bookmark_borderToo little farming

I was reading an article about the UK’s EU rebate when a sentence jumped out at me: “The main reason for this discrepancy was that the UK had relatively few farms, so it got a small share of farm subsidies, which at the time made up 70% of budget expenditure.

I’ve seen this explanation before, so I guess there must be some truth in it.

What I don’t understand, however, is why the UK’s reaction to this fact was to ask for a rebate.

I would have thought it would have been more natural to either encourage more (or more intensive) farming, or to change the EU to shift its expenditure from farming to other areas.

Either of these approaches would have seen the UK getting more money back without needing to be singled out for special treatment, something which creates resentment against the UK.

But once again the British government decided to leave things as they were, complaining bitterly and getting special treatment.

The Victorians would have been ashamed.


With very few exceptions (mainly /(w)uf/ ‘dog’ and /ba?dabade/ ‘TV’), Anna’s vocabulary consists of words that adhere to the syllable structure C?V?(C?V?).

In other words, she uses some monosyllabic words of the structure CV(V), e.g.:

/ka/ ‘cat, tiger, lion, car’
/na(i)/ ‘no’
/mi/ ‘my, drink’
/pi/ ‘bed, sleepy’
/?a/ ‘meat, sausage’
/m?/ ‘sheep’ [from Danish mæh ‘bah’]
/t?a/ ‘toe’ [from Danish tæer ‘toes’]
/?ai/ ‘sibling’ [from ‘guys’]

/te/ ‘more’ [from Danish til ‘to’]

Other words are of the structure C?V?C?V?, that is, a consonant, then a vowel, then the same consonant, and then a vowel (not necessarily the same one). Some examples:

/?dade/ ‘daddy’
/?mama/ ‘mum’
/?t?te/ (earlier /?t?de/) ‘teddy’
/?nana/ ‘Anna’
/?lal?/ ‘Charlotte, Léon, Marcel’
/?mimi/ ‘mum’
/?pipi/ ‘bird’ [from Danish pip-pip ‘tweet-tweet’]
/?tat?a/ ‘tractor, plane, ship, space ship’
/??a?a/ ‘bird, flying insect’
/?babu/ ‘buggy, fire engine’ [partly from Danish ba-bu ‘nee-naw’]
/?kaki/ ‘cardie’
/?nani/ ‘Granny’
/?p?m?pa/ (also /?p?ba/) ‘Pumpa (her maternal grandfather)’
/?dede/ ‘Peter (her paternal grandfater), Brita (her paternal grandmother)’
/?nana/ ‘banana’
/?b?ibi/ ‘baby’ [from Danish ‘baby’ /?b??jb?i/, not Scottish /?bebe/]
/?d?de/ ‘Gordon’

bookmark_borderWatching the wheels

Split wing mirror
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Shortly after I got my driving license, we went to Tuscany on holiday.

My parents, who we were visiting, thought it would be good for me to learn to drive on the right, too, so they let me drive their car, a Fiat Multipla.

One feature of that car is that it has split wing mirrors (see the photo): The top part is a normal wing mirror, while the bottom part is fixed to show the bottom edge of the car.

It’s probably designed to make parking easier (and it definitely works for that purpose), but I found it invaluable to learn to gauge the width of the car.

Basically, at first I had no idea where the edge of the road was, but once I learned to check the bottom mirror, I found I could see precisely where I was.

I probably only used it intensively for an hour or two, and I then got a really good feel for the width of the car.

Actually, when I returned to the UK, I realised that I actually felt less able to gauge the width of my own car.

It’s not really the kind of thing you need all the time, but it would be a wonderful feature every time you drive a new car.

bookmark_borderThe jury is out

Back in May I blogged about Eurovision that I thought the UK and France were only saved by the juries: “But I think it’s beyond doubt that Azerbaijan would have been very close to winning, and that the UK and especially France would have been huge disasters had they not introduced juries.”

Now they’ve released the results of the televoting.

It turns out Azerbaijan would indeed have been number 2 (not 3), and that the UK and France would have been number 10 and 17 rather than 5 and 8.

So it’s now proven that the juries vote very differently from the people at home.

Fortunately, this year Norway was such a clear winner that it didn’t make a difference, but it’s inevitable that the juries in the future will create different winners than televoting on its own.

So what will they do? Keep the new system, and stop publishing the results of the televoting a few months later?

bookmark_borderClock design

09-08-04 (23)
Originally uploaded by PhylB

They have this wonderful clock in the Duomo of Florence.

It’s clearly from before clock design was standardised.

These days we take it for granted that analogue clocks are divided into 12 hours, counting from midnight and noon, starting from the top and moving clockwise round the circle.

But this clock demonstrates that none of these design decisions are natural or obvious.

The duomo clock is divided into 24 hours, counting from sunset, starting from the bottom, and moving anti-clockwise round the circle.

Just as easy and natural, but these days it looks very, very alien.


Tiger eating his meat
Originally uploaded by Tambako the Jaguar

Anna has her own vocabulary.

Most of the words are based on English or Danish ones – /?a?a/ for ‘flower’, /ka/ for ‘cat’, /m?/ for ‘sheep’ (Danish mæh ‘bah’), etc.

However, her word for ‘meat, sausage, burger’ doesn’t seem to be based on any word known to us: /(t)?a/ (that is, as if it had been a Welsh word spelled lla, or a Zulu one spelled hla, but sometimes the fricative becomes an affricate as in Nahuatl ‘tl’).

Funnily enough, although I find it easy to recognise what she’s saying thanks to my training in phonetics, the rest of the family make their own approximations: Marcel says /?la/, Charlotte opts for /kla/, and Phyllis is adamant that Anna says /xla/.

I believe similar things happen to Welsh place names in English.

bookmark_borderResolver One

Conservative Club
Originally uploaded by gerry balding

The uniform swing was probably a good model in the old two-party system, but there are many signs that it simply doesn’t predict future elections very well any more.

Some time ago I wrote about some regional results that indicated that the LibDems were collapsing in the Tory-dominated south but doing well in the Labour-dominated north.

And now a new predictor tool, Resolver One, has appeared.

Basically, it uses a much more complex model that takes into account that different parties lose their voters to other parties in different proportions. For instance, Tory growth might come disproportionally from the LibDems; if so, constituencies with many LibDems are more likely to fall into the Tories’ hands than those with many Labour voters.

The result of this analysis is that they predict that the Conservatives will double their number of seats at Westminster, while Labour will hæmorrhage more than half their seats and the LibDems will lose almost as big a share of theirs.

If this prediction turns out to be true, it will be an almost unprecedented landslide.

I hope it turns out to be wrong, as I would much prefer a hung parliament.