Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: August, 2018

Dreams from a dark knight

Paranormal.  Something far from this journal’s usual ambit, for the record. 

Donald Trump appears to have the rare gift of knowing instantly, without any need to investigate, whether a statement put into the public domain is true or not.  Generally I would be quite sceptical (not to say cynical) about most claims of paranormal powers or experiences and suspect that a very high proportion of those which are not mischievous fabrications or simple-minded lies can actually result from normal interactions with an environment.  It is different, though, when the experience belongs to someone known and trusted such as (in the set of cases I am about to mention) oneself.  I should say at once that they are not exciting in themselves.  It was a series that began when I was eleven and seems to have definitely ended when I was thirty-seven.  There were only about a dozen of them altogether.  They all involved another person whom I knew but not once anyone to whom I had any special relationship, and simply concerned knowing a number that they were going to say before they said it.  At that point the sort of person who likes to assume that others are easily fooled breaks in and says “Ah, but what’s really happening is that you have already heard the number uttered but part of your brain which tidies things up and declares them settled has not yet finished business.”  (I will come to that issue in a moment anyway but would add that I seemed in those days to have an above average capacity for observing sequences of events – e.g. traffic manoeuvres, wording of complex phrases – with fairly high accuracy.)  There are four points to mention.  First, I definitely have no special arithmetic gifts.  Second, the sensation was different in kind from other situations where one expects somebody to say something and cannot help guessing what it will be.  Third, there were no ‘false positives’.  I never had that sensation of ‘flatly’ knowing (as if already read in print), when the number then emerged ‘wrong’.  I tried a few times, when I could see that numbers were to be mentioned, to persuade myself that I had the same ‘flat knowing’ sensation before the other party uttered the number but did not succeed.  Fourth, the last time it happened I was on the phone to a friend who told me that someone she knew had come into possession of a painting by Dufy, famous French artist, and had been able to sell it – and at this point the feeling of knowing kicked in but I also remembered the “Ah, what’s really happening” guys and so I cut short what she was saying, and said I would tell her what the selling price was, which without question happened when she had not yet reached any figure.   At that time Dufy was one of the biggest names in the art market, and work by him could reasonably have gone, depending on what it was, for anything from as little as about £500 (it was in the UK) to easily a hundred times that or more.  I told her ‘£1,800’ and she confirmed that this was the figure.  Since that time, no more such experiences.

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‘Heads I win.  Tails…’?

Regrettably our island’s cultural and commercial links handicap it with a close relationship to the dis-United Kingdom. Even with relatively enlightened individuals topics of British relevance float unappealingly  on the surface of the conversational barrel.  So once again whether we want to or not we are hearing about the wonderful benefits (to Britain) of sticking two fingers up to the EU.  Some of us politely pretend to be fascinated by the claims that even the most ramshackle hulk can surf the crests and troughs of the world economy in effortless style provided it is manned by a crew with the buccaneering imperial spirit described so misleadingly by Percy Westerman in his books for impressionable boys back in the 1920s and 1930s.  (Poor bloody Scots, though, likely to end up tethered three to a bench in the dark underdeck if any attempt is actually made to launch the vessel.)  So who are going to be the recipients of all the wondrous bounty apparently  promised to Theresa when she sped across the ocean to hold hands with Donald Trump back in 2017, and, more important, what horn of plenty is going to disgorge the boodle?  Some will have noticed that when Jean-Claude Juncker, representing a trade bloc not hugely impressive politically but somewhat bigger than the US, went over to talk sanctions with the Donald he came away with a far from unsatisfactory outcome – roughly, keeping things as they are.  What chances of that kind of semi-success when a lone economy, a mere fraction of that size, turns up at the back door of the White House, urgently needing a trade deal to stop the slide in the pound?  Begging it from a man who boasts of driving hard deals, and who by the way has his own re-election as a first  priority?  So where might Britain find the dosh to keep the bonuses flowing (never mind keeping the homeless and destitute alive)?  Admittedly, there are some resources Britain could fall back on, and probably will.  Fracking, for instance, even in the leafy suburbs of Tory constituencies.  But the biggest resource is the national territory, and a prudent sequence of responsible decisions (if such a thing could somehow be devised) about sales of conveniently detachable pieces of the country could keep the wolf from the door for a decade or two.  Margaret Thatcher (I am not inventing this) suggested precisely such a policy to Brazil when that country hit trouble while she was prime minister in Britain.  And of course it has sometimes been put into practice, for instance when the Americans bought Alaska from the Russians for $7million in 1867.  (A wonderful bargain, probably less than $1billion even in today’s terms.)   Britain has many convenient sites to offer and, what is more, valid legal title to most of them, unlike the Russians in Alaska.  An excellent first choice to test the market would be Lundy.  Its relative poverty in resources would surely be outweighed by its wonderful location, ideal for many purposes both commercial and military.  One can envisage Chinese investors, for instance, seeing it as a superb site for an entrepôt and for further activities in both Europe and North America.  (Perhaps skilful negotiators (see again below) could engineer a bidding battle between some of the more wealthy Asian economies?)  Next would come the Scilly Isles which would need a different sort of sales pitch stressing their obvious touristic potential, only partly exploited at present but clearly capable of vast and profitable returns once numerous restrictions imposed by current British law have been abolished.  (One thinks back to the period when the Cuban government reportedly declared it a patriotic duty of young Cuban ladies to help foreign tourists find their visits to the island enjoyable, a strategy now increasingly popular with  governments around the world.)   Once the Scillies have been disposed of the Isle of Wight would be next, a major step forward and one that could make a very substantial contribution to national finances when sold.  Its case is somewhat different since the size of the population might make it necessary to take the interests of the inhabitants into account.  However, unofficial Home Office advice is that difficulties can almost certainly be quashed by arranging that inhabitants will lose British nationality after the sale unless they co-operate with the necessary government decisions.  Curiously, beyond these options England is surprisingly ill equipped in the matter of islands.  (The Farne islands can be ignored for climatic and locational reasons.)  The real prize will of course be  an orderly sale, over the decades, of the islands of Scotland, scenically outstanding and liable to appeal to rich Americans and others with hazy notions that a great-great-grandmother with the surname Macalister counts as a close personal link to the windswept crag on which she kept her pigs in the 1790s.  The profits from these boggy goldmines could not merely shoulder much of the national budget, but allow for judicious tax cuts to the deserving classes.  These might be somewhat controversial, but the government is confident that legal experts will prove the proceeds from sales should go to Westminster.  What, though, of the Isle of Man, Jersey and  Guernsey, reputedly homes of legendary wealth?  They alas are off-limits.  No sales will be conducted there.  It is not just that the house of Windsor has means, little known but ruthlessly effective, to ensure that even the most tentative suggestion of intrusion on areas where the royal prerogative holds sway will never be made twice.  Even at the next level down those who wield the power to forbid it would never allow any serious interference to the material benefits that Westminster derives from its links to the enormous wealth in those territories.

            It has to be admitted, however, that most other revenue streams post-Brexit would be trivial in comparison  if not actually counterproductive.  Thus an optimist in the Home Office suggested that a reform of the visa arrangements could ensure that all tourists applying to visit the country but rejected on the grounds that they might be clandestine immigrants would be allowed to enter, so that they can spend money to the benefit of the economy, on condition that they agree to wear an electronic tag for the duration of their stay (not to exceed 14 days) while additional income could be extracted by requiring payment for an exit visa at the airport when they leave.   For a probably more successful example, there has been some interest expressed in Hollywood, provided withdrawal from Europe does go ahead,  in making a series of disaster movies showing how the British snatched defeat from the jaws of agreement (though others argue that the ‘horror’ genre might offer a more convincing scenario).  But the most promising of these minor contributions could be provided by the thousands of experts, advisors, consultants, and negotiators with the superb skills they have been honing in Brussels and elsewhere the past couple of years.  ‘Some of these fellows could persuade each other that the Earth orbits the sun in just 24 hours’ as one commentator put it.  It is likely that London will offer them substantial inducements to join ‘red, white and blue’ teams touring the world offering British expertise in dealing with situations needing careful preparation of proposals to leave all stakeholders convinced that their interests have been safeguarded and outlining all possible lines of future development while taking care not to formulate these in terms which could undesirably restrict freedom of action of those who could stand to benefit.  And so on.  Thus the development of French nuclear power generation at Hinkley Point has been held up as an example of what British negotiating expertise can achieve faced with complex problems; it is true that the contract (signed in 2006, with a view to the facility being ‘in service’ by 2012) foresees the UK paying for the electricity at a rate more than double the rate now expected to be charged by other producers in the 2020s (when on present estimates production may start), but this results from factors that could not have been foreseen (such as the new engineering problems reported in March of this year expected to delay completion by a further year and adding another 400 million to the construction costs).  In any case extensive evidence of the British talent for successful negotiation is amply provided by the numerous private finance initiatives now scattered across the British economic landscape like sinkholes in mined-out country.

However this little note began by wondering who would benefit when Britain, with or without part of Ireland, finally waves farewell to Europe, and one of the most conspicuous candidates must surely be Liam Fox, the minister who has been tirelessly circling the globe trying to find trading opportunities for Britain, ever since the die was cast.  Forty countries is it, that have told him they may be interested?  What the tangible outcomes will be, who can foretell?  But if a lively well-connected minister with all that experience and all those brilliant contacts does not end his days as a billionaire  then the world’s capitalist trading system is not even trying.

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For the third time since the beginning of last year the Anglophone Word has dropped more than 10% on the IIE (International Integrity Exchange) in a week, with effects that now risk serious damage to related domains, such as politics, trade, moral values and literary production.  Analysts believe there is now urgent need of a fresh international agreement to give the Anglophone Word a new start with a lower target exchange value against all other competitors.

 

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A couple of notes from London

One of my rare trips off the island, partly due to dealing with  a problem faced by Berthold (not included in the extract from his e-mail given in this posting)

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th August

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Memo to Donald J.Trump You said trade wars are easy to win?  Trade wars happen when regular trading breaks down.  Now, on any time span past a month or two, which out of regulation and capitalism would you back to win?  No, I did not mean which would you prefer to win.  (Please forward this memo to Brussels.  I never liked them any more than you.  Regards, V.P.)

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E-mail despatch from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems in London

            My apologies to you for this gap between reports.  The whole university is thrashing about in the throes of various emotions induced by Brexism, ranging from contemptuous fury (quite a lot of that, though directed at wildly different targets) to white-faced taps on the door of the Health Counsellor (a high proportion of the staff with non-British passports) and on to guffaws of incredulous laughter in the penthouse.  The main factor causing chaos in the emotional equilibria was the news that 10 Downing Street is to take over the campaign for telling the EU how they must organise things so as to give the UK a nice smooth departure.  However inept the Tory general staff have shown themselves to be over the past few months (admittedly, nearly all of them facing heavy barrages of friendly fire from others in the cabinet), it would take either a self-confidence verging on psychological disorder or a strangely blinkered mind to believe that May could be a better negotiator.  Plainly Theresa thinks she could be a better negotiator.  Perhaps dazzled, or dazed, by her own handling of the cabinet these past few months?  It is hard not to suspect that the trouble arises from an unfortunate choice of role model in her early adolescence; but you will not want me to ponder here how Thatcher herself came to be the frightful termagant who poured pesticide by the gallon on the sickly shoots of fair play in modern British society, indirectly making a bigger contribution to ‘Leave’ winning the referendum than Analytica did.  (But picking up samples of Daily Mail chit-chat while lurking under the counter of a middle England grocery store possibly had something to do with her repellent adult persona)  (Incidentally, the blokes on that group here doing facial diagnosis to assess mood, character, likely political stance and so on, officially to ‘enhance the effectiveness of British industry by improving interview techniques’, really of course to decide who gets let into the country, who gets refused promotion and put on employment blacklists and all that sort of stuff, have been having some fun using their techniques on old newsreels of prominent figures of the past.  Strictly unofficially one of them told me they did Thatcher and she came out with a seriously low score for intelligence, and an even lower one for trustworthiness.)  Theresa still sees Thatcher as a strong leader because she never changed her policies, and Theresa takes that as her best chance of hanging on for a month or two more.  Besides, it means that she never has to change course to deal with the ever changing circumstances; all she has to do is get an underling to rewrite the latest redraft of ‘our consistent policy’ to make it even more vague, ambiguous and opaque.  She certainly benefits from that terrible flaw in the human design whereby the mass of people are easily convinced by what looks like self-confidence, however misguided, even when anyone with eyes to see and the intelligence of a gnat can see the resulting actions will lead into the jaws of catastrophe.  Somewhere about here the name Adolf Hitler gets tossed into the conversation (at which point it would be advisable to stand well back.)  I may be wrong of course.  Maybe Theresa really is supremely self-confident and sure that she is much cleverer than the EU negotiators and can win by wrapping up her proposals in indeterminate verbiage that avoids making any specific commitments that she might get held to later.  “The government expects this commitment to end by October 2020”.  ‘Expects’? !   Does she really think the EU people are so dim they won’t notice?  So inefficient that they’ll forget that she signed up to that deal on the Irish border last December that stopped the negotiations collapsing then and there?  Who knows?  Perhaps foreigners really can be that disorganised, if ‘disorganised’ is the right word.  After all the Americans have just announced that the US will never tolerate any attempts by foreigners to influence American democratic processes, somehow overlooking their own scores of attempts to interfere often with great vigour in other countries’ electoral processes from the Italian De Gasperi government in 1945 onward, not to mention the 40+ countries on which they have dropped unrequested bombs in the past half century.

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Late news.  Constitutional experts in the United Kingdom are considering whether Mr Antony Blair should be held guilty of contempt of Parliament, having once more suggested that after the next election the British Parliament might be willing to accept him again as prime minister

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Today’s birthdays

Paul McCartney (172)

Cumberland (Senior royal corgi of the United Kingdom)  13½

Second post-Brexit UK government (– 19 months)

Third post-Brexit UK government (– 26 months)

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