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.
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’
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.)
(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)
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)
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.’
From the records, for interest
An enquiry to the Economist, following its publication of the usual sort of article in 2008:
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.)