Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Political Hymns

(Neil’s Note: Here are three of the Darn-Poor Rhymer’s more recent offerings. Each is to be sung to a well-known hymn tune.)

England and Britain

(To be sung to the tune “Bemerton (Caswall)”)

England is a nation,
Britain is a state.
England’s past redemption,
Britain’s out of date.

On “My” Member of Parliament

(To be sung to the tune “Franconia”/“Blest are the pure in heart”.)

My MP’s name is Hunt,
I think that he’s a prat.
A better word would rhyme with “punt,”
But no, I can’t say that!

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales

(To be sung to the tune “Innocents”/“Conquering kings their titles take”)

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales,
When the state that rules them fails,
They won’t sink into the sea!
They’ll be ours, and we’ll be free.

Friday, 20 February 2015

In Praise of Capital and Free Enterprise

(Neil's Note: This was the début of the Darn-Poor Rhymer's versifying. It was written over a long week-end in France in September 2001. As it happens, I was on-line making the booking for that week-end when 9/11 happened.

But there's a backstory to this one too. In 2001 there was a movement called "Walk for Capitalism." It was started by a Greek/Australian guy called Prodos (what happened to him?) The idea was, that in a hundred or more cities around the world, people who like capitalism and business would meet together and do a walk. With a placard or two on display if we felt like it, but not as a demonstration or a protest. I got involved in this; and this was my small contribution to publicizing the event. On the day, I believe I was the only individual to Walk for Capitalism in two cities on the same day - Bath and London.

There was a poet,
Who didn’t know it.
So he made rhymes
About his times,
With each new verse
Just slightly worse.

Began our scribe
His diatribe:
Two-thousand One,
It ain’t much fun.
We’re highly stressed,
And deep depressed.

The nation-state
Is out-of-date,
(Thus wrote our sage
Upon his page),
Religion, too,
Is down the loo.

Meanwhile, deep Greens
Behind the scenes
Are killing the
And in the mists
Lurk terrorists.

The governments
Have lost all sense.
Their politics
Are dirty tricks,
Their bureaucrats
They breed like rats.

And parliament?
Completely bent.
They never pause
From making “laws”,
Most of them bad.
Hey – we’ve been had!

Those on the left
Like simple theft.
Those on the right
Prefer more sleight.
But both know how
To milk the cow.

It may seem strange,
But every change
Just leaves as leaders
The same old bleeders.
Don’t bullshit me.

We’ll never fix
Damned politics;
It only works
For crooked jerks.
So, loose that fetter!
Make something better!

Now, Capital
Is like a pal
Who helps you do
What’s right for you;
It lets you build
A dream fulfilled.

If every pound
Went round and round,
And, as you serve,
What you deserve
Came back to you –
Yes, that would do!

And if you’re poor?
Just put in more!
Improving skills
Will cure your ills
And you will see

When what you do
Returns to you,
Then you’ll know what
Is good, or not,
And so you’ll learn
From what you earn.

And when you spend
For any end,
Your friends, it foll’ers,
Will get your dollars.
Meanwhile, the thief
Gets nowt but grief.

Free enterprise
Can realize
A world of peace
That will not cease;
And progress, too –
Get up and do!

Increasing wealth,
Improving health,
Advancing free -
Can’t get enough?
Yes, that’s the stuff.

And what of Earth?
Contain your mirth!
There won’t be waste
In our fast-paced
And affluent

So, what to do?
December Two
(So say the ditties),
A hundred cities
Will see a scene
There’s never been.

Each guy, each gal
Will walk – but quiet!
For we won’t riot.
December Second,
Walk, and be reckoned.

These words so terse
May seem perverse,
But they’re no con;
Come, join us on
December Two!
Over to you.

The Darn-Poor Rhymer
September 19th, 2001

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mr. Cheese's Cabinet

(Neil's Note: This is a political piece, but it's fiction too, so it qualifies for this blog rather than "Honest Common Sense." It dates from a few days before the 2010 UK general election.)

Mr. Cheese's Cabinet

By Wensleydale Cheese MP

(This speech was made by Mr. Cheese shortly after his election as British prime minister on 7 May 2010).

You, the British public, asked for change. You have got change. You have elected ME, Wensleydale Cheese – The Big Cheese, as I prefer to be called – as Prime Minister.

My first job is to announce my Cabinet. That is, to name my cronies who will be lying to you, oppressing you and ripping you off for the next five years. So here goes.

My Chancellor of the Exchequer will be Rob Steal. I can safely say that he will be very good at screwing tacks out of you.

My Home Secretary, who will take special delight in criminalizing anything you enjoy, will be Mr. Petty. He will be closely assisted by the Minister for Constant Surveillance, Mr. Pryer.

The Department of Organized Crime (DOC) and the Seriously Fraudulent Office (SFO) will be amalgamated under the shared leadership of Mr. Bent and Mr. Crook.

The Minister of Education, with particular responsibility for Very Bad Verse, will be Mr. Doggerell.

My joint Ministers of Health, who will minister to the health of my joints, will be Dr. Quack and Mrs. Nostrum.

Four Ministers will be responsible for the climate. The Ministers for Cold will be Mr. Snow and Mr. Frost, the Minister for Heat will be Mr. Power, and the Minister for Rain will be Mr. De Wet.

The Minister for Exclamations will be Gordon Bennett.

The Minister for Losing Data will be... what was his name again? He will also be the Minister without Portfolio, having left it in a taxi.

Mr. White will run the Department of Racial Discrimination, and Mr. Mann will be responsible for sexual discrimination.

The Minister for Getting Drunk will be Mr. Tippler.

The Minister for Children’s Games will be Haydn Sikh.

The Minister for Ogling Young Girls will be Mr. Totti.

The Minister for Making You Angry will be Mr. Madden, and the Minister for Complaining will be Mr. Grouse.

Mr. Gaff will be in charge of the Department of Mistakes, and Mr. Balding will head the Department of Hair Loss.

The Minister for Lies, Spin and Propaganda will be Mr. Bull, assisted by Mr. Wittering.

I will announce tomorrow the remaining three Cabinet posts: the Minister of Hypocrisy and Double Standards, the Minister for Hare-brained Schemes and the Minister for ...er... Forgetting What He Was Going to Say Next.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Another Decision

I’m not writing any fiction at the moment. Virtually all my effort is going into my “serious” philosophical and political work, which you can find at my other blog Honest Common Sense (http://www.honestcommonsense.co.uk).

So I’ve decided to broaden the scope of this blog a little. Here, I’m going to place those parts of my creative output which aren’t suitable for Honest Common Sense. That includes the extremely bad verse, which I on occasions publish under the pseudonym of the Darn-Poor Rhymer (I picked the name in honour of Ebenezer Elliott, the 19th-century Corn-Law Rhymer). On very special occasions, the Rhymer’s rhymes may be set to music by the Tippling Philosopher. I may also publish here any short stories, or essays of general interest, which I write or have written.

Soon, I shall be trawling my archives and placing some of the gems (ahem) on these pages. Meanwhile, if the fiction bug should hit me again, you’ll see the results here first.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Chapter 52. A Better World

It was thirty years later, that Lily and I took one of the extended furloughs which are normal in the Galaxy. And we went back to Earth. Without the ’mobile; for I had persuaded Lily to take a holiday from piloting. We did the grand tour of Earth, staying in the best hotels, and using the most comfortable transport available.

The world had changed drastically since the day Michael had picked me up on that heath. For a start, the name of the planet had changed! Well, not exactly. The word “Earth” was still very much in circulation. But the name of our sun, as far as Galactics were concerned, had changed. It is traditional in the Galaxy to name stars after the Galactic species who inhabit their systems. So, Sol became “Hooman.” And Earth became Hooman-3, and Venus Hooman-2.

Some may wonder why our sun was not called “Human,” with a y-sound after the “h.” I can tell you. There were several members of lizard species on the Board of the Galactic Association.

* * *

Long-distance travel on Earth had changed a lot in thirty years. There were still planes, it was true. And supersonic planes were back. But it was clear that planes had a limited future. For they now had strong competition from Seraphimobiles.

The ’mobile had already revolutionized group and charter travel, for using vertical take-off and landing it could offer door-to-door service. To begin with, though, progress had been limited by the small number of ’mobiles there were on Earth. That was, until some savvy Indians had started building ’mobiles under licence. Others got in on the act, and now there was also a cheaper, cut-down version, able to do everything a standard civilian ’mobile could do except go off-planet. Meanwhile, the market in training people to pilot ’mobiles was booming.

To compete with scheduled airlines, many ’mobile operators offered what was, in effect, a shared limo service. It could take a while to get from A to B, because of the many stops to pick up or drop off passengers. For that reason, the bigger the ’mobile, the cheaper the ticket. But, over intercontinental distances, even 64-seat ’mobiles were faster door-to-door than subsonic plane journeys. And far more convenient, not to mention a lot more fun.

The high cost of building them meant that ’mobiles had not yet begun to compete with cars. But that particular battle was looming. Already, there were many ’mobile taxis, which would take you in the air if you were willing to pay the premium.

* * *

I say again, the world had changed drastically, and for the better, with our Awakening and the consequent extinction of the politicals. Wars, dishonest politics, borders and controls, the EU and the UN, propaganda, media bias, redistribution or confiscation of fairly earned wealth, perversion of law, bureaucratic meddling, governments spying on people, treating good human beings as less than human, were all now things of the past. Socialism, fascism, communism, nazism, conservatism, religious fundamentalism, marxism, authoritarianism, racism, environmentalism, terrorism, statism; all those evil –isms were no longer. Only historians used such words any more.

The human population on Earth had all but stabilized, at around eight and a half billion. That didn’t count the half billion who had emigrated into the Galaxy. Immigration from the Galaxy to Earth was smaller, only about three hundred million. But they made a huge difference; they made Earth cosmopolitan.

The age of big, political government was over. There were still governments, indeed. But what they did was confined to the one and only proper purpose of government – implementing justice. And the justice they all strove to deliver was objective, individual, common-sense justice.

Indeed, you would hardly know that governments were there, except in three situations. The first was if someone harmed you, beyond the limits of civilized, mutual tolerance. Then, you could go to a court, and claim compensation from those that had harmed you.

The second was if you were asked to do jury service. Or, perhaps, a spell as a magistrate.

And the third was if you yourself maliciously used aggressive violence, theft or other sub-human behaviours like fraud. Then, you were caught, brought to justice, and punished as you deserved. As well, of course, as being made to compensate your victims.

Better yet. We humans had already, just thirty years after our Awakening, entered the Galactic rich-list top 500, in 498th place. And we were already fourteenth among Junior species. We had done that in little more than a generation! Faster than the Avor’I had managed anything like it, indeed.

The solar power project had helped a lot, too. For we now had, for the foreseeable future, enough energy to power our civilization, at a cost we could afford. And we understood the technology well enough that we could replicate it if and when we needed to.

Yes, we humans had Awakened. The Personal Transition had elevated the individual above the herd. The Social Transition had brought peace and objective, common-sense justice. The Economic Transition had brought prosperity for all those who deserved it. The human race, at last, had left stagnation behind, and was going forwards and upwards.

* * *

We visited John and Galina near Bordeaux. They had had some difficulties initially, because the locals were very conservative. They did not like growers of “foreign” grapes invading their territory. But a single glass of wine, from Seraph grapes grown in the Médoc, could change the perceptions of the drinker. Few refused a second glass. And – in time – their hybrid grapes had become even more successful.

John was over 100 years old now. But he didn’t look old at all. The Galant’I treatment had not only rejuvenated us at the time, but had all but stopped the aging process. Lily and I had benefited from that, too. As had all the rest of the Team, the first and second wave trainees, and Cristina and Helen as well.

We visited Ben and Sabrina in Cape Town. They had a very successful business, training people in how to use portals and retals. They were busy and happy.

We visited Shami and Dede in Delhi. They had returned to Earth after two years studying Tuglay methods of education, and eight years learning by practising the trade in backwaters of the Galaxy. They now ran the biggest adult education company on Earth. And they had spin-offs on other planets too. They were happy – and very, very busy.

We visited the Galactic Embassy in Virginia. Cristina and Helen were still there, as hostesses for newly arriving Galactics. They were happy, too.

Hoong and Elise also lived in Virginia, near the Embassy. The solar power project had been completed in about ten years, but there was still much maintenance work to do. After the bulk of the Piantur team left, Hoong had been made director of the project. He and Elise were happy.

Harv’I was still in his house in the Embassy, and he told us about his meeting with the pope. No, he hadn’t gone to Rome to visit the pope. Rather, the pope – a new, young pope – had come to Virginia to meet Harv’I, son of Jahw’I. And had been both amazed and delighted.

Harv’I also thought he might have found out why the Elo’I colony on Venus had failed. It looked like a combination of two factors. First, an enfeebling disease, which caused them to become complacent and unwary. And second, by amazingly bad luck, an asteroid hit directly on the colony. If he was right, then the colony could be re-established. And Elo’I and humans could be planetary neighbours, and watch out for each other.

* * *

Benno Adam’s book, An Awakening, had been a best-seller. It had sold far beyond the market of history buffs it had been aimed at. It had become a book of the people. It had been translated into more than a thousand Galactic languages, including, of course, English. It was still in print on Earth, too. Lily and I picked up a copy for each of us, and a third to preserve.

Benno was a good writer. He had researched his subject thoroughly, and he had added much detail from eye-witness accounts. He described particularly well the feelings good people had in the run-up to the Awakening. First disquiet, then incomprehension, then fury at what the politicals were doing to them. Then – a feeling of separation. And a desire to be rid of their enemies, that had fooled them and fouled them for so long.

But Benno had gone further, and had traced human history back far enough that his readers could see the big picture. Looked at that way, the Awakening had been coming for many centuries. Like the contractions which precede the birth of a baby, there had been motions, often alternating, of forward and backward, of progress and regress.

The Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the computer and communications revolution; those had been forward motions. Nationalism, socialism and communism, sham “democracy,” welfare states, the green agenda, the surveillance and database state; those had been backward motions. But, in the end, the good had triumphed. We humans had Awakened.

* * *

I lay in a hotel bed in the Scottish Highlands, enjoying Lily’s Special. Tonight, it was particularly slow and comfortable. As my mind wandered, I contemplated what Benno Adam had told us. And, at last, I found the right word to describe the jobs Lily and I had taken on.

We were midwives – Galactic midwives.

“Here’s to the midwives!” cried Lily, speeding up her motion, and taking me up a long crescendo of pleasure to an overwhelming climax.

* * *

Next day, our taxi driver took us up to a well-known beauty spot. We left him at the pass for a three-hour, paid lunch break. He was a student; he could use those hours to read his books.

We climbed the hill, up a slaty track. It was a small hill, compared with its neighbours. I had been there in (if I remembered right) 1985. That day, the weather had been at its best; as it was today. It was a very warm, dreamy afternoon, without a cloud in the sky and with visibility as good as it gets.

To the west, we had the island of Skye spread out below us. To the north, a great green mountain. To the east, we could see through a small gap in the hills to blue water.

Lily and I picnicked. The food was from Fortnum and Mason, of course – but the one in Piccadilly, this time. With it, we shared a bottle of John and Galina’s best.

There was no-one else around. So, we enjoyed Lily’s Special. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the previous night in the hotel. But it was more romantic.

This is a better world now, I thought. A peaceful world. A prosperous world. A just world. A Galactic world. A human world.

* * *

Almost four hours later, our taxi driver, whose name was Steven, came to wake us up. And led us down the hill, back to his car and Galactic civilization.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Chapter 51. Of New Horizons

Next day, Sunday, I spent six hours telling Benno Adam my story. I told him all I knew about the Awakening, and about my role in it; just as I have humbly set these matters down for you, dear reader, in this brief history. But with the more intimate and personal details omitted, of course.

Now we had another eleven ceremonies to do. That was my fault!

I didn’t march with the Band again. Though I was admitted into the “Friends of the Galactic Marching Band,” and I kept in contact with Mostro for many years. Instead, at each of the ceremonies, I shared with Elise the back seat of Mirandin’s ’mobile. Hoong piloted in the even numbered ceremonies, and Lily in the odd numbered ones. Both were excellent pilots, but Lily was better, I thought. Elise disagreed, of course.

The rest of the Team, rather than standing on a hard and, at the northern hemisphere ceremonies, cold podium, elected to watch in comfort – along with Cristina and Helen, and Olgal as well – from Ramael’s ’mobile. They enjoyed the dance at the end, too.

Rrrela had left Earth on the day after the first ceremony. So it was now Othriel who was the mouthpiece of the Galaxy. He was a much better speaker than Rrrela.

Balzo and Bart Vorsprong had to depart after only two ceremonies. Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee left after the third. They were all busy individuals, and though the Galactic way of doing things allowed them to take as much time off as they felt was necessary, they all wanted to get back to work. But, before Balzo left, Lily and I agreed with him the detailed terms for our new Avoran-based jobs. We would travel to Avoran, with Olgal, soon after the ceremonies on Earth were completed.

The last ceremony was in a freezing Beijing near the end of November. By this time, the Galactic presence on the podiums had reduced, from about six hundred in Washington to less than four hundred in Beijing. Most of those who now remained planned to stay on Earth for a while. Many were entrepreneurs, looking to be early into a new market of several billion individuals. But there were academics too, seeking new knowledge. And tourists, just enjoying being among the first on a new Galactic planet.

There was, however, a group – mainly of Piantur engineers, but also including skilled individuals from other species such as Avor’I – who planned to remain on Earth for several years at least. This was the team, who would build our solar power system. For my suggestion, of solar power to be collected in space and beamed to Earth, had indeed been agreed on as the gift the Galactics would give us to celebrate our new status.

Michael and Gabriel departed in the ’mobile, two days after the last ceremony. They were going to take a holiday, then return to Seraph to look for new work. I told them that, when the next suitable candidate species came along on Perinent, I would be urging Balzo to hire them as Helpers. They laughed. “Been there, done that,” Michael said.

Ramael and Hazael took a two year contract on Earth, as pilots for the staff of the Embassy. And, in the unlikely event it was needed, they could become again the military wing of the Galaxy on Earth.

With Cristina and Helen already working at the Embassy, and Harv’I too now comfortably housed there and taking up his father’s project, that left just the core Team, fourteen of us. Lily and I were already committed to going to Avoran. It was time to find out what each of the others planned to do next.

John and Galina teamed up with a pair of Seraphim – none other than our dark blue robed, food-producing friends, who had named themselves Fortnum and Mason. Together, they bought a vineyard and winery not far from Bordeaux. They planned not only to grow the traditional grapes, but also to experiment with grapes from Seraph, and hybrids. Galina’s expertise in plant genetics would be useful here.

Ben and Sabrina also planned to remain on Earth. Now, a few of the Galactic entrepreneurs had brought with them what they called (when translated into English) “portals.” These machines allowed commercial agreements to be recorded, and goods to be Pulled or Pushed, or physically moved in or out of the portal, accounting for them according to those agreements. And they were integrated with the Galactic banking system.

Portals solved, for example, the problems we had had with paying for that first barrel of beer Cees had Pulled. There were also “retals,” which were sales outlets – essentially, portals with a small showroom attached. Ben and Sabrina planned to gain a good understanding of portals and retals, and to get early into the Earthly market for selling them, and training people in how to use them.

Hoong and Elise also stayed on Earth, after a fashion. For they applied to the Piantur to work on their solar power project. Hoong said that he wanted to make absolutely sure that someone from Earth – that meant him – fully understood all aspects of the new technology. His background as an electrical engineer, and his ability as a Seraphimobile pilot, made him well qualified to help the project. His and Elise’s ability to Pull and Push was useful too. So, they struck a deal with the Piantur, including a ’mobile solely for their use.

Ray and Jenna planned to go with Cees and Marie (and Kenny) to Seraph, and open a restaurant there specializing in Earth food, not to mention Earth wine and beer. We had a somewhat drunken after dinner conversation about what they might call it. I suggested they might name it after me, “The Tiddly Pom.” The suggestion was not taken up.

Shami, I thought, had been the most enterprising of all. She wanted to go back to her old career of teaching, but in a Galactic way. So she had talked with Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee, and arranged to go to the Tuglay home planet to learn their techniques of education. Dede, being Dede, was happy to go along with this.

Shami’s decision was a cleverer business move than might appear. For the gravity on the Tuglay home planet is only around two-thirds that on Earth. Tuglay are not comfortable for any length of time in gravity much higher than Perinent’s. They are, therefore, unable to work at their best on planets like Avoran, or even Earth. There was a potentially huge market for education in the style of and under the brand of the Tuglay, delivered on planets with gravity equal to Earth’s or greater.

While in England for the London ceremony, I had visited my old home. For just long enough to order it refurbished and put up for sale. There had been one other thing Lily and I needed to do before we left for Avoran. Which was, get ourselves a Seraphimobile. And that proved easy. For we heard that Othriel, in his new role of ambassador, was going to need – and was about to receive – a larger ’mobile than the one he and Mirandin currently had. So, I and Lily put in an offer for their old one. Which Othriel and Mirandin accepted graciously.

Ben said to me, laughing, “You’ve bought a used car from a politician. And it’s more than a hundred years old, for goodness’ sake!” (Which was true.) “Was that really wise?”

I replied, “Othriel and Mirandin are not politicians, but Galactics. We have a Galactic contract making clear what they sold us, and there is a fresh twenty-year guarantee.”

Lily and I loved that ’mobile. She loved it for its responsiveness and manoeuvrability. I loved it for its luxurious back-seat comfort. Everyone we took for a ride in it, even Ben, agreed with both of us.

Nine days after the ceremony in Beijing, Lily became the first human to pilot a ’mobile off a planet. She took me and Olgal to the Naudar’I docking station for our journey to Avoran.

* * *

But Lily and I could not, of course, travel the Galaxy entirely independently. We could pilot ourselves to the docking station; and we could put ourselves under sleep-gas for the journey through configurational space. But, at the other end, we needed to be retrieved from the docking station, and taken to our room to sleep off the dose.

When we joined a ship, or went to a cosmopolitan planet like Avoran, it was easy. There were many eager to please Seraphim offering the services we needed. But arriving at Perinent would be another matter. In the end, Balzo had to ask Nansen Ault to negotiate an agreement with the Naudar’I. That, where it was not practicable for us to be picked up by others from a docking station, they would leave it there long enough to give us time to wake up, and to leave in our ’mobile for the planet below.

* * *

Avoran was, as I have said, a cosmopolitan planet. It was a little larger than Earth. There were about eight billion Avor’I on it, and around a billion other Galactics, of almost a thousand different species. The Seraphim population there numbered about twenty million. The human population numbered two.

The Avoran day was longer than the day on Earth or Perinent, almost twenty-nine hours. Avor’I had an eight-day week, of which they generally worked six. And an almost ten-hour standard working day. The fifteen per cent higher gravity than Earth’s, combined with the longer day, was wearing on us physically. So Lily and I needed a twelve to thirteen hours’ dose of sleep-gas each night.

Our workplace was in a large, attractive building near the original capital city of Avoran, also called Avoran, which was in the northern temperate zone. It was set in parkland, as most such buildings were. For the Avor’I no longer had cities as we would think of them. A small fraction of the land on the planet, including its most spectacular physical features, was set aside in the form of reserves. A certain percentage was farmland. Most of the rest was what some might unkindly call suburbia. Homes, shops, businesses, and recreational spaces, all mixed. And without the heavy hand of any central planner.

The Avor’I had air-cars. They operated on the same principles as Seraphimobiles, taking energy from the magnetic and other force fields when they accelerated, and returning it when they slowed. The passengers simply stood against a padded wall. That was fine for Avor’I, who stood up all the time except to sleep. But it was uncomfortable for many other species. So, Seraphimobiles, and the air vehicles of other species, were popular on Avoran.

Almost everyone on Avoran had an air-car, or equivalent. And that meant traffic congestion; which was resolved by computers. Every Avor’I air-car, every ’mobile on the planet had the necessary software. You selected your destination, and were taken to it. It was only permitted to manually pilot ’mobiles when above the usual limit of Avor’I air-cars, about ten kilometres up.

From the office I shared with Lohman and Odam, I had a view of the area where air-cars waited to take off. It was quite a sight. A dozen or more parallel lines of machines, moving slowly forward. At peak times, there could be fifty or more in each line. Then, one or several in the front rank would suddenly and silently accelerate. They left the ground after only a few seconds. Some turned left, some turned right, some went higher, some stayed lower. The computers kept them out of each other’s way.

The work we did in that office, planning and directing the Galactic nursery projects on Perinent, was most interesting and challenging. Every project was different, because every candidate species was different. As was every combination of project consultant (when there was one), Helpers and local project manager. We often found ourselves having to make up the rules as we went along.

Next door, Lily worked in the research department with Olgal and two young Avor’I, Varazh and Belxham. They dug up information about candidate species, and evaluated it. They found, and qualified, the data on which Lohman, Odam and I based our decisions.

Lily and I took an apartment about ten kilometres from the office. The building was in an area where many Seraphim lived. We had about a hundred metres to walk to an excellent Seraph restaurant, where we breakfasted every day, and dined most evenings.

Surprisingly, the Avor’I’s own food was also very good. Descended from predators, they were meat ’n’ taters people. Simple tastes, like mine. But, instead of hunting for meat, they now grew it synthetically in huge vats. Though there were, it was said, still a few reserves where the best-heeled Avor’I could go hunting.

Regrettably, Avor’I are not winemakers; we had to confine ourselves to Seraph’s best. They brewed beer, though, and it was good.

At weekends, we would often go in the ’mobile to beauty spots, of which Avoran had many. In the heavy gravity, we could not comfortably walk as far as we could have done on Earth or Perinent. But the scenery was spectacular, and the paths were mostly easy.

There were plenty of other things we could do. Many different kinds of sporting, musical or cultural entertainments were available. Or we could take the lazy option; stay in bed and enjoy a few hours, or even a whole day, under the influence of recreational drugs.

Apart from the long day and the gravity, there was one more downside to living on Avoran. Our contracts with the Company were, by Earth standards, financially far more than generous. But it was an expensive place to live. Hardly surprising, as it was the home planet of the third richest species per head in the Galaxy. “On Avoran,” went the saying, “you have to pay for everything, even the ground under your feet.”

* * *

Our work took Lily and me back to Perinent twice each Avoran year. Which was much the same length as an Earth year, although it had fewer days. Each time, we would spend eight or nine local weeks on Perinent. And, because Avoran and Perinent are close in Galactic terms, it was only about a Perinent week each way by Naudar’I first class ship.

Much had been done since we had left Camp Two. A room had been built for me and Lily at each of the six camps. At my insistence, radios, like those we had used between Camps Two and Four, had been installed at all six camps.

And an amphibian linguistic and communication expert, Xhovar of the Talaxh, had been recruited to work with the species at Camp Three. Xhovar looked like a large yellow frog, about fifty centimetres long. He could survive on land, or in fresh water, or even – at need – in salt water. His job was to unscramble for us the musings of species such as the Pelino’tqvam and the carnivorous fish they Helped, and to re-scramble our ideas for them in return.

* * *

I have space here to tell you about only one of my exploits in my new job. That was on my very first trip. It was at Camp Four, with the Feh’in. I had previously visited them, and Zherhat of the Toronur their local manager, when their project had only just begun. And everything then had looked good – on the surface.

But now Lohman was very concerned. For things were going slowly at Camp Four. Selecting and Pulling the trainees had taken many times longer than it should have. And the trainees themselves seemed lackadaisical. Although they were unfailingly courteous towards their Tuglay teachers, they were learning only slowly. Lohman sent increasingly strongly worded messages to Zherhat. What he got back was mostly excuses or evasiveness.

I expected that, when I got to Camp Four, I would find Zherhat negative. Perhaps he might even think that I had been sent there to spy on him. But instead, he treated me like a long lost friend, and opened himself to me.

“Lizards!” he said. “Lizards! I’m having enough of lizards!

“Don’t get me wrong. The Feh’in are fine people. They are so nice and kind and polite. But they won’t damn well do anything I tell them to! And our Avor’I Helpers are, again, nice people. But so inexperienced! And Lohman – another lizard! – nips at my stalk all the time. He wants progress reports, and non-progress reports, and whys, and why-nots, and ifs, and buts, and ands.”

I considered, then said in my not-really tone, “Perhaps that may be because he is a monitor lizard?” Zherhat paused for a couple of seconds, then asked his translator to translate what I had said as if it was a joke. Then he waved his leaves in Toronur laughter.

Having worked with Odam for many weeks already, I had learned quite a lot about Toronur. Their society is somewhat hierarchical. While individuals can rise or fall on merit, everyone, at any given time, knows where they stand and who they must obey. There is, therefore, in their language no room for any word like “please,” except for an extremely fawning one.

But Olgal had found out some new (to us) information about the Feh’in, just days before Lily and I left Avoran. It seemed that they had an elaborate ritual of please and thank you, which came into play whenever one wanted another to do his or her bidding.

I decided to test this. I asked the Feh’in team leader, whose name was Dulsada, if she would please come for a private talk with me. And, before she could answer, I told her that our ’mobile was very comfortable, if it pleased her to take a ride in it.

“Thank ru. Thank ru.” said Dulsada. At least, that’s what the translator said. But Dulsada had used two quite different words. Olgal was on to something, I thought.

From my conversation with Dulsada in the ’mobile, it proved to be as Olgal had said. Fail to say please – in at least one of its fourteen variants – when you ask a Feh’in to do a thing, and you will achieve little. Fail to say one of the Feh’in’s eleven different kinds of thank you after the thing was done, and you would not get much co-operation the next time. Why hadn’t we known that before the project started? I made a mental note to investigate when I got back to Avoran.

There remained the technical problem of teaching Zherhat how to say “please” and “thank you.” It wasn’t easy. In the end, we found two “click” sounds he could make, which he didn’t use in his normal language. Then we set up his two-way translator to output these as Feh’in versions of “please” and “thank you.”

From that moment, the Feh’in project went faster and more smoothly than any that had gone before. I was reminded of a phrase, which we humans often used as a happy ending for a children’s story. And I adapted it into the Galactic context, as follows:

And they all worked together successfully ever after.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Hot Air and Justice

(Neil's Note: This one comes from 2007, but it's very relevant right now.)

One night, I had a dream.

In my dream, I was on the jury in a court of law. The judge had a long wig and a smug expression, the prosecutor a smaller wig and an evil-looking grin. The defence counsel's seat was empty. And in the dock, gagged and unable to speak, was someone who looked more than a bit like me.

"This case", began the judge, "has been brought against Human Civilization and all its shareholders and employees. You, Mr Human" - waving a hand towards the dock - "and those you represent, stand accused of causing catastrophic warming of your planet, by polluting it with emissions of hot air, and in particular of a foul gas called carbon dioxide. The penalty for causing this warming is that you should all be forced to stop flying in aeroplanes, driving in cars, or doing anything else that causes that foul gas to be emitted.

"Mr Green", said the judge, signalling towards the prosecutor. "You have the floor".

"Thank you, Your Honour" said Mr Green in a smarmy, self-satisfied voice. "The facts of the case are clear; there is no denying them. Human civilization emits carbon dioxide, and over the last century has been emitting more and more. Global temperatures over the last century have gone up too. Many well qualified scientists say that the cause of the warming is very probably the hot air - I'm sorry, I mean carbon dioxide - emitted by human activities.

"Many people, some of them scientists, believe that, if human civilization doesn't stop emitting this gas, there will be abrupt, catastrophic warming in the next century. The effects of this warming, some scientists say, will include huge rises in the sea level, more and worse droughts and hurricanes, extinction of species, mass migrations and total economic disruption. And the consequences have been estimated to be so disastrous that we must take strong and severe action NOW! to stop all this happening".

The man in the dock struggled with his gag, but to no avail.

"I call Mrs Fear as my first witness", said Mr Green.

Mrs Fear was a large, buxom lady who was a voluble and rather incoherent witness. Her evidence, in a nutshell, was: This is the worst problem we've ever faced! Everybody agrees it's all the fault of those horrid, greedy capitalists, entrepreneurs and hard workers, with their business and industry and whadyoumacallit. Everybody knows they aren't interested in anything but making themselves rich. It's terrible. TERRIBLE! And why doesn't somebody DO something about it?

"I next call Professor Storm", said Mr Green.

The Professor was neat, bearded and pedantic. He showed us, at great speed, charts and graphs which, so he said, proved that the warming was real, that it was out of the ordinary, and that it was caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide. He told us that many scientists, funded by political governments, had spent the last fifteen years and more developing models of the Earth's climate. And that they all - well, mostly - agreed that catastrophic warming was inevitable if we didn't halt our carbon emissions now.

I scribbled a question, and had it handed to the judge. He pulled a wry face, but asked my question anyway. "These climate models which predict big warming in the future - how well do they explain the temperature measurements made in the past?"

"The data don't matter", answered the Professor. "We are basing recommendations on the models".

My second question caused the judge to look even sourer. "How do we know that more carbon dioxide causes higher temperatures, and not, perhaps, the other way round?"

"The models say so", replied the Professor.

At my third question, the judge looked sternly at me, and said, "You jurors aren't here to ask awkward questions. You're here to find the defendant guilty". And then, after a pause, "I'm sorry, I mean find whether the defendant is guilty".

The man in the dock squirmed and tried to speak. Seeing this, the judge said, "All right, I'll ask the question. Aren't there other factors, such as variability of the Sun, which affect global temperatures, and how do these compare in significance with human-emitted carbon dioxide?"

"Of course", said the Professor, "there are other factors. But they don't affect the consensus among the scientists who are being bribed to hype the issue - I'm sorry, being paid to report on the issue. They all think that human emissions of carbon dioxide are the cause of the problem".

The Professor continued, with maps and more charts, which seemed to show great increases in droughts and hurricanes in recent decades. I knew these data were dubious at best, but there didn't seem to be much point in challenging them.

The Professor told us about the horrors of rising sea levels - a rise of three hundred feet would wipe out almost the whole of eastern England. And finally, he told us about Nicholas Stern, who with a large team, all funded by the taxes we had paid, estimated the costs of the damage (supposedly, I said to myself) to be caused by this (unproven, I reminded myself) human-caused warming. The figure was staggeringly large - big enough to tempt the gullible into thinking that any other outcome would probably be preferable.

I scribbled a question on my last scrap of paper. "Why are Stern's figures for the damage several times higher than those of others who have tried to estimate the same things?" The usher gave me an angry look, but still took the question to the judge.

"You again!" said the judge to me in a voice of thunder. "I'll have you thrown out of court if you ask one more impertinent question". Then, to the Professor, "Please continue, Professor. Ignore this troublemaker".

Professor Storm had almost finished. He ended by saying, "Ten years ago, environmentalists said that we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse. I believe we have now reached that point".

Next, Mr Green called Professor Perrill, an expert on risk. He told us about the precautionary principle, which the European Union had mandated to be used on all environmental issues. "This means that action must be taken", he said, "even if there is doubt over how real or how big the problem is. It also means that the burden of proof is shifted. It is for those alleged to be causing a problem to prove that their actions do not threaten any risk of harm. And absence of evidence of risk is not to be taken as evidence of absence of risk".

When Professor Perrill had finished, the judge asked Mr Green, "Is that your last witness?" "Yes, Your Honour" replied Mr Green.

"Right", said the judge. "Now it's back to you, Mr Green, for your summing-up".

The man in the dock rolled his eyeballs, and my neighbour - having finally twigged that something bad was going on - scribbled a message for the judge.

The judge read the message, and laughed. "Doesn't the defence get to present its case? Ha, ha, ha! You jurymen are behind the times. You ought to know that Mr Human, and all the other flat-earthers that dispute the reality or the seriousness of human-caused catastrophic global warming, aren't to be allowed access to the media any more. And they aren't to be allowed any other forum where they can persuade people, either. That includes this court."

Mr Green the prosecutor gave his summing-up, which was more of the above.

"Now", said the judge to us, "it is time for you to consider your verdict. You must use only the evidence, which has been presented to you in this court. And I will re-phrase what Professor Perrill said: Absence of evidence of guilt is not evidence of absence of guilt.

"You must find Mr Human and his civilization guilty of causing catastrophic global warming if he has not completely proved his innocence beyond all possible doubt.

"And you must reach your decision quickly. I give you two reasons for this. First, I'm going to find Mr Human and all his friends guilty anyway, so what you the jury think is entirely academic and you shouldn't waste time on it. And second, I've a plane to catch. In fact", looking at his watch, "my limo to the airport should be arriving any time now".

The judge smiled. "Would you like to know where I'm going? I'm off to an environmentalist conference in Bali. Having presided over the conviction of Mr Human and his civilization, it will be fun for me to watch the politicians plan the punishment. Knowing, of course, that the bans they will propose on activities like flying and driving won't apply to persons of quality like me".