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Monday, January 31, 2005

Europa pursued

Jacques Le Goff's latest, The Birth of Europe, reviewed in the Spectator by Eric Christiansen. (Last week of free online access to the Spectator, curses.) Le Goff takes on the concept of Europe, it seems; and alas, it seems not quite what one would expect of the great man - although it does sound very French:

... For the sake of argument, Europa becomes a single hyperactive graduate student. She thinks, feels, becomes aware, and ‘rediscovers her sense of history’. She is ‘stupefied’, she ‘embarks on research’, ‘pursues a line of development’ which started in the 12th century when she was ‘really bubbling over’, and she still ‘dances and sings and plays music’. [...] The jargon has a long and respectable history across the Channel; but it is only fair to point out that it is not absolutely necessary in the writing of historical surveys of large subjects. [...]

... That ‘line of development’ which Europe pursued from the Middle Ages onwards is identified at one point as the separation of church and state, or the religious and the secular. We are often told that Muslims cannot make this distinction, as if Iran and Saudi Arabia were the only Muslim countries, and it may be that the Prophet himself did not choose to. Nor did Pope Gregory VII, from whose assertion of papal power Le Goff traces European secularism; he and many others wanted a clergy free from state control in order to be able to save mankind from itself more intrusively, not less. His opponents never renounced their own religious responsibilities, so that alongside the development of church-state separation it is impossible to ignore an equally vigorous tradition of church-state merger, from Charlemagne to Stalin, mutatis mutandis. It would be reassuring to find that the former was in some sense more characteristic of Europe than the latter; but you can never be sure.

That last sentence tells you what Mr Christiansen thinks... (As I recall, he is one of the last distinguished 'Mr's of our Universities.) Curiously enough, one of my undergraduates made the same assertion about Gregory VII's policies and the separation of Church and State. And there was me thinking he [undergrad, I mean] had just done the old anachronistic-imposition-of-modern-priorities-upon-the-past job! It sounds as if Le Goff has decided that laicite (how do I get accents in Blogger?) is not France's problem, but her destiny; and has then identified France with Europe. Oh well. Had better read the book and see - but possibly wait until the NLS acquires its copy, rather than shelling out...

Friday, January 28, 2005

"Stars and politicians seek Africa solution"

Final Solution, more like. (Yes, I am very aware that this is the 60th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz, yes, I've been there.)

"A PRIME minister, a former US president, the world's richest man and a rock star put the plight of Africa centre stage yesterday in a global effort to alleviate poverty and suffering." [link]
Another attempt to reduce the number of poor people by, um, reducing the number of poor people? Mr Gates' foundation gave, for example, 2.2 billion dollars to the United Nations Population Fund, for "supporting population and health projects worldwide". That same UNFPA in Kosovo. (More here, here, and here, for starters). Let's not forget the sterling work this UN agency does in China in support of the government's one-child policy. It must be all the rice that depresses women there: in one-fifth of the world's population there are 56% of female suicides. Couldn't be anything to do with forced abortions and sterilisations: in any case not a women's problem that the IPPF bothers to mention in its press releases on China. Indeed, the IPPF is one of the "major international agencies that have been extending cooperation to China", according to Madam Peng Yu, Vice Minister of the State Family Planning Commission of China. ["An Interview with Peng Yu, Vice Minister of the State Family Planning Commission." Integration, March 1994, p 32] The money the International Planned Parenthood Foundation lost when President Bush re-instated the "Mexico City Policy" (which denies US funding to any non-governmental organisation (NGO), US or non-US, engaged directly or indirectly in abortion-related activities internationally) was partly made up by the Gates Foundation. Before you criticise ole Bush for his action, let's consider some of the background of U.S. policy towards other people's families.Funny how little is said, when there is a rant about over-population, about the disproportionate amount of the world's resources used by the people who are funding the prevention of breeding among those who use little of them.

Nice to see some practical and less ideologically-dubious stuff mentioned in this Davos thing, like the mosquito net money.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Manoeuvre practice for driving tests

Here is a useful thingummy for practising for my test. 7th of February. Can she do it? The average punter fails 7 times in Warsaw, apparently. Bets can be placed with William Hill or Paddy Power.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Besides that Damascus moment,

it's Burns Night tonight. Marked with a traditional Scottish storm in a teacup... (Scotsman, so login may be needed.)

De mutationibus bloggae

(For some reason am convinced that 'blog' must be feminine in Latin. Or has fr Reginald Foster come up with some echt nova latinitas term yet?! [That sentence was obviously macaronic, not mere Mischsprache...])

An edifying poem, brought to mind by sudden template changes, and continually by the Scottish weather which first inspired it.

I seik aboute this warld onstable
To find a sentence conveniable,
Bot I can not in all my witt
Sa trew a sentence find of it,
As say it is dissavable.

For yistirday I did declair
How that the sasoun soft and fair
Come in als fresche as pacok feddir.
This day it stangis lyke ane eddir,
Concluding all in my contrair.

Yistirday fair up sprang the flowris,
This day thai ar all slane with schouris;
And foulis in forrest that sang cleir
Now walkis with ane drerie cheir,
Full caild ar bayth thair beddis and bowris.

So nixt to symmer wyntir bene,
Nixt eftir confort cairis kene,
Nixt dirk mydnycht the myrthfull morrow,
Nixt eftir joy ay cumis sorrow:
So is this warld and ay hes bene.

William Dunbar, fl.1500-1513.

To which might be added, 'Nixt eftir lyf cumis the dede [death]', a sentiment Dunbar often voices; and so I append the last verse of possibly his most famous poem, the 'Lament for the Makars':

Sen for the ded remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Efter our deid that lif may we:
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Low-quality translations:

I seek about this world unstable / To find a suitable judgement, / But I cannot in all my wit / Find a truer judgement / Than to say it is deceitful.

For yesterday I did declare / How the season soft and fair / Came in as fresh as a peacock feather. / Today it stings like an adder, / Bringing it to a conclusion quite in opposition to me.

Yesterday the flowers sprang up fair[ly], / Today they are all slain by showers, / And birds in the forest that sang brightly / Now wake with a dull mood; / Their beds and bowers are so very cold.

So next to summer is winter, / And sharp sorrows after comfort, / After dark midnight is the joyful morn, / Sorrow always comes after joy - / So is this world, and ever has been.

Since there is no remedy for death,
It's best to prepare for death,
So that we may live after death:
The fear of death disturbs me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

More Anti-Semitism from Pius XII

Wicked wicked bad man. National Catholic Reporter's Rome column has a Jewish theme with Pius XII titbits.
For those who missed the contemporary German cartoon I posted, it's here.

Reporting v Preaching

The Curt Jester

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Belloc, Distributism and the Liberals

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan, but am glad every time I find someone saying something positive about distributism who is not either a tweedy Trid or a baggy-cord-dress-wearing homeschooler. (no, nothing against homeschoolers either, some of my best friends etc.)

Anyway, here is an article from the Journal of Liberal History, on Belloc and the influence of distributist ideas on Liberal policy. (Shame about the ole legalising of abortion, really.)

In fact this bloke has quite a lot of interesting articles. I might even link to him eventually. Oh my, here's one to do with my pettest of hobby horses: usury/lending at interest. Well, this page is going to distract me from the Highway Code more than is safe for my driving test . . .

Friday, January 21, 2005

!@@#)(&!@!@#!@$@"" !@@!v

wAGH! Sorry, I deleted half of the template by accident while updating the links, also all the comments are gone it seems so sorry about that epistemological argument, yous will have to start again.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

How thick are Bush and Kerry?

Someone's made an attempt to analyze the (scanty) evidence.

Plenary Indulgence for the Year of the Eucharist

A Plenary Indulgence is granted to all faithful and to each individual faithful under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin), each and every time they participate attentively and piously in a sacred function or a devotional exercise undertaken in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed and conserved in the tabernacle.

Apostolic Penitentiary (Italian and Latin for this thing) or VIS.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Conspiracy and gossip

Christian Order publish an interview with Michael Davis. The loon (in non-Scots sense) conducting it attempts to defend the position of some other loon that Ratzinger's statement that there is no physical change in the Host after the consecration is heretical. The Polish bishops being crap and wordly. No surprise there really, sadly. Michael Davies comes across as normal, which is nice. And mostly why I am posting about the interview. Some friends and I gave him a hard time at lunch some years ago: I can't remember what about, except that we all thought he was a loon, so it's nice to see that he wasn't completely one. (I'd probably agree with him now on whatever it was anywyay . . . probably significant or something, that.)

Tom Howard. Lovely chap. Lovely wife. Lovely people. In fact I like him so much that I feel a bit nasty saying this, but: he can't write for toffee. Look at this.

Good gracious indeed! And tut tut into the bargain. Clearly Ms. O’Keefe has barked her shins against the same Eutychians, Apollinarians, Montanists, Monothelites, Circumcellions, Patripassians, Donatists, Arians, and Jansenists that I have (one has, oddly, had the off chance to vouchsafe the most dilatory glance at church history during one’s hebetude). Ms. O’Keefe will nonetheless
agree with my main point that these nettlesome irritants were never left in the interminable open forum of the laity to decide. She is quite right in pointing out that not every situation was as pat as the first apostolic council in Jerusalem (the topic being strangled things, etc.). It took poor Athanasius decades to pry Arianism off dead center.

(here, at the bottom)

He's retiring from teaching English. Who employed him in the frst place? Someone looking for a constant supply of prose to set their pupils as examples of how not to write? Or a mean Scrabble player?

Okay, finished bitching. Except about the fact that I can't get Blogger to indent and justify quotes at the same time.

Latin Scrabble

How to look pretentious in the pub, and indeed how to get beaten up in certain pubs. Here is the homepage, and here you can download the tile set(.pdf file).

Sr Ana of the Angels

A good-sounding Dominican beata, from the blog of these Dominican nuns.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Discussion of Distributism

Am reading a discussion of distributism (find the word and click)in Franciscan University's University Concourse. So far so interesting if not revelatory. I increasingly wonder if the reason it is taken about as seriously as third candidates in U.S. presidential elections is not one of its practicality, but an imaginative problem. For some reason I can't clear my mind of an association with an Amish (some more)or organico-hippie or total-Celtic-re-enactment lifestyle. There is no reason why we shouldn't have funky Macs (computer or sartorial) or glamorous shoes in a distributist economy. Trendy bars could still exist. Pink would not be banned: we would not all have to amble around in sandals and homespun pinafores. And if I have this problem, though I have thought it through several times, what about those with a strong personal attachment to other inimical forms of economic organisation? (cf. Provincial Entrist Conspiracy)

There are two questions that interest me, beyond getting a better grip of the principles than the shaky one I have now: the practicalities of promoting and implementing an economic policy based on distributist principles, and the extent to which it matches, and Other Options Favoured By Lots of Sneaky Americans Giving Money to Subvert My Fellow Slavs don't, the teaching of the Magisterium on the organisation of civil society.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A Link from an SNP type

Some chap has obligingly linked to us, with the tag "Latin lovers", in a list of Scottish political blogs. Danke schoen!

Chesterton on Capitalism on Private Property

A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise. But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket is a champion of private property. The point about Capitalism and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really preached the extension of business rather than the preservation of belongings; and have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.

The Outline of Sanity (1926, and other editions/reprints)

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Don Giovanni gets it off his chest plus the numbers you need to know. The second thing down on the page (at time of posting).

"Getting medieval"

Another rant on this subject here. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Etiquette lessons from St Serf

… and so when St Servanus, sent to do the work of the Gospel, travelled round towns, forts and villages, and spread the Word of God, it happened that he and his clerks were put up one night by a certain poor man; who, giving God great praise for such great geusts, slaughtered his only pig for the saints’ dinner. St Servanus was moved by kindness, and in the morning [the pauper] found the pig which he had slaughtered for their food alive again in his yard, by the merits of St Servanus; and so, a guest in turn [?making] himself the host, the most holy father took leave of the poor man in peace.

It beats a bottle of wine from Tesco as a dinner-party present.

Text somewhat freely taken from Matins of St Serf in the Aberdeen Breviary (1510); the lectiones are probably based on this life (q.v. for more jolly miracles).

(The freedom is largely due to incompetent Latin (on my part I mean) - does anyone know what resiciens comes from? I can't seem to find resicio, or sicio for that matter; how dense am I being? And is that cum doing what I think it's doing? All corrections welcome...

Sanctus itaque seruanus cum in opus evangelii directus et villas castella et vicos circuiret et verbum dei seminaret / contigit ut ipse cum clericis suis apud quendam pauperem nocte quadam hospiterentur : qui de tantis hospitibus immensas deo referens laudes unicum suum porcum in refectione sanctorum ad eorum victum mactauit . Sanctus itaque seruanus pietate motus porcum quem ad suorum refectionem mantauerit in area sua meritis sancti seruani mane iam uinum reperit / sicque hospes hospitem alternatim se resiciens : pauperem sanctissimus pater in pace dimisit )

Friday, January 14, 2005

Viderunt te aquæ, et timuerunt

An interesting article in the Spectator, on the business of the dreadful tsunami and the goodness of God. (Yes, I know that wasn't strictly a sentence.) Paul Johnson argues that it was (am tempted here to add 'in a very real sense', but that would be chickening out) an act of benevolence, in informing us of the fragility of our life and the imminence of our death. This would seem to be similar to part of CS Lewis's thoughts on The Problem of Pain. I am not quite sure that the part of his reasoning based on scale is necessarily quite the thing:

Why did God kill so many people? But God kills people all the time, millions every day. For that matter, God creates people, millions every day. [...] Against a total of 150,000 or so, we have to remember that four billion have been added to the number of people in the world during the last 70 years. That 150,000 is only the tiniest ephemeral blip on the world’s demographic radar. [...] Despite the losses, there are already considerably more people in the world today than there were in Christmas week. We are asked to draw transcendental conclusions from this event because of its scale. But the scale, in terms of the magnitude of the world and its inhabitants, is puny, almost insignificant.

This is undeniable in itself, but what is shocking is surely the nature of those deaths - unprepared, sudden, with no comfort of sacraments, ministers and friends. The number brings the shock home, but does not create it. But then, God will have saved as many of the victims as He chooses to, secundum magnam misericordiam Eius, and the nature of their deaths is no obstacle to this. (I suppose what is initially shocking about Johnson's argument is that he doesn't quite state this outright, and so - being ever worried as to what the Guardian collective mind will make of things - one might read it to imply that God has somehow sacrificed a load of people to teach the rest of us a lesson. Which is nonsense, obviously - quite literally nonsense, in the same sort of way that 'The fool says in his heart "there is no God"' is grammatical nonsense.)

Anyway, no article which includes that phrase 'the 18th-century so-called Enlightenment' can be bad...

Remind anyone of a society near you?

St Augustine

But the worshippers and admirers of these gods delight in imitating their scandalous iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man's property, than of that done to one's own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed. Let them be worshipped as they wish; let them demand whatever games they please, from or with their own worshippers; only let them secure that such felicity be not imperilled by foe, plague, or disaster of any kind. What sane man would compare a republic such as this, I will not say to the Roman empire, but to the palace of Sardanapalus, the ancient king who was so abandoned to pleasures, that he caused it to be inscribed on his tomb, that now that he was dead, he possessed only those things which he had swallowed and consumed by his appetites while alive? If these men had such a king as this, who, while self-indulgent, should lay no severe restraint on them, they would more enthusiastically consecrate to him a temple and a flamen than the ancient Romans did to Romulus

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Thank the Lord for the Temporal Sword...."

At last! A modern theologian who supports Exsurge Domine 33

"If in order to save an earthly life it is praiseworthy to use force to stop a man from committing suicide, are we not to be allowed use the same force — holy coercion — to save the Life (with a capital) of many who are stupidly bent on killing their souls?"
- Jose Maria Escrivá, The Way: 399

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

De eodem...

And, just to underline that, let us recall former Education Minister Charles Clarke and his scandalous concept of university education, as expressed in a letter to the Guardian in May 2003:

I consider that the best justification for state funding is that universities are the main means of enabling our society to understand itself (including its history and culture) better, and so better equip us to deal with, and prepare for, the increasingly rapid process of change which our whole world is experiencing and will continue to experience. This justification encompasses each of research, teaching and knowledge transfer. It is a case for enhancing scholarship not reducing it, as you imply I want to do.

I think that this case for state funding of universities is much stronger than a justification based simply upon the need for the state to finance a relatively small group of individuals to pursue their own academic interests, without reference to the student population. At Worcester I characterised this old-fashioned view of "the university" as "the medieval concept of a community of scholars seeking truth" and I said that though this can be justified it is not (in my view) the most powerful argument for seeking state financial support.

Understanding our society is all well and good, but if a university is not first and foremost 'a community of scholars seeking truth' - the truth, on its own terms - we're in trouble on that front and every other. Which is, of course, why so many of our universities are in trouble, both within themselves and under the assault of governmental policies. How long will it be before (for example) Glasgow is forced to change its glorious motto as being horrifyingly uninclusive? Via, veritas, vita. Woefully un-utilitarian... Floreat mediaevalismus! if it's medievalism to know our need of the Way, Truth and Life before all else.

[Right, hobby-horse posting over.]

Talking of which -

- the bizarre use of 'medieval' as an insult, that is - A.L. Kennedy does just that in the Guardian today. Her piece is about how bad education is in the USA, the accuracy of which judgement I am not qualified to judge. But note this peculiar usage:

... And beyond a horrifying national curriculum lies the strange land of home schooling and Christian Reconstructionist institutions like the Robertson School of Government and Patrick Henry College. (The same Patrick Henry College that supplies so many White House interns.)

Here, in the intellectual equivalent of Tupperware boxes, students are isolated from the media, the internet and any information which is not "biblical". Which is to say, most sciences, much of literature, medicine and history - and definitely no astronomy or archaeology.

And even in this rarefied, if not medieval, atmosphere, it's reckoned risky to attempt anything beyond a masters degree for fear of undermining your "core values".

But expose its adherents to an uncensored news broadcast, a CS Lewis novel, a snippet of Jerry Springer - The Opera, or a single Private Eye cover, and you can expect a replay of The Exorcist within moments.

Perhaps it's simply tricky to keep people who believe themselves to be good, inside what is effectively a cult devoted to death - intellectual death, imaginative death and (for other people) physical death.

Whether this is a recognisable description I don't know; but what an odd notion of the middle ages is implied! A thirteenth-century university (to choose berenike's preferred century) would have every 'science' of the day, to use the word in its older meaning. Indeed the debate of the century was precisely over openness to pre-Christian Aristotelian learning. Those who wished to restrict the books permitted did not, you will recall, come out on top - and Thomas showed that there was nothing to fear in seeking the truth wherever it might be found. Aristotle was successfully 'baptised' (as a splendid tutor always put it). Yes, this is stating the obvious; but it clearly needs stated a bit more often in the hope that otherwise well-educated authors like Ms Kennedy will begin to catch on.

Mind you, the recognition of the existence of truth, assumption of the non-contradiction principle, and acknowledgement of the possibility of revelation are fundamentals of medieval learning which (alas, alas) the Guardian would no doubt consider to render 'medieval' a term of abuse.

O tempora, o mores...

U.S. "preparing to detain terror suspects for life without trial'

Hey I missed this, despite being here. Good grief. And smug people continue to refer scathingly to things as "medieval". I want to go home to the thirteenth century. Below the beginning of a Scotsman article from the 3rd of January. The whole thing.

"THE Bush administration is preparing plans for possible lifetime detention of suspected terrorists, including hundreds the government does not have enough evidence to charge in court, it was reported yesterday.

Citing intelligence, defence and diplomatic officials, the Washington Post said the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had asked the White House to decide a more permanent approach for those it did not plan to set free or turn over to courts at home or abroad.

Despite pressure from the international community and human rights advocates to end the holding of suspects without trial at Guantànamo Bay, Cuba, the newspaper said the United States Defence Department planned to apply for $25 million from Congress to build a 200-bed prison to house them permanently.

In addition, some of the Afghan, Saudi and Yemenis currently accommodated at Guantànamo and elsewhere could reportedly be filtered back to their home countries and held in prisons built by the US but operated by their national governments.

"Since the global war on terror is a long-term effort, it makes sense for us to be looking at solutions for long-term problems," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

"We are at a point in time where we have to say, ‘How do you deal with them in the long term?’"

While addressing calls to improve conditions for detainees, the proposals are bound to bring further outcry from human rights groups.

Leading senators from both political parties condemned the reported plan yesterday.

"It’s a bad idea, so we ought to get over it and we ought to have a very careful, constitutional look at this," said Senator Richard Lugar, Republican chairman of the senate foreign relations committee.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the armed services committee, said the system should be made more democratic. "There must be some modicum, some semblance of due process ... if you’re going to detain people, whether it’s for life or whether it’s for years," he said.

The plan could prompt new questions over Britain’s record on terrorist-suspect detentions, which was condemned in a Law Lords’ ruling last month. The Lords ruled that the detention without trial of nine Muslim suspects in Belmarsh Prison, London - nicknamed "Britain’s Guantànamo" - violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

"It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention," wrote Lord Hoffman, one of nine Law Lords involved in the ruling. "The real threat to the life of the nation ... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

The Home Office has refused to release the detainees, however, saying it is now up to Parliament to decide whether to legislate and that it considers the men - who include a Syrian cleric Britain believed to be a spiritual mentor to Mohammed Atta, a hijacker involved in the September 2001 attacks on the US - a "significant threat" to national security. "

incidentally . . .

welcome to my new partner in amusing the readers whom I see on our stats but who rarely bother to comment, huh. Do feel free to say hello.

The intellectual level may go up a bit now.

Preparation for tea time

The Douglas Adams piece below is poached from the BBC's Hitch Hiker's Gude to the Galaxy website, following some online discussion about tea: most of those involved seemed to know how to make tea, but it is a nice wee pasage with useful other sociological observations.

I would add that if you are in Oxford, Rome, Washington D.C. or anywehre else where the water is so hard that you take a foot-high cone of sediment out of the water boiler every year (Rome) or your hands after a shower smell as though you have been in a public pool (D.C.) or both (Oxford), you should filter the water first or nip out to one of those handy Roman fountains or all the effort will go to waste. Chalk and chlorine kill all the flavour, you might as well drink instant coffee. Or go to Edinburgh for nice water.

FInding good tea outside Britain is not so easy (by which I mean you cannot just nip out to the nearest shop with any tea). Twinings seem to put factory-floor sweepings into the bags they sell on the continent. Dilma teabags seem to be quite respectable, and the Tetley I found in Poland was also good, though expensive.

Tea Time!

One or two Americans have asked me why it is that the English like tea so much, which never seems to them to be a very good drink. To understand, you have to know how to make it properly.

There is a very simple principle to the making of tea and it's this - to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves. If it's merely hot then the tea will be insipid. That's why we English have these odd rituals, such as warming the teapot first (so as not to cause the boiling water to cool down too fast as it hits the pot). And that's why the American habit of bringing a teacup, a tea bag and a pot of hot water to the table is merely the perfect way of making a thin, pale, watery cup of tea that nobody in their right mind would want to drink. The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans have never had a good cup of tea. That's why they don't understand. In fact the truth of the matter is that most English people don't know how to make tea any more either, and most people drink cheap instant coffee instead, which is a pity, and gives Americans the impression that the English are just generally clueless about hot stimulants.

So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this. Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you're staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to the boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful - you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a tea pot, swirl it around and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the pot) of tea bags into the pot (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let's just take this in easy stages). Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let it stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn't have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk then it's probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea.1 If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon then, well, add a slice of lemon.

Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you've come to isn't maybe quite so strange and crazy after all.

1 This is socially incorrect. The socially correct way of pouring tea is to put the milk in after the tea. Social correctness has traditionally had nothing whatever to do with reason, logic or physics. In fact, in England it is generally considered socially incorrect to know stuff or think about things. It's worth bearing this in mind when visiting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fashion moment too far

or, not so pious interlude.

Spotted on the streets of Edinburgh: Burberry checked tights.

(Tartan: neither an intrinsic nor a universal good, at any rate not in lycra-rich form.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Pious interlude II

Something to keep us busy on wur rosaries: a prayer-request blog for St Blog's.

Franklin in Ireland

I thought often of the happiness of New England, where every man is a freeholder, has a vote in public affairs, lives in a tidy warm house, has plenty of good food and fuel, with whole clothes from head to foot, the manufactory perhaps of his own family. Long may they continue in this situation!

But if they should ever envy the trade of these countries, I can put them in a way to obtain a share of it. Let them with three-fourths of the people of Ireland live the year round on potatoes and butter milk, without shirts, then may their merchants export beef, butter and linen. Let them with the generality of the common people of Scotland go barefoot, then may they make large exports in shoes and stockings. And if they will be content to wear rags like the spinners and weavers of England, they make cloths and stuffs for all parts fo the world.

Farther, if my country men should ever wish for the honour of having among them a gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their farms and pay racked rents; the scale of the landlords will rise as that of the tenants is depressed, who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty and abject in spirit.

Had I never been in the American colonies, but was to form my judgement of civil society by hat I have lately seen, I should never advise a nation of savages to admit of civilisation. For I assure you, that in the posession and enjoyment of the various comforts of life, compared to these people every Indian is a gentleman; and the effect of this kind of civil society seems only to be the depressing multitudes below the savage state that a few may be raised above it.

(letter to Joshua Babcock, Jan. 13th 1772; quoted in Brands, H.,The First American: New York, 2000)

Benjamin Franklin on property

All property, indeed, except the savage's temporary cabin, his bow, his match-coat, and other little acquisitions absolutely necessary for his subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public convention . . . All the property that is necessay to a man for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of; but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who by their laws have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such a disposition.

(Letter to Robert Morris, Dec. 25th 1783; cf. Bigelow, John, ed.,The Works of Benjamin Franklin, New York, 1904)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Knowledge is power

Originally uploaded by berenike.
Someone just brought to my attention this new(ish) competitor to kath.net. Among other things, a straightforward op ed on Cardinal Schoenborn's most recent undignified scramble to dis-associate himself from anything that incurs "public" disapproval, in this case the Youth for Life postcard blogged below.