Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: policing

Do you want what you get? Do you get what you want?

Part 1 In the good old days, my grandfather told me, if you were being investigated by a Special Branch man or, much more rarely, by someone from the other side, and provided that you weren’t too slow-witted to spot the fact, the whole business was usually done on a very civilised basis. It made no difference whether the grounds for suspicion were legitimate – as only very occasionally happened – or were the hybrid offspring of a chance collision of unrelated ideas in the mind of a possibly alcoholic clerk at hq, or arose because some self-inflating functionary in the outer scrubland of the political jungle took offence at some joke of yours which he failed to understand. The fellows engaged in business ‘in the field’, on both sides, were there precisely because they did not want to be bored out of their wits in hq or to be bound hand and mouth with obligations to believe simultaneously eleven mutually contradictory and wholly pointless falsehoods. They were almost always well-educated, good-humoured chaps, alert by nature and profession to the inanities and incongruities of the human circus, and once you had identified each other you could be sure of an excellent conversational partner and, often enough, of a good deal of help in dealing with the everyday obstructions to practical existence erected by the jobsworths employed to run society. In my own very earliest days in an adjoining field I encountered a few myself. In Exeter, for example, there was a very decent Special Branch fellow, member of an old county family, who had decided that farming was not for him. He knew the region and its sometimes hair-raising secrets (social rather than anything connected to police work) better than anyone. I more than once passed a very pleasant afternoon in Devonshire House with him and a couple of colleagues. One parted with a feeling rather like having had a good run in the country on a crisp winter morning, followed by a hot shower and a splendid breakfast.  In Baghdad I several times met Vitaly, a correspondent for Izvestia as his cover and no doubt very good at that. He was somewhat more reticent about his real business and there were matters he preferred not to discuss directly, but the breadth of his interests and his sense of humour, together with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Iraq, made him a conversationalist of the highest order.  Also a very good painter in water colours. Perfect English by the way.

Later I had very few contacts with that world, which was in any case changing. One of the last men in the field I knew personally, in Singapore, was still broadly true to that type. Through no fault of his own his educational background was not quite on the level of the Englishman I have cited above, let alone that of the Russian, but he was good-humoured, well-informed, markedly helpful in practical matters, and a thoroughly agreeable fellow.

Now, all that has changed. In the first stage these perceptive, resourceful agents were withdrawn from front line operations, to be replaced by cameras, microphones and other gadgets for recording data, usually without regard to its relevance, on the basis that ‘if we record everything then the stuff we need will be in there somewhere.’ Naturally this resulted in much greater credibility being given to those reporting conclusions to higher levels – it was assumed that the great mass of material collected amounted to convincing evidence for their views, however flimsy the evidence might actually be. In fact the real result was a great loss of efficiency. It was for instance only too easy for a machine to overlook the significance of the same name turning up in two different places hundreds of pages apart. But rather than bringing back the human agents the organisations plunged further into reliance on machines and algorithms of ever greater complexity, often ever more remote from the realities in the field. Inevitably the occasional successes were accompanied by major blunders which harmed not only the victims, but quite often and quite seriously the interests of the organisations themselves, whichever side they were on. No hope of rational assessment. If you decide that X is a goal to be achieved, you then set up a schema S of all the parametric values your electronic gadgets need to show in order to count as achievement of X; you then programme the whole caboodle to produce those values and turn the switch ‘on’. X is likely to result, with the whole hailed as a success. Quite independent of whether it was a good idea, short or long term. X may have been chosen for reasons of patriotism or prestige – just see how nations actually compete to hold the Olympic games. X may have been favoured by certain factions because it would make them the leaders in the operation and strengthen the position of those factions within their larger organisation. X may have been chosen because ‘it’s what we did last time’ (a principle notoriously responsible for much of the slaughter on both sides in World War I).

Part 2 to appear at a later date

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Although he has taken up his studies at the Open University again after a two-year absence (about which we are certainly not going to ask any intrusive questions) Manos is well into his old recreation of devising get-rich-quick schemes. His current one is for a chain of restaurants, to be run on entirely new lines, modern, dynamic, and market-oriented. In other words, taking the banks as a model. They will be extravagantly furnished and decorated establishments, with very few staff visible to those who patronise them but whole teams of casually dressed young persons lolling about in front of screens in the back offices. The front-of-house staff with be trained to appear authoritatively friendly or actually obsequious, depending on who they are currently dealing with. In either case they will flatter the customers while offering expensive suggestions, and surreptitiously insult them once they are out of earshot. Guests (only vulgarly known as ‘customers’) can book a table and sit there admiring the luxurious décor and elegant social ambience in which they find themselves for an hour or two, taking selfies if they deem that socially acceptable, and photographs of other ambitiously dressed guests. After an hour or two they leave. There will be no kitchens. The beautifully designed menu, styled ‘your invitation to an ambience of unique elegance’ will make it clear, in very small letters and very abstruse terminology, on the back, that if any food or drink is desired, guests must provide the same themselves and are fully responsible for taking all measures that may be needed for its preparation.

Two more details: music will of course be provided, Mozart with all the difficult parts taken out and replaced by a gentle but unobtrusive rhythm to enhance the perfect restorative experience. And a preposterously high compensation package for the restaurateur.

Les nains de l’homme argenté

1) Egyptian democracy   2) How to handle a population   3) yet more progress!   4) Readers’ letters   5) question of the fortnight         Further distribution aiming at 1-3-2013

This journal has acquired a fine record of political and social predictions, some from our own staff (contact harpress@gmail.com for fees of consultancy contracts), some from readers.  A good example is the observation by Leah Menshevik (20-11-2012).  She pointed out the crippling flaw in the claim that social networks using the new adult electronic toys would bring an age of truer democracy.  The crucial factor is the huge divergence between the population of frequent users of social media (and of the shiny gewgaws which support them) – very largely urban and overwhelmingly young –  and on the other hand all the other inhabitants of a country.  Instead, the tendency would be towards the appearance of urban mobs, passions inflamed by the mutual assurances of justified rage flashing around their favoured networks.  This matches extremely well what has been happening recently in Egypt (assisted, certainly, by the deep-rooted belief of police in Egypt as elsewhere that one of the rewards of serving a population is the right to beat up or taser members of the population who displease them).  There have been and are rioting mobs in Cairo and other cities, demanding the resignation of Mursi, alleging that he has betrayed the democratic revolution.  Yet the moves made since Mubarak was overthrown have twice been put to a nationwide vote, unprecedentedly free and fair, in which Mursi’s group and allies won, each time, around 65% of the vote.  That they should now take the leading part in organising the way forward conforms precisely to the principle of democracy – doesn’t it? – whether or not that 65% came from outside the cities, and the poorer sections of the population.  Or perhaps elections only count as democratic when they deliver the result that we – whoever ‘we’ may be – want?

[Two more reader’s letters at the end of this distribution]

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Our arrangement with Luddites’ Gazette (see earlier distributions passim) has to end; the editorial staff were held as suspected illegal immigrants on reaching Switzerland; their bicycles were impounded and  they lost their chance to appeal against CENSOR’s decision.  So we have made an informal agreement with the Wessex Posthorn (a young staff gallantly pushing out independent views in one of the more dismal port cities of southern England) (Please note we present this document as received, and apologise for the poor quality of the writing):

A bit of good news from France, some really bad news from America.  From this month on, first time in 212 years, Frenchwomen have the right to wear trousers without going first to a police station to get permission.  That urge to dictate to women how they can dress seems deep embedded in the collective mind of the French bureaucracy, but perhaps we should (for once) congratulate those French police, for pretty generally having had enough sense not to enforce that law, we hope they will continue with this rare sanity in the matter of that preposterous veto on the burqa.

            The terrible news (for people who are going to see brothers, husbands, neighbours, and family friends who had just popped in for a visit, killed or maimed, without any proper investigation into claims they might be intending harm to anyone) is like the American executive branch are giving themselves the right to send a drone to kill, not arrest, never mind trial, American citizens who they think are preparing violent action against America.  We think this move is heavily against America’s own interest, but first let’s just point out a lot of people think it’s a breach of the constitution (and what the hell is the point of having a constitution if the authorities any time can just ride over it when they don’t like the rules it makes?)  More important point for the rest of the world is when you ask the question, if they can do that for American citizens what are the chances for anyone else, if for any reason, right or wrong (including mistakes over identity because of similar names as has already happened, not to mention wedding parties and meetings of chief elders against the taliban), the authorities decide that someone has been plotting violence against America.

            First off, the move is puzzling.  If your surveillance techniques are so good they can detect political views and plans of action (i.e., eavesdrop on conversations inside mud houses and read thoughts inside heads, in villages high in difficult mountains) how can they not be good enough to detect when the individual actually starts to do something – like travelling outside his home base or buying dodgy equipment  – and then maybe send in the drone to stop him?  (He’ll have a hell of a long way to go.)  As we said, the policy looks exactly against America’s own interest.  Probably America’s  most unpopular policy round the world.  The evidence is already in, using superior armed force to impose your conqueror’s power and defeat resistance (which may not even be there in the first place) by a civilian population usually fails and worse it gives terrible losses to the ones trying it.  What about France and Ukraine in World War II, or Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq since then?  Vietnam is worth looking at twice over.  Trying to beat the communists (more like nationalists really anyway) cost tens of thousands of young American lives, with even more wounded, and vast amounts of money, and it failed.  But, treating Vietnam with a mix of trade, co-operation, realism, and some sort of respect from 1988 has got America pretty much the sort of Vietnam she wants.  Please think again.

[for reading if you got French: article by Jean d’Amécourt, French ambassador in Kabul 2008-2011 in Nouvel Observateur, ‘Les pièges de Kaboul’  30-1-2013]

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Dr Ilya Sprat, Chairman of Wessex Petronine Gastronomes denies being the speaker of certain remarks recorded at a dinner for toothpaste and oral hygiene executives in Exeter last Friday, congratulating Deviathon-Slodge on siting their new project in Devon.  “It’s true some local peasantry are bellyaching about too many middle-class incomers in the county already, sticking up new concrete and glass ‘villas’, blocking the parking places with their Chelsea tractors, filling the local schools with pushy kids, and sending prices in the farmers’ markets skyrocketing.  But the more thoughtful among us see the benefits people like you bring with your culture and wider commercial contacts, and some of us are already experiencing a very satisfying increase in the value of our own businesses.”

            The new project to be called Imaginative Living for Extended Value (it was originally going to be called the Extending Value in Imaginative Living project until one of the workmen installing the jacuzzi in the new building spotted the difficulty) was set up with the mission of providing the conglomerate with ‘blue-sky thinking factoring foresight into your future’, (a phrase which according to one critic already inspires a chilling surmise as to the sort of thoughts it is going to deliver).   Indeed it has already won a major government-funded contract for the provision of muzak to be played as background on all calls to emergency services nationwide, as recommended by consultant psychologists.  According to the project leader, “This will be a loss-making venture and is designed solely to show Deviathon-Slodge making a useful contribution to society.  The aim is to help these important calls to proceed with maximum efficiency and minimum distress to those involved.  Our intelligent software will be able to detect instantly from the timbre of the voices whether to play soothing music, or a brisk march – perhaps something by Philip de Sousa – to raise energy levels, or perhaps in occasional instances something loud and obtrusive to call a duty officer back to the telephone if for some reason their attention has wandered.  My nephew tells me some ‘Dubstep’ by ‘Skrillex’ – is it? – might help there.  There is also, regrettably, the possibility of the duty officer deciding that the call is a hoax in which case he will be able to use an additional facility to switch in a recording of giga-noise klaxons as developed by the military for semi-lethal crowd control, to dissuade further attempts.”

            However, speaking off the record an anonymous source alleged that Deviathon-Slodge’s boffins had another objective in view.   “Certainly they’re going to supply the service free but they’re still aiming to make money.  Adverts.  Nothing explicit of course.  Playing the jingle of a fastfood place when some woman is screaming for police to come quick because a murderer is trying to break in might not have maximum soothing effect.  No, just the old subliminal game, quick phrases not quite consciously audible behind the noise – sorry, muzak.  The thing is, in calls like that the emotions of the caller are at peak level so the ‘hit’ will go in several times harder than in the ordinary way.  Plus, of course, millions of calls like that every year.  Money in shedloads.”

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Readers’ letters (selected in accordance with our rule that submissions will be limited to one grammatically correct sentence, please note)

There is a view widely held, in the marketing departments of companies selling genetically modified doughnuts, genetically modified sardine yoghurt and similar marvels of the twenty-first century pantry and larder, that consuming genetically modified foods cannot be bad for human beings because the American public has been doing it for 25 years, but when one reviews all kinds of recent events in that nation, not least in politics as practised for instance in senatorial contests in Mississippi, one may be inclined to think more research is needed for a definitive justification of that confidence, while in the background there remains the question as to whether already 25 years ago 4% of the American public believed that they had been abducted by aliens.

Marcia Henscropp, Gaza

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Glad as I am that my ancestor Richard III has been rediscovered, albeit exhumed and indeed earlier asphalted over without my consent, and that some enthusiastic practitioners of one of the more obscure academic trades have offered us their idea of the face that once overlay the extant skull, I assume, having seen the result, that there must be a fair amount of flexibility in the procedures for producing reconstructions, since there is no reason to believe that Richard had any oriental blood flowing in his arteries, and very strong reason to believe that he was not a woman.

Prof.Pixi Immental, Porto Alegre

(Congratulations professor on the absence of that meaningless ‘as’ which so often flaunts grammatical ignorance at the head of concessive clauses!)

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images3

Question of the fortnight.  The government in Kuala Lumpur has ruled that in future shopping malls in that city must reserve 7% of the parking space provided, for female drivers.  Since shopping is predominantly a chore undertaken by women and, even more clearly, the great majority of customer time in shopping malls is spent by women, we would suggest that the government should have ordered the reserved space to be 70%.

            The question: ‘Can any feminist explain why this suggestion gets treated as an example of male chauvinism?’

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honor hominesque honesti floreant

Spoons in the east, beetles underfoot

(1) Editorial note   (2) tasers   (3)   muzak in the wallpaper  (4) self-contradiction in the EU  (5) capitalist competition in reality  (6) footnote

 

The Editor writes:  The next distribution which we hope to make is pencilled in for 30 OctoberPlease note that this time there will be no earlier supplementary distributions.  In the first part of the intervening period we shall be conducting our annual ceremony of respect and honour for Rupert Murdoch.  We should like to speak highly of his private life and of the doubtless many and ingenious methods by which the enterprises he has fostered pursue their noble goal of disseminating to the world news that the world should be told, but shall forbear; these are matters of which we have no privileged knowledge and we hesitate to repeat mere hearsay, no matter how warmly it glows.  However the steadfast loyalty of this cosmopolitan magnate to his determination to lead the world’s foremost publishing and media group has been obvious to all.  How can we not see that his companies have set cultural standards for the nations of the earth, providing their populations with a new understanding of what counts as fitting behaviour and social mores, and seeking to offer ever more attractive visions of human life to those who would view them.  Who will deny that those who have been touched by the influence of his enterprises even at second, third, or fourth hand are moved to greater love for their fellow human beings and an almost irresistible desire to do whatever they can to promote peace between nations, and equal and fair dealing between all?

  Thereafter, those of us in this office will each be spending two weeks in rather different fashion, undergoing a renewal experience (despite mockery from certain critics in more sedentary – or sedimentary – sections of the media; they know who they are).  Our goal is to place ourselves in a framework different from our life in Guernsey in as many ways as possible, socially, geographically, meteorologically, philosophically, and even gastronomically.  For instance, I am to be zipped into the costume of a giant panda and sent out to entertain the crowds in an American theme park by dancing and singing nursery rhymes in time to recorded music operated by a switch in my backside.  Manos has just returned from London depressed, after learning that the official who finally agreed to allow him an interview to discuss his innovative proposal for velcro strips on future banknotes ¹, was the deputy to the director of the Bank’s car pool, and his encouraging reaction may therefore count for little.  Nevertheless, and even though this is his first year with us, Manos will be the assisant cook on a trawler taking mentally disturbed children on three-day trips in the Bay of Biscay.  (The Chief Psychiatrist of the institution where the children are held believes that the combination of fear and seasickness is a splendid method for producing a recovery of normal behaviour patterns.)  Our hope in these ventures is that we shall acquire a deeper understanding of others and their ways, and return with a far less simplified grasp of our own situation and presuppositions (which by no means excludes the notion of condemning ignorant and self-indulgent critics). 

  Jeremy alone will not take part having kindly agreed to feed the guard dog, since we were unable to find any alternative solution to that problem, meanwhile taking online a course of (very expensive) Californian psychotherapy intended to cure what the counsellor who recommended the course described as his ‘guilty, unnatural and self-destructive lust’ for olives (one of a number of remarkable cures offered by this estimable consultancy).  (Personally I think it is just another example of the trouble one can get into through trawling the internet.)

   We wish our readers well until 30 October, when we hope to be able to give news of a controversial new theory about Stonehenge.

¹ [see distribution 15 September]

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taser mysteries  from 10-10-2012

Legal proceedings are under way in Sydney into the death last March of a Brazilian student aged 23.   He was reported to police as having been involved in an armed robbery.  In fact he was unarmed, and it turned out that he had taken two packets of biscuits without paying for them.  A policeman who tasered him, twice, using the weapon directly on his skin, denied hearing him cry out ‘Help’ and ‘What did I do?even though at that time the victim was lying on the ground handcuffed and apparently virtually naked.  The weapon was used against him in bursts of between five and fourteen seconds.  It was stated that he had taken a dose of a hallucinogen and was in what was described as a psychotic state; reports did not clarify whether he had realised that those who had attacked him and thrown him to the ground, initially six although in all there were eleven around him as he died, were policemen.

Legal mystery: the proceedings are described as an inquest to discover how he died.

Social order mystery: what are the prospects for the mentally ill, or indeed the merely eccentric, who go out at night in Sydney?

Educational development mystery: what are the current prospects for universities trying to attract students from overseas?

Continuing mysteries: when will we get an answer to the question put in the second item in the distribution of 5 June?  And if none is forthcoming, why?

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Deviathon, the well-known multinational conglomerate based in Madagascar and tax havens throughout the world has triumphed again.  Its new ‘musepaper’, muzak-impregnated wallpaper, claimed to be superior to anything else on the market, is intended to entertain and soothe the housewife as she moves around her house through the day.  It comes in two ranges.  One has mostly abstract designs, and it is the colour and colour combinations in these which control the easy-listening muzak that emerges whenever the sensors register the approach of an occupant of the room.  The ‘superpremium’ wallpaper of this type is especially suitable for those with a creative itch, since the muzak is not pre-recorded but will be made up of different tones resembling the sounds that can be produced by electronic synthesisers which indeed they are, so that pitch, quality, and volume can be varied according to the speed and position of the human, or indeed animal, movements in its neighbourhood.  The brochure foresees hours of fun as you teach your pet to wave its paws and move this way and that so as to produce weird new versions of popular television theme tunes.  The other range of musepaper includes photographs of your favourite performers set in a variety of tasteful striped and floral designs.  A close approach to e.g. the late, great Nate Butley will start a shortened rendition of one out of his five greatest hits.  Most of the performers featured will of course be in the current charts, since the firm is counting on built-in obsolescence in the muzak and pop industries.  This, they anticipate, could reduce the use-span of the average roll of wall-paper from its presentday eight to twelve years down to less than six months, with a corresponding dramatic increase in profits.

  Asked if there were any plans to produce a range with pictures of classical composers so that a close approach would elicit a few favourite bars of some symphony or concerto, the spokeswoman responded ‘What is a concerto?’ and when this matter was cleared up, answered simply ‘No’.

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Readers’ letters

  Madam, Can any of your readers find a rational explanation of what looks like a piece of self-contradiction?  In February 2008 Kosovo declared its independence from the rest of Serbia.  This event was apparently favoured by the benevolence (towards the Albanians of Kosovo) of a strange combination of the European Union and Nato, but we pass over this unusual feature, as also the allegations about questionable aspects of the Kosovan government.  Although a considerable number of nations still do not recognise the validity of the declaration (which seems to be in contradiction of the UN charter), there is no doubt that the core administration of the European Union does accept it, apparently on the basis that it was a change of national boundaries made necessary in order better to match the ethnic pattern of the populations in the region.

  Since then there has been a consistent and very strong demand from the overwhelmingly Serbian population of the three northernmost municipalities of Kosovo, that their territory should be restored to Serbia and detached from the rest of the traditional Kosovo.  The European Union’s administration resists this firmly, apparently on the basis that national boundaries should not be changed even if in order better to match the ethnic pattern of the populations in the region.

  It is not easy to explain such an inconsistency; it could not possibly be on the basis that one particular ethnic group, here the Serbs, has simply been classified as ‘the wrong sort’.  Such ideas would not exist at any rational level of politics in the modern world.  Would they?

Lobelia Helgasdottir

from Luddites Gazette

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Economic shorts

  The assertion, that while state enterprises in a nationalised sector inevitably lead to inefficiency, competition between private companies will lead to improved operation and a better deal for customers, does not sit comfortably with this news just out of the U.K.

  Gas supply to households in Britain was technically privatised in the 1980s but remained a regulated monopoly until 1996.  Now a number of private firms compete.  All of them have decided to raise the price to consumers in the coming year by between six and nine percent.  The current rate of inflation on the other hand is 2.5%.  The biggest supplier is British Gas, affiliated to Centrica.  Centrica made a profit of £1.45 billion in the first six months of this year; £345 million of that was attributed to supplying gas to domestic households.  Incidentally, fears have been expressed that deaths among the elderly poor are likely to result from the price increases.

  It may also interest some to know that according to media report a Mr Laidlaw, the boss of Centrica  had a total ‘compensation’ package (pay + extras) last year of £4.1 million plus an entitlement to shares in 2014 anticipated to be worth £5 million, provided that company profits show a satisfying increase.  It is not thought, however, that prospects for an increase will be damaged severely by the increase in price to consumers.

from Luddites Gazette

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sour observation

some might describe the views of well-paid economists that ‘increasing wealth of a country’ = ‘increasingly satisfactory situation of its population’ as two fallacies folded into one economists’ superstition: that what is true for an ensemble is true for all its members, while ‘increasing wealth’ = ‘increasingly satisfying condition’

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honor honestique floreant