Shapes dimly seen through the fog of news
Since there are now only two full-time members of the team normally present in our HQ here, along with occasional visits from Simon, we would very much like to take on a new intern; the position, unfortunately unpaid (as are the full-time members), could be for up to 6 months, and basically requires normal office work with snatches of journalism. Open to literate applicants of any age, gender or colour. Ability to handle small boats could be an advantage. Computer nerds and paid-up members of any mainstream political party have little chance.
Our widely respected political correspondent Monty Skew volunteered to reply to a long letter from Jojo Ceausescu, one of our regular correspondents. Since the issues actually affect a lot of people some extracts are posted here.
Monty Skew writes: Yes, there are indeed two IMFs! The second one which I shall call the ‘other IMF’ deliberately chose initials designed to be an example of their ideas – or as they prefer to put it, their strategic philosophy. Those initials stand for ‘International Misinformation Forum’ and their (surprisingly well-funded) activities are intended to support an eccentric mixture of interventions based on a mistaken belief that something like Darwinian evolution can be injected into world geopolitics, and they are the people to push the plunger well in. Their underlying principle is a sort of utilitarianism: the weaker a government is, the worse life will tend to be for its subjects (so they can at least pretend that they have good intentions; like so many in the long human tragedy). So what the world needs, they assert, is fewer weak governments. Where does that lead us? They argue that on the whole crises kill off the weaker specimens, and tend to leave the strong ones stronger than before, as with species. So they hope to stimulate confusion in world politics, as a first-class means of inducing crises (though of course crises can easily be manufactured even without the existence of normal democratic politics). For this reason the ‘other IMF’ deliberately keeps out of the limelight, since only a small proportion of the world population is clear-headed enough to be properly aware that two organisations with similar names (or at least initials) operating in the same general area may have sharply different methods and goals. But it is known that they claim to have well-developed networks of influence in the Americas and in the chancelleries of Europe. The phrase ‘creative uncertainty’ surfaces from time to time. Even so, many of those who have heard of the ‘other IMF’ dismiss all this as obscure pantomime games, and perhaps it is. But some of the bigger happenings in geopolitics in recent years might make you hesitate. To start with a small but rather clear example: (1) a coalition was organised to arrange régime change in Libya; the former régime (Gadhafi) was duly eliminated; but no new régime was put in place; the half-suppressed state of civil war continues. (2) Western forces, led by the US, have been into Iraq and out of Iraq and in again and out again, sometimes both simultaneously, ever since 1991. It seems only the other day Obama was promising ‘no American boots on the ground’; current active operations in Iraq involve US ground forces (undoubtedly booted). (3) When he was president George W told Europe it must speed up with Turkey’s admission to the EU, begun to bureaucratic acclaim in 1987. Today it is still ‘progressing’ (yes, even now!). (4) The ‘pivot to Asia’. Remember that? American foreign policy to be re-centred on East Asia. Which apparently meant a quick series of pronouncements about China, and a couple of highly signalled sail-pasts; then back home, and down to business as usual. (5) Mid 2016 the UK votes to leave EU. Late 2016, UK manoeuvres to undo Brexit get going. (6) Afghanistan. See remarks on Iraq above. (7) Syrian government, threatened (2013) with decisive western intervention if detected using chemical weapons against its own population, backs down. Currently, chemical weapons being used by Syrian government against its own population, and have been over the past year. (8) European nations allow desperate millions to walk halfway up Europe for refuge; then policy changes. The next millions get to walk halfway up Europe, as far as the razor-wire, then have to survive the winter (or not) where they are or walk back to Greece. (9) Remember how back in the 1990s post-communist Russia was going to be the West’s new friend (and ally against China?). Now she is the great threat to world peace, and apparently hell-bent on world conquest, we are earnestly assured. (10) In return for ruthless austerity, hurting all except the wealthy, the EU gives Greece just enough support to carry her through to the next round of fresh austerity and bail-out. (If I’ve counted correctly, she’s just coming up to bail-out number 4.) Sometimes I do begin to wonder. I have no idea what would be your own best move, but my personal advice would be to buy a well-built well-appointed sea-going vessel, move all your personal possessions into her (and your wife?), and then cancel your subscription to your current government immediately.
Mr Skew wishes to say he has no objection to forwarding of items of his which appear on this site, subject to the usual conditions – no modification in transit, and acknowledgment of source.
Before we empty the readers’ letters bin, we might mention that Monty’s late-night notes last month (which were definitely not intended for posting) – on setting quotas for various groups to have a share of various types of advantage – brought a biggish influx of mail. A small number seemed inclined to disagree, giving reasons (a great rarity) and after careful thought we or Monty himself may take those up. Most of course were the normal gibbering rants or cuttings from the Daily Mail. But an oddity worth mentioning is that within that week we had two letters, both from men, proposing that the House of Lords in London should be reserved exclusively for women, but for diametrically different reasons. One said that this would give women a real chance to exercise the beneficial influence on events which they deserved to have; the other thought that it would ‘clear them out of the way to twitter on about cooking and fashion and celebrity gossip’ while ‘us men’ can ‘get on with the serious stuff’. Karela intends to write a personal reply to the latter, when she has had a week or two to handle a computer without causing it to emit bright white exploding sparks.
The first piece we have had from Simon in over a year, headed ‘A contribution to the ‘Problems in Bilogy series’[sic]. Louise tells us he has nearly finished Book 1 in the WAHAMM! course – ‘Write At Home And Make Money! – for aspiring writers (www.howtomakewealthflowfromyourpen.com).
Problems in biology; no.118
Why are elephants grey (except for Hinkley Point power station which is going to be white)? They do not originate in a landscape where the background is predominantly grey. They live in hot parts of the world, and if they were some bright colour, red or yellow for example, or even better partly reflective (if butterflies can evolve that sort of thing, why not elephants?) it would help to keep them cooler which you think they would need at their size. And there is not much point in an animal as big as that trying grey as a way of being unobtrusive, whether to avoid becoming prey, or to allow it to hide in the undergrowth before springing out to pounce on passing antelopes or warthogs. The mighty elephant remains an awesome enigma indeed!
The Editor writes: If ever there was a campaign that made a really powerful case for a proposal more than once offered to the closed minds of the political classes by this very journal, that presidential campaign was it. The issue is obviously negative votes. In the past, practical matters may have made this rather difficult. Now, thanks to modern technology which has seen voting publics round the world swallowing voting machines with only the merest tremor of electoral indigestion, it would be easy. It is a simple idea: do not merely invite the populace to vote for the candidate picked out by whichever information sources they expose themselves to. Let them cast instead, or as well, a negative vote against the candidate they think most worth throwing out of politics (and, in selected cases, into the nearest stagnant canal). With modern technology it should be easy. In fact it might be as well to take advantage of the chance now, in the short-lived window of opportunity before hackers screw up the whole business by discovering ways to make Huey Long come out on top in, for example, the next ballot for governor of the Keystone State notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot and hasn’t actually been standing anywhere since 1935. When they appear on the scene, or rather don’t appear, those hackers will be found operating out of Russia, of course, or just possibly North Korea, or perhaps both simultaneously. (Now there’s a promising opening for a world-wide journalistic scoop!) But while we’re touching on hacking, let’s mention that back in June the FBI said about those hackers who broke into Hillary’s campaign they ‘would be far too skilled to leave evidence of their intrusion’. And everyone agrees it was a job carried out with expertise of the highest level. So isn’t it just the darnedest thing that those brilliant Russian hackers did it all so professionally they would have got clean away without anyone having the least idea who they were – except for just one tiny thing when they were tidying up; left a couple of words in Russian, as shown on western tv, so now everybody knows they really must have been Russian. Couldn’t have made a sillier mistake if they’d tried – or did someone help them?
Puzzle corner (from Patsy’s Postmodern Parenting Weekly. Set by Dr Evalina Squeers)
Here’s a nice poser for post-modern parents to chew on along with their vegetarian sausages and free-range quinoa. Start from these two ideological axioms of modern society. Axiom 1: It is wrong to encourage children to taunt and abuse other children. Axiom 2: It is necessary to take all possible effective action (short of violence of course) to reduce obesity in children, bearing in mind the serious damage to their self-image and to their health in adult life that can be consequences. Given that peer pressure and self-image are absolutely key factors influencing the behaviour of our little loved ones, the challenge is to think up chants and cries compatible with both those axioms, to greet obese pupils as they waddle into the school playground each morning. (The usual prizes for best selections.)