Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: feminism

Year-end clear-out

A reasonably successful Christmas dinner, even though neither Isabelita nor Featherstonehaugh-Cheems were able to be with us. We sent them well-chosen e-insults for not turning up. Louise very kindly supervised the washing up afterwards (done by the rest of us). Karela kindly collected all the bits of paper that came out of the crackers Manos had procured (some printed, badly, but most handwritten, in various hands and on various types and sizes of paper, stained in assorted colours; several of them also with a most curious odour); the messages were these:

Linguistic corner no.46. A politician of conviction is one who does not change his mind even when confronted with overwhelming contrary evidence.

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How odd that just when social progress is demanding ‘quotas for women’, people (often the very same people) want the suppression of the compulsory female quota in marriage.

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One way that they have kept down the figures of civilians killed by drones is by ruling that any adult in a drone-hit area counts as an insurgent. They seem to be missing a trick. They could get the figures down further by ruling that any child over the age of six has been recruited as a child soldier.

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Military communique of the year : ‘We categorically reject the claims that 35 pupils were killed by our forces’ fire. Aerial photographs after the incident showed no signs of any bodies in the school yard. But we shall continue to gather all possible information about the incident as long as it takes until we can prove that all the victims were killed by the insurgents.’

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Given that firms can increase profits hugely by skilful jiggery-pokery with the tax rules of this or that country, one wonders if it would be possible to achieve profits like that by not engaging in any actual activity at all, and purely by manipulation of the tax rules, and how many of them are doing that right now?

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‘from the Rotary Club dinner’

Answering a question about the desire of the pirate princess to marry him, the speaker said ‘If I’d known then what I know now, then I probably would not be alive to know it.’

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Some pundits are trumpeting that the internet has brought the era of ‘zero-middleman’ commerce as if this is the next arriving stage in economic development, but maybe it is going to be elbowed out of the way by robots, computers, and ‘zero-workforce’ commerce.

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A Chinese company has issued a press release claiming that it has built the world’s largest 3-d printer and as a demonstration it will shortly have completed an exact copy of the cave at Lascaux, to be situated in the province of Sze Chuan.

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The twin jaws of totalitarianism are intrusion into private life and government control; have we realised that they’re closing round us already?

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Is there any hope that scientists in genetic engineering could develop a technique which would weed out people with a tendency to eat crisps during concerts of classical music?

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If a presumption of assent to organ donation is established would anyone care to offer a guess on the result if someone manages to combine it with the legal principle of compulsory purchase (or eminent domain)?

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The Oireachtas in Dublin has unanimously condemned a proposal from the EU that the Irish should give up their traditional pastime of lying for amusement, and switch to the average globalised lying practices generally adopted elsewhere, and with particular vigour in western regions.

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(This one handwritten on a sheet of A5 and headed ‘please stop that Nic!!)

As the pandemic of doping in sport is gradually revealed to those who hadn’t realised it had been going on for years, it has been pointed out that the cleanest area appears to have been the Paralympics. It has been suggested that if sport is not going to be largely abandoned (in favour of knitting or amateur air-sea rescue, or whatever next takes the fancy of the masses) it should build as hard as it can on what is so far untainted, and to this end should establish also a series of Psycholympics every four years, open to athletes disadvantaged by their character. (Those imprisoned might be given special temporary release to take part and this might help them to align their behaviour with normal patterns.) It is anticipated, though, that particular care might be needed to avert unwanted public nudity, while those unable to control anger would not be allowed to compete in the hammer or javelin, and extra referees would be needed in the marathon and the 50 km walk to check that competitors were not thumbing lifts or taking short cuts.

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Linguistic corner no.382. A palindrone is a remotely (un)controlled aerial vehicle that bombs the place from which it is launched

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The Organisation for Recording the Bombing of Hospitals acknowledges the accession in 2015 of Ukraine and Saudi Arabia

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To raise yet more money supporting the vital financial sector, the government (‘Which government?’ Don’t fret, it doesn’t matter; they are all going to do it) is going to privatise private names and set up a non-profit organisation which will control the administration of the future system. Individuals will have to bid for the names that they want to use; a tendering system will be used at least initially, though auction may be introduced at a later date. It is not clear whether under current plans individuals who already have a name will be compelled to submit bids if they wish to retain it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rem acu tetigimus

(1) Analysis   (2) alternative view   (3) principle betrayed   (4) thanks   (5) correction   (6) editorial announcement

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This item is taken, with permission, from the Encyclopaedia Economica Erigena, pp 3174 ff.

The professionalism transition.  Social phase theory does not belong to economics proper (pace Tisbutt, 1983, and Bull, 1995).  However, some of its concepts have a very definite relevance to economic developments.  Foremost among these is the professionalism transition.

      The broad historical cycle in which this is located is the well-established sequence barbarism –  social stratification – organisation – byzantinism – disintegration – barbarism.  The professionalism transition is the midpoint of this cycle.

      The fundamental structures of a given society are settled in the second phase.  This often takes the form of the establishment of a feudal system, although the two concepts are of course by no means equivalent.  Thereafter it is normal for the third phase to proceed over a lengthy period.  Exceptions, such as that imposed by Qin Shi Huang Ti (qv), are rare.  The third phase sees steadily increasing complexity both in the society’s structures, and in individual activities integrated within those structures.   For much of this period, the process is evolutionary, with changes responding to natural pressures on actual practitioners over decades.  The result will in most forms of activity in the society be a reasonable adequacy of response to the needs perceived by the population.  In general, business in this or that sphere goes ahead fairly effectively and seldom causes serious avoidable inconvenience, or worse, to those on the receiving end.  Of course there will be points of friction.  There may seem perhaps to be no satisfactory way of dealing with one particular type of situation that occurs from time to time.  Occasionally individual cases go wrong.  Junior members of an organisation often regard their seniors as being slow to accept new ideas, and some of the latter may be suspected of taking unfair personal advantage of a privileged position.  In some instances seniors may prove excessively authoritarian, even in advanced societies.  (In 1908 two trainee nurses in Cheshire starved to death after the matron who had ordered them confined to their quarters without food was stricken with pneumonia and was unable to rescind her command.)

      Such irritations and conflicts will inevitably tend to increase as time passes, simply by reason of the increase in both the complexity of societal structures, and the numbers of the population, both of which developments are reliable concomitants of the third phase.  If the society contains clearly distinct groups, one or more of which can regard itself as particularly disadvantaged then the outcome may be revolution (qv), but in relatively homogeneous nations, the gradual accumulation of difficulties, or more exactly perceived difficulties, leads instead to the professionalism transition.  It is not the simple accumulation that tips the balance, however.  There must be some trigger event, typically defeat or even a costly victory in war, but domestic catastrophes such as a famine or revelations of major criminality in some pillar of society have also served.

      From a historical point of view the transition occupies a remarkably small period of time.  If the preceding and following phases are measured in centuries, the professionalism transition may be over within a decade.

      It will start in some particular form of activity – perhaps the judicial system, or the distribution of food, but rapidly make itself felt in other areas.  The principal interest for economics is its appearance in public administration and to a lesser extent in the practices of the major areas of commercial administration, but precisely parallel changes take place in many activities as diverse as schoolteaching, medical practice, broadcasting, or even folk dancing (on which see Gillot, 1987).

      Previously the benchmark of good practice has been conformity to established procedures; now, the cry goes up ‘We must seek out a new and better way to do this’.   In one field after another there are calls for reorganisation and review, for planning conferences, for commissions to establish approved forms of procedure, or constituent assemblies.  Bodies of rules must be drawn up, typically ‘for the sake of clarity’, or ‘to prevent a recurrence’ of some undesirable event which, however, may very well have been a rare result of special factors unlikely to be repeated.  Training programmes, in some cases lasting for years, are put in place to ensure adherence to the new rules.  Traditional practice becomes ipso facto suspect.  The proponents of change acquire prestige from that fact alone.

      A remarkable feature of the professional transition is that a large proportion, and often the great majority, of the many analysts and consultants who now appear as ‘experts’ on this or that form of endeavour have little experience of or aptitude for the very activity on which they become advisors and regulators.  Frequently,  a new and in some sense alien tier of managers (who had not been known to be necessary twenty years before) are imposed, not only with authority over  those who perform but also with superior conditions of employment and higher salaries.

      Byzantinism, which follows, is not in itself wholly without benefits in the initial stages, but its longterm effect is to repress innovation, eliminate desirable flexibility, adapt systems to conformity with a set of rules rather than the situations that arise, discourage independent thought, and in the end to strangle most areas of productive activity, thus leading into the penultimate phase, disintegration.

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Alternative view (R.Baker) The remarkable idea has got around that women should have a percentage of places reserved for them in various spheres which some regard as desirable, such as politics and business administration.  (In theory the desirability may be understandable, but just take a look at what they’re like in practice.)  This is baffling.  The simple fact that women are around 50% of the electorate does not even begin to be a sufficient reason.  To say women have a different viewpoint and this justifies a reserved percentage is twaddle, until you admit the justification is just as valid in claiming a reserved percentage for men; there will be few if any feminists who would accept that most of the candidates for the forthcoming election for mayor of Paris must be barred since the roster is at present overwhelmingly female.  The claim that there is discrimination against women for no other reason than their gender is doubtless valid in many individual cases but it rests on anecdotal evidence, and who would doubt that male chauvinists would swiftly produce a similar body of anecdotal evidence in the opposite sense?  To argue that we know discrimination against women must actually be general because [1] a general discrimination would keep their numbers in e.g. politics and boardrooms proportionately low, and [2] those numbers are proportionately low, is simply to fall victim to that old bugbear of first-year students of logic, the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  One can just as well maintain that there is a general prejudice against the rhino in Ireland, as proved by the fact that almost none are found there.

            Supposing that we were to accept this simple-minded expectation that proportions found in one situation should be repeated in a different situation (it does not take long for laboratory rats to get past this misunderstanding), let us note that on average across Europe the average age of the electorate is 38; that is, approximately half are older than that.  There seems no shadow of a reason why they, with their distinct viewpoint should not have an equally good claim to a reserved percentage of places.  (And of course the same will go for those under that age.)  Or take another factor.  To the amazement of certain social scientists it has been found that in country after country almost exactly half the electorate is under average height and half over.  Now, here we are onto something which has been subject to serious research, as pursued in Harvard, and published in the Economist.  There is good evidence, not merely anecdotal, that successful politicians, and leaders in business are generally above average in height.  Here then we do see an interesting case for stipulating that places should be reserved for one side, only, of a great divide.  We can add incidentally that this will disproportionately favour women – and good luck to them here since here there is a rational basis for preference!

            So we have no objection to the idea of a quota in activities which different large sections of a community want to undertake – when there is  sound reason.  In fact there is a good case for one quota that distinguishes between men and women, in many desirable areas of activity which could actually be done equally well by both.  There should be a stipulation that women, specifically women under 35 (apologies for giving arbitrary figures, but alternatives would cause administrative chaos), do not get more than 30% of places.  This is because there is a disposition to favour this category so overwhelming that it has become accepted as normal, so prevalent as to be invisible.  It is quite unsurprising in evolutionary terms since it reflects an exceedingly powerful factor favouring the survival of the human throughout millions of years.  Some men, and women above that age, notice its effects, although often reluctant to refer to it explicitly.  That it exists is not in doubt.  If you do not believe this, you can of course pore over statistics; but it is simpler just to go to a highway with a busy and continuous flow of motor traffic, but also a constant arrival of pedestrians who need to cross the road but who have neither lights nor police to help interrupt the rush of vehicles.  Compare the time which other pedestrians have to wait before making it to the other side, compared to the young females.

            ‘No’ to quotas; but fair play for each individual!

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Principle betrayed: The most remarkable and disgraceful aspect of the rescue package just agreed between the representatives of international plutocracy and bureaucracy, and Cyprus (or more exactly some members of the party of the government in the parliament of the hellenophone part of Cyprus – some half dozen or so men) was almost entirely overlooked by most international commentators.  Even lengthy reports included it, if at all, as a final trivial note like the last wave of the hand of a visiting head of state getting into the limousine heading off to the airport.  It is the fact that the Cypriot president was instructed that he was not to put the package before his parliament, the national representatives of the people (including the 8,500 employees of the Laiki bank) who would actually pay the price of the rescue.  (It seems unlikely that there was a single player on the pluto-bureaucratic team who could not carry the sort of loss that was about to spell financial ruin for many of those on the island, let alone who would lose his job as a result of the deal; it may be that the same goes for the handful of individuals from the opposing negotiators.)

            So a ‘union of democratic states’ is compatible with the idea that a small geographically remote oligarchy can have the power to dictate at their will terms which mean unemployment or bankruptcy to hundreds or even thousands, without the latter having any say in the decision?

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Thanks: to advertising.  Once, a smile was a signal of friendliness.  Now, a sign of insincerity.

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Correction: We are assured that there is no truth in recent reports in some American newspapers about an alleged accord between America and Saudi Arabia over the contentious issue of capital punishment.  These claimed that Saudi Arabia would continue to carry out executions, using traditional procedures (as would America), but that it would permit a surgical team, equipped with the latest American technology, to be posted at the execution scene so that any families who wished to do so could have the head immediately reattached, allowing in favourable cases a return to normal life, with the prescribed punishment having been carried out.

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Note from the Acting Editor:   An inside source tells us that CENSOR, strengthened by the arrival of an expert in cricket management from Australia, intends to lift the provisional order to us not to post material, imposing instead a general ban on any site accepting material from us, continuing indefinitely.  This ‘as a warning to any others tempted to show lack of proper respect for authority’.  They are too late. Our Editor has e-mailed from his ‘meditation centre’ in Cebu, citing still dangerously high stress levels, and asking me to act as Editor for the foreseeable future (as if I would!)  Simon is  in Cyprus, from where he is to join his father in Yaroslavl.  Manos was last seen helping two giggling island ladies out of his boat on the quay at Weymouth ten days ago.  Most important, Isabelita, responsible for 80% of the work and 95% of the organisation in this office, has been offered a post as Associate Professor with tenure in a very reputable American university.  The present, unauthorised, posting is therefore the last of its series.  A share in the ideas of defending literacy, defending individual rights, and – where possible – resisting injustice, is now entrusted to your care.

            (If anyone has a home for a 140 lb dog, a Ridgeback-Pitbull cross, they should get in touch through harpress@gmail.com.  Anyone taking him must collect in person.)

p.s Isabelita has reminded me that I should certainly thank those who have contacted us, perhaps especially Brigid McK and Paula F – intelligent brickbats were as welcome as the agreements and extensions to material in the postings

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

Les nains de l’homme argenté

1) Egyptian democracy   2) How to handle a population   3) yet more progress!   4) Readers’ letters   5) question of the fortnight         Further distribution aiming at 1-3-2013

This journal has acquired a fine record of political and social predictions, some from our own staff (contact harpress@gmail.com for fees of consultancy contracts), some from readers.  A good example is the observation by Leah Menshevik (20-11-2012).  She pointed out the crippling flaw in the claim that social networks using the new adult electronic toys would bring an age of truer democracy.  The crucial factor is the huge divergence between the population of frequent users of social media (and of the shiny gewgaws which support them) – very largely urban and overwhelmingly young –  and on the other hand all the other inhabitants of a country.  Instead, the tendency would be towards the appearance of urban mobs, passions inflamed by the mutual assurances of justified rage flashing around their favoured networks.  This matches extremely well what has been happening recently in Egypt (assisted, certainly, by the deep-rooted belief of police in Egypt as elsewhere that one of the rewards of serving a population is the right to beat up or taser members of the population who displease them).  There have been and are rioting mobs in Cairo and other cities, demanding the resignation of Mursi, alleging that he has betrayed the democratic revolution.  Yet the moves made since Mubarak was overthrown have twice been put to a nationwide vote, unprecedentedly free and fair, in which Mursi’s group and allies won, each time, around 65% of the vote.  That they should now take the leading part in organising the way forward conforms precisely to the principle of democracy – doesn’t it? – whether or not that 65% came from outside the cities, and the poorer sections of the population.  Or perhaps elections only count as democratic when they deliver the result that we – whoever ‘we’ may be – want?

[Two more reader’s letters at the end of this distribution]

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Our arrangement with Luddites’ Gazette (see earlier distributions passim) has to end; the editorial staff were held as suspected illegal immigrants on reaching Switzerland; their bicycles were impounded and  they lost their chance to appeal against CENSOR’s decision.  So we have made an informal agreement with the Wessex Posthorn (a young staff gallantly pushing out independent views in one of the more dismal port cities of southern England) (Please note we present this document as received, and apologise for the poor quality of the writing):

A bit of good news from France, some really bad news from America.  From this month on, first time in 212 years, Frenchwomen have the right to wear trousers without going first to a police station to get permission.  That urge to dictate to women how they can dress seems deep embedded in the collective mind of the French bureaucracy, but perhaps we should (for once) congratulate those French police, for pretty generally having had enough sense not to enforce that law, we hope they will continue with this rare sanity in the matter of that preposterous veto on the burqa.

            The terrible news (for people who are going to see brothers, husbands, neighbours, and family friends who had just popped in for a visit, killed or maimed, without any proper investigation into claims they might be intending harm to anyone) is like the American executive branch are giving themselves the right to send a drone to kill, not arrest, never mind trial, American citizens who they think are preparing violent action against America.  We think this move is heavily against America’s own interest, but first let’s just point out a lot of people think it’s a breach of the constitution (and what the hell is the point of having a constitution if the authorities any time can just ride over it when they don’t like the rules it makes?)  More important point for the rest of the world is when you ask the question, if they can do that for American citizens what are the chances for anyone else, if for any reason, right or wrong (including mistakes over identity because of similar names as has already happened, not to mention wedding parties and meetings of chief elders against the taliban), the authorities decide that someone has been plotting violence against America.

            First off, the move is puzzling.  If your surveillance techniques are so good they can detect political views and plans of action (i.e., eavesdrop on conversations inside mud houses and read thoughts inside heads, in villages high in difficult mountains) how can they not be good enough to detect when the individual actually starts to do something – like travelling outside his home base or buying dodgy equipment  – and then maybe send in the drone to stop him?  (He’ll have a hell of a long way to go.)  As we said, the policy looks exactly against America’s own interest.  Probably America’s  most unpopular policy round the world.  The evidence is already in, using superior armed force to impose your conqueror’s power and defeat resistance (which may not even be there in the first place) by a civilian population usually fails and worse it gives terrible losses to the ones trying it.  What about France and Ukraine in World War II, or Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq since then?  Vietnam is worth looking at twice over.  Trying to beat the communists (more like nationalists really anyway) cost tens of thousands of young American lives, with even more wounded, and vast amounts of money, and it failed.  But, treating Vietnam with a mix of trade, co-operation, realism, and some sort of respect from 1988 has got America pretty much the sort of Vietnam she wants.  Please think again.

[for reading if you got French: article by Jean d’Amécourt, French ambassador in Kabul 2008-2011 in Nouvel Observateur, ‘Les pièges de Kaboul’  30-1-2013]

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Dr Ilya Sprat, Chairman of Wessex Petronine Gastronomes denies being the speaker of certain remarks recorded at a dinner for toothpaste and oral hygiene executives in Exeter last Friday, congratulating Deviathon-Slodge on siting their new project in Devon.  “It’s true some local peasantry are bellyaching about too many middle-class incomers in the county already, sticking up new concrete and glass ‘villas’, blocking the parking places with their Chelsea tractors, filling the local schools with pushy kids, and sending prices in the farmers’ markets skyrocketing.  But the more thoughtful among us see the benefits people like you bring with your culture and wider commercial contacts, and some of us are already experiencing a very satisfying increase in the value of our own businesses.”

            The new project to be called Imaginative Living for Extended Value (it was originally going to be called the Extending Value in Imaginative Living project until one of the workmen installing the jacuzzi in the new building spotted the difficulty) was set up with the mission of providing the conglomerate with ‘blue-sky thinking factoring foresight into your future’, (a phrase which according to one critic already inspires a chilling surmise as to the sort of thoughts it is going to deliver).   Indeed it has already won a major government-funded contract for the provision of muzak to be played as background on all calls to emergency services nationwide, as recommended by consultant psychologists.  According to the project leader, “This will be a loss-making venture and is designed solely to show Deviathon-Slodge making a useful contribution to society.  The aim is to help these important calls to proceed with maximum efficiency and minimum distress to those involved.  Our intelligent software will be able to detect instantly from the timbre of the voices whether to play soothing music, or a brisk march – perhaps something by Philip de Sousa – to raise energy levels, or perhaps in occasional instances something loud and obtrusive to call a duty officer back to the telephone if for some reason their attention has wandered.  My nephew tells me some ‘Dubstep’ by ‘Skrillex’ – is it? – might help there.  There is also, regrettably, the possibility of the duty officer deciding that the call is a hoax in which case he will be able to use an additional facility to switch in a recording of giga-noise klaxons as developed by the military for semi-lethal crowd control, to dissuade further attempts.”

            However, speaking off the record an anonymous source alleged that Deviathon-Slodge’s boffins had another objective in view.   “Certainly they’re going to supply the service free but they’re still aiming to make money.  Adverts.  Nothing explicit of course.  Playing the jingle of a fastfood place when some woman is screaming for police to come quick because a murderer is trying to break in might not have maximum soothing effect.  No, just the old subliminal game, quick phrases not quite consciously audible behind the noise – sorry, muzak.  The thing is, in calls like that the emotions of the caller are at peak level so the ‘hit’ will go in several times harder than in the ordinary way.  Plus, of course, millions of calls like that every year.  Money in shedloads.”

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Readers’ letters (selected in accordance with our rule that submissions will be limited to one grammatically correct sentence, please note)

There is a view widely held, in the marketing departments of companies selling genetically modified doughnuts, genetically modified sardine yoghurt and similar marvels of the twenty-first century pantry and larder, that consuming genetically modified foods cannot be bad for human beings because the American public has been doing it for 25 years, but when one reviews all kinds of recent events in that nation, not least in politics as practised for instance in senatorial contests in Mississippi, one may be inclined to think more research is needed for a definitive justification of that confidence, while in the background there remains the question as to whether already 25 years ago 4% of the American public believed that they had been abducted by aliens.

Marcia Henscropp, Gaza

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Glad as I am that my ancestor Richard III has been rediscovered, albeit exhumed and indeed earlier asphalted over without my consent, and that some enthusiastic practitioners of one of the more obscure academic trades have offered us their idea of the face that once overlay the extant skull, I assume, having seen the result, that there must be a fair amount of flexibility in the procedures for producing reconstructions, since there is no reason to believe that Richard had any oriental blood flowing in his arteries, and very strong reason to believe that he was not a woman.

Prof.Pixi Immental, Porto Alegre

(Congratulations professor on the absence of that meaningless ‘as’ which so often flaunts grammatical ignorance at the head of concessive clauses!)

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images3

Question of the fortnight.  The government in Kuala Lumpur has ruled that in future shopping malls in that city must reserve 7% of the parking space provided, for female drivers.  Since shopping is predominantly a chore undertaken by women and, even more clearly, the great majority of customer time in shopping malls is spent by women, we would suggest that the government should have ordered the reserved space to be 70%.

            The question: ‘Can any feminist explain why this suggestion gets treated as an example of male chauvinism?’

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

Unwatered terebinths

(1)  quota-feminism  (2) the bug-splatt policy  (3) automated not-answering  (4) notes      *Please note that the date of the next  scheduled distribution has been rearranged for 15th September

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Simple Simon came into the office yesterday, looking worried.  He said he was in need of some indoctrination because he did not yet understand one of the entries in the forthcoming Dictionary of Political Blunders (Harp press, Chiangmai):

quota-feminist. Supporter of a proposition that a proportion of places in some body – e.g. a     government or a committee (usually socialist or social-democrat)  – should be reserved for women.

Editor:     The idea, laddie,  is to have more equality of representation.  Females make up about half the population you know, so people think they should have a chance to put their distinct point of view.

S.S:             Will there be a ‘quota’ for smokers, or the left-handed, so that they can put their points of view?

Editor:     No, they just count as part of the general population.  You have to help women because they are at a disadvantage, handicapped by their gender as it were.

S.S:              So will there be a quota for fat people?  They‘re handicapped by their weight.  It says on the news that one in four of us is obese.  This morning there was this enormous man trying to get on the bus…

Editor:     All right, all right, you’ve already told me why you were late.  To be honest, a lot of people don’t have much sympathy for the obese – tend to suspect it’s their own fault.  Different from the case of the women.  They just can’t help it.  Anyway, the point is that committees and groups tend to be in the hands of men, and men tend to co-operate, go in for joint action for mutual benefit, that sort of thing.

S.S:              What’s wrong with that?

Editor:      It’s unfair to women, leaves them at a disadvantage.  At least, the story is that the men in groups won’t help the women.

S.S:              That’s strange.  I thought men mostly like women.  But anyway will there be a quota for your friend Eddy and all those other people who lost legs or arms or eyes in Afghanistan?  They’re handicapped right enough, and they’ve got their own point of view, and people will certainly want to help them.

Editor:      They didn’t exactly ‘lose’ them, but if you want to ask questions about that you’d better put them to Mr Blair.  Actually I’d quite like your idea there, but it won’t happen because there aren’t enough of them; they don’t add up to a sizeable enough group to get recognition.

S.S:               So if you’re a group that has a distinct point of view and handicapped some way and people are willing to be sympathetic to you, and you’re a large group, then you get a quota, but otherwise not.  Have I got it right?

Editor:      Nearly.  But you have to be women too.  Otherwise, you’d be getting quotas for the blind, the deaf, the elderly, cyclists, inhabitants of Wales, and who knows what else.  Now, I haven’t got all morning, out you go, and tell Samantha to have my coffee in here at 10.30 sharp!

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Opinion: a physiotherapist  writes:

Perhaps I may suggest an answer to the question you raised in your issue of 28 May (privately circulated).  You asked if anyone could cast light on the mysterious freedom of Joseph Kony, which continues even though the United States had sent in troops to find him as early as the autumn of 2011.  It may be that some do not realise the sophistication of the modern surveillance and detection technology available to United States forces.  They can for instance identify an individual suspected opponent in Afghanistan, and watch as he travels through the mountains on his way to, for example, a party in a house, where it is apparently possible to identify all others present as unlawful combattants, which can then result in a pin-point attack from drone aircraft reducing the house and those within it to what they reportedly describe as a ‘bug-splatt’.  (This approach is so self-evidently contrary to the long-term interests of America that one wonders why it still goes on; dispose of one militant leader – illegally, by the way, which would worry some people – and two or three years later you will have half a dozen in his place, while a couple of hundred more or less neutral politicians in the third world will have found the geopolitical sympathy of the population which they need for support has shifted several points away from the United States.)  However, Kony remains at large, and the United States Congress was already so surprised by this puzzling lack of success that in May it resolved to contribute a further $50m to the mission of their forces stationed there, who are reportedly having to keep in trim by training the Ugandan army.  My suggestion is that the long delay in accomplishing the announced purpose of the mission results precisely from a realisation by the high military command of the severe negative effects in the longer term for American national interests of the bug-splatt policy. It is well known that Kony is likely to be accompanied by a number of young and very unwilling slaves captured in raids on villages or schools.  Perhaps it has now been realised that the deaths and injuries among these that would result from a drone attack would have a disastrous effect on longer term developments in Africa far outweighing the immediate praise that might be received.

from Luddites Gazette

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from Readers’ Letters:

Madam,

May I enter your esteemed columns with a practical suggestion?  We all know that the automated answering systems for receiving telephone calls from customers unable to deal with the gibberish and inconsistencies of company and government websites are constantly upgraded to improve the way that customers may communicate with them.  (As most realise too, this refers to improvement from the point of view of the organisation, by making it harder for customers to reach members of staff and take up their time with awkward questions or embarrassing complaints.)  Typically an answering system begins with a three minute account of the firm or department’s successes, and a threat to record the call (so that any obscene insults you direct at them can be held as evidence or, in interesting cases, potential blackmail material), after which one reaches point α.  Here one is offered a list of up to nine numbers none of which precisely covers the issue you wish to communicate about; however, this does not matter a great deal since whichever number you press will normally result in reaching a new point β with just the same characteristics as α; which in turn leads on to γ and even other such points beyond. Some systems do, however, eventually give a number which claims to offer speech ‘with one of our operators’ (all of whom are ‘currently engaged’), meanwhile attempting to dissuade enquirers by a suitable choice of repellent muzak.

None of us would expect a modern dynamic company to be honest enough to inform callers that there is in the call centre only one operator, whose most important current engagement is to the management trainee currently holding her hand during an extended lunch break.  But there is one way in which the company could more simply achieve its object without any increase of inconvenience to its own practices.  A small number of firms from the ‘ethical’ fringe route incoming calls to customer services through a line which assesses the number of calls waiting; then the assurances to callers which regularly cut in to claim ‘you will be connected as soon as one of our operators is available’ are modified to give information about the number of calls on hold.  All that my little adaptation needs is one more tiny step of imagination – there is absolutely no reason why the number should be correct!  ‘Eighty-seven calls are at present in the queue’ should be enough to get rid of all except the wealthiest or the very occasional small child or pet monkey who has got through to the company entirely by chance.  (The exact number can of course be changed from day to day to give plausible variety.)  And if by chance any callers showed troublesome signs of still intending to remain connected, the next message could offer ‘entertainment while you are waiting’ – perhaps a choice between a round-up of the week’s celebrity gossip or sports news or an adult chat line? – which, once begun, gives the caller no exit option, except to hang up.

If my little suggestion can help to reduce company stress I shall be only too delighted!

Yours sincerely,

Ginevra Grimsdyke (Ms)

Director, Fancy Bread, Stratford

from Luddites Gazette

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Anouncement: We are pleased to report that we have received the first application for the post of Poetaster in residence in the Cold Salad office.  We append here part of the submission by Mr Algernon Barbarossa, of  Blanquefort in France, which purely for reasons of space and public morality we have abridged by 98%, to give just the opening and closing lines of his remarkable effort.  (He specifies that it is to be read aloud with a Czech accent and in the original adds musical notation which for technical reasons we are unable to reproduce here, although we can add that the last three lines are marked crescendo fortissimo.)

Bring down the trumpets

As clustered quinces

lie silent under canvas

and musky vagrants evade

an aunt’s despair,

to crawl, squeamish, athwart

the butter-spangled victims

of the argonautic ague….

Seize the chariot!  Whet the leaden

quarts of callisthenic wit!

Bring the trumpets down!

Well done, Algernon!  Isabelita is now hoping to receive many fine submissions from other applicants (whom we remind of the request to submit the samples of work on a clean piece of paper.)

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altruism: the virtue claimed by someone who has been helping someone else when the advantage to the helper is not immediately obvious to bystanders.                               from Esmond Maguire: a pot-pourri (2009)

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honor honestique floreant