Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: December, 2016

Year-end clear-out

NB: since both Montgomery Skew and myself are summoned to a meeting in London at the turn of the year, next posting is now scheduled for the 3rd of January.  (Goodness knows why they want me, being neither a national nor a resident.)  For several good reasons we shall not here be issuing ‘Seasonal Greetings’ to anyone.  But we do value free speech so we congratulate among our readers Julitta P, Marcia H, Douglas P, and ‘Algernon’ (but in our collective view you are all still wrong.)

*          *          *          *          *          *

The Editor writes  In January when  Obama leaves office, the loss of their figurehead (as well as their loss of both houses of Congress) will leave the Democratic party as what is technically known as a hulk.  I spent a happy childhood around a large harbour full of craft of all sorts, built for both warfare and merchant duty.  There were even a couple of wooden hulks surviving from many decades earlier. A ‘hulk’ is a ship that is still afloat, but directionless, having aboard a skeleton crew or more often none, lacking nearly everything needed for useful service, obstructing other craft in their transits, an unattractive relic, turning into a home for various kinds of parasite, not least rats.  Occasionally some wealthy eccentric gets the idea of mounting a celebration of some long past struggle or achievement, with colourful costumes, a lot of bunting, usually some jazz combos, and a sufficiency of alcoholic refreshment.  But most of the time hulks just lie rotting at their moorings, drifting a little with the tides, useless memorials to what used to be.

——————–

Editor’s choice: Simon’s best remark of the year: “Er, this is just a question, but do you think anyone is keeping a watch to see if Trump takes over any sort of lab which is doing research on human cloning?”

——————–

Correction.  As the result of a filing error by the pet monkey that we have temporarily hired to do our 8pm to 8am shifts, since we have been unable to find an intern willing to take on the task unpaid, the following item was published in an earlier edition under the heading Fake News.  We can assure our readers that it is in fact genuine news.  On 30th November, Mounia Meslem, the Algerian minister for national solidarity, proposed that married women with posts in the civil service should donate their earnings to the state as a mark of patriotic  loyalty, and rely on their husbands for financial support.  (The minister concerned is considered to be well placed to make the suggestion, being herself a woman.)

——————–

Is it folk-tale, legend, superstition or true story? An occasional series. No. 31: The trickle-down theory of wealth.  This is a superstition, since it is not offered as entertainment, does not concern the remote past, and is observably invalid as an account of economic development, although still liable to appear in some alleged universities.  It is even still active in the minds of some participants in the economy, (normally because they cannot see the difference between business competence and good luck, though in some cases it may be because it can soothe a conscience faced with evidence of grossly unequal distribution of wealth under capitalism).  The converse theory about prices, however, holds good, since as prices at the upper end of the scale rise, those at lower levels will tend to increase also, and proportionately, provided that measurements are made on a logarithmic scale.  This is exemplified in for instance the London property market.

——————–

The State of Britain (opinion piece, Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems) Two recent outbreaks of media uproar make a striking pair if put side by side.  (1) a large number of alleged cases of sexual assault linked to paedophiles and to football clubs (association football, that is, not rugby) in the British national leagues.  They are to be investigated by the police in England and Wales.  (2) At the beginning of December Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, also in Britain, reported receiving 306 allegations against police officers of abuse of power for sexual purposes, and 28 against other policing staff,  between April 2014 and March 2016.  The prime minister is recorded as saying when addressing a meeting of police officials ‘We do not know the true scale of this, but everyone in this room will know it goes on far more than we might care to admit’.  During a comparable period only 40 officers or policing staff were dismissed.  Some will be unsurprised that (1) received far more attention than (2).

——————–

Global warming and the English language . Among the many effects of global warming in the next 20 years, such as the ‘voluntary’ accession of Canada into the US as the 54th state and the boom in swimming pool construction in Scotland, there are others of less immediate interest to economists.  One is a substantial further rise in human obesity, for obvious reasons.  If an average citizen feels exhausted after a ten minute walk to and from the Burgerama under present climatic conditions, the next time he’ll take the car.  But increased obesity will lead on to other changes which thus are equally effects of global warning.  Some of these may seem unexpected or even alarming; one for instance is that there may well be a major increase worldwide in the use of the English language, to judge from the correlation noted in the item Science News of this journal (24th  April 2016.)

——————–

Suggestion (from Dr. Philipp), to any of the few remaining quality newspapers anywhere in the continent of Europe.  Please will they start, from 20th January, a regular column which could be titled Historical rhymes, giving some item from their archives of the 1930s (with special attention paid to news from Germany, though plenty of other countries would provide suitable material, I regret) and placing alongside it a comparable item from the current European media (which, I regret even more, will be all too easy to find).

——————–

Reply to reader Claude Ambrose R.  An algorithm is an analytical procedure by which, given a sufficient quantity of data (if necessary megadata or even teradata), and a categorising framework (which must obviously be free of internal contradiction), and a regular system for correlating categorical statements with statements of the desired output language, it is possible for journalists, investment advisers, government spokesmen, business consultants and others to derive conclusions desired for publication or for confirmation of views they wish to hold, even when they have no understanding whatever of the nature and qualities of the original data, nor of the relation between statements in the conclusions and human experience.

——————–

Letter from reader : Dear Sexist Pig, All those campaigners for men to do half the domestic duties and in particular half the child care are overlooking one thing.  That thing is the baby.  Every baby I’ve ever known, and that is plenty, preferred to be looked after by a woman.   Every mother should have at least three years maternity leave with a guarantee of no loss of income and no loss of promotion prospects.  Debbie Cazeney-Fourguet, chairperson, Brigade of Militant Women, Dublin

——————–

Juridical drift? The author is a good friend of the journal but wishes on this occasion to remain anonymous, since he belongs to none of the privileged groups which can come to the rescue of someone making any public suggestion that the judicial profession does not practice its trade with perfect grace and wisdom:  Judges in England (and other anglophone countries) are increasingly allowing their judgments to overlook the vitally important concept of the mens rea, which King Alfred understood very well 1200 years ago.  They are tending instead to put a great deal of weight on the letter of the law as written; a notable example is said to be the recently departed and less than universally regretted Judge Scalia (US Supreme Court.)  Some believe this to be highly questionable since to properly understand the meaning of a text it is necessary to take into account not only the language but the intended context.  (It was on this basis that a former president allowed himself to say that he had not had a relationship with an unfortunate young lady; he was allowed not to specify the time during which he did not have the relationship.)  Yet now in some lower courts we are even seeing a further and most unwelcome juridical drift towards legal interpretations and decisions which simply conform to what are understood to be the views and wishes of the current government in the jurisdiction of trial.

(Monty has asked for it to be made explicit that he is not the author of this piece)

——————–

Most repellent line of musical criticism of 2016 : The light tenor line of the voice rests on a decorous salad of marimba, ukulele and harmonica, synergised by a gentle yet insistent basset-horn dressing.

——————–

Intern advertisement  A slot above mentions our lack of an intern, which regrettably still holds good (or bad).  This prestigious post is still open for a suitable applicant of ‘any age, any gender, any colour’.  However, we have been told we should add ‘not more than 115 kilos dry weight’ since we are now aware about the condition of the floorboards; consultations with a lawyer continue as to whether that addition is legal under equal opportunities legislation if advertised in the UK.   The lawyer also advises us to omit the bit about handling small boats as it may make us liable in case of unfortunate marine incidents.  We do not insult our staff with any dress code, short of standard public health requirements.  Speech impediments, such as chronic nasal catarrh or a regional accent are not necessarily an obstacle, short of radical unintelligibility.  However, possession of wealthy parents who wish to launch their unqualified adolescent into a respectable and remunerative career is unlikely to be viewed as an advantage to either the applicant or ourselves.

——————–

 Intern news  We are happy to record that we have had news (a picture postcard) from our former intern Maud.  The picture was made from a selfie of her and two other girls in the sumo squad on the  beach at Repulse Bay.  I regret there was no address to pass on to the many who remember her, nor was there any news except that in Hong Kong she has had 23 proposals of marriage.  But she is evidently still keenly following the interest in Ukrainian affairs she inherited from her Russian grandparents, because the rest of the card only told us about the recent UN report on the Ukraine, and said we should know about it, but of course we had already read it.

——————–

UN report on the Ukraine  Montgomery Skew writes: As with so much from the UN that report leans over so far to be neutral that it is burying its virtual head in the sand, but even if horizontality is a lousy posture for getting anything actually done, it still may be better than double standards.  It remains totally baffling to those who do not swallow government statements whole that detaching areas from Serbia to make a brand new country of Kosovo, was laudable nation building.  Yet detaching areas from Ukraine which by a large margin were inhabited by Russians, and which wanted to be attached to Russia, and which would leave a much more cohesive and economically effective Ukraine, (and into the bargain a strongly pro-western Ukraine), not to even mention the matter of hugely reducing the number of people killed and wounded in fighting, all that is playing the ‘dangerous game of adjusting national boundaries’.  Disgraceful atrocities in the Middle East should not and do not govern where political lines are drawn in Eastern Europe.  Nor, it seems, does common sense.  Diplomats of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your dogmas!

There is, though, one point in the report where facts seem to give a sharp blow in the ribs to neutrality.  In October each side was bombarding the other.  But casualties in the ‘rebel’ – i.e. Russophile – area were eight times those on the government side.  Any conclusions to draw?.

——————–

Query  Just as a matter of interest, would any reader be able to tell us how the costs to those who ultimately pay them (which in the end comes down to those who do the work) for producing the electricity needed to maintain, say, any of the major social media networks would compare with the costs of running a well-equipped American hospital for a year?  And while we are on the topic, what was the cost of producing in any average country the electricity needed to run the various networks required to maintain government surveillance of its population in, say, 2015?

——————–

Observation  New research has discovered the reason why poets usually booze a lot and engage in various other sorts of behaviour not necessarily typical of normal interpersonal activities.  The relationship is in the opposite direction. Those factors (and similarly experiences in wartime) can seriously disturb ordinary processes of syntax and notions of semantic compatibility, drastically affecting verbal fluency, resulting in great difficulty in remembering correctly the mass-produced clichés and platitudes in which the vast majority of talk, and of writing (among those who know how to write), is produced.

 

Getting things the wrong way round

Next posting, ‘Year-end clear-out’,  scheduled for 15-12-16

We have all adopted Monty’s policy as the policy of the site: onward transmission of items welcome provided there is acknowledgment of the source, and no modification in transmission

  1. Prosperity? Really?        2. Inside advice
  2. Dim lights in the gloom 4. A heroine of bureaucracy

—————————-

(Monty Skew and Karela Hangshaw writing jointly)

Tunnel vision : Judgement by appearances and the Emperor’s new clothes are not exact opposites, but close to it.  If not 180o , perhaps about 150o.  With the naked Emperor the audience’s beliefs (voluntary or enforced) are supposed to overpower the evidence of their senses.  In the other error, perceived appearance and presentation overpower common sense and facts.  (To call the latter the Reagan syndrome is not hostile to America; Americans who sincerely support their country should simply check out its state and status before and at the end of his time in office.)  Now, there is at present a massive international effort to promote free trade and the setting up, on foundations as near immovable as possible, of free trade areas.  This is being run at all levels from Christine Lagarde herself down to humble Dax and Footsie CEOs getting no more than five or six million a year.  The standard version is that globalisation and free trade, while distinguishable, are an inseparable pair who need each other, in much the same way as a bank robber and her look-out woman.  [Ed: Thank you Karela – enough of that!]  However ‘globalisation’ can mean almost anything for almost anybody, and therefore must escape reasoned criticism.  The story about international trade, as understood by the eager campaigners, is that it ‘creates’ prosperity.  So determined, or desperate, is the promotional effort that large companies are running campaigns at their shareholders’ expense, going light on the self-praise and instead telling us international trade is a wonderful boon for humanity (on a par, perhaps, with medicine or music?).  This story can only be maintained by two kinds of linguistic manipulation, which to be polite we shall call equivocations.  The lesser equivocation concerns ‘creates’, and other words such as ‘leads’ and ‘brings’ which are used in this context as equivalents, to claim that trade is the foundation of prosperity.  This claim is wonderful bunkum.  The primary foundation for prosperity is by an overwhelming margin not trade – taking goods to another place to exchange them for different assets – but technology, the devising of new and interesting goods.  It is the goods that matter, not the journey to exchange them.  Whatever would be the point of travelling thousands of miles to the other end of the world’s continents if you have nothing interesting or attractive to take? Besides, the routes have been there as routes for thousands of years, from the bleak coast of Ceredigion right across the Eurasian landmass to the East China Sea, and with well-known side-routes down as far as Zanzibar.  If trade was not booming along them then it was because the supply of different goods not obtainable in the purchaser’s immediate neighbourhood was simply not large or interesting enough.  Very simply, you have to have the tradable goods before you can trade them.  Nor is there any chance of developing a vigorous transocean trade until you have developed ships that can make the trip reliably (and a compass will help too.)  The ships do come before the flourishing prosperity, really!  Or again, there is now a very big complex of industries based on the use of lasers.  How did this come about?  We do not believe for a moment that the existence of flourishing trade centres somehow led spontaneously to the emergence of the laser.  Trade routes and active trade are by-products, like pollution; primarily by-products of technological development, and secondarily of population growth.  The conclusion is not to pour resources into treaties making life agreeable for business, with negative measures such as restricting trade unions, and helping employers to throw the poor out of work to save their own interests, and positive measures which some critics might refer to as fiscal prostitution….But here we are meeting the second and greater equivocation.  This results from a breath-taking ability (undoubtedly involuntary with some, undoubtedly cynically chosen by others) not to notice the distinction between two very different interpretations of ‘prosperity’.  When examined closely, what we call ‘prosperity’ comes down to the capacity to do things.  There is prosperity of a country, taken as a whole (almost always measured in monetary units); and there is or can be  prosperity of individuals.  But the conditions and factors which are properly relevant when talking about individuals are so different from those for a country as a whole that using the same term is thoroughly misleading, and to assess both cases on the same basis is a simple intellectual error. (Would you try to count the number of species of tree in a forest by using a clock?)  Dealing with the individuals, you need to take into account not only monetary units, but also measurements on parameters of health, types of work, living conditions and a good few other dimensions simply not representable in the same terms as financial assets.

            Trying to measure either complex in the same way as the other (and it’s nearly always the ‘whole country’ version that wins, because it is the government that does the measuring) is not just an intellectual mistake.  By a chain of connections which can easily be seen and understood by anyone with the least willingness to see and understand the inevitable dominance of the ‘whole country’ view leads to ever-increasing inequality between comfortable governing classes with great freedom of personal action (sometimes on condition they do not meddle in politics), and everybody else.  And if you don’t want to go into the theory of the dangers which then threaten a society and its individuals (not excluding those who will protest that they were never really involved –  ‘honest! –  only passing by at the time’), you don’t need to.  Just pick up and read a couple of comprehensive books of history.

——————–

Observation

As they sit back in the comfort of the first class on their way to the Far East to strengthen the historic and deeply rooted ties of mutual respect and self-interest between Great Britain and e.g.Tonkin, or Sulawesi, tycoons and ‘leaders of business’ from the City must be wondering at the changes they are going to see in a once familiar region.  There was a time in the second half of the 20th century when you knew where you were with the countries of East Asia.  ‘Korea’ in particular meant of course South Korea, a dynamic democratic republic with military overtones organised on no-nonsense lines approved by America.  Now it seems that literally millions have been mounting huge street protests to get the President thrown out on the extraordinary grounds that she was taking advice from non-elected friends who were pushing their own views to influence government policies and the flow of monies.  How can this be?  Is this not exactly the way that things have been run for years in Britain to the satisfaction of all concerned, with only the difference that in Britain such friends are speedily taken on to be special advisors, with handsome salaries paid out of the money that arrives from tax-payers?

——————–

Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes : The politics of the past few months seem to have left a lot of commentators gazing morosely over the political landscape like cows jostling in the freezing fog as they wait to get through the gate of a field where a ‘work-experience’ trainee has scattered a dozen bales of shrivelled hay.  One can understand why.  But in a darkling world we must look for glimmers of good cheer where we can find them.  And one is that the battle-weary French have at last recovered from Sarkolepsy.  They thought they’d got over it in 2012 .   But cleverly dodging past doubts about his campaign finances, Sarko returned and stoked up the fires on the French right believing this would bring him back to the top in a blaze of glory.  In fact all it did for him was to scorch his backside as he made his exit from politics.  (It seems though that the CNRS may intend to continue a little-known programme investigating whether upper-body gymnastics with invisible apparatus does indeed exert a hypnotic effect on French audiences.)  But just as the French electorate escapes from one pursuer with a preposterously exaggerated idea of his own charms, almost unbelievably, Britain is now under threat.  A deeply disturbing shape has risen from its political grave.  I presume no one thought this possible; otherwise surely they would have planted a clove of garlic in the occupant’s mouth and a stake through its political ambition when it was interred.  At present it is not certain that it will start another terrible cycle of events, but in any case let us hope that those who still feel a duty of loyalty to their country and their sovereign will study again the law relating to treason.

There have also been two minor bonuses from the recent rounds of elections.  First, there is at least now evidence that the traditional rule ‘Put enough money on and under the table, and you can buy the result you want’ is not infallible for all elections.  Estimates of the Democrat investment vary from $2bn all the way down to a paltry $1bn, but whatever it was it apparently outspent the other side and yet still produced a loser.   And the second entry in the ‘Progress’ ledger has been to cast light on the true value of ‘professionals’ who ‘know the job’ – men and women who work and calculate and run computer simulations and collate until their imagination runs dry, while they study all the reports and data until at last they could fight the previous campaign with absolute perfection, if it was held tomorrow (and who have in fact been the backbone of the losing side in most Western elections in the past ten years).  Did the Donald come with folders bulging with expertise on how to fight elections?  It didn’t look like that to me.  The other major benefit to be entered in the political columns (some might want to call it a silver lining but that seems a little overambitious in the circumstances – at best perhaps a pewter lining) is the obvious one that whatever the American result has given the world it has at least avoided four years of beautifully designed establishmentarian politics of the type which has served Washington and the well-off classes of the well-off nations so well, and done so little for all the rest of the world, confronted with  natural disasters, economic injustice, massacres, wars and the indifference of the West.

Ed: Is Berthold heading for a breakdown?  He’s certainly been poaching on Monty’s territory.  Time for a serious talk.

——————–

Let’s recognise some true worth

If you are wondering who you might send an anonymous end-of-year present to, let us suggest Federica Mogherini, whose humane intelligence is fighting bravely trying to keep the EU sane and functioning despite itself.