Cash dollar amnesty in Argentina

Got some dirty dollars? Invest them in Argentina!. The government has a plan to let you turn tainted dollars legal; you just need to find an Argentinian to buy property with your cash:

The scheme, referred to locally as the “laundering law”, invites those with undeclared dollars to invest in property and the energy industry without facing penalties for their previous financial chicanery. The government believes that Argentines have about $160 billion tucked under their mattresses or hidden away in foreign bank accounts. That is about four times the value of Argentina’s foreign currency reserves.

Write it down!

To disapprove of writing is something of a tactical mistake, from a memetic point of view. Most of the ancient arguments against writing must have been lost because, well, nobody wrote them down.

Socrates, at least, managed to have his cake and eat it. Part of his Phaedrus is devoted to outlining the limits of writing — but since


itself was written down, we can at least follow his arguments.

Being Mr. Dialogue, Socrates loathes the fact that

writing can’t answer questions

; a text gives “one unvarying answer” whatever you ask it. Also — an argument surely understandable by anybody who has studied classics or philosophy — he worries that written texts will be passed down through generations of people who never really understand them.

Finally — and part of the reason I’m posting this — Socrates fears writing will undermine memory. He recounts that an Egyptian king, Thamus, was approached by the god Thoth. Thoth offered Egypt all kinds of knowledge, including writing. King Thamus turned down the gift of writing, lest it destroy Egyptians’ memories:

[Writing], said Theuth, will

make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories

; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied:…. this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because

they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters

and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Socrates, then, is the moderate anti-scribe, the one who scraped into history because his disciple, Plato, was willing to commit something to paper.

If you want the extreme of the anti-writing faction, try Pythagoras. Not only did he avoid writing anything, he made sure his followers did the same. For a century or more, many people built their life around his maxims (“


“), handed down orally within the cult of Pythagoras. Disciples abjured not just writing but even speaking, beginning with 5 years of total silence and continuing to keep some ideas secret within the sect. This “

Pythagorean silence

” had the effect that, according to one Greek writer, people “marvel more at the silence of those who profess to be his pupils than at those who have the greatest reputation for speaking”.

Well, perhaps. The above, like everything we “know” about Pythagoras, is a compote of rumour and guesswork. Pythagoras only narrowly avoided the oblivion usual for those who avoid writing. We know little about the likely core of his work — as a religious leader, a philosopher of reincarnation, and founder of a lifestyle of ritual and self-discipline. Instead he is now remembered for a theorem on triangles which he probably didn’t even invent. Bad luck, Pythagoras — try writing a book in your next reincarnation, mmkay?

I can’t help wondering, though, how many other Pythagoras-like figures there have been in history. People of great immediate influence, whose lives left no longer mark because they distrusted writing. Probably they account for the vast majority of pre-modern thinkers. I’d say we should remember them, but we can’t.

Think of my aging mother, m’lud

You’re a money launderer. You’re keen that, even if you get caught, you should get off with a minimal sentence. Here’s how to arrange your life:

  • Remorse
  • Good character and/or exemplary conduct
  • Serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment
  • Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives
  • Early active co-operation particularly in complex cases
  • Determination and/or demonstration of steps having been taken to address offending behaviour
  • Activity originally legitimate

These — via Susan Grossey — are from proposed UK sentencing guidelines for fraud, bribery and money laundering. . They are the planned ‘mitigating factors’ — reasons to reduce a sentence. Demonstrate tese to the court, and you’ll have an easier time of it.

The problem is, most of these are things a well-lawyered fraudster will have an easy time showing — as Susan hints, they are “

a standard disguise for your professional launderer

Some Monday snippets

The New York Times hilariously manages to claim the US has “limited options” about Egypt. The reason they’re limited is that cutting of the annual $1.3 billion of military aid is inconceivable. Sigh.

How Philip Morris is lobbying to avoid plain cigarette packaging in the UK, based on internal plans leaked to the Guardian. I guess it does no harm to have one of your lobbyists working as chief election strategist for the Tories.

Also infiltrating government is Prince Charles, who has lent one aide to the Cabinet Office, and another to DEFRA.

Ecuador agreed to protect its part of the Amazon, in return for compensation payments from the developed world. They coughed up a whole 0.36% of what they promised — so Ecuador has abandoned the idea

Place names of Shetland and Orkney

Fitful Head, Tongue of Gangsta, The Trip

: Shetland and Orkney have some wonderful place names. Steve Goldman has done a wonderful job of collecting them.

Strange Maps picks out some of the best of them:

Somehow, the

Banks of Runabout

sounds vaguely like a critique of the financial sector. And the

White Stane of Willies

might as well have been mentioned in the lewd paragraph. The

Taing of the Busy

? That’s that faint ringing noise that gets inside your head when you’ve been up for 24 hours straight. Also known as the

Head of Work

. The

Knowes of Euro



Candle of Sneuk

? The

Riff of Wasbister

? We sort of know what half the name means. But how frustrating to have not even the glimmer of a clue about the

Neven o’ Grinni

, the

Sinians of Cutclaws

, the

Glifters of Lyrawa,

or the

Quilse of Hoganeap.