Unwatered terebinths

(1)  quota-feminism  (2) the bug-splatt policy  (3) automated not-answering  (4) notes      *Please note that the date of the next  scheduled distribution has been rearranged for 15th September


Simple Simon came into the office yesterday, looking worried.  He said he was in need of some indoctrination because he did not yet understand one of the entries in the forthcoming Dictionary of Political Blunders (Harp press, Chiangmai):

quota-feminist. Supporter of a proposition that a proportion of places in some body – e.g. a     government or a committee (usually socialist or social-democrat)  – should be reserved for women.

Editor:     The idea, laddie,  is to have more equality of representation.  Females make up about half the population you know, so people think they should have a chance to put their distinct point of view.

S.S:             Will there be a ‘quota’ for smokers, or the left-handed, so that they can put their points of view?

Editor:     No, they just count as part of the general population.  You have to help women because they are at a disadvantage, handicapped by their gender as it were.

S.S:              So will there be a quota for fat people?  They‘re handicapped by their weight.  It says on the news that one in four of us is obese.  This morning there was this enormous man trying to get on the bus…

Editor:     All right, all right, you’ve already told me why you were late.  To be honest, a lot of people don’t have much sympathy for the obese – tend to suspect it’s their own fault.  Different from the case of the women.  They just can’t help it.  Anyway, the point is that committees and groups tend to be in the hands of men, and men tend to co-operate, go in for joint action for mutual benefit, that sort of thing.

S.S:              What’s wrong with that?

Editor:      It’s unfair to women, leaves them at a disadvantage.  At least, the story is that the men in groups won’t help the women.

S.S:              That’s strange.  I thought men mostly like women.  But anyway will there be a quota for your friend Eddy and all those other people who lost legs or arms or eyes in Afghanistan?  They’re handicapped right enough, and they’ve got their own point of view, and people will certainly want to help them.

Editor:      They didn’t exactly ‘lose’ them, but if you want to ask questions about that you’d better put them to Mr Blair.  Actually I’d quite like your idea there, but it won’t happen because there aren’t enough of them; they don’t add up to a sizeable enough group to get recognition.

S.S:               So if you’re a group that has a distinct point of view and handicapped some way and people are willing to be sympathetic to you, and you’re a large group, then you get a quota, but otherwise not.  Have I got it right?

Editor:      Nearly.  But you have to be women too.  Otherwise, you’d be getting quotas for the blind, the deaf, the elderly, cyclists, inhabitants of Wales, and who knows what else.  Now, I haven’t got all morning, out you go, and tell Samantha to have my coffee in here at 10.30 sharp!


Opinion: a physiotherapist  writes:

Perhaps I may suggest an answer to the question you raised in your issue of 28 May (privately circulated).  You asked if anyone could cast light on the mysterious freedom of Joseph Kony, which continues even though the United States had sent in troops to find him as early as the autumn of 2011.  It may be that some do not realise the sophistication of the modern surveillance and detection technology available to United States forces.  They can for instance identify an individual suspected opponent in Afghanistan, and watch as he travels through the mountains on his way to, for example, a party in a house, where it is apparently possible to identify all others present as unlawful combattants, which can then result in a pin-point attack from drone aircraft reducing the house and those within it to what they reportedly describe as a ‘bug-splatt’.  (This approach is so self-evidently contrary to the long-term interests of America that one wonders why it still goes on; dispose of one militant leader – illegally, by the way, which would worry some people – and two or three years later you will have half a dozen in his place, while a couple of hundred more or less neutral politicians in the third world will have found the geopolitical sympathy of the population which they need for support has shifted several points away from the United States.)  However, Kony remains at large, and the United States Congress was already so surprised by this puzzling lack of success that in May it resolved to contribute a further $50m to the mission of their forces stationed there, who are reportedly having to keep in trim by training the Ugandan army.  My suggestion is that the long delay in accomplishing the announced purpose of the mission results precisely from a realisation by the high military command of the severe negative effects in the longer term for American national interests of the bug-splatt policy. It is well known that Kony is likely to be accompanied by a number of young and very unwilling slaves captured in raids on villages or schools.  Perhaps it has now been realised that the deaths and injuries among these that would result from a drone attack would have a disastrous effect on longer term developments in Africa far outweighing the immediate praise that might be received.

from Luddites Gazette


from Readers’ Letters:


May I enter your esteemed columns with a practical suggestion?  We all know that the automated answering systems for receiving telephone calls from customers unable to deal with the gibberish and inconsistencies of company and government websites are constantly upgraded to improve the way that customers may communicate with them.  (As most realise too, this refers to improvement from the point of view of the organisation, by making it harder for customers to reach members of staff and take up their time with awkward questions or embarrassing complaints.)  Typically an answering system begins with a three minute account of the firm or department’s successes, and a threat to record the call (so that any obscene insults you direct at them can be held as evidence or, in interesting cases, potential blackmail material), after which one reaches point α.  Here one is offered a list of up to nine numbers none of which precisely covers the issue you wish to communicate about; however, this does not matter a great deal since whichever number you press will normally result in reaching a new point β with just the same characteristics as α; which in turn leads on to γ and even other such points beyond. Some systems do, however, eventually give a number which claims to offer speech ‘with one of our operators’ (all of whom are ‘currently engaged’), meanwhile attempting to dissuade enquirers by a suitable choice of repellent muzak.

None of us would expect a modern dynamic company to be honest enough to inform callers that there is in the call centre only one operator, whose most important current engagement is to the management trainee currently holding her hand during an extended lunch break.  But there is one way in which the company could more simply achieve its object without any increase of inconvenience to its own practices.  A small number of firms from the ‘ethical’ fringe route incoming calls to customer services through a line which assesses the number of calls waiting; then the assurances to callers which regularly cut in to claim ‘you will be connected as soon as one of our operators is available’ are modified to give information about the number of calls on hold.  All that my little adaptation needs is one more tiny step of imagination – there is absolutely no reason why the number should be correct!  ‘Eighty-seven calls are at present in the queue’ should be enough to get rid of all except the wealthiest or the very occasional small child or pet monkey who has got through to the company entirely by chance.  (The exact number can of course be changed from day to day to give plausible variety.)  And if by chance any callers showed troublesome signs of still intending to remain connected, the next message could offer ‘entertainment while you are waiting’ – perhaps a choice between a round-up of the week’s celebrity gossip or sports news or an adult chat line? – which, once begun, gives the caller no exit option, except to hang up.

If my little suggestion can help to reduce company stress I shall be only too delighted!

Yours sincerely,

Ginevra Grimsdyke (Ms)

Director, Fancy Bread, Stratford

from Luddites Gazette


Anouncement: We are pleased to report that we have received the first application for the post of Poetaster in residence in the Cold Salad office.  We append here part of the submission by Mr Algernon Barbarossa, of  Blanquefort in France, which purely for reasons of space and public morality we have abridged by 98%, to give just the opening and closing lines of his remarkable effort.  (He specifies that it is to be read aloud with a Czech accent and in the original adds musical notation which for technical reasons we are unable to reproduce here, although we can add that the last three lines are marked crescendo fortissimo.)

Bring down the trumpets

As clustered quinces

lie silent under canvas

and musky vagrants evade

an aunt’s despair,

to crawl, squeamish, athwart

the butter-spangled victims

of the argonautic ague….

Seize the chariot!  Whet the leaden

quarts of callisthenic wit!

Bring the trumpets down!

Well done, Algernon!  Isabelita is now hoping to receive many fine submissions from other applicants (whom we remind of the request to submit the samples of work on a clean piece of paper.)


altruism: the virtue claimed by someone who has been helping someone else when the advantage to the helper is not immediately obvious to bystanders.                               from Esmond Maguire: a pot-pourri (2009)


honor honestique floreant