onsdag 18 december 2019

The horror of it #3

“Yeah, sure. Let’s open all our borders and compete with Indian sweatshops instead.” Another comment in the Guardian.

Has this commentator looked at the labels in his clothes lately to see where they are made? Does he apply his noble principles and choose a £100 shirt rather than a £30 one of equivalent fit and quality?

Boycotting Indian clothes is the most effective way of perpetuating sweatshop conditions in India. If there is a buoyant demand for Indian clothes, Indian workers acquire the industrial muscle needed to enable them to demand better pay and conditions. Can’t he see this?

The other side of the picture is that a supply of low cost clothes means that consumers have money over to spend into the rest of the economy of their own country. Why is this so difficult to understand?

The horror of it #2

“There is no such thing as ‛wisdom of economists’”.
Comment in the Guardian. But why is this prolific commentator bothering to comment at all?

The horror of it #1

“The UK may end up having to accept a large tonnage of tariff-free lamb and beef etc.”

Comment in the Guardian

lördag 14 december 2019

Liberal inversion of political principles

I was not sorry to see that the LibDems received so little support at the election. It is sad that the party has taken up a set of policies that were diametrically opposed to those the Liberal Party had stood for from the 1830s until the late 1970s, when they seem to have forgotten what Liberalism was all about.

The same can be said of the Labour Party, which was founded as a popular movement on much the same set of policies as the contemporary Liberals. Labour held firmly to them until it was taken over by intellectuals in the Fabian mode and Keynesians in the late 1930s, and gave the country Fabian and Keynesian policies when it came to power in 1945.

Then came the disastrous influx of Marxists in the late 1970s, followed by New Labour opportunism, which was based on next to no coherent principles at all. It is a tragic story, because it leaves Britain with no effective alternative to Conservative politics, although it is not a problem confined to Britain. Radical politics needs to be reconstructed from the ground up. Can it happen?

Marxist despondency at election result

My Marxist friend was despondent at the election result. She put it down to the dominance of what Marx himself called the ‘lumpen proletariat’. In other words, democracy is a good thing for Marxists as long as the people vote the way they agree with.

Weird new British trains

After a period where train design in Britain has been to a reasonably high quality, poor design seems to have returned and is a widespread feature of recent trains in Britain; board-hard and badly profiled seats lacking in lumbar support are the norm. Traditional moquette is no longer standard for seat covers, with flat weave fabrics becoming widespread. In the case of the new inter city trains these are plain and unpatterned, and show the mark and stain of every drop of spilled coffee and crumb of greasy food, looking dirty and shabby after just a few months in service.

Ugly and over-styled front ends crop up in many of the new types; perhaps the worst are the Scotrail’s porcine Hitachi class 385, and grotesque Siemens class 380, and the Siemens 700 class for Thameslink. The Hitachi trains for Scotrail are the result of trying to fit a gangway into the standard Hitachi nose, resulting in a piggy appearance and what must be a very tight space for the drivers, who refused to operate the trains, allegedly due to the curved windscreens, which distorted the view. The curved class windscreens were replaced, clumsily, by windscreens with flat glass but the real reason for the drivers’ objection was probably the cramped space. A particularly  ugly feature of the Hitachi inter city trains is the clutter of equipment boxes on the roofs, which look like a row of humps when viewed from the side. It must wreck the aerodynamics and add significantly to their energy consumption and running costs.

Weird designs sometimes cropped up in the 1950s at the start of the time when steam was being phased out. That led to the establishment in 1956 of the British Transport Commission Design Panel and the appointment as consultants of such renowned firms of industrial designers as Design Research Unit (and link here) headed by Misha Black, Professor of Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art. They were responsible for such 1960s design classics as the British Rail double arrow symbol, the remarkably elegant class 52 diesel-hydraulic locomotive and the Victoria Line and related designs of tube train for London Underground.

The current crop of design howlers listed above would never have got past the scrutiny of the Design Panel. These monstrosities will be around for three decades or more. The situation reflects badly on the industry and reveals its current fragmentation; there is no overall body in a position to pull things together.

onsdag 11 december 2019

WTO on verge of collapse?

We are being warned that the World Trade Organisation is on the verge of collapse, which would result in the loss of a mechanism for settling trade disputes. What has not been noticed is that these trade disputes would not arise if governments were not hell-bent on pursuing mercantilist policies to the detriment of their own people. Mercantilism  had been utterly discredited several times over before 1800 but it refuses to die. It is as if present day doctors still insisted in treating serious infections with leeches.

In this situation the best policy for any government is to look after its own people and not get in the way of inward trade so that its citizens are able to purchase the goods they want, from whoever they want, wherever they are, on the best terms they can obtain. Any interference is a denial of the basic human right of people freely to exchange goods and services on mutually agreed terms.
If the governments of other countries do not reciprocate, the main losers are their own people. The remedy is then in their hands: to get rid of the politicians who are harming them.

Greenhouse affectation

Greenhouses work as follows: radiation from the sun heats up the objects inside, which in turn warm the air in contact with them. This warm air cannot escape because it is contained by the glass, and is trapped inside. On a clear night the temperature in the greenhouse falls quickly due to radiation through the glass. That is why it is necessary to have blinds inside the roof to prevent this night-time radiation.

The so-called “greenhouse effect” is ascribed to absorption, at night, of radiation from the surface of the earth by greenhouse gases and its subsequent re-radiation in all directions ie 50% of the captured radiation is returned back towards the surface of the earth. However, given that all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would form a layer less than 4 metres deep, and that carbon dioxide absorbs infra red radiation in just a few narrow frequency bands, I would like to see calculations which show that this process can have any significant effect.

If the planet is warming, there is a more plausible explanation. We all know that during the day, it is cooler if it is cloudy, and that at night, it is cooler if the sky is clear. Clouds reflect radiation. When, horror of horrors, you travel in an aircraft, it is dazzlingly bright when you are above the clouds. Water droplets in clouds act like cats eyes in the road. So the finger of suspicion should point to an increase in night-time cloud cover and/or a decrease in daytime cloud cover. What might have caused this? The most likely reasons are deforestation and a change in agricultural practices such as irrigation. The Aral Sea almost disappeared because of irrigation. That would have had some effect on the climate.

lördag 7 december 2019

London Bridge murders criminology fail

I have been in Britain for a couple of weeks, including the Friday when the London Bridge murders took place. There were two things that struck me.

The first was that the event at which the murders occurred had been organised by academic criminologists, and that the one of the victims was himself qualified in the discipline. I would have thought that these academics were aware by now that there is a difference between ordinary criminals and criminals whose actions were motivated by Islamic teaching. This difference is so obvious that their failure can only be ascribed to willful blindness, verging, in view of the consequences, on criminal negligence. What are the driving forces behind this?

The second point is that the police appeared to have arrived on the scene just in time to prevent a third murder from taking place, with the inevitability of a court case which would have been embarrassing for both the authorities and the Cambridge academics who had organised the fatal event.

torsdag 31 oktober 2019

Croydon tram accident ‒ no charges

It has been announced that no charges will be brought in respect of the accident in 2016 when a tram was derailed and overturned at Addiscombe, resulting in seven fatalities and 62 injuries. The tram was travelling at 45 mph on a curved section of line where the speed limit was 12 mph and overturned. Since the incident, safety measures have been introduced. The decision not to prosecute for corporate manslaughter is hard to understand, since the curve is situated in a cutting close to a tunnel, and should have been recognised as a potentially hazardous configuration even before the opening of the line in 2000. One also has to question the role of the Health and Safety Executive, successor to the Railways Inspectorate.

onsdag 23 oktober 2019

Dubious tunnel project under the Gulf of Finland

Ideas for grandiose infrastructure projects have a habit of refusing to die. One such is for a 50 kilometre tunnel under the Gulf of Finland between Helsinki in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia, priced at £15 billion, including substantial EU funding. It would give a 20 minute crossing time between the two cities, compared to the present ferry crossing times of two to three hours. Also, in the longer term, the idea is to provide Finland with a direct rail connection to the rest of Europe via the proposed Rail Baltica. For this reason, the EU is insisting that the railway is built to standard gauge (1435 mm) despite the fact that both the Finnish and Estonian railways are built to the wider Russian gauge (1520 mm).

Rail Baltica itself is a €6 billion scheme for a conventional speed standard gauge passenger and freight railway from Warsaw to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, connecting the three capital cities of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. The problem with the route is that the three Baltic countries and Finland are sparsely populated, with a total population of about 12 million in the four countries, with the traffic potential limited accordingly. The same applies to the traffic potential on the route between Tallinn (population approximately half a million, and Helsinki (population about 1.5 million). It is difficult to see how so few people can generate enough travel demand to make it worth building a tunnel between the two cities.

The problem for this part of Europe is that its natural trade hinterland is to the east, outside the EU, but the EU Single Market is constructed so as to discourage such trade.

tisdag 22 oktober 2019

British constitutional problems

The British constitution is a finely balanced structure of duties which has come under stress in recent months, especially following the decision of the Supreme Court which declared the Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful.

The UK Supreme Court itself is a constitutional innovation which was established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and took over responsibility from the Law Lords in October 2009. The Law Lords, officially known as the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, formalised ancient practice whereby the House of Lords was the final court of appeal, acting on powers derived from the Sovereign. Thus, before the pre-2009 reform, the ultimate court of appeal was within Parliament itself, which raises the question of whether it had the authority to question this action of the Prime Minister.

This throws up a further issue, which is that of the Sovereign who acts in person in Parliament. One step back from this is the question of where and how the authority of the British monarch is derived; the principle is that authority comes from God, through sacramental procedures which take place at a coronation, which commence with the swearing of a set of oaths and are followed by anointing with holy oil, presentation of the symbols of office: the orb, sceptre and crown, and clothing in the monarchical vestments. The coronation ceremonies take place within the context of a service of Holy Communion, they are analogous to priestly ordination and in their original form were modelled on the service for the consecration of a bishop. Their archetype is the anointing of Saul as King of Israel by Samuel the Judge, and of David’s successor, Solomon, by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, a link which since the coronation of King George II in 1727 has been recalled by the singing of the anthem Zadok the Priest from Saul, the opera by Handel.

Zadok the priest And Nathan the prophet
Anointed Solomon king
And all the people rejoiced, and said:
God save the king, long live the king,
God save the king, may the king live forever,
Amen, alleluia, amen.

This raises more questions that I am competent to explore; the oaths set out the duties of the British monarch and summarise the monarch’s relationship to the people, but given the current state of Christian belief in Britain, how much longer can this finely balanced structure stand?

tisdag 10 september 2019

Johnson meets Vradakar and looks frustrated

The two prime ministers are shown standing side by side. Johnson looks frustrated and bewildered. Small wonder. It is difficult to negotiate with people who insist on irrational behaviour. The Single Market trade rules are nothing if not irrational, since their underlying principle is that goods should be KEPT OUT of one’s own country. That is what the EU tariffs and other restrictions are intended to do. They are an application of the long discredited seventeenth century economic theory known as ‛Mercantilism’.

The Irish will be the biggest losers after Brexit because so many of their imports come from the UK. They will either have to bear the additional costs of the EU's tariffs or obtain their supplies from alternative sources in mainland Europe. Since this involves a long voyage round the tip of Cornwall, these goods will carry the burden of higher transport costs; the route is too long for economic RoRo services.

The Republic was effectively obliged to follow the UK into the then EEC when it joined in 1973, due to the volume of trade between the two countries. The logical solution is for the Republic to follow the UK out again. Better still would be for the EU to embark on a programme of radical reform, to achieve free trade with the whole world, unilaterally if necessary. This would give rise to widespread benefits, because the problems that the Irish will face already have an adverse effect on the economies of countries in eastern Europe with borders with non-EU countries, who are cut off from their natural hinterlands; trade cannot even take place between businesses in adjacent towns when one is in, say, Latvia and the other in Belarus, giving rise to a situation where important regional hubs like Daugavpils in Latvia have become ghost towns.

If the Irish really want to restrict the inward flow of goods from the UK, they could always invite the Royal Navy to lay mines at the entrance to the ports of Dublin, Rosslare and Cork.

The Scottish nationalists who want to subject themselves to the same punishment presumably do not understand the implications.

måndag 9 september 2019

The EU social model

Force people to migrate to where the work is, and suck the life out of the peripheral regions. With 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels and an unaccountable and unelected Commission, policymaking was long ago captured by the most powerful producer, banking and landowning interests - the very same who supported the fascist regimes before WW2. It is astonishing how the progressive left has been mesmerised into supporting this.

fredag 6 september 2019

Independent Scotland in the EU? #3

Some things to look forward to.
  • Queues at the EU customs post at Berwick leading to a traffic tailback on the A1 all the way to Alnwick, if not to the suburbs of Newcastle. 
  • Crowds of Scottish shoppers descending on Gateshead Metrocentre and a boom in the north-east. 
  • Trains terminating at Berwick as passengers have to disembark and pass through customs control.
  • Goods imported from England subject to EU tariffs and extra VAT, and a thriving smuggling industry as people tried to import the bargains purchased on their shopping trips.
  • Higher prices for substitute goods imported from mainland Europe due to extra transport costs; it is too far for low cost RoRo movement.
  • Value of savings destroyed as Scotland enters the Euro at at realistic rate.
  • Great idea - independent Scotland in the EU.

torsdag 5 september 2019

An inefficent tax

I received a parcel from the US yesterday. I was asked to pay 110 kr tax (Value Added Tax), plus 75 kr collection fee. By my calculation, that makes it 65% efficient.

onsdag 4 september 2019

Rampant Mercantilism - continued

The current preoccupation with exports is a manifestation of the seventeenth century theory of economics called Mercantilism, which had been discredited several times over by all the Classical economists before 1800, including of course, Adam Smith in “Wealth of Nations”. People ought to read it.

A balance of payments surplus means that real wealth flows out of a country and paper claims on wealth flow in ie there is a net loss of real wealth. A balance of payments deficit is a healthy sign because goods are always worth more to the purchaser than to the seller – otherwise the trade would not take place. Imports transfer goods to where they are more wanted ie they represent an increase in wealth due to the mere act of transporting them.

It follows that any impediment to importation eg tariffs, is an obstacle to wealth creation, and from that, it further follows that unilateral free trade is more advantageous than reciprocal free trade. In reciprocal free trade, both sides gain, but in unilateral free trade it is consumers and manufacturers in the country which persists with the tariffs who are the losers. From this, it further follows that free trade agreements (an oxymoron) are unnecessary; a prudent government would take down the tariffs for the sake of its own.

Balance of payments deficits arising from large scale consumer purchasing funded by credit are unhealthy but the solution is not tariffs but regulation of credit.

fredag 30 augusti 2019

Whom Brexit will really hit

The main impact of Brexit will be on people and businesses inside the EU. This has been scarcely remarked on in discussions in Britain. It is one reason why the dispute over the Irish border has been so confused and acrimonious; the Irish do not seem to appreciate what will hit them, not because of Brexit itself but because of the way the protectionist Single Market rules operate.

It would be nice to see some articles about what the governments of EU countries will be doing. Interviews on Swedish television explain how business will be put to expense and inconvenience, internet sales will be delayed in customs and purchasers from UK internet sites will have to pay double VAT, plus handling charges, plus delays in the inefficient postal service which cannot handle the traffic even now. Visitors returning from the UK will be harassed by customs. They will not even be allowed to bring cheddar cheese into the country. Here are a few links to these interviews which explain what is in store, and how the EU idiocy will cause problems for people in Sweden after Brexit. Thanks for nothing, Brussels.

Interview on SVT
How Brexit will affect returning tourists
Forthcoming cheddar cheese ban

Backstop boloney

In a rational world the alleged need for the backstop would have triggered an urgent review of the regulations governing the protectionist Single Market, which are the reason why there needs to be a customs border; the UK government has indicated that for its part, it has no objection to the free flow of goods inwards.

A substantial proportion of IMPORTS to the Republic come from the UK. If they are required to cross the EU's tariff barrier, it is consumers and manufacturers in the Republic who will be faced with the extra costs of the tariffs, or the expensive alternative of sourcing goods from mainland Europe, thereby incurring added transport costs.

Why this has been so rarely referred to is a mystery. I suspect the reason is the return to dominance of seventeenth century mercantilist thinking. Ireland will be in the same situation as countries on the eastern marches of the EU such as the Baltics, Romania and parts of Poland, which are cut off from their nearest suppliers and customers; it is an important reason why the economies of those countries has failed to develop and have been exporting their populations.

fredag 16 augusti 2019

Peterloo bicentenary - the irony of it

Today is the two-hundredth anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, when a peaceful meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, was violently dispersed by the military. Eighteen people were killed and over 600 injured. The meeting was set up to air people’s many and well justified grievances, most of which had their origin in the enclosures of agricultural land, a process which began in 1760 and resulted in the displacement of the English peasantry, who were deprived of their livelihoods and forced into city slums where their only means of supporting themselves was to work long hours in terrible conditions for penurious wages.

An important object of the protest was the Corn Laws, which was one of the objects of the St Peter’s Fields protest. The Corn Laws were a body of tariffs and other regulations intended to restrict the importing of cheap foreign wheat and other food, which put up the cost of the food on people’s tables. The massacre was followed by a cover-up. An important event in the wake of Peterloo was the founding of The Manchester Guardian, to continue the campaigning. The Corn Laws were finally abolished in 1846.

But victories for freedom are never more than provisional. The Corn Laws were reintroduced surreptitiously in 1973 when the UK joined the then EEC, since the Common Agricultural Policy operates in precisely the same way, and has the same aims and purpose, as the Corn Laws.

Here comes the irony. The Guardian, the lineal descendent of the Manchester Guardian, has taken a leading role in the campaign against leaving the EU, despite the evidence of forty years that the organisation is impervious to reform. Only yesterday, there was an article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee, arguing that British farmers would be ruined without these latter day Corn Laws – exactly the same argument that was used to maintain the Corn Laws for a quarter of a century after Peterloo. I am alone is seeing this irony?

söndag 11 augusti 2019

Horrible Brexit coin

The government has announced plans for a commemorative Brexit coin, to be issued on the day. It will be a 50p coin with the inscription ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.’ What a pity that is the best the authorities can come up with.

It has a horrible script typeface (bog-standard Zapf Chancery by the look of it) and the horrible seven-sided shape which is overdue for change. A £2 coin would have been more suitable; the inscription could go round the edge and the image could have been a traditional one; perhaps the original Britannia as on the Victorian penny, with a ship and lighthouse, or the thrift from the old threepenny bit, or the ship from the halfpenny, or the wren that used to be on the farthing, or Pistrucci's classic St George and the Dragon. If this is the best the authorities can do, it does not augur well.

måndag 29 juli 2019

Swedish justice in the spotlight

The A$AP Rocky business has provoked a lot of criticism from the USA, who have expressed shock at the Swedish justice system, judged by US standards. It does not look good by British standards, either. Swedish justice is on trial in front of the world. 

The video material which has been published shows that there was harassment by the Afghan youths; however, since they ended up in hospital, it looks as if excessive force was used. We also do not know how the fight began, or the background to the whole incident. It seems improbable that the performer would have initiated the trouble.

The Afghan youths should also be charged, since they are possibly guilty of a criminal act. If, as seems to be the case, the incident was the result of a provocation, then anything more than a suspended sentence gives the wrong message to people like these youths who go about harassing the public. I have experienced the same thing myself in Gothenburg.

The Afghan youths are probably not refugees and could be in the country illegally. This also needs to be investigated. If they are not illegal immigrants I would frankly be surprised. Few of the Afghans are in the country legally as refugees. If they are not, and do not have permission to be in the country, they should be deported.

Children’s book which cannot be a film

The book is one of the Narnia series, by C S Lewis, ‘The Horse and his Boy.’ The book would probably be considered racist and Islamophobic. In the narrative, the boy is a slave to a cruel master in a desert country. The horse and boy escape, and on their way the pass through a magnificent and vast city where they catch a glimpse of the great and tyrannical ruler, the Tisroc.

The references are obvious: the Tisroc is modelled on an oriental potentate such as the Sultan of the Ottomans, or the Caliph of Baghdad. It would no longer be safe to make and show such a film, such would be the threats and protests. What have we come to?

lördag 27 juli 2019

Carbon dioxide peril

Being a science graduate, I would expect to be able to understand how the Greenhouse Effect works, but have not seen a convincing explanation for how a concentration of one part in 2,500 of the gas can have such a disproportionate effect. The greenhouse effect theory has been around for over a century, when it was first noted by the Swedish chemist, Arrhenius. However, carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation (IR) in three narrow bands of wavelengths, which are 2.7, 4.3 and 15 micrometers (µM). This means that most – about 92% – of the heat producing radiation escapes it. About 8% of the available black body radiation is picked up by these characteristic frequencies of CO2.

Can someone please explain how a concentration of 1 part of carbon dioxide in 2500 can cause a greenhouse effect?

fredag 26 juli 2019

Something wrong with Swedish justice

The case of US rapper A$AP Rocky concerns an incident which has led to him being imprisoned since late last month, leading to the intervention by President Trump and the rejection of his plea by the Swedish Prime Minister. From the published videos it is obvious that A$AP was being persistently harassed by two immigrant men. There may be more behind this; the original causes are not clear. To judge from the videos, the two men should possibly also have been arrested. It appears, though possibly misleadingly, that Rocky’s action was in self-defence.

It is improbable, though not impossible, that US rapper and his bodyguard would assault a couple of men for no reason at all. That the situation has got to this stage, however, reflects badly on the authorities, no least on the Swedish PM who, following the intervention by Trump, could and should have ordered an immediate investigation as to why this case has got to this point.

Unless a lot happened which was not recorded, I would hope that he will be cleared and the authorities successfully sued for substantial damages for wrongful imprisonment. It should also bring to attention shortcomings in the country’s legal procedures. It is not right that people should be held in what are notoriously harsh prison conditions while awaiting trial, often for several months, especially when in Britain, for example, they would qualify for release on bail.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, and the outcome, of this case, it illustrates yet again the need for reform, with the introduction of habeas corpus, a right to bail unless the charge is for a serious crime (obviously not, in this case), and trial by jury. In Britain, the alleged criminal would have been held in police custody for not more than 24 hours and then charged or released on police bail; if charged, unless there were previous convictions or the charge was for a serious crime, the accused would be released on conditional bail. He would not, as in Sweden, continue to be held in notoriously harsh conditions for several weeks while awaiting trial.

In Britain, the case would not be sufficiently serious to be dealt with in a Crown Court but would be heard in a Magistrates’ court. A first conviction for this charge, assault, would not normally result in a custodial sentence.

Swedish criminal justice seems to combine a defective system with absurdly light sentences for serious crime and a situation where serious crimes frequently never even result in arrests.

torsdag 25 juli 2019

Academic whitewashes Islam

In the run-up to the election for the Conservative leadership, the Guardian ran a determined campaign to discredit him. One of its initiatives was to dig out an essay written by Johnson in 2007, in which he had written that the Muslim world is “centuries behind” the west, because of a “fatal religious conservatism” that prevented the development of liberal capitalism and democracy. According to Johnson “virtually every global flashpoint you can think of – from Bosnia to Palestine to Iraq and Kashmir” is defined by “some sense of Muslim grievance”. Echoing his hero Winston Churchill’s view that there was “no stronger retrograde force” than Islam, Johnson believes “that the real problem with the Islamic world is Islam”.

The Guardian then enlisted Professor Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary’s College, London, to refute Johnson’s these in an article describing it as “historically illiterate

Brotton writes,  “But Johnson’s 2007 essay – an appendix to a later edition of his book praising the Roman empire – reveals a level of historical ignorance shocking even for such a political opportunist. He claims Byzantine Constantinople “kept the candle of learning alight for a thousand years”, while the Ottomans failed to develop printing presses in the city “until the middle of the 19th century”. Wrong. Byzantine rule had gone backwards for generations prior to its fall to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453, who repopulated the ruined city with Jews and Christians to help build one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan centres of its time, courted for its commercial power by Venice and a magnet for Renaissance Italian scholars and artists (Leonardo even proposed a design for a bridge across the Golden Horn for the sultan in 1502).”

This is a case of pots and kettles. The most authoritative study on this subject is probably “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire” by Edward N Luttwak; presumably Brotton has read this book.

Luttwak summarises thus: “The East Roman empire by us called Byzantine… was successively threatened from the east by Sasanian Persia, the Muslim Arabs, and finally the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and from the north by waves of steppe invaders, the Huns, Avars, Bulghars, Pechnegs, Magyars, Cumans, and from the west, too by the ninth century.” Survival for 1,000 years after the fall of Rome was no mean achievement. What left it vulnerable in the end was, ironically the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade – the Latin Christians, which had been sent to assist against the Saracens.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a brutal event, in which thousands were killed, 5,000 inside the church of Hagia Sophia itself. Naturally, Constantinople needed to be repopulated. Thereafter, Ottoman rule was no benign affair, which does not accord with the glittering picture painted by Brotton, “that Mehmed II transformed Constantinople into ‘one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan centres of its time’ ”

The Christian Balkans – Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece – were regularly plundered for slaves and soldiers. The Orthodox calendar lists hundreds who were martyred by the Turks because they held to their Christian faith. For over two centuries, south east Europe was under relentless pressure from the Turks, who were turned only in 1683 when the Polish army defeated the Ottoman forces who had besieged Vienna for several months; this was the result of a surprise attack by the Polish King Jan Sobieski, from a direction which the Ottomans had left undefended because their commander thought it was securely protected by the steep slopes of the Vienna woods. Hungary remained under Ottoman occupation until 1686.

The Ottoman Empire ended as brutally as it began. The Balkans gradually threw off the Turkish yoke from the beginning of the ninteenth century. Greece achieved liberation in 1830, following a ten year struggle in the course of which the Patriarch of Constantinople was hanged in public on Easter Sunday, 1821. The final phase was marked by a massacre in Bulgaria in 1876, followed by the genocides in 1915 and 1923, when three million died. Its dark legacy remains, as was seen in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and continues in the current ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo.

Brotton excuses the Ottomans’ belated adoption of printing thus: “The city’s first officially recognised printing press opened in 1727, not because of previous objections by zealous mullahs but because of the Islamic handwritten calligraphic tradition that regarded words as art – something print struggled to reproduce.”

That is feeble. Printing for the diffusion of knowledge can and does perfectly well co-exist with the production of calligraphic volumes of religious texts. The 250 years of banning of printing is a form of censorship.

Brotton, again, “But then there’s little sense that he even grasps the differences between the two Islamic denominations as he collapses the diversity of what he calls the Islamic world into one angry, ignorant monolith.”

Looking at the present-day manifestation of this ancient animosity, Brotton has a point here; ‘monolithic’ it is not, but ‘angry’ and ‘ignorant’, certainly; the description applies as much to the Iranian Ayotollahs which seek the death of every Jew as to the leaders of the Wahabi Mullahs.

Brotton “And hardly anyone within that field studies Arab or early Islamic history, or bothers learning Arabic. “So the myths and prejudices harden into facts. There is no awareness of the life of Muhammad, a merchant outside the Meccan trading elite, and the early history of the Qur’an...There is no space in Johnson’s rhetoric for the scientific and cultural achievements of medieval Islam. Nor is there any acknowledgement that the “fatal religious conservatism” is primarily down to the influence of Wahhabism, the puritanical doctrine founded in the 18th century that is now the official state religion of Saudi Arabia, which condemns millions of Muslims – including Shias – as apostates and has inspired terrorist organisations such as Isis.”

It is Brotton who is on shaky ground here. Wahabism is no more and no less than attempt to return Islam to its roots in the life of Mohammed and his associates. ISIS and the Salafists model themselves closely on Mohammed himself, as all faithful Moslems are required to do.

Brotton rightly criticises Johnson for his loose grasp of detail, but Johnson’s grasp of the overall picture is sound. How many scientists, philosophers, political thinkers, technological innovators, critics of rule by clerics, etc etc who underpin the ‘modernism’ that drives the contemporary world could Brotton could name who have come from Islamic states in the last 500 years or so? His main motivation, here and in others of his publications, seems to be to whitewash Islam and soften us up for the takeover which seems to be under way.

onsdag 24 juli 2019

Train ticket grief

Edmondson ticket on the North Western Railway

It seem to be more difficult than ever to make casual journeys. On Sunday evening, around 7pm, I tried, and failed to buy two tickets from Stockholm C to Uppsala C, using the SJ app, being on our way to the station in someone’s car. First, the app asked what train I wanted to travel on. Obviously, I wanted to go on the first train to depart, but we did not know when we would get to the station. Next, it asked for the name of the person I would be travelling with. Then it tried to reserve seats. Since there were three of us travelling and we wanted to sit together, we absolutely did not want reserved seats but to find the seats for ourselves once we were on the train.

Then I realised that the credit card I had with me is registered to another mobile telephone than the one I had with me, so would not have been able to pay for it. When I got home I tried to register my card to the SJ app but there no means of doing so. 

At the station, I was unable to use the machine, which came as a shock, as I am used to British ticket machines, of which there are a dozen different types, from bad to terrible. To come up with one which is even worse is an achievement. Fortunately, my friend was with me and able to help, but we still had the business with filling in names and choosing our train, all while there was a train standing in the platform, waiting to depart late, which we wanted to catch. 

Then we ended up with reserved seats which we did not sit in, as the compartment in the buffet car was available. That was the best part of the journey. 

With the advance of technology, it is getting more and more difficult to buy tickets. When I stayed in Uppsala between 2007 and 2010, there were ticket machines at the ends of the platform where you could quickly buy a ticket at any time using a credit or debit card, then just got on the first train that was going to Uppsala. You could also buy tickets from Pressbyrån, the newsagent.

This raises some general points. 
  1.  The SJ app should include the facility of registering a credit card to it, which is possible with Västtraffik, SL and UL apps. 
  2. There is no necessity to sell tickets to named individuals. Such a system was abolished in Britain in 1842. 
  3. Paper tickets should be more substantial than flimsy thermal printed paper. They are too easily mislaid with till receipts and other scraps of paper that accumulate in people’s wallets. Physical tickets should be either the credit-card style like the British orange ones, or the Edmondson card type (illustrated example at top from the Fat Controller’s railway). These could include a QR code; Edmondson style 30 x 57 mm card or plastic tickets would be thick enough to incorporate quite a lot of electronics and are potentially programmable and re-usable. Both styles of ticket are big enough and solid enough not to get mislaid, so that train staff would not be wasting time while passengers were looking for their flimsy tickets. 
  4. Fares need to be simplified, at least for the journeys most commonly made. Effective yield management could be achieved with a simple two-tier structure which should suffice to discourage passengers from travelling on the busiest trains and optimise revenue. 
  5. Subject to the above, any ticket should be available on any train. When passengers are tied to a particular train, it results in hugely extended journey times as passengers have to allow such a lot of time in order to be certain that they will not miss the train they have bought their ticket for. It defeats the entire object of running trains at high speeds if you have to reckon to turn up at the station half an hour, or even an hour before departure time. 
  6. Seat reservation is often more trouble than it is worth. Unless there is a plan of the seat layout, I have almost always found that I did not want to sit in the seat that I had been allocated, usually because the window seat was not really a window seat, or the seat was adjacent to the toilet, or it was not a seat with a fixed table. 
  7. ‘Kan vara reserverad’ (could be reserved). That is a useless message which just adds to the stress of a journey, as you can sit in the seat and then discover, half-way through the journey, that the seat has become reserved.
  8. It would be a huge benefit if electronic systems were scrapped and replaced by paper based systems so that passengers know what is reserved and the stations between which the reservation applies. 
  9. In order to avoid overcrowding, but without seat reservation, British Railway once had a system where ‘train regulation tickets’ were required in order to travel on particular trains which were likely to be overcrowded. This system would also allow supplementary charges to be made for travel at the most popular times. 
  10. The need to reserve seats is partly due to the seating layout of the vehicles. There are too many window seats which do not have windows, there are not enough seats in the facing bay layout which allows people to sit together and at the same time place their luggage between seat backs where they can keep an eye on it. When luggage has to be placed in luggage racks at the ends of the vehicles, it is not secure. There is little necessity for seat reservation with trains such as the X31 and Danish IC3 stock which have a good balance of airline-style and facing seats.

tisdag 23 juli 2019

Palestinian anachronisms - St Mary Magdelen

The drip, drip, drip of propaganda continues. Jesus is often described these days as a ‘first century Palestinian’. Yesterday’s ‘Uppsala Nya Tidningar’ ran a similar line in its daily feature on name days, 22 July being the feast day of St Mary Magdalen. The article explained, unhelpfully, that the saint came from a village called Magdala, in Palestine.

She could not have done. ‘Palestine’ was a name applied to the territory by the Romans after the defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135AD. The site of her birthplace, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, north of Tiberius, is in present day Israel. It is in the region which was and is known as Galilee.

If the author of the article could not bring herself to use the dreaded word ‘Israel’, she could have referred to the place as being in the ‘Holy Land’. To refer to Jesus and other characters of the New Testament as Palestinian is anachronistic and ludicrous. Scripture relates that Mary Magdalen anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12). Her image includes a flask or urn, as in the stained glass window shown here . Describing the New Testament characters as Palestinian is like showing Jesus on a bicycle and Mary Magdalen with an aerosol can. But of course those who do so have an agenda.

Antisemitism - the strange case of E Michael Jones

Dr. E. Michael Jones is an American academic who in 2008 published a 1200 page book called ‘The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit’, which claims that there is a consistent pattern in history whereby organized Judaism opposed and attacked Western Christian civilization. Jones asserts that the origin of the supposed Jewish anti-Catholic sentiment and activity can be traced to the passion of Jesus, when they as a group rejected Him as their messiah, or as he puts it, when they rejected Logos. Jones then ‘reveals’ some moments in history where a few Jews aligned themselves with anti-catholic revolutionaries, and, he claims, not a few times where they created those movements themselves: the failed attempt of reconstructing the Temple in the time of Julian, an alleged later use of Muslim rulers and Protestant revolutionaries, and to their present day influence on American politics and media. Jones purports that Jews have tried, and often succeeded, in destroying neighbourhoods, created wars and perverted the morality of institutions and nations.

This is conspiracy theory on steroids, and as with many such theories, a grain of truth is required on which to construct it. A few Jews are in powerful positions in finance, academia and entertainment. Secular Jews are very often progressive ideologues who believe in the possibility of creating a better world, in recent centuries through some form of socialism. This inevitably brings them into conflict with Roman Catholics who assert the right to private property and believe in Original Sin; the consequence of the latter is that Catholics deny the possibility of creating heaven on earth, a conclusion which history tends to confirm.

But the theory falls apart in the face of the obvious fact that while Jews, like all such groups, are able to form networks and collaborate, they simply have never had the capacity to organise a world-scale plot persisting for a couple of millennia.

Neither does Jones’s narrative hold up in the light of the history of the Christian Church itself. Jesus – God incarnate – was a Jew. John the Baptist was a Jew. Mary, Joseph and Anne were all Jews. The father of John the Baptist was a priest in the Jewish Temple. All of the disciples were Jews. The Seventy were all Jews. The Jews did not, as a group, reject Jesus as the Risen Lord. The original Christian Church consisted entirely of Jews. All of the authors of the New Testament were Jews. Paul, who began as a persecutor of the Christian Jews (there were not called Christians until later on) on behalf of some other Jews – the religious authorities – became a key figure in the spreading of the Christian message.

It was not until a few decades later that the first conversions of the Gentiles occurred, giving rise to questions which had to be resolved at the Apostle’s Council, held in Jerusalem and described in Acts 15. Jones might as well argue that the entire Christian Church is a Jewish conspiracy against the pagan gods.

Jones is also questionable in his charge that the Jews rejected ‘Logos’. This was a Greek concept, the product of a reflection in theological terms of the narrative events described in the Synoptic Gospels. Whilst implicit in pre-Joannine theology, Logos was not spelled out until the writing of the Gospel of St John, thought to be around 65AD.

Over the centuries, the main damage to Catholicism was due to a gradual degeneration in Rome itself, verging at times on the scandalous. Additionally, Rome changed the Creed itself, without authorisation by any Church Council, thereby downgrading the Holy Spirit. Then the Eastern Orthodox Christians were ejected by a dead pope in 1054, and after that came the sacking of Constantinople by soldiers of the Fourth Crusade in 1204; the Eastern Empire never recovered from the damage, and it opened the way to the Ottoman conquest. What had the Jews to do with any of these key events? All of them had their origin in the papacy itself. How many of the Popes were Jews?

Going forward to the sixteenth century, there was another catastrophic split, originating in objections most of which had previously been made by the Eastern Orthodox five hundred years previously, including the doctrines of Original Sin, Purgatory and Indulgences; these were the immediate occasion for Luther’s 95 Theses. Again, this most damaging event had nothing to do with Jews; it was self-inflicted.

Moving on a couple of centuries, the next most damaging event for Catholic Christianity was the French Revolution. This was a product of the Enlightenment, a Gnostic movement propagated primarily through Freemasonry. Yet again, it had nothing to do with Jews; Gnosticism has many roots, principally, ancient Indian philosophy.

What of the twentieth century revolutions? Marx came from a Jewish family which had converted to Lutheranism.  His theories are derived from Enlightenment philosophy. Many of the followers of Marx, were indeed secular Jews, including the Bolsheviks. But the Jews in Tsarist Russia had been treated as outsiders for over a century, and were restricted to living in the Pale of Settlement, that part of Poland which had come into the Russian Empire when Poland was partitioned at the end of the eighteenth century. Consequently, it is unsurprising that they had no loyalty to the regime. Worse still, due to the nationalisation of the Russian Orthodox Church by Peter the Great, and a requirement that state officials receive communion at least once a year, career opportunities for Jews, for example in academia, were closed off; their situation was probably similar to that which Catholics in Northern Ireland suffered for many decades. This was a perfect breeding ground for subversion; that the subversives were Jewish was an effect rather than a cause.

However, when we look at the actual Bolshevik leaders, what do we find? Stalin was a Georgian who had attended an Orthodox seminary before he went to the bad. Felix Dzerzhinsky, secret police head, was a Polish Catholic of aristocratic descent, Lenin was Russian, Trotsky and Kaganovitch were indeed Jewish. The mass of the Bolshevik supporters were, of course, working class Russians. The fields for revolution had been fertilised by the Tsarist regime. An industrial working class suffering from low wages and poor housing provided an army of supporters. Reform came too late for the Russian political system to be transformed into a constitutional monarchy, which would probably have saved it. The Russians entered the First World War hopelessly unprepared for war with Germany, which was technologically fifty years ahead. The disastrously incompetent military campaign in East Prussia in 1914 destroyed morale and confidence in the established order. The German authorities lit the spark when the allowed Lenin to pass through the country from Switzerland to St Petersburg. Neutral Sweden also helped Lenin on his way by allowing passage to Lenin. Yes, quite a few of the actors were Jewish, and Marxist ideas were and are attractive to secular Jews, but it is ludicrous to claim that ‘the Jews’ were behind the Russian revolution. Most of the Jews in Russia did not support the revolution and were foremost among the victims.

The other twentieth century revolution, Nazism, was every bit as anti-Catholic as the Marxist one. Does Jones blame that on the Jews?

What of the present? Within Protestantism, while bible-based evangelical sects continue to spread, we see the mainstream denominations in retreat. Is that the fault of the Jews? We also see the Roman Catholic church in retreat. The collapse in vocations in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council is propelling the church towards an institutional implosion as parishes are forced to close through a lack of both clergy and congregations. How were ‘the Jews’ responsible for the liturgical reforms which were such an important factor behind the collapse?

Jones’s entire thesis ultimately founders on both historical facts and the notion that ‘the Jews’ exist as a coherent, organised entity. Some Jews are indeed strongly anti-Christian. Most Jews give the subject little, if any thought. More than a handful of Jews are themselves Christian. But Jones is mischievous. This becomes evident from the comments on his blog; anti-semitism is often a manifestation of a paranoid delusional condition, which can spill over into violent action when those affect believe that ‘The Jews’ are out to get them.

tisdag 16 juli 2019

Not as green as it looks

There are hundreds of miles of electrified railway in Sweden where there are a handful of trains – one or two an hour, and in some cases just a dozen a day. It is generally considered that a railway is not worth electrifying if there are less than six trains per track per hour. The embodied energy in all the overhead structures and the copper cable is colossal. If you travel in the north of Sweden in the winter, you can see a constant shower of sparks which is a continual waste of energy. These routes – eg Gothenburg-Strömstad – should never have been electrified in the first place, but useful amounts of energy could be saved by recovering the fixed equipment (which could be put into store for re-use) and using diesel locomotives, or even steam locomotives, which can be ‘green’ since they can run on renewable fuels such as waste material from the timber industry.

tisdag 9 juli 2019

Most news coverage of Moslems negative

“The New Statesman, Observer and Guardian were the least likely to portray Muslims (their spelling) in a negative light, according to the analysis of 11,000 articles and news broadcasts during the final months of the year.”

Of course it is the handful of bad eggs who make the news, but since the teachings and practices of Islam are fundamentally at odds with western society based on liberal enlightenment values, as soon as the number of Moslems grows beyond a certain point, conflict is inevitable; members of that community can then expect to be portrayed negatively. It makes matters worse that Islamic teachings also take an extremely negative view of Christians and Jews, although there is scope for common cause there because Christianity and Judaism are also both at odds with contemporary secular values.

There are indeed real issues within the Moslem community, which need to come under public scrutiny: female genital mutilation, the disproportionate number of Moslems in prison, forced marriages, and the levels of physical and mental disability resulting from the widespread practice of marriage between first cousins. The community’s reputation was not enhanced by the Rotherham and Oxford sex abuse cases; this type of thing is obviously not the preserve of Moslems but if you are a member of a minority community, as I am myself, then you need to realise that higher standards are expected and that failure will bring opprobrium on all. That raises a further question, which is that a degree of internal self-policing by community leaders and peers could have been expected, who would have dealt with the miscreants long before they came to the attention of the authorities.

In my previous blog, I referred to the Guardian’s censorship of the slightest criticism of Islam. Since the Guardian and the Observer are the same newspaper, one has to ask who is in charge of its editorial policy?

Guardian censorship - continued

The Guardian makes much of its moral and intellectual superiority. It claims to be open, a supporter of liberal western Enlightenment values, evidence-based claims, and, of course, free speech.

For many years I have been commenting under the name of Physiocrat, mostly about economic policies but on a range of other subjects too. I have carefully avoided being offensive, even when I have received offensive responses from other commentators. The number of topics open for comment has been steadily decreasing in recent years and is mostly confined to topics like the weather and the state of the railways. However, I was surprised to see that the message above has been appearing under the few articles which remain open for comment, and I enquired of the Guardian what was the reason. This was the reply.

“Your account was banned after multiple spells in premoderation. A lot of your comments could be interpreted as Islamophobic.”

The first point is untrue. My comments were pre-moderated on one or possibly two occasions in a period of ten years or more. The second point is more interesting. “Could be interpreted as Islamophobic” sets a very high bar – so high, in fact, that the slightest criticism of Islam would fail the test.

It is evident that Islam is regarded by the Guardian as exempt from any criticism. Given the volume of postings, it is reasonable to assume that there is a well organised campaign to seek out all adverse comments about Islam and report them. Shame on the Guardian for caving in to the pressure. Yet Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular, however, and quite rightly, is a free-fire zone. The same applies to Zionism, even though a preoccupation with the wrongdoings of the Israeli government is an indicator of anti-semitism. Never mind that Islam comes with antisemitism built in or that Iran’s enmity with Israel is derived from a theological view that the Mahdi will come when the last Jew must be killed. These things must evidently not be mentioned.

As I discussed a couple of months ago in another blog, Islamophobia is an invented word, and a fundamentally dishonest one; a phobia is an irrational fear. Living in Sweden as I do, I encounter and talk to many people from Moslem lands. Many are non-Moslem refugees who are dismayed to find the people they fled from have followed and are now their neighbours. They are unanimous in relating the difficulties they have experienced, for generations. This is what The Guardian does not want brought into the open. The disproportionate number of Moslems in British prisons is a taboo subject. Concerns about this matters are real fears, not phobias. ‘Islamophobia’ is a term designed to shut down discussion and tar any critic with the racism brush.

Rational fear of Islam has already transformed European politics; the Guardian editorial staff have seemingly not noticed and made the connection. It was a major influence in the Brexit referendum result. It is a major factor in the rise of parties such as Sverigedemokraterna and AfD. It is sad that the Guardian of all newspapers should be blocking off public debate in this way. When the voices of reasoned argument are silenced, holding the lid down will bring about the very thing we most fear. Shutting down public debate is feeding rumour and extremism.
Shame on the Guardian for folding in the face of Islamofascism.

söndag 30 juni 2019

When the flood was over

When the flood was over, Noah told all the animals to go forth and multiply. After a while, Noah found that all the animals had offspring, apart from a pair of snakes.

“What is the problem?” asked Noah.
“We can’t multiply”, answered the snakes. “We’re adders.”

Noah and his sons started to make furniture for themselves, using rough hewn logs for chairs and tables. Next time Noah checked, he found the snakes with a clutch of young.

“I thought you said you couldn’t multiply”, said Noah. “We can’t. We used the log tables”, answered the adders.

lördag 29 juni 2019

Catholic to Orthodox?

I come across a fair number of discontented Catholics these days, who are looking at the Orthodox church as a solution to their dissatisfaction. This is not a decision to be made lightly, or possibly, at all. It is a big commitment. An important reason for not moving are the current scandals within the Catholic church; misbehaviour is a human attribute and will be found in every organisation. However, these are a few things to ponder when approaching the matter.
  • The Roman claim to Papal supremacy is based on an interpretation of Matthew 16:18. From this verse is derived the Roman ecclesiology. You have to be satisfied that Rome is wrong and that the Orthodox are right. The subject has been much discussed and disputed, to put it mildly. No firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • What does the history of the early church tell us? One needs at least a broad picture of developments from Apostolic times to the thirteenth century, by which time the Schism had hardened. Here too, no firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • Pray about it. 
  • Discernment, a practice which was developed to a high level by the founder of the Jesuit order, St Ignatius Loyola.
  • Does the Orthodox liturgy speak to you? Initially it will seem strange and alien, so you would need to attend at least a dozen times before you can begin to grasp what is happening. You also need to study the texts and actions, which are broadly similar to the Roman Catholic liturgy but differ in important respects. It is worth trying the alternative forms in which the Orthodox liturgy is presented. There are at least three main traditions: Arabic, Greek and Slavonic. In addition, Orthodoxy is slowly taking root and become naturalised in that part of the world which became Roman Catholic after the schism, in the Protestant lands and in the former colonial mission territories. Thus can be found Orthodox liturgies in languages such as English and Spanish in the English-speaking countries and South America.
  • What happens after the liturgy? Does the parish demonstrate Christian love?

What is in the burqua?

This extract from The Silver Chair, by C S Lewis comes to mind.

“All the same,” said Puddleglum, “I wish we knew a bit more about her.” “I was going to ask her all about herself,” said Jill. “But how could I when you wouldn’t tell her anything about us?”
“Yes,” said Scrubb. “And why were you so stiff and unpleasant. Didn’t you like them?”
“Them?” said the wiggle. “Who’s them? I only saw one.”
“Didn’t you see the Knight?” asked Jill.
“I saw a suit of armour,” said Puddleglum. “Why didn’t he speak?”
“I expect he was shy,” said Jill. “Or perhaps he just wants to look at her and listen to her lovely voice. I’m sure I would if I was him.”
“I was wondering,” remarked Puddleglum, “what you’d really see if you lifted up the visor of that helmet and looked inside.”
“Hang it all,” said Scrubb. “Think of the shape of the armour! What could be inside it except a man?”
“How about a skeleton?” asked the Marsh-wiggle with ghastly cheerfulness. “Or perhaps,” he added as an afterthought, “nothing at all. I mean, nothing you could see. Someone invisible.”
“Really, Puddleglum,” said Jill with a shudder, “you do have the most horrible ideas. How do you think of them all?”

torsdag 27 juni 2019

The Jews as a moral barometer

Einstein wrote this in 1927

“The position of our scattered Jewish community is a moral barometer for the political world. For what surer index of political morality and respect for justice can there be than the attitude of the nations towards a defenceless minority. The barometer is low at the present moment.”

torsdag 20 juni 2019

Britain’s new inter city trains - could have been better.

Long distance trains in Britain dating from the 1970s and 1990s are being replaced wholesale by the new 800 series trains from Hitachi. They could have been worse, but the designers have not really addressed some of the fundamental problems which go back to the time when mark 3 stock was introduced in the 1970s.
  1. Seats misaligned to windows. This is primarily a matter of getting the bay dimension correct in the first place. If this is 1.90 metres there is sufficient legroom for everyone and all the seats can align.
  2. The luggage space is in the wrong place. People will not use the large luggage areas as they are not secure. The optimum location for luggage is between seat backs but this means that most of the seating should be in facing pairs as in the mark 1 and mark 2 stock. As soon as the seats are arranged in an airline configuration, this useful luggage space is lost. Given that it is too late to change the fundamental design, the large luggage areas should be fitted with some means of securing cases eg with lockable cables and keys with a coin deposit system. Otherwise people are not going to use them.
  3. Space next to the unglazed sliding door pockets should be used for luggage or toilets or equipment cabinets.
  4. The discomfort of the seats is due to insufficient lumbar support. This could easily be remedied by changing the shape of the foam inserts.
  5. The vehicles are too long. The end space cannot be used for seating due to the tapered shape and it cannot be use for entrance vestibules as there would be excessive platform gaps.
  6. The vehicles are difficult to get on and off - indeed, hazardous - due to the design of the steps and the large gaps. Retractable steps should have been fitted. The excessive length of the vehicles is probably a factor.
  7. The overall design of the trains is ugly, with a flat roof with lumps of equipment spread along the top, giving the trains a horrible skyline, rotten aerodynamics and likely problems with snow and rain. These items should have been faired into the roof, as an stock such as Electrostar series.
  8. There is a huge gap between vehicles. This is also terrible both visually and aerodynamically. The space aught to be closed by rubber fairings or extended panels, or the vehicle bodies built out and used for equipment. There is probably quite a lot of equipment which could usefully be relocated here from under the floor or elsewhere.
I would question the wisdom of having a single fleet huge fleet to a single design from a single supplier. Britain’s railways have run the risk of a fault affecting the entire fleet, and then what? It has happened enough times before. The current problem with the Boeing 737 Max is only the latest in a series of such events; the same thing happened with the Merchant Navy class of steam locomotives in the 1950s, when the fleet had to be taken out of service and replacements drafted in from all over the country.

onsdag 29 maj 2019

Place of worship, or arts venue?

Gothic cathedrals have been having a bad time lately, what with the Notre Dame fire, and now Salisbury Cathedral, which currently has a giant Gaia hanging in the nave. It dominates the view as you come in and is there for the annual festival. Its presence proclaims how the Church of England has forgotten what it exists for, and what the cathedral was built for in the first place. Christianity deals not with the earthly realm but with the heavenly one. The Gaia would have been perfectly in place in the Cathedral Close or even in the cloister, only not inside the cathedral itself. There is not even a scriptural text to set it in its context, such as, ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’, or ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’, or ‘Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory’.

The Bishop, Dean and Chapter need to think more carefully about what is allowed to take place in their cathedral. Its primary purpose is not as an arts venue.

söndag 19 maj 2019

Islamophobia #1

“Islamophobia” is a dishonest neologism which has been used to shut down discussion of Islam and label critics as racist. There has been discussion of the subject recently, in an attempt to define it, perhaps as a prelude to making it a crime. A phobia is an irrational fear. Christians and Jews have had good reason to fear Islam for the past 1400 years. Mohammed himself was responsible for a notorious atrocity against Jews, Banu Qurayza, when 600 men were beheaded on his orders, and the women and children taken into slavery. Since Islam venerates him as the perfect man, fear of Islam is anything but irrational. Christians and Jews have rarely been well-treated under Muslim regimes. The recent experience of Christians under ISIS is not an exception to the general case; 3 million Greek and Armenian Christians were murdered in Islamic genocides in the 20th century alone.

This is not to deny that dislike of Muslims has a racist component, since most Muslims are foreigners with dark skins, and irrational dislike is indeed a phobia. There has been an epidemic of attacks and crude invective against Muslims in Britain. They are being made to suffer for the actions of those responsible for incidents such as the Manchester bombings, and for the utterances of the teenage supporter of ISIS who justified the action. It is understandable, if inexcusable.

This BBC Sunday programme has a balanced debate on the subject, 36 minutes from the start. One of the speakers, herself a Muslim, points out that Muslims are far from being the only victims of racism, and that there is a certain onus on those at the receiving end of public dislike, for whatever reason, to practice some self-reflection. Dislike of Muslims is not entirely unconnected with incidents such as the London and Manchester bombings, the truck attack on Westminster Bridge, the exodus of Jews from Malmö, and the fact that anyone travelling by plane now has to allow an extra hour to pass through security checks ‒ which is not to prevent attacks by radical Methodists.

EU election virtue signalling

The posters for the Swedish election to the European Parliament have produced the usual crop of platitudinous virtue signalling.
  • For democracy, against division and extremism. (Social Democrats)
  • Our grandchildren come first - every country should take responsibility for the climate (Social Democrats)
  • Take a stand for secure jobs, not pay cuts (Social Democrats)
  • Oil lobbyists versus climate activists (Vänster)
  • Our fight against right-wing populism is needed in Europe (Centre Party)
  • Hope instead of hate (Green Party)
  • Yes! Vote out extremists and nationalists (Liberals)
They give the impression that they have been generated by a computer programme.

lördag 4 maj 2019

Silence on Christian persecution due to “trade”

Apparently, the silence on Christian persecution is due to fear of offending trading partners like Saudi Arabia, not political correctness. So says the Guardian’s Religious correspondent, Andrew Brown.

That is an interesting angle. It does not explain why the persecution, which is systematic, is confined to certain countries. There is none in Japan, or Thailand, for example, and there was little in India until recently. Brown manages to avoid naming the principal persecutors and their motivations, which are grounded in their own religious, or stringently non-religious, ideologies.

It is amazing the lengths that some people will go to in order not to state the obvious.

fredag 3 maj 2019

Persecution of Christians by persons unknown

It is amazing how an article in the Guardian, reporting the publication of a study about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, fails to mention the M-word.

Who do they think is responsible for this persecution?

måndag 29 april 2019

Scottish independence problems

The Union originated due to the Scottish having lost a vast amount of money in an ill-fated colonial project. It will not break up unless the money settlement works.

Scotland in the EU, but England outside it would not work. England is the main source of goods imported to Scotland; they would become more expensive as they would be subject to the EU tariff, which would lead to cross border shopping in places like Newcastle and Carlisle. This in turn would lead to long tailbacks down the A1 and M6, as cars and HGVs waited to clear the EU customs barrier that would go up.

There are also issues over who would pay for defence.

The Scots would do better to focus on the highly concentrated pattern of land ownership in the country, and to use the freedom that already exists to apply a land value tax. However, Scottish politicians do not seem to be particularly smart or they would not be operating policies such as higher income taxes in Scotland.

söndag 28 april 2019

Swedish water rights mystery

My friends live in a house overlooking this lake, about 15 km from Gothenburg. The lake is man-made, having being created by the construction of a dam. A few hundred metres downstream from the outlet is the remains of a mill. Further downstream still, there was yet another mill; the present owner retains the rights to the flow of a certain volume of water. These rights were acquired in the 1920s, when the government (foolishly) gave away water rights in exchange for an undertaking to construct electricity generating facilities. However, this particular facility, is, I am informed, barely functioning, and even if it was, it would make little use of the head of water that is potentially available and is consequently inefficient.

In dry weather, as we have had recently, this owner complains of insufficient flow, and water then has to be released from the lake. Prolonged dry weather results in a significant fall in the water level and the exposure of unsightly areas of mud.

Loss of water leads to a deterioration in water quality, which for many decades has been managed by a fishing association which, among other improvements, has reduced the acidity of the water by regular dozing with chalk dust, resulting in a good population of fish including perch and pike.

I do not know if I have been given the full story, but the owner, despite making little or no effective use of this water, wants the local authority to pay 3 million kronor for the extinguishing of the rights to ‘his’ water from this and two other lakes. The obvious response would be to restrict the water outflow in dry weather so as to maintain the water level in the lakes, and wait for the claim for damages. If my information about the virtual non-use of this water is correct, the damages due would be 0,00 kr.

Such an inefficient capture of the energy in the water makes no sense. An efficient system would pipe the water from the upper level, which would create a pressure of 1 bar for every 10 metres drop and could be used efficiently to drive a turbine linked to a generator. Whether the volume of water available is worth the cost of installing such a system is another question, but it might be possible for the owner to have his power without draining down the lake.

There is a further issue also: the valuations of the lakeside properties for tax purposes, which is on the assumption that the lake is an amenity, which it certainly is not if the water level fluctuates, leaving expanses of mud in dry weather.

tisdag 2 april 2019

Rampant mercantilism

I picked this up in an article headed “Would the UK be better off outside the Customs Union.”
A YouGov survey last July found that independent trade policy was voters’ joint fourth Brexit priority, behind control over immigration, and ending EU rules and budget payments.
Trade experts say deals get more contentious once they become real. “It is one of those things that sounds great but when it actually comes down to it trade has always been controversial because people always want something from you,” said David Henig, who was heavily involved in negotiations on an EU-US trade deal. “New Zealand want to sell more lamb and Australia certainly want to sell us more lamb. That’s not going to go down very well in Wales or Scotland.”
Henig’s mercantilism is showing. Cheaper New Zealand and Australian lamb would go down very well with shoppers in Cardiff and Glasgow. Why is there this blindness to the obvious? Should this man be in charge of negotiating trade deals when he evidently has such a limited idea about the purpose of trade?

torsdag 7 mars 2019

Is anti-Zionism Jew hatred?

There is a long article on this subject by a in The Guardian today, not open to comments. Zionism is a philosophy of Jewish nationalism originating at the end of the nineteenth century as a response to widespread persecution in Europe, particularly in the Russian Empire, though it was the Dreyfus trial in France which gave the movement its impetus. It was originally opposed by many, if not the majority of Jews, who had not the slightest interest in trying to set up a Jewish state in a country consisting mostly of sand dunes, swamp, semi-desert, and eroded rocky hillsides. The USA, the Golden State, was the goal.

It was the events of the 1930s and the aftermath of the Second World War which caused Zionism to gather momentum. Even then, the land of the then Palestine was a last choice, or Hobson’s choice, for the majority of those who went to live there. As late as the nineteen-fifties, in countries where Jews felt safe and comfortable, Zionists were regarded by other Jews as slightly cracked. There were also, and still are, religious groups who consider the notion of a Jewish state as contrary to the will of God, and this is in fact an old tradition.

The author of the article, himself a Jew, draws much the same conclusion when he says that to be opposed to Zionism cannot in itself be anti-Semitic. What he neglects to mention is that it has become an obsession among non-Jews  – especially on the left – to the point that they are silent about all the other evils in the word; the most recent example is the imprisonment of a million or two Muslims in Chinese concentration camps. It then has to be concluded that the anti-Zionism is driven by anti-Semitic emotion.

tisdag 5 mars 2019

Hydrogen train hype

Hydrogen powered trains are in the news at the moment. They are being promoted as a means of making railways less dependent on carbon as a fuel. The idea is that the unwanted electricity from wind generation can be electrolysed and used as fuel in fuel cells. The system is being trialled in Germany on a new train, the i-Lint, and in the UK on a converted class 321 multiple unit train dating from the late 1980s.

There are at least four snags.
  • The hydrogen has to be compressed and stored in heavy tanks.
  • Overall energy efficiency is about 27%.
  • Fuel cells have a limited life.
  • Cost.
I have attempted to obtain figures for the power output of these devices but a search reveals nothing on the subject, not even on the website of the manufacturer, Alstom. My guess is that it is around 1000 hp, about the same as diesels such as British Railway class 20, or a class 4 steam locomotive such as the 80xxx class 2‑6‑4 tank class. The latter, burning light oil and with draughting modifications to suit, turn in a thermal efficiency of around 12%. Because steam locomotives have a small number of large parts, they are relatively inexpensive to manufacture using modern CADCAM and 3D printing techniques; given a sensible production run, the cost of a locomotive in the equivalent power category should be of the order of £1 million. Given that the capital cost of rolling stock accounts for about a quarter of the cost of running a railway, when will someone drop their prejudices and have a proper look at this supposedly outdated technology?

As for the unwanted hydrogen, there is a simple solution - feed it into the gas grid. This would have to be in defined areas as combustion requires different air:gas volume ratios than are used for natural gas. The hydrogen can then be used for on-site electricity generation in combined heat and power systems, which results in minimal waste of energy.

torsdag 28 februari 2019

Brexit fiasco a national disgrace

The economic case for Brexit was never put, because of the incompetence of Minford and his associates. Short of full-blown communism, it would be difficult to devise a worse set of policies than those at the heart of the EUʼs trade and economic policies: CAP, VAT, the tariff wall and the Euro. The so-called four freedoms are in reality a way to ensure that skinflint employers and greedy landlords can pay the lowest wages and charge the highest rents. Employment Rights are a fig leaf and do nothing for those on the edge of the labour market.

However, CAP and the tariff wall are a useful source of pocket money for the dukes and lords whose rental income would have been hit. Since the same people are the leading Tory grandees, they were bound to insist on it being replaced by a home grown version of the same thing, which is what has happened. On top of that there is a clueless Chancellor who is taken in by surfaces appearances and does not appreciate how much of the headline yield from VAT disappears in costs and losses. To cap all that, there is a Labour Party which is asleep and dreaming Marxist dreams.

Whilst there is a good case for remaining, the support for remain among the better informed section of the population would not have been anything like as much as it was if the flaws in the EUʼs policies had been appreciated and sensible post-Brexit alternatives thought about.

Without no sensible post-Brexit strategy, the entire point of Brexit disappears, since the egregious EU policies are replaced by home-grown versions of the same thing.

The whole episode is a national disgrace which reflects badly not only on the politicians but on the British public at large, above all, on those who are meant to be the more intelligent and better educated section of the population. Remainers - the Guardian and FT were leading offenders - were too busy arguing for remain to get their heads around the need to ensure that the worst of the EU policies were dropped and sound policies put in their place.

tisdag 26 februari 2019

Brexit is losing its point

I am coming to the conclusion that Brexit is becoming an irrelevancy. After the announcement by Gove - a leading Brexiter - of new UK food tariffs to replace the EUʼs, I am coming to the conclusion that Brexit is becoming an irrelevancy. What is the point of it?

The EU has been running four egregious trade and economic policies from its outset: CAP, VAT, the tariff barrier and the Euro (fortunately the UK avoided the latter, but the fact that it even exists is proof of the incompetence of those responsible for the those policies). It is becoming evident that the leading supporters of Brexit are intent on replacing the EU policies with home-grown versions of the same thing. It is as if a prisoner is told he is free, but remains in his cell, and is then required to pay for his food and lodging in the jail. Such a Brexit is all pain and no gain.

The ERG - this includes J Rees Mogg - and Economists for Brexit, should have raised their voices in protest when Gove announced his proposals for the tariffs, which have not been denied. Labour and the left should have raised voices in protest on the basis of their own principles. Economists for Brexit have not helped the case through their claim that British agriculture and manufacturing would be destroyed.

As regards agriculture, it appears that there has been no rigorous study, ie based on a Ricardian analysis, made on this subject, not by DEFRA, nor by any think tank, nor by any academic institution, nor even the National Farmers Union. Such studies as have been made are inadequate, since, like the ESRC one, rents are regarded as an input cost, or in the case of that by the NFU, rents and imputed rental incomes are rolled up into the category of farm profits. This is astonishing, considering that many universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Reading and Bangor, have departments of agriculture and agricultural economics well equipped to crunch the numbers properly and predict what would happen if cheaper food from outside the EU became available.

If nobody in authority knows what to do with the freedom Brexit gives, and the EUʼs dysfunctional policies are replaced with UK versions of the same, what is the point of it?

måndag 25 februari 2019

Post Brexit agriculture

Uplands farming seems to be most at risk from Brexit. The land will not, of course disappear. The uplands, and, indeed, the landscape as a whole, should be regarded as a national resource which needs to be managed for a variety of objectives.
  • to maintain, and preferably increase, opportunities to earn livelihoods; 
  • to enhance its aesthetic value; 
  • to enhance its biological diversity so as to support native species; 
  • to protect downstream areas from flooding; to make a contribution to the carbon sink; 
  • sustainability. 

This needs to be done is such a way as to ensure that the enhanced rental values resulting from public investment are efficiently recovered for the exchequer. Although the sums of money involved are relatively small, this strengthens the case for land value taxation on agricultural land. However, it should not be forgotten that present taxation gives rise to an artificial margin where land which could support economic activity in the absence of tax cannot do so if such activity is subject to taxation. In these situations, tax is the deal-breaker.

The question that arises is whether DEFRA is up to the task.

söndag 24 februari 2019

Will Brexit destroy British farming?

Will Brexit destroy British farming if it is not protected? Remainers say it. The National FU says it‒but then it would, wouldn’t it? The leading Brexit economist, Minford, has said it. What is the truth of the matter?

Agricultural rents are in the range £50 to £200 per hectare. Faced with a general fall in farm gate prices, the worst land, by definition marginal land, goes out of agricultural use and rents of all other land must fall. The cut-off point comes where rental values drop to zero. This is standard Ricardian theory.

Some agricultural land will obviously go out of its present use, but the questions are how much, and what other uses will replace them? I have not seen any analysis of the problem, neither by Brexiters or Remainers. In the absence of any sound analysis, all there is on both sides is blind speculation.

The apparent dearth of well-publicised and solid information is a mystery. The calculations are not the kind of thing that can be done on the back of an envelope, but many of the country’s think tanks and academic institutions, including both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, as well as the NFU and DEFRA, have the resources to do the work. When making forecasts of impending disaster, there is no excuse for not producing supporting calculations which would give an indication of the extent of the damage.

tisdag 19 februari 2019

Very bad Brexit news

The bad news is that Gove has announced that food tariffs will continue after Brexit. This should not come as a surprise since the National FU has always made sure it has the ear of British politicians. It shows that the battle for sound economic policies is only just beginning. Getting out of the EU was only ever a first stage, since the vested interests still remain to be faced down and put in their place.

There are potential benefits from Brexit because the core EU trade and economic policies are fundamentally unsound. But if the UK government is just going to perpetuate all the same rotten EU policies then the country suffers all the disruption of Brexit but gains nothing.

If the public do not get to see the benefits there will be hell to pay. As for farming, New Zealand showed the way in the 1980s. There was initial disruption but the industry adapted and is, if anything more successful as a consequence.

The difficulty with achieving change in the UK is that the country has no plausible opposition party at the moment, which means that there no institutional means of expressing discontent. The possible centrist independent party merely offers the prospect of more of the same.

fredag 15 februari 2019

EU vacuum cleaner regulations

Now corrected (perhaps), thanks to Dinero who spotted an error in the original source for overall electricity consumption.

Overall annual electricity consumption in the EU is 3 million Gigawatt hours ie 3E6 x 1E9, a total of 3E15 watt hours. Source (the decimal point has been omitted from the graph, hence the earlier mistake)

According to this blog, 19TWh would be saved by the maximum power regulation for vacuum cleaners ie 1.9E13 watt hours. I make that saving about 0.7% of the total EU electricity consumption, but it is easy to go wrong with teras and gigas. However, this came to me from Mark Wadsworth, which suggests that the figure is in the right ball park.

ʻWe use a fair bit of electricity, about 400 kWh a month, my online thingy tells me. Let us assume we spend half an hour a week vacuuming. Our vacuum cleaner is 2,200 watts. 

ʻHalf an hour per week = 1.1 kWh, times 4 and a third = 4.7 kWh per month 
= about 1% of our usage. 

ʻLet us assume that the most efficient cleaner uses half as much electricity for same effectiveness 
= reduces our usage by 0.5% 

ʻHouseholds consume about 40% of all electricity (a guess on my part) 

ʻ0.5% x 40% = 0.2% = one-five hundredth; not one-hundred thousandth. i.e. not absolutely nothing, but a very small something.ʼ

It is so small that one wonders why anyone was bothering about it. In terms of reducing carbon emissions (assuming that to be a worthwhile goal), the biggest and most silent contributor has been appliances steadily getting more energy efficient, whether by market forces or EU diktat.

Is LVT really such a hard sell?

People are more emotional than logical and the process of paying LVT would feel different to some of the other taxes it would replace. People would notice the payment more and object. 

Perhaps, but one of the issues with other taxes is that the INCIDENCE of the tax is not necessarily the person nominally responsible for payment, as taxes are passed along.

The incidence of PAYE Income Tax and NI is on the employer and forms part of labour costs. It is functionally equivalent to a payroll tax. This means that employers are under pressure to reduce labour costs by replacing workers with capital even though it results in a worse service, or no service at all, and is, in reality, uneconomic. Supermarket self-service checkouts are an example. Alternatively, the employee taxes are passed on in higher prices.
It does not stop there, because these taxes cut into employers' profits, resulting in less being collected in other taxes including property taxes (UBR) and Corporation Tax.

It is a similar situation with VAT. Retailers attempt to absorb some of it in order to maintain volumes of sales. That why cuts in VAT, which sometimes occur, are not fully passed on in price cuts.

It is extremely difficult to establish the true incidence of taxes. In the long run, all taxes are passed on to landowners as they cut into rent. This was first noticed by the French Physiocrats but is also a corollary of Ricardo's Law of Rent. The problem this causes is that locations where business would be viable in the absence of tax are incapable of sustaining business activity under the present tax regime. Thus, the taxes amplify regional economic disadvantage and are one reason why regional economic imbalance is so intractable.
LVT would be paid as it is now, by monthly instalments. In the case of leaseholders, the tenants' share could be added to the ground rent and the entire tax paid over by the freeholder. It would no more be noticed than any other regular payment made by standing order.

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