Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: authoritarianism

Rem acu tetigimus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

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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.

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anniversary

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

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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!

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            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 info@partipallis.urss.com or call +6653181

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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

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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

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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

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

Madam,

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

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Thought for the day

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

                          Balyani proverb

from Luddites Gazette

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honor honestique floreant