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  1. #11
    Generation Gap

    There has been much talk lately about the supposedly privileged position of our older people, who it is often said are mortgaging the lives and prospects of their juniors. Particular concern has been expressed about the series of high budget deficits and the consequent increase in national debt, all to be paid off by younger people after their seniors have left this plane. Troubled authorities decided that such a Gordian knot needed the attention of a modern Alexander the Great. It can hardly surprise anyone that they turned to that incomparable unknotter, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of our leading universities. He applied his usual intense concentration to the problem and reported as follows:

    I was pleased to receive the buck in this matter, as I am tired of hearing ill-informed references to it. Let me start by saying that those now well into their seventies lived through a world war and its aftermath, enduring severe deprivations of many kinds, including rationing of food, clothing, fuel, etc. They also had to contend with frequent power cuts, water obtained from standpipes, and other miseries which need not be mentioned here. Notwithstanding all that, they toiled on, building up most of the wealth we all now enjoy. They had to adapt to a bewildering variety of social changes, not all for the better from their point of view. In millions of cases, they inherited little or nothing of material value from their forebears. I will not say any more about this.

    With regard to budget deficits, I agree that we could have avoided them by living within our means. I also grasp that the shortfall between government spending and income is currently something like £150billion a year and that this adds to the national debt, thus placing a burden on future taxpayers. However, that is not the main point. What we have to consider is that those paying whatever is required to clear the overall debt, which I understand is about £900billion, include the older people who are still paying taxes. It is also noteworthy that most of the debt we have as a nation is owed to ourselves, because our institutions, among them pension funds, buy government securities on behalf of many of us.

    Now to the postulation that younger people will have to pick up the total bill for our national profligacy. I have just indicated that they will not do so, as their seniors will pay some of it. As we are dealing with a gradual process and cannot establish a clear dividing line in terms of age, nobody can say who will pay what proportion. I have consulted a prominent actuary who is also distinguished in the field of financial analysis. He estimates that people now under fifty will probably pick up about two thirds of the current bill, meaning that they will fork out £600billion or so. Even if he is wrong and the whole burden falls upon the rising generations, what would their net position be after everything else is taken into account?

    These younger people will inherit bank balances and other monies to a vastly greater extent than their older compatriots do or did. That is only a start. What about dwellings? Our housing stock is close to 70% owner-occupied, which means there are roughly 17million units in this category. Taking the average price as £150,000 or so, this sector currently has a value of £2.55trillion. Nearly all of this housing wealth will in due course be inherited by the now allegedly disadvantaged young people. In most cases, the properties will be wholly or largely free from mortgage debt and the recipients of this bounty will, generally speaking, have done little or nothing to earn it. They will therefore receive several times more than whatever they pay to help clear the national debt, and should think themselves fortunate in getting such a high return on so modest an investment.

    It is significant that the high deficits which led to the national debt have done something to alleviate unemployment, so if we had not overspent as we have, many people, especially younger ones, would be in a worse position than they are. In making these observations, I am not favouring one age group relative to others, but in terms of simple logic, the figures speak for themselves.

    Though it is not strictly within my remit, I would like to mention that our financial position has to some extent been created by what is often referred to as reckless lending by various bodies. This would not have been possible without equally irresponsible borrowing by members of the public. It takes two to tango.

    It is high time for us to stop bickering about generational matters and deal with the question of egress from our plight. Therefore, I say we should put our backs to the wall, best feet forward, shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone. If enough of us can still move after performing these contortions, we shall go forward and get out of the mess the same way we got into it Ė together!

    I have no more to say on the subject addressed here, but will take this opportunity to respond publicly to a vicious letter I received last week from a man who accuses me of speaking from an ivory tower, and states that I must have been born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. As this fellow is well known, I will not name and shame him, but would ask him to note that my parents spent their lives first in private rented accommodation, then in a council house, and that thirty years ago I was the sole heir to a fortune of £620. Humble enough, I think.

    Note. In order to achieve the widest possible understanding of the above, I have used the words billion and trillion in their currently debased sense. The sooner we stop devaluing these terms and get back to correct usage, the better. There has long been a perfectly satisfactory word Ė milliard Ė for one thousand million. A true billion is a million million, and a true trillion is a million million million. If we had not trivialised our terminology in this respect, we might still have proper regard for large numbers.

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    Last edited by Courtjester; February 10th, 2016 at 08:44 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  2. #12
    In my experience, the best way to work together is for both sides to step into the other's shoes and stroll along his path for a bit. Too often we want the other guy to see our perspective before we make any attempt to see his. So both sides just keep shouting without being heard. Sad, really. Both may even think he is listening, but only hears enough to form the next argument.

    Someone has to take the chance and be the first to really listen to the other one. Who will it be? Will it be you?

  3. #13
    Whither Language?

    It seems to have become almost a matter of course that any subject of general interest will sooner or later be referred to the man now widely known as the UK’s Wrangler-in-Chief, Sir Bertram Utterside, whose credentials surely do not need to be restated here. The latest conundrum dropped onto his forty square feet of oak – a big mind requires a big desk, he says – was that of the alleged mangling of our language, brought about by the current state of literacy, plus the transmission of messages in abbreviated form by texting. Readers are reminded that Sir Bertram is not averse to embroiling himself in controversy. His observations are given below:

    By coincidence, this matter was presented to me at the same time as I was immersed in a study of Linears A and B, the supposedly near-lost early Minoan tongue and its successor. It is fortunate that I am something of a linguist, so the question of whether or not English usage is deteriorating reached the right address.

    Before getting down to brass tacks, I would like to doff my hat – not a common occurrence – to those pioneers who made noble efforts in this field. I think in particular of the originators of the Oxford English Dictionary, who grasped the need for their work to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. This explains why we find alternative recommendations with respect to spelling and pronunciation. C. K. Ogden made a useful contribution with his Basic English, comprising only 850 words. I also offer a nod to Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, who in my view should be considered a ‘totem Pole’ – another of those little quips I offer now and then to people who still doubt my inclination to jocularity.

    Languages are always changing and their strengths and weaknesses vary according to the purpose for which they are used – literary, rhetorical, poetic or merely communicative. With respect to the first three categories, English has no advantage over many other tongues. In the last it is dominant, not because it is outstandingly good, but because it happened to be in the right places at the right times.

    As to further progress, I am bound to chuckle at the fossils who contend that, owing to falling standards, all is lost. This is nonsense. I have examined the supposedly deleterious effect of texting and have found that, contrary to the claims of a number of philological backwoodsmen, this phenomenon should be welcomed because it leads to original thinking. I am well-placed to comment on this, as I have produced a hybrid language, based upon a mix of the Roman alphabet, Arabic numbers, quasi-Oriental ideographs, mathematical symbols and direction indicators. My system has the familiar twenty-six letters, ten numerals, the four computer keyboard arrows and sixty icons of my own design, making a total of one hundred characters. I submit that until we master telepathy – I have no doubt that we shall do so – this could replace all other ways of conveying information.

    Though I have compiled a guidebook, I do not claim that all English words are encompassed by my technique. For the time being, some will remain as they are. However, let me offer examples based only on the letters and numbers familiar to all of us. ‘Foresee’ and ‘four hundred’ are rendered by 4c and 4C respectively, the upper case indicating that a number is involved. Likewise ‘fork’ and ‘four thousand’ would become 4k and 4K, while ‘form’ and ‘four million’ would be 4m and 4M. Now for something even simpler, using only letters. ‘I see you are too wise’ would become i c u r yy.

    Some much-used words are represented by simple symbols, for instance ‘the’ is a bisected circle. The senses of forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards and their connotations are given by the appropriate arrows, while mathematical signs for ‘more than’ and ‘less than’ are used. The proposed system precludes any possibility of misunderstanding. Admittedly, a single spread of a hundred items would be rather large, but any difficulty this presents could be overcome by alternative keyboards, accessed by a single stroke. Indeed, my own machine has a second array, which causes very little inconvenience. One simply has to get used to the idea.

    Some filing away of rough edges is still required, but in the interest of giving readers a flavour of the advantages of the proposed method, I engaged a former student of mine to translate a novel from Standard English into my version, adjuring her to ensure that all nuances were preserved. The original book ran to 60,000 words, or about 340,000 characters. I was gratified to note that the young lady, using pencil and paper, did an excellent job in terms of impact and readability, and reduced the work’s volume by about a third. If that is not an improvement, I don’t know what is.

    Some readers may think they detect possible flaws in the system outlined above. I assure everyone that I am well aware of all potential anomalies and shall soon file away any rough edges. You will then hear more of my innovation. For the time being, I have nothing further to say about it.

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    Last edited by Courtjester; February 13th, 2016 at 08:03 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content

  4. #14
    Imparting The Spin

    As so much has been said about government departments putting their own slants on various matters, it was decided recently that the public should be offered a way of evaluating objectively what is said by politicians. How could this be done? In view of the prevailing high level of mistrust, a feeling emerged that a universally respected observer should be engaged. Perhaps nobody fills that role to perfection, but few would argue against the appointment of Sir Bertram Utterside, sometimes described as Britain’s Logician Laureate. The renowned nit-picker was given the job and his recommendation is given below:

    I regret to say that my work on other and more substantial matters was interrupted by the request to deal with this commonplace one. However, I have given it the thought it deserves. There is no point in my going on at length, as the solution is obvious. We are dealing here with the question of political leaders purveying their ideas. Well, they have their axes to grind, but how are we to interpret what we hear?

    It is clear that politicians are a necessary evil. An advanced society should not need them, as its members would be aware of their rights and responsibilities. For the time being, our country, like all others, needs people to look after the shop while most citizens go about their business.

    We must think of the offices of prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and home secretary as the most influential ones, exercising control over lesser lights. Defence, education and health are bottomless pits, into which the whole national budget could be thrown, perhaps without significant improvement to the results produced. Clearly, they must be restrained by more senior departments.

    At the highest levels, let us take the job of home secretary. The incumbent is on a hiding to nothing, being no more able to pander to the ‘string ‘em up’ lobby than to the high-minded liberal one. Such sympathy as I have with our leaders goes in no small part to the holder of this office.

    With regard to the position of foreign secretary, it has been said that diplomats are people sent abroad to lie for their countries. If this is so, the head of foreign affairs must function as the chief dissimulator. Small wonder that the person concerned often seems to act like a cat on hot bricks, executing a delicate tap-dance around the truth.

    The chancellor of the exchequer always has much to answer for. Whoever is in that position often recycles figures in ways that can be made to demonstrate almost anything, for example that we somehow manage to remain a global titan, active everywhere abroad while simultaneously achieving great improvements in our own public services. All this without any increase in taxes as a proportion of our gross domestic product. Some trick!

    I will not dwell on the duties of the prime minister, who has to pull everything together and speak about whatever is topical. This is an onerous position, demanding that the holder has a view on each one of a vast range of subjects. And no allowance is made by the public for lack of awareness of anything on the PM’s part. The masses do not permit ignorance in those they believe should be omniscient.

    What we need is a department charged with the duty of assessing the pronouncements emanating from other offices of state, in much the same way as I once suggested that auditors should be rated by an independent agency. My proposal is that we set up a Ministry of Credibility, the remit of its chief being to rank other ministers as to the soundness of their statements. The scale would be on the star basis, ranging from five for top performers to one for the duffers. Obviously this new body would be detached from political parties, not changing with their fluctuating fortunes. The credibility minister would have the job for a long period and would need to have unimpeachable credentials with regard to impartiality. It is not for me to suggest who might best fill the role for the first time.

    Though the new ministry might well have the information it needed to bestow its ratings on those actually in office at any given time, the awarding of stars would be on a retrospective basis. The idea here is to encourage ministers to be as candid as possible while in parliament. They would then be sure of recognition of their good work, after the event, for example when they treat us to their memoirs – price £16.99 in hardback. A former holder of high office receiving a five-star accolade would be sure of peddling a large number of copies, while a one-star performer could hardly expect anything but a resounding failure.

    To anyone who feels that I have been a little harsh on politicians, let me say I am profoundly glad that we have people willing to enter parliament. Some of them get saddled with tasks that most of us wouldn’t take on. Who would like to weigh the merits of, say, selling a vast quantity of arms to a dodgy foreign country against not doing so, the second option putting thousands of people here out of work? And what about the financial mess we are all in? The politicos may have allowed that to happen but they didn’t cause it, and it is small wonder that they have trouble dealing with it. The only people who might know how to get us out of this pickle are the money-jugglers who got us into it, and even if they do know, they won’t tell us, will they? I have no more to say on this subject.

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    Last edited by Courtjester; February 17th, 2016 at 08:28 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content

  5. #15
    A Question Of Nationality

    Much has been said recently about national and regional identity. This issue is topical in the UK and elsewhere. So concerned have many people become that experts decided to solicit an independent opinion. Few will be surprised that they chose that intellectual giant Sir Bertram Utterside to offer it. Never one to pull his punches, the one-man think-tank tackled this matter in his familiar forthright way. His views are given below. Editor matter issue

    When this task was handed to me, I was told that it was widely thought of as a Herculean one. Perhaps most people would have found it so but I have not. Indeed, I hardly needed to move from my study to reach an irrefutable conclusion. Still, I picked up a nice little earner here and we all have to eat.

    A short while ago some fellow said to me that he was a Londoner, born and bred, and proud of it. I asked him why the pride and he seemed to be puzzled. I pointed out that he is a resident of our capital city as a result of his birth and I saw no reason why he should give himself airs on that ground.

    I am a Yorkshireman but am neither proud nor ashamed of this. It is simply a fact. I am also an Englishman, to which the same comment applies, as it does to my being a European. Above all, I am citizen of the world, and I fail to see why I should have any particular emotion about that.

    There is no contradiction concerned with being, say, a Glaswegian, who is a Scot, a Briton, a European and a dweller on the Earth, nor is there any reason for pride or shame in that identity. It simply happens to some people. Why should we take upon ourselves any aura attributable to where our forebears lived or what they did or did not do?

    It is as well for us to remember that great minds have cropped up at random all over the world for many millennia. Why should I be proud because Isaac Newton was an Englishman? I had nothing to do with his achievements. And why should a friend of mine who is a native of Leipzig be proud because Newton’s contemporary Leibnitz came from that city, or another acquaintance in France rejoice in the fact that, say, Voltaire shared his nationality? Nonsense.

    If there had been any human beings on the Earth many millions of years ago, they would at a certain point have been either Laurasians or Gondwanalanders, since there were only two continents and no countries. At another time, had humans been around, they would all have been Pangaeans, as there was just one great land mass.

    Further tectonic shifts and continental drifting will make nonsense of the national borders we recognise at present. This comment leads me to an amusing thought. I have a Canadian colleague and am having a vision of him starting to read ‘War and Peace’ in Vancouver and finishing it in Vladivostok, without having moved from his chair. No doubt one could regard that as the ultimate in armchair travel. Just my little joke.

    It is increasingly obvious that many people are reaching across the boundaries of nation states because they have more in common with those of like mind in other countries than they have with most of their own compatriots. In that respect, the English language has been as much a blessing to contemporary communicators as Latin once was to the most highly educated people in Europe and some other parts of the world. I am not suggesting that English is superior to other advanced languages. As a polyglot, I believe I may assert confidently that it isn’t. Despite its numerous absurdities, it has prevailed because of a mixture of geographical, economic and general cultural factors. Any other major modern tongue would serve us well enough.

    If we are ever to have any peace in human society, nationalism is one of the three things we shall need to discard. Another is organised religion, which I would say has not much to do with genuine faith or belief and never did have, except perhaps in a tangential way at times. I am aware that this remark will upset some people. My response to anyone who finds it offensive is that I am not in the habit of offering anodyne comments when addressing potentially controversial subjects. I do not advocate banning religion because I am no great friend of proscription in general. In saying this, I am mindful of Ronald Reagan’s remark that one cannot roll tanks over an idea. However, I predict that religious indoctrination will wither away as people increasingly take responsibility for conducting their lives, instead of allowing preachers of whatever ilk to tell them how to behave.

    The third thing we must abandon is too obvious to need much comment from me. It is the aggressive and confrontational mindset that has dominated virtually all of our recorded history. I will note merely that it is bad enough that we have to contend with what nature throws at us. We surely do not need to augment our troubles by slaughtering each other. I realise that it will take quite a while for the less evolved among us to grasp this point, so my advice is that they should start trying to do so now.

    Returning to the main point of this report, national identity, I say do not be either happy or sad that you appeared in a particular part of the world at the time you did. After all, you might have been here in an earlier incarnation and may come again in another. If so, who knows what or where you were, or could be? Take me for example. It is quite possible that in contrast to my current eminence, I was in some previous existence a humble hod-carrier on life’s great building site.

    This supposedly problematical issue is in fact very simple and I have no further observations to make about it.

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    Last edited by Courtjester; February 20th, 2016 at 08:04 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content

  6. #16
    If It Ainít Broke . . .

    The topic of subsidiarity has become so hot that the decision was taken to commission an authoritative report on this sometimes controversial subject. Who would be capable of tackling such a difficult theme? None other than Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of the UKís most prestigious seats of learning, and recently dubbed the countryís Thinker-in-Chief. Fortunately he was available, so he cleared the decks and gave the task his full attention, reporting as follows:

    This silly little matter is not worth much of my time, but dealing with it brings in some of the folding stuff, which is always welcome. I am almost tempted to present my conclusions without explaining the reasoning, much in the way that Sherlock Holmes initially offered his solutions. However, I recall that he did divulge his trains of thought, at least to Watson, so it would be remiss of me to deprive readers of similar courtesy.

    It has taken a long time for our world to coalesce into the array of nation states we have today. Most of them are fairly stable, so it is interesting to note that there is in some quarters a desire to tamper with the present position. Doing this may have limited justification in a few cases, but there is no convincing argument for widespread upheaval, and I shall now indicate why that is so.

    Subsidiarity, most often encountered in its political application, is a fancy way of expressing devolution, i.e. some affairs controlled centrally, others regionally. This has been much discussed, especially in the European Union. It is sometimes invoked by those who see the prospect of being big fish in small ponds. I would advise everyone to exercise caution when listening to these people because it is likely that if they reach positions of leadership, their practice will be in inverse proportion to their earlier preaching. In short, beware of dictatorial ambitions.

    Let me go through this matter of ever-greater devolution. It will start with countries being split, the main consequence being that the resulting components will have, even in total, less influence in the world than the original entity had, i.e., the sum of the subsequent parts will amount to less than the previous whole. This is clearly contrary to common sense and is a very unsatisfactory outcome.

    The next step would be splintering of the successor bodies, let us say to about the size of UK counties. Local bigwigs wonít stop there. The process would descend to cities and towns, then to areas no larger than the current British council wards, finally going down to single streets and in some cases large individual properties, such as mine. I will not divulge where that is, as I donít wish to be besieged by admirers. Finally, every house, street, ward, town, city, county or whatever region would have its own prime minister, finance minister, etc. These people would have impressive titles, but no influence in the wider world. They may well be nominally similar to Pooh-Bah Ė The Lord High Everything Else in Gilbert and Sullivanís The Mikado Ė but they might have a hard time matching that gentlemanís power.

    Another development of the fragmenting might be that people in certain streets would emerge as more aggressive than those in neighbouring ones. It does not stretch the imagination to envisage the bellicose types preying on gentler folk, motivating the victims to band together to resist unwelcome attention. This idea would spread, leading to areas the size of whole wards making common cause against ruffians. Then it would go further, encompassing towns and cities. There could be only one logical culmination to this process. In the interests of security and of having a voice in the world, the once-devolved mini-states would form unions, taking us back to where we were before the dismantling began.

    It has been noted many times throughout history that humankind has a tendency to make the right choices Ė after trying all the wrong ones. Need we experience this yet again? I think not. My conclusion is that subsidiarity is all very well, provided that it is it properly understood and implemented. By this I mean that decisions should be taken at appropriate levels Ė big ones by the authorities best placed to deal with them. And what are those bodies? The nation states we now have, of course.

    I recommend that we leave things largely as they are, rather than take our administrations to pieces then rebuild them in what would most likely be Ďnew improved versionsí. We all know what that means. Many years ago, a perspicacious American fellow remarked: ďIf it ainít broke, donít fix it.Ē I suggest that our current position is not in need of repair by indiscriminate decentralisation. Though not totally happy about having choices made for me by a government far from my home, I am not foolish enough to think that my own options would invariably be better than those selected on my behalf, and I am glad to be relieved of the necessity to make up my mind about an endless list of issues. That is all.

    Sir Bertram is now taking a break.

    * * *

    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content

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