bookmark_borderScotland will get £172m to buy embassies

British Embassy
Originally uploaded by The Shifted Librarian

I just noticed that in 2010, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‘s global estate (i.e., embassies, consulates, etc.) was worth £2,042,480,000.

That’s a lot of real estate!

Scotland makes up about 8.4% of the UK’s population, and this is normally the basis for splitting up countries.

This means that Scotland will be entitled to global estate worth £171,568,320 after a Yes to independence.

This amount is of course subject to negotiation, and Scotland will probably be given a mix of buildings and money, rather than just a lump sum.

However, it does demonstrate that any fears that Scotland might not be able to afford embassies are completely unfounded.

bookmark_borderThe right of the people to keep and bear arms

WA Militia
Originally uploaded by Washington National Guard

The Batman shooting is just another sad example of the American love of firearms. To the extent that it’s what the US population want, it’s of course their choice.

However, Americans tend to simply invoke the American constitution as if that removes the need to any further discussion.

However, I find it interesting to have a look at what it is the constitution actually says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Although I admit the punctuation is a little bit unusual, this obviously means the same as the following:

Because a well-regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

… which again means the same as this:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia shall not be infringed because having a militia is necessary for the security of a free state.

The only thing that is unclear now is what is meant by a militia. However, this was defined quite clearly in 1792:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act.

A militia is therefore an state-wide army consisting of conscripts. We can therefore rephrase the militia part as follows:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving as conscripts in the state-wide army shall not be infringed because having an army is necessary for the security of a free state.

Interestingly, the state militias were effectively replaced by the US Army not long after the constitution was written, and of course conscription hasn’t been used in the US for a while now, so as far as I can see, the right to bear arms disappeared at the same time. After all, if a general right to bear weapons had been intended, it would have been much easier simply to state that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” without any mention of militias.

Perhaps the US should have adopted the Swiss militia system: “The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personally assigned weapons, at home.” In this way, lots of Americans could still have had weapons in their homes, but it would have been officially issued army weapons, the bearers would have been trained in their use, and it would have been very clear that they shouldn’t be used for shooting Batman fans.

bookmark_borderWorking from home, and the collapse of the metropolises

My Home Office III
Originally uploaded by TranceMist

Surprisingly, the Internet still hasn’t enabled the majority of people to work from a home office. Of course there are many freelancers who do just this, but lots of offices have many employees who are supposed to turn up every day, sit down at their computer, do their job and leave at the end of the day, in spite of the fact that they could just as easily have done their job from home.

Why is this? My impression is that most of the actual work people do can just as easily be done remotely.

One potential reason is that virtual meetings still aren’t as useful as face-to-face ones. Cameras aren’t good enough, and it isn’t easy to be looking at the same presentation or the same computer screen while talking (I’m not saying it isn’t possible, just that tools for this aren’t ubiquitous).

The other potential reason I can think of is that bosses find it hard to supervise their staff if they cannot physically sneak up on them. In theory, this could be resolved by putting a webcam in every home-worker’s office so that the boss can see what people are doing. I doubt many people would like that, but I presume some people would find it a price worth paying for avoiding the commute.

Anyway, let’s assume for now that it’s likely that a software company will one day soon release a program that makes working from home feasible and desirable, to a point where companies wouldn’t actually provide office space for most of their employees.

What would the consequences be? Many people would quickly realise that their is little point in paying astronomical rents in London, New York or one of the other global metropolises when they could do their job just as easily from a remote location where the costs of living are lower.

Soon people would start moving to cheap locations with decent weather, beautiful scenery and good food. Other things people would be looking for would include the quality of the schools, the presence of an international airport (for the rare occasions when you need to attend a face-to-face meeting or a conference), and the attractiveness of the tax system for people with foreign incomes.

Of course there would still be many good reasons for living in London or New York, but if just 20% of the current inhabitants were to leave without being replaced by a new influx, rents would collapse and whole areas would become ghost towns, and this process would make it even less attractive to live in a metropolis.

On the other hand, I imagine that areas such as the Scottish Highlands, the depopulated villages of many Mediterranean countries and the Caribbean islands would become new property hotspots.

This would be a huge difference compared to the last few decades. It seems to have become more and more attractive to live in a metropolis, probably because the disappearance of jobs for life, as well as the increase in couples where both have a career, has made it imperative to live in a place where there are plenty of job opportunities within commuting distance. However, as I’ve argued above, this might all be about to change.

bookmark_borderDa jeg var Kapellets Far

Diskussionerne i de danske aviser om konflikten mellem 3F og Vejlegården får mig til at tro, at danskerne efterhånden har fået den idé, at arbejdsgiverne i bund og grund er godgørende, og at fagforeningerne er nogle slyngler, der gør det umuligt at drive virksomhed i Danmark.

Jeg var i et par år “Father of the Chapel” (egl. “Kapellets Far”, men reelt tillidsmand) i fagforeningen National Union of Journalists (NUJ) ved det Murdoch-ejede Collins Dictionaries i Glasgow, og den oplevelse har måske givet mig et noget andet syn på sagen.

I teorien var lønnen individuelt forhandlet for ansatte, der ikke var medlem var NUJ, og kollektivt forhandlet for medlemmerne.

I praksis skete der det, at man centralt i HarperCollins (Collins Dictionaries’ moderselskab) fastlagde en årlig lønstigning, der normalt var lidt mindre end inflationen (reelt altså en årlig lønreduktion), plus en meget lille pulje til ekstra stigninger til nogle få ansatte (der var måske nok til, at 5-10% af de ansatte kunne få 1-2% ekstra i posen). Dem, der forhandlede individuelt, havde et møde med deres chef, hvor de fik et brev med oplysning om deres lønstigning; i teorien kunne de naturligvis brokke sig, men i praksis var der ikke noget at forhandle om. NUJ’s forhandlere (altså på et tidspunkt mig, suppleret med de professionelle fagforeningsfolk fra NUJ) gik til møder med HR-folkene ved Collins, og det normale mønster var det, at vi tilbudt ca. 50% af den stigning, som ikke-medlemmerne fik tilbudt, hvorefter vi kunne forhandle os frem til 100% af stigningen. Det lykkedes aldrig at opnå mere end 100%, så hele forhandlingen var reelt en farce.

Vi kunne naturligvis vælge at strejke, men strejken ville kun have omfattet os selv, uden sympatistrejker eller blokader af nogen art, og da vi kun havde ca. 50% af medarbejderne ved Collins som medlemmer, var der en risiko for, at resten kunne holde afdelingen kørende, til strejken var slut. Vores medlemmer var derfor aldrig synderligt interesserede i at strejke og brugte mest fagforeningsmøderne til at brokke sig over, hvor meget bedre alting var i gamle dage.

Resultatet er, at ansættelsesvilkårene for privatansatte i Storbritannien er blevet forringet år for år. Det er kun i det offentlige, at fagforeningerne har egentlig magt, og det er derfor kun her, at man har fået rimelige lønstigninger.

Da min kære hustru begyndte ved Collins først i halvfemserne, tjente leksikografer ca. 30% mere end gymnasielærere, og deres pensionsforhold var sammenlignelige. Da hun forlod Collins for tre år siden, tjente leksikografer ca. 30% mindre end gymnasielærere, og deres pensioner var meget ringere. Er det en tilsvarende udvikling, man ønsker at se i Danmark?

bookmark_borderφθ and χθ

Attic Black Figure lekythos
Originally uploaded by diffendale

In his book Vox Graeca, W. Sidney Allen writes (1968: 24f):

Note on ??, ??

These combinations call for some comment in view of suggestions that they do not mean what they appear to mean, i.e. a succession of two aspirated plosives. […] The reason given for doubting the straightforward interpretation of these groups is that it would be impossible to pronounce an aspirated plosive when followed by another plosive […]. This a priori dogma, frequently repeated in older works and even in some reputable modern ones, has no basis whatever in reality. Any phonetician will confirm and demonstrate the possibility of such sequences, and one can hear them as a normal feature of a number of living languages — as e.g. Armenian a?ot‘k‘ [a?othkh] ‘prayer’, or Georgian p‘k‘vili ‘flour’, t‘it‘k‘mis ‘almost’, or Abaza (N.W. Caucasian) ap‘q‘a ‘in front’. In fact there is a rule in Georgian that if a plosive consonant is followed by another located further back in the mouth, it must have the same kind of articulation as the following consonant — thus, if the second is aspirated, so must the first be (otherwise dissimilar groups can occur, as e.g. t‘bilisi ‘Tiflis’ with voiceless aspirated followed by voiced unaspirated plosive) […].

There is thus no phonetic improbability whatever about the first consonant of the groups ?? and ?? being aspirated as well as the second.

I’m afraid Sidney Allen has got his Georgian data slightly wrong. Here is what Aronson has to say about harmonic clusters (1989: 15ff):

[Describing the voiced stops:] Extremely common are the so-called harmonic clusters consisting here of a prevelar stop followed immediately by [?] and with only one release for the whole cluster: bg (??), dg (??), jg (??), ?g (??).


[Describing the aspirated stops:] The harmonic clusters here consist of a prevelar with following [k‘] and with only one release: pk (??), tk (??), ck (??), ?k (??).


Harmonic clusters will have only one release, while nonharmonic clusters will have more than one release; cf. bgera (?????) ‘sound’, where there is only one release for the harmonic cluster bg, and Tbilisi (???????) ‘Tbilisi’ (Tiflis, capital of Georgia), which has an aspirated release for the initial t and a voiced released for the b: [t‘b?l?s?].

If we symbolise the extra release with a superscript schwa (?), Tbilisi is pronounced /t‘?bilisi/ (continuing Sidney Allen and Aronson’s use of /‘/ for aspiration). Because aspiration is a feature of the release, harmonic clusters have only one instance of articulation. Sidney Allen’s p‘k‘vili () ‘flour’ and t‘it‘k‘mis () ‘almost’ are therefore pronounced [pk‘vili] and [t‘itk‘mis] without the double aspirations that he postulated. Please note that the [p] in the former and the [t] in the former are still clearly /p‘/ and /t‘/ for two reasons: Firstly, they form part of harmonic clusters, so their aspiration can be deduced; secondly, Georgian has no unaspirated stops (*[p] and *[t]), only voiced ([b] and [d]), voiceless aspirated ([p‘] and [t‘]) and voiceless glottalised ([p’] and [t’]), so the loss of aspiration does not make these sounds merge with others.

My point is that ?? and ?? are most likely either to have been pronounced as harmonic stops ([pt‘] and [kt‘]) or as nonharmonic stops ([p‘?t‘] and [k‘?t‘]); Sidney Allen’s suggestion that the likely pronunciation must have been [p‘t‘] and [k‘t‘] with double aspiration and one release seems less probable based on the evidence of Georgian.

bookmark_borderAnother way to build cities

A House on Stilts
Originally uploaded by Steve Dinn

Fitting cars into cities at the same time as houses and people seems to be a really hard task.

Has it ever been tried, I wonder, to create a new town or city by designing the roads and parking spaces on an empty field, and then put in pillars and build the houses and green spaces on top of these?

In this way, cities would appear to be entirely traffic-free — there would just be gardens and lawns with pretty paths filling up the space between the houses — while the roads would be very straight and efficient, and quite safe too because of the lack of pedestrians on the roads.

It’s possible that it’s more expensive than I imagine to build houses and gardens on stilts, but apart from that I cannot see any problems with my idea.

Has it ever been tried?

bookmark_border32° Rally del Casentino

My parents have retired to the house in Italy that they bought when I was a child. A car rally — the “Rally del Casentino” — takes place every year and the cars drive through the village where they live.

I’ve never happened to be there at the time when the rally takes place, but this year we were lucky enough to be there.

The cars drove through the village twice, once during the day and once at night. We watched the day-time race from the play-park which provided a good view, and the circolo gave the kids an ice-cream each.

For the night-time race, we decided to go down to Talla, although it meant not getting home till after midnight when the roads were reopened.

We found a rather good place to watch it on the pavement near the bridge, where the cars had to take a hard turn. Most of them managed, but one of them turned to the wrong side and nearly crashed into us — it was less than a metre from Charlotte when it stopped. Some other spectator recorded it for posterity:

On our way back up the mountain, we passed three rally cars that had crashed — rather interesting that professional drivers have so much trouble with a road that I’ve driven up and down so many times!