Welcome to Twitter, Your Holiness – here’s how to avoid issuing too much Papal bull

Papa Bene (the Italian-language version of himself)
Papa Bene on Twitter (the Italian-language version)

From Wednesday’s paper:

The thing they always say about Twitter is how perfect it is for discussions of religious philosophy; how timeless its pronouncements, each tweet as irrevocable as laws carved on a tablet of stone. Really, then, it was only a matter of time before His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spotted the site’s potential to be the 21st century’s Gutenberg press, and started using it to spread the Word. Lo and behold, on Monday, he did.

I say “started using it”, but so far Papa Bene has not been very involved. He already has more than 350,000 followers, but has yet to say anything. That’s fine – lots of people start off on Twitter by simply using it as a news-gathering tool, before gaining the confidence to say things. But Il Papa isn’t yet following anyone, except, intriguingly, seven different versions of himself. Presumably there’s some theological implication to that, but it does mean that his experience will be limited, unless the Polish-language version breaks ranks and starts tweeting about Game of Thrones or the latest calamity to befall Ambridge.

But maybe his reticence is a blessing, as it were, in disguise. It would be terrible if the Holy Father, who goes by the Twitter name @pontifex, were to undermine the Holy See’s eternal authority by doing it badly. If taking a few days to get the hang of it will prevent the Greatest Pontiff from shameless corporate plugging (“Waterstones is doing 25 per cent off on the Douay–Rheims Bible! #bargain”), smugly announcing that he’s going to appear on Question Time, or accidentally publishing private messages to the world (“Rowan, putting the whole Reformation thing aside for a bit, you’d look years younger if you just lost the beard”), then hurrah for that. Oh, and remember, Your Holiness: on Twitter, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti” is usually abbreviated to “#InPeFeSS”.

The space probe Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is about to become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. The Voyager missions are surely one of humanity’s greatest achievements, on a par with the Moon landings, or building the Pyramids: a nuclear-powered robot sending information home from 11 billion miles away. And in some unknowable number of millennia, perhaps, Voyager 1 or its sister ship Voyager 2 will be found by an alien civilisation, where their famous payload, the golden records, will introduce another part of our galaxy to the music of Bach, Stravinsky, Beethoven and Chuck Berry. (According to popular legend, Carl Sagan,  who was on the Voyager team, said: “I would send just Bach, but that would be showing off.”)

The trouble is that it seems to have been “about to leave the Solar System” for several years now. I first wrote about it in 2009. Back in June, we all got excited when it reached what was then believed to the very edge. But, say its Nasa handlers, it’s now run into something else, which they’re calling the “magnetic highway”. “This region was not anticipated,” one of the Nasa scientists said, with perhaps a hint of irritation in his voice. “We do believe this may be the very last layer.” Well, possibly. But we could be forgiven for thinking that “Voyager leaves the Solar System” is a headline not unlike “Rolling Stones embark on farewell tour”.

• Greg Barker, the climate change minister, has defended the appearance of wind farms, calling them “majestic” and “wonderful”. He’s not alone: apparently at every good dinner party, there’s one person – usually a plummy-voiced Liberal Democrat from the south coast who wears a pashmina, I’m told by someone who knows – who informs the table that “Everyone goes on so about wind farms being a blight on the countryside, but I have to say I find them rather grand and austere.” I never get invited to any good dinner parties, so I wouldn’t know. But it does bother me that, if I do, I’m going to have to buy a pashmina.

Read all Tom Chivers’ Telegraph Blog posts here

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