Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: July, 2012

Preservation or decay

1) Beautifully preserved  2) Flat slogans  3) Queen in ‘doping’ shock

Next distribution scheduled 17th August (but earlier gibbous supplement not excluded)

Science News (Luddites’ Gazette)

Not long ago a leather shoe was picked up in a remote cave in a remote part of Armenia.  From the undisturbed appearance of the cave, the finder guessed it could be several hundred years old, but it wasn’t.  Tests showed that it was 5,500 years old give or take a decade or two.  Yet it was in excellent  condition, better than thousands of that style lying at this moment in teenagers’ bedrooms in the western world; it is in a moccasin style still part of living tradition under the name ‘opanke’ (in the Balkans) or ‘pampootie’ (western Ireland), which has now fallen into the trawling net of the fashion industry where it is considered a highly desirable item.  Here is a picture of the Armenian shoe,  showing that even the laces and the grass used to pad it are still almost as new, side by side with another pampootie made a year or two ago in the Aran Islands. 

  The archaeologists who explored the cave determined that although conditions in it for preservation were generally very good the most important factor in the  wonderful preservation of the shoe was that it had been buried in a layer of sheep droppings on the floor of the cave.  This has interesting implications in more than one direction.  The first is for those wealthy individuals who have paid large sums to have their bodies frozen at the moment of death with a view to being preserved until advances in medical science make it possible for them to be not merely revived but ideally revived with  thorough servicing, upgrading, and retuning, so as to function as supercharged teenagers. (They are curiously unworried by the possibility of being revived into a world where socialism has triumphed.)  So far scientific investigations have only found this process to have much chance of success with the larvae of fruit flies, so they would probably do better to spend their money on having themselves enveloped in sheep droppings.  Here is a picture of the chest  and forearm of Ötzi, who probably through no choice of his own adopted the glacial method (literally, in the Hauslabjoch glacier ) going into the frozen state about 5,250 years ago and staying in it until a temporary warming, without revival, in 1991.  It is pretty clear which technique has the advantage.  There is also the point which would probably be appreciated by most wealthy individuals, that the sheep dropping procedure clearly has vastly cheaper running costs, approximately zero, quite apart from the fact that almost certainly there will sooner or later be an interruption to any electricity supply that keeps iced coffins functioning.

  But these concerns are really only a side issue.  The far bigger implications are those that will arise when the remarkable potency of sheep droppings as a preservative for biological tissue are taken on board by the cosmetics industry.

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Opinion feature  (Luddites’ Gazette)

Mr. Bradshaw Bullingley (former Senior English Master at Greysford Grammar School) writes

  There is no population in Europe so ovinely submissive as the British to the whims and self-aggrandisement of those who consider themselves in a position of authority.  Who now remembers one of the most common remarks of the language fifty years ago?  If, for example, a petty official saw a chance to pump up his self-importance at the expense of a girl who had innocently plucked a flower (my young sister as it happens), he was likely in those days to get the retort, “It’s a free country.”  Not in 2012.

  However I am not concerned with the arrogance of the megacircus now occupying London – overpaid, oversexed, and over here, to adopt what we said of the Americans arriving in 1943 and 1944 to take up their share of – or perhaps I should say ‘to claim the leading part  in’ – the fight in the western sphere of the war against Hitler.  (Not but what it may be of interest to students of human herd behaviour to see how easily the sound of trumpets, the waving of flags and the repetition of Göbbelesque assertions that the nation is united in joy can bamboozle a population out of common rights and freedoms it has enjoyed ever since it emerged as a nation out of the European tribal scrum.)

  To resume: as well as its major impositions the circus has brought a ready supply of minor irritations, among them the multiplication ad nauseam of one of the ugliest ‘logos’ ever designed (oddly, though, suggesting to me at least a drunken man stumbling and falling to his left, which makes it a little easier to endure for the half-second needed to switch to another television channel if one is so battle-wearied by the constant struggle to maintain standards as to be watching television in the first place).  Another intrusion is a plethora of some of the most banal slogans ever paid for by overwrought publicity budgets.  Now I quite accept that by the side of the major predators gnawing at the vitals of our civilisation, lies, greed, advertising and so on, linguistic banality takes on the proportion of a maggot chewing at one of the less attractive toes, but that is no reason to let it have its emetic way, and I believe that my experience of many years serving as a schoolmaster in the defence of Shakespeare’s tongue equips me to tackle the topic of banality in language.

  Two lines converged a few years ago on the graph of British decline given below – the plunging blue line representing the average amount of effort plus attention put into any given task (not least homework in schools!), the soaring red showing the tendency of computer programming these days to muscle in on the performance of a task, no matter whether it improves it or not.  (I suspect indeed that at this point I should essay a provisional apology in advance since these two same factors make it only too likely that the graphic element I intend will disappear from this piece of mine somewhere along the transmission line leading to publication.)  One result has been the appearance of computer programmes which claim to all but construct advertisements for the ‘busy advertising executive’, including of course the slogan which most such effusions incorporate along with the text and the visual fiction.  Such programmes are naturally spurned by the few that are truly creative (who, let me be just, do exist!), but are now widely used by most in the curiously named advertising ‘industry’ – as one can guess only too easily from the generally lamentable results.  Complex as such programmes may be, those aspects dealing with the slogan are of the simplest.  For any given subject matter, some catchpenny scheme, a political campaign, a holiday suggestion, or whatever else it might be, the programme will generate templates, offering some dozens of variants in different colours and typefaces, with or without various surrounding symbols and ‘icons’, all based on a handful of ‘skeletons’ relevant to the subject matter.  For the holiday theme it might well produce this skeleton among others:

You will always  α  when you go to  β  for   x

Minimal guidance is given to the less dynamic executive on filling in the slots, eg that β should name the destination the the customer wishes to promote, α should contain some expression of feeling excited in a positive way, with x indicating an activity that might be favoured by the targeted consumers, subject to local regulations about obscene publication.  In the case of the Olympics – no claptrap here about censoring the English vocabulary! – another programme has currently been offering to its customers the following skeleton. (It must have been difficult to come up with this one!)

              the   α  Games ever!

The guidance is that α should be filled in with the superlative (instructions on the formation of English superlatives are given) of some ‘quality’ considered admirable or desirable, and, lest that guidance should be too exiguous for the programme’s users it offered ‘greatest’ and ‘most olympian’ as suggestions!   Perhaps I can be more helpful.  I simply picked up a couple of left-wing newspapers from my local newsagent, and went through marking some of the adjectives which in the current climate of this country are regarded by many as desirable or admirable, and in five minutes I had assembled the collection below.  I originally intended no more than to offer one or two to friends of mine as parodies of the sort of ‘public English’ that debases the very thoughtways of our nation today, and is certainly a contributory element in the constant decline in the linguistic competence of pupils entering our schools, as colleagues still active in the profession tell me.  Yet to my dismay as I proceeded I found that each has a certain ring of actuality, and I would make no wager, were I a gambler, on any one of them not to have been picked up and proudly bruited abroad by the partisans of this or that sectional interest.  It would be interesting to learn if my dismay is justified.  Sightings if indeed encountered may be reported to me through Luddites’ Gazette, by kind permission of the editors.

  sharing; organic; passionate; soft; harmless; ecological; joined-up; tasty; deodorised; fragrant; cuddly; pet-friendly; legal; yellow; handwoven; aggressive (to  some minds a positive quality!); recyclable; market-oriented; democratic; socialist; crunchy; cool; obedient; Venusian; gender-neutral; gender-parity-conscious

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Late News  (Luddites’ Gazette)

Queen in ‘doping’ scare

A security assistant at the Olympic site was held in custody for several hours last night after having attempted to detain the Queen on suspicion of having consumed a non-permitted  substance.  As the Queen passed one of the concealed sensors which instantly analyse the breath of passing visitors, its alarm went off.  These sensors are reportedly able to detect recent consumption of any of 2,365 excluded substances, including any drink other than those of the officially accredited sponsors and plain water.  When the alarm sounded the 19-year-old assistant stepped forward apparently intending to question her but was immediately wrestled to the ground by two of the military personnel who were on duty nearby.  It was promptly discovered that the sensor was faulty, and it was put out of commission.  After the briefest of delays, the Queen who seemed quite undisturbed by the incident continued her visit.  She later asked for the assistant to be released without charge as he had simply been following rules, and insisted that no harm had been done.

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A gibbous supplement

1) Thought crime in France?  2) democracy limping  3) plutocracy  4) Welsh head lice

Editorial  (From Luddites’ Gazette )

It is only in autocracies that one has much hope of seeing electoral promises fulfilled.  This is partly because autocrats are in a position to see that the subject population does the fulfilling, and even if it turns out that they do a poor job of it, the autocrat can order his statistical minions to announce (with details as required) an outstanding success (the very same phrase as it happens that is currently in favour to describe military retreats).  Moreover the autocrat is going to win the election anyway and therefore can afford to keep promises to a minimum, filling out the campaign with threats if that is his personal taste.  In democracies of course the position is quite different.  Here, promises are the main means by which elections are won, except for a few countries where the primacy goes to money, but even there one sees no significant barrier to the tidal wave of promises.  By an alethic principle somewhat like the economic law of supply and demand, the greater the number of promises made, the smaller the chance of any randomly selected one of them being carried out.  (In an earlier era, policies could also play a part; some fix the point at which promises finally achieved clear predominance as the moment in the presidential election of 1988 when, George Bush, soon to be the victor, said “Read my lips: no new taxes”).

  It is unusual then to see the winner in a more or less democratic country pressing ahead rapidly to make good on a campaign promise as François Hollande has done, not allowing himself to be distracted by his own plans for raising taxes or decisions on how to react to the imminent disappearance of  the French car industry.  Whether we should praise him, however, is not entirely clear.  The promise which he is intent on fulfilling has been described as the introduction of a thought crime into the French legal system.  Perhaps this is a little unfair.  What he seeks to do is not to have some particular thought ruled as illegal, but only to make it illegal in France (pays de liberté,… etc) to express that thought.  Even when the rapid onslaught of neuroscience on human dignity makes it possible in the near future to discover in great detail the thoughts passing through a human brain – perhaps even to discover them at a distance, as when, for instance, the brain is passing through an airport ‘security’ gate – the thought in question would still be allowed – in law.  (There must be some doubt, however, whether any record of it, if only to demonstrate that such thoughts are still freely permitted, could be legal.)  So all that Hollande seeks to do is merely to use the legal system to suppress one particular aspect of free speech, specifically any statement that Armenians were not victims in a genocidal attack carried out by Turks in 1915.  His proposal can of course be considered quite independently of what the effects might be on relations between the states of Turkey and Armenia, and even more on those Armenians still living in Turkey, just as the International Criminal Court (Luis Moreno Ocampo as its prosecutor) issued an indictment for genocide against Omar Bashir, despite the worries that the population in Darfur might then be subjected to even worse pressures than before (worries which reportedly were justified).  We should acknowledge that Hollande has precedents for his proposed move, both in Turkey itself where the legislation on how one may speak about the state is vague enough to be used in precisely the same way, and in Germany where denial of the well-established killings on a huge scale during World War 2 of people selected on the basis of their ethnic origin is forbidden (although strangely it appears that this does not apply in the case of the Roma – but this may have something to do with the fact that to this day they are widely regarded as uncitizens not worth legal protection in large swathes of eastern Europe.)

  In a state run more or less on the basis of reasonable law reasonably applied, the right to free speech at least on historical and political matters is not worth much unless it embraces the right to say things which are unpopular.  If they are not merely unpopular but false then it falls to those who know better, not excluding  official bodies and the government, to put the record straight.  Proceeding in the opposite direction, simply cutting out any mention from the domain of permitted expression, is not only ethically wrong but obviously introduces a wedge that can later be used for the most unsavoury purposes, as in the Soviet Union to give just one of many examples.  If the topic excised from public mention is not false but merely unpopular with the government bringing in the law, then the decision is all the more disgraceful.

 In many parts of Europe increasing strength is seen in parties which want to exclude from their particular country behaviour, people, languages, and beliefs which they consider incompatible with their national patrimony.  Until now, such parties have been called extremist, but when the ruling party in France is seen advancing on the same road, what is the term to use – nationalist, socialist, opportunist ?  Unthinkable!  Time to propose a law to ban any such description.  Or not.

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Democracy through election of representatives in large communities rapidly shows itself – to those who are willing to see – as a thoroughly effective way of disregarding the interests of minorities (viz, at random, the Gypsies in Slovakia) (or those needing political asylum in a large offshore island a bit further to the left) and as a splendid mechanism for ensuring that important decisions are taken on the basis of short-term interests, the short-term interests in question being those of the party in power (to be specific, hanging on to it at the next election)….In addition, since the short-term interests just mentioned are frequently served by dubious deals with questionable characters, it is a right royal road to corruption,  The tricky question might be ‘how do we get somewhere better from where we are now’ and I certainly don’t believe that walking through the streets of a city getting photographed or clubbed by the police is going to help a great deal, much less associating with some malodorous scruffy bunch of anarchists, nor,  however, erupting in a tame newspaper, nor again signing up with any of the other parties (waiting their turn to enjoy the sweets of corruption).  Therefore – ?

(previously published in Obiter Ficta 2004)

The Deputy Editor comments:

   And the great developmental principle of trampling over the rights of small communities when they are in the way of a megaproject with megacontracts and opportunities for economic development (for some) is now upheld firmly not only when dams are built in China and giant highways are constructed in South America, but even in the self-proclaimed heartland of democracy in western Europe.

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The highly respected Michael Meacher cited some exceptionally interesting figures in May.  They deal specifically with Britain, but there is evidence that the situation they reflect is not very different from that in other advanced consumerist economies, such as the United States.  First, in the preceding three years the richest one thousand people, who amounted to 0.003% of the adult population, had increased their wealth by £155bn (thus easily more than enough to cover the whole of the country’s budget deficit, and to spare).  Second, even though the national economy had gone into a steep decline after 2008, that thousand of people had by May of this year arrived at a total of wealth that was ­greater than was theirs at the high point of the economy before the decline.  It is certain that Michael Meacher has a great deal more of such data, which he would probably be glad to provide through his office in the House of Commons, but the point of citing them here is for their relevance in considering what exactly is and should be the basis of the concept nation; our editorial committee trust that some of the conclusions which should be drawn are entirely obvious.  (Incidentally the figures given above appeared in a report in the Sunday Times, a periodical not normally believed to be in the business of fomenting red revolution.)

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News from far corners   (Luddites’ Gazette)

Five species have newly been added to the list of the world’s endangered species, including the Welsh head louse.  Dr Khadija Stumbles of South Hampshire Institute for Biological Statistics said that the increase in hygiene in recent years coupled with the Labour government’s reduction in the tax on fine-toothed head lice combs in 2001 had led to an alarming decline in numbers.  She estimated that in the major urban areas of South Wales the surviving population was now under 50 million.

honor honestique floreant

What really happens?

(1) Political dishonesty by habit (2) Bends in the historical road? ;  [next scheduled posting 31 July]

(We are glad as well as surprised to hear that the Luddites’ Gazette people over on the mainland have recovered all three of the stolen bicycles.  Cold Salad can now resume distribution of cuttings from that distinguished journal, but by friendly agreement – as possible with such honourable and intelligent partners – we may continue to include items emanating from our own office.  The bicycles were discovered in the outbuildings of Sluggfield Primary School, painted red and each with a sign attached to the basket at the front reading Kiddicourier – faster than the post office.  As the weeping headmistress was led away in handcuffs she was heard to say ‘We were desperate for money to keep the school going.  We even had to charge the children for using the toilets.’)

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The ascent of Edward Miliband to the premiership of Britain (this island is, roughly speaking, to Europe what Cuba is to America although for different reasons) is now virtually assured, and looks set to be as exciting as watching the preliminary rounds of the men’s underwater volleyball in the ******** [This word has had to be erased in face of severe legal penalties for use of words, formerly belonging to the English language but currently the exclusive property, along with all their possibilities of making a profit in any manner whatsoever, of certain companies able to arrange the British legal system to their convenience thanks to the complaisance of a contemptible government of cultural quislings]  To return, the sputtering decline of the economy, the ineptitude of Cameron, the tantrums of Clegg, the failure of ‘Britain’ to win ‘enough’ **** ****** in the ******** [guess], and most astoundingly the disintegration of the coalition – coalition is a wonderful gift to its members since all successes can be claimed by both parties, while all unpopular measures can be explained to their voters on the lines of “not our fault; we have been constrained by working in a coalition, without which you would have had that awful opposition ruling you” — all of that is going to lead to the usual teeth-grinding photographs, with Miliband on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.  Where they still exist, newspapers across Europe will soon be hastening their own decline with long features asking questions like What now for Britain under Labour?

  The correct answer is without doubt ‘a vast flood of more tedious political jargon, so relentlessly spun that the last fragments of sincerity have been flung off into centrifugal oblivion’.  This is not to say that politics is entirely made up of those who are so obsessed with political manipulations and processes that they have lost the ability to think and speak for themselves, but that ability is a massive ball and chain in the race to advancement.  Wales had to fight tooth and nail to get the brilliant Rhodri Morgan (his sharp sense of humour a further handicap especially in dealings with Blair) as its first minister.  The first requirement for a policy to be adopted by a major party in Britain or in a European nation, is now not that it will improve the lot of people needing help, or make that country safer, cleaner or fairer, but that it should have been run past focus groups who found it attractive and then reformulated by expert committees who know how a political policy should sound – even though it is now accepted (since the elder Bush demonstrated that campaign promises even read from his lips had no binding force) that a winning party’s actions in power are quite unconstrained by their manifesto.  The very language used is one problem, a dialect all of its own, just as there are special dialects of circus folk, computer experts, tax authorities, thieves and others, although most of these are actually intended to be incomprehensible to outsiders.  It is astounding that mainstream parties purveying roseate fantasies about their own performance and gothic fictions about their opponents’ devilish intentions have not yet widely realised that their own lack of sincerity and failure to talk straight (never, never, to be confused with talking ‘tough’) are a very large part of the reason why more and more voters are flirting with extremist groups all over the continent.

  In Britain, Miliband may one day continue the long line of Tory prime ministers which started with Mrs Thatcher demonstrating her gift for combining pretentiousness and false promise on that Downing Street threshold, and which continues today, interrupted only by the troubled dark Brown interregnum when Blair had finally delivered on the undertaking he is so widely believed to have given in that agreeable London bistro, and later betrayed.  (Anyone who believes that Mr Blair was a Labour prime minister has not taken the trouble to undo the poke and look at the cat inside.  But such beliefs spread easily through the confused population, where the massive daily production of retail lies takes place within the framework of the wholesale illusion that the country is still one of the world’s leading powers.)  However, will Miliband win re-election?  Almost certainly not, although not because he will have dragged the Labour party back a few centimetres towards its founding ideals; the advisors and experts and spin-doctors who ‘know’ how political campaigns are won, will not allow that and will have spent his career in the attempt to sell him to the electorate as a ‘new’ improved Blair or Cameron.

  It is astonishing that large middle-aged parties have not realised their very best hope of a burst of new life is to embrace honesty, making themselves real to voters by telling them what they really think.  Of course a good deal of the honesty must be practical not merely verbal.  They can explain why they have broken their promises provided that they have some acceptable reasons for the breach.  Analogously, for raising taxes, or, if it comes to it, for taking the country to war.   One important aspect is not to pretend that their policies are monolithically held by every single member, a charade which earns nothing but contempt and is, incidentally, profoundly undemocratic.  Do they not notice how fast and far Boris Johnson in Britain has been able to run, carrying a far lighter burden of political claptrap on his back?  Do they really want to leave freedom of open expression to smaller parties which across Europe are using it to express policies that may actually be far from what the great mass of a nation would favour if they heard full and honest debate from the major parties currently still in place (though with a noticeable trend towards a shrinking of their electoral support.)  It would be wildly eccentric to claim that London is being propelled on a path to black reaction because it has Johnson as its mayor.  If the political mammoths do not change their political games then the parties dismissed until now as extremist will steadily gain ground – as they are already doing conspicuously in France and Germany, in Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Two recent events attracted only moderate news coverage.  Yet each of them may be seen in the future as marking a point where history turned in a new direction.  The first was the rejection by the European parliament of ACTA.  This proposal for an international treaty was initiated by the US and Japan in 2006, ostensibly to stop violations of copyright and intellectual property, misuse of trademarks and brand names and so on.  Clearly a matter which needed widespread thorough discussion.  It did not get it.  Negotiations went on in secrecy with no information passed to the public in countries concerned, nor even to their parliaments, until the middle of 2010, when the draft emerged trying to look like a fait accompli.  It failed.  Dozens of organisations fighting doughty battles against the campaign by business to take over human life saw it as a bumper bundle of threats to the freedom of expression, liberty of action of the individual, access to information and even to effective medicines, and more.  However by some oversight, the treaty could not come into force until approved by the European parliament.  To the amazement of not a few (but this is not the place to be rude about them) its members have just voted to reject it.  The multinationals were defeated.  No doubt some new campaign will be launched but it is just barely possible that we have crossed a watershed from increasing control over humanity by the interests of commerce, to a slope favouring the rights of individuals.

  The other event was the reaction of the Thai government faced with a US request concerning an airfield called U-Tapao.  The history of the place goes back to the Vietnam war, for which period Thailand gave permission for aircraft to land and refuel.  The Vietnam war ended but the use of the base somehow carried on, nominally under the control of the Thai navy, although it is said the Thai navy never received information about what went on there (except from local villagers who said they saw many soldiers on the base).  Recently, the US government asked to use it as the centre for a programme of research into atmospheric characteristics of southeastern Asia, as well as the Humanitarian and disaster relief centre apparently already there.  Presumably this would involve studies of cloud interaction and aerosol formation as carried on by e.g. Ulrike Lohmann above Lake Zurich, although it seems that here high-altitude planes flying over the region would also be needed,.  The Thai government apparently felt unable to give a quick agreement.  Nasa (the programme was not to be run by the military, but according to one report would require 1,000 members of the intelligence community) pushed hard for assent and set an early deadline which the government knowingly passed by in referring the matter to parliament (i.e. at the very least a six-week delay).  Cancellation of project was the result.  In the past there have long been close ties between Thailand and the US, some customary, some explicit in such forms as the memorandum of understanding, and under Thaksin, previous prime minister (and still a major political influence) Thailand became a favoured, but of course ‘non-Nato’, ally.  These links will no doubt continue.  What then could have caused the difficulty on coming to an agreement on this occasion?  Some have speculated that the government might have been worrying about the views of some other power based in the region.  Could this be the answer?

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[From Luddites Gazette, Brief news]

Intriguing result from survey by Emnid, opinion research institute, into German women’s preferences for swimming costumes:

je knapper das Textil, desto gröβer der Bildungsgrad

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Supplement a

1) Editor’s note; 2) political geometry; 3) climate change; 4) science news; 5) antique principle

From the Editor.   There were privately circulated pre-launch editions of Cold Salad, and it has been suggested that those could now be posted for the wider audience.  This would smack of ‘filler’ journalism as currently popular in the alternative universe of the ‘media’ (in fact often the main component even in news broadcasts, on channels stoically cutting costs like the BBC).  However three items in particular have been cited, so we shall use them and thus get a little more spare time to practise scrimshaw on the bones of shipwrecked sailors that lie scattered all round the coasts of this island. (Tourists queue up to buy the stuff, though to tell the truth we usually just buy bones from a local butcher.) With apologies to the privileged few who have seen them before we add one of those items at the end here, with the others proposing to re-appear later.

  Before pressing the starter button, though, it occurs to me that cost-cutting in the media very often seems to succeed in sparing that vital administrative layer at the upper end.  ‘We are all in this together’ would of course be a disastrous principle to follow when trying to make a business – or a country – more efficient, and it is a relief to see it discarded not merely in the media but right across the whole range of activities in all modern developed economies.  I’ve been ruminating on a possible ‘Cold Salad Law of disemployment’: other things equal, the chances of losing one’s job are inversely proportional to d, one’s distance from the base of the hierarchy, while d is directly proportional, other things equal, to the chances of doing the actual work.  Might be worth running that past my audience at my speech to the Women’s Institute next week.

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Political geometry

  One of the humbugs that the collective British psyche likes to suck on from time to time is the idea that Britain has the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy.  There are reasons why this sweetmeat should not be swallowed whole; for one, it is not true – both the Isle of Man and Iceland have older independent parliaments (insofar as any political entity other than a state at the top of the current international foodchain can be said to be independent.)  Another problem is the strange aftertaste, namely a belief that Britain’s arrangement, with ‘our side’ against ‘the opposition’, is the world’s best system of government.  Now the capacity to believe one thing while standing in front of its diametrical opposite is one of the more bizarre human traits that nature may not have foreseen when she allowed the first crossopterygian to flop out of the steaming oceans onto the Devonian mudflats.  Nonetheless it is there now, along with more predictable qualities such as altruism, hatred, dishonesty, and greed.  (Surely a little more effort could have anticipated bankers, and devised some predator to take care of that problem.)  If you want evidence of the capacity, remember that tribe in the Amazon who are reported to believe in all seriousness that they are (perhaps in some clintonian sense) a species of red parrot. Nevertheless the conflict between belief and reality in this matter of British parliamentary excellence is so acute that even the most governable citizen may spot the problem if somehow able to view it at a distance great enough.

  In fact the British parliament, is like the twin heads of a monster.  Below the neck the two competing sides are so similar that grosso modo they might be treated as one, and often are.  But no matter what ideas are forced by whatever means into one head, in nearly every case some obscure hydraulic fault in the political physiology results merely in the exhalation of vapours of an exactly countervailing composition from the other head.  If anything is ever done with the ideas, it is done elsewhere at another time, and in the main by other actors. That is, the noise in parliament may be an echo of the roaring and grating sounds as the country rumbles along, but the motive forces operate elsewhere.

  The odd thing is that the pundits who agree that a two-sided parliament, both reflecting and encouraging conflict, is not constructive often assume it is one of only three possible arrangements.  One of the two others is to abolish the adversarial system by getting rid of the adversary, in other words install an autocracy in which case the way that a parliament – if any – is conducted becomes immaterial.  But the trouble with this approach to making the trains run on time is that they tend to run over human and social rights strapped to the rails not far up the line.  The other popular solution is to replace the two-sided asylum by a more or less semicircular chamber as in France with seating arranged according to where members see themselves in the political spectrum.  The idea here is that members will appreciate that political differences do not necessarily mean barking hostility and a stark contrast between right and wrong, because they sit next to others who hold basically similar views but disagree on details.  And there is no visible yawning pit at any point beyond which the inhabitants are clearly too alien to wear white hats and must therefore be enemy forces, and if they are too far away round the circumference verbal and physical combat becomes impracticable anyway.

  The semicircular chamber is certainly heading in the right direction.  What is wrong with it is the seating fixed according to political beliefs, and it is really quite easy to overcome this.  One rather attractive idea would be to group members by the geographical area which they represent, irrespective of party allegiance.  Or we could simply place them in an alphabetical order.  Or we could arrange them in the same way as platoons in the army, tallest on the right, shortest on the left.  This might lead to grumbles from the tallest men since in the nature of things they would tend to get less opportunity to socialise with the opposite sex, but then tall men have built-in advantages in this respect anyway.  But the idea which we like best is the one which follows what you do with children at some birthday parties, where a number is pinned on each guest as they come in, and that gives them their seat when the bunfighting begins.  This way the members of a parliament would get a different seat each day.  Sooner or later they would be almost bound to meet most of the other members close up, and could hardly avoid coming to see their neighbour for the day as a human being.  They would then be so taken up with observing his or her personal habits – cleaning ears with a pencil, nose-picking, carrying a briefcase full of garlic sausage sandwiches, breaking wind and so on – that there would be little time to explore the neighbour’s identity as a personification of one of the more repellent forms of political wickedness.  A disadvantage of this system is that it might lend itself to manipulation; the more cunning among the politicians might lurk around the entrance so that they either accompany or avoid some particular fellow member.  This, however, could be overcome by linking entrance numbers to seat numbers on a random basis, easy enough with a small computer and appropriate software.

  But if we are really looking for ways to improve the parliamentary system, perhaps it is superficial merely to allocate seats in the chamber by lottery.  An idea which must naturally occur to us, and we dare say many would agree, is `Wouldn’t it be better to go the whole hog and choose the members by lottery in the first place?’

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Climate change.  The question is ‘What effective action can be taken against global warming?’  The answer is ‘None’.  There will be no effective action against climate change, because the great majority of those who would have to take it are politicians in countries with elections.  Their primary goal is winning at the next election, at most four or five years away.  (If they were to propose sensible measures their opponents would get in by promising the opposite.)  Action against climate change would not produce useful results within a period of at the very least fifteen years.  Precisely analogous considerations apply to autocratic rulers except those blindly confident of staying in power, who are consequently likely soon to lose it, and be replaced by some ruler of the other varieties.

Quod est desperandum.

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Science news

The lengths to which some governments will go in order to get rid of their research budget are marvellous to behold.  Recently scientists in Idaho announced that they had discovered that Prozac leads fish to develop symptoms of autism.  It is true that there is not much else to do in Idaho except grow and eat potatoes.  Nevertheless we are impressed.  What next?  Dosing chickens with diphenhydramine to see if it induces dyslexia?  Mandelic acid in the feed for goats as a factor in attention-deficit disorder?

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Principles of the past

Simple Simon [our unpaid office intern reading from a scrap of paper on the notice board]:

      The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government

Who said that?  Some sort of wishy-washy softy leftist, I suppose.

The Deputy Editor [irritated]: Not in the least.  Absolutely not.

Simon  Well, OK.  But not in a position where he could actually face that sort of situation.

Dep. Ed.  On the contrary,  in a position of the highest responsibility for lives and deaths.

Simon  But obviously not in a crisis when he might really have to act on his principle.

Dep. Ed.  That was Churchill, British prime minister, November 1943

Cold Salad 9

1) Correction 2) Miliband and Sid Macaca 3) Manos and the Greek pigsty  4) Gillard
[next scheduled distribution 17 July with possibility of earlier supplements]

Correspondents have rebuked us for describing the gap between American ideals and what can happen in practice as ‘small’.  Following the Ratzinger gambit we might reply that we are sorry to have readers who cannot spot irony even when it steps on their presuppositions.  However, our old-fashioned inclination is towards a true apology: it was at least half our fault for using understatement.  Irony was intended.  One does not have to be a quaker to describe some recent actions as resembling mediaeval barbarism.  One may not be hostile to the concept of America as the world’s leading nation and yet still say that violence and indifference to the sufferings of other nationalities is not only callous but contrary to her own interests.  One does not have to be in any degree sympathetic to terrorism to recognise that much of the world’s population outside the most privileged nations has many fully justified grievances.  Others continually take up issues under the first and third of these heads, so we leave those aside.  We shall not even go into the utterly remarkable uses of the words ‘legal’ and ‘ethical’; to understand these one would need not a dictionary of English but an entirely new work of reference.  (If the Nazis had taken the trouble to pass laws to ‘allow’ their activities during the Second World War would that have rendered them ‘legal’?  The flouting of the constitution we leave to constitutional lawyers.)  Thus, only some remarks about the second point.

   In the drone attacks in South Asia even Washington accepts that many civilians have been killed.  Others with no particular reason to lie, and closer links to some events put the figure far higher than does Washington.  The defence of the policy is that it is tough on those civilians but on balance effective and saves lives that might be lost in terrorist attacks.  This is not just hypothetical but makes the surprising assumption that  intelligence good enough to identify an individual in remote mountain villages would be unable to detect when he might start to take any practical moves towards violent hostile acts.  However, supposing that the policy is in its own terms effective, it meets a rejoinder: Yes, but for each activist killed several others emerge to take his place (another hypothesis, but not implausible).  This then meets what appears to be its counter-rejoinder: Not so, because we see the level of hostile acts and the skill put into them diminishing.  This may well be true.  Nevertheless, it hides a crippling flaw in the policy.  For it overlooks the time factor, both for 1) emergence (some survivors and relatives will nurse the desire for revenge – or as they might see it, justice – for many months or years before talking themselves into, or seeing the opportunity for, overt action) and for (2) training in the skills and materials needed for violent action.

   There is empirical evidence to back up these considerations.  Did the Nazi actions in countries (where they had the huge advantage of being in occupation) deliver resigned and quiescent populations and save the lives of German soldiers?  In 1940 the French resistance inevitably was scattered and tiny.  In the next three and a half years a programme of Nazi brutality designed to intimidate the résistance and eliminate its members (inter alia 30,000 French citizens shot) saw its numbers increase to some 200,000 active, with another 300,000 providing support; also, a large number of German soldiers killed.  A comparable evolution in the Balkans and notably the Ukraine, where the Nazis were initially warmly welcomed and where they possibly threw away their best chance of winning the war by their brutal subjection of what could have been a major enthusiastic partner nation..  There is, though, something perhaps even more important that the policy overlooks, namely the drift to asymmetry in warfare.  At present Washington believes it sees an effective return in making use of techniques of microwarfare.  However, during the next few years, development of ever smaller and ever more capable weapons is inevitably going to continue, and knowledge of what can be done and how to do it will become ever more widely known.  (Check what American highschool kids can do with one or two hundred dollars, right now back home.)  On the other hand America is not going to become a smaller target for her enemies.  Thus at present America  is ahead, but in the years to come that superiority is bound to diminish even as the dangers increase.  So the policy in practice aims at a short-term success, measured perhaps in a few months, getting in return a very unpromising future for herself and the rest of humanity.

   Consider – if you have aerial control of a difficult region with an unfriendly population, which gives the better chance of forestalling attacks against you – constant air-drops of food, clothes and toys, or constant air-drops of bombs and anti-personnel explosives?

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Simon our intern, son of the distinguished  businessman who is our largest shareholder (but who leaves us complete editorial freedom. we have to say), asked to include a short item of his own, and we have of course given him a free hand:

Sorry, guys, left this mega-late (paintballing!), so it won’t be superelegant like the editors want.  ‘Ten minutes or it’s cut.’  Slavedrivers!  Anyway, in my opinion this site’s been too full of gloom and sarcastic comments.  I’d like something more encouraging.  So let’s hear it for the human race.

  On the left, a picture of Ed Miliband, thanks to the Independent (fine newspaper even if it does lean a bit far to the left.),  Ed doing some political stuff, in London probably.  On the right, a great self-portrait taken by Sid Macaca (under the guidance of David Slater, wildlife photographer) on a recent  holiday in the Celebes.  Now which one would you pick for the next prime minister?  I don’t want to be mean to poor Sid, who never had even a year of schooling, but just looking at them both I really think Ed must come out ahead on most of the key qualifications, and he’s certainly better dressed.   So I say Ed wins.  (See, no smart-arse stuff like the Editor said I’d try.)

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 We are glad now to offer another contribution from our own office, from Manos, our doorkeeper and handyman.  Manos used to be a linesman for the Greek national electricity company, but was thrown out of work, when the company was closed down as a cost-cutting measure, and on the very same day he received a demand for back taxes easily exceeding the total amount of all his assets.  He arrived at our offices in the Channel Islands in a state of extreme (and monolingual) exhaustion having rowed from Greece in a small boat which he obtained in exchange for his wife.  The splendid fellow not only keeps the place in excellent order but provides rembetika for our informal parties once work is over for the day, having seized on an old bouzouki serving as a waste paper basket in the Deputy Editor’s office.    He has only been here six months but passed five A-levels with grade A* in May and is now studying for a degree at the Open University.

   Here in Guernsey I like it.  I eat well.  I get money for easy work.  People are friendly, especially ladies who think this Greek fellow with the big  beard is a romantic man.  I talk with people (some of them are also clever).  But one thing I hate.  Everybody here talks to me about ‘democracy’.  ‘You are from Greece,’ they say.  ‘Is it not terrible to see the birthplace of democracy now becoming a pigsty!’  Pay attention to me.  If you think like that it is your ignorance which is terrible.  You are wrong at both ends of the history.  Now there is no pigsty in Greece.  Before, there was.   What is a pigsty?  It is a place of dirt where big fat animals make the dirt.  But how can this happen?  It is because men outside push food into those animals to make them big and fat.  The animals do not like the place because they cannot get out, then they cannot stop themselves for making the place dirty.  It was not Greek people who made the pigsty, except only the party New Democracy who made contract with men in Brussels.  Then the men in Brussels fed our pigs, which before were nice, good animals, and made them fat and dirty.  Then the smell was too terrible, and Papandreou who was a good man saw there was a bad business, and there has come a great cleaning, and it is no more like a pigsty, but now it is like a prison.  Still the food comes in, but it is for the guards of the prison, not for the prisoners, who have no food.  They have no freedom.  That is why the prison has riot, and also that is why I made escape.  But I think you have a wrong idea also for the first end of the history.  ‘Ah, Greece of the fifth century, the perfect democracy,’ you say.  The Assembly of all the people was the ruler of the country, yes.  But you have not translated right the parts of our Greek word demokratia.  It was an assembly of all citizens.  And who was a citizen?  To start, no woman.  Also no man under twenty years.  And no immigrant.  You must be of Athenian family on both sides, if not, then no citizen.  And of course no slave.  In my school we must learn all this.  The people of Athens were more than 300,000 but the citizens, we do not know exact, maybe 40,000.  That is not how you think is democracy.  But for me, I like it very much.  I say it is the most honest, most just government of history.

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Congratulations to Julia Gillard for bringing in the Australian tax on carbon emissions last Sunday.  A brave act since it exactly contradicts her explicit promise that her government would not bring in a tax on carbon emissions.  (So what is free speech for, if you can’t say what your audience wants to hear?  How free is it if you are stuck with standing by what you say afterwards?)  But she had already notched up the most significant marker in her career.  As the present fades and becomes ancient times long ago – if humanity lasts that long – the last handbook of political history containing her name will preserve a single fact: ‘Australia’s first (and only) female prime minister‘ (just as Obama is America’s first and only black president, before the Latinos to come).

    objections are welcome, especially if ill-founded          

       honor honestique floreant