This page consists of comments on a variety of issues, mainly political, which arise in my mind from day to day, usually provoked by news stories. Because I am in the UK and read UK newspapers and watch mostly UK television, much, but by no means all, of the material will be specifically relevant to UK. Each piece is dated and given a title to indicate the subject matter. New material will be added at the top.
After finding I have quite a number of entries on the relatively unimportant but irritating subject of misuse and abuse of the English language, I have divided the page into two sections. The English language gripes are now gathered together in a second section of the page, after all the other material.
Constructive comments will be welcome, although I may not have time to reply to them all. Anything abusive will definitely be ignored.
All the items are listed in alphabetical order of title in a table below. Click here to view it
A B C D E F G H I L M N P R S T U W
Alternative vote system
Archbishop of Canterbury
National Health Service
Next prime minister
Old Age Pension
Old Age Pension
Parliamentary expense claims
"Prime Minsterial" debates on TV
Profit v society
Rule of law
Scanners at airports
|General Topics||English Language|
|Bankers 15th November 2009||Appealing 15th January 2010|
|Bankers and others 5th January 2010||Debasement of the English language 15th October 2007|
|Body scans at airports 5th January 2010||Debasement of the English language 17th October 2007|
|Brown and the "bigoted" woman 2nd May 2010||Debasement of the English language 20th October 2007|
|Building on flood plains 23rd July 2007||Debasement of the English language 8th November 2007|
|Building on flood plains 24th July 2007||Euphemisms 10th November 2007|
|Cameron's demand for companies to put society before profit 28th November 2010||Free 18th May 2008|
|Children's safety on "chat" web sites 1st August 2007||Giving gifts 14th December 2007|
|Collapsing banks 15th September 2008||Hope 18th May 2008|
|Detention before trial 31st March 2008||Meetings 5th January 2010|
|Drains and storm sewers failing to cope 24th July 2007||Meetings 15th January 2010|
|Failure to call a general election 7th October 2007||Misuse of English 12th December 2007|
|Genocide in Armenia 14th October 2007||More or less 16th February 2010|
|Hole in the wall 4th February 2008||Names of cities and countries 1st September 2007|
|Israeli piratical attack on Gaza aid flotilla 1st June 2010||Tenses 11th November 2007|
|Justice 21st November 2007|
|Miliband to let the public vote on party policy and leadership 29th November 2010|
|MMR controversy 10th June 2009|
|More on bankers 15th January 2010|
|MPs' pay, pensions and benefits 18th June 2008|
|Police investigation into cash-for-honours scandal 23rd July 2007|
|Political principles 8th December 2010|
|"Prime Ministerial" debates on television 2nd May 2010|
|Problem for the next prime minister 14th June 2008|
|Resignation of David Laws from UK government|
|Sexism in sport 1st February 2011|
|Sexism in sport part 2 4th February 2011|
|Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes 8th November 2007|
|Sharia law in UK? 12th Febriary 2008|
|Sinking of the General Belgrano 14th September 2007|
Modified 16th February 2010
|Tectonics 12th December 2007|
|Teenage "binge" drinking 1st September 2007|
|The Alternative vote and the BNP 13th April 2011|
|Wikileaks 8th December 2010|
A whole page of the leaflet is also devoted to attacking Nick Clegg and associating him with the vote on the referendum. This is a referendum on the voting system. not a vote on the popularity of Nick Clegg!
The fact is that the alternative vote system is a poor one, which is why few countries use it, but it does have the conclusive advantage, so far as this referendum is concerned, that it is better than our existing dreadful first-past-the-post system. In the referendum we are not being given the chance to vote for a good system, only the choice between the poor alternative vote and the even worse first-past-the post
Many star footballers do not rely on strength but on skill. Examples from past and present are Stanley Matthews, Gary Lineker, Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen. I see no reason why women shouldn't do what they do/did. Furthermore, the fact that on average men are stronger than women is irrelevant. Some women are stronger that most men. The criterion should be ability and nothing else. Similarly with rugby and all other sports. Men and women often do compete in the same long distance races.
First are those with no discernible principles, who are purely self-serving in seeking power. Apparent examples in this group are Mandelson, Blair, Nixon, Miliband, Clegg, Cable, G.W. Bush, Berlusconi and Mussolini.
The second group are those who do have and try to put into practice, strong principles, but whose principles are badly misguided or even evil. Examples are Osborne (and several other members of the present UK Cabinet), Thatcher, Hitler and, if she were to get into significant power, Palin (although it may be that she is too stupid to know what a principle is - she certainly follows wholly misguided dogmas without regard to facts).
The third group have and try to put into practice principles which are on the whole praiseworthy, but whose methods/policies are misguided or who do not have the ability to achieve them or are defeated by circumstances. Examples of this group are Tony Benn, probably Callaghan and Wilson, and possibly Bill Clinton and Obama.
The fourth and rarest group is of those who have praiseworthy principles and succeed in implementing a significant proportion of what they want (that does not mean I think everything they did was right - far from it). Examples here are Attlee in UK, F.D. Roosevelt in USA and, as Home Secretary, Jenkins, also in UK.
I have for the moment omitted Cameron. He looks as if he could belong in either the first or the third group. His statements do not seem to fit the second group, but with colleagues like his he appears to have no chance of being in the fourth.
I note the Israeli government defends its killing of some crew members of the flotilla by saying its troops had been provoked and attacked by activists aboard the vessels. Presumably they consider it a criminal act worthy of a death sentence without trial for the victims of pirates to attempt to defend themselves and their property from attack?
I conclude, therefore, that such debates are totally incompatible with our present system of democracy.
First, the Sky journalist was either incompetent or dishonest in leaving the microphone in place. Second, he was deliberately trying to stir up trouble by replaying the recording to the woman concerned and on television. This was a gross invasion of Brown's right to privacy.
Quite apart from this aspect of journalistic standards, don't we need some consistency in what we say we want from our politicians? They are repeatedly told they should be honest and say what they really mean, so why criticise Brown for doing just that? If he genuinely thought the woman was a bigot, why should he not say so in private to his own close colleagues?
Why won't the government take effective action? Why don't the main opposition parties crucify them for not doing so? They all want to solve the financial crisis by cutting government services, when it seems obvious to most people they should instead take the money back from these parasites who caused the problem in the first place. In this the Tories are worse than the government, wanting earlier and bigger cuts. The Liberal Democrats at least acknowledge that the present tax system is unfair by imposing a lower percentage tax on the rich than on the poor, but they don't take the next step and propose effective action to correct it. We have to look to smaller parties, such as the Green Party, for anything like a sensible and fair economic and tax policy.
This whole episode is nonsensical in several respects:
An additional point mentioned in today's newspaper is the fear that images of people's naked bodies, produced by these scans, could be published on the internet. This is seen, apparently, as a serious problem, with a need for precautions to prevent it. I don't see either the problem or an effective way to prevent it from happening. If the scanners do go into regular use, then sooner or later images produced by them will appear on the internet. So what?
Two (at least) reasonable solutions have been put forward. One is to legislate to make it a criminal offence for anyone in any organisation to be paid more than, say seven, times the lowest rate paid any other member of that organisation. This has great appeal in terms of justice, but would not, for example, curb in any way the grossly unwarranted payments made to many entertainers. It also has the great disadvantage that it would be extremely difficult to enforce as employers would find ways to circumvent it (just as banks are currently working to circumvent the one-off tax on bonuses).
The second solution, which I favour, is simply to increase the tax rate to a level far higher than at present for the excessively highly paid. At one time the top rate of income tax in UK was 98%. I see no reason why it should not go back to that, or even higher, for those paid in millions of pounds per year. The squealing of those in receipt of such incomes that they would leave the country should be ignored. They didn't in the past, and most of them would not in the future, especially if the legiclation were framed, as it should be, to hit them on earnings in the country regardless of where they live. In any case, the country would be better off without such parasites. There are plenty of people available who could and would do their jobs just as well for far less pay.
Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilisation. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Almost every word of that statement applies equally today, the one major difference being that today the failed money changers, instead of abdicating, have demanded that governments bail them out so as to allow them to continue as before, and, unbelievably, governments of all countries have rolled over and done their bidding! Even when governments have (reluctantly) taken possession of failed banks they have allowed the same or similar directors to continue with their old ways instead of directing them, under pain of immediate dismissal (without compensation), to do what the country needs, not what they and their shareholders need, forcing them to split necessary commercial banking from their investment/gambling-with-other-people's-money activities and forcing them to lend to struggling small businesses which they have put into difficulties by causing the economic recession.
There has been considerable controversy in UK over the safety of the combined inoculation of children against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), based on a totally wrong but widely publicised report that it could lead to the development of autism. As a consequence many children have not received the protection against these diseases that this jab could provide. Some people are now demanding that such children should be banned from normal schools, in order to protect those who have been immunised. This seems to me to suffer from two quite separate faults.
How are the children said to be at risk, by exposure to those who have not been immunised, in any danger? They have been immunised and, if that is as effective as claimed, they should be in no danger if they are exposed to any of these diseases - that is exactly what the immunisation was supposed to be for.
Secondly, since the objection, erroneous though it may be, is to the combined immunisation, why can those children not be offered three separate inoculations, one for each of the three diseases, and so provide those children with the protection they may well need without causing unnecessary stress to their parents? Why the insistence on a combined jab, which, as far as I know, is not used for any other diseases?
We seem to be in the middle of a series of banking failures, stemming from their excessively risky investments in such things as the so-called sub-prime mortgages. The first such failures (such as Bear Stearnes and Northern Rock) have resulted in government rescue packages, but with Lehman Brothers the (USA) government has stood aside and allowed it to fail. The result looks like being financial chaos not only in USA but also in other countries (such as UK) where the bank has major interests. The banks have been able to get themselves into this mess because governments have removed the controls they used to apply to prevent such lunatic behaviour.
It seems to me two major actions should be taken. First, controls should be imposed (or re-imposed) on banking investments to prevent any repetition. Second, when a bank does fail the government should step in and take it over, paying no compensation to shareholders or directors, sacking the directors and suing them on behalf of shareholders for their misuse of shareholder funds. Ordinary cusatomers of the banks, such as private depositors and account holders, business customers and mortgagees, none of whom have any control over the directors' behaviour, deserve to be protected, so far as possible at the directors' expense.
I see MPs are likely to be given another pay rise. It occurs to me that, since there can be no doubt that they should receive enough income to support a reasonable standard of living, the level could sensibly be set by comparison with others who also have that need and have their income set by Parliament. I therefore propose that the pay of each MP, the standard state pension and unemployment benefit (or whatever it's called this week) should all be equal, with incapacity benefit being a little higher to allow for the additional expenditure that condition necessarily requires.
Thatcher destroyed the Old Age Pension system (by removing the link with average earnings) and manufacturing industry.
Major destroyed the railway system.
Blair and Brown have destroyed the education system, the National Health Service and the postal service.
What does that leave for the next prime minister to do?
Their priorities are wrong because they are putting "security" above human rights. There is never a good case for arresting anyone before the evidence of their wrong-doing has been collected, so there is no excuse for making an arrest if they cannot immediately be charged with a serious offence. The excuse that the police need the additional time to collect the evidence necessary to bring a charge is totally invalid and contrary to the rule of law (which is what they are supposed to be defending), quite apart from the fact that the police themselves say the proposed increase is unnecessary.
It is well-known that terrorists regard the provocation of an over-reaction by government by introducing laws suppressing basic human rights as a major objective. Laws such as this are exactly what the terrorists want, and act as a powerful recruiting agent on their behalf. It is difficult to think of anything which could be more counter-productive than this change, increasing an already grossly excessive period of detention without charge or trial which will be seen by so many as aimed at a particular minority (and likely to be used primarily against that minority).
Parliament should amend the proposal from 42 days to 24 hours, which is quite long enough to bring criminal charges if the police have sufficient evidence to justify making an arrest.
First I must maintain (and it seems the archbishop agrees) that the criminal law must be the same for everyone. Neither sharia law nor any other special arrangments have any place in this area.
In the area of civil law it is already the case that some disputes can be settled outside the courts, either privately or by use of an independent arbitrator whose decisions can be final (preventing further appeal to the courts), subject to prior agreement by both sides. This seems very reasonable to me, provided there is no coercion of any kind to go along with this, and with the civil courts as the alternative if agreement on arbitration cannot be reached. It is essential, though, that this agreement to arbitration should be reached at the time of the dispute and should apply only to the point in dispute at the time of the agreement. With those safeguards, I see no reason why marriage according to sharia law should not be acceptable, subject to the civil requirements of registration and independent witnesses that both parties agree to the marriage. Similarly divorce should be acceptable in the same way provided there are no dependant children; if there are children then civil proceedings should be required to ensure that their welfare is paramount, both in agreeing to the divorce and in any related settelment conditions. However, it should be quite clear that a marriage according to sharia (or any other belief-based) law does not imply agreement to subsequent divorce on the same basis - this is a separate decision needing separate agreement. In the same way, arrangements for loans according to sharia law, if agreed by both parties, are no business of the government provided the reality of what happens is recognised fully for tax purposes, giving neither advantage nor disadvantage compared with normal arrangements.
In all cases, if agreement cannot be reached on a procedure or arbitrator outside the legal system, then the normal civil law and its courts should be the default alternative.
Since I wrote the above two paragraphs, but before putting it on-line, I have heard one of the conclusions of an independent inquiry into the incident. This states that the inquiry was greatly and deliberately hampered by the Commissionner obstructing its work. If this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it) he should be sacked immediately.
In case anyone should get the wrong idea from the above paragraph, I should make clear I have no time for Gordon Brown, and don't expect any significant change from the right-wing policies pursued by his predecessor Tory Bliar.
This makes no sense to me at all. There was a war in progress, and this was an enemy warship. When two countries are at war with one another, surely any military force or capability in the possession of one side is a legitimate target for the other? The ship could have changed direction at any moment, may have been intended to escort additional forces to the battle area, or going to have its capability strengthened before returning to the fight. By its very existence as a warship in enemy hands it was a legitimate target for attack so long as the war continued. The legitimacy of the war and/or of the Argentinian invasion is an entirely separate matter on which I shall probably comment as part of a much wider topic at some time.
Incidentally, this ship was sold to Argentina by the USA. It was known in the USA navy as "The Lucky Ship", although its official name then was Phoenix. It gained the nickname because it was the only ship to survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
If one judges by British media reports, the impression is given that this is a purely British phenomenon, but is continued by British teenagers when abroad on holiday. As a result, any British portrayal of British teenagers on holiday in somewhere like Majorca or Ibiza gives the impression that each of these places caters specifically for British teenagers, with bars and clubs full of them, all drinking too much alcohol and behaving badly. However, if you were to watch instead a German television programme showing either of these places, the impression given is that they are dominated by German teenagers behaving in exactly the same way! On British TV, the teenagers are speaking English, signs and menus are a mixture of English and Spanish, local police talk about the problems brought by the British. On German TV the language spoken by all the teenagers shown is German, the signs and menus are German and Spanish and the local police complain about the behaviour of young Germans! Why can't we have some balanced reporting in both Britain and Germany?
1st August 2007
There are two (maybe three) quite separate issues here.
24th July 2007
They also mention that many existing towns and cities (including London) are built on flood plains. This is quite true, but the point is that if a tiny part of the flood plain is built over and protected, this makes little difference to the flood plain function, but when major parts of it are treated in the same way it can no longer do its job, and either the defences are overwhelmed or flooding appears elsewhere.
23rd July 2007
Certainly there is a need to house people, and with a growing population and the deterioration of some old housing stock new houses will be (and already are) needed, but there must be better answers than this lunacy. One desperate need, both in UK and world-wide, is a reduction in population by lowering the birthrate.
In voicing and encouraging this criticism the press and television have demonstrated a total ignorance of the way the law and the police work (or have ignored it in order to make up a story). The police clearly felt, as did and still do most people, that a series of high profile peerages given to people who had made very large gifts or loans to the Labour Party gave rise to a very strong suspicion of corruption at high levels of government. They quite rightly carried out a very thorough and painstaking investigation, not just into whether such criminal behaviour had in fact taken place, but also to collect evidence so as to be able to prove the point beyond reasonable doubt in relation to specific individuals. The fact that no charges have been brought shows not that no such crime was committed but only that the police were not able to find sufficient evidence to make a case stand up in a criminal court - a much more difficult undertaking.
It does not, however, follow that the police actions were entirely on the right lines. At least one arrest was carried out (according to the reports I read) by getting the person concerned out of bed in the early hours of the morning. This seems to be standard practice by a few police forces when making arrests in people's homes. This was in this case, and in many others, both unnecessary and unjustifiable. I can see that in a few cases it is necessary to take the perosn by surprise in order to prevent them from running away in advance, but in most cases it is clearly done simply to intimidate the person being arrested. That is not and most definitely should not be a police function. They need to remember that in English, and most other, law, a person is innocent until they have been convicted in a fair trial. The police, like the press, television and everyone else, are under an obligation to keep that at the forefront of their minds at all times. I think there is a strong case for a person who has been arrested in that way to bring an action against the police and receive compensation, unless the police can prove there was a good reason for their behaviour. This right should exist regardless of whether the person is subsequently found guilty of the offence for which they were arrested.
16th February 2010
Too many people have in recent years got into the habit of using such phrases as "five time more than" or "five times bigger than" when they actually mean "five times as many as" or "five times as big as". Strictly speaking, the phrase "five times bigger than" means the same as "six times as big as", but because it is so frequently misused it is for practical purposes ambiguous. Since it is totally unnecessary anyway, it would be far better avoided altogether.
Even worse is the all too common usage such as "five times less than", which is self-contradictory and therefore completely meaningless. "Five times" indicates multiplication, and so an increase, which is completely incompatible with the following word "less". If what is meant is "One fifth as many", why not say that so we can all understand what is meant without needing to attempt to guess at the hidden meaning?
15th January 2010
5th January 2010
18th May 2008
The first of those definitions specifies the subject of this item, although much of what I have to say applies equally to other languages. The second has the consequence that in order to be understood the language used should be clear. Clarity is achieved not only by the use of simple words and sentence structures but also by consistent use of correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and word meanings.
A new approach to writing was introduced in English schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and has persisted to a slightly reduced extent since. It was considered that what mattered when a child was writing was his/her creativity, and it was held that insistence on correct spelling, grammar and punctuation hindered this all-important creativity, and was therefore to be deplored. Those children are now parents themselves, and have consequently brought this way of thinking into the home as well as the school. When one considers that the vast majority of the writing done by all except professional writers is not creative writing but factual material such as technical reports, job applications, complaints to suppliers of goods and services, and the like, it can be seen what nonsense this is, quite apart from the fact that it does not matter how good someone's creativity may be if the result is unreadable or, more frequently, ambiguous, because of errors of these kinds.
The rules of English grammar and punctuation are precise and entirely logical. There is no good reason why everyone of reasonably normal ability should not have mastered them fully before leaving school, and this is far more important than any amount of "creativity". English spelling, on the other hand, is not fully logical; there are plenty of rules to help, but with exceptions to just about all of them. Learning spelling by rote is therefore necessary to some extent for most people, although wide reading of suitable material is probably as important. "Suitable" in this context means it must, of course, have perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also must be interesting to the reader and of a level of difficulty (in terms of comprehension) appropriate to the reader. There are those who will maintain that usually the context makes the meaning clear despite errors of all these types, and no doubt they are sometimes right. However, errors of this kind always make reading more difficult than it need be, and failure to learn and habitually use the correct form means that some writing will not be at all clear. In job applications it can be sufficient to lose the job opportunity even if the meaning is perfectly clear.
Word meanings are a more difficult area, since no living language can be entirely stagnant. New words are continually needed as new things and new concepts are invented. However, there can be no justification for replacing one perfectly adequate word with another which is already in use with a different meaning. This degrades the language, and makes reading older material difficult. Misuse of the word "gay" instead of "homosexual" is a good example of this, but euphemisms generally often come into this category. Another example is the misuse by the media of the word "billion" to mean "milliard". A billion is a million million, as the "bi-" prefix indicates, while a thousand million is a milliard.
No doubt someone will now find some typing errors on this page. At least I think I usually know what the correct form is, even if my keyboard sometimes shows symptoms of dyslexia! I make no claim to be an expert typist.
I have never understood why the media insist on attempting (often without success) to change the names they use for some countries and cities to correspond with the names used by, and sometimes changed by, the inhabitants, while inconsistently doing nothing of the kind with others. Why can they not accept that all countries, and many large cities, have English names which may not and need not bear any relation to the names used for those same places by the people who live there (and those people sensibly do not usually call our country by the name we use, but stick to their own language)? When the Chinese decided to rename their capital, the English media hastened to try to do the same, inventing the name Beijing instead of sticking to the English name, Peking. I notice they still call the country itself China! Ceylon they unnecessarily now call Sri Lanka, but why do they not call Germany "Deutschland", Switzerland "Helvetia", Finland "Suomi" and Albania "Shqiperia"? When did you last see or hear a newspaper or TV reporter refer to the city of Köln instead of using its English (and differently pronounced French) name of Cologne? Particularly silly is the name of Belarus they give to White Russia (if you look at Soviet era English maps you will see that name used) - the inhabitants do not use that name, because they do not use our alphabet, and the name they do use (approximately pronounced like "Byelaroos") is Russian for "White Russia"!
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