Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: history

Smoke signals from over the horizon

 

(Non-)Event of the year

(Please note: all necessary preparations for the historic political event scheduled for the spring of this year, a major turning point in the nation’s story, have had to be postponed until 2020, or possibly 2021, or at least the earliest feasible date thereafter, as a result of the need for careful and fully effective implementation of the prerequisite agreed national policies, when these have been  discovered.)

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Economic comment of the year (excerpt) (Cassandra, 17 August)

…fascinated by the claims that even the most ramshackle hulk can surf the crests and troughs of the world economy in effortless style provided it is manned by a crew with the buccaneering imperial spirit described so misleadingly by Percy Westerman in his books for impressionable boys back in the 1920s and 1930s.  (Poor bloody Scots, though, likely to end up tethered three to a bench in the dark underdeck if any attempt is actually made to launch the vessel.)  So who are going to be the recipients of all the wondrous bounty apparently  promised to Theresa when she sped across the ocean to hold hands with Donald Trump back in 2017, and, more important, what horn of plenty is going to disgorge the boodle?  Some will have noticed that when Jean-Claude Juncker, representing a trade bloc not hugely impressive politically but somewhat bigger than the US went over to talk sanctions with the Donald he came away with a far from unsatisfactory outcome – roughly, keeping things as they are.  What chances of that kind of semi-success when a lone economy, a mere fraction of that size, turns up at the back door of the White House, urgently needing a trade deal to stop the slide in the pound?  Begging it from a man who boasts of driving hard deals, and who by the way has his own re-election as a first  priority?

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Progress in technology

One extraordinary recent item of news was the report that accounts of a shooting in a hospital in Chicago helpfully reached viewers and readers complete with buttons provided for instant reactions, specifically labelled ‘so sad’, ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘I hope everyone is alright’.  Perhaps the report was a malicious fabrication (malicious in the view it implied about the people supposed to have been ‘consuming’ the reports) but there is no need to overegg that pudding here, since I’m confident that any fully normal human being can effortlessly think of half a dozen adjectives with added expletives to describe such a practice (if it did indeed take place).   To take just one dismaying aspect of the report, i.e. the idea that people could welcome a chance to move on to another issue as fast as possible past an expression of sympathy for people caught in a disaster or tragedy, there is unfortunately evidence to support the idea that a ‘need’ for speed trumps (le mot juste) human feeling, as well as effective comprehension, common sense, and (probably in nearly all cases) benefit in practice.  According to data recently reported on French television: in 2004 average attention span of  those scientifically tested was 3 minutes; in 2012, 1 minute and 12 seconds; in 2018 (as millennials started to move into adult life), 45 seconds.

   Further exciting innovations can doubtless be devised.  If the outcomes of such ‘assistance’ are recorded in enough detail, broadcasters can build up data banks recording the buttons typically favoured by ‘consumers’ according to the type of tragedy involved and the social and personal data of their readerships and viewerships, and publish for instance that ‘our data analytics based on previous scoring in news reports identify with 95% probability that 56% of readers (and 81% of viewers in personal care occupations) will have felt deeply moved by the attack on this woman’.  This will save the busy viewer at home from having to click on any buttons at all, or indeed feeling the need to engage in any thought process whatever.

   (Possibly relevant: the very well documented decline in average i.q. in virtually all ‘developed’ countries over the past 30 years.)

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Progress in modern reasoning

Few today will have heard of the cooking pot theory of reasoning adumbrated by Josiah Underhill in his Dispositions of the Human Sense of 1658.  Underhill held that human reasoning can be likened to the physical events affecting vegetables simmering in a pot of stew.  The stew, approximately comparable to the ether in the Newtonian physics which was soon to sweep poor Underhill’s musings into oblivion, was taken to be the medium within which objects of thought  (approximately equivalent to ‘ideas’ in ordinary parlance – today they would be called ots) drift, in motions which are in principle unpredictable.  Unless some outside force, such as a wooden ladle wielded by an observer, interferes, contact between two pieces of vegetable matter in the stew is likely to be a random factor, but the different modes of contact between different kinds of vegetable would correspond, he proposed, to different kinds of thought – statements, questions, contradictions, inferences, and so on, and of course the higher the temperature of the stew, the greater the number of interactions.

   Curiously, some recent work in human error research bears an uncanny resemblance to views that might have seemed well judged to Underhill.  A team from the news institute attached to the Foundation for Adding to Knowledge and Education, based somewhere near Mar-a-lago in deepest Florida, currently claims to have discovered proof of the existence of what one of them has termed ‘black-hole thought’.  The institute is  already developing a well funded programme to exploit their discovery ‘for the benefit of all right-thinking citizens of this great country of ours’.  Their view is that black-hole thought may develop when psychological matter, however defined, forms an accretion around any of a wide variety of what, for want of a more suitable term, may be called ideas.  In the first stage of the process, a nuance or minor idea comes to be assumed as present when some other idea is used, even if there is no natural or necessary link between them.  For instance, in Britain in the present era, the notion of train is often associated with the notions of ‘delay’, and ‘chaos’.  But this level concerns only relatively superficial matters belonging to the lexicon of a language.  A different state of affairs is involved when two ideas are taken to be necessarily connected, as when it was taken for granted in many countries until quite recently that a television ‘presenter’ would certainly be a person with a ‘caucasian’ complexion.  In cases like that, if enough mental interaction was induced – if in Underhill’s terms the temperature of the surrounding stew was raised sufficiently – it would usually be possible for the accreted element to become detached from its host .  But this is still not the phenomenon for which the term ‘black-hole thought’ is appropriate.  That is reached when people believe they are no longer dealing with matters of linguistic usage, but with aspects and elements in the world they see around them.  They feel that what they observe has no need to be treated as a combination of parts which can be separated mentally, using language as the tool of analysis, but is instead a unitary element available for direct inspection – a Ding an sich in fact.  This attitude – ‘it is what it is and there’s nothing to argue about’ appears to be especially favoured when dealing with views on social and political issues, even when a truly independent observer might well feel able to distinguish different aspects in what is observed, and consider that treating such data as unanalysable wholes requires heroic feats of self-deception.or misinterpretation.  Inevitably disputes arise.  The observer who believes he or she is dealing with an unanalysable whole will regard any remark or observation whatever about it as amounting to recognition and therefore as confirmation of its existence.  In practice and especially in politics, when a view becomes widely or vehemently promulgated, any evidence in the vicinity, whether confirming or refuting will tend to be received by its proponents as supportive, irrespective of whether it would be confirming or refuting in the eyes of truly independent observers.  New input to a view is in effect trapped and thereby added to the volume of support for it, as far as supporters are concerned.  Some would probably like to cite Marxist economic theory as a fine instance.  A notable current example is the view that to understand the world around you it is necessary to be connected to the internet.

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footnote

That admirable policy of trying to return cultural treasures to their original and rightful owners is causing increasing irritation to governments around the globe.  It was reported last week that the Welsh assembly is to demand that the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge should be returned as part of their national heritage

 

 

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MMQQ4

Unwearable tech                                              How to make money

How to get really rich                                     Correction (‘Tony’ Blair)

Cheating                                                           Double standards 

16th March for next posting
By reading this post you agree to send two much needed $100 bills to the editorial staff 

Unwearable tech  A spokescreen at the UK Ministry of Defence yesterday declined to comment repeatedly after crowds of enquirers had gathered, to ask about rumours that British Service personnel have been ordered to avoid wearing Union Jack underpants or panties or bras (in the case of female personnel).  However, two newspapers have claimed that a hacker discovered evidence that underwear produced in China but destined for western markets may contain high-tech microminiaturised tracking devices, which would make it possible to follow the movements of wearers from up to five miles away.  It is thought that Chinese agents supposed the Union Jack design would be preferentially purchased by or even specifically distributed to members of the armed forces, and that they would be able to follow journeys undertaken by persons of interest.  Possibly connected with this news, a notice has recently been seen at a number of military headquarters instructing members of the armed forces that if they receive unsolicited underwear through the post they should immediately drop the material into a bucket of water and then hand that in at the nearest depot of the Royal Military Police, where it will be checked, and if ‘clean’ returned to the original destinee.

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OUR NEW FINANCIAL SUPPLEMENT

How to make money  An astonishing chance to become rich has attracted puzzlingly little attention in the world’s media (possibly because the journalists who have heard about it are working hard not to share the news).   American president Trump has banned the import to that country of solar panels.  This is in line with a determination to cut his nation’s trade deficit, especially so far as China is concerned.  (According to some sources China is the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels.)  The result according to economists, and possibly also in real life, is expected to be a dramatic drop in the price of solar panels due to an enormous glut of unsold product.  Where can you lay hands on this supply?  At discount stores and car boot sales all over China.  What can you do with the stuff?  It is not known what the journalists are hoping to do with their supplies but this office has exciting plans, provided Elon Musk has not yet cornered the market.  ROOF THE SAHARA with solar panels!  Cool the temperature underneath by up to 10 degrees throughout the year, instal greenhouses underneath and use some of the petawatts of electricity generated to pump up water from the rainforests of tropical Africa, become the world’s biggest producer of hydroponic vegetables, earn the lifelong gratitude of the inhabitants, win the Nobel Peace Prize (actually we’re not quite sure yet about that last couple of parts of the project) and be hailed by the UN as Environmental Champion of the decade.  And get extremely rich.  Start crowdfunding now!

Our financial adviser reports

Two readers have written in asking virtually the same question.  (One asks ‘My friends tell me that ethical investment is the hot thing in the money business, which I assume means getting hold of a medical company and squeezing it to get all the goodness out.  Which country offers the best opportunities?’; the other asks ‘How can I get rich?’)

The way to achieve true wealth is obviously to acquire the largest assets available at the lowest price possible, either because the seller is dim-witted or ill-advised (possibly by you), as with Russia’s sale of Alaska, or because you are able to determine the price (ideally at zero as in the acquisition of North America by immigrants from Europe, or the British takeover of Australia.)  For those with sufficient bargaining power (in whatever form) the best asset class has aways been natural resources, and you should aim for as large an initial holding as your leverage possibilities will allow, in resources such as coal, oil, forests, fish, the indigenous population of whichever territory appears to be within reach and so on.  One of the very few planetary resources which has not yet been satisfyingly monetised is the jet stream, or more properly the jet streams.  (There are two in each hemisphere.)  These cannot be mined in any ordinary sense, but they do constitute a prodigious source of energy.  If you happen to control a country over which one of the jet streams passes, then you can quite easily develop it as a massive source of income by passing a law declaring that when passing over your country it must obey environmental directives and pay taxes as set by yourself.  (This is merely an updated version of the toll, one of the major features of economic life throughout the middle ages.)  If however you are not in this fortunate position you can still hope for a substantial revenue stream by adopting a quite different strategy.  Simply set up a company, of which you will be the sole manager, but with competent advertising and sales staff and let it be known that you are working on a project to monetise the jet stream ‘within the next three years’.  It will be easy to find experts who will dazzle investors lacking scientific grasp (and/or common sense) and who will play up the fantastic amounts of energy theoretically available while downplaying the fact that you have no practical prospects of deriving profits from them by normal physical or stratospherical principles.  You almost certainly will in fact experience an initial influx of capital from wealthy individuals who ‘want to get in early’ and you should very carefully use this to develop the brand, build stylish company headquarters, and to network so far as possible with celebrities, no matter how irrelevant the basis for their celebrity.  Your financial success from this point on will depend simply on the effectiveness of your publicity campaign.

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Correction  (‘Tony’ Blair )  [ Journal Headquarters reports]  Not for the first time we have to rebut an attempted correction.  Two readers apparently thought they could score a point off us by writing in with the information that ‘Tony’ Blair (in MMQQ3, The triumphant Tories) was (according to the official record) a Labour prime minister.  We assure them that his appearance in that guise was deliberate.  Readers unfamiliar with sarcasm and satire may like to consult von Wilpert’s article Ironie in his Sachwörterbuch der Literatur.  Those of a literal turn of mind may be glad of an assurance that Adolf  Hitler was not in practice a sozialist, Stalin was not in practice a communist, and the Queen of England is not in practice the ruler of the country and supreme commander of that nation’s military forces.  Similarly Father Christmas does not have any children.  (Astrophysicists tell us much the same goes for old Father Time.)

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Bad business

One of the threatening black linings on the silvery cloud that is the currently blooming British economy is the fact that for years and years there has been no significant increase in productivity, for example with more bombs per worker emerging from the production lines each year (but of course strictly for export only to states guaranteeing they will not be used for offensive purposes in countries with civilian populations).  This has puzzled many pundits who effortlessly fail to notice that wages in real terms have, depending on the sector, either been stationary or falling for more than ten years.  This can hardly fail to depress the economy, but just as with capital, you have to put energy into a market to get more energy out.  However, there are at last signs of increasing productivity just where it is needed – in the younger generation.  (No point trying to boost the productivity of pensioners.)  There has been an encouraging rise in cheating productivity in exams in England 2017, admittedly from a low base.  (Up from 0.011%  to 0.015%.)   This is seen as a highly welcome indicator that social trends are changing in the direction increasingly necessary as the British people launch themselves into the struggle to win ‘best possible trade deals’ (indeed ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’)  to make up for the imminent collapse – thanks to Brexit – of all those sectors of the economy so far keeping the national nose above water.  There is, however, an important caveat.  It needs to be pointed out that modern technology in the cheating industry is advancing steadily, and those British figures refer to cheating detected.  Bear in mind therefore RVR, the ‘reporting village recalibration.’  In the closing months and weeks of the Vietnam War, American headquarters buoyantly reported encouraging steady reductions in the number of reports about Vietcong guerilla activity in the villages around Saigon.  It was realised only shortly before the end that this had been because the Vietcong guerillas had taken over those villages and failed to send in any reports about their activities to American HQ.

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‘The bubble reputation’

Some questions could be put to the British establishment’s public face about the Oxfam disgrace.  Do they believe that the deplorable conduct of some staff is typical of Oxfam as a whole?  If not, do they realise that cutting Oxfam’s funds will result in harm to children, women and men who have been getting vital support which needs to continue?  Do they feel it is right to allow harm to be caused to some because others in their group have behaved illegally or morally or both? That is dangerously close to collective punishment, and there it should be pointed out that some of those who would suffer were themselves victims of the original misconduct.  But it would be interesting to get their answer to a question of a different sort.  Do they think that there should be similarly strong and firm action against other large organisations active in the UK, whose ranks have included individuals who have behaved illegally or immorally or both, in some cases for many years, the National Health Service, for instance?  Are there football associations or teams which should prepare for investigation?  In particular are there likely to be any punitive moves against that big organisation headed by a man in Rome who wears a white dress, and within which deplorable conduct, by some, goes back decades?

Making, and faking, history

Thanks to Karela and Maud for looking after the place while I had to be away.  Our Greek colleague has made contact again at last, more news of  him I hope next time.  Thanks as ever to Monty for his piece.

1) Putin                                       2) The flying white elephant

3) Scotland and history              4) Hotcuppa

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At a special press conference arranged to announce his forthcoming one-year job-swap, Vladimir Putin confirmed that the suggestion had been put to him personally by Ban Ki Moon.  Speaking in fluent German as he usually does when interviewed by western media he said that the idea had originally come from his friend Victor Orbán who saw it as a way to combat the dangerous tensions in eastern Europe which, for no very good or obvious reasons, had been increased sharply in recent months.  The first idea had naturally been to exchange duties with the leader of a country in the western hemisphere, but the United States had made it plain that they would be fiercely opposed to any initiative which asked them to co-operate with a President of Russia as locum head of a western nation even if only for one year.  In any case, apart from the US itself there was no country large enough or complex enough to offer any suitable partner in the arrangement, and that is why he would instead be exchanging offices with Lloyd Blankfein at the head of Goldman Sachs for one year, starting from 1st September.  He said he was looking forward to the experience as a great opportunity to see at first hand how robber capitalism works and he had been assured that Lloyd was eager to learn how Russia approached the problems of social inclusion, and was particularly interested in the techniques which had been so successful in the reduction of gang warfare since he became President in 1999.

  Challenged over whether he had the necessary expertise to deal with complex economic issues he accepted that it would be a mistake to think that pulling the strings of the world economy is exactly the same as running a large and complex nation.  On the other hand there were many similarities.  There was laughter from journalists when he added that it was not yet clear to him that a thorough knowledge of economics was an asset in governing a major economic power, given that economists’ predictions were  nearly always wrong.  In answer to further questions, he said he had not yet had time to explore the options for leisure activities at week-ends, but was very hopeful that he would be able to go hunting grizzly bears in the mountains of Alaska.

   Unfortunately as the question, in French, of a journalist from Libération was being translated,  asking whether a job-swap between top and bottom of the same society might be more instructive than one between two matching positions at the top of two different countries, there was a power failure plunging the room into darkness which could not immediately be rectified and the session had to come to an early close.  Agence NqqN

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Plaudit of the week  Congratulations to Solar Impulse 2 which has just completed its flight round the world.  This triumph is rightly hailed as showing the world how air transport is likely to develop in the years ahead.  Experts foresee ever increasing delays – Solar Impulse 2 needed 16 months to complete the journey –  and ever greater inconvenience; the trip had to be made in seventeen separate stages, in several cases involving more than 72 hours in the air.  They foresee ever increasing air fares, too, given that even when development costs are subtracted this one flight cost a figure running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And then there is the minor issue that this hugely expensive trip actually could only achieve the transport of one person at a time

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Monty Skew writes: One of the few valid generalisations about history is that the natural pre-programmed destiny of any large grouping of populations under more or less the same ruling authority is to become a bad-tempered  agglomeration of smaller nations, very often energetically at war with one another, through developing regional differences where they do not exist, and stirring them up where they already do, until the whole thing falls apart and lies in fragments scattered across the path of history.  (The Austro-Hungarian and the British empires were in their time unpopular variations on this flaw in human nature, while from more recent politics you could take Yugoslavia, or FrançAfrique; and a long view would say the Ottoman case is still playing out.)  The opposite trajectory is only achieved under heavy and often very unpleasant external pressure, and will hardly ever last more than a few decades.  One might assume that those who so painstakingly stitched together (with cobbler’s twine) the patchwork quilt of the European Union never had time to read any history books.  (This is not necessarily to say they are intellectually challenged.  There is a pretty good general rule that other things equal, the greater the number of people you put together for a common purpose, the lower their collective IQ will become.  Look at football crowds, conversation in student bars, Prime Minister’s Questions (if you are British) or discussion papers issued by the EU.  Not for nothing the Middle Ages thought universities should be places where scholars lived each in their cell isolated from the outside world, and unmarried.)

            Anyway now that the various parts have started falling off the ozymandian bandwagon, starting with the Great British chunk, it is time to start thinking about how the pieces can be picked up, dusted off, repaired and put back in service on a more human scale.  Any European nation worth its salt needs to have the full run of national characteristics: national flag, national airline, national language (tough luck, Belgium and Switzerland, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles), national anthem, national symbol, national game, and national dress.  This much is agreed by all sensible commentators.  But what is particularly interesting is the way that things stack up in Scotland’s case. National flag?  The Saltire.  National airline?  Perhaps their weakest point but still 9 out of 10 (two regional lines). Then it goes: Gaelic, Scotland the Brave, the Loch Ness monster, not just one game but a whole set of Highland Games; and the kilt.  And then they even have a bonus entry.  National musical instrument?  The bagpipes.  Not just the best score in Europe, probably the best in the world.  Skilled politologues will see at once that this is a nation in good nick and ready to go.  Holding it back could in fact risk an explosion dangerous for the whole region.  Now, Sturgeon may well be worried about winning the necessary referendum, given the opportunities which hi-tech voting systems  provide for industrial-scale electoral fraud.  But there is an answer.  She should start a campaign to ensure that the electorate for the vote consists of the entire adult population of the island of Great Britain.  Given the clearly enormous impact on both sides of the border this proposal would be almost impossible to resist on both moral and political grounds.  The question to be put will then of course be ‘Should England and Scotland become entirely separate countries’.  It’s all Wall Street to a china orange that the result will be an overwhelming ‘yes’, even if every single elector in Scotland votes ‘No’.

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From our affiliated print publication The Pedicurist’s Illustrated Quarterly Gazette

The Hotcuppa trial opens tomorrow.  Lawyers are agog to see what happens in this sensational trial which began with a low-level complaint about the expression of unacceptable racist and sexist language but has developed and expanded like the costs of a government infrastructure project into a page one media storm.  The key fact about it all is that the victim of the allegedly offensive remarks, a former model, and now prize-winning novelist, is the person who made them, about herself.  There will be two teams of lawyers in court, both working for the publishing firm which ‘edited’ and produced her book, one for the defence and one for the prosecution.  After weighing up the interests of free speech and the likelihood or otherwise of a guilty verdict the judge allowed publication of the offending remarks.  In her fictionalised autobiography the author wrote: ‘In my new school I soon got the nickname ‘Hotcuppa’, which was a shortening for ‘Hot cuppa tea’, which I personally liked mostly because of the teacher gave it me.  Fit guy and then some, but that’s another story.  He said I made him think of a hot cup of tea, being I was hot, strong, brown and very sweet.’

(Continued on page 95 with full page spread.)