Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: editorial runner

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?

An Editor-free Office

Interim Editor writes:  we are still in the awkward situation as of last week and have heard nothing more from the Editor in the meantime.  We have, however, been able to find another stash of items, unused as far as we know, which were in the chest labelled ‘shorts’.  We had not yet looked in that since we assumed it contained running shorts (possibly unwashed) which he stored in the office for his regular early morning jogging (regularly dragged into conversation too I might add.)  As we do not know when we may be properly staffed again we intend to release four or five of these items each posting.  We should also like to express our thanks to Berthold who has been kind enough to offer practical help, including negotiating with Lady W who has promised an allowance sufficient to cover expenses for the immediate future, and we are particularly grateful to Lady W for making this sum large enough to provide a modest stipend for Maud, the need for which had escaped our Editor. We are also grateful to Berthold for sending us a short item, posted second below.  Monty Skew has sent a message.  Since he maintains he strongly opposes unfair censorship we have decided to post it precisely as received, immediately below.

Hi girls!  Sorry to hear you’re still without your Editor.  Never mind, good experience for you, and anyway things could be worse – Manos might come back to help you.  At least you can be sure Eddy didn’t do a runner with the petty cash, I don’t think there can have been enough to be worth taking.  Sorry I can’t help out with any pieces currently, am doing a major op piece for Newsworth International  which could be significant career-wise so I’ll be out of your hair for the next week or maybe three.  If you need any practical help you should get in contact with Lady W.  She may be a bit of a dragon but she certainly wouldn’t want the site to collapse.  Meantime why don’t you clean the office and while you’re at it turn out all the drawers and cupboards?  You’re bound to find some old scraps you could polish up a bit.  Don’t forget to check the lower layers in the old dog basket (and spray with insecticide first – I’m told fleas can survive for years without a meal)..  Good luck!  Monty

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Berthold writes: The advisory committee on ‘vibrant and dynamic innovation’ for the privatised  postal services in the UK is reported as satisfied that its suggestions for maximising the efficiency and minimising the costs of the postal and courier services that the government is prepared to support over the next three years have been broadly welcomed.   Measures proposed include

        A computerisation scheme which must be used by all staff, with those unable to do so (estimated by consultants to be around 70%) to be made compulsorily redundant;

        establishment of a set of ‘postal standards’ for limits on size, weight, and shape of letters and packages handled, with significantly effective ‘surplus postage fees’ to be paid for offending articles before release of same to intended destinees, who must in any case collect from regional head offices; (annual increase in postal fees thereby is estimated at 19% in the first year though declining thereafter as remaining customers purchase envelopes and packing materials of approved design from post offices);

        the biggest single problem being the legally imposed rule of ‘universal service’ (i.e. deliveries to every part of the UK) the postal service will establish its own definition of ‘United Kingdom’ which will exclude Northern Ireland, Cornwall and all districts within twenty miles of the Scottish border or further north.

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Late news (London): The cache of bullets found last night in a consignment  of chewing gum at Gatwick was described as substantial, ‘sufficient to allow an american police force to kill one and a half black men’

(London) : It has been announced that imported passion fruit jam will be more expensive next year because of the abnormally high rainfall this year which has resulted in a shortage of passion in the producing countries.

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Business news : Our technical staff have learned that a South Korean company did not merely  receive, from an expert who had succeeded in crossing the border, the details of how North Korean television sets can be made to switch themselves back on after being turned off.  They are now co-operating with a well-known social media company to develop technology originally designed for facial recognition by security agencies, hoping to produce an ‘intelligent’ tv which not only switches itself on when someone sits in front of it, but determines if they are recognised as previous visitors, and which goes on to assess their facial expression and choose a channel accordingly from a predetermined list provided by the manufacturers

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Overheard (Changi airport transit lounge Dec.3rd 2002) : ‘He said on the face of it the decline in divorce rates is bad for business.  But as the Ambassador pointed out in fact it probably is simply a result of there having been fewer marriages in the previous ten or twelve  years.  So it may well be that over the continent as a whole marriage rates over the past eighteen months have actually been rising.  And this is good for business for anyone with an investment in high-value slaves, since those who want to buy into the market will find a smaller supply pool, and consequently it will push the price up, in other words the value of his investment.’

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The Arts (or Meteorology) : There seems to be something seriously wrong with the traditional picture of Wordsworth as a keen observer of the English natural scene around him, and the evidence has been staring readers in the face for nearly 200 years.  How on earth could anyone living in northwest England bring himself to write that phrase ‘lonely as a cloud’?