Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: geopolitics

Turning off

 

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

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

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

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

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

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(2)  (This already typed up)

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

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

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

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

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

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honestis honor

 

 

Examination Paper CID4U

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th  August

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES DECONSTRUCTED     CID4U

This examination is scheduled to last ten (10) minutes

Read each question carefully before answering and then write your answer on both sides of the paper provided.  Cheating is permitted but must be cleared with the supervising examiner in advance 

1. Is the increased proportion of testosterone allegedly discovered in the metabolic system of western men by comparison with forty years ago the result of changes in diet, changes in the visual environment on screen and off, of doping to accompany ‘sporting’ activity, or of input self-administered by males afflicted by self-doubt after listening to preposterous lies told by male work colleagues?

2. Cui bono?  This was the favourite question of Cicero (ancient Rome’s answer, 2,000 years in advance, to Jeremy Corbyn, except that he wrote much better Latin).  Strangely this phrase is completely ambiguous.  One of its meanings is “What’s the point?” but the other one, which Cicero claimed was what he meant when he ued it is considered more respectable, and quotable, and is equivalent to “Who got the benefit from it?” when discussing mysterious unpleasant events such as political murders where there was no eye witness (or no one with any intention of coming forward as such).  Caruana Galizia’s explosive exit in Malta is only one of several prominent cases in recent times where this question might be put to work.

3. Question for Tony Blair (to receive if you ever find him at a public meeting where he is bold enough to take questions): ‘On your travels do you ever get the chance to visit the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq?’

4. If we conclude that quantum mechanics shows that assertions which are fiercely counter-intuitive (e.g. cats being simultaneously both alive and dead) are correct, might we not reasonably conclude that there is a high level of fallibility about the mental processes by which human beings reach conclusions ?

[p.s. surely any Ph.D student in physics could cope with that premiss by just assuming an extra dimension or two]

5. Given (a) the great predominance (or should that be ‘predomination’) of the male gender in those holding positions from which appointments to lucrative, fashionable, or prestigious jobs are made (e.g. M.P., broadcasting bigwig, CEO, theatrical panjandrum, or director of think tank) and (b) the surge of agreement across ‘developed’ nations that gender inequality should be ‘tackled’, there is likely to be (a) a substantial increase in the number of new female appointments to lucrative etc jobs, and (b) a high chance that those appointments will be of attractive young women.  Is this likely to result in increasing the disadvantage of older, less attractive women who may well need the job more?  (Answer: ‘Yes’)

6. How long does a family have to live in a country before they cease to be immigrants?  Twenty years?  Fifty years?  A hundred and fifty years?  And does the length of time depend on any factors other than their length of residence, such as complexion or how much money they have?  (Answer: ‘YES, and YES!’)

7. It is claimed that an important aspect of human intelligence is the ability to learn things from just two or three encounters.  Are there any public-spirited psychologists or sociologists researching into ways to develop a human ability to dis-learn, from ideally just six or seven, or anyway as few encounters as possible (with particular reference to the tendency to invade foreign countries, especially but not exclusively in the Middle East?   (Oh, and Afghanistan.)  And if not, why not?

8. Can you place the following government responses in the standard chronological order of appearance after a disaster inescapably and obviously caused largely by government incompetence or dishonesty or both combined?

(1) Blaming the victims   (2) Congratulating the survivors on their resilience   (3) Promising that the government will take all necessary measures to ensure that such a disaster never happens again  (4) Announcing the launch of an enquiry (to report back ‘early next year’)   (5) Assuring that their thoughts and hearts and profound sympathy go out to those affected and their families (6) Showing how it resulted directly from the policies of the previous government  (7) Guaranteeing that survivors will receive prompt and adequate compensation, where appropriate (on presentation to the committee to be set up in Newcastle upon Tyne to review claims of the evidence of harm or loss, provided that they submit such evidence within six weeks, and can attach satisfactory proof confirmed by a solicitor or barrister that they were at the relevant time properly registered inhabitants of the locality so sadly stricken).

9. How long will it be after the first robot newsreader delivers her initial news presentation (because she will certainly be female) on a public news channel, before some inadequate gets himself 15 minutes of attention in the twittersphere by announcing that he has tweeted ‘her’ a proposal of marriage?

10. Simon (the one who said the fuss over colour of UK passports should be solved now that the UK is supposed to be a diverse society, whatever that means, by making them every colour of the rainbow plus brown, black and white) asks why windmills which have their blades vertically aligned only have them on one side of the structure holding them up.  If he’s right about that, why is it?  Wouldn’t you get twice the power if there were blades on each side?

11. You wouldn’t ask barefoot passers-by for advice on how to make shoes.  Then why expect government to pay any attention to an oppressed underclass (variously known as ‘the poor’, ‘Labour voters outside London’, ‘the oiks’, or ‘the bottom 30%) on how to run the country?  (Sorry Kropotkin!)

12. Which tends to come first, domination over other nations and identifiable minorities, or callous barbarity?

 

 

 

 

MMQQ7 – Flying Fish

Schedule for next regular posting 16 June

Krill    Scientists (who else would it be?) recently discovered that vast swarms of tiny shrimps, with a collective biomass which dwarfs anything that migrating wildebeest or North American bison could ever put into play, are pulsating deep below the surface of the world’s polar oceans.  They flick their tails in such enormous numbers that they have a detectible impact on ocean currents. Scientists believe there is a genuine possibility that a change in their ancestral migrations could lead to a major change in the circulation of oceanic currents, diverting the Gulf Stream for instance, so as to no longer bring mild Caribbean waters flowing to Europe in the winter.  There have been various reactions around the globe.   Representatives of the Munster Winter Sports Association are already in Colorado for discussions about establishing a chain of Irish ski resorts if, as the scientists believe possible, an abrupt halt to the North Atlantic Circulation results in Alpine winters for the Southwest of Ireland.  Whitehall has already received a proposal from a retired British admiral for attempts to ‘train’ the shoals so as to control their movements, on the basis that if a flying goose can bring down an airliner then a marine phenomenon as big as this might cause serious problems to a Russian nuclear submarine.   (The scientists commented that it might be easier to train shrimps than retired admirals, or the dolphins they’d made attempts with earlier.  The dolphins had quickly spotted that the backpacks that were strapped onto their backs were only too likely to have unpleasant effects for themselves whatever else might happen.) (The ‘dolphins’ which patrol up and down the coast of Gaza with a regularity which has attracted the admiration of border security agencies around the world are in fact tiger sharks.  Theresa May is said to have instructed an ad hoc team to investigate whether similar recruits could be incorporated into her programme to control ‘free’ movement after Brexit.)  Meanwhile several fleets of Dutch fishermen are already more than halfway to the poles, followed by support vessels dwarfing mere Med cruise liners, bearing fishing gear that could bring up the Albert Hall if it was down there.                 Tweets from Donald Trump this morning initially declared the existence of these massive swarms to be a dangerous threat to the peaceful passage of shipping in the Gulf, and he blamed Iran for stoking up regional tensions.  It emerged later that the president had confused the Gulf referred to when talking about the ‘Gulf Stream’ with the different Gulf which some of us who took geography in school  have always called the ‘Persian Gulf’ (though according to others it has, even more always, been called the Arabian Gulf.)

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Today’s Voice of Protest (This posting’s contrary voice is that of Professor Sid Karaosmanoglu, Associate Professor of Domestic Sanitation for Block 43 and the ground floor of Block 45 in the City Campus of Bognor Sophia.)  ‘As I see it, all those Windrush people did very well out of our country while they were here, shouldn’t be grumbling.  Besides they weren’t mostly proper British, anyway.  Very few out of them all really hated foreigners, far as I could see.’

             We are interested to hear that in his spare time (every day after 6pm,  and weekends except for alternate Saturdays) Professor Sid is a keen advocate of gender equality.  In particular he feels it is unfair that most major beauty contests still refuse to admit male candidates, including himself.

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Serious stuff   Let me state categorically again that the inhabitants of the UK did NOT vote to leave the EU.  The claim that they did is paired with bizarre twists of the notion of democracy.  Somewhere about the generation of John Stuart Mill, theorists safely detached from close proximity to the conditions of most of the population, purveyed an idea that democracy entailed dealing with a problem (e.g. ‘who shall run the country and how?’) by collecting ideas from all and sundry, setting them before all those who would be affected by the various possible answers, corralling those answers into explicit formulations, and letting the assembled company have simple votes on which would be accepted.  This is a neat way to run your local badminton club, so long as it has no over-ebullient members.  It was distant from the way government was actually run even then, when ‘democracy’ meant a daring revolutionary proposal, that all adult males (provided they were not in prison or members of an unfavoured minority)(race didn’t even come into it ) should be allowed to vote once, every few years, on which small oligarchy should hold power up to and including decisions to send the populace to war, in the next few years.  From small acorns mighty oaks!  Now a population of millions has the virtually useless right to form itself, once every few years, into groups of tens of thousands, which each choose one representative, who can proceed to a second stage where six hundred or so such representatives can decide which tiny group among themselves will actually get their hands on the controls, including decisions to go to war, for the next handful of years.  All this, observed by a moderately rational visitor from an alien star system will (or perhaps, if we but knew, does) have him, her or it gibbering at the various moons whizzing round the night sky.  It doesn’t stop there.  Since hundreds of different issues will face the nation at the time of the ‘election’ and there is only one voting day it cannot in practice be anything more than a popularity poll, and since, throughout, 98% of the electorate have no better chance to assess the candidates than seeing them walking on stage or addressing a carefully managed television audience, or reading – as most do not – the claims and assertions made in the course of hugely expensive and carefully crafted campaigns of political advertising (sorry – I nearly wrote ‘information’ there) the whole shebang has as much similarity to consulting the population on their considered views on the whole range of issues to come up in the next five or six years as Theresa May’s acceptance speech outside No. 10 has to her practice in office (and in earlier years, we now learn).

            The biggest mystery is how great swathes of the population seem to think they believe (sic) that something like the theory is approximately similar to what does happen.  Actually if there are any ways that ideas and desires among the population have any influence on the governing elite, the holding of democratic elections is most certainly not one of them.  Just look at some of those who get into high positions.  (I’d suggest dinner parties in Hampstead, or sharing rooms when fresh out of university or getting born in a well-placed family would all be many times more effective.)  Perhaps someone will defend the system on the grounds that there should be a place for farce in politics.  Certainly it has had  some outlandish political effects.  Macron is acclaimed as the French president now leading Europe.  The elegant French variation on democratic election got him there with a final vote of only about 42.5% of the French electorate, even though he ended up facing a single opponent, who was one of the most unpopular politicians in the country.  As for the Brexit referendum it is recorded in black and white that ‘Leave’ attracted about one third, only, of the adult electorate, voting (as should now be obvious to even those determined to take a view unclouded by objectivity) about a sealed prospectus, with only one factor identified out of many dozens heavily relevant.  But never mind, Britain is a good, respectable, democratic country, so that’s all right then.

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Speculative investment  Experts specialising in intellectual property say that they are seeing manufacturers of their products increasingly shifting their interest to the ‘tried and tested’ side of the market.  Why waste time and money developing new projects when you can simply make a few tweaks to something that has already proved its worth with a public lobotomised by the constant barrage of consumerism, mount a high-powered promotional campaign for your ‘fantastic’ ‘all-new’ whatever-it-is, and carry on adding to the bonus package of your CEO and his board?  But analysts are puzzled by a continuing weakness in the imagination sector.  While certain niche products are holding steady, for instance Japanese manga, the sector as a whole has been in decline since the beginning of the year.  This is despite the  steady flow of new products of this type arriving on the market, with all the promotional publicity you could want (and then a lot more to make sure), about wonderful advances, boasting that – with smartphones for instance – the latest new model has 8% higher pixel density than anything seen before, or it has a ‘uniquely’ curving carapace modelled on ancient Greek pillars on Syros, or it can project a laughing zombie sitting cross-legged front centre of the picture when you let someone use it for a selfie if you don’t tell them how to turn that feature off.  Every week brings new  ‘fantastic ways to lose weight and enhance your endurance while eating three wonderful health-giving meals a day’.  One analyst has suggested that for so long each new idea has so regularly been ‘even more exciting’ than the one before, that customers have come to regard ‘even more exciting’ as equivalent to ‘much the same as the sort of stuff we already know about so let’s just go out for a  pizza tonight’.  (Known to some as the Musk effect.)  Last month for instance, Lui Phoo of the Taiwan Institute of Phrenology announced she had found a way to turn divorced French retirées into animal rights activists, but nobody turned up to the press conference she had arranged.   Willie Storey, a farmer (and footballer) of Cumberland believes that success in sheepdog trials is partly down to telepathy between master (or mistress) and dog, and wants to find out if this discovery can be put to any less practical use, but his appeals for investigators have fallen on deaf ears.  An Illinois student is still appealing for crowdfunding to support him writing a dictionary of the world’s best ideas that nobody has ever yet had.  ($118-50c in 13 months so far.)  At present the decline looks set to continue given the great volume of increasingly poor quality imagination and outright fake imagination, flowing onto the net, simply reproducing effects or images or plotlines taken from Hollywood movies or American novels, or directly from news reports, even though this practice can cause problems of its own.  A well-known author last year lifted what he thought was a news report to put in his collection of fifty one-page stories which won him a ‘New Writing’ award.  It turned out that the ‘news report’ had been run up by a journalist in a hurry to fill a column, reworking a tale she found in a 1935 book, ‘Bedtime Stories for Billy’.  The author is now being sued for plagiarism.

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Apology (Editor writes.) I am fed up with the irritating whines that  news outlets usually give you: ‘My remarks were taken out of context; and there wasn’t really anything wrong anyway, but if there was it wasn’t my fault, and I remember anyway back in 2015 you did something slightly similar which was much, much worse so let’s concentrate on  that then!’  By comparison with that sort of crap one might almost respect – no, not really – the bare-faced effrontery of what might be called  the papal gambit.  Two or three popes ago one of them, the one who used to be in the SS, upset large chunks of such of the world’s population as pay any attention to him, by some outrageous remark, and when asked to apologise announced that he was sorry that those who had heard him had got themselves in a lather about it.  Enough of these fraudsters: We sincerely apologise to Lady Margaret Hall for our mistaken report that LMH had any hand in the education of Theresa May.  Our fault for not checking.

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Isn’t it time we heard the report from the OPCW, the initial report that is, not the one to come out about Douma?  Or didn’t it come out the way that Theresa wanted?  And by the way, isn’t it time there was a message from the Skriepal woman (not just a message from the Met saying they were speaking on her behalf.  British procedures are supposed to be a bit above the level of small Third-world dictatorships.)

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Mahathir back after fourteen years taking it easy.  If it really is Mahathir.  But how could he have teeth like that at 92?  Or is it a body-double?  If it is really Mahathir, a worrying thought looms – Bersluconi is only 81.

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Green – the colour of unripe governments

  1. Intern wanted               
  2. Irish border        
  3. The Guradian
  4. Political boomerangs
  5. Spermatozoa fairly straight

       Next posting scheduled for 1-10-2017


Wanted as soon as possible: new intern for this site.  Residence on the island is not necessary, and no suitable accommodation is available (and in case some might think they could rough it in picturesque squalor the dog basket was thrown out long ago).  The post is unpaid.  It follows that no office duties are asked for.  We want someone capable of independent thought and imagination, but also able to write good English (or French) and to keep reasonable control on schedules and deadlines.  Ability to translate Microsoft jargon into comprehensible English would be a prime asset.  This is a chance to put things out with your own byline.  Any age, any colour, any gender, any ethnic group.  Apply in the usual way (or direct).  Berthold F-C at the University will probably be willing to give some unbiassed advice.

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From our senior contributor Montgomery Skew

Let us give credit to the soaring imagination of the May government which has effortlessly tossed a solution to the Irish border problem into the lap of the open-mouthed EU negotiators.  Government representatives are predicting, with gritted teeth (behind a fake smile of confidence), that following Britain’s triumphal exit from the fetters of union with Europe, trade and traffic between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be able to  proceed as smoothly as before and ever more profitably.  This on the basis of masterful decisions made to take advantage of possibilities hitherto undreamt of in the efficient organisation of commerce.  Major businesses concerned with trade across the reinvigorated yet somehow frictionless frontier will register all the vehicles they will use, and pre-pay all tariffs and other charges required by British and European rules but will do so online through deductions from designated accounts.  They will inform the authorities in advance of their intention to make a shipment on each occasion, giving details of its date and contents, and thus do away with delays for inspection at the frontier, while the payment will already have been fully dealt with before the cargo reaches its destination (provided there is no computer glitch or interruption to the internet service).  Automatic number-plate recognition technology will have securely confirmed passage of the vehicle (provided there has been no unplanned problem with the transit and no jiggery-pokery with switching of plates).  Smaller local firms and their drivers will also have to be registered but will be allowed to cross without online notification and without deduction of any charges whatever.  (The unlikely event of an unauthorised driver using a locally registered vehicle to carry goods of his own choice across the ‘invisible’ frontier is to be dealt with by using facial recognition technology; drivers of all local vehicles will wind down their windows and show their faces to a camera at a pre-arranged point as they drive past.)  Officials conceded that an even more unlikely event, of an authorised driver carrying illegal substances or unauthorised persons such as refugees or escaping convicts over the frontier might in principle need to be considered at some future point, but believe that such incidents would be very rare.  They remain confident that with new advances in heat-seeking technology and other promising scientific developments this eventuality could be dealt with without difficulty, and they assure those interested that as a whole this ‘high tech’ plan for a frictionless border will satisfactorily meet all conceivable regulatory requirements (and crossing the border by any other means, such as walking across the fields by night or swimming a few miles through coastal waters towing a laden surfboard, would be made a criminal offence).  Thus virtually at a stroke the British government has discovered the way to put an end to the age-old, worldwide crime of smuggling.  London is doubtless already preparing a package demonstrating the UK’s superior know-how when it comes to sociopolitical governance, to be made available on very reasonable terms to governments around the world, possibly as part of a two-part offering also setting out the ‘Hinkley Model’, a compilation of advice on how to develop safe, cheap and non-polluting nuclear power.

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The Editor writes: In one of the more remote regions on my Mediterranean holiday I was reduced to reading old copies of the Guardian.  Always sad when a onetime sprightly defender of justice and fair play enters on the irreversible decline, All the effort they evidently put in on getting rid of the typos and the overbalancing ultra-left tirades seems to have been effort subtracted from the business of clearly presenting orderly thought to readers, in proper English (along with maintaining a sharp understanding of the world as seen outside the one-way glass bubble of London politics).  Herewith a short representative paragraph from August.  I make no criticism of DiNicolantonio or MacGregor, only of the journalistic presentation.  It should not be necessary to have to go to original sources for what a newspaper is purporting to expound.

DiNicolantonio also claims that we lose too much salt 1 when we exercise or sweat in heatwaves.  MacGregor says that is not so 2.  “There was a very good experiment 3 with the SAS, parachuted into a desert 4 which found they needed quite a low 5 salt intake.  If you have a higher 6 salt intake it is more dangerous.  They had to carry more water with them because of thirst. 7” he said.

 [1] ‘too much’ for what?

[2] ‘Not so’.  I.e. salt is lost but no threat to life?  Or no loss of efficiency?  Short-term or long-term?

[3]  ‘Very good’ I.e ‘very efficiently conducted’?  Or ‘strongly favourable to the lower-salt case’?

[4]  ‘A desert’.  Which one, under what meteorological conditions, to undertake what activity?  Very variable factors with enormous influence on the results to be expected.

[5]  ‘Quite a low’.  By comparison with what might be expected in those conditions? (See footnotes 2 and 4 combined)

[6]  ‘More dangerous’ than what?  And by the standard of normal human use?  Or referring to SAS in the unidentified desert?

[7]  Relation to previous statement obscure.  Extra water to deal with thirst unconnected with salt loss?  But in that case how does this thirst factor interact with the need for salt intake?

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Monty has also kindly passed us a piece from another inhabitant of Whitehall (an EU citizen) who wishes to remain anonymous

Even though I have no political commentator’s licence valid for the UK   and no moral or passport-certified right to be personally concerned (for which I give fervent thanks), the UK is a constantly bubbling source (like that mud volcano in Indonesia) of unconscious political comedy, richly endowed with thinktank support teams able to believe almost any political nonsense so long as it is their political nonsense, while elbowing contradictory facts aside.  If all the energy put into GDP (Gross Domestic Pontification) could somehow be converted into electricity the UK’s future could be bright.  But perhaps some of them are feeling the strain; as there has been a noticeable increase in the proportion of labour-saving boomerang policies recently.  Boomerang policies and promises are simply pulled out of storage and thrown at the populace when there is no other immediately obvious issue that can be worked up into a scandal or crisis.  Unlike other political projectiles, for instance replies to parliamentary questions, they normally spend an appreciable time spinning around in the public arena, attracting attention and perhaps – if launched by a skilled performer – inflicting some damage on a chosen target, before returning and being locked securely away, ready for use at the next suitable opportunity.  Of course some of them crash and are trampled under foot never to return but there are two other outcomes: first, promises which come back unbroken and can cause significant injury to the career of clumsy politicians not agile enough to catch them in time. or at least to get out of the way.  But, occasionally, a truly talented operator may be able to seize one, quickly wipe off the metaphorical blood and bird feathers and launch it in a fresh direction of his or her choosing to perform impressive aerobatics over the (possibly) enthralled crowds watching.  Naturally a certain amount depends on the material and construction of the policy itself, and most Departments have teams constantly engaged in experiments to see what designs and what ballistic techniques might produce the most spectacular results.  One fine example of a boomerang policy is the proposal to cut net immigration to Britain.  This was originally launched by Tories though from time to time other hands have seized it in attempts to provide their own aerial entertainment.  But of course the most famous example is the promise of ‘a major house-building programme to build new affordable homes in sufficient numbers’ which has been spinning over the heads of the electorate in one manoeuvre or another at almost every election season since far back in the previous century.

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   obtainable from the British Library, 96 Euston Road; submit a sample of at least twenty thousand words of recent work together with the fee of £540 and a full waiver of relevant copyright

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Spermatozoa, fairly straight

Several reports from different parts of the world have all noted massive reductions over the past 40 years in human production of healthy sperm with astonishingly large declines of up to 60% or even more.  The situation as earlier reported varied geographically, with very big reductions in North America, Europe, and Australia, but not in Asia, Africa, and South America.  Predictably social media spawned speculation about ‘white races’, though if you take a really careful look at the social and ethnic data you would probably be on surer ground if you claimed a correlation between speaking English and the decline in sperm count.  However this is in fact a red (or ‘white’ ?) herring since the decline has been even more impressive in China where there is good evidence based on data from army recruits.  There, studies show a decline in healthy sperm of between 80% and 70% between 2001 and 2015.  There’s also been a giddying decline in Iran, where (as many outside America will know) it is only a relatively small (and privileged) layer of the population with whom archetypal ‘white nationalists’ would consent to feel comfortable, if they ever met one of them.  However over similar time periods, there have been dramatic increases worldwide in the incidence of asthma – e.g. in Canada an increase greater than threefold between 1979 and 2004 – and also in the incidence of allergies.  In France (where by the way the ratio of good quality sperm reportedly dropped by – not ‘to’ – 60% in 40 years) there has a doubling of asthma in less than thirty years and, reportedly, a ten-fold increase in children’s allergies.  Researchers have indicated a variety of possible causes including obesity, ‘modern lifestyle’ (so vague as to be more or less useless); air pollution, lack of exercise, plastic (especially bisphenol A) in the environment, and exposure of immature minds to pornography (plus of course global warming).  Very puzzlingly the lists of suggestions nearly always omit another factor which co-incides rather strikingly as far as broad chronology is concerned: greatly increased exposure to electromagnetic radiation generated by human sources, which started to become significant around 1960, and has become more intense in the past two decades.  An authoritative book on the effects of electromagnetism on biological systems published some years ago by a highly respected scientist, has the title Crosscurrents (O.Becker, published 1990, isbn 0-87477-536-1).  It is up to readers whether they want to find out more.  But perhaps it is rather early yet to start investing heavily in companies aiming to produce electric cars for all by 2040.

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Science News It is reported that scientists working for a major commercial organisation in the US have isolated the integrity gene, and have begun experiments on how it can be disabled

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Getting things the wrong way round

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

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

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

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(Monty Skew and Karela Hangshaw writing jointly)

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

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

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Observation

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

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

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

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

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Let’s recognise some true worth

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

Shapes dimly seen through the fog of news

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems in biology; no.118

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

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

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

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

 

Who needs political realism?

[Next in schedule: 15-9-2016]

1) Printing governments       2) Corbyn and Owen

3) Faits divers                       4) How to win a war without having one

. We are often entertained by readers’ letters.  Actually they’re readers’ e-mails, but language should preserve its relics of the past, with e.g. ocean liners ‘sailing’ instead of ‘driving off’.  (Did you know that 150 years ago ‘car’ was a poetic word, describing the sort of flying chariot that fairy queens could zoom around in, on their way to turn unpleasant princes into charming and amusing frogs?  Then capitalism (transport division, subsection advertising) got hold of it and see what has happened to the public landscape since.)   But in this office we were dismayed to get two letters showing that the news about the talented Printapoly group and their 3D-printed governments (10-7-2016) had been misunderstood as referring to some kind of dummies (in the tailor’s sense, not speaking of individuals who put their money into hedge funds).  Far from it.  These are fully functioning ministerial sets, conceived by the printers primarily as potential emergency replacements in case of national disasters or insensate nuclear war, but possibly, until then, sponsored by the UN as demonstration models taking part in high tech public performances to show how government can be done .  As previously mentioned each minister comes with a guaranteed IQ of at least 100. Their language capacity is international English achieved by modelling their brain structures on a meticulous nanoscale averaging of the brains of a thousand volunteers living in the Cambridge area and a thousand randomly selected passers-by in Camden Market, while the inbuilt knowledge of geography and history results from a scan of the past 300 monthly copies of the Reader’s Digest. Each minister comes with a no-corruption warranty, valid for three weeks from date of sale.  The group insist that these sets will all have governance competence at least equal to that of any elected government in office throughout the world.  It appears though that many potential customers have not realised what a bargain is on offer; only three sets have so far been sold, all privately, one to a businessman in the northwestern US, and both the other two to an African president who has apparently insisted on the strictest anonymity. 

            Having carried this project through to success, the team’s next target is to print synthetic beer.  “After the governments, that should be a doddle.  Ready next Friday, I’d guess,” said one elderly material scientist.  “All we have to do basically is a laser microanalysis of the necessary ingredients present in the final product, quite a complex business of course if you were trying to do it the traditional way, then print the stuff up in powder form, and distribute in plastic bags, and for smartphone generation customers we’ll stick on labels telling them how to add water.  Thanks to the government’s strange beliefs about psychoactive substances it’s going to be the only seriously profitable white powder that can be distributed without being illegal.”

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Beating the Conundrum  There have been calls from some members of the British parliamentary Labour Party for a shift to more centrist policies, with a view to gaining power.  This prompts two types of outrage, one concerning ideals, the other practicality.  Ideals): This amounts to shoving a custard pie into the face of democracy and then stuffing the fragments down inside democracy’s teeshirt.   The idea of democracy was supposed to be that you came up with neat ideas for how to organise things better and other people came up with different neat ideas, and then you would run them all before the whole population (excluding women and slaves, if you happened to be working on the much admired original ancient Greek system) to see which the wisdom of the people selected as less likely to lead to discontent, bankruptcy, or civil insanity.  That still is the idea of democracy , even if some people want to use the same name for ‘adjusting your principles and policies to whatever gives the best chance of getting your hands on the levers of power’.  Of course they will say “It’s only with a view to getting into power so we can then do what we really want”  (which is exactly the spiel of the more skilful dictators mounting a coup d’état as they address their fellow plotters).  No further comment at this time.  B): Practicalities:  Love a goose!  Do you think the Tories were voted in because the electorate thought they were fascist beasts?  (This is not to get into the question of whether some of them actually are fascist beasts.)  The electorate thinks the Tories are  the political centre.  There are so many of them (in Parliament where the news reports are based) that even without adding in the cryptoTories on the Labour benches they spill over and cover the centre line.  Everybody else counts as ‘minority’.  (Sorry Scotnats; I know it’s not fair, but anyway you haven’t got long to wait.)  If Labour trumpets that it’s shifting to the centre ground, the great British electorate will just shrug and ask why they should vote for a bunch of second-rate Tories when they could vote for the real thing (or stay home and watch the election on telly).  The only way out for Labour is to stick to your real principles, lose the next election, but get all those hundreds of thousands of members to actually turn up at meetings, speak up for real humane treatment of human beings (especially of people who do the actual work), get them writing to people with political influence, and point out again and again the failures and shameful inequalities and injustices that are imposed on the mass of people who are always too short of money, time and energy to fight back (a national disgrace and dishonour to the phrase ‘British values’).

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Transport news In a world first, Singapore has launched a scheme of driverless taxis which can be summoned online.  At first it will only operate in a fairly small central area.  This being Singapore the taxis will not only take you to your destination but will also tell you where you want to go.

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Answers to readers’ queries (no.1764)  ‘How will the EU’s new scheme for reducing the number of immigrants to the EU from Asia and Africa work?’   (Slobodan Petchwitt, Cologne-sur-mer)  This is the easiest query we’ve had since no. 1211, and can be quickly dealt with.)  It won’t.

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Latest news

The new organisation for feminist activist journalists is to call itself the Medea Group

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Latest rumours  It is not often that one hears of a dissident group in Nato.  After all it is a military organisation and no general wants to be remembered as the one who was put up against a wall for suggesting that they could try negotiating a peace deal with the enemy (whoever that might be, have been, be going to be, or seem to be) or some other such bizarre lunacy.  However, words can be caught faintly on the airflow from the giant air-conditioning outlets suggesting that there is indeed a dissident group in Nato, trying to push some very eccentric views.  While of course they fully support the view, accepted by all who receive their opinions from reputable sources, that the world’s democracies would greatly benefit from a stiffening of  the military backbone, such as is provided by a good war or a damned close whites-of-the-eyes prospect of one, they suggest that both costs and efficiency could be better handled by a radically new strategy.  They argue first against stirring up military tensions with the Russians (who could almost certainly annihilate all human life on the planet if caught in a bad mood on an off-day, but who on the other hand have shown surprisingly little inclination to do much except pull back since 1990), but they argue also against Plan B (establishing China as Son of Evil Empire and elbowing the same out of the South China Sea, hereinafter to be known as the Southeast Asian Basin).   Instead they advocate a modern high-tech approach with a world-class cybercampaign to be pursued in co-operation with our allies, to gain full-hearted allegiance of the whole planet by planting unclear but highly alarming stories worldwide about a deeply threatening situation in central Africa – or perhaps central South America (most even among the tiny minority who read or watch that sort of news these days will not be very sure of the difference anyway) – involving a highly dangerous rogue state run by a ruthless dictator/criminal régime with enormous wealth acquired through trafficking drugs and refugees, illegal mining of gold and diamonds, driving out inhabitants, and seizing their wealth, etc; all the usual.  War games could then be staged in some suitable location with a bit of desert, a few mountains but above all massive impenetrable forests (perhaps again central Africa or South America), with suitably garbled reports emerging, adjusted to suggest that actual heavy warfare is going on and could be threatening your country (whichever it might be) within 45 minutes; except of course that technology has advanced so far so fast that it might well be possible to arrange for some loyal and reliable company in Silicon Valley to produce large quantities of footage as needed without involving any real weaponry or personnel at all unless useful for training purposes.  Apparently the eccentric group is working on the premise that populations almost always believe events to be what is reported rather than what actually happens and as evidence they point to the fact that even in New York, one of the best informed cities in the world, and the one where the events took place, it needed little more than a year – with no special efforts on the part of the government – for the majority of the public to believe that Saddam was behind 9-11.  The enormous financial savings that would accumulate with such a strategy could no doubt be spent in various agreeable ways, as well as on further research on weapons of the future, which could have the happy result of enhancing the alliance’s military potential so greatly that there would not even be any need to strive for further military superiority over the enemy (whoever that might then be, or be going to be, or seem to be) and might instead be a secure basis for development of interplanetary (or even interstellar?) travel so as to extend the space in which the alliance’s writ would run.  What could be a more appealing prospect?

 

 

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

Self-interest

Monty Skew writes:

The next President?  Absolutely straightforward except for the complications.  If Clinton picks Sanders for her Veep (which she should because he has huge support from a large block of idealistic voters who would vote for a ticket with him but won’t vote gladly for anyone else) she will win.

    But she won’t pick Sanders because she is an old Washington professional who knows how these things are done.  Therefore she will pick an obscure middle-ranking middle-aged (but well-dressed) male politician nobody has ever heard of.  And anyway…

    …if she does pick Sanders, (which she should because….[etc]) he will turn her down as incompatible with his burning desire to bring a new spirit of honesty and justice to American politics.

   If she picks a woman?  Just check how women have fared when they got near a presidential campaign in the US, from Ferraro onwards (nothing to do with personal merit by the way).  Even Hillary’s judgement can’t be that dumb.

    Therefore it depends who Trump picks.  If he picks a man he will lose.  If he picks a competent woman who is ideologically incompatible with him (Carly, why ever?!  Just two more days could have been enough!), he will win.

    Just one thought though.  Suppose Bernie is just so ornery different that he decides to run as an independent Vice-candidate?  ‘Run’ may be the wrong word – he could walk it.

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Berthold takes up the torch

It is unsurprising my colleague writes of the Vice-Presidency.  Once the easy reportage that comes with the presidential primaries is finished, the automatic reaction of political hacks is to keep the ball rolling smoothly with long insight-free articles about possible candidates for V-P.   Interesting topics like ‘Why does the vote have to be on a three-legged race?’ or ‘How can we avoid finishing up with V-Ps who have to be thrown out of the White House on grounds of bribery, corruption and tax fraud?’ seem to be a bit too hard for them.  Once the V-P is in office, anyway, he will be just a figurehead sitting in comfort on the poop (for American readers I should explain that this is a nautical expression), unless he is Dick Cheney (allegedly the only self-appointed Vice-President).  It wildly overstates the case to speak of a V-P being just a breath away from the Oval Office.  The life-expectancy of American Presidents in office has historically been better than the average for men of their age, despite the repeated evidence of an unconscious national urge to speed up the input of fresh ideas and policies at the top political level by means of the input of lethal weaponry.  In fact, quite generally being a head of state is one of the best life assurance policies one could have (as opposed to life insurance, which of course pays out on death of the insured).  Although it is not often publicly mentioned there is a well-established international agreement about this.  It is not actually a law but unlike all other international agreements it is almost never broken.  When difficulties arise between states all means to resolve them up to and including war are in practice accepted as understandable and often eagerly urged on by rabble-rousers with axes to grind.  There is one step forbidden, however.  Governments must not dispose of the difficulties by assassinating the head of the opposing state.  This  move is known as the Express Exit , often referred to in intelligence services as the XX  play.  The reasons why the prohibition is almost universally accepted are obvious.  Hitler is the last national leader who is reasonably believed to have broken the rule, having personally ordered the poisoning of Boris of Bulgaria in 1943.  In the reverse geopolitical direction Churchill explicitly ruled out any such action to get rid of Hitler.  The XX taboo is perhaps part of the reason for the carefree smile regularly seen in photographs of Kim Jong-Un.  The names of  Qaddafi and Arafat have been raised as possibly the subjects, or objects, of recent breaches of the rule, but there is at present no general public agreement among specialists as to whether there was actual direct involvement of the hostile governments in their deaths.

            Some enthusiasts believe that the XX taboo  should be respected and acknowledged as one of the few visible fragments showing that humanity aspires to a framework of international law.  Relatives of the hundreds of thousands killed in the Syrian civil war and surviving amputees from that conflict disagree.

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Editorial comment

Mention of Berthold taking up the torch brings to mind the recent arrival of the so-called Olympic torch (apparently for most of its journey it is in reality a small portable gas-powered firelighter) in Brazil, delayed for ninety minutes until an official could be found to authorise the airport’s financial office to waive the usual fee to pay import duty.  The most puzzling feature of its travels before reaching Brazil was why there were any such travels at all.  If for instance the French government took one of the many locks of Napoleon’s hair which they possess by virtue of their responsibility for the nation’s museums, and enclosed it in a small metal canister, sending it on a similar journey, would hundreds turn out to see it pass each town on the route?  Somewhere between starting and ending that question I notice that my potential answer changed from a supercilious negative to a dismayed positive.  But what possible benefit could there be for the spectators?  What disorder of the human set of metabolic and psychological motives?  And is there a link with the baffling impulse that drives crowds of men into remote country areas where they can stand for hours watching other men, with almost none of whom they have any personal link, trying to use sticks of various kinds to knock  small balls into a hole in the grass? Perhaps some university that feels it suffers from a publicity deficit might like to try arranging for various receptacles said to contain curios of one sort or another (‘pen that signed the death warrant of Dr Crippen’, ‘toe of carnivorous frog’, ‘coin dropped from alien spacecraft’) to be despatched on locally advertised ‘celebratory circuits’ through forty or fifty towns and villages in a number of different countries, possibly selected on the basis of assumed differences in their scepticism quotients, to see what crowds would assemble, and in what frame of mind.  If nothing else, the experiment could yield valuable information for any who subsequently have to engage in diplomatic or ‘free trade’ negotiations with the countries concerned.

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Beyond selfishness: A joint statement

With one exception we the undersigned are all migrants, now living in a jurisdiction other than the one where we were born and brought up.  The exception, our intern, is the daughter of migrants and all four of her grandparents were also migrants.  Three of us also have personal links to Australia.  We unite to express our disgust and contempt for the Australian government’s attitude to would-be immigrants.  We see it as a shameful disinterment of the xenophobia and racial prejudice which for so many years produced the ‘whites only’ policy.  Now, there is a case for asking the Australian government to up its game for the sake of its own self-interest.  Maybe memories in Aussie politics are too short to remember how well the country has done out of Vietnamese immigration.  But common sense ought to tell this government that the arrival of a few thousands or tens of thousands could be a very good move for a nation of 23 millions inhabiting a very thinly populated country, in a region where not so far away there are many hundreds of millions living at levels of subsistence far below what most Australians would indignantly reject.  However, we believe there are minimal moral standards to be met first, before we go into the cost-benefit analysis.  Any half-informed inhabitant of Canberra must know about the oppression, imprisonment, and deprivation, on a massive scale, in the countries from which these determined, resourceful and tough migrants (many of them well educated) escape, and might well consider these are just the kind of people Australia needs – just the kind of people in fact that it believes many of its recent immigrants (two and three and four generations back and mostly from countries they didn’t need to emigrate from) to have been.  When an individual middle-class family refuses to share any of its good fortune with others less fortunate, most will say they are mean-mindedly failing the standards we expect from civilised human beings and shamefully selfish.  When a country – the ‘Lucky Country’ – as fortunate and rich as Australia, with all its resources, arrests desperate would-be immigrants on the high seas outside territorial waters, forcibly takes them to places they do not wish to go, and detains them there indefinitely without legal charge in abominable conditions, then you have not merely what appear to be serious crimes requiring urgent investigation, but also the reason why here we have headed our statement Beyond selfishness.   We call on the Australian government to live up to its claimed ideals and return to civilised standards immediately.

Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems; Dr Karela Hangshaw; Costas Pheidakis; Montgomery Skew; Maud Timoshenko; the Editor