Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: April, 2018

We keep telling you

MMQQ Supplement 2

Next regular posting scheduled 16 May

Once again there’s been an e-mail saying this journal doesn’t keep up with current events.  This is outrageous.  Even if you only look at the ones we are allowed to publish, I’d back some of our stuff to stand elbow to elbow with what comes out of Chatham House or RUSI.  (But it’s still a pity my attempt to sign the Official Secrets Act with disappearing ink was thwarted.)  In our honourable tradition, so often flouted now by politicians across the western world, of giving tangible evidence for claims placed before the public, try this.  It was first posted in 2010.

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It is still hard to find an economist who sees globalisation as a bad thing, even if it would be unnecessarily cynical to point out that economics tends to be written by members of a class that does well out of it.  But there are two hugely important factors involved in economic activity.  Putting it crudely, one of them is money and the other is the people who do the work.  It seems to be pretty well taken for granted that free circulation of money is a good thing, and an essential element of the business, which will lead to increasing prosperity of the world’s population, (or at least of the populations of rich countries, or more exactly yet, of the better-off sections of the populations of rich countries).  This is considered to be the same thing as progress.  Yet in country after country, the idea that the same kind of freedom should apply to people is seen as unacceptable.  It is not at all clear that the unacceptability is soundly based on economic self-interest.  In America many employers would be eager to recruit more staff and get more business done.  One might have thought that the population at large would be glad to see more workers arrive to do the necessary menial jobs – garbage collection, low-grade building work, and so on – which they do not want to do themselves at any price.  Yet a giant wall is being built on the southern frontier, and draconian laws are being prepared to capture and punish those who have somehow managed to gain entry without official permission.  Hundreds drown each year in the Mediterranean because they cannot lawfully enter the European Union.  The EU itself is established on a premiss of ‘free movement’ of all citizens within its boundaries, but –  linguisticism darkens the debate – even for those whose starting point is within the EU this is only free movement of those who can establish themselves in recognised employment or show other evidence of having enough (unspecified) resources.  In every continent the ‘trafficking’ of people is an appalling disgrace, and is even sometimes mentioned by governments and ‘authorities’  as a problem.

            Thus, when neither proclaimed political principles, nor economic self-interest – and obviously not common humanity – can explain why people are denied the freedom granted to money, the conclusion…. is what?

(Answer (2018): democracy is eating civilisation away; it is a system allowing the most privileged and influential to gerrymander things to their own further advantage)

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Or try this, equally topical as things are at present, and in fact not an editorial contribution of our own, but an example of the better kind of correspondence we receive from time to time.

3 July 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 but still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, that is 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, lead in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

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And although this is yet another re-posting, it certainly should be included since it too remains  disgracefully topical. (from 15-5-16)

Readers over the age of 7¾ will long have realised, I trust, that various kinds of arguments are put to us from time to time to persuade us to publish some item or other.  I feel free though to express my amazement at the flexibility of the backbones in some news organisations that we have dealings with, unless, that is, their bleatings of approval for government actions simply show their callow credulity.  For instance, a few days ago the British media were full of ‘good news’ brought to them by express donkey from No.10 rejoicing that the noble British government had done a ‘U-turn’ on its scandalous, and thoroughly dishonourable rejection of a parliamentary proposal to admit refugee children, many with good and valid links to Britain, who were living without family or any other adult support in Europe, and in some cases without adequate food or shelter, but who had been denied entry.  (On what grounds can any moral being refuse help to a child in such circumstances?  On what grounds?  On grounds of invincible – and also, looking at the broad economic picture, entirely pointless – selfishness.  Pure and unadulterated selfishness, therefore.)  So in what did the trumpery ‘U-turn’ actually consist?  The government had merely withdrawn the declaration of its refusal, and announced that it was ‘in talks’ with ‘various organisations’ ‘to see what arrangements could be made’.  What is the level of political IQ that can think that it sees there a good deed?  There are frequently other such devious plays on the gullibility of lackadaisical media outlets in today’s benighted journalistic circus, relying on governments to deliver prepacked ‘news’ and social networks to deliver unhinged views which can be ladled out, without benefit of sub-editing, to anyone who might still be listening (and is this a recipe for commercial survival?)

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Since this supplement is being prepared anyway, I will, with his permission, add unedited comments sent in by our long-time colleague Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, now a para-academic in London:

Goodness knows what Lady Margaret Hall was teaching back in the 1970s.  Whatever it was it doesn’t seem to have done Theresa much good.  The woman seems incapable of normal intelligent thought.  She has swallowed whole this notion of her being a second Thatcher, an ambition which itself shows deplorable lack of insight.  Thatcher only got away with it, because the men in Thatcher’s cabinet were so confused by the idea of being ordered around by a woman that they let her get away with things that would have been career-ending for any of them.  And once she had cottoned on to an idea or policy she was incapable of adapting to the idea that it might be a mistake. Some inspired spin-doctor called this ‘steadfast leadership’.  Little-known fact (as passed on by a former academic at Somerville):  Thatcher left after being told her mind might be better suited to politics than academia.  May follows this model with even less adaptability.  Once she’s learned what she’s supposed to say about some idea or policy she’ll carry on repeating it robotically even if every fact in the situation changes through 180 degrees.  She really should face up to the fact the  ‘British people’ did not vote for Brexit.  About one third of the adult electorate, only, voted for it.  As for her approach to negotiation, she seems to have only one tactic, great quantities of ill-defined but agreeable-sounding verbiage, making complimentary but entirely irrelevant comments about the other side, spinning things out until deadlines get near, so that through boredom or exhaustion the opposition will stop making objections; then adding in a casual throwaway style at the end “in all relevant sectors”, “to cover all likely developments”, “so far as is possible” and “which is in accord with the agreements we’ve already reached” (whether this has the slightest link to truth or not), or – if she gets caught out – “Oh, I know I signed that last December, but I thought that was just a goodwill gesture to get things moving along nicely.  But it’s too late now, isn’t it – we’ll have to let it go through, it would be so much trouble if we had to start all over again.”

            There are two things wrong with this sort of approach.  In the short term it may, sometimes, cut the mustard, but long-term your opponents will get tougher and tougher, and you’ll pay the price many times over.  The other thing is that it relies heavily on the belief that the opposition’s mental equipment is significantly inferior to your own.  I do not think this is a wise strategy for the present British government.

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MMQQ6

Base jumping; political honesty; recycling bodies; political English and sleep; fake news in ancient times; economising on answers.   Next regular posting scheduled for 16-5-2018.

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A long and interesting phone call this week from our highly esteemed former colleague (Dr) Montgomery Skew.  This fragment  verbatim, as Monty has privileged access to the spooks’ interview recording devices and he kindly let me have a print-out to send you.

I find it hard to avoid supposing I must have been dreaming, but I don’t think I was.  I think I really did hear our Minister for Unaided Cliff Descent Strategy vaunting his case for the ‘shut your eyes and jump’ approach on the grounds   that after Brexit ‘we’ would be able to trade with exciting hitherto under-explored  countries (such as Brazil, cited by name) which contain vast remote regions harbouring who knows what treasures, all now to be available post-Brexit to British merchants boldly exploiting new lands.  (See portfolio of maps hand-drawn for British schools by Jacob Rees-Mogg, available from HMSO.)  (How it came about that the Yanks and other nations of the world had not yet noticed these exciting prospects did not achieve explanation in the tv clip).  The treasures could include such items as hitherto unknown herbs gathered in the depths of the tropical forests, offering cures for leprosy or German measles or Spanish flu or Hungarian planipedia, or ‘magic’ scaffolding (ideal for constructing invisible border posts).  Perhaps he’s right, and maybe they could find a cure for early onset adult male stupidity, a common disorder of cabinet ministers, as well.  But shouldn’t there be a little evidence for all this ?  Shouldn’t there be shots of the minister in dark glasses sidling into the side entrances of anonymous skyscrapers in Africa, weighed down by bulging briefcases and surrounded by armed guards; shouldn’t there at least be rumours of secret deals in the Caribbean under way about which we ‘cannot yet give public information for fear of creating a fever  of speculation’ on the markets?  What about hush-hush private flights to ‘undisclosed destinations’ or better still those sovereign bases on Cyprus?  Glorious opportunities there for interesting cross-border trade, in and out of the EU, very shrewd bankers readily available, and good connections Middle East and in all directions.  Silence is an unnerving sound when you’re supposed to be in the middle of a market place.

 †  at this point I rejected a note from the subediting computer:  ‘rocks’ a better word than ‘grounds’

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Linguistic WARNING.  You should be aware that this woman, Theresa May, may be dangerous for your understanding of the English language and cause linguistic damage or even partial breakdown.  For instance the Guradian newspaper has recorded her describing ‘full alignment’ (ie having the same tariffs on imports as some other trading group) as ‘sharing the same policy goals’.  But if you are British please remember that for legal reasons you are not allowed to believe that British prime ministers could ever be dishonest or deceitful, even unintentionally, while in office.

(Constitutional lawyers are questioning this special status of a prime minister, as amounting to discrimination against other ministers, who have shown that they are prepared to boldly and openly disregard facts live to camera on television.)

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(With permission from a letter to the Georgian Gentlefolk’s Gazette)

It disturbs me to hear that the government is considering a law to establish a presumption of consent to donation of body parts from those who have died, unless permission is explicitly withheld.  As it stands this would amount to nationalisation of the bodies of the dead, marginally less repugnant than in other cases of nationalisation given that consent can be denied by those who make timely arrangements (but would it be necessary to have the certification tattooed on the body?).  It has the advantage of setting a precedent, for if we are allowed to opt out of national uniformity on this issue, it would be inconsistent not to allow opting out in, for example, the matter of income tax.  However, I have an immediate objection on different grounds.  Surely if dead bodies are to be, in the popular term, ‘recycled’ then on both moral and practical economic grounds a free market would be the fairest distribution system, with relatives of the deceased or the rightful owner selling organs to those prepared to pay the highest price.  This could perhaps depend on the urgency of the purchaser, but I trust we could rely on communities to join together in raising a high sum for a worthy candidate if he or she is not personally able to meet the price required.  Groups who had a particular regard for some former member might wish  to arrange competitive bidding to achieve an especially high price as a demonstration of their respect for the deceased, and effective publicity for such sales would enhance the effect.  And of course by no means every portion of the departed will be of mere practical utility to those left behind.  One can envisage those who had a special bond of amity or sympathy for a former colleague seeking to preserve that link in a very real sense by bidding for some suitable portion of anatomy, an index finger perhaps –  the ring finger, why not? – or the scalp maybe, to be embalmed and mounted in a tasteful ceramic decoration as a memento of the former friend or set in a brooch with a suitable accompaniment of gems, while the sum raised by the sale could be directed either to reduction of an outstanding tax bill, or go to some charitable purpose in the friend’s name.

Lady Anthelmina Strych-Corker  (Port Nargent)

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Governmental English

This office apologises to all those working in the NHS for having mistakenly used the correct spelling of the minister’s name in a recent piece which touched on the achievements of the UK Ministry of Health.  The Ministry’s astounding capacity for imaginative official statements soars ever higher exactly as funding for the service and those working on the front line dealing with actual patients does not.  The minister J.Hunt termed the pay ‘deal’ recently agreed (‘agreed’ as in ‘imposed’) ‘incredibly well-deserved’.  Masterly sleight of tongue.  Leaves the dozing proportion of the British electorate (currently 65% and increasing in direct proportion to the annual increase in the use of social media) thinking “Oh, good.  At last the British government is starting (?) to reward some of those who actually do the work that keeps the country going.  Note to the dozing:  ‘incredibly well-deserved’ DOES NOT EQUAL the phrase ‘incredibly good’; it tends in the exactly opposite direction even when it is pronounced with a confident and ingratiating smile.  That is before you get to what the ‘deal’ actually was.  It proposes an increase of 2% per annum.  The current rate of inflation has been reported to us (optimistically?) as 2·3%.  Therefore the working staff have accepted a ‘deal’ which promises to leave them losing pay in real terms for the next three years.  By the way, we have not been able to find reliable figures for the likely increase of the Minister’s ‘package’ over the next three years, but are reasonably certain it is not less than £120,000 per annum, if he continues in the same position.  This is how a modern western country with electoral democracy arranges efficient management of the national budget, ensuring that inadequate money does not go to valuable members of the population who need or deserve it.  (Sic)

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The Baron Philipp is back in his fiscal paradise after an exciting but rewarding trip round such areas as are still alleged to be safe for tourism in the Middle East and adjacent areas, and has sent us this: ‘Marvellous trip, no serious trouble.  Our party was shot up twice but as we were travelling in armoured minivans there was no serious inconvenience except for a couple of guards who got hit.   Magnificent ancient sites, very glad to have been there, especially the Krac des Chevaliers, before our friends and allies bomb the shit out of them, as our transatlantic colleagues put it, repeatedly.  (Incidentally pals in the embassies expect the bombing at an early date, having seen the Mueller enquiry circling in a way which suggests it is coming in to land.)  Astonishing mix of people on the tour, from rednecks out of the deep south ticking off the ‘Forty sights you must not miss’ (and in Cyprus I heard one telling her companion “This is sump’n else to do with all that nood statue stuff”) to elderly scholars from my own Heimatland with impeccable English, knowing Shakespeare better than I do.  One of the latter told me of a newly unearthed papyrus (definitely antedating Zenodotus) which proves Sophocles was peddling an entirely bogus story in the famous drama – the fellow never killed his father, nor did he marry his mother, probably never went to Colonus either.  What happened really was a brisk frogmarch into exile after court officials discovered his father had been pillaging all the public funds for years, and funnelling the proceeds into secret hiding places in Ionia.  Palace advisors appalled, city facing ruin and invasion if news got out; urgent consultations; deputation to give ultimatum to king.  That encounter not a success:  “A king is not to be commanded by his minions.  Throw these impudent fools in prison for execution tomorrow” or something of the sort.  Further urgent consultations with the palace guard, which decided on the traditional approach in such cases.  They hired a couple of Persian assassins (they blamed bad things on Persians even in those days but in this instance it happened to be true) to kill the king in a faked chariot accident, the queen was given poison, and the court poet ordered to run up a version of the story on entirely original lines which they set out, reasoning correctly that if it was seriously and improbably lurid most people would accept it as the truth (just as they do today).  The ex-crown-prince got off lightly, was immediately taken under no-nonsense escort to the fiefdom of a minor chieftain in Thrace, where he was established in a modest estate and informed he would be hunted down by the chieftain’s men and summarily executed – they added persuasive details – if he ever attempted to leave.    He was allowed a small annual pension, but it was only paid for three years, because a young official, who later became the next Treasurer back at home base, produced a rule that to receive the money he must prove he was truly the son of the king, which of course he could not do because he did not dare to leave Thrace.  Wonderful!  They certainly knew how to deal with financial crookery in those days.  According to the papyrus he lived on there until he was carried off by an eagle at the age of 112.’

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From the records, for interest  

An enquiry to the Economist, following its publication of the usual sort of article in 2008:

Sir,

There were all too many contentious points in your editorial ‘Barbarians at the vault’ (17th May) so may I just pose you one question?  What important difference divides your assertion, ‘Financiers are rightly rewarded for taking risks, which by their nature cannot be entirely managed away or anticipated’, and  the following proposition: ‘Gamblers are rightly rewarded for placing bets, which by their nature cannot be guaranteed to win’?

       My answer would be that gamblers on the whole are using their own money.

(No response to that enquiry emerged from the magazine.)