Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: September, 2012

Folly and greed again versus one to really cheer

(1) Ratzelian economics   (2) electoral debt   (3) broadcasting salutes   (4) AIME special flash   Next distribution  proposed for 15-10-2012

The Deputy Editor writes:

Apart from the Editor himself we are now all back in the office and abnormal business (as at 22-09) has been cut off at the ankles before it can run any further; but we are not draconian, not even the Editor, and we’ll probably end up taking our normal tolerant view of youthful waywardness; at worst they may lose their pocket money for another week or two.  Immediate decisions were overtaken anyway by a surprise visit from the Mad Doc; we had all thought he was safely tucked up in Dublin for the rest of the month, but apparently he got fed up with supporting appearances at his wife’s sculpture exhibition – they required him to feign politeness to members of the Wooden Arts Commando who were sponsoring the show, so he took off to Alaska to test an idea he’s been peddling around.  He calls it Ratzelian economics ¹, and he cooked it up from some stuff in an ancient copy of Sperling’s Journal.  It starts with the standard commercial premise that in business what you sell should always be worth less than the price you can get from customers.  (Cf for instance, a greeting cards company where a trivial investment in card and ink, with designs possibly devised by ill-trained chimps and words extruded from a mentally limited piece of software, might give a return per item of many thousands percent, thanks to a gormless public.)  But Mad Doc says that beyond the number of consumers in your market the thing to take into account is their geographical density – and he reckons by the way that most analysis of national economic statistics worldwide is badly flawed there.  After a new product appears on the market, as the punters come to realise the gap between price and value they will spread the word around and the profits you get will therefore fall (whereupon you cut back on quality or size or staff wages or after-sales service, if any, to reduce your costs; when the gap reduces to zero then you take the company public, paying yourself a huge salary as the CEO.)  But according to M.D. the speed with which disillusion spreads around will depend on how densely packed the population is; this needs to be kept a very sharp eye on, for nimble manipulation of relevant tax breaks, publicity drives, character of local officials, and assorted sleight of bank account.  M.D.decided an ideal place for a first field trial should be an area fairly isolated from the great bazaars of the consumerist world, and where the local population is thinly spread, but relatively moneyed (no point going to try things out in the Gobi).  Hence Alaska.  He arrived at our place in a subvolcanic state because his test had been a disastrous failure.  Picking what he thought might fill a strong local need he’d got some Indonesian outfit to produce a few thousand jars of instant ‘miracle bear-repellent’ (almost certainly some cheap cosmetic cream mixed up with black dye and a bit of engine oil).  He was doubtless right about the local need, but he’d overlooked the obvious possibility that the locals knew far more about what repelled bears and how to keep out of the way in the first place than he would ever learn, so not one of them touched the stuff.  His promotional ads were ridiculed on local tv.  He said he’d called in on us to calm himself down as we were always a haven of harmony (at which point Isabelita apparently choked on her coffee), but he soon left.  We made no efforts to keep him either, in tribute not only to his own personality but also to the news that on the way back he’d stopped off at Talkeetna to stroke the mayor and pull his tail (for the past dozen years the western world’s most popular mayor – a cat).  Clearly M.D. hadn’t yet heard the frightening news about toxoplasmosis, and frightening it is; apparently merely stroking one of the beasts can give you schizophrenia.

[For information on this new source of stress for the cat-owning middle classes consult your local hospital, or try searching for toxoplasma on www.independent.co.uk in the issue of 4-9-2012]

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¹ cf  F.Ratzel   Anthropogeographie  Stuttgart   1891

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It would be in bad political taste to point out that the overwhelming majority of the financial problems on top of many nations today result from democracy, or more precisely, electoral democracy.  Governments gain ¹ and retain control of the precious levers by allowing voters an agreeable lifestyle.  (‘Agreeable’ can include such notions as ‘security’ implying e.g. the building of walls and gun emplacements on the frontiers to keep out others who would also like an agreeable lifestyle but are deemed to lack some necessary qualification, such as wealth or an acceptable ancestral tree.)  In order to maintain their relative popularity or to outbid rival political groups a government will provide (and an ambitious opposition will promise) agreeability beyond the limits of what is financially realistic by spending money which is not actually available, i.e. going into debt; governments will likewise encourage private citizens to achieve greater agreeability in an analogous manner while oppositions will promise to act in the same way.  The political parties will seek assurances that these steps will be beneficial for the national economy, and they receive these from economists and bankers (not excluding bankers who take part in arranging the necessary loans).  Anyone who trusts that this process will cease to operate of its own accord in any country which continues to hold elections should not be reading this paragraph.  As night follows day the weight of debt will increase year by year until the legs of the state and the supports of households  buckle under the burden.

The mechanism was acknowledged by Jean-Claude Juncker all but explicitly, when he remarked of the current problems with the euro  ‘We all know what needs to be done; but we don’t know how to get re-elected if we do it.

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¹  (or  apparently ‘seize’ in the case where the electoral victor is Hamas)

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The Deputy Editor writes:

Before he went off on holiday our Editor commented (15-09-2012) on the infuriating idiocies that public broadcasters inflict on their audience.  We are with him all the way, except perhaps that his usual Scottish understatement let them off far too lightly (especially the BBC.  It still has some good people; but why on earth are they still there?)  Jim may want to have another go about the quality of broadcasting sometime, and I don’t want to poach on his domain, but there is a related point perhaps worth mentioning.  There has been rumbling in high places recently about ‘strengthening the BBC brand’.  Once, long ago, as all those whose favourite bedtime reading is mediaeval history know, a brand was a simple physical object with a good use – casting light (and then serving as a symbol of learning, before being purloined by the Labour Party) – and an even better use – setting fire to old, rotten buildings that had sheltered overprivileged, self-satisfied friends of the powerful.  However, reverting to the modern dialect of sell-by-date consumerism we observe it now has the sense of a ‘nebula of ideas, tangible characteristics and emotional associations attached to some product’ which can be employed to

  (1) extract vast sums of money from a foolish populace

  (2) explode any naïve belief that man is a rational aninal (this is no place to go into gender differences) and

  (3) demonstrate human capacity for doublethink, as loud cheers are heard for swingeing punishments on a craftsman who by native skill and honest capitalist labour has produced, let us say, a fine bushbuck raincoat (i.e., a raincoat for your bushbuck) and sold it at a price slightly higher than his costs, unaware that a mighty firm manufactures a more expensive item almost identical but with only the addition of its ‘brand’.

  So far as I know the aforesaid strengthening has not included the adoption of a BBC salute or gesture although one might have considered this a useful element for any media ‘brand’ trying to publicise itself, enabling enthusiastic supporters to recognise one another and develop a sense of community (as with children who have all pulled similar plastic badges from their cereal packets).  Oddly enough, although now almost totally forgotten, there once was a BBC salute back in the early days.  Possibly devised in a spirit of self-mockery it was certainly appropriate to a corporation inspired by Reith, consisting of a reproving smile accompanied by a wagging forefinger.  Perhaps its hour of glory was ended by the epic battle between Churchill’s fingers and the Nazi forearm.  Since those days similar recognition signals have occasionally appeared, mostly short-lived and associated with local radio broadcasters although it is said that the North Korean television service tried at one time to promote a gesture of triumph taken from traditional Korean opera.  (Opponents of the régime in the south claim some dissidents flick their hand lightly across their throat as a way of indicating to possible sympathisers that one listens to foreign radio, but this has never been reliably confirmed by foreign visitors.)  Other salutes said to have existed, usually promoted not by the broadcasters but instead by their critics, include:

lips pursed ostentatiously shut:  several countries in eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s

hand cupped behind ear: Radio Camacula-Nord (Congo), notorious for its weak signal strength

fingers stuck in ears:  people persecuted by neighbours blasting out Radio Frente Musica in several of the Caribbean islands

the bras d’honneur: a notorious illegal mobile pornographic station in Romania in the early 1990s.

  What might fit the BBC in the days of its late-Byzantine decrepitude?  Overseas listeners, as signal strength is reduced and relay stations axed, might well opt for the same gesture as for that Congolese station.  For listeners at home?  Perhaps this could serve: head bowed forward and to the right, right hand covers glazed eyes?

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Isabelita has asked to add this special note of her own, which we fully support.

What my friends write is sometimes interesting and sometimes right, and sometimes both in the same time.  But readers will know that so many entries in these distributions show a sad or bad character of the human.  I think this cannot be helped but if anyone has a good idea for going to doing what can make it better – try!  For this reason also try to see news of the magnificent enterprise of some Australian young students – they should be organising the world.  Look only with the internet to find AIME.  Two places are www.rmit.edu.au and www.monash.edu.au  then look for AIME.

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honor honestique floreant

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Exuberant irrationality

Readers’ letters   Victorian spaceships   royal assets   Tea Party policy?   Marathon times     next distribution scheduled 30-9-12

Jeremy:  Hallo, Jeremy and Simon here!  Welcome all!  This is going to be a bit different from the usual Cold Salad distributions…

Simon: Good thing too!

Jeremy: With my best French accent – Attention au cake-hole, you idiot.  They’re almost certain to read what we’ve sent out when they come back.

Simon: Doubt it.  They never read stuff after they’ve sent it out.  Never even open readers’  letters.

Jeremy: Anyway all our big boys are away on their holidays.  Editor staying with his sister in Eastbourne …

Simon: In detox probably.

Jeremy: Oh you are a nasty boy today!  Do shut up.  As I was saying, Deputy Ed is checking his native Scotland is still there.  The lovely Isabelita…

Simon: Our princess.

Jeremy: As you rightly say, our princess.   Off with her uncle in Italy.  Long holidays they must have where he comes from.  Manos is still in London, doubtless driving Mervyn King nuts.   No risk of the Mad Doc coming in because his wife’s got an exhibition in Dublin all through September.  So we are keeping base clean…

Simon: !

Jeremy: …sort of, and we have permission to push something out if anything interesting comes in from Luddites  Now they didn’t actually say we couldn’t push out anything else so this is what we have on the menu.  First we are going to attend to some of those readers’ letters, then maybe add a comment or two about things that have gone out in the past few weeks where we two weren’t allowed to give an opinion, and then finish up with one or two ideas of our own.  We found the letters in a bin in the backyard.  Simon and me usually come in the back way so we don’t have to get past the dog, and I suppose some cats had a fight and knocked the bin over.  Anyway here is Fanny Carasheen writing from Hartlepool back in May and she wants to know why this distribution system is called Cold Salad.  Actually, Fanny it’s what you call an acronym; it comes from the initial letters of Club of obstinate lunatics determined to struggle against lies and distortions which was how someone described them when they were getting started and they were actually rather proud.  But the editors are trying to go quiet on it now because they found out some malicious hacker had changed it everywhere to Compendium of leaks from the Department of specious allegations, lies, ambiguities and denials.

  Next letter.  Nathanael Apomba, of Kirkwall – that’s in Norway, isn’t it?  “That bit you sent out back in April, about the alien onions, I’ve been thinking about it.  I had this idea.  Suppose you could muck about with the geans of a kid, you could save a lot on electricity for nightlights for kids if you got one of those geans from jellyfish and put it in him, because then he would glow sort of green colour in the dark.”   Hmm!  Enough said really.

Simon: I like it.  But what about the tentacles?  And better make sure you never take the kid to the seaside.

Jeremy: Whatever.  Anyway here’s another.  Oh, this is a sad one.  “I like it when the sky is blue, and birdies chirrup sweet and true.  My friends come round and ask to play and then we go down to the bay.” Some kid heard about the poetaster job we’re offering.  ‘Gillian’, no other name, no address.  Editors should have put some age limit in the ad.  Erm, oh!  Ah, now I’m not so sure I was right on first impression.  Hear this; verse 5: “I lie beside him in the grass, he rubs his hand across m …”  No.  Definitely not our style Simon.

Simon: Not yours, you mean, don’t you?

Jeremy: Ahem.  Now this one’s from dear old Oz.  Oh dear me!  Sooo formal!  “Sirs, Ruminating on the introduction of computerised voting machines in certain  countries, is this not a golden opportunity to make use of the idea of the negative vote?  It is only too plausible that the voter will discover there is no candidate for whom he feels able to cast a positive ballot, but quite probable that there is at least one whom he knows to be an outright scoundrel.  He should be able to cast a negative vote to subtract one from the total otherwise accumulated by said candidate.

Simon: Brilliant idea!  Bit boring though.  Let me have one to read.  What about this? “Dear Sirs, I wonder if you would consider helping me by publicising a museum I have set up.  I have been fortunate in acquiring a good few pieces of equipment, decorations, and furnishings such as leather armchairs, gaslamps and antimacassars, all of which I am reliably assured are authentic relics from early Victorian spaceships before the programme was abandoned owing to the costs of the Crimean adventure.  My museum…”  Oh jeez, poor loon!  He’s even enclosed a photograph, though why there’s a diver’s helmet … Oh I see.  Someone must have told him it was from a spacesuit.  Back in the bin for that.  Him as well would be a good idea.  Wow, this next one has a sticker on the envelope, ‘Fiends of Latvian literature’.  Don’t think I’ll risk opening that one.  Oh, let’s ditch the rest of the letters.  Weren’t we going to add some intelligent comments on what the top brass have been distributing?

Jeremy: Actually, the only thing I’d add is that the Chinese sending their millions on trips abroad to keep them out of political business is a pain in the backside to the rest of us.  Try and get a gondola ride in Venice, and they’re all booked up for the next six hours by Chinese tour groups, even the Huns can’t get in.  Can’t get a decent photograph of a friend standing under the Eiffel tower because of dense crowds of elderly chin-high Chinese milling around in the way or squinting through their glasses at your camera and then shuffling off giggling.

Simon: Too right.  Except the ones laughing at your camera will be Japanese.  But didn’t you want to say something of your own about the royal tits?  Sounds like a flying version of the royal corgis, doesn’t it?

Jeremy: Ah, the holiday snaps of la belle duchesse!  Except I don’t think marrying into the family makes you personally royal, does it?  I suppose if you had a complete blood transfusion from one of them, maybe that would count.  Do they ever give blood?

Simon: I doubt it, because if they did somebody by now would certainly have stolen some and put it on eBay.

Jeremy: That’s no proof because you could put a test tube up for sale and just say ‘believed to be genuinely royal’, like a coach saying ‘we all believe this great athlete is dope-free’; and if you were American you’d probably put blue dye in the test tube to really convince the punters.  I expect people do it all the time, but MI6 probably have an ultra-efficient cyberguillotine which cuts the advert into tiny electrons before it ever sets foot in cyberspace.

Sinon: You’re trying to change the subject.  Jealous?

Jeremy: I don’t know what you could possibly be referring to.  But to be serious, I really can’t see what the fuss is about.  I mean, nobody has done anything, all that’s happened is that now we all have evidence she’s a thoroughly normal woman, which is what the masses all assume and want anyway.  Was anybody suspecting she was hiding something else inside the clothing, a couple of cornish pasties for a quick snack or something?  If the photos showed that she didn’t have normal female equipment in there, then there might have been a reason for trying to suppress the pictures.  It’s not as if they’re a rare female feature.  All normal woman are born to be like that if they grow up – lucky them.

Simon: Meaning, Jeremy?

Jeremy: After all, very few statues of female human beauty try to pretend they’re not there.  Now, I don’t want to talk about that any more, if you don’t mind.  Isn’t it time we went upstairs to throw the whalemeat down to the dog?

Simon: Oh jeez, I forgot!  He didn’t get any this morning because I couldn’t get the window open, and I meant to go back and oil the lock, but when I came down there was that story on the television about scientists working on viruses to attack specific occupations, especially politicians.  Remember?  They reckon 85% of politicians have particular patterns in their DNA which are rare in the normal population and that it should be possible to redesign viruses so they will attack just that group.

Jeremy: Those Tea Party scientists you mean?  Said they really know a way to cut the size of government?

Simon: Tea Party?

Jeremy: Yes.  But what you saw was just the intro.  Then you went out to get the croissants and the olives.  Those weren’t real scientists, they were just actors, acting out the dreams of some of the more enthusiastic supporters of the Tea Party.  Actually, it sounded like cutting the size of government is just a side issue with that lot.  Near the end, they brought on this old chap, looked as if he’d walked straight out of one of those films about plantation-owners before the Civil War, and he seemed to sum it all up rather simply: ‘What we want is freedom.  I don’t want Washington taking any of my money to share round causes other than me, and I want Washington to scrap every one of those damn rules that are stopping me doing what I want’.

Simon: Surprise me some more.  Anyway, haven’t we got enough now?

Jeremy:I reckon that’ll do.  But didn’t you want to do a challenge of the month or something?

Simon: Oh fetid kidneys.  I forgot that.  But I’ve got one ready, just let me find it.  Right!  Mr Ryan, vice-presidential candidate, claimed on radio this August that his best time for the marathon was ‘two hours and fifty-something’.  But it turns out he has only run a marathon once, an event called ‘Grandma’s Marathon’ in 1990, and at the time he finished in four hours, one minute, and a bit.  So the challenge is: if we assume that this amazing improvement, over twenty-one years, could be matched by the world’s top marathon runners, starting from now (two hours, three minutes and thirty-eight seconds) what is the earliest year in which it will be possible to report that some runner somewhere must have finished the race before he started?

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honor honestique floreant

Conspiracies

1) Manos and velcro   2) broadcasting as insult  3) tourism as narcotic           Next fully scheduled distribution 30-9-2012

Manos is currently on special leave. One of his friends was caressing his beard and remarked that it was like velcro; she whimsically added that this made it harder for her to leave him.  Manos is now in London where he believes he will persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to arrange for printing of banknotes with a strip of velcro at one end, to make success harder for pickpockets and to reduce loss when a note slips out accidentally.  (Hence this distribution on 15th, as earlier announced.)

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Our Editor writes

Returning to Europe four years ago from my stint on Crozet Island, minus one toe of my left foot and two from the right (frostbite and penguins), I was immediately struck by the giant stride made by public broadcasters lurching down into a swamp of mediocrity and irrelevance.  After Crozet, I could tolerate the camera’s invariable selection of the prettiest in a crowd of terror-stricken refugees or starving victims of drought, but all those other quirks, earlier merely half-noticed irritations, had seemingly turned into obligatory blemishes – the reporter giving tedious details of some utterly predictable communiqué while advancing pointlessly on the camera, or treading the curve of a semicircle to show a backdrop of undistinguished landscape presumably considered more interesting than anything she had to say (which may well be true, but calls into question the value of the clip altogether); the unnatural hand gestures and head movements intended to show the reporter is alive and not a well made-up dummy; the ‘interactions’ of a pair of presenters each required to express surprise at the other’s news items (although they have of course both seen the script already, as we all know).  The main surprise in any case is how trivial and inane reports can be and still make up a news broadcast; ‘The Duke of Cambridge is to give a lecture on the illegal trade in rhino horn’ – a recent BBC headline. Then there is the interchange of jokey remarks, as witless as those offered by RBS in information on children’s accounts.  There is the ever-annoying ‘easy-listening’ muzak – encountered on programmes as diverse and in as little need of muzak as the making of lenses, work as a retail butcher, and the political situation in North Korea; one extraordinary use was for a programme with two experts talking about monetary policy, to the backing of not mere instrumental noise, but a song about money, repeated in fragments throughout their discussion, and loud enough to drown out the spoken words.  Perhaps the idea is that offering something, no matter how inane, for the auditory sense may help fill any deficit in informational content – muzak to support newzak, in other words.  Most infuriating of all are the remarks made, presumably as recommended during some benighted and forlorn master’s degree on broadcasting, which are supposed to induce a ‘friendly, casual’ atmosphere.  ‘It’s great to have you with us’ , ‘Good to have you back’, and most idiotic of all ‘Good to see you again’ (AlJazeera, and ABC, from whom one might have hoped for better).  Audiences hugely resent the implication that we are so woolly-minded as to be taken in by this claptrap.  The makers of programmes may think their audience is stupid but when we descend to remarks by presenters such as the one last cited the need to prove intelligence clearly falls not on the audience but on the programme makers and channel owners.

            The overall effect of all this rubbish must be to drive television watchers away from their sofas.  We may reasonably suspect that this is deliberately intended since virtually every channel now gives frequent reminders that ‘all this and more’ is available on a corresponding website.  The natural question is why there should be such an intention.  The answer given, usually after local microphones have been switched off, is ‘to save costs’.  And it is certainly true that the same newzak and alleged entertainment could be transmitted far more cheaply (to anyone still willing to receive it) over the internet.  This has serious implications, first for those engaged in public broadcasting [if you are a presenter you are invited to review the third item in the 5th June distribution]and second for members of the audience, who, whatever precautions they take, will find themselves bombarded with persistent intrusive requests to buy or hire or support this or that gew-gaw or worthy or dishonest cause that they happen to have touched on, be it never so tangentially, and left on screen for a couple of minutes while they went to make a cup of tea.  But taking other matters into account I now incline to suspect another purpose, and sympathise with the view of the editorial received by co-incidence from Luddites Gazette this week and which follows directly below.  The same mish-mash of newzak and alleged entertainment, along with the social networks, will serve most excellently to absorb the time and interests of populations (I do not speak of their energy because long hours slumped before their screens will leave that an uncertain factor) to the great advantage of the régimes that control them.

            But whatever intentions lurk in the shadows as public broadcasting withers away, actual results may be different in at least two important ways.  First, in recent evidence to the British Parliament the Citizens Advice group pointed out that 8.5 million had never connected to the internet, and 14.5 million had virtually no relevant skills.  There is not only a widening gap between wealth and poverty in western nations; there is also a gulf  between those who can and cannot use the internet and this will increasingly be a cause of social troubles.  Second, it is not only governments and publicly known companies that will spy on what is received on the internet.  Hacking thrives on behalf of criminals and  unknowably many groups of uncertain identity.  The consequences are quite unpredictable but there is no reason to suppose they will be trivial.

            How serious will these two issues be?  Time will tell.

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Editorial

Thoughtful students of history generally agree that, all other things equal, a régime has a better chance of long-term survival if it finds ways to charm its subject population into quiescent docility, rather than attempting totalitarian tyranny, or total democracy (actually, a theoretical option only), or a programme of foreign conquest.  Among the diverse means deployed to preserve the pseudo-democratic systems of the west and elsewhere, one of the most widely adopted has been the diversion into tourism of energies and resources that might otherwise have found troublesome political outlets.  (One mark of the mature judgment of the present Chinese establishment is the vigorous encouragement offered to their middle class to undertake foreign travel.)  In ancient times a régime would provide circuses to distract the people; today the people themselves are travelling circuses, but the political result is the same. There is, however, a curious aspect to this.  In nearly all cases – it has been claimed Japan is an exception – subject populations appear to believe that going on holiday is enjoyable.  The belief is so solidly fixed that it is even held by those who are themselves on holiday.

            It is hard to say how far the spread of this error has been conspiratorially organised by those who benefit from tourism.  But in any case it is manifestly fallacious, for northern Europe at least.  If we pick out one common characteristic in holidays taken by inhabitants of those parts, it will be the determination to undergo experiences for which they are not suited.  The airport itself, den of authoritarian bureaucracy and preposterously priced comestibles, is so notorious a cause of stress that no more need be said, except that there is another version at the recipient end.  But what do the tourists then do?  Those emerging from rainswept cloud-covered springs at once toss their pale bodies on to tropic sand to lie for hours under a blazing sun.  (The Turkish Beys, who understood the effect of the climate much better, used to peg out misguided upholders of legitimate rights naked on the sands as a rather severe punishment.)  A librarian whose most perilous ascent in the rest of the year is filing books belonging to the top shelf goes rock climbing in the Dolomites.  The pathologically shy sign up for encounter groups in California or Cambodia  Men with the sexual charisma of abandoned potato peelings flock with SSSS Tours (the advertisements mean you to guess) to Camp Wink Wink in West Africa where they will nightly be scorned by all women in the party who will favour instead the French students who are the Camp’s staff in the holiday season.  Stomachs that feel well attuned to a regular diet of pizza and chips and similar are rightly outraged on being asked to deal with exotic and powerful spices.  Adolescent brains that at other times face no higher challenge than memorising the `lyric’ of their favourite chart hit are first overdosed on alcohol and then expected to negotiate with strange and evilly intentioned taxidrivers, in a foreign language.

Why do so many spend their free time attempting exactly the sort of thing for which they are conspicuously unfitted?  For the unhappy individual the endeavour simply exemplifies a double triumph, of poor judgment over common sense and of advertising over truth.  But this is no concern of the country to which the individual belongs.  True, there is no advantage to a nation’s stability nor its finances if an odyssean returns with a broken leg, dented machismo, a prison record, a collection of disgusting parasites, or worse.  Yet there are undeniably mechanisms by which a government can unobtrusively foster interest in tourism, and undeniable benefits to be derived.  Most of its subjects who visit other countries will consider them disagreeably foreign in behaviour, laws, language and cuisine, except for short visits, and on returning will be glad to appreciate their domicile imperfect though it doubtless is, and content to conform to its demands.  Moreover as already noted, a very great deal of their capacity, such as it is, for planning and energetic action will have been safely drawn off for the year.  Who are we to guess whether our rulers feel a satisfactory balance has been struck?

            There is of course, though, the entirely different theory which holds that an urge to suffer on holiday reflects a real element in human psychology closely linked to ancient post-pubertal rites of passage; deeply buried in modern times, it continues in this last faint trace subconsciously handed down in the form of traditional remarks and folk beliefs.  (For more, see Bentinck, Verrier, et al.)

(Luddites Gazette)

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honor honestique floreant

Unwatered terebinths

(1)  quota-feminism  (2) the bug-splatt policy  (3) automated not-answering  (4) notes      *Please note that the date of the next  scheduled distribution has been rearranged for 15th September

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Simple Simon came into the office yesterday, looking worried.  He said he was in need of some indoctrination because he did not yet understand one of the entries in the forthcoming Dictionary of Political Blunders (Harp press, Chiangmai):

quota-feminist. Supporter of a proposition that a proportion of places in some body – e.g. a     government or a committee (usually socialist or social-democrat)  – should be reserved for women.

Editor:     The idea, laddie,  is to have more equality of representation.  Females make up about half the population you know, so people think they should have a chance to put their distinct point of view.

S.S:             Will there be a ‘quota’ for smokers, or the left-handed, so that they can put their points of view?

Editor:     No, they just count as part of the general population.  You have to help women because they are at a disadvantage, handicapped by their gender as it were.

S.S:              So will there be a quota for fat people?  They‘re handicapped by their weight.  It says on the news that one in four of us is obese.  This morning there was this enormous man trying to get on the bus…

Editor:     All right, all right, you’ve already told me why you were late.  To be honest, a lot of people don’t have much sympathy for the obese – tend to suspect it’s their own fault.  Different from the case of the women.  They just can’t help it.  Anyway, the point is that committees and groups tend to be in the hands of men, and men tend to co-operate, go in for joint action for mutual benefit, that sort of thing.

S.S:              What’s wrong with that?

Editor:      It’s unfair to women, leaves them at a disadvantage.  At least, the story is that the men in groups won’t help the women.

S.S:              That’s strange.  I thought men mostly like women.  But anyway will there be a quota for your friend Eddy and all those other people who lost legs or arms or eyes in Afghanistan?  They’re handicapped right enough, and they’ve got their own point of view, and people will certainly want to help them.

Editor:      They didn’t exactly ‘lose’ them, but if you want to ask questions about that you’d better put them to Mr Blair.  Actually I’d quite like your idea there, but it won’t happen because there aren’t enough of them; they don’t add up to a sizeable enough group to get recognition.

S.S:               So if you’re a group that has a distinct point of view and handicapped some way and people are willing to be sympathetic to you, and you’re a large group, then you get a quota, but otherwise not.  Have I got it right?

Editor:      Nearly.  But you have to be women too.  Otherwise, you’d be getting quotas for the blind, the deaf, the elderly, cyclists, inhabitants of Wales, and who knows what else.  Now, I haven’t got all morning, out you go, and tell Samantha to have my coffee in here at 10.30 sharp!

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Opinion: a physiotherapist  writes:

Perhaps I may suggest an answer to the question you raised in your issue of 28 May (privately circulated).  You asked if anyone could cast light on the mysterious freedom of Joseph Kony, which continues even though the United States had sent in troops to find him as early as the autumn of 2011.  It may be that some do not realise the sophistication of the modern surveillance and detection technology available to United States forces.  They can for instance identify an individual suspected opponent in Afghanistan, and watch as he travels through the mountains on his way to, for example, a party in a house, where it is apparently possible to identify all others present as unlawful combattants, which can then result in a pin-point attack from drone aircraft reducing the house and those within it to what they reportedly describe as a ‘bug-splatt’.  (This approach is so self-evidently contrary to the long-term interests of America that one wonders why it still goes on; dispose of one militant leader – illegally, by the way, which would worry some people – and two or three years later you will have half a dozen in his place, while a couple of hundred more or less neutral politicians in the third world will have found the geopolitical sympathy of the population which they need for support has shifted several points away from the United States.)  However, Kony remains at large, and the United States Congress was already so surprised by this puzzling lack of success that in May it resolved to contribute a further $50m to the mission of their forces stationed there, who are reportedly having to keep in trim by training the Ugandan army.  My suggestion is that the long delay in accomplishing the announced purpose of the mission results precisely from a realisation by the high military command of the severe negative effects in the longer term for American national interests of the bug-splatt policy. It is well known that Kony is likely to be accompanied by a number of young and very unwilling slaves captured in raids on villages or schools.  Perhaps it has now been realised that the deaths and injuries among these that would result from a drone attack would have a disastrous effect on longer term developments in Africa far outweighing the immediate praise that might be received.

from Luddites Gazette

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from Readers’ Letters:

Madam,

May I enter your esteemed columns with a practical suggestion?  We all know that the automated answering systems for receiving telephone calls from customers unable to deal with the gibberish and inconsistencies of company and government websites are constantly upgraded to improve the way that customers may communicate with them.  (As most realise too, this refers to improvement from the point of view of the organisation, by making it harder for customers to reach members of staff and take up their time with awkward questions or embarrassing complaints.)  Typically an answering system begins with a three minute account of the firm or department’s successes, and a threat to record the call (so that any obscene insults you direct at them can be held as evidence or, in interesting cases, potential blackmail material), after which one reaches point α.  Here one is offered a list of up to nine numbers none of which precisely covers the issue you wish to communicate about; however, this does not matter a great deal since whichever number you press will normally result in reaching a new point β with just the same characteristics as α; which in turn leads on to γ and even other such points beyond. Some systems do, however, eventually give a number which claims to offer speech ‘with one of our operators’ (all of whom are ‘currently engaged’), meanwhile attempting to dissuade enquirers by a suitable choice of repellent muzak.

None of us would expect a modern dynamic company to be honest enough to inform callers that there is in the call centre only one operator, whose most important current engagement is to the management trainee currently holding her hand during an extended lunch break.  But there is one way in which the company could more simply achieve its object without any increase of inconvenience to its own practices.  A small number of firms from the ‘ethical’ fringe route incoming calls to customer services through a line which assesses the number of calls waiting; then the assurances to callers which regularly cut in to claim ‘you will be connected as soon as one of our operators is available’ are modified to give information about the number of calls on hold.  All that my little adaptation needs is one more tiny step of imagination – there is absolutely no reason why the number should be correct!  ‘Eighty-seven calls are at present in the queue’ should be enough to get rid of all except the wealthiest or the very occasional small child or pet monkey who has got through to the company entirely by chance.  (The exact number can of course be changed from day to day to give plausible variety.)  And if by chance any callers showed troublesome signs of still intending to remain connected, the next message could offer ‘entertainment while you are waiting’ – perhaps a choice between a round-up of the week’s celebrity gossip or sports news or an adult chat line? – which, once begun, gives the caller no exit option, except to hang up.

If my little suggestion can help to reduce company stress I shall be only too delighted!

Yours sincerely,

Ginevra Grimsdyke (Ms)

Director, Fancy Bread, Stratford

from Luddites Gazette

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Anouncement: We are pleased to report that we have received the first application for the post of Poetaster in residence in the Cold Salad office.  We append here part of the submission by Mr Algernon Barbarossa, of  Blanquefort in France, which purely for reasons of space and public morality we have abridged by 98%, to give just the opening and closing lines of his remarkable effort.  (He specifies that it is to be read aloud with a Czech accent and in the original adds musical notation which for technical reasons we are unable to reproduce here, although we can add that the last three lines are marked crescendo fortissimo.)

Bring down the trumpets

As clustered quinces

lie silent under canvas

and musky vagrants evade

an aunt’s despair,

to crawl, squeamish, athwart

the butter-spangled victims

of the argonautic ague….

Seize the chariot!  Whet the leaden

quarts of callisthenic wit!

Bring the trumpets down!

Well done, Algernon!  Isabelita is now hoping to receive many fine submissions from other applicants (whom we remind of the request to submit the samples of work on a clean piece of paper.)

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altruism: the virtue claimed by someone who has been helping someone else when the advantage to the helper is not immediately obvious to bystanders.                               from Esmond Maguire: a pot-pourri (2009)

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honor honestique floreant