Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: elections

Turning off

 

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

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

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

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

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

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(2)  (This already typed up)

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

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

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

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

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

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honestis honor

 

 

Getting things the wrong way round

Next posting, ‘Year-end clear-out’,  scheduled for 15-12-16

We have all adopted Monty’s policy as the policy of the site: onward transmission of items welcome provided there is acknowledgment of the source, and no modification in transmission

  1. Prosperity? Really?        2. Inside advice
  2. Dim lights in the gloom 4. A heroine of bureaucracy

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(Monty Skew and Karela Hangshaw writing jointly)

Tunnel vision : Judgement by appearances and the Emperor’s new clothes are not exact opposites, but close to it.  If not 180o , perhaps about 150o.  With the naked Emperor the audience’s beliefs (voluntary or enforced) are supposed to overpower the evidence of their senses.  In the other error, perceived appearance and presentation overpower common sense and facts.  (To call the latter the Reagan syndrome is not hostile to America; Americans who sincerely support their country should simply check out its state and status before and at the end of his time in office.)  Now, there is at present a massive international effort to promote free trade and the setting up, on foundations as near immovable as possible, of free trade areas.  This is being run at all levels from Christine Lagarde herself down to humble Dax and Footsie CEOs getting no more than five or six million a year.  The standard version is that globalisation and free trade, while distinguishable, are an inseparable pair who need each other, in much the same way as a bank robber and her look-out woman.  [Ed: Thank you Karela – enough of that!]  However ‘globalisation’ can mean almost anything for almost anybody, and therefore must escape reasoned criticism.  The story about international trade, as understood by the eager campaigners, is that it ‘creates’ prosperity.  So determined, or desperate, is the promotional effort that large companies are running campaigns at their shareholders’ expense, going light on the self-praise and instead telling us international trade is a wonderful boon for humanity (on a par, perhaps, with medicine or music?).  This story can only be maintained by two kinds of linguistic manipulation, which to be polite we shall call equivocations.  The lesser equivocation concerns ‘creates’, and other words such as ‘leads’ and ‘brings’ which are used in this context as equivalents, to claim that trade is the foundation of prosperity.  This claim is wonderful bunkum.  The primary foundation for prosperity is by an overwhelming margin not trade – taking goods to another place to exchange them for different assets – but technology, the devising of new and interesting goods.  It is the goods that matter, not the journey to exchange them.  Whatever would be the point of travelling thousands of miles to the other end of the world’s continents if you have nothing interesting or attractive to take? Besides, the routes have been there as routes for thousands of years, from the bleak coast of Ceredigion right across the Eurasian landmass to the East China Sea, and with well-known side-routes down as far as Zanzibar.  If trade was not booming along them then it was because the supply of different goods not obtainable in the purchaser’s immediate neighbourhood was simply not large or interesting enough.  Very simply, you have to have the tradable goods before you can trade them.  Nor is there any chance of developing a vigorous transocean trade until you have developed ships that can make the trip reliably (and a compass will help too.)  The ships do come before the flourishing prosperity, really!  Or again, there is now a very big complex of industries based on the use of lasers.  How did this come about?  We do not believe for a moment that the existence of flourishing trade centres somehow led spontaneously to the emergence of the laser.  Trade routes and active trade are by-products, like pollution; primarily by-products of technological development, and secondarily of population growth.  The conclusion is not to pour resources into treaties making life agreeable for business, with negative measures such as restricting trade unions, and helping employers to throw the poor out of work to save their own interests, and positive measures which some critics might refer to as fiscal prostitution….But here we are meeting the second and greater equivocation.  This results from a breath-taking ability (undoubtedly involuntary with some, undoubtedly cynically chosen by others) not to notice the distinction between two very different interpretations of ‘prosperity’.  When examined closely, what we call ‘prosperity’ comes down to the capacity to do things.  There is prosperity of a country, taken as a whole (almost always measured in monetary units); and there is or can be  prosperity of individuals.  But the conditions and factors which are properly relevant when talking about individuals are so different from those for a country as a whole that using the same term is thoroughly misleading, and to assess both cases on the same basis is a simple intellectual error. (Would you try to count the number of species of tree in a forest by using a clock?)  Dealing with the individuals, you need to take into account not only monetary units, but also measurements on parameters of health, types of work, living conditions and a good few other dimensions simply not representable in the same terms as financial assets.

            Trying to measure either complex in the same way as the other (and it’s nearly always the ‘whole country’ version that wins, because it is the government that does the measuring) is not just an intellectual mistake.  By a chain of connections which can easily be seen and understood by anyone with the least willingness to see and understand the inevitable dominance of the ‘whole country’ view leads to ever-increasing inequality between comfortable governing classes with great freedom of personal action (sometimes on condition they do not meddle in politics), and everybody else.  And if you don’t want to go into the theory of the dangers which then threaten a society and its individuals (not excluding those who will protest that they were never really involved –  ‘honest! –  only passing by at the time’), you don’t need to.  Just pick up and read a couple of comprehensive books of history.

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Observation

As they sit back in the comfort of the first class on their way to the Far East to strengthen the historic and deeply rooted ties of mutual respect and self-interest between Great Britain and e.g.Tonkin, or Sulawesi, tycoons and ‘leaders of business’ from the City must be wondering at the changes they are going to see in a once familiar region.  There was a time in the second half of the 20th century when you knew where you were with the countries of East Asia.  ‘Korea’ in particular meant of course South Korea, a dynamic democratic republic with military overtones organised on no-nonsense lines approved by America.  Now it seems that literally millions have been mounting huge street protests to get the President thrown out on the extraordinary grounds that she was taking advice from non-elected friends who were pushing their own views to influence government policies and the flow of monies.  How can this be?  Is this not exactly the way that things have been run for years in Britain to the satisfaction of all concerned, with only the difference that in Britain such friends are speedily taken on to be special advisors, with handsome salaries paid out of the money that arrives from tax-payers?

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes : The politics of the past few months seem to have left a lot of commentators gazing morosely over the political landscape like cows jostling in the freezing fog as they wait to get through the gate of a field where a ‘work-experience’ trainee has scattered a dozen bales of shrivelled hay.  One can understand why.  But in a darkling world we must look for glimmers of good cheer where we can find them.  And one is that the battle-weary French have at last recovered from Sarkolepsy.  They thought they’d got over it in 2012 .   But cleverly dodging past doubts about his campaign finances, Sarko returned and stoked up the fires on the French right believing this would bring him back to the top in a blaze of glory.  In fact all it did for him was to scorch his backside as he made his exit from politics.  (It seems though that the CNRS may intend to continue a little-known programme investigating whether upper-body gymnastics with invisible apparatus does indeed exert a hypnotic effect on French audiences.)  But just as the French electorate escapes from one pursuer with a preposterously exaggerated idea of his own charms, almost unbelievably, Britain is now under threat.  A deeply disturbing shape has risen from its political grave.  I presume no one thought this possible; otherwise surely they would have planted a clove of garlic in the occupant’s mouth and a stake through its political ambition when it was interred.  At present it is not certain that it will start another terrible cycle of events, but in any case let us hope that those who still feel a duty of loyalty to their country and their sovereign will study again the law relating to treason.

There have also been two minor bonuses from the recent rounds of elections.  First, there is at least now evidence that the traditional rule ‘Put enough money on and under the table, and you can buy the result you want’ is not infallible for all elections.  Estimates of the Democrat investment vary from $2bn all the way down to a paltry $1bn, but whatever it was it apparently outspent the other side and yet still produced a loser.   And the second entry in the ‘Progress’ ledger has been to cast light on the true value of ‘professionals’ who ‘know the job’ – men and women who work and calculate and run computer simulations and collate until their imagination runs dry, while they study all the reports and data until at last they could fight the previous campaign with absolute perfection, if it was held tomorrow (and who have in fact been the backbone of the losing side in most Western elections in the past ten years).  Did the Donald come with folders bulging with expertise on how to fight elections?  It didn’t look like that to me.  The other major benefit to be entered in the political columns (some might want to call it a silver lining but that seems a little overambitious in the circumstances – at best perhaps a pewter lining) is the obvious one that whatever the American result has given the world it has at least avoided four years of beautifully designed establishmentarian politics of the type which has served Washington and the well-off classes of the well-off nations so well, and done so little for all the rest of the world, confronted with  natural disasters, economic injustice, massacres, wars and the indifference of the West.

Ed: Is Berthold heading for a breakdown?  He’s certainly been poaching on Monty’s territory.  Time for a serious talk.

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Let’s recognise some true worth

If you are wondering who you might send an anonymous end-of-year present to, let us suggest Federica Mogherini, whose humane intelligence is fighting bravely trying to keep the EU sane and functioning despite itself.

Shapes dimly seen through the fog of news

Since there are now only two full-time members of the team normally present in our HQ here, along with occasional visits from Simon, we would very much like to take on a new intern; the position, unfortunately unpaid (as are the full-time members), could be for up to 6 months, and basically requires normal office work with snatches of journalism.  Open to literate applicants of any age, gender or colour.  Ability to handle small boats could be an advantage.  Computer nerds and paid-up members of any mainstream political party have little chance. 

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Our widely respected political correspondent Monty Skew volunteered to reply to a long letter from Jojo Ceausescu, one of our regular correspondents.  Since the issues actually affect a lot of people some extracts are posted here.

Monty Skew writes: Yes, there are indeed two IMFs!  The second one which I shall call the ‘other IMF’ deliberately chose initials designed to be an example of their ideas – or as they prefer to put it, their strategic philosophy. Those initials stand for ‘International Misinformation Forum’ and their (surprisingly well-funded) activities are intended to support an eccentric mixture of interventions based on a mistaken belief that something like Darwinian evolution can be injected into world geopolitics, and they are the people to push the plunger well in.  Their underlying principle is a sort of utilitarianism: the weaker a government is, the worse life will tend to be for its subjects (so they can at least pretend that they have good intentions; like so many in the long human tragedy).  So what the world needs, they assert, is fewer weak governments.  Where does that lead us?  They argue that on the whole crises kill off the weaker specimens, and tend to leave the strong ones stronger than before, as with species.   So they hope to stimulate confusion in world politics, as a first-class means of inducing  crises (though of course crises can easily be manufactured even without the existence of normal democratic politics).  For this reason the ‘other IMF’ deliberately keeps out of the limelight, since only a small proportion of the world population is clear-headed enough to be properly  aware that two organisations with similar names (or at least initials) operating in the same general area may have sharply different methods and goals.  But it is known that they claim to have well-developed networks of influence in the Americas and in the chancelleries of Europe.  The phrase ‘creative uncertainty’ surfaces from time to time.  Even so, many of those who have heard of the ‘other IMF’ dismiss all this as obscure pantomime games, and perhaps it is.  But some of the bigger happenings in geopolitics in recent years might make you hesitate. To start with a small but rather clear example: (1) a coalition was organised to arrange régime change in Libya; the former régime (Gadhafi) was duly eliminated; but no new régime was put in place; the half-suppressed state of civil war continues.  (2) Western forces, led by the US, have been into Iraq and out of Iraq and in again and out again, sometimes both simultaneously, ever since 1991.  It seems only the other day Obama was promising ‘no American boots on the ground’; current active operations in Iraq involve US ground forces (undoubtedly booted).  (3)  When he was president George W told Europe it must speed up with Turkey’s admission to the EU, begun to bureaucratic acclaim in 1987.  Today it is still ‘progressing’ (yes, even now!). (4) The ‘pivot to Asia’.  Remember that?  American foreign policy to be re-centred on East Asia.   Which apparently meant a quick series of pronouncements about China, and a couple of highly signalled sail-pasts; then back home, and down to business as usual.   (5) Mid 2016 the UK votes to leave EU.  Late 2016, UK manoeuvres to undo Brexit get going.  (6)  Afghanistan.  See remarks on Iraq above.  (7) Syrian government, threatened (2013) with decisive western intervention if detected using chemical weapons against its own population, backs down.  Currently, chemical weapons being used by Syrian government against its own population, and have been over the past year.  (8) European nations allow desperate millions to walk halfway up Europe for refuge; then policy changes.  The next millions get to walk halfway up Europe, as far as the razor-wire, then have to survive the winter (or not) where they are or walk back to Greece.  (9)  Remember how back in the 1990s post-communist Russia was going to be the West’s new friend (and ally against China?).  Now she is the great threat to world peace, and apparently hell-bent on world conquest, we are earnestly assured.  (10) In return for ruthless austerity, hurting all except the wealthy, the EU gives Greece just enough support to carry her through to the next round of fresh austerity and bail-out.  (If I’ve counted correctly, she’s just coming up to bail-out number 4.)  Sometimes I do begin to wonder.  I have no idea what would be your own best move, but my personal advice would be to buy a well-built well-appointed sea-going vessel, move all your personal possessions into her (and your wife?), and then cancel your subscription to your current  government immediately.

Mr Skew wishes to say he has no objection to forwarding of items of his which appear on this site, subject to the usual conditions – no modification in transit, and acknowledgment of source.

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Before we empty the readers’ letters bin, we might mention that Monty’s late-night notes last month (which were definitely not intended for posting) – on setting quotas for various groups to have a share of various types of advantage –  brought a biggish influx of mail.  A small number seemed inclined to disagree, giving reasons (a great rarity) and after careful thought we or Monty himself may take those up.  Most of course were the normal gibbering rants or cuttings from the Daily Mail.  But an oddity worth mentioning is that within that week we had two letters, both from men, proposing that the House of Lords in London should be reserved exclusively for women, but for diametrically different reasons.  One said that this would give women a real  chance to exercise the beneficial influence on events which they deserved to have; the other thought that it would ‘clear them out of the way to twitter on about cooking and fashion and celebrity gossip’ while ‘us men’ can ‘get on with the serious stuff’.  Karela intends to write a personal reply to the latter, when she has had a week or two to handle a computer without causing it to emit bright white exploding sparks.

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The first piece we have had from Simon in over a year, headed ‘A contribution to the ‘Problems in Bilogy series’[sic].  Louise tells us he has nearly finished Book 1 in the WAHAMM! course – ‘Write At Home And Make Money! –  for aspiring writers (www.howtomakewealthflowfromyourpen.com). 

Problems in biology; no.118

Why are elephants grey (except for Hinkley Point power station which is going to be white)?  They do not originate in a landscape where the background is predominantly grey.  They live in hot parts of the world, and if they were some bright colour, red or yellow for example, or even better partly reflective (if butterflies can evolve that sort of thing, why not elephants?) it would help to keep them cooler which you think they would need at their size.  And there is not much point in an animal as big as that trying grey as a way of being unobtrusive, whether to avoid becoming prey, or to allow it to hide in the undergrowth before springing out to pounce on passing antelopes or warthogs.  The mighty elephant remains an awesome enigma indeed!

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The Editor writes: If ever there was a campaign that made a really powerful case for a proposal more than once offered to the closed minds of the political classes by this very journal, that presidential campaign was it.  The issue is obviously negative votes.  In the past, practical matters may have made this rather difficult.  Now, thanks to modern technology which has seen voting publics round the world swallowing voting machines with only the merest tremor of electoral indigestion, it would be easy.  It is a simple idea: do not merely invite the populace to vote for the candidate picked out by whichever information sources they expose themselves to.  Let them cast instead, or as well, a negative vote against the candidate they think most worth throwing out of politics (and, in selected cases, into the nearest stagnant canal).  With modern technology it should be easy.  In fact it might be as well to take advantage of the chance now, in the short-lived window of opportunity before hackers screw up the whole business by discovering ways to make Huey Long come out on top in, for example, the next ballot for governor of the Keystone State notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot and hasn’t actually been standing anywhere since 1935.  When they appear on the scene, or rather don’t appear, those hackers will be found operating out of Russia, of course, or just possibly North Korea, or perhaps both simultaneously.  (Now there’s a promising opening for a world-wide journalistic scoop!)  But while we’re touching on hacking, let’s mention that back in June the FBI said about those hackers who broke into Hillary’s campaign they ‘would be far too skilled to leave evidence of their intrusion’.  And everyone agrees it was a job carried out with expertise of the highest level.  So isn’t it just the darnedest thing that those brilliant Russian hackers did it all so professionally they would have got clean away without anyone having the least idea who they were –  except for just one tiny thing when they were tidying up; left a couple of words in Russian, as shown on western tv, so now everybody knows they really must have been Russian.  Couldn’t have made a sillier mistake if they’d tried – or did someone help them?

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Puzzle corner (from Patsy’s Postmodern Parenting WeeklySet by Dr Evalina Squeers)

Here’s a nice poser for post-modern parents to chew on along with their vegetarian sausages and free-range quinoa.  Start from these two ideological axioms of modern society.  Axiom 1: It is wrong to encourage children to taunt and abuse other children.  Axiom 2: It is necessary to take all possible effective action (short of violence of course) to reduce obesity in children, bearing in mind the serious damage to their self-image and to their health in adult life that can be consequences.  Given that peer pressure and self-image are absolutely key factors influencing the behaviour of our little loved ones, the challenge is to think up chants and cries compatible with both those axioms, to greet obese pupils as they waddle into the school playground each morning.  (The usual prizes for best selections.)

 

If plan A doesn’t work try politics, or vice versa

I think we did ourselves a good turn when we agreed to accept Maud as an intern.  She has an unusual capacity to look at situations as they really are (see item 2) rather than simply categorising them and then clicking on the ‘everybody knows’ button so as to slot in the conventional view, thus saving time and losing touch with reality as is now normal in this hi-speed, tech-savvy dawn where we are ‘all’ multi-connected to the latest lies and misrepresentations circulating in the media.  If Maud keeps going as she has begun we might offer her another month, and perhaps even think about giving her a salary.  Meanwhile Karela, still pursuing her hunt through the historic archives of the journal and its sister publications, has been turning up quite a bundle of interesting stuff including item number (3) which looks as though it may be coming from a government near you any day now.  The historical perspective comes into (4) as well, sent in by, presumably, one of our oldest readers.  Monty and Simon in ill-matched co-ordination also make entirely characteristic contributions.

            As for the first piece, I really don’t know what has got into Berthold.  I fear he may bring us another visit from the men in khaki and green, though he looks and sounds so impeccably boring he’s a valuable front man if they do appear again.  He writes:

            As Obama’s term of office trickles uselessly away, this may be the right time to remind our audience that it was the British newspaper the Gruadian that played a crucial part in enabling him to chop logic and look good on  photo ops for those eight years (not to mention sending out drones to kill Asian opponents and their civilian neighbours in defiance of the Geneva Convention, and thus recruit massively to the ranks of America’s enemies).  The 2008 campaign saw Obama win 53% of the vote and McCain 46%.  It is widely considered that two major factors were involved in Obama’s success: McCain’s eccentric rejection of Condoleeza Rice as Vice-presidential candidate, and the vigorously pronounced unpopularity of George Bush the incumbent President.  Had either of those factors been removed then the election might well have turned out the other way.  What is interesting, therefore, is that the Guardain had a high claim to have won Bush his ‘knife-edge’ re-election in the campaign of 2004 (though some would prefer to describe that as his first and only election, given the shenanigans that went on in 2000).   That journal spotted that under the peculiar Electoral College system for electing the President, Ohio was likely to be a ‘swing’ state.  Further, within Ohio one particular electoral district was likely to be a ‘swing’ district tipping the result for the whole state one way or the other.  The paper organised a campaign for its readers to write letters to citizens of that district urging them to vote not for Bush but for his opponent Kerry.  The letter-writing campaign from Britain had exactly the result that any half-competent sixth-form student of politics could have predicted (and at the time many perhaps did).  American voters enraged at British interference in their election ran a counter-campaign, and the electoral district duly tipped to Bush, which ensured that all of Ohio’s votes went to Bush and that did in fact win him the election.  (So much for that attempt to manipulate the social media.)

(2) Maud writes

I have noticed a mistake which turns up so frequently in political speeches I wonder if it is somehow physically contagious.  It is the very simple matter of getting things ‘the wrong way round’, which you might have hoped ceased to baffle children somewhere about the age of graduating from kindergarten.  A prize specimen which has been annoying us ever since the date of the Brexit vote was announced is the assertion that the existence of the EU (not to mention its gelatinous spread) is what has kept peace, of a sort, in Europe for the past 70 years.   But in fact it is the peace (from economic exhaustion, and memory of the horrors of war) which has allowed European states to become immovably attached (in very much the same way that pieces of iron scrap lying together in the open air will rust into a single rigid block) and in that way to continue to exist as a composite but now indivisible (and insufferable) unit .

(3) Karela writes.  It is not a surprise that so many talk now about security.  A very confusing subject.  For example, security for who, ordinary people or presidents and governments?  Security against what?  Against only terrorism, or against famine, and transport accidents, and against illnesses that can be cured if enough effort and money is made? But what is right and what is needed will not be important.  There will be more and more rules even if needed or not needed.  And when I was looking in old papers I found these words, with a date 4th November 1993, though I think it did not publish until 2004.  This I think is right and maybe it will now come even quite sooner than that writer, certainly Irish, thought:

  It looks to me as if two lines of what is called, gullibly or cynically, progress are converging to give a thought-provoking result.  The first is the widespread desire of governments to ‘wire-up’ their populations to every available means of communication (whether the citizens want it or not, whether it is reliable or not, and whether the governments understand it or not); this line receives a strong impetus also from governments’ rapidly increasing desire to know where all their subjects are all the time – in fact the two strands to this first line should very possibly be ranked in the other order.  The second line is technological advance in making devices which do the same sort of thing as something which already exists, but which are much smaller, and this too is strengthened by a parallel trend, which is the discovery of more and more ways in which the rejection capabilities of human physiology can be overcome or bypassed.  The outcome at some near future point would, or will, be the compulsory implantation of nanotelephones and miniature locating devices in everybody’s head, arm, or buttocks.

——————–          

(4) A reader (‘Exul’) writes from Oshawa  

I observe increasing resort among Europe’s politicians to the cynical device of making promises for a date at which the politician concerned can be damned sure not to have to make good on the promise.  One blatant recent example was Cameron’s warm-hearted offer for Britain to assist the suffering Syrian refugees by taking in some 20,000 of them (out of the three million or so who have succeeded in escaping from that horror – formerly very like a pleasant part of Europe somehow in the wrong place, except for the fearsome police) – but only by the year 2020.  Similarly with the roseate figments of Osborne’s financial imagination for the time when his party will certainly have lost office.  But this is not a trick the Tories thought up just last autumn.  They have been at it since at least 1954, when then Chancellor Butler asserted that the British standard of living would double within the next 25 years.  Or so it is recorded in some books.  What I can remember, however, is that he added ‘provided that the country keeps the Conservative party in power’.

(5) Louise brought Simon into the office two days ago.  (Her personal presence apparently made the Loyal Lifelogging Loop unnecessary.) She explained that she would never bother to read our ‘charabia’ herself, but that her recently acquired son has told her he is not being exhibited in these columns as readily as he thinks appropriate.  In response to her strongly expressed request (and not overlooking the  bottle of Ch.Pétrus) we accepted the following posting by Simon about a net-surfing session he recently enjoyed.  (This posting subedited by Monty).

Scientists in convincing white coats believe that eating artichokes can be bad for your health –  if you are a smoker.  A survey has discovered that artichoke eaters are 20%  more likely to rate their chances of giving up smoking as ‘not good’ or ‘poor’.

Think again, Australia!

            We regret the tardy appearance of this item which is partly a result of its being a collaboration between Monty Skew and Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems

As the tide of trust in the constitutional excellence of hereditary monarchy slowly and sadly recedes around the world (despite the efforts in Korea and some third world countries to pump the water up the beach again) it is high time to ask why on earth any country fortunate enough to be so ruled should think of abandoning this exceptionally successful constitutional arrangement, Australia being the latest in the benighted queue.   I should acknowledge that I am not going to object to the generally accepted assumption that in these times a hereditary monarchy will be a constitutional monarchy, although the two notions are theoretically quite distinct. Although it cannot be denied that certain families have not handled their hereditary tasks with the surpassing skill and exemplary dignity shown throughout her long life by the present Queen of England, a swift conspectus of the countries of the world shows that a nation with a hereditary monarchy is far more likely to be broadly speaking unified and at peace with itself than those with elected heads of state. However keen bloggers, second-rank journalists, and tweeters may be to launch cheap shots against easy targets so that their friends can applaud their ‘brave’ blows for democracy, the empirical evidence is plainly overwhelming. There is in any case absolutely no incompatibility between hereditary monarchy and democracy if an elected government is handling the ordinary business of the state; if you seek an instance of incompatibility with democracy, just cast your eyes on the banks and multinational businesses. Opposition to hereditary monarchy is objectionable in principle, and often disastrous in practice. The thing which makes the hereditary aspect so valuable is the enormously greater independence, from the pressures and influences affecting others in public life, of a head of state who is installed for life, by birth.

If there is one constitutional move even more misguided and frankly destructive than abandoning hereditary monarchy it is to take up as an alternative an elected presidency. Again I have to acknowledge my provisional acceptance of a general assumption that is not rationally justified, namely that election is for a limited term. An elected president, unbalanced by accession to the highest office for which he (or in principle she, but there seem to have been no such instances yet) was neither born nor trained may feel an urge to ‘serve’ his country for the rest of his life. This has in fact been observed in a few, but curiously only a few, heads of state in the third world; the derangement seems not to afflict those who do not bother with elections in the first place. Subsequent events consistently show this as a very undesirable progression, even if those who aim to stay on for life go through a mummery of election from time to time. There is also another assumption not strictly justified, that there is a distinction between appointment and election; clearly the two overlap, and depend on the number of the qualified electors. And yet one more factor needs to be taken into account, the eligibility of the would-be heads of state. This gets relatively little attention (except in Iran) against a background of belief in ‘universal suffrage’. This superficially simple expression covers all manner of tricky pitfalls. Eighteen-year-olds? Prisoners in gaol? Those convicted of financial fraud? (Cf the French view). In America, those who cannot produce a driving licence with a photograph? And remember, after all many countries only allowed women into the electoral universe within living memory.

All this could make one despair (as of course one should) of election, turning instead to a system widely used elsewhere – competitive examination. How absurd it is that nowadays when you need to enclose original and photocopy of your Master’s degree in Domestic Utensil Cleansing in application for the meanest post in a fast food restaurant there is no course of studies nor any appropriate certificate for the position of Head of State. Lady W (known to many of our readers) has expressed herself willing to devise a suitable examination. This would plainly have to cover a fairly broad range of subjects including geography (I myself have come across a Crown Prince who could not identify Africa on a map of the world), physical exercise with special reference to facial muscles, and to upper body musculature (for the waving and hand-shaking), gastronomy (the least problematic filler of conversational gaps at banquets) and elocution (for the speeches). Animal husbandry with probably a concentration on the horse also suggests itself as a suitable topic. And we should not forget that a common trouble with elected presidents is that they are clever enough, certainly, but simply not honest. So we are going to need an interview as well; the ideal panel would consist of people with a proven record of ability in assessing the characters of their interlocutors and should therefore be made up of experienced confidence tricksters.

Anthropologists tell us that in the past some unusual societies have experimented with even more unorthodox approaches, notably to establish the office of Head of State but to have nobody actually in it; we can surmise that this idea was inspired by certain courts in ancient times which found it inconvenient to let subjects know that their monarch was dead. He thus remained as a sovereign legally alive but with no longer any taste for public speeches, nor for royal walkabouts (and cf the last weeks of Churchill as prime minister). No court seemed able to keep such a ruler for long but with a bit of efficiency, some imagination and a lot of claims about the need for security it should have been possible to keep the business going for centuries. Bulletins on royal activities could have been issued just as in these days, if a team of trustworthy scriptwriters could have been found. But the trouble with that option is the failure of the monarch to interact socially either with the people or with visiting dignitaries. However, modern technology could now overcome that by creating the virtual head of state for any republic where the politicians decided they did not want the trouble of elections. By combining holograms, voice synthesis and the latest results from neural network research it would be possible to construct a head of state able to make speeches (at least the sort of speeches that politicians want to hear), wave from balconies, and attend weddings of foreign princesses, and maybe even to go on skiing holidays in two different places at the same time if the public relations boys thought this could be managed safely. Even more adventurously, at this moment in a secret laboratory somewhere in, perhaps, Central Asia scientists may be plotting computer software to make it possible for citizens watching their screens at home each to see the sort of ruler they want – feminists would of course see and hear a queen, social democrats a cyclist in jeans, adolescent girls a tall dark handsome mesomorph, and so on. There is, however, a crucial flaw in their plans, and that is the ever increasing incidence of hacking and computer viruses; one can imagine the horrifying effect on national morale if, for example, in the middle of opening a museum one’s virtual head of state was transformed, with a background of, perhaps, the Ride of the Valkyries, into an image of Hitler making a speech calling for Britain to enter the EU and pledge one thousand years of allegiance to Germany.