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News Comment
a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

29th September 2001 

UK stock markets climbed this week, recovering significantly from the dramatic falls of the preceding two weeks, although still 3% below its level before the attacks on the United States on September 11th. Friday’s close for the FTSE100 was at 4903.4, and although off the day’s high of 4920.5, and representing a gain for the week of 486.8.

Although analysts remain doubtful that this is the start of a full recovery, investors seemed hopeful that the 5000 level will be reached before more bad news damages confidence once again.

Despite telecoms manufacturer Marconi’s poor performance as opinions from some banks and analysts suggested they would be unlikely to survive, telecoms generally accounted for 20 points of Friday’s FTSE100 139.8 point gain with Vodafone rising 4.3%. Banks accounted for 24 points, and the oil sector led the way with 35 points. The falling price of oil since its peak shortly after September 11th led to announcements that supplies may be reduced to boost the price again, but much of this week’s rise seems to be the result of improving market sentiment in the U.S. and better than expected levels of consumer confidence.


There seems to be a worrying rift developing between civil rights groups and governments trying to tighten anti-terrorist precautions. Worrying because it seems to leave the public caught between two evils, neither of which appear to me to be acceptable in a "civilised" society.

On one hand, it seems quite unacceptable to allow terrorist groups to operate in any way that might allow them to create mass destruction and death, and surely every possible measure must be taken to detect and thwart them.

On the other hand, if our rights of privacy and individual freedom – indeed our whole way of life and, perhaps, our quality of life – are sacrificed in order to avert the risk of further attacks then is that any more acceptable? And, if that happens, have the terrorists not won anyway?

Can, I wonder, governments manage to strike a balance between protecting the population and maintaining personal freedom? Where will they draw the line? Personal identity cards now seem a certainty, and the UK government are complaining that they might have been able to prevent the attacks on the U.S. if they had had more powers to intercept and read messages on the Internet. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw claims that Civil Liberties groups and the computer industry have hindered attempts to allow the security services effective Internet surveillance. However, John Wadham of civil rights group "Liberty", said that Britain already has some of the most extensive surveillance powers in the western world and that civil rights should not be curtailed because of terrorist outrages.

Will we manage to get it right? I doubt it.


I see that politicians are beginning to seriously consider the power of the Internet in influencing voters. A fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat conference on Wednesday called for the party to use the Internet to "promote radical change in British politics", and at a meeting of the Hansard Society there was a call for parliamentary regulations forcing all MPs to be accessible to the public via e-mail as well as having individual web site expressing their particular political views.

Interestingly, the Internet was also described as "essentially a subversive medium" and capable of "subverting traditional Conservative and Labour agendas".

I wonder whether perhaps the ease with which e-mail can be sent in comparison with, for example, writing a letter and posting it, will result in MPs simply being overloaded with a mass of relatively frivolous mail? Or whether many voters would actually look at MPs web sites?

Another report suggests, more realistically perhaps, that the majority of MPs who do already have web sites are mostly unaware of the site’s contents. And Romsey MP Sandra Gidley summed up quite accurately when she described MPs as "not really a very techie bunch."


The Personal Computer is finished
.

The business revolution of personal computers based on Intel chips and Microsoft operating systems is over, according to reports by leading computer experts. The PC has had its day, and companies likely to take the lead within the next 18 months will be Sun Microsystems and IBM. "Microsoft can't stop this; it can only attempt to control it," said Tony Occleshaw, IBM marketing manager for software.

This prediction was repeated throughout the computer industry press and elsewhere.  And is five years old this week.

What happened?


Finally for this week I see an interesting story about the four-year-old space probe "Deep Space 1" and its examination of a comet. Its fly-by of the comet Borelly has astounded researchers by revealing that the comet’s core is off-centre. "It is in the wrong place and we have to figure out why," said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Objects program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

As this is only the second ever close examination of a comet, the first being Halley’s Comet in 1986 (remember that one? "It’s going to hit us, and it will be the end of the world"), I just have to wonder why they are so sure the comet’s core is "in the wrong place". Is it not just possible the core is exactly where the core always is on this type of comet?

It reminds me of a verse by Hilaire Belloc. I think I’ve mentioned it before:
"But scientists, who ought to know
Assure us that it must be so.
Oh, let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about."

29th September 2001                        

 

 

Links to previous news comments:

22-Sept-2001
15-Sept-2001
8-Sept-2001
1-Sept-2001
25-August-2001
18-August-2001
27-July 2001
14-July-2001
7-July-2001
30-June-2001
23-June 2001
16-June-2001
10-June-2001
03-June-2001
26-May-2001
19-May-2001
12-May-2001
05-May-2001
21-April-2001
14-April-2001
07-April-2001
31-March-2001
24-March-2001
18-March-2001
11-March-2001
04-March-2001
24-Feb-2001
18-Feb-2001
10-Feb-2001
03-Feb-2001
27-Jan-2001
20-Jan-2001
13-Jan-2001
06-Jan-2001
30-Dec-2000

Feel free to send your comments, opinions, and letters to Erithacus we will be pleased to publish suitable letters at the discretion of the editor.

PLEASE NOTE: The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the site owners and operators. Please read our disclaimer for details.

 

 








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