Year-end clear-out

by ammophila

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.)

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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.

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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?”

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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.)

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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.

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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).

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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.)

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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).

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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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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?.

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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?

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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.

 

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