Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: English language

Green – the colour of unripe governments

  1. Intern wanted               
  2. Irish border        
  3. The Guradian
  4. Political boomerangs
  5. Spermatozoa fairly straight

       Next posting scheduled for 1-10-2017

Wanted as soon as possible: new intern for this site.  Residence on the island is not necessary, and no suitable accommodation is available (and in case some might think they could rough it in picturesque squalor the dog basket was thrown out long ago).  The post is unpaid.  It follows that no office duties are asked for.  We want someone capable of independent thought and imagination, but also able to write good English (or French) and to keep reasonable control on schedules and deadlines.  Ability to translate Microsoft jargon into comprehensible English would be a prime asset.  This is a chance to put things out with your own byline.  Any age, any colour, any gender, any ethnic group.  Apply in the usual way (or direct).  Berthold F-C at the University will probably be willing to give some unbiassed advice.


From our senior contributor Montgomery Skew

Let us give credit to the soaring imagination of the May government which has effortlessly tossed a solution to the Irish border problem into the lap of the open-mouthed EU negotiators.  Government representatives are predicting, with gritted teeth (behind a fake smile of confidence), that following Britain’s triumphal exit from the fetters of union with Europe, trade and traffic between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be able to  proceed as smoothly as before and ever more profitably.  This on the basis of masterful decisions made to take advantage of possibilities hitherto undreamt of in the efficient organisation of commerce.  Major businesses concerned with trade across the reinvigorated yet somehow frictionless frontier will register all the vehicles they will use, and pre-pay all tariffs and other charges required by British and European rules but will do so online through deductions from designated accounts.  They will inform the authorities in advance of their intention to make a shipment on each occasion, giving details of its date and contents, and thus do away with delays for inspection at the frontier, while the payment will already have been fully dealt with before the cargo reaches its destination (provided there is no computer glitch or interruption to the internet service).  Automatic number-plate recognition technology will have securely confirmed passage of the vehicle (provided there has been no unplanned problem with the transit and no jiggery-pokery with switching of plates).  Smaller local firms and their drivers will also have to be registered but will be allowed to cross without online notification and without deduction of any charges whatever.  (The unlikely event of an unauthorised driver using a locally registered vehicle to carry goods of his own choice across the ‘invisible’ frontier is to be dealt with by using facial recognition technology; drivers of all local vehicles will wind down their windows and show their faces to a camera at a pre-arranged point as they drive past.)  Officials conceded that an even more unlikely event, of an authorised driver carrying illegal substances or unauthorised persons such as refugees or escaping convicts over the frontier might in principle need to be considered at some future point, but believe that such incidents would be very rare.  They remain confident that with new advances in heat-seeking technology and other promising scientific developments this eventuality could be dealt with without difficulty, and they assure those interested that as a whole this ‘high tech’ plan for a frictionless border will satisfactorily meet all conceivable regulatory requirements (and crossing the border by any other means, such as walking across the fields by night or swimming a few miles through coastal waters towing a laden surfboard, would be made a criminal offence).  Thus virtually at a stroke the British government has discovered the way to put an end to the age-old, worldwide crime of smuggling.  London is doubtless already preparing a package demonstrating the UK’s superior know-how when it comes to sociopolitical governance, to be made available on very reasonable terms to governments around the world, possibly as part of a two-part offering also setting out the ‘Hinkley Model’, a compilation of advice on how to develop safe, cheap and non-polluting nuclear power.


The Editor writes: In one of the more remote regions on my Mediterranean holiday I was reduced to reading old copies of the Guardian.  Always sad when a onetime sprightly defender of justice and fair play enters on the irreversible decline, All the effort they evidently put in on getting rid of the typos and the overbalancing ultra-left tirades seems to have been effort subtracted from the business of clearly presenting orderly thought to readers, in proper English (along with maintaining a sharp understanding of the world as seen outside the one-way glass bubble of London politics).  Herewith a short representative paragraph from August.  I make no criticism of DiNicolantonio or MacGregor, only of the journalistic presentation.  It should not be necessary to have to go to original sources for what a newspaper is purporting to expound.

DiNicolantonio also claims that we lose too much salt 1 when we exercise or sweat in heatwaves.  MacGregor says that is not so 2.  “There was a very good experiment 3 with the SAS, parachuted into a desert 4 which found they needed quite a low 5 salt intake.  If you have a higher 6 salt intake it is more dangerous.  They had to carry more water with them because of thirst. 7” he said.

 [1] ‘too much’ for what?

[2] ‘Not so’.  I.e. salt is lost but no threat to life?  Or no loss of efficiency?  Short-term or long-term?

[3]  ‘Very good’ I.e ‘very efficiently conducted’?  Or ‘strongly favourable to the lower-salt case’?

[4]  ‘A desert’.  Which one, under what meteorological conditions, to undertake what activity?  Very variable factors with enormous influence on the results to be expected.

[5]  ‘Quite a low’.  By comparison with what might be expected in those conditions? (See footnotes 2 and 4 combined)

[6]  ‘More dangerous’ than what?  And by the standard of normal human use?  Or referring to SAS in the unidentified desert?

[7]  Relation to previous statement obscure.  Extra water to deal with thirst unconnected with salt loss?  But in that case how does this thirst factor interact with the need for salt intake?


Monty has also kindly passed us a piece from another inhabitant of Whitehall (an EU citizen) who wishes to remain anonymous

Even though I have no political commentator’s licence valid for the UK   and no moral or passport-certified right to be personally concerned (for which I give fervent thanks), the UK is a constantly bubbling source (like that mud volcano in Indonesia) of unconscious political comedy, richly endowed with thinktank support teams able to believe almost any political nonsense so long as it is their political nonsense, while elbowing contradictory facts aside.  If all the energy put into GDP (Gross Domestic Pontification) could somehow be converted into electricity the UK’s future could be bright.  But perhaps some of them are feeling the strain; as there has been a noticeable increase in the proportion of labour-saving boomerang policies recently.  Boomerang policies and promises are simply pulled out of storage and thrown at the populace when there is no other immediately obvious issue that can be worked up into a scandal or crisis.  Unlike other political projectiles, for instance replies to parliamentary questions, they normally spend an appreciable time spinning around in the public arena, attracting attention and perhaps – if launched by a skilled performer – inflicting some damage on a chosen target, before returning and being locked securely away, ready for use at the next suitable opportunity.  Of course some of them crash and are trampled under foot never to return but there are two other outcomes: first, promises which come back unbroken and can cause significant injury to the career of clumsy politicians not agile enough to catch them in time. or at least to get out of the way.  But, occasionally, a truly talented operator may be able to seize one, quickly wipe off the metaphorical blood and bird feathers and launch it in a fresh direction of his or her choosing to perform impressive aerobatics over the (possibly) enthralled crowds watching.  Naturally a certain amount depends on the material and construction of the policy itself, and most Departments have teams constantly engaged in experiments to see what designs and what ballistic techniques might produce the most spectacular results.  One fine example of a boomerang policy is the proposal to cut net immigration to Britain.  This was originally launched by Tories though from time to time other hands have seized it in attempts to provide their own aerial entertainment.  But of course the most famous example is the promise of ‘a major house-building programme to build new affordable homes in sufficient numbers’ which has been spinning over the heads of the electorate in one manoeuvre or another at almost every election season since far back in the previous century.


   obtainable from the British Library, 96 Euston Road; submit a sample of at least twenty thousand words of recent work together with the fee of £540 and a full waiver of relevant copyright


Spermatozoa, fairly straight

Several reports from different parts of the world have all noted massive reductions over the past 40 years in human production of healthy sperm with astonishingly large declines of up to 60% or even more.  The situation as earlier reported varied geographically, with very big reductions in North America, Europe, and Australia, but not in Asia, Africa, and South America.  Predictably social media spawned speculation about ‘white races’, though if you take a really careful look at the social and ethnic data you would probably be on surer ground if you claimed a correlation between speaking English and the decline in sperm count.  However this is in fact a red (or ‘white’ ?) herring since the decline has been even more impressive in China where there is good evidence based on data from army recruits.  There, studies show a decline in healthy sperm of between 80% and 70% between 2001 and 2015.  There’s also been a giddying decline in Iran, where (as many outside America will know) it is only a relatively small (and privileged) layer of the population with whom archetypal ‘white nationalists’ would consent to feel comfortable, if they ever met one of them.  However over similar time periods, there have been dramatic increases worldwide in the incidence of asthma – e.g. in Canada an increase greater than threefold between 1979 and 2004 – and also in the incidence of allergies.  In France (where by the way the ratio of good quality sperm reportedly dropped by – not ‘to’ – 60% in 40 years) there has a doubling of asthma in less than thirty years and, reportedly, a ten-fold increase in children’s allergies.  Researchers have indicated a variety of possible causes including obesity, ‘modern lifestyle’ (so vague as to be more or less useless); air pollution, lack of exercise, plastic (especially bisphenol A) in the environment, and exposure of immature minds to pornography (plus of course global warming).  Very puzzlingly the lists of suggestions nearly always omit another factor which co-incides rather strikingly as far as broad chronology is concerned: greatly increased exposure to electromagnetic radiation generated by human sources, which started to become significant around 1960, and has become more intense in the past two decades.  An authoritative book on the effects of electromagnetism on biological systems published some years ago by a highly respected scientist, has the title Crosscurrents (O.Becker, published 1990, isbn 0-87477-536-1).  It is up to readers whether they want to find out more.  But perhaps it is rather early yet to start investing heavily in companies aiming to produce electric cars for all by 2040.


Science News It is reported that scientists working for a major commercial organisation in the US have isolated the integrity gene, and have begun experiments on how it can be disabled


Keeping your word, keeping our words



Monty Skew our political correspondent writes

If ever you need evidence of the calibre of those who claim to govern the world look no further than the riot of self-congratulation that concluded the COP21 jamboree in Paris. Unless I am doing them an injustice. Perhaps it was not the delegates’ mental calibre causing the pigs overhead to loop the loop (I saw them myself) in sheer astonishment at the shouts of triumph greeting the news there had been agreement on the measures the nations of the world will take in order to stop London, New York, Bangladesh, and half the island states on the planet disappearing under the waves some time soon after next week.   Perhaps it was industrial strength ignorance of what happens to international agreements to undertake common action.

            Did you notice  for instance that Cameron’s ‘offer’ to the EU for Britain to accept 20,000 refugees fleeing from death and torture in Syria was a postdated offer to start only after he has left office when a new prime minister (possibly called Teresa) can claim total lack of responsibility for the offer, which therefore no longer will have any validity? (This is called ‘forward planning’.)   There are brave organisations, conscientious enough to disbelieve the fantasies published after conferences where governments promise funds to save 35 million people from an allegedly natural disaster in some far away continent of which the conference participants know little except the beach resorts, who track how much money actually arrives by comparison with the burgeoning promises that justified the splendid dinners when the conferences ended. The percentage is less than 100%. In fact much less. Of course it varies, and different groups make different estimates, but something like 10% may not be too far off the average. And of course, it nearly always comes with strings (the money must be spent on projects run by companies from the contributing nation, or it will actually turn out to be a loan, interest-bearing of course, or it must come not as cash but in the form of physical ‘assets’ such as out-of-date warships for which the contributing nation has no further use.)

            So the wild jubilation in Paris was joy distastefully unconfined at success in producing a page or two of text, and agreeing to approve it. Even that took two weeks. Can’t have been difficult though. If you stick a thousand or two delegates in some good-class hotels in Paris and tell them it is their duty to reach agreement on a few pages within two weeks, I reckon many of us could fix that, if given the funds which governments generously contribute for such uplifting purposes

            The question is not what programme did they draw up on those pages. The question is what parts of that programme, if any, will be put into action. There is a massive body of empirical evidence showing how well programmes agreed by governments with other governments get implemented. Not well at all. As a random example, France, the host nation, solemnly agreed as a member of the EU some years ago to run a budget deficit of no more 3% per annum to guard against the risk of economic disaster. France has shamelessly exceeded that figure every single year since.

            You may want to take your chance on global warming really slowing. On the other hand, why not buy some camping gear for your family and an open-date ticket to New Zealand?


There was another spot of unpleasantness with Manos about his report on the senility of the English language, quite apart from the fact that it included too many irrelevant idiosyncratic views of his own. When he came in he was already drunk and his criticisms of the English, and in fact of most other peoples of Europe except the Greeks, inside the office and in the street outside were so violent that we had complaints from all the other offices in the street. (It was, though, the only time I have so far seen Louise smile.) However, he’s a good lad at heart, and we had promised to put in at least a bowdlerised version of his stuff, so we calmed him down with Karela’s reserve bottle of slivovitz, and here is the second part, cut down now to ultra-short form and edited with a light touch (ie making almost no changes to the way it came in) by myself

Why English is becoming a dead language: part 2

Loss of vocabulary See it for yourselves! When did you last come across any of the following? Have you ever seen any of them on a screen? Exiguous; ineluctable; fuliginous; countervail; morganatic; ruddle; weft; obnubilation; pleach; imbrue; clerisy; philippic?

Loss of useful distinctions: refute (vs repudiate); celibate (vs chaste); aggravate (vs irritate); soon (vs ‘no’); evidence (vs proof); everyone (vs some of us); truth (vs my personal opinion / what it said in the Daily Telegraph)

Loss of phrases from other languages: tha’s mony a mickle maks a muckle; quod erat demonstrandumdolce far niente;   sauve qui peut!; Deutschland ûber alles (each one of these is or was in its own country roughly equivalent to ‘that’s just the way things are’)

Loss of quotations: ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies’; ‘he holds him with his glittering eye’; ‘do you bite your thumb at us, sir?’; ‘much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young’; ‘He who can does. He who cannot, teaches’; ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’, and so on.

Loss of allusions: the Welsh wizard;   Clio;   Judge Jeffreys;   Cynthia Payne; Peterloo; Crichel Down; 7/7; Tien An Men; ermine; 2o C; Schengen; Enron; desiccated calculating machine; Libor; Ascot; Lesbos; lithium; omertà; 3/9/1939; Judy Garland; 6/8/1945; and so on and on in all directions

Byzantinism: person to person verbal interaction (= ‘conversation’); financial gratitude symbol (= ‘bribe’); intimate hospitality industry (you can work out the translation for yourselves); for vehicular access proceed to rear of building (= ‘you can drive in at the back’); to develop leaner faster growth models so that our business is scalable (gibberish, so the intended meaning was presumably ‘to make a bigger profit’)

Cliché:‘left-wing extremist’; ‘any time soon’; (climate change / deforestation / the war/whatever it may be..)..‘is spiralling out of control’; ‘wake up and smell the coffee’; ‘the National Health Service is the best in the world’; ‘we are a small nation and with the best will in the world’; ‘far be it from me to criticise, but…’; ‘we deeply regret what happened and wish to express our sympathy to…’; ‘it is time to draw a line under that and move on…’

Constructional chaos: examples in almost anything you hear or read, not only the Independent online and the Guardian, and journalism by those who went to school in America. Just one example: ignorance that as (in second place) = although or given that. ‘Placid as he is…’ = ‘Although he is placid…’ And ‘Thin as it is, it’ll just fit in’ = ‘Being thin, it’ll just fit in’

Absolutely nothing to do with comparison, so absolutely no need of an additional precedingas’.


Political definition of the weekResolving the Greek debt crisis means postponing the Greek debt crisis

Challenge of the week: Devise a term to describe the tactic of escaping blame for a first crime by committing a second worse one and name, if you dare, a country which goes in for this

Prediction of the week: When the Fed puts up interest rates, banks and bankers will become much richer; with rare exceptions of the well connected, everyone else will become poorer

Guess of the week: When that happens, economic commentators will describe it as ‘baffling’ and ‘unexpected’