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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Silver Eagle by Ben Kane (FP: 2009)

Eastern Margiana, 52 BC. More than two years after the disastrous battle of Carrhae the remnants of the Forgotten Legion are fighting on the border of Parthian territory. Officered by Parthians they have a life ahead of them or servitude, fighting wild tribes and, if the gods allow, dying in bed. The gods, however, have other ideas for the trio of friends Brennus of Gaul, Tarquinius the Etruscan soothsay and mystic and Romulus, ex-slave, ex-gladiator and bastard son of a Roman noble. Their ultimate aim is to return to Rome to fulfil prophecy, find the twin sister of Romulus and the get revenge on the man who started them on their journey beyond the edges of the known world. Meanwhile, in Rome itself, Fabiola has managed to work her way into the life (and bed) of a rich and powerful man on the rise – Brutus, good friend of the controversial and powerful Julius Caesar. But with both Brutus and Caesar in Gaul putting down a massive barbarian uprising she is vulnerable to Caesar’s many enemies keen to get at him in any way they can – even if it’s trough his friends courtesan. With the Republic beginning to fall apart into vicious Civil War the main drive for everyone is to survive the coming storm on the side of the winners.

After enjoying Kane’s previous book in the series I was quite looking forward to this. I haven’t ‘visited’ Ancient Rome for a while and was starting to miss the place. Of course most of the book took place outside of Rome, indeed outside of the Empire, but the point stands. With so many Roman historical novels around it’s difficult to mark yourself out from the crowd. Kane has an interesting solution, it seems to me anyway, to that dilemma. Rather than focusing on the glory and grandeur of the Empire he looks instead to Rome’s enemies and its warts and all underbelly. This is not the Rome of streets paved with gold but instead they are paved with shit and the blood of the poor, beggars and thieves. This is the Rome of violent gangs, squabbling politicians out primarily to make money and focused above all else in gaining power. This Rome is not a place to be admired but one to be avoided and, because of that, probably much closer to the truth of things. This is a Republic, in the process of becoming an Empire, most definitely not for the faint hearted or the easily shocked. It was, I thought, all the more interesting for that and was superior to the whitewashed sanitised version of things we’re more used to. Populated with diverse, if generally unbelievable, characters this was a fun (if rather bloody) romp through the final years of the Republic. Interwoven with real events – though mostly ‘off camera’ – hearing about battles via conversations in taverns often hundreds of miles away and months after the events themselves we are intermittently brought up to date with world events. This did get a little annoying after a while and slowed the plot to a crawl at times. Worse, I thought, was the sense of a plot driven by the gods (and real history) that managed to reduce any tension to a bare minimum. It soon became obvious that the main characters were almost immune to the arrows flying everywhere so both risk and menace where kept too low. Coupled with a cliff hanger every three chapters or so, before switching to the second storyline which ended with a similar cliff hanger before going back to the first cliff and resolving things repeating the process multiple times it did start to think that the author was following a formula far too rigidly. Saying all that the story itself was still entertaining and the set pieces, particularly the battles, well done. Not the greatest historical novel (or Roman novel) I’ve ever read but reasonable overall.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Warning: Threats Ahead! (Continuing with Older News…)

Brexiteers in warning to German business.

The German economy will pay a "high price" if its leaders make life hard for the UK over Brexit, British pro-Leave campaigners are to warn. John Longworth, co-chair of Leave means Leave, and ex-minister Owen Paterson will sound the warning at a major German business event on Saturday. Britain will "walk away" if the deal is not right, Mr Longworth will say. Theresa May has said it will be an act of "calamitous self-harm" for the EU to try and punish the UK for leaving. The prime minister has said she wants the UK and the EU to be "good neighbours" in a constructive, new partnership after Brexit. But she has warned that no deal will be better than a bad deal at the end of two years of negotiations - which are expected to start in April. Mr Longworth, former British Chamber of Commerce director general, will echo these views at the Berlin event - attended by German ministers, business, academia and media. "It is entirely sensible for businesses across the EU and Britain who wish to work and trade together to continue to do so and it would be helpful if the British and German governments, as well as key figures in the EU, work towards this goal," he will say. "If the German Chancellor and EU leaders continue down the road of negativity and threats when negotiating with Britain, German business and the German economy will pay a high price."

Labour MPs could vote against leadership on Brexit.

Dozens of Labour MPs might be prepared to go against the party's leadership if there is a vote on starting the Brexit process, the BBC understands. Jeremy Corbyn has said all his MPs will be told to approve the triggering of Article 50 because they should accept the result of last year's referendum. Lib Dem Tim Farron says generations to come will not forgive that position. The Supreme Court will announce next Tuesday whether the government needs to seek Parliament's approval. Ministers say they already have enough powers under the Royal Prerogative to go ahead with Brexit. But campaigners argue that starting Brexit in this way would be undemocratic and unconstitutional. Mr Corbyn said he did not think it was right to block Article 50 in the wake of the referendum result. "It's up to us to use the opportunity that's provided to stop the Tories from doing this bargain basement, low tax haven on the shores of Europe," he told the BBC. "What I'm saying to all of my MPs is we've supported the principle of holding the referendum, the referendum was held, it delivered a result - I don't think it's right to block Article 50 negotiations. It's absolutely right that we're involved in these negotiations and making the case for a fairer and socially just Britain."

Brexit: Labour tensions as Article 50 bill published.

A shadow minister has quit Labour's front bench after being told to back legislation paving the way for the UK's departure from the EU. Tulip Siddiq said she "cannot reconcile myself to the front-bench position". Jeremy Corbyn has imposed a three-line whip on his MPs, telling them to back the newly-published bill. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been produced after the Supreme Court ruled legislation would be necessary. In her resignation letter to Mr Corbyn, Ms Siddiq, who had been an early years minister, said: "Leaving the European Union presents enormous uncertainty for my constituents, with most believing that the disadvantages of leaving outweigh any potential benefits." Despite reports he might rebel, Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis said on Thursday he would back the bill. But he added: "Labour will seek to amend the Bill to prevent the government using Brexit to trash our rights, public services, jobs and living standards while cutting taxes for the wealthiest." Labour MPs expected to vote against the bill at second reading include former leadership challenger Owen Smith, former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner. Mr Corbyn said Labour MPs would face a three-line whip to vote in favour of the bill. He said he understood the "pressures and issues" members faced, but called on them to "unite" around "important issues" and "not to block Article 50 but to make sure it goes through next week". Frontbench members of parties are generally expected to resign from their post if they decided to defy a three-line whip.

Warning over government 'overload' ahead of Brexit.

Ministers are trying to do too much and there is a "sense of overload" in Whitehall even before it grapples with the challenge of Brexit, it is claimed. The Institute for Government said the government was "continuing to function" despite having a fifth fewer civil servants than in 2010 and "turf wars" resulting from preparations for Brexit. The government has abandoned four proposed bills in the past six months. In its report, the think tank warned government had become less transparent. The government is expected to clear the parliamentary schedule in the coming weeks to allow Parliament to debate legislation needed to approve the start of Brexit talks. This is having a knock-on effect on the government's wider agenda, with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealing on Tuesday that legislation to ensure all foreign migrants and visitors were charged for health treatment had been dropped. He told the Health Select Committee the government was not proceeding with the NHS Overseas Visitor Charging Bill "because of Brexit" but insisted the NHS was still expected to recover more money from people not entitled to free care. Proposed bills on prison and school reform have already been discarded since the EU referendum, while plans for a British bill of rights have been put on the backburner.

All details above from BBC News website.

[So….. Apparently the UK Brexit Minister believes that we can get a free trade deal with the EU post-Brexit. I believe that there’s a word for that: Delusional. Unless we sign up to the free movement of people and, no doubt other things, we will need to negotiate a poorer deal than we have now – inevitably. If we sign up to the Treaty of Rome obligations to get access to the EU internal Market then there’s an easy and relatively painless way to do that which includes a whole host of other advantages. It’s called not leaving. DUH!]

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"On this earth there are pestilences and there are victims - and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of the pestilence".

Albert Camus, The Plague, 1947

Cartoon Time.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Boys at Exeter academy wear skirts in uniform protest.

From BBC News

22 June 2017

Some 30 boys have worn skirts to school in protest at being told they were not allowed to wear shorts. The pupils from ISCA Academy in Exeter asked permission to modify their uniform because of the hot weather. One of the boys who took part in the protest said: "We're not allowed to wear shorts, and I'm not sitting in trousers all day, it's a bit hot." Head teacher Aimee Mitchell said shorts were "not part" of the school uniform, as first reported by Devon Live.

Pupils said the idea for the protest came from the head teacher, who originally made the suggestion, although one student said he did not think she was being serious. They said they hoped the school would reconsider its shorts policy as a result of the protest and the head has indicated it might be considered.

Ms Mitchell said: "We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible. Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future."

Claire Reeves, whose son is a student at the school, said she had asked the school about her son being able to wear shorts, but was "shot down". "I feel extremely proud of them all for standing up for their rights. People are always talking about equal right for males and females and school uniform shouldn't be any different", she said. The school uniform guidelines currently allow male pupils to wear trousers. Female pupils may wear trousers or tartan skirts. Pupils may remove their ties but must carry them with them and shirts can be untucked in class but must be tucked in when they leave the classroom.

[What a BRILLIANT protest. So clever – taking the authorities at their word and making them look silly because of it. Well done boys for being brave enough to go the extra mile and wear skirts to school. Anyone who says that the young are apathetic or are not political active has been proven wrong yet again. Anyone who says that people have been brainwashed to accept authorities rules without protest, and especially without effective protest, needs to eat their words right now. Protest is alive and well and living in a Devon schoolyard! Oh, and I understand that the schools uniform rules are being amended for next year……]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (FP: 1939)

I’m not entirely sure why I bought this slim (a mere 119 pages) volume, but I’m glad I did. I’d heard of the author and this, together with his other works, kept coming up as ‘also bought’ on my Amazon searches so I thought I’d give it a punt.

The author was born into wealth and position in the French aristocracy but early on developed a love of flying. Just missing action in WW1 he finally landed a job as pilot for pioneering airline Latecoere (later known as Aeropostale) flying mail and, sometimes passengers, across North Africa and in South America. Contained between the covers of this truly fascinating narrative are some of his adventures and experiences. The stories themselves are interesting enough in and of themselves. Pioneering in any activity tends to bring out the best and the bizarre in human experience. This was no exception. Flying in the 1920’s in aircraft that today would be judged barely airworthy these enterprising pilots and their much needed engineers travelled across uncharted deserts, deeply isolated areas where humans rarely ventured, braved weather, bandits, mechanical failure, primitive navigation aids and the every present possibility of sudden death in order to deliver letters and parcels in record time and to areas previously considered cut off from all human communication. They were heroes to many a school boy (and no doubt some school girls), rebels and eccentrics to the authorities that had to deal with them and visiting aliens to the tribesmen they flew over and, when required, dropped in on. It was, by all accounts a strange and exciting time to be an aerial pioneer.

But, at least for me, even the well told stories and the insights into the origins of the airmail we take for granted are only part of the joy of this amazing volume. What jumps out at you from the very first page is that this is an exquisitely crafted book. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, beautifully written. Not only are there brilliant observations of the human condition scattered throughout – more than one of which took my breath away with their diamond like perception – there are whole sections that are so blindly amazing that they can only be called works of art. I am in no doubt at all that this work deserves the title of classic. On starting it I was confident that I could polish off the whole thing in a few days before moving on to my next book. Indeed I was consciously using this slim volume as a means of bulking up my review pile which was looking a little bare. It actually took me more like five days. Why you ask. Was it a slow read? Yes, but not in the way you might think. Difficult? Not really except that there was no real opportunity to speed read your way through. Was it a poor translation? On the contrary, it was one of the best I’ve come across. So what was the problem? Why did it take me so long to finish it? The ‘problem’ was that the prose was so beautiful (and I’m not using that word lightly) that it was impossible not to linger over it and, from time to time, read it out loud just to hear how it sounded (I did this mostly at home because my work colleagues think I’m strange enough as it is) and on almost every page was an idea or an observation that demanded that you think about it a bit before reading more and coming across the next brilliant insight. This is one of those rare books that you could read two or three times a year for the rest of your life and get something from each time. I can hardly recommend this book too highly. Read it before you die. You’ll thank me for it later.

Translated from the French by William Rees.

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Low can it Go? (Still somewhat Old News)

Pound falls ahead of Theresa May Brexit speech.

The pound has fallen against the dollar to below $1.20 ahead of a key speech from Theresa May on Brexit this week. Sterling fell 1.5% against the US currency on Sunday to its lowest level since the flash crash in October. Analysts said traders were reacting negatively to reports that the prime minister would signal plans on Tuesday to quit the EU single market. The pound has now dropped about 20% against the dollar since the referendum when it fell to 31-year lows. The pound also dropped to a two-month low against the euro on Sunday, falling to about €1.13. Several of Sunday's newspapers claimed Mrs May would outline a "hard Brexit" approach, a term used to imply prioritising migration controls over single market access. Downing Street has described this as "speculation". However, reports of the UK leaving the single market are "like kryptonite" to traders who back the pound, said Kathleen Brooks, an analyst at City Index. "The FX market has spoken, and, as of Sunday night, it is not confident that Theresa May can deliver the necessary clarity and confidence when she lays out her Brexit plans in a speech on Tuesday," Ms Brooks said. The "Brexit theme as bad news for the pound is such an ingrained trend" now that every headline can "generate another wave of selling", she added. The pound has been volatile since the Brexit vote, partly due to uncertainty about the economic impact if the UK gives up its tariff-free access to the EU. It reached its lowest level in the early hours of 7 October when a flash crash during Asian trading saw it drop below $1.18. A report on Friday said the abnormally large swing was due to a range of factors, including the time of day. Trading in the pound can be more volatile in Asian markets, when key sterling counter traders in London and other important Western markets are not operating.

Europe sees UK set for 'hard' Brexit after May speech.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech is being seen in Europe as the "hard" option of full UK withdrawal - and there is some relief that the British position is clearer now. "Finally we have a little more clarity re the British plans," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. Germany also wanted a "close and trusting relationship", he said. The Czech Europe Minister, Tomas Prouza, tweeted: "UK's plan seems a bit ambitious. Trade as free as possible, full control on immigration... where is the give for all the take?" he asked. The Italian daily La Repubblica commented: "Out of the EU, out of common market, out of everything. It appears that Theresa May's intention through negotiations with the EU at the end of March is 'a hard Brexit' - a very hard Brexit indeed." One of the top EU officials, European Council president Donald Tusk, voiced regret but some relief too in a tweet: "Sad process, surrealistic times but at least more realistic announcement on #Brexit." Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, named as the European Parliament's lead negotiator on Brexit, warned that any deal for the UK would be worse than EU membership. He said it was an "illusion" for Mrs May to suggest "that you can go out of the single market, that you can go out of the customs union and that you can cherry-pick, that you can have still a number of advantages - I think that will not happen". Mrs May's mention of a possible alternative economic model for the UK was a "threat", he said, that could obstruct the negotiations.

UK inflation rate jumps to 1.6%.

Rising air fares and food prices helped to push up UK inflation to its highest rate since July 2014 in December. The annual rate of Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation rose to 1.6% last month, up from 1.2% in November, the Office for National Statistics said. And higher costs for imported materials and fuels pushed up producer prices. The fall in the pound since the Brexit vote was starting to feed into the economy, said the BBC's economics editor, Kamal Ahmed. ONS head of inflation Mike Prestwood said: "This is the highest CPI has been for over two years, though the annual rate remains below the Bank of England's target and low by historical standards. "Rising air fares and food prices, along with petrol prices falling less than last December, all helped to push up the rate of inflation. "Rising raw material costs also continued to push up the prices of goods leaving factories." Separate producer price inflation figures showed that the price of goods bought from factories rose 2.7% in December compared with a year ago, as manufacturers started to pass on the higher input costs they are facing following the fall in the pound. The prices paid by factories for raw materials and energy jumped by 15.8% over the year, the largest increase since September 2011. Consumer inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI), which includes housing costs, rose to 2.5% in December from 2.2% the previous month.

City banks warn of Brexit job moves.

Two of the largest investment banks in the City of London have confirmed that some staff will definitely have to move abroad when the UK leaves the EU. HSBC's chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, told Bloomberg he was preparing to move 1,000 staff from London to Paris. And Axel Weber, boss of Swiss bank UBS, told the BBC "about 1,000" of its 5,000 London jobs could be hit by Brexit. The comments underline that many thousands of banking jobs may move. The statements from the two banks come just a day after UK Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the UK government's Brexit negotiating strategy which would, she said, involve leaving both the European single market and the EU's customs union. UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti told Bloomberg he would have a better idea towards the end of 2017 about how many jobs at his bank will need to move out of London. But one of his senior executives, Andrea Orcel, also speaking at Davos, said: "With Brexit we will have to [move] and the question is how many. That will very much depend on the agreement that the UK will reach with the EU - but we will definitely have to go." Mr Orcel added that his bank was "anticipating the worst". He explained that if the UK and the EU did not reach any sort of transition deal about Brexit, then some of his staff in London would have to be moved as soon as the UK government invoked Article 50, the legal procedure to leave the EU.

All details above from BBC News website.

[So the Brexit negotiations have finally started. I wonder how Day One went? Not great, I’m thinking. Teresa May is now in a much weaker position than she was 6 weeks ago so her negotiating position must be correspondingly weaker too. This means, I believe, that she can’t pull the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ nonsense and will actually have to, you know, negotiate rather than vainly attempting to throw her weight around.]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Term 'genius' alienates women, says Cambridge lecturer.

By Katherine Sellgren, BBC News education reporter

13 June 2017

A Cambridge lecturer says colleagues should refrain from using terms like brilliant, genius and flair, as they could alienate female students. Dr Lucy Delap, deputy director of history and policy at Cambridge, said these terms were vague and carried assumptions of gender inequality. Dr Delap said female students were often less likely to project themselves into such categories. She said a "male-dominated environment" at Oxbridge must be challenged. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Dr Delap said: "Students who're arriving at an Oxbridge college can still find it a bit of a male-dominated environment. If you look at just something as simple as the art on the walls of a college, they're often by men and they depict men and often they're white men as well. We think that a more plural environment would encourage a wider range of people being able to imagine themselves as powerful figures, as success stories, as excelling in academic terms."

Her comments come as the history course at Cambridge is under review. "We would very much like to see reading lists transformed so that they reflect more female historians, we would like to see more opportunities to study women's history," said Dr Delap. "We want women to be able to imagine themselves as excelling and owning that space and create an environment that empowers women to succeed. We're rewriting the first two years of our history degree to create a wider set of paper choices, to make assessment criteria clearer, to really root out the unhelpful and very vague talk of genius, of brilliance, of flair which carry assumptions of gender inequality and also of class and ethnicity inequalities." Asked if this was about taking men out of history, Dr Delap said there was no attempt to censor male influence. "It would be impossible to teach history without men in it," she said. But critics said the approach was misplaced.

Prof Alan Smithers, from Buckingham University, said: "It seems to me wrong to look at this from the point of gender - imagine the outrage if we were adjusting things for the sake of men. It's patronising and wrong to think they have difficulty with terms such as genius." In 2015-16, 31% of women students gained firsts in history at Cambridge compared with 39% of men. A university spokeswoman said it was reviewing subjects to see how it could address variations between different groups.

[I doubt if I’m the only one confused by this. I personally fail to understand how words like genius, brilliance, or flair “carry assumptions of gender inequality”. I mean… HUH? Is the good Dr Delap suggesting that female students feel excluded by these terms? That by the time they arrive at Britain’s premier Universities they are, in some way feeling inferior to their male counterparts and cannot see themselves as developing brilliance, flair or even genius? Surely by getting where they are they have already exhibited at least the first two attributes? I am most definitely in favour of gender equality in all fields of endeavour but suggestions like this are, I feel, less than helpful. I wholeheartedly agree that there should be more emphasis on Women in History and an end to teaching the subject as simply the 'History of Great Men' but you don’t need to drop words like genius to get there.]

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton (FP: 1973)

After reading a previous book by a co-Founder of The Black Panther Party I couldn’t very well resist a biography of the senior partner. But what a different book this was. Where Bobby Searle’s memoirs where almost a chaotic ‘stream of consciousness’ this volume covering largely the same events and same time period was impressively structured and logically laid out. Where Searle’s narrative ran after ideas like hunting dogs chasing rabbits this memoir was tightly structured and analytical. It really didn’t surprise me that much to learn that the author had gained a PhD during his early political career.

Starting with a brief overview of his family history and his childhood living in varying degrees of poverty the narrative quickly moved to discuss his formative years in the rundown areas of Oakland, California. He neither glorified nor apologised for the low level crime he was responsible for justifying it in several ways. What I did find interested though was his response to a question of why he didn’t commit more crimes or bigger crimes to ‘live the high life’. His answer, as with much else in this intriguing biography, was multi-layered. More crime, he maintained, would put him at increased risk of being caught and doing serious prison time – something he was all too aware of. The increased wealth, he maintained, was illusory and could vanish in a second leaving little behind. Finally living a life of crime in order to live well in a Capitalist society was simply buying in to the underlying system with he was starting to question and reject. So, he committed only enough crime to rent an apartment, pay his way through college and to give him the free time to read books and politically educate himself. He was, very much, an enlightened petty crook!

But the question was: what to do with that political knowledge to help his community against predominantly white power oppression. Riots and uprisings, becoming all the more regular, achieved nothing more than more oppression and more black bodies in the morgue. The way out of this was to raise Black consciousness and give power to the people. To do this the original small number of Panthers began ‘patrolling’ the police – visibly armed. Not only did this raise their profile in the Black community it also gave the police pause whilst they worked out how to respond. Over the months ahead the Panthers became a fixture in Oakland and beyond as their fame spread. But, of course, it wouldn’t be long before the authorities responded. This began a long period of arrests for all of the major leaders of the party, infiltration by government agents, ideological splits and arguments, and an increasing number of deaths at the hands/guns of the police and other Black groups who felt threatened by the Panthers growing power and prominence in the Black Community. But I think what really called down the wrath of the white power structure was the start of grass roots programmes such as the Breakfast for Kids scheme and the offers of free legal aid and other assistance that was politicising an increasing number of Black voters. The final nail in the coffin, as far as the authorities were concerned was when the Panthers started to successfully reach out to other disaffected and disenfranchised poor groups in potentially revolutionary significant numbers. Such a thing could not be allowed to stand. Ending the narrative after his frankly bizarre fourth trail for a crime he did not commit this is an intriguing and often fascinating look at the building of a radical revolutionary group in a modern western state bringing to light the absurdities and contradictions inherent within Capitalism itself.

I’m glad that I read the three Black Power books in the sequence I did (completely by accident!). The Malcolm X book gave me an overview and a detailed insight into the problems and possible solutions. Searle’s biography gave me a rough and ready view from the ground of what was going on and this volume tied things together with theory and political philosophy to mean something. A must read for anyone interested in Black America. Next, after a short one book diversion, is a three book collection looking at the darker side of our technological future.        

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Brexit Disaster….? (Slightly old news but still spot on)

Oxford academics warning of Brexit 'disaster'.

A "hard Brexit" would be the "biggest disaster" to have hit the UK's universities for many years, a university head told MPs. Alistair Fitt, vice chancellor of Oxford Brookes, was giving evidence to the Education Select Committee, holding a special away-day session at the University of Oxford. With the elegant panorama of Pembroke College behind them, the MPs wanted to find out what would be the impact of Brexit on the UK's university sector. You would be hard-pressed to find any sector in the country more opposed to Brexit than higher education. So it was probably no surprise that the MPs heard an unrelenting message that leaving the EU was a grim prospect for higher education and research. University organisations, which usually put much effort and ingenuity into not really being for or against anything in public, took to open campaigning for a Remain vote. Universities, bastions of liberal thinking, intensely international in their outlook and staffing, seemed culturally allergic to Brexit. And the referendum result hangs over them like they've fought and lost a civil war. Professor Catherine Barnard from the University of Cambridge told MPs that her own university had seen a 14% drop in applications this year from EU students. The university had asked why potential students had turned down a chance to study at Cambridge - and she said among the reasons were fears over an "anti-immigrant sentiment" and uncertainty over the future of the UK's involvement in international research.

UK and New Zealand plan free trade deal after Brexit.

New Zealand hopes to negotiate a "high quality" free trade agreement with the UK once it leaves the EU, its Prime Minister Bill English has said. Following a meeting with Theresa May, he said he hoped this would happen "as soon as possible". Mrs May said both countries already enjoy a strong and growing trading relationship worth over £3bn last year. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be visiting New Zealand in the coming months, she said. Mrs May said her colleague would begin a bilateral dialogue between the two nations with the ultimate aim of striking a trade deal. The small Oceanic country of less than five million people is believed to be seen in government circles as one of the best prospects for an early trade deal once Britain quits the EU. Britain is the second largest foreign investor in New Zealand and its fifth largest bilateral trading partner. It is also one of the global "five eyes" partners which share their security intelligence with the UK, along with the US, Canada and Australia.

Brexit transitional deal 'unacceptable' - Leave MP.

Opting for a transition deal with the European Union after Brexit would be "the worst possible scenario for the EU and the UK", a prominent Leave MP says. Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat suggested that a transitional trade pact to allow sectors to adapt would mean Britain continuing to be bound by judgements from EU courts. But Conservative Bernard Jenkin said such a deal would be "unacceptable". Mr Muscat's government currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. His comments come after British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to take the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Court. Mrs May, who will deliver a keynote Brexit address next Tuesday, told last autumn's Conservative Party conference: "We are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice." But the Maltese premier made clear that any transition trade arrangements, which could last well into the 2020s, would see European institutions retain the upper hand.

Passport queues 'could be longer after Brexit', airports warn.

People flying to the UK could face "severe disruption" after Brexit unless the Border Force employs more people, airports have warned. The Airport Operators Association said more stringent passport checks for EU nationals would result in longer queues and processing times. Its comments have been sent to a House of Lords inquiry into the movement of people between the EU and UK. The Home Office said Border Force could meet the demand and maintain security. According to the AOA - which represents more than 50 UK airports - the growth in air traffic has not been matched by an increase in resources for Border Force, which is responsible for immigration and customs checks. The AOA said its members have told them a lack of resources has already led to longer queues at passport desks. In 2015, there were 251 million passenger journeys through Britain's airports. Figures from an annual Home Office report showed that Border Force staff numbers fell from 8,332 in 2014-15 to 7,911 in 2015-16. The AOA's comments come after a whistleblower told the BBC last July that "stressed" Border Force staff were struggling to cope with queues to check passports at Heathrow Airport. In evidence submitted to the House of Lords' EU home affairs sub-committee, the AOA said it is concerned any potential change to passport control after Brexit will make waiting times longer.

Brexit: UK 'could change economic model' if single market access denied.

The UK may be forced to change its "economic model" if it is locked out of the single market after Brexit, Chancellor Philip Hammond has said. Mr Hammond said the government would not "lie down" and would "do whatever we have to do" to remain competitive. He had been asked by a German newspaper if the UK could become a "tax haven" by further lowering corporation tax. Labour's Jeremy Corbyn said his comments sounded like "a recipe for some kind of trade war with Europe". In an interview with German Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Mr Hammond said he was "optimistic" a reciprocal deal on market access could be struck, and that he hoped the UK would "remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking. But if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different," he said. "If we have no access to the European market, if we are closed off, if Britain were to leave the European Union without an agreement on market access, then we could suffer from economic damage at least in the short-term. In this case, we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do. The British people are not going to lie down and say, too bad, we've been wounded. We will change our model, and we will come back, and we will be competitively engaged."

All details above from BBC News website.

[Well, what a difference a few weeks makes! It seems, at least for now, that a HARD Brexit is off the cards. With the most slender of majorities (propped up by the DUPs 10 seats) of TWO I seriously doubt if the Tories would get ANY severe proposals through Parliament. What the long term results of this election will be is anyone’s guess. What is probably certain is that Teresa May will NOT be leading this country out of Europe. It may be some other Tory but it won’t be her. Only time will tell if we’re even going to get Brexit at all. Everything seems up for grabs in the new topsy-turvy world of British Politics. Watch this space and be amazed!]

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Dustbin man builds free library of thrown away books.

By Sean Coughlan, BBC Education correspondent

6 June 2017

A dustbin man in Bogota in Colombia, who never studied further than primary school, has gathered a library of more than 20,000 thrown away books. The collection began 20 years ago, when Jose Alberto Gutierrez fished out a discarded copy of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina. He now offers his books to other people as a free community library. "I realised that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them," he said. Mr Gutierrez, who has gained the nickname The Lord of the Books, began collecting books that had been dumped in the waste bins in wealthier parts of the city.

He would take them out of the rubbish and retrieve them for families in poorer areas. His collection of chucked away books is now used by families wanting to help their children with their homework, in a free library called the Strength of Words. "There was a lack of them in our neighbourhood, so we started to help," said Mr Gutierrez. His home has been overfilled with books, so they are now taking books to poor parts of the city or to remote areas without any access to libraries. "The more books we give away, the more come to us," he said. He has also been providing books for fighters being demobilised in Colombia's peace process. A fighter from the Farc rebel group contacted him about getting books to help them prepare for jobs when they re-enter civilian life. "Books transformed me, so I think books are a symbol of hope for those places. They are a symbol of peace," said Mr Gutierrez. Now in his 50s, Mr Gutierrez is going back to study for his school leaver's exam, which he missed first time round.

[One thing better than a feel good story. A feel good story about books….. Brilliant. More power to you Mr Gutierrez. Keep up the good work. Books make the world a better place. The more people read more books the better all of our futures will be.]

"Why hate one another? We stand together, carried along by the same planet, the crew of a single ship. If it is good that civilizations compete to promote new syntheses, it is monstrous that they devour one another."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939