onsdag 27 juni 2007

Home from home

Originally uploaded by seadipper.

A bus-train interchange on the edge of Stockholm. Just like Britain, and the local paper has a report about schoolchildren behaving like Mafia gangsters. All the same it is not quite as untidy and run down. And where are the chavs? And the fat people? And the litter? And the chewing gum bits on the ground? And that wall doesn't even have any graffitti. And what has happened to all the signs, warning notices, adverts and railings? And puddles and broken pavings?

They must try harder if it is really going to remind me of Britain.

Britain's super-rich non-domiciled

The British government gives foreign nationals really good tax breaks to attract them to live in the country.

Last week the newspapers were runnings shock-horror stories about how these people were driving up the price of houses in London and pushing them beyond the reach of ordinary people. Worse still, it was reported that they are leaving them empty and helping to make the shortage worse.

There was nothing surprising about any of that. What was depressing was the poor quality of the analysis in the newpapers and the failure of any of the commentators to put forward the solution to the problem.

The government is quite right to give tax breaks to foreign nationals. In fact, it should give them to everyone, not just foreigners, so they everyone gets to keep everything they earn. But where then would the government get its revenue from?

The answer is simple. It should tax land, based on its market value - an annual rental value assessed on market evidence. The super-rich do not normally want to put themselves anywhere other than in the most desirable locations, the value of these locations is high. If the government taxes all location values, everyone gets to pay for the benefits they enjoy, and to keep the full value of their wages.

This is so simple in principle that one has to wonder why none of the journalists in the land have picked up on the idea.

tisdag 26 juni 2007

Having a break from Britain

I sailed away on the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg last Thursday night and now I am in Sweden for an indefinite period - I will think about coming back later in the year. I am missing friends and our nice sea, but otherwise I feel no great urge to be in Britain. It is no longer the country I grew up in and I just can't think of it as home any more.

Wireless internet links in hotels and other places can be a bit erratic so I have been off the air for most of the time.

måndag 18 juni 2007

Ninety-nine names of God

Westminster Cathedral
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

This is Westminster Cathedral, the venue for the performance of a new piece of music by John Taverner, based on Islamic teaching.

This is surely not the place for it? The name of the Christian God is Jesus. In Hebrew, this is Yehoshua, meaning "He will save". And the Christian God is Trinitarian - Father, Son and Holy Sprit. Like this.

Which means that God is not a remote and purely spiritual entity but engages in the ordinary physical world we inhabit, and pays the price of that engagement.

lördag 9 juni 2007

Electrostar train mods needed

I am pleased to see there are additional trains on order for Southern.

I am less pleased to see they are more of the same. The Electrostar is essentially a 20 year old design based on the 1980s Networker. Whilst in many ways it has now settled down there are a lot of problematic and unaddressed features, as I pointed out recently in an article in Rail Professional. I would have thought it was in everyone's interest to have a mark 2 Electrostar.

(1) Ride quality. This is dreadful. The problem is probably due to insufficient inter-vehicular damping.

(2) Location of doors - for the services the stock is used on these should go to the ends as in class 444 used on South West Trains. Railway managers have a prejudice against this configuration as the believe it takes longer to load and unload passengers, but this based on comparison with end-door stock all of which has a bottleneck inside the doorway so the comparison is not like with like. This could achieve some weight saving also.

(3) Weight. The trains are even heavier than the slam door stock it replaced. This has an adverse effect on performance and energy consumption. I suspect things like seats are a contributory factor. Every component needs to be scrutinised, especially things like seats, of which there are a lot in each vehicle. Airline style seating has to be heavier as it needs heavier framing; with back to back seating, the seat backs are fixed to each other, making a rigid structure.

(4) Luggage space - there is insufficient, partly due to body profile and partly due to airline style seat configuration and other things resulting in loss of luggage space between seat backs.

(5) Insufficient width. Many years ago I was informed by Railtrack's area Gauging Engineer that there is no need for the lower bodyside curvature ie the bodyside can be vertical from 1200 mm above rail level to the bottom of the windows ie 2.82 metres in the C1 loading gauge. It then needs to reduce towards the cantrail. As I understand it the narrow width of Electrostars at cantrail level is necessary due to the soft suspension and its effect on the Kinematic Envelope of the vehicles. The trouble is this results in a loss in luggage space. The optimum bodyshell cross-section is similar to the Metropolitan Line A stock.

If Bombardier modified the bodyshell all future builds of Electrostars would benefit, without losing the compatibility benefits.

Note - I emailed these comments to Southern and received a response from Richard Lancaster of Southern Customer Services. They note what I said but sadly they are content to accept whatever Bombardier are willing to churn out from their factory, so they are not going to be asking for any changes. That's how things are in Britain.

torsdag 7 juni 2007

Tradition, Family, Property

A friend of mine from my local church showed me a leaflet from an organisation called "Tradition, Family, Property". If you like to pigeonhole things, you would put it in the right-wing reactionary box. But what seems reactionary is not always so.

The pamphlet puts the orthodox line and is very much in the tradition of G K Chesterton, which is unsurprising since it presumably draws on the same sources in Catholic Social Teaching.

However, whoever wrote the pamphlet, which one must assume is a reflection of the organisation's view, has left themselves open with a logical inconsistency.

There is a paragraph on Property which is contractictory both with itself and with Catholic Social Teaching. The first three statements are obvious and straightforward; "Property is a human right”; "Man is a free individual entitled to the fruits of his labour”; and “It is indispensable for the well being of the family”.

Then it seems to go astray, and anyone familiar with Chesterton and his analysis of "Rerum Novarum" - as the author ought to be, will appreciate the point.

“Families accumulate patrimonies”, it says. Underpinning this statement is one of the Marxist errors, a failure to distinguish between the man-made world and that which is given by God. Property is a composite of both. Buildings and other forms of man-made property are the fruits of human labour, and nobody has the right to take them away, for example, through taxation or expropriation. It is also the case that such man-made property has a limited life, as it has to be renewed, usually several times in the course of a lifetime, through continuing inputs of human labour. So it cannot be passed down from generation to generation.

What is actually passed down as patrimony is land. Moreover, some families, a very few, and mostly through luck, accumulate large and valuable tracts of land, especially urban land or land with sought-after natural advantages. Most, however, accumulate nothing, nor can they, and it is not always through fecklessness. Indeed, with the tendency towards longer and longer mortgages and vast care-home charges for the elderly, what is being passed on down the generations is debt.

The situation is like a game of Monopoly. Those who play from the start are in the game on equal terms, since they can all acquire properties. But most people are in the situation of someone who joins the game when all the properties have already been purchased by one of the original players. They are not in the game on equal terms but have no option but to pay rent on every square on which they land, since they can never acquire any properties of their own. In the face of overwhelming odds against them, widespread fecklessness is unsurprising. Just consider how the British tax and benefits system works, when it leaves people worse off when working than staying at home idle. It breeds fecklessness, social division and over the past couple of centuries has provided fertile ground for socialism, Marxism and all sorts of other evil and extremist creeds.

I myself have seen the value of my own property grow many times over just in the past 25 years through a huge increase in its land value, which I have done nothing whatsoever to bring about. This has happened on account of other people’s labour, not mine, and the increase has been more than I have ever earned, or could have hoped to have earned, through honest work. It is not at nobody’s expense, because the end result now is that young couples can not afford a home in this part of the world, in which they can raise a family. So until this is addressed, Tradition, Family, Property's project cannot happen.

Chesterton recognised the problem. Reflecting on the teachings in "Rerum Novarum", he argued that since property was a prerequisite for the good life, everyone should be able to obtain some. This insight was the origin of the (mostly) Catholic political movement known as Distributism. Failure to establish this precondition is a major cause of the present state of affairs, which can be traced back to the collapse of the feudal system, under which land holding (there was no ownership) was accompanied by particular responsibilities. Until the balance of rights and responsibilities going with land holding/ownership is reinstated through appropriate legal and fiscal measures, there can be no revival of Christian civilisation but only continuing decline. And how might the principles of feudalism be adapted to present-day circumstances?

I have written and asked the question. It will be interesting to see what the reply is.

lördag 2 juni 2007

Cardinal O'Brien's sermon

This is what so upset the Independent

"Today’s Gospel follows Our Lady. She has just learned that she is to be the mother of the messiah and that her cousin Elizabeth is also to become a mother.

Mary, whose whole future had been transformed in the Annunciation, is so moved at the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that she immediately sets out for the town of Judah. The meeting of the two women is an event of great joy. What lessons can we learn from that scene?

We see the affirmation of the immense value of life from its very conception. The redeemer in the womb unites himself with all of humanity. By becoming incarnate in the womb of Mary, God raises to a new level the greatness of every human life.

The joy of that meeting holds out to us the message of delight that should accompany every pregnancy. With every life conceived God acts directly to create a new and unique human being, a person destined to life everlasting. Sadly, joy is not always the dominant emotion evoked by news of pregnancy in the world we live in today.

Today as we remember the Visitation we mark the “Day for Life” in Scotland, with a mixture of emotions, celebrating the gift of life but remembering also the tragic loss of life. Abortion is the theme for this year’s “Day for Life” which significantly is the 40th anniversary of the passing of the abortion act. In those 40 years the loss of life has been staggering. Around 7 million lives have been ended as a consequence of that one piece of legislation.

We were told that backstreet abortions were killing women and had to be decriminalised. We were told abortion would only be used in extreme cases. We were told medical scrutiny would be rigorous. We were told a – lies and misinformation masquerading as compassion and truth.

The scale of the killing is beyond our grasp. In Scotland we kill the equivalent of a classroom full of school children every day.
For many women abortion has become an alternative form of birth control. The lives of the babies involved are not at risk any more than the lives of their mothers are threatened by pregnancy. Abortions to save the life of a woman are almost unheard of. As a society we wilfully ignore these realities.

We need to build, once again, a society, which joyfully accepts new life. The abortion industry has impacted massively on the values of our society as its proponents continue to spread their culture of death. There is acceptance of a philosophy, which permits the destruction of children in the haven of their mother’s womb.

We must remain witnesses to the truth and be unambiguous in defending life in all that we do. I have campaigned on behalf of the developing world, urging the G8 nations to act in defence of life. I have campaigned against the indiscriminate killing power of nuclear weapons and in defence of innocent life; I speak out today in defence of life at its most vulnerable and defenceless.

It is not easy to turn societies against the natural urge to protect young life. Yet care and concern for children is still very much alive. We are gripped with concern when news coverage of a child snatched or harmed appears on our television screens. We have ached over the disappearance of young Madeleine McCann in Portugal; together with her parents we know the inestimable worth of one precious life. Yes life is precious and precious also are those lives that are snuffed out in darkness hidden from the world.

Let us build up within our society a generation of medical professionals who are unwilling to cooperate in the slaughter. I call on our universities and medical schools to teach that all human life deserves protection. I call on our hospitals to end testing procedures designed only for targeting and killing the weak and infirm. I call on all politicians to answer one simple question: will you protect the right to life of all persons in our society from conception until natural death? And I call on you to hold these elected representatives to account.

For those unwilling to give this support we must be unwilling to give our vote. History will judge us on where we stood in this crucial issue. But there is a judgement more important than history. We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.

I urge politicians to have no truck with the evil trade of abortion. For those at Westminster this means finding means of overthrowing the legislation, which makes the killing possible. For those at Holyrood that means refusing to allow our health services to participate in the wanton killing of the innocent. Peace cannot be built in the shadow of the abortion rooms.

In making this call, I speak most especially to those who claim to be Catholic. I ask them to examine their consciences and discern if they are playing any part in sustaining this social evil. I remind them to avoid cooperating in the unspeakable crime of abortion and the barrier such cooperation erects to receiving Holy Communion. As St. Paul warns us “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

I would be failing as a pastor not to highlight the gravity of this situation not just to law makers but to anyone: mother; father; boyfriend; counsellor who in any way leads a mother to abortion.

There is much we can do. We can urge support for legislation which may not be perfect but improves the situation, legislation aimed at reducing abortion limits or bills ensuring that parents be informed if their children seek an abortion, can be supported as long as it is made clear that one is in principle against all abortions. Proposals to ensure women contemplating abortion are given full details about the physical and emotional risks to themselves and about foetal development should be backed.

We can work to ensure that the more light, which is shone on this terrible procedure the less acceptable it will be to our society. Signs of hope are appearing, earlier this month it was reported that many doctors are no longer willing to cooperate in abortion. They know, better than most, the humanity of the unborn. We need to support anyone who takes the same line believing always that truth will eventually triumph.

In returning to the scene of the visitation we see that in bringing our Lord to the house of Elizabeth, Mary brought great joy, even to inspiring joy in the unborn John the Baptist. As we carry Christ to the rest of society may our voices be a cause of joy for the unborn in our society."

Abortion debate

The front page of yesterday's Independent carried an article attacking Cardinal O'Brien for his anti-abortion stance, following a homily in Edinburgh on 31 May. The article is titled ironically "The man who wants to lead a sensible debate on abortion" The Cardinal had likened abortion to the killing of a classroom of children every day.

Elsewhere in the Independent, the Cardinal's comments were held up as a warning showing how the Religious Right was on the march against progressive forces.

What I find strange is why the rights movement has latched onto abortion as a progressive issue. The whole notion of easy abortion seems to me a denial of human rights, not only those of the unborn child but also those of the mother-to-be. One would have expected upholders of human rights to be applauding the Cardinal. It's a funny old world.

Stalinist Council Tax Snoopers

"Why should people who improve their homes with conservatories, patios and nice gardens be penalised?"

This was an editorial comment in the Daily Express earlier this week, which ran several articles on the subject, describing how a photographs were being used to compile a database for Council Tax valuations. The Daily Mail takes a similar view.

Why indeed? But this snooping remains essential to get the Council Tax to work as intended.

The only way to get rid of the snooping is reform of the tax, replacing it with a property tax must be confined to the rental value of land alone, and ignoring whatever buildings or other improvements on that land.

This is perfectly feasible and would avoid punishing people who make improvements to their homes and gardens. It would be cheaper to run and there would be no more need for snooping. So why don't these newspapers run with the idea, which would benefit most of the who read them?

Croydon tram accident ‒ no charges

It has been announced that no charges will be brought in respect of the accident in 2016 when a tram was derailed and overturned at Addisco...