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The Prognosticators and the Previous Favourite Minister

Once upon a time (and a very good time it was) the King\’s Favourite Minister decided he wanted some information about the future.
\”Call up the augurs, the haruspexes and the fortunetellers,\” he commanded awfully, \”And the astrologers and astronomers and the economists and then…\”
\”Not the astronomers,\” said the Fool, gently.
\”And why not?\”
\”They can\’t foretell the future,\” explained the Fool, \”Only the past. And not a lot of that either.\”
\”Oh.\” The King\’s FM looked disapproving, \”Are they the ones who have carelessly lost 96% of the universe?\”
\”No sir, those are the physicists.\”
\”Well I don\’t want to talk to either of that lot of loonies anyway. I want to know what\’s going to happen in the coming year and I don\’t want any shillyshallying or argument about it, understand? And no silly graphs either, you can tell the economists. Just clear plain predictions that turn out to be true.\”
The Littlest Bureaucrat took a breath to say something, but caught the eye of the Fool in time. The word went out and the predictors and the prognosticators went to work. In a short time their various predictions were brought to the King\’s Favourite Minister and, very inconveniently, he read them.
\”Hang on,\” he said, \”These are the same as last year.\”
The Littlest Bureaucrat shook his head. He had warned them.
\”Indeed sir,\” said an economist with the oily look of his kind, \”We have conclusively proved that statistically, your best bet for a prediction is that what happened last year will happen again this year.\”
\”Really?\” said the King\’s FM, \”How sure are you?\”
\”90% sir.\”
\”What about the missing 10%?\”
The economist coughed as if the FM had vulgarly burped. \”Well, sir, I\’m afraid that\’s the irreducible element which is unpredictable. The… er… well, the technical term is… surprises, sir.\”
The King\’s FM could do quite a good withering look when he tried. \”Those,\” he said quietly and clearly, \”Are the bits I want to predict, understand?\”
\”Well we could if events conformed to the traditional bell curve, however we have recently begun to realise…\”
\”That they don\’t. Which makes things difficult.\”
The King\’s FM waved his arm and large people in black masks dragged the failed economists and astrologers away so they could learn what \’difficult\’ really meant.
\”Hang on,\” said the King\’s FM, who was good at detail, \”A couple of them haven\’t reported. Why not?\”
\”They\’re the haruspex and the augur, sir,\” said the Fool, \”They say they haven\’t caught the usual sacrificial victim yet, but they\’re working on it.\”
The Fool whispered in the King\’s Favourite Minister\’s ear. He looked both pleased and surprised. \”Really? Is that normal?\”
\”Oh yes sir, they insist.\”
Miggs James Miggs was a bit out of breath but very pleased with himself. After an impressive run across the moors, at the last moment, he\’d come up on the sacrifice\’s blind side and knocked him out. The large ungainly body was being hoisted onto the operating table right away, out in the open where the augur could do his job as well.
He gestured in annoyance at his henchmen who were supposed to be keeping back the unruly mob of bankers baying for the sacrifice\’s blood in the distance. They applied clubs and similar instruments of social control such as taxes and large bribes.
\”Right,\” said Miggs James Miggs 001 to the haruspex, a thin tight-lipped grey-whisped man in a green rubber apron, \”Off you go.\”
The haruspex took out a large cleaver and opened the sacrifice\’s belly to look at the liver. Meanwhile the augur got out his binoculars.
\”Two crows and a buzzard,\” he shouted, \”Approaching left to right… a good omen.\”
\”Blimey,\” said the haruspex, \”Talk about cirrhosis…\”
\”What?\” said the augur, counting under his breath, \”They usually have it.\”
The haruspex tutted. \”Lot of white spots, specially in the upper lobe.\”
\”Bad news before summer?\”
\”That\’s the one.\”
\”What about the gall bladder?\”
\”Symbolising the pamphlet writers? Swollen, ugly, full of bile.\”
\”Amazing what science can do. Eight SBJs flying right to left, that\’s a bad omen, gents.\”
\”Lower lobe, several wrinkles, a fatty deposit and more white spots. Looks like a shocker of a year, frankly.\”
\”Specially for him,\”
\”Well yes.\”
The Littlest Bureaucrat had arrived on a fast horse and was standing in the wind with his quill poised. \”Your predictions?\” he asked, \”Oh and the King\’s Favourite Minister doesn\’t like vagueness.\”
\”I\’d say the stock exchange will go up and then dive, the economy will totter for a bit and then dive and the pound will go tits up by the end of the year…\”
\”But then recover. Probably.\”
\”The FM isn\’t going to like…\”
\”Not my problem,\” said the haruspex, \”It\’s not up to me, it\’s up to him.\” He pointed at the bloody carcass of the previous King\’s Favourite Minister, which was being dismembered by the happy crowd of bankers. \”It\’s uncanny, you can tell him. Never fails. It\’s all in his predecessor\’s liver.\”
As the Littlest Bureaucrat rode off with the latest scientific predictions, Miggs James Miggs looked with new respect at the haruspex and the augur.
\”How do you get away with it?\” he asked.
The haruspex and augur exchanged looks. \”We just look at the evidence.\”
\”Yeah, but spots on a liver…\”
\”The worse things are going, the more the King\’s Favourite Minister drinks,\” said the augur. \”That\’s it. But don\’t tell anyone.\”
\”See you next time,\” said the haruspex jovially as he packed away his blades.

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