Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Dreams from a dark knight

Paranormal.  Something far from this journal’s usual ambit, for the record. 

Donald Trump appears to have the rare gift of knowing instantly, without any need to investigate, whether a statement put into the public domain is true or not.  Generally I would be quite sceptical (not to say cynical) about most claims of paranormal powers or experiences and suspect that a very high proportion of those which are not mischievous fabrications or simple-minded lies can actually result from normal interactions with an environment.  It is different, though, when the experience belongs to someone known and trusted such as (in the set of cases I am about to mention) oneself.  I should say at once that they are not exciting in themselves.  It was a series that began when I was eleven and seems to have definitely ended when I was thirty-seven.  There were only about a dozen of them altogether.  They all involved another person whom I knew but not once anyone to whom I had any special relationship, and simply concerned knowing a number that they were going to say before they said it.  At that point the sort of person who likes to assume that others are easily fooled breaks in and says “Ah, but what’s really happening is that you have already heard the number uttered but part of your brain which tidies things up and declares them settled has not yet finished business.”  (I will come to that issue in a moment anyway but would add that I seemed in those days to have an above average capacity for observing sequences of events – e.g. traffic manoeuvres, wording of complex phrases – with fairly high accuracy.)  There are four points to mention.  First, I definitely have no special arithmetic gifts.  Second, the sensation was different in kind from other situations where one expects somebody to say something and cannot help guessing what it will be.  Third, there were no ‘false positives’.  I never had that sensation of ‘flatly’ knowing (as if already read in print), when the number then emerged ‘wrong’.  I tried a few times, when I could see that numbers were to be mentioned, to persuade myself that I had the same ‘flat knowing’ sensation before the other party uttered the number but did not succeed.  Fourth, the last time it happened I was on the phone to a friend who told me that someone she knew had come into possession of a painting by Dufy, famous French artist, and had been able to sell it – and at this point the feeling of knowing kicked in but I also remembered the “Ah, what’s really happening” guys and so I cut short what she was saying, and said I would tell her what the selling price was, which without question happened when she had not yet reached any figure.   At that time Dufy was one of the biggest names in the art market, and work by him could reasonably have gone, depending on what it was, for anything from as little as about £500 (it was in the UK) to easily a hundred times that or more.  I told her ‘£1,800’ and she confirmed that this was the figure.  Since that time, no more such experiences.

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‘Heads I win.  Tails…’?

Regrettably our island’s cultural and commercial links handicap it with a close relationship to the dis-United Kingdom. Even with relatively enlightened individuals topics of British relevance float unappealingly  on the surface of the conversational barrel.  So once again whether we want to or not we are hearing about the wonderful benefits (to Britain) of sticking two fingers up to the EU.  Some of us politely pretend to be fascinated by the claims that even the most ramshackle hulk can surf the crests and troughs of the world economy in effortless style provided it is manned by a crew with the buccaneering imperial spirit described so misleadingly by Percy Westerman in his books for impressionable boys back in the 1920s and 1930s.  (Poor bloody Scots, though, likely to end up tethered three to a bench in the dark underdeck if any attempt is actually made to launch the vessel.)  So who are going to be the recipients of all the wondrous bounty apparently  promised to Theresa when she sped across the ocean to hold hands with Donald Trump back in 2017, and, more important, what horn of plenty is going to disgorge the boodle?  Some will have noticed that when Jean-Claude Juncker, representing a trade bloc not hugely impressive politically but somewhat bigger than the US, went over to talk sanctions with the Donald he came away with a far from unsatisfactory outcome – roughly, keeping things as they are.  What chances of that kind of semi-success when a lone economy, a mere fraction of that size, turns up at the back door of the White House, urgently needing a trade deal to stop the slide in the pound?  Begging it from a man who boasts of driving hard deals, and who by the way has his own re-election as a first  priority?  So where might Britain find the dosh to keep the bonuses flowing (never mind keeping the homeless and destitute alive)?  Admittedly, there are some resources Britain could fall back on, and probably will.  Fracking, for instance, even in the leafy suburbs of Tory constituencies.  But the biggest resource is the national territory, and a prudent sequence of responsible decisions (if such a thing could somehow be devised) about sales of conveniently detachable pieces of the country could keep the wolf from the door for a decade or two.  Margaret Thatcher (I am not inventing this) suggested precisely such a policy to Brazil when that country hit trouble while she was prime minister in Britain.  And of course it has sometimes been put into practice, for instance when the Americans bought Alaska from the Russians for $7million in 1867.  (A wonderful bargain, probably less than $1billion even in today’s terms.)   Britain has many convenient sites to offer and, what is more, valid legal title to most of them, unlike the Russians in Alaska.  An excellent first choice to test the market would be Lundy.  Its relative poverty in resources would surely be outweighed by its wonderful location, ideal for many purposes both commercial and military.  One can envisage Chinese investors, for instance, seeing it as a superb site for an entrepôt and for further activities in both Europe and North America.  (Perhaps skilful negotiators (see again below) could engineer a bidding battle between some of the more wealthy Asian economies?)  Next would come the Scilly Isles which would need a different sort of sales pitch stressing their obvious touristic potential, only partly exploited at present but clearly capable of vast and profitable returns once numerous restrictions imposed by current British law have been abolished.  (One thinks back to the period when the Cuban government reportedly declared it a patriotic duty of young Cuban ladies to help foreign tourists find their visits to the island enjoyable, a strategy now increasingly popular with  governments around the world.)   Once the Scillies have been disposed of the Isle of Wight would be next, a major step forward and one that could make a very substantial contribution to national finances when sold.  Its case is somewhat different since the size of the population might make it necessary to take the interests of the inhabitants into account.  However, unofficial Home Office advice is that difficulties can almost certainly be quashed by arranging that inhabitants will lose British nationality after the sale unless they co-operate with the necessary government decisions.  Curiously, beyond these options England is surprisingly ill equipped in the matter of islands.  (The Farne islands can be ignored for climatic and locational reasons.)  The real prize will of course be  an orderly sale, over the decades, of the islands of Scotland, scenically outstanding and liable to appeal to rich Americans and others with hazy notions that a great-great-grandmother with the surname Macalister counts as a close personal link to the windswept crag on which she kept her pigs in the 1790s.  The profits from these boggy goldmines could not merely shoulder much of the national budget, but allow for judicious tax cuts to the deserving classes.  These might be somewhat controversial, but the government is confident that legal experts will prove the proceeds from sales should go to Westminster.  What, though, of the Isle of Man, Jersey and  Guernsey, reputedly homes of legendary wealth?  They alas are off-limits.  No sales will be conducted there.  It is not just that the house of Windsor has means, little known but ruthlessly effective, to ensure that even the most tentative suggestion of intrusion on areas where the royal prerogative holds sway will never be made twice.  Even at the next level down those who wield the power to forbid it would never allow any serious interference to the material benefits that Westminster derives from its links to the enormous wealth in those territories.

            It has to be admitted, however, that most other revenue streams post-Brexit would be trivial in comparison  if not actually counterproductive.  Thus an optimist in the Home Office suggested that a reform of the visa arrangements could ensure that all tourists applying to visit the country but rejected on the grounds that they might be clandestine immigrants would be allowed to enter, so that they can spend money to the benefit of the economy, on condition that they agree to wear an electronic tag for the duration of their stay (not to exceed 14 days) while additional income could be extracted by requiring payment for an exit visa at the airport when they leave.   For a probably more successful example, there has been some interest expressed in Hollywood, provided withdrawal from Europe does go ahead,  in making a series of disaster movies showing how the British snatched defeat from the jaws of agreement (though others argue that the ‘horror’ genre might offer a more convincing scenario).  But the most promising of these minor contributions could be provided by the thousands of experts, advisors, consultants, and negotiators with the superb skills they have been honing in Brussels and elsewhere the past couple of years.  ‘Some of these fellows could persuade each other that the Earth orbits the sun in just 24 hours’ as one commentator put it.  It is likely that London will offer them substantial inducements to join ‘red, white and blue’ teams touring the world offering British expertise in dealing with situations needing careful preparation of proposals to leave all stakeholders convinced that their interests have been safeguarded and outlining all possible lines of future development while taking care not to formulate these in terms which could undesirably restrict freedom of action of those who could stand to benefit.  And so on.  Thus the development of French nuclear power generation at Hinkley Point has been held up as an example of what British negotiating expertise can achieve faced with complex problems; it is true that the contract (signed in 2006, with a view to the facility being ‘in service’ by 2012) foresees the UK paying for the electricity at a rate more than double the rate now expected to be charged by other producers in the 2020s (when on present estimates production may start), but this results from factors that could not have been foreseen (such as the new engineering problems reported in March of this year expected to delay completion by a further year and adding another 400 million to the construction costs).  In any case extensive evidence of the British talent for successful negotiation is amply provided by the numerous private finance initiatives now scattered across the British economic landscape like sinkholes in mined-out country.

However this little note began by wondering who would benefit when Britain, with or without part of Ireland, finally waves farewell to Europe, and one of the most conspicuous candidates must surely be Liam Fox, the minister who has been tirelessly circling the globe trying to find trading opportunities for Britain, ever since the die was cast.  Forty countries is it, that have told him they may be interested?  What the tangible outcomes will be, who can foretell?  But if a lively well-connected minister with all that experience and all those brilliant contacts does not end his days as a billionaire  then the world’s capitalist trading system is not even trying.

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For the third time since the beginning of last year the Anglophone Word has dropped more than 10% on the IIE (International Integrity Exchange) in a week, with effects that now risk serious damage to related domains, such as politics, trade, moral values and literary production.  Analysts believe there is now urgent need of a fresh international agreement to give the Anglophone Word a new start with a lower target exchange value against all other competitors.

 

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A couple of notes from London

One of my rare trips off the island, partly due to dealing with  a problem faced by Berthold (not included in the extract from his e-mail given in this posting)

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th August

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Memo to Donald J.Trump You said trade wars are easy to win?  Trade wars happen when regular trading breaks down.  Now, on any time span past a month or two, which out of regulation and capitalism would you back to win?  No, I did not mean which would you prefer to win.  (Please forward this memo to Brussels.  I never liked them any more than you.  Regards, V.P.)

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E-mail despatch from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems in London

            My apologies to you for this gap between reports.  The whole university is thrashing about in the throes of various emotions induced by Brexism, ranging from contemptuous fury (quite a lot of that, though directed at wildly different targets) to white-faced taps on the door of the Health Counsellor (a high proportion of the staff with non-British passports) and on to guffaws of incredulous laughter in the penthouse.  The main factor causing chaos in the emotional equilibria was the news that 10 Downing Street is to take over the campaign for telling the EU how they must organise things so as to give the UK a nice smooth departure.  However inept the Tory general staff have shown themselves to be over the past few months (admittedly, nearly all of them facing heavy barrages of friendly fire from others in the cabinet), it would take either a self-confidence verging on psychological disorder or a strangely blinkered mind to believe that May could be a better negotiator.  Plainly Theresa thinks she could be a better negotiator.  Perhaps dazzled, or dazed, by her own handling of the cabinet these past few months?  It is hard not to suspect that the trouble arises from an unfortunate choice of role model in her early adolescence; but you will not want me to ponder here how Thatcher herself came to be the frightful termagant who poured pesticide by the gallon on the sickly shoots of fair play in modern British society, indirectly making a bigger contribution to ‘Leave’ winning the referendum than Analytica did.  (But picking up samples of Daily Mail chit-chat while lurking under the counter of a middle England grocery store possibly had something to do with her repellent adult persona)  (Incidentally, the blokes on that group here doing facial diagnosis to assess mood, character, likely political stance and so on, officially to ‘enhance the effectiveness of British industry by improving interview techniques’, really of course to decide who gets let into the country, who gets refused promotion and put on employment blacklists and all that sort of stuff, have been having some fun using their techniques on old newsreels of prominent figures of the past.  Strictly unofficially one of them told me they did Thatcher and she came out with a seriously low score for intelligence, and an even lower one for trustworthiness.)  Theresa still sees Thatcher as a strong leader because she never changed her policies, and Theresa takes that as her best chance of hanging on for a month or two more.  Besides, it means that she never has to change course to deal with the ever changing circumstances; all she has to do is get an underling to rewrite the latest redraft of ‘our consistent policy’ to make it even more vague, ambiguous and opaque.  She certainly benefits from that terrible flaw in the human design whereby the mass of people are easily convinced by what looks like self-confidence, however misguided, even when anyone with eyes to see and the intelligence of a gnat can see the resulting actions will lead into the jaws of catastrophe.  Somewhere about here the name Adolf Hitler gets tossed into the conversation (at which point it would be advisable to stand well back.)  I may be wrong of course.  Maybe Theresa really is supremely self-confident and sure that she is much cleverer than the EU negotiators and can win by wrapping up her proposals in indeterminate verbiage that avoids making any specific commitments that she might get held to later.  “The government expects this commitment to end by October 2020”.  ‘Expects’? !   Does she really think the EU people are so dim they won’t notice?  So inefficient that they’ll forget that she signed up to that deal on the Irish border last December that stopped the negotiations collapsing then and there?  Who knows?  Perhaps foreigners really can be that disorganised, if ‘disorganised’ is the right word.  After all the Americans have just announced that the US will never tolerate any attempts by foreigners to influence American democratic processes, somehow overlooking their own scores of attempts to interfere often with great vigour in other countries’ electoral processes from the Italian De Gasperi government in 1945 onward, not to mention the 40+ countries on which they have dropped unrequested bombs in the past half century.

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Late news.  Constitutional experts in the United Kingdom are considering whether Mr Antony Blair should be held guilty of contempt of Parliament, having once more suggested that after the next election the British Parliament might be willing to accept him again as prime minister

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Today’s birthdays

Paul McCartney (172)

Cumberland (Senior royal corgi of the United Kingdom)  13½

Second post-Brexit UK government (– 19 months)

Third post-Brexit UK government (– 26 months)

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MMQQ9

Next regular posting scheduled 16-8-2018

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The Editor writes   Many years ago when I was teaching at the University of Toronto a nice young woman came into my office and remarked that she was prepared to do anything to get an ‘A’ on the course I was teaching as this would help her to get enrolled in medical school.  Fortunately, I think, for all concerned (including perhaps future patients) no plan of action linked to her remark ever emerged.  But this was merely an atypical example of experiences which on the whole left me with a quite genuine respect for the thoroughness and determination with which the inhabitants of that particular academic community pursue their goals and enquiries.  Another reached me not long ago.  All too often teams that get their university or institute into the news media  (winning a free ‘Community Outreach’ mug – normally sold in the campus shop at €5-90 – from their V-C) get their reports placed on inside pages headed ‘Science’ or ‘Technology’ and giving in 100 obscure words such sharply chiselled facts as ‘Link between hair loss and number of friends among men over 60’ or ‘Cats prefer Beethoven’.   The recently arrived report summarised the outcome for operations performed during a period of eight years by more than three thousand surgeons, with conditions of operation scrupulously matched, all performed at the same hospital.  The death rate for patients following surgery was low, but interestingly 12% lower when performed by a female surgeon than with a male doctor operating.  (With current standards of literacy and political spinning being what they are ‘spokespeople’ for ministries of health are requested not to put this as ‘after a woman has operated the patient may be 12% less dead.’)  Some have taken this as proof that women are better surgeons than men.  The Toronto team went on, as proper investigators should and as far too few do, to speculate on why this might be.  Here, though, if the report as filtered through popular journalism was exact (which is highly questionable – journalism is journalism after all) the team took the higher female excellence level as a given premiss.  This may be justified but, starting from a situation where the surgeons are exactly equally competent,  male surgeons (almost certainly on average more senior) may try to insist on taking more prestigious cases, or in some instances – see again the first sentence of this piece – may actively try to give more straightforward cases to female colleagues.  (Factors like that may also weigh when acknowledging that women doctors are less often struck off.)  It is quite reasonable to accept women’s superiority in surgery; there is plenty of evidence for instance that women are better at observation of small details; but for the sake of future patients, there should be full investigation with no more risk of influence from assumptions based on gender and occupation and unchecked tradition than there is in recruitment to coalmining or plinths in Trafalgar Square (or the presidency of the United States?)  For goodness’ sake doesn’t modern technology bring us at last to a better prospect of taking individual people as they individually are, not as representatives of a group – or a quota.

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We are reviving a series we used to run, solving problems of society free of charge

Easy solution (1)  Received from a reader: ‘A report I have seen says that the polls show about 84%of the population, who have no ready-made way to fill in the gaps when they are not using social media (for example pauses between dreams when asleep) are asking for more sport on television.  But about the same proportion find that sport on television interferes with their surfing on the billows of social media, and so they are asking for a ban on sport on television, if possible supported by a detox programme for addicts.  How can this be, and who is right?’

            When questions like this are thrown in our direction we feel (‘we’ includes Simon at present as his computer has developed stress symptoms surpassing his own and even those on my foul object, and he’s been round here most evenings blubbing about not seeing Louise) we feel, as I was saying, irritation verging on fury, principally because of the disgusting lack of clarity in the formulation of the issue, and the absence of any indication about the kind of response expected.  ‘How can this be?’ you ask.  Unaided by any clarification on your part, Max D, I neither can, nor wish to, come to any conclusion about what you may be trying ask.  I do fear, though, that with the flabby naiveté typical of so many in your country you thought that the results of an opinion poll exploring support for contradictory views should add up to 100%.  Great heavens man (or boy, or whatever you are), this was a poll of social attitudes and therefore has no obligation to produce results that make any sense in any way at all, and equally little likelihood of doing so.  Normal intelligent adults consider in any case that the notion of exploring social attitudes by making enquiries of unsophisticated members of the public is itself a senseless enterprise.  Enough said!   As for your ‘Who is right?’ I must point out that an answer would depend on many things, evidently far more than you realise, but in particular on a clear notion of what counts as ‘sport’.   Until a decade or so ago, most of us here at the time naturally assumed that ‘sport’ meant ‘sport’, for instance, fencing, riding to hounds, amateur boxing, rowing, polo and all the rest of the familiar gallimaufry.  Increasing amounts of evidence arrive, however, suggesting that there has been a mysterious change in the population’s attitudes, with many now attaching ludicrous proportions of interest to such activities as football and ‘golf’.  The former was indeed once a sport but has bizarrely metamorphosed into a strange ugly twin of what nowadays is called the ‘entertainment industry’.  Following a suggestion of Simon’s I went to a local bar to view what was said to be a programme with ‘all the news about sport’[sic] .  It consisted of, first, interviews with middle-aged men sitting behind desks uttering a puzzling mixture of platitudes, meaningless slogans, implausible predictions and comments about various financial matters, with occasional 2-second-long glimpses of men leaping around on a grass field.  There followed a series of ‘clips’ of men dressed in ordinary clothes strolling  through some unnaturally smooth countryside, and playing with little white balls as they went, evidently trying to knock them into holes in the grass, while crowds of apparently normal people watched and applauded.  Of this I could and can make no sense, but in your own case, Max, given your weak grasp on how to attempt enquiries aimed at greater understanding, I recommend that you abandon the attempt and maintain your subscription to the Daily Telegraph.

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Trump and captivity  (Regrettably this is not a report on the appalling treatment of children and their mothers and fathers at the American frontier, on the orders of the American president.  We do not have enough detailed information to give it even half the treatment it deserves.)  Trump declared Germany a captive of Russia, on the grounds that the country was buying 50% of its energy needs from Russia.  Three points: (1) what matters is not how much a country depends on foreign sources for its needs, but how far it depends on sources that are not easily replaceable.  (2) The figure is wrong; gas from Russia represents about one fifth of German energy needs.  (3) By Trump’s own metric there appears a considerable possibility that he is himself captive, in respect of political resources, on the tiny layer of ultra-wealthy Ameican business.  (Fn) Is it not still true that unlike previous American presidents he has not allowed public view of his tax returns?

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Easy solution (2) (This solution provided by Berthold via electronic messaging.)  The problem is global warming, now accepted as real by more than 40% even among those with a Trump quotient of 8 or more on the ЯFN4U scale.  Some have realised that it brings a serious threat to the life prospects of large numbers already born as well as to the viability of coastal cities all round the world.  The most important factor in the whole business (after political inertia and rampant short-termism of human administrations of course) is methane.  Curiously carbon dioxide seems to have grabbed the lion’s share of the headlines (having cut a special deal with Murdoch perhaps?) but methane is much the more deadly menace for two reasons.  Volume for volume it is not just more effective at producing the warming; it is thirty times more effective.  The second factor is that in the northern parts of the planet there are vast areas where gigantic deposits of methane lie in the soil.  Until recently they were largely ignored and regarded as locked out of geophysical calculations, being frozen hard.  However, as climatic warming proceeds it will release the southern fringes of the methane deposits which will then join all the other factors contributing to global warming, which will therefore proceed at a slightly faster rate, thus releasing more of the methane from the southern margins of the deposits, thereby accelerating… and so on.  For quite a long time it was claimed that kangaroos could rescue the planet.  It was said that emissions from the tooth-free end of animals (not excluding human beings) contributed somewhere between 14% and 18% to the effect of climatic warming, but that the contributions of different species were extraordinarily different by factors as large as 1 to 180, and, promisingly, a kangaroo’s annual production of the stuff was 1/600th of what emerged from a milch cow.  So all could be more or less hunky-dory.  All the human race needed to do to slow global warming down dramatically was to farm kangaroos instead of cows?  Actually that last figure of 1/600th turned out to be nonsense.  However the middle part was in fact soundly based – (11  relatively harmless pigs) x methane  =  approx. (1 atmospherically devastating cow) x methane .  And the first part is agreed to be in the right range.  (Australian annual air pollution via animals’ digestive tracts slightly exceeeds pollution via backsides of vehicles.)  So on condition we abolish the cow, a surly animal whatever animal ethologists would have you believe (and anyway homo sapiens  has shown itself easily capable of wiping out species, in some cases without even noticing) there ought to be some hope that oncoming catastrophe (‘D Day’ for ‘Disaster Day’?) will hold off for a few decades.  Or more exactly there would be some hope of respite (Editor: make damned sure any millennials reading pronounce it right – [réss pit not ri-spite]) – if, of course, the planet was inhabited by an intelligent species.

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Difficile est satiram scribere

The magnificent grotesques  It is breathtakingly strange that well-educated members of the élite over in the UK, secure in their mutual assurances of sanity and intelligence, do not notice a towering inconsistency between on the one hand their assertions that Brexit ‘must proceed’ because ‘the people’ of their country voted to leave the EU (actually about one in three of the adult electorate) and on the other hand their own insistence that the terms of leaving should be decided not by the people (which ‘would tie the government’s hands’) but by the few dozen individuals who sit around the cabinet table in Downing Street (or more exactly by a minority among those individuals, who believe that firm governance means carrying on with policies which looked as if they might have been worth a punt two or three years ago, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary now crowding the horizon).

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The Cassandra File   Did crews in the sea-battles of earlier centuries who saw fire-ships bearing down on them simply go ‘tsk!’ and carry on with routine tasks?   The first of these two pieces is, verbatim, an extract from Obiter Ficta (isbn 974-85468-0-2) first published in 2004:

‘It is absurd to expect commercial companies to act ethically.  The essence of their nature is to make profits…if anyone is to tie a few ethical balls and chains onto them – as they certainly should – then that is to be done by governments, and if the latter keep mum…that is because they, the government, want to evade ethical responsibility…  Why however do those who at least grasp that businesses, as such, exist to make money, persist in putting this as ‘serving the interests of their shareholders’ when manifestly it is nothing of the sort?  The interests served are naturally those of the directors and the managers of the firm.’

            The second piece is, verbatim, extracted from Private Eye of 6 April 2018:

‘Profits rise, so do bonuses.  Losses arise, but bonuses are still paid…The short-term interests of senior managers/employees increasingly trump those of the shareholder owners…Deutsche Bank lost €735m last year, yet its bonus pool quadrupled to €2.2bn.  Dividends paid totalled just €227m.’

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Rigor mentis Two constant features distinguishing the English from other European peoples for centuries have been their readiness to devise systems of rules for all aspects of national and domestic life, together with an unfailing capacity to apply them illogically, inequitably, and unjustly.  In 1478 Thomas of Credianton (today’s Crediton) wrote ‘This folk hath wondrous crafte in the devising of all manner of rules and a marvellous wit in waylaying the good that they might do.’  Which other European land could have set out a written code of conduct for the nation’s ruler, duly signed by him, as early as 1215?  The same almost instinctive urge to establish rules and constraints persists to the present day throughout the population, as in the provisions which rule that state officials have the right to raid private homes for – among other instances (and I assure readers I am not making these up) – a search for foreign bees, a survey of the seal population, and checking to discover whether offences related to stage hypnotism have been committed.  It has long been suspected that this strange national urge to regulate has some elusive basis in a malfunction of the metabolic system, possibly resulting from an ancient DNA mutation  and the term rigor mentis has been adopted to name it.  However, very recently there have been certain indications that rigor mentis may in fact be a contagious ailment.  Incidents that seem hard to explain in other ways have occurred in other countries.  For example, Le Monde reported that on 14th June of this year a force of 20 officials including police descended on the harbour front market at Marseille, interviewing and in one case temporarily detaining fishmongers there (one of whom had his entire stock seized) who were charged with not having on their stalls a display giving the name of the fish they had for sale – in Latin.

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Late news

As the deadlines loom and the cryogenic-preservation-lines are checked to see if they are still fit for purpose, rumours are circulating of a brilliant solution to the Irish border conundrum, provisionally to be made public after one further cabinet meeting to settle the principal issue (i.e. presentation).  ‘In a spirit of friendly compromise to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned’ the UK government is to confirm that it will neither set up nor request any frontier posts along the border, thus allowing completely frictionless trade in the island.  As a generous additional measure the prime minister is to arrange for the UK Border Agency to establish ‘Traveller Assistance Posts’ at all crossing points, at which a wide range of services will be provided, many at low or minimal costs, including high quality restaurant facilities, free internet connexions, traffic updates and advice on safe routes taking into account predicted weather conditions (recommended), insurance for onward travel (obligatory), and free vehicle checks (compulsory for safety reasons),

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Lost and found (Editor’s report)

Our island has a mini-auditorium, little used except by Kevin who thinks he plays the harmonica and occasionally ‘jams’ there with anyone else who shares that opinion and has some sort of instrument they can bring along to join in.  But it’s quiet normally and I sometimes go in there to work.  Last week I found an A4 sheet on the floor with the typed text copied out below, starting with stage direction to ‘Pete’ (who I happen to know is actually Selenia Gove-Grimsdyke); clearly linked to a scheme got up by two of our island’s three political activists, namely putting on a TEDium talk-show next month to celebrate World Political Analysis Day.  My kind-hearted nature makes me feel they ought to be discouraged, by force if necessary.  The text, as mistyped:

[Pete, speaking from lecturn, stage left. under spotlight.   Spotlight: Govrenment reform]

            “To help out on missunderstanding, in our performance tonight this phrase does not mean improvments in the goverment of your country, which-ever that maybe…..”

[At this  point enter Votebot from trapdoor (Jeremy disguise as robot), stage centre: Votebot makes black power salute for soldarity then orates, voice like robot, very loud] : Just get real, you halfwits!  Think!  Why do govrenments exist!  They are there to propetuate the interest of those in power.  True!  keep thinking!!  Do govenments ever have elctions which would really change things? When their not sure about there 100%  control over the poppulation under them – See! they call it, ‘their people’ even though UN has ruled for abolition of slavery – then they pick and choose and invent ‘policies’ and ‘promises’ to see which combo gives them best guaranty they will stay on top. One example out of millions all over our planet: that old London crap called ‘we will build more houses for the people to live in’, comes out in its wheel-chair every election since they invented prefabs in the 1945.   How often you get a real change when they have an election? (About once a centery some goverment gets it wrong, like Najib Razak who right now wondering what hit him).  Goes without saying of course, I am speaking about real changes of government, not the sort of Blairite crap which promises you  a different group got in but in actual factessentials leaves a  priveleged click – a click which it turns out has just the same kind of gangs congratulating them selves and giving themselves bonusses for leading the companies where the poor bleading workers do all the work over the edge of the cliff but the bosses get off alright into theyre holiday homes in the Bahmmas, should be called the Obahmmas, and sometimes the actual same people, with their wives and kids and cronies they play tenis with and eat posh dinners with and old Sir Tom Cobbley and all, and they still run the show with their chums and squeeze all the juisce and money they can get out of the neolibberal set-up which gives all the perques to themselves and their mates, just like the fuedal system worked beautifully for your average baron while the villains slaved away in the mud trying to make enuogh mud for themselves and theyre familie to live on.

[Votebot now at mega volume, striding electronicaly across stage like a poncey self-obsesed CEO, beating cyberchest, and flashes of light from cyber skeleton (if Julien at the Palais électrique really can

(end of sheet)

Regular posting scheduled for 16 July

MMQQ 8

WARNING! this posting may contain favourable references to Vladimir Putin. I have done my best to weed them out – just this morning I threw one out which described him as telling rather fewer barefaced  lies than some other well-known national leaders (named), and another which blatantly failed to maintain that he won re-election only by cunning manipulation of the Russian electoral system with the help of North Korean hackers, without which as every right-thinking westerner knows he would have got under 20% of the votes, with 60% going to Sobchak. (Memo to self: check Faux for those figures.)  But someone – Twitter? dark websters? George Soros? undercover Russian moles in Washington? – keeps putting the wretched messages up when the computer is catching its breath after a brisk ten minutes of typo production.  AND another one just in this minute as I write!  “Trump call to bring Putin into G8: only good thing he’s said all year.  Just because you have problems with someone is why you should talk to them.  Least bad move of Brits losing empire – talked peace with ex-terrorists.  Even Churchill said it: ‘jaw-jaw is better than war, war.”  Time out, I think, for my morning ten-minute blank screen thought-free sanity break (prescribed by Dr. Zee Hubris III of New Exeter University’s Institute of the Gymnastic Brain).

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DNA (1)

The shock news for neonazis world wide (though we don’t have any reliable figures on how many were hoping  that Hitler was still alive somewhere in South America  and preparing an allegedly well funded return) is that definitive evidence was provided last month through Agence France Presse of their former leader’s demise, in the shape of authenticated fragments of the late Herr Schickelgruber, including enough to indicate that his death was caused by a shot to the head.  Enough, also and interestingly, to allow in principle a DNA analysis.  Rumours have already begun to circulate, some of which may have unpredictable political ramifications.  For instance one magazine with a small circulation in Lower Saxony (until last month – it reports that it is now having to arrange massive extra print runs and hiring 24-hour security patrols) claimed that DNA analysis has already been carried out and showed that Hitler was of mixed ancestry with a major input from West  Africa.  Another source alleges that the material was actually made available to experts in a centre specialising in gene therapy some months ago, for undisclosed purposes.  There is as yet no reliable evidence for the claims that the institute where they worked has had to be closed down, with many of the staff needing hospital treatment following injuries received during attacks by swarms of aggressive white mice, some of which are said to have escaped and been observed in large organised groups as far away as 40 kilometres.  More credence is being placed on the reports that a well-respected university archaeological department has confirmed that it is applying to have access to an authenticated version of the DNA with a view to seeing if it will cast light on Europe’s first recorded major battle.  This battle, which involved many hundreds of casualties, took place somewhat over 5,000 years ago, and few inhabitants of the EU will be surprised to hear that it was fought in north-eastern Germany (at Tollense) but so far there is complete uncertainty as to which tribes were involved (if indeed it was not a domestic dispute which, as they so often do, spiralled out of control.)  A different and less problematic development, obeying modern norms of acceptable practice, has been a burst of energetic attempts to monetise the discovery.  A number of groups are already busy selling print-outs of Hitler’s DNA (popular with students as wall charts apparently); such a project could the more easily bring profit since there is no obvious reason why the representation on the charts should be genuine, and little risk of breach of copyright even if it is.

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DNA (2)

Amazing news this past week: the claim of success in a project that could have short-circuited the threat of yet another war in the Balkans.  As everybody knows, the region which under Yugoslavia was called Macedonia, is next to a part of northern Greece which under Greece (of course) is called Macedonia.  The members of homo sapiens (sic) who live in either place have for 27 years maintained a situation of admirably determined hostility.  The EU handed the northern Macedonia the short straw at the start by refusing to agree to that nation joining the EU or Nato unless it stopped calling itself Macedonia, despite the fact it was a separate nation calling itself Macedonia, while the Greek Macedonia was only a province, and despite the fact that EU and Nato, and the UN, were actually eager to enfold Macedonia (the independent one) in their warm and wholly altruistic embraces.  With resolute  patriotic indignation Macedonia refused to stop calling itself Macedonia in the decades which followed, and scorned weaselly proposals from unprincipled bodies, like the UN, to ask the Macedonians (in Greece) to call the Macedonians (in Macedonia) ‘Macedonians of the North’ or something of the sort – up until 12th of this month when the Balkans were thunderstruck to hear that agreement had been reached to let the Macedonians use the name ‘Northern Macedonia’, and thus induce regional instability by becoming eligible to join the EU, Nato, conferences to deplore global warming, and all manner of freeby-generating organisations.  However, normality returned within 24 hours.  Senior politicians in Macedonia (in Greece) launched heavy attacks on the proposal, and at the same time the president of Macedonia (the other one) denounced the idea as something he could never agree to.  The threat of unsettling stability has been removed.  Some heard the EU breathe a sigh of relief.

            The curious fact, though, is that the issue might have been settled years ago, if sensible arrangements had been made for mass testing of the DNA of the two populations.  According to eminent historians the two regions became depopulated during the incessant wars and Völkerwanderungen after Justinian’s time and were re-settled mainly by Avars, Bulgars, Serbs and other Slavic peoples, so that none of the present populations (Greeks included, though you had better not mention that to them) can fairly claim any real link to the Macedonians of Alexander the Great, or to his legacy, and therefore they had no proper basis for hostility in the matter.  Whether this would have resulted in a delightful period of peace and tranquillity over the past 27 years is of course another question.

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Difficile est satiram scribere

The British National Health Service is in the news again, for the usual reason.  On reasonable and independent estimates it has in recent years faced hugely increasing gaps between expenses and funding in nearly all sectors (except revenue collection from those, such as doctors and patients, who need to park in hospital car parks, and in nurses’ pay which in real terms has been dropping disgracefully, a circumstance possibly connected with the increasing shortages of nursing staff, and the sharp decline in applications from overseas to join the NHS).  One would have imagined that British governments might have made efforts to maintain standards of care for the population, if only to get more work out of them, but one might be mistaken.  And this is not an unavoidable accident that has crept up on UK governments.  The following is, verbatim, from one of Berthold’s despatches in 2015: it was at the time intended satirically.  But can you call something satire when it matches observable data so closely?    …. ‘This legislation is to be followed up by a wide raft of measures to be introduced by the Ministry of Health.  The overall aim will be to progressively downgrade both the range of services provided by the National Health Service, and the treatments available within each of those.  In addition there will be a number of new charges for medical and related care, and increases in the levels of existing fees.  At the same time there are to be drastic cuts in the numbers of staff employed in all areas.  The overall strategy is to promote deterioration in the National Health Service so as to stimulate members of the public to take better care of their own health, and to learn to pay proper and full attention to the avoidance of accidents at work and in the home.  The government is confident that this imaginative and unconventional approach to reform when combined with further exploration of the possibilities offered by co-operation with private investment will produce immensely more satisfying results.’

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Personal view The dead and those with life-changing injuries from Grenfell should be remembered with career-changing penalties for those responsible. (Yes ‘responsible’ is as sharply defined as a cumulus cloud; but if you check you will see the cloud really is there.)    (J.N.N. Manchester)

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Personal view  T. May comes closer than any other well-known politician in the past century to fitting the description which the alcoholically inspired Aneurin Bevan fastened on Stafford Cripps back in the 1940s, of being ‘a desiccated calculating machine’ (a term used in the middle ages for ‘computer’).  (And yes they had austerity in those days too, though you ought to bear in mind they had had a world war; they weren’t doing austerity just to set society up in a pattern which members of the governing class felt comfortable with.) (D.C.McNaught, Lisbon)

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Editor’s note: I am getting off-piste, having to do so much of this stuff single-handed, with only occasional notes from Berthold and even rarer contributions from the Baron Philipp, and Monty in London (who is showing a kindly streak in his personality which I had never spotted before, working all hours trying to force-feed some basics about rational thought and constitutional proprieties into the May government.  I hope he fails because if they proceed along the same path, a Brexit calamity of historic proportions is going to  lead to the extinction of a party which once in the long ago was a model of what guided democracy in a country with traditions of fair play could achieve in its better moments, but which has now become a contemptible bandwagon, crammed with all manner of unsavoury characters jostling in a struggle to peel off all the carriage’s remaining gold leaf to stuff it in their already well-stuffed pockets, or to tear out any parts of the bodywork they can lever off with a view to profitable private sale, hurling insults and obvious untruths at all and sundry as they pass.

 

Examination Paper CID4U

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th  August

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES DECONSTRUCTED     CID4U

This examination is scheduled to last ten (10) minutes

Read each question carefully before answering and then write your answer on both sides of the paper provided.  Cheating is permitted but must be cleared with the supervising examiner in advance 

1. Is the increased proportion of testosterone allegedly discovered in the metabolic system of western men by comparison with forty years ago the result of changes in diet, changes in the visual environment on screen and off, of doping to accompany ‘sporting’ activity, or of input self-administered by males afflicted by self-doubt after listening to preposterous lies told by male work colleagues?

2. Cui bono?  This was the favourite question of Cicero (ancient Rome’s answer, 2,000 years in advance, to Jeremy Corbyn, except that he wrote much better Latin).  Strangely this phrase is completely ambiguous.  One of its meanings is “What’s the point?” but the other one, which Cicero claimed was what he meant when he ued it is considered more respectable, and quotable, and is equivalent to “Who got the benefit from it?” when discussing mysterious unpleasant events such as political murders where there was no eye witness (or no one with any intention of coming forward as such).  Caruana Galizia’s explosive exit in Malta is only one of several prominent cases in recent times where this question might be put to work.

3. Question for Tony Blair (to receive if you ever find him at a public meeting where he is bold enough to take questions): ‘On your travels do you ever get the chance to visit the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq?’

4. If we conclude that quantum mechanics shows that assertions which are fiercely counter-intuitive (e.g. cats being simultaneously both alive and dead) are correct, might we not reasonably conclude that there is a high level of fallibility about the mental processes by which human beings reach conclusions ?

[p.s. surely any Ph.D student in physics could cope with that premiss by just assuming an extra dimension or two]

5. Given (a) the great predominance (or should that be ‘predomination’) of the male gender in those holding positions from which appointments to lucrative, fashionable, or prestigious jobs are made (e.g. M.P., broadcasting bigwig, CEO, theatrical panjandrum, or director of think tank) and (b) the surge of agreement across ‘developed’ nations that gender inequality should be ‘tackled’, there is likely to be (a) a substantial increase in the number of new female appointments to lucrative etc jobs, and (b) a high chance that those appointments will be of attractive young women.  Is this likely to result in increasing the disadvantage of older, less attractive women who may well need the job more?  (Answer: ‘Yes’)

6. How long does a family have to live in a country before they cease to be immigrants?  Twenty years?  Fifty years?  A hundred and fifty years?  And does the length of time depend on any factors other than their length of residence, such as complexion or how much money they have?  (Answer: ‘YES, and YES!’)

7. It is claimed that an important aspect of human intelligence is the ability to learn things from just two or three encounters.  Are there any public-spirited psychologists or sociologists researching into ways to develop a human ability to dis-learn, from ideally just six or seven, or anyway as few encounters as possible (with particular reference to the tendency to invade foreign countries, especially but not exclusively in the Middle East?   (Oh, and Afghanistan.)  And if not, why not?

8. Can you place the following government responses in the standard chronological order of appearance after a disaster inescapably and obviously caused largely by government incompetence or dishonesty or both combined?

(1) Blaming the victims   (2) Congratulating the survivors on their resilience   (3) Promising that the government will take all necessary measures to ensure that such a disaster never happens again  (4) Announcing the launch of an enquiry (to report back ‘early next year’)   (5) Assuring that their thoughts and hearts and profound sympathy go out to those affected and their families (6) Showing how it resulted directly from the policies of the previous government  (7) Guaranteeing that survivors will receive prompt and adequate compensation, where appropriate (on presentation to the committee to be set up in Newcastle upon Tyne to review claims of the evidence of harm or loss, provided that they submit such evidence within six weeks, and can attach satisfactory proof confirmed by a solicitor or barrister that they were at the relevant time properly registered inhabitants of the locality so sadly stricken).

9. How long will it be after the first robot newsreader delivers her initial news presentation (because she will certainly be female) on a public news channel, before some inadequate gets himself 15 minutes of attention in the twittersphere by announcing that he has tweeted ‘her’ a proposal of marriage?

10. Simon (the one who said the fuss over colour of UK passports should be solved now that the UK is supposed to be a diverse society, whatever that means, by making them every colour of the rainbow plus brown, black and white) asks why windmills which have their blades vertically aligned only have them on one side of the structure holding them up.  If he’s right about that, why is it?  Wouldn’t you get twice the power if there were blades on each side?

11. You wouldn’t ask barefoot passers-by for advice on how to make shoes.  Then why expect government to pay any attention to an oppressed underclass (variously known as ‘the poor’, ‘Labour voters outside London’, ‘the oiks’, or ‘the bottom 30%) on how to run the country?  (Sorry Kropotkin!)

12. Which tends to come first, domination over other nations and identifiable minorities, or callous barbarity?

 

 

 

 

MMQQ7 – Flying Fish

Schedule for next regular posting 16 June

Krill    Scientists (who else would it be?) recently discovered that vast swarms of tiny shrimps, with a collective biomass which dwarfs anything that migrating wildebeest or North American bison could ever put into play, are pulsating deep below the surface of the world’s polar oceans.  They flick their tails in such enormous numbers that they have a detectible impact on ocean currents. Scientists believe there is a genuine possibility that a change in their ancestral migrations could lead to a major change in the circulation of oceanic currents, diverting the Gulf Stream for instance, so as to no longer bring mild Caribbean waters flowing to Europe in the winter.  There have been various reactions around the globe.   Representatives of the Munster Winter Sports Association are already in Colorado for discussions about establishing a chain of Irish ski resorts if, as the scientists believe possible, an abrupt halt to the North Atlantic Circulation results in Alpine winters for the Southwest of Ireland.  Whitehall has already received a proposal from a retired British admiral for attempts to ‘train’ the shoals so as to control their movements, on the basis that if a flying goose can bring down an airliner then a marine phenomenon as big as this might cause serious problems to a Russian nuclear submarine.   (The scientists commented that it might be easier to train shrimps than retired admirals, or the dolphins they’d made attempts with earlier.  The dolphins had quickly spotted that the backpacks that were strapped onto their backs were only too likely to have unpleasant effects for themselves whatever else might happen.) (The ‘dolphins’ which patrol up and down the coast of Gaza with a regularity which has attracted the admiration of border security agencies around the world are in fact tiger sharks.  Theresa May is said to have instructed an ad hoc team to investigate whether similar recruits could be incorporated into her programme to control ‘free’ movement after Brexit.)  Meanwhile several fleets of Dutch fishermen are already more than halfway to the poles, followed by support vessels dwarfing mere Med cruise liners, bearing fishing gear that could bring up the Albert Hall if it was down there.                 Tweets from Donald Trump this morning initially declared the existence of these massive swarms to be a dangerous threat to the peaceful passage of shipping in the Gulf, and he blamed Iran for stoking up regional tensions.  It emerged later that the president had confused the Gulf referred to when talking about the ‘Gulf Stream’ with the different Gulf which some of us who took geography in school  have always called the ‘Persian Gulf’ (though according to others it has, even more always, been called the Arabian Gulf.)

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Today’s Voice of Protest (This posting’s contrary voice is that of Professor Sid Karaosmanoglu, Associate Professor of Domestic Sanitation for Block 43 and the ground floor of Block 45 in the City Campus of Bognor Sophia.)  ‘As I see it, all those Windrush people did very well out of our country while they were here, shouldn’t be grumbling.  Besides they weren’t mostly proper British, anyway.  Very few out of them all really hated foreigners, far as I could see.’

             We are interested to hear that in his spare time (every day after 6pm,  and weekends except for alternate Saturdays) Professor Sid is a keen advocate of gender equality.  In particular he feels it is unfair that most major beauty contests still refuse to admit male candidates, including himself.

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Serious stuff   Let me state categorically again that the inhabitants of the UK did NOT vote to leave the EU.  The claim that they did is paired with bizarre twists of the notion of democracy.  Somewhere about the generation of John Stuart Mill, theorists safely detached from close proximity to the conditions of most of the population, purveyed an idea that democracy entailed dealing with a problem (e.g. ‘who shall run the country and how?’) by collecting ideas from all and sundry, setting them before all those who would be affected by the various possible answers, corralling those answers into explicit formulations, and letting the assembled company have simple votes on which would be accepted.  This is a neat way to run your local badminton club, so long as it has no over-ebullient members.  It was distant from the way government was actually run even then, when ‘democracy’ meant a daring revolutionary proposal, that all adult males (provided they were not in prison or members of an unfavoured minority)(race didn’t even come into it ) should be allowed to vote once, every few years, on which small oligarchy should hold power up to and including decisions to send the populace to war, in the next few years.  From small acorns mighty oaks!  Now a population of millions has the virtually useless right to form itself, once every few years, into groups of tens of thousands, which each choose one representative, who can proceed to a second stage where six hundred or so such representatives can decide which tiny group among themselves will actually get their hands on the controls, including decisions to go to war, for the next handful of years.  All this, observed by a moderately rational visitor from an alien star system will (or perhaps, if we but knew, does) have him, her or it gibbering at the various moons whizzing round the night sky.  It doesn’t stop there.  Since hundreds of different issues will face the nation at the time of the ‘election’ and there is only one voting day it cannot in practice be anything more than a popularity poll, and since, throughout, 98% of the electorate have no better chance to assess the candidates than seeing them walking on stage or addressing a carefully managed television audience, or reading – as most do not – the claims and assertions made in the course of hugely expensive and carefully crafted campaigns of political advertising (sorry – I nearly wrote ‘information’ there) the whole shebang has as much similarity to consulting the population on their considered views on the whole range of issues to come up in the next five or six years as Theresa May’s acceptance speech outside No. 10 has to her practice in office (and in earlier years, we now learn).

            The biggest mystery is how great swathes of the population seem to think they believe (sic) that something like the theory is approximately similar to what does happen.  Actually if there are any ways that ideas and desires among the population have any influence on the governing elite, the holding of democratic elections is most certainly not one of them.  Just look at some of those who get into high positions.  (I’d suggest dinner parties in Hampstead, or sharing rooms when fresh out of university or getting born in a well-placed family would all be many times more effective.)  Perhaps someone will defend the system on the grounds that there should be a place for farce in politics.  Certainly it has had  some outlandish political effects.  Macron is acclaimed as the French president now leading Europe.  The elegant French variation on democratic election got him there with a final vote of only about 42.5% of the French electorate, even though he ended up facing a single opponent, who was one of the most unpopular politicians in the country.  As for the Brexit referendum it is recorded in black and white that ‘Leave’ attracted about one third, only, of the adult electorate, voting (as should now be obvious to even those determined to take a view unclouded by objectivity) about a sealed prospectus, with only one factor identified out of many dozens heavily relevant.  But never mind, Britain is a good, respectable, democratic country, so that’s all right then.

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Speculative investment  Experts specialising in intellectual property say that they are seeing manufacturers of their products increasingly shifting their interest to the ‘tried and tested’ side of the market.  Why waste time and money developing new projects when you can simply make a few tweaks to something that has already proved its worth with a public lobotomised by the constant barrage of consumerism, mount a high-powered promotional campaign for your ‘fantastic’ ‘all-new’ whatever-it-is, and carry on adding to the bonus package of your CEO and his board?  But analysts are puzzled by a continuing weakness in the imagination sector.  While certain niche products are holding steady, for instance Japanese manga, the sector as a whole has been in decline since the beginning of the year.  This is despite the  steady flow of new products of this type arriving on the market, with all the promotional publicity you could want (and then a lot more to make sure), about wonderful advances, boasting that – with smartphones for instance – the latest new model has 8% higher pixel density than anything seen before, or it has a ‘uniquely’ curving carapace modelled on ancient Greek pillars on Syros, or it can project a laughing zombie sitting cross-legged front centre of the picture when you let someone use it for a selfie if you don’t tell them how to turn that feature off.  Every week brings new  ‘fantastic ways to lose weight and enhance your endurance while eating three wonderful health-giving meals a day’.  One analyst has suggested that for so long each new idea has so regularly been ‘even more exciting’ than the one before, that customers have come to regard ‘even more exciting’ as equivalent to ‘much the same as the sort of stuff we already know about so let’s just go out for a  pizza tonight’.  (Known to some as the Musk effect.)  Last month for instance, Lui Phoo of the Taiwan Institute of Phrenology announced she had found a way to turn divorced French retirées into animal rights activists, but nobody turned up to the press conference she had arranged.   Willie Storey, a farmer (and footballer) of Cumberland believes that success in sheepdog trials is partly down to telepathy between master (or mistress) and dog, and wants to find out if this discovery can be put to any less practical use, but his appeals for investigators have fallen on deaf ears.  An Illinois student is still appealing for crowdfunding to support him writing a dictionary of the world’s best ideas that nobody has ever yet had.  ($118-50c in 13 months so far.)  At present the decline looks set to continue given the great volume of increasingly poor quality imagination and outright fake imagination, flowing onto the net, simply reproducing effects or images or plotlines taken from Hollywood movies or American novels, or directly from news reports, even though this practice can cause problems of its own.  A well-known author last year lifted what he thought was a news report to put in his collection of fifty one-page stories which won him a ‘New Writing’ award.  It turned out that the ‘news report’ had been run up by a journalist in a hurry to fill a column, reworking a tale she found in a 1935 book, ‘Bedtime Stories for Billy’.  The author is now being sued for plagiarism.

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Apology (Editor writes.) I am fed up with the irritating whines that  news outlets usually give you: ‘My remarks were taken out of context; and there wasn’t really anything wrong anyway, but if there was it wasn’t my fault, and I remember anyway back in 2015 you did something slightly similar which was much, much worse so let’s concentrate on  that then!’  By comparison with that sort of crap one might almost respect – no, not really – the bare-faced effrontery of what might be called  the papal gambit.  Two or three popes ago one of them, the one who used to be in the SS, upset large chunks of such of the world’s population as pay any attention to him, by some outrageous remark, and when asked to apologise announced that he was sorry that those who had heard him had got themselves in a lather about it.  Enough of these fraudsters: We sincerely apologise to Lady Margaret Hall for our mistaken report that LMH had any hand in the education of Theresa May.  Our fault for not checking.

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Isn’t it time we heard the report from the OPCW, the initial report that is, not the one to come out about Douma?  Or didn’t it come out the way that Theresa wanted?  And by the way, isn’t it time there was a message from the Skriepal woman (not just a message from the Met saying they were speaking on her behalf.  British procedures are supposed to be a bit above the level of small Third-world dictatorships.)

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Mahathir back after fourteen years taking it easy.  If it really is Mahathir.  But how could he have teeth like that at 92?  Or is it a body-double?  If it is really Mahathir, a worrying thought looms – Bersluconi is only 81.

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We keep telling you

MMQQ Supplement 2

Next regular posting scheduled 16 May

Once again there’s been an e-mail saying this journal doesn’t keep up with current events.  This is outrageous.  Even if you only look at the ones we are allowed to publish, I’d back some of our stuff to stand elbow to elbow with what comes out of Chatham House or RUSI.  (But it’s still a pity my attempt to sign the Official Secrets Act with disappearing ink was thwarted.)  In our honourable tradition, so often flouted now by politicians across the western world, of giving tangible evidence for claims placed before the public, try this.  It was first posted in 2010.

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It is still hard to find an economist who sees globalisation as a bad thing, even if it would be unnecessarily cynical to point out that economics tends to be written by members of a class that does well out of it.  But there are two hugely important factors involved in economic activity.  Putting it crudely, one of them is money and the other is the people who do the work.  It seems to be pretty well taken for granted that free circulation of money is a good thing, and an essential element of the business, which will lead to increasing prosperity of the world’s population, (or at least of the populations of rich countries, or more exactly yet, of the better-off sections of the populations of rich countries).  This is considered to be the same thing as progress.  Yet in country after country, the idea that the same kind of freedom should apply to people is seen as unacceptable.  It is not at all clear that the unacceptability is soundly based on economic self-interest.  In America many employers would be eager to recruit more staff and get more business done.  One might have thought that the population at large would be glad to see more workers arrive to do the necessary menial jobs – garbage collection, low-grade building work, and so on – which they do not want to do themselves at any price.  Yet a giant wall is being built on the southern frontier, and draconian laws are being prepared to capture and punish those who have somehow managed to gain entry without official permission.  Hundreds drown each year in the Mediterranean because they cannot lawfully enter the European Union.  The EU itself is established on a premiss of ‘free movement’ of all citizens within its boundaries, but –  linguisticism darkens the debate – even for those whose starting point is within the EU this is only free movement of those who can establish themselves in recognised employment or show other evidence of having enough (unspecified) resources.  In every continent the ‘trafficking’ of people is an appalling disgrace, and is even sometimes mentioned by governments and ‘authorities’  as a problem.

            Thus, when neither proclaimed political principles, nor economic self-interest – and obviously not common humanity – can explain why people are denied the freedom granted to money, the conclusion…. is what?

(Answer (2018): democracy is eating civilisation away; it is a system allowing the most privileged and influential to gerrymander things to their own further advantage)

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Or try this, equally topical as things are at present, and in fact not an editorial contribution of our own, but an example of the better kind of correspondence we receive from time to time.

3 July 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 but still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, that is 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, lead in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

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And although this is yet another re-posting, it certainly should be included since it too remains  disgracefully topical. (from 15-5-16)

Readers over the age of 7¾ will long have realised, I trust, that various kinds of arguments are put to us from time to time to persuade us to publish some item or other.  I feel free though to express my amazement at the flexibility of the backbones in some news organisations that we have dealings with, unless, that is, their bleatings of approval for government actions simply show their callow credulity.  For instance, a few days ago the British media were full of ‘good news’ brought to them by express donkey from No.10 rejoicing that the noble British government had done a ‘U-turn’ on its scandalous, and thoroughly dishonourable rejection of a parliamentary proposal to admit refugee children, many with good and valid links to Britain, who were living without family or any other adult support in Europe, and in some cases without adequate food or shelter, but who had been denied entry.  (On what grounds can any moral being refuse help to a child in such circumstances?  On what grounds?  On grounds of invincible – and also, looking at the broad economic picture, entirely pointless – selfishness.  Pure and unadulterated selfishness, therefore.)  So in what did the trumpery ‘U-turn’ actually consist?  The government had merely withdrawn the declaration of its refusal, and announced that it was ‘in talks’ with ‘various organisations’ ‘to see what arrangements could be made’.  What is the level of political IQ that can think that it sees there a good deed?  There are frequently other such devious plays on the gullibility of lackadaisical media outlets in today’s benighted journalistic circus, relying on governments to deliver prepacked ‘news’ and social networks to deliver unhinged views which can be ladled out, without benefit of sub-editing, to anyone who might still be listening (and is this a recipe for commercial survival?)

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Since this supplement is being prepared anyway, I will, with his permission, add unedited comments sent in by our long-time colleague Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, now a para-academic in London:

Goodness knows what Lady Margaret Hall was teaching back in the 1970s.  Whatever it was it doesn’t seem to have done Theresa much good.  The woman seems incapable of normal intelligent thought.  She has swallowed whole this notion of her being a second Thatcher, an ambition which itself shows deplorable lack of insight.  Thatcher only got away with it, because the men in Thatcher’s cabinet were so confused by the idea of being ordered around by a woman that they let her get away with things that would have been career-ending for any of them.  And once she had cottoned on to an idea or policy she was incapable of adapting to the idea that it might be a mistake. Some inspired spin-doctor called this ‘steadfast leadership’.  Little-known fact (as passed on by a former academic at Somerville):  Thatcher left after being told her mind might be better suited to politics than academia.  May follows this model with even less adaptability.  Once she’s learned what she’s supposed to say about some idea or policy she’ll carry on repeating it robotically even if every fact in the situation changes through 180 degrees.  She really should face up to the fact the  ‘British people’ did not vote for Brexit.  About one third of the adult electorate, only, voted for it.  As for her approach to negotiation, she seems to have only one tactic, great quantities of ill-defined but agreeable-sounding verbiage, making complimentary but entirely irrelevant comments about the other side, spinning things out until deadlines get near, so that through boredom or exhaustion the opposition will stop making objections; then adding in a casual throwaway style at the end “in all relevant sectors”, “to cover all likely developments”, “so far as is possible” and “which is in accord with the agreements we’ve already reached” (whether this has the slightest link to truth or not), or – if she gets caught out – “Oh, I know I signed that last December, but I thought that was just a goodwill gesture to get things moving along nicely.  But it’s too late now, isn’t it – we’ll have to let it go through, it would be so much trouble if we had to start all over again.”

            There are two things wrong with this sort of approach.  In the short term it may, sometimes, cut the mustard, but long-term your opponents will get tougher and tougher, and you’ll pay the price many times over.  The other thing is that it relies heavily on the belief that the opposition’s mental equipment is significantly inferior to your own.  I do not think this is a wise strategy for the present British government.

MMQQ6

Base jumping; political honesty; recycling bodies; political English and sleep; fake news in ancient times; economising on answers.   Next regular posting scheduled for 16-5-2018.

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A long and interesting phone call this week from our highly esteemed former colleague (Dr) Montgomery Skew.  This fragment  verbatim, as Monty has privileged access to the spooks’ interview recording devices and he kindly let me have a print-out to send you.

I find it hard to avoid supposing I must have been dreaming, but I don’t think I was.  I think I really did hear our Minister for Unaided Cliff Descent Strategy vaunting his case for the ‘shut your eyes and jump’ approach on the grounds   that after Brexit ‘we’ would be able to trade with exciting hitherto under-explored  countries (such as Brazil, cited by name) which contain vast remote regions harbouring who knows what treasures, all now to be available post-Brexit to British merchants boldly exploiting new lands.  (See portfolio of maps hand-drawn for British schools by Jacob Rees-Mogg, available from HMSO.)  (How it came about that the Yanks and other nations of the world had not yet noticed these exciting prospects did not achieve explanation in the tv clip).  The treasures could include such items as hitherto unknown herbs gathered in the depths of the tropical forests, offering cures for leprosy or German measles or Spanish flu or Hungarian planipedia, or ‘magic’ scaffolding (ideal for constructing invisible border posts).  Perhaps he’s right, and maybe they could find a cure for early onset adult male stupidity, a common disorder of cabinet ministers, as well.  But shouldn’t there be a little evidence for all this ?  Shouldn’t there be shots of the minister in dark glasses sidling into the side entrances of anonymous skyscrapers in Africa, weighed down by bulging briefcases and surrounded by armed guards; shouldn’t there at least be rumours of secret deals in the Caribbean under way about which we ‘cannot yet give public information for fear of creating a fever  of speculation’ on the markets?  What about hush-hush private flights to ‘undisclosed destinations’ or better still those sovereign bases on Cyprus?  Glorious opportunities there for interesting cross-border trade, in and out of the EU, very shrewd bankers readily available, and good connections Middle East and in all directions.  Silence is an unnerving sound when you’re supposed to be in the middle of a market place.

 †  at this point I rejected a note from the subediting computer:  ‘rocks’ a better word than ‘grounds’

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Linguistic WARNING.  You should be aware that this woman, Theresa May, may be dangerous for your understanding of the English language and cause linguistic damage or even partial breakdown.  For instance the Guradian newspaper has recorded her describing ‘full alignment’ (ie having the same tariffs on imports as some other trading group) as ‘sharing the same policy goals’.  But if you are British please remember that for legal reasons you are not allowed to believe that British prime ministers could ever be dishonest or deceitful, even unintentionally, while in office.

(Constitutional lawyers are questioning this special status of a prime minister, as amounting to discrimination against other ministers, who have shown that they are prepared to boldly and openly disregard facts live to camera on television.)

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(With permission from a letter to the Georgian Gentlefolk’s Gazette)

It disturbs me to hear that the government is considering a law to establish a presumption of consent to donation of body parts from those who have died, unless permission is explicitly withheld.  As it stands this would amount to nationalisation of the bodies of the dead, marginally less repugnant than in other cases of nationalisation given that consent can be denied by those who make timely arrangements (but would it be necessary to have the certification tattooed on the body?).  It has the advantage of setting a precedent, for if we are allowed to opt out of national uniformity on this issue, it would be inconsistent not to allow opting out in, for example, the matter of income tax.  However, I have an immediate objection on different grounds.  Surely if dead bodies are to be, in the popular term, ‘recycled’ then on both moral and practical economic grounds a free market would be the fairest distribution system, with relatives of the deceased or the rightful owner selling organs to those prepared to pay the highest price.  This could perhaps depend on the urgency of the purchaser, but I trust we could rely on communities to join together in raising a high sum for a worthy candidate if he or she is not personally able to meet the price required.  Groups who had a particular regard for some former member might wish  to arrange competitive bidding to achieve an especially high price as a demonstration of their respect for the deceased, and effective publicity for such sales would enhance the effect.  And of course by no means every portion of the departed will be of mere practical utility to those left behind.  One can envisage those who had a special bond of amity or sympathy for a former colleague seeking to preserve that link in a very real sense by bidding for some suitable portion of anatomy, an index finger perhaps –  the ring finger, why not? – or the scalp maybe, to be embalmed and mounted in a tasteful ceramic decoration as a memento of the former friend or set in a brooch with a suitable accompaniment of gems, while the sum raised by the sale could be directed either to reduction of an outstanding tax bill, or go to some charitable purpose in the friend’s name.

Lady Anthelmina Strych-Corker  (Port Nargent)

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Governmental English

This office apologises to all those working in the NHS for having mistakenly used the correct spelling of the minister’s name in a recent piece which touched on the achievements of the UK Ministry of Health.  The Ministry’s astounding capacity for imaginative official statements soars ever higher exactly as funding for the service and those working on the front line dealing with actual patients does not.  The minister J.Hunt termed the pay ‘deal’ recently agreed (‘agreed’ as in ‘imposed’) ‘incredibly well-deserved’.  Masterly sleight of tongue.  Leaves the dozing proportion of the British electorate (currently 65% and increasing in direct proportion to the annual increase in the use of social media) thinking “Oh, good.  At last the British government is starting (?) to reward some of those who actually do the work that keeps the country going.  Note to the dozing:  ‘incredibly well-deserved’ DOES NOT EQUAL the phrase ‘incredibly good’; it tends in the exactly opposite direction even when it is pronounced with a confident and ingratiating smile.  That is before you get to what the ‘deal’ actually was.  It proposes an increase of 2% per annum.  The current rate of inflation has been reported to us (optimistically?) as 2·3%.  Therefore the working staff have accepted a ‘deal’ which promises to leave them losing pay in real terms for the next three years.  By the way, we have not been able to find reliable figures for the likely increase of the Minister’s ‘package’ over the next three years, but are reasonably certain it is not less than £120,000 per annum, if he continues in the same position.  This is how a modern western country with electoral democracy arranges efficient management of the national budget, ensuring that inadequate money does not go to valuable members of the population who need or deserve it.  (Sic)

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The Baron Philipp is back in his fiscal paradise after an exciting but rewarding trip round such areas as are still alleged to be safe for tourism in the Middle East and adjacent areas, and has sent us this: ‘Marvellous trip, no serious trouble.  Our party was shot up twice but as we were travelling in armoured minivans there was no serious inconvenience except for a couple of guards who got hit.   Magnificent ancient sites, very glad to have been there, especially the Krac des Chevaliers, before our friends and allies bomb the shit out of them, as our transatlantic colleagues put it, repeatedly.  (Incidentally pals in the embassies expect the bombing at an early date, having seen the Mueller enquiry circling in a way which suggests it is coming in to land.)  Astonishing mix of people on the tour, from rednecks out of the deep south ticking off the ‘Forty sights you must not miss’ (and in Cyprus I heard one telling her companion “This is sump’n else to do with all that nood statue stuff”) to elderly scholars from my own Heimatland with impeccable English, knowing Shakespeare better than I do.  One of the latter told me of a newly unearthed papyrus (definitely antedating Zenodotus) which proves Sophocles was peddling an entirely bogus story in the famous drama – the fellow never killed his father, nor did he marry his mother, probably never went to Colonus either.  What happened really was a brisk frogmarch into exile after court officials discovered his father had been pillaging all the public funds for years, and funnelling the proceeds into secret hiding places in Ionia.  Palace advisors appalled, city facing ruin and invasion if news got out; urgent consultations; deputation to give ultimatum to king.  That encounter not a success:  “A king is not to be commanded by his minions.  Throw these impudent fools in prison for execution tomorrow” or something of the sort.  Further urgent consultations with the palace guard, which decided on the traditional approach in such cases.  They hired a couple of Persian assassins (they blamed bad things on Persians even in those days but in this instance it happened to be true) to kill the king in a faked chariot accident, the queen was given poison, and the court poet ordered to run up a version of the story on entirely original lines which they set out, reasoning correctly that if it was seriously and improbably lurid most people would accept it as the truth (just as they do today).  The ex-crown-prince got off lightly, was immediately taken under no-nonsense escort to the fiefdom of a minor chieftain in Thrace, where he was established in a modest estate and informed he would be hunted down by the chieftain’s men and summarily executed – they added persuasive details – if he ever attempted to leave.    He was allowed a small annual pension, but it was only paid for three years, because a young official, who later became the next Treasurer back at home base, produced a rule that to receive the money he must prove he was truly the son of the king, which of course he could not do because he did not dare to leave Thrace.  Wonderful!  They certainly knew how to deal with financial crookery in those days.  According to the papyrus he lived on there until he was carried off by an eagle at the age of 112.’

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From the records, for interest  

An enquiry to the Economist, following its publication of the usual sort of article in 2008:

Sir,

There were all too many contentious points in your editorial ‘Barbarians at the vault’ (17th May) so may I just pose you one question?  What important difference divides your assertion, ‘Financiers are rightly rewarded for taking risks, which by their nature cannot be entirely managed away or anticipated’, and  the following proposition: ‘Gamblers are rightly rewarded for placing bets, which by their nature cannot be guaranteed to win’?

       My answer would be that gamblers on the whole are using their own money.

(No response to that enquiry emerged from the magazine.)

WE KEEP ON TELLING YOU

Special motoring supplement!

WE KEEP ON TELLING YOU

This journal with its forerunners has a top-class record for warning, sometimes years in advance, about looming problems, such as French president Hollande, (and offering carefully crafted proposals for dealing with them).  Yet another issue is now showing faintly in the background on the touch screens of the world’s millennials – the ever increasing damage done to human life and civilisation by the private motor vehicle.  (Given well documented recent research you should very likely add ‘insect and bird life’ to that charge sheet.)  The piece below was first published exactly ten years ago, and please note also the fourth piece.

 

Let us wonder if the principal cause of traffic problems is the existence of roads.  (To keep things simple, we shall restrict ourselves to the black core of traffic problems, those involving machines made mainly out of metal, powered by a motor, and moving on wheels.)  Do not take this in the weak-kneed sense of ‘more roads give more and worse traffic problems’, even though that is undoubtedly true (and it has been shown often and conclusively that it is not just a matter of both resulting from a simple rise in the population).  Bypassing that,  the version we are dealing with here is more stark: ‘if there were no roads there would be no traffic problems’.  (This too can be misunderstood, as a mere definitional matter, along the lines of that old favourite of Aunt Minnie the marriage guidance counsellor: ‘we could do away with divorce if only we abolished marriage’).  This time take it seriously.  No side-stepping by imagining that the urgent human desire to be somewhere that one is not (and soon) has been neatly removed from the human design, although we may allow for it to receive some sedative shots.

      The problems

{1} as seen exclusively by the principal traffic victim, the car owner:

        (i) expense of money in buying

        (ii) expense of time and money in maintaining and repairing

        (iii) expense of emotional stability, resulting from damage to and by,

             from theft or risk of theft of, and from dealing with service staff,

             mechanics, and with official associated paperwork;

{2} as viewed both by the car user and everyone else on the road :

         (iv) delays, danger and worse to life, limb, and mental stability;

{3} as watched aghast by the population at large including those above :

        (v) most of the preceding plus filth in the air, and gargantuan

            expense on construction and maintenance of the road system.

      Please now imagine that benevolent aliens foreseeing the possible course of development had for some inscrutable reason decided to help this inept and irascible planet, and had descended in 1850, in time to avoid the inventiveness about to be unleashed by the Great Exhibition, and had abolished all roads, establishing a strict and terribly effective framework to ensure they would never be built again.  What now could be done for all the millions who felt (and feel today) compelled to rush from A to B every morning, passing and here and there colliding with roughly equal numbers having a deep-rooted desire to speed from B towards A, not to mention the yet greater number of journeys which do not fall into such a monotonic rhythm?

      We can at once state confidently that it is unlikely that motor vehicles would ever have been developed.  Given the characteristics of the early forms through which the motor car had to pass to reach its ‘mature’ types, it is highly doubtful whether even Heath Robinson would ever have thought one up without the convenient existence of roads.  Railways of course were there already and no doubt would have been expanded hugely even if we admit that while they can act as a kind of vascular system for a nation, for good reasons they will not go on to provide the capillaries.  Travel by river and canal would have been seen as a valuable resource to be cherished and greatly developed.  Bicycles would scarcely have been affected.  They do not need roads, as the prosperous manufacturers of mountain bikes reflect happily.

      But a more important answer is that a large number of such journeys –  in all probability, the huge majority – would never have been thought necessary.  For example, it would be taken for granted that employees would normally be sought locally, and in other cases would move to live locally.  Cantankerous relatives living fifty miles away would not even be expecting to be visited with a small gift once a month.  Family outings for pleasure would naturally take the form of visits to the nearest museum, or  bracing walks up the nearest mountain, rather than a drive of two hours and three traffic jams to some dismal theme park.  In the shops one would buy fruit and vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside as they came into season, not brought in refrigerated trucks from an airport with a cargo link to some other hemisphere.  Children would be accompanied to school on foot, or, in the case of those whose muscles developed sufficiently, there would be in the true sense a school run.

      What, however, of those journeys that might still be supposed necessary?  Part of the answer is of course that many of them would not actually exist.  Who would need to be rushed to hospital with a broken leg when the traffic accident which caused the fracture could never have taken place, nor indeed any untoward events at all involving the inside or outside of a motor vehicle?  And first aid might be able to handle most of the very rare cases of one pedestrian run over by another.  But beyond that, let us take the example of a hugely important business meeting at which mighty tycoons meet in file-to-file combat to decide who shall buy out the other and strip the assets.  Nobody could doubt for a moment that the equivalent of what we call ‘video-conferencing’ would have been developed to a level far more magnificent than we have reached yet.  Television would have been invented fifty years earlier.  The communication is needed, but not the travel.

      These improvements, however, are mere bagatelles compared to the glorious flowering that can be envisaged of human ability to deal with travel aerially.  The desirability of such developments is immediately obvious.  To name but two aspects, the amount of space free for movement in the air is multiplied hugely, by whatever quantity can be assigned to the height that vehicles can reach, and the directions in which one can move are unconstrained by such elements as buildings, trees, monuments, or watercourses so frequently inconvenient for the earthbound motorist.  As things have actually proceeded, moreover, gigantic sums have been spent finding ways of making quite limited use of the vertical dimension for vehicles, even while maintaining the terrestrial nature of roads, with tunnels, bridges, and underpasses, and it is scarcely conceivable that a sum, in all likelihood far smaller, could not have achieved far better results if it had been applied instead to developing new aerial types of vehicle.

      The benefits from the non-existence of roads are so great that they are not easy to grasp.  It is not merely a matter of money, but nevertheless reflect on the scarcely believable expense of money along with deranged ingenuity (as well as, at times, hatred of the natural landscape) that has built, improved, extended, and maintained with loving care roads, since the year 1850.  It is a sum up there with some of the astronomical figures, and calculated by one group at well over two quadrillion pounds – thousands of times the total that has been thrown at the development of space travel by all the world’s nations combined. Some believe it is even comparable with the sums spent on killing and maiming civilians and destroying assets in warfare.

      We have already touched also on the vast increase that would result in the capacity of the population for physical exercise with obvious general benefits, and more than that there would be a prodigious advantage from the reduction of pollution.  In the absence of the motor car, motor fuel would not have been needed, nor its additive, lead, which is straightforwardly known to be a serious toxin which accumulates in the human body, especially damaging to children.  It has been established fairly reliably that the amount of lead in the bloodstream of the average human being alive today is some hundreds of times higher than 150 years ago.  And lead is of course by no means the only poison spewed from exhaust pipes.

      Finally, perhaps more important than any of this, the wars that have been fought to control sources of oil (whatever the specious claims advanced suggesting other motives) would have been fought for different reasons, and would have been very much fewer and the appalling human destruction that has accompanied them would have been vastly less.

      A case to answer.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

By co-incidence, in recovering the above item another piece of that same date turned up, about another issue also now causing increasing dismay, but in this case on moral rather than environmental grounds. 

Details have been leaked of the new ‘compatibility’ test.  It is to be taken by all those arriving in the country for any purpose whatever except if holding a passport of one of the five countries on the list of ‘approved’ governments.  It will consist of three parts, a check for a suitable level of ability in an approved dialect of the English language, appropriate personal presentation (including evidence of access to and use of a sufficient range of British-style clothing and acceptable patterns of hairstyle and facial hair), and a satisfactory set of responses to questions about social attitudes (the latter element to be extended to a written examination, taken in the airport at the cost of the arriving visitor, should the immigration police deem this necessary).

      A spokesman denied that the plans incorporated any aspects of racism.  He explained that the test was merely a further step in the government’s ongoing programme aimed at deepening and confirming social harmony and at eliminating any risk of unpleasant experiences involving overseas citizens due to their foreign appearance or possible foreign behaviour.  The spokesman did not deny that at some future date the test’s reach might be extended to cover all those currently living in the country who could not provide reliable evidence of having been born here.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Both pieces above appeared March 2008, in Grandnephew’s Treachery by ‘Les Cousins’

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‘Si vis pacem para bellum’.  Sane remark in itself (cf Montgomery Skew’s comment on cold war, this journal 15-1-2018; and incidentally does Kim Jong-Un read Latin?).  But gerere non est parare, and the Final Disaster will arrive when someone gets the calculations wrong.  Those organisations for international peace around the world which have not yet been mocked into silence and despair will warmly approve Madam May’s denunciation of activity across international boundaries to take violent action against individuals.  We personally heard her use the word ‘despicable’ and believe she described such action as wicked.  It is rumoured she is to make a personal appeal to M.Trump asking him to put an immediate end to any use of armed drones to attack people on the ground where this would involve crossing international frontiers.

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(Editor’s note).  Setting up the first item above it almost occurred to me to wonder if there is a deliberate policy in the UK and elsewhere to allow road maintenance to become, soonest, a quaint old-fashioned tradition.  Goals: to reduce balance of payments deficits, free up manpower resources for necessary construction and re-construction work (perhaps even including tower blocks), to reduce calls on national mental health services, tackle obesity and improve the physical health of their populations, to dramatically cut the number of transport accidents, and to halve the level of air pollution.  But then I reflected that another result would be an enormous increase in the number of people having to buy ridiculously expensive train tickets.

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British headline a few days ago: ‘Queen to start marathon’.  What a wonderful trouper!  Ninety-one and still ready to go.  Be interesting to see how far she gets round the course.  Maybe back in before Paul Ryan?!

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