Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Getting that thinking feeling

Significant changes to this journal have been decided.  Details to appear as a separate short posting tomorrow  Main items today: Flawed thought; Use of intercepts; Old Kalgovia  Readers are assured that, apart from this sentence, all items are Trump-free.

——————–

Technology news  Latest must-have gadget: a miniature loudspeaker about the size of a bergamot, to be fitted to a cat’s collar and either relay the sounds sent by wi-fi from whoever has the controls or play pre-recorded sounds.  The range of options is impressive.  Pre-recorded signals include the sound of a tiger’s roar at up to 90 db at 10 feet, while by using the other option you can scare the wits out of your neighbours by transmitting threatening remarks in disguised voices or letting them hear what sounds like immigrants discussing a plot to steal the crown jewels

——————–

‘Competition is a good thing’ : one of the hardest working clichés in the capitalist’s vocabulary, but a falsehood.    Competition allied with honourable behaviour by the participants and conducted on a fair playing field is, or would be, a good thing (but this has about the same relevance to real life as saying  it would be a good thing if every member of the species solemnly and sincerely promised never to use a weapon to kill another human being).   In real life, the word ‘competition’ covers cronyism, fraud, bribery, and callous indifference to all who don’t have the capacity to compete.  As a slogan it is uttered as slogans usually are, to imply that dissent is either downright impossible or is the betrayal through malice or stupidity of a principle which should be upheld by all; like a tribal chant of a primitive tribe that relies on obedience to its leaders as a substitute for intelligent thought.

——————–

A longtime friend of this journal, hearing the posting arrangement is going to change gear, has sent in this piece.  (He wishes to remain anonymous.)

Back in July Berthold contributed an article to your journal about what he called the ‘nebula’ which becomes attached to public figures.  I hope he won’t take it amiss if I say that his remarks were not wholly free from nebulosity themselves.  I wonder why he didn’t use the word reputation as I shall.  But I’d certainly agree with him that reputations can be gained on flimsy and irrelevant grounds, and once won are liable to stick even when if won accidentally.  This is not a mere curiosity of social behaviour as I shall show, but first let me give a couple of examples.  A paradigm case is Frederick the Great, regarded in his own time and for centuries after as one of the great military leaders of early modern history.  Yet in truth his armies won their first battles under his leadership very largely because he commanded an army ruthlessly trained to incomparable obedience by his brutal father, Frederick I, and partly through his inexperience, so that he caught opposing generals by surprise, moving his troops in defiance of conventional battle-plans.  Then after those early victories won him a reputation that itself became a factor.  In quite different eras and quite different spheres we can still find the same curious persistence of unjustified reputations.  ‘Truth will’ not always ‘out’; or at least some fragments of truth may have to wait longer than the lifetime of a civilisation before being revealed: Virgil acquired a reputation as a major poet by (i) writing copiously; (ii) using that material,and other opportunities, to fawn on an autocratic emperor who expressed imperial approval; (iii) an eye for the sort of material that well-off and well-connected Romans found agreeable; (iv) a good verbal memory and a good grounding in the rules for writing Latin hexameters (though not always faultlessly); and (v) quite remarkably little talent for imagination, visual description, or using language for interesting and impressive effects (other than pomposity), or any other qualities that might raise an honest claim for a true poet.  Those examples fairly demonstrate that the masses (even educated masses) will readily accept an off-the-shelf, ready-to-repeat assessment based on a nebulous reputation rather than carefully examining actual observable evidence.  As it happens I once heard a distinguished professor of English, lecturing in one of the three great universities of western Europe, praise an English poet for his sensitive use of the distinctive resonance of the sequence wr- at the beginning of a word, by contrast with initial r-.  (His specific focus was on the word ‘wring’).  That distinctive resonance is, putting it crudely, baloney.  It does not exist.  Regrettably, I can add that the professor’s surname was Wren.  Much more broadly it is regrettable that willingness to accept hand-me-down ’facts’ based on a quick impression is stronger than ever today, and there are worrying reasons for that.  Sometimes one encounters an inexplicit assumption (partly based on generous confusion between such terms as education, school attendance, knowledge, and intelligence) that people are ‘cleverer today’ than in earlier times.  There is good reason for thinking that change is in exactly the wrong direction.  The ever increasing numbers in the world, and ever greater frequency of interactions, multiplied many times by electronic media, drastically reduce the timespan that individuals allocate to any mental activity.  Several types of mental blunder are the direct result, and through their sheer frequency are first tolerated, and ultimately pass unnoticed.  Sometimes it may not matter.  Sometimes it leaves understanding seriously damaged, as when all members of a group are taken to have the same characteristics.  (Consider the false beliefs about immigrants firmly held by large numbers in both Britain and France.)  A similar flaw can appear on the time axis.  “University education is valuable training for the mind” is now much less true than it once was.  And claims based on what ‘everybody knows’ need to be examined with some imagination for what could be considered but has not been.  Thus, dinosaur extinction is on the media menu again with a partly new version of planetary winter.  (Admittedly, these recent reports may be as garbled as most journalistic accounts of scientific advance; if so, sincere apologies to all those misrepresented.)  However, this version as reported could perhaps explain why many species died out, but glides effortlessly past a cavernous gap in the exposition. An explanation that covers the facts you first think of but ignores the existence of other data which do not fit in conveniently is a poor explanation.  Why did the dinosaurs die out but not the mammals nor the birds (nor, unfortunately, the mosquitoes)?  Not so much a gorilla brooding in a corner of the room; more a great hole where the corner of the room and its floor and walls ought to be.  Relying on reputation, the ready-made opinion of others, saves time and mental effort, but thereby undermines the hope of reliable reasoning and should be avoided and condemned.

—————————————-

(Accepting that 99% of sightings of ufos result from misidentifcations, hoaxes, publicity stunts, and alcohol consumption) it is reasonable to suppose that most of the others are driverless spatial vehicles  since no sane alien commander would risk a crewed vehicle anywhere near this planet.  That of course amounts to saying that they are aliens’ drones, and at that point let us pause and try to run through the full range of uses to which humans put and hope to put drones

It was Fermi, wasn’t it, who asked back in the 1950s why, if the galaxy has millions of planets that could support life, we don’t meet any aliens  One possible answer could be that the aliens have already placed this planet in preventive isolation.  (Now I think about it, seems highly likely.)

——————–

The NSA may not yet have realised it but they are in a position to make one of the greatest advances in political history.  Also perhaps in literature.  They have now far the largest collection of English verbiage ever accumulated, or that ever will be accumulated by anybody else trying with the same approach since they will now be on the wrong side of the counterflow threshold. (This is a technical term referring to very large data collections where incoming data has to be correlated on more than one parameter with data already stored, but with the result of the internal processing potentially leading to a correction of the IID (initial input data), which will then require a further correlation.  Beyond a certain limit on data input rate this is bound to cause internal processing time to exceed the capacity to receive incoming data by an ever increasing margin, until the whole thing breaks down, like most major enterprises constructed by or for, or by and for, the behemoths of bureaucracy which are impartially squeezing the life out of so many human activities. Bureaucratic procedures substitute rule-following and box-ticking for the use of human intelligence.  Now if, by pinning enough additional sensors onto the hardware and enough tweaks into the software of an AI programme we can get it to deal with complex situations as successfully as can now be achieved by a competent human, that may be fine.  Or maybe not.  Maybe such a programme would reveal an alarming capacity to break away from the rules it has been given and re-programme itself to aim at different goals.  I am not sure what the next stop is after programmes that can re-programme themselves in ways that cannot be predicted before the programme is put into action.

    But in the meantime NSA has generously allowed others to have access to large swaths of the verbiage accumulated, tens of billions of words and billions of (attempted) sentences.  The ‘civilian’ uses to which it can be put are various and legion.  For instance coupled with the right search programme it may be able to tell you what words to avoid in arguing with the Inland Revenue Service.  With a bit of judicious selection it could enable doctoral candidates to run up a thesis in an hour or two using obscure sources unlikely to be known to examiners.  Portions can be rented out to (politically acceptable)  journalists 1 allowing them to check for phrases associated with genuine intentions of declaring war, or indicating when denials of unpleasantly eccentric personal behaviour are false   It can be rented out to academics for use as a cliché engine, showing e.g. which politicians have least originality (using stock phrases or even whole speeches taken from other politicians), which English-speaking current heads of government show most signs of developing dementia, and which parts of the latest successful literary prize-winner were, apart from a few changes of wording, originally written by Jane Austen.  (It will not do much business in Ireland, however, since it depends, obviously, on logging phrases of two or more parts which occur together more frequently than chance would predict, and in Ireland it is a point of dishonour to find it necessary ever to say the same thing twice.  Consult e.g. Myles na Gopaleen: The Best of Myles.)

1 please see list to be issued shortly by the new administration

——————–

How to annoy an organist

A simple conversational gambit: “Why do you keep saying what a marvellous instrument it is?  After all it’s really just a giant stationary bagpipe, isn’t it?”

——————–

Tales of old Kalgovia No.136

In 1314 Krombald the Loyal struggled over two trackless mountain ranges to deliver the message which saved his king Otto the Miser by warning him that a force of the fearsome Oghuz were on their way to capture his capital city, disguised as merchants.  As he finished his message Krombald collapsed in front of the throne groaning because of the terrible pain in his legs.  King Otto stepped down from his dais and looked suspiciously at Krombald but at last said, “Loyal fellow, it seems your legs have done me a very great service.”  A pause, then he added “And I suppose, now you should have a reward.  But the royal coffers have hardly enough even for the great feast of the Third Moon.”  Again a pause.  Then speaking slowly, he said “I cannot alas make you a lord of the realm for immemorial custom binds me then to invest you with a tunic of gold cloth, and as I tell you my treasure is all gone.  But if you can, stretch out your leg.”  King Otto took his sword and tapped the right leg with it, saying “I declare this leg to be a lord of this realm.  There now, it is done but a leg has no need of a tunic of gold cloth.  A silken sock should suffice.”   He stood looking down, an obvious thought going through his mind.  Krombald groaned  slightly, and the king, looking doubtfully at the left leg, muttered “This one perhaps fared a little better.”  He then ennobled the left leg, but only to the rank of knight hereditary.  Thus for centuries Kalgovia was unique in Europe as a land where only certain body parts of descendants in the male line ranked as aristocratic.  The right leg, specifically of margrave rank, is still entitled to that dignity but is in exile as all aristocrats were expelled from Kalgovia following the first World War, and Colonel Zygmund Debrodzhe of the Royal Kalgovian Hussars naturally decided that the remainder of his body should accompany the margrave leg into exile in the Côte d’Azur.  However, the left leg was amputated above the knee in the war as the result of injuries received under bombardment.  In 1924 a European Court of Heraldry ruled that even if the Colonel were to have a male heir, his left leg could not inherit a nobility which had been obliterated by those injuries, and consequently the knightly line is now extinct.

 

Advertisements

Tech Supplement

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

——————–

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

 ——————–

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

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

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

——————–

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

 ——————–

Technological progress (iv)

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

——————-

Thought for the day

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

 

Struggling on

Next post for 15-01-2017

While our leader is away in London I am again acting Editor, helped at the New Year time by my friend Françoise, who teaches about English business from a safe distance, in Paris (la future capitale financière of Europe, thanks to Brexit she says).  I will take the chance while Editor is away, and do something for him he should do for himself, because his serious pieces are so often right before many other people (what my acquaintance in London told me.)  I will put in the final position some of what our Editor wrote about poor M.Hollande  five years ago.  But the first piece is what our Editor wrote the night before he went to the ferry.  The rest of what is here today is from pieces in the pedal bin with little changes from Françoise and from myself, and two small pieces we wrote ourselves.  Karela Hangshaw

Late addition: when Françoise was checking that final piece about Editor’s warnings she found in the office archive a beautiful warning about election fraud with voting machines, published from this same office (in Esmond Maguire : isbn 9786169047612, first publ. 2009: p. 25)

——————–

Monty has sent the office as a ‘Yuletide gift’, A Child’s First Book of Sociopolitical Theorems.  An accompanying card says it is the book from which he taught himself to read at the age of 5 (under the bedclothes after lights-out).  Karela and I do not believe him.  An extract:

A century or two after economics lurched into unsteady action as an academic subject some economists pointed out that the long-term effect of a free market would be (or rather, was and is) to transfer the greater proportion of resources from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, given that the latter have initially, and at all ordinary stages thereafter, better access to information and a wider freedom of action.  (This happens quite independently of whether the resources available to the population are laid waste by natural disaster or warfare, or they increase through eager exploitation of all exploitable environments on the planet.  In a constrained market the same thing happens but more quickly.)  Given the toxic mix of characteristics in the human character, it is inevitable that on the whole the relatively rich and privileged will (a)  take a leading part in plotting the future course of the government, either doing it themselves or getting their pals in the political ranks to do it and (b) will not give equal treatment, let alone compensating special treatment, to those who for one reason or another are not enjoying successful lives, and therefore need at least the former.  (The nominal form of government is entirely irrelevant.)  This leads sooner or later to (c) discontent among the unsuccessful, and eventually when the unsuccessful notice what is happening, to (d) rebellion.  There are two types of rebellion, first the failure, known as a Peasants’ Revolt,  which sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process, but with the rich even more advantaged to start with, and  members of the unsuccessful even worse off, if alive.  The second type is known as a Revolution, which not by co-incidence also sets the stage for a re-run of the whole process but with the previously  rich and privileged exiled, guillotined, or thrown from castle battlements and replaced by a different bunch of rich and privileged. There are lecture halls where the continuous process leading from (a) to (d) (a vicious circle known as the UNIcycle – Unjustifiable National Inequity) is still presented as a contentious hypothetical, but realistic observers and thinkers will smile politely and find other uses for their time. Naturally the time scale over which the cycle can extend is very variable.  Occasionally, epidemics of national morality can delay its completion substantially.  On the other hand it can be accelerated by interaction with a similar cycle which in the really long-term may be even more disastrous for the future of the species, namely the transfer of resources from the relatively stupid to the relatively clever, with a similar disbalancing effect. How the resulting eventual crisis when phase (d) is reached the next time, now that so many societies have a prolific supply of small arms, large extremist parties, and a lot more volatile life-threatening materials than ordinary citizens find they have any ordinary need for is a question with of course more than one answer.  (But none of them are pleasant.)

—————-

Rumour  It is said (mainly by western biologists jealous of the huge amounts of research cash that are not going their way) that literally dozens of projects are now secretly running in Eastern Asia to clone wealthy businessmen, to produce synthetic offspring (or perhaps better ‘sidespring’).  But recently there has been talk of a particularly unusual case.  This allegedly involves a tycoon establishing a team charged with research which could ultimately arrange for him to produce clones of the other sex, for friendship with a view to marriage, as the saying goes.

——————–

Future news  As nanosensing of DNA progresses it achieves astounding success. Young experts now gaze round-eyed in wonder at old-timers of 30 or 35 telling of their pride back in the dark ages of tissue analysis at being able to identify who had been drinking in a bar by examining samples of DNA left  on the glass.  Almost unimaginable by modern standards.  Nowadays it is possible to tell which currently  respectable and indeed prominent member of society is the one who was holding the camera that filmed a particularly spectacular piece of social deviance some thirty or more years ago.   But even these successes are, the government hopes, to be outdone in the near future, thanks to a combination of these techniques with megadata from the cameras, microphones, and motion sensors attached to tiny, silent drones or affixed, ‘at random’, to cars parked in ‘areas of special concern’, so as to further advance social order and to be soon making the country safe for the police to patrol, armed with tasers and other ‘non-lethal’ devices ‘for the protection of the community’, everywhere from leafy suburbs to the darkened doorways of back alleys in red-light districts.  The government is re-allocating funds from unspecified other areas and believes it will soon be possible for authorised officials, with, of course,  a warrant supplied by a magistrate who will, of course, have scrutinised each application with scrupulous care, to search any house in the country and from infinitesimal traces in the air determine not merely who has been in any room in that house within the preceding twenty-four hours, but what substances they consumed while there, what country those substances came from, and how long ago, and most useful of all to give a reliable estimate of when the same people will be in the room again.

——————–

Late news

In the interests of gender equality BBC news programmes are in future to accord equal amounts of time to reports on female and male typhoons and tropical storms.

——————–

Overheard  (at Paddington railway station, powerfully built woman mid-forties.) “No good blaming  television for the decline of British standards.  ’F you ask me, I’d say it was democracy.  For centuries the British were more or less willing to be deferential to their social superiors but somewhere about 1950 they became unsure who their social superiors were.”

——————–

From Berthold, a note:  Just on a matter of interest – no, let me rephrase that; just on a matter of abominable ill-discipline, poor training, and highly questionable selection techniques, not to even touch on incomprehensible judicial processes, may I ask how many black policemen in America in the past, say, fifty years have been involved in any incident which led to them shooting an unarmed white man.

——————–

Warnings ignored  Our Editor is angry because Monty got a gold card for their big conference, but he only has a red one, so no entry to E or ‘Skua’  briefings.  I hope he will be glad we are posting an example of his good analysis achieved many months or years before others.  This piece is put together from parts  of four postings within the first three months of Hollande as President in 2012.  Only very little changes to punctuation and making sentences a little part shorter.  (KH)

It is now many years since I regularly played Monopoly (and won) against young Nikki Sarkozy, at that time still clad in grey serge shorts, while my grandfather presided over a dinner table with presidents and prime ministers sitting jowl by elbow (some of them were indeed awfully uncouth in their table manners).  We later lost touch, but were I myself host to such occasions now, then Nicolas might well be on the guest list.  Certainly not his successor.  It remains a deep mystery of current European politics that the French were offered Hollande to vote for rather than the intelligent competence of Martine Aubry, as a way of ousting the incumbent.  This journal can claim no public credit for its private doubts about Hollande before his election, but within a week of his victory we gave our plain opinion that he was not up to the job – poor chap; one should not expect a man fitted to manage the stores in an army camp to direct the nation’s war effort with mastery if he is suddenly handed the baton of the commander-in-chief.  He never previously held any ministerial office, though between 2001 and 2008 he was mayor of Tulle, a town of some 15,000 known for the production of accordions.  Did you ever see a man whose face and movements tried so hard – and let him down so badly – in the attempt to hide inner uncertainty and lack of command?             Many have commented on the new French leader’s shabby treatment of Mme Aubry after his victory, which could very easily be seen as a case of a man not liking to have a woman around who is cleverer and more competent than himself.  And so it may be, but that can still leave us wondering how such a lacklustre fellow won the election to be president of France.  One of the clearest marks of his political inexperience is that he has been trying to keep his campaign promises.  As one instance, the increased special allowance for children of school age is already being paid.  However, it is obvious that there is no point in making a campaign promise which you intend to keep, because you will only intend to keep it if your people have found that it can be kept; in which case the opposition or at least its more intelligent components will already have done precisely the same.  The only campaign promises worth making are those that you do not intend to keep (provided, of course, that they look glamorous in the eyes of the electorate.)

 

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.)

*          *          *          *          *          *

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.

——————–

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?”

——————–

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.)

——————–

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.

——————–

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).

——————–

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.)

——————–

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).

——————–

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.

——————–

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

——————–

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)

——————–

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.

——————–

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.

——————–

 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.

——————–

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?.

——————–

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?

——————–

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

—————————-

(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.

——————–

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?

——————–

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.

——————–

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. 

——————–

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.

——–

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.

——————–

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!

——————–

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?

——————–

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

——————————————————————

  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.

——————–

[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.’

——————–

[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.

——————–

(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?

——————–

(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.

——————–

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.

——————–

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

——————–

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.

——————–

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. 

——————–

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.

——————–

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.’

——————–

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.)

——————–

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. 

——————–

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

——————–

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.

——————–

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?

——————–

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.

——————–

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?

——————–

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’.