Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: June, 2012

EU colonial takeover?

The next publication was scheduled for 4th or 5th of July.  However the discovery of the documents below at this time of crisis in the world economy (a.k.a. the house of cards or, more formally, the house of promissory notes) justifies the issuing of a special edition.  It is proposed to put out the next issue in early July as scheduled.

It is well known that when states encounter unmanageable internal problems there is a high risk that they will seek to escape from their difficulties by means of foreign adventures.  That fact appears relevant here.  The Editor left last Sunday for, he said, a week’s scuba-diving holiday in Angel City but rang last night in a state of great anxiety and told Isabelita to find a brown paper envelope in his office labelled ‘Kana Ria, wir fahren gegen’ and to make sure it was shredded with its contents.  She found it without difficulty tucked inside an old copy of Penthouse, and did indeed shred it, but only after she had taken copies of the two documents inside, both of which were themselves photocopies.  She then called us together (except of course for Simon) to discuss next action, given that they appeared to be documents which should rightly be put in the public domain.  The result is this posting.

     Kana Ria is an archipelago between the Cook  and the Solomon Islands nominally controlled by Britain but lacking any significant resources and so running in practice as an autonomous republic.  Despite its tiny land area it is one of the more populous territories in Oceania; in particular its lax approach to residence controls and the ‘entertainment’ facilities originally established during the Vietnam war (and still flourishing) have attracted many male settlers of a certain age from western countries in recent years.  We have no idea who the correspondents are or what our Editor might have hoped to do with the documents.  The first was typewritten, the second in an untidy hand, and with many spelling errors (corrected in the process of typing it out).

(I) My friend Helmut has consulted me about a message he received from you.  Despite my best efforts he did not grasp what you meant completely (he’s German, you know, but quite a helpful and pliable fellow normally) so I have taken it on myself to respond on his behalf.

     The principal point is that it is very likely that the EU will respond favourably to your proposal for them to purchase Kana Ria.  They are, as you will know, eager to expand their lebensraum, as is evident from their remarkable campaign to incorporate Turkey, a country of altogether different customs, muzak, and cuisine, with disturbing demographic habits and which stretches further to the east outside Europe, than Timbuktu does to the south.  (In fact the Commission has plans afoot with regard to the latter also, but these are not yet ready to be exposed to the light of public knowledge.)  Your client cannot, however, count on generous terms.  Quite apart from the current unhelpful economic climate, brought about largely by American incompetence, they are more cautious now before undertaking significant expenditure, not least because of their experience with Ireland.  As you will be aware, they had poured vast sums into that country in a bid to stop it drifting politically to the west, and how were they repaid?  A bungling government allowed a popular referendum on the new constitution, designed to cement executive power for the next stage of central control, whereupon the electorate emerged damp from the bog and turned the constitution down (which decision was of course nullified, but only by a series of tiresome and somewhat embarrassing manoeuvres).  The Commission has had its accounting staff run a thorough investigation of the probable costs and likely revenues from the purchase, and briefly the result is that they would make an offer of € 0.00.  They would like to point out, however, that there is every chance the mayor will become an ex-officio member of the European parliament, and while his earlier enquiries about an annual salary, with expenses, amounting to approximately €1,400,000, were overoptimistic, the rewards will still be substantial, and he would be allowed to nominate up to three of his colleagues as special advisors, with remuneration amounting to about half that figure, so that there will through this channel be a substantial enhancement of the Kana Ria local economy.  The Commission is also, at the present time, able to make a special offer of 300 tons of roquefort cheese, available at a considerable reduction of the normal price if a positive response is received within 30 days.  There is one additional condition which should be noted: the Commission’s foreign policy is of course tightly integrated with the foreign policy requirements of Washington.  It will be necessary to install a missile defence system in Kana Ria to provide protection against the possible emergence in the region of rogue states or failed states, in, for example, Timor or Australia.

  Good luck with the butt reduction! Max

(II)  My commiserations to your friend on his ethnicity. Please do try to explain to him that there are worse things — if only slightly worse — than being German. Being Australian, for instance, it might be argued, could be one such thing.  In relation to the emolument (is that how you spell it? The rats in the library et through the dictionaries last winter), the citizens think the proposal rather attractive, though they haven’t heard about it yet, and are unlikely to on the principle they’ve got more than enough on their plate trying to steer a course through the current choppy global waters. It would be a kindness, one feels, to leave them in the state of relatively blissful ignorance which is their current lot, and to which they at most times and under most conditions aspire. I have, however, had a word with some of the lads at the Old Spot, down the street and around the corner (do you know it?) ,and they are quite willing to speak on everyone else’s behalf, including the mayor’s, especially since that gentleman has not been seen now for several months, a disappearance which seems to have coincided with the closing of the current account under the council’s control earmarked for the maintenance of goods and services. These are practical-minded people, not without ability in the arts of persuasion, so I — we — can assure you that any agreement entered into with your goodself (and even, at a pinch, with your German friend), could be relied upon to deliver rock-solid dividends.  They are not averse to the missile shield suggestion. Indeed, they welcome it, since none of them has ever seen a missile, and each of them would, to a man, very much like to. There has even been talk, at this early stage, in turning the missile emplacement (or emplacements) into a tourist attraction — perhaps opening up the facility several times a month to school excursions, and coach tours of ageing cold war warriors with little else to occupy their declining days but fond dreams of past glories. Indeed, the suggestion was mooted that a regular parade of missiles on the backs of vegetable trucks, along the lines of the May Day parades in Moscow, be scheduled — perhaps monthly, if that would bring in the cash; others, though, did think that holding such a parade so often might rob the occasion of novelty, and have a deleterious effect on revenues. But these are obviously details which could be settled at a later time.

  The boys would like to know more about the location of Washington. Is this Washington, Serbia ,we’re talking about?  That would work in quite well, since some of the most persuasive of the Old Spot people are either immigrants from that part of the world, or the sons of immigrants, and have kept their connections with certain organizations renowned for their combination of entrepeneurial skill and gifts of persuasion.  As a token of goodwill, we wondered whether you would mind making out the first cheque in advance — let’s say for the first quarter of the year subsequent to an agreement being struck? Kindly send by courier to my address. No need to tell anyone else, including the lads in the Old Spot. Perhaps especially not them.  We — or shall I say, I — look forward to doing business with you. It is rare in these troubled times to deal with a man of such understanding of the way wheels turn within wheels; even when they seem not to be turning at all.

  May the sun shine out of yours!  R.L

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Late news.  Constitutional experts are considering whether Mr Antony Blair should be held guilty of contempt of Parliament, having suggested that Parliament might be willing to accept him again as prime minister

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criticism and objections politely welcomed, especially if ill-founded

honor honestique floreant

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Cutting loose

The shocking theft of all the bicycles in the Luddites’ Gazette yard has left them unable to maintain their normal delivery service.  So by mutual agreement our contract to distribute cuttings from their journal has been suspended and in the meantime Cold Salad will be compiled from other sources, still presented as far as possible twice in the lunar month.

Fair play!

Not a few around the world have been inclined to criticise the United States over the past ninety years or so for small gaps between the admirable ideals the government proclaims, and indeed claims, and what actually happens in practice, eg the recurrent difficulty about identifying wedding parties at distances of over 6,000 miles which does little good for the nation’s foreign policy goals, quite apart from the appalling mayhem to the human beings on the wrong end of the ’scope.  Let us therefore commend a recent success of the US in their efforts for ‘international solidarity and co-operation’ (to use the formulation of the Secretary of State speaking earlier this month).  The case is the more noteworthy since it was clearly not achieved by striving for particular selfish advantage for themselves.

   In 1969 China and the Soviet Union, despite their shared lip service to communist dogma, were in a shooting war along their common frontier.  Now, as America takes an increasingly close interest in what might be termed her ‘second backyard’ on the other side of the Pacific we see China and Russia sharing in, and to a great extent dominating, a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which unites them and the nations between, and is aimed, explicitly, at closer cultural, economic, and military co-operation.

From the Editor

Britain is to national emotion what the Maldives are to oceanic geography.  Once again its inhabitants find themselves bobbing about on the surface of a gently heaving swell, the aftermath of a storm of national feeling that has swept over the island.  Perhaps fortunately this one is a warm salty flow imparting excellent buoyancy, looking set to last a good few weeks before the level goes down, and with a low proportion of nasty fauna, republicans and cynics, cruising around in the depths to cause an unpleasant shock to happily bathing revellers.  (However, another such storm flood, designated ‘Ollie’, is predicted for next month and its nature and effects are as yet quite uncertain.  Some experts foresee danger for foreign visitors venturing into the alcoholic quarters of cities at night if the country does not win ‘its’ ‘fair share’ [two sets of inverted commas needed there] of gold medals in the Olympics)

   This column is not close to the person at the epicentre of the current upsurge.  Our own occasions for working with her have been rare and entirely formal, but it is obvious to all except the most ill-intentioned that in the performance of her office she has virtues of integrity and consistency that would be wonderful assets in a civil servant (and a crippling handicap in a political career), as well as admirable self-control when confronted with frauds and fools to an extent that seems beyond the mental horizon of the country’s footballers.  Nevertheless, after sixty years in the same job with an essentially unchanging round of duties considerably more demanding than most realise, how can there not be a desire to get away from it all?  No one should be excessively surprised therefore if, in the near future, a Private Secretary, finding that HM is not yet busy at her desk at 7.35 am makes enquiries, which result in a Lady of the Bedchamber gliding respectfully but anxiously into the room with a cup of coffee, where she will discover that the hump in the bed is a cunning construction of pillows and clothing, and that there is a chain of knotted sheets leading from one of the bed’s legs through an open window and down four stories to the flower beds outside.

Editor’s footnote: In the meantime British royalists should remember that an excellent card they can play against anti-royalist snipers is to point out that if the country had had a republican constitution when Blair finally came half-good on that undertaking to let Gordon take over, he would certainly have manipulated himself into the post of president.

Extension of cell life

In Nature Communications French scientists from the Institut Pasteur have announced an astonishing discovery.  They have found that stem cells in mammalian bodies can survive the death of the organism as a whole, by going into a state not totally different from hibernation.  They have found it possible to revive such cells after an interval as long as 17 days.  When revived they function as do other stem cells, which implies a great deal; to date the scientists have been able to manipulate them into becoming liver cells and even, with cells from a deceased woman of 95, fully functioning muscle.  Medical scientists of course are delighted. but elsewhere this remarkable research has met diverse reactions.

   Thus, some have found the discovery worrying.  For example, a statement issued on behalf of a national association of Directors of crematoria stated that while they warmly applauded advances in medical science, they were concerned that the general public might draw unhelpful conclusions in this instance, with a resulting downturn in the use of their facilities.  On the other hand, indifference was the reaction of gun dealers consulted for their views.  “Listen feller.  This babe’ll fill a bad guy so full of metal in 8.5 seconds you’d need a crane to stand him up.  Anything happens after second 9, don’t figure,” genially commented Jay, owner of Blastawarama in Sniggsville, affectionately patting his currently most popular submachine gun.  A wealthy businessman contacted by telephone in Hongkong was also unmoved.  While denying that he was ‘in the game’ himself he remarked that many of his acquaintances had contracts with private institutes where numbers of frozen embryos developed from stem cells which they had donated were already held with a view to completing the cloning process as and when it should become desirable for tax, marital, or other reasons.

   It appears, however, that insurance agencies may take a favourable interest.  According to one executive the discovery may obviate the need for some pay-outs on life insurance.  “If, for instance, a contract covers the period to January 15th in a given year, and the customer is run over by a tank on January 1st, legal opinion may be able to hold that he should not be regarded as fully dead until after the expiry of the contract.  Depending of course on how he meets his unfortunate end.  If, for instance, he fell into the tiger’s cage at the zoo, and was eaten, then I think the new discovery would have no relevance.”

   The greatest enthusiasm was shown by law enforcement agencies in countries with no limit on the length of prison sentences.  (Nb several former soldiers who took part in a Guatemala massacre of 1982 have recently each been sentenced to 6,060 years which is thought to be a record for the Americas.)  Several authorities have already asked for further details.  One mid-west state deputy governor described the news as a ‘wonderful step forward towards a  fairer and more just society’.  “In the past far too many criminals were able to cheat justice by dying before their proper term was served.  Now, we shall be able to extract stem cells from their body, clone these and when they have reached the age of criminal responsibility put them back in the slammer until they have done the full time of their sentence.”

Remember the cane toad!    Remember the Aral Sea?

How many now remember the hitherto unknown species of microbe spotted swimming to the rescue of BP in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010?  A huge force of miniature sea-going cavalry, they were going to dispose of the great oil spillage by eating most of the oil, news which served as a rather flimsy windbreak against the gathering storm of criticism.  After that, the story largely sank out of sight (which according to other investigators sceptical about the microbial cavalry is what actually happened to most of the oil) but in areas known to few journalists the story has been proliferating ever since.  Remarkably little is solidly agreed, except that some scientific jiggery-pokery was used to manipulate these tiny oleovores into useful existence.  This leaves worrying questions.  What will they eat when they cannot find any more oil, where, and whose?  What else might wriggle out of these scientists’ test-vats?  Will our boys be ready with warheads full of oil-hungry bacteria aimed at the oilfields of whoever may currently be the enemy before they send some to us?  And, the big one ever lurking in the background, could this turn out to be a case of last year’s neat solution producing next year’s disaster?

Sayings of the month

No genetic trace of jewish or gypsy ancestors (translated wording on a certificate issued by Nagy Gén Diagnosztika, Budapest, for a member of the Hungarian parliament, belonging to the Jobbik party)

Let me make one thing clear.  In the face of the crisis facing our friends in the eurozone both the Government and the Bank of England are united in their determination to do whatever it takes to keep as far away from it as we can (words of a British prime minister speaking on condition of anonymity since he doesn’t want the trouble that will follow if this sentiment emerges in the media)

Mediocrity must not become the standard.  (Frau Merkel responding to the French proposals for yet more renegotiation of bail-out agreements, since she doesn’t give a fig about what emerges in the media)

I can categorically deny that we have agreed to a plan to fill the swimming pool with Coca Cola for the benefit of paying customers as part of the celebrations at the end of the Games (statement by infuriated representative of a rival drinks company that cannot be named until 2034 under rules stipulated by sports officials and allowed to pass without apparent resistance by a government suffering from severe weakness of the knees)

disagreements and criticism welcome, especially if ill-founded

honesti honorque floreant

Cold Salad 12 June 2012

(Compendium of leaks from the Department of specious allegations, lies, ambiguities and denials)

[As most readers know, Luddites’ Gazette is published on the nights of full moon and new moon, with selected cuttings available a couple of days later.  However, so great was the number of economists (who did not, however, include Professor Krugman, to our dismay) seeking to publish their widely varying views on the effects of the recent transit of Venus on the world’s economy that a special supplement was brought out.  Two items from that supplement herewith]

From Editorial

Among the qualities proudly claimed by many Australians for their compatriots are courage, determination, toughness, and optimism.  They point to plentiful evidence of these in the pioneers who settled the land in the past two centuries.  This makes it rather strange that there is such widespread support for the idea of firmly excluding from Australian waters those who arrive, desperate, in small leaky overcrowded boats from further north  (though it is understood these might be allowed to pass if secure assurances could be given that they were actually heading for somewhere else; Nauru perhaps, just a couple of thousand tricky seamiles further.)  After all, the newcomers conspicuously share the prized qualities seen in the earlier settlers, who also arrived in small leaky overcrowded vessels from further north.  Idle cynics may see here more evidence of the great steamroller of globalisation, and conclude that Australia is starting to drift along with many other nations towards tacit acceptance of a chauvinistic (not to say racialist) tinge to the national palette.  (Those who take their cynicism more seriously may question the elements ‘start’, ‘tacit’ and ‘not’ in that sentence.)  It seems, simply, ‘we don’t want them to come in, because they are different from us’.  This only makes matters all the stranger, since those brave, optimistic, tough settlers who did take over the land two hundred years ago were very markedly different from those who already lived there and at the time owned it by prior unchallenged occupation, a principle accepted by nearly all decent human beings.

   However, politicians feel it is not quite nice to put a policy of not-too-much-help for those in desperate need quite so bluntly.  A preferred expression is to say that those trying to enter a country in this way ‘lack the necessary papers’.    This is a loose phrase which carefully avoids hitting the centre of the target (like the dentists’ claim that people don’t like visiting them because the dental surgery is ‘strange’.  Bunkum.  There are a good many restaurants stranger than the average dentist’s lair, but head waiters rarely include pain as a standard part of their offering.)     The papers that would-be arrivals to any country really need to have these days are not the visa and the passport but the certificated evidence of personal attainment in some area currently popular with the putative host government, nuclear weapons production, rugby league, fishfarm management, or whatever it may be, all preferably at degree level (but – best of all – at any senior level, wealth possession).  Such an approach goes back a fairly long way, but measured nevertheless in decades rather than centuries.  The Romans of the western empire may have shaken in their caligae as they saw the Völkerwanderungen rolling towards them (social steamrollers shatter before they flatten) but there is little evidence that they tried to establish rules about qualifications that would allow only approved Teutons to cross the frontier (apart from those arriving for a short holiday with adequate funds and a return horse already booked).  Throughout history until recently people trying to cross frontiers often met objections on grounds of ethnic origin (cf remarks in first paragraph) or publicly declared plans for massacre and mayhem, but rarely because they could not personally show evidence of talents currently in demand.  The change of approach may have started with health checks, or perhaps it was an inevitable result once bureaucracy had begun in earnest its largely successful and  continuing attempt to undermine human civilisation.  At all events it is now standard procedure in most of the world to demand such qualifications from would-be immigrants.  In 1982 when unfortunates – I think they were Asians from East Africa – were being driven out of their property and livelihoods, and asking permission to join relatives already established in Canada, the minister responsible was criticised for delay and found it natural to respond that critics should understand it took time to check whether applicants really had the qualifications and educational background they claimed.  As far as I recall checks to see if they were in prison, or currently weighing less than 60 lbs or under ten years of age, did not feature.  In Britain, one minister, personally a most civilised fellow, who recently held the immigration portfolio, stated that his country needs immigrants but must look to the ‘brightest and best’.  Part of the fault of the Bulgarians and Romanians non-ethnically expelled from France (as noted in an earlier edition of the Gazette) was explained as lack of those vital skills and certificates.  It is reported that Germany will now admit, for a limited number of years, non-Europeans – on condition they are qualified engineers or specialists in information technology.

   Passing over the fact that usually the qualification which can trump all others is being-rich, we can deduce two conclusions.  The first is that there is clearly an aim to have a population with the highest possible average of skill and productivity.  In that case, the immediate next step, logically, is to let all, without exception, be tested for their skills and competence, and if they fail let them be refused residence, even if  they were born and brought up in the country.  But it will clearly take some time for this promising but possibly controversial path to be taken.  So let us turn to the second conclusion, that when overdeveloped countries do absorb migrant engineers and doctors and nurses and writers and artists and fishfarm managers it amounts to robbery of the already poor nations which they, understandably, want to leave.  Just one example: between 2000 and 2003 the whole of the north and centre of Malawi, containing seven million people, was served by exactly one orthopaedic surgeon (Steve Mannion in fact).  These factors can produce a bizarre coalition in recipient countries between left-wing activists for human rights and racist xenophobes.  When governments find hemselves under fire from both right and left they may well give ground (although many primitive or talent-free ones simply fire back), and as both xenophobia and real or imagined fellow-feeling for the third world are at present thriving, the future looks dark for would-be migrants, with ever tighter and more curiously shaped hoops through which to wriggle in order to be allowed to sit at the rich world’s table.

   Very well then, let us accept that frontiers are largely closed to any free movement of humans, except of course to those of really significant wealth, even while we marvel at the contrast with the free flow allowed to capital and financial assets.  Walls constructed with high technology and high indifference to local populations – even in some cases, to legal obligations, are back in fashion these days.  But it cannot be denied that a world of locked frontiers has its disadvantages for both sides.  We need a genuinely radical policy change to disentangle this knot, so at the same time as working to make immigration impossible (except for the wealthy, and a handful of others) let rich governments make emigration compulsory.  The potential rewards are stupendous –  in political terms of course.  It needs to be made clear at once that the proposal is not explicitly for permanent emigration, but for a period, perhaps two years, of compulsory exclusion from the home country, perhaps at some age between 18 and 24, which might very soothingly be designated as ‘the  ‘Double Gap Year’. Most of the ‘emigrants’ will be delighted to start with, because the right presentation will have convinced them it is a two-year holiday largely subsidised by others.  Governments concerned will issue round-the-world tickets valid for two years to the lucky teenagers who will then be conducted to a suitable airport for their departure (a process in which most governments are by now expert) where they will be reminded in a jolly ceremony that any premature return will be a disgrace forfeiting all their civic rights for the rest of their life (as already stated in 6 point type in the agreement they signed to get the tickets).  The political left will be delighted because the third world now retains the skilled people it needs and may even find useful hands in those who arrive.  The right, because all those foreigners are being kept out, but ‘our’ values will be spread abroad to show less privileged countries how things are really done.  The government itself, because it will save enormous amounts of money.  In return for the air tickets (obtained cut-price from co-operating airlines) they will no longer have to pay tens of thousands of civil servants who currently check qualifications, control arrivals, pursue overstayers, confine adults and children in detention centres, and arrange removals.  That loss of employment will easily be hidden by the departure of hundreds of thousands of emigrants who would otherwise appear on the unemployed roster.  A bonus is that exactly at the age when the young become so troublesome they will be out of the way abroad, and what is more if any are particularly inclined to violence or crime, they may well remain imprisoned there for many years.  Those who do return will perhaps be a little wiser, and have some of the skills which are precisely not taught in retraining courses.  The older unemployed still in the country will have less competition in the hunt for jobs. And above all, parents of the rich world will be pleased to think of their grown-up offspring learning about life abroad, instead of having to support them, possibly with additional long-term guests uninvited (by the parents), in their pleasant suburban villas.  There is only one drawback, the collapse at some future point of the societies of the developed world confronted with a hitherto unknown deadly plague, for, statistics being what they are, in the end one or other ‘gapper’ will carry it back from some incalculably remote jungle

From Great military communiqués of history (series sponsored by HepiNes Press Agency)

No 119 (Translated from the French)

HQ, Grande Armee:  12 September 1812

Although resistance continues on a small scale, the army continues to make excellent progress and casualties have been light.  Order and security is now restored to the numerous towns and villages under our control, and we are confident that we are winning the hearts and minds of the Russian people.                                                                                 Napoléon

honesti honorque floreant

 

Cold salad 5-6-2012

Cold Salad  our service of cuttings from Luddites’ Gazette             5 June 2012

How to play up, play up, and play the games

            Now is the time for all loyal citizens of that island nation in a silver sea to hail the approach of the Olympics, a festival able to bring thousands together from around the world to experience a unique blend of sport, meretricious glitter, arrogant commercialism, drugs, propaganda, contemptuous indifference to civil rights by ‘authorities’, outrageous interference with daily life, triumphalist nationalism, fictitious sentiment, philistinism, dubious mathematics and much else that is wrong with present-day humanity.

            Inevitably, and regrettably, the games have always reflected their times.  There have certainly been some changes since naked Greeks were pounding round the stadia.  In those days barbarians were not allowed to take part.  (That originally meant anyone who was not Greek, though acceptance of military realities later allowed them to see that Romans were not barbarians.)  Women were not even allowed to watch.  When the games were refounded in the 1890s the refounders, who had no wish to look ridiculous, did not even attempt the one month truce in wars between competing nations; they wisely confined themselves to noble platitudes about increasing international goodwill and contributing to the construction of a better and more peaceful world.  However, at one point they deviated out of fantasy into reality, proclaiming that their movement was to promote the moral values at the heart of sport.  Who looking at the way that modern sport is run could fault their foresight there?

            One remarkable feature of modern Olympiads is that the world evidently considers by far the most interesting parts to watch to be not the sporting events but the opening and closing ceremonies, rather as if a restaurant critic passing verdict on a sandwich should give ringing praise for the qualities of the bread and allow the ham barely a mention; and this observation prompts the thought that the answer to Olympian elephantiasis would simply be to scrap all the athletics and swimming and stuff of that sort, and to concentrate on the two elements that are really popular.  If people want to see gigantic displays of fireworks and schmaltz and muzak, let them.  Some may doubt whether crowds would rush in to see even the mightiest overpomped spectacle if it is merely to open or close an event which does not actually exist, but this is a footling objection.  If a simple calendar transition to January can serve as a peg for lavish ostentation, why not just declare a World Sport Day, and a World Fun Exercise Day, or transfer them to any convenient dates – which do not even have to be two weeks apart – if they already exist.  This would drastically reduce the disruption, expense, restrictions, and chaos for the unlucky host populations; and indeed if it seems helpful why not carry the reduction further by holding Opening and Closing ceremonies on the same day?  More important to many however, such a proposal would actually increase opportunities for sponsoring companies to gather profits from eager consumers since there would be thousands of related events all over the world on the same day or days.  A useful  bonus would be a great lessening of the temptation to terrorists, since the bulk of the target at the main venue is something which is intended to be sent up in flames anyway.    This would be a wonderful solution but could it be a disappointment to would-be competitors?  Not in the least, since there is an independent series of International Championships, which moreover take place every two years, whereas the Olympics only turn up every leap year.

            However, this is a pipe dream.  Elephants do not do back flips.  Nevertheless some think that the Olympics are stuck in a rut.   The meat in the sandwich is going off and we need to spice it up to keep the public buying, so here are some suggestions: fancy dress (a popular feature of most marathons); a figure-of-eight running track instead of the standard shape (to add excitement as runners try, with or without success, to avoid collisions at the crossover); sponsored relay teams to include CEO of sponsoring company  (strict checks out of season to make sure he is really in the office raking in the ‘compensation package’);  pro-celebrity three-legged 100 metres (lithe blonde starlets with Caribbean musclemen); and – really striking a blow against exclusivity – opening up the games further to all comers, with e.g. trained seals in the swimming events (humans to get an 80% start), greyhounds chasing athletes dressed as hares in the 400 metres, gorillas in the weightlifting.  Think of the take at the gate (or rather on the internet sites).

            That should get closer to a true representation of the spirit at the heart of modern sport.

The non-lethal killer

Is there any ‘authority’ anywhere around the world that has authorised itself to rule exactly how many people must be killed by the use of a taser before it is ruled to be a lethal weapon, and subject to precisely the same rules as ordinary ballistic firearms?  And if not, why not?

Facing the future

The fuss about the image required of those presenting programmes on television is a persisting annoyance.  Recently a professor, star of a programme about Roman archaeology and one of the leading world experts on her subject, was described as looking too old (which remark casts ignominy not on its target but on the one who uttered it).  News presenters male and female, but especially female, have complained angrily about the non-renewal of their contracts, suspecting that a major factor was a perceived shortage of fresh-out-of-highschool appeal, whatever the management may have claimed.  It was uncharitable of some to remark that their onetime fresh-out-of-highschool appeal may have been a major factor in getting a contract in the first place.  However, all that is like arguing over who will stand next to Canute as the tide rolls in.  Soon, very soon, there are not going to be any more jobs for presenters.

            The Japanese addiction to robots is notorious.  One of the most serious faults with Japanese robots, apart from being built to look cute, is that they are often made to sing pop songs.  Until recently, these sounded appropriately vapid, but eerily unnatural.  The essence of the problem was that each individual note would be fine ( if you can tolerate that sort of thing) but somehow the song as a whole would sound as if it was being played backwards.  The precise fault was that the musical joints which human singers make without even trying were missing.  With painstaking effort a technoboffin assembled some 600 such joints, each one suitable for connecting syllable x to syllable y, each sung at a given pitch, and inserted them into the right auditory gaps, giving a result that is regarded by Japanese fans of pop songs as being, auditorily, really cute.

            At roughly the same time scientists in British Columbia were doing some minute analysis on the movements of human facial muscles, concentrating of course on the frontalis, orbicularis oculi, the zygomatic major, and the depressor anuli oris, (but certainly not overlooking the corrugator supercilii).  These all come into play as part of facial expressions of emotion; it is thought that one of the main outcomes of the research could be to use their techniques as a more reliable lie detector than any of the fairly useless efforts heretofore.  (This is probably worth pursuing as it may open the door to rich contracts with their southern neighbour, enabling investigators to know whether or not unlawful insurgents are lying when they claim that the enhanced interrogation they undergo is agonising.)

            Put these two lines of research together and you have opened the door to any halfway competent programming team to develop an animated character that can not only look and sound natural while reading the news, but can match facial expressions to the words on the autocue (which won’t in fact be needed).  Even better, from the controllers’ point of view, the facial expressions will look fully genuine; a human may try to announce the news about the 70% hike in expense allowances for government members with that reassuring intonation that indicates roughly, ‘predictable news in line with  national progress’  but be let down as her facial expression gives observant viewers subtle but telling evidence of an inner dismay and contempt.

            From that point on, the shallowest acquaintance with the mighty currents of our civilisation makes future developments easy to guess.  In short order, all human presenters are evicted from their chair, and replaced on screen by animations which not only need no salary but combine dignity, authority and friendliness, and of course the message intended by the channel’s contollers.  Then a few weeks later, one of the channels that has been losing ratings brings on a rather glamorous female version.  Glamour quickly spreads across the networks.  The number of male ‘presenters’ drops, and the photogenic quality of the animations rises rapidly to improbable levels.  Soon, dazzling forms of dress appear and ever more friendly, not to say suggestive, pouts and moues and flutters of the eyelashes are offered to eager viewers (and it is about here that we start to see a gap opening again between spoken word – an ever shorter part of the broadcast – and facial expression).  News programmes often outdo soap operas in the ratings, and many ‘presenters’ receive hundreds of letters including not a few proposals of marriage.  Introductions and sign-offs become ever longer, to allow them plenty of time to preen and perform and strengthen their relationship with, by now, tens of thousands of fans.  (Meanwhile in East Asia, those channels that still cling to notions of propriety are bringing on various presenter teams of animated animals that intone the news while performing quite unbearably cute dance routines.)  Then one channel has the news read, all three minutes of it, by an animated presenter who has not only a huge fanclub of her own, but a weekly magazine exclusively concerned with her imaginary, and largely pornographic, activities.  As it is a public festival, she has promised viewers a ‘special treat’ and in the remaining ten minutes of the programme she performs what programme executives refer to later as an erotic dance, and newspaper headlines call a sensational striptease.  The designer team break their existing contracts and switch channels and countries, to become multimillionaires, but there is a moral backlash.  This lasts nearly a week before normal service returns.  Thereafter the frenzy gathers speed again.

            Somewhere about 2015 one of the presenters who has more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga announces that she is intending to stand as a candidate in the next presidential election.

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corrections and criticisms are welcome (especially if ill-founded)                                                                                                                                                                          honor honestique floreant