Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: tourism

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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honor honestique floreant

Conspiracies

1) Manos and velcro   2) broadcasting as insult  3) tourism as narcotic           Next fully scheduled distribution 30-9-2012

Manos is currently on special leave. One of his friends was caressing his beard and remarked that it was like velcro; she whimsically added that this made it harder for her to leave him.  Manos is now in London where he believes he will persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to arrange for printing of banknotes with a strip of velcro at one end, to make success harder for pickpockets and to reduce loss when a note slips out accidentally.  (Hence this distribution on 15th, as earlier announced.)

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Our Editor writes

Returning to Europe four years ago from my stint on Crozet Island, minus one toe of my left foot and two from the right (frostbite and penguins), I was immediately struck by the giant stride made by public broadcasters lurching down into a swamp of mediocrity and irrelevance.  After Crozet, I could tolerate the camera’s invariable selection of the prettiest in a crowd of terror-stricken refugees or starving victims of drought, but all those other quirks, earlier merely half-noticed irritations, had seemingly turned into obligatory blemishes – the reporter giving tedious details of some utterly predictable communiqué while advancing pointlessly on the camera, or treading the curve of a semicircle to show a backdrop of undistinguished landscape presumably considered more interesting than anything she had to say (which may well be true, but calls into question the value of the clip altogether); the unnatural hand gestures and head movements intended to show the reporter is alive and not a well made-up dummy; the ‘interactions’ of a pair of presenters each required to express surprise at the other’s news items (although they have of course both seen the script already, as we all know).  The main surprise in any case is how trivial and inane reports can be and still make up a news broadcast; ‘The Duke of Cambridge is to give a lecture on the illegal trade in rhino horn’ – a recent BBC headline. Then there is the interchange of jokey remarks, as witless as those offered by RBS in information on children’s accounts.  There is the ever-annoying ‘easy-listening’ muzak – encountered on programmes as diverse and in as little need of muzak as the making of lenses, work as a retail butcher, and the political situation in North Korea; one extraordinary use was for a programme with two experts talking about monetary policy, to the backing of not mere instrumental noise, but a song about money, repeated in fragments throughout their discussion, and loud enough to drown out the spoken words.  Perhaps the idea is that offering something, no matter how inane, for the auditory sense may help fill any deficit in informational content – muzak to support newzak, in other words.  Most infuriating of all are the remarks made, presumably as recommended during some benighted and forlorn master’s degree on broadcasting, which are supposed to induce a ‘friendly, casual’ atmosphere.  ‘It’s great to have you with us’ , ‘Good to have you back’, and most idiotic of all ‘Good to see you again’ (AlJazeera, and ABC, from whom one might have hoped for better).  Audiences hugely resent the implication that we are so woolly-minded as to be taken in by this claptrap.  The makers of programmes may think their audience is stupid but when we descend to remarks by presenters such as the one last cited the need to prove intelligence clearly falls not on the audience but on the programme makers and channel owners.

            The overall effect of all this rubbish must be to drive television watchers away from their sofas.  We may reasonably suspect that this is deliberately intended since virtually every channel now gives frequent reminders that ‘all this and more’ is available on a corresponding website.  The natural question is why there should be such an intention.  The answer given, usually after local microphones have been switched off, is ‘to save costs’.  And it is certainly true that the same newzak and alleged entertainment could be transmitted far more cheaply (to anyone still willing to receive it) over the internet.  This has serious implications, first for those engaged in public broadcasting [if you are a presenter you are invited to review the third item in the 5th June distribution]and second for members of the audience, who, whatever precautions they take, will find themselves bombarded with persistent intrusive requests to buy or hire or support this or that gew-gaw or worthy or dishonest cause that they happen to have touched on, be it never so tangentially, and left on screen for a couple of minutes while they went to make a cup of tea.  But taking other matters into account I now incline to suspect another purpose, and sympathise with the view of the editorial received by co-incidence from Luddites Gazette this week and which follows directly below.  The same mish-mash of newzak and alleged entertainment, along with the social networks, will serve most excellently to absorb the time and interests of populations (I do not speak of their energy because long hours slumped before their screens will leave that an uncertain factor) to the great advantage of the régimes that control them.

            But whatever intentions lurk in the shadows as public broadcasting withers away, actual results may be different in at least two important ways.  First, in recent evidence to the British Parliament the Citizens Advice group pointed out that 8.5 million had never connected to the internet, and 14.5 million had virtually no relevant skills.  There is not only a widening gap between wealth and poverty in western nations; there is also a gulf  between those who can and cannot use the internet and this will increasingly be a cause of social troubles.  Second, it is not only governments and publicly known companies that will spy on what is received on the internet.  Hacking thrives on behalf of criminals and  unknowably many groups of uncertain identity.  The consequences are quite unpredictable but there is no reason to suppose they will be trivial.

            How serious will these two issues be?  Time will tell.

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Editorial

Thoughtful students of history generally agree that, all other things equal, a régime has a better chance of long-term survival if it finds ways to charm its subject population into quiescent docility, rather than attempting totalitarian tyranny, or total democracy (actually, a theoretical option only), or a programme of foreign conquest.  Among the diverse means deployed to preserve the pseudo-democratic systems of the west and elsewhere, one of the most widely adopted has been the diversion into tourism of energies and resources that might otherwise have found troublesome political outlets.  (One mark of the mature judgment of the present Chinese establishment is the vigorous encouragement offered to their middle class to undertake foreign travel.)  In ancient times a régime would provide circuses to distract the people; today the people themselves are travelling circuses, but the political result is the same. There is, however, a curious aspect to this.  In nearly all cases – it has been claimed Japan is an exception – subject populations appear to believe that going on holiday is enjoyable.  The belief is so solidly fixed that it is even held by those who are themselves on holiday.

            It is hard to say how far the spread of this error has been conspiratorially organised by those who benefit from tourism.  But in any case it is manifestly fallacious, for northern Europe at least.  If we pick out one common characteristic in holidays taken by inhabitants of those parts, it will be the determination to undergo experiences for which they are not suited.  The airport itself, den of authoritarian bureaucracy and preposterously priced comestibles, is so notorious a cause of stress that no more need be said, except that there is another version at the recipient end.  But what do the tourists then do?  Those emerging from rainswept cloud-covered springs at once toss their pale bodies on to tropic sand to lie for hours under a blazing sun.  (The Turkish Beys, who understood the effect of the climate much better, used to peg out misguided upholders of legitimate rights naked on the sands as a rather severe punishment.)  A librarian whose most perilous ascent in the rest of the year is filing books belonging to the top shelf goes rock climbing in the Dolomites.  The pathologically shy sign up for encounter groups in California or Cambodia  Men with the sexual charisma of abandoned potato peelings flock with SSSS Tours (the advertisements mean you to guess) to Camp Wink Wink in West Africa where they will nightly be scorned by all women in the party who will favour instead the French students who are the Camp’s staff in the holiday season.  Stomachs that feel well attuned to a regular diet of pizza and chips and similar are rightly outraged on being asked to deal with exotic and powerful spices.  Adolescent brains that at other times face no higher challenge than memorising the `lyric’ of their favourite chart hit are first overdosed on alcohol and then expected to negotiate with strange and evilly intentioned taxidrivers, in a foreign language.

Why do so many spend their free time attempting exactly the sort of thing for which they are conspicuously unfitted?  For the unhappy individual the endeavour simply exemplifies a double triumph, of poor judgment over common sense and of advertising over truth.  But this is no concern of the country to which the individual belongs.  True, there is no advantage to a nation’s stability nor its finances if an odyssean returns with a broken leg, dented machismo, a prison record, a collection of disgusting parasites, or worse.  Yet there are undeniably mechanisms by which a government can unobtrusively foster interest in tourism, and undeniable benefits to be derived.  Most of its subjects who visit other countries will consider them disagreeably foreign in behaviour, laws, language and cuisine, except for short visits, and on returning will be glad to appreciate their domicile imperfect though it doubtless is, and content to conform to its demands.  Moreover as already noted, a very great deal of their capacity, such as it is, for planning and energetic action will have been safely drawn off for the year.  Who are we to guess whether our rulers feel a satisfactory balance has been struck?

            There is of course, though, the entirely different theory which holds that an urge to suffer on holiday reflects a real element in human psychology closely linked to ancient post-pubertal rites of passage; deeply buried in modern times, it continues in this last faint trace subconsciously handed down in the form of traditional remarks and folk beliefs.  (For more, see Bentinck, Verrier, et al.)

(Luddites Gazette)

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honor honestique floreant