Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: language

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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MMQQ6

Base jumping; political honesty; recycling bodies; political English and sleep; fake news in ancient times; economising on answers.   Next regular posting scheduled for 16-5-2018.

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A long and interesting phone call this week from our highly esteemed former colleague (Dr) Montgomery Skew.  This fragment  verbatim, as Monty has privileged access to the spooks’ interview recording devices and he kindly let me have a print-out to send you.

I find it hard to avoid supposing I must have been dreaming, but I don’t think I was.  I think I really did hear our Minister for Unaided Cliff Descent Strategy vaunting his case for the ‘shut your eyes and jump’ approach on the grounds   that after Brexit ‘we’ would be able to trade with exciting hitherto under-explored  countries (such as Brazil, cited by name) which contain vast remote regions harbouring who knows what treasures, all now to be available post-Brexit to British merchants boldly exploiting new lands.  (See portfolio of maps hand-drawn for British schools by Jacob Rees-Mogg, available from HMSO.)  (How it came about that the Yanks and other nations of the world had not yet noticed these exciting prospects did not achieve explanation in the tv clip).  The treasures could include such items as hitherto unknown herbs gathered in the depths of the tropical forests, offering cures for leprosy or German measles or Spanish flu or Hungarian planipedia, or ‘magic’ scaffolding (ideal for constructing invisible border posts).  Perhaps he’s right, and maybe they could find a cure for early onset adult male stupidity, a common disorder of cabinet ministers, as well.  But shouldn’t there be a little evidence for all this ?  Shouldn’t there be shots of the minister in dark glasses sidling into the side entrances of anonymous skyscrapers in Africa, weighed down by bulging briefcases and surrounded by armed guards; shouldn’t there at least be rumours of secret deals in the Caribbean under way about which we ‘cannot yet give public information for fear of creating a fever  of speculation’ on the markets?  What about hush-hush private flights to ‘undisclosed destinations’ or better still those sovereign bases on Cyprus?  Glorious opportunities there for interesting cross-border trade, in and out of the EU, very shrewd bankers readily available, and good connections Middle East and in all directions.  Silence is an unnerving sound when you’re supposed to be in the middle of a market place.

 †  at this point I rejected a note from the subediting computer:  ‘rocks’ a better word than ‘grounds’

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Linguistic WARNING.  You should be aware that this woman, Theresa May, may be dangerous for your understanding of the English language and cause linguistic damage or even partial breakdown.  For instance the Guradian newspaper has recorded her describing ‘full alignment’ (ie having the same tariffs on imports as some other trading group) as ‘sharing the same policy goals’.  But if you are British please remember that for legal reasons you are not allowed to believe that British prime ministers could ever be dishonest or deceitful, even unintentionally, while in office.

(Constitutional lawyers are questioning this special status of a prime minister, as amounting to discrimination against other ministers, who have shown that they are prepared to boldly and openly disregard facts live to camera on television.)

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(With permission from a letter to the Georgian Gentlefolk’s Gazette)

It disturbs me to hear that the government is considering a law to establish a presumption of consent to donation of body parts from those who have died, unless permission is explicitly withheld.  As it stands this would amount to nationalisation of the bodies of the dead, marginally less repugnant than in other cases of nationalisation given that consent can be denied by those who make timely arrangements (but would it be necessary to have the certification tattooed on the body?).  It has the advantage of setting a precedent, for if we are allowed to opt out of national uniformity on this issue, it would be inconsistent not to allow opting out in, for example, the matter of income tax.  However, I have an immediate objection on different grounds.  Surely if dead bodies are to be, in the popular term, ‘recycled’ then on both moral and practical economic grounds a free market would be the fairest distribution system, with relatives of the deceased or the rightful owner selling organs to those prepared to pay the highest price.  This could perhaps depend on the urgency of the purchaser, but I trust we could rely on communities to join together in raising a high sum for a worthy candidate if he or she is not personally able to meet the price required.  Groups who had a particular regard for some former member might wish  to arrange competitive bidding to achieve an especially high price as a demonstration of their respect for the deceased, and effective publicity for such sales would enhance the effect.  And of course by no means every portion of the departed will be of mere practical utility to those left behind.  One can envisage those who had a special bond of amity or sympathy for a former colleague seeking to preserve that link in a very real sense by bidding for some suitable portion of anatomy, an index finger perhaps –  the ring finger, why not? – or the scalp maybe, to be embalmed and mounted in a tasteful ceramic decoration as a memento of the former friend or set in a brooch with a suitable accompaniment of gems, while the sum raised by the sale could be directed either to reduction of an outstanding tax bill, or go to some charitable purpose in the friend’s name.

Lady Anthelmina Strych-Corker  (Port Nargent)

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Governmental English

This office apologises to all those working in the NHS for having mistakenly used the correct spelling of the minister’s name in a recent piece which touched on the achievements of the UK Ministry of Health.  The Ministry’s astounding capacity for imaginative official statements soars ever higher exactly as funding for the service and those working on the front line dealing with actual patients does not.  The minister J.Hunt termed the pay ‘deal’ recently agreed (‘agreed’ as in ‘imposed’) ‘incredibly well-deserved’.  Masterly sleight of tongue.  Leaves the dozing proportion of the British electorate (currently 65% and increasing in direct proportion to the annual increase in the use of social media) thinking “Oh, good.  At last the British government is starting (?) to reward some of those who actually do the work that keeps the country going.  Note to the dozing:  ‘incredibly well-deserved’ DOES NOT EQUAL the phrase ‘incredibly good’; it tends in the exactly opposite direction even when it is pronounced with a confident and ingratiating smile.  That is before you get to what the ‘deal’ actually was.  It proposes an increase of 2% per annum.  The current rate of inflation has been reported to us (optimistically?) as 2·3%.  Therefore the working staff have accepted a ‘deal’ which promises to leave them losing pay in real terms for the next three years.  By the way, we have not been able to find reliable figures for the likely increase of the Minister’s ‘package’ over the next three years, but are reasonably certain it is not less than £120,000 per annum, if he continues in the same position.  This is how a modern western country with electoral democracy arranges efficient management of the national budget, ensuring that inadequate money does not go to valuable members of the population who need or deserve it.  (Sic)

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The Baron Philipp is back in his fiscal paradise after an exciting but rewarding trip round such areas as are still alleged to be safe for tourism in the Middle East and adjacent areas, and has sent us this: ‘Marvellous trip, no serious trouble.  Our party was shot up twice but as we were travelling in armoured minivans there was no serious inconvenience except for a couple of guards who got hit.   Magnificent ancient sites, very glad to have been there, especially the Krac des Chevaliers, before our friends and allies bomb the shit out of them, as our transatlantic colleagues put it, repeatedly.  (Incidentally pals in the embassies expect the bombing at an early date, having seen the Mueller enquiry circling in a way which suggests it is coming in to land.)  Astonishing mix of people on the tour, from rednecks out of the deep south ticking off the ‘Forty sights you must not miss’ (and in Cyprus I heard one telling her companion “This is sump’n else to do with all that nood statue stuff”) to elderly scholars from my own Heimatland with impeccable English, knowing Shakespeare better than I do.  One of the latter told me of a newly unearthed papyrus (definitely antedating Zenodotus) which proves Sophocles was peddling an entirely bogus story in the famous drama – the fellow never killed his father, nor did he marry his mother, probably never went to Colonus either.  What happened really was a brisk frogmarch into exile after court officials discovered his father had been pillaging all the public funds for years, and funnelling the proceeds into secret hiding places in Ionia.  Palace advisors appalled, city facing ruin and invasion if news got out; urgent consultations; deputation to give ultimatum to king.  That encounter not a success:  “A king is not to be commanded by his minions.  Throw these impudent fools in prison for execution tomorrow” or something of the sort.  Further urgent consultations with the palace guard, which decided on the traditional approach in such cases.  They hired a couple of Persian assassins (they blamed bad things on Persians even in those days but in this instance it happened to be true) to kill the king in a faked chariot accident, the queen was given poison, and the court poet ordered to run up a version of the story on entirely original lines which they set out, reasoning correctly that if it was seriously and improbably lurid most people would accept it as the truth (just as they do today).  The ex-crown-prince got off lightly, was immediately taken under no-nonsense escort to the fiefdom of a minor chieftain in Thrace, where he was established in a modest estate and informed he would be hunted down by the chieftain’s men and summarily executed – they added persuasive details – if he ever attempted to leave.    He was allowed a small annual pension, but it was only paid for three years, because a young official, who later became the next Treasurer back at home base, produced a rule that to receive the money he must prove he was truly the son of the king, which of course he could not do because he did not dare to leave Thrace.  Wonderful!  They certainly knew how to deal with financial crookery in those days.  According to the papyrus he lived on there until he was carried off by an eagle at the age of 112.’

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From the records, for interest  

An enquiry to the Economist, following its publication of the usual sort of article in 2008:

Sir,

There were all too many contentious points in your editorial ‘Barbarians at the vault’ (17th May) so may I just pose you one question?  What important difference divides your assertion, ‘Financiers are rightly rewarded for taking risks, which by their nature cannot be entirely managed away or anticipated’, and  the following proposition: ‘Gamblers are rightly rewarded for placing bets, which by their nature cannot be guaranteed to win’?

       My answer would be that gamblers on the whole are using their own money.

(No response to that enquiry emerged from the magazine.)

Warnings

It is always a pleasure to receive a contribution from our principal financial supporter, (Baron) Malory von Hollenberg, and we are consequently delighted to present his thoughts in this piece sent from his current location in Australia.

I have been ruminating on the use of warning signs and pictures. These days a good many governments compel cigarette companies to print warning notices on packs of their cigarettes, often with an alarming picture of the physiological damage that can be caused by the habit. This is a convenient way for governments to balance two obligations. As guardians of their country’s inhabitants they have a responsibility obvious to all, except the occasional Minister of Health, to try to keep them in the best possible physical condition. There is in any case no point in holding would-be invaders at bay by purchasing all available modern weaponry if your well-defended citizens are too feeble or sick to keep the economic wheels humming in the manner you require. One might therefore expect governments to ban the sale of cigarettes. But governments also have a duty to keep their own accounts in the best possible financial health. As it happens, this too they could do by banning cigarettes, but only on condition that they could extract large amounts of money from the massive illegal trade in cigarettes which would be certain to arise, and which within a few years might exercise more influence on the workings of society than do the existing tobacco companies. In principle this source of funds should be within reach.   Direct taxation of course would be politically embarrassing, even though one concedes that political self-contradiction is an electoral advantage when judiciously managed. However, a better option could be to impose severe fines on traders arrested, while taking care that arrests are not so frequent as to hamper their activities seriously; gaol terms should seldom be imposed, so that traders can resume their activities at an early date. A somewhat similar approach, learned from financial regulators, would repress the illegality with a light touch, but would tax heavily all manner of associated activities and objects and locales. (American experiences during Prohibition could be helpful) . However, in practice few countries have successfully managed any such policies on a large and consistent scale, and even where this is claimed it appears any money accrued may have gone to individuals associated with the political class instead of the coffers of the state.

            The fact remains: repellent pictures of sick smokers, or body parts of sick smokers, do appear on cigarette packets, aiming to reduce bad health among consumers. Since they are a form of advertising and since we have been repeatedly assured (by those who make money from it, but also by other experts, e.g. Paul Josef Goebbels) that advertising ‘works’, we accept the case. But then one must ask ‘Why only cigarettes? Why not pictures of the horrid results of consumption of tobacco’s noxious social twin, alcohol?’ The initial objection, that the result of the cigarette may be a spasm of wrenching coughing whereas consuming alcohol may lead on to a jolly party, is specious irrelevance. In the first place governments are interested in long-term effects (provided that the issue does not concern the next election), and, second, subversives will remark that there seem to be two different types of long-term alcohol consumption; one can lead to sitting on a narrow bench in the back room of a small pub in Cork at the age of 22, rocking slowly backwards and forwards, drunk to the point of incoherence at six in the evening, while the other sets you up as a rosy-faced white-haired old man with twinkling blue eyes, surrounded by twenty-somethings begging to hear about your adventures in times long ago. Common decency suggests we should make at least some attempt to shock those of the former tendency out of their licensed premisses. Perhaps then the warning pictures should somehow be attached not to the bottles and cans but to the drinkers themselves. Doubtless modern technology could make this possible, indeed very likely has already done so in the case of individuals suspected by the spooks of membership of UKIP or other sinister tendencies. This could prompt self-questioning every time they look into a mirror. However such an intrusion of the state into supposedly private life cannot be openly introduced in the present era of lip service to individual human rights.   A few years have to pass before what is technically possible turns into what has been judged necessary for the prevention of crime and the efficient functioning of the caring welfare state. So for the present we must allow the governments to perpetuate, by failing to state the contrary, the fiction that alcohol only causes problems when in contact with a steering wheel (a combination which is supposed to be avoided by erecting signs saying ‘Don’t drink and drive’ in Times New Roman and a schoolmasterly voice, in places where they can easily be seen, by an alert driver).

            The fact that special circumstances (I hope I will not be understood as referring specifically to the donations of the brewers to political parties) can restrict the use of pictures warning about troubles resulting from contact with psychoactive substances does not mean that efforts should not be made elsewhere. For instance, the car itself is a conspicuous element among the temptations luring misguided consumers towards ruinous outcomes, and here as so often reformers are up against the forces of darkness actively reinforcing the allure with meretricious counter-advertisements. Cars are claimed to have strange powers. Buy this car and not only will it make you younger and stronger, it will come with a languorous femme fatale strategically attached to the hood [subject to availability; alternative gender-neutral offer: young attractive partner and two children, all in perfect health and grinning like successful footballers]. Moreover you are implicitly assured you will find all other drivers – all other road users, in fact – have disappeared from the roads. There are drawbacks, admittedly; the immaculate highway along which you speed in smooth isolation, outdistancing a low-flying airliner breaking all rules of air traffic control, is evidently located in a magnificent but remote and uninhabited terrain, possibly on Spitzbergen. In the face of such blandishments, consumers certainly should be provided with pictorial warnings against the temptation to acquire a car. Many of the inconveniences are well known, from faulty windshield wipers to lengthy gaol terms but what is seldom fully realised is the size of the car’s contribution to stress in modern life. All the worry of buying and fuelling and maintaining and repairing the thing and of dealing with the various human enemies one meets in these battles; the frustration of the steady guerilla warfare needed to keep it insured and officially recognised by the state; the exploration day by day of the frontiers of irrational behaviour among other motorists on your way to work. Above all though, there is the anguish, almost never admitted consciously, of voluntarily shutting oneself into a metal box even smaller than the punishment cells the communists used in Czechoslavakia. Even for a ten minute trip to the shops it would bring a nervous breakdown if you allowed yourself to think about it. For the daily two-hour traffic jam, if handed down by a judge, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Of course the warning pictures on the car will have the advantage that they will be on the car itself unlike the allegedly seductive visual encouragements to buy the things. Themes for pictorial warning notices will obviously be legion, and perhaps inexpensive if cut-price deals can be cut with the sort of television channels that make disastrous car smashes a prominent feature of their broadcasts.

            The regrettable truth is that modern civilisation is replete with aspects threatening physical injury, financial loss, and moral decay to misguided consumers, and the UN has a duty to launch a world-wide multifaceted campaign of warnings against all these factors. It could begin by dealing with the food we eat, or, to be more precise, with unhealthy eating habits. For around 700 million on the planet there is a single unhealthy eating habit which is simply taking no food (almost invariably an involuntary condition) so in their case it is not easy to see where one might attach the warning notices; and in any case it is questionable whether many of those 700 million could truly be counted as bona fide members of the consumerat. But what worries many of the other 6.3 billion is the continuing struggle against obesity, and so the type of picture required is easily settled – some vast balloon of sweating humanity fighting its bulk into or out of an airline economy class seat would do nicely as a first example The laws about pictorial warnings in this category will have to be especially forceful, just to elbow their way past the existing mountains of colourful encouragements to believe that eating this or that package’s mixture of highly saturated fats and sugars and 21 kinds of chemical unknown to science until a few weeks ago will be good for consumers (and make them slimmer, and more beautiful, and charming; and if the consumer is a man his hair may grow back, too).

            But the truth is that we have done no more than hint at the vast array of threats to the innocent consumer. Many other scourges of society need to be fenced off behind warning notices – social media, muzak, bad grammar, football, computer passwords, gardening, and many more. A plethora of warnings is needed and naturally for some the devising of visual warnings will be easy, for others difficult. The time is ripe for a new Hieronymus Bosch to show what he can do.

Parthian shots

1) Osama Bin Laden’s photograph   2) efficient communication   3) morphology and the islamic world          4) prediction            Future distributions, if any: see special announcement at the end

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The deputy editor writes: our editor left two weeks ago, asserting that the stress of business in this office forced him to book in for a week at what he decided to call a ‘meditation centre’.  It now seems he has extended his visit to Cebu, reasons unknown, but yesterday Andrew, an old friend of his since the days in Sun City (when Jim still had a full set of toes), dropped in to the office bringing this short piece together with a note from Jim insisting on it going into the next distribution, i.e. this one.   (I personally disclaim responsibility for allowing such a farrago of hypothesis onto our site):

‘That photo of Bin Laden, keeps turning up in the prints and online as well, but there are some very odd points about it.  First off, it was obviously not taken when a helicopter had just landed outside and heavily armed soldiers were crashing through the doorway.  But this was the only time when he was in that room in company with any of his opponents.  On the other hand, he was not in the habit of holding open house, so this snapshot could only have been taken by a friend or a servant, yet nobody who fell under those headings would have been trying to make him look feeble or despondent which pretty clearly was the intention of the photographer, who therefore would have had to be on the ‘other side’.  But as I’ve said none of those on that side were close enough to take such a photo, even supposing that he would sit quietly to let them take it.  That’s all supposing it really is Bin Laden anyway.  A view of an elderly Asian, heavily bundled up, three-quarters view from behind?!  As for the claim that the man in the photograph was watching a soap opera, how could we know since we’re not shown what he’s looking at.  How could anyone know, except trusted supporters, who wouldn’t be trying to take a photo showing him like a poverty-stricken elderly refugee with nothing better to do than sit on the floor watching television.  And if some of his friends had been taking photographs to make him look bad, do we say the execution squad was lucky to pick this one up, or unlucky that they couldn’t find a better one?

            When will guys realise that the more lies you put into a case, the weaker you make it?’

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Opinion piece (Julitta Pulversie)

Is this really the era of communication, with Flitter, Facetube, and Inked-up, all competing for a place in the frontal lobes of victims of screenfever (as well as hundreds of antisocial networks and a number of outright nasties, a.k.a. ‘governments’)?  It has to be admitted that the marvels of modern technology have dramatically changed possibilities: it is now possible to sit at one’s desk and with a single click send a message off to destinations all around the world so that not one, but many thousands, both private individuals and commercial companies, may all fail to answer it.  In other words we have to refine previous notions, and distinguish between old-fashioned communication which (along with correspondence) is a bilateral business, and on the other hand modern economical, time-saving, one-way communication.  Unofficial leaks from the headquarters of a  leading organisation guarding the security of electronic data transmission report that the percentage of unanswered communications has reached a new all-time high.  An initial message, known as the αcom (pronounced ‘alpha-com’), is counted as answered if a βcom, a reply, makes a return journey between the same two communication points within 72 hours.  On Thursday last the overall percentage of βcoms neasured against the αcoms fell to a new low of 8.1% – even when identifiable spam was excluded from the αcom total.  That is, about 11 out of every 12 non-spam messages sent was unanswered, thus providing the world’s information transmission system with enormous savings in time and money.

            There are no figures available for any exact comparison with thirty or forty years ago but research by the British Post Office (shortly to be converted into a retail chain specialising in stationery and office equipment, dropping the time-wasting transmission of personal mail though still open to logistics contracts for bulk delivery of advertising material) has suggested that personal correspondence back in those days was predominantly a two-way affair, even if a longer timespan had to be allowed for replies since transmission was in those days physical not electronic.  The estimate was that in the early 1980s about 11 letters out of 12 would be answered within two weeks.

            We need a new term for this more careful concept of messages hurtling through cyberspace like missiles ¹   on their way to points from which nothing will return.  ‘One-way communication’ is far too wordy.  Perhaps, bearing in mind the reputation, justified or not, of the famous triangle, we can call them ‘Bermudan messages’; and the activity of the optimists sitting at keyboards or prodding touch-screens to send them off in their millions will therefore be ‘Bermuding’.

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¹ Jeremy wishes to add a note that, according to his personal research, with some servers a more accurate phrase might be ‘faster than a fairly fit carrier pigeon’

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Linguistic corner (contributed by Svetlana Helgasdottir, docent in the Freie Universität Neasden)  The western news media are flushed and breathing hard with reports of islamists taking control of territories all over northern Africa.  Unless I am much mistaken this is a striking change from just a decade ago when those nations were known to have a moslem population (or in the case of very elderly journalists ‘a mohammedan people’).  The suffix ‘-ist’ has had a patchy career.  It was borrowed originally from the Greeks (who would probably like to claim it back or even better to have a large sum to cover unpaid fees for its use) but at first served simply to refer to someone regularly associated with an activity indicated by the first part of the word to which it was attached: harpist, pianist, artist, optimist, physicist.  Often there are groups of people who specialise in those activities, and so naturally ‘-ist’ was also used when the emphasis was on the group or some shared characteristic of the group rather than the activity itself: communist, socialist, impressionist, monarchist.  (This is language at work, not a mathematical system, so of course what we find are family resemblances among different uses of a suffix, no exact criteria.)   From this point it is not at all surprising that it became especially common with political groupings.  As geopolitics became more complex over the past two centuries the number of recognisable political groups increased, and their sheer number together with the fatal tribal impulse in human nature guaranteed most of them would be viewed with disfavour by any randomly selected citizen – ‘our side’ against the rest.  From the point of view of the European voting classes, colonies which wanted their freedom were full of nationalists.  The proletariats, who obediently thought as their country’s leaders instructed them, deplored the influence of marxists.  ‘Communist’ which started out as simply a designation for people subscribing to a particular social theory soon acquired this new nuance (and hasn’t it raced ahead on that route since!) 

            Given the way that history actually developed (egged on by a popular press and populist  politicians) it was entirely to be expected that the suffix would soon be used when with the implication not merely ‘on the other side, and disliked’ but ‘on the other side doing evil stuff’; thus the predominant use of anarchist, extremist, terrorist, and more recently fascist and Maoist (but let’s be kind and exclude dentist from this group)We now have a suffix with various nuances: on the other side, doing evil stuff, member of a group, attachment to a particular idea or theory, or a particular activity.  As already said this is not a mathematical system and one still finds the suffix where one or more of these ideas is not required; for instance, arsonists are not normally considered to gather together in groups.  (Also of course where a name for members of the other side was already well established there was no need to import the suffix;  Democrats continue to speak of Republicans, not Republicists, though perhaps both groups may feel that, as politicians, there is one ‘other side’ group they are are opposed to, namely the lobbyists?)  But where all those shades of meaning are felt to be present, ‘-ist’ is now definitely the favoured suffix.  There is now little danger of encountering anarcheers, extremians, or terrorites.

            So it is interesting to see the political groups in northern Africa who have a moslem allegiance referred to frequently as islamist in news reports, instead of the previously normal islamic or moslem, even when speaking of groups not engaging in violence.  Now whether the change was actually engineered by forces with axes to grind, or whether it has been promoted after appearing spontaneously is not the point.  What is a factor to be taken into account is the nuance usually carried along with the suffix.  It is then worth noticing that the islamic groups currently holding power in Egypt, put there by two successive free elections which each gave them around 65% of the vote are now widely referred to as an islamist government, while it is those opposed to them who have formed a clear majority of those rioting and throwing stones in Tahrir Square.

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prediction (after our note in the previous distribution about Leah Menshevik’s shrewd prediction, two readers have written in to comment that our own record is good enough to justify including a prediction with each distribution.  As stated in the announcement below, the journal may not be able to provide a regular feature on these lines.  Nevertheless here at least we can offer one, borrowed with permission from The Tale of Esmond Maguire pt 3 (§ 137):

            Oscar tells me that the way things are going in neurology, it will one day be possible to have elections that are truly and deeply democratic, where not merely are numbers counted, but strength of support is measured individually for each elector with respect to each candidate.  Of course, those same advances will make it unlikely that any régime, once in power, will ever find itself inclined to hold the elections.

honor hominesque honesti floreant

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announcement: The trouble with CENSOR (see earlier distributions) continues, even though we did no more than reprint items from Luddites Gazette (now indefinitely forbidden publication since they were unable to reach the appeals tribunal within the time limit set).  A final decision about our service is to be handed down on 1st April, and we have been given a temporary ban for the intervening period.  However, as often with authoritarian bodies, they have combined injustice with incompetence, and the ban was ordered for the whole of the month of March; they apparently thought this would include our next distribution scheduled for the first of that month.  So we are bringing the distribution forward by one day.  For prospects in the longer term check this site on 2nd April.

Preservation or decay

1) Beautifully preserved  2) Flat slogans  3) Queen in ‘doping’ shock

Next distribution scheduled 17th August (but earlier gibbous supplement not excluded)

Science News (Luddites’ Gazette)

Not long ago a leather shoe was picked up in a remote cave in a remote part of Armenia.  From the undisturbed appearance of the cave, the finder guessed it could be several hundred years old, but it wasn’t.  Tests showed that it was 5,500 years old give or take a decade or two.  Yet it was in excellent  condition, better than thousands of that style lying at this moment in teenagers’ bedrooms in the western world; it is in a moccasin style still part of living tradition under the name ‘opanke’ (in the Balkans) or ‘pampootie’ (western Ireland), which has now fallen into the trawling net of the fashion industry where it is considered a highly desirable item.  Here is a picture of the Armenian shoe,  showing that even the laces and the grass used to pad it are still almost as new, side by side with another pampootie made a year or two ago in the Aran Islands. 

  The archaeologists who explored the cave determined that although conditions in it for preservation were generally very good the most important factor in the  wonderful preservation of the shoe was that it had been buried in a layer of sheep droppings on the floor of the cave.  This has interesting implications in more than one direction.  The first is for those wealthy individuals who have paid large sums to have their bodies frozen at the moment of death with a view to being preserved until advances in medical science make it possible for them to be not merely revived but ideally revived with  thorough servicing, upgrading, and retuning, so as to function as supercharged teenagers. (They are curiously unworried by the possibility of being revived into a world where socialism has triumphed.)  So far scientific investigations have only found this process to have much chance of success with the larvae of fruit flies, so they would probably do better to spend their money on having themselves enveloped in sheep droppings.  Here is a picture of the chest  and forearm of Ötzi, who probably through no choice of his own adopted the glacial method (literally, in the Hauslabjoch glacier ) going into the frozen state about 5,250 years ago and staying in it until a temporary warming, without revival, in 1991.  It is pretty clear which technique has the advantage.  There is also the point which would probably be appreciated by most wealthy individuals, that the sheep dropping procedure clearly has vastly cheaper running costs, approximately zero, quite apart from the fact that almost certainly there will sooner or later be an interruption to any electricity supply that keeps iced coffins functioning.

  But these concerns are really only a side issue.  The far bigger implications are those that will arise when the remarkable potency of sheep droppings as a preservative for biological tissue are taken on board by the cosmetics industry.

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Opinion feature  (Luddites’ Gazette)

Mr. Bradshaw Bullingley (former Senior English Master at Greysford Grammar School) writes

  There is no population in Europe so ovinely submissive as the British to the whims and self-aggrandisement of those who consider themselves in a position of authority.  Who now remembers one of the most common remarks of the language fifty years ago?  If, for example, a petty official saw a chance to pump up his self-importance at the expense of a girl who had innocently plucked a flower (my young sister as it happens), he was likely in those days to get the retort, “It’s a free country.”  Not in 2012.

  However I am not concerned with the arrogance of the megacircus now occupying London – overpaid, oversexed, and over here, to adopt what we said of the Americans arriving in 1943 and 1944 to take up their share of – or perhaps I should say ‘to claim the leading part  in’ – the fight in the western sphere of the war against Hitler.  (Not but what it may be of interest to students of human herd behaviour to see how easily the sound of trumpets, the waving of flags and the repetition of Göbbelesque assertions that the nation is united in joy can bamboozle a population out of common rights and freedoms it has enjoyed ever since it emerged as a nation out of the European tribal scrum.)

  To resume: as well as its major impositions the circus has brought a ready supply of minor irritations, among them the multiplication ad nauseam of one of the ugliest ‘logos’ ever designed (oddly, though, suggesting to me at least a drunken man stumbling and falling to his left, which makes it a little easier to endure for the half-second needed to switch to another television channel if one is so battle-wearied by the constant struggle to maintain standards as to be watching television in the first place).  Another intrusion is a plethora of some of the most banal slogans ever paid for by overwrought publicity budgets.  Now I quite accept that by the side of the major predators gnawing at the vitals of our civilisation, lies, greed, advertising and so on, linguistic banality takes on the proportion of a maggot chewing at one of the less attractive toes, but that is no reason to let it have its emetic way, and I believe that my experience of many years serving as a schoolmaster in the defence of Shakespeare’s tongue equips me to tackle the topic of banality in language.

  Two lines converged a few years ago on the graph of British decline given below – the plunging blue line representing the average amount of effort plus attention put into any given task (not least homework in schools!), the soaring red showing the tendency of computer programming these days to muscle in on the performance of a task, no matter whether it improves it or not.  (I suspect indeed that at this point I should essay a provisional apology in advance since these two same factors make it only too likely that the graphic element I intend will disappear from this piece of mine somewhere along the transmission line leading to publication.)  One result has been the appearance of computer programmes which claim to all but construct advertisements for the ‘busy advertising executive’, including of course the slogan which most such effusions incorporate along with the text and the visual fiction.  Such programmes are naturally spurned by the few that are truly creative (who, let me be just, do exist!), but are now widely used by most in the curiously named advertising ‘industry’ – as one can guess only too easily from the generally lamentable results.  Complex as such programmes may be, those aspects dealing with the slogan are of the simplest.  For any given subject matter, some catchpenny scheme, a political campaign, a holiday suggestion, or whatever else it might be, the programme will generate templates, offering some dozens of variants in different colours and typefaces, with or without various surrounding symbols and ‘icons’, all based on a handful of ‘skeletons’ relevant to the subject matter.  For the holiday theme it might well produce this skeleton among others:

You will always  α  when you go to  β  for   x

Minimal guidance is given to the less dynamic executive on filling in the slots, eg that β should name the destination the the customer wishes to promote, α should contain some expression of feeling excited in a positive way, with x indicating an activity that might be favoured by the targeted consumers, subject to local regulations about obscene publication.  In the case of the Olympics – no claptrap here about censoring the English vocabulary! – another programme has currently been offering to its customers the following skeleton. (It must have been difficult to come up with this one!)

              the   α  Games ever!

The guidance is that α should be filled in with the superlative (instructions on the formation of English superlatives are given) of some ‘quality’ considered admirable or desirable, and, lest that guidance should be too exiguous for the programme’s users it offered ‘greatest’ and ‘most olympian’ as suggestions!   Perhaps I can be more helpful.  I simply picked up a couple of left-wing newspapers from my local newsagent, and went through marking some of the adjectives which in the current climate of this country are regarded by many as desirable or admirable, and in five minutes I had assembled the collection below.  I originally intended no more than to offer one or two to friends of mine as parodies of the sort of ‘public English’ that debases the very thoughtways of our nation today, and is certainly a contributory element in the constant decline in the linguistic competence of pupils entering our schools, as colleagues still active in the profession tell me.  Yet to my dismay as I proceeded I found that each has a certain ring of actuality, and I would make no wager, were I a gambler, on any one of them not to have been picked up and proudly bruited abroad by the partisans of this or that sectional interest.  It would be interesting to learn if my dismay is justified.  Sightings if indeed encountered may be reported to me through Luddites’ Gazette, by kind permission of the editors.

  sharing; organic; passionate; soft; harmless; ecological; joined-up; tasty; deodorised; fragrant; cuddly; pet-friendly; legal; yellow; handwoven; aggressive (to  some minds a positive quality!); recyclable; market-oriented; democratic; socialist; crunchy; cool; obedient; Venusian; gender-neutral; gender-parity-conscious

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Late News  (Luddites’ Gazette)

Queen in ‘doping’ scare

A security assistant at the Olympic site was held in custody for several hours last night after having attempted to detain the Queen on suspicion of having consumed a non-permitted  substance.  As the Queen passed one of the concealed sensors which instantly analyse the breath of passing visitors, its alarm went off.  These sensors are reportedly able to detect recent consumption of any of 2,365 excluded substances, including any drink other than those of the officially accredited sponsors and plain water.  When the alarm sounded the 19-year-old assistant stepped forward apparently intending to question her but was immediately wrestled to the ground by two of the military personnel who were on duty nearby.  It was promptly discovered that the sensor was faulty, and it was put out of commission.  After the briefest of delays, the Queen who seemed quite undisturbed by the incident continued her visit.  She later asked for the assistant to be released without charge as he had simply been following rules, and insisted that no harm had been done.

honor honestique floreant