About Me

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Not quite this hot - Yet.

Lost in Transition………..?

MPs hear call for five-year transitional Brexit deal.

The head of the London Stock Exchange (LSE) has told MPs that the UK government should negotiate a five-year transitional Brexit deal. Xavier Rolet told the Treasury Select Committee this was needed to protect the UK's financial industry. He agreed that Brexit might see a massive migration of City employment to other EU countries, not just a few tens of thousands of jobs. He said the projected two years of Brexit negotiation was "too short". "What is required to maintain stability is nothing less than a grandfathering of the existing conditions of trade, for a limited period of time," Mr Rolet said. He said this could be achieved by a five-year transitional deal, maintaining existing business arrangements and regulations, starting from the point at which Brexit negotiations were triggered. The committee was hearing evidence about the UK's future economic relationship with the EU. Mr Rolet was speaking alongside Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC, and Elizabeth Corley, vice chair of Allianz Global Investors. The MPs were told of the fears and concerns of the financial services industry if Brexit left it outside the EU's single market and without the ease of trade that comes with it. Mr Rolet was asked what would happen if the outcome of Brexit negotiations was that LSE members could no longer handle financial transactions denominated in euros, such as the huge international trade in derivatives between the world’s banks and other financial institutions, which is centred in London. He warned that many tens of thousands of jobs might move from the UK to elsewhere in the EU, because firms, especially foreign ones, currently based in the UK would wish to continue doing business with the rest of Europe under existing EU rules. "Without a clear path to continued operation of our global businesses our customers simply would not wait," said Mr Rolet. He added: "I'm not just talking about the clearing jobs themselves which number into the few thousands. But the very large array of ancillary functions, whether it's syndication, trading, treasury management, middle office, back office, risk management, software, which range into far more than just a few thousand or tens of thousands of jobs. They would then start migrating."

Carney: Brexit risks now lower.

The immediate risk posed by Brexit to the UK economy has declined, the governor of the Bank of England has told MPs. Mark Carney said that action by the Bank before and after the vote to leave the European Union had reduced the danger to the country's financial stability. He added, however, that the overall level of risk was still "elevated". The risk was greater for continental Europe than for the UK, he said. The governor also told members of the Treasury Select Committee that a period of transition was "highly advisable". "If there is not such a transition put in place, in our view it will have consequences. We will work to mitigate those consequences as much as possible," he said. Mr Carney said that the UK should concentrate on stable access to financial markets after Brexit. The financial services industry could suffer "outsize" consequences from losing only some of its access. He also expressed the belief that it would not only be possible, but desirable for the UK to remain part of the EU mechanisms that make financial rules. He said the EU and the UK were starting from the position of having the same rules. The regulators know each other, he added, and it is a "tightly wound ecosystem".

UK exports 'show signs' of pound boost.

Evidence is emerging that the sharp drop in the pound is boosting UK exports, economists say. In November, the volume of goods exported rose at a three-month rate of 1.1%, up from the previous report which showed a 2.7% decline, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Economists say that could be a sign that the fall in value of the pound since June is boosting exports. It could also be behind a rebound in manufacturing output in November. "Signs are appearing... that the weaker pound is benefitting the economy, especially in terms of rising goods exports," said Chris Williamson chief business economist at IHS Markit. "Stronger exports do at least seem to be helping drive manufacturing output higher," he added in a research note. Paul Hollingsworth UK economist at Capital Economics said there were "encouraging signs" that the drop in the pound was "having a positive impact".

Brexit: Minister hints at £1,000 fee for EU workers.

Companies could be charged to hire skilled workers from the European Union after Brexit, Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill has suggested. A £1,000 immigration "skills charge" is being brought in this April for firms recruiting workers from outside the EU. Mr Goodwill told peers a similar levy for EU workers "may be something that has been suggested to us could apply". One business group said the idea had "raised eyebrows" while a top European politician said it was "shocking". But Downing Street said Mr Goodwill's remarks had been "misinterpreted" and such a levy was "not on the government's agenda". The government says the decision to leave the EU will give the UK greater control over its borders but British firms are concerned about their capacity to fill vacancies, particularly for low-paid seasonal work, if there are limits on migration from the EU. Appearing before the Lords EU home affairs sub-committee, Mr Goodwill referred to an annual £1,000 charge on businesses for every skilled worker they employ from outside Europe, which will take effect in two month’s time. The levy, which applies to workers in "skilled areas" but with exemptions for PhD-level posts, is designed to reduce firms' reliance on migrant labour and encourage them to train more local workers. "That's something that currently applies to non-EU," the MP said. "That may be something that's been suggested to us that could apply to EU." Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw said Mr Goodwill had raised the question of the charge himself rather than in response to questioning from MPs, suggesting he wanted to "float the idea". Mr Goodwill also suggested a seasonal scheme to enable agricultural workers, such as fruit pickers, to come to Britain for short periods was a possibility, telling MPs "that's certainly one of the options that could be open to us post-Brexit".

All details above from BBC News website.

[Well, with the election now only weeks away the Brexit News has come to a shuddering halt as politicians argue over who is best served to provide decent pensions, housing and school meals. I’m still somewhat undecided on how I’m going to vote on June 8th. I certainly know who I’m *not* going to vote for but who will get my ‘X’ in their box…. I might just have to decide on the day which isn’t really like me. But there does seem to be quite a few undecideds out there – I heard the figure of 20% mentioned – so things aren’t really as clear cut as the Conservatives or the Polls might be expecting. It’s going to be an interesting and important result. Not only will it determine who is in power for the next 5 years it will also determine exactly what kind of Brexit we get.]

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Girl, 11, accuses school of war crime in feedback form.

From The BBC

26 May 2017

An 11-year-old girl's assertion that her school was guilty of a war crime has gone viral. Her father, Gavin Bell (also known as author Mason Cross), revealed on Twitter that she had gone rogue on a pupil feedback form. She criticised the policy of punishing a whole class for one person's bad behaviour - by citing the Geneva Conventions. "Not sure if I should ground her or buy her ice cream," Mr Bell mused. Asked what her teacher could do better, Ava Bell wrote: "Not use collective punishment as it is not fair on the many people who did nothing and under the 1949 Genva [sic] Conventions it is a war crime." The picture showing the suggestion, handwritten in pencil, has been "liked" more than 400,000 times on Twitter. Mr Bell, who is based in Glasgow, said his eldest child is "11 going on 47". "I should clarify that she thinks her teacher is awesome," he added. "It's just this aspect of the educational justice system she has an issue with."

He told the BBC he came across the form at a parents' evening, where folders of the children's work are displayed for their guardians to read. He said it was entirely characteristic, laughing, "She will never let an argument go at home!" Various fellow parents joked that young Miss Bell was precocious, and this could be just the start for her. "Frightening... i am genuinely sorry for you for all those hard conversations which you will lose..." tweeted Brian Siddhu. One more cynical observer accused writer Mr Bell of making it up. "Meh, no way this actually happened. Shame on you, using your kid for rts [re-tweets]..." wrote tweeter @NagoyaPompey. The father replied: "Dude, if I'd made it up I would have got her to fix the spelling of 'Geneva.'"

He told the BBC his daughter has "just loves looking into things". "She has a Google habit," he explained. "Usually it's along the lines of science and technology. "According to Ava, her teacher thought it was quite amusing!" Faced with the choice between ice cream or punishment, most Twitter users thought the schoolgirl deserved the dessert option. "I'm game to crowdfund her entire year's ice cream needs tbh," offered @PedestrianPoet. Her father's response was more measured. Mr Bell tweeted a picture of his daughter holding two cones of ice-cream, with the words, "The people have spoken".

[Brilliant. If I was her father I’d have bought her the biggest ice cream they had in the shop. I think that Ava has a very bright future ahead of her if she can keep that childlike – you know, because she’s actually a child – love of knowledge and discovery. More strength to her!]

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular."

David Hume, Of the First Principles of Government (1758)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Good idea.... Make mine a cold one!

Just Finished Reading: Pure by Andrew Miller (FP: 2011)

Paris, 1785. Recently graduated engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is in the capital for the first time in his life. After successfully finished a bridge for his patron back in Normandy he has been recommended for great things. Unfortunately patronage does not always work the way those patronised would like. But still it is the offer of a lifetime and a gateway, he hopes, to greater things. For Baratte has been commissioned to clear the greatest crematory in Paris and to make it clean again, usable, pure. Unused for 5 years and polluting the whole of the surrounding district the task, like the cemetery itself, is vast and complex. If he didn’t have problems enough he is sworn to, at least initial, secrecy. There are forces at work within the city, radicals and troublemakers, who would use the clearing as a stick to beat the government and the Monarchy. But what is worse, at least for Baratte is the possibility of failure. With nothing to recommend him except his intelligence and his talent failure could mean a life of poverty or, worse, being forced to return home to work on his brother’s farm. Paris itself, or the denizens thereof, prove to be just as challenging as the task ahead of him. The family he is lodged with prove to be straight-laced, uncommunicative and slightly mad, the cemeteries church organist proves to be a drunk and libertine (but lots of fun and a loyal friend) and a strange women, dressed in red and known locally simply as ‘the Austrian’ proves to be far more than he could have ever bargained for or imagined. No matter how much he plans and how much he hopes it’s going to be one hell of a year for young Jean-Baptiste.

As someone who loves historical novels and has an interest in the French Revolution picking up this book was a bit of a non brainer. Probably the only thing that gave me much pause was that it had won the 2011 Costa Novel Award. Usually, at least in my experience, this means a book loved (apparently) by the critics because it is unusual, difficult or full of smart allusions and references to things you’ve never heard of. Fortunately it was none of that – at all. Instead here we have a novel that was a sheer delight to read from the first page to the last without, as far as I could tell, a single fault: not one. Saying that I was impressed by this book is frankly an understatement. I loved the feel of it, the tone of it and the fabric of it. Everything just felt real. You could smell the fish in the market, you could hear the out of tune piano in the boarding house, you could taste the bland food served there and feel the hangover Baratte suffered when out drinking with the organist Armand. It has a wonderfully rich feeling like eating a very well prepared and exquisitely served meal. I loved the way that some characters appeared and then vanished just like real life – a mystery without a name or a resolution. I loved the way that things worked out as much as those that did not (despite hopes and expectations). I loved the characters – even the ones you felt sorry for, or disliked or even, possibly, hated (at least temporarily). The whole thing felt, I’ll use that word again, real. This was definitely one of those novels that I struggled to come back from when a phone rang that I need to pick up or a visitor arrived that I couldn’t ignore. I almost had to check my shoes for mud (and less savoury things) I might have picked up on the Parisian streets and brought back to the office. Despite all of the obvious problems of living there (from our elevated perspective) I could almost believe that I could walk their alleyways and get to know (and respect) the characters presented to me as friends. The whole thing was, as you can no doubt tell, a heady and very pleasant experience. Definitely one of the books of the year and very highly recommended to anyone desiring a very, very accomplished novel that you’ll not easily forget in a hurry.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Stand Firm – Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze by Svend Brinkmann (FP: 2014/2017)

Of all of the comments directed at me over the years one of those that has stuck with me (apart from the iconic ‘Die you Camping Bitch’) is one spoken to me by my now long ago ex-girlfriend: You’ll never get anywhere with an attitude like that. Meaning, of course, that I didn’t have the mind-set of a corporate drone (you can see why we inevitably broke up). I have always, or at least for as long as I can remember, been sceptical over the torrents of bullshit that rain down on us every day from Governments, Corporations, Advertisers, Schools, TV shows, Movies and especially the Internet. Over the years, indeed decades, I have had a great deal of pressure (and a not inconsiderably amount of flak) directed at me to conform, to dress appropriately, to smarten up, get with the programme, stop slouching and for god sakes smile occasionally! It’s all for my own good (of course) and much good will flow from it: happiness, success, recognition, money and (of course) the ultimate reward – sex.

Most people think that I’m a bit crazy even mentioning stuff like this so it’s good (I mean really good) to finally find an author from a different generation (he’s 41) and a different country (he’s Danish) who thinks pretty much like I do. Indeed for a while there as I consumed this slim volume (a mere 129 pages including Appendix) in record time I couldn’t make up my mind if it had been written for me or by ‘me’. That, naturally, was something of a problem. Agreeing with someone practically 100% is, well, boring. Luckily this book was entertaining enough and just ‘off centre’ enough, to say nothing of funny enough, to keep me interested.

Like me the author has become more than a little irritated at the way our culture (Western Democratic Capitalist) tells us how to behave in all circumstances and that failure to do so means that there’s something ‘wrong’ with us that needs to be ‘fixed’. We are told that life, in all its aspects, is speeding up and that it’s up to each of us to ‘keep up’ no matter what. We are told that we need to be mobile, flexible, and adaptable, always open to new ideas, new experiences, and new ways of doing things. We are told that roots are for losers, that relationships are ultimately disposable (especially if they don’t exclusively meet our needs). We are told that history, even our own personal history, cannot be trusted to guide us in the ever shifting present and the ever approaching and even more mutable future. Above all else we are told to smile, to have confidence and a positive attitude. That such a mind-set can get us over any obstacle and around any problem. Of course, the author says, that’s all arrant nonsense as well as being clearly absurd.

But what can we do, one individual against the whole of our culture, our family, our friends, our fellow workers? How can we possibly resist such a torrent, an avalanche of self-improvement advice? This is, naturally, where things got interesting and (as an interesting aside) validated much of what I had realised growing up in the late 20th Century West. We need, in a nutshell, to stand firm. The first step is to stop the every present naval gazing. The answers you seek are definitely not inside you waiting to come out. The answers you seek are out there in the world waiting for you to get up off your butt and find them. You need to focus on the negative – not constantly thinking about the better world just beyond your grasp but of all the things that could go wrong and all the things you could lose at a moment’s notice so that you value what you have much more than what you might have one day – maybe. You need to practice saying ‘No’ to the millions of offers directed at you every day. Saying yes to everything is impossible and frankly absurd. Saying no to somethings enables you to actually know why you’re saying yes to somethings and no to others. Stop emoting so much. You don’t need to allow your emotions to run (or ruin) your life. With a little effort you can keep them in check without being overwhelmed by the toxic backwash. When you control your emotions they are no longer controlling you and you can move into a calmer centre while all around you people go nuts over trivialities. If you have a ‘life coach’ or personal ‘guru’ ditch them. You don’t need someone else making life and death decisions for you based on the latest fad or best-selling self-help guide. Read a novel (I loved this bit of advice) rather than an autobiography – especially those who triumphed over hardship to become a better person on the other side – or yet another self-help guide. Novels give a much more rounded view of individuals in much more realistic environments than the self-edited ‘reality’ of autobiographies will ever give you. Finally dwell on the past (without the naval gazing) to put your life in some sort of perspective with narrative form and flow. See how things have changed over time. See the continuity deeply embedded in your historical and cultural environment. This will ground you in a way that you can easily shrug off the fad of the moment because you know who you are and where you came from. You’ll have roots deep enough and wide enough not to be battered by the many storms in countless teacups that seemingly upset so many so easily.

Some of you will have bells ringing with some of the above (in admittedly modern form). Even without frequent mention of the more famous practitioners I would have not been surprised that the Appendix at the back of the volume was a potted history of Stoicism. Like me the author is a huge fan of the Stoics although, again like me, he is not uncritical of some of their ideas. They have, we both believe and contend, much to teach us about surviving and thriving in a modern (apparently) fast moving world. Their teachings show us that we don’t have to be the leaves blown wherever the winds of our times take us. We can be the trees and quietly, with dignity, stand firm. Highly recommended – especially to those who find themselves struggling to ‘keep up’.

Translated from the Danish by Tam McTurk.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"A person will suffer more intensely the more he or she is strong and independent. Given the apparent hopelessness of resistance, there is a powerful and continuous incentive for individuals to become less aware of their own feelings, beliefs and needs. Indeed, the only rational solution for an individual may often be to become dead inside, to become alienated from his or her feelings and desires. And it is exactly this internal deadness which has been declared the great sickness of modern man..."

David Edwards, Free to be Human, 1995

Cartoon Time.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Group Hug!

New Orleans purges final Confederate statue.

From The BBC

20th May 2017

Masked city workers in New Orleans have removed the last of four monuments to the pro-slavery rebellion defeated in the US Civil War. The 133-year-old statue depicted General Robert E Lee, the top military leader in the Confederacy, crossing his arms as he faced north towards his old enemy. Critics say monuments to the Confederacy are racially offensive, but supporters say they are important symbols of the city's Southern heritage. The three other statues were all removed at night to limit clashes. The workers on the job were wearing bullet-proof vests as well as masks.

In a statement on Thursday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the condemned statues "were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the 'Cult of the Lost Cause', a movement recognised across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy." Barricades went up overnight around the park where the 16ft (4.8m) statue was perched atop a 60ft column. The cables for a nearby streetcar were also temporarily taken down to allow construction equipment into the park. Before police cleared the area on Thursday, nearly 200 protesters gathered to voice support and opposition to the monument. Demonstrations were mostly peaceful, local media report. The only flashpoint was when a pro-removal protester snatched a Confederate battle flag. One man was arrested for climbing on to the monument's pedestal and refusing to come down. The monument to Lee was erected on 22 February 1884 - nearly 20 years after the Civil War ended. On the day of the unveiling, a crowd of nearly 15,000 people came to watch, the Daily Picayune newspaper reported the next day. At the exact moment that the statue was unveiled, a 100-gun salute was fired, and "a mighty shout went up from the soldiers of the Confederacy", the Daily Picayune reported.

City officials say the monuments will be moved somewhere such as a museum where they can be "placed in their proper historical context from a dark period of American history". But WWL-TV has found the removed monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and PGT Beauregard in a city-owned scrap yard. Supporters of the monuments say they are a cultural legacy that promotes heritage rather than racism. The decision to remove the statues came in December 2015, six months after a white supremacist shot dead nine black worshippers at a South Carolina church.

[I do have a significant problem with things like this. OK, I can understand what they did after WW2 with the removal of Nazi emblems across Europe and the change of city names in Russia throughout its troubled history but I don’t agree with the attempted erasure and sanitation of the past to satisfy the popular sentiment of the moment. If past events are disagreeable, as many of them are, then rather than removing them from public view we should be using them as examples to learn from. As has been well attested to throughout history (oh, the irony) those who forget, or turn their backs on, their history are DOOMED to repeat it. On this side of the pond we are told that buildings and street names are offensive because they are named after slave owners. If such landmarks are erased and forgotten about there is the real danger that we will collectively forget about slavery too. A nation without a history, the good as well as the bad, will find designing its future much more difficult. Without knowing where we have been and the kind of people we used to be how can we chart a course to where we want to go and who we want to be when we get there? Leave history in place so future generations can at least wonder why we did bad things rather than walk by in (supposedly) blissful ignorance.]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Seize the Time – The Story of The Black Panter Party and Huey P Newton by Bobby Searle (FP: 1970)

This was a strange and sometimes difficult read. Although I am becoming more familiar with US Urban Politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s some of the names and places are still a little fuzzy which can cause some confusion. More difficult to get used to, though I did eventually get the hang of it, was the use of urban black slang used throughout the book. Indeed, from the very beginning, the book read like an almost unmediated string of consciousness from the authors mind, jumping between topics before focusing back on his original thread to say nothing of seemingly random repetitions, which meant you really needed to concentrate on some sections of the book in order not to lose the thread. On top of this was the shotgun smattering of swear words and, naturally, the dreaded ‘N’ word that people get so touchy about these days.

But, once you got used to all of the above, the narrative (primitive though it felt at times) proved to be surprisingly gripping. Told very much in the first person – though focused throughout on the founder of the Party Huey P Newton – this was a detailed account of the birth of an admittedly revolutionary political party in modern day America. From the ground up to the States attempts to crush the movement we are given privileged access to the Parties philosophy – gleaned from Marx, Mao, Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon (of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ fame) – its actions on the streets of California ‘shadowing’ police cars and patrolling with guns clearly visible and clearly loaded, its many run-ins with the authorities in the guise of local police, FBI and others, the legal cases against many in the leadership and the almost fanatical reaction from local, State and National government to prevent the power of the Panthers spreading.

The crunch came, from the authority’s point of view, when the Panthers started to organise outside of their black urban base. If it wasn’t bad enough that a political organisation had organically emerging within this disenfranchised group they then began an outreach programme contacting and developing relations with Hispanics, Chinese and (the final nail it seemed) with the white urban poor with whom they had so much in common. Their philosophy saw beyond mere colour and recognised the fact that the urban poor of both races had far more in common and especially far more grievances in common than anything which appeared at first glance to separate them. It is easy to see why the National and State apparatus where eager to put a stop to this sort of thing – most especially because the Panthers were not afraid to publically show that they had the means to violently defend themselves if necessary.

This is definitely an interesting contemporary insight into the revolutionary phenomena in the modern West. It stayed with me for quite a while after finishing it and I can definitely see why it became a classic text in the African-American community. Of course what makes this even more interesting is its relevance to the recent Black Lives Matter phenomena and the continuing violence directed at Black America. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in US Black History and the founding of radical political parties in the modern world.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No one said it’d be easy – Oh, yes they did…..

Access to single market 'not on sale'.

The UK will not be able to buy access to the single market after it leaves the EU, says one of the most senior UK officials to have worked in Brussels. Jonathan Faull, who retired last week, said that access to the single market "is not something that's on sale". He also warned the UK should not assume it can broker a deal with Angela Merkel if she wins re-election as German chancellor. Theresa May plans to trigger the Brexit negotiations by the end of March. But Mr Faull said that Britain has one important card to play in the EU negotiations - co-operation on European defence. The warnings by Mr Faull, who served in the European Commission for 38 years, come as the government scrambles to assemble its Brexit negotiating team in the wake of the resignation of the UK's EU ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers. He is to be replaced by Sir Tim Barrow, a former UK ambassador to Moscow. In his interview with BBC Newsnight, Mr Faull cast doubt about an idea, which is being promoted by senior Whitehall officials, that the UK could be pay for access to the EU's single market - in the same way that Norway currently does, despite not being a member of the EU. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, confirmed last month that the government was considering the idea. Mr Faull said: "Can you buy access to the single market? It's not something that's on sale in that way. I find that rather extraordinary." The former European Commission official pointed out that Norway is bound by two core rules of the EU - accepting the free movement of people and abiding by the European Court of Justice. Theresa May has indicated that she would like to have some access to the single market. But the prime minister is to confirm in a speech later this month that the UK will have two fundamental red lines in its Brexit negotiations - control of its borders and freedom from the ECJ.

Tory donor threatens to stop funding over Brexit plans.

A major Tory donor has warned that he will stop funding the party if Theresa May's Brexit plans involve the UK coming out of the single market. Sir Andrew Cook, who has donated more than £1.2m to the party, told The Times the country could "sleepwalk to disaster" if it made such a move. The engineering firm chairman said at least one of his factories was almost "entirely dependent" on access to it. Sir Andrew backed the Remain campaign in the EU referendum. He told the newspaper that the "economic arguments of staying in the single market are overwhelming" and it would be a "catastrophe" if the country left. "It is very difficult to make a political donation to a party when, although I support it ideologically, I do not believe that my interests and my ideology are ad idem with the principal Brexiteers," he said. Theresa May has insisted that she wants firms to have the "maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market".

Pound falls on May's Brexit comments.

The value of the pound has fallen to a two-month low against major currencies after Prime Minister Theresa May signalled the UK would pursue a so-called "hard Brexit" from the EU. Sterling fell about 1% across the board. The only currency against which it gained ground was the Turkish lira. The Prime Minister told Sky News on Sunday that she wanted the best possible deal for leaving the EU. However, she dismissed the idea that the UK could "keep bits of membership". She added: "We're leaving. We're coming out. We're not going to be a member of the EU any longer." Commentators interpreted this as meaning that Mrs May would not seek to keep the UK in the EU's single market, with radical consequences for the country's economy. By Monday evening, the pound was down 1.05% against the dollar at $1.2155, while against the euro, it was 1.41% lower at €1.1501. "Sterling is on the back foot on Monday after Theresa May's comments were taken as a sign the UK government would prioritise immigration controls over single market access," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital. "Domestic populist politics trumps the trade card for now, it seems, and that is weighing on the pound." Mr Wilson predicted "more volatility" in the sterling exchange rate, adding that it could easily "bounce back" as the tone of political discourse shifted. HSBC currency strategist Dominic Bunning agreed: "[Mrs] May saying that it's not about keeping 'bits' of the EU suggests it's not going to be about keeping access to the single market”.

Hammond: No decision yet on single market.

Britain has not made any decision on whether or not to stay in the European single market after Brexit, says the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond. The chancellor made his comments in an interview with the Irish broadcaster RTE. "We haven't made any decision on which structures would best support our aspirations," he said. "Whether it is being in or out of the customs union, in or out of the single market," he added. His comments came just a day after the Prime Minister, Theresa May, appeared to downplay the importance of the UK retaining any residual membership privileges from the European Union's single economic market. Mr Hammond rejected the idea that the Brexit process had been badly handled so far, pointing out that it had barely started and that the UK government was preparing for a complex negotiation that would start in earnest later this Spring. He did though state that he wanted, in an ideal world, to have a deal with the rest of the EU agreed in just over two years' time. "If necessary we will have to discuss what the interim period should look like between Britain leaving the European Union and delivering those long term arrangements if we can't get them in place by April 2019," he said. "But our first objective will clearly be to try to get everything negotiated and completed by April 2019."

All details above from BBC News website.

[While Europe seems to be getting its act together with the election of a Centrist French President and with Merkel’s party doing well in Germany in the UK itself few politicians seem to want to talk about Brexit despite it being THE issue in the upcoming election in June. Instead both major parties are essentially promising the earth with jam on it – tomorrow (of course) and only after they’ve successfully navigated through the Brexit minefield and brought us all singing and dancing into the uplands of freedom and prosperity. In other words not in our lifetimes…… As usual, having become quite a tradition in my house, I shall be staying up into the early hours of June 9th to watch how these particular dominoes fall. No doubt I shall be disappoint to witness us recommit to economic suicide but I feel that I need to be there to see us do it. As car crashes go this will be an impressive pile-up. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lemurs discover Buddhist meditation.......
Thinking About: Labels

It’s been happening a lot lately. Or possibly I’m just noticing it more. People seem to be applying labels to me that I’m not exactly comfortable with – at least not entirely. I suppose it started a few months back when my friends, that’s right my friends, started referring to me as ‘difficult’. I think what they really meant was ‘contrary’ or as I like to see it ‘independently minded’. I think it’s because they are, as a general rule, all Geeks. Several of them work for large IT companies or come from a technical background. They’re all into the latest Tech and, it appears to me, talk about it endlessly. Well, I’m not like that. I understand enough Tech to get by but don’t feel the need to upgrade every time some manufacturer feels the need to fleece us yet again with their latest product which now features smooth edges or comes in a variety of colours or some such. I’m more a functional kind of person. If an ‘old’ piece of Tech does the job I want it to do (my old Nokia phone is a good example) then I won’t change it until it stops working. They only started calling me a ‘Luddite’ however when I said that I wouldn’t give a Smart power meter the time of day because I couldn’t see it as being any advantage to me. Knowing how much power (in other words money) is used to boil a kettle to make a cup of tea isn’t going to influence how many cups of tea I make every day. If I want a cup of tea I’ll boil the kettle to have one and damn the (minimal) cost. When the ‘difficult’ word is used what I actually hear is ‘not manipulated easily by the latest craze’ or ‘not easily swayed by propaganda’.  These attributes are, I believe, good things.

I suppose that I started thinking about this more lately after my boss introduced me to a new starter at work as ‘the team’s resident smartarse’. Yes, this was my boss saying that – although she was smiling at the time. I took it as a compliment however as I translated it as saying ‘and this is the smartest person in the team’ rather than someone who makes smart assed comments to all and sundry. It’s all, I think, in the delivery. I was introduced to another team’s boss recently by someone I had known for years. He introduced me as ‘a character’. Presumably he meant ‘someone who doesn’t play by the rules all the time and has both character and a strong sense of self’. Saying that I was a ‘character’ is just shorthand for saying that I’m an individual rather than a soulless, mindless drone. Yes, I can relate to that. Of course by far my favourite label applied to me lately is that of a ‘rebel’ (well, this is a rebellion so…..). It is kind of what I’ve been going for although I hardly think I’m actually rebelling that much, all things considered. As with my levels of honestly my level of rebellion goes all the way up to 11. Presently it’s just bumping along at about 3-4 on a good day.

Naturally, being a rebel after all, the labels people try to put on me have little influence on who I think I am and what I do with my life on a day-to-day basis. At worse the labels irritate me slightly, at best they amuse and (sometimes) delight – I still chuckle over the ‘bit of a rebel’ comment I received. I do find it instructive though as to how people perceive me. If this (actually quite moderate) level of individuality comes across as actual rebellion I shudder to think about the level of conformity that exists out there. If I was as ‘individual’ as I could be I guess that someone would be calling the emergency services and measuring me for a straight-jacket! It does give me some idea about how far I can still push things though. That gives me some quite delicious ideas I can play with and still keep it within the bounds that I’m happy with. What label others will attach to it – well, I’ll let you know.

"We are forever being told to 'think outside the box'. Fortunately, less excitable creativity researchers have pointed out that it only makes sense to think outside the box if you know that there is a box (and what it's made of). In most cases, it's probably wiser to balance on the edge of the box, only tinkering around the edges and improvising around tried-and-tested themes. The new only makes sense within a horizon of something known. If you know nothing of the past and its traditions, it's impossible to create anything new that is useful."

Svend Brinkmann, Stand Firm, 2014

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Just Finished Reading: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (FP: 1843)

Of course it was a story that I’m completely familiar with from the many movie versions – my favourite being the 1951 version starring the great Alistair Sim. The renowned miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by his long dead business partner warning him that he must change his ways. To help him reform he is visited, one long Christmas Eve night, by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Each show him different aspects of his life and show him that there are other things in life than money and account books. There is story here, and especially back story, character development – the whole point of the narrative after all – and even a surprising amount of humour. I remember my friend’s girlfriend at the time telling me that she enjoyed Dickens primarily for his humour and I didn’t believe her – until now. The ghostly aspects of the story where equally surprisingly spooky (if not actually horrific) and a bit strong for what is often seen as a children’s story today. Small children in particular might have nightmares if you read this to them at bedtime! But the driving force of the story, rather unapologetically blatant to be honest, is that of a morality tale. Life is difficult, it says, and most especially for the poor. Without Charity, most especially at Christmas, life become unnecessarily hard for all concerns. Dickens was clearly putting forward the idea that a lack a basic charity cuts both ways.

As A Christmas Carol was only 107 pages in my printed copy two further novellas where added which had a common supernatural/Christmas-New Year theme. They were The Chimes (FP: 1844) and The Haunted Man (FP: 1848). I found The Chimes very confusing to begin with. It revolved around an elderly porter – hired to deliver letters and parcels in London – who dotes on his young and (naturally beautiful) daughter who is about the get married to her labourer boyfriend. After a random meeting with some local dignitaries the couple is persuaded to go their separate ways and tragedy ensues. Years pass and then, out of the blue we discover that the porter has apparently been dead for years and has been watching his daughter decline from his place ‘on the other side’, then it’s all change again and a second scenario is played through. Finally, at the end of the narrative, we discover that the old gent was playing through possibly life choices through his mind and speculating on the outcomes of each. As before The Chimes is essentially a morality tale about the attitudes of the Middle Class to the poor and the encouragement of Mutual Aid in poor communities to mitigate against the worst excesses of ‘the system’.

A much better story was The Haunted Man which centred on a teacher in a dilapidated school who went everywhere as if he was haunted by a malevolent spectre – which was actually not far from the truth. Something dreadful had happened in his past that he could neither deal with nor forget and it was crippling him as a person. Finally on New Year’s Eve the spirit offers him a deal – that if he agrees to it the spirit can make him forget the harm done to him forever. After some hesitation he agrees. Only then does the spirit reveal the catch. That for the rest of his days anyone the teacher touches will also forget everything bad that happened to them in the past. Thinking that he can help mankind to a better place just by touching them he goes out to help relieve their pain. Only gradually does he make the terrible discovery – that without the pain of the loss of love the memory of the love itself begins to fade. Soon all emotion is lost and all that is left are animal passions, hate, fear and avarice. Without the shadow cast by the light all too soon there is no light to relive the shadow. Both good and bad experiences make us what we are and without the bad to learn and grow from the good is much diminished in contrast. Not having read this before (or indeed any Dickens) I thought this was the best of the three stories presented. Overall it was a good introduction to Dickens – of which more later!    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

...and so ends Star Wars Week. I hope that I didn't bore non-Star Wars fans too much. Normal posting will resume tomorrow.