Πάντα ῥεῖ – til Fyn fra Skotland

bogense photo
Photo by fugzu
Brexit kan virke meget underholdende, hvis man sidder trygt uden for Storbritannien og spiser popcorn, mens man følger galskaben i fjernsynet. Når man bor herovre, er det slet ikke sjovt, skal jeg hilse og sige. Der er slet ingen klarhed over, hvad fremtiden vil bringe, eller over, hvor hård eller blød Brexit mon bliver. Og den skotske førsteminister, Nicola Sturgeon, blev tydeligvis skræmt af catalanernes uautoriserede folkeafstemning, så det er meget usandsynligt, Skotland kommer til at stemme om uafhængighed igen inden for de næste fem år.

Vi har fået nok af usikkerheden. Vores lille firma kan nok ikke overleve en recession af den størrelse, der nok bliver en uundgåelig konsekvens af Brexit, og vi frygter også, hvad den dårlige økonomi vil betyde for uddannelsessektoren og sundhedsvæsnet m.m. Vi flytter derfor nu til Danmark.

Jeg har fået job som seniorkonsulent ved Dansk Sprognævn i Bogense med start den 1. april (hvilket også er den dag, Sprognævnet flytter til byen – 29. marts er sidste dag i København). Jeg flytter naturligvis nogle få dage før den dag, men Phyllis og børnene følger muligvis først efter en måned eller to senere (afhængigt af Brexit).

Marcel flytter i stedet fra Edinburgh til London, hvor han har fået job hos Lloyds pr. 1. september, og Charlotte er midt i sine studier ved University of Glasgow, så hun flytter på kollegium der, men Amaia, Anna og Léon flytter alle med os til Danmark.

Vi har fundet et midlertidigt sted at bo i Bogense, men vi skal naturligvis have fundet noget permanent så hurtigt som muligt. Vi pønser lidt på at bosætte os i Morud eller Veflinge (se kortet ovenfor), da vi godt kan li’ det område og der er en god skole. Det vil også gøre det lettere at pendle til Odense, hvis Phyllis nu finder et job dér.

I den forbindelse vil jeg da gerne bede om hjælp fra mit danske netværk. Er der nogen her, der kender nogen, der kender nogen i Odense eller på Nordfyn, der har brug for en skotte, der har en MA i fransk og tysk (og noget italiensk), kan forstå dansk (men ikke tale eller skrive det så godt endnu), og som har arbejdet som leksikograf og ordbogsredaktør i det meste af sin karriere? Hun har læst sproglig korrektur på engelske tekster for KU og SDU, og for år tilbage arbejdede hun et år som engelsklærer i Frankrig.

Tilbage til Skotland: Her er alt kaos – huset er fyldt til randen med flyttekasser, og vi har hundrede ting, vi skal nå at ordne på meget kort tid. Jeg håber, vi når det. I særdeleshed håber vi på en udsættelse af Brexit (eller på, at Mays aftale godkendes), da vi umuligt kan nå at sælge huset før den 29. marts.

Det bliver spændende at flytte til Danmark, men det bliver naturligvis også hårdt. Børnene og Phyllis skal meget hurtigt blive meget bedre til dansk, og vi flytter til et område, hvor vi ikke kender ret mange. Og det er ikke sjovt at skulle efterlade to voksne børn, Phyllis’ mor og øvrige familie i et andet land – og især ikke, når dette land snart rammes af Brexit.

Πάντα ῥεῖ (“alt flyder”), som Heraklit sagde. Da jeg flyttede til Skotland, regnede jeg ikke med, det var permanent, men da jeg blev gift med Phyllis, ændrede det sig, og vi gik begge ud fra, vi skulle blive i Skotland. Det virkede også så oplagt for få år siden, at Skotland ville vælge selvstændigheden og prøve på at blive et normalt, nordisk land inden for EU, og nu bliver skotterne i stedet smidt ud af EU mod deres vilje. Jeg aner ikke, hvad fremtiden vil bringe. Jeg håber blot, vores flytning til Fyn i fremtiden bliver noget, vi ser tilbage på som en god ændring. At forblive i “Brexit Britain” ville jo også være en ændring i sig selv, blot en dårlig én af slagsen.

Πάντα ῥεῖ – from Scotland to Funen

bogense photo
Photo by fugzu
As an EU citizen, Brexit has always been a personal worry. I’ve never considered it particularly likely that they’d frogmarch us all out of the country on the 30th of March, but the UK Home Office would just love to extend their hostile environment to EU citizens here, making it difficult to rent or buy property, get a job or access the health service. It’s also clear that Scotland won’t gain control over the powers necessary to prevent this anytime soon.

Brexit will be disastrous in so many other ways, though. The country is already losing large numbers of companies and individuals (including lots of NHS employees), and this will cause a huge recession even if Brexit gets cancelled tomorrow. The NHS will get worse. Universities will get much more insular without access to Erasmus (the programme that allows EU students to study here and Scottish students to study abroad for free). Products in shops will get dearer, less plentiful and less interesting. Politically, Brexit and its consequences will dominate everything for at least a decade, no matter how it ends, and this will prevent the country from solving all the very real problems facing people here.

Phyllis (my wife) and I cannot see how we can keep our company afloat under these circumstances. And we worry a lot about what it’ll mean for the three wee kids (aged 9, 11 and 13). Will they get a worse education than their older siblings? Will they have to pay university fees? Will they be unable to study abroad? And if they all emigrate after graduation because the economic prospects are dire here, will we be unable to visit them abroad because we lost everything in the Brexit recession?

For a long time we hoped that Scotland would launch an independence lifeboat, but it sadly doesn’t seem to be happening soon enough.

So we decided to find a lifeboat of our own. The result is that I’m starting a new job as a senior consultant at the Danish Language Council (the organisation defining the orthography of Danish) on the 1st of April. The Council used to be based in Copenhagen, but they’re relocating on the same day to Bogense, a small town on the north coast of Funen:

It’s quite a nice area (although it’s too flat for our liking) – the schools are good, the houses are cheap, and it’s dominated by tourism. We’ll be within commuting distance of Odense (Denmark’s third city, similar in size to Aberdeen), and it’s only an hour’s drive from Billund (Legoland) Airport.

It means leaving behind the two big kids – Marcel is about to finish university and is moving to London, and Charlotte is currently finishing her first year at Glasgow University, so she wants to stay and finish her degree. Phyllis’s mum and her brother and his family are also remaining in Scotland, and it feels really strange to have to leave them all here. At least salaries are quite a bit better in Denmark than here, so we should be able to come back often. Hopefully we’ll get a house with at least one spare bedroom, because we’re also hoping to get plenty of visitors from Scotland.

Πάντα ῥεῖ (“everything flows”), as Heraclitus used to say. When I moved to Scotland, I thought it was only for a few years, but I then ended up marrying a Scottish lassie, and I then expected to spend the rest of my life here. Now things will be very different, and we can only hope we’ll be happy about this change afterwards. I know for sure I’ll miss Scotland a lot – I’ll always feel partly Scottish. It will be good to escape the Brexit madness, though.

Mull of the future?

(Also published on Arc of Prosperity.)

highland village photo
Photo by kingary
I woke up to the crowing of the rooster and the smell of freshly baked croissants.

My butler minion gently opened the door to my bedroom. “Would you like your breakfast in bed, master?” “That’d be great, Bob.”

Bob buzzed in on his wheels and served the croissants together with a gorgeous cup of cappuccino. I’ve spent years searching for the perfect recipe, and I finally found it on a website somewhere in Italy. It was worth the hassle, though. People keep asking me for it, but I’ll not share it for any less than 1kg of scrap copper.

“Master, what would you like for lunch?” asked Bob. “Perhaps a mushroom omelette? Tim found some lovely wild mushrooms in the forest this morning.” I grunted my approval. Tim is my foraging minion, and he always finds the best stuff. At least it sounded a bit more filling that the salads Bob has been feeding me for the past week – I guess my weight is back to where it should be. Not that Bob ever tells me.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” I asked. “You’ve got dairy farm duty from 10 to 12, you’ve got a work meeting at 14.30, and finally you’ve invited your girlfriend for dinner at 19.00.”

I spent the next hour inspecting my home farm. The minions were zooming around me at the same time, collecting eggs, weeding the lettuce and cleaning out the pigsty. I love my home farm.

At 9.50 a car stopped outside the gate, and I strolled out and got in. Yukiko and Pierre, two of my neighbours, were already sitting in it – we do farm duty together. They greeted me with a cheery “Madainn mhath! Ciamar a tha sibh?” and we started chatting in Gaelic. It’s not our native language, and to be honest it probably would be easier to speak English together, but when the founders of our village decided to resurrect the village of Crackaig on the Isle of Mull, they decided that it should be Gaelic-speaking, so it’s now a requirement for moving to the village that you learn the language and use it when interacting with people. Fortunately language-learning is so easy these days – the linguist minions are just sublime language teachers.

At 10 o’clock the car stopped at the dairy farm, and we got out. The car zoomed away, either to park or to drive somebody else somewhere. My grandparents keep telling me that they used to drive cars themselves when they were young. It sounds like a really dangerous and wasteful way of going about it. Computers are obviously much better at driving than humans, and in those days every household had one or more cars, which meant that they spent most of the time being parked. Crazy.

Dairy farm duty is generally pretty easy. The minions do practically all the work, and all we need to do is basically to walk around and talk to the cows – humans can sometimes use their intuition to spot a problem that the minions have overlooked.

This was not one of the easiest days, however. It was time to say goodbye to two of the bulls and hand them over to the butcher minions. I walked with them up the hill, and then the minions led them away into a shed and did their stuff. The minions have perfected bovine psychology, so the bulls didn’t seem to feel any anxiety.

I’ve read that lots of people were going vegetarian or even vegan towards the end of the capitalist era. It was mainly a reaction against factory farming, however, so once people started repopulating the villages and producing almost all their food locally, they started eating meat again. This was reinforced by the realisation that microplastics were destroying the environment, and this led to a complete ban on the use of synthetic materials in clothing and footwear, and having access to leather thus became more important again.

The late capitalist society must have been pretty mad. Instead of feeding your food waste to your animals and letting your cows graze on unproductive stretches of grass, they threw the food waste into landfills and then grew cereals for the sole purpose of feeding animals which they kept in huge factory-like farms. Apparently they even killed many male calves at birth because it would be too expensive to raise them.

In our village most of our clothes are made out of wool, hemp or flax, and we mainly use leather shoes. That’s fairly typical for Scotland, but of course different materials get used in other countries.

I walked home after farm duty and then sat down to enjoy Bob’s delicious mushroom omelette.

Afterwards I stepped into the VR room to commence the work meeting. I’m part of a small team working on carbon capture technology to roll back global warming. We have created a virtual Greek olive grove as our work environment, based on Plato’s Academy. Lots of other people keep telling us that you want walls, chairs and blackboards in order to work efficiently, but we disagree. Sitting on blocks of marble dressed in a toga while munching on olives is great. To make it even more realistic, we’ve decided to adopt Ancient Greek as our working language. Yes, it’s mad, but we need a lot of creativity to come up with better ways to capture carbon, and creativity and madness are of course closely related.

It’s strange to think that schools for so long were mainly places to learn facts and techniques, when today they’re places to bring out everybody’s innate creativity. Of course you need a certain amount of knowledge and skills for your creativity to kick in, but at the end of the day computers are much better at every known task than humans – however, they’re still pretty bad at coming up with the new and surprising answers, and at dealing with new situations. So of course that’s what we humans have to focus on now.

After work I started getting ready for dinner with my girlfriend, Salome. I was going to bring her some flowers from my greenhouse, but in the end I quickly 3D-printed a pair of golden earrings for her using a traditional pattern from Guatemala.

Salome and I were going for sushi in a neighbouring village modelled on a traditional one from Hokkaidō. A lot of people said at the time that a traditional Japanese village doesn’t really belong on the Isle of Mull, but I must admit that it’s really nice to see something completely different without travelling more than 10 km. In fact, the idea is spreading. More and more villages get the builder minions to rebuild everything in some exotic style – just on Mull we’ve now got places that look like they belong in Bavaria, Viking Scandinavia, Māori New Zealand, and the Shire (from The Lord of the Rings books).

Over dinner we discussed whether we should go on holiday to Paris at some point. The old centre is supposed to be stunning, but like all other former cities it’s surrounded by enormous areas of crumbling ruins that still haven’t been converted back to villages and farmland.

At least the former cities aren’t dangerous in Europe. However, in many other parts of the world they never nationalised the land like they did here, so people who didn’t own any land were left practically destitute when the value of labour dropped to nearly zero after capitalism collapsed. They’re now typically living in the skyscraper ruins and trying to make a living selling personal services (mainly sex) to everybody else. It’s horrible, and we’re so lucky in Europe where we introduced a universal basic income early on and then nationalised the land and gave everybody the right to borrow a plot for the rest of their lives.

Of course it would take a while to get to Paris – flying is completely prohibited for holiday purposes – but we could sail there or take a sleeper car, and that’s good fun in its own right.

We took a boat back to Salome’s village. Life on Mull is pretty good.

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland


Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog contained a posting by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I’ve made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?

En analyse af zarka-kulli-sproget

(Opdatering: Den seneste version findes nu her).

I anledning af min fødselsdag i går sås flg. dialog på Facebook:

Lars Ræder Clausen: Emfle birnan smörja dunku! “Tillykke med det ekstra år!”
Simon Kristensen: Kulli waflu? “Hvad ville alternativet være?”
Thomas Widmann: Zarka gunku, zarka gunku! “Mange tak, mange tak!”

Dette sprog er også kendt fra vers 11 i sang nummer 57 i TÅGEKAMMERETs Jubilæumssangbog (PDF):

Vi kan ikke lide folk fra lingvistik. . .
Kulli waf?i zarka gunku
em?e birnan smöja dunku.

Betydningen af dette vers har længe været ukendt, men der er jo et stort overlap her. Læg dog mærke til de subtile forskelle: Lars sagde “smörja”, hvor sangen har “smöja”, og Simon sagde “waflu”, hvor sangen har “waffli”. Vi må antage, at dette ikke er slåfejl, men sprogligt signifikante forskelle.

Hvis vi antager, at sangen har flg. betydning, falder alt på plads: “Alternativet gør os ikke glade, det er tidsspilde med det ekstra år” (sangen refererer her til det ikke-indoeuropæiske propædeutiske sprog, der indtil for nylig forlængede lingvisters studium med op til et år).

Her er analysen af vores korpus:

(1)
emfle
ekstra
birn-an
år-med
smör-ja
lykke-GEN
dunk-u
tid-AKK
“Tillykke med det ekstra år.”
(2)
kull-i
alternativ-NOM
waf-lu
hvad-ville.være
“Hvad ville alternativet være?”
(3)
zarka
glad
gun-ku
gøre-PRÆS
“(Det) gør (mig) glad.” (Den normale måde at sige “tak” på.)
(4)
kull-i
alternativ-NOM
waffli
ikke
zarka
glad
gunku
gøre-PRÆS
“Alternativet gør ikke glad.”
(5)
emfle
ekstra
birn-an
år-med
smöj-a
spilde-PART
dunk-u
tid-AKK
“(De har) spildt tiden med det ekstra år.”

Gloseliste:
-a suf (danner perf. part.)
-an suf med
birn sb år
dunk sb tid
emfle adj ekstra
gun- vb at gøre
-i suf (markerer nominativ)
-ja suf af (markerer genitiv)
-ku suf (præsens)
kull sb alternativ
-lu suf ville være (copula subj.)
smöj- vb at spilde
smör sb lykke
-u suf (markerer akkusativ)
waffli adv ikke
waf interrog. pron. hvad
zarka adj glad

Vi kan nu skrive nye nyttige ting på dette smukke sprog, fx:

Smöri wafku? “Hvad er lykke?”
Zarka kullian birni “Et år med glade alternativer”
Waffli dunku smöjku! “Du spilder ikke tiden!”

(2. reviderede udgave – nu med nominativ og akkusativ.)

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need



Fathers 4 Justice
Originally uploaded by minifig

The CoLD coalition’s new proposal on legal aid in England is quite scary, given that so many people will be unable to go to the courts even when the law is completely on their side, simply because the cannot afford to.

However, legal aid was already unavailable to lots of people who couldn’t realistically pay the lawyer’s fee (without having to sell their home).

The way I see it, the price for going to the courts should depend on your ability to pay – it shouldn’t be limited to rich people and those on legal aid. Ideally, it should be free if the courts decide you’re in the right, and cost a certain percentage of your wealth/income if you’re in the wrong.

The same goes for compensations received. It’s ludicrous that you can get more money for the same injury if it was the fault of a big corporation than if it was caused by a poor person – to the injured, the consequences are the same.

The solution would be to pool everything: All legal fees and damages should be determined by people’s ability to pay and put into one massive pot, and compensations should come out of this according to need.

In that way, nobody would we priced out of using the legal system, and nobody would lose their home or become instant millionaires depending on the outcome of a court case.

Are we related to people born before 1575?



Babbitt Family Tree
Originally uploaded by FrodoBabbs

While sampling some nice beer in Århus earlier this year with my good old friend Thomas Mailund, we had an interesting discussion about how long our genes live on for.

I was reminded of this discussion when I managed to find my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather on Google. His name was Georg Widmann, and he was born around 1532 in Heiningen in Württemberg.

However, as I discussed a few years ago, we get half our genes from our father and the other half from our mother; we therefore get 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent, etc., so when do we reach a point when there’s nothing left?

According to Wikipedia, the “haploid human genome contains ca. 23,000 protein-coding genes”. 23,000 can be halved 14.49 times, which equals around 435 years (at a generation length of 30), and this means that any ancestor born before the year 1575 is likely to have contributed less than one gene to our genome. (Georg is of course an exception – ignoring the possibility of adultery and mutations, my Y chromosome is an exact copy of his.)

One can look at the numbers differently, too. Genes are defined by the “2.9 billion base pairs of the haploid human genome”. 2,900,000,000 can be halved 31.43 times, taking us back 943 years to the year 1157, but that will include ancestors who have only contributed junk DNA.

The “human genome contains vast regions of DNA the function of which, if any, remains unknown. These regions in fact comprise the vast majority, by some estimates 97%, of the human genome size.” 3% of 2.9 billion base pairs is 87 million base pairs, which would take us back 791 years to the year 1219.

However, the “nucleotide diversity between humans is about 0.1%, which is 1 difference per 1,000 base pairs.” That would take us down to 87,000 base pairs that actually matter, and that number can be halved 16.41 times, which would take us back 492 years to the year 1608.

To conclude, I’m not absolutely sure what the cut-off point should be. There’s definitely no point in doing genealogy further back than the year 1157 (except for pure patrilineal and matrilineal descent), but there are good arguments also for stopping in 1219, 1575 or 1608.