George Walford: Stability

The Centre for the Study of Public Policy at Strathclyde University has produced a report which may do something to modify the apprehension we all feel about what the government – any government – will get up to next. The report shows that the actions of any government are ruled mainly by the weight of legislation inherited from its predecessors; in any session of Parliament the total number of Acts is not increased by more than 2 percent.

The present government has been in power since 1979, but of the legislation now in force only ten per cent is its own work; more than half of it dates from before the end of the Second World War and 10 percent was enacted before Queen Victoria came to the throne.

The fuss that goes on in Parliament is largely shadow-boxing, oppositions rarely voting against the principle of a measure. 86.5 per cent of all legislation goes through without as much as one MP voting against it, and new governments repeal less than one-third of the Bills they were against when in opposition. (Abridged from a report in the Independent of 30 Oct 86)

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DOES THE name “Pavlov” ring a bell?

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OBJECTIVE REALITY
One would have thought that with weather, at least, we had something safely independent of human interpretations, but it turns out that the four British seasons are one lasting relic of a Pythagorean system of thought based on sets of four. “Would we otherwise have thought there were four seasons? Certainly not in 1986” (C. Johnson in TLS 10 Oct 86).

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WE RECENTLY encountered a notice: “No Unauthorised Persons or Exercising Dogs Permitted.” Now what would an exercising dog be doing – press-ups?

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THE APPEARANCE of “organic” vegetables raises the prospect of inorganic ones – food for robots?

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“‘I DON’T accept the word must,’ said the judge. ‘It must be a voluntary decision!'” (Observer 19 July 87)

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THE NEW STATESMAN (24 July 87) speaks of “market socialism.” Presumably it comes with democratic dictatorships and destructive development. The same issue notes that in the recent election the SDP fought 306 seats and obtain 10.0 per cent of the votes cast in Great Britain; the Liberals fought 327 seats and won 13.1 per cent of the votes. Had seats won been in proportion to votes cast, the SDP would now have 63 seats and the Liberals 83. The writer comments that the SDP, at least, have no complaint; they knew the conditions when they started their party. Again in the same issue: only 42 per cent of trade union members voted Labour.

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THE NATIONAL Consumer Council have published a public opinion poll condemning Telecom as the worst public service in Britain. There is perhaps less to this than meets the eye; after all, one of them has to be the worst.

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UNITED NATIONS statistics showed world population set to pass the 5 billion mark on Saturday July 11. Over the century from 1950 to 2050 Europe’s population is expected to show little growth, that of Africa to expand from about the same as that of Europe to three times the size (Sunday Times 5 July 87). We shall have to work harder at getting those Africans hooked on Sanderson wallpapers, fragile furniture, and mortgage payments that soak up all the spare cash. Nothing like it for cutting back the urge to produce children.

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SINCE 1972 the following 17 countries – more than one every year – have moved from authoritarian rule to one version or another of democratic government: Greece 1973, Portugal 1974, Spain 1977, Bolivia 1979, Peru 1980, El Salvador 1982, Argentina 1983, Turkey 1983, Grenada 1983, Nicaragua 1984, Uruguay 1985, Brazil 1985, Guatemala 1985, Honduras 1985, Philippines 1986, Haiti 1986, Korea 1987 (these last two have undertaken to hold elections soon). (Stephen Milligan quoted in Sunday Times 5 July 87).

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THOMAS A SEBOEK reports some researchers holding that “during speech, the linguistic stratum proper… engages less than one per cent of the total information in the vocal tract.” The remainder consists of other features, such as those communicating the individuality of the speaker and his somatic traits; either enduring, such as a cleft palate, or transient, such as a head-cold. It also acts as a carrier transmitting information about age, sex, build, emotional mood and attitude (intimacy, anger, sarcasm) and a set of “voice qualifiers” such as whispering or whining, as well as indications of social and professional standing and geographical origin. “All these, and more, are subtle nonverbal cues, or indexical signs, packed into the sound wave.” (TLS 10 July 87)

With speech carrying that load, the wonder is that any rational communication gets through at all.

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WOULD IT help if we had the economists forecast the.weather and the meteorologists predict the economy? And how about having the novels written by those highly literate and imaginative people who now write the blurbs?

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THE DISASTROUS American attempt, in 1980, to rescue hostages from Iran, involved 21 different units or agencies using 150 call signs or code words on 51 radio frequencies and 17 different landing or take-off places. They ignored “the first rule of covert operations, known by the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.” (Sunday Times 2 Aug 87).

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FOLLOWING THE death of pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, Tehran radio announced: “At 7.30 a.m. on Sunday, spontaneous, unorganised demonstrations will start in 100 places in Tehran”. (Ibid)

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LORD ACTON told us absolute power corrupts absolutely. He was a religious man; had he applied his own remark to the Omnipotent?

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WE HAVE had various things to say about the inseparability of freedom and restriction. Another example is “free access.” Discussion of this with any of its supporters quickly leads to their assuring you that under socialism people will not be so silly as to want six Rolls-Royce, or Picasso originals, or the housing-site that everybody else wants. In short, the feasibility of this “free” access depends upon the consumers restricting their own demands.

from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.