Solving seasonal problems

We have received this cybermail from the Mad Doc, who is at present in Thailand, one of the four places he stays at for three months each year so that he is tax-resident nowhere

There are some six or eight services which any self-respecting country provides to all its inhabitants at cost price or less as a natural feature of civilised living, and the mail is one of them. We have now arrived at the time of year when shareholders in privatised postal companies slap one another on the back and have a good laugh about the forthcoming surge in profits from the use of their outrageously expensive activities, as the diminished number who still remember how to write with a pen greet their distant friends by sending them a well-designed card. This is a song of wrath about cards.

            I have observed before [Australian State Papers, series Biii: cdn Q 2004: p.414b] that the stories about Chiangmai being a city of buddhist tradition should be found on the ‘fiction’ shelves in the library (if there are any libraries left – I hear this is becoming a serious issue in many formerly developed countries), while the claims of its being a desirable tourist destination are probably actionable under law. Its correct classification is as a consumerist dystopia, and I am not pleased to say that its consumerism tends to the lowest common denominator.

            In this matter of cards, I went first to the nearest large conglomeration of business (there being no artistic quarter here). Two small stores which apparently saw themselves as bookshops on the basis of selling newspapers, computer manuals, coloured pencils, coloured string and miniature teddy bears had each a tiny selection of cards, from which the most attractive could instantly be rejected on aesthetic grounds. So, after spending ten minutes in a traffic jam merely to get out of the parking area at what is implausibly described as a ‘quiet’ time of day (guesses at the atmospheric pollution level there later in the day could appal) I drove to the nearest of the city’s shopping megamalls. Most of its parts could make American trailer park denizens feel amazed that there are people with such bad taste when they have so much money, but it had one smallish section obviously aiming with care at the overstuffed tourist wallet. There it had in the past been possible to find acceptable cards. There were in fact some good photographs, but they were not what I needed. There were indeed items that fitted under the heading of cards. Some paid a pallid and unattractive tribute to Thai artistic tradition, the charm of which escapes me and probably a large number of those interested in visual art around the world. The range from which one might have chosen was anyway quite small once one had excluded those which incorporated the belief that tourists are obsessed with elephants; this mistaken attempt to produce a transfer of touristic dollars did not start yesterday. My father was already describing it as a delusion, which he found in widely separated parts of Asia, in the 1930s. The remainder showed someone had clearly acquired the knack of producing coloured pen and ink drawings of ‘ethnic’ and ‘traditional’ scenes so beloved by visitors from distant lands, who can somehow overlook the fact that the buildings all around them in their holiday destination are glass and concrete cuboids. Also the artists had regrettably gone on to embellish the traditional folksiness by printing the pictures on folksy materials such as cork, or paper made with elephant droppings (not a tactile pleasure) or sticking on bits of metal or wood to conform with the non-existent local tradition of collage. Net haul of cards from the day’s expedition: zero.

            Yesterday, I thought there could be more prospect of success in the University where the bookshop used to sell some rather fine cards. I did arrive at the University, outwitting the traffic chaos by riding a bicycle even though a fault with the chain on the bike made it lose traction for a second or two every few dozen metres, a circumstance highly disrecommended at Thai road intersections; (in fact cycling in Thai traffic is widely regarded as a symptom of insanity including by the World Health Organisation which has just awarded Thailand second place in the world league table for danger on the roads, and they probably tested the system with a whole and willing bicycle). That bookshop was useless, since it had been wiped from the face of the University – not enough potential customers who can read, presumably. (One survey not very long ago reckoned that in Thailand the average amount per year of time spent by adults in reading for enjoyment was between eight and nine minutes.) So I then set off towards a second megamall. In the one outlet which seemed to offer some prospect, in one corner I found a small selection of cards, none of which portrayed elephants, and most of which were actually quite good – on condition that they were to be sent to someone who reads Hungarian and is happy to receive charity cards sold at a rather steep price to raise funds for the Jobbik party. Total expenditure of cycling effort (not including production of fear hormones): 1¾-2 hours. Total number of cards successfully acquired: zero. In the afternoon I fell asleep in the hotel lobby, and was pickpocketed.

            So no cards for you all, but just this to wish all at the office a splendid New Year party, yes even you Manos, and please pass on the same to Isabelita.

Dr Malory Philipp von Hollenberg


Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems our bureaucratic correspondent has an excellent proposal which we feel deserves serious consideration:

It is said that the frontiers of the EU need to be guarded and this is difficult. Why should they be guarded? Against what or whom? No sane person seriously believes that Russia is proposing to invade the EU and indeed the whole trend of her activities since 1990 has been in quite the opposite direction. But leaving all that on one side, if the frontiers are to be properly observed and regulated it would be easier if they were shorter. And an excellent way to make them shorter would be to throw out all the countries east of the Czech Republic, in other words Poland, Slovakia and Hungary (and Poland, in case there might be any doubt on that), out of the EU – and of course Greece with them, thus killing a good many birds with one stone.


inspiration of the week : How much more evidence is needed to prove that Turkey, magnificent country though it is, should not join the EU? How much more evidence is needed to convince Brussels that the EU should not even fantasise about further expansion, other than moving to take proper control, by armed force if necessary, of the Luxemburg fiscal system, and the French economy.

           But perhaps a satisfactory answer to the Turkish question, inspired by what the EU has already accepted without a qualm in Cyprus, is to negotiate to admit, gladly but only, that small fragment of Turkey in the far northwest of the country which actually is in Europe.