Issue16:2015 08 20 Contents

 

20 August 2015: Issue 16

GCSE Maths exam with passing out to Job Centre

Week in Brief

UK

International

Financial

Comment

Now I’m a Union Man by J.R.Thomas

Finding a way forward for British Trade Unionism

Tourism v Terrorism by Neil Tidmarsh

A source of hope in Gaza

Duty Free Sales- a nasty piece of bullying by John Watson

A slander exploded

Features

Education for All by Serena Sinclair

A testing system

Accumulations by Chin Chin

Jumble Sales and old Books

Fading Icons: The Company Tie by J.R. Thomas

They’ll none of them be missed

Recycling – Myths and Facts by Lynda Goetz

A lifestyle choice?

 

Review

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation by Neil Tidmarsh

The latest of the Mission Impossible films hits the spot

Letters

On Mr Corbyn’s priorities by Don Urquhart

Crossword

“Somewhat comic”

Solution to last week’s crossword “This sporting life”

Earlier Editions

Issue 12 :23 July 2015

Issue 13 : 30 July 2015

Issue 14: 6 August 2015

Issue 15: 13 August 2015

Issue 17: 2015 08 27: Tianjin: It Tolls For Thee

27 August 2015

Tianjin: It Tolls For Thee

By John Watson

Children with a taste for philosophy used to ask each other a difficult question. “Which would you prefer,” they would say, “the death of someone close to you or the deaths of 1 million foreigners?” That was of course a trap. Any child would be far more affected by the loss of one of its parents than by the demise of large numbers of people it had never met. But the sacrifice of all those foreigners does seem a little heartless when you think of heroes who sacrifice their lives for a few strangers.

Remoteness and the emotional response

The way someone reacts to a disaster depends on how remote they are from it. That is not just a matter of distance but other things too: whether it represents a threat to them and whether they have sufficient in common with the victims to create sympathy. All sorts of different links may be relevant. If you are a Christian, the slaughter of fellow Christians in the Middle East will (other things being equal) seem more important than the slaughter of Muslims. If you are a sailor you may be particularly stirred by a maritime disaster. And so on.

It is tempting to try to reduce this to a mathematical rule, so that the level of concern is connected with remoteness through some sort of reciprocal equation. Perhaps a square law, so that if you double the remoteness you reduce the impact by four, treble it and you reduce the impact by nine. Or perhaps a cube law or an exponential function – or even something more exotic still. No doubt all sorts of bizarre relationships could be constructed, but in the end none of them will mean much because you cannot measure the various factors in a meaningful way. “More remote means less concern” is about as close as you can get.

Tianjin

No doubt it is because of its remoteness that the terrible explosion at Tianjin has faded so quickly from the British press. Yes, it was very big as non-nuclear explosions go, with corresponding damage and loss of life; but most of us, after a glance at the photographs and maybe a pause to admire the heroism of the firefighters, will have turned the pages of the newspaper and moved on. The explosion was very sad but not really anything to do with us. Actually, it should have made us think.

The explosion took place in a large facility for the storing of dangerous chemicals, and rules governing how far they should have been kept from residential property seem to have been broken. No doubt an enquiry will establish other failures too and someone will get it in the neck. We will read the criticisms, the suggestions of corruption, the apologies, the punishments and tut slightly. Well, after all, it is China and they do things differently there. High on our scale of remoteness, however we choose to define it.  OK, end of story, turn to the cricket. But what if the accident had been nuclear like the one in Fukushima where the cleanup will take years? Then we would have been much more concerned, not because the accident would affect us directly but because it would drum home the message that if something similar were to occur in the Europe the fallout could do immense damage to all the nearby member states. A sort of proximity by analogy, if you like. It would certainly give pause for thought about how high safety standards are in the more casual European States and in particular in their nuclear installations. Perhaps the sports pages would have to wait a little longer for attention.

No respecters of borders

The trouble is that clouds of radioactive dust are not respecters of international borders. Chernobyl in 1986 set off radiation alarms 1000 km away in Sweden; and if a disaster was much worse (perhaps the detonation of a nuclear warhead) damage could be sustained by a wide range of countries whose only mistake was to be in the wrong place. Nuclear incidents are not just a problem for the country in which they occur. There are an international problem with a huge capacity to hurt others.

It isn’t just nuclear incident, either. Easy travel means that the displacement of a community causes ripples of migration which can be felt thousands of miles away. Isis genocide causes problems in Calais. Burmese refugees put pressure on Australia. Or what about the environment? Over-consumption in the developed world contributes to global warming and famine in Africa. African attempts to emulate Western living standards while using more primitive technology creates more global warming still.

What should we do about these global problems? There isn’t much point in urging countries to show more restraint when they see that others do not do the same. How could you sell that to your electorate? Why should a country disarm while those it distrusts have the bomb? Why should it constrain its growth by limiting emissions when it is not itself much affected by global warming and is desperately trying to catch up economically? A politician who pursues international solutions at the expense of his own electorate will quickly find himself out of office, an easy victim for his opportunistic rivals. Is democracy simply not up to the challenge or is it simply being used in the wrong way?

Applying democracy

It is almost impossible to listen to a politician these days without hearing an assertion that local decisions should be made at local level. In the Treaty of Maastricht the EU paid lip service to the principle of subsidiarity. The present UK government is keen to push decisions down to a local level, partly through a system of elected mayors. There are limits to it all, however. The government has just decided to call in decisions on whether to allow fracking for oil because it does not want an activity which it regards as important to the national economy to be impeded by local nimbyism. There the decisions affect the country at large so they must be made nationally. Go up the scale and apply the same logic to international problems and you end up with international bodies above the nation state and, what is more, they must be bodies who have the power to make their decisions stick in a nation state whether it agrees with them or not.

There are, of course, bodies of this sort already in existence. There is the UN itself. Then there are international courts, international agencies and bodies created by particular treaties. Still, it is very hard to intervene in the affairs of a nation state even where they impact heavily on its neighbours. Although sanctions against Iran may be credited with having brought it to the table to agree restrictions on its nuclear programme, that is a very long and indirect road which will not always work. Something more direct is needed. Where genocide or the displacement of communities is concerned it is probably boots on the ground or nothing.

No one likes interfering in the affairs of another state. It breaks with a concept of sovereignty which has been enshrined in international law since the Treaty of Westphalia ended the 30 Years War in 1648. It smells of neo-colonialism. It can all too easily go wrong. Those who interfere one day might be the subject of interference the next. Still, when the risks of not interfering become too great, public opinion will change. A couple of really serious nuclear accidents could mean a new body with control over armaments and civil projects. There will come a time when the effects of global warming mean that emissions really do have to be contained. The displacement of communities will have to be stopped at a time when migration levels threaten remote and powerful civilisations. These times will come and pan-national institutions will have to develop to meet the needs. Perhaps they will be based on the UN. Perhaps they will not. We will just have to hope that in the case of the environment and nuclear security they will not be too late.

Meanwhile

Until that happens we have to make shift with ad hoc arrangements. Countries may need to be forcibly disarmed through coalitions of the willing. At some stage European armies may be needed in Africa to set up safe havens and to prevent further displacement of communities. It is likely to be a long and torrid phase of disaster-management but it is a period that has to be gone through until we achieve a more internationalist approach to global problems. It is for this period that Britain has to prepare itself and as our armed forces shrink we need to keep an eye on whether we can service the needs for intervention that are likely to arise. That capacity to intervene, to police and where necessary to occupy, in cooperation with other countries whose interests coincide with our own, should be at the centre of our strategic thinking. As the government begins this year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review it is a need that must be kept centre stage.

 

Issue 17: Crossword – A Middle-Eastern flavour – printable

27 August 2015

Crossword by Boffles

We regret that due to technical issues this week’s crossword is only available in printable form

A Middle-Eastern flavour

SS14

Across

    1  Jewish lady commemorated in a Book for her drastic treatment of Holofernes (6)

    4  Civil and religious successor of Muhammad (6)

    9  How many were there? One wonders (5)

  10  Iran suspected of trying to make one (1-4)

  11  Harem garments, not an expression of derision (5)

  12  Monarchs of Iran (5)

  13  Buried with his mummy (11)

  18  Followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law (5)

  20  Rommel did not quite make it there (5)

  22  Grisly ISIL trophy (1,4)

  23  Site of conflict between 18ac and their Sunni rulers (7)

  24  Without couchant, an ME area (6)

  25  ‘A — of wine, a book of verse and thou’ Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (5)

 

Down

    1  Had to go Bethlehem to be counted (6)

    2  Turkish bureau furniture (5)

    3  Starting place of the Arab Spring (7)

    5  Gulf port captured by the eponymous Shaw (5)

    6  Controversial images (5)

    7  Language of 16dn (6)

    8  Dish not confined to the Middle East (5,6)

  14  What a number of Emirates did (5)

  15  A prop not available to Muslims (7)

  16  Does not enjoy good relations with its neighbours (6)

  17  Olive’s or Ararat? (5)

  19  Lebanese port (5)

  21  To be found in mosques (5)

 

 

Issue 17:2015 08 27:Internships

27 August 2015

Internships

by Lynda Goetz 

 

A useful career move or an exploitation of young people?

 

 

‘All Apprenticeships are real jobs so all apprentices earn a salary’ (GOV.UK A Guide to Apprenticeships). Unfortunately for those looking for on-the-job training in the so-called white-collar world, internships are not only frequently unpaid, they are also unregulated and undefined. ‘There is no definition of internship in our legislation’, as Baroness Neville-Rolfe pointed out during a debate on the subject which took place in the House of Lords in March this year.

The term internship has come into use in the UK relatively recently. It came to us from the US and is used to describe time-limited, paid or unpaid experience gained by a young person or student in a professional or white-collar occupation. Here, unpaid experience was traditionally known as work experience, a term which largely referred to short placements whilst at school, offered under the national curriculum in years 10 and 11, and placements aimed at gaining an understanding of the world of work or of a particular type of work. These were very rarely paid, as the youth, inexperience and lack of knowledge of those undertaking them meant that their presence in the workplace was often more of a liability than an asset for the brief time they were there.

Although Wikipedia states that internship is the equivalent American term for work experience, the essential difference in this country between work experience and what have become known as internships is probably age, occupation and duration. Those taking up internships have usually been to university and are seeking experience in a chosen field. They are not inexperienced schoolchildren but ambitious graduates wanting to make progress in a competitive field, in a world where the competition is no longer simply national but international. Internships have become very prevalent in the financial, professional, media and fashion worlds. They can last for anything from 2 weeks to many months.

How has it come about that we have had such a rapid growth in young people vying for sometimes quite lengthy, unpaid posts with almost no prospect of proper employment at the end of them? These unpaid positions are not traineeships leading to a job but often dubious contracts (they are clearly not employment contracts) which offer the young person nothing more concrete than the right at the end of it all to add the name of an illustrious ‘employer’ to their CV in the hope that the short term loss will be made up for by the long term gain.

The biggest problem with all this, of course, is that the vast majority of young people cannot afford to take up these internships. If, for example, you come from Birmingham and have been to university in Cardiff you are unlikely to have a network of contacts in London (which is where the majority of internships are on offer) who could put you up whilst you work unpaid. This reduces the pool of potential candidates to those whose parents already live in London or who have friends or relatives who live there. Add to the expense of accommodation the cost of travelling to and from work and living costs and you reduce even further those who will be in a positon to take up such an offer. This is clearly an inherently unfair situation, bad both for the individuals and for the social mobility for which this country has long been admired. Many MPs in both parties are committed to doing all they can to end a trend which has even seen charity auctions of unpaid internships for which parents pay thousands of pounds.

82% of businesses paying interns less than the minimum wage have admitted that the interns were providing useful services to the business. There are many more fascinating statistics on the subject (www.internaware.org), but the clearest of these is that 85% of the general public believe that interns should be paid at least the minimum wage. In May last year, MPs held a debate for the first time on unpaid internships and voted 181-19 (clearly not a well-attended debate – too many vested interests?!) in favour of an end to them. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass into law as parliament was about to prorogue. With the public and at least some MPs in consensus on this subject, it is to be sincerely hoped that businesses will not be able to get away for much longer with a practice which is patently unfair, socially divisive and morally indefensible.

 

 

 

Issue 17:2015 08 27: BUSINESS AND THE CITY

27 August 2015

Week in Brief: BUSINESS AND THE CITY                                                                                NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background 

BLACK MONDAY?: So the Tuesday headlines might have had you believe. Certainly stock markets round the world dropped very abruptly, and the cause is very easy to find – the faltering of the Chinese economy. China has had a long run of economic growth, around twenty years, with rapid industrialisation of that enormous country. In that time China has moved from a small scale maker and exporter of low technology consumer goods to what might almost be described as “workshop of the world”. Your watering can might still be of Chinese extruded plastics, but your car electronics, the steel it is made out of, the computers that control it, the car itself, may well be made there as well. Chinese cash surpluses are funding many worldwide businesses through the banking market, and are an increasingly important part of the inward investment flows into Western real estate and massive infrastructure projects.

But one of the problems in understanding and analysing the Chinese economy is government control over information flows. Most large corporates are government owned, in the model of state capitalism. Statistics are notoriously unreliable and there seems to be little doubt that over the last year and more, much of what has been published to do with economic performance is based on wish rather than reality. There are many stories of factories producing goods that are simply stock-piled, and indeed of supposedly bustling enterprises that are actually closed and derelict. But equally China is a huge economy still, with a large and very hard-working population and much new infrastructure. There clearly must be structural difficulties – not least, the population is starting to age and soon will decline (further disclaimer on reliability of statistics) because of the long-standing one child family policy – and central direction of the economy has made for a lack of flexibility in output. But China has huge advantages as well – strong cash reserves, careful investment into raw material sources overseas, very low energy prices so long as the oil price remains low, low wage costs.

Whatever is really happening now, if (emphasising “if”) the government handles its response with skill, China could recover from its current doldrums quickly and strengthen its trading position still further.

Which brings us back to Black Monday. Fear and Greed are commonly regarded as the main drivers of markets, and the relatively long period of economic growth post the 2008 recession has had the Greed side doing rather well. The UK stock market has clearly been trading at toppy levels for some time, and this year the old adage of “sell in May and go away” has been good advice, with August showing low volumes and prices slowly drifting down. Monday 24th might be characterised as a bear raid by the Fear side. The cited causes of that sudden slide are well known, nothing new seems to be driving the sudden nervous sell-off. In fact, there is much to be said for the contra arguments of a strengthening USA economy, low raw material costs (especially oil), some modest economic recovery and hopes of more in Europe, low funding costs as markets resist central bankers’ attempts to start pushing interest rates up and banks continue to (slowly) rebuild their balance sheets and management competence. So what we are seeing? Just a minor outbreak of panic, an over-reaction to silly season stories in the press? It is unusual to see economic collapse when key components of economic production are cheap. But at the end it is all about confidence. Wait and see is always a good policy at times like this.

BLACK GOLD: It’s that oily stuff yet again. No apologies for dwelling on it once more; it is such a key component of our economic lives. A couple of weeks ago we speculated that the Saudi’s were maybe starting to rein in their production a little to try to get the price to stop its long decline (not so much a slide, more a long tumble down a staircase). But if they are, and the production statistics for the next period are not due until next month, it is not having any discernable effect; the price per barrel has dropped further steps – 10% or so in the last week – now at US$42.6.

Not only can we not see the supply side statistics, the user figures are not very clear either, but the suspicion is that China is importing much less and this may be true across south east Asia. South America may also be using less due to economic stagnation there and some heavy energy users such as raw material processing must also be down. And of course we are all getting more efficient in how we use energy and materials generally. But these factors do not really account for this extraordinary continuing weakness, which is fundamentally down to over-production. Whether that is a deliberate ploy on the part of low cost Saudi dominated OPEC to try to force the high cost producers in difficult terrain and the frackers out of the market, or whether it is to do with cash flow needs in oil rich but politically unstable countries, will doubtless become clearer over time. But trying to force out high cost producers has to be a long term strategy as those producers marginal costs of production remain low until further capital investment is needed.

FRACK OFF:   Or, says the British Government, frack on. The government announced further changes to the planning regulations governing applications for fracking.   This, in another blow to last term’s agenda of “localism”, will place much more power in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate to approve fracking applications if they have been delayed or refused by local authority planning committees. This, the government says, recognises that the national need for cheap energy should outweigh local fears as to the intrusion and environmental effects of fracking – which it says is much exaggerated and mostly based on suspect evidence from limited and rare USA experiences. It is the potential ground water contamination and minor earthquake effects that worry local communities and have led to applications been turned down on grounds such as “heavy transport intensification” and “urbanisation”. The drilling sites themselves are generally unobtrusive – and especially so compared with, for example, wind turbines.

But whether anybody can make a business case for fracking at current oil price levels is another matter.

ELECTRIC STORM: Npower, the German owned major consumer supplier of gas and electricity, this week sacked both its chief executive Paul Massara, and its finance director Jens Madrian. The immediate cause was poor half year results – profits were down 65% to £38m, but Npower has had major problems with its billing systems to consumers which have led to a mass of complaints, both to the firm and to the regulator. This is now severely affecting its customer retention rates and its ability to recruit new customers. In a “compliment” which should appear in any future compilation of half-hearted farewells, the company said “…we would like to thank them [the departing executives] for their contribution toward moving Npower from sixth to fifth in customer service…”

KEY MARKET INDICES: (at 25 August 2015; comments refer to change on week; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.5%, unchanged: 3 month 0.58% (steady); 5 year 1.43% (falling).

Europe€: 1 mth -0.7% (steady); 3 mth -0.5% (falling); 5 year 0.31% (rising)

US$: 1 mth 0.40% (steep rise); 3 mth 0.41% (steady); 5 year 1.51% (falling)

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.37, £ falling

£/$: 1.58, £ steady

Euro/$: 1.15, € steady

Gold, oz: $1166, rising

Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $42.69, steep drop from previous range.

Wheat, tonne: £120.15, steady

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 6,057. FTSE 350: 3,380

Briefly: The quiet declines of August came to an abrupt end over the weekend with stock markets world wide dropping steeply on Monday 24th. At the time of writing there is something of a recovery, but the market remains around 7% down on last Friday. The root of the turmoil is in the China markets and consequent spillage into other Far Eastern markets –see article above. Oil has dropped still further – also see above.

Issue 17: 2015 08 27: A Matter of Style

27 August 2015

A Matter of Style

by Chin Chin

Well, we’ve all got some explaining to do; all of us, that is, who dragged our children to antique fairs stifling their protests with the mantra “It is a great investment. One day you will thank me. They don’t make more of them. Values can only go one way and that’s up.” That of course was before the values did exactly the opposite and collapsed, leaving all those antiques worth a great deal less than was paid for them.

The truth is that the collecting of antiques is for those to whom they mean something more than just value. If you collect as a way of laying up treasure on earth, you can’t say that you were not warned that your treasures would be corrupted (although, to be fair, St Matthew mentions moth and rust rather than woodworm or change in fashion).

Not all antiques have dropped in value to the same extent, and it will come as no surprise to those of you who read last week’s article about books that rare antiques have held their value better than common ones. One might think that older antiques are rare simply because the passage of years has thinned them out, but a much more important factor is population. According to the Office of National Statistics, the population of England was about 5.74 million in 1750. That is probably about the same level as it was before the black death struck in the 1300s. By the time of the first census, in 1801, the number had climbed to 8.3 million. In the fifty years after that it doubled to 16.8 million, and by 1901 it had reached 30.5 million. All these people needed chairs and tables, and when you bear in mind that huge growth of national prosperity which came with the seven years war (a struggle which ended in 1763 with Britain dominating India following Clive’s victory at Plassey and also North America following Wolfe’s victory at Québec) you will see that a lot of good furniture was required for the homes of the increasingly prosperous middle classes.

That is why early eighteenth century furniture is relatively rare while Regency furniture (made 100 years later) is fairly common. Victorian furniture is more common still. All of it tells a story, however, and putting it in your house can give you a historical perspective.

If you are halfway to being civilised you will have seen the film “Zulu” (and if you haven’t, do buy the DVD as soon as possible). You will remember that the action starts just after the massacre of the British at Isandhlwana. One of the most striking images of that great disaster is that of Lord Chelmsford (the British commander who had caused it by dividing his command) riding back with his column to find his slaughtered comrades, and then spending the night walking sleeplessly amongst the corpses of his friends, haunted by what had happened, in fear of another Zulu attack. It cannot have been a very pleasant experience, but it is certainly a vivid picture. Imagine my feelings then when I looked at the flyleaf of a set of military books in a second-hand bookshop and saw that they were Lord Chelmsford’s personal copies. I didn’t buy them in the end – they belonged in a military museum not on the bookshelves of a private house. But simply to touch the volumes and remember how the man who had read them had spent that terrible night gave the events of 1879 a new freshness.

Not every book belonged to Lord Chelmsford nor was every chair sat upon by George III, Queen Victoria or Jack the Ripper. What then can ordinary old furniture bring to us? Why should a chair from 1750 say any more to us than a chair from 2010? Here it is usually the style which counts rather than the item itself. To understand that you need to go back to the early eighteenth century – the days before Queen Anne died in 1714 – and ask yourself what furniture looked like then. It was certainly a period for fine houses, many of them are still in use, and they required good quality, well-proportion furniture. Much of it was made of oak and walnut, both beautiful woods but not strong enough to support the finest type of carving. So what happened then? Mahogany arrived and revolutionised furniture making. Now there was a wood strong enough to support chairbacks of the sort shown in the illustration chair backand soon, in 1754, Thomas Chippendale published his famous book “The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director”, showing patterns which were then used by cabinetmakers throughout the land.

That may seem to be just about carving but really it isn’t. Where did the mahogany come from? Cuba and Brazil, the wood often coming to Bristol on ships engaged in the slave trade. Why did mahogany furniture emerge in England not in France? Because the British command of the seas limited French imports so that they could not get hold of the wood. It is all part and parcel of the tapestry of the mid 18th century, a period when Britain vied with France for superiority and won, the period which laid the foundations for the empire on which the sun never set. Whether we like it or not, it is a period which helped form us and its furniture gives us a link to it.

Of course the development of furniture didn’t start and stop with the introduction of mahogany. Different features give away the period in which something was made. Furniture with a Dutch look and spherical “bung” feet was made when England had a Dutch King – William III who married Mary Stuart and came to the throne as joint monarch in 1688. Legs which curve outwards like scimitars (see illustration)chair legs indicate the Regency period, the years of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Here the style was light and elegant, before turning heavier and darker under the Victorians. Look at those weighty sideboards and you can see the confidence of the latter age.

These links with history are all very well, but how will old furniture fit into your elegant modern penthouse apartment? The answer to that is “quite well”, provided you choose good quality pieces of furniture and put them in the right places. That is probably obvious with Chippendale and Regency furniture which good design makes easy on the eye. It is certainly the case with the German style of Biedermeier furniture (1815-1830) which combined homeliness with very clean  lines, and which has held up in value because of its modern look. It is less clear with heavy Victorian.

That is largely because of the modern obsession with light. Take a north facing basement room and it is naturally dark. If you paint the walls white and put in powerful electric lighting you will get a well-lit dark room. It won’t look great but you will no doubt console yourself with the thought that it is the best that can be done. Try taking the opposite tack. Hang heavy curtains. Paint the walls rich dark and glossy and use gold and brass fittings. Then you will have created a room which is rich and warm. Put a piece of heavy Victorian furniture into that and it will go perfectly.

Old furniture hasn’t been much of an investment recently, and that can often put people off buying it. In fact it is a buying opportunity. Styles change and furniture, like everything else with a limited supply, will pick up value in the end. One word of warning, though. It is important to go for top quality if it is to be a good investment and indeed if you’re going to get pleasure from it. Buying top furniture means spending time with antique dealers and with auctioneers. Still, you have to do it and if the children protest – why, you can tell them that you are making an investment for their future all over again.

Issue 17:20015 08 27: International News

27 August 2015

Week in Brief:INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

BANGLADESH: Counter-terrorism police have arrested three supreme court lawyers accused of financing a militant Islamic group.

BRAZIL: Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Lower House of Congress, has been charged with receiving bribes of £3 million in the scandal engulfing Petrobas, the state-owned oil company.

Scientific tests in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, have shown it to be too polluted for the sailing events planned to take place there in next summer’s Olympics.

BURUNDI: Police opened fire on protesters, killing at least 80, as President Nkurunziza was sworn in for a controversial third term. Captive protesters have been tortured by the security forces, according to Amnesty International.

CANADA: Six people (including four Britons) died when a sea-plane crashed in remote woodland north of Quebec.

CHINA: China and Russia have embarked on a joint nine-day naval exercise in the Sea of Japan, the biggest the two countries have carried out together.

Uncertainty about China’s economic performance, stock market and currency triggered panic in financial centres around the world.

FRANCE: A number of people were injured on a train from Amsterdam to Paris when a Moroccan man opened fire with automatic weapons. He was overpowered by five fellow passengers, three Americans, a Frenchman and a Briton. All five have been awarded the Légion d’honneur. The gunman, Ayoub El Khazzani, a known Islamic extremist with a criminal background in drug-dealing, is in police custody.

M.Le Pen was expelled from the National Front, the party he founded. The party’s leader, his daughter Marine Le Pen, is planning to win the presidency of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region.

GAZA: Hamas, the militant Palestinian group who govern Gaza, have arrested a dolphin which they claim is a Mossad-trained spy for Israel.

GERMANY: Chancellor Merkel is insisting that all EU countries take a proportion of the immigrants now entering Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has demanded a quota system to be applied throughout the EU. In the past, both the UK and Denmark have opted out of compulsory EU quotas.

GREECE: The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras announced his resignation and called a snap election for next month. Members from the left of Syriza have broken away to form a new party, Popular Unity, calling for Grexit and the drachma.

HUNGARY: 2000 migrants – a record number – crossed into Hungary from Serbia in one day, eager to enter the EU before Hungary completes its border fence this week.

IRAN: Iran and Britain reopened their embassies in London and Tehran.

IRAQ: US National Security claim that the Isis second-in-command, Fadhil al-Hayali (also known as Haji Mutazz) was killed in an airstrike near Mosul.

KOREA: North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire as North Korea demands South Korea stops broadcasting propaganda across the border via loudspeakers, an activity resumed after 11 years in retaliation for the injury of two South soldiers by mines laid by the North in the border zone. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered his troops to “enter a wartime state”. However, talks to relieve the tension have resulted in a joint statement with North Korea expressing regret over the land-mine injuries and South Korea agreeing to stop the broadcasts.

MACEDONIA: Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades on refugees and migrants as they tried to enter across the border with Greece. They are racing to enter Hungary before its border fence is completed this week.

PACIFIC OCEAN: A month-long expedition of 30 ships, organised by Ocean Cleanup, has found that the floating mass of plastic rubbish known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is even bigger than previously thought.

PHILIPPINES: Typhoon Goni triggered landslides and flooding which have killed at least 15 people, damaged 1000 houses and displaced 32,000 people.

RUSSIA: An Estonian security services officer, Eston Kohver, was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Estonia, a member of NATO and the EU, insists that he was kidnapped on Estonian soil by Russian agents and smuggled across the border into Russia.

SYRIA: Isis has destroyed the Mar Elian monastery, a Christian site where Muslims and Christians worshipped in harmony, and kidnapped its (mainly Christian) community of 200.

Isis has murdered Palmyra’s retired chief archaeologist and destroyed Palmyra’s ancient temple of Baal Shamin.

TURKEY: Gunmen fired on police guarding Dolmabahce Palace, a tourist attraction housing the prime minister’s office, in Istanbul. Two men were arrested and one policeman injured.

Efforts to form a coalition government following last June’s elections have failed. Snap elections in November are now likely.

USA: About 4000 homes have been evacuated, three firefighters killed and four others injured as wildfires rage through Washington state.

YEMEN: Bob Semple, a British petroleum engineer kidnapped by al-Quaeda operatives 18 months ago, was freed by United Arab Emirates forces.

The Red Cross has closed its office in Aden after it was attacked and robbed by gunmen for the eleventh time in two weeks.

 

 

Issue 17: 2015 08 27;Dogs and their Owners

27 August 2015

Dogs and their Owners

by Serena Sinclair 

patchIt has long been noted that people often buy dogs which reflect aspects of their appearance or personality. The cartoonists have had great fun with the images of lanky, long-haired models with look-alike Afghan hounds or the primped poodles with similarly beribboned owners. We tend to attribute to dogs emotions which are in fact ours rather than theirs, anthropomorphising their behaviour and likening it to our own.. Two of the ‘non-news’ items in the press this week relate to the relationships between dogs and humans.

 

How many times have we, or our dog-owning friends, been convinced that our dog has grinned at us or that they look ‘guilty’ when caught out having eaten half the cake left on the table? Well as far as the latter is concerned, three scientists, Ljerka Ostojic and Nicola Clayton of Cambridge University and their colleague, Mldanka Tkalcic of the University of Rijeka, Croatia have concluded that there is little or no substance in this belief. The research was carried out with nearly one hundred dogs and their owners. The owners trained their dogs not to eat a treat, then left the area so that they were out of sight, at which point someone else either removed the treat or encouraged the dog to eat it. The owner’s response, regarding whether they thought the dog had eaten the treat or it had been removed, was recorded on their return. Apparently, based on the way their pets greeted them, owners did not accurately assess whether their dog had eaten the ‘forbidden’ food more than would be expected by chance. The dogs’ behaviour, as perceived by the owners, did not differ between the different conditions, suggesting that the ‘guilty look’ was not triggered by the dog’s own actions. Of course, like all experiments, there are caveats and provisos, (e.g. experimenters’ presence could affect the dogs actions), but in general it would seem that it is our own reactions, such as scolding, which trigger the dogs’ reactions rather than their own analysis of their behaviour.

 

Louise Glazebrook has just published her book ‘Dog about Town: how to raise a Happy Dog in the City’ after her experiences of working with wealthy and celebrity dog owners made her realise how so much of people’s pets’ behaviour was down to the behaviour of the owners (rather like children really). Vets, of course, are well aware of this problem and frequently despair at the way the actions and conduct of dogs can be traced back to the treatment of them by their owners, who are usually totally oblivious to their role in the misdemeanours of their pets. One of the biggest problems is how little time people spend researching the breed of dog to suit their lifestyle. Collie puppies are adorable, but it is no good choosing a working dog if you are going to leave it alone in the house for eight or nine hours a day; it will become neurotic and miserable. Likewise, should you want to take your new pet running with you in the park each morning there is little point in choosing a Chihuahua – you probably need something with longer legs! Battersea Dogs home has apparently revealed that the number of pugs and Chihuahuas ending up in its care has doubled in the last three years, as people have bought dogs as fashion accessories and then realised that they require more attention than the new handbag which they purchased to put them in. What self-respecting dog would want to live in a handbag anyway? Unless that is it had been led to believe that’s what its owner expected of it.

 

Issue 17: 2015 08 27: Biding Their Time

27 August 2015

Biding Their Time

by J R Thomas

The front runner is pulling yet further ahead – but with an uncompromising personality, some unfortunate history coming out of the woodwork and a lack of popularity among key parts of the party machine, doubts are starting to be expressed even among loyal party members as to whether the front runner, if chosen, can actually win. Is the candidate just too old, too stuck in the past, to get the voters out on the big day?

No, it’s not the Labour Party worrying about Mr Corbyn; it’s the Democratic Party worrying about Mrs Clinton.

Hilary is riding the crest of a wave in the opinion polls – the ones that test the opinions of loyal Democrat supporters. But she is not doing so well among uncommitted voters when they are asked to choose between her and Mr Trump. This must be the least predicted possibility of the campaign. Who would have guessed not only that the Donald would be a clear front runner among the Republicans for the nomination, but also that he is starting to look a serious contender for the Presidency in 2016? The consensus among informed commentators, especially those whose memories stretch far enough back, is that Mr Trump remains unlikely to be the Grand Old Party’s candidate after the Cleveland Convention in eleven months time. The general view is that he has peaked too soon. His mouth will get him into trouble just once (or one hundred times) too often. And he has a rumbustious past which so far has not been analysed in the media’s usual reputation-crunching style; but when it is, it might not appeal to some of the more traditional Republican voters.

But the back-room politicians of the Democrats are not relying on a weak Republican candidate to keep the Presidency for a third term. Their concern is Mrs Clinton. There are various strands to this nervousness about she who appears to be their obvious winner. She is controversial internally to many Democrat activists and especially in Washington. This is partly because she has not built the alliances crucial to garnering party machine support, but also partly political. She is seen as to the left of the party, not a surprise in itself, but after eight leftish Obama years the party feels that maybe the time has come for a more centrist unifying candidate who can get the House of Representatives and the Senate back in Democrat hands. Obama is personally still popular in the heartlands – although his apparent lack of interest in affairs of state is becoming commented on – but the Republicans’ control of both Houses on Capitol Hill make him a lame duck president. The two American political parties are very broad churches of interests with substantial crossovers in the centre, and the electorate has a tendency to control concentrations of power by voting one way for a President and for a contrary party on the Hill to restrict the President’s freedom of action. The Democrats would like to win everywhere to give them a taste of proper power again. Hilary is thought too controversial to achieve that.

But that is not the only mark against Mrs C’s name. Bill Clinton was a charismatic populist. To see Bill work a room was to see conviction politics in action. He was, and is, a genuinely likeable man, with an interest in people and their problems, a willingness to listen, and an understanding of normal folk’s concerns. His wife has many strengths but lingering over minor and even banal conversations with little people is not one of them. She is a woman in a hurry and has spent her adult life hurrying toward real political power. What she has little time for, oddly, given her husband’s personality and record, is wasting time on what she sees as minor matters. She is a deal maker, a fixer, a woman who has played a tough role throughout her and Bill’s political times, knowing when to cajole, when to threaten, when to charm.  She maybe has done too little of the latter and much too much cajoling and threatening. There are a lot of people around who have bruises from dealing with Hilary and have, if not thoughts of revenge, at least doubts about her methodology. Which would not matter too much if they saw her as a sure fire vote winner; but they don’t. And that has already been demonstrated – Bernie Saunders, the Vermont version of Jeremy Corbyn, continues to catch up in the polls and looks like winning in New Hampshire in the first primary next year. There are a lot of reasons why that is not that surprising (he’s from next door, for a start) but it would be a terrible start to Hilary’s coronation.

The great American voting public have their doubts about Hilary too. Some of it is the American suspicion of dynasties and entitlement (though it has admittedly done the Kennedys little harm) which is a problem for both Mrs Clinton and Mr (Jeb) Bush. But in Hilary’s case there is a Lady Macbeth problem too. Not just the power behind the arras thing, either. The pre-presidential Clinton political life seemed to involve rather a lot of murky goings on – well ventilated when Bill began his steady climb from the Governor’s mansion in Arkansas and squarely blamed on his wife. Bill rode those rumours down by a mixture of ignoring it and some aggressive lawyering, but there are already lots of investigative journalists turning over the same stones, and some of what lies underneath may cause Mrs C more trouble. And she has more recent problems. The Clintons are very rich now, and some wonder where all that wealth has come from. And that secret email account (contents now deleted?) through which so much governmental business was sent, continues to erode trust. The people trust Bill, but they have never trusted Hilary; and this sort of thing just confirms those feelings.

And we won’t even touch on Mrs Clinton’s record as Secretary of State, and the apparent physical strain on her that the job caused.

So, not too popular among the party grandees, lacking a common touch, regarded with suspicion by the voters, a mixed record in office, and with a bit of a murky past. It’s enough to make any potential President-Maker look at the alternatives. They don’t have to look far to find one. One is sitting in Washington, in the office of the Vice-President. Joe Biden is a classic old fashioned northern Democrat politician – self-made, personable, an intelligent man, but with a common folksy touch, who has charmed and cultivated his way into the office next door to the most powerful man in the country.

Joe has one big disadvantage – he is 72, a couple of years older than Ronald Reagan when he began his first term of office. But he is fit, relaxed, confident, witty. He looks and sounds presidential –always a help. In fact, he looks rather like Bill Clinton. And the USA does not seem to mind age in its politicians –Hilary is 67 and Donald 69. Biden has known considerable personal tragedy and recovered from it. No suggestion of scandal hangs about him, and he is seeing as hardworking, devoted to family, to his constituents, to his country, and particularly to the disadvantaged. He is also a skilled operator. He initially let it be known that he would not run, but not too firmly. Then friends let it be known that aspects of Mrs Clinton’s record were a little disturbing. Now it is rumoured that Mr Obama has let him know that he would not stand in Joe’s way should he wish to run.

And these rumours have been very well received in the party and in the country. The Clinton campaign has been running at a low level – not much TV exposure, very little advertising, lots of small town meetings. That’s cheap, and it makes Hilary look not too grand. It also mirrors Bernie Saunder’s style (and, you may think, Jeremy Corbyn’s).

So what happens next? Any step up in the Clinton campaign would certainly suggest she is taking the man from the White House very seriously. But the problem for both, and indeed for Bernie, is that it is still six months to the first primary. Hilary remembers that one of her big mistakes in 2008 when battling Mr Obama for the nomination was that she peaked much too soon, laying herself open to attacks on all sides, and letting Mr Obama make himself the challenger, a popular role. Joe won’t declare until he is reasonably certain that he can win the nomination. How long that will take will depend on how much support he is getting in conversations round the country, what the polls say (they are already trending his way) and how Hilary gets through the next few months. It could be a very interesting autumn.

 

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