Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: privatisation

By no other name any sweeter

1.Nameless in Basingstoke

2. King Arthur’s Round Table

3. Who shall be the scapegoat?

Difficulties have emerged with the British government’s Onomatic system, introduced six months ago in partnership with Hugh G Megasystems inc., to ‘bring greater efficiency and immediacy into the business of nominal update’ (that is, changing one’s name).  By some oversight the wish of a private citizen to do this has not yet been made illegal.  The aim stated was to allow those who needed for whatever reason to change their names to do so at minimal cost (to the government; and with all the inconvenience of following the byzantine regulations left to the citizen), at the same time ensuring by means of a grossly intrusive question sheet that as many details as possible on as many citizens as possible would be entered into governmental and EU archives, to serve as legal ammunition if at any future point the citizen has a difference of opinion with the authorities.   Also, with a truly professional disregard of the fact that procedures planned by a committee of experts normally function to produce unpredicted problems in practice, the new system makes it difficult to change a name a second time.  In some as yet unexplained way this restriction, it is said, enhances ‘security’.  In accord with new ‘default’ policies it is no longer possible to change one’s name in the traditional way by deed poll.  Unfortunately one middle-aged inhabitant of Basingstoke, who was inexperienced in the use of computers, but tired of being teased for years about his original family name of Onions, decided to take the risk.  However, his first attempt somehow led to him being called Next, and he therefore had to attempt a second change.  He successfully avoided becoming Code (unlike two other users of the system) but through taking excessive care not to fall into any of the other pitfalls, he found a week later (having struggled with his computer an hour or so each evening until he developed a headache) that he had finished the process and had no computer option except to click on the button ‘finish’  – yet doing that left the choice of new name posted on screen as a blank.  (When he realised this he took a hammer and smashed his computer.)   A government spokesman confirms that he is now officially nameless, but insists that since he has engaged with Onomatic twice he cannot go through the process again even if he wanted to.  (He now refuses to touch a keyboard.)  While friends are generally sympathetic no one has been able so far to offer any practical help except for a lawyer who suggested that he might be able to claim to be the intended recipient if he came across a cheque signed but not completely filled in.  A ministry representative thought it might now be impossible for him obtain a new driving licence, or to be treated under the NHS, but there was no reason for him to fail to pay income tax, or to complete other official business since he still bore the relevant reference numbers.


Berthold writes.  I had been musing on the UK government’s attempts to make rules for ‘psychoactive substances’ (actually almost everything we eat down to coffee and lettuce, but by some bizarre reasoning not, according to said government, including alcohol – now why ever could that be?) when I came across this from a book of  Sayings of the Fifteenth Century : ‘This folk of Briteyne hath great craft in the devysing of riwles, but the wit of an old henne in the dealings that depart thereafter


Question of the week : Why was the great Table of the knights of King Arthur round?

This is a very reasonable question.  A round table is fine if you have a small number of guests as it gives a good chance to every one of them to try out their talent at social enterprise above or below the table on all the others, if they dare.  (Hosts should bear this in mind when preparing invitation lists.)  But King Arthur’s table was no boutique tea-shoppe object.  We know this not because we have seen the table shown to tourists in Winchester, since that is a fourteenth century fake (though it suggests that six hundred years ago they already had a sharp nose for what would pull the bored and gullible tourist in) but simply because of the number of knights who were seated round it.  We shouldn’t imagine that meetings of the Round Table were like modern democratically run municipal committee sessions.  These were serious warriors equipped with the most lethal gear available in those days to inflict physical harm on other humans (as extolled in maudlin ballads composed by court minstrels) .  There is no way any of these warriors with their testosterone-powered battle rage could have tolerated being in the bottom half of a longitudinal table.   This immediately decided the shape (and the urgent need to keep a bit of space between each one and his two neighbours decided the size).


A reader’s letter (from Volodya Jenkins, Toulouse)

It is easy to see that the human species adds to its many other terrible inadequacies a deeply embedded assumption that the natural order of a society has the shape of a pyramid, on much the same pattern as in a pack of wolves.  (By the way, is there any truth in the rumour that scientists are discovering increasing numbers of packs where the leader is, if I may so put it, a lady wolf?  Yet another sinister effect of global warming perhaps acting on mammalian endocrine systems?) The assumption certainly does not lead to a perfect society, though as I often saw in my years in West Africa, it generally works even  less well when half-witted Western politicians throw dollops of democracy into the mechanism. (In the final years before my retirement it was my task to officially record the numbers killed and injured in elections in those nations.)  However, I only wish to note here an oddity which shows itself when a human society is arranged around some sporting activity.  In sport, experience shows repeatedly that those engaged will organise themselves into tiers.  There will of course be an ‘inner guard’ who believe they are the ‘élite’, the officials who enjoy writing rules, supervising events, issuing prohibitions, fixing penalties, orating, and standing in front at ceremonies, occasionally also seen plumbing the depths of vacuous platitude on television interviews.  They are thus something like the Praetorian Guard (and in many cases may be equally corrupt) which surrounded the emperors of the later Roman Empire.  But there will also be a single individual who for most purposes is recognised as the leader, even if not so called.  Yet from one sport to another there is no agreement on the position of this leader, as we see when a team has done badly enough for long enough that a scapegoat is needed, who is of course that leader.  In America, in both ‘football’ and baseball when a team fails, it is the coach who is dismissed.  In European football it is normally the manager, though as money tightens its grip on society’s neck it has in some recent cases been the owner of the club.  In other sports there are captains of two sorts.  In golf (if indeed that can count as a sport) it is a non-playing captain, that is Head of Public Relations, who leaves his or her post.  In cricket, it is the playing captain who has been out on the field facing the ferocity of the Old Trafford rainstorms who has to go.  In the interests of stability and job security it might be better for clubs to ignore all those and instead to buy a couple of dozen tailor’s dummies, who could be designated as official club ‘leaders’, maybe dressed in some colourful uniform, and discarded one after the other as bad results accumulate over the decades.  But the scapegoat leader does seem to be a specifically human phenomenon.  Contrast horse-racing.  It could be argued that in horse-racing either the jockey or the owner of the horse is actually the leader.  Either can be, and often is, reported in the media as having ‘won’ the Grand Plexiglass Tankard or whatever it is,  no matter what efforts the horse put in.  But if disaster strikes and a horse falls at the last fence, it is the horse and not the jockey, nor the head of the stables, let alone the owner, who is put down.


Late News : the Brazuelan government proposals to privatise crime are being put on hold after, it is reported, strenuous opposition from members of the ruling party



Foul Play

In view of the serious content of the longest item in this posting it was felt right to place it last


[1]  Monty Skew writes

It has been suggested that Cameron’s handling of the Panama Papers was not in the least an inept bungle, but a cunning tactic (devised by his Aussie political engineer?) to show him apparently in difficulty yet finally leaving him looking like a political version of the soldier triumphing on an army assault course – a rough, tough and testing passage but one where in the end he makes it successfully to the finish line.  In Cameron’s case the finish line was a media consensus that, well, after all, his involvements were actually quite legal (given the present state of the law).  But more importantly the real aim of all this was to shroud in public forgetfulness the much more serious issue, namely the memory of all the political parties staring down into a £4.4 billion pound black hole which has opened up in the government’s management of the economy as a result of a failed attempt to leap ahead too far in the reintroduction of de facto slavery for the bottom 20% of the population (on which, see also item [4] below).  By the time some trouble-making journo wakes the populace up again, the solution already in preparation will be a fait accompli.  The basic idea is to screw £2.2 billion (which by skilful presentation will be revealed to be really equal to £4.4 billion) out of the business sector.  No need for alarm within the CBI since the readies will be coming from abroad and how those sources cope with the increased cost of their activities is up to them; they will presumably use the traditional method, claiming it as a necessary expense to be set against tax, which means that the tax receipts in those jurisdictions will have to be bulked up in other ways, so that in the end the contribution will in fact come from the populations of those countries.  What the fixers plan is to extend the notion of sponsorship to embrace the various Departments of the UK government.  Thus, it has been amicably settled already that the Department of Health will in future be known as the ‘Yummy Scrummyburger Department of Health’ for, allegedly, £450 million over five years. (The option of ‘Department of Yummy Scrummyburger Health’ was rejected by the British negotiators on the score of grammatical infelicity).  The Department of Education is to be the ‘Investissements Pédagogiques Department of Education’, and it is said that the Ministry of Defence will become the Sun Tzu Four Gold Star Britain Army Force (since the negotiators weren’t about to quibble with the Chinese about grammatical niceties).  To show his commitment to this project the P.M. himself will be involved, demonstrating at the same time his deep sympathy with the North of England by undertaking that he will chair all his future cabinet meetings dressed in the full replica kit of Liverpool Football Club.

            Rumours which cannot at present be confirmed suggest that these moves may represent only a first phase in reform aimed at improvement of the budgetary position, and at some future date there will be a wholesale privatisation of any parts of the British governmental system still under the control of London.


[2]  At the insistence of Louise we include the following, by Simon

It is not surprising that the forthcoming elections in the Alpha Centauri system have so far attracted little attention on Earth, since they have to compete for space in the media with pictures of tightrope-walking kittens, and analyses of just why Beouncy’s legs are so devastatingly beautiful.   But news freshly arrived by laser beam to NSA [sic, not NASA] on Mars from whence it has been forwarded by genetically highly modified pigeon post is likely to change all that.  Quite simply, it brings word that both alien parties on the largest planet have pledged to abolish the human race except for a select list of 171 women zookeepers.  The remote-sensing A.Centauri surveillance probes, working in close conjunction with the NSA, were able to show that the brains of these women had a normal anterior cortex in the region dealing with the sense of justice and fair play for other sentient beings, the region which is so inexplicably absent or terribly atrophied in all other human specimens.


[3]  Newspaper cutting sent by Doctor Philipp from his current address in southeast Asia

From July 17th it will be necessary to obtain a licence from the Ministry of the Interior if you wish to make remarks critical of the government, whether in print or any other written form, by broadcasting or other electronic means, orally, by semaphore, or by heliograph.  There will be no financial charge for such applications.  All applications will be assessed by the Committee for the Defence of Freedom (Office 105, 43rd Floor, 19 Freedom Avenue, KP; mark all applications: For the attention of the late Brigadier Ronnie Stonham)


[4]  This item was prepared jointly by Karela and the Editor

‘Slavery’ is a word which has been used of an enormously wide range of conditions, from the civilised and cultured ease of Cicero’s amanuensis to the foulest inhumanity.  However, in the minds of many speakers of English, it has a very unusual connotation, of being assumed to refer to a safely distant past.  The Romans and the Greeks had slaves, true, but hadn’t William Wilberforce achieved the abolition of slavery in 1837?   However, by no means least in England, slavery exists now, and in the foulest forms.  It is utterly incomprehensible how a government, which prattles so easily about its fine principles, can act so faintly to deal with it.  To take just one form, the enforced captivity and subjection to sexual abuse of both women and boys, are there no laws in the UK concerning kidnapping?  Are there no laws about rape?  How could they possibly not be applicable in such cases?  Is there some grotesque loophole in the law which prevents those who aid and abet such activity being prosecuted?  Very similar outrage can and should be felt in other cases.  For instance (and still in the UK) there are gangs which bully weak people and strong people in weak positions into hard and harmful farmwork in sometimes terrible conditions for hours hugely exceeding any legal limits, and for no pay at all.  How is it that so little, and in the case of the governments so very little, is done?  Surely it cannot be that puzzling connotation, giving an illusion that such things were once a disgrace but there is no need for people today to take much action because it nearly all belongs to a distant past?  Some explanation is needed.  How on this earth (and in particular at present in France) can people consider themselves reformers because they propose financial penalties for those who pay money for the chance to abuse other human beings, as a change from penalising the person who undergoes the abuse.  (The apparent inability to distinguish between those who for their own reasons choose to accept such treatment and those who are forced to do so seriously damages the chances of help for the latter, but that is a different problem.)  Across the world, not least in so-called developed countries these shocking abuses continue, and are widely treated not as serious crimes which can rob victims of their health and years of life, but as problems on a par with badly maintained roads or bad behaviour at public ceremonies.  We can think of three reasons why the serious abuses are all but passed over in near silence.  Perhaps they are felt to be ‘just part of life’ (other people’s lives, that is) as barking dogs are often ignored since it is simply ‘in the nature of dogs to bark’); or the victims are just not important enough to be noticed –  they are little people, an insignificant proportion of the masses who have got left by the wayside – so long as they do not make too much protest; (then they would become trouble-makers, revolutionaries, or even criminals, according of course to laws which they had no part in framing and which were devised by people who had no comprehension of the wretchedness of the victims).  Or it may be that the topic of these abuses is so disagreeable that nice respectable people do not like to think, let alone talk, about them.  If any of these is taken as valid, that  reflects great discredit on human nature and a sadly minimal prospect of getting help for those who need it.

A footnote  A 2015 report of the OECD found that the UK had the worst standing of any European nation in respect of inequality of income.  It is high time that dictionary makers should make sure that their definition of slavery continues to include mention of being compelled to undertake work at others’ commands, but rigorously excludes any suggestion that receipt of a pay packet nullifies the status, given the many instances in Britain where the pay packet is ridiculously too small to provide the food, shelter, clothing, transport, and many other costs that have to be paid in order to keep the ‘employment’.