Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Year-end clear-out

NB: since both Montgomery Skew and myself are summoned to a meeting in London at the turn of the year, next posting is now scheduled for the 3rd of January.  (Goodness knows why they want me, being neither a national nor a resident.)  For several good reasons we shall not here be issuing ‘Seasonal Greetings’ to anyone.  But we do value free speech so we congratulate among our readers Julitta P, Marcia H, Douglas P, and ‘Algernon’ (but in our collective view you are all still wrong.)

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The Editor writes  In January when  Obama leaves office, the loss of their figurehead (as well as their loss of both houses of Congress) will leave the Democratic party as what is technically known as a hulk.  I spent a happy childhood around a large harbour full of craft of all sorts, built for both warfare and merchant duty.  There were even a couple of wooden hulks surviving from many decades earlier. A ‘hulk’ is a ship that is still afloat, but directionless, having aboard a skeleton crew or more often none, lacking nearly everything needed for useful service, obstructing other craft in their transits, an unattractive relic, turning into a home for various kinds of parasite, not least rats.  Occasionally some wealthy eccentric gets the idea of mounting a celebration of some long past struggle or achievement, with colourful costumes, a lot of bunting, usually some jazz combos, and a sufficiency of alcoholic refreshment.  But most of the time hulks just lie rotting at their moorings, drifting a little with the tides, useless memorials to what used to be.

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Editor’s choice: Simon’s best remark of the year: “Er, this is just a question, but do you think anyone is keeping a watch to see if Trump takes over any sort of lab which is doing research on human cloning?”

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Correction.  As the result of a filing error by the pet monkey that we have temporarily hired to do our 8pm to 8am shifts, since we have been unable to find an intern willing to take on the task unpaid, the following item was published in an earlier edition under the heading Fake News.  We can assure our readers that it is in fact genuine news.  On 30th November, Mounia Meslem, the Algerian minister for national solidarity, proposed that married women with posts in the civil service should donate their earnings to the state as a mark of patriotic  loyalty, and rely on their husbands for financial support.  (The minister concerned is considered to be well placed to make the suggestion, being herself a woman.)

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Is it folk-tale, legend, superstition or true story? An occasional series. No. 31: The trickle-down theory of wealth.  This is a superstition, since it is not offered as entertainment, does not concern the remote past, and is observably invalid as an account of economic development, although still liable to appear in some alleged universities.  It is even still active in the minds of some participants in the economy, (normally because they cannot see the difference between business competence and good luck, though in some cases it may be because it can soothe a conscience faced with evidence of grossly unequal distribution of wealth under capitalism).  The converse theory about prices, however, holds good, since as prices at the upper end of the scale rise, those at lower levels will tend to increase also, and proportionately, provided that measurements are made on a logarithmic scale.  This is exemplified in for instance the London property market.

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The State of Britain (opinion piece, Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems) Two recent outbreaks of media uproar make a striking pair if put side by side.  (1) a large number of alleged cases of sexual assault linked to paedophiles and to football clubs (association football, that is, not rugby) in the British national leagues.  They are to be investigated by the police in England and Wales.  (2) At the beginning of December Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, also in Britain, reported receiving 306 allegations against police officers of abuse of power for sexual purposes, and 28 against other policing staff,  between April 2014 and March 2016.  The prime minister is recorded as saying when addressing a meeting of police officials ‘We do not know the true scale of this, but everyone in this room will know it goes on far more than we might care to admit’.  During a comparable period only 40 officers or policing staff were dismissed.  Some will be unsurprised that (1) received far more attention than (2).

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Global warming and the English language . Among the many effects of global warming in the next 20 years, such as the ‘voluntary’ accession of Canada into the US as the 54th state and the boom in swimming pool construction in Scotland, there are others of less immediate interest to economists.  One is a substantial further rise in human obesity, for obvious reasons.  If an average citizen feels exhausted after a ten minute walk to and from the Burgerama under present climatic conditions, the next time he’ll take the car.  But increased obesity will lead on to other changes which thus are equally effects of global warning.  Some of these may seem unexpected or even alarming; one for instance is that there may well be a major increase worldwide in the use of the English language, to judge from the correlation noted in the item Science News of this journal (24th  April 2016.)

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Suggestion (from Dr. Philipp), to any of the few remaining quality newspapers anywhere in the continent of Europe.  Please will they start, from 20th January, a regular column which could be titled Historical rhymes, giving some item from their archives of the 1930s (with special attention paid to news from Germany, though plenty of other countries would provide suitable material, I regret) and placing alongside it a comparable item from the current European media (which, I regret even more, will be all too easy to find).

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Reply to reader Claude Ambrose R.  An algorithm is an analytical procedure by which, given a sufficient quantity of data (if necessary megadata or even teradata), and a categorising framework (which must obviously be free of internal contradiction), and a regular system for correlating categorical statements with statements of the desired output language, it is possible for journalists, investment advisers, government spokesmen, business consultants and others to derive conclusions desired for publication or for confirmation of views they wish to hold, even when they have no understanding whatever of the nature and qualities of the original data, nor of the relation between statements in the conclusions and human experience.

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Letter from reader : Dear Sexist Pig, All those campaigners for men to do half the domestic duties and in particular half the child care are overlooking one thing.  That thing is the baby.  Every baby I’ve ever known, and that is plenty, preferred to be looked after by a woman.   Every mother should have at least three years maternity leave with a guarantee of no loss of income and no loss of promotion prospects.  Debbie Cazeney-Fourguet, chairperson, Brigade of Militant Women, Dublin

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Juridical drift? The author is a good friend of the journal but wishes on this occasion to remain anonymous, since he belongs to none of the privileged groups which can come to the rescue of someone making any public suggestion that the judicial profession does not practice its trade with perfect grace and wisdom:  Judges in England (and other anglophone countries) are increasingly allowing their judgments to overlook the vitally important concept of the mens rea, which King Alfred understood very well 1200 years ago.  They are tending instead to put a great deal of weight on the letter of the law as written; a notable example is said to be the recently departed and less than universally regretted Judge Scalia (US Supreme Court.)  Some believe this to be highly questionable since to properly understand the meaning of a text it is necessary to take into account not only the language but the intended context.  (It was on this basis that a former president allowed himself to say that he had not had a relationship with an unfortunate young lady; he was allowed not to specify the time during which he did not have the relationship.)  Yet now in some lower courts we are even seeing a further and most unwelcome juridical drift towards legal interpretations and decisions which simply conform to what are understood to be the views and wishes of the current government in the jurisdiction of trial.

(Monty has asked for it to be made explicit that he is not the author of this piece)

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Most repellent line of musical criticism of 2016 : The light tenor line of the voice rests on a decorous salad of marimba, ukulele and harmonica, synergised by a gentle yet insistent basset-horn dressing.

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Intern advertisement  A slot above mentions our lack of an intern, which regrettably still holds good (or bad).  This prestigious post is still open for a suitable applicant of ‘any age, any gender, any colour’.  However, we have been told we should add ‘not more than 115 kilos dry weight’ since we are now aware about the condition of the floorboards; consultations with a lawyer continue as to whether that addition is legal under equal opportunities legislation if advertised in the UK.   The lawyer also advises us to omit the bit about handling small boats as it may make us liable in case of unfortunate marine incidents.  We do not insult our staff with any dress code, short of standard public health requirements.  Speech impediments, such as chronic nasal catarrh or a regional accent are not necessarily an obstacle, short of radical unintelligibility.  However, possession of wealthy parents who wish to launch their unqualified adolescent into a respectable and remunerative career is unlikely to be viewed as an advantage to either the applicant or ourselves.

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 Intern news  We are happy to record that we have had news (a picture postcard) from our former intern Maud.  The picture was made from a selfie of her and two other girls in the sumo squad on the  beach at Repulse Bay.  I regret there was no address to pass on to the many who remember her, nor was there any news except that in Hong Kong she has had 23 proposals of marriage.  But she is evidently still keenly following the interest in Ukrainian affairs she inherited from her Russian grandparents, because the rest of the card only told us about the recent UN report on the Ukraine, and said we should know about it, but of course we had already read it.

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UN report on the Ukraine  Montgomery Skew writes: As with so much from the UN that report leans over so far to be neutral that it is burying its virtual head in the sand, but even if horizontality is a lousy posture for getting anything actually done, it still may be better than double standards.  It remains totally baffling to those who do not swallow government statements whole that detaching areas from Serbia to make a brand new country of Kosovo, was laudable nation building.  Yet detaching areas from Ukraine which by a large margin were inhabited by Russians, and which wanted to be attached to Russia, and which would leave a much more cohesive and economically effective Ukraine, (and into the bargain a strongly pro-western Ukraine), not to even mention the matter of hugely reducing the number of people killed and wounded in fighting, all that is playing the ‘dangerous game of adjusting national boundaries’.  Disgraceful atrocities in the Middle East should not and do not govern where political lines are drawn in Eastern Europe.  Nor, it seems, does common sense.  Diplomats of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your dogmas!

There is, though, one point in the report where facts seem to give a sharp blow in the ribs to neutrality.  In October each side was bombarding the other.  But casualties in the ‘rebel’ – i.e. Russophile – area were eight times those on the government side.  Any conclusions to draw?.

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Query  Just as a matter of interest, would any reader be able to tell us how the costs to those who ultimately pay them (which in the end comes down to those who do the work) for producing the electricity needed to maintain, say, any of the major social media networks would compare with the costs of running a well-equipped American hospital for a year?  And while we are on the topic, what was the cost of producing in any average country the electricity needed to run the various networks required to maintain government surveillance of its population in, say, 2015?

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Observation  New research has discovered the reason why poets usually booze a lot and engage in various other sorts of behaviour not necessarily typical of normal interpersonal activities.  The relationship is in the opposite direction. Those factors (and similarly experiences in wartime) can seriously disturb ordinary processes of syntax and notions of semantic compatibility, drastically affecting verbal fluency, resulting in great difficulty in remembering correctly the mass-produced clichés and platitudes in which the vast majority of talk, and of writing (among those who know how to write), is produced.

 

Getting things the wrong way round

Next posting, ‘Year-end clear-out’,  scheduled for 15-12-16

We have all adopted Monty’s policy as the policy of the site: onward transmission of items welcome provided there is acknowledgment of the source, and no modification in transmission

  1. Prosperity? Really?        2. Inside advice
  2. Dim lights in the gloom 4. A heroine of bureaucracy

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(Monty Skew and Karela Hangshaw writing jointly)

Tunnel vision : Judgement by appearances and the Emperor’s new clothes are not exact opposites, but close to it.  If not 180o , perhaps about 150o.  With the naked Emperor the audience’s beliefs (voluntary or enforced) are supposed to overpower the evidence of their senses.  In the other error, perceived appearance and presentation overpower common sense and facts.  (To call the latter the Reagan syndrome is not hostile to America; Americans who sincerely support their country should simply check out its state and status before and at the end of his time in office.)  Now, there is at present a massive international effort to promote free trade and the setting up, on foundations as near immovable as possible, of free trade areas.  This is being run at all levels from Christine Lagarde herself down to humble Dax and Footsie CEOs getting no more than five or six million a year.  The standard version is that globalisation and free trade, while distinguishable, are an inseparable pair who need each other, in much the same way as a bank robber and her look-out woman.  [Ed: Thank you Karela – enough of that!]  However ‘globalisation’ can mean almost anything for almost anybody, and therefore must escape reasoned criticism.  The story about international trade, as understood by the eager campaigners, is that it ‘creates’ prosperity.  So determined, or desperate, is the promotional effort that large companies are running campaigns at their shareholders’ expense, going light on the self-praise and instead telling us international trade is a wonderful boon for humanity (on a par, perhaps, with medicine or music?).  This story can only be maintained by two kinds of linguistic manipulation, which to be polite we shall call equivocations.  The lesser equivocation concerns ‘creates’, and other words such as ‘leads’ and ‘brings’ which are used in this context as equivalents, to claim that trade is the foundation of prosperity.  This claim is wonderful bunkum.  The primary foundation for prosperity is by an overwhelming margin not trade – taking goods to another place to exchange them for different assets – but technology, the devising of new and interesting goods.  It is the goods that matter, not the journey to exchange them.  Whatever would be the point of travelling thousands of miles to the other end of the world’s continents if you have nothing interesting or attractive to take? Besides, the routes have been there as routes for thousands of years, from the bleak coast of Ceredigion right across the Eurasian landmass to the East China Sea, and with well-known side-routes down as far as Zanzibar.  If trade was not booming along them then it was because the supply of different goods not obtainable in the purchaser’s immediate neighbourhood was simply not large or interesting enough.  Very simply, you have to have the tradable goods before you can trade them.  Nor is there any chance of developing a vigorous transocean trade until you have developed ships that can make the trip reliably (and a compass will help too.)  The ships do come before the flourishing prosperity, really!  Or again, there is now a very big complex of industries based on the use of lasers.  How did this come about?  We do not believe for a moment that the existence of flourishing trade centres somehow led spontaneously to the emergence of the laser.  Trade routes and active trade are by-products, like pollution; primarily by-products of technological development, and secondarily of population growth.  The conclusion is not to pour resources into treaties making life agreeable for business, with negative measures such as restricting trade unions, and helping employers to throw the poor out of work to save their own interests, and positive measures which some critics might refer to as fiscal prostitution….But here we are meeting the second and greater equivocation.  This results from a breath-taking ability (undoubtedly involuntary with some, undoubtedly cynically chosen by others) not to notice the distinction between two very different interpretations of ‘prosperity’.  When examined closely, what we call ‘prosperity’ comes down to the capacity to do things.  There is prosperity of a country, taken as a whole (almost always measured in monetary units); and there is or can be  prosperity of individuals.  But the conditions and factors which are properly relevant when talking about individuals are so different from those for a country as a whole that using the same term is thoroughly misleading, and to assess both cases on the same basis is a simple intellectual error. (Would you try to count the number of species of tree in a forest by using a clock?)  Dealing with the individuals, you need to take into account not only monetary units, but also measurements on parameters of health, types of work, living conditions and a good few other dimensions simply not representable in the same terms as financial assets.

            Trying to measure either complex in the same way as the other (and it’s nearly always the ‘whole country’ version that wins, because it is the government that does the measuring) is not just an intellectual mistake.  By a chain of connections which can easily be seen and understood by anyone with the least willingness to see and understand the inevitable dominance of the ‘whole country’ view leads to ever-increasing inequality between comfortable governing classes with great freedom of personal action (sometimes on condition they do not meddle in politics), and everybody else.  And if you don’t want to go into the theory of the dangers which then threaten a society and its individuals (not excluding those who will protest that they were never really involved –  ‘honest! –  only passing by at the time’), you don’t need to.  Just pick up and read a couple of comprehensive books of history.

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Observation

As they sit back in the comfort of the first class on their way to the Far East to strengthen the historic and deeply rooted ties of mutual respect and self-interest between Great Britain and e.g.Tonkin, or Sulawesi, tycoons and ‘leaders of business’ from the City must be wondering at the changes they are going to see in a once familiar region.  There was a time in the second half of the 20th century when you knew where you were with the countries of East Asia.  ‘Korea’ in particular meant of course South Korea, a dynamic democratic republic with military overtones organised on no-nonsense lines approved by America.  Now it seems that literally millions have been mounting huge street protests to get the President thrown out on the extraordinary grounds that she was taking advice from non-elected friends who were pushing their own views to influence government policies and the flow of monies.  How can this be?  Is this not exactly the way that things have been run for years in Britain to the satisfaction of all concerned, with only the difference that in Britain such friends are speedily taken on to be special advisors, with handsome salaries paid out of the money that arrives from tax-payers?

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Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems writes : The politics of the past few months seem to have left a lot of commentators gazing morosely over the political landscape like cows jostling in the freezing fog as they wait to get through the gate of a field where a ‘work-experience’ trainee has scattered a dozen bales of shrivelled hay.  One can understand why.  But in a darkling world we must look for glimmers of good cheer where we can find them.  And one is that the battle-weary French have at last recovered from Sarkolepsy.  They thought they’d got over it in 2012 .   But cleverly dodging past doubts about his campaign finances, Sarko returned and stoked up the fires on the French right believing this would bring him back to the top in a blaze of glory.  In fact all it did for him was to scorch his backside as he made his exit from politics.  (It seems though that the CNRS may intend to continue a little-known programme investigating whether upper-body gymnastics with invisible apparatus does indeed exert a hypnotic effect on French audiences.)  But just as the French electorate escapes from one pursuer with a preposterously exaggerated idea of his own charms, almost unbelievably, Britain is now under threat.  A deeply disturbing shape has risen from its political grave.  I presume no one thought this possible; otherwise surely they would have planted a clove of garlic in the occupant’s mouth and a stake through its political ambition when it was interred.  At present it is not certain that it will start another terrible cycle of events, but in any case let us hope that those who still feel a duty of loyalty to their country and their sovereign will study again the law relating to treason.

There have also been two minor bonuses from the recent rounds of elections.  First, there is at least now evidence that the traditional rule ‘Put enough money on and under the table, and you can buy the result you want’ is not infallible for all elections.  Estimates of the Democrat investment vary from $2bn all the way down to a paltry $1bn, but whatever it was it apparently outspent the other side and yet still produced a loser.   And the second entry in the ‘Progress’ ledger has been to cast light on the true value of ‘professionals’ who ‘know the job’ – men and women who work and calculate and run computer simulations and collate until their imagination runs dry, while they study all the reports and data until at last they could fight the previous campaign with absolute perfection, if it was held tomorrow (and who have in fact been the backbone of the losing side in most Western elections in the past ten years).  Did the Donald come with folders bulging with expertise on how to fight elections?  It didn’t look like that to me.  The other major benefit to be entered in the political columns (some might want to call it a silver lining but that seems a little overambitious in the circumstances – at best perhaps a pewter lining) is the obvious one that whatever the American result has given the world it has at least avoided four years of beautifully designed establishmentarian politics of the type which has served Washington and the well-off classes of the well-off nations so well, and done so little for all the rest of the world, confronted with  natural disasters, economic injustice, massacres, wars and the indifference of the West.

Ed: Is Berthold heading for a breakdown?  He’s certainly been poaching on Monty’s territory.  Time for a serious talk.

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Let’s recognise some true worth

If you are wondering who you might send an anonymous end-of-year present to, let us suggest Federica Mogherini, whose humane intelligence is fighting bravely trying to keep the EU sane and functioning despite itself.

Shapes dimly seen through the fog of news

Since there are now only two full-time members of the team normally present in our HQ here, along with occasional visits from Simon, we would very much like to take on a new intern; the position, unfortunately unpaid (as are the full-time members), could be for up to 6 months, and basically requires normal office work with snatches of journalism.  Open to literate applicants of any age, gender or colour.  Ability to handle small boats could be an advantage.  Computer nerds and paid-up members of any mainstream political party have little chance. 

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Our widely respected political correspondent Monty Skew volunteered to reply to a long letter from Jojo Ceausescu, one of our regular correspondents.  Since the issues actually affect a lot of people some extracts are posted here.

Monty Skew writes: Yes, there are indeed two IMFs!  The second one which I shall call the ‘other IMF’ deliberately chose initials designed to be an example of their ideas – or as they prefer to put it, their strategic philosophy. Those initials stand for ‘International Misinformation Forum’ and their (surprisingly well-funded) activities are intended to support an eccentric mixture of interventions based on a mistaken belief that something like Darwinian evolution can be injected into world geopolitics, and they are the people to push the plunger well in.  Their underlying principle is a sort of utilitarianism: the weaker a government is, the worse life will tend to be for its subjects (so they can at least pretend that they have good intentions; like so many in the long human tragedy).  So what the world needs, they assert, is fewer weak governments.  Where does that lead us?  They argue that on the whole crises kill off the weaker specimens, and tend to leave the strong ones stronger than before, as with species.   So they hope to stimulate confusion in world politics, as a first-class means of inducing  crises (though of course crises can easily be manufactured even without the existence of normal democratic politics).  For this reason the ‘other IMF’ deliberately keeps out of the limelight, since only a small proportion of the world population is clear-headed enough to be properly  aware that two organisations with similar names (or at least initials) operating in the same general area may have sharply different methods and goals.  But it is known that they claim to have well-developed networks of influence in the Americas and in the chancelleries of Europe.  The phrase ‘creative uncertainty’ surfaces from time to time.  Even so, many of those who have heard of the ‘other IMF’ dismiss all this as obscure pantomime games, and perhaps it is.  But some of the bigger happenings in geopolitics in recent years might make you hesitate. To start with a small but rather clear example: (1) a coalition was organised to arrange régime change in Libya; the former régime (Gadhafi) was duly eliminated; but no new régime was put in place; the half-suppressed state of civil war continues.  (2) Western forces, led by the US, have been into Iraq and out of Iraq and in again and out again, sometimes both simultaneously, ever since 1991.  It seems only the other day Obama was promising ‘no American boots on the ground’; current active operations in Iraq involve US ground forces (undoubtedly booted).  (3)  When he was president George W told Europe it must speed up with Turkey’s admission to the EU, begun to bureaucratic acclaim in 1987.  Today it is still ‘progressing’ (yes, even now!). (4) The ‘pivot to Asia’.  Remember that?  American foreign policy to be re-centred on East Asia.   Which apparently meant a quick series of pronouncements about China, and a couple of highly signalled sail-pasts; then back home, and down to business as usual.   (5) Mid 2016 the UK votes to leave EU.  Late 2016, UK manoeuvres to undo Brexit get going.  (6)  Afghanistan.  See remarks on Iraq above.  (7) Syrian government, threatened (2013) with decisive western intervention if detected using chemical weapons against its own population, backs down.  Currently, chemical weapons being used by Syrian government against its own population, and have been over the past year.  (8) European nations allow desperate millions to walk halfway up Europe for refuge; then policy changes.  The next millions get to walk halfway up Europe, as far as the razor-wire, then have to survive the winter (or not) where they are or walk back to Greece.  (9)  Remember how back in the 1990s post-communist Russia was going to be the West’s new friend (and ally against China?).  Now she is the great threat to world peace, and apparently hell-bent on world conquest, we are earnestly assured.  (10) In return for ruthless austerity, hurting all except the wealthy, the EU gives Greece just enough support to carry her through to the next round of fresh austerity and bail-out.  (If I’ve counted correctly, she’s just coming up to bail-out number 4.)  Sometimes I do begin to wonder.  I have no idea what would be your own best move, but my personal advice would be to buy a well-built well-appointed sea-going vessel, move all your personal possessions into her (and your wife?), and then cancel your subscription to your current  government immediately.

Mr Skew wishes to say he has no objection to forwarding of items of his which appear on this site, subject to the usual conditions – no modification in transit, and acknowledgment of source.

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Before we empty the readers’ letters bin, we might mention that Monty’s late-night notes last month (which were definitely not intended for posting) – on setting quotas for various groups to have a share of various types of advantage –  brought a biggish influx of mail.  A small number seemed inclined to disagree, giving reasons (a great rarity) and after careful thought we or Monty himself may take those up.  Most of course were the normal gibbering rants or cuttings from the Daily Mail.  But an oddity worth mentioning is that within that week we had two letters, both from men, proposing that the House of Lords in London should be reserved exclusively for women, but for diametrically different reasons.  One said that this would give women a real  chance to exercise the beneficial influence on events which they deserved to have; the other thought that it would ‘clear them out of the way to twitter on about cooking and fashion and celebrity gossip’ while ‘us men’ can ‘get on with the serious stuff’.  Karela intends to write a personal reply to the latter, when she has had a week or two to handle a computer without causing it to emit bright white exploding sparks.

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The first piece we have had from Simon in over a year, headed ‘A contribution to the ‘Problems in Bilogy series’[sic].  Louise tells us he has nearly finished Book 1 in the WAHAMM! course – ‘Write At Home And Make Money! –  for aspiring writers (www.howtomakewealthflowfromyourpen.com). 

Problems in biology; no.118

Why are elephants grey (except for Hinkley Point power station which is going to be white)?  They do not originate in a landscape where the background is predominantly grey.  They live in hot parts of the world, and if they were some bright colour, red or yellow for example, or even better partly reflective (if butterflies can evolve that sort of thing, why not elephants?) it would help to keep them cooler which you think they would need at their size.  And there is not much point in an animal as big as that trying grey as a way of being unobtrusive, whether to avoid becoming prey, or to allow it to hide in the undergrowth before springing out to pounce on passing antelopes or warthogs.  The mighty elephant remains an awesome enigma indeed!

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The Editor writes: If ever there was a campaign that made a really powerful case for a proposal more than once offered to the closed minds of the political classes by this very journal, that presidential campaign was it.  The issue is obviously negative votes.  In the past, practical matters may have made this rather difficult.  Now, thanks to modern technology which has seen voting publics round the world swallowing voting machines with only the merest tremor of electoral indigestion, it would be easy.  It is a simple idea: do not merely invite the populace to vote for the candidate picked out by whichever information sources they expose themselves to.  Let them cast instead, or as well, a negative vote against the candidate they think most worth throwing out of politics (and, in selected cases, into the nearest stagnant canal).  With modern technology it should be easy.  In fact it might be as well to take advantage of the chance now, in the short-lived window of opportunity before hackers screw up the whole business by discovering ways to make Huey Long come out on top in, for example, the next ballot for governor of the Keystone State notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot and hasn’t actually been standing anywhere since 1935.  When they appear on the scene, or rather don’t appear, those hackers will be found operating out of Russia, of course, or just possibly North Korea, or perhaps both simultaneously.  (Now there’s a promising opening for a world-wide journalistic scoop!)  But while we’re touching on hacking, let’s mention that back in June the FBI said about those hackers who broke into Hillary’s campaign they ‘would be far too skilled to leave evidence of their intrusion’.  And everyone agrees it was a job carried out with expertise of the highest level.  So isn’t it just the darnedest thing that those brilliant Russian hackers did it all so professionally they would have got clean away without anyone having the least idea who they were –  except for just one tiny thing when they were tidying up; left a couple of words in Russian, as shown on western tv, so now everybody knows they really must have been Russian.  Couldn’t have made a sillier mistake if they’d tried – or did someone help them?

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Puzzle corner (from Patsy’s Postmodern Parenting WeeklySet by Dr Evalina Squeers)

Here’s a nice poser for post-modern parents to chew on along with their vegetarian sausages and free-range quinoa.  Start from these two ideological axioms of modern society.  Axiom 1: It is wrong to encourage children to taunt and abuse other children.  Axiom 2: It is necessary to take all possible effective action (short of violence of course) to reduce obesity in children, bearing in mind the serious damage to their self-image and to their health in adult life that can be consequences.  Given that peer pressure and self-image are absolutely key factors influencing the behaviour of our little loved ones, the challenge is to think up chants and cries compatible with both those axioms, to greet obese pupils as they waddle into the school playground each morning.  (The usual prizes for best selections.)

 

Bad business

Much unpleasantness after Manos played that deplorable practical joke on Monty 15-10-2016.  (Karela quite innocent throughout.) Sorted now, but from today onwards Manos is no longer in the loop.  More about all that later, perhaps.  Next scheduled: 15-11-2016

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  1. ‘Treaties’                 2. The semantic vacuum
  2. Farewell to Manos  4. Etc

Linguistic corner (but serious)  Do not let the b*stards get away with calling NAFTA, TTIP, TPP, and CETA ‘treaties’.  A treaty, as the word has been properly understood and used for centuries, is an agreement reached after negotiation between the governments of two states.  But these arrangements (mocking the people suffering under capitalism by their capital letters)  are what should technically be called ‘stitch-ups’; that is they are bargains cooked up between members of plutocratic élites who have more in common with the élites on the other side(s)  than any of them do with the ordinary average citizen of the states which they are trying to hogtie into these deals.  Deals fixed up in the darkness of a secrecy like that chosen by thieves and coup plotters.  Even elected members of parliaments  of the states to be used for these manoeuvres were excluded from what was going on.  Who arrogated to themselves – surely illegally – the authority to exclude them?  (Why did those excluded put up with it?)  When some eventually got admission to the room where the negotiations were recorded, they were too late to start a proper campaign for enquiry into the conditions under which the whole shabby business was proceeding, and they would have been too late even if they had been allowed to make copies, use cameras, or take personal notes – but in any case they were not!  How were the organisers allowed to get away with it?  And why would they want to if there was nothing objectionable or improper in what they were doing?   Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about the nature of these machinations?  As far as the historical records will go – unless a mighty spanner is somehow forced between the wheels of the tumbrils bearing individual rights to the place of execution – the conspiratorial business does not even have the traditional half-justification ‘History is written by the victors’.  Here the course of history is being rigged in advance by small groups who may very possibly be anticipating that they will do well if events take the direction they are planning.  ‘But,’ they will cry, if they are ever put in the dock ‘our evidence showed that the plans would increase the prosperity of all the countries concerned’.  Are we supposed to believe that increasing the prosperity of a country is more important than maintaining a tolerable condition of life for the majority of its population?  Where do you find the prosperity of the country? You don’t find it in the shop doorways of dark sidestreets where the homeless spend their nights, nor in the threadbare pockets or the defective fridges or half-empty cupboards of the 37% of the population (figures for the UK 2016!) in households where someone has a job  and which yet have so little money left over after paying taxes, rent and food for the month that they cannot put together even £20 pounds for anything else.  (Oh and how much does it take to buy a new fridge when the old one cannot be repaired any longer?)  And what do you think happens when even that level of existence becomes unreachable, when the business for which they work turns out to have been run into the ground and when the coffer is opened to inspect the pension fund it turns out to be practically empty.  What does it mean to a family, when they have had to rely on that employment to stay in a place to live, and to have food to eat?  Do those people say to each other “No problem, my dear, you can stay in our place in the country, and after the weekend I’ll call up Charlie who can get our Rupert a job as a director of human resources at his company when he finishes university in the spring.  And anyway, there’s a council in the West country where a friend of mine is looking for someone to fill a six-month consultancy, only £2,000 a day, I’m afraid but it’ll keep us going perfectly well and give me time to call on some of our other old chums.”  No, if you want to find the wealth and prosperity of almost any country picked at random you should head straight towards bank accounts in the West Indies, or those fabulously expensive yacht havens in the Mediterranean, or the offices of publicity-shy investment agencies in New York, or London, or Switzerland.  Or the immaculate corridors where the peoples’ well-paid democratic representatives ply their trade.

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[2] Trying to get to the end of a recognised scale of measurement is almost as challenging as trying to get to the right place on the platform to have a chance of a seat when you board a Southern Region train in the UK.  Over more than a hundred years now, huge amounts of money and effort have gone into attempts to approach absolute zero, or to achieve a perfect vacuum.  But it is not only the physical sciences which investigate such matters. Puzzlingly the British average moral pressure level has fallen steeply since 1940, and despite the crises of refugees fleeing terrifying conditions in the Middle East is now closer to a moral vacuum than at any time since 1840.  However, in a less alarming field of investigation, semantic scientists are cock-a-hoop, confident they have discovered the closest thing yet to a semantic vacuum on earth.  Previous research had suggested Fabian Society meetings, computer ‘Help’ files,  or catalogues of modern art exhibitions as promising venues where meaning-free text might be found.    However, despite exciting prospects (notable contributions from the Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern, and above all New York commercial galleries) no researcher until last Thursday had succeeded in discovering a source rated lower than 2·3% on the Barroso scale (named after Jose Barroso in honour of his long struggle against meaninglessness while heading the EU.)  However Bognor Sophia University in Wales has now proudly published a claim for a reading closer to absolute zero than ever before.  Measurements are made using a sample text of 500 words, which remains available to respondents while they take the test.  After reading this they are asked to answer a questionnaire usually comprising 40 questions obviously related to the text, which is submitted to at least 30 respondents. They are told ‘Most of the questions can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or left blank’.  However in fact the questions will have been carefully designed by experts so that not one can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the basis of the text provided.  (For instance the text may contain a sentence ‘The sinkhole opened up last Monday’ and a question might be ‘Did the sinkhole open up on Monday morning?’)  So the fewer the questions left blank, the more the evidence that a respondent has, in the words of Professor Keri Popper, ‘failed to establish a semantic rapport with the text’.  If a respondent hands in a questionnaire with every question answered that is accepted as evidence that, as far as concerns that respondent, the text was essentially meaningless.  By taking an average over all respondents, investigators arrive at the index of how meaningful the text was for that audience.  The new meaningfulness figure of just 1·2% was obtained with a composite text compiled from television interviews with a number of football managers and well-known players discussing preparations and prospects for forthcoming soccer fixtures.  Sour-minded critics have objected that this procedure measures the amount of meaning derived from material, rather than the meaning which is actually in it.  But Bognor Sophia’s Dean for Outreach retorted that in most transmission of meaning between humans it is the former which matters and that is what should be assessed.  ‘After all, if you want to test a lifejacket what you need is real tests in real situations, not calculations based on a fully competent swimmer in a brand-new jacket in a swimming pool.’

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[3] We shall be saying farewell to Manos as a regular contributor based, theoretically, in this office.  The appearance of considerable wealth when he most recently arrived on the island with two dozen of Corton Charlemagne stashed away in a luxurious yacht was not misleading, even though it turned out that the yacht itself was only a long-term loan from one of the cross-national aristocratic businessmen in whose company (or companies) he now spends much of his time,.despite the fact that he proudly claims not to have done more than half a day’s work in the past six months.  It will be remembered he went to Germany to see if any company engaged in molecular biology could be interested in his proposal to combat climate change by tweaking the genome of grass so that worldwide it would function with white chlorophyll (‘leukophyll’), thus reflecting a huge proportion of radiation received from the sun).  He got a better reception than we had expected from our experience with his earlier get-very-rich-quick schemes (well known to longtime readers of this journal).  It emerged that the leader of the team deputed to discuss the project with him was Greek, and born in the same town where Manos passed his boyhood half a generation later.  They rapidly became excellent friends, and already in March while negotiations on leukophyll were still in preliminary stages, Manos had been taken onto the board of a company where his new friend was the president, receiving a golden ‘hello!’ package as well as a re-location expenses notwithstanding the fact that in so far as anywhere was home base for him, it was and continued to be the island where this journal is regularly born.  He joined this first company in March (backdated to January for tax reasons) but following a ‘reshaping’ of the parent company he left in May, receiving a munificent compensation package.  Almost immediately he was headhunted to be deputy general manager of the Greek subsidiary of Gowlze Andoghers in July with special responsibility for East Asia, receiving a generous expenses package to cover his costs for relocating to Hong Kong (although so far he has remained in south-west France, since all except essential current operations are on hold pending the probable takeover by US giant Polla Chremata Pasi; this move will probably require his unit and all its activities to be relocated to the US with of course lavish removal allowances).  Other ventures are also apparently possible.  He has spoken somewhat enigmatically of ‘not doing damn fool mistakes made in green business’, if we understood him correctly.   We are glad that success has now come his way, even if not directly because of his many talents, and warm-hearted good nature, and wish him well for all his future operations far away from our island.

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(Extract from e-mail from Isabelita)

In Ecuador we are charmed by your Yanqui geographical capacities – North Atlantic stretching from Canada to Kabul!  Jens Soltenberg is doubtless a very clever man as you say, but we are puzzled.  He says they are putting powerful military forces in Eastern Europe near Russia not to provoke trouble  but to be prevent trouble by showing they are well-armed and frightening.  But is this not the same idea which the American Rifle Association gives for its policies in America which many people think work exactly the other way?

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(With apologies to George Orwell)  Britain no longer to be called ‘Airstrip 1’, but instead, from now on, ‘Departure Lounge 1’

 

The full Monty?

Next scheduled for 1-11-2016

1]  Recyclical               2]  Quotas for all!

              3]  Faits divers

Recycling Please so far as possible recycle the words used in this posting, after extracting any which you think might be of archaeological interest and donating them to your nearest university philosophy department.  The Government’s alert on dangerous words remains at level 3, and if you detect any socialist, anarchist, or nihilist verbiage in discourse in the coming month please hand it in to the police immediately.  Do not on any account attempt to use it yourself.

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Recycled  Encouraging evidence that this journal’s talent for accurate observation is well based, and dismaying evidence that the human capacity to fail to deal with flaws in society is no less solidly rooted.  This is the first paragraph of a piece that appeared six years ago from tomorrow the 16th of October:

About the time of the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehmann, we got a flurry of articles pondering with furrowed brows the question What have we learned?  Now, about the time of the first anniversary of those articles appearing, some pieces have come out daringly suggesting the answer to the question could be Nothing.  The speed with which some commentators flash around their learning curve would frighten a tortoise, and charm the hearts of bookmakers.  The bankers, meanwhile, gave the best proof yet that they are men with intelligence, by never setting off at all, staying instead exactly where they were and laying plans for yet taller golden towers of bonuses in the years very shortly to come – with, perhaps, a sense of marginal urgency if the thought had by chance briefly flitted past the beam of their tightly focussed minds, that just possibly the reaction to their goings-on might included a backlash strong enough to put some limits on  excessive greed in money-making.  That is of course unlikely.  The few hundred people around the world who could actually achieve that have too many pre-occupations and disagreements and inclinations to lethargy – and in some cases complicity? – to prevent this crisis, too, slipping down that very short chute into over-and-done-with history like any massacre of innocents, or war against unarmed populations, or famine.

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As Acting Editor I should explain Mr Skew came over for a short break on the island, and brought a piece with him. I wasn’t told  if it was supposed to be ready or just a first draft.  But yesterday both he and our Editor got a call to go to London immediately.  This morning there were two sheets with his name on the Editor’s desk.   I thought the second might only be a draft, but Manos was very sure it was all for posting, and I must send it.   I’d prefer to confirm with our Editor but haven’t been able to contact either of them since they got there, so here it is.  (Karela) 

Quotas.  The idea that a 50% quota of places should be reserved for women in politics or in the mighty boardrooms which plot how to make entertaining tweaks to a nation’s Gini coefficient; or in the higher tiers of the judiciary, or in the ownership of great estates, or the more profitable sinecures in the municipal circuses; all on the simple-minded basis that women count around 50% of the population of most states,  has broken out again from its padded cell in the human psyche.  As the heavy doors slide shut in certain minds they, fortunately, muffle an angry chorus (‘Sexist pig!’ was the lyric if I heard correctly.)  This is a monstrous slander.  I am all in favour of women getting the  fair deal they deserve.  This year already I have had dealings with half a dozen thoroughly competent women who skilfully and honourably negotiated with me on some business, which they then, I know, had to summarise and explain to a P.A. (with four times their salary) who himself would be granted an audience with a fat and lazy (nb quoting here from a well-known Minister of International Trade) member of the board, on not less than ten times that salary, and who would be incapable of handling the guidelines and trade-offs and side-issues himself even if he was paying attention instead of thinking in Trump mode about options for his upcoming conference on an agreeable island in the Med.  Sociopolitical systems in big countries don’t do slow methodical reform.  The alternatives in any given era are groundshaking change or fossilisation (though if lucky you may get a new coat of paint slapped on the fossil).  So if you’re thinking of setting off on a long march towards sociopolitical fair play there are two things to say.  The first is that you are going to fail (but don’t take that as a reason for giving up).  The second is that you don’t have just one small friendly mountain to climb, like 50% for women in your parliament.  You are facing a whole range of rugged, viciously challenging peaks, and that’s not counting the primitive barbarian tribes that will attack you on the way.  But there’s also an awkward fact: big nations are complex.  What helps one group may be bad for others.  Few even among the fair-minded grasp the sheer number of interlocking choices needed to get anywhere near fair quotas for sociopolitical groups in a state.  Herewith a bijou selection of a few of…..Okay, polish smoothingly tomorrow as per earlier notes

Preliminary issue : are we seeking enhanced enfranchisement or compensation for inadequacy of enfranchisement?  Great heavens!  Have I written that?  Alcoholic eloquence.  Change forthwith.   ‘Upward quotas’?  Not ideal, but vaguely humanoid.  Compensation?  Forget that!  First half impossible already.

Warning:  Try this – ‘Some of the earlier questions below cannot be settled sensibly until some of the later ones have been resolved, but some of those cannot be dealt with until the first ones are settled.’  Impressive, well done Monty! 

1] What justification for having any reforming ‘upward quotas’ at all?  Obviously one is to scare the pants off idle buggers already ‘up’ and doing nothing to justify themselves.  Obviously too, pseudo-return for favours received (as not unknown in H.o.C.)  Or to avoid the  need to hand out genuine rewards for services rendered.  And so on.  Not sure if any of those count as ‘justification’.  Does that matter?  Course not.

2] Upward quotas for both groups and individuals?  Latter means networking; consult Linked-In.

3] What reasons for upward quotas?  To reflect proportion in population?  Breath-taking illogicality.  Pedestrians to have equal rights with cars?  Be serious.  And apart from the women there are at least three other 50 vs 50 groups, age, height, and weight.  Anyway once you start giving people quotas just because they are a group, they’ll all be at it.  In six months all committees and organised bodies will be crazy jigsaws of groups all shouting they should have more places.  And every individual in them will belong to a dozen different groups.  What about ‘because said group has different viewpoint from the usual, which might be useful’?  Sloppy thinking again, Monty!  How many groups have specialist views which are useful to anybody except themselves?  ‘Because they could make amusing contributions to the life of the nation’?  Now that should be a winner but we’d never get it past the Grundies and apparatchiks.  How about ‘because their views currently have no representation’?  Losing my grip again!  The fewer the bunches of recognised and authorised maniacs we have, the better.  Give up.

4] How can one ‘up’ a group anyway?  Easy! Add as new members in the ranks of privilege, for instance friends of former PM into House of Lords.  Or throw out or murder the currently privileged (Specialist Comintern practice but popular worldwide and epoch-wide anyway).   Or write new constitution abolishing privilege?  Alleged policy of Froggie Republic (as alleged by those capable of willing suspension of disbelief).  Etc.  No problem there.

5] Who gets an upward quota?  Women?  But what about LGBT?   All those for ‘up’?  Or some?  Together or how?  Or four separate groups?  (And those who want to be in more than one of those at the same time?)  Hell’s teeth.  Better drop this heading somehow even if it started it all.  Oh, my head!  Next please.

6] Which groups get promised a quota ‘sometime’?   This one easy.  Quick scan through this office’s archive, mail from readers, rival editors, boards of censors, libel lawyers, bailiffs, confidence tricksters,  indignant jobsworths… to see who causes most trouble.  Which groups get a promise?  All of them of course,  plus the corrupt (if you want democracy with a voice for all, can’t leave them out), the Welsh, the Goths, the insane, footballers, left-handers, residents of Liverpool, the poor, everyone who doesn’t live in London, smokers, gardeners, weed farmers, municipal employees, Poles, ‘greatgrandfather killed in World War I’ types, tightrope walkers…

7] Groups based on personal characteristicsThe ugly, the goofy, height (too much or too little), the old (over 36), the young (under 36), the obese, the bald, those with athlete’s foot…  All going to have their ‘own distinctive views and experience’, aren’t they?  Shit, I wish I hadn’t started this.  Brunettes?  Agoraphobics?  Drummers?  Rembettika singers?  But I wish Manos would turn that bloody bouzouki music off.

8] Within which sphere are they to be elevated?  How about cyclists onto committees drafting traffic regulations?  Yes, indeed, why not?  Prisoners on penal reform?  Hey, I’m being serious now.  Shut that bloody row, Monas!

9] To what proportion of the sphere  E.g. 50%, 75%, 1 in 3?   Let’s put it like this: every femen committee should have a token man on it, right?

10] How should elevation be arranged?  By force, whether beneficiaries want it or not?  Whether beneficiaries apply or not?  Points system, like Boris… Oh, forgot, one would not be amused by points systems.  By lottery?  Being one of Monty’s friends?  Has Karela still got a stash of slivovitz?

Final meta-question: Who takes the decisions on all the above questions? Oh sod!  Need a brain-transplant to get this sorted.  But have some of that slivovitz first.

Answer to all above: Don’t bugger about with groups.  Take every human as an individual. Can’t do it?  Five more years high-tech, and everyone will have their own perfectly adjusted individual cell in the universal prison

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Apps  Aye-aye Cap’n.  Great new app from the Redethel store for real emergencies!  Stuck with friends in a small boat mid-ocean or in a sledge with a pack of wolves closing on you?  This app lets you save almost everyone!  Just click on the parameters – age, job, number of children, club memberships, salary and three more  factors, and this app will calculate who should be thrown overboard to save the rest.  No need for hard words or nasty bickering. Absolute fairness guaranteed.

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Jokes of the Week (or were they meant seriously?!) (both from the Economist , a mag with a lot of statistics and a curiously imaginative view of the world; issue 420/9008): [1] (on the need to avoid public wealth being squandered on useless infrastructure): ‘To manage the risk of white-elephant projects, private sector partners should be involved from the start’.  [2] (on the UK political scene in 2014]: ‘The Conservatives under David Cameron had turned all modern and reasonable.’

 

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?

 

Less for more and more for less

Scheduled next 1-10-2016

Maud left five days ago, with our sincere thanks for livening up this place much longer than originally planned, and our equally sincere wishes for success in her world tour with the sumo girls.  We hope to welcome another intern soon but of course the supply of young talent willing to come over to work for nothing on our island for a month or two is not huge. 

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Saying of the week: Planning is the antidote to imagination (Old municipal proverb)

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Someone sent us this anonymously, photocopy of a loose single sheet of paper.  From what?

 team’s efforts (not least in Africa – congratulations!).The mystery to me is how it all still goes on like one of those light display projected onto some architectural monument or other.  Public opinion, that sleep-walking ape, whoops at the pretty colours and doesn’t even notice there’s anything behind them.  Never mind the rich pickings for firework manufacturers, condom distributors, and all those who produce chemicals with interesting effects on the human body, what better set-up could you imagine for arranging major financial deals out of sight of the tax snoopers of the world, than fixing them up behind the razmatazz of the most publicised two-week celebrethon in the calendar, all run in full view of all the world’s nations and news media?  Of course some of the big players know pretty well what goes on but they have their own reasons for not noticing, and anyway not a few of them are at it themselves one way or another but they don’t care so long as they can collect a bagful of medals and take them back as proof that Southern Ruritania leads the world (in ways left  conveniently unspecified) and the whole nation should rejoice and line up to support the glorious South Ruritanian government.  Sooner or later some of the snoopers are going to start asking questions about what else goes on so full marks to our leaders for helping to distract  attention this time round by their contribution to the great doping scandal, which with luck pushes back the evil day a few years.  Meanwhile as B says, the thing is to milk the golden goose for all it’s worth.  But the boys feel the Olympics are still a long way short of maximal profitability for all concerned.   Our leader reckons the single key factor is the golden medal business.  Nothing else gets headlines like that in all media back home wherever home is, and it doesn’t matter a dog turd if the medals are for competitive knitting.  He thinks an obvious move would be to increase the number of nations attending (already well in excess of those recognised by the UN), provided of course the new member nations prove they are able and willing to support the Olympic movement in all its many highly expensive activities!  For example, each Australian state could be recognised, athletically, as a separate country.  This would open up especially rich prospects when applied to the US.  But even before that there’s plenty of scope for souping things up a bit with the set-up we’ve got.  For instance, the number of gold medals could be hugely increased if other sports are made to follow the example of those, like boxing, which divide their competitions into many categories according to weight of the athlete, or subdivisions by type, as with swimming, breaststroke, free style or butterfly.  So there could be eg a ‘100 metres-running- backwards’ as well as the usual unimaginative 10 second version.  Other similar moves easily fixed, for instance, separate high jump competitions for those less than 1m 55 tall in the case of men, or 1m 45 for women.  Another one would be harpooning (i.e. underwater javelin).  And since we’re in the pool, how about three-legged swimming races?  Hours of fun!  And didn’t some lunatic a few years ago suggest distance races could be run on  figure-of-eight tracks as well as ordinary ones, would add a new element of skill for the runners and interest for spectators, and imagine the headlines if the leader gets knocked down at the crossover point by a runner half a lap behind him. And another lorryload of gold medals, if they’d get serious about inviting new sporting interests to send teams, which could include fishing, pole-dancing (after all beach volleyball is in there already), sheep-dog trials, bull-fighting, and all that stuff gladiators used to do in ancient Rome.

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Question of the week: Why are so many enthusiastic for the ‘hot-housing’ of athletic talent, to bring honour to their country, when they oppose ‘hot-housing’ of academic talent?  And what about the arts?  And music?

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Page 3 of a mailshot ‘The alpha male reader’s guide to the investment opportunity of the century’.

(The cover was burnt doing something illegal with it.)

 Our consultancy’s white-hot determination to do what only a few highly skilled experts realise is now necessary is a mood last seen when the Roman Empire was collapsing under the onslaught of refugees and asylum-seekers from the wrong side of the Rhine.  Now it  is on the threshold of a dramatic comeback for the sharp-eyed few who see that extremist times call for extreme solutions.  Don’t think small!  We’re not talking about asset-stripping the odd company here or there, running it into the ground and taking the boodle.  That’s just the timid sort of stuff they played at in the 1980s.  Think on the national scale.  Straws in the wind?  One of the British rail companies (which thanks to a Conservative initiative now all offer options for profitable investment in the transport needs of the British working classes) has shown how decisive action can deal effectively with major problems which have been allowed to linger on hamstringing a huge area for years, reducing returns to shareholders and annoying employers by delivering their workforces late.  This company abolished at a stroke hundreds of train services on its network; somewhat over 220 to be precise.  Once abolished, they no longer cause trouble.  No train, no punctuality failure (or horological discrepancy as they like to call it).  No train, no overcrowding to be grumbled about to MPs.  No train, no staff or running costs.  The workforces will adjust to it, they have to.  And now the NHS is experimenting with the same promising approach.  Despite constant efforts to make staff improve productivity and accept efficiency reforms, and despite the contributions made by thousands of highly skilled management personnel, many branches of the National Health Service have proved themselves unable to do their job properly, and they run their finances so badly they are crippled with debt.  Solution?  Close the  hospital or the troublesome parts of it.  Don’t be intimidated just because the sign at the entrance says ‘Accident and Emergency’.    But what is wrong with these first tentative steps is they don’t even go halfway.  You have an empty hospital?  Sell it, prices for office accommodation are still buoyant, and conversion to hotel use, in the right areas, is worth a look for the clever investor.  Similarly for second-hand rolling stock, unused station buildings, and, especially, massive landholdings.  But even this is chickenfeed.  What we want is a determined no-holds-barred campaign to close down and sell off not merely the NHS but all non-profitable sectors of national activity where still supported directly or indirectly by government funds, e.g. the road system, all National Parks, all parts of the coastline not yet privatised, museums and care homes for the elderly in general, the Civil Service likewise, prisons, the judicial system, the army, navy and air force, the House of Lords, the Royal family, and of course government itself.  If there is one economic fact more extraordinary than the abysmally low productivity of most households in OECD countries, it is that so few realise the inhabitants of the UK are sitting on one of the richest collection of assets in the world, and that so little has been done to realise its worth and put it to practical use.  The opportunities are mouth-watering.  Join us today!  Apply as specified on front of brochure.

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I was alerted to the above by Karela’s hoots of derisive laughter.  At first I laughed too.  Then it struck me – the rail company and the hospital events really are happening; it did all really start from the asset-strippers in the 1980s, and look at what enlightened capitalism has brought us to now. Humans evidently have a talent for producing disaster, whether they start from naked greed with added stupidity as above, or from grand programmes of social reform.  Karela and I have written a joint note taking one particular case where we can see what went wrong, and how it could be (but won’t be) stopped short of disaster.

Editorial note:  Let’s just comment on the British National Health Service as an example.  It  was set up after World War II, for two big reasons.  First, if you have any sort of nation, with large populations banding together for the common good, in the very front rank of the common good stands health of the inhabitants.  Some might call that a moral reason..  But there’s also a simple practical reason which even capitalist extremists should approve.  How can you screw the best profit out of your population if they’re suffering from rickets, or tuberculosis, or massive malnutrition?  Now, at the start the National Health Service in your country was well-funded by the government and the service was free to users.  Since those years costs have gone up for a plethora of reasons, which you can easily call to mind.  For any normal business, you’d say costs have gone up so our prices must go up (for that reason and to make sure we can pay the CEO a ‘competitive package’ to stop him emigrating to work in Switzerland or Monaco).  But the National Health Service is not a normal business.  It was set up to provide a free service to the population for very compelling moral and practical reasons.  Those reasons have not altered.  If therefore change is needed, in this case the change must be to increase financial support from the government as is needed to keep the service as it should be. And what better target for the massive investment economists say we need?

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Politically correct news: The League for Opposition to Offensive Notions and Speech is asking future editors and directors dealing with As You Like It to ensure that the ‘lover and his lass’ song is amended to make it clear that the lying in the grass alluded to should only have followed the explicit expression of ‘a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonny yes’.

 

 

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?

 

 

Lenticular Parasites

Editor’s note.  Hi guys out there! Gotta tell you the issue eatin’ and heatin’ up all our reader bros

                 Sorry Maud.  I simply cannot write such stuff.  Maud has been asking me, with support from Berthold of all people, to try writing and editing (a good deal of editing is needed on some contributions unless there’s special reason to leave them fluting their native woodnotes wild) according to a style which she described as ‘joined up to the generation’.  Hard cheese, Maud!  (You see, we have slang too, but it’s simply a different slang from yours).  So, no thanks, and no gibberish.  No, in good-old-fashioned thought-transmitting English a special reminder, plus a couple of other notes:

Note 1; dates of posting, reminder  Given the duties I have acquired since July, postings have to be less frequent.  Apart from any special announcements, such as this one, the aim is to post on the 1st and the 15th of each month.

Note 2 With regret I must report that Maud will be leaving us next month, having been selected as a member of an Irish Women’s Sumo Wrestling Team which is to undertake a three-month world tour, supporting various children’s charities.  (I should add that requests for photographs, of which we have already received more than a dozen, cannot and will not be dealt with through this office.)  Maud has been with us much longer than the original one-month internship, and worth her weight in gold, with her enthusiasm and openminded intelligence.  We all wish her the greatest success on the tour and for what she might take on thereafter.

Note 3  Since we are posting this anyway, I shall add a suggestion which Simon and Louise sketched out together on holiday down in PACA. I give it as received except for the sign-off which I personally found rather embarrassing. For those who haven’t been reading the news, some of the minor panjandra of France have been letting off administrative steam aimed according to some at targets which reflect their political views.

            If we want to test whether French mayors paddling in the murky waters at the seaside are enjoying the refreshing flow of xenophobia around their rolled-up trouser legs, as some suspect, or whether they are simply looking out for new ideas on how to deal with public disorder when they find it, as well as gauging the state of race relations in coastal France, perhaps we could get volunteers to put on a variety of distinctive gear, kilts, kippahs, turbans of various colours, biker leathers, bikini (female), bikini (male), long white robes with pointy hats, (and perhaps we could even get the femen in on this?) to see which gear attracts what reactions from (a) other people on the beach and (b) the police patrols, (after they have been told by accompanying monitors that none of the volunteers are actually members of what it looks they might belong to, so as to keep the issue down to pure prejudice, no messing about with interference from facts); we then ask them, in return for a small fee to spend an hour or two strolling along a coastal beach to see how many are attacked, or attack other people, or are beaten by the police and arrested (not necessarily in that order).  ps We may also need a pet billionaire to hand out compensation for injuries and time spent in prison. pps Could be a lot of money in this if we can get a camera crew to film it.

 

 

Careful with that stuff – where’s it from anyway?

We are pleased to learn, by postcard from France, that Manos hopes to return before long.  Evidently he has been spending some of his time in Germany  developing some skill in miniature calligraphy.  (It looks as if he has taken Rudolf Koch as a model for form, even if not for size; admirable choice.)  He will not, alas, be bringing samples of leukophyll with him ready to be planted in unsuspecting corners all over the island, but (to my amazement) he still thinks his negotiations to develop  ecologically aggressive white grass may save the world from climatic disaster.  At present, however, he is helping to organise a music festival in the west of France, for which he has written what he describes as a disconcerto, to be called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’.  It has bowls, cake tins, frying pans, kettles and other culinary equipment as the instruments, to be played by a group called the ‘Marignac 47’ who will beat the vessels with ladles and industrial cutlery, and who will wear white full-length aprons and tall white hats for the performances.  A screaming soprano is to be the soloist. (Further information and tickets, 39 euros, through this office)

      (1) grounded aircraft         (2) learning culture

      (3) eugenics                         (4) PR delicacy

      (5) eating gm                      (6) Brexit w(h)ither?

No news can be strange news (A special correspondent writes) Do you remember that story about the grounding of all Delta’s aircraft world-wide?  One of the first curious things about it, considering that we’re approaching the peak holiday season for many countries, and that there was plenty of coverage of the resulting inconvenience for tourists, was how quickly it all slid quietly out of the headlines.  Another surprise was how little accompanying news there was about the trouble that must have been caused to the Atlanta area apart from Delta HQ, if it was a general black-out.  Anyway it’s a shame if a large organisation like that which obviously relies hugely on electricity could not have had a well-prepared system for emergency power generation.  After all widespread power outages are not unknown in the southern US.  If it wasn’t a good old-fashioned power outage, I mean, if it was actually caused by some fault or failure in the computer software, they’d have told us, wouldn’t they?  If it was caused by some malware or hacker actually getting into their network and causing a problem, they would have mentioned it.  Wouldn’t they?  Or perhaps it just slipped their mind.  If it seemed to be the result of a computer ransom demand or something that involved the word ‘terrorist’, they would have let the world know.  Wouldn’t they?    What do you think?  Given the things that happen these days on the computer networks and in the tangible world you’d have thought that they might just have taken the trouble to tell everybody that it was nothing that involved any sort of terrorist issue, but no, judging from the news media I saw it seems they never got around to that.  Perhaps the news outlets simply didn’t ask about that sort of thing.  I guess they were busy and just didn’t get around to it; just a little ordinary problem that got a little larger than usual, nothing too serious that could have any major economic impact or put people off travelling.

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(By e-mail from Dr Philipp in Mogadishu for his wife’s photographic exhibition)  Non sequitur sequitur (Yes, deliberate of course but how many will understand why?  O tempora, o mores!)  Have you noticed that enthusiasm for this popular error in reasoning shows signs of spreading out from the political field and is also escaping the verbal format.  There is evidence that it has now reached the film industry, always eager to join the latest trend as soon as it realises there is a trend to be joined, so that it can show it has not lost all contact with modern ‘culture’.  It is reported that a Mr Matt Damon is to ‘star’ in a film which will present scenes from the legends and prehistory of China as envisaged by American movie makers, and this is announced as ‘using cinema to introduce viewers to Chinese culture’.  Like us, you are probably looking forward to seeing Beyonce in an armoured-car chase through the streets of 1890s Moscow as a way of introducing viewers to the spirit of Russian literature.

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Question of the week (or fortnight) Maud writes: In the 1930s western nations practised eugenics.  More ‘nice’ nations were at it than you would ever guess if you only look at what floats around on the nicely filtered, EU-approved surface of their national consciousness today.  It wasn’t just Germany by any means.  On the contrary, they included all the Nordic countries, the USA and Japan.  [Maud are you sure?  Please check whether Japan could be considered a ‘nice’ country at this period]   All these countries employed surgical techniques (in parts of America until 1972), with various levels of persuasion up to and certainly including compulsion, and with a wide range of groups and individuals affected, but often including unmarried mothers and members of ethnic minorities..  The modern equivalent is an immigration policy.  Which causes more misery?  Which causes more fatalities?  Think carefully before answering.  Just to mention one factor, how many child refugees from Syria travelling on their own have disappeared in the past three years?

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Congratulations to the spokesman for the Thai police who steadfastly upheld the ancient traditions of official public relations.  Responding to requests for information following the co-ordinated launch of nine bomb attacks killing four people and leaving more than thirty injured, some seriously, in various cities of the country’s separatist south where hundreds have been killed in the past 15 years, he assured those listening that this was ‘not a terrorist attack’ but ‘local people’.  It is thought he was probably not referring to ill-judged firework displays but instead suggesting that either personal factors or business disputes might have been involved.  Some observers believed that at one point he might even have been close to the celebrated classic, ‘No danger to the public’ (See ‘Official Handbook for public announcements in case of nuclear attack’) but in the event this turned out beyond the limits of the possible.  However, the public will doubtless be relieved to hear that the nine further devices discovered later had failed to detonate, and also that the police were able on the following day to confirm that the series of explosions, across five provinces, while co-ordinated, was not terrorism.

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Thoughtful Europeans [American readers may prefer to pronounce those words as ‘hidebound old-fashioned Europeans’] are reluctant to ask their internal organs to deal with the products of genetic manipulations that have produced new vegetables of types hitherto unknown to Public Health Inspectorates.  The manufacturers (or should that be ‘the experimenters’?) make great play with the argument that there cannot be anything wrong with these new gifts to the profitable success of vigorous go-ahead American biotech firms, because American consumers have been consuming ‘nature identical’ gm maize products and gm corn products for twenty years with no evidence of harmful effects.  This office would just like to draw attention to certain matters of possible relevance.

(1) The fact that some ailments can cause death without the production of any new    chemicals at all.    Cf  the ‘folding’ of the prions in bovine spongiform encephalitis

(2) Latency for some ailments sometimes being more than fifty years

(3) The current US presidential campaign and accompanying polling figures

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Late news It can be confirmed that Britain is continuing its determined effort to get away from Europe.  Measurements last week made by the British Institute for the Localisation and Geodesy of England show that Dover is already 13 centimetres further to westward of Calais than it was on the first of June this year, matched by a similar shift in Cardigan Bay.  This news has produced vigorous reactions in Dublin with some ecstatic, others in despair.  Rival manifestations are being planned.  One promoted by the tourist industry will march with the slogan Fáilte go Baile Átha Cliath, while the other made up of  those who fear they will have to take the traditional escape route to avoid the Anglo-Saxon impact will go under the banner Tá mé ag dul go Meiriceá.   

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Linguistic corner (A reader contributes)  ‘Writer’s block’ is a large piece of very hard wood on which you place the assembled notes of the book you have been working on for somewhat over three years, before taking up your axe and reducing them to tiny, wretched fragments, which you then load into three large black plastic bags in the back of the pick-up that you drive first to the dump where you trample them, ineffectively (since you are wearing rubber boots), before leaving and heading for the harbour bridge.

Amymone, we have lost your address and phone number; please get in touch with us as soon as you can