Reported speech – Pope Francis – what he said and what he didn’t say….
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Popes speaking…..

The papacy has a long history of speaking its mind and saying things which do not meet with much favour. It can defend itself. it does not need me to argue its case. It could pay for a better defence.

There was a bit of a media storm over what Pope Francis  is reported to have said in his interview. I give the whole transcript of the interview below and offer no commentary. All I will offer is that there is more than the famous quote that has bounced about social media. As that comment came in a context of a series of questions I provide the full exchange leading up to the controversial comments. There were questions before the one where I have begin but these were specifically about global warming and about the Pope’s forthcoming Encyclical on that subject.

Before the transcript I want to leave you with these words as they pretty much summarise my own thoughts. They were first published on 11th April ,1963:

….Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.  Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and  -within the limits of the moral order and the common good – to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill. Also among man’s rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. 

Transcript of an impromptu interview given by Pope Francis between Sri Lanka and Philippines:

Juan Vicente Boo (ABC): Holy Father, first of all I must say that for someone who is tired, you look well. I want to ask you on behalf of the Spanish group, about the history of Sri Lanka and contemporary history. During the years of the war in Sri Lanka, there were over 300 suicide attacks, by men, women and young boys and girls. Now we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?
Pope Francis: Maybe I am being disrespectful, but I feel that behind every suicide attack there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I am not sure if it is mental, but it is human. Something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights, he gives his life, but he does not give it well. Many people who work – for example missionaries – give their lives, but to build. Here life is given to self-destruct and to destroy. There is something not right, no? I advised on a thesis on Japanese kamikaze pilots written by an Alitalia pilot. I checked the part about methodology, but it is not understandable. This is not something that happens only in the East. There are investigations going on right now on a proposal which arrived during the Second World War in Italy, a proposal to the fascists in Italy. There is no proof, but there is an investigation, there is something there which is very connected to totalitarian systems, it is very linked. The totalitarian system kills, if not life then possibilities, kills the future, many things. This problem is not over, and it is not only a problem in the East. It is important. I cannot really say anything else. The use of children: children are exploited for many things. They are exploited for work, as slaves, also sexually abused. Some years ago, with some members of the Argentine senate, we wanted to run a campaign in the most important hotels, to publicly say that children must not be exploited to serve tourists, but we could not do it. There are hidden resistences. I don’t know whether these things are faced or not, it was a preventive measure; then, other things: when I was in Germany and saw newspapers, I read about tourism in southeast Asia, and there was sex tourism, and there were children … children are exploited, the slave work of children is terrible, they are exploited for this, too. I can’t say more.

Ignazio Ingrao (Panorama): Holiness, there is much worry in the world for your safety. According to Israeli and American security services, The Vatican may be even a target of Islamic terrorists. On fundamentalist web sites the Muslim flag has been depicted flying from St. Peter’s. There are worries for your security when you go abroad.. We know that you don’t want to lose contact with the people. At this point, is it necessary to change something in your behaviour, in your plans? Is there also fear for the security of faithful who take part to your celebrations. Are you worried about this? And more in general, what is the best way to respond to this threat of fundamentalist Muslims?

Pope Francis: ”The best way to respond is always meekness — being meek, humble. Like bread, no? Without being aggressive – I feel this way. There are some who do not understand this. And I am concerned for the faithful, truly. I have spoken with Vatican security about this: here on flight there is (the chief of Vatican police) Mr. Giani who is charged with solving this, he is updated about this problem. This concerns me, no? It concerns me enough. I have fear, but I you know I have a defect, a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things.
Some times I ask myself: what if it happened to me? I have said to the Lord, ‘I only want to ask you one grace. Don’t let me come to harm, because I am not courageous in the face of pain, I am very, very fearful’ … But they can take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.

Christoph (Germany): Holy Father, good morning. Could you tell us about your time at the Buddhist temple yesterday, which was a big surprise? Which was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? And then, are you inspired by this religion? We know that Christian missionaries had the conviction until the 20th century that Buddhism was a fake and a religion of the devil. The third (question), what could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?

Pope Francis: How was the visit and why did I go? The head of this Buddhist temple was able to get himself invited by the government to go to the airport and there – he is a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith – he greeted me and asked me to visit the temple, also he told Ranjith to take me there. And then speaking with the cardinal – there was a bit of time because when I arrived I had to cancel the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired from the 29 kilometers of greeting people. I was worn out. And there wasn’t time; and yesterday returning from Madhu there was the possibility, and we called and went. In that temple, there are the relics of some disciples of Buddha, of two of them. They are very important to them, and these relics were in England and they were able to have them given back. This is how: he came to visit me at the airport, and I went to visit him at his home.
Yesterday, I saw something that I would have never imagined in Madhu. They weren’t all Catholics, not even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and all of them go there to pray and they say that they receive graces. There is in the people, who never err, something that unites them; and if they are so naturally united so as to go together and pray in a church, which is Christian but it is more than Christian because everyone wants it. How could I not go to the temple of the Buddhists to greet them, no? And this testimony yesterday in Madhu was very important. It makes us understand the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. Respect among them. There are fundamentalist groups, but they are not with the people. They are ideological elites, but they are not with the people.
Then, (the question) that they will go to Hell. But people said the same of Protestants, when I was a child. At that time, 70 years ago, all of the Protestants were going to Hell, all of them – that’s what we were told. But then, I remember the first experience I had of ecumenism. And I told this the other day to the heads of the Salvation Army. I was 4 or 5 years old but I remember and I can still see it. I remember I was walking down the street with my grandma hand-in-hand and on the other sidewalk, two women from the Salvation Army were coming down the street with those big hats on that they used to wear with the ribbon. It was a special thing, but now they don’t wear them anymore. But, I asked my grandma, but tell me are they sisters? And she told me this: “No, they are Protestants but they are good people. That was the first time that I heard someone speak well of someone from another religion, of Protestants. At that time, in catechesis they told us that everyone was going to Hell. But I think that the Church has grown so much in its awareness, in respect – as I told them in the religious meeting there in Colombo – in values – when we read what the Second Vatican Council says to us about the values in the other religions. The respect of the Church has grown a lot in this respect, no? And, yes, there are dark times in the history of the Church. We need to say so without embarrassment because also we are on a path of continuous conversion always from sin to grace. And, this inter-religiosity as brothers always respecting each other is a grace.

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.
Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us. But always, let’s think to our history, how many religious wars we have had. Think of St Bartholomew’s night (when Catholics massacred Huguenots during the French wars of religion in 1572, editors note). How can we understand this? Also we were sinners in this. But you cannot kill in the name of God, this is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.
The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith. Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

Conclusions -

I offer none – he speaks for himself and he should be heard for what he said and not was he was reported to have said. As for the piece in italics above – that is from a document called Pacem In Terris - it is written by one Angelo Roncalli – AKA Pope John XXIII. He was in his last weeks and it was composed during the final stages of his intestinal cancer.

Final thoughts serve all of us as last testaments and these are not ignoble thoughts to have harvested from a life’s time…

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2016 – the grounds for optimism….
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Democrats versus Republicans…..

U.S.A. FlagIn the last hundred years or so there have only been three occasions when an incumbent Party has won three Presidential elections on the trot – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover for the Republican Party (GOP) between 1920 and 1932;  FDR for the Democrats  - winning four elections from 1932 to 1944 and then Truman winning in 1948 to make it five in a row. and G. H Bush winning in 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan who served two full terms from 1980 to 1988.  Al Gore almost did it in 2000 winning the popular vote but not winning where it mattered in the Electoral College.  And G. W. Bush’s presidency possibly owed more to that Republican dominance from of the White House  from 1968 to 1992 which had firmly tipped the balance in the Supreme Court towards conservative legists who refused to permit the rerun of the election in Florida which the Florida Supreme Court had ordered.

If the Midterm elections are any guide to anything – then the coming election should be a Republican victory. The GOP controls both Houses of Congress – picking up 9 seats in the Senate – and holding on firmly to its majority in the House of Representatives. Additionally, it also controls a majority of the state governorships and a good number of the State Houses across the nation. The victory is November 2014 was easy and convincing – except – except in the febrile state of US party politics old certainties no longer seem very certain.

The Republicans have no obvious candidates. Instead they have a string of flawed options. First is Governor Chris Christie who masterminded the victory in last November having won reelection as governor in a traditionally ‘blue’ (Democrat voting) state. Since that election Christie has struggled – there was a furore over events of the Washinton Bridge between NYC and NJ which has tainted the Governor’s reputation. Worse, all the polling within the state shows him trailing Hilary Clinton by 20 percentage points. The argument for Christie – he could win where no other Republicans can win – has evaporated. Under pressure of events the Governor’s notoriously short fuse has already blown a couple of times in public. Into this void have stepped two other ‘mainstream’ GOP favourites- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Their problems speak for themselves- Romney was a terribly wooden losing candidate in 2012. He still is as wooden as ever in the unforgiving Media gaze where Obama is so comfortable. Jeb Bush would be the third scion of the dynasty to reach for the highest office. In many ways a much more subtle intelligent politician than either his brother or his father – Jeb might well deserve to win – but he carries the Bush brand name and it is hard to see that baggage winning over the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He has half announced and immediately claimed the front of the crowded field – on a meagre 17% of the poll. These are not the numbers of a sure fire nomination winner.

The rest of the GOP field is strewn in wannabes like Mick Huckabee and Senator Marco Rubio – who have  a broad appeal in the party but no appeal beyond the already reddest states and Tea Party favourites like Ron Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Outside this group stands Governor Scott Walker who has charisma but lacks a broader base in the party and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has Asian ethnicity and a glib way with words but also a way of making enemies from friends. These look more like Vice Presidential hopefuls but many men can look themselves in the mirror and see the next President of the United States. One of those who is fond of mirrors is Mitt Romney’s erstwhile running mate gym giant Paul Ryan – right wing, Catholic with an edgy whiff of the narcissist. He has counted himself out if he is to be believed.

Here we ago again

Here we ago again

Against this wide field the Democrats have a field of one and she has yet to speak. This nomination is Hillary’s to loose but then in 2008 many wise saws saw the same thing and she lost. Mrs Clinton has all the virtues of being the obvious candidate but has yet to make the case for being the inevitable choice. Her ambition to be the first women president is undiminished but like Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney Mrs Clinton is uncomfortable in the eye of the TV camera. It is said in private she is witty and amusing. The same things were once said of Gordon Brown. In 2008 bill clinton proved to be a drag on her candidacy – perhaps this time he can offer her something she lacks – a warmth.  Her daughter Chelsea will also add another dimension to her mother’s candidacy – not least the evergreen of all politicians in all times – the baby –  but perhaps the greatest persuader will be none other than her sometime rival – President Obama.

The State of the Union address is historically the moment when Presidents rally the country to their party. Popular presidents can launch themselves into the political ground of their opponents. It shows how quickly things can change –  just 10 weeks ago President Obama looked like a lame duck dead in the water. He was hopelessly unpopular. Since then his numbers have rallied dramatically. He has carefully crafted this speech to claim party credit for the uptick in the US economy. We are early is the days of political and economic recovery – but sometimes confidence is everything. Above all – he can now hold the Republican Congress to account for all the falings to come and the Republicans in the House look as if they might yet rise to the partisan occasion. There are those on Capitol Hill who would like to impeach Obama. There are those who say if the repeal bill for what is disparagingly called “Obama Care” is vetoed by the President – as it would be – it might give them the occasion to impeach. There are other cooler heads who say they will collapse the government by threatening to shut it down by refusing it supply.

Mrs Clinton will calculate her advantage in all this but one thing is certain – the Democrats may be down but they’re not yet out of the game in 2016. The blue map still holds and if Obama is as popular as Bill Clinton in 2000 – or even Ronald Reagan was in 1988 –  then the Republicans might already be on the back foot in the 2016 election – that’s before they elect to shoot themselves in the other foot by doing something very stupid.

They forget at heir peril that the President had learned an awful lot about politics in Washington in his six years there….

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A matter of debate
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The end of January and still the fog persists:

alogosdownload (1)There are lots of sights that will give the latest polling figures for the forthcoming election. There are many more that provide a forecast of the election result. I cannot compete with their expertise on either front. There are an awful lot of polls. We seem to have almost as many now as in presidential elections in the USA. And thanks to Lord Ashcroft we now have polls in a breadth of constituencies on a scale we’ve never before seen. Whether these will enable anyone to divine more than might otherwise be divined is very hard to say.

What can be said with certainty - if the polls are to be believed  - is that definitive moment of clarity which the pundits promised would arrive with autumn and the party Conferences has yet to arrive. The defining moment may be the fall in oil prices which have put some genuine money into folks’ pockets at just the right time. Whether Osborne and Cameron deserve credit they are only human and only politicians and like all of their kind – they’ll take the credit – whether or not it’s their due. It is for the voters to decide whether their claims are credible and in that battle my voice and vote are mine alone. One voice credible or incredible and carries no weight.

That said the rest of the evidence is that neither of the larger parties seems likely to break loose now and in the anniversary year of the start of World War I it is apt that it looks like stalemate will govern us for the next four years or so.The shape the stalemate is to take is just as uncertain. There is now a discernible rise in the Green vote in the polls.This has chipped more votes from Labour. UKip meanwhile refuses to deflate and no matter how slight or silly they are portrayed to be by wise pundity their Teflon coating is in tact. Thus if their numbers are on a gentle decline once they get the oxygen of publicity in the campaign the numbers may once again be on the rise.

alogosdownload (1)The LibDems are similarly becalmed somewhere in the region of 10% but the SNP looms large over their Scots seats – as it does even more devastatingly for Labour – and thus it seems likely that they can hold no more than around 30 pf their current seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, the debates that were such a novelty in 2010 look less likely to happen in 2015. Again, politicians are bound to calculate to their party advantage and if Cameron can find a safe way to avoid the debates there is honestly plenty of advantage to be gained. It will be the broadcasters who most likely determine that outcome. However, the rising % for the Greens in the polls would make it easier for all those involved to include the Greens but that will itself not really resolve the problem because the SNP – like Banquo’s ghost – is very likely to intrude upon proceedings. Essentially, Cameron has probably decided on his tactic and will stick to it and that is now going to make this a very different election. If he wins or gets to be PM after May 7th it will be seen as a stroke of political genius – if however he loses – like Heath’s ‘who governs Britain election – it will be seen to have been a big mistake. if he is seen to have been forced to the debating table in the larger debate forum that comes before the head to head – Cameron may be beset and that will not look good on TV.

All this said the balance of political advantage has surely turned towards the coalition government – money in pockets helps every incumbent government –  but whether that is just to the advantage of the Conservatives alone – is another debatable point.

However, unless Labour picks up in Scotland it is hard to see how they will emerge as the largest party in any election that is this close. The great things is we have only three months left before we know the answers ….

The latest calculation shows Labour 280 Conservatives 279 SNP 38 LibDems 25 UKIP 5 Greens I Others 22….that path leads I’d say to Labour but truth told who knows?

 

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Provocative – Hilary and the Wolf –

The Tudors & Wolf Hall – or who’s afraid of Hilary Mantel’s wolf?

Below a Rood Screen – in Brittany – these were also typical of northern European church interiors before the Reformation – before the art, the stained glass with its elaborate story-telling, the illuminated books and manuscripts and much more were utterly destroyed in the name of reform.

This all seems a long time ago now and centuries on the ruins left to us seem almost romantic – Tintern Abbey- but we lost a millenium of our culture in that holocaust. As we reflect upon the upheavals in Islam we might ponder the fact that we still struggle with the complex truths of those events of the first half of the sixteenth century and their immediate consequences for the century that followed – from say 1546 to 1648 which ended in the terrors of the Thirty Years War. The horrors on both sides of that series of interlocking wars permanently divided Europe.Those divisions echo on down into our daily lives and into how we think. Those horrors in the aftermath of the equally appalling horrors World War I inspired that bleakest of dramatic takes on human amorality – Mother Courage and her Children.

I write as one who enjoyed the American series The Tudors. It caught a lot of the atmospherics and motivations of court life in the times of Henry VIII even if it was a bit cavalier with facts and many of the male leads looked more like gym bunnies than horsemen. The Tudors was a frolic with a lot to recommend the romp.

Ms Mantel’s take as we saw last night takes itself altogether more seriously. It is almost grandly portentous. Despite it’s obvious drama even Shakespeare found it hard convincingly to stage the reign of Henry VIII – it is one of thee weakest of the history plays. Generally, dramatists since have narrowed focus and looked at matters from the viewpoint of particular characters – A Man for All Seasons – seeing it from More’s highly principled moral stand – Anne of a Thousand Days from Boleyn’s viewpoint – the Six Wives of Henry VIII – from the wives side generally. Mantel follows that line but sensationally inverts the relative moral virtues of two principle protagonists of the period – Cromwell and More. The result is – A Man for All Seasons with Thomas Cromwell as hero and Thomas More as vilain – Cromwell – enlightened – broadminded – More – a burning bigot.

Whatever Cromwell virtues and vices and Ms Mantel’s talent to amuse – this is arrant unhistorical nonsense. It belongs to that genre that gave us the more recent movies – Elizabeth and Elizabeth – the Golden Age. That said, I’ve got no problem with historical fiction and just love the Three Musketeers but this stuff is being passed off in the Media as insightful History.

Worse historians have been suckered into joining the Media caravan which only flatters to deceive. In public Hilary Mantel has taken upon her slight shoulders the weight of scholarship. She argues – like a clairvoyant – that she sees more truths as they really happened in her informed imaginings than poor historians dare to imagine on the basis of dull research.

Thus I am forced to observe: Hilary Mantel may have read some printed sources but she has hardly grasped any of the main issues. I liked the costumes and the setting. I liked the acting – characters drawn true to the author’s penmanship. I just refuse to take the rest of this seriously. I do not mind employing over-simplifications to engage a wider audience to a subject – I do mind them being passed off as the truth of the subject.

At the end of the day I cringed at some of the stuff. The secret meeting of Cromwell and a bunch of ‘Reformers’ pedalled all the old old propaganda of that confessional war. We no longer need to take confessional sides to see the complex truth of matters and dispassionately weigh the gains and the losses. But reinforcing unchallenged the stereotypes of that propaganda presents us with a caricature.

The danger is when we cannot face the complex truth about our own past will we never be grown up enough to accept the complex and challenging realities of our present when dealing with the complexities of religious and political fundamentalism.

So who’s afraid of Hilary’s Wolf – me for one – I’m always afraid of fiction masquerading as truth and opinion masquerading as scholarship.

The Tudors & Wolf Hall -  or who's afraid of Mantel's wolf?</p>
<p>Below a Rood Screen - in Brittany -  these were also typical of northern European church interiors before the Reformation - before the art, the stained glass with its elaborate story-telling, the illuminated books and manuscripts and much more were utterly destroyed in the name of reform.</p>
<p>This all seems a long time ago now and centuries on the ruins left to us seem almost romantic - Tintern Abbey-  but we lost a millenium of our culture in that holocaust. As we reflect upon the upheavals in Islam we might ponder the fact that we still struggle with the complex truths of those events of the first half of the sixteenth century and their immediate consequences for the century that followed -  from say 1546 to 1648 which ended in the terrors of the Thirty Years War. The horrors on both sides of that series of interlocking wars permanently divided Europe.Those divisions echo on down into our daily lives and into how we think. Those horrors in the aftermath of the equally appalling horrors World War I inspired that bleakest of dramatic takes on human amorality - Mother Courage and her Children.</p>
<p>I write as one who enjoyed the American series The Tudors. It caught a lot of the atmospherics and motivations of court life in the times of Henry VIII even if it was a bit cavalier with facts and many of the male leads looked more like gym bunnies than horsemen. The Tudors was a frolic with a lot to recommend the romp. </p>
<p>Ms Mantel's take as we saw last night takes itself altogether more seriously. It is almost grandly portentous. Despite it's obvious drama even Shakespeare found it hard convincingly to stage the reign of Henry VIII  - it is one of thee weakest of the history plays. Generally, dramatists since have narrowed focus and looked at matters from the viewpoint of particular characters - A Man for All Seasons - seeing it from More's highly principled moral stand - Anne of a Thousand Days from Boleyn's viewpoint - the Six Wives of Henry VIII - from the wives side generally. Mantel follows that line but sensationally inverts the relative moral virtues of two principle protagonists of the period - Cromwell and More. The result is - A Man for All Seasons with Thomas Cromwell as hero and Thomas More as vilain - Cromwell  - enlightened - broadminded - More - a burning bigot. </p>
<p>Whatever Cromwell virtues and vices and Ms Mantel's talent to amuse -  this is arrant unhistorical nonsense. It belongs to that genre that gave us the more recent movies - Elizabeth and Elizabeth - the Golden Age. That said, I've got no problem with historical fiction and just love the Three Musketeers but this stuff is being passed off in the Media as insightful History.</p>
<p>Worse historians have been suckered into joining the Media caravan which only flatters to deceive. In public Hilary Mantel has taken upon her slight shoulders the weight of scholarship. She argues -  like a clairvoyant  - that she sees more truths as they really happened in her informed imaginings than poor historians dare to imagine on the basis of dull research.</p>
<p>Thus I am forced to observe: Hilary Mantel may have read some printed sources but she has hardly grasped any of the main issues. I liked the costumes and the setting. I liked the acting - characters drawn true to the author's penmanship. I just refuse to take the rest of this seriously. I do not mind employing over-simplifications to engage a wider audience to a subject - I do mind them being passed off as the truth of the subject. </p>
<p>At the end of the day I cringed at some of the stuff. The secret meeting of Cromwell and a bunch of 'Reformers' pedalled all the old old propaganda of that confessional war. We no longer need to take confessional sides to see the complex truth of matters and dispassionately weigh the gains and the losses. But reinforcing unchallenged the stereotypes of that propaganda presents us with a caricature.</p>
<p>The danger is when we cannot face the complex truth about our own past will we never be grown up enough to accept the complex and challenging realities of our present when dealing with the complexities of religious and political fundamentalism.</p>
<p>So who's afraid of Hilary's Wolf - me for one - I'm always afraid of fiction masquerading as truth and opinion masquerading as scholarship.

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From Je suis to J’accuse in one short week
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Murder most foul in Paris

Ghost : Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Hamlet: Haste me to know’t that I with wings as swift as meditation….may sweep to my revenge.

Shakespeare seems a good place to start since for many in the secular culture of the West – or at least Western Europe –  the bard stands in the place of God as the author of truth. Hamlet – as we are to discover over five long hours –  turns out not to be who he says he is at all at this introduction – not at all the man to sweep to his revenge – rather he’s a man prone to endless agonising and postponement. It is rather that flaw of character – rather than the murder most foul – that actually makes Tragedy.

Tragedy: last week seventeen people were shot in Paris. Roughly half of them were journalists. It has generated a blinding blizzard of comment. In Nigeria Boka Harem – another Muslim fundamentalist terror group –  has killed 2000 people in recent times – practically without comment in the Western media. This week in Sri Lanka the pope canonised a local saint Joseph Vaz. This briefly refocused our memories of the terrible civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the minority Tamils – both non Abrahamic religious cultures.  That war was crowned by a decade long period of government by Mahinda Rajapaksa – supported vigorously by the West and China – who crushed the Tamils and then went on to mercilessly persecute them. We saw no evil; we heard of no evil; no one wrote of any evil; we did nothing. Tomorrow in the Kingdom of Saud a man who wanted to speak his mind freely will receive his second fifty lashes out of 1000. This week in PMQs the Prime Minister in the House of Commons refused to condemn the Saudi regime.The House of Saud is the West’s loyal ally – purveyor of oil and Arabian stallions by royal appointment by exchange of favours they buy our military weaponry. Elsewhere in mainland Europe this week anti-semites have been prosecuted for inciting hate crimes in writing – particularly in denying the Holocaust.  In France Charlie Hebdo again published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed. In the same France a self-styled comedian (Dieudonné) was arrested for ‘defending terrorism’ after publishing a comment on Facebook. He is a notorious anti semite who has previously been arrested for expressing repugnant opinions in Media and onstage. In Afghanistan the new government supported by the Western powers is in negotiation with the Taliban. Five years ago the Taliban were regarded as ‘terrorists’ and as our enemies. This week also saw Tony Blair summoned to Parliament by Mr Speaker to account for his actions in Northern Ireland – in respect of on-the-run IRA men accused of but not charged with terrorist crimes of gravest brutality including murder. This list is random but representative. It represents a complicated reality behind the mask of liberal democracy.

Culturally, we are apt to see crimes we elect to be inhuman as indisputably crimes and those we elect not to see or comment upon as pragmatically passable. It is therefore not surprising than some viewing us from the safe distance of their own culture look on us as self serving hypocrites. Yes, indeed the demonstrations in France brought together a shocked French people but in its wake it also gave a respectable public platform to a collection of very dubious political leaders who seem to think Free Speech is fine for journalists in Paris but not for those Ankara or Jerusalem or Moscow or Cairo. Given we are metaphorically linking our arms with such company it seems inexplicable altogether to have excluded Marine Le Pen whose political views are certainly no worse.

Alas, this is not the Age of Reason and it is quite clear reason has little to do with all that has been going on and is now ongoing. This is a surge of irrational emotionalism of the sort we have seen before in modern times – say the death of Diana, Princess of Wales for example. We have also for example seen these emotionalised outbursts in the aftermath of gun murder sprees in the USA but as yet they have not yet led to gun control. They play particularly well in modern Media as they fill the void that’s between the horror of an event and the sober reflection upon it.

This is powerful stuff – in the aftermath of 9/11 it led to two wars – one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. These were the first of the so-called ‘wars on terror’. Like the ‘war on drugs’ or the ‘wars on crime’ before and the subsequent wars on ‘terror’ – for example since in Libya and Syria – these have not ended well for those who declared them. The cost in blood and treasure is almost unmeasured – and on all sides – but would certainly have more than filled the hole made by the financial crash and filled many bellies long left empty in the Third World.

Most of this week muslims being interviewed in the Media have been asked to profess their horror at these murders in Paris – as if they might feel otherwise. Is that assumption not just a tad racist? It was the sort of dehumanising tactic the Nazi propagandists employed against the Jews in the 1930′s. When Anders Behring Breivik – murdered eight people to save Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover –  proclaiming that the Norwegian Labour Party had to “pay the price” for “letting down Norway and the Norwegian people” –  I do not recall leaders of Christian denominations being asked to dissociate themselves from this practising Lutheran; nor do I recall Media journalists asking spokespersons for right wing political parties first make ritual denunciation of this act of ‘terrorism’ or ‘murder’ – call it what you will – before making any further comment. We can be skilled with double standards – they’re all about us if we open our eyes wide.

Since those terrible events in Paris further comment seems to be the order of the day. For example – Suzanne Moore in the Guardian on 14th January  has spoken-up for women – who appointed her as their spokeswoman is not clear – although from her comments it is clear this is not the job that any man might do – so much for equality. Her article alchemised what she calls ‘feminism’ and what she calls ‘faithophobia’ –  which would –  if the word were to mean anything – mean the irrational fear of faiths. Judging from the tone of her column that is its meaning as quite a lot of what she said was fluently irrational – not least her digression into ritual religious practices of Christian and Muslim religions in the seventh century – I best say Common Era – lest Anno Domini sets off another avalanche of ‘faithophobia’.  She is not alone. Most of those engaged in this running commentary in the Media – commercial and social – seems to want to talk up for everyone else. Whilst I am as anxious as any to have my say I must first make it clear I speak for myself alone. I do not speak for men –  gay men –  Roman Catholic or Christian gay men – historians in general or Tudor historians in particular – my friends – my neighbours or any I know, living or dead.

I lived most of my life in this society as a member of one or other despised minority. I am gay; I am irish ; I am Roman Catholic; I’m also left handed – that is sinister rather than dexter. Therefore,  I am extremely dubious of any debate that demonises others for their beliefs or conduct or nationality. Frankly quite a bit that has been said under the guise of enlightened comment about freedom of speech has been little short of racism dipped in the blood of martyrs. In this case the martyrs are secular –  martyrs of the Media. They have shed their blood for a noble cause, the freedom of the press. The journalists knew they were taking risks and like Salman Rushdie refused to be silent and be dammed. They were murdered for not being cowed. It is important for the rest of us not to be cowed. The Jews in the kosher supermarket were getting ready for Sabbath. They were deemed guilty by racial association with the actions of the Israeli state against the Palestinians. They were shot for no good reason. The policemen were only doing their job – apparently it is not a job any decent Muslim may do if their murderers are to be believed. That of course begs the real question – are these murderers to be believed any more than Anders Breivik is to be believed or any of the IRA who killed indiscriminately for their cause?

However, it is more than a little ironic that those who now shout most loudly about freedom of speech – citing Voltaire (a man who happily took the coin of absolute monarchs for his fee – no questions asked) mostly are employed by newspapers and media groups that would have happily seen these left wing intellectuals who worked on Charlie Hebdo publically traduced as knaves and mocked fools before the fatal shots were fired.

It is not part of my brief to defend religions or defend my religious beliefs. The febrile aftermath of Murder is not a good time to start a reflective discourse on these matters. I know as plainly as the nose of my face that whatever these guys say – they are essentially unreliable sociopaths who – like serial killers – have a totally warped view of the rest of humanity. In their heads they justify actions that taken from any other rational moral standpoint – secular – atheist – religious – are wholly immoral and irrational. This is not the first time such evil has seeped into our lives. It will not be the last.

This lot may carry the Koran and call itself Muslim but before it carried Mein Kampf and called itself National Socialist – it has carried in its time the works of Aristotle; of Plutarch or Seneca; the works of Voltaire or Rousseau; it has carried the Communist Manifesto and the little red book of Chairman Mao; it has certainly carried the Bible; it has certainly worn the the habit of the humble friar in the cause of the Inquisition; it has mounted the arms of the Crusader; it has also worn the uniform of the freedom fighter. Time and again – it has usurped the piety of good men and of good philosophy and made them serve its evil heart. It is in mankind. It is in our imagining and we carry it from generation to generation. The greatest danger to this sort of evil is to think either we are immune from it – or by some simple nostrum – we can make ourselves immune to its effects – or that we can stop it happening again by simple acts of commemoration. Horrors fade overtime and what was unthinkable fifty years ago many will feel free to think again. That is the history whether we wish it to be or not.

What I choose to believe about this world – how it came to be – or my place in it – or indeed my relationship to anyone one I know – or to any I have known – or to any I believe I know or any you imagine I imagine I believe I know – does not make me a serial murderer or a suicide bomber. True Philosophies reflect on life they are not susceptible to simple cause and to a single effect, murder. Cod philosophy through time walks with murder – as immortalised by Shakespeare’s Jack Cade in Henry VI Part II. The act of killing is unlicensed in society – save in War – formal or otherwise – when we may kill many with impunity. When we fight – it is a good war or, neutrally, perhaps a mistaken war. When our enemies fight – it is an evil war and neutrally, deliberate aggression. Beware the double standard it often leads to double vision – or even blindness.

Voltaire and the ‘philosophes’ took an essentially optimistic view of mankind – as a creature of reason and enlightenment. in the event – of Revolution – it turned out we were less reasonable and enlightened than they supposed. Noble causes and good intentions often end in bloody chaos. Perhaps there is something to be said for all the religions which take a more pessimistic view of men and women – vain to self; prone to venality; likely to take what we can for ourselves by force and to call it principle. One man’s law maybe another’s tyranny. Many written constitutions of such tyrannies are replete with high flown sentiment. We all worship lots of things but we don’t always deign to call them a deity but the acts of worship can demand just as much ritual sacrifice from someone – usually someone else’s expense. Over the time of our evolution and particularly over the last ten thousand years we have grown better at organising ourselves and our lives in a way that permits the majority to enjoy some sort of life. Civilisation is but a work in progress and what is here today may be gone tomorrow replaced by something we think better or believe worse. But whatever we build will always contain all of our flaws. Anything else is fairytales and best left to children and to childhood where black and white reign supreme and easy judgements come in one dizzying rush one after another.

I prefer a grown up world of complex cause with multiple effects. I prefer to call murder by its proper name and be done with it. I prefer to treat those kill for no good reason as murderers not as terrorists. They do not kill for a cause because there is no cause for which we should unilaterally assume we own the right to take another’s life. We do not need to mix up murder with a debate about morals, religion and philosophy because the men who pulled those triggers in Paris –  like all those before them and those who will come after –  had already resolved to go beyond reason, beyond argument and beyond belief.  They’re gangsters and bullies and whatever they said they believed – they would still be gangsters and bullies. And given what they are willing to do – we have no reason to think of them in terms other.

For the rest I’ll leave that to the commentariat with their retweeting Media multiplications and rhetorical lowest common denominators –  and their jargon – ‘faithophobia – yes indeed like all phobias –  an irrational fear.

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Attention Readers
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Attention Readers -

I have received a couple of enquiries about my history pages but the emails inadvertently have been deleted before I replied. If you wish to contact me please use the email under contacts and i will get back to you. John Murphy

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Creena – on her anniversary
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Creena

 

There’s always a moment before I open my eyes when I can see her – always smiling – and I can hear her lilting voice singing its own song in her gentle brogue -

Creena on the left with my good friends James & Elizabeth, Mark & Eric(RIP)

Creena on the left with my good friends James & Elizabeth, Mark & Eric(RIP)

‘Ah, John, don’t…don’t make me laugh….ah, don’t tease me…ah, please don’t tease….’

Me, her playful boy still playing by the rules love alone permits and love alone admits into our tender trust…..

We start each day on this nod – though these todays are forever further from our yesterdays together.

I see her eyes, hazel-blue, laughing back at me – throwing back her coal black hair – later it was lit with a silver lining – yet in my mind’s eye it’s bright as jet and sleekly shining.

Perhaps it’s up – tied in a bun – perhaps in a straight fringed bob – sometimes curled – or maybe parted in the middle with a sleek wave to one side – they were all her styles in her time.

These imaginings intertwine dreamlike with my waking senses drowsily perfuming them in Apple Blossom heaven sent by Helena Rubinstein

Suddenly, succulent aromas arise from a lost kitchen haze – days of roast potato plenty and rich dark gravy – or richer melting pastry – plate-apple-pies made decadent with cream – sherry trifles – or, too Irish to utter, fruitcake thickly spread with butter – the simple fare of everyday she made Sunday best.

There’s her personal preserve – apple jelly – its pale orange sun lit the dark days of winter -summer’s spun-sugar set crystal clear in a small glass jar.

She was just as easily pleased to share all her other trademark treats – toffees, sugared almonds, bonbons and boiled sweets.

These are mementoes from my childhood – but now I shiver with delight as if I might I receive them again as birthdays gone disguised in present form.

February days – these were her birthday season – a season shared as so many birthdays were clustered together – as lambs huddle by stone walls close-packed against the icy snow-packed world without for warmth; so, for family festivals forever close, forever melting hearts with love.

With that same love in her later life her sharp eye finely glossed the stations of the cross in her parish church – Creena’s patient hands wove magic spells with seed pearls and glass gems on painted egg-shells – as elegant in their way as anything crafted for Romanov Easters by Carl Faberge – decorative arts and crafts – crafted always with love – her tight knitting neat with perfect patterns and twists of coloured wool – and full floral sprays – rings of roses, marshalling the poet’s golden hosts to stand soldier-like for spring.

Seeing daffodils she’d mournfully pay them Herrick’s wistful due – “we weep to see thee fade away so soon” – so true – true to his words they’re both gone home leaving me alone…

Memories – the mind’s ghostly photos – memories – dandelion puffs – the haw of autumn frosts – cobwebs tangling past in present time – a homeless waif at the end of his rope – a wastrel waiting still hoping on hope.

My blind-sight shades everything I’ve seen in midnight’s moonlit dreams but in its peerless beams still sorrow sun-like rises in my soul – a lonely longing cries and so I cry as uselessly I try to wipe tears from my eyes – for I’m son and heir to all those years and to those young days dead and gone.

I’m now wide awake and my careful conscience is awake to danger. It guiltlessly dead-heads my dead-eye dreams and sagely shreds all old regrets about my younger selfishness. False memory buries my youthful past in a lost deep, deeper than dead sleep.

Truth told Creena too, like me, once overturned Time’s youthful page to awaken into another colder older-age.

Her very latter days were in a home but not at home – she was bedridden and bedraggled – caught by a crueller cold altogether – the hopeless cold of a lost cause – trapped wearily by her useless body in a bed – in a listless lifeless life – that was suffocatingly sad.

There she lay watched-over but unseen – lost to those she loved – wrapped in blankets of irony no longer lost on her – lying in the very place she had long feared and long dreaded.

This she’d prayed to avoid all her life – to be immobilised and crushed by immobility – demobbed from the army of the living – living-dead to all and to all she loved.

She’d outstared death to stay alive but mirthless death alive to ridicule made her life’s mocking eejit.

It was the unkindest stroke of fate – the very stroke that had taken her mother to her prison-bed – on Time’s fateful stroke it came to take Creena from her former life.

But there were still her Irish eyes and her Irish stories and her memories of arching passions spent and foolish pleasures thoughtlessly enjoyed.

Between visits she dwelt elsewhere – memories blew her there – fluted glass in hand – she lingered in champagne lands – in the laughter of happy times – pausing maybe once on the languorous still of some Venetian canal – or perhaps once peering down from the Pantheon above the cupolas of Rome.

But mostly she was home – roaming through her past glories in Ireland’s ever-green hills; in the grass-green fields of Tipperary; along salmon soaked banks of the River Suir; and late along the aimless narrows of Cashel’s winding streets – on down home to Boherclough.

There once she climbed the romantic hills to reach the pinnacle of romance hand in hand in love – in these happiest days of her life – her young married days as a mother and as a wife – in her Cashel – that altogether being another life.

This was the Ireland she never left – and never left-go-of  - even in her darkest times – alone and lonely and not knowing what to do – this remained the descant to her beating heart – the compass of her world – her true north and her south – her beginning and her end.

As her emotional loadstar was always loaded with such imaginings – though she’s long gone it doesn’t feel odd to me to carry on – if only in my mind’s eye – in our old ways – neither of us ready to give up on the other.

I read her prayers for her when she could no longer read them for herself. Me unbelieving and irreligious as any but piously saying those words for her she could no longer say for herself.

I meant them without knowing their meaning; nor meaning to be touched by them. But, even tongue in cheek, maybe my whispers touched something sacred as I touched her hand.

Creena with Dr Christina Challis

Creena with Dr Christina Challis

She did not arise as she’d prayed for herself – she did not miraculously recover all of herself – nor did she take up her bed and walk.

Rather, she endured, her spirit sometimes broken, oftentimes tearful but never hopeless and never less than herself.

Her Irish brogue was miraculously restored but her hair left lifeless grey but, like her life’s sun, as yet unset.

Though much diminished in her small bed-world she still shone out from her lessened state.

After all her talk to God – and to the hosts of heaven upon whose intercession she relied – God never seemed to answer back – his angel messengers never messaged her – as on silently she prayed through the silent nights.

Instead, as her cause was not the cause of saints there was to be no respite, not even respite care and only death could carry her from her bed.

She continued on – to pray faithfully – and to listen to the troubles of her family. There were repeated heated arguments with her carers flushed shameful red by her fiery temper which she’d then temper with her winning way. She cursed her confinement but never lost her kindness.

Mostly, she feared her approaching end. To that end she still thought of others and she still could say sorry and then still speak her mind with such a force it made enemies from friends.

There’s always a moment before I open my eyes when I can see her – always smiling – and then I can hear her lilting voice singing in its own song in her gentle brogue.

They’re rebel songs she sings untamed by her rebellious nature.

Memories are shards splintered from life’s time and once upon that time all of her world once was all of mine.

Mothers and sons are born share life’s argosy – a barcarole of dreams – a shipwreck of hopes – it carries them through life’s storms – but unsinkable as love it never sinks – for it is a sacred vessel – carved from ancient hopes – it bears them like the eerie ships that carried Egypt’s kings to their beyond – it divides reed seas – it crosses Jordan – until  it meets life’s end – and begins again…

 

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Tudor Chronicles: III Friends In Deed

Tudor Chronicles, III –  Friends In Deed…..

 

Elizabeth I -  eternally the good fairy - the rainbow portrait

Elizabeth I – eternally the good fairy – the rainbow portrait

                               Christmastide 1598

 

 

The sky is ice blue. The hills are amethyst. Shafts of winter sunlight fleck the moor gilding the scrub and heather before passing on. Their cool light warms nothing.

A man’s eye catches this fleeting instant. Instantly it passes. He looks down as if he reflects upon this vanishing-point.

He looks-up once more at the sky’s faded azure. It’s streaked white and orange by wisps of thin high cloud.

Inwardly, he smiles.

…As he’s not alone he doesn’t allow himself more than this composed restraint. He knows his companions are oblivious to the sky’s momentary magnificence. Their indifference to its trailing glories puzzles him….

He sighs….

And as the pallid sunlight plays on the moorland, finally, he permits himself the worldly indulgence of a wry smile…

He turns and looks at his three companions. Gaunt; grey-white; they’re trembling – perhaps with cold – perhaps – with fear. They pay no heed to the subtle beauties in the changing landscape…

 

The day is gently drawing on towards its close…

 

Unselfconsciously the man makes the sign of the cross. His gesture reveals all.

His companions see the sign and copy it.

The priest catches their response from the corner of his eye. Though he’s quietly amused by their copycat faith his composed features betray nothing.

…Despite the cold to him it feels as if time passes more quickly out here on the top of the world…passes on…passes more quickly than life itself passes…passes by…passes away…

The scenery sparks intense memories

The priest blinks a tear. He wipes it with a fine finger. He inhales the brittle air thoughtfully.

…. Memories…mementoes…more like thoughtful tokens…pictures from a past long lost flash by…shimmering briefly in his mind’s eye…images of his spiritual home glance his consciousness. There…there…he’s seen such skies and landscapes.

There, in Rome, the churches burst with frescos blazing this rapture – even the refectory ceiling in the poor English College has such a sky – dotted with cherubs and seraphs….

The priest looks up again…half-expectant…there are no angels….yet…

Yet this sky, in this here and now, outshines anything any artist might hope to capture on canvass. The Divine artist has painted this sky – the Divine brush has stippled this landscape with the sun’s gold. God’s artful strokes of genius have trimmed these hills with Imperial purple. Transforming glimpses of the Divine transfigure the sky – as God’s Son once transfigured himself to live in man’s world.  All this is God’s. God’s hand paints man’s horizons…

The priest blinks.

As suddenly the sun is gone.

As suddenly thunder rumbles round…echoing around the hills….

Again inwardly the priest smiles…he knows this sound and fury isn’t thunder…rather it’s the hooves of horses ridden hard…

He sinks to the ground and with a simple movement of his hand waves down his companions.  They drop down to the ground. He turns to them – a single finger to his mouth.

This is sign language they can lip-read….

…They may not be moved by the aesthetics that pull at the Jesuit’s emotions but they’ve been with him long enough to know his silent commands are to be complied with instantly.

All life’s suspended by the slender thread of obedience.

…Silently…they obey….

 

The sun clips a hill…everything darkens…

 

….The priest isn’t caught-out…. acutely observant…he’s sensitive to his surroundings. As the moor’s face darkens in the half-light his mood darkens in the shadow of the dying day….shades of gloom perhaps…though his intense faith bars the gateway to despair….

For now he knows they’re all safe….all safely hidden….hidden behind the great Stone…. although it may not hide them for long.

….Shrewdly he has already strewn signs further afield…to mislead…to distract…to delay…signs to confound the hunters who’ve chased them up here on to this cheerless, windswept spot….

 

The priest kisses the figure of Christ on a crucifix that hangs around his neck….

 

….The cross and chain are beautifully wrought. Gifted Spanish craftsmen have enlivened this silver from the New World with this oldest of Christian symbols… they’re a royal gift…from the royal Patron of his mission….

 

The priest mutters under his breath:

‘“Ego volo celebrare Missam et conficere Corpus et Sanguinem Domini Nostri Jesu Christi.” Let that alone be my beginning and my end. Amen.’

His companions can barely hear his words over the wind. But they see his hands join and his head bow. So, they too pray. They know from their recent travels over the past month that he prays like this only at moments of greatest danger. They’re behind their Jesuit master….as the Holy Apostles were behind Christ the Saviour in Gethsemane…when he was arrested.

They’re still. They’re absolutely still….

 

The moss mops-up the remains of the day’s dull light. It soaks it up, absorbs it, as if to blot-out the landscape from day’s darker side.

The wind picks-up. Wintry cold, it keenly whips across the bleakness of this bleak reality.

 

….About the moor the fading light arouses slumbering wolves. The packs have stirred…

They’re awake – somewhere nearby – like the Jesuit and his three followers – they’re hidden from easy sight. They’re restless.

They pace back and forth; they turn; their yellow eyes flash – each pair of eyes uneasily meets another’s – impatient. The females sniff the air…

Restlessness infects the pack…the younger yelp excitedly…their elders snarl back….

A loan howl…then they all howl….

They’re unsettled….their flickering nostrils catch something on the wind…a warning scent…danger….

…The wolves must wait for the cover of darkness.

Only then may they safely hunt their prey. Once night falls and blackness closes-in then their lupine revels may begin….their time’s night-time…

 

….The priest lies flat on the ground.

Resting on his elbows he looks through the stubby blades of grass from behind the Stone….

He’s completely hidden by the giant granite boulder that’s abandoned here on the moor and is strangely out of place in its place….

….Perhaps aptly the Jesuit considers this as he watches….perhaps…for he’s no longer watching the hills…..or listening to the wind….or bothered by howling wolves….something else has wholly taken his attention…

He’s still.

He watches.

 

……Some distance from the priest…..

Maybe half a mile, maybe more….distances are distorted by the flatness of the moorland; by the breadth of the pale sky; by the priest’s position on the ground.

Five figures stand solitary: five men…

 

They’re darkly silhouetted against the hills’ deep violet….

They stand in an island of long swart grass set in the middle of a mossy sea of stones and heather. Some of this grass is waist high. It blows about in the blistering north-easterly wind….

One waves a sword about like a scythe. He holds up something. The others gesticulate excitedly…

There’s a shot.

The sound ricochets around the blasted moor. It silences the wolves. There’s eerie quiet.

Startled, the men flap about turning one way and then another.

 

….They’re dressed in dowdy brown leather jerkins. They’ve leather hose and high brown leather boots.  All wear fur-trimmed woollen capes. Three wear caps; two of them sport gold badges pinned on one side of their brown serge.

…. These are badges of officers of the household of the Lord President of the Council of the North. Two others hold helmets – gold in the last rays of the sun. These are the Lord President’s men-at-arms. They’re accompanied by a capped forester in a duller, darker drab. His is the livery of a forester or bowbearer to the archbishop of York….

….They’re all far from the security of the city of York and the gilded comforts of its golden Minster. Official business brings them this far afield. The business concerns both the queen and her church. And, conveniently, since Matthew Hutton is both the Archbishop of York and the Lord President of Her Majesty’s Council in the North, the business is entirely his….

….And these men are entirely his servants….

 

 

…Archbishop Hutton has received secret intelligence from King James in Scotland in a series of letters, signed and sealed…

Letters patently warn Hutton of three Jesuits who’ve successfully infiltrated into the lakes and dales…

Letters from Scotland….

It is writ…the Jesuits travel under the guise of bringing the sacraments to local Catholics.  According to King James’ version they’re recruiting traitors. They’re agents of the Spanish King – Philip III.

…Spain’s new king has wasted no time in resuming covert hostilities with England and sponsors Jesuit missions all over Britain and Ireland….

And these letters state that here in the North of England there are three missions – all led by renegade priests – and all, all they say, all are sons of local English gentry…

 

……Normally Archbishop Hutton would have been sceptical about such letters. But times are far from normal…the Irish rebels as yet are undefeated…Lord Essex’s great army is as yet not embarked to crush  the Rebel Tyrone… and nothing pertaining to the security of the realm and the queen may be left to chance…..

….In England it’s widely believed that the Jesuits are agents of the Roman anti-Christ. The Pope’s creatures pass easily and secretly from place to place: from Rome to Spain; to Portugal; to the New World; to the Holy Roman Empire; to the Netherlands; to Poland; to Russia and even into France. Everywhere they slip and slide they sponsor treachery and treason. Everywhere they bring with them the evils of the Mass. Everywhere they disturb the Christian peace.

And is this any wonder?continued here……

Elizabeth I -  eternally the good fairy - the rainbow portrait

Elizabeth I – eternally the good fairy – the rainbow portrait

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Gunpowder, treason and plot……
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 A few thoughts before Rochester & Strood has its last word

alogosdownload (1)8th November is a little late to awaken to news of an assassination attempt against HM the Queen. Terrorists it seems are always plotting and history since the time of Julius Ceasar is replete with assassinations. The treason of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up the House of Lords at the state opening by James I is one of those moments when a thwarted plan makes history in its own way and has a long legacy. One of the by products of the many peculiarities of the English Reformation was that Roman Catholicism was made into an act of treason. It was never possible to make the old religion heresy per se since only the Latin Church and Orthodox churches had laid claim to that right. Moreover, there could be no question than any of the ‘sacraments’ valid in the Catholic Church could de facto have been anything but valid in the Reformed churches. Therefore, in the strict sense the religion of the Reformation and the Reformers had gradually morphed into the religion of the local prince. One of the oddest by-products of Luther’s attack on the universality of the church – found in the western rite in the papacy –  was in effect making of every petty price into a ‘Constantine’. By the time the Reformation gets into its second generation this gradually but inevitably led to the equating the interests of a princely polity with the religion of his or her subjects. The idea itself was not entirely new – after all the Inquisition in Spain rested on the very same principle – but it was not unironic that a notion inimical to the Humanist religious ideal focused on a Christo-centric princeship of Christ should have substituted His secular ordinary for His spiritual one.

alogosdownload (1)This week the plotting of 5th November took place in that famous sea of discontent – the Parliamentary Labour Party and the victim was Ed Miliband. It is hard to feel sorry for Ed for few men or women are as single minded in fulfilling their personal political ambitions as he has shown himself to be. All politicians must pay the price for ambition or its lack – perhaps David Miliband in the last government should have seized his moment and maybe the last Labour government was cursed by Brown’s lack of ruthless ambition in 1994. The Conservative Party never quite got over either the means of displacement of Heath nor, the subsequent defenestration of Thatcher. Clegg was born on the fickle tide that first drown Charles Kennedy in the demon drink and then beached Menzies Campbell on the idle strand.  But of all the main parties Labour alone has lacked the killer instinct when it comes to its leaders. This British Labour Party unlike its Australian cousin is not much disposed to assassination. Labour’s wobble this week will probably not lead to a Bob Hawke moment – the reason being twofold – it hasn’t the stomach for it and there’s no Bob Hawke waiting to seize the crown. Ambition might easily prefer Alan Johnson or even Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham but they prefer to sit and wait.

It is therefore unlikely that there will be any attempt to displace Miliband before next May. Labour therefore is stuck with its most unpopular leader ever. It is not a good position from which to fight an election. But then few elections have ever been fought by three party leaders to whom the public have been equally badly disposed for various reasons. Mr Clegg has never recovered from tuition fees and anything the LibDems now promise will be tainted by that betrayal. Cameron and Osborne are both perceived to be untrustworthy – the chancellor only this morning displaying his ability to seize defeat from victory’s brow by claiming too much for himself. The EU and the attitude of the two  warring factions of the Conservative Party undermines Cameron at every turn and makes him look weak, vacillating and parti pris. The tone of all of this makes the Conservatives a hard sell and this enquiry underway into the conduct of politicians in the 1970′s and 1980′s and 1990′s which has already caused Mrs May such trouble has the potential to explode all over the General Election in a very unpredictable manner. The great British public is bound to ask the question no one has yet answered – how come all those whispers behind closed doors went unheard by the very class – our political elite – who was doing all the whispering sub rosa. Sir Cyril Smith was a cut a large figure but the eddy of distasteful gossip surrounding his great bulk can hardly have been unheard by his and other parties’ leaderships. This is true of all the political parties and all the cast of slimy sexual predators for whom they covered-up.

alogosdownload (1)UKIP and the SNP have both thrived in this primordial soup of discontent. From the current mess of potage it is far from clear that whoever wins next May will enjoy even as much political authority – let alone as much good will – as the current coalition after 2010. The main parties as political coalitions cling together like warm toffee in the summer sun – but if a blast of arctic electoral wind chills them to their core vote their brittle mass may simply splinter apart.

For both the governing parties there is little to do but wait and hope but Labour if it owns ambition to be the party of government may first have to find the courage to be a party of regicide. History teaches us the Labour Party has seldom owned such political ruthlessness about its leaders but like the times who knows who may rise to a once in a lifetime occasion?

Thus, it falls to UKIP, the SNP and the Greens to do for them all what they are unable to do for themselves. In Scotland Jim Murphy may be able to staunch the flow of votes from Labour and give the party a chance in the English constituencies. Mr Miliband may hit the streets and the door and  seek to meet the people who can swing things Labour’s way. It remains my instinct that Miliband’s ambition will leave no stone unturned but it is whether his advisers have the stomach to advise him to do what it takes that is unclear. The LibDems will do better locally where they have organisation and maybe can appeal to Labour voters to give them a second chance to do the right thing in choosing a coalition partner after next May. As for the Conservatives – UKIP hounds and the anti-EU Tory Hunt are at the heels of the devious fox of the party leadership. Were they to win it is hard to see them coming out of a referendum as a single party. The naysayers to the EU say no on principle and if the electorate says yes they will continue to agitate for Britain to leave. Where can they go but into UKIP?

alogosdownload (1)Next week Rochester & Strood will tell us all about the parties: is the UKIP bubble yet to burst; if Labour polls below 10% is there to be a challenge to Miliband; will the Conservative Party panic so there may be more defections; and if the LibDems are truly obliterated then is even Mr Clegg fit to survive? All these questions have no obvious answers. If Labour polls next May as poorly as it did in 2010 its political viability may be coming toward its historic end – the unions may see their political interest fulfilled elsewhere. If the Conservative Party gets fewer votes than 2010 it may too no longer be able to contain its right wing faction and it may split apart as it did over the Corn Laws. Seldom has so much rested upon a by election and seldom the votes of so few promised to mean so much for the political establishment.

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Mid Term Blues for Democrats as GOP turns US Red or does it?
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U.S.A. FlagMid-Term for Blues

Mid Term elections may mean a great deal. Generally in a two party system they have been taken to indicate the turning of a tide from one party towards the other. This was most certainly the case in 2006 and again in 1966 1982 and 1986. It was most certainly not the case in 1974 for, although Gerald Ford famously lost the subsequent presidential election to Jimmy Carter, the loss was by a squeak that was almost as tight as Kennedy’s victory in 1960. The 1976 Presidential election was the closest election in terms of the Electoral College of any post New Deal election until George W. Bush won infamously in 2000 by gaining fewer votes but more Electoral Votes than his opponent, Vice President Gore. Indeed 2000 was an extraordinary election since it also demonstrated the importance of controlling the Supreme Court to whom the president nominates and the congress confirms. The Supreme Court unlike even the Papacy these days is the place where the old may linger on until they pass into history.

Thus it was that the New Deal lingered on into the 1960′s largely because of Democrats controlling both the Presidency and the Congress for almost a generation after 1932. That hegemony was broken by Nixon-Reagan in the 1970′s and the1980′s. Through those decades that new right wing ideological grip of the GOP was reinforced by the collapse and slower even more lingering death of the Southern Democratic Party which had prospered in the old Confederacy after the end of Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Then came Bill Clinton – perhaps the Grover Cleveland of his age – a lone blue Democrat boat afloat in a sea of red Republicanism. Bill gave birth to the New Democrats who famously triangulated between what they characterised as the New Right and the Old (New Deal) Left. It was an old sales trick – well worthy of the political magician that is Bill Clinton. It worked. Since the ‘New Freedom’ under Wilson, American voters have been in love ‘New’ as the adjective of active political choice. New Labour borrowed from Clinton – under the tactical genius that was Gordon Brown but which only turned out to enthrone an upstart pretender, Tony Blair – much to the chagrin of ‘the Gordon’.

The Second Bush presidency eked out its victories on the margins of the Blue state/Red state divide which had emerged originally in the failed presidential run of Michael Dukakis against Bush senior (George Herbert). Dukakis’ losing campaign was the first sign that parts of New England and the Western states were ceasing to vote Republican. In addition to his home state of Massachusetts Dukakis also carried Rhode Island, West Virginia, New York, Washington and Oregon, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Though much else was a red sea for oil rich Bush the elder, the Republican margins in what are now Blue states were already starting to narrow significantly. The demographic that had favoured Republicans since the 1950′s and, which, were cemented in 1968 with the collapse of the Democrat South, had begun another tectonic shift. Then came Obama – and he demonstrated how far that demographic shift had moved the arithmetic of the presidency towards the Democrats. At the same time the ever redder Red states faced a sea of ever bluer Blue states. In between them the number of so called swing states has steadily declined. Obama is the first majority Democrat since LBJ and the first since FDR to be a majority president in two consecutive elections.

U.S.A. FlagIn all this where does this year’s Midterm elections take us – the answer is not very far. The Democrats have lost a large number of senate seats – probably eight in all. However, many of the seats they lost were in states where they prospered in the quasi-landslide of 2008. They were defending 21 seats compared to the Republicans 11. Next time round in 2016 the Republicans will be defending 24 seats compared to 9 Democrats. Although this margin numerically still seemingly strongly favours the Republicans holding on to the Senate in 2016, many of the 24 seats the GOP are defending are in very Blue states – whereas many of the senate seats the Democrats just lost were in very Red states.

Again much has been made of the House of Representatives having more GOP members than any since 1928. Again all that glisters is not gold for the GOP – it is true that in the South the Democrats have virtually been wiped out and Arkansas which gave us the clintons is now again part of the old Confederacy but, though there were some Republican gains in Illinois and New York, the GOP swell has not really wiped out the Democratic margin in the Blue states – this is because the turnout was lower in the Blue states and higher in the Red states. In short angry Republican inclined voters came out to vote but indifferent Democrats stayed home. What is more is the turnout figure itself – at around 33% –  is by some margin the lowest of the modern political era. For most Midterm elections turnouts have hovered around 40% for the entire period since 1982. This sudden drop has also been sharpest amongst the demographic of young, more educated voters – the under thirties – the so-called Obama voters.

The Republicans therefore also did well in Gubernatorial races and here they have made a number of important gains which will doubtless help any General Election campaign in 2016. But, that said, it is the 2016 and the 2018 elections that will really matter as they will impact on re-districting which happens every ten years and which is why the Republicans currently have so many more members in the House of Representatives – through effective gerrymandering of constituency boundaries.

U.S.A. FlagIt is very significant than in California where boundaries are drawn up by an independent electoral commission the margin between the parties better reflects the number of votes cast for a party. It should be remembered that the Democrats won more votes in the House in 2012 though they won significantly fewer seats than the GOP. That has not been a situation that has long endured in the historical past. Eventually, the old demographic dog has always caught-up with the wayward political puppy. The GOP would be foolish to believe this election promises them the White House. They made that mistake in 2012.

In terms of electoral politics this particular election has favoured two important presidential hopefuls – Governor Christie of New Jersey was mastermind of this GOP victory. It has put him back into contention for the Republican nomination. Secondly, this result makes it much more likely that Hillary Clinton will take the plunge next time around. In 2008 – a time so lost in mists and mellow fruitlessness it seems another vintage entirely – Mrs Clinton racked up her primary victories in the blue-collar districts of the Blue states and the Red states. If the Democrats can hope to be competitive in those congressional districts in 2016 they will need a candidate who will speak to this voting group.

President Obama has been a better president than his critics have allowed but strangely for a man who communicated in such high-flown rhetoric in 2008 his has been a very inarticulate presidency. The best political speech of his period as president was delivered not by him but by dear old Bill Clinton at the nominating convention of 2012. And there Mrs Clinton has it – two former presidents who speak truth unto their respective core supporters and who both will be speaking up for her – Governor Christie will need to keep his famously short temper on a tight leash if he is to out-class Mrs Clinton.

This is a very personal drubbing for the President but Obama may craft the last laugh when the time comes in 2016…..

 

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