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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

The next American Revolution

The cult of personality is strong everywhere so it should have been no surprise that Donal Trump was elected President of the USA. But the lessons from that election have yet to be learnt. The problem is not that Trump is President, but the power that this gives him. America needs a figurehead, somebody to rally around in time of crisis but that doesn’t have to be the leader of the government. So, time for a new constitution for the USA. Time to split the job. One to represent the nation and another to run the government. Not that Trump actually runs anything himself. He relies on a team (a pretty poor one it is true) to handle things. Nobody voted for them, they voted instead for a man that they believed had the ability to “do a deal” and would know the best people to pick. And of course as high priest of Mammon, he know all the best people, all the people wedded to the idea of a lucrative deal. You don’t know the origin of the world “lucrative”? Stop now and look it up!

 

All this make the possibility of Oprah Winfrey as President a rather more attractive proposition. She certainly has the “chops” for it if not the inclination. She is clearly intelligent, clearly rich and self-made, which is something Mr Trump cannot be accused of. And more, she seems to have the right tone, unifying rather than dividing, conciliatory rather than condemnatory. With the right team behind her she could make a first-class job of leading a new revolution in American thinking. Clearly it is needed.

Wanted, a European city willing to embrace the future.

As countless newspaper stories will tell you, including this one from the FT https://www.ft.com/content/981379a8-f58f-11e7-88f7-5465a6ce1a00 the world is moving to English. Like it or not (and many do not) it is certain. Now is the time to for a European city to become officially bilingual . Of course English is widely spoken in many European counties and in any city it is possible to get by without a word of the local tongue but still, English is not “official” anywhere but Dublin or Valletta. So how about it Bratislava, or Prague? Your young people are great in English so why not make it official and embrace the future before somebody else gets with the program and pips you to the finish, scooping up all the businesses that want to work there but can’t because of the language barrier (particularly true of Vienna). Remember, it is not the strong that survive (despite the pop song that tells you it is), it is the adaptable!

One reason that smaller countries are better at English than the big ones is of course TV. The big ones, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, take International programmes, American mostly, and  actually dub the programmes into the local language thereby ensuring that English language will not get a dangerous foothold into the national psyche. The smaller countries and just add subtitles thereby ensuring that the general population (at least those who can read) are at least used to the sound of English, often from a very young age

The trend towards gender neutrality in language probably marks the end of German as we know it today. With no Der, Die, Das the grammar will collapse leaving it with, yes you’ve guess it, English, which is itself a German dialect made simple for all the Anglo Saxons and Norman French forced to live together!

Some have predicted that with Britain out of the EU and the US retreating globally, English will diminish in acceptance. In fact, the contrary is the case. English can now be considered neutral, giving no country the edge in language. Take the case of the world’s latest state, South Sudan. With over 120million people and 100 languages the official language is, yes, you have guessed it again, English.

It’s a long time since I wrote this blog and as I do so it I remember my long time friend and accountant Steve Baldwin. He always gave me feedback on my writings and his recent death, following a short illness is a tragedy.

Letter to a German politician

Dear Jens Spahn,
First let me apologies for writing to you in English. I fully understand your concerns regarding the use of English. In my defence I can only say that, as a 71 year old resident of Vienna I find that every time I attempt to speak German I am responded to in English. Even when I asked “Haben Sie Kohlsprossen” the response from the Gemüsehändler was, in English ” I think it is too early in the season”.

The problem, which, as a well educated German mother tongue speaker you have, is that you just don’t recognise the complexity of your native language. You also fail to realise that English is fundamentally a German dialect, as is Dutch and other derivatives including local forms where, in spoken form, all nouns take the masculine.

Languages are not prisons, they are a method of communication and the easier that is, the better for everybody. People adopt words which they find useful, hence the appearance of “Zeitgeist” and “Schadenfreude” in English. These German words are better than the English equivalent, shorter and more precise and so the language adapts and incorporates them.

I could write more and in fact have done so within my blog but may I close with this. It is not the strong which survive, but the most adaptable. That goes for languages just as with species.
ps. Why is so much of the worlds economy in the hands of the USA? One market, 350million people, one language. That is a great place to start a business.