Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Europe

The chavs vs. the guardians

Sunday, 26 June, 2016 0 Comments

The shockwaves from the decision on Thursday by a majority of UK voters to leave the European Union continue to reverberate. The governing Tory party was bitterly divided on the issue before the campaign and now the aftermath turmoil is ripping the Labour party apart. Collateral damage has been caused to language, too.

In a result that was driven by contempt for the establishment, demands to restore sovereignty and fear of mass migration, puzzled pundits have been looking for explanations. This is trickier than it sounds because it’s clear that the majority vote for leave was made possible by those who live outside London. What to call these people? We’re in tippy-toe area here because many in the commentariat would like to say the leavers are “English” in a manner that implies “little Englanders,” but the Welsh voted for leave as well, so a bigger umbrella is needed. Behind the hand, racist and populist and all the other pejoratives are being thrown around, but they cannot be used in public as they say almost as much about the speaker as the subject.

Chav gear Here’s a solution: chav. And before people reach for the off button, consider this: “Chavs are supposed to wear a lot of flashy jewellery, white trainers, baseball caps, sham designer clothes. Girls expose a lot of midriff. Nothing racial about it all, I should say.” So says linguistics expert David Crystal. They live mainly on council estates in middle England and they love their telly and tabloids, do the chavs. Perfect.

And those who opted to remain? How about guardians? They wanted to guard Britain’s membership of the European Union more than their own union, and the Guardian newspaper is their intellectual platform. London is their base and they consider themselves post-national. But as Megan McArdle points out in ‘Citizens of the World’? Nice Thought, But …:

Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down. But perhaps, like the fellow I once saw lose a packet by betting on 17 for 20 straight turns of the roulette wheel, they reasoned that the recent loss actually makes a subsequent victory more likely, since the number has to come up sometime.

In the referendum on Thursday, the chavs voted and the guardians tweeted. Now, the guardians are petitioning. That’s the difference. Or, put another way:


English referee: Wales in, Northern Ireland out

Saturday, 25 June, 2016 1 Comment

Norn IronWe’re talking football, here, not referendum results. This evening in Parc des Princes in Paris, Wales and Northern Ireland are set for an historic meeting as they each attempt to reach their first European Championship quarter-final. Given the backstory of the players, the football on offer will be will be more like that seen in Premier League fixture, rather than a continental style game and, keeping it in the family, as it were, the match has an English referee in Martin Atkinson.

Wales Wales have a trump card in Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive footballer. With a goal in each group match he is tied with Spain’s Álvaro Morata as the tournament’s joint top scorer on three, one ahead of his Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. The prediction here is that after Martin Atkinson blows the final whistle, Bale’s Wales will be in and Northern Ireland out of the competition.

It was a different story with Thursday’s EU referendum. The Leave side won in Wales, where 52.5% voters chose to depart the EU, compared with 47.5% supporting Remain. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, voted to stay in the EU by a majority of 56% to 44%.


#Brexit: Words fail

Friday, 24 June, 2016 0 Comments

The anthem of the European Union is based on the final movement of the Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Ludwig van Beethoven. His famous Ode to Joy was inspired by the 1783 poem by Friedrich Schiller, which says the kind of romantic things that German Romanticism said: “Alle Menschen werden Brüder / Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.” (All people become brothers / Where your gentle wing abides).

“There are no words to the anthem; it consists of music only,” says the EU, which deleted the message and reduced the lyric to a nebulous, insipid sentiment.

It’s an ode to less today.


#Brexit: History is in the making

Thursday, 23 June, 2016 0 Comments

History will be made today in Great Britain. Regardless of result of the referendum, we will witness the slow-motion crumbling of two Unions: the UK and the EU. If the British vote to leave, the EU will begin to crumble because the audacious act of departure will mortally wound the “project” and will encourage others to hold similar referendums. If the British vote to remain and England’s desire for independence is defeated by an alliance of multicultural Londoners and Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Union will be gravely damaged.

UK_EU A European Union without Great Britain would be forced to confront its founding fallacy of Germany pretending to be weak and France pretending to be strong. Neither Paris nor Berlin wants to face this embarrassing reality, but the absence of London as a diversion will lead to sobriety. Then, there’s the fragility of the eurozone. It may be possible to keep Greece on life support indefinitely, but not so Italy. Its debts are alarming, the unemployment rate is frightening and there’s no growth. As well, Italy straddles that other great EU fault line: immigration. Italy is the country of choice for African migrants and their numbers will keep on growing for the rest of this century.

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” So says a character in that great Anglo-Irish-European novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, and the nightmare of history will return with a vengeance if the “Leave” side wins. Ireland’s borders, internally and externally, will take on new significance and the country may have to rethink its political relationships. The same goes for the Scots, whose nationalists would demand another referendum that might take them out of a non-European Britain. And the Welsh? They play Northern Ireland in Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday, with a quarter-final place in Euro 2016 at stake.

History is in the making.


#Brexit: Wolff on Johnson and Trump

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016 0 Comments

On one side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson wants Great Britain to regain its post-war sovereignty, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is promising to restore American greatness. The two are charged with opportunism by their opponents; of not believing in what they say. In the eyes of their supporters, however, the message is clear: It’s the real people against the elites. Well, that’s how Michael Wolff sums up the situation for USA Today in What the Brexiters and Donald Trump have in common:

“Both views, in addition to emphasizing national pride, also target as the enemy the superstructure of remote, seemingly soulless, modern governmental management. In the case of the Brexit campaign, the enemy is Brussels and the cold-blooded, unaccountable, ever-expanding, ‘bureaucratic leviathan’… In the case of the Trump campaign, the enemy is a political establishment of complex policy abstractions and self-interested bias that is not only embodied by Hillary Clinton but that has also hopelessly tainted most figures in the Republican party.”

Donald Trump is a political lone wolf, says Wolff, and “his hyperbolic and pugnacious retro views” may, in fact, “reinforce the technocrat’s uneasy hold on the uneasy status quo.” Boris Johnson, in contrast, is “a smart, popular, charismatic, as well as opportunistic, politician with wide support in his party.” If one ends up in the White House and the other in 10 Downing Street, there might be a meeting of minds on some matters, but the conceptual gap between the world’s sole superpower and a Britain that has turned its back on “global anomie” would be huge. Unbridgeable, perhaps.

Still, says Wolff, “there is a conservative message here of return, of cultural revanchism, of a search for national meaning, of a determined deviation from the modern norm, that has gone mainstream and that is not going away.” In the end, it all comes down to how people view their world. Does the future looks bright? Is life full of promise and do most people feel like they are doing well? Or does the future seem uncertain and prosperity and security more elusive? Voters in the United States in November and tomorrow in Great Britain must decide.

USUK


#Brexit: Michel Houellebecq makes his move

Tuesday, 21 June, 2016 0 Comments

10 September, 2001: The publishers of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform, Groupe Flammarion, who had been charged with hate speech in France, publicly apologized for any offense its anti-Islamic themes might have caused. The book ends with an Islamist terror attack on a resort in Thailand. On the following day, an Islamist terror attack did take place, not in Asia, but in the USA. However, the 2002 Islamist atrocity in Bali was remarkably similar to the one described in Platform.

7 January 2015: Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission is published. It depicts a not-too-distant Europe losing the cultural civil wars and France drifting towards an Islamic takeover. As fate would have it, the publication date coincided with the Islamist massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

23 June 2016: The day Britain votes on whether to leave the European Union, Michel Houellebecq’s exhibition of his own photography opens in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo. Houellebecq is cheering for Brexit: “I’d love it. I’d love it if the English gave the starting signal for the dismantling. I hope they won’t disappoint me. I’ve been against the [European] idea from the start. It’s not democratic, it’s not good,” he says in a Financial Times profile published at the weekend.

“I really like England, I really like the fact of it having been the only country, for quite a while, to have resisted Hitler. I’d really like it to leave, to signal the independence movement.” Michel Houellebecq

The first picture in his Rester vivant exhibition shows a angry reddish dusk seen from his apartment. A line from of his one of his poems: “Il est temps de faire vos jeux” (“It’s time to place your bets”) is superimposed onto the gory sky. Another image, France #014 (1994), shows the word “Europe” carved in concrete. With Houellebecq, the timing is always significant. Place your bets.

Irlande


#Brexit: Alan Posener plays the German card

Monday, 20 June, 2016 0 Comments

“Brexit would be irresponsible. The EU — and liberal Germans EU — need Britain in order to help contain a Germany that may have little to do with the ‘new Germany’ I saw celebrating falling borders not quite a decade ago.” So says the Anglo-German journalist Alan Posener, who writes about politics and society for Die Welt, which describes itself as “liberal cosmopolitan” but is generally labelled as conservative in the German media spectrum. In a new twist of the so-called Project Fear meme, Posener warns that “German nationalism can only be contained by a united Europe” in the Guardian today. To support his case, he cites Margaret Thatcher liberally:

“By its very nature, Germany is a destabilising, rather than a stabilising force in Europe,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, explaining why she had tried to get Mikhail Gorbachev to oppose German reunification. She also met with leading historians in order to understand the German “national character”. According to the memorandum of the meeting, this included “angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality”.

Note: Poesner is to be thanked for his translation of “abendländisch,” a word that’s tossed around a lot by the German talking class. It is, says Posener, “a term which is hard to translate, but basically means anti-Anglo-Saxon.”

Demanding that Britain save Germany from itself and that Britain save Europe from Germany is a big ask of the voters, but Posener seems convinced that unless they put a cross next to “Remain an member of the European Union” on Thursday, “Germany could become a danger to itself, Europe and the west.”

Germany_Britain


The other European crisis: milk

Saturday, 21 May, 2016 0 Comments

“Dear Representative of the Media,

The severe turbulence in the milk market makes it increasingly clear that the current reckless EU policy has drastic negative consequences for man and beast alike in the countryside… It is essential to systematically counter the extreme overproduction in the milk market. Political institutions and representatives of producers and industry will be addressing this issue at the hearing in the European Parliament on 25 May.”

So goes the invitation from the European Milk Board. How bad is the situation? In Germany, discount supermarket Aldi has cut the price of milk in its outlets from 59 cents a litre to 46 cents. Other chains have followed, the Hamburger Morgenpost reports. Milk is now cheaper than some brands of mineral water and dairy farmers are getting as little as 18 cents a litre. They say they need at least 40 cents a litre to cover costs.

Having decided to phase out their extravagant support for the coal industry, Europe’s leaders are now under pressure to pump billions into another bottomless pit of sorts: the dairy industry. But the iron law of supply and demand cannot be wished away with handouts. Market rules should apply as much for farmers as for fitters and flight attendants, who must endure disruption, too. The price for cheap milk comes with a significant cost, however. An entire way of life is dying and the ruins of Europe’s abandoned dairy farms will serve as memorials for a lost rural culture. Those of us who were reared in dairyland are familiar with the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Pints of milk


Glossolalia: Euro English

Wednesday, 18 May, 2016 2 Comments

It’s the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things philological, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We began with Singlish, followed up with Valley vocabulary and we’re continuing with Euro English.

On Saturday night in Stockholm, 18-year-old Jamie-Lee Kriewitz became a footnote in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest by achieving last place for Germany with Ghost. This indignity has prompted Die Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (the Association for the German Language) to demand that Germany be represented next year in Kiev by a song in German. Making the case, the association’s managing director, Andrea Ewels, said that the Eurovision Song Contest does not reflect the linguistic diversity of Europe and that there are lots of fine German singers of German songs.

Note: The last year a German-language song represented the country was 2007, when the late Roger Cicero sang Frauen regier’n die Welt. It ended up in 19th place from a list of 24 entries. Germany last won in 2010, when Lena sang Satellite, in English.

Only three of the 42 entries in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest were not in English. Back in 1956, when the event began, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which runs the contest, didn’t specify which language singers could use as it was expected that each nation would use its own. And everyone did until 1965, when Ingvar Wixell represented Sweden with Absent Friend. France protested. Charles de Gaulle, the French President, who had vetoed Britain’s application for EEC membership in 1963, argued that English “hegemony” would damage the cultural variety of the contest and the EBU was forced to stipulate that each country’s entry to be in an official language of that land.

The turbulent Swedes struck back in 1973 and persuaded the EBU to drop the “official language” rule, which resulted in a run of English-language winners, including ABBA’s Waterloo in 1974. The Élysée Palace was not pleased and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing used his power to compel the EBU to restore the language restriction in 1978 and it remained in place until 1999. Since then, only one non-English song has won the contest: Serbia’s Molitva in 2006. To show how far the wheel has turned, the French and Italian entrants this year had choruses in English and the Spanish song was totalmente in English.

In Paris, Rome, Madrid and Moscow, the reality that English is the language of global music has finally sunk in. International audiences want to listen to songs they can understand and they’re used to hearing songs in English, not in Russian or Ukrainian.

With an audience of some 200 million, the Eurovision Song Contest is the goose that lays golden eggs annually for the EBU. It’s now the most-watched non-sports live television event in the world, and Asia and America are knocking on the door. The idea that participating countries would compete with songs that cannot win, to satisfy a linguistic policy, is ludicrous. It’s an international song contest, sung increasingly in the language of popular culture. Competing nations are not being made to sing in English; they want to because they know the fate of songs that are not in English.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a success and its linguistic issue has been settled, but the debate about the role of English in Europe is far from sorted. On Thursday, 23 June, a referendum will be held on whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union. If “Brexit” were to happen, the 450 million citizens of the EU would find themselves using a lingua franca spoken officially only in the Republic of Ireland (population 4.6 million) and co-officially in Malta (population 450,000). How will this affect Euro English? More on this during our Brexit week in June.


The Austria-Italy border fault line

Sunday, 8 May, 2016 0 Comments

Temperature’s rising in the run up to the second round of Austria’s presidential election vote on 22 May. The first round was won by Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party and he’s riding a popular wave of opposition to immigration, Islam and Italy. But it doesn’t stop there. “Vogliamo un Tirolo di nuovo unito. Renzi e Merkel sono scafisti di Stato,” is the headline in La Repubblica and it highlights how Hofer’s party is dissing the Italian and German leaders, while pressing the old “Greater Austria” button of bringing the “lost” northern Italian province of South Tyrol “home”, as it were. Pictures of the violent clashes at the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy yesterday are adding to the tension on the border and should play to Hofer’s advantage a fortnight from today.

South Tyrol poster


Occupied: Cold horror

Sunday, 22 November, 2015 0 Comments

Present: Norway supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports and 10 percent of its crude oil imports. Future: The US is no longer a member of NATO, fossil fuel reserves are running low and a new Norwegian Prime Minister has decided that his country will switch from oil and gas to alternative energy options. Faced with this crisis, Brussels turns to Moscow for muscle and thus Okkupert (Occupied) begins.

Conceived by Jo Nesbø, the best-selling Oslo-based writer, Occupied is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Norwegian and it is excellent. The scenery is cold, the colours are cold, the occupiers are cold and the horror is cold. With winter at hand, Occupied forces us to ask ourselves what we would tolerate to stay warm. The dismemberment of Ukraine? By the way, Nesbø had the idea long before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, but the story reveals the unease that many of Russia’s neighbors feel. It’s cold up north. Occupied is now showing on Arte, the Franco-German TV network.