Articles on this Page
- 11/12/13--08:43: _How James Bond Help...
- 11/13/13--06:45: _A Pink Diamond Coul...
- 11/14/13--12:50: _5 Things You Should...
- 11/15/13--06:54: _The 10 Best Drinkin...
- 11/16/13--03:27: _JIM O'NEILL: We Sho...
- 11/16/13--08:11: _Xi Jinping Is Posit...
- 11/16/13--11:41: _Former England Socc...
- 11/16/13--11:49: _David Cameron Can O...
- 11/16/13--14:17: _Welcome To Honduras...
- 11/16/13--15:10: _Airbnb Is On Track ...
- 11/20/13--13:25: _Nuclear Physicist: ...
- 11/24/13--04:56: _The Recent 'Decoupl...
- 11/28/13--04:05: _The UK Doesn't Have...
- 11/29/13--13:13: _The Netherlands Los...
- 11/30/13--11:26: _How The Free Syrian...
- 12/01/13--04:46: _Scientists Race To ...
- 12/02/13--04:42: _REPORT: Production ...
- 12/04/13--05:22: _George Clooney: Any...
- 12/04/13--05:46: _Florida Children Ac...
- 12/04/13--12:02: _First Large-Scale T...
- 11/12/13--08:43: How James Bond Helped Win The Cold War
- 11/14/13--12:50: 5 Things You Should Know If You Want To Set A Guinness World Record
- 11/15/13--06:54: The 10 Best Drinking Scenes On Film
- 11/16/13--11:49: David Cameron Can Only Get What He Wants By Leaving Europe
- 11/16/13--14:17: Welcome To Honduras, The Most Dangerous Country On The Planet
- 11/16/13--15:10: Airbnb Is On Track To Be The World's Largest Hotelier
- 11/29/13--13:13: The Netherlands Loses Its Pristine AAA Rating
- 11/30/13--11:26: How The Free Syrian Army Became A Largely Criminal Enterprise
- 12/01/13--04:46: Scientists Race To Prove The Existence Of 'Star Trek' Antimatter
- 12/04/13--05:22: George Clooney: Any Famous Person On Twitter 'Is A Moron'
- 12/04/13--12:02: First Large-Scale Trial Of Driverless Cars To Begin On Public Roads
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I took the Cold War for granted. Whenever we listened to the early evening news, the headlines were full of Cruise missiles, peace protesters, Afghan rebels and superpower summits.
When I went to school, one of my teachers lectured us about the evils of nuclear weapons and the inevitability of Armageddon. I saw James Bond battling sinister Bulgarian henchmen and canoodling with glamorous, fur-coated Russian beauties.
The Cold War was always there, part of the wallpaper, the soundtrack, the fabric of everyday life. And then, quite suddenly, it was gone. The Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, and nuclear weapons disappeared from the headlines. Almost overnight, the whole long nightmare faded into history.
When I suggested a series about Britain’s Cold War experience to the BBC, I was keen to emphasise its impact not on those people with their fingers on the button, who usually dominate accounts of the period, but on the ordinary men, women and children who grew up in the shadow of the Bomb . This was, of course, a war of spies and secrets, but it was also a struggle for hearts and minds. In the Cold War, to borrow a slogan from the feminism of the 1970s, the personal became political.
And because it was above all an ideological conflict, a contest between two systems, it touched almost every aspect of life: the books you read on holiday, the films you saw at the cinema, the music you played in your student bedsit. Indeed, one of the arguments of our series is that in the Cold War, the decisive weapon wasn’t the atom bomb. It was our popular culture.
Almost from the moment the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, culture had become an ideological instrument. In artistic terms, the Soviet Union was undoubtedly a global superpower, and no account of 20th-century culture is complete without the likes of Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, each of whom had a loyal following in the West. Yet each was forced into his own compromises with the system, which became increasingly prescriptive as Stalin seized power and enforced the doctrine of socialist realism.
For all their technical brilliance, Eisenstein’s most successful films - Battleship Potemkin, October and Alexander Nevsky – were naked Communist propaganda, and when he flirted with Hollywood in the 1930s he fell into disrepute with the Stalinist censors. Excessive innovation was frowned upon: both Prokofiev and Shostakovich were publicly denounced for their “anti-democratic formalism”, and effectively forced to produce more conservative works.
Yet despite its ideological rigidity, Soviet culture always had a kind of cachet with British audiences: a sense of mystery, exoticism, even danger. When the Bolshoi visited London for the first time in October 1956, not even the Red Army’s brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising could deter British ballet lovers, hundreds of whom slept on the pavement outside the Royal Opera House to ensure they got tickets.
“If they’re going to come all the way from Moscow,” one bohemian-looking fan told the BBC, in an upper-class accent that sounded like a cat scraping its claws down a blackboard, “I feel the least I can do is to make an effort to see them. I should never be likely to go there to do it.”
For many people, as our series shows, the great paradox of the Cold War was that it was at once utterly terrifying and strangely glamorous. One example tells a wider story. Almost exactly 50 years ago, the dust was still settling after the high-stakes brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world had come closer than ever before to nuclear annihilation.
Now, a year on, Fleet Street reported a new twist in the nuclear game, with the news that France’s Mirage 4 bombers had just come into commission. Yet the papers in October 1963 devoted rather more attention to a very different story – a second cinematic outing for a secret agent who, as one critic put it, “acts out our less reputable fantasies without ever going too far”. The film was From Russia With Love; the hero, of course, was that supreme embodiment of British heroism, James Bond.
Today Bond has become such a familiar personification of British style that it is easy to lose sight of his Cold War origins. In Ian Fleming’s early novels, Bond was explicitly a blunt instrument for bashing the Communists. On the screen, however, Bond’s Cold War connotations were gently toned down: his early enemies, for example, work for the international crime network SPECTRE, not (as in the books) the Soviet intelligence agency SMERSH, while the films’ obsession with novelty, fashion and design felt a long way from Fleming’s hard-bitten conservatism. Yet in its way, even the aggressive product placement of the Bond films was a weapon in the wider Cold War.
As one of Bond’s biggest critics, the novelist and former spy John le Carré astutely remarked, the films promoted nothing so much as the "consumer goods ethic"– a central element of the economic miracle that had transformed everyday life in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. Like many highbrow commentators, le Carré strongly disapproved. Interviewed by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1966, he remarked that Bond’s gadgets, “the things on our desk that could explode, our ties that could suddenly take photographs, give to a drab and materialistic existence a kind of magic”.
But for many ordinary people, the life le Carré dismissed as tawdry and materialistic actually represented an astounding advance towards comfort and prosperity – something the sclerotic, debt-fuelled Communist economies could never provide. In that respect, Bond’s gadgets really did make a difference.
The West’s cultural offensive was not, of course, confined to the cinema. Even modern art was not immune from political pressures: during the 1950s and 1960s, American abstract expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning were heavily sponsored by the CIA, who hoped to advertise the freedom and creativity of the capitalist system. For my money, though, the most compelling British expressions of the Cold War came on the small screen.
The conflict coincided with the rise of TV as a mass medium; indeed, millions of ordinary people experienced it above all as a television phenomenon. It was the BBC’s groundbreaking adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example, that fixed in many people’s minds the feel of a totalitarian society: the greyness, the regimentation, the atmosphere of looming dread. Six Conservative MPs even signed an Early Day Motion warning that “many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play Nineteen Eighty-Four are already in common use under totalitarian regimes” and applauding "the sincere attempts of the BBC to bring home to the British people the logical and soul-destroying consequences of the surrender of their freedom".
Not all the BBC’s contributions to the Cold War, however, went down quite so well with the politicians of the day. In 1965 the brilliantly talented director Peter Watkins made a 50-minute docudrama about the aftermath of a nuclear attack, The War Game. Watkins pulled no punches: at the end, we see British soldiers burning corpses, while the looters clash with the police during food riots.
But after talking to Whitehall officials, the BBC decided not to show it – a sign, many critics thought, of its subservience to Establishment interests. That the film won an Academy Award the following year only deepened the corporation’s embarrassment, and to many viewers’ intense frustration, The War Game was not shown on British television for 20 years.
By then, however, the BBC had redeemed itself with perhaps the most harrowing Cold War fiction of all – Threads, which explores the impact of a nuclear attack on two Sheffield families. I was too young to watch it at the time, since in 1984 I was only 10, but I can still remember the terrifying cover of the Radio Times, which showed a shotgun-toting traffic warden, his grim face swathed in a bloody bandage. Indeed, even now I defy anybody to watch Threads all the way through to its shocking science-fiction-style conclusion and sleep easily afterwards.
Afterwards hundreds of viewers wrote to the BBC, many commending the film’s writer, Barry Hines, and director, Mick Jackson, on their courage and honesty. "It’s three o’clock in the morning after the screening of Threads," wrote a woman from Swansea, "and I can’t sleep for the feelings of terror and utter hopelessness." Another woman, this time from Suffolk, told the filmmakers that she was "too old to cope with a nuclear winter". She had written, she said, "to our dear Mrs Thatcher to ask her for suicide pills for us old ’uns – a small suicide pill we could swallow that would go down with a nice cup of tea when we heard the four-minute nuclear warning".
The great irony was that even as half the population were telling pollsters they expected to see World War Three in their lifetime, the end of the Cold War was only a few years away. For decades, Britain had lived in fear of the Red Menace, with many people genuinely fearing that the Soviet version of modernity would prove more efficient, more ruthless and more enduring than our own. Yet by the 1980s the Communist model had run aground. While millions of British consumers were shopping for new microwaves, video recorders and compact disc players, ordinary Muscovites were queuing for bread.
Meanwhile, thanks partly to the worldwide success of our pop culture, Western capitalism had become a beacon to the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe. Ever since the days of the Beatles, British pop and rock music had been seeping into the Soviet bloc, if only in the form of dubious cover versions by the state-approved record label Melodiya.
To young people starved of liberty and eager for a better life, British music represented not just freedom and fun, but modernity and self-expression. It was little wonder, then, that the Soviet authorities regarded pop music with such unbridled dread. In the Eighties Judas Priest were denounced for “anticommunism, racism”, 10cc for “neofascism” and Pink Floyd for “distortion of Soviet foreign policy”.
So when the West Berlin authorities organised a three-day concert to mark the city’s 750th anniversary in June 1987, it was both fitting and revealing that the headliners were British: David Bowie, Eurythmics and, on the final night, Genesis, whose lead singer, Phil Collins had memorised a few German phrases for the occasion.
On the other side of the Wall, hundreds of young East Berliners climbed trees, clambered up chimneys and packed onto balconies to get a glimpse of their Western idols. Some brave souls even danced in front of the Soviet embassy, provoking pitched battles with the East German police. All across the city, crowds chanted: "The Wall must go." They did not have long to wait; just over two years later, the borders opened, the Wall came down and the Cold War was over. Almost overnight, the shadow of the bomb had been lifted. Perhaps it is only a slight exaggeration, then, to say that the man who really ended the Cold War was not Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev – but Phil Collins.
Strange Days: Cold War Britain starts on BBC Two on Tuesday November 12 at 9pm
The world's largest cut diamond, the Pink Star, is expected to sell for up to £40 million tonight but what makes it so special?
The world's largest cut diamond, the Pink Star will go up for auction on Wednesday night in Geneva where it is expected to break records.
It is expected to be the world's most expensive diamond when it goes under the hammer as the 59.6-carat 'fancy' diamond is valued at £40 million.
'Fancy' coloured diamonds are some of the rarest gems in the world- so-called because of the intensity of their colour.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has devised a colour grading system which is used as the standard for grading the colour of diamonds.
The most valuable diamonds tend to have the least amount of colour. Diamonds that are 100 per cent colourless get the highest rating- a letter D grade.
The system continues through the alphabet to the letter Z, and diamonds decrease in value as the colour becomes more obvious.
Diamonds get the lowest Z rating if they are yellow or brown in colour and these tend not to be sold as gemstones.
However exactly the opposite happens with 'fancy' coloured diamonds, their value increases with the strength and purity of their colour.
Laboratories use a list of 27 colour hues that span the full spectrum for coloured gems and diamonds and the saturation of these hues are described with one of nine descriptors.
'Fancy vivid’ is the highest possible colour grade that can be given.
Most 'fancy' coloured diamonds are muted and small, so large, 'vivid fancy' coloured diamonds are extremely rare and particularly valuable.
Most coloured diamonds will also have tints of secondary colours which decreases their value.
According to the GIA, 'fancy' coloured diamonds are classified as yellow and brown diamonds that exhibit colour beyond the range of the colour grading system.
However they can also be diamonds that exhibit any other colour when they are placed face up.
When using the D-Z scale diamonds are examined face down but coloured diamonds are graded using a different procedure and are examined face up.
'Fancy' diamonds come in every colour of the spectrum, including, most importantly, blue, green, pink, and red.
Red, green, purple, and orange tend to be the rarest colours followed by pink and blue. The most common colours are yellow and brown so they are often less valuable than rarer coloured diamonds.
White, black and grey diamonds are also considered 'fancy' diamonds.
The 'Pink Star' gets its intense pink colour due to changes to the electron structure, known as 'plastic deformation' during its journey to the earth's surface.
The auction record for any jewel sold was also set by a pink diamond.
The 24.78 carat Graff Pink which was bought by Laurence Graff for £28.5m in 2010.
However the Pink Star's extraordinary size and rich colour are unparalleled.
David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby's Switzerland which is auctioning the diamond, said the Pink Star is "of immense importance".
Yesterday the largest vivid orange diamond ever sold at auction went for £22 million when it was auctioned by Christie's in Geneva.
The 14.82 carat diamond known as 'The Orange' was expected to sell for just half of that price but made a staggering £1.5 million ($2.4million) per carat.
According to Christie's this is a world record price per carat for any coloured diamond sold at auction.
The vivid orange colour is suspected to be the result of the facedown of nitrogen in the diamond's creation.
Most spoons on a face, greatest number of people in one pair of underpants, largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia...
The list of weird and wacky world records goes on and on and on. For those behind the stunts, the honour is huge - their names published in the planet's best-selling copyrighted book of all time (and yes, that is a record).
The Guinness World Records (formerly Guinness Book of Records) is the zenith for anyone with an unusual talent.
But if you lack the ability to squirt milk from your eye or, fear not because help is at hand. To mark today's Guinness World Records Day, we have produced a quick and easy guide to having your name immortalised (until someone beats your feat) in the bible of the bizarre.
1. Pick your subject carefully
Annually, 50,000 people apply to Guinness World Records (GWR) in the hope their achievement will make it into print. Only around 1,000 actually do, so how do you avoid disappointment?
According to Craig Glenday, GWR Editor-in-Chief, research is vital.
"There's a huge fail rate because we don't just accept any old thing," he said. "Even if you achieve a record, there is no guarantee it will appear in the book."
Choose records which capture the imagination, he says.
"Study the existing records closely. And it's a cliche but you have to have dedication - keep on practicing."
Marawa Wamp and her ten-strong troupe of majorettes are now the proud record holders of the 'Most Hula Hoops Spun Simultaneously by a Group' (it's 264 in case you were wondering).
"Everybody at some point in their lives has wanted to be in the Guinness Book of Records," she said. "My advice is be very patient, do your research and choose something you are already good at."
2. Follow the rules
Record breaking isn't all fun - there is a serious side to the business of achieving world fame.
"Always contact us first", said Mr Glenday. "There are strict rules which you have to follow before your record will even be considered for the book."
To qualify, a record must fulfill a handful of basic requirements: it must be measurable, provable, have a single superlative, be beatable (unless it's a significant "first", such as first human on Mars) and, perhaps most importantly, be interesting.
"Research is very important. A good example is Ashrita Furman, who holds the record for holding the most records. One of his records is for pushing an orange for a mile with his nose. He discovered that an unripe Florida orange, which is actually green, is the most round so he used that."
3. Becoming a record breaker won't break your wallet
According to Mr Glenday, record-breaking doesn't have to cost you a penny.
"Record-breaking is free and open to everyone," he said. "We ask that you give us six to eight weeks for existing categories, and eight to 12 weeks for new ideas.
"With about 1,000 claims to deal with every week, we don't have the resources to send adjudicators out. In our general guidelines are instructions on the basic evidence that we're happy for claimants to send in, such as video footage, independent witness statements and log books."
4. What you need to do
Every record has a set of guidelines that must be followed, so when you apply to break an existing record – best done via the online application form at www.guinessworldrecords.com – you will be sent these by email.
These are the rules that the current record holder followed, which means each record is judged fairly.
Hannah Bosley, who along with 324 others now hold the record for the largest gathering of people dressed as penguins, said: "Breaking a record is not as hard to organise as you might first anticipate so just get going and if you want to do it you will."
5. Think of the glory
Where else do you find global recognition if your gift to the world is climbing a mountain wearing stilts?
"There is a buzz from seeing your name in print," said Mr Glenday. "Millions of people read the book. Your name could be alongside the likes of Usain Bolt and Neil Armstrong.
"You get the chance to to be recognised for something that would otherwise be ignored."
Some of cinema's best scenes have been set against a backdrop of bars and drinking. Thinking Drinkers Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham round up their favourite moments
Films. They’re like books, but better.
Following weeks of scrupulous research, meticulous logistical planning and rigorous avoidance of proper work, we have gathered together some of the finest bar and drinking scenes ever committed to celluloid. Just for you.
This romantic noir starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick) as a broken-hearted bar owner in Morocco and filmed during the Second World War is an obvious place to begin.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world...” is arguably the most famous liquor-soaked scene in Hollywood history. But, for many, it’s not the film’s best bar scene – that accolade belongs to the rousing rendition of La Marseillaise in Rick’s Café Americain.
When German officers goad the bar’s Gallic contingent by singing the bloodthirsty German anthem “Die Wacht am Rhein”, the house band is ordered to play “La Marseillaise” by Victor Laszlo, exiled resistance leader and the husband of Rick’s lost love, played by Ingrid Bergman.
The band looks to Rick for approval. He gives a nod, a very cool nod at that, and the whole bar, overwhelmed with patriotic passion, join Laszlo in singing the Germans into submission.
Yet what makes the scene so powerful is that many of the multi-cultural cast were fresh from fleeing Nazi Europe.
2) The Shining
Lloyd is “the best damn barman from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine... and Portland Oregon for that matter”. But Lloyd isn't real. He's just a figment of Jack Nicholson's imagination, an imagination living in a brain that has gone very, very wrong. After being cooped up for too long in a hotel, a hotel that doesn't even have Wi-Fi or rolling Sky Sports News, he goes completely hat-stand, chasing his wife around the place with an axe.
Come on, we've all done it.
3) Mean Streets
Mean Streets is the film that hailed Martin Scorsese a "made man" in the world of cinema. Filmed in muted colour and almost entirely with a handheld camera, it broke new ground in cinematography and boasts three great bar scenes.
An early example of the slow-motion shot, Scorsese follows a young Robert De Niro into a brooding, red-lit bar that critics likened to Dante's Inferno. With two broads on his arm and a cool hat on his head, and to the tune of "Jumpin Jack Flash" by the Stones, it's a lesson on how to enter a drinking establishment. Then there’s a classic bar fight (it’s actually a pool hall, but quit busting our balls) where De Niro does over some douchebags in superbly shambolic fashion.
Yet both of the above are narrowly eclipsed by Harvey Keitel’s close-up, 90-second descent into a serious drunk funk, accompanied by the Chips’ doo-wop favourite “Rubber Biscuit”. Most of us remember how he feels. Or not, as the case may be.
4) Withnail & I
You may remember the summer of 2005 when Magners came up with the idea of drinking cider over ice. It, quite literally, made cider cool again and was widely hailed as a marketing masterstroke at the time.
But it wasn’t their idea. It was the boozy brainchild of Withnail (Richard E Grant – a teetotaller) in Withnail and I. From lighter fluid to “the finest wines available to humanity”, this cult eighties classic is steeped in alcohol and even boasts its own drinking game where viewers (mostly students) matching Withnail drink for drink. We suggest replacing the lighter fluid with vinegar as they did in the film.
5) Apocalypse Now
In preparing for his role as a dying alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, Nicholas Cage would film himself when he was drunk, study how he acted and talked, and replicate it while sober.
In preparing for his role as in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen didn’t bother with all that. He just got drunk. A lot. In a rather dark place personally, Sheen was off his face for the entire filming of the iconic opening scene, in which he drinks a bottle of whisky, goes stir-crazy within the walls of a Saigon hotel room and lacerates his hand by smashing it through a mirror.
That last bit wasn’t in the script but, hey, it was his birthday.
Months later, he had a heart attack and Apocalypse Now went on to win an Oscar.
Sadly, the actual scene is hard to find online but here, Sheen recalls the despair, the darkness and the drink that drove the scene.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Fighting is neither big nor clever unless the fights are in films. Or, better still, fights in bars in films. Yet with cinema steeped in scenes of booze-soaked fisticuffs, it’s almost impossible to pick the best fights on film.
Chazz Palmenteri opening an almighty can of whuppass on some rather rude Hells Angels in A Bronx Tale stands out – if only for the “Now Yous Can’t Leave” line. And if you like your bar brawls underwater then, of course, look no further than the superb Top Secret .
But film’s most memorable disagreement on licensed premises surely features Francis Begbie from Trainspotting. In Scotland, some pubs must serve their drinks in plastic glasses. People like Begbie are the reason why.
We make no apologies for this. Cocktail is the finest bartender film ever made. Not least because it's pretty much the only true bartender film ever made. Featuring Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan doing cheesy and cocky in a way that only he can, it inspired many to pick up a Boston Shaker - even though purists point out that Flanagan is perhaps the world’s worst bartender.
Even now, over two decades later, anyone who so much as drops a bottle of booze is hailed as a wannabe Flanagan. While the film is brimming with killer/cheesy quotes, mostly from Dough Coughlin - the film's cocktail mentor played by Bryan Brown, the scene that melts the butter of nearly every bartender is Flanagan's impromptu recital of The Last Barman poet.
So bad, it’s good.
8) It’s A Wonderful Life
A Christmas classic. Teeming with tear-jerking moments, one or two of which never fail to bring a snot bubble to our blubbering faces, Franz Capra’s black and white tale of divine intervention tells the story of Clarence, an angel, showing a suicidal James Stewart (George Bailey) what the world would look like without him.
And it’s not a very nice place. Martini’s Tavern, once the bedrock of Bedford Falls society yet now a sleazy dive of ill-repute where James Stewart and the indecisive angel incur the wrath of Nick, the curmudgeonly bar owner. “Look, we serve hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast and we don't need any characters around giving the joint atmosphere. Is that clear? Or do I need to slip you my left for a convincer?”
9) Good Will Hunting
Many know Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a man who beats off enemies in the shower with a rolled-up newspaper.
But he first emerged on the film scene as the writer and star of Good Will Hunting. Directed by Gus Van Sant and starring co-writer Ben Affleck, it tells a tale of a Boston ne'erdowell who belies his unfortunate background by being a serious smartypants who can do algebra 'n' that.
Damon's beanbag-size brain first reveals itself when he puts a Harvard student upstart firmly in his place via the medium of long words and clever-clog sentences.
10) Star Wars
It’s all kicking off at the Mos Eisley Cantina– the weirdest bar in cinema. Situated on planet Tatooine within the pirate city of Mos Eisley, it’s not somewhere to take a first date. The clientele is made up of angry-looking aliens, jobbing freight pilots and the dodgy looking dregs of intergalactic society, there's an unnerving tolerance of extreme violence, the service is slack and the house band - Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes – sound like a fire in a pet shop. And they don’t serve droids. Heaven knows what the gents look like.
Find out more about the Thinking Drinkers at thinkingdrinkers.com
We need to be prepared to give up some of our joint dominance of world economic governance to allow emerging economies the space their growing power warrants
Recent data continue to point to signs of an improving recovery in the UK. What is particularly encouraging is that the latest manufacturing PMI survey suggested rising optimism about exports; questions could still be asked about the balance of growth, but if there are now signs of improving exports this adds to the case for the optimists.
The eurozone is no longer quite the concern it once was and that is probably helping, but the real scope for sustainable export strength lies outside Europe and our historic traditional UK export markets. Sustained strength in exports will probably happen if our companies can penetrate the markets in the far-flung world of the so-called BRIC economies - Brazil, Russia, India and, of course, China - and other large emerging markets.
I discuss this in a short book I am soon to publish and I have also been travelling extensively in the past couple of months for a BBC radio documentary I am making about some of the emerging economies beyond the BRICs: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. They could become known as the MINTs.
It has become highly fashionable in the financial world to focus on the signs of economic slowing in some of these well populated economies. Many commentators believe that these countries have very troubled futures as a result of their challenges. While there is no denying the challenges for many of them – the Russian authorities reduced their own estimate of long-term growth potential to 2.5pc – I think it is a quite different thing to conclude that they will necessarily slow down persistently and offer much less potential.
It often seems to me that many commentators still don’t quite get the scale at which the world has already changed, a focus that I discuss at the start of my new book. The “slowdown” in the BRIC economies is for real, but since the end of 2010 their combined GDP has still risen by around another $3.5 trillion, not far off the equivalent of the size of Germany’s. Taking them collectively, they have increased by more than $15 trillion, creeping closer to the size of the US economy. Throw in the MINTs and a couple of others and you get up to $20 trillion quite easily. When our Chancellor and others meet their opposite numbers at future G20 meetings, they should be lobbying for more bilateral meetings with them – not the other way around.
Within this group, China is, of course, special, and I devote a chapter to the “new” China, which is going to be more about the quality of growth than just the quantity. Nonetheless, by the end of this year, China will probably be larger than $9 trillion and, even at its slower rate of 7pc to 7.5pc, China is going to be adding around $1 trillion per year to the world’s economy. At $9 trillion, it is more than half the size of the US these days, and is actually close to the size of the rest of the BRICs and MINTs put together.
On Friday, China announced an official end to the one-child policy – they have been experimenting with reforms in some areas in recent years – and, more importantly, confirmed they will phase out the “hukou”, or migrant worker registration system, in smaller cities and towns. I believe both are important for growth, especially the latter, as it will give these people more confidence to be part of a growing, shared economy and consume.
This means there will probably be better opportunities for the likes of the UK – more so than those countries that have benefited so much from the last generation of Chinese growth, which was principally based on its prominence as an exporter and state-driven investment economy.
Now there are signs of an improvement in UK relations with China – George Osborne visited last month and David Cameron will travel there next month – I believe we are better positioned to see accelerated export growth to China.
As for the other emerging economies, some have more challenges than others. Of those that I have travelled to recently, despite their challenges, their growth prospects would be the envy of most of the so-called developed world. Turkey, for example, remains under some clouds due to the government’s heavy-handed approach to the summer protests, but this should not be translated into a view that the Turkish economy is finished. I found very little evidence of that from my week-long trip and meetings. Turkey’s burgeoning middle classes and their exceptionally well-located geography for modern trade growth gives them plenty to keep them going.
In Mexico, there is a commitment to genuine, powerful supply-side driven economic reforms that I have rarely encountered in more than 30 years of finance, which are set to unleash a period of greater prosperity. Indonesia, from where I have just returned, is fraught with massive challenges related to infrastructure and governance, but, having met a number of influential people, I think it is probable steps will be taken to rise to the challenge. More than 240m people there are itching for more.
As I also discuss in the book, we and our European allies can do ourselves a favour in two other areas. We need to be prepared to give up some of our joint dominance of world economic governance to allow these countries the space their growing power warrants and get better global decision-making – even if that would be difficult and different. Without doing this, we might not get the relationships we need to solidify rising trade relations.
In addition, as much as we want many of them to do things “our way”, there are some things that we can learn from them. I spent some time with the leadership of Turkish Airlines, which, I believe, now flies to more countries than any other airline in the world. I’m sure there are things the UK can learn in terms of the interplay between the airline’s goals for expansion, the necessary airline infrastructure to support it and the trade ties that relate to the country’s goals.
In China, while many of their largest banks and other financial entities face colossal challenges, one doesn’t encounter the “them versus us” mentality that still seems to prevail here, although the efforts of the Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, to declare that we are open for business is a welcome step to change this mood.
I find myself continuing to be more cheery about the world and opportunities, and it is comforting to see that starting to become more and more evident in the data and mood of people in our own country.
Jim O’Neill is the chairman of the City Growth Commission. His new book is available at www.londonpublishingpartnership.co.uk/the-bric-road-to-growth
Xi Jinping is positioning himself as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping
Xi Jinping, the stockily-built, 60 –year-old leader of the last major nation on earth ruled by a Communist Party, has had a good, week. A major meeting of China’s leadership bolstered his authority one year after he took command of the rising superpower. Though his name is less familiar as those of his predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, he has stamped himself as the world leader who grew most in status and power during 2013.
His readiness to adopt a degree of change was shown by the announcement on Friday that a key Party meeting had decided to loosen the one-child policy to let couples have two children if one of the parents is an only child—previously, the rules had required both to be only children. The ‘reform through labour’ system by which people could be sent to prison camps at the whim of officials is to be abolished. Economic reforms were promised and there were proposals to relax policies restricting the rights of more than one hundred million migrant workers in cities.
Alongside these reforms, the Party Plenum showed how Xi is accumulating authority to make him the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng two decades ago. In the past year, he has brought down potential rivals, notably the maverick politician Bo Xilai who is now serving a life sentence for corruption and whose wife was handed a suspended death sentence for murdering he British businessman, Neil Heywood. He has used an anti-graft campaign to enforce his will on officials and is reported to have installed a special high-level police unit reporting directly to him. As Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi has good links with the large and politically important People’s Liberation Army.
On top of all this, the Plenum decided to create a national security committee to bring together the different branches of law enforcement at home and to coordinate policy abroad; there is no doubt that Xi or one of his lieutenants will head the new body. He also holds the state presidency and has been a frequent traveler to represent China at summits including meetings with Presidents Obama and Putin. Last week’s Plenum resolved to create a top body to oversee reform – it is a fair guess who will head it, especially after Premier Li Keqiang was not named alongside Xi as an author of the document announcing the decisions that had been taken.
Xi has been preparing for this for a long time, showing every sign of being a masterly politician, able to work comfortably within the arcane Chinese regime and turn it to his advantage. He is what is known in China as a ‘princeling’ - the child of a first generation Communist leader. These are the country’s aristocracy. Somebody who knew him as a young man says he always carried with him a sense of entitlement.
But getting to the top was a long and winding road. His father, revolutionary general Xi Zhongxun, was Deputy Prime Minister under Mao but then fell foul of the Cultural Revolution. His son was ‘sent down’ to the countryside where he looked after pigs and was refused membership of the Communist Party. The family’s fortunes perked up when Deng won the power struggle set off by Mao’s death in 1976, and Xi Zhongxun became Governor of Guangdong province in southern China which spearheaded the country’s market-led economic policies in the 1980s.
After finally gaining Party membership, Jinping graduated from a top Beijing university and then worked his way up through the administrative ranks in the provinces before being elevated to China’s top body, the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007. That made him the man singled out by the opaque leadership as China’s next leader of China – before that, he had been less well-known than his second wife, a popular singer, who has stopped performing since his elevation – they have four children.
On his way to the top, Xi, who will serve until 2022, gained a reputation as a conciliator well in with the various high-level factions. He has an easy public style; in contrast to the dour approach adopted by most Chinese leaders, he smiles in public and was photographed recently in an unusually informal pose with his trouser legs rolled up and holding his own umbrella as he inspected a river port during a downpour.
But there is no doubting his complete attachment to the Party State he heads. The past year has seen a toughening of the clampdown on dissent and an insistence by Xi on the need for absolute loyalty to the regime. He has resurrected Maoist ideology on Party power. Western ideas of plurality and democracy have no place in the People’s Republic he heads. The potential clash between this assertion of political power and the need for economic and social reforms to maintain the momentum built up since Deng’s initial reforms thirty years ago is the major question facing China – and the world for which it has such an importance.
Jonathan Fenby, China Director of the research service Trusted Sources, is author of Tiger Head, Snake Tails; China Today and The Penguin History of Modern China.
Sven-Goran Eriksson's former partner delivers her verdict on the ex-England manager's revelation in his memoirs of a string of secret lovers.
When Sven-Goran Eriksson published his autobiography, making public a string of affairs during his relationship with Nancy Dell’Olio, he must have feared it was a high-risk strategy.
Now, he will know for certain that it was – for, in the language of the football teams the Swede managed, his fiery Italian former partner has made a crunching tackle.
It targets not just Eriksson, but the most high profile of his lovers, Ulrika Jonsson, a television presenter and fellow Swede, who, herself, was the first of his lovers to cry foul.
“Sex with Sven was as ordered and functional as an Ikea instruction manual,” Jonsson, 46, had said in response to his disclosures.
“Putting together a Billy bookcase [an Ikea product] would have probably left me more satisfied.”
Yesterday, it was Dell’Olio’s turn, outlining a theory that Eriksson, 65, was only having sex with other women as a sort of pre-match warm-up.
She told the Daily Mail: “I think he was doing all this to make himself better for me, to satisfy me more,” she said in an interview.
When asked if sex with Eriksson was really as boring as an Ikea manual, Dell’Olio replied: “If the sex was bad, maybe that was her fault. I am not surprised because it confirms my theory. I do know that sexually, Sven didn’t care about anybody except me.”
Dell’Olio, who practised as a lawyer in Italy where Eriksson was a club manager and first met her, also disclosed that she was taking legal action over the book’s indiscretions.
The couple’s nine-year relationship ended in acrimony in 2007, prompting a legal wrangle over a two-bedroom flat in Eaton Square in Belgravia, central London, which Eriksson had secretly bought for £1.7 million in 2005 – and where he had wooed lovers behind Dell’Olio’s back.
Dell’Olio moved to the flat following the couple’s eventual separation two years later. After 13 hours of mediation earlier this year, Dell’Olio agreed to leave the flat in return for a lump sum and an Italian beach house.
Dell’Olio says that details revealed in Eriksson’s autobiography breach a confidentiality settlement agreed as part of the negotiations earlier this year.
She is now trying to block sales of the book, Sven: My Story, although it is already on sale.
In her interview, Dell’Olio said: “So I freeze the book. He knows that is really irritating of him to write these stupid, inaccurate and offensive things ... all of this has been enough for me to start a court case, to sue him.”
Although she never married Eriksson, Dell’Olio became the most famous and flamboyant of football wives when the Swede took up the England job in 2001, subsequently guiding the national team to the quarter-finals of two World Cups and a European Championship.
She has never been far from the public’s gaze, enduring a disastrous run on Strictly Come Dancing paired with Anton du Beke in 2011. But the reopening of hostilities with Eriksson has thrust Dell’Olio firmly back into the spotlight.
She has been angered by Eriksson’s claims in his book that her “irritating” behaviour drove him into the arms of other women.
Besides his affair with Jonsson, Eriksson also cheated on Dell’Olio with Faria Alam, a secretary at the Football Association. He reveals in his book that he had numerous other affairs too, including with an Italian actress, Debora Caprioglio, and a Romanian gymnast called Roxy.
Within a few months of stealing her from her Italian husband, he was tiring of Dell’Olio. “Nancy was very demanding. And it didn’t take long before I started to feel cramped by her,” he wrote, “She always had to be the centre of attention.”
He tried to engineer for Dell’Olio to return to her husband, Giancarlo Mazza, but it did not work out.
Eating out, moaned Eriksson: “Nancy would complain about anything and everything – the service, the champagne, the lighting. She demanded constant attention, and I got more and more irritated with her.”
While they lived in an apartment in central Rome, Eriksson secretly rented a villa in the suburbs near the training ground of Lazio, the club he managed before taking the England job. He would take other women there behind Dell’Olio’s back.
Despite the terrible indiscretions, Dell’Olio insists that Eriksson only really loved her. “Sven was always asking me to marry him. He could have walked out at any time,” she said. “Why did he not leave me ... He chose to stay.”
Eriksson’s book even accused his former partner of stealing kitchen utensils when they finally split.
It is a claim that has Dell’Olio as infuriated as any of the others in the book.
“I want his sieve and his ladles? This is one of his biggest lies,” she said.
There is only one way Cameron and co can have everything they want, but that depends on invoking Article 50, but they slam the door on it before they’ve even started
Of all the millions of words uttered in the past year on the possibility of the British being given a referendum on whether or not to remain in the European Union, scarcely any have had the faintest connection to reality.
This unreal debate was triggered, of course, by David Cameron’s pledge that, if re-elected in 2015, he would negotiate with Brussels for the return of unspecified powers of government and then, in 2017, would lead the “Yes” campaign in a referendum, arguing that Britain should stay a member of the EU on the basis of the new relationship with it that he had so brilliantly negotiated.
His proposal last January – only made to buy off the fear of so many of his backbenchers that Ukip might cost them their seats in 2015 – was no more than an empty political gesture. As many in Brussels have scornfully made clear, there is no way that Britain could be given back any powers, because this would breach the most sacred principle on which the EU is founded, that once powers have been handed over they can never be returned.
At least Mr Cameron has brought out a consensus of the great and the good – from politicians of all parties to the CBI and most of the press – that above all, while the dysfunctional EU is indeed in need of “reform”, for Britain to leave it would be a disaster – because this would exclude us from the Single Market which accounts for nearly half our trade. As recent polls have confirmed, even if there was a referendum tomorrow, it is this more than anything that would terrify the British public into voting to stay in.
But there are two issues in this debate which the supporters of the consensus are determined must never be raised. The first is that there is only one way in which Brussels could be made to negotiate the new relationship with the EU that the Cameronites say they are after – by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This would compel the EU by law to negotiate with us. But that, as we know, can only be triggered by a country that first says it wishes to leave the EU.
The second fact the Cameronites are absolutely determined we shouldn’t discuss is that there are many countries, such as Norway, which trade as freely with the Single Market as we do, without having to be members of the EU.
What do Mr Cameron and his supporters tell us they want? To negotiate a new relationship between Britain and the EU and for Britain to enjoy continued free access to the Single Market. There is only one legal and practical way in which they can have everything they want, but that depends on invoking Article 50. So they slam the door on it before they’ve even started, by insisting that there is no way they could allow Britain to leave the EU.
Thus they continue to dream their dreams, prattling about negotiations which can never happen, the return of powers they never name and meaningless referendums sometime in the indefinite future. They doom Britain to drift on into the twilight of a nation, impotently complaining at how we are shackled to this increasingly dysfunctional form of government, which next year will have its mind only on yet another centralising new treaty designed to rescue it from the insoluble mess of the euro.
But we cannot be allowed to know that it doesn’t have to be like this. Locked in the mind prison of “Europe”, the political class that rules us won’t have it any other way.
The greatest threat to children’s future is hidden from public view
Yet again last week our media were full of how Britain’s “child-protection” system has gone so horrendously off the rails. There was the report on the near-collapse of Birmingham’s social services, already described by the head of Ofsted as “a national disaster”. Even our education ministry, in charge of children’s services, dismissed as “useless” and “rubbish” a report absolving Bradford social workers of any blame for failing to prevent the murder of the little boy whose mummified corpse was found only two years later.
But yet again absent from all thIs outrage was any recognition of the other half of the scandal of how our “child-protection” system has gone off the rails, in its own way just as immense and terrifying.
This has been the way, since the “Baby P” scandal hit the headlines in 2008, our social workers have overreacted in precisely the opposite direction — by seizing thousands of children from loving parents for no good reason. In all those reports on the breakdown of Birmingham’s social services department, no one bothered to interview the one MP, John Hemming, who knows the failings of Birmingham’s social workers as well as anyone, not least from his days as deputy leader of Birmingham council.
Mr Hemming is the only MP who, for years, has been trying to blow the whistle on the scandalous way in which our social workers, instead of pursuing those tough cases of children being genuinely maltreated, have gone instead for the “soft targets” of families where there is no real call for their intervention. It is so much easier to snatch attractive, reasonably well-behaved children who are ideal for meeting the Government’s drive for more adoptions, or, better still, to feed our vast fostering industry, paying foster carers £400 a week for each child, much of it lucratively run by agencies set up by former social workers.
Mr Hemming notes how one reason why Birmingham’s social services have become so demoralised, with a fifth of their jobs vacant and the same number absent sick, is that, as in many others across Britain, responsible, humane-minded social workers find it impossible to stay there. So much of what they are now expected to do no longer matches up to the ideals of genuinely trying to help children that brought them into the profession.
But the reason, above all, why our “child-protection” system has become so corrupted is that its workings are so fiercely hidden from public view by that wall of secrecy erected to protect them by our judges. At least Sir James Munby, the new head of our family courts, is now trying to chip away at that wall of secrecy, as he did again last week by calling in a speech to editors for our family courts to be “opened up to the world”. The press, he told them, must be “jealously vigilant” in watching for miscarriages of justice, where judges are exercising what, since the end of the death penalty, have become “the most drastic powers” they possess — “the power to take a baby away from a mother for life”.
Next week I intend to report on yet another horrific instance of how his fellow judges still seem relentlessly determined to resist the point he is so valiantly trying to make.
Resist green tax suicide like the brave Poles
Wholly predictable last week was the ghoulish eagerness of the warmists (including David Cameron) to blame the Philippines typhoon disaster on “man-made climate change”. Those sceptics who actually consult the evidence wearily pointed out that in recent years tropical storm activity, including Pacific typhoons, has been less intense than for decades; and that Asia was hit by even worse typhoons in the past, notably in the late 17th century, at the height of the “Little Ice Age” when the world was much colder than it is now.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw, 10,000 officials and climate activists are gathered under the auspices of the UN, in yet another desperate attempt to agree that we must all be taxed and regulated into further reducing our “carbon emissions”. An innovation this time, however, was a 50,000-strong mass demonstration nearby, in support of a “counter-conference” sponsored by Solidarity and other Polish groups, to protest at how the UN’s bogus science is being used to “deceive the world”. As the country that relies more on coal for its electricity than any other in Europe, Poland is leading the way in resisting the pressure for the EU to commit economic suicide by raising its insane “carbon-reduction targets” even higher — pressure led by our own Government.
When can we hope to see 50,000 people turning out in Britain to protest that we have the most idiotically self-destructive energy and “climate” policies in the world?
Drug wars have made Honduras, the original banana republic, the world’s most dangerous country
At first glance, it would appear to be a typical playground scene from anywhere in central America. The young girls play pit-a-pat and the boys charge excitedly after a half-deflated football across a makeshift pitch of caked mud.
But amid this familiar school tableau in a hillside slum overlooking the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, there is a new and jarring sight. And that is of soldiers, armed with assault rifles, strolling around the school grounds.
For the rickety wooden classrooms here have just been assigned a second role as the barracks for one of the new military units recently dispatched into the country's most violent districts; a last ditch effort to stem the daily toll of death and bloodshed.
It is a sign of desperate times in Honduras, the most dangerous country on the planet outside a full-fledged war zone. The murder rate reached an unenviable global high of 85 for every 100,000 residents last year, and is on course to reach 90 per 100,000 in 2013.
The question of how to tackle this epidemic of gang and drug violence, which exploded after Honduras became the key staging post for cocaine smuggling from South America to the US, is the overwhelming issue facing the candidates in next Sunday's presidential elections.
The drug gangs threaten the very viability of the Honduran state, but it is unclear whether any of the presidential contenders really has an answer.
This week, The Telegraph witnessed the scale of the problems at first hand after accompanying one of the new military patrols through some of the toughest slums of the capital, Tegucigalpa, a sprawling jumble of neighbourhoods that stretches across a bowl-shaped valley.
"These areas were in the hands of the gangs," said Col Jose Lopez Raudales, a veteran army commander whose men were given a crash course in policing strategy before their deployment last month.
The maze of shanty homes - where dirt tracks pass for roads and open sewers run along walls daubed with gang graffiti and threats to kill informants - used to be a no-go zone for the security forces. The police were too scared, too ill-equipped, too inefficient and often too complicit in gang crime to venture there.
Col Raudales has 100 troops under his command at the school, part of 1,000 military police involved in the crackdown. Speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, the school's headteacher welcomed their arrival in her classrooms, recounting how her pupils used to have to take shelter under their desks when gun battles erupted outside.
One of the unit's first tasks upon being deployed to the district last month was to remove the corpse of a man shot 12 times in the head, but Col Raudales said there had been no deaths there since their deployment. "Our operations will continue until we clean crime from these areas," he insisted defiantly.
That, however, is a formidable mission in a country of 8.5 million where 20 people are murdered a day, five times the rate in America's most violent large city, Chicago.
Sandwiched between Nicaragua to the south and Guatemala to the north, Honduras has the dubious distinction of being the original "banana republic", a term coined by the American writer William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O. Henry, who fled there in the 1890s to escape embezzlement charges. But while Porter used the phrase to describe a country in hock to unscrupulous fruit corporations, today it is a trade of a far more ruthless nature that dominates the landscape.
Some 80 per cent of the cocaine that reaches US soil is now trafficked via Honduras, either spirited there by sea or flown into remote air strips carved out of the jungle in the inaccessible wilderness of the north-east.
As US-led counter-trafficking operations have squeezed cartels to the south in Colombia and the north in Mexico, the drug gangs have turned to the country as an alternative staging post. Situated mid-way between the coca fields of the Amazon basin and the consumers of American cities, Honduras's location and geography has turned into a curse.
The drugs are overwhelmingly smuggled through La Mosquitia, a sparsely-populated, lawless and near-impenetrable rainforest along the Nicaraguan border and Caribbean coast.
Mexico's feared Zeta and Sinaloa cartels have teamed up with local drug-lords to run the multi-billion dollar smuggling operation. But they have also imported their ruthless rivalries.
Senior Honduran military personnel privately acknowledge that they are waging a losing battle against the vastly better-resourced "narcos"– despite the backing of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Last week, this newspaper obtained photographs from a recent military operation in La Mosquitia that illustrate the scale of that challenge. The pictures show airstrips cut out of the jungle by bulldozer and the lights and lamps used for night-time landings.
The pictures also show small planes that are burned and abandoned by the smugglers. The flights are usually one-way trips from Venezuela, ending in deliberate crash landings with the mission accomplished. The average payload is worth much more than the plane itself.
While the drug dealers get rich, ordinary Hondurans suffer - not that many of those in the areas plagued by gangs are willing to speak out. An exception is Oscar Rivera, a teacher at another school visited by Col Lopez's men, who was one of the few locals willing to be identified during the Sunday Telegraph's tour of the area.
The 51-year-old has been robbed several times, but counts that as the least of his worries during the recent crime wave. First his brother was stabbed to death during a home break-in. Then his 22-year-old son, a college student, was gunned down on his way home from buying a soft drink and bag of crisps from a street stand.
"He gave them everything he had, but still they killed him," Mr Rivera said, his voice breaking. "It doesn't matter to the gangs where you live or die. Life is worthless to them. It's just so terrible to see someone you love so much taken away for a few cents."
Such accounts are depressingly quotidian for Hondurans. Their morning newspapers provide daily diet of murder and mayhem illustrated by gruesome photographs of blood-soaked corpses.
And at the city morgue, where a cloying sickly odour seeps into the street from the front office, a refrigerated trailer has been parked outside to handle the overflow of corpses awaiting autopsy by over-whelmed staff.
The violence is most open and brutal in the hilltop barrios where grinding poverty comes with million dollar views. But it has also spread down into the city's middle-class neighbourhoods, now a network of guarded enclaves where private security officers man roadblocks on what were once regular city streets.
Alongside the kidnappings, robberies, assaults and murder, there is also the all-pervasive imposition on small businesses, even schools, by gangs of so-called "war tax", the local term for protection rackets.
And in an attack that shocked the city's affluent elite, gunmen this month opened fire on the daughter of the country's former president in an apparent kidnapping attempt.
Donatella Micheletti, 21, was leaving a gym when her car was blocked by three men in another vehicle who shot at the driver's side. Her bodyguard returned fire and the target escaped with minor injuries.
Her father Roberto was appointed president after a 2009 coup, although the assault was not believed to be political.
"These people are so brazen that they will even go after the daughter of a former president and her guards," said a Honduran businessman who drives around the city with a pistol tucked into his belt and an armed assistant.
"This country is turning into the perfect zombie apocalypse. We are sliding into the world of failed states."
For Col Raudales and his men, the greatest challenge is winning the confidence of a cowed people as they hand out flyers urging locals to call a confidential tip-line to report on criminals. "We are here to help you and maintain public order," it explained. "Don't be afraid."
But the reality is that people are extremely afraid. And it was often what the locals did not say that was most illuminating. "It's quiet here, very quiet," insisted one street vendor, unconvincingly, as he tried to avoid eye contact.
"The gangs are watching us all the time and we know that after the military police leave, they will still be here," said a middle-aged woman, stopping briefly.
While the main driver of Honduras' breakdown in law and order has been the drug trade, another factor has been the rampant corruption and the weakness of the institutions of state.
It is little surprise, then, that the security crisis is dominating the campaign trail for next Sunday's presidential elections. And the two frontrunners in a five-person field with no clear favourite offer dramatically different solutions.
Juan Hernandez, the candidate for the ruling conservative National Party, is running on a traditional law-and-order ticket and has pledged to strengthen the military police presence on the streets.
That puts him at loggerheads with his main rival, Xiomara Castro, the former first lady whose husband, Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in the 2009 coup and who is running for her husband's old job for Libre, a new leftist coalition.
Talking to The Sunday Telegraph amid a throng of adoring supporters after a raucous election rally, she vowed to create a community police force to tackle the violence and concentrate the military in the country's border areas to fight the drug smuggling.
"The military police units are part of a mistaken strategy by this government," she said, wearing her trademark cowboy hat and red bandanna.
"It's not necessary to create new repressive groups. We will prevent insecurity in Honduras by giving opportunities to the young people so they don't have to associate with the gangs.
"And we have to organise people to defend themselves with community police who don't hide behind masks and sunglasses, so that we know who they are, that they know our families, that there is a relationship between each citizen and the police."
With memories of death squads still strong and security forces routinely accused of human rights abuses, her opposition to the new military police units strikes a chord with supporters. But after decades in which the "banana republic" has done much to live up its literary reputation, many Hondurans are sceptical that any president can make a difference to their lives.
Elba Ordonez, who ekes out a living selling the fruit for which the country was once famous, was recently robbed of her taking by armed men as she waited for a bus.
Her only focus was the daily grind for survival, she said. "I'm not following the politics," she added. "I have to work."
Room-letting network plans to overtake InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide next year
Airbnb, the room-letting network regarded as one of Silicon Valley’s hottest properties, expects to overtake InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide to become the world’s largest hotelier next year.
The company was founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, who met when Mr Blecharczyk answered an advert for a roommate.
When he later moved out, the other two came up with the idea of putting airbeds in their San Francisco loft and renting them to delegates attending a design conference. They called it “Airbed and Breakfast” and Gebbia and Chesky made $1,000 on the first weekend. Airbnb was then launched with Mr Chesky as chief executive, Mr Gebbia as chief product officer and Mr Blecharczyk as chief technology officer.
Airbnb now lists nearly 500,000 properties, including 20,000 in the UK, and has found accommodation for 9m guests, including 5m in the past nine months. It says 150,000 guests stay in one of its members’ properties every night.
Mr Blecharczyk told The Sunday Telegraph: “InterContinental and Hilton have more than 650,000 rooms. We have 500,000, though they have a much higher occupancy rate.”
Asked if he expects Airbnb to overtake the two groups next year, he replied “yes”.
“If you look at our historical growth curve, I don’t think that’s going to change very quickly,” he added. “We’ve been growing bookings and revenues two to three times every year and I would expect that to continue.”
If you believe 'The Matrix' franchise, what we think is our everyday life is in fact a simulation generated by an all-powerful computer.
However this idea may not simply be science fiction — "cosmic rays" could reveal that we are indeed living in a simulated universe.
According to Discover magazine, physicists can offer us the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix by studying radiation from space.
Cosmic rays are the fastest particles that exist and originate in far-flung galaxies. They always arrive at Earth with a specific maximum energy of 10 electron volts.
If there is a specific maximum energy for particles then this gives rise to the idea that energy levels are defined, specific, and constrained by an outside force.
Thus, according to the research, if the energy levels of particles could be simulated, so too could the rest of the universe.
The "cosmic ray test" was developed by Silas Beane, a nuclear physicist at the University of Washington, and involves scientists building up a simulation of space using a lattice or grid.
They calculated that the energy of particles within the simulation is related to the distance between the points of the lattice and that the smaller the lattice size, the greater the energy that the particles can have.
There have been many efforts to discover the truth about the universe and simulated reality.
In 2003 philosopher Nick Bostrom put forward the idea that we may live in a computer simulation run by our descendants. It was Beane and his colleagues who suggested that a more concrete test of the simulation hypothesis should be carried out.
Last year Beane told of his plans to recreate a simulated reality using mathematical models known as the lattice QCD approach.
If we do indeed live in a simulated universe akin to 'The Matrix,' Beane has a warning.
He told the magazine that the "simulators" who control our universe may well be simulations themselves; a "dream within a dream" type effect that could render the entire scientific study meaningless:
If we're indeed a simulation, then that would be a logical possibility, that what we're measuring aren't really the laws of nature, they're some sort of attempt at some sort of artificial law that the simulators have come up with.
Some academics are skeptically of the "Matrix theory." Professor Peter Millican, who teaches a philosophy and computer science degree at Oxford University, believes it could be ultimately flawed.
The theory seems to be based on the assumption that "superminds" would do things in much the same way as we would do them. If they think this world is a simulation, then why do they think the superminds — who are outside the simulation — would be constrained by the same sorts of thoughts and methods that we are?
They assume that the ultimate structure of a real world can't be grid like, and also that the superminds would have to implement a virtual world using grids. We can't conclude that a grid structure is evidence of a pretend reality just because our ways of implementing a pretend reality involve a grid.
Professor Millican did, however, add that he believed it was beneficial to conduct research into such theories.
It is an interesting idea, and it's healthy to have some crazy ideas. You don't want to censor ideas according to whether they seem sensible or not because sometimes important new advances will seem crazy to start with.
You never know when good ideas may come from thinking outside the box. This matrix thought-experiment is actually a bit like some ideas of Descartes and Berkeley, hundreds of years ago. Even if there turns out to be nothing in it, the fact that you have got into the habit of thinking crazy things could mean that at some point you are going to think of something that initially may seem rather way out, but turns out not to be crazy at all.
This year, macro indicators have finally started to show signs that economic conditions may be improving in the UK, in the US and even in the crises-hit eurozone.
Correspondingly, it has been a good year for risky assets. MSCI, the world index, has risen 20pc, the S&P 500 in the US has risen 25pc and even the beleaguered eurozone equity market (the Eurostoxx 50) has managed to rebound 16pc.
But taking January as a starting point is a bit arbitrary. Trends in markets can start at any time, and the recovery in so-called "risky" assets such as equities preceded the start of the year.
Indeed, despite the cascade of economic woes, the US equity market has rebounded a staggering 160pc since its low in the aftermath of the Lehman collapse in 2008.
Eurozone stock markets have faced a much tougher time, but even they have managed to recover by more than 40pc since the president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, dampened fears of an imminent collapse in the euro in mid-2012.
In our view, the earlier "decoupling" of equity markets from the economies in which they sit had a lot to do with how financial markets have performed in the years before the financial crisis.
To put this into a longer-term perspective, equities are just recovering from their worst 10-year relative return compared with government bonds ("risk-free" assets) in more than a century.
This long period of dismal returns for shareholders relative to bondholders (investors who lent money to governments by buying their debt) reflects the 1990s overvaluation of equities.
In that decade, a prolonged period of uninterrupted growth, coupled with low inflation and interest rates, made investors in shares more confident, and valuations increased.
This culminated late in the decade with the technology revolution, which led investors to become more optimistic still.
When the tech bubble burst in 2000, valuations collapsed. A brief period of better growth in the early part of the century was curbed by the financial crisis, triggered in the US housing market.
The cumulative effect was to push down interest rates and government bond yields, resulting in a surge in the price of government bonds just as equity prices sank.
This relative price move is reflected in one of the worst periods for owning stocks in more than a century. But it also provided the attractive valuation base to start a sharp rebound in prices.
From current levels, therefore, valuations are far less compellingly cheap in equities than they were a year or so ago, while bond yields have risen to levels more consistent with fundamentals, reversing some of their overvaluation. The prospects from here for equity markets will therefore be largely shaped by actual growth in profits and dividends. We still believe profits will grow, supported by a rise in margins as well as growth in global GDP. Across the European markets, for example, we expect profits to grow by 14pc in 2014.
This pace of growth may sound high, but would be fairly modest by the standards of typical post-recession recovery. Correspondingly, we expect the rate of acceleration in equity prices to slow. But we should not forget that inflation is low and likely to remain so. The total real (after-inflation) return that we forecast for 2014 for European equity markets is around 13pc.
Also, since government bond yields remain very low, the "excess" return (what we would expect to receive in equity prices relative to returns in government bond markets) is likely to be in the top third of relative returns even as far back as the 1980s.
Our themes continue to focus on scarcity, both in income and growth. As uncertainty spiked in recent years, companies, as well as investors, hoarded cash. As confidence returns, the reverse should apply.
• Peter Oppenheimer is chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs
Hundreds of thousands of Christmas gifts will be slashed in price this Friday with discounts of up to 70 per cent as the biggest day in America's festive shopping calender hits the UK.
Shoppers are being promised cut price Kindles, coffee machines, video games, steam mops and tablet computers from as little as £49 in the biggest 24 hours of the Christmas shopping season so far.
Store chiefs expect "Black Friday" - traditionally a post Thanksgiving shopping frenzy in the US - to finally cement itself in Britain this year as retailers from Asda to John Lewis and Amazon launch their biggest ever promotional offers.
Asda - owned by US giant Wal-Mart - is promising "earth shattering deals" across its 350 stores nationwide with the Cyclone Explorer 7 inch tablet computer priced as low as £49 in a first-come-first-served offer.
Each of Asda's superstores are being decked out with Wal-Mart logos with the promise that in all, some 500,000 products will carry "unbeatable" prices. Asda expect the Cyclone Explorer and an LG 42 inch plasma TV to sell out within two hours of stores opening their doors at 8am.
Andrew Moore, Asda's chief merchandising officer, said: "Last year Wal-Mart reported their best ever Black Friday event with stores in the US serving over 22 million customers in one day.
"We're taking our lead from them and utilising their know how to help create an offer that means Asda shoppers can benefit from incredible savings at a time when they really need us the most."
He said 40 per cent of customers were aware of the term 'Black Friday' and insisted it could eventually become as big a part of the retail calender as Hallow'een - which has grown incredibly as a retail event over the past decade.
Very.co.uk said it was cutting the price of homeware, fashion, beauty and electrical items by as much as 70 per cent from 8am on Friday, when it will highlight 10 new promotions every hour until 8pm. Sony Wireless headphones will be cut from £99 to £49 while a 43 inch Samsung Plasma TV will be cut from £549 to £349. Electricals specialist Maplin is cutting the price of a Silver USB Touchscreen Weather Forecaster by £50 to £49.99 while a Steam Mop that was £89.99 is being reduced by £20.
John Lewis last year price matched rivals' Black Friday offers but expects to do more than ever before this time round, with discounts of up to 50 per cent on small electrical and audio items, up to £200 on selected large appliances and laptops and up to 25 per cent on selected TVs.
Mark Lewis, John Lewis online director said: "Traditionally christmas shopping ratchets up this weekend as it's when people start to think about that bit more, and it's a time when for many they get their last big pay packet of the year."
Black Friday is followed by Mega or Cyber Monday on December 2, the day most stores will be the busiest for online shopping. Amazon sold 41 items a second on Monday December 3 last year, with 3.5 million items ordered on the site.
But Amazon is doubling the amount of products on offer on Friday to 2,000, with "Lightning Deals" offering a limited quantity of a product for a limited period of time.
Christopher North, UK managing director, said: "Since we started Black Friday deals in the UK, the concept has really caught on and is now a much anticipated event in the UK shopping calender. In 2012, we offered millions of pounds off more than 1,000 deals including high-spec coffee machines, signed CDs and Kindle Fire devices.
"This year we'll be releasing twice as many deals to make it easy for customers to save money on this year's must have gifts."
Downgrade of Netherlands leaves just three eurozone countries with triple-A ratings from Standard & Poor's
Standard & Poor's has stripped the Netherlands of its AAA credit rating, saying that the country's growth prospects have deteriorated and it is not performing as well as peers.
The Netherlands' finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said the downgrade was unsurprising "but disappointing."
Mr Dijsselbloem, who is also president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, has prescribed spending cuts and tax hikes to strengthen Dutch and other European government finances and pave the way for long-term growth.
Some economists say such austerity measures are counterproductive during a downturn, but the idea is popular in German-led policy-making circles.
Only three eurozone countries now remain with AAA ratings from S&P - Germany, Finland and Luxembourg - following the downgrade of the Netherlands to AA+.
However, they all have their status threatened by a negative outlook assigned by at least one of the three major rating agencies, Standard & Poors, Fitch and Moody's.
Worldwide 10 countries retain AAA ratings from the three agencies. Of these only Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Australia, Canada and Singapore maintain a stable outlook on sovereign debt:
S&P said in a statement said: "The downgrade reflects our opinion that the Netherlands' growth prospects are now weaker than we had previously anticipated.
"The "real GDP (gross domestic product) per capita trend growth rate is persistently lower than that of peers in similarly high levels of economic development."
The long-term outlook for the Netherlands, the eurozone's fifth-largest economy remained stable.
Earlier this month the country's central statistics office (CBS) said the Dutch economy slowly moved out of recession in the third quarter with growth of 0.1pc. However, year-on-year the Dutch economy shrank by 0.6pc, the CBS said.
The Free Syrian Army began as a simple group of fighters battling Assad. But Ruth Sherlock, in Antakya, finds their mission is now making millions from bribery and extortion
The Free Syrian Army commander leant against the door of his four-wheel drive BMW X5 with tinted windows and watched as his men waded through the river on the Syrian border moving the barrels of smuggled petroleum to Turkey.
Feeling the smooth wedge of American bank notes he had just been given in exchange, he was suddenly proud of everything he had become.
In three short years he had risen from peasant to war lord: from a seller of cigarettes on the street of a provincial village to the ruler of a province, with a rebel group to man his checkpoints and control these lucrative smuggling routes.
The FSA, a collection of tenuously coordinated, moderately Islamic, rebel groups was long the focus of the West’s hopes for ousting President Bashar al-Assad.
But in northern Syria, the FSA has now become a largely criminal enterprise, with commanders more concerned about profits from corruption, kidnapping and theft than fighting the regime, according to a series of interviews with The Sunday Telegraph.
“There are many leaders in the revolution that don’t want to make the regime fall because they are loving the conflict,” said Ahmad al-Knaitry, commander of the moderate Omar Mokhtar brigade in the Jebel az-Zawiya area, south-west of Idlib city. “They have become princes of war; they spend millions of dollars, live in castles and have fancy cars.”
At the beginning of the Syrian war, cafés in Antakya, the dusty Turkish town on the border with Syria, was alive with talk of revolution.
Rebel commanders were often seen poring over maps discussing the next government target. Almost three years later the fight against Bashar al-Assad is long forgotten. Discussion now surrounds fears of the growing power of al-Qaeda’s Syrian outfit, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the criminality and corruption that grips rebel-held areas.
Syria’s north has been divided into a series of fiefdoms run by rival warlords.
With no overarching rule of law, every city, town and village comes under the control of a different commander. A myriad of checkpoints are dotted across the provinces: there are approximately 34 on the short road from the Turkish border to Aleppo alone. It is a dog-eat-dog existence, where men vie for control of territory, money, weapons and smuggling routes; it is, disgruntled civilians say, a competition for the spoils of war.
“I used to feel safe travelling around Aleppo and in [the neighbouring] Idlib province,” said one Aleppo resident who works with a local charity to distribute food to civilians in the area. “Now I am afraid to leave the street outside my home. Every time you move you risk being robbed, kidnapped, or beaten. It all depends on how the men on the checkpoints you are crossing feel that day.”
Fuel smuggling has burgeoned into a massive business, where smugglers and fighters take oil from the country’s rebel-held fields in the north, crudely refine it and pass it through illegal routes along the porous border with Turkey. Some rebel brigades have given up the fight against the regime entirely to run the operations that line their own pockets; others are using it to fund their military actions, locals explained.
Some fighting groups manage the transfer of crude oil from the field to the refinery and then to the border, others have simply set up checkpoints that impose levies on smuggler gangs.
“Three years ago the rebels really wanted to fight the regime,” said Ahmed, an opposition activist living in Raqqa, close to the country’s oil repositories.
“But then the FSA started to control the borders and the fuel. After that it changed from a revolution to a battle for oil. I know rebel groups from Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, and even from Homs in the south of the country, that come here to get a share of the spoils.”
The West has long viewed the FSA as its best ally in the melee of fighting groups in Syria. Western diplomats have worked hard to promote the idea of a command and control structure in which a “Supreme Military Council” provides supplies and orders to outfits on the ground.
The CIA was part of an “operations room” designed to ensure the weapons supplied by Gulf sponsors and channelled through Turkey went to Western-friendly, FSA-affiliated fighters. The United States has even offered limited non-lethal military support in the form of thousands of food packs.
But competition between the main proxy backers of the FSA, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the lack of a real military commitment from Western powers and chronic infighting from the outset sent the FSA into decline before it had been even been properly formed. Lacking financial and military support, or a clear strategy, groups in the north began to fragment. Men and weapons seeped away to the better organised, better funded Islamist groups, allowing al-Qaeda to strengthen its foothold in Syria.
Mahmoud, a rebel fighter from Jisr al-Shugour in Idlib, detailed the painful decline of his fighting unit. It is a story oft repeated across northern Syria. “We joined the revolution when men only had hunting shotguns to defend their villages. In the first months we liberated our town, took terrain and we were happy, we had a case to fight the regime. We were bringing freedom to our people,” he said.
He recalled how his comrades had planted home-made roadside bombs at the entrances to their town to block the regime’s tanks. “Back then we were a group of brothers, not officers with soldiers, leaders with their men. We were friends,” he said.
In April this year, the mood started to turn. “People arrived who were not with the revolution, they were only interested in selling guns,” he said. “They called themselves FSA, but they had no interest in fighting Assad. They seized areas that were already free of the regime and set up checkpoints on roads there and started charging people for access.
“Some of the men in my brigade started working with them.”
One officer, Ahmed Hamis, had been a representative in the Supreme Military Council for the Jisr al-Shugour area in Idlib province and had fought honestly against the regime, Mahmoud said. “Then a foreign sponsor started supporting him with money and weapons. He broke away to form a small gang.
“He has a lot of weapons but he hasn’t run one battle against the regime. He has no time for that because he has his own business, smuggling diesel and setting up checkpoints to levy taxes,” he said. “He also deals in kidnappings. If they catch a government soldier they’ll sell him back to his family.”
With little practical support coming from the Supreme Military Council, Mahmoud’s group started to falter. “Because we were not thieving, we had no money to operate. Many of our men had to leave to find jobs. We were weak and eventually we had to disband,” he said.
“My commander had been one of the first people to defect from the Syrian army. But now we don’t have any mission, and we don’t have any soldiers for fighting. My commander keeps asking his fighters to come back. He is desperate.”
At least 85 per cent of the fighting groups he used to know have started smuggling oil and cars, he said. Many had also turned to exploiting the finances of sponsors funding the war against Assad. Rebel groups film their military operations and post the videos on YouTube for foreign donors to peruse. Each outfit has a unit of “journalists”, men who follow them into battle armed with a video camera.
Back in the office they edit the footage, often putting it to music and stamping it with the group’s logo, before posting it online or sending it to their sponsor as evidence that the military operation they paid for had been carried out.
“Often our sponsors will give us money for a specific operation, so when we do it, we film it as proof that we have used their money well,” said a media officer with the Farouk brigade, one of the best-known rebel outfits in Syria, in their office in Reyhanli.
But FSA commanders are increasingly using this to line their own pockets, focusing more on getting the sponsor’s funds than on the military operations, civilians and rebel commanders have said.
Rebels across the region expressed anger at the battle of Wadi Deif, a six-month siege of a huge military base which ended with the government retaining control of it.
That siege was led by Jamal Maarouf, a former handyman and one of the most powerful rebel commanders in Idlib province, but many other rebel outfits participated. Men who were in the battle told The Sunday Telegraph that their commanders had not wanted to end the battle because it was too profitable.
“Funds poured in from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia,” said one fighter who asked not to be named. “And the siege itself made money: commanders were taking bribes from the Syrian regime to allow the regime to send food supplies to its men inside.”
For several months, foreign backers sent money and weapons to help finish the battle at Wadi Deif. It became, as one rebel put it, “like a like a chicken producing golden eggs”.
Mr Knaitry said: “We try not to talk about it about it because we don’t want our people to lose hope. But they became merchants with the martyr’s blood.”
Suddenly many of the fighters bought new homes, and started flashing more money. One man said of Jamaal Marouf: “He had nothing before the revolution, now he drives around in his personal bullet proof car.”
Scientists are developing a test for antigravity that could revolutionise the theory of Physics and change the way we understand the universe
It is the stuff of Star Trek and science fiction, a special force that allows the SS Enterprise to propel between stars without using any fuel at all.
But now scientists believe they may have come one step closer to proving that antimatter – atoms capable of moving against gravity – exist.
Physicists at Cern are using a special magnetic flask at the European particle physics centre to produce and store atoms of antihydrogen, or antimatter.
The Cern team plan to slowly turn off the magnetic field and see if the atoms fall up or down. If they go up, instead of down with gravity, they will have found antimatter and the entire theory of physics could be transformed.
Theories suggest that antimatter can create an anti-gravitational field that repels anything around it, which could be used to propel aircraft without using any fuel or in the type of space travel featured in Star Trek that allows ships to travel between the stars.
Professor Jeffrey Hangst, a lead investigator on the team building the Alpha-2 experiment at Cern, told the Sunday Times: “Put simply, if we put antimatter into a gravitational field like that of the Earth, does it fall upwards or downwards?”
Antimatter is so difficult to investigate because it is thought to explode into energy as soon as it comes into contact with the air, so must be stored in the special container where it is held by a magnetic field.
If the theory is proved, it could provide an explanation for how the universe is expanding when gravity exists and explain the the big bang. According to scientific theories, every type of matter in the universe created after the big bang should have been accompanied by equal amounts of antimatter.
When the corresponding atoms meet they are believed to wipe eachother out.
However scientists believe there are subtle differences between the two types of atom that allowed matter to wipe out antimatter and for the universe to develop.
The latest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise will still be made, despite the unexpected death of its star, Paul Walker.
The big-budget film had been on a production break over the Thanksgiving weekend, on the Saturday of which Walker died in a car crash. The 40-year-old was killed as a passenger in a Porsche which hit a lamppost and burst into flames in Los Angeles.
Walker was due to return to the film set in Atlanta, with fellow cast members Vin Deisel and Dwayne Johnson, the next day to resume shooting. However, James Wan, the film's director and executives from Universal Studios held a conference call on Sunday morning to discuss how they would continue with Fast and Furious 7 in a way which would be respectful to Walker's death. According to The Hollywood Reporter, filming may begin again on Monday or Tuesday.
Walker was playing Brian O'Conner, a former criminal-turned-policeman, in Fast and Furious 7, a character he had portrayed in the previous six Fast and Furious films. Although most of the filming had taken place for the film, the cast and crew were set to finish off shooting in Abu Dhabi in January.
Fast and Furious 7 was due to be released in American cinemas on July 11 2014. The studio declined to comment on its future, but said on Saturday that "all of us at Universal are heartbroken. Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the Fast and Furious films, and to countless fans."
The actor argues that the stars of Hollywood's golden age would not be able to cope with the media demands of the 21st century
George Clooney has spoken out about the use of social media by famous people, suggesting that it is not a good idea in an increasingly "restrictive" world of fame.
"I think anyone who is famous is a moron if they're on Twitter", the Gravity star told Esquire magazine, "it's just stupid".
Clooney added that stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood wouldn't be able to cope with the demands placed on today's acting elite: "Not that I'm comparing myself to Clark Gable, or whoever, but they couldn't survive in this environment. They'd punch the s--- out of some people. It requires a kind of Zen quality."
The 52-year-old said that nobody can prepare you for the world of fame, because "it is shocking how immediately you become enveloped in this world that is incredibly restricting".
Many celebrities, especially musicians, have bolstered their careers through Twitter. The account created for One Direction while the band were still in the live show stages of X Factor helped to build the global fanbase they have today. Lady Gaga communicates directly with her 40 million followers about her forthcoming releases.
In the film industry, some stars have been more reticent. However, British actor Hugh Laurie has gained 230,000 followers a mere month after his first reluctant post: "Having damned this technology as the seed of Satan, I finally succumb."
A cinema audience of children waiting to view the hit Disney animation Frozen were accidentally shown a trailer for explicit art house sex epic Nymphomaniac.
Parents in the auditorium in Tampa, Florida, reportedly struggled to cover the eyes of their offspring, while others headed swiftly for the exits, as an apparent technical error saw the promotional clip for Danish agent provocateur Lars von Trier's salacious new film suddenly hit the big screen.
"They put in the filler, it looked like Steamboat Willie, the old Mickey Mouse cartoon, and then all of a sudden it goes into this other scene," grandmother Lynn Greene told My Fox Tampa Bay. "It seemed like forever when you're trying to, you know, cover a little guy's eyes. I didn't have enough hands to cover his ears too and he got the sound down real good.
"You're talking, what, a PG-rated movie to all of a sudden have an R-rated scene up there for little children?" she added. "My concern is that there should be safeguards in place so that this doesn't happen again."
The trailer has been described by Vanity Fair as one of the most explicit ever to be shown in mainstream cinemas. A teaser trailer was briefly removed from YouTube last month after apparently falling foul of the site's rules on nudity and sexual content.
Von Trier's much-hyped film, which features Uma Thurman, Stellan Skarsgård, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell and Shia LaBeouf, will use digital trickery and body doubles to portray its famous stars having sex. It is due to premiere in Copenhagen on Christmas Day and is then likely to hit the festival circuit, with a possible appearance at Cannes in May.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
Volvo is to introduce 100 driverless cars on to public roads as part of the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot.
The cars will drive in normal, everyday road conditions, surrounded by pedestrians and other traffic, and will even be able to self-park, as the Swedish car-maker (which is now under Chinese ownership) attempts to demonstrate the benefits, including improved safety and efficiency, of self-driving cars.
Volvo is working alongside the Swedish Transport Administration, The Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gotehenburg, with the goal of placing both it and Sweden as leaders in the development of future mobility.
Called “Drive Me - Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility”, the pilot scheme gets underway next year with customer research and further development of current technology. The cars themselves won’t appear until 2017, when they will drive on about 30 miles of public road in and around Gothenburg, described as “typical commuter arteries” that include motorway conditions and frequent queues.
“Autonomous vehicles are an integrated part of Volvo Cars’ as well as the Swedish government’s vision of zero traffic fatalities. This public pilot represents an important step towards this goal,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of the Volvo Car Group. “It will give us an insight into the technological challenges at the same time as we get valuable feedback from real customers driving on public roads.”
As well as the direct implications of what are classed by the Federal Highway Research Institute as “Highly Autonomous Cars” on the public road, the pilot aims to establish infrastructure requirements for autonomous driving (the idea being that due to their increased efficiency, they free up more land and thus reduce infrastructure investment), suitable traffic conditions and customer confidence in the vehicles. The interaction of other drivers is also a key part of the study.
The trial doesn’t necessarily spell the beginning of the end for the role of the driver, however. Volvo says that whoever is at the wheel must be expected to be available for occasional control, albeit with a comfortable transition time. “The self-driving technology used in the pilot allows you to hand over the driving to the car when the circumstances are appropriate,” said Samuelsson.
Fully automated parking, where the driver exits the car and leaves it to find and then park in a space is also included in the study.
The development of autonomous driving is all part of Volvo’s goal that nobody should be killed or seriously injured in one of its cars by 2020. Many of its product range already carries technology such as autonomous emergency braking, which can slow and even stop the car if a driver fails to react to an impending collision, as well as cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
Volvo hasn’t confirmed which of its models will be used in the trial, but they are likely to include the all-new XC90 SUV, which goes on sale next year with a further development of the current safety systems that will allow it to drive and steer itself in traffic queues . Adapting the technology to Highly Autonomous standards means being able to make the system work at higher speeds.
“Hardly anyone thinks twice about being in an airplane that flies on autopilot, but being in a car that drives by itself while the driver reads a book is still quite a revolutionary thought for many people,” added Samuelsson.
In the UK, researchers at Oxford Universirty have been testing a driverless Nissan Leaf electric car on private land.