Saturday, January 25, 2020

Saturday commute clxxviii: To the bottom line

Was no one else so bouleversé as we
were, the other day, to learn that
America's Chief Justice had just re-
ferred to the same country's Senate
as the greatest deliberative body in
the solar system? 

At a minimum, we can say that it's a
cinch he can kiss off any election
to the Académie Française, much less
to the Art Committee of the Bohemian
Club. What else, on the other hand, 
was to be expected of the author of
that death warrant of liberated delib-
eration, Citizens United v. Yo Mama?

Not that it isn't natural to give pre-
cedence to the intrigues of the olig-
archs on Capitol Hill to the casuist
hissings of the Third Branch, below.
Still, one likes one's oligarchs to
possess a keener command of the mine-
laying in their rhetorical wake, so
as to avoid an explosion of shameless
self-reversals every third week. We
yearn to be favored with that anti-
cipatory avoidance of catastrophe 
which once came so naturally to 
Her Majesty's Colonial Office --

   The sentence in the draft Report under discussion was as follows: "Mr Ormsby-Gore dwelt upon the strategic and economic importance of the Colonies." Sir Edward Harding thought it was very unwise to say anything about the strategic importance of the Colonies. If anyone were to look at a map of the Colonies he might find out where Singapore was, and who could say what that would lead to? He proposed to strike out the word 'strategic'. Mr Vernon agreed.
   Sir Harry Batterbee thought that it was very dangerous to refer to the economic importance of the Colonies. Any such reference would direct the mind of the reader tot he claims of Germany for the restoration of her past colonial empire upon purely economic grounds. He thought that the words should be omitted. Mr Vernon agreed.
   Sir Rupert Howorth did not like emphasis being laid on the importance of the Colonies. We were already to a large extent the object of envy and suspicion of the world on account of our possession of colonies. The best line for us to take now was to minimize their importance, and even to underrate them. He suggested that the word 'importance' should be omitted. Mr Vernon agreed.
   The sentence in the draft now read: "Mr Ormsby-Gore dwelt upon the Colonies." Mr Archer thought that this was a rather unhappy expression in that it suggested a lingering, continued exposition of the colonial aspect of inter-imperial affairs, which might very easily provoke jealousy on the part of the Dominions. Mr Vernon pointed out that the report would probably be read by a large number of agents of foreign governments who might be imperfectly acquainted with the English language. There was a grave risk that they would interpret the words "Mr Ormsby-Gore dwelt upon the Colonies" as meaning "Mr Ormsby-Gore dwelt in the Colonies." This would not be true. He suggested the substitution of the words "referred to". Sir Edward Harding pointed out that these words had already appeared in every sentence of the draft Report which had so far been passed, and he thought it would be a good thing to find another expression this time. Sir Harry Batterbee suggested the words "alluded to". Mr Vernon agreed.
   The sentence thus revised read: "Mr Ormsby-Gore alluded to the Colonies." Sir Rupert Howorth enquired whether it would not really be better to leave the sentence out altogether. If the Report merely stated that Mr Ormsby-Gore alluded to the Colonies, it might excite suspicion on the part of foreign readers that the real gist of his remarks had been of a quite different character, and that this was nothing more than a screen or a disguise. Sir Harry Batterbee pointed out that Mr Ormsby-Gore's name would in any case appear as one of those present, and that as he was Secretary of State for the Colonies it might probably arouse some jealousy in the minds of Dominion statesmen if they considered that he had talked about the Dominions just as if they were colonies. It therefore seemed wiser to leave the sentence in. Mr Vernon agreed, but suggested that the addition of the word "furtively" before "alluded to" might be an improvement. This was negatived without a division.

It goes without saying, how indebted the inquiring judge of our finer deliberative bodies truly is, today, to possess this extract from Mr R.V. Vernon's Memorandum of an exemplary meeting of the Colonial Office, in June, 1936. With what subtlety, with what felicity, with what luminously oligarchic duplicity was this quibble conducted, on behalf of the class being represented, we need not rend our rags with envy to observe -- but for the miraculous discovery, before our eyes, of the perfecting redaction of the proceedings, for the convenience of all inter-preters and the immaculate elimination of witnesses.

John Julius Norwich
Still More Christmas Crackers
  1990 - 1999
Viking, 2000©

iii  Julian Schneyder


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Origins of Wednesday cviii: Static

  I wonder, if I could reclaim
  from moments of incurable i-
  dleness, my years of sorting
  out the front from the back,
  of a freshly laundered T, to
  say nothing of locating some
  seam to tell me whether it's
  inside, out: what would I do
  with all that time, to match
  the useful recurrence of be-
  ing lost for a few unhurried
  breaths, before slamming out
  the door on some inferior a-
  genda? Would I apply myself,
  once more, to the pursuit of
  some higher understanding or
  would I content myself to be

J.M.W. Turner
Venice with The Salute
ca 1840