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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sparkle, sparkle........
Vote? What Vote?

Well, there I was planning to write about my thoughts on tomorrows Brexit vote in Parliament when Teresa May goes and cancels it – or postpones it until next year (probably) hoping that *something* will turn up to either save it or save her. Some luck! But thinking about it this was probably the only thing she could have done to save her Premiership.

She was, in all honesty, in an impossible position. No one really liked her proposal for a deal with the EU. Despite everything she’s been saying it doesn’t really satisfy anyone – Brexiteer or Remainer. Rather than being the best of both worlds compromise it turned out to be the worst of both worlds which pleased exactly no one. Of course, as everyone has known from the beginning, at the heart of things is the border between Ireland/Eire and Northern Ireland. When we were one big happy European family the border did not matter one jot. But now, or at least next March, it matters a great deal. It’s out only physical border with the EU so can’t be open but both Eire and Northern Ireland insist it can’t be closed. Now I know Logic isn’t my strong suit but things usually have an either/or state called open/closed. You can’t have both. You just can’t – no matter what legal or political slant you put on it. You either have an open border which means that Northern Ireland stays in the EU – with the infamous border in the Irish Sea – or you have a closed border with all the usual checks. The compromise failed to please the Northern Irish/DUP or the hard-line Brexiteers on the mainland. Despite much pressure and, no doubt, much backroom dealing tomorrows vote looked like a loser for the PM. The only real question was by how many votes. Of course if the number was as high as some thought her whole political future would be in question – which is pretty much why she pulled out. But kicking the vote down the road or ‘into the long grass’ will, I think, solve exactly nothing. Few, if any, of the hardliners on all sides will change their minds over Christmas but at least it’ll give people around the festive turkey something else to argue about.

When, or if, the vote is finally taken in the New Year the result I suspect will be exactly the same – the PM will lose. But what then? Well, she’s off later in the week to speak to European leaders in the hope that they can save her – despite repeated messages that the deal we have is IT and cannot be renegotiated. Which doesn’t leave very many options especially with around 8-10 weeks after a January vote. If the deal is dead and more negotiations are off the table there seems only two options left: Crash out without a deal or decide to stay. Parliament has said that a no deal option is unacceptable but then so is going against ‘the will of the people’ and staying in the EU. If Parliament can’t decide (or won’t decide) they may consider letting us have another pop at it – either in the 2nd referendum or a General Election fought mainly around the European issue. But can such a thing be arranged and settled in less than 8-10 weeks? I seriously doubt it. Maybe that’s the final plan. Give Parliament the choice between a deal no one wants or chaos that people want even less? That, I think, is a very, very dangerous strategy based on the assumption that people in those circumstances will act rationally – they won’t. They’ll panic, they’ll revolt and they’ll attack. It could all get VERY messy indeed.

Many would agree that the whole Brexit process has been very badly handled from Day One. Politicians have consistently been less than honest with the public keeping the sobering truth from us all – that Brexit was never going to be easy and, no matter what the Brexiteers say, there are downsides to leaving (even if there are upsides too). The possibility that something might have been decided tomorrow is now gone and we’ll need to wait until early next year for some kind of resolution. What that will end up being is, presently, anyone’s guess. 

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Cannabis firm confirms investment talks with Marlboro maker

From The BBC

4 December 2018

Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is in talks with a Canadian cannabis producer over a potential investment in the firm. Canada's Cronos Group confirmed the discussions but said it had not yet reached an agreement. It follows reports that Altria was in talks to acquire Cronos as it moves to diversify from traditional smokers. Canada legalised recreational cannabis in October - the second country in the world to do so. Cronos confirmed in a statement "it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group Inc. in Cronos Group. No agreement has been reached with respect to any such transaction and there can be no assurance such discussions will lead to an investment or other transaction involving the companies."

Several other companies around the world are pushing into the marijuana sector. Corona beer owner Constellation Brands has said it would pour some $4bn (£3.1bn) into Canada's top cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, in a deal marking the largest investment in the industry to date. Tobacco firm Imperial Brands is investing in UK biotech company Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, while a recent media report said Coca-Cola was in talks with a Canadian producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned to legalise cannabis, arguing laws criminalising its use were ineffective given Canadians are among the world's heaviest users. Cannabis possession first became a crime in Canada in 1923 but medical use has been legal since 2001.

[All rather inevitable I feel, especially with the decline in ‘traditional’ smoking and the subsequent drop in profits. The idea of ‘Soma’ comes to mind though. No doubt the drinks and smokes with added cannabis will be very popular – especially with the young – but is a mildly drugged population really a good thing….. For some, maybe…. For some.]

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Just Finished Reading: The Four-Dimensional Human – Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott (FP: 2015)

This is not an easy book to precis so I’m not really going to try. Instead I’ll try to give a flavour of what it was about and what I thought of it. It’s hard not to notice how technology and the use of it changes things – most especially human nature. We’ve all seen ‘zombies’ walking around staring intently into their palms often completely oblivious to what’s going on around them. This is what the author means when he talks about 4D humans – not the zombification of humanity but to people being ‘elsewhere’ why still, at least technically, being here in the normal 3D world at the same time. When we’re online (for example by reading this poor excuse for a book review) where exactly are we? We might be physically located in our home office, den or kitchen but we are also in cyberspace hopping from webpage to webpage on computers that might be based hundreds of miles away from our actual location. Although we have not physically moved it could be argued that part of our mind and certainly our attention has gone through the screen in front of our eyes and is actually traversing the data streams along with the bits and bytes that make up the virtual world. Or take online gaming. Most nights I sit in my spare room/office/library chatting to my friends using VOIP (Voice Over IP) and it feels like we’re in the same room and not 10, 15, 20 miles apart. At the same time we might be playing a game together which is being run on a server in Paris but gives the impression of being on another world. So, were exactly is the game taking place? Paris? My spare room? Somewhere in cyberspace? Just on my home computer or all of the above? These days that is not an idle question.

As more and more people spend ever longer and ever more of their lives ‘on-line’ what does it do to both the on-line and off-line persona? Now I admit that I am one of those strange folk that isn’t, and never has been, on Facebook. I’ve never used Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat. My on-line ‘presence’ is this Blog – period. That being the case I was often one or two steps removed from the authors tales of Facebook accounts of long dead individuals still getting posts, of the questionable thrill of delving too deeply into someone’s profile, of long-distance empathy, sorrow or regret as friends unspoken to for years or decades, get married, have children, split up, grow old and one day, vanish for never discovered reasons. The author also points to the strange rigidity of on-line existence. In the early days it was often thought that the Internet would herald in a new age of liberty. No one, it was stated with confidence, on the Internet knows you’re a dog. How wonderfully na├»ve that was. Today your on-line identity needs to be as detailed and as unchanging as possible. Without a steamer trunk of history how does Airbnb know who you are and that you can be trusted? Without a detailed and verified digital passport how can advertisers know which targeted adverts will do the most good when they land in your in-box of pop-up on your feed. Be who you want to be in meat-space but in cyberspace without your glowing ID badge your entry will be denied.

Ranging over pop culture, personal experience, literary references to Shakespeare and to popular movies this is an interesting and thoughtful read. I did roll my eyes a few times and did think he was trying too hard to impress – successfully it seems as this work won The Jerwood Prize and was shortlisted for The Samuel Johnson Prize – but overall I was impressed enough to finish it in short order. More IT related reads to come.