Sunday, 30 April 2017

Mixed Socks, Mixed Brexit and Mixed 100 days of Trump


Doing things differently today. Optimising use of two solitary socks; Going out to plant nursery to buy plants; then actually planting a significant proportion of them. Exhausted by unusual activity.

The full text of the European Council guidelines on Brexit negotiations agreed yesterday is available here: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/04/29-euco-brexit-guidelines/. The Express gives a typical response "Theresa May slaps down Juncker as she REJECTS Brussels' hardline Brexit demands". The UK manages to irritate the rest of the EU by blocking EU budget talks because of the upcoming general election. The rationale for not being able to agree/make a decision, is given as the purdah on making sensitive political decisions during a general election. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood thinks that, with an extreme Brexit,

“If Scotland becomes an independent country then the UK will no longer exist. The danger to us is the merging of England and Wales, almost like a disappearance of the country really". 

In the past few days economists suggested that the Brexit slowdown has begun, with the UK's economic growth more than halved to its lowest rate since the EU referendum, now just 0.3% in January to March, 0.7% lower than the previous quarter."

The main news today in the UK concentrates on the different tax stances of the Tories and Labour, the former being cagey on whether taxes will rise, whilst Labour  has categorically stated it will not change VAT or National Insurance in the coming years.

Watched the Jeremy Paxman Panorama report on President Trump's first 100 days, and did not really hear anything new. He has taken action, successfully in some quarters and been blocked in others. The important news for me regarding Trump was that the EPA was undergoing changes - as it said in the press release on the site on Friday:

"WASHINGTON – EPA.gov, the website for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt. The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency's current efforts. "

The page on Climate Change is still "being updated". Thousands marched in the US on the anniversary of President Trump' first 100 days in office to protest that climate change is real.

Lie in, hustings editing, and EU27 negotiating position

Saturday 29th April. Had a lie in, went shopping with Jane and then spent the afternoon editing and tagging the sound recording of yesterday's HBN Mayoral Hustings. Uploaded to the Internet Archive.

Brexit news from Brussels: The EU 27 took just 4 minutes to agree to the way forward document proposed by Donald Tusk, for negotiating Brexit with the UK. The principles were as iterated yesterday, Settling the rights of EU residents in the UK and vice versa, Agreeing financial committments between Britain and the UK, Avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. UK response fairly muted as everyone appeared to be more interested in the major boxing match impending that evening.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Mayors, People, Money and Ireland - and Trump's 100 days

Today's excitement for me was hosting the HBN Mayoral Hustings in Alconbury Weald. Jane had invited all seven of the candidates last month, after great difficulties in finding any information of contact details on many of them. Three agreed to come, Kevin Price (Labour), Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrats) and Peter Dawe (Independent). On the day, only the latter two appeared. Fortunately, they were the two who actually had real business experience in the past (indeed, Peter had to sell Cambridge TV to take part as a candidate).

Richard Wishart, our social media and technology afficionado, had suggested and then agreed to do a live broadcast from his phone on Twitter. I took along my tripod and tablet holder to assist, and also used my H1 microphone to record a separate audio track for a podcast.

Prior research and preparation provided the psychological support at the start of hosting. The candidates, the 15 in the room and the 50 online viewers soon got the meeting flowing. We began to see clear differences in the focus of the two candidates, Rod emphasising the need to build communities, Peter looking at using technology to tackle local problems, with both agreeing that their key role will be as influencers on the unitary and district councils. I only had to intervene occasionally to curtail overlong responses or bring in different members of the audience. The live broadcast and audio recording worked successfully throughout the discussions. We all had a much better understanding of the two candidates and their styles by the end of the debate. It certainly narrowed down my choice to between the two when voting next Thursday. By this evening the total of online viewers was 77 and growing.

Today, saw the release of the 'Invitation letter by President Donald Tusk to the members of the European Council (Art. 50)'. It outlined the key principles for discussion by the 27 members of the EU minus the UK for the EU Brexit discussions. Der Spiegel summarised them very succinctly as sorting out "People, Money and Ireland" before the next stage of discussions with the UK. In more detail, this means addressing the status of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, establishing the financial commitments from both the EU and the UK, and ensuring that there would be no hard border re-established in Ireland. This contrasts strongly with the UK preferred position of parallel negotiations on leaving and agreeing on new trade arrangements.

We are coming up to the milestone of President Trump's first 100 days tomorrow (Saturday). The US fleet is still off the North Korean coast and the North Koreans launched a medium range missile test, which exploded shortly after take-off. So far, he has on the one hand been stalled by finding his actions on Obamacare and immigration blocked. On the other hand, he has taken actions internationally, in Syria, that were seen positively in the US. Furthermore, he has been adapting to the challenges of his role. His realpolitik includes realising that at present, Europe cannot be split and he will be negotiating with the block, with the UK pushed down the trade deal queue; that China has to be kept on board for trade and influence with North Korea; and that NATO might not be so redundant after all.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Picture editing, hustings planning, Merkel warning and May slamming

Bullring in centre of Spanish village
Completed the editing of the pictures taken for the Norris, a cycle of load image, straighten, remove keystoning if needed, contrast, resample and save. In the afternoon planned for the HBN Hustings with 3 of the mayoral candidates tomorrow. Wondering how the event will go, will it be a bit of a bullfight?

Thinking of bullfights. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to her parliament in stark terms, of the 'illusion' that some British polititians have of getting a Brexit deal as good as the existing membership.
'A third state, and that's what Britain will be, cannot and will not have at its disposal the same rights ... as members of the European Union,' Mrs Merkel said, and added, 'I must say this clearly here because I get the feeling that some people in Britain still have illusions - that would be wasted time.'

Well, this should have been guaranteed to be a red rag to a bull or at least a red rag to a red top or two. There was a robust response from Prime Minister Theresa May, that tough negotiations were ahead and accusing EU leaders of preparing to "line up to oppose us" over Brexit. However, the Sun proceeded to underline Mrs Merkels point by not seeing that the situation described could occur at all, because we all wanted free trade.

Thinking of living on another planet, the Cassini close flyby of Saturn revealed pictures of a major storm and of clouds scudding across the planet's atmosphere.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Wood Green; Donkeys at PMQs; De-escalating US-NK Tension

A phone call from Carel in France prompted me to book for a meeting in June at the Natural History Museum. It's "Connecting with the Crowd", a one day cross-disciplinary conference to explore best practices and new perspectives on crowdsourcing citizen science. I submitted abstract for a five minute talk on the science engagement experiment we did with the Quekett.

Jane and I had an early lunch and then went to help out on the Huntingdonshire Business Network desk at the Wood Green Business Fair. It was the best attended fair at this venue for the past few years, not so much humming, but roaring with visitors and activity. It was a busy couple of hours, meeting both friends and engaging visitors to our desk in conversation.

It was the last Prime Minister's Questions time in parliament today, and what an unedifying spectacle of donkeys braying, triumphalism and point scoring it was. Enough to turn anyone off politics. The new Dalek mantra is "Solid and Stable".

Pre-election news dominated over Brexit, but there were a few undercurrents in the media. A Financial Times article comments on how the Home Office is now advising EU nationals to hold off applying for residency and simply go onto a mailing list to await information. This is probably to stave off being swamped by applications for residency; 92,000 permanent residence applications were received from EU nationals in 2016 alone - and as I know from German friends, each requires an arch-lever file full of the 5 years residency evidence to accompany the 85-page application form.

The EU's Jean-Claude Juncker and his Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier met with Theresa May over lunch in advance of the EU's Saturday meeting to discuss Brexit policy. News tonight that the UK will still be bound by European Court of Justice for the next five years. A track change?

President Trump had three surprises for us today.
1. He backed down on insisting that funding for the building of his wall to Mexico should be included in the financial plans he needed to sign to stave off a total government shutdown this week.
2. The White House announced "The Biggest Tax Cut Ever!" A reduction of US corporation tax to 15%.
3. Trump makes a move to de-escalate US-North Korean tensions by
a) holding a large military exercise with South Korea close to the border with North Korea,
b) bringing in the Thaad defensive missile sytem into the country, to the alarm of China, and,
c) as Headmaster, invites entire Senate to White House for North Korea briefing.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Post Community Cafe Speed Warning as Ivanka Trump left unruffled

Sending repeated emails to answer questions by printer to confirm what I actually want done. Is this bad? Actually no! The conversation ensures that we do things right. Also had a chance to do some more picture editing for the Norris. The Corel Photopaint update is great, with the ability to address rotation and keystoning effects, speeding up my editing.

Jane, Sue and I ran the Community Cafe again this afternoon with great help by volunteers Elaine and Natalie. It was lovely to pick up my two lifts, Hilda and Rene, and catch up on our incidental news on the journey to and from the Community Cafe. I'm reminded every month that this is a vital day in the calendar for our regulars, providing a place to socialise as an alternative to the housebound routine. It can even lessen pain for a couple of hours, with Janet, our craft table leader who suffers terribly from back pain, coming alive and relishing the participation.

Coming back home, still amused by the speed warning in our street, which appears to warn our neighbours not to exceed the speed limit when parking on their drive!

There is a lot of Labour bashing in the media again today, but I, for once, quite like the fact that they have made it a promise to give existing EU residents in the UK security with respect to their future in the UK after Brexit. Getting really irritated with Prime Minister May telling us all what she wants from us, though she did make a great slip in wanting to lead the world in "preventing tourism"!

Reports are also abounding of the soundbite of an audience booing Ivanka Trump when she talked about her father and his respect for women at the Women20 Summit (women in business) in Germany. A rather exaggerated description of a muted audience dissatifaction.  She was also quickly typecast as German Chancellor Angela Merkel's route to President Trump's ear. Whilst the accusations of Trumps nepotism and lack of clarity in Ms Trumps role are fully justified, she did have a right to be there as a business leader in her own right, even if she was the junior member of the panel in terms of seniority and experience. Der Spiegel made the point that Ivanka displayed an unruffled composure, politeness and a willingness to learn from her attendance as the Women20 Summit, in marked contrast to her father's more brusque style.

Still feeling apprehensive about the French presidential elections. Marie Le Pen is targeting exactly the type of audience that helped Trump to power and the UK to Brexit.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Rising Resistance to Brexit? Will the EPA Open Data site be shut down?

Composite image of Europe at night, 2016: Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Approval from one author to proceed to print after minor correction of proof, also approved Quekett Bulletin to go ahead with printers. After that both Jane and I driven to distraction re upcoming events this week. at least we went out and bought some good cakes and biscuits from Daily Bread for the Community Cafe tomorrow. Finished off the working day with starting to edit the Norris photos from Friday. This evening, first play with the microscope for ages. A PMS box on Honey bee parts did not sound promising, but found unexpected beauty in a sea of delicate fronded hairs on the abdomen and recurved wing hooks to photograph.

Apparently Labour has a Brexit strategy, they will scrap the Brexit White paper and emphasise the benefits of the common market and the customs union. Given the current parlous nature of the l;abour party, one might actually have more faith in Open Britain, which is aiming to garner support to remove hard brexiteers from their marginal seats in the upcoming election. Does this mean that we are moving away form a party politics system to an agenda/policy driven one? There also seems to be an increase in younger people registering to vote, which will also raise the pro EU sentiments.

This evening, the Independent claimed that President Trump would be shutting down the open access climate and environmental data of the EPA on Friday 28th April this week. Reading the story and also checking with a Forbes article on the same subject, suggests that this is actually a more complicted situation. The EPA site will be one of many governments sites to close down if POTUS forces a government shutdown by not signing funding bill. The question will then be whether there will be sufficient government funding afterwards for the EPA site when it comes back online.

The story reflects a bigger issue, and that is the susceptibility of centrally held data and systems to failure and loss of funding, or the vagaries of policy changes. Kalev Leetaru, data and society commentator for Forbes looks at the balance between centralised and distributed data and the pros and cons of control being with a major corporation or government in his article at https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2017/04/24/no-the-epas-open-data-website-is-not-going-away-the-future-of-open-science-data/#1b42eaab18b5