Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: EU

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’.

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.

World’s truth reserves nearly empty

Telling it straight  :  Tribute  :  Fake views from Brussels  :  Is Macron real?  :  Historical note  :   The battle against immigration  :   Appeal.

Next posting can now be re-scheduled for original date 1 August 2017

Warning: this posting may contain references to persons you would prefer not to read about

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If there is one thing wrong with J.Corbyn’s leadership it is that he keeps believing in a decent level of intelligence and honesty in interactions with interviewers and critics.  For instance dealing with public security, having said clearly and firmly he opposes all forms of political violence, and specifically ‘all bombing’, he is then asked if he condemns the IRA’s use of bombs.  Can it be that the interviewer does not know the meaning of the word ‘all’?  Or feels that the British Isles needs a distinction between good bombs and bad bombs?  Or is hoping somehow to trap Corbyn into a verbal structure which might allow a misinterpretation his opponents would hope to see goose-stepping in bold 72 point type across the next day’s front pages (or equivalent)?   Terms such as ‘shameful’ and ‘disgusting’ are overused in politics; I’m told, so choosing very slowly and carefully I shall say, instead, that the way most of the media  have cynically trashed Corbyn with personal insults and fraudulent twists of the full hand of policies he offers is vile and contemptible.  To his detractors the benefits of a policy are apparently unimportant beside their own triumph when he could not quote to the exact figure how much it might cost in 2018.  And the Labour spokesmen trying to put the other 99 views (that’s democracy isn’t it?) are good people but mind-numbingly useless, unable to stop themselves mouthing clichés which need close scrutiny before you can distinguish them from the Blairisms which did so much to ruin the life prospects of so many outside London.  ‘It is essential to adopt policies which will attract investment in the nation’s infrastructure.’  Oh, incisive! Original!  Passionate! Convincing!. Hah! And yet their task is so easy:  Ditch the manifesto down the nearest toilet, get a big sheet of cardboard and just write in very big letters

‘You’ve had a Tory government for 6 years.  You hear them tell you how well they can manage things.  Just look at the cost of living, and then at the state of (1) the NHS (2) the railways (3) the roads (4) gas, petrol, water (5) the cities and public safety; and then find out how much public money,  your money (tax isn’t just income tax, you realise?) – is being poured into them with such rotten results.’

            (And ponder: at the time of the recent Turkish referendum even the EU briefly poked its head above that parapet which normally blocks a clear view of what is going on outside bureaucracy, and remarked that it had not been a fair campaign.  How about asking them for a view on this British election campaign?)

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In memoriam Rhodri Morgan.  Honest, humane, clever, funny.  You’ll be lucky if you see another like him in the next fifty years.

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Our new intern Edward’s first contribution.  (Fortunately he knows about computers. I’ve been careful for years how I connect it up because somebody once told me that if I put the plug in the other way up all the programmes would run backwards.)

  May’s reasons for calling the election?  Tory HQ assures us it was to get a strong hand in Brexit negotiations.  I was in my club in London last week, and that story brought appreciative chuckles from some of the oldest members who recalled how in the 450s prosperous cities of western Europe had often saved themselves by warning Attila and his Huns that their inhabitants were firmly united in their opposition to being sacked and plundered.  The lessons of history are woven out of strands of fairy gossamer.  Another current instance is peace in Europe. In the past few months Brexit has transmuted from a small ludicrously shaped cloud, menacingly black but far away on the political horizon, to a terrifying dark portal with Lasciate ogni speranza painted over the top by a Luxembourgeois tax advisor.  Sinister forms engaged upon strange businesses are dimly perceived within.  This naturally brought a risk that public trust in the wise, strong and stable management of the authorities could break down, and one result has been the sight of large numbers of men of reassuring appearance and manner emerging onto the screen from the hospitality rooms of various media broadcasting organisations, to allege as hard as they can go that Europe has had peace for 70 years thanks to the European Union.  (Actually the European Economic Community only really got going in the 1970s, so it’s serious cheating to claim more than about 45 years at best, but let’s not quibble about that.)  They belong to the professionally reassuring classes who govern all respectable democracies (unless attacked by an outbreak of populism).   They are often called ‘experts’.  Experts in what subjects is obscure, however.  Obviously not history of the Balkans (and perhaps the Hungarian uprising of 1956 slipped past their consciousness without stopping to say hello.)  But they are fully able to assure us that these decades of peace (more or less) result from the existence of the EU.  Only an irresponsible sceptic would suggest the diametrically opposite view, that the continued existence of the EU (XXL/one-size-fits-nobody bureaucracy) was, on the contrary, made possible by the peace which was there because Europe in the 1940s and 1950s knew what war could be like (my own family taking a bad hit), and because many talked about those terrible experiences to the next, half-listening generation.  Peace because Europe was exhausted, and because Europeans  were frightened it could start again, and because they were told that if a war did start the Reds would take over (or if you were living on the other side, ‘the capitalists will take over’.)  [They have actually, but not through military means. So why the hell are we all running a scare campaign about the military threat from Russia?  Just look at where ‘Allied’ troops and Russian forces are now, and where they were in 1989.]   Peace because the interests and energies and spare money (for those who have any) of the next generation have been diverted into small electronic toys purveying trivia and pornography and the chance to troll unsuspecting innocents, at the touch of a couple of buttons, or into ‘sport’ or into what is bafflingly described as entertainment.  On the other hand, take a look at East Asia.  They have by now had pretty close to international peace all things considered (by normal geopolitical standards admittedly, and not commenting on their internal politics) for not 45 but near 70 years.  ‘Ah, but what about North Korea?’  Well if, unlike nearly everybody else, you try looking at the actual records for the past 45 or even 70 years you’ll find that far less international military violence on the well established European pattern has started from North Korea than – at random – from France, or the UK.  North Korea may be going to cut loose any day now but  hasn’t actually been involved in serious international warfare since 1953.  The nations of East Asia haven’t had a regional union complete with a wonder-working Brussels to help them.  So what else has been going on round there for 70 years?  Why, red China!

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EMacron.  We know of no real evidence to support the rumour that the new French president is the result of 3-D printing (though one of our sources messaged back ‘Système politique français foutu.  Voteraient quoi que ce soit pourvu que ce n’est pas pour Marine.’  We can note incidentally that the government printers Printapoly (see postings 10-7-16 and 1-9-16) have experienced unexpectedly poor sales performance, despite the guarantee that the ministers they printed would have an IQ of at least 100.  In fact initial enquiries were strong, but it appears that the price has been pitched (necessarily given the costs) so high that it drastically reduces the pool of possible buyers (which is already greatly reduced since most potential clients – governments – either see a purchase as unnecessary because they can obviously do the job themselves or to be avoided at all costs in case it becomes obvious to all that they can’t).

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Historical clip (in three parts)

(a) March 7 1965  3,500 US Marines landed in S.Vietnam. Ten years later US forces withdrew from the country.  Nearly 60,000 US military personnel had been killed in that war and more than 150,000 injured.  Estimates of Vietnamese casualties are between two and three million, more than half civilians.  In 2017 Vietnam is prosperous (although explosives of many kinds still litter the terrain, and appallingly high numbers are suffering from the effects of toxic chemicals).  Vietnam also now has good relations with most countries including the USA.

(b) For hundreds of years Afghanistan has been the scene of violent tribal conflicts, sometimes energetically involving neighbouring areas of central Asia.  Invasions from outside the region, notably by the British Army, have been disastrous failures.  So far, however, Afghanistan has given no sign of wishing to conquer the world, or even any significant amount of territory outside the central Afghan area.

(c)  26-5-17  President Trump wants 3,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

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Reader’s contribution (Kevin Solmsen, Nairobi)

A friend, recently arrived from Britain, but wanting to remain anonymous claims he had to attend a highly secret awards ceremony last month in Britain’s Whitehall. A variety of awards were made including a special trophy for the most outstanding contribution to upholding British standards relating to aliens.  This friend himself was considered ‘principal actor’ in denying asylum to 28 applicants, including two who had lost limbs in Middle East gaols, but he did not  make it on to the podium.  The overall winner, whose 149 excluded applicants included most daringly a final appeal rejected as ‘illegible’ because it had been written in ink of the wrong colour, had ruled that a 92-year-old man must be deported to the country where he was born (Cameroon, where his British parents had been medical missionaries) despite having lived in the UK since 1934 continuously except for British war service 1942 until 1945, during which he was twice mentioned in despatches.  The highest award, he said, took the form of a silver replica of an open passport bearing a visa allowing residence for up to ten years overprinted with the word ‘Revoked’.

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Appeal for information

Those without inherited wealth are constantly pestered nowadays to increase their contribution to the nation’s productivity (if only by sending their wife, husband or live-in elderly grandmother out to work, if by some failure in the system they have been spending more than 84 hours a week in the family home.) In the old days it would be the local baron who would be keeping the peasant noses to the grindstone (or, as it might be, the sheepdip) in the race to increase the GDP of the community (CEO the local baron).  Prominent among the hustlers these days are the EU Commission.  Is there a reader who can tell us if  anyone measures the productivity of the EU commission?  (And what might its members need to do to score well – give evidence of having attended an adequate quota of conferences on transport problems in the South of France, or led a satisfying number of study trips to the sort of exotic countries which seem to specialise in receiving them, in the sort of hotels that no doubt do so much to improve the development, and productivity, of their local populations?)

 

Making, and faking, history

Thanks to Karela and Maud for looking after the place while I had to be away.  Our Greek colleague has made contact again at last, more news of  him I hope next time.  Thanks as ever to Monty for his piece.

1) Putin                                       2) The flying white elephant

3) Scotland and history              4) Hotcuppa

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At a special press conference arranged to announce his forthcoming one-year job-swap, Vladimir Putin confirmed that the suggestion had been put to him personally by Ban Ki Moon.  Speaking in fluent German as he usually does when interviewed by western media he said that the idea had originally come from his friend Victor Orbán who saw it as a way to combat the dangerous tensions in eastern Europe which, for no very good or obvious reasons, had been increased sharply in recent months.  The first idea had naturally been to exchange duties with the leader of a country in the western hemisphere, but the United States had made it plain that they would be fiercely opposed to any initiative which asked them to co-operate with a President of Russia as locum head of a western nation even if only for one year.  In any case, apart from the US itself there was no country large enough or complex enough to offer any suitable partner in the arrangement, and that is why he would instead be exchanging offices with Lloyd Blankfein at the head of Goldman Sachs for one year, starting from 1st September.  He said he was looking forward to the experience as a great opportunity to see at first hand how robber capitalism works and he had been assured that Lloyd was eager to learn how Russia approached the problems of social inclusion, and was particularly interested in the techniques which had been so successful in the reduction of gang warfare since he became President in 1999.

  Challenged over whether he had the necessary expertise to deal with complex economic issues he accepted that it would be a mistake to think that pulling the strings of the world economy is exactly the same as running a large and complex nation.  On the other hand there were many similarities.  There was laughter from journalists when he added that it was not yet clear to him that a thorough knowledge of economics was an asset in governing a major economic power, given that economists’ predictions were  nearly always wrong.  In answer to further questions, he said he had not yet had time to explore the options for leisure activities at week-ends, but was very hopeful that he would be able to go hunting grizzly bears in the mountains of Alaska.

   Unfortunately as the question, in French, of a journalist from Libération was being translated,  asking whether a job-swap between top and bottom of the same society might be more instructive than one between two matching positions at the top of two different countries, there was a power failure plunging the room into darkness which could not immediately be rectified and the session had to come to an early close.  Agence NqqN

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Plaudit of the week  Congratulations to Solar Impulse 2 which has just completed its flight round the world.  This triumph is rightly hailed as showing the world how air transport is likely to develop in the years ahead.  Experts foresee ever increasing delays – Solar Impulse 2 needed 16 months to complete the journey –  and ever greater inconvenience; the trip had to be made in seventeen separate stages, in several cases involving more than 72 hours in the air.  They foresee ever increasing air fares, too, given that even when development costs are subtracted this one flight cost a figure running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And then there is the minor issue that this hugely expensive trip actually could only achieve the transport of one person at a time

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Monty Skew writes: One of the few valid generalisations about history is that the natural pre-programmed destiny of any large grouping of populations under more or less the same ruling authority is to become a bad-tempered  agglomeration of smaller nations, very often energetically at war with one another, through developing regional differences where they do not exist, and stirring them up where they already do, until the whole thing falls apart and lies in fragments scattered across the path of history.  (The Austro-Hungarian and the British empires were in their time unpopular variations on this flaw in human nature, while from more recent politics you could take Yugoslavia, or FrançAfrique; and a long view would say the Ottoman case is still playing out.)  The opposite trajectory is only achieved under heavy and often very unpleasant external pressure, and will hardly ever last more than a few decades.  One might assume that those who so painstakingly stitched together (with cobbler’s twine) the patchwork quilt of the European Union never had time to read any history books.  (This is not necessarily to say they are intellectually challenged.  There is a pretty good general rule that other things equal, the greater the number of people you put together for a common purpose, the lower their collective IQ will become.  Look at football crowds, conversation in student bars, Prime Minister’s Questions (if you are British) or discussion papers issued by the EU.  Not for nothing the Middle Ages thought universities should be places where scholars lived each in their cell isolated from the outside world, and unmarried.)

            Anyway now that the various parts have started falling off the ozymandian bandwagon, starting with the Great British chunk, it is time to start thinking about how the pieces can be picked up, dusted off, repaired and put back in service on a more human scale.  Any European nation worth its salt needs to have the full run of national characteristics: national flag, national airline, national language (tough luck, Belgium and Switzerland, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles), national anthem, national symbol, national game, and national dress.  This much is agreed by all sensible commentators.  But what is particularly interesting is the way that things stack up in Scotland’s case. National flag?  The Saltire.  National airline?  Perhaps their weakest point but still 9 out of 10 (two regional lines). Then it goes: Gaelic, Scotland the Brave, the Loch Ness monster, not just one game but a whole set of Highland Games; and the kilt.  And then they even have a bonus entry.  National musical instrument?  The bagpipes.  Not just the best score in Europe, probably the best in the world.  Skilled politologues will see at once that this is a nation in good nick and ready to go.  Holding it back could in fact risk an explosion dangerous for the whole region.  Now, Sturgeon may well be worried about winning the necessary referendum, given the opportunities which hi-tech voting systems  provide for industrial-scale electoral fraud.  But there is an answer.  She should start a campaign to ensure that the electorate for the vote consists of the entire adult population of the island of Great Britain.  Given the clearly enormous impact on both sides of the border this proposal would be almost impossible to resist on both moral and political grounds.  The question to be put will then of course be ‘Should England and Scotland become entirely separate countries’.  It’s all Wall Street to a china orange that the result will be an overwhelming ‘yes’, even if every single elector in Scotland votes ‘No’.

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From our affiliated print publication The Pedicurist’s Illustrated Quarterly Gazette

The Hotcuppa trial opens tomorrow.  Lawyers are agog to see what happens in this sensational trial which began with a low-level complaint about the expression of unacceptable racist and sexist language but has developed and expanded like the costs of a government infrastructure project into a page one media storm.  The key fact about it all is that the victim of the allegedly offensive remarks, a former model, and now prize-winning novelist, is the person who made them, about herself.  There will be two teams of lawyers in court, both working for the publishing firm which ‘edited’ and produced her book, one for the defence and one for the prosecution.  After weighing up the interests of free speech and the likelihood or otherwise of a guilty verdict the judge allowed publication of the offending remarks.  In her fictionalised autobiography the author wrote: ‘In my new school I soon got the nickname ‘Hotcuppa’, which was a shortening for ‘Hot cuppa tea’, which I personally liked mostly because of the teacher gave it me.  Fit guy and then some, but that’s another story.  He said I made him think of a hot cup of tea, being I was hot, strong, brown and very sweet.’

(Continued on page 95 with full page spread.)

 

With friends and allies like these…

We have received a message from Monty Skew, currently in Monaco.  Due to what we regard as its insulting nature we shall not post it here and only add that we will not tolerate being addressed as ‘you girlies’, but as professionals we shall nonetheless issue the piece which it accompanied:

With the eyes of the world looking at France through a lens shaped like a football, it seems to have escaped general notice that the country has turned her politics into a branch of circus entertainment.  In earlier times of chaos there was a detectible hankering for a return to some kind of ancien régime, a good example being the return to power of de Gaulle in 1959.  But now what she needs is a return to any sort of régime at all.  To begin with, the problem was the election of Hollande as president.  (An earlier cousin of this site pointed out before his election that this was a major blunder on the part of the electorate given that he was not Martine Aubry, who was clearly the best candidate available for the job, but who lost the chance to compete, being a woman.  So much for égalité.)  It is a sort of poetic justice that the next president will be a woman, all the many other contenders having wrestled one another to political exhaustion (so much for fraternité), leaving Marine Le Pen out on her own, benefitting with another dollop of poetic justice – or in this case some would say ‘poetic injustice’ – from the decision by all the self-alleging democratic contenders to exclude her from the political battlefield as too right-wing for decent politicians to tangle with.  Hollande thinks that he is still the President (as in fact he still is in the strictest constitutional terms) which has led him to try the usual ploys of useless and failed national leaders, military interventions abroad (provided that the abroad concerned is not too strong militarily), announcements to the nation that the situation is improving (‘ça va mieux’ despite unemployment now being hundreds of thousands higher than when he was elected), and ‘toughness’ at home, notably by manipulating into law without parliamentary approval a measure to help employers wanting to dismiss employees, a measure which has naturally caused massive strikes and continuing protests, which despite the associated chaos still have 60% support from the public of this reputedly democratic country.  He has now compounded the error by letting the government consider the possibility of banning public protest (so much for liberté).  Earlier, he had naturally tried the tactic of shifting ministers around, but this backfired on Hollande when he brought in Manuel Valls (a Spaniard until his twenties) to be his prime minister since the latter soon usurped the position of prospective next President with ratings far superior to those of Hollande, until as the chaos grew worse the move backfired on Valls in his turn whose prospects of winning power are now wilting like the chances of Hollande getting back the favours of the lady he used to visit disguised in a motorcycle helmet until his liaison was discovered whereupon he ungallantly assured the nation that he was putting her aside and would be staying in his office.  Meanwhile  strange characters roam the land.  One Mélenchon, with good ideas and intentions but less political nous (transliterated from the Greek, not untranslated from the French) than Charles I of England tells the French things most of them do not wish to hear.  One Macron walks the highways and the byways and the fish markets smiling on all he meets and holding himself out to be the reincarnation of Tony Blair telling those who listen that he has answers to the nation’s travails which he heard from the mouths of Goldman Sachs.  And now  plagues of barbarians have arrived to stage nightly street battles, giving the French police all the chances they could wish to show that they can stage  street battles better than any of them.  Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais du moins ce n’est pas la guerre.

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Book review : The fashionable economist Nemone Credat (a contemporary of Karela at the London School of Geographic and Political Studies) has published a new book (pretty much an old book actually but incorporating some eye-catching shots of her in impressive locations and extremely stylish gear, pages 3, 17, 31, 39 and 82, with pp.108-116 as a pull-out colour supplement) promoting her idea of corruption as a necessary requirement for maximising economic growth; as she puts it, corruption is ‘the oil which maximizes the efficiency of the world economic engine’.  Corruption in all its forms, cartels, nepotism, cronyism, insider trading, free trade pacts and other political stitch-ups, allows investors to take risks which would not be justified according to officially approved criteria, thus opening the way to the rich rewards that go to those who know how to get in early and to the parts other punters cannot reach, so as to invest in ventures that conventional moneymen pass by, rewards which can subsequently serve as the springboard for further economic prosperity in the territories concerned.  The task for governments is therefore not to ‘crack down’ on corruption, but to arrange for discreet management of regulation, with, in the foreground, a few flamboyant or protracted  investigations to distract public attention from less skilfully organised activities and to provide evidence to the international community that the appointed regulators are still at work.  Several South American countries and two major financial centres in Europe are cited with particular approval, although at a lower level a number of British municipal authorities win high praise

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Plaudit of the week : As he grew older he suffered increasingly from that fear of encountering unfamiliar opinions which used to drive so many to subscribe to the Daily Telegraph (from a biography of Horatio Bottomley).

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European news : There continues to be much criticism of the recently introduced EU regulations dealing with domestic pets, on a number of scores such as the exclusion of budgerigars from the list of acceptable household pets, to mark EU disapproval of Australian policy with regard to immigrants.  Nevertheless the Commissioner has announced that it is the intention to follow up those measures with fresh regulations establishing compulsory fitness tests for domestic pets.  These will be designed for the benefit of both pets and owners (here designated the ‘responsible hosts’), and also for others who may be affected by the presence of such animals in the neighbourhood.  For instance, cats must be able to enter and leave through standard-sized cat-flaps, thus making it illegal for a responsible host to tolerate obesity in these animals, while dogs must be unable to leap a three foot high fence, for the protection of the environment and those living in the vicinity.

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As an experiment I am, with Dr Karela’s approval, offering a competition.  Most of us are familiar with anagrams, where the letters of one word can be rearranged so as to make another word or phrase.  In the early nineteenth century James Whortleberry and Nephew of Shepton Mallet tried to develop a form of lighting, based on magnesium filings, superior to what was available before the widespread adoption of gas lighting, and advertised their product as the ‘clean powder that’s better than candlepower’.  An anatax, however, is when two phrases can change places and still leave two sentences that make sense, like these:

   It’s time to stretch my legs and take the dog for a walk

   It’s time to stretch the dog and take my legs for a walk

   he married his childhood sweetheart and ten years later discovered it had been a mistake

   he married a mistake and ten years later discovered it had been his childhood sweetheart

A special prize for the best anatax sent in before the end of June.  (A copy of the satirical trilogy The tale of Esmond Maguire, normal price 18 euros.)

Maud Timoshenko

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.

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(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’.

European Disunion

If consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, which is almost the only good remark attributed to Emerson (as well as being almost a remark he did make) then there is no future in trying to fit the collective mind of the EU into a size 8 hatbox. A union avowedly pusuing ever greater integration is now an organ of discord, and the question is not whether the UK (hereinafter referred to as London in order to reflect political realities, however distasteful) will leave but why it ever applied to join in the first place. Differences of outlook have been becoming more ominous for several years. One has sympathy for the poor spokesman who had to explain why it was once noble and idealistic of the west to bomb Serbia’s cities with a view to detaching Kosovo [1], whereas the actions of Russia in stopping Poroshenko’s forces bombarding part of what he claimed as his country’s population in order to keep them on Kiev’s electoral roll, were entirely different and utterly evil. When the EU reached a membership of fifteen (unfortunately and inexplicably including Greece) anyone with a milligram of political nous could see that was the point to stop for a decade or three, however hard Nato squeezed the European arm. A further mouthful of eastern Europe looked unappealing at the time and has indeed resulted in painful indigestion. In any case the approach was always entirely wrong. If the project was to have any chance of success it had to be carried on as a crusade (the word not yet expunged in those days). To conceive it as an effort at ‘ever greater integration’ and entrust the task to a largely self-appointing class of eurocrats was folly in red bloomers. What has emerged is an ever more complex bureaucracy, impenetrable in fact, unless you happen to know a side door and the password to use on approaching it. I would like to start a rumour that a man is employed in Brussels whose only work is pushing the trolleys full of the daily correspondence sent to one of the Commissioners, from her office to the incinerarium, but it would cause trouble since it would undoubtedly soon appear in one of the British newspapers as a well-known fact.

          Political union is clearly a non-starter, and that was obviously already clear to the Brussocrats when my wife’s native land rejected in a referendum the proposed Lisbon treaty (a.k.a ‘constitution of the European megastate’) which foresaw a future where laws, policies, regulations, and general interference with real people should be as decided by world leaders and their special advisors, with elections to continue of course, as a kind of colourful meaningless folkdancing. (The Irish were to their credit the only nation of 27 which insisted on asking the people what they wanted, producing a result which dismayed that fluent gasbag Barroso; to their shame, the Irish, when they were told they had given the wrong answer, had another go, and approved the treaty.) Economic union may advance economic growth, but we all know the benefits will go to those who are already rich and privileged. Moral union. There used to be a lot of proclamation from Brussels about European values. For some unprovable reason (though most of us could make guesses) that sort of talk has gone quiet recently. A pity. Just think what Europe would be like if we could achieve something there. Danes allowing starving widows to keep the small change with which they reach Denmark.   Hungarians saving all the money they spend on razor wire (offences, not defences); (perhaps they could use it for Rom villages in Hungary). The French could provide clean water, warmth, sanitation and food to strangers (and to SDF – 14 dead on the streets of Paris already since the New Year). Wealthy Greeks could start paying some of their taxes. The Dutch could be friendly to their Moroccans. The British might allow refugee children into their country. (On that last point, 30,000 refugees admitted would be less than one for every 2,000 of the current population. Most people would never even see one of them.) The Spanish… But enough!

[1] this action must of course be sharply distinguished from the campaign in which London nobly bore its share of bombing the infrastructure, sewage plants, and from time to time hospitals, of southern Iraq, between 1991 and 2003; that was for a wholly different purpose, namely to bring democracy to that poor oppressed country.

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Question of the week : the British government is at present enveloped in difficulties over preparing a list of psychoactive substances that exist, or might at some time in the future exist, which with their 36.9% of the vote on a 66.1% electoral turn-out they feel qualified to order people not to consume, to insert into themselves, to prepare, to buy or sell, or do any of the other things which lawyers could think of people doing with them. While they are wrestling with the issue could they spare time to explain to the public why that very psychoactive substance, beer, looks likely to gain an exemption?