Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: politics

Inconvenient data

Even though the Editor is supposed to be enjoying a well earned respite* some offences against straight dealing are so blatant that it would be a dereliction of public duty to skate lightly past them, gazing in the opposite direction.  One of the main trumpet calls of those calling for Britain to escape the clutches of Europe was that the dramatic change would at long last free the nation’s champions of free enterprise (or at least those with the means to do so, i.e. not any in the bottom 40% of the population) to boldly roam the planet, setting up profitable trade deals with the leaders of business in other nations.  The number of such trade deals actually in sight now, two years after Brexit became official, is believed very low (somewhere around zero).  More reliably attested data, however, comes in the opposite direction  This note is written on the first day of February 2019, the day that the trade deal between the nations of the EU and Japan comes into operation,  This deal, one of the very largest in history, covers, it is calculated, 28% of the GDP of the whole world.

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* [NB in this note that word is pronounced correctly i.e. as ress-pit not, for goodness’ sake, ri-spite

Beggaring belief – and the country

In most decades in modern times and in most civilised parliamentary parties a government that is defeated on its most important policy or its most important legislative project accepts the fact, resigns and opens the way to fresh elections or new leadership.  To see Theresa May continuing to arrogate to herself the management of the relationships between the UK and the EU is a grotesque misuse of procedural possibilities and a constitutional outrage.  She puts the red ribbon of infamy on the whole by describing her manoeuvres as ‘giving effect to the will of the people’.

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.)

MMQQ5

Next post scheduled for 16th April.  NB special motor supplement 01-04-2018

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From Analytica Petri, our Island’s leading centre for geopolitical analysis.

We have run short on those pills that boost intelligence with a dose of ideological certainty, so all we would say with moderate confidence about the Salisbury incident is that there are at least five groups, not all Russian, among whom there could be one or more potential assassins of a former Russian intelligence agent.  However, given that some pundits appear to hail these events primarily as evidence  that Corbyn is unfit to be the British prime minister and that things have been going wrong ever since Blair stopped being p.m, it seems not everyone is working hard to produce a clear and unbiassed account of what happened.  At the same time, with various major elements of their national life (NHS, educational system, transport ‘system’) falling apart, and a disunited cabinet still unable to get the EU to believe three impossible things before breakfast, it is hard to imagine anything more welcome than a chance to summon the nation to unite under the government’s command.  Three days ago the favourite cliché in the news media was ‘Many questions remain to be answered’.  This was misleading.  In fact many questions remained to be asked (and still do).  This is not least a consequence of the revolution in media practice.  These days journalists are trained to put two and two together and make three, even when seven and a half or some fascinating irrational number is waving at them from outside the window – it’s quicker and less expensive that way.  This is not to say everything is neatly sorted out and wrapped up already.  For instance the police believe the house the fellow lived in was a leading centre of contamination.  But is it supposed that foreign agents crept through the suburban roads of Salisbury at dead of night, silently broke in through the kitchen window and planted the poison under the floorboards without disturbing anyone?  Yet the alternative – kept a phial or two of the stuff at home just in case it might ever come in useful – seems equally unlikely.  And one might wonder why the young lady said to be his daughter claimed in Moscow to work in Pepsico, whereas enquirers in Moscow were told she was unknown to the firm.  However, while speculation can be fun, it is also usually pointless.  After all there’s not much chance of finding out before 2076 what Harold Wilson was up to on his frequent visits to the Soviet Union.  (Selling Gannex raincoats!?) (Beside Wilson, Corbyn looks like a model of the security-conscious professional).  What is not speculation is that Theresa must be weeping into her pillow with joy.  What better free gift in an age of us-and-them international relations than a chance to lead our side against them, with or without concrete evidence.  Unlike most, she still remembers that Thatcher’s poll ratings were heading toward defeat in 1982, until that fool Galtieri started a war her troops would win.  There’s more than one irony here.  Ask who else is singing cheerfully to himself as he leads his nation towards an imminent election.  And ‘Farewell desperately needed post-Brexit Russian trade deal’?  But reflect, even if the affair has very disagreeable aspects for some involved, a truly bellicose reaction from Theresa may actually slightly improve humanity’s chance of surviving past 2030.  (See Montgomery Skew’s letter in MMQQ3 (15-01-2018), in particular the last sentence of that long paragraph.)

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The old order changeth (yet cometh the hour cometh the punter)

This item arrived in the office by paper mail, evidently misadressed.  Since  vegetable post is now known to be the least insecure form of communication short of using sign language inside a windowless room swept ‘clean’ by security experts, we deduce it was of high importance to the sender whoever he may be and I therefore offer a short fairly harmless extract so that if he reads this (I suspect he may well be on our list) he may realise what has happened and take whatever action is needed.  The rest of the message has been safely burnt.

When I was a young lad, my grandfather told me how those serving there as officials of what was then the Colonial Office used to relax from the strain of their duties by turning up at one of the elegant and discreet residences in the Corniche (where you met Fifi), for an hour or two, thereafter smoking two or three pipes before sleeping it off and waking up fresh as a daisy mid-morning the next day.  How things change!  A friend of mine recently returned from that same fragment of former empire, having done a  tour to suck up to various representatives of the local would-be plutocracy, advising them on how to sidestep government rules about corruption and how to approach who about what in London.  He tells me the Corniche is certainly still in business but has gone high-tech, turned into a condo/office block, plate glass, stainless steel secretaries and all that.  One of the latter made me put my fingerprints on a screen, which then scrolled through a list of menu options, which explicitly excluded smoking in any format.  All somewhat confusing, he says.  He was shepherded up to a 21st floor room which contained a bed, a smell like a dentist’s and a sort of helmet with dozens of metal buttons and a great fat lead connecting his cranium, once helmeted, to a computer in the corner of the room, and beside the bed a screen on which his option was displayed, which was ‘3 (three) hours of joie de vivre, and dreams type 2 (lechery)’ he boldly told me, and in smaller letters in the corner of the screen where he just had time to read it, ‘terms and conditions apply

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Our political consultant explains (No. 311)

Throughout her career Theresa has maintained a grim determination to think and speak political like a native.  (Political is a language with some peculiarities.  For instance it only has only a negative future tense.  You can say “We shall never agree to such a move.”  But the nearest approach you could make to a positive future statement would be something like “We remain firmly committed to the goal of….” –  tax reduction or whatever it might be, or much more likely won’t be.)  Yet she has never quite succeeded in losing touch completely with reality, and she could see all too clearly that Brexit was sailing full steam ahead to economic disaster, probably to be followed by the extinction of the Conservative party.  Nevertheless, Cameron’s catastrophe (the referendum, not the attack on Libya) had put her in Number 10 Downing Street.  As a more or less closet remainer and as a woman among Tories she felt liable to be jettisoned at the least sign of weakness.  Hence, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (you can bet her advisers thought that was a smart idea), hence ‘strong and stable’, hence her refusal to say anything sensible to the EU negotiators, hence the insistence that there was to be no backsliding towards sanity.  But when someone shouts that loud and that long that X will come to pass you know they are doing it because there’s strong opposition with a good chance of stopping X in its tracks..

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Nature tip of the month:  Fallen nestlings seldom survive.  If they don’t slowly starve they risk their struggles attracting a nocturnal cat.  Neither of those fates are agreeable.  Dip some cotton wool in alcohol and drip it into their beaks.  There is a smidgeon of a chance it will stimulate their system enough to get them through the crisis if other factors are favourable.  If not, at least they will pass out in a happy blur.

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Can Kim Trump Mueller?

Why do you suppose Trump has suddenly become keen to meet Kim face-to-face, without preconditions, at an early date?  Anything to do with the accelerating progress of the Mueller investigations, and the hugely distracting effect of a peace-making (but non-binding) photo-op before the excited cameras of the world?

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More important than you might think ‘Systemic failure’ should be carefully distinguished from the much more common ‘systematic failure’, which is usually a matter of security.  For instance one element in an electrically powered system will be designed to fail, to avoid risk of fire, if the system  is exposed to an excessive power load.  Although usage varies, that can be described as a systematic failure.  A ‘systemic failure’ does not necessarily involve fraud, dishonesty or scandal, and may not even be consciously designed or established, though some believe ‘accidental’ cases count as failures in the functioning of the neo-capitalist system.  Chains of organisations appear where each one lays down the regulations for the next, or is responsible for supervising its activities or is required to ensure that only fit and proper persons are employed, or subcontracts some of its own duties to it; or (in the reverse direction) a group or company may be the legal record-holder for another, or may own the buildings belonging to the preceding one, or certify that health and safety standards have been adhered to, or administer some of its predecessor’s activities, or adjudicate in disputes in that sector of the economy.  Such chains of interacting, or interfering, groups can include six or more organisations, each involved in one way or another with all the rest, directly or indirectly.  The nature of the interactions may surprise; thus a group aiming to stage a festival of simulated hara-kiri in Bordeaux was amazed to learn that an early stage in the process involved an investor in Sierra Leone promising to set up a centre for vaccination against yellow fever.

            Advantages for participants can be truly stupendous, even before government bodies, such as the Health and Efficiency Executive for the Northwestern Peninsula, join in with their often unusual specifications.  Each successive body either charges a fee for the services it claims to provide for the next in line, or treats its own ‘product’ (e.g. licences to carry out monthly surveys of edible waterfowl) as objects of sale to be bought by anyone who wants to pursue the activities of the following organisation (e.g. construction of wooden platforms in municipal parks to allow owners of licensed drones to launch their vehicles without annoyance to others).  If a right to perform Highland dancing at week-ends is fed in at one end of such a chain, what may emerge – apparently from a quite different chain, many months later – may be, e.g., fibrous cladding for rabbit hutches (originally produced by two brothers in Kildare, but now with the necessary approval for export to the UK).  Each organisation has of course its own salaried administrators, with its head receiving a properly managerial package.  In rare cases, where the same tangible objects are  concerned throughout, e.g. exotic oriental foodstuffs fashionable with Guardian readers and needing various certifications, the price differential between the points at which they enter a chain, and where they emerge in real life can involve a factor well into double figures.

            However, money is not the main advantage.  The real prize even if it is not the result of deliberate design is the superb protection provided when things go wrong.  A chain as described delivers ever-diminishing responsibility in one direction, and ever-diminishing real control in the other, so that after a disaster, whether natural or man-made, industrial or marine or financial, it will easily be impossible to pin decisive guilt at any one point, and therefore unjust to raise questions of punishment or compensation, even where tens of thousands have perished and where individuals acting on their own account might face career-threatening penalties, or even a term in prison.  Neo-capitalists around the world are considering a conference in 2020 to explore further possibilities in the peristructural economy.

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Greetings to all for the 17th

MMQQ2

Part I Sober Survey  Part II Yuletide Quiz  :  MMQQ3 scheduled 16-01-2018

A poll has reported that, despite the appalling helpings of tasteless and precision-free verbal fudge served up in Brussels earlier this month, 64% of independent analysts consider it likely that the UK economic system and indeed constitutional apparatus will collapse on about 29th  March 2019 if government policies and practices continue on their present path.  Accordingly means need urgently to be found to maintain government authority and revenues so as to keep at least minimal control over the population and activities of these islands.  However, there is room for guarded optimism.  Ideas for new developments are said to be flooding into government departments every day and in some cases meeting warm encouragement.  One project likely to win approval at an early date aims to eliminate the hugely burdensome cost of defending the realm by outsourcing both army and navy, under contracts carefully designed after scrupulous background checks by Whitehall’s world-renowned negotiators, to approved private groups who will implement delivery with the cost-savings and enhanced efficiency typically found in the private sector.  Naturally under the new relationships there is no good reason why the personnel of the partnering companies should be required to concentrate their activities exclusively on defense of the UK; on the contrary they will be encouraged to improve their expertise and return on investment by engaging in joint activities with other military forces where these can be approved by the newly independent post-Brexit British government.  A number of organisations able to demonstrate a high level of competence in those areas have already thrown their hats into the ring.  Given current developments in the Middle East, London is unofficially confident of a large and continuing inflow of funds to the government’s coffers.  These plans have been run before the high commands of both services and ministers assure us that senior officers are whole-heartedly favourable to such reforms.

The case of the British airforce is somewhat different, however.  An insider, speaking off the record says she believes that the government would wish to keep control of the RAF and some personnel, as well as of certain well-placed airfields, to form the basis of a dynamic new national transport system taking advantage of cutting edge advances in transport management using computers and new high-speed telecommunications (such as those which are going to make the new Irish border frictionless) so as to make Britain the first country in the world where transport of goods and persons is based primarily on air travel.  The network will operate under a new joint taskforce set up by the government provisionally to be called ‘Aria-OK UK’, which will concentrate initially on headhunting top level managerial talent from the private sector.  The government, she says, takes the view that for far too long innovation has been lacking in the British approach to transport.  Nations relying on ‘19th century’ style surface travel for their national networks will lose out commercially and in terms of prestige to countries where travellers can take it for granted that – for example – on the day of their ‘weekly shop’ they may choose to be whisked in premium-class comfort from one end of the country to the other, in less time than it takes to push a trolley round their chosen  supermarket.   The new air network will of course be open to private ventures, and with suitable calibration of schedules and positioning of government services to citizens (e.g. with all HMRC business handled in a brand-new time-saving one-stop super HQ in Aberdeen) the result should be an enormous increase in traffic on favourite routes, and keen competition between different carriers will inevitably drive down fares to levels everyone will be able to afford.  Meanwhile enormous sums will be saved by reducing costs on road maintenance, and by radical reduction of the old-fashioned and unnecessarily complex rail network.  In addition, large areas of railway property can be sold off to provide land for building much needed houses.   (With careful presentation it should further be possible to use some of the rolling stock no longer needed on the tracks to serve as new housing units themselves, thus making it possible to achieve targets for new housing units promised under government plans faster than ever before.)

Many other sectors of international trade will also see creative British initiatives racing ahead and every encouragement must also be given to those commercial activities of the government which will not be adversely affected by Brexit, for instance production of bombs and missiles (obviously exported only to approved countries and exclusively for defensive purposes, since  Britain continues to uphold the high moral standards she has maintained for decades in e.g. her administration of Iraq, as a founding member of the League of Nations; consult relevant histories)  Officials have been tasked with summarising options and data which would not normally fall under the Chancellor’s remit with a view to restoring national income to usable levels.  Possible projects already under review vary widely in both potential size and complexity.  One idea put forward is said to be that ‘Britain should ‘harvest’ those living in the country without a legal right to do so.’  At present they are simply held in  a detention centre and deported as quickly as possible to whatever destination seems practicable, but an alternative scheme would see them required to work on public projects or such other tasks as are deemed suitable.  Under this generous reform they would be allowed to reside much longer in the UK, staying in their detention centre as long as needed to work off the costs of their living expenses in the UK together with a sum to make good the inevitable deterioration of the centre itself during their occupation of it, plus the costs of their transport to the country deemed to be their home as well as the cost of their initial capture.  (Any reference to these sums as ransom money would of course be a criminal offence.)

Britain is already a well-known tourist destination and, there too, many opportunities are waiting to be seized.  Foreign visitors are often attracted by the chance to view historic sites with their own eyes, and often willing to pay handsomely to participate in re-enactments of historic events.  More than twenty groups are already calling for government support for activities in this field.  Herewith merely the identifying titles of the first five such applications currently being circulated:

Working 19th century telegraph office;  working 18th century prison (Newgate)(model);  working 17th century bawdy house;  17th century execution of Guy Fawkes (simulated and with plastic body double, no participant injured in enactment); working 18th century lunatic asylum.

(Editor: That one caught my eye for personal reasons.  The promoters called it the new Bedlam project and I suspect it may have very good prospects of getting government support since they suggest reopening one of the former mental hospitals – very fine buildings some of them – and charging visitors hefty fees for staying there with real patients, so it’s bound to offer yet another way to cut back on social benefits.  Charmed, though, to see that the dear old Warneford is still in business.  Visits almost completely useless from the point of view of therapy but wandering through the beautiful grounds was less stressful than wandering by the hour in strange patterns round the College’s front quad to the entertainment of some of the more boorish of fellow undergraduates, and certainly better than experiencing the electrochemical manipulations darkly alleged (perhaps quite falsely?) to go on at Littlemore.) (But perhaps that’s enough of Part I; time now perhaps to pass on to the second part.)

Our Yuletide Quiz (prepared in collaboration with Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems and Montgomery Skew)

Q1   Had none of her supporters gesticulating noisily in the media about Theresa’s ‘triumph’ in Brussels ever noticed that ‘sufficient progress’ was never properly defined?

It clearly did not mean complete agreement on all points, and  nothing like that came out of Brussels on the 8th, yet Juncker allowed the shift to phase 2.  Evidently therefore it depended on the EU throughout, and the EU’s decision might just as well have been made weeks before (and possibly had been).  So why leave it to a theatrical flurry of night flights in the last week?  Anything to do with pulling a ball of wool across the floor to tease a kitten?

Q2    Which government department’s handbook of ‘Guidance for authorised visitors’ contains the following extract?

   ‘If one of the inmates experiences a loss of self-control during the exercise period despite the sedative tablets, and attempts to stab those around him with a sharpened kitchen knife, there is no need for visitors to be alarmed.  Calm will instantly be restored with a couple of tranquillising rounds fired by one of the supervisory snipers.’

Q3   You are the ruler of a modern oligarchical state.  Given the wide availability of firearms in your country you are constantly worried by the fear of assassination, and therefore attempt to rule with some moderation and reasonable economic success (your state is not signed up to the IMF), as well as arranging many carefully staged photo-ops.  When an important programme runs into difficulty you are faced with a choice: either announce the policy is failing and will be reversed, or continue with the programme while lying to your subjects that success is clearly visible on the horizon.  Which choice will be less damaging (a) for you, and (b) for the population?

(Editor: surely we should have had a supplementary question here, namely ‘What is the probability of any national leader ever adopting the first option?’)

Q4   (Ed: I asked our patroness to disallow this question on the grounds that it is not properly connected to the premiss.  I was overruled.)

It is well-known that the average university lecture on Kant’s philosophy (as recorded in the MIT 2007 Survey of effectiveness of painful stimuli in retention of verbal material in first-year undergraduates) scored 2.38% on the Heftig-Schnurrbart Lästigkeit Index of boredom.  Three outstanding performers on the British football managers scene scored between 7% and 11.5% in recent interviews.  Nevertheless they are all far below the rating of a European golf tournament’s final round this autumn which official observers on an unannounced visit from the Mental Health Observation Society scored at 83%

  Can you explain why anyone ever agrees to pay to watch two or more men using wooden or metal sticks to knock small white balls into holes in the grass?

Q5   Did Theresa May, alone and unaided, come to the belief that she and Davis were so much cleverer than European politicians, that they would be able to bamboozle the EU with ease?  Or did someone with a rare gift for misjudgment (perhaps someone linked to her ‘strong and stable’ election sampaign?) tell her that once she’d had an amicable lunch on the Monday and declared a triumph, then the Irish and any other objectors – notably the DUP – could be fobbed off with a charitable smile and told it was a fait accompli?

Q6  It is well-known that the best place to hide guilt is very often the broad daylight of a public square. Supposing then that those who rule a country (i.e. the rich and well-connected who concern themselves with that country – obviously elections don’t have much to do with it) decided to extend their control over the population by inserting unsuspected and undetected subliminal propaganda for those rulers into the apparently meaningless muzak that pollutes most public spaces in most cities, how would things look different from the way they look today?  Could have been at it for years, I’d say  Indeed, now think….

(Please get some good technicians analysing some random samples a.s.a.p.)

Unscheduled Special Announcement

 

Ed: As the telephone is now working again, and as I have to make this special announcement, I shall also include a couple of small items that have just come in.

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Late news : Spain

            Federica Bertocchini, a biologist with IBBTEC in Santander, has discovered a worm (the larval form of Galleria Mellonella) that eats holes in plastic bags.  Monetary authorities, which throughout the world have been switching to plastic-based currency notes to reduce costs, are starting urgent consultations

Late news : Turkey

            It is reported that President Erdogan has ordered his own arrest but has not been able to find any policemen still at liberty who could carry out the instruction.

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Editor’s report :  I thought I would be left as the only resident in the office when I helped Karela take the bike and the other luggage down to the ferry, on her way back to Zagreb for the first proper leg of her world tour.  But the very next day we acquired at last a new intern.  Edward arrived, unannounced as far as I was concerned.  It turned out later that he had warned us on a postcard from Bordeaux that he was in immediate need of somewhere to stay, and he thought he could just walk into our place because he knew we had been trying to get a new recruit for months, and failed.  But Kevin, who has been doing the post round lately, came up here in a rainstorm and all we could see was a damp piece of card with something illegible scrawled on it.

   Edward is English but quite friendly, and has been living in France for the past three years.  He decided to get out while he could; he thinks Theresa May will block all journeys to the UK from the EU, including British citizens, as part of her war against immigration, but otherwise he seems politically sane.  For instance when I mentioned the idea of charging Tony Blair with treason he said he had once been docked a month’s bonus pay for telling his departmental head he’d sooner shake hands with an overused male undergarment than with Tony Blair.  When he told me that, he added that he would sooner shake hands with Tony Blair than with Emmanuel Macron (French presidential candidate, for our readers in Inner Mongolia), a view which is very similar to what comes from my facial diagnosis technique.  For the past week he has been sleeping on the office floor on a mattress we borrowed from the odd-job man.  Edward is a bit older than the average intern, being a retired medical researcher, but an intern (i.e. unpaid) is what he has to remain for at least the next three months, if he lasts that long.  Lady W’s strict orders.  Personally I’m quite glad he’s arrived even though it plays merry hell with my research, but he clearly knows a lot more about computers than I do.  We had the computer down from the attic, and in no time he was sending out e-mails, complete with pictures of the view over the harbour.  He said he could include ‘tasteful’ pornographic pictures in future issues of the journal.  (I’m still wondering if there is any way I can put this idea up to Lady W.)

 Scheduled date for next posting remains 1st June

 

Doing the usual, and the unusual

Next scheduled for 15-10-2016

1) British values                     2) Brain-fracking

3) How parties collapse          4) The French body

We are both delighted and neurotically tense.  Manos is back.  He arrived the same way that he turned up the first time, only this time the craft was a full eighty feet long, gleaming white, and attracted quite a crowd to watch it manoeuvre into a visitor’s mooring.  More on Manos next time. 

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British values  Use your 3D printer to make a figurine to represent the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the warm-hearted British government has announced it is going to help, in 2020. (‘2020’ is a common expression in the hard-to-understand governmental dialect of British English, and all the more difficult because many officials pronounce it as ‘2025’.  Its meaning is ‘probably never’.)  The aim is apparently to help refugees by moving them from a refugee camp in one of the countries bordering Syria, to a different refugee camp in a country bordering Syria.  This may cost a lot of money, even if it never actually gets done, but is eloquent testimony to the generous ideals of the United Kingdom.  Then find a jobbing sculptor and get him or her  to make a statue preferably in granite to represent the people of Great Britain, on the same scale.  If your figurine is one millimetre high, the statue to represent the British population will be ten feet high.

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Brain-fracking.  Leaders of many sectors of European business held a one-day meeting in Zürich to denounce the increasing number of students, indulging in the craze for brain-fracking.  The idea is basically simple.  Just as fracking for oil involves pumping unusual mixtures of strange substances under high pressure into geological layers under the ground, hoping that something profitable will come bubbling up, so with brain-fracking students aim to pump as many unfamiliar social, mental, and psychological experiences as possible into their subconscious as fast as possible, so as not to let the normal reactions of the conscious mind have time to obliterate the raw edges of each new stimulus and force it to conform to conventional thought patterns.  “Bit like mixin’ a cocktail with a dozen different sorts in it.  No good if you take each one separate, gotta shake them up like fury, then you get sumpfing really weird coming out.  Quite different from injectin’ or swallowing stuff.  Like three circuses all runnin’ in the same tent, an’ you can’t stop havin’ these brilliant ideas keep bustin’ out, keeps goin’ all next day too,” says Khadija Shigemitsu a nineteen-year-old blonde.   At first there was no set framework, but now there is a fairly standard format, 12 experiences in six hours, so there can be need for quite a lot of advance planning, making appointments and checking transport links.  For instance, Kev, Khadija’s brother, is aiming on Friday to start with a chicken vindaloo at 3.00pm, going on at 3.30 to the first lesson in a course for learning spoken Mongolian;  after that a friend will meet him with overalls and a bucket and he will spend half an hour voluntarily cleaning a public toilet, where he will then change into a yellow jump suit the friend has also brought and spend half an hour jogging round Piccadilly.  After that there should be paddling with an inflatable dolphin in the Serpentine, being filmed picking a fight with a dog in Green Park, a quick change into a burqa for the walk over to the University where a graduate tutor will spend half an hour trying to get him to understand some of Kant’s Prolegomena to any future metaphysics, then to the Queen Agnes Insect Petting Zoo (‘Get Cosy and Comfortable with a Cockroach’); after that, round the corner to one of London’s last Chinese laundries still working (for tourists)  which for a small fee has agreed to let him spend half an hour laundering.  At 8.00 pm he is to attend an English Defence League meeting trying not to cause a riot though allowed to join in if it seems necessary for self-defence, and (a sensible bit of planning here) the sequence is to end with him going (perhaps at a brisk sprint?) to the nearby police station where he has to try to make the desk sergeant accept a report about a man dropping litter (a cigarette butt).  But business leaders across Europe, especially in the ‘creative’ industries, advertising and financial investment and the like, are asking for brain-fracking to be banned forthwith.  ‘Turnover and profit margins are in a nosedive.  It is an outrage that we can spend years charging top dollar for our extremely valuable contributions to the imaginative industries and suddenly front rank potential customers can simply walk into some club or bar in London and get all the ideas they want free from some young person who slept last night on a friend’s sofa and never heard of Martin Sorrell or Goldman Sachs in their life.’

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Monty Skew writes: A Common Misconception. The word ‘party’ in its political uses is widely believed to refer to groups of people, usually large, and usually united by their dislike of some other groups, but allegedly also by genetic inheritance from parents and grandparents, and more weakly linked by agreement on a number of policies for which they are willing to speak or act.  Historically this was in fact the original meaning of the word as democratic or pseudo-democratic systems gradually evolved from the earlier monarchies, but current usage is almost diametrically opposed to this value as a result of natural social processes.  (It now usually designates a large political group fraught with internal dissent and unpopular within its own country, run by a cabal with policies at odds with its earlier principles; e.g. PS in France, Tories and Labour in UK, CDU in Germany, PP in Spain.)  The reasons are the following.  Within the large group the most active (or ambitious) tend to take on positions of authority – e.g. as members of a parliament or of a committee directing affairs for the group as a whole, and this inner cohort, necessarily tiny in proportion to the whole, almost always come to see themselves as being the party, and their formulations of party policy as being ‘the’ correct ones.  This can be de facto the actual situation in totalitarian states if parties continue to exist, since ordinary citizens keep as far away from politics as they can, but is considered bad form in countries that purport to be democracies.  If no way is found in the latter to check the backward lurch towards rule by the equivalent of unelected kings and barons, contrary to the views which ordinary members of the national party still hold, disaster will sooner or later follow.  Disaster will be accelerated thanks to the media for two reasons.  First because both the media headquarters and the inner élites of parties will naturally tend to be sited in the same city or region, and so by normal social interaction the former will tend to get their reports from the latter (and those in the latter will tend to get their political views from one another regardless of party membership).  Second, because media sales, and media workers’ temperatures both rise when disaster is on the menu.  (Notice how groupuscules all over Europe have been turning into large-scale political movements in the past fifteen years, but this only gets much attention when it results in structural damage to established big players.)  (If you want to see how this can turn out in the long run consult any reputable history of the Soviet Union 1917-1953.)

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From Dr.Philipp.  From long personal acquaintance with him I can assure all readers that his unexpected decision to leave Corsica and to spend the next two months in the Bahamas is in no way connected with any of the numerous sagas of impropriety which have been holding readers of French financial news reports enthralled for a good decade now.

            In the few very agreeable days I spent at Palombaggia I could not help being deeply impressed by the athletic bodies taking various forms of exercise on the beach.  Classic Greek for the men, but the girls even better than classic Greek (because the prosperous young ladies of good birth in ancient Greece who were thought to have the ideal female form did  not get enough exercise.  Flabby.)  But the paragons in Corsica have honed their shapes to ne plus ultra perfection.  It took me back to my teenage years when I could not walk along Universitätsring without passing at least three women I wanted to marry immediately.  But as I was drying off after a brisk two-hour swim I reflected on the physiological crisis looming before France. It has become the fashion in France to take up what they think is serious exercise.  Even as I was here a survey announced that one in four, no less, of the population regularly does running.  (You and I would say jogging.)  Film stars and models fill the media with their nonsense, as they confide their innermost secrets to the world, quatsching about the surge of strength and well-being that they experience after exercise.  This is dangerous for the nation.  France is like a great raft built of ill-fitting parts joined together with elastic bands and sticky tape and paper clips which are already coming loose as it whirls around the outer curves of a giant whirlpool.  Unemployment still heading upward after five years, repeated mass street protests against government measures imposed without parliamentary approval, the menace of terrorism  alongside flagrant police bavures, 80,000 homeless in Ile de France alone (and 10% of those with a higher education diploma), presidential candidates by the dozen, a government thumbing its nose at EU rules on national budgets, and the current president suffering from fantasies of re-election are all chasing one another round and round and down into the depths beneath the spiral.  The poor wretches at Calais are not struggling to get to Britain, they are struggling to leave France.  If the minority who have so far carried their own burdens and kept the country going now start to spend their remaining energies on the unfamiliar burden of regular exercise the country is doomed.  The bulk of the population (and although they are not as obese as you Irish, ‘bulk’ is the right word) did not have a rigorous upbringing as did you and I.  It is true that their bodies without a background of years of hard training will benefit from this ‘craze’ for the first few weeks.  But after, the demand on their bodily resources will have its effect.  Absence from work will steadily increase.  Patients will crowd the hospitals with their back problems and mental strains, and will not be able to go to work even if there is any to go to.  But nine months after that you will see the biggest result of their exhaustion, the proof that their exercises of the night have not stood the strain.  The birth rate will collapse.  Shortage of French babies.  Even as immigrants from all over the world continue to arrive.  How will Madame La Présidente handle that?

 

Who needs political realism?

[Next in schedule: 15-9-2016]

1) Printing governments       2) Corbyn and Owen

3) Faits divers                       4) How to win a war without having one

. We are often entertained by readers’ letters.  Actually they’re readers’ e-mails, but language should preserve its relics of the past, with e.g. ocean liners ‘sailing’ instead of ‘driving off’.  (Did you know that 150 years ago ‘car’ was a poetic word, describing the sort of flying chariot that fairy queens could zoom around in, on their way to turn unpleasant princes into charming and amusing frogs?  Then capitalism (transport division, subsection advertising) got hold of it and see what has happened to the public landscape since.)   But in this office we were dismayed to get two letters showing that the news about the talented Printapoly group and their 3D-printed governments (10-7-2016) had been misunderstood as referring to some kind of dummies (in the tailor’s sense, not speaking of individuals who put their money into hedge funds).  Far from it.  These are fully functioning ministerial sets, conceived by the printers primarily as potential emergency replacements in case of national disasters or insensate nuclear war, but possibly, until then, sponsored by the UN as demonstration models taking part in high tech public performances to show how government can be done .  As previously mentioned each minister comes with a guaranteed IQ of at least 100. Their language capacity is international English achieved by modelling their brain structures on a meticulous nanoscale averaging of the brains of a thousand volunteers living in the Cambridge area and a thousand randomly selected passers-by in Camden Market, while the inbuilt knowledge of geography and history results from a scan of the past 300 monthly copies of the Reader’s Digest. Each minister comes with a no-corruption warranty, valid for three weeks from date of sale.  The group insist that these sets will all have governance competence at least equal to that of any elected government in office throughout the world.  It appears though that many potential customers have not realised what a bargain is on offer; only three sets have so far been sold, all privately, one to a businessman in the northwestern US, and both the other two to an African president who has apparently insisted on the strictest anonymity. 

            Having carried this project through to success, the team’s next target is to print synthetic beer.  “After the governments, that should be a doddle.  Ready next Friday, I’d guess,” said one elderly material scientist.  “All we have to do basically is a laser microanalysis of the necessary ingredients present in the final product, quite a complex business of course if you were trying to do it the traditional way, then print the stuff up in powder form, and distribute in plastic bags, and for smartphone generation customers we’ll stick on labels telling them how to add water.  Thanks to the government’s strange beliefs about psychoactive substances it’s going to be the only seriously profitable white powder that can be distributed without being illegal.”

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Beating the Conundrum  There have been calls from some members of the British parliamentary Labour Party for a shift to more centrist policies, with a view to gaining power.  This prompts two types of outrage, one concerning ideals, the other practicality.  Ideals): This amounts to shoving a custard pie into the face of democracy and then stuffing the fragments down inside democracy’s teeshirt.   The idea of democracy was supposed to be that you came up with neat ideas for how to organise things better and other people came up with different neat ideas, and then you would run them all before the whole population (excluding women and slaves, if you happened to be working on the much admired original ancient Greek system) to see which the wisdom of the people selected as less likely to lead to discontent, bankruptcy, or civil insanity.  That still is the idea of democracy , even if some people want to use the same name for ‘adjusting your principles and policies to whatever gives the best chance of getting your hands on the levers of power’.  Of course they will say “It’s only with a view to getting into power so we can then do what we really want”  (which is exactly the spiel of the more skilful dictators mounting a coup d’état as they address their fellow plotters).  No further comment at this time.  B): Practicalities:  Love a goose!  Do you think the Tories were voted in because the electorate thought they were fascist beasts?  (This is not to get into the question of whether some of them actually are fascist beasts.)  The electorate thinks the Tories are  the political centre.  There are so many of them (in Parliament where the news reports are based) that even without adding in the cryptoTories on the Labour benches they spill over and cover the centre line.  Everybody else counts as ‘minority’.  (Sorry Scotnats; I know it’s not fair, but anyway you haven’t got long to wait.)  If Labour trumpets that it’s shifting to the centre ground, the great British electorate will just shrug and ask why they should vote for a bunch of second-rate Tories when they could vote for the real thing (or stay home and watch the election on telly).  The only way out for Labour is to stick to your real principles, lose the next election, but get all those hundreds of thousands of members to actually turn up at meetings, speak up for real humane treatment of human beings (especially of people who do the actual work), get them writing to people with political influence, and point out again and again the failures and shameful inequalities and injustices that are imposed on the mass of people who are always too short of money, time and energy to fight back (a national disgrace and dishonour to the phrase ‘British values’).

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Transport news In a world first, Singapore has launched a scheme of driverless taxis which can be summoned online.  At first it will only operate in a fairly small central area.  This being Singapore the taxis will not only take you to your destination but will also tell you where you want to go.

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Answers to readers’ queries (no.1764)  ‘How will the EU’s new scheme for reducing the number of immigrants to the EU from Asia and Africa work?’   (Slobodan Petchwitt, Cologne-sur-mer)  This is the easiest query we’ve had since no. 1211, and can be quickly dealt with.)  It won’t.

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Latest news

The new organisation for feminist activist journalists is to call itself the Medea Group

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Latest rumours  It is not often that one hears of a dissident group in Nato.  After all it is a military organisation and no general wants to be remembered as the one who was put up against a wall for suggesting that they could try negotiating a peace deal with the enemy (whoever that might be, have been, be going to be, or seem to be) or some other such bizarre lunacy.  However, words can be caught faintly on the airflow from the giant air-conditioning outlets suggesting that there is indeed a dissident group in Nato, trying to push some very eccentric views.  While of course they fully support the view, accepted by all who receive their opinions from reputable sources, that the world’s democracies would greatly benefit from a stiffening of  the military backbone, such as is provided by a good war or a damned close whites-of-the-eyes prospect of one, they suggest that both costs and efficiency could be better handled by a radically new strategy.  They argue first against stirring up military tensions with the Russians (who could almost certainly annihilate all human life on the planet if caught in a bad mood on an off-day, but who on the other hand have shown surprisingly little inclination to do much except pull back since 1990), but they argue also against Plan B (establishing China as Son of Evil Empire and elbowing the same out of the South China Sea, hereinafter to be known as the Southeast Asian Basin).   Instead they advocate a modern high-tech approach with a world-class cybercampaign to be pursued in co-operation with our allies, to gain full-hearted allegiance of the whole planet by planting unclear but highly alarming stories worldwide about a deeply threatening situation in central Africa – or perhaps central South America (most even among the tiny minority who read or watch that sort of news these days will not be very sure of the difference anyway) – involving a highly dangerous rogue state run by a ruthless dictator/criminal régime with enormous wealth acquired through trafficking drugs and refugees, illegal mining of gold and diamonds, driving out inhabitants, and seizing their wealth, etc; all the usual.  War games could then be staged in some suitable location with a bit of desert, a few mountains but above all massive impenetrable forests (perhaps again central Africa or South America), with suitably garbled reports emerging, adjusted to suggest that actual heavy warfare is going on and could be threatening your country (whichever it might be) within 45 minutes; except of course that technology has advanced so far so fast that it might well be possible to arrange for some loyal and reliable company in Silicon Valley to produce large quantities of footage as needed without involving any real weaponry or personnel at all unless useful for training purposes.  Apparently the eccentric group is working on the premise that populations almost always believe events to be what is reported rather than what actually happens and as evidence they point to the fact that even in New York, one of the best informed cities in the world, and the one where the events took place, it needed little more than a year – with no special efforts on the part of the government – for the majority of the public to believe that Saddam was behind 9-11.  The enormous financial savings that would accumulate with such a strategy could no doubt be spent in various agreeable ways, as well as on further research on weapons of the future, which could have the happy result of enhancing the alliance’s military potential so greatly that there would not even be any need to strive for further military superiority over the enemy (whoever that might then be, or be going to be, or seem to be) and might instead be a secure basis for development of interplanetary (or even interstellar?) travel so as to extend the space in which the alliance’s writ would run.  What could be a more appealing prospect?

 

 

British Values, seen from far off

We think we are beginning to get on top of this editorial business now, so dear Editor if you are reading this wherever you are there’s no need to hurry back.  We would be glad, though, if Monty could spare the time to send something in, if his mysterious mission gives him enough spare time, and anyone who comes across Manos should tell him from us that it’s about time he contributed again whether or not the Germans have decided to invest in the white chlorophyll business (see previous postings!).  We are grateful again to Berthold who sent us the piece on political nebulas.

Karela and Maud

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Scientific news.  In a dramatic announcement yesterday Printapoly, a little-known Cambridge group in the UK, announced that a programme on which they have been secretly working for more than three years has achieved an extraordinary breakthrough.  With a combined expertise ranging across the fields of electromagnetism, human biology, and nanoscale material science, and using top-level computer resources as well as data obtained from the national police database, they say they have produced a 3-D printer that is able to print governments.  At present their governments will be limited to 30 members, but will all include a prime minister and ministers, guaranteed to have an i.q. of at least 100, for finance, justice and foreign affairs, individually varied for sex according to client choice.  Later they hope to offer a wider range including, for instance a Minister for underwater Arctic resources.  They will accept orders from the middle of this month, with the initial price for the full set of 30 at $3.5 billion (clothing not included).

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Whose interests?  (or The self-belief of the bureaucracy)   When a ruling group comes to believe that its first duties are to its own ideas and interests and decisions, rather than to those over whom it rules (and this time I’m not talking about the EU establishment in Brussels and across Europe) then you are on the high road to authoritarianism and ultimately tyranny.  (But if the group is not too high up the political food-chain in the nation where you live you may still have time to do something about it.)   A first-class example: the current challenger for leadership of the Labour Party in the UK – and just in case there might be any doubt I’ll repeat the name of the organisation, the Labour Party – has put at the head of her statement of challenge that ‘the first and foremost’ duty of the leader of the Labour Party is to lead the Parliamentary Labour Party.  If you think that the ideas and interests and  lifestyle of the average Labour member of Parliament in London are aligned closely with the ideas and interests and lifestyle of the average Labour voter out in the real country then you may also believe that Marie-Antoinette had sympathy for and deep understanding of the condition of the average sans-culotte in eighteenth century Paris.

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Challenger of the week : Angela Leadsom.  One expert believes: ‘With another few years and the right opportunities, she could give even Tony Blair a run for his money I fear.’

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes on Political nebulas:

If anyone wants to understand politics they might find it worth calling in the scientists who understand fluid dynamics.  They might be able to decipher and even predict the movements of these nebulas, strange currents of opinion which hang for years around the head, and body, of a politician, virtually indetectible.  Curiously, these nebulas do not seem to have any effect in situations of personal contact and they do not seem to emanate from any particular actual statements or actions emitted the person.  Yet they powerfully influence the way she or he is perceived by commentators.

            Marine Le Pen is enveloped in such a nebula.  I certainly wouldn’t vote for her myself, and I most earnestly wish that she would remind herself twice a day that refugees are actually real human beings.  Yet she has levered her party’s centre of gravity back up from a dark and fearsome landscape where strange and threatening beings roam, to occupy a rather displeasingly designed contemporary abode (with admittedly some unruly guards who annoy the neighbours in various ways) on the right-hand side of the political field but still well within sight of other habitations.  Nevertheless, other politicians still describe her as an extremist, ostracise her and will not agree to common action even when it would be a mutual interest, while much of the media largely excludes her.  Le Pen clearly has a bad aura, very possibly acquired by contagion from her father.  Ostracism is almost never a good idea.  Contrast the relatively good order, and relatively humane way in which Britain disentangled itself from the ‘insurgency’ in Malaya in 1948, where the British did agree to talk to the communist insurgents, with the experience of the Americans a little further to the east in what was then Southern Vietnam; (indeed some would contrast with American experience in most places where they have decided to fight against what they classified as an insurgency).

            Or take a politician who has spent twenty or more years aiming for one reform which she profoundly believes to be necessary for her country, and which she has turned down other lucrative options to pursue; if she eventually achieves her goal, and then gracefully bows out from the scene, she ought to have a good chance of being acclaimed (once safely off the stage) as not merely a reformer but a ‘conviction politician’ who is ‘held in high esteem for her courage and determination even by those who do not share her views’.  (Like Antony Wedgwood Benn for instance.)  Now change her sex and call her Nigel Farage and is that the outcome which we see?  Not at all. Unworthy motives are imputed to his resignation, and comments on his earlier career are selective to his disadvantage.  His remarks in the EU Parliament are ‘ugly’ and ‘aggressive’  yet  some might call them fair – even measured; when he had first appeared there the majority, confident in their shared opinions and self-congratulations despite the trivial matter of differing party allegiance (just like London today), openly derided him.  Unlike Wedgwood Benn who, once his first-stage career booster with its ‘white hot high-tech’ had dropped away, acquired an ever more potent aura, a ‘good’ nebula, Farage has a bad nebula (a ‘malaura’?) as does Le Pen.  His case supports the contagion theory, since in the earlier part of his career he was a trader in the city.  Wedgwood Benn on the other hand acquired his aura through discarding his allegedly aristocratic title.

            The lesson from all this, including the observations on ostracism, is ‘when you speak about or have dealings with an opponent make your words and dealings fit how they are now , not how they were ten years ago, let alone in sepia-tinted photographs fifty years old’.

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Infamous and shameful : In April ponderous members of the British House of Lords, no less, very nearly pulled a brick out of the bureaucratic wall erected and maintained by the British government to ensure that as many refugees in need of shelter as possible would be excluded from the country.  Their Lordships thought they had a fighting chance of winning, citing the case of an estimated 300 children, unaccompanied and most certainly vulnerable, who had family ties in Britain but who were nevertheless refused admission and were stranded in a squalid camp in Calais.  To their credit many in Britain protested and the government announced it was backtracking, and following an announcement by Cameron in Parliament that more would be done for vulnerable children, ministers announced that work would start immediately.  Actually, after the close scrutiny of the reports which most did not give to what the government actually said, it turned out that the idea was to ‘consult with relevant parties with a view to seeing what could be done’.  Only the most cynical believed that this covered a plan to let things carry on in the same way (perhaps until all the children were kidnapped, murdered, or could be proved either not to have the right DNA or not to be children? [About here, a voice could be heard in the distance shouting ‘Hey, great idea!  I have a friend, has a company that can set up DNA tests so they’ll all fail – or we c’d make that 95% just to give it a bit of credibility.  Prove they’re actually French – no the Frogs wouldn’t put up with that.  O.k. Zambian, or Bolivian or something.])   To resume, the most cynical were proved right.  Since then, to quote the Guardian (10-7-2016) ‘Not a single unaccompanied child refugee has been brought into the UK from continental Europe, or even identified, by the British government since David Cameron promised two months ago that vulnerable minors would be offered sanctuary.’  Is that what Cameron meant when he talked in the Brexit campaign about British values?

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Quotation of the posting

‘Occasionally men stumble over the truth, but they pick themselves up and carry on as if nothing had happened.’  Winston Churchill, Tory prime minister of the UK (from now on to be read as Untied Kingdom)

 

Don’t try swinging with the pendulum

In the past few days we have had a number of requests (many of them polite, about what we as interim editors might do.)  One way or another most have to be binned, but the first two items below are in response to our readers, and we have for the same reason re-printed at the end of this posting the special despatch from Montgomery Skew which reached us last Tuesday.

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Non-sequitur of the year : [1] In the referendum on leaving the UK, a majority of the British electors voted to leave.  [2] Therefore the next British prime minister should be someone who campaigned for the idea of leaving.

            This entry scores 51·9% on the  Frege-Healey Index of Logical Errors and it would thus need a change in world circumstances on the level of a world war to allow a re-evaluation which would see it overtaking  A.J.Blair in the race for non-sequitur of the century – ( [1] We’ve always had pretty good relations with Washington [2] Therefore it is right for me to help George in his invasion of Iraq.)

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Justice for England!  

Please sign our petition!

In the Euro 2016 championships England met Wales, and the result was given as ‘Wales won’.  We have found everyone we asked says this is obviously the wrong result.  Therefore we have launched this petition to demand that the British Parliament intervene to order a re-run of the match so as to get the correct outcome, at the earliest opportunity.  Please

      support us at rtrslt@powrtothegoal.

In the first five days 1,844,920 signatures!

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Now that Britain *(and Northern Ireland) have decided to leave the EU (or not to leave in the case of Northern Ireland and Wales)(and of the City of London) there seems a significant chance of the UK breaking up.  Among the implications that need attention and have so far been disregarded are the enormous costs involved in restyling addresses both on paper and in cyberspace.  For instance British firms continuing to use co.uk might risk being ridiculed by their continental rivals, with significant commercial consequences.  Re-equipping the civil service alone with stationery using  ‘London, England’ would be a major undertaking.  However, it is by no means simply a matter of postal arrangements or signs at ports and airports.  Millions of insurance contracts and legal documents of other kinds will need clarification as to whether they hold good over the whole of what was formerly the United Kingdom or only over limited areas of Great Britain, and if so which.  If for instance a travel insurance has promised free repatriation to any point in the UK after breaking your leg ski-ing, will Hamish MacRob be able to sue if the company refuses to take him safely back to Ullapool?  If a manufacturer of cars, having squeezed his new model through the tests needed to claim it actually sucks pollution out of the atmosphere, runs a campaign offering a ‘special – £1,000 off bargain price (only available to purchasers resident in the UK)’ can he be confident he won’t have to deliver on this to customers living in remote corners of the reborn principalities of Wales.  The sums involved in rights to aircraft routes alone could be very substantial.  The suggestion that where the initials, only, appear they might be kept but understood to refer to the ‘Untied Kingdom’, can only help in a very limited number of aspects, and not at all where the name is spelt out in full.  But a solution which has been calculated to involve relatively little administrative chaos and relatively low costs has been proposed by a firm of consultants in Basingstoke, building on the fact that a single lower case letter added to a name is enough to persuade a computer that it is facing an entirely new ball-game, a view with which a great many lawyers would enthusiastically agree.  Thus, if for instance, Scotland and Wales are again independent then Parliament can pass a resolution recognising what is left (England) as a group of separate kingdoms (without changing any of their internal administrative arrangements).  For example, Cornwall could be one, Yorkshire and Lancashire together (if such a thing is possible) another, London a third, and so on.  Then Parliament can declare these to be ‘The United Kingdoms’.  It can be shown that a very large proportion of the outstanding problems can now be solved by simply adding ‘s’ at the end of the name whether written in full or as initials, which in many cases can easily be done.  Ordinary people might find it difficult to distinguish two areas with similar names, the UK and the UKs ?   UK and US are accepted with ease.  And you may have noticed widespread practice for the past century has had the ‘British Isles’ including both Britain and Ireland.

            *for those who were playing truant during school geography lessons, Scotland is geographically part of the island Britain; and by the way the name‘Great Britain’ is owed not to any illusions about power, let alone excellence, but to the contrast between a large piece of land with many Celtic inhabitants, and a smaller piece across the Channel to which a lot of Celts emigrated in the fifth century to escape the terrible Anglo Saxons (that piece now known as Brittany)

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Linguistic corner : ‘Flexible’ is a good example of what linguists call an ‘autophoric’ word.  This means that it describes itself – ‘flexible’ is a flexible word!  Now because a word’s meaning depends on its own value plus the context where it is used, the result with ‘flexible’ is that it can have very different meanings in different circumstances.  For example, when a personal trainer talks about flexibility she sees that as a fine quality which a healthy well-trained body can hope to have.  But when the boss of a company says he supports government plans to bring flexibility to the labour market, he sees a chance to dismiss workers more easily, bringing major life crises to hundreds or even thousands of households, whose members therefore tend to see flexibility as quite undesirable.  (Readers  do not have to worry about the boss, however.  He will keep his job and his salary.)

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Body language corner : (from Mrs Alceste Fleghorn of 3, Tipley Gardens, Little Yarmouth) Can anyone help that poor man Nicolas Sarkozy.  He has three serious problems.  First, he thinks he can be the president of France again.  (Recent history shows that almost anyone can be president of France, but that does not include those who’ve already held the post and been thrown out.)  Second, he thinks that the way back depends on making lots of speeches with photo ops.  Third, he thinks that making speeches means waving your hands around in a series of dramatic gestures like a children’s party conjuror.  Personally I’m fed up with turning on the telly, and seeing Nicolas Sarkozy there with his hands held out wide as if he was checking the length of an imaginary loaf of bread.  (Still he’s not as bad as that Clinton woman who believes audiences are so stupid that when she points in random directions at the crowd and opens her eyes and mouth wide, that lot think she’s recognised them and so they will feel they have a special link to her next time they vote.  They aren’t really that stupid.)  (Are they?)

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Montgomery Skew

It is sometimes amusing mental exercise to try to gauge the levels of intelligent argument and of principled conduct in the political class that governs the country where you live, whether that class has one member or hundreds.  (Any claim that the class could number thousands or even in fantastically implausible cases the whole adult population should be put back into the proper obscurity that is found between the covers of textbooks on democracy.)  Warning: this form of exercise can be interesting but may leave you with a bad case of depression.

   As I write calls continue for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the British Labour Party.  The callers accuse him of ‘weak leadership’.  The calls are broadly justified but in a way almost diametrically opposite to that alleged by the callers.  It is said that Corbyn should have engaged more vigorously on behalf of the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU; had he done so, it is said, Labour Party supporters might have voted in sufficient numbers to keep Britain in the EU.

    The idea that a party leader should have energised his followers to vote to stay in can only be coherently held (if at all) by people who themselves were (and in the nature of the case probably still are) committed partisans of remaining in the EU  This is coherently possible for those who believe that the side they favour is right even when this conflicts with democratic principles.  However, many in the Labour Party believe themselves to be staunch supporters of democracy.  A principle of democracy agreed very widely (but perhaps not in the Labour Party) is to accept the result of a popular vote even when it conflicts with one’s own preferences.  A referendum won by more than 1,250,000 is by democratic principle the right result.  In such circumstances, the question of whether a different electoral turn-out would have produced a different result is, in constitutional terms, irrelevant.

   Leaving questions of principle aside, the complaint about Corbyn’s campaigning rests on an assumption that if more Labour supporters had turned out, then the proportion of the vote in favour of remaining in the EU would have been higher.  But there is evidence in bucketfuls that the mass of Labour voters (who on the whole have a tendency not to live in affluent circumstances, or enjoy incomes, opportunities, and dinner table conversations such as those enjoyed by Members of Parliament and other inhabitants of London) by a large margin wanted Britain out of the EU.  Consequently more Labour voters would have meant an even bigger majority in favour of leaving.  (Naturally this would have left committed ‘remainers’ even more furious and convinced, on the basis of the information acquired at those dinner table conversations, that the result reached had been ‘wrong’, and consequently even more eager to find some way to reverse the decision.)

   Corbyn allowed  himself to be persuaded, by partisans of ‘in’ who in all likelihood believed genuinely that their side would win and that Labour would be damaged by association with a losing cause, to support the ‘remain’ campaign, even though this was contrary to the views of most of his Labour supporters and probably against his own inclinations.  Thus his mistake was precisely to go out and speak on behalf of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe.

   [A footnote:  the petition calling for a second referendum to decide whether or not to accept the result of the first referendum was discovered to have signatures of, among others, 39,000 inhabitants of a non-British microstate which in fact has a population of 800.]