Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: March, 2018

WE KEEP ON TELLING YOU

Special motoring supplement!

WE KEEP ON TELLING YOU

This journal with its forerunners has a top-class record for warning, sometimes years in advance, about looming problems, such as French president Hollande, (and offering carefully crafted proposals for dealing with them).  Yet another issue is now showing faintly in the background on the touch screens of the world’s millennials – the ever increasing damage done to human life and civilisation by the private motor vehicle.  (Given well documented recent research you should very likely add ‘insect and bird life’ to that charge sheet.)  The piece below was first published exactly ten years ago, and please note also the fourth piece.

 

Let us wonder if the principal cause of traffic problems is the existence of roads.  (To keep things simple, we shall restrict ourselves to the black core of traffic problems, those involving machines made mainly out of metal, powered by a motor, and moving on wheels.)  Do not take this in the weak-kneed sense of ‘more roads give more and worse traffic problems’, even though that is undoubtedly true (and it has been shown often and conclusively that it is not just a matter of both resulting from a simple rise in the population).  Bypassing that,  the version we are dealing with here is more stark: ‘if there were no roads there would be no traffic problems’.  (This too can be misunderstood, as a mere definitional matter, along the lines of that old favourite of Aunt Minnie the marriage guidance counsellor: ‘we could do away with divorce if only we abolished marriage’).  This time take it seriously.  No side-stepping by imagining that the urgent human desire to be somewhere that one is not (and soon) has been neatly removed from the human design, although we may allow for it to receive some sedative shots.

      The problems

{1} as seen exclusively by the principal traffic victim, the car owner:

        (i) expense of money in buying

        (ii) expense of time and money in maintaining and repairing

        (iii) expense of emotional stability, resulting from damage to and by,

             from theft or risk of theft of, and from dealing with service staff,

             mechanics, and with official associated paperwork;

{2} as viewed both by the car user and everyone else on the road :

         (iv) delays, danger and worse to life, limb, and mental stability;

{3} as watched aghast by the population at large including those above :

        (v) most of the preceding plus filth in the air, and gargantuan

            expense on construction and maintenance of the road system.

      Please now imagine that benevolent aliens foreseeing the possible course of development had for some inscrutable reason decided to help this inept and irascible planet, and had descended in 1850, in time to avoid the inventiveness about to be unleashed by the Great Exhibition, and had abolished all roads, establishing a strict and terribly effective framework to ensure they would never be built again.  What now could be done for all the millions who felt (and feel today) compelled to rush from A to B every morning, passing and here and there colliding with roughly equal numbers having a deep-rooted desire to speed from B towards A, not to mention the yet greater number of journeys which do not fall into such a monotonic rhythm?

      We can at once state confidently that it is unlikely that motor vehicles would ever have been developed.  Given the characteristics of the early forms through which the motor car had to pass to reach its ‘mature’ types, it is highly doubtful whether even Heath Robinson would ever have thought one up without the convenient existence of roads.  Railways of course were there already and no doubt would have been expanded hugely even if we admit that while they can act as a kind of vascular system for a nation, for good reasons they will not go on to provide the capillaries.  Travel by river and canal would have been seen as a valuable resource to be cherished and greatly developed.  Bicycles would scarcely have been affected.  They do not need roads, as the prosperous manufacturers of mountain bikes reflect happily.

      But a more important answer is that a large number of such journeys –  in all probability, the huge majority – would never have been thought necessary.  For example, it would be taken for granted that employees would normally be sought locally, and in other cases would move to live locally.  Cantankerous relatives living fifty miles away would not even be expecting to be visited with a small gift once a month.  Family outings for pleasure would naturally take the form of visits to the nearest museum, or  bracing walks up the nearest mountain, rather than a drive of two hours and three traffic jams to some dismal theme park.  In the shops one would buy fruit and vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside as they came into season, not brought in refrigerated trucks from an airport with a cargo link to some other hemisphere.  Children would be accompanied to school on foot, or, in the case of those whose muscles developed sufficiently, there would be in the true sense a school run.

      What, however, of those journeys that might still be supposed necessary?  Part of the answer is of course that many of them would not actually exist.  Who would need to be rushed to hospital with a broken leg when the traffic accident which caused the fracture could never have taken place, nor indeed any untoward events at all involving the inside or outside of a motor vehicle?  And first aid might be able to handle most of the very rare cases of one pedestrian run over by another.  But beyond that, let us take the example of a hugely important business meeting at which mighty tycoons meet in file-to-file combat to decide who shall buy out the other and strip the assets.  Nobody could doubt for a moment that the equivalent of what we call ‘video-conferencing’ would have been developed to a level far more magnificent than we have reached yet.  Television would have been invented fifty years earlier.  The communication is needed, but not the travel.

      These improvements, however, are mere bagatelles compared to the glorious flowering that can be envisaged of human ability to deal with travel aerially.  The desirability of such developments is immediately obvious.  To name but two aspects, the amount of space free for movement in the air is multiplied hugely, by whatever quantity can be assigned to the height that vehicles can reach, and the directions in which one can move are unconstrained by such elements as buildings, trees, monuments, or watercourses so frequently inconvenient for the earthbound motorist.  As things have actually proceeded, moreover, gigantic sums have been spent finding ways of making quite limited use of the vertical dimension for vehicles, even while maintaining the terrestrial nature of roads, with tunnels, bridges, and underpasses, and it is scarcely conceivable that a sum, in all likelihood far smaller, could not have achieved far better results if it had been applied instead to developing new aerial types of vehicle.

      The benefits from the non-existence of roads are so great that they are not easy to grasp.  It is not merely a matter of money, but nevertheless reflect on the scarcely believable expense of money along with deranged ingenuity (as well as, at times, hatred of the natural landscape) that has built, improved, extended, and maintained with loving care roads, since the year 1850.  It is a sum up there with some of the astronomical figures, and calculated by one group at well over two quadrillion pounds – thousands of times the total that has been thrown at the development of space travel by all the world’s nations combined. Some believe it is even comparable with the sums spent on killing and maiming civilians and destroying assets in warfare.

      We have already touched also on the vast increase that would result in the capacity of the population for physical exercise with obvious general benefits, and more than that there would be a prodigious advantage from the reduction of pollution.  In the absence of the motor car, motor fuel would not have been needed, nor its additive, lead, which is straightforwardly known to be a serious toxin which accumulates in the human body, especially damaging to children.  It has been established fairly reliably that the amount of lead in the bloodstream of the average human being alive today is some hundreds of times higher than 150 years ago.  And lead is of course by no means the only poison spewed from exhaust pipes.

      Finally, perhaps more important than any of this, the wars that have been fought to control sources of oil (whatever the specious claims advanced suggesting other motives) would have been fought for different reasons, and would have been very much fewer and the appalling human destruction that has accompanied them would have been vastly less.

      A case to answer.

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By co-incidence, in recovering the above item another piece of that same date turned up, about another issue also now causing increasing dismay, but in this case on moral rather than environmental grounds. 

Details have been leaked of the new ‘compatibility’ test.  It is to be taken by all those arriving in the country for any purpose whatever except if holding a passport of one of the five countries on the list of ‘approved’ governments.  It will consist of three parts, a check for a suitable level of ability in an approved dialect of the English language, appropriate personal presentation (including evidence of access to and use of a sufficient range of British-style clothing and acceptable patterns of hairstyle and facial hair), and a satisfactory set of responses to questions about social attitudes (the latter element to be extended to a written examination, taken in the airport at the cost of the arriving visitor, should the immigration police deem this necessary).

      A spokesman denied that the plans incorporated any aspects of racism.  He explained that the test was merely a further step in the government’s ongoing programme aimed at deepening and confirming social harmony and at eliminating any risk of unpleasant experiences involving overseas citizens due to their foreign appearance or possible foreign behaviour.  The spokesman did not deny that at some future date the test’s reach might be extended to cover all those currently living in the country who could not provide reliable evidence of having been born here.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Both pieces above appeared March 2008, in Grandnephew’s Treachery by ‘Les Cousins’

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‘Si vis pacem para bellum’.  Sane remark in itself (cf Montgomery Skew’s comment on cold war, this journal 15-1-2018; and incidentally does Kim Jong-Un read Latin?).  But gerere non est parare, and the Final Disaster will arrive when someone gets the calculations wrong.  Those organisations for international peace around the world which have not yet been mocked into silence and despair will warmly approve Madam May’s denunciation of activity across international boundaries to take violent action against individuals.  We personally heard her use the word ‘despicable’ and believe she described such action as wicked.  It is rumoured she is to make a personal appeal to M.Trump asking him to put an immediate end to any use of armed drones to attack people on the ground where this would involve crossing international frontiers.

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(Editor’s note).  Setting up the first item above it almost occurred to me to wonder if there is a deliberate policy in the UK and elsewhere to allow road maintenance to become, soonest, a quaint old-fashioned tradition.  Goals: to reduce balance of payments deficits, free up manpower resources for necessary construction and re-construction work (perhaps even including tower blocks), to reduce calls on national mental health services, tackle obesity and improve the physical health of their populations, to dramatically cut the number of transport accidents, and to halve the level of air pollution.  But then I reflected that another result would be an enormous increase in the number of people having to buy ridiculously expensive train tickets.

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British headline a few days ago: ‘Queen to start marathon’.  What a wonderful trouper!  Ninety-one and still ready to go.  Be interesting to see how far she gets round the course.  Maybe back in before Paul Ryan?!

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MMQQ5

Next post scheduled for 16th April.  NB special motor supplement 01-04-2018

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From Analytica Petri, our Island’s leading centre for geopolitical analysis.

We have run short on those pills that boost intelligence with a dose of ideological certainty, so all we would say with moderate confidence about the Salisbury incident is that there are at least five groups, not all Russian, among whom there could be one or more potential assassins of a former Russian intelligence agent.  However, given that some pundits appear to hail these events primarily as evidence  that Corbyn is unfit to be the British prime minister and that things have been going wrong ever since Blair stopped being p.m, it seems not everyone is working hard to produce a clear and unbiassed account of what happened.  At the same time, with various major elements of their national life (NHS, educational system, transport ‘system’) falling apart, and a disunited cabinet still unable to get the EU to believe three impossible things before breakfast, it is hard to imagine anything more welcome than a chance to summon the nation to unite under the government’s command.  Three days ago the favourite cliché in the news media was ‘Many questions remain to be answered’.  This was misleading.  In fact many questions remained to be asked (and still do).  This is not least a consequence of the revolution in media practice.  These days journalists are trained to put two and two together and make three, even when seven and a half or some fascinating irrational number is waving at them from outside the window – it’s quicker and less expensive that way.  This is not to say everything is neatly sorted out and wrapped up already.  For instance the police believe the house the fellow lived in was a leading centre of contamination.  But is it supposed that foreign agents crept through the suburban roads of Salisbury at dead of night, silently broke in through the kitchen window and planted the poison under the floorboards without disturbing anyone?  Yet the alternative – kept a phial or two of the stuff at home just in case it might ever come in useful – seems equally unlikely.  And one might wonder why the young lady said to be his daughter claimed in Moscow to work in Pepsico, whereas enquirers in Moscow were told she was unknown to the firm.  However, while speculation can be fun, it is also usually pointless.  After all there’s not much chance of finding out before 2076 what Harold Wilson was up to on his frequent visits to the Soviet Union.  (Selling Gannex raincoats!?) (Beside Wilson, Corbyn looks like a model of the security-conscious professional).  What is not speculation is that Theresa must be weeping into her pillow with joy.  What better free gift in an age of us-and-them international relations than a chance to lead our side against them, with or without concrete evidence.  Unlike most, she still remembers that Thatcher’s poll ratings were heading toward defeat in 1982, until that fool Galtieri started a war her troops would win.  There’s more than one irony here.  Ask who else is singing cheerfully to himself as he leads his nation towards an imminent election.  And ‘Farewell desperately needed post-Brexit Russian trade deal’?  But reflect, even if the affair has very disagreeable aspects for some involved, a truly bellicose reaction from Theresa may actually slightly improve humanity’s chance of surviving past 2030.  (See Montgomery Skew’s letter in MMQQ3 (15-01-2018), in particular the last sentence of that long paragraph.)

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The old order changeth (yet cometh the hour cometh the punter)

This item arrived in the office by paper mail, evidently misadressed.  Since  vegetable post is now known to be the least insecure form of communication short of using sign language inside a windowless room swept ‘clean’ by security experts, we deduce it was of high importance to the sender whoever he may be and I therefore offer a short fairly harmless extract so that if he reads this (I suspect he may well be on our list) he may realise what has happened and take whatever action is needed.  The rest of the message has been safely burnt.

When I was a young lad, my grandfather told me how those serving there as officials of what was then the Colonial Office used to relax from the strain of their duties by turning up at one of the elegant and discreet residences in the Corniche (where you met Fifi), for an hour or two, thereafter smoking two or three pipes before sleeping it off and waking up fresh as a daisy mid-morning the next day.  How things change!  A friend of mine recently returned from that same fragment of former empire, having done a  tour to suck up to various representatives of the local would-be plutocracy, advising them on how to sidestep government rules about corruption and how to approach who about what in London.  He tells me the Corniche is certainly still in business but has gone high-tech, turned into a condo/office block, plate glass, stainless steel secretaries and all that.  One of the latter made me put my fingerprints on a screen, which then scrolled through a list of menu options, which explicitly excluded smoking in any format.  All somewhat confusing, he says.  He was shepherded up to a 21st floor room which contained a bed, a smell like a dentist’s and a sort of helmet with dozens of metal buttons and a great fat lead connecting his cranium, once helmeted, to a computer in the corner of the room, and beside the bed a screen on which his option was displayed, which was ‘3 (three) hours of joie de vivre, and dreams type 2 (lechery)’ he boldly told me, and in smaller letters in the corner of the screen where he just had time to read it, ‘terms and conditions apply

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Our political consultant explains (No. 311)

Throughout her career Theresa has maintained a grim determination to think and speak political like a native.  (Political is a language with some peculiarities.  For instance it only has only a negative future tense.  You can say “We shall never agree to such a move.”  But the nearest approach you could make to a positive future statement would be something like “We remain firmly committed to the goal of….” –  tax reduction or whatever it might be, or much more likely won’t be.)  Yet she has never quite succeeded in losing touch completely with reality, and she could see all too clearly that Brexit was sailing full steam ahead to economic disaster, probably to be followed by the extinction of the Conservative party.  Nevertheless, Cameron’s catastrophe (the referendum, not the attack on Libya) had put her in Number 10 Downing Street.  As a more or less closet remainer and as a woman among Tories she felt liable to be jettisoned at the least sign of weakness.  Hence, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (you can bet her advisers thought that was a smart idea), hence ‘strong and stable’, hence her refusal to say anything sensible to the EU negotiators, hence the insistence that there was to be no backsliding towards sanity.  But when someone shouts that loud and that long that X will come to pass you know they are doing it because there’s strong opposition with a good chance of stopping X in its tracks..

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Nature tip of the month:  Fallen nestlings seldom survive.  If they don’t slowly starve they risk their struggles attracting a nocturnal cat.  Neither of those fates are agreeable.  Dip some cotton wool in alcohol and drip it into their beaks.  There is a smidgeon of a chance it will stimulate their system enough to get them through the crisis if other factors are favourable.  If not, at least they will pass out in a happy blur.

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Can Kim Trump Mueller?

Why do you suppose Trump has suddenly become keen to meet Kim face-to-face, without preconditions, at an early date?  Anything to do with the accelerating progress of the Mueller investigations, and the hugely distracting effect of a peace-making (but non-binding) photo-op before the excited cameras of the world?

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More important than you might think ‘Systemic failure’ should be carefully distinguished from the much more common ‘systematic failure’, which is usually a matter of security.  For instance one element in an electrically powered system will be designed to fail, to avoid risk of fire, if the system  is exposed to an excessive power load.  Although usage varies, that can be described as a systematic failure.  A ‘systemic failure’ does not necessarily involve fraud, dishonesty or scandal, and may not even be consciously designed or established, though some believe ‘accidental’ cases count as failures in the functioning of the neo-capitalist system.  Chains of organisations appear where each one lays down the regulations for the next, or is responsible for supervising its activities or is required to ensure that only fit and proper persons are employed, or subcontracts some of its own duties to it; or (in the reverse direction) a group or company may be the legal record-holder for another, or may own the buildings belonging to the preceding one, or certify that health and safety standards have been adhered to, or administer some of its predecessor’s activities, or adjudicate in disputes in that sector of the economy.  Such chains of interacting, or interfering, groups can include six or more organisations, each involved in one way or another with all the rest, directly or indirectly.  The nature of the interactions may surprise; thus a group aiming to stage a festival of simulated hara-kiri in Bordeaux was amazed to learn that an early stage in the process involved an investor in Sierra Leone promising to set up a centre for vaccination against yellow fever.

            Advantages for participants can be truly stupendous, even before government bodies, such as the Health and Efficiency Executive for the Northwestern Peninsula, join in with their often unusual specifications.  Each successive body either charges a fee for the services it claims to provide for the next in line, or treats its own ‘product’ (e.g. licences to carry out monthly surveys of edible waterfowl) as objects of sale to be bought by anyone who wants to pursue the activities of the following organisation (e.g. construction of wooden platforms in municipal parks to allow owners of licensed drones to launch their vehicles without annoyance to others).  If a right to perform Highland dancing at week-ends is fed in at one end of such a chain, what may emerge – apparently from a quite different chain, many months later – may be, e.g., fibrous cladding for rabbit hutches (originally produced by two brothers in Kildare, but now with the necessary approval for export to the UK).  Each organisation has of course its own salaried administrators, with its head receiving a properly managerial package.  In rare cases, where the same tangible objects are  concerned throughout, e.g. exotic oriental foodstuffs fashionable with Guardian readers and needing various certifications, the price differential between the points at which they enter a chain, and where they emerge in real life can involve a factor well into double figures.

            However, money is not the main advantage.  The real prize even if it is not the result of deliberate design is the superb protection provided when things go wrong.  A chain as described delivers ever-diminishing responsibility in one direction, and ever-diminishing real control in the other, so that after a disaster, whether natural or man-made, industrial or marine or financial, it will easily be impossible to pin decisive guilt at any one point, and therefore unjust to raise questions of punishment or compensation, even where tens of thousands have perished and where individuals acting on their own account might face career-threatening penalties, or even a term in prison.  Neo-capitalists around the world are considering a conference in 2020 to explore further possibilities in the peristructural economy.

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Greetings to all for the 17th