Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Chandra X-Ray Telescope

As part of a presentation on "Astronomy in the News", I collated some information on The Chandra X-Ray Telescope, from various sources, which I am also posting here for the benefit of my readers.

The Chandra X-Ray Telescope

In 1976 the Chandra X-ray Observatory (called AXAF at the time) was proposed to NASA by Riccardo Giacconi and Harvey Tananbaum.

Since cosmic X-ray radiation is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, space-based telescopes are needed for X-ray astronomy. Applying himself to this problem, Giacconi worked on the instrumentation for X-ray astronomy; from rocket-borne detectors in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to Uhuru, the first orbiting X-ray astronomy satellite, in the 1970s – pictured here.

Giacconi's pioneering research continued in 1978 with the Einstein Observatory, the first fully imaging X-ray telescope put into space, and later with the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched in 1999 and is still in operation. 

X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy which deals with the study of X-ray observation and detection from astronomical objects.

X-rays are a form of light, but much more energetic than the light detected by our eyes. The energy of an X-ray photon (light particle) is ~1000 times that of a photon of visible light. They are part of the electromagnetic spectrum which includes visible light, radio waves, microwaves and infra red radiation.

What the picture shows is that X-rays are emitted from things that are really hot - millions of degrees. K stands for Kelvin - a temperature scale which has the same units as Celsius, but starts at absolute zero (-273o C). The shorter the wavelength (higher frequency) the higher the energy of the light.

X-ray missions produce a wide range data in many forms. The main three are discussed here; they all result from the type of detector used in X-ray telescopes and also from the fact that X-rays are very high energy. This means that they act as particles rather than waves and so it is easy to measure the energy of each individual photon. They can also record the time a photon hit the detector and also where it came from, to a very high accuracy in the case of CHANDRA.

Above we see Ttree different clusters as imaged by the CHANDRA satellite.

Images are the most easily accessible result from X-ray missions. The raw output of an X-ray detector is the "events" file - which shows how many photons hit each pixel of the detector. However the extra information, for example the energies of the photons, give a greater insight into what is going on in the object under study.

The CHANDRA X-ray Observatory was launched on the 23rd July 1999 by the Space Shuttle Columbia. It was designed to provide high resolution imaging of X-ray sources; as opposed to XMM-NEWTON which has better spectral resolution but worse imaging capabilities. It was the follow up to the EINSTEIN observatory which flew from November 1978 to April 1981and was far superior in all ways. CHANDRA was placed into an elliptical orbit so that it spent little time in the Earths radiation belts, and so allows up to 48hrs (172.8 ksec) of uninterrupted observing time.

In January 2017, the Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed the as yet deepest X-ray image of the outer space which could contain more than a couple of thousands of black holes.

Most of the supermassive black holes revealed by Chandra are believed to be billions of years old. More exactly, they could be as old as the Big Bang. Their formation period was traced back as far as this cosmic event.

Astronomers from the University of Durham’s Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy have confirmed the discovery of two supermassive black holes located close to the Milky Way. Working in conjunction with the Chandra observatory, the scientists were delighted to reveal the discovery to the scientific world.

They couldn’t directly observe the black holes as they are shielded by huge clouds of dust and gas, but deep X-ray imaging has allowed the scientists to confirm the discovery.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

And so to bed...

I finish each night with a quote on Facebook, and for those who have missed them, here are some recent picks. My rules for choosing them are that they must be short, but not one-liners, and must say something inspiring and joyful, or reflecting the sorrow and pain of the world.

Mainly I choose them because I like them, and I hope you, gentle reader, will like them too. On the blog I've also taken the opportunity to add a few extra pictures of the writers themselves as I think it is rather nice to see the authors as well as their quotes.

And so to bed...

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Clifford D Simak:

The sun was setting, throwing a fog-like dusk across the stream and trees, and there was a coolness in the air. It was time, I knew, to be getting back to camp. But I did not want to move. For I had the feeling that this was a place, once seen, that could not be seen again.

If I left and then came back, it would not be the same; no matter how many times I might return to this particular spot the place and feeling would never be the same, something would be lost or something would be added, and there never would exist again, through all eternity, all the integrated factors that made it what it was in this magic moment.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Rachel Barenblat, and is a poem called "God says yes".

I will keep
company with you
where you go
I will go
when bitter exile
narrows your horizon
your tight straits
will be mine too
let me lift you
from the ashes,
dress you in
nothing but light
like a new mother,
breasts over-full
I ache to spill
blessings for you
let me carry you
through foaming seas
come undone with me
on the far shore

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from E. Nesbit:

These gardens are green, because green is the color that most pleases and soothes men's eyes; and however you may shut people up between bars of yellow and mud color, and however hard you may make them work, and however little wage you may pay them for working, there will always be found among those people some men who are willing to work a little longer, and for no wages at all, so that they may have green things growing near them.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Mary Baker Eddy:

When angels visit us, we do not hear the rustle of wings, nor feel the feathery touch of the breast of a dove; but we know their presence by the love they create in our hearts.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Israelmore Ayivor:

To some people, you make life bright
When you decide to dim your light
Their lives will be full of darkness
Do shine your light in kindness
You’re on earth to do two things here
Wake up and do them now; this year
First, dare to grow and become better
Second, help others to also become greater
Never in any of the four seasons
Should you neglect your gifts for any reasons
The world needs you to make it a better place
Don’t pack out; run your race

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Beth Gutcheon:

I don't suppose you have to believe in ghosts to know that we are all haunted, all of us, by things we can see and feel and guess at, and many more things that we can't.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Ursula Le Guin:

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from M. Scott Peck:

Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another...The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.

And so to bed...quote for tonight is from S.L. Stacy:

Take us to the in-between,
Where earth meets sky, and wake meets dream.
And time rushes by, unseen.
Take us to the infinite night,
Where up is down, and left is right,
And dark vanquishes light.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Tove Jansson:

“I'm afraid we shall waste an awful lot of time."

"Don't worry," answered Snufkin, "we shall have wonderful dreams, and when we wake up it'll be spring.”

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from W.H. Auden:

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Term Time Absence from School: A Comment

The Jersey Evening Post reported that:

“PARENTS have reacted angrily after Jersey’s Chief Officer said that taking children out of school to go on holiday was ‘unacceptable’. In Saturday’s JEP, Justin Donovan said that such action was damaging pupils’ education. He spoke out after figures revealed that a fifth of pupil absences in the last year were due to parents taking their children on holiday. “

“Almost 100 people commented on the story on the JEP’s Facebook page, with many saying that parents should be given greater flexibility to take their children out of school. Some parents also suggested that the Education Department should shift school term-times, so parents can avoid price hikes associated with UK school holiday weeks.”

A Guardian article explains some of the rationale behind parents taking children away on holiday, and its history:

“Parents who wished to take advantage of cheaper, off-peak holiday rates used to be able to bend the rules a little, as head teachers at state schools in England were allowed to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance. But in 2013 new regulations banning term-time absences were brought in.”

“Every single holiday cost more in August with the average holiday costing £905 more than in July and £1,310 more than in June while in one case the price of a holiday jumped by 126% between June and August, a £1,903 difference.”

So why is this an important issue, and are all the facts available? An article in the 2015 Times Educational Supplement said that:

“Research shows that children who miss school for just seven days a year damage their ‘life chances’, and only 31 per cent of children who missed more than 14 days of lessons over two years achieved good grades in the traditionally academic subjects. Yes, children do miss school owing to illness and it is reasonable to expect teachers to help them make up what they missed. It is not reasonable to expect teachers to do so for frivolous reasons.”

And these kinds of statistics are also mentioned by Leeds City Council on their website:

“Children who frequently miss school often fall behind. There is a strong link between good school attendance and achieving good results. For example, only 12% of pupils with below 80% school attendance achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and Maths, compared to 68% for pupils with attendance greater than 95%. “

“Requests for leave can only be granted by schools if there are exceptional circumstances, and holidays are not considered exceptional.”

A government report in 2016, based in 2013 and 2014 data, concluded that:

“Missing school for just a few days a year can damage pupils’ chances of gaining good GCSEs, according to a new report published by the Department for Education today (24 March 2016).”

The problem is that these research reports are cited without any details about their limitations. My mathematical hackles rise when I see bare figures being produced which seem to fly in the face of common sense.

For instance, because of sickness, it is almost inconceivable that any children have not lost a few days a year. Almost every child will be affected, and that is really too absurd to countenance. When I was at school, I certainly lost at least a few days because of illness, and that was before more the stringent regulations of today in which a child must stay at home for at least two days for anything like a vomiting bug.

A child who suffers a couple of weeks’ illness doesn’t suffer irreversible damage to its career, and anyone who believes that statistics show this need to have their head examined.

If I might cite a personal example, back in the 1960s, an outbreak of influenza both so devastated staff and teachers at my primary school for around three to four weeks so that formal lessons were largely revision, or on many occasions, we played chess throughout a lesson, or read books. Neither we not those who were off ill seem to have suffered in terms of academic attainment. One even became Greffier to the State for many years.

Fortunately, BBC’s More or Less examined the statistics behind the hyperbole in detail. Here’s a transcript of the relevant part of the programme.

From the today programme:

Nick Gibb [School Standards Minister]: Our data shows that just a week off per year as they’re leading up to GCSE courses can reduce the chances of that child getting good GCSEs by about a quarter…

Interviewer (interrupts): Regardless of what of they do?

Nick Gibb: Yes, it does, any absence, even if it’s illness actually, can damage the long term chances of a child achieving good GSCEs if they take just a week off a year. Now, you can’t do anything about illness – if a child is ill of course they can’t come to school – but we can do something about parents who decide to take their child on holiday simply because they want to save money. “

And here is a transcript of what More or Less made of the figures:

JM: Well, last February the Department for Education released some research looking at the relationship between absence and achievement. It looked at kids in the two years they are doing their GCSE courses and compare their results to their absence rates. The kids with a perfect attendance record would have gone to school for 283 days without missing a day and if you look at their results, surprise, surprise, they go for the best results.

TH: OK, so enough about these goodie-goodies, what about the children who took a week’s holiday?

JM: Well, the government doesn’t have any data on these kids. The data they focus on is the kids who miss between 5 and 6 days during their GCSE years.

TH: For any reason. And these children, they do 25% worse than the perfect kids?

JM: It depends on what measurements you use. The normal way people compare scores at GCSE level is 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. They do 8% worse. The governments’ report on this subject uses this measure but Nick Gibb uses a more obscure measurement: kids who got the English Baccalaureate.

TH: I see. He’s gone for whatever with make the figures look the most extreme? Hang on, English Baccalaureate, what is the English Baccalaureate? Is that different exams?

JM: Well, the be honest, that’s what I thought it was but it’s not, it’s a kind of conceptual qualification. If you got GCSEs in English, Maths, a foreign language, two sciences and in history or geography you’ve passed the English Baccalaureate.

TH: OK, so if you squint at the numbers in the right light you can get the 25% figure to stand up. But James, there’s a bigger question here, it might not be the precious teaching that’s making the difference, I mean the kind of kid who hardly misses a day is the kind of kid who does well in exams. So, or as the third rule of [ORS?] says, correlation is not necessarily causation.

JM: Well, exactly. Nick Gibbs is saying the absence is the thing which is causing the drop off in grades but the evidence doesn’t show this at all. In fact, even the DfE report acknowledges that factors other than attendance will have an impact on achievement and should be considered to give an accurate picture.

They then take a look at the work of Professor Stephen Gorard. On 6 April 2017, he posted this piece on the Durham University Website and takes a critical look at the Government’s case for fining parents who take their children out of school during term. It is entitled: "Does missing one week of school lead to lower grades?"

There is, as the DfE shows, a consistent and medium-strength correlation between pupil absence from school and subsequent lower attainment at Key Stage 2 (aged 11) and Key Stage 4 (aged 16). However, a more careful consideration shows several things.

The link may not be in one direction only. For example, our analysis shows that the best predictor of pupil absence in any key stage is not their background characteristics, their school, or their prior pattern of absence. It is their prior attainment.

Put simply, pupils who are already doing badly at school may be simply withdrawing further, so producing more missed sessions, rather than the missed sessions causing the later lower attainment.

The link between absence and attainment may be weaker than portrayed by DfE, or even not causal at all.

In the same way that attainment is correlated with pupil absence, attainment is correlated with many other things which are themselves correlated with absence. For example, as well as lower attaining pupils missing more school on average, there is greater average absence among more deprived children, in more deprived schools and areas.

There are also differences between boys and girls, some ethnic minorities, and so on. If attainment is predicted using all of these factors, the link with absence is greatly reduced.

We can estimate how much difference going to school makes in another way as well.

Every year, young children start school if they are born up to 31st August and wait a further year if they are born from 1st September onwards. Therefore, after one year, there are children of almost exactly the same age, half of whom have had a year of schooling and half have not. This, along with tests of literacy and numeracy, can be used to estimate how much each day of school makes to average attainment.

We know that much of the improvement comes solely with age. Schools can and do make an important difference, but less so than the damage being claimed by the DfE for each day missed through absence.

Something is not right. And the simplest explanation is that absence is less important for many pupils than has been widely portrayed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the DfE conflate very different types of absence.

There are pupils who have chronic illness. Long-term absence from school for them could easily lead to lower qualifications in future years. There are pupils whose home life means that school is not the highest priority every morning – such as those with a caring role for younger siblings, for example. There are those who are suspended or excluded from school, those ‘bunking off’, and those who usually attend regularly but have taken a holiday in term-time.

None of these situations is desirable, but each has different solutions. To use data from the first example to combat the last situation does not make sense. The analysis needs to be more fine-grained than that. This is what we are doing at Durham and fuller results will be available in the summer.

In conclusion...

The main effect to the school of taking children out of school during term time is to disrupt timetables and planning. If every parent did this, this would cause chaos for the running of the school, and the curriculum.

However, there are in every school, in some years, what might be termed “slack times”, where the teachers are essentially filling in time in the last few days of school, most notably in the run up to Christmas, or at the end of the Summer term. In other words, every teaching day has not the same import.

There are a variety of reasons for taking children out in term time, especially at these slack times, and the case should not be automatic but weighed up according to the educational advantages to the child. It should not be automatic, not just because the parents want a cheap holiday.

If I can cite a personal case, I remember missing the final day of a spring term in order to catch flights to go on an educational cruise around the Mediterranean for two weeks on SS Nevasa; because of the logistics Jersey’s travel connections with the UK, this was the only option. The headmaster in question at the Primary School saw no problems with that, and indeed thought it would be an extremely good learning experience, as indeed it was.

That’s rather different from someone who just wants to visit a sunny beach resort at cheaper rates, largely more for the parents benefit than the children’s. There should be some kind of provision for exceptional circumstances as long as a good case can be made, and it is not a regular occurrence.

American schools often include: “Extraordinary educational opportunities preapproved by district administrators.” Perhaps that needs more consideration here. An example of an educational authority guideline says:

“From time to time, students encounter an exceptional opportunity for an experience of an educational nature. While these events may not be part of their schoolwork, they provide an excellent chance to further their education. Under certain circumstances, the days devoted to these opportunities can count as excused absences.”

“The content of the experience must be highly relevant to the student. While some opportunities will be relevant to all students, others will contain very specific content that would limit their relevance to a smaller group of students. For example, a trumpet lesson from jazz great Wynton Marsalis would be very relevant to students who play trumpet, but not to others who do not play trumpet.”

In Australia,  term-time holidays are discouraged, but laws vary from state to state. In Victoria, principals will often allow absences for family holidays if the school is notified in advance, and if a "Student Absence Learning Plan" is in place. In Queensland, absences of more than 10 consecutive days require an exemption. In New South Wales Parents wishing to travel will be obliged to submit itineraries, copies of plane tickets and justification for their trips on educational grounds.

The other matter which must be taken into account is that the statistics, as they stand, are either misrepresented as by Nick Gibb, or taken as applying to all children equally, without looking at causal factors

It is interesting that a study by Oregon looks at a month or more of school days missed per year defined as chronic absenteeism. Common sense suggests that this will impact on education, but they go into more granular detail in determining how to deal with the problem. Term time holidays do not feature, mainly because this is a study of chronic not slight absenteeism.

Holidays are not the only reason for absence, so we cannot use statistics on general absence for specific purposes, as More or Less notes.. Chronic health conditions, family economic and social problems, housing, bullying, truancy etc can also contribute to statistics on poor achievement and that is why I look forward to the fine-grained analysis by Professor Gorard.

A zero-tolerance policy on holidays also does not consider the educational impact of occasional holidays. In in America and Australia, there is a distinction between the frivolous and the educational, and this is important, and should be reflected in policy.


Monday, 24 April 2017

Chief Minister: Term Limit

Early in 2012 I wrote that:

as a precautionary principle, the Chief Minister should be allowed two terms of office before having to pass the reigns of power to another member. This is a widespread practice in other jurisdictions, and even within some local societies - the Société Jersiaise, for example, has restrictions on the President holding a term of office - this ensures that the voter does not feel wholly disempowered when they cannot vote for or against a Chief Minister.

and as part of my submission to the Electoral Commission, I noted:

Terms of Office and Sundry Matters

Three years means one year for any new member to get to grips with the States, one year to participate actively, and one year partly taken up with seeking re-election. I think that six years would be too long a period, and four years - as in Guernsey - would probably be the best compromise. 

The removal of Senators, and the choosing of a Chief Minister from other States members mean that some electors may not have the opportunity to remove a Chief Minister. 

Therefore, as a precautionary principle, the Chief Minister should be allowed two terms of office before having to pass the reigns of power to another member. 

This is a widespread practice in other jurisdictions, and even within some societies - the Société Jersiaise, for example, has restrictions on holding a term of office - this ensures that the voter does not feel wholly disempowered when they cannot vote for or against a Chief Minister.

I first emailed a number of States Members about limiting terms of office in 2007. These did not include Sarah Ferguson who I don't believe was in the States at that time. They included John Le Fondre, Roy Le Herrissier, and Mike Jackson. Not one of them brought a proposition. I gave up on the idea, so I am really pleased to see it back on the table. Well done, Sarah!

And now can we also have Rob Duhamel's suggestion that, like the UK, if a 2/3rds majority of States members vote for an early election, it can go ahead?

Sarah Ferguson's Proposition
THE STATES are asked to decide whether they are of opinion

(a) no person shall be elected to the office of Chief Minister more than twice; 

(b) no person who has been elected to the office of Chief Minister, or acted as Chief Minister, during an electoral term to which some other person was originally elected Chief Minister, shall be elected to the office of the Chief Minister on more than one subsequent occasion; and 

(c) to request the Privileges and Procedures Committee to bring forward amendments to the States of Jersey Law 2005, as well as any necessary Standing Orders changes, to give effect to this proposition before the end of 2017.

It should be noted that this is not a personal attack on anyone, least of all the current politicians. It is, however, a topic which should be discussed now rather than in the frenzied heat of the election period.

Many countries now place limits on the length of time individuals are permitted to hold the highest offices. This is a policy which appears to have been formalised by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. George Washington set the precedent and it was followed by Adams, Jefferson and their successors. Management Consultants have discussed at length the ideal duration of a tour of duty as Chairman. 

If someone is a good leader then there is a tendency to encourage them to stay on but it is not often that there is an actual assessment of the performance of the Chairman in most companies. Can the election by the Public and by the States be considered to represent a genuine review of performance of a Chief Minister? 

In business there is a tendency to get a little stale during the second period of a contract and to lapse into burnout in a third period, a fact which does support the concept of a limited term. For example, the Comptroller and Auditor General is in post for 7 years only, and it is proposed that a limit of 9 years is placed on the Chairman of the Appointments Commission. Commissioners to the Jersey Financial Services Commission normally serve 2 terms only. The post of Lieutenant Governor is held for a period of 5 years only and it is an unwritten rule that there should be no second term. 

The American showman P.T. Barnum allegedly said: “Always leave them wanting more” – which must apply to high profile positions in politics as well as business and theatre. On this basis, and for the reasons given, it is advisable to limit the length of term of the Chief Minister to 2 terms only.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Why Kneel?

Elephant Misercord, Exeter Cathedral

From "The Pilot", 1968 comes this, an interesting historical ramble.

Some Church Customs Explained
By S.G. Thicknesse

Why Kneel?

All the possible attitudes have been used for worship down the centuries. Because kneeling is among the most helpless and uncomfortable it has been employed by all who have wanted especially to express before God their humility, their supplication, and their penitence.

So when Solomon had made an end of his great prayer that God would continue to bless and keep his people after the Ark of the Covenant had been brought into the new temple that he had built, `he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven' (I Kings viii. 54).

Christians seem to have knelt rather more than other people at their prayers, perhaps because their sense of sin and unworthiness was stronger. In the early days, however, as they particularly associated kneeling with humiliation and penitence, they stood for general public prayer.

This was the usual custom among the Jews, as it was among the Romans. In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, for example, Jesus has described how `the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself ... and the publican, standing afar off . . . ' (St. Luke xviii. I r-13).

St. Mark also tells (ch. Xi. 25) how Jesus said to his disciples, `When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses'.

Early Christians when they stood praying often extended their arms: Tertullian says in the attitude of Christ crucified. There was, however, one group. of people in the early centuries which had to kneel almost continuously at worship. This group comprised the penitents, people who, unlike the outcast `mourners', had been allowed back at least into the church porch, but were dismissed by the bishop before the prayer of consecration, until such a time as their penance was complete.

They were, indeed, commonly called `kneelers' or `prostrators', as early Christians did not distinguish in language between full prostration or kneeling upright or bowed, all of which positions they described indifferently as `kneeling'.

Even when a seventh-century Council ruled that the faithful should not kneel at all on Sundays or between Easter and Whitsun, since these were joyful days, not days for remembering sin, the `kneelers' were especially excepted.

Despite this ruling, and the feeling that to kneel was especially to admit sin, some Christians took it upon themselves to kneel when they need not. Some of them became remarked for their holiness because of it, as did St. James the Just, whose knees, from his constant kneeling, became calloused like those of a camel.

As time passed, however, some people preferred kneeling to standing, and wished that the formal occasions for it were longer; others disliked it and continued to stand when they should have knelt. Among the first were monks and others who had to stand through long offices; when the time came to kneel they would some-times prop themselves on their arms or hands, or even lie prostrate, and be glad of the rest. It was as an act of mercy towards such people that many choir stalls were fitted with misericords from the thirteenth century.

 Beverley Minster

These additions to the underside of the ordinary hinged-seat of the stall, jutted out unobtrusively, and so furnished a small ledge on which the monks or canons could prop themselves as soon as they had to stand and their hinged- seats had been folded up. There are some very spirited carved misericords in some English churches, as for example those in Beverley Minster.

Among the second group of people who preferred standing was the congregation of Bishop Caesarius of Arles in the sixth century, which gave him occasion to exclaim, `When I often, as I ought, and heedfully take notice, as the deacon cries, "Let us bend our knees," I see the greater part standing upright like columns!'

A thousand years later, in England, some upright and unbending people became known as Puritans. They held, as Lutherans and others still do, that they should stand and not kneel to pray. It was against this opinion that the Prayer Book rubrics reiterate the order that the congregation shall be meekly kneeling upon their knees, even on occasions when primitive Christians stood.

Jenny Geddes so much disliked the introduction of these rulings into Scotland, that on the 23rd of July, 1637, she threw a footstool at the head of the Bishop of Edinburgh in St. Giles's Church.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The dry land

Jersey is in a time of drought, but there are other kinds of drought than the merely material. This poem explores drought across the world, both physical, and spiritual.

The dry land

Bare bones, a valley of the dead:
Famine, no breaking of the bread;
The wind came from south, so dry:
Clear skies above, no cloud to spy;
This is a dry land, the land of dust:
The migrant begging for a crust;
The sky is clear, blue, bright, cold:
Rich pickings for the wealth, gold
To plunder, everything has a price:
Geography is a lottery, throw of dice,
And some are lucky, having plenty,
Others starve, their bellies empty;
Dry earth: and there is no dew fall,
And no one hears the stranger's call;
Crops fail, famine across the lands:
Time trickles like wind-blown sands;
Palaces, riches, walls to keep out,
Build of arrogance, with no doubt;
The eleventh hour, almost too late:
The stranger calling at the gate:
Turned away, by folly, avarice, greed,
Hoarding of food in hour of need;
The sun is high: it is nearly midday
The people come, are turned away:
The starving children, farmers toil,
At failing crops, the empty soil,
While gluttons feast, the city strong,
Walls keep out all who do not belong;
Enough is enough! Shalom the way!
Take what is needed for the day,
And leave the gleanings in the field,
That poor might eat, world be healed;
Greed rules, fields ploughed, destroy,
No left over scraps for poor to enjoy;
Sun so bright, bones bleached white,
Dying in a world of plenty, their plight
Ignored, a deaf world, and blind eye:
The economy ruling all: that’s the lie!
Compassion needed more than ever:
Not cut off, like limbs to sever;
Military leaders, medals and sashes:
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes;
This is a last chance, a final endeavour:
Famine stalks the land, a grim spectre,
Reaching out, touching: a connector;
A choice to be made: we are all one:
All creatures beneath the rising sun;
Bleached bones: dig our own grave,
In economic domination: to enslave;
The dry land, drought, cracked soil:
Furrows of the dying, empty toil;
We need to pray for rain to come,
Join the dance, and beat the drum;
All hold hands, clasp palm in peace,
Pray that wars will someday cease;
Share the food, drink deep of wine,
Open the gates, let the light shine,
Down dark alleys, narrow streets
Let all come share, all come to eats
The hour is close, time draws near:
Reach out a hand, not draw back in fear;
The dry land, possess all you will:
Starvation looms, and it will kill;
The angel of death, across the sea:
No hiding place, no place to flee,
Time to mourn, sackcloth and ashes:
Take off the medals, burn the sashes
Lay down the weapons, kneel at pray:
Deliverance from drought: the rainy day;
Call for rain, a small cloud in distance,
Water, the necessity for existence:
And living water flows in streams,
I have a dream - no - many dreams,
Of walking together hand in hand,
Across the desert, bone-white sand;
The dry lands: wilderness, desert:
Warm air, dust blowing, dust, dirt;
The wind is coming from the east,
And welcomes beggars to the feast;
And when the wind turns to the west,
The rains shall come, all shall be blest.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Who was St Ouen - part 2

From a 1948 copy of "The Pilot" comes this piece by G.R. Balleine. When it comes to the names of our Parish churches some are recognisable from the gospels - St Peter, St Mary, St John - and some are other saints. 

The first posting (here) looks at the authentic history of St Ouen

In this second half, Balleine looks at how the cult of St Ouen developed.

Who was St Ouen - part 2
by G.R. Balleine

When St. Ouen became recognized as a major Saint, a demand arose for Lives of him, from which extracts could he read as Lessons in church and in the refectories. At least a dozen Lives of this kind were produced. But a Saint's Life was dull reading, unless it was filled with miracles.

So now amazing stories began to be inserted: how as a baby, when his mother was going to bath him, she found the spring had run dry, but the infant struck the rock with a twig, and water gushed out ; how at Mass, a dove brought hint in its beak a prayer on a slip of parchment, which protected everyone who used it against lightning; how once St Ouen deputized for the Pope ; on one visit to Rome he convicted the Pope of unchastity, and sentenced hint to seven years' penance, and occupied the Papal Throne till the penance was completed : another Pope on his dying bed entrusted him with his ring, and ordered him to rule the Church, until God revealed to him who was to be his successor.

Another legend exalted St. Ouen. not only above Popes, but above St. Peter himself. It told how a lame man went to Rome to pray to the Apostle for healing, but St Peter told him in a vision that no one but St. Ouen could cure him. So he started for Rouen on his donkey.

On the way it was stolen by robbers but at last he reached the Archbishop's Shrine, and, as he kissed it, not only did his legs recover strength, but the lost donkey came galloping up the aisle to greet him !

We have thus two Lives of St. Ouen, the real life and the legendary one and this is instructive. In the case of St. Helier we had only the legendary lives; but St Ouen shows how widely a legendary life could stray from the real facts.

One disadvantage of being a Saint was that your bones were never allowed to rest in peace. When Vikings-overran Normandy in the ninth century, the monks hurried the Archbishop's bones from one refuge to another. till after seventy years they returned to Rouen, to be burnt eventually by Calvinists at the Reformation.

But meanwhile, wherever they rested on their wanderings, a fragment was left as a relic in return for hospitality. In this way they were divided and sub-divided, till fractions of them found their way to many different countries.

In the tenth century Canterbury possessed a portion of St. Ouen's skull, a rather terrifying relic. If you were worthy of healing, when you touched it, your diseases vanished ; but, if you were unworthy, you were hounded from the cathedral by visions of avenging angels.

Other fragments of the skull were at Malmesbury and Dublin. In this way probably our Jersey parish obtained its name. No altar in those days might be consecrated, unless it contained a relic.

So, when some early de Carteret built a little chapel on his Fief, he most likely secured from Normandy a splinter of one of the Archbishop's bones. Thus the altar became St. Ouen's altar, and so in time the church and parish became St. Ouen's.

For further particulars see Father Vacandard’s Vie de St. Ouen.