merely has the Pope's name on it. There are many arguments about where it originated, but the fact is that, as a 'dogma' it is of very recent date - the First Vatican Council in fact. I, for one, reject it as a doctrine or as a dogma, just as I reject utterly the claims to secular directions from the clergy. Yes, they are obliged (indeed, as a man in a Licensed ministry, I am as well) to point out error, and to give advice on ethics, morality and so on of various secular matters, but this must be limited. One has only to look at the abuse of power by RCC bishops and clergy throughout the centuries where they have had secular authority as well as sacred duties to see where that leads.

Ireland is only now emerging from the crushing yoke imposed by their Roman clergy and bishops who systematically abused their powers in orphangaes, care homes and 'correction' houses for unmarried girls. On the one hand the girls were punished for falling pregnant, and on the other women were prevented from reporting abuse, rape and the forcible removal of their offspring by the church. Yes, that's an encouraging record for a country that accepted the rule of the Roman Curia as trumping their own Parliament. Nor is this abuse an isolated case. One of the major reasons the English bishops went with Henry VIII when he broke with Rome was the abuse of the law. Clergy were not subject to the law of the land, and even murder could be committed with impunity, secure in the knowledge that, as a person subject to the 'Canon' law rather than the King's Justice' you would be secure in your monastery or carted off to Rome - the pepers conveniently lost on the way - to carry on as before. We have seen the echoes of this in the pedophile scandals that have rocked the RCC in almost every country in the last 20 yeasrs. The RCC knew what was happening, but refused to offer up the abusers to secular authorities and then victimised the victims by threatening them into silence.

Yes, the RCC and its authoritarian vision on the world and the faith is inspiring. Not. If it were as Christian as it claims to be it would embrace all those outside it, welcoming them to the sacraments, and not excluding them. It chooses to exclude - unless you bow the knee to the Pope. I therefore reject utterly it's claims of supremacy in matters of teaching any part of the faith I find in the Gospels. The Curia cannot shake off the abuses of power by the de Medici Popes, or the Borgias or a number of others. It cannot convince me that it has always held to the 'true' faith when at least three of the 4th Century Popes were Gnostics and followers of Arianism.

The current Bishop of Rome, Francis I, is a breath of fresh air. He refuses to live in the Imperial palace and stays in a Guest House, but he is surrounded by Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who do not share his vision, or share his ideals. These are the real 'powers' in Rome and it has nothing to do with "faith' and everything to do with "power" of a very secular kind. The situation here in Germany with the scandal unfolding in the Limburg Diocese is far more typical than the example of Francis. That saddens me. It also angers me when I am faced with arrogant assertions of Rome's holding the only valid authority to the Christian faith.

I hope and pray that Francis I will be protected by the Holy Spirit and be able to overthrow the Old Regime in Rome to make his church more inclusive and less elitist. I pray for it, but I doubt he will be allowed to. In the meantime I will continue to worship as an Old Catholic and Anglican wherever I find myself. My faith does not depend on the approval, or otherwise, of the Pope or any of his minions. It centres on Christ and God and the church provides me with a vehicle through which to grow in faith and to share that with others. Over the years I have learned not to say something will 'never' happen or that I will 'never' change my view, but this is one issue where it will take a revelation like that experienced by Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.    

Friday, 13 September 2013

Unrest in Rome ...

The big story in this part of Germany is the revolt against the autocratic style of the Bishop of Limburg. It is a reflection of a much larger and wider revolt happening within the Roman Catholic Church here, with the people in the pews wanting changes to the church Rome, The Curia and the 'traditionalist' clergy refuse to allow. It may surprise some in the UK who love to bash the CofE about 'disunity' over many issues, to learn that there are a lot of Roman Catholics - some suggest a majority - who want married clergy, women clergy and a power structure that includes the 'Lay Voices'. At present it is almost a case of it doesn't matter what the Laity think or want, the Bishop and Clergy are the 'Church' and what they say goes.

As someone used to the British Press and some of the more 'Catholic' members of the CofE always criticising the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church for not being dogmatic about some issues, or for being too 'liberal' in others, it is interesting to see that Rome has its problems as well. It is ironic that many of those who have 'jumped ship' from Anglicanism and 'gone to Rome' may find themselves too traditionalist even for the majority of Roman Catholics in the not too distant future.

What the row in Limburg is revealing is that the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is torn by these arguments. It is haemoraging people, revenues are falling faster than they can adjust, churches are having to be closed and even given up to other denominations. In the midst of all this, the last Pope appointed a hardline academic as Bishop of Limburg and his first action was to build himself a new HQ, ostensibly at a cost of €2 million. Unfortunately, the real cost has run out at €10 million at a time when they have had to close a large number of churches. The Dean of Frankfurt revolted over it and now we have petitions going round calling for the Bishop to either step down or to be more 'Open' and the submit to the will of his Synod. As a 'traditionalist' he seems incapable of admitting he's alienated almost everyone, or that he has made a mistake or two. In his mind he is the Bishop, he answers only to the Pope and, within his diocese, he is the sole authority.

We now even have the German Cardinals and Bishops trying desperately not to take sides, but some of the hardline traditionalists have already broken ranks and made some very unfortunate interventions. In the meantime, Roman Catholics are taking one of three options. Leaving the faith, changing to the Lutheran or Old Catholics or another, or continuing going to Mass, but refusing to pay the Church Tax.  The hardline Bishops have sent round letters saying anyone in the last category must be refused communion, and there are rumblings about anyone in the other two categories as well.

None of this, of course, addresses the other issues Rome refuses to discuss, women in ministry, married priests and the role of the laity in the government of the Church itself. The feeling here is that Rome must change, must address these issues or become a rump, increasingly isolated from society. It promises to be an interesting power struggle under the current Pope ...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Different Approach

The decision of one of Germany's highest courts, one which deals with matters of Constitutional matters, has handed down a decision today which addresses a very tricky issue. The case was brought because German law requires the schools to deliver a range of subjects and activities, including swimming. A 13 year old Muslim girl brought the case in order to avoid swimming lessons that take place in mixed groups. She (or her parents) argued that it was a breach of her freedom of religion to be compelled to swim with boys.

Her argument is one we have heard trotted out in the UK as well, but the German authorities argued that her being required to take part in educational activities (including swimming) did not infringe her religious freedoms. It all hinges on how you interpret the Quran's injunction (which is also in the Bible and probably came from there in the first place) to dress and behave 'modestly'. Somewhere in the last 1,000 years, this has been interpreted by Muslim clerics and scholars to mean that women must wear the head to toe coverings seen in the more fundamentalist societies or at least a head scarf seen in more relaxed societies. This girl evidently belongs to one of the more fundamentalist groups, but her argument also runs into a much larger and more problematic area - integration.

German law is quite clear, if you wish to live in Germany and hold German citizenship, you should be prepared to learn the language, respect German cultural institutions and practices and integrate into German society. You may keep your own cultural practices and religion, but cannot demand that the Germans must adopt them. The court has underscored this, ruling that the requirement to take part in the swimming lessons does NOT impact on her freedom of religious practice, and that she must take part in the swimming lessons. They did, however, compromise, and ruled that she may wear a 'Burkini" a loose full body swimming garment worn by women in the Middle East for swimming.

One thing the Germans are very sensitive to, is the creation of 'foreign' cultural ghettoes in their midst. It is something they see as threatening the structure of their society, and they are probably right. This is why Mrs Merkel is adamant that "Multi-Kulti" is dead. It has created ghettoes everywhere and allowed groups to defy all attempts to get them to integrate. The Germans don't like that, and I believe they are right. By all means celebrate where you have come from, and who you and your antecedents are - but if you want to live here, the language, the customs, the legal system, education and the culture is German. If you don't want to be a part of it, perhaps you need to rethink where you're living, working ...

How has the decision been recieved? By the majority of Muslims with acceptance, by the Salafists - ultra conservative and militant types - with anger, by the average German, with satisfaction. They're quite happy for Muslims to practice their religion, but when it comes to matters of custom, practice and the law there is only one law. And it's German.

Friday, 6 September 2013

A Whitehall Agenda ...

I am saddened by the news that the Fire Brigades Union is once again balloting its members in the Fire and Rescue Services for a national strike. While I have never gone on strike, and do not believe that striking ever actually achieves a satisfactory long term solution for the workers, I have every sympathy for the underlying reasons for this one. Sadly, however, it will not achieve what the service needs, and it will simply facilitate what Whitehall really wishes to achieve. A return to the old "Insurance style" fire service provision - a service provided by a private contractor and no longer the responsibility of the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The 2004 Act makes full provision for it, and a strike will simply bring forward the date on which the moment when a Fire and Rescue Authority "contracts out" the provision of the fire and rescue services it is legally required to provide. The only requirement for such a contractor is that they "must employ fire fighters."

Why do I, a person who does not believe the Union has been "good" for the service, or that it has always had the best interests of the service at its core, have sympathy with their cause on this occasion?

It is this, the Minister for Fire has laid before Parliament, proposals to extend the retirement age of fire fighters, currently set at the completion of 30 years service at age 50 or age 55 for everyone below senior (Assistant Chief or higher) rank. There were very sound and solid reasons for setting these as the retirement age back in 1948, and they are even more valid today. The Fire Brigades Pension Scheme was set up to cover it, with the members paying into it at between 11 and 14% of salary for the 30 years. Some, who could not be expected to complete 30 years service by reason of having joined at age 30 or later, paid in more. Their employers, operating under Whitehall 'rules' did not invest a single penny of this money they have collected over the years, instead spending it on all manner of pet projects, such as parks, gardens, luxury offices, schools and 'social engineering' schemes.

Now they claim that falling income from contributions means they cannot afford to pay the fire service pensions. Of course not, they spent the money, and have padded and protected their own, but to hell with the fire fighters.

The Minister, advised by his Civil Service nonentities - the majority of whom are earning five and six times what a fire fighter earns and look forward to gold plated and protected pensions themselves - now want to make the fire fighters work to a minimum retirement age of 60 years. The Minister has told Parliament that "perhaps" 23% of the fire fighters will be unable to do this due to ill health, injury or age related inability to maintain the required level of fitness (described by a doctor in a report NOT released by the relevant department, as being equal to that required for Olympic competitors) that is virtually unachievable by the vast majority over 55. In fact, their own report estimates that a "worst case" scenario will result in over 90% of fire fighters being sacked between 55 and 60 because they cannot maintain the level of fitness required.

The Union rightly says that a national survey shows that a maximum of 12% of those affected MAY be  "redeployed", which means the rest face the sack. Out you go, sorry, but we've no job for you - oh, and you can't get the full pension, and you'll have to wait until you're 60 ...

So what, you may say, this is only what every other worker faces. That is, to an extent true, but now we come to the reason the age limits were set in the first place. By the age of 50 a range of health issues start to bite. There is a very good reason that a large number of my former colleagues (all at least 10 years my junior) have had hip and knee replacements. Many have cartilage problems, many more, like me, have serious back problems which can only degenerate with age. I retired at 60, but I was in a non-operational post, and had to give up wearing Self Contained Breathing Apparatus at 56 (my doctor at the time actually asked me if I was trying to worsen my back condition) and I have a few other little problems which will worsen with age.

Reflexes are important in a fire fighter and with age these get slower, not a good thing in a tight corner. hearing loss, loss of smell, degenerating eyesight, all of these militate against someone continuing "in the job" beyond 55, and even now, many who should retire at 55 find themselves having to retire earlier because of these problems. Yet along comes a Minister and lays before Parliament a proposal to ignore all of this, all of it very, very well documented and verifiable, and extend the pension age for everyone in the service by 5 to 10 years. All to solve a problem the political classes (and I include the Civil Service in that) have created by their own stupidity and cupidity.

Sadly, I do believe the Whitehall agenda here is to remove the Fire and Rescue Service operational provision from public management to private. This change to the pension scheme is, in my view, simply a means to an end. By making it impossible to reach the pension age as a fire fighter, they hope that fewer people will stay on long enough to qualify for the full benefit. Those who don't will, as usual, be offered the opportunity to 'freeze' their contributions (the Treasury rubs its hands with glee!) or to 'transfer' them to whatever new scheme they can join - which will, undoubtedly offer far less benefit. By forcing the issue and provoking a strike Whitehall is laying the foundations for a "sell off" to their lobbyists and future directorship providers, of the Fire and Rescue Services. THis will do two things - it will remove the responsibility for the reduced service from Ministers and Civil Servants, and it will weaken, and even possibly destroy, the Fire Brigades Union, possibly the most militant and Left wing of all the remaining Unions.

Blair started this trend, the present government is merely seeing through what the Civil Servants already had in the pipeline. The Minister is either blind, or a fool if he continues down this path. No good will come of it for anyone, least of all the taxpayer.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A little knowledge ...

As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I was struck by this yesterday as I read the comments to a fairly comprehensive article about the hazards presented by certain 'designer' drugs currently returning to popularity among the younger scene. One commentator, responding to someone else who had, rather bluntly, pointed out that people who use drugs of unknown provenance, and die of the effects of bad reactions and impurities, are actually exercising a Darwinian "natural selection" response, came back with a rather ignorant attack about the first commentator dying nastily of cancer "caused by the GMO food you eat".

Recently there have been a number of serious scientific responses to the so-called ecologists and others who have campaigned to have Genetically Modified crops banned on the grounds they MAY cause diseases, spread uncontrollably or decimate insect populations. The irony does seem to escape them that virtually everything we eat today is "genetically modified" in some way. In fact, one reason we see so much Celiac Disease (sensitivity to gluten) is that the wheat we eat today is very different from that cultivated a thousand years ago, and different again from wheat grown even two hundred years ago. Modern wheat, has been developed by selective cross pollination of different grass species over the millennia since it was first cultivated. It is a hybrid, and today does not produce pollen and does not self propagate. However, the result of the wholesale transfer of genes from one grass species to another, and then from one hybridised wheat strain to another, is why the gluten content of modern wheat is high enough to cause allergies.

Another of the major causes of rising allergy sensitivities is pesticide usage. GM crops use far less of this, so the exposure is reduced in the consumer, which is not the case in the normal strains the campaigners don't want replaced. Once again, we hear of the Bio-foods being better and healthier, but, if you use natural fertilisers (cow droppings, pig droppings, etc., you are actually increasing the likelihood of spreading e-coli, listeria and a few other nasties including tetanus. Plus, not using pesticides (so-called natural pesticides are terribly inefficient), means that loss of crops to slugs, beetles, caterpillars and so on reduces yields and increases prices. Bio-food can never produce anything like the volumes of food required to feed the world's current population. Its exponents actually reveal either a naiveté or are concealing the fact they actually want to reduce world populations drastically and return the globe to their idealised vision of a perfect human/natural balance.

What the GM crop developers have done is splice in selected genetic material ( a technique really only possible in the last 40 or so years) to reduce the gluten content, make wheat more resistant to things like Ergot (a toxic fungus now known to have triggered the Salem Witch hunts), to attack by insects and drought. Once again, the hysteria by the anti-GM activists, fuelled by irresponsible headlines like "Frankenfoods given the go-ahead", and even more irresponsibly emotive reporting which highlighted "the risks" without pointing out that all the testing and all the trials had shown these to be almost non-existent was whipped to a frenzy. It followed exactly the same pattern as the anti-innoculation campaigns run by a small group of campaigners and based entirely on their own fear.

As a recent article I read on this subject points out, often the anti-campaigners have a hidden agenda. They are opposed to the commercial interests developing and marketing the GM foods, or the vaccines. They want a world filled with benevolent governments where everything is free to everyone, and hate commerce - so they attack the product on the grounds of "public concern for safety/the environment". The result, in the case of GM foods, is that genetically modified crops which could go a long way to alleviating the regular famines in Africa, are now universally banned from those countries that would reap the most benefit. Rice, which is very low in Vitamin A, but is a staple food in the Far East and many other countries is a major problem. However, the GM version, modified to produce the Vitamin A and address some other deficiencies, is banned, and not grown - ostensibly because of fears over its 'safety' but the reality is the political opposition to the US based firm which developed it.

There is no evidence to support the claims that eating GM foods can increase allergic reactions, rather the opposite, yet throughout Europe the "Greens" campaign against it on the grounds that it MIGHT. Likewise forty years of testing have failed to provide a link to cancer, but, again, the "Greens" shout loudly that one, very specially selective and now discredited trial by an anti-GM campaigner "proves" that there is such a risk. (The trial used specially bred rats that are very susceptible to tumours. They have been 'modified' so they will develop tumours and are generally used to test methods of controlling a tumour. And there must be an irony there, for an anti-GM campaigner to use a genetically modified rat to prove his case ...)

In almost all these campaigns fear is the driver for the wider majority. Few have more than a vague idea of what they are afraid of, or of precisely what is actually involved or modified. None I have met actually knew that the crops they were so keen to destroy don't self propagate, so cannot 'spread' across 'natural' plants and 'destroy the natural diversity'. The focus is always on the fact that some crops have been modified by splicing in segments of viral and bacterial genes, and their battle cry is always 'we don't know what will happen if it mutates'. Actually, the scientists and biologists do have a pretty good idea - that is what all the trials and tests are about. Nothing that can mutate into something dangerous ever leaves the lab now, the lessons of Thalidomide and a few others have been learned by the leading companies involved.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but far too many people today think that they can become experts on a subject by consulting Wikipedia or some other 'source' that reinforces their views. Sadly, it is impossible to debate with these folk, and because the media are currently locked into sensationalism, poor fact checking and emotive reporting, this is a debate that isn't going to happen any time soon. Probably not before all the anti-campaigners have succeeded in triggering the next major famine.  

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Now there's a surprise ...

Over the last couple of days I have been reading reports of cars being damaged in the City of London, by sunlight reflected and focused on them by a new building under construction there. The building, nicknamed the "Walkie-Talkie" has fully glazed facades on all four sides. The difference between this building and other fully glazed structures in the City is that it has a concave profile to its outer walls. Those of my readers who have, in a misspent youth, played with a shaving mirror, will know that the concave reflective surface has an interesting property when one gets it to reflect sunlight onto something at just the right focal distance.

It seems that the architect has managed to achieve exactly the right focal distance between his building and the parking spaces in that section of Fenchurch Street. The result is some very expensive damage to luxury cars parked there. If the reports I've read are correct, someone in the construction team noticed this some time ago - because the developers aren't putting up a fight about it. They just pay for the damage and hope you'll not make a fuss. Now that it has reached the press of course, the City has reacted, and closed the affected parking area. The worrying part is this, no one appears to be considering the affect walking along the pavement there may have on someone should the reflected light hit their eyes, or the impact of such intense heating on the structures nearby.

We have long known that tall buildings, their services, the tarmac and concrete roads and pavements and the reflected light can cause local 'weather anomalies' around them. It is equally well known that more tarmac, more buildings and paved surfaces, cause a rise in local temperatures and, when it rains, increase the 'run-off' raising the risks of flooding. Since antiquity it has been known (Archimedes is reported to have built a weapon on the principle) that a mirror big enough and with the right curvature, can focus light to an intensity sufficient to blind and burn soldiers and - according to ancient reports - set ships on fire. As far back as the 1960s experiments showed that banks of mirrors could focus light on a 'target' - usually an arrangement of tubes filled with liquid - the produce steam and generate electricity with a turbine, so we really shouldn't be surprised that a building focusing light onto parked cars can melt the plastic trim. The surprise is that it 'only' melted it. Those 1960s experiments showed you could actually melt metals with that rig. It wasn't dubbed a "solar furnace" for nothing.

This development raises an important question for me, and perhaps it should raise it for the professions as well. The question is this: Does no one carry out an analysis of the impact of creating a structure which reflects light onto adjoining properties and surfaces? It does sometimes seem that almost everything else is considered (often in isolation and by different 'specialists' who often don't consider anyone elses reports or work), yet I have, in the past, often been astonished that some highly qualified professionals don't understand (or see) some fairly basic issues which can, and do, impact on what they propose.

Hopefully this Archimedian Mirror building will draw attention to the need to think a lot more carefully about the way so many today ignore every other discipline and focus only on their own comfort zone of knowledge. From the press I understand the designer and the developer are trying to find ways to 'mitigate' the problem. I'd suggest its a little late, this should have been identified at the design stage. Any 'mitigation' is likely to introduce some new problem somewhere else.