Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: November, 2015

English sinks back beneath those waves

 Manos has handed in an unusual document, denouncing modern English as a senile language misused by the undereducated. A fine report. Abuse like that could be a welcome stimulus to the anglophone world, less quick than it used to be to deliver a shrewd counterpunch below the belt. But of course it may be Manos is right, perhaps right even with his suggestions for measures of linguistic life support which include solitary life imprisonment for anyone advocating the closure of public libraries, and not less than twenty years with hard labour for anyone who proposes the conversion of a library into a ‘lifestyle centre’ .

            But his report is unmanageably long; several pages under most of the headings. So we shall only cite his headings and a few of his examples for each. And we have split the whole thing into two parts to go in separate postings. The first, herewith, concentrates on failing control over form, inability to be simultaneously concise and explicit, and a feeble grasp of the underlying principles of good taste which allegedly once gave grace to every day’s English. The second part of his report (to appear at some future date) deplores the cultural decay.

Acronyms (as found in government websites or similar, or on the antisocial media, among whom must be included news reports on ‘business’, deserving particular opprobrium): Acoba; APPC; AtoS; CCRC; CDS; DIRC; DWP; FCA; HoLAC; IPSO; lol; namc; PFI; PHSO; PwC; tfif; RSC; SIS; TED; (R)USI   If the average speaker of English can manage some 20,000 words of his language, it should be possible to find some either agreeable or appropriate name for such institutions, e.g. ‘Butterfingers’ or ‘Torquemada’

Vulgar Abbreviations: Abbreviation in itself is venial. The offence is in the vulgarity which the contemporary mind cannot help incorporating in its coinages. Telly for ‘television’; Oz for ‘Australia’; pee for ‘urinate’; wops for ‘wasp’ (or, when written with a capital, ‘Italians’); butt for ‘backside’; vibes for ‘sensation’; freebie for vitally necessary expenses-paid study trip abroad

 Incorrect spellings. No excuses for mangling any of the following: idiosyncrasy; mediaeval; peddle; practise (vb); precede; (tennis) racquet; siege; clarionet; chrysoprase; manoeuvre; baldachin; Thessaloniki

Barbarous neologisms: edutainment; mis-spoke (= lied); vegeceutical; yogercise; homophobia (The merest glance in a Greek-English dictionary shows this coinage can properly only mean ‘fear of the similar’)

 Bizarre misfitting of forms and meanings: eg aggravate (=/= irritate); careen (=/= to move rapidly); celibate (=/= chaste); flout (=/= flaunt); barrel (=/= move rapidly while being overweight); furling (=/= drifting); chastise (=/= rebuke); refute (=/= repudiate); profitability (=/= repeatedly indulged greed)

 Insertion of meaningless syllables (mostly but by no means exclusively in spoken – or mumbled – language). Observably different social groups make different choices for plugging oral lacunae, with the first of the following favoured by the elderly and the second by everyone else down to the age of four: bloody; *******; like; sort of; like; don’t ya know (principally used by those over ninety);like; going forward (always used with a verb of future reference, therefore always unnecessary); like. Many other combinations match a very high frequency with a very low semantic content and often even lower truth content, eg we have set up an independent enquiry (common in political circles); mission successfully accomplished (common in military circles); the interests of the customer always come first (common in commercial circles); got a new album coming out soon, frequently heard on the BBC.

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Eschatological opinion

It is not surprising that women newsreaders on television who have been doing their jobs well for a decade or two are discontented at being replaced for no very clearly formulated reasons, although it is noticeable that they tend to be replaced by younger women. (This is claimed to show the wonderfully enlightened policy of the channel that used to employ them, ‘always seeking to offer equal opportunities for advancement to women, and keen to provide career opportunities for the younger generation’). However, it is pointless for them to grumble, and mistaken for their replacements to congratulate themselves on their success because with modern technological developments it’s pretty obvious that very soon all human newsreaders will be replaced by animations, and then after an exceedingly short interval by humanoid robots. These, too, will be predominantly female, but always good-looking (according to the criteria of advertising executives and managers in bulging grey suits). They will become progressively more outrageously beautiful, soon developing not merely fan mail but their ‘own’ twitter accounts, facebook pages and rival printed weekly journals, which always feature them on the cover, in various improbable (if not illegal) poses. They will themselves receive a large amount of air time, both in magazine programmes and in what (as the Syrian civil war continues to cause death and misery) (but mainly far away from the west) will still be officially termed news programmes though in fact being simply other magazine programmes. Soon new robot presenters will appear which the gutter media will hail with full colour ‘pix’ on pages 1 to 9 in print and five-minute videos online, as ‘sexy superstars’. They will be provocatively dressed, when dressed at all, and major segments of television and online time will be taken up with ‘spin-off’ soap operas giving detailed, implausible, and distasteful descriptions of the ‘lives’ and ‘adventures’ of the many rival ‘princesses’. Channel executives will continue to mock ‘critics who are stuck with their psychoses in the middle ages’. Large sections of commerce concerned with the media, retail trade, tourism, advertising, and fashion will throw wildly extravagant parties to celebrate the enormous profits they are making, even while other areas of the economy weaken drastically and in some cases come to a halt. Finally in the week when one channel’s soap opera screens, at 8 pm, a ten-minute fight between two of the best known topless robopresenters to an audience registered as 92% of the population, OECD governments will decide to take action, on the grounds that the major economies of the so-called developed nations are all in recession. However, before the necessary intergovernmental committees can be set up to organise the conferences to devise the road maps for the processes leading to the determination of what actions in what time frame may be needed to bring the situation under control in due course, the supervolcano in Yosemite erupts in an explosion greater than any in the planet’s history, bringing to an end what had been called human civilisation.

 Late news

In the interests of gender equality BBC news programmes are in future to accord equal amounts of time to reports on female and male typhoons and tropical storms.

Late news

A Home Office spokesperson has confirmed that the new more stringent procedure for those applying to take British nationality on grounds of descent will include a test to check for satisfactorily high levels of xenophobia

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How to make progress, backwards

From ancient times

Rumours have emerged of a secret project launched last year at a closed session of the Commissioners to support a billion-euro research programme aimed at standardising the size and shape of EU citizens within approximately 10% by 2040. Initially, it is said, the plans for height envisaged that all male adults would be between 165cm and 185 cm tall, while all women should be between 160cm and 175cm but following vehement protests from the female commissioners the same limits were set for both sexes, at a minimum height of 163cm and a maximum of 180cm. It was, however, accepted that different limits would apply in the case of chest and stomach measurements, the figures for which are not as yet known, although it is reported that temporary exemptions from the latter will be granted to pregnant women on provision of medical evidence. Similar arrangements would be put in place with regard to weight and posture.

    The plans have been advanced in the confident expectation of making immense savings in cost in many spheres of daily life, notably in the building and retail clothing industries and in transport, as well as in convenience for citizens, while it is understood that some Commissioners argued vigorously that the new limits would be a powerful force for the much greater degree of social cohesion they felt desirable and even necessary.

     It is not clear what sanctions will be applied in the case of those who are unacceptably tall or who fail to reach the minimum circumference. One option is thought to be the possibility that some particular region (perhaps one not favoured by ‘standard’ citizens, as they will be known) could be set aside as the the territory in which they would be required to have their permanent residence, though another possibility would obviously be a discriminatory tax rate.

(from Grandnephew’s treachery, 2008)

The present (by our bureaucratic correspondent)

It is reported that the government programme designed to enhance the individual competitivity and self-reliance of the population is to be developed further. The proposal currently before Parliament involves measures to abolish the institution of the queue and to forbid any office, commercial outlet or other organisation (except government offices) from requiring members of the public to queue. Citizens must instead learn to make use of their own resources, of whatever kind. We understand that this legislation is to be followed up by a wide raft of measures to be introduced by the Ministry of Health. The overall aim will be to progressively downgrade both the range of services provided by the National Health Service, and the treatments available within each of those. In addition there will be a number of new charges for medical and related care, and increases in the levels of existing fees. At the same time there are to be drastic cuts in the numbers of staff employed in all areas. The overall strategy is to promote deterioration in the National Health Service so as to stimulate members of the public to take better care of their own health, and to learn to pay proper and full attention to the avoidance of accidents at work and in the home. The government is confident that this imaginative and unconventional approach to reform when combined with further exploration of the possibilities offered by co-operation with private investment will produce immensely more satisfying results, than the former policy which consisted in essentials of ‘throwing money at the problem’.

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If Manos had been sober when he came in last Wednesday we could have continued this posting with Times possibly lying in wait. We could not of course throw him out. He is big enough and strong enough to throw any two of the rest of us out if we were to try. To be fair he’s no real trouble when drunk, just offensively cheerful, very [deleted by censor]. It turned out, when he had at last gone to sleep on the floor with Karela’s backpack containing all her notes as his pillow, that he had come to offer a piece to make up for what we lost when Sephelia had to leave us. Poor Sephelia was deported last week, even though she has British nationality. She had been living in Uganda for the four years up until January, and her British passport had run out, so she travelled on a Ugandan document Initially she was refused entry, but eventually was allowed in for a restricted period and signed a document which she understood to mean she faced gaol if overstaying, and she did not want to try the mettle of any lawyer she could afford standing up against the Home Office. At one point she had had the idea of running a ‘linguistic corner’, and Manos intended to make a contribution in the same way. The notes he brought in were evidently aimed at the precipitous decline in standards of English (who better to assess us than a brilliant Greek?), but there was no chance of getting them sorted out in time with him snoring on the floor for the rest of the afternoon. We hope they will appear in the next posting.

The other proposed posting, Part 2 of Putting the intelligence back into intelligence, has had to be withdrawn

Do you want what you get? Do you get what you want?

Part 1 In the good old days, my grandfather told me, if you were being investigated by a Special Branch man or, much more rarely, by someone from the other side, and provided that you weren’t too slow-witted to spot the fact, the whole business was usually done on a very civilised basis. It made no difference whether the grounds for suspicion were legitimate – as only very occasionally happened – or were the hybrid offspring of a chance collision of unrelated ideas in the mind of a possibly alcoholic clerk at hq, or arose because some self-inflating functionary in the outer scrubland of the political jungle took offence at some joke of yours which he failed to understand. The fellows engaged in business ‘in the field’, on both sides, were there precisely because they did not want to be bored out of their wits in hq or to be bound hand and mouth with obligations to believe simultaneously eleven mutually contradictory and wholly pointless falsehoods. They were almost always well-educated, good-humoured chaps, alert by nature and profession to the inanities and incongruities of the human circus, and once you had identified each other you could be sure of an excellent conversational partner and, often enough, of a good deal of help in dealing with the everyday obstructions to practical existence erected by the jobsworths employed to run society. In my own very earliest days in an adjoining field I encountered a few myself. In Exeter, for example, there was a very decent Special Branch fellow, member of an old county family, who had decided that farming was not for him. He knew the region and its sometimes hair-raising secrets (social rather than anything connected to police work) better than anyone. I more than once passed a very pleasant afternoon in Devonshire House with him and a couple of colleagues. One parted with a feeling rather like having had a good run in the country on a crisp winter morning, followed by a hot shower and a splendid breakfast.  In Baghdad I several times met Vitaly, a correspondent for Izvestia as his cover and no doubt very good at that. He was somewhat more reticent about his real business and there were matters he preferred not to discuss directly, but the breadth of his interests and his sense of humour, together with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Iraq, made him a conversationalist of the highest order.  Also a very good painter in water colours. Perfect English by the way.

Later I had very few contacts with that world, which was in any case changing. One of the last men in the field I knew personally, in Singapore, was still broadly true to that type. Through no fault of his own his educational background was not quite on the level of the Englishman I have cited above, let alone that of the Russian, but he was good-humoured, well-informed, markedly helpful in practical matters, and a thoroughly agreeable fellow.

Now, all that has changed. In the first stage these perceptive, resourceful agents were withdrawn from front line operations, to be replaced by cameras, microphones and other gadgets for recording data, usually without regard to its relevance, on the basis that ‘if we record everything then the stuff we need will be in there somewhere.’ Naturally this resulted in much greater credibility being given to those reporting conclusions to higher levels – it was assumed that the great mass of material collected amounted to convincing evidence for their views, however flimsy the evidence might actually be. In fact the real result was a great loss of efficiency. It was for instance only too easy for a machine to overlook the significance of the same name turning up in two different places hundreds of pages apart. But rather than bringing back the human agents the organisations plunged further into reliance on machines and algorithms of ever greater complexity, often ever more remote from the realities in the field. Inevitably the occasional successes were accompanied by major blunders which harmed not only the victims, but quite often and quite seriously the interests of the organisations themselves, whichever side they were on. No hope of rational assessment. If you decide that X is a goal to be achieved, you then set up a schema S of all the parametric values your electronic gadgets need to show in order to count as achievement of X; you then programme the whole caboodle to produce those values and turn the switch ‘on’. X is likely to result, with the whole hailed as a success. Quite independent of whether it was a good idea, short or long term. X may have been chosen for reasons of patriotism or prestige – just see how nations actually compete to hold the Olympic games. X may have been favoured by certain factions because it would make them the leaders in the operation and strengthen the position of those factions within their larger organisation. X may have been chosen because ‘it’s what we did last time’ (a principle notoriously responsible for much of the slaughter on both sides in World War I).

Part 2 to appear at a later date

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Although he has taken up his studies at the Open University again after a two-year absence (about which we are certainly not going to ask any intrusive questions) Manos is well into his old recreation of devising get-rich-quick schemes. His current one is for a chain of restaurants, to be run on entirely new lines, modern, dynamic, and market-oriented. In other words, taking the banks as a model. They will be extravagantly furnished and decorated establishments, with very few staff visible to those who patronise them but whole teams of casually dressed young persons lolling about in front of screens in the back offices. The front-of-house staff with be trained to appear authoritatively friendly or actually obsequious, depending on who they are currently dealing with. In either case they will flatter the customers while offering expensive suggestions, and surreptitiously insult them once they are out of earshot. Guests (only vulgarly known as ‘customers’) can book a table and sit there admiring the luxurious décor and elegant social ambience in which they find themselves for an hour or two, taking selfies if they deem that socially acceptable, and photographs of other ambitiously dressed guests. After an hour or two they leave. There will be no kitchens. The beautifully designed menu, styled ‘your invitation to an ambience of unique elegance’ will make it clear, in very small letters and very abstruse terminology, on the back, that if any food or drink is desired, guests must provide the same themselves and are fully responsible for taking all measures that may be needed for its preparation.

Two more details: music will of course be provided, Mozart with all the difficult parts taken out and replaced by a gentle but unobtrusive rhythm to enhance the perfect restorative experience. And a preposterously high compensation package for the restaurateur.

Do you get what you pay for or do you have to fight for it?

(Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems is our bureaucratic correspondent. He grumbles like hell about the designation and wants to be the ‘bureaucracy correspondent’, but I think the other term suits him quite well. He’s got to put up with it since we’re paying his salary.) (One bottle of Sauterne every time he hands in an article.)

A White Paper released yesterday revealed the government’s intention to abolish queues. A spokesman for the Department of Employment said this would be one of the principal measures in a programme with the overall aim of making the population more resilient and less inclined to depend on what are too often seen as advantages and privileges to be claimed as ‘rights’, with no need for any effort or commitment in financial terms on the part of those who claim them. The new measures would thus follow in the footsteps of valuable reforms initiated by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Ian Duncan Smith) and other members of the government, to reduce or abolish state financial support for those out of work, in order to incentivise them to seek employment, and with the same objective to eliminate any form of subsidy for single parents attempting to stay out of the workforce merely to look after their own children. As one among many instances of the need for action, it had frequently been observed that at crowded bus stops in wet weather many waiting passengers allowed those who had arrived earliest to board the vehicle first; but this discouraged the spirit of competition so vital for national economic progress. It was entirely reasonable that a parent with a sick child arriving at a hospital, knowing that his child’s condition was probably more worrying than the minor ailments of the majority of those waiting, should be able to receive immediate attention and treatment for the child on payment of a suitable fee. The spokesman described the new proposals as ‘bringing the efficiency of modern market practice into everyday life’ and promising benefits for the community as a whole, and he pointed out that they were broadly in line with the acknowledged principle that a population will value what it has to pay or struggle for.

            The changes may not be brought in immediately since it is anticipated that there will be a need for concordant legislation to modify the present laws concerning affray, assault, and riot. This aspect will of course be dealt with by the Ministry of Justice.

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Monty Skew writes

Greece has provided a vivid demonstration that (to adapt Mr Ford) austerity is bunk. In obedience to the Troika Greek taxes have been raised year by year between 2010 and 2015. Tax receipts of the Greek government have however diminished year by year between 2010 and 2015. Reasons are thought to include increased evasion (no surprise), increased emigration (no surprise), increased co-operation within families and volunteer groups (no surprise), and simply reduced consumption of things costing money (no surprise). As a result of the obvious effect of the lower tax receipts on the Greek government’s budget, Brussels has asked Greece for further cuts.

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Sephelia has asked permission to set up what she calls a ‘linguistic corner’.  I’m rather inclined to think we have quite enough language here already, with Greek from Manos, French from Simon’s adopted mother, South American Spanish from Isabelita when she comes in, and Croat from Karela (not to mention the language I use when things get more confused than usual). On the other hand, one should encourage the young in such good habits as may occasionally surface. I shall mull this over.  But her request has prompted me to pull out something I prepared a week or two ago, namely evidence that even if English is still a living language, it is well past its prime; to put it bluntly it is in an advanced state of senility. List to appear soon, I hope.

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Puzzle of the day: than which well known prime minister is Donald Trump more civilised and more truthful?

A pot-pourri of chocolate, oysters, empty deserts, and a time-travelling marathon

Mr Tony Abbott, former prime minister of Australia, has urged Britain to take a ‘tough line’ with would-be immigrants from the catastrophic events in the Middle East. This is not the first occasion on which he appears to have been misinformed. The British government has indicated that it will accept 20,000 refugees from Syria – these to be people already refugees outside Syria in camps in other countries. This is the very same technique that can be used when distributing chocolates to nephews and nieces at holiday time and discovering that one child has been overlooked; one remedies the deficiency by taking two chocolates from the allocations for all the other children and using them to make up one new bundle. There is however one difference between the practice of the technique in the two cases. In the former case it is a matter of the difference between destitution in exile or worse, and a half-way civilised existence.  (Come, come, you surely do not expect this government to offer anything really helpful except to those too wealthy to need it!) The 20,000 are only to be received (if at all) ‘over the next five years’ (which given the obviously entirely unplanned delays entirely predictable means the process, of discovering that some or most do not after all have the necessary documentation, having left it in Syria, may start some time, if at all, after 2020). The number, even if by some unforeseen failure in discoordination they all arrive, amounts to rather fewer than one for every 3,000 of the current population. Most of the current population could at that rate pass a decade and never meet a single one of them. (Ireland which is under no obligation to receive any at all is taking a proportion fifteen times as many.)

It seems unnecessary for Mr Abbott to urge Britain to take a tough line. Or perhaps he means that Britain should copy the extraordinary example Australia set when he was prime minister, sending out naval vessels to take control of other vessels encountered on the high seas and by force to take those on board to a place where they certainly did not wish to go. Some may regard this as kidnapping or false imprisonment, but there seems to be a better case for describing it as piracy. (We can add that conditions at the destination are so deplorable that journalists are excluded.)

The Abbott view of immigrants is in fact puzzling given that the 23 million Australians mostly living a comfortable life are to be found in a space of seven and a half million square kilometres, at an average density of about three humans per square kilometre. In the upper two thirds of the country as one looks at a map, that density must be down to around one per km2. Noticing that countries not very much further up the map have very much larger populations, many of whom would be extremely glad to have a style of life like that of the average Aussie, one might have expected that any competent prime minister of the country while in power would have done all he could to fill those empty spaces with as many immigrants (often well-qualified educationally, all provably determined and resourceful, and with good reason to be profoundly grateful to a government that would rescue them from terrible conditions, even if insisting that they agreed to reside in specified areas of their new home for a number of years) as possible.

We must at least concede, however, that Mr Abbott has some experience in the matter of migration from which to offer support for the British government’s less appealing instincts. He is himself an immigrant, so he appears to be an advocate of kicking ladders after use. As a child he was taken to Australia, not however to escape torture or death in a civil war but as an economic migrant. More significantly he speaks from among a population of 23 million, of whom approximately 98% are descended from immigrants who arrived within the past 200 years. A little used but perfectly feasible classification of mass migrations would establish two types: those where the incoming population settles, broadly speaking, alongside the previous inhabitants of the territory, which seems to have been largely true of the Visigoths by contrast with the Vandals, and also of ancestors of the large number of those now living in France whose family names suggest earlier familiarity with eastern Europe (and whose record in the matter of kicking ladders seems relatively honourable), as against, on the other hand, those which involve disappearance of the indigenous peoples, as with the western European invasions of North America, Central America, South America and Australia. In the latter case in particular, the disappearance was greatly advanced by massacres of the original residents, believed to have accounted for more than a hundred thousand. (Cf the book Why weren’t we told? by Henry Reynolds, published by Viking.) (Asking the minister George Brandis in person for his opinion is not recommended.)

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Isabelita, alas, is writing a book on the biochemistry of oyster consumption with an early deadline and hence only coming in occasionally. Understandable, since when she was with us before she not only contributed some of the best ideas, but in practice did 90% of all the administrative work. On her last visit she did leave us a couple of short notes, herewith. It may be relevant to the first of these that she is entitled to Israeli nationality although she has not chosen to take up that option.

1.) Can anyone explain why a state so efficiently organised can apparently not find the money to instal much needed closed circuit television surveillance, at areas where trouble is likely to occur as in all the recent cases where Palestinians have been shot dead after reportedly attacking or threatening security personnel with knives? How can the security services defend themselves without such evidence?

2.) I see another of my political formulae showing itself in the topic of the China one-child-only policy. This is the way it comes (direct from the media).

China does this (one-child-policy). The West does not. Therefore it is either wrong or peculiar. China has stopped doing this. So China has made a good move.

In reality I think it is foolish. Already in the world people are worried and they are right about the employments which will disappear, with robots and printing in three dimensions, with always new materials. In twenty years the big problem with employment will be too many people with no capacity to earn money, but the economies will be strong because of the machines. Good for Japan, but not good for the countries like Britain in the West which think they will have many more people.

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Editorial

Paul Ryan to be Speaker of the House of Representatives? ‘Paul Ryan’? Isn’t that the chap who thought he would help along his campaign to be Vice President four years ago by claiming that his best time for the marathon was a bit under three hours – ‘two something…’? It turned out that actually his only time for a marathon was within a few seconds of four hours and one minute. Now we do not blame him in this matter for lying. As Jean-Claude J observed,when things get difficult ‘we lie’. (He was speaking as a senior member of the EU commission). But we criticise Mr Ryan for remarkably poor judgment. A marathon is a major event in the life of almost anyone who has run one, most especially if it is the only one. One remembers, to the second, the time recorded. And the time will be recorded – athletics officials tend to fill in the time when not ensuring all known rules (and in some instances others of their own invention) are obeyed at sports events by compiling, collating, and comparing sports records. The difference between a little under three hours and a little over four hours will have as much chance of passing unnoticed as an American warship sailing five miles off the coast of an island occupied by vigilant personnel of the Chinese Navy because, as Ed Hillary put it, ‘it’s there’.

            Which may remind us as it happens of Mrs Clinton’s famed airport landing under fire – very definitely unrecorded fire.