Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: human biomass

Er – Human Nature?

Late news

A clerical error has resulted in twenty Syrian refugees who had hoped for asylum in Denmark actually landing in Australia.  As its contribution to dealing with the migration crisis, rather than receiving any refugees Britain offered instead in 2015 to maintain the European Office for Registration of Unqualified Migrants, building on its decade-long experience in excluding would-be asylum seekers or returning them to the third-world countries from which they had escaped.  Work in the Office  actually started only last Thursday, owing to difficulties earlier in completing the private finance initiative scheme set-up to equip the headquarters chosen (De Labremont Court Mansion in Sussex) with the facilities needed to house staff and to ensure efficient and secure long-distance communication.  Among the first group to be handled were twenty refugees who had succeeded late last year in passing through Germany but were refused permission to cross into Denmark, and were therefore to be returned, initially to Austria.  But the telex giving the necessary instructions was misread, and as a result these migrants were put on a flight from Frankfurt to Sydney.  The Australian High Court has ruled that since they had neither intended nor wished to travel to Australia, and were under the control of a lawfully recognised international agency they cannot be expelled (although they can receive treatment such as would make it likely that they ask to leave the country).

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Linguistic corner   ‘Patriotism’ is an uplifting or intoxicating feel of hatred or contempt rendered justifiable (according to the patriot) by the fact that it is not directed at one’s own people.   Fegan’s Criminal Dictionary

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A guest writes.  (The contributor, a former broadcaster, wishes to remain anonymous)

Somewhere in the dark and furtive beginnings of regular television broadcasting in Britain sixty and more years ago a chubby, curly-haired youth bounced into a Programmes Provisional Advisory committee meeting (his well-connected step-mother having fixed up the opportunity for him) in Broadcasting House.  (The meeting was unusual since in those days what primarily took place in Broadcasting House was broadcasting, whereas now of course the rooms and corridors are filled with the unceasing hum of innumerable intricate internecine managerial intrigues).  If we could translate his twentieth century words into New British they would be “Television is a visual medium.  Viewers want to see our programs.  They want to see things happening.  They want movement, they want life.  They don’t want a news reader droning on at them with the news, centre-screen and stony-faced like a Chinese idol.  They don’t want to see two heads simply using words to pass thoughts to and fro.  They want action.”   And so on, in the way now only too familiar to those watching a newcomer on the make.

            Not very perceptive, the somnolent middle-aged group round the table mistook his self-promotion (which actually reproduced a presentation by a fellow-student he had witnessed on the media studies course at Wyclaw State U) and took it to be originality.  To a man, they had a firm instinctive distrust of originality, and so to get rid of him as fast as possible they passed a unanimous motion asking him to draft a plan for presentation training, for all those who had to appear in front of camera.  He did not draft such a plan, but his girlfriend did.  And that is why to this day BBC news reporters wave their arms like mediaeval conjurors, or advance stealthily towards the camera as if hoping to spring on it and kill it, or wander in a wide meaningless circle across the landscape while delivering their report.  The words do not matter; the essence is in the movement.  Presentation is the thing, content a mere sideshow.  (Thatcher would have approved.)  It has always been harder to do this sort of thing with studio interviews and news presenters.  Of course they can, and are, frequently interrupted with clips (showing wherever possible attractive young women, or if not available then ‘celebrities’), and many studios have been set up with a slowly revolving panorama behind the speakers.  But change there too is at last under way as older customs and older controllers lose their grip.  Unexplained people will make brief irruptions into the studio.  Interviewers will mix gin and tonic for their interviewees on set.  The panoramas will come to life, first in realistic and then in more exciting fashion.  For instance, birds will flit across the scene behind the presenters in a most plausible and motionful way.  Jackdaws will be spliced in frequently since they like to do aerobatics and pirouette where crows would simply fly from one side of the screen to the other with no more éclat than an MP delivering official policy.  Viewers of the older generation will have to surrender.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  If presentation is going to take over they’ll just have to give up expecting thought and meanings and news and reportage, and if they must get real information they must hunt for it on the net (and a hard game that will be!)  But the television screen will be the scene of constant unpredictable activity.  Explosions – real or faked – in the panorama, sunrise at interestingly different times of day.  Let’s have the special effects guys really earning their money – how about a flock of pterodactyls flapping over Waterloo Station?  Cameras will zoom in without warning on bank raids, again real or faked.  (Does it matter?  The viewers will watch in their millions).  Scenes of personal violence, real or faked here too, some from outside the studio, some in.  Let’s have a vulture perching on the newsreader’s shoulder.  A monkey shown trying to operate one of the cameras.  And more, and more, ever less coherent, less interesting, less humane.  Society and history move on, and those who cannot keep up must sit unprotesting on their park bench and watch as the others pass on out of view.

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Science news   It is reported that the expansion of the human biomass is still proceeding in line with the gradual rise in world equity prices on the stock markets, and with experts still arguing as to why there has seemed to be the surprisingly close correlation between them over the past 150 years which, broadly, continues to hold good despite the droughts now affecting a number of places around the globe, and the imminent economic crashes in the formerly acclaimed BRIC nations (which by the way, just go to show how reliable economic pundits are).  World-wide the percentage of men who are obese stands at a new record, hailed by food-manufacturers and private fee-charging hospitals alike, with a figure of 13% of the adult male population.  An odd statistical feature, however, is that six of the seven leading nations in this exciting contest are English-speaking, and here the number of adult males reaching the obesity level hits 20% a proportion more than 50% higher than the world average.  Scientists in many countries are urging the establishment of research programmes to discover whether speaking English has a beneficial effect on weight gain, or whether a high body-mass index produces a tendency to speak English.

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Karela asks:

Instead of ladling money into artificial intelligence, how about putting some into human intelligence, or better human civilisation?

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Forthcoming news

A number of worried citizens and delighted right-wing politicians have been commenting in recent months on the wide horizons opened up for racial discrimination by recent advances in DNA research.  It appears that the chance of two different human being found to share precisely the same pattern of DNA is certainly lower than one in a hundred million.  This makes it possible for even a brother and sister to despise each other, by each choosing different elements of the genome as the crucial aspects of their genetic make-up which should count as the desirable norm.

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A reader’s letter

Thank you for that sarky bit you had in your last post spoofing the hypocritic tosh this Tory government insults us with.  That’s assuming it wasn’t really one of their announcements?  By the way if that Maud you’ve got as an intern is the Maud Timoshenko came second in the shot put at the Dublin Student Games, you’ve really done yourselves a good turn there.  Good brain, nice strong girl.  What about a signed photograph?

Jim Golightly-Porter

Thank you for the plaudit for our intern, and also your kind offer of a photograph, but we receive plenty of photographs as it is, mostly selfies sent in by readers who somehow imagine that their face, or more often full body shot, may persuade us to reveal our private e-mail addresses to anyone who writes in.  Few are signed, and anyway they are normally binned on receipt, but we do have one (18 inches by 30) which was needed until yesterday to block a hole in a front window that arose when we had the Fine Gael hockey team here last year.  As it happens it is signed by a prominent member of the Tory cabinet and we shall be glad to send it to you in Grimsby.

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 Saying of the week    When you go to see a play in a theatre you are traditionally supposed to offer a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.  However, when you go to the Cinesumma Superplusplex to see the latest Hollywood movie what you need is a willing suspension of dislike.

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Thought for the day   The pantomime horse is loved by all but it does not win the Derby

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Note on democracy   In the election which put the present British government in office, those registering a vote were 66.1% of those eligible to do so.  Out of this number the Conservative party received only 36.9%.  Time for some reflexion on the decent conduct of political affairs.

 

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Amsterdam voices

1) Pacific voices   2) security, surveillance, and sanity    3) notes        Next scheduled distribution 13th September

Announcement: A meeting of the office staff has resolved that we should attempt to dilute the political rantings with some kind of cultural content, and to begin with, at least, we should try for something in the literary line.  The obvious thing was to advertise for a poet in residence, so we rejected that idea partly because far too many have one of those already, but mainly because if we could afford the butt of sack which we understand to be customary we should certainly drink it ourselves instead of wasting it on some fellow dressed like a pimp with his scraggy-bearded chin wagging away in pursuit of verbal wrapping for his evanescent effusions.  Instead we decided to offer a chance to  the much neglected poetastic community.  Nearly always have better manners, and often better dressed.  Since we have to keep in line with political gerryfinicking quotas for minorities, ideally we’ll aim at deaf and dumb lesbians of any complexion other than pink; preferably somewhat ethnic too, Uighur perhaps. That could take care of five of the opportunities-for-the-unsuitable quangos all at one stroke. [Jeremy: ‘But what if we get a pink Uighur gay  male on the left, and in the red corner a woman of approved complexion from Rwanda?’]  Stipend by negotiation, but possibly along the lines of pizza and bottle of booze on Friday nights, and free use of the coffee machine plus the honour and prestige of being our poetaster-i-r.  Not going to have any nonsense about taking ‘in residence’ literally, though. It’s cramped and stuffy enough as it is when Jeremy or Simon stay overnight for reasons the rest of us do not enquire into.

  Applications on a clean piece of paper, with a couple of samples of what you are capable of, to Isabelita.

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   The Polynesians, extending even to the Rapanui of Easter Island, have been recognised as the third group ethnically rather than nationally based to participate in the Pacific Forum (which naturally goes in for discussion of politics and economics in the Pacific area.)  Their interventions certainly deserve to be given due weight (and not just because the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reckons 74 kilos to be the Polynesian adult average, which puts them second only to the Americans in the human biomass stakes).  Whenever one hears leaders of this group one is struck by the reasonable, perceptive,  well-balanced and well-expressed views one hears.  Why not invite them to join the EU (in place of eastern Europe)?  After all if Nato can incorporate Turkey and operate in Afghanistan….

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Isabelita’s uncle, also Ecuadorian, and still an academic unlike his niece, came over to Europe last month on a holiday during which he had hoped to watch her competing in the women’s beach volleyball, but to the huge disappointment of us all she was not finally selected for the squad.  Naturally he flew over to Guernsey with his men, and not only visited the office but stood us all to an excellent Saturday night dinner, enhanced by two bottles of a Peruvian liqueur allegedly based on doing something nasty to a poisonous cactus growing in the Sechura desert.  At two in the morning Manos took him on to a nightclub (till now undiscovered by any of the rest of us!) operating in a barn on a remote corner of the island, but at some time before he left at 9 a.m. Monday morning he had dropped the following into our postbox, wondering if we might distribute it.  [Our apologies to A.S. who has already seen an earlier copy of this]

  If governments really want to co-opt the governed in the establishment of large databases and highly intrusive systems for keeping watch on their populations, ostensibly in order to enhance security for the public and the nation (not to mention the government), then there are very strong reasons why this should not be a one-way bargain.  The first reason is that whole-hearted co-operation is unquestionably needed if these systems and databases are not to be incomplete, inaccurate and leaking like a sieve.  An entirely different reason, difficult for most governments to grasp, is based on accepting and understanding that ‘nation’ should refer to ‘a large group of people co-operating for mutual benefit’, and not merely ‘large group of people all subject to the same single government’.  There are then the following corollaries:

   1)  Systems to be established only so far as there are reasonable grounds for believing that they will in fact enhance security.

   2)  The most stringent practicable checks to be made on honesty of investigators and reliability of technical resources.

   3)  The strictest feasible limits to be set on the number and status of those with access to the output of such systems.

    4)  The best possible precautions to be taken to prevent data becoming available to people not authorised to have access.

   All these are obvious, and yet – above all in the instances of (3) and (4) – have been flouted, in Britain and other parts of Europe, already.  Examples are legion and misbehaviour or worse has been observed even on the part of those who should have been taking especial care, including members of governments.  The merest flake off the tip of the iceberg (thanks to Osvaldo’s British newspaper files): in one single period of nine months two CDs containing child benefit records with the personal details of  more than 25 million people, nearly half the UK population, were lost, remaining lost apparently today; top secret files on al-Qaida and Iraq’s security forces were found on a commuter train and handed in to the BBC by a member of the public, followed a few days later by a second batch of files on terrorism being found on a train; and a memory stick with names, addresses and expected release dates of all 84,000 prison inmates in England and Wales went missing after being left by a contractor in an office over the weekend.   Hospitals have lost details of many thousands of patients, including treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and disability information; they were handed over for the data to be destroyed, but instead many of the records turned up for sale on e-Bay.

Therefore, and for other reasons, there are further corollaries:

5)  When operation of a system brings a person under suspicion, further investigation to  be carried out immediately, and with the most exacting assessment of the evidence.

6)  When a person whose details have been misused has thereby suffered in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, real compensation to become available directly.

7)   No less, when a person suspected of misuse has been investigated, found blameless, but in the process suffered in any way, real compensation to become speedily available.

8)  Anyone authorised to have access to such data who makes wrongful use of the data, in any way, for commercial gain or for personal reasons, to be excluded from further employment in that area, and to receive a published and significant punishment

9)  No individual in the nation to have special immunity, either personally or on grounds of their status, from observation or inclusion in such a database.

10)  The establishment of such systems to include a clear public statement of their intended scope, following which the data must not be used for other ends

nb)  It is imperative to have at the earliest date a genuinely independent body to rule on proper observance of the above, able to impose real, biting penalties and order corrective action if they are breached.

  There is no question but that all these provisions need to be requirements in law, not merely items in a ‘voluntary code of conduct’, and certainly not just ‘government statements of policy’.  How can your country achieve that (and why incidentally are your governments so slothful about acting in that sense)?  You need personal communications, serious and rational and often, by letter or phone call or above all face-to-face speech, to those with enough standing to get effective action on these measures.  (Everybody now realises that if you want effective action, not just a crowd milling about in the street, electronic communications are utterly useless unless either backed by a large body of battle-hardened troops with overwhelming air support, or sent by the mafia or the yakuza.)  Anyone who honestly thinks a state can safely set up ‘tough’ rules to keep its population under close scrutiny and then rely on ‘good sense’ and ‘reasonable behaviour’ on the part of those who will operate the systems should have their cognitive systems checked (as well as a lesson in the history of the 1930s).

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Historical note:  Japanese interrogators were tried after the Second World War for having used waterboarding in their wartime interrogations.  Which country held these trials?  The United States of America.  What were the interrogators charged with?  War crimes.

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From a British newspaper (‘refreshing drinks for your garden or picnics’):

Blood orange punch   Take 15 oranges, peel, and take the pips out.  Drop them in a pan of boiling water and boil for 40 minutes.  While they boil send your cook out to buy two medium sized chickens.  Put them in your cider press and draw off as much of the blood and other juices as your gardener’s strength will permit.  Add to the pan.  When cool, add two bottles of gin.  Serve with ice; ideal for when you have six to eight enemies round for a sundowner.

       (first published in Obiter Ficta2004)

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