Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: spying

Tech Supplement

I already noted some years ago that most of the answer to the question ‘How will civilisation end?’ is ‘It already has.  It’s only technology that is goose-stepping on, trampling humane interests underfoot.’  There are a few spots on the planet where so far that answer would be a little unfair and I have just returned from one of them which despite its obsession with ‘business’ scores better than most on the civilisation parameter (a word they like to use) as well as getting a whole galaxy of gold stars for the tech stuff.  But travelling there and back raised an issue which is rather troubling, namely the instructions to passengers on most airlines about what to do if the pilot reports ‘Sorry about this.  The plane will be ditching in approximately ten seconds from now.’  At the start of the flight the three passengers actually paying attention on any given aircraft are shown the posture to adopt if things go that badly wrong.  Now I’m not an expert but it looks to me that the said posture gives an extraordinarily high chance of a broken neck accompanied by instant death.  Is it safe to assume that there is no link, no link at all, to the different sums involved in paying compensation to the family of a passenger killed in an air crash and to an accident victim who lives on for thirty years as a paraplegic?

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Editorial for UK edition Truth is the first casualty in government, as everyone knows, so nobody should hold it against the Donald if he readies himself for his time at the head of the nation that is leading the world into the post-truth era with a few dozen campaign promises.  All that’s really needed with a campaign promise is that it should sound good at the time and place where it comes out.  It’s a different matter for the  official statements that emerge when you have actually won control of the puppet-strings of power, because then those listening can judge whether what you say really stacks up properly beside what they can observe for themselves.  Theresa May’s remarks in Downing Street immediately after getting her fiercely studied shoes onto Number 10’s doormat can just about be excused as still being at the level of a campaign promise.  The statements now emitted from that address asserting that the crisis in the once admired National Health Service is the fault of the doctors are preposterous.  At best crass ineptitude, at a time when British doctors are under more pressure from all sides, to do more, to know more, to fill in more official requirements, and when 1,300,000 patients call on general practitioners in a single day. The government has not only disgracefully failed to meet its duties to the nation – and remember the Health Service exists not only to serve people individually but also to help the nation as a whole to maintain good enough health to do its jobs.  Attempts to blame the doctors for the difficulties caused by the government’s own decision to spend the nation’s money in other ways are nothing less than shameful.

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Technological progress (i) (A contribution from Kevin V. Solmsen, Nairobi)

Don’t know if this is good news or not.  Drones and helicopters may not be blasting away at the terrorists on the world’s battlefields (nor at the world’s hospitals, and wedding receptions) much longer.  The reason is that while technology has raced ahead ahead in small-scale aerial tech, the research aimed at increasing the power of lasers, although slower, is continuing steadily.  Quite simply, before very long it will be quite easy to shoot down the drones while sitting before a screen in a secure office equipped with air-conditioning and free muzak (whether you want it or not) hundreds of miles from any battle-front, in other words in the same sort of laid-back style available to the drone-handlers themselves.  But as a laser-handler you will have the advantage that you don’t need to sweat too much about hunting for targets.  You only have to check it’s happening according to plan.  Simply put your defense apparatus in place along with sensors which will detect anything coming across the relevant frontier and assess its speed and size, and decide automatically whether to  bring its flight to a definite conclusion.  Bad luck for bats and owls, but if you’re in the killing business, bound to be some collateral d.  Good news for states rich enough and advanced enough to ring their entire frontier with the right materiel, to face off anything except multiple ballistic missiles.  And insider your defensive arc you can use your own drones to bring a definite conclusion to incoming ground troops.  The implications for those investing in helicopter production are not too rosy though, but hey there’ll still be a good internal market for helicopters for civilian uses.

Editor comments: Also bad news for some in the Middle East who thought they could get away with using reconnaissance drones by disguising them as eagles?

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Curious fact  A recent French media report added a little more fuel to the political climate change which is bringing increasing pollution to the international atmosphere and in particular leaving Russia under a dark cloud.  Of course every country needs a certain amount of hostility to other countries, especially its neighbours, to maintain its own identity.  (Failure there is what went wrong with the now rapidly collapsing attempt to engineer a European Union.)  However, while this French report contained a generally acceptable level of hostility to Russia it included a seriously unhelpful note by saying we should not trust a country which does not trust its own population, citing a claim that 11% of the inhabitants were subject to government electronic surveillance.  Now, most observers are under a strong impression that any country in the West which secretly watched fewer than 50% of its own population would be unusually careless or – if you like – unusually free.  It seems safe to guess that those governments which are able to do so keep tabs on more or less 100% of their own population whatever they admit in public, often with a good proportion of the populations of other countries into the bargain, all of course in the interests of protection and maintaining high standards of civil order.   (If it also helps to keep those who share political control of those countries in political comfort, well that is doubtless just an entirely unintended side effect.)

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Technological progress (ii) / Linguistic corner Approaching at speed and soon to be in an adult-toy store near you: a device which will accept spoken input and turn it into beautiful calligraphy in a style and language of your choice.  (Perhaps you would like to try the style devised and published by Lucas Materot in 1608, but the language of course is up to you.)  It goes without saying that you will have to learn the clicks, grunts, hisses, and sucking noises which will be needed to take care of the punctuation, and whistles too if you choose a language which has accents.  That is vital, since omission of punctuation except occasionally for reasons of speed is a sign of inadequate education or simple stupidity.  (Do you think ‘He didn’t take the gun because he was scared’ means the same thing as ‘He didn’t take the gun, because he was scared’ ?  If you mean ‘What he said was “Garbage!”’ would you write ‘What he said was garbage’ ?)

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Political punditry  Remember : nine pundits out of ten can’t tell the difference between ‘clever’ and ‘noisy’ when they’re talking about someone in the news (including and especially themselves).

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Technological progress (iii)  Many problems about driverless cars have been haggled over pretty well – so long as you’re looking at the car itself from the inside. It is far from clear that all the external issues have been properly taken into account by the enthusiasts who have got sore throats through running around their neighbourhoods gabbling about wonders to come when significant numbers of driverless cars finally hit the road, as well as hitting cyclists, and dim-witted overexcited dogs, and ditto children, and even dimmer-witted black plastic bags blown onto the road by gusts of wind.  Never mind the appalling confusion when the mix is 50/50 and real drivers rely on the avoidance responses of  cars which turn out to have reckless incompetent or drunk humans at the wheel.  Never mind the malicious hackers exploring what they can make a hacked car do (inaugurating a new golden age of highway robbery?) Are these things going to work in more dimensions than 2 or only on broad level California freeways?   Will they notice if a sinkhole opens up on the route they have chosen?  Will they react appropriately where a human driver could spot teenage refugees from approved behaviour patterns dropping plastic bags filled with paint from a highway bridge?  Those of course are fairly rare problems, but demonstrators are going to have the time of their lives, probably bringing large nations to a standstill.  To give just one example, in France there is always some protest movement doing its best to annoy the bourgeois, but famers will no longer need to summon 30,000 peasants from the deep countryside to block a main traffic route with their tractors.  All they need do is send along three or four men each with a pig to be  gently and repeatedly taken back and forth across the road at different points a few hundred metres apart, while with further development in other technologies even the pig might not actually be necessary; it could be enough to have the accomplice at the roadside holding a small portable sonar device firing a barrage of signals at oncoming traffic while the road is crossed by a hologram of the pig.

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Technological progress (iv)

Meanwhile research in the field of genetic engineering continues to race ahead.  A recent closed-door invitation-only congress sponsored by the US government was said to have heard accounts of astonishing developments.   Very strict secrecy was enforced both for commercial reasons and because it was considered that many advances had potential military applications.  It is believed that achievements included not merely poisonous 20lb rats and bionic dogs able to read basic instructions in a form of morse code, but modified crocodiles able to swim the equivalent of five kilometres underwater in under twenty minutes with a two kilogram load strapped to a ventral pod.  One source however claims that after a long debate the congress came down firmly in favour of an embargo on further work  on higher species, allegedly citing a need to avoid competition at some point in the future from genetically modified genetic engineers.

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Thought for the day

It is not hard to think of phrases to describe Blair’s efforts to finagle his way into British politics again but most of them are unprintable

 

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Forward how, to what, and why?

The Editor writes:Note on posting dates: as I have acquired some new duties since my last despatch from here I have to cut the frequency of postings.  After this, postings will as far as possible be on 1st and 15th of the month

Anyway, back at last! I’d not expected ever again to find myself trading insults with the big boys (and women these days, I find) on ‘Centre Court’.  Not that I am allowed to reveal much here.  And if I did try anything unauthorised – maybe like this sentence I’m in right now – then I can be damned sure it’ll somehow fall over the edge of cyberspace before reaching any destination, which rather frees me up to write what I think, actually (which of course helps the cyberspace police patrol to find out what I really think.)   But that is exactly what I want to write about.  Admittedly it’s a complex business.  Occasionally for some reason or other they let something through that you wouldn’t expect, maybe to make the masses and the ‘student activists’ nervous enough to soft pedal their activities and agitprop in case something unpleasant happens to them?  But that’s hardly necessary really.  The student activists usually turn into Jack Straw or something of that sort, and the masses don’t pay much attention to anything beyond football, food and fun, which is apparently current London slang for trying to reproduce in the privacy of online video broadcasts the pornographic contortions they have watched on other people’s online video broadcasts.  The overall result is that the average member of the population of Western Europe has less idea of what’s really going on and how to deal with it than a hungry crow stuck in a lab empty except for a glass tube with food at the bottom and some bits of wire on the floor.  Right, then.  As an example of what I’m talking about, photocopiers hit the market in a big way somewhere around 1990.  Now, older readers may remember the Spycatcher trial in Australia in 1986.  Among the many interesting things learnt then was that British spooks already had a crude but effective photocopying tube that could be rolled across a document –  in the 1940s.  But the gap by which espionage tech is ahead of common knowledge is vastly bigger today.  For instance, you may have read about the huge advances in facial recognition.  Using cameras able to measure the small distances between up to 3,000 data points on the human face, with astounding precision, some venture capitalists, and others, are now claiming that given a photograph they can identify the owner of the face uniquely out of the entire world population, beard or no beard, gurning or meditating, asleep or howling as his side scores a goal.  That’s started filtering slowly into the collective consciousness; prices of facemasks and balaclavas continue to rise.  Meanwhile, however, the forces of spookdom have been roaring silently onward.  The big project now is to use similar techniques of ‘data points’ from an individual’s behaviour record (secretly recorded in embarrassing detail on most of us for a decade or more).  The idea is to be able to report with incredible accuracy what actions and reactions will be, or indeed have been, in any of tens of thousands of minutely differentiated circumstances.  A prime aim is not mere prediction, but to be able to influence by the merest passing act or remark what future activity will be, even weeks or months later when the right combination of factors arrives.  For instance, it has been calculated that in a delicately balanced situation, tipping off an accomplice to say ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ where that accomplice might reasonably have said instead ‘You never can tell’ could lead to dramatic differences of outcome for the victim, e.g. the difference between cabinet rank and political suicide.  A version of the butterfly wing effect, or if you prefer delayed action psychological explosives. I leave it to you to wonder if it has ever been put into practice.  The charm of this project is that using it not only is easily deniable but does a pretty good job of seeming quite ethical.  Small casual remarks or actions, that might have occurred quite naturally –  might just as easily have been uttered quite sincerely in all innocence by a different speaker.  How could anyone object?

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Question of the week (to be answered sometime in the next fifteen years or so on completion of the Maxwellisation of the re-run of a public  enquiry into the management of the Chilcot enquiry): Can anyone explain how stating to Parliament that certain information is the case, knowing that it has not been established as true, could not be considered a lie?

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Technically this might be called a reader’s letter.  Maud found it hand written on a piece of wrapping paper stuffed under the door when she opened the office a couple of days ago.  (Lucky for the writer that we don’t have that appalling dog on the premisses any more.  Simon and Jeremy used to feed it when Manos wasn’t here by dropping the whale meat from the balcony above the yard.) Karela wants it put on record that she objects strongly to being considered a ‘toff’ (but Simon would probably be greatly satisfied, if he was here).

Dear Toffs.  I do’nt know if that Toney Blair is getting help from aleins but seems to me how coud he know what their was going to be choas in the political, end of this June, and how could he fix it so that Chilcock report come out just before that, so every one nearlly would probably forget all about him and what he done. Yrs Dundy Quinsett

This name does not belong to anyone resident on the island, but I suppose once you let tourists in, the established order of civilised life begins to crumble.

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The Musical Obama

Programme :

Entrance (Nation entranced) : Fanfare (Gabrieli)

Anthem : ‘Yes we can! Yes we can!’

Incumbency: Medley of popular songs

Medley of unpopular songs

Closing Anthem : ‘No you didn’t’

Exit: Slow March from Aida

[Editor : shouldn’t that last word be ‘ideas’?]

Exeunt Omnes : The Last Trump

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Try hard not to notice this.  Talk to just about anyone in epidemiology and they will tell you that figures for allergies have been soaring for decades.  The same is true for asthma, where the increase, even allowing for a lot of uncertainty about diagnoses and record-keeping, seems to be of something like a factor of three times.  Recently figures have come out from the US showing the same change in respect of autism except that there it is even more pronounced (though this may partly depend on the enthusiasm of practitioners to spot the syndrome anywhere they thought there was a chance of treatment being needed).  Nevertheless, for what it is worth the figures were given as follows: 1970, one child in 2,500; year 2000, one in 500; predicted for next year  on current figures one in 45.  Now what else has been increasing hugely and rapidly over this sort of period?  I don’t think mobile phones would be the right answer, because they didn’t really get going until much more recently.  But what has been rapidly and greatly increasing since about 1970 (led off by American military satellites) is exposure to electromagnetic radiation.  There are two reasons for vigorously rejecting the suggestion of any link between the two types of increase.  One is a complex based on “It’s all around us, and we don’t see it causing harm to people, do we, not shaped like a gun or anything obvious like that, I mean I never saw anyone fall over because of it.”  (This complex is technically known as the ‘GM fallacy’.)  The other reason is that the industries making extensive use of electromagnetic radiation are multiply intertwined with the whole of the world economy, and very rich, and would get extremely angry if anybody were to suggest they are anything but boons to humanity.  Plus the fact that if anybody was able to turn the radiation off,  it would make the Great Financial Crash of 2008 look like a kid spitting a grape pip into a garbage can.  Where does the world go from here?  Not (it hopes) to hospital.  But is anyone setting up programmes to find out if there is a real link to harmful effects here (apart from enhancing the tendency of American police to shoot people, though we may have to blame that more on global warming anyway), and if so what they are, and how to shield human beings from them?  Or how to do at least some of the stuff done by and with el. mag.in other ways?  Help! And have a nice day!

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There were 18 entries for Maud’s  anatax competition (19-6-2016).  Eleven of these had to be excluded as too obscene to be considered, let alone published. After careful and sympathetic scrutiny the judges (Maud and Karela) decided that only one of the rest worked properly:

   crouching low over a fine breakfast she scanned the list of those facing imminent execution

   facing imminent execution she scanned the list of those crouching low over a fine breakfast

(As Editor I feel it is important to add that this entry was received before the recent change of leadership in the Tory Party.) A boxed set of the Tale of Esmond Maguire is therefore on its way to Guinevere Tapness in Goblin Lane in Basingstoke.

 

Rights, but more often wrongs

Our Editor is still whereabouts unknown, but our activity hasn’t stopped. Trigger warning! Readers embarrassed by honesty may prefer to avoid the following paragraph.

            We have to accept that honesty is a rare policy today, widely mocked even outside business circles, but we think these quaint old customs deserve an effort to save them from total extinction.  So here goes.  We thought Simon might now appear in the office from time to time, and we were right.  He came as usual with his adopted mother, and we find we owe her an apology.  It turns out she is much the richer of the two of them, which disposes pretty thoroughly of the theory (from Manos and the Editor) that she got herself adopted as his mother for financial reasons.  Second, we were wrong in taking her conversation-free presence when here to be the normal French superiority complex when confronted with other Europeans.  Main reason is that she doesn’t speak much English (or Croat).  But a typical callous member of the one percent she is not.  She brought in a copy of an open letter published in Le Monde on the 8th of June, and asked us to post it.  It was signed by dozens of prominent French personalities from many backgrounds strongly denouncing their government’s ruthless attempts to make life more comfortable and prosperous for the middle and upper classes by reducing the quality of life for those who do the work, in particular by making it easier for members (or heads) of the latter type of household to be thrown out of work.  This is called ‘Labour market reform’.  We got the letter translated by the retired busker in Dead Cat Lane Mews who used to plague the streets of Montréal and an extract appears as section 3 below.

Dr Karela and Maud

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  1. MISCELLANY

From Notes in the Bulletin of the Toynbee Historical Foundation (Vol.xciv p.418)

It is curious yet perhaps not surprising that one of the most prolific areas for finding skeletons and other evidence of violent battles and brutal group conflicts, dating back more than 6,000 years, is in the Alsatian border area between France and Germany.  However, there is no plausible record of football being played in this region earlier than about 500 years before the present

Linguistic corner : International humanitarian relief is the term describing the feeling of governments when they find a way to avoid having to fulfil their promises of aid after a natural or man-made disaster.  Fegans’ Criminal Dictionary: Political Supplement

Verb sap : It is a mistake to believe that it is only in business that nepotism and cronyism are vital forces helping the fortunate and privileged to get further ahead (or as they would mostly put it, to help society to make progress).  Look at the succession of great Italian artists 14th to 17th centuries.

Oceanic news : Researchers at the Cabo Verde Institute for Mid-Ocean Ecology claim that in a dramatic break-through they have been able to understand the language of dolphins, but they are refusing to reveal what dolphins say to one another on the grounds that they are things which humans would rather not know.

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  1. From a letter from Dr Philipp von Hollenberg

Is our Editor still absent from his duties?  I must say I am very surprised that he should have given no word as to what he is up to.  Has our lady protectress not heard from him?  It seems unlikely he would be writing for Newsworth International but we should not judge before we know the facts.

   I am off soon to that beautiful spot on the coast of Cape Province where the railway runs along the beach (and where one of Kipling’s strangest stories begins), but before leaving South America I made one more trip to Bariloche, my favourite place for snow.  Much still as it has long been and still not spoiled by too many visitors.  Had a long conversation one evening, in German of course, with an impressive old fellow who must have been able to give me three decades at least.  He insisted on raising the obvious issue, and assured me he had been regular Wehrmacht, and had photos to back it up, including one of him, must have been around 1940, in a group around Kesselring no less.  Startlingly well-informed about current European politics, and told me about this trick your Teresa May has pulled off (I know she is not your Home Secretary constitutionally speaking, but you must admit you are de facto subject to London) over the ‘privacy clause’ in the mass surveillance powers the government is granting to itself, to fight crime, and to resist insubordination on the part of difficult elements in the population, and of course to help the Tory party win the next election.  Calling the whole package a ‘snoopers’ charter’ was a brilliant move on the part of its promoters, making it sound about as trifling an issue as twitching aside the net curtains to watch neighbours unloading shopping from their car.  But the best is presenting a ‘concession’  – when they realised that even the Tory party had profound misgivings over the proposals (but then maybe the Tory members have more secrets they want to hide than the jobsworths of the Labour party).  This ‘concession’ is in fact no more than an undertaking that the heavy Stasi-like powers are only to be used when less intrusive traditional spying (e.g. getting a warrant from a helpful pillar of the judicial system to let you listen to the phone calls of the criminal, or victim – are we still permitted to remember the maxim not guilty till proven guilty?) could be used instead.  With the greatest clarity this concession means that the special heavy powers will not be used when the government does not need them!  It is hard to know which should be causing the greater emotion – hilarity at the barefaced manipulations to which a government can descend, or despair at the ease with which they can get these past the enfeebled perceptions of the public and even political observers….

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  1. Mme Marie-Louise de Belpech-Chauny draws your attention to the letter about the moves towards aligning workers’ rights more closely with serfdom in France, signed by Christophe Bonneuil, Geneviève Azam and many others, published by Le Monde 8-6-2016, from which the following is an extract :

The proposed reform is one of a long sequence of ‘structural reforms’ advocated by the business lobby and the European bureaucracy.  This sequence has undermined the rights of ordinary workers without resulting in the appearance of the increased employment promised, and has increased inequality and fear of what the future will bring for those who do not have substantial wealth at their disposal.  Different opinion polls all agree that public opinion is very strongly of the view that the current ‘reform’ promotes the interest of business, or more exactly of business owners, at the expense of ordinary workers, and that the government should withdraw this unjust project.  Hence the virulence of the news media, largely controlled by the richest in the nation.  When the privileged classes continue to accumulate wealth without ceasing and without shame (outrageous dividends and salaries for business bosses, tax evasion organised by the banks, and so on), connived at by the state, when ordinary people see a future for themselves and their children filled only with social insecurity in an environment where natural resources have been pillaged, this framework of deliberately planned  injustice produces violence and violations in the form of campaign promises flouted and government policies designed by the employers’ federation or taken direct from the extreme right wing.  Cynical violations sponsored by the state!

Editors’ footnote.  The proposed ‘reform’ of the labour market is said (by those proposing it) to be ‘necessary’ for ‘economic prosperity’, but it is not clear how the latter term is to be understood.  There are no figures available for the ratio between working class, and middle and upper social classes, for those who might lose employment for two months or longer if these reforms were carried through.  However one estimate puts that ratio at greater than 103 to 1.