Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: Caesar

Delayed News

Motto of the month (and up to you whether you speculate on why it was chosen): When fire is blazing throughout a building, throwing a glass of water on the flames is not help but self-advertisement

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If this issue arrived very nearly on time that is thanks to extraordinary efforts by its Editor (myself).

I had to make a 900 kilometre off-island journey to get an elderly distant cousin released from mental hospital.  She recently moved to the Auvergne in order, she said, to ‘get away from Brexit’, with plenty  of financial resources arranged by her nieces and nephews in Kent, but with wholly inadequate training for the bureaucratic warfare that awaits would-be settlers in that ‘Pays d’égalité et fraternité’ (© every French government), and with only dim memories of the schoolroom French which once allowed her to borrow a pen from her uncle, but certainly could not now enable her to explain why she had been carrying a large gleaming kitchen knife whenever she left the cottage, and which she had flourished from within when refusing admission to all callers.  However I discovered that things had actually proceeded without widespread civil unrest for the first week or so until the day when the Foreign Ministries of the western world had run their combined campaign about the massive threats posed by Russian hacking and black ops.  It transpired that, confused by her new and quite different style of living, isolated by her monoglossia, and terrified by her wild interpretations of what had so far appeared on the screen of a secondhand television set installed for her by a well-intentioned neighbour, she concluded that Russian tanks would soon be visible on the northern skyline with heavily armed ‘hackers’ swarming along behind them.  Her notion of ‘hacker’ seemed to be based on confused stories about the atrocities in the war in Sierra Leone, where one of her relatives had served in the pacifying forces.

             Until taken away by a team of strong men, and women, in white coats she had, she told me, barricaded all windows and doors each night and slept under the bed; I could not make out whether this was with a view to escaping the notice of Russian burglars, or on the grounds that if she was already in situ she would have a better chance of resisting any other body attempting to manoeuvre itself into that space during the hours of darkness.  It took a day to extract Aunty from the protecting institution, two days to restore her to approximate normality at home, and another three or four walking around the village, literally holding her hand, and explaining to those we met that she was not only not dangerous but in need of assistance herself, before we had her on an even keel.  But from there, the interactions with the villagers could not be faulted.  It took the rest of my stay, however, to explain to Aunty why there may be a certain measure of truth in what the television told us about Russian activities but this still did not need to bring any immediate major change in our sleeping arrangements.  I put it to her that the situation is much like the ‘phoney war’ in the first few months of World War II which she remembers fondly as a paradise of sunny days and the excitement of going to school for the first time.  I explained to her that there had in fact been a lot of nastiness going on but that it had been far away from ordinary people living in southern Hampshire in England.  Of course ‘our’side (she belongs to the branches of the family tree who lived so long in England that they went native) had been busy behind the scenes getting the ships and the men and the aeroplanes ready for the real war against Mr Hitler.  She was not so easily soothed as I had hoped, and came back at first with such questions as why so many ‘important people’ (by which I suppose she meant Stoltenberg and Trump and the likes of Gavin Williamson and Dominic Raab)  were so worried about what Mr Putin was up to.  It needed much persuasion from me, ably supported by the village schoolmaster who by great good fortune was an obsessive with annotation of back numbers of LeMonde Diplomatique as his personal raison d’être, before Aunty accepted  that it wasn’t only the Russians who were hacking into ‘our’ networks and that in fact everyone is at it everywhere all the time (including big business, not just governments) even if for some reason ‘our’ media cover that aspect less fully (about 98% less).  But the clincher was when I pointed out that it was most definitely the duty of our own intelligence services to find out all they can about what the other side might be up to, and if they needed to do that by hacking, or cheating or stealing documents, or installing hidden cameras in places where they might be useful, then more power to their elbows, in order to protect all the good citizens on our own side.  Fortunately, her attention seemed focussed on that word ‘hacking’, as with many others of her generation, and I didn’t have to go into the altogether darker issues of black ops.  Eventually she agreed that what we call gathering information the Russians would call espionage, and what we call espionage they would call gathering information.  Everyone who has the competence and can afford the equipment is at it all the time.  Even the Finns reported without any drama a few months ago that they had been at it for ten years; spying on Russia, to be specific.  As all thinking autocrats know, if you’re going to keep a population in reasonably disciplined order it is essential to run a proper ‘us and them’ approach in dealing with foreign countries and other blocs.  Of course it was a slow business talking Aunty down to a sensible sanity level.  Two days before I left, as we watched the sun go down – sunsets shouldn’t be watched by people with troubles on or in their minds – she came out with “But if all those important people decided to give us all warnings about what those Russians are up to, doesn’t that mean there really is something going on, something bad, I mean?”   Pointing out the interesting co-incidence between the running of the campaign and the approach of the American mid-term elections coupled with the threat of an imminent collapse of Theresa’s rule didn’t really cut the mustard, however relevant it might actually be.  But the loyal support of the schoolmaster and the engaging of his granddaughter as a temporary and charming home help, together with the continuing complete absence of Russians in the neighbourhood, just carried us through, and I scrambled onto the old stomach-churner back to this precious isle two days ago.

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Milling

A few weeks ago I was sorting through a pile of old British coinage.  Lady W, our generous patron in darkest Dorsetshire, sends money at irregular intervals to support our magnificent (her word)  but almost entirely useless struggle to make this world a better place.  The amounts would be scorned by any London journalist (except those into their sixth or seventh period as an unpaid intern) but they are large enough that the irregularity doesn’t matter.  Long time readers will not be surprised that irregularity also applies to the form of her contributions.  Usually there is a basic cheque which is bulked out by spare change she has found lying around in her mansion, items of personal jewellery which have lost her favour (once there was a niello ring valued by a mainland jeweller at 1200 euros) or gifts in kind (e.g a bottle of wine, or an old horse cloth, but notably once including a kid goat, which came in totally illegally to Anse des Geôliers up north on a Saturday night).  This latest instalment brought a sockful of old British coins.  I noticed that some had a smooth circumference, while others had been given a milled edge; that is, a succession of tiny ridges, at right angles to the face of the coin lying flat, proceeding right round the coins, thus making them easier to grasp securely.  Those familiar with the ancestral practices of the British will not be surprised if I report that it was the coins of higher value which got the more careful treatment.  The half-crown for example (one eighth of a pound, and therefore handsome pocket money for a teenager in the 1960s) (but approximately worthless in terms of today’s purchasing power, and definitely worthless after 29th March 2019) has an easily distinguished milling.  The low value coins could of course be left unmilled since it was only the lower orders of society whose members would go scrabbling in dark corners for a dropped penny or farthing.  There is an interesting contrast with the attitude of for instance Singapore where the government takes great care that citizens who behave as it believes all Singaporeans should will receive in return helpful and thoughtful administration, extending into the details of daily life.  Thus even the tiny Singaporean ten cent coin has a milled edge.  Across the world there seems no general agreement as to when the better grasp provided by milling is needed and where it is unnecessary.  Normal for the tops of plastic milk bottles, yet not standardly incorporated on the nightsticks of American police, I am unreliably informed. (Perhaps there is an opening here for an enterprising young bureaucrat to establish UCMASA, a Universal Conference on Milling and Associated Security Aids, with himself, or herself, as both inaugural Chairman and CEO on a ‘compensation package’ of millions – unless of course it’s already been done somewhere.)  As it happens I was witness myself to the need for properly applied microsecurity techniques ten days ago.  An Australian tourist down at the harbour had buttonholed me to expound the wonders of his new ‘smartphone’.  (I clearly need to work harder on looking like a tramp when I go out for an evening stroll in the tourist season.)  If I understood him correctly, the thing was a marvel, able to tell the time in Timbuktu at the top of its screen while simultaneously conjuring airy spirits from the vasty deep in the lower half, and it was certainly a rather beautiful object, a slim smoothly gleaming rectangle of glass and black plastic with gracefully rounded corners.  As he seized the chance to photograph a fishing boat that had just come into view, the smartphone seized the chance to escape his grasp, shooting up out of his hand in what turned into an appropriately beautiful swallow dive into the murky waters off the jetty.  My Aussie friend took it hard.  I, naturally, took it as the moment to clear off for some pressing appointment or other which I had just remembered.  But I heard later that he reckoned he would have to pay 15,000 Aussie dollars to get a replacement.  And it was all made much worse by the fact that the would-be amphibian phone was itself a replacement for one snatched out of his hands as he consulted it in Tottenham Court Road looking for the shortest route to Trafalgar Square.  Why ever is there no milling on such high-tech instruments?

Next posting scheduled for 16-11-2018.  Perhaps.

 

 

 

MMQQ 8

WARNING! this posting may contain favourable references to Vladimir Putin. I have done my best to weed them out – just this morning I threw one out which described him as telling rather fewer barefaced  lies than some other well-known national leaders (named), and another which blatantly failed to maintain that he won re-election only by cunning manipulation of the Russian electoral system with the help of North Korean hackers, without which as every right-thinking westerner knows he would have got under 20% of the votes, with 60% going to Sobchak. (Memo to self: check Faux for those figures.)  But someone – Twitter? dark websters? George Soros? undercover Russian moles in Washington? – keeps putting the wretched messages up when the computer is catching its breath after a brisk ten minutes of typo production.  AND another one just in this minute as I write!  “Trump call to bring Putin into G8: only good thing he’s said all year.  Just because you have problems with someone is why you should talk to them.  Least bad move of Brits losing empire – talked peace with ex-terrorists.  Even Churchill said it: ‘jaw-jaw is better than war, war.”  Time out, I think, for my morning ten-minute blank screen thought-free sanity break (prescribed by Dr. Zee Hubris III of New Exeter University’s Institute of the Gymnastic Brain).

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DNA (1)

The shock news for neonazis world wide (though we don’t have any reliable figures on how many were hoping  that Hitler was still alive somewhere in South America  and preparing an allegedly well funded return) is that definitive evidence was provided last month through Agence France Presse of their former leader’s demise, in the shape of authenticated fragments of the late Herr Schickelgruber, including enough to indicate that his death was caused by a shot to the head.  Enough, also and interestingly, to allow in principle a DNA analysis.  Rumours have already begun to circulate, some of which may have unpredictable political ramifications.  For instance one magazine with a small circulation in Lower Saxony (until last month – it reports that it is now having to arrange massive extra print runs and hiring 24-hour security patrols) claimed that DNA analysis has already been carried out and showed that Hitler was of mixed ancestry with a major input from West  Africa.  Another source alleges that the material was actually made available to experts in a centre specialising in gene therapy some months ago, for undisclosed purposes.  There is as yet no reliable evidence for the claims that the institute where they worked has had to be closed down, with many of the staff needing hospital treatment following injuries received during attacks by swarms of aggressive white mice, some of which are said to have escaped and been observed in large organised groups as far away as 40 kilometres.  More credence is being placed on the reports that a well-respected university archaeological department has confirmed that it is applying to have access to an authenticated version of the DNA with a view to seeing if it will cast light on Europe’s first recorded major battle.  This battle, which involved many hundreds of casualties, took place somewhat over 5,000 years ago, and few inhabitants of the EU will be surprised to hear that it was fought in north-eastern Germany (at Tollense) but so far there is complete uncertainty as to which tribes were involved (if indeed it was not a domestic dispute which, as they so often do, spiralled out of control.)  A different and less problematic development, obeying modern norms of acceptable practice, has been a burst of energetic attempts to monetise the discovery.  A number of groups are already busy selling print-outs of Hitler’s DNA (popular with students as wall charts apparently); such a project could the more easily bring profit since there is no obvious reason why the representation on the charts should be genuine, and little risk of breach of copyright even if it is.

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DNA (2)

Amazing news this past week: the claim of success in a project that could have short-circuited the threat of yet another war in the Balkans.  As everybody knows, the region which under Yugoslavia was called Macedonia, is next to a part of northern Greece which under Greece (of course) is called Macedonia.  The members of homo sapiens (sic) who live in either place have for 27 years maintained a situation of admirably determined hostility.  The EU handed the northern Macedonia the short straw at the start by refusing to agree to that nation joining the EU or Nato unless it stopped calling itself Macedonia, despite the fact it was a separate nation calling itself Macedonia, while the Greek Macedonia was only a province, and despite the fact that EU and Nato, and the UN, were actually eager to enfold Macedonia (the independent one) in their warm and wholly altruistic embraces.  With resolute  patriotic indignation Macedonia refused to stop calling itself Macedonia in the decades which followed, and scorned weaselly proposals from unprincipled bodies, like the UN, to ask the Macedonians (in Greece) to call the Macedonians (in Macedonia) ‘Macedonians of the North’ or something of the sort – up until 12th of this month when the Balkans were thunderstruck to hear that agreement had been reached to let the Macedonians use the name ‘Northern Macedonia’, and thus induce regional instability by becoming eligible to join the EU, Nato, conferences to deplore global warming, and all manner of freeby-generating organisations.  However, normality returned within 24 hours.  Senior politicians in Macedonia (in Greece) launched heavy attacks on the proposal, and at the same time the president of Macedonia (the other one) denounced the idea as something he could never agree to.  The threat of unsettling stability has been removed.  Some heard the EU breathe a sigh of relief.

            The curious fact, though, is that the issue might have been settled years ago, if sensible arrangements had been made for mass testing of the DNA of the two populations.  According to eminent historians the two regions became depopulated during the incessant wars and Völkerwanderungen after Justinian’s time and were re-settled mainly by Avars, Bulgars, Serbs and other Slavic peoples, so that none of the present populations (Greeks included, though you had better not mention that to them) can fairly claim any real link to the Macedonians of Alexander the Great, or to his legacy, and therefore they had no proper basis for hostility in the matter.  Whether this would have resulted in a delightful period of peace and tranquillity over the past 27 years is of course another question.

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Difficile est satiram scribere

The British National Health Service is in the news again, for the usual reason.  On reasonable and independent estimates it has in recent years faced hugely increasing gaps between expenses and funding in nearly all sectors (except revenue collection from those, such as doctors and patients, who need to park in hospital car parks, and in nurses’ pay which in real terms has been dropping disgracefully, a circumstance possibly connected with the increasing shortages of nursing staff, and the sharp decline in applications from overseas to join the NHS).  One would have imagined that British governments might have made efforts to maintain standards of care for the population, if only to get more work out of them, but one might be mistaken.  And this is not an unavoidable accident that has crept up on UK governments.  The following is, verbatim, from one of Berthold’s despatches in 2015: it was at the time intended satirically.  But can you call something satire when it matches observable data so closely?    …. ‘This legislation is to be followed up by a wide raft of measures to be introduced by the Ministry of Health.  The overall aim will be to progressively downgrade both the range of services provided by the National Health Service, and the treatments available within each of those.  In addition there will be a number of new charges for medical and related care, and increases in the levels of existing fees.  At the same time there are to be drastic cuts in the numbers of staff employed in all areas.  The overall strategy is to promote deterioration in the National Health Service so as to stimulate members of the public to take better care of their own health, and to learn to pay proper and full attention to the avoidance of accidents at work and in the home.  The government is confident that this imaginative and unconventional approach to reform when combined with further exploration of the possibilities offered by co-operation with private investment will produce immensely more satisfying results.’

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Personal view The dead and those with life-changing injuries from Grenfell should be remembered with career-changing penalties for those responsible. (Yes ‘responsible’ is as sharply defined as a cumulus cloud; but if you check you will see the cloud really is there.)    (J.N.N. Manchester)

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Personal view  T. May comes closer than any other well-known politician in the past century to fitting the description which the alcoholically inspired Aneurin Bevan fastened on Stafford Cripps back in the 1940s, of being ‘a desiccated calculating machine’ (a term used in the middle ages for ‘computer’).  (And yes they had austerity in those days too, though you ought to bear in mind they had had a world war; they weren’t doing austerity just to set society up in a pattern which members of the governing class felt comfortable with.) (D.C.McNaught, Lisbon)

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Editor’s note: I am getting off-piste, having to do so much of this stuff single-handed, with only occasional notes from Berthold and even rarer contributions from the Baron Philipp, and Monty in London (who is showing a kindly streak in his personality which I had never spotted before, working all hours trying to force-feed some basics about rational thought and constitutional proprieties into the May government.  I hope he fails because if they proceed along the same path, a Brexit calamity of historic proportions is going to  lead to the extinction of a party which once in the long ago was a model of what guided democracy in a country with traditions of fair play could achieve in its better moments, but which has now become a contemptible bandwagon, crammed with all manner of unsavoury characters jostling in a struggle to peel off all the carriage’s remaining gold leaf to stuff it in their already well-stuffed pockets, or to tear out any parts of the bodywork they can lever off with a view to profitable private sale, hurling insults and obvious untruths at all and sundry as they pass.

 

Socialism, Caesar et al

Several readers have complained that we have not been giving Luddites Gazette a fair crack of the whip.  So this distribution comes entirely from that journal

1) Socialist leader syndrome   2) Caesar and the Rubicon   3) clothing rights?   4) surveillance      next date on schedule: 15-10-2012

Was there some malevolent bug circulating at one of the conferences of European socialists in the past year or two, some infectious agent inducing a general weakness of the will (not to say character) or derangements of normal behaviour?  The socialist parties of Europe do not seem to have been having much good fortune lately with their leaders.  Partly of course that is their own fault because one and all they elect their leaders, and the wisdom of their electorates must be doubtful.  It remains a deep mystery of current European politics that the French were offered Hollande to vote for rather than the intelligent competence of Martine Aubry as a way of ousting the preceding incumbent.  This journal can claim no public credit for its private doubts about Hollande before his election, but within a week of his victory we gave our plain opinion that he was not up to the job – poor chap; one should not expect a man fitted to manage the stores in an army camp to direct the nation’s war effort with mastery if he is suddenly handed the baton of the commander-in-chief.  Recent polls indicate clearly that the French electorate is rapidly coming to share our view.  In England the coalition lurches in disarray from policy error to U-turn to project apparently designed to annoy the voters.  A glorious opportunity for the opposition; and it is true that the pollsters believe they have something of a lead over the government.  But there is a ball and chain attached to those left legs in the shape of their leader.  (One fifth of the popularity rating of his party, and likened in the media, however unfairly, to Mr Bean or the cartoon hero Wallace.)  Further to the east, we have Victor Ponta.  It is true that we should not count his party as having a socialist tendency simply because of its name.  The outstanding example of how that can mislead the innocent was the English Labour Party under Antony Blair.  (Not yet properly departed from the scene, by the way, the latter can still be seen, a political zombie in the shadowy outer circles of European politics, doubtless hoping to be brought back to life as president of Europe.)  Nevertheless the political party which Ponta leads is proclaimed to be a party of social democrats.  One of the more interesting episodes in Romanian politics recently took place when his party organised a referendum with a view to ousting the country’s President, Basescu, from office ahead of time.  They failed to get what they were after (and two of the ministers involved in arranging it were sacked) and Ponta has also been having a turbulent time in other ways lately; there have been sharp exchanges with Brussels (which evidently lack the power to leave him trembling).  One curiosity was his statement in an interview, reported in El País, 28 June, that he would ‘certainly resign’ if the accusations of plagiarism in his academic career were confirmed.  On 30 June the council for academic awards confirmed the accusations of plagiarism and recommended the withdrawal of his doctorate; he refused to resign.  Of course he is far from the only politician who has had trouble connecting his remarks with reality.  In the past couple of decades it seems to have all but become a part of the job description. ¹ Just the other day vice-presidential candidate Ryan achieved a spectacular gap in his account of his own athletic ability [cf the distribution 22-9-2012]; perhaps we should wonder if ‘terminological inexactitude’, as Churchill put it, is seen as a political virtue – a capacity to break free from constraints imposed by facts.  One might hope that either politicians would have enough competence to avoid such ‘mis-speaking’ or their public would turn on them furiously and force them from office.

  But to return to the socialist malaise; now in Germany Peer Steinbruck has moved to the centre of the socialist stage and there are muttered questions in the audience.  How much of a socialist is he?  Is he what his party needs?  Do we trust him?

¹ highly recommended:

P.Oborne   The rise of political lying   The Free Press   2005

M.Dobbs   The rise of political fact-checking   a report issued by the New America Foundation under a Creative Commons licence on the internet   2012

from Luddites Gazette

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Our classical editor reports

  A newly discovered manuscript of Pompeius Trogus has thrown a dramatic new light on one of the crucial events of Roman history.  In describing the end of the Roman republic he relates that Julius Caesar was sitting in his tent on the evening of 13 January 49 b.p.e. composing the speech in which he was to tell his army to stand down since he was going into retirement from public life in obedience to the instruction of the Senate.  Then aides came in with a prisoner, the leader of the group that had been guiding the army on its march back from Gaul.  They asked what should be done with him, as a group of soldiers who happened to be natives of this region and were puzzled by the unfamiliar and difficult route he was taking had forced him to confess that he was lost, and had been simply leading the army southwards by relying on guesswork and the sun.  It then transpired that Caesar was many miles further south than he had supposed, and the decisive frontier, the Rubicon, was already three days’ march behind him.

from Luddites Gazette

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Opinion (anonymity requested)

To take a properly unpopular view, let us consider a major road in a mid-sized city (which it would be invidious to specify as being in Italy, as well as bringing unwelcome recriminations; so I shall not).  There is a supermarket on one side of the road, and opposite stands a bus station.  Shoppers have the unambiguous right to cross the road between the two.  There is a drawback.  A little under two hundred metres or so in each direction there is a fairly sharp bend; while drivers keeping to the speed limit will not reach the crossing point after rounding the bend until people on foot have had ample time to reach the other side without hurrying, there are unfortunately not a few reckless drivers who so flagrantly break the limit that they scream past while walkers are still on the roadway. (The police service is badly understaffed.)   It goes without saying that such drivers are both breaking the law and showing contempt for proper standards of human behaviour.  The risks from their disgraceful actions are appalling and regrettably new arrivals at the bus station do not always get a warning.  Few locals decide to make their undoubted right the sole factor in their decision on how to act, specifically how to cross.  They use the pedestrian bridge.

  Now consider feminists who insist on their right to walk where they like wearing (or to a certain extent not wearing – and absolutely no moral judgment is being made) the clothes they choose, without risk of sexual assault.  Let it be said that they have an unquestionable right to do so.  Let it also be said in the plainest terms that all forms of sexual assault are disgraceful, and in cases where the assault is on a woman it will be distressing in a way which men cannot genuinely comprehend.  It would still be wise to accept a parallelism with the (not necessarily Italian) highway, and to take factors – no matter how deplorable – other than their rights into account in deciding on their actions.

from Luddites Gazette

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from Readers’ letters (nb this letter has been abridged)

Madam,

Is there any truth in the rumour that a certain government in the European Union has awarded a secret contract to a company said to have close links to the Chinese government?  The goal is said to be to enable its security ministry, also known as the Home Office, to trawl the internet discovering which of its citizens never play online computer games, never connect to YouTube, and appear to be members of no contact groups or social networks, on the grounds that such individuals are abnormally non-conformist and should be investigated to see if there is any sign of links to terrorist activities.  An official with responsibility for security recently spoke publicly of being worried about ‘a grey border area between mere eccentricity and dangerous anti-social activities’.

Our editor replies: You may not need, at this stage, to sell up and emigrate.  Officials at many levels in most governments are scheming in this sort of way most of the time, but it seldom results in any great acceleration of the onward goosestep of authoritarianism beyond the speed produced by piecemeal advances at ‘jobsworth’ level, which seem to be an inbuilt feature of human society.  In fact encroachment by tyranny looks like an inescapable development, seldom if ever rewound to any significant extent except by foreign conquest or by major natural disaster.

  As it happens, however, we received your letter only two days before the announcement in Britain of a new plan intended to make access to certain welfare allowances and government services (including activities, such as driving or watching television, which are ruled to be illegal until you pay the government a fee for a licence to do them) available online.  This is another way of saying that the intention is to reduce access to those allowances and services for those who do not or cannot apply online.  My guess –  my confident prediction – is that those who ‘choose’ to apply in person will be required to report between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, with all relevant paper documentation (originals only, no photocopies), to a centralised government ‘service’ site in southwest Cornwall, to be operational by 2015.

  My personal assistant has just informed me that the Citizens Advice non-governmental organisation has reported (to the British Parliament) an estimate that fourteen million people in that country, including many with physical or mental disabilities or low education or language difficulties, lack the capacity to make effective use of the internet.  Are these people just to be thrown overboard by those who can take advantage of the electronic advances, to allow the ship of state management to add a tenth of a knot in its race to the future (or bankruptcy)?

from Luddites Gazette

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Thought for the day

Honesty has wings, but lives in a cage in the king’s palace

                          Balyani proverb

from Luddites Gazette

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honor honestique floreant