Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Evidence and Conversation

 My best friend at school, the nearest I ever came to having a brother, could have had a brilliant Oxbridge career, but chose instead to join the Army.  He was posted to some unlikely duties in strange places, but continued sending lively and amusing letters until the letters abruptly stopped.  The break was very complete; usual means of contact failed and his name in records apparently disappeared after his short and incomplete career.  This was in the early 1960s.  It was at least a decade after that when I realised that three or four apparently unconnected scraps of information that had come my way at different times could fit together to provide an unpleasant conclusion.  While there is no certainty about it, it seems very likely that he was one of a small group that was challenged when exploring – using the term judiciously – in a remote region of Arabia, and killed, with unnecessary brutality.  It goes without saying that there was no possible practical or political  reaction at the time, even if it had seemed wise to attempt such a thing, which is not always the case, bearing in mind the interests of all concerned.  But in any case the urge to investigate seems quite independent of both the strength of ties, and the chance of informative results.  What happened to our cousin who sailed for New York in 1919?  We don’t know, except that after World War II two very welcome food parcels arrived.  Recently reliance on physical, ‘measurable’ factors has been tending to crowd out other evidence altogether.  ‘Scientific’ factors are often valuable; dna evidence, reliably obtained and honestly reported, should certainly outbid the opinions of local dignitaries or those who judge guilt by skin colour.  But this does not mean social factors can be casually discarded.  Tests on materials, and records of physical movements may seem satisfyingly scientific, but a vast extent of human interaction depends on relationships of many kinds  and behaviour normally associated, on states of mind, language used and misused, group membership, and on beliefs justified or not; investigators who disregard all evidence of that kind risk short-changing their investigations and the potential beneficiaries.  Moreover there are occasions when absence of evidence may itself be evidence.  See the item below.

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Learning what they’re not telling you (Part II).  Part I was embodied in the item about MH 17 (31st July).  Regrettably some readers were so overworked, sleepy or drunk that they failed to take the last question of that piece as a challenge.  (Did they really think it was a naïve confession of bafflement?)  The exploratory technique of Part I can be described as ‘Leaving out the awkward bits’ (an ancient tradition in British political reporting, but wonderfully expanded, especially when slanted – usually the right word – to deal with Middle East issues ever since the assassination of Bernadotte).  Some experts in exegesis (i.e. making a guess at what’s really happening behind the news reports) try to impress by using Latin technical terms and they call the technique of Part I ‘Omissio factorum’.  However that may be, it’s high time the much rarer but hard-to-handle Suppressio falsi was given an airing.

            (Suppressio veri is of course the better known counterpart, where non-mention of some aspect or element may be taken to imply non-occurrence of that aspect or element.  “I saw two girls come out of the building” may be a true report, but gives a wrong impression, since a fuller version would also mention the emergence of the man in a yellow high-vis jacket and carrying a 2 metre long hand-held rocket launcher.  Criminals and malefactors asked about their socially challenging activities are often willing to talk about them, but nearly always with a large helping of careful suppressio veri (often crafted for the more successful ones by their agents).  Strictly speaking there is a large helping of suppressio veri almost every time we speak, with billionsn of details – date, time, age, height, gps co-ordinates, dna, political illusions, twitter account, and indefinitely many more, all of which really exist (Editor’s note: except, in my case, the twitter account), but which are fundamentally irrelevant, as e.g. when you remark to a fellow bus passenger that you’ve never found Kafka very readable.  What matters is whether suppressing your glimpse of the man with the rocket launcher was done to deceive, or at least could deceive, with important consequences.  But except for those with an overactive drive to find out ‘what really happened’ suppressio veri mainly provides hours of often harmless fun for lawyers, academics, and assorted political activists.)

            Many investigators trying to find out what’s really been going on out of public view seem reluctant to turn their hand to suppression falsi.  “Nah, stick with suppressio veri mate!  Tried and tested.  No call to go messing about with new techniques.”   This is deplorably defeatist.  Suppressio falsi only too seldom gets the chance to shine on the screens of the world’s smartphones.  It involves failure to mention explicitly some element or factor, which does not exist, but which may nonetheless, when combined with other factors, help us to unearth useful lines of enquiry into what has been going on behind the backs of the public.  Some pessimists will argue that suppressio falsi cannot be claimed as a useful concept, not even in academia, since the number of non-existing factors and elements available for not-mentioning must immediately sweep any supposed suppressor away into a multiverse of infinities.  But this calls the game lost before it has started.  Actually suppressio falsi, by comparing what citizens would have done in a non-actual situation, can offer clues to how behaviour that is observed should be understood.  Consider for instance a man with a rocket-launcher who does not exist and a fortiori does not emerge from that building wearing a yellow high-vis jacket.  We can still ask those idling in the area what their reaction would have been if he had.  They will very likely agree that they would have talked about him, mentioned him to friends, and perhaps decided to write a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph deploring the increase in immigration figures.  Such  circumstantial non-facts give a conscientious investigator a much fuller picture of the environment within which actual events have taken place (as for example with reports of what western politicians might have got up to on visits to Russia).

            At this point our thoughts naturally turn to oil tankers. Not long ago a British oil tanker, the Stena Impero, was required by Iran’s maritime forces to divert from its route, and remain in the Iranian port Bandar Abbas, until further notice.  According to Iranian sources the tanker had been in collision with an Iranian fishing vessel, with damage and casualties, but had ignored the fishing vessel’s distress signals and tried to continue on its route (contrary to international maritime law).  According to the British account, there was no collision, and the order to remain in Bandar Abbas was therefore a simple act of piracy.

            Now, there may be real damage to the fishing vessel held in Bandar Abbas.  This, either because it was in collision with the tanker or because, if the Iranians were devious – the misguided default assumption warmly embraced by many western officials – they will have taken the chance of holding the fishing vessel under their control to arrange damage to support the allegation of collision.  Yet until now, there continues to be a surprisingly acute shortage of mentions of the incident from both western and Iranian sources.  We can ask why.  Investigative journalists, if any are interested in data with such low facebook potential, may head off in various directions, in particular these:

(a) If there really is damage to the vessel, then western sources may remain silent because such a report would support the Iranian account.  On a broad view, this might be claimed as good old suppressio veri ; in practice it may simply amount to keeping quiet and hoping it’ll blow over

(b) If there really is damage to the vessel then Iran may nonetheless continue suppressing news of it because  Iran wants to play that card later and until then is content to let the West go out on a limb, hoping Western interests will later be seen to have made fools of themselves

(c)  If there is no damage then the West may still wish to suppress the corresponding report, because it deprives them of a fierce complaint – a casus belli, even, if that seems a good idea to those who play with deadly weapons of war via video screens at a safe distance – about the diversion of their tanker.

(d) If there is no damage to the fishing vessel; Iran will have an interest in suppressing the report (that the damage does not exist) because it would falsify the Iranian account of events.  In other words, a proper interpretation of events is blocked by the failure to mention a factor that does not exist.   That looks like a very satisfactory example of suppressio falsi in action (or in this case in inaction.)

            (Of course in principle yet other conclusions are possible; for instance  absence of reports in western mainstream media may reflect dark interests of whoever controls the media in which the reports have failed to appear, or even just a run-of-the-mill nosedive in journalistic standards, but these are not necessarily mutually exclusive with those already cited.)

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We have been asked yet again to set out the rules and system of scoring for Competitive Conversation.  The rules are widely available in Irish reference books and websites, but following protests from British would-be competitors (and a petition signed by more than 800,000 people) a simple version, omitting all allusions to deceased Irish politicians, has been devised, for which we here set out the main currently recognised ‘touches’ and their values, with one or two examples:

Note: Physical violence before the agreed end of a conversation incurs instant disqualification

Positive scoring:

1 point for either detecting a factual error, provided it is recognised as such by a majority of those currently in play, or for a ‘polish’; that is for a purely formal improvement of an opponent’s remark, e.g. by expressing it with alliteration, (for instance ‘Ten Tory trouble-makers for Theresa’) or an encapsulating compression (Eunity prevails, just about).

2 points for demonstrating (not merely asserting) an inconsistency between two remarks of an opponent or between the opponent’s strategy and practice.  (Often referred to as the Catch 22 flaw, but strictly speaking that inconsistency was between official policy and the rules on how to implement it.)

3 points for a remark which may appear to be an encouragement, but which, when correctly interpreted, will be seen by the other players as an insult. For instance, ‘You must be glad to be going somewhere where you’ll be appreciated.’

[Personal note from Editor: this particular remark was favoured by a former mother-in-law of mine, a Bristol magistrate, for use with young male visitors]

4 points for issuing words which will appear to careless or overworked recipients to celebrate a success with proper recognition, but which in fact serve to divert attention from undesirable aspects of the circumstance (as when a Minister of Health bullies or manoeuvres the nursing profession into accepting a three-year pay ‘deal’ which, with inflation taken into account is going to leave most of them actually worse off in the next three years.)  (“An incredibly well deserved pay award” Jeremy Hunt)

5 points for pointing to a serious flaw overlooked by an opponent.  (After World War II Britain was virtually wrecked economically.  America pumped investment into Europe, Germany included, in order to keep Stalin’s armies out.  A year or two later a prominent British politician talking to Winston Churchill said it might be a good idea for Britain, still nearly destitute, to declare war on America so as to get a massive inflow of investment on the same lines.  Churchill: “The problem with that is that after a protracted and devastating struggle, we might win.”)

Negative scoring

3 points lost  for use of any bromide, platitude, cliché, or cant phrase (unless on appeal all present agree that there was a proper reason for its appearance)

honor honestis

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Deep as the Charon ferry

An enigmaFinancial mysteries  :

News from very far down : Honest journal policy?

To start with a brief item one might have expected to be a lot longer, the official report on the crash of MH 17  is close to its official presentation.  Years have been spent on examination of pieces of metal and signals recorded. That crime was unquestionably a tragedy and a disgrace, and at the same time an enigma.  Forces on the ground were either Ukrainian or Russian or inhabitants of the Ukraine who identified with the Russian side.  The victims in the great majority were Dutch.  (The second largest contingent was Malaysian and the aircraft was en route to Kuala Lumpur.)    Neither Ukrainians nor Russians (wherever domiciled and whatever their political views) had anything to gain from killing Dutch or Malaysian citizens.  So who could ever have prepared such a plot?  What could possibly have been their motive?  The investigators apparently felt it was unnecessary to follow that line of investigation.   Any suggestions?

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Some years back, this journal mused that perhaps a major reason for the rapidly accelerating inflation of bonuses, ‘compensation packages‘, expense allowances, golden handshakes, and other money transfers clad in protective jargon was the hope that all the apparent activity would bamboozle ordinary citizens into believing the world economy had plenty of shock absorbers available, and would leave them holding that belief long enough for those who realised that the foundations consisted almost entirely of paper (beautifully printed, admittedly) to get a chance to convert as much as possible into real tangible assets before the game was up.

            With this in mind, here are (a) and (b), two items that appeared in the public domain not very long ago; maybe interesting, not least the parts printed in bold type.

(a) (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 €2.2bnDividends paid totalled just €227m.’

   (b) (9-7-2019)…reported that Deutsche Bank share price is down by more than 5%, and it is to undergo a drastic restructuring, with 18,000 employees (out of 91,500) losing their employment, many of whom had turned up at 9am on the Monday morning as specifically required, to learn that they were ordered to clear their office by 11 am of that day.

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26th  July.  Speaking at a short ceremony yesterday, Satan saluted the Underworld Shipping Authority (CEO Feriman Charon) on its first day of operating the new Trans-stygian Hyperlink, making it possible to deal with millions of transiting souls in, quite literally, no time at all.  Until very recently the newly departed had to wait for unpredictable aeons of time in immense ghostly crowds on the freezing river bank until the ancient wooden vessels returned out of the darkness from the other side.  Now, however, thanks to innovative systems developed in the US for ultrafast surveillance and corrective treatment of massive data stores and the imaginative use of the ‘equate to most similar’ technique, souls arriving at the bank of the Styx and producing the required fee (of one obol or equivalent in any accepted currency) will now pass through a portal very similar to those found in modern airports, which will perform a comprehensive and instantaneous analysis to convert each soul into a data set to be ‘stamped’ with a unique identification code and simultaneously transmitted to a receiving station on the other side, which itself will immediately re-convert that data set into soul, provided of course that the analysis does not reveal any unacceptable irregularity in the data set.  The whole process was designed in conjunction with relevant international supervisory bodies, although, as Satan added, in this case ‘body’ may not be an ideally chosen term.

            At a question-and-answer session afterwards, specially invited guest, the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, began by commenting that his own accession to 10 Downing Street had been hailed on all sides as a triumph for democracy after decades of unproductive disorder, and he asked that special tribute should be paid to the brilliant insight of pioneering Tory members of the British Parliament who had noticed the immense advantage to be gained by a cross-Channel transport enterprise if it could find a way to operate without the use of ships or aircraft or trucks or other vehicles.  Johnson then announced that he looked forward to similarly imaginative thinking at last producing decisive answers to most problems currently plaguing the world economy, especially around the Irish border.  At that moment, however, a large part of the river bank close to where he was standing collapsed and fell into the rushing waters.  Johnson himself was left sprawling with his legs flailing wildly just above the icy torrent.  After a struggle he was hauled up and Satan ordered the duty officers to lead him back to the tourbus, to take whatever measures seemed appropriate to ‘ease this guest’s return to normality’.  As he was led away, one shocked spectator voiced the question in several minds – what would have happened to him if he had fallen in?  “The same thing that happens with all those who ‘jump ship’,”  Satan answered with a smile. “They get swept along by the river until they get stuck on some rock or in a crevice or under a rotten branch which itself has got jammed under a rock.  Not pleasant.  They don’t need food of course, nor any sort of covering, but they stay exactly where they get stuck, unable to do anything or react to anything, and with nobody to talk to.  Full stop, that’s it.  Until the end of the world.”  As he spoke a visitor  from the European Parliament group collapsed, doubtless affected by the accident, but after a pause Satan continued.  “One curious feature may be surprising.  Without exception those who jump ship always try to get back to the last point where they were on dry – well, dry-ish – land.  Uselessly of course.  This reflects yet another basic problem with the human design.  They just will not leave a situation to work itself out naturally, even when it’s in their own best interests.  Even when interfering with the environment plainly risks leaving things worse than before.  They actually see this insane urge to divert the natural course of events as a virtue of their species, even when doing so is clearly going to harm others of their own kind, let alone innocent creatures of other types.  An infuriating characteristic of the species. It plays havoc with the natural organic development of the event continuum.  History shows quite enough disasters in the solar system alone, even without any human meddling.  Does pure arrogance make them think they can run the galaxy better?   You see the same mad trouble-making with added hypocrisy, when they have to organise large groups of their own kind. They devise preposterous social structures and call them constitutions or electoral processes, then run affairs with effortless dishonesty along lines entirely different from what they themselves prescribe.  If there is some feature of their environment not shared with their neighbours, what is their standard response?  War!  They regard it as normal, even praiseworthy, to resort to war, even when that hurts and kills enormous numbers of their own kind.  They see this as so natural that they even congratulate themselves for drawing up ‘Rules of War’,  and then flout them as easily as one would brush away a mosquito.  Just take an honest look at the historical record, from the era when they were prancing around with the other quadrupeds in East Africa, and then compare the current conditions of life of most of the billions of humans living in Asia and Africa; or if you prefer examine their current uses of all the inventions and in particular all the explosive chemicals they have learned to manipulate on their planet.  Putting it bluntly they are one of the most straightforwardly nasty species that ever appeared in the galaxy.  Microbes cause immense amounts of damage to other life forms, but evidently they don’t do that for the sake of amusement, nor even just out of curiosity to see what  happens and what might be caused to happen, and much the same goes for just about all more complex species, from worms up to rats and antelopes, but the closer you get to the human the more the unpleasant traits can be detected.  Perhaps we should run up a quick history of the species and then pass it round to other populations in the galaxy on how not to let semi-intelligent groups advance.”  Satan paused, breathing deeply, and bowed to the listeners.  “I apologise.  Tact has never been my strong point.  I realise I’m talking to an audience almost completely made up of humans, but you know as well as I do that you’re far from typical members of the species; otherwise you wouldn’t be here.  But honestly your species could drive us demented with its self-satisfaction, incoherences, its ludicrously obvious dishonesty.   However, it would perhaps be sensible to take a break now, if only to let myself calm down.  The guards will show you the way to the lounges, and you are free to help yourselves to the refreshments.  I must mention one thing though.  Nothing you may have recorded on your smartphones will be preserved as you saw it.  It won’t actually be wiped but it will be turned into something like a confusing dream involving some of what you have seen and other purely imaginary elements.  Much the same as with your personal recollections.  Now I look forward to seeing you all at the dinner.  (All-vegetarian menu, of course.)”

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This useless lily-livered journal does all it can to avoid giving offence despite the efforts of cunning correspondents to drag us into embarrassing speculations.  We stoically refused to investigate the theory of a correlation between the number of days of cold weather experienced in a given country, and the annual per capita production of rational thought by its population, (though you can see where that idea could lead a racist politician like the one I’m not mentioning).  We did not rally to support the well-known feminist – you’ll know who we’re referring to (Editor: ‘whom’ ?)  when it was discovered that not merely had she followed the suggestion for women to take regular doses of testosterone in order to maintain a level of self-assertiveness sufficient to keep their image on the front pages, but she had on occasion dressed as a man with a false beard for the same reason.  We headed to the hills when other news media published claims that keen interest in  women’s football was a sure indicator of moral superiority (as measured on the Keir Hardie index (Editor: shouldn’t that be a ‘Keir Starmer Index’?), even as the same outlets also carried ‘scientific reports’ that a high score for watching women’s football (or any other pastime involving players with whom you have no personal, familial, financial, or social tie) is a most discouraging indicator concerning your capacity for independent thought.

            But when one of our reports is wrong or incomplete, we’ll be honest.  No ‘quoted out of context’ nonsense, nor the ‘but you’ve made stupider mistakes than we have’ gambit.  Hence this reader’s letter:

Sir, You recently published a piece alluding fancifully to the actual incident when an overwrought Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at George Bush.  There are two points that could benefit from emendation.  In giving the journalist’s Arabic name using the western alphabet the form Muntadhar Al Zaidi might be preferred. Second, you do less than justice to Bush.  While he did not intervene to prevent the arrest of the protestor, he actually came very close to the start of the ideal outcome you envisaged, remarking audibly ‘He only threw a shoe’.  What a tragedy that  Bush did not follow that initial reaction in the way you describe.  Just one sentence away from changing history!

D.K.Dickson (by e-mail)

What I am doing on my holiday

Mass shootings: boomerangs: cutting the electoral roll :

Fegan’s Careful Customer Guide to Shopping :

Appeal:  Frankfurt Airport: Note on history:

The credibility frontier

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Hello! I’m Selma Gandy, your acting Editor for this issue of ammophila. ( If you want explanation, read this paragraph; if you don’t just go straight down to the first item.)  ‘Ed’ is sticking conscientiously to his long-term principle of not doing any useful work, and has therefore taken advantage of my visit to this island to put his principle into practice.  Once, many years ago him and me used to have a special relationship but we both had enough sense not to think of anything foolish like keeping it permanent.  But friends – not that he has many! – passed on scraps of information, and once or twice he got into the ‘other news’ items, for instance that time when the collected strength of Ammophila – seven of them at that time – went over to France for New Year 2016.  So when the office offered me a month off on full pay as a reward for something I’ve fixed up in BA I grabbed the chance, couldn’t wait to get really far away from city life for once, and this place is just perfect for that.  Ed is playing ball nicely and behaving himself better than I’d ever have guessed, and he’s given me a pile of notes of stuff that could go into a posting.  So here goes.

(These bits are pretty much as he handed them over so don’t blame me!  SG.)

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Mass shooting  Doesn’t the fact that mass-killers are always or very nearly always male, suggest an important way that men and women are not equal?  Answer’s obvious, but another thing that’s obvious is the question that could be asked after the next mass shooting (though in fact it won’t be asked, at least not anywhere where it might lead to some practical effect).  That question is ‘Would he have killed all 16/21/29/53 (delete or insert fresh number as appropriate) of them if he’d been running after them with a hand axe or the (repeat preceding number) lengths of rope, but without a gun?‘

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Boomerangs  As part of their campaign for cultural treasures and ancestral relics to be returned to Oz, activists are organising an ‘event’ on the shore of Sydney Harbour.  A major item in the programme is to be a competition, inspired by the publicity always given to seriously ‘late returns‘ of  books borrowed from libraries, but in this case aiming to set a world record for late return of a boomerang.  Teams will compete to produce specially developed boomerangs, very large but relatively light which can take as long as four minutes to return to within three metres of the spot from which they were thrown.  To add further publicity, the winning team will be allowed a second throw at two minutes to midnight so that the boomerang can return the day after it was thrown.

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Political reform There’s always some political group or other whinging about the need to reduce the voting age.‘because young people are much more aware these days‘ (or for some other alleged reason that can be knocked together out of a lie, an irrelevance, an unsupported claim, and the belief that it could improve their group’s standing in the polls (not to mention the mysterious donations from hard-to-identify characters lurking in the political shadows at the back of the internet.)  Actually, thanks to social media  ‘young people‘ are more aware these days of what’s trending on facebook and of the physical appearance from many varied angles of their intimate friends than they are of the onward march of global totalitarianism (thanks again to the internet) or of what’s really happening beyond the darkening horizons. (Admittedly their ignorance saves the more delicate ones from things they’d much prefer not to know about anyway.)  In reality what is needed to keep the collapsing apparatus of political civilisation on the road for a few more years yet (where it functions at all, that is) is not more voting at the bottom of the age range, but less voting at the top.  Cancel the vote for all those over the age of 60, immediately, on their birthday.  Most of the crumblies, an age-group hugely over-represented in the governments of most countries, know more about football or golf or personal investment opportunities or boxed set tv ‘dramas‘ than about the realities of how their country is managed and run, and that’s before we even get on to the issue of the disappearing marbles.  And out of those who do have a clue, ninety percent will be making their judgements on the way things were – or rather the way things were officially supposed to be – twenty, thirty or forty years ago.  So why are those who really pull the strings keeping up the charade?

[Nb from S.G..  Unlike other groups Farage‘s Brexit party made elderly voters a special target in the recent European elections.  That Brexit party, starting from nothing a few weeks earlier, came top of the poll.]

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(from Fegan’s Careful Customer Guide to Shopping) :

            Counterservice  If you’re lucky this may indicate  a counter where you can get service – advice and help with purchases.   In other cases it may be using ‘counter’ as in the word ‘counteract’, or ‘counterintuitive’, marking the part of a store where incautious customers find e.g. they are not going to get the refund to which the terms and conditions (in the brightly coloured ten-page leaflet that came with the goods) seem to say they are entitled

            Interlegibility  This may sound as though it explains the way to actually make the purchase work.  But in some outlets this could refer to instructions written with skilful ambiguity, so as to deprive customers of something adverts had seemed to offer

            Pro-performing.  Sounds efficient, but in some stores can refer to equipment that can only be made to work in the hands of a professional demonstrator

            Retrofittable ‘Ah,’ the naïve customer murmurs, ‘We don’t have to pay it all at once.  We can see how the basic equipment could work for us and then get it fully installed if it does look like an advantage.’  ‘No, dearie.  This actually means the gear belongs to a range in an old-fashioned  style which is now being discontinued, though we’ll go on selling the stuff till the stock’s all cleared out.’

            Hypertonic  A tonic is good for you of course, and ‘hyper’ sounds as if you’re dealing with something high grade, so this could bring the punters in, but when it comes to retail merchandise the term doesn’t actually have to mean anything at all.

            Extraportable  This simply means that you are going to have to lug it home yourself.

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Appeal for anyone who can help, to do so.  Jonathan who almost joined our group ten years ago is in deep trouble.  He is the guy from Balham who reasoned that experiments on telepathy should use animals on the grounds that their neural (?) processes would probably be more basic than those of the human and therefore less likely to experience and cause disturbance in transmission than dealing with humans.  He has claimed a considerable degree of success though not to the levels that would get him into the headlines.  (No grasp of PR.)  Alleges he is kept awake at nights by his intuition telling him what the neighbourhood dogs, and more particularly cats, are up to or hoping to be  up to. He read a story about a group somewhere in southern Iraq, I think, who were also into telepathy with animals though in their case the prime colleagues on the animal side were camels.  So earlier this year he took a trip out there to meet some of them.  Not a huge success, one gathers, with the deficit in Arabic language not fully compensated by the telepathy.  Things went badly astray however on the return journey.  He was arrested at Heathrow, by spooks whe suspected he was a member of a group which allegedly exists, and has allegedly been passing on secret information (to whom and about what has not yet been revealed).  Nonetheless he has already become the subject of an extradition request, on the grounds that in the alleged transmissions he had used American electricity.  Anyone who had done any proper investigation would have found out he had been fooling around with his ideas in Notting Hill, transmitting only to the local animals, for years.  His case is not helped by the fact that his surname is De la Tanière, which (admittedly in French) means ‘from the lair’.  Please do what you can to bring his case to public attention.

[I personally strongly support this appeal which was dated 21-6-2019.  S.G.]

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At the airport  A Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Irishman were in a bar in Frankfurt Airport when a weather report came on screen with yet another series of rainbelts forecast.   The Frenchman remarked that it was high time to organise no-holds-barred street protests about the depressing weather.  The Englishman said ‘See your point, old chap.  But you can’t appeal against a weather forecast, y‘know.‘  ‘No, indeed’ the Irishman replied ‘So we must tell them to give us the forecast from somewhere which gets better weather.’   ‘What do you think, Donald,’ they said turning to Trump who happened to be in the bar at that moment.  He was silent for an instant, then he banged his fist on the bar, smashing a glass and cutting his fingers as he shouted ‘All options are on the table.’

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Memo to any warmonger who believes he is finding time heavy on his hands: history does indeed repeat itself, many times over.  For instance, there’s a three-part scenario that’s been running for hundreds of years in Asia around 66E 35N.  Stage 1: foreign forces invade Afghanistan. [Those who prefer may rephrase this as ‘send humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan]  Stage 2: the expedition ends in costly failure with serious casualties on all sides, including of course the civilians.  Stage 3: the number of attempts by forces inside Afghanistan to set out to conquer surrrounding areas and, with luck, the world remains at zero.

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Hard to believe but it seems the UN issued a report not long ago that made two points among many, which I repeat as reported (apparently in English) :

The Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen is having little effect on the ground

Ten thousand civilians have been killed.

Please ask Jeremy Hunt, British Foreign Secretary, for his comment.

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The downward slope

[Editorial note: this journal has a proud tradition of fostering goodwill wherever it can still flourish.  It is in this spirit that we extend warm best wishes to Boris Johnson in his quest to be the leader of a minor British political party, which achieved more than 8% support at the recent European electionsDon’t be disheartened Boris just because some have described your newspaper columns as fatuous rabble-rousing twaddle.  Good luck in dealing with that irritating ‘misconduct in public office’ charge.  Life imprisonment?  Seems rather stiff.  But don’t worry, they won’t hand down that long to a former Foreign Secretary.]

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(1)Tourism until it hurts: Simon reports that there are increasing tensions in Obliy Korobakh  where tourists now have to book a week in advance at a stiff price to get 15 minutes (maximum time allowed) for taking selfies of themselves at the ‘world’s loneliest human settlement’ in north-eastern Siberia.  (Obliy Korobakh is one of 139 settlements strung out along the north of the Asian continent,  all of them claiming this title expressed in one way or other.)  Last month riots broke out when three aircraft carrying tourists eager to get their 15 minutes of  selfies at the ‘outpost’ arrived at the same time, at the new airport with its 30 storey reception centre.  Two Chinese tourists were injured and one who had taken refuge in the refuse disposal facility was eaten by a polar bear.

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(2) Some cheerful optimists are looking forward to the end of fake news, basing their optimism on what they have heard about current progress by technologists who started out with mere facial recognition, based on the exact positions of thousands of reference points that can be established for a human face.  Those specialists are now hacking ever deeper into the murky depths of the human behavioural jungle.  The early goal of mere personal identification was reached and systems are already in daily use e.g. at airports and at new luxury apartment blocks where they prevent unauthorised children using the play areas. However, startling new developments are anticipated with the next level of exactitude (fr 5), 1200 times more accurate, and with the possibility of recording variations through time measured in milliseconds.  Experts are confident they will be able to determine (a) the underlying character and (b) the current mood of a facially captured subject, and therefore also (c) the likelihood of corresponding activity in various behavioural directions, even before it has had a chance to take place  Nevertheless, those optimists are on a fools’ errand.  Paradoxically it is wholly irrelevant whether results claimed for the research are genuine or not.  ‘Physiognomical experts’ will soon appear claiming to have devised apps which can build on (a), (b) and (c)  to ‘adjust’ recordings of the captured face so as to present it on screen with the appearance and therefore behavioural characteristics appropriate to any story which an editor, or proprietor wants told.  This will almost immediately lead on to a huge expenditure of resources on a further layer of research to develop verification systems; and of course thereafter frantic campaigns to arrive at data of types (a) and (b) while circumventing the verification systems.  Quite soon after that the endgame will see the collapse of nearly all news corporations, and the establishment of a draconian world-wide system, banning all transmission of material containing images of the human face.

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(3) Unparallelled universe  Older readers will remember the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq, a recent and relatively mundane event as far as Earth was concerned but which by some still unexplained malfunction at Universal Continuity (CEO and Principal Shareholder D.Trump the DLXVIIth) (he claims to do time-travel too), failed to spawn a parallel universe along the usual lines.  The glitch instead produced a small parallel universe where Muntazeri had just thrown his shoes at Bush, and where Bush, touched by inspiration for the only time in his life, did not simply watch him being manhandled out by guards on his way to the cell where he would be tortured, but asked the guards to hold him until the press conference, at which point the president, still surrounded by guards but without flying shoes, took over the proceedings, telling the protester he looked ‘like a kinda regular guy but all fired up about sumpn’ and asked about his motivation.  The explanation was given peacefully and without rancour but in persuasive detail, and after ten minutes Bush asked for another meeting the next day, to which a dozen other protestors were admittted, after vetting by the presidential suite, and the discussion went on for two hours.  It was followed the same afternoon by a visit to the area where Muntazeri lived.  Next day Bush accompanied by the Secretary of State announced some major changes in his policies for the ‘very fine people of Iraq’ and, of course, set up a committee.  Despite bureaucratic resistance from officials in Washington, that was the start of a process that led to what came to be described as the era of the new Levant, an Antonine period of fair socialistic government, increasing prosperity, and a revival in civilised dealings between individuals.  (Unfortunately advanced research by leading scientists shows that parallel universes formed in this way are inherently unstable, and as widely predicted this particular parallel universe is no longer available for inspection, and indeed no longer detectible, time-travel or no time-travel.)

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(4) Up until about Thursday of last week it was still possible to refer to the British ‘two-party’ system, a system which inherently reflects a simplistic approach to politics and a reluctance or inability to adapt to changing circumstances, perfectly embodied in recent times by the prime minister herself.  (When the Great British Collapse begins in a few months, the EU states should all put her face on their postage stamps to remind them how not to conduct politics where a no longer major nation has an overplentiful supply of energetic entrpreneurs who see they can no longer get much benefit from running things on the national basis and will do better exploiting whatever openings at home or abroad seem to offer them and their partners the best prospects.)

            It is bad manners, is it,  to speak ill of someone who is down and very soon to be out?  It was not her fault?  She deserves sympathy, since although seeking public office she was not able to detach her assumptions and ways of thinking from what surrounded her in  a childhood passed among the agreeable middle-class middle England of communities united by shared ideas, complexions and passports?  Sorry about that.  But politics is not concerned with good and bad manners.  A much more important question is ‘What did this person contribute to the humane treatment of other humans?’  Many will agree on the answer.

            However, since those European elections, the British political mind needs to adjust to new notions about the conduct of politics both at home and overseas.  Indeed it is now many decades since the British controlled anything near the firepower needed to divide the world simply into ‘them’ and ‘us’, a view on the scale of empire which parallels the domestic cleavage into ‘government’ and ‘opposition’.  (Admittedly London has long accepted special arrangements for the Welsh and the Scots, when it comes to politics but that was generously accepted by the ruling class because, ‘well, after all the Welsh and the Scots are different’ even if Westminster folk feel it is tactless to point this out too forcefully.)

            The French made their entry into constitutional middle age rather earlier (when trounced by the Germans in 1870).  Their alternative to a two-sided asylum was the hemicycle with seating arranged according to where members saw themselves in the political spectrum, thereby encouraging them to appreciate that political differences do not necessarily mean barking hostility and a stark contrast between right and wrong.  Representatives sit next to others who hold basically similar views but disagree on details.  There is no visible yawning pit with inhabitants on the other side clearly too alien to be on ‘our’ side and therefore to be regarded as enemy.  The semicircular chamber is certainly an improvement, but being still based on ideologies distances remain relatively fixed, and some are necessarily large.  Using political beliefs as the factor governing seating is well-intentioned, but inadequate.   What else then?  Grouping members according to the geographical area which they represent, irrespective of party allegiance.  The idea that people from the same region are likely to take a constructive view of others from the same area plainly has something going for it, but equally no shortage of counterexamples.  Better would be a system which does not rely on any sort of views, political or other, allowing human beings to simply encounter others as individuals, under the eye of a sane master of ceremonies (the Serjeant-at-Arms?)  There are various possibilities.  We could simply place them in alphabetical order.  Or we could arrange them in the same way as platoons in the army, tallest on the right shortest on the left.  (This might lead to grumbles from the tallest men since in the nature of things they would tend to get less opportunity to socialise with the female representatives, but then tall men have built-in advantages in this respect anyway.)  A proposal well worth trying is the one used  with children at some birthday parties: a number is pinned on each guest as they arrive and that decides the seat they get when the bunfighting begins.  This way your political representatives would get a different seat each day.  Sooner or later they would meet most of the other members close up, with  the immediate result that each one would come to see their neighbour for the day as a human individual.  They would then be so taken up with observing his or her personal habits – cleaning ears with a pencil, nose-picking, carrying a briefcase full of garlic sausage sandwiches, breaking wind and so on – that there would be much less time to explore the neighbour’s identity as a personification of this or that type of political depravity.  It is true that this system might lend itself to manipulation, with cunning or awkward politicians lurking around the entrance to ensure they either accompany or avoid some particular fellow member.  But this could be overcome by linking entrance numbers to seat numbers on a random basis, easy enough with a small computer and appropriate software.  However, if we are really looking for ways to improve the parliamentary system, perhaps it is rather timid merely to suggest allocating seats in the chamber by lottery.  An idea which may well have already occurred to readers  is `Wouldn’t it be altogether better to boldly go the whole hog and choose representatives by lottery in the first place?’

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(5) Question of the month

Can anyone explain why so many dictators of the 1930s liked to wear leather belts going over one shoulder and then down to the waist on the other side

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Envoi

The fact that some persist in describing a vote by less than one third of the electorate, including only those who had reached voting age by 2015, as a decision by the British people (above all on a matter tying the nation’s hands in as yet unspecified ways for the foreseeable future) is a valid and startling index of the real level of  political awareness in one of the world’s most self-congratulatory democracies.  However, this paragraph is grateful that it doesn’t have to answer to the British electoral system

 

Why bother with facts when you can have a slogan?

There are a few basic points about Brexit, which it seems many in the population haven’t noticed, or haven’t understood, or which perhaps they have simply not exposed themselves to.

Seventeen million or so voted ‘leave’ in the referendum.  Fourteen million or so voted ‘remain’.  Both these figures are substantially under 50% OF THE ELECTORATE.  So it is flatly untrue to say that ‘the British people’ voted to leave.  By far the biggest tranche of the population was made up of those who, for whatever reasons, did not support either of those two simplistic choices.

A gasp – exhaustion or disbelief?

(Department of the bleeding obvious, as the saying all too often goes)  Win or lose that final vote, May will now have played all the cards in her hand (though why the nation let her get all this way without several competent adults sitting beside her is a mystery.)  Thus the EU has a whip hand in further dealings, if any, and can impose any conditions it might want, e.g. insisting on a long delay during which the recalcitrant UK parliament can be replaced by general election, producing a new House of Commons, mandated, and perhaps less obstructive.

honor honestis

Cui bono res publicae?

I have already got my fingers of both hands covered in ink from the ribbon on the typewriter, and to be honest am thoroughly off-piste with this interruption of my well deserved sabbatical.  Some of those whom I had considered friends, until now, have been harassing me with their proposed solution to the Brexit chaos (to be known in the history books of the future as Cameron’s Catastrophe.)  They apparently believe it is urgently necessary to get the signature of every member of the writing classes in all European territories with any kind of constitutional link to the British monarchy (and that apparently has flushed out some very rum customers in eastern Europe not to mention three Atlantic islands some 180 miles west of Lisbon, which geographers had believed sunk during a volcanic eruption a century or more ago) on a petition pleading for a ‘non-controversial’ referendum on whether to have a new referendum with a more intelligent gamut of options – forget the whole business, sell the country as a going (?) concern to its inhabitants (somebody evidently remembers the Trustee Savings Bank farce/scandal !), put the whole country up for auction with the highest bidder then doing what the hell he likes with it, declaring war on America hoping they will treat the nation the same way they treated Germany after WWII (Churchill turned that option down in 1949 on the grounds that Britain might win) and half a dozen others.

   Lunatics!  This journal has, I believe, the only realistic solution, not that anyone is going to pay attention, but here it is in a dozen lines.  A delegation of a dozen or so citizens from the cloud-capped peaks of the British realm must attend upon the Queen, and respectfully show her the necessity of taking up immediately her inherited rights, delivering a bill of attainder upon every member of the House of Commons (with perhaps the exception of that stout fellow, Bercow).  The Serjeant-at-arms will then expeditiously arrange for every last one to be taken down the river under military escort, and installed under lock and key in the Tower of London.  If they question their situation they will find the Serjeant-at-arms to be a ‘negotiator’ very unlike the current prime minister.  Thereafter the governance of the nation to be in the hands of Her Majesty and such advisers as she shall see fit to choose.  She has for decades given more evidence of a capacity for taking good advice, for sound judgment exercised with moderation, and for avoiding foolish or disastrous entanglements than can be claimed for a very high proportion of those who in that time have presumed that bigotry and buffoonery, lying, xenophobia and careerism did not bar them from trying to take a share in influencing the administration of the nation.  And see the reults of their activities!

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Pulling the typewriter out of the old army kitbag in which it is stored (in case the roof leaks when there is a rainstorm) I found another text which seems unfamiliar, but highly relevant today, when capitalism appears proud that it has just propelled the world’s largest economy up to a pinnacle of $22 trillion of debt.  And just in case that was not a large enough investment the president of that nation has sent the government machine a request for the largest military budget ever recorded (in that country, though there may well be larger figures in some Hollywood movies.  Perhaps time, as they say in the movies, to feel very afraid.)  I append herewith.

            One does not hear much talk about the trickle-down theory of wealth these days but the assumptions behind it still seem to be holding up well.  The idea, roughly speaking, is that if you get a stratum of serious wealth in any given area then its members will, to put it crudely, spend their money in diverse ways thus spreading wealth through the community.  They will buy goods, engage services, and start businesses.  They will buy cars and pianos, employ butlers and drivers, and establish media companies.  Then the shopkeepers and the butlers and drivers and the editors will have more money than they ever had before, and in their turn they will spend more on the things they want, need and like.  And so on all the way down the economic slope.  As in all the most comforting fairy tales, it leaves everyone better off.  Therefore we should always fight for rich people and rich companies to have the lowest possible taxes, to help the whole wonderful process to work (and it is said some governments even hand out free grants under the name of privatisations to promising candidates to make sure they have enough wealth to keep things going).  But all this is rather abstract stuff.  Let’s try to envisage a practical example.  Let’s take a large group of bankers fleeing their native country somewhere in Asia perhaps, to save their lives and wealth after a leftish government has somehow got elected.  They decide to settle together on the pleasant island of Arbyesse in the Bay of Bolivia, which up to now has maintained a moderate prosperity on the basis of fishing, tourism, and the manufacture  and sale of artefacts attributed to the first bronze age settlers.  The first thing that happens is that they buy the finest houses on the market for their families, equip them with the most modern computer systems, and furnish them with exquisite period furniture bought after whirlwind shopping expeditions to Paris and Hongkong.   You will notice at once that the latter two forms of expenditure do nothing for the local economy, but for now let us pass over that point.  After that they set up a new bank employing some dozens of local staff, some formerly unemployed but most of them attracted by the higher pay from their previous jobs in various local businesses.  The bankers also establish firms dealing in financial investment and advice, facilitating of course dealings with their own previous contacts in other countries.  The purchases continue, notably including two private yachts but also a number of expensive cars (which naturally have to be bought from overseas firms).    They are careful to adopt a low profile in local life though some do offer support for one respectable local party, obviously well-favoured by the population since it wins the next three elections in a row.  Investors and friends of the bankers overseas see Arbyesse as a stable, investible target and pile in.  Hotels are built and infrastructure projects take shape.  So the economy after a few years achieves substantial growth.  Local construction companies (in which the bankers have invested heavily) have done well, as has the airport (foreign-owned).  There is a new ‘Omnimercato supermart’ with 60,000 different kinds of items, on the site of the old vegetable market, which still exists but has moved to a convenient site near the lagoon south of the capital.  Shopkeepers, and owners of other small businesses like the smith who turned his hand to making ornamental ironwork drive respectable cars.  But one night a young trainee accountant, cycling home after a celebratory dinner with some friends in El treinta de julio, a beachside café, noticed several down-and-outs sleeping in doorways, something he had never seen as a child.  He thought about it when he got home, and these thoughts led him by chance to realising that though he seemed to be earning quite reasonable pay, somehow he and his wife still could not afford to buy a number of desirable additions to their home, and had to be very careful with their monthly expenses.  She commented that it was much the same for most of her friends, while her aunt, though married to the man who had successfully turned his small taberna into an upmarket wine-bar specialising in imported wines, was always ready to deplore the drain on her purse when she went to the Omnimercato, and to denounce her husband who insisted they must save one more year for the bathroom suite she had set her heart on.  The accountant, Federigo, became curious and he found it quite easy to get information, sometimes in detail, about the assets of other inhabitants.  It seemed that typical members of the uppermost straturm had assets that would compare quite favourably with those of wealthy individuals in advanced countries.  The next level, senior managers in the construction companies for example, were also quite well off.  But as one went down the scale it seemed that the level of wealth diminished, not just individually but when all citizens of that level of the economy were added together.  He also tried to find comparative data on incomes.  This was harder since the tax authorities were rather more conscious of confidentiality than the private branches of the wealth system.  Nonetheless it seemed that a similar variation existed there.  The most striking thing was that in both cases it appeared that the figure dropped to zero before one reached the lowest band of the population.

            Perhaps foolishly, he started talking about his findings in company.  He was frankly puzzled as to why the ‘ever more vibrantly pulsing economy’ (to quote from the Trombón del Amanecer) pulsed so feebly in its lower depths.  Most who heard him did not share this reaction; they simply regarded it as a natural aspect of human existence.  However, he was finally offered the reason, at a gathering over a few beers one evening with some friends as the rain lashed down on the same beach-side café, the night before he was arrested.  Once again he plaintively voiced his puzzlement and once again saw the same resentful but apathetic impotence.  As often, one of them muttered about ‘all this money around.  Not much filtering down to us.  The only thing that filters down to us is higher prices’.  This time, however, the amiable Irish beachcomber in the corner, a regular customer over many years but one who rarely spoke, added an unexpected coda.  “It’s just what you should expect, you know.  The economists don’t like to talk about it much, but it is an economic law.  ‘Prices rise to meet the money available to pay them’ .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 I use the term in its old-fashioned sense, of providing useful and valued service in return for some kind of financial benefit; no link whatever to the term ‘compensation package’

Inconvenient data

Even though the Editor is supposed to be enjoying a well earned respite* some offences against straight dealing are so blatant that it would be a dereliction of public duty to skate lightly past them, gazing in the opposite direction.  One of the main trumpet calls of those calling for Britain to escape the clutches of Europe was that the dramatic change would at long last free the nation’s champions of free enterprise (or at least those with the means to do so, i.e. not any in the bottom 40% of the population) to boldly roam the planet, setting up profitable trade deals with the leaders of business in other nations.  The number of such trade deals actually in sight now, two years after Brexit became official, is believed very low (somewhere around zero).  More reliably attested data, however, comes in the opposite direction  This note is written on the first day of February 2019, the day that the trade deal between the nations of the EU and Japan comes into operation,  This deal, one of the very largest in history, covers, it is calculated, 28% of the GDP of the whole world.

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* [NB in this note that word is pronounced correctly i.e. as ress-pit not, for goodness’ sake, ri-spite

Beggaring belief – and the country

In most decades in modern times and in most civilised parliamentary parties a government that is defeated on its most important policy or its most important legislative project accepts the fact, resigns and opens the way to fresh elections or new leadership.  To see Theresa May continuing to arrogate to herself the management of the relationships between the UK and the EU is a grotesque misuse of procedural possibilities and a constitutional outrage.  She puts the red ribbon of infamy on the whole by describing her manoeuvres as ‘giving effect to the will of the people’.

Smoke signals from over the horizon

 

(Non-)Event of the year

(Please note: all necessary preparations for the historic political event scheduled for the spring of this year, a major turning point in the nation’s story, have had to be postponed until 2020, or possibly 2021, or at least the earliest feasible date thereafter, as a result of the need for careful and fully effective implementation of the prerequisite agreed national policies, when these have been  discovered.)

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Economic comment of the year (excerpt) (Cassandra, 17 August)

…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?

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Progress in technology

One extraordinary recent item of news was the report that accounts of a shooting in a hospital in Chicago helpfully reached viewers and readers complete with buttons provided for instant reactions, specifically labelled ‘so sad’, ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘I hope everyone is alright’.  Perhaps the report was a malicious fabrication (malicious in the view it implied about the people supposed to have been ‘consuming’ the reports) but there is no need to overegg that pudding here, since I’m confident that any fully normal human being can effortlessly think of half a dozen adjectives with added expletives to describe such a practice (if it did indeed take place).   To take just one dismaying aspect of the report, i.e. the idea that people could welcome a chance to move on to another issue as fast as possible past an expression of sympathy for people caught in a disaster or tragedy, there is unfortunately evidence to support the idea that a ‘need’ for speed trumps (le mot juste) human feeling, as well as effective comprehension, common sense, and (probably in nearly all cases) benefit in practice.  According to data recently reported on French television: in 2004 average attention span of  those scientifically tested was 3 minutes; in 2012, 1 minute and 12 seconds; in 2018 (as millennials started to move into adult life), 45 seconds.

   Further exciting innovations can doubtless be devised.  If the outcomes of such ‘assistance’ are recorded in enough detail, broadcasters can build up data banks recording the buttons typically favoured by ‘consumers’ according to the type of tragedy involved and the social and personal data of their readerships and viewerships, and publish for instance that ‘our data analytics based on previous scoring in news reports identify with 95% probability that 56% of readers (and 81% of viewers in personal care occupations) will have felt deeply moved by the attack on this woman’.  This will save the busy viewer at home from having to click on any buttons at all, or indeed feeling the need to engage in any thought process whatever.

   (Possibly relevant: the very well documented decline in average i.q. in virtually all ‘developed’ countries over the past 30 years.)

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Progress in modern reasoning

Few today will have heard of the cooking pot theory of reasoning adumbrated by Josiah Underhill in his Dispositions of the Human Sense of 1658.  Underhill held that human reasoning can be likened to the physical events affecting vegetables simmering in a pot of stew.  The stew, approximately comparable to the ether in the Newtonian physics which was soon to sweep poor Underhill’s musings into oblivion, was taken to be the medium within which objects of thought  (approximately equivalent to ‘ideas’ in ordinary parlance – today they would be called ots) drift, in motions which are in principle unpredictable.  Unless some outside force, such as a wooden ladle wielded by an observer, interferes, contact between two pieces of vegetable matter in the stew is likely to be a random factor, but the different modes of contact between different kinds of vegetable would correspond, he proposed, to different kinds of thought – statements, questions, contradictions, inferences, and so on, and of course the higher the temperature of the stew, the greater the number of interactions.

   Curiously, some recent work in human error research bears an uncanny resemblance to views that might have seemed well judged to Underhill.  A team from the news institute attached to the Foundation for Adding to Knowledge and Education, based somewhere near Mar-a-lago in deepest Florida, currently claims to have discovered proof of the existence of what one of them has termed ‘black-hole thought’.  The institute is  already developing a well funded programme to exploit their discovery ‘for the benefit of all right-thinking citizens of this great country of ours’.  Their view is that black-hole thought may develop when psychological matter, however defined, forms an accretion around any of a wide variety of what, for want of a more suitable term, may be called ideas.  In the first stage of the process, a nuance or minor idea comes to be assumed as present when some other idea is used, even if there is no natural or necessary link between them.  For instance, in Britain in the present era, the notion of train is often associated with the notions of ‘delay’, and ‘chaos’.  But this level concerns only relatively superficial matters belonging to the lexicon of a language.  A different state of affairs is involved when two ideas are taken to be necessarily connected, as when it was taken for granted in many countries until quite recently that a television ‘presenter’ would certainly be a person with a ‘caucasian’ complexion.  In cases like that, if enough mental interaction was induced – if in Underhill’s terms the temperature of the surrounding stew was raised sufficiently – it would usually be possible for the accreted element to become detached from its host .  But this is still not the phenomenon for which the term ‘black-hole thought’ is appropriate.  That is reached when people believe they are no longer dealing with matters of linguistic usage, but with aspects and elements in the world they see around them.  They feel that what they observe has no need to be treated as a combination of parts which can be separated mentally, using language as the tool of analysis, but is instead a unitary element available for direct inspection – a Ding an sich in fact.  This attitude – ‘it is what it is and there’s nothing to argue about’ appears to be especially favoured when dealing with views on social and political issues, even when a truly independent observer might well feel able to distinguish different aspects in what is observed, and consider that treating such data as unanalysable wholes requires heroic feats of self-deception.or misinterpretation.  Inevitably disputes arise.  The observer who believes he or she is dealing with an unanalysable whole will regard any remark or observation whatever about it as amounting to recognition and therefore as confirmation of its existence.  In practice and especially in politics, when a view becomes widely or vehemently promulgated, any evidence in the vicinity, whether confirming or refuting will tend to be received by its proponents as supportive, irrespective of whether it would be confirming or refuting in the eyes of truly independent observers.  New input to a view is in effect trapped and thereby added to the volume of support for it, as far as supporters are concerned.  Some would probably like to cite Marxist economic theory as a fine instance.  A notable current example is the view that to understand the world around you it is necessary to be connected to the internet.

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footnote

That admirable policy of trying to return cultural treasures to their original and rightful owners is causing increasing irritation to governments around the globe.  It was reported last week that the Welsh assembly is to demand that the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge should be returned as part of their national heritage