Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: air travel

Tech Supplement

I already noted some years ago that most of the answer to the question ‘How will civilisation end?’ is ‘It already has.  It’s only technology that is goose-stepping on, trampling humane interests underfoot.’  There are a few spots on the planet where so far that answer would be a little unfair and I have just returned from one of them which despite its obsession with ‘business’ scores better than most on the civilisation parameter (a word they like to use) as well as getting a whole galaxy of gold stars for the tech stuff.  But travelling there and back raised an issue which is rather troubling, namely the instructions to passengers on most airlines about what to do if the pilot reports ‘Sorry about this.  The plane will be ditching in approximately ten seconds from now.’  At the start of the flight the three passengers actually paying attention on any given aircraft are shown the posture to adopt if things go that badly wrong.  Now I’m not an expert but it looks to me that the said posture gives an extraordinarily high chance of a broken neck accompanied by instant death.  Is it safe to assume that there is no link, no link at all, to the different sums involved in paying compensation to the family of a passenger killed in an air crash and to an accident victim who lives on for thirty years as a paraplegic?

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Editorial for UK edition Truth is the first casualty in government, as everyone knows, so nobody should hold it against the Donald if he readies himself for his time at the head of the nation that is leading the world into the post-truth era with a few dozen campaign promises.  All that’s really needed with a campaign promise is that it should sound good at the time and place where it comes out.  It’s a different matter for the  official statements that emerge when you have actually won control of the puppet-strings of power, because then those listening can judge whether what you say really stacks up properly beside what they can observe for themselves.  Theresa May’s remarks in Downing Street immediately after getting her fiercely studied shoes onto Number 10’s doormat can just about be excused as still being at the level of a campaign promise.  The statements now emitted from that address asserting that the crisis in the once admired National Health Service is the fault of the doctors are preposterous.  At best crass ineptitude, at a time when British doctors are under more pressure from all sides, to do more, to know more, to fill in more official requirements, and when 1,300,000 patients call on general practitioners in a single day. The government has not only disgracefully failed to meet its duties to the nation – and remember the Health Service exists not only to serve people individually but also to help the nation as a whole to maintain good enough health to do its jobs.  Attempts to blame the doctors for the difficulties caused by the government’s own decision to spend the nation’s money in other ways are nothing less than shameful.

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Technological progress (i) (A contribution from Kevin V. Solmsen, Nairobi)

Don’t know if this is good news or not.  Drones and helicopters may not be blasting away at the terrorists on the world’s battlefields (nor at the world’s hospitals, and wedding receptions) much longer.  The reason is that while technology has raced ahead ahead in small-scale aerial tech, the research aimed at increasing the power of lasers, although slower, is continuing steadily.  Quite simply, before very long it will be quite easy to shoot down the drones while sitting before a screen in a secure office equipped with air-conditioning and free muzak (whether you want it or not) hundreds of miles from any battle-front, in other words in the same sort of laid-back style available to the drone-handlers themselves.  But as a laser-handler you will have the advantage that you don’t need to sweat too much about hunting for targets.  You only have to check it’s happening according to plan.  Simply put your defense apparatus in place along with sensors which will detect anything coming across the relevant frontier and assess its speed and size, and decide automatically whether to  bring its flight to a definite conclusion.  Bad luck for bats and owls, but if you’re in the killing business, bound to be some collateral d.  Good news for states rich enough and advanced enough to ring their entire frontier with the right materiel, to face off anything except multiple ballistic missiles.  And insider your defensive arc you can use your own drones to bring a definite conclusion to incoming ground troops.  The implications for those investing in helicopter production are not too rosy though, but hey there’ll still be a good internal market for helicopters for civilian uses.

Editor comments: Also bad news for some in the Middle East who thought they could get away with using reconnaissance drones by disguising them as eagles?

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Curious fact  A recent French media report added a little more fuel to the political climate change which is bringing increasing pollution to the international atmosphere and in particular leaving Russia under a dark cloud.  Of course every country needs a certain amount of hostility to other countries, especially its neighbours, to maintain its own identity.  (Failure there is what went wrong with the now rapidly collapsing attempt to engineer a European Union.)  However, while this French report contained a generally acceptable level of hostility to Russia it included a seriously unhelpful note by saying we should not trust a country which does not trust its own population, citing a claim that 11% of the inhabitants were subject to government electronic surveillance.  Now, most observers are under a strong impression that any country in the West which secretly watched fewer than 50% of its own population would be unusually careless or – if you like – unusually free.  It seems safe to guess that those governments which are able to do so keep tabs on more or less 100% of their own population whatever they admit in public, often with a good proportion of the populations of other countries into the bargain, all of course in the interests of protection and maintaining high standards of civil order.   (If it also helps to keep those who share political control of those countries in political comfort, well that is doubtless just an entirely unintended side effect.)

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Technological progress (ii) / Linguistic corner Approaching at speed and soon to be in an adult-toy store near you: a device which will accept spoken input and turn it into beautiful calligraphy in a style and language of your choice.  (Perhaps you would like to try the style devised and published by Lucas Materot in 1608, but the language of course is up to you.)  It goes without saying that you will have to learn the clicks, grunts, hisses, and sucking noises which will be needed to take care of the punctuation, and whistles too if you choose a language which has accents.  That is vital, since omission of punctuation except occasionally for reasons of speed is a sign of inadequate education or simple stupidity.  (Do you think ‘He didn’t take the gun because he was scared’ means the same thing as ‘He didn’t take the gun, because he was scared’ ?  If you mean ‘What he said was “Garbage!”’ would you write ‘What he said was garbage’ ?)

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Political punditry  Remember : nine pundits out of ten can’t tell the difference between ‘clever’ and ‘noisy’ when they’re talking about someone in the news (including and especially themselves).

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Technological progress (iii)  Many problems about driverless cars have been haggled over pretty well – so long as you’re looking at the car itself from the inside. It is far from clear that all the external issues have been properly taken into account by the enthusiasts who have got sore throats through running around their neighbourhoods gabbling about wonders to come when significant numbers of driverless cars finally hit the road, as well as hitting cyclists, and dim-witted overexcited dogs, and ditto children, and even dimmer-witted black plastic bags blown onto the road by gusts of wind.  Never mind the appalling confusion when the mix is 50/50 and real drivers rely on the avoidance responses of  cars which turn out to have reckless incompetent or drunk humans at the wheel.  Never mind the malicious hackers exploring what they can make a hacked car do (inaugurating a new golden age of highway robbery?) Are these things going to work in more dimensions than 2 or only on broad level California freeways?   Will they notice if a sinkhole opens up on the route they have chosen?  Will they react appropriately where a human driver could spot teenage refugees from approved behaviour patterns dropping plastic bags filled with paint from a highway bridge?  Those of course are fairly rare problems, but demonstrators are going to have the time of their lives, probably bringing large nations to a standstill.  To give just one example, in France there is always some protest movement doing its best to annoy the bourgeois, but famers will no longer need to summon 30,000 peasants from the deep countryside to block a main traffic route with their tractors.  All they need do is send along three or four men each with a pig to be  gently and repeatedly taken back and forth across the road at different points a few hundred metres apart, while with further development in other technologies even the pig might not actually be necessary; it could be enough to have the accomplice at the roadside holding a small portable sonar device firing a barrage of signals at oncoming traffic while the road is crossed by a hologram of the pig.

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Technological progress (iv)

Meanwhile research in the field of genetic engineering continues to race ahead.  A recent closed-door invitation-only congress sponsored by the US government was said to have heard accounts of astonishing developments.   Very strict secrecy was enforced both for commercial reasons and because it was considered that many advances had potential military applications.  It is believed that achievements included not merely poisonous 20lb rats and bionic dogs able to read basic instructions in a form of morse code, but modified crocodiles able to swim the equivalent of five kilometres underwater in under twenty minutes with a two kilogram load strapped to a ventral pod.  One source however claims that after a long debate the congress came down firmly in favour of an embargo on further work  on higher species, allegedly citing a need to avoid competition at some point in the future from genetically modified genetic engineers.

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Thought for the day

It is not hard to think of phrases to describe Blair’s efforts to finagle his way into British politics again but most of them are unprintable

 

When to wave the rules

We still have no idea and no information on who succeeded in submitting the bogus piece, ‘Warnings’ (16th March), supposedly by the Mad Doc.   As we have been unable to get any help from the NSA or GCHQ, any plausible lines of enquiry suggested by readers will be welcomed; moreover, bearing in mind Holmes’ prime principle of investigation, the same welcome is offered for implausible suggestions also.

Monty Skew our political expert writes

Humpty Dumpty led the way, assuring Alice that when he used a word, he determined what it should mean.  Goebbels followed up by addressing the quantitative aspect of linguistic falsehood, asserting that if you tell a big lie often enough people will in the end believe it (though he did go on to remark that you can keep a lie going so long as the state can stop the people noticing the political, economic and military consequences of it).  That is a strategy that has become one of the most honoured variables, or invariables, in the mystical equations of the advertising industry in the States and world-wide.   All the same I think in its simple form that strategy misses a trick, because even if hearing the same thing over and over does have an impact on all but the most recalcitrant brains, the business will work even better if you can get the owners of the brains to do the repeating themselves.  (It is strange, though, that meaningful sequences are reinforced by repetition, whereas stimuli without a semantic charge tend to have a diminishing effect.)  Now, where does one find large groups of people all busily agreeing on the same assertions (apart from the workers gathered outside Nipponese factories for their morning singing of the company song with accompanying performance of the company’s keep-fit programme.)?  The answer of course is ‘in schools’.  And it makes little difference whether the assertions are fundamentally true, in a mathematical, geographical, political or any other sense, or false.  It is true that some education alerts some among the brighter children to opportunities for lies and deceit and careers in investment banking, but in proportional terms that is probably pretty small beer.  A far more characteristic aspect of modern education, the assumed backdrop to all normal parts of the curriculum, is instruction, telling children what to do, what to think, what to approve, and then making damn sure they do it – in other words, spreading a comprehensive conformity, and obedience to regulation and regulators.  As many will have noticed governments everywhere have for decades been extending dramatically the periods of life subject to this training, and we can assume that they have not done so merely to reduce the figures for unemployment.  It is held that the desired conformity not only is beneficial when it comes to resisting military invasion, but also strongly promotes economic success in the community.  This current orthodoxy is of course not new.  It arrived forty or fifty years ago as a successor to the idea that schools should implant skills and knowledge into future adults (with, naturally, the aim of promoting the economic success of the community), and that idea was itself a successor to the nineteenth century view that a school should implant team spirit and ‘character’ thus promoting the national and international political success of the community.  (This account deals of course only with the British stance.  By contrast the Prussian approach has throughout been firmly based on future economic return from those taught, and has not bothered with any flim-flam about theoretical underpinnings.)

            This piece of mine was in preparation to about this point before we heard of the terrible events on Tuesday.  At present Karela is on a visit to Westminster, where despite having once been an activist and nicknamed ‘the Balkan firebrand’ she seems now to have good contacts with well-informed circles including certain important officials of the kind who do not perform on camera.  This being so, although there is no  particular need to modify the remarks I wished to make, I shall postpone them since the e-mail she sent us deals with closely related topics and with more immediacy.

     As Editor I apologise for posting Karela’s comment as it arrived by e-mail, since she is always meticulous about sub-editing, but in the present case that would have caused her contribution to miss this posting.

Before, it was maybe correct that the people do not like all the rules they have to use in airports, and I was one who got angry.  But now?  About 2,000 killed by such terrible crimes in 15 years?  And many injured.  All that is true and a bad shock to Europeans.   Certainly do not forget also how many were killed by faults with airplanes, how many killed by cars, how many because the hospitals in their country did not have all the doctors wanted.  But do not only compare.  It is the duty of honest governments, if there will be one, to be a government for the people not over the people, and what should they look at first?  First, and second and third, safety of the people in all its ways.  Safety of the banks is maybe number 99 (and safety of the bankers does not even stand on the list).  One trillion dollars, I think, or more than that, governments gave to their banks in 2008 to keep them safe.  Maybe just one percent of that could stop most of the accidents with cars, and with airplanes, and give them better hospitals, and, yes, make the airports safer too.  That is all part of the same thing, the duty of the governments.  But the people must take their part of duty now also.  That is reasonable, and I hate to be reasonable.  Most times in life what is the advantage?  But right now, it is necessary and they must behave in some way like children and follow rules even if they know themselves that they are good people.  Right now it is necessary.  I know the rules at airports make them angry, and maybe in one year they find no bad person with a bomb.  The old professors with brains so strong they make the noise squeak even if they walk through that thing with no clothes at all, and they get crazy.  But if there are no rules, then that is when the bombs will try to come.  After, when the world comes to more peace again, then they can ask if all those rules are correct, and must do that quick before the government has time to fix rules it wants in cement like Cameron wants to do with doctors and teachers already now.  But myself I am coming back to the island on train and ship by Monday.

I’d like to agree with most of what Monty and Karela say here about the various topics they raise.  I do agree with Monty that the issue of what is taught in schools and the propagation of falsehoods are subjects more intimately related than is usually considered polite to notice, and I hope he will take that  up again.  But with all respect to both our political correspondent and Karela I’d see law-abiding behaviour (which others may mock as docility) as a separate issue, and I also think that as far as schools are concerned what you teach matters no more than who and how you teach – and perhaps a good deal less.    I’d argue that the main problems following the attacks will come from the fact that the hugely increased need for ‘security’ has enormously enhanced the powers of controllers at many levels (not least the opportunities for jacks-in-office to parade their importance, stretching the patience of some of us to dangerous limits), and the willingness of the rest to be controlled.  In the short term this is better for nearly everyone (except the rather too numerous victims of French police ‘bavures’) despite the inconvenience.  But in the long term there are really only two types of outcome and this is one of those cases where distance allows the long-term outcome, really far more important, to be brushed aside without the attention it needs.  With one, we confront a society where rules and laws and regulations have everything trussed and hogtied so tightly that the whole enterprise seizes up and becomes immobile, or, worse, turns into a police state.  (Some might argue that the danger is illusory, and that evidence shows the knots tied by regulators claiming the public interest, are few and feeble and loose enough to let any number of dubious practices through, even in places where they are conspicuously needed, as with big business and organised crime; tax havens continue their sun-soaked life-style, for instance.  But I think this is at best wishful thinking.  Indeed I would like to see someone sketch out a socioeconomic law to the effect that the level of regulation varies inversely with the need for it.)  In the other outcome, the reaction against excessive control turns into violent revolution.

  • The meta-editor (aka Old Boore) writes, taking advantage of her seldom used remote access to the office’s local network:    The above, and I do not except the editor’s remarks, is like a bunch of extracts from badly taken minutes of a school debate, though I wouldn’t blame them too harshly in the present situation when a whole congeries of notions connected to ‘conformity’ is whirling around the more and less frivolous minds of Europe.  It is melancholy to observe how shocking events drive so many commentators back to a reliance on cliché and reach-me-down notions at the very point where clear-headed original thought could be most salutary.

Secret deals old & new

 

Monty Skew writes

A desire to conduct negotiations in secret is a common characteristic of bank robbers, kidnappers (of at least average levels of competence), and military officers planning a coup d’état. Also apparently of those preparing international reshapings of international trade arrangments, such as Tafta, the TTIP, and the TiSA. (We can leave the negotiations for the Southeast Asian Economic Community on one side, since war between any two or more of its members may well intervene before any serious change in the previous labyrinthine, sometimes subterranean, and certainly not always wholly ethical practices can take place.) The need for secrecy in all these cases is both evidence that the plans are likely to face resistance, and reason for suspicion that what is planned is contrary to established law and to the interests of those who will be affected by the changes. These two aspects are of course entirely distinct. A coup d’état is not necessarily bad for a nation’s inhabitants, Thomas Sankara’s name being one to cite. Likewise, it is at least theoretically possible to devise a national police force where all members would impartially support their judicial system while allowing minor derelictions in favour of mercy. (It is a rather remarkable observation that throughout history so few revolutionaries have grasped the idiocy of taking on the governing power by attacking its servants rather than seeking to enlist them.) Nevertheless many, including myself, would be willing to go out on a limb and say that negotiations affecting large numbers of human beings (we leave animals out of this, even though bringing them in might shine a bright and useful light on the moral issues) which are carried on in secret are so likely so often to be against the interests of those affected by the plans that they should be disallowed on principle by any person, group or power able to stop them. All the more so when many negotiators themselves are largely affiliated to or friendly with those who will benefit from the changes. Even more when the benefits will flow not to the poor and needy but largely to organisations which are already overendowed with assets. And unquestionably, when the plans include – an indication by itself that there is an unpleasing odour to these ideas – stipulations that would explicitly forbid anulment of the changes.

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A hasty footnote, unconnected with the above. While, like virtually everyone else outside the hermit people’s republic I feel that North Korea’s launching a long-range missile adds a twilight shade to the visions of the future, it may not be an entirely unalloyed case of mindless militarism with added aggressivity that we witness. (It has been a busy week – judging a contest for mechanical sharks not far from the Arctic Circle to begin with – and as I entered the office, our Editor seized me by the collar and shouted ‘500 words before 11.30am!’ in my ear.) But I seem to remember that there were negotiations (not particularly secret) between the West and North Korea with a view to ending the latter’s nuclear plans. Agreement was reached, and formally approved. However, a major part of the deal was that compensation for ending the nuclear programme was that two (?) of the Canadian model nuclear power stations were to be delivered to North Korea. They never arrived and in 1994 (?) North Korea declared the deal cancelled on the grounds of bad faith of the other party. If my memory is correct, that may have been a point where Pyongyang took a resolution never to trust the West. My immediate checks at this point have not turned up any relevant information. Can any reader help?

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Karela who has just returned from a brief visit home, comes back with renewed dislike of both existence in the Balkans and international airports. The former may appear at some point in a posting. The latter cannot wait, she said, so we were going to let her share this posting, until we saw her draft. (Without her permission I quote ‘it looks like the airports have a worldwide conspiracy to flood the minds of the travelling public with right-wing propaganda, which is all carried on by most airlines with the inflight ‘entertainment’. And remember they have all your personal data’…) We have decided to allow her a little more time to adjust to our house style, as the Economist might put it, and, partly for that reason, encouraged her to rout around in the archives of a sister publication now in our possession for something which might be of interest to the public while expressing views with which she might sympathise, and written in the sort of style to which we too aspire. She came up, fairly enthusiastically, with what appears to have been part of a letter.

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Where you may well be wrong, my old friend, is first in assuming that bureaucracy needs literacy, and second in not taking account of the continuity in human societies, irrespective of changes of régime and even revolutions of independence. Look at the confections consumed with such avidity by the Greeks; don’t say it in front of them, but these were all introduced to them by the Turks. It is simply unfair to blame poor patient Ivan for a racial addiction to bureaucracy, which after all prevails with equal vigour in Romania. Have you forgotten that the whole region up to the Danube was long ruled by emperors in Byzantium, legendary home of bureaucracy, while their influence plainly extended wider still. Do you find it so difficult to picture a mediaeval peasant having to stand before an agent of his headman, reporting, as he is obliged to do, his harvest for the year, not later than the autumn equinox, knowing that failure to give a full account, before two witnesses of sound hearing, would lead him straight to the stocks; or obsequiously presenting the skins required, in triplicate, as the fee for a licence, in the shape of a curiously carved stick, entitling him to hunt the pine martens which actually swarm in great numbers in his part of the swamp, and agreeing that loss of the stick will result in a penalty of fifteen strokes of the knout or a fine not exceeding two goats?

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems:

Since our political correspondent has been permitted a footnote, which might conceivably be held to trespass on my sphere of interest, may I too be allowed a brief comment: the strenuous efforts of the French government to lay the foundations of a police state starting from the present état d’urgence must be causing great delight to Marine LePen as she contemplates the possibility of victory in the presidential of 2017.

Speculation fair enough, but where is the prophet?

The editor writes: For reasons explained in the last item of this distribution, it does not begin with a piece by Old Boore, despite the requests.  We are still unable, also, to forward items from Luddites’ Gazette.  Their people have been granted an extra month to get to the hearing {see Late News, 30-11-12}, but having had trouble with punctures (the tyres on their bikes, all bought second-hand, were worryingly thin when they set off), with the French police who thought they were Germans, and the snow in France they are still only in Dijon, and may not arrive in time.  We wish them well.  Today   1) Isabelita’s good news   2) shorts   3)  the truth about Old Boore     Next scheduled distribution 31-1-13

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Isabelita is being jolly, most unlike her normal cool, controlled self.  She has had a letter confirming the safe return of the ‘Beast’ (a tribute to his strength, not his personality), three weeks overdue.  It was only six months ago we discovered that on her mother’s side she is related to a large and well-connected English family.  It seems she had long been in contact by letter and telephone in particular with one of them, a divorced fellow fifteen years her senior, formerly in the army, and now apparently running some sort of commercial outfit with the strange name of Intellectual Glass Manufactory.  We naturally suspect there is personal warmth in the relationship although she insists it is purely based on shared technical interests, and it is true her subject was chemistry when she was lecturing in Ecuador.  Nevertheless our suspicions are strengthened by her reaction to the news today, when she went so far as to show everyone the relevant page of the letter.  Jeremy managed to take a photocopy of it when she went upstairs with the whalemeat for the dog:

            I left on the Friday at 8 am for my walking tour in the Yemen, and almost immediately met a preposterous example of the nonsense that gets in the way of reasonable daily life and leaves this country having to struggle like a giant to wade through a kind of metaphorical rubbish dump of regulations, petty pomposity, and sheer bloody stupidity.  Imported from Brussels, half of it.  Bureaucratic arrogance and lazy inefficiency.  The bureaucratic arrogance kicked in at the second security checkpoint in the airport, the one where they take your watch, x-ray your belt, and require you to demonstrate that your teeth are your own and not attached to a plate with a false palate containing high explosive.  I was moved to remark quietly ‘Is all this really necessary?’ and next minute I was all but frogmarched off by three uniformed louts to a tiny windowless room and locked in.  What would have been happening if I’d been black, I wonder.  Anyway I was there for about an hour before a sour-faced young woman came in and proposed to start interrogating me, but I cut her short with a roster of some of my very senior friends and colleagues.  The Interior Minister’s name, I was surprised to notice got only a slight contemptuous smile, but then I mentioned the Deputy Commandant.  ‘May I ask how you are acquainted with our commander?’  I flattened her with my answer, ‘To begin with, he is my brother-in-law and I was best man at his wedding.’  Although she tried not to scramble off her pomp too obviously there was an instant change of atmosphere from You will do what we tell you in favour of We appreciate it’s difficult but we do have to follow the rules sir.  A short phone call, and next moment a pimpled youth in a peaked cap was at the door with my belt, watch, and other stuff in a plastic bag, and my travelling holdall.  He sped me off to where another couple of irritated travellers were being held, trilled ‘Follow me’ and led us at a brisk trot down some stairs marked ‘restricted access’ and out onto the open tarmac, where we piled into a small bus which hurtled half across the airport, stopping with a skid by a set of steps, up which we climbed.  The plane was half empty but even before we had all found seats they slammed the door shut and we taxied out for take-off.  About an hour later I was conning my list of things to say in traveller’s Arabic to the stewardess working her way towards me with a drinks trolley, when one of the other delayed passengers came up the aisle and asked me where I was going.  ‘Yemen, of course.’  ‘That’s where I thought I was going,’ he answered, ‘but we’re both wrong.  This plane is going to Yerevan, in Armenia.’

            Yerevan could be considered a rather charming place – if judged by the standard of ‘other-ranks’ cities round the east of the Mediterranean, but its air services, even when functioning according to schedule, are not very frequent.  Even with the first flight I could book, to any airport where I could then count on making a further booking to take me Yemenwards, there was no chance of being able to take the walking tour as projected, so I faxed my pals in the Embassy and asked them for further instructions.  They came back with some rude remarks, totally unjustified, and a plan which looked oddly as though it had already been worked out, to get myself into Turkey (nerve-wracking plane flight), buy a bike and  follow a specified route to Istanbul with half a dozen stop-offs at places indicated.  So I had a 3½ week cycling tour.  Tough work on the legs, but absolutely fascinating and as a bonus I was able to take in Boghazköy and Konya.  Beautiful country, amazing architecture; fine people if we discount the brutality of the peasant cattle herders (though I should add that much of the region of my tour is ‘ethnically inhabited’ – whatever that means – by Kurds, not Turks).  The people seemed most refreshingly different from the consumerist masses of western Europe, more like peasant Australians you might say.  Was favourably impressed when I left the camera and lens bag on a chair in a busy eating booth; three hours later coming back into town, an unshaven dishevelled fellow came up to me, and jabbered away incomprehensibly obviously trying to get me to go somewhere.  From one or two words I caught I think he was under the impression he was speaking German, but anyway once I realised he wasn’t a beggar I thought he might have something useful to offer so I went with him.  Led me along to the ‘restaurant’ and pointed to my camera, still sitting on the chair where I had left it.  I thought it only right to tip him a few coins.  Why the Turks should ever have wanted to ‘join Europe’ is a baffling enigma.

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This week’s book recommendation:

   Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes.  For the benefit of those readers not equipped with German we can cite the English edition translated by C.Atkinson and edited by A.Helps and H.Werner: The decline of the west : published by Oxford University Press.  1991   isbn 0-19-506751-7

‘A wonderful enriching experience; if the Nazis liked it, they did not understand it’ (Jervois Fitzroland)

If you do not enjoy this book, you may also fail to enjoy

E.Gibbon  The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire various editions including  Penguin   London   1995   isbn  978-071399124-6)

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Uncertainty of the week (contributed by Simon).  “How many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after the American forces have withdrawn? (You see, I’ve read that after the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in 2010, six brigades and 94 bases remained there, and I do not really understand.)”

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Small Ad appeal

Are you a reader living in the UK?  Do you think that satire is enough to make human beings observe the practice of fair play?  Whether you do or not, please read the article by Charlie Cooper in the Independent online, 11 January (obtainable after that date by later search); also the comments on the article, the same day, by Peggy Lloyd and Hadic Spelm; then try anger.  [Caution: this technique can be dangerous if not properly used; must not be employed in conjunction with violence; should be combined with adequate supply of intelligence for best effect; to be kept away from the immature and the deranged]

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Editorial note:

The amount of mail that reaches us in Guernsey is one of the problems obstructing our efforts to cast pearls before the public.  The great majority is variously, too long, too obscure, too pornographic (those items are kept in a special padlocked box labelled ‘used bandages’) or too illegible to peruse at length.  Some is put into our collection as evidence of the astounding gamut of human misunderstanding.  One or two are kept in case they may one day serve for a public-spirited  exercise in blackmail.  But in the last week or so, there has been a veritable flood (thirteen) of appeals for more contributions from Old Boore, which is as many will have guessed a pseudonym, in fact a pseudonym for a redoubtable lady in Hampshire.  Aged 91 she goes sea-bathing every day of the year whatever the weather, and still manages her own pack of pitbull draghounds, and runs with them.  Living here in Guernsey when the Germans invaded she was the one who welded a submachine gun to the handlebars of her bicycle.  (It was only a gesture, since she could not get hold of any ammunition; still, she was summoned to a meeting with Gussek himself, where she argued vehemently that her action was in the spirit of any aryan woman faced by a foreign occupying force.  After an hour Gussek gave up, ordered her out, and took no further action except for confiscating the bicycle and ordering a bottle of schnapps.)

   Now I have no intention of letting an amateur edge herself into my position of eminence in this office; ever since I was a pupil at Lady Wilhelmina’s School for children of gentlefolk, in darkest Wales, I have been aware of the need for sharp elbows to hold one’s place by the trough while there are still any sausages left in the tray.  So I can perhaps dampen the enthusiasm of those who want her to replace me in the editorial chair by revealing her views on the current uproar about forms of marriage, as expounded at an office party last year.  (1a) The age for consensual sexual relations to be immediately lowered to 14 ‘since they are all at it anyway and there is no point in giving them a criminal record as well and after all Shakespeare’s Juliet was only 13’ (to which my own rejoinder was ‘see what happened to her!’  (1b) Ferocious penalties for any default on consensuality by the male, up to and not excluding compulsory chemically enforced impotence.  (1c) An obligatory programme of information about medical problems, such as pregnancy and its consequences, to replace all other school subjects until the student passes a rigorous examination.  (2a) The age for marriage for women to be reduced to 14 (2b) The minimum age for marriage for men to be 58, on the grounds that this is the youngest age at which they could have reached the necessary maturity.  (2c) Women to be allowed to marry men only if  they can be certified sane by two independent fully qualified psychiatrists.

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honor hominesque honesti floreant