Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Stormy weather, Apostolic Succession, Local rags, Poppycock Watch: Penguins, Profundity of the Week

The River Exe in flood

As I write this, the wind is screaming past my office window, rain slashing into the glass. Our major river, just 200 yards away, is brown and angry and lapping at the top of the flood defences. It doesn’t bode well.

There was catastrophic flooding here in the late 1960s which prompted the building of substantial preventative barriers along the river banks. The problem is, they were built to defend against a one-in-40 year emergency. By my reckoning they are well past their timeout.

The Council is reported to be trying to raise money to finance new works aimed at a one-in-100 year episode. Given the nature of official response times, that will not be soon. It will take another disaster to get things moving fast. Not much breath is being held around here.

If David Cameron needs any incentive to slice away at the grotesque European Union budget, let him consider how much we need that money here in Devon.

Keep it in the family, Dave!

* * * * *

I have never believed in the concept of Apostolic Succession — that someone appointed by their predecessor carries a special mark or mission to succeed them.

Most religions do this. Leading Buddhists are said to be able to trace their spiritual lineage all the way back to Gautama Buddha 2500 years ago, despite the many holes in the early lists of enlightened teachers.

One can see that a reputed connection with the Founder, however tenuous, might add a little glitz and authenticity to a sitting leader, but in practice it has never guaranteed success, either in religion or in politics.

Thus the rejection of the appointment of women bishops by the Church of England Synod on roughly those grounds — women can never be part of an Apostolic lineage because they weren’t there at the beginning — leaves me uneasy about the future of a great institution that is failing to adapt to the present moment.

Ministry in the Church is mainly about empathy, not intellectual jousting; dealing with people in trouble and distress, not putting an elegant case before one’s peers.

The difference is profound and women are much better at it than men, which probably accounts for the fact that half of priests are thought to be homosexual.

In any case, the tale has little truth in it. We know that Rome excised women out of the early Jesus story, especially the enigmatic Mary Magdalene (almost certainly Mary of Bethany, not a woman of the night), who has her own gospel in the Gnostic tradition and was said to be the best, even the highest, of the apostles.

We’ll never know the true story, but we can take the broadest and most generous view. Why would the Almighty object to that?

Time for a change, surely?

* * * * *

Daily Mail, has sold its local and regional newspapers to a consortium led by ex-Mirror man, David Montgomery. Thus the illustrious name of Northcliffe has been lost and “Local World” arises like a phoenix.

Northcliffe’s list of titles was valued at £1.2 billion just months ago, but were sold for a paltry £110 million, showing how their profitability has tumbled off a precipice in the online age.

Indeed, the daily local papers are to be replaced with weekly ones, something that has already happened in the West Country. A few, such as the 150-year old Western Morning News remain, but for how long?

Montgomery has been speaking of a string of quality websites, reminiscent of the big dailies, gradually taking over from the printed page.

Although I’m a website man myself, I do appreciate a real newspaper, hot off the press, for more comfortable reading at the weekends. That’s when monstrous property supplements dominate the news and features sections. In the Sundays a dozen other bits and pieces are added too.

There’s no ideal solution, but the bottom line is that they must all be profitable. Syntagma wishes David Montgomery well, but wonders if he’s more romantic than visionary.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times and various academic strands, has issued a trading statement confirming that it has reached agreement to combine Penguin Books with American Publisher, Random House. In other words, to sell it to the German media giant, Bertelsmann.

So passes one of the last great British publishing houses, thrown into the global melting pot where bottom line counts for more than quality.

Like local papers, national publishers are becoming treasures of the past. So long as Penguin maintains its immense backlist, we can just about endure it, I suppose.

* * * * *

Profundity of the week
“An atheist is a man with no invisible means of support.”
John Buchan, author of The Thirty-nine Steps and later Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada. He was also editor of The Spectator, around 1900 — bet you didn’t know that!

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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