Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: motoring

Speaking to my sister by moonlight

Beauty and its beholders  

A political note

Solution (from an occasional series)                             

What is right?


This North Atlantic island slum, consisting mainly of a row of rain-soaked wooden shacks with one or two storm-battered overambitious would-be villas along the ridge above the harbour, and a congeries of small shops, concrete storehouses and parking lots for all manner of marine gear down around the quays, is to my mind one of the finest spots on earth to live.  Not as well set up with all the inconveniences of modern life as modern homo negotians would like, or indeed insists on, which is undoubtedly part of its attraction.  We are not yet equipped with e-communications reliable enough to be worth using, which at least gives some protection against e-malfeasance.  It is certainly one of the few remaining redoubts in the northern hemisphere not minutely documented and analysed for potential profit – ha! profit?! – by the dark forces of the net.  But there are times when one can welcome some contacts with the outside world.  Yesterday Kevin brought a delightful surprise, along with the rainwater pouring off his anorak and over the notes I had spread out across the floor in preparation for my plea to the senators to have this office granted diplomatic immunity.  It is the first letter in a long time from Isabelita.  For those who have only recently come across this journal, Isabelita of the many talents was for more than a year the effective directrix of the office when it included five irascible journalists (or similar), even though nominally she was just an assistant.  Any remaining traces of order and organisation are owed to her.   Still in remarkably good form to judge from the picture she included, even if it is sexist to say so.  No longer competes internationally, but apparently twice a week leads parties of old age pensioners down to La Playa de los Frailes for two or three hours of beach volleyball.  Ecuadorian academic life’s gain has been the rest of the world’s loss.

            However, it may be that even in plucky little Ecuador the path to ruin may be surveyed to see how it may be opened up.  The mountainous regions of the country are still richly covered with the original forests, not yet seriously damaged by ‘development’, and the forested mountains are inhabited by one of the most splendid arrays of strikingly coloured birds of any country on the planet.  One reaction is to call for this region to be preserved as a wonderful example of a natural environment such as has already been despoiled in many other regions.  Another reaction to such a landscape in many countries has been to ‘monetise’ it, negotiating with the government, or whoever controls a territory de facto, with a view to extracting all extractable resources, mineral, arboreal, or hydrological.  (It has, after centuries, become somewhat harder to exploit human resources, though if you consider the actual conditions of the poor of this earth living in ‘third world’ countries, you will find it easy to doubt that claim.)  There is also a third reaction which in America might well be called ‘monetisation-lite’.  When the attractions of a landscape are undeniable, this can lead to well-fed businessmen staying in expensive hotels in the nearest capital city where they can be heard muttering to one another phrases such as ‘touristic potential’, ‘ecological experience’ and ‘high season occupancy’, and to prove it there are former fishing villages that have irremediably lost their virtue all along the coasts of Spain, and in the islands of Greece and Thailand and the Pacific.  Nobody can know the motive or combination of motives which may have brought forth ideas for one or more chains of pylons allowing passengers to travel along the magnificent Sierra and view the landscape.  I have nothing against pylons in themselves; if you forget the chocolate box associations and conventional attitudes most pylons are without doubt  more graceful than the average castle.  (Would it help if the pylons were built with pre-installed ivy and maybe miniature watchtowers at the summit?)  But why might one want to erect pylons on those mountains?  It may well be a simple unadulterated desire to let foreigners see the beauty of the country, perhaps at cost price only, perhaps even free?  But, however pure the intention, future events remain unpredictable events.  Whoever would have thought that Cameron’s kindly efforts to free the Libyan shore of the Mediterranean from tyranny would lead to the horrors of the past three years?  Let  a destination get some reputation as an interesting or beautiful or famous place to visit (fame alone can be enough of a magnet, with or without historical accuracy – cf many of the alleged ancient battle sites in assorted countries, which now look like perfectly ordinary countryside – and then a trickle of visitors can become a stream, justifying ‘tourist facilities’ which soon let the stream become a torrent, which is followed by the destination featuring temptingly in countless websites selling holidays and travel, and finally local citizens are effectively driven out of their own homes for half the year.  Just ask the inhabitants of Barcelona, or gaze in dismay at the monstrous arks impudently dwarfing the incomparable buildings of Venice which one of them will one day, statistics and cruise ships being what they are, destroy.


In this world of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (a.k.a. tribalism; so that’s what the development of civilised politics has brought us to) Theresa must be thanking her lucky stars, little red stars it seems, that once again as she faced yet another near insurmountable hurdle in keeping her finger-tip hold on 10 Downing Street the Russians came galloping onto the scene to save her bacon.  You might almost think Putin was trying to make sure she stays in office, and if you think that then be cautious; you don’t know what you might catch yourself thinking next.  Monty, our esteemed contact in London, once a bold buccaneer of free speech, is increasingly cautious about saying anything to anybody about any topic but he has given me permission to pass on this observation, that nobody should believe that story about the senior UK ministers being posted to various destinations in Europe over the summer in order to cajole the locals into agreeing to her Chequers plan – a political hologram if ever there was one –  and figs to the Irish.  Those ministers were sent round Europe to keep them out of London and apart, so that they couldn’t gather together and stage a coup against her.


Another of our solutions to longstanding problems

Society may be ready to recognise that it pays a shocking price in terms of accidents for the right to own and drive private cars.  And then there is the air pollution, and the costs to the nation of importing oil, and the massive contribution to climate change.  Some would add the corrosive effects on social cohesion (deliberately stimulated by some of the manufacturers.)  Far less obtrusive but perhaps much more pervasive is another factor often left out of account partly because it is exceedingly difficult to pin down the details of its profile and partly because it has somehow infiltrated society in such a way as to leave the poor harassed citizen assuming it is an inevitable part of modern life.  I am of course referring to stress.  Difficult to pin down it may be, but there will be few readers who do not feel they have more of it than they want.  There will often be dispute as to how far any particular accident or ailment or failure results from stress but few will doubt that stress can be an important and baleful factor in all those situations.  And few will doubt that the acquisition, ownership, maintenance, and use of private cars in their millions has a prime place in the roster of causes.  You don’t need to read this journal to be told that.  What you need is to be offered a remedy, and this journal has one.  It is so obvious that it may have been proposed already elsewhere, but if so the news hasn’t reached this office, and there’s certainly no harm in putting it on view here.  The key is to ban the simple ownership of private cars.  It will be replaced by a system where one buys a car licensed to be on public roads only on a specified day of the week with fierce penalties for any owner whose car breaks that rule.  Thus as Nigel Smith-Farquharson sees his neighbour Jamila Cottesloe walking to the station on Monday morning, does he toot derisively and congratulate himself  on buying a Monday car?  Possibly, but far more likely not, because he knows well that she has a Tuesday car and has always been willing to give him the ride needed.  (In fact the two, from wary beginnings based purely on practicality, have become co-operating friends.  Both help run the same food bank at weekends.)  Naturally there is a special higher-priced category of car to be bought which can be used on both Saturdays and Sundays (but definitely not covering late trips home early Monday morning.  The change of day at midnight and the penalty for cheating will yield impressive improvements in the road safety record).  Identification of cheating drivers will be easy because the license plates for different days of the week will have different colours and shapes.  Needless to say there will be a new richly satisfying income stream for whichever department receives it.  Misers and curmudgeons who cannot work out suitable agreements with other travellers will cycle or walk, with consequent benefit to their physical condition and saving of costs to the health service.  A small proportion of the well-heeled may buy enough cars for the whole week (to the applause of car manufacturers) but overall the effects on air quality, climate change, and so on will all tend to be positive, while congestion and stress with all its ill effects will be vastly reduced


If you did not enjoy that item you may also dislike this:

Presumably certain officials in the  militant/extremist wing of the British Home Office are temporarily keeping their heads below the parapet until the public’s current awareness of injustices perpetrated against the weak, the unimportant and the poor slips back below the headlines and allows them to consider what to do next.  No doubt some will be ruminating on the fact that same-sex marriage is now a fait accompli, and will have noticed that the arguments for accepting solemnly and legally attested relationships between partners of the same sex – consent, adulthood, no objections from previous partners, and so on – would appear to be available for campaigns in favour of polygamy (and polyandry).  Also for interspecies marriage.  (And I leave it to you whether you feel there are any other situations that might be considered relevant.)


The next regular posting is scheduled for 16 October


Special motoring supplement!


This journal with its forerunners has a top-class record for warning, sometimes years in advance, about looming problems, such as French president Hollande, (and offering carefully crafted proposals for dealing with them).  Yet another issue is now showing faintly in the background on the touch screens of the world’s millennials – the ever increasing damage done to human life and civilisation by the private motor vehicle.  (Given well documented recent research you should very likely add ‘insect and bird life’ to that charge sheet.)  The piece below was first published exactly ten years ago, and please note also the fourth piece.


Let us wonder if the principal cause of traffic problems is the existence of roads.  (To keep things simple, we shall restrict ourselves to the black core of traffic problems, those involving machines made mainly out of metal, powered by a motor, and moving on wheels.)  Do not take this in the weak-kneed sense of ‘more roads give more and worse traffic problems’, even though that is undoubtedly true (and it has been shown often and conclusively that it is not just a matter of both resulting from a simple rise in the population).  Bypassing that,  the version we are dealing with here is more stark: ‘if there were no roads there would be no traffic problems’.  (This too can be misunderstood, as a mere definitional matter, along the lines of that old favourite of Aunt Minnie the marriage guidance counsellor: ‘we could do away with divorce if only we abolished marriage’).  This time take it seriously.  No side-stepping by imagining that the urgent human desire to be somewhere that one is not (and soon) has been neatly removed from the human design, although we may allow for it to receive some sedative shots.

      The problems

{1} as seen exclusively by the principal traffic victim, the car owner:

        (i) expense of money in buying

        (ii) expense of time and money in maintaining and repairing

        (iii) expense of emotional stability, resulting from damage to and by,

             from theft or risk of theft of, and from dealing with service staff,

             mechanics, and with official associated paperwork;

{2} as viewed both by the car user and everyone else on the road :

         (iv) delays, danger and worse to life, limb, and mental stability;

{3} as watched aghast by the population at large including those above :

        (v) most of the preceding plus filth in the air, and gargantuan

            expense on construction and maintenance of the road system.

      Please now imagine that benevolent aliens foreseeing the possible course of development had for some inscrutable reason decided to help this inept and irascible planet, and had descended in 1850, in time to avoid the inventiveness about to be unleashed by the Great Exhibition, and had abolished all roads, establishing a strict and terribly effective framework to ensure they would never be built again.  What now could be done for all the millions who felt (and feel today) compelled to rush from A to B every morning, passing and here and there colliding with roughly equal numbers having a deep-rooted desire to speed from B towards A, not to mention the yet greater number of journeys which do not fall into such a monotonic rhythm?

      We can at once state confidently that it is unlikely that motor vehicles would ever have been developed.  Given the characteristics of the early forms through which the motor car had to pass to reach its ‘mature’ types, it is highly doubtful whether even Heath Robinson would ever have thought one up without the convenient existence of roads.  Railways of course were there already and no doubt would have been expanded hugely even if we admit that while they can act as a kind of vascular system for a nation, for good reasons they will not go on to provide the capillaries.  Travel by river and canal would have been seen as a valuable resource to be cherished and greatly developed.  Bicycles would scarcely have been affected.  They do not need roads, as the prosperous manufacturers of mountain bikes reflect happily.

      But a more important answer is that a large number of such journeys –  in all probability, the huge majority – would never have been thought necessary.  For example, it would be taken for granted that employees would normally be sought locally, and in other cases would move to live locally.  Cantankerous relatives living fifty miles away would not even be expecting to be visited with a small gift once a month.  Family outings for pleasure would naturally take the form of visits to the nearest museum, or  bracing walks up the nearest mountain, rather than a drive of two hours and three traffic jams to some dismal theme park.  In the shops one would buy fruit and vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside as they came into season, not brought in refrigerated trucks from an airport with a cargo link to some other hemisphere.  Children would be accompanied to school on foot, or, in the case of those whose muscles developed sufficiently, there would be in the true sense a school run.

      What, however, of those journeys that might still be supposed necessary?  Part of the answer is of course that many of them would not actually exist.  Who would need to be rushed to hospital with a broken leg when the traffic accident which caused the fracture could never have taken place, nor indeed any untoward events at all involving the inside or outside of a motor vehicle?  And first aid might be able to handle most of the very rare cases of one pedestrian run over by another.  But beyond that, let us take the example of a hugely important business meeting at which mighty tycoons meet in file-to-file combat to decide who shall buy out the other and strip the assets.  Nobody could doubt for a moment that the equivalent of what we call ‘video-conferencing’ would have been developed to a level far more magnificent than we have reached yet.  Television would have been invented fifty years earlier.  The communication is needed, but not the travel.

      These improvements, however, are mere bagatelles compared to the glorious flowering that can be envisaged of human ability to deal with travel aerially.  The desirability of such developments is immediately obvious.  To name but two aspects, the amount of space free for movement in the air is multiplied hugely, by whatever quantity can be assigned to the height that vehicles can reach, and the directions in which one can move are unconstrained by such elements as buildings, trees, monuments, or watercourses so frequently inconvenient for the earthbound motorist.  As things have actually proceeded, moreover, gigantic sums have been spent finding ways of making quite limited use of the vertical dimension for vehicles, even while maintaining the terrestrial nature of roads, with tunnels, bridges, and underpasses, and it is scarcely conceivable that a sum, in all likelihood far smaller, could not have achieved far better results if it had been applied instead to developing new aerial types of vehicle.

      The benefits from the non-existence of roads are so great that they are not easy to grasp.  It is not merely a matter of money, but nevertheless reflect on the scarcely believable expense of money along with deranged ingenuity (as well as, at times, hatred of the natural landscape) that has built, improved, extended, and maintained with loving care roads, since the year 1850.  It is a sum up there with some of the astronomical figures, and calculated by one group at well over two quadrillion pounds – thousands of times the total that has been thrown at the development of space travel by all the world’s nations combined. Some believe it is even comparable with the sums spent on killing and maiming civilians and destroying assets in warfare.

      We have already touched also on the vast increase that would result in the capacity of the population for physical exercise with obvious general benefits, and more than that there would be a prodigious advantage from the reduction of pollution.  In the absence of the motor car, motor fuel would not have been needed, nor its additive, lead, which is straightforwardly known to be a serious toxin which accumulates in the human body, especially damaging to children.  It has been established fairly reliably that the amount of lead in the bloodstream of the average human being alive today is some hundreds of times higher than 150 years ago.  And lead is of course by no means the only poison spewed from exhaust pipes.

      Finally, perhaps more important than any of this, the wars that have been fought to control sources of oil (whatever the specious claims advanced suggesting other motives) would have been fought for different reasons, and would have been very much fewer and the appalling human destruction that has accompanied them would have been vastly less.

      A case to answer.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

By co-incidence, in recovering the above item another piece of that same date turned up, about another issue also now causing increasing dismay, but in this case on moral rather than environmental grounds. 

Details have been leaked of the new ‘compatibility’ test.  It is to be taken by all those arriving in the country for any purpose whatever except if holding a passport of one of the five countries on the list of ‘approved’ governments.  It will consist of three parts, a check for a suitable level of ability in an approved dialect of the English language, appropriate personal presentation (including evidence of access to and use of a sufficient range of British-style clothing and acceptable patterns of hairstyle and facial hair), and a satisfactory set of responses to questions about social attitudes (the latter element to be extended to a written examination, taken in the airport at the cost of the arriving visitor, should the immigration police deem this necessary).

      A spokesman denied that the plans incorporated any aspects of racism.  He explained that the test was merely a further step in the government’s ongoing programme aimed at deepening and confirming social harmony and at eliminating any risk of unpleasant experiences involving overseas citizens due to their foreign appearance or possible foreign behaviour.  The spokesman did not deny that at some future date the test’s reach might be extended to cover all those currently living in the country who could not provide reliable evidence of having been born here.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Both pieces above appeared March 2008, in Grandnephew’s Treachery by ‘Les Cousins’


‘Si vis pacem para bellum’.  Sane remark in itself (cf Montgomery Skew’s comment on cold war, this journal 15-1-2018; and incidentally does Kim Jong-Un read Latin?).  But gerere non est parare, and the Final Disaster will arrive when someone gets the calculations wrong.  Those organisations for international peace around the world which have not yet been mocked into silence and despair will warmly approve Madam May’s denunciation of activity across international boundaries to take violent action against individuals.  We personally heard her use the word ‘despicable’ and believe she described such action as wicked.  It is rumoured she is to make a personal appeal to M.Trump asking him to put an immediate end to any use of armed drones to attack people on the ground where this would involve crossing international frontiers.


(Editor’s note).  Setting up the first item above it almost occurred to me to wonder if there is a deliberate policy in the UK and elsewhere to allow road maintenance to become, soonest, a quaint old-fashioned tradition.  Goals: to reduce balance of payments deficits, free up manpower resources for necessary construction and re-construction work (perhaps even including tower blocks), to reduce calls on national mental health services, tackle obesity and improve the physical health of their populations, to dramatically cut the number of transport accidents, and to halve the level of air pollution.  But then I reflected that another result would be an enormous increase in the number of people having to buy ridiculously expensive train tickets.


British headline a few days ago: ‘Queen to start marathon’.  What a wonderful trouper!  Ninety-one and still ready to go.  Be interesting to see how far she gets round the course.  Maybe back in before Paul Ryan?!