Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent snows

This is a piece written for the Staffordshire Sentinel and due to appear in the paper on Wednesday December 1st. 

Sacred Heart, Hanley 27 Nov at 8am
What is it about snow? 
Yes, we know it causes inconvenience and hassle. It closes schools and business, blocks roads, and makes travel precarious, even dangerous. Snow disrupts our routine, plays havoc with our appointments. 
But we can't despise it. We have to admit: it is so beautiful. 
It veils the bare trees, stripped of their leaves, and gives them dignity and beauty again. It rests on roof tops and fences, dusting them with sugar from the sky. It dampens sound and gives the busy city streets a calm and peace they rarely have. 
And as the days grow short and the light is dim, with its bright whiteness it magnifies the weak light of winter. It makes ordinary scenes enchanting, and fine landscapes stunning. It conceals some features, but it also reveals their beauty. 
Yet it is only here for a short time. Here, snow visits us generally for a few days, a couple of weeks at most, and often just a few hours, intruding into the day. Of course, there are places, more familiar with its winter visitation, where it lasts for many weeks, but even then it is seasonal, rarely permanent, soon moved by the spring thaws and the warming sun of the longer days. Like the snowman in Raymond Brigg's cartoon, it provides a short moment of magic, but may be gone in the morning. 
Yet for all this, it provides us with glorious scenes in drab days. It lights up dark mornings and refracts the light of the early setting sun. It brings joy and jollity in dim and depressing days. The fall and dusting of the snow reminds us that in the middle of the night there will be a dawn. In the midst of a bleak cold winter, there is beauty. In the midst of hardship, they may be hope. Snow provides a temporary beauty, but it hints at a permanent one. 
And so it is with the Christian Season of  Advent, which began last weekend. It is a time of looking forward, of excitement and anticipation through the darkness of winter to the light of Christmas, and the longer days which follow. As the Churches prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas, they are also expressing a belief in something much more far reaching, much deeper, and more permanent. 
Sometimes, and for some people, life may seem like an eternal winter - like the people of Narnia in CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Warderobe, a place where it is 'always winter but never Christmas'. 
We sit not only in the darkness of winter, but also in the darkness of economic trouble, the darkness of anxiety, the darkness of doubt, the darkness of bereavement and loss. We look, as  St Paul  says,  in a mirror darkly at our lives and the world around us. 
And the lights of Advent, and the snows of winter, give us a hint of hope, of an end to sorrow and separation, of an end to uncertainty.They promise to us the fullness of life - not only of the life of a new born child celebrated in song and generosity - but also of the life of a Light which is never dimmed or obscured, a beauty which never thaws nor melts away, but which lasts for ever. 
 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Smile for the newest Saint

This is the text of an article written for publication in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel on Wednesday 29th September 2010.


On September 19th I was privileged to be present (with 50,000 others) when Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman. Or to put it more simply, he named Newman as Britain’s newest Saint.
You may have been surprised by this news. Newman - a Victorian clergyman and academic who converted to Catholicism in1845, half way through his life - is not especially well known, even by many Catholics.
Why? Well, while students of his writings greatly admire them, it has not always been easy for people to warm to the man himself. He seems a bookish figure - a fellow of Oxford university, who wrote learned works on education, philosophy and theology. He lived for most of his life in a community of priests, and appears to some to be rather dour and dull. In the many photographs of him which survive, he is studious and serious. There are no images of him smiling.
But this understanding of Newman misses out so much. He was indeed a great thinker and educator - but he was also a man of great tenderness and compassion, who saw the image of God in all people. Don’t be misled by the photographs. You will search long and hard for any Victorian photograph in which the subjects are smiling - exposure times were too long, and teeth, I suppose, too bad.
No, when he became a Cardinal, he took the motto “Heart speaks to Heart”, for he, the academic from a privileged background, could see very well that God’s heart speaks to the Heart of every single person, rich or poor, educated or illiterate. As an Anglican he moved from the centre of Oxford out to Littlemore to care for the poor in a rural area which was rapidly industrialising. When he came to Birmingham, the already famous Dr Newman set up his new community not in the plush and affluent suburbs, but in a former gin warehouse, amongst the poorest and most deprived of the rapidly growing city. He was deeply loved by the ordinary parishioners who he consoled, encouraged and educated through the schools he founded. When nearby Bilston was overcome with an epidemic of cholera, the local priests unable to cope and others afraid to help in case they too became ill, he went there, oblivious to his own safety, to console the sick and bury the dead.
And though he was no Oscar Wilde (another Victorian convert to Catholicism), neither was he without wit. When a pompous English priest in Rome invited him to address his intelligent and well-to-do English congregation - who would be a much more cultured audience than any in England, he claimed - Newman pointedly but firmly declined “because people in Birmingham have souls too”!
His concern for the ordinary people, and their love of him was most apparent at the end his life. Well into his eighties he walked the several miles from his parish to the Cadbury factory to plead the case of workers there. And just a few years later when his funeral cortege passed through the the city to his grave in Rednal, the streets were lined with more than 20,000 people who had loved this kind and holy man.
Perhaps the course of time, and the many academics who still read and study Newman, have clouded the memory of someone who was not just an intelligent man, but also a warm and saintly one.
His first ever Feast Day is on October 9th. If you wish, join Catholics all over the world and in saying “Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.”

Sunday, August 01, 2010

How not to be interviewed on the Radio.

Two simple tips: 

1. Do not have a coughing fit

2. Do not allow your phone to play "Swampsnake" by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the middle of the interview. 

For an example of what happens when such advice is not taken, listen here

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tim Vine? Are you having a laugh?

Tim Vine
Tim Vine is not, perhaps, the most well known talent. His brother Jeremy Vine is much more of a household name. Tim is a stand-up comedian with an extraordinary ability for one liners. In fact he holds the record for the most jokes told in an hour (499). I heard of him first just the other day when some of his creations were read out on the Radio 4 programme “Quote - Unquote”. There are lots dotted around the internet.

I suppose it’s all a matter of taste, but they are instantly funny, quick quips which appeal to children as much as adults and are charmingly old fashioned and innocent. Many people compare the humour with that of Tommy Cooper. I think they are wonderful!

So, here are some I’ve collected (an entirely cut and paste job!)

Beware of Alphabet Grenades… if you throw them, it could spell disaster!

My mate said to me: “Can you tell me what you call someone who comes from Corsica?” I said: “Cors-i-can”!

When it comes to cosmetic surgery… a lot of people turn their noses up.

So I saw this Scotsman and I asked him if he had spots when he was younger. He replied “Achh-neeee”.

One arm butlers – they can take it but they can’t dish it out…

I used go out with an anaesthetist – she was a local girl…

I had a dream last night that I was cutting carrotts with the Grim Reaper… dicing with death!

I was walking down the road the other day and I saw this advert in the window that said “Television for Sale – £1- Volume Stuck On Full”. I thought: “I can’t turn that down”.

A friend of mine always wanted to be run over by a steam train. When it happened, he was chuffed to bits!

So I went to the record shop and I said “What have you got by The Doors?” He said: “A bucket of sand and a fire blanket!”

What do you call a lady with big teeth that sleeps in the afternoon? Siesta Rantzen.

Albinos – you can’t say fairer than that!

(Holding up a notice which says “Future Events”) Tim Vine: “Well, there’s a sign of things to come!”

My mate bet with me that I’d never eat at a barbecque with Matthew Corbett – I said, that’s a Sweep-Stake!

I wanted to be a milkman, right - but I didn't have the bottle!!

I've played football on a plane you know....there I was, running up the wing!!!

Black beauty, now there's a dark horse!!!

So I went into this video shop, and the man asked if I'd like to rent Batman Forever - I said 'No...just for 2 hours!!!!!!'

This man pushed me into a bag of peanuts, so I told the police - they asked me if I was assaulted - I said 'No - dry roasted!!!'

I went to the butchers the other day and the butcher said 'I bet you £5 you can't guess the weight of that meat on the top shelf'. ' I'm not gambing!' I said, 'The steaks are too high!!!!!!'

I was in a Chinese restaurant when a duck came up to me with a rose and
said: 'Your eyes sparkle like the stars'. So I said to the waiter: 'Excuse me, I ordered aromatic duck!!!!!!'

I threw some snow at my girlfriend. She didn't catch my drift.

Did you hear Handel has teamed up with Hinge and Bracket? They've formed The Doors!!!!!

I was taking the motorway out of London. A policeman pulled me over and said: 'Put it back'

I've got a friend who's fallen in love with two schoolbags - he's bisatchel!!!!

A man came up to me and cut the bottom of my trouser leg off and send it to the library. So that was a turn-up for the books.

You know how most barbers' chairs go up and down? Well this one went from side to side. The barber turned to me and said: 'Mr. Vine, get out of the filing cabinet.'

I've got a sponge door....don't knock it.

I've got an auntie, Auntie Aircraft Gun. That woman don't half give me a load of flak.

So I took my dog for a walk and it was really angry - well it would be it's a cross breed!!

I tell you what is close to my heart at the moment. My left lung."

I had a cat called Minton who swallowed a shuttlecock. I said 'Bad Minton!'

I saw a bargain the other day, a TV set for £1. Only problem was the volume
control which was stuck on full. Come on, how can you turn that down?

I used to go shoplifting on the shoulders of a load of vampires. Then I got caught and charged with burglary on three counts!

So I went to Buckingham Palace to cut Prince William's hair. I said to the policeman, 'Can you let me in to the car park, I'm here to cut Prince William's hair?' The policeman said 'Have you got a permit?' - I said, 'No, just a bit off the back!!!!'

I was driving down the motorway and someone rang me up on my mobile to say that I'd been promoted to a director. I was in such a shock that I skidded to the left. Later, they rang back and said that I was now the managing director, so I veered the car to the right. Finally, they rang up and said that I was the chairman, and I drove right into the hard shoulder. Yes, I'd careered off the road!!!

I’ve got a friend who has got a butler whose left arm is missing – serves him right.

I was in the army once and the Sergeant said to me: “What does surrender mean?” I said: “I give up!”

One of my squaddies in my army came up to my bunk bed the other day and had a hairdryer against my duvet, I said: “Don’t blow my cover”

I was looking for the directions for Radio 1 in London, and a guy pointed me in the direction of the building. I said: “That’s not a building, thats a cloud!” He said: “Down a bit…”

I have spent the afternoon re-arranging the furniture in Draculas house… I was doing a bit of Fang-Shui

I want to tell you a bit about myself.. I’m a very quiet and secretive person, and that’s it really.

So I took my dog for a walk and it was really angry -
well it would be it's a cross breed!!

So I said to my Mum 'I'm going to the funfair' -
she said 'Oooooh will you go on the Ghost train?' - I said 'No, I'll walk'

So I went to Buckingham Palace to cut Prince William's hair. I said to the policeman,
'Can you let me in to the car park, I'm here to cut Prince William's hair?'
The policeman said 'Have you got a permit?' - I said, 'No, just a bit off the back!!!!'

Three cheers for rap music!
Hip Hop!

A guy walks into the psychiatrist wearing only cling-film for shorts. The shrink says, 'Well, I can clearly see you're nuts'.

The other day someone left a piece of plasticine in my dressing room. I didn't know what to make of it.

Two blokes walk into a building..........you'd think at least one of them would have seen it.

My friend drowned in a bowl of muesli. A strong currant pulled him in.

A man came round in hospital after a serious accident.
He shouted,'Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!
The doctor replied, 'I know you can't, I've cut your arms off'.

Police arrested two kids yesterday.
One was drinking battery acid and the other was eating fireworks.
They charged one and let the other one off.

A man walked into the doctors, he said, 'I've hurt my arm in
several places'
The doctor said, 'Well don't go there anymore'.

Velcro. What a rip-off!

I don't make jokes about the spanish.. No way Jose!

I went to Millets and said 'I want to buy a tent.' He said 'To camp?', I said [butchly] 'Sorry, I want to buy a tent.' I said 'I also want to buy a caravan.' He said 'Camper?' I said [campily] 'Make your mind up.'

Now you know those trick candles that you blow out and a couple of seconds
later they come alight again, well the other day there was a fire at the
factory that makes them. The fire brigade have tried everything.

So I met this gangster who pulls up the back of people's pants, it was Weggie Kray.

But I'm in great mood tonight because the other day I entered a competition
and I won a years supply of Marmite......... one jar.

When I was at school people used to throw gold bars at me. I was the victim of bullion.

So I went to the doctor and he said, 'You've got hypochondria.' I said, 'Not that as well!'

I used to live in a teapot. I know what you're thinking 'Pour You'

Advent Calendars? Their days are numbered.

I was playing the piano in a bar and this elephant walked in and started crying his heart out. I said 'Do you recognise the tune?' He said 'No, I recognise the ivory'.

I met this bloke with a didgeridoo and he was playing Dancing Queen on it. I thought, 'That's Aboriginal.'

This lorry full of tortoises collided with a van full of terrapins. It was a turtle disaster.

I told my girlfriend I had a job in a bowling alley. She said 'Tenpin?' I said, 'No, permanent.'


I went in to a pet shop. I said, 'Can I buy a goldfish?' The guy said, 'Do you want an aquarium?' I said, 'I don't care what star sign it is.'

I went to buy a watch, and the man in the shop said 'Analogue.' I said 'No, just a watch.'

I met the bloke who invented crosswords today. I can't remember his name, its P something T something R.

I was reading this book today, The History of Glue. I couldn't put it down.

I phoned the local ramblers club today, but the bloke who answered just went on and on.

The recruitment consultant asked me 'What do you think of voluntary work? I said 'I wouldn't do it if you paid me.'

I was in the jungle and there was this monkey with a tin opener. I said, 'You don't need a tin opener to peel a banana.' He said, 'No, this is for the custard.'

This policeman came up to me with a pencil and a piece of very thin paper. He said, 'I want you to trace someone for me.’

I told my mum that I'd opened a theatre. She said, 'Are you having me on?' I said, 'Well I'll give you an audition, but I'm not promising you anything.'

I phoned the local builders today; I said to them 'Can I have a skip outside my house?' He said, 'I'm not stopping you!'

This cowboy walks in to a German car showroom and he says 'Audi!'

I fancied a game of darts with my mate. He said, 'Nearest the bull goes first' He went 'Baah' and I went 'Moo' He said 'You're closest'

I was driving up the motorway and my boss phoned me and he told me I'd been promoted. I was so shocked I swerved the car. He phoned me again to say I'd been promoted even higher and I swerved again. He then made me managing director and I went right off into a tree. The police came and asked me what had happened. I said 'I careered off the road'

I visited the offices of the RSPCA today. It's tiny: you couldn't swing a cat in there.

I was stealing things in the supermarket today while balanced on the shoulders of a couple of vampires. I was charged with shoplifting on two counts.

I bought a train ticket to France and the ticket seller said 'Eurostar' I said 'Well I've been on telly but I'm no Dean Martin.

I phoned the local gym and I asked if they could teach me how to do the splits. He said, 'How flexible are you?' I said, 'I can't make Tuesdays or Thursdays.'

I went to the local video shop and I said, 'Can I borrow Batman Forever?' He said, 'No, you'll have to bring it back tomorrow'

A waiter asks a man, 'May I take your order, sir?' 'Yes,' the man replies. 'I'm just wondering, exactly how do you prepare your chickens?' 'Nothing special, sir. We just tell them straight out that they're going to die.'


I slept like a log last night. I woke up in the fireplace!

I phoned the Football League and said I was interested in running a Sheffield based football team. They said, 'How flexible are you?' I said, 'I can't manage Wednesday.'

Friday, July 09, 2010

A letter to the Tablet, 23rd July 1870

Here follows the text of a letter written by the first Parish Priest of Hanley, Fr William Molloy to the Tablet, almost exactly one hundred and forty years ago. Fr Molloy was Parish Priest from the creation of the Parish in 1860, until his death in 1890. His great Gothic Church (mentioned below) was opened in 1891, a year after his death.

Hanley, Staffordshire
Sir, 
I have appealed now and again during the last ten years for help to carry on the work of this new and struggling Mission. Some have replied generously, some stingily and some not at aIl. 
By the timely aid of the former we were enabled to build a serviceable chapel and good large school. The daily attendance of the children is over three hundred. The boys' and girls' schools are separate, and taught by certificated teachers. Both the chapel and the schools are daily growing too small for us; or perhaps I should say, the population is growing too large for them. And I am sure what will shock you a great deal is that, up to the present time, the priests of Hanley have had no house to live in. 
We have now, I am happy to say, purchased about an acre of land not more than five minutes' walk from the centre of the town. The purchase money was £900. This we have paid to the last farthing. All this you hare enabled me to do by your generosity. 
I make this public statement; first, because people like to see what is done with their money; and, secondly, because I am going to ask you to advance me a little more in the same good cause, if you think I have administered your former trust fairly and honourably. 
And now allow me to tell you to what purposes this piece of ground is to be applied, with the approbation of our venerable Bishop. I intend building first a large, well proportioned presbytery; in fact, the work is already begun from drawings by E. W. Pugin, Esq., and is to cost £980; secondly, a large school chapel, to be used hereafter entirely as a school, when sufficient means are found to build our intended Gothic Church: thirdly, a convent of teaching and edifying nuns. 
Behold, my dear, generous friends, my scheme of good intentions! 
But how are they to be realised? I have the ground, and that is all. I may safely say I have not £50 towards the buildings already alluded to. What then is to be done? 
Why just this: put all the old, brassy beggars who are always before the world, aside for a few months and adopt me. Send me a few pounds or shillings, or even a few substantial prizes for my coming bazaar and drawing, to be held in November in this town. No one will be the worse or the poorer. 
And Hanley will bid fair to be in religion, as she is in trade and population, the capital of the Potteries. 
Yours, etc, 

William Molloy


Lies, damned lies ... and evidence

The following is the original of a short article published in the Staffordshire Sentinel on Wednesday 7th July 2010. You can read the published version here.  


There are lies, damned lies, and ... evidence.

No, that’s not the real quote from Oscar Wilde, but it might as well be.

Some recent research looked into people’s opinions and how they were affected by hard, solid evidence.

Two groups with strongly opposing views - the chosen topic was the death penalty - were presented with articles which claimed to show solid evidence that refuted their point of view.

Now, you might have thought that those surveyed would have reconsidered their ideas.

Actually, the researchers discovered the opposite. Far from being shaken in their views, the test groups were more likely to disbelieve the evidence. They hunted for flaws in the articles, weaknesses in the argumentation.

We shouldn’t be surprised. We know very well in our own conversations that strong evidence always has a hard time when up against a strongly held view.

Sometimes we call this prejudice - judging before we have the facts - though this is too simple. People hold to the same views even after they have the facts.

And if we come across this in our daily lives, we see it in public life too.

The last government made a big fuss about ‘evidence based policy’. No longer, it was argued, would gut feeling or traditional attitudes define public policy, but the evidence would be followed. Wherever it led.

But like so many great ideas, so grand and impressive, it only went so far.

When the evidence about drugs policy became uncomfortable, the advisers were sacked. Foreign policy decisions were still based on the old fashioned considerations of alliances and self-interest.

Suddenly “evidence” became less compelling.

But there was a reason behind all this concern about “evidence”. The drive for “evidence based policy” was all about the use of science, especially in those very sensitive areas of life, living things, and death. It was about stem cells, cloning, fertility and infertility, abortion, care of the dying, genetically modified crops - areas where science touches Life itself very intimately. All of these were issues gripped in a morass of opinion which sometimes used the evidence and sometimes didn’t - which sometimes talked about the danger and damage of such procedures and sometimes just talked about “playing God”. If only we could cut through all this - they thought - draw out all the opinion and just follow the evidence ... surely that will be much better. At a stroke the loud and opionated will have the branch taken from under them ... won’t they?

Well, yes ... and no. So long, it seems, and only so long as the evidence goes the right way.

Here’s a recent example. Anti-abortion campaigners have long claimed that the child feels pain in the womb, and unborn babies have even been give anaesthetic ... though recently others have produced evidence that the foetus cannot feel any pain until very late in its development. So, is abortion right or wrong?

The trouble with just following the evidence is that it leaves out right and wrong. Without this evidence is just ... evidence. It is our moral sense which enables us to make the decisions.

Sometimes things are still wrong, because they are wrong, whatever the evidence may be.

This doesn’t mean we can ignore evidence, facts and figures, of course not. But questions about the death penalty, stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia, drugs policy, war and peace, must be always be matters of morality, not statistics.

And oh yes - those people who questioned the evidence they didn’t like? They got it right after all: the ‘evidence’ had been concocted for the purposes of research.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Propaganda and Martyrdom

Just a short post, but a quotation which struck a chord, which is just too long for twitter.

It deserves perhaps some comment and reflection, along the lines of "this doesn't mean we are or should be (media) martyrs, though we might be". Anyway, here it is.

From today's Office of Readings: Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world. (St Ignatius of Antioch)


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 28, 2010

The iPad is here! 2. The shortcomings

I love my iPad. Don’t forget that, because in this post I want to mention some of the negatives - the things I consider to be the shortcomings of the iPad.

There’s been a lot of negative stuff out there and I’d like to comment on it a bit. I should also make it clear that I speak entirely from the viewpoint of my own needs and usage. Of course, like any other device its worth and usefulness will depend upon the individual user.

So first of all I have to say that some of the criticism which I have read is pretty thin. The biggest one appears to be the lack of Flash - but this has had no impact at all on my usage. The related criticism that it has no video it simply not true. I watch video on it all the time. (They meant no flash video, I presume - but there plenty of others). The criticisms about the lack a (front facing) camera is a minor gripe, and the lack of multitasking - another complaint that has little impact on me - will be corrected by the end of the year.

I do have my own criticisms, however, about things which matter much more to me.

The first is a small matter, but a niggle none the less. The ipad has a rounded back, which means it rocks when placed on a flat surface. This makes it impossible to use the on-screen keyboard unless the ipad is held in the hand or placed on a suitable case or riser. A flat back, or even a couple of simple clip out  legs of the kind that keyboards often have, would have overcome this difficulty, but as it is the user has to find some kind of workaround.

The second is the screen. Now don't get me wrong, in most circumstances it is stunning. It smudges easily, but wipes clean very easily too. Given this 'feature' I am little surprised that there was no cloth supplied with the iPad (well at least not with mine). The real problem is that in bright sunlight it is very hard to read. This is not so much because of the brightness of the screen, but because it is highly reflective. This, no doubt, gives such impressive results in normal lighting, but if I just want to read in the garden on a Sunny day, it is far from ideal. I’ve dicovered a simple transparent sleeve - which you can buy for pennies from Staples - help a great deal. No doubt someone will come up with a hood or screen cover of some kind that will more elegantly (and more expesively) deal with this problem.

The third complaint is linked to the one which follows, and that is that there is no simple way of printing. Yes, there are 'apps for that' which sort of work, but only sort of. They are using tricks and workarounds, but without an anchor in the operating system itself it is very hard to overcome. An email purported to come from Mr Jobs himself says that ‘print is coming’ but it isn’t here yet.

The fourth complaint is more fundamental, and this is the file system, or lack thereof.  
This is a little complicated, but is worth a careful explanation. This is probably only an issue for anyone using the ipad for work. Those using it to watch video, listen to music, surf the net, post to facebook and catch up with emails (perhaps most users most of the time) will be totally unaffected.

The iPad, like the iPhone and iPod touch does not have an open file system. That is to say that you cannot see the folders where the programs and data are kept. Individual applications can save their own files, but applications can't see the files of other applications (this is called 'sandboxing'). Now the iPad has slightly opened up this system. There's a nice feature where a file from one application can be sent to another to be opened. So, an email attachment might be opened and edited by another suitable application. Another feature allows you to send and receive files through USB, but only via iTunes. This is an odd feature in several ways.  It only relates to applications which allow it, and you can transfer files from iPad app to computer, or vice versa, but not from app to app. This is oddest in the iWork apps. In Pages (brilliant in so many ways) a document created on the iPad can be 'exported' in either doc, PDF or Pages format. But this just means that the 'exported' document then sits in the iPad Pages folder which is visible to iTunes. From there it can be imported to the PC or Mac. This is odd. It means that I can create a very attractive pdf which I can email to someone or transfer to my desktop computer by USB cable, but I can't read it in GoodReader or try and print it in PrintBureau ... unless I email it to myself, then using Open With ... Dialogue in the Mail app, open the attachment with the desired application. Cumbersome.  Sort of manageable on a wifi network, but potentially expensive on pay per gig 3G.

I really hope this will be changed soon, especially as the flatfile system of Pages is  already creaking under the 20 or so documents I have already created.

Now, as I say, this is only really an issue if you really want to do some solid work with the iPad. And it is not a fatal flaw in the iPad. There are a number of apps which can read from and often write to services like Dropbox and Google Docs, and even MobileMe, which save your files ‘in the cloud’ and so make them accessible from anywhere, but so far the ‘Office’ apps, while they can do spreadsheets and word documents, they don’t have anything like the elegance or power of Pages, Keynote and Numbers (which, incidentally, can import Excel files but can’t export as Excel). There’s a bit of a gap here which needs overcoming.

There’s is just one more gripe, or perhaps it might be an aspiration. At the moment to use an iPad you must have a Mac or a PC in order to sync and update and deal with some other processes. You can download purchases from iTunes through WiFi, and even mount the iPad as a drive, but you can’t quite do without the desktop or laptop. I’m sure that there are many users out there who would be very satisified with only an iPad, if only that were possible.

Overall, these are, perhaps, rather bitty complaints, and none of them seem insuperable in some software update or app development. I don’t think any of these are what might be called ‘a deal breaker’. I would not agree with those who say that because the iPad is version 1.0, it is not yet complete, an unfinished piece of work. This was true of the first iPhone, but not of the iPad. Certainly there will be apps that appear to do tasks that can’t yet be done. There will be software and firmware updates that plug gaps and enhance functions - indeed we know that OS 4.0 is already on the way, first for the iPhone then for the iPad in the autumn. I’m sure too that there will be improvements on the hardware - a front facing camera, flat back (!), more storage - but I honestly see these as developments, not as an indication that the iPad is incomplete.

My next (and final) post will be about what I have already used the iPad for - and how it works for me!

The iPad is here! 1. The wow factor.

The iPad is out in the UK today (May 28th), but I have been fortunate (yes, really fortunate) to have owned one for some three weeks.

In a few blogs I thought it might be interesting to give some reflections on this exciting piece of technology.

In this post I'll look at the wow factor. Next I'll consider some shortcomings as I see them, then finally I'll explain how I have already put the iPad to use.

Perhaps the first thing to say is, yes, it is exciting, VERY exciting. Ok, I am an ageing geek, and a recent convert to Apple, with all the fervour if any neophyte. So don't take my word for it. Let me tell you about the reactions of people I have showed it to. People are just wowed by it. My 78 dad has put it high on his wish list. The IT department at the school where i am chaplain took it round the departments demonstrating its potentiality with enthusiasm. People who casually ask for a glimpse are surprised and impressed.

But what is so good about it? After all, isn't it just an extra-large iPod touch, a mega iPhone without the phone? It may look impressive, but is it really useful? What can it do that is not already done by iPhone or Laptop? And aren't there other Slate devices?

Well let me make clear this is not the device to end all devices, just ad the iPhone wasn't the phone to end all phones. But just as most smartphones now have the look of the iPhone about them, so I am really convinced that the iPad has set a new paradigm which will be widely copied.

Why? Well, it’s not that the iPad is perfect (more of that in a later post). But it is very impressive.

Graphically the iPad is stunning. The colours are bright. Images are crisp and striking. It's what people notice immediately when they see the iPad for the first time. Video is really good. I've watched many episodes now of Spooks with great pleasure. Tvcatchup (the iPhone site) streams live TV beautifully, and the new BBC iPlayer beta (released only on 27th May) is similarly wonderful. The YouTube app is great too.

Surfing the web is a dream. The screen size (about A5) gives a great view of a whole page, and zooming in is easy. The text is very readable and photos great. When you surf the web you realise how great a difference the size makes. While the iPhone made the mobile experience of surfing the web manageable, the iPad makes it pleasurable. It would not be an kind of exaggeration to say that this is the best web surfing experience available. If I want to surf the web - this is the device of first choice.

And from that flows some excellent apps which draw content from the web. News apps with a high photo-content excel. IMDB is also outstanding. There are also apps such as Elements, a kind of Cd Rom (remember them?) of the periodic table which combine encylopaedic data with web links to external sites, such as Wolfram Alpha. There is plenty of scope for more, and they will be great.

As a book reader, too, the iPad functions extremely well. The iBooks and Kindle apps work beautifully (iBooks has more features, though Kindle has far more books). Turning pages, leaving bookmarks and notes and even looking up on the dictionary (iBooks) are supported. There is little need to consult help files or installation instructions - the interface is simple, inutitive and effective. There is also an excellent app FreeBooks which draws on public domain titles. It is also possible (using iTunes and iBooks) to create your own books, though I've yet to find an epub book creator that really works for me (you really need the epub format to use book readers well) Perhaps epubs, like PDFs will become standard file types for text editors in the future.

The maps app is very impressive, again illustrating what a difference the screen size makes even with basically the sane set of features as we have been familiar with on the iPhone and iPod touch.

The mail and calendar applications similarly enhance familiar functions from the iPhone and just make them, well, easier and more pleasurable. Though perhaps they also create expectations: I'm probably not the only one who's tried to move from week to week by swiping the screen.

Sitting on the desk, the iPad looks a little like one of those photo frames, and while that may seem to undervalue the device, it also indicates another use of the device which it does wonderfully well. As a way to display your photos, it is just great, and there are already some very powerful photo-editing apps available which mean that as an accompaniment to a photographer on the road - including the professional - it is very usable.

The overall experience is just, well, very impressive. My Dad desribed it as ‘magical’ and I don’t think he’d seen Steve Jobs keynote (I don’t think he even knows who Steve Jobs is).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Prayers and the world cup


The Church of England has today published prayers for the World Cup.
This seems strange and indeed quaint. Surely there are many competent clergy and lay people who are more than capable of writing prayers for the occasion: do they really need to have official prayers for tournament - official only in England, of course.

It has received seem amused comment in the media - but then when isn't comment about the Church of England in the media amused? In the pack of cards which are the Christians of the nation, it is pretty clear that the media view the Church of England as the jokers and the Catholics as the Knaves.

However, prayers for special occasions are nothing new. Indeed, we Catholics have, in only the past few days had special prayers for Reparation over the child abuse scandals, and there has been issued a prayer card to prepare for the visit of the Pope in September.

But it is hard not to feel that while these subjects for catholic prayer are weighty matters, a football tournament in another land is rather frivolous.


There is another way of looking at this. The Church of England, in its role as established Church, sets itself up as it were as the Poet Laureate of prayers. Every event of national importance must have a special prayer, commissioned, composed and distributed. And never to be heard again. The fact that it will touch the lives of only a very small proportion of football supporters is not the point: the good old C of E, ever Erastian, must for ever show its awareness of the ordinary and exciting aspects of national life, even if for some people football is a great bore (there's a prayer for them too).

Our Catholic compositions are somewhat more introspective (as indeed has been the custom of the Catholic Church in England). They deal with our own concerns rather than popular issues.

But at least they are being used.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hard Times - Dark Clouds

The following article is written for inclusion in the Staffordshire Sentinel on April 21st 2010

It is a difficult time to be a Catholic.
It shouldn’t be. We’ve just celebrated Easter, the most colourful and hopeful festival of the Christian year. We also preparing for the visit of the Pope in September. Parishioners are signing up for a great choir for the Mass in Coventry, and rehearsals are soon to begin. It should all be very exciting.
But there are menacing clouds overshadowing our causes for joy, and I don’t mean those drifting over from an Icelandic volcano. There is a darkness which is obscuring the sunshine of our faith and Christian life.
I mean the continuing scandal over the abuse of children - those most vulnerable and beloved by God - which has been perpetrated within what were supposed to be the protective wings of the Church. It is a matter of disgust and shame for all who claim the name Christian, and of utter horror for those who cherish the Catholic Church.
The terrible crimes have of course given great material to those who want to paint religion as a force for evil and not good, who describe faith as something which damages people rather than frees them, and who have a fervent anti-Catholicism, fuelled by the kind of hatred of ‘papists’ long since abandoned by non-catholic Christians.
And it is hard for us to answer. We feel the pain of crimes wickedly committed and the shame of criminals protected out of a desire to avoid scandal for the Church.
And it is not enough for us to point out that the most terrible crimes happened many decades ago. It is not enough to argue that every organisation involved in the care of children has had to face similar scandal. It is not enough for us to list the many caring activities of the Catholic Church throughout the world, often in places where others are afraid or unable to venture. It does little good to point the finger to other institutions, where abuse has been as bad and often much worse. None of it is enough, because the wickedness has taken place. Lives have been damaged, and we do not want to appear to be putting a ‘spin’ on the bad news. We are wounded, disgusted and ashamed.
And the attacks have gone beyond the perpetrators now; they are at the doors of Church itself. A national newspaper promotes a proposal to arrest the Pope during his UK visit - something which would normally be called “crackpot”. They claim that it is Catholicism itself: the priesthood, holy Church, which is the cause of the abuse. Tear it all down - they say - it is rotten to the core.
For the Church receives special treatment: no one blames the BBC because a senior producer was charged with child pornography; nor even today’s Swedish government because in the 50s and 60s more than half the children in their orphanages were sexually abused. The Church is held to a different standard. Child abuse in the Church is perhaps the most reported crime in the world, but elsewhere perhaps not so.
And so perhaps that is right, because Catholics find no comfort in knowing abuse was so widespread. Multiple wrongs put nothing right, and our pain and sadness is not only that these things happen, but also that we were not better, that the Church’s good work was used to do bad, wicked, evil things.
And we carry this as a heavy burden. Explanations might look like an attempt at evasion or excuse. But it is the victims who most of all deserve our prayers and compassion.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Greetings from Sacred Heart (in 23 languages)

On Easter Day - as has become our custom at Sacred Heart - we wish a Happy Easter to one another in our home languages (and a few others). This year we managed 23 languages!

Click here to listen. (This recording needs a little editing).

You can also see some photos of the Church here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Congratulations, Gary!

Congratulations to and many prayers for Gary Buckby, who has followed in the steps of such great people as John Henry Newman, and me, to move from the CofE to ordination in Catholic Church.
Gary was ordained deacon this afternoon at Oscott College, and is now preparing for the priesthood. Ad multos annos!

Passwords

Bosco Peters, an anglican clergyman in New Zealand, has an amusing post about passwords. He says that he has cracked the Pope's login to the Vatican website and his password is EtCumSpriti220. (Get it?)
It's an amusing post, were it not for the many comments who clearly haven't got the joke, and think he really has hacked into the Vatican website (Do you really think the Pope logs in to the Vatican website? why would he? and why choose a word play that only works in English? - I provide these arguments only for the immovably gullible).
The joke, though, has a lot of potential, especially when linked a tool to check the strength of a password.
He's not there yet though:

bcp1662 - a reference to the anglican Book of Common Prayer

and

filioque1054 - a reference to the Great Schism

are both quaint, but hardly risible, while

VocatusAtqueNonVocatusDeusAderit1961 - a reference to the psychololgist Jung

is very worthy, but hardly raises a smile and could be signficantly challenging late into the evening after a couple of gins. No, EtCumSpiri220 is the best yet, and one I would use, were it not for the fact that I have now told the world (if the world chooses to read this post).

Any ideas?



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Smoking gun? That 2001 letter.

There’s an almighty row going on at the moment. It seems distilled into a shouting match between commentators at the Times and the Telegraph, but it is also rumbling in many different parts of the world, most notably in Germany. It is of course the continuing scandal of the way in which the Church has handled child abuse cases around the world.

There are many assertions made of frankly doubtful validity, most notably that the Catholic Church is especially prone to this kind of offence because of priestly celibacy. The shocking evidence of massive abuse in the Swedish care system is surely an indication that matters are somewhat more complex, as there are few Catholics and (I am told) even fewer celibates in the land of Wallander.

However, where - I am sure - the Church is especially vulnerable is in the matter of secrecy. It is well known that abusers were routinely moved from parish to parish, rather than being brought to civil justice, and it especially painful (and shameful) to hear that the Church was generally reluctant to co-operate with civil authorities.

Now, against this background I read repeatedly about a document written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. This is, for many, the smoking gun. The letter written in that year to all the Bishops of the world, dealing with a range of issues, stated that cases being investigated by the bishops into clerical abuse of minors must be referred to the Cardinal in Rome. Investigators are reminded of the strict confidentiality of such proceedings.

Many see this “secret document” as proving that Cardinal Ratzinger
wanted to silence accusations against the Church and its priests and so led this cover up. For these people it is evidence of the conspiracy. Others - not so many - argue that the then Cardinal was keen on ensuring that abuse allegations were properly investigated.

This worried me, but also puzzled me. We are talking here of a document written in 2001. This was not a time when the secrecy of the Church was being tightened up, but on the contrary when there was definite push for greater accountability and openness. 2001 was the year of the Nolan report. It was a time of rapidly advancing child protection procedures, throughout the Church in England and Wales. Child Protection officers were being appointed in Dioceses and Parishes and we were introducing a process of vetting church workers and clergy - some time before the government’s introduction of the CRB and the renaming of the whole apparatus as ‘Safeguarding’.

And I also remember the way in which allegations came to be treated. Not only were cases taken to the police, but often the reaction of the Church was harsher than that of the civil authorities: I can think of two priests who were suspended after allegations were made. In both cases a police investigation found no case to answer, yet several years later those priests have still not returned to parish ministry.

So, it seems to me, if the smoking gun letter of 2001 was really intended to prevent reporting to the police, then it seems to have been widely and flagrantly disobeyed. And the severe penalty of excommunication, mentioned in the letters also seems, so far as we may know - never to have been imposed.

The document itself appears to be describing ecclesiastical procedures, and the secrecy imposed seems to me at least, to relate to the proceedings of the Church courts. Nowhere do I see a direction that the crimes investigated by the Church may not be reported to the civil authorities, that police investigations should be impeded, nor indeed can I find a claim that the courts of the Church have precedence over the rule of civil law in these kinds of offences.

The Church, or at least many of those in authority, have much to answer for in the culture of secrecy which surrounded these wicked crimes and their perpetrators. But there just isn’t the evidence that this document is the smoking gun many are making it out to be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Voice of the People?

The Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Times, Ruth Gledhill, has found herself embroiled in some confusion. She appeared to suggest in a published piece, that Pope Benedict had not in fact been elected.
The impression was caused, it is now explained, through the work of the sub-editor, who trimmed down the original piece, rather than being her original intention.


It is a story which neatly intersects several current stories: the rumbling scandal surrounding the Church and sexual abuse in Germany, the forthcoming visit of the Pope to the UK, and the election of a lesbian as the next Episcopalian (i.e. Anglican) bishop in Los Angeles.


It was, however, a recurring comment in Ruth Gledhill’s clarification of her comments on the election of Pope Benedict (and, for that matter, any other Pope) which caught my attention. The process, she remarks, of election by a small number of cardinals is “hardly democratic”.


No it isn’t, and I think every Catholic would agree with that. And it is not intended to be. No doubt it is not a perfect system, and almost every Pope alters the system for his own successor, but in no way is it meant to be “democratic”:
Catholic congregations are excluded, as are their priests, so the Church excludes its members from having a say in who leads them.
This is not democratic. Compare trade unions, political parties, even model railway clubs, stamp collecting societies and meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
What goes on behind closed doors before the puffle of white smoke is released is a mystery and is governed by a medieval code of silence. This is scarcely democracy in action.


Pope Benedict XVIThe word “election” means choice, and “democratic” means rule of the people. The appointment of the Pope is not an exercise of the rule of the people - it never was and was never intended to be. The system the Church establishes is intended to be theocratic, not democratic - to discern God’s will for the Church, not to listen to the views, opinions and lobbying of whatever people.


God forbid - literally - that the appointment of a Pope will ever be a choice of the people. It would give rein to campaigning, to manifestos, to mudslinging and to pressure from special interest and lobbying groups. It would impress upon the Church the agenda of the mob, the media rather than the Spirit. It would lead to contemporary rather than timeless choices. It would make us anglicans.


It was the voice of the people which bellowed “Crucify, him!” but the voice of the Father which enjoins us to “listen to him”.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Secular shrinkage?

Two bits of news today suggest the solidity of our secular state may not be as secure as was thought.

1. Catholic Care, the adoption agency for the dioceses of Leeds, Hallam and Middlesborough, has won its case in the High Court to run the agency according to Catholic teaching and is exempted from the new sexual orientation regulations.

2. The petition opposing the Pope's visit, promoted by the British Humanist Association, now has just under 8,000 votes. A rival petition, supporting the visit, today has more than 25,000 signatures, in other words three times as many. An interesting reflection - this seems to mirror exactly the proportion of religious believers (75%) revealed by the most recent census.

It's not all bad news.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Papal Visit: people in Birmingham have souls too!

Well finally the Papal Visit has been announced. The Catholic Church is understandably overjoyed (as is the UK government), the British Humanist Association are equally understandably disappointed, and cyclists - it seems - are concerned about the affect of the visit on the finale of the Tour of Britain. There is a nice bright shiny website - which some Anglicans think is better than many of their own - and a prayer to help us prepare for the visit.

No doubt there are many matters which will get repeated airing in the media - such as the financing of the visit (this is a state visit, but the pastoral elements are expected to cost the Church in England and Wales about £6m) and the general anti-catholic menu of the ‘Protest the Pope’ brigade (which basically boils down to no free speech for those who disagree with them).

The itinerary on the official website for the visit gives thin details (in rather small print) of the major events of the visit, some of which are obviously not yet ready to be fully announced, such as “an event focussing on education”.

But here’s an interesting thing - if you are prepared to follow my reading between the lines.
The itinerary  for Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th September gives the arrival in Scotland and a public mass, a visit to the West Midlands and then a series of impressive state and ecumenical events in London, including visits to Westminster Hall, Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey. A simple reading of the itinerary suggests that the Pope will travel south from Scotland, and concluding his visit in the great city of London, stopping off in the Midlands on the way.
But look again. There is no public mass in London, in fact no mention of Mass at all, and it is surely inconceivable that the Holy Father will spend four days in England and not be seen at Mass on Sunday - isn’t it? And isn’t it also unlikely that the public Mass he will be celebrating in England - at Coventry Airport - for the beatification of John Henry Newman - will be on any day other than Sunday? And doesn’t it seem likely that the only public mass in England will be the climax of the visit?

It does - and it will be: the beatification mass - according to our understanding here in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, where planning has been underway for quite some time - will be on Sunday 19th September, at Coventry Airport, the venue used for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982.

So how come the visit to the Newman's own Archdiocese of Birmingham is tucked into the middle of the official itinerary?

Well, perhaps it wasn’t. The description of the events in the official press release has a rather different emphasis, and the statement from Buckingham Palace gets the order of events exactly right. And the text of the itinerary says “The Holy Father will also [my emphasis] visit the West Midlands”. A minor point perhaps - but doesn’t the ‘also’ suggest that this was intended to be at the end of the itinerary rather than in the middle?
I wonder if someone in the Archdiocese of Westminster thought it unseemly that the Birmingham Archdiocese be seen to be the climax of the Visit?

However, in Newman's own words - People in Birmingham have souls too.



Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Light of all nations

It about time I got back to blogging. This post links the recent English Defence League 'gathering' in Stoke-on-Trent to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (a more obvious connection than might first appear). It will appear in the "Yours faithfully" column of the Sentinel on February 3rd 2010. 

On the afternoon of 23rd January I crossed the Potteries Way from our Church in Jasper Street and walked the short distance to the City Centre (or Hanley, as we used to call it). 
Saturday afternoon is always busy, a hubbub of people, rushing here and there to shop, stopping from time to time to chat, in and out of shops and caf├ęs and pubs. But this Saturday was different. From about midday bus after bus had brought protesters together for a ‘gathering’. 

By the time I got there the situation was already ugly, as the group pushed against police, trying to advance towards a counter-demonstration outside the Town Hall. There was a lot of noise, chanting as if from a hostile football crowd. I saw one young man climb on top of a police van, missiles thrown into the air, someone with a head-wound which poured with blood. I saw groups of police don riot gear and march in formation towards the crowd. And here and there small groups of angry men (they were mostly men, and mostly angry) muttered darkly and conferred with one another on their mobile phones. 

But it was also a surreal scene. Many shoppers clearly had no idea what was going on and were taken completely by surprise. Some were anxious, finding, as if in some bad dream, that they had emerged from a familiar afternoon shopping and socialising into the bad dream of a 1970s football crowd intent on violence. Yet others, oddly, were inquisitive and amused, edging towards the chanting and the police vans and dogs to get a better look at this unexpected performance. 

And what was it all for? The banners railed against the religion of Islam, and its legal system. All muslims were characterised as terrorists, in much the same way as earlier generations had described communists, or jews, or papists. The chants and songs were more obviously filled with hatred for racial minorities. But the words and the messages were confused and vague, bitter and angry. At one point, one of their own speakers was jeered. There was no attempt at persuasion: it was all about venting spleen. Some banners proclaimed a distaste for the oppression of women in Islam, though the members of the crowd were unlike any feminist activists I have ever seen before. 

Whatever genuine concerns could be aired, points stated, or arguments advanced, they were not being expressed here. The blaze of anger, of fury, of hatred for what is different burnt away all reason and left only darkness and violence. 

By striking contrast this week the Christian Churches celebrate a festival which places the darkness of hatred and despair back into the shadows where they belong. February 2nd, the 40th day after Christmas, is the day when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, according to their  religious law. St Luke tells us that the old man Simeon told Mary and Joseph that their Child will be a “Light for All Nations”. In Catholic Christianity we remember this day with the blessing and procession of candles. Indeed, the day is known as “Candlemass”.

On this day, it is Light which is the symbol of human diversity and difference. 
It is a sad fact that differences between peoples can be a source of anxiety or fear. There may be conflict, and a sense of injustice. But the only realistic response to these great challenges is not anxiety, but dialogue, not division, but celebration, not the darkness of fear, but the light of hope.

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