Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: international waters

MMQQ7 – Flying Fish

Schedule for next regular posting 16 June

Krill    Scientists (who else would it be?) recently discovered that vast swarms of tiny shrimps, with a collective biomass which dwarfs anything that migrating wildebeest or North American bison could ever put into play, are pulsating deep below the surface of the world’s polar oceans.  They flick their tails in such enormous numbers that they have a detectible impact on ocean currents. Scientists believe there is a genuine possibility that a change in their ancestral migrations could lead to a major change in the circulation of oceanic currents, diverting the Gulf Stream for instance, so as to no longer bring mild Caribbean waters flowing to Europe in the winter.  There have been various reactions around the globe.   Representatives of the Munster Winter Sports Association are already in Colorado for discussions about establishing a chain of Irish ski resorts if, as the scientists believe possible, an abrupt halt to the North Atlantic Circulation results in Alpine winters for the Southwest of Ireland.  Whitehall has already received a proposal from a retired British admiral for attempts to ‘train’ the shoals so as to control their movements, on the basis that if a flying goose can bring down an airliner then a marine phenomenon as big as this might cause serious problems to a Russian nuclear submarine.   (The scientists commented that it might be easier to train shrimps than retired admirals, or the dolphins they’d made attempts with earlier.  The dolphins had quickly spotted that the backpacks that were strapped onto their backs were only too likely to have unpleasant effects for themselves whatever else might happen.) (The ‘dolphins’ which patrol up and down the coast of Gaza with a regularity which has attracted the admiration of border security agencies around the world are in fact tiger sharks.  Theresa May is said to have instructed an ad hoc team to investigate whether similar recruits could be incorporated into her programme to control ‘free’ movement after Brexit.)  Meanwhile several fleets of Dutch fishermen are already more than halfway to the poles, followed by support vessels dwarfing mere Med cruise liners, bearing fishing gear that could bring up the Albert Hall if it was down there.                 Tweets from Donald Trump this morning initially declared the existence of these massive swarms to be a dangerous threat to the peaceful passage of shipping in the Gulf, and he blamed Iran for stoking up regional tensions.  It emerged later that the president had confused the Gulf referred to when talking about the ‘Gulf Stream’ with the different Gulf which some of us who took geography in school  have always called the ‘Persian Gulf’ (though according to others it has, even more always, been called the Arabian Gulf.)

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Today’s Voice of Protest (This posting’s contrary voice is that of Professor Sid Karaosmanoglu, Associate Professor of Domestic Sanitation for Block 43 and the ground floor of Block 45 in the City Campus of Bognor Sophia.)  ‘As I see it, all those Windrush people did very well out of our country while they were here, shouldn’t be grumbling.  Besides they weren’t mostly proper British, anyway.  Very few out of them all really hated foreigners, far as I could see.’

             We are interested to hear that in his spare time (every day after 6pm,  and weekends except for alternate Saturdays) Professor Sid is a keen advocate of gender equality.  In particular he feels it is unfair that most major beauty contests still refuse to admit male candidates, including himself.

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Serious stuff   Let me state categorically again that the inhabitants of the UK did NOT vote to leave the EU.  The claim that they did is paired with bizarre twists of the notion of democracy.  Somewhere about the generation of John Stuart Mill, theorists safely detached from close proximity to the conditions of most of the population, purveyed an idea that democracy entailed dealing with a problem (e.g. ‘who shall run the country and how?’) by collecting ideas from all and sundry, setting them before all those who would be affected by the various possible answers, corralling those answers into explicit formulations, and letting the assembled company have simple votes on which would be accepted.  This is a neat way to run your local badminton club, so long as it has no over-ebullient members.  It was distant from the way government was actually run even then, when ‘democracy’ meant a daring revolutionary proposal, that all adult males (provided they were not in prison or members of an unfavoured minority)(race didn’t even come into it ) should be allowed to vote once, every few years, on which small oligarchy should hold power up to and including decisions to send the populace to war, in the next few years.  From small acorns mighty oaks!  Now a population of millions has the virtually useless right to form itself, once every few years, into groups of tens of thousands, which each choose one representative, who can proceed to a second stage where six hundred or so such representatives can decide which tiny group among themselves will actually get their hands on the controls, including decisions to go to war, for the next handful of years.  All this, observed by a moderately rational visitor from an alien star system will (or perhaps, if we but knew, does) have him, her or it gibbering at the various moons whizzing round the night sky.  It doesn’t stop there.  Since hundreds of different issues will face the nation at the time of the ‘election’ and there is only one voting day it cannot in practice be anything more than a popularity poll, and since, throughout, 98% of the electorate have no better chance to assess the candidates than seeing them walking on stage or addressing a carefully managed television audience, or reading – as most do not – the claims and assertions made in the course of hugely expensive and carefully crafted campaigns of political advertising (sorry – I nearly wrote ‘information’ there) the whole shebang has as much similarity to consulting the population on their considered views on the whole range of issues to come up in the next five or six years as Theresa May’s acceptance speech outside No. 10 has to her practice in office (and in earlier years, we now learn).

            The biggest mystery is how great swathes of the population seem to think they believe (sic) that something like the theory is approximately similar to what does happen.  Actually if there are any ways that ideas and desires among the population have any influence on the governing elite, the holding of democratic elections is most certainly not one of them.  Just look at some of those who get into high positions.  (I’d suggest dinner parties in Hampstead, or sharing rooms when fresh out of university or getting born in a well-placed family would all be many times more effective.)  Perhaps someone will defend the system on the grounds that there should be a place for farce in politics.  Certainly it has had  some outlandish political effects.  Macron is acclaimed as the French president now leading Europe.  The elegant French variation on democratic election got him there with a final vote of only about 42.5% of the French electorate, even though he ended up facing a single opponent, who was one of the most unpopular politicians in the country.  As for the Brexit referendum it is recorded in black and white that ‘Leave’ attracted about one third, only, of the adult electorate, voting (as should now be obvious to even those determined to take a view unclouded by objectivity) about a sealed prospectus, with only one factor identified out of many dozens heavily relevant.  But never mind, Britain is a good, respectable, democratic country, so that’s all right then.

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Speculative investment  Experts specialising in intellectual property say that they are seeing manufacturers of their products increasingly shifting their interest to the ‘tried and tested’ side of the market.  Why waste time and money developing new projects when you can simply make a few tweaks to something that has already proved its worth with a public lobotomised by the constant barrage of consumerism, mount a high-powered promotional campaign for your ‘fantastic’ ‘all-new’ whatever-it-is, and carry on adding to the bonus package of your CEO and his board?  But analysts are puzzled by a continuing weakness in the imagination sector.  While certain niche products are holding steady, for instance Japanese manga, the sector as a whole has been in decline since the beginning of the year.  This is despite the  steady flow of new products of this type arriving on the market, with all the promotional publicity you could want (and then a lot more to make sure), about wonderful advances, boasting that – with smartphones for instance – the latest new model has 8% higher pixel density than anything seen before, or it has a ‘uniquely’ curving carapace modelled on ancient Greek pillars on Syros, or it can project a laughing zombie sitting cross-legged front centre of the picture when you let someone use it for a selfie if you don’t tell them how to turn that feature off.  Every week brings new  ‘fantastic ways to lose weight and enhance your endurance while eating three wonderful health-giving meals a day’.  One analyst has suggested that for so long each new idea has so regularly been ‘even more exciting’ than the one before, that customers have come to regard ‘even more exciting’ as equivalent to ‘much the same as the sort of stuff we already know about so let’s just go out for a  pizza tonight’.  (Known to some as the Musk effect.)  Last month for instance, Lui Phoo of the Taiwan Institute of Phrenology announced she had found a way to turn divorced French retirées into animal rights activists, but nobody turned up to the press conference she had arranged.   Willie Storey, a farmer (and footballer) of Cumberland believes that success in sheepdog trials is partly down to telepathy between master (or mistress) and dog, and wants to find out if this discovery can be put to any less practical use, but his appeals for investigators have fallen on deaf ears.  An Illinois student is still appealing for crowdfunding to support him writing a dictionary of the world’s best ideas that nobody has ever yet had.  ($118-50c in 13 months so far.)  At present the decline looks set to continue given the great volume of increasingly poor quality imagination and outright fake imagination, flowing onto the net, simply reproducing effects or images or plotlines taken from Hollywood movies or American novels, or directly from news reports, even though this practice can cause problems of its own.  A well-known author last year lifted what he thought was a news report to put in his collection of fifty one-page stories which won him a ‘New Writing’ award.  It turned out that the ‘news report’ had been run up by a journalist in a hurry to fill a column, reworking a tale she found in a 1935 book, ‘Bedtime Stories for Billy’.  The author is now being sued for plagiarism.

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Apology (Editor writes.) I am fed up with the irritating whines that  news outlets usually give you: ‘My remarks were taken out of context; and there wasn’t really anything wrong anyway, but if there was it wasn’t my fault, and I remember anyway back in 2015 you did something slightly similar which was much, much worse so let’s concentrate on  that then!’  By comparison with that sort of crap one might almost respect – no, not really – the bare-faced effrontery of what might be called  the papal gambit.  Two or three popes ago one of them, the one who used to be in the SS, upset large chunks of such of the world’s population as pay any attention to him, by some outrageous remark, and when asked to apologise announced that he was sorry that those who had heard him had got themselves in a lather about it.  Enough of these fraudsters: We sincerely apologise to Lady Margaret Hall for our mistaken report that LMH had any hand in the education of Theresa May.  Our fault for not checking.

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Isn’t it time we heard the report from the OPCW, the initial report that is, not the one to come out about Douma?  Or didn’t it come out the way that Theresa wanted?  And by the way, isn’t it time there was a message from the Skriepal woman (not just a message from the Met saying they were speaking on her behalf.  British procedures are supposed to be a bit above the level of small Third-world dictatorships.)

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Mahathir back after fourteen years taking it easy.  If it really is Mahathir.  But how could he have teeth like that at 92?  Or is it a body-double?  If it is really Mahathir, a worrying thought looms – Bersluconi is only 81.

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Negotiating towards disaster

No this is not your Editor writing.  He has left me in charge of the place while he takes a summer holiday.  He claimed he has been invited to join a presidential team charged with devising new combinations of countries and organisations (not necessarily real, now or ever) that can be made ready in case of need to allege their existence, presented together with supporting aerial photographs and forged documents to persuade troublesome populations around the world that there is a new and even more threatening axis-of-evil about to bombard them (‘with just 45 minutes warning’ is apparently the timespan to be asserted).   That is, if attempts at détente with whatever axis-of-evil is currently the on-duty axis-of-evil do not succeed in failing, which involves much less effort.  (It’s nearly always more comfortable dealing with a familiar long-term enemy.)  Actually I don’t think I believe a word of his story, because I met some good chaps in a bar down at the harbour, and they told me every year he takes his Lamborghini off to France or Italy for a couple of weeks in the summer for a holiday.  He said nothing about posting before he left.   I’m taking that as his agreement for me to have a go myself, though in fact the first item is something a reader in Fiji sent in which I found when I went through the post.  Edward D.L.H.

  1. The Theresa mystery 2. The Gulf mystery  3. Career advice 4. Prize competition  5.Counterclassicism

If he sticks to his schedule – a bit fussy about stuff like that – the next regular posting will be 1/8/2017


Some have unkindly, and inaccurately, described Theresa May as Hillary Clinton translated into British.  Theresa got where she did by her own efforts, not significantly aided by serried banks of supporters, and she did get to the top job.  But she is a paradigm example of the outstanding lieutenant who should not have been promoted  captain.  Given a post (Minister of the Interior) where cunning politicians like to see an able and efficient rival, since there is a good chance its demands may leave them exhausted, she held it for six years and still succeeded to the top job.  She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, the police and the elderly grandees of her own party.  But Theresa’s efficiency is her weakness.  She identifies issues and their parameters, the problems and their solutions, and systematically works out the ways to deal with them.  Efficiency, in this mode, is what in junior posts is described as ticking boxes.  To tick a box appropriately you have to identify it, and that identification tends to fill up the foreground of the attention, blocking the chance of taking into account other circumstances that might be related, might be important. and might change.  This kind of efficiency is the enemy of the imagination of the gifted and successful leader.  In the case of the holder of a demanding post it also inevitably leads to a risky dependence on outlines and options and information and position papers passed upwards from offices which individually will very probably have less competence and less complete awareness of what is needed.  The procedures for supplying that material will soon enough become standard and by that fact will be invested with a spurious aura of reliability and authority, even when the material is the outcome of an overworked inexperienced subordinate team.  And what will the result be when the time comes to take the sum of this prodigious labour and to ask others from an opposing camp to accept the carefully measured and firmly based conclusions of one’s own side?  Will one meet them with a mind ready to hear different views and values and to recognise aspects of the situation that had not shown themselves before, a mind able at once to see a way to build a stronger structure by combining the familiar with the new?  Or will that strenuous preparation of meticulous plans to cover every factor foreseen have led to unquestioning trust in one’s own side’s right to stay true to its decisions, adherence to its predetermined principles and to insistence that one’s own position is the only one possible, led in fact to the last step on the path to failure?   (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)

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E.D.L.H writes.  A chum of mine  who is still in the diplomacy racket thinks the trouble heating up in the Persian Gulf (apologies to my Arab friends but I grew up with that name constantly in my ears and it’s hard to change long term habits) could have a very simple origin.  Anybody notice a couple of odd things about it?  Things had been going along there tickety-boo for years, even if some were getting a bit cheesed off about all the attention being given to Qatar.  Then suddenly three states suddenly made seriously heavy noises in the direction of Qatar (plus Egypt which gets a lot of money from the Gulf), telling them they’d got to shut down the Turkish army base there (odd that they didn’t mention the much larger US base, but that fits my chum’s theory like a glove), tug the forelock to the leaders of the Arab world which they made very clear did not include Turkey, blow raspberries or medium-range missiles at Iran, and shut down Al Jazeera.  Now when did all this start?  Just about three weeks ago.  And what happened a week or two before that?  Donald Trump’s successful visit to Saudi Arabia, with pomp, friendship, and massive contractual benefits.  Most of the world by now is familiar with our friend Donald’s impulsive generosity towards those he sees as his friends, and also familiar with his free-ranging eloquence.  The theory is that there was a certain amount of misunderstanding in the parleys that took place (by no means at all the first such occasion when leaders of the Arab world have met westerners expounding their views), and that the Saudi side may have got the impression that they were going to get US support from there on in, whatever they might set their hand to.  What better opportunity could they find to take those they see as uppity Qataris down a peg or three?  And the Saudis may have assumed it would be un-American to cancel a contract as big as that one even if some untoward incident, such as nuclear war should intervene.

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Opinion piece (anon.)  Careers advice centres seem slow in adapting to the modern world.  When did you last hear of a twenty-something being adviced (that is apparently how now-generation professionals in that line of business should put it) about how to get himself or herself onto the books of a functioning international organisation.  But it’s a high premium goal.  Once in, a good chance of a first class life-style for decades.  Generous salary and very generous expenses/’compensation’ schemes.  Very little work required apart from the production of reports and statistics and mission statements and  draft programmes in sufficient quantity to ensure that those who receive them will not attempt to read the stuff.  Moreoever there will be plenty of competent assistants and secretaries to deal with whatever has to be done in the office.  Downside?  Not much, though attendance at meetings can become a drawback if not treated with the right level of insouciant contempt, which of course must never be directed overtly at those through whose ranks you hope to rise to become a Vice-President Europe, or Regional Director Southeast Asia.   Ideal work environment, since any self-respecting government will facilitate large and luxurious headquarters for any right-sounding international organisation that decides to base itself in their country.   Largely stress-free schedules unless you choose to input the stress yourself (see again remark about assistants and secretaries), and first-class air travel every time you jet off for a study tour or congress. For the energetic and imaginative there could be great advantages (though correspondingly also risks) in developing a brand-new international organisation of your own in co-operation with the right sort of individuals in the state where it is to be based, but of course you must make sure first that the organisation does not already exist.  (Their number is very great.)  Naturally it must claim to promote something which is going to cost little by comparison with the annual budget of the average government, but at the same time look good when the leader goes along to give his annual speech at the UN.   Anyone for a World Index of Cross-Border Navigation Rights, or an Asian Commission on Dental Health of Domestic Pets, or an International Double-Migration Advisory Panel?

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One thing which I certainly share with our Editor even though I have the wrong nationality and, for the past few years, the wrong habitat too, is British politics and public life, endless source of wonder at human credulity and incompetence.  A single example: London has recently decided to remove the ‘speed bumps’ built into suburban roads, on the grounds that drivers’ reactions to them increase air pollution and thereby impose a cost in life expectancy.  (Why do they think the ‘speed bumps’ near schools, for example, were put there in the first place?) But  the Editor’s approach to that strange society seems to have  been rather po-faced.  I’m going to set up a prize competition.  A bottle of Château du Tertre for the best article to fit the following heading:  ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’  Answers (typed please) on not more than 4 sheets of A4 paper to this office by 7/7/17 (E.D.L.H.)

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Counterclassicism:  A striking piece of evidence that time will not ‘always tell’, or at least that some bits of truth may have to wait longer than the whole existence of the human race before being revealed:  Virgil built up a solid reputation as a major poet by (a) writing a lot of stuff; (b) using it, as well as other opportunities, to fawn on the emperor who liked that, and who could have Virgil neutralised at the drop of a handkerchief; (c) exercising an eye for picking out the sort of ideas that well-off and well-connected Romans liked to hear; (d) having a fairly good verbal memory and a good grounding in the rules needed for writing Latin hexameters (though he got that part wrong in places); (e) sharing a belief popular throughout recorded history that pompous or antique verbiage is ipso facto poetic; and (f) quite remarkably little talent for imagination, visual description, using words and syntax for achieving interesting aesthetic effects, and for any other qualities that can raise a claim for a true poet.  Just take an unprejudiced look at his work, Georgics just as much as the Aeneid, strip away the respectful aura enveloping it for millennia.  How can the reputation survive an honest unbiassed assessment?

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From far away on the ocean to the moose pits of Sweden

Our political correspondent (Monty Skew) writes

            Curious isn’t it, to see America rebuking China for developing facilities on islands in the South China Seas. The more usual charge levelled against other countries is that their policies are restraining development, or, to put it another way, failing to make it easy for foreign companies to establish branches in those countries and set about extracting pleasing returns from the local populations. But that is not the most piquant aspect of the matter. For China, despite long-standing though vague claims to most of the islands, has not moved in on any where other nation states have already been active, and that is an interesting contrast with other cases where island-grabbing has been alleged by the disrespectful. For example, in 1973 the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean was grabbed from those who lived there, and the entire population was expelled much against their will. Of course, it has to be admitted that the forced emigration was done with the consent of the governing power. However, the governing power was the United Kingdom, not the population living on the islands, though why the British undertook this relatively merciful measure (after all, other powers disposing of unwanted populations have not infrequently simply massacred them) is puzzling, since they made no use of the islands themselves but provided their use to America who established a large base on Diego Garcia, which is still there; those who survive of the dispossessed population still actively want to return to their home but cannot. (You see, it is not only in the Middle East that populations driven out have this hankering to return to where their ancestors lived for centuries. Perhaps in this present case a British prime minister might take the initiative again, this time suggesting a homeland for the Chagos islanders in some other part of the world such as eastern Africa; or indeed in Melanesia, since the Australian government seems to have had some success, by their own standards, with propelling people discovered on the high seas onto Nauru without gaining their consent, and despite the conditions for them in Nauru being so lamentable that journalists are barred.)

            As it happens Chagos is not the only instance where island issues can be a bit tricky. In 1983 America was also involved, in fact the actual invading power, which took over control of the small island of Grenada, on the grounds that its airport was a threat to the security of the United States. Others suggest that the aim of the invasion was simply to bring the policies of the island into line with the democratic views of Washington. By co-incidence the governing power, standing in theory over the local government was, there too, the United Kingdom, in fact standing at such a distance that it only learned about the invasion from the American media. By a remarkable feat of prescience the British administrator was able to draft an appeal for foreign intervention before the event although he apparently only realised that he had done so some time after the invasion had begun. In this case, there was no attempt to clear the island of its population, who numbered after all some 90,000, and only a few dozen local inhabitants became insurgents or collateral damage through taking part in the resistance to the invasion (though the some of the latter were, perhaps surprisingly, in a hospital). World reaction was very unfavourable although the US successfully vetoed a critical motion in the Security Council.

          One might have hoped the sensible conclusion would be ‘leave foreign islands alone unless they constitute a serious and imminent danger’ (such as might hazard the life of a western prime minister within 45 minutes). Now in this context it should be mentioned that a limit of 12 miles is internationally recognised as the standard extent from the coast of territorial waters; the coast has to be land known to be claimed by a continuing sovereign power (and in case of dispute this will be generally settled, short of war, by demonstration of occupation and control). The coast cannot be an uninhabited reef or rock to which no claim has been made.

            The Chinese have vague but long-standing claims to many of the uninhabited islands in what is generally known as the South China sea, as have several other states in the region, and the Philippines for instance have installed small numbers of settlers in moderately well paid discomfort on remote islands to give weight to their claims. Washington knows that there are claims from all these sources and recognises that fact by stating that no overt support is extended to any particular claim. Yet it appears that the US plans to ostentatiously and imminently send armed forces through ‘international waters’ deliberately passing within 12 miles of islands which were not ‘built’ but only extended, by China, (and the validity of extending land area by reclamation from the sea is understood and accepted from Amsterdam to Singapore) and which were claimed and are occupied by China. This obviously couldn’t just be a case of trying to show which fellow has the biggest muscles. But whatever could the motive be?

            There is a way we might be able to find out. Let’s get the UN to ‘defuse the issue’ by asking America to put in claims of her own to some of these islets since she is so interested in the region, and to send biologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, as well as any of her more unconventional citizens who might be persuaded or actually wish to go, to occupy them as a local population (probably with a great many more modern conveniences than the Philippine settlers on their far-flung settlements.) Someone could suggest pouring enough concrete to make an airstrip to allow liberty flights to Manila, or perhaps Angel City. The response to that request should clarify matters greatly.

Karela Hangshaw our geophysical expert (and flower arranger)

Simple Simon in almost every day recently, sometimes with that beefy adopted mother of his. A bit of a nuisance, but I haven’t the heart to ask him to leave when he comes on his own. I can’t say that he means well, because meaning is an activity he doesn’t handle in the same way as most other people – neitherwise, that is, re what you say to him, and what he utters himself. I don’t at all say he’s stupid; he just tends to have differently shaped thoughts from those of other people. For instance this morning he was badgering me to set up an article about ‘Sweden’s poor moose pit farmers’. Got quite excited. When I’d deciphered his verbal and manual gesticulations it seemed these fellows are up against a group of wealthy hunters and have only some mathematical theory to defend themselves, and at first I was sympathetic. Few groups of wealthy hunters are known for their help for the poor and needy – more interested in showing off their latest offensively high-powered equipment, though I do have a certain respect for those who go out into the forests at night armed only with a knife or a stout stick and look for bears willing to argue with them. As for Simon’s bunch it turned out they were figments of his misunderstanding; he’d read a headline in the Gaurdian online last week which ran ‘Sweden’s multiplying moose pit farmers against powerful hunting lobby’.