Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: August, 2012

Amsterdam voices

1) Pacific voices   2) security, surveillance, and sanity    3) notes        Next scheduled distribution 13th September

Announcement: A meeting of the office staff has resolved that we should attempt to dilute the political rantings with some kind of cultural content, and to begin with, at least, we should try for something in the literary line.  The obvious thing was to advertise for a poet in residence, so we rejected that idea partly because far too many have one of those already, but mainly because if we could afford the butt of sack which we understand to be customary we should certainly drink it ourselves instead of wasting it on some fellow dressed like a pimp with his scraggy-bearded chin wagging away in pursuit of verbal wrapping for his evanescent effusions.  Instead we decided to offer a chance to  the much neglected poetastic community.  Nearly always have better manners, and often better dressed.  Since we have to keep in line with political gerryfinicking quotas for minorities, ideally we’ll aim at deaf and dumb lesbians of any complexion other than pink; preferably somewhat ethnic too, Uighur perhaps. That could take care of five of the opportunities-for-the-unsuitable quangos all at one stroke. [Jeremy: ‘But what if we get a pink Uighur gay  male on the left, and in the red corner a woman of approved complexion from Rwanda?’]  Stipend by negotiation, but possibly along the lines of pizza and bottle of booze on Friday nights, and free use of the coffee machine plus the honour and prestige of being our poetaster-i-r.  Not going to have any nonsense about taking ‘in residence’ literally, though. It’s cramped and stuffy enough as it is when Jeremy or Simon stay overnight for reasons the rest of us do not enquire into.

  Applications on a clean piece of paper, with a couple of samples of what you are capable of, to Isabelita.

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   The Polynesians, extending even to the Rapanui of Easter Island, have been recognised as the third group ethnically rather than nationally based to participate in the Pacific Forum (which naturally goes in for discussion of politics and economics in the Pacific area.)  Their interventions certainly deserve to be given due weight (and not just because the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reckons 74 kilos to be the Polynesian adult average, which puts them second only to the Americans in the human biomass stakes).  Whenever one hears leaders of this group one is struck by the reasonable, perceptive,  well-balanced and well-expressed views one hears.  Why not invite them to join the EU (in place of eastern Europe)?  After all if Nato can incorporate Turkey and operate in Afghanistan….

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Isabelita’s uncle, also Ecuadorian, and still an academic unlike his niece, came over to Europe last month on a holiday during which he had hoped to watch her competing in the women’s beach volleyball, but to the huge disappointment of us all she was not finally selected for the squad.  Naturally he flew over to Guernsey with his men, and not only visited the office but stood us all to an excellent Saturday night dinner, enhanced by two bottles of a Peruvian liqueur allegedly based on doing something nasty to a poisonous cactus growing in the Sechura desert.  At two in the morning Manos took him on to a nightclub (till now undiscovered by any of the rest of us!) operating in a barn on a remote corner of the island, but at some time before he left at 9 a.m. Monday morning he had dropped the following into our postbox, wondering if we might distribute it.  [Our apologies to A.S. who has already seen an earlier copy of this]

  If governments really want to co-opt the governed in the establishment of large databases and highly intrusive systems for keeping watch on their populations, ostensibly in order to enhance security for the public and the nation (not to mention the government), then there are very strong reasons why this should not be a one-way bargain.  The first reason is that whole-hearted co-operation is unquestionably needed if these systems and databases are not to be incomplete, inaccurate and leaking like a sieve.  An entirely different reason, difficult for most governments to grasp, is based on accepting and understanding that ‘nation’ should refer to ‘a large group of people co-operating for mutual benefit’, and not merely ‘large group of people all subject to the same single government’.  There are then the following corollaries:

   1)  Systems to be established only so far as there are reasonable grounds for believing that they will in fact enhance security.

   2)  The most stringent practicable checks to be made on honesty of investigators and reliability of technical resources.

   3)  The strictest feasible limits to be set on the number and status of those with access to the output of such systems.

    4)  The best possible precautions to be taken to prevent data becoming available to people not authorised to have access.

   All these are obvious, and yet – above all in the instances of (3) and (4) – have been flouted, in Britain and other parts of Europe, already.  Examples are legion and misbehaviour or worse has been observed even on the part of those who should have been taking especial care, including members of governments.  The merest flake off the tip of the iceberg (thanks to Osvaldo’s British newspaper files): in one single period of nine months two CDs containing child benefit records with the personal details of  more than 25 million people, nearly half the UK population, were lost, remaining lost apparently today; top secret files on al-Qaida and Iraq’s security forces were found on a commuter train and handed in to the BBC by a member of the public, followed a few days later by a second batch of files on terrorism being found on a train; and a memory stick with names, addresses and expected release dates of all 84,000 prison inmates in England and Wales went missing after being left by a contractor in an office over the weekend.   Hospitals have lost details of many thousands of patients, including treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and disability information; they were handed over for the data to be destroyed, but instead many of the records turned up for sale on e-Bay.

Therefore, and for other reasons, there are further corollaries:

5)  When operation of a system brings a person under suspicion, further investigation to  be carried out immediately, and with the most exacting assessment of the evidence.

6)  When a person whose details have been misused has thereby suffered in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, real compensation to become available directly.

7)   No less, when a person suspected of misuse has been investigated, found blameless, but in the process suffered in any way, real compensation to become speedily available.

8)  Anyone authorised to have access to such data who makes wrongful use of the data, in any way, for commercial gain or for personal reasons, to be excluded from further employment in that area, and to receive a published and significant punishment

9)  No individual in the nation to have special immunity, either personally or on grounds of their status, from observation or inclusion in such a database.

10)  The establishment of such systems to include a clear public statement of their intended scope, following which the data must not be used for other ends

nb)  It is imperative to have at the earliest date a genuinely independent body to rule on proper observance of the above, able to impose real, biting penalties and order corrective action if they are breached.

  There is no question but that all these provisions need to be requirements in law, not merely items in a ‘voluntary code of conduct’, and certainly not just ‘government statements of policy’.  How can your country achieve that (and why incidentally are your governments so slothful about acting in that sense)?  You need personal communications, serious and rational and often, by letter or phone call or above all face-to-face speech, to those with enough standing to get effective action on these measures.  (Everybody now realises that if you want effective action, not just a crowd milling about in the street, electronic communications are utterly useless unless either backed by a large body of battle-hardened troops with overwhelming air support, or sent by the mafia or the yakuza.)  Anyone who honestly thinks a state can safely set up ‘tough’ rules to keep its population under close scrutiny and then rely on ‘good sense’ and ‘reasonable behaviour’ on the part of those who will operate the systems should have their cognitive systems checked (as well as a lesson in the history of the 1930s).

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Historical note:  Japanese interrogators were tried after the Second World War for having used waterboarding in their wartime interrogations.  Which country held these trials?  The United States of America.  What were the interrogators charged with?  War crimes.

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From a British newspaper (‘refreshing drinks for your garden or picnics’):

Blood orange punch   Take 15 oranges, peel, and take the pips out.  Drop them in a pan of boiling water and boil for 40 minutes.  While they boil send your cook out to buy two medium sized chickens.  Put them in your cider press and draw off as much of the blood and other juices as your gardener’s strength will permit.  Add to the pan.  When cool, add two bottles of gin.  Serve with ice; ideal for when you have six to eight enemies round for a sundowner.

       (first published in Obiter Ficta2004)

honor honestique floreant

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Another mixed bag

1) Pussy trio  2) political promises  3) can smoking benefit health? 4) eliminating malaria carefully           Next distribution remains scheduled for 31st August

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note to Daily Mail journalists in Great Britain: it has been discovered that two dietary supplements, Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Lipoic Acid produce greater activity and significant improvements in memory when administered to rodents.

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Unpopular news: A public opinion poll in Russia taken before the verdict in the trial of the Pussy Riot trio found that two-thirds of those polled wanted the women to be sent to prison or to work camp.

Unpopular background, also little noted in western media: Their trial concerns a demonstration they made, which received much publicity in the west.  However this was their second, not their first, demonstration of the kind.  After the first no action was taken against them but they were asked not to do it again.

A consultant comments: Much harmful self-congratulatory fun can be had trying to impose one’s own view of how things should be run on other communities.  But at least those engaging in such an enterprise have more grasp on reality than those who simply assume that other communities do run on the same lines as their own

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Editorial  (from Luddites’ Gazette)

As a child in the 1950s my father took me once to see the notorious Museum of Political Promises in Northern Italy.  The premises [I evade the wordplay lurking in ambush by the side of that sentence] were not attractive, set in a narrow gloomy valley between a pets’ cemetery and the crematorium of the local municipality.  The building itself was essentially no more than a large wooden hall containing piles of evidence of promises from twenty or more European countries, carefully stacked within intricately constructed racks devised originally for the records of Imperial China.  These allowed scholars to extract and replace any one document needed for examination without damaging any of the others.  In those days museums were not conceived as places to entertain casual visitors and although several spectacular promises were pointed out to us by a guide, including the actual paper bag on which Chamberlain drafted his ‘peace in our time’ remarks, we were not permitted to extract and marvel at any of them, which made our trip remarkably frustrating.  The whole place was filled with a strong pungent smell which one of the attendants told us was the consequence of treating all the documents except those that were already toxic with a preservative – all to no avail, since the whole place was burned to the ground in a possibly accidental fire just one month after Pella took over from de Gasperi.

  I have thought of that strange place several times recently, with elections recently completed in Russia, France and (to no advantage whatsoever) in Greece, and soon to come in America.  It is now many years since I regularly played Monopoly (and won) against young Nikki Sarkozy, at that time still clad in grey serge shorts, while my grandfather presided over a dinner table with presidents and prime ministers sitting jowl by elbow (some of them were indeed awfully uncouth in their table manners).  We later lost touch, but were I myself host to such occasions now then Nicolas might well be on the guest list.  Certainly not his successor.  Nicolas may be headstrong and unpredictable, but there you see a well-defined and vigorous character.  Hollande – did you ever see a man whose face and movements tried so hard – and let him down so badly – in the attempt to hide inner uncertainty and lack of command?  Tough as a young hedgehog.  A strategist in politics to set alongside ‘Crimean’ Raglan as a military commander [see note at end 1].  One of the clearest marks of his political inexperience – he never previously held any ministerial office, though between 2001 and 2008 he was mayor of Tulle, a town of some 15,000 known for the production of accordions – is that he has been trying to keep his campaign promises.  As one instance, the increased special allowance for children of school age is already being paid.  However, it is obvious that there is no point in making a campaign promise which you intend to keep, because you will only intend to keep it if your people have already checked the possibilities and found that it can be kept; in which case the opposition or at least its more intelligent components will already have done precisely the same.  The only campaign promises worth making are those that you do not intend to keep (provided, of course, that they look glamorous in the eyes of the electorate.)  When you break them you simply remark that the situation is no longer the same, though few will match the limpid elegance of the breach by Julia Gillard, leader of the Australian Labour party: ‘there will be no carbon tax’ during the election campaign (17-8-2010); ‘circumstances have changed’ as a carbon tax is introduced by her Labour government (1-7-2012).

1 Cf  N.F.Dixon   The psychology of military incompetence   Jonathan Cape   London   1976              (One of the funniest and most frightening books ever written by a psychologist; obligatory reading for anyone hoping to gather support for a military coup d’état)

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Is the Gu Kailai who was seen on Chinese television walking into the court to be pronounced guilty the same Gu Kailai who was arrested in Chongqing and charged with murdering an Old Harrovian?  She looked remarkably different – younger, more like a countrywoman than a sophisticate, and plumper, none of which changes are universally observed in those kept in prison around the world.  Now it is not unknown in other parts of East Asia for a stand-in to take the rap in serious cases, in return for suitable compensation in one way or other, but in China, in a trial as widely scrutinised as this was, surely such a thing is inconceivable, apart from being of doubtful practical benefit to the guilty party.  Can anyone cast light on this puzzle?

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A letter from Ms J.Borgia, who owns and manages a hostel in Castlebar for smokers released on parole from their prison sentences, (received yesterday along with a tax demand for instant payment of 1,000,009 euros from the Attorney General of an African country which as far as we can find out does not exist, and a pencilled note from the postman who is still complaining about intimidation by the guard dog despite being on the other side of the railings):

Madam,   In your piece (6-8-2012) about visual warnings on cigarette packets you seemed to accept the usual line that smoking should be banned because it is bad for health.  This overlooks the clear fact that a given element which is part of the cause of some harm may at the same time be part of the cause of much else.  Perhaps you will let me quote from a letter I wrote some years ago to the Ennis Contemplator: ‘we do not doubt that the cigarette smoke contains certain elements – hydrogen cyanide, for example – that are noxious.  However, if they are noxious to human beings it seems highly likely that they are also damaging to other organisms including some that are potentially dangerous to human health.’   One of the best known authorities on the effects of smoking, Dr Kenneth Denson, of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research Foundation, who has published widely on the effects of smoking and given evidence to the parliamentary select committee on health, does not doubt the link between a tobacco habit and lung cancer, yet is on record as stating that smoking protects against Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, cancer of the womb, pre-eclampsia, and Alzheimer’s.  He notes that a former holder of the greatest verified age for a man smoked until he died at 114.  It is a matter of common knowledge that Jeanne Calment smoked throughout adult life until medically advised to stop at the age of 117; she then died at 122.  Moreover, it appears that the proportion of medical staff who smoke may be above that in the general population.  Certainly without intending any discouragement of those who want to break the habit, never mind urging them to hasten out to support the tobacco companies, have a look at takingliberties.squarespace.com.  Surely the total effect of smoking on community health needs more investigation.

Juniper Borgia

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  An unconfirmed report claims that following Obama’s warning that use of chemical weapons, by the Syrian government, might be taken as a reason for American military intervention, the minister for education, Saleh Al Rashed commented in a telephone interview ‘chemical weapons don’t kill people; people (but not the Syrian government forces!) kill people.

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Among campaigns almost universally considered to be ‘good causes’ are the search for a vaccine against malaria, the protection of tropical forests, and the preservation of the rights and culture of the world’s few remaining nomadic tribes.  It is rather awkward that there is a conflict within this trio.  The ‘primitive’ tribes and the tropical forests on the whole get on fairly well together.  The damage to the plants and trees by the tribes is an infinitesimal aspect of what goes on in the forests, and while there is an estimate (also known as a wild guess) that falling coconuts kill some two hundred people a year, a large number of the latter are probably tourists wandering within a mile or two from their resort hotel.  But if (or when) malaria is eliminated, quite apart from the fact that it will be followed by a surge in the world’s population, especially in areas still much exposed to other tropical diseases, there will be a major increase in the extraction of their resources from the forests, and a devastation, all but genocidal, of the way of life of the remaining forest tribes as settlers from outside move in.  Careful thought needed here.

honor honestique floreant

fresh cold salad

1) Privatising Speakers Corner  2) ‘Olympian absurdities’  3) standardising Europeans  4) apothegm.   Next distribution scheduled for 31 August; earlier distribution not excluded

The government has announced plans to ‘valorise Speakers Corner in London as one of the outstanding examples of the best in the British way of life and one of London’s most attractive tourist attractions.’  The proposal is to privatise Speakers Corner by 2015, with a sale by tender freely open to all applicants, who must be judged fit and suitable persons to maintain public order under the guidance of the Metropolitan Police.  As a first step an Order in Council will set up a corporation, 100% publicly owned, of which the directors (to be appointed by the Home Secretary) will be responsible for organising a code of regulations to guarantee and extend the freedom of speech and the enhancement of the experience for visitors.  These regulations will cover such matters as the number of speakers allowed at any one time, the boundaries of the space and time allowed to each speaker, the charge to be made for permission to speak, specification of acceptable topics, the establishment of a booking system for would-be speakers, and satisfactory arrangements to ensure equal numbers of male and female speakers.  The directors would also issue contracts for the provision of refreshment and restaurant facilities for visitors.

  Interest in purchasing the site when the corporation is offered for sale is already high.  Among those reported to have made preliminary enquiries are a Russian consortium said to be close to Vladimir Putin, and a member of the royal house of Bahrein.

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Trying to distentangle the claims about the current state of the Olympic movement from the vestiges of fact that we could detect hidden within the ‘news reports’ we sensed a puzzling failure to fit.  We decided to investigate and obviously the best way to get an authoritative view was to consult Baron Coubertin using the services of a highly recommended medium.  Despite his tendency to seasickness the Deputy Editor’s part-time assistant, Jeremy, was sent on the ferry to Southampton where this lady holds her seances.  Unfortunately the effort was a failure.  Her usual guide, an Algerian slave beheaded in the sixteenth century,  told us that because of the extraordinarily heavy ‘traffic’ all topics related to the Olympics had to be ‘routed’ through a special enquiry centre.  It was a full five minutes, interspersed with various squeaks and groans from the medium, before this centre picked up the link with a rather nasal London accent, immediately informing us that the call was being monitored for training purposes and was not to include any material of a disrespectful or offensive nature.  It then went on to list the many ways in which it claimed that the centre was providing an excellent service to the still living public, ending with news of a special ‘promotion for Estonians wishing to communicate’, before beginning a long list of heading words – eg ‘lifebelt’ for personal messages to competitors in the swimming events – which had to be given in order to achieve the contact desired.  None of the twenty or so headings seemed to fit Jeremy’s enquiry and a long silence ensued, before the nasal whine returned with a curt announcement that in view of the failure to use any of the headings the centre assumed the connexion was no longer desired and the line would therefore be cut.   There followed from the open mouth of the apparently unconscious Mrs Goverthorpe what sounded like a loud series of angry expostulations in Arabic, followed by a choking cough in her own voice, after which she awoke and the séance was at an end.

  We were about to give up our attempt to report on the reality of the modern Olympics for this distribution when we heard that here on Guernsey there lives a retired schoolmaster who made it his hobby to gather all the information that he could about the Olympics since he had attended the games in London in 1928 at the age of ten.  He kindly agreed to assist us, assuring us over a telephone link that he still had a razor-sharp mind at the age of 96.  At that moment he was in Germany just beginning a 150 kilometre walking race, but he dictated to his wife by mobile phone a number of comments on remarks we had culled from the media.  She brought those to us, headed (on his instructions) by the phrase Eight Olympic absurdities.

 ‘The Olympics are still the greatest athletic contest on earth’  Wrong!  The Olympics are primarily a clutch of show business extravaganzas, principally an opening ceremony and a closing ceremony with a great number of minor ceremonial spectacles sandwiched between those.  Their secondary essence is as a sort of trade fair to promote companies which pay a great deal to take part.

The United States won more gold medals than any other nation.’  Wrong!  No nation won any gold medals at all.  No nation sprinted down the track or soared over a sandpit.  All gold medals were won by individual people, or in a few cases by small groups of individuals, nearly all of whom trained hard and long and individually – not excluding those who took part in the beach volleyball spectacles – while the rest of the nation that shares a passport eligibility with them was, for the most part, sitting on its backside watching coloured shapes flickering on a screen.   Humans have a very peculiar mental apparatus which allows them not merely to say things which are directly contrary to directly observable facts but to believe them, and by no means only in politics.  (Incidentally this remarkable capacity might suggest that technology has a very long way to go before it can produce computers that match human intelligence, if intelligence is the correct term.)

The Olympics promote goodwill between nations.’  Wrong!  The Olympics do, on the whole, promote goodwill between athletes taking part, as shown inter aliaby the massive supply of contraceptives arranged by organisers; also to a limited extent between individual spectators.  But it is well known that the overall effect on the national scale of international sporting competition of all kinds is to increase rivalry and hostility between nations.  Consider whether relations between the Chinese and the Americans have been improved by the recent  events in London.  Evidence is also plentifully available in the well documented vast increase in police pay and emergency admissions to hospitals frequently observed on the occasion of international sporting encounters.

  The Olympics are supposed to be a series of contests of individual sporting excellence, bringing together competitors from all round the world.  The reasons why they are organised in ways to stir up rival nationalistic feelings, with flags, anthems, and medal table organised by nationality are presumably the fairly obvious ones.

United in joy’ (The group united is of course a nation).  A different mental aberration here.  Why ever should all in a nation be joyful at the victory of some competitor whom they have never seen, and will never meet, and whose victory brings no advantage to them whatsoever, especially a competitor brought up in another country and now living in yet a third nation?  There is simply mass agreement to be joyful for an arbitrary reason.  A crowd might more sensibly agree to be joyful at seeing a chicken successfully crossing a road, more sinisterly at hearing a rabble-rousing nationalistic speech.  Mass hysteria!

The Olympics bring out all that is best in the world’s youth.’  Wrong!  The Olympics bring out all manner of things in all manner of people.  Prominent among these are three: chauvinism (see earlier comment on ‘goodwill between nations’); progress in developing drugs to artificially enhance natural ability, and authoritarianism.  On the latter, cf Usain Bolt being refused admission to the arena while wearing a tie, disqualification of badminton players who had trained for years to take part and were playing according to the structure prescribed for the contest, and above all the nearly demented pursuit of individuals offending against an ad hoc and outrageous set of ukazes about the use of certain symbols, and even – almost beyond belief – words of the English….

  At this point the list ended.  Our office had submitted another three phrases, but our advisor’s wife said it appeared that the battery on his mobile phone had given out, and she did not expect to hear from him again until after the all-night party that would almost certainly follow the race.

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Rumours have emerged of a secret project launched last year at a closed session of the Commissioners to support a billion-euro research programme aimed at standardising the size and shape of EU citizens within approximately 10% by 2040.  Initially, it is said, the plans for height envisaged that all male adults would be between 165cm and 185 cm tall, while all women should be between 160cm and 175cm but following vehement protests from the female commissioners the same limits were set for both sexes, at a minimum height of 163cm and a maximum of 180cm.  It was, however, accepted that different gender limits would apply in the case of chest and stomach measurements, the figures for which are not as yet known, although it is reported that temporary exemptions from the latter will be granted to pregnant women on provision of medical evidence.  Similar arrangements would be put in place with regard to weight and posture.

      The plans have been advanced in the confident expectation of making immense savings in cost in many spheres of daily life, notably in the building and retail clothing industries and in transport, as well as in convenience for citizens, while it is understood that some Commissioners argued vigorously that the new limits would be a powerful force for the much greater degree of social cohesion they felt desirable and even necessary.

      It is not clear what sanctions will be applied in the case of those who are unacceptably tall or who fail to reach the minimum circumference.  One option is thought to be the possibility that some particular region (perhaps one not favoured by ‘standard’ citizens, as they will be known) could be set aside as the the territory in which they would be required to have their permanent residence, though another possibility would obviously be a discriminatory tax rate.

from Grandnephew’s Treachery published 2008

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Thought for the fortnight: traditionally scholars were described as learning more and more about less and less. Few still exist.  Instead we have the generation of the social networks whose millions learn more and more about matters of less and less importance.

honor honestique floreant

 

A consequence of Greek dancing

1) Warning in pictures  2) Banking questions

Next date scheduled for a distribution: 21st August

  On Friday night we were sitting round exhausted by a couple of hours tackling a Greek dance that Manos has tried to teach us, when he lit up one of the revolting Greek cigarettes he has somehow managed to unearth in St.Peter’s Port.  This led to a discussion which the Editor has summarised with, it appears, some modifications of his own:

  A number of governments make cigarette companies print warning notices on their packs, often with a picture of disgusting damage done by the habit.  This is a convenient way for governments to balance two obligations.  As guardians of their country’s inhabitants [see note 1 at the end] they have a responsibility to try to keep them in the best possible physical health, which you might expect them to do by banning cigarettes.  They also have a duty to keep the national accounts in the best possible financial health.  This, too, they could do by banning cigarettes, on condition that they could extract large amounts of money from the massive illegal trade in cigarettes which would certainly arise.  In principle this should be achievable.    Direct taxation is of course politically embarrassing, if not actually self-contradictory, though experienced lawyers may be able to find a way round that difficulty.  Another option is to impose very severe fines on traders arrested, while taking care that arrests are not frequent; gaol terms should seldom be imposed, so that the traders may resume their activities at an early date.  A third approach would repress the illegality with a light touch [note 2], restraining the forces of law and taxation from wasting resources on excessive investigation of the activities of certain peripheral elements of large and profitable companies, which as a whole provide the state with a satisfactory return.  However, few countries have managed any of these approaches with conspicuous success, and even where this is claimed it appears any money accrued may have gone more to individual politicians than to the coffers of the state.

  The facts remain: repellent pictures of sick smokers, or parts of sick smokers, do appear on cigarette packets, aiming, apparently, to reduce bad health among consumers.  Since this is a form of advertising and since we have been repeatedly assured (by those who make money from it, but also by other experts, e.g. Goebbels and, implicitly, Humpty Dumpty) that advertising ‘works’, we accept the case.  But then one asks ‘Why only cigarettes?  Why not pictures of the result of consumption for tobacco’s noxious twin, alcohol?’  The initial objection, that we have got our facts wrong – certainly,  the result of a cigarette may be a spasm of wrenching coughing but alcohol consumption may lead on to a jolly party – is specious irrelevance.  Governments are interested in long-term effects (provided the issue does not concern the next election) even if we subversively notice that there seem to be two different types of long-term alcohol consumption; one can lead to sitting on a narrow bench in the back room of a small pub in Cork at the age of 22, rocking slowly backwards and forwards, drunk to the point of incoherence at six in the evening, while the other sets you up as a rosy-faced white-haired old man with twinkling blue eyes, surrounded by twenty-somethings begging to hear about your adventures in times long ago.  Perhaps then the warning pictures should somehow be attached not to the bottles but compulsorily to mirrors in domestic bathrooms, so as to prompt self-questioning before a drinker sets off to debauch his (or these days, her) metabolism.  But a few more years are needed before the ‘authorities’ come to that level of intrusion.  For now let the governments rest content with pictures of, for instance, a shambling tramp, head back, holding a bottle high for the last few drops which run out and miss his toothless mouth.

  But why stop there, as if there were no other delights tempting consumers to potential ruin; food or more precisely unhealthy eating habits, and shiny motor cars for example?  Each of these cases has its own peculiarities.  For a billion on the planet there is a single unhealthy eating habit, which is simply not-eating (almost invariably an involuntary condition), so it is not easy to see where one would put the pictures, and there is also the point that few of that billion could truly be seen as bona fide members of the consumerat.  What worries so many of the other six billion (around 30% in the overdeveloped nations, according to recent assertions) is the exhausting struggle against obesity, and so the type of  picture required is easily settled – some vast envelope of sweating humanity fighting its bulk into or out of an airline economy class seat would do nicely.  But the pictorial warnings in this category will have to be especially vivid, just to elbow aside the dense crowds of colourful encouragements to believe that eating some package’s mixture of highly saturated fats and sugars and 21 kinds of chemical unknown to science before 1950 will be good for you (and make you slimmer; and if you are a balding man your hair may grow back, too).

  At this point Simple Simon, doubtless well meaning but tasteless as ever, suggested the principle of visual warnings should be applied also in the case of brothels.  Isabelita immediately asked him if he was speaking on the basis of personal experience, and he mumbled to a halt in red-faced confusion.  For a variety of reasons, nobody present seemed to want to pursue that issue and we returned to the respectable middle-class path we had been following.  Cars, like the reconstituted modified protein-similar nature-unidentical artificially flavoured candy substitutes we had just mentioned, are represented as having strange powers in the advertisements in which they currently appear.  Buy this car and not only will it come with a languorous beauty strategically attached to the hood (subject to availability; alternative offer: young attractive spouse and two children, all in perfect health and grinning like maniacs), but you will find all other drivers – all other road users, in fact – have disappeared off the roads.  There are drawbacks, though; the immaculate highway along which you speed in smooth isolation (the need for petrol is discreetly left on one side) is located in a magnificent but evidently remote and uninhabited terrain, possibly on Spitzbergen.  Consumers certainly do need warnings against the temptation to acquire a car.  Many of the inconveniences are well known, running the gamut from faulty windshield wipers through terrifying overdrafts to lengthy gaol terms.  What is seldom fully realised is the size of the car’s contribution to psychological stress in modern life.  All the worry of purchasing and fuelling and maintaining and repairing the thing and of dealing with the various enemies one meets in these battles; the frustration of the steady guerilla warfare needed to keep it insured and officially recognised by the state; experiencing day by day the breakdown of rational behaviour in other drivers;  obviously deliberate sabotage of your travel plans by roadworks or traffic wardens, and impotent rage when you find your secret off-the-road parking spot has been discovered by a battered builders’ truck.  Beneath all this there is the pulsing ground bass of borderline claustrophobia which can never be safely admitted to the conscious mind, that comes from shutting oneself into a metal box even smaller than the punishment cells the communists used in old Osteuropa – and strapping oneself in.  Two hours of this in the daily traffic jam, if handed down by a judge, would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.  The warning pictures on the car will have the advantage that they will be on the car itself unlike the allegedly seductive visual encouragements to buy the things.  Of course warning notices about frustration and stress will not have much impact until experience makes them unnecessary, but there is in this case an alternative with some hope of effect – horrible car smashes.

  Here, we had barely started to dip into the troubled brew.  Many other scourges of society need to be checked – gambling, social networks, politics, gardening, and more.  Naturally with some the devising of visual warnings will be difficult, but with others easy and – who knows? – perhaps even enjoyable.  As the Deputy Editor remarked ‘Rise again Hieronymus Bosch, your time has come round once more.’

[note 1: this traditional conception of the function of a government is now largely extinct, except as a theoretical principle, just as is the idea that it is the duty of managers of a company to look after the interests of shareholders.]

[note 2: as apparently still popular in dealing with the bankers]

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This morning we found a letter well chewed up in the guard-dog’s basket by the front door.  It was lucky for whoever delivered it that this was one of the nights that the Editor remembered to lock the door when he went home.  (The postman brought a mailbox of his own and personally fixed it to the wall outside the gate and now leaves all the post in that.)  We were able to piece together enough fragments to arrive at the following incomplete text:

  would have thought Jefferson was being a bit of a crook if he had stood up and said he was very sorry for being a slave owner and would investigate how it had happened, and restructure his domestic arrangements so that it wouldn’t happen again.  Being a well-known upstanding leader of society he didn’t even do that, and so got away with it completely!  But we’ve now got the bankers to the ‘very sorry’ stage, and that’s the point to really go in hard, because otherwise enough time will run on with nothing happening to let people start accepting banking finaglery as a normal part of everyday life, no reaction or deterrence needed.  Only yesterday I got a circular from a Department of Pseudology in some college or other – they’re a pain in the butt, these ‘scientists’ who do ‘research’ by sending out hundreds of questionnaires to all and sundry and getting other people to find the data for them.  Then all they do is run a quick computer summarising programme over the results, package them in some illiterate ‘article’ and start giving interviews to the world’s media on the new ‘discovery’ they’ve made.  Though I must admit this questionnaire was a little more perceptive than most, e.g.:

Q2. Circle the word you think best describes most bank communications: misleading; truthful; gibberish;lies. 

Q7.Which word do you think best fits bankers, as a class: greedy; dishonest; noble; overpaid (You may circle more than one)

Q9. Do you think bankers are deliberately preparing the ground for a proletarian revolution?  Perhaps; no; yes.

honor honestique floreant