Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: July, 2017

Unfortunately, much of this is true

Next post (finagling and events permitting) : 1-9-2017

*News flash: Mystery hardware order

Earlier this year market analysts commented on a worldwide surge in shares of companies manufacturing physical ‘security’ equipment  (such as ‘smart’ razor wire able to  automatically launch preemptive strikes when approached, anywhere along its length, while summoning drones from headquarters).  But new reports describe contracts for hundreds of thousands of high specification combination locks controlled at distance by passwords which can change daily, placed with American manufacturers by the EU Commission, allegedly to allow these  to be fitted at all frontiers to frustrate any attempts by the UK to get back into the EU after March 2019.  A  high level official speaking on condition of the strictest anonymity said ”Ever since I took over from Barroso the UK has been a constant pain in the arse and we couldn’t be more glad to get rid of them.  The only reason we’re pretending we want them to stay is to get them to pay us a lot of money in the ‘divorce’ settlement.  Things are moving along so well at present that some more hot-headed young officials are urging us to set up similar scenarios with Poland and Hungary.  I categorically deny any personal involvement; but who do you suppose has been provoking eastern Europe’s right-wingers?”

——————–

(Obiter collecta) Fegan’s Guide to Social Organisation (in 218 parts: pt. 104)

Other things equal, a new law or regulation will tend to benefit the class (the U class) to which those who draft laws and regulations belong, and to limit the freedom of all others.  However, the disadvantage can often be reduced for a member of the non-U classes if he or she pays a tax or obtains a licence allowing them to retain some part of a freedom that would otherwise be lost.  The cost of such licences and the level of such taxes are set by members of the U class (who of course control the administration of the resulting government revenue).

——————–

Op Ed from ‘Jonas’: In times well within living memory ‘industry’ meant industry (as opposed to agriculture, fishing or ‘trade’; other occupations apart from the armed services counted as ‘niche’ activities, such as stockbroking, being a doctor, or working ‘in the City’.  Administration did not really count as an occupation at all; it was just something you did as part of your proper job. (Check out the startling changes in e.g. the running of (a) hospitals or (b) any randomly selected European Ministry of Defence, since 1945)  (Governments really need to wake up to the fact that a very large proportion indeed of a nation’s activity and resources is now spent on administrators whose only task, full-time, is to administer the work of other administrators.)  Nowadays of course most countries have ‘industries’ à gogo, including, a ‘leisure industry‘, ‘creative industries’ and a ‘tourist industry’ as well as a ‘hospitality industry’ and a ‘sex industry, with the latter three perhaps being the same thing but operating at different times of day.  (By the way, I’m not inventing these terms; I’ve met every one of them more than once, and not, as far as I could tell, intended satirically either.) (Has anyone spotted a ‘heavy industry industry’ yet?)  But since nowadays all of us except tramps, convicts and criminals not yet arrested are mere cogs in the great unthinking machine that is a modern business-oriented state mindlessly pursuing the ever retreating goal of screwing ever better figures for GDP out of the workforce, then let’s take the chance of making an annoying suggestion.  In most countries there is still one huge feral predatory ‘industry’ roaming the economic landscape which could be brought under government control and should be, if only for the sake of all the money that could then be squeezed out of it.  Any intelligent country should immediately nationalise the lobbying industry, and then regulate it AND TAX IT!

—————-

Market news Following the report that Ogglekook is to produce a new hypersmartphone that can transmit thoughts and images without users even needing to have the thoughts or see the images first, the company’s shares were last night reported to be making the fastest ever ascent without supplementary oxygen on the Wall of the New York Stock Exchange.

——————–

Five hundred or so are drowned each year in France, nearly all accidentally.  Not a high number set against a population of 68 million (if you only count those officially on government records, and try not to notice those sleeping rough – estimated at 80,000 in Paris alone last winter –  or living in derelict buildings to avoid the police charged with deporting desperate refugees back to ‘safe’ countries like Afghanistan and the squads just out for a bit of fun roughing up easy opponents; but 500 is a fairly high proportion of those exposed to recreational water.  So ‘authorities’ want to promote courses to teach all children how to swim.  Just think rationally now.  In fact most of those 500 might still be alive if they’d had a reasonable fear of the sea and open water in general instilled in them from childhood upwards.  O.k. you can call it ‘respect for the sea and open water’ if you like, but the point still carries significant weight.  Notice, if you haven’t, that the human is an animal with two legs for walking, running and kicking aggressors in the obvious target, not a creature with a sleek tail and assorted fins for convenient travel under water.  If without a programme of mass encouragement you’re getting 500 drowned in a year, it is virtually certain that teaching all children how to swim is going to increase the number of victims.  And would you want to apply this strategy elsewhere?  It seems quite possible that as things are some other recreational activities have even higher proportions of practitioners harmed, injured or killed.  Should the government introduce nationwide  instruction for children in rock-climbing?  Moto-cross?  Parcours/Parkur?  Or alcohol consumption?

——————–

Linguistic corner (From our archives) Whatever it says in the dictionary ‘ideology’ in practice  consists of acquiring an idea which at first may have a certain meretricious charm, committing oneself to it, and then running away with it, with never a backward glance, leaping carefree over all barriers raised by common sense, and taking it with you into new and strange territory where the idea is no longer a desirable ‘compagnonne de route’, no longer even attractive, but an embarrassing liability, violently –  perhaps even dangerously – at odds with the landscape where you now find yourself.  Examples for UK  readers:  voting Conservative, listening to One Direction, supporting the English soccer team, leaving the EU.

——————–

**News flash :  Grenfell Tower fire, 14-06-2017.    British government announcement that there is to be a review of building regulations, 29-07-2017 [On account of its high public profile this newsflash has been brought to you by enhanced express delivery which can even override obligations to attend week-end tennis matches, agreeable dinner parties, and cruises on the river]

——————–

It is long since we’ve heard from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, once a regular  contributor to our reports, earlier a reliable member of the manipulators of tax avoidance for right-thinking citizens of southeastern England.)  I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that underneath the damp blanket stretched over his personality by a British upbringing there lurked, if not a crouching tiger, at least a performing flea, which under the tough editorial régime imposed on him here led to him developing intellectual muscles in unpredicted places.  He started to go off the rails (as his old companions would see it) and changed his job to take a post – heaven knows why – in one of the all too many universities of London (full of students, administrators, general riff-raff).  He became a keen cyclist, grew a beard which made  him look like Corbyn, and has been seen taking part in street demonstrations with some ‘unusual’ associates, among others a group of feminist survivalists based in the Cotswolds who believe men only grow a penis because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. This letter tells us on a recent visit to the Senate House he accidentally attended the wrong ‘briefing session’ addressed by a government minister and heard quite a lot before being hustled out during the final questions and answers.  It appears there is a complex government plan with inspiration drawn in part from the activities of Airbnb to radically change employment conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.  Each day millions of workers join the harassed streams flowing as slowly as molten lava into city centres.  Yet at the same time great numbers are moving in the opposite direction.  As the economy has developed, more and more of national productivity takes place outside cities.  Outside the main conurbations there are many thousands of warehouses, factories, airports, storage depots, and ‘retail complexes’.  The government intends to require that – except in the case of those operating nightshifts – companies and individuals owning these enterprises must redesign the facilities (often extensive) so as to use the existing buildings, perhaps with some additions, to provide accommodation for the workforce employed within them (including the families).  In return the owners will be allowed to charge rentals for the accommodation.  The benefits will be enormous for all concerned, provided there are explicit legal contracts linking accommodation and employment.  Owners will be assured of a stable workforce, with minimal absenteeism and 100% punctuality.  In addition they could be allowed the option of setting up basic retail outlets to cater to the needs of the resident workers, and perhaps basic medical facilities (which could also quickly check on cases of malingering).  The workforce will be spared the stress and expense of daily transport and perhaps even of the need to purchase a vehicle, and might well enjoy lower housing costs than in city centres.  Basic shopping would be available a few steps from their new homes.  The wider region would benefit from the reduction in pollution, and stress on the transport system.  The nation would save on fuel costs, and a significant reduction in social benefit expenditure, as well as a partial solution to the housing crisis.

   It was only revealed that Berthold should not have been present when he asked the minister  if he did not feel that this was a reintroduction of slavery, or at least serfdom.  (The minister laughed and remarked he had never heard of a slave receiving a monthly pay packet with government taxes ready calculated and deducted, but it was at this point that the security guards were called in.)

——————–

The Editor writes: Personal note: I came back from my tour and found the place looking like a French Square after a Britain vs Russia football match.  Hadn’t even cleared up ….but I won’t waste description on details of the hooliganism, except to denounce the theft of the whole dozen of Château du Tertre and the last couple of Corton Charlemagne.  One interesting aspect, though, which my friends in the law and order branch are investigating further is a Philippine passport, probably fake, with the villain’s photo but a quite different name, found along with a pair of used underpants in the cupboard underneath the tv monitor. I’m not going to mess about nursing my wrath to keep it warm.  It will be quite hot enough if that scoundrel ever sets foot on this island again, though it’s unlikely he’ll risk it. If he does my friends have promised me he’ll be slung not gentlyinto the slammer on the most embarrassing charges that occur to them.  I admit a severe loss of trust in my ability to assess character by simply meeting a face and talking to it.   (Am still pretty confident I’m right about Macron, though, and I note that he’s already had the biggest drop in approval ratings of any incoming president since the Chirac débacle!)  Needed soonest: new intern!

 

 

Taking Off and Adding Up

 

The Editor’s idea of housekeeping is frankly too uptight from where I have been watching, and certainly too uptight for me to be around when he comes back from his Mediterranean tour. I aim to be gone before that.   So right now I’m going to have another outing on this cardboard and duct-tape set-up of his.  But out of the goodness of my heart I’ll include the non-‘fake news’ story about early birdmen which came in by dead-tree mail from some friend of his, signing ‘Llewellyn’.

            To my surprise there were eleven entries for that contest of mine, for the best answer to the question ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’  Four were disqualified for going past the length set at  four double-sided A4 sheets.  Two more were discarded as blatantly trying to give a negative answer.  I discarded all the rest as they had clearly been produced by one or other of the computer programmes now used by leading newspapers to write editorials or their ‘analyses’ of currently fashionable news stories (i.e. cut-and-paste compilations in adolescent’s English).  As there were therefore no valid replies I drank the prize myself.

p.s. There are some things I do approve of here, like the photo of the sumo-wrestling Maud who used to be an intern here, on the inside of the loo door, plus the well chosen books on the shelf in there: ‘Goodbye to all that’ (Robert Graves) (a rather taciturn fellow face to face by the way) and ‘English philosophy since 1900’ (Geoffrey Warnock) of which most pages had been torn out for some reason.

*******

Fake News: this is not something that was only invented in 2016.  Take the matter of the first flight  The first manned – oh, apologies to all p.c. persons with clenched posterior muscles;  starting again: ‘the first personned flight in a heavier than air vehicle was made by the Wright brothers in 1903’.  This is flatly untrue.  There is admittedly some doubt about the effort of Clément Ader who in 1890 covered some 50 airborne metres while clutching the frame of his batlike machine.  He did survive, but without evidence provided by video-recording (yet to be invented at that date) there may be suspicion that he managed to endow his device with some kind of powerful spring so as to behave like a sort of large mechanical kangaroo, instead of achieving true flight.  But you only need wait until 1896 and then you have the unarguable case of Samuel Langley who accomplished several flights over a distance of 1,400 metres.  The efforts of the Wright brothers in 1903 were not seen by outside observers and anyway sound as if they may have been in mechanical kangaroo mode.  You have to wait till 1905 before they first stayed up more than one minute.  (Some of the mediaeval lunatics who jumped off high places strapped to arrays of parchment, feathers and unjustified optimism did at least stay up longer than the Wrights had till 1905, travelling 600 yards in one case.)  However all this is completely beside the point.  The first true personned untethered flight was made in 1783 by Pilâtre de Rozier who stayed up 25 minutes and travelled 12 kilometres.  At this point we see smirks of triumph from the Wright fan club, “Aha, but you see, this is a contest for machines heavier than air.”   However this meets expressions of disdain from Pilâtre’s friends and family; “Dear Americans, you have perhaps not noticed that balloons such as he used are in the fact extremely heavy objects.  A reunion of our French national rugby team, which could essuyer le terrain with any ‘football’ team you might bring forward to challenge us, would have some difficulty in raising one of those objects more than a metre or so above the glorious soil of France.”  Triumpant glee on the Wright-hand side, “Tsk, these European guys just don’t get it, do they?”  (Speaking as if to a very small child.)  “Listen, buddies, when you put the gas in or hot air or whatever, it all adds up to negative weight – like, the whole gizmo is lighter than air.”  Air is expelled loudly from French noses.  A long pause as they look from one to the other with raised eyebrows and barely perceptible smiles, then one speaks, quite softly.  “We in France have often seen, in 1917 and 1941 for instance, that attaining to understanding of important matters can sometimes proceed more slowly in America – without doubt because of the great influence of your lawyers, ever ready to guard against any proposal or action which might not be to the benefit of America and those, or at the least some of those, who live there.  But please consider for a moment.  Every aeroplane that has ever been built is heavier than air when it stands still.  A modern airliner can weigh 200 tonnes.  However, when it is desired to make the plane fly, the interaction between the structure of the aircraft and aerodynamic forces when it undertakes rapid forward motion, has the fortunate result of imparting what is called in your language ‘lift’, and when this enters upon the equation the result is that the entire apparatus – the whole gizmo, as you put it – becomes lighter than air, exactly as with the balloons.  If this was not so, the aeroplane would not stay above the earth, as a little unbiassed thought will help you to agree.  We rest confident that the one who achieved the historic advance is rightly recognised as our brave and well-loved pioneer Pilâtre.”  (It is reported that President Trump is to order new restrictions on French journalists from next Thursday.)

Nb the world’s first aerial bombing raid was carried out by the Austrians with Venice as the target, using the latest balloon technology available, in 1849

*******

Why the hell I should suggest to ad agencies ways they could try not to waste money is beyond me.  No, it isn’t.  I remember – the money they pay net in placing adverts is a lot less than the money they get for ‘designing’ them and ‘creating’ (!) them in the first place, and that money comes from the companies which want them ‘designed’ and ‘created’, who get that money from the poor benighted customers who buy whatever it is, trying hard not to be aware (if they ever are) that part of the dosh they’re handing over is going to be spent on persuading them, the customers, to buy the stuff they’re intending to buy anyway.  Somebody does very nicely out of it.  And just to put the artificially intelligent cherry on this monstrous trifle of idiocy, there is abundant evidence now that hundreds of billions of the clicks that persuade companies to keep paying for adverts have never had any contact whatever (at the transmitting end, anyway) with a human mind, as opposed to a clickbot.  Let me stress that I am as near to neutral as you can get in this Home for the Commercially Insane.  Why then should I have any interest in disrupting the whole grotesque circus?  Sheer jealousy – you see my serene honesty?  I resent the fact that some cats are getting very fat by taking advantage of human credulity when if things had panned out a bit differently I could be coining it myself (plus, of course, rage at the abysmal standards of imagination, aesthetics, and rational thought with which the ads infuriate the modern human).  SO

 Helpful suggestions to ad agencies making less moolah than they consider desirable: (1) check out your algorithms; one of them may have caught a virus or two, or three; or they may have been prepared on an oversimple set of assumptions about human behaviour and its observable correlates; (2) assumptions which may hold good for you may be a waste of time when applied to 75% of the punting proletariat; try hard to let this notion cross your mind; (3) whenever on the job (devising ads, I mean) try to use a dialect of English approximately similar to standard usage, no matter how cutesy or now the slogans may sound round the creative table; remember that as inhabitants of the adsphere you live in a mental world severely alien from that of ordinary users; being inside it you may not find it easy to realise this.  But would you learn to bargain in a Chinese market by watching performances of Peking Opera?

 

 

Negotiating towards disaster

No this is not your Editor writing.  He has left me in charge of the place while he takes a summer holiday.  He claimed he has been invited to join a presidential team charged with devising new combinations of countries and organisations (not necessarily real, now or ever) that can be made ready in case of need to allege their existence, presented together with supporting aerial photographs and forged documents to persuade troublesome populations around the world that there is a new and even more threatening axis-of-evil about to bombard them (‘with just 45 minutes warning’ is apparently the timespan to be asserted).   That is, if attempts at détente with whatever axis-of-evil is currently the on-duty axis-of-evil do not succeed in failing, which involves much less effort.  (It’s nearly always more comfortable dealing with a familiar long-term enemy.)  Actually I don’t think I believe a word of his story, because I met some good chaps in a bar down at the harbour, and they told me every year he takes his Lamborghini off to France or Italy for a couple of weeks in the summer for a holiday.  He said nothing about posting before he left.   I’m taking that as his agreement for me to have a go myself, though in fact the first item is something a reader in Fiji sent in which I found when I went through the post.  Edward D.L.H.

  1. The Theresa mystery 2. The Gulf mystery  3. Career advice 4. Prize competition  5.Counterclassicism

If he sticks to his schedule – a bit fussy about stuff like that – the next regular posting will be 1/8/2017


Some have unkindly, and inaccurately, described Theresa May as Hillary Clinton translated into British.  Theresa got where she did by her own efforts, not significantly aided by serried banks of supporters, and she did get to the top job.  But she is a paradigm example of the outstanding lieutenant who should not have been promoted  captain.  Given a post (Minister of the Interior) where cunning politicians like to see an able and efficient rival, since there is a good chance its demands may leave them exhausted, she held it for six years and still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, the police and the elderly grandees of her own party.  But Theresa’s efficiency is her weakness.  She identifies issues and their parameters, the problems and their solutions, and systematically works out the ways to deal with them.  Efficiency, in this mode, is what in junior posts is described as ticking boxes.  To tick a box appropriately you have to identify it, and that identification tends to fill up the foreground of the attention, blocking the chance of taking into account other circumstances that might be related, might be important. and might change.  This kind of efficiency is the enemy of the imagination of the gifted and successful leader.  In the case of the holder of a demanding post it also inevitably leads to a risky dependence on outlines and options and information and position papers passed upwards from offices which individually will very probably have less competence and less complete awareness of what is needed.  The procedures for supplying that material will soon enough become standard and by that fact will be invested with a spurious aura of reliability and authority, even when the material is the outcome of an overworked inexperienced subordinate team.  And what will the result be when the time comes to take the sum of this prodigious labour and to ask others from an opposing camp to accept the carefully measured and firmly based conclusions of one’s own side?  Will one meet them with a mind ready to hear different views and values and to recognise aspects of the situation that had not shown themselves before, a mind able at once to see a way to build a stronger structure by combining the familiar with the new?  Or will that strenuous preparation of meticulous plans to cover every factor foreseen have led to unquestioning trust in one’s own side’s right to stay true to its decisions, adherence to its predetermined principles and to insistence that one’s own position is the only one possible, led in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

——————–

E.D.L.H writes.  A chum of mine  who is still in the diplomacy racket thinks the trouble heating up in the Persian Gulf (apologies to my Arab friends but I grew up with that name constantly in my ears and it’s hard to change long term habits) could have a very simple origin.  Anybody notice a couple of odd things about it?  Things had been going along there tickety-boo for years, even if some were getting a bit cheesed off about all the attention being given to Qatar.  Then suddenly three states suddenly made seriously heavy noises in the direction of Qatar (plus Egypt which gets a lot of money from the Gulf), telling them they’d got to shut down the Turkish army base there (odd that they didn’t mention the much larger US base, but that fits my chum’s theory like a glove), tug the forelock to the leaders of the Arab world which they made very clear did not include Turkey, blow raspberries or medium-range missiles at Iran, and shut down Al Jazeera.  Now when did all this start?  Just about three weeks ago.  And what happened a week or two before that?  Donald Trump’s successful visit to Saudi Arabia, with pomp, friendship, and massive contractual benefits.  Most of the world by now is familiar with our friend Donald’s impulsive generosity towards those he sees as his friends, and also familiar with his free-ranging eloquence.  The theory is that there was a certain amount of misunderstanding in the parleys that took place (by no means at all the first such occasion when leaders of the Arab world have met westerners expounding their views), and that the Saudi side may have got the impression that they were going to get US support from there on in, whatever they might set their hand to.  What better opportunity could they find to take those they see as uppity Qataris down a peg or three?  And the Saudis may have assumed it would be un-American to cancel a contract as big as that one even if some untoward incident, such as nuclear war should intervene.

——————–

Opinion piece (anon.)  Careers advice centres seem slow in adapting to the modern world.  When did you last hear of a twenty-something being adviced (that is apparently how now-generation professionals in that line of business should put it) about how to get himself or herself onto the books of a functioning international organisation.  But it’s a high premium goal.  Once in, a good chance of a first class life-style for decades.  Generous salary and very generous expenses/’compensation’ schemes.  Very little work required apart from the production of reports and statistics and mission statements and  draft programmes in sufficient quantity to ensure that those who receive them will not attempt to read the stuff.  Moreoever there will be plenty of competent assistants and secretaries to deal with whatever has to be done in the office.  Downside?  Not much, though attendance at meetings can become a drawback if not treated with the right level of insouciant contempt, which of course must never be directed overtly at those through whose ranks you hope to rise to become a Vice-President Europe, or Regional Director Southeast Asia.   Ideal work environment, since any self-respecting government will facilitate large and luxurious headquarters for any right-sounding international organisation that decides to base itself in their country.   Largely stress-free schedules unless you choose to input the stress yourself (see again remark about assistants and secretaries), and first-class air travel every time you jet off for a study tour or congress. For the energetic and imaginative there could be great advantages (though correspondingly also risks) in developing a brand-new international organisation of your own in co-operation with the right sort of individuals in the state where it is to be based, but of course you must make sure first that the organisation does not already exist.  (Their number is very great.)  Naturally it must claim to promote something which is going to cost little by comparison with the annual budget of the average government, but at the same time look good when the leader goes along to give his annual speech at the UN.   Anyone for a World Index of Cross-Border Navigation Rights, or an Asian Commission on Dental Health of Domestic Pets, or an International Double-Migration Advisory Panel?

——————–

One thing which I certainly share with our Editor even though I have the wrong nationality and, for the past few years, the wrong habitat too, is British politics and public life, endless source of wonder at human credulity and incompetence.  A single example: London has recently decided to remove the ‘speed bumps’ built into suburban roads, on the grounds that drivers’ reactions to them increase air pollution and thereby impose a cost in life expectancy.  (Why do they think the ‘speed bumps’ near schools, for example, were put there in the first place?) But  the Editor’s approach to that strange society seems to have  been rather po-faced.  I’m going to set up a prize competition.  A bottle of Château du Tertre for the best article to fit the following heading:  ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’  Answers (typed please) on not more than 4 sheets of A4 paper to this office by 7/7/17 (E.D.L.H.)

——————–

Counterclassicism:  A striking piece of evidence that time will not ‘always tell’, or at least that some bits of truth may have to wait longer than the whole existence of the human race before being revealed:  Virgil built up a solid reputation as a major poet by (a) writing a lot of stuff; (b) using it, as well as other opportunities, to fawn on the emperor who liked that, and who could have Virgil neutralised at the drop of a handkerchief; (c) exercising an eye for picking out the sort of ideas that well-off and well-connected Romans liked to hear; (d) having a fairly good verbal memory and a good grounding in the rules needed for writing Latin hexameters (though he got that part wrong in places); (e) sharing a belief popular throughout recorded history that pompous or antique verbiage is ipso facto poetic; and (f) quite remarkably little talent for imagination, visual description, using words and syntax for achieving interesting aesthetic effects, and for any other qualities that can raise a claim for a true poet.  Just take an unprejudiced look at his work, Georgics just as much as the Aeneid, strip away the respectful aura enveloping it for millennia.  How can the reputation survive an honest unbiassed assessment?

———————-