Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: July, 2016

Forward how, to what, and why?

The Editor writes:Note on posting dates: as I have acquired some new duties since my last despatch from here I have to cut the frequency of postings.  After this, postings will as far as possible be on 1st and 15th of the month

Anyway, back at last! I’d not expected ever again to find myself trading insults with the big boys (and women these days, I find) on ‘Centre Court’.  Not that I am allowed to reveal much here.  And if I did try anything unauthorised – maybe like this sentence I’m in right now – then I can be damned sure it’ll somehow fall over the edge of cyberspace before reaching any destination, which rather frees me up to write what I think, actually (which of course helps the cyberspace police patrol to find out what I really think.)   But that is exactly what I want to write about.  Admittedly it’s a complex business.  Occasionally for some reason or other they let something through that you wouldn’t expect, maybe to make the masses and the ‘student activists’ nervous enough to soft pedal their activities and agitprop in case something unpleasant happens to them?  But that’s hardly necessary really.  The student activists usually turn into Jack Straw or something of that sort, and the masses don’t pay much attention to anything beyond football, food and fun, which is apparently current London slang for trying to reproduce in the privacy of online video broadcasts the pornographic contortions they have watched on other people’s online video broadcasts.  The overall result is that the average member of the population of Western Europe has less idea of what’s really going on and how to deal with it than a hungry crow stuck in a lab empty except for a glass tube with food at the bottom and some bits of wire on the floor.  Right, then.  As an example of what I’m talking about, photocopiers hit the market in a big way somewhere around 1990.  Now, older readers may remember the Spycatcher trial in Australia in 1986.  Among the many interesting things learnt then was that British spooks already had a crude but effective photocopying tube that could be rolled across a document –  in the 1940s.  But the gap by which espionage tech is ahead of common knowledge is vastly bigger today.  For instance, you may have read about the huge advances in facial recognition.  Using cameras able to measure the small distances between up to 3,000 data points on the human face, with astounding precision, some venture capitalists, and others, are now claiming that given a photograph they can identify the owner of the face uniquely out of the entire world population, beard or no beard, gurning or meditating, asleep or howling as his side scores a goal.  That’s started filtering slowly into the collective consciousness; prices of facemasks and balaclavas continue to rise.  Meanwhile, however, the forces of spookdom have been roaring silently onward.  The big project now is to use similar techniques of ‘data points’ from an individual’s behaviour record (secretly recorded in embarrassing detail on most of us for a decade or more).  The idea is to be able to report with incredible accuracy what actions and reactions will be, or indeed have been, in any of tens of thousands of minutely differentiated circumstances.  A prime aim is not mere prediction, but to be able to influence by the merest passing act or remark what future activity will be, even weeks or months later when the right combination of factors arrives.  For instance, it has been calculated that in a delicately balanced situation, tipping off an accomplice to say ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ where that accomplice might reasonably have said instead ‘You never can tell’ could lead to dramatic differences of outcome for the victim, e.g. the difference between cabinet rank and political suicide.  A version of the butterfly wing effect, or if you prefer delayed action psychological explosives. I leave it to you to wonder if it has ever been put into practice.  The charm of this project is that using it not only is easily deniable but does a pretty good job of seeming quite ethical.  Small casual remarks or actions, that might have occurred quite naturally –  might just as easily have been uttered quite sincerely in all innocence by a different speaker.  How could anyone object?

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Question of the week (to be answered sometime in the next fifteen years or so on completion of the Maxwellisation of the re-run of a public  enquiry into the management of the Chilcot enquiry): Can anyone explain how stating to Parliament that certain information is the case, knowing that it has not been established as true, could not be considered a lie?

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Technically this might be called a reader’s letter.  Maud found it hand written on a piece of wrapping paper stuffed under the door when she opened the office a couple of days ago.  (Lucky for the writer that we don’t have that appalling dog on the premisses any more.  Simon and Jeremy used to feed it when Manos wasn’t here by dropping the whale meat from the balcony above the yard.) Karela wants it put on record that she objects strongly to being considered a ‘toff’ (but Simon would probably be greatly satisfied, if he was here).

Dear Toffs.  I do’nt know if that Toney Blair is getting help from aleins but seems to me how coud he know what their was going to be choas in the political, end of this June, and how could he fix it so that Chilcock report come out just before that, so every one nearlly would probably forget all about him and what he done. Yrs Dundy Quinsett

This name does not belong to anyone resident on the island, but I suppose once you let tourists in, the established order of civilised life begins to crumble.

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The Musical Obama

Programme :

Entrance (Nation entranced) : Fanfare (Gabrieli)

Anthem : ‘Yes we can! Yes we can!’

Incumbency: Medley of popular songs

Medley of unpopular songs

Closing Anthem : ‘No you didn’t’

Exit: Slow March from Aida

[Editor : shouldn’t that last word be ‘ideas’?]

Exeunt Omnes : The Last Trump

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Try hard not to notice this.  Talk to just about anyone in epidemiology and they will tell you that figures for allergies have been soaring for decades.  The same is true for asthma, where the increase, even allowing for a lot of uncertainty about diagnoses and record-keeping, seems to be of something like a factor of three times.  Recently figures have come out from the US showing the same change in respect of autism except that there it is even more pronounced (though this may partly depend on the enthusiasm of practitioners to spot the syndrome anywhere they thought there was a chance of treatment being needed).  Nevertheless, for what it is worth the figures were given as follows: 1970, one child in 2,500; year 2000, one in 500; predicted for next year  on current figures one in 45.  Now what else has been increasing hugely and rapidly over this sort of period?  I don’t think mobile phones would be the right answer, because they didn’t really get going until much more recently.  But what has been rapidly and greatly increasing since about 1970 (led off by American military satellites) is exposure to electromagnetic radiation.  There are two reasons for vigorously rejecting the suggestion of any link between the two types of increase.  One is a complex based on “It’s all around us, and we don’t see it causing harm to people, do we, not shaped like a gun or anything obvious like that, I mean I never saw anyone fall over because of it.”  (This complex is technically known as the ‘GM fallacy’.)  The other reason is that the industries making extensive use of electromagnetic radiation are multiply intertwined with the whole of the world economy, and very rich, and would get extremely angry if anybody were to suggest they are anything but boons to humanity.  Plus the fact that if anybody was able to turn the radiation off,  it would make the Great Financial Crash of 2008 look like a kid spitting a grape pip into a garbage can.  Where does the world go from here?  Not (it hopes) to hospital.  But is anyone setting up programmes to find out if there is a real link to harmful effects here (apart from enhancing the tendency of American police to shoot people, though we may have to blame that more on global warming anyway), and if so what they are, and how to shield human beings from them?  Or how to do at least some of the stuff done by and with el. mag.in other ways?  Help! And have a nice day!

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There were 18 entries for Maud’s  anatax competition (19-6-2016).  Eleven of these had to be excluded as too obscene to be considered, let alone published. After careful and sympathetic scrutiny the judges (Maud and Karela) decided that only one of the rest worked properly:

   crouching low over a fine breakfast she scanned the list of those facing imminent execution

   facing imminent execution she scanned the list of those crouching low over a fine breakfast

(As Editor I feel it is important to add that this entry was received before the recent change of leadership in the Tory Party.) A boxed set of the Tale of Esmond Maguire is therefore on its way to Guinevere Tapness in Goblin Lane in Basingstoke.

 

British Values, seen from far off

We think we are beginning to get on top of this editorial business now, so dear Editor if you are reading this wherever you are there’s no need to hurry back.  We would be glad, though, if Monty could spare the time to send something in, if his mysterious mission gives him enough spare time, and anyone who comes across Manos should tell him from us that it’s about time he contributed again whether or not the Germans have decided to invest in the white chlorophyll business (see previous postings!).  We are grateful again to Berthold who sent us the piece on political nebulas.

Karela and Maud

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Scientific news.  In a dramatic announcement yesterday Printapoly, a little-known Cambridge group in the UK, announced that a programme on which they have been secretly working for more than three years has achieved an extraordinary breakthrough.  With a combined expertise ranging across the fields of electromagnetism, human biology, and nanoscale material science, and using top-level computer resources as well as data obtained from the national police database, they say they have produced a 3-D printer that is able to print governments.  At present their governments will be limited to 30 members, but will all include a prime minister and ministers, guaranteed to have an i.q. of at least 100, for finance, justice and foreign affairs, individually varied for sex according to client choice.  Later they hope to offer a wider range including, for instance a Minister for underwater Arctic resources.  They will accept orders from the middle of this month, with the initial price for the full set of 30 at $3.5 billion (clothing not included).

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Whose interests?  (or The self-belief of the bureaucracy)   When a ruling group comes to believe that its first duties are to its own ideas and interests and decisions, rather than to those over whom it rules (and this time I’m not talking about the EU establishment in Brussels and across Europe) then you are on the high road to authoritarianism and ultimately tyranny.  (But if the group is not too high up the political food-chain in the nation where you live you may still have time to do something about it.)   A first-class example: the current challenger for leadership of the Labour Party in the UK – and just in case there might be any doubt I’ll repeat the name of the organisation, the Labour Party – has put at the head of her statement of challenge that ‘the first and foremost’ duty of the leader of the Labour Party is to lead the Parliamentary Labour Party.  If you think that the ideas and interests and  lifestyle of the average Labour member of Parliament in London are aligned closely with the ideas and interests and lifestyle of the average Labour voter out in the real country then you may also believe that Marie-Antoinette had sympathy for and deep understanding of the condition of the average sans-culotte in eighteenth century Paris.

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Challenger of the week : Angela Leadsom.  One expert believes: ‘With another few years and the right opportunities, she could give even Tony Blair a run for his money I fear.’

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes on Political nebulas:

If anyone wants to understand politics they might find it worth calling in the scientists who understand fluid dynamics.  They might be able to decipher and even predict the movements of these nebulas, strange currents of opinion which hang for years around the head, and body, of a politician, virtually indetectible.  Curiously, these nebulas do not seem to have any effect in situations of personal contact and they do not seem to emanate from any particular actual statements or actions emitted the person.  Yet they powerfully influence the way she or he is perceived by commentators.

            Marine Le Pen is enveloped in such a nebula.  I certainly wouldn’t vote for her myself, and I most earnestly wish that she would remind herself twice a day that refugees are actually real human beings.  Yet she has levered her party’s centre of gravity back up from a dark and fearsome landscape where strange and threatening beings roam, to occupy a rather displeasingly designed contemporary abode (with admittedly some unruly guards who annoy the neighbours in various ways) on the right-hand side of the political field but still well within sight of other habitations.  Nevertheless, other politicians still describe her as an extremist, ostracise her and will not agree to common action even when it would be a mutual interest, while much of the media largely excludes her.  Le Pen clearly has a bad aura, very possibly acquired by contagion from her father.  Ostracism is almost never a good idea.  Contrast the relatively good order, and relatively humane way in which Britain disentangled itself from the ‘insurgency’ in Malaya in 1948, where the British did agree to talk to the communist insurgents, with the experience of the Americans a little further to the east in what was then Southern Vietnam; (indeed some would contrast with American experience in most places where they have decided to fight against what they classified as an insurgency).

            Or take a politician who has spent twenty or more years aiming for one reform which she profoundly believes to be necessary for her country, and which she has turned down other lucrative options to pursue; if she eventually achieves her goal, and then gracefully bows out from the scene, she ought to have a good chance of being acclaimed (once safely off the stage) as not merely a reformer but a ‘conviction politician’ who is ‘held in high esteem for her courage and determination even by those who do not share her views’.  (Like Antony Wedgwood Benn for instance.)  Now change her sex and call her Nigel Farage and is that the outcome which we see?  Not at all. Unworthy motives are imputed to his resignation, and comments on his earlier career are selective to his disadvantage.  His remarks in the EU Parliament are ‘ugly’ and ‘aggressive’  yet  some might call them fair – even measured; when he had first appeared there the majority, confident in their shared opinions and self-congratulations despite the trivial matter of differing party allegiance (just like London today), openly derided him.  Unlike Wedgwood Benn who, once his first-stage career booster with its ‘white hot high-tech’ had dropped away, acquired an ever more potent aura, a ‘good’ nebula, Farage has a bad nebula (a ‘malaura’?) as does Le Pen.  His case supports the contagion theory, since in the earlier part of his career he was a trader in the city.  Wedgwood Benn on the other hand acquired his aura through discarding his allegedly aristocratic title.

            The lesson from all this, including the observations on ostracism, is ‘when you speak about or have dealings with an opponent make your words and dealings fit how they are now , not how they were ten years ago, let alone in sepia-tinted photographs fifty years old’.

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Infamous and shameful : In April ponderous members of the British House of Lords, no less, very nearly pulled a brick out of the bureaucratic wall erected and maintained by the British government to ensure that as many refugees in need of shelter as possible would be excluded from the country.  Their Lordships thought they had a fighting chance of winning, citing the case of an estimated 300 children, unaccompanied and most certainly vulnerable, who had family ties in Britain but who were nevertheless refused admission and were stranded in a squalid camp in Calais.  To their credit many in Britain protested and the government announced it was backtracking, and following an announcement by Cameron in Parliament that more would be done for vulnerable children, ministers announced that work would start immediately.  Actually, after the close scrutiny of the reports which most did not give to what the government actually said, it turned out that the idea was to ‘consult with relevant parties with a view to seeing what could be done’.  Only the most cynical believed that this covered a plan to let things carry on in the same way (perhaps until all the children were kidnapped, murdered, or could be proved either not to have the right DNA or not to be children? [About here, a voice could be heard in the distance shouting ‘Hey, great idea!  I have a friend, has a company that can set up DNA tests so they’ll all fail – or we c’d make that 95% just to give it a bit of credibility.  Prove they’re actually French – no the Frogs wouldn’t put up with that.  O.k. Zambian, or Bolivian or something.])   To resume, the most cynical were proved right.  Since then, to quote the Guardian (10-7-2016) ‘Not a single unaccompanied child refugee has been brought into the UK from continental Europe, or even identified, by the British government since David Cameron promised two months ago that vulnerable minors would be offered sanctuary.’  Is that what Cameron meant when he talked in the Brexit campaign about British values?

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Quotation of the posting

‘Occasionally men stumble over the truth, but they pick themselves up and carry on as if nothing had happened.’  Winston Churchill, Tory prime minister of the UK (from now on to be read as Untied Kingdom)

 

Don’t try swinging with the pendulum

In the past few days we have had a number of requests (many of them polite, about what we as interim editors might do.)  One way or another most have to be binned, but the first two items below are in response to our readers, and we have for the same reason re-printed at the end of this posting the special despatch from Montgomery Skew which reached us last Tuesday.

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Non-sequitur of the year : [1] In the referendum on leaving the UK, a majority of the British electors voted to leave.  [2] Therefore the next British prime minister should be someone who campaigned for the idea of leaving.

            This entry scores 51·9% on the  Frege-Healey Index of Logical Errors and it would thus need a change in world circumstances on the level of a world war to allow a re-evaluation which would see it overtaking  A.J.Blair in the race for non-sequitur of the century – ( [1] We’ve always had pretty good relations with Washington [2] Therefore it is right for me to help George in his invasion of Iraq.)

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Justice for England!  

Please sign our petition!

In the Euro 2016 championships England met Wales, and the result was given as ‘Wales won’.  We have found everyone we asked says this is obviously the wrong result.  Therefore we have launched this petition to demand that the British Parliament intervene to order a re-run of the match so as to get the correct outcome, at the earliest opportunity.  Please

      support us at rtrslt@powrtothegoal.

In the first five days 1,844,920 signatures!

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Now that Britain *(and Northern Ireland) have decided to leave the EU (or not to leave in the case of Northern Ireland and Wales)(and of the City of London) there seems a significant chance of the UK breaking up.  Among the implications that need attention and have so far been disregarded are the enormous costs involved in restyling addresses both on paper and in cyberspace.  For instance British firms continuing to use co.uk might risk being ridiculed by their continental rivals, with significant commercial consequences.  Re-equipping the civil service alone with stationery using  ‘London, England’ would be a major undertaking.  However, it is by no means simply a matter of postal arrangements or signs at ports and airports.  Millions of insurance contracts and legal documents of other kinds will need clarification as to whether they hold good over the whole of what was formerly the United Kingdom or only over limited areas of Great Britain, and if so which.  If for instance a travel insurance has promised free repatriation to any point in the UK after breaking your leg ski-ing, will Hamish MacRob be able to sue if the company refuses to take him safely back to Ullapool?  If a manufacturer of cars, having squeezed his new model through the tests needed to claim it actually sucks pollution out of the atmosphere, runs a campaign offering a ‘special – £1,000 off bargain price (only available to purchasers resident in the UK)’ can he be confident he won’t have to deliver on this to customers living in remote corners of the reborn principalities of Wales.  The sums involved in rights to aircraft routes alone could be very substantial.  The suggestion that where the initials, only, appear they might be kept but understood to refer to the ‘Untied Kingdom’, can only help in a very limited number of aspects, and not at all where the name is spelt out in full.  But a solution which has been calculated to involve relatively little administrative chaos and relatively low costs has been proposed by a firm of consultants in Basingstoke, building on the fact that a single lower case letter added to a name is enough to persuade a computer that it is facing an entirely new ball-game, a view with which a great many lawyers would enthusiastically agree.  Thus, if for instance, Scotland and Wales are again independent then Parliament can pass a resolution recognising what is left (England) as a group of separate kingdoms (without changing any of their internal administrative arrangements).  For example, Cornwall could be one, Yorkshire and Lancashire together (if such a thing is possible) another, London a third, and so on.  Then Parliament can declare these to be ‘The United Kingdoms’.  It can be shown that a very large proportion of the outstanding problems can now be solved by simply adding ‘s’ at the end of the name whether written in full or as initials, which in many cases can easily be done.  Ordinary people might find it difficult to distinguish two areas with similar names, the UK and the UKs ?   UK and US are accepted with ease.  And you may have noticed widespread practice for the past century has had the ‘British Isles’ including both Britain and Ireland.

            *for those who were playing truant during school geography lessons, Scotland is geographically part of the island Britain; and by the way the name‘Great Britain’ is owed not to any illusions about power, let alone excellence, but to the contrast between a large piece of land with many Celtic inhabitants, and a smaller piece across the Channel to which a lot of Celts emigrated in the fifth century to escape the terrible Anglo Saxons (that piece now known as Brittany)

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Linguistic corner : ‘Flexible’ is a good example of what linguists call an ‘autophoric’ word.  This means that it describes itself – ‘flexible’ is a flexible word!  Now because a word’s meaning depends on its own value plus the context where it is used, the result with ‘flexible’ is that it can have very different meanings in different circumstances.  For example, when a personal trainer talks about flexibility she sees that as a fine quality which a healthy well-trained body can hope to have.  But when the boss of a company says he supports government plans to bring flexibility to the labour market, he sees a chance to dismiss workers more easily, bringing major life crises to hundreds or even thousands of households, whose members therefore tend to see flexibility as quite undesirable.  (Readers  do not have to worry about the boss, however.  He will keep his job and his salary.)

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Body language corner : (from Mrs Alceste Fleghorn of 3, Tipley Gardens, Little Yarmouth) Can anyone help that poor man Nicolas Sarkozy.  He has three serious problems.  First, he thinks he can be the president of France again.  (Recent history shows that almost anyone can be president of France, but that does not include those who’ve already held the post and been thrown out.)  Second, he thinks that the way back depends on making lots of speeches with photo ops.  Third, he thinks that making speeches means waving your hands around in a series of dramatic gestures like a children’s party conjuror.  Personally I’m fed up with turning on the telly, and seeing Nicolas Sarkozy there with his hands held out wide as if he was checking the length of an imaginary loaf of bread.  (Still he’s not as bad as that Clinton woman who believes audiences are so stupid that when she points in random directions at the crowd and opens her eyes and mouth wide, that lot think she’s recognised them and so they will feel they have a special link to her next time they vote.  They aren’t really that stupid.)  (Are they?)

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Montgomery Skew

It is sometimes amusing mental exercise to try to gauge the levels of intelligent argument and of principled conduct in the political class that governs the country where you live, whether that class has one member or hundreds.  (Any claim that the class could number thousands or even in fantastically implausible cases the whole adult population should be put back into the proper obscurity that is found between the covers of textbooks on democracy.)  Warning: this form of exercise can be interesting but may leave you with a bad case of depression.

   As I write calls continue for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the British Labour Party.  The callers accuse him of ‘weak leadership’.  The calls are broadly justified but in a way almost diametrically opposite to that alleged by the callers.  It is said that Corbyn should have engaged more vigorously on behalf of the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU; had he done so, it is said, Labour Party supporters might have voted in sufficient numbers to keep Britain in the EU.

    The idea that a party leader should have energised his followers to vote to stay in can only be coherently held (if at all) by people who themselves were (and in the nature of the case probably still are) committed partisans of remaining in the EU  This is coherently possible for those who believe that the side they favour is right even when this conflicts with democratic principles.  However, many in the Labour Party believe themselves to be staunch supporters of democracy.  A principle of democracy agreed very widely (but perhaps not in the Labour Party) is to accept the result of a popular vote even when it conflicts with one’s own preferences.  A referendum won by more than 1,250,000 is by democratic principle the right result.  In such circumstances, the question of whether a different electoral turn-out would have produced a different result is, in constitutional terms, irrelevant.

   Leaving questions of principle aside, the complaint about Corbyn’s campaigning rests on an assumption that if more Labour supporters had turned out, then the proportion of the vote in favour of remaining in the EU would have been higher.  But there is evidence in bucketfuls that the mass of Labour voters (who on the whole have a tendency not to live in affluent circumstances, or enjoy incomes, opportunities, and dinner table conversations such as those enjoyed by Members of Parliament and other inhabitants of London) by a large margin wanted Britain out of the EU.  Consequently more Labour voters would have meant an even bigger majority in favour of leaving.  (Naturally this would have left committed ‘remainers’ even more furious and convinced, on the basis of the information acquired at those dinner table conversations, that the result reached had been ‘wrong’, and consequently even more eager to find some way to reverse the decision.)

   Corbyn allowed  himself to be persuaded, by partisans of ‘in’ who in all likelihood believed genuinely that their side would win and that Labour would be damaged by association with a losing cause, to support the ‘remain’ campaign, even though this was contrary to the views of most of his Labour supporters and probably against his own inclinations.  Thus his mistake was precisely to go out and speak on behalf of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe.

   [A footnote:  the petition calling for a second referendum to decide whether or not to accept the result of the first referendum was discovered to have signatures of, among others, 39,000 inhabitants of a non-British microstate which in fact has a population of 800.]