Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: January, 2017

Tech Supplement

I already noted some years ago that most of the answer to the question ‘How will civilisation end?’ is ‘It already has.  It’s only technology that is goose-stepping on, trampling humane interests underfoot.’  There are a few spots on the planet where so far that answer would be a little unfair and I have just returned from one of them which despite its obsession with ‘business’ scores better than most on the civilisation parameter (a word they like to use) as well as getting a whole galaxy of gold stars for the tech stuff.  But travelling there and back raised an issue which is rather troubling, namely the instructions to passengers on most airlines about what to do if the pilot reports ‘Sorry about this.  The plane will be ditching in approximately ten seconds from now.’  At the start of the flight the three passengers actually paying attention on any given aircraft are shown the posture to adopt if things go that badly wrong.  Now I’m not an expert but it looks to me that the said posture gives an extraordinarily high chance of a broken neck accompanied by instant death.  Is it safe to assume that there is no link, no link at all, to the different sums involved in paying compensation to the family of a passenger killed in an air crash and to an accident victim who lives on for thirty years as a paraplegic?


Editorial for UK edition Truth is the first casualty in government, as everyone knows, so nobody should hold it against the Donald if he readies himself for his time at the head of the nation that is leading the world into the post-truth era with a few dozen campaign promises.  All that’s really needed with a campaign promise is that it should sound good at the time and place where it comes out.  It’s a different matter for the  official statements that emerge when you have actually won control of the puppet-strings of power, because then those listening can judge whether what you say really stacks up properly beside what they can observe for themselves.  Theresa May’s remarks in Downing Street immediately after getting her fiercely studied shoes onto Number 10’s doormat can just about be excused as still being at the level of a campaign promise.  The statements now emitted from that address asserting that the crisis in the once admired National Health Service is the fault of the doctors are preposterous.  At best crass ineptitude, at a time when British doctors are under more pressure from all sides, to do more, to know more, to fill in more official requirements, and when 1,300,000 patients call on general practitioners in a single day. The government has not only disgracefully failed to meet its duties to the nation – and remember the Health Service exists not only to serve people individually but also to help the nation as a whole to maintain good enough health to do its jobs.  Attempts to blame the doctors for the difficulties caused by the government’s own decision to spend the nation’s money in other ways are nothing less than shameful.


Technological progress (i) (A contribution from Kevin V. Solmsen, Nairobi)

Don’t know if this is good news or not.  Drones and helicopters may not be blasting away at the terrorists on the world’s battlefields (nor at the world’s hospitals, and wedding receptions) much longer.  The reason is that while technology has raced ahead ahead in small-scale aerial tech, the research aimed at increasing the power of lasers, although slower, is continuing steadily.  Quite simply, before very long it will be quite easy to shoot down the drones while sitting before a screen in a secure office equipped with air-conditioning and free muzak (whether you want it or not) hundreds of miles from any battle-front, in other words in the same sort of laid-back style available to the drone-handlers themselves.  But as a laser-handler you will have the advantage that you don’t need to sweat too much about hunting for targets.  You only have to check it’s happening according to plan.  Simply put your defense apparatus in place along with sensors which will detect anything coming across the relevant frontier and assess its speed and size, and decide automatically whether to  bring its flight to a definite conclusion.  Bad luck for bats and owls, but if you’re in the killing business, bound to be some collateral d.  Good news for states rich enough and advanced enough to ring their entire frontier with the right materiel, to face off anything except multiple ballistic missiles.  And insider your defensive arc you can use your own drones to bring a definite conclusion to incoming ground troops.  The implications for those investing in helicopter production are not too rosy though, but hey there’ll still be a good internal market for helicopters for civilian uses.

Editor comments: Also bad news for some in the Middle East who thought they could get away with using reconnaissance drones by disguising them as eagles?


Curious fact  A recent French media report added a little more fuel to the political climate change which is bringing increasing pollution to the international atmosphere and in particular leaving Russia under a dark cloud.  Of course every country needs a certain amount of hostility to other countries, especially its neighbours, to maintain its own identity.  (Failure there is what went wrong with the now rapidly collapsing attempt to engineer a European Union.)  However, while this French report contained a generally acceptable level of hostility to Russia it included a seriously unhelpful note by saying we should not trust a country which does not trust its own population, citing a claim that 11% of the inhabitants were subject to government electronic surveillance.  Now, most observers are under a strong impression that any country in the West which secretly watched fewer than 50% of its own population would be unusually careless or – if you like – unusually free.  It seems safe to guess that those governments which are able to do so keep tabs on more or less 100% of their own population whatever they admit in public, often with a good proportion of the populations of other countries into the bargain, all of course in the interests of protection and maintaining high standards of civil order.   (If it also helps to keep those who share political control of those countries in political comfort, well that is doubtless just an entirely unintended side effect.)


Technological progress (ii) / Linguistic corner Approaching at speed and soon to be in an adult-toy store near you: a device which will accept spoken input and turn it into beautiful calligraphy in a style and language of your choice.  (Perhaps you would like to try the style devised and published by Lucas Materot in 1608, but the language of course is up to you.)  It goes without saying that you will have to learn the clicks, grunts, hisses, and sucking noises which will be needed to take care of the punctuation, and whistles too if you choose a language which has accents.  That is vital, since omission of punctuation except occasionally for reasons of speed is a sign of inadequate education or simple stupidity.  (Do you think ‘He didn’t take the gun because he was scared’ means the same thing as ‘He didn’t take the gun, because he was scared’ ?  If you mean ‘What he said was “Garbage!”’ would you write ‘What he said was garbage’ ?)


Political punditry  Remember : nine pundits out of ten can’t tell the difference between ‘clever’ and ‘noisy’ when they’re talking about someone in the news (including and especially themselves).


Technological progress (iii)  Many problems about driverless cars have been haggled over pretty well – so long as you’re looking at the car itself from the inside. It is far from clear that all the external issues have been properly taken into account by the enthusiasts who have got sore throats through running around their neighbourhoods gabbling about wonders to come when significant numbers of driverless cars finally hit the road, as well as hitting cyclists, and dim-witted overexcited dogs, and ditto children, and even dimmer-witted black plastic bags blown onto the road by gusts of wind.  Never mind the appalling confusion when the mix is 50/50 and real drivers rely on the avoidance responses of  cars which turn out to have reckless incompetent or drunk humans at the wheel.  Never mind the malicious hackers exploring what they can make a hacked car do (inaugurating a new golden age of highway robbery?) Are these things going to work in more dimensions than 2 or only on broad level California freeways?   Will they notice if a sinkhole opens up on the route they have chosen?  Will they react appropriately where a human driver could spot teenage refugees from approved behaviour patterns dropping plastic bags filled with paint from a highway bridge?  Those of course are fairly rare problems, but demonstrators are going to have the time of their lives, probably bringing large nations to a standstill.  To give just one example, in France there is always some protest movement doing its best to annoy the bourgeois, but famers will no longer need to summon 30,000 peasants from the deep countryside to block a main traffic route with their tractors.  All they need do is send along three or four men each with a pig to be  gently and repeatedly taken back and forth across the road at different points a few hundred metres apart, while with further development in other technologies even the pig might not actually be necessary; it could be enough to have the accomplice at the roadside holding a small portable sonar device firing a barrage of signals at oncoming traffic while the road is crossed by a hologram of the pig.


Technological progress (iv)

Meanwhile research in the field of genetic engineering continues to race ahead.  A recent closed-door invitation-only congress sponsored by the US government was said to have heard accounts of astonishing developments.   Very strict secrecy was enforced both for commercial reasons and because it was considered that many advances had potential military applications.  It is believed that achievements included not merely poisonous 20lb rats and bionic dogs able to read basic instructions in a form of morse code, but modified crocodiles able to swim the equivalent of five kilometres underwater in under twenty minutes with a two kilogram load strapped to a ventral pod.  One source however claims that after a long debate the congress came down firmly in favour of an embargo on further work  on higher species, allegedly citing a need to avoid competition at some point in the future from genetically modified genetic engineers.


Thought for the day

It is not hard to think of phrases to describe Blair’s efforts to finagle his way into British politics again but most of them are unprintable


Struggling on

Next post for 15-01-2017

While our leader is away in London I am again acting Editor, helped at the New Year time by my friend Françoise, who teaches about English business from a safe distance, in Paris (la future capitale financière of Europe, thanks to Brexit she says).  I will take the chance while Editor is away, and do something for him he should do for himself, because his serious pieces are so often right before many other people (what my acquaintance in London told me.)  I will put in the final position some of what our Editor wrote about poor M.Hollande  five years ago.  But the first piece is what our Editor wrote the night before he went to the ferry.  The rest of what is here today is from pieces in the pedal bin with little changes from Françoise and from myself, and two small pieces we wrote ourselves.  Karela Hangshaw

Late addition: when Françoise was checking that final piece about Editor’s warnings she found in the office archive a beautiful warning about election fraud with voting machines, published from this same office (in Esmond Maguire : isbn 9786169047612, first publ. 2009: p. 25)


Monty has sent the office as a ‘Yuletide gift’, A Child’s First Book of Sociopolitical Theorems.  An accompanying card says it is the book from which he taught himself to read at the age of 5 (under the bedclothes after lights-out).  Karela and I do not believe him.  An extract:

A century or two after economics lurched into unsteady action as an academic subject some economists pointed out that the long-term effect of a free market would be (or rather, was and is) to transfer the greater proportion of resources from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, given that the latter have initially, and at all ordinary stages thereafter, better access to information and a wider freedom of action.  (This happens quite independently of whether the resources available to the population are laid waste by natural disaster or warfare, or they increase through eager exploitation of all exploitable environments on the planet.  In a constrained market the same thing happens but more quickly.)  Given the toxic mix of characteristics in the human character, it is inevitable that on the whole the relatively rich and privileged will (a)  take a leading part in plotting the future course of the government, either doing it themselves or getting their pals in the political ranks to do it and (b) will not give equal treatment, let alone compensating special treatment, to those who for one reason or another are not enjoying successful lives, and therefore need at least the former.  (The nominal form of government is entirely irrelevant.)  This leads sooner or later to (c) discontent among the unsuccessful, and eventually when the unsuccessful notice what is happening, to (d) rebellion.  There are two types of rebellion, first the failure, known as a Peasants’ Revolt,  which sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process, but with the rich even more advantaged to start with, and  members of the unsuccessful even worse off, if alive.  The second type is known as a Revolution, which not by co-incidence also sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process but with the previously  rich and privileged exiled, guillotined, or thrown from castle battlements and replaced by a different bunch of rich and privileged. There are lecture halls where the continuous process leading from (a) to (d) (a vicious circle known as the UNIcycle – Unjustifiable National Inequity) is still presented as a contentious hypothetical, but realistic observers and thinkers will smile politely and find other uses for their time. Naturally the time scale over which the cycle can extend is very variable.  Occasionally, epidemics of national morality can delay its completion substantially.  On the other hand it can be accelerated by interaction with a similar cycle which in the really long-term may be even more disastrous for the future of the species, namely the transfer of resources from the relatively stupid to the relatively clever, with a similar disbalancing effect. How the resulting eventual crisis when phase (d) is reached the next time, now that so many societies have a prolific supply of small arms, large extremist parties, and a lot more volatile life-threatening materials than ordinary citizens find they have any ordinary need for is a question with of course more than one answer.  (But none of them are pleasant.)


Rumour  It is said (mainly by western biologists jealous of the huge amounts of research cash that are not going their way) that literally dozens of projects are now secretly running in Eastern Asia to clone wealthy businessmen, to produce synthetic offspring (or perhaps better ‘sidespring’).  But recently there has been talk of a particularly unusual case.  This allegedly involves a tycoon establishing a team charged with research which could ultimately arrange for him to produce clones of the other sex, for friendship with a view to marriage, as the saying goes.


Future news  As nanosensing of DNA progresses it achieves astounding success. Young experts now gaze round-eyed in wonder at old-timers of 30 or 35 telling of their pride back in the dark ages of tissue analysis at being able to identify who had been drinking in a bar by examining samples of DNA left  on the glass.  Almost unimaginable by modern standards.  Nowadays it is possible to tell which currently  respectable and indeed prominent member of society is the one who was holding the camera that filmed a particularly spectacular piece of social deviance some thirty or more years ago.   But even these successes are, the government hopes, to be outdone in the near future, thanks to a combination of these techniques with megadata from the cameras, microphones, and motion sensors attached to tiny, silent drones or affixed, ‘at random’, to cars parked in ‘areas of special concern’, so as to further advance social order and to be soon making the country safe for the police to patrol, armed with tasers and other ‘non-lethal’ devices ‘for the protection of the community’, everywhere from leafy suburbs to the darkened doorways of back alleys in red-light districts.  The government is re-allocating funds from unspecified other areas and believes it will soon be possible for authorised officials, with, of course,  a warrant supplied by a magistrate who will, of course, have scrutinised each application with scrupulous care, to search any house in the country and from infinitesimal traces in the air determine not merely who has been in any room in that house within the preceding twenty-four hours, but what substances they consumed while there, what country those substances came from, and how long ago, and most useful of all to give a reliable estimate of when the same people will be in the room again.


Late news

In the interests of gender equality BBC news programmes are in future to accord equal amounts of time to reports on female and male typhoons and tropical storms.


Overheard  (at Paddington railway station, powerfully built woman mid-forties.) “No good blaming  television for the decline of British standards.  ’F you ask me, I’d say it was democracy.  For centuries the British were more or less willing to be deferential to their social superiors but somewhere about 1950 they became unsure who their social superiors were.”


From Berthold, a note:  Just on a matter of interest – no, let me rephrase that; just on a matter of abominable ill-discipline, poor training, and highly questionable selection techniques, not to even touch on incomprehensible judicial processes, may I ask how many black policemen in America in the past, say, fifty years have been involved in any incident which led to them shooting an unarmed white man.


Warnings ignored  Our Editor is angry because Monty got a gold card for their big conference, but he only has a red one, so no entry to E or ‘Skua’  briefings.  I hope he will be glad we are posting an example of his good analysis achieved many months or years before others.  This piece is put together from parts  of four postings within the first three months of Hollande as President in 2012.  Only very little changes to punctuation and making sentences a little part shorter.  (KH)

It is now many years since I regularly played Monopoly (and won) against young Nikki Sarkozy, at that time still clad in grey serge shorts, while my grandfather presided over a dinner table with presidents and prime ministers sitting jowl by elbow (some of them were indeed awfully uncouth in their table manners).  We later lost touch, but were I myself host to such occasions now, then Nicolas might well be on the guest list.  Certainly not his successor.  It remains a deep mystery of current European politics that the French were offered Hollande to vote for rather than the intelligent competence of Martine Aubry, as a way of ousting the incumbent.  This journal can claim no public credit for its private doubts about Hollande before his election, but within a week of his victory we gave our plain opinion that he was not up to the job – poor chap; one should not expect a man fitted to manage the stores in an army camp to direct the nation’s war effort with mastery if he is suddenly handed the baton of the commander-in-chief.  He never previously held any ministerial office, though between 2001 and 2008 he was mayor of Tulle, a town of some 15,000 known for the production of accordions.  Did you ever see a man whose face and movements tried so hard – and let him down so badly – in the attempt to hide inner uncertainty and lack of command?             Many have commented on the new French leader’s shabby treatment of Mme Aubry after his victory, which could very easily be seen as a case of a man not liking to have a woman around who is cleverer and more competent than himself.  And so it may be, but that can still leave us wondering how such a lacklustre fellow won the election to be president of France.  One of the clearest marks of his political inexperience is that he has been trying to keep his campaign promises.  As one instance, the increased special allowance for children of school age is already being paid.  However, it is obvious that there is no point in making a campaign promise which you intend to keep, because you will only intend to keep it if your people have found that it can be kept; in which case the opposition or at least its more intelligent components will already have done precisely the same.  The only campaign promises worth making are those that you do not intend to keep (provided, of course, that they look glamorous in the eyes of the electorate.)