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2004-03-12 postsamwidge (utc)

Smrgspost

1. Ask not for whom

"What struck me the most", the Swiss Tribune De Geneve quotes a tearful nurse as saying, "were the mobile phones of the dead, which never stopped ringing."

2. Denis, Denis

Bursting off the blocks is our favourite Minister for Yoorp. He is, you may be surprised to learn, against the terrorisme. (Did you also used to play a primitive form of buzzword bingo as a child gr-ing up in a UK when the IRA was at the peak of its powers? They blew up a barracks that my school bus went past, once. Back then blowing persons up was pretty much always "despicable" and "cowardly", and of course it still is. What I understand no better now than I did then, which was not well, is why so much meeja bandwidth was devoted to persons stating this, when it was both obvious in itself and a thing which they took to be obvious. For the record, though, the Madrid bombings were indeed cowardly and utterly despicable.)

But also:

On the train from Berne to Geneva I read a new book by one of the editors of the main Swiss French newspaper, Le Temps. Joelle Kuntz's essays on the role of frontiers in the modern world, both inside and between nations, take me into new thinking about how Europe needs to redefine itself. I hope an English publisher is found soon. If I have time, I try and drop into a bookshop in any European city I am visiting. Even when I don't know the language, it is fascinating to see what books are being sold and what is being translated from English. Harry Potter and Michael Moore are everywhere. But we do not seem to repay the compliment. It would be good to start with Joelle Kuntz's book.

I can just see that going down a storm - "The Future of Yoorp", by Kuntz. He's in a world of his own, McShane, isn't it?

(I can't find it on Amazon.Frenchy-French or .Tsky-Tsk, anyway.)

3. Gravy!

My fine-tuned gravy-dowsing apparatus went beserk over this, from the late Joan Tate, translateuse extraordinaire:

The Scandinavians have long realized that as well-educated, highly literate and internationally-minded people, they have to promote their own literature abroad. All Scandinavian countries have government-funded agencies for this purpose. Sometimes they are independent bodies. Sometimes they are attached to the arts or culture departments of their governments, sometimes to the Foreign Office or the Education Department. Such agencies form a useful link with those in other countries who can read Scandinavian languages. Sweden was the first to institute this kind of link. There are only eight million people in that huge country. Go into any bookshop of any size in Stockholm (or in Helsinki) and you will find an impressive array of books in English. The opposite is not true. One or two London bookshops sell Scandinavian books. The only alternative source is to buy books directly from Sweden, paying the high rate of VAT and bank charges often as much as the price of the book.

(The squeamish may prefer to be forewarned that she also indulges in some typical translatorese: "I believe in magic, by which I mean that some things which are perfectly explicable can be magical. But to explain them takes away the magic. The way the human mind works is magic. The most diligent of medical scientists still know very little about how the mind works, though they know quite a lot about why it sometimes doesn't work." Most of it is very good, though.)

[via Language Hat]

4. (Some of) the competition

Norvik Press is a publishing house based at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, specializing in Scandinavian literature.

Of their fiction ("literature") catalogue they say:

The range includes both classic works of Scandinavian literature since the early eighteenth century and contemporary works of high literary merit. The chief emphasis is on narrative fiction; but drama and poetry are also represented.

Nothing says "Tastes Nasty" to the sophisticated consumeur of today quite like a sprinkling of poetry in the catalogue, isn't it?

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2004-03-12 morning (utc)

The Cosmopolitania Press, slightly hypothetical

You can't judge an apple by looking at a tree
You can't judge honey by looking at the bee
You can't judge a daughter by looking at the mother
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

Oh can't you see, oh you misjudge me
I look like a farmer, but I'm a lover
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover, Willie Dixon
(performed by Bo Diddley)

But trashy old covers for books that are now invariably qualitied can be fun. What went wrong? From an old post by Chris Timber I have hijacked a quote from Ken Worpole's Reading by Numbers: Contemporary Publishing and Popular Fiction (Comedia, 1984):

The "trade paperback" is a larger format, more expensively produced paperback designed exclusively for bookshop sales, and carries an aura of a higher "seriousness" than the cheap, easy-to- fit-in-your-pocket book. Many publishers moved their more "serious" writers over into their new "trade" paperback lists or re-printed books with new "classical" covers ... This not only raised the price of the books but literally took them out of the supermarkets and the chain-stores. The "trade" paperback was designed specifically to be sold by the book trade. Much writing was thus taken out of the arena of popular literature, as can be gauged by thumbing through the paperback sections in second-hand bookshops, where it is not unusual to find Sartre, Trocchi, Lawrence, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Richard Wright, Nell Dunn, Mary McCarthy, Cesare Pavese, Ignazio Silone, Norman Mailer and many others being promoted as sensational fiction with garish covers - and being sold in their tens of thousands rather than thousands. It is the development of the trade paperback which further separated out "serious" literature from "popular" literature and created a vacuum in the cheap paperback field which formula writing rushed to fill. (pp. 7-8)

It was the publishers, then, what done it. There have been kerfuffles in the UKish media about the possibility of scapping recommended retail prices for books here, and one of the arguments (the bad one) is that it will encourage supermarkets to stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap, but only trash need apply. It's a bad argument partly because supermarkets already do exactly that but also because it implicitly assumes that only crap can be sold, and that which can be sold is necessarily crap.

And another thing:

There is a self-fulfilling fallacy in the Anglo publishing world that their readers (all X million of them) are not interested in works in translation.

This fallacy serves as the justification for leading publishers to offer a dwindling selection of contemporary foreign works (less than 5% of fiction published in English are from other tongues). And even then they often go out of their way to disguise that the book is a translation by relegating the mention "translated by" to the title page or even tucked into the colophon.

Publishers, eh? I'm unequal to the challenge of believing that if they just upped 5% to 10% the Foreign would just fly off the shelves, and also to the suggestion that they're deliberately picking unsellable losers out of spite. On the other hand, it doesn't seem nearly as unlikely that Foreign stuff could be sold and publishers are just bad at it, though. But I don't want so much want them to mend their ways as I just want to dip my dry dry bread in their left-over gravy.

If Foreign literature is really any cop at all, and I see no reason to think it isn't, and if nobody is selling it in the Engleesh, then one would think it would be possible to assemble a Real Madrid catalogue at Accrington Stanley prices, and that's not a situation to bemoan so much as one deeply in need of exploiting.

In any case, a lot of the recent action in the UK literature market has been smaller, nimbler, newer companies having surprise hit after surprise hit, and very well done to them for that. In particular, a big shout out to Canongate, the fiercely independent Edinburgh lot who have brought out a new translation of Hamsun's Hunger.

There must be shed loads of top-quality 20th century Yoorpean literature languishing in the wilderness for lack of entrepeneurs, and when the occasional Nobeliste is translated it's almost always straight out of the Tastes Nasty, But Good For You school. (And don't get me started on University Presses. If a novel comes out in translation from a UP it might as well have a sticker on it saying "Nobody's ever going to read this except the translator's students, but that's OK 'cos we didn't actually have to pay them anything so it's all gravy to us" and have done with it.)

If you've been joining the dots you'll already know by now exactly what I have in mind: find some neglected Yoorpean gems, pick up the Engleesh rights for a song, and stick them out in consumer-friendly packaging - it should be possible to wedge a paperbock into the backpocket of a pair of jeans, and they should be cheap enough that you don't care if they take a bruising on the way, as the French have understood all along. 7 quid tops, and less is better. (The crappy old 80's Moorcock, Ballard and W S Burroughs paperbacks from Granada's magnificent Panther line have lasted long enough for me to own them second or third hand, so don't be giving me any of that quality fandango.)

But first things should, in time honoured fashion, come first, and the first thing is to scope up some talent. Bengt indirectly put me on the scent of Nobeliste Eyvind Johnson:

His early novels, in which the influence of Proust, Gide, and Joyce can be discerned, are mainly concerned with man's frustration. In Bobinack (1932), an expos of the machinations of modern capitalism, Regn i gryningen (1933; "Rain at Daybreak"), an attack on modern office drudgery and its effects [...]

The one that's barely and begrudgingly on the borders of in-print in the Engleesh is Dreams of Roses and Fire, but selling disaffected Art School Marxistes a searing critique of the banal drudgery of capitaliste domestication has got to be worth a few zlotys, isn't it? I mean, we're talking about people who keep Kerouac's heirs in gravy, so it's not as if they're especially fussy, so long as you press the right buttons.

Then you can stack 'em high and sell them cheap and if you don't tell them it's good for them, how are they ever going to know it tastes nasty? (The aura of "higher seriousness" goes up against the wall first, you can bet.) That, Varied Reader, is a business model. Anyone else want to play?

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2004-03-11 sn (utc)

Light sn, deeply unseasonal

It's sning again for sure. In March. In Bristol.

Whirled's gorn mad, innit?

(I hope they haven't had time to cancel Swedish class, yet.)

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2004-03-11 postsamwidge (utc)

The one that got away

There is no such Swedish word as Nordostersjkustartilleriflygspaningssimulatoranlggnings- materielunderhllsuppfljningssystemdiskussions- inlggsfrberedelsearbetan, of course, but it is cool that someone made up a bogus Swedish monsterword - they're more usually Finnish.

[via PF]

(Don't persons perpetrate such nonsenses also in the Turkish, Peafster?)

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2004-03-11 samwidge (utc)

Yoorp, slightly up-blown

I'm actually quoting from the front page, but that won't keep, so here's the full article

El ltimo balance oficial ofrecido por la Comunidad de Madrid cifra en 173 los muertos y en casi 600 los heridos en los cuatro atentados perpetrados esta maana en la capital. A las 7.35 horas de la maana, cuatro bombas han estallado de forma casi simultnea en las estaciones ferroviarias de Atocha, Santa Eugenia y El Pozo.

Four bombs, 173 dead, 600 injured.

Atrocities are of course not objectively more atrocious when one of the co-authors of the paper you are copy-editing has recently moved back to Madrid, but details like that can have a powerful focussing effect.

[UPDATE: My colleague is OK.]

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2004-03-11 kaffe (utc)

Come out come out wherever you are

It's Higgs and seek, the physicist's phavourite:

A scientist says one of the most sought after particles in physics - the Higgs boson - may have been found, but the evidence is still relatively weak.

Peter Renton, of the University of Oxford, says the particle may have been detected by researchers at an atom-smashing facility in Switzerland.

"An atom-smashing facility in Switzerland"?! CERN - for it is it! - is "an atom-smashing facility in Switzerland" in much the same way that Mount Everest is "a large rock in Nepal".

But there is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the particles of the standard model, with the Higgs's square forlornly adjacent and asterisked "yet to be confirmed".

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2004-03-11 morning (utc)

Latvia, slightly pa-Russky

The inexorable dialectique of oppresseur and oppressee is of course robust under a simple exchange of roles:

Russia is to raise concerns about the rights of hundreds of thousands of Russian-speakers in Latvia and Estonia.

Russian officials will make their case at talks with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Latvia's plan for secondary education to be conducted predominantly in Latvian required thorough examination.

There is no reason whatever to think that Russia's motives are honourable, even if their case happens to be - it is unlikely that this move will do other than harden attitudes on all available sides. This is language as cultural identity, remember and by no means even mostly about what is taught in schools:

Latvia faces a looming political problem as one fifth of the country's inhabitants are legally labelled 'non-citizens' and are not entitled to vote in the European Parliament elections next year. [...]

This could become a problem when Latvia officially joins the EU, said Alvaro Gil-Robles, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe during his visit to Riga on 8 October.

Oh, and one I missed:

Turkish will be added to the list of EU official languages if an agreement on the division of Cyprus is reached.

The Commission spokesperson for enlargement told EUobserver that if a solution is found, Turkish will immediately become an EU official language. "There will be no need of formal proposals. It will be automatic", he said.

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2004-03-10 late samwidge (utc)

Ssshh!

I am reading a very long manuscript of which I seem to have acquired co-authorship in absentia.

This is keeping me very quiet, as it is very absorbing and, as I mentioned, long. It's probably the best technical work I've written, although I like to think that that isn't entirely because I didn't.

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2004-03-10 samwidge (utc)

National characteristiciser!

SUPERIMPOSED CAPTION: 'ALL FACTS VERIFIED BY THE RHODESIAN POLICE'

Braddon: Tonight's show comes live from the tiny village of Rabid in Buckinghamshire, and our first question tonight is from a Mrs Elizabeth Scrint who says she is going on a Mediterranean cruise next week and can't find anything wrong with the Syrians. Well, Mrs Scrint, apart from being totally unprincipled left-wing troublemakers, the Syrians are also born skivers, they're dirty, smelly and untrustworthy, and, of course, they're friends of the awful gippos. (applause) There you are, Mrs Scrint, I hope that answers some of your problems - have a nice trip

With the Yoorp of 25, the problematique of the national characters is in danger of getting entirely out of hand. Too often the genius of a folk is mischaracterised by those with only a superficial acquaintance or, worse yet, by those actively engaged in mischief-making. At this 'bladet, we deplore such abuses of a technique which can, in the hands of a skilled and conscienscious user, be a valuable guideline to the foibles and quirks but also the very real virtues and strengths of our foreign friends and increasingly partners.

Accordingly, despite its preliminary stage of development, we are proud to unveil our contribution to international understanding: the National Characteriser. Simply choose one of each of options to learn Valuable Truths about some of our new, and not so new, co-Yoorpeans.

Like all he was and

Any passing gentlepersons of gender or otherwise affiliated with prominent gravy-dispensing organisations are invited to consider how much more useful this would be if the means were made available to cover all 25 countries and enhance the level of detail for each...

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2004-03-10 morning (utc)

Smrgspost

0. National character, as seen from Cosmopolitania

"Like all Austrians, he was an incorrigible hoarder of cardboard and smelled faintly of goats."

1. Is that a brick you're chewing, Jacques, or are you just talking ze Engleesh?

Oh, and I'm sure you'll agree, l l:

The report - which ranks 12,000 children aged 15-16 from Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France and Spain - shows that Swedes and Finns are outperforming their European rivals.

But there is a very poor report for French pupils, whose level of English has dropped since 1996, both in writing the language and understanding it.

In 1996, France was still ahead of Spain, but has now slipped down to bottom of the class and its pupils are "clearly inferior to thoses in the other six countries", according to the report.

There's a longer, somewhat Frencher account available, too:

L'tude prend en compte les lves allemands du mme ge, mais ils n'ont pas t inclus dans la comparaison globale "pour des raisons de comparabilit" a prcis le ministre franais. Par ailleurs, les autres pays de l'UE n'ont pas particip l'tude. Les preuves ne portaient pas sur l'expression orale des lves.

The study also included German pupils of the same age, but they weren't included in the overall comparison "for reasons of comparability", the French minister explained. The other EU countries didn't participate in the study. The students weren't tested on their spoken English.

3. Selling Hegel by the kilo

Yoorpean intellectuals, eh? What are they like?

This is not simply a matter of Heidegger joining the Nazi party and denouncing Jewish colleagues, though that is bad enough. It is also a matter of recognising that the world is in the shape it is because of the influence of the most rarefied of minds. Alexandre Kojve confessed that he had read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit several times without having understood a word; but once he got it, it launched a train of thought that has produced, so far, the EEC, Gatt, Fukuyama's End of History and the fact that your grocer can get busted for selling you two pounds of potatoes instead of a kilo.

From the little I've read of him Hegel is certainly the best argument for Anglo-Austrian "analytic" philosophy, which seems to have been designed to be as unlike Hegelian philosophy as possible without actually constituting its dialectical antithesis, which would never do. (If only philosophical schools really could vanish in a puff of irony, eh, Varied Reader?)

4. Of priciness and prinsessparades

With real soljers and everything!

Kronprins Frederik og Mary Donaldson fr en opvisning af forsvaret, der vil overg den planlagte, men aflyste parade for den tidligere forsvarschef.

Det er ikke ret nemt at finde nogen, der er imod den tre mio. kr. dyre parade med fly og skibe og bulder og brag, som forsvaret vil holde for kronprins Frederik og Mary Donaldson den 5. maj.

Kronprinsfred and Knudella Donaldsen will have an army parade, with fly-bys, but the parade for the former army chief has been cancelled.

It's not that simple to find anyone who is against the 3 million krone parade with aeroplanes and ships and bulder and noise which the army wants to hold for Kronprinsfred and Knudella on the 5th of May.

We like plans and ships and bulder and noise, for sure, and we are by no means in favour of stinting when it comes to Knudella, but we are startled to learn that our collection of 'Wegian republicain(ne)s is apparently exhaustive.

[via Birgitte, tack]

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2004-03-09 tea (utc)

Prinsessor nufrtiden

Only in la-di-dah DN could a review of an illustrated childrens' prinsessbock namecheck Marx:

Prinsessopium t kvinnor och barn skulle Marx kanske ha sagt, andelen prinsesslystna mn r ju tmligen begrnsad.

Prinsessopium for wimmins and childrens, Marx might have said, the proportion of prinsess-crazy men is of course fairly limited.

Tell that to the many Slitz readers with partyprinsess Madeleines's cleavage's benevolent beigeness beaming down from bluetacked posters, lah-di-dah DN!

But you will surely be as relieved as I to hear that the modern tree-climbing prinsess gets the all-important ideological all-clear.

[via Citoyenne B, tack, to whom we are also indebted for translation advice.]

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2004-03-09 samwidge, no gravy (utc)

Czech gravy, no chops

You can dip your bread in my gravy,
    but you can't have none of my chops,
You must think I'm crazy,
    you will have me calling the cops,
Man, Just as sure as butter melts,
    if I give you my chops you'll tell somebody else,
You can dip your bread in my gravy,
    but you can't have none of my chops.

- "You can Dip Your Bread In My Gravy, But You Can't Have None Of My Chops" (Fred Longshaw / Mike Jackson)

Aww, Czechia, I was only after your gravy anyway:

The Czech Republic's Hospodarske Noviny warns that the country is ill prepared to benefit from funding opportunities when it joins the European Union on 1 May.

"Opportunities, European funds, are coming. Our ability to take them all, which is the second part of the truth, is lagging," the paper says.

I feel a consultancy coming on...

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2004-03-09 samwidge (utc)

Outsourcing for the big zlotys

[Diaryland has been having a spot of bother, if you'll excuse my vivid originality, but it seems to be better again now. We apologise for any inconvenience to our Varied Reader.]

To Polandland, where an upheavaling of the meeja landscape is in full flight as German-owned tabloid Fakt overtakes leading quality daily and former best-seller Gazeta Wyborcza in circulation:

Fakt doit en effet son succs une vaste campagne publicitaire, des jeux et des cadeaux qui attirent en masse les lecteurs. D'autant qu'il est vendu bas prix : 1 zloty (0,21 euro). Trois fois moins cher que Gazeta. Et si Fakt a, selon Maciej Hoffman, enlev des lecteurs d'autres journaux, surtout Super Express, un autre quotidien populaire, la presse rgionale et dans une moindre mesure Gazeta, il a avant tout attir quelque 250 000 nouveaux lecteurs, largissant ainsi le march de la presse.

La concurrence se demande si Fakt pourra maintenir longtemps son prix un niveau aussi bas, alors que Springer, qui publie dj en Pologne une vingtaine de magazines, dont Newsweek, compte renforcer la position de son quotidien. Pour ne pas dpendre des imprimeries d'o sort la concurrence, Fakt est, pour l'instant, imprim en partie Berlin et transport tous les jours en Pologne par charter. Mais il aura bientt sa propre imprimerie, qui se construit prs de Varsovie.

In fact Fakt owes its success to an extensive advertising campaign, as well as games and freebies that bring in a mass readership. Besides, it's sold at a rock-bottom price: 1 zloty (0.21 euros), a third the price of Gazeta. And if Fakt is, according to Maciej Hoffman [directeur of the Chamber of Publisheurs] "poaching readers from other newspapers, especially from Super Express, another down-market daily, from the regional press and to a lesser extent from Gazeta" it has above all "drawn in 250,000 new readers and expanded the market for the press".

The competition is wondering if Fakt can sustain its low price indefinitely while Springer [its owners] who already publish twenty-odd magazines in Polandland, including Newsweek, tries to reinforce its daily's position. In order not to depend on its competitors' printers, Fakt is currently partly printed in Berlin and shipped to Poland on charter flights. But it'll soon have its own press, which is being built near Warsaw.

Trashbladets and Quotidiens of Quality aren't natural competitors, for sure, but mostly I like the bit about manufacturing in cut-price product in Berlin for export to Polandland. Meanwhile I don't have linkable source for the Berlusconisation of the Hamburg meejascape and its effect on the recent mayoral election, so I'll just mention it casually in passing to demonstrate my considerable cosmipolitanisme.

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2004-03-09 morning (utc)

Je dois sanguement cocoaer, copain

Apparently the rise of Engerlish as defacto Yoorpean interlanguage is scraping off its luxuriant patina of idioms:

The degradation from English to Eurolish works in two ways. While life and colour fade from the feeder languages of Eurolish, the cliches and platitudes spread like viruses. Most European languages have followed the verbal Polyfilla trend of replacing "now" with "at this moment in time" or "finally" with "at the end of the day". The entire European continent is now covered with "level playing fields". The pap of predictable platitudes smothers original vivid phrases. The pollution of conformity spreads inexorably.

(I don't think he's writing like that for a joke, in fact, although I can't imagine why else anyone would.)

"Original vivid phrases", somewhat smothered, such as "pussy-footing":

"You're pussy footing." was the accusation made by veteran Labour MP Laurie Cunliffe against bemused fellow members of the Council of Europe.

In French it was translated as "jouer cache-cache" although it's a different activity from "hide and seek". To the Italian translator the idiom was new. Her creditable effort was "kicking the cat." Better acquainted with the lingo of international pornography, the Turkish interpreter disguised his idea of the precise meaning with a delicate "taking part in an English vice."

(Sigh. Have they no Fripp? Have they no Eno?)

So we may conclude that the main problem with his argument is that it's utter, as we say in the Engleesh, bollocks: "pussyfooting" is precisely the opposite of an "original vivid phrase", being neither original nor vivid. ("Level playing field", to choose an example quite other than at random, is decidedly more vivid.)

It is in fact proverbs and fossilised idioms (like, oh I don't know, "pussyfooting") that present the most fertile ground for bewilderment among those who don't already know them, and this precisely because the vividness has long since worn off from use. In fact, I briefly contemplated a career supplying "traditional" proverbs and idioms to obstreperous Eurotories ("I put it to the member from Slovenia that she is simply whiskering the whelk!" Uproar in the house!) and get myself gravied-up for life, but then I remembered that I hate the Tories, and anyway I woke up and it had all been a dream.

Or was it?

[via Language Hat]

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2004-03-08 aternoon (utc)

French me harder

Just a leetle bit harder:

Art, wine and culture are the weapons being wielded by the French government in a battle to stem a decline in the use of French in Europe.

Paris is offering all three, along with exquisite cuisine and musical soires, to the 10 future Commissioners of the new EU member states who have been invited to attend free language courses this summer in Avignon.

This is a bad rehash of a story we covered weeks ago. (For instance: "Within France the government has taken strong measures, including introducing a law that made using anglicisms like le weekend an offence." Such laws have a very limited domain of application which it is dishonest and spiteful to omit, although also very popular, especially among journalistes and commentateurs.)

And also, courtesy of PF, we have today a special guest-loony, one Mr G K Chesterton. Take it away, G K, and don't be in any rush to bring it back:

It is obvious that there is a great deal of difference between being international and being cosmopolitan. All good men are international. Nearly all bad men are cosmopolitan. If we are to be international we must be national. And it is largely because those who call themselves the friends of peace have not dwelt sufficiently on this distinction that they do not impress the bulk of any of the nations to which they belong. International peace means a peace between nations, not a peace after the destruction of nations, like the Buddhist peace after the destruction of personality. The golden age of the good European is like the heaven of the Christian: it is a place where people will love each other; not like the heaven of the Hindu, a place where they will be each other. And in the case of national character this can be seen in a curious way. It will generally be found, I think, that the more a man really appreciates and admires the soul of another people the less he will attempt to imitate it; he will be conscious that there is something in it too deep and too unmanageable to imitate. The Englishman who has a fancy for France will try to be French; the Englishman who admires France will remain obstinately English. This is to be particularly noticed in the case of our relations with the French, because it is one of the outstanding peculiarities of the French that their vices are all on the surface, and their extraordinary virtues concealed. One might almost say that their vices are the flower of their virtues.

This whole "soul of another people" schtick was never other than very worrying, it seems to me, and often not inconsiderably worse. One of the ideas behind my second (not even started) novels was to have characters from a diverse range of Yoorpean countries with behaviours corresponding to stereotypes, but (and this is the clever bit) deliberately mix them up. So you'd have a happy-go-lucky German, a puntiliously pedantic Italian, an Englishman which is the great loveur, and so on. This, I continue to believe, would be both hilarious and instructive, but I am, after all, unspeakably cosmopolitan.

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2004-03-08 post-samwidge (utc)

Raggle-taggle gravy-train-oh

For you rode east, and I rode west
You rode high, and I rode low
I rather have a kiss of the yellow gypsy's lips
Than all your cash and money-o

- The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy

The EU newbies appalling records on rights for minorities such as the Roma has been a fertile source of the gravy, siphoning off for the abuse of:

There was no shortage of funds from Europe and the US, and Slovaks realised there was money to be made from the Roma cause. Charities sprung up overnight, the forms were filled in and the money secured. But, according to Roma activist Erika Godlova, only 7% of proceeds has gone towards useful projects. "Slovaks are paying themselves enormous salaries and taking holidays with this money," she said. "No one asks us what we need." [...]

There has been a Roma settlement in Letanovce since 1927. A younger man, his children crouched around the stove trying to get warm, said no one had any plans to move to Britain after May 1, when Slovakia joins the EU. "We have no money to travel and we want jobs here. We are Slovaks." Contrary to popular perception, Roma in former eastern bloc countries are largely stationary, unlike their counterparts in western Europe. [...]

The statistics make chilling reading. In the country's sickening system of educational apartheid, according to Save the Children, the percentage of Roma in special schools for the "mentally handicapped" is 75%; Roma children are 28 times more likely to end up in a special school than non-Roma; even those in mainstream schools are often segregated into separate classes; and once children are on the special school track, it is almost impossible for them to switch to a mainstream establishment and thereby open up a route to university. It is hardly surprising that Roma representation in parliament is non- existent, and negligible at local level.

(I added some emphasis. The UKish tabloids, especially the very hateful Mail and Express have whipped up a frenzy of raciste bullshit about the flood of Gyppo scroungers which enlargement will surely unleash unless we immediately make it illegal to be foreign in a public place.)

But if you're not using all that cash and money-o, Slovakia or anyone else, I have an extensive range of useless boondoggles and sloppily accounted projects you could spend it on.

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2004-03-08 nearly samwidge (utc)

Ανοσογνωσια

Anosognosia (Ανοσογνωσια) is the medical condition of being unaware of a neurological deficit. It is also, which is the point here, a word derived from various Greek bits, although probably not by actual Greeks.

Marvellous stuff, Unicode, isn't it?

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2004-03-08 09:56

Amoeba? No, she went of her own free will

Many ancient pagan festivals have of course subsequently been hijacked by christians for their own nefarious purposes - Twinkletree has been turned from a festival of light into a bizarre celebration of a saturated bed-and-breakfast market, while Easter was transformed from a celebration of Nature's rebirth in spring to a bizarre and gory meditation on nailing persons to planks.

Whether it was as a defensive precaution against such dtournements, or an intrinsic part of the festival from the earliest days has divided scholarly opinion for centuries, but it seems certain that the aleatory nature of the celebration has played an important role in the preservation of the last remaining great pagan celebration, the Beer Festival, from the attentions of the christians.

The Bristol Beer Festival (the Festival, which is to say, of Beer)'s concluding session was on Saturday evening, and it was this session that saw me in attendance to celebrate the age old ceremonies associated with such occasions.

The entrance-token (or "ticket") is procured in advance, via a shadowy network of the faithful, and exchanged at the door for a ceremonial drinking vessel (or "glass") which is typically decorated with adornments pertaining to the occasion. In this case, it was a half-pint glass, which was a new experience for me.

Then, the purchase of beer tokens is carried out - the beer providers accept only tokens as an inducement to dispense the beery goodness in their custody, so you can readily see as how this will be an important step.

Then, the consultation of the programme is optionally carried out by persons taking all this rubbish seriously - personally I'm just as happy to pick beers with interesting names, although I do also like to try a couple of the boutique lagers to wind up the real-ale puristes.

And then, finally, we go home, somewhat beered-up. Hoorah!

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