CAN GERMANY TRIGGER OFF A GLOBAL RECESSION?

An article in last week’s Sunday Telegraph highlighted Germany’s trade surplus as a threat to global stability, and must somehow be fixed. The author of the article claims it is something that gets only a fraction of the attention it deserves: Germany’s trade surplus. Hitting record highs with every month that passes, it now amounts to a massive 9% of GDP. In effect, he says Germany has become an economic rogue state, hollowing out the industry of its neighbours. Creating vast flows of foot loose capital and undermining the stability of the financial system. It is time the rest of the world stood up to it and demanded the Germans bring it under control. If they don’t, it may well be the cause of the next crash. He added with every month that passes, the German trade surplus just keeps growing and growing. This month, the country reported yet another increase, boasting a surplus of 18.5bn. euros for the month, as exports rose 0.8% and imports dropped 1.6%.

For 2016 as a whole, the surplus hit a record of 252bn. Euros – or 9% of GDP – the highest since records began. It shows every sign of beating that this year, which means Germany by itself accounts for virtually the entire Eurozone surplus with the rest of the world. In 2016, on IMF data, the zone ran an overall surplus of $400 bn. (£320 bn.). Germany ran up $300bn. of that – the other 18 countries only managed $100bn. between them.

Measured by capita it is roughly three times the size of the Chinese trade surplus and that is coming down. China actually ran a deficit in February and though it’s returned to surplus in March, imports were still growing faster than exports. As that country develops it looks as if it will roughly run a balance on the trade account, much like most others.

What does this say to us? In my view, the message is clear. The Germans are very disciplined. Their goods are highly in demand. Their exports continue to boom and their economic stability is a lesson for us all. In Britain, we spend more than we earn. Our deficit as a nation is one of the highest in the world, trailing only the USA, yet we behave as if we still have the great empire we once had.

There is no point in condemning Germany for its gigantic surplus and for the good management of their economy. Instead, we should aim to follow suit. We are endowed with expertise in every known field and there is no reason whatsoever why we should not compete with the best throughout the globe. Let’s help ourselves first as a nation and stop squandering our resources just to be seen on the world’s stage as a Good Samaritan.

In fact, I don’t believe for a moment that Germany’s trade surplus will create a global recession.

COULD IT BE THAT BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING US?

The great mystery that beguiles the scientific world and those of us who are interested in astronomy is whether an extra-terrestrial life exists somewhere else. The enormity of the universe and its diversities make the task impossible unless of course a more advanced technical civilization happens to exist and will one day discover our planet and gain access to it in some form or another.

In the meantime, hold on to your lightsabres and brace yourself for hyperspace. A team from Harvard University suspects mysterious energy flashes detected in galaxies far, far away may be caused by a species of super advanced aliens firing up their interstellar space craft. It is a scientific development which if true would make Star Wars more akin to an historical documentary than a nonsensical bit of sci-fi moviemaking.

The scientists at the respected Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics have come up with what they believe is a possible explanation for the existence of fast radio bursts – or FRBs – that were discovered a decade ago. FRBs are intense radio pulses that last no more than a millisecond and emanate from remote galaxies billions of light years away. They were first detected in 2007 by the world’s largest radio telescopes, but ten years on, astrophysicists remain no clearer about what produced them. Enter the team from Harvard with a theory to make Darth Vader splutter in his mask or as Yoda might say: ‘Aliens there are maybe.’

Professor Avi Loeb and his colleague, Dr Manasvi Lingam, have published a study offering up one possible theory. They say the FRBs could be evidence of aliens hard at work and that the bursts may be leaked energy from unimaginably powerful transmitters capable of sending giant LightSail ships on voyages between stars. Professor Loeb said: ‘Far radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origins at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural cause with any confidence. An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.’

In their study, accepted for publication in the astrophysical journal Letters, Professor Loeb and Dr Lingam looked at the feasibility of building a radio transmitter powerful enough to be detectable across such immense distances. They said that a solar power system would generate the required amount of energy if it chooses an area twice the size of earth to capture the sun’s rays.

The Harvard team speculates that the purpose of such a giant solar energy plant is to drive interstellar LightSails. A LightSail uses a tiny amount of pressure exerted by light to produce acceleration that allows a spacecraft to achieve great speeds. Energy levels responsible for FRBs would be enough to push a payload of a million tonnes – 20 times the mass of the largest cruise ships on earth.

‘That’s big enough to carry living passengers across interstellar or even inter-galactic distances,’ said Dr Lingam. Professor Loeb has admitted the work is speculative and Dr Simon Foster, star of the TV science show Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, said he was sceptical aliens were the cause of FRBs. ‘We just don’t know what these things are,’ he said. ‘It would be lovely if it were aliens.’

So says I. Such discoveries would change our world and our perception of the universe and what lies within it. If however, we are allowed a second life we might be witness to events and new discoveries that will stun the mind and lead us to become super humans.

If the scientists can speculate I see no reason why we can’t do the same.

A LABOUR ENIGMA

A well-constructed and balanced review of Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery by David Clark appears in the current issue of the Literary Review. Kenneth O Morgan, the reviewer, begins his lengthy piece by describing Victor Grayson as ‘the fiery meteor who blazed briefly across the Socialist firmament in Edwardian England.’

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He was, he says, a flamboyant rebel, a handsome, spellbinding orator who rose up from nowhere, winning a famous by-election in Colne Valley in July 1907 at the age of 25, embodying the native American notion of ‘the legend that walks.’ Or in this case, that staggers. For years after his death, his memory was cherished in Socialist circles, especially in the industrial north: Hardie Feather, the Bradford-born general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, was, for example, named in his honour.

Some still revere him still as ‘Labour’s lost leader’ and yet his political career was from the first disastrous and destructive. He proved to be a willing, uncooperative comrade who rejected the discipline of the whips and introduced seeds of division into both the new Labour Party and its socialist affiliate, the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

His life degenerated into alcoholism, gambling and nervous collapse. When he left for Australia during the First World War (which he strongly backed), it was almost a relief. The man of scandal turned then into a man of mystery. He returned from Australia after the war and became involved in Maundy Gregory’s seedy world of corruption and private espionage. Then in July 1920, still not 40, he walked out of his comfortable property in central London and disappeared forever.

Everything about his extraordinary life now appears veiled in obscurity. There were rumours about his birth and suggestions that he had a family connection with Winston Churchill. There were also rumours about his death and suggestions that he was murdered by a henchman of Gregory. In fact where and when he died is still unknown. There were endless reported sightings of him down to the late 1940s, usually unconfirmed.

‘The meteor had fizzled out. Colne Valley’s useful Pericles had become the Loch Ness monster of British politics. This extraordinary career has for many years fascinated David Clark. His interest in Grayson was first sparked in the 1970s when he was himself elected as MP for Colne Valley which gave him important contacts with old associates of Grayson. He then published, through Quartet, a biography of Grayson in 1985 of which this is an updated edition, making use of source material he has discovered, often in obscure places, over the past thirty years. The result is an exceptionally interesting, readable book which is about 100 pages longer than its original version.’

The reader must get a copy of the new edition which is out now. Victor Grayson’s life is worth a flutter for he truly was an amalgam of political chicanery and an orator of tremendous force, yet he lost his way in the end and remains to this day a mystery that baffles and seems beyond resolution.

IS EMMANUEL MACRON RIDING HIGH?

It is surprising to find that almost three-quarters of French people are against leaving the Euro, a poll has revealed, in a blow to the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, who wants to restore the Franc as the nation’s currency.

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However, the poll also found 37% of French people feel the European Union has ‘more disadvantages than advantages,’ compared with 31% who feel the reverse. Some 72% of the French, surveyed by the Elare Polling Institute recently for Les Echos newspaper, were opposed to ditching the Euro, with 44% saying they were ‘very opposed’.

Miss Le Pen who, according to the polls, is set to reach the final round of the upcoming presidential election, has pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership and take France out of the Euro, bringing back the Franc. Polls show she would be defeated by Emmanuel Macron, who appears to be gaining popularity with the electorate in the presidential run-off on 7 May. If he’s elected, he will probably be the best choice available.

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But given the unpredictability of election results the world over, nothing at present is beyond the realm of possibility. Donald Trump is a case in point.

The Truth is Often as Painful as a Lie

Vanessa Nicolson is an author to watch. Granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, she has the right background and a great affinity with the written word. Her last book Have You Been Good? was published in 2015. She grew up in London and Florence and has worked as an art historian and journalist. The Evening Standard called her ‘a startlingly skilful writer’.

Her new book The Truth Game published by Quartet is out now.
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As a teenager Vanessa plays a game with her father: they take turns to ask a question and the other must answer truthfully. One day Vanessa asks: ‘Apart from with Mummy, have you ever been so in love that you would have liked to marry someone else?’ Her father is visibly shaken and as the truth emerges it becomes clear why…

Told as a series of fourteen lucid vignettes, in an original and innovative way, The Truth Game is both a haunting exploration of love, loss and grief, and a portrait of the discontent at the heart of one of Britain’s most eminent families. Nicolson distils the concept of truth down to the extraordinary experience of real-life individuals, with shocking and moving consequences.

The critics will no doubt give the book resounding praise so buy your copy now and prove to the world at large that your vision and special perception is equal to the best of them. Waste no time in acquiring a copy before the rush begins. At £15 it is a bargain which you can ill afford to miss.

WEATHER WORDS REHABILATED

As the British are well known in the world for constantly speaking about the weather, one expert has claimed that we no longer do it enough. Robert MacFarlane, a Cambridge academic, says the language we use to describe the weather and the world around us has narrowed – and he’s determined to reverse the process. While some imaginative phrases such as ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ are still in use, many others have died out and Mr MacFarlane has spent two years researching them. These ‘dead’ words describing the great weather will now be celebrated in an exhibition he has curated at William Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cockermouth. It will use pictures to describe words drawn from dialects across the UK.

Wordsworth, the Lake District poet, wrote extensively about the weather in the countryside around his home in Cumbria. Mr Macfarlane, a nature writer who teaches English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge said, ‘I spent two years gathering as many of our place terms and nature words as possible from more than 20 languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation. Without words a landscape can easily become a “blandscape” generalised, indifferent, unobserved.’

The exhibition follows his 2015 book Landmarks which explored dialects connected to nature, terrain and the weather. The photographs accompanying the work were taken by Mr MacFarlane’s parents, Rosamund and John MacFarlane.

According to a 2015 survey, 94% of us have had a conversation about the weather in the past six hours – but we are unlikely to have used any of Mr MacFarlane’s words. They include shreep, an East Anglian word for mist clearing slowly and sunschald, a Sussex word for a patch of sunlight on water.

He has also revived expressions describing other , less natural phenomena including gurrick, a Cumbrian word for a man-made pile of stones used to guide travellers, and witches knickers, an Irish expression referring to plastic snagged in a tree,

The British language is rich in dialect words which unfortunately are seldom used now. However, the good news is that a dictionary of a treasury of disappearing and lost English dialect words by David Crystal, published in 2015 by MacMillan, fills the gap and contains some lovely old gems of the English language from all over the British Isles, worth noting down and making them live again for a new generation.

Descriptive words nourish the mind in their variety and down to earth approach to nature.

Interlude

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Naim Attallah is now away until Monday 10 April when normal service will resume on the blog.