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Voice from the Back

"Planets rule capitalism"
Astrologers have come up with an alternative explanation for the latest market losses: the solar eclipse. According to Jane Bowles, a financial astrologer, eclipses are often associated with share losses—the 1987 crash occurred just 12 days after an eclipse. Ms Bowles, writing with co-author Graham Bates, predicted in 1994 that this August would prove difficult for investors. She said: "This eclipse promises to be one of the worst of the century." Times, 11 August.

Nice work!
Union bosses have clocked on for record salaries after inflation-busting wage rises of more than five times those won for their members. The biggest pay rise went to Derek Hodgson, hard-Left leader of the Communication Workers Union representing postal and telephone workers. His pay and perks package rocketed by nearly 30 percent to £92,000, compared with an average 4.5 percent increase for most workers. Hodgson was closely followed by Lew Adams, outgoing chief of rail union ASLEF, who received a 23 percent rise. Adams, who was ousted by a member of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, saw his basic wage rise from £52,980 to £65,073. Pension and perks bumped the package to £105,489. The increases are revealed in figures compiled and realised by the Certification Office, which regulates trade unions. Mail on Sunday, 18 July.

Life in the capitalist class
Her monthly florist's bills are more than $5,000 alone. And her frock habit is legendary: she is the one who is said to have paid £350,000 for a single outfit from Chanel. But who's counting when your jewellery collection includes a single 30.34 carat diamond worth more than $2 million? Observer Magazine, 8 August.

Life on the scrap heap
Last winter, 20,000 older people died from cold-related illnesses—with adequate insulation in their homes many of them would have lived. Even the mildest winters can be lethal to vulnerable older people. As soon as the temperature drops, many have to choose whether to keep their heating on—or eat. They simply can't afford to do both . . . Elsie's home is so poorly insulated that heating it adequately is almost impossible-—and certainly more than her pension allows for. "I'm frightened to put my heating on for very long because I'm on Income Support. When it gets really cold I stay in bed to keep warm." With your help, we can insulate homes like Elsie's to make them more energy efficient and reduce fuel bills. Leaflet from Help the Aged and Scottish Gas.

Feudalism lives on
There are tens of thousands of bonded labourers living in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, despite a 1992 law outlawing the practice, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The group has freed 7,500 people since 1995, when it started raids on plantations so remote that few people ever venture there . . . A video the group secretly made in 1996 shows dozens of male labourers in leg irons, while at work cutting cane on a farm near Hyderabad. The group estimates that there are roughly 50,000 bonded labourers in Southern Sindh. Most are low-caste Hindus from the nearby Thar Desert, a group that remained in the area when Britain's Indian colony split in 1947 into primarily Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Because most labourers come from traditional nomadic communities and are illiterate, they are helpless to defend their rights. Boston Sunday Globe, 18 July.

Owing space
News that the private company SpaceDev plans to claim the near-Earth asteroid Nereus as its own property is an exciting boost for the belief that the Solar System will be colonised by private industry. Space-Dev's chief executive, James Benson, doesn't know whether his proposed take-over of Nereus will prove legal, but nobody else does either. Space treaties prohibit nations from owning celestial bodies, but say nothing about private companies . . . industrial chemists in space will be able to make and sell virtually anything. They will create a trading economy that will be entirely self-sufficient. But since it will require very long term investment—although there will be short term profits—there will be no room up there for terrestrial politicians with their five-year attention span. In space, the capitalist will be king. Astronomy Now, 11 August.

New Labour copies Old Labour
In an unusually direct intervention, Mr Howarth said the government "fully supports the employers", regards fire-fighters conditions as "outmoded and unjustified" and believes strike action would be a "relic of an old and discredited confrontational approach to industrial relations". Tony Blair is understood to have discussed proposals by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, for the government to outlaw industrial action in the fire service and impose binding arbitration, but decided not to act until a national strike is called . . . And with a shortage of military fire engines and the armed forces overstretched in the Balkans, ministers have been warned against being drawn into a showdown with a popular group of public service workers. Guardian, 7 August.