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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Finished Reading: A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (FP: 2004)

It seems that the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. Comparing crashed civilisations to crashed aircraft and their ruins to black box flight recorders (a truly brilliant metaphor I thought) the author builds his case with hard hitting point after hard hitting point. The case is that humanity is, seemingly and predictably, dumb as a box of rocks. Time and again civilisations get to a point where their growth begins to destroy their very foundations, where over farming, over grazing or other resource depletions undermine the progress that enabled them to get so far which, again inevitably, causing the whole thing to crash and burn. What’s worse of course is not only that previous civilisations have done the same thing – often in plain sight of the present top dog – but that the civilisation in question (Easter Island being a PRIME example) knows exactly when the last tree is felled or the last mine is tapped out or the last wild creature is killed and DOES IT ANYWAY fully aware of the consequences!

It’s not hard to see more than echoes of these dead, indeed often long dead, civilisations in our own with it profligate use of resources and its incessant mortgaging of all of our futures. We know exactly what will happen when we run out of oil and yet we expend a great deal of effort pumping the last barrel out of the last oil well and BURN it. We know exactly what will happen when we hunt the last ‘X’ to extinction to grind a bone into powder to ‘ensure’ an erection in old men who should know better. We know exactly what will happen when we pump enough CO2 into the atmosphere to warm it enough so there’s no stopping it…. And yet we DO IT ANYWAY. The evidence is there to learn from. The smoking guns are still smoking in the jungles and deserts of the world often created by the very civilisations whose ruins sit surrounded by their own devastation. If you’ve ever wondered how the earliest civilisations managed to grow so powerful in a desert then you need to understand that the desert only came AFTER the civilisation and before they reached that point the Fertile Crescent was actually fertile and didn’t look like some post apocalyptical world (which is exactly what it is).

After a mere 132 pages you are left with the inescapable conclusion that we MUST learn this time before our civilisation falls too. Previous civilisations failed and somehow we managed to go on. But today our civilisation is global in reach and its fall will affect everyone. With its interweaved economic structure the crash will be HARD and many, many people will die in the crash itself and the inevitable fighting that will follow it as the survivors battle over the scraps. As the author sagely notes ‘we are running 21st century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago or more’. It’s of little surprise therefore that we act as we do both individually and collectively. But we do have a choice, we might still be essentially stone age humans barely out of the trees but we’re SMART apes. We can still learn from past mistakes and choose not to make them again. Hopefully with books like this we might actually have a chance. Short, punchy and damned impressive. Read it and at least you’ll be able to see us going to hell in a handcart rather than wondering what the hell is happening!    

Too cool..............

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The slow moving ‘Brexit Effect’…..

No 'Brexit effect' in latest jobs data.

Economists have said the slight fall in UK unemployment to 1.63 million between May and July shows there is yet to be a "Brexit effect" on the jobs market. The unemployment rate was 4.9%, down from 5.5% a year ago and little changed from last month's rate, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows. Nearly three quarters of people who can work have jobs, a record high rate. Employment was "resilient" before and after the EU vote, despite predictions of an economic shock, analysts said. Kallum Pickering, an economist at Berenberg, said: "Although it is still early days, the UK labour market is yet to show any Brexit effect for the period immediately before and after the June 23 vote." His analysis of the ONS data showed that unemployment fell to 4.7% in July, the first month since the vote. Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "The UK's labour market proved resilient in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave the EU, ONS data has shown. This is the latest piece of evidence which shows the economy has fared better than expected since June's referendum." John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, agreed the jobs data showed "no immediate impact from the Brexit vote".

UK retail sales shrug off Brexit vote.

UK retail sales were stronger than expected in August, suggesting consumer confidence has held up in the wake of the Brexit vote. Sales volumes fell by just 0.2% last month, the Office for National Statistics said, while sales were up 6.2% from August last year The ONS said the underlying pattern for the retail sector was "solid growth". "Overall the figures do not suggest any major fall in post-referendum consumer confidence," it said. The sales increase for July was also revised higher from 1.4% to 1.9% - the best performance for the month in 14 years. ING economist James Knightley said the figures offered further evidence that the UK was weathering the short-term effects of the Brexit vote well. "Sterling's fall is likely to have boosted sales of high-end items by foreign tourists as watches and fashions become relatively cheaper for them when bought in the UK versus elsewhere," he added. However, Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the figures had to be treated with some scepticism as surveys from the British Retail Consortium, BDO and Visa all pointed to a much bigger fall in sales volumes. "The chances the official data are revised down therefore seem high," he said.

Brexit: No substantive talks for 12 months, Herman Van Rompuy predicts.

Substantive Brexit talks between the UK and the rest of the EU are unlikely to start much before the end of 2017, a former European Council president says. Speaking to the BBC, Herman Van Rompuy said negotiations were unlikely until a new German government was formed after next September's election. The talks will be tough but hopefully of mutual benefit, he said, adding the UK had to make the "first move". He described the UK's decision to leave the EU as a "political amputation". Meanwhile, leaders of every EU country, apart from the UK, are gathering in the Slovakian capital Bratislava to discuss the future of the bloc. Mr Van Rompuy described the senior figures appointed to negotiate for the EU, who include Belgian ex-Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and French finance expert Michel Barnier, as "very very tough" but also "very pragmatic". He denied leaders wanted to "punish" the UK for leaving, but said there was a desire not to encourage other countries to follow suit. "Any negotiation will be a difficult negotiation, independent of the personalities. Of course we want an agreement which represents some kind of mutual benefit. There are huge economic interests, but there are also red lines. It is very well known that freedom of movement [of EU nationals] is a red line," he said.

Theresa May could begin Brexit process by February, says Tusk.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union early next year, according to a top EU official. European Council President Donald Tusk said Mrs May had told him the UK could be ready to begin talks by February. The BBC's Tom Bateman says this is the clearest sign yet of when the two-year withdrawal process may start. Mrs May's office said it would not be launched this year, but did not confirm Mr Tusk's account. Formal negotiations over the withdrawal cannot begin until the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal mechanism for leaving the union. The timing of the process has so-far been clouded by uncertainty, with no clear signal from Mrs May's government on when it would begin. There is also confusion over the nature of the UK's future relationship with the bloc, especially whether it intends to remain a member of the single market.

US bankers: 'Brexit impact global'.

US bankers have written to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asking him to push for transparent Brexit negotiations in the interests of market stability. They said Brexit "consequences are likely to be significant". Highlighting Britain's role in the global financial system, they warn Brexit could affect jobs in the financial industry and beyond. In a June referendum, the UK voted to leave the EU causing global uncertainty over the fallout of the separation. In their letter, the bankers also said US companies in the UK rely on "passporting rights" between the UK and the remaining EU member states to allow UK-based firms to operate freely across the economic bloc. They added that millions of people in the US are employed by UK and EU companies and called for a "smooth" transition period to give firms time to get used to changes in trade and investment.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Of course the BIG unintended Brexit news here – not counting the rather strangely coy Government response to the Nissan decision to stay in Britain – is the price of tea going up, up, up because of the fall of sterling in recent months. I could feel the tension on the streets as people had to make the decision of cutting back or taking the financial hit in other ways. If the price goes up much further – and who knows what the pound will do post-Article 50? – there could be blood on the streets and the pillaging of tea shops. It could get really nasty out there!]

...and I'm Back!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Just Finished Reading: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (FP: 1939)

Apparently bored with hunting big game across the world the unnamed narrator decides he needs something else to occupy his mind, something deadlier than tigers or more cunning than lions – Man. Not just any man, indeed not just anyone but someone important, well-guarded and highly dangerous. A head of state in a totalitarian country, someone worth stalking and, just maybe killing. But by chance the stalk fails and the hunter is captured in the act. At first refusing to believe that he is acting alone on a personal dare his interrogators finally accept the truth. But they can’t put him on trial – no matter how well staged. He must die for his crime but in a way that looks like an unfortunate accident. Thrown from a cliff the hunter survives purely by good luck but within hours becomes the hunted, first across Europe and then back to England itself. Set upon in the London Underground and forced to defend himself he kills one of his assailants and the police become involved. Running from the law as well as determined enemy agents, unwilling to involve his friends and unable to involve the Government he must rely on his own cunning honed to perfection by a lifetime of hunting wild creatures across the globe. But has he met his match in the team sent out to hunt him down in his own backyard?

I’d heard about this book long before its reissue in 2014. It was a wartime classic produced in number and given to soldiers as both entertainment and as a teaching aid in escape and evasion tactics. I could see why. The author delights in finding interesting, imaginative and practical ways to move across the countryside undetected as well as what to do if flushed out of hiding. Whilst not exactly a textbook of field craft it does clearly indicate the mind set required by those being hunted by dedicated enemies in both a urban and rural environment. The initial losing of his ‘tail’ in London was a real page turner especially as I used the Tube system for the 6 years I lived in London so could easily visualise many of the places he mentioned and clearly knew well. The other thing that I found equally interesting was the main characters observations of late 1930’s English (and especially Class) culture. I guess that I’m just a natural born Sociologist or maybe an Anthropologist so I find this kind of thing frankly fascinating. It’s one of the many reasons I like reading some of the older books in my collection. Some of the casual asides which probably meant little at the time, except maybe the addition of some local colour, really stick out with the perspective of decades or even centuries of history between the written word and the modern reader. What passed unremarked in 1939 seems truly odd in 2016. How times (and mores) have changed.

On further investigation I found that this largely forgotten classic author of suspense fiction had written quite a few works including a sequel to Rogue Male where the protagonist returns to Germany to finish his original assignment. So far I haven’t managed to source a copy but I’ll keep looking until I find one. I want to know how he did next time! Recommended.    

Monday, October 17, 2016

Will the waiting never end?

UK inflation rate holds steady at 0.6%

The average cost of everyday household goods and services went up by 0.6% in the year to August. The UK inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), was unchanged from July. Rising food prices and air fares pushed prices higher, the Office for National Statistics said, partly offset by cheaper prices for hotel rooms. Economists had forecast inflation would rise to 0.7%, predicting the cheaper pound would push prices higher. ONS statistician Mike Prestwood said raw material costs had "risen for the second month running, partly due to the falling value of the pound". But he added there was "little sign of this feeding through to consumer prices yet". The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which includes mortgage interest payments, dropped to 1.8% in August from 1.9% in July. Separate figures from the ONS suggest inflationary pressures are building for businesses bringing in materials from abroad. Materials and fuels bought by UK manufacturers rose by 7.6% in price. That was the fastest rise since December 2011, and compared with a rise of 4.1% in the year to July.

UK house price inflation falls to 8.3% in July, says ONS.

House price inflation across the UK fell to 8.3% in the year to July, down from 9.7% in June, according to official statistics. The figures - from the Office for National Statistics - are for the first full month after the Brexit vote. They show that he average house price across the UK in July rose to £217,000. The eastern region of England remains the area with the fastest growing prices. The annual rate of inflation there was 13.2%. Prices in London grew at 12.3%, although they fell in parts of Central London, like Hammersmith and Fulham. Earlier this month the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said that the UK housing market had settled down after the Brexit vote.

Brexit deal needed before 2019 elections - EU's Verhofstadt.

The European Parliament's lead negotiator on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, says the EU needs to have an agreement on UK withdrawal before the next European elections in May or June 2019. In a tweet he said: "Brexit should be delivered before 2019, when EU politics enters into new cycle & the @Europarl_EN starts new mandate." He will participate in the talks along with negotiators from the European Commission and the ministerial Council. The talks are likely to start in 2017. UK Prime Minister Theresa May says she will not trigger the Brexit mechanism - the EU's Article 50 - before next year, because detailed preparations are necessary. Mr Verhofstadt, previously prime minister of Belgium, told journalists in Strasbourg that the European Parliament would "have to give consent to the agreement as stated in Article 50 so it's wise the parliament is involved from the start of this process." I want the UK to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible, so we can finalise these negotiations by 2019. I can't imagine we start the next legislative cycle without agreement over UK withdrawal."

Bosses more cautious on jobs after Brexit, survey finds.

Employers in six out of nine sectors are less optimistic about adding jobs in the wake of the Brexit vote, a survey has found. Financial services, construction and utilities reported the biggest falls in confidence, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. The survey was conducted in the weeks after the referendum was held. Although UK job prospects have held firm, Manpower said that "cracks in the ice are appearing". The survey asked about 2,100 UK employers whether they plan to hire more workers, or cut jobs, in the last three months of this year. Mark Cahill, ManpowerGroup UK managing director, said Britain was entering a new phase of prolonged economic uncertainty following the referendum on EU membership. "Many finance operations in the City of London depend on the EU 'banking passport' and the fall in hiring intentions could reflect pessimism over the future of this agreement," he said. "The future of freedom of movement across the EU is of particular concern. As UK businesses are reliant on European talent to help fill the skills gap, we urge the government to prioritise maintaining the free movement of people across the EU during its negotiations." There had been an 800% rise in applications for finance jobs in Dublin since the Brexit vote, Manpower said.

Juncker proposes EU military headquarters.

The European Union needs a military headquarters to work towards a common military force, the Commission president has told MEPs in Strasbourg. Jean-Claude Juncker said the lack of a "permanent structure" resulted in money being wasted on missions. Part of his annual state of the union address was devoted to the UK's unexpected vote to leave the EU. He insisted that the bloc was not at risk but called for Brexit negotiations to take place as quickly as possible. Modelled on the state of the union address by the US president, the Commission president's annual speech was introduced in 2010 to detail the state of the EU and future legislative plans. The Brexit vote has given added impetus to plans for greater defence co-operation, because the UK has always objected to the potential conflict of interest with Nato. But Mr Juncker said a common military force "should be in complement to Nato". "More defence in Europe doesn't mean less transatlantic solidarity." A European Defence Fund would stimulate military research and development, he said.

Brexit risk to equal pay laws, Women and Equalities Committee told.

Equal pay laws in the UK could be put at risk by the country's exit from the European Union, MPs have heard. Prof Aileen McColgan said although the UK was a "leader" in areas of equality law, developments on equal pay had been "profoundly driven" by Europe. Prof Catherine Barnard said that without minimum EU standards to abide by, the government could in future try to "lower" the bar. The government says Parliament would have to vote to repeal equality laws. The two professors were giving evidence to the Commons Women and Equalities Committee. Asked what Brexit could mean for UK equality laws, Aileen McColgan, human rights professor at Kings College London, said "it would depend on the government of the day". She said on one level "nothing need change" after the UK left the EU, as most directives had been implemented into UK law. "But on another level it means there would be no underpinning or demand for maintenance of the current provisions, so... it is very troubling as the whole thing could be knocked away", she told MPs.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Despite the fact that I think the Brexit vote and the rather inevitable leaving of the EU is probably the worst (and stupidest) thing this country has done to itself in the last 100 years I do find it endlessly fascinating. I know a lot of people don’t of course and those who just want the whole thing to go away so that they can get on with their lives. Well, unfortunately it won’t and can’t. It’s likely to be a continuing topic of conversation (and argument) for at least the next two years and probably long after that. I think we’re going to have first-hand experience of what it feels like to stand on the wrong side of history and I have a feeling that the experience won’t be a pleasant one.]

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Royal Navy's 'robot wars' under way off Scotland and Wales

From The BBC

14 October 2016

What the Royal Navy has described as its first "robot wars" are fully under way off the coasts of Scotland and west Wales. Unmanned Warrior features more than 50 vehicles, sensors and systems on the surface of the sea, underwater and in the air. The exercise is being held at the same time as Joint Warrior, a UK-led Nato exercise held twice a year. Joint Warrior involves thousands of armed forces personnel. Military ranges and sites in Benbecula, Kyle of Lochalsh and off Applecross are being used for Unmanned Warrior.

Various manufacturers of military technology, including BAE Systems, are taking part in the exercise which runs until 20 October. BAE Systems has described Unmanned Warrior as the world's first large-scale demonstration of "innovative maritime robotic systems". The Royal Navy has reported that earlier this week nine autonomous systems were operated at the same time, "responding to each other, flying, swimming and diving together, but at different tasks, looking for different things". The vehicles being used in Unmanned Warrior include BAE Systems' Pacific Class 950 Unmanned Rigid Inflatable Boat. A craft called Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (Mast) is also being trialled.

Joint Warrior, meanwhile, involves about 5,700 military personnel from armed forces from countries including Norway, Sweden, Germany and the US.

Thirty-one warships and submarines as well almost 70 aircraft, many of them being flown out of RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and Prestwick in Ayrshire, are being used in the training off the Scottish coast.

[We’re not that far away from fully autonomous fighting vehicles. Maybe 20-30 years if I wanted to be conservative, maybe less if we have some kind of breakthrough event. As things progress they’ll be part of elite units with plenty of human back up, sent in on the most dangerous and difficult jobs. As they become more proficient the human support troops will reduce and will eventually be replaced by robots too. Eventually the robotic forces will be deployed, serviced and maintained completely by other robots. Initially they’ll be used to fight human enemies, probably those unable to field robots themselves. But it will become quickly apparent that humans facing machines will generally be on the losing side so, say 50-75 years from now wars (if we can still call them that) will be fought machine vs machine. Will that make war any less likely when human casualties are zero? I doubt it. If stakes are high, as I guess they will be, the investment in robotic warriors will be significant. War could end up being little more than another ‘reality’ show watched largely for entertainment and betted on extensively. Maybe the military could even turn a profit if the odds are favourable enough. Welcome to a very strange future….]

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Just Finished Reading: Aliens Vs Predator - War by S D Perry (FP: 1999)

After joining a band of alien Hunters a year ago Machiko Noguchi has come to the conclusion that no matter how many Aliens she kills on the hunt, no matter how well she performs in the sparring room and no matter how well she follows the Hunters Code she will never be accepted, never be a Hunter in her own right. This becomes blindingly obvious when she is aggressively removed from a new Hunt and confined to the orbiting spaceship. Meanwhile a handful of refugees from an Alien infested space station land on the Company planet Bunda hoping that their nightmare has finally come to an end. Unfortunately for them the Company wants a file it thinks they possess, a file that shows that the Alien infection was deliberate, a file that shows just how effective an Alien infestation is when used against an unprotected target. Sending one of its heaviest ‘hitters’, a man on the make, the Company expects results fast no matter the cost to human lives. Caught between the Hunt, a loose Alien Queen and the Company goons the only question is who exactly is going to get them killed before they can get off an infected Bunda.

Written in a fairly effective way this rather sparse novel (at a mere 209 pages on of the shortest I’ve read in a while) moves along at a fair clip and turned out to be moderately entertaining. There are few surprises and I found myself thinking more than once that the author was rather lazily describing variations of scenes from the various Aliens and Predator movies rather than actually inventing anything herself. It has all the expected elements and all the usual suspects/characters. There’s precious little new here except hints of the Hunter culture and some whizzy human technology developed for bug control teams but that’s really it. There’s not a lot of depth here but plenty of action, blood and death to attempt to make up for that. Don’t expect to have your mind expanded but you should be moderately entertained for a few days if you’ve liked the movies at all. Disposable but generally OK fun.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Erm... Yes, you can. Zombies are animated DEAD who are, by their very nature anti-Life. Therefore, to be anti-zombie is to be, by definition, Pro-life. QED.

…and now things start to get interesting.

Banks say they will 'wait and see' on Brexit moves abroad.

The UK's banks say they have not decided whether to move operations outside of the UK after Brexit, a top banker has said. Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers' Association, told a House of Lords EU committee that banks are pondering moves abroad. He called for current arrangements to stay as close as possible to those now in place with the European Union. He said transitional arrangements with the EU were needed. Mr Browne added that would remove uncertainty and ease pressure on banks, while also avoiding "cliff edge" disruption to markets. "There is a 'wait and see' at the moment," he said.

Tim Farron presses case for vote on any Brexit deal.

The British public should have a chance to vote on government plans for the UK to leave the EU, the Lib Dems say. Leader Tim Farron, whose party campaigned to stay in the EU, says it would be "completely unfair" if voters were not given a say on the deal devised by Brexit ministers. He denied suggestions he was trying to overturn the 23 June referendum, when a majority backed the UK leaving the EU. Brexit Secretary David Davis wants a "national consensus" for the UK's exit. But Mr Farron says voting for Britain's departure from the EU "is not the same as voting for a destination".

"What the British government is now, one assumes, in the process of doing... is putting together the potential deal for what Britain will get in the future - what will free movement look like? Will there be a points based system? Apparently not. Will there be additional money for our health service? Apparently not. What will the relationship be with the single market? What will that mean for pricing? Our proposal today is the deal would come to the British people - we'd vote on that. If we voted 'yes' for that deal, then Britain would leave the European Union as we've already indicated... If we voted 'no' to that deal - if that's not satisfactory to the British people - we'd remain members of the EU."

Wetherspoon's boss attacks 'lurid' Brexit claims.

JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong. Tim Martin, an ardent supporter of Brexit, used his company's profits statement to attack a host of targets, including the CBI, the IMF, Goldman Sachs and the former prime minister. They and others warned the economy would suffer post-Brexit. Data on the UK economy showed a dip in July but has been positive for August. Wetherspoon's itself saw annual profits rise 12.5% after exceptional items to £66m. In a detailed and extended statement, Tim Martin lambasted those who had failed to "see through the flaws" of the European Union, and said their forecasts had been proved wrong following the 23 June referendum. Using striking language, he told the BBC: "We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea." Closely-watched economic surveys have shown a sharp rebound for UK services and manufacturing in August after the industries took a hit in July.

Toronto 2016: UK film experts upbeat over Brexit.

UK film experts are confident that the industry will cope with the impact caused by the vote to exit the EU. The upbeat message emerged during a special Brexit debate at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday. "As an industry we are born problem solvers," said Robbie Allen of Creative Scotland, adding that there was "time to plan" for the "bump in the road". Isabel Davis, of the British Film Institute, said "nothing changes" until after what would be a long process. Ms Davis, head of international at the BFI, explained that it had set up a "screen task force" to look at threats and opportunities presented by the result of June's EU referendum. She said the film industry was keen to preserve its relationship with Europe and that no changes were imminent during the exit process. "We are talking about a period of time that is going to be rather extended," she said. "This is a very complicated process, it's a marriage that is going to take quite a lot of time to untangle. In the meantime, the key message is nothing changes whatsoever. Until those negotiations are concluded, we are exactly as we have always been."

Senior civil servants warn over Brexit resources funding.

A lack of resources in Whitehall threatens the UK's successful exit from the EU, the head of the senior civil servants' union has warned. Brexit will mean a cut in public spending unless funding is increased, the First Division Association says. A Conservative MP who voted to leave the EU warned the work could take two decades to complete without more support from ministers. The government said it would deliver Brexit. Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, said the government could not demand that civil servants deliver public services, cuts to budgets and Brexit at the same time within current budgets. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the success of exit from the EU was threatened if it was not adequately resourced. He said: "If you take those resources from elsewhere within government spending, it threatens the delivery of public services. "That's the reality: you can't have your cake and eat it."

'Brexit must not be an excuse' to cut jobs, warn unions.

Firms must not use the UK's vote for an exit from the European Union as an excuse to cut jobs and spending, trade union bodies have warned. Unite said it was "not prepared to see Brexit used as a smokescreen" for firms to cut their investments in the UK. "Out of the EU must not mean out of work," Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said at the TUC Congress. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said she was also worried workers' rights might be eroded by the EU vote. "We've had the votes, the vote was close but clear and now our job is to get on with representing working people, whichever way they cast their vote, and make sure that they don't pay the price of a Brexit," she said.

All details above from BBC News website.

[It’s interesting – in a car crash sort of way – to see how badly the Pond is still doing on the international money markets (putting to one side the even more interesting ‘technical glitch' in the Far East markets). Whenever a pro-Brexit minister says something stupid about ‘hard Brexit’ or ‘we can do without access to the Single Market’ the Pound tumbles. I have to wonder if any of them actually understand Economics. Oh, and don’t get me started on the latest row about Foreign workers!]

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Be Cleopatra not a Kardashian, girls advised

By Judith Burns BBC Education reporter

5 October 2016

Young women should model themselves on Shakespeare's heroines instead of reality stars like Kim Kardashian West, says a leading head teacher. Jane Lunnon, head of Wimbledon High School, wants girls to focus on characters like Cleopatra, "who wield power and influence in a man's world". She has launched a project to encourage pupils to imagine Shakespeare's heroines in contemporary surroundings. "Cleopatra shows that you can be both flawed and brilliant," said Mrs Lunnon.

The project stemmed from a poll of pupils at the girls' school in south-west London which showed that a significant number regarded Kim Kardashian West and pop star Taylor Swift as role models. "I just thought there is something concerning about this," said Mrs Lunnon, speaking at the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference which represents top private school leaders.

Mrs Lunnon pointed out parallels between the reality star and Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt and lover of Julius Caesar and, later, of Mark Antony. "The thing about Cleopatra is it's... about image and how she sells the myth of Cleopatra. Kim Kardashian is selling the myth about Kim Kardashian." But the crucial difference is in Cleopatra's additional ability to embody power as the Queen of Egypt, added Mrs Lunnon. "She remains this incredible, strong icon, beyond her love for a man." Mrs Lunnon acknowledged that fans of Kim Kardashian West argue that she is a "fantastic businesswoman" who has made the most of her assets. "It's not so much that she's a role model but I worry if she is the dominant role model out there," she said.

She said she was also concerned that the TV personality trades on an image of airbrushed perfection. By contrast, Shakespeare's description of Cleopatra is of someone whose beauty is flawed, Mrs Lunnon pointed out. The young women in Shakespeare's comedies, "who face adversity with vim and vigour", should be another source of inspiration, she added.

In particular, she mentioned:

  the strong and cynical Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, who rails against the unequal status of women

  the exiled Rosalind in As You Like It, admired for her intelligence and quick wit as well as her beauty

  and the resourceful Viola in Twelfth Night who survives a shipwreck and disguises herself as a man to find work.

Mrs Lunnon said: "Look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola, the capacity in challenge and dilemma and pain, to love, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient - they embody it so vividly, and that is a really powerful message. It's not that terrible things happen to them, it's how they respond."

Mrs Lunnon said the pilot scheme was "still in the foothills" - but ultimately she would like to extend it in partnership with state schools. "As an English teacher I'm very used to using Shakespeare as a great source for intellectual stimulation and exploration - but really probing and using Shakespeare as a pastoral educational tool I thought was really interesting and, in particular, Shakespeare's characters as role models."

Jacqui O'Hanlon, director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company, told the conference: "You don't have to work very hard to get young people to engage with the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare's work. As soon as you start putting them in the shoes of the characters and getting them to speak the text and think about the dilemmas those characters are in, they are automatically making reference to their own lives."

[There’s so much wrong with celebrity culture I hardly know where to start. Our role models should be people – even fictional of fictionalised people – with substance who we can admire and look up to. They certainly don’t need to be perfect (and neither do we) they just need to be all too human, just like the rest of us. What many forget is that the image of celebrities is as ‘airbrushed’ as their photographs. Most of what you see is designed that way – it’s not real – as the ultimate soap opera. Too many people take their goings on as somehow real (or even hyper-real) and try to live up to it inevitably failing in the process. More often than not I think that’s actually the point. Give people an impossible role model to live up to and then vilify them when they inevitably fail. It appears to be a very effective control mechanism, don’t you think?]

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Just Finished Reading: Turbulence by Giles Foden (FP: 2009)

England, Early 1944. As the long expected invasion of the European continent gets ever closer and the number of troops steadily increases all over the South of the country the only question on everyone’s lips is: When will it happen? The men and machines are almost ready, ships are full to bursting with the tools of death and across hundreds of airfields the bombers, fighters, transport planes and gliders are eager to be off. Everything is planned down to the minute except for one vital thing outside the control of even the most powerful men in the combined forces poised to leap across the narrow confines of the English Channel – the weather. For the landings to be successful the Allies need 5 days of relatively calm weather, a full Moon and a low tide at dawn. There are a few days scattered throughout June 1944 but which one offers the most favourable conditions? The best forecasters in the world have only been able to predict up to a maximum of 3 days ahead with increasing levels of uncertainty. This is simply not good enough to hinge the biggest amphibious assault in history on. A failed invasion now could delay the final outcome of the war by a year or more and who knows what effects that could have. The weather men simply need to do better – but they don’t have the tools to do so. One man however does – Wallace Ryman, developer of the Ryman Number denoting the amount of turbulence in a system. But Ryman has turned his back on the science of Meteorology in favour of Peace Studies and, as a Quaker, has refused to divulge details of how to use his insights into weather system for military purposes. Young maths prodigy Henry Meadows is sent to Scotland to try and persuade Ryman to teach him how to use the Ryman Number to ensure a successful invasion of Europe which will shorten the war and save thousands of lives. After months of trying everything he can to gain the education he needs tragedy ensues and Meadows is left to piece together what he can before D-Day goes ahead with or without an accurate weather report.

I honestly never really gave weather forecasting a second thought where military matters are concerned. I know (generally) that the weather in the Channel early in June was an important factor in determining D-Day but didn’t realise just how much effort was being put into such a leap into the comparative unknown and how much the invasion was pushing the science. Obviously based on real events (with several of the characters being real historical people) this was often a fascinating read and I picked up quite a bit of knowledge regarding turbulence and how maths could be used to make sense of it (used in both weather and financial market forecasting). Many things piqued my interest and, rather inevitably, I shall be investigating this later in non-fiction. While the main story was interesting enough I did find some of the side stories rather irritating. The main character grew up in Africa so we were regaled by multiple reminiscences which, whilst moderately interesting in themselves, didn’t do much for the story and too often felt like padding. Even worse was the romantic confusion between Meadows and Ryman’s young wife which seemed completely pointless. Despite all that the core story was very interesting indeed and made me look at the preparation for the D-Day landings in a subtlety new way which I always enjoy. Definitely recommended for science Geeks and those interested in off-the-wall aspects of WW2.