Amsterdam voices

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

       (first published in Obiter Ficta2004)

honor honestique floreant