There was an error in this gadget

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

All Hallows

With Halloween or All Hallow's Eve almost upon us again, I note with resignation that yet again we have trolls on almost all the social media trying to claim that Christianity is/has "stolen" Samhain. I have today even seen something written by someone claiming it is an "ancient Wiccan" festival. Obviously she is unaware that the whole "Wicca" thing was an invention of Alistair Crowley and the "Golden Dawn" Order of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Actually, even they would be surprised by the claims now accruing to the movement which was actually formed in the 1930s and further developed in the 1950s by an unlikely gentleman who would, today, probably be involved in the investigation currently underway in the UK.

I read some of this with a yawn, simply because it isn't new, it's been known for centuries. Christianity even acknowledges that their calendar was organised to make use of existing celebrations and feasts, just giving them a "Christian" spin and purpose. After all, if people are already marking a season as special, why introduce a whole new calendar? It doesn't make sense to do so and will only alienate (which is what these neo-pagans seem to be trying to do) everyone. It isn't something unique to Christianity either. The Egyptians did it, adopting new gods and feasts each time they were conquered or conquered someone else. So did the Babylonians, the Greeks, Persians and the Romans. So what? If you want to hold a feast of Saturnalia at Christmas time, fine. Go ahead, but don't complain that Christmas is "ruining" your marking of the Saturnalia or demand that everyone send you a 'Happy Saturnalia' card.

Samhain was, in Celtic lore (and can we please stop thinking the only "Celts" are the Welsh, Scots, Cornish and Irish? Just about every people west of a line from Gdansk on the Baltic to the Adriatic are Celtic in origin. The name was wrongly applied by someone in the 18th Century to the Scots, Welsh and Irish. The Irish are actually Gael, and the Western Scots and Northern Irish, Pict), a time to commemorate the dead. It was believed that the realms of the dead and the living met at this season as the winter began in earnest. This has echoes in other cultures and faiths as well. It made sense to the early Christians to keep it as a memorial celebration of all the "Saints" and the day following, all those who 'wait in death for the coming of the Lord.' Like Samhain, it is a two day feast, All Saints on the 1st and All Souls on the 2nd. Somehow the fact that the feast starts at Sunset on the 31st (The monastic church "day" follows the Jewish - it starts at sunset and finishes at the following sunset) and ends on the 2nd November.

To claim it is "exactly" Samhain is also misleading since the Gregorian (and the preceding Julian) calendars differ slightly from the lunar calendar used by the non-Roman world.

I will be keeping the feast in the Christian manner. Remembering the lives of all the Saints who kept the faith alive through persecution, political manipulation and social upheaval. I will also be keeping the second part of the feast with a quiet remembrance of all those who have gone before me into rest, but who made me who and what I have become.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Alarming Cost of 'Green'

The news yesterday that the UK's Prime Minister and his government are considering reducing the tax on energy generators and suppliers because of the impact these have had on energy prices, is welcome, but it will not be popular among the terminally ideological 'global warming' promoters and their supporters. The problem is that all this effort to 'control' the climate is a waste of time, and worse, it is an expensive vanity project. One that is pouring taxpayers and energy users money into the coffers of certain "green" orgainisations. I recently learned that Greenpeace is the owner of a number of wind farms and has major share holding in several 'green energy' suppliers - all of whom are in receipt of major subsidies from various governments.

But energy is just the tip of a very large mountain these organisations are constructing for us. One which is already causing some severe damage to economies in the west.

Yesterday I got tired of hearing the likes of Al Gore, various Australian "Greens" and a Greenpeace 'spokesperson' spouting total garbage about the latest series of disastrous bush fires in New South Wales being definitely the result of Climate Change/Global Warming. My ire was really raised when that journal from which I have long derived so much pleasure and information, the National Geographic, prints an article of truly alarmist garbage which included the statement that we are 'on course for an average global temperature of 50 degrees', completely ignoring the fact that to achieve this  would require a uniform temperature distribution and probably an atmospheric concentration of Carbon Dioxide that would wipe out animal life.

What all of these commentators refuse to acknowledge on every issue, is that their refusal, in Australia, to allow regular and managed control of the highly inflammable vegetation the continent is infested by, guarantees that every ten years or so, there will be exactly these sorts of mega-fires. Coupled with the ever increasing exposure of property and people to these hazards, guarantees that there will be massive property losses and life risks. But, of course, it isn't the fault of not allowing sensible bush management. No. Not at all. In their minds, its all because of Anthropomorphic Climate Change.

In these people's speeches one never hears of the role the oceans play in the climate. Oceanographers, and a small number of climatologists know that the major engine driving the climate is the massive expanse of ocean covering the planet. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the matching Atlantic bodies move and their position determines who gets hot weather, where the rain and snow fall and so on. Similar engines in the Great Southern Ocean determine where the rain hits - either Australia or South America in the Pacific basin, or Southern Africa and the eastern side of South America in the Atlantic. Another similar circulation in the Indian Ocean decides who gets hammered by the monsoon rains.Talk to an oceanographer, not to a Greenpeace mouthpiece or Al Gore. Get the facts, look at all the evidence, don't just assume that because some 'expert' says it, its true - he or she may be vying for a nice research grant handout and will say whatever will secure it.

I get tired of hearing that the damage along the US East Coast as a result of Sandy, the super storm (it had ceased to be a 'Hurricane' by the time it came ashore) was 'proof' that sea levels are rising. If you build on the seaward face of a dune field, and there's a storm, expect damage. As for the sea levels 'rising' in New York, there is a geographic explanation. The surface load of buildings, people and traffic on Manhattan is actually causing the island to 'sink' slightly. The Tide Gauge used to detect the rise is over a 100 years old and has never been recalibrated. This is often pointed out by geologists, but always brushed aside by the climatists who prefer their version and whose intractably anti-human attitudes are costing western society its economies, jobs, technological development and the ability to move forward.

At every turn, if we examine the costs of "green" policies, actions and restrictions we find that the cost far exceeds any supposed benefit. Indeed, the actions are frequently making the problems worse, so what exactly is the point?

Frankly, I begin to think that the majority of those who support the 'green' cause are responding to emotive and selected propaganda, not to a balanced image of the facts. They often don't know that CO2 is a 'trace' gas and fall for Gore's hyped numbers which are at best misleading. They don't understand that more CO2 means more plant growth, thus addressing one of the 'concerns' they espouse of 'global famine'. They don't know that their favourite NGOs and protest organisations involving them in 'direct action' are multi-million pound enterprises, managed and directed by ideologues who draw down massive salaries and perks - frequently also radical anti-society campaigners with anti-capitalist credentials.

Why is Greenpeace so opposed to the cleanest energy available - nuclear? It wouldn't have anything to do with their top directors all having CND credentials now would it? Why no mention of the ecological damage and cost of building wind farms, barrages or solar panels? It wouldn't have anything to do with the millions they and Greenpeace et al make from their investments in these industries now would it? Perish the thought.

It is time to call a halt to this self indulgent campaigning by the ill-informed and misguided, manipulated by some very shady ideological figures who have taken control of some well-intentioned movements. There are vast amounts of money to be made - for them - and the rest of us are being fleeced by their scam. Mr Cameron wants to remove the tax on the energy companies, but instead of removing it entirely, he plans to shift it to the 'general' tax base.

Yes, the Directors of Greenpeace and all the other 'Green' organisations are laughing all the way to the bank. They have a Goose laying Golden Eggs for them, it's names are Climate Change and Anthropomorphic Global Warming, and, until those who believe their propaganda and rally to demand 'something must be done' at every turn wise up and start checking the facts - we're all going to pay to make a small group rich, and destroy our own economic position into the bargain.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

An Earthquake in Rome?

For quite a while now there has been a problem in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg. A project to renovate several historic buildings and provide a new flat and administrative centre for the Bishop lay at the heart of what was in the media, but now it has emerged as only the tip of a very large iceberg which has finally forced Rome to take action. On the face of it, the project seems entirely reasonable. The buildings needed restoration, and the old Bishop's residence and office were no longer either fit for purpose or really habitable. So far, so good, but now enter a new Bishop in 2007, an academic with aristocratic ambitions and an authoritarian attitude, and things go downhill fast.

It needs to be explained to non-German residents, that the RCC bishops enjoy quite a degree of autonomy. How they use that depends on how 'traditionalist' they are, or how 'liberal'. The 'new' Limburg bishop belongs in the ultra-traditionalist camp, and, according to some of his disaffected congregation, sees himself as a medieval 'Fuerstbischoff' - a Prince Bishop in English - whose authority was not to be questioned and who 'ruled' his See without deference to anyone. That he also has, as do most of the RCC bishops, a 'private' Trust set up in the 19th Century which he may use 'for the enrichment and furtherance of the Church' means he is more or less independent of the opinions of anyone else as well. That is where the problem really starts. The Roman 'rules' for the expenditure of money on building projects require that Rome be consulted on any project over €5 million. The bishop went to considerable effort to make sure the way the project was 'costed out' kept each part of it just under that ceiling - so no one except his immediate 'team' had any idea of how much was being spent. In fact one senior member of his advisory Board, when questioned on National television, responded with the irritated exclamation: "Hallo? We're all good Catholics. We didn't expect our Bishop to deceive us, so we didn't question what he told us."

A pity really, because now it is revealed that the costs have soared to over €30 million, and likely to rise still to over €40 million when all the damages caused to adjoining properties are taken into account. How did this arise? Well, despite the impression created in the media, it isn't all going on the Bishop's flat. There are in fact ten major projects, the flat, chapel and administrative centre being among them. They do, however, form the lion's share of it, partly because the Bishop has a taste for luxury and partly to meet his artistic ideas (like exposing some of the 'natural rock formation' beneath his residence to the view of visitors - with a little 'improvement' of course) and to display some of the church treasures so visitors can enjoy them.

More important is the fact that the laity eventually smelled a rat and have demanded answers. One, an avowed member of the RCC actually fixed Luther's 95 Theses to the Bishop's gates. Another managed to gain access to the cathedral clock tower and reset the bells to strike 13 times at midday (the Angelus is rung by twelve strokes of the bell at Midday) which reflects a folk saying that the bell striking thirteen is an end. The loss of trust is enormous, and it is slowly emerging, itself an earth shattering event, that the bishop has more or less alienated all his senior clergy, most prominently the Dean of Frankfurt, and now even the Dean of Limburg cathedral itself has broken his silence and admitted he and the bishop were not at the same table.

The earthquake in Rome is that the Pope has now relieved the bishop of his duties, sending him 'on leave' to 'recover' while a commission looks into the whole affair and reports. That it has sent a shock wave through Rome is now exposed, this must be the first time in a long, long while, that Rome has responded to public external pressure in this way. While the bishop isn't yet removed from his post, it is clear he cannot expect to return to Limburg, itself a major departure from normal Roman practise.

What it exposes, of course, is summed up in the statement of that adviser - it is not done, by 'good' Catholics, to question their bishops. Rome has long enjoyed that 'status' for its bishops and other clergy. 'Ordinary' people cannot, must not, dare not, question their authority. This has led to massive abuses down the centuries. It was one of the reasons the Reformers fought to break away from Rome in the 16th Century. It was a major cause of the formation of the Church of England, and it was a major factor in the misery (and ongoing problems) in Ireland for much of the 20th Century with abuse of power in politics, in social issues and in the treatment of women and children in the 'refuges' managed by the RCC for the Irish State. In Germany as well, abuses are emerging (alongside those of the former DDR 'orphanages' for children removed from 'unsuitable' parents) and the repercussions are yet to be fully appreciated in some quarters. Rome is right to be taking definite action, but this is just one issue it needs to address urgently.

The Limburg affair has sent a shock wave through the Church and through Germany, but, as I said at the outset, they are addressing, at present, only the tip of a much larger iceberg. They will need to act very swiftly to deal with all the other problems before this loss of credibility damages them fatally. There is no place today for "Prince" bishops ruling autocratically, nor is there really a place for unquestioning obedience in matters of faith. Limburg will get a new Bishop, one it is to be hoped, with a more pastoral understanding of his role. He will not have an easy task, but neither does Pope Francis as he grapples with a Curia determined to resist any attempt to open some of the discussions Rome knows it must have if it is to retain or regain any shred of credibility.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Minimum Wage Conundrum

The negotiations in Germany between the two largest Parties in the Bundestag (and to an extent between the main players in the various Landestags) is sticking on a couple of issues. One is the vexed question of "tax" which the smaller party wants to raise so it can pay for some of its policy wish list, the other is a 'minimum' wage level. I'll confess to having mixed feelings on both issues.

Tax is necessary to pay for a wide range of services provided by central government, but I also believe it should be kept low. No organisation in the world is as profligate and wasteful as a bunch of politicians and their cronies in the various bureaucracies that support them. The more we give them, the more they waste. The second issue is much more contentious, because there is a strong argument for giving workers a wage commensurate with their effort and with their need to feed and clothe themselves - and keep a roof over their heads, of course. However, the problem with setting a minimum wage level is that it has an enormous impact right across the employment spectrum.

Invariably it will benefit those who are on wages below the minimum as soon as it is imposed, but therein lies the first problem. Some jobs immediately become uneconomical, so employers drop them and either stop doing them, or find other ways to perform the function or task. A good example is fruit picking. The introduction of a minimum wage in the UK has meant that many small scale fruit farmers can no longer employ people to harvest their crop - so most of it goes to waste while the farmer moves into a direct market of "PYO" where the customer picks the fruit, packs it and pays the farmer. Alternatively, the farmer simply cuts down the fruit trees and moves into another crop if possible. It hits folk who used to employ the local teenager to cut the grass, mow the hedge or clear roof gutters - because they can no longer afford the minimum pay now required by law.

In removing the employer/employee negotiation for a 'fair' wage for such piece work, the legislators also remove a wide range of economic activity from the grasp of casual workers who are looking for such work. It impacts every wage and salary earner as well. Raising the floor limit of the wages doesn't automatically benefit everyone. Often it simply raises the lowest paid to the same level is someone who may be better skilled and more productive. One of the more interesting effects is that it often puts someone on a 'minimum' hourly wage in a position of earning more than someone on a full salary. I once calculated what my salary came to in terms of an hourly rate, and it was, on paper, below that of an hourly paid worker. I suspect there will be many people who will discover the same thing if they convert their salaries into hourly units of money.

Plus, when a government then raises the minimum - it puts pressure on every employer to raise all pay packets, which is, of course, compelling employers to award raises where they may be unaffordable or not merited.

A study by German research centre has identified that where there is a 'minimum wage' in force, unemployment tends to be higher than where there is no such limit. Economic growth and activity also tends to be slower or less robust when there is a minimum pay requirement. So that leaves us with a major conundrum. There is a natural desire to ensure that no one struggles to earn enough to keep a place to live, food to eat and clothing to wear, but, but the same token, setting minimum wages drives away jobs, pushes prices up and increases inflationary pressures. Not setting a minimum wage risks leaving vulnerable workers at risk of exploitation. So what is the answer?

Drive out low paid jobs? Reduce the choice of workers and restrict employers ability to set wage levels within their cost brackets? Or let the 'market' set the price? One of the options the Germans are considering would allow some work to be 'free' of the Minimum Wage and allow worker and employer to negotiate a 'fair' deal for it. That seems like a bit of sense to me, and certainly meets some of the problems identified by the research.

I'd suggest there is a third way. Don't set a minimum wage, but give a graduated reduction in 'support' benefits and a 'ladder' table for the payment of tax. At present, if you're employed, you pay tax, and so does the employer. By introducing a graduated scale at the lower end the low paid could be cushioned and eased into full independence gently. That would give greater freedom of choice on all sides and greater incentive to make the effort. The same system could be run with the various 'benefits' we currently provide to everyone out of work. Instead of withdrawing them all in one hit, they could be progressively reduced as the worker's ability to meet their own support costs rises. As I see it, that would be a win-win.

However, I won't hold my breath for such a common sense approach. Whitehall would find a way to screw it up and make it so complicated no one understood it, and politicians wouldn't like it because they couldn't argue that they were 'doing something for the poor'. Oh well, it remains to be seen whether the Germans will fall for the economic suicide route and kill off all casual work, or take a more sensible approach. They are, by and large pragmatists, so there is yet hope ... 

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Tricky Legal Question ...

There must be an irony in the situation of the Greenpeace 'activists' facing long jail terms in Russia at present. The organisation is always very quick to exploit "International Law" when it suits their cause, often causing major disruptions and expense for those who can least afford it, but now they are suffering from the effects of a much older "International" law. Maritime Law has long defined "piracy" in pretty clear terms. It is the attempt to seize a vessel at sea upon lawful occasion, and deprive its owners of the ship or its cargo. By extension, this applies to offshore platforms and drill ships. Thus, attempting to board one in order to prevent its use in the lawful pursuit of exploration of natural resources - especially within the territorial waters of the nation whose "flag" it would carry if it were a ship, is piracy.

I was stirred into a bit of research on this by the current bombardment of emails and Facebook postings asking me (and everyone else) to sign an e-petition demanding the release of Greenpeace's crew and ship following their stupid attempt to board a Russian oil exploration platform. The Russians don't mess about, their Spetznaz unit was on hand, and the Greenpeace ship was arrested, their boarders captured and now they are in jail while the Russians decide what they're going to do to send the message they will not be blackmailed by a protest group which sees itself as some sort of global super government agency able to take whatever action it deems necessary to impose its ideological and political vision. The former Communist totalitarianism may be gone, but the Russians aren't the kind of people to take orders from a bunch of western bleeding hearts.

While I have some sympathy with many of Greenpeace's ideals, namely the protection of rain forests, sensitive reef systems, declining species and so on, I do not subscribe to their 'direct action' tactics or to their propaganda campaigns based on the premise of 'apocalypse now'. The problem, as I see it, is that a well meant voluntary movement has become a multi-billion pound Non-Governmental Organisation run and managed by political ideologues who enjoy six figure incomes from the proceeds of the fund raising and campaigning, while exploiting young volunteer idealists and adventurers to further their vision of global government. Their planned reduction of the use of 'carbon' producing fuels is not producing the results they claim to want, but the kickbacks from the producers of wind farms, solar panels and so on is certainly filling their pockets and coffers. Their proposals are largely anti-industrial, anti-capital and, by extension, anti-humanity. Why? Largely because it is only by industrialisation that we can sustain and feed the current population of the globe.

Thus, if we drive 'capital' out of the west - one of their declared objectives - and impose a 'redistributive' economy (another declared objective), we can expect to see a rapid decline in living standards for a majority, and a rise in dependence on handouts among those trapped in the lower end of the economy. Of course, the Greenpeace ideologues don't like to admit it, but the real purpose is to achieve a reduction in numbers and an end to 'consumption' economies. Some probably do believe that a forced return to subsistence and self-supporting 'village' community life will bring about a sort of idyllic Utopia, and their followers certainly seem to think that the electricity erratically generated by a few windmills will enable them to continue to enjoy the benefits of their electronic lifestyles, but, frankly, that is where ideology and reality are at opposite ends of the galaxy.

It amused me in this past week, to hear a Greenpeace spokesperson stating that their boarding team were 'peaceful and offered no threat' in their attempt to board the rig, before going on the claim that the defenders used 'disproportionate force' to prevent it. The point missed by this earnest buffoon is that the boarding attempt was, in itself, a form of 'threat' irrespective of whether they attempted to use violence to seize the platform. The operations on these rigs is extremely dangerous, and having some untrained idiot activist running loose on one attempting to tamper with valves, tie banners or anything else to it endangers everyone on the rig. That is a threat that cannot be ignored or tolerated.

No, I will not be signing the Greenpeace petitions. They have committed piracy, and it is time they were brought to heel. No, I will not be giving them any donations to help 'defend' their actions either. Piracy is piracy, just as any form of terror tactics is an attempt to bully people into accepting the minority view as the only option. 'Direct action' is just that, an attempt to use the threat of being deprived of access to your employment, your income, the heating of your home or the use of your car, by a small and often obnoxious minority to impose their minority view on a majority. Sometimes it borders on terrorism, and terrorism is unacceptable in any society.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

New Blog

Today I am pleased to declare that I have installed a new Blog on my blogroll. It is the Blog set up by the Diocese of Gloucester and, though I don't agree with some of the articles posted, that is also acceptable. In a society like ours it is important that ALL views are expressed and considered. I have always believed that one should never read, listen to, or follow only one side of any discussion, no matter how strongly one feels on the subject. A balanced opinion can only be obtained if one considers all the information available on any given subject.

It will, I hope, not surprise many of my readers to realise that I do agree with far more on the Diocesan Blog than I take leave to differ on. That is probably also as it should be. I hope that readers here will go to the Gloucester blog and find a great deal to think about, perhaps discuss and even argue over. It is a new venture by the Diocese, and I hope it finds a wide audience, both within and without the church. Give it a try, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised by some of the posts and topics. I have no doubt there will be articles you disagree with, but the 'other perspective' is an essential part of being informed.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Leave of Absence ...

The Monk has been in Belgrade for the last several days. The purpose of the visit was to deliver a paper at a conference held by the Serbian Fire Protection organisation DITUR. It has proved to be an interesting and rewarding experience. The Monk freely admits that he has been very fortunate to be able to travel to many countries as a 'guest' of his professional colleagues and has always been very well looked after. He has also had, as a result, the opportunity to see and experience at first hand aspects of the host country and society that he would not have if he were to go there as a 'tourist'.

Westerners often have a view of a country or nation largely coloured by what they have read in newspapers (almost invariably negative) or seen on television. We tend to form our opinions from limited sources and often negative reporting on some event in any given country. Quite often the experience of the traveller is distinctly at odds with the 'information sources' consulted. So it is with the Serbs. Theirs is an ancient culture, but it is one that suffers from having been sandwiched between many different empires down the ages. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Magyars, Turks and eventually Austro-Hungarians and the Russians have all had a go at dominating and absorbing them. In recent years NATO had a go and the scars are still present, yet the welcome couldn't be warmer, the desire to be accepted as a part of Europe, and perhaps above all, to be recognised as having some legitimate concerns regarding the annexation of land they settled long before the Byzantines and their successors imposed their rule, to provide expansion for some of their more recently arrived neighbours.

There is a rich cultural mix in Serbia. It is now re-emerging in the post communist nation, and they are rebuilding their culture, their lifestyle and their country. There can't be many republics that welcome back the descendant of their former Royal House, and give him an official residence!

It has been a very interesting visit, the Monk's second to this fascinating city, and once again he has found the people welcoming, the atmosphere relaxed, friendly and hopeful. His contact with shopkeepers, hotel staff and the delegates was marked by their warmth, friendliness and by their willingness to help at every level. Should any reader have the opportunity to visit this country and the city of Belgrade - don't hesitate. The experience will be rewarding.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Government of the People, by the People ...

It has often struck me that the 'first past the post' system of electing representatives for a parliament is probably the worst way to determine who goes to any legislature. Why? Put simply, because it inevitably means that the 'winner' represents only those who voted for him/her. If one is lucky enough to have a constituency MP who believes he/she is there to fairly represent ALL their constituents, it can work. The example of the Rev Ian Paisley comes to mind. He was a superb "constituency" MP, who received, listened to, and tried to assist everyone who came to him, regardless of their allegiance to Rome, Republicanism or anything else. Sadly, all too often the Party ideology overrides the interests of those who do not support an MPs particular ideological position. This is when, in a real democracy, some effort is made to compromise. In a system where the emphasis is on a choice between two parties to govern, and a range of small parties who are little more than a distraction, compromise is often the first casualty.

I have noted with some irritation, our media prattling on about the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to 'compromise' with their opposition. I'm irritated by this precisely because they are one of the major reasons for the polarisation in British politics and in the US. Frankly, I find the fact that Britain currently has a coalition in government healthy. They are having to listen to other perspectives and trade off policy decisions against their partner's 'wish list' as well. Looking back at the history of government in the UK, some of the best periods of government, some of the most stable, have been during periods of coalition. The 1930s are a prime example. A government of "National Unity" governed the country out of the Depression and through most of the second World War. As Josephus reminded me, the Labour Government that took power before the end of the war lost no time in rushing through a programme of "nationalisation" immediately they took power - with some near disasterous effects for those fighting in the Far East, which Labour more or less "forgot" about.

The US currently has probably the most extreme example of a "polarised" government, and what is missing from the media reports here is that the "government" of President Obama doesn't have a majority in both Houses of Congress. Even before the 2011 election, when they did, by a slim margin, control both Senate and Congress, the margin was so slim they often depended on the handful of "independents" to pass their Bills. Nor is this the first time - despite media outrage at the GOP - that Congress has brought about a "shut down" of government. In the last thirty years this has happened 17 times - 15 of those because the Democrats refused to pass budgets for Republican Presidents. Josephus' commented that in a democracy the first past the post system dictates that the "gvernment" is formed by whoever ends up with the most seats in Parliament - and that is where the American system differs dramatically from the UK. The election of the President does not depend on the number of direct votes cast by the people, but on the number of "electors" each State elects favouring one candidate or another. The election to Congress is more like the UK system with each Congressman representing a constituency and elected by a "majority" of voters in that constituency.

The Senate tends to be determined by whether a State is "Democrat" or "Republican" and very few outsiders break through that. So how "democratic" is that system?

Again, as Josephus reminded us a few days ago, the US Congress deals with thousands of Bills each session and it is impossible for them to read each one - so they use a system of "committees" who draft the legislation, sort it all out, then bring it to the House, commend it or condemn it to their colleagues and a vote is taken. Enough "Ayes" and it becomes Law, too many "Nays" and it fails. All without the majority of those voting on it having had any input, or, frequently, without having much more idea of what it will do, or how it will impact people,  than the "spin" put out by its supporters. That seems to me to be a major weakness in the system, and a major cause for polarisation and dispute.

At the heart of the current dispute is the "Obamacare" Bill, divisive and hotly disputed from start to finish. It is over a thousand pages in length, was rammed through on the eve of the election in 2011, and got not a single Republican vote in either House. So to accuse the GOP of being disingenuous now is a little off the mark. Not one of their objections or amendments were adopted by the drafting committee, indeed, that committee seems to have gone out of its way to avoid any form of compromise. Some of my American friends are furious about the shut down, but they are equally furious, worried and deeply disturbed by the way their Medicare premiums have been hiked, the conditions of their policies changed and the long term impact this will have on their employment and finances.

Interestingly the Bill was challenged in the US Supreme Court, and the Court ruled that it was within the Constitutional remit of the Federal Government because it is a tax. Yet President Obama's government is adamant that it isn't a "tax". How does the Court rule that it is, and therefore Constitutional, while its proponents argue that it isn't a tax? It seems to me that this is just one of the things wrong at the very heart of this dispute.

President Obama won a majority in the presidential race, he did not win majorities on the Senate or Congress. The Democrats control the Senate because three Independents were elected in place of three GOP Senators, and the GOP have a small majority in the House of Representatives. The Senate and the Representatives face elections next year, so, in part, those dispute is playing to the gallery of the elctorate and it can still backfire badly on both Parties.

We, outside the US system, are also not aware of the fact there are a number of court cases in progress concerning voter fraud. One woman has recently been jailed in one such case, proudly boasting that she voted no less than twelve times. How is this possible? The answer exposes yet another polarising dispute - in Democrat controlled cities and States, there is no voter ID required. In other words anyone can walk into a Polling Station, claim to be a voter and vote - as often as you like apparently if some of the court cases are to be believed. In Republican controlled States and cities, voter registration and voter ID is required, so there is a measure of control. However, then we hit "electronic voting" and voting machines that punch the ballot paper ... and plenty of arguments over both of those.

As Josephus said, in the first past the post system, whoever has the majority wins, and rules, but, and this is where I think the people in the US need to think long and hard, if there is fraud, polarisation and doubt as to the validity of an outcome - you have a house of cards and it will collapse eventually under the weight of fraud, distrust and mismanagement. History abounds with examples - but, like certain UK politicians, the fashion these days is to "not do history".

Ben Franklin and all the other Founding Fathers would, I think, be appalled.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A bit of explaining...?

It seems that Pope Francis is determined to stir things up in the Vatican and his church. This week the German Bishops Conference is in session and has many things on its agenda which, even a few years ago, would not have been even allowable for discussion. Perhaps even mere months ago would not have even been mentioned. It is refreshing to hear and read that they are reviewing the way they deal with divorce and remarriage, and it is even more interesting that they are even talking about, perhaps, maybe, some day soon, talkig about women in the Diaconate and possibly ...

One can't help but wonder where all those who fled the Anglican Church for Rome because they can't accept women in Ministry, will go next. The Orthodox Churches?

In the news at the moment in Germany is the Bishop of Limburg, an academic appointed by Benedict XVI, and someone who genuinely seems to think that, as Bishop, he is the sole dictator in his Diocese. The reason he's currently there though, is the runaway costs incurred in the building of his new headquarters, a combination of offices, apartments and a small conference centre. It is worth noting that it is being created inside the shell of a historic building, and that creates a few costly problems in itself. They don't really have a choice in this, the Dom and its adjoining buildings are all "heritage" and the Dom dominates the Old Town of Limburg - so the outline and the appearance of any building is of national and international interest.

The problem is that the costs were supposed to be around €2 million. That was bad enough, but it rapidly became €10 million. A couple of months ago, the country was shocked by the announcement that the cost had actually topped €20 million. That brought a Cardinal diplomat from Rome to try and stop what was rapidly becoming an outright rebellion against the Bishop and his supporters on one hand, and those who felt very strongly about his high handed approach, his spending money lavishly on his "HQ" while closing churches and cutting clergy numbers. The Bishops' Conference agreed to carry out a review of the costs and the actual works - and this week dropped a real bombshell.

Costs have spiralled to an astonishing €31 million ... The Vatican is now seriously worried.

As an ex-church warden for an ancient and historic buildig, I am all too aware of just how quickly costs can spiral when one attempts any work in a heritage environment. It's one reason I am no longer a supporter of English Heritage or National Trust. In Britain, unlike Europe, churches get nothing from the government toward maintaining their buildings, part of the nations heritage and culture. It all has to be raised by the congregation, but English Heritage, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the government itself, all want to direct it and what may be done. Their intervention frequently increases costs astronomically - but they don't have to pay it, so no worries there. Something similar seems to have happened here. The bishop's people have actually spent the money using high quality materials and seem to have created a very appropriate building within the historic shell. The quality of the materials used will ensure it lasts, but the cost is phenomenal.

Rome is right to be concerned, ultimately they are picking up the tab, not the Limburg Diocese, but Rome gets its money from the people in the pews. The Bishops here are appalled by the cost of this project. As one has said, with all the really important things they need to discuss and to convey to the people, this is a distraction they don't need.

Hopefully the lesson has been learned, certainly the Bishop of Limburg has a few questions to answer. It appears he'll be visiting Rome again soon to 'discuss' the issue with his bosses. Rome also has its problems, and the Pope has flung open the doors where John XXIII opened a window. Nothing happens fast in Rome, but, as I wrote earlier, now they are talking about discussing women in ministry, married priests and the admission of divrcees to the Communion. One step at a time, one tentative exploration at a time. It will be interesting to see how this develops from here.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

First Birthday

Harry is one year old today. He's grown into a handsome, loyal and very active lad. He's become a wonderful companion and constantly demonstrates his intelligence. He is playful, funny and very, very loving.

Happy birthday little guy. It's been a wonderful year watching you grow and learn. May we have many more.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A Little Theological Conundrum ...

Two pictures, and some ideas to bounce around the blogosphere today. We are all familiar with the various paintings of "The Last Supper", most of them done in the Renaissance or later, and almost all of them based on the literal interpretation of the Gospel accounts of the event. Jesus and the Twelve. No one else. There's even a convention in the way the twelve are arranged at the table and how they are depicted, but, and here's the conundrum, is this the right way to see it? Is this a correct depiction of the final meal Christ shared with his friends?

Those who like to keep things according to the written word would argue for a yes. However, it isn't quite so simple or straight forward. There are a number of things NOT said in the Gospel accounts for various reasons, among them the fact that the writers didn't expect anyone to be reading this who didn't "know" certain important cultural things about such a meal. Second, you didn't waste valuable papyrus writing down what they perceived to be unimportant details, so here goes the first little hand grenade.

The Gospel accounts don't tell us who else was at the table, and names only the key figures. We know, from other sources, that the "Upper Room" was in the house of the parents of John Mark, the writer of the shortest Gospel, and he actually directs his readers to other witnesses then alive who could confirm what he wrote. He wasn't one of the twelve either, at the time he was a teenager - the 'youth' who followed the twelve and Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane wrapped only in his blanket - and ran away naked when the soldiers tried to arrest him. Why doesn't he mention the Supper was in his parents' house? He didn't need to - everyone knew.

The next bit, is equally important. This was either an Eve of Sabbath meal, or an Eve of Passover meal in a Jewish household. You cannot hold either without sharing it with the entire family, and in the second case, your neighbours and their families, the servants and the children! So, I offer MY version of the Last Supper for argument -

Breaking of Bread.
I'm no Leonardo, but I would like to think this version of The Last Supper, with the wives, daughters and children present is closer to the real event than the more literal interpretations by better painters. What we in Christendom ignore, overlook or fail to recognise is that in a Jewish household the Eve of Sabbath meal begins with the women bring lights to the table, the head of the house then give thanks for the food and breaks and shares the bread. Present are all the household, it is unthinkable for it to be 'men only' and the meal ends with the blessing (usually by the eldest son of the household) and sharing of a cup of wine. Recognise the pattern?

I post this since there is currently a huge row in many Christian churches over the role of women, usually founded on the argument "they weren't present at the Last Supper" or "they weren't selected, ordained or commissioned by Jesus". I'd suggest you read those passages again very carefully - and try to see what is not there "because you would know that".

The second picture is Medieval. It can be seen in Tewkesbury Abbey and adorns the wall of the Trinity Chapel, possibly more famous for the "Kneeling Knight" (supposedly Edward Despenser) on the roof. The painting survived the Iconoclasts largely because it was hidden from view by a wooden screen, though sadly the lower portion of it didn't survive the whitewash of the later puritan tenants. It depicts the Trinity, that stumbling block for Christians and non-Christians alike, and it shows the answer to Christ's question from the cross. Look closely at this wonderful depiction -
It depicts the figure of the Father holding the crucified Son, with the dove of the Holy Spirit between the two. The answer you seek is this - Christ's question was; Why have you forsaken me? The answer is shown here.

I have not forsaken you, I am holding you in my hands.

It depicts the offering of himself, in the form of Jesus that God the Creator and Father has made, and in the Holy Spirit continues to offer in love and grace to anyone and everyone who wishes to accept it. We don't know who the artist is, no one has recorded his name, but the insight he (or she) gives in this painting is profound.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Young Person's Guide to the SATB Choir

The SATB Choir is the standard formation for choral work in most Churches, Oratarios and major classical works, and it does have a full, rich sound to it. But, how does it work, and how is it composed? I found the following recently thanks to a friend. I'm unashamedly reposting it here.

THE YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE TO THE SATB CHOIR In any chorus, there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, or belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them for now.
Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality. You may ask, "Why should singing different notes make people act differently?", and indeed this is a mysterious question and has not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go with being tenors, french horn players, timpanists, or whatever. However, this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be easily distinguished, and I will now explain how.
THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires, and then complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins - nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same, and they don't understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first place - it's so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it is a well-known fact that sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range, while the sopranos are up there in the stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth - they sing too damn loud, are useless to tune to because they're down in that low, low range - and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef, anyway.
THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth - in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people, who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them - the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it's the only time the altos can really be heard. Altos' other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loud.
THE TENORS are spoiled. That's all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they're always ready to unload a few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors there are are always really good - it's one of those annoying facts of life.. So it's no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads - after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn't possibly be a real man.. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so damn high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way by all the other sections - the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes; the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for; and the basses because, although they can't sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors out. Of course, the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.
THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors), despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with - most basses are tuba players at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors, whom they consider effete poseurs. Basses hate tuning the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos - except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternate universe which the basses don't understand at all. They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.
Source: Choir Jokes from Comedy Corner

I'll confess to being a totally untrained Bass, often used as a 'filler' in a chorus (to make up the volume) who could, once, reach the lowest part of the Bass 'range' (Bottom F) but always struggled to get above Middle C ... Made it interesting leading worship sometimes!

Friday, 4 October 2013

How NOT to make Law ...

I have been watching the 'shut down' of the US Federal government with something akin to astonishment. I confess, that based on the Huff Post reports and the BBC it seemed, at the very least, as if there was some deliberate 'self-destruct' intention at work in their Congress. Why would any party refuse to pass a budget to keep government services running? What really does lie behind this impassioned response to funding the "Obamacare" plan? Digging around, and asking some direct questions of a few of my US contacts has turned up some answers that leave me wondering if the US legislators actually understand democracy at all!

Let's start with the Act at the centre of this row. Obamacare, the proper title is The Patient Care and Affordable Care Act, is an astonishingly hefty tome, I'm told over a thousand pages in length. It was presented to Congress, unread and unseen, and Congress was given precisely 24 hours to pass it. Pardon? Pass a complex Bill of a thousand pages in one 24 hour sitting? That is precisely what was done. Immediately before the 2011 election and while the Democrats had small majorities in the Congress. The then Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, told those who objected, I quote, "You have to pass this Bill to be able to read what's in it."

I'm sorry, but had I been an elected member I would have refused to vote. Or I would have voted "No". It is just plain irresponsible to move, accept and adopt something as far reaching and as politically important as this without knowing precisely what is and what is not provided for by it. There is no way such an Bill can be read in just 24 hours! Yet this is exactly how the Congress was railroaded into passing the Bill. And now they are reaping the result.

Having learned this, and I have learned that such tactics are by no means unique, I find myself appalled by it. The US is always held up as the 'model' of western democracy, yet, in passing legislation in this manner, it is employing tactics used in the Soviet Union and in Communist China under Stalin and Mao. This is not western democratic process, this isn't good practice and it makes for appalling laws. If this is the 'model' of democracy they are following, I am not at all surprised the US has got itself into the mess it has. Nowhere in the world (apart from certain already mentioned dictatorships) can complex Bills be tabled, unread, unopposed, and adopted in 24 hours. In Britain, it would take up to three years to get legislation like this through the Houses of Parliament, because part of the democratic process is to allow public consultation, multiple reviews, revision of the text, judicial reviews, scrutiny by both Houses and finally it emerges as an Act. You cannot claim to be making good laws when you throw a thousand page document at the House, tell them to pass it, and then read it. That is a travesty. It is NOT democracy at work, that is playing ideological games.

Interestingly, I am also told that the reason Congress has at last bared its teeth is that many of its members face re-election next year. The President doesn't. He no longer, in the words of Ret Butler in Gone with the Wind, "gives a damn." He's now in the happy position of not having to bother about what the electorate will say or do come election day. The Members of Congress do - and, from what I am told, the impact of the Bill on the voters is starting to bite and to produce some very angry voters. I expect I would be too, if I was being told that my existing Health Care Plan was going to cost me 2 to 3 times what it used to cost, or that I must now pay the first $5,000 of any major treatment. Yet that is what is happening. Obama has also 'rewarded' Congress by exempting them from the provisions of the Bill and around 1,200 other institutions and large donor concerns, but the small businesses are being crippled by it. If you employ fifty or more people you must provide a Health Care Scheme. The cost to employers has been hiked by the Insurance providers, so, again as I suspect I would be forced to do, businesses on that threshold, are cutting staff.

Contrary to what a lot of the commentators outside the US seem to think, Obamacare is NOT about providing a National Health Service. It is about compelling people to buy Health Insurance. Those in work, in employers schemes or in private schemes are being made to pay more in order to fund those not in work. It is now illegal to NOT take out Health insurance according to my source, and that is hurting a lot of folk on low wages.

I remain astonished and appalled by the manner in which the US is dealing with the 'Debt Freeze' (although it isn't unique either I discovered, there have been 17 of these in the last few decades, at least 15 caused by the Democrats refusing to pass budgets under Republican Administrations). I am even more appalled by the manner in which the nation that purports to be the leader of the democratic world makes its laws. I accept that the Bill was not drafted in total secrecy, there must be some mechanism of consultation involved, but there does seem to be no mechanism for agreement on amendments or changes during the process. One thousand page documents are not written overnight, and Congress should never be allowed to pass one without the members having read it carefully. Twenty-four hours to read, consider, discuss, amend and then adopt one? No way.

I can only hope that this cavalier approach to creating legislation will now be revisited and revised. Europe, the UK and several other states could probably provide the US with much more workable, democratic and reasonable models. Would someone please persuade them to adopt one!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

German Day of Unity

Today is a public holiday in Germany, the celebration of the reunification of West and East Germany in 1991. The radio has had some interesting reflections of how Germany came into being, the post World War 1 economic and political chaos which gave rise to Hitler and his thugs, and finally the partition between the Allies and the Russians. As I am listening to the biography of Joachim Gauck, the current Bundespraesident, it has provided a a very interesting background to his memoir of life under the Soviets and their puppets, the German Democratic Socialists ...

I have come to believe, reading several recent histories, and rereading some of those I am more familiar with, that a unified Germany is far better for modern Europe than the divided one the west and the eastern powers kept alive for forty years. I can never understand those who persist in thinking the East was a 'model' state, or that socialism, communism, Marxism (which Marx himself wouldn't recognise) or any of the other Left-wing "-isms" is either fair, just or viable. It must be ironic that we currently have the Greens veering even further Left, and the former Communists trying to present themselves as "good guys". The voters rejected this in the elections, both the Greens and the Left lost ground, the Social Democrats held their share - just.

Germany is not some armed camp lurking in the heart of Europe waiting for an opportunity to seize control of everyone else. It is a nation of hardworking people, who remember their past and refuse to let the extremists take them down that road again. The modern Germany is working hard to preserve stability, and to make Europe secure.

Personally, I hope they succeed. They've had everyone tramp across their country for centuries, and they have learned from it. They prize stability above all else, and they're prepared to work to keep it.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Passage of Time ...

Today the Monk finds himself wondering where the years went. He looks back on a very full, sometimes rewarding, often hectic and sometimes bitter range of experiences. The high points in his life were the births of his three children (in which he had a very minor role ...), his career, the move to the UK in 1988 and the subsequent time he spent in various ministry roles culminating in his time in the congregation and ministry of Tewkesbury Abbey.

Today his wife has spoiled him. Her gift is a 'smart phone' for him, so now he must learn to use it properly - and remember to convey to all his friends, the new number!

Now his faithful small companion is waiting for his all important walk in the woods with the Monk. Harry has to check all his marker posts, check which new deer, wild boar, other dogs and even the odd raccoon or pine marten has dared to wander through his forest, so the Monk had best make haste and set off.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Looking After Number 1 ...

Following on from yesterday's post, I have to make some comment on the state of the western democracies in the light of the economic decisions and activities as I see them at present. Watching a televised debate last night on German television several things leapt out at me. Firstly, the German economy is currently strong and this is, in part, because the labour market is largely free. People negotiate their wage levels with their employer, not with some national minimum in mind. It has led to a situation where there are lots of "mini-jobs" and many on the lower end of the pay scales hold down two and even three such hourly paid jobs. Secondly it is because, with some notable exceptions, the employers and the unions work together and not in opposition.

The exceptions are the "international" employers and the "state" owned (or the state has a major share and say in the running of them) companies. Here the pattern is confrontational, and one does have to wonder why. The debate last night highlighted at least one reason. One of the debaters was a passionate lady from Die Linke, the former Communist "Socialist Unity Party for Germany" which ran the East German State with an iron fist, secret police, guns, walls, fences and all. She provided, for me, the perfect example of the passionate ideologue with little or no experience (or contact with) the realities of the world or the lives of the people she claims to wish to "improve". Her passionate interuptions, tirades and denunciations of everything and everyone who dared to say anything she disagreed with was evidence enough of her inability to recognise any other point of view, but it was compounded by her emphatic stance on the position of tax and ownership.

On the first, she was adamant that everyone had to pay more tax so that the infrastructure, the schools, the nursery places, health care and virtually everything else could be "improved" according to her ideal. She became extremely aggitated when it was pointed out that a large portion of the crumbling infrastructure lay in the parts of Germany her party had run for over 40 years and failed to improve. That the shortage of money for this everywhere in the western parts now is largely the result of it having to be prioritised to bring the eastern Lände up to standard. For me this highlighted the political divide across the west, between the well-to-do "socialists" who see themselves as "liberal, enlightened and benevolent" and driven by the desire to create a "fair" society in which, presumably, everyone enjoys a "fair" division of wealth. The trouble is, that their idea of "fair" usually means they keep the power and the wealth, and the rest of us get to share what they determine to be the appropriate reward we "deserve". On the second point she was ambiguous and rather evasive, but the implication was that her party believed they should have a say in who had what.

On the other hand at present we have the "conservative" politicians who are perhaps better described as "monetarists" and want a society in which tax is low (most of us would say we want that), government is small and less intrusive and they and their cronies, supporters and camp-followers are free to reap uncapped and unrestricted rewards. Of course they also believe that some of the wealth needs to be directed to keeping the less fortunate from the barricades and to maintaining infrastructures. After all, what is the point of owning a Jaguar or a Bentley if you can't drive it on the roads, or the airport terminal is falling apart and you can't actually use it to get to your First Class seat for that holiday on a private island? People notice if the lights go out because the power lines fell down, or the gas stops flowing through the pipes because the gas mains are broken. So they tend to spend just enough to keep that from happening, and by shuffling the cups (round and round they go - where the pea is no one knows) you can keep people from noticing that the pea is actually shrinking.

It may well be true (and I certainly believe it is) that our civil services have become bloated and that the senior elements of it are way overpaid, that our politicians are lining their pockets at our expense, but then, it has ever been thus. A simple reading of the tales of the corruption in the corridors of power in the 17th to 19th Centuries - which led to the creation of the civil service as we know it in the first place - to realise that the wheel has turned full circle and we are back to a very similar state. The corruption is less visible, but just as in the 18th Century contracts were handed out to cronies and friends, now they go to "preferred bidders" with gold plated get out clauses and inflated bids. The whole thing runs, as has been exposed in a number of political biographies recently, on a very selective and very closed network. One that runs not only through the upper echelons of Westminster, but through Whitehall and on into the major companies of the commercial, mercantile and industrial side as well. If you aren't in that network from the start, you'll find a very solid glass ceiling in place - unless you've the money to buy your way round it.

That network is the key to power and the real wealth of most western nations. One needs patronage, one needs the right contacts. One needs that all important "nod" from the right heads to gain access. A single "black ball" and you're out, forever on the periphery. It's a fact of life in the corridors of power, but even insiders can fall out of the net. As one very senior civil servant once confided at a dinner I was Master of Ceremonies for, "the way to survive in Whitehall is to be THE expert on some 'problem'. You must never offer a solution, just be THE person who everyone has to consult if they need to know anything about the problem." He went on to explain that sometimes one had to 'create' a problem ...

To this must be added a new phenomenon in Whitehall/Westminster - the Special Adviser. These individuals are usually students of political 'science' and are hired at marvelous salaries to 'advise' ministers on specific subjects. Some are straight from university, activists with a passion for some single issue, full of 'factoids' about that issue, but with little grasp of anything beyond it, or indeed, of any of the impacts adopting their preferred solution will bring. Thus we have the Chief Scientist being told by an impassioned non-scientist how ecologically unsound it is to use a diesel car. This, despite the said scientist explaining that the diesel car is more economical and less ecologically damaging to manufacture and run than the alternative hybrid whose batteries have a life span of five years. These cannot be recycled and the manufacture of them produces some really toxic and ecologically damaging wastes - which cannot be reprocessed.

Then one looks at where the SpAd came from and who his/her connections are and, surprise, surprise, there's a network connection through school, university, Party and possibly even family. That is the bottom line unfortunately. The Whitehall/Westminster/City network has existed for centuries and it exists in one form or anther in every country, no matter the ideological flavour of the government. It exists for one reason only, to preserve those in the "Upper Ten Thousand" (the classic 1%) in their positions of power and wealth, and to make sure their dynastic successors remain in it.

Can we change it? Probably not, since destroying one such network will simply give rise to a new one. The best way to deal with it is to learn the rules of this game, and then play it to your own advantage, not always the easiest thing to do, and probably a very selfish view. Better still, in my view, is to play the game, but with a moral and honest view to sharing the reward. That, perhaps, is what the political class is not prepared to do.