(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]
¹ cf F.Ratzel Anthropogeographie Stuttgart 1891
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.’
¹ (or apparently ‘seize’ in the case where the electoral victor is Hamas)
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?
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.
honor honestique floreant