Telegraph exclusive: Brits using ducks to negotiate Brexit

The right-wing Telegraph newspaper has enjoyed a long and close relationship with the Conservative Party. So close indeed that it is often referred to as the Torygraph.

This close relationship means that developments within the Tory Party are frequently reported first in the Telegraph.

It is therefore no surprise that the latest developments on the state of the UK’s Brexit negotiations popped into my Twitter feed this morning with the following Telegraph headline and abstract.

Image text reads Brexit latest news: Theresa May will meet Jeremy Corbyn today as she prepares to send a revamped negotiating teal back to Brussels.

Yes, that’s why the negotiations have been so disastrous. They’ve been handled by ducks, or more specifically a Eurasian teal, a male specimen of which is shown below.

Male Eurasian teal

A top international negotiator according to the Telegraph. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How a duck or ducks actually managed to deal with the question of the Irish backstop remains a mystery and is probably why the Tory right wing is so obsessed with it. And quite what a revamped negotiating teal is, one could indulge in conjecture. Was it taken to some backstreet ornithologist and given the plumage of, say, an Arctic skua, together with a bit of beak remodelling?

Please Torygraph, tell me it’s not a typo! 😀

A penny for your thoughts?

If there’s one thing that can be said about language, it’s that it’s dynamic. Blink for a second and you might miss the coining of a neologism or an old turn of phrase becoming obsolete.

The latter in particular can have amusing consequences, especially if re-used by someone possibly too young to appreciate the original connotations of the word or phrase.

One such most likely occurred today in a Bristol Post piece about free travel in the Bristol area on Unibus services.

The item’s second paragraph reads as follows:

Passengers will able to hop on the Unibus U2 service, from Monday February 18 until Friday, February 22 without spending a penny.

To someone of my age (rapidly approaching where I qualify for a pass for free bus travel. Ed.), the phrase has connotations other than obtaining buckshee travel.

As Collins Dictionary helpfully points out:

If someone says that they are going to spend a penny, they mean that they are going to go to the toilet. [British, old-fashioned, politeness]

old coin-operated public toilet lockThe origins of the phrase stretch back to the Victorian era and refer to the use of coin-operated locks on public toilets in the UK. Such locks were first used in a public toilet outside London’s Royal Exchange in the 1850s.

The phrase “to spend a penny” has now largely died out and been forgotten, except by those with greying hair, due to changes to public toilets themselves (many of which have been closed by austerity-hit local authorities. Ed.) and changes in the charges to use a toilet. Last time I looked while on my travels, the toilets at Manchester Victoria railway station cost an exorbitant 20p, i.e. 4 shillings or 48 times the original cost of one penny.

Northampton or Novosibirsk?

Via Twitter, the following image arrived in my timeline this morning. It’s a below the piece comment, ostensibly from someone called DAZ21, from the mobile version of the Daily Mail website.

Text of comment reads White British in London 45 percent, white British in Birmingham 50 percent..Our 2 largest cities don't belong to us anymore, we have been very tolerant and are probably the least racist country on Earth. But these ideologies we import are incompatible to our own... I give it 5 years before civil war breaks out.

As you can see, at the top of the comment DAZ21 would like us all to think he’s from the fair English county town of Northampton.

However, there are a couple of problems with locating dear ole DAZ21 there if one examines the text of the comment closely; and the vowels in particular.

Look first near the bottom of the comment. Is that a letter “a” with diaresis (ä), I see before me?

The letter “a” with diaresis is quite common in German (as in Käse – cheese. Ed.), but not in English.

However, there’s a real clincher in the text that shows DAZ21 is more likely to hail from Novosibirsk than Northampton: and once again it’s a vowel that gives the game away, namely the “i” with diaresis “ï“).

According to Wikipedia, “Yi (Ї ї; italics: Ї ї) is a letter appearing the Cyrillic script, as used by Russian, amongst other languages.

In English this is a very uncommon character and is used when ⟨i⟩ follows another vowel and indicates hiatus (diaeresis) in the pronunciation of such a word.

There have been questions about the reliability of the the Daily Mail for decades. Last year it was banned as a source by Wikipedia due to its “reputation for poor fact checking and sensationalism“.

One wonders how much further that reputation has slumped if its below the piece comments are now full of bots or actual Russians pretending to be Brits posting provocative and/or misleading content.

By the way, Novosibirsk is Russia’s third most populous city after Moscow and St Petersburg.

Guillemets (French quotation marks) on a Linux keyboard

My first experiences of computing took place before the widespread use of graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

Consequently, I use a lot of keyboard* shortcuts.

These can also be used to create individual characters and, if known, represent an alternative such as using a visual character map, such as KCharSelect, the character map on the KDE desktop environment on my Linux machines.

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

KCharselect with the left-hand guillemet selected

So what’s the keyboard shortcut alternative for French quotation marks?

On Linux, most special characters can be inserted into a text editor or office package using the AltGr key plus one or two other keystrokes. If you have the patience to learn them, they can save a lot of time.

For the left guillemet, AltGr+z produces «.

For the right guillemet, AltGr+x produces ».

As you can see, it’s a lot quicker than using a GUI-based alternative.

* = I’ve always used a standard EN-GB keyboard layout.

Public money, public code – new FSFE brochure

Let’s start with a trio of questions.

1. Why should governments develop free software*?
2. Where is free software already generating benefits in the public sector?
3. What are free software business models?

Answers to the above questions and practical guidelines are given in the new expert policy brochure published today by the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Entitled “Public Money Public Code – Modernising Public Infrastructure with Free Software“, the brochure aims to answer decision-takers’ questions about the benefits of using and developing free software for public sector organisations.

To help understand the important role that public sector procurement plays in this, the brochure presents an overview of EU free software projects and policies, uncovering legislation on software procurement.

The FSFE will use this brochure in the forthcoming European Parliament elections to inform potential MEPs how to speed up the distribution and development of free software in the public sector and putting appropriate legislation in place.

Download the brochure (PDF).

Front cover of FSFE brochure

The brochure evaluates the modernisation of public infrastructure by using free software from the perspectives of academia, law, business and government. Expert articles, reports and interviews help readers to understand the opportunities for free software in the public sector. Practical guidance is provided for decision-makers to move forward and start modernising public infrastructure with free software.

FSFE President Matthias Kirschner states: “Free software licences have proven to generate tremendous benefits for the public sector. This is not a trend that will pass, but rather a long-term development that is based on very positive experiences and strategic considerations resulting from serious vendor lock-in cases in the past. In a few years, free software licences could become the default setting for publicly-financed IT projects. The Free Software Foundation Europe watches these developments very carefully and we want to contribute our knowledge to support the public sector in this transition.”

Initial steps for making free software licenses the default in publicly-financed IT projects are outlined in the brochure. Other topics include competition and potential vendor lock-in, security, democracy, “smart cities” and other important contemporary topics. The language and examples used have been specifically chosen for readers interested in politics and public administrations.

The brochure features leading experts from various ICT areas. Amongst others, these include Francesca Bria, Chief of Technology and Digital Innovation Officer (CTIO) for the Barcelona City Council, Prof. Dr. Simon Schlauri, author of a detailed legal analysis on the benefits of free software for the Swiss canton of Bern, Cedric Thomas, CEO of OW2, Matthias Stürmer, head of the Research Center for Digital Sustainability at the University of Bern and Basanta Thapa from the Competence Center for Public IT (ÖFIT) within the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems.

The brochure is available in both digital and printed formats, and is published under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence and I’ll be sending a copy of the PDF to my MP for her information.

* = In this context the definition of free software is free as in freedom, not beer.

The value of understanding

It seems we live in a society that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

On Monday Kent Online reported that Kent County Council is expecting to spend £1.5 million more than the central government funding it has received to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who left the care system during the current local authority financial year.

The county has received a total of £6.9 million from the Home Office and Department for Education to help more than 900 young people who have entered the UK unaccompanied, but is looking at costs of £8.4 million.

According to council officers, part of the problem is apparently “a shortage of translators [sic] living in the area.”

However, one reason for the higher costs can be laid firmly at the government’s door. The government has decided to extend support for all care leavers up to the age of 25 years; it was previously 21.

Legal costs and the immigration application process are also factors that have resulted in higher costs.

Kent’s Director for children’s integrated services, Sarah Hammond, seems to understand the value of interpreters. She is reported as saying the following:

It’s absolutely critical both for the young people and social workers that there is no window of doubt what the young person is saying. For that reason, we have to use trained and certified interpreters.

The validity of the assessment work we do would fall away if we were not able to demonstrate we had the right quality and accreditation of a translation body – and that comes with significant costs.

The reality is the majority of interpreters are coming from outside of the county, so we are incurring travel costs as well as their professional fees.

The very words Kent Online quoted Sarah Hammond as saying shows that she at least recognises the value of understanding. Young refugee people leaving care might not always have had much opportunity to become fluent enough in English to deal with whole panoply of officialdom and bureaucracy one has to deal with once past the age of majority in the UK; and one way to ensure both parties achieve full comprehension is by using qualified linguists.

The consequences of using unqualified interpreters has been amply illustrated down the years by the Ministry of Justice’s disastrous outsourcing of police and court language services, which is still continuing, as shown by this example from the north east of England.

Ms Hammond’s comments are in marked contrast to the reaction of the sole councillor quoted, Conservative Rosalind Banks, who remarked: “I suspect if the translation costs were made known to the average resident of Kent, they might turn around and say I’m sure this could be done a lot cheaper“.

Cheaper, councillor? We linguists are skilled professionals, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Needless to say, the councillor’s ignorant, penny-pinching sentiments are reflected in the comments below the piece, the majority of which are xenophobic, if not bordering on the racist.

An unfortunate juxtaposition

The placing of articles and/or photographs next to each other in newspapers (and on newspaper websites too. Ed.) sometimes has unfortunate consequences and connotations.

This is from the Murdoch-owned Times.

I’ll say no more.

Theresa May pictured next to headline stating Russian sex workers are world's best says Putin

Shopping in Wales: what’s afoot?

A Twitter user from Swansea has today discovered a strange physical benefit of being able to speak Welsh in Wales, namely the ability to walk to the shops quicker than Anglophones!

That, of course leaves one question unanswered, i.e are bilingual Welsh and English speakers blessed with dual speed perambulation? 😉

Photo shows 2 minutes' discrepancy between Welsh and English signage

Next time folks, remember to proof the copy for consistency and accuracy!

Currywurst reaches 70

Although I graduated over 4 decades ago, I still look back with fondness on the days of my modern languages degree.

One of the absolute requirements for the award of the degree was a compulsory period of residence in countries where the languages being studied were used.

In my instance this involved 5 months’ residency in both Perpignan (France) and Saarbrücken (Germany).

While in Germany, I became acquainted with what would now be called German street food, including the currywurst.

Currywurst

Currywurst typically consists of a bratwurst cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup, a sauce based on spiced ketchup or tomato paste, itself topped with curry powder, or a ready-made ketchup seasoned with curry and other spices.

It’s often served with chips.

The currywurst reaches the grand of age of 70 this year.

Here’s its history in brief.

Herta Heuwer had been running a snack stall in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district since summer 1949. There wasn’t much happening on 4th September, so she had time to experiment. She mixed freshly chopped paprika, paprika powder, tomato purée and spices together. The she poured the whole lot over a fried, chopped sausage. The currywurst had been invented.

Herta Heuwer subsequently gave her business the address of “The world’s 1st currywurst cookshop” and had the word trade mark “Chillup” (a contraction of chilli and ketchup) registered for her sauce.

You can’t eat a proper original currywurst any more, because Herta Heuwer took the recipe to the grave with her in 1999. In 2003 a memorial plaque was put up at the former site of her snack bar. According to the German Currywurst Museum in Berlin over 800 million currywurst are consumed every year in Germany.

To mark this culinary anniversary the Berlin State Mint has issued a commemorative coin.

Currywurst coin front

This commemorative coin is the sixth of a series of anniversary issues which the city mint started in 2004 and is limited to a production run of 2,500.

West Oxfordshire – first sighting of Brexit unicorn?

Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will go down as one of the UK’s worst peacetime Prime Ministers.

In a bid to solve a decades-old breach in his party caused by xenophobes, racists and Europhobes, he organised an “in-out referendum” on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Once the referendum came up with the wrong result, Cameron immediately ran away and left others to clear up the mes he left behind, a process at which his successor Theresa May and her ministers have failed spectacularly and serially, highlighting the shallowness of the Tory Party talent pool.

My brother and his family have the misfortune to live in “Call Me Dave” Cameron’s former constituency of Witney.

Even though his Witney constituency voted to remain in the EU in the MP’s disastrous referendum, there might just be changes afoot.

A unicorn, a supposedly mythical beast, with which supporters of remaining in the EU mock the extravagant and totally unreal promises made by the Leave campaign, has appeared in one of Witney’s main shopping streets, as photographed yesterday by your ‘umble scribe.

a papier maché unicorn spotted in Witney Oxon

An odd stance. What’s the beast trying to do?

The reason for the unicorn’s unusual stance is unknown.

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