Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

World’s truth reserves nearly empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historical clip (in three parts)

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

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

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

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Reader’s contribution (Kevin Solmsen, Nairobi)

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

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Appeal for information

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

 

Unscheduled Special Announcement

 

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

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Late news : Spain

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

Late news : Turkey

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

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

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

 Scheduled date for next posting remains 1st June

 

Unappealing Appealing

Editor’s note: The next posting had been  scheduled for 1st May (due to shortage of personnel  and the Editor’s task of working on a volume to insert some genuine evidence-based rigour, and common sense, into the investigation of syntax).  But we have recently had an e-mail from the Dr Baron von Hollenberg; its second half appears later in this posting.  We have a moral duty to publish, as he requested.  (He is after all one of our two principal sources of financial support, and, despite that, a fine, if eccentric, fellow.)  Since we had to bring the computer down from the attic anyway, for his letter, we are throwing in a couple of other items which were lying in the out-tray.  The second item, however, immediately below this note, is not our own.  It appeared inexplicably as soon as we fired up the computer and moved into posting mode.  All our attempts to delete it or even just to shift it to another position, failed.  So it has to appear, but we appeal to readers to ignore it.

Adjusted date for next posting: 1st June

NB Karela is at present still in the office and would like to hear from anyone with serious advice on how to organise a low-cost world tour, preferably by bicycle. 

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                         Sweetneezie Reade

               It makes no sense to give offense

              Don’t get banned – Keep it bland

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For over thirteen years we have been receiving plaudits from well-known writers for our work in tirelessly policing the world of high-class litterature to ensure the continued discouragement of distastefull language and unpleasant ideas.  This saves writers and their editors from the emotional trauma that results when they find their work has caused distress to readers who encountered some unintentionally disagreable feature of their work, resulting in a climate of increased intolerance and loss of sales. Our work is also a very effective safeguard against the possibilty of receiving hostile commentarey on the internet or of being no-platformed by audiences of keen young university students or even being obligated to defend a lawsuite in the London legal courts which have notorious high expensive charges, which all can be avoided by having Sweetneezie Reade check your output for a very moderate fee payable quarterly.  In the process of expanding awareness of our services across the world of fine writing we have carried out free reading checks for a number of leading publishing outlets to asess their position, including your esteemed organisation.  A summary of our finding will be apenned below.   Full details are being despatched to you by courier.

This blog is offensive; likely to cause annoyance to feminists, friends and supporters of H. Clinton, Republicans, professional and amateur golfers (except in Scotland), speakers of Chinese langauge, chihuahua dog breeders, chihuahua dogs, readers of the Arizona Star, drama critics, manufacturers of stairlifts, vegetarians, pest and fumigation specialists, cryogenic long-term rest-homes, cellists, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, bareback riders over 65 years age, tourists.  In some or all above cases offense may be percieved as highly offensive possibly leading to physical intervention on persons or premisses by friends of the offended. Join Sweetneezie today special free introductory month!

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                             Sweetneezie Reade

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                                  since 2005 

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[Editor’s note: Wahoo! Let’s go]

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[Despite his new duties Montgomery Skew writes for us here again. Ed.]

Not long ago the UK government issued a report which among other things trampled over the normal media rules for government statements.  It admitted that one of the areas for which it is responsible, the prison system, is in a deplorable state; yet it inexplicably  failed to state that the ‘government is on top of the problem’, and ‘the necessary measures are already under way’ and ‘the system will be functioning better than ever by 2020’, etc.  However, let the style bring its own rewards. More important is the substance it dealt with.  A large part of the problem, it admitted, is the serious overcrowding in prisons, a factor in which Britain leads other nations [Rephrase this before publication?] within the OECD group.  It implicitly acknowledged it had no clear idea how far this, and the exceptionally high running cost of prisons at present, are linked to the handing over of much of the system to private companies (though I can guess) (and by the way in a covering note readers were requested not to enquire ‘at this time’ into the ethnic and social background of prison populations), but in any case it appears the government’s proposed solution to the overcrowding is to build more prisons.  Taking into account the policies and preferences of the present government and of the think tanks and dinner tables from which they come, together with the well-known observation that building more roads leads to an increase in traffic density, this choice has uncanny overtones of the NRA’s response to gun crime in the US.  However, either optimism or self-delusion is leading many here to ask a follow-up question: could the slowly dawning realisation about the effects of overcrowding actually get the government up off its arse to do something about a different issue that has been afflicting a few millions in London who don’t have their own passenger-carrying drone.  Given that the report on prisons stated that urgent action was needed because overcrowding is ‘leading to their becoming academies of crime where inmates exchange ideas and information, form gangs and extremist groups and plot’ projects unlikely to do good to the rest of society when they come out, is it wise of the government to tolerate the present desperate overcrowding on the rail networks serving the bankers and lawyers of the City of London?  (Just google the work of John Calhoun on overcrowded rats, and you’ll see this issue is not to be taken lightly, though at the time of writing there have not yet been any reports of cannibalism on Southern Rail.)

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It somehow was not a surprise to meet Manos entirely by chance in one of the more obscure cities in Southeast Asia (population of 2½ million, though; traffic jams and pollution to match.  Corruption quotient reckoned by one of the embassy fellows I was visiting puts it in the top bracket of the region.)  I’d had luncheon, didn’t feel like adding any alcohol (openly available here) because of the heat, and was wandering casually along a boulevard named after the last president who left office neither in handcuffs nor assassinated when a very expensive black car did an emergency stop beside me, and next moment Manos was roaring a greeting at me through his chauffeur’s window.  It turned out he was on his way to a meeting with the Chief of Police so we made an appointment to have dinner that night at an address he gave me.

            Usual sort of place, a near-replica of the local stock exchange where I’d spent the rest of my afternoon.  Dim reddish lighting, high-powered air conditioning, the sofas and armchairs and décor aiming at up-to-the-minute London club style and missing by about forty years, a couple of white-jacketed fellows silently caressing the glassware on a small but well-stocked bar, and a handful of punters, staring goggle-eyed at the other side of the room..  But the main difference was that in the Exchange, the goggle-eyed punters were stirring themselves up to make a trade, staring at a wall crammed with screens giving details of the current market movements, flickering away like demented hens.  Here the other side of the room was taken over by a glass wall behind which a couple of dozen more or less attractive young women were slumped on numbered stools, staring despondently back at the punters.  Seeing my enquiring eyebrows Manos assured me that this place was probably the best brothel in the city, and certainly had the city’s best cuisine, and there was absolutely no obligation to do more than have an excellent meal, pay the bill, and stroll out with a word of thanks to the manager, “An old friend of mine,” he added.  I forbore to ask how they had become acquainted.

            It was rather inevitable that after we had exchanged news about common friends, the imminent break-up of the EU, the amazing yacht still on free loan to Manos, Trump’s curious inability to find the words that would make his denials really convincing, and PwC’s report that ten million UK jobs would probably be handed over to robots and 3-D printers by 2030, I commented that the girls on the other side of the room could be confident that their career choice was less likely to disappear than most. The reaction from Manos was entirely unexpected.  “I cannot blame you my friend.  You live in your world of high culture and perhaps have no time to read the rest of the world’s news.”  He was suddenly quite earnest.  He spent the next fifteen minutes losing his excellent English and becoming uncharacteristically incoherent, telling me about a booming industry which is apparently producing – for the first time since I knew him he became a little embarrassed – what he called ‘plastic companions’, ever more high tech and “to be honest, beautifully made, with” – he hesitated – “special capacities”.  I do not need to tell you all details but you can think yourself, the obvious advantages, the avoiding unpleasant problems.  I saw it already called great new investment opportunity.  Well, now, okay.  But when that reaches this part of the world, too soon I think, the men here will forget their wives, spend all their money to get one, or two or three, of these things, buy them fancy clothes, jewellery.   They will steal and rob banks. And then what happens to those girls over there?  Some, maybe you will be surprised, but some quite intelligent and competent.   May be  these ones find a way out.  But others have no talent, or abandoned by husband, maybe a child, two, even three to look after, or old, old parents, crippled, or they have been tricked into making debts they can never pay.  Some of course have addictions they cannot break.  Cannot look after even themselves only.  Some cannot read.  How will they all live?  And in a country like this?  Do you think this country will look after them?  This is now when someone, the UN perhaps, why not?, should start a department  to look after them when that happen.  Give them means to live and stay healthy and learn some useful skill until they are able to to join one job that will survive. Otherwise they will die in a ditch.”  I assure you, by this time I was staring at Manos with my mouth open.  I’d always felt that his talent for creating confusion and disturbance to public order was just about offset by an impulsive inner goodness of heart, and perhaps I had underestimated the latter.  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that before we parted he made me promise to write to you and urge you as ‘Senior figure in the media’ (his words not mine, I should add) to get such a campaign under way.  It is rather touching that despite his meteoric rise in the business world he has acquired so little grasp of how things get done – and of course, when inconvenient to certain groups, not done – nowadays, but as you know my promises are kept – hence this letter.  I’m off soon to Seattle to help with Mariam’s ‘Poetry and Photographs’ exhibition.  I will send you the book of the event (and, I trust, a more usual letter) from there.  You have as always my high esteem, Philipp.

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Editor’s note: I have written to the Lord Great Chamberlain to warn him in advance that out of respect for the Queen I shall decline all invitations I receive to attend ceremonies and other functions related to the state visit by the American President.

 

           

Proposed schedule

Details (promised yesterday) on proposed future schedule for the journal

After some months we are still without an intern.  In fact there are normally only two of us in the office, Karela and myself.  Simon occasionally comes in for purely social reasons, and has only contributed one item in the past year.  As readers will know, our invaluable and talented political correspondent Montgomery Skew has taken on new duties in London beside his journalistic work.  Berthold’s administrative work looks set to take ever more of his time, and his recent contributions have been relatively brief.  The Dr Baron von Hollenberg still communicates frequently but naturally is not in a position to take a very active part in our own administrative work.  (If only we could prise Isabelita away from her very successful career in Ecuador!)  Manos never did carry much of that burden but was still excellent value in other ways; none of us begrudge him his startling and unpredicted rise into the higher strata of big business.  There is no particular problem on the financial front.  Dr Baron Philipp still supports the journal generously (our other principal benefactor being of course Lady F-, now well into her nineties but, she tells me by telephone, still enjoying sea-bathing most days)(and I still murmur thanks to her every time I take the Lamborghini out for a spin round the island).  Another matter which I am honour bound to take into account is that Karela has been inspired by the world tour taken by our last intern Maud, and is clearly hoping to try something of the same sort (though not thinking of taking up sumo wrestling).  One further factor is that I am engaged in a project to establish a radically new approach to grammar, potentially resulting in a book, with a provisional target of having the writing done in a year.  In one way this will be hard.  As with many overpopulated academic subjects these days – and contrary to the impression the public receives – the mainstream of activity relies very heavily on not stepping too far out of line.  Small modifications of what the established authorities teach, yes; but serious breaking of ranks is dangerous, a cue for the academically polite version of trolling.  In another way, however, it could be relatively easy for those willing to break with tradition because the standards of argumentation in the subject have long been  pitiable despite confident and even arrogant remarks to the contrary.  Purely by chance, the third item in yesterday’s posting touched on this issue from a wider perspective, suggesting that over society at large standards of reasoning are poor and possibly declining quite sharply, and it indicated a reason why this should be so.  I could easily be persuaded that the problem is more deepseated, but this is not the place to take up that topic.

            In summary, this seems a suitable moment to announce, not the end of this journal, but the intention of putting it into hibernation or if you prefer, slow motion.  Again provisionally, and on condition that suitable pieces are contributed, it is hoped a posting may be made 1 May 2017, 1 August 2017, and 1 November 2017.

Your Editor

fn 1  We are sorry to learn that our candidate for ‘Outstanding issue by journalists under 25’, one of the awards made at the end of the year by the Association of Editors of Topical Magazines’, was turned down since the judges did not accept that the excellent posting of 1 August 2016, was in fact genuinely prepared and organised by Maud and Karela alone.

fn 2   I can assure my pseudonymous correspondent “Valens” that the idea of my becoming a field operative of the CIA is fiction.  It is true that very tentative suggestions were once made that might have led to becoming an intelligence analyst, a very different matter, but they came to nothing (and at that period I would not have been a good ‘catch’ for them).  In any case they concerned a British, not an American, organisation.  I might add, though, that I formed a rather favourable personal impression (of at least some) having as a teenager met a group of them when my father took me with him to Shemlan to visit a friend of his attached to MECAS.

fn 3  In the past six days, this office has received five enquiries (four of them from the US) asking about the fully functioning emergency governments (postings 10 July and 15 September of 2017) that can be provided in under ten days thanks to modern 3-D printing technology.  We must make it absolutely clear that those reports were based on information we received, and we have no link whatever with the group that is now marketing them.  Any such enquiries should therefore be directed to them.

Getting that thinking feeling

Significant changes to this journal have been decided.  Details to appear as a separate short posting tomorrow  Main items today: Flawed thought; Use of intercepts; Old Kalgovia  Readers are assured that, apart from this sentence, all items are Trump-free.

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Technology news  Latest must-have gadget: a miniature loudspeaker about the size of a bergamot, to be fitted to a cat’s collar and either relay the sounds sent by wi-fi from whoever has the controls or play pre-recorded sounds.  The range of options is impressive.  Pre-recorded signals include the sound of a tiger’s roar at up to 90 db at 10 feet, while by using the other option you can scare the wits out of your neighbours by transmitting threatening remarks in disguised voices or letting them hear what sounds like immigrants discussing a plot to steal the crown jewels

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‘Competition is a good thing’ : one of the hardest working clichés in the capitalist’s vocabulary, but a falsehood.    Competition allied with honourable behaviour by the participants and conducted on a fair playing field is, or would be, a good thing (but this has about the same relevance to real life as saying  it would be a good thing if every member of the species solemnly and sincerely promised never to use a weapon to kill another human being).   In real life, the word ‘competition’ covers cronyism, fraud, bribery, and callous indifference to all who don’t have the capacity to compete.  As a slogan it is uttered as slogans usually are, to imply that dissent is either downright impossible or is the betrayal through malice or stupidity of a principle which should be upheld by all; like a tribal chant of a primitive tribe that relies on obedience to its leaders as a substitute for intelligent thought.

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A longtime friend of this journal, hearing the posting arrangement is going to change gear, has sent in this piece.  (He wishes to remain anonymous.)

Back in July Berthold contributed an article to your journal about what he called the ‘nebula’ which becomes attached to public figures.  I hope he won’t take it amiss if I say that his remarks were not wholly free from nebulosity themselves.  I wonder why he didn’t use the word reputation as I shall.  But I’d certainly agree with him that reputations can be gained on flimsy and irrelevant grounds, and once won are liable to stick even when if won accidentally.  This is not a mere curiosity of social behaviour as I shall show, but first let me give a couple of examples.  A paradigm case is Frederick the Great, regarded in his own time and for centuries after as one of the great military leaders of early modern history.  Yet in truth his armies won their first battles under his leadership very largely because he commanded an army ruthlessly trained to incomparable obedience by his brutal father, Frederick I, and partly through his inexperience, so that he caught opposing generals by surprise, moving his troops in defiance of conventional battle-plans.  Then after those early victories won him a reputation that itself became a factor.  In quite different eras and quite different spheres we can still find the same curious persistence of unjustified reputations.  ‘Truth will’ not always ‘out’; or at least some fragments of truth may have to wait longer than the lifetime of a civilisation before being revealed: Virgil acquired a reputation as a major poet by (i) writing copiously; (ii) using that material,and other opportunities, to fawn on an autocratic emperor who expressed imperial approval; (iii) an eye for the sort of material that well-off and well-connected Romans found agreeable; (iv) a good verbal memory and a good grounding in the rules for writing Latin hexameters (though not always faultlessly); and (v) quite remarkably little talent for imagination, visual description, or using language for interesting and impressive effects (other than pomposity), or any other qualities that might raise an honest claim for a true poet.  Those examples fairly demonstrate that the masses (even educated masses) will readily accept an off-the-shelf, ready-to-repeat assessment based on a nebulous reputation rather than carefully examining actual observable evidence.  As it happens I once heard a distinguished professor of English, lecturing in one of the three great universities of western Europe, praise an English poet for his sensitive use of the distinctive resonance of the sequence wr- at the beginning of a word, by contrast with initial r-.  (His specific focus was on the word ‘wring’).  That distinctive resonance is, putting it crudely, baloney.  It does not exist.  Regrettably, I can add that the professor’s surname was Wren.  Much more broadly it is regrettable that willingness to accept hand-me-down ’facts’ based on a quick impression is stronger than ever today, and there are worrying reasons for that.  Sometimes one encounters an inexplicit assumption (partly based on generous confusion between such terms as education, school attendance, knowledge, and intelligence) that people are ‘cleverer today’ than in earlier times.  There is good reason for thinking that change is in exactly the wrong direction.  The ever increasing numbers in the world, and ever greater frequency of interactions, multiplied many times by electronic media, drastically reduce the timespan that individuals allocate to any mental activity.  Several types of mental blunder are the direct result, and through their sheer frequency are first tolerated, and ultimately pass unnoticed.  Sometimes it may not matter.  Sometimes it leaves understanding seriously damaged, as when all members of a group are taken to have the same characteristics.  (Consider the false beliefs about immigrants firmly held by large numbers in both Britain and France.)  A similar flaw can appear on the time axis.  “University education is valuable training for the mind” is now much less true than it once was.  And claims based on what ‘everybody knows’ need to be examined with some imagination for what could be considered but has not been.  Thus, dinosaur extinction is on the media menu again with a partly new version of planetary winter.  (Admittedly, these recent reports may be as garbled as most journalistic accounts of scientific advance; if so, sincere apologies to all those misrepresented.)  However, this version as reported could perhaps explain why many species died out, but glides effortlessly past a cavernous gap in the exposition. An explanation that covers the facts you first think of but ignores the existence of other data which do not fit in conveniently is a poor explanation.  Why did the dinosaurs die out but not the mammals nor the birds (nor, unfortunately, the mosquitoes)?  Not so much a gorilla brooding in a corner of the room; more a great hole where the corner of the room and its floor and walls ought to be.  Relying on reputation, the ready-made opinion of others, saves time and mental effort, but thereby undermines the hope of reliable reasoning and should be avoided and condemned.

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(Accepting that 99% of sightings of ufos result from misidentifcations, hoaxes, publicity stunts, and alcohol consumption) it is reasonable to suppose that most of the others are driverless spatial vehicles  since no sane alien commander would risk a crewed vehicle anywhere near this planet.  That of course amounts to saying that they are aliens’ drones, and at that point let us pause and try to run through the full range of uses to which humans put and hope to put drones

It was Fermi, wasn’t it, who asked back in the 1950s why, if the galaxy has millions of planets that could support life, we don’t meet any aliens  One possible answer could be that the aliens have already placed this planet in preventive isolation.  (Now I think about it, seems highly likely.)

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The NSA may not yet have realised it but they are in a position to make one of the greatest advances in political history.  Also perhaps in literature.  They have now far the largest collection of English verbiage ever accumulated, or that ever will be accumulated by anybody else trying with the same approach since they will now be on the wrong side of the counterflow threshold. (This is a technical term referring to very large data collections where incoming data has to be correlated on more than one parameter with data already stored, but with the result of the internal processing potentially leading to a correction of the IID (initial input data), which will then require a further correlation.  Beyond a certain limit on data input rate this is bound to cause internal processing time to exceed the capacity to receive incoming data by an ever increasing margin, until the whole thing breaks down, like most major enterprises constructed by or for, or by and for, the behemoths of bureaucracy which are impartially squeezing the life out of so many human activities. Bureaucratic procedures substitute rule-following and box-ticking for the use of human intelligence.  Now if, by pinning enough additional sensors onto the hardware and enough tweaks into the software of an AI programme we can get it to deal with complex situations as successfully as can now be achieved by a competent human, that may be fine.  Or maybe not.  Maybe such a programme would reveal an alarming capacity to break away from the rules it has been given and re-programme itself to aim at different goals.  I am not sure what the next stop is after programmes that can re-programme themselves in ways that cannot be predicted before the programme is put into action.

    But in the meantime NSA has generously allowed others to have access to large swaths of the verbiage accumulated, tens of billions of words and billions of (attempted) sentences.  The ‘civilian’ uses to which it can be put are various and legion.  For instance coupled with the right search programme it may be able to tell you what words to avoid in arguing with the Inland Revenue Service.  With a bit of judicious selection it could enable doctoral candidates to run up a thesis in an hour or two using obscure sources unlikely to be known to examiners.  Portions can be rented out to (politically acceptable)  journalists 1 allowing them to check for phrases associated with genuine intentions of declaring war, or indicating when denials of unpleasantly eccentric personal behaviour are false   It can be rented out to academics for use as a cliché engine, showing e.g. which politicians have least originality (using stock phrases or even whole speeches taken from other politicians), which English-speaking current heads of government show most signs of developing dementia, and which parts of the latest successful literary prize-winner were, apart from a few changes of wording, originally written by Jane Austen.  (It will not do much business in Ireland, however, since it depends, obviously, on logging phrases of two or more parts which occur together more frequently than chance would predict, and in Ireland it is a point of dishonour to find it necessary ever to say the same thing twice.  Consult e.g. Myles na Gopaleen: The Best of Myles.)

1 please see list to be issued shortly by the new administration

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How to annoy an organist

A simple conversational gambit: “Why do you keep saying what a marvellous instrument it is?  After all it’s really just a giant stationary bagpipe, isn’t it?”

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Tales of old Kalgovia No.136

In 1314 Krombald the Loyal struggled over two trackless mountain ranges to deliver the message which saved his king Otto the Miser by warning him that a force of the fearsome Oghuz were on their way to capture his capital city, disguised as merchants.  As he finished his message Krombald collapsed in front of the throne groaning because of the terrible pain in his legs.  King Otto stepped down from his dais and looked suspiciously at Krombald but at last said, “Loyal fellow, it seems your legs have done me a very great service.”  A pause, then he added “And I suppose, now you should have a reward.  But the royal coffers have hardly enough even for the great feast of the Third Moon.”  Again a pause.  Then speaking slowly, he said “I cannot alas make you a lord of the realm for immemorial custom binds me then to invest you with a tunic of gold cloth, and as I tell you my treasure is all gone.  But if you can, stretch out your leg.”  King Otto took his sword and tapped the right leg with it, saying “I declare this leg to be a lord of this realm.  There now, it is done but a leg has no need of a tunic of gold cloth.  A silken sock should suffice.”   He stood looking down, an obvious thought going through his mind.  Krombald groaned  slightly, and the king, looking doubtfully at the left leg, muttered “This one perhaps fared a little better.”  He then ennobled the left leg, but only to the rank of knight hereditary.  Thus for centuries Kalgovia was unique in Europe as a land where only certain body parts of descendants in the male line ranked as aristocratic.  The right leg, specifically of margrave rank, is still entitled to that dignity but is in exile as all aristocrats were expelled from Kalgovia following the first World War, and Colonel Zygmund Debrodzhe of the Royal Kalgovian Hussars naturally decided that the remainder of his body should accompany the margrave leg into exile in the Côte d’Azur.  However, the left leg was amputated above the knee in the war as the result of injuries received under bombardment.  In 1924 a European Court of Heraldry ruled that even if the Colonel were to have a male heir, his left leg could not inherit a nobility which had been obliterated by those injuries, and consequently the knightly line is now extinct.

 

Tech Supplement

I already noted some years ago that most of the answer to the question ‘How will civilisation end?’ is ‘It already has.  It’s only technology that is goose-stepping on, trampling humane interests underfoot.’  There are a few spots on the planet where so far that answer would be a little unfair and I have just returned from one of them which despite its obsession with ‘business’ scores better than most on the civilisation parameter (a word they like to use) as well as getting a whole galaxy of gold stars for the tech stuff.  But travelling there and back raised an issue which is rather troubling, namely the instructions to passengers on most airlines about what to do if the pilot reports ‘Sorry about this.  The plane will be ditching in approximately ten seconds from now.’  At the start of the flight the three passengers actually paying attention on any given aircraft are shown the posture to adopt if things go that badly wrong.  Now I’m not an expert but it looks to me that the said posture gives an extraordinarily high chance of a broken neck accompanied by instant death.  Is it safe to assume that there is no link, no link at all, to the different sums involved in paying compensation to the family of a passenger killed in an air crash and to an accident victim who lives on for thirty years as a paraplegic?

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Editorial for UK edition Truth is the first casualty in government, as everyone knows, so nobody should hold it against the Donald if he readies himself for his time at the head of the nation that is leading the world into the post-truth era with a few dozen campaign promises.  All that’s really needed with a campaign promise is that it should sound good at the time and place where it comes out.  It’s a different matter for the  official statements that emerge when you have actually won control of the puppet-strings of power, because then those listening can judge whether what you say really stacks up properly beside what they can observe for themselves.  Theresa May’s remarks in Downing Street immediately after getting her fiercely studied shoes onto Number 10’s doormat can just about be excused as still being at the level of a campaign promise.  The statements now emitted from that address asserting that the crisis in the once admired National Health Service is the fault of the doctors are preposterous.  At best crass ineptitude, at a time when British doctors are under more pressure from all sides, to do more, to know more, to fill in more official requirements, and when 1,300,000 patients call on general practitioners in a single day. The government has not only disgracefully failed to meet its duties to the nation – and remember the Health Service exists not only to serve people individually but also to help the nation as a whole to maintain good enough health to do its jobs.  Attempts to blame the doctors for the difficulties caused by the government’s own decision to spend the nation’s money in other ways are nothing less than shameful.

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Technological progress (i) (A contribution from Kevin V. Solmsen, Nairobi)

Don’t know if this is good news or not.  Drones and helicopters may not be blasting away at the terrorists on the world’s battlefields (nor at the world’s hospitals, and wedding receptions) much longer.  The reason is that while technology has raced ahead ahead in small-scale aerial tech, the research aimed at increasing the power of lasers, although slower, is continuing steadily.  Quite simply, before very long it will be quite easy to shoot down the drones while sitting before a screen in a secure office equipped with air-conditioning and free muzak (whether you want it or not) hundreds of miles from any battle-front, in other words in the same sort of laid-back style available to the drone-handlers themselves.  But as a laser-handler you will have the advantage that you don’t need to sweat too much about hunting for targets.  You only have to check it’s happening according to plan.  Simply put your defense apparatus in place along with sensors which will detect anything coming across the relevant frontier and assess its speed and size, and decide automatically whether to  bring its flight to a definite conclusion.  Bad luck for bats and owls, but if you’re in the killing business, bound to be some collateral d.  Good news for states rich enough and advanced enough to ring their entire frontier with the right materiel, to face off anything except multiple ballistic missiles.  And insider your defensive arc you can use your own drones to bring a definite conclusion to incoming ground troops.  The implications for those investing in helicopter production are not too rosy though, but hey there’ll still be a good internal market for helicopters for civilian uses.

Editor comments: Also bad news for some in the Middle East who thought they could get away with using reconnaissance drones by disguising them as eagles?

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Curious fact  A recent French media report added a little more fuel to the political climate change which is bringing increasing pollution to the international atmosphere and in particular leaving Russia under a dark cloud.  Of course every country needs a certain amount of hostility to other countries, especially its neighbours, to maintain its own identity.  (Failure there is what went wrong with the now rapidly collapsing attempt to engineer a European Union.)  However, while this French report contained a generally acceptable level of hostility to Russia it included a seriously unhelpful note by saying we should not trust a country which does not trust its own population, citing a claim that 11% of the inhabitants were subject to government electronic surveillance.  Now, most observers are under a strong impression that any country in the West which secretly watched fewer than 50% of its own population would be unusually careless or – if you like – unusually free.  It seems safe to guess that those governments which are able to do so keep tabs on more or less 100% of their own population whatever they admit in public, often with a good proportion of the populations of other countries into the bargain, all of course in the interests of protection and maintaining high standards of civil order.   (If it also helps to keep those who share political control of those countries in political comfort, well that is doubtless just an entirely unintended side effect.)

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Technological progress (ii) / Linguistic corner Approaching at speed and soon to be in an adult-toy store near you: a device which will accept spoken input and turn it into beautiful calligraphy in a style and language of your choice.  (Perhaps you would like to try the style devised and published by Lucas Materot in 1608, but the language of course is up to you.)  It goes without saying that you will have to learn the clicks, grunts, hisses, and sucking noises which will be needed to take care of the punctuation, and whistles too if you choose a language which has accents.  That is vital, since omission of punctuation except occasionally for reasons of speed is a sign of inadequate education or simple stupidity.  (Do you think ‘He didn’t take the gun because he was scared’ means the same thing as ‘He didn’t take the gun, because he was scared’ ?  If you mean ‘What he said was “Garbage!”’ would you write ‘What he said was garbage’ ?)

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Political punditry  Remember : nine pundits out of ten can’t tell the difference between ‘clever’ and ‘noisy’ when they’re talking about someone in the news (including and especially themselves).

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Technological progress (iii)  Many problems about driverless cars have been haggled over pretty well – so long as you’re looking at the car itself from the inside. It is far from clear that all the external issues have been properly taken into account by the enthusiasts who have got sore throats through running around their neighbourhoods gabbling about wonders to come when significant numbers of driverless cars finally hit the road, as well as hitting cyclists, and dim-witted overexcited dogs, and ditto children, and even dimmer-witted black plastic bags blown onto the road by gusts of wind.  Never mind the appalling confusion when the mix is 50/50 and real drivers rely on the avoidance responses of  cars which turn out to have reckless incompetent or drunk humans at the wheel.  Never mind the malicious hackers exploring what they can make a hacked car do (inaugurating a new golden age of highway robbery?) Are these things going to work in more dimensions than 2 or only on broad level California freeways?   Will they notice if a sinkhole opens up on the route they have chosen?  Will they react appropriately where a human driver could spot teenage refugees from approved behaviour patterns dropping plastic bags filled with paint from a highway bridge?  Those of course are fairly rare problems, but demonstrators are going to have the time of their lives, probably bringing large nations to a standstill.  To give just one example, in France there is always some protest movement doing its best to annoy the bourgeois, but famers will no longer need to summon 30,000 peasants from the deep countryside to block a main traffic route with their tractors.  All they need do is send along three or four men each with a pig to be  gently and repeatedly taken back and forth across the road at different points a few hundred metres apart, while with further development in other technologies even the pig might not actually be necessary; it could be enough to have the accomplice at the roadside holding a small portable sonar device firing a barrage of signals at oncoming traffic while the road is crossed by a hologram of the pig.

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Technological progress (iv)

Meanwhile research in the field of genetic engineering continues to race ahead.  A recent closed-door invitation-only congress sponsored by the US government was said to have heard accounts of astonishing developments.   Very strict secrecy was enforced both for commercial reasons and because it was considered that many advances had potential military applications.  It is believed that achievements included not merely poisonous 20lb rats and bionic dogs able to read basic instructions in a form of morse code, but modified crocodiles able to swim the equivalent of five kilometres underwater in under twenty minutes with a two kilogram load strapped to a ventral pod.  One source however claims that after a long debate the congress came down firmly in favour of an embargo on further work  on higher species, allegedly citing a need to avoid competition at some point in the future from genetically modified genetic engineers.

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Thought for the day

It is not hard to think of phrases to describe Blair’s efforts to finagle his way into British politics again but most of them are unprintable

 

Struggling on

Next post for 15-01-2017

While our leader is away in London I am again acting Editor, helped at the New Year time by my friend Françoise, who teaches about English business from a safe distance, in Paris (la future capitale financière of Europe, thanks to Brexit she says).  I will take the chance while Editor is away, and do something for him he should do for himself, because his serious pieces are so often right before many other people (what my acquaintance in London told me.)  I will put in the final position some of what our Editor wrote about poor M.Hollande  five years ago.  But the first piece is what our Editor wrote the night before he went to the ferry.  The rest of what is here today is from pieces in the pedal bin with little changes from Françoise and from myself, and two small pieces we wrote ourselves.  Karela Hangshaw

Late addition: when Françoise was checking that final piece about Editor’s warnings she found in the office archive a beautiful warning about election fraud with voting machines, published from this same office (in Esmond Maguire : isbn 9786169047612, first publ. 2009: p. 25)

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Monty has sent the office as a ‘Yuletide gift’, A Child’s First Book of Sociopolitical Theorems.  An accompanying card says it is the book from which he taught himself to read at the age of 5 (under the bedclothes after lights-out).  Karela and I do not believe him.  An extract:

A century or two after economics lurched into unsteady action as an academic subject some economists pointed out that the long-term effect of a free market would be (or rather, was and is) to transfer the greater proportion of resources from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, given that the latter have initially, and at all ordinary stages thereafter, better access to information and a wider freedom of action.  (This happens quite independently of whether the resources available to the population are laid waste by natural disaster or warfare, or they increase through eager exploitation of all exploitable environments on the planet.  In a constrained market the same thing happens but more quickly.)  Given the toxic mix of characteristics in the human character, it is inevitable that on the whole the relatively rich and privileged will (a)  take a leading part in plotting the future course of the government, either doing it themselves or getting their pals in the political ranks to do it and (b) will not give equal treatment, let alone compensating special treatment, to those who for one reason or another are not enjoying successful lives, and therefore need at least the former.  (The nominal form of government is entirely irrelevant.)  This leads sooner or later to (c) discontent among the unsuccessful, and eventually when the unsuccessful notice what is happening, to (d) rebellion.  There are two types of rebellion, first the failure, known as a Peasants’ Revolt,  which sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process, but with the rich even more advantaged to start with, and  members of the unsuccessful even worse off, if alive.  The second type is known as a Revolution, which not by co-incidence also sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process but with the previously  rich and privileged exiled, guillotined, or thrown from castle battlements and replaced by a different bunch of rich and privileged. There are lecture halls where the continuous process leading from (a) to (d) (a vicious circle known as the UNIcycle – Unjustifiable National Inequity) is still presented as a contentious hypothetical, but realistic observers and thinkers will smile politely and find other uses for their time. Naturally the time scale over which the cycle can extend is very variable.  Occasionally, epidemics of national morality can delay its completion substantially.  On the other hand it can be accelerated by interaction with a similar cycle which in the really long-term may be even more disastrous for the future of the species, namely the transfer of resources from the relatively stupid to the relatively clever, with a similar disbalancing effect. How the resulting eventual crisis when phase (d) is reached the next time, now that so many societies have a prolific supply of small arms, large extremist parties, and a lot more volatile life-threatening materials than ordinary citizens find they have any ordinary need for is a question with of course more than one answer.  (But none of them are pleasant.)

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Rumour  It is said (mainly by western biologists jealous of the huge amounts of research cash that are not going their way) that literally dozens of projects are now secretly running in Eastern Asia to clone wealthy businessmen, to produce synthetic offspring (or perhaps better ‘sidespring’).  But recently there has been talk of a particularly unusual case.  This allegedly involves a tycoon establishing a team charged with research which could ultimately arrange for him to produce clones of the other sex, for friendship with a view to marriage, as the saying goes.

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Future news  As nanosensing of DNA progresses it achieves astounding success. Young experts now gaze round-eyed in wonder at old-timers of 30 or 35 telling of their pride back in the dark ages of tissue analysis at being able to identify who had been drinking in a bar by examining samples of DNA left  on the glass.  Almost unimaginable by modern standards.  Nowadays it is possible to tell which currently  respectable and indeed prominent member of society is the one who was holding the camera that filmed a particularly spectacular piece of social deviance some thirty or more years ago.   But even these successes are, the government hopes, to be outdone in the near future, thanks to a combination of these techniques with megadata from the cameras, microphones, and motion sensors attached to tiny, silent drones or affixed, ‘at random’, to cars parked in ‘areas of special concern’, so as to further advance social order and to be soon making the country safe for the police to patrol, armed with tasers and other ‘non-lethal’ devices ‘for the protection of the community’, everywhere from leafy suburbs to the darkened doorways of back alleys in red-light districts.  The government is re-allocating funds from unspecified other areas and believes it will soon be possible for authorised officials, with, of course,  a warrant supplied by a magistrate who will, of course, have scrutinised each application with scrupulous care, to search any house in the country and from infinitesimal traces in the air determine not merely who has been in any room in that house within the preceding twenty-four hours, but what substances they consumed while there, what country those substances came from, and how long ago, and most useful of all to give a reliable estimate of when the same people will be in the room again.

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Late news

In the interests of gender equality BBC news programmes are in future to accord equal amounts of time to reports on female and male typhoons and tropical storms.

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Overheard  (at Paddington railway station, powerfully built woman mid-forties.) “No good blaming  television for the decline of British standards.  ’F you ask me, I’d say it was democracy.  For centuries the British were more or less willing to be deferential to their social superiors but somewhere about 1950 they became unsure who their social superiors were.”

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From Berthold, a note:  Just on a matter of interest – no, let me rephrase that; just on a matter of abominable ill-discipline, poor training, and highly questionable selection techniques, not to even touch on incomprehensible judicial processes, may I ask how many black policemen in America in the past, say, fifty years have been involved in any incident which led to them shooting an unarmed white man.

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Warnings ignored  Our Editor is angry because Monty got a gold card for their big conference, but he only has a red one, so no entry to E or ‘Skua’  briefings.  I hope he will be glad we are posting an example of his good analysis achieved many months or years before others.  This piece is put together from parts  of four postings within the first three months of Hollande as President in 2012.  Only very little changes to punctuation and making sentences a little part shorter.  (KH)

It is now many years since I regularly played Monopoly (and won) against young Nikki Sarkozy, at that time still clad in grey serge shorts, while my grandfather presided over a dinner table with presidents and prime ministers sitting jowl by elbow (some of them were indeed awfully uncouth in their table manners).  We later lost touch, but were I myself host to such occasions now, then Nicolas might well be on the guest list.  Certainly not his successor.  It remains a deep mystery of current European politics that the French were offered Hollande to vote for rather than the intelligent competence of Martine Aubry, as a way of ousting the incumbent.  This journal can claim no public credit for its private doubts about Hollande before his election, but within a week of his victory we gave our plain opinion that he was not up to the job – poor chap; one should not expect a man fitted to manage the stores in an army camp to direct the nation’s war effort with mastery if he is suddenly handed the baton of the commander-in-chief.  He never previously held any ministerial office, though between 2001 and 2008 he was mayor of Tulle, a town of some 15,000 known for the production of accordions.  Did you ever see a man whose face and movements tried so hard – and let him down so badly – in the attempt to hide inner uncertainty and lack of command?             Many have commented on the new French leader’s shabby treatment of Mme Aubry after his victory, which could very easily be seen as a case of a man not liking to have a woman around who is cleverer and more competent than himself.  And so it may be, but that can still leave us wondering how such a lacklustre fellow won the election to be president of France.  One of the clearest marks of his political inexperience is that he has been trying to keep his campaign promises.  As one instance, the increased special allowance for children of school age is already being paid.  However, it is obvious that there is no point in making a campaign promise which you intend to keep, because you will only intend to keep it if your people have found that it can be kept; in which case the opposition or at least its more intelligent components will already have done precisely the same.  The only campaign promises worth making are those that you do not intend to keep (provided, of course, that they look glamorous in the eyes of the electorate.)

 

Year-end clear-out

NB: since both Montgomery Skew and myself are summoned to a meeting in London at the turn of the year, next posting is now scheduled for the 3rd of January.  (Goodness knows why they want me, being neither a national nor a resident.)  For several good reasons we shall not here be issuing ‘Seasonal Greetings’ to anyone.  But we do value free speech so we congratulate among our readers Julitta P, Marcia H, Douglas P, and ‘Algernon’ (but in our collective view you are all still wrong.)

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The Editor writes  In January when  Obama leaves office, the loss of their figurehead (as well as their loss of both houses of Congress) will leave the Democratic party as what is technically known as a hulk.  I spent a happy childhood around a large harbour full of craft of all sorts, built for both warfare and merchant duty.  There were even a couple of wooden hulks surviving from many decades earlier. A ‘hulk’ is a ship that is still afloat, but directionless, having aboard a skeleton crew or more often none, lacking nearly everything needed for useful service, obstructing other craft in their transits, an unattractive relic, turning into a home for various kinds of parasite, not least rats.  Occasionally some wealthy eccentric gets the idea of mounting a celebration of some long past struggle or achievement, with colourful costumes, a lot of bunting, usually some jazz combos, and a sufficiency of alcoholic refreshment.  But most of the time hulks just lie rotting at their moorings, drifting a little with the tides, useless memorials to what used to be.

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Editor’s choice: Simon’s best remark of the year: “Er, this is just a question, but do you think anyone is keeping a watch to see if Trump takes over any sort of lab which is doing research on human cloning?”

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Correction.  As the result of a filing error by the pet monkey that we have temporarily hired to do our 8pm to 8am shifts, since we have been unable to find an intern willing to take on the task unpaid, the following item was published in an earlier edition under the heading Fake News.  We can assure our readers that it is in fact genuine news.  On 30th November, Mounia Meslem, the Algerian minister for national solidarity, proposed that married women with posts in the civil service should donate their earnings to the state as a mark of patriotic  loyalty, and rely on their husbands for financial support.  (The minister concerned is considered to be well placed to make the suggestion, being herself a woman.)

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Is it folk-tale, legend, superstition or true story? An occasional series. No. 31: The trickle-down theory of wealth.  This is a superstition, since it is not offered as entertainment, does not concern the remote past, and is observably invalid as an account of economic development, although still liable to appear in some alleged universities.  It is even still active in the minds of some participants in the economy, (normally because they cannot see the difference between business competence and good luck, though in some cases it may be because it can soothe a conscience faced with evidence of grossly unequal distribution of wealth under capitalism).  The converse theory about prices, however, holds good, since as prices at the upper end of the scale rise, those at lower levels will tend to increase also, and proportionately, provided that measurements are made on a logarithmic scale.  This is exemplified in for instance the London property market.

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The State of Britain (opinion piece, Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems) Two recent outbreaks of media uproar make a striking pair if put side by side.  (1) a large number of alleged cases of sexual assault linked to paedophiles and to football clubs (association football, that is, not rugby) in the British national leagues.  They are to be investigated by the police in England and Wales.  (2) At the beginning of December Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, also in Britain, reported receiving 306 allegations against police officers of abuse of power for sexual purposes, and 28 against other policing staff,  between April 2014 and March 2016.  The prime minister is recorded as saying when addressing a meeting of police officials ‘We do not know the true scale of this, but everyone in this room will know it goes on far more than we might care to admit’.  During a comparable period only 40 officers or policing staff were dismissed.  Some will be unsurprised that (1) received far more attention than (2).

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Global warming and the English language . Among the many effects of global warming in the next 20 years, such as the ‘voluntary’ accession of Canada into the US as the 54th state and the boom in swimming pool construction in Scotland, there are others of less immediate interest to economists.  One is a substantial further rise in human obesity, for obvious reasons.  If an average citizen feels exhausted after a ten minute walk to and from the Burgerama under present climatic conditions, the next time he’ll take the car.  But increased obesity will lead on to other changes which thus are equally effects of global warning.  Some of these may seem unexpected or even alarming; one for instance is that there may well be a major increase worldwide in the use of the English language, to judge from the correlation noted in the item Science News of this journal (24th  April 2016.)

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Suggestion (from Dr. Philipp), to any of the few remaining quality newspapers anywhere in the continent of Europe.  Please will they start, from 20th January, a regular column which could be titled Historical rhymes, giving some item from their archives of the 1930s (with special attention paid to news from Germany, though plenty of other countries would provide suitable material, I regret) and placing alongside it a comparable item from the current European media (which, I regret even more, will be all too easy to find).

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Reply to reader Claude Ambrose R.  An algorithm is an analytical procedure by which, given a sufficient quantity of data (if necessary megadata or even teradata), and a categorising framework (which must obviously be free of internal contradiction), and a regular system for correlating categorical statements with statements of the desired output language, it is possible for journalists, investment advisers, government spokesmen, business consultants and others to derive conclusions desired for publication or for confirmation of views they wish to hold, even when they have no understanding whatever of the nature and qualities of the original data, nor of the relation between statements in the conclusions and human experience.

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Letter from reader : Dear Sexist Pig, All those campaigners for men to do half the domestic duties and in particular half the child care are overlooking one thing.  That thing is the baby.  Every baby I’ve ever known, and that is plenty, preferred to be looked after by a woman.   Every mother should have at least three years maternity leave with a guarantee of no loss of income and no loss of promotion prospects.  Debbie Cazeney-Fourguet, chairperson, Brigade of Militant Women, Dublin

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Juridical drift? The author is a good friend of the journal but wishes on this occasion to remain anonymous, since he belongs to none of the privileged groups which can come to the rescue of someone making any public suggestion that the judicial profession does not practice its trade with perfect grace and wisdom:  Judges in England (and other anglophone countries) are increasingly allowing their judgments to overlook the vitally important concept of the mens rea, which King Alfred understood very well 1200 years ago.  They are tending instead to put a great deal of weight on the letter of the law as written; a notable example is said to be the recently departed and less than universally regretted Judge Scalia (US Supreme Court.)  Some believe this to be highly questionable since to properly understand the meaning of a text it is necessary to take into account not only the language but the intended context.  (It was on this basis that a former president allowed himself to say that he had not had a relationship with an unfortunate young lady; he was allowed not to specify the time during which he did not have the relationship.)  Yet now in some lower courts we are even seeing a further and most unwelcome juridical drift towards legal interpretations and decisions which simply conform to what are understood to be the views and wishes of the current government in the jurisdiction of trial.

(Monty has asked for it to be made explicit that he is not the author of this piece)

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Most repellent line of musical criticism of 2016 : The light tenor line of the voice rests on a decorous salad of marimba, ukulele and harmonica, synergised by a gentle yet insistent basset-horn dressing.

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Intern advertisement  A slot above mentions our lack of an intern, which regrettably still holds good (or bad).  This prestigious post is still open for a suitable applicant of ‘any age, any gender, any colour’.  However, we have been told we should add ‘not more than 115 kilos dry weight’ since we are now aware about the condition of the floorboards; consultations with a lawyer continue as to whether that addition is legal under equal opportunities legislation if advertised in the UK.   The lawyer also advises us to omit the bit about handling small boats as it may make us liable in case of unfortunate marine incidents.  We do not insult our staff with any dress code, short of standard public health requirements.  Speech impediments, such as chronic nasal catarrh or a regional accent are not necessarily an obstacle, short of radical unintelligibility.  However, possession of wealthy parents who wish to launch their unqualified adolescent into a respectable and remunerative career is unlikely to be viewed as an advantage to either the applicant or ourselves.

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 Intern news  We are happy to record that we have had news (a picture postcard) from our former intern Maud.  The picture was made from a selfie of her and two other girls in the sumo squad on the  beach at Repulse Bay.  I regret there was no address to pass on to the many who remember her, nor was there any news except that in Hong Kong she has had 23 proposals of marriage.  But she is evidently still keenly following the interest in Ukrainian affairs she inherited from her Russian grandparents, because the rest of the card only told us about the recent UN report on the Ukraine, and said we should know about it, but of course we had already read it.

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UN report on the Ukraine  Montgomery Skew writes: As with so much from the UN that report leans over so far to be neutral that it is burying its virtual head in the sand, but even if horizontality is a lousy posture for getting anything actually done, it still may be better than double standards.  It remains totally baffling to those who do not swallow government statements whole that detaching areas from Serbia to make a brand new country of Kosovo, was laudable nation building.  Yet detaching areas from Ukraine which by a large margin were inhabited by Russians, and which wanted to be attached to Russia, and which would leave a much more cohesive and economically effective Ukraine, (and into the bargain a strongly pro-western Ukraine), not to even mention the matter of hugely reducing the number of people killed and wounded in fighting, all that is playing the ‘dangerous game of adjusting national boundaries’.  Disgraceful atrocities in the Middle East should not and do not govern where political lines are drawn in Eastern Europe.  Nor, it seems, does common sense.  Diplomats of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your dogmas!

There is, though, one point in the report where facts seem to give a sharp blow in the ribs to neutrality.  In October each side was bombarding the other.  But casualties in the ‘rebel’ – i.e. Russophile – area were eight times those on the government side.  Any conclusions to draw?.

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Query  Just as a matter of interest, would any reader be able to tell us how the costs to those who ultimately pay them (which in the end comes down to those who do the work) for producing the electricity needed to maintain, say, any of the major social media networks would compare with the costs of running a well-equipped American hospital for a year?  And while we are on the topic, what was the cost of producing in any average country the electricity needed to run the various networks required to maintain government surveillance of its population in, say, 2015?

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Observation  New research has discovered the reason why poets usually booze a lot and engage in various other sorts of behaviour not necessarily typical of normal interpersonal activities.  The relationship is in the opposite direction. Those factors (and similarly experiences in wartime) can seriously disturb ordinary processes of syntax and notions of semantic compatibility, drastically affecting verbal fluency, resulting in great difficulty in remembering correctly the mass-produced clichés and platitudes in which the vast majority of talk, and of writing (among those who know how to write), is produced.

 

Getting things the wrong way round

Next posting, ‘Year-end clear-out’,  scheduled for 15-12-16

We have all adopted Monty’s policy as the policy of the site: onward transmission of items welcome provided there is acknowledgment of the source, and no modification in transmission

  1. Prosperity? Really?        2. Inside advice
  2. Dim lights in the gloom 4. A heroine of bureaucracy

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(Monty Skew and Karela Hangshaw writing jointly)

Tunnel vision : Judgement by appearances and the Emperor’s new clothes are not exact opposites, but close to it.  If not 180o , perhaps about 150o.  With the naked Emperor the audience’s beliefs (voluntary or enforced) are supposed to overpower the evidence of their senses.  In the other error, perceived appearance and presentation overpower common sense and facts.  (To call the latter the Reagan syndrome is not hostile to America; Americans who sincerely support their country should simply check out its state and status before and at the end of his time in office.)  Now, there is at present a massive international effort to promote free trade and the setting up, on foundations as near immovable as possible, of free trade areas.  This is being run at all levels from Christine Lagarde herself down to humble Dax and Footsie CEOs getting no more than five or six million a year.  The standard version is that globalisation and free trade, while distinguishable, are an inseparable pair who need each other, in much the same way as a bank robber and her look-out woman.  [Ed: Thank you Karela – enough of that!]  However ‘globalisation’ can mean almost anything for almost anybody, and therefore must escape reasoned criticism.  The story about international trade, as understood by the eager campaigners, is that it ‘creates’ prosperity.  So determined, or desperate, is the promotional effort that large companies are running campaigns at their shareholders’ expense, going light on the self-praise and instead telling us international trade is a wonderful boon for humanity (on a par, perhaps, with medicine or music?).  This story can only be maintained by two kinds of linguistic manipulation, which to be polite we shall call equivocations.  The lesser equivocation concerns ‘creates’, and other words such as ‘leads’ and ‘brings’ which are used in this context as equivalents, to claim that trade is the foundation of prosperity.  This claim is wonderful bunkum.  The primary foundation for prosperity is by an overwhelming margin not trade – taking goods to another place to exchange them for different assets – but technology, the devising of new and interesting goods.  It is the goods that matter, not the journey to exchange them.  Whatever would be the point of travelling thousands of miles to the other end of the world’s continents if you have nothing interesting or attractive to take? Besides, the routes have been there as routes for thousands of years, from the bleak coast of Ceredigion right across the Eurasian landmass to the East China Sea, and with well-known side-routes down as far as Zanzibar.  If trade was not booming along them then it was because the supply of different goods not obtainable in the purchaser’s immediate neighbourhood was simply not large or interesting enough.  Very simply, you have to have the tradable goods before you can trade them.  Nor is there any chance of developing a vigorous transocean trade until you have developed ships that can make the trip reliably (and a compass will help too.)  The ships do come before the flourishing prosperity, really!  Or again, there is now a very big complex of industries based on the use of lasers.  How did this come about?  We do not believe for a moment that the existence of flourishing trade centres somehow led spontaneously to the emergence of the laser.  Trade routes and active trade are by-products, like pollution; primarily by-products of technological development, and secondarily of population growth.  The conclusion is not to pour resources into treaties making life agreeable for business, with negative measures such as restricting trade unions, and helping employers to throw the poor out of work to save their own interests, and positive measures which some critics might refer to as fiscal prostitution….But here we are meeting the second and greater equivocation.  This results from a breath-taking ability (undoubtedly involuntary with some, undoubtedly cynically chosen by others) not to notice the distinction between two very different interpretations of ‘prosperity’.  When examined closely, what we call ‘prosperity’ comes down to the capacity to do things.  There is prosperity of a country, taken as a whole (almost always measured in monetary units); and there is or can be  prosperity of individuals.  But the conditions and factors which are properly relevant when talking about individuals are so different from those for a country as a whole that using the same term is thoroughly misleading, and to assess both cases on the same basis is a simple intellectual error. (Would you try to count the number of species of tree in a forest by using a clock?)  Dealing with the individuals, you need to take into account not only monetary units, but also measurements on parameters of health, types of work, living conditions and a good few other dimensions simply not representable in the same terms as financial assets.

            Trying to measure either complex in the same way as the other (and it’s nearly always the ‘whole country’ version that wins, because it is the government that does the measuring) is not just an intellectual mistake.  By a chain of connections which can easily be seen and understood by anyone with the least willingness to see and understand the inevitable dominance of the ‘whole country’ view leads to ever-increasing inequality between comfortable governing classes with great freedom of personal action (sometimes on condition they do not meddle in politics), and everybody else.  And if you don’t want to go into the theory of the dangers which then threaten a society and its individuals (not excluding those who will protest that they were never really involved –  ‘honest! –  only passing by at the time’), you don’t need to.  Just pick up and read a couple of comprehensive books of history.

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Observation

As they sit back in the comfort of the first class on their way to the Far East to strengthen the historic and deeply rooted ties of mutual respect and self-interest between Great Britain and e.g.Tonkin, or Sulawesi, tycoons and ‘leaders of business’ from the City must be wondering at the changes they are going to see in a once familiar region.  There was a time in the second half of the 20th century when you knew where you were with the countries of East Asia.  ‘Korea’ in particular meant of course South Korea, a dynamic democratic republic with military overtones organised on no-nonsense lines approved by America.  Now it seems that literally millions have been mounting huge street protests to get the President thrown out on the extraordinary grounds that she was taking advice from non-elected friends who were pushing their own views to influence government policies and the flow of monies.  How can this be?  Is this not exactly the way that things have been run for years in Britain to the satisfaction of all concerned, with only the difference that in Britain such friends are speedily taken on to be special advisors, with handsome salaries paid out of the money that arrives from tax-payers?

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes : The politics of the past few months seem to have left a lot of commentators gazing morosely over the political landscape like cows jostling in the freezing fog as they wait to get through the gate of a field where a ‘work-experience’ trainee has scattered a dozen bales of shrivelled hay.  One can understand why.  But in a darkling world we must look for glimmers of good cheer where we can find them.  And one is that the battle-weary French have at last recovered from Sarkolepsy.  They thought they’d got over it in 2012 .   But cleverly dodging past doubts about his campaign finances, Sarko returned and stoked up the fires on the French right believing this would bring him back to the top in a blaze of glory.  In fact all it did for him was to scorch his backside as he made his exit from politics.  (It seems though that the CNRS may intend to continue a little-known programme investigating whether upper-body gymnastics with invisible apparatus does indeed exert a hypnotic effect on French audiences.)  But just as the French electorate escapes from one pursuer with a preposterously exaggerated idea of his own charms, almost unbelievably, Britain is now under threat.  A deeply disturbing shape has risen from its political grave.  I presume no one thought this possible; otherwise surely they would have planted a clove of garlic in the occupant’s mouth and a stake through its political ambition when it was interred.  At present it is not certain that it will start another terrible cycle of events, but in any case let us hope that those who still feel a duty of loyalty to their country and their sovereign will study again the law relating to treason.

There have also been two minor bonuses from the recent rounds of elections.  First, there is at least now evidence that the traditional rule ‘Put enough money on and under the table, and you can buy the result you want’ is not infallible for all elections.  Estimates of the Democrat investment vary from $2bn all the way down to a paltry $1bn, but whatever it was it apparently outspent the other side and yet still produced a loser.   And the second entry in the ‘Progress’ ledger has been to cast light on the true value of ‘professionals’ who ‘know the job’ – men and women who work and calculate and run computer simulations and collate until their imagination runs dry, while they study all the reports and data until at last they could fight the previous campaign with absolute perfection, if it was held tomorrow (and who have in fact been the backbone of the losing side in most Western elections in the past ten years).  Did the Donald come with folders bulging with expertise on how to fight elections?  It didn’t look like that to me.  The other major benefit to be entered in the political columns (some might want to call it a silver lining but that seems a little overambitious in the circumstances – at best perhaps a pewter lining) is the obvious one that whatever the American result has given the world it has at least avoided four years of beautifully designed establishmentarian politics of the type which has served Washington and the well-off classes of the well-off nations so well, and done so little for all the rest of the world, confronted with  natural disasters, economic injustice, massacres, wars and the indifference of the West.

Ed: Is Berthold heading for a breakdown?  He’s certainly been poaching on Monty’s territory.  Time for a serious talk.

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Let’s recognise some true worth

If you are wondering who you might send an anonymous end-of-year present to, let us suggest Federica Mogherini, whose humane intelligence is fighting bravely trying to keep the EU sane and functioning despite itself.

Shapes dimly seen through the fog of news

Since there are now only two full-time members of the team normally present in our HQ here, along with occasional visits from Simon, we would very much like to take on a new intern; the position, unfortunately unpaid (as are the full-time members), could be for up to 6 months, and basically requires normal office work with snatches of journalism.  Open to literate applicants of any age, gender or colour.  Ability to handle small boats could be an advantage.  Computer nerds and paid-up members of any mainstream political party have little chance. 

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Our widely respected political correspondent Monty Skew volunteered to reply to a long letter from Jojo Ceausescu, one of our regular correspondents.  Since the issues actually affect a lot of people some extracts are posted here.

Monty Skew writes: Yes, there are indeed two IMFs!  The second one which I shall call the ‘other IMF’ deliberately chose initials designed to be an example of their ideas – or as they prefer to put it, their strategic philosophy. Those initials stand for ‘International Misinformation Forum’ and their (surprisingly well-funded) activities are intended to support an eccentric mixture of interventions based on a mistaken belief that something like Darwinian evolution can be injected into world geopolitics, and they are the people to push the plunger well in.  Their underlying principle is a sort of utilitarianism: the weaker a government is, the worse life will tend to be for its subjects (so they can at least pretend that they have good intentions; like so many in the long human tragedy).  So what the world needs, they assert, is fewer weak governments.  Where does that lead us?  They argue that on the whole crises kill off the weaker specimens, and tend to leave the strong ones stronger than before, as with species.   So they hope to stimulate confusion in world politics, as a first-class means of inducing  crises (though of course crises can easily be manufactured even without the existence of normal democratic politics).  For this reason the ‘other IMF’ deliberately keeps out of the limelight, since only a small proportion of the world population is clear-headed enough to be properly  aware that two organisations with similar names (or at least initials) operating in the same general area may have sharply different methods and goals.  But it is known that they claim to have well-developed networks of influence in the Americas and in the chancelleries of Europe.  The phrase ‘creative uncertainty’ surfaces from time to time.  Even so, many of those who have heard of the ‘other IMF’ dismiss all this as obscure pantomime games, and perhaps it is.  But some of the bigger happenings in geopolitics in recent years might make you hesitate. To start with a small but rather clear example: (1) a coalition was organised to arrange régime change in Libya; the former régime (Gadhafi) was duly eliminated; but no new régime was put in place; the half-suppressed state of civil war continues.  (2) Western forces, led by the US, have been into Iraq and out of Iraq and in again and out again, sometimes both simultaneously, ever since 1991.  It seems only the other day Obama was promising ‘no American boots on the ground’; current active operations in Iraq involve US ground forces (undoubtedly booted).  (3)  When he was president George W told Europe it must speed up with Turkey’s admission to the EU, begun to bureaucratic acclaim in 1987.  Today it is still ‘progressing’ (yes, even now!). (4) The ‘pivot to Asia’.  Remember that?  American foreign policy to be re-centred on East Asia.   Which apparently meant a quick series of pronouncements about China, and a couple of highly signalled sail-pasts; then back home, and down to business as usual.   (5) Mid 2016 the UK votes to leave EU.  Late 2016, UK manoeuvres to undo Brexit get going.  (6)  Afghanistan.  See remarks on Iraq above.  (7) Syrian government, threatened (2013) with decisive western intervention if detected using chemical weapons against its own population, backs down.  Currently, chemical weapons being used by Syrian government against its own population, and have been over the past year.  (8) European nations allow desperate millions to walk halfway up Europe for refuge; then policy changes.  The next millions get to walk halfway up Europe, as far as the razor-wire, then have to survive the winter (or not) where they are or walk back to Greece.  (9)  Remember how back in the 1990s post-communist Russia was going to be the West’s new friend (and ally against China?).  Now she is the great threat to world peace, and apparently hell-bent on world conquest, we are earnestly assured.  (10) In return for ruthless austerity, hurting all except the wealthy, the EU gives Greece just enough support to carry her through to the next round of fresh austerity and bail-out.  (If I’ve counted correctly, she’s just coming up to bail-out number 4.)  Sometimes I do begin to wonder.  I have no idea what would be your own best move, but my personal advice would be to buy a well-built well-appointed sea-going vessel, move all your personal possessions into her (and your wife?), and then cancel your subscription to your current  government immediately.

Mr Skew wishes to say he has no objection to forwarding of items of his which appear on this site, subject to the usual conditions – no modification in transit, and acknowledgment of source.

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Before we empty the readers’ letters bin, we might mention that Monty’s late-night notes last month (which were definitely not intended for posting) – on setting quotas for various groups to have a share of various types of advantage –  brought a biggish influx of mail.  A small number seemed inclined to disagree, giving reasons (a great rarity) and after careful thought we or Monty himself may take those up.  Most of course were the normal gibbering rants or cuttings from the Daily Mail.  But an oddity worth mentioning is that within that week we had two letters, both from men, proposing that the House of Lords in London should be reserved exclusively for women, but for diametrically different reasons.  One said that this would give women a real  chance to exercise the beneficial influence on events which they deserved to have; the other thought that it would ‘clear them out of the way to twitter on about cooking and fashion and celebrity gossip’ while ‘us men’ can ‘get on with the serious stuff’.  Karela intends to write a personal reply to the latter, when she has had a week or two to handle a computer without causing it to emit bright white exploding sparks.

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The first piece we have had from Simon in over a year, headed ‘A contribution to the ‘Problems in Bilogy series’[sic].  Louise tells us he has nearly finished Book 1 in the WAHAMM! course – ‘Write At Home And Make Money! –  for aspiring writers (www.howtomakewealthflowfromyourpen.com). 

Problems in biology; no.118

Why are elephants grey (except for Hinkley Point power station which is going to be white)?  They do not originate in a landscape where the background is predominantly grey.  They live in hot parts of the world, and if they were some bright colour, red or yellow for example, or even better partly reflective (if butterflies can evolve that sort of thing, why not elephants?) it would help to keep them cooler which you think they would need at their size.  And there is not much point in an animal as big as that trying grey as a way of being unobtrusive, whether to avoid becoming prey, or to allow it to hide in the undergrowth before springing out to pounce on passing antelopes or warthogs.  The mighty elephant remains an awesome enigma indeed!

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The Editor writes: If ever there was a campaign that made a really powerful case for a proposal more than once offered to the closed minds of the political classes by this very journal, that presidential campaign was it.  The issue is obviously negative votes.  In the past, practical matters may have made this rather difficult.  Now, thanks to modern technology which has seen voting publics round the world swallowing voting machines with only the merest tremor of electoral indigestion, it would be easy.  It is a simple idea: do not merely invite the populace to vote for the candidate picked out by whichever information sources they expose themselves to.  Let them cast instead, or as well, a negative vote against the candidate they think most worth throwing out of politics (and, in selected cases, into the nearest stagnant canal).  With modern technology it should be easy.  In fact it might be as well to take advantage of the chance now, in the short-lived window of opportunity before hackers screw up the whole business by discovering ways to make Huey Long come out on top in, for example, the next ballot for governor of the Keystone State notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot and hasn’t actually been standing anywhere since 1935.  When they appear on the scene, or rather don’t appear, those hackers will be found operating out of Russia, of course, or just possibly North Korea, or perhaps both simultaneously.  (Now there’s a promising opening for a world-wide journalistic scoop!)  But while we’re touching on hacking, let’s mention that back in June the FBI said about those hackers who broke into Hillary’s campaign they ‘would be far too skilled to leave evidence of their intrusion’.  And everyone agrees it was a job carried out with expertise of the highest level.  So isn’t it just the darnedest thing that those brilliant Russian hackers did it all so professionally they would have got clean away without anyone having the least idea who they were –  except for just one tiny thing when they were tidying up; left a couple of words in Russian, as shown on western tv, so now everybody knows they really must have been Russian.  Couldn’t have made a sillier mistake if they’d tried – or did someone help them?

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Puzzle corner (from Patsy’s Postmodern Parenting WeeklySet by Dr Evalina Squeers)

Here’s a nice poser for post-modern parents to chew on along with their vegetarian sausages and free-range quinoa.  Start from these two ideological axioms of modern society.  Axiom 1: It is wrong to encourage children to taunt and abuse other children.  Axiom 2: It is necessary to take all possible effective action (short of violence of course) to reduce obesity in children, bearing in mind the serious damage to their self-image and to their health in adult life that can be consequences.  Given that peer pressure and self-image are absolutely key factors influencing the behaviour of our little loved ones, the challenge is to think up chants and cries compatible with both those axioms, to greet obese pupils as they waddle into the school playground each morning.  (The usual prizes for best selections.)