Making Brexit work: the £ could do the trick

Historians will record that the UK’s Brexit debate ended precisely on 29th September 2021 when Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, declared that the task was now to make Brexit work.

To optimise Brexit means optimising trade flows, to ensure the highest levels of productivity, investment and living standards. Businesses do best from economies of scale, so that the same production run meets with the fewest barriers of tax, regulation and standards. Nowadays, this is done by forming large trading blocks such as MERCOSUR, NAFTA or the EU. Large countries such as the USA, China and India are primarily trade blocs, with widely differing economies linked into a regulatory whole. But to join them will take time and involve tortuous negotiations, which may not necessarily redound to Britain’s advantage. However, there is a faster way.

No quicker entry can be found to any market than to sell competitive goods. No amount of regulation and control can prevent people from getting what they want. If Britain were to devalue the pound, drastically, it would gain access to major markets of all sizes very quickly. The fall in overseas investment would be quickly reversed as foreigners could buy UK assets such as plant and labour at knock-down prices. British goods and services would enjoy an immense competitive advantage. The ancient, unsolved problem of our trade deficit would slowly begin to solve itself. So devalue-but to what level?

The gravitational theory of economics points the way as the paper by Elias Sanidas shows [1] Countries tend to trade best with the nearest neighbours, If Britain were to set the pound at parity with the Euro, or perhaps slightly under, there would be no need to rejoin the Single Market, Customs Union or Free Trade Area.

There would be downsides of course. Imported cars and foreign holidays would be more expensive. But the economic pain would be pretty widely shared, apart from the very few who have foreign denominated assets such as shares or properties. Yet immigration would be braked, as the value of remittances sent home fell sharply, and there was less incentive for employers to hire cheap foreign labour. Yes, there might be inflation-but is that not happening anyway?

The best economic policies recognise existing trends-and the pound has been falling since 2016 anyway. Why not take advantage of this trend, to recalibrate once and for all, and show that Britain really is taking a new path? Did not Shakespeare, our greatest playwright observe

There is a tide in the affairs of men/which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries

And surely Shakespeare was right!


#brexit #trade #britain

Autism: why can’t we know more?

One of the saddest things about Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is that no one is nearer to a clear understanding of causes. Immense amounts of work have been done, as even a cursory glance at our Wikipedia link will show [1]. But we are still far short o a unifying Theory of Mind without which any long term alleviation is hopeless (think of the unifying infectious organism theory changed the understanding of physical disease).

Brave and ingenious researchers keep trying, because they know that we need every scrap of data we can get. That’s why we were sad when we saw how a potentially groundbreaking study into the genetics of this disorder has been suspended. We’ll let Nature tell you the story:

The largest genetic study of genetics and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United Kingdom has been suspended, following criticism that it failed to properly consult the autism community about the goals of the research. Concerns about the Spectrum 10K study include fears that its data could be misused by other researchers seeking to ‘cure’ or eliminate ASD.
Study leaders say that the research “does not aim to eradicate autism” and that it could contribute to a better understanding of co-occurring conditions such as epilepsy and gut-health problems.Nature | 5 min read

We understand the deep emotional concerns of those who live with the condition and their families. We hope that lessons will be learned all round about consulting with communities in any study. But in the end, only scientific research will offer a way ahead.


Should you only read a book once? Gaynor Lynch responds

Our blog Should You Only Read a Book Once? has drawn many responses. One of the best was from our old friend Gaynor Lynch of London. Her riposte is so cogent that we simply reproduce it full

In your article you posit four questions:
1. How often do you go over a favourite work like War and Peace before you’ve squeezed it dry?
2. And what have you missed in the meantime?
3. when to start reading and when to stop,
4. what is essential learning?

The answer to your questions lies in the purpose of your reading. We read to learn to navigate through the intricacies of modern life, learning and for leisure. We know that low literacy levels are associated with poor health, poor education and negative social outcomes. Reading is also important for developing expressive language skills, the imagination and emotional intelligence.
So how much reading is too much? That depends the purpose of your reading and, on your responsibilities and duties to yourself and others. My mother, at 88, reads compulsively. Good on her I say. Her life is limited in many ways and reading stops her from becoming depressed. So even if you take an instrumental view on reading, reading for pleasure is an important skill for maintaining emotional and psychological wellbeing. If the reading is getting in the way of normal life and social relations then it is too much.
As to reading choices and rereading books, I am very wary of any elitist or prescriptive views about what a person should read.
When it comes to fiction, yes it may be good to stretch ourselves with reading ‘worthy’ literary fiction but it is equally valid to return to an old favourite or pulp fiction for comfort. I have lost count of the number of times I have read the Master and Margarita (Mikail Bulgakov) and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series and make no apology for this. I enjoy Linda la Plante for her uncomplicated plots, limited cast of characters and simple narrative but once I’ve read them – that’s it, because there is not much more to be had out of them. Charles Dickens has written some of the finest prose fiction that I have ever read and I particularly enjoy Great Expectations. Sometimes I dip in to find a favourite passage just to enjoy the sheer beauty of the language and narrative description. So yes – extend your reading choices to something new, take a risk with something novel (pun intended) but it’s equally OK to enjoy an old friend.
Reading non fiction for information and learning is different. Old textbooks can be dangerously out of date particularly in medicine and the sciences. Even in the humanities, critical perspectives of history and culture change so it is important to read current editions from trusted publishers. As a librarian I was often criticised for pulping old textbooks rather than selling them to raise money for the council. I always defended this because I was aware that often people on limited income would buy these for themselves or their children because they couldn’t afford to buy new ones and could be misinforming themselves.
Old works and editions do have a value though as historical source documents so should not be entirely discarded / ignored. Here we drift into the censorship debate where calls are made, with our ‘woke’ sensibilities, to bar/remove texts which are now considered offensive. Something which I am against and a subject for a whole new debate.
Useful websites on censorship

Should you only read a book once?

Things like Kindle and publishers’ lists are filling with compendiums with generic titles like 100 of the great biggest slammingest books you have to must read before you die! The lists in the back catalogues are the usual worthy offerings- in fiction you’ll find Conrad, Cervantes, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, the usual excellent but safe canon. In Non-fiction luminaries such as Darwin or Machiavelli prevail, but there’s a problem.

Non fiction tends to date quickly as new discoveries occur. Anything written in human evolution before about 2010 will be instantly out of date as it lay before the discoveries of the Denisovans and all the main work of Professor Paabo. So to be frank, works like The Origin of Species, The Golden Bough or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire will provide only limited information on their ostensible subject matters-Biology, Anthropology and History. They are Great Works. But the danger, particularly to the uneducated is getting hung up on them. We came across fans of Sir James Frazer who thought they knew it all about human life, but completely missed the groundbreaking work of Rachel Carson in Silent Spring.

So, when to start reading, and when to stop? How often do you go over a favourite work like War and Peace before you’ve squeezed it dry? And what have you missed in the meantime? Anyone who has ever owned a watch will have noticed that there are only so many hours in a day, and you may have a life to live outside the pages of Literature.

We would love to know our readers views on what is essential learning, and what can be done without. Please use the comments spaces to tell us your opinions because this is a question that you will know the answer to better than us!

Weekly round up: Malaria, Covid-19,extremists and John Donne

stories we think may run beyond today’s news cycle

Another problem with resistance We often bang on here about antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Now there are signs that the protozoan disease malaria is about to spring a similar surprise. A worrying thought is that global warming could lead it to spread into colder lands where it was unknown before. Nature, Drug resistant Malaria has arrived in Africa:

A long-feared milestone has arrived: malaria parasites in Africa have developed resistance to a key family of drugs used to protect against them. The first signs of resistance to the ‘gold standard’ treatments for malaria — the drug family including artemisinin and its derivatives — appeared in Cambodia in the early 2000s. For resistance to now hit Africa is particularly dire because more than 90% of malaria cases and deaths worldwide occur on the continent.Nature | 6 min read
Reference: New England Journal of Medicine paper

Origins of Covid-19 And talking of diseases, Nature sheds more light on the origins of SARS-Cov-2. Looks like bats are back in the barrel. SARS-Cov-2 doppelgangers found in bats:

Scientists have found three viruses in bats in Laos that are more similar to the virus that causes COVID-19 than any known viruses. Their discovery underlines that there are numerous coronaviruses with the potential to infect people. Samples taken from horseshoe (Rhinolophus) bats in caves in northern Laos contained viruses — named BANAL-52, BANAL-103 and BANAL-236 — that are each more than 95% identical to SARS-CoV-2. “When SARS-CoV-2 was first sequenced, the receptor binding domain didn’t really look like anything we’d seen before,” says virologist Edward Holmes. The Laos coronaviruses confirm these parts of SARS-CoV-2 exist in nature, he says.Nature | 5 min read
Reference: Research Square preprint (not peer reviewed)

Danger to America America grew great by exalting reason and accepting facts. It was the classic Enlightenment society. Now both facts and reason are in decline as people believe whht they want to. Here’s Robert Pape for The Conversation:

We’ll end with a little thought from John Donne, penned for his Devotions upon emergent occasions, Meditation XVII

No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thine own, or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

We think it’s rather relevant.

#malaria #global warming #covid-19 #sars-cov-2 #extremism

Friday Night is vineyard night

Usually, where the stuff is made isn’t quite as good as using it-think paint factory for example. But we have always thought vineyards make an honourable exception. It is delightful to wander through the avenues of well-tended vines. To drop in on a tasting at the vineyard shop and think “this stuff we’re knocking back-it actually comes from the land round here, and the real, honest to god rain that fell upon it! How cool is that?”

Southeast England, from where this little blog originates, is surrounded by a thriving wine industry, of which more in the future. Sadly, none of these English vineyards have yet made it onto the list of the top fifty in the world. But Ted Thornhill of the Mail has assiduously covered those which have.[1] This year’s top three are in Argentina, Spain and France. No surprises there maybe. But look lower down and you’ll find places in Lebanon and Russia! Well done to both.

We wondered how one possibly picks the best when there are obviously so many to choose from. Following Ted’s links, we found the link to The Worlds’ Best Vineyards, the organisation behind all this. [2] If you follow the links, you’ll find it’s a pretty thorough and gruelling voting system.

There’s some excellent photography on both sites for you to enjoy. So, as it’s Friday night, why not enjoy a fine glass of your favourite tipple, sit back and mutter the words of the old song “That was the week that was-it’s over let it go. ” And hope your supermarket has enough lorries to bring you another bottle next week.



#wine #vineyards #grape

Joseph Priestley: a philosopher who did some real work

Philosophers have a reputation for sitting around in ivory towers rather doing anything practical. Not so with Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). As a fully paid up member of the Enlightenment ratpack, his contributions are equal to Voltaire, Smith and all the others. Think of this-if Priestley hadn’t discovered oxygen, what would we all have to breathe? But he was more than just a groundbreaking scientist, also making contributions to Philosophy, education, linguistics and theology. The last is interesting, for he was in at the birth of Unitarianism, that thoughtful non-dogmatic faith which sees no challenge between learning and religion.

So as part of our Heroes of Learning series, we include a little vignette from Wikipedia on his life. However, we would invite you to read much more, especially on the famous Lunar Society, to which we shall return in future blogs. In the end Priestly was chased from England after a Tory mob burned down his laboratory (there’s a joke in there somewhere about tory and oxygen but we can’t think of one right now) He fled to the more tolerant environment of the USA. It gave him a home in the way it would one way do to Einstein, another scientist fleeing from reactionaries. Even the most blameless can fall foul of wild emotions; but Priestly will be remembered while the names of the barbarians who destroyed him have long since passed into oblivion.

Young people and socialism: you heard it here first

“Told you so!” was our reaction when we read Owen Jones‘ rather alarming Guardian article [1] on why young people are becoming more and more Lefty, and even a bit red. Not that we at LSS are great fans of Jones, you understand. But this time his points are too good to ignore, especially when we have ourselves been making them for some time (LSS 28 December 2020, et passim)

They are, to put it simply, that the infamous neoliberal policies associated with such luminaries as Thatcher, Hayek and company have produced such inequality that young people can no longer afford to buy homes, however hard they slave in low wage sweatshops like call centres and retail parks. Long standing readers will recall that LSS went further, advertising the danger of an educated lumpenproletariat with no stake in society and therefore nothing to lose if it came to Revolution.

There are delicious layers of dialectical irony here. The older lot, children of the Welfare State and Trades Unions, were transformed by their security into uber-Thatcherites, eagerly embracing tax cuts and low levels of welfare spending. The children born under the neoliberals are now turning to Socialism. If ghosts exist, then those of Hegel and Marx must be laughing fit to rattle their bookshelves right now. Even certain millionaires of our acquaintance, hard headed entrepreneurs par excellence, have expressed their sympathy to the Plight of the Young, and the thoughts of Owen Jones. To us. Personally. Today.[2] (There’s nothing like interview journalism!)

We’ll ask you to glance at Owen’s piece, and leave you with a health warning. Owen is an earnest man. However, he has hung out with some unlikeable characters in his time, both of uber- left and uber- right-so his judgement is far from impeccable. But this time, the little canary is singing a tune that’s worth listening to. Bless!


[2] Unattributable briefing. Prominent businessman . Sources close to the bond markets. Label it how you like, it was a real guy!

#owen jones #inequality #housing #wages in work poverty #rich #poor

Weekly round up: China’s mistake,extinction and hubris all round

a weekly look at stories that may be significant

China Crisis There are two ways to run a modern economy. The first is to make things that people want and export them. (the German model). The second is to borrow money and build flats (the British model), which always ends in tears. It looks like China has done a bit too much of the second one for its own good. Could a Chinese property crash drag us all into a bear market? Martin Farrer and Vincent Ni tell the whole tale for The Guardian:

Repeating Old mistakes. Back in the Permian, 250 million years ago, the most advanced creatures were the mammal-like reptiles or therapsids. And if you were one , there must have been a lot to feel good about. “hey” you would have said to yourself “we’re doing alright! We’ve got the biggest brains, we’re well on the way to being warm blooded, we’re sorting out this locomotion on land thing, and all the continents are joined into one, making overseas travel unnecessary!” But like the proud and overreaching (or Chinese property developers) they began to make mistakes. They allowed greenhouse gases to rise. They let a huge toxic blooms of algae develop in the seas. They did nothing about rising temperatures because they were too busy having a good time. The result? The greatest mass extinction in world history, as every schoolchild will tell you. These are the exactly the same mistakes that we, their distant descendants are making today. Do you really think it will end differently?

Once again, the inimitable Stacy Liberatore tells all for the Mail:

Not so wicked in Wuhan Evidence is piling that the Sars-Cov-2 virus was not the result of wicked scientists in a lab, but jumped several times from wild animals across the species barrier into humans. Just like many other respiratory viruses do. The moral is; if you want to avoid pandemics, be a bit kinder to the environment. Nature riffs in Did the Coronavirus jump to people twice?

SARS-CoV-2 might have spilled from animals to people multiple times, according to a preliminary analysis of viral genomes sampled from people infected in China and elsewhere early in the pandemic. If confirmed, the findings would add weight to the hypothesis that the pandemic originated in multiple markets in Wuhan. It would also make the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a laboratory less likely. The data need to be verified, and the analysis has not yet been peer reviewed.Nature | 8 min read
Reference: preprint

Once again the gremlins have got into our computer, causing the most intractable technicl problems, so we’ll have to leave it there for now. Goodbye, and have a good weekend

#china #sars-cov-2 covid-19 #mass extinction #climate change

Ancient childrens’ painting has a modern twist

About 250 000 years ago a party of humans rested by some welcome hot springs high on the Tibetan plateau. While the adults rested or perhaps prepared food and the camp, the children played-at art. We know this because their tiny handprints have been found all over some limestone rocks as Matthew Bennet and Sally Reynolds explain in The Conversation

Who were these humans? The date and place suggest our Denisovan cousins, whom we know to have had art, as did our other close cousins, the Neanderthals. All of which closes the distance between them and our own branch of humanity to a vanishingly small distance. Especially as their DNA has survived in our genomes, as the discoveries of the ingenious Professor Paabo have made clear.

It’s charming to think that art grew from the games of children. What the busy adults made of it we shall never know. It raises oblique questions about the offerings in certain modern galleries and museums and the maturity of those who produced them. Above all, it reminds us of the devilish question posed by Rudyard Kipling in The Conundrum of the Workshops:

When the first flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s Green and Gold

Our father Adam sat under a tree and scratched a stick in the mold

And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart

Till The Devil whispered behind the leaves-“It’s pretty-but is it Art?