Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: bureaucracy

Turning off

 

(Editorial note: the first two paragraphs following were originally drafted 28 November; and nb in particular the second paragraph here)

This office is always glad to renew its contacts with the good Baron Philipp (or, as he is known to obsessive busybodies in several tax head offices around the globe) ‘that ******* Baron ****Philipp’.  A man of considerable (and useful) learning, but also with a large capacity for human sympathy, as shown in some of his contributions to this journal over the years.  He knows my own preference to receive communications by private mail, and I was not surprised last week to find a large tin alleging it contained maple syrup had appeared overnight in the back yard of the shack, which actually held a handwritten letter which looked at first like bad news, since it reported that he and his wife (the elegant Somali artist) were dissolving the legal aspects of their marriage.  It turned out, though, that they were arranging a consensual divorce to deal with the hassles imposed by bureaucracy.  Practically inevitable since he still has to circle the globe four or more times a year, like it or not, for another seven years, to avoid paying 94% tax on the huge fortune left to him by his metallurgical great-uncle, while she repeatedly finds she is blocked from turning up as scheduled at exhibitions of her own work, or else gets summarily deported by frontier police whose default assumption is that as a Somali, and brown-skinned at that, her visa is probably forged and she is likely to be a dangerous terrorist.   (Not much career risk to the officials if they get it wrong).  The letter simply assured ‘all friends’ that there were no planned changes in relationships and activities, and that both of them would continue to take an active part in both their shared and their separate interests.

            However, there was a second note in the tin which really seized my attention thanks to a throw-away remark in it, that I should be entitled to a sabbatical respite from the labour of turning out the journal.  I suddenly realised the man was right.  In fact a sabbatical is already long overdue since I have been hammering away at the typewriter, when I couldn’t find anyone else to share the work, for not six but  eight years now, with only the generous contributions from Lady W to encourage me to keep going.  So this present sentence before your eyes is not part of the free end-of-the-month supplement which has somehow sidled its way into becoming a fixed feature in the past year or so.  And this sentence is an official announcement that publication of the journal is suspended until further notice (said notice to be posted on this website if things are done according to our pretty useless – and not legally binding – charter).  Provisionally until mid January (and after all, these days nobody reads anything in December except to decipher the signature on greetings cards, or the amount specified in a festive cheque), but that’s very provisional.  According to the custom for sabbaticals I should be allowed a year off if I can make reasonable use of it.  Kevin has suggested a sponsored dog-walk from Alexandria to the Aswan High Dam, insisting that this would certainly give a change of climate and temperature from the icy squalls here on the island, and anyway, he says, Egyptians are as crazy about dogs as any elderly retirée in Tunbridge Wells, so they would almost certainly offer hospitality and even free overnight accommodation to any westerner seen walking a King Charles spaniel along the roadside.  It is hard to guess with Kevin whether he is passing on some garbled piece of misunderstood reportage or is being deliberately insulting.

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(30-11-2018)  Cleaning operations over the past two days have turned up a hibernating hedgehog or something very like it, up in the loft where I keep the computer, and countless scraps of paper as well as some photographs, several of which will perhaps be used for blackmail if I can find out  the current addresses of the subjects, Strictly honourable blackmail of course, for deserving causes.  Also a cardboard box containing some forgotten suggestions for publishable (?) items.  Archaeological examination of the stratum in which it was found and the state of the biscuits also included suggest it may have been deposited at the time of Berthold’s last visit to the island some months ago.  But a mystery: the notes were mostly  scribbled in pencil, but whose handwriting?  Certainly not mine, and I’m sure it’s not Berthold’s spidery attempt at a 1930s Dryad hand.  Two of the pieces quite ingenious, and amusing, but definitely libellous.  Herewith a couple of excerpts, including the only pencilled one still passably legible.

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(1) (In pencil)  General rule on inventions and discoveries: most accounts simply wrong.  E.g. Who invented radar?  Not easy!  Correct answer depends on which country you are in when you ask the question.  E.g. if in US then ‘Americans’, in Germany, then ‘Germans’, if Britain, then ‘GB’.  In Russia probably Russkis – in fact believe that is the claim.  ‘politically correct’ doesn’t come into it; these answers are; ‘patriotically correct’)   Brits claim radar discovered, by them, about mid 1930s.  If accurate account required, try ‘Germany’.  Could detect plane more than 20 km away by 1935, and ship (big target after all) 50 years before that.  (How come Brits beat Luftwaffe 1940?)  But British ‘discovery’ less simple than mere link to nationality – Brits say radar invented by Robert Watson-Watt, great figure in lead-up to successful defence of realm in 1940s.  This the socially correct version.  Actually, junior official Arnold Wilkins suggested use of radio waves to enable British detection of  presence of enemy; told to go and make necessary calculations, did so successfully, and was then the man who got stuck in back of jeep or similar to go out and do field trials.  Did so successsfully.  Radar taken seriously thereafter.  Then committee set up, headed by big cheese Robert Watson Watt, to discover radar.  (W-W becomes Sir Robert Watson-Watt discoverer of radar 1942.)

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(2)  (This already typed up)

In some ill-defined way the returning of cultural treasures from one country to another seems to have become a recognised part of decorous political minuets which well behaved nations are learning how to dance.  The practice can bring a pleasantly warm glow to those making the return (please avoid the word ‘sanctimonious’ here) especially since there is no need to feel much discomfort in the region of the national wallet, and even more especially since there need be no discomfort at all on the personal level, but instead the chance of a free trip to an interesting foreign country.  However there seems to have been less organised planning for a proper international framework than you’d need for buying a Burmese bus ticket. (I speak from experience.)

   To start with, if we are talking about an object, then it seems to be necessary to ask where it was made.  Sometimes the answer will be easy, sometimes difficult, and sometimes  impossible.  But even if you know the precise GPS co-ordinates of a site, that is no guarantee of an easy answer since there is no guarantee of satisfactory agreement over who had and has the legal or moral rights to the site, and when.  There is a whole zareba of disputes waiting to break out in Africa over rights to ancient treasures as a result of colonial boundaries being arbitrarily imposed on pre-existing nations and cultures.  That distinction between nation and culture is going to cause problems, and certainly not only in Africa.  In Italy should treasures that have travelled be kept in their natal city state, or should all returns lead to Rome?   Suppose a fine golden torque is discovered in Antrim;  who has the better claim to keep it (and perhaps melt it down to ‘offset costs of maintaining legal systems governing administration and handling of archaeological artefacts’ as it may be charmlessly put)?  Who should it be deivered to?  Belfast, Dublin or London, or the descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann if DNA analysis can identify them (in which case I would like a share)?  There is anyway also the issue of whether credit should go to the place where a work of art is actually produced or to the region which developed the culture and techniques from which it emerged, even if that is elsewhere.  (The apparently increasing tendency to aim at actual or de facto genocide in order to solve domestic political difficulties presages more such issues in future decades – if any).  Other kinds of disputes are waiting to bubble to the surface when you take into account the fact that many transfers have been between willing buyer and willing seller (transactions often made smoother by failing to ask if the latter had valid title, as allegedly with many sales of the Empire State Building to tourists in the 1930s and 1940s in New York)  And as if things were not already complex enough we now see the UN trying to distract attention from its complete failure (understandable) to get the world’s nations to attempt some sort of approach to semi-rational political co-operation) with its lists of intangible treasures encompassing such masterpieces of human cultural development as a unique way of preparing ham for human consumption, or Morris dancing, and being reportedly about to add to the list such achievements as Kazakh horse festivals, and Korean Folk Wrestling (perhaps akin to travel on the British railway network?)  Yet more scope for ill-will between tight-fisted holders and outraged ‘owners’.  All that to be sorted out before asking whether very many treasures might be far better off if not returned, as, of course, many of those currently in possession maintain.  A broad vista of ever more disputes over ever more intangible treasures opens out before the world of culture.

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(3) Definition  Statistics is a scientific technique which is often  used, e.g. by economists, to delimit the likely outcomes of  given combinations of factors.  For instance it is the technique which allows scientists to say that it is very unlikely that you will one day find yourself stark naked before a packed Trafalgar Square giving traffic signals to the pigeons,  but that if you and current conditions hold good long enough, one day it will happen.

(4) It is always sad to see someone who has invested a great deal of hard labour in some venture get himself tied into knots and produce something that at best is a superior grade of rubbish.  Nascitur ridiculus mus as the Romans used to say.  The syndrome can afflict even those regarded as having a high level of expertise.  Take for instance the French, a nation which makes a song and dance about its political maturity and its collective grasp of the way that a modern state should be governed.  Then run through the presidents they have saddled themselves with over the past few decades.  Chirac (elected in the final round with Le Pen as his opponent (with the campaign echoing shouts of ‘vote for the crook to keep out the racist) somewhat like Trump getting elected, under the bizarre American system, because he was not Clinton the representative of the 1%.  Then they threw away by far their best option: Aubry not selected to be the socialist champion in the final round, because she was a woman.  (Remember the slogan is not ‘Liberté, Egalité, Sororité, and not likely to be in the next half century.  Hollande next  because he was not Sarkozy.  Macron after that because he was not a politician.  (His poll rating six months after election already down 30%.

(Editor’s note: Macron’s poll rating 30-11-2018 down to 25%; widespread riots in the streets, and return to traditional police brutality – on camera.)

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honestis honor

 

 

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World’s truth reserves nearly empty

Telling it straight  :  Tribute  :  Fake views from Brussels  :  Is Macron real?  :  Historical note  :   The battle against immigration  :   Appeal.

Next posting can now be re-scheduled for original date 1 August 2017

Warning: this posting may contain references to persons you would prefer not to read about

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If there is one thing wrong with J.Corbyn’s leadership it is that he keeps believing in a decent level of intelligence and honesty in interactions with interviewers and critics.  For instance dealing with public security, having said clearly and firmly he opposes all forms of political violence, and specifically ‘all bombing’, he is then asked if he condemns the IRA’s use of bombs.  Can it be that the interviewer does not know the meaning of the word ‘all’?  Or feels that the British Isles needs a distinction between good bombs and bad bombs?  Or is hoping somehow to trap Corbyn into a verbal structure which might allow a misinterpretation his opponents would hope to see goose-stepping in bold 72 point type across the next day’s front pages (or equivalent)?   Terms such as ‘shameful’ and ‘disgusting’ are overused in politics; I’m told, so choosing very slowly and carefully I shall say, instead, that the way most of the media  have cynically trashed Corbyn with personal insults and fraudulent twists of the full hand of policies he offers is vile and contemptible.  To his detractors the benefits of a policy are apparently unimportant beside their own triumph when he could not quote to the exact figure how much it might cost in 2018.  And the Labour spokesmen trying to put the other 99 views (that’s democracy isn’t it?) are good people but mind-numbingly useless, unable to stop themselves mouthing clichés which need close scrutiny before you can distinguish them from the Blairisms which did so much to ruin the life prospects of so many outside London.  ‘It is essential to adopt policies which will attract investment in the nation’s infrastructure.’  Oh, incisive! Original!  Passionate! Convincing!. Hah! And yet their task is so easy:  Ditch the manifesto down the nearest toilet, get a big sheet of cardboard and just write in very big letters

‘You’ve had a Tory government for 6 years.  You hear them tell you how well they can manage things.  Just look at the cost of living, and then at the state of (1) the NHS (2) the railways (3) the roads (4) gas, petrol, water (5) the cities and public safety; and then find out how much public money,  your money (tax isn’t just income tax, you realise?) – is being poured into them with such rotten results.’

            (And ponder: at the time of the recent Turkish referendum even the EU briefly poked its head above that parapet which normally blocks a clear view of what is going on outside bureaucracy, and remarked that it had not been a fair campaign.  How about asking them for a view on this British election campaign?)

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In memoriam Rhodri Morgan.  Honest, humane, clever, funny.  You’ll be lucky if you see another like him in the next fifty years.

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Our new intern Edward’s first contribution.  (Fortunately he knows about computers. I’ve been careful for years how I connect it up because somebody once told me that if I put the plug in the other way up all the programmes would run backwards.)

  May’s reasons for calling the election?  Tory HQ assures us it was to get a strong hand in Brexit negotiations.  I was in my club in London last week, and that story brought appreciative chuckles from some of the oldest members who recalled how in the 450s prosperous cities of western Europe had often saved themselves by warning Attila and his Huns that their inhabitants were firmly united in their opposition to being sacked and plundered.  The lessons of history are woven out of strands of fairy gossamer.  Another current instance is peace in Europe. In the past few months Brexit has transmuted from a small ludicrously shaped cloud, menacingly black but far away on the political horizon, to a terrifying dark portal with Lasciate ogni speranza painted over the top by a Luxembourgeois tax advisor.  Sinister forms engaged upon strange businesses are dimly perceived within.  This naturally brought a risk that public trust in the wise, strong and stable management of the authorities could break down, and one result has been the sight of large numbers of men of reassuring appearance and manner emerging onto the screen from the hospitality rooms of various media broadcasting organisations, to allege as hard as they can go that Europe has had peace for 70 years thanks to the European Union.  (Actually the European Economic Community only really got going in the 1970s, so it’s serious cheating to claim more than about 45 years at best, but let’s not quibble about that.)  They belong to the professionally reassuring classes who govern all respectable democracies (unless attacked by an outbreak of populism).   They are often called ‘experts’.  Experts in what subjects is obscure, however.  Obviously not history of the Balkans (and perhaps the Hungarian uprising of 1956 slipped past their consciousness without stopping to say hello.)  But they are fully able to assure us that these decades of peace (more or less) result from the existence of the EU.  Only an irresponsible sceptic would suggest the diametrically opposite view, that the continued existence of the EU (XXL/one-size-fits-nobody bureaucracy) was, on the contrary, made possible by the peace which was there because Europe in the 1940s and 1950s knew what war could be like (my own family taking a bad hit), and because many talked about those terrible experiences to the next, half-listening generation.  Peace because Europe was exhausted, and because Europeans  were frightened it could start again, and because they were told that if a war did start the Reds would take over (or if you were living on the other side, ‘the capitalists will take over’.)  [They have actually, but not through military means. So why the hell are we all running a scare campaign about the military threat from Russia?  Just look at where ‘Allied’ troops and Russian forces are now, and where they were in 1989.]   Peace because the interests and energies and spare money (for those who have any) of the next generation have been diverted into small electronic toys purveying trivia and pornography and the chance to troll unsuspecting innocents, at the touch of a couple of buttons, or into ‘sport’ or into what is bafflingly described as entertainment.  On the other hand, take a look at East Asia.  They have by now had pretty close to international peace all things considered (by normal geopolitical standards admittedly, and not commenting on their internal politics) for not 45 but near 70 years.  ‘Ah, but what about North Korea?’  Well if, unlike nearly everybody else, you try looking at the actual records for the past 45 or even 70 years you’ll find that far less international military violence on the well established European pattern has started from North Korea than – at random – from France, or the UK.  North Korea may be going to cut loose any day now but  hasn’t actually been involved in serious international warfare since 1953.  The nations of East Asia haven’t had a regional union complete with a wonder-working Brussels to help them.  So what else has been going on round there for 70 years?  Why, red China!

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EMacron.  We know of no real evidence to support the rumour that the new French president is the result of 3-D printing (though one of our sources messaged back ‘Système politique français foutu.  Voteraient quoi que ce soit pourvu que ce n’est pas pour Marine.’  We can note incidentally that the government printers Printapoly (see postings 10-7-16 and 1-9-16) have experienced unexpectedly poor sales performance, despite the guarantee that the ministers they printed would have an IQ of at least 100.  In fact initial enquiries were strong, but it appears that the price has been pitched (necessarily given the costs) so high that it drastically reduces the pool of possible buyers (which is already greatly reduced since most potential clients – governments – either see a purchase as unnecessary because they can obviously do the job themselves or to be avoided at all costs in case it becomes obvious to all that they can’t).

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Historical clip (in three parts)

(a) March 7 1965  3,500 US Marines landed in S.Vietnam. Ten years later US forces withdrew from the country.  Nearly 60,000 US military personnel had been killed in that war and more than 150,000 injured.  Estimates of Vietnamese casualties are between two and three million, more than half civilians.  In 2017 Vietnam is prosperous (although explosives of many kinds still litter the terrain, and appallingly high numbers are suffering from the effects of toxic chemicals).  Vietnam also now has good relations with most countries including the USA.

(b) For hundreds of years Afghanistan has been the scene of violent tribal conflicts, sometimes energetically involving neighbouring areas of central Asia.  Invasions from outside the region, notably by the British Army, have been disastrous failures.  So far, however, Afghanistan has given no sign of wishing to conquer the world, or even any significant amount of territory outside the central Afghan area.

(c)  26-5-17  President Trump wants 3,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

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Reader’s contribution (Kevin Solmsen, Nairobi)

A friend, recently arrived from Britain, but wanting to remain anonymous claims he had to attend a highly secret awards ceremony last month in Britain’s Whitehall. A variety of awards were made including a special trophy for the most outstanding contribution to upholding British standards relating to aliens.  This friend himself was considered ‘principal actor’ in denying asylum to 28 applicants, including two who had lost limbs in Middle East gaols, but he did not  make it on to the podium.  The overall winner, whose 149 excluded applicants included most daringly a final appeal rejected as ‘illegible’ because it had been written in ink of the wrong colour, had ruled that a 92-year-old man must be deported to the country where he was born (Cameroon, where his British parents had been medical missionaries) despite having lived in the UK since 1934 continuously except for British war service 1942 until 1945, during which he was twice mentioned in despatches.  The highest award, he said, took the form of a silver replica of an open passport bearing a visa allowing residence for up to ten years overprinted with the word ‘Revoked’.

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Appeal for information

Those without inherited wealth are constantly pestered nowadays to increase their contribution to the nation’s productivity (if only by sending their wife, husband or live-in elderly grandmother out to work, if by some failure in the system they have been spending more than 84 hours a week in the family home.) In the old days it would be the local baron who would be keeping the peasant noses to the grindstone (or, as it might be, the sheepdip) in the race to increase the GDP of the community (CEO the local baron).  Prominent among the hustlers these days are the EU Commission.  Is there a reader who can tell us if  anyone measures the productivity of the EU commission?  (And what might its members need to do to score well – give evidence of having attended an adequate quota of conferences on transport problems in the South of France, or led a satisfying number of study trips to the sort of exotic countries which seem to specialise in receiving them, in the sort of hotels that no doubt do so much to improve the development, and productivity, of their local populations?)

 

Editor-shaped Space Empty

Maud here.  We’ve been abandoned by the Editor.  At least we think he’s off on holiday, but we had absolutely no warning till Wednesday morning when he wasn’t here.  We – that’s me and Karela – just found a note on the door, saying he’d had an urgent call and was going on the early boat.  Actually he must have left by that time.  Meantime it  said we have to fill in here, and call Monty and Berthold to see if they have anything to send over, and we could trying finding out where the Mad Doc is at present, otherwise it’s up to us what gets posted.  Then Friday morning we had a call from Heathrow (at least that’s where he said he was).  He wouldn’t say where he was going, just that he had to meet an old friend, but he sounded quite cheerful, even though we worked out he must have arrived in Britain too late to lay in a big stock of legal highs which is what we suspect he was after.  Eddy also mentioned  he’d had an excited SMS from Manos who is still in Germany and still believes he has a real chance of saving the world from global war (I think that must be a mistake for ‘global warming’ but with him you can never be sure) with his idea of genetically modified grass.  Eddy said if he had time he’d send a WhatsApp about some notice they were all handed at the inner entry gate at the airport, and he did so here it is, to prove he wasn’t lying (again) which we thought first off he was.  (Sorry, Eddy, we mean making things up.)  Here it is:

First-class passengers may now take their places in the Libor Laureate Lounge.  All other passengers must proceed in a quiet and orderly fashion to the disrobing rooms.  Remember to take your fingerprints with you, if you do not you will have to return to the Departures entry point and start your application to enter Departures again.  Anyone who has recently been in contact with anything that might be or might resemble a psychoactive substance, other than alcohol, (see lists on left and facing walls) must instead go immediately to the security detection facility and await their turn to be tested.

Anyway it seems it really is up to us now, plus Simon if he comes in, which is probably more likely now that Eddy is away.  We’ve had a rummage through all the drawers that weren’t locked, and even pulled stuff out of the bin, but haven’t found all that much.  Apart from handwritten scrawls which we couldn’t read and crumpled balls of paper here it is:  (but we did also find some used envelopes, with stamps on from Georgia, three of those, one each from Armenia, Tanzania, and Bolivia, but that one was probably from Dr Philipp)

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Linguistic corner

Favourite phrases of the 45% or so of the world’s population that connects to the internet every day: ‘We all’; ‘everybody’; ‘100 times a day’; ‘all the time’; and indeed ‘every day’.  What is it about too much time spent looking at the garbage that fills most electronic screens most of the time, which causes enfeeblement of awareness of the condition of the real world around us?

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Linguistic corner (As you see there were two of these) : A ‘remarck’ is an observation which explains some historical event in terms of realpolitik

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Question of the week : As humanity licks the last scraps of civilisation from the bottom of the jar, haven’t we about reached the year in which some attention-seeking American university department arranges with a zoo to bring up a human child as a chimp?

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(a loose sheet with no heading, handwriting of Editor)

From obit of Frau Honecker, E.Gmn ‘education’ minister.  Education to include socialism principles practice.  ‘purpose of education’ to bring kids up practising socialists.  Odd, like mirror current views capitalist theory, Tories.  How ‘our’ gov’t (whoever) is (nobly and properly) run, civic education, in UK ‘British values’.  Purpose education (acc. to EU commissner!) ‘to fit for job market’.  Well, well.

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Late news

The government proposals to privatise crime are being put on hold after, it is reported, strenuous opposition from members of the ruling party   (Where?)

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One reason they take his side so readily is that he has the air of a white-collar criminal, who had been thrown into chokey for physical assault, now just out under provisional licence.

(We don’t know who this is supposed to be but we can guess.  M and K.)

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(This item is printed on the sort of lined paper Berthold uses, so it is probably from him)

Trivial examples and genera l truths

First the trivial example: country after country is closing down its colourful street markets.  They are being closed down because they do not look respectable and orderly, and they ‘present a bad image to tourists’.  This is a useful indicator of the intelligence level of the average government, which can be expressed as a question: ‘Do they suppose that tourists go to visit their country because it has no street markets and its streets are respectable and orderly?’  The general truth is of course that lack of intelligence is no bar to success in politics.  Manifestations of this truth range up and down the scale from relatively harmless to devastating, and the same variability exists in the scale of another general truth.  On the 6th August, the way that the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima is marked will be an example from fairly low on the scale for this truth.  It consists in the fact that so few will be made aware, in reports on the anniversary, of a fact relevant to the original 1945 event itself.  Solemn ceremonies will be noted, solemn declarations will be made.  A very few may be reminded that it was stated that the bombing was a demonstration, to avoid the casualties to invading forces if the war was to continue; but the enormously more important fact, hard up to the devastating end of this general truth, is that the demonstration took place at 9.15 am local time on that day.  The implications are fairly obvious.  The general truth of course is that the human race is not fit to rule either the planet or itself.

 Special note (from us)

Do read the MD column in Private Eye (copy 13th to 26th May).  Especially you readers in Britain.  Since you all need Sats tests from age 7 upwards to show you’re able to make your proper contribution to the economic progress of your country, how about IQ tests before  your MPs can become a government minister (or for people before they can become an MP)?

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Take care all! Maud and Dr Karela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By no other name any sweeter

1.Nameless in Basingstoke

2. King Arthur’s Round Table

3. Who shall be the scapegoat?

Difficulties have emerged with the British government’s Onomatic system, introduced six months ago in partnership with Hugh G Megasystems inc., to ‘bring greater efficiency and immediacy into the business of nominal update’ (that is, changing one’s name).  By some oversight the wish of a private citizen to do this has not yet been made illegal.  The aim stated was to allow those who needed for whatever reason to change their names to do so at minimal cost (to the government; and with all the inconvenience of following the byzantine regulations left to the citizen), at the same time ensuring by means of a grossly intrusive question sheet that as many details as possible on as many citizens as possible would be entered into governmental and EU archives, to serve as legal ammunition if at any future point the citizen has a difference of opinion with the authorities.   Also, with a truly professional disregard of the fact that procedures planned by a committee of experts normally function to produce unpredicted problems in practice, the new system makes it difficult to change a name a second time.  In some as yet unexplained way this restriction, it is said, enhances ‘security’.  In accord with new ‘default’ policies it is no longer possible to change one’s name in the traditional way by deed poll.  Unfortunately one middle-aged inhabitant of Basingstoke, who was inexperienced in the use of computers, but tired of being teased for years about his original family name of Onions, decided to take the risk.  However, his first attempt somehow led to him being called Next, and he therefore had to attempt a second change.  He successfully avoided becoming Code (unlike two other users of the system) but through taking excessive care not to fall into any of the other pitfalls, he found a week later (having struggled with his computer an hour or so each evening until he developed a headache) that he had finished the process and had no computer option except to click on the button ‘finish’  – yet doing that left the choice of new name posted on screen as a blank.  (When he realised this he took a hammer and smashed his computer.)   A government spokesman confirms that he is now officially nameless, but insists that since he has engaged with Onomatic twice he cannot go through the process again even if he wanted to.  (He now refuses to touch a keyboard.)  While friends are generally sympathetic no one has been able so far to offer any practical help except for a lawyer who suggested that he might be able to claim to be the intended recipient if he came across a cheque signed but not completely filled in.  A ministry representative thought it might now be impossible for him obtain a new driving licence, or to be treated under the NHS, but there was no reason for him to fail to pay income tax, or to complete other official business since he still bore the relevant reference numbers.

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Berthold writes.  I had been musing on the UK government’s attempts to make rules for ‘psychoactive substances’ (actually almost everything we eat down to coffee and lettuce, but by some bizarre reasoning not, according to said government, including alcohol – now why ever could that be?) when I came across this from a book of  Sayings of the Fifteenth Century : ‘This folk of Briteyne hath great craft in the devysing of riwles, but the wit of an old henne in the dealings that depart thereafter

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Question of the week : Why was the great Table of the knights of King Arthur round?

This is a very reasonable question.  A round table is fine if you have a small number of guests as it gives a good chance to every one of them to try out their talent at social enterprise above or below the table on all the others, if they dare.  (Hosts should bear this in mind when preparing invitation lists.)  But King Arthur’s table was no boutique tea-shoppe object.  We know this not because we have seen the table shown to tourists in Winchester, since that is a fourteenth century fake (though it suggests that six hundred years ago they already had a sharp nose for what would pull the bored and gullible tourist in) but simply because of the number of knights who were seated round it.  We shouldn’t imagine that meetings of the Round Table were like modern democratically run municipal committee sessions.  These were serious warriors equipped with the most lethal gear available in those days to inflict physical harm on other humans (as extolled in maudlin ballads composed by court minstrels) .  There is no way any of these warriors with their testosterone-powered battle rage could have tolerated being in the bottom half of a longitudinal table.   This immediately decided the shape (and the urgent need to keep a bit of space between each one and his two neighbours decided the size).

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A reader’s letter (from Volodya Jenkins, Toulouse)

It is easy to see that the human species adds to its many other terrible inadequacies a deeply embedded assumption that the natural order of a society has the shape of a pyramid, on much the same pattern as in a pack of wolves.  (By the way, is there any truth in the rumour that scientists are discovering increasing numbers of packs where the leader is, if I may so put it, a lady wolf?  Yet another sinister effect of global warming perhaps acting on mammalian endocrine systems?) The assumption certainly does not lead to a perfect society, though as I often saw in my years in West Africa, it generally works even  less well when half-witted Western politicians throw dollops of democracy into the mechanism. (In the final years before my retirement it was my task to officially record the numbers killed and injured in elections in those nations.)  However, I only wish to note here an oddity which shows itself when a human society is arranged around some sporting activity.  In sport, experience shows repeatedly that those engaged will organise themselves into tiers.  There will of course be an ‘inner guard’ who believe they are the ‘élite’, the officials who enjoy writing rules, supervising events, issuing prohibitions, fixing penalties, orating, and standing in front at ceremonies, occasionally also seen plumbing the depths of vacuous platitude on television interviews.  They are thus something like the Praetorian Guard (and in many cases may be equally corrupt) which surrounded the emperors of the later Roman Empire.  But there will also be a single individual who for most purposes is recognised as the leader, even if not so called.  Yet from one sport to another there is no agreement on the position of this leader, as we see when a team has done badly enough for long enough that a scapegoat is needed, who is of course that leader.  In America, in both ‘football’ and baseball when a team fails, it is the coach who is dismissed.  In European football it is normally the manager, though as money tightens its grip on society’s neck it has in some recent cases been the owner of the club.  In other sports there are captains of two sorts.  In golf (if indeed that can count as a sport) it is a non-playing captain, that is Head of Public Relations, who leaves his or her post.  In cricket, it is the playing captain who has been out on the field facing the ferocity of the Old Trafford rainstorms who has to go.  In the interests of stability and job security it might be better for clubs to ignore all those and instead to buy a couple of dozen tailor’s dummies, who could be designated as official club ‘leaders’, maybe dressed in some colourful uniform, and discarded one after the other as bad results accumulate over the decades.  But the scapegoat leader does seem to be a specifically human phenomenon.  Contrast horse-racing.  It could be argued that in horse-racing either the jockey or the owner of the horse is actually the leader.  Either can be, and often is, reported in the media as having ‘won’ the Grand Plexiglass Tankard or whatever it is,  no matter what efforts the horse put in.  But if disaster strikes and a horse falls at the last fence, it is the horse and not the jockey, nor the head of the stables, let alone the owner, who is put down.

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Late News : the Brazuelan government proposals to privatise crime are being put on hold after, it is reported, strenuous opposition from members of the ruling party

 

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).

 

 

 

 

Secret deals old & new

 

Monty Skew writes

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

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

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

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

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems:

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