söndag 27 juli 2008
I am sure that most Moslems are perfectly charming and good people but there does seem to be a link between Islam and violence, and it seems to go back to the Prophet himself. Which is a problem for all of us.
lördag 26 juli 2008
Originally uploaded by seadipper
The Scottish National win at Glasgow East piles on the pressure for a referendum which could leave to the break up of the UK. The underlying reasons are economic and cultural. Where would that leave England? I never feel comfortable when I see this flag flying. I am not English. I am British. Though not every one who flies it is a racist or anything like that, the English flag carries a set of values some of which are very ugly. I don't mind the Union Jack but that carries a mixture of connotations including that of fairness and inclusiveness, precisely because it is not the flag of a single country.
I am not really keen on flags, but if I have to pick one, it is faded blue with an off-centre yellow cross. That carries values I am more in tune with. It is the closest thing to an anti-flag.
For a discussion of the economics of the Scottish business, I have written something here
tisdag 22 juli 2008
What is the matter with the government? They don't seem to be able to put a foot right. And the Conservatives do not promise any plausible solutions so one cannot expect any cures from that direction.
fredag 18 juli 2008
push and stand - a daily ritual for commuters on the thameslink
Originally uploaded by robinhamman
I wish the Department of Transport would decide what Thameslink is for.
The train service goes from Brighton to Bedford and takes about 2 1/2 hours from end to end. The busiest section is between Croydon and St Albans, where it runs through the centre of London. There, it is a suburban service much like the underground. The smaller number of passengers travelling longer distances have to put up with underground standards of comfort for journeys of inter-city duration, whilst the stock tends to have insufficient circulation and standing space for urban services. This leads to problems like the one in the picture.
The service also tends to transfer delays from the Brighton line to the Midland and vice versa. It woud surely be better to cut the service back so that it ran just within, roughly, the M25 at the most. South of London, services should commence at one of the southern terminals, probably London Bridge or Charing Cross, using long distance stock more suitable for the route to the coast.
Shouldn't this be sorted out before new stock is ordered?
She,ll being coming round the. . . . .
Originally uploaded by Elsie esq.
The Japanese firm Hitachi is a possible contender for new rolling stock for the Thameslink train franchise . This illustrates one of the deficiencies of the present rolling stock procurement programme.
Over the southern section of the route between London and the South Coast, the stock will be sharing the line with the Southern franchise, which operates a fleet of Electrostar trains built by Bombardier, like the one in the picture. If the new trains are fully compatible with the present ones, then units can be coupled together and run normally. This is particularly useful in unexpected situations - for instance, if a train breaks down or needs to be lengthened due to extra traffic. It is also essential if fleets are to be transferred from one route to another in response to changing circumstances. Compatibility gives flexibility.
Most trains constructed between about 1950 and 1975 had such compatibility, but since then, there has been an increasingly varied mixture of incompatible stock, so that it is often the case that when one train breaks down. the following one often cannot easily be coupled to push it out of the way.
Unless this compatibility has been specified for the new fleet, the effect of adding yet another fleet of trains with its own unique systems will compound the problem.
Electrostars are not my favourite trains but they could be a lot better with a few alterations. The ones that on long distance routes should have the doors at the ends, and the body profile results in an unnecessary loss of width. But these could be remedied and some of the present fleet of trains transferred and transferred to Thameslink, for which they would be better suited.
Why can't the train company just be told to order more Electrostars from Bombardier and be done?
Frankly, the language is not a lot of use, with only about 10 million people speaking it in Sweden and Finland. It is sufficiently similar to Danish and Norwegian to allow you to read the free newspapers like Metro and the magazines they give out on the trains, in those languages also. But if you want to be able to speak to as many people as possible, learn Spanish or Chinese instead, or even Portuguese. But for me, this lack of utility is an important part of its charm. If you speak in Swedish anywhere outside Scandinavia, you can practically guarantee you will not be overheard.
The course is very well organised so as to make the learning as painless as possible. The only trouble is that one makes friends and after a couple of weeks they are gone, with little likelihood of ever seeing them again. But that is a microcosm of life.
Once one has got even the slightest understanding of Swedish culture, it is obvious that the way things are done here is just not tranferrable to other countries. Which would explain why the Swedish planning practices of the 1960s, for instance, quickly led to problems when applied in Britain. Actually they eventually let to problems here too, but that is another story.
Most of my current affairs economics comments are now on the new improved web site of the Land Value Taxation Campaign and the link is on this blog. I phoned my neighbour yesterday and apparently people are gripped panic and fear over the state of the economy. The party is over and the bills are coming in.
tisdag 15 juli 2008
söndag 13 juli 2008
"Freddie Mac operates in a single, safe business: residential mortgages backed by the equity of millions of American homes across the nation. Freddie Mac is subject to rigorous governmental oversight and substantial capital requirements, and our financial disclosures surpass those of other large institutions. These practices ensure that our business is financially transparent and accountable to our shareholders, regulators and the American public."
The trouble is that, as I was taught when I studied economics, land is not wealth, and house prices include a substantial chunk of land value in the total. So this equity in land, concealed as "American homes", was never quite as sound as most people, including the recognised experts, imagined. Worse till, the value was pumped up to a bubble value by financial organisation's willingness to lend.
When the sub-prime crisis broke last August, the commentators said that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were safe. Now it seems they are unravelling too. What happens next is going to be interesting, if painful.
The general view is that this was due to poor regulation of the banks. Wrong. It is due to banks lending money for land purchase. And there is no way of preventing them from doing so apart from the introduction of a tax on the rental value of land, which would need to be quickly ramped up to a high level, a change that would have to be accompanied by the progressive reduction of taxes on labour, goods and services. Unfortunately, land value taxation is not in the economists' repertoire of policies so pencil in the next crash for 2028 or thereabouts.
The rooms in the tower at Skokloster Slott are octagonal. In the one at the top is a collection of curiosities, including a couple of unicorns horns. Only they are actually the bones from whales' penises. Which raises the question of email spam, which mostly try to sell methods of extending one's penis. If anyone bought them all, and they were effective, their penis would be absolutely gigantic and in need of similar reinforcement.
019 Canterbury Cathedral Nave facing west
Originally uploaded by Eric Rochester
The Church of England is going through one its periods of agonisation. It would never have existed were it not for Henry_VIIIs divorce, though the Reformation would probably have affected the church in England in some way, even if it were not for the Tudor king.
It has always been a three-way compromise between those who would like to have remained Roman Catholic, the genuine Protestants - the so-called evangelicals - who adhere closely to scriptural texts, and the ones in-between, probably the largest number, who just want to live-and-let-live. It has held together because nobody has generally pushed principle too hard. A few, like John Wesley, went off to found the Methodists, and from Newman's time there was a trickle into the Roman Catholic church, but the C of E has remained the dominant Christian grouping in England until recent years.
The points at issue this time are the appointment of openly gay clergy, women priests and bishops. Both the evangelical wing don't like it for scriptural reasons and the Catholic wing don't like it because it would absolutely prevent a corporate reunion with Rome.
Now, some Anglicans who see themselves as Catholics are seeking some form of reunion with Rome. One of the many problems is that there is already a Roman Catholic church in Britain with its own structure of dioceses and its own parishes. How could one have a Roman Catholic parish of, say, Catford and an Anglican Catholic parish of Catford, with their own churches and clergy a few hundred yards apart? Would they come under the authority of separate bishops both covering the same area?
How could this possibly happen? In any case, the RC church could not automatically accept former Anglican clergy as its own clergy; they would have to go through a period of formation and scrutiny so that the RC bishops were satisfied that these new clergy satisfied their own standards, which whilst not necessarily better or worse, are certainly different. And bishops have to be appointed from Rome when vacancies arose, so it is understandable that they would be reluctant to "go over"
Some people might say that these Anglicans who are seeking to join as entire communities want to have their cake and eat it, which would be unkind, but sadly, that is the truth of the matter. It is understandable why people whose ancestors may have been Anglicans for generation, and with long-standing friends in their church, would not want to make the break. And for the clergy, it means loss of job and home, which is a heavy price to pay. Which has given rise to this wish for the entry of entire communities into the (Roman) Catholic church.
So it comes back to the usual answer. If people feel the need to join the Church of Rome, which is not the same thing as leaving the Church of England, they have to do it as individuals. People cannot expect other people to make the decision for them. And there is always a price for the admission ticket - loss of friends, loss of job opportunities, giving up cherished practices, etc. Everyone has to decide for themself.
fredag 11 juli 2008
The starting blocks...
Originally uploaded by Thrash Merchant
The replacement programme for Britain's high speed trains runs from crisis to crisis. The project, to replace Britain's high speed electric trains (left) and its high speed diesel trains (right) is being managed by the Department of Transport, who have specified a light weight train capable of running at 140 mph, under electric power where the lines are electrified and under diesel power where they are not.
Alstom (builders of the TGV and Eurostar) has already pulled out of the bidding process. A consortium of the Canadian based giant, Bombardier, and German arch-competitor Siemens (builder of the German ICE train), has refused, in its bid, to comply with all the DfT conditions. Which leaves the Japanese firm Hitachi, which has just added new members to its consortium.
This has been a troubled project from its inception. The concept sounds plain wrong. It is untried, inherently complex and liable to run into prolonged teething troubles. The additional costs of 140 mph running are not worth the time savings in a country the size of Britain, especially when the competing modes are being hit by rising energy prices.
Once 125 mph or even 100 mph running is accepted as standard, the problem becomes so much more manageable. All that is then needed is a fleet of carriages, which might take the form of articulated sets, with driving trailers so that the locomotive does not need to be at the front of the train. These should be standardised so that they can operate freely with the existing fleet of mark 3 stock which is good for many more years. What is then required is a fleet of diesel locomotives and a fleet of electric locomotives. These would be based on a manufacturer's existing standard type. Where lines are electrified the trains can be hauled or pushed by electric locomotives and where they are not, diesel locomotives would be used. The cost of the necessary track alterations to enable quick changeovers are minute compared with the kind of costs that are entailed in the DfT's project.
That way, the chronic shortage of stock on Brtain's railways would be overcome and valuable flexibility gained. This is needed, on the one hand to respond to changing demands, and on the other, to enable the railways to adapt to technical changes, in particular the spread of electrification over the system. One has to ask what the civil servants were thinking of when they came up with this idea. £10 million has already been spent in consultancy fees on the project, and of course they were not going to say it was a bad idea even if they thought it.
Read FT article on subject
torsdag 10 juli 2008
By its own admission, Labour will need to borrow at least 3.2pc of GDP this year, even if the economy holds up well. Brussels described this as "prima facie evidence of a planned excessive deficit". It warned that UK public finances were no longer on a sustainable course after the spending blitz of recent years.
Yesterday's vote is the first time the EU has launched disciplinary action against a big Western state under the revamped Growth and Stability Pact. The UK now has the worst fiscal profile of any developed country in the North Atlantic sphere.
The European Commission expects the UK's public debt to rise from 43.2pc of GDP last year to 47.5pc by the end of next year. The ritual of naming and shaming at EU meetings is likely to prove a constant thorn in the side for Labour.
There is no chance that the deficit can be brought back under control in the foreseeable future. The deficit always deteriorates in a downturn. Capital Economics said borrowing needs could explode to £120bn a year if the country tips into a severe recession, as many now fear.
Britain is now in an ugly predicament. Unlike Spain or the US, it cannot easily resort to a fiscal boost - either tax cuts or extra spending - to cushion the effects of the property collapse.
Read the full article in the Daily Telegraph
It looks as if not only could the £ end up dropping below the Euro, itself not in the best of shape, but that Britain would not be allowed to join if it did. The best news is that the Bank of England has not cut interest rates this month, but given the disastrously unhealthy lock-in between the housing market and the rest of the economy, there is still serious trouble ahead. With the country in this kind of economic mess, what do its leaders think it is doing trying to act like a world power, purchasing the two new aircraft carriers to enable it to project its force and protect British interests round the world?
Surely the best way to protect British interests would be to sort out the problems inside the country?
tisdag 8 juli 2008
Datorer själv förbrukar mycket el. En bärbar dator kan användas som en bra självvärmeelement när vädret är kallt. Datorer slår ut värme. När det finns många datorer, till exempel i en stor datacentral blir värmen ett stort problem. En datacentral använder inte bara el för datorer men också för kylsystemet. Londons elföretag EDF har förbjudit nya datacentraler eftersom kablarna inte räcker och nya större kablar måste installeras.
De flesta hemdatorer används bara för att göra enkla saker, till exempel, titta på internet och filmer, skriva brev och lyssna på musik. De här sakerna behöver inte något kraftig dator. Men Windows systemet behöver ett mycket kraftig system bara för systemet självt. Och det är inte allt. Eftersom Windows systemet inte är säkert måste man installera antivirus mjukvara på datorn, som tar bort datorns kraft. Och trotts att antivirus mjukvara installeras kan datorn bli smittad av spyware, addaware och nya slags virus. Allt gör dator långsam. Eftersom man skulle vilja ha en snabb dator, behöver men den senaste, kraftigaste som man kan köpa. Det är inte miljövänligt.
Vad kan man göra? Man kan köpa en gammal dator. Ofta får man en gammal dator gratis. Sedan, tar man bort Windows. Istället, installerar man ett Linux system på datorn, t ex Ubuntu, SuSE, som är gratis och kan laddas ner från internet. Nu går datorn snabbt igen. Man behöver inte försvarar sin dator från virus därför att det finns nästan inga kända Linux virus. Man sparar både pengar och miljö.
måndag 7 juli 2008
Sweden enjoys high standards of public services, so much so that they can be taken as a benchmark for how such things ought to be. And though Sweden, unlike some other countries, no longer harbours the delusion of being a world power with the associated need to spend a fortune on military activities, it still costs a lot of money. Around 55% of the Swedish economy is in the public sector, which suggests that in the UK, with its much greater concentration of population, the figure needs to be much higher than the present 45% or so to bring the public realm up to the standard that people aspire to.
However, there are good and bad ways of collecting tax. Levying charges on products, goods and services is inevitably troublesome and the authorities are obliged to run these enforcement campaigns which in themselves add nothing to national wealth and tie down skilled personnel who could be doing something more useful. Apart from its deterrent effect, no useful service is performed by locking up restaurant owners.
Tax legislation round the world needs to take account of the simple fact that a tax on the annual value of land cannot be avoided or evaded, as land cannot be hidden or moved to a tax haven and its value is readily ascertainable without examining anyone's accounts. It is necessary only to keep a record of land transactions, which in many countries is already standard practice. The savings in administration by a shift to this form of taxation would be immense and nobody would have to concern themselves with what restaurant owners did to their cash machines.
READ MORE ABOUT LAND VALUE TAXATION HERE
söndag 6 juli 2008
After the service, which was attended by about 30 people as an outside guess, I spoke to some of the congregation and it seems I was the only UK English-speaking person in the congregation. There were a couple of people from Poland, a couple more from Italy, one from Spain and a few Africans.
There is some point in having the Mass in the vernacular of the country it is being said in, but what is the point of having it in English in circumstances such as those just described? And I have come across the same thing in Estonia, only in that case the priest's English was heavily accented and difficult to understand. Latin is the language of the Catholic church, not English. Where the aim is to cater for a multi-national congregation, surely the way to do it is to sing the simpler Gregorian chants? This has the added advantage that it will appeal to local people who want to sing the chants, in accordance with the latest instructions from Rome.
Hans Kung's concern was Papal Infallibility. Why this should be I do not know. In short, the dogma, was defined by the First Vatican Council in 1870, and applies when the Pope makes an ex-cathedra statement on a matter of Dogma. There has only ever been one such statement, made by Pope Pius XII in 1950, which defined the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an article of faith.
There was never any possibility that Humanae Vitae, which Kung referred to, could have been an article of faith. This is of course not to say that anything said by the Pope is not to be regarded as important. The long term consequences of easy contraception still have to be evaluated as they have had dramatic consequences for society. It will take at least another 50 years before the full effects can be judged. Certainly in Sweden, society has been transformed in ways good and bad. One consequence is that immigrants have had to be allowed in quite freely just to keep up the numbers, to the extent that the population is now about 15% immigrant.
Kung also referred to the authoritarian government of the church. The church organisation is a very flat hierarchy - pope, bishops and priests. In my experience the problems do not originate with Rome but with the bishops, and parish clergy when they fail to carry out the instructions of Rome and just do the job they are there to do. Authority is often not exercised when it needs to be. The authority of Rome is the source of the rights of ordinary Catholics.
The other feature was on the Church of England and its troubles over female clergy. There is talk of bishops wanting to "go over" to Rome.
The Church of England would not exist were it not for Henry VIII wanting to get his divorce. Theologically, it is a lash-up. It is painful to watch, but to anyone in it wanting to go over to Rome it should be made clear that the way is open to them as an individual, just as it is to anyone else. And that an objection to women clergy is not of itself a reason for becoming a member of the Catholic church.
Since the Anglican church has a different understanding of priesthood from that in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there should be no objection to female priests in their communion. Those who share the Catholic view of priesthood should sort out their position and seek admission if that is what they want. But they need to do it as individuals and not expect to take other people with them.
Asked about the cost and whether it was justified, Admiral Band said that although the present focus was on two land campaigns - Iraq and Afghanistan - it was vital to invest in the future, 15 or 20 years ahead, and he envisaged carriers playing a crucial role in projecting power and protecting Britain’s global interests.
Reading all this, nobody would think that Britain was a country that was grossly overcrowded into about one-third of its land area, with an economy that is chronically sick but currently running into one of its periodic crises, where young people could not afford a place to start a family, with a creaking infrastructure, a rotten school system and a democratic deficit, a consequence of the electoral system. All that is to say nothing of rising crime and unrest in cities where the underclass areas are dividing up into territories according to the ethnic origin of the majority of their residents, and which could easily erupt into bloodshed on the streets and most probably will.
The time when the UK was a great and wealthy power with an important empire is long past, but there seems to be a refusal to acknowledge this most obvious of facts and to try to find its appropriate place in the world. The delusion of being a big power refuses to go away. What would it take to make the people who run Britain face reality? Other countries of comparable size do not seem to feel the need to protect what they call their "global interests" in this way so what is so special about Britain? Or are these "global interests" a way of keeping attention away from the problems at home?
lördag 5 juli 2008
The falling exchange rate is particularly serious. A year ago, a Euro cost 71 pence, whereas now it is nearly 80p. But the Euro itself has also been losing purchasing power, and all these changes will feed through into higher prices for all imported goods. The only people to benefit are companies who provide services with small inputs of imported products.
Precisely what will happen is impossible to predict as much depends on how the government and the Bank of England deals with the situation. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the response will be coherent; when the Governor of the Bank of England blames external causes, one can have no confidence that there is any intention even of bringing the situation under control. In any case, most of the inflation for the next two years is probably already in the pipeline, My guess is that the UK will get 11% inflation in the period of 24 months to June 2010.
Although the experts hardly ever refer to it, the key indicator of UK house price imbalance, I suggest, is rentals. Typically, in the south of England, houses that last year were priced at £390,000 are being let for about £15,000 a year, or even less, net of expenses. The important figure here is how much it would be necessary to invest in order to earn the same amount in interest. Since people will normally expect a lower rate from property, an interest rate at the low end of the range - say about 5%, is a good rule of thumb. This would make such houses worth about £300,000, around 30% too high. But if there is going to be inflation inflation at 11% over the 24 month period, the over-pricing compared with mid-2007 must be just below 20%, which gives a hint about how much further prices are likely to drop, though this will be subject to strong regional variation.
The general conclusion that the UK economy is in trouble seems inescapable. In truth, is it has been mismanaged for years, certainly since 1945, and nobody in charge knows how to get out of the problems. Ed Balls, Brown's economic advisor from 1997, was the best qualified of his generation and if he could not do better than letting the UK economy rise up the wave on the rising phase of the cycle, leaving it to collapse on the down side phase, there must be something wrong with the theories that UK academics are propagating.
The analysis underlying the theories of the economist Henry George seem to give a reasonably convincing explanation and at least at the level of economics are almost certainly somewhere near to being a true description of what is going on. But the student who wants to dig deeper is left with the question of why a seemingly serviceable theory with good predictive powers is so consistently ignored both by those in authority giving and by the established economists who decide what the succeeding generation of politicians and ecomists will be taught.
tisdag 1 juli 2008
The Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Willin has prepared a series of photographs, one of them depicting a Last Supper with Jesus and a group of what appear to be transvestites. The figures are arranged in a reconstruction of the Leonardo mural.
The exhibition has been controversial. Pope John Paul cancelled an audience with the Protestant Archbishop Hammar of Uppsala for supporting the exhibit – which has been touring for ten years – and allowing it to be shown in churches across Sweden.
Speaking as a gay man who is also a Catholic, I find the pictures in bad taste rather than offensive but I would not bother to go and look at them. I can understand, however, why some Christians would definitely be offended. They do not conform to the imagery that people are familiar with.
But what is the artist actually trying to say? If the message is that Jesus came to save sinners, that is not unorthodox - on the contrary. My own parish, being where it is in the centre of Brighton, has more than its share of gay men and women who attend the church. We are made perfectly welcome. It is also make clear that we, like everyone else, married or single, straight or gay, should be attempting to live chaste lives. We do not always do this successfully but the Parish Priest is available in the confessional daily at 10.30. It can be embarrassing but the forgiveness of the Lord is there if there is a sincere desire to do better in the future. As for "gay marriage" - if anyone wants one they can get it done quietly at the local registry office, and there may be a good reason as there can otherwise be problems with the British inheritance laws.
But there are many depictions of Christ. That of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper does not show them as marginalised people. The image that does is the one in the stained glass window above, showing Mary Magdalen using her hair to anoint the feet of the Lord with nard contained in an alabaster jar, her emblem, here shown on the right hand side of the image. Mary Magdalen, the archaetype of the repentant sinner, is the patron saint of our parish. If the artist made herself more familiar with Christian imagery she would be able to make her point more forcibly without causing unnecessary offence.
See for yourself and make up your own mind
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