Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: October, 2016

Bad business

Much unpleasantness after Manos played that deplorable practical joke on Monty 15-10-2016.  (Karela quite innocent throughout.) Sorted now, but from today onwards Manos is no longer in the loop.  More about all that later, perhaps.  Next scheduled: 15-11-2016

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  1. ‘Treaties’                 2. The semantic vacuum
  2. Farewell to Manos  4. Etc

Linguistic corner (but serious)  Do not let the b*stards get away with calling NAFTA, TTIP, TPP, and CETA ‘treaties’.  A treaty, as the word has been properly understood and used for centuries, is an agreement reached after negotiation between the governments of two states.  But these arrangements (mocking the people suffering under capitalism by their capital letters)  are what should technically be called ‘stitch-ups’; that is they are bargains cooked up between members of plutocratic élites who have more in common with the élites on the other side(s)  than any of them do with the ordinary average citizen of the states which they are trying to hogtie into these deals.  Deals fixed up in the darkness of a secrecy like that chosen by thieves and coup plotters.  Even elected members of parliaments  of the states to be used for these manoeuvres were excluded from what was going on.  Who arrogated to themselves – surely illegally – the authority to exclude them?  (Why did those excluded put up with it?)  When some eventually got admission to the room where the negotiations were recorded, they were too late to start a proper campaign for enquiry into the conditions under which the whole shabby business was proceeding, and they would have been too late even if they had been allowed to make copies, use cameras, or take personal notes – but in any case they were not!  How were the organisers allowed to get away with it?  And why would they want to if there was nothing objectionable or improper in what they were doing?   Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about the nature of these machinations?  As far as the historical records will go – unless a mighty spanner is somehow forced between the wheels of the tumbrils bearing individual rights to the place of execution – the conspiratorial business does not even have the traditional half-justification ‘History is written by the victors’.  Here the course of history is being rigged in advance by small groups who may very possibly be anticipating that they will do well if events take the direction they are planning.  ‘But,’ they will cry, if they are ever put in the dock ‘our evidence showed that the plans would increase the prosperity of all the countries concerned’.  Are we supposed to believe that increasing the prosperity of a country is more important than maintaining a tolerable condition of life for the majority of its population?  Where do you find the prosperity of the country? You don’t find it in the shop doorways of dark sidestreets where the homeless spend their nights, nor in the threadbare pockets or the defective fridges or half-empty cupboards of the 37% of the population (figures for the UK 2016!) in households where someone has a job  and which yet have so little money left over after paying taxes, rent and food for the month that they cannot put together even £20 pounds for anything else.  (Oh and how much does it take to buy a new fridge when the old one cannot be repaired any longer?)  And what do you think happens when even that level of existence becomes unreachable, when the business for which they work turns out to have been run into the ground and when the coffer is opened to inspect the pension fund it turns out to be practically empty.  What does it mean to a family, when they have had to rely on that employment to stay in a place to live, and to have food to eat?  Do those people say to each other “No problem, my dear, you can stay in our place in the country, and after the weekend I’ll call up Charlie who can get our Rupert a job as a director of human resources at his company when he finishes university in the spring.  And anyway, there’s a council in the West country where a friend of mine is looking for someone to fill a six-month consultancy, only £2,000 a day, I’m afraid but it’ll keep us going perfectly well and give me time to call on some of our other old chums.”  No, if you want to find the wealth and prosperity of almost any country picked at random you should head straight towards bank accounts in the West Indies, or those fabulously expensive yacht havens in the Mediterranean, or the offices of publicity-shy investment agencies in New York, or London, or Switzerland.  Or the immaculate corridors where the peoples’ well-paid democratic representatives ply their trade.

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[2] Trying to get to the end of a recognised scale of measurement is almost as challenging as trying to get to the right place on the platform to have a chance of a seat when you board a Southern Region train in the UK.  Over more than a hundred years now, huge amounts of money and effort have gone into attempts to approach absolute zero, or to achieve a perfect vacuum.  But it is not only the physical sciences which investigate such matters. Puzzlingly the British average moral pressure level has fallen steeply since 1940, and despite the crises of refugees fleeing terrifying conditions in the Middle East is now closer to a moral vacuum than at any time since 1840.  However, in a less alarming field of investigation, semantic scientists are cock-a-hoop, confident they have discovered the closest thing yet to a semantic vacuum on earth.  Previous research had suggested Fabian Society meetings, computer ‘Help’ files,  or catalogues of modern art exhibitions as promising venues where meaning-free text might be found.    However, despite exciting prospects (notable contributions from the Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern, and above all New York commercial galleries) no researcher until last Thursday had succeeded in discovering a source rated lower than 2·3% on the Barroso scale (named after Jose Barroso in honour of his long struggle against meaninglessness while heading the EU.)  However Bognor Sophia University in Wales has now proudly published a claim for a reading closer to absolute zero than ever before.  Measurements are made using a sample text of 500 words, which remains available to respondents while they take the test.  After reading this they are asked to answer a questionnaire usually comprising 40 questions obviously related to the text, which is submitted to at least 30 respondents. They are told ‘Most of the questions can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or left blank’.  However in fact the questions will have been carefully designed by experts so that not one can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the basis of the text provided.  (For instance the text may contain a sentence ‘The sinkhole opened up last Monday’ and a question might be ‘Did the sinkhole open up on Monday morning?’)  So the fewer the questions left blank, the more the evidence that a respondent has, in the words of Professor Keri Popper, ‘failed to establish a semantic rapport with the text’.  If a respondent hands in a questionnaire with every question answered that is accepted as evidence that, as far as concerns that respondent, the text was essentially meaningless.  By taking an average over all respondents, investigators arrive at the index of how meaningful the text was for that audience.  The new meaningfulness figure of just 1·2% was obtained with a composite text compiled from television interviews with a number of football managers and well-known players discussing preparations and prospects for forthcoming soccer fixtures.  Sour-minded critics have objected that this procedure measures the amount of meaning derived from material, rather than the meaning which is actually in it.  But Bognor Sophia’s Dean for Outreach retorted that in most transmission of meaning between humans it is the former which matters and that is what should be assessed.  ‘After all, if you want to test a lifejacket what you need is real tests in real situations, not calculations based on a fully competent swimmer in a brand-new jacket in a swimming pool.’

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[3] We shall be saying farewell to Manos as a regular contributor based, theoretically, in this office.  The appearance of considerable wealth when he most recently arrived on the island with two dozen of Corton Charlemagne stashed away in a luxurious yacht was not misleading, even though it turned out that the yacht itself was only a long-term loan from one of the cross-national aristocratic businessmen in whose company (or companies) he now spends much of his time,.despite the fact that he proudly claims not to have done more than half a day’s work in the past six months.  It will be remembered he went to Germany to see if any company engaged in molecular biology could be interested in his proposal to combat climate change by tweaking the genome of grass so that worldwide it would function with white chlorophyll (‘leukophyll’), thus reflecting a huge proportion of radiation received from the sun).  He got a better reception than we had expected from our experience with his earlier get-very-rich-quick schemes (well known to longtime readers of this journal).  It emerged that the leader of the team deputed to discuss the project with him was Greek, and born in the same town where Manos passed his boyhood half a generation later.  They rapidly became excellent friends, and already in March while negotiations on leukophyll were still in preliminary stages, Manos had been taken onto the board of a company where his new friend was the president, receiving a golden ‘hello!’ package as well as a re-location expenses notwithstanding the fact that in so far as anywhere was home base for him, it was and continued to be the island where this journal is regularly born.  He joined this first company in March (backdated to January for tax reasons) but following a ‘reshaping’ of the parent company he left in May, receiving a munificent compensation package.  Almost immediately he was headhunted to be deputy general manager of the Greek subsidiary of Gowlze Andoghers in July with special responsibility for East Asia, receiving a generous expenses package to cover his costs for relocating to Hong Kong (although so far he has remained in south-west France, since all except essential current operations are on hold pending the probable takeover by US giant Polla Chremata Pasi; this move will probably require his unit and all its activities to be relocated to the US with of course lavish removal allowances).  Other ventures are also apparently possible.  He has spoken somewhat enigmatically of ‘not doing damn fool mistakes made in green business’, if we understood him correctly.   We are glad that success has now come his way, even if not directly because of his many talents, and warm-hearted good nature, and wish him well for all his future operations far away from our island.

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(Extract from e-mail from Isabelita)

In Ecuador we are charmed by your Yanqui geographical capacities – North Atlantic stretching from Canada to Kabul!  Jens Soltenberg is doubtless a very clever man as you say, but we are puzzled.  He says they are putting powerful military forces in Eastern Europe near Russia not to provoke trouble  but to be prevent trouble by showing they are well-armed and frightening.  But is this not the same idea which the American Rifle Association gives for its policies in America which many people think work exactly the other way?

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(With apologies to George Orwell)  Britain no longer to be called ‘Airstrip 1’, but instead, from now on, ‘Departure Lounge 1’

 

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The full Monty?

Next scheduled for 1-11-2016

1]  Recyclical               2]  Quotas for all!

              3]  Faits divers

Recycling Please so far as possible recycle the words used in this posting, after extracting any which you think might be of archaeological interest and donating them to your nearest university philosophy department.  The Government’s alert on dangerous words remains at level 3, and if you detect any socialist, anarchist, or nihilist verbiage in discourse in the coming month please hand it in to the police immediately.  Do not on any account attempt to use it yourself.

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Recycled  Encouraging evidence that this journal’s talent for accurate observation is well based, and dismaying evidence that the human capacity to fail to deal with flaws in society is no less solidly rooted.  This is the first paragraph of a piece that appeared six years ago from tomorrow the 16th of October:

About the time of the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehmann, we got a flurry of articles pondering with furrowed brows the question What have we learned?  Now, about the time of the first anniversary of those articles appearing, some pieces have come out daringly suggesting the answer to the question could be Nothing.  The speed with which some commentators flash around their learning curve would frighten a tortoise, and charm the hearts of bookmakers.  The bankers, meanwhile, gave the best proof yet that they are men with intelligence, by never setting off at all, staying instead exactly where they were and laying plans for yet taller golden towers of bonuses in the years very shortly to come – with, perhaps, a sense of marginal urgency if the thought had by chance briefly flitted past the beam of their tightly focussed minds, that just possibly the reaction to their goings-on might included a backlash strong enough to put some limits on  excessive greed in money-making.  That is of course unlikely.  The few hundred people around the world who could actually achieve that have too many pre-occupations and disagreements and inclinations to lethargy – and in some cases complicity? – to prevent this crisis, too, slipping down that very short chute into over-and-done-with history like any massacre of innocents, or war against unarmed populations, or famine.

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As Acting Editor I should explain Mr Skew came over for a short break on the island, and brought a piece with him. I wasn’t told  if it was supposed to be ready or just a first draft.  But yesterday both he and our Editor got a call to go to London immediately.  This morning there were two sheets with his name on the Editor’s desk.   I thought the second might only be a draft, but Manos was very sure it was all for posting, and I must send it.   I’d prefer to confirm with our Editor but haven’t been able to contact either of them since they got there, so here it is.  (Karela) 

Quotas.  The idea that a 50% quota of places should be reserved for women in politics or in the mighty boardrooms which plot how to make entertaining tweaks to a nation’s Gini coefficient; or in the higher tiers of the judiciary, or in the ownership of great estates, or the more profitable sinecures in the municipal circuses; all on the simple-minded basis that women count around 50% of the population of most states,  has broken out again from its padded cell in the human psyche.  As the heavy doors slide shut in certain minds they, fortunately, muffle an angry chorus (‘Sexist pig!’ was the lyric if I heard correctly.)  This is a monstrous slander.  I am all in favour of women getting the  fair deal they deserve.  This year already I have had dealings with half a dozen thoroughly competent women who skilfully and honourably negotiated with me on some business, which they then, I know, had to summarise and explain to a P.A. (with four times their salary) who himself would be granted an audience with a fat and lazy (nb quoting here from a well-known Minister of International Trade) member of the board, on not less than ten times that salary, and who would be incapable of handling the guidelines and trade-offs and side-issues himself even if he was paying attention instead of thinking in Trump mode about options for his upcoming conference on an agreeable island in the Med.  Sociopolitical systems in big countries don’t do slow methodical reform.  The alternatives in any given era are groundshaking change or fossilisation (though if lucky you may get a new coat of paint slapped on the fossil).  So if you’re thinking of setting off on a long march towards sociopolitical fair play there are two things to say.  The first is that you are going to fail (but don’t take that as a reason for giving up).  The second is that you don’t have just one small friendly mountain to climb, like 50% for women in your parliament.  You are facing a whole range of rugged, viciously challenging peaks, and that’s not counting the primitive barbarian tribes that will attack you on the way.  But there’s also an awkward fact: big nations are complex.  What helps one group may be bad for others.  Few even among the fair-minded grasp the sheer number of interlocking choices needed to get anywhere near fair quotas for sociopolitical groups in a state.  Herewith a bijou selection of a few of…..Okay, polish smoothingly tomorrow as per earlier notes

Preliminary issue : are we seeking enhanced enfranchisement or compensation for inadequacy of enfranchisement?  Great heavens!  Have I written that?  Alcoholic eloquence.  Change forthwith.   ‘Upward quotas’?  Not ideal, but vaguely humanoid.  Compensation?  Forget that!  First half impossible already.

Warning:  Try this – ‘Some of the earlier questions below cannot be settled sensibly until some of the later ones have been resolved, but some of those cannot be dealt with until the first ones are settled.’  Impressive, well done Monty! 

1] What justification for having any reforming ‘upward quotas’ at all?  Obviously one is to scare the pants off idle buggers already ‘up’ and doing nothing to justify themselves.  Obviously too, pseudo-return for favours received (as not unknown in H.o.C.)  Or to avoid the  need to hand out genuine rewards for services rendered.  And so on.  Not sure if any of those count as ‘justification’.  Does that matter?  Course not.

2] Upward quotas for both groups and individuals?  Latter means networking; consult Linked-In.

3] What reasons for upward quotas?  To reflect proportion in population?  Breath-taking illogicality.  Pedestrians to have equal rights with cars?  Be serious.  And apart from the women there are at least three other 50 vs 50 groups, age, height, and weight.  Anyway once you start giving people quotas just because they are a group, they’ll all be at it.  In six months all committees and organised bodies will be crazy jigsaws of groups all shouting they should have more places.  And every individual in them will belong to a dozen different groups.  What about ‘because said group has different viewpoint from the usual, which might be useful’?  Sloppy thinking again, Monty!  How many groups have specialist views which are useful to anybody except themselves?  ‘Because they could make amusing contributions to the life of the nation’?  Now that should be a winner but we’d never get it past the Grundies and apparatchiks.  How about ‘because their views currently have no representation’?  Losing my grip again!  The fewer the bunches of recognised and authorised maniacs we have, the better.  Give up.

4] How can one ‘up’ a group anyway?  Easy! Add as new members in the ranks of privilege, for instance friends of former PM into House of Lords.  Or throw out or murder the currently privileged (Specialist Comintern practice but popular worldwide and epoch-wide anyway).   Or write new constitution abolishing privilege?  Alleged policy of Froggie Republic (as alleged by those capable of willing suspension of disbelief).  Etc.  No problem there.

5] Who gets an upward quota?  Women?  But what about LGBT?   All those for ‘up’?  Or some?  Together or how?  Or four separate groups?  (And those who want to be in more than one of those at the same time?)  Hell’s teeth.  Better drop this heading somehow even if it started it all.  Oh, my head!  Next please.

6] Which groups get promised a quota ‘sometime’?   This one easy.  Quick scan through this office’s archive, mail from readers, rival editors, boards of censors, libel lawyers, bailiffs, confidence tricksters,  indignant jobsworths… to see who causes most trouble.  Which groups get a promise?  All of them of course,  plus the corrupt (if you want democracy with a voice for all, can’t leave them out), the Welsh, the Goths, the insane, footballers, left-handers, residents of Liverpool, the poor, everyone who doesn’t live in London, smokers, gardeners, weed farmers, municipal employees, Poles, ‘greatgrandfather killed in World War I’ types, tightrope walkers…

7] Groups based on personal characteristicsThe ugly, the goofy, height (too much or too little), the old (over 36), the young (under 36), the obese, the bald, those with athlete’s foot…  All going to have their ‘own distinctive views and experience’, aren’t they?  Shit, I wish I hadn’t started this.  Brunettes?  Agoraphobics?  Drummers?  Rembettika singers?  But I wish Manos would turn that bloody bouzouki music off.

8] Within which sphere are they to be elevated?  How about cyclists onto committees drafting traffic regulations?  Yes, indeed, why not?  Prisoners on penal reform?  Hey, I’m being serious now.  Shut that bloody row, Monas!

9] To what proportion of the sphere  E.g. 50%, 75%, 1 in 3?   Let’s put it like this: every femen committee should have a token man on it, right?

10] How should elevation be arranged?  By force, whether beneficiaries want it or not?  Whether beneficiaries apply or not?  Points system, like Boris… Oh, forgot, one would not be amused by points systems.  By lottery?  Being one of Monty’s friends?  Has Karela still got a stash of slivovitz?

Final meta-question: Who takes the decisions on all the above questions? Oh sod!  Need a brain-transplant to get this sorted.  But have some of that slivovitz first.

Answer to all above: Don’t bugger about with groups.  Take every human as an individual. Can’t do it?  Five more years high-tech, and everyone will have their own perfectly adjusted individual cell in the universal prison

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Apps  Aye-aye Cap’n.  Great new app from the Redethel store for real emergencies!  Stuck with friends in a small boat mid-ocean or in a sledge with a pack of wolves closing on you?  This app lets you save almost everyone!  Just click on the parameters – age, job, number of children, club memberships, salary and three more  factors, and this app will calculate who should be thrown overboard to save the rest.  No need for hard words or nasty bickering. Absolute fairness guaranteed.

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Jokes of the Week (or were they meant seriously?!) (both from the Economist , a mag with a lot of statistics and a curiously imaginative view of the world; issue 420/9008): [1] (on the need to avoid public wealth being squandered on useless infrastructure): ‘To manage the risk of white-elephant projects, private sector partners should be involved from the start’.  [2] (on the UK political scene in 2014]: ‘The Conservatives under David Cameron had turned all modern and reasonable.’