Tuesday, 31 January 2012

League Table NVQ

Looks like I’ve missed the boat in signing up for an NVQ in Football League Table Analysis. I was just about to nip down to the local college of further education to sign up when the news came through that the Government is axing or ‘downgrading’ a whole list of vocational courses. Secretary of State Michael Gove has announced that he is unhappy that some schools seem to be improving their standing in the GCSE league tables by including certain vocational qualifications and treating them as equivalent to a GCSE or four.

The media have been quick to plaster the front pages and bombard the airwaves with tales of thousands of courses in the likes of fish care and nail technology. Mention of these two courses is surprising given the prices people will pay for koi carp and how many nail boutiques there are on the average high street but I understand the concern.

However, there are plenty of young people who have benefited from studying vocational courses who might otherwise have struggled with the more traditional academic subjects. These courses have often been a valued route into a career or higher education. One of my young relatives, who found the traditional academic school route very challenging and is severely dyslexic, thrived on a vocational course which led to a good degree from a highly regarded university and then a career in an important U.K. industry. The initial course she took in animal husbandry is the type of course that is being held up for ridicule in support of the Secretary of State’s decision.

I’ve no problem with a more rigorous scrutiny of the courses offered by schools and how they are validated and accredited. The danger is that we throw the baby out with the bathwater or, as the prospectus might say, the child care course out with studies in centripetal evacuation of h2o from large ceramic containers.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Bishops bully Bullingdon boys

If I was Rowan Williams I think I would be rather flattered by the picture published by The Sun today. Rowan is portrayed as a Lenin type figure from the old communist propaganda posters and comes across as rather dashing in a The Matrix meets Dr Who sort of way.


The picture accompanies a rather silly article by Trevor Kavanagh in which he claims that the bishops have bullied the Government by opposing its proposed welfare cap legislation. Kavanagh is The Sun’s former political editor and the piece is fairly typical of the fare he churned out throughout his time at the newspaper. Here’s a taste of what he wrote:

WHEN unelected bishops use the House of Lords to bully an elected government, it is time to wonder not just at their monstrous cheek, but why they are there at all.
Last week, they sabotaged a £26,000-per-family welfare cap on the grounds that it was "too harsh".

Millions of Sun readers would give their eye teeth for an income like that — equal to £35,000 before tax. Indeed, since many struggle to bring up kids on a far smaller income, they want to know why the cap was set so generously high. So do respected anti- poverty campaigners including Labour MP Frank Field, despite party leader Ed Miliband's opportunistic bleating.
Parish priests, poor as church mice on £22,000 a year, also ask why their prelates are so generous with other people's money…
But the point is not simply that plump, well-fed bishops are so out of touch with modern Britain.
Anyone witnessing the empty pews on a Sunday morning can tell the Church of England has long lost its moral compass. It has abandoned the moral codes that bound its congregations, choosing to "understand" transgressors rather than upholding the Ten Commandments. It has nothing significant to say to 21st Century Christians about jobs, education or the economy. Rather than confront these crucial challenges, it ties itself in knots with sulphurous rows about gay marriage and women bishops.
Under Marxist Arch Druid Rowan Williams, the Church has deserted the ecclesiastical battlefield and surrendered to muscular Islam.
Kavanagh was not the only one to attack the bishops and he refers to an ill judged piece written for the Daily Mail by George Carey former  Archbishop of Canterbury. Last week Carey opined:
When the Church of England bishops voted against the Government’s proposal to cap welfare benefits at £26,000 a year, I have no doubt they did so because they believed it was their duty to speak up for the very poorest in society — especially those voiceless children who, through no fault of their own, might suffer as a result.
As the bishops pushed for an amendment to the Government cap which means that families can still claim £50,000 a year in benefits, they must have known the popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers. They also knew that the case for welfare reform had been persuasively made, even if they didn’t agree with it. Yet these five bishops — led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds — cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground.
I say ill judged because both Carey and Kavanagh have chosen to ignore one basic fact; the bishops did not oppose the Government’s proposal to cap welfare. What the bishops did do was propose an amendment so that Child Benefit was not included in the cap. In an excellent piece written in The Telegraph Tim Stevens the Bishop of Leicester responded to Carey’s criticism:
Though he ceased to be Archbishop of Canterbury nearly a decade ago, Lord Carey, as a life peer, is entitled to express his opinions on issues of national importance. But the point of debate in Parliament is that we listen to each others views before making up our minds. Many Peers last Monday were persuaded to support the Bishops’ amendment by the power of the arguments they heard. This makes it all the more disappointing to me that Lord Carey was not present to hear them.
Yet much of what Lord Carey had to say this week accords with the views of the Bishops. Firstly, I and most within the Church have supported the principle of a reduction in the welfare budget. We have listened carefully to the arguments that a cap on benefits is necessary, even if we retain concerns about its application.
Secondly, we did not vote against the cap itself, even if we have questions about the principle. We agree wholeheartedly that work is the best route out of poverty and that reducing state dependency is an overall necessity. On all that we agree.
However, I disagree profoundly with the Government’s and Lord Carey’s view that our action in the Lords was about prolonging a culture of welfare dependency, or the implication that increased material poverty for some is a price worth paying to alleviate what some have described as the poverty of aspiration. Like others in the Church, I see the real effects of poverty on families and communities in my own diocese on a regular basis.
Child Benefit has always been a benefit paid to working and non-working families. It has not previously been means-tested and is payable to the main carer, to help with the cost of having children. For many it is a lifeline. And like access to the NHS, it has long been a central plank of this country’s universalist approach to social security. That universalism is now being eroded.
Much has been made of the principle of fairness in access to state support. But is it fair to children that a two earner family of any size with a household income in excess of £80,000 a year could still receive Child Benefit from the Government, yet under the welfare plans a child born to a large family with a benefit income of £26,000 would receive no financial support?
The Bishops’ amendment simply sought to exclude Child Benefit from the cap, to ensure that some financial support is still provided for each of the estimated 220,000 children who might otherwise be adversely affected.
Exempting Child Benefit will help prevent many children falling into serious poverty and could protect against family break up, or even homelessness.
This is hardly the raging of a group of Marxist militants seeking to destroy an elected Government. It is the reasoned argument of a small group of bishops who persuaded a majority in the House of Lords to support their amendment. Of course this has not stopped Kavanagh and his mates in the press railing against the bishops despite the fact that their basic premise is false, but then when has The Sun and The Daily Mail allowed the facts to get in the way of a good rant?

There was one journalist who went out of her way to stick up for the bishops. Victoria Coren wrote a piece in The Observer commenting on a Question Time discussion about the bishops and their amendment and commented:
The issue of the bishops blocking a benefit cap in the House of Lords was debated by everyone, on the panel and in the audience, purely in terms of whether or not they agreed with the "rebels". This reflects the way the story has been reported and discussed generally. It is as though the country has become so atheist, it has actually forgotten that bishops are men of God and the gospels.
They are talked about as rich men with no idea that £26,000 is a fortune for some, or leftie men being typically obstructive, or naive men who don't realise the coffers are empty, but never as Christian men who are perhaps just trying to say what they think Jesus would have said. I'm not saying I agree with them. I do think the benefits cap argument is riddled with false logic, and the surrounding debate pernicious when it encourages the working poor to blame their struggles on the non-working poorer, rather than, say, greedy banking practice and the governments that pave its way.
On the other hand, I'm as frightened as anyone by the idea of generations growing up who have never known waged income, or who might actually choose a life on welfare over an attempt to look for work. I'm not immune to a shudder at the thought of people sitting on their fat arses in front of Jeremy Kyle on the flatscreen, sharing a KFC bucket with their pit-bull half-breed, thumping their step-children and drinking my tax money.
But I'm not a bishop. It doesn't matter whether I think they're right or wrong; I think it's their job to do what the Bible tells them to do, ie look out for the needy, like the innocent children on whose behalf they raised the amendment, who might otherwise get lost.
The right-wing press that is so angry with the bishops has been complaining for years that Christianity (for better or worse, our national religion) is too weak and small a voice, that its values are not fought for. Now it's happening, they hate it. I think the problem they've got is that the New Testament, if read as an economic tract, is innately rather socialist. It's all sharey-sharey. Jesus wanted everyone to get a bit of bread and fish. He was all about the divvying up and the helping one's neighbour. So, if Christianity is going to make itself heard on tax-and-spend policies, it has got to lean towards spreading the spoils around.
There's not much the bishops can do about that. Their hands are tied. The gospels say what they say. If their lordships wanted to support the idea that handing out bread and fish is bad for people because it demotivates them from doing their own baking and fishing, they'd really have to leave the pulpit and get a job on a tabloid.
Contrast what Coren wrote with Carey's pension padding piece for The Daily Mail. In summing up the debate I leave the last word with her:
For the health of the debate, and fully to reflect the range of national opinion, it is vital that some people argue vehemently for reductions in welfare, or even the complete abolition of handouts. But it would be bloody terrifying if the church were among them.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Ditching the Redeemer

Yesterday I attended the Consecration of John Wraw as Bishop of Bradwell and Tim Dakin as Bishop of Winchester at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a great service with a powerful and challenging sermon from Stephen Cottrell the Bishop of Chelmsford. The hymns were traditional and predictable but I didn’t have a problem until it came to the offertory hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns. As we sang the last verse things didn’t seem quite right and my mate Graham Tomlin standing next to me identified the problem; the words of the last verse had been changed. Here’s the original:
Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.
And here is what replaced it in the service:
Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
Glassed in a sea of light, Where everlasting waves
Reflect his throne – the Infinite! Who lives – and loves – and saves.
So why have we ditched the Redeemer? I can only assume its because the original words smack of an atonement theology the cathedral authorities or whoever drew up the service feel uncomfortable with. If that’s the case then why did we keep the opening verse?
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
I’m getting a bit fed up of all the tinkering going on with hymns at various services I attend. Our own cathedral in Chelmsford changes the lines of In Christ Alone because of the unease with the ‘Wrath of God’ in the original. Apart from it probably being a copyright infringement I can’t help wondering why we sing it if people are uncomfortable with the lyrics.

Looking at the new ending for Crown Him I'm really not sure what it means. The original speaks of Christ being praised for eternity because of all that he has done for us. The new version sounds like a discarded Beatles song from their LSD phase.

Anyway, I’m praying for our new bishop John Wraw and for Tim Dakin as he takes up his ministry in Winchester and I’ll carry on praising the Redeemer and leave others to wallow in the everlasting waves.

John Wraw

Update: I am grateful to the Archdruid for doing some research for me (see comments). It turns out that the last verse we sang is the original version of that verse which has since been amended over the years. The song has a long history, coloured by a bit of catholic / protestant rivalry and there is a brief summary posted here. I still think this version is bordering on the nonsensical and don't know why it was chosen over the much more familiar and I would suggest theologically accessible 'redeemer' version.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

It’s Wikid

Unfortunately this morning’s blog post is cancelled due to discovering the following when I fired up the PC:


For the full story check out The Beaker Folk article Rest for the Wiki. At least there is one reliable source still available for information about the real world.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

speed dial

A BBC producer has left their mobile phone on the train and inspection of the speed dial has revealed the following settings:
  1. Andrew Green & Migration Watch – anything to do with ‘foreigners’.
  2. Stephen Green & Christian Voice – religion and sex.
  3. Antony Worrall Thompson – food (now deleted).
  4. Jeremy Clarkson – cars and slow news days.
  5. Brian Cox – anything amazing about science.
  6. Kirsty Allsopp – housing and homes.
  7. Robbie Savage – football and dancing.
  8. Trevor Kavanagh – press and politics.
  9. empty – showbiz (Simon Cowell has long since stopped returning calls).

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Can’t find my way home

Still a stunning melody from a consummate musician.

The tone of Winwood’s guitar is so rich and the fire cracking in the background is perfect. The smile at the end says it all.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

the return

The injury ravaged club is experiencing a crisis as their depleted squad enters the most important part of the season. And so, in the spirit of selfless service and following the example of Paul (he scores goals) Scholes and Thierry (why use your foot when you can use your hand) Henry, I am delighted to announce that I am coming out of retirement. I will be offering my services to my old club Highwood Badgers and though my legs have gone and I can’t see without glasses I expect to play a holding (the opponent) midfield role. My range of Sat Nav passes remains undiminished as I spread the ball around the back garden and unerringly hit every mound of dog mess; my finishing remains deadly from two inches out with the goal keeper unconscious and I can just about squeeze into an extra large old nylon replica shirt.

On second thoughts, why settle for second best? I think I’ll stand for the office of Prime Minister and follow in the high kicking footsteps of the legend that is Eric (Le Roi) Cantona.

Friday, 6 January 2012


It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A  pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.

Malcolm Guite’s first sonnet for Epiphany. Malcolm explains the background to the composition of the sonnet on his blog.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

3V: rip off Britain alive and well

When I left my last job in April I received some very generous gifts including a 3V Visa internet shopping gift card. I didn’t get round to using the card until before Christmas when I went on line to activate it. Today I went to my 3V account to check the balance in preparation for using the card for a couple of on line purchases. I was staggered to discover that £4 had been deducted as an ‘account maintenance fee’ by 3V. On checking the terms and conditions of the card I discovered this little gem:
A fee of £2 per month will be deducted from the
Available Balance in each of the 3 calendar months
after the 9th month of purchase of the 3V Visa
Internet Shopping Gift Card and prior to expiry.
I wonder if the person who purchased the card was aware that the company would be deducting these amounts until the balance was used up or the card expired? I suspect not. What justification can the company have for these charges, after all they are getting the interest from the funds on the card until it is used? The blurb on their site boasts that they don’t have interest charges.

I’ve made some purchases and cleared out the balance before they get their grubby mitts on another £2. 3V Visa numbers are issued by Raphaels Bank and why was I not surprised to learn that their founder made his dosh during the Napoleonic wars?

My advice is don’t go near these cards; they are one more example of the way in which certain financial institutions are ripping off the unwary public.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

graceful harmonics

Enjoy the awesome harmonics in this brilliant version of Amazing Grace by bass virtuoso Victor Wooten.

Monday, 2 January 2012

dying trees

I read a couple of comments on Twitter this morning about dying Christmas trees. Graham Tomlin commented:
4 days left of Christmas. Tree looking a bit droopy. Not sure it will make it. May need to be put out of its misery.
Michael Owen also tweeted with accompanying picture:
It has served us well but it's old and saggy now and ready to go! (cue the comparison jokes!!!)
This got me thinking about our own tree which is beginning to droop but should make it through until Twelfth Night. I’m a big fan of having a real tree as a Christmas tree and never liked those fake plastic jobs that my family used to have. I enjoy the ritual of choosing the tree and this year we went for something smaller as we’ve moved and don’t have as much room. I also like the way that no two trees are the same and that although they give a first appearance of symmetry they have awkward branches that keep springing out of shape.

I think Jane Williams was on to something when she observed:
Part of the charm of the Christmas tree is exactly that power to evoke the strange and wonderful. Simply by being a tree, yet indoors, it speaks of the fact that ordinary rules do not apply during Christmas. The outside world is brought inside, or perhaps the inside world is shared with the outside – who knows which is the right description? Either way, as we deck the tree, we are celebrating a time when barriers are dissolved, when we can see magic in the ordinary…
I do wonder whether part of the reason that our trees are struggling to make it through to the end of Christmas, which Graham rightly reminds us still has a few days left, is that we are tempted to put them up too early. Perhaps if we started celebrating Christmas after Advent rather than half way through it our decorations may not look so stale.

However, there is something theologically important about Christmas decorations deteriorating and dying. The drooping tree, browning holly and wilting mistletoe remind us that Christmas engages with a real world which includes decay and death. I read about a chap who so enjoys Christmas that he celebrates it every day: decorations; full Christmas dinner; presents and all the other trimmings. Sadly, he’s missed the point, which is not to stand still preserving a moment in time but to live life in the light of the Christmas story and all that it signifies.

Perhaps the dying decorations also remind us that we have to allow the Christ child to grow up and eventually to set his face towards Jerusalem; the place of suffering and death on an Easter tree.