Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: advertising

Betaquestions: who is asking, and why?

 

Editorial note.  May I point out yet again that the rules of this journal explicitly state that readers should not assume authors actually hold the views expressed in what they write.

In the previous posting my ploy (more or less forced on me by the continued absence of an intern) of replacing useful information and carefully considered opinions and helpful solutions by questions, and thus leaving it up to readers to do the work (rather as with systems of online banking) turned out in practice to be remarkably helpful, to me, and I now see why so many other editors resort to picking up chunks of verbiage from the news tapes, or the free feeds provided by the simple-hearted goodness of advertisers attempting to promote the prosperity of outfits which believe they see further profits cavorting around the margins of their activities and that advertisements are the way to catch them.  Therefore this ploy on my part continues herewith, even if there is a certain amount of the usual stuff lower down.

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  (1) Will the World Underwater Hockey Championships (yes, they do exist) charge a team from  Kiribati a fee for participation?  (If you are unable to answer this question, give up (often the best policy in so many modern contests where all the other competitors are probably doped to the eyeballs) and try question (1b): Why was question (1) asked in the first place?)

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  (2) To the relief, probably, of many on both sides (and in this context and after this amount of time many may feel it doesn’t matter much which side is counted as ‘us’ and which is considered ‘them’) the Skrepal case seems to have been shifted to the upper archive room downstairs, probably somewhere in the filing cabinets labelled ‘not before 2050 (n)’.  If awards were handed out at annual conventions of espionage agents Bellingcat would surely be in the running for one of the main prizes at the next award ceremony, with a performance allegedly described as ‘sparkling’ even by some neutral observers.   It is true that there are still a number of matters not yet clarified.  After all,  speculation would lose its interest if everything could be tidied up and set out in the display shelves in the exhibition room for tourists.  Why did the young lady claim to work for Pepsico in Moscow, when it seemed the firm had not heard of her?  Does she still?  Indeed where is she now?  Is Yevgeny once again indulging his fondness for travel, and if so where does he get the money?  If the other side was responsible for the chemical attack in Salisbury why did they need to go and investigate the OPCW?  Who was the chap claiming to be a former very senior scientist, now retired, on the other side’s chemical weapons programme, who allegedly volunteered to spill the beans to some western journalists (strangely surveillance-free), and who for the sake of secrecy chose to be found wandering lonely, and conspicuous, along a sandy coast (though apparently the secrecy did not matter once he was talking to them face to camera in full definition through the car window?   Why did the other side make the second trip to Salisbury, almost looking as if they were trying to draw attention to their presence?  One theory going the rounds is that  they were deliberately trying to keep the Russian threat present to the minds of the journalists of the Mail and the British media in general, in order to shore up May’s position, since they thought she would be more effective in bringing disorder and confusion to the British government’s position than anyone else in politics.  I was able to get a question about that to my former colleague and occasional correspondent, Montgomery Skew, but he said he has no special insight into the issue, and he wondered anyway why the Russians would feel a need to mount any operations of their own into fomenting confusion in British politics.

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 (3) It is common for humans to try to assess the intelligence of other species, adopting a variety of tests. (It has been claimed that the New Caledonian crow scores particularly well by comparison with other species; however, according to information passed to this journal the sampling in those experiments may have been seriously biassed in their favour, since it consisted of crows attached to the university in Oxford.)  But does any reader have information about the outcome of attempts to use the techniques employed with monkeys in the reverse direction, to assess the intelligence of human beings?  (And if so, which human beings?)  (And what were the results?)

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 (4) Can you think of a better way to stifle intellectual progress in a given field than to assemble an encyclopaedia of what is known and understood in that field, choosing of course the most eminent authorities in the field, with their status decided according to the number of citations of their work, backed up if it is felt necessary by similar scrutiny of the standing of those making the citations?  All the more credit therefore to Paracelsus who understood much better 500 years ago: ‘The universities do not teach all things, so a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them.

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Editorial news

Readers will be familiar with the numerous difficulties faced by the editorial staff (currently myself) with putting together and publishing these reports.  One of the major problems has been our reliance on electronic means of communication, partly because of the unreliability of the electricity system here although from my personal point of view that is almost an advantage since it normally excuses me the need to try to make sense of the incomprehensible, i.e. our office computer, and its ‘system’ and, worst of all, the associated ‘help’ manual.  But now there is good news from, of all places, Berthold’s branch of the university in London where they have devised a new and ingenious way to achieve communication –  genetically modified carrier pigeons, controlled in flight by signals sent to an ultra-lightweight aerodynamically efficient bird-helmet.  This is the result of a joint project between the engineering department and the zoologists.  All the sender of a message has to do is to get a secretary to type out the message in the usual way, get it scanned and miniaturised, and then hand it over to the ‘bird operator’ on duty telling him where the message is to be sent which no longer depends on such constraining factors as addresses.  At the other end any competent ornithologist can soon extract the message from the ring on the bird’s leg and then all he or she needs  is a magnifying glass.   Just ten hours from London to La Sarrasine or the reverse!  And currently it’s all free as it’s working on a trial basis.  A new journalistic era beckons.

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Thought of the fortnight (seen on an English-regstered car in Bangkok)   Give a man an electronic megaphone.  Then be surprised when he signs up to the globalisation of ignorance

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Late news (extract from a letter received this day 16-11-2018 from Montgomery Skew)

By chance I ran into Berthold this morning.  Poor chap is very down in the mouth, feels things are lining up against him (‘just when things had started to go well’ – a comment which I understand includes his fairly amicable break-up with Louella.) .  He believes he has been experiencing a loss of mental acuity recently, which he is putting down to the great amount of time he has to spend in close contact with students.  Whether the loss is real or not I have no way of knowing, but he cited a couple of instances which to me sounded pretty normal for a forty-something politician manqué.  Apparently he made quite a mess of things when he was invited to act as moderator at an inter-school debate on ‘Who is our guide to the future, Darwin or Gresham?’, the idea of the organiser being that with Darwin,  proponent of the survival of the fittest, things get better, whereas Gresham’s observation about bad money driving out good  (a general principle which can effortlessly be exported to other spheres – for instance politics, road surface construction, and government funded health care – and arguably a central pillar of modern capitalism as it operates in practice, whatever the theorists in their comfortably appointed cells may assert) sees things as overall tending to go to the bad.  Predictably the debate got muddled with confusions about the difference between change and the results of change, and between causes and effects, and with other equally predictable distinctions heavily trampled on.  So equally predictably Berthold couldn’t restrain himself  (whoever had chosen him for this job?)   Egged on by his suspicions about diminishing brain power he set about demonstrating his intellectual superiority to these schoolchildren and started scoring points of his own, some on behalf of views with no easily discernible link to the issue under debate at all, and most against any of the teenagers who seemed to him to be advancing rightwing views.  It all ended in uproar and a polite letter from the school principal asking for £25 to replace two chairs beyond repair.  All that however, was of lesser importance than the collapse, just a couple of days ago, of his university’s scheme for using bionic pigeons to transmit messages outside conventional channels of transmission.  Apparently he was there by coincidence when a meeting of the pigeon group was interrupted by the arrival of a very senior officer who identified himself not by name but by his official position, in the cloud-capped peaks, and announced that the bionic pigeon programme was officially being closed immediately, with the whole department now covered by the official secrets act whether they had signed it or not, while those who had taken part in devising the programme were being transferred at two days notice to Camberley where in future they would be working as members of the Ministry of Defence.  The very senior officer was at some pains to assure them that these measures in no way implied criticism of their activities.  To paraphrase: ‘Quite the opposite; we discovered that in a world where for instance an enemy can read a message among ten million being transmitted inside a locked building you have come up with a means of conveying information such that with fairly minor modifications it may be possible to conceal the fact that any transmission at all has taken place.  Best possible form of secrecy.  We want to see if it can be made detection-free, and if so, to use it for our own purposes’.  Poor Berthold; collapse of his dream, already half sketched out, of using the bionic pigeons to rove the world from his swivel chair in the administration block, gathering reams upon reams of interesting and important and up-to-date information at rock-bottom cost, and hoisting himself into the position of world-famous pundit, in a decade or so to see his career turned into a block-buster film.

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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.

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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

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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?

 

 

Warnings

It is always a pleasure to receive a contribution from our principal financial supporter, (Baron) Malory von Hollenberg, and we are consequently delighted to present his thoughts in this piece sent from his current location in Australia.

I have been ruminating on the use of warning signs and pictures. These days a good many governments compel cigarette companies to print warning notices on packs of their cigarettes, often with an alarming picture of the physiological damage that can be caused by the habit. This is a convenient way for governments to balance two obligations. As guardians of their country’s inhabitants they have a responsibility obvious to all, except the occasional Minister of Health, to try to keep them in the best possible physical condition. There is in any case no point in holding would-be invaders at bay by purchasing all available modern weaponry if your well-defended citizens are too feeble or sick to keep the economic wheels humming in the manner you require. One might therefore expect governments to ban the sale of cigarettes. But governments also have a duty to keep their own accounts in the best possible financial health. As it happens, this too they could do by banning cigarettes, but only on condition that they could extract large amounts of money from the massive illegal trade in cigarettes which would be certain to arise, and which within a few years might exercise more influence on the workings of society than do the existing tobacco companies. In principle this source of funds should be within reach.   Direct taxation of course would be politically embarrassing, even though one concedes that political self-contradiction is an electoral advantage when judiciously managed. However, a better option could be to impose severe fines on traders arrested, while taking care that arrests are not so frequent as to hamper their activities seriously; gaol terms should seldom be imposed, so that traders can resume their activities at an early date. A somewhat similar approach, learned from financial regulators, would repress the illegality with a light touch, but would tax heavily all manner of associated activities and objects and locales. (American experiences during Prohibition could be helpful) . However, in practice few countries have successfully managed any such policies on a large and consistent scale, and even where this is claimed it appears any money accrued may have gone to individuals associated with the political class instead of the coffers of the state.

            The fact remains: repellent pictures of sick smokers, or body parts of sick smokers, do appear on cigarette packets, aiming to reduce bad health among consumers. Since they are a form of advertising and since we have been repeatedly assured (by those who make money from it, but also by other experts, e.g. Paul Josef Goebbels) that advertising ‘works’, we accept the case. But then one must ask ‘Why only cigarettes? Why not pictures of the horrid results of consumption of tobacco’s noxious social twin, alcohol?’ The initial objection, that the result of the cigarette may be a spasm of wrenching coughing whereas consuming alcohol may lead on to a jolly party, is specious irrelevance. In the first place governments are interested in long-term effects (provided that the issue does not concern the next election), and, second, subversives will remark that there seem to be two different types of long-term alcohol consumption; one can lead to sitting on a narrow bench in the back room of a small pub in Cork at the age of 22, rocking slowly backwards and forwards, drunk to the point of incoherence at six in the evening, while the other sets you up as a rosy-faced white-haired old man with twinkling blue eyes, surrounded by twenty-somethings begging to hear about your adventures in times long ago. Common decency suggests we should make at least some attempt to shock those of the former tendency out of their licensed premisses. Perhaps then the warning pictures should somehow be attached not to the bottles and cans but to the drinkers themselves. Doubtless modern technology could make this possible, indeed very likely has already done so in the case of individuals suspected by the spooks of membership of UKIP or other sinister tendencies. This could prompt self-questioning every time they look into a mirror. However such an intrusion of the state into supposedly private life cannot be openly introduced in the present era of lip service to individual human rights.   A few years have to pass before what is technically possible turns into what has been judged necessary for the prevention of crime and the efficient functioning of the caring welfare state. So for the present we must allow the governments to perpetuate, by failing to state the contrary, the fiction that alcohol only causes problems when in contact with a steering wheel (a combination which is supposed to be avoided by erecting signs saying ‘Don’t drink and drive’ in Times New Roman and a schoolmasterly voice, in places where they can easily be seen, by an alert driver).

            The fact that special circumstances (I hope I will not be understood as referring specifically to the donations of the brewers to political parties) can restrict the use of pictures warning about troubles resulting from contact with psychoactive substances does not mean that efforts should not be made elsewhere. For instance, the car itself is a conspicuous element among the temptations luring misguided consumers towards ruinous outcomes, and here as so often reformers are up against the forces of darkness actively reinforcing the allure with meretricious counter-advertisements. Cars are claimed to have strange powers. Buy this car and not only will it make you younger and stronger, it will come with a languorous femme fatale strategically attached to the hood [subject to availability; alternative gender-neutral offer: young attractive partner and two children, all in perfect health and grinning like successful footballers]. Moreover you are implicitly assured you will find all other drivers – all other road users, in fact – have disappeared from the roads. There are drawbacks, admittedly; the immaculate highway along which you speed in smooth isolation, outdistancing a low-flying airliner breaking all rules of air traffic control, is evidently located in a magnificent but remote and uninhabited terrain, possibly on Spitzbergen. In the face of such blandishments, consumers certainly should be provided with pictorial warnings against the temptation to acquire a car. Many of the inconveniences are well known, from faulty windshield wipers to lengthy gaol terms but what is seldom fully realised is the size of the car’s contribution to stress in modern life. All the worry of buying and fuelling and maintaining and repairing the thing and of dealing with the various human enemies one meets in these battles; the frustration of the steady guerilla warfare needed to keep it insured and officially recognised by the state; the exploration day by day of the frontiers of irrational behaviour among other motorists on your way to work. Above all though, there is the anguish, almost never admitted consciously, of voluntarily shutting oneself into a metal box even smaller than the punishment cells the communists used in Czechoslavakia. Even for a ten minute trip to the shops it would bring a nervous breakdown if you allowed yourself to think about it. For the daily two-hour traffic jam, if handed down by a judge, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Of course the warning pictures on the car will have the advantage that they will be on the car itself unlike the allegedly seductive visual encouragements to buy the things. Themes for pictorial warning notices will obviously be legion, and perhaps inexpensive if cut-price deals can be cut with the sort of television channels that make disastrous car smashes a prominent feature of their broadcasts.

            The regrettable truth is that modern civilisation is replete with aspects threatening physical injury, financial loss, and moral decay to misguided consumers, and the UN has a duty to launch a world-wide multifaceted campaign of warnings against all these factors. It could begin by dealing with the food we eat, or, to be more precise, with unhealthy eating habits. For around 700 million on the planet there is a single unhealthy eating habit which is simply taking no food (almost invariably an involuntary condition) so in their case it is not easy to see where one might attach the warning notices; and in any case it is questionable whether many of those 700 million could truly be counted as bona fide members of the consumerat. But what worries many of the other 6.3 billion is the continuing struggle against obesity, and so the type of picture required is easily settled – some vast balloon of sweating humanity fighting its bulk into or out of an airline economy class seat would do nicely as a first example The laws about pictorial warnings in this category will have to be especially forceful, just to elbow their way past the existing mountains of colourful encouragements to believe that eating this or that package’s mixture of highly saturated fats and sugars and 21 kinds of chemical unknown to science until a few weeks ago will be good for consumers (and make them slimmer, and more beautiful, and charming; and if the consumer is a man his hair may grow back, too).

            But the truth is that we have done no more than hint at the vast array of threats to the innocent consumer. Many other scourges of society need to be fenced off behind warning notices – social media, muzak, bad grammar, football, computer passwords, gardening, and many more. A plethora of warnings is needed and naturally for some the devising of visual warnings will be easy, for others difficult. The time is ripe for a new Hieronymus Bosch to show what he can do.

What you may learn, what you should learn, and what you don’t learn

Editorial note: This journal will now go off line for the remainder of the year, and would-be contributors can save themselves the trouble.  How they fill in their time is not my business, though it would do no harm if some of them were to attempt some improvement in their English and – my word, is it necessary to say this! – their spelling.  The publications may resume on 5th January, although this is not guaranteed, since it is as yet uncertain how much time may be taken in the disposal of my bonus.

If any barbarians are thinking of galloping to Brussels to lay waste european civilisation, they can save themselves the trouble.  The European Commission is there already.  As an example of what they can get up to, take the attitude to education.  In her policy priorities for the next five years given on the Commission’s website the Commissioner gave broad policy guidelines, and goals.  As the first of the broad policy guidelines she offered ‘improving skills and access to education and training, focusing on market needs’.   And specifically on the topic of education, her three first priorities are to (a) help Europe compete globally; (b) equip the young for today’s job market; (c) address the consequences of the economic crisis.

   If you have just read the previous two sentences you may need to have it confirmed that we are talking about the policy statement of a Commissioner for education!  Let us hope that some 450 million citizens will say clearly and loudly that they want a great deal more than that to be listed among the priorities for the education of the next generation.  The next generation exists not merely as a money-making machine for the European Union; they exist as people, and they, and their parents, have every right to insist that they should be as fully developed in their human potential, and in the capacities for contributing to a better life (not interpreting ‘better’ in the disgracefully narrow sense of ‘with more figures written in black on the balance sheet) as possible.

   In any case, we can be sure that any approach to education along the lines so remarkably stated above is highly likely to be an expensive mistake.  There is a well-justified belief that most generals develop great expertise in how to fight the last war.  In commerce and economics, too, ‘market needs’ change.  One need that is highly likely to shrink is the need for workers.  Indeed we are already seeing this as one factor in the high levels of unemployment in western economies.  First automation, and then computerisation have meant that factories can now be staffed with a handful of technicians where once they required hundreds of manual workers.  (The rejoinder is often made that the technical development leads to overall increase in the size of the economy.  This looks like ideological bluster since there is a severe shortage of evidence that the loss to society of those jobs has been a causal factor in the economic development that will have been taking place anyway.)  The sudden recent take-off of 3-D printing bids fair to accelerate the process.  Imagination, or social inertia, may have fitted a ball and chain to it in the west, but do not bank on this being the case in the new rich emerging nations.  After all the breadth of the market in what can be bought from a card-reading machine in Japan (up, or rather down, to second-hand girl’s knickers) amazes visitors.  And after 3-D printing, what next?  We cannot predict, because the full possibilities of the next new technology are not there in the past, for all that its precursors are.  In any case, even if there is a need to develop drone workers, why waste the rich European educational tradition on producing them?  There seems from a cynical point of view an odd lack of fit with the general determination to resist unskilled immigration (or rather immigrants who lack printed qualifications).

   And just another point, Leonardo not only failed to get an education focusing on market needs to equip him for the job market, he never went to university; he simply had the schooling of an ordinary village boy, and not a very intensive one at that.

Hooke Landsknecht

Prestatyn

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In the old days subliminal advertising was a matter of inserting an image or slogan, not chosen on the basis of any particularly perspicacious advice, and exposing it for a twentieth of a second or so in the transmission of a film or television broadcast.  Are we really to suppose that in this field, in the years since those fumbling efforts, there has been no government research and no further technical development?  Perhaps now far more persuasive messages – or commands – are being passed, with far greater care in their placement, and with far greater strength.  Could this be of relevance to the increasing uniformity, in the view of some people, of any given country’s public opinion?

Douglas Parode

Crediton

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Does the Tea Party’s foreign policy group feel that American westward policy should pivot around India or China?  I think we should be told.

Raziq Silversmith

Sherbrooke

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I gather that the Olympics bigwigs are puzzling over what new sports to incorporate into their festive jollities, to increase public interest (and boost the takings, dare one say?).  I personally would like to put in a word for conkers, a favourite pastime of my own youth, my champion (soaked for two weeks in vinegar before it entered combat) having become a seventy-niner before Hoptrott minor shattered it in the finals of Maybank Preparatory School under-11 championship in the summer of 1943.

            Might I, however, urge that there is another avenue open and leading towards the same end which they could explore at the same time.  They could keep many of the existing activities, but very easily introduce changes which would make them more exciting and more interesting for spectators.  As an example, with modern technology there should be no difficulty about arranging for the barriers in the steeplechase to change height at unpredictable intervals in the course of the race, thus putting the runners to a test of alertness as well as stamina.  I wonder if some such ideas could be put before the Committee for their consideration.

Donald Johnson

London

Intrusion: advertisement or rubber boat?

Unless the whole business is an April Fool’s joke which has been misdated by somebody’s calendar app, or a malicious rumour started by the company’s enemies, Tesco is intending to install cameras with face-scanning software in its petrol stations so that it will be able to get an idea of the lifestyle of the individuals filling up (presumably on the assumption that those driving vehicles are the owners or close relatives of the owners), so as then to be able to target individuals with adverts which company geeks (drawing on their assumptions about the relative sameness of eg male thirty-year-olds wearing raincoats, or bleached-blonde teenagers in miniskirts who happen to get petrol there) judge to be appropriate.  ‘Appropriate’ in this case would probably be presented by the company as meaning primarily ‘helpful to the consumer’, though in my opinion this could be self-deception, with the true meaning rather closer to ‘likely to bring in more profit to Tesco’.  (Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps all those companies that blast us with their adverts every time we venture out of doors in a city are actually pure-spirited enterprises, working themselves and their managers to the bone, in order to make life happier and slimmer and more beautiful and more successful  for everyone within earshot and visual range – nothing to do with making money for themselves, nothing at all.)

   But could some lawyer with a sense of human decency (it is reliably reported that a small number are still at large) please find a way to use the legislation against stalking to deal with companies that ‘target individuals’ with unrequested adverts?

Manny Khrubber

Chelyabinsk

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  “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” wrote Mark Twain with another of his shrewd blows under the ribs of popular opinion.¹  So I should like to put in a few words against the Greenpeace operation against a Russian oil-drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean.  This featured ‘commandos’ in rubber boats launched from a mother ship who did their best to scale and occupy the rig, against the resistance of the workers on the rig.  They failed and all on the Greenpeace side were arrested.  Initially they were charged with piracy, and in fact the actions may well have fitted that charge technically, but to their credit everyone involved was sufficiently grown-up to see that the would-be boarders had no intention of actually taking over the rig, and even less any plan to sail it away and hold it to ransom.  Putin himself said the charge was ridiculous, and it was soon reduced to hooliganism.  A Greenpeace spokesman was not mollified.  ‘Wildly disproportionate’ he fulminated, pointing out that the penalty could be up to seven years of imprisonment.  The western media seem not just sympathetic to those arrested but indignant that anything less than congratulations and friendly waves as they sailed away again from Russian waters should have come their way.

   Now, it is not surprising that there have been demonstrations of support in the west led by young ladies holding large fluffy animals of an Arctic nature (as found in western toyshops), and there is no need to deny that the ideals of Greenpeace in general are highly admirable while the aim of saving the Arctic from industrial devastation in particular is one likely to be opposed only by the idiot fringe of capitalism.  For the matter of that, Russia had a notably dirty industrial scene in the 20th century and may well be very conscious of the need for less destructive development, as not seen in a good few areas controlled by western companies.  But what sort of reaction and what sort of conditions could reasonably have been expected for the Greenpeace operation in Russia.  What, to start with, did the workers on the rig see coming at them?  Imagine that a similar assault (but on dry land) with the same military-style preparations and the same number in the attacking group was launched by supporters of a British football club with the aim of invading and occupying a conveniently placed government-owned building in Britain against the wishes of the legitimate occupants, so that they could watch an international match for which they could not get tickets.  The British media would be filled to overflowing with tirades against – against what?  Why, exactly ‘hooliganism’.  The government and the polls would be fizzing with indignation.  There are other aspects to the media coverage which also showed a very oblique perspective.  Western commentators seemed to feel the fact that the Russian cells where the activists were confined were cold and far from comfortable was part of an  underhand plot.  One wonders what accommodation the men in the boats had looked forward to after the operation; themselves they must have been aware that good class guesthouses are thin on the ground, or rather the tundra, in northern Russia.  But the most unreasonable aspect of the activist reaction is the flourishing to the media of seven years of imprisonment, because that is the maximum sentence, and there is no reason to think that is going to be handed down to any of them.  Let us at least wait to find out what the judicial decisions will be and then let the media improve their credentials by offer a mild and proportional reaction.

Hamish Tanpinar

Athens

 ¹(Members of the Tea Party, please note it is permitted also to pause and reflect when finding oneself in the minority.)

Rem acu tetigimus

(1) Analysis   (2) alternative view   (3) principle betrayed   (4) thanks   (5) correction   (6) editorial announcement

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This item is taken, with permission, from the Encyclopaedia Economica Erigena, pp 3174 ff.

The professionalism transition.  Social phase theory does not belong to economics proper (pace Tisbutt, 1983, and Bull, 1995).  However, some of its concepts have a very definite relevance to economic developments.  Foremost among these is the professionalism transition.

      The broad historical cycle in which this is located is the well-established sequence barbarism –  social stratification – organisation – byzantinism – disintegration – barbarism.  The professionalism transition is the midpoint of this cycle.

      The fundamental structures of a given society are settled in the second phase.  This often takes the form of the establishment of a feudal system, although the two concepts are of course by no means equivalent.  Thereafter it is normal for the third phase to proceed over a lengthy period.  Exceptions, such as that imposed by Qin Shi Huang Ti (qv), are rare.  The third phase sees steadily increasing complexity both in the society’s structures, and in individual activities integrated within those structures.   For much of this period, the process is evolutionary, with changes responding to natural pressures on actual practitioners over decades.  The result will in most forms of activity in the society be a reasonable adequacy of response to the needs perceived by the population.  In general, business in this or that sphere goes ahead fairly effectively and seldom causes serious avoidable inconvenience, or worse, to those on the receiving end.  Of course there will be points of friction.  There may seem perhaps to be no satisfactory way of dealing with one particular type of situation that occurs from time to time.  Occasionally individual cases go wrong.  Junior members of an organisation often regard their seniors as being slow to accept new ideas, and some of the latter may be suspected of taking unfair personal advantage of a privileged position.  In some instances seniors may prove excessively authoritarian, even in advanced societies.  (In 1908 two trainee nurses in Cheshire starved to death after the matron who had ordered them confined to their quarters without food was stricken with pneumonia and was unable to rescind her command.)

      Such irritations and conflicts will inevitably tend to increase as time passes, simply by reason of the increase in both the complexity of societal structures, and the numbers of the population, both of which developments are reliable concomitants of the third phase.  If the society contains clearly distinct groups, one or more of which can regard itself as particularly disadvantaged then the outcome may be revolution (qv), but in relatively homogeneous nations, the gradual accumulation of difficulties, or more exactly perceived difficulties, leads instead to the professionalism transition.  It is not the simple accumulation that tips the balance, however.  There must be some trigger event, typically defeat or even a costly victory in war, but domestic catastrophes such as a famine or revelations of major criminality in some pillar of society have also served.

      From a historical point of view the transition occupies a remarkably small period of time.  If the preceding and following phases are measured in centuries, the professionalism transition may be over within a decade.

      It will start in some particular form of activity – perhaps the judicial system, or the distribution of food, but rapidly make itself felt in other areas.  The principal interest for economics is its appearance in public administration and to a lesser extent in the practices of the major areas of commercial administration, but precisely parallel changes take place in many activities as diverse as schoolteaching, medical practice, broadcasting, or even folk dancing (on which see Gillot, 1987).

      Previously the benchmark of good practice has been conformity to established procedures; now, the cry goes up ‘We must seek out a new and better way to do this’.   In one field after another there are calls for reorganisation and review, for planning conferences, for commissions to establish approved forms of procedure, or constituent assemblies.  Bodies of rules must be drawn up, typically ‘for the sake of clarity’, or ‘to prevent a recurrence’ of some undesirable event which, however, may very well have been a rare result of special factors unlikely to be repeated.  Training programmes, in some cases lasting for years, are put in place to ensure adherence to the new rules.  Traditional practice becomes ipso facto suspect.  The proponents of change acquire prestige from that fact alone.

      A remarkable feature of the professional transition is that a large proportion, and often the great majority, of the many analysts and consultants who now appear as ‘experts’ on this or that form of endeavour have little experience of or aptitude for the very activity on which they become advisors and regulators.  Frequently,  a new and in some sense alien tier of managers (who had not been known to be necessary twenty years before) are imposed, not only with authority over  those who perform but also with superior conditions of employment and higher salaries.

      Byzantinism, which follows, is not in itself wholly without benefits in the initial stages, but its longterm effect is to repress innovation, eliminate desirable flexibility, adapt systems to conformity with a set of rules rather than the situations that arise, discourage independent thought, and in the end to strangle most areas of productive activity, thus leading into the penultimate phase, disintegration.

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Alternative view (R.Baker) The remarkable idea has got around that women should have a percentage of places reserved for them in various spheres which some regard as desirable, such as politics and business administration.  (In theory the desirability may be understandable, but just take a look at what they’re like in practice.)  This is baffling.  The simple fact that women are around 50% of the electorate does not even begin to be a sufficient reason.  To say women have a different viewpoint and this justifies a reserved percentage is twaddle, until you admit the justification is just as valid in claiming a reserved percentage for men; there will be few if any feminists who would accept that most of the candidates for the forthcoming election for mayor of Paris must be barred since the roster is at present overwhelmingly female.  The claim that there is discrimination against women for no other reason than their gender is doubtless valid in many individual cases but it rests on anecdotal evidence, and who would doubt that male chauvinists would swiftly produce a similar body of anecdotal evidence in the opposite sense?  To argue that we know discrimination against women must actually be general because [1] a general discrimination would keep their numbers in e.g. politics and boardrooms proportionately low, and [2] those numbers are proportionately low, is simply to fall victim to that old bugbear of first-year students of logic, the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  One can just as well maintain that there is a general prejudice against the rhino in Ireland, as proved by the fact that almost none are found there.

            Supposing that we were to accept this simple-minded expectation that proportions found in one situation should be repeated in a different situation (it does not take long for laboratory rats to get past this misunderstanding), let us note that on average across Europe the average age of the electorate is 38; that is, approximately half are older than that.  There seems no shadow of a reason why they, with their distinct viewpoint should not have an equally good claim to a reserved percentage of places.  (And of course the same will go for those under that age.)  Or take another factor.  To the amazement of certain social scientists it has been found that in country after country almost exactly half the electorate is under average height and half over.  Now, here we are onto something which has been subject to serious research, as pursued in Harvard, and published in the Economist.  There is good evidence, not merely anecdotal, that successful politicians, and leaders in business are generally above average in height.  Here then we do see an interesting case for stipulating that places should be reserved for one side, only, of a great divide.  We can add incidentally that this will disproportionately favour women – and good luck to them here since here there is a rational basis for preference!

            So we have no objection to the idea of a quota in activities which different large sections of a community want to undertake – when there is  sound reason.  In fact there is a good case for one quota that distinguishes between men and women, in many desirable areas of activity which could actually be done equally well by both.  There should be a stipulation that women, specifically women under 35 (apologies for giving arbitrary figures, but alternatives would cause administrative chaos), do not get more than 30% of places.  This is because there is a disposition to favour this category so overwhelming that it has become accepted as normal, so prevalent as to be invisible.  It is quite unsurprising in evolutionary terms since it reflects an exceedingly powerful factor favouring the survival of the human throughout millions of years.  Some men, and women above that age, notice its effects, although often reluctant to refer to it explicitly.  That it exists is not in doubt.  If you do not believe this, you can of course pore over statistics; but it is simpler just to go to a highway with a busy and continuous flow of motor traffic, but also a constant arrival of pedestrians who need to cross the road but who have neither lights nor police to help interrupt the rush of vehicles.  Compare the time which other pedestrians have to wait before making it to the other side, compared to the young females.

            ‘No’ to quotas; but fair play for each individual!

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Principle betrayed: The most remarkable and disgraceful aspect of the rescue package just agreed between the representatives of international plutocracy and bureaucracy, and Cyprus (or more exactly some members of the party of the government in the parliament of the hellenophone part of Cyprus – some half dozen or so men) was almost entirely overlooked by most international commentators.  Even lengthy reports included it, if at all, as a final trivial note like the last wave of the hand of a visiting head of state getting into the limousine heading off to the airport.  It is the fact that the Cypriot president was instructed that he was not to put the package before his parliament, the national representatives of the people (including the 8,500 employees of the Laiki bank) who would actually pay the price of the rescue.  (It seems unlikely that there was a single player on the pluto-bureaucratic team who could not carry the sort of loss that was about to spell financial ruin for many of those on the island, let alone who would lose his job as a result of the deal; it may be that the same goes for the handful of individuals from the opposing negotiators.)

            So a ‘union of democratic states’ is compatible with the idea that a small geographically remote oligarchy can have the power to dictate at their will terms which mean unemployment or bankruptcy to hundreds or even thousands, without the latter having any say in the decision?

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Thanks: to advertising.  Once, a smile was a signal of friendliness.  Now, a sign of insincerity.

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Correction: We are assured that there is no truth in recent reports in some American newspapers about an alleged accord between America and Saudi Arabia over the contentious issue of capital punishment.  These claimed that Saudi Arabia would continue to carry out executions, using traditional procedures (as would America), but that it would permit a surgical team, equipped with the latest American technology, to be posted at the execution scene so that any families who wished to do so could have the head immediately reattached, allowing in favourable cases a return to normal life, with the prescribed punishment having been carried out.

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Note from the Acting Editor:   An inside source tells us that CENSOR, strengthened by the arrival of an expert in cricket management from Australia, intends to lift the provisional order to us not to post material, imposing instead a general ban on any site accepting material from us, continuing indefinitely.  This ‘as a warning to any others tempted to show lack of proper respect for authority’.  They are too late. Our Editor has e-mailed from his ‘meditation centre’ in Cebu, citing still dangerously high stress levels, and asking me to act as Editor for the foreseeable future (as if I would!)  Simon is  in Cyprus, from where he is to join his father in Yaroslavl.  Manos was last seen helping two giggling island ladies out of his boat on the quay at Weymouth ten days ago.  Most important, Isabelita, responsible for 80% of the work and 95% of the organisation in this office, has been offered a post as Associate Professor with tenure in a very reputable American university.  The present, unauthorised, posting is therefore the last of its series.  A share in the ideas of defending literacy, defending individual rights, and – where possible – resisting injustice, is now entrusted to your care.

            (If anyone has a home for a 140 lb dog, a Ridgeback-Pitbull cross, they should get in touch through harpress@gmail.com.  Anyone taking him must collect in person.)

p.s Isabelita has reminded me that I should certainly thank those who have contacted us, perhaps especially Brigid McK and Paula F – intelligent brickbats were as welcome as the agreements and extensions to material in the postings

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

Les nains de l’homme argenté

1) Egyptian democracy   2) How to handle a population   3) yet more progress!   4) Readers’ letters   5) question of the fortnight         Further distribution aiming at 1-3-2013

This journal has acquired a fine record of political and social predictions, some from our own staff (contact harpress@gmail.com for fees of consultancy contracts), some from readers.  A good example is the observation by Leah Menshevik (20-11-2012).  She pointed out the crippling flaw in the claim that social networks using the new adult electronic toys would bring an age of truer democracy.  The crucial factor is the huge divergence between the population of frequent users of social media (and of the shiny gewgaws which support them) – very largely urban and overwhelmingly young –  and on the other hand all the other inhabitants of a country.  Instead, the tendency would be towards the appearance of urban mobs, passions inflamed by the mutual assurances of justified rage flashing around their favoured networks.  This matches extremely well what has been happening recently in Egypt (assisted, certainly, by the deep-rooted belief of police in Egypt as elsewhere that one of the rewards of serving a population is the right to beat up or taser members of the population who displease them).  There have been and are rioting mobs in Cairo and other cities, demanding the resignation of Mursi, alleging that he has betrayed the democratic revolution.  Yet the moves made since Mubarak was overthrown have twice been put to a nationwide vote, unprecedentedly free and fair, in which Mursi’s group and allies won, each time, around 65% of the vote.  That they should now take the leading part in organising the way forward conforms precisely to the principle of democracy – doesn’t it? – whether or not that 65% came from outside the cities, and the poorer sections of the population.  Or perhaps elections only count as democratic when they deliver the result that we – whoever ‘we’ may be – want?

[Two more reader’s letters at the end of this distribution]

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Our arrangement with Luddites’ Gazette (see earlier distributions passim) has to end; the editorial staff were held as suspected illegal immigrants on reaching Switzerland; their bicycles were impounded and  they lost their chance to appeal against CENSOR’s decision.  So we have made an informal agreement with the Wessex Posthorn (a young staff gallantly pushing out independent views in one of the more dismal port cities of southern England) (Please note we present this document as received, and apologise for the poor quality of the writing):

A bit of good news from France, some really bad news from America.  From this month on, first time in 212 years, Frenchwomen have the right to wear trousers without going first to a police station to get permission.  That urge to dictate to women how they can dress seems deep embedded in the collective mind of the French bureaucracy, but perhaps we should (for once) congratulate those French police, for pretty generally having had enough sense not to enforce that law, we hope they will continue with this rare sanity in the matter of that preposterous veto on the burqa.

            The terrible news (for people who are going to see brothers, husbands, neighbours, and family friends who had just popped in for a visit, killed or maimed, without any proper investigation into claims they might be intending harm to anyone) is like the American executive branch are giving themselves the right to send a drone to kill, not arrest, never mind trial, American citizens who they think are preparing violent action against America.  We think this move is heavily against America’s own interest, but first let’s just point out a lot of people think it’s a breach of the constitution (and what the hell is the point of having a constitution if the authorities any time can just ride over it when they don’t like the rules it makes?)  More important point for the rest of the world is when you ask the question, if they can do that for American citizens what are the chances for anyone else, if for any reason, right or wrong (including mistakes over identity because of similar names as has already happened, not to mention wedding parties and meetings of chief elders against the taliban), the authorities decide that someone has been plotting violence against America.

            First off, the move is puzzling.  If your surveillance techniques are so good they can detect political views and plans of action (i.e., eavesdrop on conversations inside mud houses and read thoughts inside heads, in villages high in difficult mountains) how can they not be good enough to detect when the individual actually starts to do something – like travelling outside his home base or buying dodgy equipment  – and then maybe send in the drone to stop him?  (He’ll have a hell of a long way to go.)  As we said, the policy looks exactly against America’s own interest.  Probably America’s  most unpopular policy round the world.  The evidence is already in, using superior armed force to impose your conqueror’s power and defeat resistance (which may not even be there in the first place) by a civilian population usually fails and worse it gives terrible losses to the ones trying it.  What about France and Ukraine in World War II, or Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq since then?  Vietnam is worth looking at twice over.  Trying to beat the communists (more like nationalists really anyway) cost tens of thousands of young American lives, with even more wounded, and vast amounts of money, and it failed.  But, treating Vietnam with a mix of trade, co-operation, realism, and some sort of respect from 1988 has got America pretty much the sort of Vietnam she wants.  Please think again.

[for reading if you got French: article by Jean d’Amécourt, French ambassador in Kabul 2008-2011 in Nouvel Observateur, ‘Les pièges de Kaboul’  30-1-2013]

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Dr Ilya Sprat, Chairman of Wessex Petronine Gastronomes denies being the speaker of certain remarks recorded at a dinner for toothpaste and oral hygiene executives in Exeter last Friday, congratulating Deviathon-Slodge on siting their new project in Devon.  “It’s true some local peasantry are bellyaching about too many middle-class incomers in the county already, sticking up new concrete and glass ‘villas’, blocking the parking places with their Chelsea tractors, filling the local schools with pushy kids, and sending prices in the farmers’ markets skyrocketing.  But the more thoughtful among us see the benefits people like you bring with your culture and wider commercial contacts, and some of us are already experiencing a very satisfying increase in the value of our own businesses.”

            The new project to be called Imaginative Living for Extended Value (it was originally going to be called the Extending Value in Imaginative Living project until one of the workmen installing the jacuzzi in the new building spotted the difficulty) was set up with the mission of providing the conglomerate with ‘blue-sky thinking factoring foresight into your future’, (a phrase which according to one critic already inspires a chilling surmise as to the sort of thoughts it is going to deliver).   Indeed it has already won a major government-funded contract for the provision of muzak to be played as background on all calls to emergency services nationwide, as recommended by consultant psychologists.  According to the project leader, “This will be a loss-making venture and is designed solely to show Deviathon-Slodge making a useful contribution to society.  The aim is to help these important calls to proceed with maximum efficiency and minimum distress to those involved.  Our intelligent software will be able to detect instantly from the timbre of the voices whether to play soothing music, or a brisk march – perhaps something by Philip de Sousa – to raise energy levels, or perhaps in occasional instances something loud and obtrusive to call a duty officer back to the telephone if for some reason their attention has wandered.  My nephew tells me some ‘Dubstep’ by ‘Skrillex’ – is it? – might help there.  There is also, regrettably, the possibility of the duty officer deciding that the call is a hoax in which case he will be able to use an additional facility to switch in a recording of giga-noise klaxons as developed by the military for semi-lethal crowd control, to dissuade further attempts.”

            However, speaking off the record an anonymous source alleged that Deviathon-Slodge’s boffins had another objective in view.   “Certainly they’re going to supply the service free but they’re still aiming to make money.  Adverts.  Nothing explicit of course.  Playing the jingle of a fastfood place when some woman is screaming for police to come quick because a murderer is trying to break in might not have maximum soothing effect.  No, just the old subliminal game, quick phrases not quite consciously audible behind the noise – sorry, muzak.  The thing is, in calls like that the emotions of the caller are at peak level so the ‘hit’ will go in several times harder than in the ordinary way.  Plus, of course, millions of calls like that every year.  Money in shedloads.”

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Readers’ letters (selected in accordance with our rule that submissions will be limited to one grammatically correct sentence, please note)

There is a view widely held, in the marketing departments of companies selling genetically modified doughnuts, genetically modified sardine yoghurt and similar marvels of the twenty-first century pantry and larder, that consuming genetically modified foods cannot be bad for human beings because the American public has been doing it for 25 years, but when one reviews all kinds of recent events in that nation, not least in politics as practised for instance in senatorial contests in Mississippi, one may be inclined to think more research is needed for a definitive justification of that confidence, while in the background there remains the question as to whether already 25 years ago 4% of the American public believed that they had been abducted by aliens.

Marcia Henscropp, Gaza

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Glad as I am that my ancestor Richard III has been rediscovered, albeit exhumed and indeed earlier asphalted over without my consent, and that some enthusiastic practitioners of one of the more obscure academic trades have offered us their idea of the face that once overlay the extant skull, I assume, having seen the result, that there must be a fair amount of flexibility in the procedures for producing reconstructions, since there is no reason to believe that Richard had any oriental blood flowing in his arteries, and very strong reason to believe that he was not a woman.

Prof.Pixi Immental, Porto Alegre

(Congratulations professor on the absence of that meaningless ‘as’ which so often flaunts grammatical ignorance at the head of concessive clauses!)

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images3

Question of the fortnight.  The government in Kuala Lumpur has ruled that in future shopping malls in that city must reserve 7% of the parking space provided, for female drivers.  Since shopping is predominantly a chore undertaken by women and, even more clearly, the great majority of customer time in shopping malls is spent by women, we would suggest that the government should have ordered the reserved space to be 70%.

            The question: ‘Can any feminist explain why this suggestion gets treated as an example of male chauvinism?’

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honor hominesque honesti floreant