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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Boys at Exeter academy wear skirts in uniform protest.

From BBC News

22 June 2017

Some 30 boys have worn skirts to school in protest at being told they were not allowed to wear shorts. The pupils from ISCA Academy in Exeter asked permission to modify their uniform because of the hot weather. One of the boys who took part in the protest said: "We're not allowed to wear shorts, and I'm not sitting in trousers all day, it's a bit hot." Head teacher Aimee Mitchell said shorts were "not part" of the school uniform, as first reported by Devon Live.

Pupils said the idea for the protest came from the head teacher, who originally made the suggestion, although one student said he did not think she was being serious. They said they hoped the school would reconsider its shorts policy as a result of the protest and the head has indicated it might be considered.

Ms Mitchell said: "We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible. Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future."

Claire Reeves, whose son is a student at the school, said she had asked the school about her son being able to wear shorts, but was "shot down". "I feel extremely proud of them all for standing up for their rights. People are always talking about equal right for males and females and school uniform shouldn't be any different", she said. The school uniform guidelines currently allow male pupils to wear trousers. Female pupils may wear trousers or tartan skirts. Pupils may remove their ties but must carry them with them and shirts can be untucked in class but must be tucked in when they leave the classroom.

[What a BRILLIANT protest. So clever – taking the authorities at their word and making them look silly because of it. Well done boys for being brave enough to go the extra mile and wear skirts to school. Anyone who says that the young are apathetic or are not political active has been proven wrong yet again. Anyone who says that people have been brainwashed to accept authorities rules without protest, and especially without effective protest, needs to eat their words right now. Protest is alive and well and living in a Devon schoolyard! Oh, and I understand that the schools uniform rules are being amended for next year……]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (FP: 1939)

I’m not entirely sure why I bought this slim (a mere 119 pages) volume, but I’m glad I did. I’d heard of the author and this, together with his other works, kept coming up as ‘also bought’ on my Amazon searches so I thought I’d give it a punt.

The author was born into wealth and position in the French aristocracy but early on developed a love of flying. Just missing action in WW1 he finally landed a job as pilot for pioneering airline Latecoere (later known as Aeropostale) flying mail and, sometimes passengers, across North Africa and in South America. Contained between the covers of this truly fascinating narrative are some of his adventures and experiences. The stories themselves are interesting enough in and of themselves. Pioneering in any activity tends to bring out the best and the bizarre in human experience. This was no exception. Flying in the 1920’s in aircraft that today would be judged barely airworthy these enterprising pilots and their much needed engineers travelled across uncharted deserts, deeply isolated areas where humans rarely ventured, braved weather, bandits, mechanical failure, primitive navigation aids and the every present possibility of sudden death in order to deliver letters and parcels in record time and to areas previously considered cut off from all human communication. They were heroes to many a school boy (and no doubt some school girls), rebels and eccentrics to the authorities that had to deal with them and visiting aliens to the tribesmen they flew over and, when required, dropped in on. It was, by all accounts a strange and exciting time to be an aerial pioneer.

But, at least for me, even the well told stories and the insights into the origins of the airmail we take for granted are only part of the joy of this amazing volume. What jumps out at you from the very first page is that this is an exquisitely crafted book. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, beautifully written. Not only are there brilliant observations of the human condition scattered throughout – more than one of which took my breath away with their diamond like perception – there are whole sections that are so blindly amazing that they can only be called works of art. I am in no doubt at all that this work deserves the title of classic. On starting it I was confident that I could polish off the whole thing in a few days before moving on to my next book. Indeed I was consciously using this slim volume as a means of bulking up my review pile which was looking a little bare. It actually took me more like five days. Why you ask. Was it a slow read? Yes, but not in the way you might think. Difficult? Not really except that there was no real opportunity to speed read your way through. Was it a poor translation? On the contrary, it was one of the best I’ve come across. So what was the problem? Why did it take me so long to finish it? The ‘problem’ was that the prose was so beautiful (and I’m not using that word lightly) that it was impossible not to linger over it and, from time to time, read it out loud just to hear how it sounded (I did this mostly at home because my work colleagues think I’m strange enough as it is) and on almost every page was an idea or an observation that demanded that you think about it a bit before reading more and coming across the next brilliant insight. This is one of those rare books that you could read two or three times a year for the rest of your life and get something from each time. I can hardly recommend this book too highly. Read it before you die. You’ll thank me for it later.

Translated from the French by William Rees.

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Low can it Go? (Still somewhat Old News)

Pound falls ahead of Theresa May Brexit speech.

The pound has fallen against the dollar to below $1.20 ahead of a key speech from Theresa May on Brexit this week. Sterling fell 1.5% against the US currency on Sunday to its lowest level since the flash crash in October. Analysts said traders were reacting negatively to reports that the prime minister would signal plans on Tuesday to quit the EU single market. The pound has now dropped about 20% against the dollar since the referendum when it fell to 31-year lows. The pound also dropped to a two-month low against the euro on Sunday, falling to about €1.13. Several of Sunday's newspapers claimed Mrs May would outline a "hard Brexit" approach, a term used to imply prioritising migration controls over single market access. Downing Street has described this as "speculation". However, reports of the UK leaving the single market are "like kryptonite" to traders who back the pound, said Kathleen Brooks, an analyst at City Index. "The FX market has spoken, and, as of Sunday night, it is not confident that Theresa May can deliver the necessary clarity and confidence when she lays out her Brexit plans in a speech on Tuesday," Ms Brooks said. The "Brexit theme as bad news for the pound is such an ingrained trend" now that every headline can "generate another wave of selling", she added. The pound has been volatile since the Brexit vote, partly due to uncertainty about the economic impact if the UK gives up its tariff-free access to the EU. It reached its lowest level in the early hours of 7 October when a flash crash during Asian trading saw it drop below $1.18. A report on Friday said the abnormally large swing was due to a range of factors, including the time of day. Trading in the pound can be more volatile in Asian markets, when key sterling counter traders in London and other important Western markets are not operating.

Europe sees UK set for 'hard' Brexit after May speech.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech is being seen in Europe as the "hard" option of full UK withdrawal - and there is some relief that the British position is clearer now. "Finally we have a little more clarity re the British plans," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. Germany also wanted a "close and trusting relationship", he said. The Czech Europe Minister, Tomas Prouza, tweeted: "UK's plan seems a bit ambitious. Trade as free as possible, full control on immigration... where is the give for all the take?" he asked. The Italian daily La Repubblica commented: "Out of the EU, out of common market, out of everything. It appears that Theresa May's intention through negotiations with the EU at the end of March is 'a hard Brexit' - a very hard Brexit indeed." One of the top EU officials, European Council president Donald Tusk, voiced regret but some relief too in a tweet: "Sad process, surrealistic times but at least more realistic announcement on #Brexit." Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, named as the European Parliament's lead negotiator on Brexit, warned that any deal for the UK would be worse than EU membership. He said it was an "illusion" for Mrs May to suggest "that you can go out of the single market, that you can go out of the customs union and that you can cherry-pick, that you can have still a number of advantages - I think that will not happen". Mrs May's mention of a possible alternative economic model for the UK was a "threat", he said, that could obstruct the negotiations.

UK inflation rate jumps to 1.6%.

Rising air fares and food prices helped to push up UK inflation to its highest rate since July 2014 in December. The annual rate of Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation rose to 1.6% last month, up from 1.2% in November, the Office for National Statistics said. And higher costs for imported materials and fuels pushed up producer prices. The fall in the pound since the Brexit vote was starting to feed into the economy, said the BBC's economics editor, Kamal Ahmed. ONS head of inflation Mike Prestwood said: "This is the highest CPI has been for over two years, though the annual rate remains below the Bank of England's target and low by historical standards. "Rising air fares and food prices, along with petrol prices falling less than last December, all helped to push up the rate of inflation. "Rising raw material costs also continued to push up the prices of goods leaving factories." Separate producer price inflation figures showed that the price of goods bought from factories rose 2.7% in December compared with a year ago, as manufacturers started to pass on the higher input costs they are facing following the fall in the pound. The prices paid by factories for raw materials and energy jumped by 15.8% over the year, the largest increase since September 2011. Consumer inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI), which includes housing costs, rose to 2.5% in December from 2.2% the previous month.

City banks warn of Brexit job moves.

Two of the largest investment banks in the City of London have confirmed that some staff will definitely have to move abroad when the UK leaves the EU. HSBC's chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, told Bloomberg he was preparing to move 1,000 staff from London to Paris. And Axel Weber, boss of Swiss bank UBS, told the BBC "about 1,000" of its 5,000 London jobs could be hit by Brexit. The comments underline that many thousands of banking jobs may move. The statements from the two banks come just a day after UK Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the UK government's Brexit negotiating strategy which would, she said, involve leaving both the European single market and the EU's customs union. UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti told Bloomberg he would have a better idea towards the end of 2017 about how many jobs at his bank will need to move out of London. But one of his senior executives, Andrea Orcel, also speaking at Davos, said: "With Brexit we will have to [move] and the question is how many. That will very much depend on the agreement that the UK will reach with the EU - but we will definitely have to go." Mr Orcel added that his bank was "anticipating the worst". He explained that if the UK and the EU did not reach any sort of transition deal about Brexit, then some of his staff in London would have to be moved as soon as the UK government invoked Article 50, the legal procedure to leave the EU.

All details above from BBC News website.

[So the Brexit negotiations have finally started. I wonder how Day One went? Not great, I’m thinking. Teresa May is now in a much weaker position than she was 6 weeks ago so her negotiating position must be correspondingly weaker too. This means, I believe, that she can’t pull the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ nonsense and will actually have to, you know, negotiate rather than vainly attempting to throw her weight around.]