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the anti-bonobo world 1: the BHT

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somewhere in Turkmenistan

So today begins a new series about the anti-bonobo world, and I thought I’d start it with a country and a person I’ve recently learned about from a game show I was watching on a pub TV. With the assistance of a well-informed bar worker, I’ve learned that the trippingly named Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow is the current dictator of the BHT, my own coinage for the Eurasian nation, Turkmenistan.

The Black Hole of Turkmenistan (BHT) is a landlocked country with a population of 6 million (though censuses are rare there, and outside observers argue for a population of less than 3 million!), bordered by the Caspian Sea in the west, Uzbekistan in the north, and Iran and Afghanistan in the south. My pub informant told me that its above-named Leader has a reputation as a joke version of another joker, Kim Jong-un. He’s been the BHT’s dictator since 2007, having previously served as assistant to the previous dictator, Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov, who’d held the job from 1985 until his death in 2006. Interestingly, Niyazov’s party from 1985 to 1992 (i.e. mostly as a ‘socialist republic’ under the USSR), was the Communist Party of Turkmenistan (CPT), but in 1992 it was changed to the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which was akin to switching from the Stupid Arse Party (SAP) to the Stupid Dick Party (SDP). The new dictator has retained the Stupid Dick moniker, though he’s definitely a chip off the old bloke, who supported the 1991 attempted coup d’état against Gorbachov’s reforms.

These types are often called ‘hard-liners’, which is a euphemistic political term for those who will do whatever ‘hard’ things are needful to retain or reinforce their power. I prefer the term ‘thugs’ myself – and of course there are many of them dotted across the political landscape. Most of the head thugs – the ‘dictators’ or ‘party leaders’ – are surrounded by a band of lickspittle thugs, all of whom are male human apes. In the bonobo world they would likely have gotten their penises bitten off before they got to this stage.

So, the BHT earns its names for a number of reasons, but especially because of its impenetrability in terms of information. But while black holes are stars, metaphorically speaking, in the firmament around us, black holes on the Earth’s peel are simply disgusting blotches, as everyone would expect from a region that has suffered from total rule by two dictators in the last thirty years. North Korea is, of course, another example.

So, even if we accept the 6 million figure (they’re apparently having another census in 2022), the BHT is one of the most sparsely populated nations (it’s mostly desert), and one of the poorest and most corrupt. It does have one historical claim to fame, though, for within its current territory once lay the city of Merv (also known as Alexandria, Antiochia and Marw al-Shāhijān)the largest city in the world and a regular hangout for the polymath Omar Khayyam. That was until 1221 when the city opened its gates to the son of Genghis Khan – another chip off the old bloke – who, along with his male minions, proceeded to destroy everyone and everything in the greatest massacre of the medieval period. It’s now preserved as a world heritage site, though good luck on trying to visit it.

Returning to today’s BHT, it’s about 93% Muslim and other religions are barely tolerated. Homosexuality is illegal of course, though at least the death penalty has been abolished. Its economy is heavily reliant on its gas resources, which of course is problematic for the future – but, like all the other thugocracies that were once part of the USSR, it will receive ongoing support from Putin. Even so, the nation is leaking people at a regular rate – the majority of them heading across the Caspian Sea to Turkey.

As to those gas resources, they are spectacularly large – the fourth largest in the world, apparently representing some 10% of the world’s potential supply – something that I’m sure is front of mind for the likes of Putin, and other powerful figures. As the VisualPolitic video referenced below points out, it’s probably no coincidence that Russia and Qatar, hosts for the last and next FIFA World Cup, are the biggest gas exporters in the world. Being in possession of large supplies of oil and gas is usually a boon  for any nation – most residents of the oil-rich Middle Eastern nations are relieved from paying tax or ending up in extreme poverty, and despite COP-26 that doesn’t look like changing in my lifetime. However, Turkmenistan is a landlocked country with little in the way of international investment. LNG is transported in two ways, generally – by ship or by pipeline. For Turkmenistan pipeline is the only viable option, but given the rampant corruption there, few other nations are willing to take the risk. One country that does is China, a nation that knows a thing or two about corruption. It has sufficient funds of course, to pour largesse into the country in exchange for various guarantees regarding its gas resources, and it also has the economic and military might to ensure those guarantees are abided by.

And yet, even the most scary thugocracy won’t be able to curb the idiosyncrasies of the tin-pot dictators it deals with, and Berdimuhamedow, also known (by himsself) as Arkedan the Protector, is pretty weird. The two thugocrasies appear to be locked in a struggle as to who rips off the other most successfully. 

In any case, Arkedan the Protector has made a few unsuccesful moves with the funds flowing from China. For example, he had the bright idea of turning the country into a tourist Mecca. He built a vast airport and associated hotel region -a sort of Las Vegas in the  Karakum desert. So he clearly imagined that an influx of tourism would boost the nation’s economy. Good thinking. But then he realised that tourists might be critical of the lack of political freedom, the lack of decent education, and the general impoverishment of the citizenry. Good thinking. So he decided to severely limit the number of tourist visas into the country. Good thinking. The result of all this excellent thinking was a collection of near empty hotels surrounding a state-of-the-art-airport, which, due to the general lack of arrivals and departures, is one of the most efficiently run airports on the planet. Why am I reminded of Yes, Minister? 

Joking aside, it’s worth bearing in mind that many of us are simply lucky to be born under a government that is minimally repressive – and I should assure you that I’m no libertarian – as the most hypersocial species on the planet we owe more than we like to admit to states and their governments – for example, our education, our access to healthcare, our jobs, houses, clothes, technology, the cars that we drive and the roads we drive them on, the cities we live in, and so on. All of this is facilitated by the state, the libertarian bogeyman. I live in Australia, which, as states go, is fairly benign, though far from beyond criticism. I could’ve found myself in Turkmenistan or North Korea or the ‘democratic’ Republic of Congo. That’s why, as a hypersocial species, we should recognise we’re part of a human community and try to improve life for every member of that community. Of course, a community of almost 8 billion is almost too much to contemplate, but there but for the good or bad fortune of where we’re thrown into this community, go you and me.


Why is TURKMENISTAN the World’s most INSANE dictatorship? – VisualPolitik EN (video)


Written by stewart henderson

November 18, 2021 at 10:28 pm

exploring the history and future of human monogamy

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the world’s dictatorships, according to someone – but remember, not all dictatorships are thugocracies and not all thugocracies are dictatorships

So, humans are predominantly monogamous, but our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos, are sexually promiscuous within large male-female communities. When and why did we turn monogamous?

Offhand, I’ve heard of and can think of a few answers. For example, I’ve read that it began with the notion of private property, which itself began with or was reinforced by the advent of agriculture and permanent settlement. Many anthropologists try to date this, but the spread of Homo sapiens and her ancestors both within and outside of Africa produced a diversity of cultures, no doubt tightly related to environmental conditionals. For example the Australian Aborigines lived here for as much as sixty thousands years without developing permanent settlements and agriculture, and they were right not to do so, as the soil and conditions didn’t favour that lifestyle. So monogamy would have become the norm at different times for different cultures, and sometimes not at all.

Bearing all this in mind, I take with some salt the claim by Kit Opie, an evolutionary anthropologist at University College, London, that ‘the modern monogamous culture has only been around for just 1,000 years’. Okay I got this in a report from CNN Health – did they lose a zero somewhere? Opie’s argument is a familiar one, about property and inheritance, but surely this goes back more than a thousand years in Europe.

Of course, inheritance only matters when you have something to inherit, and in feudal society that wasn’t much for the vast majority. In early agricultural society, perhaps it was even less of a consideration.

Another causal factor I hadn’t considered, but which may have been effective in reinforcing monogamy rather than causing it, was the rise of STDs in earlier times. These diseases had ravaging effects, and would certainly have inhibited promiscuous behaviour among the infected and their associates. Infections of this type tend to make us more insular. The sad death of Nell Gwyn (and her lover Charles II) is a prime example. It’s likely that both syphilis and gonorrhoea jumped to humans from cattle and sheep, but that appears to be centuries rather than millennia ago.

Another theory has to do with the enlargement of the human brain, together with the changes to the female pelvic structure due to bipedalism. This of course takes us back much further in time. With females being more incapacitated during this period, and requiring assistance during childbirth, would this have resulted in closer male-female bonds? Then again, this might have strengthened female-female bonding, for obvious reasons. In any case, these problems of childbirth are likely to have increased social cohesion. And at some stage in the enlargement and greater complexity of the human brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, humans or their ancestors would have twigged to the connection between sex and pregnancy, and so male parentage, or what has been termed ‘reproductive consciousness’. An attempt to answer this ‘when’ question was posted in Slate back in 2013 (all links below), but understandably, it comes up with nothing firm, and even the claim that this understanding probably occurred in Homo sapiens between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago strikes me as questionable. Did H neanderthelensis have reproductive consciousness? Could H erectus have had some such understanding?

I would expect there to be a link between reproductive consciousness and monogamy, so answering this question is important. Of course, knowing, or having a strong sense, that a female’s new-born is also a product of a male (a very sophisticated and hard-won notion, as Matthew Cobb’s book The egg and sperm race makes clear) would change male-female dynamics in a dramatic way. It might be expected to turn the male and female into a team. It might also be expected, in a generally promiscuous culture, to turn males into jealous rivals, each asserting parenthood or ownership of the offspring over others. With no other form of proof, the ‘father’ would be the contest winner. Another way of assuring paternity, of course, is to reduce or eliminate the promiscuity, to ensure that you could be the only father.

So now I’m looking at the why of monogamy rather than the when. Anthropologists have found that different cultures have different understandings of the relation between sex and pregnancy, and there are likely different understandings within those cultures too. But even if one man’s paternity is accepted in all or most cases, we can’t be sure that this will lead to monogamy. It would depend on the group’s dynamics. For example, imagine a bonobo-like human culture, in which the mother-child bond is very strong, and adult female bonds are also very strong, so that the mother would get help from other females when she needs it (and males too will help out, but they are further along in the chain of connections). Why should males knowing that they’re the father change this dynamic? There’s already a perfectly adequate, female-centred method for bringing up baby. The males had previously been shut out, and knowledge of paternity wouldn’t necessarily change that situation, even if the females acknowledged the paternity of particular males.

Again, it seems to me that monogamy is most likely to be linked strongly to private property, which isn’t a concern for bonobos, but is more so for chimps, who fight over territory and pecking order, between and within groups. And fighting over territory has been a virtual raison d’être for humans as far back as we can trace.

So it seems that bonobos are really the outliers – less monogamous than us, less possessive and less aggressive. So is it possible to learn from those relatively dumb beasts?

Well maybe we already are, without quite being aware of it. I always live in hope. The push is on – and it is relatively recent – to recognise intellectual powers and physical skills. Women have been allowed to study at universities only recently – less than a century ago. Women’s sport has only started to come into its own in the last couple of decades. Beauty pageants – putting women in their ornamental place – are on the decline. And we note with both horror and satisfaction that the world’s thugocracies – Afghanistan, Algeria, Russia, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Hungary, Brazil, Chechnia, Belarus, Burma, Turkey, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Angola, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Burundi, the two Congos, Cambodia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Cuba, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Mauritania, Libya, Oman, Kazakhstan, Laos, Vietnam, Gabon, Qatar, Rwanda, Eswatini, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Uganda, Western Sahara – and yes, there are a lot, and I’m sure there are more – these thugocracies are, without exception, controlled by men. And if you look at countries run – at least for the time being – by women, such as Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Slovakia, they make for great holiday destinations, especially in the time of covid. Though they might not let you in.

So the evidence is mounting that a human world turned upside-down would be a great improvement. My hope is that women continue to band together with other women to make it happen. Sadly it won’t happen in my lifetime, but I look forward to seeing a little more progress before my span is complete. Whether this world would continue to be as monogamous as it is now is an interesting question. As has been pointed out, by Melvin Konner amongst others, men are largely surplus to requirements, once their sperm has been gathered, so they may be treated like drones, of the ant variety, and left to die. Or maybe they’ll be kept on as pets and playthings, as well as useful drudges. Whatever the future holds, monogamy is certainly not a necessary part of it.

References and links

Matthew Cobb, The egg & sperm race, 2006

Melvin Konner, Women after all: sex, evolution and the end of male supremacy, 2015

Written by stewart henderson

June 7, 2021 at 7:28 pm

A bonobo world ? personal reflections on societal health 7

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Bertrand Russell – a very well-connected philosopher

This world of reading has long excited me about our scientific and technological achievements, about what we know and are discovering of our solar system, our galaxy and our universe, of our origins, our neurology and our immune system, and so much more, but I’ve also been fascinated, horrified and moved to tears by our history, and our capacity for inflicting and enduring suffering. Even while taking those steps to ‘rational knowledge’, we’ve revealed how unreasoning we are. Aristotle, the founder of syllogistic logic and virtue ethics, believed that many humans were born to be slaves, and that women needed to be ruled over by men due to their lack of control, deceptiveness and general inferiority. Plato’s many dialogues, such as Euthyphro and Protagoras, still provide much food for thought, but his notions of ideal justice and eternal souls have had a corrosively irrational influence. We understandably admire the ancient Greeks but much of their economy and that of other ancient civilisations was based on slavery, and in ancient Egypt as well as in feudal Britain the lower classes were slaves in all but name. The veiling of women began in Mesopotamia, and was common practice in ancient Greece and Rome. All of this betokened hierarchies of class and gender, and the majority of the population lucked out in the lottery of birth and parentage. 

We may feel we’ve escaped from these rigid hierarchies, but it’s rather that we’re less honest or more deluded about them. Certainly the hierarchies aren’t quite as easy to define or identify, but they involve money, power and influence, as they always have. It’s not so much about caste, land ownership or birthright today, it’s about social connections, whether though family, business, academia or politics. It’s often not what you know, but who you know. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote of pulling the beard of William Gladstone, four-term Prime Minister of the UK, as a child. Bertrand was himself the grandson of John Russell, twice Prime Minister, and senior government minister for two decades. It wouldn’t be hard to find many other examples of well-connected success, though happily there are counter-examples, such as Newton, Faraday and Einstein. In any case, until recently, those hierarchies were much more fixed than they are today. For example a modern university education can be gained in a multitude of ways, such as scholarships and through government subsidies. Mature age students can be accepted by a simple entry test, something like an IQ test, as I was. This less regimented, more fluid society can easily lead people into the mythical belief that anyone can achieve anything they put your mind to, and that we’re entirely responsible for our achievements in the battle to the top in any sphere of activity. It is the reason, of course, for the rise of libertarianism in many affluent countries. But the fact is that elites and elitism are just as common as ever, and it was ever thus. When Aristotle wrote that some men were born to be slaves, he was insisting upon his own superiority, and that of his associates, those for whom he was writing. 

So the human ape has always been ensnared in a hierarchy, whether as a hunter-gatherer or a computer programmer. Considering the inevitability of such a situation, the question we should ask is, are some hierarchies better or more effective than others for human flourishing, and for our subsistence with other species on the planet? With that question in mind, let’s again consider our ape cousins, the bonobos and the chimps. 

Chimpanzees are far more numerous than bonobos and have been studied more thoroughly in the wild. Like bonobos, they’re an endangered species, their numbers being considerably reduced by deforestation, habitat degradation and poaching – the standard problems inflicted by human apes on all of their cousins. Chimps like to move around, in small travelling bands of a few individuals, but habitat degradation and fragmentation has limited this behavioral inclination, just as land clearing and the takeover and degradation of natural resources by Europeans in Australia has limited the behavioral inclinations and practices of its more ancient human inhabitants. However, these small groups often come together to form larger communities of as much as 150 members. This splitting and combining behaviour, shared by bonobos (and of course by humans), is described as a fission-fusion society. The smaller groups perform different functions, such as an all-male hunting party or an all-female nursing group, or a combination of genders and generations for various purposes, but the social structure is always dominated by males, who fight each other for dominance. Once a particular male has asserted his dominance, he maintains it through aggression, even when there is no challenge from other males. This results in a dominance hierarchy, with a second and third most dominant male, each one threatened from below and threatening the chimp above him. Such a hierarchy is inherently unstable, not only because individuals grow stronger and weaker as they grow and age, but because the fission-fusion society produces shifting coalitions which can alter the balance of power at any time. A dominant male who develops an overly aggressive style might be toppled, and even killed, in a ‘palace coup’ of disgruntled underlings. This allows for a form of political manoeuvring to defeat physical aggression. A less physically strong male may develop political skills, if not to get to the top, to derive benefits from his king-maker role. In this situation, the alpha male may also have to develop political skills as well as displaying aggression. Threats to his power often come during the fusion period of the fission-fusion dynamic, and he often succeeds in maintaining his position through display of force rather than attack, much like a dictator mobilising his forces around the perimeter of a demonstration. 

Female chimps, of course, are not necessarily entirely passive in such circumstances, and will use their connections and their sexual availability to influence the social hierarchy and their own position within it. Female dominance has even been recorded in chimps in captivity, though it is likely very rare. The males are aggressive not only in terms of maintaining or overturning the hierarchy but in maintaining, defending or expanding territory, though this territoriality may vary between subspecies, and may even be affected in the wild by those humans who study them and provide them with food, so as to keep them nearby. Think of the territoriality of your pet dog, who is kept well-fed and cared for by the pack leader, yourself, and feels threatened by canine and even human encroachers. 


Thomas Crump, A brief history of science, 2001

Written by stewart henderson

November 6, 2020 at 10:51 pm

there’s no such thing as a fair election 2: Australia’s systems, and the real value of democracy

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Canto: So let’s talk about varieties of representative democracy, because I’ve never been clear about them. Looking at the Australian experience, this government website has a summary which starts thus:

The Australian electorate has experienced three types of voting system First Past the Post, Preferential Voting and Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote).

The first-past-the-post system hasn’t been used in Australia since the 19th century. All our elections now use forms of preferential and proportional representation voting. Australia, incidentally is one of only three countries in the world that uses preferential voting in major elections. Under full (as opposed to optional) preferential voting, each candidate on the ballot must be given a preference, from first to last. This tends to favour major parties, whose candidates are recognisable, but it can also lead to a local election being won by a candidate with fewer votes than her major opponent.

Jacinta: Yes, this can occur when no candidate gets a majority on the first count. A second count is then held and the candidate with the least votes is excluded. That candidate’s second preferences are distributed amongst the remaining candidates. This may give the second most voted-for candidate the lead, with over 50% of the vote. Or it may put the most-voted-for candidate over the 50% line. Or neither, in which case a third count occurs, until one candidate scores over 50%.

Canto: Yes, as this shows, minor party candidates need to score highly in the first count to have much chance, as second preferences are more often than not directed (by how-to-vote cards, which they may not choose to follow) to the more high-profile major party candidates. This is why minor parties almost never win a seat in the House of Representatives, which, unlike the Senate, uses the preferential voting system. And overall, there can be a problem with this type of voting in single-member electorates, in that one party may win a few seats by large margins, while another wins many seats by a small margin, and so wins more seats while losing the popular vote. That’s of course why governments often engage in pork-barrelling to swing marginal seats.

Jacinta: Some of the concerns raised by full preferential voting can be alleviated somewhat by an optional preferential system, but that brings its own problems which we won’t go into here. Let’s look now at proportional representation, which in the Australian context is described thus on our government website:

Proportional Representation is not a single method of election, for there are a number of variations in use, including the Single Transferable Vote, two variants of which are used in Australia. One is used in Senate elections, and the Hare-Clark version….. is used for elections to the Tasmanian House of Assembly and the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The Senate model for elections is described thus:

Each state and territory acts as a single, multi-member electorate in Senate elections. In half-Senate elections six senators are elected from each state, and two from each territory. In full Senate elections, which follow a dissolution of both houses of the Parliament, 12 senators are elected from each state and two from each territory.

To be elected, a candidate must achieve a quota of votes. Without going into detail, the system provides a greater likelihood of minor parties gaining a Senate seat, and so a greater diversity of voices tends to be heard in that chamber. This also helps the Senate’s function as a ‘house of review’ as the governing party has difficulty in gaining a majority there.

Canto: In ‘Choices’, a chapter of David Deutsch’s book The beginning of infinity, proportional representation is described even more negatively than other options, as it tends to result in watered-down, compromise solutions which end up pleasing nobody and, more importantly, don’t actually solve the problem at hand. But the real issue is broader. We can try to invoke mathematics and social-choice theory to make political systems more representative, but even if this was ‘successful’, which various no-go mathematical theorems show can’t be done, the question arises as to whether the most ‘truly’ representative system will be the fairest and best. As Deutsch points out, all this argy-bargying about voting and representational systems is about input to the system rather than output in the form of good decision-making – the institution of good policy and the removal of bad policy. The creation of pathways to good policy.

Jacinta: Yes, it’s worth quoting what Deutsch, partially channelling Karl Popper, is aiming for here:

The essence of democratic decision-making is not the choice made by the system at elections, but the ideas created between elections. And elections are merely one of the many institutions whose function is to allow such ideas to be created, tested, modified and rejected. The voters are not a fount of wisdom from which the right policies can be empirically ‘derived’. They are attempting, fallibly, to explain the world and thereby to improve it.

Canto: Interesting that Deutsch is careful not to say anything negative about democracy here, but he’s actually underplaying the role of democracy in decision-making, because we all know, I think, that new and important and worthwhile ideas aren’t created by democratic process, but by intellectual elites of one kind or another. These ideas are often carried forward by elected officials who have either helped to create them or have been persuaded by them. It may be that they don’t work or ‘their time hasn’t come’, but if there is a kernel of truth or real benefit to them, as for example with renewable energy and electric vehicles, they will, with modifications and adaptations, succeed in the end.

Jacinta: Yes, and what this sort of progress has to do with democracy is that there really is no political system that nurtures innovation and improvement in the way that democracy does, even if it does so with what sometimes seems frustrating slowness, and with the blockages by vested interests that so often infect politics, democratic or otherwise. Patience, I suppose, is a virtue.

Canto: Yes, democracy is in some ways a politics of persuasion, an invitation to try and discuss and dispute over new ideas, with accepted rules of engagement, trial and error, modification, exchange and respect, grudging or otherwise. And of course, with ongoing elections, it’s also a politics of renewal and revision, and that’s the fairest way of going about things as far as I can see it.


David Deutsch, The beginning of infinity, 2011

Written by stewart henderson

May 31, 2020 at 3:34 pm

Trumpdagistan: the new fundamentalism

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The legitimate powers of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others, but it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Thomas Jefferson

A recent Point of Inquiry podcast has again turned my attention to what I should now call Trumpdagistan, a more or less dictatorial state that borders Canada and Mexico, which for various reasons I shouldn’t really be concerning myself with, as I live very far from the country and have never had any intention of visiting it, even if I had the means. It just seems to be a kind of ghoulishness on my part, my version of addiction to, if that website still exists.

As a completely non-religious person, I’m obviously opposed to any interference of the state by religion, that terribly bad explanation of any and all phenomena. Trumpdagistan, even before it was renamed, was the most religious of all the democratic countries. Their national god is Guard, who guards Trumpdagistan against all evils, including secularism, the world’s primary evil, according to Billy Barr, the dictatorship’s chief toady, who believes that all morality derives from the book of Guard.

Whilst the wanker in the white palace (WWP) is very unlikely to believe in Guard (for his self-obsession is all-consuming but exhausting, as it basically consists of constantly puffing hot air into a balloon full of holes), he recognises the usefulness of a national god in much the same way as every previous dictator has. So he’s happy, indeed delighted, to unleash his toady on secularism and more particularly, secularists. Free-thinkers, in the words of Stephen Dedalus.

The WWP and his toadies have made every effort in their few years of control to create a compliant, Guard-worshipping judiciary, especially at the very top, the Supreme Court. As the Point of Inquiry podcast has pointed out, that court is now stacked with Guard-botherers, more or less bent on overturning the separation between politics and religion, through particular interpretations of the country’s much-worshipped Constitution which somehow bestow a kind of second-class citizenship on secularists. It’s unclear, however, how the Constitution can be so interpreted.

In any case, the WWP’s ‘administration’ has managed to promote two more religious right-wingers to the Supreme Court, for a total of five – just another couple of bricks in the wall, so to speak. The much-worshipped constitution of the former USA actually has very little to say on religion. The first amendment to that constitution, as it pertains to religion, says only this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

That’s it. It’s since been known as the ‘establishment clause’. The rest of that amendment, also quite brief, deals with freedom of speech, without particular reference to religion. The only possible ambiguity in the above clause is ‘respecting’, which could mean ‘having respect for’ or ‘with respect or reference to’. Neither interpretation suggests that the constitution, or the bill of rights, supports any religion; rather it clearly supports keeping out of religion, or maintaining a separation between religion and law-making. And yet, mischief-making religionists, some of them rather powerful, have tried hard to distort the simple meaning. Take the late unlamented Justice Scalia, who in one forgettable judicial opinion came up with this gem:

The establishment clause permits the disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

Of course the clause has nothing whatever to do with permitting disregard, it simply avoids permission and prohibition equally. Nothing could be clearer. What Scalia seems to be wanting the clause to say is that the law should disregard and so not protect polytheists, atheists and the like. This defies any serious interpretation.

And so we come to the toady. He’s apparently a catholic, and believes that secularism is the principle cause of the ills that Trumpdagistan is suffering from. Those ills don’t, of course, include white collar corruption, which he avidly supports. To their credit, many other catholics are condemning Barr’s evidence-free claims, but in Barr’s Trumpdagistan, a collection of writings penned many centuries ago by scores of individuals of widely varying views and experience, and known today, at least by some, as the bible, is the only source of morality for all humanity, and will no doubt be installed as the basis of all Trumpdagistani law. All of this is making the WWP very popular, if polls are to be believed, so expect much more of it in the future. What would Thomas Jefferson think?

Written by stewart henderson

February 23, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Will the USA be able to reform its system after all this?

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It’s astonishing to most of the democratic world that a person so plainly unfit for office, in any office, should have been allowed to stand for office as President of the most militarily powerful country in the world. If any position requires vetting – and all responsible positions surely do – then it is this one. Yet in the USA anyone, even someone who more or less defines dishonesty, corruption and extreme self-interest, can become President, and this seems to be accepted as an article of faith. As one US commentator has pointed out, the current President would not last two weeks as CEO of any US company. But it is worse than this. He would not be considered for such a position by any responsible vetting panel, and he would not last for two weeks in any job whatever, from office boy to toilet cleaner. He has never worked for anyone else in his life, and would be incapable of doing so. Yet he has been given the responsibility of working for the entire American population.

This is not news. It is something known by every member of congress, every business leader and every observer of US politics. That, of course, is why the current US political situation is so bizarre. Now that he has been given that position – with the help of Russian operatives working for a dictator whose principal aim in life appears to be to undermine the most prominent democratic nations – the party that he pretends to belong to, the Republican Party, has for the most part assembled behind him, prepared to follow wherever he leads.

So, where, precisely, is the ‘leader’ going? His life, as is well known, has never involved service to others. It has generally been a convoluted and impulse-driven floundering after self-aggrandisement. Those Republicans gifted with some intellect are well aware of this, and I’m sure many of them scratch their heads at his popularity, such as it is. However, it seems that such is their hunger for power, they’re prepared to cling to someone who wields that power, in spite of never having been supported by a majority of the American public, even on election day. They will support him, again somewhat astonishingly, even if he betrays their values and their political agenda.

Where will this end, and how? Most experts argue that the House will vote to impeach, but the Senate will vote against removing him from office. Of course I have no idea if this will happen, or if Trump will be re-elected in 2020. It appears, though, that, given current poll numbers which have been consistent over a long period, he will need foreign assistance in the next election, of the sort he utilised in 2016. Trump has many powerful ‘advocates’ overseas, and of course he will be extremely willing to employ them, for he has many reasons for wishing to stay in power, beyond self-aggrandisement.

The utter helplessness of the American intelligentsia, and the free press (and I say this while admiring their indefatigable work in exposing all of the corruption, neglect and fecklessness) is painful to watch in this period. But there must be a silver lining. When all this is over, there must be root and branch reform of a Presidential system that has proved itself such easy prey to this extreme vandalism.

Written by stewart henderson

November 15, 2019 at 5:44 pm

The boy in the white palace 4: extortion for dummies

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Beneficence is always free, it cannot be extorted…

Adam Smith

Jacinta: I’ve been bemused by the sloppy way, IMHO, that the boy king’s adversaries – the Great Patriots – are handling their strategy for the defence of the realm. Some are still using the Queer and Daft (Q&D) term quid pro quo, as if that’s going to be an effective rallying cry for the country’s GPs. In fact it’s so feeble that the boy’s courtiers and epigones are happy to use it themselves, saying quid pro quos are great things, very handy for the MAGA cause….

Canto: Yes but I do notice that some of the more quick-witted GPs are almost at the point of considering, in a consistent way, a more obviously criminal term for the lad’s crimes. Whoduv thunk it? Unfortunately they’re not quite sure which crime to bruit about.

Jacinta: And Q&D terminology is still de rigueur for many, especially the courtiers and epigones. The two more serious, and accurate, terms for the crimes being particularly focussed on – re impeachment….

Canto: And impeachment’s a process we’re going to have to deconstruct – to use a shitty po-mo term most appropriate for the occasion – in another post.

Jacinta: Indeed – the two crimes being whispered way too softly by the GPs are bribery and extortion, with bribery being, unfortunately, the most favoured. But the Great Patriots are wrong.

Canto: That’s bad.

Jacinta: I think the only reason they prefer bribery is because, apparently, it’s in the SACUSA…

Canto: Scusi?

Jacinta: What? Oh yes, dummy, the Sublimely Awesome Constitution of the USA. Get out from under your rock, mate. It’s apparently mentioned in the SACUSA as one of the high Crimes and Mis Demenours you’re not allowed to consort with. We’ll look into that later. But I think extortion’s the thing, to set before the wee king, because, well, it’s much more nasty-sounding. I also think it’s more accurate. Off the top of my head, it’s about demanding money – or a thing of value – with menaces. And the boy king doesn’t need money – he’s been rolling in it since he was in his nappies, according to the New York Times. He’s far more in need of something to trounce his enemies, so that he can stay in the White Palace until he’s all growed up – and that’s a long long time.

Canto: Is he still in his nappies d’you think? I’ve heard rumours…

Jacinta: Well, I don’t think I’d have the stomach for that piece of investigative journalism, but it would certainly raise a stink if that were true. But here’s the thing. Ukraine has a new leader, with an overwhelming mandate to beat off Madame Putain and fight internal corruption. It’s a vastly important, and simply vast, country lying between La Putain and his or her designs on Europe, and it desperately needs an alliance with the USA, Europe and any other region it can ally itself with, but their President, when he came to office, hadn’t yet cottoned on to the fact that the USA is an ex-democracy and that its wee king had googly eyes for La Putain. ..

Canto: So he was ripe for extortion, I get it. The boy loves La Putain and wants to be like him, master of all he surveys, so he wants to have the Ukraine slay his rival, so he menaces them with a range of shite – saddling the country with being behind interference in his ascension to the throne in 2016, refusing to have an alliance with it, and with-holding funds and weapons, in the hope that La Putain will invade, slay the putative wrong-doers and share the spoils with the wee laddie.

Jacinta: Yeah, something like that. But let’s just get back to demanding a thing of value with menaces. I think it’s pretty straightforward.

Canto: Yes, others use the term coercion, but it’s the same thing, and it definitely applies in this case. The boy’s courtiers even drafted exactly what they demanded the Ukrainian Prez had to publicly say about the poor wee Biden boy and his nasty papa.

Jacinta: It’s time to look more closely at what the SACUSA has to say on the matter. Impeachment gets a mention very early on (Article 1, Section 2), but the nub of the matter is expressed, albeit briefly, in Article 2, Section 4, entitled ‘Disqualification’:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

So only two actual crimes are specified, which is a wee bit disappointing for dealing with the Most Powerful King in the Multiverse – but I don’t want to get into the impeachment disaster here, we’ll save that for another post. For now I’ll just say that ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanours’ however vague, was surely meant to cover more than nothing, and extortion sounds pretty lofty as crimes go. So let’s look more closely at extortion.

Canto: I have one dictionary definition here: ‘the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats’. Sounds like just the Right Thing.

Jacinta: Yes, and what the boy-king wanted to obtain was far more valuable to him than all the gold in Ukraine….

Canto: Encyclopedia Brittanica gives the definition as ‘the unlawful exaction of money or property through intimidation’, but in an article about white-collar crime it describes extortion as ‘a threat made to obtain a benefit from either a private individual or a public official’, and the threat here made by the boy and his courtiers, was ‘if you don’t invent something to besmirch the reputation of my domestic enemy, or announce that he has a reputation as a criminal, you will have no alliance with our mighty kingdom, no aid or support in defeating your enemy, La Putain (my own true love), and your people will die in great numbers, crushed by his or her mighty fist’.

Jacinta: Hmmm. A more clear-cut and extremely serious case of extortion could hardly be found. A girl-boy lawyer would win the case with a few hours’ training, except that the king is apparently above all law. He’s only subject to the law’s feeble sibling, impeachment.

Canto: I note that one of the Royal lad’s acolytes, one Nikki Hayley, has sought to churlishly dismiss the affair by pointing out that Ukraine finally received the aid, so no problem. However, the above definition points out that the threat is the crime, not the success or otherwise of the threat.

Canto: It also should hardly need pointing out that Ukraine finally received the promised aid because the scheme against the country was being leaked out – the lad’s courtiers had learned about the whistleblower complaint – not because there was a change of heart. In fact it’s widely believed that mirabile dictu, the withered boy has never managed to develop a heart, the poor sod.

Jacinta: That’s ridiculous, a piece of fantasy emanating from the Deep Kingdom….

Canto: We should operate on the boy to find out – we need real, pulsating evidence. I’m even prepared to do it under anaesthetic. I’d like him to do us a favour though…

Written by stewart henderson

November 10, 2019 at 11:13 am

the boy in the white palace 3: the GASP v the Westminster system

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I don’t care if they respect me, so long as they fear me.


Canto: Here’s a thing, I recently heard a politico-legal pundit – I think it was Chuck Rosenberg, but I may be wrong, I’m trying to track it down – say on MSNBC, a favourite site of mine these days, that ‘we’ (i.e. the American people) ‘don’t get rid of our Leader lightly, unlike the UK, who can dispose of theirs by a simple vote of no-confidence by the Leader’s party’. That was the gist of what he said – it’s a summary, not a direct transcript – and it made me fall off my chair laughing and crying. It was very clear to me that the notion that you shouldn’t be able to dump the boy-king easily was an advantage of the Great American System of the Presidency (GASP), was Total Effing Bullshit (TFB). It took me quite some to get over this piece of tomfoolery.

Jacinta: Ah yes, well that requires a bit of explanation and comparison of the two systems. It’s amusing that the Westminster system of government, derived of course from the UK but utilised with variants in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and with even more variants in other major nations such as India, Japan, Israel and Malaysia, was actually the basis of the GASP. But in some ways that 18th century Westminster system has since moved way ahead of the GASP, in that the parliament has become far more powerful, and the constitutional monarchy, upon which the constitutional presidency was based, has withered away to playing a purely ceremonial role. To me that’s good, as maintaining a monarchy has preserved a lot of history – good and bad – and it’s generally good for tourism, as long as they behave themselves.

Canto: Yes the royal we’s are probably generating more income for the country than what it costs to keep them, as long as they don’t multiply and extend the family too much. 

Jacinta: This is the thing – the difference between the two systems is vast. The Americans talk about Coequal Branches of Government (CBG) as the basis of GASP, whereas under Westminster, it’s all one – the Parliament. And the Prime Minister’s role and general position is nothing like that of the President/King. The key is in the title, prime, or first, minister. Primum inter pares, first among equals, the captain of the team. If the USA adopted a similar system they’d be far better off – their current PM would be Nancy Pelosi, their previous one, Paul Ryan, and there would be no President, unless they wanted a ceremonial one. There’d be half the number of elections, or even less depending on which Westminster system they adopted (the UK holds national elections every five years, the USA every two, at great expense and to the detriment of long-term planning and development). The Senate could act as a brake upon the House, though sometimes one party would hold power in both chambers, for good or ill. The PM would of necessity be a team player – imagine if she said to a journalist ‘don’t talk about them – I’m the team’. Her party would drop her like a hot spud. 

Canto: Yes, the reason dumping the President/King would be so traumatic, not to say bothersome, is that he has so much effing power. Power to shut down the government, power to pardon miscreants, special executive powers, veto powers, power to fill dozens of administrative posts with his cronies…

Jacinta: Or to leave them vacant, apparently. And power to select his running mate, who will automatically take over if he gets thrown under a bus or drowns in his own bile – again a vastly inferior situation to that under Westminster, where the ousted PM has no say whatever in deciding her own successor. The team’s the thing, the team the team, whereas with the GASP, it’s the superhero individual, the Great Leader, the Portentous POTUS, the Commander-in-Chief and other vainglorious assininities. It’s so typically macho, and American. 

Canto: And while we’re pouring on the scorn, It’s in all their worst movies – Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone defying the odds, fighting corruption, saving the state, getting the gal, etc. In fact, this was the essential campaign message of their swamp-draining princeling, which gained him the Kingdom, with much help from the Russian cyber-army. 

Jacinta: And the funny/sad thing is that even the mainstream media – and the experts they bring in, the lifetime lawyers, the intelligence folk, the career civil servants, the historians and on – are so jingoistic, so unself-critical about the GASP, that they blame everything on the boy-king himself – who’s just a boy after all – and have nothing constructive to say about the horrendous GASP. 

Canto: Yes it’s funny, in a grotesque way, to hear many of them say ‘this isn’t a dictatorship’ and ‘he’s not a king’, which nobody ever has to say under the Westminster system…

Jacinta: Under which it would be impossible for this boy-king to rise to absolute power, because their palaces, those of the Westminster nations, are reserved strictly for ceremonial presidents and governors. No power, just lots of fancy architecture and portraiture…

Canto: And lovely gardens.

Jacinta: And garden parties.

Canto: And quaint hats and uniforms. 

Jacinta: And marching bands.

Canto: And many-gun salutes.

Jacinta: And the blowing of purely ceremonial whistles.

Canto: But there are other reasons why this particular princeling, or any other like him, wouldn’t make any headway under Westminster. There are no head-to-head federal elections. Of course, in every particular electorate, there’s usually, but not always, one major candidate of the left pitted against one major candidate of the right, but to get to be Prime Minister, you not only have to win that electorate, you have to win the confidence of the party you’re a member of, by displaying some sort of leadership skills, as well as policy smarts, a certain je ne sais quois charisma, and an ability to unite and inspire a team. And you’ll be expected to sit alongside your team, make speeches in front of your team, while facing the jeers and tough questions of the team sitting directly opposite you, within spitting distance, for every day that parliament sits. No white palace for you, no courtiers, and no immunity. If you go rogue, if you start claiming you’re the team and stuff the rest, you’ll be thrown out the door before you get a chance to open it. 

Jacinta: You might say we can work our political system without a single GASP. 

Canto: Which leaves the question – do you think the American powers-that-be, once they’ve managed to rid themselves of the spoilt boy-king, will ever reform the GASP into a more distributed and effective system?

Jacinta: Very little chance. Will they stop making superhero movies? Very little chance. Will they solve the problem of anti-government fetishism and and fantasies of self-made individualism? Very little chance. Even though the reign of this particular boy-king is likely to end, IMHO, in something memorably horrific – because this boy-king would rather lock himself up in the white palace toilet than go quietly, don’t expect the Americans to come up with a better GASP. They just don’t have it in them, I’m sad to say.

Canto: Well, I want to be more optimistic, but we shall see. We remain watchful ghouls for the foreseeable.

the white palace – watch this space

Written by stewart henderson

November 6, 2019 at 1:29 pm

the boy in the white palace 2: thoughts on Judge Howell’s decision in the Columbia District Court

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Beryl A Howell, Chief Judge, District Court of Columbia

Canto: So I’ve read the decision by the Chief Judge of the District Court of Columbia, which waved away the claims of White Palace lawyers, representing their Department of Justice (DOJ), ‘that existing law bars disclosure to the Congress of grand jury information’. Now, neither of us are lawyers, and I’d never heard of a grand jury before being drawn like a ghoul to the disaster of the bullish boy in the White Palace china shop – so reading this decision has been another of those steep learning thingies.

Jacinta: Yes, the grand jury concept does sound very grand, and a bit Olde Worlde, and I’ve discovered that it’s essentially an obsolete British thing, going back to Magna Carta at least, but now fallen into disuse except in two countries, the Grande Olde US of A, and, would you believe, Liberia. They appear to be a blunt tool of government, and another ‘only in America’ thing, almost. Here’s what an Australian academic blog, the conversation, has to say about it:

The main concerns about the process are that it is run by the prosecutor, no judge is involved, jurors are not screened for bias or suitability, the defendant is not present or represented, the prosecutors and grand jurors are prohibited from revealing what occurred, and transcripts of the proceedings are not made available.

So why does it exist at all? Well, it’s made up of ordinary citizens, rather than uppity legal folks – a grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people, unlike the petit jury made up of the standard dozen – so I suppose they thought it more democratic. They have to decide whether there’s enough evidence to charge someone. It’s like a pre-jury jury. But you can surely see from the above quote that it can be easily manipulated. And has been.

Canto: So this Judge Howell had to decide – but her decision isn’t final because it can be appealed, I believe – whether the DOJ was right in claiming that grand jury info (much of it redacted in the Mueller Report) should be handed over to the House Judiciary Committee (HJC).

Jacinta: So it’s a battle between the HJC and the DOJ, and may the best TLA win…

Canto: Judge Howell is in no doubt about the matter. ‘DOJ is wrong’, she writes multiple times in her 75-page judgment, in which she goes back to the findings of the Mueller Report. It’s funny, we’ve read that report but it’s so refreshing to be reminded of all the damning evidence, and the redacted stuff in part 1 which raised so many questions. There’s been so much that’s happened since, or so much that hasn’t happened that should’ve happened, that we’re inclined almost to believe that Mueller’s findings were unable to lay a glove on the White Palace incumbent, when the truth is far more sinister – that the whole US nation seems to have connived in allowing the boy-king to get away with everything, simply because he’s the King.

Jacinta: Well, I’m not sure about the whole nation, but of course you’re right that any nation, or political system I should say, that grants immunity to its all-powerful ruler, elected or not it makes no difference, while he holds the reins of power, is a global disgrace. It’s more or less the definition of a dictatorship. For example, he can’t be held to account if, while in office, he makes an executive decision to declare a state of emergency due to the massive corruption of all his enemies, and to abolish all federal elections forthwith.

Canto: A reductio ad absurdum perhaps, but one probably not far from the boy-king’s mind. In fact, the lad has been ‘joking’ about a third and fifth term. So people need that reductio kind of thinking to see what peril they’re in, seriously. And Judge Howell sees it clearly, as she reminds those who would read her that the boy and his playmates were found to have behaved very naughtily indeed, in a way that undermined the proper functioning of the state in multiple ways, long before the attempted extortion of the Ukrainian Prez.

Jacinta: Judge Howell argued, correctly, that a revisiting of the Mueller Report’s findings were in order for the purpose of deciding about these grand jury redactions. And so, she correctly reminded Americans that the Special Counsel found that links between the Putin dictatorship and the boy-prince’s pre-ascension team were ‘numerous’, and of course there was the Ukraine-Manafort nexus, which is mixed up currently with the lad’s most recent peccadillos. In fact, Her Honour helpfully points out that the then princeling likely knew about Dictator Putin’s assistance toward his ascension, by quoting from the Report:

Manafort, for his part, told the Office that, shortly after WikiLeaks’s July 22 release, Manafort also spoke with candidate Trump [redacted]. Manafort also [redacted] wanted to be kept apprised of any developments with WikiLeaks and separately told Gates to keep in touch [redacted] about future WikiLeaks releases.

According to Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by Wikileaks. [Redacted] while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport. [Redacted], shortly after the call candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.

Canto: Yes, those redactions seem to indicate that the then princeling and his courtiers knew about, encouraged and accepted foreign interference – hardly surprising news, but under the USA’s highly-worshipped Constitution that there’s a rootin-tootin High Crime and Mister Demenour.

Jacinta: But it doesn’t matter because the boy-king has absolute power and can do whatever he likes, he done said it hisself. And apparently there are some powerful American folks, apart from his courtiers, that pretty much agree. The King just has too many responsibilities to be interfered with while in office by such petty matters as criminal charges – which is a pretty obvious problemo, as the King can simply increase his duties, and make them permanent, in order to make himself more immune, for a lifetime.

Canto: So Judge Howell looked at this too, because this apparent immunity hangs by the slender thread of a view held by the DOJ ‘Office of Legal Counsel’ (OLC). Her Honour quotes from the Mueller Report, and adds her own very interesting comments:

“Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel regulations,” the Special Counsel “accepted” the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel’s (“OLC”) legal conclusion that “‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’ in violation of ‘the constitutional separation of powers.’” …. This OLC legal conclusion has never been adopted, sanctioned, or in any way approved by a court. 

What I suspect Judge Howell as saying here is, ‘it’s about time a proper court got hold of this OLC ‘legal conclusion’ and subjected it to the proper legal scrutiny it deserves, or very much needs.

Jacinta: She’s also happy to use the term ‘stonewalling’ in describing the DOJ ‘s tactics with regard to these redactions, a stonewalling that continues to this day.

Canto: Yes, and it’ll be interesting to observe the fate of Billy Barr, a principal toadie of the boy-king and Grand Marquis of the DOJ, as these adventures in Toyland play out.

Jacinta: So, overall, Judge Howell’s pretty contemptuous of the DOJ arguments, which she would prefer to call “arguments”, and has been extremely diligent in refuting them from every possible perspective she can think of, with a lot of case law and something of a history lesson regarding the thoughts of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others. I’m thinking that not only will we have to bone up on US Federal law (and a lot of other law), we’ll have to read the whole of the US Constitution and the Federalist Papers to get more thrills out of watching this battle between the boy-king and the Constitutionalists (if that’s what it is) play out.

Canto: Yes, and I’ll be even more interested in the aftermath, after the bodies are buried and the blood has been wiped away. Will Americans still want to say that their quasi-dictatorial political system is the greatest in the known universe?

Jacinta: You betcha.

first volume of a collection of papers on the US Constitution, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, quoted in Judge Howell’s decision


Click to access grand.jury.release.opinion.pdf

Written by stewart henderson

November 4, 2019 at 2:14 pm

learning about Trump

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Getting rid of the dictator is only a first step in establishing a free society. The dictatorship must also be disassembled.

George Ayittey

More about how I became drawn in to the Trump horrorshow

Written by stewart henderson

October 28, 2019 at 2:55 pm