Cui bono?

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Category: broadcasting

It’s worse than you think

From John Stuart Mill to the end of civilisation

A month or so ago, you had the posting with the heading ‘Ain’t whatya mean, hit’s the way thatya mean it’ (if you were on the general circulation list.  My apologies to friends, who did not receive it with the headline.  That’s what comes of being on the privileged list.)  The heading apparently puzzled some younger readers.  To make things a little clearer, it is an adaptation of the words which went with a jazz classic.  These, when put into standard English, were actually, ‘It isn’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it’, an excellent piece of advice to bear in mind when you next want to give your opinion on e.g. the release of all your personal data to the astonished and amused mockery of the cyberpublic.  (Don’t resort to threats and torrents of incoherent rage – or at least not where there are witnesses or spy cameras.  Simply say ‘We seem to have had some difficulties with this programme’.  Make sure they hear that final –me; it adds greatly to your air of authority, if you have one.  If you accompany the words with any kind of theatrical ‘business’ that you see as appropriate to your own situation and physical prowess, that is up to you.  This journal will ruthlessly deny any responsibility in the matter.)  For some reason, in the original jazz rendering the words ‘whatya’ and ‘it’s tha’ and ‘thatya’ were often pronounced ‘hotya’, ‘hitstha’ and ‘hatya’ which in some inscrutable way was felt to enhance the jazz quality of the observation.  Ah so long ago!  Are you really better off with rap and grime?

            Be that as it may, that posting pointed out that only those unfortunates burdened with an excessive incredulity deficit will take the words uttered by a national leader (or for that matter a senior member of any nation’s oligocracy, such as the Tory party in Great Britain) to have meaning in the ordinary way, as used in giving information.  Those words have istead what might be better called incantatory meaning, not so very different from the chants of some mediaeval self-proclaimed miracle workers.  They lay out a vision of future developments which will please the audience (whether that is a future without immigrants or with free hash for all or –  to venture into surrealism – with a properly funded national health service) and through some design flaw in the human creature audiences tend to believe that the speaker or some unknown agency at his command is going to provide those desirables.   For example, a ministerial speech in the House of Commons shortly after the infamous Grenfell Tower disaster reassured those listening that all survivors would be given proper and permanent replacement accommodation within three months.  This was an agreeable thing to hear (or at least one of the least disagreeable comments emerging from official quarters). Sighs of relief all round the Conservative benches and in the headlines of most of the press and even in the less clued-up members of the ‘Something really needs to be done’ movement (69% of the population).  The belief that something really would be done has faded for most of the population into an assumption that something was done, even now when reality has demonstrated the brutal falsehood of the words.  (For an encore, play the Windrush Saga, still running in some outlying areas.)

        Does the speaker himself (usually male) share the belief ?  Astonishingly, some of those most seriously deranged do, and this does not only apply to those on the western shores of the Atlantic, detached as nearly all of them are from most of the world’s realities.  But the sincerity quotient of a human utterance has no reliable relation to its validity.  And matters are made even worse by a different design fault that is quite wrongly regarded as a minor problem, when it is recognised at all.  This is the tendency to adjust willingness to believe according to the confidence of the speaker (in effect, listening to the man – this word reflects statistics –  with the loudest voice.)

            Whenever a major problem arises it will almost always involve a variety of factors, suggesting reactions in various different ways, many of them having drawbacks as well helpful options.  This means that people who study the issues thoroughly will realise that even if some particular way forward offers the best prospects, there will be a price to pay.  It is then built into human behavioural patterns that whether aware of it or not they will deliver their verdict with less red-blooded conviction than those who have simply seen one easily visible factor which points clearly in one direction, and who ignore or do not even see the problems which come with it, while they bay for everyone to follow their lead.  Obeying the voice of the loudest is not just a quick way to get a bad result at a political meeting or the sort of disagreement settled with a few cuts and bruises outside a football stadium.  In 1914 the streets of Berlin were packed with crowds calling for war against Britain, even as tens of thousands filled the centre of London, calling for war against Germany.  Is government according to the views of the majority really the right, reasonable, and proper way to organise a nation?  (No.)  It is the high road to quarrels between nations.  And no-deal Brexits, by the way.  And, if your luck is out, to war.  With that in mind, just take a look across the current products of the British media.

            Yet even if mistakes, and dishonesty and self-deception may be enough to guarantee the species a much shorter run than its present occupants imagine, there is still another factor, which should perhaps be more worrying than all the rest.  Not long ago I happened to find a report written by a fine journalist, Norman Webster, in the Globe and Mail (fine paper) reporting on an interview on the 14th November 1981 with Ronald Reagan who, at the time and for eight years thereafter was President of the United States.  For once, the journalist avoided the normal approach, that is tidying  up the remarks of the interviewee to make them easy to understand for the masses and to take out anything that might shock sensitive listeners (or sensitive proprietors of the media channel).  He gave the words actually used by Reagan in response to two issues.  The first was whether a nuclear war involving Russia and the US could be (safely?) limited to European territory.  Here are Reagan’s words: “I don’t honestly know.  I think again, until some place…all over the world this is being research going on, to try and find the defensive weapon.  There never has been a weapon that someone hasn’t come up with a defence.  But it could …and the only defence is, well, you shoot yours and we’ll shoot ours.”  And the second (when pressed to say whether a nuclear exchange might be limited to a particular battlefield area): “Well, I would – if they realised that we – again, if – if we led them back to that stalemate only because that our retaliatory power, our seconds, or our strike at them after their first strike, would be so destructive that they couldn’t afford it, that would hold them off.”

            It wasn’t until after Reagan left office that those who knew dared to talk publicly about the mental state of the highest commander of the most powerful nation on the planet.


NB1 Although published as long ago as 2005 The Rise of Political Lying by Peter Oborne is still an asset to a British consumer’s bookshelf.  ISBN 0-7432-7560-8


NB2  Material from (prefixed by either www. or cui bono) may be used, but not for commercial purposes; it should meet standard conditions of fair handling, and full acknowledgment should be made


Er – Human Nature?

Late news

A clerical error has resulted in twenty Syrian refugees who had hoped for asylum in Denmark actually landing in Australia.  As its contribution to dealing with the migration crisis, rather than receiving any refugees Britain offered instead in 2015 to maintain the European Office for Registration of Unqualified Migrants, building on its decade-long experience in excluding would-be asylum seekers or returning them to the third-world countries from which they had escaped.  Work in the Office  actually started only last Thursday, owing to difficulties earlier in completing the private finance initiative scheme set-up to equip the headquarters chosen (De Labremont Court Mansion in Sussex) with the facilities needed to house staff and to ensure efficient and secure long-distance communication.  Among the first group to be handled were twenty refugees who had succeeded late last year in passing through Germany but were refused permission to cross into Denmark, and were therefore to be returned, initially to Austria.  But the telex giving the necessary instructions was misread, and as a result these migrants were put on a flight from Frankfurt to Sydney.  The Australian High Court has ruled that since they had neither intended nor wished to travel to Australia, and were under the control of a lawfully recognised international agency they cannot be expelled (although they can receive treatment such as would make it likely that they ask to leave the country).


Linguistic corner   ‘Patriotism’ is an uplifting or intoxicating feel of hatred or contempt rendered justifiable (according to the patriot) by the fact that it is not directed at one’s own people.   Fegan’s Criminal Dictionary


A guest writes.  (The contributor, a former broadcaster, wishes to remain anonymous)

Somewhere in the dark and furtive beginnings of regular television broadcasting in Britain sixty and more years ago a chubby, curly-haired youth bounced into a Programmes Provisional Advisory committee meeting (his well-connected step-mother having fixed up the opportunity for him) in Broadcasting House.  (The meeting was unusual since in those days what primarily took place in Broadcasting House was broadcasting, whereas now of course the rooms and corridors are filled with the unceasing hum of innumerable intricate internecine managerial intrigues).  If we could translate his twentieth century words into New British they would be “Television is a visual medium.  Viewers want to see our programs.  They want to see things happening.  They want movement, they want life.  They don’t want a news reader droning on at them with the news, centre-screen and stony-faced like a Chinese idol.  They don’t want to see two heads simply using words to pass thoughts to and fro.  They want action.”   And so on, in the way now only too familiar to those watching a newcomer on the make.

            Not very perceptive, the somnolent middle-aged group round the table mistook his self-promotion (which actually reproduced a presentation by a fellow-student he had witnessed on the media studies course at Wyclaw State U) and took it to be originality.  To a man, they had a firm instinctive distrust of originality, and so to get rid of him as fast as possible they passed a unanimous motion asking him to draft a plan for presentation training, for all those who had to appear in front of camera.  He did not draft such a plan, but his girlfriend did.  And that is why to this day BBC news reporters wave their arms like mediaeval conjurors, or advance stealthily towards the camera as if hoping to spring on it and kill it, or wander in a wide meaningless circle across the landscape while delivering their report.  The words do not matter; the essence is in the movement.  Presentation is the thing, content a mere sideshow.  (Thatcher would have approved.)  It has always been harder to do this sort of thing with studio interviews and news presenters.  Of course they can, and are, frequently interrupted with clips (showing wherever possible attractive young women, or if not available then ‘celebrities’), and many studios have been set up with a slowly revolving panorama behind the speakers.  But change there too is at last under way as older customs and older controllers lose their grip.  Unexplained people will make brief irruptions into the studio.  Interviewers will mix gin and tonic for their interviewees on set.  The panoramas will come to life, first in realistic and then in more exciting fashion.  For instance, birds will flit across the scene behind the presenters in a most plausible and motionful way.  Jackdaws will be spliced in frequently since they like to do aerobatics and pirouette where crows would simply fly from one side of the screen to the other with no more éclat than an MP delivering official policy.  Viewers of the older generation will have to surrender.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  If presentation is going to take over they’ll just have to give up expecting thought and meanings and news and reportage, and if they must get real information they must hunt for it on the net (and a hard game that will be!)  But the television screen will be the scene of constant unpredictable activity.  Explosions – real or faked – in the panorama, sunrise at interestingly different times of day.  Let’s have the special effects guys really earning their money – how about a flock of pterodactyls flapping over Waterloo Station?  Cameras will zoom in without warning on bank raids, again real or faked.  (Does it matter?  The viewers will watch in their millions).  Scenes of personal violence, real or faked here too, some from outside the studio, some in.  Let’s have a vulture perching on the newsreader’s shoulder.  A monkey shown trying to operate one of the cameras.  And more, and more, ever less coherent, less interesting, less humane.  Society and history move on, and those who cannot keep up must sit unprotesting on their park bench and watch as the others pass on out of view.


Science news   It is reported that the expansion of the human biomass is still proceeding in line with the gradual rise in world equity prices on the stock markets, and with experts still arguing as to why there has seemed to be the surprisingly close correlation between them over the past 150 years which, broadly, continues to hold good despite the droughts now affecting a number of places around the globe, and the imminent economic crashes in the formerly acclaimed BRIC nations (which by the way, just go to show how reliable economic pundits are).  World-wide the percentage of men who are obese stands at a new record, hailed by food-manufacturers and private fee-charging hospitals alike, with a figure of 13% of the adult male population.  An odd statistical feature, however, is that six of the seven leading nations in this exciting contest are English-speaking, and here the number of adult males reaching the obesity level hits 20% a proportion more than 50% higher than the world average.  Scientists in many countries are urging the establishment of research programmes to discover whether speaking English has a beneficial effect on weight gain, or whether a high body-mass index produces a tendency to speak English.


Karela asks:

Instead of ladling money into artificial intelligence, how about putting some into human intelligence, or better human civilisation?


Forthcoming news

A number of worried citizens and delighted right-wing politicians have been commenting in recent months on the wide horizons opened up for racial discrimination by recent advances in DNA research.  It appears that the chance of two different human being found to share precisely the same pattern of DNA is certainly lower than one in a hundred million.  This makes it possible for even a brother and sister to despise each other, by each choosing different elements of the genome as the crucial aspects of their genetic make-up which should count as the desirable norm.


A reader’s letter

Thank you for that sarky bit you had in your last post spoofing the hypocritic tosh this Tory government insults us with.  That’s assuming it wasn’t really one of their announcements?  By the way if that Maud you’ve got as an intern is the Maud Timoshenko came second in the shot put at the Dublin Student Games, you’ve really done yourselves a good turn there.  Good brain, nice strong girl.  What about a signed photograph?

Jim Golightly-Porter

Thank you for the plaudit for our intern, and also your kind offer of a photograph, but we receive plenty of photographs as it is, mostly selfies sent in by readers who somehow imagine that their face, or more often full body shot, may persuade us to reveal our private e-mail addresses to anyone who writes in.  Few are signed, and anyway they are normally binned on receipt, but we do have one (18 inches by 30) which was needed until yesterday to block a hole in a front window that arose when we had the Fine Gael hockey team here last year.  As it happens it is signed by a prominent member of the Tory cabinet and we shall be glad to send it to you in Grimsby.


 Saying of the week    When you go to see a play in a theatre you are traditionally supposed to offer a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.  However, when you go to the Cinesumma Superplusplex to see the latest Hollywood movie what you need is a willing suspension of dislike.


Thought for the day   The pantomime horse is loved by all but it does not win the Derby


Note on democracy   In the election which put the present British government in office, those registering a vote were 66.1% of those eligible to do so.  Out of this number the Conservative party received only 36.9%.  Time for some reflexion on the decent conduct of political affairs.



1) Manos and velcro   2) broadcasting as insult  3) tourism as narcotic           Next fully scheduled distribution 30-9-2012

Manos is currently on special leave. One of his friends was caressing his beard and remarked that it was like velcro; she whimsically added that this made it harder for her to leave him.  Manos is now in London where he believes he will persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to arrange for printing of banknotes with a strip of velcro at one end, to make success harder for pickpockets and to reduce loss when a note slips out accidentally.  (Hence this distribution on 15th, as earlier announced.)


Our Editor writes

Returning to Europe four years ago from my stint on Crozet Island, minus one toe of my left foot and two from the right (frostbite and penguins), I was immediately struck by the giant stride made by public broadcasters lurching down into a swamp of mediocrity and irrelevance.  After Crozet, I could tolerate the camera’s invariable selection of the prettiest in a crowd of terror-stricken refugees or starving victims of drought, but all those other quirks, earlier merely half-noticed irritations, had seemingly turned into obligatory blemishes – the reporter giving tedious details of some utterly predictable communiqué while advancing pointlessly on the camera, or treading the curve of a semicircle to show a backdrop of undistinguished landscape presumably considered more interesting than anything she had to say (which may well be true, but calls into question the value of the clip altogether); the unnatural hand gestures and head movements intended to show the reporter is alive and not a well made-up dummy; the ‘interactions’ of a pair of presenters each required to express surprise at the other’s news items (although they have of course both seen the script already, as we all know).  The main surprise in any case is how trivial and inane reports can be and still make up a news broadcast; ‘The Duke of Cambridge is to give a lecture on the illegal trade in rhino horn’ – a recent BBC headline. Then there is the interchange of jokey remarks, as witless as those offered by RBS in information on children’s accounts.  There is the ever-annoying ‘easy-listening’ muzak – encountered on programmes as diverse and in as little need of muzak as the making of lenses, work as a retail butcher, and the political situation in North Korea; one extraordinary use was for a programme with two experts talking about monetary policy, to the backing of not mere instrumental noise, but a song about money, repeated in fragments throughout their discussion, and loud enough to drown out the spoken words.  Perhaps the idea is that offering something, no matter how inane, for the auditory sense may help fill any deficit in informational content – muzak to support newzak, in other words.  Most infuriating of all are the remarks made, presumably as recommended during some benighted and forlorn master’s degree on broadcasting, which are supposed to induce a ‘friendly, casual’ atmosphere.  ‘It’s great to have you with us’ , ‘Good to have you back’, and most idiotic of all ‘Good to see you again’ (AlJazeera, and ABC, from whom one might have hoped for better).  Audiences hugely resent the implication that we are so woolly-minded as to be taken in by this claptrap.  The makers of programmes may think their audience is stupid but when we descend to remarks by presenters such as the one last cited the need to prove intelligence clearly falls not on the audience but on the programme makers and channel owners.

            The overall effect of all this rubbish must be to drive television watchers away from their sofas.  We may reasonably suspect that this is deliberately intended since virtually every channel now gives frequent reminders that ‘all this and more’ is available on a corresponding website.  The natural question is why there should be such an intention.  The answer given, usually after local microphones have been switched off, is ‘to save costs’.  And it is certainly true that the same newzak and alleged entertainment could be transmitted far more cheaply (to anyone still willing to receive it) over the internet.  This has serious implications, first for those engaged in public broadcasting [if you are a presenter you are invited to review the third item in the 5th June distribution]and second for members of the audience, who, whatever precautions they take, will find themselves bombarded with persistent intrusive requests to buy or hire or support this or that gew-gaw or worthy or dishonest cause that they happen to have touched on, be it never so tangentially, and left on screen for a couple of minutes while they went to make a cup of tea.  But taking other matters into account I now incline to suspect another purpose, and sympathise with the view of the editorial received by co-incidence from Luddites Gazette this week and which follows directly below.  The same mish-mash of newzak and alleged entertainment, along with the social networks, will serve most excellently to absorb the time and interests of populations (I do not speak of their energy because long hours slumped before their screens will leave that an uncertain factor) to the great advantage of the régimes that control them.

            But whatever intentions lurk in the shadows as public broadcasting withers away, actual results may be different in at least two important ways.  First, in recent evidence to the British Parliament the Citizens Advice group pointed out that 8.5 million had never connected to the internet, and 14.5 million had virtually no relevant skills.  There is not only a widening gap between wealth and poverty in western nations; there is also a gulf  between those who can and cannot use the internet and this will increasingly be a cause of social troubles.  Second, it is not only governments and publicly known companies that will spy on what is received on the internet.  Hacking thrives on behalf of criminals and  unknowably many groups of uncertain identity.  The consequences are quite unpredictable but there is no reason to suppose they will be trivial.

            How serious will these two issues be?  Time will tell.



Thoughtful students of history generally agree that, all other things equal, a régime has a better chance of long-term survival if it finds ways to charm its subject population into quiescent docility, rather than attempting totalitarian tyranny, or total democracy (actually, a theoretical option only), or a programme of foreign conquest.  Among the diverse means deployed to preserve the pseudo-democratic systems of the west and elsewhere, one of the most widely adopted has been the diversion into tourism of energies and resources that might otherwise have found troublesome political outlets.  (One mark of the mature judgment of the present Chinese establishment is the vigorous encouragement offered to their middle class to undertake foreign travel.)  In ancient times a régime would provide circuses to distract the people; today the people themselves are travelling circuses, but the political result is the same. There is, however, a curious aspect to this.  In nearly all cases – it has been claimed Japan is an exception – subject populations appear to believe that going on holiday is enjoyable.  The belief is so solidly fixed that it is even held by those who are themselves on holiday.

            It is hard to say how far the spread of this error has been conspiratorially organised by those who benefit from tourism.  But in any case it is manifestly fallacious, for northern Europe at least.  If we pick out one common characteristic in holidays taken by inhabitants of those parts, it will be the determination to undergo experiences for which they are not suited.  The airport itself, den of authoritarian bureaucracy and preposterously priced comestibles, is so notorious a cause of stress that no more need be said, except that there is another version at the recipient end.  But what do the tourists then do?  Those emerging from rainswept cloud-covered springs at once toss their pale bodies on to tropic sand to lie for hours under a blazing sun.  (The Turkish Beys, who understood the effect of the climate much better, used to peg out misguided upholders of legitimate rights naked on the sands as a rather severe punishment.)  A librarian whose most perilous ascent in the rest of the year is filing books belonging to the top shelf goes rock climbing in the Dolomites.  The pathologically shy sign up for encounter groups in California or Cambodia  Men with the sexual charisma of abandoned potato peelings flock with SSSS Tours (the advertisements mean you to guess) to Camp Wink Wink in West Africa where they will nightly be scorned by all women in the party who will favour instead the French students who are the Camp’s staff in the holiday season.  Stomachs that feel well attuned to a regular diet of pizza and chips and similar are rightly outraged on being asked to deal with exotic and powerful spices.  Adolescent brains that at other times face no higher challenge than memorising the `lyric’ of their favourite chart hit are first overdosed on alcohol and then expected to negotiate with strange and evilly intentioned taxidrivers, in a foreign language.

Why do so many spend their free time attempting exactly the sort of thing for which they are conspicuously unfitted?  For the unhappy individual the endeavour simply exemplifies a double triumph, of poor judgment over common sense and of advertising over truth.  But this is no concern of the country to which the individual belongs.  True, there is no advantage to a nation’s stability nor its finances if an odyssean returns with a broken leg, dented machismo, a prison record, a collection of disgusting parasites, or worse.  Yet there are undeniably mechanisms by which a government can unobtrusively foster interest in tourism, and undeniable benefits to be derived.  Most of its subjects who visit other countries will consider them disagreeably foreign in behaviour, laws, language and cuisine, except for short visits, and on returning will be glad to appreciate their domicile imperfect though it doubtless is, and content to conform to its demands.  Moreover as already noted, a very great deal of their capacity, such as it is, for planning and energetic action will have been safely drawn off for the year.  Who are we to guess whether our rulers feel a satisfactory balance has been struck?

            There is of course, though, the entirely different theory which holds that an urge to suffer on holiday reflects a real element in human psychology closely linked to ancient post-pubertal rites of passage; deeply buried in modern times, it continues in this last faint trace subconsciously handed down in the form of traditional remarks and folk beliefs.  (For more, see Bentinck, Verrier, et al.)

(Luddites Gazette)


honor honestique floreant