Friday, October 31, 2008


the awful deadMelancholicus is not sure which day he despises most—St. Patrick’s day (March 17, and a holy day of obligation in the dioceses of Ireland), or today, Hallowe’en.

Both days are—at least in their origins—religious festivals of unimpeachable character. But their celebration today has been robbed of all recognisably Christian content, whereat they are perverted to the level of bacchanalia in a spectacle of which words such as ‘orgiastic’, ‘frenzy’ and ‘excess’ would not be an unfitting description.

The feast of St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland c. 500 A.D., is today an occasion for inebriation of a kind to which even the drunken Irish are unaccustomed. The so-called “St. Patrick’s Day Parade” held in Dublin (and mimicked elsewhere throughout the country) has nothing to do with St. Patrick, or with the coming to Ireland of the light of the Christian faith, but is an unedifying spectacle reminiscent of Mardi Gras and (public nudity excepted) with a similar degree of wild abandon. The only remaining religious aspect of the day is the Mass, but even this has been infiltrated by the same kind of trivialising frivolity that has given us enormities such as green beer in the pubs and green milkshakes at McDonalds. Melancholicus has even seen the liturgical abuse of green vestments being worn during the celebration of the saint’s Mass.

But enough of poor St. Patrick, and the degradation to which celebration of his feast has sunk, for today is your blogger’s other most hated day.

The name Halloween (more properly Hallowe’en) is a contraction of All Hallows’ Even, namely the vigil of the feast of All Saints (1 November). Melancholicus traditionally celebrates Hallowe’en by reciting First Vespers of All Saints, after which he pours himself a double gin and tonic, then enjoys his dinner and—external factors permitting—relaxes by the fire. He has no time for the neo-pagan mummery now associated with Hallowe’en, or for the glut of horror films typically shown on the television, nor for the pagan apologetics and sympathetic publicizing in the media of hazards like wicca, and he has absolutely no time whatever for the frenzied youths that run wild, shoving matchboxes filled with excrement through people’s letterboxes, or inserting fireworks up the exhaust pipes of parked cars (or even in the fuel pipe in an attempt to ignite the contents of the tank), or hurling explosives at those unlucky enough to be compelled by their employment to be out in public on this night.

The association of Hallowe’en with the preternatural world is in its origin Celtic, since 1 November is Samain, which begins the dark half of the year and functions as a kind of Celtic new year’s day. What makes Samain particularly auspicious (or inauspicious, as the case may be) is that it is a junture of particular importance. In the Celtic reckoning of time, it was not days and nights that were regarded as particularly important with respect to the preternatural, but the divisions between them. Boundaries between different places were invested with a similar significance for the same reason. According to this belief, one is most likely to encounter a ghost not at night, but at dusk, since dusk is the boundary between night and day. Similarly, one may meet with greatest misfortune at the boundary between this world and the síd (otherworld), rather than in either one or the other.

So the eve of Samain is a juncture of particular danger, because many different boundaries co-incide at once. Once the sun has set but before darkness has fallen completely, it is neither day nor night; we are neither in the light half nor in the dark; we are neither in the old year nor in the new. At such times the boundaries between this world and the other are blurred, the tides of chaos are loosed and preternatural forces have free play with the world of men. Hence the origin of the association of Hallowe’en with ghosts and spectres and hauntings and that sort of thing.

This night is indeed a night of horror, but not owing to Celtic superstitions; Melancholicus is far more concerned about a potential confrontation with those who walk on two legs in a living body than with the spirits of the dead. It is prudent to keep an eye on one’s car until the chaotics have gone home to bed and the nocturnal fracas has died away. If one has a household pet such as a dog or a cat, one MUST keep the animal indoors on this night; dogs, particularly, with their amplified sense of hearing, suffer great distress on being exposed to the noise of fireworks (which, incidentally, are illegal in this country, but the law is in no wise enforced). The chaotics have been known to throw smaller animals onto bonfires, deriving a sick amusement from such cruelty. Other animals have had fireworks strapped to their bodies, or inserted into their orifices. This is the busiest night of the year for the emergency services; the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance service (and doubtless the ISPCA) will be kept going all night.

The celebration of Hallowe’en was not always so lawless and fraught with peril; it used to be, as recently as Melancholicus’ childhood, a gentle evening of fun and entertainment (with mild scariness) for the benefit of children. Today it has been taken over by the yob element, whom one cannot safely ask to move on elsewhere, never mind remonstrate, for fear—literally—of being killed. I do not exaggerate.

Excess is tolerated in our society, and from some avenues even positively encouraged.

This is the fruit of social inversion.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just married

Heartiest congratulations and felcitations to Éamonn and Leah, two fellow bloggers, who were married (to each other, no less) on this day.

Melancholicus has been advised by the groom that the time between an engagement and the ensuing wedding passes very quickly; this is encouraging, since he is impatient with waiting for his own wedding next July.

But enough of that! Melancholicus thought that to celebrate this day he would present the happy couple with a brief resumé of events the anniversaries of which co-incide with that of their wedding:

  • 637 - Antioch surrenders to Muslim forces under Rashidun Caliphate after the Battle of Iron bridge.

  • 1137 - Battle of Rignano between Ranulf of Apulia and Roger II of Sicily.

  • 1270 - The Eighth Crusade and siege of Tunis end by an agreement between Charles I of Sicily (brother to King Louis IX of France, who had died months earlier) and the sultan of Tunis.

  • 1340 - Battle of Rio Salado.

  • 1470 - Henry VI of England returns to the English throne after Earl of Warwick defeats the Yorkists in battle.

  • 1485 - Henry VII of England is crowned.

  • 1501 - Ballet of Chestnuts - a banquet held by Cesare Borgia in the Papal Palace where fifty prostitutes or courtesans were in attendance for the entertainment of the guests.

  • 1502 - Vasco da Gama returns to Calicut for the second time.

  • 1831 - In Southampton County, Virginia, escaped slave Nat Turner is captured and arrested for leading the bloodiest slave rebellion in United States history.

  • 1863 - Danish Prince Wilhelm arrives in Athens to assume his throne as George I, King of the Hellenes.

  • 1864 - Second war of Schleswig ends. Denmark renounces all claim to Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg, which come under Prussian and Austrian administration.

  • 1864 - Helena, Montana is founded after four prospectors discover gold at “Last Chance Gulch”.

  • 1894 - Domenico Melegatti obtains a patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially.

  • 1905 - Czar Nicholas II of Russia grants Russia’s first constitution, creating a legislative assembly.

  • 1918 - The Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies, ending the First World War in the Middle East.

  • 1920 - The Communist Party of Australia is founded in Sydney.

  • 1922 - Benito Mussolini is made Prime Minister of Italy.

  • 1925 - John Logie Baird creates Britain’s first television transmitter.

  • 1929 - The Stuttgart Cable Car is constructed in Stuttgart, Germany.

  • 1938 - Orson Welles broadcasts his radio play of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, causing anxiety in some of the audience in the United States.

  • 1941 - World War II: Franklin Delano Roosevelt approves U.S. $1 billion in Lend-Lease aid to the Allied nations.

  • 1941 - 1,500 Jews from Pidhaytsi (in western Ukraine) are sent by Nazis to Belzec extermination camp.

  • 1944 - Anne Frank and sister Margot Frank are deported from Auschwitz to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

  • 1945 - Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs signs a contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers to break the baseball color barrier.

  • 1947 - The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which is the foundation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is founded.

  • 1950 - Pope Pius XII witnesses “The Miracle of the Sun” while at the Vatican.

  • 1953 - Cold War: U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally approves the top secret document National Security Council Paper No. 162/2, which states that the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons must be maintained and expanded to counter the communist threat.

  • 1960 - Michael Woodruff performs the first successful kidney transplant in the United Kingdom at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

  • 1961 - Nuclear testing: The Soviet Union detonates the hydrogen bomb Tsar Bomba over Novaya Zemlya; at 58 megatons of yield, it is still the largest explosive device ever detonated, nuclear or otherwise. Nikita Kruschev announces that the scientists had planned to make it 100 megatons, but had reduced the yield to reduce fallout over the Soviet Union.

  • 1961 - Because of “violations of Lenin’s precepts”, it is decreed that Joseph Stalin’s body be removed from its place of honour inside Lenin’s tomb and buried near the Kremlin wall with a plain granite marker instead.

  • 1965 - Vietnam War: Just miles from Da Nang, United States Marines repel an intense attack by wave after wave of Viet Cong forces, killing 56 guerrillas. Among the dead, a sketch of Marine positions was found on the body of a 13-year-old Vietnamese boy who sold drinks to the Marines the day before.

  • 1970 - In Vietnam, the worst monsoon to hit the area in six years causes large floods, kills 293, leaves 200,000 homeless and virtually halts the Vietnam War.

  • 1972 - A collision between two commuter trains in Chicago, Illinois kills 45 and injures 332.

  • 1973 - The Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey is completed, connecting the continents of Europe and Asia over the Bosporus for the first time.

  • 1974 - The Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman takes place in Kinshasa, Zaire.

  • 1975 - Prince Juan Carlos becomes Spain's acting head of state, taking over from the country’s ailing dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco.

  • 1980 - El Salvador and Honduras sign a peace treaty to put the border dispute fought over in 1969’s “Football War” before the International Court of Justice.

  • 1983 - The first democratic elections in Argentina after seven years of military rule are held.

  • 1985 - Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off for mission STS-61-A, its final successful mission.

  • 1987 - In Japan, NEC releases the first 16-bit home entertainment system, the TurboGrafx-16, known as PC Engine.

  • 1988 - Philip Morris buys Kraft Foods for U.S. $13.1 billion.

  • 1991 - The Madrid Conference for Middle East peace talks opens.

  • 1995 - Quebec sovereignists narrowly lose a referendum for a mandate to negotiate independence from Canada (vote was 50.6% to 49.4%).

  • 2000 – The last Multics machine is shut down.

  • 2002 - British Digital terrestrial television (DTT) Service Freeview begins transmitting in parts of the United Kingdom.

  • 2005 - The rebuilt Dresden Frauenkirche (destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II) is reconsecrated after a thirteen-year rebuilding project.

Thanks to the wonderful convenience that is Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

With not even a trace of irony

Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 this morning featured an interview with a 105 year old spinster, who not only never married, but remained a virgin her whole life.

Like a true modern, the interviewess was amazed that anyone could go for so long without sexual congress, and that her subject had no regrets whatever. How horizons have shrunk in this brave new age!

The maenads then introduced a single mother who after a string of broken relationships embraced celibacy, and who discoursed on how empowering her experience of celibacy has been. Whereat all and sundry sang the praises of celibacy and lauded it as a magnificent virtue that gave rise to all sorts of wholesome benefits. It was even remarked that celibates lived longer and were healthier and happier than those who were not.

Melancholicus does not ever remember hearing the state of celibacy being treated with such awe and admiration on BBC radio.

Those who have been called by God either to the service of the altar or to the cloister voluntarily renounce the possibility of marriage and of sexual intimacy with another person. They remain in the celibate state, that they might more effectively order their lives and give themselves to prayer and works of mercy.

Yet their celibacy is regarded by the likes of the BBC not with awe and admiration, but with ridicule, derision and relentless critical hostility. It is even claimed that their celibacy has warped their psychology, even to the extent of turning ordinary decent men into compulsive child molesters.

Celibacy in the service of God, it seems, is an evil thing; whereas celibacy in the service of oneself is a virtue.

At least that is the opinion of the BBC.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A new low

Is Britain determined to destroy itself?

Perhaps not, but the currently ensconced Labour government seems to be hell-bent on doing so.

From Yahoo! news:

'Give young children sex education'

Primary school children should get basic sex education, a Government review is expected to find.

The study is likely to recommend a shake-up of lessons to combat concerns that current teaching of the subject in England is too patchy.

Schools minister Jim Knight is due to present the findings later, as well as the Government's responses.

The review is expected to say that sex education should be compulsory in all schools.

This could include teaching young children basic classes on the human body and relationships, with more detailed information being given as a child moves up through school.

Last week Mr Knight told MPs he had received "strong recommendations" for making sex education compulsory in all schools but said it had to be done without "sexualising young people too early".

International evidence suggests that teaching certain aspects of sex and relationship education before puberty has a "positive effect" on issues like teenage pregnancy, Mr Knight said.

Britain has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe and figures suggest rising numbers of young people are catching sexually transmitted diseases.

Current rules say pupils must be taught the biological facts of reproduction, usually in science classes, and every school must have a sex education policy.

But there is no statutory requirement for teaching about relationships and the social and emotional side of sexual behaviour.

Although Melancholicus is a teacher, at least part-time, his charges are not children but young adults (with a sprinkling of mature students older than himself). Since he is not yet married, he has no children of his own. Consequently he has no experience of dealing with primary school age children other than his memories of having been one himself about thirty years ago.

He would like to know more about the state of innocence (or lack thereof) that Catholic primary school teachers find in their charges, and the degree to which they may have been corrupted by the moral and cultural degradation of our society, a degradation more advanced today than when Melancholicus was in primary school circa 1980.

One thing at least is certain: it is unnecessary to disturb young children with lessons detailing sexual acts which will only confuse and frighten them. Melancholicus’ own innocence was preserved until puberty, as was right; and, having had the mechanics of sexual intercourse explained to him experienced a certain sense of significant discovery, almost a rite of passage, and felt privileged to be growing up. But his brother and sister (both younger) discovered the facts of life about the age of nine or ten, before they were ready, one through the accident of watching daytime TV (!), the other through the ministrations of some ‘expert’ invited for that purpose to visit her (Catholic) school.

Both, incidentally, were shocked and disgusted by their discoveries, as one can only expect from children of that age.

The story quoted above finishes with an observation which, though particularly telling regarding the thoughtlessness of this Labour government, nonetheless fails to mention that there is also a moral dimension to the exercise of human sexuality in addition to “the social and emotional side”.

There is only one potentially positive aspect to this story. It is impossible to live in western society and not be aware of the omnipresence of sexuality and eroticism in books, in magazines, in advertising, on the radio, on the television, on the internet, everywhere in fact, not excluding shop windows on the high street. Ostensibly family programmes on both radio and television broadcast well before the watershed may contain some quite advanced sexual content (BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live has trespassed more than once in this area—and it is aired on Saturday mornings between 9 and 10am). Consequently, it is not a source for wonderment that children growing up today are by and large much more knowledgeable about sexual matters than Melancholicus’ generation was in the 1970s. An increasing proportion of today’s children have been sexualised early anyway, and may often be more knowledgeable about adult matters than their years would warrant. If there is to be early discussion of sex in schools at all, it ought best to focus not on explicit depictions of popular sexual acts (many of which are little more than perversions anyway) but on attempting to inculcate a sound moral sense in these young souls, and a reverential respect for persons of the opposite sex and for what is one of God’s greatest gifts to fallen man.

But of course Melancholicus is dreaming. This Labour government will certainly not attempt to impart a responsible and moral approach towards human sexuality in those children already sexualised early by exposure to inappropriate media, much less ever mention God or recommend abstinence until marriage. No, it will prefer instead to go to great lengths (and expense) to instruct young innocents of both sexes how best to utilise this or that contraceptive device, or to perform this or that sexual act, even to the extent of the “homosexual technique” mentioned in this famous episode of Yes, Prime Minister:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whither the Daily Service?

Confound and blast the wretched BBC!

Melancholicus has never thought much of the level of religious programming aired by the BBC, but he has always derived a certain spiritual comfort from listening to the Daily Service broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (LW) between 9:45 and 10am on weekdays.

This service—typically but not exclusively Anglican—consists of a series of prayers, reflections, Scripture reading and some lovely traditional hymns. The Lord’s Prayer is usually recited. While listening, one can close one’s eyes and imagine the interior of one of those countless beautiful English churches, with their medieval architecture, Victorian stained glass and their rows of BCPs and English Hymnals. Unusually for a religious programme broadcast by the BBC, the service is regularly edifying (although often sandwiched by the schedule between the impious, arrogant, pompous and opinionated Melvyn Bragg on the one hand and the equally egregious Woman’s Hour on the other).

But of late the content of the Daily Service has taken a noticeable turn for the worse. Recently we had the vicarette who explained away all of Our Lord’s exorcisms recorded in the gospels as simply the curing of people afflicted with “mental illness”, thus denying the reality of demonic possession, and in effect denying the very existence of wicked spirits. It is all very well to draw attention to mental health issues, but one must not falsify the testimony of Scripture in order to do so. Besides, is there nowhere else in the Radio 4 schedule in which the issue of mental health could be raised, than the Daily Service?

The devil has no better allies than Christian ministers who go out of their way to deny he exists. A day later there was the foolish Canon who interpreted the spirit that had afflicted the bent woman in Luke 13 as “a crippling psychological burden”. Psychological burden! While it is true that grave mental anxiety can have such an effect on the body, this kind of rationalisation is ridiculous and succeeds only in calling attention to itself and to the minister’s discomfort with the plain words of the Biblical text. This silly man also made a reference to “the spirit blowing where she wills”, whereafter Melancholicus heard no more, since his thumb flew post haste to the off switch. While he has heard a few fairly iffy Daily Services over the years, this is the first time on which he resolutely tuned out before the programme had finished.

And this morning there was a Welsh minister, whether Anglican or non-comformist Melancholicus cannot recall, but the service led by this man would have gone down a treat at a socialist meet. He claimed his faith didn’t make any sense until he began linking it with the emancipation of the poor and the working class. His service, naturally, featured ‘inculturated’ Zulu singing, socio-political reflections that were thoroughly this-worldly, Pelagian and all about works (is such not passing strange for a minister from a Reformed background?). Almighty God was very much in the background. Insofar as He made an appearance at all, Our Lord’s mission was all about merely improving the material condition of the poor, something any socialist could rave about; one could be forgiven for thinking as a result that the Incarnation was nothing to do with redemption from sin and attaining to everlasting life. With a sigh, Melancholicus switched off the radio. He had expected an edifying service of prayers and hymns, not fifteen minutes of marxist agitprop.

One wonders if the BBC is attempting to bring the hitherto unmistakably Christian Daily Service into line with what we might call ‘BBC religion’, even to the extent that it shall contain nothing that could be considered ‘exclusivist’, or offensive to persons of non-Christian religions; or, on the other hand, whether the degradation of the content of the service merely reflects the continuing decomposition of the Church of England, since the established church provides most of the ministers who conduct the service. Melancholicus wonders who picks these ministers, and whether they are vetted beforehand, so that the BBC may rest safe in the knowledge that they will not use their fifteen minutes of air time to utter some similitude hostile to the dogma of political correctness, or to infer that Christianity might actually be the true religion after all.

The BBC even has a page on the history of the Daily Service here, and a gallery of images therefrom here. Both are worth a look.

But this article by Paul Donovan in the Sunday Times on the occasion of the Daily Service’s 80th anniversary in December of last year is much more illuminating as regards the current trajectory of this much-loved programme:

Faithful service

Radio Waves
Paul Donovan

Hidden away on Radio 4 long wave (though still important enough to interrupt the cricket, as listeners to Test Match Special in Sri Lanka will have noticed) is a 15-minute programme called Daily Service. It consists of hymns, prayers, a Bible reading and a homily. On Wednesday, it is 80 years old. This extraordinary span is exceeded only by Choral Evensong and Radio 4’s Sunday-morning charity appeal, both of which began in 1926. In addition, Daily Service marked the first point in history when daily corporate worship was extended to people, unseen and unknown, who had not physically gathered together for that purpose.

There is one tiny sentence about the anniversary in the vast, 272-page Radio Times, the same in the official listings, and nothing in the press information bulletin. Twenty years ago, when Daily Service celebrated 60 years of “bringing peace and consolation to the sick, the lonely and the sad”, in the words of its founder, the BBC produced an excellent souvenir booklet with much enthusiastic input from its then head of religious broadcasting; this time, so far as I can tell, his successor has said not a word, at least not publicly. How much has changed in 20 years.

Is the BBC suffering from “Nativity-play syndrome”, the misplaced belief that non-Christian religions will object to too much emphasis on Christianity, a view that has been so effectively demolished by Trevor Phillips?

Possibly. But I detect something more: a slight but increasing nervousness in the BBC about the legality and morality of spending public money on one religion at the expense of others. Let there be no doubt that this is what the BBC does: in addition to Daily Service, every weekday, we also have Prayer for the Day (not to be confused with Thought for the Day) and Sunday Worship on Radio 4, Sunday Half Hour on Radio 2, Choral Evensong on Radio 3 and, on BBC1, Songs of Praise. All of these are ecumenical, but specifically Christian. No other faith is accorded this airtime.

Some of us have no problem with that: Britain is a Christian country, whose head of state is also head of a church established by law, and whose legislature still has 26 Christian priests sitting in it as of right; and the BBC, as the state broadcaster, should reflect that. But I fear that is becoming a minority view, and that more people now think of Britain as a “multifaith” country, in which case it is difficult to defend a publicly funded body supporting only one religion in terms of the hours devoted to worship. Indeed, many BBC bosses — and its own corporate literature — frequently refer to “multifaith” Britain. Sooner or later, I suspect, they will be asked to justify giving this platform to Christianity in preference to other faiths.

Until then, and perhaps afterwards, we can take heart from a corner of the schedules that would not exist had it not been for an indefatigable Hertfordshire spinster, Kathleen Cordeux, whom I quote above. She pestered the BBC for two years to start the programme, arguing her case, getting a petition up and having an appeal printed. She was the most persistent letter-writer the fledgling BBC had ever encountered. An early example of listener power! How much we owe her, and her determination.

Indeed. But even if the BBC does not go so far as to axe the service altogether, Melancholicus fears that the hip’n’trendy C of E ministers currently chosen to lead the service may still end up killing it with relevance.

Term (reprise)

Here at the university, we are now—Deo gratias—half way through the first semester. Term is always a trial; it calls for much patience and the exercise of heroic virtue.

It shouldn’t be like that, but it is; and right now, Melancholicus could not be less motivated.

Melancholicus was tardy in his rising this morning, and consequently arrived on campus after nine o’clock. A good deal after nine o’clock, if the truth be told. He then spent a most unhappy hour wasting precious petrol and clocking up unnecessary miles on his car circumnavigating the campus in a vain search for somewhere—anywhere!—to park. In the end he found somewhere well off campus, involving a twenty-minute walk back to campus and the same twenty-minute walk to his car again when he shall have finished his day’s labour this evening. Let us hope that it won’t be raining.

It is a sad truth that if one has any business at this institution one must arrive on campus well before nine if one wishes to park one’s car, since (owing to the economic prosperity of recent times) every undergraduate and his or her flatmate now has a car. Not a few otherwise penniless students seem to drive cars much bigger and faster than what Melancholicus can afford to drive himself. On Tuesday Melancholicus beheld a bleach-blond and track-suited student parking a 2007 VW Golf. Those cars don’t come cheap—they can be up to or over €30,000 depending on engine size and trimmings. How could the fellow have afforded such, unless he is the son of Daddy Rich? Melancholicus drives a 2006 KIA Picanto, a much smaller, less powerful and less ostentatious vehicle; it is his first car, for he could never have afforded to drive when he was himself a student and had to depend instead on the likes of this. Melancholicus’ idea of a student car used to be a twelve-year old, third-hand, three-door Fiat with missing hubcaps, faded paintwork and a myriad dents and scratches, yet not a few turn up to their lectures driving gleaming new or nearly new Alfa Romeos, Audis, Toyota Corollas and Volkswagens.

Such is the struggle for parking spaces on campus, and the refusal of the authorities to implement a workable parking permit system (for fear of the reaction from the Students’ Union?), that yesterday Melancholicus travelled to work by bus—and in the process was rudely reminded of all the reasons why he stopped using the bus in the first place. Speaking of buses, he recently discovered that Dublin Bus refuses to serve the campus after 8pm, owing to the danger presented to the transit company’s staff by the hordes of drunk and disorderly students that roam the campus each evening, a danger which recently resulted in at least one assault.

Even at the university we are witnessing the results of the breakdown of society and the disintegration of social mores owing to the reluctance of modern parents to put much effort into the raising of their offspring.

The recent downturn in the economy has prompted the Irish government to consider the re-introduction of fees for third-level education. Needless to say, the students are not happy about this proposal. Third-level education has been technically free in this country since 1995. Melancholicus did not benefit from this abolition of fees, since he graduated in 1993, but his sister did, and so has nearly everyone who entered a third-level institution since then. The then minister for educaction Noel Demspey attempted to re-introduce fees in 2002, whereat students marched in protest, and in 2003 Mr. Dempsey was compelled to admit defeat. In the same year, a report revealed that—interestingly—only 20% of school-leavers from the lowest income bracket went on to university, compared with 97% of school-leavers from more privileged backgrounds.

So we can see who it is really that has benefited most from the abolition of fees, and that Noel Dempsey had the right idea.

The abolition of fees has had two principal effects: it has greatly increased the amount of ready cash at students’ disposal (not always a good thing—students, like the clergy, should be poor), and it has inculcated an attitude of relaxed carelessness among many. For if education is free, there is not much incentive to study hard and win top marks; there is, in fact, very little incentive to pass at all—the dropout can do his thing with a clear conscience, knowing that he will not be accountable to parents or benefactors displeased at the wasting of their money, and knowing he can always go back to study at any time. College becomes one long party, in which the student can save his money for recreational activities and devote himself to bedding as many similarly empty-headed young women as he can manage to seduce. And at the end of it all he will graduate with a degree hardly worth the parchment whereon it is printed, for the abolition of fees has led necessarily to extensive cutbacks and educational dumbing-down. Once upon a time, a degree was the distinction conferred upon a student who showed the required academic aptitude throughout a rigorous course of so many years’ study. Today, graduating with a degree is taken almost entirely for granted; only the spectacularly useless, the terribly unlucky, those with serious problems of one sort or another, or those who choose to withdraw will leave the university without one.

Yesterday, a student protest against the re-introduction of fees took place outside Leinster House, necessitating the presence of the Gardaí, since if students are prepared to act boorishly when out enjoying themselves, they will surely act boorishly when angrily protesting in large numbers.

Melancholicus did not attend the protest, even as an observer; he was teaching at the time, and was quite impressed to notice that the protest seemed not to impact on the levels of attendance at his lecture. But he would not have attended the protest anyway, for Melancholicus welcomes the re-introduction of fees, and hopes that the Irish government will have sufficient gumption to stick to its guns and not be intimidated by the prospect of ensuing unpopularity or the aggressive bawling of students and other leftists.

It is alleged that the re-introduction of fees will discriminate against students from lower economic backgrounds. It need not do so; fees might be imposed only on the fat cats—those who can afford to provide their sons and daughters with brand-new VW Golfs and suchlike. Working-class students could be exempted. We have already seen that the clear majority of students, even in these days of free education, are of middle-class extraction anyway; they are protesting, not (as they might pretend) on behalf of their less-well-off cousins but on behalf of themselves—and their cars. Consider: little Jimmy, from a comfortably well-off middle-class family, gets a good Leaving Cert and decides to go off to college. Good for him. Since his parents are relieved of the obligation to fork out €3,000 per annum in fees, amounting to €9,000 to €12,000 across the three or four years needed for little Jimmy to take his degree, they can afford to buy their son a car. So little Jimmy gets a new (or nearly new) Nissan Almera or, if he’s the son of Mammy and Daddy Rich, an Audi. Of course the parents of little Jimmy’s friends are likewise equipping their college-bound sons and daughters with fast and flashy autos, with the result that university employees with a job to do have to compete with the most non-commital undergraduates for parking facilities, and it is impossible to drive anywhere in Dublin within a reasonable time period because the streets are clogged as everyone has a car.

Roll on the recession!

Now imagine that little Jimmy’s parents have to shell out a considerable sum in annual tuition fees; little Jimmy probably wouldn’t get his new Almera—and, given the money being pumped into his education, he would be under considerable pressure to deliver academically—or explain to a furious Daddy why all his money was wasted.

Hardly surprising that the students oppose the bringing back of fees, for it would impact every aspect of their lives—they would have to depend on public transport to get to and from college; they would have to scrimp and save for their beer money; they might actually have to spend time in the library instead of the bar; they might have to support themselves instead of relying on allowances from munificent relatives.

It might be good for them.

They might grow up a little.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A personal message

... to the love of my life, in celebration of this day, the anniversary of our first finding one another.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Goodness Gracious, Great Firewall of China

Melancholicus has just noticed (via his Neocounter) that his blog has had a visit from someone in China.

Which obviously means that Infelix Ego is not banned in China.

Disappointed sigh...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Milestone: one year old

Melancholicus wishes to extend his thanks to all those who have visited Infelix Ego over the past twelve months, especially to his regular readers and those who have left comments on various posts along the way. For today, 3 October 2008, marks the anniversary of the first post on this blog.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Target practice

Although this is hardly news (Smasher and Fr. Finigan, among others, have drawn attention to it already), Melancholicus is interested to note that the Irish Catholic bishops’ conference has launched its own website.

For reasons it would be tedious to enter into here, Melancholicus disapproves on principle of such things as national bishops’ conferences, regarding them as cancerous outgrowths inspired by the revolution of Vatican II and engineered so as to impose the policies thereof. If he is to be consistent, he must also disapprove of websites representing such bodies. Nevertheless, he will be visiting the bishops’ conference website often, not because he has much faith in the leadership of these our fathers in God or hopes to find therein nourishment for his soul, but because in placing themselves thus so openly on the web, the bishops have exposed themselves to be shot at. And the temptation to engage in a little episcopal skeet is just too much to resist.

[loads shotgun]

As today is the first day of a new month, a time for fresh beginnings and new inspirations, Melancholicus feels a little idea coming on:

Announcement for all interested parties!!!

The 2008 bishop-hunting season begins today and will close with the Benedicamus Domino of None on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent (that’s 29 November this year).

Targets permitted in this season’s shoot:

All bishops as well as archbishops within the jurisdiction of the Irish bishops’ conference are fair game, including those retired on or before the commencement of the season. Deceased bishops are off limits, as is the apostolic legate. Promotion to the sacred college either before or during the course of the season does not confer any special protected status, hence cardinals may be hunted as keenly as the lowliest auxiliary. Monsignori and parish priests, although not bishops, may also be hunted throughout the season, although these are less prestigious prizes whose scoring value is much lower. Also considered fair game are lesser clergy and members of religious orders and institutes of either sex. Laypersons in the employ of dioceses, parishes or religious orders may also be hunted, though the point-scoring value of these last is so low as to be hardly worth the effort.

[disengages safety]

Scoring is as follows:

  • The Primate of All Ireland: 10,000 pts

  • Other archbishops: 8,000 pts each

  • Diocesan bishops: 5,000 pts each

  • Auxiliary bishops in Metropolitan Sees: 3,000 pts each

  • Auxiliary bishops in other Sees: 2,000 pts each

  • Titular bishops: 1,500 pts

  • Retired cardinals: 1,500 pts each

  • Retired archbishops: 1,200 pts each

  • Retired diocesan bishops: 1,000 pts each

  • Other retired bishops: 800 pts each

  • Monsignori not in episcopal orders: 500 pts each

  • Parish priests: 300 pts each

  • All other active clergy: 150 pts each

  • Male and female religious: 100 pts to 500 pts each (variable according to status and celebrity)

  • Lay employees of the conciliar bureaucracy: 5 pts each

Scoring is cumulative. Individual targets may be bagged as often as you like, according as they make more or fewer gaffes over the next two months.

[takes aim through telescopic sight; sees purple biretta—or should that be, sees grey tab shirt?]

The season is open to all. Happy hunting!