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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A more important vote

Regardless what happens on May 5th over in France they are engaged in a very important referendum campaign on the new Constitution, and has made the news recently polls are not looking good for the Oui vote. Daniel Drezner has a typically high-quality post on the prospect of a French Non.

Myself the idea of the French voting No to the Constitution is something I dare not hope for. OK, it appears the average French no-voter makes his or her choice for more or less the opposite reasons I would vote no if we in the UK are every finally given our chance. A French no may propel the EU even further along the course I dislike in 3-7 years' time.

But, here's to hoping.

Two films

The last week I have finally, after many years of procrastination, gotten around to watching For a Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. I actually went and bought them since a local supermarket was doing good deals on the new DVDs.

Great stories, whatever their medium, need no upgrading and I think these two eminently qualify. If anything I prefered the first to the second - sparser, more tightly controlled, and with a darker humour.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thoughts on Benedict XVI first words

They were as follows

Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord's vineyard.

The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers

In the joy of the resurrected Lord, we go on with his help. He is going to help us and Mary will be on our side. Thank you.


The first thing that struck me was he said "the great Pope John Paul II". He of course officiated at the funeral mass for John Paul the Great, and watching him it was clear he was struck by the emotion of the crowd. Also, a man who until now has always been somewhat in John Paul the Great's shadow in that homily shone out himself, and connected with all the people there and the millions around the globe.

He is our Pope, he is human, "insufficient means" as he says. And also a direct appeal to all Catholics (and I suspect those non-Catholics so minded) that we pray for him. More than that - he "entrusts" himself to us.

And finally, John Paul's great words were "be not afraid". Echoed here is a similar theme, expressed in his own way. A confidence in Christ, in the journey, in the going on.

I am still just so incredibly happy. It is as though rays of sunlight have just been seen over the distant horizon, incandescent in the lightening sky. The tense uncertainty of night has been replaced by the glorious dazzle of the dawn.

Habemus Papem!

Benedict XVI. Otherwise known as Joseph Ratzinger. I am rather exuberant.

Monday, April 11, 2005

General Election: Liberal Democrats schizophrenia

One of the very interesting things about the Liberal Democrats is that, until recently, they have effectively been a party of the periphery. By that I mean that their strongholds have been in the South West of the England and the North of Scotland. However, the anti-Tory boost that got in 1997 and retained in 2001 allowed them a chance to see themselves as something more, and in the local elections last year they were explicitly going after Labour in the cities.

Here in the South West I think the Lib Dems have three problems. The first is that down here is mostly rural, and city-orientated policies contain pitfulls. Not least the idea that they are no different from the other party of the countryside, the Tories. Also, the cities are, to some extent 'the enemy' in rural places. Bristol isn't well liked in Taunton. Town and country just rub each other the wrong way.

Most graphically this was demonstrated by the second issue: hunting. The fact is that hunting doesn't have to be a major issue for a lot of people, just for a few hundred. In Taunton it is thought to have lost the LDs the seat last time around. And the LD south-west heartland is also one of the more pro-hunt regions.

Thirdly, and ever more forcefully, is the matter of Europe. The LDs take pride in being the most pro-European party in Britain. However, their South-West heartland is one of the more broadly anti-European places in the UK.

Clearly there are problems here. It may be that personal loyalties to various MPs will triumph over consideration of policies. Or it may be that the Liberal Democrats are heading for a fall, though if so I'd expect it to materialise over several election cycles.

Now, maybe none of this matters, but I think that it will start to matter, especially since it seems very unlikely that they will retain an anti-Tory vote. We will now have a chance to see if they have managed to convert disaffect Tories into loyal LDs.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tauton constituency

Here is a link to the BBC page on my constituency of Taunton. I am moderately amused by the write-up. I think it all comes down to how many votes the UKIP party take away from the Tories when compared with the Lib Dems, and how many votes the Greens take away from anyone else. I had heard that BNP were intending to stand, but unless the BBC is ignoring them it appears not. Thankfully.

Oh, Here is a map that will go to each constituency in Britain. Much as I generally loathe the BBC News and Current Affairs division, their stuff like this is great.

MG Rover

Just at the start of the campaign MG Rover, a British car manufacturer, went into receivership. Undoubtedly not something the government wanted, and they have now announced an aid programme for the company and its suppliers. Personally I think it is possible for the government to gain ground out of this - the Tories do not particularly have a reputation for helping failing industrial concerns - but it is definitely something they could have done without. It will be interested to see if the local impact is different from the national impact as well. Otherwise this doesn't really concern me, and I don't really care. I don't particularly have much sympathy (yes, of course it is a shame that people might lose their jobs, but if there wasn't political advantage to be made out of it the politician's wouldn't lift a single finger).

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Charles and Camilla

I avoided coverage of the wedding like the plague.

Now, leastways so far as the UK is concerned, I am a monarchist. Indeed, I would rather trust the Queen (or Charles for that matter) than any of the three current party leaders. I like Charles, and have a great deal of time for him. I think he would make an excellent King. He remains stubbornly popular despite years of the press blackening his name, and this is probably because he's spent most of his adult life going around meeting people and forming good impressions, impressions that are not altered by the drivel that counts as news.

However, what with events in Rome I had no desire to watch this. It all seemed so very petty, especially since if the coverage was gonig to follow most royal events it would be mostly concerned with the colour of people's hats than anything else. No, it was not for me.

Oh me of little faith

The Orioles won 12-5. Ahhhhhh.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Watching the Orioles

One of the difficulties in loosely giving my support to a middling team in the MLB is that they are relatively rarely on the television, and usually only up against teams they find tough to beat. Like right now they are facing the Yankees, and I've decided to try and stay up and watch.

Of course, tough teams don't get any easier to beat when you make stupid fielding errors, and Tejada has just done, and let to A-Rod just now scoring a run.

The Funeral Mass of John Paul the Great

I was fortunate enough to be able to get today off at short notice, and I am very glad I was able to do so. There was a sense of celebration of a life, and of a farewell. I watched the funeral on SkyNews, whose coverage was excellent with no commentary - just a translation of what was going on. I don't really have anything else to say on it at the moment. I may do at a later point, I may not.

I will say that I was very glad I saw it, that I was able to join in with the prayers. That is the wonder of a service in Latin, it is a universal language.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

General Election 2005: The second contest

One of the things that I think will be quite interesting about this election is that there are really two separate competitions going on. One, the main one, is between Labour and the Tories. This is the same competition that has gone on for most (though not quite all) of the last century. The second on is far older, and is between the Tories and the modern-day descendants of the Whigs - the Lib Dems. I suppose technically there is a third competition between the Lib Dems and Labour, but it is really small fry compared to the other two.

An illustration, according to the BBC Swingometer within a 3% swing of the vote either way of the 2001 result there are 33 Con-Lab seats, 21 Con-LD, while only 4 Lab-LD.

This is because the Tories and LibDems find themselves scrapping together in rural areas where Labour is a distant third - most notably in the South West. This pits them against each other. In contrast, the Lib Dems and Labour don't really have many places where they are indisputably the top two parties. Most English seats are two-way races, and most of those races are Con-Lab affairs.

However, because it is my local situation the Con-LD competition interests me more than the Con-Lab one. It will be intersting if only because they are likely to be truly local campaigns, while the national parties of both fire off their broadsides more at Labour. This BBC article gives a reasonable overview of Somerset.

Why is this contest important: because it will determine if the current Lib Dem numbers are sustainable, or merely the result of anti-Tory feeling occasioned by the long spell in government that existed in the 1997 and 2001 elections. This is one of the most important questions for the long and medium term political landscape, and in some respects is far more important than who wins this election.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The General Election

Has now been called for May 5th. Tony Blair went to Buckingham Palace this morning and the Queen will dissolve Parliament I think next Tuesday, giving a few quick days to clear the Parliamentary desks. There will be some campaigning this week, though campaigning will begin in earnest next week (the funeral of Pope John Paul the Great on Friday, and the marriage between Prince Charle sand Camilla Parker-Bowls on Saturday, will act as something of a restraint initially). Then it will be three weeks of insane verbal abuse as we try to fit in what the US does in, at the very least, about 9 weeks in a third of that time.

I had done a longer post raising some initial observations, but Blogger ate it, and I need to go to bed, so perhaps tomorrow.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Fraud at election?

A judge has apparently ruled that there was widespread fraud in local elections in Birmingham last year, via the vehicle of the postal ballot. Given that seats in Parliament can sometimes be decided by extraordinarily thin margins - a few seats are usually won by margins of less than 100 votes, and iirc in the 1992 election on seat was decided by a margin of only 9 votes - the possibility of fraud effecting the upcoming election seems perilously high. The government has stuck its head in the sand about this - all-postal voting is something they have been pressing.

Since I happen to live in one of those seats that could be decided by a thin margin with a majority of 235 votes this is an evident concern. While I believe (certainly I hope) that the national parties are completely against fraud in word and deed, I am less optimistic about all the candidates. Some people will do anything to win, especially when there is no effective system in place to prevent such fraud. Some people mocked the State of Florida in 2000, but we need to weed out our own garden before we start commenting on theirs.

(BBC article)

Opening Days

So the Yankees won against the Red Sox last night, and I am sure a good time was had by all. The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is fabled, but to be honest I find it also a little bit self-important. Much more interesting, in my opinion, is what is happening today.

Just watched the Cincinnati Reds host the New York Mets. A stunning 9th inning comeback from the Reds. From Pedro a solid performance that netted him 12 strikeouts - though he had to work for them, he rarely had an AB for less than 5 pitches. A fun game. Now I'm listening to the Baltimore-Oakland game over the internet. As I made occasional reference to last year, so far as I do support a baseball team I give my loyalty to the Orioles.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Be Not Afraid - My thoughts on the passing of John Paul the Great

From Al Hurd

I'm not ashamed to say that I actually called FOX News yesterday and basically told them to "shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves." I mean, how many times can they repeat the same thing when there are actual events going on that tell the story far better than some talking head?

Well done that man.

The media know, I think, their fundamental unimportance. They hate that, hate knowing that ultimately it will be the men and women and events that they are talking about that will be remembered, and not they themselves. Sometimes journalists might cross the line to take part in the great events - Bernstein and Woodward - but for the most part they are insignificant in the long-term. So they chatter and blather, yet another sign of their impotence, their failure of comphrehension. They are ultimatley shallow, which is why they cannot appreciate the gravity of these moments.

This morning I stumbled across Euronews, a channel I rarely even bother checking, and it was showing the Requiem Mass at St Peters with a minimum of commentary, just a little translation of the Italian here and there. Often not even that. It was bliss, to feel in communion with my brothers and sisters in faith there in Rome. The media might be the curse of modern communications technology, but the blessing runs pure.

However, reading across the internet in so many places, I also feel a tremendous communion with so many - Catholics, Protestant, Jews, and others. Pope John Paul II was consistent in his preaching of universal humanity, and in his death as in his life he has brought and is bringing people from all races, all creeds, and all places together. He was truly transcendant, and for him there were no boundaries. Just as he was loved by Catholics, he was loved by non-Catholics - as Tony Blair said "by those of all faiths, and none". He was not afraid to confront the darkness of the Church's past, not afraid to preach the Gospel of Life to a self-important West, and not afraid to preach peace in a time of war. In short, he was not afraid about being unpopular - such questions of popularity simply did not concern him. Rather, he was only concerned about doing what he believed to be right. He said when was elected "Be not afraid", and those words defined his life. There are few battle-crys more apt, I think, for our troubled times.

Of course, there were disagreements. I myself disagreed with the Pope's stand against the war in Iraq. Any man who holds such a principled stand, particularly a stand that rebukes the culture of the West so fundamentally, is going to create disagreements and opposition. From a personal perspective I am not a pacifist, and John Paul was. I admit, I do not have the courage to believe that pacificism, true pacifism as he preached, is enough. I loved him all the more that he did.

One of his greatest acts however was his relationship with Mehmet Ali Agca - the man who tried to kill him. He went beyond forgiveness and formed a friendship with that troubled soul, and corresponded with members of the man's family. I did hear on Euronews that the man's brother has said that Mehmet was grief-stricken at the death of John Paul. The onus Christ places on us to forgive, to love our enemy, is one of the aspects of Christianity I wrestle with the most.

The Pope is the successor of Peter, but he is also the successor of Paul, the Great Apostle, that the Pope echoed with his many travels. One of the Pope's titles is Pontifex Maxumus - Chief Priest. It is a title of the Roman Republic, and might well be able to make a claim for the longest-surviving human office. The word 'Pontifex' means bridge-builder, as priests are a bridge between heavan and earth, between God (or originally gods) and humanity. John Paul was also a bridge-builder, beween peoples, between faiths.

Those with him when he died said, that just before he passed away, he seemed to hear the sounds of the people in the piazza praying the Rosary. He made a few movements that seemed to be an attempt to make a blessing in the direction of the crowd, and then at the end of the prayer, after great effort, said Amen. Then he went beyond this world.

Looking at the dates I think I might just have been conceived when Karol Wojtyla was elevated to the Papacy. I have known no other Pope, and this is now a strange time, and also a little frightening. One of the great lights of this world has gone out, and the world seems for the moment to be very dark, and path ahead treacherous and difficult to see. And yet, those three words have been ringing in my head since Friday night. Be not afraid. So, having paused to mark his passing I shall continue again along the way, holding those words close to my heart.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Miserere

Arvo Part has a very good piece of music called Miserere. Very fitting for the moment.

Rest in peace

Karol Wojtyla, rest in peace and be with God.

Well I'll be damned

So there I was, listening to NARN where Chad and Mitch are talking about PJ2, and Chad says this little bit about how JP2 was 'the Pope who said no' to the liberal agenda of our times. So I fired off a quick email, saying Chad had precisely hit the spot, and that it was one factor in my conversion to Catholicism.

Blow me down ten-fifteen minutes later Mitch reads my email out.

Of course, I didn't put my blog on the email, silly me, and Mitch (I think) quite properly added that quality that so attracted and attracts me to JP2 alienated others. And I was amused at how Mitch pronounced my surname - vowels just do different things in Minnesota apparently. Just brought a smile to my face this day.

It is for myself that I grieve, even while I am happy for him

Heard this sentiment expressed on Hugh Hewitt tonight be a caller. Used basically these words, though I can't remember exactly how it was said. Nonetheless, it says it exactly.

Friday, April 01, 2005

In the presence of death

In my daily work death is a constant presence. Not something I have to confront directly - thankfully - but that is nevertheless always near. It is hard to describe the shock you get when, when you have just typed a dictation on a patient to check the record on the computer, and see an unexpected 'Deceased' marker flash up at you. It jolts and jars, there is a sense of the world just not being right. You never get used to it, and I certainly never want to.

But there is something special, a reminder that life is more than just a series of platitudes. It is certainly the most rewarding and most vital place I have ever worked.

Just like, at moments like this, in the presence of death, one fully appreciates the how wonderful life is, how precious is each day. It may be one of John Paul's final gifts, to remind us of the blessing of our own mortality.

Christifidelis Laici

Christifidelis Laici was not the first Vatican document I read, but it was the first I really engaged it. I give warning it is VERY long. However, there was one paragraph that leapt out at me, one paragraph that simply said something larger than the subject matter and rung and echo in my soul (italicised emphasis original - underlined emphasis mine).

"The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatibility of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element in some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in his becoming man in the womb of a woman, as we continue to be reminded each Christmas."

Random thoughts

As I write this the news is that Karol Wotjyla has started to suffer organ failure. I did not know this until just a few minutes ago - I was busily, perhaps even merrily, painting a room, then having a shower, then having a bacon sandwich, finishing reading a book, blissfully unaware.

Now I am just praying.

Be with God.

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