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

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bad Wookie....!

No Need to Thank Us……..

UK trade deficit widens in September, official figures show.

The UK trade deficit widened to £5.2bn in September from £3.8bn in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Exports decreased by £0.2bn, while imports increased by £1.2bn. The widening between imports and exports was in part driven by a record £8.7bn deficit with the European Union. Although the pound fell sharply after the Brexit vote, the ONS said there was little direct evidence so far of currency effects on trade. After June's referendum, the pound fell more than 10% against the dollar and the euro, hitting a 31-year low against the dollar, and lost further ground in October to hit its weakest-ever level against a basket of major currencies. However, ONS statistician Hannah Finselbach said: "So far there is little evidence in the data of the lower pound feeding through into trade volume or prices." Between the April-to-June and July-to-September quarters, the total trade deficit for goods and services narrowed by £1.6bn to £11bn. There was a £4.5bn increase in goods exports and a £3.1bn increase in goods imports between the second and third quarters, partially offset by a £0.1bn decrease in services exports and a £0.3bn decrease in services imports. Some manufacturers reported a jump in foreign demand after the pound's fall, but it can take time for this to show up in trade data. In the three months to September, Britain's economy slowed much less than most economists had expected, with signs that it was supported by continued robust consumer spending.

UK construction weakest in four years, ONS says.

The UK's construction sector recorded its weakest performance in four years in the July-to-September quarter, official figures have shown. Construction volumes fell by 1.1% in the quarter, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. There were large falls in repair work, and these were only partly offset by small rises in infrastructure and public building. The figures measure the first three months following the Brexit vote. The value of all repair and maintenance was 3.6% lower than in the second quarter of the year, which was partially offset by an increase in all new work of 0.3%, said the ONS. Further evidence of a slowdown in the construction industry came from building materials and insulation firm SIG on Friday, as it issued a profit warning and said its chief executive was stepping down. The company said: "Following a slowing of activity around the time of the EU referendum, trading conditions in the UK have continued to soften and competition in the market has intensified." SIG also said that some commercial projects had been delayed.

Brexit: Ed Miliband rejects calls for second referendum.

The former Labour leader told ITV's Peston on Sunday June's Leave vote must be respected and there was "no question" of the UK staying put. Some Labour and Lib Dem MPs have said they will oppose starting formal Brexit talks unless ministers promise a subsequent vote on the eventual deal. Mr Miliband also called for curbs on freedom of movement rules in the UK. The government is appealing against a High Court ruling which stated that it must seek the consent of Parliament before it triggers Article 50 - the mechanism by which member states leave the EU. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will not seek to "frustrate" the Article 50 process but several of his MPs have said they will oppose it if a vote is held in the House of Commons early next year. While supporting calls for a parliamentary vote on Article 50, Mr Miliband said he did not agree with MPs threatening to withhold their support unless certain conditions were met. Despite sympathising with the 48% of Remain voters who felt "angry and frustrated" by the outcome, he said the result could not be overturned. "We had a referendum and we've got to respect the result. We are leaving the EU." Mr Miliband said his focus was on getting the government to reveal more details about its plans and that a parliamentary vote was the best way to do that.

UK inflation rate falls to 0.9% in October.

The UK inflation rate registered a surprise fall in October, although there were signs that the pressure on consumer prices is starting to build. Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation fell to 0.9%, from 1% in September, the Office for National Statistics said. That was below the 1.1% predicted by economists, who said sterling's fall would push October's CPI higher. However, the ONS said factory gate prices and the costs of raw materials rose much faster in October. The price of goods leaving factories rose by 2.1%, faster than expected and the biggest increase since April 2012. And costs faced by producers for raw materials and oil showed a record monthly jump in October, up by 4.6%. "After initially pushing up the prices of raw materials, the recent fall in the value of the pound is now starting to boost the price of goods leaving factories as well," ONS statistician Mike Prestwood said. "However, aside from fuel, there is no clear evidence that these pressures have so far fed through to the prices in shops," he said. The cost of clothing and university tuition fees rose more slowly than in 2015, however, helping to keep inflation in check. The ONS said certain games and toys, overnight hotel stays and non-alcoholic beverages fell in price. But there is an expectation among economists that inflation is set to rise, fuelled by the fall in the value of sterling since the Brexit referendum in June, which has pushed up the cost of imports. On Tuesday, Bank of England governor Mark Carney told the Treasury Committee that "the thinking now is that inflation is going to go above target... We see more inflation coming through in 2017-18, and then a tail in 2019." Inflation has been below the Bank's 2% target for nearly three years. Last year it was zero, the lowest since comparable records began in 1950.

Downing Street dismisses Brexit 'divisions' memo.

Downing Street has "wholeheartedly" rejected comments in a memorandum leaked to the press describing cabinet "divisions" over Brexit. The document, compiled by consultancy firm Deloitte and obtained by the Times newspaper, says Whitehall is working on 500 Brexit-related projects and could need 30,000 extra staff. But the prime minister's spokeswoman said the work had been "unsolicited". And Deloitte said there had been no "access" to Number 10 for the report. No "input from any other government departments" had been received, the company added. The government said the leaked memo - entitled "Brexit Update" of 7 November - had been written by a consultant and was not a Cabinet Office document, as reported in earlier versions of this story. The prime minister's spokeswoman added that someone from the accountancy firm Deloitte had produced it and "the individual is not working for the Cabinet Office on this". The person had never been inside 10 Downing Street and had not engaged with officials since Theresa May had become prime minister, the spokeswoman said. The document identifies cabinet splits between Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox on one side, and Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark on the other.

All details above from BBC News website.

[As we edge ever closer to Article 50 Day – or as I like to call it ‘Lemming Day’ – we are beginning to hear calls for greater political honesty from the Brexit crowd as to what exactly is going to happen once we officially start the leave process. Well, it’s a bit late now! If both sides of the debate/argument had been more honest with the British public then maybe we wouldn’t be heading to what I’m confident will be a clusterfuck.]

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Foreign language Oscar nominees decry 'climate of fanaticism in US'

From The Guardian

25th Feb 2017

The six directors in the running for this year’s foreign language Oscar have issued a joint statement blaming “leading politicians” for the fear they feel is creating “divisive walls”. The statement, which was issued on Friday, comes ahead of Sunday’s Academy Awards, which are tipped to be the most political in recent memory, with winners and presenters expected to speak out against the new US administration.

In their letter, the six condemn “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians”. The statement is signed by Asghar Farhadi, the director of Iran’s The Salesman, Martin Zandvliet, director of Denmark’s Land of Mine, Hannes Holm, director of Sweden’s A Man Called Ove, Maren Ade, director of Germany’s Toni Erdmann and Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, joint directors of Australia’s Tanna.

The Complete Statement:

On behalf of all nominees, we would like to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.

The fear generated by dividing us into genders, colours, religions and sexualities as a means to justify violence destroys the things that we depend on – not only as artists but as humans: the diversity of cultures, the chance to be enriched by something seemingly “foreign” and the belief that human encounters can change us for the better. These divisive walls prevent people from experiencing something simple but fundamental: from discovering that we are all not so different.

So we’ve asked ourselves: What can cinema do? Although we don`t want to overestimate the power of movies, we do believe that no other medium can offer such deep insight into other people’s circumstances and transform feelings of unfamiliarity into curiosity, empathy and compassion – even for those we have been told are our enemies.

Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best colour. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.

Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist – for everybody. For this reason, we dedicate this award to all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity – values whose protection is now more important than ever. By dedicating the Oscar to them, we wish to express to them our deep respect and solidarity.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Free State of Jones – A True Story of Defiance during the American Civil War by Victoria E Bynum (FP: 2001)

I suppose that it’s natural to assume that in a war between two groups that the members of Group ‘A’ generally support (or at least do not oppose) objective ‘A’ whilst those of Group ‘B’ likewise support objective ‘B’. I guess that such a supposition is normally based on a mixture of expectation, laziness and propaganda from both groups. Dissent within the ranks being seen, with some justification, as a sign of weakness. So it is all the more interesting to come across a rebellion operating within another rebellion and a reasonably well documented one at that.

Now I would be the last person to say that I was particularly knowledgeable about the American Civil War. Frankly most of my ‘knowledge’ comes from TV, Movies and novels of the period. Before the 2016 movie starring Matthew McConaughey came out I had no idea that such a double rebellion had happened or was even possible. The story itself seems to be hugely controversial, not least of all in the State of Mississippi itself. The double-rebels, which included a number of Confederate deserters, runaway slaves and those who simply refused to fight to maintain a deeply unfair system or rich slave owners and poor yeomanry, not only managed to survive deep in the Confederacy despite armed units being used against them but almost managed to hold territory, defeat or seriously embarrass Confederate soldiers and even petition for aid from Union forces with whom they were in periodic contact. The political and social fallout of this act of defiance extended long after the war had been lost by the South and well into the age of Segregation. For not only where the rebel leaders defying the power of the Confederate State but also the increasingly harsh laws and conventions against racial mixing. With attitudes prevailing that a single drop of Black blood (however that was defined) was enough to ‘taint’ a white person who henceforth should be regarded as Black no matter their physical appearance it was no surprise that the ‘rebels’ choice to often live openly in mixed race communities shocked and deeply divided families and territories.

As a descendent of a family on the edges of the rebellion the author had some stated interest in the story of the Free State. But knowing that she had ‘skin in the game’ was a necessary disclosure and helped distance her from the often heated debate surrounding the events of late 1863 to mid-1864. Both sides of the argument used whatever methods they could, or could get away with, to justify their standpoint. The heady mixture of race, gender and class politics, to say nothing of strongly held beliefs about the South and its place in American history, needed to be handled with some delicacy lest it spiral out of control into accusation and counter accusation. The author, I thought, continually teased out the middle ground (what was actually likely to have happened minus the patina of propaganda) to both plot the economic and social reasons for the inner rebellion happening at that particular time in that particular place involving those particular people as well as the messy outcomes post defeat and reconstruction. I did think that she was a little heavy on the decades before the events but, with hindsight, I can see why she did it. I did learn quite a bit of post-revolutionary American history that I was completely unaware of but honestly quite a bit of it went completely over my head. That could have been due to my level of ignorance plus the fact that I suspect that the author was intending her audience to already have at least some familiarity with the subject which was absent in my case. Overall though this was an interesting investigation of an inner rebellion that had probably passed most of us by. Recommended.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Rule of Law.

Brexit: Theresa May insists government 'getting on with it'.

Theresa May has insisted the government is "getting on" with Brexit, following a High Court ruling that Parliament must vote on when the formal process of leaving the EU can get under way. The prime minister urged MPs and peers to "remember" the referendum result. UKIP leader Nigel Farage warned of protests on the streets if the decision in favour of Brexit was ignored. But the campaigner who brought the High Court case said it would stop ministers acting like a "tin-pot dictatorship". Judges ruled on Thursday that Parliament should vote on when the government could trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Mrs May has promised to get this done by the end of next March. The government argues ministers already have the powers - under the Royal Prerogative - to trigger Article 50 without MPs and peers having a vote. It has vowed to fight to get the ruling overturned next month in the Supreme Court.

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Gina Miller, the investment manager who was the lead claimant in the High Court case against the government, said: "Everyone in this country should be my biggest fan, because we have used our own money to create certainty about the way ahead." She added: "Do we want a country where we have no process? The case is that [Mrs May] cannot use something called the Royal Prerogative to do it because we do not live in a tin-pot dictatorship," Ms Miller said. But Mr Farage said the court's decision meant the country was faced with "half Brexit", adding that the "reach of the European Union into the upper echelons of this country makes it quite difficult for us to trust the judgement". He warned: "If the people of this country think that they're going to be cheated, they're going to be betrayed, then we will see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed." Asked if there was a danger of disturbances in the street, he replied: "Yes, I think that's right." Mr Farage said: "The temperature of this is very, very high. I'm going to say to everyone who was on the Brexit side, 'Let's try and get even. Let's have peaceful protests and let's make sure, in any form of election, we don't support people who want to overturn this process.'" The row has escalated in recent days, with several newspapers being highly critical of the judges who made the decision, the Daily Mail branding them "Enemies of the people".

Walkers and Birds Eye set to raise prices as pound weakens.

Walkers and Birds Eye are set to raise the prices of some items due to the falling strength of the pound. The pound has fallen 18% against the US dollar since June's UK Brexit vote. Walkers, owned by US giant PepsiCo, says "the weakened value of the pound" is affecting the import cost of some of its materials. Birds Eye, owned by New York-listed Nomad Foods, says its products are priced in dollars, so the pound's fall means sterling costs have risen. Walkers and Birds Eye want to increase the price they charge retailers for their products, but it will be up to the supermarkets whether or not to pass these onto consumers. Last month, food giant Unilever raised the wholesale price of many household products after falls in the value of sterling increased the cost of products made outside the UK. Walkers said it was making "selective cost price changes across our portfolio", including raising the price of standard and grab bag products. It said the move was part of ongoing reviews of its price and promotion schemes. The firm said in a statement that "fluctuating foreign exchange rates" were among the factors involved. A Walkers spokesman told the Press Association that a 32g standard bag was set to increase from 50p to 55p, and the larger grab bag from 75p to 80p. "Since we do not set the retail price of our products, it will be for individual retailers to determine the impact on the price at which they sell our products," they said. The firm added that while its potatoes were British, it imported a number of different ingredients and materials to produce a finished packet of Walkers crisps. These items include seasonings, oil for frying and key raw materials used in its packaging film.

EU puts UK-Nissan deal under scrutiny.

The European Commission says it is in contact with UK authorities after Japan's Nissan said it had been given "support and assurances" over Brexit. Nissan's commitment to its Sunderland car plant, the UK's biggest, had been in doubt following the EU referendum. But after government pledges, Nissan is to build two key models in the UK. "We have seen the press reports regarding Nissan and as a result the Commission... is in contact with the UK authorities," a spokesman said. UK Business Secretary Greg Clark has said Nissan was told that the government would seek tariff-free access to EU markets for the car industry. However, the agreement has raised fears that the government might have breached EU rules preventing unfair state aid to companies. The Commission spokesman said: "The UK authorities have not notified any support to Nissan for assessment under our state aid rules and we've therefore not taken any formal view of this matter." Depending on the terms of the UK's exit from the EU, Britain may well no longer be bound by EU state aid rules following Brexit. But as long as it remains a member, the UK would not be able to favour particular companies. Mr Clark has insisted that that there was "no cheque book" involved in the assurances given to Nissan.

UK public finances to be '£25bn worse off' by 2020.

The prospects for the UK's public finances have deteriorated by £25bn since the March Budget, an influential think tank has warned. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said weak growth would lead to lower-than-expected tax receipts, increasing borrowing by £25bn by 2019-20. The weaker prospects for the economy would result in a "significant increase in the deficit", it said. Its forecasts come ahead of the Autumn Statement on 23 November. The event will mark Philip Hammond's first significant test since he became chancellor. "The new chancellor's first fiscal event will not be easy," said IFS research economist Thomas Pope. "Growth forecasts are almost sure to be cut, leading to a significant increase in the deficit even if all the very challenging spending cuts currently planned are in fact delivered." Several groups have reduced their UK growth forecasts and raised their inflation forecasts since the EU referendum. Last month, the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for 2017 UK economic growth to 1.1% as it warned that the global recovery remains "weak and precarious". International body the OECD also cut its forecast for next year from 2% to 1%, saying: "Uncertainty about the future path of policy and the reaction of the economy remains very high and risks remain to the downside." Last week, the Bank of England upgraded its growth forecasts for this year and next, but cut expectations for 2018 to 1.5% from 1.8%.

All details above from BBC News website.

[So now the House of Lords are debating the Great Brexit Bill – under the ever steely watch of the PM and with the warning of not standing in the way of ‘the Will of the People’ ringing in their ears. Because as we all know, in a DEMOCRACY, once a decision has been made by a small majority that means that everyone else needs to shut the fuck up and march in step until told otherwise. You can’t question the decision, you can’t ask any other questions and you definitely can’t point out any problems, pitfalls, mistakes or false assumptions. No Sir, blindfolds on and quick march to the brink!]

Sweden's response to the fake news terrorist attack on Friday................

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Should you take your phone to the United States?

By Rory Cellan-Jones

Technology correspondent for BBC News

17th Feb 2017

"The next time you plan to cross a border, leave your phone at home." That is the rather startling advice in a blogpost that is being widely shared right now. Its author, Quincy Larson, is a software engineer, who has previously written about the importance of protecting personal data. He now fears that data could be at risk every time you cross a border. His concerns were sparked by the story of Sidd Bikkannavar, an American-born Nasa engineer, who flew home from a trip to Chile last month. On arrival in Houston, he was detained by the border police and, by his own account, put under great pressure to hand over the passcode to his smartphone, despite the fact that the device had been issued to him by Nasa. Eventually, Bikkannavar did hand over both the phone and the passcode. It was taken away for 30 minutes and then returned, and he was free to go. Larson sees this as a very dangerous precedent: "What we're seeing now is that anyone can be grabbed on their way through customs and forced to hand over the full contents of their digital life." We also know that the new homeland security secretary, John Kelly, has talked of requiring visa applicants to hand over passwords to their social media accounts - though whether that could apply at the border too is not clear.

And on Thursday, a new Republican congressman took to Twitter to announce proudly that he had introduced his first bill - to require the review of visa applicants' social media. Larson predicts that a policy where travellers are asked to download the contents of their phones will soon become commonplace, not just in the United States but around the world. Hence his advice to leave your mobile phone and laptop at home and rent devices when you get to your destination. Which seems a little extreme. I can't imagine being separated from my smartphone on a flight - and I'm sure many others feel the same. So I decided to seek some advice from the UK Foreign Office and the US embassy in London. Was there a danger that I would be forced by border officials to unlock my phone or hand over my social media passwords?

The Foreign Office told me their travel advice did not cover this subject because they had not received any calls about it. But they did suggest that if I happened to be trapped in immigration at JFK airport with a border agent demanding my passcode, I could call the British embassy and arrange a lawyer. As for the American embassy, well I called before lunchtime on Thursday and got a perfectly pleasant response. They would need to speak to Washington and would get back to me later about the matter of my smartphone and my Facebook and Twitter accounts. As I write, it's Friday morning and I've heard nothing. Perhaps Washington has other matters on its mind. So perhaps I'd better take what I believe is known as a "burner" phone the next time I fly across the Atlantic.

[Ok, can anyone say ‘Police State’? It would seem the so-called ‘security’ issues trump (get it!) privacy ones. Isn’t this kind of thing covered by the 4th Amendment BTW – not exactly being an expert on US Constitutional Law? Maybe Rory is right and ‘burners’ are the way to go? I see a business opportunity there. Or I could just decide never to visit the US, never to cross a border, never own a cell phone and definitely never have any Social Media accounts! Maybe being a LUDDITE is the best way to oppose Governments in the future. They can’t hack what you haven’t got!!]

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (FP: 2009)

Jackson, Mississippi – 1962. ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (played by Emma Stone in the 2011 movie adaptation) is back home from college and is very confused. Her favourite maid, who helped bring her up and who became a friend has gone, vanished from her family home, and no one will tell her what happened. Increasingly at a loose end and looking for something to do – anything other than husband hunt as her mother suggests – she gets a job in the local paper writing a home help column. Unfortunately Skeeter knows practically nothing about cooking, cleaning or any other domestic chore. Desperate to fulfil her first assignment she turns to her school friend’s maid Aibileen (played by Viola Davis) to help. Reluctant at first Aibileen starts to find that her time with Skeeter starts to become more than another chore. Slowly the two women from radically different backgrounds become friends. So when old school friend Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) devises a ‘health’ campaign to prevent the Help using the same bathrooms as their white employers it’s more than just something to disagree upon – it’s personal. But what can Skeeter do to combat her socially powerful friend? Looking for a way to undermine what she sees as both hypocritical and deeply wrong Skeeter decides to write a book from the Helps point of view – both the good and bad about black servants bringing up white children in a deeply divided and segregated society. But even Skeeter has no idea just how powerful and dangerous her book will be and just how much it will change everyone involved in the project and everyone in Jackson who reads it.

This was a totally random purchase some years ago in my local supermarket. I still don’t know exactly why I bought it (not having seen the movie) except that it was demonstratively different and most definitely not my usual read. So it languished in one of my book piles until I decided to read 10 books made into movies. I’m glad I did. It was, at least to begin with, a slow read. I’m not exactly familiar with the period or the place – only having a vague notion of life in those times and in the South picked up from the odd movie or in passing from a documentary or book – so I found myself concentrating more than normal on everything that was going on. Once I had enough of the background under my belt and felt safe enough to ‘walk around Jackson’ on my own things got a bit faster and the pages flew by. This was an excellent, if at times uncomfortable, read full of interesting (and occasionally deeply annoying) characters. I think, from the blurb at the back of the book, that Skeeter was largely based on the author but that was no bad thing for a first novel. The sense of place is really palpable and the different voices throughout the book help to give some very different perspectives on life in early 60’s Mississippi. Between the drama, and there’s plenty of that, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments and I found myself chuckling through a fair bit of it. But it had a strong central message too – about common humanity and friendship across the race barrier. I liked young Skeeter a lot and I think you will too. Highly recommended.    

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meanwhile in Cloud Cuckoo Land….

Robot tractors 'could help solve post-Brexit farm worker shortage'.

Driverless vehicles could help farmers avoid labour shortages after Brexit, an expert in agricultural technology has said. Professor Simon Blackmore said that the machines could "replace significant numbers" of seasonal workers. He said farmers "don't need to have a PhD" to work with the "highly automated" robots. His comments came after an NFU survey found 66% of growers expected fewer workers to be available by 2018. Prof Blackmore, head of engineering at Harper Adams University, told the House of Lords' Science and Technology Select Committee that new technology had the potential to be "very disruptive" to the agriculture industry. Prof Blackmore said: "Farmers dealing with high value crops right now are using seasonal labour, and with the advent of Brexit and possible limitations on seasonal labour, a lot of the farmers I'm speaking to are very, very nervous. There is this opportunity... to be able to replace significant numbers of seasonal workers with highly automated machines." Prof Blackmore added that technological changes would mean farmers would have to learn new skills, saying: "We do need to up-skill the current tractor drivers to become robot operators."

Inflation 'set to soar to 4% by late 2017'.

UK inflation will quadruple to about 4% in the second half of next year and cut disposable income, a leading think tank has forecast. The rise in prices will "accelerate rapidly" during 2017 as the fall in sterling is passed on to consumers, according to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The revised figure is sharply higher than the 3% it forecast in August. The economy also faces "significant risks" that could restrict growth. "Households have really got a choice. Do they spend less or do they start saving less?" Dr Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomics at NIESR, told the BBC's Today programme. He said given the savings ratio was at its lowest level since 2008, "the most likely scenario is that they spend much less, hence the weaker [growth] forecast for next year." Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rose to 1% in September, up from 0.6% in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said last month. That was the highest rate for nearly two years as the cost of clothes, petrol and hotel rooms increased.

Pound jumps in wake of Brexit ruling.

Sterling has risen sharply following the High Court ruling on Article 50, while the FTSE 100 has fallen back. The court ruling has "made triggering Brexit a lot trickier and has given sterling a massive shot in the arm", said Neil Wilson at ETX Capital. At the close of London trade, the pound was up 1.1% at $1.2438, but the FTSE 100 fell 0.8% to 6,790.5 points. Sterling was also bolstered after the Bank of England predicted higher growth for this year and 2017. The Bank left interest rates on hold at 0.25% as expected, but also sharply raised its inflation forecast for next year. The pound climbed 1.1% against the euro to €1.1214. Many traders hope that the court ruling will at the least delay the process of leaving the EU or reduce the government's ability to push through a "hard Brexit" that would mean leaving the single market. Downing Street said it was disappointed at the decision and would appeal, with the case expected to be heard by the Supreme Court before the end of the year.

Brexit: Ministers vow to fight Article 50 court ruling.

The government has said it will fight a High Court ruling that could frustrate its timetable for Brexit, claiming that voters want them to "get on with it". Three judges ruled that Parliament, not the government alone, can trigger the formal process of leaving the EU. Brexit Secretary David Davis said 17.4 million Leave voters had given the government "the biggest mandate in history" to leave the EU. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the government's appeal next month. In the landmark ruling, the High Court judges said the government could not trigger the Article 50 process of formally leaving the European Union alone - they must have the approval of Parliament. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg described the ruling as a "massive obstacle" for Prime Minister Theresa May, who says she wants to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. If the government loses in the Supreme Court, it will have to publish some form of new law for MPs - and the House of Lords - to vote on. MPs could then push to set the terms for negotiating withdrawal. The prime minister's spokeswoman said she would be calling President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to say she intended to stick to her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50.

PM urged to calm the backlash against Brexit ruling.

Theresa May has been urged to calm the backlash against the High Court ruling on the process of leaving the EU. The prime minister has been asked by some senior MPs to "make clear" that the independence of the judiciary is a part of British democracy. Conservative MP Dominic Grieve said the criticisms over the High Court judges' decision were "horrifying" and reminded him of "Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe". On Thursday, the court ruled Parliament should vote on triggering Article 50. Three judges found that the government could not start the formal process - the triggering of Article 50 - of leaving the EU by using the royal prerogative alone, and would need the backing of Parliament. That would require publishing legislation to be debated by the Commons and the Lords. Labour said the decision underlined the need for Mrs May to spell out her plans for Brexit to Parliament "without delay". Leader Jeremy Corbyn will say in a speech to trade unionists and activists later that there needs to be more "transparency" around the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The High Court judges behind the decision have been heavily criticised by some Conservative MPs and parts of the media. The Daily Mail claimed they were "Enemies of the people" and the Daily Express said the ruling had marked "the day democracy died". Mr Grieve, the former attorney general, told BBC's Newsnight on Friday: "I was horrified at the newspaper coverage, which reminded me of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe this morning. The judges did exactly what was asked of them. They highlighted that our constitution does not allow you to overturn statute law by decree, which is so well established in this country." Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover defended the newspaper's stance, saying he did not believe the judges would "feel frightened or worried" about the criticism. He said: "You know, they've made a really decisive intervention in the political process, and they must expect some comeback - and that's what they got." But Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, said the criticisms of the High Court ruling by some politicians was "utterly disgraceful". He told the Times newspaper: "All ministers from the prime minister down must now make clear that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to our democracy. You have to respect that even if you think they have got a decision wrong. Some members of Parliament do not appear to understand that this judgement had nothing do with subverting the will of the people."

All details above from BBC News website.

[It’s funny – and I think instructive – just how many threats are being thrown around at the moment especially considering that the major players think that everything’s just about as done a deal as you can get. The Government threated Parliament not the attempt to thwart the ‘will of the people’. The Government then threated the House of Lords likewise and then moved on to threatening the whole of the EU, or at least the rest of them, not to be too harsh on us leaving – or else! When I hear a person or group making threats like that I always wonder what it is they’re hiding (or hiding behind) and exactly why they’re so afraid – most especially when they say they are and appear to be so strong. Mixed messages are always fertile ground for speculation…..]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Classic SF – Must Reads.

Stephen from This Week at the Library recently asked me for a list of recommended SF Classics. I read LOTS of this sort of stuff in my youth (which is why you don’t see much of it reviewed here) so should be able to provide a pretty good list. So (in no particular order) here it is:

1984 – George Orwell
Dune – Frank Herbert
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
Inverted World – Christopher Priest
City – Clifford Simak
Deathworld One – Harry Harrison
Why call them back from Heaven? – Clifford Simak
The Day After Tomorrow – Robert Heinlein
One Step From Earth – Harry Harrison
The Dragon in the Sea – Frank Herbert
Night Walk – Bob Shaw
Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke
The City and the Stars – Arthur C Clarke
Beyond this Horizon – Robert Heinlein
The Martian Way – Isaac Asimov
A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C Clarke
Tau Zero – Poul Anderson
The Eyes of Heisenberg – Frank Herbert
Slan – A E Van Vogt
The Sands of Mars – Arthur C Clarke
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C Clarke
The Gods Themselves – Isaac Asimov
Flow my tears, the Policeman said – Philip K Dick
War with the Robots – Harry Harrison
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Ringworld - Larry Niven
Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
A Scent of New Mown Hay – John Blackburn
A Martian Odyssey – Stanley G Weinbaum
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
The War of the Worlds – H G Wells
The Man who Awoke – Laurence Manning
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick
The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert
The Time Machine – H G Wells
The First Men in the Moon – H G Wells
To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Non-Stop – Brian Aldiss
We Can Build You – Philip K Dick
Tactics of Mistake – Gordon R Dickson
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
Hothouse – Brian Aldiss
Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
The Death of Grass – John Christopher
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
A Case of Conscience – James Blish
The Lovers – Philip Jose Farmer
The Dispossessed – Ursula K LeGuin
The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham
Make Room, Make Room! – Harry Harrison

A fairly long list, but hardly an exhaustive one I’m afraid. There’s probably a ton of books I’ve left off the list for a whole host of reasons but this should give anyone new (or reasonably new) to the genre a good idea of where to start.

Cartoon Time.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The unthinking may view America's conscientious adherence to the principles of a free society as an altruism so scrupulous that self-destruction must result. Yet our principles are engraved in the history and the law of the land. If the free world is not faithful to its own moral code, there remains no society for which others may hunger."

James B. Donovan, 1964. 

Tesco cuts women's razor prices to end ‘sexist pricing’

From The BBC

2nd Jan 2017

Supermarket chain Tesco has cut the price of women's disposable razors to match that of a similar product for men. The move is a victory for campaigners who demanded an end to what they saw as sexist pricing on the high street. Last year campaigners highlighted the higher price of many toiletries marketed at women compared to the lower price of similar goods for men. All of the big four supermarkets were criticised.

In a letter to the Labour MP Paula Sherriff, Tesco said: "Following an internal review and discussions with our suppliers, we have acted on concerns about the difference in price of our female and male disposable twin-blade razors". Tesco said the previous price disparity was driven by the fact that men's razors were produced and sold in significantly higher volumes, which reduced the price it paid for them. A Tesco spokesman told the BBC: "We are guided by doing what is right for our customers and by our commitment to offering clear, competitive and transparent pricing".

A newspaper investigation last year claimed women and girls were charged, on average, 37% more for clothes, beauty products and toys. Research by the Fawcett Society in July 2016 looked at a basket of supermarket own-brand products including triple-blade disposable razors, shaving cream, spray-on antiperspirant deodorant and body spray. The Society said the "sexist pricing" for products varied widely, ranging from 22% more in Asda to 56% more in Morrisons.

Last year, Boots reduced the price of "feminine" razors to bring them in line with male equivalents. MP Paula Sherriff said on Twitter that campaigners were "chipping away at gender pricing bit by bit" and warned other stores they needed to act as well. "Watch out retailers, I'm onto you!" she tweeted.

[Little steps and all that. OK, microscopic steps but still, it’s something I suppose. Even I have noticed that women generally pay more for ‘female’ products than men do for theirs without any obvious reason. Don’t get me started on the prices women pay for haircuts! What surprises me more is that most women seem to shrug their shoulders and are unconcerned at the fact that they are being ripped off on a daily basis. Equal prices for equal products I say!]

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Puppy Love...........

Just Finished Reading: Belle – The True Story of Dido Belle by Paula Byrne (FP: 2014)

Without a doubt Dido Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the 2013 movie) lived a very strange life – indeed and incredibly lucky one too. Born in the second half of the 18th century in England she grew into a seemingly confident, well educated, financially secure woman who was, at least on occasion, the talk of the country’s social elite. Not too surprising you might think – until you discover that not only was Belle black but was actually the illegitimate daughter of a liaison between a decorated ship’s captain and a captured slave. Technically, and legally, Belle herself was born a slave and yet managed to avoid everything that went along with that most cruel of positions. Her father, Sir John Lindsay, had other ideas for his daughter. Not only did he officially recognise her (an untypical reaction in itself) he left her in the hands of a wealthy and positioned relative – Lord Mansfield, later Lord Chief Justice of England. Probably originally conceived as a companion for their adopted niece (the Mansfield’s were childless) Dido Belle became a part of the family and received an education similar to the most educated women in the land. Mansfield’s enemies (of whom he had many) thought him bewitched by this dark beauty – for beautiful she turned out – but he seems to have given such mutterings little thought and dotted on both of his young wards. Yet these were turbulent times – especially as slavery was still very much a reality for millions of men, women and children not as lucky in their fates as Dido Belle. Her story was, in a very real way, the mirror image of their story.

I bought two copies of this book when it came out in paperback. One for me (naturally) and one for my friend who had seen the movie not long before (something I am yet to do). After reading it she pronounced her disappointment with it that, until now, had put me off reading further. Firstly I must say that I can see why she found this book so unsatisfying. Although it purports to be the true story of Belle herself it really is nothing of the sort. What it does read like is a research project that started with the best of intentions but then, because of lack of documentary evidence, crashed and burned – but the author wrote the book anyway! Yet that is not to say that the resultant volume is bad or in any way poorly written – it isn’t. But the book is not about an individual who, through an accidental act of fate got incredibly lucky. The story the book tells is actually rather more interesting than that. The story it tells is one of the darkest periods in human history when, purely for the pursuit of profit, human beings were trafficked from one side of the Atlantic to the other and sold into slavery – by the million. Casting her light on the institution itself and those responsible for it – and those increasingly opposed to it – the author tries (with some limited success) to illuminate Belle’s life with reflected light rather than direct visualisation. The documentary evidence is thin indeed and much of the book is informed speculation rather than hard fact. Indeed the author says that the film goes well beyond her educated speculation into the grey area between complete fabrication (I am exaggerating somewhat here) and artistic licence.

As a biography, despite being billed as such, it is a failure. But as a history of the beginnings of the global abolition of the slave trade it gives an interesting insight into the culture and thought patterns of both the pro and anti-slavery camps. Much more on this subject to come. Reasonable.