lördag 29 november 2008

Comment is free - but not always

Following the Mumbai bombing, there have been discussions on the Guardian's "Comment is Free".

Someone asked why a Jewish centre had been attacked and a rabbi and his wife killed. I replied with the suggestion that the following passage might have had something to do with it.
“The Jews and the Christians are perverts; fight them.” Koran 9:30

Both the original question and my reply were deleted by moderators. How free is comment?

söndag 16 november 2008

Parable of the Talents made strange reading

It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Next the man with the two talents came forward. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Last came forward the man who had the one talent. "Sir," said he "I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back." But his master answered him, "You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."

Today's reading (above, Matthew 25:14-30) sounded odd in the light of current events. How did the servant who was given five talents turn it into ten? The story seems to encourage the idea that money can be made my moving it hither and thither. And what of the servant who buried his talent in the ground? Since usury is forbidden, would it not have been a sin to deposit it with a banker? What if he had deposited his talent with an Icelandic banker? What would his fate have been then?

lördag 15 november 2008

Twenty-first century steam

60163 Tornado on its first day of public service
Originally uploaded by Alastair Wood

The locomotive in the top picture is Tornado, based on a 1946 design and the first high speed steam locomotive to be built in the world since the 1950s. It is now being commissioned and when this is complete will be able to run at speeds of up to 90mph. It has taken over 15 years to complete.

This is a tremendous achievement. It is a pity that it was not possible to incorporate most of the technical developments which have taken place since the 1960s and have improved the power and efficiency of steam locomotives by about one-third; perhaps some of these can be retro-fitted in the future. The reason, I understand, was that the design, if modified, would have had to go through the costly rail vehicles approval process. In the circumstances, I think it was the right decision to go ahead with building the original design.

There are various other projects to construct new steam locomotives of types which were not preserved. But there is little need for steam locomotives for hauling express passenger trains, which is what most of these schemes are. On the other hand, the operators of tourist railways are short of powerful, efficient and easy to maintain locomotives suitable for the kind of trains they actually run. The lower picture is of a newly designed locomotive for exactly this purpose. Sadly, the manufacturer, DLM of Winterthur, has so far failed to attract any orders. If an order for 20 or more could be put together, they could be offered at an attractive price and could well find purchasers for more than tourist railways, since they would be competitive with the kind of modern diesel trains used on secondary lines which are not electrified.

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the...