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2004-04-08 holiday! (utc+1)

Painful duties

Yo, gentlepersons!

It is my painful duty to admit I was wrong in the guestbladet: the correct tarrif for "Wine and made-wine: Exceeding 5.5% - not exceeding 15% abv.", which is the only kind I buy, is 158.69 GBP per hectolitre.

A hectolitre, I had to check, is a hundred litres. (Real SI-istes only use multiples of 10, of course, but gubmints will be gubmints.) So, assuming a 0.7 L ("70 cL") bottle of wine, that works out at 1.11 GBP (to 2 decimal places).

Even on the plastic 1.5 L bottles of no-name Frenchy-French red that supermarkets offer these days for a fiver (5 GBP) that works out at 2.38 GBP in duty, which is still less than half the price. So the supermarkets are by no means doing badly out of the deal, I should say. (I have visions of gimungous wine tankers full of the red Frenchy goodness thrumming down the motorways for bottling in, say, Swindon. And why ever not?)

Oh, and I asked my localest bookshop ("bookstore"), which is on the way to the samwidge shop, to order me a Slovene grammar, and they quoted two (2) to three (3) weeks, which is the best offer I've had, and they can now inform of arrival by email, which is the one (1) true person-to-person asynchronous remote communication protocol (I scoff in your general direction, silly texteurs!).

And now for some Easter, the traditional feast of skiving, which in UK Universities extends from Friday to Tuesday inclusive, so do not be breath-holding for my glorious re-emergence as a speakeur of the Latvian, Spaneesh, and German.

We extend to our Varied Reader our most cordial good wishes on the occasion!



2004-04-08 samwidge (utc+1)

Perfidious Parmesan Parvenues!

It is ever with the deepest of joys that we greet stories on intra-EU controversies on the naming of cheeses. Newer readers may need to be told, and less new ones reminded, that I by no means think such controversies are foolish or trivial: they reflect the collision of traditional practices with modern business, and this is not a thing that becomes interesting only when there are exotic tribespersons who can get all feathered-up and pose for National Geographic-style pictures in newspaper weekend supplements, so there.

Anyway, this one's a winner and a half:

The European Commission has said it has sent a final written warning to the German Government over failure to abide by the EUs legislation regarding the name "Parmigiano Reggiano".

"Parmigiano Reggiano" is a product of designated origin (PDO) and thus protected by EU law, and can be lawfully used only by producers within a designated area, operating to a designated specification. The area here, of course, is in Italy. Now the twist here is that the disputed term is in fact "Parmesan", and a key question one of translation:

Cheeses not made in line with the Parmigiano Reggiano specification continue to be sold in German territory under the name "Parmesan", which in the eyes of the Commission is a translation through French of Parmigiano Reggiano, the Commission said.

Under which circumstances, and are these they, can a translation of a protected designation be nonetheless a generic (and therefore unprotected) term? We, or at least I, yearn to know. And we, or at least I, am not alone as the Bloomberg coverage makes clear:

The German Dairy Association said it wants the European court to end the debate. It hopes judges will clarify whether Parmesan is a generic name.

In June 2002, the court said that ``parmesan'' is the translation of Parmigiano Reggiano. Judges avoided ruling whether Parmesan is a generic term. Germany is now using that ambiguity as its defense in the fight with the commission, said a commission official who declined to be identified.

Of course, Parmesan by any other name would smell as foul.


2004-04-08 morning (utc+1)


The translation-in-the-EU-of-25 article is well on its way to being a literary genre in its own right, for sure, and this one is one of the better ones I've seen:

Twenty languages gives a total of 190 possible combinations (English-German, French-Czech, Finnish-Portuguese, etc), and finding any human being who speaks, for example, both Greek and Estonian or Slovene and Lithuanian is well-nigh impossible.

To get round this problem, the parliament will use much more "relay translation", where a speech is interpreted first into one language and then into another - and perhaps into a fourth or fifth.

Lithuanian and Slovene? Why, the very idea! (I already have the Kauderwelsch Lithuanian, not least because beer is very competitively priced in the Lithuania, and I'm going to try and order a Slovene grammar from an actual bookshop, to see if actual bookshops really have any purpose in life. Brokers are all very well, but they gots to got something to broke, innit?)

My theory, which is mine, is that the best way to deal with this problem would be to set up a hereditary caste/guild of translators with branches in each EU country. Childrens born into the guild would be circulated around guild-run boarding schools in a suitable selection of countries to acquire native speaker aptitude while the acquiring is good.

Meanwhile, some welcome proportion on the cost of the current arrangements:

Juhani Lonnroth, the Finn who runs the translation service, has done his sums.

"Translation costs less than 2 euros per citizen, so it is less than a cup of coffee or a ticket to the cinema," he says. "I think it's worth it because it is part of democracy."

That's in the current EU: two (2) euros can buy you quite a lot of Lithuanian beer, but I am old-fashioned enough to think democracy is worth it.


2004-04-07 le dluge (utc+1)

Stop the presses!

Oh, you have:

When Northeastern University Press prints the final books on its 2004 list later this year, the titles will have a dubious distinction: They will be the last ones bearing the university imprint. After 27 years, the respected press is shutting down, a casualty of rising costs and shifting priorities. School officials say they cannot afford subsidies that now stand at $450,000 and could reach $600,000 this year.


Northeastern is not alone. The University of Idaho has announced that it is closing its press July 1, when the deficit will total $385,600. And the University of Georgia Press faces a possible loss of $289,329 in state support, half of its annual state subsidy.

The sail-setting of these Glorious Patrimonies up the Swannee is a thing that bothers me less than it might. I would like, instead, to know more of the accounting that causes these persons to lose money when new printing technologies certainly have made smaller pressings economically viable.

Phil Pochoda, director of the University of Michigan Press, says "It's a very exciting kind of publishing. People who are in it aren't in it for the money." Which is all very noble I'm sure, but if you run a business in a recession the way you ran it in the good times you are liable to run it into the ground, and exactly how many Lofty Ambitions does that fulfil?

(via moorishgirl)


2004-04-07 samwidge (utc)

Bookmaker, Bookmaker, make me a book!

Bookmakers are brokers at heart, not gamblers. (You are expected to know this.) A bookmaker aims to cover his book so that all outcomes are profitable - if you happen to win, the money you're paid comes from other, less fortunate, punters. Bookmakers are brokers, and brokers are good because brokers make markets possible which otherwise might not be, and increase liquidity. It is as unreasonable to begrudge bookmakers their cut, as it is inane to endorse the old saw "you never see a poor bookmaker" as an argument against gambling. (Odds, in this view, represent a cash-weighted average of punters' estimates of Bayesian likelihood.)

Having said this, I will now promptly contradict myself. Firstly, I have never entered a bookmakers' shop (although I've bet on the tote at an Irish racecourse and occasionally play, as you know, the Yoorolotto). Secondly, the things I want to bet on don't have much of an audience:

1. The Higgs boson

The "Standard Model" of particle physics, which is the state of the art insofar as you expect the art to make verifiable predictions which are experimentally confirmed, relies on the Higgs boson to account for mass. The Higgs boson, however, has never been observed.

"Unfortunately, the electroweak theory does not predict the mass of the Higgs boson, although consistency arguments require that it have a mass of less than 1 TeV. Experimental searches already carried out tell us that the Higgs must weigh more than about 60 billion electron volts (GeV), or 0.06 TeV."

"If the Higgs is relatively light, it may be seen soon in electron- positron annihilations at LEP, produced in association with the Z. The Higgs boson would decay into a b quark and a b antiquark. In a few years, experiments at Fermilab's Tevatron should be able to extend the search to higher masses, looking for Higgs plus W or Higgs plus Z particles in collisions between protons and antiprotons. If the Higgs mass exceeds about 130 GeV, our best hope lies with the LHC. Higher-energy electron-positron colliders, or even muon colliders, could also play an important role."

The experimental searches say it must weigh more than 60 GeV in the sense that they've racked the power up to that and it hasn't shown up. As you may have inferred, I don't believe in the Higgs, and I want to bet cash money that the LHC can't find one with energies of less than, say, 500 GeV. (I suspect that once they get within range of 1 TeV someone will discover that, theoretically, it could be heavier after all.)

2. Superpartners

A diverse assortment of fashionable but currently untestable physical theories rely on a notion of "supersymmetry". This theory holds each of the elementary particles physicists have so far observed has a corresponding "superpartner". Of course, no such entity has ever been observed and, of course, this is typically explained as a result of their mass - just like the Higgs boson, they're too heavy to turn up at the energies accelerators can reach. And, just like the Higgs, this is true whatever the current maximum energies are, and I expect it to remain that way. This is a much less iconoclastic here than with the Higgs, though - there is no evidence of any sort for supersymmetry and it forms no part of any theory that can calculate anything (correctly) than can be measured. (It is, of course, central to string "theory".)

3. Osama October

Finally, something I do expect to happen. I expect, again in the sense that I wish to bet cash money on it, that Osama bin Laden (or his remains, or conclusive proof of his death) will turn up in October. The election for the presidency of the USA is, you will recall, in November, and that seems pretty conclusive to me.

(Black helicopteristes - not that there are any black helicopters of course - may be mollified to hear that I don't believe a conspiracy is necessary for this - an last-ditch intelligence/reconnaissance effort by prompted by a reelection campaign desperately in need of a fillip would also make this the most likely outcome.)

I'll let you know what odds I can get for these...


2004-04-07 morning (utc+1)


1. Intangible sausages!

Hungarian style:

Hungary's Magyar Hirlap says the celebration of the country's accession to the European Union has been "spoilt" by failures on both sides which prevent the free mobility of people on the big day.

"All right, there will be celebrations, there will be sausages and mustard accompanied by fireworks, but it would have been nice to have something tangible", it says.

2. Feecher creecher!

It's the BBC's Berlin correspondent Ray Furlong, which is travelling around on trains and staying in posh hotels in the lands we prefer these days to call central Yoorp. And today, it's Gdansk (ne Danzig).

3. The price of l!

As if Norwegish beer wasn't expensive enough:

Glassene blir mindre, men prisene stiger p utepilsen. Er du uheldig, m du ut med hele 74 kroner for en halvliter l.

The glasses are getting smaller, but the price foreign beer is going up. If you're unlucky, you may have to lay out a whole 74 kroner for a half litre of l.

That's 8.84 EUR or 5.81 GBP, at today's exchange rates. I'm not, as you well know, one to incite unrest, but if ever there was a valid motive for rioting in the streets then that would be it.


2004-04-06 16:16

Oh my aching sides!

They certainly had me going there:

1. aprīlī jau tūlīt pēc pusnakts Norvēģijas mediji sāka piedāvāt publikai šā gada neticamo notikumu klāstu, kuru mērķis bija izjokot skatītājus un klausītājus, zio Oslo laikraksts Aftenposten. Tūrisma kampaa, ar kuru bija iecerēts mudināt zviedrus apmeklēt Norvēģiju, izrādījās izstrādāts un dārgs joks. Zviedrijas laikrakstos ceturtdien parādījās grezns sludinājums par jauna pazemes vilciena Scandinavian Earthlines atklāšanu. Sludinājumā bija redzams moderns vilciens, kas 1100 kilometru attālumu no Stokholmas līdz Lofotu salām pārvar mazāk nekā stundā, kā arī aicinājums klientiem zvanīt kompānijai. Tiem, kuri noticēja šim trikam, Norvēģijas tūrisma iestāžu pārstāvji atbildēja, ka stāsts par vilcienu tā īsti tomēr neatbilstot patiesībai, tau Norvēģija esot viena no skaistākajām valstīm pasaulē.

(That's Latvian, of course. With Easter weekend approaching, and therefore both Friday and Monday off work, I have decided to learn Latvian as well as Spanish and German.)


2004-04-06 postsamwidge (utc+1)

Of Sleeplessness and the Sociolinguistiques

I do not know my upstairs neighbours well but I am reasonably familiar with their voices, which they are by no means in the habit of keeping down. Like many persons in my neighbourhood, they typically employ a second-generation version of Jamaican creole. My ear, not exceptionally refined, can hear a substratum of British Estuary in many such specimens, but this does not come through clearly with a ceiling in the way.

But it is (said to be) a staple observation of sociolinguistiques that you get an unvarnished account of a person's "nativest" dialect under conditions of emotional stress, and last night's epic shouting match upstairs and on the street (with a side-order of police intervention) was certainly decisive in this respect - the serious shouting was all in pure Estuary (I think we can all agree that the word "ho" has gone native by now, yes?) until the police turned up, at which point Mr Upstairs rediscovered his secondary sociolinguistic affiliations to some extent.

I think, though, that I would have been just as happy to (re)discover such very interesting facts at a time that was not 0400.


2004-04-06 mornin' (utc+1)

Newspaper sonnet

The pa-Russkies have always been mad crazy for the rhyming, Alex(ei) pointed out a while back, while the silly Engleesh just didn't get going when the going got tough, pah! Anyway, I am of course the greatest Slavonic poet that has ever not known any Slavonic language and I'm not even ethnically Slavic either, to boot, so I have invented the newspaper sonnet to restore the fortunes of rhymed Engleesh verse.

The newspaper sonnet is inspired by the typesetting requirements of newspaper columns (hence the name) in which a vigorous hyphenation is employed to achieve right justification of the lines. But we exploit the hyphenation here instead to hudibrastically expand the possibilities of rhyme:

Spring's here and from their eggs the chicks are hatch-
ing, wings at last to stretch and inbred ig-
norance of Nature's casual skill in match-
ing predator to prey. There's nothing dig-
nified about the clinical despatch
with which it's done; the scene makes up in vig-
our what it lacks in charm and your indig-
nance is for naught. You eat what you can catch
or go without; and the vixen's litter
of cubs is hungry too. Why be bitter?
The Christians' Easter theme of sacrifice
of innocence predates the Christian creed -
Most life - our life - needs death on which to feed
Even if that isn't very nice.

Yo, sucka free verseurs - my chopped up prose still rhymes and scans! How is it, your liking, with respect to these such apples?


2004-04-05 later (utc+1)

On achievement

"The achievement we have achieved is a great achievement," announced Michael Vaughn, triumphant England captain in that most cerebral of sports, the cricket. To be fair to him, he probably had a hangover the size of Belgium at the time, and quite right too.


2004-04-05 postsamwidge (utc+1)

Yeah, right

It's not every day you catch a country in the act of making up its glorious patrimony as it goes along, unless you have a keen interest in "Slovenia" or you have an unusually highly developed streak of Marxoid historicisme. (This bladet, of course, has both.) Here, then, is "Slovenia"'s response to the fact that everyone thinks - for some strange reason - it's actually Slovakia:

Slovenes are already trying to do something about it. Their plan is to abandon the old Slovenian flag, which looks almost exactly like the Slovakian one, and get a fresh one. And they want to do it before Slovenia joins the European Union, which is less than two months away.

Also, a page on the flag competition.

The position of Glorious National Poet is taken, though. Here's a Ms Polona Preseren eulogising the winning candidate, Mr France Preseren:

Preseren is without a doubt a poet that deserves all the glory and respect of the nation. He put Slovenian literature and the Slovenian language on the map of Europe. Through poetry he helped Slovenians build a national identity. I can't imagine where we would be without Preseren. Unfortunately, Europe does not know him, only rare experts know his name. Preseren was a European, whose poetry was ahead of his time.

I want now to do a project specifically on the role of national poets in the flowering of nineteenth century Yoorpean nationalismes, for sure, but frankly if Preresen put "Slovenian" literature on the map of Yoorp, and yet Europe has never heard of him, exactly how glorious is that?


2004-04-05 10:15

"Slovenia" Smrgspost

1. Eng-ger-lund! Eng-ger-lund!

Not "Slovenian", sensu strictu, but a warm up for nationalismes to come: Hoorah for the Eng-ger-lund cricket team, whose victories alone rouse this 'bladet to patriotique fervour and none too often at that.

2. Publishing

I wish to own a book(let), and I stand ready to exchange money for it, since I am by no means opposed to the machinery of the capitalisme, international or otherwise, viz:

George Carcas: A Concise Grammar of Slovene

A brief and useful guide to the language of Slovenia, designed to enable the reader to progress to more advanced materials, and to assist appreciation of cognate Slavonic tongues. With a light touch, George Carcas leads the reader with sympathy and humour into the essentials of Slovene structure, grammar, and vocabulary.
36 pages. Price: see top of page. ISBN 0 948565 98 5

The publisheur, one Joseph Biddulph, is dedicated to the production of "inexpensive, accessible and straightforwardly presented introductions to the lesser known languages of the world, living or dead". Having produced them, though, they then hide them under the cupboard under the stairs:

How to Order

Write to Joseph Biddulph Publisher at the above address. Joseph Biddulph has no email, but will write back, supplying details about availability, prices, airmail arrangements, etc..

This is very annoying, since I am in many tespects just the sort of person who could be persuaded to take an interest in the baroque scotts poetry of Allan Ramsey ("You don't have to be Scottish to realise that exciting things happened in Scottish literature in the 18th century."), but I am much less easily persuaded to engage in historical re-enactments of communications technologies past, such as the snail-mail and the personal cheques.

3. Our! Glorious! Patrimony!

Not for sharing:

After Slovenia's relatively bloodless independence bid in 1991, ethnic Slovenes were automatically granted citizenship, but people from other ethnic backgrounds - such as minority Croats, Serbs and Bosnians - were required to apply for citizenship.

Those who had not done so within a year were removed from the national register without any public announcement.

4. Tolerance turnabout

[R]emember Sarajevo which had by far the largest Jewish community in ex-Yugoslavia, and, on the top of it, was the most cosmopolitan Yugoslav city, the thriving center of cinema and rock music - why? Precisely because it was the Muslim dominated city, where the Jewish and Christian presence was tolerated, in contrast to the Christian-dominated large cities from which Jews and Muslims were purged long ago.

Slavoj iek, "Slovenian" philosophe extraordinaire

And here's city councillor Michael Jarc on why it would be a thing of badness ("a bad thing") were a Mosque to be built in "Ljubljana":

"You should look back in history. Slovenes have been in this area for 20 centuries. In the Middle Ages our ancestors were attacked by Muslim soldiers, and they did bad things here, and this is in our historical subconscious," he says.

He also says Muslim values are seen as somehow opposed to the Jewish, Christian and Orthodox European tradition - the "enemy of Europe", as he chooses to put it.

Our ethnique history incorporates mythologised grudges which date back to the middle ages, and we're proud of it!


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