fredag 30 juli 2010

Very good internet connection with Telia

Decent internet at last. I have tried several times to get one of those 3G-USB sticks to work but they do not like Linux. Now there is this little WiFi modem, about the size of a small mobile phone, which links to my wireless card. It was a little tricky to set up but now works without trouble. The speeds are good: download is 5.65 megabits, uploading is 1.09 megabits.

Inter City Express report published

Expressed in the politest possible terms, the report by Sir Andrew Foster is a damning indictment of the Department for Transport and its working methods.

"The real issue here, I believe, is that there has been insufficient communication between the Department and the industry, including communication about IEP, and this has opened the way for significant negativity to develop. This is a key area for attention and further improvement. This problem, particularly with IEP, appears to have been amplified by DfT’s procurement approach, which has placed heavy emphasis on commercial confidentiality and thus relied on independent advisers and consultants rather than industry expertise. This has engendered a sense of disengagement and disenchantment which I believe could and should largely have been avoided. I also ask a number of questions about arrangements for managing the costs and coherence of independent advice within the Department".

"At the end of the earlier section on value for money I asked why a programme which has passed its technical VfM tests is regarded so negatively. I have suggested that there are three types of reason for this: first there are unresolved technical questions, secondly it is not clear that all the potentially viable alternatives to IEP have been adequately assessed, and thirdly there are some issues around DfT’s management approach and its engagement and communication with the railway industry.

"In short, there is a good deal about the programme as it stands that is unresolved, unproven, uncertain and carries risk."

Review of the Intercity Express Programme by Sir Andrew Foster and Appendix

tisdag 27 juli 2010

Incredibly inefficient coal handling at Riga

coal port, originally uploaded by König.

A good example of how the Latvian economy has failed to develop as well as it might, and a reminder of how the economy is still tightly tied in to the former COMECON system can be seen as one enters the country by boat. A huge coal export terminal is spread out along the river frontage on the approach to Riga. The coal, mined in Russia, is delivered in enormously long trains composed of trucks with the word HOBOTPAHC (NOVOTRANS) in giant letters on the side. It is not an appropriate name. There is nothing novel about these trucks. They do not have hoppers underneath for unloading and the coal has to be scooped out by cranes, dozens of them. It is piled up in great heaps and reloaded into the holds of ships which go to a variety of destinations including the UK.

This unnecessary double-handling is a clear example of job preservation for the sake of it. In a modern system the trucks would have hopper doors underneath. The coal would drop onto chutes and fall straight into the holds of the waiting ships. The principle was established in Britain with merry-go-round coal trains about forty years ago, with coal trains formed of hopper wagons operating in a circuit between the coal mines and large power stations. But even with the present wagons it would be more efficient to uncouple each one and empty it by turning it upside down, which was common even in the 1930s.

If jobs were plentiful, the system would have been modernised. Workers would have drifted away, there would have been pressure for more efficiency, and the remaining workers would have been higher paid. That is how the economy is meant to work in theory. Of course, if jobs are apparently in short supply, it is understandable that people want to hold onto them. But of course, without land value taxation, jobs will indeed be in short supply and there will be pressure to keep this kind of inefficient nonsense in being for as long as possible. In the end, economic reality will intrude painfully.

lördag 17 juli 2010

Dire cathedral, dire liturgy in Stockholm

Went to Stockholm today and to the Saturday evening mass in the Catholic cathedral. I had forgotten how dire the cathedral is. An attractive late nineteenth century building, it was extended (in the 1970s by the look of it) by demolishing the sanctuary and constructing a horrible new asymmetric space. I don't know what else to call it. The ceiling is covered with hexagonal gold thingies (I don't know what to call them either) and the walls are faced in dark brick, or perhaps they are tiles that look like brick. The design might have been suitable for a station on the underground, but it would still look dated.

The "liturgy" was as dire as the building. The priest's accent was so strong - I am told it was Polish - that I could hardly make out a word he was saying, but I fell asleep for the sermon anyway. The Salve Regina at the end was the only part of the Mass that was done properly.

Such is the result of Cardinal Buggeration's reforms.

Stockholm deserves better. What might better look like? In the first place, the present cathedral should be got rid of. Apart from the architecturally unfortunate addition, it is in one of the tattier parts of the city centre. The church needs a better presence and it would be impossible to do a decent traditional liturgy there. Another church is needed - there is an ample supply of under-used ones in Stockholm to choose from. And then something needs to be done to ensure a constently high standard of liturgy with careful attention being given to the ceremonial and the regular use of Gregorian chant and sixteenth century polyphonic Mass settings. Ideally, this is a matter for the bishop and cathedral clergy themselves, but an alternative would be to bring in a congregation that maintains a good liturgical tradition, such as the Oratory.

The capital city of Sweden deserves no less. The Swedes appreciate mainstream European culture and were the Catholic church to rise to this challenge, it would start to attract attention for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.

torsdag 15 juli 2010

The tumour on the economy

Financial services are mostly parasitic on the real economy since they produce nothing.

The main functions of a bank are
  • to provide cash handling and payment services
  • to hold deposits safely
  • to arrange credit
The first two are obvious. The third is to facilitate production eg in a simple rural economy the farmer needs to buy seeds and live, in reality on the previous year's production, until the crop is harvested and sold. This is why credit is needed, and it is extinguished at the end of the production cycle.

The main cost on this is an administrative one of setting up the credit. There is also a need to make provisions against possible default, but that is an insurance function. Not only is there no necessity to charge interest or insist on collate, the practice is positively dangerous, especially when land is accepted as collateral for the credit.

Banks should not act as moneylenders, nor should they give credit for anything other than to facilitate the physical process of production. This it is right for banks to give credit for the purchase of seeds, tools and for the payment of the the farmers' sustenance over the season. It is not right that banks should give credit for land purchase because that has added nothing to the overall productive power of the economy (the land was there from time immemorial, all that has happened through land purchase is that a release fee has been paid to a land owner to enable its use).

Surgery no answer
If these principles were followed, the financial services sector would be a small specialist profession. Anything more is a malignant tumour on the body of the economy. But surgery is no solution. The underlying cause of the disease must be dealt with.

tisdag 13 juli 2010

Drottning Kristina efter att hon abdikerade

Efter att drottning Kristina abdikerade på Uppsala slott i juni 1654 flyttade hon till Rom. Dit kom hon 18 månader senare. Det sägs att hon hade blivit katolik i hemlighet medan hon var Sveriges drottning men det kan inte ha varit så därför att hon mottogs av katolska kyrkan i Bryssel december 1654.

Ett år senare, december 1655, red hon triumferande in i Rom på en vit häst. Påven själv hälsade henne och firandet fortsatte i några månader. I början bodde hon i Farnesepalatset, som ägdes av hertigen av Parma. I palatset öppnade hon en skola. Där studerade man musik, litteratur, teater och språk. Hon blev nära vän med den berömda arkitekten och skulptören Bernini.

Efter ett par år tog hennes pengar slut och hon reste till Frankrike på besök hos kung Louis XIV. Kristina och kungen konspirerade om att hon skulle bli drottning i det italienska riket Neapel, istället av den dåvarande spanska kungen. Drottningen misstänkte sin hovstallmästare Monaldeschi för att ha förrådit henne och beordrade att han skulle avrättas. Försöket att bli drottning i Neapel misslyckades och Kristina återvände till Rom.

Påven blev arg på Kristina med anledning av avrättningen och därefter ville han inte längre umgås med henne. När påven Alexander VII dog 1667, blev Clement IX påve. Den nya påven beundrande henne men han dog i sin tur efter två år och ersättes av Clement X, och därefter, Innocent XI. Förhållandet blev kyligt igen därför att påvarna betrakade Kristinas inflytande, särskilt hennes teaterintresse, som omoraliskt och oönskat.

Till sist, strax efter Kristinas död 1689 blev Alexander VIII påve. Han hade uppskattat henne så mycket att hon fick en ståtlig begravningceremoni, helt mot hennes testamente.

Trots alla besvärligheter är Kristina betydande som konstens och musikens beskyddare. Den mest kända av drottnings skyddslingar var Alessandro Scarlatti men den viktigaste är troligen den nästan okända Giocomo Carissimi. I själva verket är Carissimi betydelseful. Han skrev många musikaliska kompositioner åt kyrkan Oratoriani San Fillipo Neri i Rom och undervisade en annan av drottningens skyddslingar, Arcangelo Corelli. År 1709 reste 24-åringen Händel till Rom och besökte den gamla Corelli.

En kort tid därefter flyttade Händel till London och blev hovmusiken till kungen George 1. Innan Händel dog 1759, skrev, bland annat, 42 operor, 29 oratorier, de flesta av högsta kvalitet. Han blev, samt J S Bach, 1700-talets viktigaste kompositör. Det verkar som om Händel studerade de gamla Romerska kompositörernas manuskript eftersom ett starkt inflytande kan urskiljas. Av denna anledning kan man väl påstå drottning Kristina som avgörande för barockmusikens historia.

onsdag 7 juli 2010

Condoms and Catholics

The Archbishop of Westminster was recently interviewed about the church's attitude to condoms, in particular, in relationship to HIV in third world countries. The church's position is difficult to defend. I am not going to comment on this, because there there is another issue behind it. Poverty. That is why there are so many prostitutes in some countries, and that is the principal mechanism through which HIV is spread. There is major economic injustice, institutionalised. That is the greater sin.

And what does the church say and do about poverty? Very little. It is seen primarily as an issue of charity hand-outs.

The church preached quite rightly against the evils of communism but with a few honourable exceptions has always supported the ruling unjust economic structures. The Social Teaching encyclicals are good as far as they go, but they fail to spell the situation out as clearly as they might. In fact, it is hard work to extract anything solid out of them that could be used as the basis to develop policies that were in accord with economic justice. The most recent one, Caritas in Veritatis, certainly points in the right direction but there is a need to be more explicit. And the laity seem to prefer to focus on issues to do with sexual morality that seem easier to get to grips with.

The fundamental cause of poverty everywhere is one and the same - landlessness. The landless have no option but to work for whatever wages a landowner will offer them, or else pay rent to the landowner for the privilege of working on the land. And who made this land? God made it.

Now when has the church spelled this out plainly? And why not? A clue was revealed a few days ago. The church has substantial property empires which are used to support various activities. And so it has vested interest in protecting its revenue stream.

Last Sunday's readings were about missionaries being sent out with little more than the clothes on their back. Isn't it time we returned to this model and divested ourselves of property empires so that we were free to preach the truth about economics?

tisdag 6 juli 2010

Drottning Kristina och Jakobo Carissimi

Efter Drottning Kristina flyttade till Rom, år 1655, blev hon konst och musik beskyddare. Den mest kända av drottnings skyddslingar var Alessandro Scarlatti men det viktigast är troligen den nästan okänd Giocomo Carissimi. Han undervisade en annan av drottnings skyddslingar, Arcangelo Corelli, som Handel hälsade på när han besökte Rom 1709. Det verkar att Handel studerade de gamla kompositörernas manuskripten därför att en stark inflytande kan urskiljas.

Det här finns den mest berömde stycken av Carissimi, "Plorate Filii Israel" från oratorium Jeptha, skrivet 1665.

måndag 5 juli 2010

What future for the Swedish monarchy?

The royal wedding on the 19 June attracted a lot of enthusiasm but there have also been plenty of voices raised in favour of getting rid of the monarchy.

The Swedish monarch has much less of a functional role than the British one, where the Queen is responsible for putting her signature to every piece of legislation and could, in theory, refuse. The allegiance of the military forces is also to the monarch and not to parliament, and again, in theory, the army could act against Parliament.

The last time a European monarch exercised real power was in Spain, a few years after the retirement of Franco, and it is worth remembering that he intervened to prevent a right-wing coup.

As a general rule, it is not a good idea to get rid of an institution that functions reasonably well, not least because the original reason for having the institution may have been forgotten and might be rediscovered only when the institution is abolished, when it is too late.

The British political system is not functioning well at the moment but there is no evidence that the monarchy is the cause, or that abolition would make matters any better. The Swedish case is slightly different. The country has an exceptionally high proportion of immigrants. Although the political system is not dysfunctional as Britain's has become this leads, potentially, to various tensions, one consequence of which is a significant far-right political movement.

I suspect that in this situation, the monarchy acts as a useful safety valve for nationalist sentiments which might otherwise be drawn in far less benign directions. As things are, the monarchy probably acts as a useful lighting conductor as well as a providing a focus for national identity. That is valuable in a country which is as diverse as Sweden.

This is not a boat to be rocked.

Virus questions - and the Swedish exception

Is there a link to particular pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome? Is there a link to particu...