The World’s Economy in 2020: Cautious Optimism:

Fragile. Handle With Care”. It was on this very tentative note that the World Bank launched its latest 334-page Global Economic Prospects (GEP) Report at a briefing for members of the UK Foreign Press Association on 8th January at London’s Millbank Tower. On the positive side, it anticipates world economic growth of 2.5% this year, up from 2.4% in 2019 and that this could be even stronger if trade tensions diminish – but if, on the contrary, they escalate, this could result in sharp downturns in major economies and financial disarray in emerging & developing ones (EMDEs).

As the Report emphasises, the USA and China together account for nearly 40% of global GDP and nearly a quarter of global trade. Hence, renewed dislocation in economic ties between them would not only damage them but the rest of the world as well. On 29th December, the Guardian assessed the possibility of two alternative scenarios. The “benign view”, it declared, is that global growth will start to improve and that Donald Trump will initiate his re-election campaign by announcing a trade deal with China. However, if the financial markets conclude instead that the trade war between Washington and Beijing is going to be long and bitter, the world “could be heading for economic, financial and environmental crises”.

The Guardian’s financial editor, Larry Elliott, furthermore noted on 9th January that the World Bank is particularly alarmed about what it considers to be excessive borrowing and debt accumulation by developing economies, which historically “tends to have an unhappy ending” and that a modest improvement in global activity will also depend on a better year for countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Turkey. China’s own vulnerability to its high and rising private debt “may lead to an extended period of subdued growth in the absence of deep structural reforms”, while any imposition by the USA of tariffs on automobiles and parts imports is likely to provoke retaliation from the countries affected. They could respond by establishing their own trade barriers and hence the entire global multilateral trading system “could be put at risk”.

Meanwhile, activity in the Euro area, observes the World Bank, has “deteriorated significantly”. The German industrial sector has struggled with falling demand from Asia and disruption to car production. The uncertainty regarding Brexit has also produced adverse repercussions. Euro area growth is expected to slow to 1% this year but recover modestly to around 1.3% in 2021 /22, depending on how the Brexit process unfolds and if there is no further intensification in trade restrictions.

So what impact will all this have on Latin America? According to the World Bank, growth in the LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) region will rise from an estimated 0.8% in 2019 to 1.8% in 2020 and 2.4% in 2021. In Brazil, it will increase to 2% due to more robust investor confidence and a gradual relaxation of lending and labour market conditions but Argentina’s economy “is anticipated to shrink to a more modest 1.3% as private consumption and investment recede more gradually”. In Central America, growth is expected to stabilize at 3% thanks to the easing of credit conditions in Costa Rica and relief from setbacks to construction projects in Panama. The World Bank seems assured that Chile will recover from the social unrest of late 2019, achieving 2.5% in 2020 and 3% in 2021.

For Colombia, it envisages favourable financing conditions which will support broader domestic demand and the more rapid implementation of planned infrastructure projects. These combined factors “ will support an upsurge in growth to 3.6% in 2020 and around 3.9% in 2021”. “Focus Economics” (FE) agrees that the “robust momentum” in Colombia will be sustained this year due to “lower corporate taxes and fiscal exemptions as well as healthy private consumption underpinned by softening inflation”.

Political uncertainty ahead of the 2021 elections in Ecuador will keep it at 0.5%, whereas in Bolivia – despite prevailing social tensions, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and a difficult external environment for hydrocarbon exports – it will be poised at around 3.2%. FE forecasts that Peru’s GDP will expand to 3.2% this year as a result of improving consumer confidence, but shares the World Bank’s opinion that the outlook for Venezuela “remains gloomy”, that its economy will contract by 8.4% in 2020, though could improve by 0.7% in 2021 if a political solution emerges. Indeed, the World Bank stresses that, due to lack of data, their GEP doesn’t include growth forecasts for Venezuela, focusing instead on the potential ramifications for neighbouring countries.

The main concern for the LAC region, the World Bank points out, is a further worsening of US-China trading relations: “This risk is particularly acute for countries highly reliant on China as an export destination (Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay)”, though this might be partially alleviated by the trade agreement (yet to be ratified) signed between Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union in June 2019. Likewise, sluggish US growth could be a hindrance for Mexico and other countries dependent on the United States.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on January 14th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The UK Election Result: Nato’s Preferred Outcome:

A nightmare scenario”: That was how Josh Glancy, the Sunday Times Washington correspondent, on 1st December described how many US senators viewed the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming British Prime Minister. Particular concern, observed Glancy, was being expressed about Corbyn’s perceived tendency to sympathise with some of America’s most implacable enemies and whether intelligence sharing and defence co-operation could be continued if the UK electorate installed a left-wing Labour Government.

On the same page, Caroline Wheeler, the newspaper’s Deputy Political Editor, quoted five prominent British military commanders” who warned that Corbyn in 10 Downing Street would be “dangerous” for national security and could “wreck” the morale of the country’s armed forces. There have long been doubts in particular about his support for NATO. As Channel 4 TV’s “Fact Check” has pointed out, although the Labour Party’s official policy is for Britain to continue as a member of NATO, Corbyn himself (prior to becoming the party’s leader) has called for the organisation to be disbanded, depicting it as “an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies” and asserting that after the Cold War ended in 1990, it should have “shut up shop, gone home, gone away”.

During the General Election campaign, the UK Defence Chief, Sir Nick Carter, riposted (reported the Sunday Express columnist Alessandra Scotto di Santolo on 10th November) by sending “ a stern message” to Corbyn that NATO plays a fundamental role in protecting Britain from external threats.

Boris Johnson, in contrast to Corbyn, has made it clear that he is “rock solid” in his commitment to NATO. In his opening statement welcoming the organisation’s leaders to their summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford on 4th December, he hailed it as “ a great shield of solidarity that protects 29 countries and a billion people”. The simple proposition at the heart of the Alliance, he emphasised, is that by standing together “no-one can hope to defeat us and therefore no-one will start a war”. The Conservative Party’s election win on 12th December, providing a majority of 80 in Parliament, has ensured that it will be Johnson’s view of NATO, not Corbyn’s, that will prevail for at least the next five years.

Several  Heads of State & Government – including the Prime Ministers of Canada (Justin Trudeau), the Netherlands (Mark Rutte), North Macedonia (Zoran Zaev) and President Andrzej Duda of Poland – also attended the “NATO Engages: Innovating The Alliance” Conference held at the Central Hall in Westminster on 3rd December. Among the key issues that featured on the agenda were: “NATO’s Role in an Insecure World”, “Defence and Deterrent For a New Era”, “The Impact of Climate Change on the Alliance” and “From The Baltic to the Black Sea: Security on NATO’s Frontlines”.

It soon became evident from the debates and speeches that the organization is now focusing as much on potential  “provocations from the east” (namely China) as on tensions with Russia. As the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged in a press conference in New York on 29th November, the Alliance now “needs to take into account China’s significant military modernisation: Its increased presence from the Arctic to the Balkans and in cyber space”.

The Observer columnist, Simon Tisdall, noted on 17th November that, according to the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, China has established “ a nefarious web already spanning Asia, Africa and Latin America” and is using economic means to coerce countries into lopsided deals that mainly benefit Beijing.

NATO has insisted in its “2020 Analysis: New Strategic Concepts”, that, with the possible exception of  humanitarian emergencies, it doesn’t foresee the organisation being directly involved in the Latin American or Caribbean regions. This has been somewhat contradicted, however, by Stoltenberg, who informed David Brunnstrom, a contributor to the Reuters News Agency, that NATO is looking into the possibility of other Latin American countries, in addition to Colombia (with whom a Partnership and Cooperation Programme was signed in 2017) becoming partners.

Indeed, following the visit by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to the White House in March, it seems that Brazil could soon be awarded the status of a NATO “global partner”.Bolsonaro and Trump are fierce critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and strongly opposed to the apparent increasing Russian involvement that country. The US Air Force Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, has made it clear to Newsweek magazine that the US & NATO “are certainly keeping a close eye on Chinese and Russian activities in Latin America” and that they would “push back aggressively if we must”. 

The Strategic Culture Foundation analyst, Alex Gorka, believes that the partnership with Colombia indicates that NATO is expanding its traditional zone of responsibility and has ceased to be just a European entity. The geopolitical expert and author, Paul Antonopoulos, agrees. “Decidedly (he declares), NATO and the US have turned their attention to South America”.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on December 16th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Relentless Commercialisation Of Santa Claus:

Wanted: “ An enthusiastic, confident, jolly individual aged between 25-75 years old who believes in Christmas magic. Own beard an advantage. Personal experience not necessary: Full training and a quality costume will be provided. If you don’t have a large tummy, no problem. A synthetic one can be made available”.

This was the gist of the criteria specified by the Hillside Nursery Centre in Newton Abbey, Northern Ireland, when they were looking for someone to portray Father Christmas in their festive Grotto this year. The salary would be £12 per hour – somewhat less than the £25 per hour paid by Envisage Promotions for the same position at a shopping centre in Maidstone, Kent.

Both of these, however, compare favourably to the prevailing rates for Santa’s assistants, the elves, who get £11 per hour in Maidstone, between £5.30 and £9.00 per hour at the Planet Ice skating rink in Milton Keynes, “up to £9 per hour” at the Bentalls department store in Kingston Upon Thames and £7-£8 per hour at the Aldenham Country Park in Elstree.

Traditionally, “looking the part”, with a hearty laugh, a charismatic personality and a corpulent body were all that were needed to obtain a temporary Santa job. Not any more. Venues such as Capital Gardens in Sherfield, just north of Basingstoke, these days insist that applicants should have prior experience and training – which is why there are now several organisations in the UK that offer courses on how to be Father Christmas.

On the 27th November, for example, the events company Ministry of Fun hosted its annual “Santa School” at Southwark Cathedral in London, which included “all aspects of the role from boots to beard” and was designed to ensure that the students would be “equipped with a sack-full of responses for every potential scenario, especially the difficult questions they were likely to be asked by children”,

The “Santa School of Excellence” runs training sessions every day, price £99 per person, for a week in October at its headquarters in Rugby, Warwickshire and issues attendance certificates detailing the topics which have been taught. During the 6 years they’ve been hiring out their graduates to leading companies across the UK they’ve acquired (so they declare) “a vast amount of knowledge on what makes a great Father Christmas”.

There’s even an “International University of Santa Claus” (IUSC),based in Houston,Texas,USA. The IUSC claims that over the past eight years more than 3,500 Santas and Mrs Claus have enrolled at its Schools. It awards five different categories of diplomas in Santaclausology: Associate, Bachelor, Master, Advanced Master, and Doctorate (PhD).

To qualify for a PhD, candidates must have already passed the fourth stage, accumulated at least five years’ experience as Santa and then, as the final step, are required to submit a 20 – 30 minute dissertation to the selection committee.

Featuring among the possible topics suggested for the presentation are: “The basics of being Santa”, “The Correct Posture & Facial Features”, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Sitting in the Chair”, “Answering Those Who Don’t Believe in Santa or Christmas”, “Santa as a Business” and “How to Market Yourself”. Successful candidates are then bestowed with their Phd Diploma at an IUSC graduation ceremony and are entitled to attend the university’s future courses free of charge.

The Ministry of Fun’s Santa School opens its doors for its 18th annual training day. Potential Santas are put through their paces, with classes in general jolliness, reindeer name memorisation and learning “Merry Christmas” in 15 languages.

Many of the Santas currently working in grottos across the UK, may be feeling – irrespective of whether they have diplomas, experience or training – that their remuneration should and could be a little higher. That’s because, as has recently been highlighted by the British media, the expenditure for parents who want to take their children to see Father Christmas is more than double than what it was three years ago.

According to an analysis conducted by the Sunday Times and cited on 17th November by two of its journalists, Shanti Das and Tom Calver, the average charge has jumped from £9.39 in 2016 to £12.63 now, which represents a 35% rise.

In several places, the increase has been much higher: At the Royal Albert Hall, a ticket for an hour-long event with Father Christmas, music and puppets now costs £39.24, up from £26.50 in 2016. The biggest increase, noted Das and Calver, has been for the “Winterland Grotto” at Dreamland in Margate, Kent, from £9.95 to £27.95. The founder of the Mumset forum, Justine Roberts, told the Sunday Times that parents resented having to pay so much for attractions often consisting of “grotty grottoes and sullen Santas wearing ill-fitting beards”.

The fiercest criticism has been directed at the decision by Harrods in Knightsbridge to restrict access to its Father Christmas to customers who have spent at least £2,000 in the shop. As the Guardian columnist, Robert Neale, pointed out on 9th November, although the Qatari royal family – the owners of the store, which made a £171 million profit last year – have now agreed to allow 160 less well-off families the chance to visit the grotto, the wealthiest ones will still monopolise 96.4% of Father Christmas’s time at Harrods.

Filed under: Society | Posted on December 2nd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Public Transport Etiquette Under Scrutiny:

The Government should completely ban the eating of food on trains, buses and the underground”. This was the opinion expressed by England’s recently retired Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, as quoted by the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley on 10th October. That same day, Stuart Heritage, a contributor to the newspaper, accused Davies of thereby trying to deprive the country’s population of one of its “fundamental human rights” – although he did promise, as a concession to Davies, that he would no longer snack on hot catsu curry during the morning rush hour.

Tony Naylor, also of the Guardian, has similarly queried why he should be fined (or suffer the disapproval of other passengers) for munching a ham sandwich on his way to meet friends after work on a Friday evening. He believes that the real issue is the mess that people leave behind them – the empty boxes, cans, apple cores, spilled drinks, rolling bottles and (“worst of all”) the ubiquitous chewing gum. If you get crumbs on the seat, he insists, “you should brush them to the floor as you get up”.

In contrast to Heritage, the Metro columnist, Lizzie Thomson, asserted on 10th October that “it’s a truth universally acknowledged that sitting next to someone devouring a tuna sandwich on a bus is absolute hell”. While she accepts the contention that many commuters have no choice but to eat while on their way to and from their place of employment, she urges them to avoid “stinky food”, especially sushi, smoked salmon, camembert, mackerel pate and any nutriment that has a pungent aroma, as this will linger around long after they get off their means of transport: “Although the ‘fragrance’ of your doner kebab may seem like heaven to you, the rest of your carriage might disagree”. Furthermore, anything that has a potential to splash onto fellow travellers – such as noodles and all varieties of spaghetti – should be avoided and “ always ensure that you have a napkin with you”.

An editorial in the London Evening Standard on 12th November, advised any traveller tempted to start chomping through a packet of salt-and-vinegar crisps to keep their delicacy until later and focus instead on reading their newspaper. This coincided with a report that day by their crime correspondent, John Dunne, on the case of a city worker fined £1,500 by Blackfriars Crown Court for having launched an “aggressive tirade” against a fellow commuter, of South American origin, who had been enjoying her breakfast of “admittedly strong smelling” eggs on the 6 am train from Chelmsford in Essex to Liverpool Street Station in London.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned drinking alcohol on the capital’s buses and underground when he was Mayor of London, there’s currently no indication that this will be extended to the consumption of food – unlike in many other cities around the world. Eating, drinking and smoking is not allowed on trams in Barcelona or the subway systems in Washington USA as well as in Beijing, Nanjing, Xiamen and Shenzhen in China, where violations can result in having to pay out up to 500 yuan (£54), an exclusion from using the underground and the infraction being registered on the offender”s credit record.

The Filipino Times has warned any of the nation’s citizens considering going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that once they step foot inside an underground train there, no food and drink is allowed, including water and chewing gum. In Singapore, commuters discovered by SMRT Corporation officials to be sucking even a sweet reputedly run the risk of being penalized  by the country’s Land Transport Authority. In Japan, has noted, drinking and eating is acceptable on regional long-distance trains but not on local ones.

In reality, according to a YouGov survey cited by the Guardian commentator, Carmen Fishwick, no matter how well you try to behave on the London underground, you’ll probably eventually upset someone. Apparently, 90% of Londoners are antagonised by people pushing to enter a carriage without giving the passengers still inside a chance to get off, 74% don’t like bags being placed on unoccupied seats, 71% find malodorous food offensive and 56% become impatient when other passengers take too long to go through the ticket barrier. Talking loudly, wearing a rucksack and failing to move down inside the carriage also all feature in YouGov’s “20 most irritating tube behaviours”.

The Press Association journalist, Erin Cardiff, has compiled a list for BT Lifestyle of the ten particularly annoying things she asserts occur most frequently on public transport. Among them: Loud phone calls (“nobody needs to hear about what you had for dinner last night or the hilarious trick your dog performed that morning”), bad hygiene, blaring music, people putting their feet on the seats, eating noxious food, reading another person’s newspaper or texts over their shoulder, being a space invader (for some, that could mean a cyclist taking up three seats or a large proportion of the aisle on a busy bus or train”) carrying huge bags during the rush hour and public displays of affection.

But what seems to exasperate Cardiff the most is someone putting on cosmetics during the journey, not just mascara but “applying nail varnish, plucking brows and clipping nails, anything you’d normally confine to your bathroom at home. The 296 bus is not the place for all of that”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Travel | Posted on November 19th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Electorate’s Dilemma: Which Party To Trust:

People around the world expect and demand a lot more from their leaders than they receive”. That was the conclusion of Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, following the survey conducted by Gallup International in 2004 which revealed that 63% of the 50,000 people questioned in more than 60 countries considered their top politicians to be dishonest, 60% felt they had too much power and 52% believed they behaved unethically. The result, as the Guardian columnist, Ian Traynor, commented at the time, constituted “ a massive vote of no-confidence in political elites worldwide”.

Fifteen years later, very little seems to have changed. Gallup International’s most recent global opinion poll, titled “Voice Of the People”, has indicated that the populations of many nations are even more unhappy now with their current government than they were then: In France, for example, 68% are dissatisfied, in Spain 64%, Argentina 61% (hence the defeat of President Mauricio Macri to the Peronist Alberto Fernandez on October 27), the USA 59% and Colombia 58%.

In the UK, the figure is 59% – which suggests (say Gallup) that there has been a shift in the British public’s attitude towards politicians, who are now seen more as being just “out for themselves and their party and not particularly concerned about doing the best for their country”. This evident disenchantment with politics and politicians is thus “fuelling a drift of voters away from the main parties”.

President Trump’s campaign mantra about putting “America First” has been replicated in many other countries: 72% of Italians (according to Gallup) hold the view that their national interests should take priority over international cooperation and globalization: In France, the figure is 70%, Spain 62%, Colombia 63%, Ecuador 82%, Argentina 81%, Paraguay 80%, Ethiopia 92% and the UK 71% – which would appear to explain the success of “Vote Leave” in the 2016 European Union Referendum.

In its report “Revealing The Truth About Trust” issued on September 19th, the market research company Ipsos Mori emphasized that “everywhere, the elites and mainstream media are being challenged by an angry populace”. As a member of the audience in the BBC TV’s Question Time programme on 31st October pointed out, the widespread contempt in Britain for Members of Parliament dates back to the expenses scandal of 2010 – which, the New Statesman contributor, William Lewis, observed in the publication on 1st May, involved claims ranging from the comical (duck houses and moat cleaning) to the criminal (false accounting, mortgage fraud) and has led to “a profound, long term disintegration of public trust in our political institutions”. has similarly noted that questions are again being raised about the alleged corruption, greed and improper financial conduct of some MPs, whose basic annual income is £79, 478: “In a period of recession, when the wages of many employees around the country have stagnated, such behaviour is widely deemed to be a betrayal of their power”.

On the same BBC programme, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Paul Scully, acknowledged that politics in Britain currently resembles “ a war of attrition” – a view apparently shared by another member of the panel, the journalist Isabel Oakshott, who described it as “a brutal game” and expressed her disquiet about the 500,000 abusive tweets received by MPs between January and September this year, a phenomenon partly due (she declared) to the “incredibly polarizing effect of Brexit”.

Although 70% of UK residents agree with the global perception (cited by the Pew Research Centre) that the political elites are out of touch with average citizens and that elected officials don’t care about what ordinary people think, politicians are perhaps surprisingly not the least-trusted profession in Britain. That accolade belongs to advertising executives, who with 16% are bottom of the Ipsos Mori Veracity Index, below politicians (19%), government ministers (22%), journalists (26%) and estate agents (30%).

At the very top are nurses, who with 96% are regarded as most likely to tell the truth, followed by doctors (92%), teachers (89%), engineers (87%), professors (86%), scientists (85%) and judges (83%). Members of the armed forces (78%) and the police (76%) are 8th & 9th on the list, but priests are down from 69% to 62% and TV news readers from 67% to 62% since 2017. Charity chief executives are trusted by just 48%, trade union officials by 45% and bankers by 41%.

Irrespective as to their position in the “Brexit” debate, UK residents don’t generally appear to differ from their fellow-Europeans on many other issues- for instance whether to trust pharmaceutical conglomerates (40% say no) oil and gas companies (18% say no), food & drink wholesalers ( 31% say no) or the banks (51% say no). The technology sector is the only one of the five classified as reasonably trustworthy.

Europe, emphasises Ipsos Mori, is one of the most privacy sceptical regions in the world, so people there (including in the UK) tend to be uncomfortable about handing over control of their personal data to others. Furthermore, “Over six out of ten Europeans trust news they receive from the radio, TV or the printed press but only 25% are fully convinced about the veracity of what they read on social media”.

Filed under: Media, Politics | Posted on November 5th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Driving On The Left Or Right: Which Is Better?

It can happen”. That has been President Donald Trump’s response to the fatal accident in August near a British military base in Northamptonshire involving the wife of an American diplomat. He’s also suggested that it’s “very tough” for anyone from the US driving in Europe as the roads there are “contrary” – despite the fact that all European countries (except the UK, Ireland & Cyprus) drive on the right, the same as in the US. Furthermore, Trump appears to exonerate visitors to the UK who veer onto the wrong side of the road and instead attributes the blame to Britain’s “different system”.

Drive”, which provides advice for UK residents taking their cars to the Continent, has cited the case of a French tourist, Emmanuel Lillaz, who crashed his hired vehicle into a baker’s van in a village in Devon while driving on the right. Unlike Trump’s fellow citizen, who has claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the USA, Lillaz apologized, was subsequently fined £500 and had his licence suspended for a year by Exeter Crown Court.

British residents going abroad, of course, face a similar problem. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), the greatest fear of 26% of those questioned is driving by error on the wrong side of the road or going around a roundabout the wrong way – and indeed 10% admit to having done so. Statistics issued by the insurance company Churchill, reported by the “” contributor, James Fossdyke, indicate that 2% of British motorists have mistakenly deviated to the left in Spain in the past five years and that 10% of them have experienced a “near miss” while driving abroad.

Although almost 75% of countries now drive on the right, a study by the British civil engineer, Professor J.J.Leeming, in 1969 concluded that those with left-side driving have a lower level of traffic-related accidents. His explanation for this was that the right eye of humans is usually sharper and clearer than the left one, drivers use it more to watch traffic coming from the opposite direction and hence being on the left side is safer.

In historical times, it seems, the majority of travellers preferred the left of the road, because (asserts “most people are right-handed and it was easier to protect themselves from attack”. The trend to the right-hand side began in the 18th century, following America’s independence from Britain in 1783 and the French revolution in 1789, before which the aristocracy had priority on the left-hand side and the poor were restricted to the right. After the storming of the Bastille, it became more advisable to pretend to be part the peasantry. Countries subsequently conquered by Napoleon in 1805, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, were forced to change to the right.

Until the 1930’s, Barcelona and some parts of Spain drove on the right, whereas Madrid and other areas kept to the left. It was a similar situation in Italy: Its first Highway Code on 30th June 1912 specified that all vehicles had to drive on the right, but Rome only implemented this regulation on 1st March 1925 and Milan on 3rd August 1926. Portugal also moved from left to right during the 1920’s. Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all changed to the right after being annexed or invaded by Hitler.

The global shift to the right side continued throughout the 20th century: Gibraltar (1929), Panama (1943), Argentina (1945), Philippines (1945) , China (1946), Taiwan, North & South Korea (three former colonies of Japan, which has stayed on the left, as have Thailand and Indonesia) in 1946, Sweden (1967), Iceland (1968), Burma (1970). Canada moved completely to the right after the 2nd World War. Previously, the territory under English (rather than French) influence had remained on the left side.

Although the majority of former British colonies, including Hong Kong and Guyana in South America, continue to drive on the left, some of them in Africa, such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana, have switched to the right to conform with neighbouring French-speaking countries. For similar reasons. Mozambique, which is bordered by six English-speaking nations, has remained on the left.

One big concern for European Union nationals living in the UK is the post-Brexit status of their EU driving licences. The current situation is that both they and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, as well as those from “designated countries” such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, can drive in the UK until their document expires or they reach the age of 70. One possibility is that both they and British residents going to Europe will also need to acquire an International Driving Permit (IDP). The USA is not on the “designated” list, hence anyone from there can only drive in the UK for a maximum of 12 months, after which they must obtain a provisional licence and take a theory and practical driving test.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on October 21st, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

An Expensive Business: The High Cost Of UK Vets:

On 2nd September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, adopted a dog – a small Jack Russell which they have named “Dilyn” (meaning “follow” in Welsh). They acquired it from the Friends of Animals Wales charity specialising in rescuing farm puppies discarded and unwanted because they have physical defects. Dilyn and his brother Jed were both born with misaligned jaws. As the Daily Mail journalist, Barbara Davies, noted on 6th September, Dilyn has now become a firm favourite with the staff at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

Johnson, Symonds and Jed’s new owner (a civil servant in Wales) have thus become part of the 50% of the UK adult population that own a pet. Statistics issued by the People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals (PDSA) show that 24% of households in Britain have a cat (total estimated number, 10.9 million), 26% a dog (9.9 million) and 2% have a rabbit (900,000).

Melissa Hogenboom, a contributor to BBC Earth, has queried exactly why people have pets. Making an animal part of the family, she points out, seems to be something only humans do: “You won’t see a chimpanzee taking a dog for a walk or an elephant keeping a tortoise for company”. Pets, she notes, get meals, healthcare and a home for life, looking after them takes up time and you “can’t expect them to offer anything material in return”, though she does acknowledge that they clearly provide companionship. It’s all very strange, in her opinion, considering the expense involved.

The Pet Keepers Guide, by contrast, focuses more on the health benefits derived from, for example, walking the dog, as well as the opportunities this provides for enlarging one’s circle of friends. In some cities in China, it observes, many retired old folk carry their bird cages to a nearby park and socialize with other bird keepers while the avians themselves are singing to each other. Furthermore, the Guide suggests pets help boost their owners’ self-esteem:”Whether we are rich or poor, good-looking or “ugly”, overweight or underweight, our pets just don’t care. Their loyalty is unconditional”.

Hogenbooom’s comments about the cost of having a pet do, nevertheless, resonate with a large number of owners. The PDSA has calculated that caring for a dog will require an outlay of between £6000 – £17,000 during its life-time, depending on its breed, size and longevity. The minimum monthly expenditure for a small dog such as Dilyn will be at least £70, for a medium breed £80 pm and for a large one, £105 pm.

This is unlikely to present any difficulty for Boris Johnson, with his Prime Ministerial and MP’s salaries, but could be a concern for anyone with a much lower income or no job at all. For cats, the PDSA figure is £12,000, rising to a potential £24,000 “if you decide to spend a little more on your cat’s care or they live longer than the average of around 15 – 16 years”.

None of this, of course, includes the veterinary fees which will be incurred if your pet develops health problems or has an accident. Indeed, the high charges involved have become increasingly controversial, to the extent that – according to the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter, Patrick Sawer – vets are being threatened on a regular basis by pet owners angry at the cost of treatment.

A survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), cited by Sawer, has revealed that many practices are accused of being “money-grabbing” by clients upset at the amount they are required to pay for standard appointments such as follow-up checks for their pets.

The MoneySupermarket commentator, Kevin Pratt, confirms that vet bills in the UK have continued to rise, which is why pet insurers paid out a record £775 million (the equivalent of £2 million every day) for sick or injured animals in 2017. Blood tests can cost £100 – £130, X-Rays £300, a consultation with a vet £60, emergency surgery at least £1,500, an overnight stay in a pet hospital £500 or more and ongoing treatment such as chemotherapy £5,000.

The former vet, Matthew Watkinson, in an article for the Daily Mail, expressed his shame at having been a member of a profession “that puts pets through painful, risky and unnecessary treatments to fleece their trusting owners”. A whole industry (he wrote) has arisen out of squeezing the most money out of treating family pets, especially in affluent areas with middle-classes residents, hence cash, not the welfare of the animal, is too often at the forefront of the vet’s mind. Pet insurance is “simply a licence to print money” that helps only vets. He’s opposed to animals having to endure lots of operations in the hope that their health problems can be cured and their lives prolonged.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has responded to this criticism by acknowledging that there might be some “bad apples” in the sector but emphasizing it operates “a robust regulatory system to ensure high standards of education and professional conduct are set, met and maintained”

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on October 8th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week SS20: Climate Change Overshadows The Catwalks:

They were all there as usual at the latest London Fashion Week (13th – 17th September: Famous designers such as Mark Fast, Roberta Einer, Molly Goddard, Erdem, Victoria Beckham. However, this time they were not the only focus of the national media’s attention. The spotlight was as much on the demonstrations outside the main LFW venue in the Strand as on prestigious occasions such as the Burberry Show. The UK protest group, Extinction Rebellion, had asked the British Fashion Council to cancel the event altogether “in recognition of the existential threat that faces us” – but when that didn’t happen, as the Guardian’s fashion editor, Jess Cartner-Morley, reported on 14th September, they threw buckets of fake blood onto the pavement to symbolize their view that the fashion sector, like other industries, is leading towards the extinction of life on the planet.

During the five days of LFW, they also handed out leaflets declaring that fashion is one of the biggest scourges of the earth: The water, the chemicals, the waste. “Don’t make any more clothes. Don’t buy any more clothes” they urged, “Instead: Be mad and inventive with the clothes that already exist in the world. We have enough forever now”.

The campaigning designer, Stella McCartney clearly agrees. In an “Open Letter To The Fashion Industry” published in the Sunday Times Style magazine on 15th September, she noted that it’s become one of the most damaging industries in the world and is responsible for more than a third of ocean microplastics: “Every single second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is sent to landfills or burnt, while textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally”.

The British Council (BFC), in its pre-LFW press release regarding the possible impact of a “no-deal Brexit”, emphasized the importance of the UK retaining its role as a global leader in creativity, innovation and business – not least because the fashion industry is worth more than £32 billion to the country’s GDP and employs over 890,000 people. However, as the Observer columnist, Ed Helmore, pointed out on 1st September, although people in Britain buy more garments than any other European country, they also seem to throw a lot of it away – in fact, that 11 million items of clothing end up in UK landfills each week.

In response to this, the model Stella Tennant and the charity Oxfam, have launched a “Second Hand September” campaign aimed at persuading consumers not to buy any new clothes for at least 30 days. According to the Guardian journalist,Sarah Butler,on 22nd August, there is already a trend among many young people to buy from resale sites such as Depop in the UK and the market analysts GlobalData anticipate the second-hand market will become 50% bigger than its fast fashion counterpart by 2028.

Helmore highlights the suggestion by Nicole Phelps, the Director of Vogue Runway, that celebrities should set an example by re-wearing gowns they’ve worn in the past. He also cites the results of a United Nation’s study indicating that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of waste water and consumes more energy than the airline and shipping industries combined.

The BFC Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, acknowledges that the issues of sustainability and climate change represent formidable challenges for the fashion industry – but insists that the BFC hears the message of Extinction Rebellion. “Our role”, she told Cartner-Morley, “is to make the information digestible for fashion businesses so they can take practical action”. One example of this was the launch at LFW by the designer Roland Mouret and the Arch & Hook company of clothes hangers developed from 80% marine plastic which is harvested from oceans and waterways and so removes plastic waste from the environment.

Another designer, Julien Macdonald, is similarly trying to ensure his brand becomes more ecologically aware: His clothes, he told the Evening Standard fashion journalist, Lizzie Edmonds, are made from as many organic fabrics as possible. He’s also apparently “bored of young girls on the runway” as although they may look fabulous when modelling his clothes, they’re not the ones who buy them. His declared aim is to produce a collection for “real women”. His LFW SS20 Show took place in Southwark Cathedral the evening of 16th September.

Meanwhile, the BFC is imploring the Government to seek a deal with the European Union that will guarantee that international designers and students will continue to feel they are welcome to study and work in the UK. The introduction of World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs, they argue, will have serious implications, as fashion is comprised of “component goods which traverse borders multiple times before becoming a finished product”. Designers, driven by the need to achieve high artistry and creative pieces, thus have to adopt a global approach in all elements of their business, from sourcing the perfect fabric, through to finding the best pattern cutters in the world to work with that fabric.

Filed under: Society | Posted on September 23rd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

A Second Brexit Referendum On The Horizon?

Be careful what you wish for. You might receive it”. That’s how the English author W.W. Jacobs began his classic horror story, “The Monkey’s Paw”, which was first published in 1902. As the wiseGeek website has pointed out, this expression – which has become almost a cliché – constitutes a warning to those people hoping for something without considering all the negative consequences that could accompany obtaining it. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and British Prime Minister since July 23rd, could well be reflecting that this applies very much to the situation in which he currently finds himself.

In September 2018, the Guardian columnist, Steve Richards, noted that Johnson “obviously aches to be prime minister” but that he would never get the top job in British politics because his vaulting ambition is too transparent” As we now know, Richards was wrong. On 30th August, Johnson told a group of young prospective journalists aged 9 –14 who’d been invited to 10 Downing Street that in fact his early aspiration had been to be a rock star or a supermarket tycoon rather than Prime Minister and that he regrets he isn’t allowed by his bodyguards to ride his bicycle any more because someone might try to attack him.

Although Boris appears so far to have retained his popularity with much of the public, he has been depicted by his opponents as a dictator for proroguing Parliament from 10th September until 14th October and as a bully for suspending from his party the 21 Conservative MPs who voted in Parliament against his Government. Furthermore, the Guardian correspondents Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker, in a front-page article on 6th September, described Johnson’s speech in West Yorkshire the previous day as “rambling and occasionally incoherent” and Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, on the BBC’s Question Time programme that same evening, denounced him as a “reckless liar”.

Irrespective of whether such harsh remarks are justified, most recent British Prime Ministers and opposition party leaders have had to accept that being ridiculed has become an integral part of their job. Theresa May was constantly mocked for her “robotic” speaking style, her stiff way of walking, her embarrassing attempts to dance in public, her social awkwardness and even her leopard-skin shoes. In the House of Commons on Tuesday 3rd September, during Johnson’s fierce verbal exchanges with the Opposition benches and some of his own MPs, May looked alternatively happy that she was no longer Prime Minister and gloomy that she was no longer the centre of attention.

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has often been taunted for having an allotment and growing his own tomatoes, potatoes and marrows. At the end of an appearance on the BBC TV’s “The One Show” in May 2017, he gave the presenters a jar of his home-made jam. His predecessor, Ed Milliband, is remembered mainly for the inelegant way he ate a bacon sandwich, a photo of which featured on the front page of the Sun newspaper.

In the opinion of the contributor, Jonathan Bacon, on March 13th, the image then in circulation of a “beaming and ruddy-faced” David Cameron (Prime Minister 2010 -2016), perched on the steps of his £25,000 garden shed, encapsulated the out-of-touch complacency of a man who had plunged his country into the worst crisis in decades by calling the Referendum, then had promptly left when he lost “to spend time with the baubles of his wealth and privilege”.

Boris Johnson has responded belligerently to his critics. On the 4th September, he characterised Corbyn as a “chlorinated chicken” and accused him of being prepared to “surrender” to Brussels. The Labour Leader retorted that the Prime Minister had “no mandate, no morals and no parliamentary majority”. The Washington Post commentator, Adam Taylor, has queried why British politicians insult each other so much. He considers it could be partly due to the adversarial design of the House of Commons itself, where government & opposition MPs sit, “at a distance said to be slightly more than two sword lengths”, glaring fiercely face to face at each other.

In the era of social media and 24-hour news, Taylor observes, British politicians are increasingly rude to their opponents and “have become aware that a quick insult might be a better way to gain popularity than a serious debate”. He cites the examples of Cameron advising Corbyn to put on a proper suit, do up his tie and sing the national anthem, MPs pleading with Boris Johnson to tuck in his shirt and the former transport minister Simon Burns being reprimanded for apparently portraying the “diminutive” House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”.

So what happens now? Boris might resign rather than ask the EU for another extension or win the next election and then try to get a revised deal. If Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, he’ll probably also attempt to renegotiate with Brussels, then hold a 2nd Referendum, with many (but not all) of the Labour Party advocating Remain. The Liberal Democrat Party Leader, Jo Swinson, has declared that if the country votes “Leave” again, she won’t accept the result.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on September 9th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Holiday Souvenir No-One Wants To Bring Home:

Travelling abroad has become a hugely unpleasant ordeal”. That, at least, is the opinion of the Spectator magazine’s outspoken columnist, Rod Liddle, expressed in the publication’s 10th August edition. From now on, he announced, he and his family will take their vacations in Britain. He feels that going to other countries to widen your horizons and experience different kinds culture has lost some of it’s allure and he can anyway no longer endure “the endless security rigmarole at the airports and the queues everywhere for everything”. Moreover, the rejuvenation of the UK’s seaside towns with their food festivals, chic art galleries and “prettified and gentrified promenades” means that staying in the country “has become much more palatable and, thanks to the collapsing pound, much more affordable”.

Liddle could have added another reason: According to a survey conducted on behalf of the probiotic supplement company Bimuno Travelaid cited by the Daily Mail, 50% of the British population suffer health problems while they are abroad. Moreover, as the newspaper’s travel reporter observed, although many people may believe they are more likely to become ill on destinations such as Egypt or Turkey, in fact Spain appears to be the worst offender for holiday illness – to the extent that perhaps “traveller’s tummy” should be renamed “costa cramps”: 32% of Britons questioned said they’d become unwell while in the Iberian peninsula, compared to just 6% in Italy and 3% in Thailand.

The statistics place Greece in 2nd place (14.2% of Britons on holiday there fall ill), followed by France, despite it’s image as a centre for gastronomy (9.6%), Egypt (9.5%), Africa (8.1%), India (5.3%), and the Caribbean only 4%, “perhaps surprising in view of “the region’s bad reputation for causing illness”.

So what’s the solution and how can this situation be avoided? Birmuno Travelaid claim that their product “Increases the good-boosting bacteria in your gut and also provides a natural protective barrier against bad travel diarrhoea-causing bacteria including e-coli and salmonella”. Philip Calder, professor of nutritional immunology at Southampton University, has pointed out to the Daily Mirror that when you visit foreign countries, “your body encounters a whole new set of bacteria and viruses – starting with those of the passengers you sit in close proximity to and share air with on the plane”. Moreover, research shows that the behaviour associated with many tourists, such as risking sunburn, drinking too much alcohol and eating unhealthy food can further suppress the immune system, thereby providing a recipe for getting sick.

The fashion stylist Eve Brannon, in her article captioned “Don’t let Traveller’s Tummy Ruin Your Summer Holiday”, has recommended including more sources of soluble food fibres such as onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, chicory and asparagus in your diet in the weeks preceding your journey. Then ,while you’re away, you should avoid local tap water, if you can’t be sure of its purity. This includes taking ice in drinks, brushing your teeth with tap water or eating fruit and vegetables that have been washed in it: “Even if locals drink it without any problems, it’s unlikely your stomach will have the suitable bacteria to protect you”.

As a precaution, always drink bottled water, ensuring the seal is intact when purchased. Avoid raw or undercooked foods. Choose fruit that has to be peeled – such as bananas, mangos, oranges or pomegranates – and prepare them yourself. Beware of hotel buffet food, as there’s no way of knowing how long it’s been sitting out. Street stalls, contends Brannon, can be a safer bet than buffet-syle meals because they cook the produce fresh in front of you at high temperatures. When dining out, “pay attention to the restaurant’s overall cleanliness, especially as regards the tablecloths, cutlery, glasses and toilet facilities”.

The “Healthy Soul” website makes some suggestions that don’t feature on Brannon’s list. It advises that you should shower with your mouth closed: “Sometimes, even a small amount of water from the shower can be enough to upset your stomach badly”. It also advocates using iodine tablets to purify tap water if you can’t easily get hold of bottled water.

If you’ve nevertheless unfortunately experienced a severe episode while on holiday and are still coping with the after-effects now you’re back home, what’s the best and fastest way to get better? Brannon emphasises that the most important thing is to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid spicy, fried or fatty foods. Even if you’ve recovered your appetite, you should for the moment eat just bland foods like rice, soup, toast and bananas and then add in a probiotic supplement for extra support.

If – unlike Rod Liddle – you haven’t lost your enthusiasm for visiting other countries and intend return abroad as soon as possible , perhaps the advice of specialists such as Calder and Brannon will help you avoid falling victim again to the dreaded “traveller’s tummy”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Travel | Posted on August 27th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »


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