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January 31, 2005

Something to ponder

Every now and then I am surprised by something in a service at the Abbey, and recently it was the wording of the "Collect" for the day. The Collects from the Book of Common Prayer were written largely by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in his service book for the Church of England first published in 1549 and rewritten (because it was "too Catholic" according to the hardline faction) in 1552. A hundred years later, in 1662, the present Book of Common Prayer was written revising the 1552 - by now considered to be "too Protestant"- and providing a balance between the two factions. Sadly, it was now far too Catholic for the extreme Protestants who eventually broke away to form a range of "Non-Conformist" Churches.

But, the Collect which "surprised" me was this: -

O God,
who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright;
Grant us such strength and protection,
as may support us in all dangers,
and carry us through all temptations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Read that opening line carefully - and then think in terms of the many natural disasters that have recently beset us. From huricanes in Florida, Typhoons in the Pacific, and Cyclones in the Indian Ocean, tornadoes in the US (and here in Britain) and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and the potential to be wiped from the face of this earth by any number of apparently random events. See what I mean? Perhaps this is what we have lost in our thinking on life, the meaning of it and our relationship with God, the planet, and all that is in it.

We think in terms of our own Godhead, yet we can control none of this. We talk in terms of "managing" the climate, "managing resources", and creating a "stable and safe environment", yet how many of us can guarantee we will even wake up in the morning?

Perhaps we need to rethink our understanding of our place in this marvelous creation. We certainly need to rethink our opinion of our contribution to the planet and to the environment we so arrogantly believe we can adapt and manage to our own benefit.

Archbishop Cranmer set in train, with his first Prayer Books, a chain of events which would reshape, indeed are still reshaping, the Western Christian Church. He died a martyr's death under the reign of Queen Mary 1 - Bloody Mary - burning at the stake rather than recanting his part in the creation of the Church of England. His form for the Collects, based on the Lord's Prayer in their "Salutation, Supplication, Glorification" format, are models, even today, of prayer which is focussed on God and says succinctly what we understand and hope for. This particular one sets out quite clearly the understanding of the human condition which we delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped. We have not, and the tsunami in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere has come as a sharp reminder of this.

I invite you all to consider the words of this Collect carefully, and to use it in prayer when you consider the various dangers that we face daily. Use it, and be very sure that, no matter what you face, God will be there with you, sharing your fear, your exaltation, and whatever awaits you.

The three lines concluding the main part of the prayer should be on all our lips whenever we embark on any enterprise, no matter how large or small.

May the Lord be with you in all things.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2005

A musical note

Several of my regular readers have asked, at various times, for a picture of the console for the Grove Organ, so here it is. As you can see it is a four manual organ with separate pedal boards. It is all original as built in 1886 and works very well if the organist knows how!

DSCF0007.JPG
The Organ Console for the Grove Organ at Tewkesbury Abbey. Originally built for the Empire Trade Exhibition in 1886, it has been in the Abbey since 1892.

The organ action is a combination of pneumatic and tracker mechanical. The valves are operated by either a straight mechanical link (some of the biggest stops) or the mechanical linkage known as a "Tracker Action". The sliders which open the wind chests for the various stops are a straightforward mechanical link and requires some "positive" operation - quite interesting to watch the organist applying! Definitely NOT for the tender touch or the fainthearted!

The sound that this instrument can produce is wide in range - as in it can caress or it can give full voice and be heard outside - and it has a wide range of interesting stops set on the Solo as well as on the Swell, Choir, Great, and Pedal. Oh, and four Sliders labelled "Ventils" which, if not pulled out firmly will mean that nothing happens when the organist attempts to play! The only change since it was built has been the addition of a 32 foot Stopped Diapason which the Choirboys refer to as the "earthquake" stop. Two years ago the organ was given a new blower motor which is powerful enough to allow the organist to really show it off properly.

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on this instrument is something to hear.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:50 AM

January 29, 2005

Auschwitz remembered-II

Watching the box night before last, as the news covered various memorial services and events to commemorate the holocaust, I was struck over and over again by the dignity of the survivors attending - and their huge courage in revisiting the place which must have held such horror for them. One channel ran an interview with the curator of the museum at Auschwitz, and I listened as she spoke with some passion about how they managed the place and what it meant to her - a young woman who could not have been more than 40 - yet she spoke about the people, the events, and what the victims suffered as if she had been present. It meant a great deal to her.

Even watching on the television as it showed the demolished gas chambers and partly destroyed crematoria, the rows of "barrack" blocks, and some intermixed film of the camp as it was, it struck me that it is full of such melancholy that it must forever be a place of disquiet. I suppose that, too, having, as a child, known a family among whose members was an emaciated and frequently ill cousin who had survived Auschwitz. She rarely spoke to us younger children, but was always in the background, always willing to help around the house, and always struggling to cope with a life of ruined health and injured mind. As I recall, she finally died when I was just entering my teens, and I later learned that she had not been much older than her early thirties although she had always seemed much older.

Thinking back on her as I watched last night, I realised that, even though I was not directly touched by the events there, Auschwitz is a place I would find very hard to visit. To go there as a tourist is to do the dead no honour; to go as a pilgrim may be to hallow the action that brought the misery.

For now I shall pray for the fallen - and for the hope that it can never happen again.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:49 AM | Comments (1)

January 28, 2005

Pressures of work

The Monk's "day job" has been making steadily increasing demands upon him and his "free" time since mid-2003. It has been getting more and more demanding over that time, and the month just coming to a close typifies it - where did the month go?

This is partly because of a heavy demand in the programming of courses for the subjects that the Monk specialises in delivering, compounded by the fact that he is also part of a larger project team which is now about to undertake a prolonged task abroad. To make life even more entertaining, the Monk is booked to attend an international committee meeting, an advanced course in his core speciality and a short conference - all in the US, immediately thereafter. This will mean flying to Qatar for two weeks, returning home for two days and then off to the US for three weeks! Poor old Paddy Cat will have to stay at home and put up with a series of "lodgers" who have agreed to house-sit and "feed the cat!"

With the changing time zones and an uncertain access to the internet for blogging - at least for the Qatar bit - the Monk just wants to give notice to his friends and readers (whom he likes to think are also friends) that posting may become a little difficult and possibly very light! Do please bear with me and keep dropping by - you never know, I may have something amusing to post that day.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:18 PM

January 27, 2005

Auschwitz remembered

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the "liberation" of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp by the Red Army. At Auschwitz itself and in almost every European country memorial services have been held to commemorate those who died in the horror of industrialised ethnic extermination that this and the six or seven other such camps represent. Never before in history and not until Pol Pot has the world seen or would see, such a systemised and calculated effort to wipe from the face of the earth an entire population simply for their ethnic identity.

Recently watching the film "Fiddler on the roof", I was reminded that this was the culmination of a long history of persecution of Jews in Europe, and the scenes depicted in the film were the result of the publication of the blatantly false "blood libels" by the Tsar's Secret Police to justify their seizure of Jewish owned property and the expulsion of Jews from cities, towns, and villages across Russia. It was these "Blood Libels" that were quoted by Hitler and his gang from 1936 onwards and even today are quoted by radical Muslim clerics as their justification for persecuting the Jews. Even though the "blood libels" have again and again been exposed as a fraud, those of an evil disposition still use them to justify their attacks on Jews and the Jewish faith. Even in Britian these spurious works were, and still are quoted by those of an anti-Jewish persuasion. Having grown up with neighbours whose families had been expelled under the Stalinist pogroms and one of their relatives who had survived Belsen, it is something I can picture all too clearly. I would find it very difficult to walk through the museum that is now in the camp that was Auschwitz.

For me the really frightening aspect of the Auschwitz death camps is the sheer numbers of perfectly ordinary and probably perfectly decent people who were involved. It goes all the way from the neighbours who let their Jewish neighbours be seized and dragged away, to those who drove the trucks to the railways stations, loaded the trains, drove the trains, switched the signals and points, and knew that these trains carried a cargo of unbelievable suffering yet did nothing to alleviate it or to prevent it. It shows all to clearly how conditioned we are to put our own preservation first and to accept orders in the face of threat even when we know those orders to be wrong. Some, of course, did not - and paid a very dear price indeed. But, it was still a very few who orchestrated it all and held an entire nation in thrall.

Nor can I forget the comment made in all seriousness by an ex-Battle of Britian pilot, that, had the invasion of England been carried through and been successful, the Gestapo and the SS would have had no shortage of people willing to join them or to carry out their orders. His reason for saying it was that he had just been told by a local authority "Jobs Worth" that something he had wanted to fit to his roof was not permissable in the regulations! It is no less shocking then to learn, if one has the stomach to read it, that Heinrich Himmler was a non-descript little man whose power lay in his attention to detail and his ability to plan meticulously. The history books available show this monster as a man who loved his wife and children, was kind to animals - and yet created a system that murdered over 6 million people. That, and his phenomenal memory for inconvenient facts about those under him, around him, and above him. This little bureaucrat ran an organisation that held a nation in fear and, through his selection of equally ruthless and efficient men, ran the death camps. But again, and again, one is confronted by the ordinariness of the thousands of civilians who carried out the tasks which delivered people into his organisation's clutches.

It is well that we remember, and it is equally good that we remind ourselves that for evil to triumph it is necessary only for good men and women to do nothing. Above all we should ponder on the fact that all those involved later claimed in their defence that they had simply "obeyed the rules" or "followed orders". Such was the claim of the French officials and Gendarmes who rounded up and shipped out French Jews to the death camps. As we now live in a society that is ever more closely bound by rules and led by people who insist that everyone slavishly obey the rules, it is all too easy to slide towards Auschwitz if we contnue this way.

Let us not forget that it was people all too like us that did this!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:40 PM | Comments (1)

A report worth reading

I think that that all those who care to sound off about how little the US does or "cares" for the disaster relief should read the post at "Defense Watch". The writer is serving aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Enough said.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:28 PM

January 26, 2005

Where is the science in this?

The Diplomad has done it again; the latest offering from the committee dealing with the "Global Warming" issue has published a report which is a masterpiece of unbelievable goobledegook. The Diplomad has kindly provided a precis with extensive quotation, and his comments are well worth examination. I find myself, not only in full agreement with him, but wishing I had read it before I put finger to keyboard and composed my last blast about "Crying wolf!"

The report he quotes states "the scientific community is united in the opinion that" - and goes on to say that this "united" agreement is that the earth is getting hotter! But this is very far from the case; in fact the scientific community isn't in agreement, they are very deeply divided over whether it will be meltdown or freeze, and they are not even united on what the root cause is. Frankly, the report is riddled with totally unqualified statements and massive assumptions which completely ignore the facts. As the Diplomad has pointed up, it begins with the assumption that "Global Warming" started in 1750! Pretty rich, as this is pretty much the point at which the "Little Ice Age" which started around 1340 and finished around 1870 started to lift. It then goes on to make the statement that very few temperature readings were available in the 1750 - 1850 period, which, while true, is not strictly the whole truth, either.

As far as I am concerned the fact that the committee that is pushing this as the "scientific" option - the report is remarkably thin on scientific data or figures of any sort - is none other than that master of the Transport, Local Government, and Regions who left office under something of a cloud after his personal adviser told people to "bury bad news" on the back of 9/11 and you will no doubt forgive me if I take the whole thing with a great deal of sceptical laughter! Sadly, it simply goes to prove that the "Global Warming" lobby is prepared to use any means available to drum up support for a scientifically unproven set of measures contained in a treaty that contains figures set for carbon reductions for which not even the scientists can give reasonable explanations.

Ironic, is it not, that they are desperately trying to justify the building of vast and ugly windfarms, hugely expensive "wave energy" stations, and blaming all the industries that they rely on for food, water, transport, household conveniences, and the like, while flatly refusing to even consider the safest and least globally damaging option of all - nuclear power. It seems that this lobby has only one intention: to drive us back to a pre-industrial idyll that they imagine was some sort of paradise in which we all hugged trees and lived healthy and fulfilled lives working our fingers to the bone simply to stay alive.

Surely someone, somewhere is prepared to expose this sham. By all means let us have research into what is happening in the climate, but with the continents migrating, the oceans changing, and overpopulation to deal with, surely this is far more complex than simply "cut carbon emmissions"? Damn it, anyone with half a brain should be able to check back and recognise that fact that, if in Roman times, the UK enjoyed a climate that allowed the growing of grapes and the making of wine as far North as Carlisle - then the climate must have been a whole lot warmer then than it is now!

The climate, like the continents, is slowly but inexorably changing. It's what planets like ours do! Let's stop the weeping and wailing and finger pointing and get down to learning what really makes it tick, what is really happening, and find out how to survive it! Face it, the human race is to this planet what a flea colony is to a dog - and about as influential.

As to the number of aircraft flying about and polluting the upper atmosphere, well, that may be more of a problem, but again, our climatologists can only model the first mile of atmosphere and these big aircraft fly at the upper edge of that. Simply put, we don't actually know what is happening as a result of those aircraft and we currently can't measure it. It is not a simple problem and the answer is far more complex than Kyoto or the simplistic vision of the 10 second soundbite crew". Where is REAL science when you need it?!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:21 PM | Comments (6)

January 25, 2005

The greatest Englishman in history.

This weekend sees the 40th anniversary of the death and funeral of the man the British public recently voted as the greatest Englishman in a BBC poll. I am, of course, talking about that master of the spoken and written word, Sir Winston Churchill KG, etc.

At the time of the poll, there were definitely some red faces as our current bunch of political leaders would have liked to see someone else top the poll, but memories have not failed and Sir Winston's achievements stand like a beacon in our history. Yes, he was a difficult man, yes, he was given to grand plans and hairbrained schemes, but, as this nation stood alone and with its back to the Irish Sea at home, and under attack in its many Dominions and Colonies abroad, this man refused to bow to the siren calls of appeasement and surrender - and sent the language "marching out to war", a move which bought invaluable time while the armed forces regrouped, restructured, and re-armed.

This was the man who, in 1940, as the country faced disaster on every front, the political elite and the civil servants schemed and plotted to keep from power at all costs. Fortunately for the world, they failed.

His funeral was as it should have been, a full State occassion, probably the last one we will ever see for a commoner. It has always been a rare honour, with Nelson and Wellington among the very few accorded it. Sir Winston's was also unique in that the crowds exceeded even Princess Diana's funeral and, as the Port of London Authorities launch, bearing the coffin travelled up the Thames, the moored ships lowered their ensigns in salute, and the wharfside cranes lowered their jib-booms. Even Tower Bridge raised its caissons as the procession passed and the minute guns fired their salute as a background to his arrival at Tower Wharf.

This nation, as indeed every "free" nation, owes this man an enormous debt. It was his determination, his refusal to surrender, and his fighting spirit which fired the free world into action and marshalled the forces of freedom against the dictatorships then engulfing and enslaving Europe and the Far East.

There are, of course, those who today try to rewrite the history, who dig deep to find those who hated him and who loathed him and did their utmost to frustrate and thwart his leadership. In the end, though, they reveal themselves as the pygmies and hobgoblins they are. Nothing can detract from the achievement of rescuing a lost cause and turning it into a victory. Not even the Labour Party's treasonable support for strikes in munitions plants, strikes in shipyards, and strikes in the coal mines even as the nation's military were dying in defending them. Churchill strode above it all and left us a legacy to be proud of. He managed to hold together a government of "National Unity" with members of all parties in his cabinet, treating them with a courtesy and respect they did not return. Indeed, the Labour Party used their positions to spend the war undermining him and preparing for the election they forced immediately after VE Day. Even that act of treachery did not deter this greatest of men.

Many in the colonies and Dominions also did not appreciate his sometimes ruthless approach, and in Australia particularly there was and is a lot of ill feeling over his refusal to release the Australian divisions from the Western Desert to defend against a possible invasion of Australia by the Japanese. Those who do criticise him for his apparently callous dismissal of the call from Canberra fail to understand just how close the desert front was to collapse. The removal of this vital force would have been a disaster. Perhaps he could have been a bit more diplomatic, but perhaps, too, he didn't have the time to be.

In his own words during the Battle of Britain, "If the British Empire lasts a thousand years, men will still say that this was their finest hour!"

The Monk will be making a short pilgrimage to Bladon Parish Church, near Woodstock, to pay his respects in the very near future.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:24 AM

January 24, 2005

Changing systems

The Monk has finally got around to upgrading his computer. The original, bought in 1999, had 6.4 Gig of harddisc, 64 Meg of RAM and a processor rated at 415 Mhz. State of the art at the time and, with Windows 98 Second Edition (and all the hiccoughs that can produce), it has certainly, for the most part, served me well. We'll draw a veil over the hard drive that seized up in the first year and the hassle that caused - although, to be fair, the supplier replaced it under guarantee and the replacement is still doing just fine!

What occassioned the change was the fact that, for work purposes, the Monk needed to install some new software and upgrade his internet service and system. Oh dear, first problem - not enough RAM for the programme needed and then - AaaaaaaaaaaaaargH! Not enough RAM to upgrade the internet service either! So, examine all the options, bearing in mind that the Monk had already installed a CD Writer to compliment the CD Reader that came with the computer, and done one or two other upgrades to make it work a little more efficiently.

What to choose? Strong recommendations from a party named Ozguru to go to Mac. Being already aware of the problems and potential problems with PC and Microslosh, this was a serious consideration, BUT, would a Mac be compatible with work, would it run the programmes the Monk needed, and how compatible would they be if the Monk needed to install some sort of "translation" package. Bear in mind that the Monk is not, never has been, and never will be - a computer guru! He knows how to turn it on, use certain programmes, and when it fails to start - calls IT! So, it was off to see the computer shops and see what was available within a very strict budget!

Mac's looked good. Mac's looked very, very good. The Monk was leaning towards a Mac and had actually figured out how to get one to do what he wanted it to do. An hour on a demo setup at the computer shop was almsot enough to convince him. Right! Armed with a newfound confidence and a lot of technical information (loads of helpful info sheets and so on) it's off to consult a few of my colleagues and the IT Department. Deflation, depression, and the slowly dawning realisation that it would need a bit more than the Monk thought to marry up a Mac at home with the software he uses at work and vice versa. So, where to next?

Internet search! Difficult to believe what is available out there - in strictly hardware terms, you lot! - but eventually the Monk found what looked like a good package, right software, operating system OK, right hardware, and so on. Consult sales and find out a bit more. Double check specs discussed with IT and other colleagues and place order. Bank manager has a heart attack, but is recovering well, substitute manager smiles maniacally and agrees the Monk can afford it. OK, now to wait for the delivery.

It arrives, but, guess what? Always read the small print, especially the print that's not there. Having bought the XP Pro package, one would assume that it has things like Word 2000 included. One would be wrong! So a few more hard earned pounds change hands and bingo, the Microslosh Office Package arrives with the missing bits of software. Are we in business yet? Nope, now the Monk can't load the software for his cameras - they are older than Windows XP and it won't allow anything to load which is not "signed" for XP. Well, that is a problem which can be cured, but requires a lot more leg work (at least one of the cameras is no longer in production) but, it's not insurmountable. Next problem, transfering the addressbook for the Monk's e-mail. Complicated by the fact that the Monk has had enough of AOHell and is changing his ISP. AOHell won't allow you to print the addressbook, copy the addressbook, or save it to anything else. It even hides it within the programme so you can't search for it or even see it unless you are using AOHell and writing e-mail.

Oh the joys of modern computers and the programmes that beset us! The new one has more Gigabytes of harddrive than the Monk knows what to do with, a full Gigahertz of processor, and a Gigabyte of RAM! It screams along and the Monk still hunts and pecks with two fingers.

Anyway, the new computer is now (mostly) up and running. The cameras still don't work, the printer isn't connected yet, and the scanner isn't sure it wants to be. But the Monk's new Braodband connection is fully operational. The computer is that much faster than the old one that the Monk is feeling decidedly outclassed. All it needs is that nice Star Trek voice (or the Babylon 5 one) and the ability to simply tell it what the Monk wants it to do. But the Monk supposes that won't be on Microslosh - and probably not on his budget either.

So, new kit, new system, new problems to resolve. The Monk perseverse, constantly amazed at how much he has managed to teach himself since the first time he sat down with an Amstrad 1640 and the manual! The computer has come a long way since then - that first one only had 8 KILObytes of RAM and the hard drive had a total of 16 MEGAbytes of space! The only problem is that they are getting faster but not much smarter - it is still only as good as the person operating it!

Perhaps the likes of Ozguru and other computer boffins will find a way soon to make them smarter. At about that point I think the Monk will retreat into his Abbey, take quill in hand, and stay there!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:29 PM | Comments (3)

January 23, 2005

Crying wolf?

Every time I hear one of the earnest young women, or slightly worried looking young men who "front" Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth on television, I am reminded of the Russian (who else) folk tale of the boy who cried wolf. He did it so often that when the wolf eventually was there, no one believed him, and the wolf, in the story, kills him. This afternoon, I stood in a queue in the Post Office and listened to an earnest middle aged woman, who, by her outfit, is a member of the "horsey" set, bang on about how she has her entire family recycling everything, planting trees, eating organic food, and how this is saving the planet from "climate change". From the glazed expression of her companion, I suspect that this is her sole topic of conversation.

Even more infuriating was having to listen to one of Greenpeace's spokespersons just after the tsunami make the totally indefensible statement that "until the US, who everyone knows is the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, signs up to the Kyoto Treaty, we can expect to see more of these catastrophic natural phenomena". Talk about spouting garbage! How the - to quote Captain Haddock of Tintin fame - "Blue, Blistering Barnacles" does the Kyoto Treaty prevent earthquakes? What the blazes does the tsunami have to do with climate change? The problem is that these cretins actually believe that it does have a link! To me this proves that, however well intentioned, these morons should not be allowed to comment on anything at all - especially when they spout this sort of pseudo-scientific garbage!

Even worse, I then heard, several days later, a news reader on Channel 4 not only repeat this complete pile of manure, but then try to press an American interviewee for a response! To cap it all, just a week later, on the roll out of the new Airbus, I listened to a presumably intelligent interviewer (he is one of the more senior News Readers at Channel 4) make the point that aircraft exhausts are polluting and causing damage to the upper atmosphere and then put it to his interviewee that "all those vapour trails, visible pollution, will increase if we have more aircraft!" The Interviewee squirmed uncomfortably and agreed that older aircraft did pollute. He was obviously more polite than I would have been and didn't point out that vapour trails are just that - water vapour which the turbulence causes to condense briefly in wake of the aircraft.

The trouble is that the climate is changing, but, despite the efforts of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and well-meaning ladies like the one in the Post Office, we don't have a clue as to what is really causing it or why it is happening. Even less do we know what the final outcome will be!

There are currently two vastly different theories in play. The one favoured by Greenpeace et al, is the scenario in which increasing use of carbon fuels will result in runaway heating and a planet with an atmosphere resembling that of Venus. The other, given a bit of a boost by Hollywood's dramatic, but scientifically doubtful, "Day after tomorrow" in which we enter the deep freeze once more and are plunged into another ice age. This hypothesis is based on analysis of the geological and glacial records of previous ice ages all of which were preceded by a short spell of rapid warming and then a big freeze. Either spells pretty much a disasterous future, and being a cynic, I suspect that much of the hype is to do with attracting research funding, primarily because, although we have weather data going back several hundred years in the Northern Hemisphere (or part of it anyway!) it is very difficult to analyse for patterns.

Even the modern climate models do not reflect what is happening in the upper atmosphere (above 1 mile) with any accuracy and most of the data, until recently, came from ground stations - again located in the Northern Hemisphere for the most part - and these were mostly located near large urban centres. What the models show for the Northern Hemisphere is not what is happening in the Southern half of the planet, and so there are some serious questions. Hopefully, the collection of data now available from satellites provided by those nasty polluting Americans, will give a better picture, but it will need a lot more science and a hell of a lot less of the pseudo-science so beloved of the footsoldiers of Greenpeace et al.

I wonder how many people realise that the tectonic shift in the Andaman sea was matched by an equally large shift in the Antarctic plate? It never even got a mention, yet it killed hundreds and possibly thousands of penguins! The planet hasn't shrunk, it isn't about to fall apart, this is a natural phenomenon in which one plate is shifting into the subduction zone and another is extruding! Want to know about real major impact change? In about another million or so years the Indian sub-continent will have half dissappeared under the Himalayas which will, according to some, be about half again as high as they are now. Will the planet have shrunk, no, but a big chunk of Antarctica will have relocated into the Indian Ocean.

The climate change issue is far more complex than the authors of Kyoto admitted and far more complex than it's supporters even begin to understand. For one thing, in astronomic terms, this planet is green and pleasant and habitable because it happens to occuppy a very narrow (in astronomic terms) strip of space around our sun which is just the right distance to keep the oceans liquid and the atmosphere in place. About three million miles nearer the sun and we would have no oceans and the atmosphere would not be very pleasant even if life were still able to live in a planet being fried by the additional radiant heat we would get. The same distance the other way and we have frozen ocean, frozen atmosphere and no chance of life surviving.

Interestingly, the Russians and others have been looking at this aspect for some time and come to several interesting conclusions which support the ice age theory and blow up the global warming one. Put simply, the earth ihas been subjected to far more ice-ages than "interglacial" periods (we're in one now!) and this seems to be dependent on several different things. One, sunspot activity, two, distance from the sun and three, where we are in relation to the solar equatorial plane. You can add to this volcanic outbursts that shroud us in dust, comets that collide, and one or two other equally uncontrollable (despite Hollywoods fantasising) events. Naturally none of these events is high on the Greenpeace or Friends of the eErth agenda - primarily because they can't get that lovely superior feeling you get from blaming the human race for it all.

Come to that, has anyone out there heard them condemning the use of "Dry Ice" to freeze the bodies of tsunami victims? No? Don't they realise that this is Carbon Dioxide in solid form? Don't they realise the effects - according to their mantra - of releasing so many hundreds of tons of Carbon Dioxide to chill or freeze bodies? Sorry, my cynicism showing again, but I am willing to bet that some clown from one of these organisations will, sooner or later, blame some abberant weather somewhere on its use.

Returning to the 'Global Warming/Ice Age coming scenarios', I find the evidence for the latter more compelling than the gklobal warming theory. For one thing, I am not convinced that man is solely responsible or is even in a position to accelerate it. What is certain is that we need less of the hype, more of the facts, and a lot less of the "let's all go back to living in caves" mentality, and less of the bleeding heart response to things we need to understand properly and then we can respond accordingly. Whichever way this goes we have to face the fact that we do face a crisis, it is one of our own making, and we have to find a solution. Much of the desertification is arising because of a combination of overpopulation and overuse of the land and abuse of water courses, also a by-product of overpopulation.

One thing is for sure, the Greenies had better stop spouting their pseudo-science and scare stories, and second we had better have a back-up plan. If they keep crying wolf, the world will begin to ignore them; that is hardly productive or helpful.

Anyone care to live on Titan?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 AM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2005

The "great" institutions myth

Many of the "great" institutions which interfere in our lives, dictate our choices, affect human relations or diplomatic alliances, our health care (in Britain), our education system and content, our armed forces, and several other "institutions" were set up in the latter years of the 20th Century. It would be true to say that, if you were to attempt to set any of these up today, you would definitely not do it this way today!

Examples abound from Pension Schemes that were supposed to be cash cows without any invested capital and relying on the belief that the contributing workforce would continue to grow, ergo, you could pay pensions out of contribution income, to mammoth bureaucracies needed to "administer" all the "institutions" set up to deliver these supposed "benefits". The United Nations is another example. Set up in 1947 to act as a forum in which civilised nations could resolve differences and try to prevent conflicts, it became a pawn of the cold war and increasingly it has become a forum through which dictatorships and despots have been able to frustrate efforts to relieve poverty and raise freedom. More recently it has taken to espousing all manner of "causes" which, when examined, lean ever further to the left of centre politically and promote the socialist myths that if you throw enough money at anything, if you strip the rich and the hard working of their earnings, it can be re-distributed to the benefit of someone else - usually a Swiss Bank owned by one of the world's "impoverished" Dictators.

Examining the monolithic institutions set up in the 1940's and 1950's in the "liberal" West, one finds increasingly that these are frequently the root cause of many of the problems. Our education system has broken down, it does not deliver well trained and useful citizens, primarily because, somewhere in the 1960's, it fell under the thrall of the left-wing ideologues who decided that it could be made fair, that the intelligent should be strapped to the not so bright so that "fairness" and "equality" could be shown to be being applied. The result is that, at best, all state schooling is mediocre, excellence is penalised and discouraged, and the growing tide of bullying, usually a sign of social and mental inadequacies in the bully, are everywhere on the increase. Look across Europe and you find an alarming rise in bullying everywhere, that selection and discipline have been scrapped in favour of "equality" and "fairness". Inevitably it means that any hardworking child who outshines the less able is singled out as a target - often by the incompetent teachers whose training has not equipped them to deal with the bright kids, only with the less able ones.

The much vaunted National Health Service is another such institution. No one now dares to do what is essential - scrap the entire thing and start again - instead they tinker and throw endless pots of money at it, eventually resorting to the desparate measure of hiring "spin doctors" to tell us everything is working, when all the evidence says it is failing in almost every sphere. This morning I listened to an emminent Professor describing his shock at the discovery that the NHS, which we are told has been a leader in the field of "palliative" care, doesn't actually provide much! As the professor said, the NHS sees its mission as "cures" and anything that cannot be cured is shoved into the back wards and left to get on with dying. Many of its victims then die in excruciating pain, alone and without the support they need, simply because the monolithic culture of the great socialist experiment does not recognise the need. They're dying, so why bother, it costs money to look after them, so the sooner they die, the better, is the attitude since the running of the NHS became a "management" preserve rather than a medical one.

No one, I venture to suggest, would today attempt to set up a health service which attempts to provide cradle to grave health care in this way, funded entirely out of tax and promising everything from General Practice, Specialist, and even full body organ transplants! I suggest that the practical model which would be far more workable would see the NHS running the hospitals and employing a range of Specialist Physicians and Surgeons as well as the "Housemen" and women, nursing and cleaning staff. Employers would be required to provide employees with access to medical insurance and GP's, and other specialists would be operating out of private practice. A central council could be established to regulate fees and ensure access for all to health care, with the state picking up the insurance for those on benefit or welfare and pensions. By focusing on the expensive part of the health provision, the money spent could be better targeted than it is now, where "waiting" lists are the mechanism by which various departments blackmail the management into providing funding.

So, too, with the UN and its institutions. The likes of Clare Short think of it as a "Supranational" Government and try to give it the status of a world parliament when it is nothing of the sort. It is a talking shop and nothing more. All of its much vaunted achievements and all of its organisations are funded by the Western Nations and a very small number of the Eastern Bloc contributors, Japan, and Taiwan - a nation excluded by the Socialist-supported and promoted ruling by this incompetent and largely discredited body from taking a seat in the General Assembly because they have decided that Taiwan is not an independent state. When you look at the voting on that resolution, you want to weep - it includes many of the world's worst despots and dictatorships - and our own "wunderkindt" Government of the UK. OK, so it got us a trade deal with Communist China; I hope Clare Short can live with the fact that she's cuddling up to one of the most repressive regimes on earth - ah, but of course, I forgot - they're good Socialists, so that's all right then.

The other problem with them all is that having been designed to meet a Socialist agenda they are now compounding the problem at every step of the way. The World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation, are all set up to deal with their own particular areas in a "top down" or "centre outward" manner typical of Socialist thinking. It is the World Bank that persuaded Third World Governments to go in for "cash crops" rather than subsistence and sustainable food production - and before anyone suggests that it is a "capitalist" institution I suggest that they take a close look at the way it is structured, managed, and governed - no "Capitalist" would ever structure a Bank that way! Much the same can be said of initiatives by WHO and the WTO who have all blundered into areas best left alone and then done untold damage to local populations, local economies and the whole concept of democratic development.

As I said in an earlier post this month, there are a number of these so-called "world" bodies, which are established the way they are and in the form they are because they were built on the socialist principles in sway at the end of World War 2. The more you look at them and how they are run, structured, and deliver, the more you are compelled to think the unthinkable - scrap the lot and start again with a clean sheet of paper in order to build something that functions properly and delivers what it is supposed to, without posing as something it is not.

President Bush declared at his inauguration that he would continue to push for the democratisation of the world, that the US would continue to strive to persuade people everywhere that there were and are credible alternatives to dictatorship. Let's hope he can persuade those in power in the west to make a start by dismantling the relics of the Cold War and the failed Socialist dream of an "international" Socialist Order run by the few for the benefit of "the masses". Anyone who has studied Marx or Lenin and the history of the Communist Empire will know that this is a euphemism for an "elite" political class ruling a proletariat whose hopes and ambitions are sacrificed and subsumed for the "greater good". Look no further than the sacrifice by the British Government, in 1946, of the 50,000 Georgian Cossacks "for the Greater Good" of relations with Attlee's "great Ally" Stalin, to see where that thinking leads you.

It really is time to start rebuilding some of these great Socialist institutions and to recognise that it is Socialism in all its many guises which is the greatest threat to the future. It does not offer equality or wealth to all, everywhere the Socialist Dream has been introduced it has resulted in oppression, poverty, and alienation of the people it is supposed to benefit. It always creates a bureaucracy, it always gives rise to a political elite, and it is always the preserve of the intellectual ideologues whose contact with the realities of a working man or woman life is, at best, tenuous. Look no further than the Cambridge spies who sold secrets to the Soviets or the current crop of cabinet ministers who are all ex-protesters, university activists, and all from privileged backgrounds and education.

It is time to bury Socilaism and move on, and a good start is to break down and rebuild the institutions which lock us into the failures of socialism so that we are not constantly hindered by the dead weight of their structures. It is time to expose the myth that these institutions are anything but a failure.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:10 AM

January 21, 2005

Charity, need, and ingratitude ...

The aftermath of the Tsunami in Aceh and the surrounding nations continues to astound the governments, the aid organisations, and the UN. Giving in the UK has now topped 300 million; yes, that's right - I had to look it up twice, as well! The country experienced, for the first time ever, an appeal called "Radioaid" in which almost 300 independent commercial radio stations across the country suspended their normal schedules and broadcast, instead, joint presentations which have raised in 12 hours an amount of more than 3 million for aid projects. The town of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire saw people go to the great Abbey Church to give a total of 14,800 to Christian Aid, and there were collections in every shop as well which have pushed that total to around the 1 million mark.

The US, Australian, and UK military in the form of their navies, armies, and the respective fleet air arms have been on the ground from the moment the ships could get there from their bases, often a week or more from the scene, but fuel consumption was brushed aside as many of the non-nuclear ships burned everything they had to get there at their best speed. The airmen, the troops, and a lot of civilian volunteers who have no loyalty to the nations involved have worked flat out round the clock amid the death, desperation, and disease to bring relief. The UN and some of the government's involved have done little but complicate the issues and make political capital, while the West continues to pour its wealth and, for many, the proverbial "widow's mite", into helping the suffering population. Hat Tip to the Diplomad for this on-site description!

So do they get any gratitude? No, instead you have the Indonesian government setting deadlines for the withdrawal of "foreign forces" for "our sovereignty". And you have the leader of the Muslim terror group in Aceh saying that the presence of the foreign troops "pollutes" the faithful in Aceh and "threatens the Sharia Law" and its enforcement by his "army of faithful Muslims." No wonder Aceh has been in a state of insurrection for more than 30 years!

There is a serious question in this and in the response this week to the publication of the Inspector of Schools report which criticises the Muslim Schools in the UK for their approach to teaching responsible citizenship for all Muslims. It is one that those who seek to integrate and to enjoy the benefits of Western Society had better address soon - or find themselves swept up in the conflict which must arise if the extremist brand of Islam wins control of their faith. Just as Christianity is portrayed, somewhat inaccurately, as always being "fundamentalist" and criticised by the media when it isn't, so Islam must learn to accomodate other views or forever be seen as a religion of extremists.

As the West continues to pour aid and resources into the affected area, it behooves the governments concerned to at least speak out against the sort of extreme views expressed by Aceh's Muslim leader. It ill becomes them to accept the aid (they know damned well they would end up looking extremely bad if they didn't) while at the same time using surrogates like this so-called leader to spread anti-Western propaganda.

To see more of what this Jakarta-sponsored cretin is espousing, try the Jihadwatch website. It's a pity some of our left-wing liberal media don't report a bit more of what these lunatics say and do. But then, as you will find if you visit the Diplomad, there are Ten Great Myths that we all know are true which are much better than boring old facts. This is why, all over, Europe newspapers and magazines can publish untruths regarding the US President and his cabinet which, if published about their own political elite, would land them in jail.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2005

Understanding dawns at the Beeb?

I do enjoy the Diplomad's posts; he's my kind of confirmed cynic when it comes to various left wing dominated media organisations, and his piece on the BBC and its reporting on the relief effort is a masterpiece. In his latest swipe at the media circus, and the BBC in particular, entitled "They're onto us!", he pokes some fun at the breathless reporting of a presumably UK-based reporter witnessing the delivery of heavy plant and materials to build an airstrip in Afghanistan.

He accurately records (and quotes!) the condescending drivel pumped out by the Beeb's left wing reporters for whom giving praise to the military of any nation and worst of all the AMERICAN military requires several doses of tranquilisers and something to numb the outraged sense of moral superiority, as they proceeded from the patently absurd statement that the UN's "swift" response to the tsunami disaster had "made the US's independent efforts look superfluous" to praise for the ability to drop massive machinery and equipment into an isolated location and build an airfield from scratch in days. You can't even begin to apologise for this sort of banal stupidity and blinkered thinking.

Mind you, these are the same cretins who think that the UN and its overstaffed and corrupt organs and the equally questionable General Assembly are some sort of World Government whose edicts supercede all national parliaments, congresses, or sovereignty. I have to admire the irony of his statement (and the understated diplomacy) as he suggests:

OK, now you see why I am worried. You can see how the BBC is finally beginning to understand that the US military is history's ultimate kick-ass machine. It can build roads in the middle of Nowherestan, while simultaneously keeping peace in Bosnia; fighting terrorists around the globe; waging war in Iraq; keeping the North Koreans bottled up; maintaining 12 aircraft carrier battlegroups; and flying massive relief operations in South and SE Asia that are caring for tens-of-thousands of people. In addition, the USA has the heavens full of spy and commo satellites; its robots patrolling the frozen wastes of Mars; begun building an anti-missile shield; and, working with the Aussies, been developing a Mach 10 "scram jet" -- and foisted Madonna on the Brits (A Dr. Evil laugh is permitted here!)

Why build the "scram jet" with the Aussies? Well, it would be no good building it in partnership with the UK, mainly because all our left wing wets and their civil service toadies would invent so many regulations and so much paperwork to delay it we would still be trying to get it going when the next millenium comes round! I reckon that we should threaten to export Madonna back to the US unless they let some of our scientists work in Oz on this project.

The truth may be slowly dawning on the left and the liberal media that without a strong and well equipped military presence most of the relief effort would have been impossible or, at best, very, very difficult. It was the sheer muscle of the USN Battle Group centred on the huge carrier with her airgroup, escorts, and supply train, the deployment of the Bon Homme Richard and her support group, helicopters, and Marine Corps, that made much of the really efficient and immediate relief and rescue efforts possible. It was the US and Australian deployments and the field hospital units they brought with them that have saved thousands of lives and not the quasi-government that is the UN.

Talking to my friends in the RN, there is a resigned despair among many of them that the UK's once proud fleet could find only one Type 23 Frigate and one Royal Fleet Auxilliary to send to Sri Lanka when what was needed was the sort of response that could be mounted from a Landing Ship Dock or Platform and its support group. But these are not available because this same shower of media mouthpieces have undermined the military at every opportunity, have promoted everything anti-military they can find, and now have to face the reality that the US is proving that their worthless anti-military and anti-excellence ideology is fatally flawed.

Well done the US military, well done the Ozzies, and very well done the Diplomad!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:19 AM | Comments (4)

January 19, 2005

A travesty of justice

A news item caught my eye last week which highlights something I have long felt. It transpires that the "Shaken Baby Syndrome" is a complete myth, a hypothesis with no scientific foundation at all to support it, yet, on the evidence of now discredited "Experts" who made names for themselves accusing parents whose children had died, most probably of natural or accidental causes, of abuse, ninety-six parents are currently locked away, their children given out for adoption or in "care" because social workers and certain "experts" in the medical profession have pursued a false and evil agenda.

I had barely put down that particular newspaper when there was an advert on the television from a large "children's charity" pushing this "scientific" fact that babies are being shaken to death by their parents as we watch this. The newspaper asked the question, how have we got our legal system into this state? Easy; too many scientifically void theories are being talked up and touted as fact or as proof by people whose only agenda is to make a name for themselves or support a runaway industry of nannying interference in family life. There is far too much emphasis on social engineering and too little on fact and the realities of life.

It seems that the world today is run by "special interest" groups - or in newspeak - "Focus Groups", who push one particular line without any regard for consequences and impact upon other facets of life. This child protection racket has now reached proportions where no parent is ever safe from being accused of "abusing" their children, and the children are being encouraged to defy every more which holds society together. Let us be clear on one thing, there is child abuse, it does happen, but it is nowhere near as widespread as the child protection racketeers would have you believe. In their efforts to "protect" the children they have destroyed childhood, they are destroying families, and the revelation of this miscarriage of justice shows that at least 96 families and individual's lives have been destroyed as well. Something that really flags up, for me at any rate, the lack of honesty and real foundation in this, was the instruction from the Home Office recently pointing out that the child abuse statistics showed that fewer "middle income earners" were being prosecuted for abusing their children than were parents in the lower income groups. It went on to advice that more effort should be made to target these famillies! Hasn't it occured to them that families in this group are probably less likely to beat their kids black and blue?

One mother whose appeal has been successful and which also exposed the extent of this appalling abuse, - one almost says rape - of justice, has now also been refused any compensation for her wrongful imprisonment for the last three years by the Home Office. Frankly, the civil servants who refused her that compensation and those who have actively worked to create the mess that is the "Family Courts" in which the accusers hold all the cards and the accused can very rarely defend themselves because they are not allowed to know what evidence is held or who has accused them if it is a child, should be dismissed and publically exposed as the persons responsible. The "child protection" lobbyists who have campaigned to maintain these false accusations should also be exposed and made to publically apologise and the agencies fined to provide the compensation.

Salem and the Witchfinder General are alive and well and living in the UK. The Witchfinder Army is thriving in its new guise as the Social Services and the Child Protection agencies. Yes, there is abuse, the problem is that they have now, by their perversion of the justice system, cast doubt on the true problem. By accusing parents on such flimsy and totally unproven evidence these services and organisations have created a situation in which the real cases of abuse may become increasingly hard to "prove" because more and more frequently the evidence will be discredited precisely because it is no longer trusted! Just as in the days of the Witchfinder General and the Witchfinder Army, this zealotry breeds a reaction, usually the opposite of what the zealots are trying to create.

The author of the newspaper article asked the question "How have we allowed our justice system to become so flawed?" The answer is very simple, and very frightening. By allowing it to become the preserve of "experts" and of the vested interests of the "Law Society" and the "Bar Council", by allowing precedents to be set and to remain unchallenged, we have piled up a body of deeply flawed case law precedents which now mean that judges hearing that "Sir Somebody Bighead", the expert in, for example, "Recovered Memory Syndrome" is of the opinion that ... and the accused might as well pack up his or her defence and plead guilty whether they are or not. From there on in they will not be believed, but the expert will remain unchallenged - primarily because none of his or her peers wish to risk their careers in calling the "Expert's" bluff!

Jury trials have become a farce because juries are no longer composed of people who are fully representative, but rather of anybody who couldn't find a suitable excuse not to do it. And, all too often, anybody who turns up looking even slightly middle class is likely to spend two weeks sitting ariound and being rejected by the defence at every trial. The other problem is that the evidence is now so complex and frequently so scientific that many jurors cannot follow it. Given that the average person's attention span is about twenty minutes at the outside (some say as little as 30 seconds!) it is not easy to stay awake, or even to keep focused in an uncomfortable jury box (I am 6'2", and the seats are too low and the leg room too short for me!) it is nothing short of amazing that any member of the jury is able to keep focused for a trial lasting sometimes three weeks and still keep a fair idea of what the arguments were.

Perhaps it is time to look seriously at this, to put aside the fears of "miscarriage" of justice if the jury system is done away with, and leave the consideration of the evidence to a team of people with the knowledge and qualifications to consider it and advise the Judge accordingly. I doubt it will fix the problem of the kangaroo nature of the courts in which any "child abuse" case tends to be heard, but it may help if the system allowed the jurors to demand qualification and proof of hypothesis from experts if this is not teased out under cross-examination.

In the meantime, let us hope that those jailed for non-existent "crimes" against their own tragic off-spring by the evidence of discredited and arrogant experts and the fawning social workers who are so quick to accuse parents, can be speedily re-examined and returned to normal life as soon as possible. And, let us hope that they receive the compensation that they should - preferably from the pockets of their accusers and the supporters of these arrogant and incompetent witchfinders!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:07 AM

January 18, 2005

Gordon's volte face?

Something like sixty years of left wing loathing for the British achievements as a colonial power and of their hatred for all things British have been severely damaged. Someone close to the top of the present government has dared to contradict the mantra of decades; it comes close to actually admitting that they are wrong.

No less a person that our very own Iron Chancellor, the curmudgeonly Gordon Brown has declared that it is time we stopped being ashamed of the Empire, that we should stop apologising for it, and recognise that it achieved a great deal of good! Pass the smelling salts; I think I am in shock!

Of course, it could well be that he has suffered, like St Paul, a "Damascus Road" experience. Visiting Africa can do that to dyed in the wool left wing types. Confronted by the reality of the poverty, the filth, the corruption, and the decaying infrastructures, infrastructures built by the Colonial Powers at the expense of the tax payers of those powers, it can provoke a complete revision of what a person may have previously perceived to be the "evil" of colonialism. It is always convenient to blame the colonial powers for the ills of Africa, and, in part, there is some blame. There are very definitely two distinct aspects that the colonial powers did mess up. The first is the way they carved up the territories to create the states that exist today. They ignored the tribes and tribal boundaries, and the result is the current situation in places like Rwanda and Burundi or Zimbabwe where traditional enemies are now alternating in power (except Zimbabwe) and practicing genocide on the "other" tribe.

The second is what really brought the colonial period into disrepute: the direct intervention from the capitals of empire and the imposition of Civil Service bureaucrats on the Colonies. These whallahs overturned traditional structures which the original colonial governments had used to rule by and imposed the vision of the capital. Whatever the capital did they imposed locally, whether it was appropriate or not. The native peoples who, under the original arrangements had enjoyed a measure of respect and freedom, suddenly found themselves brushed aside, barred from important offices or worse, allowed to hold office provided they did as they were told by some cretin sent out to get him out of somebody's hair in the capital or to keep him out of harms way because he couldn't be trusted at the centre of the empire.

Fortunately, though, there were enough people with a more just and fair concept of how to deal with and develop the locals to mitigate the worst of this damage and eventually hand over working countries to the local populations. Most of the problems arise in the countries where there was no "transition" and the hand-over was to people who had never been given the opportunity to work their way up the structures and work out the rules of the game.

That said, visiting many of the former colonies in Africa one frequently hears from the "people in the street" that things ran better, or were less unstable under the colonial government. Recently a left leaning government think-tank and a group of emminent academics have suggested that Africa could be saved by another dose of colonialism. The chances are that they are right - provided no one sends any of the usual Whitehall Whallahs to run it!

For myself, I am encouraged that, at last, the Chancellor is showing signs of appreciating that our history is not as dark as he and his party have always painted it. There is more to be proud of than to be ashamed of, and it is time we started to celebrate those achievements rather than continue the self flagellation that so many wet liberal and left wing types prefer. The empire was built on trade and it flourished as long as that trade flourished. Once it became an exercise in governing rather than trading, it began to fall apart.

I suspect, though, that the Chancellor, in challenging the accepted version of the Labour Party's vision of our history, has possibly put himself out on a limb. He may find that the hardliners in his own party are now lining up with saws to cut it off. Damascus Road experiences can produce that sort of effect as well. Ask St Paul!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:45 AM

January 17, 2005

Someone worth reading

Thanks to Kathy of On The Third Hand, I have discovered another blog with some interesting thoughts. I agree entirely with the feelings expressed in a post on the blog Discarded Lies entitled "Bretton Woods and the new deal: The wrong answer" even though both parts of the first section of that do not affect me or the UK directly. The main thrust of the post is about the international structures which were set up at the end of WW2 and during the Cold War.

Many of these reflect the thinking of the time which saw Socialism as the coming political future and "redistribution of wealth" as the purpose of taxation. Some, of course, still do, but many now recognise that "Big Government", Socialist Dogma, and massive state funded welfare have had a disasterous effect on the industrialised nations and clouded a number of other issues as well.

My own pet hate - the faceless bureaucrats who now interfere directly in every aspect of our lives, the vast amounts of "aid" disappearing into Swiss Bank accounts run by various despots and dictators, and much of the blame for famines, third world debt, and poverty must lie with the UN, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation. It is easy to blame the Capitalist Bankers who lend money and facilitate much of this, but the real culprits are, as ever, the bureaucrats who run the governments and who make decisions based on the failed ideology of socialism.

Maybe, if enough people can be made aware of the failures of both Big Government and the Great Socialist Institutions, we can start to really address the problems facing the world. But maybe I'm just dreaming as well.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:44 PM

THAT uniform

Well, poor old Prince Harry. He's gone and done it again, only this time he's really given the PC merchants food to throw. I must admit to being in two minds on this, firstly he's 20 and irresponsible - and even as 3rd in line for the throne not the brightest tool in the box. The other half of me recognises the fact that many will take great offence at his wearing a uniform supposedly representing the most evil regime in Europe, but there is a bit of that that asks the question - so how clean, upright, and goody-two-shoes are the media who take delight in slinging mud at the Royals on every possible occassion? After all, this is the same pack of scum who lauded the late, and in this blog anyway, unlamented Diana, presenting her as a saint when everyone knew she was not. Unless you were a member of the Diana cult, that is.

I suspect that much of the venom now directed at him by the same pack that a few years ago were pushing him as a possible replacement for his father, is that he has not turned out as they wanted, to be another glamorous but male version of the "tragic Princess". They wanted him to be the torch bearer for their "vision" of her offspring being the fairy tale princes who would defeat the "evil" Prince and deprive him of his throne and position. Instead, he has turned out to be a confused and rather dysfunctional young man whose every moment is scrutinised, critcised, and chattered about ad nauseum by idiots with no morals at all. On the one hand they claim to respect privacy, but then immediately offer a big fat reward to someone at the party to breach confidence and sell a picture.

As a matter of pedantic interest, looking at the published picture, the first thing I noticed is that the 'Swastika Armband' is not, in fact, the Nazi version; it is the Hindu religious symbol which stands with the cross pieces upright and horizontal. The Nazi version lies at an angle with the cross pieces lying at 45* from the vertical. Also, if that is supposed to be an "Afrika Corps" uniform, he should not have worn the armband because it wasn't worn by the Afrika Corps. The rest of the uniform also appears to be a little sketchy; my reference books show a differnt style of jacket and shirt - not the loose fitting and rather casual outfit he is wearing.

Harry has learned an important lesson, one hopes, from all this. His private life is far from private. Murdoch's anti-Royal bloodhounds will find ways to sell their souls in order to bring to light anything which shows up the Sovereign or her family in a bad light. Perhaps in future he will be a bit more discerning in his friends - and a lot more careful.

Prince Charles has done the right thing; both his sons will be visiting Auschwitz in the company of a Jewish survivor. Perhaps that will make both of them a little more aware of the reality and, perhaps, too, it will shut the flapping mouths of the press corps airheads who delight in slinging mud. Perhaps they should also take a little more note of the words Christ used when a mob of outraged elders brought him a "woman taken in adultery".

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I suspect that not one member of the press corps now howling their outrage and baying for Harry's blood are sinless enough to be able to pick up a single stone.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:10 AM

January 16, 2005

Beacon of faith

Every now and again something happens which shines a spotlight on your faith and makes you take a long, hard look at it. One such event for many was the tsunami, for others it has been different events and tragedies, for me it was a simple event this week.

Some of you will recall that I posted an item on the death of my former school master, Neil Emslie. Neil, I knew, was a man of remarkable faith, unshakable in his belief in the promises of the Gospel and in the life to come. He died of lung cancer on the 31st December as I recorded. This week I received a letter from him.

No, it is not from beyond the grave, and no, it was not all a big mistake. He is dead to this life and this world. His letter was posted a few days before he died and is a response to my Christmas card. In it he tells me that he had had some health problems including pneumonia - which I knew - which had left him with a breathing problem which was getting worse. Tests confirmed the worst; he had a cancer of a collapsed lobe in one lung. But, his letter goes on to say:

"At the age of 81, one realises that the end of one's earthly sojourn must be nearer. I would like to stress that I am not at all upset, in fact, on the contrary, I feel almost excited at the prospect of seeing fulfilment of the promises we have pinned our faith to, and especially exciting is the prospect of re-union with my loved ones who have gone before - my darling Pam, my parents, a wonderful mother in law, a darling sister in law and a brother. This is exciting to say the least."

What can one say in the face of such a deeply held faith? What need one say - except: God grant that I may share this faith, that I may cease my doubts and be filled with the certainty of the knowledge of Your presence now and in the life to come. Neil finished his note with the comment "I have been greatly blessed in my life! So enjoyed seeing you again! Bless you ...."

Neil touched us all in special ways, none more special than this. If he has an eptaph, let it be his faith.

Requisecat in Pacem, Mr Chips, your faith has touched us all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:27 AM

January 15, 2005

Going where no man has gone before ....

Listening to the radio and watching the television for news of the Huygens probe and the pictures it has sent back from Titan, one can only marvel at the wonders still to be explored in the greater creation lying beyond our own tiny speck in the universe. That the Cassini space craft and the Huygens probe have arrived at all where they were headed is nothing short of miraculous. The pictures coming back from Huygens are even more so.

It is not that many years since the best views we could get from the Moon landers were hazy, distorted, and blurred. Now, from much further out, from inside an atmosphere that is at a temperature so far below freezing that it is almost unimaginable, that this atmosphere itself is made up of a toxic flammable mixture of gases, we are receiving digital pictures which show amazing details.

One wonders only at what will be available in another 30 years. In the meantime, I remain fascinated by the unfolding wonders of this strange and very alien moon, circling an even stranger planet. I suspect that the coming days will present us with more mysteries than answers in the short term, but it also brings the day when humans will travel to these regions for exploration a little nearer.

Carpe diem, NASA and the ESA!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:37 AM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2005

Healing and remembrance

Once a month at the Abbey there is a Healing Eucharist on a Tuesday evening. It is almost always held in the Chapel of St John the Baptist and St Catherine (I am never quite sure how they came to share a Chapel!), and it is always a very special experience. Many who come do so for their own infirmities and peace of mind, others come on behalf of friends or relatives, and some come just to be a part of the process. It involves praying for those for whom we seek healing (and this is also recognised as a "healing of the mind", an acceptance of the illness or disability and the strength to deal with it or live with it as much as any physical miracle) within the context of the Eucharist.

The service follows a formal pattern, with the welcome, introductory prayers, and readings including the Gospel. Sometimes a short homily may be delivered, and then the congregation is invited to pray. Following a period of prayer and preparation, the Priest President will lay hands on all present and pray over them, then annoint them with the Oil of Healing, marking them on the forehead and on the palm of each hand with a cross. Once this has been done for everyone who wishes it, the service continues with the consecration of bread and wine, its distribution, and the final prayers and blessing. It is simple in form, it is very personal in sharing and in fellowship, and it is very much in the spirit of the early believers.

On Tuesday night this week, our Priest President, Fr Richard, spoke very movingly on the meaning of the action of "remembrance", putting it into the context of healing and of the eucharist. The word is, in the English context, actually not quite what is intended in the Hebrew or even Greek sense, implying some sort of mental review. As Fr Richard, whose own wife is dying of a very nasty cancer, put it to us, in the Jewish context the word "remembrance", used twice in the Eucharistic prayer itself, is more akin to recalling and reliving the act which is remembered. Thus, within the context of the Eucharist, the words of institution, "Do this in remembrance of me" impels the partaker to relive the final meal and subsequent suffering of Our Lord. A truly sobering thought, and one which moves the act of communion to a different plain.

Thus, last Tuesday, we were encouraged to bring before God the remembrance of those who died in the tsunami, those who have survived and need healing, those who mourn, and those who, through illness and impending death need or have asked for our prayers. I know I was not alone in feeling, as I left the Abbey, that our prayers had been heard and do make a difference.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:32 AM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2005

Where have all the "Techies" gone?

Has anybody else out there noticed that almost all the managers these days are people who have never done the jobs that they manage? It seems that more and more, if you are someone who can actually do something, rather than ask for reports on performance, request new forms to be filled in, or re-arrange everyone's job titles, working arrangements, and pay levels, you are unlikely to be promoted out of the job you are doing. "Management" has become a "specialist" function that you enter at stratospheric heights without ever having had contact with the actual workface.

Looking around me I find that all those filling management roles today seem to have come in at middle or upper middle management level direct from university (MBA or similar degree) and then hop and skip from one "management" position as "head" of different functions, frequently "managing" quite complex technical areas with a staff of highly qualified (and definitely lower paid) staff whose work and often their needs are completely beyond those managers' comprehension. These so-called managers make the most amazing strategic decisions without any reference to the people they manage or to the complexity of the functions affected, usually by simply rendering everything down to the simplistic question - "What does it cost?" Or, more accurately, that famous buzz-phrase, "What's the bottom line on this?" It seems to be a defining feature of these managers that they understand nothing but the cost of everything; its intrisic value is beyond their grasp, and frequently how whatever it is is done, what it actually contributes, and what will cease to actually function if it is not done or provided is never understood.

A good example of this is provided by the events following a rail disaster in the UK which identified a need for renewal and replacement of large sections of track. British Rail had last placed an order with the then British Steel for track in approximately 1974. Some bright spark in the newly formed Railtrack around 1995 phoned British Steel (by now under new management) and wanted to know how soon the company could supply some 200 miles of new track and was surprised when told that it would take at least six months to (a) find the dies and extrusion machines for making it, (b) set them up, and (c) to actually find the recipe for the steel, assemble the right ore mixtures, and run the smelters and pourers. As far as I am aware they never did place the order - at least not with British Steel! It seems to have escaped the "managers" of Whitehall that if a company hasn't got a market for something they aren't going to make any, and it certainly isn't viable to keep a factory stood idle for 20 years or more so it can produce railway tracklines at the drop of a hat!

Other examples of this sort of stupidity abound, going right from the start of the rise of the management age - cancel all capital ship building for 10 years and then - expect the factory that makes the 15 inch guns to be still operational and ready to produce at a moments notice, cancel all UK combat aircraft orders - and then act surprised when you can't buy any British made aircraft, and many many more similar examples - and that's just the civil service! It seems, sadly, to be a Europe-wide phenomenon, now, as more and more frequently one meets engineers, chemists, doctors, and now fire safety and fire fighting specialists who find themselves being buried under layers of "management" and having to explain at great length the need to fund or do something vital. The cry of the manager of every function of which he or she has no understanding whatsoever is "Put together a business case so I can take it to the board!"

What really beggars belief is that they expect the "Technical Specialist" who is supposed to be "facilitated" by being freed up from having to manage his or her function to focus on their area of expertise, is now also expected to be able, at a moments notice and on top of their "real" work, to do something which is the function of the "manager" who is earning the big salary to do it - so that the "manager" can get a committee of equally ignorant but highly qualified "managers" to make a decision. I am constantly told, but do not believe a word of it, that the "board" doesn't make "operational" decisions, only strategic ones and that my input via "business cases" is vital for informing this process. I do not believe a word of that for one very simple reason, every strategic decision impacts directly upon the operational work of any organisation. It simply cannot be otherwise, and, if as is increasingly the case, these decisions are in the hands of people who have no understanding of the actual functions their decisions affect, you have a recipe for corporate failure. At best you have the scenario of trying to buy railway track, at worst someone ends up dead.

The purpose of the "business case" in this situation is threefold: firstly it makes the presenter aware that he/she is not the decision maker, and secondly, it makes the manager presenting it to the board look as if he/she actually does know something the rest of the board doesn't. The third purpose is more sinister; it provides a "blame trail" to the originator if the decision taken leads to a failure, as the board will argue that they acted on the information it contained and the best advice available. The board itself is, of course, almost bomb-proof in this scenario as all decisions are "by the Board" and the individuals hide behind this joint responsibility. Therefore, no individual is exposed as being incompetent; it is the whole board that made the decision.

The insidious degradation of the status of the technically competent and the elevation of those who, a generation ago would have been labelled "Administrators" and taken orders from the professionals who knew what they were doing and how it was done, has been achieved very rapidly. They have quietly taken over organisation after organisation. It began with the civil service and it has spread into business. No longer is the Chairman's son or daughter required to enter at the shop floor and spend even a token length of time actually getting to know and understand what went on there; now they go from school to university to boardroom.

This degradation of the real professions will have critical longterm effects, not the least being the loss of expertise as more and more "technical professionals" find themselves cut off from the rewards their "management" colleagues cream off in all the top posts at the payscales formerly open to all with the ability to rise there. Their only options are to join the herd or to go where their skills and expertise are better regarded and rewarded.

Eerily there is a parallel to this in history. It can be found in the fall of the Roman Empire where bureaucrats acquired more and more power at the expense of the people who actually built, maintained, and extended the infrastructures until eventually the cost of "managing" it became so great it collapsed. An equally eerie parallel can be seen in the rise of the status and wealth of "sportspersons" and "entertainers", both groups of whom now enjoy the status and wealth that accrued to the successful gladiators and "circus" performers of ancient Rome. This seems to go hand in hand with the decline of a society and the rise of bureaucracy. As the bureaucrats become more powerful, they bribe the "proletariat" with "spectacles" and "games" to distract them from the truth - that, under their "management" the position of the taxpayer, worker, and professional in any field (I don't include "Management" as a profession!) is being steadily reduced in status and in wealth.


With apologies to Peter, Paul, and Mary, perhaps the answer to my opening question is ....

"Where have all the Techies gone, long time passing,
Where have all the Techies gone, long time ago,
Gone to dole queues everyone!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:39 AM | Comments (4)

January 12, 2005

Flight rules

Visiting Ozguru on his blog at G'day Mate, I found he has posted something he got from Ambient Irony, but which I need to reproduce here for my helicopter-flying son. Some basic rules of flying.

Basic Flying Rules:
1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
2. Do not go near the edges of it.
3. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.

For helicopter pilots a couple more can be added:

4. When attempting to get airborne, pour on the power and move all the controls until it does lift,
5. Note when it does what you wanted it to, and note the position of the controls when it does it - you'll need to remember where to put them the next time, and
6. Remember, when making stall turns, that the passnegers spill their coffee - and sometimes other things they perhaps would prefer to keep down!

Of course, helicopter pilots are probably certifiable (my son thinks I am mad because I go into burning buildings!) because, according to the normal laws of physics, a helicopter should screw itself straight into the ground instead of flying! Still, for those able to control one of these beasts, it is a transport into pure Nirvana. I have to say that if I had better eyesight, could pat my head, rub my stomach, and twist both feet in opposite directions simultaneously, I would not hesitate to take up flying one myself. Rollercoasters? You can have them - take me for a ride in a chopper anyday!

Umm, just a thought here, if all helicopter pilots are certifiable, and my son is a helicopter pilot, and he thinks I'm mad .... I wonder where he gets it from?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:45 AM | Comments (2)

January 11, 2005

Epiphany Candles

In the midst of all the current anguish and hurt, I feel that a little something which reminds us of the beauty to be found all around us is in order. For those of you who wonder from my ramblings what the Abbey looks like when lit just by the light of candles (and a little help from some uplighters below the vaulting!) the picture below gives some idea.

Nave candlelight.JPG
The Abbey Nave looking East toward the Choir Presbytery and High Altar.

The pinpricks of light in the distance are the display on the floor of the Presbytery, the candles along the screen and the tapers on the Altar. Above can be seen the Triforium candles and the tree lights are on the right. This year's displays included the Guild of Virgers and the Flower Arrangers, pictures of which are below. I apologise if this takes ages to load, but I hope you like them.

Virgers Guild St Edmund.JPG
The Badge of the Guild of Virgers set in the Chapel of St Edmund.

Flower Guild St Faith.JPG
The Flower Arrangers Guild with a flower display of unusual kind in the Chapel dedicated to St Faith.

The Abbey, which always has a wonderfully peaceful feel, takes on a mystical quality when lit in this unusual way. It certainly gives a feeling for what it may have been like in medieval times. With the candlelight, and the plainsong settings used by the choir, the presence of the old monks is tangible, and one can feel their participation in our worship.

Peace go with you through this year.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:12 PM | Comments (4)

January 10, 2005

A difficult question.

The Diplomad has done it again. He has posed a question that I do not think many in power anywhere will dare to even contemplate, much less attempt to answer, yet it is, fundamentally, a very important question at every level because of what it says most clearly about us, about our "civilisation", and about the entire concept of "all cultures are equally good".

Several others who have picked up this post from the Diplomad's blog have left views which spread across the scale; most, it must be said, agreeing with him - as I do. It is very difficult to escape the fact, when you visit places like Indonesia, Thailand, and one or two others in this region, that there are huge inequalities, inequalities which could not exist in Europe or America. While these countries are generally seen by the Western Media and the public at large as "poor" or "poverty stricken", it is worth remembering that some of the world's richest families - and they are certainly not European or American - are actually native to these places. As the Diplomad has pointed out, they do not seem to have reached into their pockets to any great depth and are perfectly content to sit back and let the generosity of the West filter into their coffers. That is, unfortunately, one of the likely outcomes of any effort to "source aid locally".

Part of the problem is that poverty/wealth is seen as a punishment or reward for "karma" carried over from a previous life in some religious circles, but the rest of the problem is that Islam teaches that these events are "the will of Allah" and that it is therefore against God's will to intervene. Now I would have to qualify that and add that there are Muslim charities at work in the region and they are doing a great deal of good, but they are certainly not getting the scale of support pouring into Christain Aid, Oxfam, and other "Western" charities. Another part of the problem is, particularly in Indonesia, that the Province of Aceh is fighting for its independence from Muslim-dominated Jakarta. The province is rich in minerals, yet little of that wealth percolates back to the minority Hindu and Christian population, it is all fed back to the government and their cronies. Indeed, only a few years ago, the Jakarta Government blocked direct aid from Christian organisations, forcing all aid to be channeled through a government department - to ensure that it went to "authorised", in other words Muslim, charities. Why was this necessary? Simply because there was far more aid going to the Christian communities to relieve poverty than was coming from the oil-rich Muslim nations. No Muslim government could tolerate the uplifting of a "second class" section of the population, particularly one barred from public office or management of "true faith" followers on the grounds of that religion.

No one who has seen the depths of despair and poverty that drive girls, boys, mothers, and husbands to "sell" themselves, their children, and their bodies in places like the Patpong District of Bangkok can find it difficult to disagree with the Diplomad when he writes:

"Begging the pardon of the cultural relativists, but might we not be allowed to raise -- ever so gently, of course -- the possibility that these differing reactions to human suffering, show Western civilization as the best we have on the planet? Maybe, just maybe Western civilization is morally superior."

I have to admit that I do find it difficult to deal with a society (and I do have to occassionally!) which teaches that it is alright to live in fabulous luxury while entire families are born, live, and die in the gutter outside your gate. It cannot be right to accept this as "normal" or to find it impossible to at least make the effort to change it, even if this means giving away a portion of your own billions. I am no socialist, but I do suffer from an overdeveloped sense of social responsibility - something that goes with being raised on the concept of "noblesse oblige" - and which our current government have no concept of either, and to me it is simply incomprehensible that there can be a disaster of this magnitude on my doorstep and I make no effort to alleviate it while watching the rest of the world do what should be my first and only task until it is resolved.

Our system of government and our society may be, and probably is, deeply flawed and very unfair in many areas; at least it is compassionate and attempts to redress inequality and is intolerant of indifference. It is right that we are rendering aid to the stricken, it is right that we are exercised and angry about the incompetence of the UN and the governments doing so little; what we must do now, is find a way to compel them to change, to recognise their responsibilities, to stop letting them grow even more obscenely rich on our compassion.

Well done, the Diplomad.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:42 PM | Comments (5)

Epiphany Carols

Every year, on the Sunday nearest the Epiphany, the Abbey hosts a Carol Service. It is essentially a Deanery service, but it has long attracted a congregation from far wider afield than this corner of Gloucestershire. One of the attractions is the fabulous displays set out in every chapel by a team who strive to create displays representing every guild and activity at the Abbey.

This year's service was held last night, attended by the Bishop of Gloucester and the Archdeacons of Gloucester and of Cheltenham and a congregation of over 700. Deanery clergy and Readers were all robed and the choristers did the Church, the congregation, and the Lord proud.

Choristers Lady Chapel.JPG
The Choristers and Musicians display in the Lady Chapel nave.

Nor were recent events overlooked; a special display was created at the foot of a sculpture entitled "Our Lady of Sorrows" to commemorate the Asian tsunami victims. The total number of candles used in all the displays were also carefully calculated to give a representative figure of 50 victims representated by each candle.

Our Lady of Sorrows.JPG
The display for the tsunami victims.

The old stone walls rang to the music, accompanied and unaccompanied, of some well-known and some less well-known carols. When it was all over, the congregation remained to walk around and admire, contemplate, and to add their prayers to those represented by the displays. The interior of the Abbey lit by candles is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of my camera, but I give you one more view of the Lady Chapel to consider.

MU Lady Chapel.JPG
This display in the Lady Chapel Apse represents the Mother's Union. To the right can be seen the "Florentine Cope" recently restored to its full splendour, having originally been created in Florence around 1730.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:55 AM

January 09, 2005

The Baptism of Christ

Today is the "Feast" of the Baptism of Christ, the day on which Christians mark the moment when Christ's ministry among us actually began. The Common Worship lectionary gives us a reading from Matthew Chapter 3 and verses 13 to the end. This describes the moment and the conversation between John the Baptiser and Jesus at the Jordan, introducing the rest of the Gospel.

While we cannot be certain that Matthew records the exact conversation (he wrote it down some 40 years later), we do know that it was an "oral tradition" almost from the beginning. This landmark event appears in all four Gospels, each author having his own slight variation on what Matthew describes. For those of an analytical turn of mind, a court of law would take the view that these variations "prove" the event - as human memory would make the variations show that there was no collusion between the witnesses. But, for us, why is this event so important?

Firstly, it marks a beginning. John the Baptiser had prepared the way; many, as St John's gospel tells us, thought that the Baptist was the Messiah, but, from this point on, it is clear that John himself is pointing the way to Jesus.

Baptism, or a ritual washing, was a long practiced tradition in Judaism. It symbolised a new beginning, a washing away of the old, a repentance of previous sins or errors, and a fresh start. It was something you did ritually as frequently as you might need to, and, indeed, elements of this can be seen in the ritual washing of head, hands, and feet before prayer in a mosque and in some of the Jewish preparations for major feasts or events. John the Baptiser came with a different vision. His baptism was a once for all time event, a public declaration and whole body washing away of sin with, as a total immersion experience, the whole element of death (descending under the water) and rebirth (rising from the deep) into a new life. This symbolism was very important and has its origins in the Old Testament - one example of which can be found in the cure prescribed for the leper prince Uzziah.

All four gospel writers make it plain that Jesus did not need to be baptised for any of the reasons we would need to undergo baptism. This is why John is recorded as saying to Him that, "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus reply is seemingly enigmatic, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all rigtheousness."

What, therefore, is this all about? Firstly, it marks, as I have said, the beginning of Christ's ministry among us, but it also marks His identification with us and in us of the purpose of His ministry. Secondly, it marks this act, whether by sprinkling water or total immersion, as the point at which someone becomes a follower of Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all make mention of the revelation of the Holy Spirit descending on Christ as He rose from the water, some saying it came like a dove and some that it was a voice heard from heaven. The import is plain, this was no ordinary man, no ordinary baptism, and it marks out this baptism as something quite different from the norm.

It is right that we should celebrate this event at this time, since, in the Epiphany, we celebrated the revelation to a wider world of the arrival of the Christ Child, the babe of Bethlehem. Then it was the small group of the Magi and their servants and followers, the shepherds and their sheep, and the immedaite family and friends, who, up to this point, had known who He was and that He was different and special. As St Luke says in his gospel, "Mary stored up all these things in her heart and pondered them." Now, in the baptism, He stands revealed to a very much larger audience and following, now, in the Baptism, He has received the blessing of His Father and the commissioning of the Holy Spirit to begin the short but world-changing ministry.

This baptism rather than our own marks the beginning of the salvation open to every living soul.

We should give praise to God for this.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:01 PM

The hypocricy revealed ....

In this week we have seen the true agenda of our wonderful government and its surrogates. On the one hand, the Prime Minister's poodle, one of the few "English" Labour Ministers, writes in a Muslim newspaper that the government have acted "within weeks" of receiving a complaint from the Muslim Council, to enact legislation making it illegal to criticise Islam - the infamous "stirring up racial or religious hatred" legislation - and assuring Muslims that if they don't vote Labour, they will find themselves ruled by a Jew. On the other hand, we have the BBC, a publically funded (through compulsory Licence fees) broadcaster, broadcasting, last night, the show "Jerry Springer - The Opera".

Now you may well wonder what that second item has to do with hypocricy; it is simply this, that show portrayed God, Jesus Christ, and the Virgn Mary in a truly offensive light. They would never have dared to do this with a Muslim theme, say showing the "prophet" as a nasty little fraud, so why are they allowed to denigrate the Christian faith in this way. Ofcom and the BBC complaints line acknowledge that they received over 50,000 complaints in the run up to its being screened, and I note they are very silent about how many since. If Mr Blair's government is so keen to protect religious sensitivity that he makes it illegal to "offend" any Muslims, why is Christianity treated differently?

One reason is quite simply that this shower of hyocrites view Christianity as an "enemy of the people", a representation of the "Privileged Classes" - remember the declaration by the junior minister over foxhunting - "we will show these toffs that we are in charge now". The second and blatantly hypocritical reason is that they feel they can afford to offend the million or so "Christian" voters who are regular members of congregations, but not the million or so Muslims, who, because of their divisive policy of actively preventing integration (called "Multi-culturalism"), have been relegated to slums and colonies within our inner cities. Natural followers for Labour and its deceitful promises, all this is done to "protect" Islam and redistribute wealth. It is not that long since they were telling us they were doing this to protect "working class" people. Face it; this is a party run by Middle Class, moneyed, and privileged hypocrites for their own advantage. These two events show how deeply their cynical and apostate condition runs. They believe in nothing but power for themselves and will do anything to retain it - including pandering to militant Islam and marginalising the Christian core of this country.

This exposes once and for all time that fact that you simply cannot be a Christian and continue to support this Party of lies, deceit, corruption, and atheists.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:12 AM

January 08, 2005

The UN contribution? Meetings!

Please do go and read the Diplomad.

This is a man (men and women) on the ground in the affected area. Their view of the reality is a little different from that presented by the UN's talking heads and the news media - who conveniently forget to mention most of the time that the real "delivery" is happening on the ground thanks to the US and Australian military and the various Aid charities who have managed to get off the ground. The UN's contribution is meetings, meetings, and more bloody meetings. Meanwhile the US, Aussie, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan, and UK troops, airmen, and navy personnel just get on with the job.

A little less hot air from the bureaucrats and their armies of freeloaders and a lot more support for the real delivery teams would be a welcome breath of fresh air. Read the Diplomad and weep!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:40 AM

January 07, 2005

Not a bad effort .....

There are definitely times when I am very proud to be a Christian, proud to be a member of a congregation with a big and open heart, and very proud to be part of a community that lives its values. Last night I got news that the Abbey congregation, which set up a collection point at the back of the Abbey and distributed leaflets around the town saying where and how and why, had collected from visitors, townsfolk, and members of the congregation a sum of over 12,000 for the tsunami victims in one week. Even better, in anticipation of being able to make this effort even more effective, our treasurer encouraged the teams to ask each visitor, if they are UK taxpayers, to fill out a Gift Aid envelope. The majority have done so, and this means that the Chancellor will be adding 28% to that donation!

None of this will be kept by the Abbey, itself cashstrapped; it will all go to the relief agencies. A donation point remains available in the Abbey, but has now moved to the Abbey Shop.

I am equally astonished by the effort of the people of Belfast who have raised 900,000 at the Cathedral, the Dean standing on the steps and inviting people to "pay and pray". In a move that also makes me incredibly proud to be a member of the fire services of the UK, the Northern Ireland Fire Authority's FBU members have cleared their "Hardship Fund" collected to help members during the strike and written a cheque which they handed to the Dean, for 50,000 - probably the biggest single private cheque anyone has received.

The effort at Tewkesbury, a community considerably smaller than Belfast, is on top of the fact that collections are being made in every shop in the town and yet numerous people have made the effort to walk to the Abbey, even if they are not regular members of the congregation, to make a donation, light a candle, and stop for a prayer. It has been a remarkable and very humbling experience with some truly sacrificial giving by many of these visitors. This is what the Gospel is all about, helping one another, ensuring that those in need receive the help they need. All of humanity suffers when any one of us suffers - and God is there to comfort us and suffer with us.

To those who ask, where is God in all this pain, I say this; He is there beside you, He is there in Sri Lanka, in Indonesia, in Thailand, and all the other afflicted communities. He is also right here with us as we give to the aid charities, as we pray, and as we weep for the bereaved and the lost. His grace is visible in the outpouring of generosity that has seen the British public give directly (and many of those who have given at the Abbey have also given online or in other ways as well) over 60 million. He will be with us, too, in the difficult days ahead as we try to repair the damage and to rebuild the lives of those at the heart of it.

"O put thy trust in God: for I will yet give him thanks, which is the help of my countenance, and my God."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)

January 06, 2005

Epiphany greetings ....

The feast of the Epiphany draws to a close as I write, the "Men from the East" depart the crib and "return home another way". As our Lord Abbot said in his homily at tonight's Solemn Mass it is impossible for anyone who has truly met Christ to return home the same as they were before they met Him. So it was, that we too, on this night, were challenged to "return to your place after communion, another way". It was interesting to see how many attempted to do so.

Today is, in the Orthodox calendar, as important as Christmas for the simple reason that, with the Magi's visit, the Messiah moved from being a purely Jewish saviour, to being the Holy One sent to all humankind. The "Men of the East" came to the crib as our representatives, their gifts were our gifts, their recognition of Him as our Messiah was a call to us to see and meet Him as well.

As Christ became man in the birth at Christmas so that we could become like Him, and became like God, so at the Epiphany this was revealed to the world. As St John says; "The Word became flesh and dwelled among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."

It is appropriate that we consider this and, especially at this time of sorrow for the tsunami victims, remember that it was in this act that He identified Himself with us and with our opain and sorrow.

"The Light was in the world, and the world saw it not." It is really time to change that! Perhaops we should all consider "returning home another way!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:05 PM

Born or made?

Shock!

Horror!

The dreadful truth may well be out! Leaders tend to have been born and not "developed"! That is the conclusion of a survey conducted recently of the leaders and captains of UK Industry and Commerce. Almost all of them, according to an article in the Telegraph, were in some leadership role from the moment they hit pre-school!

This rather inconvenient revelation exposes the false argument that everyone has the potential to be a leader. In fact it blows a hole in it, but I suspect that it will be many years yet before the shibolleth that "leaders" can be "made" dies the death so sorely needed. It is my experience that natural leaders have an ability to inspire those under them to perform almost any task. They are coercive and persuasive, they have the knack of knowing how to get the best from people - and how to demolish them with a word or a gesture, if needed. They share things with their "teams" and give all the appearance of being totally open and honest. The "made" leader often lacks the confidence to lead and either falls back on the "committee" approach, mistaking this for "teamwork", or the totally autocratic and dicatorial method. Neither inspires the troops with much confidence.

Look at the great leaders of history. While you would probably not invite Alexander the Great home for dinner willingly, it would be difficult to overlook the fact that this often violent man had a charisma that insired his friends and follwers, leading them to victory after victory even when they were apparently hopelessly outnumbered. Winston Churchill was hardly everyone's favourite (and co-incidently broke the mould of "leadership" at school, never having been a prefect or team captain, instead being a rebel, always challenging authority) yet he rose to be possibly this countries greatest ever Prime Minister. Another on my list would be a certain Erwin Rommel, and I would add to that Admiral A B Cunningham, C-in-C of the Mediterranean Fleet in the worst period of the second World War.

A leader is one who has a natural ability to work with people, often people he does not know, and inspire them to trust his judgement. Leaders know when to allow underlings to make the decisions and when to take charge. They also know that the ultimate responsibility always rests with them and no one else. You never hear a leader say "So-and-so wants us to ...", instead it is "I want .." or "I think we will ...", the distinction being that he takes full responsibility for whatever follows. More often than not, a "manager" will say "HQ want us to do .." and thus passes the responsibility to someone else. If it goes wrong, he will say, "I was following orders" and try to keep out from under. The Leader type will not; he will agree that his decision was wrong, set out why he took it under the circumstances, and try to repair the damage.

In a career filled with some interesting memories, I can think of several "leaders" I have worked with or witnessed in action and even more "managers" who I would not have been keen to follow anywhere dangerous. The distinction I noticed was apparent in the first navy Captain I experienced. He never raised his voice, never swore, and yet everyone walked exactly where he led. His authority was apparent even when he was relaxing sailing our 33 foot Montague Whaler with a hand picked crew of conscripts (including yours truly!); it was present in his easy confidence even out of uniform. He could laugh at our jokes, share a picnic basket, a cigarette and a beer with us, then, when needed, switch instantly to Command mode - and no one ever thought to challenge him. By contrast some of the junior officers could not even begin to do this - and even now, when I meet them years on and in much higher ranks, they still cannot. What was the difference? In part it was breeding - our Captain came from a family who had always been "Navy", had always been leaders, and always worn authority. I dare say that even as a Midshipman he would have been a leader and not a follower.

Another of my friends falls into this category as well, affable and always convivial, he is a scion of one of our "older" families and it shows. He is not a big man, yet size is not important, when it matters, or when challenged there is an instant awareness of authority, and he seems to grow to twice his size and presence. A natural leader even in authoritarian mode, he exudes confident personality and that inspires those who work with and for him. It also intimidates those who don't understand the true qualities of leadership. Perhaps that is why they are afraid of leaders and prefer to degrade the term to include their confused concept of a fluffy wooly cuddly friendly "we're all in this together" style and are then astonished when they find themselves devoid of respect or authority.

None of these qualities can be taught, they are bred into someone, and it is a fortunate man or woman who has them. They are the people who, in a crisis, rise from the background, sweep aside the bureaucrats and the managers, and accomplish the job. It should be no surprise that the successful corporations and companies in our world today are all ones that have charismatic leaders at the helm. The reason? It flows from the difference between leaders and managers - when change is required, the successful corporation is led through it and it sticks; the unsuccessful corporation employs "change managers", and as soon as they move on, it all comes unglued.

A leader is always someone that is respected by those around him, respected for his inspiration, his ability, and his compassion. These qualities are often what the manager lacks. He manages and more often micro-manges staff. He cannot trust them to do the job without constant supervision whereas the leader knows the difference and allows his people the scope to develop their own abilities and to exercise their own authority without supervision and interference unless it is warranted.

It will be interesting to see what further research is done on this, although I suspect it will be a brave researcher who takes this one on and tries to overcome the last sixty or so years of psycho-babble that has produced the current view that everyone has the same ability to lead. It just is not so, and the sooner that is recognised and accepted, the better off we all will be, for the obstacle to useful development and growth will have, at long last, been removed.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:12 AM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2005

Terrorism and freedom ....

Yesterday I received a "spam" e-mail offering me "A unique confidential report describing in great detail the horrible circumstance and true causes of death of Princess Diana." It is, from the address, sent by someone in Germany, but it is headlined as being from the "BRITISH PUBLIC COUNCIL ON PROTECTION OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH", an organisation who seems to have no legitimate existence. OK, OK, so by even mentioning them and their publication in a post I am giving them the publicity they seek - not so! I mention them only because the garbage they peddle is likely to be snapped up by any number of gullible "Diana freaks" who will believe any claptrap which exonerates Saint Diana and blames the Royals, the Government (and heaven knows I have little love for them!), or anyone else who might be construed as "robbing" them of their idol.

Reading the blurb that accompanied this e-mail, I found myself reading complete garbage about the supposed deliberate killing of the Princess and her lover which seems to utilise the unlikely agency of a paparazzi photographer ramming the heavy Merc off the road with a Fiat Uno. Frankly a scenario worthy of that other great purveyor of the truth, Michael Moore.

I have forwarded the e-mail and its content to the Security Services for one very good reason. This sort of disinformation is the classic tool of those who seek to disrupt, dismay and discredit an enemy. The enemy in this case is the entire West. Believe it or not, the US Security forces are supposed, according to this "confidential" report, to have been implicated in the supposed murder. So, apparently, was Mohammed al Fayed! Terrorism does not have only the "armed struggle" in its arsenal, as important is the propaganda effort which supports it by underpinning or promoting the "cause" and attracts recruits. By definition all propaganda is selective reporting; Goebbels, the inventor of modern "spin doctoring", always stated that a half truth was better than a lie because the part that could be confirmed would be taken to confirm the rest. Lenin used this rather more crudely to undermine the legitimately elected government in the run up to the "October Revolution" which swept the Bolsheviks to power.

Bombs and shootings get you into the news, but if you want to get a message across you need to have access to a good media system. That, in turn, has to be able to transmit believable information without being blatantly biased. So, you have a bunch of clever people who you persuade, through exploiting their desire to be seen as "championing" a "just" cause, and you get them to repeat or to present, as truth that the mysterious "they" don't want you to hear. Our own natural tendency to disbelieve anything from sources we have no reason to trust, anyway, then takes over and we start to think in terms of the slanted truth. Fahrenheit 911 is something I would put into this category. It has just enough of the truth to be verifiable in some areas, but then blends the author's fantasy in so cleverly that truth and fantasy become inextricably entwined and readily believed as "documentary" anywhere where there is no love for the US and its institutions.

The subtle art of sowing doubt is a well developed weapon in the arsenal of the left, it has been honed to a fine art in all our schools and universities to the point where the twisted half truths have become the accepted "fact", and the reality is often discarded as being "untrue" or "right wing propaganda". Good examples of how this vilification process can be orchestrated and conducted in the face of the realities and the truth can be seen in the anti-Rhodesian campaigns of the 1970's, where we were constantly bombarded with stories of the attrocities committed by the 100,000 white settlers against the oppressed majority population. The reality was somewhat different, with major infighting between factions within the "freedom fighter" parties and the tribes. The result we see today is of a hideous dictator who has presided over the destruction of a prosperous country, the impoverishment of its people, and the brutal murder of thousands of the people he "rules" while enriching himself and his cronies - yet not one word of this appears in the left controlled media. It simply does not fit the propaganda profile they promote.

Similarly Israel is now routinely seen as the "aggressor" in all the trouble in the Middle East. Years of propaganda about the oppression of the "Palestinian People" - a euphemism for those who have elected to remain stateless more than forty years after the original conflict - and the subsequent trouble, frequently provoked by the malicious as soon as there are Western and sympathetic media people about, is all laid at Israel's door. No one now dares to point out that the 1947 conflict was provoked by the manifest betrayal of the Jewish people in Palestine by the then British Government, nor to the intransigence of Arafat, himself not born in Palestine as he prefered to call it. UN resolution after resolution repeats the propaganda promoted by the anti-Israel coalition and the left wing politicians who fall over themselves to promote the Arab line and pour derision on the Jewish side. This is successful propaganda, half truth, half lie - but which is which?

Conspiracy theorist I freely acknowledge myself to be when it comes to governments and bureaucracies, but I do not subscribe, in the main, to the view that they have any defined or clear plan. It is far more the efforts to cover up their total incompetence and their complete destruction - frequently unwittingly - that I find objectionable. That said, I find myself constantly astonished when I run across people who one must presume to be reasonably intelligent, who actually believe their own propaganda! This is a government that is full of such people, and their poodles in the civil service have been swept into the same trap.

This is, of course, the ultimate danger with all propaganda. If it is believable and successfully supplants the truth, it becomes the accepted truth - think of the Emperor's new clothes - and no matter how frequently reasonable voices point out that the Emperor is in fact naked, the glory of the new clothes is all too frequently revived.

The most pernicious type of propaganda in our time is that promulgated by groups like the one I have referred to earlier in this post. It purports to be the truth, but isn't. It preys upon the average person's inability to verify facts and to penetrate often quite complex legal jargon or scientific argument. It is all too easy to exploit those who want to believe something and to feed them an alternative "truth" which is anything but. It is very much easier when there is something which is verifiable or held to be "common" knowledge within the lie to be propagated. Nor is it just the public who fall for this. Carl Sagan, whom I held in great respect for his ability to present his science in a very understandable and memorable format, fell into the trap of repeating a half truth, half lie in his last book. In this he quoted an earlier 19th Century source which stated that Galileo had been tortured by the Inquisition over his scientific theories. The half truth was that he had indeed been interviewed by them, the half lie was the subject of the interview. It had nothing to do with science and everything to do with his having pilloried the Pope of the day as an ignoramus. Not wise when the said Pope is funding your research and acting as your sponsor in society and in promoting your ideas!

This latest piece of trash peddled by some unheard of and no doubt quite fake organisation is just such a piece of work. The facts are that Diana died in a motor crash. That is verifiable by anyone, the lie is that she was murdered on the orders of some government, or governments, the Royal Family, Mohammed al Fayed himself, and a whole bunch of shady characters supposedly connected to the mob. It is dangerously pernicious because, as a character in one of Terry Pratchett's book "The Truth" frequently asserts, "a lie will have circumnavigated the world before the truth can get its boots on."

All too frequently, these believable lies are launched with only one intention, to bring doubt into people's minds about the veracity and truth as tested in courts (thereby undermining the courts themselves), to undermine the organs of government and of society. Once they take hold of the popular imagination (one recently crossing my horizon was the assertion contained in some Blogs, that Kerry polled more votes than G W Bush in the latest election), the truth is the casualty. The lie becomes the truth and ultimately we will all lose as our society becomes unglued, as its institutions and its customs are undermined, and is replaced by half truth and lies.

If anyone else recieves this e-mail, I suggest that you refer it to the appropriate authorities. It may be harmless, but do not forget that, post 9/11, all any terrorist needs to do (as the IRA have proved more than once in the UK) is suggest that there is another "spectacular" planned and name some believable locations for it to occur. Undermine confidence in a society and you can bring about its total demise in a very short space of time and with little more than a token effort.

Words have immense power. When the words are true and verifiable there is no problem; when they are used as weapons they become the means for the toppling of nations. It was said of Winston Churchill that he "mobilised the English language and sent it marching out to war." He did, and, when Britain lay defenceless in 1940 and 1941, his army of words sowed the doubts and bought the time needed to create the alliance that would ultimately overthrow Hitler and his allies. Unfortunately, since then, it is all too often the students of Goebels and Trotsky who have made most effective use of the language.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:04 PM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2005

Good bye, Mr Chips

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Neil Emslie photographed in October 2004 shortly after his 81st birthday, schoolmaster and rugby coach, amateur dramatic teacher/producer, and ordained Deacon. An extraordinary teacher and a man whose faith was tangible.

I received the news yesterday of the death of an extraordinary schoolmaster. One who had a major impact on the lives and development of quite literally hundreds of boys in his career. He served in the South African army, in the 7/23rd Artillery in North Africa and in Italy. He returned to SA and completed his degree, then his teaching diploma, and finally settled into a career teaching senior school curriculi and coaching Rugby. Himself an Old Queens Boy, one who attended school at Queen's College in Queenstown, South Africa, he spent almost his entire teaching career at the rival school of Selborne College.

It was here that he was my own teacher of 19th and 20th Century history and of amateur dramatics. His palapable delight every time any of his "boys" visited him or achieved any distinction in their subsequent careers and his own tangible faith marked him out as a man of tremendous influence, yet of deep humility.

His beloved wife, Pam, predeceased him by some ten years, yet he never doubted that they would be reunited in death and the life to come. He died of lung cancer on new year's eve, having been diagnosed only three weeks earlier. In his dying breath he apologised to his wife for an earlier "false alarm" and died peacefully, smiling, surrounded by his children.

He leaves a son, a daughter and her family, and a lot of men who will remember him, not just with fondness, but for the very real mark he made on their lives.

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember him."

We know that he will rest in peace, re-united with long-passed comrades and his beloved Pam.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

January 03, 2005

The wrong question?

It was in evitable that sooner rather than later we would hear someone raise the question; "how can there be a God if He allows things like this to happen?" Numerous clergymen and no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury have been exercised in attempting to provide an answer to this and the parallel question, "Why does God allow these things to happen?"

There is probably no simple answer, but it is, in part, a result of human freewill and our need to adapt our environment, to exploit it, and to enjoy it to the full, while also disregarding some fairly basic and fundamental issues about life itself. I find it interesting that the questions posed above arise mainly in Western Christian society and not especially in the Eastern religions most affected by these natural phenomena. Those churches struggling to answer these questions among their congregations in the Tsunami hit areas are almost all Western Christian implants and several seem to be of the Evangelical tradition - that is; the simplistic "do not interpret the Bible, it is exactly what it says" tradition. Journalists love this sort of question since it gives them a golden opportunity to knock all religious faith and to cast doubt in everyone's mind. Controversy sells papers.

It is true that there is a very difficult element to be addressed here for anyone who believes in a God who loves His creation and those of us to whom He has given the freedom to choose either His perfect grace and the life of Faith in which we do not fear death, or the right to reject it and look for fulfilment in a purely secular and material sense. It is equally interesting to see that the Buddhist communities, while they mourn their dead, do not consider this the work of God, but of some unpleasant local Daemon who has temporarily broken free. Death is a part of the cycle of life and with a creed of reincarnation, the Buddhist hopes to return in a better form, perhaps moving up the scale rather than down it. Hindus also have less problems than most Western Christians with death and it goes without saying that the Muslim faith takes a very pragmatic - almost fatalistic - approach. If you die in a disaster like this, it is the will of God and not something you may or should question.

Christianity has, since the Reformation, moved from a position of accepting that death, however tragic, is a part of the cycle of life, to a position where we are desperate to cheat it. We are afraid of dying, and so, when something like this happens, we find it impossible to simply accept that overpopulation has put large communities into areas which previously would have had small groups, quite probably living in structures or in positions much less suceptible to the effects of a Tsunami. Look at traditional Thai structures, they are boat shaped with floors that are raised at each end of the structure and sit in stilts for foundations. Doors have raised sills, the walls lean inwards, and the structure is all wood. It won't collapse in an earthquake, and it will float in a tsunami! It is our arrogance and greed that drives us to build resorts on the beaches in earthquake zones - and then to build them where the nature of the ground guarantees that the effects of a wave like this will strike with maximum effect. It is the work of men, not of God, which places people in the way of harm and danger.

Similarly, our refusal to address the population pressures (which are also a cause of the extreme poverty in many parts of the world) which ensures that more and more people are forced to live in low lying areas their own ancestors would have shunned - precisely because they had seen or had heard of such events. Ever since we began to interfere in the process of natural selection, by intervening with modern drugs (which are now, through over-use, beginning to lose the war on some ancient bacteria and viral infections!), the populations of the world's poorest nations have been expanding exponentially. Even the wealthier nations are experiencing this expansion, yet, and this is a desperately difficult ethical question; we simply allow it to continue - and at the same time build town, cities, and mass housing in places subject to flooding, earthquake, and every other imaginable kind of natural phenomenon - and then blame God.

Secondly the earth is still "forming", changing, and adapting. It is evolving, even as we are still evolving. It isn't a perfect environment, all settled and perfectly safe; it is a "living" organism which has occassional hiccoughs, eruptions, and the odd twinge of arthritis! Disasters are bound to happen, particularly along the major subduction zones on the earth's crust. It isn't something our God can be expected to intervene in!

God does not "allow" these things to happen - we make it impossible for Him to stop us from creating a situation in which it will happen. God does not desire our being hurt, it is not His "will" that we be hurt, bereaved, or killed; it is His will that we should be free to choose, to live as He would have us live, in peace, in harmony, and caring one for another - but He gave us the choice to do that or to go our own arrogant way.

It is said that out of every tragedy some good arises. It is a remarkable fact that in this one we see Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu all working side by side. Sharing grief, sharing resources, sharing the work, sharing the burden of getting help to the helpless as swiftly as possible. It is at times like this that the true face of God becomes apparent, for this is what He desires for us all - peace, co-operation, and harmony.

God does work in strange and wonderful ways. Sometimes He turns our own confusion, bereavement, and despair into an opportunity in which the true and unadulerated meaning of faith and of His wonderful creation can become apparent. Yes, it is tragic that so many have died in this natural disaster. Yes, there are some hard questions to answer, and yes, there is a need to look carefully at how it can be prevented from happening again. But, perhaps we also need to look long and hard at our attitude to life and death - and to the promise of life beyond death.

The truly faithful of every religion, but particularly those of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish professions believe emphatically in a life after death. Christians have the additional advantage of knowing that Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, Son of the Living God, the Christ, rose from the dead and promised that we would join Him there. We cannot profess to believe this day by day and then blame God when someone dies. We cannot claim to hold this faith and blame God when we put ourselves in a place where such a natural event can and does occur.

Those who ask the question, "How can God allow this to happen?" are asking the wrong question. The real question should be "How can I grow in faith so that I may deal with the failures of this world and still hold true to the story of the Gospel?" When we can put behind us the fear of death that is so deep-rooted within Western Christianity that it blinds us to the hope of heaven - unless it
looks like what we are used to in this life - we will no longer feel a need to
blame God when something goes badly wrong. Western Christianity needs to rediscover and recapture the faith of the East, one that accepts that bad things happen, but that there is always the hope of better - if you hold firm to faith in God.

We are all affected by the Tsunami. No one alive today can fail to be moved by the tragedy that has occurred, by the lives cut short, the livelihoods destroyed, and the bereavement for those left behind. We must all continue to give all the help we can and then continue to give all the help we can to address the very serious issues which make these sorts of tragedies ever more likely and ever more disasterous. Just don't blame God!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:22 AM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2005

Claiming the credit ...

It is interesting to see the various UN functionaries claiming credit for all the Aid pouring into the areas hit by the catastrophe last Sunday. The Secretary General himself is constantly telling us how much aid the UN has "delivered" or is "delivering". Funny that; first because, so far, according to several alternative sources and the rest of the news media, the aid delivered all appears to have been carried in on US military aircraft or ships or by privately chartered aircraft hired by a variety of Aid Organisations such as the Red Cross, the Johanniter Organisation, St John Ambulance, Christian Aid, the Red Crescent and other "voluntary" bodies. I haven't seen anything labelled UN actually being delivered by UN personnel to the people at the beachhead on the beach.

The only thing I can conclude from this is that the UN suffers from the same problem as the British Government - a flock of Sir Humphreys all giving the relevant Minister the glib assurance that "everything is being done" and "the people on the ground are all doing everything they can to deliver what we have sent". All of which means the same - our people are safely in the best hotel in town shuffling papers because we haven't actually sent anything except them and the paperwork. Sounds good, even looks good - as long as no one looks behind the news desk!

I share the Diplomad's annoyance at the way the UN's functionaries are claiming credit for things they have had no involvement with, no input into, and absolutely no hand in delivering. The studious way in which many of the news agencies are also failing to mention just how much the US is putting into this is disgraceful, to say the very least.

Perhaps it is time for the politicians to get out of the way and let the people who know what and how to do these things get on with the job. It is no thanks to Mr Blair or any of his cabinet that the British populace have dug into their pockets and donated a pound for every living soul in this Kingdom. The surprise is that Mr Brown hasn't tried to tax it! The fact is that Britain's contribution is mostly a voluntary one, the spontaneous reaction of the populace and the work of the various charitable societies. There is no way that the credit for this should be given to any government department or to the UN.

The truth is that the Aid is reaching those most in need thanks to US carrier-borne helicopters, military units, and aircraft from the stricken nations themselves, and a few other units despatched from Europe. The UN has, as yet, only sent its usual hordes of bureaucrats and hangers-on. It is proving itself to be as useless as always in a crisis and demonstrates yet again that it is an overblown bureaucracy which is in serious need of radical overhaul. If it is not and if it continues in its present form and under its present incompetent management it will eventually be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Don't be fooled by the rhetoric and the claims these charlatans are making about "their" efforts - the real work is being done by everyone but them!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:06 AM | Comments (5)

January 01, 2005

Welcome to 2005

I'll start by wishing you all a blessed and successful year ahead; I hope that the Lord gives you the grace and help you need to achieve whatever you are destined to achieve in the coming year.

Now I shall probably be called a curmudgeon for this, but, much as I enjoyed the spectacular fire works displays shown on the TV, and the parties to celebrate the close of one year and the start of the next, it occurred to me that our political masters and leaders are everywhere adopting the same tactics as the rulers of Rome in the corrupt and closing days of that Empire. Give the people spectacles, big circusses, more lions fighting gladiators, keep them drunk on the spectacle and they won't notice the steady erosion of personal freedom, rising taxation, increasing inequality of wages and wealth - in short they won't notice they're being robbed blind!

I listened to the statistics being bandied about by breathless announcers as more and more spectacular displays soared, roared, or blasted into the skies. London's display used 3 tons of fireworks, Edinburgh's 8 tons, Sydney's of the order of 5 tons. Why is this so important, surely it's the effect and the spectacle that is what counts, not the weight? Are we fighting some sea battle? There, certainly, the weight of shot being fired, and the rate of fire, was what won or lost a fight, surely this is less true of a fireworks display?

It strikes me that, with the increasing decline of any form of spiritual anchorage among the populace, the only alternative is the spectacle, hence the increasing "star" status of footballers who can barely string together three words consequtively, "Pop" stars who self destruct amid wealth, drugs, and general excess, and self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats who use these "stars" shamelessly to promote their own careers. With no spiritual dimension to our lives we become shallow, self obsessed, and depressingly easy to herd into whatever the latest "moral" restriction is. "All we like sheep", is becoming depressingly ever more apparent.

No, I haven't got a hangover, and no, I am not a manic depressive, but the cycle of history is pointing in only one direction when the political classes feel the need to make a huge spectacle out of a totally irrelevant point in a calendar. This "celebration" has its origins in the Puritan Protestant attempt to deconstruct the great Christian feasts celebrated by Catholics. I wonder if what their effiorts have produced gives them pride and pleasure now?

Today is the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus, perhaps we should mark that a little more clearly, instead! As Simeon the elderly Priest is reported to have said;

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen: thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel."

Happy new year to you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:20 PM | Comments (1)

Turning to the Epiphany

I recently found a new Roman Catholic blog - new to me, at any rate - called SoDakmonk, a genuine Benedictine Monk. Now he has an interesting series on his page exploring the Magi and their provenance. I must say that I agree with his postulation on this; it is all too easy, certainly among our secular and anti-Christian friends in the media and governments, to ignore historical facts and evidence when it suits them.

The Epiphany is celebrated (it has been sadly neglected until recently in the Western Church) as the "revelation" of the Christ to the Gentiles, a signal that He came not just to the Jews, but to all of humankind. Like the SoDakmonk, I am sometimes aware that this message needs to reach a far wider audience.

I hope that you all take a look at his posts and give this some serious thought. It means a lot for you!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:51 AM

G'day Mate!

The blog of the guy who made me do all this...

http://ozguru.mu.nu

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:00 AM