Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: Whitehall


For next posting see note at end

This issue: Reader’s letters; Tech news; Linguistic corner; Sale of Scotland; Traffic; Question; Plaudit; A resistible ‘correction’.


Reader’s letter (translated from German by Baron Philipp – see endnote – and describing itself as anonymous although signed J.G.What the hell is going on in big power relations at present?  Anyone with the intelligence of a New Caledonian crow who pays even the slightest attention to stuff on the media beyond the ‘sports news’ (i.e. football managers conjuring tedium out of platitudes) and ‘celebrity’ gossip (e.g. poor Charles has no hope of sitting on that throne unless he starts a crash programme of celebrity island stunts and ‘daring’ Chippendale-style shows on prime time tv), anyone, in fact, who is even able to read cannot avoid seeing that international big power competition now takes two main forms, often largely independent of each other and indeed sometimes operating out of sync within any one country.  One is old-style military violence with bullets, bombs, tanks and missiles; the other, still alas in an appalling infancy, is learning fast ever more fiendish ways to tweak the circuits of other nations’ financial, administrative and electoral networks to ever more damaging effect.  In both these modes of confrontation exponents don unnatural personalities, assert and maybe honestly believe that once ‘our’ side overcomes ‘them’ (working with the terrible flaw incorporated into the design when the mammal was developed) everything will be tickety-boo from then on, and all will be peace and prosperity under the winners (by definition ‘our’ side) with trouble-free continuation of climate change and exploitation of the Earth’s resources. To put it delicately, that risks species extinction, of the human species (and others).  Unfortunately, whoever you are, there is absolutely nothing that you can do to prevent matters proceeding along this path all the way to Armageddon or the final devastating solar flare.  So it is purely as a matter of interest to ask why the west is making such vehement efforts to rouse the populations to hostility towards the Soviet Union (apologies – I mean Russia), and more particularly why they are playing up the traditional military violence approach?  Now, the Reds are doubtless devising exotic new ways to reshape the back alleys of cyberspace that the west has not yet thought of, and of course, like all good citizens I know our side would never stoop to anything underhand, however much of a self-imposed handicap that might be.  But please can we have a little realism about our officially held views.  The military violence threat in 2017 (in Europe in particular) carries all the conviction of a ‘living dodo discovery’, even if you leave entirely out of account the west’s massive dissuasive capacities.  Evidence is visible all around like smartphones in the underground and has been for decades.  Just look at a map showing positions of western forces and Soviet forces in Europe in 1989 and today.  So if you want to put your case shouldn’t it be a little more convincing?  There are various reasons why people may loudly insist on their stated position.  If you are Theresa May, you believe that it conveys an impression of strength to the dimmer elements of the electorate; others, not only in Washington, work on the principle that if you make a big enough noise about one thing the populace will stop thinking about other less convenient things. Many politicians from long before Goebbels have thought that if you shout something often enough loud enough people will start to believe it; a few seem to suppose it can actually become true (Editor; was he thinking of Brexit here?).  It is only a few scoundrelly reactionaries who take loud shouting as a sign that you’re being economical with the truth (but they’re often right).  So please – if you have that urge to paint an interesting picture – a little realism (unless you are actually trying to weaken ‘our’ case.   ?)


Tech news  A Californian start-up is threatened with being wound-up just three months after it had been valued for a possible takeover at $450mn.  The company manufactures nanochips to be implanted in the cheeks of air hostesses, hotel staff and others in the greeting industry, such as politicians in the election season.  The nanochips are designed to stimulate the muscles required to produce a smile even when this has to override contrary signals from the brain.  The signal can be set to run continuously facilitating a smile every three seconds or operated  automatically by a timing device, but more usually it is under the control of a local supervisor.


Linguistic corner ideomass; once let that word escape into the wild and you’ll have a huge job to recapture it, even throwing all your thought police into it.  It ought to mean the value or effectiveness of a given idea, however acquired;  but in practice is most often measured by the total number of tweets or retweets recorded as supporting this or that currently fashionable sentiment.


Sale of Scotland  On his flying visit Baron von Hollenberg told us that active moves to sell Scotland are being considered in not one but several quarters.  There is said to be vigorous interest, but predictably there seems widespread divergence of views on who pays the bill and who receives the cash, and also, though to a lesser extent, on the status of Scotland after any successful sale.  Naturally there is considerable enthusiasm in Scotland herself, though a difficulty is that the Scots seem to generally assume that after sale the nation would control her own destiny, and that is not likely to be easily agreed with any purchaser unless that purchaser succeeds in persuading the present management, Whitehall, to that effect.  Some pundits believe that Whitehall’s negotiating skills could allow this to happen, but others are uncertain.  Enthusiasm for a sale is even higher in England, especially in view of the oncoming government budget crisis; a sale if concluded in time could forestall a possible appeal, not yet revealed to the public, to the IMF for help (and rescue the career of the unfortunate Chancellor).  However other parties too may enter the fray.  The EU is said to be considering an offer to purchase at a price of €1 but on extraordinarily generous terms, accepting Scotland in lieu of the remaining sum owed to Whitehall for Brexit (estimated at €90bn) and allowing Scotland thereafter to function as a fully independent state under the tutelage of and paying dues set by an ad hoc committee headed by Jeroen Dijsselbloem.  Even further afield, there were enquiries from, among others, a major real estate investor in the US, though it is understood these came to nothing once it was made clear to him that even after a successful purchase it would not be feasible to relocate Scotland to a North American site (tentatively identified as ‘Kilt Country’ in Nevada).

As Editor I must declare that this journal will watch any such development like a hawk, as we may have already established certain moral rights in such a process.  Note, for example this posting from 15 January 2012:

Some have suggested that one solution to current difficulties would be to sell Greece to the Chinese.  However this is not possible since Greece is a sovereign nation.  Scotland, however, offers no such obstacle and London is the obvious recipient of the proceeds.  (There is little doubt that the Chinese would snap up the chance to acquire a large warehousing and manufacturing site located conveniently in the North Atlantic between the American and European markets, where the workforce have an aversion to wasting money that rivals that of the Chinese masses, and where, moreover, there would be some obvious immediate savings in costs, eg abolishing at a stroke all the expensive apparatus of a government and elections with competing parties.)  If, however, the Chinese are too busy with their acquisitions in Africa, there may still be a chance of turning a useful profit by offloading Scotland to a management buyout, if those at present running the place can parlay their traditional claim of prudent handling of money into enough external investment into the venture.


Reader’s letter from D.P.V of Kingsteignton, evidently reacting to our piece last time about urban congestion (complete letter, as received):

Dear Editor

Road building program =                      more cars

Urban regeneration  =                           more cars

Upgrading infrastructure =                   more cars

Increasing prosperity =                         more cars

Technical progress =                             more cars

Economic investment =                        more cars

Public/private partnership for transport =  more cars

Speculation by hedge funds =              more cars

Yours in dismay



Question of the posting : Would it be correct to assume that all inhabitants of the USA who campaign for the expulsion of immigrants are always themselves native Americans?  Answer: Not quite – it would be politically correct, but a counterfactual assumption.


Plaudit of the posting Let us praise the admirable boldness – or is it reality-defying imagination? – of those senior academic administrators who threaten that if an ignorant rabble continues to complain about the size of their ‘compensation’ (Ed: are you sure this is the right word?)  they will be lost to the country since they will emigrate to some other more generous state which will welcome them as they impress the astounded élites of that new host nation with their Vice-Chancelling skills at more elevated salary levels.


No correction (on lie detection)  Two querulous malcontents attempted to find fault with one of the items in the previous posting, and the Editor does accept (following the insistence of our patroness, without whom this journal would not have its head above financial water) that reducing the number of words posted to below 2,000 led to a slight lack of clarity.  The intention was to state that current results from human assessment are likely to be improved thanks to advances based on refinement of techniques for extracting data from visual images.  Every tech-savvy schoolkid can manage mere facial recognition now (with interesting results on the number of last-minute bookings on flights to countries having no extradition agreements with nations in Europe) but these advances promise tabloid-headline speculations about the emotional and physical reactions of certain highly respected politicians presenting the prizes at Girls’ Schools swimming galas.)


Editorial note: As scheduled, Baron Philipp picked me up from Back Field and a couple of hours later we crossed the southern English coast, with the Baron (piloting the craft himself) supremely indifferent about the risk of being greeted by a posse of tax inspectors.  “If they know I’m coming they won’t be there.  If they’re there they’ll learn who I am.  Five minutes, settled!” Indeed two hours later he and Lady W had everything wrapped up between them.  Total agreement that the Purple Parakeet in Shepton Mallet was the best place for lunch, and total agreement all round about journal practice.  Crisis not my fault,  Lack of interns and permanent staff a natural result of geography and meteorology; balanced by great benefit of being outside social media banality and most official and covert censorship zones. London contributors excellent but irregular. A few changes desirable, given that attention span and background knowledge of modern readers comparable with capacity of adolescent grasshopper. I should steer to greater percentage of small ‘faits divers’ and cut down on pieces with 500+ words. And adopt new title.  Support for further year promised.   Most welcome; the two of them represent almost the whole of our practical support, despite all the congratulatory e-mails and messages of goodwill.  Perhaps the journal’s best day ever, though I have reservations about the new title.  The first half, MM (Mid-monthly) needs no quibble, but I prefer to keep the QQ as initials until I’ve had more time to think about that.

Future postings scheduled for the 16th of each month except 15th for February


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?


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?


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.


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


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. other ways?  Help! And have a nice day!


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.