Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: clothing

Les nains de l’homme argenté

1) Egyptian democracy   2) How to handle a population   3) yet more progress!   4) Readers’ letters   5) question of the fortnight         Further distribution aiming at 1-3-2013

This journal has acquired a fine record of political and social predictions, some from our own staff (contact harpress@gmail.com for fees of consultancy contracts), some from readers.  A good example is the observation by Leah Menshevik (20-11-2012).  She pointed out the crippling flaw in the claim that social networks using the new adult electronic toys would bring an age of truer democracy.  The crucial factor is the huge divergence between the population of frequent users of social media (and of the shiny gewgaws which support them) – very largely urban and overwhelmingly young –  and on the other hand all the other inhabitants of a country.  Instead, the tendency would be towards the appearance of urban mobs, passions inflamed by the mutual assurances of justified rage flashing around their favoured networks.  This matches extremely well what has been happening recently in Egypt (assisted, certainly, by the deep-rooted belief of police in Egypt as elsewhere that one of the rewards of serving a population is the right to beat up or taser members of the population who displease them).  There have been and are rioting mobs in Cairo and other cities, demanding the resignation of Mursi, alleging that he has betrayed the democratic revolution.  Yet the moves made since Mubarak was overthrown have twice been put to a nationwide vote, unprecedentedly free and fair, in which Mursi’s group and allies won, each time, around 65% of the vote.  That they should now take the leading part in organising the way forward conforms precisely to the principle of democracy – doesn’t it? – whether or not that 65% came from outside the cities, and the poorer sections of the population.  Or perhaps elections only count as democratic when they deliver the result that we – whoever ‘we’ may be – want?

[Two more reader’s letters at the end of this distribution]

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Our arrangement with Luddites’ Gazette (see earlier distributions passim) has to end; the editorial staff were held as suspected illegal immigrants on reaching Switzerland; their bicycles were impounded and  they lost their chance to appeal against CENSOR’s decision.  So we have made an informal agreement with the Wessex Posthorn (a young staff gallantly pushing out independent views in one of the more dismal port cities of southern England) (Please note we present this document as received, and apologise for the poor quality of the writing):

A bit of good news from France, some really bad news from America.  From this month on, first time in 212 years, Frenchwomen have the right to wear trousers without going first to a police station to get permission.  That urge to dictate to women how they can dress seems deep embedded in the collective mind of the French bureaucracy, but perhaps we should (for once) congratulate those French police, for pretty generally having had enough sense not to enforce that law, we hope they will continue with this rare sanity in the matter of that preposterous veto on the burqa.

            The terrible news (for people who are going to see brothers, husbands, neighbours, and family friends who had just popped in for a visit, killed or maimed, without any proper investigation into claims they might be intending harm to anyone) is like the American executive branch are giving themselves the right to send a drone to kill, not arrest, never mind trial, American citizens who they think are preparing violent action against America.  We think this move is heavily against America’s own interest, but first let’s just point out a lot of people think it’s a breach of the constitution (and what the hell is the point of having a constitution if the authorities any time can just ride over it when they don’t like the rules it makes?)  More important point for the rest of the world is when you ask the question, if they can do that for American citizens what are the chances for anyone else, if for any reason, right or wrong (including mistakes over identity because of similar names as has already happened, not to mention wedding parties and meetings of chief elders against the taliban), the authorities decide that someone has been plotting violence against America.

            First off, the move is puzzling.  If your surveillance techniques are so good they can detect political views and plans of action (i.e., eavesdrop on conversations inside mud houses and read thoughts inside heads, in villages high in difficult mountains) how can they not be good enough to detect when the individual actually starts to do something – like travelling outside his home base or buying dodgy equipment  – and then maybe send in the drone to stop him?  (He’ll have a hell of a long way to go.)  As we said, the policy looks exactly against America’s own interest.  Probably America’s  most unpopular policy round the world.  The evidence is already in, using superior armed force to impose your conqueror’s power and defeat resistance (which may not even be there in the first place) by a civilian population usually fails and worse it gives terrible losses to the ones trying it.  What about France and Ukraine in World War II, or Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq since then?  Vietnam is worth looking at twice over.  Trying to beat the communists (more like nationalists really anyway) cost tens of thousands of young American lives, with even more wounded, and vast amounts of money, and it failed.  But, treating Vietnam with a mix of trade, co-operation, realism, and some sort of respect from 1988 has got America pretty much the sort of Vietnam she wants.  Please think again.

[for reading if you got French: article by Jean d’Amécourt, French ambassador in Kabul 2008-2011 in Nouvel Observateur, ‘Les pièges de Kaboul’  30-1-2013]

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Dr Ilya Sprat, Chairman of Wessex Petronine Gastronomes denies being the speaker of certain remarks recorded at a dinner for toothpaste and oral hygiene executives in Exeter last Friday, congratulating Deviathon-Slodge on siting their new project in Devon.  “It’s true some local peasantry are bellyaching about too many middle-class incomers in the county already, sticking up new concrete and glass ‘villas’, blocking the parking places with their Chelsea tractors, filling the local schools with pushy kids, and sending prices in the farmers’ markets skyrocketing.  But the more thoughtful among us see the benefits people like you bring with your culture and wider commercial contacts, and some of us are already experiencing a very satisfying increase in the value of our own businesses.”

            The new project to be called Imaginative Living for Extended Value (it was originally going to be called the Extending Value in Imaginative Living project until one of the workmen installing the jacuzzi in the new building spotted the difficulty) was set up with the mission of providing the conglomerate with ‘blue-sky thinking factoring foresight into your future’, (a phrase which according to one critic already inspires a chilling surmise as to the sort of thoughts it is going to deliver).   Indeed it has already won a major government-funded contract for the provision of muzak to be played as background on all calls to emergency services nationwide, as recommended by consultant psychologists.  According to the project leader, “This will be a loss-making venture and is designed solely to show Deviathon-Slodge making a useful contribution to society.  The aim is to help these important calls to proceed with maximum efficiency and minimum distress to those involved.  Our intelligent software will be able to detect instantly from the timbre of the voices whether to play soothing music, or a brisk march – perhaps something by Philip de Sousa – to raise energy levels, or perhaps in occasional instances something loud and obtrusive to call a duty officer back to the telephone if for some reason their attention has wandered.  My nephew tells me some ‘Dubstep’ by ‘Skrillex’ – is it? – might help there.  There is also, regrettably, the possibility of the duty officer deciding that the call is a hoax in which case he will be able to use an additional facility to switch in a recording of giga-noise klaxons as developed by the military for semi-lethal crowd control, to dissuade further attempts.”

            However, speaking off the record an anonymous source alleged that Deviathon-Slodge’s boffins had another objective in view.   “Certainly they’re going to supply the service free but they’re still aiming to make money.  Adverts.  Nothing explicit of course.  Playing the jingle of a fastfood place when some woman is screaming for police to come quick because a murderer is trying to break in might not have maximum soothing effect.  No, just the old subliminal game, quick phrases not quite consciously audible behind the noise – sorry, muzak.  The thing is, in calls like that the emotions of the caller are at peak level so the ‘hit’ will go in several times harder than in the ordinary way.  Plus, of course, millions of calls like that every year.  Money in shedloads.”

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Readers’ letters (selected in accordance with our rule that submissions will be limited to one grammatically correct sentence, please note)

There is a view widely held, in the marketing departments of companies selling genetically modified doughnuts, genetically modified sardine yoghurt and similar marvels of the twenty-first century pantry and larder, that consuming genetically modified foods cannot be bad for human beings because the American public has been doing it for 25 years, but when one reviews all kinds of recent events in that nation, not least in politics as practised for instance in senatorial contests in Mississippi, one may be inclined to think more research is needed for a definitive justification of that confidence, while in the background there remains the question as to whether already 25 years ago 4% of the American public believed that they had been abducted by aliens.

Marcia Henscropp, Gaza

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Glad as I am that my ancestor Richard III has been rediscovered, albeit exhumed and indeed earlier asphalted over without my consent, and that some enthusiastic practitioners of one of the more obscure academic trades have offered us their idea of the face that once overlay the extant skull, I assume, having seen the result, that there must be a fair amount of flexibility in the procedures for producing reconstructions, since there is no reason to believe that Richard had any oriental blood flowing in his arteries, and very strong reason to believe that he was not a woman.

Prof.Pixi Immental, Porto Alegre

(Congratulations professor on the absence of that meaningless ‘as’ which so often flaunts grammatical ignorance at the head of concessive clauses!)

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images3

Question of the fortnight.  The government in Kuala Lumpur has ruled that in future shopping malls in that city must reserve 7% of the parking space provided, for female drivers.  Since shopping is predominantly a chore undertaken by women and, even more clearly, the great majority of customer time in shopping malls is spent by women, we would suggest that the government should have ordered the reserved space to be 70%.

            The question: ‘Can any feminist explain why this suggestion gets treated as an example of male chauvinism?’

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

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Universities and clothing

(Distributed early because of that report; Stonehenge elbowed aside by Australia)    1) The report   2) political clothing      Next distribution pencilled for 10-11-12

A report on Australian universities is just out from one of those outfits that seem to think if you can’t measure something by money then it doesn’t really come into the category of serious issues.  The report’s author gave interviews on television.

  The upshot was to tell the universities they are going to find money tight.  (Which they knew already.)  The way things stand they are going to be unviable unless they change.  Now if those loose remarks are talking about a risk of bankruptcy, yes, they, or they and others, will have to do something about their finances (the only aspect of universities on which Ernst and Young are particularly qualified to speak) but that by no means entails that they must go in for drastic upheavals in other ways as envisaged by the report.  The remarks made in interviews suggested little awareness of gaps in reasoning.  ‘Universities will need to reinvent themselves for the digital era.’  ‘If you want basic knowledge you can get that off the internet so universities – what happens on campus has to change.”  That proposition has the intellectual rigour of ‘If you want food you can get that from the supermarkets so what happens in restaurants has to change’.  It implies a swashbuckling ignorance, if not wilful misunderstanding, of what goes on in universities.  Universities detest the notion that students can perform satisfactorily by looking up the answer to some problem or clicking on a few sites on the internet.  There was a warning that universities should be ‘much more integrated with industry’.  Ah, now we can see where Newton made his mistake!  If he’d got properly integrated with industry instead of messing around with prisms and calculus and notions about gravity he could probably have invented the internal combustion engine and the aeroplane and made far more money (and got the world’s transport routes clogged with traffic and pollution centuries earlier, but never mind that – it’s all good thrusting economic development).  We can’t have forty universities all doing the same sort of thing in the same sort of way?  So how is it that without difficulty we can find forty football clubs all doing the same sort of thing in the same sort of way?  And the most basic inspection will show that there is hugely more diversity, in many dimensions, in universities than in the football.  Australia has some excellent universities, doing what excellent universities do well, to the benefit of those who go to them and everyone else as well.  What happens in universities, and happens best in the good ones, and what should happen, is that students learn to think; yes, think.  Not remember.

   The most important point is that you start with the data, and then go on from there; and the sort of thinking that is needed, not only in mundane profit-earning terms but more importantly in terms of the mental development of the people that open-minded countries want (and totalitarian countries hate), is the ability that can take account of the huge complexity of real-life situations, and the subtle variations in this or that of the many factors involved, and the always new balance between those factors even in situations that casual observers would say have often happened before; then to sort out some of the enormous number of possibilities about what might come next or what conclusions might be drawn, in different ways for different people and institutions and systems that might be affected.  In other words to come up with ideas and solutions that are not in any rule book.

   How, incidentally, can people get better at that sort of thinking?  The supremely gifted may get a long way by means of their own unaided experience. (The ‘University of life’ and other catchphrases ad nauseam.)  But for nearly everyone it’s far better to get help from someone further up the road.  Watch how he or she handles a tricky issue, and see the different ways that questioning gets you further into the heart of the matter.  The sort of thinking needed can be developed in most university subjects from palaeography to particle physics.  (Perhaps I should concede that there may be a few which actually do trade in cut-and-dried ready-cooked answers to set questions but we don’t need to go here into which those subjects might be).  Learning to think, in this sense, can undoubtedly benefit from use of a computer – for providing data – but you still need a human at both ends, since however much information they give very few websites on a given topic go far towards explaining the relationships between the bits of information which a guide or teacher who knows about that topic can handle with ease, and that is one of the most important aspects of the business.  One particularly valuable part of the process is watching how the guide reacts to an unexpected question.  Even the most interactive websites don’t do unexpected questioning.  For the same reason it’s best if the learning side is a small group, precisely so that they can put up a diverse range of views and arguments.  (Big groups work less well for obvious reasons.)   On the other hand, it is not necessary for this to happen in a university.   By no means all individual experts, guides, advisors – call them what you will – are charlatans.  Perhaps surprisingly some intelligent military training around the world, at higher levels at least, operates in the same way.  One should be open-minded.  As Paracelsus wrote, a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them.

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“I got the idea from the Olympic opening ceremony,” says Gillian Senega, 33.  “I  watched all those teams walking round the track, and I thought ‘Why the hell should teams all have to wear the same kind of clothes?’  Next thing, I had a picture in my mind of Nazi brownshirts marching in Berlin in the 1930s.”  Gillian is head of a team bringing together independent researchers and scientists with NITS (the National Institute for Technological Sociology) on a project studying relationships between appearance and political allegiance.  “One thing led to another and we got this project set up in record time.  No trouble about funding.  Political groups of every shape, hue and degree of sanity were falling over themselves to contribute, desperate to find anything that might help them get their people in at the next election – or at the earliest practicable date in the case of the French Federation for the Posthumous Cloning of General de Gaulle.”

  “So you’re going to investigate things like which colour has the best impact on voters in each country, like the red shirts and yellow shirts fighting each other in Thailand?” I asked.

  “No.  Of course, there’s enough there to deal with.  There’ve been shirts of every colour under the sun, only excepting infra-red and ultra-violet – so far.  Even no colour at all, with the descamisados in Argentina.  But that’s all in the Encyclopédie vestimentaire politique along with all the stuff about political socks (can be fatal in Central America) and political trousers and so on.  It’s an odd thing, by the way, you get Union Jack underpants worn for political reasons but exactly opposite political reasons by British right-wing parties and by fierce Britainophobes in the Middle East.  But anyway I got interested in the relation between political beliefs and the bodies inside the clothes.”

  “You’re talking about racism based on colour?”

   “No again.  But only because that’s already studied to bits.  A bigger factor every day, exactly as election winners always say it wasn’t, in their campaign.  But there are other things.  Sometimes obvious, like in Turkey nobody with a beard will be voting for the Cumhuriyet Halk Partısı.  But did you know that in India, the average waist size of those voting for the Congress Party is more than 8% larger than the national average?  And it’s claimed that 92% of voters in Paraguay over 1m75 in height will vote for the Colorados.”

  “So your team is going to put together an encyclopaedia of physiological politics?”

  “Not exactly. You see, I moved on again.  I thought to myself, all those men in 1930s Berlin, 95% of them were maybe marching along in their brown shirts because they were Nazis, or their family told them they were, but maybe 5% had thought they looked good in a smart brown shirt and that had ended up with them being in there with the Nazis.  You see, when you find some bit of a voter’s appearance is strongly linked with some political belief, it doesn’t have to be the belief leads to the appearance, could be the other way round.”

  “So where do you go from here?”

  “Well, we’re going to do practical experiments on good-sized numbers of voters to see if changing their actual body changes their political beliefs.  An easy one we’ll do is get a lot of men to grow beards (my partner is one of them, by the way) and find out if after that their political allegiance has changed.  Another one, we’ll get a group to agree to lose weight – at least 30% – and see how that changes their voting preferences.   If we can we’ll get a similar group to put on weight, though we might have to pay them for that.  The contrast could be very informing.  Maybe we could get a group of men to shave their heads and go bald.  There’s plenty more we could try.  For instance, it’s obvious we’d be doing follow-up studies on sex-change cases.”

   “If you want to see whether appearance affects political views instead of the other way round, wouldn’t it be easier if you went back to the clothing?”

  “First off, we think a change in bodily appearance – like, a change in the real ‘you’ – could easily work differently from the clothes.   In fact we hope it does, because, second,  the clothing experiment’s been done all over the world, and the answer is ‘yes’.”

   “What do you mean?”

  “Well all over the world, young men, mostly pretty ordinary young men, get  signed into a police force.  Then they have to wear a special uniform which is well associated with – I won’t say exactly ‘political’ – but with attitudes about the sort of things which a lot of  politics is about, and about the way to behave to people.  Are you telling me they don’t nearly all pick up those same attitudes, whatever they start with?  And I’m not just talking about taser-happy cops in Oz and Britain and America, either.”

   “H’m.  I see what you mean.”

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honor honestique floreant

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