söndag 28 februari 2010

Standing up for Vatican 2

An new organisation has been set up called Stand up for Vatican 2 It is calling on the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales to support a national celebration in each of their dioceses of the forty fifth anniversary of the closure of the Second Vatican Council in 2010. But there seems to be no agreement on precisely what V2 was proposing. Many of the subsequent changes, such as the regular use of the vernacular in the liturgy, appear to be an interpretation that may not ever have been intended by the Council. Which raises the question of what precisely there is to celebrate? In Europe, at least, the Catholic church has not flourished since Vatican 2.

However, it seems to me that an appropriate parish celebration would consist of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, with Gregorian Chant and music by Palestrina.

lördag 27 februari 2010

Inter City Express project stalling

The government has, at last, announced an inquiry into whether plans to buy the fleet of Hitachi high-speed trains are value for money. The inquiry will delay a decision on whether to proceed with the Inter City Express programme until after the general election.

It comes after more than a year of negotiations between the Department for Transport and a consortium led by Japan's Hitachi, which was named preferred bidder last February . The consortium was due to supply up to 1,400 carriages for 125mph trains to replace the InterCity 125 diesel and 225 electric fleets. Even if the project eventually goes ahead, the inquiry will delay the retirement existing trains, built between the mid-1970s and early 1990s.

This is welcome, and not before time. What a pity that £20 million has been spent so far on development work. This alone would have paid for, four Electrostar sets or 8 electric locomotives.

The most urgent needs are

(1) to develop a new electric locomotive for use in Britain, equivalent to the TRAXX locomotive in widespread use on mainland Europe. The locomotive might actually be the TRAXX itself, adapted for the UK loading gauge, or it may be that one of the Japanese manufacturers has a design for the 3ft 6in gauge that could be modified much as the new Kent high speed commuter trains are a development of a 3ft 6in gauge Japanese design.

(2) to develop a design for a hauled passenger vehicle compatible with the mark 3 fleet, which it would augment, not replace; and

(3) to develop a haulage unit for passenger trains on non-electrified routes.

(4) to purchase the 130 redundant mark 3 and International vehicles currently in the Irish Republic, and to refurbish and re-gauging these to make them compatible with the rest of the mark 3 fleet.

tisdag 23 februari 2010

Islam is an evil doctrine

Jews leave Swedish city after sharp rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes

Sweden's reputation as a tolerant, liberal nation is being threatened by a steep rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city of Malmo. The perpetrators are young Muslims. This should not come as a surprise since they are only doing what their holy book tells them to do. But if Sweden does not quickly get a grip of its unruly Moslems, the problem will soon affect far more people than the Jews. As elsewhere in Europe, it is the politicians on the left who are encouraging this by a policy of tacit encouragement. Criticism of Islam is seen as racist. A few weeks ago I published a translation from an article on the subject in a Swedish newspaper, but today there is a report in the British press, with this article in the Daily Telegraph

Also published today is a piece by a Tariq Ramadan in the Guardian Comment is Free on "Islam's role in an ethical society". I referred to and linked the above article, and within an hour it had been deleted by the moderator, presumably following a complaint. I re-posted, and that was deleted too, this time without trace. Someone else posted the same link and that was also deleted.

This seems to point to someone hypersensitive on the staff of the Guardian itself, which has published nothing on the subject.

söndag 21 februari 2010

Party consensus on HST2 collapses

It was reported last week that the Conservatives have withdrawn their support for the proposed route of HST2. This is due to fear of losing votes from their NIMBYs voters, who are fearful of property blight. It is the worst of reasons since it does not go to the heart of the problem and question the whole project.

Nevertheless a valid point is being made, if not directly. There is no effective means of judging whether or not a particular item of infrastructure development is a good investment, both in absolute terms and relative to other possible and competing investments.
The unfolding arguments about whether Britain should have a high speed railway and where it should run illustrate a general problem.

A good measure of the value of infrastructure is the aggregate change in land value to which it gives rise, but there is only limited experience in analysing the effects and forecasting the likely increases. The Conservative objection to the high speed railway boils down to the fact that it leads to a fall in land values along the line of its route and to increases only within the catchment area of stations.

The next difficulty is that this external value of taxpayer-funded investment is not captured for the taxpayer and produces no return, being instead taken in the form of windfall gains by landowners. If there was a system of land value taxation in place, based on the taxation of the annual rental value of land, these windfall gains would be collected automatically. Conversely, there would be compensation for the losses, thereby taking the force away from the objections of NIMBYs.

But this too has become controversial because of the suggestion of what is known as "tax increment funding" which has got the thing a bad name. TIF involves hitting people with a lump sum charge, levied within areas that had gained from the infrastructure, which of course would be grossly unfair. It is unreasonable to expect people to suddenly make large payments for something they will get little from, nor is it possible to draw a boundary which defines where the benefits begin and end.

lördag 20 februari 2010

How Britain looks after its brave boys

Britain's Brave Boys

These homeless men sleeping out under the promenade at Brighton are all ex-soldiers of various ages. They have served in places like Northern Ireland, the Falklands, and the Gulf. Once they left the army they found it impossible to settle into civilian life and ended up homeless. They have a drink problem but clean up as best they can afterwards. They are probably "institutionalised".

A significant proportion of homeless men are ex-servicemen. The official attitude seems to be that they are no longer of use and can be discarded.  I think the problem is that the sort of accommodation that would be right for them simply does not exist. I get the impression that they would not get on well in, for instance, a bed-sit flat, which is what they would probably get offered, after which they would be forgotten about as a solved case. These men need a structured environment, where ex-servicemen can live in a protected community, under firm direction

What might be done? In the seventeenth century, Chelsea Hospital was founded for just this purpose. Isn't there a need for similar institutions today? I have in mind large houses with 15 to 20 rooms and communal facilities such as a dining room, lounge, games and hobbies rooms, and a gymnasium run by a well-organised retired sergeant type who was kind, sympathetic but firm.

Residents in the kind of establishment I envisage would be expected if possible to help in the running of the establishment by taking turns with household tasks like cooking and cleaning, painting, decorating and household tasks. To judge from the way they conduct themselves, most of them would be well able to do such things as a product of their army training.

In such an environment, some of them at least might be able to give up their alcohol habits and possibly hold down regular work and become valuable members of their local communities.

This is really something that the government should take on as part of a duty of care to those who choose to risk their lives to defend the country, but if it will not, there is a need for a new charitable foundation. It would undoubtedly qualify for Royal patronage and enjoy huge public support.

Come on, you tabloids, speak up for our brave boys after their military usefulness is past.

torsdag 18 februari 2010

How to travel to Scandinavia

Restaurant on the Dana Sirena

The ferry between Harwich and Esbjerg is more expensive then a cheap flight but it avoids the harassment of airports and Scandinavia starts when one steps onto the ship at Harwich, which is always a good thing. The restaurant, though on the pricey side, is worth it as well. You only live once so why not?

DFDS ferries

British Immigration officials

Why do British immigration officials present themselves so badly? Every time I encounter these people, I find their behaviour gratuitously offensive, regardless of whether I arrive at the Eurostar terminals at Brussels or Paris, or at the east coast port of Harwich, it is the same story. To judge from the way the conduct themselves, they appear to be ex-prison warders. Or possibly they are prison warders and immigration control is part of the job.

Yesterday I arrived at Harwich and was confronted by a burly, hatchet-faced man with an unpleasant demeanour. I was asked a whole string of questions; what had I been doing for three weeks in Sweden? What was my address in Britain? What was my job? The latter question revealed incompetence, because if he had checked my date of birth on the passport, he would have realised that I was retired.

If I had been caught by the police in the act of breaking-and-entering, arrested and taken into custody, such an approach would have been appropriate.

On reflection, I wonder what would have happened if he had been dissatisfied with the answers? Would I have been refused entrance to the UK? As I was carrying a return ticket back to Denmark anyway, I would just have had to change the date and go back at the next sailing. I can think of worse fates.

Incompetence describes the entire operation. If someone really is up to no good, the worst thing to do is to treat them as suspected criminals. If the officials behave in an open and friendly way, miscreants are more likely to blab and reveal significant information. As it is, we have the usual picture of oppressed people revelling in their tiny little bit of power.

Thoughts on camera design - 1

Six decades of Leica

I have been taking photographs since I was a teenager, when I started with a Box Brownie taking 8 negatives on 120 roll film. These had a little frosted glass viewfinder with the image projected onto it with a lens and a mirror. You held the camera at waist level and peered into the viewfinder, using your hand to keep the screen shaded. It was possible to take a reasonable picture with them but they were never sharp.

My first proper camera was a Selfix 820 with a Ross Xpres lens, also taking 8 pictures on 120 film, made in 1959. At that time, 35mm film was of relatively poor quality and grainy. The Selfix pictures were extremely sharp. The Selfix 820 was a folding camera and quite compact. It is very well made and robust. When the camera is opened up for use, it is very rigid and the lens is held in position positively. The main drawback of the model I had bought were a poor and inaccurate viewfinder and the lack of a coupled rangefinder. After a couple of years I replaced it with a Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2 with a Tessar lens probably dating from 1939. It is a refined design, but the lens positioning is not positive. The better viewfinder and coupled rangefinder made it easier to use but the pictures were “soft”.

In 1970 I purchased my first 35mm camera, a Leica M2, with 50mm and 90mm Elmar lenses. This was compact, easy to use and took sharp pictures. Its limitations were that it was not good for close-up work and I felt that a longer telephoto lens would have been useful. The great merit of the M2 is that it is robust and the viewfinder provides a large bright image including a field of view outside the projected frame.

In 1977 I supplemented the Leica with a Nikon F2 and over the years obtained a selection of lenses. The following year I disposed of the Leica and traded it in for a Linhof technical camera with ground glass screen, for architectural photography.

After about 1980, most of my photography was for work, which involved a lot of it. I used both the Nikon and the Linhof. My work was with a London borough and when I retired in 1991 the material was transferred to the local history library.

måndag 15 februari 2010

Church alterations

St Mary Magdalen's Church Brighton

St Mary Magdalen's Catholic Church, Brighton, has gone through a series of changes over the past six months. The picture is of the approved layout but it was constructed in thick ply to see how it worked. It was not satisfactory and after a few weeks was changed, which was easily done due to the temporary construction.

The edge of the platform and the altar was moved further back. The steps were extended all the way across and returned on either side. The priest's chair stands on a plinth at the same level as the bottom step on the north side. This will probably be the final arrangement.

The idea of having a temporary structure proved a good investment as it could be tested without spending large sums of money.

söndag 14 februari 2010

Whoever wins, Britain loses

Whoever wins the next election, the people of Britain will lose. As election time approaches, that much is obvious. The real choice is minimal. There is no proper thinking going on, not just in parliament but nor the think tanks or universities either. Basic concepts in economics such as Ricardo's Law of Rent are hardly talked about and certainly not understood, because to do so would lead on to conclusions that are political dynamite.

Why should this be? How about this for an explanation? Seen from a Scandinavian perspective - the idea came to me while I was sitting on a Gothenberg tram - this hypothesis makes more than a bit of sense.

"The country is run by and for the benefit of a mostly hereditary elite, with the aid of their recruited mandarins. One technique is to capture the opposition, so it does not matter who gets elected.

"This elite has always conceded just enough to keep the "peasants" from revolting. From that perspective, the post war socialist reforms, which were hatched during the war, were a response to the real and present threat of revolution. Once it was clear that communism was on its inevitable path to collapse, they could let things revert.

"The present technique is to exercise tight control on what can be talked about, keep people drunk, drugged-up and stupid, through relaxed alcohol legislation, anti-drugs laws that are a fig-leaf, and rotten schools and universities offering degrees of decreasing quality and increasing triviality."

If this is the case, then one day they could miscalculate but it is not going to happen any time soon.

lördag 13 februari 2010

Church Layouts

Elevation of the Host, originally uploaded by seadipper.
St Mary Magdalen's Church, Brighton, has been going through a series of changes over the last few months. This was the temporary altar, with the remains of the sanctuary floor behind. It was moved the following week but its final position is a matter of speculation. Many members of the congregation would like to see it put back to its pre-1970 position against the reredos, where the ruins of the original altar can be seen in the picture.

The arrangement of the sanctuary should not be a matter for argument, since the requirements are set out in the Chapter 5 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is here reproduced.

However, like the church, this is a work in progress and the present edition of the GIRM dates from 2003. As long ago as 2001, Pope Benedict, whilst as Cardinal Raztinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke of the need for a "reform of the reform". Where this will end it is impossible to know but it seems that there is a widespread and growing appreciation, especially amongst younger people, of the 1962 liturgy and what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Following the ruling by Pope Benedict that the 1962 form of the Mass had never been abrogated and could therefore be freely celebrated, this is becoming increasingly the practice.

The spread of the Extraordinary form is influencing the manner of celebration of the Ordinary Form, with priests appreciating the benefits of the ad orientem (with the people) position. The primary advantage is theological in that it emphasises that the Mass is a sacrifice and not a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but there are also trivial benefits as well: it is less distracting for both priest and congregation, the personality of the priest is less intrusive and it makes clear his role purely as an agent of Christ. Paradoxically, also, it is more "democratic", since he is nothing other than the leader of his flock as he directs them towards God.

For these reasons, it is possible that the next revision of the GIRM will review paragraphs 299 and 315, regarding the position of the altar and tabernacle. A particular difficulty with the present sanctuary layout is that by placing the tabernacle at the extreme east end of the church, with the priest standing with his back to it facing the people, a confusion is created, that is avoided when the altar and tabernacle are at the east end and the priest faces it whilst saying Mass.

It is not only my view that this confusion has given rise to theological confusions and is ultimately related to the decline of the Catholic church in recent years.

The Arrangement and Furnishing of Churches
for the Celebration of the Eucharist
288. For the celebration of the Eucharist, the people of God normally are gathered together in a church or, if there is no church or if it is too small, then in another respectable place that is nonetheless worthy of so great a mystery. Churches, therefore, and other places should be suitable for carrying out the sacred action and for ensuring the active participation of the faithful. Sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should, moreover, be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.[108]
289. Consequently, the Church constantly seeks the noble assistance of the arts and admits the artistic expressions of all peoples and regions.[109] In fact, just as she is intent on preserving the works of art and the artistic treasures handed down from past centuries[110] and, insofar as necessary, on adapting them to new needs, so also she strives to promote new works of art that are in harmony with the character of each successive age.[111]
On account of this, in commissioning artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be required is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.[112]
290. All churches should be dedicated or, at least, blessed. Cathedrals and parish churches, however, are to be dedicated with a solemn rite.
291. For the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings, all who are involved in the work are to consult the diocesan commission on the sacred Liturgy and sacred Art. The diocesan Bishop, moreover, should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues.[113]
292. Church decor should contribute toward the church’s noble simplicity rather than ostentation. In the choice of materials for church appointments there should be a concern for genuineness of materials and an intent to foster the instruction of the faithful and the dignity of the entire sacred place.
293. A proper arrangement of a church and its surroundings that appropriately meets contemporary needs requires attention not only to the elements related more directly to the celebration of the sacred actions but also to those things conducive to the appropriate comfort of the faithful that are normally forthcoming in places where people regularly gather.
294. The People of God, gathered for Mass, has a coherent and hierarchical structure, which finds its expression in the variety of ministries and the variety of actions according to the different parts of the celebration. The general ordering of the sacred building must be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly and allows the appropriate ordering of all the participants, as well as facilitating each in the proper carrying out of his function.
The faithful and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.[114]
The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.
All these elements, even though they must express the hierarchical structure and the diversity of ministries, should nevertheless bring about a close and coherent unity that is clearly expressive of the unity of the entire holy people. Indeed, the character and beauty of the place and all its furnishings should foster devotion and show forth the holiness of the mysteries celebrated there.

295. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation. It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.[115]
The Altar and Its Appointments
296. The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist.
297. The celebration of the Eucharist in a sacred place is to be carried out on an altar; but outside a sacred place, it may be carried out on a suitable table, always with the use of a cloth, a corporal, a cross, and candles.
298. It is appropriate to have a fixed altar in every church, since it more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the living stone (1 Pt 2:4; cf. Eph 2:20). In other places set aside for sacred celebrations, the altar may be movable.
An altar is called “fixed” if it is attached to the floor so as not to be removeable; otherwise it is called “moveable.”
299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.[116] The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.
300. An altar whether fixed or movable is dedicated according to the rite prescribed in the Roman Pontifical; but it is permissible for a movable altar simply to be blessed.
301. In keeping with the Church’s traditional practice and the altar’s symbolism, the table of a fixed altar is to be of stone and indeed of natural stone. In the dioceses of the United States of America, however, wood which is worthy, solid, and well-crafted may be used, provided that the altar is structurally immobile. The supports or base for upholding the table, however, may be made of any sort of material, provided it is worthy and solid.
A movable altar may be constructed of any noble and solid materials suited to liturgical use, according to the traditions and usages of the different regions.
302. The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.
303. In building new churches, it is preferable to erect a single altar which in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.
In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order not to distract the attention of the faithful from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.
304. Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth, its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design. When, in the dioceses of the United States of America, other cloths are used in addition to the altar cloth, then those cloths may be of other colors possessing Christian honorific or festive significance according to longstanding local usage, provided that the uppermost cloth covering the mensa (i.e., the altar cloth itself) is always white in color.
305. Moderation should be observed in the decoration of the altar.
During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities, and feasts are exceptions.
Floral decorations should always be done with moderation and placed around the altar rather than on its mensa.
306. Only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the mensa of the altar: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal.
In addition, microphones that may be needed to amplify the priest’s voice should be arranged discreetly.
307. The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration (cf. no. 117), are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary so that the whole may be well balanced and not interfere with the faithful’s clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed on it.
308. There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.

The Ambo
309. The dignity of the word of God requires that the church have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word.[117]
It is appropriate that this place be ordinarily a stationary ambo and not simply a movable lectern. The ambo must be located in keeping with the design of each church in such a way that the ordained ministers and lectors may be clearly seen and heard by the faithful.
From the ambo only the readings, the responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; it may be used also for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should go up to it.
It is appropriate that a new ambo be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual[118] before it is put into liturgical use.

The Chair for the Priest Celebrant and Other Seats
310. The chair of the priest celebrant must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer. Thus the best place for the chair is in a position facing the people at the head of the sanctuary, unless the design of the building or other circumstances impede this: for example, if the great distance would interfere with communication between the priest and the gathered assembly, or if the tabernacle is in the center behind the altar. Any appearance of a throne, however, is to be avoided.[119] It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the chair be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[120]
Likewise, seats should be arranged in the sanctuary for concelebrating priests as well as for priests who are present for the celebration in choir dress but who are not concelebrating.
The seat for the deacon should be placed near that of the celebrant. Seats for the other ministers are to be arranged so that they are clearly distinguishable from those for the clergy and so that the ministers are easily able to fulfill the function entrusted to them.[121]

The Places for the Faithful
311. Places should be arranged with appropriate care for the faithful so that they are able to participate in the sacred celebrations visually and spiritually, in the proper manner. It is expedient for benches or seats usually to be provided for their use. The custom of reserving seats for private persons, however, is reprehensible.[122] Moreover, benches or chairs should be arranged, especially in newly built churches, in such a way that the people can easily take up the postures required for the different parts of the celebration and can easily come forward to receive Holy Communion.
Care should be taken that the faithful be able not only to see the priest, the deacon, and the lectors but also, with the aid of modern technical means, to hear them without difficulty.
The Place for the Choir and the Musical Instruments
312. The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass.[123]
313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[124]
In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season’s character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities, and feasts.
The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist
314. In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.[125]
The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible.[126] Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use, it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[127]
315. It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.[128]
Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop,

  1. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);

  2. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer[129] and organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful.
316. In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should be kept alight to indicate and honor the presence of Christ.[130]
317. In no way should all the other things prescribed by law concerning the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist be forgotten.[131]
Sacred Images
318. In the earthly Liturgy, the Church participates, by a foretaste, in that heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which she journeys as a pilgrim, and where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; and by venerating the memory of the Saints, she hopes one day to have some part and fellowship with them.[132]
Thus, images of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints, in accordance with the Church’s most ancient tradition, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful in sacred buildings[133] and should be arranged so as to usher the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. For this reason, care should be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and that they be arranged in proper order so as not to distract the faithful’s attention from the celebration itself.[134] There should usually be only one image of any given Saint. Generally speaking, in the ornamentation and arrangement of a church as far as images are concerned, provision should be made for the devotion of the entire community as well as for the beauty and dignity of the images.

tisdag 9 februari 2010

Government spending cuts

With the government now being forced to make spending cuts, it would be an opportune moment to abandon the Inter City Express project. The arguments against it have been presented so many times that this is not the place to repeat them. From the moment the project was first mooted, Modern Railway has been publishing very well informed articles by Roger Ford, and writing from a different perspective, Ian Walmsley. According to various estimates, it costs between two and four times what it should and involves the premature scrapping of rolling stock with a decade or two of useful service life ahead. There is nothing I can usefully add.

The other project that needs to be subject to scrutiny is Crossrail. I commented on this before here. The main underground sections from Paddington to Stratford and Woolwich could be constructed as tube lines and integrated into the London Underground system, possibly taking over the Hammersmith and City branch of the Metropolitan Line. This should be significantly cheaper and would probably be more useful into the bargain.

Universal Knowledge

Oxford - The High, originally uploaded by seadipper.
Britain's universities are braced for a round of cuts. This could be turned to advantage. Further education and training in Britain needs a complete re-think.

Universities were first established in Europe in the middle ages, as places for the teaching of universal knowledge. The range of subjects that was taught varied, but usually included theology, philosophy, mathematics, law, astronomy and medicine. As time went on, other subjects were added: chemistry, physics, mathematics, botany, zoology, classics and history. Geography, modern languages, anthropology, psychology, politics and economics were relative latecomers.

Subjects with a practical or vocational content such as art, architecture, and music tended to be taught in dedicated establishments, as, later on, were surveying, engineering and agriculture. Such courses usually involved periods of work in practical situations - learning on the job was balanced with learning the theory, so that the two informed each other.

From the 1960s, there was a huge expansion in university education, with the development of degree courses in subjects like town planning, landscape design, photography, computing science, and of course the notorious media studies. Many of these courses are a ragbag of short modules in which many subjects are taught at a superficial level. This is dangerous because students never get to learn anything in depth. That makes it impossible for them to appreciate when they are only skimming the surface of a subject - they never know how much they do not know. Having studied chemistry in the old way in the 1960s, I am well aware when there are gaps in my knowledge and will quickly own up to the deficiencies (I hope).

What needs to be done? Universities need to contract to teaching the core subjects in depth to a high level, more or less as they did when originally established. A degree from such establishments should be a guarantee that its possessor is not only familiar with a body of subject knowledge, but is also able to think at a high level in the abstract. Such universities should operate independently of the requirements of government and commerce, since to do so would degrade their function. it should be recognised that they exist to serve mankind as a whole.

The vocational subjects should be removed to establishments closely involved with commerce and the professions. The courses should redesigned to include substantial practical in-work content. The qualifications they issue should not be termed degrees, but should either be tied to the qualifications issued by professional bodies or awarded as subject-specific diplomas.

Of course, it is impossible to draw a sharp boundary between what is core and what is vocational, and there are subjects such as engineering that would probably have a place in both sets of institutions. Obviously, too, one of the functions of the cut-down universities would be to serve the vocational institutions.

Subjects everyone should study
There are a few subjects that everyone needs to have a grasp of. One is philosophy - the ability to think and reason for oneself and understand one's own situation in the world. This is something that should inform all teaching, from the earliest possible age. The other is economics. One of the reasons for the present economic problems is that the subject has become the preserve of experts, with the result that everyone else thinks it is too difficult. It is not. Everyone is obliged to act in the world of economics and needs to understand it. On the whole, their grasp is hazy, though often so is that of the so-called experts. Every street busker, for instance, instinctively understands aspects of economics that they would be unlikely to learn if they studied the subject in an academic context for decades!

Universities have become bloated and degrees devalued. Matters were set to get worse, with a proposal that 50% of school-leavers should go to university. It would do no harm to go back to first principles on the entire question of how young adults should be educated.

måndag 8 februari 2010

Coldest winter in Sweden for many years

Snowy night in Gothenberg, originally uploaded by seadipper.
My visit to Sweden has been during the coldest winter for fifteen years or so. Does everything carry on working like clockwork? No. The railways have been disrupted with the usual things like failed trains and iced-points, and the island ferries have been running to a special ice timetable. And people have been slipping and injuring themselves on the ice.

Nevertheless, better preparations have been made for the extreme cold weather and things keep going. Which is no criticism of the authorities in southern England, who have been caught out, because it is expensive to prepare for cold weather and it is better to take the risk of occasional disruption.

Living in a cold climate demands careful preparation or the consequences can be fatal. Which probably explains quite a lot about Swedish attitudes and the national character. It is an environment that is not so hostile that it is not usually possible to take control but the details have to be thought through in advance. It is not something one would appreciate without a visit at this time of the year.

söndag 7 februari 2010

Getting it not-quite-right

Canary Wharf Station, originally uploaded by seadipper.
The Docklands Light Railway in London is a fine system but falls awkwardly between two stools, probably because of the ad-hoc way it grew up.

Constructed with the aim of opening up the former docklands area of east London and opened in 1986, it ran originally from Tower Gateway to Stratford and Island Gardens, mostly on disused railway viaducts. At the planning stage, there was talk about short sections of on-street running, but in the end this never happened. Early decisions made were to use light rail tramway type vehicles, driverless trains under remote control, and an unusual system of third rail electrification, the latter, seemingly for aesthetic reasons at the request of the planners in the London Docklands Development Commission.

Subsequent extensions were made to Bank in 1991 and Beckton in 1994. Further expansion took place with the opening of branches to Lewisham in 1999, London City Airport in 2005 and Woolwich Arsenal in 2009.

It was evident from the outset that the line would be inadequate once the Canary Wharf development was complete and an eastward extension of the Jubilee Line tube was built from Bond Street to Waterloo, Southwark, Bermondsey, Canary Wharf, North Greenwich and Stratford, opening in 1999. The section of the Jubilee Line from Bond Street to Charing Cross, opened in 1979, was then abandoned.

Wisdom after the event
With the benefit of wisdom after the event, one must wonder if this was the most cost-effective way of improving transport for a redeveloped docklands. There have been five different types of rolling stock, of which the original cars were in service for just five years before being disposed of. There was a considerable amount of tunnelling, which would have been less costly if the lines had been constructed to tube standards. And building to tube standards would have provided the capacity needed to shift people from the redeveloped Canary Wharf, thereby probably avoiding the need to construct the Jubilee Line Extension.

Another alternative would have been to adopt conventional heavy rail standards. In that case the route could have integrated the services on the two sides of the Thames, avoiding the need for changes at Stratford and Lewisham.

A third option would have been to adopt conventional tramway standards, with overhead electrification and human drivers. With a mixture of dedicated routes and on-street running, this would have avoided some very costly civil engineering works, especially for the Lewisham extension with its extensive viaducts and diversion of the the river Ravensbourne.

The tramway solution would also have had the advantage that passengers were not deposited a long walk away from a popular shopping centre, on the wrong site of a busy main road. Instead, the line could have run on-street into Lewisham High Street, and eventually to Catford and perhaps Bromley, all at a fraction of the cost. Other on-street extensions would also have been possible north of the river.

The moral: big projects should be designed with an end in view and not made up as they go along.

torsdag 4 februari 2010

3G broadband timewasting

Huawei 3G sticks

In theory, 3G broadband is a good idea and these USB wireless receivers are just the job. But none of the providers give decent Linux support. Some models open up as a USB memory stick with a load of Windows software which is useless if you are not running M$. Others may or may not run, or run sometimes, seemingly at whim, so you never know what they will do. Some suppliers eg Phone House, will not refund your money if they prove not to work, because the packet has been opened, though how one is meant to try them without opening the packet is something the shop staff cannot explain.

Of the two illustrated, from 3G, the old one works fairly reliably but the new only works after many attempts.

What a waste of time.

tisdag 2 februari 2010

Theory and practice are two different things - part 3

Brienz Rothorn Bahn, originally uploaded by Bods.
The development of the steam locomotive did not end in the 1950s. For one reason and another, a few countries kept their steam locomotives going. One of these was Argentina, where a coal-carrying railway purchased a new fleet as recently as 1973. In South Africa, subject to sanctions, a study in the late 1980s actually showed that in the special conditions that prevailed, with cheap labour, plentiful coal, and an oil embargo, it would be cheaper to continue to use steam traction on routes that were not worth electrifying. Ignoring this conclusion, the railway administration replaced its steam fleet with diesels anyway!

In a remote area of Argentina, a series of experiments was conducted by an idiosyncratic engineer, L D Porta. The most important of these (the locomotives were burning coal) was to introduce waste steam into the fire. This causes the so-called water gas reaction, in which water and carbon produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas, which then burn in the usual way, though completely and without black smoke. Because this reaction is endothermic, the fire is cooled, which prevents ash from melting, blocking the firebed and having to be dug out laboriously by hand. Porta also improved the design of the exhaust system, to make it more efficient and reduce spark-throwing. In one final fling of innovation, these features were successfully applied to a single locomotive on the South African Railways. Efficiency was, it was claimed, increased by almost one-third.

Not the end of the story
That was not quite the end of the story either. Steam continues to be used on tourist and museum railways. In some cases it is hopelessly inefficient and the cost of the coal is a matter of concern. In the early 1990s, a batch of new steam locomotives were constructed for tourist railways in Austria and Switzerland (photograph above). These simply burn diesel oil, which sounds wasteful, given the inherently lower thermal efficiency of the steam locomotive. The operators then found the the steam locomotives were using less fuel then their diesel locomotives, which was unexpected and not what was meant to happen. Presumably they simply realised that they were putting less in the fuel tanks. The manufacturers carried out an audit and discovered the explanation. There were three reasons for the lower fuel consumption: the diesels wasted a lot of fuel when the engines were left idling whilst stationary and running downhill, the diesels had to provide additional power to brake the trains and there was less energy lost from direct drive of the steam locomotives. It was no mystery, but it goes to show that theory and practice are two different things.

Following this successful experience, there is a tentative proposal to use modern steam locomotives of a new, though essentially conventional design, in other special situations where similar benefits might be achieved. These modern steam locomotives do not come particularly cheap, especially since the price of diesel-electric locomotives is relatively lower, but given a reasonable production run, the manufacturer believes that he can still offer two or more for the price of one diesel. For railways that are never going to be electrified, this sounds like an option worth considering.

Theory and practice are two different things - part 2

55008 York 29.10.81, originally uploaded by d9006.
The early diesel locomotives were big, heavy and under-powered compared to the steam locomotives they replaced. The 3300hp Deltic (above) was one of the early challengers with sufficient muscle for the task. But this power was dearly bought. A typical diesel-electric locomotive cost about five times as much as the equivalent steam locomotive, and machines like the Deltic were highly tuned, needing a well planned support operation with teams of skilled technicians to keep them going day in and day out. The days of muck shovelling by unskilled labour were over.

What was the early experience with diesels? It was claimed that they could keep running 22 hours a day, and the better designs probably could. The difficulty was, and is, that there is not the traffic to keep them occupied in this way, and once complete fleets had been acquired, expensive capital was inevitably kept idle for long periods. This is the economic reality of running a railway. Demand varies over the course of a day, a week, a year, and over the longer economic cycle. Railway equipment can spend long periods out of use over the course of its life of thirty or forty years.

This is why yield management needs to be applied to both short-term and long-term cycles. One solution is to keep a mix of new and old, using the efficient new stock all the time and bringing out the less efficient old fleet to cope with peak demands.

Theory and practice are two different things - part 1

The writer C P Snow famously said that an unbridgeable gap had developed between the arts and the sciences, and the mark of the scientist was that he (and it usually was a "he" when he made his comment, in the late 1950s) could explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This was part of the physics syllabus and was usually and confusingly explained with diagrams like the one on the left. The simplest way of putting it is to say that heat does not flow of its own accord from a cold object to a hot one, which everyone knows.

When the Law is applied to applied to engines which work through the expansion of a hot gas, it turns out that they are more efficient if the gas starts off as hot as possible and is cooled to the lowest possible temperature. Steam locomotive engineers knew about this early on but it was not always easy to put into practice. The boiling point of water increases with pressure and progress consisted of running boilers at higher pressures - which was dependent on the state of contemporary metallurgy. Superheating, which involves sending the steam back through extra banks of tubes into the fire, led to a dramatic increase in efficiency but did not become widespread until quite late in the history of the steam locomotive. The delay was due to the lack of suitable lubricants which were not carbonised by the hot steam. Compounding was another device meant to improve efficiency, the steam being allowed to expand in successive stages in two or more sets of cylinders or turbines. Condensing the steam back to water is another way to increase thermal efficiency, and although it was usual on ships and always applied in power stations, it was only used on steam locomotives in special circumstances.

But these efficiency improvements came at a price, since they added complexity and cost, and could come at the expense of reliability. It was also essential that the engineer knew what he was doing, which was not always the case.

Steam engines are not obsolete, since most electricity is generated using steam power, but what is practicable in a fixed power station is not always so in a mobile unit, and the overall efficiency of the average steam locomotive was less than 10%, compared to perhaps 50% in a power station.

Internal combustion arrives
Internal combustion engines are inherently more efficient, since the hot gas is produced in the cylinders or turbines themselves by burning a mixture of fuel and air. In most circumstances the hot gas is hotter than the hottest steam can be, and the machine is bound to be more efficient, in accordance with the theory. Stationary engines using ordinary town gas had become quite common at the end of the nineteenth century, and then liquid hydrocarbon fuels made it possible to build small and power engines capable of driving road and rail vehicles and aircraft.

However, because the power of an internal combustion engine depends on the speed at which it is running, and great forces must be exerted to start a load as heavy as a railway train, complex and expensive electrical or mechanical transmission systems are needed. Steam traction remained dominant on railways worldwide until the 1960s, despite its thermal inefficiency and the added disadvantage that the coal fuel normally used was dirty and difficult to handle.

måndag 1 februari 2010

Penetrability - tramways in Gothenberg

Tram at Saltholmen
Göteborg tram
Göteborg tram coming out of subway
Ansaldo Tram

1, 2, 3 Brunnsparken; 4, 5 Masthugget; 6 Vasagatan; 7 Hjällbo; 8 Saltholmen; 9 Bergsjön; 10 Chalmers Tunnel; 11 Brunnsparken

The Gothenberg system as it is today is not what was planned. The long extensions to the suburbs were intended as part of a metro system in which the street tramways would run underground in the city centre. But cutbacks became necessary and the trams still run in the streets. This retains the connectivity than would have been lost if the trams had been put underground.

Another unintentional feature is the continuing use of vehicles dating from the 1960s which have just been refurbished for another ten years of service. This was due to the initial unreliability of the replacement five-section trams (bottom), the order from Ansaldo having been curtailed due to the prolonged teething troubles.

Political interference leads to waste

With nearly all industrial production devoted to the military, Britain's railways struggled through World War 2 with a strategy of make-do and mend. By 1945, they were both worn-out and running with a equipment that was hopelessly antiquated, including nearly 20,000 steam locomotives of which nearly half were more than 30 years old. This was a train spotter's paradise but tied down a huge labour force in heavy and dirty work.

When the war ended, new and improved designs of steam locomotives were introduced, which more efficient and incorporated a collection of labour-saving features. Then came nationalisation in 1948 and further design improvements were made by British Railways' engineering design team. By the early 1950s, diesel traction was becoming established in the USA, and a handful of expermental locomotives came into service in Britain. Then, in 1951, a Conservative government was elected and Britain's railways were reorganised and decentralised. And in 1955, a Modernisation Plan was announced, proposing a major programme of electrification, the introduction of diesel multiple unit trains for local services, a pilot scheme of main line diesels, with the purchase of about 200 locomotives. The construction of steam locomotives would continue for a few more years and it was expected that these would run until they wore out, which would have kept them going until the mid-1980s.

So far so good. The details are not clear even now, but it seems that the government bent to pressure from industry and a decision was made to eliminate steam as soon as possible. This meant large orders for the manufacturers. The effect was that designs that were intended as prototypes went into large-scale production without sufficient testing. Some designs worked well, others needed substantial and expensive modifications before they would run reliably, and a few were endlessly troublesome and quickly went for scrap. The last steam locomotive was built as late as 1960, but the entire fleet had been retired by 1968, many running for less than half a dozen years. By then, the railways had a collection of odds-and-ends which were not necessarily faulty but were non-standard, such as the diesel-hydraulic locomotives seen in the picture. They too, went for scrap after just a few years in service.

It was a episode of waste, caused mostly by political interference. In West Germany, by contrast, steam continued in service for another decade as modern equipment was kept in use for as long as it was economic.


Croydon tram #1

One of the claimed advantages of rail over air travel is that it runs city-centre to city-centre. But most journeys are not of this nature. Most people live around cities rather than in the middle of them and at least one end of their journey involves a connecting stage of some sort. It is most likely to be made in a car. Having got into the car, the temptation is to make the whole journey in the car. It is not just a matter of time but of convenience. High speed rail does little to make the car less appealing in comparison, especially when it is expensive unless bookings are made well in advance.

What would tip the balance in favour of the train? One factor is penetrability. The convenience of the local transport network is critical. It means frequent services that go as close as possible to where people want to travel to where they live and work. Buses are obviously an essential part of the mix, but it must also include trams, light rail (above) and local train services. It may also mean that long distance trains should stop more frequently, with well-located stations on the edge of conurbations. It is to satisfy this kind of developing need that the Great Western main line has evolved into a sort of long-distance metro service, where little sustained high-speed running is called for.

If this is the future, then high speed rail begins to look like an irrelevancy that will suck resources away from where they are most needed.

Yield management


Railways have enormous fixed costs which must be paid before even one single passenger can travel. The line, stations, signalling equipment must be constructed. Rolling stock must be obtained. Staff must be engaged, trained and their wages paid. It adds up to a lot of resources invested, and the aim must be to achieve the best use of these. Resources fall broadly into three categories: the fixed infrastructure, the rolling stock and the trains service itself.

Little extra cost is incurred in running one additional train, so long as the capacity of the track and signalling is not strained to the point that congestion occurs. Likewise, little extra cost is incurred in running longer trains rather than shorter ones, so long as the rolling stock is available. And it costs no more to run a full train than an empty one.

From the operator’s point of view, the simplest and most efficient operation is to run standard fixed-formation trains at regular intervals, on infrastructure with just enough spare capacity to enable the system to recover from disruption. The snag is that the resulting service is not one that provides the trains when people prefer to travel. Some means must be found to adjust demand to supply. This is where the concept of “yield management” comes in.

Although the railways have always practised some form of yield management, originally with offers such as cheap excursions and off-peak reductions, the concept was developed by the airlines and based on a flexible pricing arrangement that ties passengers to particular flights, thereby committing them to travel arrangements made long in advance. This also enables the airline to make fine adjustments to avoid running almost-empty aircraft. Although railways are unable to tune the service so precisely, they have in recent years adopted much the same system, with very high prices being charged for so-called “open tickets”. Although it may mean that some fares are lower than they might otherwise be, this is not attractive to passengers. Everyone will at some time have bought a ticket, found themselves unable to travel, and ended up wasting their money. After this has happened a few times, if not sooner, they are likely to conclude that it suits them better to leave the decision to travel until the last moment and hop into the car parked outside the front door.

The assumption behind this kind of yield management is that resources are best utilised by using the price mechanism to match demand to supply. But behind that is another assumption, that the most efficient way to run a railway is to fix the supply. Is it?

Smart yield management
If the electricity supply industry worked in the same way, it would provide just enough capacity to cover the base load and then drive demand down through charging draconian prices during the peak. Many people would be forced to sit in the dark, huddled up with a candle, or collect firewood. Instead, the generating companies rely on a mix of sources: nuclear power for the base load, coal-fired power stations for seasonal demand and gas generation to cater for peak demand in the course of the day. The general principle is that the cheapest electricity requires the most capital investment and vice versa, and with this in mind, it is possible to fine-tune the supply, with a simple tariff made up of a fixed charge, and standard and off-peak rates for the electricity consumed. This is a smart form of yield management.

For the first 150 years of railways, yield management was practised in much the same way. Old and less-efficient rolling stock, which had long since been bought and paid for, was kept in reserve and brought out to handle peak traffic.

A common practice was to run fixed-formation trains most of the time but to add extra vehicles when extra traffic was expected, which an experienced operator can easily predict. A train such as the London to Glasgow express, the Royal Scot, was normally 14 carriages long but up to three more might be added at busy times. This was often done at short notice, up to a few minutes before the train was due to leave. Extra trains were also run, usually scheduled in peak holiday timetables but sometimes laid on, again at short notice, using free “paths” that were left when timetables were constructed. These extra carriages, and the stock for these additional trains, were usually drawn from the pool of older vehicles that was retained just for that purpose.

Another strategy was to use trains used by commuters during the week to take people to popular leisure destinations at the weekend. The size of the fleet itself could also be adjusted, to match seasonal demand by, for example, repairing freight locomotives and wagons in the summer and passenger stock in the winter.

The facility of being able to run extra trains and use extra carriages did not come free of charge, they had to be kept on standby, the track layout had to be suitable, and shunting locomotives had to be kept available to move things around. And flexible staffing arrangements were needed to make the whole thing work. But this was nevertheless yield management, as revenue was being earned from resources which would otherwise have gone for scrap. The old-time railway managers knew what their were doing. It might be termed “smart yield management”.

Mix & Match no more
The kind of flexibility that the old-time railway managers enjoyed was dependent, amongst other things, on certain technical decisions. Fixed formation trains are a new phenomenon and must be distinguished from multiple-unit electric and diesel trains which are joined and separated as the service requires. Anyone who has had the use of a train set will know that one of the most important features of trains is that vehicles can be added or removed at will. It is only possible, however, if everything on the railway has a standard interface for the buffing, coupling, braking, heating and electrical systems. Hornby and Trix didn’t mix. On the full-size railway, it used to be that all stock was compatible with all other stock. Trains could be made up of carriages old and new, belonging to several different companies, and pulled by a locomotive belonging to yet another. The same applied even to international trains. At important junctions such as Basle, it was usual to see trains composed of a selection of carriages from all over Europe: Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Around forty years ago there was a change in thinking, which brought trains such as the British Inter City 125, having a lightweight locomotive at each end and a fixed set of carriages in between, which could be changed only with difficulty. At around the same time, rolling stock become more complex and also hugely expensive, partly to cope with the demanding conditions of higher speed running. Complexity eventually multiplied itself to the point that some fixed formation trains have essential equipment in each one of the vehicles and so are unable to run unless they are complete. A further difficulty is that vehicles not specifically designed to run in the train cannot be added without expensive modifications, if at all. A Voyager cannot be lengthened just by inserting a standard Mark 3 coach. If the need for extra vehicles arises, as happened with the Pendolino, the entire production line must be started up again, which is a costly and difficult thing to do. The entire contemporary railway operation is conducted with rolling stock resources squeezed to the limit.

The underlying design principles result in built-in inflexibility. It works directly against a philosophy of smart yield management which would optimise the railway system and its resources as a whole and provide the service which best matched supply to demand.

More thoughts on dirt-cheap train fares

Having been doing some travelling lately, I have had more thoughts on the subject of ultra-low train ticket offers. When I first started travelling long distance in the early 1950s, the return fare from London to Glasgow was £5 0s 6d. This was calculated at 1½ d a mile (hence the odd sixpence), and all fares were at the same rate, according only to the distance. There were of course cheap day returns and special excursion trains to popular destinations, which were a simple form of yield management, since they made use of rolling stock which would otherwise have been standing idle or gone for scrap. Later in the 1950s came the mid-week return, available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the aim of tempting people onto under-used services and relieving the pressure on the busier trains.

Nowadays, things have gone to opposite extremes as the railways have followed the airlines. At one time, this meant cheap standby fares for passengers who turned up at the last minute, but the present fashion is exactly the opposite, with super-cheap offers for those who book months in advance. Swedish Railways, for instance advertise a fare of 95 kronor (just over £10) for long distance routes such as Gothenberg to Copenhagen. The inter-city train companies do a similar thing in the UK.

But just you try and get hold of one when you actually want to travel. The Swedish offers apparently attracted the attention of professional ticket touts who then re-sold the tickets on Ebay. Failing to get the message, the nationalised train company compounded the problem by insisting that passengers proved their identity when they travelled. Which has not, it seems, made the tickets any more available.

What, then, is the point? When passengers repeatedly fail to buy train tickets at these widely advertised rock-bottom prices even when they try to book several weeks in advance, they draw the conclusion that the offers are nothing more than a marketing gimmick and end up feeling swindled or worse. This cannot be good for the image of the train operator, who loses money, as there can be few people who are induced to travel who would not have made the journey anyway.

There is nothing wrong with yield management, but this needs to take place intelligently and at several levels. Railways have enormous fixed costs which must be paid before even one single passenger can travel. The line, stations, signalling equipment must be constructed. Rolling stock must be obtained. Staff must be engaged and trained. It adds up to a lot of resources invested, and the aim must be to achieve the best use of these.

The implications are that little extra cost is incurred in running one additional train, so long as the capacity of the track and signalling is not strained to the point that congestion occurs. Likewise, little extra cost is incurred in running longer trains rather than shorter ones, so long as the rolling stock is available. And of course it costs no more to run a full train than an empty one.

From the operator’s point of view, the easiest way to run the service is to have fixed-formation trains at regular intervals, on infrastructure with just enough spare capacity to enable the system to recover from disruption. The snag is that the resulting service is not one that provides the trains at the times people prefer to travel. Some means then must be found to adjust demand to supply. Whether this is the most efficient way to use resources is questionable, but it spelled the end of the simple mileage-based fares of the past. It does not, however, explain the rise of the bargain-basement fare, which probably grounded on nothing more than the desire for good advertising copy.

Is Islamophobia racist?

To answer this question it is first necessary to define both Islamophobia and racism. A phobia is an irrational fear, and Islamophobia presumably means irrational fear of Islam. Racism means an irrational dislike of people of another race. Race is difficult to define but it would generally be agreed that people can be classified according to superficial physical characteristics like skin and eye colour. It is by these external features that people would be recognised as members of a particular race. Most of the characteristics of the different races seem to be adaptations to climate and are not something that any reasonable person should find disturbing. Examples of races would be white Europeans, Negroes, Australian Aborigines, etc, although vast numbers of people have a blend of those features which are regarded as racial markers, and indeed large areas of the world are populated by such. Ethnicity, which merges into but is separate from, nationality, is loosely related to race but goes further in extending the distinctiveness to cultural characteristics such as language, customs and possibly religion. Examples of ethnic groups are Tamils, Arabs, Jews and Roma, whilst national groups such as people of Irish or Polish descent tend to be regarded as an ethnic groups. As with plant and animal species, race and ethnicity are loose concepts.

Followers of Islam tend to be members of particular ethnic groups and historically have their origin in the Middle East and Africa. They therefore possess the characteristics of people from those parts of the world. But not all people from those parts of the world are Moslems; large numbers of Arabs are Christian, and both these, and the Jews who formerly lived in Moslem Arab countries, were indistinguishable from their neighbours in every respect apart from their religion and the customs pertaining to those religions.

A choice, not a race
It may be that dislike of Islam is sometimes, possibly often, based on nothing more than racial prejudice. That is to be condemned. But Islam is a body of doctrine and as such, its followers cannot expect their beliefs to be exempt from the same scrutiny as would be applied to other beliefs such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Marxism. Islam is a choice, not a race. Fear of accusations of racism should not be allowed to stifle honest discussion on this subject. It is no more racist to be against the teachings expressed in the Koran than it is to be against those contained in Das Kapital or Mein Kampf.

Mistake on Mistake

The beleaguered Jewish community of Malmö
The following article written by Ricard Westerberg was published in Dagens Nyheter on 30 January

“In a series of noteworthy articles, Skånska Dagbladet has been describing how the Jews of Malmö have become increasingly beleaguered in recent years. How the chapel at the Jewish cemetery was attacked with a firebomb. How Jewish children have been forced to change schools. How Jewish people no longer dare to show their Star of David because it can be thought offensive. How families with Jewish connections are moving out of the city because they feel threatened. How football teams with Jewish players are being harassed by the public. How security guards must be present during synagogue services.

“In this situation, on 27 January, the memorial day for victims of the Holocaust, the Social Democrat party community adviser, Ilmar Reepalu, chooses to criticise the Jewish community for failing to dissociate itself from the conduct of the Israeli government.

“ ‘I would have liked the Jewish community to distance itself from Israel’s harassment of the civil population in Gaza. Instead, they choose to hold a demonstration in Storatorget (the large market place), which can send out the wrong message.’

“This was a peaceful demonstration which was disrupted after violence from counter-demonstrators. And wrong messages? In this country everyone has the right to demonstrate – regardless of their opinion. Reepalu should defend this right resolutely. Instead, his statements risk encouraging the left-wing extremists and Islamic anti-semitism which is on on the march in Malmö.”

Virus questions - and the Swedish exception

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