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The latest news on The Telegraph from Business Insider

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    russia nuclear danger warning sign

    For stock markets, October – with its fading light, silent leaf fall and first winter chills – is historically the cruellest month. This year is proving no exception. The crashes of 1929, 1987, 2001 and 2008 were all focused on this portentous month. And amid signs of another perfect storm of negatives brewing in the world economy, stocks are again plummeting.

    Since the beginning of September, the FTSE 100 has fallen by more than 10 per cent, with much of the drop concentrated in the last week – a level of deterioration that satisfies the official definition of a fully blown stock market correction.

    For many European bourses, it has been a great deal worse. Greece is already back in classic bear market territory – scarcely believable so soon after the last one. Not since the peak of the Eurozone crisis in 2011-12 have we seen such manifest panic, and before then, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, six years ago. Nor is it just equities; bond yields too are back at levels that indicate a clear and present danger of deflation and economic depression.

    Normally there is a trigger event for such meltdowns, but unless it be the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, this time it’s not entirely clear what. Rather, there has been a steady build-up of worry, culminating in an emerging consensus at last week’s meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington that the global recovery is again in danger of stalling.

    For some economies, still struggling to climb back to pre-crisis levels of output, prospects are again looking truly desperate. It is as if the last recession never really ended at all, lending weight to those who argue that advanced economies have succumbed to “secular stagnation”, a semi‑permanent state of impaired demand that is unresponsive to even the extreme levels of monetary stimulus of the past several years. Indeed, judged in terms of UK stock market performance, we appear trapped in a 15-year long cycle of decline. The FTSE 100 has never regained its turn-of-the-century peak.

    The epicentre of alarm this time is again Europe, where both economic and political risks have climbed steeply in recent weeks. With Europe’s southern economies gripped by conditions reminiscent of the Great Depression in the Thirties, Italy’s Five Star protest movement – in some respects, the equivalent of the UK Independence Party – has promised a referendum on membership of the euro. In Greece, the ultra-Left Syriza has committed to repudiating virtually all aspects of the eurozone austerity programme, even though the country has little chance of regaining access to international debt markets once outside it.

    Yet again, the fiscal, monetary and political straitjacket that holds the single currency together is in danger of blowing apart. Just to get this in perspective, it is not yet 2012 in redux, with the explosion in risk premiums that took place back then. Even so, worries about the sustainability of European Monetary Union are back with a vengeance.

    Meanwhile, an extraordinarily low inflation reading for September has reinforced fears that the eurozone is on the slippery slope to outright deflation, a condition that if it became established would seem to condemn Europe to a repeat of Japan’s 20-year slump and would further steepen the challenge of getting on top of mountainous public debts. With falling prices come delayed spending and investment decisions, and a steady ratcheting up of existing debt burdens. In such circumstances, eventual default by heavily indebted nations becomes virtually inevitable. It is not a disease any continent would want to fall victim to.

    A tanking oil price, which in itself is partly a response to fast abating global demand, has only further increased the chances of Europe succumbing to the illness, even though, by putting more money in people’s pockets, it should in time prove helpful to the global economy.

    Not that the plunging oil price is all about weaker demand. Normally, such pressures would be countered by cuts to production from Opec’s big swing nation, Saudi Arabia. This time around, the Saudis have decided not to play ball, in apparent determination to inflict damage on other, higher-cost producers – Iran, Russia, the emerging Middle Eastern Caliphate and possibly even the US, whose shale revolution is endangered by low energy prices. These geopolitical aspects of the price correction have further added to anxieties in financial markets.

    In any case, the European Central Bank’s favourite gauge of inflationary expectations, the five-year forward swap rate, is currently at a record low. Europe’s apparent inability to mount a credible response to deflationary threats is again centre stage. Hemmed in by German intransigence and the apparent impediment of European treaties, the ECB has so far failed to apply the monetary therapy of quantitative easing, despite its evident success in Britain and the US. The working assumption in markets is that eventually it will; whether it acts in time, however, remains very much open to question.

    As if another leg in the eurozone crisis wasn’t bad enough, there are also signs of a pronounced slowdown elsewhere in the world, with China caught between a rock and a hard place – the imperative of growth at all costs knocking up against evident concern in the Communist Party elite about repeating the economic mistakes of the West. Attempts to dampen the credit-fuelled boom of the post-crisis era may have slowed Chinese growth to below 7 per cent, a level that would be regarded as stellar by Western standards, but which for China is close to disastrous.

    Christine LagardeThis slowdown has in turn inflicted damage on the big export nations of Germany and Japan, and those emerging market economies heavily reliant on the commodities boom of recent years, such as Brazil. Even the US shows early signs of stumbling. Such is the degree of concern that two members of the Federal Reserve’s Open Markets Committee have broken ranks to express reservations about ending asset purchases, as scheduled this month, and suggested that the Fed might be forced to consider a fourth round of them – so-called QE4. Neither of them are noted “doves”.

    Every time the Fed says QE is about to end, the markets react with horror, forcing policymakers to backtrack. It is as if the world economy can never get off the adrenalin fix of central bank money-printing. Market expectations of the first US interest rate rise have meanwhile been pushed dramatically back from the middle of next year to well into 2016.

    Overlaying it all is an even more concerning narrative – that evident fault lines exposed by the financial crisis, from dysfunctional monetary union in Europe, to growing imbalances between surplus and deficit nations, and increasing indebtedness almost everywhere, have been left festering and largely unaddressed. Worse, that attempts to smooth the post-crisis adjustment with fiscal and monetary stimulus have succeeded only in delaying the reckoning, or even adding to it.

    On top of all this comes anxiety about the impact of Ebola. We know from less lethal diseases that international pandemics induce a high degree of behavioural aversion, with profoundly negative consequences for the global economy.

    Set against this bleak international backdrop, the British economy looks like a beacon of sound governance and policy, hard though it sometimes is to believe for those of us who observe these things at close quarters.

    Unemployment is back virtually to pre-crisis levels, labour participation is at its best since 2005 and job vacancies are close to an all-time high. Even long-elusive real-wage growth seems to be returning, at least in the private sector. These gains have been hard won, yet they are again in danger of derailment by external developments.

    Last week, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said that another global recession was avoidable, but only if surplus and deficit nations did the right things. Is there any likelihood of them doing so? Regrettably little.

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    kissing coupleThe thought of parents kissing is enough to make most children cringe with embarrassment – but a new study has shown that it could be distinctly to their advantage.

    Analysis of the home lives of more than 5,000 families has shown that the more often parents kiss the less likely they are to shout at their children.

    The study, part of a major research project into modern fatherhood, found that couples with more affectionate relationships area also more likely to be better parents.

    But tensions between parents are also likely to spill over into their relationship with their children.

    The study, published by NatCen Social Research and involving the Institute of Education and University of East Anglia, also offered fascinating glimpses into the state of British relationships.

    It reveals that women are more likely to believe that their husband or partner “gets on their nerves” and even secretly harbour thoughts of divorce than men are.

    Researchers asked parents of both sexes a series of questions to gauge the state of their own relationships as well as family life overall, including examining how often parents eat with their children or help them with their homework.

    Overall 44 per cent of fathers claimed that their wife or partner “rarely” or “never” gets on their nerves, only 36 per cent of mothers said the same.

    Yet, strikingly, while one in 10 of those surveyed described their relationship as unhappy or very unhappy, the same proportion went as far as to describe their own marriage or relationship as “perfect”.

    The British also emerged as more romantic than they might otherwise appear. Some 69 per cent of men and 67 per cent of women said they kiss their partner either "all of the time" or "most of the time".

    When it came to the parent-child relationships, mothers are 16 per cent more likely to shout at their children than fathers are but more than twice as likely to help them with their homework.

    But when the researchers analyzed the results using people’s responses to questions about their marriage or relationship in comparison with those measuring how well they got on with their children they found a series of unlikely patterns.

    Significantly mothers were less likely to shout at their children if they did not have a job but the picture with fathers was the opposite.

    The researchers also calculated that the more children couples have the more they are likely to shout at them and the fewer they have the more likely they were to listen to them and praise them.

    Married people of both sexes appeared to have happier relationships than those who were cohabiting.

    They also noted a clear connection between the level of affection between parents and the way they related to their children.

    Dr Svetlana Speight, of NatCen Social Research said: “It’s really important to understand what makes dads good dads and it’s clear from this analysis that love life fulfillment is a big part of this.

    “Happy mums and dads are more involved parents.”

    Professor Margaret O’Brien, of the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of education in London, said: “Modern fatherhood is an area of intense debate in which society seeks to identify the changing and challenging parental qualities that make a ‘good’ father in the 21st Century.

    “Fathers face conflicting demands.

    “Clearly, this research shows that fulfilled individuals within a loving relationship are more successful at raising their children.”

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    Ebola cruiseIt was supposed to be an escape to the Caribbean sunshine for a week of partying, relaxation, and sipping champagne while watching gorgeous sunsets from the decks of a luxury cruise ship.

    But four days after the Carnival Magic set sail from Galveston, Texas rumours began swirling that all was not well on board.

    The ship, complete with a swimming pool, an array of water slides, and a giant cinema screen, inexplicably stopped off the coast of Belize and the whispers began.

    "The rumours were going round — we were stuck in the mud. Someone's been kidnapped," said one passenger.

    As the theories got wilder over the clink of cocktail glasses at the bar, nobody imagined they were actually about to be at the centre of an international Ebola scare.

    Finally, the captain confirmed on the loudspeaker that, among their number, was a woman who worked as a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

    She had processed clinical samples from Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Mr Duncan, 42, died on Oct 8, four days before the ship sailed.

    The lab supervisor, and her husband, were voluntarily quarantined in their cabin as fear spread on the ship, which is due to arrive back in Galveston on Sunday.

    Passenger Jon Malone said there was "utter panic" on board, adding: "People are scared. I've seen people crying. You're using the same buffet line as someone else, the same waiters, the folks that clean the state rooms.

    "If someone was cleaning their state room and cleaned yours right after, the exposure that you have there to elevators ... it's very tight quarters and a lot of interaction.

    "It's really difficult to control any type of virus that's on a cruise ship. It's like a floating petri dish. It spreads very rapidly. They're cleaning elevators. I've seen people with pink liquid cleaning the bar area and the handrails."

    His brother Jeremy Malone said: "You see a ton of people that are crying, and then there are folks that are having a drink."

    Outside his room on the 11th floor Jeremy Malone saw up to 40 workers with cleaning fluids and wearing masks.

    He said: "There was a lot of folks who clean the state rooms with buckets and chemicals and people in masks were running around the ship."

    As word of an Ebola scare spread so many passengers tried to call home that all they could get on mobile devices was a busy signal, and the internet crashed.

    One passenger, who gave his name as Michael, was able to get through to CNN by telephone. He said: "Obviously our concern is where is this person is on the ship and what kind of set up do they have to care for them? I can't imagine it's a completely quarantined area. They have not told us at all where the person is.

    "My wife has medication for a kidney transplant, she's susceptible to getting something a little easier than the rest of us, and we don't know where this person has been on the ship."

    The passenger said he first realised something was wrong when he looked on a map of the ship's course on his television.

    He said: "We were supposed to put into a port and I noticed that we were pulling away from the port. The captain finally came on and said we couldn't get permission to port.

    "That's when everything hit the fan here and we realised we were quarantined.

    "There were all kind of rumours. They never really said Ebola, they said 'symptoms,' they kept it somewhat vague but everyone knew what they were talking about."

    The lab supervisor boarded the Carnival Magic, which carries 3,690 passengers and up to 1,367 crew, in Galveston, on Oct 12.

    She had not been placed under any travel restrictions by the hospital, or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both have been criticised for not telling health workers who had contact with Mr Duncan to stay home.

    The woman on the ship was only required to self-monitor her temperature daily to see if she had developed a fever.

    After seeing news reports about two nurses who worked at the hospital — Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29 — being diagnosed with Ebola she decided to report herself to the captain, and self-quarantine by staying inside her cabin.

    The ship then applied to go drop her off in a port in Belize so she could be flown back to Texas, but the Belize govenment refused.

    Dean Barrow, the country's prime minister, refused a personal appeal from US Secretary of State John Kerry to send a helicopter to pick her up from the Carnival Magic and take her to a plane waiting at an airport in Belize.

    Mr Barrow said: "It is clear, even in the US with all their capacity, with all their expertise, there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to how this thing gets transmitted. Their response, their approach, their treatment of the issue, seems to be a work in progress."

    In a statement his government said: "The passenger never set foot in Belize. When even the smallest doubt remains, we will ensure the health and safety of the Belizean people."

    Asked about Belize's refusal to accept the passenger, a US State Department spokeswoman said: "We think it could probably have been handled differently."

    The Carnival Magic then sailed on to Mexico where it had been scheduled to dock int he port of Cozumel. It was hoped the woman could be airlifted from there, but again it was not allowed into port.

    "I'm on the Carnival ship with the Ebola scare. Mexican authorities not allowing us into Cozumel. Heading back to Galveston," Eric Lupher, a passenger who works as a reporter for ABC7 in Denver, Colorado, said in a post on Twitter.

    Mr Lupher described how fear began spreading among the passengers on Thursday night.

    He said: "We were about five miles off the shore of Belize just sitting in the boat in the ocean, not knowing what was going on. The boat wasn't moving. It was like that for several hours. Then we started moving in the middle of the night.

    "More than 12 hours later we were told this person was on the ship. The captain came on the loudspeaker and told us what was going on. He never said the word Ebola, but everyone knew. On the elevators, people were talking about it. And a lot of people were upset about it."

    Up to that point, he said, "the party just kind of kept going. The pools were open, the slides were open, people were still eating at the buffet, touching areas that everybody touches. There's a lot of concern over communication."

    Mr Lupher said the issue that most worried passengers was how they would be treated when they arrive in port in Texas.

    He said: "There is a lot of concern over what's going to happen when we get back to Galveston. It's our understanding we're just going to get off the boat and go home — but is that really going to happen?"

    Mr Lupher posted a photograph on Twitter of people still lining up for food on the ship. He said: "Despite Ebola scare ... people still eating at the buffet."

    Another passenger, a teenage girl called Delaney, joked on social media that the Carnival Magic was "stuck in mud." She said: "Nothing like Mexico not even letting us on land. At least I have chocolate cake and Dr Pepper..."

    Carnival Cruise Lines distributed a letter to passengers telling them: "At this time the guest remains in isolation on board the ship and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew.

    "It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution."

    The maximum incubation period for Ebola is 21 days and it has been very nearly that long since the woman handled Mr Duncan's samples, showing no symptoms, so it is likely she is out of danger.

    Carnival offered compensation of $200 per passenger to those on board, and a 50 per cent discount on future cruises, as an apology for missing the Mexican stop.

    A spokesman said: "We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests."

    The US State Department said it was working with the cruise line to "safely bring them back to the United States out of an abundance of caution."

    More than 4,500 people have died so far in the world's largest ever outbreak of Ebola in West Africa

    The World Health Organisation has warned that the infection rate could reach 10,000 a week by early December.

    In Dallas patients were avoiding the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and only one third of the 900 beds were filled.

    Rachelle Cohorn, a medical worker, said: "It feels like a ghost town. No one is even walking around the hospital."

    US President Barack Obama warned against panic as the country was swept by a series of false alarms.

    Those included one at the Pentagon where an entrance was closed and Ebola precautions enacted after a woman was sick in a car park. No evidence was found that she was suffering from Ebola.

    In his weekly address to the American people Mr Obama said: "What we’re seeing now is not an ‘outbreak’ or an ‘epidemic’ of Ebola in America. This is a serious disease, but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear."

    Mr Obama also said he would not be introducing a ban on air travel into the US from West Africa, despite many calls to do so.

    He said: "Trying to seal off an entire region of the world, if that were even possible, could actually make the situation worse.

    "Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track."

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    Ebola virus discoverer Peter PiotProf Peter Piot, the Belgian scientist who co-discovered the virus, never anticipated that it would cause such a humanitarian crisis

    THE EBOLA VIRUS – its very name seems to have come straight from the heart of darkness – is striking fear across the globe. It has killed (officially) 4,546 people out of 9,191 infected since the first case in West Africa in December 2013, but it now poses a risk to millions.

    On Friday, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, described it as the “biggest health threat to the world in a generation” . A politician’s soundbite, or the stark reality?

    The Belgian scientist who co‑discovered the virus is phlegmatic. Professor Peter Piot, now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says there is good news – and bad. Back in September 1976, he was a 27‑year-old researcher at a microbiology laboratory in Antwerp when he identified the new pathogen. He discovered it in vials of blood taken from a Flemish missionary nun in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who had died of a mysterious illness that was killing scores of people. Prof Piot flew out a few days later, part of a team who would track the virus to its source – fruit bats – in the rainforest.

    He saw the effects of the disease rampaging through a remote jungle community of Yambuku, and witnessed the agonising prelude to death, of fever, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhoea and haemorrhage. The worm-shaped virus, consisting of just seven genes, attacks the immune system and dissolves the body’s blood vessels. Most people who are infected die within a month.

    Prof Piot knew then that he was dealing with something new and unusual, but he had not yet realised it was a virus that had the potential to kill millions.

    “I could never, ever have imagined then that we would have a major epidemic from this virus,” Prof Piot, now 65, says. “In 38 years we had maybe 1,500 deaths – say 40 a year. That is not a public health crisis. I never thought it would come to the point that we see today.”

    Despite its terrifying nature, Ebola – named after a small river near the village where the nun died – is actually a poor candidate for the “Apocalypse virus” beloved of Hollywood epics. And Prof Piot insists that it is still impossible to predict how bad the African epidemic will become.

    He says that he likes to “put myself in the mind of the virus”. And if you are an Ebola virus then “we humans make a very, very bad host. You need to jump to another host in a week because your host is dead”.

    Paradoxically, it is the very virulence of Ebola – it rapidly incapacitates its victims and kills between 50 and 70 per cent of them – that has meant all outbreaks predating this one have rapidly burnt themselves out. A virus wants its host to stay alive and mobile for as long as possible, so it can infect other people. With Ebola, once the symptoms start, you will not be going anywhere (one of the reasons that screening air passengers arriving in the UK may be pointless). Ebola is also hard to catch – it requires direct contact with bodily fluids, and you cannot infect others until you are symptomatic.

    So what has changed? Earlier outbreaks occurred in remote areas of the Congo, a vast, sparsely populated nation with few roads. Such places are a form of natural quarantine, says Prof Piot, and after killing a few dozen people – most often doctors and nurses, who are most likely to be exposed to infection – these outbreaks subsided.

    But the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the current outbreak has taken root, are very different. More densely populated and urban, with better transport links, they have young, mobile populations who depend heavily on West Africa’s vast fleet of shared taxis to get around (a major transmission risk, not least when they were used to transport infected corpses for burial).

    ebola liberia body

    Even so, Prof Piot is convinced that the world could have brought the disease rapidly under control months ago if prompt action had been taken. The World Health Organisation reacted too late, he says, and by the time the seriousness of the outbreak was fully realised it was heading out of control. According to one estimate, it will cost around £1 billion a month to build and staff the treatment centres needed to isolate a notional 100,000 patients, quarantine their contacts and prevent the disease from spreading. So far, despite vague pledges, the international community has given nothing like enough.

    “The problem with Ebola is that it is not over until the last patient is either dead or has recovered,” Prof Piot says. “Actually, I thought this outbreak was dying out in May, in Guinea. Then a famous woman, a traditional healer, died, and at her funeral hundreds of people touched the body. Then there was this explosion in three countries.”

    The spread of Ebola is, of course, fuelled by the fact that the nations affected have no health systems to speak of (in 2010 there were only 51 doctors in the whole of Liberia) and that traditional funeral practices involve the touching and kissing of the deceased.

    “Can it be stopped? It will be a bumpy ride. I am worried for West Africa. We will see a decline in cases eventually, but without a vaccine I am not sure we can stop it.”

    Several companies are fast-tracking vaccines: two in particular, one being developed in Canada and one by GlaxoSmithKline in Britain, hold promise. But yesterday GSK said their vaccine would be “too late” for this outbreak and probably not available until late 2015.

    Healthcare workers are likely to be the first recipients, as it is Ebola’s ability to strike the very people caring for victims that has contributed to the spread. “Ebola has literally destroyed the health services in these countries,” Prof Piot says. As a result, it is quite possible that more people have died as a result of the lack of treatment for other diseases, such as malaria, than of Ebola itself.

    Prof Piot admits to being “very worried” about Africa, but remains optimistic that Ebola will not be a major problem in the West. “Even in Nigeria, when they had a small epidemic, it was quickly contained. The authorities acted promptly, including a non-negotiable quarantine. Also, in Congo, a recent outbreak was contained… and Congo is not the best-organised country in the world.”

    However, he agrees that if the African outbreak continues to spread, it is inevitable that cases will occur elsewhere. “If it does get to the UK, I am convinced that we can contain it.” He is also dismissive of claims made by several scientists that the virus could become airborne, pointing to the Aids virus as an example: “Even though it has had millions of passages through humans, HIV is still transmitted in the same way it always was.”

    He is more worried that Ebola will mutate into a less virulent strain (something that is more likely as it spreads through a larger population) – one that may only kill 30 per cent of those infected. “That may well lead to more secondary cases [because more infected people will be mobile for longer].”

    There is no evidence that the virus is becoming more virulent and reports that the death rate have risen from 50 to 70 per cent are a result of insufficient data during the early days of the outbreak, Prof Piot insists. A strong public health message is being broadcast by local radio stations and there are signs that dangerous practices, such as open coffins at funerals, are on the wane.

    There is some truth in the Prime Minister’s assertion yesterday. Ebola has killed thousands of Africans and will kill tens of thousands more, possibly millions, before it is brought under control. It has the potential to destroy the economies of some of the poorest nations on Earth (Sierra Leone’s nascent tourist industry is probably now dead) and spread to other continents where millions live in poverty.

    But there is hope, too, says Prof Piot. “Change in behaviour has to come from within these communities, not from a bunch of white doctors telling people what to do.”

    And we need to spend the money. A billion pounds a month sounds a lot, but it is eight times less than the world spends on video games. We can’t afford not to defeat Ebola.

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    EiffelIn our series analysing how France has suffered as a result of the reckless economic strategies, we meet small business owners in Toulouse who are crippled by payroll taxes that stifle growth and still fail to pay for the lavish benefits system

    'I’ve had enough,” says Charline Petit, the young co-owner of the bagel café on Place St-Aubin in central Toulouse. “I’ve been at this for three years, but I haven’t been able to pay myself since January. I can’t carry on like this, so I’m closing down.

    “Everything is taxed. You can’t move without being taxed. Even when you are not making any money, you are taxed. I had to lie about my income to rent an apartment. So then the tax authorities said I had not been declaring enough. I was taxed again. If I stopped working, I would get all kinds of benefits, but as a business person, I get nothing. You are better off unemployed.”

    To say “nothing” is possibly a bit of an exaggeration. In return for all those taxes, the French state funds a widely admired universal health service – better on many measures than our own National Health Service – and some of the most generous pension arrangements anywhere in the world.

    Nowhere else on the planet is the gap between pensioner and worker income quite as narrow as it is in France. Provided he’s worked enough years, a train driver can expect to retire on 80 per cent of salary at just 60 years of age. It’s the same for those who work for the government-controlled Electricité de France, or the vast payroll attached to the paraphernalia of the French state.

    But Ms Petit is not persuaded. “Those pensions,” she says, “they are not for non-salaried workers, the self-employed and small traders like me. They are for salaried people and public-sector workers. The politicians talk about the need for start-ups, that we are the future, but the whole system pushes us towards bankruptcy and the black economy. It’s hopeless.”

    Ms Petit may be at the end of her tether, but her complaint is shared by business people the length and breadth of the land. France, one leading economist once remarked, is communism that works. Even accepting that France’s social model did indeed once work – and the apartheid in state benefits between the regulated and unregulated sectors has always made the claim more than a little suspect – the question is: for how much longer?

    Generous public services and entitlements are only affordable if the economy prospers sufficiently to pay for them, and the French economy is most certainly not prospering. Growth has ground to a halt, unemployment is off the scale, particularly among the young, and oppressively high levels of taxation, in combination with restrictive labour laws, have undermined all prospect of meaningful business expansion and job creation.

    Worse, with intense pressure from Brussels for deficit reduction, the French tax authorities have been gouging the business sector for every last cent, further destroying the incentives for job and wealth creation. The officiousness – often verging on the outright vindictive – of the process, with every last transaction and payslip subject to the closest possible scrutiny, is driving many small enterprises, and even large corporates, to despair. Fines for slight lapses in compliance are automatic and often existential.

    Observers have been writing the French economy’s obituary for almost as many years as I’ve been in business journalism but somehow or other, it keeps trundling along. And, of course, there are many aspects of French economic life that both impress and defy the national caricature of decline – world-class infrastructure, technological innovation and levels of productivity among them. Make no mistake, despite the economically illiterate policies of François Hollande and many of his predecessors, France somehow continues to function – just about.

    Francois HollandeHollande has undoubtedly made an untenable situation a great deal worse. Yet he is also the only representative of a wider malaise and wrong-headedness in French political life, one that rejects the realities of globalisation, is culturally averse to profit-motivated enterprise, despises the rich and spurns all attempts at meaningful reform.

    The sclerosis in the economy finds its mirror image in the paralysis and backward-looking negativity of France’s political establishment. Many despair of the chances of change.

    Rather than accept the case for reform, France voted at the last presidential election to further pull up the drawbridge and retreat into the tried-and-failed socialism of the past. Despite the economically disastrous consequences of these policies, they are mistakes that the Miliband-led Labour Party would inevitably repeat, with its extravagant promises of French-style health care and a social safety net. To the extent that these are deliverable at all, Miliband has pledged to fund them by taxing wealth more, an approach that would threaten the same economic paralysis as afflicts France. Creaking at every joint, there is a sense in which France is finally reaching a tipping point.

    The system is self-evidently no longer affordable, or even, in its divisiveness between a bloated, self-interested state and a struggling private sector, remotely desirable. Attempts to sustain the social contract with ever higher levels of taxation have succeeded only in further reducing the economy’s capacity to pay. A “citizen’s conference” organised by the free-market think tank, the Institut Montaigne found appreciation of the need for, and appetite for, change to be better among ordinary voters than politicians themselves.

    To observe some of these stresses and strains, I’ve come to Toulouse, France’s fourth-largest city, set in the glorious Midi-Pyrénées in southwestern France. As home to Airbus, and the cluster of hi-tech aerospace companies that feed off its largesse, as well as one of France’s largest universities, there is a buzz and energy about the place that is sadly lacking in many French regional cities. Polling regularly finds it to be the city French people would most like to live in.

    Toulouse

    But first, a little context. To sustain its social contract, France has some of the highest payroll taxes anywhere in the world, and indeed levels of taxation more generally. According to Medef, France’s equivalent of the CBI, the basic numbers are these. For every euro paid to the employee, the employer will pay on average 48 cents in payroll tax, easily the highest in Europe, or indeed anywhere in the OECD.

    The equivalent figure for the United States is 15.9 per cent, and for Germany 35 per cent. Indeed, as a percentage of income, the amount paid out by French business in social taxes is higher than the entire tax burden, including all income tax and other employee-paid insurance contributions, on labourers in the US.

    As part of a new “grand bargain” between business and workers launched this summer amid much fanfare, the government has committed to cut these taxes by €40bn over three years. However, even if delivered, it only narrows the competitiveness disadvantage with Germany by a third.

    Taking account of the income and social taxes paid in addition by the employee, the numbers look starker still. “For every 50 cents the employee gets,” says Annabelle Gausserand, co-owner with her husband, Nicolas, of Next Media Factory, a producer of specialised medical videos and communications tools, located on the Canal du Midi a little way out from the centre of Toulouse, “I have to pay the state one euro.”

    To demonstrate the point, she shows me a payslip that details a bewildering array of different charges. I count at least 12 before (for reasons of confidentiality) she pulls it away, including something called a “generalised social contribution” – a relatively recent addition to help deal with the deficit – and a mysteriously labelled “contribution to social autonomy and solidarity”.

    Other charges include pensions, health care, family allowance, workplace accidents, training and so on. She shrugs her shoulders in classically Gallic fashion: “I don’t know what they are all for. It’s just a time-wasting expense as far as I’m concerned.

    “For sure, if I didn’t have to pay so much to the state, I would employ more people, but it is a struggle as things stand. We did take on a full-time employee recently, someone who was long-term unemployed, and we asked whether there was any help with social taxes for a small enterprise like ours. They said, if you were a charity, there would be help, but because you are a profit-making business, there is none. This is typical of the attitude. We are treated with suspicion, as if we are guilty of something or trying to cheat them. The tax demands we get are close to extortion.”

    Why stay, I ask? “We’ve had offers to move,” she says, “from Switzerland, London and America, but this is where we live. We have to make do.” Many are not so loyal, though even on this front, the French state has been hot on the case, with punitive “exit taxes” on anyone who tries to leave. One businessman describes it as like a form of imprisonment.

    As I walk through the picturesque lanes of central Toulouse, I encounter a demonstration outside a public building. The protest is on behalf of actors, performers and entertainers who are seeing some of their entitlements threatened by a half-hearted attempt at benefit reform. It is easy to see why they would be upset. Establish a certain level of intermittent income as a registered artist and it will be matched in unemployment benefits should you fall short. Is this even an effective, let alone an affordable way of supporting the arts? Many would argue that it is just a gravy train.

    Small businesses can still thrive in France. On my tour around Toulouse, I encounter four promising young digital start-ups – SchoolMove, Popeline & Macaron, Payname and Unitag, all of them making their own special contribution to the great commercial transformation that the new technologies are bringing about. Even the leviathan of the French state finds it difficult to stand in their way.

    manuel Valls

    At La Cantine Numérique, which offers cheap, communal office space to digital start-ups, the entrepreneurialism and enthusiasm of inhabitants is manifest. Yet all complain of the high social costs and, just as bad, restrictive labour laws, which make it costly to hire and fire. Most start-ups don’t survive past three years, when tax exemptions run out. Here’s one, very telling statistic. France and Britain are economies of roughly equal size and population, yet France has a third fewer SMEs. The growth companies of the future are increasingly hard to find.

    To survive at all, many SMEs substitute full-time employees with “auto-entrepreneurs”, a form of self-employment that allows the employer to avoid at least some of the social charges and pay the worker as if on a specific contract. The tax authorities regard it as a semi-illegal form of “disguised employment”, but reluctantly tolerate the practice in many instances, for fear of the further damage a crackdown would do to an already deeply impaired labour market.

    At Sogeclair, a relatively big aerospace engineer that employs around 600 in the Toulouse area and, among other things, produces the central wing box for the new Airbus A350, the chief executive Philippe Robardey doesn’t even particularly blame the deeply unpopular Mr Hollande. “It is a progressive problem of the French social model,” he says, “whatever the politics of the government, socialist or not. Sarkozy was just as bad. He promised free-market reform and to cut taxes, but he ended up raising them and still he managed to add to the national debt.

    “Our engineers here in France cost us more than anywhere else in Europe – Germany, UK and Spain – even though they are paid less. For years, it’s just been more cost for less money.”

    I venture that at least France has a world-beating health care system, which seems quite cleverly to combine public provision with semi-compulsory private insurance. “Really?” he says. “Is life expectancy significantly better in France than in the UK? The system is abused. If you told the French they could have free food, you’d soon have a nation of obese Frenchmen. It’s the same with health care. Because people pay so much tax for it, they make limitless use of it.”

    As far as medication is concerned, he’s certainly right. French citizens are required to make small co-payments to visit the doctor, but that doesn’t deter them. Prescriptions and treatments are effectively free or reimbursed, even for paracetamol.

    Statistically, the French pop more pills per head of population than anywhere else in the world. France’s gold-plated health care system has given birth to a nation of hypochondriacs. Homeopathy and spa holidays on the public purse, taxi fares to and from hospital, it’s all part of the service and regarded by French citizenry as a matter of right. Not for France the dramatic cuts in health care provision forced on much of the eurozone periphery.

    More use of less costly generics scarcely counts, and in any case, has failed to make a significant dent in the shortfall between payroll health insurance taxes and actual expenditure. To all intents and purposes, French health care is bust.

    The same is true of the pay-as-you-go pensions system, which accounts for roughly half of the payroll taxes charged to employers. To fulfil his election pledge to limit the retirement age to 62, Hollande has raised contributions from employers and employees even further and slightly reduced entitlements. But the system is still bankrupt on any realistic view of likely economic growth and demographics. The payroll taxes are simply not enough to fund the benefits.

    To survive and prosper in the modern world, France needs root-and-branch reform of its archaic labour laws, entitlements system and its payroll taxes. Yet it has a government intent only on protecting them.

    Sadly, a crisis even more serious than the present one may be needed before France summons up the collective will for meaningful change. For such a potentially dynamic and influential nation, it’s a tragedy to behold.

    NOW WATCH: The New Addition To The Eiffel Tower Is Terrifying

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    White Rhino

    One of the last northern white rhinos has died in Kenya– leaving only six of the animals alive and edging the species closer to extinction.

    The rhino, named Suni, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, 150 miles north of Nairobi. He was 34 years old and thought to have died of natural causes — the conservancy said he was not killed by poachers.

    Suni's father, Sunit, also died at the age of 34, in 2006.

    But as Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world, the conservancy said the species was likely to be completely wiped out.

    "Consequently the species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race," a spokesman said.

    "We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on Ol Pejeta in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf."

    Suni was born in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic — the only place in the world where northern white rhinos have bred in captivity. Along with three others — Najin, Fatu, and Sudan — Sunit was brought to Kenya in 2009 as part of a breeding program to try to prevent the extinction of the species.

    Wildlife experts had hoped the 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy, framed on the equator and nestled between the snow-capped Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range, would offer a more favorable climate for breeding. As late as 1960, there were more than 2,000 northern white rhinos remaining — but widespread poaching decimated the population, and in 1984 only about 15 individuals survived in the wild — all in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    But they have struggled to sustain the population and face a continuing threat from poachers.

    Kenya has about 850 black and white rhinos out of approximately 25,000 in Africa. Last year, 59 rhinos were poached in the country.

    Rhino horn sold on the streets of major Asian cities was last year more valuable than gold or platinum, with traders asking for about $65,000 per kilogram of rhino horn, which is used in herbal medicine.

    A summit in London held earlier this year drew together world leaders from more than 40 countries, who agreed to actions intended to eradicate the demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement, and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by wildlife crime.

    The World Wildlife Fund said that only four northern white rhinos now remain in the wild, in Garamba National Park in north-eastern DRC. The WWF said there were also unconfirmed reports of a few survivors in southern Sudan.

    But while the northern white rhino faces extinction, the southern white rhino is the only non-endangered rhino, with an estimated 20,000 animals.

    Most white rhinos are found in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

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    new london trainer

    Home buyers deterred by talk of Mansion Tax and impending general election

    Luxury homes in prime central London, worth between £1m ($1,606,640) and £2m ($3,213,280), have seen a drop in sales of 20pc over the past six months, as buyers are deterred by the talk of Mansion Tax and the impending general election.

    New data from high end estate agent, Strutt & Parker, have shown that the number of sales in the £2m to £5m bracket, therefore over the £2m Mansion Tax threshold, fell by 27pc for the third quarter of this year compared with July to September in 2013, as the market dramatically corrects.

    Exclusive homes worth more than £5m in prime central London - defined as Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Chelsea, South Kensington, Fulham, West Chelsea, Kensington and Notting Hill - performed slightly better with a decline of 15.2pc. This shows that super high networth individuals are less concerned about talk from Labour and the Liberal Democrats of a new tax on wealthy householders.

    A similar pattern emerged in terms of volume sales, which were down 26.8pc overall, with all price bands seeing a reduction in the number of transactions.

    “Whilst total values transacted in central London are markedly down on this time last year, we must have a sense of perspective and accept that 2013 was an exceptional year. It is really not surprising that prices are stabilising after the dramatic price increases we saw over the past 12 months," said Stephanie McMahon, head of research at Strutt & Parker.

    “Sales volumes are also showing a slowdown and two quarters of data do suggest a trend of decline...We have seen these conditions before in the run up to a general election when speculation mounts."

    Mansion Tax proposals have re-emerged this week following more details from Ed Balls.

    The shadow chancellor said middle-class families will be barred from deferring Labour's mansion tax if they earn more than £42,000 ($67,478).

    Higher rate taxpayers who own properties worth more than £2m will have to pay the tax immediately.

    Only those earning less than £42,000 will be able to defer the payment until they sell the property or transfer ownership.

    A Potted History of Mansion Tax - read the whole story from @PrimeResihttp://t.co/2EPGLUNedr#MansionTax

    — Winkworth South Ken (@WinkworthSouthK) October 21, 2014

    This tax proposals have faced criticism from the property industry.

    Real estate group, JLL, released a statement that said: "Valuation of properties will be borne by the owner once every five years, unnecessarily increasing costs for thousands of homeowners at or near the £2m threshold."

    "It imposes a significant ongoing cost to high-value property owners, many of whom will be on relatively modest incomes and/ or pensions."

    The firm also said that it would chase high earners and investors out of the UK.

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    Peter KassigAbu Omar Aqidi, a prominent member of Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda linked Syria group, recalls being treated by Peter Kassig for a shrapnel wound

    A senior al-Qaeda jihadist has spoken out in defence of a Western hostage slated as the next to be beheaded by the rival extremists Isil in Syria.

    Abdul-Rahman Kassig, the American Muslim convert and aid worker formerly known as Peter, has been named by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as the next victim in their series of videoed murders of British and American captives.

    Isil members warned on Twitter that Mr Kassig was to be killed on Wednesday, as a "deadline" passed for meeting their demands – that America call off its bombing campaign.

    But the Isil threat to Mr Kassig has caused dissent from within the ranks of the jihadists' own community, with a number of Islamists speaking out in support of him, particularly because of his conversion.

    Abu Omar Aqidi, a prominent member of al-Qaeda faction Jabhat al-Nusra, said in a public statement that he had been told Mr Kassig was the medic who treated him and other fellow jihadists.

    Mr Kassig "performed a successful operation under bombardment by the regime," Aqidi said in a series of tweets, explaining that he had removed a piece of shrapnel from his wound.

    He added that Mr Kassig had also treated several of his colleagues, including "Abu Dujana" who he and others have named as leader of the group in Deir al-Zour province in north-eastern Syria.

    Jabhat al-Nusra had been a rival of Isil but the American bombardment against both groups has started to bring them closer together again.

    Aqidi's tweets suggested that his men had asked after Mr Kassig when he went missing and that it had come as a surprise when "he showed up in the video where ISIS threatened the United States".

    Mr Kassig was seized by Isil jihadists on October 1 2013 while delivering medical supplies to Deir al-Zour for the charity that he had established.

    Aged just 26, he had moved to the Turkish border town of Gaziantep to found SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance), a non-governmental organisation providing first-response humanitarian aid.

    Friends describe him as a slightly intense and sincere young man, haunted by his brief experience as a US army ranger in Iraq in 2007, who wanted to "give back". He threw himself wholeheartedly into the organisation, often spending his own money to keep SERA going when funding was low.

    He made repeat trips to provide medical support in Syria, long after the frequency of kidnappings of foreigners had stopped other aid workers. Once inside, as Aqidi claimed, he was indiscriminate in treating the war wounded, whether fighters or civilians.

    Aqidi said that when we was being treated by Mr Kassig he had believed the doctor was a fellow jihadist, adding that "it later became clear to me that he's an humanitarian activist that served in Deir Al-Zour for more than a year and was then kidnapped by Isil".

    Mr Kassig converted to Islam early in his captivity and, according to the accounts of fellow hostages who have since been released, has dedicated himself to practising the religion.

    Nonetheless, last month the hostage appeared in a video posted on YouTube, wearing an orange robe and kneeling in the desert whilst a masked extremist promised he would be killed in response to the American air strikes.

    Isil has already beheaded four of Mr Kassig's fellow hostages in this fashion, most recently the British aid worker Alan Henning.

    On Wednesday, a Norwegian journalist who converted to Islam during a period of captivity by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and who has continued to practise the faith since his release, appealed directly to Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to save Mr Kassig.

    Salah ad-Din Refsdal, 51, who was born Paul Refsdal said: "People have suggested that Caliph Ibrahim is not informed that some of his followers are planning to murder Abdul Rahman Kassig.

    "That must clearly be the case. Having studied Islam extensively he for sure is aware of how enormous of a sin it would be to murder a brother who just converted to Islam."

    Mr Refsdal cited an Islamic ruling condemning the killing of Muslim converts, adding that Baghdadi: "must therefore do the only right thing and stop his followers from murdering our brother Abdul Rahman Kassig".

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    Paul Polman Unilever

    Unilever said a "sharp" slowdown in China has weighed on sales as it reported a weaker-than-expected 2.1pc increase in third-quarter sales.

    The consumer goods giant said sales in China fell 20pc after retailers lowered stock levels in the face of lower demand.

    That dragged on global sales growth, which increased by 2.1pc to €12.2bn.

    Paul Polman, Unilever's chief executive, said : "Market growth slowed in emerging countries and particularly in China where we also experienced substantial trade de-stocking. Europe saw price deflation and poor summer weather compared with last year but conditions in North America started to improve."

    The weaker sales performance fell some way short of analysts' expectations for third-quarter sales growth of 3.7pc.

    The PG Tips and Dove soap maker said sales volume, measuring the amount of products sold, rose only 0.3pc, while analysts expected growth of 1.8pc.

    "Macro-economic conditions continued to put pressure on consumers," Mr Polman said in a statement.

    Nevertheless, the chief executive added that the company was confident it will achieve "another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets".

    SEE ALSO: China Is Slowing

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    Ottawa Canada war memorial

    The soldier killed guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa was named locally as Cpl Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

    He was a father, with a young son, who loved dogs and would post dozens of pictures his pets and family to social media sites.

    At the time of his death, he was on guard duty and would have been carrying a rifle that was not loaded.

    Other members of his unit based in Hamilton said they had been told not to talk to media.

    Cpl Cirillo was training to join the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for border security, his aunt told The Globe and Mail.

    Gen Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, said: "It is with great sadness that I learned that Corporal Nathan Cirillo succumbed to the injuries he suffered after being shot while on sentry duty at the National War Memorial this morning. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Cpl Cirillo's family, friends and loved ones during this shocking time of loss, and pledge our support for them, as we would the families of any of our men and women who fall in the performance of their duty."

    A Facebook page set up to remember him attracted thousands of visitors last night.

    One message, from Bob Rodkin, read: "RIP Nathan. Thank you for your service and the ultimate sacrifice. So tragic, so unnecessary. My prayers go out for you and to your family, friends and colleagues."

    Another message, from Olivia Marie, said: "RIP Nathan! Thank you for defending our country, your son is so proud of you. I miss you."

    His smiling face was also posted on Twitter by tourists who had posed with him at the memorial in recent weeks.

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    Michael Zehaf Bibeau

    The mother of the Ottawa gunman who rampaged through the Canadian parliament on Wednesday has said she is crying for the victims of her son's attack.

    Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, an Islamic convert, shot and killed a Canadian soldier at a Second World War monument outside the country's parliament building on Wednesday.

    The suspected jihadist, 32, then moved through the halls of the federal government brandishing a rifle before he was killed in a gunfight with armed police.

    His victim has been identified as Cpl Nathan Cirillo, a 25-year-old father who had been posted at the memorial for less than a month before he was killed. Two other people were wounded in the incident.

    Mr Zehaf-Bibeau's mother, Susan Bibeau, a senior immigration official in Canada, told news agencies on Thursday that she did not know what to say to the families of those hurt in the attack.

    "Can you ever explain something like this?" she said. "We are sorry."

    "If I'm crying it's for the people, not for my son."

    Mrs Bideau and her husband had earlier released a statement expressing horror and sadness at what happened.

    "I am mad at my son," they said, explaining that he seemed lost "and did not fit in".

    "I, his mother, spoke with him last week over lunch, I had not seen him for over five years before that. So I have very little insight to offer."

    It has emerged that Mr Zehaf-Bibeau, born Michael Joseph Hall, had a criminal record and was barred from leaving Canada after being designated by authorities as a "high risk traveller".

    He was arrested in 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), and pleaded guilty to robbery, and in 2004 was arrested in Quebec for drug-related offences.

    It is also believed that he had a tumultous relationship with Islamic community leaders in Vancouver and Burnaby, a nearby British Columbia town, where he had been a member of the Masjid Al Salaam mosque.

    David Bathurst, a friend and fellow Muslim convert who met Mr Zehaf-Bebeau three years ago, said the attacker was asked to leave the mosque after displaying "disturbing" character traits.

    “I think he must have been mentally ill,” Mr Bathurst told the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper, adding that he would talk at length about the devil and demons.

    "We were having a conversation in a kitchen, and I don’t know how he worded it: He said the devil is after him," he said. "He seemed unstable."

    Mr Bathurst said he believed the gunman was radicalised on the internet.

    Ottowa was placed on lockdown after reports of sporadic gunfire shortly after the murder of Cpl Cirillo led investigators to believe a second person could have been involved in the attack.

    Authorities have since said they are satisfied Mr Zehaf-Bibeau had acted alone and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper visited the site of the shooting to lay a wreath for the killed soldier on Thursday.

    During the ceremony, police arrested a man at gunpoint just steps from Mr Harper, underscoring tensions in the Canadian capital less than 24 hours after the attack.

    The prime minister and his wife were in the process of laying a wreath at the National War Memorial when police, shouting and with guns drawn, surrounded a man and ordered him to the ground.

    Ottawa Police said the man was arrested for "disturbing the crime scene" at the war memorial. It was not immediately clear what was the man's intent.

    "He crossed the tape. We told him not to. He didn't listen," said a police officer at the scene.

    Fears of lone-wolf attacks are at an all-time high in the country after Mr Zehaf-Bibeau became the second suspected terrorist to kill a uniformed official in three days.

    On Monday another recent Muslim convert ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring another before being shot by police.

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    petro poroshenkoPro-European centrist parties look to have swept Ukraine’s first parliamentary vote since a revolution toppled Viktor Yanukovych’s government in February.

    While the election leaves President Petro Poroshenko in a weaker position than expected, it cements the country’s pro-European course, with the three centrist pro-European parties between them in a dominant position.

    Early exit polls put the Poroshenko Bloc, an alliance of pro-European candidates loyal to the president, on roughly 26 percent of the vote.

    The People’s Front, a new party uniting several serving ministers led by prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was put at on 21 percent.

    A new party, Self Reliance, led by the popular mayor of Lvivi Andri Sadoviy, came in third place with roughly 13 percent.

    The election was a disaster for one of Ukraine’s best-known names, the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, however. With exit polls giving her Fatherland party just six percent, she will have to await the count to know whether she and her star candidate, Nadia Savchenko, the helicopter pilot imprisoned in Russia, have made it over the five percent threshold required to take seats.

    It was an equally disappointing night for the far-right, with the nationalist Svoboda Party and Oleh Lyashko’s Radical party both headed for single-figure results, although both appear to have made the threshold to enter parliament.

    Ira, a 26 year old student from Kiev’s Obolon district, said she voted for Mr Poroshenko because he is “the most professional president we’ve ever had.” Tatiana Skipa, 49, a businesswoman from Kiev, backed Mr Sadoviy’s Self Reliance party based on reports from happy constituents in Lviv.

    “We have a lot of friends from Lviv who are very pleased with him. When a man has already proved himself effective, it makes sense to back him,” she said.

    The election, which was widely seen as a test of confidence in Mr Poroshenko, was dominated by a swathe of revolutionaries, soldiers, and activists who have emerged as public figures during the past year.

    They include Miss Savchenko, an army helicopter pilot currently being held in Russia after being captured by separatists in eastern Ukraine who Yulia Tymoshenko invited to head the Fatherland list.

    The drubbing to Mrs Tymoshenko’s party means her place in parliament will not be secure until all the votes are counted.

    Mustafa Nayem and Serheiy Leshchenko, two investigative journalists responsible for exposing much of the corruption of the Yanukovych regime, are likely to enter parliament with Mr Poroshenko’s party.

    In a sign of how brittle tensions are, Mr Nayem and Mr Leshchenko came under attack on Sunday when several unidentified men threw rocks at their car.

    The pair had dedicated their last days before the vote campaigning against a candidate of their own party who they said had won nomination as the result of a murky deal agreed with members of Mr Poroshenko’s team.

    Half of the 450-seats in the Supreme Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, will be allocated to candidates on party lists under a proportional representation system.

    Another 198 will go to candidates elected in single-member constituencies under first-past the post.

    Twenty-seven seats representing about five million voters in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in April, and separatist controlled areas of Ukraine, will remain empty.

    The election is overshadowed by an unfinished war in the east of the country and a worsening economic situation.

    Mr Poroshenko made a surprise election day visit to troops in Kramatorsk, a city recaptured by the Ukrainian army in June, in an apparent effort to shore-up support for his handling of the conflict.

    Later, after casting his vote in Kiev, he said he was voting for a “united Ukraine.” Mr Poroshenko has been criticised for signing a ceasefire after a series of battlefield setbacks in August and beginning of September.

    About 25,000 soldiers in the combat zone were unable to vote after parliament failed to pass legislation facilitating their ballots last week.

    Also thwarted in his ambitions was a man who registered as a candidate in Kiev under the name Darth Viktorovych Vader, after the Star Wars character. He was turned away from a polling station without having voted after refusing to remove his mask.

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    russell stover chocolate candies

    Research from Columbia University published in Nature Neuroscience has highlighted the link between flavanols from cocoa and age-related cognitive decline.

    These flavanols, found in virtually all plants, are part of a group of substances known as bioflavonoids. They were initially known as vitamin P and were first indentified by Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian scientist, Dr Albert Szent-György.

    To date, over 4,000 individual flavonoids have been identified and whilst our understanding of their role in human health continues to evolve, we do know that most act primarily as antioxidants. This term is extensively used but it’s worth reminding ourselves what an antioxidant is.

    Electrons, tiny molecules in all of us, naturally pair up, but in the nanosecond before they do, when they are travelling solo they can be momentarily damaging to cells and tissue. Unpaired electrons are known as free radicals, and are most often in the form of O2. Therefore, the substances that can potentially neutralise these free radicals are called antioxidants as they act against the rogue oxygen cells.

    The participants in the Columbia University trial in question were given one of two specially prepared cocoa drinks, one with 900mg of flavanols and one with just 10mg. The potential benefits of flavanols showed far more in the group that were given the more potent drink.

    Whilst the researchers warned that the product was not the same as chocolate, the results will no doubt be stretched out to provide some dramatic headlines of the "could chocolate beat dementia?" variety. Needless to say the image that will accompany the story will be one of a cup of steaming hot chocolate. The problem is that processing cocoa for the chocolate (either solid or in liquid form) can remove most of the flavanols.

    Furthermore the flavanol content of chocolate might vary from brand to brand as they use different beans which will, in the past, have been selected for their flavour rather than flavanols. Dark chocolate contains the highest concentration of flavanols but that can range from 500-2000mg per 100g depending on the brand. But along with that you can expect 60mg of caffeine and over 500 calories per 100g so it’s not all good news.

    Remember that flavanols in their many forms can also be found elsewhere; catechins in green, white and black tea, flavones in celery and parsley, rutin in buckwheat and hesperetin in the white pulp of oranges.

    Szent-György also found that vitamin C worked more effectively when combined with bioflavonoids. In the creative hands of the imaginative this might be stretched into how a Terry's Chocolate Orange might combat dementia.

    For more information on, or to contact, Ian Marber, log on to www.ianmarber.com or follow him at @IanMarber

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    jaylen fryberg marysville high school

    One of the teenagers wounded in last week’s Washington state high school shooting has died, raising the number of fatalities to three

    Gia Soriano, 14, suffered a head wound during the shooting in Marysville Pilchuck High School’s cafeteria and on Sunday night passed away.

    Friend Zoe Galasso was also killed in the attack and mourned during a candlelight vigil at the school last night.

    Three other students, including the gunman’s two cousins, Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14, and friend Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, remain in hospital.

    The shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, died of a self-inflicted wound.

    "We are devastated by this senseless tragedy," Dr Joanne Roberts said on behalf of Gia’s family. "Gia is our beautiful daughter and words cannot express how much we will miss her."

    The shooting unfolded on Friday morning when Fryberg, a popular first-year student at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School, opened fire in the school cafeteria, with witnesses saying he targeted close friends.

    It is thought 15-year-old freshman Fryberg had rowed with his cousin over a girl, who was targeted in the attack.

    In the days leading up to the killing he left a series of tortured posts on Twitter, suggesting a teenager used to handling guns, and hinting that a failed romance may have triggered the shooting.

    One post on Instagram showed him brandishing a hunting rifle.

    "Probably the best BirthDay present ever! I just love my parents!!!!," he posted in a message accompanying the photo.

    In his final post on Twitter on Thursday, Fryberg had stated ominously: "It won't last...It'll never last...."

    Parents and students gathered in a gymnasium at the school Sunday afternoon for a community meeting, with speakers urging support and prayers and tribal members playing drums and singing songs. Fryberg was from a prominent Tulalip Indian family.

    A makeshift memorial on a chain link fence by the school, which will be closed this week, kept growing Sunday. Balloons honoring the victims and the shooter adorn the fence along with flowers, stuffed toys and signs.

    The close-knit community, meanwhile, on the nearby Tulalip reservation struggled with the news that the shooter was a popular teenager from one of their more well-known families.

    A tribal guidance counsellor said no one knows what motivated Fryberg.

    "We can't answer that question," said Matt Remle, who has an office at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which is 30 miles north of Seattle. "But we try to make sense of the senselessness."

    Mr Remel said he knew Fryberg and the other students well.

    "My office has been a comfort space for Native students," he said. "Many will come by and have lunch there, including the kids involved in the shooting."

    They all were "really happy, smiling kids," Mr Remle said.

    These factors make the shooting that much more difficult to deal with, "Maybe it would be easier if we knew the answer," Mr Remle said. "But we may never know."

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    ubs sergio ermotti

    UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, has had to set aside Sfr1.84bn (or £1.2 billon / $1.9 billion) in legal provisions to pay for possible fines and to settle regulatory investigations. It has also warned shareholders that these costs are likely to be "at elevated levels" for the "forseeable future".

    The Swiss lender is currently in discussions with US regulators about a criminal investigation into the alleged rigging of currency benchmarks and with the French authorities into allegations that UBS helped some wealthy clients to avoid tax.

    Last month, UBS said that it was looking to settle the foreign exchange investigation but provided scant details. Settlement discussion with French regulators fell apart in July and the Swiss bank remains embroiled in a legal fight. Most of the legal provisions were booked in UBS's investment bank.

    Despite having to set aside legal reserves, UBS produced solid results with net income in the quarter rising 32pc to Sfr762m from Sfr577m over the same period a year ago. However, the results were helped by UBS booking a Sfr1.3bn net tax gain.

    Sergio Ermotti, the chief executive of UBS, said: "I am very pleased with our underlying performance for the quarter, which again demonstrates the strength of our franchise. At the same time, we are actively addressing litigation and regulatory matters."

    In a statement, the Swiss bank said it is exposed to "a number of significant claims and regulatory matters" and expects charges associated with litigation, regulatory and similar matters to "remain at elevated levels through 2014".

    The bank added: "At this point in time, we believe that the industry continues to operate in an environment where charges associated with litigation, regulatory and similar matters will remain elevated for the foreseeable future."

    UBS also delivered a somewhat gloomy prognosis for the global economy, saying that many of the underlying challenges and geopolitical issues it has previously highlighted remain and in some cases have intensified. Indeed, UBS said that "a number of new concerns have arisen including fear of risks related to the Ebola virus".

    It continued: "The mixed outlook for global growth, the absence of sustained and credible improvements to unresolved issues in Europe, continuing US fiscal and monetary policy issues and increasing geopolitical instability would make improvements in prevailing market conditions unlikely."

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    daniel radcliffeOn Tuesday evening, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe took to Reddit to connect with fans in the internet-honoured way: an Ask Me Anything (AMA) webchat. The 25-year-old actor was polite and funny, but he also gave away loads of information about growing up on a film set and being mistaken for Elijah Wood.

    Here is what we learned:

    1. Radcliffe would like to work with Jennifer Lawrence

    When asked who he would like to work with, Radcliffe said : "George Clooney... Jennifer Lawrence... I just think they'd be really cool, Paul Rudd, I met him and was like "You're awesome!" I just want to work with people you can get on with, and you have a good rapport with, and those are definitely some of them."

    Perhaps Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter could exist in a realm outside fan fiction after all. Radcliffe also said he would like to work with filmmakers including Coen brothers, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan.

    2. Russell Brand is his new best friend

    As part of a conversation about what he enjoys watching on YouTube, Radcliffe revealed : "Normally I immediately distrust actors as soon as they are talking about politics, because I think it's quite self-serving, but [Brand]'s very sincere, and I really got on with him when I met him."

    3. Alan Rickman was a bit like a real-life Severus Snape...

    ...as Radcliffe's intimidating but ultimately kind mentor – Just without the fake allegiance to the Dark Arts. Radcliffe posted : "The first few years I was genuinely quite intimidated by Alan [...] but as I grew up, I realised he was one of the kindest and most supportive members of that cast to me.

    "Alan has cut short holidays to come and see me in plays, and take me out for dinner afterwards to talk to me about stuff, I think when he realised how serious I was about wanting to be an actor, and he knew what a particular world the Potter set was to grow up in - he just really wanted to help us all and has been very helpful to me, certainly."

    Writing about pranks pulled on set, Radcliffe disclosed that in the third Harry Potter film: "There's a shot of all the kids sleeping in the Great Hall, and the camera starts very wide, and comes in so that it's an inch from my face, a very long developing set. Alan Rickman decided he would plant one of those fart machines in my sleeping bag, and they waited until the camera had come in for this huge DRAMATIC developing shot, and then unleashed this tremendous noise in the great hall.

    I immediately thought: 'This is one of the other kids f---ing around, and we were going to get in trouble.'

    But as it turns out, it was one of the members of Britain's acting royalty."

    4. This is his favorite internet meme:

    daniel radcliffe meme

    When asked by one knowing user, "How do you feel about being compared to Daniel Boringcliffe?", Radcliffe replied : "I've been shown that meme by a few friends, and obviously there are quite a few Harry Potter related memes and I have to say that one really made me laugh! It made me enjoy my name way more than I ever have before. So obviously Daniel Radcliffe beats Daniel Boringcliffe 100% of the time."

    Radcliffe was then very polite, and thanked "whomever made that particular meme, because it really is very good."

    5. Even as a child, Radcliffe respected Richard Harris's way with the ladies

    Radcliffe pays his respects to the late Professor Dumbledore actor : "He was just such a sweet man... Relentlessly charming with women, I think I'm pretty sure I saw him flirting with female journalists at press conferences, I remember being a young child in awe of it..."

    6. WWF taught him how to do an American accent

    Among sitcoms such as Frasier and the influence of director Chris Columbus, Radcliffe attributes his American accent to giving his wrestling action figures American accents when he was used to play with them as a child.

    7. Radcliffe wasn't allowed to put his name into the Goblet of Fire

    The actor didn't seize the opportunity to put his own name into the selection cup for the lethal wizarding games, not out of fear, but because his handwriting was too poor : "I think that by that point, they had figured out my handwriting was so bad that they would never let it be seen in the film. So I'm pretty sure one of the props guys wrote 'Harry Potter' neatly on a piece of paper for me to put in."

    8. Nobody has ever asked him what Horcrux he would use

    Because why would Harry Potter ever indulge in such dark magic?! Regardless, Radcliffe has his answer well thought out : "I would put it inside an album on the iPod, so you'd have to open that album. So I somehow want it to be connected to a particular album that means something, like Ziggy Stardust. So that's how I'd want to do that."

    9. He listened to heavy metal to prepare for his role in the new horror film Horns

    In particular, Metallica and Megadeth, as Radcliffe's makeup artists/horn applicators "were both big metal heads".

    10. He has never been approached for Game of Thrones

    But would"totally would side with the Starks, though, because their symbol is a wolf."

    11. Radcliffe is philosophical about sharks

    He would like to be a shark, but in particular :"Maybe a Hammerhead because they are more social. Because I like the power of being a shark, but i don't like the isolation of a Great White's life."

    Deep.

    12. He likes toast

    This is why AMAs can be brilliant.

    dan radcliffe AMA

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    eton school boys englandSending children to private school could set them up to earn dramatically higher salaries than their peers, even if they end up with identical university degrees and doing the same jobs, a study by a leading economic think-tank concludes.

    Research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates that graduates who attended independent schools earn almost seven per cent more on average than colleagues with similar qualifications but who were educated in the state sector.

    It concludes that the secret of the success of Britain’s public school elite could lie in other ingredients of their education, such as self-confidence and ambition, rather than pure academic results.

    Crucially, it calls into question the idea that universities, including elite institutions, apply a leveling effect, reducing the inequality in the English school system.

    Dr Claire Crawford, an economist at Warwick University and IFS research fellow, and Prof Anna Vignoles of Cambridge, analyzed figures from a sample of 75,000 British graduates who completed their degrees in 2007, to assess whether their salaries reflected a “private school premium”.

    They found that a gap in earnings opened up within months of graduation and after three and a half years those from private schools were already being paid more than 17 per cent more than those educated in the state sector. Those from private schools were earning just under £29,000 on average, more than £4,500 more than those from state schools.

    But even when the findings were adjusted to account for factors which could boost their earning power, such as attending a more prestigious university or taking a degree likely to lead to a better paid job, there was still a gap of 6.7 per cent, or around £1,500 in pay between the two groups.

    The study concludes that the difference cannot be explained simply by the fact those from independent schools may be more likely to set their sights on a top university followed by a careers in more traditionally well-paid fields such as banking or the law.

    Significantly the effect appeared to be more marked among men than women, with former public school boys earning more than 20 per cent more than their state educated counterparts.

    “So what is the explanation for this apparent private school effect?” the study asks.

    “One possible explanation is that the variable indicating whether the student attended a private school is a proxy for some unobserved characteristic of the student that is correlated with earnings.

    “Such unobserved characteristics may include ability, social skills, determination or indeed a range of other skills not properly measured in our model.”

    It notes that schools could influence students’ choice of subject or career path, and in turn their earning power.

    “Of course an alternative explanation is that private schooling provides access to social and cultural capital (e.g. networks) which are helpful to individuals in securing well paid jobs,” they add.

    “This issue therefore merits further research on the role of private schooling in the education system and indeed the labour market.”

    Dr Crawford remarked: “Education is often regarded as a route to social mobility.

    “But our research shows that, even amongst those who succeed in obtaining a degree, family background – and in particular the type of school they went to – continues to influence their success in the work place.

    “These results suggest that there is a pressing need to understand why private schooling confers such an advantage in the labour market, even amongst similarly achieving graduates, and why higher education does not appear to be the leveler it was hoped to be.”

    SEE ALSO: Here's Why UPenn Produces More Billionaires Than Any Other School In The World

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    shark surfer

    Photographs have emerged of a surfer being trailed by a shark on a beach in Australia during an encounter described by onlookers as “eerie”.

    Andrew Johnston, a 38-year-old local surfer, ignored warnings to come ashore and now says he did not realise how close he was to the creature, which was reportedly a 10-foot great white shark.

    The encounter occurred at a beach at Esperance in the state of Western Australia along a stretch of coastline which has had a spate of fatal attacks in recent years.

    surfer shark

    "At the time I didn't think it was that big a shark and that close, but I did lose sight of it when it came right up behind me," Mr Johnston told ABC Radio.

    "It was a lot more intense than I thought it was at the time; obviously it was a very close call. I was very lucky; you don't get much closer than that without getting touched up by them."

    The photographs were taken by Frits De Bruyn, a tourist, on September 21, just days before another surfer lost his arm and a hand during an attack at a nearby beach.

    surfer and shark

    Jesse McCarthy-Price, a local reporter, said the mood at the beach on the day was “really eerie”.

    Mr Johnston said the incident was scary but would not keep him out of the water.

    "Every time I go in the water, I know it could be my last day - it's just one of the risks of being a surfer," he said.

    "You can't escape these creatures. If your number's up, your number's up."

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    aloneThere are a few things we take for granted in social interactions with people.

    We presume that we see the world in roughly the same way, that we all know certain basic facts, that words mean the same things to you as they do to me.

    And we assume that we have pretty similar ideas of right and wrong.

    But for a small – but not that small – subset of the population, things are very different. These people lack remorse and empathy and feel emotion only shallowly. In extreme cases, they might not care whether you live or die. These people are called psychopaths. Some of them are violent criminals, murderers. But by no means all.

    Professor Robert Hare is a criminal psychologist, and the creator of the PCL-R, a psychological assessment used to determine whether someone is a psychopath. For decades, he has studied people with psychopathy, and worked with them, in prisons and elsewhere.

    “It stuns me, as much as it did when I started 40 years ago, that it is possible to have people who are so emotionally disconnected that they can function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern,” he says.

    Our understanding of the brain is still in its infancy, and it’s not so many decades since psychological disorders were seen as character failings. Slowly we are learning to think of mental illnesses as illnesses, like kidney disease or liver failure, and personality disorders, such as autism, in a similar way.

    Psychopathy challenges this view. “A high-scoring psychopath views the world in a very different way,” says Hare. “It’s like colour-blind people trying to understand the colour red, but in this case ‘red’ is other people’s emotions.”

    At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies).

    The list includes: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, cunning/manipulative, pathological lying, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, a tendency to boredom, impulsivity, criminal versatility, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, and promiscuous sexual behaviour.

    A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy.

    Hare says: “A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once said: ‘Bob, when I meet someone who scores 35 or 36, I know these people really are different.’ The ones we consider to be alien are the ones at the upper end.”

    American Psycho

    But is psychopathy a disorder – or a different way of being? Anyone reading the list above will spot a few criteria familiar from people they know. On average, someone with no criminal convictions scores 5. “It’s dimensional,” says Hare. “There are people who are part-way up the scale, high enough to warrant an assessment for psychopathy, but not high enough up to cause problems.

    Often they’re our friends, they’re fun to be around. They might take advantage of us now and then, but usually it’s subtle and they’re able to talk their way around it.” Like autism, a condition which we think of as a spectrum, “psycho­pathy”, the diagnosis, bleeds into normalcy.

    We think of psychopaths as killers, criminals, outside society. People such as Joanna Dennehy, a 31-year-old British woman who killed three men in 2013 and who the year before had been diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder, or Ted Bundy, the American serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least 30 people and who said of himself: “I’m the most cold-blooded son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. I just liked to kill.”

    But many psychopathic traits aren’t necessarily disadvantages – and might, in certain circumstances, be an advantage. For their co-authored book, “Snakes in suits: When Psychopaths go to work”, Hare and another researcher, Paul Babiak, looked at 203 corporate professionals and found about four per cent scored sufficiently highly on the PCL-R to be evaluated for psychopathy.

    Hare says that this wasn’t a proper random sample (claims that “10 per cent of financial executives” are psychopaths are certainly false) but it’s easy to see how a lack of moral scruples and indifference to other people’s suffering could be beneficial if you want to get ahead in business.

    “There are two kinds of empathy,” says James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. “Cognitive empathy is the ability to know what other people are feeling, and emotional empathy is the kind where you feel what they’re feeling.”

    Autistic people can be very empathetic – they feel other people’s pain – but are less able to recognise the cues we read easily, the smiles and frowns that tell us what someone is thinking. Psychopaths are often the opposite: they know what you’re feeling, but don’t feel it themselves. “This all gives certain psychopaths a great advantage, because they can understand what you’re thinking, it’s just that they don’t care, so they can use you against yourself.”

    (Chillingly, psychopaths are particularly adept at detecting vulnerability. A 2008 study that asked participants to remember virtual characters found that those who scored highly for psychopathy had a near perfect recognition for sad, unsuccessful females, but impaired memory for other characters.)

    Fallon himself is a case in point. In 2005, he was looking at brain scans of psychopathic murderers, while on another study, of Alzheimer’s, he was using scans of his own family’s brains as controls. In the latter pile, he found something strange. “You can’t tell just from a brain scan whether someone’s a psychopath,” he says, “but you can make a good guess at the personality traits they’ll have.”

    He describes a great loop that starts in the front of the brain including the parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala and other regions tied to emotion and impulse control and empathy. Under certain circumstances they would light up dramatically on a normal person’s MRI scan, but would be darker on a psychopath’s.

    “I saw one that was extremely abnormal, and I thought this is someone who’s way off. It looked like the murderers I’d been looking at,” he says. He broke the anonymisation code in case it had been put into the wrong pile. When he did, he discovered it was his own brain. “I kind of blew it off,” he says. “But later, some psychiatrist friends of mine went through my behaviours, and they said, actually, you’re probably a borderline psychopath.”

    Related: What Happened When A Prison Therapist Brought Violent Offenders Together To 'Talk'?

    Speaking to him is a strange experience; he barely draws breath in an hour, in which I ask perhaps three questions. He explains how he has frequently put his family in danger, exposing his brother to the deadly Marburg virus and taking his son trout-fishing in the African countryside knowing there were lions around.

    ted bundy 4

    And in his youth, “if I was confronted by authority – if I stole a car, made pipe bombs, started fires – when we got caught by the police I showed no emotion, no anxiety”. Yet he is highly successful, driven to win. He tells me things most people would be uncomfortable saying: that his wife says she’s married to a “fun-loving, happy-go-lucky nice guy” on the one hand, and a “very dark character who she does not like” on the other.

    He’s pleasant, and funny, if self-absorbed, but I can’t help but think about the criteria in Hare’s PCL-R: superficial charm, lack of emotional depth, grandiose sense of self-worth. “I look like hell now, Tom,” he says – he’s 66 – “but growing up I was good-looking, six foot, 180lb, athletic, smart, funny, popular.” (Hare warns against non-professionals trying to diagnose people using his test, by the way.)

    “Psychopaths do think they’re more rational than other people, that this isn’t a deficit,” says Hare. “I met one offender who was certainly a psychopath who said ‘My problem is that according to psychiatrists I think more with my head than my heart. What am I supposed to do about that? Am I supposed to get all teary-eyed?’ ”

    Another, asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim, replied: “Get real! He spends a few months in hospital and I rot here. If I wanted to kill him I would have slit his throat. That’s the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break.”

    And yet, as Hare points out, when you’re talking about people who aren’t criminals, who might be successful in life, it’s difficult to categorise it as a disorder. “It’d be pretty hard for me to go into high-level political or economic or academic context and pick out all the most successful people and say, ‘Look, I think you’ve got some brain deficit.’ One of my inmates said that his problem was that he’s a cat in a world of mice. If you compare the brainwave activity of a cat and a mouse, you’d find they were quite different.”

    It would, says Hare, probably have been an evolutionarily successful strategy for many of our ancestors, and can be successful today; adept at manipulating people, a psychopath can enter a community, “like a church or a cultural organisation, saying, ‘I believe the same things you do’, but of course what we have is really a cat pretending to be a mouse, and suddenly all the money’s gone.” At this point he floats the name Bernie Madoff.

    This brings up the issue of treatment. “Psychopathy is probably the most pleasant-feeling of all the mental disorders,” says the journalist Jon Ronson, whose book, The Psychopath Test, explored the concept of psychopathy and the mental health industry in general. “All of the things that keep you good, morally good, are painful things: guilt, remorse, empathy.” Fallon agrees: “Psychopaths can work very quickly, and can have an apparent IQ higher than it really is, because they’re not inhibited by moral concerns.”

    So psychopaths often welcome their condition, and “treating” them becomes complicated. “How many psychopaths go to a psychiatrist for mental distress, unless they’re in prison? It doesn’t happen,” says Hare. The ones in prison, of course, are often required to go to “talk therapy, empathy training, or talk to the family of the victims” – but since psychopaths don’t have any empathy, it doesn’t work. “What you want to do is say, ‘Look, it’s in your own self-interest to change your behaviour, otherwise you’ll stay in prison for quite a while.’ ”

    It seems Hare’s message has got through to the UK Department of Justice: in its guidelines for working with personality-disordered inmates, it advises that while “highly psychopathic individuals” are likely to be “highly treatment resistant”, the “interventions most likely to be effective are those which focus on ‘self-interest’ – what the offender wants out of life – and work with them to develop the skills to get those things in a pro-social rather than anti-social way.”

    If someone’s brain lacks the moral niceties the rest of us take for granted, they obviously can’t do anything about that, any more than a colour-blind person can start seeing colour. So where does this leave the concept of moral responsibility? “The legal system traditionally asserts that all people standing in front of the judge’s bench are equal. That’s demonstrably false,” says the neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

    He suggests that instead of thinking in terms of blameworthiness, the law should deal with the likelihood that someone will reoffend, and issue sentences accordingly, with rehabilitation for those likely to benefit and long sentences for those likely to be long-term dangers.

    James Fallon and psychopathThe PCL-R is already used as part of algorithms which categorise people in terms of their recidivism risk. “Life insurance companies do exactly this sort of thing, in actuarial tables, where they ask: ‘What age do we think he’s going to die?’ No one’s pretending they know exactly when we’re going to die. But they can make rough guesses which make for an enormously more efficient system.”

    What this doesn’t mean, he says, is a situation like the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which people who are likely to commit crimes are locked up before they actually do. “Here's why,” he says. “It's because many people in the population have high levels of psychopathy - about 1 per cent.

    But not all of them become criminals. In fact many of them, because of their glibness and charm and willingness to ride roughshod over the people in their way, become quite successful. They become CEOs, professional athletes, soldiers. These people are revered for their courage and their straight talk and their willingness to crush obstacles in their way. Merely having psychopathy doesn't tell us that a person will go off and commit a crime.”

    It is central to the justice system, both in Britain and America, that you can’t pre-emptively punish someone. And that won’t ever change, says Eagleman, not just for moral, philosophical reasons, but for practical ones. The Minority Report scenario is a fantasy, because “it's impossible to predict what somebody will do, even given their personality type and everything, because life is complicated and crime is conceptual.

    "Once someone has committed a crime, once someone has stepped over a societal boundary, then there's a lot more statistical power about what they're likely to do in future. But until that's happened, you can't ever know.”

    Speaking to all these experts, I notice they all talk about psychopaths as “them”, almost as a different species, although they make conscious efforts not to. There’s something uniquely troubling about a person who lacks emotion and empathy; it’s the stuff of changeling stories, the Midwich Cuckoos, Hannibal Lecter.

    “You know kids who use a magnifying glass to burn ants, thinking, this is interesting,” says Hare. “Translate that to an adult psychopath who treats a person that way. It is chilling.” At one stage Ronson suggests I speak to another well-known self-described psychopath, a woman, but I can’t bring myself to.

    I find the idea unsettling, as if he’d suggested I commune with the dead.

    Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (RRP £10.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £10.99 + £1.35p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk.

    Related: The Science Behind Our Most Mysterious Activity: Sleep

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    We have all been caught out by a bottle of wine we thought had a screw cap but actually had been stopped with a cork.

    So how do you get into your bottle without a corkscrew?

    This rather brilliant video from Mirabeau Wine shows how you can open the bottle using just your shoe — and there is no need to send shards of glass everywhere, either.

    I suspect that this could become part of the entertainment at parties in the future.

    Do you have time to watch another trick that will make your life easier?

    Find out if you have been using cling film and kitchen foil in the right way.

    And see how changing your bed covers could be a lot easier.

    Video courtesy of MirabeauWine

     

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