Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Statistics and the G8

Readers of this little oeuvre will know that your rigorously rational Pedant-General has a certain fondness for things of a mathematical nature. I am therefore THRILLED to be able to declare that:
Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Although if I'm one of the data points, I would recommend thinking very carefully before using the results.

I digress. It was with the noble study of statistics top of mind that your eagle-eyed Pedant-General attacked his morning porridge. With faultless timing Boris did the honours:
"Just to prove my theory that commie tyranny was still chic, I sent a Spectator assistant to Camden Lock market, and she returned shining-eyed, with tales of hammer and sickle T-shirts, and laden with badges of the foremost commie creeps of history. There was a badge of Lenin - good old Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He was responsible for killing about five million people."
About five million people? Five Million. That somehow rings a bell. Perhaps we could try to put that number in context. Oh yes: It is - more or less - the entire population of Scotland.

Dear reader, I have something to exercise your imagination this morning: Picture, if you will, the troops arriving in trucks to seal off the bypass around this renowned capital city and herding every single man, woman, child and Pedant-General to the camps to be slaughtered. Think, if you can bear it, of these troops littering our elegant streets with explosives and returning to their trucks, leaving naught but a smoking ruin behind them. Contemplate the same operation effected upon the great hub of commerce and industry that is the City of Glasgow. And turning up the A9, to Stirling, nodding briefly to their left at the great and good at Gleneagles as they move on to Perth, and Dundee, and Inverness and every hamlet from Gretna to John O'Groats and from Kelso to Kirkwall.

Imagine then, the poisoning of the land that any remaining citizens are left to starve and sealing of the borders that they may be shot on trying to escape.

That is the death of five million people.

Think of this when you see the images of Lenin and the rest of his kind displayed so proudly by the protesters in Edinburgh next week.

The fantastic group blog Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For War has some protest-chic to die for. Ahem.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Weather Forecast

Your meek and unassuming Pedant-General lives by many maxims. This
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
being one of them. unfortunately, I have broken this in that I am indebted to the inestimable and grammatically unimpeachable Nosemonkey who has deigned to visit and comment upon this humble blog. He says that it is
Good stuff - witty and in character throughout, so have a gander.
Wow! That is high praise from such a noted giant of the blogosphere.

He is perceptive, in that he suspects that your Pedant-General
... may or may not himself have connections to a certain region of Scotland ...
which, in this instance, is correct.

Thus, my thoughts fall this great and ancient capital city, and to the forthcoming entertainment to be visited upon it.

Never let it be said that your egalitarian and meritocratic Pedant-General does not cater for all sections of society. It is well known that those of us who are of a, pinko howling lunatic errmm... thieving marxist more left-wing
persuasion have a distinct fondness for the most pedantic form of textual deconstruction and are therefore regular visitors to this site.

With this in mind, and as an aid to the "class struggle", I thought such readers might appreciate a weather forecast, so that they pack their charabangs charabancs - hat tip: Mr Seat - accordingly and come prepared.

I have an inside track here as, moving in the circles that one does, I am personally acquainted with the Director General of Her Majesty's Meteorological Office. Following a short telephone conversation yesterday, he has kindly furnished me with a forecast for the Edinburgh area, with specific regard to the vicinity of Princes St. This is reproduced below.

Nothing out of the ordinary really, for those of us who are used to the unpredictable nature of the weather up here:

We expect a light gamma radiation spike, possibly as a result of a meltdown at Torness on Monday, which may raise the ambient temperature to an uncomfortable level during the day. I understand that the Lothian and Borders Police will be on hand to cool down passers-by with their handy portable water-cannons. A light cloud cover (of CS Gas) will reduce visibility, mostly at ground level.

However, this should pass quickly into a nuclear winter overnight.

Hailstones. As big as your fist. Tin foil hat probably won't be enough.

A meteor shower. Impact craters expected to swallow buses whole. It would be inadvisable to be outside. Or in Edinburgh at all really. See above.

A warm front of poisonous frogs expected 1000hrs, to continue into the evening.

Overcast. Trains expected to be delayed.

Actually, this isn't entirely true. But there will be a plague of locusts.

Monday, June 27, 2005

An Award

After a frantically busy weekend - more on this later - your eagle-eyed Pedant-General was distinctly heartened to find a candidate for a Pedantry Award:

Give this man a medal!

P-G Prescription: Member of the Loyal Order of Protectors of the Apostrophe (Second Class)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sticks and Stones

We all know the rest of this childhood rhyme. At least we ought to, but it appears that maybe some of us have forgotten it.

Four cases come before the court of the Pedant-General in Ordinary today.

Case 1: Tom Cruise and the Water Pistol

From Today's Telegraph Letters:
Sir - I was astonished to read about a television "prankster" attacking the actor Tom Cruise by squirting water in his face. This was supposed to be a spoof, which was going to be broadcast for all of our amusement this week.

Has it not occurred to anyone that this television format differs little or not at all from the "happy-slapping" craze that is continuing to cause outrage and injury?

Too bad for these television thugs that on this occasion Tom Cruise reacted admirably and showed himself to be in a different class altogether.
Errmmm... "Unexpected Water Squirting" vs "A Burst Ear Drum". I know which I would rather have. This chap is probably just your common or garden fruit loop.

P-G Prescription: A custard pie in the face, then we'll say no more about it.

Case 2: Incitement to Religious Hatred

Boeciana has an eloquent post on this topic. I am probably going to get into hot water here (there's nothing like a good old fashioned mediaeval trial-by-ordeal is there), but it strikes me that this is indeed a case of "Sticks and Stones".

There is a simple test:
- If I am rude to you or ridicule your ideas or beliefs, that is not - or rather, should not be - an offence. You might not invite me round for dinner again, but then, maybe I wouldn't have accepted the invitation;
- If I throw a brick through your window or break your arm, or refuse you a job because of any unrelated beliefs you may hold, I should be punished. But I should be punished because I broke your arm or whatever.

- If someone, who listened to me ridiculing your ideas or beliefs, goes on to ridicule your ideas or beliefs, that is not an offence. Either for me or the listener.
- If someone - who listened to me ridiculing your ideas or beliefs - goes on to break your arm, he is probably a fruit loop and needs to be punished. But he should be punished for breaking your arm. However, I fail to see that I have to be held to account for the actions of a fruit loop. He may pin the blame on me, but then again, he might be listening to the voices in his head telling him to say that...
- If I suggest that, because of your beliefs, you need your arm broken, or to be refused housing or a job or whatever, I need to be watched very carefully. I might even need to be punished in some way. But then, if I am going to be punished, it should be because I suggested that you needed your arm broken, not because of my stated reasons that you need your arm broken.
- If someone - who listened to me suggest that, because of your beliefs, you need your arm broken - goes on to break your arm, he is probably a fruit loop and needs to be punished. But he should be punished for breaking your arm.

The fruit loop's motivation is certainly fodder for a harsher sentence, because it suggests that they are a greater and/or more lasting danger to the public at large, or one well-defined section of the public at any rate. BUT - it does NOT make it a different crime, and it is not up to the police to establish this motivation at source.

Words don't hurt. Not really. Not in the way that actions really actually do. That strikes me as being obvious.

P-G Prescription:
- A custard pie in the face for the loon who drafted this.
- A sound kicking at the polls for the Home Secretary. Even better, he should be vigorously chased around the country by pedants like me, dissecting his every word so we can hoist him on his petard. That would be justice.

Case 3: A Mindless Affront to Basic Human Decency

This is getting tiresome.

Now I don't have a dog in this fight. It is very tempting to take the middle-of-the-road, largely European/"splendid isolation" line and implore a plague on both their houses.

Here is a basic summary of the facts:
1. A young Palestinian woman burns herself in a domestic accident.
2. An Israeli hospital gives her treatment.
3. A few months later, she returns for another course of treatment at the expense of the grateful Israeli taxpayers. Except this time, she decides to sew some explosives into underwear.
4. When challenged at a checkpoint she attempts - and thankfully fails - to detonate herself there.
5. When interviewed, she admits that she had been planning to blow herself up in the hospital.

Her motivation?
Ms Bis also said she had been angry over allegations that Israeli guards had ripped out pages of the Koran at a prison in northern Israel, claims Israel denies. "What angered me and the Palestinian people is the abuse of the Koran," she said. "Should we sit in silence with our hands tied?"
Errmmm.... Where I come from, and regardless of any of the previous atrocities on either side, this is totally and completely unconscionable. She is being aided by the taxpayers of another country after a routine domestic accident and she wants to blow up the medics who are helping her. You don't conspire to blow up medics. Ever.

Now let's look at this motivation a little more closely. More closely than the BBC that is.
1) I hear that Israeli guards had ripped out pages of the Koran at a prison in northern Israel. I surmise from this that these Israeli guards have no respect for Islam. And need to be blown up. Sorry, no - they get away with it. This is already getting tricky.
2) But I need to avoid detection, so I'll sew the explosives in my underwear, because the Israelis who guard the border post through which I have to cross are sensitive to the fact that I am a Muslim woman and won't want to search me at all, let alone rifle about in my drawers.
3) I'll blow up someone completely unrelated to incident 1) who is trying to help me.


I know I am fond of the "three things" rule, but this appears to me to be Orwellian triplethink, and is therefore a "bad thing".

The BBC, however, seems to take a different tone:
Israeli military spokeswoman Maj Sharon Feingold accused Palestinian militants of exploiting humanitarian cases for their own ends.
Accused? Huh? In what way is there some kind of absurd "they would say that wouldn't they" approach to be had here? How on earth do they construct a partisan approach out of this good news story.
I would have thought a headline like
heroic Israeli border guards put their lives on the line to thwart savage and unprovoked attack by nutcase and save innocent and selfless medical staff
would be closer to the mark. But perhaps I get hung up on the pedantic detail too much.

P-G Prescription:
There are at least two prisoners in the dock for this one: the BBC reporter who filed this, and the editor who let it through. This is a clear cut case of moral equivalency. I will let you, dear reader, inspect my manifesto for the statutory sentence to be handed down.

But what of the hapless Ms Al-Bis? She continues:
Later, she pleaded for mercy because she "didn't kill anyone".

Presumably, she would be happy with the same sort of mercy that she would have been content to visit upon the Koran defilers. Then again, maybe not.

Alternatively, she could submit herself to this lot and see what they can come up with. Then again, maybe not.

Hang on a minute. Let's examine this girl's motivation again:
1. I am quite happy to blow myself up and die.
2. I want mercy when I fail to blow myself up, because, err..., I don't want to die, or, errr....., I don't want something to happen to me that is, err...., worse than death, or, errr......, not as bad as death.

If ridiculing people's ideas and beliefs is to become an offence - see case 2 above - I'm in a whole world of trouble.

Case 4: Another Mindless Affront to Basic Human Decency

Every case must be treated on its merits. But your fearsome Pedant-General sorely needed some refreshment during the recess after Case 3 above and has been at the fighting lager. He is no mood for hearing appeals to clemency now.

So pity this poor sod when he was dragged, bleeding, into the dock.

Thankfully, your steadfast Pedant-General is aware of his failings and knows that he will probably overstep the mark in sentencing this pond slime craven apologist for murderers miserable wretch defendant. He decides therefore to adjourn*, that he may mull it over and return in a more balanced mood in due course.

Readers are invited to offer sentencing suggestions for consideration on my return.

* This was a fortuitous decision as he needs to bunk off early this afternoon anyway to catch a flight to London. Normal service - hopefully in a lighter mood - resumes on Monday.


Never let it be said that your perceptive Pedant-General is behind the curve.

No sooner do I lay down the law on childcare, than I find, by some miraculous twist of spacetime, this, brought back to the present day from the year 2056. Even more extraordinarily, it seems that the sober and careful lifestyle advocated by your fine and upstanding Pedant-General will still be holding true 51 years from now.
Under strict international laws, you are forbidden from procreating in the hopes of rescuing a troubled marriage. However, there are no laws restricting the adoption of mutants.
Well, apart from the bit about mutants, maybe.
While it's a common myth that happily married couples read each other's minds, the reality is that happily married partners only use telepathy for the stock market and crime prevention.
How uncannily like Lady P-G, I hear you cry!

One final piece of invaluable advice:
Generations of married couples have relied on this age-old advice for maintaining a happy marriage: Never go into suspended animation angry.

I read it on the internet. It must be true.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Boris, "Kelly Hours", Childcare and Choice

Your faithful and diligent Pedant-General is not known for pulling his punches. So I shall start this short discussion on childcare in general by nailing my colours to the mast. Jackie O pretty much sums up my views on the matter:
"If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."
Thus, although the contributions of Boris Johnson and Tim Worstall are as astute as one has come to expect, I can't help feeling that there is something missing.

Take this:
I may be wrong in this, but it strikes me that there may be huge numbers of mothers who would very much like to stay at home and look after a three-year-old, but who feel they have no option. They may feel they have to go out to work, because the family finances do not permit otherwise; not just because they need to pay a mortgage but because, like all middle- and lower-income groups in this country, they are brutally taxed by Labour.
No, Boris, you are not wrong. But you are having to mince your words as, although correct, they are not politically correct. "There may be huge numbers of mothers" is too weak. All of the mothers of small or pre-school children of my acquaintance who work, almost entirely without exception, have a constant struggle against their - absolutely natural - desire to spend more time with their children. Even Lady P-G, who is indeed a force to be reckoned with, has a recurrent complaint that - what with the school run, swimming lessons and keeping the grace and favour apartment in shape - she does not have the time she would like to attend to all of the questions and to spend quiet time with each of the young masters Pedant-General individually.

I also completely concur with his heavily emphasised caveat:
I don't want to seem sexist. I don't want to come across as a fuddy-duddy. I know how many working women will be absolutely thrilled that they can now make use of Kelly hours, and dump their children off at school at 8am, and then pick them up at 6pm, after a long and butt-kicking day in the bond markets; and I want to assure all female readers - especially my wife - that I have no interest whatever in the days when women were chained to the kitchen sink. I believe in women going out to work, if they so choose.
And, from a purely economic perspective, I cannot fault Boris's conclusion:
"Since I am a Conservative, I think it might be better if we gave those who needed it the option of using this Sure Start money to pay for, say, grandparents to mind the children, and keep the children at home. Better yet, we could have personal tax breaks for everyone who has to pay for childcare. Now that is a suggestion that should win me a vote at tomorrow morning's breakfast."
However - and it is a socking huge great "however" - this appears to be the right answer to the wrong question. In all the focus on the provision of childcare and the means to give parents choice, there is one ingredient that is starkly missing from the mix: the child.

Is it - really, genuinely and in the long term - in the interests of the child to be in institutional care from 8am until 6pm every working day? I doubt it, even in an ideal world at the very best, most loving, secure and happy nursery.

But even if I didn't doubt it - which I do - the world of pre-school care is most certainly not ideal. I offer three stories to support this rather large and sweeping generalisation.

Story 1:
Friend "A" has two children, who were packed off to a spectacularly expensive and wholesome nursery as soon as each achieved the venerable age of 6 months. As "A" sometimes has to work a little later than the appointed collection time, and as friend "B" - a godmother - is often on hand, "B" is frequently called upon to do the honours and, consequently, knows the nursery well. However, when quizzed on the prevailing mood at the nursery, she replied:
"It's awful. It's an orphanage."
She was visibly distressed, but then - unlike the parents of these poor benighted children - she did not have to suppress the feeling of distress every time she visited.

Story 2:
We have the pleasure of the acquaintance of an extremely nice young girl - whom we shall refer to as "C" - from one of the new member-states of the EU, who was an invaluable help to us following the birth of the youngest master Pedant-General. She now works in a local nursery, which the eldest master Pedant-General had attended previously. As a result, we can vouch for the fact that this outfit is extremely well-respected. "C", however, was horrified when she started work. A 6-month old baby had just started at the nursery and was clearly beside himself. He would bawl his eyes out solidly for the entire time that he was at the nursery. "C" couldn't believe that he was not being cuddled or comforted, but was rebuffed by other members of staff with the line:
"He's just got to get used to it. If we pick him up, he'll never acclimatise and we would have a nursery full of screaming babies."
In effect, the nursery needed routinely to break the spirit of 6 month old babies, since otherwise the whole concept would be unworkable.

Story 3:
Same nursery, same girl, different complaint. Having moved to a room with slightly older children, she was staggered to find that it was almost impossible to instill discipline. The nursery policy was not only that physical chastisement should be off-limits - which may or may not be sensible - but also that no verbal rebuke should be used. Staff could only tell their charges that behaviour was "silly" and no more.

Does this strike you as a sensible basis for nurturing a generation of well-adjusted and productive citizens, with an innate sense of right and wrong? This is not to denigrate the work of carers and staff in nurseries. It is just simply impossible for them to operate within the law, if at all, without these examples being, not just illustrations, but something close to the norm.

As regards the teaching of right and wrong in particular, much courage and tenacity is required to stick to a particular line and to instill the clear idea that certain forms of behaviour are not acceptable. This is difficult to delegate to someone who does not have such a powerful vested interest in the outcome - that of having a settled and happy family life. Why? I will quote Graham Norton here, in a fabulous throw-away line from "Just a Minute":
"Children are like farts: people tend to like their own."
You must love your child if you are correct bad behaviour without simply making them fearful. No matter how dedicated even a nanny may be, she - let's face it: it's going to be a she - does not have to deal with the long term consequences of having a feral child in the house. She can walk away. Consequently her willpower to stand up to a child's tantrum is that much less than the child's parents. That, unfortunately, is human nature. Even more unfortunately, it is a failing of the Left/PC-crowd in general that they broadly deny human nature at every turn.

So where am I heading with this? Am I confining at least one parent of every child to 3 or 4 years MINIMUM out of the workplace?

This brings me back to Boris's conclusions.
"Better yet, we could have personal tax breaks for everyone who has to pay for childcare."
That is the crucial point. I suggest that there is something much more fundamentally wrong with our society when it is almost impossible for an average family to be able to have one parent at home for those crucial first years of their children's lives. Isn't that parent then - shock horror - economically unproductive? George Bernard Shaw doesn't think so:
"Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family."

But where, you ask, is the "choice" in that?

Well brace yourself: this is not going to be politically correct.
I suggest that choice is a double-edged sword.
I suggest that choice is only truly free if an individual is prepared to accept the consequences of his or her choices.
I suggest that the parents made a choice to beget a child.

Now compare this with the position of the child. It did not choose to be brought into the world. It most certainly does not have a choice as to his or her childcare arrangements.

And if it did, I think it would choose to be with its mother.

A sudden thought

It will come as no surprise to you all that your modest and unassuming Pedant-General is a slave to certain traditions.

At 0600hrs each morning* - whilst Lady P-G stumbles about removing her curlers, fag in one hand, mug of gin in the other - the young masters Pedant-General are assembled at the base of the flagpole outside the grace-and-favour apartment, that they may raise the Union Flag accompanied to the strains of the National Anthem. A similar ritual is, of course, performed at sundown, with the obvious substitution of the "Last Post".

Deference of this nature to Her Majesty is, shall we say, eccentric "North of the Border". On this note, something in this excellent article, from the stridently Canadian Mr Steyn, struck a chord.

Chris Patten made some remarks to the effect that he thought we'd seen the forging of a European identity in the enthusiastic support for the Ryder Cup team and the objections to Bush's steel tariffs. You couldn't help noticing that this "European identity" expressed itself mainly as opposition to America.

It all rang a very weary bell for me: for decades, the definition of "Canadian identity" has boiled down to a list of ways in which we're not American, most of them counter-productive.

Am I alone in thinking that very much the same could be said - and I am bracing myself for a diatribe, particularly from Mr Dickson - for the attitudes of the Scots towards the English?

* subject, of course, to the usual caveat of daylight hours at this latitude during the winter months.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The USA Grand Prix Farce - A solution

Whichever way you slice it, the USA Grand Prix at Indianapolis was a farce. That much is clear.

The story is simple: Ralf Schumacher suffered a tyre failure and Michelin then declined to guarantee the safety of their tyres. A compromise was saought (hat tip, grudgingly, to the anonymous coward in the comments box who hasn't the guts to let me fisk his or her site for split infinitives) - by placing a new chicane into bend 13 - that could allow the 14 cars using Michelin tyres to race. The FIA declined. Why should they compromise when Michelin had - in effect - broken some very clear rules? In the event, the race went ahead with only the 6 cars using Bridgestone tyres. Some would say that F1 is boring enough without this sort of nonsense, but your Pedant-General - beloved as he is of the British sense of fair play - would hesitate to offer such an opinion himself.

However, my gripe is not here. It is with - wait for it - the BBC. With characteristic flair, it has pinned the blame onto the wrong organisation. Max Moseley defended himself admirably (you can listen to it here), but one wonders why the editor chose to grill the FIA. Would it not have been better to humiliate the Chief Exec of Michelin? It was Michelin's error at source, but the FIA suffers the PR damage.

Your inestimable Pedant-General suspects that the FIA missed a trick: they should have declared that all teams run on Bridgestone tyres for the duration of the race.

  • the fans get their race so that the FIA comes out smelling of roses;
  • one element of equipment differential on the track is removed, placing more focus onto the skill of the drivers, and probably making for a more exciting race thereby;
  • The Michelin teams end up having to cope with a tyre system that they have probably never touched before, leading to a distinct disadvantage in the pits (which has a certain appealling feel of natural justice to it);
  • .... and: the frogs get the PR equivalent of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Hurrah!

That's what I would have done if I were in charge.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

As if we needed proof...

Whatever one thinks of the verdict, we must accept the not-guilty result handed down to Michael Jackson last week. That said, I think we can all pretty much agree that Jacko is plainly wacko. It is also a truth that profits in the observance that you may tell the quality of a man by the company he keeps.

This is about as good a case in point as one is likely to get.

Barking. Utterly hatstand. Both of them.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Weekend Competition

Whilst we normally hold Tim Worstall in the highest possible regard, I am afraid that he has made the foulest mess this time.

He has launched a "weekend competition", that breaks a rule very dear to my heart.

Three things! There should always be three things!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Political Correctness and Orwellian Newspeak

Truly we are blessed with threesomes today. Hang on, I'll rephrase that...

"Political Correctness" is merely a particularly vile incarnation of the "woolly thinking" that your indomitable Pedant-General seeks to expunge. To this end, I have been mulling over the thought that the EU and its institutions had relied almost entirely on a form of political correctness - indeed almost a quasi-religious belief-system - any element of which it is heresy to question. The parallels with NewSpeak to sustain the (otherwise) unsustainable sprang to mind.

Whilst I would hesitate even to pick the crumbs from beneath Roger Scruton's table, it would appear that we are of the same mind.

So you could knock me down with a feather when this hove into view, closely followed by this at the same site.

Whilst this third article - on the politically-motivated destruction of the study of histroy - does not make the NewSpeak reference explicitly, the connection is clear. It is so chilling that perhaps a little quotation is in order:

‘Newspeak was the official language … devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.

'The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.

‘When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored… In the future such fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible and untranslatable….Take, for example, the well-known passage from the Declaration of Independence:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….

‘It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original…. A full translation could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson’s words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.

‘A good deal of the literature of the past was, indeed, already being transformed in this way. Considerations of prestige made it desirable to preserve the memory of certain historical figures, while at the same time bringing their achievements into line with the philosophy of Ingsoc. Various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation: when the task had been completed, their original writings, would be destroyed.’

Present-day Ingsoc Party members have found a short-cut solution to the problem posed by these potentially embarrassing politically incorrect elitist works. Destroy any vestiges of national pride on grounds of its being offensive to minorities, and thereby remove any vestigial traces of prestige that these canonical works of English literature might once have enjoyed. Thus, they can cheerfully be consigned to the incinerator along with yesterday’s embarrassing newspapers cuttings.


Three of a Kind

It is a fundamental rule of public speaking that one should always have THREE MAIN POINTS. Oddly enough, there are THREE GOOD REASONS for this:
  1. Your audience is unlikely to remember anything more complicated
  2. You are unlikely remember anything more complicated and will foul up your speech or lose your thread
  3. Errmm.. Can't remember the third, but I'm sure it was a good one.

Anyway, one is always on the look-out for conflations of three related incidents of a given topic. Rather like buses.

Today, it is the bizarre, if not profoundly disconcerting, mixture of animals and - curse this modern lexicon - sexuality.

Thus, we have:

  • This, which purports to divine the secrets of the mind from the manner in which you choose to draw a pig. Nothing that a few cruel years at any minor public school couldn't sort out;
  • This frankly extraordinary story, which rehearses the inevitable outcome of a clash between the madness of the Thames Valley Police on the one hand and irreverent student behaviour on the other. Mind you, what can one expect from that collection of losers and airheads that is the alumni of Balliol College?
  • This. I'm not quite sure what kind of animal this is, but clearly it is not human.
    Michael Jackson's lawyer said today that the singer will no longer share his bed with young boys.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

We're going to be shafted

The remit of the office of the Pedant-General in Ordinary does not really, if we are being honest, extend to the monitoring of that most murky of worlds - the politics of the EU. However, if ever there was a collection of ne'er-do-wells more guaranteed to miss the bigger point and focus entirely on irrelevant minutiae to the detriment of us all, it would have to be the body politic of the European Parliament. It is, as a result, close to my heart.

On this vague note, I am delighted to break my first exclusive story: I can reveal that at the forthcoming summit, just when Blair thinks he has got everyone on the run, he will suddenly find the tables turned and will be forced to "take one for the team".

Proof? You will find it here.

Sit down before reading this

I am indebted to Thersites for bringing this to my attention. I feel that the customary "hat tip" does not do justice. A full-bottomed bowing and curly doffing of peacock feather hat performance is more the ticket.



If one takes the more pedantic interpretation of the split infinitive (and I think you can guess where this is going...), I counted no less than 5 (FIVE!) instances in the section "Newspapers of (broken) record".

Methods for correctly inserting curly quotes in web pages are not well understood.

Two in one sentence!

As for the rest of the article, whilst one cannot fault the author's intentions, it is beyond contempt and possibly the pale:

  • Failure to insert spaces between "em" dashes and the words on either side

  • This:
    Open-Source—based browser

To cap it all, he then has the effrontery to chastise his readers:
If you are one of these people, put out your hand so I can slap it with a ruler.

Slap it with a ruler, eh? Well, Sonny-Jim, I think you will find that it is the Pedant-General who is charged with dispensing summary justice in this field.

All together now:


Monday, June 13, 2005

A close run thing

Sunday morning found your Pedant-General at the breakfast table, coffee in hand, contemplating the torrential rain that threatened to derail the P-G niece's birthday party. My ears pricked up and I had cause to instruct my trusty camp-follower, the Gentleman Usher of the Cat-o-nine-tails, to dig out said instrument from my portmanteau.

This had caught my eye.

"And that means taking risks, declaring what we believe in, getting beyond the spin and having an adult conversation."

There it was - as clear as daylight. A political "And" - used, in vain, to give emphasis to the most meaningless drivel ever to have graced the august pages of the Sunday Torygraph. An open and shut case I thought and enforceable by flogging.

But yet, your Pedant-General is a merciful Pedant-General. This is, after all, a first offence and any politician submitting an article with the headline "Do I look like a knobhead?" must have a certain redeeming quality.

I shall let her off, this once, with the answer "Yes".

Friday, June 10, 2005


Golly. Truly a baptism of fire. Whilst the venerable, learned and noble Mr Seat and I have two educational establishments in common, I fear that, to use a poker analogy, he will see my paltry MEng and raise me an LLB. One’s selected bedtime reading is not quite the ground upon which I would choose to fight a battle with this adversary…

1. How many books do I own?
Bizarrely, I have the honour of having been published in the Times on this topic. This arose the penultimate time that your humble Pedant-General was moving to a new grace and favour apartment and found himself cursing the weight of young master Pedant-General’s library. During a well deserved break from this epic labour, I chanced upon a letter in the Times, suggesting that books were infinitely preferable to the interwebthingy as:
a) one cannot curl up in bed with the internet and
b) what could be more portable than a book?

I recall that Lady P-G required to administer a strong cup of Earl Grey tea and even stronger administration of the P-G red proof-reader’s pen before either my letter was fit for publication or I was fit to be seen in public.

How many books do I own? I must confess that I have not counted but I can state with confidence that, collectively, they weigh about three quarters of a ton.

2. What’s the last book I bought?
“The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker. In much the same way that Messrs Sellar and Yeatman memorably brought the study of History to a “.”, I suspect Mr Booker has done the same to literary criticism with this magnificent study.

3. What’s the last book I read?
The position here is confused for two reasons. Firstly, my reading time is somewhat limited – a crime for which the youngest master Pedant-General must answer in the fullness of time. Secondly, Lady P-G has a particularly loathsome habit of swiping any interesting book in which I might be engaged. As a result, I tend to have a number of books on the go at any one instance.

Thus, it is either “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, or “Fermat’s Last Theorem” by Simon Singh.

This latter has a delightful entry in the Appendices showing the proof that the square root of 2 is irrational. A little more mathematics and slightly less sociology would do this country a power of good.

Although I suspect strongly that Mr Bryson is no stranger to the Grocer’s Apostrophe, we must be grateful for this epic. I would recommend that each member of the Kansas Education Board buy a copy and read it, carefully, from cover to cover. See “Creationism”, filed under “Hanging Offences” in my manifesto.
That said, I fear that, if Mr Seat were to read this book, the last remaining topics of conversation in which I do not feel a complete philistine and entirely uninformed in his company would be expunged for good.

4. What are the five books that mean the most to me?
  • I am not sure how one would procure a copy of “Serve to Lead” on the open market. It is a slim volume of essays, speeches and extracts from a number of books on the topics of morale, leadership, discipline and courage. Here is Field Marshal Sir William Slim:

    Courage is the virtue. Without it, there are no other virtues. Faith, hope charity, all the rest don’t become virtues until it takes courage to exercise them. Courage is not only the basis of all virtue; it is its expression. True, you may be bad and brave, but you can’t be good without being brave.

    And very powerful it is too.

  • This. I clung grimly to any passing hope of survival lived through its four year gestation period. Lady P-G is justifiably proud of her magnum opus. Buy it: It is simply the only book you need to have in your kitchen.

  • It would be foolish, churlish even, to deny that Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is not somewhere upon this list. A glance at my manifesto below might give you, dear readers, a clue as to why.

And to finish, two rather more esoteric choices:
  • Anyone who has worked here, or indeed any number of places like it, will know that in the late 90s, one lived or died by one’s ability, on demand and after several days without sleep, to mumble arcane incantations from the “Excel Function Reference Guide”. The feverish state of the – unnamed – author, holed up in some unspeakable dungeon of the Seattle gulags, cannot be imagined

  • “The Art of Electronics” by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill. Though I have not had call to refer to this for more than a decade, I cannot bear to part with this. Can’t quite explain why.

I’m afraid that the half-life of these little diversions is falling fast, given the way that the interwebthingy appears to be cutting the fabled “seven degrees of separation”.

A long and distinguished list of equally distinguished and entirely grammatically unimpeachable bloggers has already offered their contributions in this field.
Nosemonkey, Tim Worstall and Mr Seat all spring instantly to mind.

Equally, I would be fascinated to see the contributions of Dr Richard North and Margot Wallstrom, but I suspect the former has not the time and the latter has not the inclination.

- Thersites
- Bystander at The Law West of Ealing Broadway
- Harry Hutton at Chase me Ladies! I'm in the Cavalry
- Squander Two
- John B at Shot by Both sides

It appears that my comment above was prescient: John B has already posted on this topic. Drat.

In which case, Elaib at England Expects would be a very sound replacement, assuming the Stasi that run the systems at the European Parliament will allow him to access blogger.

A Manifesto

Whilst much of the origins of the appointment process for the post of Pedant-General in Ordinary are lost in the mists of time (and even those bits that are not remain cloaked in secrecy of the highest order), we can say with certainty that candidates do not have to suffer the ignominy of popular election. I shall pass, lightly, over the ignominy that candidates do have to suffer.

However, I understand that it is customary in fora of this sort to "set out one’s stall" and to this end, I publish here a manifesto. This, I might add, is not an exhaustive set of policies. But then, we might reasonably ask, is any manifesto? At least you may be confident that I will stick to this.

Flogging Offences
  • Use of the Grocer's Apostrophe;
  • Making any of these basic logical errors;
  • Starting paragraphs in a newspaper article with the word "And". Especially if you are a politician;
  • Blaming the weapon, rather than the person wielding it;
  • Driving in the middle lane of a busy motorway without good cause;
  • Advocating Socialism as a means for organising the relationships between communities larger than a small farm;
  • Confusing correlation with causation;
Flogging Offences. Such flogging to be administered on the steps of the perpetrator's club
This is separate category of crime, where it is important that a visible example is set.
  • Advocating Socialism for communities larger than a small farm, when one is in a position of power;
  • Advocating Creationism when one ought to know better;
  • Inviting, on live television, an evidently distressed relative to advocate a ban on whatever it was that killed the recently deceased person in question;
  • Confusing "equality of outcome" with "equality of opportunity".
Hanging Offences.
Let's not beat about the bush: We have to make a stand and stop this dangerous nonsense.
  • Preferring "equality of outcome" over "equality of opportunity";
  • Advocating Creationism when one is in charge of educational policy or children or both;
  • Moral Equivalence;
  • Unwarranted use of the split infinitive.
Vote for me!

Otherwise someone else might be elected.
And that would be very bad.