Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: democracy

Beggaring belief – and the country

In most decades in modern times and in most civilised parliamentary parties a government that is defeated on its most important policy or its most important legislative project accepts the fact, resigns and opens the way to fresh elections or new leadership.  To see Theresa May continuing to arrogate to herself the management of the relationships between the UK and the EU is a grotesque misuse of procedural possibilities and a constitutional outrage.  She puts the red ribbon of infamy on the whole by describing her manoeuvres as ‘giving effect to the will of the people’.

Questions

(The Editor ruminates on the decline of print media)  I’m a reasonable sort of fellow, all things considered.  ‘All things considered’  even includes the continued absence of an intern.  These days when nine out of ten of the old news media are either out of business, or clinging on by writing illiterate clickbait or ‘human interest’ stuff (probably invented by a Californian computer programme), I don’t hope for properly established colleagues.  (But the continuing absence of Manos, inventive, energetic, and Greek though he was and probably still is, must count as a major plus on the balance sheet.)  But when I semaphored this morning down to the weather ship that I was ready to send over another posting of the journal, if Violette could spare the launch for a few hours, a sudden feeling of frustration swept over me.  Here I have been offering news, predictions and solutions over the years, to the world at large, at no fee.  In return there is a motley flow of insults – usually based on wildly inaccurate guesses about my personal characteristics, habits  and principles and about what I ‘really mean’ when I have posted something – together with implausible stories about the noble character of the correspondents, equally implausible pleas for money based on ‘our old friendship’ (i.e having been in the audience when I gave a speech in some benighted hangout, today entirely wiped from my memory), and – a small trickle in the mighty flow – the odd note of  thanks and sometimes the very much more odd original observation (but don’t worry – none have been reported to libel lawyers or the Jockey Club).   Also over the past three years, two gifts, unless they also were intended as insults, one being a pocket English dictionary, and the other a ticket to a long vanished rock festival.  Even if I and my sane readers are part of a tiny minority trying to stir the giant anthill of the English-speaking (or English-mangling) world into a renewed production of helpful ideas, any project of getting useful results by simply laying observable facts before an educated audience becomes closer to a deranged delusion every day.  So today I am turning things round, and putting questions to my readers instead of answers and comments and warnings.

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  1. Why do golf courses have eighteen holes (apart from those produced by moles and incompetent beginners)? To be taken seriously a game or pastime must involve a certain amount of skill.  In the case of golf the skill consists partly in successfully striking a small ball from a starting point called the tee,  if necessary many times, until it falls into a hole maybe 100 or 200 metres away, but more importantly in choosing the path over the intervening terrain which will enable the ‘golfer’ to do this with the least possible number of strokes.  There is absolutely no reason why this should require 18 different stretches of terrain (unless we believe legends about contests among the eighteen tribes of Pictdom).  Most of eighteen such parcels of land wherever located could either be used for a better purpose by more people, or simply left in a natural state until some more meaningful use is discovered.   In the latter case (and probably both) the demand on the local water supply would be enormously lower, and the price of water supply to local residents would drop.  Three holes would be quite sufficient to allow the ‘golfers’ to show any skill they possess, provided that the ingenuity of the landscape experts is up to choosing six different ways to approach each hole, starting from six different tees, aided if necessary, by whatever ancillary landscaping seems desirable or amusing.

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  1. The United Nations issues statistics as if they were free licences to draw on money freely provided by an organisation with money in truckloads. (Come to think of it… – but  no, let’s not follow that line right now.)  One natural result is that ‘rankings’ of the world’s nations are available for all manner of characteristics, from ‘Legislation against the use of telepathy by female students in  examinations’ to ‘Percentage of the population registered as professional fire-eaters’.  Much of this has no genuine significance for the daily life of the average human or humanoid, yet the instinct to try to be ‘ahead of the rest’ and especially the bureaucratic instinct to discover some activity in which ‘we’ can ‘lead the world’ combine to produce mountainous  activity and efforts, however fatuous, to try to hoist ‘our’ nation to the top of some list or other.  Can the UN be asked to compile an annual ranking of nations based on the truthfulness of average citizens, or, perhaps better, of average members of their legislative assembly?  (Any halfway competent psychology department should be able to rustle up a few relevant parameters and appropriate questionnaires over their morning coffee.)

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  1. If you haven’t been keeping up with the news lately, Vladimir Putin is Russian, and that by itself is enough to ensure he is classified as one of ‘them’. (This would still hold good even if his Russian-speaking family had long been settled in what since 1954 has been officially  Ukrainian territory.)   Alexei Navalny is also Russian, but leads political opposition to Putin.  He has repeatedly led actions of protest against Putin, and has been sentenced to prison a number of times, so according to OPA (Official Political Algebra, a calculus of great generality and extraordinary simple-mindedness) he scores ‘good’ with European governments (even if there remains  some uncertainty as to whether he is actually ‘one of us’).  However the terms in prison, or house arrest, have been quite remarkably short in the circumstances, 20 or 30 days, and not even served in full in all cases.  Also the film clips with Navalny awaiting trial or being released from custody show him looking very bullish and confident, certainly not being harassed by the policemen around him, nor apparently battered or suffering long-term injury (or dead) as seems to be normal for protesters throughout the Middle East.  Much the same goes for shots of him being arrested during a protest declared illegal – handled vigorously, certainly, but by no means brutally unless the camera is lying.  And people keep turning up to his protests.  This is puzzling.  Is he a special case?  Is there actually now some element of de facto tolerance of street protest in Russia?  Or is Navalny actually part of a government plan to give the appearance of a country where protests are not strictly allowed perhaps, but not met with ruthless repression?   (And if the latter should that be taken as a step in the right direction, or as a dangerous manipulation of attitudes to  human rights?)

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  1. How will the world deal with climate change? An easy question.  It won’t.  Just think for a moment.  The necessary changes will be repeatedly spelt out to governments, individually and at major conferences in very agreeable resorts in regions reliably reported as safe from droughts or floods or epidemics of tropical diseases spreading into previously temperate parts of the world.  Faced with demands for corresponding actions, governments will then point out that as they operate within a framework of electoral democracy these matters cannot be rushed; there will be important constitutional implications to consider, and in any case it would be improper for them to proceed in matters of such importance without getting clear consent from the electorate as a whole, i.e. at the first practicable point after the next election, or, should it prove unavoidable, in a special referendum properly organised and arranged at some suitable date.  Some modifications to the proposals will have to be made in any case  since otherwise a number of major programmes already under way for the benefit of the population as a whole would be hopelessly disrupted, making the situation actually more serious in the long term.  Meanwhile the government has already been drawing up plans to face the many challenges, and must of course  stress that it is not acting in its own sectional interests but for the sake of the future of the nation as a whole, since the benefits of the programmes envisaged will not ‘kick in’ until the present generation of political actors will have long retired from office.

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  1. Some of my early years were spent in the UK. At that time an expression still very often heard was “It’s a free country” (referring, in case younger readers may doubt it, to Britain). The confident background assumption to daily life was that the citizenry were free to do any of a great range of things from crossing the road to gathering wild mushrooms, and to swimming, at their own risk, around the craft in a small commercial harbour, without the police or any officious jobsworth interfering  As a lad I gambolled freely around the stones of Stonehenge including on the day of the school outing organised by Mr Snelling when one of the boys from Lower 5A or 5B or C – not Richard Atkinson our host, though he was intensely interested – found the outline of a dagger or sword on one of the stones, an image which may have been waiting there unnoticed for thousands of years.  Nor was it only the careless young who took this freedom from constraint for granted.  My mother was rather proud of the stiff hip which was a consequence of attempting to take a quick route down from the Parthenon where she had been casually, and freely, strolling round admiring the view.  Today, however, just a few decades later, the confident background assumption (held by those – ‘the authorised personnel’ – who have the right (or duty – oh yes, duty) to tell others what they may or, more often, may not do) is that it, whatever ‘it’ may be, is illegal unless explicitly permitted under the law, or relevant bye-laws, or Home Office guidance on implementation (whatever that means).  Nowadays, if you want to visit Stonehenge, basically you can’t, though on presentation of a suitable sum of money you may be allowed in at a ‘safe’ distance from the stones (though woe betide you if your behaviour does not fit the rules of decorum drawn up and written down by the corps of licensed petty bureaucrats or their officially appointed agents.).  Much the same for the Parthenon and other sites across all Europe.  Why this repellent change in just a decade or two?  The answer is of course embedded in the last few lines.  How very much more efficient government will become when the fundamental principle is established that almost anything you might want to do is forbidden, but you can get a ticket or a licence to do it if you simply present the prescribed amount of money to the prescribed representative of the state.

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  1. How do you, as a thoughtful civilised commentator on the effects of technology, feel about the fact – it undoubtedly is a fact – that if mobile phones had been invented in, say, 1650, there would never have been the floods of magnificent music that swept across the world in the next three centuries?

It’s worse than you think

From John Stuart Mill to the end of civilisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We keep telling you

MMQQ Supplement 2

Next regular posting scheduled 16 May

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

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

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

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

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

3 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling on

Next post for 15-01-2017

While our leader is away in London I am again acting Editor, helped at the New Year time by my friend Françoise, who teaches about English business from a safe distance, in Paris (la future capitale financière of Europe, thanks to Brexit she says).  I will take the chance while Editor is away, and do something for him he should do for himself, because his serious pieces are so often right before many other people (what my acquaintance in London told me.)  I will put in the final position some of what our Editor wrote about poor M.Hollande  five years ago.  But the first piece is what our Editor wrote the night before he went to the ferry.  The rest of what is here today is from pieces in the pedal bin with little changes from Françoise and from myself, and two small pieces we wrote ourselves.  Karela Hangshaw

Late addition: when Françoise was checking that final piece about Editor’s warnings she found in the office archive a beautiful warning about election fraud with voting machines, published from this same office (in Esmond Maguire : isbn 9786169047612, first publ. 2009: p. 25)

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Monty has sent the office as a ‘Yuletide gift’, A Child’s First Book of Sociopolitical Theorems.  An accompanying card says it is the book from which he taught himself to read at the age of 5 (under the bedclothes after lights-out).  Karela and I do not believe him.  An extract:

A century or two after economics lurched into unsteady action as an academic subject some economists pointed out that the long-term effect of a free market would be (or rather, was and is) to transfer the greater proportion of resources from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, given that the latter have initially, and at all ordinary stages thereafter, better access to information and a wider freedom of action.  (This happens quite independently of whether the resources available to the population are laid waste by natural disaster or warfare, or they increase through eager exploitation of all exploitable environments on the planet.  In a constrained market the same thing happens but more quickly.)  Given the toxic mix of characteristics in the human character, it is inevitable that on the whole the relatively rich and privileged will (a)  take a leading part in plotting the future course of the government, either doing it themselves or getting their pals in the political ranks to do it and (b) will not give equal treatment, let alone compensating special treatment, to those who for one reason or another are not enjoying successful lives, and therefore need at least the former.  (The nominal form of government is entirely irrelevant.)  This leads sooner or later to (c) discontent among the unsuccessful, and eventually when the unsuccessful notice what is happening, to (d) rebellion.  There are two types of rebellion, first the failure, known as a Peasants’ Revolt,  which sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process, but with the rich even more advantaged to start with, and  members of the unsuccessful even worse off, if alive.  The second type is known as a Revolution, which not by co-incidence also sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process but with the previously  rich and privileged exiled, guillotined, or thrown from castle battlements and replaced by a different bunch of rich and privileged. There are lecture halls where the continuous process leading from (a) to (d) (a vicious circle known as the UNIcycle – Unjustifiable National Inequity) is still presented as a contentious hypothetical, but realistic observers and thinkers will smile politely and find other uses for their time. Naturally the time scale over which the cycle can extend is very variable.  Occasionally, epidemics of national morality can delay its completion substantially.  On the other hand it can be accelerated by interaction with a similar cycle which in the really long-term may be even more disastrous for the future of the species, namely the transfer of resources from the relatively stupid to the relatively clever, with a similar disbalancing effect. How the resulting eventual crisis when phase (d) is reached the next time, now that so many societies have a prolific supply of small arms, large extremist parties, and a lot more volatile life-threatening materials than ordinary citizens find they have any ordinary need for is a question with of course more than one answer.  (But none of them are pleasant.)

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Rumour  It is said (mainly by western biologists jealous of the huge amounts of research cash that are not going their way) that literally dozens of projects are now secretly running in Eastern Asia to clone wealthy businessmen, to produce synthetic offspring (or perhaps better ‘sidespring’).  But recently there has been talk of a particularly unusual case.  This allegedly involves a tycoon establishing a team charged with research which could ultimately arrange for him to produce clones of the other sex, for friendship with a view to marriage, as the saying goes.

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Future news  As nanosensing of DNA progresses it achieves astounding success. Young experts now gaze round-eyed in wonder at old-timers of 30 or 35 telling of their pride back in the dark ages of tissue analysis at being able to identify who had been drinking in a bar by examining samples of DNA left  on the glass.  Almost unimaginable by modern standards.  Nowadays it is possible to tell which currently  respectable and indeed prominent member of society is the one who was holding the camera that filmed a particularly spectacular piece of social deviance some thirty or more years ago.   But even these successes are, the government hopes, to be outdone in the near future, thanks to a combination of these techniques with megadata from the cameras, microphones, and motion sensors attached to tiny, silent drones or affixed, ‘at random’, to cars parked in ‘areas of special concern’, so as to further advance social order and to be soon making the country safe for the police to patrol, armed with tasers and other ‘non-lethal’ devices ‘for the protection of the community’, everywhere from leafy suburbs to the darkened doorways of back alleys in red-light districts.  The government is re-allocating funds from unspecified other areas and believes it will soon be possible for authorised officials, with, of course,  a warrant supplied by a magistrate who will, of course, have scrutinised each application with scrupulous care, to search any house in the country and from infinitesimal traces in the air determine not merely who has been in any room in that house within the preceding twenty-four hours, but what substances they consumed while there, what country those substances came from, and how long ago, and most useful of all to give a reliable estimate of when the same people will be in the room again.

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Late news

In the interests of gender equality BBC news programmes are in future to accord equal amounts of time to reports on female and male typhoons and tropical storms.

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Overheard  (at Paddington railway station, powerfully built woman mid-forties.) “No good blaming  television for the decline of British standards.  ’F you ask me, I’d say it was democracy.  For centuries the British were more or less willing to be deferential to their social superiors but somewhere about 1950 they became unsure who their social superiors were.”

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From Berthold, a note:  Just on a matter of interest – no, let me rephrase that; just on a matter of abominable ill-discipline, poor training, and highly questionable selection techniques, not to even touch on incomprehensible judicial processes, may I ask how many black policemen in America in the past, say, fifty years have been involved in any incident which led to them shooting an unarmed white man.

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Warnings ignored  Our Editor is angry because Monty got a gold card for their big conference, but he only has a red one, so no entry to E or ‘Skua’  briefings.  I hope he will be glad we are posting an example of his good analysis achieved many months or years before others.  This piece is put together from parts  of four postings within the first three months of Hollande as President in 2012.  Only very little changes to punctuation and making sentences a little part shorter.  (KH)

It is now many years since I regularly played Monopoly (and won) against young Nikki Sarkozy, at that time still clad in grey serge shorts, while my grandfather presided over a dinner table with presidents and prime ministers sitting jowl by elbow (some of them were indeed awfully uncouth in their table manners).  We later lost touch, but were I myself host to such occasions now, then Nicolas might well be on the guest list.  Certainly not his successor.  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 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.  He never previously held any ministerial office, though between 2001 and 2008 he was mayor of Tulle, a town of some 15,000 known for the production of accordions.  Did you ever see a man whose face and movements tried so hard – and let him down so badly – in the attempt to hide inner uncertainty and lack of command?             Many have commented on the new French leader’s shabby treatment of Mme Aubry after his victory, which could very easily be seen as a case of a man not liking to have a woman around who is cleverer and more competent than himself.  And so it may be, but that can still leave us wondering how such a lacklustre fellow won the election to be president of France.  One of the clearest marks of his political inexperience is that he has been trying to keep his campaign promises.  As one instance, the increased special allowance for children of school age is already being paid.  However, it is obvious that there is no point in making a campaign promise which you intend to keep, because you will only intend to keep it if your people have found that it can be kept; in which case the opposition or at least its more intelligent components will already have done precisely the same.  The only campaign promises worth making are those that you do not intend to keep (provided, of course, that they look glamorous in the eyes of the electorate.)

 

The full Monty?

Next scheduled for 1-11-2016

1]  Recyclical               2]  Quotas for all!

              3]  Faits divers

Recycling Please so far as possible recycle the words used in this posting, after extracting any which you think might be of archaeological interest and donating them to your nearest university philosophy department.  The Government’s alert on dangerous words remains at level 3, and if you detect any socialist, anarchist, or nihilist verbiage in discourse in the coming month please hand it in to the police immediately.  Do not on any account attempt to use it yourself.

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Recycled  Encouraging evidence that this journal’s talent for accurate observation is well based, and dismaying evidence that the human capacity to fail to deal with flaws in society is no less solidly rooted.  This is the first paragraph of a piece that appeared six years ago from tomorrow the 16th of October:

About the time of the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehmann, we got a flurry of articles pondering with furrowed brows the question What have we learned?  Now, about the time of the first anniversary of those articles appearing, some pieces have come out daringly suggesting the answer to the question could be Nothing.  The speed with which some commentators flash around their learning curve would frighten a tortoise, and charm the hearts of bookmakers.  The bankers, meanwhile, gave the best proof yet that they are men with intelligence, by never setting off at all, staying instead exactly where they were and laying plans for yet taller golden towers of bonuses in the years very shortly to come – with, perhaps, a sense of marginal urgency if the thought had by chance briefly flitted past the beam of their tightly focussed minds, that just possibly the reaction to their goings-on might included a backlash strong enough to put some limits on  excessive greed in money-making.  That is of course unlikely.  The few hundred people around the world who could actually achieve that have too many pre-occupations and disagreements and inclinations to lethargy – and in some cases complicity? – to prevent this crisis, too, slipping down that very short chute into over-and-done-with history like any massacre of innocents, or war against unarmed populations, or famine.

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As Acting Editor I should explain Mr Skew came over for a short break on the island, and brought a piece with him. I wasn’t told  if it was supposed to be ready or just a first draft.  But yesterday both he and our Editor got a call to go to London immediately.  This morning there were two sheets with his name on the Editor’s desk.   I thought the second might only be a draft, but Manos was very sure it was all for posting, and I must send it.   I’d prefer to confirm with our Editor but haven’t been able to contact either of them since they got there, so here it is.  (Karela) 

Quotas.  The idea that a 50% quota of places should be reserved for women in politics or in the mighty boardrooms which plot how to make entertaining tweaks to a nation’s Gini coefficient; or in the higher tiers of the judiciary, or in the ownership of great estates, or the more profitable sinecures in the municipal circuses; all on the simple-minded basis that women count around 50% of the population of most states,  has broken out again from its padded cell in the human psyche.  As the heavy doors slide shut in certain minds they, fortunately, muffle an angry chorus (‘Sexist pig!’ was the lyric if I heard correctly.)  This is a monstrous slander.  I am all in favour of women getting the  fair deal they deserve.  This year already I have had dealings with half a dozen thoroughly competent women who skilfully and honourably negotiated with me on some business, which they then, I know, had to summarise and explain to a P.A. (with four times their salary) who himself would be granted an audience with a fat and lazy (nb quoting here from a well-known Minister of International Trade) member of the board, on not less than ten times that salary, and who would be incapable of handling the guidelines and trade-offs and side-issues himself even if he was paying attention instead of thinking in Trump mode about options for his upcoming conference on an agreeable island in the Med.  Sociopolitical systems in big countries don’t do slow methodical reform.  The alternatives in any given era are groundshaking change or fossilisation (though if lucky you may get a new coat of paint slapped on the fossil).  So if you’re thinking of setting off on a long march towards sociopolitical fair play there are two things to say.  The first is that you are going to fail (but don’t take that as a reason for giving up).  The second is that you don’t have just one small friendly mountain to climb, like 50% for women in your parliament.  You are facing a whole range of rugged, viciously challenging peaks, and that’s not counting the primitive barbarian tribes that will attack you on the way.  But there’s also an awkward fact: big nations are complex.  What helps one group may be bad for others.  Few even among the fair-minded grasp the sheer number of interlocking choices needed to get anywhere near fair quotas for sociopolitical groups in a state.  Herewith a bijou selection of a few of…..Okay, polish smoothingly tomorrow as per earlier notes

Preliminary issue : are we seeking enhanced enfranchisement or compensation for inadequacy of enfranchisement?  Great heavens!  Have I written that?  Alcoholic eloquence.  Change forthwith.   ‘Upward quotas’?  Not ideal, but vaguely humanoid.  Compensation?  Forget that!  First half impossible already.

Warning:  Try this – ‘Some of the earlier questions below cannot be settled sensibly until some of the later ones have been resolved, but some of those cannot be dealt with until the first ones are settled.’  Impressive, well done Monty! 

1] What justification for having any reforming ‘upward quotas’ at all?  Obviously one is to scare the pants off idle buggers already ‘up’ and doing nothing to justify themselves.  Obviously too, pseudo-return for favours received (as not unknown in H.o.C.)  Or to avoid the  need to hand out genuine rewards for services rendered.  And so on.  Not sure if any of those count as ‘justification’.  Does that matter?  Course not.

2] Upward quotas for both groups and individuals?  Latter means networking; consult Linked-In.

3] What reasons for upward quotas?  To reflect proportion in population?  Breath-taking illogicality.  Pedestrians to have equal rights with cars?  Be serious.  And apart from the women there are at least three other 50 vs 50 groups, age, height, and weight.  Anyway once you start giving people quotas just because they are a group, they’ll all be at it.  In six months all committees and organised bodies will be crazy jigsaws of groups all shouting they should have more places.  And every individual in them will belong to a dozen different groups.  What about ‘because said group has different viewpoint from the usual, which might be useful’?  Sloppy thinking again, Monty!  How many groups have specialist views which are useful to anybody except themselves?  ‘Because they could make amusing contributions to the life of the nation’?  Now that should be a winner but we’d never get it past the Grundies and apparatchiks.  How about ‘because their views currently have no representation’?  Losing my grip again!  The fewer the bunches of recognised and authorised maniacs we have, the better.  Give up.

4] How can one ‘up’ a group anyway?  Easy! Add as new members in the ranks of privilege, for instance friends of former PM into House of Lords.  Or throw out or murder the currently privileged (Specialist Comintern practice but popular worldwide and epoch-wide anyway).   Or write new constitution abolishing privilege?  Alleged policy of Froggie Republic (as alleged by those capable of willing suspension of disbelief).  Etc.  No problem there.

5] Who gets an upward quota?  Women?  But what about LGBT?   All those for ‘up’?  Or some?  Together or how?  Or four separate groups?  (And those who want to be in more than one of those at the same time?)  Hell’s teeth.  Better drop this heading somehow even if it started it all.  Oh, my head!  Next please.

6] Which groups get promised a quota ‘sometime’?   This one easy.  Quick scan through this office’s archive, mail from readers, rival editors, boards of censors, libel lawyers, bailiffs, confidence tricksters,  indignant jobsworths… to see who causes most trouble.  Which groups get a promise?  All of them of course,  plus the corrupt (if you want democracy with a voice for all, can’t leave them out), the Welsh, the Goths, the insane, footballers, left-handers, residents of Liverpool, the poor, everyone who doesn’t live in London, smokers, gardeners, weed farmers, municipal employees, Poles, ‘greatgrandfather killed in World War I’ types, tightrope walkers…

7] Groups based on personal characteristicsThe ugly, the goofy, height (too much or too little), the old (over 36), the young (under 36), the obese, the bald, those with athlete’s foot…  All going to have their ‘own distinctive views and experience’, aren’t they?  Shit, I wish I hadn’t started this.  Brunettes?  Agoraphobics?  Drummers?  Rembettika singers?  But I wish Manos would turn that bloody bouzouki music off.

8] Within which sphere are they to be elevated?  How about cyclists onto committees drafting traffic regulations?  Yes, indeed, why not?  Prisoners on penal reform?  Hey, I’m being serious now.  Shut that bloody row, Monas!

9] To what proportion of the sphere  E.g. 50%, 75%, 1 in 3?   Let’s put it like this: every femen committee should have a token man on it, right?

10] How should elevation be arranged?  By force, whether beneficiaries want it or not?  Whether beneficiaries apply or not?  Points system, like Boris… Oh, forgot, one would not be amused by points systems.  By lottery?  Being one of Monty’s friends?  Has Karela still got a stash of slivovitz?

Final meta-question: Who takes the decisions on all the above questions? Oh sod!  Need a brain-transplant to get this sorted.  But have some of that slivovitz first.

Answer to all above: Don’t bugger about with groups.  Take every human as an individual. Can’t do it?  Five more years high-tech, and everyone will have their own perfectly adjusted individual cell in the universal prison

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Apps  Aye-aye Cap’n.  Great new app from the Redethel store for real emergencies!  Stuck with friends in a small boat mid-ocean or in a sledge with a pack of wolves closing on you?  This app lets you save almost everyone!  Just click on the parameters – age, job, number of children, club memberships, salary and three more  factors, and this app will calculate who should be thrown overboard to save the rest.  No need for hard words or nasty bickering. Absolute fairness guaranteed.

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Jokes of the Week (or were they meant seriously?!) (both from the Economist , a mag with a lot of statistics and a curiously imaginative view of the world; issue 420/9008): [1] (on the need to avoid public wealth being squandered on useless infrastructure): ‘To manage the risk of white-elephant projects, private sector partners should be involved from the start’.  [2] (on the UK political scene in 2014]: ‘The Conservatives under David Cameron had turned all modern and reasonable.’

 

Don’t try swinging with the pendulum

In the past few days we have had a number of requests (many of them polite, about what we as interim editors might do.)  One way or another most have to be binned, but the first two items below are in response to our readers, and we have for the same reason re-printed at the end of this posting the special despatch from Montgomery Skew which reached us last Tuesday.

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Non-sequitur of the year : [1] In the referendum on leaving the UK, a majority of the British electors voted to leave.  [2] Therefore the next British prime minister should be someone who campaigned for the idea of leaving.

            This entry scores 51·9% on the  Frege-Healey Index of Logical Errors and it would thus need a change in world circumstances on the level of a world war to allow a re-evaluation which would see it overtaking  A.J.Blair in the race for non-sequitur of the century – ( [1] We’ve always had pretty good relations with Washington [2] Therefore it is right for me to help George in his invasion of Iraq.)

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Justice for England!  

Please sign our petition!

In the Euro 2016 championships England met Wales, and the result was given as ‘Wales won’.  We have found everyone we asked says this is obviously the wrong result.  Therefore we have launched this petition to demand that the British Parliament intervene to order a re-run of the match so as to get the correct outcome, at the earliest opportunity.  Please

      support us at rtrslt@powrtothegoal.

In the first five days 1,844,920 signatures!

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Now that Britain *(and Northern Ireland) have decided to leave the EU (or not to leave in the case of Northern Ireland and Wales)(and of the City of London) there seems a significant chance of the UK breaking up.  Among the implications that need attention and have so far been disregarded are the enormous costs involved in restyling addresses both on paper and in cyberspace.  For instance British firms continuing to use co.uk might risk being ridiculed by their continental rivals, with significant commercial consequences.  Re-equipping the civil service alone with stationery using  ‘London, England’ would be a major undertaking.  However, it is by no means simply a matter of postal arrangements or signs at ports and airports.  Millions of insurance contracts and legal documents of other kinds will need clarification as to whether they hold good over the whole of what was formerly the United Kingdom or only over limited areas of Great Britain, and if so which.  If for instance a travel insurance has promised free repatriation to any point in the UK after breaking your leg ski-ing, will Hamish MacRob be able to sue if the company refuses to take him safely back to Ullapool?  If a manufacturer of cars, having squeezed his new model through the tests needed to claim it actually sucks pollution out of the atmosphere, runs a campaign offering a ‘special – £1,000 off bargain price (only available to purchasers resident in the UK)’ can he be confident he won’t have to deliver on this to customers living in remote corners of the reborn principalities of Wales.  The sums involved in rights to aircraft routes alone could be very substantial.  The suggestion that where the initials, only, appear they might be kept but understood to refer to the ‘Untied Kingdom’, can only help in a very limited number of aspects, and not at all where the name is spelt out in full.  But a solution which has been calculated to involve relatively little administrative chaos and relatively low costs has been proposed by a firm of consultants in Basingstoke, building on the fact that a single lower case letter added to a name is enough to persuade a computer that it is facing an entirely new ball-game, a view with which a great many lawyers would enthusiastically agree.  Thus, if for instance, Scotland and Wales are again independent then Parliament can pass a resolution recognising what is left (England) as a group of separate kingdoms (without changing any of their internal administrative arrangements).  For example, Cornwall could be one, Yorkshire and Lancashire together (if such a thing is possible) another, London a third, and so on.  Then Parliament can declare these to be ‘The United Kingdoms’.  It can be shown that a very large proportion of the outstanding problems can now be solved by simply adding ‘s’ at the end of the name whether written in full or as initials, which in many cases can easily be done.  Ordinary people might find it difficult to distinguish two areas with similar names, the UK and the UKs ?   UK and US are accepted with ease.  And you may have noticed widespread practice for the past century has had the ‘British Isles’ including both Britain and Ireland.

            *for those who were playing truant during school geography lessons, Scotland is geographically part of the island Britain; and by the way the name‘Great Britain’ is owed not to any illusions about power, let alone excellence, but to the contrast between a large piece of land with many Celtic inhabitants, and a smaller piece across the Channel to which a lot of Celts emigrated in the fifth century to escape the terrible Anglo Saxons (that piece now known as Brittany)

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Linguistic corner : ‘Flexible’ is a good example of what linguists call an ‘autophoric’ word.  This means that it describes itself – ‘flexible’ is a flexible word!  Now because a word’s meaning depends on its own value plus the context where it is used, the result with ‘flexible’ is that it can have very different meanings in different circumstances.  For example, when a personal trainer talks about flexibility she sees that as a fine quality which a healthy well-trained body can hope to have.  But when the boss of a company says he supports government plans to bring flexibility to the labour market, he sees a chance to dismiss workers more easily, bringing major life crises to hundreds or even thousands of households, whose members therefore tend to see flexibility as quite undesirable.  (Readers  do not have to worry about the boss, however.  He will keep his job and his salary.)

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Body language corner : (from Mrs Alceste Fleghorn of 3, Tipley Gardens, Little Yarmouth) Can anyone help that poor man Nicolas Sarkozy.  He has three serious problems.  First, he thinks he can be the president of France again.  (Recent history shows that almost anyone can be president of France, but that does not include those who’ve already held the post and been thrown out.)  Second, he thinks that the way back depends on making lots of speeches with photo ops.  Third, he thinks that making speeches means waving your hands around in a series of dramatic gestures like a children’s party conjuror.  Personally I’m fed up with turning on the telly, and seeing Nicolas Sarkozy there with his hands held out wide as if he was checking the length of an imaginary loaf of bread.  (Still he’s not as bad as that Clinton woman who believes audiences are so stupid that when she points in random directions at the crowd and opens her eyes and mouth wide, that lot think she’s recognised them and so they will feel they have a special link to her next time they vote.  They aren’t really that stupid.)  (Are they?)

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Montgomery Skew

It is sometimes amusing mental exercise to try to gauge the levels of intelligent argument and of principled conduct in the political class that governs the country where you live, whether that class has one member or hundreds.  (Any claim that the class could number thousands or even in fantastically implausible cases the whole adult population should be put back into the proper obscurity that is found between the covers of textbooks on democracy.)  Warning: this form of exercise can be interesting but may leave you with a bad case of depression.

   As I write calls continue for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the British Labour Party.  The callers accuse him of ‘weak leadership’.  The calls are broadly justified but in a way almost diametrically opposite to that alleged by the callers.  It is said that Corbyn should have engaged more vigorously on behalf of the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU; had he done so, it is said, Labour Party supporters might have voted in sufficient numbers to keep Britain in the EU.

    The idea that a party leader should have energised his followers to vote to stay in can only be coherently held (if at all) by people who themselves were (and in the nature of the case probably still are) committed partisans of remaining in the EU  This is coherently possible for those who believe that the side they favour is right even when this conflicts with democratic principles.  However, many in the Labour Party believe themselves to be staunch supporters of democracy.  A principle of democracy agreed very widely (but perhaps not in the Labour Party) is to accept the result of a popular vote even when it conflicts with one’s own preferences.  A referendum won by more than 1,250,000 is by democratic principle the right result.  In such circumstances, the question of whether a different electoral turn-out would have produced a different result is, in constitutional terms, irrelevant.

   Leaving questions of principle aside, the complaint about Corbyn’s campaigning rests on an assumption that if more Labour supporters had turned out, then the proportion of the vote in favour of remaining in the EU would have been higher.  But there is evidence in bucketfuls that the mass of Labour voters (who on the whole have a tendency not to live in affluent circumstances, or enjoy incomes, opportunities, and dinner table conversations such as those enjoyed by Members of Parliament and other inhabitants of London) by a large margin wanted Britain out of the EU.  Consequently more Labour voters would have meant an even bigger majority in favour of leaving.  (Naturally this would have left committed ‘remainers’ even more furious and convinced, on the basis of the information acquired at those dinner table conversations, that the result reached had been ‘wrong’, and consequently even more eager to find some way to reverse the decision.)

   Corbyn allowed  himself to be persuaded, by partisans of ‘in’ who in all likelihood believed genuinely that their side would win and that Labour would be damaged by association with a losing cause, to support the ‘remain’ campaign, even though this was contrary to the views of most of his Labour supporters and probably against his own inclinations.  Thus his mistake was precisely to go out and speak on behalf of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe.

   [A footnote:  the petition calling for a second referendum to decide whether or not to accept the result of the first referendum was discovered to have signatures of, among others, 39,000 inhabitants of a non-British microstate which in fact has a population of 800.]

 

The Corbyn Case

 

Montgomery Skew

It is sometimes amusing mental exercise to try to gauge the levels of intelligent argument and of principled conduct in the political class that governs the country where you live, whether that class has one member or hundreds.  (Any claim that the class could number thousands or even in fantastically implausible cases the whole adult population should be put back into the proper obscurity that is found between the covers of textbooks on democracy.)  Warning: this form of exercise can be interesting but may leave you with a bad case of depression.

   As I write calls continue for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the British Labour Party.  The callers accuse him of ‘weak leadership’.  The calls are broadly justified but in a way almost diametrically opposite to that alleged by the callers.  It is said that Corbyn should have engaged more vigorously on behalf of the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU; had he done so, it is said, Labour Party supporters might have voted in sufficient numbers to keep Britain in the EU.

    The idea that a party leader should have energised his followers to vote to stay in can only be coherently held (if at all) by people who themselves were (and in the nature of the case probably still are) committed partisans of remaining in the EU  This is coherently possible for those who believe that the side they favour is right even when this conflicts with democratic principles.  However, many in the Labour Party believe themselves to be staunch supporters of democracy.  A principle of democracy agreed very widely (but perhaps not in the Labour Party) is to accept the result of a popular vote even when it conflicts with one’s own preferences.  A referendum won by more than 1,250,000 is by democratic principle the right result.  In such circumstances, the question of whether a different electoral turn-out would have produced a different result is, in constitutional terms, irrelevant.

   Leaving questions of principle aside, the complaint about Corbyn’s campaigning rests on an assumption that if more Labour supporters had turned out, then the proportion of the vote in favour of remaining in the EU would have been higher.  But there is evidence in bucketfuls that the mass of Labour voters (who on the whole have a tendency not to live in affluent circumstances, or enjoy incomes, opportunities, and dinner table conversations such as those enjoyed by Members of Parliament and other inhabitants of London) by a large margin wanted Britain out of the EU.  Consequently more Labour voters would have meant an even bigger majority in favour of leaving.  (Naturally this would have left committed ‘remainers’ even more furious and convinced, on the basis of the information acquired at those dinner table conversations, that the result reached had been ‘wrong’, and consequently even more eager to find some way to reverse the decision.)

   Corbyn allowed  himself to be persuaded, by partisans of ‘in’ who in all likelihood believed genuinely that their side would win and that Labour would be damaged by association with a losing cause, to support the ‘remain’ campaign, even though this was contrary to the views of most of his Labour supporters and probably against his own inclinations.  Thus his mistake was precisely to go out and speak on behalf of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe.

   [A footnote:  the petition calling for a second referendum to decide whether or not to accept the result of the first referendum was discovered to have signatures of, among others, 39,000 inhabitants of a non-British microstate which in fact has a population of 800.]

Quid est demonstrandum?

The Editor writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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Monty Skew writes:

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

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

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

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