The old order passeth, or perhaps not
(Clearing out the office is proceeding like a tortoise on sedatives as we find not only items which could be useful evidence for profitable blackmail, were we to follow the suggestions our former editor made in a call to us from his travel agency (‘Special rates for refugees’) in Bratislava, but all manner of documents and scraps, some interesting, some simply baffling. This, for example, was part of a handwritten letter lacking both earlier and later pages)
Where you may well be wrong, my old friend, is first in assuming that bureaucracy needs literacy, and second in not taking account of the continuity in human societies, irrespective of changes of régime and even revolutions of independence. Look at the confections consumed with such avidity by the Greeks; don’t say it in front of them, but these were all introduced to them by the Turks. It is simply unfair to blame poor patient Ivan for a racial addiction to bureaucracy, which after all prevails with equal vigour in Romania. Have you forgotten that the whole region up to the Danube was long ruled by emperors in Byzantium, legendary home of bureaucracy, while their influence plainly extended wider still? Do you find it so difficult to picture a mediaeval peasant having to stand before an agent of his headman, reporting, as he is obliged to do, his harvest for the year, not later than the autumn equinox, knowing that failure to give a full account, before two witnesses of sound hearing, would lead him straight to the stocks; or obsequiously presenting the skins required, in triplicate, as the fee for a licence, in the shape of a curiously carved stick, entitling him to hunt the pine martens which actually swarm in great numbers in his part of the swamp, and agreeing that loss of the stick will result in a penalty of fifteen strokes of the knout or a fine not exceeding two goats?
Manos is in gaol again, for suspected espionage this time, but we are confident the Doc can get him out I think he intends to plead an all too plausible combination of drunkenness and pathological naivete. Actually Manos insists indignantly that naivete had nothing to do with it. He had sent to Chatham House, USI, Jane’s, and other relevant organisations asking if they held any lists ranking nations for the inefficiency of their military forces – average figures for collateral damage per sortie, number per annum of own forces killed by friendly fire, number of wedding parties hit, percentage of own military hardware now in enemy hands, and so on, but he had sent all the enquiries on postcards, scrawled in his own execrable hand. He said this was quite deliberate, since, he argues, ill-intentioned observers would be busy observing all the usual hi-tech channels of communication and would no more check postcards than watch for pigeons filing suspect flight plans. (Wasn’t it Chesterton who said the best way to hide something was to put it in plain view in a public place?)