Parthian shots

by ammophila

1) Osama Bin Laden’s photograph   2) efficient communication   3) morphology and the islamic world          4) prediction            Future distributions, if any: see special announcement at the end

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The deputy editor writes: our editor left two weeks ago, asserting that the stress of business in this office forced him to book in for a week at what he decided to call a ‘meditation centre’.  It now seems he has extended his visit to Cebu, reasons unknown, but yesterday Andrew, an old friend of his since the days in Sun City (when Jim still had a full set of toes), dropped in to the office bringing this short piece together with a note from Jim insisting on it going into the next distribution, i.e. this one.   (I personally disclaim responsibility for allowing such a farrago of hypothesis onto our site):

‘That photo of Bin Laden, keeps turning up in the prints and online as well, but there are some very odd points about it.  First off, it was obviously not taken when a helicopter had just landed outside and heavily armed soldiers were crashing through the doorway.  But this was the only time when he was in that room in company with any of his opponents.  On the other hand, he was not in the habit of holding open house, so this snapshot could only have been taken by a friend or a servant, yet nobody who fell under those headings would have been trying to make him look feeble or despondent which pretty clearly was the intention of the photographer, who therefore would have had to be on the ‘other side’.  But as I’ve said none of those on that side were close enough to take such a photo, even supposing that he would sit quietly to let them take it.  That’s all supposing it really is Bin Laden anyway.  A view of an elderly Asian, heavily bundled up, three-quarters view from behind?!  As for the claim that the man in the photograph was watching a soap opera, how could we know since we’re not shown what he’s looking at.  How could anyone know, except trusted supporters, who wouldn’t be trying to take a photo showing him like a poverty-stricken elderly refugee with nothing better to do than sit on the floor watching television.  And if some of his friends had been taking photographs to make him look bad, do we say the execution squad was lucky to pick this one up, or unlucky that they couldn’t find a better one?

            When will guys realise that the more lies you put into a case, the weaker you make it?’

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Opinion piece (Julitta Pulversie)

Is this really the era of communication, with Flitter, Facetube, and Inked-up, all competing for a place in the frontal lobes of victims of screenfever (as well as hundreds of antisocial networks and a number of outright nasties, a.k.a. ‘governments’)?  It has to be admitted that the marvels of modern technology have dramatically changed possibilities: it is now possible to sit at one’s desk and with a single click send a message off to destinations all around the world so that not one, but many thousands, both private individuals and commercial companies, may all fail to answer it.  In other words we have to refine previous notions, and distinguish between old-fashioned communication which (along with correspondence) is a bilateral business, and on the other hand modern economical, time-saving, one-way communication.  Unofficial leaks from the headquarters of a  leading organisation guarding the security of electronic data transmission report that the percentage of unanswered communications has reached a new all-time high.  An initial message, known as the αcom (pronounced ‘alpha-com’), is counted as answered if a βcom, a reply, makes a return journey between the same two communication points within 72 hours.  On Thursday last the overall percentage of βcoms neasured against the αcoms fell to a new low of 8.1% – even when identifiable spam was excluded from the αcom total.  That is, about 11 out of every 12 non-spam messages sent was unanswered, thus providing the world’s information transmission system with enormous savings in time and money.

            There are no figures available for any exact comparison with thirty or forty years ago but research by the British Post Office (shortly to be converted into a retail chain specialising in stationery and office equipment, dropping the time-wasting transmission of personal mail though still open to logistics contracts for bulk delivery of advertising material) has suggested that personal correspondence back in those days was predominantly a two-way affair, even if a longer timespan had to be allowed for replies since transmission was in those days physical not electronic.  The estimate was that in the early 1980s about 11 letters out of 12 would be answered within two weeks.

            We need a new term for this more careful concept of messages hurtling through cyberspace like missiles ¹   on their way to points from which nothing will return.  ‘One-way communication’ is far too wordy.  Perhaps, bearing in mind the reputation, justified or not, of the famous triangle, we can call them ‘Bermudan messages’; and the activity of the optimists sitting at keyboards or prodding touch-screens to send them off in their millions will therefore be ‘Bermuding’.

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¹ Jeremy wishes to add a note that, according to his personal research, with some servers a more accurate phrase might be ‘faster than a fairly fit carrier pigeon’

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Linguistic corner (contributed by Svetlana Helgasdottir, docent in the Freie Universität Neasden)  The western news media are flushed and breathing hard with reports of islamists taking control of territories all over northern Africa.  Unless I am much mistaken this is a striking change from just a decade ago when those nations were known to have a moslem population (or in the case of very elderly journalists ‘a mohammedan people’).  The suffix ‘-ist’ has had a patchy career.  It was borrowed originally from the Greeks (who would probably like to claim it back or even better to have a large sum to cover unpaid fees for its use) but at first served simply to refer to someone regularly associated with an activity indicated by the first part of the word to which it was attached: harpist, pianist, artist, optimist, physicist.  Often there are groups of people who specialise in those activities, and so naturally ‘-ist’ was also used when the emphasis was on the group or some shared characteristic of the group rather than the activity itself: communist, socialist, impressionist, monarchist.  (This is language at work, not a mathematical system, so of course what we find are family resemblances among different uses of a suffix, no exact criteria.)   From this point it is not at all surprising that it became especially common with political groupings.  As geopolitics became more complex over the past two centuries the number of recognisable political groups increased, and their sheer number together with the fatal tribal impulse in human nature guaranteed most of them would be viewed with disfavour by any randomly selected citizen – ‘our side’ against the rest.  From the point of view of the European voting classes, colonies which wanted their freedom were full of nationalists.  The proletariats, who obediently thought as their country’s leaders instructed them, deplored the influence of marxists.  ‘Communist’ which started out as simply a designation for people subscribing to a particular social theory soon acquired this new nuance (and hasn’t it raced ahead on that route since!) 

            Given the way that history actually developed (egged on by a popular press and populist  politicians) it was entirely to be expected that the suffix would soon be used when with the implication not merely ‘on the other side, and disliked’ but ‘on the other side doing evil stuff’; thus the predominant use of anarchist, extremist, terrorist, and more recently fascist and Maoist (but let’s be kind and exclude dentist from this group)We now have a suffix with various nuances: on the other side, doing evil stuff, member of a group, attachment to a particular idea or theory, or a particular activity.  As already said this is not a mathematical system and one still finds the suffix where one or more of these ideas is not required; for instance, arsonists are not normally considered to gather together in groups.  (Also of course where a name for members of the other side was already well established there was no need to import the suffix;  Democrats continue to speak of Republicans, not Republicists, though perhaps both groups may feel that, as politicians, there is one ‘other side’ group they are are opposed to, namely the lobbyists?)  But where all those shades of meaning are felt to be present, ‘-ist’ is now definitely the favoured suffix.  There is now little danger of encountering anarcheers, extremians, or terrorites.

            So it is interesting to see the political groups in northern Africa who have a moslem allegiance referred to frequently as islamist in news reports, instead of the previously normal islamic or moslem, even when speaking of groups not engaging in violence.  Now whether the change was actually engineered by forces with axes to grind, or whether it has been promoted after appearing spontaneously is not the point.  What is a factor to be taken into account is the nuance usually carried along with the suffix.  It is then worth noticing that the islamic groups currently holding power in Egypt, put there by two successive free elections which each gave them around 65% of the vote are now widely referred to as an islamist government, while it is those opposed to them who have formed a clear majority of those rioting and throwing stones in Tahrir Square.

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prediction (after our note in the previous distribution about Leah Menshevik’s shrewd prediction, two readers have written in to comment that our own record is good enough to justify including a prediction with each distribution.  As stated in the announcement below, the journal may not be able to provide a regular feature on these lines.  Nevertheless here at least we can offer one, borrowed with permission from The Tale of Esmond Maguire pt 3 (§ 137):

            Oscar tells me that the way things are going in neurology, it will one day be possible to have elections that are truly and deeply democratic, where not merely are numbers counted, but strength of support is measured individually for each elector with respect to each candidate.  Of course, those same advances will make it unlikely that any régime, once in power, will ever find itself inclined to hold the elections.

honor hominesque honesti floreant

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announcement: The trouble with CENSOR (see earlier distributions) continues, even though we did no more than reprint items from Luddites Gazette (now indefinitely forbidden publication since they were unable to reach the appeals tribunal within the time limit set).  A final decision about our service is to be handed down on 1st April, and we have been given a temporary ban for the intervening period.  However, as often with authoritarian bodies, they have combined injustice with incompetence, and the ban was ordered for the whole of the month of March; they apparently thought this would include our next distribution scheduled for the first of that month.  So we are bringing the distribution forward by one day.  For prospects in the longer term check this site on 2nd April.

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