English is easy

English is supposed to be easy but it often fails to make sense, especially the spelling. For example, Christmas is a good time to wind down, like a mechanical clock, to gradually relax and stop working. But the same word is used for the movement of air: “the wind blows”. Now there is a kind of rule in English which says that the sound of a vowel like  “i” and the name of the letter “i” can change if there is an “e” following the next letter. For example, a small piece of carpet on the front door step of a home is called a mat, with the “a” pronounced as a sound and not the name. But if an “e” is added to the end, the word becomes mate, with the “a” sounding its name. Mate is a common word for friend. On this basis “wind” (as in to wind a clock), should be spelt wined, which it is when used as the past tense in the phrase “wine and dine” (drink wine and eat food”. So, we wined and dined together in a restaurant. All this goes to show that, if it is rules you need, don’t look to English.

In fact I predict that one particularly solid rule, that of “mass” or “uncountable” nouns will soon cease to exist. It is supposed to work like this: if you can count something, for example “cars” then you say that there are “fewer” cars, not “less” cars. Less is reserved for things which you cannot count, for example “water”. You can count glasses of water, litres of water and even drips or drops of water but water alone is not countable. Neither can you count “rice”, which comes in sacks, bags or grains. What brought this to the attention of the public was the sign placed on the express checkouts of Tesco supermarkets. It stated “ten items or less”. As the grammar police were quick to point out, you can count items just as you can count cars, so the phrase should be “ten items or fewer”. Tesco changed all the signs, but that could be the very last time the grammar police could claim a victory. Since that time I am acutely aware of just how often “less” and “fewer” are interchanged, without any reference to the rule. Even in the printed word of the BBC or the Guardian, the “rule” is broken, and even more frequently in the speech of experts (though clearly not grammar experts). This rule is set to disappear and only be missed by people like me.

In fact the Grammar Police (which don’t actually exist) are on shaky ground. The elderly among you may well remember the opening phrase of the first series of the TV programme Star Trek”. It states “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. The offence, if it existed, was to put the “boldly” between “to” and “go”, so called “splitting the infinitive” (with “go” being the infinitive of the irregular verb GO). Actually the rule about splitting the infinitive never existed in English. The over-educated who spoke Latin claimed it on the basis of the rule in Latin. They seem to have forgotten that in Latin, the infinitive is just one word, so couldn’t be split in any cases.

All of this leads me to the suspicion that, in order to fulfil its role as the global language, English will have to accelerate its pace of change. One way to do this would be to adopt more words from other languages. By my observation, English speakers already have an affinity to short words, and I mean short in terms of syllables. For example “zeitgeist” (two syllables) is normally used instead of the more English phrase “spirit of the time” (five syllable). Similarly “leitmotiv” (three syllables) instead of “persistent underlining theme” (eight). Possible the best example is “Schadenfreude”. This four syllable word replaces a complete phrase which has too many syllables to count (actually 16), but which means “a feeling of pleasure at seeing somebody else’s failure”. The list of these short words co-opted into English (or do I mean stolen) is long. Think “poltergeist” (three) for malevolent spirit (six) or Geisterfahre (four) for the English “person driving the wrong way on the motorway (12). Clearly English is changing faster than ever and sometimes its hard to keep up.


Theresa May plays Poker with £2 Billion tax payer’s stake.

In probably the worlds highest stakes poker game Theresa May put £2 billion down in a game of poker played against the Tories who oppose here Brexit deal. The money, to be spent on logistics plans for a no deal Brexit is designed to frighten the Remainers in her party into accepting the deal she has managed to agree with the EU. Will she win the game and walk away with the prize? She has a good chance. Few will realise that this money is not the government’s but the taxpayer’s who have, on previous occasions, indicated a preference for the NHS to get any spare cash available. Of course there is still a chance that wiser heads will prevail though with the Labour party leadership playing their own game of Trotsky’s “the worse the better” strategy and the Liberal Democrats weakened by their insistence on honesty, it might be hard to find where they are going to come from.

Of course successful poker playing means you actually have to convince your opponent that you are serious. This will be easy for M/s May who actually believes she is right.

Watch tomorrow for the further exciting instalment of “ Save the Tories from Extinction”, showing everywhere. All the time.

Brexit, the propaganda war part 2

In a previous post “25 year of poison finally kills the UK” I described the propaganda war waged by the UK right wing press against the EU. The headline says it all. There is a totally inadequate response by the EU here Euro myths . It is clear that whereas the UK press is sensationalist and attention grabbing, the EU are coolly rational. But as we all know, cool heads and rationality are not the way to win a propaganda war. Propaganda requires sensationalism of which one of the best examples was the babies in the incubator stories from the first Iraq war:
The Nayirah testimony was false testimony given before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 by a 15-year-old girl who provided only her first name, Nayirah. The testimony was widely publicised, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H. W. Bush in their rationale to back Kuwait in the Gulf War. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah’s last name was al-Ṣabaḥand that she was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Furthermore, it was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign which was run by an American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah’s testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern atrocity propaganda.
In her emotional testimony, Nayirah stated that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die.
We probably all know that in war, the first victim is truth yet time and again we fall for the story. Retraction and clarification comes far later and cannot compete with the initial lie which by then, has been forgotten.
And so the EU. Emotion based on false testimony won the day. Britain is due to leave the EU on the 31st March 2019. And now the next round of the propaganda war begins. Who to blame?
For the right wing press in the UK it is clear. It is the fault of Brussels. They are out to punish Britain. You will know this to be true if you study reader’s comments on newspaper websites. So if the UK crashes out of the EU, if you can’t get fresh fruit or vegetables, if you can’t fly to Spain for your holidays (or Sardinia if you are richer) or if your factory closes. You will know who to blame. It will be Brussels. The truth may be different but the image of little Britain fighting against the mighty Brussels, (a 2019 version of David v Goliath), plays strait to the heart of Britain’s finest hour, circa 1940. Britain against the Eu is a wining card just waiting to be played. We can all stand together.

By the way. Nigel Farage’s children have German passports. Smart move Nigel. Savour vour victory as you take your EU pension.

Out with Britain, in with English.

Anybody who thinks that Britain out of the EU will diminish the role of English in Europe could be in for a rude awakening. Though at the moment the EU is working in German, French and English and some have suggested that now is the time for Spanish to replace English at the top table, the opposite is more likely. English can finally take the role of THE official  EU language. The reason is quite clear, Europe needs one voice. It can’t be German, the French wouldn’t have it. It can’t be French, nobody really speaks it outside France and Spanish, with 45 million in Europe, just doesn’t have the numbers.  But English without Britain would be neutral, with none of the major EU players gaining a language advantage. Plus of course it is the child of a coupling between the German Anglo Saxon and the French of ancient Normandy with just enough words from other languages, from Italy to Scandinavia, to give everybody a stake. Who could ask for a better compromise? And there is a good precedent for an external language to be adopted as the official one. The world’s newest country, South Sudan, an area the size of France but with 100 local languages, has chosen English as its official one. Why? As the news director of the South Sudan Radio, Rehan Abdelnebi, said, “we can become one nation. We can iron out our tribal differences and communicate with the rest of the world”.

Countries which could benefit from the adoption of English include divided Cyprus and divided Ireland where only 10% of the population speak the Irish, as well as the whole of Scandinavia where the standard of English is often better than that of England.

In any case, those trying to maintain their current language with rules and laws are probably doomed to fail. There is no escaping the fact that English is so popular because it is easy. As a young Slovak told me recently, “we learn English, German and Slovak in school, but Slovak is over, it’s too difficult”. How long before young Germans come to the same conclusion? Have the French decided yet if WiFi is masculine or feminine? As though it really matters.

All this begs the question of exactly why nations have official languages which so few speak, for example Ireland where 10% speak Irish but as a second language. Clearly it comes from a political need to create a nation, to be different. Whereas of course the truth is that, other than being told they are Irish, they are just Europeans, like everybody else.






The vulnerability of cities

The Moradi bridge collapse in Genoa is an unfolding tragedy for the families of those killed and injured. Yet beyond the personal, it throws into the spotlight the potential vulnerability of the urban infrastructure. As regional governor Giovanni Toti.said:

“The Morandi bridge connects three major ports in our country, used by tens, even hundreds of thousands of people. They depart from these ports on holiday. These docks receive most of our country’s imported goods. It damages the very structure of the Italian logistics system. We are expecting a very fast response from the government.”

Modern cities, indeed nations, can only exist if the logistics infrastructure is robust and efficient. As the relentless trend towards urbanisation continues, the Moradi bridge collapse shows that relying on a single option for so much traffic is a risk which perhaps should not be taken.

A confession of sorts

One of the worst things about getting older (or being old) is no the stiff back or dodgy knee, not the lack of energy or the insomnia, it is, for me, the inability to drink alcohol in anything other than in semi abstemious quantities. Not that I have ever been what might be termed, a serious drinker. I have known some who could enthusiastically consume eight pints of beer in a couple of hours, others who could drink the entire night away on a few of bottles of vodka or gin at least, but for me, at maximum, two bottles of wine spread over a dinner party was the high point of my drinking career which I reached in my early ‘30’s. Since reaching 65 it has been, as they say, “downhill all the way”. Last night is a case in point. A warm, early summer, evening after a hot and sunny day. Time to relax and have a drink. An Aperol with dry white wine, some ice, topped up some sparking water. Excellent. One hour later I am unconscious on the sofa only to return to semi consciousness two hours later with a heavy head and a feeling of regret, not for the heavy head but for the fact that I didn’t manage at least two drinks.

The problem is you see that I like to drink, though for the taste more than the feeling. That glass of English bitter, the Aperol spritzer, the Campari orange, the Cointreau frappe, a glass of Port, a whisky Mac, a cold Gewürztraminer with strawberries, Cote de Rhone with lamb (you see, no wine snob me) a Grüner Veltliner Federspiel, a bitter sweet Ice Wine, the list is almost endless, fully inclusive save Champagne, which for me is grossly over rated. My drinking style was not that of the patient sipper, delicately dipping a tongue or moistening the lips, no, I had always been a quaffer, enthusiastically gulping whatever is in my glass, very low class. Now I have to sip with the rest, delicately ensuring that a solitary glass lasts, at the least, the main course of a meal. Let us hope that the next glass is, at least, a large one.


Bluff, double bluff and counter bluff. The real truth behind the Brexit story.

A very bad exit from Europe, with a hard Irish border and many job losses, would probably cost the Tories the next election. However,  if they could cast the EU as a villains and if they were believed, their chances of re-gaining power would be much improved. The danger for the remainers, would be the accusation that they were thwarting “The will of the people”.

And what a magnificent slogan that is. Right up there with “torches of freedom“, “Go to work on an egg“, “Arbeit Macht frei”, “A Reich to last 1000 years,” and “superfast broadband”; phrases to warm the heart of Dr Goebbels and strike fear into the hearts of competent psychologists.  The fact that many thousands of people did actually have an egg for breakfast (until the British food and agriculture minister publicly announce that all eggs contain salmonella) and that many more really did believe that the Hitler’s Reich would last 1000 years, just illustrates the power that slogans have. Let’s face it, we are all pretty dumb when it comes to a catchy slogan. But just how dumb the British people really are remains to be seen.

One of the strangest facts about the Brexit vote was that the people most benefiting from the EU, that is to say the not so well-paid workers and consumers in general, who need state protection against unbridled capitalism, voted for  it. It now seems that in general they treated the vote as a typical protest against the government, a traditional action for a midterm election. “What-ever it is, I’m against it.” What has subsequently become clear is that they did not actually believe that the vote would go against the EU and were told so by most political pundits in the media. Whatever the reasons, here we are with barely a year before Britain exits EU membership and still no real idea what it means. So if the European Union can protect the rights of workers and consumers in general against the machinations of big business who, you might ask, could be against it?

Clearly like most things in life, there are degrees of “against” and it’s worth considering just what those degrees are since the EU is many things. One might suppose that a significant proportion of the “against” would be against the idea of a super-state and fear that that is the direction the EU is headed. They would prefer the EU to be a glorified customer union. Of course, history tells us that what starts as a customer union soon becomes a state. The 26 independent “nations” of Germany in 1834 had, following the establishment of the “zollverein”,  by 1871 become an Empire. Nevertheless, apart from the very very right wing, most, and certainly the business community which is a major source of finance for the Tories, want a customs union of some sort.

Given this, just who are those advocating a hard exit from the European Union. By “hard” of course we mean an exit without a beneficial trading relationship with European Union. Who could possibly want such an outcome? I think I may know the answer. Generally, they are called the hard right of the Tory party. A common thread among this group seems to be education in the private sector, the stronghold of privilege and class distinction within the UK. As has been quoted elsewhere, “Private education in the UK is so good that even the stupid and lazy can succeed”.  And what could be more stupid than Boris Johnson, the poster boy of Brexit, who actually asked rhetorically “can you see the United States joining such a union as the EU?” without realising that in fact the United States is a union of states just like the EU, The United States of Europe (EU), the United States of America. One has to ask if the many thousands of pounds spent on Boris’ education was not wasted but clearly it was not since it seems to have fitted him perfectly for life as a Tory member of Parliament. Similarly with Donald Trump, whose expensive private education in America enabled him to become the President yet seemed unable to overcome the deeply disturbing traumas of his parenting, traumas which he carries with him into his ethical philosophy. A perfect example of the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, “This be the Verse”

But let’s return to the main point. Who are the people who want the UK to leave the European Union. Names seem to be scarce in the popular press and numbers seem to vary between 40 and 60. As far as I can see there are clear economic benefits gained from membership of the EU the alternative entails serious financial risk. To take such a risk there must be a considerable upside. But the upside is hard to find. The notion of “taking back control of one’s destiny” (another key phrase of the Breixteers) is spurious since most pf the population have no control at all apart from the ability to vote in elections which they are able to do within the EU. Destiny is mostly in the hands of the banks and major companies. On an individual level the rules and regulations forced upon Britain are beneficial and not only through the stimulation of trade, itself a path to prosperity. In particular the rules concerning compensation for passengers of airlines, the fact that medical treatment is available throughout the Union, the fact that my mobile phone works seamlessly everywhere and that hormone laden beef from the USA is banned, are just a few of the benefits. Does anybody really believe that a Tory lead, independent British government is on the side of the workers?

For me I think it’s clear that when companies are bigger than states then a bigger state is necessary to ensure, if not justice, then at least a slightly more even playing field. So what are the upsides which Brexit will bring? Here, again, we have to turn to history. I fear the hard right have developed a pseudo fascist mentality in which the nation will be motivated only through suffering. “The worse the better” may have been a key phrase from the Russian revolution in which the pain of poverty finally brings about radical change, but it was a significant factor in the rise of Hitler and German fascism, the direct result of the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the depredation of the resulting economic chaos.