My Photo

« Negotiating in Good Faith | Main

January 16, 2023

Comments

Huge thanks to Michael for posting this. Needless to say, I haven't read it yet, but I will do so later this evening, and it will be a great pleasure to have something to chew on that isn't politics and the dire state of the world.

Ha! Nobody who has come to know me will be surprised to hear that this was all Greek (worse than Greek, I have some Greek) to me. But nonetheless, this made me smile:

The quality of the code I inherited was so poor it led me to spend a morning and some amount of the department's money working my way through telephone operators and secretaries until I got a particular graduate student at Case Western University on the line so I could tell him, "Set foot in Austin, Texas and you're a dead man!" and hang up. But I digress...

Which just goes to show, people who criticise digressions could hardly be more wrong.

I know that I once solved that problem and I believe I remember that I also went for exclusion of certain non-viable cases. E.g. there are limited cases where the product ends in 1 which meant that the other numbers had to end in 2, 5 or 0. Each multiplication increases the number of numbers behind the decimal point by 2, so we would expect 8 of them behind the decimal point but we have to get rid of 6 of those, which again points to 0,2 and 5 dominating.
But, as was said, the thinking about it could take more time than the computer needs with a brute force attack.

One solution is that all four items cost $1.63 each.

One solution is that all four items cost $1.63 each.

One solution to what, exactly?

Maybe I missed the joke...?

I've gone around and around ChatGPT. Early on the code looked good but it was obvious that it wasn't understanding completely what I wanted. The more I tried to fine-tune the worse the code got. It finally generated this tight bit of code. I can't tell whether it would work or not.

# Get value for x from user
print "Enter a value for x: ";
chomp($x = );

# Initialize loop counter
$d = 0.01;

while ($d <= $x) {
$c = x * (1 - x**(1/4)) * (1 - x**(3/12)) - d;
$b = x**(3/12) * c * d * (1 - x**(1/4));
$a = x**(1/4) * b * c * d;

if (($a + $b + $c + $d == $x) && ($a * $b * $c * $d == $x)) {
printf "%.2f, %.2f, %.2f, %.2f\n", $a, $b, $c, $d;
}
$d += 0.01;
}

Maybe I missed the joke...?

No I goofed up... :(

chomp($x = );
in the above code should be
chomp($x = [STDIN])

Square brackets are substituted for angle brackets.

I started reading the OP, then decided to try to solve the problem without writing any code.

The first step is to put the four prices in cents. Then we have sum(prices)=711 and product(prices)=711,000,000.

We find the prime factors of 711,000,000:

711,000,000 = 79 * 3^2 * 2^6 * 5^6.

The four prices must each be created by multiplying a share of the prime factors.

The 79 is useful. One of the prices must be one of 79, 158, 237, 316, 395, 474, 632.

So I played with one of the prices being 79, and showed that that couldn't work. That took 30 minutes or so, but which time I understood the problem better.

There's a constraint on the smallest price, call it x, that cubed_root(711,000,000/x) <= (711-x)/3

That means the smallest price must be at least 75c, implying that the largest must be at most 486c.

Now, consider the price which is a multiple of 79c, and subtract it from 711. If the remainder is not a multiple of 5, then (at least) one of the remaining three prices must not be a multiple of 5, and must be at least 75c. The only possibilities are 96, 144, 192, and 288, and most of those use up enough 2s to be problematic.

One we've guessed two numbers, the remaining two numbers come from a quadratic, which can be solved instantly (on a spreadsheet) to find if one gets integers. So now we have an approach which can be applied quickly to eliminate all the multiples of 79c apart from 316c.

316c is different, because that leaves 395c as the sum of the remaining three prices, which is a multiple of 5. One of the prices must be odd, which limits the possibilites. Trying these, and feeding the result into the quadratic formula, one gets the solution.

It finally generated this tight bit of code. I can't tell whether it would work or not.

Tidying up the Perl syntax, and removing the if enclosing the print statement in order to see what sort of results it gets, the code runs. It produces nothing even close to a solution, but it runs.

I suppose this code falls into the same category as the usual complaint about ChatGPT: looks plausible on the surface, but doesn't hold up. The nice thing about code is that it's testable :^)

At first glance, I thought it had found a very efficient solution to the problem. The more I looked at the less sense it made. I translated it to Pascal and fiddled with the code such as not making exact comparisons between real numbers. Based on the numbers being calculated, there was no possibility of finding a solution.

But it had a long and detailed description of how the code should work perfectly. Maybe it went into BS mode when I told it to optimize the code.

It did come up with a couple of brute force approaches and several methods of pruning the number of interactions needed.

pro bono, you lost me at 711,000,000.

It did come up with a couple of brute force approaches and several methods of pruning the number of interactions needed.

These days there are a number of online documents describing the problem, some including at least pseudo-code. (The ones I've seen post-date when my daughter brought it home, and when I gave the talk.) The training set for ChatGPT is reported to include StackOverflow, which includes at least one entry for this problem. That it would select a working brute force example from its data set is at least somewhat impressive.

I have seen reports that it will generate working malware. Nothing about whether it's just retrieving working code from the data set, or doing something new. New malware, or even new combinations of existing malware, would be very interesting.

Yeah, I don't get the necessity of putting it in cents and adding the 2- and 5-based factors. If you just leave it as 711, you get 79 * 3^2. So one price has to be a multiple of 79 (call it n * 79) and the other three prices have to produce 9/n.

That was in response to russell, btw.

pro bono, you lost me at 711,000,000

The product of the dollar prices is 7.11, so the product of the cent prices is 7.11*10^8.

It's convenient to work in cents because then the prices are integers.

This tripped me up too, but then I realized that not seeing it was what had tripped me up when I was playing around with the problem after Michael first posed it.

The original problem looks like this:

a + b + c + d = 7.11

a * b * c * d = 7.11

If you change a, b, c, and d to cents, for the first equation you have to multiply both sides by 100:

100a + 100b + 100c + 100d = 100*7.11 = 711

But then to preserve the original question, you have to substitute 100a for a, 100b for b, etc., in the second equation, which means multiplying both sides of that one by 100 four times:

(100a)*(100b)*(100c)(100d) = 100*100*100*100*7.11

Michael or Pro Bono -- is this the correct reasoning? I find that I am not as smart or as determined as I was about puzzles like this when I was oh, say, 17.

Spot on, JanieM. I'm not as smart as I was when I was 17 either, but I compensate for some of the decline by recognizing more things I've seen before.

@hsh, the four prices expressed in cents are 316, 150, 125, and 120. 316 is 79 times 4. How are you going to get 150, 125, and 120 from 9/4?

Play around until you get there. I'm not sure it changes the problem that much. It's just more straightforward in my head working with 711. They have to add up to 711 - 79n, or 711 - 316 with n = 4, which is 395.

I don't mind fractions, I guess, when it comes to multiplying the remaining prices out. You kind of know you're dealing with tenths and quarters (which include halves and fifths) if you're going to end up that kind of fraction with numbers that also come out to non-fractional cents when expressed in decimal form.

Then again, I didn't actually try to solve it. I just found the additional 5 factors and 2 factors to be extraneous.

The other numbers could only end in 0 2 or 5 because one has to get to all the zeros.

If one multiplies numbers with digits behind the dot, the product will have as many digits behind the dot as all factors combined. Since the result has to be cents (two digits behind the dot) but multiplying 4 factors leads to 8 one has to get rid of 6. This means those have to be zeros. And to get the zero at the end of a product the factors have to have to be divisble by 2 and 5 (since 2*5 = 10). Every pair of 2 and 5 yields another zero at the end of the number. So to get rid of the 6 superfluous digits one has to have 6 times the 2 and 6 times the 5 as prime factors in the complete product (3 5's are in 150, another one in 120 and the final 3 in 125. OK that is seven, so we know that there can only be 6 times 2 or we would lose another zero and get only 1 digit behind the dot.
Since 711 is divisble by 9 we need two times the three (one is in 150, one in 120).
The rest is a very limited numbers of combinations to check.

The only thing that even made me consider the solution in the first place was the observation that 711 is divisible by 9 because 7+1+1=9. So I divided 711 by 9 to get 79. After that, I played around for a bit until my attention span was expended (starting off with the assumption that one of the prices was $1.00 so I could ignore multiplying it and see how close I could get with the other three).

I guess I was really working with 7.11 the whole time, not 711 (other than that it doesn't really make sense to say 7.11 is divisible by 9.)

The product of the dollar prices is 7.11, so the product of the cent prices is 7.11*10^8.

ah, OK. makes sense.

I played around with this a bit while eating lunch. No software, no code, just a pencil and paper.

I started down the path of working with factors of 711, basically just to reduce the possible number of numbers to consider to a reasonable amount.

Got that far, or maybe 2 or 3 steps beyond that. And then, lunch was done.

I'm glad there are people in the world who are willing to spend the time to wrestle stuff like this to the ground.

$6.44 is the smallest value between $1.00 and $10.00 that has a "four prices with the same sum and product" solution.

The AM-GM inequality (used in my previous analysis) is of some relevance here. It says that the geometric mean (the nth root of the product) of a list of n numbers is less than or equal to the arithmetic mean (one nth of the sum).

This gives a necessary condition for a solution to exist when the sum and product of the prices is $x:

x^(1/4) <= x/4
x <= x^4/256
256 <= x^3
x >= 6.35 (rounding up to the nearest cent).

re-reading my 5:40 from yesterday - I sound kind of dismissive.

to be clear - I actually am glad there are people who are willing to figure stuff like this out. otherwise we'd still be huddled in a dark smoky cave somewhere.

sadly, I am not one of them. the next shiny object appears, and off I go in pursuit.

carry on, o ye numerate!!

That means the smallest price must be at least 75c, implying that the largest must be at most 486c.

This made something jump out. The stated implication comes from the assumption that three of the prices are equal to the lowest possible price of 75c, meaning that those three sum to $2.25, leaving the remaining price to be $4.86.

In the actual solution, the product of the three prices that are not multiples of 79c must produce 9/4, which can be expressed as 2.25.

Maybe that's coincidence. My brain isn't up to figuring out if it isn't.

carry on, o ye numerate!!

At some point at a party, after a couple of glasses of wine, when I wasn't paying a lot of attention to the conversation right around me, someone abruptly asked me directly, "Who are your people?" Later I realized that they were looking for something like the Poles, or the Baptists. What popped out of my mouth without thinking was, "The applied mathematicians."

Later I realized that they were looking for something like the Poles, or the Baptists. What popped out of my mouth without thinking was, "The applied mathematicians."

We pray for the day when our melting pot country has reached the point where everybody takes a similar kind of view. I.e. one where race, religion, ethnicity, etc. are not the first (or even second, third, or fourth) response one thinks of.

I used to get "What are you?" (...a metalhead? ...a joker? ...a former low-level juvenile delinquent?)

Since I said it was an open thread, and it's a technical topic, a status report...

A while back typepad.com badly mishandled a data center upgrade. The consequence was a period of time when many of the sites they hosted became unusable -- either completely unavailable or so slow that they might as well have been unavailable. Obsidian Wings goes back a long time (first post was 11/13/2003) and I for one didn't want to see the content and community disappear.

Typepad.com got its act mostly together eventually. However, the "export content" function remains broken. I took on the small chore of writing a script that downloads the Obsidian Wings post pages, either all or incrementally. Then a script that extracts the post and comment content and puts them in one of the standard import/export formats used by blog hosting services. Then a script that reads through that file and downloads any referenced images hosted on the site.

There's no spec, so most of the effort is in reverse-engineering the pages' HTML structure. It's an ongoing project -- I recently discovered that the "below the fold" content in extended posts wasn't going into the import file. I'm fairly happy with what I have now. I run the scripts once a week or so to update the content. A compressed archive of the import file and images goes to the cloud. Janie M knows where it lives up there. If the editors decide it's necessary to change hosting services, most of the content can survive.

Michael, I know I've asked you before, but is the "Archive" or "Older Posts" which used to live below "Recent Posts" still available? It used to be quite useful....If it can't be revived in that form so be it, but if it can I for one used to use it from time to time.

Further to which:

I actually am glad there are people who are willing to figure stuff like this out. otherwise we'd still be huddled in a dark smoky cave somewhere.

Amen, and thrice amen.

Could there be a searchable text file containing all posts and comments? Thanks.

Could there be a searchable text file containing all posts and comments? Thanks.

That's basically what the import/export file is, along with some metadata. The text's not completely flat, it includes Typepad's idea of minimal HTML formatting tags and special characters. As of this morning, the file size is 412,524,359 bytes. (Prime factorization of that is 13×37×83×10333.) Am I going to put it up somewhere with a page in front to specify a search string and backend software to do the search? No.

I gather from that this is too huge to be feasible (that's the limit of what I gather, but it's enough). Therefore, so be it. Thanks anyway, Michael Cain, for all you have done to safeguard the blog.

Superman never safeguarded a blog. Leaping tall buildings ... meh.

...is the "Archive" or "Older Posts" which used to live below "Recent Posts" still available?

I put the monthly archive widget back. Looking at the Wayback Machine, that's what used to be there. Seems to run. I'm sure I'll hear about it if the editors think I've overstepped :^)

I'm sure I'll hear about it if the editors think I've overstepped :^)

That will be the day. ;-)

Could there be a searchable text file containing all posts and comments? Thanks.

I removed the old search widget and replaced it with the current one. The old one didn't seem to search the site at all. The new one seems to work for searching the site posts and contents, sorta.

I put the monthly archive widget back.

Great! Thank you so much!

That will be the day. ;-)

LOL

I gather from that this is too huge to be feasible (that's the limit of what I gather, but it's enough). Therefore, so be it.

It's not the size. The virtual server I lease for my domain has enough space, could serve up the necessary front end, and could run a Perl script to do the actual search and generate a results page. I'm just not willing to use the server for that.

Typepad.com's hosting service doesn't appear to include that sort of more general-purpose computing.

I'm sure I'll hear about it if the editors think I've overstepped :^)

If you've overstepped, that's an indication that we need to construct a new step.

That will be the day. ;-)

Let's see...

There were reasons that for years the people in the research/prototype lab said, "Let Mike do all the tricky real-time bits, but don't let him anywhere near the user interface."

I am old, and forgetful -- at least by my own standards -- and apt to be impatient. This is a dangerous combination for someone with the root password.

The kids and I have decided that we need to find a memory care facility where my wife can live. I am no longer mentally able to share my house with a stranger (who doesn't remember it's also her house, and requires a lot of shepherding), and am even more unwilling to share it with a stranger and in-home care strangers. And it has to be juggled with getting her through cataract surgery that necessarily spans several weeks. Everything about the situation is depressing. Which leads to bad decision making.

The kids and I have decided that we need to find a memory care facility where my wife can live.

Ooof, that's hard and sad. May you find many things to comfort and engage you while you navigate this difficulty.

I'm currently trying to reassure English Language Learners that they can say things about music that are interesting even without a large vocabulary or knowledge of music. They are meanwhile learning to listen with more attention and to look for a critical perspective that makes their observations matter to a reader.

One step at a time...

Ah, the user interface.... That is indeed its own set of challenges.

Luckily, Typepad and Obwi seem to be okay for the moment, knock on wood (now there's a scientific invocation if there ever was one).

I think I speak for everyone when I say that what you've done and are still doing is a priceless gift to the rest of us. We're incredibly lucky that you're around with the skills AND the time AND the interest/willingness to take on what none of the rest of us could accomplish.

And -- you have my great sympathy for the situation with your wife. I watched -- at a distance -- as my mom came to a similar decision in relation to my dad. Then my mom's turn came, 25 or so years later, and I was more involved in that one, although all this went on in Ohio, shepherded primarily by my siblings who still live there. It's stressful and at times heartbreaking. For what it's worth I (I think we) are thinking of you as you go through it. Don't forget to take care of yourself...you know what they say about the oxygen masks....

It is very hard, and very sad. But there are two adults' needs to be considered, and it is more than possible that your wife will feel it less than you do. I very much hope you are able to learn to enjoy your life again.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that what you've done and are stilling doing is a priceless gift to the rest of us.

seconded, with emphasis.

The kids and I have decided that we need to find a memory care facility where my wife can live.

so sorry to hear this, Michael. I'm hard pressed to think of a more difficult or wrenching decision to have to make.

take care of yourself.

Oh, Michael, my best wishes and deepest sympathy to you. Let me know if you'd like to talk some time. I imagine you have my email address. :-)

Michael, my sympathies to you and your wife. Here's hoping for the best of a bad situation.

What Janie said - I'd be amazed if she didn't speak for everyone here.

I'm so sorry, Michael. Wishing you the best possible. Life can be a real sh*t sometimes.

Luckily, Typepad and Obwi seem to be okay for the moment...

The export function still doesn't work. Typepad.com doesn't accept new customers for their service based on the Typepad software. That software was originally based on Movable Type, but there's no telling how far they've diverged from current versions of that. They send new customers to a subsidiary that runs WordPress. It may be years, but the day will come when the site has to change hosting software (even if not service).

There are people who claim they will extract site content from either a working service or from the Wayback Machine. I have a better understanding now of why they charge hundreds/thousands of dollars for that job :^)

Michael -- I'll let you know where to send the bill. ;-)

Michael -- I'll let you know where to send the bill. ;-)

One question tho: do you accept crypto? :-)

"Do you accept crypto?
It's the question of the hour,
With the value up and down,
Like a digital power.

Gone are the days of paper,
And the coins of old,
Now it's all about the blockchain,
And the stories it's told.

You can buy a house,
Or a trip around the world,
All with the click of a button,
And your crypto unfurled.

But what happens when the bubble pops,
And your coins become dust,
Will you laugh or cry,
Or just call it a bust?

So tell me, dear merchant,
Do you accept crypto?
It may be the future,
But be careful where you go."
—ChatGPT

Michael - I am so sorry to hear this. But your wife will get the constant care she needs, and you and your kids won't have to keep watch on her while trying to keep a regular life. A hard decision, but the correct one, though I know that doesn't make it any easier.

Dear ChatGPT,
Just say NO!

Well, there's a poem for Just say NO!...

Well, there's a poem doggerel for Just say NO!...

Fixed that for you. :-)

Ok...doggerel...

Just say NO! to that extra slice of pie,
It's not worth the waistline that will multiply.
Just say NO! to that tempting pack of smokes,
It's not worth the health risks and the lingering strokes.
Just say NO! to that dangerous party life,
It's not worth the hangovers and the endless strife.
Just say NO! to the endless scroll of social media,
It's not worth the lost time and the lost encyclopedias.
Just say NO! to the constant need to buy,
It's not worth the debt and the endless sigh.
So Just say NO! to all the temptations that come your way,
It's not worth the price you'll pay.

Okay, I get that they needed a rhyme, but the demise of encyclopedias is compensated by the availability of the enormous mass of academic papers that have become available.

To make the argument political, I'll assert Russia has done more to provide third world (and first-world researchers that lack big-pockets backing) access to the scientific and engineering literature, hence to the growth of human knowledge, than the US and the West for 15 years. The West gave us Elsevier; Russia gave us Library Genesis. The former charges on the order of $30 per article; the latter makes it available for free.

And there is a big market in gaming Elsevier with fake journals that are industry propaganda. Not that I trust Library Genesis in the slightest to get that any better.

Did Russia give us LibGen (and SciHub, I suppose)? I was just reading up about it on Wikipedia, and the article says that it grew from the samizdat culture, which I think of as in opposition to Russia. Sci-hub was started by a researcher in Kazakhstan, but it was totally on her own. This has given more access to the third world, but I'm not seeing it as a 'political' thing.

For CharlesWT: Loudon Wainwright III (w Richard Thompson) -- No

ral, thanks!

Micheal, I feel for you. YOu are doing the right thing. My father almost died of stress and exhaustion from caring for my mother. He said that the years he cared for her was his World War Two. I visited weekly to help and more or less forced him to hire respite care by threatening to pay her myself if he didn't. It is just too hard to care for someone 24 hours a day, day after day.

I am planning to commit suicide before I get that far into mental decline.

Anyway, on that cheerful note...Goodby, Crosby. He was so much a part of my teens that I now feel a million years old. But he had a good long time to live and got to spend his time doing what he most wanted to do so there's no reason to mourn for him. Instead, I am (in my imagination) waving goodby and playing "Southern Cross."

the samizdat culture, which I think of as in opposition to Russia.

Rather, I think, in opposition in Russia. Specifically in opposition to the communist party and government. Which would seem to extend to the ex-KGB guys now running the place. (Albeit without having to bother with paying lip service to Marx.)

Ah, RIP David Crosby.

A difficult guy, certainly, but an important part of my youth (and the times) with both the Byrds and CS&N and CSN&Y. I saw an interesting documentary about him recently, made in his fairly recent old age, and it was impressive how open he was about the times, and relationships, in which he had been at fault.

I replied about LibGen, but should have first sent my thoughts to Michael. My dad had Alzheimer's, induced by college boxing, another aunt ended up living in this eternal present of about 30 minutes and both had to be moved to care homes. Both of them had incidents where they decided to do something following old patterns (one joined a bus group to Las Vegas from LA, the other took a cross state trip, thinking that he was driving to Wisconsin and only got found because a police officer thought it was a bit off and called a number in my dad's wallet that found my brother) It's easy to think that it is possible to hold on and kick yourself for not being able to, but the sheer terror of those incidents is pretty overwhelming. Take care of yourself.

My mother died of Alzheimer's having been cared for at home by my father: it was very difficult for him, and for her. My mother-in-law died of the same disease, in a care home. It's just a horrible condition with no good choices - how awful must it be to live in a constant state of confusion.

Best wishes to you both.

My mother died of Alzheimer's having been cared for at home by my father: it was very difficult for him, and for her.

Was financing part of the decision? Quality care is staggeringly expensive.

One of the better financial decisions my wife and I made years ago was to continue the LTC policies that were a company benefit before I was on the wrong side of a corporate acquisition.

One of the things I'm having to struggle with in my mental outlook about long-term finances is that with progressive dementia the odds favor my wife not living that many more years.

No point my posting about the funding for my mother, who lasted 12 years after being diagnosed (although in all fairness, it was only bad, and recognisable to most strangers, in the last 4 or 5), since all our systems are so very different. I was the one who organised all her care, and can only feel the greatest sympathy for anybody in this situation.

But, since this is an open thread, I just want to say that I am extremely happy to read about the documentary on Kavanaugh and his accusers which has been screened at Sundance. Let's hope that it bears many fruits, among them an examination of exactly how the FBI investigation was stymied. Very few things (only Brexit and Trump's election occur to me) depressed and distressed me more than the Kavanaugh debacle.

One of the better financial decisions my wife and I made years ago was to continue the LTC policies that were a company benefit before I was on the wrong side of a corporate acquisition.

Likewise. (In my case, a serious downsizing, rather than an acquisition.)

Just another example of how badly our educational system does when it comes to preparing kids to manage their finances as adults. And if we did better at that, we might have a base for explaining to them, at the same time, how government finances differ from household finances.

Most households don't have printers that print benjamins or the electronic equivalent.

Was financing part of the decision? Quality care is staggeringly expensive.

It is expensive, and the cost may have been a consideration, but I think in the end my father simply couldn't bring himself to be parted from her.

Since this is indeed an open thread, I just wanted to note how pleased I am that Nadhim Zahawi is in such trouble over his tax affairs, and likely to be gone within a day or two. His lawyers sent threats to the journalist specialising in tax who originally raised questions about this, and I see that today "Number 10 declines to say Sunak confident Zahawi always told him truth about his tax affairs." The fact that it seems he negotiated a deal with HMRC (His Majesty's Revenue and Customs for you Americans) and had to pay a penalty, while Chancellor of the Exchequer is the kind of thing we were used to with, for example, a Trump-type, but thankfully here it is still, just (although who knows for how long in this degenerate age), regarded as unacceptable. I don't myself think Sunak personally corrupt (as a friend said to me, he has no need to be) although it was pretty bad that he held a Green Card while Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is good to see the sleaze and corruption which became fairly commonplace under BoJo really cut through, and (hopefully) give Labour even more of an advantage.

Further to which, and for your pleasure, the inimitable Marina Hyde in today's Guardian:

Further inspirational developments in British public life, as yet another inquiry is launched into a serving member of the government. Having spent last week claiming that party chair and former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi had addressed the murky matter of his taxes “in full”, prime minister Rishi Sunak declared yesterday: “I have asked our independent adviser to get to the bottom of everything.” Deep waters and all that. It’s good Sunak makes it sound like a real dredging exercise for which hazmat divers have been deployed and a forensic dentist put on standby.

After her dignified exit last week, we had to endure a lot of tedious discourse as to whether or not Jacinda Ardern could really “have it all”. After Zahawi’s preposterously undignified decision not to exit this week, you’d hope No 10 would be asking: can Nadhim really “have it all” – a top job in government and a tax bill as slim as Jonathan Gullis’s intellect? No, would seem to be the obvious answer – but it doesn’t seem to be the one on which Zahawi has alighted.

“In order to ensure the independence of this process,” he said yesterday, “you will understand that it would be inappropriate to discuss this issue any further.” Any further? He hasn’t discussed it at all, unless you count legal threats for “smears” that seem to have turned out to be “facts”. But yet again, the public finds itself in a familiar limbo: being told it would not be “proper” to pre-empt the findings of yet another formal inquiry. These things must be cheaper by the dozen.

The justice secretary is under formal investigation for bullying. The guy who was chancellor is under formal investigation over his tax affairs. He is now party chairman, charged with representing the government on the public stage. His predecessor in the role of chancellor, one Rishi Sunak, was found to have a wife who used non-dom status to avoid paying UK tax on her vast fortune. They had an inquiry related to that – though only into how the information got leaked.

Sunak’s predecessor-but-one in the role of prime minister was himself the subject of a number of protracted inquiries by everyone from standards officials to senior civil servants to the police, whose results we were forever being warned it would not be “proper” to pre-empt.

The privileges committee investigation into Boris Johnson is still continuing, and soon to reassume centre stage; there are now also two new inquiries into the appointment of the BBC’s chairman amid allegations he assisted Johnson in securing a loan of up to £800,000 weeks before the then PM appointed him to the role. Whatever any of this is, are the right words for the permanent state of investigative limbo in which government exists really “appropriate” and “proper”?

As far as Zahawi goes, the fact that will be immediately obvious to a public currently staring down the business end of the January tax return deadline is that the then chancellor having to pay millions of pounds of avoided tax and a penalty to HMRC, for which he was responsible for at the time, is a total and utter pisstake.

Still, I’m excited for rookie ministerial ethics chief Laurie Magnus, who now has his first case. It’ll be fun to find out Laurie’s procedural style – will it be the every-stone-left-unturned approach favoured by his predecessor, Lord Geidt, or maybe the silent despair that engulfed Geidt’s predecessor, Alex Allan, who opted to resign when his lengthy investigation finding that Priti Patel had breached the ministerial code was overruled by Boris Johnson quickly deciding she hadn’t.

Arguably the big question for Magnus to scrawl on the investigation whiteboard is: who taxes the taxman? Like me, you wouldn’t want to pre-empt anything, but you would hope that the guy who had ultimate oversight of the Inland Revenue at the time did not actually spend an unspecified chunk of his tenure trying to negotiate his own multimillion-pound shortcomings in this department.

As for Sunak, his decision to prolong this with an ethics investigation simply underlines his weakness and poor judgment, as well as landing a prime minister with his specific domestic vulnerabilities on this front in an awful lot of stories with the word “tax” in the headline. Of course, Zahawi is frequently described as “personable” and “well liked” among Conservative MPs, which in light of information serves as another reminder that not paying proper tax is the acceptable form of sociopathy.

Then again, you can tell quite a lot about Zahawi’s situation by the calibre or absence of his defenders. This morning the government served up Home Office minister Chris Philp as the broadcast-round sacrifice. Philp has been involved in multiple firms that have gone bust, in some cases reportedly owing money to the taxman. I note he describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur”, which is a bit like someone with syphilis describing themselves as a “hopeless romantic”. Like others sent over the top in recent days, Philp this morning leant chiefly on the formulation that something or other “is my understanding”, or that something or other was the prime minister’s “understanding”. Yet there are clearly a whole lot of things left to be understood. The public is presented with the bizarre spectacle of people who work with each other every day claiming that “we don’t know”. Then why don’t you save everyone a lot of drawn-out pain and just ask? You have to wonder if anyone at the top of government talks to each other.

To remind ourselves of the absurdist timeline of all this, Zahawi was only appointed chancellor when Sunak resigned in the dying days of Johnson’s government – the equivalent of earning your dream promotion to second officer on the Hindenburg shortly after bits of its ashes started raining down on New Jersey. Barely a few hours later, even Zahawi seemed to have clocked this state of affairs, releasing a statement on Treasury letterhead explaining that he had subsequently tried to get Johnson to resign. “Yesterday I made clear to the prime minster that there was only one direction where this was going, and that he should leave with dignity … I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened,” this hammed. “Prime minister,” Nadhim concluded, “you know in your heart what the right thing to do is, and go now.”

Overall impressions? Nadhim’s grammar and sense of to whom exactly this document is addressed are all over the shop. But there is a kernel of good advice in there for the situation in which he now finds himself, if he’d only let himself take it, and take it now.

Dear ChatGPT,
Just say NO!

This puts me in mind of this quote from Tom Waits:

The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.

not paying proper tax is the acceptable form of sociopathy.

Thus the difference between the Conservatives in the UK and Republicans here. Among Republicans tax avoidance appears not to be considered sociopathy at all. More like evidence of brilliance, and something to be emulated . . . at least among the rich and powerful.

A succinct summary:
"He [Trump] has the right, but not the ability, to remain silent."

Tax avoidance isn't illegal. People economize on their other expenditures. Why not taxes?

Somewhere in there is a new entry for the Cain's Laws™ list. Something along the lines of "Given a sufficiently complex tax system, everyone rich enough that one or more full-time people are necessary to manage their money is guilty of tax cheating."

Correction:
Tax avoidance isn't necessarily illegal.

Although, in quite a number of cases, it seems to have been. And, given the panicked urgency with which some people are trying to gut the IRS's ability to audit the returns of those making over $400,000 per year, perhaps in quite a number more.

Like me, you wouldn’t want to pre-empt anything,

Thanks for the Hyde piece, GftNC.

Too bad it's only entertainment, it would be nice if the perfectly aimed zings actually stung their targets.

The IRS already audits low-end taxpayers at a higher rate than it audits rich taxpayers.

Yesterday I was struck by two online news stories that came up next to each other on my screen. (1) SpaceX appeared to conduct a highly successful wet dress rehearsal of the Super Heavy/Starship combination. (2) Pakistan, with a population of 230M people, was sitting in the dark because their electricity grid had collapsed. Again.

@wj: Thus the difference between the Conservatives in the UK and Republicans here. Among Republicans tax avoidance appears not to be considered sociopathy at all. More like evidence of brilliance, and something to be emulated . . . at least among the rich and powerful.

Bears repeating. I was just this morning thinking that if I had the cleverness of a Marina Hyde or an Alexandra Petri, I would compose a new version of the ten commandments to embody what a lot of the country (the world?) seems to think is the most virtuous way to live these days. It would be something along the lines of:

Grab everything you can.

The world's riches do not belong to everyone, they belong to you.

Kick anyone in the face who gets in the way of your trying to take more than your share, or more than any other million people's shares, for that matter.

Etc.

This guy says it better, but framed more in terms of who's in charge than in terms of who gets what share of the world's resources.

Janie, Thanks for that link. He certainly does say it well.

Too bad it's only entertainment, it would be nice if the perfectly aimed zings actually stung their targets.

I know what you mean, but satire has its place in influencing public (and chattering class) opinion. Nobody can ever forget that the pathetic little David Steel puppet in Spitting Image effectively did his image so much damage it never recovered - Steel certainly thought so.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/oct/01/spitting-image-satire-ian-hislop-roy-hattersley

But in the case of Nadhim Zahawi, I believe things like the Marina Hyde pile-on add (even if in a small way) to the pressure on the Tories. She says it makes Sunak look weak, and so say all of us, while the sleaze drumbeat gets ever louder. While our public services fall apart and multi-millionaires in the Tory party are seen to have sailed blithely on, all of this helps Labour, and gives them more ammunition.

This guy says it better, but framed more in terms of who's in charge than in terms of who gets what share of the world's resources.

In conclusion, he says it's about white male supremacy. But I don't know if it's enough to be white and male if you don't agree with telling not-white or not-male people what to do. In fact, I know it's not. White male liberals can suck eggs with everyone else.

Though if you're white and male, you at least have the option of converting.

hsh -- yes. Long ago Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribute whose op-eds were often printed in the Augusta paper, wrote a column about how the white working class is always being snookered into thinking that it's black people who are taking their stuff (jobs, status, etc.). (Page is black).

His point was that no, it's not black people who are really taking their stuff, that's smokescreen.

I don't remember what his terminology was 30+ years ago, but he was pointing toward what you said: if you're a white male you're eligible to be top dog in a way that other people aren't, but you still don't automatically win. You still have to compete in a cutthroat arena where "mine" means anything I can grab by being stronger, cleverer, greedier, meaner, more arrogant, or whatever. Needless to say, most people, even straight white males, don't "win." That's the whole point of the game.

"Mine." I wish I had time to write a post on that word. Maybe one of these days.

Also, obligatory observation that the guy at the link (Ethan Grey) mentions "white males." Even to him, apparently, being straight as well as white and male is so taken for granted that it's not even necessary to mention it.

I mean, it's downright icky to mention it.

Especially in Florida.

I keep wondering: if they're not allowed to talk about sex, is there any literature left after you eliminate all the love stories? Even the ones about straight white people of the opposite sex are about ... sex. Somewhere in there.

To CharlesWT's point, no one claimed that tax avoidance was illegal any more than anyone claimed that sociopathy was against the law.

Perhaps we should stop portraying this sort of sociopathy as a virtue and this sort of sociopath as some sort of cultural hero?

I don't know if it's enough to be white and male

And rich. You're not "real people" unless you are rich. (Or can fake it convincingly, cf Trump.)

We all know that loads of rich or very rich people go to great (and often complicated and torturous) lengths to pay as little tax as possible. What I think is fairly new, at least in the US and the UK, is people in public life (especially public servants) not only doing that, and even slipping into fraudulence, but thinking they can get away with it, and front it out if they are exposed. This is what I was referring to upthread, when I talked about this degenerate age.

Perhaps we should stop portraying this sort of sociopathy as a virtue and this sort of sociopath as some sort of cultural hero?

I should have said: at least in the UK, this is not yet the case. It may be only a matter of time, of course.

Even to him, apparently, being straight as well as white and male is so taken for granted that it's not even necessary to mention it.

Yes. I was also thinking Christian of a certain sort - the 'murican version of the Taliban.

BTW, if you didn't already know, classified docs found in Pence's Indiana home.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)