torsdag 18 januari 2018

‘Inadequate digital organ in St Peter’s Basilica’

An online petition signed by 10,000 people has asked Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, to intervene, saying the instrument is “inadequate” for the space. I noticed that myself at the Christmas Eve broadcast of Midnight Mass, though I was more put out by the dropping of the Gregorian setting for the Midnight Mass Alleluia, when something else was sung instead.

The organ, donated by the American Alleyn Organ Company, was first used for Mass on Christmas Eve, replacing the Basilica’s main pipe organ, which officials believe is unsatisfactory.

How about not having an organ at all? It is not as if Catholic liturgical music requires one.

Article in Catholic Herald

torsdag 4 januari 2018

Economists’ flawed gravity model

One of the arguments put up for the UK’s membership of the EU is the gravity model - that trade depends on proximity.

However, trade also depends on factors such as the presence of intervening oceans and the effects of language, legal systems, traditions, cultural and family ties. Members of ethnic groups eg Jews, Chinese, Indians - can easily trade with their friends and family half way round the world.

The gravity model also denies comparative advantage. If you want grapes in January you have to get them from somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Comparative advantage also works against the UK in regard to trade with continental Europe, due to the costs of transport. A manufacturer in Germany is perfectly placed for overland delivery to half a billion customers. The UK producer has sixty million within overland delivery range. To reach the rest, the goods must be sent over the sea.

Only the south-east corner of the UK is geographically close to continental Europe. Most of the country is a long drive to Dover or Cheriton, including around the congested M25 or M27. Otherwise, a long ferry crossing must be used: from Hull, Immingham, Harwich or Tilbury, to one of the continental ports between Gothenburg and Zeebrugge, depending on the destination.

Once goods are put in a container and loaded onto a ship, the economics of the logistic operation changes, as the cost of distance becomes trivial. Ports on the UK’s west coast are poorly placed for freight movement to continental Europe. From Liverpool, for instance, it takes little longer to send goods across the Atlantic than it does to send them to Hamburg.

People should look more critically at the over-simplified models that apply in economic theory.

tisdag 2 januari 2018

The threat from the Bear

An American general, Robert Neller, the US marine corps commandant, warned US troops stationed in Norway at the end of last year that he felt “there’s a war coming”. His spokesperson later said the general did not believe a battle imminent, but was stressing the need “to be ready for the full spectrum of conflict”.

This is frightening. It seems that military considerations are apparently taking precedence over political and economic ones in Eastern Europe.

Most of the problems are residual from the break-up of the Soviet Union. In part, they have arisen from the mis-location of borders eg Ukraine, the boundary of which was drawn up at a time when there was never any thought that what was a state of the Soviet Union might become an independent country.

Countries which were annexed by the Soviet are a different matter, although historically there were always significant Russian populations within the Baltic countries. In the years after 1938, however, there was effectively a “plantation” of Russians, with the result that large Russian populations have ended up on the “wrong” side of borders which in principle are rational. Some of the Baltic countries seem to have been smarter than others in the way they have treated their “stranded” Russians inside their borders. The most satisfactory option has been where the Russians were given citizenship which has allowed them to live and work anywhere in the EU, thereby removing the potentially discontented.

The problem is compounded by the EU’s trade policies. Barriers to trade with non-EU countries cause damage to the economies of regions within at least 150 km on both sides of the border. Trade relationships which would develop naturally are stymied. This is the situation which seems likely to develop if there is a “hard” border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The danger is not only of possible conflict but that EU countries are losing sight of the potential for conflict within their own borders; the rising cost of anti-terrorism measures is an indication of the way things could go. In this respect, Russia and the EU countries, far from being potential enemies, have a shared concern in dealing with a problem that affects both.

‘Inadequate digital organ in St Peter’s Basilica’

An online petition signed by 10,000 people has asked Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, to intervene, saying the instrum...