Friday, 6 December 2013

The Big Six Power Companies

Big Six Energy Companies

" It looks as though Capital Gains Tax is too low in Britain, and too high on the continent."

We read that the profits of the Big Six energy companies have (when averaged) increased five fold since the financial crisis of 2008/9; increasing from 0.22 B£ to 1.2 B£. That has been due to price hikes and hard winters. There was a major hike in 2012 which lifted all 6 into profitability. So why a hike in 2013? One suspects that the companies saw that they got away with it in 2012, and were tempted to try it again. 

Back in February this year I pointed out (Ref.1) that Centrica¨ (i.e. British Gas) announced increased profits of 11% over the previous year. I also showed that share prices rose by a similar 11%. , and concluded that the shareholders expected to see those profits. It was clear they had no intention of investing them in the business. Nor was that extra money destined to insulating the homes of chilly customers; nor to pay for more expensive raw materials, for those prices had fallen.

In the Table 1 below I look at all six of our biggest energy providers. One feature is immediately obvious; only two of the six are British owned — Centrica and SSE. Of the others, 2 are German, 1 French and 1 Spanish (Iberdrola). The next point that strikes the eye is that there seem to be two types of business strategy; while the 2 British-owned companies return a piffling divident (P/E over 1000), the continental companies return a handsome dividend of between 7% p.a. on the capital invested in EDF, to 9.6% for shares in Iberdrola¨. On the other hand shares in the continental companies have all slumped steadily over the 5 years from Jan 2009, while shares in the British companies have shown a steady and sustained rise over the same 5 years with a smoothed average of 8% p.a (for SSE) to a staggering 18% p.a. (for Centrica). Who needs a dividend if the share itself increases in value at a rate that is 9 times greater than inflation!

 

It looks as though Capital Gains Tax is too low in Britain, and too high on the continent; with the possibility of a compensating imbalance in corporation tax levels such that in Britain, companies find it prudent not to make a profit if that can be legally avoided.

Table 1

Data for Northumberland, including VAT (5%), 'standard' direct debit rate, unit cost (pence/kwh), standing charge (pence/day)

 

Company

Curr. Unit (p/kwh)

Standing Charge (p/day)

P/E ratio

Smoothed
5 yr. ann. share rise%

Npower
(RWE AG)

14.879

10.0

10.5

-20%

British Gas
(Centrica Plc)

12.320 

26.000

1,561.97

+18%

SSE
(SSE Plc)

14.35

16.45

1,617.76

+8%

E.On
(EOAN.DE)

Not revealed

Not revealed

12.23

-12%

Scottish Power (Iberdrola )

9.689

28.70

10.36

-5%

EDF
(ƒElectriciteŽ de France)

13.78

18.90

14.17

 

References:

[1] http://occidentis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/centricas-profit_27.html

Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Autumn

Autumn

"Season of mists"

I find autumn to be a deeply satisfactory season. Such used not to be the case, when I was young, but now that I have completed my 'three score years and ten' and am enjoying these supernumerary years, it seems different.
The leaves turn and fall, the trees drip gently, the fallen apples rot, the unpicked beans dry and rattle in their pods. Things are tidying themselves up for the long sleep. In my early twenties, the golden days of autumn were just as beautiful on the banks of the Cherwell as here on the Longhirst burn, but they chided me. My unassuaged longings chided me. The fleeing swallows mocked me.  Another wasted summer gone!
Do I kid myself that I also shall sleep to wake in a new springtime? Is it thus that the 'obviously false' hope of a new life-after-death enters our minds; hard wired; like our 'obviously false' belief in causation, simultaneity, gravity. To my conscious mind it is clear that it is not I that will be born again, to learn to walk, to talk, to read, to love. It may not be my children, or my grandchildren, any more than they will be my swallows, or my roses that will return. But there is a confidence that this will all come again.
And I can return to raking leaves, refreshed from my little pause for thought.
Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Is a Dog the Ideal Companion?

Dear G.

I have spent some time mulling over the conundrum that your idea of
getting a pet dog has posed for me. Dogs are doubtless very rewarding.
For different people there will be different 'perfect' dogs, but they
each have much to offer, and with the great variety available it is
possible for many people to find a good fit. You can feed a dog and it
is grateful, you can take him for a walk and he will love it (and be
grateful), you can tell him off and he will be contrite, without
answering back. Dogs will watch you sit down and will come and lie at
your feet; they will look up at you with questioning but admiring
eyes, dimly understanding the barest outline of your thoughts or moods
-- but wholly trusting. An ideal companion you might think. How could
a human (man or woman) compete? A human would want to walk when you
want to sit, would doubt your facts and question your conclusions.
They might eat with gratitude the food you put in front of them, and
look at you with admiring incomprehension; but they would want to walk
north when you want to walk south, want to throw sticks for you to
chase (dammit!) instead of picking up your sticks, and worst of all
they might want to climb onto the furniture and into your bed.

Yet I cannot get out of my head the idea that a pet dog is a surrogate
companion, a stand-in for a human companion. Is the problem one of
choice; we can choose our dog but with a human companion they are at
least in part choosing us? Is it perhaps a question of communication,
for amidst all those words we often fail to make it clear what we do
want and what we do not want of our companion? That is not simply
because of the complexity that words allow, but from shyness; the
difficulty of talking to an equal.

Ah! perhaps a glimmer of the answer is filtering through to my dull
brain -- 'equality'. There is an asymmetry in the man/dog relationship
that is absent (or less marked) in the more equal relationship between
two humans. How refreshing it is to be always right, always boss. No
one is going to question the superiority of a human companion when it
comes to playing duets, or having a conversation. But it is often
tiring, and sometimes humiliating to deal with an equal; even more so
with a self-appointed superior.

Did you get that dog?

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Suicide: hindered and assisted



Suicide: hindered and assisted


"In a world of limited resources, to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death."
There has been considerable discussion in the media during the last 5 years of the law regarding 'assisted suicide'. There has been no similar consideration of the law regarding 'hindered suicide', though I think the two issues are linked.
       Our reluctance to allow the legal killing of another human being is understandable. It does not take much imagination to conjure up situations were pressure is put on disabled people to consent to their removal, for reasons that concern the interests of the carers and not the patient. The present unofficial system seems to work, to some extent; assistance can be given, but is never legally condoned, so any protest, by any party, could lead to the prosecution and disgrace of the assister. It is pragmatic, if also ridiculous; but it seems that many people believe it preferable to any alternative. Oregon State and Switzerland represent a tiny minority of polities that allow 'assisted suicide'.
       I am suggesting that to prevent a person from dying may represent an intrusion into individual sovereignty as much as to prevent a person from living; a violation of their human right.
       I am relying on the notion that to contribute to a person's death by doing nothing is vastly different from contributing to their death by a positive action. When most people believed in minute by minute supervision of everyone's life by an all-attentive, all-powerful (though otherwise very human) God, one could shrug and say "It is God's will". We (mostly) do not now think of an actual God of that type, but it seems to me that the metaphor of "God's will" still has some meaning, even for an atheist. We all die, by a 'law of nature'; some sooner, some later. It is in a way unfortunate that many deaths can now be prevented very easily, for now the line between life and death is drawn, not by external natural forces, but by human ones. We have the terribly difficult task of deciding where to draw that line.
       In a world of limited resources, the decision becomes slightly easier, for to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Productive Thinking

Productive Thinking

We spent some time trying to outline a systematic approach to thinking productively, stimulated by the mere title of Susan Stebbing's "Thinking to Some Purpose" (Pelican, London, 1939).
I suggested "Ten Obstacles to Clear and Productive Thought", as follows.
[1] Ignorance: in spite of the resources of the internet it is still a problem that most of us most of the time do not sufficiently know 'the facts'.
[2] Prejudice: we assume we know, and we often assume what we want to be true, which makes our error all the more difficult to rectify.
[3] Manipulation: we can be played upon by clever advertising, or 'hidden persuaders'.
[4] Potted thinking: we reduce an argument to a sentence, to make it easier to remember and express, even when the truth slips out with the detail.
[5] Ambiguities of language: it is surprizingly hard to say exactly what we mean, and to know what someone else means from what they say. Emotive language can pack a lot of argument into a single work (e.g. 'freedom').
[6] Logical slips: for example Post hoc ergo propter hoc, (or mistaking correlation for causation), and Petitio principii  (or circular argument, which used to be called "Begging the Question" until that term got high jacked by the ignorant to mean simply "posing the question". 'Wise men give wise answers; this is a wise answer, because/therefore this is a wise man.').
[7] Attention span: we often drop a subject, or get side-tracked, before its goal has been reached.
[8] Conflict: is often avoided on emotional grounds when it should be welcomed on logical grounds.
[9] Circles: to find oneself repeatedly covering familiar ground suggest that the argument is being directed by a sub-conscious pilot.
[10] False syntheses: if repeated cases tend to illustrate the same general truth you have either discovered a valuable general principle, or a hobby-horse.


L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Remembering World War One

Remembering World War One

 

Dear David Cameron,

 

I and my colleagues jibbed at the idea of 'celebrating'  in 2014 the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It should certainly be 'remembered', but with shame for the incompetence of our military, the arrogance and incompetence of our politicians, and the foolish jingoism of the citizenry. We should acknowledge with humility and awe the courage of the millions of combatants of all nations, and record with regret the immense loss of life. But we do not think that 'to celebrate' is the appropriate verb.

 

We object to the idea of significant extra money being spent on this commemoration. We already have our Armistice Sunday (though even that we might lay to rest when its centenary comes round). To that we could perhaps add a lecture in the Albert Hall on the 'Failures of Diplomacy that led to the Outbreak of War', and perhaps also a sermon elsewhere on 'Love thy neighbour' or 'Blessed are the peacemakers'.

 

Above all we object to the slightest hint that someone seeks to make political capital from the event, or attempts to boost the morale of the nation by remembering this gigantic fiasco. It was an old fashioned European war of national self interest waged with excessively destructive weapons, and as such one of the least justifiable wars in our history.

 

Yours sincerely, Ian West

 

Ian West, 12 Longhirst Village, NE61 3LT

Monday, 24 June 2013

Debt, Deficit and the NHS

Debt, Deficit and the NHS

" Let us pay for our own National Health Service. Currently it is being paid for by foreigners. We need a tax rise! Might we agree one if it saved the NHS.  "

The coalition government (in 2010) made reduction of the debt its headline objective, yet 3 years on the debt is far from shrinking; it is still growing! We sit in a leaky boat, vote in a captain and crew with the mission to make us seaworthy; the pumps are on, yet we are still sinking ever lower in the water. We must of course fix the leaks, but we can in the short term pump faster.

One great weakness of democracy is that it is almost impossible to win the popular vote by offering to cut services or raise taxes. MPs see it as suicide for themselves and for their party. Cutting services has the extra disadvantage (discussed elsewhere) of putting people out of work, reducing income tax revenue and raising welfare expenses.

My proposal therefore is to raise taxes. If I shook a collecting tin and called the passing shoppers to help restore the bank capital squandered by the financial sector over the last 10 years I doubt I would get so much as a tin button. Some people would volunteer money to fund libraries, some enjoy opera, and some like submarines; but these are divisive beneficiaries. What we need is a goal that is universally popular, such as the National Health Service. Who would not dip into their purse for our beloved NHS? I therefore suggest we all pay this as an additional, specifically earmarked tax, and think of it as paying for the NHS, which we all clearly want [3].

I have done a little research to set the Treasury on its way. Taking figures for England (the regions can follow, or argue a special case), we have a population of 53 million of which 17.3% are under 15, which means an adult population of 43.8 million. The NHS budget for England in 2010/11 was 105 B£, which means £2,396 per working adult [1]. I suggest we all pay this as an additional, clearly separate, tax explicitly to pay for the NHS; and to abolish the deficit.

Mean annual income in Britain is £29,000 [2], so the average person can clearly afford to pay an extra £2,396 in this NHS-tax. But 25% of the population earn less than £14,500 a year and would find this extra tax well-nigh impossible. They will have to persuade a better-off person to fund their healthcare for them; difficult, but not impossible. The wealthy 1% of the population (500,000 people) should find themselves supporting 4 or 5 additional citizens besides themselves; and big banking bosses will have 300 pro bono cases on their list of beneficiaries (if they fully pay their UK taxes).

Some of you will think this is ludicrous?  But it is essentially the system we have at present. With our progressive income tax, we ask those earning 5 times average salary to pay 14.8 times average tax. (There is a still higher rate beyond that.) Our taxes, paid more or less willingly, are used to fund welfare for the less-well-off. Though I currently receive less than the mean national income, I am very willing to pay the tax, and to forgo my share of the NHS budget to let a less-well-off but younger person benefit. For I am over 70 and no longer need healthcare. Palliative care is sufficient for the over 70.

Other readers may wonder if this extra tax would do the trick. Currently it would, but only just. The Deficit this year is 7.1 % of GDP (more than half of which goes in interest payments to debt-holders) [4]. Our national (average) health-spend (public and private) is around 10% of GDP while the NHS part is around 8% of GDP (which, incidentally, is less that comparable figures for USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Greece; we are not squandering money on an over-lavish health service.[5]).  A tax hike (as suggested here) would reverse the deficit and start to pay down the debt. As that came down the interest payments would also come down.

Of course, raising taxes has its own depressing effect on the economy, for with less money in our pockets we buy less goods and services. But if we price our goods and services correctly we should be able to sell more abroad.

With 2 more years of the current deficit our debt would grow from 82.8% to 97.0 % of GDP, and interest payments on that debt would rise. Even more alarming would be a change in our credit rating and a rise in the comically low rate of interest (around 2% for 10-year UK government debt). (Comically low because lower than inflation [6].) We do not have time for dithering.

There you are, Ladies and Gentlemen; over to you! Let us pay for our own National Health Service. Currently it is being paid for by foreign capitalists, and entirely for their own benefit.

References:

[1] http://www.nhsconfed.org/priorities/political-engagement/Pages/NHS-statistics.aspx

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_in_the_United_Kingdom

[3] Tongue in cheek! I wish to point our that we voluntarily pay taxes for things we want.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt

[5] http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielknowles/100168975/why-the-nhs-will-define-the-2015-election/

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22948333

 

Ian West, 12 Longhirst Village, NE61 3LT

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Monday, 29 April 2013

Winter Fuel Payments

Do you think that better-off pensioners should pay for their own winter fuel, and their own bus-passes? Of course they should! And of course they do, don't they? Not only their own, but they pay for the winter fuel and the bus-passes of the less well off as well. Because they pay their taxes.

I hope that Iain Duncan Smith never said anything about the "better off pensioners" voluntarily paying for their own fuel and transport. Voluntary taxes are a bad idea. It is, of course, true that the better-off can voluntarily do whatever they want with the money that remains to them after taxation, but how that is spent must be left to them. There must be no suggestion whatever that they 'should' do this or that with their remaining money; just to pacify the silly hue-and-cry of the media and of the people who do not understand where the money comes from that funds all public services in this country.

However, it would be good if we could evolve and annunciate a rationale for a progressive tax system slightly more sophisticated than the old "squeeze them till the pips squeak". For example, wealth that accumulates suggests excessive income. The "poor are always with us", and we have always had the rich as well; so maybe that is as it should be. But the rich should not get richer and the poor (relatively) poorer. That seems to indicate an inadequately progressive tax policy.

The bad thing about voluntary taxes is that the willing, the sensitive, and the vulnerable will pay while the busy, the thoughtless, and the selfish will not pay. We should tax wealth, not conscience and good citizenship.

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Thursday, 25 April 2013

ProgNoteSmetana

String Quartet No.22 in B-flat, K.589 — W. Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

i. Allegro, ii. Largetto, iii. Menuetto & Trio , iv. Allegro assai
In 1789 Mozart, getting desperate for money, visited Berlin where he met and played before King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (himself an amateur cellist). He came back to Vienna intending to write 6 quartets for the King and 6 'easy' piano sonatas for his daughter Princess Frederike. Of the latter, only one seems to have been written — Mozart's last piano sonata. Of the quartets, Mozart only wrote 3; ours is the second, written in the summer of 1790. Mozart received part payment, but had the plates engraved at his own expense; they were published the following year, a week or two after Mozart died. A distinctive feature of all 3 'Prussian' quartets is the prominent and interesting cello part, intended no doubt for the king himself to play.

String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata" — Leoš Janáček (1854 – 1928)

i. Adagio/Con moto; ii. Con moto, iii. Con moto/Vivo/Andante, iv. Con moto/Adagio/Più mosso
Stubborn originality seems to be the keynote of Janáček's professional life. He was clearly an able pianist and organist, but difficult and wayward. A Brno choirmaster at 19, he entered the Prague Organ School at 20. Without a piano in his digs, he is supposed to have marked black and white rectangles on the edge of his table and practiced on that. He was expelled after criticising his teacher (Skuherský ), but allowed back in to win top place on graduating the following year. After teaching for a few years he took a place at the Leipzig Conservatoire but found his teachers inadequate and left after 5 months for Vienna where he stayed for over a year studying composition. His submission for a prize was rejected as "too academic" and he returned to Brno (1880), where he founded an organ school (which he directed for the next 38 years), and married. During the next 20 years he collected folk music, published musical criticism and composed, mostly choral church music. In the anguish following the death of his 20 year old daughter he wrote Jenůfa (performed with success in Brno, 1904); though it was 12 years before Jenůfa was staged (to great acclaim) in Prague. For the last 11 years of his life, Janáček was romantically obsessed (from afar) with a young woman called Kamila Stösslová, producing a late flowering of masterpieces. Our quartet was written in 1923. Each of its four movements contains many changes of tempo and mood, so that the conventional descriptors seem nonsensical. The key structures are even more difficult to squeeze into conventional forms. However, it has a title and so a story or message; presumably that of Tolstoy's novella which portrays carnal passion as destructive and abstinence as creative (except of children).

String Quartet no. 1, in E minor ———— Bedřich Smetana (1824 – 1884)

i. Allegro vivo appassionato, ("inexpressible yearning for something I could neither express nor define, but also a kind of warning of (my) future misfortune.")
ii. Allegro moderato à la Polka, ("brings to mind the joyful days of youth")
iii. Largo sostenuto, ("the happiness of my first love")
iv. Vivace, ("my joy in following [national elements in music]...until…checked by the catastrophe of the onset of my deafness,")

Smetana composed his first quartet at the age of 52 (1876) and titled it "Aus meinem Leben" ("From my life"). Son of a successful brewer at a time when Bohemia was in the Austrian Empire and obliged to speak German, young Bedrich showed a talent at the piano from an early age. After hearing Liszt perform, he resolved to emulate Mozart in composition but Liszt in technique. From the age of 14 he was educated away from home, at Německý Brod, Prague, and Pilsen. There the late teenager's pianism shaped his lively social life and he fell in love with Katerina. Qualifying at 19, the penniless youth followed Katerina to the Prague Music Institute where he managed to get taken on for composition lessons while earning his keep by teaching piano. He obtained Liszt's support in founding (1848) a Piano Institute which gradually became fashionable with the nationalist elite. Success allowed marriage. In 1856, 3 of his 4 children having died and his ability as a performer deemed second rate, he took a job in Gothenburg where his success as teacher and conductor was gratifying, but not satisfying. His wife died in 1859, and he remarried 15 months later. Throughout his years of struggle, rejection and loss, Liszt was a valued mentor, and friend. Only in 1861, on the building of a Czech opera house, did his fortunes begin to change. For there was no Czech opera. Smetana had first to learn the Czech language, and then to invent the genre. Success came at last in 1866 when his first 'nationalist' opera (The Brandenburgers) was finally staged, followed within weeks by his far more popular Bartered Bride, which soon became an international success. Smetana continued to encounter opposition in Prague, ostensibly for his 'Germanism'; but eventually produced a string of 8 operas. From 1874, encroaching deafness, marital problems and declining health, led (1876) the family to retire to the country, where Smetana was able to compose some late masterpieces, including this quartet and the Má Vlast tone-poems. Smetana died in an asylum at the age of 60, but revered as the father of Czech national music, and especially opera.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Existentialism and Existence

 

Existentialism and Existence

(Prepared for u3a Philosophy group meeting on 23rd Feb 2012)

Existentialism

The term Existentialism coined by Sartre. Adopted and given meaning by Sartre, Simone de Beauvoire, Camus and others as a cultural phenomenon or social outlook as much as a philosophy in the strict sense.

Roots

Descartes (1596-1650)

Sartre claimed that the fundamental truth of existentialism is in Descartes formula, "I think; therefore, I exist." The existential philosophy is concerned with the personal "commitment" of this unique existing individual in the "human situation."

Kierkegaard (1815-1850)

Who was searching for the meaning of life (his existence) which question sort of supposes a voice from on high saying "your purpose is to exist". He wrote lucidly about Abraham who understood God to tell him to kill Isaac, even though that was surprising. This philosophy is 'Anti-Rational'

Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Agreed that the 'crowd is 'untruth'. Only your own thoughts are thoughts. Art (in particular) shows an absolute standard: a work must be judged as istelf, not as an instance of a genus.

Husserl (1859-1938)

Phenomenology. Accused of Psychologism by Frege (that 2+2=4 only because we think it does). Defended himself against that. Influenced by Brentano (Intentional existence; I want an apple, I admire a picture; that the stuff in our heads is the product of a mental intention); invented Phenomenology and deveoloped that school including Heidegger as pupil. Method of phenomenological reduction (bracketing) by which a person may come to know directly an essence. (Seeing a horse qualifies as an experience whether or not it is a real horse or a dream, or an illusion.) From the Phenomenological standpoint, the object ceases to be something simply "external" and providing indicators about what it is, but becomes a grouping of perceptual aspects that hang together under the idea of a particular object or essence. The notion of objects as real is not abolished by phenomenology, but "bracketed" as a way in which we regard objects instead of a feature that inheres in an object's essence founded in the relation between the object and the perceiver. In order to better understand the world of appearances and objects, phenomenology attempts to identify the invariant features of how objects are perceived and relegates attributions of reality to a subordinate role as just something we perceive (or an assumption underlying how we perceive objects).

Heidegger (1889-1976) 

Pupil of Husserl at Freigurg. Deliberatly obscure. His initial question was "what is the meaning of being" , which he pursued using Husserl's method of phenomenology. I think Heidegger (in Being & Time) is definitely adopting 'Psychologism' (Heidegger says the sense of being precedes any notions of how any particular being exists; it is pre-conceptual, non-propositional, and hence pre-scientific.) Heidegger asks: what is the being that will give access to the question of the meaning of Being? Heidegger's answer is that it can only be that being for whom the question of Being is important, the being for whom Being matters; therefore a human being.

Sartre (1905-1980)

*  No formal description of EXISTENCE can be given; it is existence itself that defines it.

*  Existence precedes essence. A paperknife was created to cut paper; not so was a man created to 'be a man'. The existence of an individual itself create the meaning or purpose. This denies both nature and nurture as causitive. 

*  Great prankster. Anti-rational. Rebel. Anti-bourgeois conformism. No doubt revelled in the mystique of the intellectual.

 

Existence

(See also http://cawstein.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/existence.html )

There seems to be something very ordinary about created matter; and something very extraordinary about creating matter out of nothing. But before we go into that, let us admit that we do not really know what we mean by 'exist' and 'existence'. Not only do we not understand 'existence' and 'non-existence'; we also find that our everyday vocabulary is inadequate to discuss the matter.

The 'man in the street', will understand well enough statements like ÒI existÓ and ÒThe unicorn does not existÓ (as it is an imaginary beast). But when we think about it, we find that we do not know anything that does not exist, except for imaginary things like the unicorn, or the centaur; or impossible thing like a square triangle. If a thing 'does not exist' we find it impossible to observe, impossible to study. All the things we know anything about belong to the category of things that do exist. Furthermore, we know nothing about how an object can move from non-existing to existing. To understand that would be to understand creation.

However, our problems go further than not understanding the physics of creation. I believe most of us don't even understand the words 'exist' and 'existence', and how to use them. Not that we often discuss existence, and when we do it seems it is only the existence or non-existence of God that is in debate. We 'lay' people do not spend time discussing the existence or otherwise of centaurs, or the dodo, or 'the integers between two and three'; or whether 'exists' is a predicate; that is all left to philosophers. On the other hand, the layman does seem to be concerned about the existence or otherwise of God. Books are written on the subject and advertisements placed at considerable expense in prominent places by concerned citizens, both for and against.

Let us take, as an example, a knot tied in a piece of string. Let us ask: does the piece of string exist?; to which we certainly answer 'yes'. Then let us ask: does the knot in the string exist? The existence of the knot is clearly of a different type. I would like to say that the knot does not itself 'exist'(as a primary substance); it presents itself to my senses as a property, or form, of the string on which it is dependent. If we were to adopt such a narrowed application of the word existence (call it 'primary existence' if you like) we would be able to say that existence entails finite mass, and extension in space and time. We would confidently say that the string exists, but the knot does not exist, for if you untie the knot there is no change in mass. 

Philosophers have discussed existence, but only add to the confusion, for there are so many different views. Our intuitive view (above) is very much the same as that of Aristotle, who came to a similar conclusion when he considered the matter of existence. He regarded 'substances' as basic. 'Substances' exist independently. Other entities such as qualities, quantities, relations, etc., all inhere in something or are said of something. They do not exist independently. Red cannot be said to exist; you can say a red rag exist, but that is because the rag exists; redness is a property of the rag. Kindness does not exist, except as a property of a person. Nor does 'three' exist; it is a concept that needs something else to embody it (three gold rings, for example). It is apparent already that the word 'exist' is inadequate to distinguish the many types of 'object', 'thing', 'concept', or 'word' we wish to talk about, and of which we wish to distinguish the many types of existence, or reality, or meaningfulness that these objects exemplify.

Objects

Rather similar to our problems with the concept of existence (and bound up with it) are problems with the concept 'object'. How shall we talk about the entities (objects, things, etc) that are not substances, and do not have primary (i.e. independent) existence? In the late nineteenth century C.S. Peirce used the term 'object' very widely; thus he said ÒBy an object, I mean anything that we can think, i.e. anything we can talk about.Ó[CS Peirce, ÒReflections on Real and Unreal ObjectsÓ, MS 966]. He thus included properties, relations, abstract concepts, numbers, universals. (He may even have included contradictions and impossible concepts, for we can talk about square circles, though we cannot perhaps think about them.) We can then subdivide Peirce Objects into special types, and see if we think it appropriate to ascribe to them existence (See Table).

 

Type of object

Included

Excluded

Peirce Objects

Anything that we can talk about; things, properties, abstractions, universals (contradictions?)

Is anything excluded? Perhaps contradictions (square triangles; integers between 2 and 3)

Aristotle Objects

Anything having properties and relations, (e.g. things, but also numbers, emotions)

Properties and relations (redness, superiority, evenness [as of the number 2])

Frege Objects

Singular nouns (A horse, a theory)

Concepts (A mammal)

Real Objects

Things located in space and time including mind, life etc

Imaginary, mythical, fictional, abstracts, numbers, ideas, etc

Material objects (existent objects)

Things possessing mass and existing in space and time (e.g. atoms, and electrons )

Life, mind

Abstract objects

Platonic forms (e.g. the idea of a table)

Real objects

Imaginary objects

Centaur, golden mountain

Material objects

 

Alexius Meinong, more or less contemporaneously with Charles Peirce, developed his own Theory of Objects (Gegenstandstheorie, 1904) and introduced two useful words. He realized that he could think about objects that did not exist – like a golden mountain or a centaur. He therefore suggested that only material objects exist (in a material and temporal sense), but that concepts, numbers, imaginary objects, etc. subsist. For his third category, of impossible concepts (such as square circles, or the integers lying between 2 and 3, etc), he coined the verb to absist).

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[See http://www.dooy.salford.ac.uk/existence.html; or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexius_Meinong]

 (The string, of course, has many properties besides the knot; and it is tempting to make another point in passing. The string could be long, white, or hairy; that is to say, having properties that are visible and can therefore be checked by a second observer. But it can also be mine, valued or feared; i.e. having properties ascribed to it that are not visible and cannot be objectively checked, though their origins in my head can be repeatedly ascertained. We tend to talk of the former type of property as 'objective', and the latter type as 'subjective'.)

 

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Friday, 15 March 2013

Programme Notes - Mar'13

Sonata for violin and keyboard in C minor (BWV 1017) —  J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)

i. Largo (Siciliano), ii. Allegro, iii. Adagio, iv. Allegro.

Though Bach's first professional post after his voice broke was as a violinist, he was of course supreme on the keyboard. It is not surprising therefore that his set of 6 sonatas for violin and keyboard are unlike contemporary violin sonatas (Leclair, Händel, etc.), which are characteristically solo sonatas with gamba/cello bass and the harpsichord simply elaborating the gamba line according to the 'figured' suggestions of the composer. For Bach's sonatas are true duos, between violin and the fully 'realized' harpsichord; they do not require gamba. They were probably written while Bach was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-23), who (until his marriage) kept an excellent orchestra and was himself a skilful player; the period of the unaccompanied violin and cello suites, English and French harpsichord suites, Brandenburg concertos, etc. Five of the 6 sonatas in this set follow the 'slow-fast-slow-fast' pattern of movements used here. Sonata 4 is in C minor. The first movement has the dotted 6/8 rhythm of a sicilienne. The 2 fast movements are typical, quasi-fugal, pieces where the 3 voices (2 for the harpsichord) imitate each other through a sequence of keys. But the wonderful Adagio is strikingly original. Over continuous triplet figuration in the right hand of the harpsichord (c.f. 'Jesu, joy of man's..'), the violin uncomfortably drapes a 3/4 melody (again dotted), always across the bar lines.

Sonata for violin and piano in D major (opus 12/1) — L. v. Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

i. Allegro con brio, ii. Tema con variazioni (Andante con moto), iii. Rondo (Allegro)

In 1792 the 22 year old Beethoven moved from Bonn to Vienna to take composition lessons with Haydn who, however, soon (1794) left for his second visit to England.  During those first 10 years in Vienna Beethoven additionally took violin lessons from Ignaz Schuppanzigh and composition lessons from Antonio Salieri. This sonata, the first of a set of 3, was written in 1798 and dedicated to Salieri. It therefore falls in what is known technically as Beethoven's 'early' period; classical and Mozartian. Typical 'Mozartian' features include brisk outer movements (in D in this case), the 1st in sonata-form, the last a rondo, sandwiching a 'slow' movement in the adjacent key of A, itself an original theme and a set of 4 variations involving dividing and then sub-dividing the notes, a variation in triplets and another in the minor.

Sonata for piano and violin in C minor No. 3 (op. 45) — Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)

i. Allegro molto ed appassionato, ii. Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza, iii. Allegro animato.

We now move to the world of the late romantic sonata. Grieg wrote 3 sonatas for violin and piano. The 1st (1865) and 2nd (1867) come from that happy period that saw his most popular works. (In 1867 Grieg married his cousin Nina, in 1868 he wrote his piano concerto and their daughter was born, but in 1869 she died.) Our 3rd sonata was written two decades later (1886/7) during another period of relative happiness just after the completion of Troldhaugen (his fine house near Bergen). It was premiered in Leipzig in December 1887 with Grieg at the piano and Brodsky on the violin. (Incidentally, it was then and chez Brodsky, that Grieg, Brahms and Tchaikovsky all met.) It is one of Grieg's masterpieces and may be compared with Frank's A major and Brahms' D minor sonatas, all written at much the same time. Its many fine themes, related rhythmically as well as melodically, are cleverly unpicked and repetitively explored. Sombre, heroic, vital, well integrated, varied in pace, with daring intervals, tempi, and key shifts. It is a fine work.

 

Sonata for violin and piano in B (Op. post.) —— Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)

i. Allegro con brio, ii. Andante molto tranquillo, iii. Allegro con moto.

Frederick Delius (born Fritz, in Bradford of German parents), anglicized his name to Frederick while living in Paris at the turn of the century. Fritz was born into a musical household and as a boy acquired a competence on the violin and piano, but a fervent enjoyment of music. The  family's wool business did not appeal, and at 22 young Fritz was allowed to try his hand at growing oranges in Florida, where however he bought a piano, took lessons in composition, gave lessons in violin and piano and started composing; he even had some pieces performed and published there. Eventually his father relented and, in 1886, he began a brief 18 month period of study in the famous Leipzig Conservatoire. That was his formal musical training. Living in Paris from 1888 till 1897, and mixing with a cosmopolitan bunch of artists (including the German painter he eventually married), he composed several operas and large scale works (none of which he heard for many years). Discernable influences include Grieg and negro music. Chamber works were easier to stage; this violin-piano sonata was written 1892 and performed privately in Paris the next year. However, it was rejected by a publisher on trivial grounds and the discouraged Delius put it aside where it languished till after his death (hence post-humous). Its appeal lies largely in its youthful freshness; it works in the right hands.

(Programme notes compiled by Ian West, from numerous sources.  )

 

 

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Alcohol Duty and Minimum Price

Alcohol Duty and Unit Price
The plan to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol in England seems to be faltering. And I understand that in Scotland, though the law has been passed that declares 50p to be the minimum price for a unit of alcohol, it has not yet been possible to implement it. I also understand that in Scandinavia they have opted to raise the price per unit by taxation, rather than by declaring a minimum price per unit. Let us look at both ideas.

If the law insisted that the minimum price per unit of alcohol were 45p it is assumed that the price of some cheap alcohol would have to rise. Note that a unit of alcohol is defined as 10 mL (or 8g) of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 25 mL measure of whisky (ABV 40%), or 250 mL of 4% beer, or 77mL of red wine (of 13% ABV). (Density of alcohol = 1.2674 mL/g, or 0.789 g/mL.)  So a litre of beer would then cost a minimum of £1.80 (in England, £2.00 in Scotland). But I have never seen beer at anything under £2.18 per litre, and never drink anything that costs less than £3 per litre.  The minimum price for a bottle of red wine would be £0.45 x 75 x 0.13 = £4.39 (for a wine of 13% ABV). While a bottle of whisky of 0.75 litres and 40% ABV would have a minimum price of £13.50. I am not a great buyer of whisky, but I believe this is close to the price I see in the supermarkets.

So the only effect of the minimum price of a unit being set at 45 pence would be that cheap red wine, which I can currently buy at £3.50 - £3.99 if I shop around, would rise to £4.39; with essentially no change in the price of beer or spirits. This innovation would affect me, and other drinkers of cheap red wine; and possibly some drinkers of very cheap larger if bought in a shop I have not yet discovered. (The effect in Scotland is considerably more marked, which may be why it is proving difficult to implement there.)  Another effect of the minimum price per unit of alcohol might be a small rise in the profits of the supermarkets.

Why have the Scandinavians opted for higher alcohol duty?  You might wonder what tax or 'duty' is levied on a unit of alcohol in England. That is not quite straightforward, for different beverages attract different rates of duty. I found the following data (Table 1) on the HMRC website for the rates of duty introduced at the March 2012 budget. Working on the understanding that 1£ per hectolitre is equivalent to 1p per litre; and that 1 litre of wine at 10% alcohol by volume (ABV) contains 100 mL of alcohol (i.e. 10  units), I calculate that the duty (in pence per unit of alcohol) varies from 9.78p  for very weak beer (strength < 2.9% ABV), to 19.51 p for normal beer (2.8% to 7.5%), to 24.39p per unit of strong beer (>7.5%ABV), to 25.33p for wine, to 26.81p per unit for spirits. Cider is still anomalous in that duty is only 10p per unit for most ciders. I expect that these difference for different beverages have origins in history; they do not make much sense. It seems to me that a small increase in alcohol duty might be just as good a way of achieving the health benefits, and at the same time increase tax revenue.

Table1 — Alcohol duty (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/budget2012/ootlar-main.pdf)
Duty rate from 26 March 2012
Rate (£) per litre of pure alcohol
(i.e. 100 units); so p/unit
Rate (£) per hectolitre of product
or (p) per litre
Spirits
26.81

Spirits-based RTDs
26.81

Wine and made-wine: exceeding 22% alcohol by volume (abv)
26.81

Beer - lower strength: exceeding 1.2% - not exceeding 2.8% abv.
9.76
9.76 x strength (%)
11.7 – 27.3
Beer - General Beer Duty: Exceeding 2.8% - not exceeding 7.5% abv.
19.51
19.51 x strength (%)
Beer - High strength: Exceeding 7.5% - in addition to the General Beer Duty
24.39
(4.88+19.51) x strength (%)
Still cider and perry: exceeding 1.2% - not exceeding 7.5% abv
10.0 (if 3.768% abv)
37.68
Still cider and perry: exceeding 7.5% - less than 8.5% abv.
10.0 (if 5.655% abv)
56.55
Sparkling cider and perry: exceeding 1.2% - less than 5.5%abv.
10.0 (if 3.768% abv)
37.68
Sparkling cider and perry: exceeding 5.5%abv- less than 8.5% abv.
24.532 (if 10%)
30.66 (if 8%)
245.32
Still wine and made-wine: exceeding 5.5% - not exceeding 15% abv.
25.339 (if 10%)
19.5 (if 13%)
253.39
Wine and made-wine: exceeding 15% - not exceeding 22% abv.
22.5 (if 15%)
16.89 (if 20%)
337.82
Sparkling wine and made-wine: exceeding 5.5% - less than 8.5% abv.
24.532 (if 10%)
30.66 (if 8%)
245.32
Sparkling wine and made-wine: exceeding 8.5% - not exceeding 15% abv.
32.456 (if 10%)
25 (if 13%)
324.56

L. Cawstein
cawstein@gmail.com