Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: government

Examination Paper CID4U

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th  August


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?





Doing the usual, and the unusual

Next scheduled for 15-10-2016

1) British values                     2) Brain-fracking

3) How parties collapse          4) The French body

We are both delighted and neurotically tense.  Manos is back.  He arrived the same way that he turned up the first time, only this time the craft was a full eighty feet long, gleaming white, and attracted quite a crowd to watch it manoeuvre into a visitor’s mooring.  More on Manos next time. 


British values  Use your 3D printer to make a figurine to represent the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the warm-hearted British government has announced it is going to help, in 2020. (‘2020’ is a common expression in the hard-to-understand governmental dialect of British English, and all the more difficult because many officials pronounce it as ‘2025’.  Its meaning is ‘probably never’.)  The aim is apparently to help refugees by moving them from a refugee camp in one of the countries bordering Syria, to a different refugee camp in a country bordering Syria.  This may cost a lot of money, even if it never actually gets done, but is eloquent testimony to the generous ideals of the United Kingdom.  Then find a jobbing sculptor and get him or her  to make a statue preferably in granite to represent the people of Great Britain, on the same scale.  If your figurine is one millimetre high, the statue to represent the British population will be ten feet high.


Brain-fracking.  Leaders of many sectors of European business held a one-day meeting in Zürich to denounce the increasing number of students, indulging in the craze for brain-fracking.  The idea is basically simple.  Just as fracking for oil involves pumping unusual mixtures of strange substances under high pressure into geological layers under the ground, hoping that something profitable will come bubbling up, so with brain-fracking students aim to pump as many unfamiliar social, mental, and psychological experiences as possible into their subconscious as fast as possible, so as not to let the normal reactions of the conscious mind have time to obliterate the raw edges of each new stimulus and force it to conform to conventional thought patterns.  “Bit like mixin’ a cocktail with a dozen different sorts in it.  No good if you take each one separate, gotta shake them up like fury, then you get sumpfing really weird coming out.  Quite different from injectin’ or swallowing stuff.  Like three circuses all runnin’ in the same tent, an’ you can’t stop havin’ these brilliant ideas keep bustin’ out, keeps goin’ all next day too,” says Khadija Shigemitsu a nineteen-year-old blonde.   At first there was no set framework, but now there is a fairly standard format, 12 experiences in six hours, so there can be need for quite a lot of advance planning, making appointments and checking transport links.  For instance, Kev, Khadija’s brother, is aiming on Friday to start with a chicken vindaloo at 3.00pm, going on at 3.30 to the first lesson in a course for learning spoken Mongolian;  after that a friend will meet him with overalls and a bucket and he will spend half an hour voluntarily cleaning a public toilet, where he will then change into a yellow jump suit the friend has also brought and spend half an hour jogging round Piccadilly.  After that there should be paddling with an inflatable dolphin in the Serpentine, being filmed picking a fight with a dog in Green Park, a quick change into a burqa for the walk over to the University where a graduate tutor will spend half an hour trying to get him to understand some of Kant’s Prolegomena to any future metaphysics, then to the Queen Agnes Insect Petting Zoo (‘Get Cosy and Comfortable with a Cockroach’); after that, round the corner to one of London’s last Chinese laundries still working (for tourists)  which for a small fee has agreed to let him spend half an hour laundering.  At 8.00 pm he is to attend an English Defence League meeting trying not to cause a riot though allowed to join in if it seems necessary for self-defence, and (a sensible bit of planning here) the sequence is to end with him going (perhaps at a brisk sprint?) to the nearby police station where he has to try to make the desk sergeant accept a report about a man dropping litter (a cigarette butt).  But business leaders across Europe, especially in the ‘creative’ industries, advertising and financial investment and the like, are asking for brain-fracking to be banned forthwith.  ‘Turnover and profit margins are in a nosedive.  It is an outrage that we can spend years charging top dollar for our extremely valuable contributions to the imaginative industries and suddenly front rank potential customers can simply walk into some club or bar in London and get all the ideas they want free from some young person who slept last night on a friend’s sofa and never heard of Martin Sorrell or Goldman Sachs in their life.’


Monty Skew writes: A Common Misconception. The word ‘party’ in its political uses is widely believed to refer to groups of people, usually large, and usually united by their dislike of some other groups, but allegedly also by genetic inheritance from parents and grandparents, and more weakly linked by agreement on a number of policies for which they are willing to speak or act.  Historically this was in fact the original meaning of the word as democratic or pseudo-democratic systems gradually evolved from the earlier monarchies, but current usage is almost diametrically opposed to this value as a result of natural social processes.  (It now usually designates a large political group fraught with internal dissent and unpopular within its own country, run by a cabal with policies at odds with its earlier principles; e.g. PS in France, Tories and Labour in UK, CDU in Germany, PP in Spain.)  The reasons are the following.  Within the large group the most active (or ambitious) tend to take on positions of authority – e.g. as members of a parliament or of a committee directing affairs for the group as a whole, and this inner cohort, necessarily tiny in proportion to the whole, almost always come to see themselves as being the party, and their formulations of party policy as being ‘the’ correct ones.  This can be de facto the actual situation in totalitarian states if parties continue to exist, since ordinary citizens keep as far away from politics as they can, but is considered bad form in countries that purport to be democracies.  If no way is found in the latter to check the backward lurch towards rule by the equivalent of unelected kings and barons, contrary to the views which ordinary members of the national party still hold, disaster will sooner or later follow.  Disaster will be accelerated thanks to the media for two reasons.  First because both the media headquarters and the inner élites of parties will naturally tend to be sited in the same city or region, and so by normal social interaction the former will tend to get their reports from the latter (and those in the latter will tend to get their political views from one another regardless of party membership).  Second, because media sales, and media workers’ temperatures both rise when disaster is on the menu.  (Notice how groupuscules all over Europe have been turning into large-scale political movements in the past fifteen years, but this only gets much attention when it results in structural damage to established big players.)  (If you want to see how this can turn out in the long run consult any reputable history of the Soviet Union 1917-1953.)


From Dr.Philipp.  From long personal acquaintance with him I can assure all readers that his unexpected decision to leave Corsica and to spend the next two months in the Bahamas is in no way connected with any of the numerous sagas of impropriety which have been holding readers of French financial news reports enthralled for a good decade now.

            In the few very agreeable days I spent at Palombaggia I could not help being deeply impressed by the athletic bodies taking various forms of exercise on the beach.  Classic Greek for the men, but the girls even better than classic Greek (because the prosperous young ladies of good birth in ancient Greece who were thought to have the ideal female form did  not get enough exercise.  Flabby.)  But the paragons in Corsica have honed their shapes to ne plus ultra perfection.  It took me back to my teenage years when I could not walk along Universitätsring without passing at least three women I wanted to marry immediately.  But as I was drying off after a brisk two-hour swim I reflected on the physiological crisis looming before France. It has become the fashion in France to take up what they think is serious exercise.  Even as I was here a survey announced that one in four, no less, of the population regularly does running.  (You and I would say jogging.)  Film stars and models fill the media with their nonsense, as they confide their innermost secrets to the world, quatsching about the surge of strength and well-being that they experience after exercise.  This is dangerous for the nation.  France is like a great raft built of ill-fitting parts joined together with elastic bands and sticky tape and paper clips which are already coming loose as it whirls around the outer curves of a giant whirlpool.  Unemployment still heading upward after five years, repeated mass street protests against government measures imposed without parliamentary approval, the menace of terrorism  alongside flagrant police bavures, 80,000 homeless in Ile de France alone (and 10% of those with a higher education diploma), presidential candidates by the dozen, a government thumbing its nose at EU rules on national budgets, and the current president suffering from fantasies of re-election are all chasing one another round and round and down into the depths beneath the spiral.  The poor wretches at Calais are not struggling to get to Britain, they are struggling to leave France.  If the minority who have so far carried their own burdens and kept the country going now start to spend their remaining energies on the unfamiliar burden of regular exercise the country is doomed.  The bulk of the population (and although they are not as obese as you Irish, ‘bulk’ is the right word) did not have a rigorous upbringing as did you and I.  It is true that their bodies without a background of years of hard training will benefit from this ‘craze’ for the first few weeks.  But after, the demand on their bodily resources will have its effect.  Absence from work will steadily increase.  Patients will crowd the hospitals with their back problems and mental strains, and will not be able to go to work even if there is any to go to.  But nine months after that you will see the biggest result of their exhaustion, the proof that their exercises of the night have not stood the strain.  The birth rate will collapse.  Shortage of French babies.  Even as immigrants from all over the world continue to arrive.  How will Madame La Présidente handle that?


What you may learn, what you should learn, and what you don’t learn

Editorial note: This journal will now go off line for the remainder of the year, and would-be contributors can save themselves the trouble.  How they fill in their time is not my business, though it would do no harm if some of them were to attempt some improvement in their English and – my word, is it necessary to say this! – their spelling.  The publications may resume on 5th January, although this is not guaranteed, since it is as yet uncertain how much time may be taken in the disposal of my bonus.

If any barbarians are thinking of galloping to Brussels to lay waste european civilisation, they can save themselves the trouble.  The European Commission is there already.  As an example of what they can get up to, take the attitude to education.  In her policy priorities for the next five years given on the Commission’s website the Commissioner gave broad policy guidelines, and goals.  As the first of the broad policy guidelines she offered ‘improving skills and access to education and training, focusing on market needs’.   And specifically on the topic of education, her three first priorities are to (a) help Europe compete globally; (b) equip the young for today’s job market; (c) address the consequences of the economic crisis.

   If you have just read the previous two sentences you may need to have it confirmed that we are talking about the policy statement of a Commissioner for education!  Let us hope that some 450 million citizens will say clearly and loudly that they want a great deal more than that to be listed among the priorities for the education of the next generation.  The next generation exists not merely as a money-making machine for the European Union; they exist as people, and they, and their parents, have every right to insist that they should be as fully developed in their human potential, and in the capacities for contributing to a better life (not interpreting ‘better’ in the disgracefully narrow sense of ‘with more figures written in black on the balance sheet) as possible.

   In any case, we can be sure that any approach to education along the lines so remarkably stated above is highly likely to be an expensive mistake.  There is a well-justified belief that most generals develop great expertise in how to fight the last war.  In commerce and economics, too, ‘market needs’ change.  One need that is highly likely to shrink is the need for workers.  Indeed we are already seeing this as one factor in the high levels of unemployment in western economies.  First automation, and then computerisation have meant that factories can now be staffed with a handful of technicians where once they required hundreds of manual workers.  (The rejoinder is often made that the technical development leads to overall increase in the size of the economy.  This looks like ideological bluster since there is a severe shortage of evidence that the loss to society of those jobs has been a causal factor in the economic development that will have been taking place anyway.)  The sudden recent take-off of 3-D printing bids fair to accelerate the process.  Imagination, or social inertia, may have fitted a ball and chain to it in the west, but do not bank on this being the case in the new rich emerging nations.  After all the breadth of the market in what can be bought from a card-reading machine in Japan (up, or rather down, to second-hand girl’s knickers) amazes visitors.  And after 3-D printing, what next?  We cannot predict, because the full possibilities of the next new technology are not there in the past, for all that its precursors are.  In any case, even if there is a need to develop drone workers, why waste the rich European educational tradition on producing them?  There seems from a cynical point of view an odd lack of fit with the general determination to resist unskilled immigration (or rather immigrants who lack printed qualifications).

   And just another point, Leonardo not only failed to get an education focusing on market needs to equip him for the job market, he never went to university; he simply had the schooling of an ordinary village boy, and not a very intensive one at that.

Hooke Landsknecht



In the old days subliminal advertising was a matter of inserting an image or slogan, not chosen on the basis of any particularly perspicacious advice, and exposing it for a twentieth of a second or so in the transmission of a film or television broadcast.  Are we really to suppose that in this field, in the years since those fumbling efforts, there has been no government research and no further technical development?  Perhaps now far more persuasive messages – or commands – are being passed, with far greater care in their placement, and with far greater strength.  Could this be of relevance to the increasing uniformity, in the view of some people, of any given country’s public opinion?

Douglas Parode



Does the Tea Party’s foreign policy group feel that American westward policy should pivot around India or China?  I think we should be told.

Raziq Silversmith



I gather that the Olympics bigwigs are puzzling over what new sports to incorporate into their festive jollities, to increase public interest (and boost the takings, dare one say?).  I personally would like to put in a word for conkers, a favourite pastime of my own youth, my champion (soaked for two weeks in vinegar before it entered combat) having become a seventy-niner before Hoptrott minor shattered it in the finals of Maybank Preparatory School under-11 championship in the summer of 1943.

            Might I, however, urge that there is another avenue open and leading towards the same end which they could explore at the same time.  They could keep many of the existing activities, but very easily introduce changes which would make them more exciting and more interesting for spectators.  As an example, with modern technology there should be no difficulty about arranging for the barriers in the steeplechase to change height at unpredictable intervals in the course of the race, thus putting the runners to a test of alertness as well as stamina.  I wonder if some such ideas could be put before the Committee for their consideration.

Donald Johnson


Proposed French legislation

I recently heard a recording of a very interesting interview on my local (French) radio station, and I thought your readers might like to hear about it.  I wrote to the broadcasting station  and asked if I could have a transcript.  I am pleased to say they agreed, and I have translated it as here:

   We are pleased to have with us today the distinguished gastronome and philosopher Louis-Gustave Capper, winner of the Prix Cinqroutes for innovative cuisine in the year 1931.  Professor, thank you very much for agreeing to speak to us.  As you know the French Assembly has again begun a project of law with the idea of imposing fines on clients of prostitutes.  We should be glad to have your views on the project and, if you will permit, I have to begin by putting a question which a number of our female listeners insisted should be put to you, when they heard this interview would be broadcast:  Are you a male chauvinist?


   There are several answers to this question.  As often with such questions of a social nature, the answers vary according to the person giving them, and have nothing useful to do with the nature of the person or subject under investigation.  Perhaps we may proceed to more substantive issues.

   Do you think that there are different categories of rape?

   I do not think any sane person can believe rape to be anything other than a very serious crime, whether committed against a male or a female.  However, there is reason to think it is especially heinous when the victim is female, to judge from the fact that on occasions it leads to suicide, whereas such an outcome seems to be extremely rare when the victim is male.  Having said that much, however, is it not evident that extreme brutality, for example, will make the crime worse?

   The supporters of this legislation say that it will reduce the incidence of trafficking.  Do you agree?

   Trafficking is a term that certainly admits of different categories, since it means in essence no more than trading in some commerce that a government dislikes.  Some forms of such commerce should be encouraged by all honest citizens.  I think, for example of the illegal export of necessary medicines into countries despite political sanctions against their governments.  Iran’s citizens have long been at risk when travelling by air because of severe difficulties obtaining spare parts for civilian aircraft.  Historically there have been many countries which banned certain books which most urgently needed to be distributed in great numbers in those very countries.  I myself look fondly on those who supply me with imported cigarettes which would cost me three times as much if they were imported legally.

    I think in this case, however, they are speaking of trafficking in people.

   Now it may be that here they are talking of people being treated in such trade as objects, and this is of course wrong, though let me point out that the worst offenders in this kind of treatment are governments themselves.  But in any case they are clearly misusing the language (a lesser offence but still one where governments are egregious offenders) since as I have said trafficking is simply commerce of which a government disapproves.  And I object most strongly to morally repugnant restrictions being placed on the crossing of frontiers by human beings.  We are told that humanity benefits from a free market (an obvious falsehood since those who benefit from a free market are those who have access to the knowledge and control to take advantage of it) but even as the words are spoken we see that they do not mean at all what they appear to say.  There is to be free movement of money and of physical goods but not of people, who are by the way the ones who do the work.  A poor man loses his job in Africa.  He goes to the embassy of a European country to get the visa which, as an African, he must get so that he can travel there to earn money for his family.  It is refused, because he cannot show that he has money to support himself in Europe (and would be refused even if he could).  So he sells half his possessions to pay for a trip to the coast, where he must hand over all the money that remains to him so that he can board a rotting boat which may take him to Europe.  Is he not an investor?  He has invested until he has nothing left.  He has struggled for weeks to make the journey.  He is a man.  He wants to work.  But if he reaches the other shore, he has no papers.  He will be held in a camp like a prison until he is sent back because he is an economic migrant.  So where is the theory of capitalism now?  It is lacking one of its two main motive forces.  However, I think that here too those who complain of trafficking really mean something different from what they are saying.  They are not concerned with the crossing of frontiers but with what may happen thereafter to the people who cross them illegally.  Now we know that some are forced to work as slaves, on farms, in brickyards, in factories, or private homes and that is so obviously wrong that I have a question of my own.  In all countries that claim to be civilised there are laws against this, but not very much happens to stop it, and I would like to know why?  Could it be that it is for the convenience of friends of the government?   The other major crime committed against those arriving illegally is that they are forced into prostitution.   Holding a human being prisoner in a network of prostitution is both kidnapping and rape.  And there is rape every time that a client is served.  Again there are laws that state clearly and loudly that these are crimes, and again I am puzzled that they do not seem to be used as much as I would expect and I wonder why.

   So then you would support this proposed legislation?

   Absolutely not.  I have no objection in general to the fining of customers of prostitutes, male or female.  Some clients will be caught, and the lives of those households will be shipwrecked.  Blackmail will flourish (a doubtful benefit to society).  The earnings of some poor women who have no chance to get reasonably paid work in socially approved employment will be disrupted.  And those who continue to work in this way will be forced into more repellent and more dangerous places unless they are to risk a police raid while the transaction is proceeding.  A very serious issue is that where the prostitution is enforced the gangs that exercise control will undoubtedly find ways to provide unchecked access, and that will make them more powerful.  The number of reported incidents will be reduced but prostitution will continue.  Are they not dealing with behaviour resulting from one of the three major human motives functioning to keep the race in existence?  Perhaps the most serious result, however, will be that some of the potential clients, the most dangerous ones, will try to assuage their sexual hunger with crime.  It is certain that there will be violent attacks.  Are the supporters of this law so totally ignorant of the history of prohibition in America, where crime was driven by an urge strong enough, to be sure, but less deeply embedded in the human framework than this one.

   Surely it is desirable that this unattractive aspect of society should be repressed?

   I do not speak as an habitué of this milieu myself.  Such a dérive is neither necessary nor conformable to my inclinations, and I have no difficulty in accepting that some find this aspect of society displeasing, but then I wish to ask why this is so.  Combine to dishonour any social group and push it into a disagreeable style of life where the majority would not wish to go and even if it does not in reality become unattractive it will be so perceived by the lack of thought of the respectable.  You can doubtless think of one well-known group so harassed today, in our country and to our shame.  It is the instinct to drive out the ‘different’ and to declare that you do so because it is wrong or ugly or immoral.  But the truth is not that it should be repressed because it is unattractive; instead, the fact is that it is treated by our society in such a way as to make it unattractive.

   But the legislation is strongly supported by women’s rights groups.

   It is to me extraordinary that they do not distinguish between those who are forced into this unpleasant and dangerous occupation, and those who choose it as they have the right to do for reasons of their own which we have no right to enquire into.  These groups say that prostitution demeans the woman.  Yes, a thousand times over – when it is enforced.  There is something distasteful in beholding a woman whose talent or fortune of birth offer her a comfortable life in easy circumstances but who denies the right of a free woman to exercise the talents she is born with.  Has she not the right to make choices of her own about her own body, just as do those who strive to become athletes, opera singers, film stars or restauratrices.   Among those women’s rights groups is it not a majority who defend the right of a woman to make choices about her own body in the matter of pregnancy? Let them fine clients of prostitutes if they must (but know that unfortunate consequences will follow).  Let them take firm and powerful measures against slavery and enforced violence against women, and men.  But what they need to do is to make the simple distinction between an activity and abuses of it.  Even the most authoritarian state does not ban reading because citizens might use it to read work on political liberty.  Or to offer you another analogy, the cars of France cause pollution, problems of health, noise, fights, and most serious, accidents.  Should we ban them or instead legislate against the evils they cause, punish those who transgress, and try to reduce to the maximum their nuisances while increasing to the highest level possible the assistance they can provide to the nation’s life?

Adrian Jenkins-Lejeune


Rem acu tetigimus

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


honor hominesque honesti floreant

Trick or truth?

(1) Treatise on Electoral Democracy  (2) editorial response  (3) a curiosity in Afghanistan  (4)  book of the month       next scheduled date for distribution 14-1-2013

Coming into the office for coffee Monday morning we were astonished to find a copy of the following tract waiting for each of us.  There was even one for Manos on the shelf in the broom cupboard.

            Dear senior members of the office, kind of you to say I was not needed for your meeting about the letter from the woman in Bratislava.  I was sorry to hear that after two hours you still weren’t able to come up with any satisfying ideas about ‘fighting injustice without violence but with intelligence’.  Actually Friday evening Zoltan and I put our heads together over Java and Bath Olivers and we did think of one possible large-scale solution.  If by chance you might be interested to see it, herewith.  We admit it probably has to be a long term approach, will need enormous resources in energy and money, and may fail more often than not.  Also we accept it is only relevant to countries with some sort of claim to be democracies.  On the other hand, when it does work it really will bring a bright new dawn, as the cliché has it. The thing is to find a way of changing the country’s constitution to eliminate electoral democracy.  Churchill notoriously described democracy as the worst system except for all the others, but that remark was made by someone who had done well out of the system, and who moreover was thinking of the system as then directed by the ruling class to which he belonged. We intend our suggestion seriously.  Anyone looking round the world with eyes open can see that some governments can manage electoral democracy without serious inconvenience to the rest of the inhabitants and all their interests, but such governments are only a tiny minority.  It is a trifle easier, admittedly, when the various parties fix things up so as to arrive at some degree of sharing of the spoils of power (which by the way we think is much closer to what happens in western Europe than many realise.  And if you are tempted to quarrel over that point, take a look first at the difference between the average wage and the average politician’s financial package in every nation between the Urals and the Atlantic.)  Taking a broad view across the world it is as plain as the beard on Manos’ chin  to see Manosthat in any country with elections and a population of more than a few thousand the parties, which inevitably develop, briskly encourage divergences of view and interest to become explicit and then to grow increasingly hostile to contrasting views and conflicting interests; more important, in most cases parties steadily enlarge the schedule of tactics which they each use in order to gain or hold power at the time of the elections.  These include – not exhaustively –  lying, corruption, fraud in electoral procedures, manipulation of the judicial system, and of course violence.  Not one of these will be in the interests of the mass of the population.  Every single one is, now, a standard feature of elections around the world, and of political practice in the periods before and after elections in countries purporting to be democracies.  Anyone who thinks these remarks exaggerated has simply not taken advantage of abundant available information from the four corners of the earth.

            When a nation has fallen victim to the system of party democracy, can it be rescued?  Change will certainly be resisted by parties which fear their loss of access to power and tangible assets.  Certainly there is no easy escape route.  But if for example a campaign of argument and persuasion, free of violence (which lowers the intelligence level of all concerned), is sustained through an evident period of national decline until the state experiences some major shock, escape is possible.  (We are not specifically considering forthcoming events in Britain, France or Italy here, only thinking in general terms.)  We would point out that it is only in the rare case when an autocrat, or a small tight-knit oligarchy not merely holds power but is confident of a secure hold on it, that there is some small chance of that power being exercised so as to give a conscientious measure of disinterested justice for members of the population, with no need to favour this or that group in order to shore up support and increase the chance of continuing to rule.  In a democracy what chance has a poor farmer if the government decides that a highway shall be built across his or her land and through the family home?  At the time of writing what sort of verdict would be given on electoral democracy as practised in, say, Spain over the past twenty years?  We candidly admit that efforts at transition from democracy to an autocracy of goodwill are historical rarities, and even more rarely succeed even when attempted by a would-be benevolent autocrat.  Most such manoeuvres have a high risk of installing greater injustice in the short term at least, but that is no sufficient reason for continuing to tolerate the deplorable defects (obvious but disregarded by theorists and by those with advantage to gain from the system) guaranteed with electoral democracy.  An escape attempt can succeed and open the way to a balance of action which will be overall less inhumane, as for example when de Gaulle attained what was for a time personal power in France in 1958, bringing in particular an end to the brutal conflict in Algeria.  And let us add that at this very time hundreds or even thousands of people are required to move out of their beloved homes of decades in the east of London so that those may be demolished and replaced by new ‘up-market’ apartments, far too expensive for the evicted to afford, in order to shape part of the ‘legacy’ of the Olympics ordained by a ‘democratic’ government; if those people have any hope of redress it is to be looked for in decisions made by a non-elected judiciary.       My respectful regards, Jeremy.


The Deputy Editor writes: Jeremy clearly put a lot of work into the above with his friend Zoltan.  We are always glad to encourage the  young in efforts to improve their grasp of the world, and naturally it is often only through mistakes that they can, slowly, learn.  That is why we decided to expose the above to a wider audience.  It was not fair, though, to suggest that we ‘came up with’ no satisfying suggestions.  We thought of quite a number, the only drawback being that they do not work.  A short  extract from the rough draft of the report I had already made:

 Letters to politicians? Thrown into the bin by their secretaries.  Writing to high-class journals, other leaders of public opinion?  Don’t exist any more, and anyway they would only publish a balance of views which matches what their owners think already.  Protest marches? Utterly useless, except for giving police practice at photography.  Social media?  Does anyone think that getting out messages to influence the minds (such as they are) of the facetube generation can ever produce effective action, now that governments have woken up to the idea of switching social media off?  Sanctions? About as effective as a ‘code of conduct’ put up by some industry damaging a nation’s health, but too wealthy for governments to legislate against.  Sleeping with the enemy?  Or (for those who can’t bring themselves to go that far – the worst perpetrators of injustice are often physically as well as morally repellent) sweet-talking them at expensive dinner parties and dropping the odd remark about this or that prisoner who has been waiting eight years in prison without charge?  Can anyone give an example where that’s got the prisoner out?


Opinion piece from occasional contributor Dryas Lisheng of Pusan

The interesting factor about the recent comment in Afghanistan by the British royal prince with the controversial career in the pages of the popular press was not that he said he had been killing Taliban.  As a member of the British forces sent half across the world to bring a modern democracy to Afghanistan whether its population democratically want it or not – being democratic does not just mean ‘agreeing with what we say’, or does it? – he could not possibly refer to them as ‘insurgents’ (let alone as ‘the resistance’).  The curious point was not, either, that it had not occurred to him that killing people in a foreign country with which his own country was not at war might be considered an act of the highest illegality (quite apart from the moral aspect).  Nor was it surprising that he produced that old chestnut about taking  a life to save a life; soldiers may need to take this line to avoid traumatic stress syndrome, which after all lasts a lot longer than the moment of death of the other party in the event  (I do not raise the issue of the future situation of the family of the other party).  In any case, if it really is a matter of one life balanced against one other this is not so inequitable as the balance when drones are used, taking typically several lives in order not to save but to take another life (in the standard case without reliable evidence that the latter belonged to someone who really counted as an enemy; admittedly some of those who survive the incident will certainly count thereafter as enemy – but is this an efficient way to conduct one’s policy?)  However, none of these is the intriguing factor.  What is remarkable is that the British military posted this controversial scion of their nation’s first family, without real attempts at secrecy and without regard for the Taliban declarations that he would be a special target, to this dangerous helicopter assignment and kept him there for five months.

*Editorial note: we would remind Ms Dryas who mentions democracy that democracy means the will of the people as expressed by those qualified to express it; this naturally rules out the young, the insane, and all those whose access to the truth has been impeded, or who have been exposed to incorrect views by dishonest propaganda, or whose judgment is warped by improper social pressures, or whose ideas have been shaped through education in an undesirable system.  We trust Ms Dryas will not deny that a truly valid judgment of what is needed in a particular society and should be produced by the democratic will there can in general only be made by those with a clear and correct view, observing from outside.


Book of the month   Etienne Bagleigh-Dubois and Louise Sokolenkova (edd.) ‘Slaking the wildebeest’s thirst for knowledgePeppercabbage Press, Chiangmai (publication date not yet set)  Gives an account of the world’s only hospital specialising in mental illnesses of spin-doctors, and the circumstances of its closure


honor hominesque honesti floreant

Money porn

1) Money porn   2) airy assertions   3) late news   4) money-grubbing advertisement     re posting schedule see the third item

In a push to squeeze yet more profit out of this venture, or –  as bankers in the boardroom would say –  to ensure adequate resources on the balance sheet to provide a secure basis for future investment (what the bankers say later in the lap-dancing club is ‘Going steady on bonuses this year, but expenses, allowances and options – wah hey!’ ) this journal is to launch a glossy week-end supplement.  It will be constructed according to a carefully researched formula devised by our friends at Extreme Profits Limited.  (An unfortunate name, I always feel, but they’ve done sterling work for us in the past – even better work in dollars and renminbi recently but there are still a few legal problems to be ironed out there.)  Issued on Thursdays to get ahead of the competitors coming sluggishly out at the usual time, the supplement is to be based around nine or ten themes: fashion, with a dash or two of soft porn; cooking (naturally using the most refined ingredients, obtainable in all top-class specialist groceries in leading capital cities); gadgets – mostly black and shiny chromium of course but always one or two with strident colours in chunky plastic; collectibles, for instance old master paintings or Imari vases; a diary column (A hard woman’s week perhaps?); fashionable exhibitions; travel; personal transport, not cars because they are handled just everywhere though we might occasionally look at a Lamborghini, so transport really means the yacht and private jet scene; finally it goes without saying that the  supplement will itself have a supplement on ultra-high-end property.  No sport, probably; golf or racing to get a page or two somewhere.  The other 90% of the magazine will obviously be adverts.  A guaranteed winner, yet when we first started toying with the idea we received a strange anonymous letter, found in the dobermann’s basket by the front door.  We suspected an inside job at once – and all staff should note that investigations have begun – since the animal had not eaten it, although perhaps it had only arrived there after 10 o’clock that morning, at which hour the beast had formed a close attachment to a man delivering vegetables at the back of the building.  The letter attacked us for ‘pandering to the idle rich with a lifestyle that belongs to 0.0005% of the planet’s resources’. (I suppose she – somehow we assumed this to be the correct pronoun – meant ‘inhabitants’, since the resources we’re aiming at would be a much higher proportion of what the planet has to offer.) This was outright impudence since she had completely mistaken the spirit in which we are undertaking the enterprise – not flattery, nor envy, let alone approval;  just plain monetary greed.  The failure of judgment continued throughout the letter.  She asserted that we could not possibly make a profit, for two reasons, and she hoped we would make a thumping loss.  First, we’d have to pay a fortune to the people who write the sort of stuff we were planning.  Well that is where our friend with the green ink was wrong.  We will not be employing any writers at all.  Writers are not necessary.  Instead we shall have a pool of ad-girls, at one tenth of the cost, who will call on all the firms selling high-end luxury retail and sweet-talk them into placing expensive adverts with us.  (What the girls get up to in their private life is strictly none of our business.)  The firms will supply the writing.  They will want to supply it.  For instance the gallery hoping to pack them in for the exhibition will send page after page of background and reproductions of the work of the artist, and life history of the artist, and photo of live-in partner, and more.  Likewise the outfit selling the collectibles, and the travel firms, and so on.  The cooking column will come courtesy of the publishers who are about to bring out the cookery book that will be puffed at the bottom of the piece.  The only thing that might not sort itself out that way is the diary column, but there all we have to do is hunt around for syndications, and pick the cheapest that serves the purpose.  And her second reason for anticipating a smooth flow of red ink onto our financial statements?  ‘Only horrid people who have no feeling for the poor and starving of the world, and people who dream about living that heartless selfish life of luxury would want to read your rotten supplement.’

   My dear, you have hit the nail on the head.  Precisely the target audience we had in mind, and we look forward to huge sales and enormous profits.



Tomorrow is the 229th anniversary of the first manned flight with an untethered free-flying hydrogen balloon, made by two Frenchmen near Paris.   More significant, though, was the flight powered by hot air ten days earlier by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes.  This remains the first known, and almost certainly the first actual, manned flight, thus beating the Wright brothers by a little over 120 years.  Their publicists frequently claim that the balloonists’ performances do not really count because they were not flying in a device heavier than air.  This is arrant nonsense.  The balloon was both large and heavy.  The latter’s publicists then say that what matters is the gravity potential of the vehicle once other factors, such as the heating of the air, have been taken into account.  But precisely the same applies to the plywood and cloth, or metal, constructions favoured later; if they really were, all factors taken into account, burdened with a positive gravity potential, they would not stay up.  The Wrights, however, had the advantage of a rapidly spinning publicity machine, which was also able to overlook the fact that they were several years later than both Ader and Langley.

From Luddites Gazette


Late news: a number of governments and senior politicians have lodged complaints with CENSOR (the Committee for the eradication of negative or seditious online reports) about Luddites Gazette, asserting  that it has not shown adequate respect for authority and distinguished public figures.  The editor and staff have been summoned to Geneva to a hearing with power to order ‘appropriate’ penalties (which will cause them problems, since as luddites they refuse to use any form of transport with more mechanical complexity than the bicycle) and their fine journal has been ordered to stop publication immediately.  As distributors of some of their articles we have been issued with an order suspending all postings by Cold Salad until 5 January 2013, when a definitive decision will be taken on whether we can resume activities and if so on what terms.  However, the suspension starts with effect only from tomorrow, 1-12-2012, and we have managed to obtain our first paying advertisement, to launch a fighting fund to defend our right to publish.  (Contributions from readers can continue to be made through the usual channels.)  Check on 5 January to see if we are still here!




Hi! Parents!  Do you want your kids to have the sort of birthday party they used to lay on last century?  Remember how each party was different and you never knew what to expect.  How you had to find your way to some address could be way out in suburbs you’d never even seen.  How you had to find your way round some strange house where your kid’s friend lived?  What a way to play hide-and-seek!  Hey, some parties didn’t even have videogames!!  And they may have had a jungle gym or a bicycle you could borrow or maybe a pony to ride but sure as all get out they didn’t have a Megatrillian five-dimensional lightshow, with wall-to-wall and  floor-to-ceiling pop music.  Would you want to run the risk of your own child running round in the open air in some garden full of unknown insects and bugs, maybe snakes – hey, is that lightning over there and a storm cloud headed this way? – when he could be inside our brightly lit air-conditioned PartiPallis?  Would you hand your child over to the parents of one of his class-mates (remember research proves that as many as one parent in three may have a criminal record for child molestation) or would you prefer to entrust him to one of our young caring helpers (everyone run thru a high-power three-hour background check and holds a qualified childcare specialist certificate) selected after an indepth interview.  Well all that drearsville and risk can be behind you now, thanks to

National Social Parties Inc

You’ll know what’s on the schedule!  You’ll know they’re going to have fun with a bright modern fun-filled session in purpose built surroundings!  All parties take place in our specially built PartiPallis (next to Leviathon-3 Supermart on the President Nixon Outer Bypass).  All parties last exactly 1 hour and fifty minutes to allow five minutes for arrival and departure.  (Warning: children who arrive more than five minutes late will not be admitted for security reasons.)  All parties will follow a schedule carefully worked out in consultation with Birthday Kid’s  parents (two schedules are available = show followed by food and food followed by show).  All parties include 10 minutes free usage of Megatrillian Multiplay fantasy machine prior to show.  (Parents will be required to separately purchase the insurance policy, price $9-50, which is included in price of ticket.)  All parties will provide suitable background music, courtesy of downloads from current top internet songs (parents to retain full legal responsibility for downloads).  Delicious meals (vegetarian-style cheeseburgers with french fries, topped off with yummy chocolated ice cream) brought in by the caterer of your choice (choice from nation’s top two favorite restaurant chains).  Fully trained uniformed supervisers, who will ensure each child wins exactly one prize.  Modern fully equipped rest area where children with physical display control deficit will be encouraged to lie down under the supervision of a fully trained rest co-ordinator who will place in the child-size medically designed relaxation facilitator to ensure they do not take further part in the activities before simple medical tests show it is safe for them to do so.

            Bookings must be at least six weeks in advance, and made in person between 10 am and 6pm at the PartiPallis Administration on the forms provided.  They must be accompanied by a booking fee of $35 and by a non-refundable deposit against damage of $250.  Parties begin at 10am 12 noon 2pm 4pm 6pm or 8pm.  Tickets $60 per child.  Parents not admitted during party but may watch from viewing room (admission $25).  Contact or call +6653181


honor hominesque honesti floreant

Socialism, Caesar et al

Several readers have complained that we have not been giving Luddites Gazette a fair crack of the whip.  So this distribution comes entirely from that journal

1) Socialist leader syndrome   2) Caesar and the Rubicon   3) clothing rights?   4) surveillance      next date on schedule: 15-10-2012

Was there some malevolent bug circulating at one of the conferences of European socialists in the past year or two, some infectious agent inducing a general weakness of the will (not to say character) or derangements of normal behaviour?  The socialist parties of Europe do not seem to have been having much good fortune lately with their leaders.  Partly of course that is their own fault because one and all they elect their leaders, and the wisdom of their electorates must be doubtful.  It remains a deep mystery of current European politics that the French were offered Hollande to vote for rather than the intelligent competence of Martine Aubry as a way of ousting the preceding incumbent.  This journal can claim no public credit for its private doubts about Hollande before his election, but within a week of his victory we gave our plain opinion that he was not up to the job – poor chap; one should not expect a man fitted to manage the stores in an army camp to direct the nation’s war effort with mastery if he is suddenly handed the baton of the commander-in-chief.  Recent polls indicate clearly that the French electorate is rapidly coming to share our view.  In England the coalition lurches in disarray from policy error to U-turn to project apparently designed to annoy the voters.  A glorious opportunity for the opposition; and it is true that the pollsters believe they have something of a lead over the government.  But there is a ball and chain attached to those left legs in the shape of their leader.  (One fifth of the popularity rating of his party, and likened in the media, however unfairly, to Mr Bean or the cartoon hero Wallace.)  Further to the east, we have Victor Ponta.  It is true that we should not count his party as having a socialist tendency simply because of its name.  The outstanding example of how that can mislead the innocent was the English Labour Party under Antony Blair.  (Not yet properly departed from the scene, by the way, the latter can still be seen, a political zombie in the shadowy outer circles of European politics, doubtless hoping to be brought back to life as president of Europe.)  Nevertheless the political party which Ponta leads is proclaimed to be a party of social democrats.  One of the more interesting episodes in Romanian politics recently took place when his party organised a referendum with a view to ousting the country’s President, Basescu, from office ahead of time.  They failed to get what they were after (and two of the ministers involved in arranging it were sacked) and Ponta has also been having a turbulent time in other ways lately; there have been sharp exchanges with Brussels (which evidently lack the power to leave him trembling).  One curiosity was his statement in an interview, reported in El País, 28 June, that he would ‘certainly resign’ if the accusations of plagiarism in his academic career were confirmed.  On 30 June the council for academic awards confirmed the accusations of plagiarism and recommended the withdrawal of his doctorate; he refused to resign.  Of course he is far from the only politician who has had trouble connecting his remarks with reality.  In the past couple of decades it seems to have all but become a part of the job description. ¹ Just the other day vice-presidential candidate Ryan achieved a spectacular gap in his account of his own athletic ability [cf the distribution 22-9-2012]; perhaps we should wonder if ‘terminological inexactitude’, as Churchill put it, is seen as a political virtue – a capacity to break free from constraints imposed by facts.  One might hope that either politicians would have enough competence to avoid such ‘mis-speaking’ or their public would turn on them furiously and force them from office.

  But to return to the socialist malaise; now in Germany Peer Steinbruck has moved to the centre of the socialist stage and there are muttered questions in the audience.  How much of a socialist is he?  Is he what his party needs?  Do we trust him?

¹ highly recommended:

P.Oborne   The rise of political lying   The Free Press   2005

M.Dobbs   The rise of political fact-checking   a report issued by the New America Foundation under a Creative Commons licence on the internet   2012

from Luddites Gazette


Our classical editor reports

  A newly discovered manuscript of Pompeius Trogus has thrown a dramatic new light on one of the crucial events of Roman history.  In describing the end of the Roman republic he relates that Julius Caesar was sitting in his tent on the evening of 13 January 49 b.p.e. composing the speech in which he was to tell his army to stand down since he was going into retirement from public life in obedience to the instruction of the Senate.  Then aides came in with a prisoner, the leader of the group that had been guiding the army on its march back from Gaul.  They asked what should be done with him, as a group of soldiers who happened to be natives of this region and were puzzled by the unfamiliar and difficult route he was taking had forced him to confess that he was lost, and had been simply leading the army southwards by relying on guesswork and the sun.  It then transpired that Caesar was many miles further south than he had supposed, and the decisive frontier, the Rubicon, was already three days’ march behind him.

from Luddites Gazette


Opinion (anonymity requested)

To take a properly unpopular view, let us consider a major road in a mid-sized city (which it would be invidious to specify as being in Italy, as well as bringing unwelcome recriminations; so I shall not).  There is a supermarket on one side of the road, and opposite stands a bus station.  Shoppers have the unambiguous right to cross the road between the two.  There is a drawback.  A little under two hundred metres or so in each direction there is a fairly sharp bend; while drivers keeping to the speed limit will not reach the crossing point after rounding the bend until people on foot have had ample time to reach the other side without hurrying, there are unfortunately not a few reckless drivers who so flagrantly break the limit that they scream past while walkers are still on the roadway. (The police service is badly understaffed.)   It goes without saying that such drivers are both breaking the law and showing contempt for proper standards of human behaviour.  The risks from their disgraceful actions are appalling and regrettably new arrivals at the bus station do not always get a warning.  Few locals decide to make their undoubted right the sole factor in their decision on how to act, specifically how to cross.  They use the pedestrian bridge.

  Now consider feminists who insist on their right to walk where they like wearing (or to a certain extent not wearing – and absolutely no moral judgment is being made) the clothes they choose, without risk of sexual assault.  Let it be said that they have an unquestionable right to do so.  Let it also be said in the plainest terms that all forms of sexual assault are disgraceful, and in cases where the assault is on a woman it will be distressing in a way which men cannot genuinely comprehend.  It would still be wise to accept a parallelism with the (not necessarily Italian) highway, and to take factors – no matter how deplorable – other than their rights into account in deciding on their actions.

from Luddites Gazette


from Readers’ letters (nb this letter has been abridged)


Is there any truth in the rumour that a certain government in the European Union has awarded a secret contract to a company said to have close links to the Chinese government?  The goal is said to be to enable its security ministry, also known as the Home Office, to trawl the internet discovering which of its citizens never play online computer games, never connect to YouTube, and appear to be members of no contact groups or social networks, on the grounds that such individuals are abnormally non-conformist and should be investigated to see if there is any sign of links to terrorist activities.  An official with responsibility for security recently spoke publicly of being worried about ‘a grey border area between mere eccentricity and dangerous anti-social activities’.

Our editor replies: You may not need, at this stage, to sell up and emigrate.  Officials at many levels in most governments are scheming in this sort of way most of the time, but it seldom results in any great acceleration of the onward goosestep of authoritarianism beyond the speed produced by piecemeal advances at ‘jobsworth’ level, which seem to be an inbuilt feature of human society.  In fact encroachment by tyranny looks like an inescapable development, seldom if ever rewound to any significant extent except by foreign conquest or by major natural disaster.

  As it happens, however, we received your letter only two days before the announcement in Britain of a new plan intended to make access to certain welfare allowances and government services (including activities, such as driving or watching television, which are ruled to be illegal until you pay the government a fee for a licence to do them) available online.  This is another way of saying that the intention is to reduce access to those allowances and services for those who do not or cannot apply online.  My guess –  my confident prediction – is that those who ‘choose’ to apply in person will be required to report between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, with all relevant paper documentation (originals only, no photocopies), to a centralised government ‘service’ site in southwest Cornwall, to be operational by 2015.

  My personal assistant has just informed me that the Citizens Advice non-governmental organisation has reported (to the British Parliament) an estimate that fourteen million people in that country, including many with physical or mental disabilities or low education or language difficulties, lack the capacity to make effective use of the internet.  Are these people just to be thrown overboard by those who can take advantage of the electronic advances, to allow the ship of state management to add a tenth of a knot in its race to the future (or bankruptcy)?

from Luddites Gazette


Thought for the day

Honesty has wings, but lives in a cage in the king’s palace

                          Balyani proverb

from Luddites Gazette


honor honestique floreant

Folly and greed again versus one to really cheer

(1) Ratzelian economics   (2) electoral debt   (3) broadcasting salutes   (4) AIME special flash   Next distribution  proposed for 15-10-2012

The Deputy Editor writes:

Apart from the Editor himself we are now all back in the office and abnormal business (as at 22-09) has been cut off at the ankles before it can run any further; but we are not draconian, not even the Editor, and we’ll probably end up taking our normal tolerant view of youthful waywardness; at worst they may lose their pocket money for another week or two.  Immediate decisions were overtaken anyway by a surprise visit from the Mad Doc; we had all thought he was safely tucked up in Dublin for the rest of the month, but apparently he got fed up with supporting appearances at his wife’s sculpture exhibition – they required him to feign politeness to members of the Wooden Arts Commando who were sponsoring the show, so he took off to Alaska to test an idea he’s been peddling around.  He calls it Ratzelian economics ¹, and he cooked it up from some stuff in an ancient copy of Sperling’s Journal.  It starts with the standard commercial premise that in business what you sell should always be worth less than the price you can get from customers.  (Cf for instance, a greeting cards company where a trivial investment in card and ink, with designs possibly devised by ill-trained chimps and words extruded from a mentally limited piece of software, might give a return per item of many thousands percent, thanks to a gormless public.)  But Mad Doc says that beyond the number of consumers in your market the thing to take into account is their geographical density – and he reckons by the way that most analysis of national economic statistics worldwide is badly flawed there.  After a new product appears on the market, as the punters come to realise the gap between price and value they will spread the word around and the profits you get will therefore fall (whereupon you cut back on quality or size or staff wages or after-sales service, if any, to reduce your costs; when the gap reduces to zero then you take the company public, paying yourself a huge salary as the CEO.)  But according to M.D. the speed with which disillusion spreads around will depend on how densely packed the population is; this needs to be kept a very sharp eye on, for nimble manipulation of relevant tax breaks, publicity drives, character of local officials, and assorted sleight of bank account.  M.D.decided an ideal place for a first field trial should be an area fairly isolated from the great bazaars of the consumerist world, and where the local population is thinly spread, but relatively moneyed (no point going to try things out in the Gobi).  Hence Alaska.  He arrived at our place in a subvolcanic state because his test had been a disastrous failure.  Picking what he thought might fill a strong local need he’d got some Indonesian outfit to produce a few thousand jars of instant ‘miracle bear-repellent’ (almost certainly some cheap cosmetic cream mixed up with black dye and a bit of engine oil).  He was doubtless right about the local need, but he’d overlooked the obvious possibility that the locals knew far more about what repelled bears and how to keep out of the way in the first place than he would ever learn, so not one of them touched the stuff.  His promotional ads were ridiculed on local tv.  He said he’d called in on us to calm himself down as we were always a haven of harmony (at which point Isabelita apparently choked on her coffee), but he soon left.  We made no efforts to keep him either, in tribute not only to his own personality but also to the news that on the way back he’d stopped off at Talkeetna to stroke the mayor and pull his tail (for the past dozen years the western world’s most popular mayor – a cat).  Clearly M.D. hadn’t yet heard the frightening news about toxoplasmosis, and frightening it is; apparently merely stroking one of the beasts can give you schizophrenia.

[For information on this new source of stress for the cat-owning middle classes consult your local hospital, or try searching for toxoplasma on in the issue of 4-9-2012]


¹ cf  F.Ratzel   Anthropogeographie  Stuttgart   1891


It would be in bad political taste to point out that the overwhelming majority of the financial problems on top of many nations today result from democracy, or more precisely, electoral democracy.  Governments gain ¹ and retain control of the precious levers by allowing voters an agreeable lifestyle.  (‘Agreeable’ can include such notions as ‘security’ implying e.g. the building of walls and gun emplacements on the frontiers to keep out others who would also like an agreeable lifestyle but are deemed to lack some necessary qualification, such as wealth or an acceptable ancestral tree.)  In order to maintain their relative popularity or to outbid rival political groups a government will provide (and an ambitious opposition will promise) agreeability beyond the limits of what is financially realistic by spending money which is not actually available, i.e. going into debt; governments will likewise encourage private citizens to achieve greater agreeability in an analogous manner while oppositions will promise to act in the same way.  The political parties will seek assurances that these steps will be beneficial for the national economy, and they receive these from economists and bankers (not excluding bankers who take part in arranging the necessary loans).  Anyone who trusts that this process will cease to operate of its own accord in any country which continues to hold elections should not be reading this paragraph.  As night follows day the weight of debt will increase year by year until the legs of the state and the supports of households  buckle under the burden.

The mechanism was acknowledged by Jean-Claude Juncker all but explicitly, when he remarked of the current problems with the euro  ‘We all know what needs to be done; but we don’t know how to get re-elected if we do it.


¹  (or  apparently ‘seize’ in the case where the electoral victor is Hamas)


The Deputy Editor writes:

Before he went off on holiday our Editor commented (15-09-2012) on the infuriating idiocies that public broadcasters inflict on their audience.  We are with him all the way, except perhaps that his usual Scottish understatement let them off far too lightly (especially the BBC.  It still has some good people; but why on earth are they still there?)  Jim may want to have another go about the quality of broadcasting sometime, and I don’t want to poach on his domain, but there is a related point perhaps worth mentioning.  There has been rumbling in high places recently about ‘strengthening the BBC brand’.  Once, long ago, as all those whose favourite bedtime reading is mediaeval history know, a brand was a simple physical object with a good use – casting light (and then serving as a symbol of learning, before being purloined by the Labour Party) – and an even better use – setting fire to old, rotten buildings that had sheltered overprivileged, self-satisfied friends of the powerful.  However, reverting to the modern dialect of sell-by-date consumerism we observe it now has the sense of a ‘nebula of ideas, tangible characteristics and emotional associations attached to some product’ which can be employed to

  (1) extract vast sums of money from a foolish populace

  (2) explode any naïve belief that man is a rational aninal (this is no place to go into gender differences) and

  (3) demonstrate human capacity for doublethink, as loud cheers are heard for swingeing punishments on a craftsman who by native skill and honest capitalist labour has produced, let us say, a fine bushbuck raincoat (i.e., a raincoat for your bushbuck) and sold it at a price slightly higher than his costs, unaware that a mighty firm manufactures a more expensive item almost identical but with only the addition of its ‘brand’.

  So far as I know the aforesaid strengthening has not included the adoption of a BBC salute or gesture although one might have considered this a useful element for any media ‘brand’ trying to publicise itself, enabling enthusiastic supporters to recognise one another and develop a sense of community (as with children who have all pulled similar plastic badges from their cereal packets).  Oddly enough, although now almost totally forgotten, there once was a BBC salute back in the early days.  Possibly devised in a spirit of self-mockery it was certainly appropriate to a corporation inspired by Reith, consisting of a reproving smile accompanied by a wagging forefinger.  Perhaps its hour of glory was ended by the epic battle between Churchill’s fingers and the Nazi forearm.  Since those days similar recognition signals have occasionally appeared, mostly short-lived and associated with local radio broadcasters although it is said that the North Korean television service tried at one time to promote a gesture of triumph taken from traditional Korean opera.  (Opponents of the régime in the south claim some dissidents flick their hand lightly across their throat as a way of indicating to possible sympathisers that one listens to foreign radio, but this has never been reliably confirmed by foreign visitors.)  Other salutes said to have existed, usually promoted not by the broadcasters but instead by their critics, include:

lips pursed ostentatiously shut:  several countries in eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s

hand cupped behind ear: Radio Camacula-Nord (Congo), notorious for its weak signal strength

fingers stuck in ears:  people persecuted by neighbours blasting out Radio Frente Musica in several of the Caribbean islands

the bras d’honneur: a notorious illegal mobile pornographic station in Romania in the early 1990s.

  What might fit the BBC in the days of its late-Byzantine decrepitude?  Overseas listeners, as signal strength is reduced and relay stations axed, might well opt for the same gesture as for that Congolese station.  For listeners at home?  Perhaps this could serve: head bowed forward and to the right, right hand covers glazed eyes?


Isabelita has asked to add this special note of her own, which we fully support.

What my friends write is sometimes interesting and sometimes right, and sometimes both in the same time.  But readers will know that so many entries in these distributions show a sad or bad character of the human.  I think this cannot be helped but if anyone has a good idea for going to doing what can make it better – try!  For this reason also try to see news of the magnificent enterprise of some Australian young students – they should be organising the world.  Look only with the internet to find AIME.  Two places are and  then look for AIME.


honor honestique floreant

Exuberant irrationality

Readers’ letters   Victorian spaceships   royal assets   Tea Party policy?   Marathon times     next distribution scheduled 30-9-12

Jeremy:  Hallo, Jeremy and Simon here!  Welcome all!  This is going to be a bit different from the usual Cold Salad distributions…

Simon: Good thing too!

Jeremy: With my best French accent – Attention au cake-hole, you idiot.  They’re almost certain to read what we’ve sent out when they come back.

Simon: Doubt it.  They never read stuff after they’ve sent it out.  Never even open readers’  letters.

Jeremy: Anyway all our big boys are away on their holidays.  Editor staying with his sister in Eastbourne …

Simon: In detox probably.

Jeremy: Oh you are a nasty boy today!  Do shut up.  As I was saying, Deputy Ed is checking his native Scotland is still there.  The lovely Isabelita…

Simon: Our princess.

Jeremy: As you rightly say, our princess.   Off with her uncle in Italy.  Long holidays they must have where he comes from.  Manos is still in London, doubtless driving Mervyn King nuts.   No risk of the Mad Doc coming in because his wife’s got an exhibition in Dublin all through September.  So we are keeping base clean…

Simon: !

Jeremy: …sort of, and we have permission to push something out if anything interesting comes in from Luddites  Now they didn’t actually say we couldn’t push out anything else so this is what we have on the menu.  First we are going to attend to some of those readers’ letters, then maybe add a comment or two about things that have gone out in the past few weeks where we two weren’t allowed to give an opinion, and then finish up with one or two ideas of our own.  We found the letters in a bin in the backyard.  Simon and me usually come in the back way so we don’t have to get past the dog, and I suppose some cats had a fight and knocked the bin over.  Anyway here is Fanny Carasheen writing from Hartlepool back in May and she wants to know why this distribution system is called Cold Salad.  Actually, Fanny it’s what you call an acronym; it comes from the initial letters of Club of obstinate lunatics determined to struggle against lies and distortions which was how someone described them when they were getting started and they were actually rather proud.  But the editors are trying to go quiet on it now because they found out some malicious hacker had changed it everywhere to Compendium of leaks from the Department of specious allegations, lies, ambiguities and denials.

  Next letter.  Nathanael Apomba, of Kirkwall – that’s in Norway, isn’t it?  “That bit you sent out back in April, about the alien onions, I’ve been thinking about it.  I had this idea.  Suppose you could muck about with the geans of a kid, you could save a lot on electricity for nightlights for kids if you got one of those geans from jellyfish and put it in him, because then he would glow sort of green colour in the dark.”   Hmm!  Enough said really.

Simon: I like it.  But what about the tentacles?  And better make sure you never take the kid to the seaside.

Jeremy: Whatever.  Anyway here’s another.  Oh, this is a sad one.  “I like it when the sky is blue, and birdies chirrup sweet and true.  My friends come round and ask to play and then we go down to the bay.” Some kid heard about the poetaster job we’re offering.  ‘Gillian’, no other name, no address.  Editors should have put some age limit in the ad.  Erm, oh!  Ah, now I’m not so sure I was right on first impression.  Hear this; verse 5: “I lie beside him in the grass, he rubs his hand across m …”  No.  Definitely not our style Simon.

Simon: Not yours, you mean, don’t you?

Jeremy: Ahem.  Now this one’s from dear old Oz.  Oh dear me!  Sooo formal!  “Sirs, Ruminating on the introduction of computerised voting machines in certain  countries, is this not a golden opportunity to make use of the idea of the negative vote?  It is only too plausible that the voter will discover there is no candidate for whom he feels able to cast a positive ballot, but quite probable that there is at least one whom he knows to be an outright scoundrel.  He should be able to cast a negative vote to subtract one from the total otherwise accumulated by said candidate.

Simon: Brilliant idea!  Bit boring though.  Let me have one to read.  What about this? “Dear Sirs, I wonder if you would consider helping me by publicising a museum I have set up.  I have been fortunate in acquiring a good few pieces of equipment, decorations, and furnishings such as leather armchairs, gaslamps and antimacassars, all of which I am reliably assured are authentic relics from early Victorian spaceships before the programme was abandoned owing to the costs of the Crimean adventure.  My museum…”  Oh jeez, poor loon!  He’s even enclosed a photograph, though why there’s a diver’s helmet … Oh I see.  Someone must have told him it was from a spacesuit.  Back in the bin for that.  Him as well would be a good idea.  Wow, this next one has a sticker on the envelope, ‘Fiends of Latvian literature’.  Don’t think I’ll risk opening that one.  Oh, let’s ditch the rest of the letters.  Weren’t we going to add some intelligent comments on what the top brass have been distributing?

Jeremy: Actually, the only thing I’d add is that the Chinese sending their millions on trips abroad to keep them out of political business is a pain in the backside to the rest of us.  Try and get a gondola ride in Venice, and they’re all booked up for the next six hours by Chinese tour groups, even the Huns can’t get in.  Can’t get a decent photograph of a friend standing under the Eiffel tower because of dense crowds of elderly chin-high Chinese milling around in the way or squinting through their glasses at your camera and then shuffling off giggling.

Simon: Too right.  Except the ones laughing at your camera will be Japanese.  But didn’t you want to say something of your own about the royal tits?  Sounds like a flying version of the royal corgis, doesn’t it?

Jeremy: Ah, the holiday snaps of la belle duchesse!  Except I don’t think marrying into the family makes you personally royal, does it?  I suppose if you had a complete blood transfusion from one of them, maybe that would count.  Do they ever give blood?

Simon: I doubt it, because if they did somebody by now would certainly have stolen some and put it on eBay.

Jeremy: That’s no proof because you could put a test tube up for sale and just say ‘believed to be genuinely royal’, like a coach saying ‘we all believe this great athlete is dope-free’; and if you were American you’d probably put blue dye in the test tube to really convince the punters.  I expect people do it all the time, but MI6 probably have an ultra-efficient cyberguillotine which cuts the advert into tiny electrons before it ever sets foot in cyberspace.

Sinon: You’re trying to change the subject.  Jealous?

Jeremy: I don’t know what you could possibly be referring to.  But to be serious, I really can’t see what the fuss is about.  I mean, nobody has done anything, all that’s happened is that now we all have evidence she’s a thoroughly normal woman, which is what the masses all assume and want anyway.  Was anybody suspecting she was hiding something else inside the clothing, a couple of cornish pasties for a quick snack or something?  If the photos showed that she didn’t have normal female equipment in there, then there might have been a reason for trying to suppress the pictures.  It’s not as if they’re a rare female feature.  All normal woman are born to be like that if they grow up – lucky them.

Simon: Meaning, Jeremy?

Jeremy: After all, very few statues of female human beauty try to pretend they’re not there.  Now, I don’t want to talk about that any more, if you don’t mind.  Isn’t it time we went upstairs to throw the whalemeat down to the dog?

Simon: Oh jeez, I forgot!  He didn’t get any this morning because I couldn’t get the window open, and I meant to go back and oil the lock, but when I came down there was that story on the television about scientists working on viruses to attack specific occupations, especially politicians.  Remember?  They reckon 85% of politicians have particular patterns in their DNA which are rare in the normal population and that it should be possible to redesign viruses so they will attack just that group.

Jeremy: Those Tea Party scientists you mean?  Said they really know a way to cut the size of government?

Simon: Tea Party?

Jeremy: Yes.  But what you saw was just the intro.  Then you went out to get the croissants and the olives.  Those weren’t real scientists, they were just actors, acting out the dreams of some of the more enthusiastic supporters of the Tea Party.  Actually, it sounded like cutting the size of government is just a side issue with that lot.  Near the end, they brought on this old chap, looked as if he’d walked straight out of one of those films about plantation-owners before the Civil War, and he seemed to sum it all up rather simply: ‘What we want is freedom.  I don’t want Washington taking any of my money to share round causes other than me, and I want Washington to scrap every one of those damn rules that are stopping me doing what I want’.

Simon: Surprise me some more.  Anyway, haven’t we got enough now?

Jeremy:I reckon that’ll do.  But didn’t you want to do a challenge of the month or something?

Simon: Oh fetid kidneys.  I forgot that.  But I’ve got one ready, just let me find it.  Right!  Mr Ryan, vice-presidential candidate, claimed on radio this August that his best time for the marathon was ‘two hours and fifty-something’.  But it turns out he has only run a marathon once, an event called ‘Grandma’s Marathon’ in 1990, and at the time he finished in four hours, one minute, and a bit.  So the challenge is: if we assume that this amazing improvement, over twenty-one years, could be matched by the world’s top marathon runners, starting from now (two hours, three minutes and thirty-eight seconds) what is the earliest year in which it will be possible to report that some runner somewhere must have finished the race before he started?


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