Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: enigma

Getting parliamentarians into the right shape

One of the little comfits that the collective British psyche likes to suck on from time to time is to be told that Britain has the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. There are one or two reasons why one should not swallow this sweetmeat whole; for instance, truth is not one of its ingredients – both the Isle of Man and Iceland have older independent parliaments (insofar as any political entity other than a current top nation can be said to be independent.) Another problem is the strange aftertaste, which is a belief that Britain has the world’s best system of government. Now the capacity to believe one thing while standing in front of its diametrical opposite is one of the more bizarre human traits that nature may not have foreseen when she allowed the first denizen of the deep to flop out onto the pre-Cambrian mudflats. But there it is, along with things like honesty, greed, self-sacrifice and the ability to forget inconvenient promises. If you want evidence just consider – is there a dog owner in existence who will agree that his animal has fleas? Nevertheless the conflict on this occasion between belief and reality is acute enough that it has, occasionally, penetrated the pontifical skin of the pundits. It has even been remarked that the adversarial arrangement (our side against your side) is a bad thing.

In fact the British lower house (the upper house is essentially a figment of the imagination of the last three prime ministers), along with all others like it, is a two-headed monster where, no matter how many ideas the media and a well-intentioned public try to force into one head, all that is produced is hot air issuing from the other. A government declares that Monday follows Sunday; thereupon the opposition proves incontrovertibly that Sunday follows Monday and always has, and that any attempt to upset this arrangement would endanger the vital economic growth of the nation, so marvellously accomplished under the present administration despite the obstructionism of those on the other side.

The very odd thing is that the pundits who feel this kind of parliament is a bit short on rationality generally assume it is one of only three possible arrangements. The belief is perhaps hereditary since fifty or sixty years ago, British administrators could be observed around the world using all means at their disposal to have the system adopted by various countries not in a position to resist, with in most cases unfortunate or even tragic results.

One of the other constitutional options is to abolish the adversarial system by getting rid of the adversary, in other words to install a dictatorship in which case the way that a parliament – if any – is conducted becomes immaterial. But the trouble with this approach to making the trains run on time is that they tend to run over human rights strapped to the rails not far up the line. The other popular solution is to replace the two-sided asylum by a semicircular chamber as they have done in France with seating arranged according to where the members see themselves in the political spectrum. The idea here is that members appreciate that political differences do not necessarily mean barking hostility and a stark contrast between right and wrong, because they sit next to others who hold basically similar views but disagree on details. And there is no visible yawning pit at any point beyond which an inhabitant is clearly too alien to be ‘one of us’, and must therefore be enemy. Laudable as the motives may be, the fact that there are still relatively fixed positions, and relatively large distances which stay the same from day to day, still allows mutual loathing to simmer merrily.

The semicircular chamber is certainly heading in the right direction. What is wrong with it is the seating fixed according to political beliefs, and it is really quite easy to overcome this. One rather attractive idea would be to group members by the geographical area which they represent, irrespective of party allegiance. Or we could simply place them in an alphabetical order. We could even arrange them in the same way as platoons in the army, tallest on the right shortest on the left. This might lead to grumbles from the tallest men since in the nature of things they would tend to get less opportunity to socialise with the opposite sex, but then tall men have built-in advantages in this respect anyway. But the idea which I like best is the one which follows what you do with children at some birthday parties: a number is pinned on each guest as they come in and that gives them their seat when the bunfighting begins. This way the parliamentarians would get a different seat each day. Sooner or later they would be almost bound to meet most of the other members and spend part of a day with them; the immediate result could hardly be other than that each one would come to see their neighbour for the day as a human being. They would then be so taken up with observing his or her pleasant or less pleasant personal habits – gossip, or cleaning their ears with a pencil, or sharing garlic sausages from their briefcase, breaking wind, and so on – that there would not be enough time to explore the neighbour’s identity as a personification of one of the more repellent forms of political wickedness.   They would be revealed as human beings. The disadvantage of this system is that it might lend itself to manipulation; the more cunning among the politicians might lurk around the entrance so that they either accompany or avoid some particular fellow member. This could be overcome by linking entrance numbers to seat numbers on a random basis, easy enough with a small computer and appropriate software.

But if we are really looking for ways to improve the parliamentary system, perhaps it may seem a bit superficial merely to allocate seats in the chamber by lottery. An idea which must naturally occur to many of us, and I dare say even more would agree, is `Wouldn’t it be better to go the whole hog and choose the members by lottery in the first place?’

Suspended service

It is with regret, particularly at this time when governments of the world are lining up to promise that they will soon announce pledges to supply aid to the people of Syria (while not neglecting other important issues such as reform of the labour markets, and the needs of the world’s financial system), that we must declare this journal suspended until further notice, as a result of repetitive strain injury

We can incidentally state categorically that we have not been ‘warned off’ as a consequence of the appearance of anti-semitic comments.  No such remarks have been made at any point in the appearance of this journal, as can easily be verified by anyone who wishes to do so.

It may be that service will be resumed at some point, but in its absence we wish great success to all who are making efforts, even on a local scale, towards humanity, justice, truth, and fair play.

A Luddites Gazette special

Stonehenge still off limits.  We shall challenge government’s right to restrict access to public domain.  (Further information as available.)      Our readers having complained that Luddites Gazette has not been getting a fair share in the distributions, all items below are randomly selected from that esteemed organ:

1) Tasers not used   2) Social network bunkum   3) Arabian enigma   4) Strategy enigma   5) Hollande   6) used news       New distribution pencilled for 30-11-2012

1) Local news

At 2 am 11 November an 84-year-old man in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, was woken by two men entering his bedroom.  (This authentic story can be checked with reputable news sources for the area.)  The men were carrying a hammer, a metal pole, and a knife.  The 84-year-old man leaped out of bed and tackled the man with the knife, managed to seize it, and then drove both intruders out, losing only his wallet.

Q: How did the 84-year-old man know they were not police making a search?

Ans: Because they did not taser him.


2) Opinion (Leah Menshevik, Eastbourne)

It is the purest hand-stuffed baloney to claim that social networks will bring a great advance towards democracy.  First, the crucial factor in sending a message or a clip proliferating through the social networks is the level of its interest quotient or power to rouse strong emotions; nothing to do with factual accuracy.  Second, use of the social networks is not evenly distributed through the population.  The devices are predominantly held by the young.  Even if only through lack of experience the young sometimes get led into troublesome misjudgements (cf membership in sects).  Third, another way that the distribution of users is skewed is towards city-dwellers.  In many nations views and wishes in cities are quite different from those of the country dwellers.  It is very likely there was some rigging of the election that put Ahmadinejad back as Iranian president, but according to polls beforehand (and common sense, in the case of those who had been paying reasonable attention to Iranian politics for more than a week or two) not nearly enough to invalidate his claim to have won.  It was the well-educated urban young who believed that the election had been simply stolen.  It may well be that in the election of Putin as Russian president there were some voting irregularities.  (Personally I think a shot of a soldier helping an old woman to fill in her voting form falls a long way short of demonstrating widespread military manipulation of the election.)  By the way, is there ever an election even in the cleanest countries which does not have some voting irregularities?  In the Russian case the evidence of opinion polls, for those who bothered to know of their existence, showed rural support for Putin on a scale easily enough for him to win.  ‘Ah, but the election was unfair, because of manipulation of the media by the group in power before the election.’  Perfectly true, but the usual understanding is that the election result has to be based on the votes cast on the day of the election.  Show me a country anywhere in the world where the party in power takes scrupulous care to present the opposition’s photo-opportunities as beautifully as their own.

            Finally, even though the well-educated urban young do get to grips with domestic technology faster than ruling bureaucracies ¹, the governments are going to catch up, and they have the means and the motive to undertake massive misreporting and misinformation through the social networks when they finally cotton on.  So much for democracy after that!  The networks can open the door to democracy if it happens that the ‘authorities’ are useless at faking, and that the complaints of the networkers happen to match those of the non-young, the non-urban, and the non-skilled who do not use the net (estimated in the UK in 2011 at around 14% of the population).  But there is another door.  That one opens the way to coups by urban mobs.

¹ military technology is quite another matter; ruling bureaucracies do not get to grips with that ever, leaving it in the hands of the generals


3) Behind the news

  It is not necessarily astonishing that Saudi Arabia should have just placed an order for twenty large transport aircraft.  Admittedly, one does not foresee oil exports going by air on any large scale but perhaps some market has just discovered that it has a large appetite for sand – maybe to fill the sandbags to deal with the ever worsening floods in Asia.

[Government interruption under Correct Information decree dns31b): recent flooding in several countries is merely part of a natural fluctuation in the planetary climate and absolutely in no way connected with any notion of so-called  global warming and even more definitely not linked to any global warming produced by human activity such as ill-informed critics suggest will follow our decision to withdraw development funds from research into renewable sources of energy, and instead to invest massively in shale oil and fracking so that transport and energy production may carry on in precisely the ways which we have used so long to achieve successful economic development.  Without them the whole framework of our economy would have to be redesigned.]

Right, if we may resume.  The twenty large transport aircraft are themselves not so remarkable, but the other part of the order was for five refuelling aircraft.  That suggests long flights over territory where one will not be able or not allowed to refuel, which does not these days apply to many civilian cargo journeys.  Those unfamiliar with maps of the Middle East may leap nervously to the conclusion that the project is an invasion of Iran, but that would be mistaken.  No need for refuelling there, only a short hop across the Gulf.  So clearly they are not needed for an invasion of Iran by Saudi Arabia.

            But if not that, what?  Has anyone any suggestions?


4) Thought for the day

An eye for an eye is one thing (though people with a highly developed awareness of the way to deal with other humans know only too well that this is usually among the worse ways to deal with a problem and in fact very often aggravates the problem instead of solving it.)  But when an eye lost is thought to be compensated by an eye, and another eye, together with an arm, and two legs, and also the eyes of a wife, and the lives of a neighbour and the neighbour’s children …  But we’ll leave airy matters like justice and humanity to others, and just ask here whether that sort of approach to a problem is likely to be effective.


5) From our readers’ letters

One hates to kick a man when he is down, so I shall simply remark that some men are born with a natural air of authority (which of course is quite a different question from whether they can be entrusted with exercising it) and carry it round with them through success and setbacks alike.  Romney lacked it and lost.  Conrad Black emerged from a prison term looking ready to lead a continent to victory.  But poor François Hollande.  Probably the first French president with a natural air of ineptitude.

Augustus de Courtmond, Québec


6)  Editorial Several years ago the BBC was forced into major cost-cutting measures in order to maintain its standards (‘the highest in the world!’) of broadcasting and to offer salaries that would encourage first-class staff (‘outstanding in their field!’) to work at the BBC to produce high-quality programmes (‘for which it is justly famous!’) in addition of course to its own ‘public service’ announcements squeezed into large cracks between thin programmes to inform the world how good the BBC (‘the world’s leading broadcaster!’) is.  The latter type of production is not inexpensive as well as taking a great deal of staff time, and so it was decided then to save money in the future by trying as far as possible to buy only second-hand news.  This of course brings a considerable saving on the budget, especially when the news, as with most science items for example, is more than a month  old.  (There is not a simple link between the age of news and its cost, however.  For instance recent reports on the sinking of the Titanic one hundred years ago were said to have needed several committee meetings and according to one source even a week-end conference in Barcelona to get its budget approved, although this has been denied.)  Since then salaries, for those staff who have been lucky enough to remain on the payroll, have of course increased substantially along with production costs and other miscellaneous expenses, but the world will be thankful that financial disaster is still being staved off.  This is largely  because the BBC has again changed its practice in news purchase.  Formerly, after of course using free government press releases, it dealt mostly with established news vendors (it is many years since it maintained a large enough overseas corps of its own), but now it is willing to accept items from almost any source provided that the cost is considered acceptable.  It is rumoured that sometimes for reasons of their own outside organisations have been willing actually to pay for some item to be included in news programmes, but it has not been possible to confirm this.  Individuals often appear willing to contribute newzak or blurred actuality shots taken on mobile phones entirely free of charge.  But this policy has its risks.  Major news vendors can usually be trusted to check the validity of their items with some care.  Individuals and less reputable companies may not; some may even knowingly offer false stories or misleading pictures either for profit or from some more noble ulterior motive.  Before long the BBC risks being overwhelmed by callers, angry, honest, malicious, gullible, or careless according to the circumstances, offering material appearing to show, for instance, that a controversial politician has been photographed trousering a fat brown envelope, or that some well-known public figure has a cupboard in his attic containing a bunch of angry skeletons hammering to be let out.  Even as those words are wrtten, reports come of columns of lawyers and police, heavily armed with affidavits and warrants, advancing on the BBC from several directions.

            Can the BBC continue to rely on an audience for news programmes composed almost wholly of two constituent parts: those who listen without attention, and those who have given up even bothering to switch its newscasts on?

Appeal: do you have any old newspapers or magazines at home?  Spare five minutes to cut out anything you think might fit into a BBC newscast and send to ‘BBC, Broadcasting House, London’.  Every little helps.


honor hominesque honesti floreant