Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hide them when you're able

I've got a logical mind, perhaps excessively so; people sometimes call me a pedant, but I always point out that pedantry is characterised by excessive reliance on canonical sources and works of reference rather than by mere consistency in the exercise of rational thinking. That shuts them up, I can tell you.

Anyway, having a clear and intuitive sense of propositions such as "if A is true, not-A must be false" is surprisingly useful in some lines of work, but it can make the fuzzier areas of human interaction a bit problematic. In my last job but one I had the misfortune to be part of a group that was selected for an Outward Bound-style 'team-building' exercise, which would take place over a weekend and include lots of the kind of jolly fun activities which I'd managed to avoid for the whole of my adult life and most of my childhood. Correction: a voluntary Outward Bound-style 'team-building' exercise. Cue a conversation with my manager:

"I don't think I'll go on this thing."
"Are you sure? You know, I think you should."
"Well, maybe. But, I mean, it's not compulsory, is it?"
"No, no, it's not compulsory. Think about it, OK?"

And another:

"I really don't think I'll go on this thing."
"I don't know, I really think you ought to. The idea is that the whole group goes."
"Sorry, you mean it's compulsory?"
"No, no, of course not. It's just that it's better if the whole group goes."
"I appreciate that, but it's just not my thing."
"OK, well. It's not compulsory, of course. But just think about it, OK?"

And another:

"Look, I've thought about it some more, and..."
"OK, I know you don't want to go, but I really think you should."
"But... what can I say? I really don't want to go. And it's not compulsory..."
"No, no, of course it's not compulsory. But I really think you should go."

If it's not compulsory, it must be voluntary.
But:
If I can't choose not to go, then it's not voluntary and it must be compulsory.
But...

Brane hertz.

(I went, of course. Parts of it were OK - the rope walk was very cool - but other parts were truly, enduringly awful. I got my revenge in the whiteboard feedback session on the Sunday afternoon.)

That was a long time ago, and I've had a bit more experience of smudgy social reasoning since then. But sometimes even now the fit descends and I turn into LogicMan (None withstand his remorseless inferences!). Most recently in the case of that cuddly Old Labour mascot, John Prescott. Charlie has the story; Alex has the British background; and Dave has the American ditto. Me, I've got the logic.

You see, Prescott's stay on the Anschutz ranch was either personal - an even lower-rent version of Blair's hols with Berlusconi - or business. It can't be both; it can't be neither; it must be one or the other.

If it was personal, why wasn't it declared in the Register of Members' Interests at the time?
If it was personal, what were civil servants doing on the trip with Prescott? (Ugh - better rephrase that before the mental images get out of hand.) If it was personal, how does Prescott justify taking civil servants with him?
If it was personal, why was the offsetting payment to charity made out of government funds?
And if it was personal, why on earth would Prescott choose to spend his holidays with an unsavoury character like Anschutz? (See Dave's post for details.)

On the other hand:

If it was a trip on government business, why has the trip been declared in the Register of Members' Interests at all?
If it was business, why has a payment been made to charity?
And, if it was business, what business could Prescott possibly have to discuss, legitimately, with Anschutz?

Logically, the whole thing's a tissue of contradictions. There are only two interpretations that make any kind of sense. Either it was a personal holiday funded by the taxpayer - including personal assistance from Prescott's civil servants; in this case Prescott is personally corrupt on a truly Italian scale, as well as having lost any sense of political principle. Or else it was a business trip laid on to ease the path of Anschutz's bid for the Dome Casino (si New Labour monumentum requiris...); in this case Prescott is politically corrupt, as well as having lost any sense of principle. And either way he's a liar.

Perhaps this is LogicMan speaking, but surely there's no way out of this one. Prescott has to resign as Deputy PM; if he's any sense he'll resign as an MP, too, before the Standards Committee pushes him. And then he should apologise, in person, to the people of Liverpool. (Not because he's done anything to them, just because it was funny when Boris did it.)

2 Comments:

Blogger Unity said...

Bugger - I'd missed Alex's post otherwise I'd have got from A to B much sooner.

Alex is spot-on in his thinking on the central importance of the dome in all this - the only thing he looks to missed is the why, which lies in the exact nature of the deal between AEG and the Government for the Dome.

It works like this - AEG got the Dome on a 20 year lease in return for the government getting a share in profits one they exceed a certain point.

So AEG pay nothing for the Dome until the recoup their investment & development costs on the Dome and have made a tidy profit, after which point the government gets a slice of the action on top of any income from licences and plain old taxation.

Put the casino in the Dome and AEG hits the point at which it starts to cough over the cash much more quickly and, unless there's a cap on deal, will pay over a lot more in the long-term out of the uber profits from the casino that they would with no casino.

So what we have is a goverment with a direct pecuniary interest in seeing the casino go to the Dome - which would be fine if there weren't seven other bidders with hats in the ring and expecting a fair contest.

Damn fine work from Alex - soooo close to getting the full picture that I must sort out an acknowledgement over at MoT.

6/7/06 12:24  
Anonymous Brian B. said...

I must be in illogical mode, as usual, and stupid (perhaps the same thing?), but I don't follow some of these pronouncements at all. The proposition that an activity -- a visit, a holiday, a meeting, a lunch -- can't be both private and official seems to me to be contradicted by experience. Any diplomat or politician worth his or her salt invites to his dinner table people whose company he enjoys (private) and whom it might be professionally useful to know later (official). When a minister or a civil servant, or even a businessman, is entertained in a company's hospitality tent during Wimbledon fortnight, is that private or official? It seems to me obviously to combine elements of both. Just because some things are untidy, it doesn't have to mean that they are logically impossible.

By the same token, attendance at an event isn't logically made 'compulsory' just because someone in authority exerts pressure on an underling to go to it. So long as the option of not going is left open, even if a penalty for non-attendance is implicitly attached to it, attendance remains voluntary, unless of course the implied penalty is so great as to be effectively and literally intolerable: if non-attendance would mean imprisonment, then it's probably compulsory; if it merely means giving mild offence to the boss, then it's voluntary. Untidy but not, surely, illogical. There's nothing logical about an inability to recognise differences of degree, or the possibility of something possessing contradictory characteristics simultaneously.

I don't follow, either, these denunciations of casinos. Risking, indeed almost certainly losing, money at a casino, even entering one, would be for me slightly worse than having my tongue pulled out with pliers, but if other people are idiot enough to derive pleasure and excitement from it, why shouldn't they? If there's going to be a casino, wouldn't the Dome be rather a good home for it? I seem to be in a rather exiguous minority in thinking the Dome a wonderful and exciting structure, and in having thoroughly enjoyed two extremely entertaining and informative days in it during the millennium year (it was also a hugely successful tourist attraction while it lasted), but maybe that just shows what an illogical and dumb chap I must be.

It was an error of judgement for John Prescott to accept hospitality from one of several competitors for a government contract, although how serious the error was depends on the extent to which Prescott would have any say in the award of the contract. It doesn't seem to me to indicate corruption or to require resignation, and to call his behaviour corrupt and to demand his resignation on account of it devalues the currency and the language.

It's silly (but no worse) of Prescott to ascribe all criticism of him to snobbery, but it's all too obvious that a high proportion of the sneering at him by the chattering classes -- i.e. us -- is indeed largely rooted in snobbery. He is a tough, experienced and formidable politician whose instincts are basically sound, which is more than can be said for some of his New Labour colleagues. If and when he is forced to resign, it will be primarily because superior and often snobbish people -- no doubt in many cases highly logical people -- have destroyed him as a serious public figure by constantly ridiculing him, in much the same way that Neil Kinnock and John Strachey before him were destroyed out of malicious snobbery and, in Strachey's case, antisemitism. But there I go, being stupid and illogical again [smacks left wrist with palm of right hand].

Brian
http://www.barder.com/ephems/

26/8/06 18:27  

Post a Comment

<< Home