Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: Brexit

Cui bono res publicae?

I have already got my fingers of both hands covered in ink from the ribbon on the typewriter, and to be honest am thoroughly off-piste with this interruption of my well deserved sabbatical.  Some of those whom I had considered friends, until now, have been harassing me with their proposed solution to the Brexit chaos (to be known in the history books of the future as Cameron’s Catastrophe.)  They apparently believe it is urgently necessary to get the signature of every member of the writing classes in all European territories with any kind of constitutional link to the British monarchy (and that apparently has flushed out some very rum customers in eastern Europe not to mention three Atlantic islands some 180 miles west of Lisbon, which geographers had believed sunk during a volcanic eruption a century or more ago) on a petition pleading for a ‘non-controversial’ referendum on whether to have a new referendum with a more intelligent gamut of options – forget the whole business, sell the country as a going (?) concern to its inhabitants (somebody evidently remembers the Trustee Savings Bank farce/scandal !), put the whole country up for auction with the highest bidder then doing what the hell he likes with it, declaring war on America hoping they will treat the nation the same way they treated Germany after WWII (Churchill turned that option down in 1949 on the grounds that Britain might win) and half a dozen others.

   Lunatics!  This journal has, I believe, the only realistic solution, not that anyone is going to pay attention, but here it is in a dozen lines.  A delegation of a dozen or so citizens from the cloud-capped peaks of the British realm must attend upon the Queen, and respectfully show her the necessity of taking up immediately her inherited rights, delivering a bill of attainder upon every member of the House of Commons (with perhaps the exception of that stout fellow, Bercow).  The Serjeant-at-arms will then expeditiously arrange for every last one to be taken down the river under military escort, and installed under lock and key in the Tower of London.  If they question their situation they will find the Serjeant-at-arms to be a ‘negotiator’ very unlike the current prime minister.  Thereafter the governance of the nation to be in the hands of Her Majesty and such advisers as she shall see fit to choose.  She has for decades given more evidence of a capacity for taking good advice, for sound judgment exercised with moderation, and for avoiding foolish or disastrous entanglements than can be claimed for a very high proportion of those who in that time have presumed that bigotry and buffoonery, lying, xenophobia and careerism did not bar them from trying to take a share in influencing the administration of the nation.  And see the reults of their activities!

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Pulling the typewriter out of the old army kitbag in which it is stored (in case the roof leaks when there is a rainstorm) I found another text which seems unfamiliar, but highly relevant today, when capitalism appears proud that it has just propelled the world’s largest economy up to a pinnacle of $22 trillion of debt.  And just in case that was not a large enough investment the president of that nation has sent the government machine a request for the largest military budget ever recorded (in that country, though there may well be larger figures in some Hollywood movies.  Perhaps time, as they say in the movies, to feel very afraid.)  I append herewith.

            One does not hear much talk about the trickle-down theory of wealth these days but the assumptions behind it still seem to be holding up well.  The idea, roughly speaking, is that if you get a stratum of serious wealth in any given area then its members will, to put it crudely, spend their money in diverse ways thus spreading wealth through the community.  They will buy goods, engage services, and start businesses.  They will buy cars and pianos, employ butlers and drivers, and establish media companies.  Then the shopkeepers and the butlers and drivers and the editors will have more money than they ever had before, and in their turn they will spend more on the things they want, need and like.  And so on all the way down the economic slope.  As in all the most comforting fairy tales, it leaves everyone better off.  Therefore we should always fight for rich people and rich companies to have the lowest possible taxes, to help the whole wonderful process to work (and it is said some governments even hand out free grants under the name of privatisations to promising candidates to make sure they have enough wealth to keep things going).  But all this is rather abstract stuff.  Let’s try to envisage a practical example.  Let’s take a large group of bankers fleeing their native country somewhere in Asia perhaps, to save their lives and wealth after a leftish government has somehow got elected.  They decide to settle together on the pleasant island of Arbyesse in the Bay of Bolivia, which up to now has maintained a moderate prosperity on the basis of fishing, tourism, and the manufacture  and sale of artefacts attributed to the first bronze age settlers.  The first thing that happens is that they buy the finest houses on the market for their families, equip them with the most modern computer systems, and furnish them with exquisite period furniture bought after whirlwind shopping expeditions to Paris and Hongkong.   You will notice at once that the latter two forms of expenditure do nothing for the local economy, but for now let us pass over that point.  After that they set up a new bank employing some dozens of local staff, some formerly unemployed but most of them attracted by the higher pay from their previous jobs in various local businesses.  The bankers also establish firms dealing in financial investment and advice, facilitating of course dealings with their own previous contacts in other countries.  The purchases continue, notably including two private yachts but also a number of expensive cars (which naturally have to be bought from overseas firms).    They are careful to adopt a low profile in local life though some do offer support for one respectable local party, obviously well-favoured by the population since it wins the next three elections in a row.  Investors and friends of the bankers overseas see Arbyesse as a stable, investible target and pile in.  Hotels are built and infrastructure projects take shape.  So the economy after a few years achieves substantial growth.  Local construction companies (in which the bankers have invested heavily) have done well, as has the airport (foreign-owned).  There is a new ‘Omnimercato supermart’ with 60,000 different kinds of items, on the site of the old vegetable market, which still exists but has moved to a convenient site near the lagoon south of the capital.  Shopkeepers, and owners of other small businesses like the smith who turned his hand to making ornamental ironwork drive respectable cars.  But one night a young trainee accountant, cycling home after a celebratory dinner with some friends in El treinta de julio, a beachside café, noticed several down-and-outs sleeping in doorways, something he had never seen as a child.  He thought about it when he got home, and these thoughts led him by chance to realising that though he seemed to be earning quite reasonable pay, somehow he and his wife still could not afford to buy a number of desirable additions to their home, and had to be very careful with their monthly expenses.  She commented that it was much the same for most of her friends, while her aunt, though married to the man who had successfully turned his small taberna into an upmarket wine-bar specialising in imported wines, was always ready to deplore the drain on her purse when she went to the Omnimercato, and to denounce her husband who insisted they must save one more year for the bathroom suite she had set her heart on.  The accountant, Federigo, became curious and he found it quite easy to get information, sometimes in detail, about the assets of other inhabitants.  It seemed that typical members of the uppermost straturm had assets that would compare quite favourably with those of wealthy individuals in advanced countries.  The next level, senior managers in the construction companies for example, were also quite well off.  But as one went down the scale it seemed that the level of wealth diminished, not just individually but when all citizens of that level of the economy were added together.  He also tried to find comparative data on incomes.  This was harder since the tax authorities were rather more conscious of confidentiality than the private branches of the wealth system.  Nonetheless it seemed that a similar variation existed there.  The most striking thing was that in both cases it appeared that the figure dropped to zero before one reached the lowest band of the population.

            Perhaps foolishly, he started talking about his findings in company.  He was frankly puzzled as to why the ‘ever more vibrantly pulsing economy’ (to quote from the Trombón del Amanecer) pulsed so feebly in its lower depths.  Most who heard him did not share this reaction; they simply regarded it as a natural aspect of human existence.  However, he was finally offered the reason, at a gathering over a few beers one evening with some friends as the rain lashed down on the same beach-side café, the night before he was arrested.  Once again he plaintively voiced his puzzlement and once again saw the same resentful but apathetic impotence.  As often, one of them muttered about ‘all this money around.  Not much filtering down to us.  The only thing that filters down to us is higher prices’.  This time, however, the amiable Irish beachcomber in the corner, a regular customer over many years but one who rarely spoke, added an unexpected coda.  “It’s just what you should expect, you know.  The economists don’t like to talk about it much, but it is an economic law.  ‘Prices rise to meet the money available to pay them’ .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 I use the term in its old-fashioned sense, of providing useful and valued service in return for some kind of financial benefit; no link whatever to the term ‘compensation package’

Dreams from a dark knight

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

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

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‘Heads I win.  Tails…’?

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

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

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

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

 

A couple of notes from London

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

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th August

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

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E-mail despatch from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems in London

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

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

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Today’s birthdays

Paul McCartney (172)

Cumberland (Senior royal corgi of the United Kingdom)  13½

Second post-Brexit UK government (– 19 months)

Third post-Brexit UK government (– 26 months)

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Difficile est satiram scribere

The magnificent grotesques  It is breathtakingly strange that well-educated members of the élite over in the UK, secure in their mutual assurances of sanity and intelligence, do not notice a towering inconsistency between on the one hand their assertions that Brexit ‘must proceed’ because ‘the people’ of their country voted to leave the EU (actually about one in three of the adult electorate) and on the other hand their own insistence that the terms of leaving should be decided not by the people (which ‘would tie the government’s hands’) but by the few dozen individuals who sit around the cabinet table in Downing Street (or more exactly by a minority among those individuals, who believe that firm governance means carrying on with policies which looked as if they might have been worth a punt two or three years ago, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary now crowding the horizon).

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The Cassandra File   Did crews in the sea-battles of earlier centuries who saw fire-ships bearing down on them simply go ‘tsk!’ and carry on with routine tasks?   The first of these two pieces is, verbatim, an extract from Obiter Ficta (isbn 974-85468-0-2) first published in 2004:

‘It is absurd to expect commercial companies to act ethically.  The essence of their nature is to make profits…if anyone is to tie a few ethical balls and chains onto them – as they certainly should – then that is to be done by governments, and if the latter keep mum…that is because they, the government, want to evade ethical responsibility…  Why however do those who at least grasp that businesses, as such, exist to make money, persist in putting this as ‘serving the interests of their shareholders’ when manifestly it is nothing of the sort?  The interests served are naturally those of the directors and the managers of the firm.’

            The second piece is, verbatim, extracted from Private Eye of 6 April 2018:

‘Profits rise, so do bonuses.  Losses arise, but bonuses are still paid…The short-term interests of senior managers/employees increasingly trump those of the shareholder owners…Deutsche Bank lost €735m last year, yet its bonus pool quadrupled to €2.2bn.  Dividends paid totalled just €227m.’

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Rigor mentis Two constant features distinguishing the English from other European peoples for centuries have been their readiness to devise systems of rules for all aspects of national and domestic life, together with an unfailing capacity to apply them illogically, inequitably, and unjustly.  In 1478 Thomas of Credianton (today’s Crediton) wrote ‘This folk hath wondrous crafte in the devising of all manner of rules and a marvellous wit in waylaying the good that they might do.’  Which other European land could have set out a written code of conduct for the nation’s ruler, duly signed by him, as early as 1215?  The same almost instinctive urge to establish rules and constraints persists to the present day throughout the population, as in the provisions which rule that state officials have the right to raid private homes for – among other instances (and I assure readers I am not making these up) – a search for foreign bees, a survey of the seal population, and checking to discover whether offences related to stage hypnotism have been committed.  It has long been suspected that this strange national urge to regulate has some elusive basis in a malfunction of the metabolic system, possibly resulting from an ancient DNA mutation  and the term rigor mentis has been adopted to name it.  However, very recently there have been certain indications that rigor mentis may in fact be a contagious ailment.  Incidents that seem hard to explain in other ways have occurred in other countries.  For example, Le Monde reported that on 14th June of this year a force of 20 officials including police descended on the harbour front market at Marseille, interviewing and in one case temporarily detaining fishmongers there (one of whom had his entire stock seized) who were charged with not having on their stalls a display giving the name of the fish they had for sale – in Latin.

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Late news

As the deadlines loom and the cryogenic-preservation-lines are checked to see if they are still fit for purpose, rumours are circulating of a brilliant solution to the Irish border conundrum, provisionally to be made public after one further cabinet meeting to settle the principal issue (i.e. presentation).  ‘In a spirit of friendly compromise to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned’ the UK government is to confirm that it will neither set up nor request any frontier posts along the border, thus allowing completely frictionless trade in the island.  As a generous additional measure the prime minister is to arrange for the UK Border Agency to establish ‘Traveller Assistance Posts’ at all crossing points, at which a wide range of services will be provided, many at low or minimal costs, including high quality restaurant facilities, free internet connexions, traffic updates and advice on safe routes taking into account predicted weather conditions (recommended), insurance for onward travel (obligatory), and free vehicle checks (compulsory for safety reasons),

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Lost and found (Editor’s report)

Our island has a mini-auditorium, little used except by Kevin who thinks he plays the harmonica and occasionally ‘jams’ there with anyone else who shares that opinion and has some sort of instrument they can bring along to join in.  But it’s quiet normally and I sometimes go in there to work.  Last week I found an A4 sheet on the floor with the typed text copied out below, starting with stage direction to ‘Pete’ (who I happen to know is actually Selenia Gove-Grimsdyke); clearly linked to a scheme got up by two of our island’s three political activists, namely putting on a TEDium talk-show next month to celebrate World Political Analysis Day.  My kind-hearted nature makes me feel they ought to be discouraged, by force if necessary.  The text, as mistyped:

[Pete, speaking from lecturn, stage left. under spotlight.   Spotlight: Govrenment reform]

            “To help out on missunderstanding, in our performance tonight this phrase does not mean improvments in the goverment of your country, which-ever that maybe…..”

[At this  point enter Votebot from trapdoor (Jeremy disguise as robot), stage centre: Votebot makes black power salute for soldarity then orates, voice like robot, very loud] : Just get real, you halfwits!  Think!  Why do govrenments exist!  They are there to propetuate the interest of those in power.  True!  keep thinking!!  Do govenments ever have elctions which would really change things? When their not sure about there 100%  control over the poppulation under them – See! they call it, ‘their people’ even though UN has ruled for abolition of slavery – then they pick and choose and invent ‘policies’ and ‘promises’ to see which combo gives them best guaranty they will stay on top. One example out of millions all over our planet: that old London crap called ‘we will build more houses for the people to live in’, comes out in its wheel-chair every election since they invented prefabs in the 1945.   How often you get a real change when they have an election? (About once a centery some goverment gets it wrong, like Najib Razak who right now wondering what hit him).  Goes without saying of course, I am speaking about real changes of government, not the sort of Blairite crap which promises you  a different group got in but in actual factessentials leaves a  priveleged click – a click which it turns out has just the same kind of gangs congratulating them selves and giving themselves bonusses for leading the companies where the poor bleading workers do all the work over the edge of the cliff but the bosses get off alright into theyre holiday homes in the Bahmmas, should be called the Obahmmas, and sometimes the actual same people, with their wives and kids and cronies they play tenis with and eat posh dinners with and old Sir Tom Cobbley and all, and they still run the show with their chums and squeeze all the juisce and money they can get out of the neolibberal set-up which gives all the perques to themselves and their mates, just like the fuedal system worked beautifully for your average baron while the villains slaved away in the mud trying to make enuogh mud for themselves and theyre familie to live on.

[Votebot now at mega volume, striding electronicaly across stage like a poncey self-obsesed CEO, beating cyberchest, and flashes of light from cyber skeleton (if Julien at the Palais électrique really can

(end of sheet)

Regular posting scheduled for 16 July

We keep telling you

MMQQ Supplement 2

Next regular posting scheduled 16 May

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

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

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

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

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

3 July 2017

Some have unkindly, and inaccurately, described Theresa May as Hillary Clinton translated into British.  Theresa got where she did by her own efforts, not significantly aided by serried banks of supporters, and she did get to the top job.  But she is a paradigm example of the outstanding lieutenant who should not have been promoted  captain.  Given a post (Minister of the Interior) where cunning politicians like to see an able and efficient rival, since there is a good chance its demands may leave them exhausted, she held it for six years but still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, that is the police and the elderly grandees of her own party.  But Theresa’s efficiency is her weakness.  She identifies issues and their parameters, the problems and their solutions, and systematically works out the ways to deal with them.  Efficiency, in this mode, is what in junior posts is described as ticking boxes.  To tick a box appropriately you have to identify it, and that identification tends to fill up the foreground of the attention, blocking the chance of taking into account other circumstances that might be related, might be important. and might change.  This kind of efficiency is the enemy of the imagination of the gifted and successful leader.  In the case of the holder of a demanding post it also inevitably leads to a risky dependence on outlines and options and information and position papers passed upwards from offices which individually will very probably have less competence and less complete awareness of what is needed.  The procedures for supplying that material will soon enough become standard and by that fact will be invested with a spurious aura of reliability and authority, even when the material is the outcome of an overworked inexperienced subordinate team.  And what will the result be when the time comes to take the sum of this prodigious labour and to ask others from an opposing camp to accept the carefully measured and firmly based conclusions of one’s own side?  Will one meet them with a mind ready to hear different views and values and to recognise aspects of the situation that had not shown themselves before, a mind able at once to see a way to build a stronger structure by combining the familiar with the new?  Or will that strenuous preparation of meticulous plans to cover every factor foreseen have led to unquestioning trust in one’s own side’s right to stay true to its decisions, adherence to its predetermined principles and to insistence that one’s own position is the only one possible, lead in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, much of this is true

Next post (finagling and events permitting) : 1-9-2017

*News flash: Mystery hardware order

Earlier this year market analysts commented on a worldwide surge in shares of companies manufacturing physical ‘security’ equipment  (such as ‘smart’ razor wire able to  automatically launch preemptive strikes when approached, anywhere along its length, while summoning drones from headquarters).  But new reports describe contracts for hundreds of thousands of high specification combination locks controlled at distance by passwords which can change daily, placed with American manufacturers by the EU Commission, allegedly to allow these  to be fitted at all frontiers to frustrate any attempts by the UK to get back into the EU after March 2019.  A  high level official speaking on condition of the strictest anonymity said ”Ever since I took over from Barroso the UK has been a constant pain in the arse and we couldn’t be more glad to get rid of them.  The only reason we’re pretending we want them to stay is to get them to pay us a lot of money in the ‘divorce’ settlement.  Things are moving along so well at present that some more hot-headed young officials are urging us to set up similar scenarios with Poland and Hungary.  I categorically deny any personal involvement; but who do you suppose has been provoking eastern Europe’s right-wingers?”

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(Obiter collecta) Fegan’s Guide to Social Organisation (in 218 parts: pt. 104)

Other things equal, a new law or regulation will tend to benefit the class (the U class) to which those who draft laws and regulations belong, and to limit the freedom of all others.  However, the disadvantage can often be reduced for a member of the non-U classes if he or she pays a tax or obtains a licence allowing them to retain some part of a freedom that would otherwise be lost.  The cost of such licences and the level of such taxes are set by members of the U class (who of course control the administration of the resulting government revenue).

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Op Ed from ‘Jonas’: In times well within living memory ‘industry’ meant industry (as opposed to agriculture, fishing or ‘trade’; other occupations apart from the armed services counted as ‘niche’ activities, such as stockbroking, being a doctor, or working ‘in the City’.  Administration did not really count as an occupation at all; it was just something you did as part of your proper job. (Check out the startling changes in e.g. the running of (a) hospitals or (b) any randomly selected European Ministry of Defence, since 1945)  (Governments really need to wake up to the fact that a very large proportion indeed of a nation’s activity and resources is now spent on administrators whose only task, full-time, is to administer the work of other administrators.)  Nowadays of course most countries have ‘industries’ à gogo, including, a ‘leisure industry‘, ‘creative industries’ and a ‘tourist industry’ as well as a ‘hospitality industry’ and a ‘sex industry, with the latter three perhaps being the same thing but operating at different times of day.  (By the way, I’m not inventing these terms; I’ve met every one of them more than once, and not, as far as I could tell, intended satirically either.) (Has anyone spotted a ‘heavy industry industry’ yet?)  But since nowadays all of us except tramps, convicts and criminals not yet arrested are mere cogs in the great unthinking machine that is a modern business-oriented state mindlessly pursuing the ever retreating goal of screwing ever better figures for GDP out of the workforce, then let’s take the chance of making an annoying suggestion.  In most countries there is still one huge feral predatory ‘industry’ roaming the economic landscape which could be brought under government control and should be, if only for the sake of all the money that could then be squeezed out of it.  Any intelligent country should immediately nationalise the lobbying industry, and then regulate it AND TAX IT!

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Market news Following the report that Ogglekook is to produce a new hypersmartphone that can transmit thoughts and images without users even needing to have the thoughts or see the images first, the company’s shares were last night reported to be making the fastest ever ascent without supplementary oxygen on the Wall of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Five hundred or so are drowned each year in France, nearly all accidentally.  Not a high number set against a population of 68 million (if you only count those officially on government records, and try not to notice those sleeping rough – estimated at 80,000 in Paris alone last winter –  or living in derelict buildings to avoid the police charged with deporting desperate refugees back to ‘safe’ countries like Afghanistan and the squads just out for a bit of fun roughing up easy opponents; but 500 is a fairly high proportion of those exposed to recreational water.  So ‘authorities’ want to promote courses to teach all children how to swim.  Just think rationally now.  In fact most of those 500 might still be alive if they’d had a reasonable fear of the sea and open water in general instilled in them from childhood upwards.  O.k. you can call it ‘respect for the sea and open water’ if you like, but the point still carries significant weight.  Notice, if you haven’t, that the human is an animal with two legs for walking, running and kicking aggressors in the obvious target, not a creature with a sleek tail and assorted fins for convenient travel under water.  If without a programme of mass encouragement you’re getting 500 drowned in a year, it is virtually certain that teaching all children how to swim is going to increase the number of victims.  And would you want to apply this strategy elsewhere?  It seems quite possible that as things are some other recreational activities have even higher proportions of practitioners harmed, injured or killed.  Should the government introduce nationwide  instruction for children in rock-climbing?  Moto-cross?  Parcours/Parkur?  Or alcohol consumption?

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Linguistic corner (From our archives) Whatever it says in the dictionary ‘ideology’ in practice  consists of acquiring an idea which at first may have a certain meretricious charm, committing oneself to it, and then running away with it, with never a backward glance, leaping carefree over all barriers raised by common sense, and taking it with you into new and strange territory where the idea is no longer a desirable ‘compagnonne de route’, no longer even attractive, but an embarrassing liability, violently –  perhaps even dangerously – at odds with the landscape where you now find yourself.  Examples for UK  readers:  voting Conservative, listening to One Direction, supporting the English soccer team, leaving the EU.

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**News flash :  Grenfell Tower fire, 14-06-2017.    British government announcement that there is to be a review of building regulations, 29-07-2017 [On account of its high public profile this newsflash has been brought to you by enhanced express delivery which can even override obligations to attend week-end tennis matches, agreeable dinner parties, and cruises on the river]

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It is long since we’ve heard from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, once a regular  contributor to our reports, earlier a reliable member of the manipulators of tax avoidance for right-thinking citizens of southeastern England.)  I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that underneath the damp blanket stretched over his personality by a British upbringing there lurked, if not a crouching tiger, at least a performing flea, which under the tough editorial régime imposed on him here led to him developing intellectual muscles in unpredicted places.  He started to go off the rails (as his old companions would see it) and changed his job to take a post – heaven knows why – in one of the all too many universities of London (full of students, administrators, general riff-raff).  He became a keen cyclist, grew a beard which made  him look like Corbyn, and has been seen taking part in street demonstrations with some ‘unusual’ associates, among others a group of feminist survivalists based in the Cotswolds who believe men only grow a penis because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. This letter tells us on a recent visit to the Senate House he accidentally attended the wrong ‘briefing session’ addressed by a government minister and heard quite a lot before being hustled out during the final questions and answers.  It appears there is a complex government plan with inspiration drawn in part from the activities of Airbnb to radically change employment conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.  Each day millions of workers join the harassed streams flowing as slowly as molten lava into city centres.  Yet at the same time great numbers are moving in the opposite direction.  As the economy has developed, more and more of national productivity takes place outside cities.  Outside the main conurbations there are many thousands of warehouses, factories, airports, storage depots, and ‘retail complexes’.  The government intends to require that – except in the case of those operating nightshifts – companies and individuals owning these enterprises must redesign the facilities (often extensive) so as to use the existing buildings, perhaps with some additions, to provide accommodation for the workforce employed within them (including the families).  In return the owners will be allowed to charge rentals for the accommodation.  The benefits will be enormous for all concerned, provided there are explicit legal contracts linking accommodation and employment.  Owners will be assured of a stable workforce, with minimal absenteeism and 100% punctuality.  In addition they could be allowed the option of setting up basic retail outlets to cater to the needs of the resident workers, and perhaps basic medical facilities (which could also quickly check on cases of malingering).  The workforce will be spared the stress and expense of daily transport and perhaps even of the need to purchase a vehicle, and might well enjoy lower housing costs than in city centres.  Basic shopping would be available a few steps from their new homes.  The wider region would benefit from the reduction in pollution, and stress on the transport system.  The nation would save on fuel costs, and a significant reduction in social benefit expenditure, as well as a partial solution to the housing crisis.

   It was only revealed that Berthold should not have been present when he asked the minister  if he did not feel that this was a reintroduction of slavery, or at least serfdom.  (The minister laughed and remarked he had never heard of a slave receiving a monthly pay packet with government taxes ready calculated and deducted, but it was at this point that the security guards were called in.)

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The Editor writes: Personal note: I came back from my tour and found the place looking like a French Square after a Britain vs Russia football match.  Hadn’t even cleared up ….but I won’t waste description on details of the hooliganism, except to denounce the theft of the whole dozen of Château du Tertre and the last couple of Corton Charlemagne.  One interesting aspect, though, which my friends in the law and order branch are investigating further is a Philippine passport, probably fake, with the villain’s photo but a quite different name, found along with a pair of used underpants in the cupboard underneath the tv monitor. I’m not going to mess about nursing my wrath to keep it warm.  It will be quite hot enough if that scoundrel ever sets foot on this island again, though it’s unlikely he’ll risk it. If he does my friends have promised me he’ll be slung not gentlyinto the slammer on the most embarrassing charges that occur to them.  I admit a severe loss of trust in my ability to assess character by simply meeting a face and talking to it.   (Am still pretty confident I’m right about Macron, though, and I note that he’s already had the biggest drop in approval ratings of any incoming president since the Chirac débacle!)  Needed soonest: new intern!

 

 

British kittens and other organisms

1] The threat to Britain’s pets

2] Journalists unable to see past other side of goldfish bowl

3] Science: How to save the planet with grass (no, not that sort)

4] Linguistic corner

Brexit: Britain’s kittens could die

Senior scientists representing the Royal Association of Biological Institutes in England and Scotland (RABIES) have issued an urgent appeal to all citizens to vote for the In-siders in the forthcoming referendum.  They warn that a national vote to leave could threaten the health and even lead to the deaths of thousands of kittens, lambs, and puppies of many breeds, as well as of similar wild mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. It is clear that Brexit would mean a major realignment of British international trade leading to a vast increase in air traffic over the North Atlantic on routes to both North and South America.  Further, it is well established that aviation is one of the major causes of air pollution, specifically the pollution involving very small particles, and we know that the latter present serious risks to health, not only in respect of respiratory illnesses and problems of the cardiovascular system but also of other vector-borne diseases, and even neuropsychiatric problems.  The prevailing directions of winds in these latitudes mean that the British Isles will be severely affected by the increase in such pollution.  The effects on living organisms are especially damaging during the stages of early development, and young of the species we have cited are exceptionally vulnerable because of the very high proportion of fur and wool to body weight, allowing such particles to accumulate to high levels, thus causing the creature concerned to involuntarily turn its immediate environment into a serious danger to itself.  We appeal to all voters to be very much aware of this threat to the life of so many of Britain’s best loved young creatures, and therefore to cast their vote resolutely against the Out-siders on 23rd June. (for more information contact info@independentadvice.ref/23-06/gov.uk)

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Readers over the age of 7¾ will long have realised, I trust, that various kinds of arguments are put to us from time to time to persuade us to publish some item or other.  I feel free though to express my amazement at the flexibility of the backbones in some news organisations that we have dealings with, unless, that is, their bleatings of approval for government actions simply show their callow credulity.  For instance, a few days ago the British media were full of ‘good news’ brought to them by express donkey from No.10 rejoicing that the noble British government had done a ‘U-turn’ on its scandalous, and thoroughly dishonourable rejection of a parliamentary proposal to admit refugee children, many with good and valid links to Britain, who were living without family or any other adult support in Europe, and in some cases without adequate food or shelter, but who had been denied entry.  (On what grounds can any moral being refuse help to a child in such circumstances?  On what grounds?  On grounds of invincible – and also, looking at the broad economic picture, entirely pointless – selfishness.  Pure and unadulterated selfishness, therefore.  See the final item in the posting 17th April.)  So in what did the trumpery ‘U-turn’ actually consist?  The government had merely withdrawn the declaration of its refusal, and announced that it was ‘in talks’ with ‘various organisations’ ‘to see what arrangements could be made’.  What is the level of political IQ that can think that it sees there a good deed?  There are frequently other such devious plays on the gullibility of lackadaisical media outlets in today’s benighted journalistic circus, relying on governments to deliver prepacked ‘news’ and social networks to deliver unhinged views which can be ladled out, without benefit of sub-editing, to anyone who might still be listening (and is this a recipe for commercial survival?)  To be fair, though, [Why? (Meta-editor)] sometimes events further up towards the thinking end of the supply chain are manipulated so as to push innocent young journos into the leap which takes them to an entirely mistaken conclusion.  For example, that allegedly eavesdropped conversation which had the Queen (our much respected head of state in this island too) criticising some of the Chinese officials for improper behaviour (a damned sight closer to proper than some of what we see on the other side of the big pond by the way, but that’s irrelevant), was far more likely carefully staged so as to let Peking know, without telling them formally, that the behaviour was misappreciated and that London still has certain aspects, admittedly few and clearly in process of fossilisation, of sovereignty.

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Leukophyll

Manos (officially known to bureaucracy as ‘Costas’, to answer queries we have had since ‘Beyond selfishness’ in the previous posting) may this time be on to something more promising than any of his previous get-very-very-rich-quick schemes.  He is currently in Germany hoping to meet some big names in the field of molecular biology.  We are slightly worried that we may lose him.  His idea is very simple and does seem within the range of current technology.  He has read of the experiments involving transplantation of a gene into an organism that does not have it until interfered with by scientists, thus producing for instance green earthworms (adopted as their icon by the EELV ecologists in France, and welcomed world-wide by parents of infants who need buy no night-light for their bedroom since the child emits a gentle glow without need for any extra power supply.)  He has read that the onward gallop of global warming is going to trample many underfoot – within the lifetime of people who were already born before the end of World War I, and that, among the many ideas to counteract it proposed by scientists, certain women’s groups, charlatans, and others, are projects to reflect much of the solar energy back into space.  (The women, following displeasing experiences on Mediterranean holidays, join in because they believe that solar energy tends to raise male testosterone levels.)  At an earlier and less rational point in his new career in ‘normal’ Europe, Costas suggested whitewashing Russia (very much in the interests of the West, by the way, but that’s another matter).  He   reasons that with the tools now available to science it should be the work of an afternoon or two to tweak the genome of the main plants found in the world’s grasslands so that the chlorophyll is white (and hence to be renamed ‘leukophyll’), therefore reflecting a greater proportion of solar energy back into space.  Another couple of tweaks and you can turn the grasses with this genetic modification into dominant species that will take over half the land surface of the Earth in half a decade.  Problem solved for the next century or so.

Editorial note: we assure readers that the implication that Greece is not a normal European country in this piece should be taken to mean that the Hellenic nation and people are well above usual European standards (for what little that’s worth).

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Linguistic corner

The European Partnership for Linguistic Reform, a semi-independent offshoot of the EC, which last month added Czech to its list of officially recognised dialects for Cork, in Ireland, and La Coruña in Spain, has declared English to be European language of the year for 2018 (which will involve all citizens of member states being required to learn at least 15 words of English during the course of the year).  It has also announced the following phrases of the year for 2017: ‘Wirtschaftsfortschritt’ (German), ‘economic unrecovery’ (English), and ‘dérapage économique’ (French).

 

 

 

 

Quid est demonstrandum?

The Editor writes:

Question put to a commentator by a news presenter (from Al Jazeera) on the occasion of the  recent conference in Istanbul, that devoted a large part of its attention to the state, and the states, of the Middle East.  (This journalist is plainly among the sharper minds of a profession that anyway has fewer numbskulls than eg the average modern university and I was dismayed to hear the question:) ‘How do you push through reforms when so high a proportion of those at the conference are dictators?’

            Well Jane, a pretty relevant first response is ‘What are the reforms most needed in the countries you are thinking of?’  To this my own answers would be, in no particular order,  a clean water supply; freedom from aerial and artillery bombing; enough food to keep life going;  a justice system where cases depend on the law not the personal views of the judges or their bosses;  laws with some resemblance to common humanity;  good health care;  adequate support for people who one way or another cannot manage what is needed on their own (eg most unmarried mothers, the blind);  freedom from oppression by bureaucracy;  equal treatment for all the population including minorities;  education without fees;  an honest police force;  freedom of non-violent expression;  decent prison conditions for those who do get checked in there;  and (why not?) serious action against pollution.

            (NB Quite apart from the countries Jane was thinking of; there is hardly a country in the world  that does not need to up its performance sharply in at least several – and yes, I do mean ‘several’ – of these aspects, and just in case I am not being fully clear this statement of mine is intended to cover a good few of the preening western nations that enjoy passing judgement).

            I didn’t include well-run elections, nor a return to democracy .  That is because my second-order response to Jane’s question is that it is dictators above all who are best placed to actually put such reforms in place.  Whether they have the will to do so is obviously another matter, but what better encouragement in this direction could they find beyond the prospect of preserving their hold on power by doing so?  Empirical evidence is thin on the ground but strongly supportive where it exists.  At this point we run up against the next  question, namely whether your run-of-the-mill autocrat has the political nous to realise this is his very best bet.  So rather than seeing the UN waste so much of its resources on politically correct schemes to enable political groups to get back to the squabbling, violence, corruption and inequity which are part of all normal democratic systems, let’s see it using bribery, blackmail, legal chicanery, market manipulation, threats and any other means that seem cost-effective to establish realistic, but obviously secretive, training schemes – which might very suitably be called ‘Tito courses’ – aimed at getting even the dimmest dictator to understand how his (or her, in the rarest of cases) own interests (and incidentally those of the population at large) – can be best served by instituting reforms.

            While we can’t expect many dictators to openly acknowledge their attendance at such courses, let alone to be photographed waving certificates and tossing mortar boards in the air to celebrate attainment of the necessary standard, it could and should be possible for quiet well-furnished rooms to be provided in New York, Geneva and other branch offices of the UN for current students to meet tutors from time to time and perhaps exchange views with one another on tactics, acceptable and unacceptable personality cults, and helpful tax havens.   Among many other agreeable appurtenances these rooms would have honours boards, not to be visible to the general public of course, bearing the names of successful graduates world-wide, the number of years they were able to stay in power after first signing up for the course, number of major internationally recognised prizes (Nobel Peace, Ibrahim etc) and also in the case of the minority who choose to leave office the name of the western universities of which they subsequently became the honoured presidents.

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Monty Skew writes:

Brexit brings along another chance to test again what seems to many of us the most efficient strategy for deciding which side is, if not actually right – which is after all rare – at least somewhat closer to making sense in the sorts of public discussion that get labelled by news media as ‘the (latest) great debate’.   In this case we have to deal with the ‘Go-ers’ and the ‘Stay-ers’ or if that sounds a bit too much like a piece of racing jargon, we could call them the ‘Out-siders’ and the ‘In-siders’ (and the connotations of those terms might in fact be rather appropriate).  The strategy comes in two stages and if you’re lucky the first may be enough.  For this you must  listen carefully to the opposing arguments on each side.  After a reasonable lapse of time pondering the implications and prerequisites, perhaps some thirty seconds or so, you may well find your intuition has gradually led you to feel the arguments on one side are such that no sane person could be advancing them.  (This naturally leads some commentators to commend the other side.)  If however this first procedure leaves both cases equally balanced, or as it may be unbalanced, then you need to take the more laborious step of considering the people putting up the arguments on each side, and many will agree, whatever their personal interests, that with Brexit we have a very clear answer, given that wealthy companies, both multinational and native, are not only as a sector strongly committed to the Insiders but also form an overwhelmingly large component of their campaign.  When you take those two points together with the self-evident truth that these companies are in business to make money for themselves, not to do good for the British community at large, one is put in mind of a group of wolves coming across Little Red Riding Hood as she sets off on her journey and helpfully telling her there is another way to her grandmother’s cottage, an altogether easier and prettier way, through the Winding Wood, and they’ll gladly go with her as they happen to be going that way themselves.

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The government has asked us, in common with all media channels, to report this official summary of British government policy with respect to potential immigration by those lacking proper qualifications:

  ‘Britain has a long and honourable record of aid to populations in distress throughout the world, and at the present time the government is fully prepared to do whatever is necessary to ease the lot of those, no matter what their national and ethnic backgrounds, who may be suffering from the effects of war in their country.  At the same time it is important to realise that the resources of this nation are not unlimited, and it is not reasonable to expect its people to view with equanimity an influx of migrants with no meaningful ties to the country taking advantage of its generosity and threatening to degrade the agreeable middle-class lifestyle which has been achieved with so much effort and hard work over the years, and which must continue to be safeguarded by the policies of the present government.

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ps to my faithful friends from way back – Hi!   Look, you really should call round some time.  (Positively no unpleasing reception planned.)  First, I think you would be pleasantly surprised, and second as I think I said before I could do with some intelligent conversation.