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2004-02-06 kaffe (utc)

A lesson to us all, slightly untaught

Malta, the tiddliest EU-newbie elect, is taking time out from the intensive training it hopes will allow it to arm-wrestle Luxembourg into demonstrable tiddliestestness to ponder a conundrum - in the unlikely event of anyone wanting to learn Maltese (a particularly delinquent form of Arabic written with the Roman alphabet, and don't tell them I said that, please, I'll never hear the end of it), who exactly is going to teach them?

The Professional Training Services of the European institutions in Brussels is jointly organising intensive summer courses for interested EU employees. Maltese is the only language being advertised, subject to the availability of a Maltese teacher.

Arnold Cassola, Alternattiva Demokratika candidate for the European Parliament and secretary general of the European Greens said: "We simply cannot go on like this. We risk entering the EU without any Maltese interpreters in the European Parliament. Now we risk not even being able to provide one Maltese teacher to teach the language to interested foreigners".

I'm very much up for learning Maltese, incidentally, if the EU trumps Denmark's so far non-existent offers to put me on the gravy train. I may even have been to Malta, although if so it was before I could usefully be described as sentient so I don't usually count it as itineraried.

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2004-02-06 14:49

Knudellabirthdaypost

Slightly belated:

I dag fylder Mary 32 år, men hun er ikke bare blevet et år ældre, siden sin sidste fødselsdag. I løbet af det sidste år er hun blevet danskernes midtpunkt nummer ét.

Today Knudella ("Mary") turned 32, but she's not only become a year older since her last birthday. In the course of the last year she's also become the centre of Danish attention.

That was yesterday, oops. Sorry, Knudella, and happy birthday!

Also:

»Monarkiet er ikke et autonomt fællesskab,« sagde statsminister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, da regeringens forslag om at forhøje Kronprins Frederiks årpenge med 10 millioner kroner i går var til behandling i Folketinget.

"The monarchy is not an autonomous something," said prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen when the government proposal to raise Kronprinsfred's yearly allowance by 10 million kroner [900 000 GBP] was discussed in parliament yesterday.

I'm not an autonomous something, either, Mr Rasmussen, and there's still no sign of my handout. Perhaps it is in the post...

[Linkage via Birgitte, tak!]

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2004-02-06 samwidge (utc)

Balticisation in Latvia

The derussification of the Baltics is a political minefield, for sure:

The Latvian parliament has passed a law reducing the use of Russian in education amid angry protests by thousands of ethnic Russian students. [...]

It has outraged Latvia's large Russian minority - nearly a third of the population - and opinion in Russia. [...]

The law demands that at least 60% of public school classes - even those which cater for ethnic Russians - must be taught in Latvian from September.

I'm not going to exhibit an opinion about this, but I reserve the right to make sarcastic remarks about yours if you are less restrained, because that is after all what the InterWebNet is mostly for.

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2004-02-06 morning (utc)

You go, EC!

This is completely outrageous:

Italy is facing massive daily fines by the European court for failing to end discrimination against foreign language lecturers in its universities.

The European commission said yesterday it was seeking an unprecedented fine of 310,000 euros (£210,000) a day until the matter was resolved.

The demand from Brussels is the latest move in an 18-year campaign to force Italian universities to give foreign language teachers the same rights as Italian lecturers.

In 1995 the government attempted to solve the problem by issuing new contracts that gave foreigners the same status as laboratory assistants. Those who refused to sign, including 90 British lecturers, were sacked or suspended.

How stupid can you get? Does the Italian government really think foreign language teaching at the tertiary level is something they can easily afford to skip, because everyone speaks Italian anyway?

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2004-02-05 13:21

Geography, slightly regal

If you look at a map of Yoorp with North pointing, as it usually does, up, then Portugal is way over on the left. The Straight of Gibraltar, which separates the Mediterranean sea from the Atlantic ocean, lies between Spain and Africa. Spain is to the right of Portugal, and Portugal lies outside the Straight, so that the sea its seasides are beside is in all cases the Atlantic ocean. (You can tell easily enough, incidentally - the water is noticeably colder than it would be in a Mediterranean resort.)

Anyway, we all know all that, since we are Rootlessly Cosmopolitan and acquainted with the concept of "map" and so forth, but Kronprins Haakon of Norway doesn't get out much and really can't be expected to keep up:

Norway's royal palace has apologised after Crown Prince Haakon made a geographical blunder by telling Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio his country was on the Mediterranean Sea. [...] Haakon, acting as regent because his father King Harald is recovering from an operation, told Sampaio at a banquet in Oslo: "Norway and Portugal both lie on the outskirts of Europe. You are placed by the Mediterranean`s warm beaches. We are as far north as it is possible to be."

VG also covers this, rather more indulgently:

Da han i talen tok han opp det gode forholdet mellom Portugal og Norge, og nevnte landenes felles trekk, blant annet kystkulturen og maritime interesser kom han med uttalelsen som muligens avslørte dårlige geografikunnskaper.

When he took up the theme of the good relations between Portugal and Norway, and mentioned the countries common traits, amongst other things the coastal culture and maritime interests, he revealed a somewhat shaky knowledge of geography.

This was his first formal speech as regent (while his daddy, who is the king, is unwell) during a state visit. Any Norwegish speakers looking for a job might do well to offer their fact-checking services (own atlas required).

[link via David, takk]

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2004-02-05 rainy and grey (utc)

Intelligence, defective and otherwise

A flashback to last year's New Yorker coverage of the ideologically driven dismantling of scrutiny of intelligence sources in favour of cherry-picking by persons within the administration.

The former intelligence official went on, "One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn't like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with - to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God." He added, "If it doesn't fit their theory, they don't want to accept it."

All the persons who are currently getting ready to pretend to be surprised that this will turn to have happened, what is up with that?

Everyone knew the intelligence was cooked. Everyone knew WMD was a flimsy but marketable pretext. I knew that, Varied Reader, and so, I am sure, did you. Everyone! Knew!

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2004-02-05 10:28

Smörgåspost

§1. What's that, Tezza?

Homo sum; nihil humanum a me alienum puto.

I am human, and I for one welcome our new alien overlords.

Terentius ("Terence")

§2. Boom!

First whales, now this:

A so-called 'superloo' exploded in a town centre when an electrical fault caused water to surge back into the toilet, blowing off its roof and lifting the pavement.

An electrical fault indeed! When will the so-called government admit the extent of the threat posed to democracy by fundamentaliste suicide bombing toilets and whales?

The sooner we ban toilets and whales from wearing headscarfs the better, I say, and to hell with "civil rights"!

[link via Anna K, tack]

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2004-02-04 12:59

Smörgåspost

§1. Finnish Men's Choir Shouters, on ice

Oh yes:

Mieskuoro Huutajat (Men's Choir Shouters) was formed in 1987 in Oulu, by a group of young men who confess they had nothing better to do.

The idea was to dress about 20 men in distinctive black attire, white shirts and black rubber ties, and train them to shout some of the most beloved songs in Finland.

§2. "Flood" chaos:

Oh yes:

Three rescued in flood chaos

Now the snö is gone, the BBC remembers the word "chaos"? Hutton's too good for 'em.

§3. Major life decisions

As of now, by which apparently I mean sometime in the middle of February, I am a subscriber to Courrier International, the globalest hebdo the Frenchy-French (or anyone else AFAIK) have to offer.

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2004-02-04 11:54

When is a UK not a UK?

A while back I was summarising some of the hilarities of the UK's various interrelations, and their effect on national sports teams and what have you, but Mr O'Toole tells me a thing I did not know:

NORTHERN Irish Olympic athletes are able to choose to represent Ireland or Great Britain.

Which is a deal with a 50-year history, it turns out. Do Greenlandic athletes cheerfully turn out for the Denmark, Kingdom of?

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2004-02-04 mornin' (utc)

The Monday Review of Stuff

The Enlightenment (Studies in European History), Roy Porter.

First, 11.99 UKP for a book of 70 pages of text is not my idea of a bargain and then some, and the pages are super-king-size deluxe, which is a thing I dislike. Bad publishers!

Second, this is a critical overview of the current questions in Enlightenment (Upplysningtid) scholarship, many of which involve a healthy dose of historiography. "Historiography" is what historians call going meta and questions like "What kind of thing is history, and how do its methodologies relate to the society in which they're practiced?" are fair game in it. Which is all very well I don't doubt, but not very helpful for newbies, for whom this book isn't: Scanning the historical horizons as the decks of HMS Historiography pitch and roll beneath your feet can be an unnerving experience, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I spent more than a little of my watch more than a little green about the gills.

One welcome trend is that away from the Great Men's Great Books focus, hoorah:

Instead, recent social historians have invited us to regard the movement as a wider ferment inaugurated, sustained and spread by a vastly larger number of relatively obscure thinkers, writers, readers and support loops. Nor could it have flourished without extensive support-networks of friends, sympathizers and fellow-travellers - comrades who gave refuge to exiles or passed on letters to those living underground, in hiding.

[p.41]

The Enlightenment (Upplysningtid), then, is the new punk, hoorah!

Anyway, if you've read a couple of surveys of the period, then you'll be ready for this, and if you haven't then you probably won't, although it will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of the various surveys: There's a ten-page annotated bibliography, which is very helpful.

And finally:

As the Enlightenment gained ground, it spelt the end of public wars of faith, put a stop to witch-persecutions and heretic-burnings and signalled the demise of magic and astrology, the erosion of the occult, the waning of the belief in the literal, physical existence of Heaven and Hell, in the Devil and all his disciples. The supernatural disappeared from public life.

[p.66]

Hey, America! Yoorp here. You know that Enlightenment (Upplysningtid) thingy you borrowed? If you're not using it, could we have it back, please? Thanks!

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2004-02-03 aternoon (utc)

Progress

We used to have our own email server in the department, and our email used to work.

Then we replaced that machine with a better one, and so we handed off email to the central IT people.

Now email doesn't work; I haven't been able to send email at all today.

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2004-02-03 samwidge (utc)

More smörgåspost

§1. Beercomsumptiondeclinefigures

A sedate fortnight after this bladet's coverage the Beeb covers the worrying German beercomsumptiondecline:

The Federal Statistics Office said that inside German last year's sales were 9.32 billion litres (2.42 billion gallons) of beer - down from 9.65 billion litres (2.51 billion gallons) on the previous year.

Germans remain among the heaviest beer-drinkers in Europe - with only the Czechs and Irish downing more.

§2. EU election enthusiasm underflow

Set a low target:

At the last European elections in 1999 turnout in the UK was 24%, the lowest in the European Union.

and watch us beat it next time! It would save a lot of valuable time and resources if they let me pick all of the MEPs for Britain, since I seem to be the only person who cares. Tough on the Tories, perhaps, but no more than they deserve.

One in five people questioned think the European Parliament has power over the amount of income tax they pay.

Apathetic and ignorant, how delightful!

§3. Language Futures

With Mr Bush boldly steering the SS FDRUSA onto the iceberg of fiscal imprudence*, anyone who knows which side their future's buttered will be presumably thinking about learning Chinese.

Enter the BBC, hoorah! The lessons are in Flash, and come with sound, and the phonemicness of tones is already doing my head in, frankly.

* Does it really cost that much to impose something not very like democracy on an unarmed but oil-rich patch of desert? So much for future military hegemony, then, isn't it?

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2004-02-03 mornin' (utc)

Smörgåspost

§1. Q: What's that camel doing on the road? A: Nothing much.

Expressen, via Swedishnewswireagency TT had it on Saturday, and WFTV, Florida picked it up on Monday. Who translates these things, anyway, and why isn't it me?

[Tipoff via Yami, hoorah!]

§2.

Norwegian babyprinsess meets the ladies and gentlemen of the press. ("Rome, by all means Rome," she gooed. Except I made that up, except of course I didn't.)

[via royalbabyenthusiast Citoyenne K]

§3.

But if you believe lah-di-dah DN - and who wouldn't? - bebis really can talk even before they start talking:

Barn får högre IQ och större ordförråd om de lär sig teckenspråk innan de börjar prata, enligt psykologer i USA. Upptäckten har lett till att kurser i teckenspråk för hörande spädbarn har blivit en internationell storindustri.

Childrens have higher IQ and bigger vocabularies if they learn sign language before they begin to talk, according to psychologists in the USA. The discovery has lead to courses in sign language for hearing infants becoming a major international industry.

The "psychologists" who "discovered" this wouldn't happen to have a lucrative sideline in instructional materials and courses, would they? Nobody ever went broke playing on parents' anxiety to provide the very bestest for their ickle preciouses, for sure.

Sadly I am prevented from attempting to cash in myself by my many ethical scruples and a complete lack of enthusiasm for the company of bebis, not necessarily in that order.

[via Birgitte, tack]

§4.

Internetdatingprinsessimportsurprise:

Sylvia was indeed a queen - or "queen mother" as the local title translates - and considered a royal through matrilineal descent in parts of one of central Ghana's regions. After a debate on whether Sylvia could retain her title even if they opted to live in Norway, the couple were given the go-ahead, and the wedding took place a few weeks later. Queen mother Sylvia is now awaiting permission to live with her new husband in Norway.

[via MM, tack]

§5.

Knudella! Not regal!

Having decided to whip off his wet boardshorts, Frederik momentarily exposed the royal rump when a playful Mary [sic] tugged off his towel.

[via David, tack]

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2004-02-02 teatime (utc)

Platonic Gradgrindianism - the facts

Platonism first:

Pla·to·nism

n. The philosophy of Plato, especially insofar as it asserts ideal forms as an absolute and eternal reality of which the phenomena of the world are an imperfect and transitory reflection.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

The crucial thing about Platonism, for my purposes, is that it postulates a separate reality in which to keep the philosophically important things. (This may seem completely mad, but there are reasons for it. Completely mad ones, admittedly, but reasons nonetheless.)

Now, Mr Gradgrind:

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

- Thomas Gradgrind, in Hard Times, Charles Dickens.

As a theory of knowledge, Gradgrindianism is very preoccupied with facts, as I hope you will not disagree.

Put the two together and you get Platonic Gradgrindianism, Butterflies and Wheels style:

There would be facts about the world if humans had never evolved at all; there are facts about the world that we don't know and never will; they're none the less facts for that.

If you were a logical positivist, which I do not for a moment claim that you are, you would be squeamish about the idea of facts which are unverifiable even in principle, and probably reject this theory as nonsensical.

But after reflection I have decided that I actually quite like the theory, since decoupling verifiability from factuality has the rather attractive property that there is no longer any particular reason to rule out facts that make what, in saner theories, would be elementary category errors, and we can cheerfully assume that there are facts (albeit unknowable ones) about, say, the boiling point of purple and the specific heat capacity of Thursday afternoons and probably a whole slim volume's worth of facts about the mating habits of rainbows.

I approve of this, because any philosopher who can't meet the standard smug objection that "there are more things in heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" with a cheerful "And vice-versa!" is apt to look very foolish, for sure.

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2004-02-02 postsamwidge (utc)

Trashbladets trashed

Ever since Kronprinsess Vickan of Sweden sued some German trashbladets for printing lies about her I have - and you probably have too, isn't it? - been wondering if Vickan's mummy and daddy (who are the king and queen!) were going to cause their lawyers also to have a little word or two with these publications, which print just as many and just as nasty lies about them.

Reading between the lines of this Aftonbladet story, I'd say they probably have:

Tysk tidning ber svenska kungaparet om ursäkt - 12 gånger
Drottning Silvia har satt tyskt rekord i antal dementier.
På miljontidningen Das Neue Blatts förstasida ber redaktionen om ursäkt för tolv falska uppslag om det svenska kungahuset.

The German magazine [Das Neue Blatt] asks the Swedish royal couple for forgiveness - 12 times.
Queen Sylvia has sett a German record for the number of retractions.

On the front page of million-selling magazine Das Neue Blatt the edtitor asks for forgiveness for twelve false stories about the Swedish royal family.

I have, you should not be surprised to learn, a copy of the trashbladet in question, and very retractitive it is too. The front page is disfiguringly festooned with details of the various unsayings, and there is more inside, even if they seem to be overestimating the honesty of their mistakes with:

Diese Berichte haben sich jetzt als falsch herausgestellt.

These stories have now turned out to be untrue.

If I were Mette-Marit (who has also felt the rough end of the trashbladet's pressage) and feeling in need of a little post-partum pick-me-up, I'd be asking Vickan if she knows a good lawyer, for sure.

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2004-02-02 kaffe (utc)

French blogging in the USA

A treat for you and for me, Varied Reader: the Frenchy-French leftbladet Libération has set up blogs for two journalistes in which to cover the FDRUSA's free and fair presidential elections:

«Ce qu'ils font déjà dans Libération», leur écrirez-vous? Pas tout à fait! A la différence des articles qu'ils publient dans le quotidien, leurs blogs seront des espaces plus personnels. Leur contenu seront régulièrement mis à jour sous forme de courts messages dont le fond et la forme, très libres, restent à la discrétion des auteurs. Une première dans la presse en ligne française.

"Which they're already doing in Libération," you write? Not quite! Their blogs will be more personal spaces than the articles that they publish in the paper. Their content will be regularly updated in the form of short messages of which the content and the form will be within wide limits at the discretion of the authors. A first in the French online press.

The New York correspondent seems to be currently on the road for the Democrat primary whatsits, and it really does have comments. It's more colour journalisme than editorialising, at least so far, so it matters little that Libé is probably somewhat to the right of me on Merkin politics. This is pretty neat, isn't it though?

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2004-02-02 morning (utc)

Juxtapost!

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away.

- Philip K Dick

Reality, kid, is what if you start describin' it, they don't go and change your meds.

- "Crazy" Joe Urquhart

"A philosopher," the muskrat explained, "is a kind of advocate whose cases are heard by a jury of his -"

"Or her," said the shrew.

"Or her," agreed the muskrat, "convictions. So they almost always win their cases."

"'Almost'?" asked the squirrel.

"Yes," said the muskrat gravely, "even then justice sometimes prevails."

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