Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: December, 2015

Year-end clear-out

A reasonably successful Christmas dinner, even though neither Isabelita nor Featherstonehaugh-Cheems were able to be with us. We sent them well-chosen e-insults for not turning up. Louise very kindly supervised the washing up afterwards (done by the rest of us). Karela kindly collected all the bits of paper that came out of the crackers Manos had procured (some printed, badly, but most handwritten, in various hands and on various types and sizes of paper, stained in assorted colours; several of them also with a most curious odour); the messages were these:

Linguistic corner no.46. A politician of conviction is one who does not change his mind even when confronted with overwhelming contrary evidence.


How odd that just when social progress is demanding ‘quotas for women’, people (often the very same people) want the suppression of the compulsory female quota in marriage.


One way that they have kept down the figures of civilians killed by drones is by ruling that any adult in a drone-hit area counts as an insurgent. They seem to be missing a trick. They could get the figures down further by ruling that any child over the age of six has been recruited as a child soldier.


Military communique of the year : ‘We categorically reject the claims that 35 pupils were killed by our forces’ fire. Aerial photographs after the incident showed no signs of any bodies in the school yard. But we shall continue to gather all possible information about the incident as long as it takes until we can prove that all the victims were killed by the insurgents.’


Given that firms can increase profits hugely by skilful jiggery-pokery with the tax rules of this or that country, one wonders if it would be possible to achieve profits like that by not engaging in any actual activity at all, and purely by manipulation of the tax rules, and how many of them are doing that right now?


‘from the Rotary Club dinner’

Answering a question about the desire of the pirate princess to marry him, the speaker said ‘If I’d known then what I know now, then I probably would not be alive to know it.’


Some pundits are trumpeting that the internet has brought the era of ‘zero-middleman’ commerce as if this is the next arriving stage in economic development, but maybe it is going to be elbowed out of the way by robots, computers, and ‘zero-workforce’ commerce.


A Chinese company has issued a press release claiming that it has built the world’s largest 3-d printer and as a demonstration it will shortly have completed an exact copy of the cave at Lascaux, to be situated in the province of Sze Chuan.


The twin jaws of totalitarianism are intrusion into private life and government control; have we realised that they’re closing round us already?


Is there any hope that scientists in genetic engineering could develop a technique which would weed out people with a tendency to eat crisps during concerts of classical music?


If a presumption of assent to organ donation is established would anyone care to offer a guess on the result if someone manages to combine it with the legal principle of compulsory purchase (or eminent domain)?


The Oireachtas in Dublin has unanimously condemned a proposal from the EU that the Irish should give up their traditional pastime of lying for amusement, and switch to the average globalised lying practices generally adopted elsewhere, and with particular vigour in western regions.


(This one handwritten on a sheet of A5 and headed ‘please stop that Nic!!)

As the pandemic of doping in sport is gradually revealed to those who hadn’t realised it had been going on for years, it has been pointed out that the cleanest area appears to have been the Paralympics. It has been suggested that if sport is not going to be largely abandoned (in favour of knitting or amateur air-sea rescue, or whatever next takes the fancy of the masses) it should build as hard as it can on what is so far untainted, and to this end should establish also a series of Psycholympics every four years, open to athletes disadvantaged by their character. (Those imprisoned might be given special temporary release to take part and this might help them to align their behaviour with normal patterns.) It is anticipated, though, that particular care might be needed to avert unwanted public nudity, while those unable to control anger would not be allowed to compete in the hammer or javelin, and extra referees would be needed in the marathon and the 50 km walk to check that competitors were not thumbing lifts or taking short cuts.


Linguistic corner no.382. A palindrone is a remotely (un)controlled aerial vehicle that bombs the place from which it is launched


The Organisation for Recording the Bombing of Hospitals acknowledges the accession in 2015 of Ukraine and Saudi Arabia


To raise yet more money supporting the vital financial sector, the government (‘Which government?’ Don’t fret, it doesn’t matter; they are all going to do it) is going to privatise private names and set up a non-profit organisation which will control the administration of the future system. Individuals will have to bid for the names that they want to use; a tendering system will be used at least initially, though auction may be introduced at a later date. It is not clear whether under current plans individuals who already have a name will be compelled to submit bids if they wish to retain it.







Solving seasonal problems

We have received this cybermail from the Mad Doc, who is at present in Thailand, one of the four places he stays at for three months each year so that he is tax-resident nowhere

There are some six or eight services which any self-respecting country provides to all its inhabitants at cost price or less as a natural feature of civilised living, and the mail is one of them. We have now arrived at the time of year when shareholders in privatised postal companies slap one another on the back and have a good laugh about the forthcoming surge in profits from the use of their outrageously expensive activities, as the diminished number who still remember how to write with a pen greet their distant friends by sending them a well-designed card. This is a song of wrath about cards.

            I have observed before [Australian State Papers, series Biii: cdn Q 2004: p.414b] that the stories about Chiangmai being a city of buddhist tradition should be found on the ‘fiction’ shelves in the library (if there are any libraries left – I hear this is becoming a serious issue in many formerly developed countries), while the claims of its being a desirable tourist destination are probably actionable under law. Its correct classification is as a consumerist dystopia, and I am not pleased to say that its consumerism tends to the lowest common denominator.

            In this matter of cards, I went first to the nearest large conglomeration of business (there being no artistic quarter here). Two small stores which apparently saw themselves as bookshops on the basis of selling newspapers, computer manuals, coloured pencils, coloured string and miniature teddy bears had each a tiny selection of cards, from which the most attractive could instantly be rejected on aesthetic grounds. So, after spending ten minutes in a traffic jam merely to get out of the parking area at what is implausibly described as a ‘quiet’ time of day (guesses at the atmospheric pollution level there later in the day could appal) I drove to the nearest of the city’s shopping megamalls. Most of its parts could make American trailer park denizens feel amazed that there are people with such bad taste when they have so much money, but it had one smallish section obviously aiming with care at the overstuffed tourist wallet. There it had in the past been possible to find acceptable cards. There were in fact some good photographs, but they were not what I needed. There were indeed items that fitted under the heading of cards. Some paid a pallid and unattractive tribute to Thai artistic tradition, the charm of which escapes me and probably a large number of those interested in visual art around the world. The range from which one might have chosen was anyway quite small once one had excluded those which incorporated the belief that tourists are obsessed with elephants; this mistaken attempt to produce a transfer of touristic dollars did not start yesterday. My father was already describing it as a delusion, which he found in widely separated parts of Asia, in the 1930s. The remainder showed someone had clearly acquired the knack of producing coloured pen and ink drawings of ‘ethnic’ and ‘traditional’ scenes so beloved by visitors from distant lands, who can somehow overlook the fact that the buildings all around them in their holiday destination are glass and concrete cuboids. Also the artists had regrettably gone on to embellish the traditional folksiness by printing the pictures on folksy materials such as cork, or paper made with elephant droppings (not a tactile pleasure) or sticking on bits of metal or wood to conform with the non-existent local tradition of collage. Net haul of cards from the day’s expedition: zero.

            Yesterday, I thought there could be more prospect of success in the University where the bookshop used to sell some rather fine cards. I did arrive at the University, outwitting the traffic chaos by riding a bicycle even though a fault with the chain on the bike made it lose traction for a second or two every few dozen metres, a circumstance highly disrecommended at Thai road intersections; (in fact cycling in Thai traffic is widely regarded as a symptom of insanity including by the World Health Organisation which has just awarded Thailand second place in the world league table for danger on the roads, and they probably tested the system with a whole and willing bicycle). That bookshop was useless, since it had been wiped from the face of the University – not enough potential customers who can read, presumably. (One survey not very long ago reckoned that in Thailand the average amount per year of time spent by adults in reading for enjoyment was between eight and nine minutes.) So I then set off towards a second megamall. In the one outlet which seemed to offer some prospect, in one corner I found a small selection of cards, none of which portrayed elephants, and most of which were actually quite good – on condition that they were to be sent to someone who reads Hungarian and is happy to receive charity cards sold at a rather steep price to raise funds for the Jobbik party. Total expenditure of cycling effort (not including production of fear hormones): 1¾-2 hours. Total number of cards successfully acquired: zero. In the afternoon I fell asleep in the hotel lobby, and was pickpocketed.

            So no cards for you all, but just this to wish all at the office a splendid New Year party, yes even you Manos, and please pass on the same to Isabelita.

Dr Malory Philipp von Hollenberg


Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems our bureaucratic correspondent has an excellent proposal which we feel deserves serious consideration:

It is said that the frontiers of the EU need to be guarded and this is difficult. Why should they be guarded? Against what or whom? No sane person seriously believes that Russia is proposing to invade the EU and indeed the whole trend of her activities since 1990 has been in quite the opposite direction. But leaving all that on one side, if the frontiers are to be properly observed and regulated it would be easier if they were shorter. And an excellent way to make them shorter would be to throw out all the countries east of the Czech Republic, in other words Poland, Slovakia and Hungary (and Poland, in case there might be any doubt on that), out of the EU – and of course Greece with them, thus killing a good many birds with one stone.


inspiration of the week : How much more evidence is needed to prove that Turkey, magnificent country though it is, should not join the EU? How much more evidence is needed to convince Brussels that the EU should not even fantasise about further expansion, other than moving to take proper control, by armed force if necessary, of the Luxemburg fiscal system, and the French economy.

           But perhaps a satisfactory answer to the Turkish question, inspired by what the EU has already accepted without a qualm in Cyprus, is to negotiate to admit, gladly but only, that small fragment of Turkey in the far northwest of the country which actually is in Europe.


Keeping your word, keeping our words



Monty Skew our political correspondent writes

If ever you need evidence of the calibre of those who claim to govern the world look no further than the riot of self-congratulation that concluded the COP21 jamboree in Paris. Unless I am doing them an injustice. Perhaps it was not the delegates’ mental calibre causing the pigs overhead to loop the loop (I saw them myself) in sheer astonishment at the shouts of triumph greeting the news there had been agreement on the measures the nations of the world will take in order to stop London, New York, Bangladesh, and half the island states on the planet disappearing under the waves some time soon after next week.   Perhaps it was industrial strength ignorance of what happens to international agreements to undertake common action.

            Did you notice  for instance that Cameron’s ‘offer’ to the EU for Britain to accept 20,000 refugees fleeing from death and torture in Syria was a postdated offer to start only after he has left office when a new prime minister (possibly called Teresa) can claim total lack of responsibility for the offer, which therefore no longer will have any validity? (This is called ‘forward planning’.)   There are brave organisations, conscientious enough to disbelieve the fantasies published after conferences where governments promise funds to save 35 million people from an allegedly natural disaster in some far away continent of which the conference participants know little except the beach resorts, who track how much money actually arrives by comparison with the burgeoning promises that justified the splendid dinners when the conferences ended. The percentage is less than 100%. In fact much less. Of course it varies, and different groups make different estimates, but something like 10% may not be too far off the average. And of course, it nearly always comes with strings (the money must be spent on projects run by companies from the contributing nation, or it will actually turn out to be a loan, interest-bearing of course, or it must come not as cash but in the form of physical ‘assets’ such as out-of-date warships for which the contributing nation has no further use.)

            So the wild jubilation in Paris was joy distastefully unconfined at success in producing a page or two of text, and agreeing to approve it. Even that took two weeks. Can’t have been difficult though. If you stick a thousand or two delegates in some good-class hotels in Paris and tell them it is their duty to reach agreement on a few pages within two weeks, I reckon many of us could fix that, if given the funds which governments generously contribute for such uplifting purposes

            The question is not what programme did they draw up on those pages. The question is what parts of that programme, if any, will be put into action. There is a massive body of empirical evidence showing how well programmes agreed by governments with other governments get implemented. Not well at all. As a random example, France, the host nation, solemnly agreed as a member of the EU some years ago to run a budget deficit of no more 3% per annum to guard against the risk of economic disaster. France has shamelessly exceeded that figure every single year since.

            You may want to take your chance on global warming really slowing. On the other hand, why not buy some camping gear for your family and an open-date ticket to New Zealand?


There was another spot of unpleasantness with Manos about his report on the senility of the English language, quite apart from the fact that it included too many irrelevant idiosyncratic views of his own. When he came in he was already drunk and his criticisms of the English, and in fact of most other peoples of Europe except the Greeks, inside the office and in the street outside were so violent that we had complaints from all the other offices in the street. (It was, though, the only time I have so far seen Louise smile.) However, he’s a good lad at heart, and we had promised to put in at least a bowdlerised version of his stuff, so we calmed him down with Karela’s reserve bottle of slivovitz, and here is the second part, cut down now to ultra-short form and edited with a light touch (ie making almost no changes to the way it came in) by myself

Why English is becoming a dead language: part 2

Loss of vocabulary See it for yourselves! When did you last come across any of the following? Have you ever seen any of them on a screen? Exiguous; ineluctable; fuliginous; countervail; morganatic; ruddle; weft; obnubilation; pleach; imbrue; clerisy; philippic?

Loss of useful distinctions: refute (vs repudiate); celibate (vs chaste); aggravate (vs irritate); soon (vs ‘no’); evidence (vs proof); everyone (vs some of us); truth (vs my personal opinion / what it said in the Daily Telegraph)

Loss of phrases from other languages: tha’s mony a mickle maks a muckle; quod erat demonstrandumdolce far niente;   sauve qui peut!; Deutschland ûber alles (each one of these is or was in its own country roughly equivalent to ‘that’s just the way things are’)

Loss of quotations: ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies’; ‘he holds him with his glittering eye’; ‘do you bite your thumb at us, sir?’; ‘much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young’; ‘He who can does. He who cannot, teaches’; ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’, and so on.

Loss of allusions: the Welsh wizard;   Clio;   Judge Jeffreys;   Cynthia Payne; Peterloo; Crichel Down; 7/7; Tien An Men; ermine; 2o C; Schengen; Enron; desiccated calculating machine; Libor; Ascot; Lesbos; lithium; omertà; 3/9/1939; Judy Garland; 6/8/1945; and so on and on in all directions

Byzantinism: person to person verbal interaction (= ‘conversation’); financial gratitude symbol (= ‘bribe’); intimate hospitality industry (you can work out the translation for yourselves); for vehicular access proceed to rear of building (= ‘you can drive in at the back’); to develop leaner faster growth models so that our business is scalable (gibberish, so the intended meaning was presumably ‘to make a bigger profit’)

Cliché:‘left-wing extremist’; ‘any time soon’; (climate change / deforestation / the war/whatever it may be..)..‘is spiralling out of control’; ‘wake up and smell the coffee’; ‘the National Health Service is the best in the world’; ‘we are a small nation and with the best will in the world’; ‘far be it from me to criticise, but…’; ‘we deeply regret what happened and wish to express our sympathy to…’; ‘it is time to draw a line under that and move on…’

Constructional chaos: examples in almost anything you hear or read, not only the Independent online and the Guardian, and journalism by those who went to school in America. Just one example: ignorance that as (in second place) = although or given that. ‘Placid as he is…’ = ‘Although he is placid…’ And ‘Thin as it is, it’ll just fit in’ = ‘Being thin, it’ll just fit in’

Absolutely nothing to do with comparison, so absolutely no need of an additional precedingas’.


Political definition of the weekResolving the Greek debt crisis means postponing the Greek debt crisis

Challenge of the week: Devise a term to describe the tactic of escaping blame for a first crime by committing a second worse one and name, if you dare, a country which goes in for this

Prediction of the week: When the Fed puts up interest rates, banks and bankers will become much richer; with rare exceptions of the well connected, everyone else will become poorer

Guess of the week: When that happens, economic commentators will describe it as ‘baffling’ and ‘unexpected’

People, flowers and truth

Another of these tiresome sessions with Simon, though fortunately Louise did not come in with him this time. I’ve got it all verbatim, because Karela had left her voice recorder on while she slipped out for a refreshing morning bottle or two in what she assures me is the slivovitz capital of the island.

Simon: Er, sorry, can I disturb you, Ed?

Self:  Without even trying, I’d say. But ask away.

Simon:  I was reading on this website and it said that the whole of a place called Kiribati is going to be under water at high tide within fourteen years. Does that mean it will be a failed state?

Self:  Hmm! I don’t think so. There’s no fighting going on there. But I don’t think it will count as a failed state. It just won’t be a state at all.

Simon:  Well, what is a failed state then?

Self:  Basically it’s a state where most of the country is out of the control of the central government, and if there’s any sort of law and order at all outside the capital, it’ll be run by warlords or local tribal groups or something like that, and the ordinary people are short of food or medical supplies, and so on.

Simon: Like Afghanistan, you mean?

Self: Well, no. Afghanistan is basically on the path to being a responsible democracy, with successful presidential elections. In fact the last election produced not one but two presidents. And order is being restored. It just has some localised problems in the south, and the north, and the areas bordering Pakistan, and some other areas.

Simon: So why is NATO – that’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – sending in 12,000 troops, marines I suppose?

Self:  I know perfectly well what NATO stands for, thank you very much. And why the hell do you suppose they would be marines? Anyway, those troops are not going to do any fighting. They’re going only to train the loyal Afghan forces, to fight the insurgents.

Simon: But the ones doing the insurging are all Afghans aren’t they? So if they’re all loyal too isn’t there a risk they’ll all insurge against the troops coming into their country who aren’t Afghan, just like the French resisted when the Germans…

Self:  That’s enough of that. Quite different situation. Anyway, you were asking what counts as a…

Simon: failed state. Yes, that was what I –

Self: No, shut up and listen. Yemen could be pretty close to that now. Their president was holed up in Saudi Arabia, because there was a huge rebellion of the Houthis. Blest if I could tell you what the exact differences are between the Houthis and whoever it was who was on the president’s side. Anyway he escaped to Saudi, last year I think it was. He’s only just gone back, and he’s still keeping well away from where the Houthis are, which includes the capital. He and the Saudis got up a coalition consisting mainly of Saudis and, er, other Saudis, to bomb Yemen to restore peace. Been going on a few months now. Quite unpleasant, hospital-bombing there too. United Nations reckon by now at least 80% of the population are in need or urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Simon:  So that really is a failed state?

Self:  Actually, I’m still not sure it is. You see it hasn’t been like that very long, and anyway the president is firmly pro-west and once he can get a government together he’ll be running things pro-west, just like the Saudis. So it won’t be a failed state.

Simon:  What about Iraq, then? Most of the country is not even nearly under government control, hundreds of people are being killed every month, and it’s been going on for more than ten years, and when the Americans announced they’re sending in Special Forces the government said ‘No way, we don’t want foreign troops in Iraq’.

Self:  No. There may be some short-term disagreements about the best way to fight the insurgents, but longer term Iraq is on the path to being a responsible democracy and order is being restored. That’s been the situation ever since Bush was president.

            If you wanted a copybook example of a failed state it always used to be Somalia, for a long time after the Somalis got fed up with Siad Barre. That was a really bad time with lots of fighting until an islamic organisation called the Courts took over. Then for a while things were apparently tickety-boo until the west realised these fellows were running things according to an agenda of their own. This got alarm bells ringing, and in fairly short order, the Ethiopian army – that’s a christian outfit, and Ethiopia may be pretty rough and ready but it knows which side its bread is buttered, so with a bit of help the Ethiopians were soon in there and threw them out. Didn’t last long, though. When the Ethiopians moved back out, somehow it all fell apart again with fighting and refugees and general chaos again like before, for several years. But the good news now is, with lots of help from the right quarters, they seem to have wised up at last, and the story is most of the insurgents have given up and moved to Kenya. The bad news is, just as we take Somalia off the list, it looks as if we have to put Libya on. And of course, there’s Syria there all the time.

Simon:  But there’s something I can’t help noticing. Is there any special sort of qualification for being a failed state? I mean, do you have to have once been part of the Ottoman empire? Or something else?

Self: That’s enough! You’ve wasted half my morning already. You can make up for it by going and fixing my morning coffee. Jump to it!


Quotation of the week: ‘Yet another wonderful development in the field of living technologies’. Announced by Dr Adamatzky, of the Unconventional Computing Lab at the University of the West of England, acclaiming the success of an experiment to use the structure of a natural plant as the framework on which to build a conducting circuit. A necessary preliminary to the process was cutting the stem, and thus killing the plant.


Query of the week: It was touching to see Obama placing flowers in homage in Paris.  Does anyone know if he has ever done that for the women and children killed in the drone attacks he has ordered?


Thought for the week:   When your government tells you that you are at war with some other state, or some movement, or idea, remember that in war, truth like many other commodities, is rationed so as to give the people just so much as is considered to be necessary for them – and good for the government.