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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Just Couldn’t Finish Reading: Erewhon by Samuel Butler (FP: 1872)

Like many Utopian tales this starts with the end – or with the hero of the piece recounting his story of finding a lost civilisation in an out of the way place and trying to drum up support to get back there based on nothing more than his word and his ability to make the reader believe he actually did visit the places he claimed to have done.

So far so good. The first few chapters (once you got used to the style and outdated phasing) where interesting enough as the author explained his situation in a fresh colony somewhere – unnamed to as to prevent others beating him back to Erewhon (an anagram of Nowhere). There followed his journey across an increasingly uncharted interior and his eventual stumbling upon what he though was a lost tribe of Israel (I kid you not). Actually the quasi-religious aspects of the book completely baffled me which really didn’t help with its readability.

Then we reached the boring bit as the author related in detail the strange structures of Erewhonian society. The differences from mid-Victorian England must have (I expect) reduced English readers to hysterical chuckling. I guess you really had to be a Victorian to appreciate that aspect of it. Some ideas, once you got over their implied racism and class snobbery, did interest me. The idea of the spirits of unborn children fixating on human couples and basically badgering them to be born was something I’d never come across before and it did make me smile that only the particularly stupid and persistent spirits managed to be born into human form! But the most interesting aspect, running over two chapters was the Erewhonian fear of technology (which managed to get the author into trouble because he carried a pocket watch!) caused by one of their philosophers centuries before predicting the machines would at some point become smart enough to enslave or kill the civilisation that built them.

Unfortunately you really had the wade through page after page of turgid prose to dig up any nuggets of literary gold (actually bronze, maybe silver) and finally after 160 pages I gave up. It’s not something I do very often but I couldn’t really face another few days struggling towards the end of this book. I understand that this is a recognised classic but it just didn’t do it for me. It’s probably because it’s a Utopian novel and I’ve always enjoyed the Dystopia's so much more. Hopefully I’ll have much better luck with forthcoming classics. Understandably not recommended.

Monday, August 22, 2016

SO tempted sometimes..........

They said there would be bumps in the road…….

Bank spells out chance of further rate cut this year.

The Bank of England deputy governor, Ben Broadbent, has told the BBC's Today programme there could be a further interest rate cut this year if needed. His comments highlight the Bank of England's signal on Thursday that rates could go lower if the economy worsens. On Thursday, the Bank cut interest rates from 0.5% to 0.25% - a record low and the first cut since 2009. Asked if there was a real prospect of another cut in rates this year, Mr Broadbent replied: "Absolutely." He told Today the Bank had acted after a series of surveys since the referendum on most aspects of the economy, including employment, the housing market and business confidence, which had turned down markedly. He said that in the past, these had been reliable indicators of subsequent releases of official data.

Renault-Nissan 'reasonably optimistic' over Brexit.

The chief executive of Renault-Nissan has told the BBC he is "reasonably optimistic" that the UK will be an important partner with the European Union, despite its vote to leave. Carlos Ghosn said Nissan is not ready to make decisions on plans for its Sunderland plant, which employs 6,700. Investment there depends on the outcome of UK-EU talks on Brexit, he said. In November, Mr Ghosn warned Nissan would reconsider investment in the UK if Britain voted to leave the EU. "We are reasonably optimistic at the end of the day, common sense will prevail from both sides," Mr Ghosn said. The Nissan boss thinks that the UK will continue to be a "big partner" for the European Union, but he said: "The question is what will happen to customs, trade and circulation of products. That will determine how, and how much we will invest in the UK," he said. Mr Ghosn described Nissan's Sunderland plant as a "European plant based in the UK", as most of its production is exported to Europe. The plant made 500,000 cars last year, making it the biggest car plant in the UK, according to Nissan.

UK house price growth shows signs of slowing, says Halifax.

House prices in the UK fell by 1% in July compared with the previous month but were still 8.4% higher than a year ago, the Halifax has said. The lender said that there were signs that house price growth was slowing. However, it said that it was still too early to determine whether the UK's decision to leave the EU had already had an impact on the housing market. On Thursday, the Bank of England cut interest rates and also suggested that house prices could fall. The Bank reduced its base rate to an historic low of 0.25% from 0.5%, which will take an estimated £22 off the monthly mortgage bill of those with tracker deals.

UK tourism boosted by fall in pound.

Flight bookings to the UK jumped since June, driven by the sharp fall in the pound following the vote to leave the European Union. Overall, there were 4.3% more flights booked to the UK in the 28 days following the vote than last year. Bookings from Hong Kong leapt by 30.1%, while they were up by 9.2% from the US and 5% from Europe. Travel researcher ForwardKeys said Brexit had had an "immediate, positive impact" on tourism to the UK. The organisation, which analyses 14 million reservation transactions a day to monitor future travel patterns, said: "The most favourable exchange rate in decades is probably the major driver for the uptake in bookings to Britain." While the pound has fallen about 13% against the dollar since its peak on 23 June, the day of the referendum, it has also fallen about 10% against the euro. A lower pound cuts the cost of a holiday for foreign visitors to the UK.

UK industrial output grows strongly.

UK industrial output grew at the fastest rate for 17 years in the April-to-June quarter, official figures show. Industrial output grew 2.1% compared with the first quarter of the year, the Office for National Statistics said. Despite the quarterly figures there were signs that growth on a monthly basis was slowing during the three-month period. But the ONS said "very few" respondents had been affected by the uncertainty from the EU referendum vote on 23 June. The production figures reflect the latest official growth figures for the whole economy which show strong GDP growth in April, followed by a sharp easing off in May and June. Meanwhile in a separate report the ONS said the deficit on trade in goods and services was £5.1bn in June, compared with a £4.2bn the month before. The UK exported £12bn worth of goods and services to the European Union in June, an increase of £500m compared with May.

Ministry of Defence 'facing extra £700m costs post Brexit'.

The Ministry of Defence is facing extra costs of up to £700m a year following the UK's Brexit vote, experts warn. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says this is due to the fall in sterling where military equipment purchases have been made in US dollars. After the referendum, the pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar in more than 30 years, making imports from the US more expensive. The MoD said real terms spending on defence was rising year on year. Prof Trevor Taylor, from the RUSI think tank, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the extra costs could lead to a "budget black hole", presenting a serious problem for the UK's defence stance. Sterling has been steadily falling in value as the referendum result and the Bank of England's efforts to shore up the economy have pushed investors into selling the pound. The former head of the British Navy and Labour peer Lord West described the issue as a "perfect storm" for the MoD.

[Still, of course, very mixed economic results from the Brexit Vote back in June – has it been THAT long already? But, as I keep going on to anyone who will listen to me, we haven’t left yet, we haven’t even started the leaving process yet, so it’s hardly that surprising that nothing too bad has happened yet. Also economies are a bit like oil tankers – it takes them a while to react to anything unless it’s really, really big like a full blown economic crash. Even the events of 2008 took months to start regularly hitting the headlines. We’re still in the period where lots of backroom talks are taking place and much planning is being formulated. You don’t simply switch from one economic reality to another overnight. Things this momentous take time.]

All details above from BBC News website.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Name to a Face?

Glass bridge: China opens world's highest and longest

From BBC News

20 August 2016

The much-heralded "world's highest and longest" glass-bottomed bridge has opened to visitors in central China. It connects two mountain cliffs in what are known as the Avatar mountains (the film was shot here) in Zhangjiajie, Hunan province. Completed in December, the 430m-long bridge cost $3.4m (£2.6m) to build and stands 300m above ground, state news agency Xinhua reported. It has been paved with 99 panes of three-layered transparent glass.

And according to officials, the 6m-wide bridge - designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan - has already set world records for its architecture and construction. Glass bridges in China have been a popular craze for the daring photo opportunities they provide. Events like mass yoga displays and even weddings have been staged on several such bridges. One couple celebrated their special day by dangling in mid-air from a bridge in Pingjiang, also located in Hunan province.

This was the question on everyone's minds as the city geared up for the bridge's official opening. But officials have staged high-profile events to try and reassure the public of the bridge's safety. Officials sent in sledgehammers and even drove a car, filled with passengers, across the bridge earlier this year.

[That sounds (and looks) pretty cool! Sign me up…. But then again I’ve never been bothered by heights so walking across it wouldn’t bother me in the least. Although I might upset anyone with me by repeatedly jumping up and down on the glass itself to show how safe it was (grin)]

Friday, August 19, 2016

Still a way to go before we (actually) leave………..

House of Lords could delay Brexit, peer claims.

Conservative peer Baroness Wheatcroft has said the Lords could withhold approval of Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the European Union. There is currently some disagreement over whether Article 50 would need to come before Parliament. But former journalist Baroness Wheatcroft said if it did, "the Lords might actually delay things". The government has previously stated that Article 50 could be triggered through use of the royal prerogative. Speaking to The Times, the former editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal Europe and the Sunday Telegraph said that she hoped delays in the Lords of any potential Brexit legislation would lead to a second referendum. A legal challenge on whether the government can trigger Article 50 without the authorisation of Parliament will be heard in the High Court in the autumn.

Construction industry sees loss of momentum, PMI survey says.

Activity in the construction industry fell again in July, confirming "a clear loss of momentum since the second quarter of 2016", a survey has said. The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the sector fell to 45.9 last month, down slightly from June and below 50, which indicates contraction. The latest number suggests output in the construction industry shrank at the fastest pace since June 2009. The Brexit vote was the main factor weighing on activity, the report said. It follows Monday's survey indicating a sharp downturn in factory activity. On Wednesday, the PMI survey for the services industry will be released. The surveys are based on replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives and they are seen as one of the earliest indicators of the economy's performance. "Anecdotal evidence suggested that economic uncertainty following the EU referendum was the main factor weighing on business activity in July, especially in the commercial building sector," the report said.

Brexit 'means economy faces 50/50 recession chance'.

The UK has a 50/50 chance of falling into recession within the next 18 months following the Brexit vote, says a leading economic forecaster. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) says the country will go through a "marked economic slowdown" this year and next. It says inflation will also pick up, rising to 3% by the end of next year. "This is the short-term economic consequence of the vote to leave the EU", said Simon Kirby of the NIESR. Overall the institute forecasts that the UK economy will probably grow by 1.7% this year but will expand by just 1% in 2017. This would see the UK avoid a technical recession, typically defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

Mr Kirby argued that the June referendum vote had led to such financial and political uncertainty that this would bear directly on the spending and investment decisions of both businesses and households. "We expect the UK to experience a marked economic slowdown in the second half of this year and throughout 2017," he said. "There is an evens chance of a 'technical' recession in the next 18 months, while there is an elevated risk of further deterioration in the near term." The pick-up in inflation to 3% will mainly be due to the recent fall in the value of the pound, but that should be ignored by the Bank of England the Institute said. "The Monetary Policy Committee should 'look through' this temporary rise in inflation and ease monetary policy substantially in the coming months," Mr Kirby said. The institute forecasts that the Bank will reduce interest rates to just 0.1% eventually, after cutting them to 0.25% later this week.

Rate cut 'foregone conclusion' as economy slows sharply.

The UK economy is contracting at its fastest rate since the financial crisis, making an interest rate cut "a foregone conclusion", according to financial data company Markit. The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index that showed activity in the UK's dominant services sector saw its sharpest fall in seven years. It follows falls in both construction and manufacturing in July. The index fell from 52.3 in June to 47.4 in July, indicating contraction. The figure confirmed an earlier initial estimate of service sector output. Taken together with the manufacturing and construction data, Markit said a cut in interest rates by the Bank of England - expected following Thursday's meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee - was a foregone conclusion. Policymakers are widely expected to reduce rates from the current 0.5% to a new low of 0.25%. Earlier, economic think-tank the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said the country would go through a "marked economic slowdown" this year and next. But it stopped short of forecasting a recession, saying the chances of the UK economy suffering a downturn in the next 18 months were 50/50. It says inflation will also pick up, rising to 3% by the end of next year.

UK interest rates cut to 0.25%.

UK interest rates have been cut from 0.5% to 0.25% - a record low and the first cut since 2009. The Bank of England has also signalled that rates could go lower if the economy worsens. The Bank announced additional measures to stimulate the UK economy, including a £100bn scheme to force banks to pass on the low interest rate to households and businesses. It will also buy £60bn of UK government bonds and £10bn of corporate bonds. Governor Mark Carney said there was scope to cut the interest rate further. The Bank also announced the biggest cut to its growth forecasts since it started making them in 1993. It has reduced its growth prediction for 2017 from the 2.3% it was expecting in May to 0.8%. Mr Carney that the decision to leave the EU marked a "regime change" in which the UK would "redefine its openness to the movements of goods, services, people and capital".

The £60bn bond-buying programme, which increases quantitative easing to £435bn, was approved by a vote of 6-3, with Kristin Forbes, Ian McCafferty and Martin Weale preferring to wait until more concrete data is available rather than relying on surveys. The extensive series of measures was revealed with the central bank predicting that inflation would rise above its 2% target as a result of the falling value of the pound. A weaker pound makes imported goods more expensive, which boosts inflation. The pound fell by 1% against the dollar following the Bank's announcement. Daniel Mahoney, head of economic research at Centre for Policy Studies, said: "The Bank's further loosening of monetary policy could prove problematic for the UK economy. The falling pound means that inflationary pressures are already building up, and today's decision will exacerbate them." The Bank has warned that there will be "little growth in GDP in the second half of the year", although the forecast for 2016 growth has been left unchanged at 2% as a result of stronger-than-expected growth in the first half.

[Of course it’s really all about the Economy. Everything else is garnish, smoke and mirrors. The idea of ‘taking back control’, although seemingly a powerful one, is nothing of the sort. In future we may indeed have more control over certain things but at what cost? That’s the real question. Really how much pain is it worth, for years if not decades to come, to essentially feel better about ourselves – possibly? I can’t help wondering how we got into this mess in the first place.]

All details above from BBC News website.