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2001 Back and Forth -
Is it safe to come out yet?
by David Rutherford

So what will 2001 herald?
Thankfully it seems not Arthur C. Clarke’s homicidal computer, which is just as well because apparently man still knows no bounds to his capacity for reeking havoc across the globe. The Millennium Bug may not have appeared to wipe us all out, but according to the ‘Evening Standard’ (11/01/01), Australian scientists have developed a Doomsday bug for mice! They have apparently mutated the mouse version of smallpox, in the hope of rendering their lab mice sterile, so effective has their tampering been that they managed to kill the entire lot in 9 days. They admit to being surprised as to quite how effective a killer this altered-virus is – 100% fatal and in short order. As they point out it was actually quite a simple task to alter the virus, and are almost certain they could produce the same result with the human version of the virus!

I find this story quite bizarre because after our Christmas party, my Taxi driver who took me home (they who know everything) swore blind that the HIV virus is a man made virus. According to him scientists were playing around with the herpes virus and testing it on lifers and death row inmates in US penitentiaries in the hope of finding a cure. Problem was that one batch had rather different long-term effects than anticipated, this was then compounded by the fact that they had forgotten exactly how they changed the original virus. I didn’t believe a word my taxi driver said, but after reading the mouse story, his story it is beginning to sound unfortunately more plausible.

So what of all the anticipation and the feel good factor, which accompanied the turning of the millennium (2000)? It seemed to dissipate with the last rocket exploding over Hawaii or wherever it was that those of us glued to the BBC’s 26-hour epic trip around the globe finally ended up? Actually come to that the feel-good factor probably dissipated at about 12:05am on new years day, lost in the bewilderment that could best be encapsulated by questions such as what was the ‘river of fire’ and why was the Millennium wheel not turning? We hung our heads in collective shame, Sydney had been fantastic (it always is), Paris had been well stylish and brilliant, we waited with bated breath for London (Home of GMT, the river of fire, the Millennium wheel and the Millennium Dome) surely once again Britain would shine in World Company. You already know what happened – I can’t tell you how relieved many a Londoner was that this year’s event was cancelled. Personally I think we should give Australia it’s independence, before it’s too late & votes to go it alone, as long as we can all get Aussie Passports as part of the deal.

House prices boomed until late June 2000, then overnight nothing was selling – the boom had been so spectacular that it moved the entry point in to the market beyond the reach of first time buyers. Today nothing or should I say very little under 250K is fetching the window price. The top end (500K +) of the Market is still strong but not the bottom end of the Market. I’ve had my eye on a house since last September - £ 229k ($350,000.00) was just out of range, the same house is now open to offers in the 159k range ($230,000.00). I think I can be safe in saying that a £70k / $ 120k drop in price is indicative that whatever the Bank of England is spinning consumer confidence is on the slide. A flat in my block sold for £50K more last June, than the best offer I’ve had since mine went on the market in July! Much the same realism has been brought to bare in the dot com market, the bust stories now coming as thick and fast as tales of overnight e-millionaires did last year. Last years is this year’s, can’t be long before we here of a This month’s editorial pointed to the fact that all the dot-comers, have gone travelling to lick their wounds, how many bankers will follow their route? So many banks have or are involved in mergers that it can’t long before the serious staff pruning begins; still there won’t be many weeping over a spring cull of bankers.

Did anyone catch the start of Channel 4's excellent series Kumbh Mela, which will follow the progress of the anticipated crowds of over 70 million (yes that figure is correct) at this years festival by the same name in India through out January. I found the first program surprisingly and profoundly moving, just to witness, even from the comfort of a living room, humanity on such a scale was awe inspiring. The thought that at the end of this month on one given day these images will be beamed into my living room as 70 million souls endeavor to cleanse their souls en masse in the river Ganges, in the greatest act of devotion the earth has witnessed is quite irresistible. I’m sure a few micro-biologists will be taking note too – I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist that that many people bathing together must provide a fantastic opportunity for all manner of new bugs to be created. If you’re off to the ‘Kumbh’ have a fantastic time, just one piece of advice, probably best to stay up-stream when bathing!

Moving on to money matters, which is not something the Hindu holy men at the Kumbh worry about, has Alan Greenspan read the market right? Is half a percent an over reaction or not enough? Is a large American bank in big trouble? These are the questions we will soon need answers to. Rumour has it and it is only speculation, that a large American bank is over-stretched to the tune of £500 billion in the Markets, but this is only one possible reason being put forward as for Greenspan’s swift action. On the plus side I was cheered to read that Exxon (of Valdez fame) has gone into partnership with Toyota to produce fuel-cell cars – it’s a step in the right direction, at least or should that be at last? If you want more good-news then you need to buy the Good News Times, go on give it a try in 2001 – your going to need it!

© David Rutherford 2001

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