Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

MMQQ 1

For next posting see note at end

This issue: Reader’s letters; Tech news; Linguistic corner; Sale of Scotland; Traffic; Question; Plaudit; A resistible ‘correction’.

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Reader’s letter (translated from German by Baron Philipp – see endnote – and describing itself as anonymous although signed J.G.What the hell is going on in big power relations at present?  Anyone with the intelligence of a New Caledonian crow who pays even the slightest attention to stuff on the media beyond the ‘sports news’ (i.e. football managers conjuring tedium out of platitudes) and ‘celebrity’ gossip (e.g. poor Charles has no hope of sitting on that throne unless he starts a crash programme of celebrity island stunts and ‘daring’ Chippendale-style shows on prime time tv), anyone, in fact, who is even able to read cannot avoid seeing that international big power competition now takes two main forms, often largely independent of each other and indeed sometimes operating out of sync within any one country.  One is old-style military violence with bullets, bombs, tanks and missiles; the other, still alas in an appalling infancy, is learning fast ever more fiendish ways to tweak the circuits of other nations’ financial, administrative and electoral networks to ever more damaging effect.  In both these modes of confrontation exponents don unnatural personalities, assert and maybe honestly believe that once ‘our’ side overcomes ‘them’ (working with the terrible flaw incorporated into the design when the mammal was developed) everything will be tickety-boo from then on, and all will be peace and prosperity under the winners (by definition ‘our’ side) with trouble-free continuation of climate change and exploitation of the Earth’s resources. To put it delicately, that risks species extinction, of the human species (and others).  Unfortunately, whoever you are, there is absolutely nothing that you can do to prevent matters proceeding along this path all the way to Armageddon or the final devastating solar flare.  So it is purely as a matter of interest to ask why the west is making such vehement efforts to rouse the populations to hostility towards the Soviet Union (apologies – I mean Russia), and more particularly why they are playing up the traditional military violence approach?  Now, the Reds are doubtless devising exotic new ways to reshape the back alleys of cyberspace that the west has not yet thought of, and of course, like all good citizens I know our side would never stoop to anything underhand, however much of a self-imposed handicap that might be.  But please can we have a little realism about our officially held views.  The military violence threat in 2017 (in Europe in particular) carries all the conviction of a ‘living dodo discovery’, even if you leave entirely out of account the west’s massive dissuasive capacities.  Evidence is visible all around like smartphones in the underground and has been for decades.  Just look at a map showing positions of western forces and Soviet forces in Europe in 1989 and today.  So if you want to put your case shouldn’t it be a little more convincing?  There are various reasons why people may loudly insist on their stated position.  If you are Theresa May, you believe that it conveys an impression of strength to the dimmer elements of the electorate; others, not only in Washington, work on the principle that if you make a big enough noise about one thing the populace will stop thinking about other less convenient things. Many politicians from long before Goebbels have thought that if you shout something often enough loud enough people will start to believe it; a few seem to suppose it can actually become true (Editor; was he thinking of Brexit here?).  It is only a few scoundrelly reactionaries who take loud shouting as a sign that you’re being economical with the truth (but they’re often right).  So please – if you have that urge to paint an interesting picture – a little realism (unless you are actually trying to weaken ‘our’ case.   ?)

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Tech news  A Californian start-up is threatened with being wound-up just three months after it had been valued for a possible takeover at $450mn.  The company manufactures nanochips to be implanted in the cheeks of air hostesses, hotel staff and others in the greeting industry, such as politicians in the election season.  The nanochips are designed to stimulate the muscles required to produce a smile even when this has to override contrary signals from the brain.  The signal can be set to run continuously facilitating a smile every three seconds or operated  automatically by a timing device, but more usually it is under the control of a local supervisor.

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Linguistic corner ideomass; once let that word escape into the wild and you’ll have a huge job to recapture it, even throwing all your thought police into it.  It ought to mean the value or effectiveness of a given idea, however acquired;  but in practice is most often measured by the total number of tweets or retweets recorded as supporting this or that currently fashionable sentiment.

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Sale of Scotland  On his flying visit Baron von Hollenberg told us that active moves to sell Scotland are being considered in not one but several quarters.  There is said to be vigorous interest, but predictably there seems widespread divergence of views on who pays the bill and who receives the cash, and also, though to a lesser extent, on the status of Scotland after any successful sale.  Naturally there is considerable enthusiasm in Scotland herself, though a difficulty is that the Scots seem to generally assume that after sale the nation would control her own destiny, and that is not likely to be easily agreed with any purchaser unless that purchaser succeeds in persuading the present management, Whitehall, to that effect.  Some pundits believe that Whitehall’s negotiating skills could allow this to happen, but others are uncertain.  Enthusiasm for a sale is even higher in England, especially in view of the oncoming government budget crisis; a sale if concluded in time could forestall a possible appeal, not yet revealed to the public, to the IMF for help (and rescue the career of the unfortunate Chancellor).  However other parties too may enter the fray.  The EU is said to be considering an offer to purchase at a price of €1 but on extraordinarily generous terms, accepting Scotland in lieu of the remaining sum owed to Whitehall for Brexit (estimated at €90bn) and allowing Scotland thereafter to function as a fully independent state under the tutelage of and paying dues set by an ad hoc committee headed by Jeroen Dijsselbloem.  Even further afield, there were enquiries from, among others, a major real estate investor in the US, though it is understood these came to nothing once it was made clear to him that even after a successful purchase it would not be feasible to relocate Scotland to a North American site (tentatively identified as ‘Kilt Country’ in Nevada).

As Editor I must declare that this journal will watch any such development like a hawk, as we may have already established certain moral rights in such a process.  Note, for example this posting from 15 January 2012:

Some have suggested that one solution to current difficulties would be to sell Greece to the Chinese.  However this is not possible since Greece is a sovereign nation.  Scotland, however, offers no such obstacle and London is the obvious recipient of the proceeds.  (There is little doubt that the Chinese would snap up the chance to acquire a large warehousing and manufacturing site located conveniently in the North Atlantic between the American and European markets, where the workforce have an aversion to wasting money that rivals that of the Chinese masses, and where, moreover, there would be some obvious immediate savings in costs, eg abolishing at a stroke all the expensive apparatus of a government and elections with competing parties.)  If, however, the Chinese are too busy with their acquisitions in Africa, there may still be a chance of turning a useful profit by offloading Scotland to a management buyout, if those at present running the place can parlay their traditional claim of prudent handling of money into enough external investment into the venture.

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Reader’s letter from D.P.V of Kingsteignton, evidently reacting to our piece last time about urban congestion (complete letter, as received):

Dear Editor

Road building program =                      more cars

Urban regeneration  =                           more cars

Upgrading infrastructure =                   more cars

Increasing prosperity =                         more cars

Technical progress =                             more cars

Economic investment =                        more cars

Public/private partnership for transport =  more cars

Speculation by hedge funds =              more cars

Yours in dismay

D.P.V.

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Question of the posting : Would it be correct to assume that all inhabitants of the USA who campaign for the expulsion of immigrants are always themselves native Americans?  Answer: Not quite – it would be politically correct, but a counterfactual assumption.

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Plaudit of the posting Let us praise the admirable boldness – or is it reality-defying imagination? – of those senior academic administrators who threaten that if an ignorant rabble continues to complain about the size of their ‘compensation’ (Ed: are you sure this is the right word?)  they will be lost to the country since they will emigrate to some other more generous state which will welcome them as they impress the astounded élites of that new host nation with their Vice-Chancelling skills at more elevated salary levels.

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No correction (on lie detection)  Two querulous malcontents attempted to find fault with one of the items in the previous posting, and the Editor does accept (following the insistence of our patroness, without whom this journal would not have its head above financial water) that reducing the number of words posted to below 2,000 led to a slight lack of clarity.  The intention was to state that current results from human assessment are likely to be improved thanks to advances based on refinement of techniques for extracting data from visual images.  Every tech-savvy schoolkid can manage mere facial recognition now (with interesting results on the number of last-minute bookings on flights to countries having no extradition agreements with nations in Europe) but these advances promise tabloid-headline speculations about the emotional and physical reactions of certain highly respected politicians presenting the prizes at Girls’ Schools swimming galas.)

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Editorial note: As scheduled, Baron Philipp picked me up from Back Field and a couple of hours later we crossed the southern English coast, with the Baron (piloting the craft himself) supremely indifferent about the risk of being greeted by a posse of tax inspectors.  “If they know I’m coming they won’t be there.  If they’re there they’ll learn who I am.  Five minutes, settled!” Indeed two hours later he and Lady W had everything wrapped up between them.  Total agreement that the Purple Parakeet in Shepton Mallet was the best place for lunch, and total agreement all round about journal practice.  Crisis not my fault,  Lack of interns and permanent staff a natural result of geography and meteorology; balanced by great benefit of being outside social media banality and most official and covert censorship zones. London contributors excellent but irregular. A few changes desirable, given that attention span and background knowledge of modern readers comparable with capacity of adolescent grasshopper. I should steer to greater percentage of small ‘faits divers’ and cut down on pieces with 500+ words. And adopt new title.  Support for further year promised.   Most welcome; the two of them represent almost the whole of our practical support, despite all the congratulatory e-mails and messages of goodwill.  Perhaps the journal’s best day ever, though I have reservations about the new title.  The first half, MM (Mid-monthly) needs no quibble, but I prefer to keep the QQ as initials until I’ve had more time to think about that.

Future postings scheduled for the 16th of each month except 15th for February

 

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Traffic of effluence

 Please note: the next issue of this journal (re-named) is scheduled for mid-month, 16-11-2017.

More news from the redoubtable Monty Skew (one of the best-informed men in London) though he explains that with things increasingly fraught over there it is not the right time to offer this journal another of his scintillating appraisals.  However with his permission I quote the following. from his message.   

Some of the proposals in the now infamous little black books circulating in the corridors of powerlessness, inciting suggestions to be posted anonymously on what to do as national bankruptcy bears down, border  on the imaginative even if many are physiologically impossible .  You will understand I cannot go into e-mailed details at present, though as the government’s ‘authority’ slides ever further past the S-bend I may take the chance in a month or so, or after a prime ministerial resignation, whichever is the sooner.  But I happened to see Hunt (a.k.a ‘the man with the predictable nickname’) striding along Whitehall a couple of days ago bouncing as usual over impediments whether they were there or not.  I put his jaunty air down to his innate ebullience which as you know has often had major obstacles cowering behind their stethoscopes, but it is rumoured that he has a plan.  He is going to solve the NHS crises at a stroke, in effect by abolishing patients, or at least eliminating the surplus of patients over and above the quantity which the NHS can handle while remaining true to its admirable principles of free treatment of those in need (provided of course that they provide satisfactory evidence of holding British nationality.)  His plan has the simplicity of genius, and can be summed up as ‘one-out, one-in’.   It will hold good both for GP surgeries and NHS hospitals.  For instance if a would-be patient arrives at an A&E entry point when that ‘facility’ has already reached its manageable quota of patients he or she must wait their turn until another patient emerges, discharged (or possibly thrown out in the case of troublesome characters), thus keeping pressure on the dedicated staff inside to the level deemed acceptable by the authorities.  Among the scheme’s  other advantages it is anticipated that local businesses could establish ‘extramural’ amenities, manned by volunteers, providing refreshments and other services for those waiting outside, thus developing an additional revenue stream for hospitals…

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Commentary. Kevin De Wong (Thessaloniki): In grandfather’s time the reasons for wanting to buy a car if you could were obvious.  Today, the fact that most city inhabitants still want one more car than their household already owns is striking evidence that societies change collective ideas (such as  hereditary enmity for at least one other nation) infinitely more slowly than the well-known supertanker can change direction.fn   It is obvious by now to all except most of the world’s urban population that the urge to buy a motor vehicle is not merely a major factor boosting GDP (as desired by governments) and personal debt (as ignored by citizens), but also good evidence of mental disorder (partly induced by raised levels of toxins in the bloodstream through living in a fog of air pollution).  Victims cannot form realistic estimates of (1) total cost of acquisition, including ‘optional extras’ e.g. spare tyre, licence fees, insurance costs, ‘special low-cost’ introductory membership of ‘prestigious’ car owners’ club, costs of celebratory night out ‘to give our new car a run’; (2) maintenance costs (continuing licence fees, continuing insurance, replacement tyres, visits to Auntie Maud ‘now we’ve got the car’, servicing, repairs, congestion charges, rapidly rising fees for membership of prestigious car owners’ club, penalties for traffic offences, cost of release from clamped vehicle pounds, medical expenses (after road rage incidents), costs of visits to distant prisons (in case of serious traffic offences); and (3) damage to mental health and family stability from everything covered by the above eighteen headings, plus worry about theft of vehicle or contents or parts, plus associated paperwork, demanded by ‘authorities’, all multiplied by incorrectly prepared paperwork to or from aforesaid ‘authorities’.  This leads to the dawning realisation, while stuck in the daily traffic jam, that changes in travel time were substantial, as anticipated, but negative.  You have here more than one ordinary problem with less than one realistic solution (short of extinction of the human race).  All this could be a serious drag on motor car sales.  But once it’s decided that the big problem with cars is the pollution then the obvious answer is to junk the polluting cars, speed to the showrooms, and shell out for an electric vehicle.  The manufacturers regretfully point out these will inevitably cost considerably more than corresponding vehicles currently marketed – but, you see, the big advantage is they are green (like many drivers) and emit zero pollution (unlike the power stations which produce the electricity.)  Somehow, though, I still have questions, such as who is going to generate the electricity, and how, and how much are they going to charge whom for it?  (Outsourcing production to, let’s say, Kalgovia where they have excellent coal-fired power stations does not necessarily lead to cheaper power in the UK.)  Moreover, at present the millions of transactions that keep society going depend on tens of thousands of people making individual journeys as required, not on a giant network vulnerable to lightning strikes at crucial points, or sabotage, or a solar flare, or machinations of some enemy state doing things on the internet that decent honest nations like our own never dream of doing (Ed: Why not?  Surely it’s their duty to get in first?).  If you want an example of how things are when a nationwide network fails, just look at Porto Rico many weeks now after the hurricane.  But let’s be fair.  (Editor’s note: Why?)  Let’s have that campaign to reduce air pollution, ban all petrol and diesel vehicles. Everything will now be hunky-dory, right?  Well, my careful  observations over the years reveal that when official action to deal with a problem finally rises from its comfortable armchair and sets to work there are just three possible outcomes: (1) progress, but not enough (though the consultants do pretty well);  (2) the problem gets worse;  (3) the problem is solved, but another one rises up in its place.  (Think ‘cane toad’.)  Meanwhile look carefully and you’ll see that we have failed to deal with any of the twenty-one car ownership headaches listed above.  (And I’d be prepared to bet air pollution is far from beaten.)  But now it becomes clear that what you really need to get to grips with is traffic congestion, too many people in cars in too little space.  Certainly, human beings tend to congregate in large groups, but it’s bizarre to assume that a city centre crowd exists because those in it set off that morning to be part of a crowd.  Some may have similar purposes, but that’s utterly different from having crowd membership as your goal.  Writers have long declared the human to be a social animal.  They should get out of the study and down to the beach.  Even on a busy day, the humans almost never aggregate into large groups.  They form parties of between two and about fifteen, normally well separated. (Compare the chimp; contrast the sea lion.)  In large herds humans have always been dangerous for other beasts (think ‘megafauna extinctions’, not to mention the dodo, et al, et al) and indeed for other humans.  (Cue photographs ad lib of close-combat warfare intercut with gigantic military parades.)  Even if large numbers do gather for a common purpose – a football match, perhaps – before long they find something to disagree about  (the fundamental flaw of the much vaunted parliamentary system).  Disagreement leads to quarrels, which given enough time and numbers end in war.  This age-old hostility to groups of ‘others’ is galvanised when thousands of motorists drive to the city for their separate purposes in cars sold to them as offering bird-like freedom, and find themselves blocked by the sheer numbers of other motor vehicles.  They slowly inch along past the overpriced idiocies of the consumerist state, not even allowed to simply leave their car and proceed on foot.  When at last they reach their destination, if they ever do, friends to be met have given up and left, all tickets to be bought have been sold, all restaurant tables are fully booked.  And as it gets dark muggers re-appear in the side alleys.

fn In the equally well-known and equally fatuous analogy the supertanker displaces a volume of seawater equivalent to ‘about 42,638,016½  Olympic swimming pools’.

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We were onto this years ago.  From this outlet in an earlier format (‘Esmond Maguire’, isbn 978-616-90476-1-2 publ.2010 :

        Wouldn’t it be splendid if we could replace all the traffic in our cities by human beings moving about under their own steam?  ‘Aha,’ you cry ‘there is no obstacle of principle as things are now; look at the cyclists.  The reason it doesn’t happen’  you continue, ‘is because most people aren’t idiots enough to do it.’  But the reason they don’t want to do it is that all the other traffic is still there.  What if everybody was moving about completely unmotorised?  To which you are no doubt already objecting that this is ridiculous since journey times would be preposterously slow.  Ah, but would they?

        I have been reading ‘A complete history of the stilt’ put out by some professor working in his candle-lit cell, and it seems that while we think of stilts nowadays as just a turn in the circus, in the past they have been worn in all seriousness for practical use in many countries.  For instance, in the cold winters in the 1700s the Swedes used them with snowshoe attachments to cross country covered with lots of snowdrifts.  And in the Landes region of France right up to the 1950s the peasants used to travel about on stilts a yard and more high (the book has photographs to prove it), and the really good part is they were able to move as fast as a cantering horse (and without the associated smell) –  a damn sight faster than you can get round the centre of most cities these days.  Don’t forget, with all the motorised traffic out of the way you have the whole width of the road to play with.  Picture to yourself Oxford Street packed wall to wall with nine-foot high pedestrians whizzing up one side and down the other!  No disgusting air pollution and a wonderful attraction for tourists.

      I grant you would need somebody keeping things in order.  Stilted police!  Trained within an inch of their lives till they can do the tango on stilts, and there’s no reason why the unit should only consist of men. Think of it – ‘The police specialist stilt-mounted company presents an evening of tango at Covent Garden’ and what that would do for relations between the public and the police!  And during duty hours they’ll be mounted on stilts a foot longer than anyone else, to give them a view over the crowds and an extra burst of speed.  I’m going to send you the designs.

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Tech note: At present lie detection by machines using electronic sensors is not as reliable as facial and kinesthetic diagnosis by experienced humans, which averages about 75%.  But reports suggest the latter may soon be combined with fresh advances in the first method.  Interesting questions may then arise when it is applied to people featured in historical newsreels, or – why not? –  up-to-date newsreels from the USA.

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This journal has a fine record with predictions.  You may soon have a chance to see its current form, starting from this pair, published 14-12-2015:

Prediction of the week: When the Fed puts up interest rates, banks and bankers will become much richer; with rare exceptions, everyone else will become poorer

Guess of the week: When that happens, economic commentators will describe it as ‘baffling’ and ‘unexpected’.

 

Supplement

Renaming issue deferred to 31-10-2017

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I believe I belong to a minority group.  I found a message from Microsoft on my computer saying my version of Windows was not genuine so I sat in front of my computer, debit card ready to buy a genuine  version.  I’m told this is not altogether usual in the country where I live..  After 30+ minutes, I gave up, unable to find comprehensible instructions on how to do it..  This scenario has since been repeated three times except the time wasted was longer.  The reasons seem related to the difficulties of Rosa (whose letter was mentioned in the posting submitted 30th September), so I’ll start by quoting her account of one bad session.  Rosa is not stupid.  (She got a first, in psychology, in the days when a first was a first.)  But for twenty years she had hardly even seen a computer, helping her husband run a mountain farm in Wales.  A year ago the marriage ended.  On getting divorced she moved to remotest Australia (on a fifteen-month contract to study ‘Coriolis effects in sand dune formation’).  Friends assured her that thanks to modern computer communication and the social media she’d still be close to her social circle and in regular contact through the computer which she was allocated for her reports on latest developments in sand dunes.  Those friends were wrong.  Rosa now is close to a serious nervous breakdown.  After an interview which ‘went wrong’ she was invited to check in to a facility in Ceduna.  Her biggest problem is not the isolation, nor the temperatures, nor the behaviour of the neighbours, nor even alarming beasts in the natural environment. She is ‘on the edge’ because of computerese. Her own  description of one recent episode, the only time, she says, she managed to make herself take notes after a battle with the electronic alien:

I turned the ****** thing on and straight away this message came up.  It said ‘Email hack: Hyperlink your selected text  by pressing [Ctrl+K] then posting a link’.  So someone’s been hacking my e-mail (?).  But has that left a virus in the bloody machine?  This Hyperlink is a way to wipe out that virus? If it’s not for that, what is it?  But that doesn’t tell me what selected text I have to do something to (nor how to do it either).  Anyway that’s crap because I haven’t even got any text to be selected, because I haven’t even been able to get started yet.  Or is this how to get started?  Or is it just an option?  If it is and I try it what happens?  If I don’t do anything, will it just start in normal mode, and how long would I have to wait.  Anyway whats the difference between a hyperlink and an ordinary link?  I guess it must be a way of joining two – whats?  And what sort of join?  Suppose I find a way to ‘hyperlink’ something and do it and don’t like the result can I change it?  Will I be prosecuted if something I do interferes with somebody else’s files?  Also, how do you post a link (if you have worked out what that is); is ordinary post alright or does it have to be e-mail (or does it have to not be e-mail?  Also who would you post it to?  No clue.  Just guessing, I think a link must be an address like you put in that bar at the top but am I supposed to find it, or invent it?  If ‘find it’, where?  (And in that case how can I post it?)  Or do I have to invent it?  ******** ******

I don’t claim to have had so much trouble, but have had plenty of chances to make notes of my own on the war between human and computer over the years.  (E.g. 1-13 below.)  I’ve been writing (under various names) and editing books since 1990, always using computers (and standard English, and by the way my career included three years leading a major semantics course in one of the world’s leading universities).  Over the years I have watched, amazed, the inability of the average computer, despite all its vaunted computational intelligence, to reach halfway decent understandability in natural English, the language most widely attempted around the world.  This is no clash between two different languages.  Computerese is not a language, but what is properly called a jargon, based on existing language but with a high proportion of words for items or processes or relations belonging to a field of special activities, which express ideas or items which didn’t exist before those special activities started.  Sharing the new words makes their users feel part of a special group superior to people who don’t know them.(a little like Russian aristocrats speaking French before 1917) (and cf Linux).  All this is more or less normally human.  However, ‘computer stuff’ has got so big so fast affecting so many aspects of normal life, that many people want, and some need, to know how to play with these meanings (and perhaps do profitable business with them).  This is where things get awkward.  There are various reasons why potential customers may not understand the new items.  (1) They may be too stupid to understand the processes or items they refer to.  (Explanation popular with some geeks.)  (2) Because the field has got so big so fast specialists on different sites may use quite different words for essentially the same thing.  Or (obviously less often) the converse. Those two factors apply whether you are borrowing or inventing new terms.  But don’t leave it to the users to guess.  Don’t forget the default assumption of most readers will be that the word means what it looks like in ordinary English.  E.g. I’m wondering if Microsoft thinks ‘resolve’ means ‘pay’.  This is not its normal use in normal English.  (3) Much that appears on screen has to be made as short as possible.  Don’t overdo it.

Suggestions to offer your computer programmer with TLC: whether borrowing from existing language or inventing, don’t try too hard to sound impressive, or cutesy; try not to borrow from a local slang or dialect (e.g. econospeak) which may be unknown to 80% of your potential customers. (Remember the nation with the largest number of fluent English speakers is India with 400 million and still counting.)  Don’t abbreviate beyond intelligibility (an issue which interacts hugely with the others)Try to stay in touch with real language well written.  (Jane Austen would actually be more use than certain exhibitionist smart-arse modern novelists.)

            None of all this matters too much if those in difficulty can get help, which can all too seldom be done through computer help files.  But it’s often quite easy if you can add human help.  (I’ve attended eight computer courses since 1990; every time the only useful aspect was that I was able to put specific questions to experts face-to-face and get comprehensible answers.)  To be fair to computers which have recently left me baffled, my own case is unusual.  I moved some years ago to a city in a country with a good supply of people prepared to do computer business, a smaller proportion who can do so with competence, and a great shortage of people able to explain clearly what they are doing in language that I can understand.)

1]  Back in the early days it started with quite simple attempts by Computers and their  programmes to unhorse greenhorn computer users.  E.g. Computer: ‘Disable BIOS memory’.  Self: ‘Why? What is it? How can it be disabled? What happens if it doesn’t get disabled?’  Etc.  Later things got more serious.

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2]  Computer: ‘an event was unable to involve any of the subscribers’ (re attempt to download incoming file.).  Self: ‘What was that ‘event’?  Why wasn’t I invited, or if I was why didn’t I receive the invitation?  Is my computer going to do anything about it?   ‘Why should I care if those subscribers stayed stumm?  Who are they anyway?  How much do they pay and what do they get in return?  Is it legal?

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3]  There seem to be many recondite possibilities after clicking a ‘Contact us’ lozenge on the site of a popular operating system.  Finding yourself in an unproductive repeating loop is one, and encountering what seems surreal irrelevance is another.  Two examples of the latter (and I am not making these up):

     A} ‘The preceding expression [sic, no expression visible on screen] assigns ranks 1 through 4 to four different titles, and assigns rank 5 to all others.  When you perform the sort [what sort?], assume that the Employees table [?] refers to more than 50 different’

            Message apparently cut short there

     B}  ‘Please do not read this sentence.  Please ignore the previous sentence’  [sic as given here]

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4]  Computer: ‘Do you want to save this file?’ Self clicks to say ‘yes’.  Result: steady black information-free screen, no indication as to what, if anything, to do next.  Perhaps part of an early attempt at a zen operating system?

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5]  Incoming message after expected progression fails: ‘Audit your server permissions’

            Reaction level (1) Why?

            Reaction level (2) How?  and Who/What?  I.e. Who is my server?  How do I find her, him or it?  And, if I can find them, would those be his, her, or its permissions to my computer to do things, or for persons or programmes unknown to do things to my computer?  What do I do if it, she or he refuses to play ball and negotiate about the distribution of permissions?  Residual worry, since ‘Audit’ seems unlikely to mean ‘audit’ in any sense hitherto known to the English language (we are after all dealing with computer ‘science’ – some might say ‘the secret code system of a private dialect only distantly related to English’) the same probably goes for ‘permissions’.  What might that mean?  Payment of subscription?   Passwords for locked files?  Anti-virus security measures?

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6]  After printing a good deal of material, and having changed neither the equipment nor the configuration , Self is informed by the computer that it had no driver for the printer being used.  Computer reported Windows online as declaring that it could not find a compatible driver.  On the website of the printer’s manufacturer Self found the driver needed.   Then tried to return to the document to be printed.  Programme now slammed in Self’s face, giving message ‘locked for use by another user’  (Other user non-existent.) Yet Self somehow succeeded in returning to document, tried to print it.  Failure. Printer still marked ‘no driver’.

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7]  Self asks Computer to uninstall a programme; Computer silently declines; instead updates a different programme

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8]  Computer: ‘the procedure entry point GetLogicalProcessorInformation could not be located in the dynamic link library’.  Self, thinking:  What is a link library?  What makes it dynamic (if it really is)?  What is a procedure entry point (maybe just an entry point?)  If Computer cannot get in that way why doesn’t  it try a different entry point?  (To Computer) Why were you trying to go there anyway?  (Suspicion that something here is not as dynamic as it’s cracked up to be.)

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9]  Message from anti-virus site:  ‘Choose the program you want to open this file’ {14 to choose from;  Self has no idea which of them might work, which should be avoided like the plague, and what in any case might happen next.  No instructions or help offered.}  Perhaps by chance the choice succeeds, produces message ‘Instructions on how to proceed by e-mail.’  E-mail from the site does indeed arrive but consists solely of two (why?) copies of the last receipt for money paid to the company.

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10]  On trying to open a dowload, presented with choice between ‘Open Inside’ and ‘ Open Outside’  No indication of whether one choice is ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’.  No indication  of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ relative to what.  Nor of benefits or penalties imposed by Computer depending on choice made.

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11]  Computer informs Self it is to undertake programme compatibility procedure.  This is only slightly irritating – if  a conductor says he must check everyone’s ticket before the train sets off for  the next station you may sigh but accept..  (But Self got no reason why it might be needed.)  Trouble sets in at next step, with arrival of message ‘The program requires additional permissions’.  To do what?  From whom?  How does one get permissions?

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12]  From Microsoft: ‘Move this window onto the display you want to calibrate’  Easy to understand –  if you already know what it means.  This tends to keep expertise satisfactorily in-house.  (Presumably it spreads from to person by direct demonstration of what is actually done, these words being mere verbal accompaniment,.like background music in a film.  But if you don’t happen to have a competent and comprehensible demonstrator within hailing distance it’s as meaningful as  e.g. ‘Trace the foreside onto the pattern by disconnecting  the interstices.’

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13]  Presumably this bit got put in as light relief in the battle against the ‘outsiders’ still resisting on the human side of the human/computer war.  Message on screen: ‘cannot open this document’.  Waited uncertain what to do next for about 40 seconds.  Then, (probably giggling to itself ‘Only joking’) it opened spontaneously with no additional move or input.

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Thirteen seems about the right number of examples to offer in this sort of context.  But on account of its elegant artistry let’s throw in this finely crafted sequence:

(0) ‘Computer is not secure – you have a problem’

(1) ‘To fix the problem you should update now’

(2) Self clicks to update

(3) Computer:‘No updates possible’  (And a sound like stifled mocking laughter)

 

What is real education worth?

Next regular posting for 31-10-2017; but nb supplementary post 3-10-2017

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Editorial notes: (1) Urgent need of an intern continues.  (See ad in previous posting).  May have to warn Lady W and Chinese friends of risk of journal suspending publication.  Cannot expect a man of my seniority to do all my own office business.  (2) In the short term, glad to welcome another piece from tried-and-trusted Berthold, as well as an unexpected gift (unfortunately useless so far) from Simon’s mother, returned from trip to Belgium.  She had bought a device, advertised as a ‘boorebot’ said to automatically produce ‘Thoughts of the Day’ by the yard (or in her case by the metre).  The package explicitly claimed a link to our hugely respected patroness Lady W who was of course the founder of Old Boore’s Almanac© (and is still a sea-swimmer in her nineties) though I have yet to learn if they had been authorised to do so.  In the instructions it said all you have to do is set it up as if you want it to produce ‘tweets’.  I did that with the help of Kevin from the police station (who moonlights as a computer repair man), and it’s obvious to me something is not working as it should even if Kevin swears what it extrudes could be taken as perfectly normal ‘tweets’.  As a possible guide to anyone contemplating purchase of such engines, here are five ‘Thoughts’ which I got from a recent run, once I’d switched it from French to English.  To me they’re not unpleasant  enough to be tweets though they do suggest mental derangement (attempted poetry?).  But actually I’m not sure they’re any worse than some of the stuff in the mainstream press (which admittedly sets the bar about ankle-high)

In Arcady where lies the autumn crocodile

Celestial infancies dream indefatigable tangents

Friends of the semicolon unite

Tyre treads smirk at Fiona’s thimble

Whence the rosy footprints on my cake?

The marvels coming at us from the cutting edge of high tech progress are indeed things of wonder.  GPS implants in your very own body, free!  Free government tracking services ‘in case you get lost’ (but legal action or well placed friends may be necessary to get access to the data yourself).  In the UK, free portrait of you in a natural setting, courtesy of the police service.  Refrigerators which order fresh supplies of food and drink whether you want them or not.  Driverless cars which can convey you without effort to a place of their choice.  True, most stuff like that could be achieved by any housemaid with a couple of weeks of the right training after flying in from eastern Europe.)  But the results of tech wizardry don’t stop there – e.g. free information on 38 new video games similar to the one you bought your least favourite nephew three weeks ago.  Current contact details and helpful reminders of your passport data distributed to all your friends and others with need to know, free of charge, by a whole variety of organisations working with the internet. Privacy protocols so efficiently enforced they can lock you out of your own account.  As for the things you can find out by searching on the net, the mind boggles, wondering (a) who else might be finding them (b) whether anyone else knows that you are finding them, and (c) whether the programme to delete your search history really works.  

 These musings were prompted partly by Berthold’s piece (below) but mainly by a tear-stained letter received the day before through the cleft-stick post from one of our occasional correspondents, Rosa Tweedell fn.  That letter together with various other notes gathered over the years have been put together into a one-off supplementary posting on computerspeak, to appear 3-10-2017, which also gives a proposal for naming this journal.

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 fn currently living at 3, The Old Paddock, Toraha Creek (population 3 adults 5 children) Kevin told me when I happened to mention our need of an intern.  Aged  49, divorced, two children, currently employed on temporary contract, no right to remain in Australia after 31-12-2018, passport number PQZ 67068N992, Health Security number W428559/O/67, member of Trotskyite group 1987-89, no other criminal record.  Facsimile of her signature held at QIRS3 Canberra.

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Berthold Featherstone-Haugh Cheems writes:

Yet another ‘curriculum event’ at the Institute last Thursday to Sunday.  Just another, I suppose, in the ‘outreach’ category; that is, institutions reaching out to see if they can touch the wallets of the gullible masses who believe that going into a building with a high ceiling and uniformed porters, then listening to a man with horn-rimmed glasses and glossolalia who is introduced as a ‘leading expert on’ (almost anything), and finally buying a copy of his book on the way out will add a few microns to their intellectual stature.  I went up the outside fire escape to avoid any risk of being swept into the auditorium by the educational tide, but as I struggled past the lifts I heard this closely argued exchange, verbatim: “Every kid should learn how computers work.”  “Yeah, every kid should learn how computers work”.

  Why, for goodness’ sake?  The answer to the question, cut back to the bare essence, is invariably along the lines of “Well, there’s a lot of computer stuff about”  (though the answer is almost always expressed at much greater length, and almost never with as much naked clarity as that.).  This is an even feebler piece of reasoning, if we can call it reasoning, than post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Its disastrous prevalence in modern life is such that it needs a name.  (How about Proof by social media?)  The distortions of society in which it plays a part – electoral democracy is but one – are so serious it is a wonder to see it considered to have any relevance to school curricula: ‘There’s a lot of ‘X’ about’ so we should thrust courses about ‘X’ into anyone who can be ordered or tricked into receiving them’?  Bunkum.  Would you like to try it out with other subjects?  ‘There’s a lot of pornography about’.  If heads of school take that approach how are they going to deal with the mobs of parents howling for morality (however incongruously in many cases) at the gates.  (Anyway as my mother used to tell me, you don’t need courses on pornography if your imagination is in good working order, and if it isn’t, merely puttering along like an electric bicycle, why let anyone stir up trouble for you?)  ‘There’s a lot of weather about’.  Are we going to have courses on meteorology for Third Year students?  “Aha!” the professional objector will say, “That’s different.  There’s nothing much we could do about the weather even if every schoolchild learned all about it, so there’s no point having the courses.”  Actually I think one of the premises may have collapsed there (foundations washed away by a storm surge perhaps).  The word coming out of good class meteorology centres round the world is that we have been doing a great deal to modify the weather over the past 40 years, and the sooner victims of the recent hurricanes get some top-class American lawyers writing letters to various governments demanding compensation in trillions, the better for a great many of the unconsidered ‘little people’.  But I don’t intend to be dogmatic about this.  In some subject areas the right course of the right length presented in the right way could do some good, and that could include courses about girls – there are after all a lot of girls about – presented in such boys-only schools as still blot the educational landscape.  What is obvious to all except those who put on mental blinkers with their underpants in the morning is that the overlap between what is currently taught intentionally in schools and what most students want to learn may be small but it is still far larger than the overlap between either of those great areas of human confusion and the sort of learning which for all but 2% or 3% of them will actually be useful to themselves or society at large if they make it through to adult life (maybe even to paid employment).  This more or less completely rules out of the curriculum courses about how computers work, just as it rules out courses on how cars and their engines work.  What a curriculum could reasonably offer in those fields would be courses on how you can, cannot and should or should not use those devices if or when they do work.  (To lob up an easy one, which a few schools might actually keep out of their wicket: how many students are challenged to get a car out of deep mud on a moor in a rainstorm?)  But these subjects will of course only take a small fraction of the time allowed to schooling.  Specialists will learn their special skills in the best possible place, on the job.  For all the rest, let there be a realistic reappraisal discarding government-sponsored idealism, and genuinely helping them deal with the lives they may face in years to come.  I borrow, with full permission and minor adaptations, the suggestions of an excellent friend of mine fn:  ‘What is needed is a curriculum which will see you armed for situations in life which could cause real physical, psychological, or financial harm, not mere cut fingers or e-mails lacking musical animation or gender-based embarrassment.  School should teach what to do faced with an aggressive drunk or a resistant tax inspector, how to recognise a plain clothes policeman, what records to keep and what records to burn, judging the best reaction when your car is hijacked, how to make one’s excuses and leave (if caught in that kind of situation), recognition of rabies in dogs, cats, bats and travelling salesmen, how to identify oneself as harmless to soldiers of a foreign army temporarily occupying your country to restore democracy, and how to retain one’s dignity, and legal advantage, on finding one’s  spouse in bed with a stranger.’

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fn  (Les Cousins, writing in 2008)

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Gone but not forgotten

A former leader on the European political scene, Muammar Qadhafi, speaking in Rome on migration 30th August 2010  “We do not know what the reaction of white christian Europeans will be, faced with this flood of hungry, uneducated Africans.”  Well we have a much clearer idea now.

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Note from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems I see I used the word ‘hurricane’ in my little article.  I should like to point out to those whose ‘modern’ schooling has left them trying to work out pronunciations from the spelling that the proper pronunciation of this word is ‘hurrikun’, not ‘hurri-cane’.  And by the way my name – please note – is properly pronounced ‘Fanshaw-Cheems’.

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Challenge of the week. Which country was recently described by a delegate at the UN General Assembly as the most heavily armed kindergarten on the planet?

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A small far away country of which they know little?  A recent UN report (and they’re supposed to be the ones with high moral standards) said that the Saudi bombing campaign to restore democracty in Yemen was having little effect on the ground; it also included the estimate that 10,000 civilians had been killed.

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North Korea vs Donald Trump  It would be wiser not to place bets on the imminent demise of either leader in this argument.  See Berthold’s piece on the Express Exit tactic, the ‘XX play’, posted 8-5-2016

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Green – the colour of unripe governments

  1. Intern wanted               
  2. Irish border        
  3. The Guradian
  4. Political boomerangs
  5. Spermatozoa fairly straight

       Next posting scheduled for 1-10-2017


Wanted as soon as possible: new intern for this site.  Residence on the island is not necessary, and no suitable accommodation is available (and in case some might think they could rough it in picturesque squalor the dog basket was thrown out long ago).  The post is unpaid.  It follows that no office duties are asked for.  We want someone capable of independent thought and imagination, but also able to write good English (or French) and to keep reasonable control on schedules and deadlines.  Ability to translate Microsoft jargon into comprehensible English would be a prime asset.  This is a chance to put things out with your own byline.  Any age, any colour, any gender, any ethnic group.  Apply in the usual way (or direct).  Berthold F-C at the University will probably be willing to give some unbiassed advice.

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From our senior contributor Montgomery Skew

Let us give credit to the soaring imagination of the May government which has effortlessly tossed a solution to the Irish border problem into the lap of the open-mouthed EU negotiators.  Government representatives are predicting, with gritted teeth (behind a fake smile of confidence), that following Britain’s triumphal exit from the fetters of union with Europe, trade and traffic between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be able to  proceed as smoothly as before and ever more profitably.  This on the basis of masterful decisions made to take advantage of possibilities hitherto undreamt of in the efficient organisation of commerce.  Major businesses concerned with trade across the reinvigorated yet somehow frictionless frontier will register all the vehicles they will use, and pre-pay all tariffs and other charges required by British and European rules but will do so online through deductions from designated accounts.  They will inform the authorities in advance of their intention to make a shipment on each occasion, giving details of its date and contents, and thus do away with delays for inspection at the frontier, while the payment will already have been fully dealt with before the cargo reaches its destination (provided there is no computer glitch or interruption to the internet service).  Automatic number-plate recognition technology will have securely confirmed passage of the vehicle (provided there has been no unplanned problem with the transit and no jiggery-pokery with switching of plates).  Smaller local firms and their drivers will also have to be registered but will be allowed to cross without online notification and without deduction of any charges whatever.  (The unlikely event of an unauthorised driver using a locally registered vehicle to carry goods of his own choice across the ‘invisible’ frontier is to be dealt with by using facial recognition technology; drivers of all local vehicles will wind down their windows and show their faces to a camera at a pre-arranged point as they drive past.)  Officials conceded that an even more unlikely event, of an authorised driver carrying illegal substances or unauthorised persons such as refugees or escaping convicts over the frontier might in principle need to be considered at some future point, but believe that such incidents would be very rare.  They remain confident that with new advances in heat-seeking technology and other promising scientific developments this eventuality could be dealt with without difficulty, and they assure those interested that as a whole this ‘high tech’ plan for a frictionless border will satisfactorily meet all conceivable regulatory requirements (and crossing the border by any other means, such as walking across the fields by night or swimming a few miles through coastal waters towing a laden surfboard, would be made a criminal offence).  Thus virtually at a stroke the British government has discovered the way to put an end to the age-old, worldwide crime of smuggling.  London is doubtless already preparing a package demonstrating the UK’s superior know-how when it comes to sociopolitical governance, to be made available on very reasonable terms to governments around the world, possibly as part of a two-part offering also setting out the ‘Hinkley Model’, a compilation of advice on how to develop safe, cheap and non-polluting nuclear power.

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The Editor writes: In one of the more remote regions on my Mediterranean holiday I was reduced to reading old copies of the Guardian.  Always sad when a onetime sprightly defender of justice and fair play enters on the irreversible decline, All the effort they evidently put in on getting rid of the typos and the overbalancing ultra-left tirades seems to have been effort subtracted from the business of clearly presenting orderly thought to readers, in proper English (along with maintaining a sharp understanding of the world as seen outside the one-way glass bubble of London politics).  Herewith a short representative paragraph from August.  I make no criticism of DiNicolantonio or MacGregor, only of the journalistic presentation.  It should not be necessary to have to go to original sources for what a newspaper is purporting to expound.

DiNicolantonio also claims that we lose too much salt 1 when we exercise or sweat in heatwaves.  MacGregor says that is not so 2.  “There was a very good experiment 3 with the SAS, parachuted into a desert 4 which found they needed quite a low 5 salt intake.  If you have a higher 6 salt intake it is more dangerous.  They had to carry more water with them because of thirst. 7” he said.

 [1] ‘too much’ for what?

[2] ‘Not so’.  I.e. salt is lost but no threat to life?  Or no loss of efficiency?  Short-term or long-term?

[3]  ‘Very good’ I.e ‘very efficiently conducted’?  Or ‘strongly favourable to the lower-salt case’?

[4]  ‘A desert’.  Which one, under what meteorological conditions, to undertake what activity?  Very variable factors with enormous influence on the results to be expected.

[5]  ‘Quite a low’.  By comparison with what might be expected in those conditions? (See footnotes 2 and 4 combined)

[6]  ‘More dangerous’ than what?  And by the standard of normal human use?  Or referring to SAS in the unidentified desert?

[7]  Relation to previous statement obscure.  Extra water to deal with thirst unconnected with salt loss?  But in that case how does this thirst factor interact with the need for salt intake?

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Monty has also kindly passed us a piece from another inhabitant of Whitehall (an EU citizen) who wishes to remain anonymous

Even though I have no political commentator’s licence valid for the UK   and no moral or passport-certified right to be personally concerned (for which I give fervent thanks), the UK is a constantly bubbling source (like that mud volcano in Indonesia) of unconscious political comedy, richly endowed with thinktank support teams able to believe almost any political nonsense so long as it is their political nonsense, while elbowing contradictory facts aside.  If all the energy put into GDP (Gross Domestic Pontification) could somehow be converted into electricity the UK’s future could be bright.  But perhaps some of them are feeling the strain; as there has been a noticeable increase in the proportion of labour-saving boomerang policies recently.  Boomerang policies and promises are simply pulled out of storage and thrown at the populace when there is no other immediately obvious issue that can be worked up into a scandal or crisis.  Unlike other political projectiles, for instance replies to parliamentary questions, they normally spend an appreciable time spinning around in the public arena, attracting attention and perhaps – if launched by a skilled performer – inflicting some damage on a chosen target, before returning and being locked securely away, ready for use at the next suitable opportunity.  Of course some of them crash and are trampled under foot never to return but there are two other outcomes: first, promises which come back unbroken and can cause significant injury to the career of clumsy politicians not agile enough to catch them in time. or at least to get out of the way.  But, occasionally, a truly talented operator may be able to seize one, quickly wipe off the metaphorical blood and bird feathers and launch it in a fresh direction of his or her choosing to perform impressive aerobatics over the (possibly) enthralled crowds watching.  Naturally a certain amount depends on the material and construction of the policy itself, and most Departments have teams constantly engaged in experiments to see what designs and what ballistic techniques might produce the most spectacular results.  One fine example of a boomerang policy is the proposal to cut net immigration to Britain.  This was originally launched by Tories though from time to time other hands have seized it in attempts to provide their own aerial entertainment.  But of course the most famous example is the promise of ‘a major house-building programme to build new affordable homes in sufficient numbers’ which has been spinning over the heads of the electorate in one manoeuvre or another at almost every election season since far back in the previous century.

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   obtainable from the British Library, 96 Euston Road; submit a sample of at least twenty thousand words of recent work together with the fee of £540 and a full waiver of relevant copyright

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Spermatozoa, fairly straight

Several reports from different parts of the world have all noted massive reductions over the past 40 years in human production of healthy sperm with astonishingly large declines of up to 60% or even more.  The situation as earlier reported varied geographically, with very big reductions in North America, Europe, and Australia, but not in Asia, Africa, and South America.  Predictably social media spawned speculation about ‘white races’, though if you take a really careful look at the social and ethnic data you would probably be on surer ground if you claimed a correlation between speaking English and the decline in sperm count.  However this is in fact a red (or ‘white’ ?) herring since the decline has been even more impressive in China where there is good evidence based on data from army recruits.  There, studies show a decline in healthy sperm of between 80% and 70% between 2001 and 2015.  There’s also been a giddying decline in Iran, where (as many outside America will know) it is only a relatively small (and privileged) layer of the population with whom archetypal ‘white nationalists’ would consent to feel comfortable, if they ever met one of them.  However over similar time periods, there have been dramatic increases worldwide in the incidence of asthma – e.g. in Canada an increase greater than threefold between 1979 and 2004 – and also in the incidence of allergies.  In France (where by the way the ratio of good quality sperm reportedly dropped by – not ‘to’ – 60% in 40 years) there has a doubling of asthma in less than thirty years and, reportedly, a ten-fold increase in children’s allergies.  Researchers have indicated a variety of possible causes including obesity, ‘modern lifestyle’ (so vague as to be more or less useless); air pollution, lack of exercise, plastic (especially bisphenol A) in the environment, and exposure of immature minds to pornography (plus of course global warming).  Very puzzlingly the lists of suggestions nearly always omit another factor which co-incides rather strikingly as far as broad chronology is concerned: greatly increased exposure to electromagnetic radiation generated by human sources, which started to become significant around 1960, and has become more intense in the past two decades.  An authoritative book on the effects of electromagnetism on biological systems published some years ago by a highly respected scientist, has the title Crosscurrents (O.Becker, published 1990, isbn 0-87477-536-1).  It is up to readers whether they want to find out more.  But perhaps it is rather early yet to start investing heavily in companies aiming to produce electric cars for all by 2040.

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Science News It is reported that scientists working for a major commercial organisation in the US have isolated the integrity gene, and have begun experiments on how it can be disabled

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Unfortunately, much of this is true

Next post (finagling and events permitting) : 1-9-2017

*News flash: Mystery hardware order

Earlier this year market analysts commented on a worldwide surge in shares of companies manufacturing physical ‘security’ equipment  (such as ‘smart’ razor wire able to  automatically launch preemptive strikes when approached, anywhere along its length, while summoning drones from headquarters).  But new reports describe contracts for hundreds of thousands of high specification combination locks controlled at distance by passwords which can change daily, placed with American manufacturers by the EU Commission, allegedly to allow these  to be fitted at all frontiers to frustrate any attempts by the UK to get back into the EU after March 2019.  A  high level official speaking on condition of the strictest anonymity said ”Ever since I took over from Barroso the UK has been a constant pain in the arse and we couldn’t be more glad to get rid of them.  The only reason we’re pretending we want them to stay is to get them to pay us a lot of money in the ‘divorce’ settlement.  Things are moving along so well at present that some more hot-headed young officials are urging us to set up similar scenarios with Poland and Hungary.  I categorically deny any personal involvement; but who do you suppose has been provoking eastern Europe’s right-wingers?”

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(Obiter collecta) Fegan’s Guide to Social Organisation (in 218 parts: pt. 104)

Other things equal, a new law or regulation will tend to benefit the class (the U class) to which those who draft laws and regulations belong, and to limit the freedom of all others.  However, the disadvantage can often be reduced for a member of the non-U classes if he or she pays a tax or obtains a licence allowing them to retain some part of a freedom that would otherwise be lost.  The cost of such licences and the level of such taxes are set by members of the U class (who of course control the administration of the resulting government revenue).

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Op Ed from ‘Jonas’: In times well within living memory ‘industry’ meant industry (as opposed to agriculture, fishing or ‘trade’; other occupations apart from the armed services counted as ‘niche’ activities, such as stockbroking, being a doctor, or working ‘in the City’.  Administration did not really count as an occupation at all; it was just something you did as part of your proper job. (Check out the startling changes in e.g. the running of (a) hospitals or (b) any randomly selected European Ministry of Defence, since 1945)  (Governments really need to wake up to the fact that a very large proportion indeed of a nation’s activity and resources is now spent on administrators whose only task, full-time, is to administer the work of other administrators.)  Nowadays of course most countries have ‘industries’ à gogo, including, a ‘leisure industry‘, ‘creative industries’ and a ‘tourist industry’ as well as a ‘hospitality industry’ and a ‘sex industry, with the latter three perhaps being the same thing but operating at different times of day.  (By the way, I’m not inventing these terms; I’ve met every one of them more than once, and not, as far as I could tell, intended satirically either.) (Has anyone spotted a ‘heavy industry industry’ yet?)  But since nowadays all of us except tramps, convicts and criminals not yet arrested are mere cogs in the great unthinking machine that is a modern business-oriented state mindlessly pursuing the ever retreating goal of screwing ever better figures for GDP out of the workforce, then let’s take the chance of making an annoying suggestion.  In most countries there is still one huge feral predatory ‘industry’ roaming the economic landscape which could be brought under government control and should be, if only for the sake of all the money that could then be squeezed out of it.  Any intelligent country should immediately nationalise the lobbying industry, and then regulate it AND TAX IT!

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Market news Following the report that Ogglekook is to produce a new hypersmartphone that can transmit thoughts and images without users even needing to have the thoughts or see the images first, the company’s shares were last night reported to be making the fastest ever ascent without supplementary oxygen on the Wall of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Five hundred or so are drowned each year in France, nearly all accidentally.  Not a high number set against a population of 68 million (if you only count those officially on government records, and try not to notice those sleeping rough – estimated at 80,000 in Paris alone last winter –  or living in derelict buildings to avoid the police charged with deporting desperate refugees back to ‘safe’ countries like Afghanistan and the squads just out for a bit of fun roughing up easy opponents; but 500 is a fairly high proportion of those exposed to recreational water.  So ‘authorities’ want to promote courses to teach all children how to swim.  Just think rationally now.  In fact most of those 500 might still be alive if they’d had a reasonable fear of the sea and open water in general instilled in them from childhood upwards.  O.k. you can call it ‘respect for the sea and open water’ if you like, but the point still carries significant weight.  Notice, if you haven’t, that the human is an animal with two legs for walking, running and kicking aggressors in the obvious target, not a creature with a sleek tail and assorted fins for convenient travel under water.  If without a programme of mass encouragement you’re getting 500 drowned in a year, it is virtually certain that teaching all children how to swim is going to increase the number of victims.  And would you want to apply this strategy elsewhere?  It seems quite possible that as things are some other recreational activities have even higher proportions of practitioners harmed, injured or killed.  Should the government introduce nationwide  instruction for children in rock-climbing?  Moto-cross?  Parcours/Parkur?  Or alcohol consumption?

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Linguistic corner (From our archives) Whatever it says in the dictionary ‘ideology’ in practice  consists of acquiring an idea which at first may have a certain meretricious charm, committing oneself to it, and then running away with it, with never a backward glance, leaping carefree over all barriers raised by common sense, and taking it with you into new and strange territory where the idea is no longer a desirable ‘compagnonne de route’, no longer even attractive, but an embarrassing liability, violently –  perhaps even dangerously – at odds with the landscape where you now find yourself.  Examples for UK  readers:  voting Conservative, listening to One Direction, supporting the English soccer team, leaving the EU.

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**News flash :  Grenfell Tower fire, 14-06-2017.    British government announcement that there is to be a review of building regulations, 29-07-2017 [On account of its high public profile this newsflash has been brought to you by enhanced express delivery which can even override obligations to attend week-end tennis matches, agreeable dinner parties, and cruises on the river]

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It is long since we’ve heard from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, once a regular  contributor to our reports, earlier a reliable member of the manipulators of tax avoidance for right-thinking citizens of southeastern England.)  I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that underneath the damp blanket stretched over his personality by a British upbringing there lurked, if not a crouching tiger, at least a performing flea, which under the tough editorial régime imposed on him here led to him developing intellectual muscles in unpredicted places.  He started to go off the rails (as his old companions would see it) and changed his job to take a post – heaven knows why – in one of the all too many universities of London (full of students, administrators, general riff-raff).  He became a keen cyclist, grew a beard which made  him look like Corbyn, and has been seen taking part in street demonstrations with some ‘unusual’ associates, among others a group of feminist survivalists based in the Cotswolds who believe men only grow a penis because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. This letter tells us on a recent visit to the Senate House he accidentally attended the wrong ‘briefing session’ addressed by a government minister and heard quite a lot before being hustled out during the final questions and answers.  It appears there is a complex government plan with inspiration drawn in part from the activities of Airbnb to radically change employment conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.  Each day millions of workers join the harassed streams flowing as slowly as molten lava into city centres.  Yet at the same time great numbers are moving in the opposite direction.  As the economy has developed, more and more of national productivity takes place outside cities.  Outside the main conurbations there are many thousands of warehouses, factories, airports, storage depots, and ‘retail complexes’.  The government intends to require that – except in the case of those operating nightshifts – companies and individuals owning these enterprises must redesign the facilities (often extensive) so as to use the existing buildings, perhaps with some additions, to provide accommodation for the workforce employed within them (including the families).  In return the owners will be allowed to charge rentals for the accommodation.  The benefits will be enormous for all concerned, provided there are explicit legal contracts linking accommodation and employment.  Owners will be assured of a stable workforce, with minimal absenteeism and 100% punctuality.  In addition they could be allowed the option of setting up basic retail outlets to cater to the needs of the resident workers, and perhaps basic medical facilities (which could also quickly check on cases of malingering).  The workforce will be spared the stress and expense of daily transport and perhaps even of the need to purchase a vehicle, and might well enjoy lower housing costs than in city centres.  Basic shopping would be available a few steps from their new homes.  The wider region would benefit from the reduction in pollution, and stress on the transport system.  The nation would save on fuel costs, and a significant reduction in social benefit expenditure, as well as a partial solution to the housing crisis.

   It was only revealed that Berthold should not have been present when he asked the minister  if he did not feel that this was a reintroduction of slavery, or at least serfdom.  (The minister laughed and remarked he had never heard of a slave receiving a monthly pay packet with government taxes ready calculated and deducted, but it was at this point that the security guards were called in.)

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The Editor writes: Personal note: I came back from my tour and found the place looking like a French Square after a Britain vs Russia football match.  Hadn’t even cleared up ….but I won’t waste description on details of the hooliganism, except to denounce the theft of the whole dozen of Château du Tertre and the last couple of Corton Charlemagne.  One interesting aspect, though, which my friends in the law and order branch are investigating further is a Philippine passport, probably fake, with the villain’s photo but a quite different name, found along with a pair of used underpants in the cupboard underneath the tv monitor. I’m not going to mess about nursing my wrath to keep it warm.  It will be quite hot enough if that scoundrel ever sets foot on this island again, though it’s unlikely he’ll risk it. If he does my friends have promised me he’ll be slung not gentlyinto the slammer on the most embarrassing charges that occur to them.  I admit a severe loss of trust in my ability to assess character by simply meeting a face and talking to it.   (Am still pretty confident I’m right about Macron, though, and I note that he’s already had the biggest drop in approval ratings of any incoming president since the Chirac débacle!)  Needed soonest: new intern!

 

 

Taking Off and Adding Up

 

The Editor’s idea of housekeeping is frankly too uptight from where I have been watching, and certainly too uptight for me to be around when he comes back from his Mediterranean tour. I aim to be gone before that.   So right now I’m going to have another outing on this cardboard and duct-tape set-up of his.  But out of the goodness of my heart I’ll include the non-‘fake news’ story about early birdmen which came in by dead-tree mail from some friend of his, signing ‘Llewellyn’.

            To my surprise there were eleven entries for that contest of mine, for the best answer to the question ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’  Four were disqualified for going past the length set at  four double-sided A4 sheets.  Two more were discarded as blatantly trying to give a negative answer.  I discarded all the rest as they had clearly been produced by one or other of the computer programmes now used by leading newspapers to write editorials or their ‘analyses’ of currently fashionable news stories (i.e. cut-and-paste compilations in adolescent’s English).  As there were therefore no valid replies I drank the prize myself.

p.s. There are some things I do approve of here, like the photo of the sumo-wrestling Maud who used to be an intern here, on the inside of the loo door, plus the well chosen books on the shelf in there: ‘Goodbye to all that’ (Robert Graves) (a rather taciturn fellow face to face by the way) and ‘English philosophy since 1900’ (Geoffrey Warnock) of which most pages had been torn out for some reason.

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Fake News: this is not something that was only invented in 2016.  Take the matter of the first flight  The first manned – oh, apologies to all p.c. persons with clenched posterior muscles;  starting again: ‘the first personned flight in a heavier than air vehicle was made by the Wright brothers in 1903’.  This is flatly untrue.  There is admittedly some doubt about the effort of Clément Ader who in 1890 covered some 50 airborne metres while clutching the frame of his batlike machine.  He did survive, but without evidence provided by video-recording (yet to be invented at that date) there may be suspicion that he managed to endow his device with some kind of powerful spring so as to behave like a sort of large mechanical kangaroo, instead of achieving true flight.  But you only need wait until 1896 and then you have the unarguable case of Samuel Langley who accomplished several flights over a distance of 1,400 metres.  The efforts of the Wright brothers in 1903 were not seen by outside observers and anyway sound as if they may have been in mechanical kangaroo mode.  You have to wait till 1905 before they first stayed up more than one minute.  (Some of the mediaeval lunatics who jumped off high places strapped to arrays of parchment, feathers and unjustified optimism did at least stay up longer than the Wrights had till 1905, travelling 600 yards in one case.)  However all this is completely beside the point.  The first true personned untethered flight was made in 1783 by Pilâtre de Rozier who stayed up 25 minutes and travelled 12 kilometres.  At this point we see smirks of triumph from the Wright fan club, “Aha, but you see, this is a contest for machines heavier than air.”   However this meets expressions of disdain from Pilâtre’s friends and family; “Dear Americans, you have perhaps not noticed that balloons such as he used are in the fact extremely heavy objects.  A reunion of our French national rugby team, which could essuyer le terrain with any ‘football’ team you might bring forward to challenge us, would have some difficulty in raising one of those objects more than a metre or so above the glorious soil of France.”  Triumpant glee on the Wright-hand side, “Tsk, these European guys just don’t get it, do they?”  (Speaking as if to a very small child.)  “Listen, buddies, when you put the gas in or hot air or whatever, it all adds up to negative weight – like, the whole gizmo is lighter than air.”  Air is expelled loudly from French noses.  A long pause as they look from one to the other with raised eyebrows and barely perceptible smiles, then one speaks, quite softly.  “We in France have often seen, in 1917 and 1941 for instance, that attaining to understanding of important matters can sometimes proceed more slowly in America – without doubt because of the great influence of your lawyers, ever ready to guard against any proposal or action which might not be to the benefit of America and those, or at the least some of those, who live there.  But please consider for a moment.  Every aeroplane that has ever been built is heavier than air when it stands still.  A modern airliner can weigh 200 tonnes.  However, when it is desired to make the plane fly, the interaction between the structure of the aircraft and aerodynamic forces when it undertakes rapid forward motion, has the fortunate result of imparting what is called in your language ‘lift’, and when this enters upon the equation the result is that the entire apparatus – the whole gizmo, as you put it – becomes lighter than air, exactly as with the balloons.  If this was not so, the aeroplane would not stay above the earth, as a little unbiassed thought will help you to agree.  We rest confident that the one who achieved the historic advance is rightly recognised as our brave and well-loved pioneer Pilâtre.”  (It is reported that President Trump is to order new restrictions on French journalists from next Thursday.)

Nb the world’s first aerial bombing raid was carried out by the Austrians with Venice as the target, using the latest balloon technology available, in 1849

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Why the hell I should suggest to ad agencies ways they could try not to waste money is beyond me.  No, it isn’t.  I remember – the money they pay net in placing adverts is a lot less than the money they get for ‘designing’ them and ‘creating’ (!) them in the first place, and that money comes from the companies which want them ‘designed’ and ‘created’, who get that money from the poor benighted customers who buy whatever it is, trying hard not to be aware (if they ever are) that part of the dosh they’re handing over is going to be spent on persuading them, the customers, to buy the stuff they’re intending to buy anyway.  Somebody does very nicely out of it.  And just to put the artificially intelligent cherry on this monstrous trifle of idiocy, there is abundant evidence now that hundreds of billions of the clicks that persuade companies to keep paying for adverts have never had any contact whatever (at the transmitting end, anyway) with a human mind, as opposed to a clickbot.  Let me stress that I am as near to neutral as you can get in this Home for the Commercially Insane.  Why then should I have any interest in disrupting the whole grotesque circus?  Sheer jealousy – you see my serene honesty?  I resent the fact that some cats are getting very fat by taking advantage of human credulity when if things had panned out a bit differently I could be coining it myself (plus, of course, rage at the abysmal standards of imagination, aesthetics, and rational thought with which the ads infuriate the modern human).  SO

 Helpful suggestions to ad agencies making less moolah than they consider desirable: (1) check out your algorithms; one of them may have caught a virus or two, or three; or they may have been prepared on an oversimple set of assumptions about human behaviour and its observable correlates; (2) assumptions which may hold good for you may be a waste of time when applied to 75% of the punting proletariat; try hard to let this notion cross your mind; (3) whenever on the job (devising ads, I mean) try to use a dialect of English approximately similar to standard usage, no matter how cutesy or now the slogans may sound round the creative table; remember that as inhabitants of the adsphere you live in a mental world severely alien from that of ordinary users; being inside it you may not find it easy to realise this.  But would you learn to bargain in a Chinese market by watching performances of Peking Opera?

 

 

Negotiating towards disaster

No this is not your Editor writing.  He has left me in charge of the place while he takes a summer holiday.  He claimed he has been invited to join a presidential team charged with devising new combinations of countries and organisations (not necessarily real, now or ever) that can be made ready in case of need to allege their existence, presented together with supporting aerial photographs and forged documents to persuade troublesome populations around the world that there is a new and even more threatening axis-of-evil about to bombard them (‘with just 45 minutes warning’ is apparently the timespan to be asserted).   That is, if attempts at détente with whatever axis-of-evil is currently the on-duty axis-of-evil do not succeed in failing, which involves much less effort.  (It’s nearly always more comfortable dealing with a familiar long-term enemy.)  Actually I don’t think I believe a word of his story, because I met some good chaps in a bar down at the harbour, and they told me every year he takes his Lamborghini off to France or Italy for a couple of weeks in the summer for a holiday.  He said nothing about posting before he left.   I’m taking that as his agreement for me to have a go myself, though in fact the first item is something a reader in Fiji sent in which I found when I went through the post.  Edward D.L.H.

  1. The Theresa mystery 2. The Gulf mystery  3. Career advice 4. Prize competition  5.Counterclassicism

If he sticks to his schedule – a bit fussy about stuff like that – the next regular posting will be 1/8/2017


Some have unkindly, and inaccurately, described Theresa May as Hillary Clinton translated into British.  Theresa got where she did by her own efforts, not significantly aided by serried banks of supporters, and she did get to the top job.  But she is a paradigm example of the outstanding lieutenant who should not have been promoted  captain.  Given a post (Minister of the Interior) where cunning politicians like to see an able and efficient rival, since there is a good chance its demands may leave them exhausted, she held it for six years and still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, the police and the elderly grandees of her own party.  But Theresa’s efficiency is her weakness.  She identifies issues and their parameters, the problems and their solutions, and systematically works out the ways to deal with them.  Efficiency, in this mode, is what in junior posts is described as ticking boxes.  To tick a box appropriately you have to identify it, and that identification tends to fill up the foreground of the attention, blocking the chance of taking into account other circumstances that might be related, might be important. and might change.  This kind of efficiency is the enemy of the imagination of the gifted and successful leader.  In the case of the holder of a demanding post it also inevitably leads to a risky dependence on outlines and options and information and position papers passed upwards from offices which individually will very probably have less competence and less complete awareness of what is needed.  The procedures for supplying that material will soon enough become standard and by that fact will be invested with a spurious aura of reliability and authority, even when the material is the outcome of an overworked inexperienced subordinate team.  And what will the result be when the time comes to take the sum of this prodigious labour and to ask others from an opposing camp to accept the carefully measured and firmly based conclusions of one’s own side?  Will one meet them with a mind ready to hear different views and values and to recognise aspects of the situation that had not shown themselves before, a mind able at once to see a way to build a stronger structure by combining the familiar with the new?  Or will that strenuous preparation of meticulous plans to cover every factor foreseen have led to unquestioning trust in one’s own side’s right to stay true to its decisions, adherence to its predetermined principles and to insistence that one’s own position is the only one possible, led in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

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E.D.L.H writes.  A chum of mine  who is still in the diplomacy racket thinks the trouble heating up in the Persian Gulf (apologies to my Arab friends but I grew up with that name constantly in my ears and it’s hard to change long term habits) could have a very simple origin.  Anybody notice a couple of odd things about it?  Things had been going along there tickety-boo for years, even if some were getting a bit cheesed off about all the attention being given to Qatar.  Then suddenly three states suddenly made seriously heavy noises in the direction of Qatar (plus Egypt which gets a lot of money from the Gulf), telling them they’d got to shut down the Turkish army base there (odd that they didn’t mention the much larger US base, but that fits my chum’s theory like a glove), tug the forelock to the leaders of the Arab world which they made very clear did not include Turkey, blow raspberries or medium-range missiles at Iran, and shut down Al Jazeera.  Now when did all this start?  Just about three weeks ago.  And what happened a week or two before that?  Donald Trump’s successful visit to Saudi Arabia, with pomp, friendship, and massive contractual benefits.  Most of the world by now is familiar with our friend Donald’s impulsive generosity towards those he sees as his friends, and also familiar with his free-ranging eloquence.  The theory is that there was a certain amount of misunderstanding in the parleys that took place (by no means at all the first such occasion when leaders of the Arab world have met westerners expounding their views), and that the Saudi side may have got the impression that they were going to get US support from there on in, whatever they might set their hand to.  What better opportunity could they find to take those they see as uppity Qataris down a peg or three?  And the Saudis may have assumed it would be un-American to cancel a contract as big as that one even if some untoward incident, such as nuclear war should intervene.

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Opinion piece (anon.)  Careers advice centres seem slow in adapting to the modern world.  When did you last hear of a twenty-something being adviced (that is apparently how now-generation professionals in that line of business should put it) about how to get himself or herself onto the books of a functioning international organisation.  But it’s a high premium goal.  Once in, a good chance of a first class life-style for decades.  Generous salary and very generous expenses/’compensation’ schemes.  Very little work required apart from the production of reports and statistics and mission statements and  draft programmes in sufficient quantity to ensure that those who receive them will not attempt to read the stuff.  Moreoever there will be plenty of competent assistants and secretaries to deal with whatever has to be done in the office.  Downside?  Not much, though attendance at meetings can become a drawback if not treated with the right level of insouciant contempt, which of course must never be directed overtly at those through whose ranks you hope to rise to become a Vice-President Europe, or Regional Director Southeast Asia.   Ideal work environment, since any self-respecting government will facilitate large and luxurious headquarters for any right-sounding international organisation that decides to base itself in their country.   Largely stress-free schedules unless you choose to input the stress yourself (see again remark about assistants and secretaries), and first-class air travel every time you jet off for a study tour or congress. For the energetic and imaginative there could be great advantages (though correspondingly also risks) in developing a brand-new international organisation of your own in co-operation with the right sort of individuals in the state where it is to be based, but of course you must make sure first that the organisation does not already exist.  (Their number is very great.)  Naturally it must claim to promote something which is going to cost little by comparison with the annual budget of the average government, but at the same time look good when the leader goes along to give his annual speech at the UN.   Anyone for a World Index of Cross-Border Navigation Rights, or an Asian Commission on Dental Health of Domestic Pets, or an International Double-Migration Advisory Panel?

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One thing which I certainly share with our Editor even though I have the wrong nationality and, for the past few years, the wrong habitat too, is British politics and public life, endless source of wonder at human credulity and incompetence.  A single example: London has recently decided to remove the ‘speed bumps’ built into suburban roads, on the grounds that drivers’ reactions to them increase air pollution and thereby impose a cost in life expectancy.  (Why do they think the ‘speed bumps’ near schools, for example, were put there in the first place?) But  the Editor’s approach to that strange society seems to have  been rather po-faced.  I’m going to set up a prize competition.  A bottle of Château du Tertre for the best article to fit the following heading:  ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’  Answers (typed please) on not more than 4 sheets of A4 paper to this office by 7/7/17 (E.D.L.H.)

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Counterclassicism:  A striking piece of evidence that time will not ‘always tell’, or at least that some bits of truth may have to wait longer than the whole existence of the human race before being revealed:  Virgil built up a solid reputation as a major poet by (a) writing a lot of stuff; (b) using it, as well as other opportunities, to fawn on the emperor who liked that, and who could have Virgil neutralised at the drop of a handkerchief; (c) exercising an eye for picking out the sort of ideas that well-off and well-connected Romans liked to hear; (d) having a fairly good verbal memory and a good grounding in the rules needed for writing Latin hexameters (though he got that part wrong in places); (e) sharing a belief popular throughout recorded history that pompous or antique verbiage is ipso facto poetic; and (f) quite remarkably little talent for imagination, visual description, using words and syntax for achieving interesting aesthetic effects, and for any other qualities that can raise a claim for a true poet.  Just take an unprejudiced look at his work, Georgics just as much as the Aeneid, strip away the respectful aura enveloping it for millennia.  How can the reputation survive an honest unbiassed assessment?

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World’s truth reserves nearly empty

Telling it straight  :  Tribute  :  Fake views from Brussels  :  Is Macron real?  :  Historical note  :   The battle against immigration  :   Appeal.

Next posting can now be re-scheduled for original date 1 August 2017

Warning: this posting may contain references to persons you would prefer not to read about

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If there is one thing wrong with J.Corbyn’s leadership it is that he keeps believing in a decent level of intelligence and honesty in interactions with interviewers and critics.  For instance dealing with public security, having said clearly and firmly he opposes all forms of political violence, and specifically ‘all bombing’, he is then asked if he condemns the IRA’s use of bombs.  Can it be that the interviewer does not know the meaning of the word ‘all’?  Or feels that the British Isles needs a distinction between good bombs and bad bombs?  Or is hoping somehow to trap Corbyn into a verbal structure which might allow a misinterpretation his opponents would hope to see goose-stepping in bold 72 point type across the next day’s front pages (or equivalent)?   Terms such as ‘shameful’ and ‘disgusting’ are overused in politics; I’m told, so choosing very slowly and carefully I shall say, instead, that the way most of the media  have cynically trashed Corbyn with personal insults and fraudulent twists of the full hand of policies he offers is vile and contemptible.  To his detractors the benefits of a policy are apparently unimportant beside their own triumph when he could not quote to the exact figure how much it might cost in 2018.  And the Labour spokesmen trying to put the other 99 views (that’s democracy isn’t it?) are good people but mind-numbingly useless, unable to stop themselves mouthing clichés which need close scrutiny before you can distinguish them from the Blairisms which did so much to ruin the life prospects of so many outside London.  ‘It is essential to adopt policies which will attract investment in the nation’s infrastructure.’  Oh, incisive! Original!  Passionate! Convincing!. Hah! And yet their task is so easy:  Ditch the manifesto down the nearest toilet, get a big sheet of cardboard and just write in very big letters

‘You’ve had a Tory government for 6 years.  You hear them tell you how well they can manage things.  Just look at the cost of living, and then at the state of (1) the NHS (2) the railways (3) the roads (4) gas, petrol, water (5) the cities and public safety; and then find out how much public money,  your money (tax isn’t just income tax, you realise?) – is being poured into them with such rotten results.’

            (And ponder: at the time of the recent Turkish referendum even the EU briefly poked its head above that parapet which normally blocks a clear view of what is going on outside bureaucracy, and remarked that it had not been a fair campaign.  How about asking them for a view on this British election campaign?)

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In memoriam Rhodri Morgan.  Honest, humane, clever, funny.  You’ll be lucky if you see another like him in the next fifty years.

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Our new intern Edward’s first contribution.  (Fortunately he knows about computers. I’ve been careful for years how I connect it up because somebody once told me that if I put the plug in the other way up all the programmes would run backwards.)

  May’s reasons for calling the election?  Tory HQ assures us it was to get a strong hand in Brexit negotiations.  I was in my club in London last week, and that story brought appreciative chuckles from some of the oldest members who recalled how in the 450s prosperous cities of western Europe had often saved themselves by warning Attila and his Huns that their inhabitants were firmly united in their opposition to being sacked and plundered.  The lessons of history are woven out of strands of fairy gossamer.  Another current instance is peace in Europe. In the past few months Brexit has transmuted from a small ludicrously shaped cloud, menacingly black but far away on the political horizon, to a terrifying dark portal with Lasciate ogni speranza painted over the top by a Luxembourgeois tax advisor.  Sinister forms engaged upon strange businesses are dimly perceived within.  This naturally brought a risk that public trust in the wise, strong and stable management of the authorities could break down, and one result has been the sight of large numbers of men of reassuring appearance and manner emerging onto the screen from the hospitality rooms of various media broadcasting organisations, to allege as hard as they can go that Europe has had peace for 70 years thanks to the European Union.  (Actually the European Economic Community only really got going in the 1970s, so it’s serious cheating to claim more than about 45 years at best, but let’s not quibble about that.)  They belong to the professionally reassuring classes who govern all respectable democracies (unless attacked by an outbreak of populism).   They are often called ‘experts’.  Experts in what subjects is obscure, however.  Obviously not history of the Balkans (and perhaps the Hungarian uprising of 1956 slipped past their consciousness without stopping to say hello.)  But they are fully able to assure us that these decades of peace (more or less) result from the existence of the EU.  Only an irresponsible sceptic would suggest the diametrically opposite view, that the continued existence of the EU (XXL/one-size-fits-nobody bureaucracy) was, on the contrary, made possible by the peace which was there because Europe in the 1940s and 1950s knew what war could be like (my own family taking a bad hit), and because many talked about those terrible experiences to the next, half-listening generation.  Peace because Europe was exhausted, and because Europeans  were frightened it could start again, and because they were told that if a war did start the Reds would take over (or if you were living on the other side, ‘the capitalists will take over’.)  [They have actually, but not through military means. So why the hell are we all running a scare campaign about the military threat from Russia?  Just look at where ‘Allied’ troops and Russian forces are now, and where they were in 1989.]   Peace because the interests and energies and spare money (for those who have any) of the next generation have been diverted into small electronic toys purveying trivia and pornography and the chance to troll unsuspecting innocents, at the touch of a couple of buttons, or into ‘sport’ or into what is bafflingly described as entertainment.  On the other hand, take a look at East Asia.  They have by now had pretty close to international peace all things considered (by normal geopolitical standards admittedly, and not commenting on their internal politics) for not 45 but near 70 years.  ‘Ah, but what about North Korea?’  Well if, unlike nearly everybody else, you try looking at the actual records for the past 45 or even 70 years you’ll find that far less international military violence on the well established European pattern has started from North Korea than – at random – from France, or the UK.  North Korea may be going to cut loose any day now but  hasn’t actually been involved in serious international warfare since 1953.  The nations of East Asia haven’t had a regional union complete with a wonder-working Brussels to help them.  So what else has been going on round there for 70 years?  Why, red China!

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EMacron.  We know of no real evidence to support the rumour that the new French president is the result of 3-D printing (though one of our sources messaged back ‘Système politique français foutu.  Voteraient quoi que ce soit pourvu que ce n’est pas pour Marine.’  We can note incidentally that the government printers Printapoly (see postings 10-7-16 and 1-9-16) have experienced unexpectedly poor sales performance, despite the guarantee that the ministers they printed would have an IQ of at least 100.  In fact initial enquiries were strong, but it appears that the price has been pitched (necessarily given the costs) so high that it drastically reduces the pool of possible buyers (which is already greatly reduced since most potential clients – governments – either see a purchase as unnecessary because they can obviously do the job themselves or to be avoided at all costs in case it becomes obvious to all that they can’t).

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Historical clip (in three parts)

(a) March 7 1965  3,500 US Marines landed in S.Vietnam. Ten years later US forces withdrew from the country.  Nearly 60,000 US military personnel had been killed in that war and more than 150,000 injured.  Estimates of Vietnamese casualties are between two and three million, more than half civilians.  In 2017 Vietnam is prosperous (although explosives of many kinds still litter the terrain, and appallingly high numbers are suffering from the effects of toxic chemicals).  Vietnam also now has good relations with most countries including the USA.

(b) For hundreds of years Afghanistan has been the scene of violent tribal conflicts, sometimes energetically involving neighbouring areas of central Asia.  Invasions from outside the region, notably by the British Army, have been disastrous failures.  So far, however, Afghanistan has given no sign of wishing to conquer the world, or even any significant amount of territory outside the central Afghan area.

(c)  26-5-17  President Trump wants 3,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

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Reader’s contribution (Kevin Solmsen, Nairobi)

A friend, recently arrived from Britain, but wanting to remain anonymous claims he had to attend a highly secret awards ceremony last month in Britain’s Whitehall. A variety of awards were made including a special trophy for the most outstanding contribution to upholding British standards relating to aliens.  This friend himself was considered ‘principal actor’ in denying asylum to 28 applicants, including two who had lost limbs in Middle East gaols, but he did not  make it on to the podium.  The overall winner, whose 149 excluded applicants included most daringly a final appeal rejected as ‘illegible’ because it had been written in ink of the wrong colour, had ruled that a 92-year-old man must be deported to the country where he was born (Cameroon, where his British parents had been medical missionaries) despite having lived in the UK since 1934 continuously except for British war service 1942 until 1945, during which he was twice mentioned in despatches.  The highest award, he said, took the form of a silver replica of an open passport bearing a visa allowing residence for up to ten years overprinted with the word ‘Revoked’.

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Appeal for information

Those without inherited wealth are constantly pestered nowadays to increase their contribution to the nation’s productivity (if only by sending their wife, husband or live-in elderly grandmother out to work, if by some failure in the system they have been spending more than 84 hours a week in the family home.) In the old days it would be the local baron who would be keeping the peasant noses to the grindstone (or, as it might be, the sheepdip) in the race to increase the GDP of the community (CEO the local baron).  Prominent among the hustlers these days are the EU Commission.  Is there a reader who can tell us if  anyone measures the productivity of the EU commission?  (And what might its members need to do to score well – give evidence of having attended an adequate quota of conferences on transport problems in the South of France, or led a satisfying number of study trips to the sort of exotic countries which seem to specialise in receiving them, in the sort of hotels that no doubt do so much to improve the development, and productivity, of their local populations?)

 

Unscheduled Special Announcement

 

Ed: As the telephone is now working again, and as I have to make this special announcement, I shall also include a couple of small items that have just come in.

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Late news : Spain

            Federica Bertocchini, a biologist with IBBTEC in Santander, has discovered a worm (the larval form of Galleria Mellonella) that eats holes in plastic bags.  Monetary authorities, which throughout the world have been switching to plastic-based currency notes to reduce costs, are starting urgent consultations

Late news : Turkey

            It is reported that President Erdogan has ordered his own arrest but has not been able to find any policemen still at liberty who could carry out the instruction.

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Editor’s report :  I thought I would be left as the only resident in the office when I helped Karela take the bike and the other luggage down to the ferry, on her way back to Zagreb for the first proper leg of her world tour.  But the very next day we acquired at last a new intern.  Edward arrived, unannounced as far as I was concerned.  It turned out later that he had warned us on a postcard from Bordeaux that he was in immediate need of somewhere to stay, and he thought he could just walk into our place because he knew we had been trying to get a new recruit for months, and failed.  But Kevin, who has been doing the post round lately, came up here in a rainstorm and all we could see was a damp piece of card with something illegible scrawled on it.

   Edward is English but quite friendly, and has been living in France for the past three years.  He decided to get out while he could; he thinks Theresa May will block all journeys to the UK from the EU, including British citizens, as part of her war against immigration, but otherwise he seems politically sane.  For instance when I mentioned the idea of charging Tony Blair with treason he said he had once been docked a month’s bonus pay for telling his departmental head he’d sooner shake hands with an overused male undergarment than with Tony Blair.  When he told me that, he added that he would sooner shake hands with Tony Blair than with Emmanuel Macron (French presidential candidate, for our readers in Inner Mongolia), a view which is very similar to what comes from my facial diagnosis technique.  For the past week he has been sleeping on the office floor on a mattress we borrowed from the odd-job man.  Edward is a bit older than the average intern, being a retired medical researcher, but an intern (i.e. unpaid) is what he has to remain for at least the next three months, if he lasts that long.  Lady W’s strict orders.  Personally I’m quite glad he’s arrived even though it plays merry hell with my research, but he clearly knows a lot more about computers than I do.  We had the computer down from the attic, and in no time he was sending out e-mails, complete with pictures of the view over the harbour.  He said he could include ‘tasteful’ pornographic pictures in future issues of the journal.  (I’m still wondering if there is any way I can put this idea up to Lady W.)

 Scheduled date for next posting remains 1st June