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2004-04-23 pie! (utc+1)

Poesie can be hazardous for your health-service

A bunch of Merkins have ("has") established that poets live to an average age of 62, compared to 68 for non-fiction writers.

Forskarna har flera teorier om varfr just poeter dr unga.
- Det kan vara fr att poeter r plgade och bengna att vara sjlvdestruktiva, sger James Kaufman.

The researchers have several theories on why poets die young.
"It may be that poets are tormented and inclined to be self-destructive", opines James Kaufman.

In the same way that there's a Whig account of history, there is surely a Romantique conception of fair Poesy, and if there's anything certainer than that this is it, I should certainly like to hear about sporting odds offered on it.

The accompanying listis topped by Karin Boye and Dan Andersson, who I take to be Swedishes, and then rounds up a fairly usual bunch of suspects. (Although counting Dylan Thomas as a poet is pushing your luck if you ask me.)

Meanwhile, an excellent idea:

Once somebody had an apparently daft idea - poems on the London Underground. Then it went further, with poems in 4,000 NHS waiting rooms. Now someone else has had what seems an even dafter idea: poems by foreigners in NHS waiting rooms. And the Foreign Office has welcomed it with open arms.

Next Saturday thousands of international dignitaries will find posters of 10 poems by foreigners on display at a grand open day staged by the Foreign Office in London to celebrate the accession of 10 states to the EU on May 1.

Poems on the Underground was a triumph and has gone through a several iterations and experienced retrobookification, and we may well hope that this project has also legs. The Grauniad has permission to reproduce a few - I don't, so I won't.

But hoorah for that and hoorah in particular for Denis "Denis" MacShane, minister for Yoorp, for causing it to be a thing which happened.


2004-04-23 12:06

One country to the territory of another

Fans of the game "One song to the tune of another" will recognise both the allusion and the principle involved; others may find the following helpful:

This is the round in which the tune of one song and the words of another are brought together and combined as if they were both one song. It's hard to get your head round that at first, but if you try to think of it as one song without the tune but with the words to the tune of another song but without the words, it may help.

An enclave, then, is one country without the nationhood with the nationhood of another country without the territory, and there's more of it than you might think:

Enclaves in the Yoorp! As Language Hat points out, 7,6 m2 isn't a very generous allocation for the 1500 persons of Bsingen, even if they are German.

Enclaves in Yoorp and elsewhere!

[All enclavage via David von Teflsmiler in the guestbladet, tak!]


2004-04-23 morning (utc+1)

Are we not all Cataloonies? (Perhaps not.)

Today is St. George's Day, England's national day. By ancient custom, this is celebrated across and throughout England by going entirely unnoticed and unremarked. In particular, it is not a holiday. and the only reason I noticed it myself was this post at Living in Yoorp:

On April 23, is Sant Jordi, Catalunya's co-patron saint. He's the well-known saint that kills the dragon. In Catalunya, his saint day is also the book publishing's biggest day.

Most of the book stores ring up their biggest sales during the year, more than Christmas, as they're premitted to offer a 10% [discount]. The publishers put out their latest titles and the authours are out in force prompting their books. One of the fondest memories I have when I visited Barcelona at that time are the outdoor kiosks and stalls of just about every publishing house in Barcelona.

If we were going to celebrate our national day, and to be honest I think that would be a bit too demonstrative for the English taste, a combination of cheap books and large quantities of beer would certainly work for me.


2004-04-22 belated (utc+1)


1. A hat, a palpable hat!

(Norwegish kronprinsess Mette-Marit takes precedence in this bladet since she is already a kronprinsess.)

At the dippning ("baptism") of her new prinsess, she wore a hat:

Kronprinsesse Mette-Marit strlte p datterens store dag - med dpens mest omdiskuterte hatt.

Kronprinsess Mette-Marit beamed on her daughter's big day - with the dipnings most talked-about hat.

By producing an heir, Mette-Marit has now fulfilled pretty much all that destiny asks of a kronprinsess by marriage, and if I were her I'd taken a few years off on holiday before going back to the daily grind of waving and smiling, but it is said she's a trooper who wouldn't hear of any such thing.

2. Stamps!

It's all Knudella all the time out there in Denmarkland, and now there's stamps (also here):

Post Danmark fejrer sammen med Postverk Froya og POST Greenland det kommende kronprinsepars bryllup med frimrker og srlige miniark.

Post Danmark celebrates together with Postverk Froya (the Faroes) and POST Greenland the coming kronprinscouple's wedding with stamps and special miniark.

And the only tidbid ever to elicate any trace of approval of the proceedings from our Native Informante, Birgitte, is this proper fairytale detail:

Der dkkes op med de gamle slvtallerkener, og de 13 fornemste gster fr guldmundtjer, som bestr af ske, kniv og gaffel.

The table will be laid with old silver plates, and the 13 foremost guests will have gold cutlery consisting of spoon, knife and fork.

Spoon, knife and fork - they're pulling out all the stops for this one, that's for sure!


2004-04-22 pie! (utc+1)

The crazy world of "should"

First a link to Scott von Pedantry's article in defence of prescriptivism which is the most Marxiste by which I mean the best article on the subject that I've seen because this after all a blog and that a blog should certainly have links is agreed by all prominent authorities.

But we have taken the Medium Lobster as our own personal lobster, and through mumbling assorted mantras and also varied other mantras we have moved onto a higher plane of consciousness or else we're coming down with a head cold. It's one of the great mysteries that life holds if not the greatest how difficult it is to distinguish these two conditions, especially from each other.

Presciptivisme is when persons say "Oh no you should not speak or write in that way or manner for it is uncouth and vulgar and reveals you to be a person of no class or breeding and not much education, gosh it makes me angry to see the glorious cultural treasure and patrimony that is my beloved tongue abused and mishandled in this why it's a crying shame!"

And then there's other persons who say instead "Oh no you should not criticise or censure in that way or manner for it is uncouth and vulgar and reveals you to be a person of no class or breeding and not much education, gosh it makes me angry to see a someone who don't realise that people talk how they talk and that's fine and just as it should be."

And all the disagreeing that they do all the time, especially with each other, means that it can easily go unnoticed that they're in a relationship of dialectical opposition with respect to what people should do they share completely a commitment to telling people what they should do with respect to and regarding language.

Even the rawest novice in the service of the Dialectique knows of course that an opinion that something doesn't matter much is an opinion about the something in question but this isn't quite that - this is shouldisme, in which the opinions and behaviour of other persons are, as is so much more enjoyably the case, the ones deeply in need of being adjusted to the opiner's satisfaction.

From up here where the air is crisp and cool and invigorating yum yum, and where when the Dialectique unfolds you can see the creases, it is clear that discourses on language in either case and on both sides are trapped and confined within the crazy world of "should", and this is the zeroth and hardest thing to grasp about language - that it is a thing that all its users have strong opinions about, which they are seldom reluctant to state or give "reasons" for.

These "reasons" are as should be and therefore isn't completely obvious to everyone examples as clear as can be found of ex post facto rationalisation and very far from having caused the opinions they are alleged to justify, which is the way with reasons in very much more generality of course but you are probably not yet ready for my critique of the explanatory power of causality so I won't go into that yet.


2004-04-22 morning (utc+1)

Lo que se pierde en una casa se gana en otra.

Is the Spanish eyeing up the Frenchy-French's status as Importand Global Language?

"La globalisation, comme l'crivent Emilio Lamo de Espinosa et Javier Noya dans le rapport 2002 de l'Institut Cervants, est bonne pour l'espagnol, alors qu'elle est mauvaise pour d'autres langues, comme le franais." En effet, "l'existence d'une importante communaut des deux cts de l'Atlantique assure la reproduction dmographique de l'espagnol, les moyens de communication tendent rduire le risque de fragmentation -linguistique-, les migrations latino-amricaines tendent la capacit de reproduction de la langue ; le commerce et le poids de la culture en espagnol impulsent un excellent march de l'espagnol comme langue trangre et deux grands pays comme les Etats-Unis et le Brsil assurent la prdominance de l'espagnol en Amrique."

"Globalisation", as Emilio Lamo de Espinosa and Javier Noya write in the 2002 report for the Cervantes Institute, "is good for Spanish, while it's bad for other languages, such as French." In fact, "the existence of an important community on both sides of the Atlantic assures the demographic repruduction of Spanish, the means of communication tend to reduce the risk of linguistic fragmentation, emigrants from Latin-America extend the languages capacity for reproduction, the business and cultural weight of Spanish propel an excellent market for Spanish as a foreign language and two big nations like the USA and Brasil assure the predominance of Spanish in America."

Roughly, the Yoorpean situation is that Spanish teaching has gone up by a factor of a gazillion in Poland, in much the same way that we're forever hearing that bungee kite-skiing or some such is the fastest growing sport in "Slovenia". What there isn't a great deal of in the UK, I have noticed again since I've been sort of learning the language, is Spanish language periodicals - is there really no major league Spanish hebdo? The quotidiens ABC and El Pas are around, but I do not especially have the taste for quotidiens.


2004-04-21 hometime (utc+1)

Croatian catch-up

You will of course recall that Bulgaria and Romania are scheduled to join the EU in a second wave of enlargement in 2007, and now Croatia looks set join too:

L'entre au sein de l'Union europenne, le 1er mai, de huit pays d'Europe centrale et orientale, plus Malte et Chypre, ne se traduira pas par un ralentissement de la politique d'largissement, au contraire. La Commission a donn, mardi 20 avril, un avis favorable la candidature de la Croatie et recommand l'ouverture de ngociations d'adhsion avec Zagreb, confirmant ainsi la stratgie de l'UE d'"europanisation" des Balkans.

The entry into the EU of eight central and eastern European countries plus Malta and Cyprus, is far from the end of the policy of enlargement. On Tuesday the Commision gave the green light for opening negociations on joining with Zagreb, confirming the EU's policy of "Europeanising" the Balkans.

Anyone giving odds that Serbia gets in before Turkey? If all the bits of the former Yugoslavia turn up, will that be usefully different from Yugoslavia having joined, only with a ten year delay and a whole bunch of mass graves?

For that matter I'm still not in a very good mood, and I'd be willing to bet Byelorussia gets in to the EU before Turkey.


2004-04-21 wet (utc+1)

Amusing weather for the duckosaurs, isn't it?

It's raining and I got quite wet while getting my samwidge so I am not in a mood to do justice to the prinsessgossip. First a philosophy joke:

Q: How's things?
A: Reified!

And now a Russian joke, three ways:

1. pa-russkie:

- Ya opyat' khochu v Parizh
- Chto, uzhe bilee v Parizhe?
- Nyet, uzhe khotel...

(The Cyrillic is in the link, of course.)

2. pa-fishskie:

- I again want into Paris.
- What, they were already in Paris?
- No, already he wanted...

3. pa-desskie:

- I want to go to Paris again.
- You've been before?
- No, I've wanted to before...

I want, you may be sure, to go to Paris. Now, you may be very sure indeed, is good.


2004-04-21 morning (utc+1)

Monday review of stuff

Spain, Jan Morris.

(This book, incidentally, is one of those that is invariably cited in support of the position that Jan Morris bestrides the world of travel-writing like an itchy-footed colossus. It is, co-incidentally, currently out of print.)

Originally published on Franco's beat and revised after his death, this is a magical and evocative description of Spain, and that's precisely the problem. Celebrating Spain, as Morris does, as a glorious anachronism has since become an anachronism itself, and all the genius-of-the-race malarkey is apt to provoke eye-rolling, at the very least, of us with more univeraliste tastes.

The ostentatiously poetical mix of history and personal impressions is often very lovely, though - the effect, at best, is as if Michael Ondatjee was impersonating W S Sebald - so it is worth persevering with.

But this was all before Spain was folding back into the welcoming bosom of Yoorp, and Morris's prediction that the future "is bound to make the Spaniards more ordinary, as the petty squalors of industrial life overcome them too, and they lose their sense of separateness" has come true and I, for one, am in no hurry to accept that this is a thing anyone should regret.

If you are anxious to patronise celebrate the colourful traditions of proper peasants there's always South America, after all, as any youth of today could tell you.


2004-04-20 postsamwidge (utc+1)

Slovenia "Yes, well, but what can we do?"

The International Herald Tribune's web pages are so excellent in their design that it's taken until now until I've been able to see this story, but it's a good 'un:

Matjaz Gantar, a businessmen, said he didn't particularly like the current flag but didn't see any need to change it. "Our flag is suitable for a local fire brigade," Gantar said. "But this is our flag and that's it. What can we do?" "Also the name Slovenia isn't very nice. But what can we do?" Zlatko Sabic, a professor of political science at the University of Ljubljana, has an answer out of a modern marketing manual: branding. "If you want to put Slovenia on the map we have to find a niche," he said. "Finland has Nokia. Sweden has Ikea." Pointing to Luxembourg's role as a financial center, he added, "Everyone knows where Luxembourg is." "We just need a trademark," Sabic concluded, particularly at a time when Slovenia - as well as Slovakia- is about to join the European Union. Janez Potocnik, Slovenia's future representative on the European Commission in Brussels, said that Slovenia could be branded as the "one-hour country." The country is so small that everything- mountain peaks, Baltic beaches, Ljubljana- can be reached in about 60 minutes.

"Baltic beaches"? That's just perfect, isn't it? The cake is now fully iced. (Genuinely hapless persons should note that "Slovenia"'s alleged coastline is on the Adriatic - nobody speaks of "Balkan beaches", although that's clearly what's on our journaliste's mind.)

We are in a land of total quality excellence here, for sure:

Erwan Four, the head of the European Commission's delegation to Slovenia, recalls getting a memo recently intended for the commission's office in Slovakia. A Slovene ambassador in a European capital, who asked not to be identified. says his staff meets someone from the local Slovak embassy at least once a month to exchange wrongly-addressed mail.

Just imagine if you were the "Slovenian" ambassador to Slovakia! (Is the embassy on Baltic Esplanade? It clearly should be.)

[via Anna K, ages ago]


2004-04-20 samwidge (utc+1)

Catalonia caught in the act

Invention of traditions, isn't it? Glorious patrimonies While U Wait. Young poets need it emphasised, which I have:

Language had very little to do with these basic economic grievances, and in fact, the Catalonian language had been on the verge of dying out completely. In 1860 it was spoken only in the most remote and obscure villages, while Castilian was taking hold in cities like Barcelona. The revival of the language was originally the work of a small group of intellectuals and poets, but after the defeat of the conservative forces in the Carlist wars of 1876, the Church turned to the support of Catalanism. Businessmen who had grievances against Madrid joined them in a party, the Lliga Regionalista, led by Francisco Cambo. Catalan nationalism flourished greatly at the turn of the century, to the dismay of the central government, and became increasingly troublesome in its demands.

R F Inglehart and M Woodward, "Language Conflict and Political Community" (1967), collected in Giglioli (Ed) Language and social context(1972)

Now, that's language preservation, isn't it? And that is also why I remain ambivalent about such projects: the necessary fashioning of a self-conscious community of the users of a language is a complex enterprise, and one that, if successful, is likely to have side effects not reducible to the Living Museum of Ethnique Quaintness that often seems to be implicit in the project of well-meaning linguistes. Which is not to say that I'm against such things either - I merely observe and contemplate the mysterious unfoldings of the historical dialectique.

Back in 1967, when optimism about the future was still in fashion in some circles, Inglehart and Woodward anticipated that these tensions would be defused by rising prosperity and colour TV's, but they had the disadvantage that their predictions concerned the future, which is always a lot harder.

This book (which seems to be out of print, but shouldn't be hard to track down in the UK) in general and this essay in particular rock my world like it is all too infrequently rocked. If it was written with a more explicitly Marxiste agenda my life's work would have been accomplished before I was born, so I'm not about to complain. (There are even German prinsessor in it, so you can imagine!)


2004-04-20 mornin (utc)

Why I am so very quizzical

1. Prepositives

The new BBC French for persons who know some French feature has a test on the Frenchy-French prepositions. To my surprise, I only got one wrong (I don't write French, so I never need this information).

2. "Slovenia"

The BBC (yes, again)'s series of quizzes on the EU newbies rolls around to "Slovenia", and I got 8 out of 10. It is typical, of course, that my best score to date should come on a country I continue to insist is in fact an elaborate hoax.


2004-04-19 15:34

Smallerer and smallerer!

1. Genocide, Schmenocide

It's all fun and games until somebody loses a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, isn't it?

General Radislav Krstic had been jailed for 46 years for his role in the killing of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

The court rejected Krstic's appeal that the numbers were "too insignificant" to be genocide - a decision likely to set an international legal precedent.

That must have been an interesting experience for the defence lawyers: "You call that genocide, Mr Justice Big Girl's Blouse? I've been in worse bar room brawls than that!" Anyway, the definition of genocide has been tweaked:

According to the 1948 Geneva Convention, genocide is defined as "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan, at The Hague, says the Krstic ruling expands the legal definition to cover the killing of men only - rather than including women and children.

She says the definition may now be applied to conflict in a small community, where local atrocities can be labelled as genocide.

2. Wales

Micronationalismes, what a fun game it is (until somebody loses an etc.):

PLAID CYMRU President Dafydd Iwan has reaffirmed his party's commitment toindependence for Wales, saying it was time for the country to build a "new relationship" with England.
He said it was "unimaginative" to argue that countries like Malta, Estonia and Slovenia could join the EU in May but an independent Wales could not.

This certainly works for me, but a hot-headed rabble-rouser pitching a glorious vision of a Greater Wales that included Cornwall and maybe the Isle of Man would be even more entertaining, isn't it?

(Probably the most shocking thing about the Balkan disintegration for me is the way lots of persons seem to hold as though such behaviour were in some way intrinsically restricted to the genius of the peoples there. Nationalismes, nice and nasty, are all around, and don't think they're not.)



2004-04-19 12:29

Lah-di-dah literary review

1. Lem

He's still writing, but he's given up with the (science-) fiction:

Durante el estado de sitio en Polonia fui con mi familia a Viena. All todava segua escribiendo, pero cuando volvimos a Polonia, a la Polonia independiente eso fue hacia el ao 89 90 la literatura fantstica simplemente me dej de interesar, ya que la realidad misma me pareci bastante interesante. Ya no era tan estril, tan vaca, tan falsa y tan totalitaria como antes. Todava sigo escribiendo, artculos para varias revistas, ahora lo hago ms bien como observador, comparto mis reflexiones respecto al mundo contemporneo comparndolo tambin con los tiempos de la guerra en Polonia. Creo que los tiempos que estamos viviendo ahora son tan tormentosos que ya no vale la pena dedicarse a la ciencia-ficcin, porque esto ya es ciencia-ficcin.

Spanish, isn't it? Translation mine; set your disclaimerisers onto 11, 'cos I surely don't know from Spanish:

During the state of seige in Poland I was with my family in Viena. Even then I kept writing, but when we lived in Poland, in the independent of Poland that happened in 1989 or 90 the fantastic literature simply stopped interesting me, while reality itself seemed interesting enough to me. Now it wasn't so sterile, so vacuous, so false and so totalitarian as before. I still keep writing, articles for various reviews, now I do it more as an observer, I reflect on the contemporary world as well as comparing it to the war in Poland. I think the times we're living through now are tempestuous enough that it's not worth the trouble to do science-fiction, whatever that is these days.

Apropos the unravellings of Iraq he opines that "it's easier to get on a tiger than to get off again." Is that a Polish proverb or a Spanish one, or did it get invented in the Polish to Spanish to English trippages?

2. Dennett

The inner life of thermostats, and why not?

He's famous among philosophers as an extreme proponent of robot consciousness, who will argue that even thermostats have beliefs about the world. This argument turns out to be more about what constitutes our own beliefs than about the inner life of a thermostat. Part of this is because he uses the term "opinions" for the kind of conscious and considered ideas about the world that many people would mean by beliefs. He doesn't think a thermostat is conscious. But he thinks its behaviour embodies assumptions about the world, and these can't be distinguished, in their effects on the world, from beliefs: "Intentional systems have beliefs, or as-good-as beliefs. I use the word beliefs for the intentional states of all of them, including the notorious thermostat. But we have opinions as well as beliefs."

It's long and hagiographic (He plays tennis! He plays jazz! He sails! He has a beard!) but if you want the Dennett, the Dennett you shall have.

3. Auden

A celebration of song:

The likes of Porter and Ira Gershwin are Auden's patron saints in such versifying. Witness the characteristic quickfire exchange of rhymes between Inkslinger and the Chorus in "No 15, The Love Song" in the Auden-Britten Paul Bunyan: "Appendectomy" ("'s a pain in the neck to me"), "Ichthyosaureses" ("Won't sing in choruses"), "Septuagesima" ("Ate less and lessima"). This was the cod-rhyming of the playground, respun now for adults with the verbal zaniness of popular American song in their heads. It was investing in what Paul Bunyan celebrated as (lovely Auden phrase) "the accidental beauties of silly songs".

I always did like Auden, or at least I always did after I started reading him, which was a couple of years ago.


2004-04-19 09:35


1. Foopball

If you want to hear a broad variety of UK regional accents, you could do a lot worse than listening to BBC Radio 5 when it is covering the foopball, which is to say pretty much any time. I have been listening to the station for the occasional crumbs of crickety goodness they occasionally sweep from their smrgsbord to make room for more foopball.

2. Foopball again.

Gosh it's almost like Radio 5 there's so much foopball we love it!

In fact, due to the allophonic rule that inserts glottal stops before unvoiced syllabic final consonants, the correct pronunciation is more like "foo?pball" (where "?" marks the glottal stop).

3. More foopball!

While we're being assimilated, I spent much of my foopball career wondering why it was called "hamball" when somebody touched the ball with their hand or arm. Then at the age of 11 I switched to the code of rugby union (aspirational parents, isn't it?), which only real tosseurs and a half call foopball, and where the use of the hands is far from being frowned upon.

4. Guttural, my arse!

I got Charles Berlitz's "Learn German" from the Amnesty bookshop, which is still cheap enough to indulge foolish whims, and the flyleaf is at pains to remark that his connection with the Berlitz language schools is strictly genealogical (I suspect lawyers) and that he has written over 100 language teaching books (I suspect a team of assistants and a diligent disregard for quality).

Certainly he appears to have done his level best to blottify the Berlitzian escutcheon: page xiii remarks of German "ch" that it is "a guttural sound, deep in the throat, similar to the Scottish word 'loch'". The term "guttural" is used exclusively by fakeurs the world over to refer to any consonant not found in Italian. (Nobody knows why - this is just one of life's great mysteries.)

Even without the "guttural" malarkey, the problems with this are two (2) in number: firstly, German "ch" represents two (2) different sounds; secondly, neither of the two (2) sounds it represents is made "deep in the throat", although one is similar to the sound in the Scottish word "loch".

We will consider this one, since it is also the sound of "j" in Spanish, which is also often poorly described. The IPA symbol is [x] (square brackets denote phonetic transcription), and it is best described as a velar fricative. The velum is the soft palate at the back of the mouth, which is where this sound is made. Another velar consonant is [k] as in English "cup" (IPA [kUp], but don't worry about the other symbols). Try making a [k] as in "cup": you'll notice that the body of the tongue is pulled up and back to the velum at the back of the mouth. Now release the stop slooowwwllly, while breathing out and notice that when it's just released there's a noisy sound of turbulence. That's [x] - it's just a [k] with a gap that lets air through, and is by no means made "deep in the throat".

On page 9, incidentally, Berlitz claims of "achtung" that "the g is always pronounced like the g in 'go'". The mind boggles...


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