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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, April 24, 2017

It’s the Economy, STUPID.

UK fishing industry 'will need EU market access' post Brexit.

The UK fishing industry will need continued access to EU markets if it is to thrive after Brexit, a House of Lords report has warned. It also warns that Britain may have to allow EU-registered boats to fish in UK waters as part of an overall deal. Fishing regions around the UK voted heavily in favour of leaving the EU during the referendum campaign. The Lords review says these communities are at risk of being marginalised in the wider Brexit negotiations. The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), with its quotas and principle of equal access to commercial fishing grounds for boats from all member states, has often been characterised by the industry as a disaster for Britain. This dislike helped mobilise many in the industry to campaign for a leave vote in the referendum last June. Many in the fishing community argue that Brexit now offers the industry the chance to regain control over UK waters and become a leading fish-exporting nation, like Norway. However, the House of Lords European Union Committee has released a report that looks at the risks and opportunities for the UK industry.

Since UK fishing only produces a half of one percent of GDP and employs just 12,000 fishers, the Lords say that industry might be a low priority for the government but it "must not be marginalised in the wider Brexit negotiations". What complicates the picture is the fact the most commercial fish stocks are in waters that are shared between the UK and other EU coastal states. The vast majority of UK fish are exported, mainly to the EU while a significant proportion of the fish that British consumers eat is imported, often from EU states. "A successful industry," the report says, "therefore needs continued market access." However, that access may come at a price. "Brexit will involve many trade-offs," said Lord Teverson who chairs the Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee. "It may very well be that EU member states demand more access to UK waters than some fishers would want in return for our continued rights to sell fish to the European market with zero tariffs."

Joint call for EU citizens to stay in UK.

Businesses and trade unions have called on Theresa May to guarantee immediately the right of EU citizens to stay in the UK after Brexit. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents companies with a combined workforce of five million people, and the TUC made the call in an open letter to the prime minister. Failure to do so would damage the UK economy, the two bodies said. Downing Street said Mrs May wanted to protect the status of EU nationals. The bluntly-worded letter was jointly signed by TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady and BCC director-general Adam Marshall. "We call upon you to demonstrate leadership by providing EU citizens in the UK with the reassurance we would expect to be shown to UK citizens across the Continent - not by making one conditional upon the other," they wrote. "Now is the time to end insecurity for EU workers and for British businesses alike." There were 2.1 million people from EU member nations working in the UK as of March this year, according to the ONS. That was 224,000 more than the total for the first three months of 2015.

Post-Brexit deals 'not at price of EU free trade ties'

Post-Brexit trade deals should not "come at a price" to existing agreements with other EU nations, ex-chancellor George Osborne says. But he told the BBC's Andrew Marr the UK needed a "hard-headed assessment" of issues such as the EU customs union. On the same programme, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox did not reveal his stance on the customs union, which sets standard tariffs EU-wide. He said he was "a free trader", but the government would reach a view. Staying a member of the customs union would, however, mean "limitations" on the UK's ability to set its own trade tariffs, which would in turn limit the kind of deals it could do with the rest of the world, Mr Fox added. Mr Osborne, who argued for Remain, said it was essential that close relations with countries such as France and Germany were not sacrificed in pursuit of new trade deals with other nations including China. He told the Andrew Marr Show: "Yes it's true the grass may be greener outside of these arrangements and we may be able to conduct new trade deals with the United States, Australia and so on. But that shouldn't come at a price of giving up existing free trade agreements we have with Germany and France. You can't say we are a beacon of free trade in the world and then the main thing you achieve is a huge act of protectionism, the biggest in British history."

UK third quarter GDP growth revised up to 0.6%.

The UK economy grew by 0.6% in the third quarter, according to official figures, faster than previous estimates. Growth for the July-to-September period had originally been estimated at 0.5%. New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that the business and financial sector was more active than previously estimated. The ONS also said that growth in the third quarter of the year was helped by "robust consumer demand". However, the ONS trimmed its estimates of growth in the first and second quarter of the year. It now says the economy grew by 0.3% in the first quarter, compared with an earlier figure of 0.4%, and cut its estimate for second-quarter growth to 0.6% from 0.7%. Ruth Gregory, UK economist at Capital Economics, said the figures suggested that June's Brexit vote had had little impact on the economy and that growth in the final quarter of the year would be positive. "The latest set of UK National Accounts leave the economy looking even stronger after the referendum than previously estimated," she said. "GDP growth in Q3 was revised up from 0.5% to 0.6% and the 0.7% growth rate seen in the second quarter was revised down a touch, to 0.6%, suggesting that the economy didn't lose any pace following the referendum."

All details above from BBC News website.

[Now we have the ‘distraction’ of a General Election to get out of the way before the road to Brexit can be navigated with assurance – or so says/hopes Teresa May. That’ll only happen if they substantially increase their majority. Hopefully that won’t happen and it’ll all dissolve into an unholy mess. At least I can hope! The election will, no doubt, be fought very much on the Brexit ticket. I wonder what the electorate will do this time…..]

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Except Book Blogs (naturally).....

Saturn moon 'able to support life'

By Jonathan Amos BBC Science Correspondent

13 April 2017

Saturn's ice-crusted moon Enceladus may now be the single best place to go to look for life beyond Earth. The assessment comes on the heels of new observations at the 500km-wide world made by the Cassini probe. It has flown through and sampled the waters from a subsurface ocean that is being jetted into space. Cassini’s chemistry analysis strongly suggests the Enceladean seafloor has hot fluid vents - places that on Earth are known to teem with life. To be clear: the existence of such hydrothermal systems is not a guarantee that organisms are present on the little moon; its environment may still be sterile. But the new results make a compelling case to return to this world with more sophisticated instrumentation - technologies that can re-sample the ejected water for clear evidence that biology is also at play.

"We're pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further," said Cassini scientist Dr Hunter Waite from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better. But you certainly want to ask the question because it's almost as equally as interesting if there is no life there, given the conditions," he told BBC News.

The sub-surface ocean on Enceladus is thought to be many kilometres deep, kept liquid by the heat generated from the constant gravitational squeezing the moon receives from the mighty Saturn. Cassini has already established that this voluminous liquid is in contact with the rock bed from the types of salts and silica that have also been detected in the jets. But what scientists really wanted to know is if a particular interactive process seen at Earth was taking place in the distant abyss - something called serpentinisation. At the mid-ocean ridges on our planet, seawater is drawn through, and reacts with, hot upwelling rocks that are rich in iron and magnesium. As the minerals in these rocks incorporate H2O molecules into their crystal structure, they release hydrogen - a byproduct that can be used by some microbes as an energy source to drive their metabolism. It is the definitive signal for molecular hydrogen in the plumes of Enceladus that Cassini has now confirmed. "If you were a micro-organism, hydrogen would be like candy - it's your favourite food," explained Dr Chris McKay, an astrobiologist with the US space agency (Nasa). "It's very good energetically; it can support micro-organisms in grand style. Finding hydrogen is certainly a big plus; icing on the cake for the habitability argument, and a very tasty one at that." The type of microbes described by Dr McKay are called methanogens because they make methane as they react the hydrogen with carbon dioxide.

Nasa, which leads the Cassini mission, was due to make the hydrogen announcement a couple of months after the probe's last fly-through of the moon's jets in October 2015. But the agency held off. One of the concerns was that the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer on the satellite can actually make molecular hydrogen inside itself if water enters the instrument in a particular way. Dr Waite's group has spent a year analysing the data to make sure the hydrogen signal is intrinsic to the jets and not merely some artefact of the INMS's operation. And although serpentinisation is arguably the best explanation for the signal, it is possible to produce the gas also from the heating of very primitive (meteoritic) rock. The Cassini mission is coming to a close. Having spent 12 years circling Saturn, it is now running low on fuel and will be dumped in the atmosphere of the ringed planet in September - to ensure it cannot collide with Enceladus at some future date and contaminate it.

As brilliant as the probe's instruments are, they were never designed to make a direct life detection at the bright white moon. This would need a whole new class of spectrometers. A proposal is being put together to fly them in 2026. Nasa has already green-lit a mission to Europa, an ocean moon of Jupiter. It very likely has serpentinisation going on as well. But its ice shell is very much thicker and it could be that very little of the water escapes to space. The appeal of Enceladus is the ease with which its subsurface can be studied because of the material carried into space by its network of geysers. A probe only needs fly through the emission to make the investigation. "The Cassini mission has really brought Enceladus to the fore in terms of the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System," commented British Cassini scientist Dr Andrew Coates. “The top three now I would say are about equal. There's Mars, which may have had life 3.8 billion years ago when conditions were very different to what they are now. There's Europa, which has a subsurface ocean; and now Enceladus. Those three may have, or had, the right conditions for life." Dr Waite added: “For life, you need liquid water, organics, and the CHNOPS elements (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur). OK, we haven't yet measured phosphorus and sulphur at Enceladus. But you also need some kind of metabolic energy source, and the new Cassini results are an important contribution in that regard." A paper describing the work of Dr Waite's group is published in the journal Science.

[From what I’ve read over the past few years Enceladus is THE mostly likely location for life outside Earth. We really need to get back there ASAP and start seriously looking for it. Just imagine if we find life there are it has NO connection to life on Earth. If it can be proved to have evolved independently that would be mind-blowing plus open up the possibility of life on a whole host of worlds previously ignored as unlikely. I think knowing that it worth the price of a small pointless war somewhere, right?]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Send a Gunboat by Douglas Reeman (FP: 1960)

Hong Kong, China. The Mid/late 1950’s. Naval Commander Justin Rolfe arrives under a cloud of suspicion after crashing his previous command at high speed into the docks at Malta. Barely surviving the resultant court-martial he is assigned to command Her Majesties China Gunboat Wagtail in the final few months before the obsolete craft is decommissioned. But almost as soon as he arrives on board he is surprised to receive an urgent and secret order to provision and sail immediately. Their destination is the small island of Santu which is threatened by invasion by the Communist Chinese. On the island is a small contingent of British businessmen and a doctor with decided Left-Wing leanings. The island is run with military brutality by a Nationalist Chinese General who, when not playing chess or planning acts of piracy against his Communist enemies enjoys nothing more than counting his money. With a crew initially deeply suspicious of their new Captain they must sail into potentially dangerous waters with a vessel designed at the turn of the century potentially facing the crème of the Communist Chinese destroyer force. Even Commander Rolf is unsure how he will react if the shooting starts and people start dying.

I picked this up a little while back when I thought I’d like to read more seafaring tales. Reeman wrote LOTS of books in the 60’s and 70’s and continued writing until 2007 just 10 years before his death. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but the ‘feel’ of the book was something approaching the original Ian Fleming Bond novels complete with heavy drinking protagonists, a bi-polar world made up of Democrats and Communists along with a flavour of dying Empire. The whole thing definitely had a slightly seedy, sleazy 1950’s feel to it which was fun. What I found less fun was the often poor (sometimes bordering on the terrible) dialogue throughout the short 256 page book. Despite this obvious weakness I did find it a quick and easy read containing a bunch of generally stereotypical (if entertaining) characters. What raised it above the bland and barely engaging was the final meeting between Wagtail and an anonymous Chinese destroyer. The running battle over around 20 pages was gripping and seemed to me to be a believably realistic representation of what might be expected of such an encounter. It was definitely the highlight of the book. I’ve already picked up a few more of the authors many, many sea related novels and you’ll be hearing more from him at some point. With luck ‘Gunboat’ might be a poorer example of his work than the rest. I hope so. Reasonable, if dated, thrills in shallow Chinese waters.