lördag 23 januari 2010

Religious extremism

St Hugh's Charterhouse
There is an alert about threats of terrorism from religious extremists. The picture above is of a notorious hotbed of religious extremism in Sussex. Known as St Hugh's, it is seemingly peaceful and innocent, but do not be fooled. It is occupied by Catholic monks belonging to the Carthusian order, who take the teaching of the Catholic church to an extreme and live lives of great austerity, devoting most of their time to prayer. Beware.

torsdag 21 januari 2010

Lessons of a Mass revolt

Mass in Extraordinary Form

Lessons of a Mass revolt was the title of an article in the Guardian today. It turned out to be about an election in Massachusetts. Disappointing. With that headline I thought it was going to be another article about religion, on how more and more Catholics prefer the old Latin Mass now that the Pope has removed the restrictions. A bit a language confusion here.

onsdag 20 januari 2010

Earthquake and its aftermath

I had no idea that Haiti was in an earthquake zone until it happened. The last big one was in 1842, so it was bound to be unexpected. But the pictures are familiar - concrete buildings collapsed in piles of rubble with people trapped between the heavy slabs.

In wealthy countries in earthquake zones, modern high-rise buildings are constructed using special devices to minimise the effects when the earthquakes happen. But this is not the only way to prevent loss of life in earthquakes. Traditional Japanese buildings were constructed of lightweight materials. These were vulnerable to fires and storms, but they were low buildings and nobody got squashed under the paper panels. There seems to be a need to develop low-tech and inexpensive methods of earthquake-resistant building construction.

Shooting the looters
A disturbing feature of the present catastrophe is the number of people who are being shot for looting. Do the authorities take the view that the protection of property should take precedence over the needs of starving people? Surely the right approach would have been for the authorities to requisition and distribute supplies?

Rotten state of the country
Also revealed is the rotten state of the country. How is it that there are so many dirt-poor people in a land in which the USA has been heavily involved for so long? It is not, by any chance, a consequence of the USA's involvement?

tisdag 12 januari 2010

Elf 'n Safety on the ice

Shoe studs
There has been an epidemic of broken limbs due to falls on the ice. Councils have been blamed for not clearing the streets. But most of the accidents would not have happened if people had been wearing the right footwear. In the south of England, at least, people are not used to snow and ice and so are liable to being caught out.

These spikes slip on to any shoes, like galoshes. They give a good grip on ice, but are not to be trusted entirely and it is a good idea to use a spiked stick or pole, or pair of poles as well, as used by Scandinavian hikers.

Another suggestion is to wear wool socks over one's boots. I didn't try that but another thing that worked quite well was soft fabric boots. With these, one can feel the ground under one's feet and get extra grip with one's toes. But they only work if the temperature is less than about minus 5 and no salt has been put down to melt the ice.

In our Nanny State, one might have thought that the authorities would have been sufficiently on the ball to give out advice on the subject. But nobody has, not in the newspapers, not on radio or television. It would have saved much pain and injury, including some from which the victims never make a full recovery, to say nothing of what it has cost the NHS.  Strange.

söndag 10 januari 2010

This makes nonsense of the photography ban

Brighton Station 2001












I read on the website of the Association of Train Operating Companies, (ATOC), that 700,000 photos of stations have been taken for a new web guide to make UK train travel easier.

"Elderly and disabled people with mobility problems, parents with young children and passengers with heavy luggage will find it much easier to get around the rail network from today, with the launch of a new interactive web guide to stations in Britain, called ‘Stations Made Easy’.

"In a national railway first anywhere in the world, over 2,500 stations in Britain were photographed to give passengers a step by step guide of how to get around when they travel by train. The photographs allow people to pick a route around a station that makes their journey as easy as possible.

"The guide will also show interactive maps of every station in the country, pointing out where passengers can find all the facilities, such as ticket machines, toilets, taxi points, shops and bars.

"The new application can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website, which is the most visited travel and transport site in Great Britain with, on average, more than twelve million visits to the site every month, and is run by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC)."

Doesn't this make complete nonsense of the restrictions on photography imposed as part of the war on terror?

lördag 9 januari 2010

Student Radicalisation

There is increasing concern about the radicalisation of university students. This apparently means students from Muslim families who become fundamentalists and might go on to join terrorist organisations.

But the students that really need to be watched are Catholics who favour the traditional rite Latin Mass.

They are the most dangerous radicals of all, especially if they will only attend celebrations by a priest who has been validly ordained by a bishop in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. That is heavy stuff since it means they have thought the matter through very carefully and are sure of their ground. They are at one with the Universal Church, the most enduring organisation in human history, against which the gates of hell itself will not prevail.

This support can take seemingly innocent forms. Radical groupings can operate under the cover of activities like soup runs for the homeless, and musical groups for the performance of Gregorian chant and settings of the liturgy written by composers such as Palestrina and Victoria.

The authorities need to keep a check on these activities, since these students might go on to join Catholic religious orders and become priests, monks, nuns or friars, or get married and have large families, thereby contributing to the destruction of the planet. All of this presents a serious threat and challenge to the dominant liberal/capitalist atheist consensus.

Women's right to choose

In today's Guardian is a sad story of an aspirational family with two children whose mother, pregnant with her third child, had a test for Down's Syndrome which came back positive. Being of the progressive persuasion, the possibility of a "termination" was thinkable. The father writes,

"Our lives were overshadowed by the impending decision, but there never seemed any time for discussion. Instead we worried about it – or worried at it – separately. Having supported a woman's right to choose all my adult life, I could hardly waver now. There were practical considerations to weigh, too. I was the wrong side of 50, 13 years her senior, and would, in the normal course of events, be leaving her to deal with the most difficult – mature – years alone. Then there was the impact on the two children we already had... I was worried about her taking on an extra (and unknowably demanding) responsibility. She was the only person to judge whether she could cope. I made it clear that I would support her wholeheartedly and unquestioningly whatever she decided.

"...the dreaded call came with the results of the amniocentesis. As we had feared, it was Down's. Fiona decided on a termination. It was an agonising decision, certainly not taken lightly, and given the volume of grief it carried with it, an extremely brave one. I stood by it."

But it proved to be no easy solution. The narrative continues,

"Deep down, things were not the same. Fiona harboured a sadness that she could not shift and which I could not share, or share sufficiently.That spy in the cab, my diary again: "Frank discussion ... I think F made the right decision. Where I think she's going wrong is in dwelling on it. It infuriates her that I seem to be able to draw a line and move on."

There was no happy ending. Eventually, his wife left with the children.

It is an upsetting story but perhaps the worst of it is that here were people who, like so many others of us, had bought into the progressive paradigm, and ended up as the victims of it.

Read full article here

North Sea energy generation folly


Power companies awarded contracts to build 6,400 wind turbines off the British coast have warned that they will need a "super-grid" connected to Europe to guarantee a steady power supply.

The government proposes that these wind generators should be built in locations far out in the North Sea. These politicians ought to spend a couple of weeks on a North Sea oil rig, or make a ferry crossing on a rough night (photograph).

How do they think these things are going to be constructed and maintained? How would the workmen gain access to a generating tower? Unless each tower has a helicopter landing pad, maintenance crew will have to go by boat and somehow climb onto a landing stage, probably up a ladder or steps. Have the advocates of this project tried transferring from a boat to a vertical steel rung ladder - and back - in a heaving sea? What procedures would Health and Safety advise?

How much energy will be consumed in building and maintaining these generators? How long will it take to recover the energy used for construction?

One suspects that this "green energy" generation will turn out to be anything but. It may even consume more than it ever produces.

torsdag 7 januari 2010

Elevation of the Host


Extraordinary form Mass, St Mary Magdalen's Church, Brighton, Feast of the Epiphany

tisdag 5 januari 2010

Airport security - the cherry brandy test


Following the attempt by a Carthusian monk to blow up an aircraft on Christmas Day, there are various rows going on about the inquity of "profiling" for security risk, and more rows about what amounts to electronic strip searching.

All they need to do to screen passengers is to hand out bacon sarnies and glasses of cherry brandy, preferably the sweet syrupy one made by the Dutch firm Bols. If they take one or the other, one can be completely certain that they will not blow up their aircraft. Think about it.

lördag 2 januari 2010

Steam traction for the 21st century



Illustrations from Dampflokomotiv- und Maschinenfabrik DLM AG
This nice looking 4-8-4 has been proposed for a standard gauge continental commuter railway which carries little off-peak traffic and has been threatened with closure. It has tourist potential since it runs through attractive countryside. But such a locomotive could possibly be acceptable in the first instance for more general commercial applications, in particular, infrastructure trains, currently worked by GM class 66. These are are now falling foul of emission standards regulations as they are 2-stroke diesels, and there are also issues with noise in the cab.

One typical inefficient use for class 66 is for trainloads of ballast. They are driven to the works site and then stay there for a whole weekend, often with the engine running all the time! A fleet of ten is used for infrastructure trains on the London Underground, if I recall, where they are obviously less than ideal in the tunnel sections. Transport for London could presumably change to something more suitable and the diesels redeployed. London Transport retained steam for a few years after British Railways because of the expense of new diesels.

Niche applications for steam
A recent picture of a Eurostar train being rescued by a couple of diesel locomotives demonstrates perhaps the kind of niche work this type of locomotive might initially find in mainstream use. Other typical uses would be engineering, construction and infrastructure services, and rolling stock delivery and transfer, for example between main works and depots. If there was going to make a breakthrough, it would come first in that area. After that, there is the replacement fleet for the railbuses and possibly for tourist/museum lines struggling to keep their ancient relics running with declining numbers of volunteers, but that would be a smaller locomotive.

In a sensible world there would also be a place for steam on main lines that are not likely to be electrified within the next 25 years ie the outer fringes of the national network, plus freight generally. Unfortunately, instead, the government has imposed a very expensive hybrid electric-diesel passenger train on the railways, costing £4 million per vehicle, whilst serviceable stock will go for scrap prematurely.

What diesels cannot do
It seems to me that the advantages over a class 66 diesel for these niche applications would be lower capital cost (presumably less than half); reduced fuel costs due to greater efficiency and lower standby losses; compliance with emission standards; multi-fuel capability; lower noise levels; reduced maintenance costs; improved crew comfort.

There is nothing wrong with steam technology, after all, most electricity is generated that way, and for railway use where power demand is very intermittent, one needs an energy storage system ie a large boiler, LNER style, with ample reservoir capability, between the conversion of chemical energy by combustion of the fuel, and its conversion to mechanical energy.

Internal combustion cannot do this and one needs a great big expensive diesel engine which is under-utilised most of the time. Internal combustion technology is inherently unsuitable for railways and has probably risen to dominance due to the relative neglect of steam technology until the mid-1970s and L D Porta. Chapelon did good work but got sidelined, and Cox and Ell in the UK was a last-ditch effort.

The take-over of internal combustion technology on the railways took place on the back of the automotive industry. But it does not belong on the railway, where size and weight are not the issue they are with road vehicles.

A model for elsewhere
The proposal could be a model for other railways on the continent that were electrified long ago when hydro-electric power was available at low cost. Nowadays, electricity has to be paid for at the going rate, which makes electrification less attractive on lightly used railways. There are many such where the electrification equipment is getting old and in need of renewal. Modern steam traction could be an option worth considering in these cases, in particular in conjunction with the use of renewable fuels such as forestry waste and other forms of biomass.

What is fair?

What is fair? The Green Party has decided to run the idea of "Fair" as its dominant theme in its campaign in the constituency most likely to return a Green MP at the next election, Brighton Pavilion.

Everyone is in favour of fairness, of course. But what about the story from St Matthew, chapter 20? At the beginning of the day, the landowner goes out and hires labourers, promising them one denarius for the day's work. As the day continues, he goes out several times again, and hires more, also promising one denarius for the remainder of the day. The story concludes like this.

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. When those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more, but each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

"The landowner answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "

Although the story is intended as a parable about the kingdom of heaven, there is a more down-to-earth point: if an agreement is made, is it wrong to hold to it if the outcome appears unfair in the light of subsequent events?

Agreements should be held to, although one might ask why the labourers were in a situation of having to accept whatever was offered. But fairness cannot be a sufficient basis for deciding how wealth should be shared out. In justice, wealth belongs to those who have produced it. The wealth does not rightly belong to those who have not, whether they be an employer, a landlord or a government.

What is fair taxation?
Whilst, from one perspective, taxation according to "ability to pay" is fair, from a different perspective it is not at all fair. Whether a decision is fair or not depends on what analysis is brought to bear on the situation. What looks fair on the basis of a superficial analysis may, once the issues are considered in finer detail, be seen as a blatant injustice.

Time to give up on the Green party
It seems as if, now that the Green Party is within striking distance of gaining parliamentary representation, its lack of a coherent ideology is starting to show. It is plainly evident in the ramshackle ad hoc collection of Green Party proposals that pass as its policy. These include land value taxation (though, outside Scotland they almost never talk about it), raising the national minimum wage, a demand for a higher proportion of affordable housing in new developments, "free" home insulation, "free" school meals, subsidised loans for solar energy, and abolition of the monarchy. Which makes the Greens sound as if they have become little more than recycled socialists. The last of these is particularly worrying, not because they have any chance of putting their policy into effect, but because it shows a complete lack of understanding of how the British constitution works.

Socialist re-treads
There is much to criticise about Britain, and I would not bother to go out and stand by the side of the road to see the Queen. But for the past 300 years the constitutional monarchy has worked subtly in a way that has contributed to the protection of the country from the worst of the misfortunes that have afflicted many of our neighbours. It happens also that the present Queen has served the country particularly well, and continues to do so. Like all minority parties, the Greens do not need a complete programme for government but have only to say what they would do if they became part of a coalition. To declare more than this is to have unrealistic pretensions of grandeur, and for them, as a party, to take the view they do on the monarchy must cast doubt on their general competence to stand for office at a national level. They are nothing more than socialist re-treads

UK's persistent low productivity

There is talk yet again about the need to improve productivity in the UK. The country's low productivity is curious and apparently persi...