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331 - late snippets

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I am assuming that we make progress with the vaccination programme that deals with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. I expect to report on that as the numbers drop, continuing with a monthly page as I have done since March '20, Essay 291.

I expect to also continue to report on the Brexit disaster. On Dec 9th, BoJo began preparing us for a No Deal exit, called by him the Australian model, as if it is a good thing and a favour granted by the EU. We may yet get something 'over the line' but it will be absolutely no better than Mrs May would have managed and probably a good deal worse, so to speak: Boris has made a good deal worse, thanks largely to his fundamental ineptitude, which amounts to a refusal to face facts or truth.

Looking back on this episode from January 2021, one wonders if this was all window dressing, so that whatever resulted was some sort of success—better than nothing. In which case, we were being manipulated.

I am already wondering, early 202012, how Britain might look by the end of 2021. If I were in Scotland I'd already be looking for a referendum on disunification and I might hope that the English response is to—rapidly—devolve England so that we have some sort of federated Britain that makes Scotland want to remain within the fold. If such a carrot is not offered, Scotland will separate and rejoin the EU just as quick as it is able–and many English will move north, too. If we could guarantee work for the boss, that would include us. Ireland remains far more of a problem and what England wants is for Ireland to unite. The Irish are not so definite, but it has been thus since before Cromwell.


1918 Spanish Flu. About a third of the world population were infected, some 500 million people. At least 50 million died. World population at the time maybe 1800 million (worldometers), maybe 1900 million. So the population was twice the estimate in the inserted image and so the death fraction was 2.6% and 2 s.f. is quite sufficient. Say 2-3%, but some versions of the figures put it at 4% or even 10%.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957/8 killed between 1 and 4% of the 2.9 billion population and infected more than 500 million. Wikipedia.

In a typical year for flu we have between 300 and 650 thousand deaths blamed on the flu worldwide and a range of numbers for infection from 250 million to 1600 million on a population of 7.75 billion. So this is under a 0.01% fatality of the population and with anything from 3 to 20% of the population being infected. Bear in mind that the incidence and fatality is significantly reduced by vaccines and inoculation; imagine the deaths being around the 1958 figure if we did not inoculate.

In 2020, population remains at 7.75 billion, recognised infections are around 75 million but might easily be five or ten times that, and deaths are around 1.8 million (worldometers).  So that deaths from covid were at 0.023% at the end of 2020, and the infection level is perhaps as high as 7%.

We may well simply add covid to the collection of respiratory diseases that affect every winter, in which case we'd record 2020 as adding its figures to the usual deaths (less a little overlap), so we might be looking at a long-term view of 2020 as having (1.67+0.65 less overlap, say 2 million deaths) and say 0.025%, which is 2.5 times the 'usual' typical loss. Bad, but as nothing in comparison to 1958 or 1918.

So I disagree with the numbers in the inserted image, but agree with the sentiment.


Reading more or less by accident I came across this article, which rather hints that many of us have misunderstood where Joe Biden is coming from in terms of underlying attitude. Much of the article is not about Biden but about Bernstein, a senior economic advisor.   https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/10/jared-bernstein-joe-biden-progressive-personnel/616861/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=atlantic-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20201029&silverid-ref=NTE3MDgxNDgxMDUyS0


The use of a hundred thousand people as a population unit begs a need for a neat term for that size number. English tends to count in groups of three digits (thousand, million, billion); our suffices [that's the plural of suffix] do this very well indeed. Chinese counts in groups of four, 10⁴ is wàn 万, 10⁸ is yi 亿, or wan wan.  At one time I learned to count from 1 to 10,000, from yi1 to yi4.

So a 100 thousand could be a quint perhaps, or a shiwan. The shared fraction, 'per hundred thousand' could be shortened to pht and pronounced phut. So the covid case rate at the moment is close to 160 phut in the places where my siblings and my daughter live, but in parts of London and South Wales it is exceeding 800 phuts. And at times over the darkest of winter, into four figures, much more of a fart than a phut.

A related need for pithy terminology applies to the behaviour of people in the vicinity of rising phuts. I've often referred to the observation made within the Cambridge Group (for the History of Population and Social Structure) where the office collectively noticed that the diffusion of the Black Death across Europe was at the speed of a swift horse. I have imagined that as the news arrives, immediate panic to escape the lurgy and that those escaping took the infection with them.  We saw exactly the same behaviour last week, with people flocking to leave London before the tier 4 restrictions hit. Thus we have what I want to call the escape dilemma, resulting in escape spreading, until you help coin a better label. Diffusion = escape velocity in these circumstances, the disease spreading as quickly as the physical travel.

It is clear that leisure & travel industries are going to shrink as a reflection of the urge to reduce one's carbon footprint (etc etc). Coupled with this year, we might well expect that these industries will take a permanent hit. They are in a position where they are desperate to catch all the remaining sales they can in a declining environment. But, like the Black Death, these additional sales make the environmental situation worse, not better. The activity that keeps them afloat has a tendency to hasten the moment when regulation steps in to curb the behaviour. This envelops the political problem of an action by the state that obviously restricts a market, with the built-in expectation that the state will bail out the businesses affected. 

This is a compound problem. The urge to sell as much as possible in an environment that hints to business failure is some sort of disaster strategy.  If there are additional sales expanding the market, then these drive us toward a point where the authorities are forced to regulate since the market will not. If you prefer, our collective stupidity demands this. 

This is somehow parallel event to the escape speed diffusion, that I'm thinking of as the end-game effect (because it feels like the end-game, that is what it becomes) or a terminal consequence. We could label that period of panic selling as overrun; we could usefully have a term for the imminent legislation too, ideally including the idea of bail-out, a sort of economic death. We could take the idea of the excess selling because of perceived end and apply it to any resource to be consumed because of a perception of an end; we might separate resource from opportunity here.  This might be zombie economics, where the business is dead, but doesn't seem to recognise that yet.

Then I see a need for a term to cover the herd behaviour that exaggerates all such occurrences. I think of this as a media exaggeration effect. But we couple the herd behaviour with a lack of thinking that turns into necessitated action because of the perception of herd behaviour. Sheeple is a word gaining ground. For example, the lorry queues at Dover do not mean we have immediate food shortages, though they might, if continued, mean some shortages in perishable goods. That has several effects: perishable goods simply won't arrive, so either there are none or the price rises due to scarcity, but in practice one defaults to alternatives. What it does mean is that non-perishables (rice, pasta) or home-grown produce (potatoes) are not, nor will be, in short supply except in the secondary sense of diverted / displaced purchasing because there's no lettuce or winter tomatoes (etc, imported perishables). It has nothing at all to do with the sales of toilet roll, paracetamol, fuel or turkey. Again, there are several separable issues here, any of which could collect a good catchy label.


Interesting piece about the limitations of software—surely a design issue. https://slate.com/technology/2020/12/gojek-grab-indonesia-delivery-platforms-algorithms.html?via=rss. This based on motorbike goods delivery in Jakarta. Issue really is about the relevance of context to otherwise assumptive writing of code. You could see this as poor tool design or as the use of tools not quite fit for purpose. Which you could then describe as people being unwilling to spend simply because they've managed to make a general business problem not their problem. Which is, in many ways, selfish behaviour.

I found another such, the Omni Vaccine Queue calculator, in early Jan.  I set it at 2M doses per week and 90% uptake and it says I'll be jabbed in late February and puts the boss between May and July. On 1M per week it places me between 17Mar and 02Apr, which is nearer when I'm expecting. Have fun; this is what Prof JVT calls kitchen-table arithmetic.


I have long been interested in the use of English, especially in the use of precise English. Conversely I have long decried the use of sloppy language, especially where precision is needed. So I was happy to be sent a pdf of Current Changes in English Syntax, by Christian Mair, who is a Professor of English Linguistics in Freiburg (that's in Breisgau, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany and properly called Albert Ludwigs Universitat). You can read the whole thing for yourself, of course, or you can take my synopsis. As ever, what I've done is write what I wanted to (have provided for me) to read.

Here's a little list of changes that have been identified as going on — suspected to be going on— that the paper covers:-

a. a tendency to regularise irregular morphology (e.g. dreamt/dreamed). I find this confusing, but the dictionaries I check spelling in all agree that the regularised form is available. Since I live with a second-language English speaker, we tend to go with the regular form whenever possible – not least because it causes fewer people to attempt a correction. Learned/learnt, spelled/spelt, burned/burnt, smelled/smelt, hung/hanged. I'd argue with several of these, especially the last. We agree that there is confusion whether the regular form is -ed or -t. I find I have preferences for the -ed form and wish to use the -t form when the participle is used as adjective: I may have burned the toast, but the result was we ate burnt toast. We learned content from the book, resulting in learnt material. But I'd refer to our learned teacher by pronouncing that adjective as learn-ed. I like to think I'm ahead of the game here. Subsequently I found the image included above.

b. revival of the "mandative" subjunctive, probably inspired by formal US usage (we demand that she take part in the meeting). Oh, please, what? On looking this up, there are, apparently two surviving forms of subjunctive in common usage, (a) the mandative [occurring in that-clauses following certain controlling items such as the verb suggest] and (b) the were-subjunctiv[signalling hypothetical meaning]. This may be also called irrealsis, I discovered later this same month.

Examples:   (a) Yesterday, he had suggested that he sleep in the spare room from now on.        (b) It felt as if she were alone in the world.

c. elimination of shall as a future marker in the first person. A general decline in the use of shall has been occurring. Shown to be true in the corpus studies (large bodies of collected text which are then subjected to things like word count for frequency tables). Down more than 40% between 1961 and 1991. Ought and need are also declining in use.

d. development of new, auxiliary-like uses of certain lexical verbs (e.g. get, want – cf., e.g., The way you look, you wanna / want to see a doctor soon). I hate this, the increasing use of gonna and wanna, both of which I have enough problems with just in oral use. Table 3 of the paper shows the decline in the use of modal auxiliaries across the corpora. I see this as want replacing ought and need.

e. extension of the progressive to new constructions, e.g. modal, present perfect and past perfect passive progressive (the road would not be being built/ has not been being built/ had not been being built before the general elections). This application of being shows an 18% increase in British English from '61-'91. This displaces the no-longer acceptable 'dinner was preparing' with 'dinner was being prepared'. The (passive progressive) phrase 'is being held' shows a remarkable jump in frequency, 30%.

f. increase in the number and types of multi-word verbs (phrasal verbs, have/take/give a ride, etc.)

g. placement of frequency adverbs before auxiliary verbs (even if no emphasis is intended – I never have said so). I prefer for the word placement to have fine gradation of meaning: never have I said, I have never said, I never have said. You might say these are exactly equal statements.

h. do-support for have (have you any money? and no, I haven't any money, do you have/ have you got any money? and no, I don't have any money/ haven't got any money)

The group a-h above associate with the verb phrase, while the next few belong to the noun phrase. Do you care?

i. demise of the inflected form whomI'm not at all sure about this. Whom is often replaced by who anyway; I see its correct usage as being when referring to the object of a verb (or preposition, when I looked it up). Simple test: if you'd have replaced it with him or her, it should be whom. Who refers to the subject of a sentence. Maybe the 'inflected form' means something special? No, whom is the inflected form of who, as those is the plural of thatSource.

j. increasing use of less instead of fewer with countable nouns (e.g. less people). Agreed and detested. Fewer applies to countable nouns, meaning integers, while less applies to all reals. I would far prefer fewer to be used whenever the noun is countable; the modern thinking is that less applies to reals, which include the integers. I still hate it; sloppy.

k. spread of the s-genitive to non-human nouns (the book's cover).  The corpus studies show this to be on the rise. I'm so distracted by the misuse of the apostrophe that my eye tends to pause on absolutely every use of that character.

l. omission of the definite article in certain environments (e.g. renowned Nobel laureate Derek Walcott). Hate it, but do same myself. I think of it as elision.

These last three belong to neither phrase.

m. "singular" they (everybody came in their car).  Add to this the 'new' pronoun themself.  I quite like the recognition that we have a singular they and them. Not least, it allows for a state institution to be simultaneously singular (the body) and plural (the people who form that body).

n. like, same as, and immediately used as conjunctions. I will send that email immediately I get to my desk. Here immediately = as soon as. She loves this author like / same as I do. I hope these are informal constructions, those not used in formal, 'good' writing. I think I prefer as in the places where like appears in this way.

o. a tendency towards analytical comparatives and superlatives (politer / more polite). I think this is saying that politer used not to be a recognised word.


I liked this sentence, referring to written English steadily becoming more like the spoken forms – which I recognise, having been accuse of this myself in the 1960s:

A comprehensive trend towards colloquialisation ....would represent a clearly dysfunctional development, making it difficult for the written language to fulfil one of its primary functions, which is the compression of information.


I found A Glossary of English Grammar, Geoffrey Leech, Lancaster University 2005, which one can download for free. It cross-references terms that have multiple labels.  I'm disappointed that it doesn't include mondegreen, nor the rhetorical terms in essay 148, but that is not the paper's objective. Rather, it is to provide and affirm the vocabulary appropriate to the description of structure, or its lack, in English as it is used.  

Words you may not know: asyndeton (and polysyndeton), catenative (verb), deicitic, gerund, irrealsis, matrix clause, pied-piping and valency. I know gerund from doing Latin at school, matrix from maths and valency from chemistry, but not in this context; I feel I ought to understand catenative, some sort of chaining; irrealsis suggests not being real somehow; pied-piping looks a fun thing to know; syndeton and deicitic suggest I missed an education in Greek (which is true, but not at the time it might have been offered, unless I could have traded it for French).

Syndeton is a connective, so asyndeton means they're missing, particularly an and or a but;  polysndetic means having more of them, such as far too many ands. A catenative verb does indeed chain verbs, as in 'I want to invite you to play'; a deicitic is a word such as this, which indicates to what it refers, some sort of pointing – also from deixsis, meaning display or reference and nothing to do with gods; a gerund is an -ing word used as a noun, also called a present participle; irrealsis is the use of the were-subjunctive (the what?), where meaning expressed is hypothetical, "if you were to do..'; a matrix clause is an unnecessary term for a minor clause but a useful one for a main clause minus the subordinate clause, and as a result you may want not to call it a clause at all [and at this point I lose the will to be interested]; pied-piping is when you put a proposition in front of a wh- word, as in 'from whom', and do this at the start of a sentence, as in 'The room in which we sat had <description>' ; valency is a shorter label than several verb equivalents, but in general describes the ability for a word to pick up a complement, as in 'it's tough being a single parent'.

Oh, joy. I think that I am generally disappointed that the structure of language largely defies description. Whether this is our inability to understand or an inability to conform to any structural rules is merely more confusion. I see need for reliable constructions, thus avoiding confusion and, as such, maybe we have a future need for intentionally clear speech, perhaps even a reliable language in which to do that. The many sci-fi books I have read would refer to a change of voice to indicate the shift to reliably pellucid language; I'm waiting for this 'voice' to be a localised British accent, but if we tell the truth we recognise that accents as used generally demonstrate a shift away from precision.


I found a prediction about size of national economies, that predicted China would surpass the US in 2028. The wife's response was to the effect that she expected that moment much sooner. The same report placed GB ahead of India (having been behind), not supported by my research. 2018 figures put UK ahead, 2019 behind. India should stay ahead.

G7 in population order: US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada.

Nations ranked by GDP: US, China, Japan, Germany, India, UK, France, Italy, Brazil, Canada. 2019 figures.

Ranked by GDP per capita, PPP, this is a very different list: Luxembourg, Singapore, Qatar, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, US 7th,...Germany 15th, Sweden 16th, Canada 21st, France 23rd, UK 25th, Japan 29th, Italy 31st, China 73rd, India 124th.   Wikipedia.  IMF Projections. All surprisingly muddy.


As happens at the end of the year, there are many reviews and, increasingly in a world with niche marketing, these can confine themselves to very limited material. One such from The Conversation looked good in prospect but proved to have very little behind the title. That, I have discovered, is so often true, that the title says quite enough in terms of delivering news, because the so-called 'more' is mostly repetition. I do resent this practice, which I see as being treated as if stupid, needing the repetition. Perhaps there is a theory that says that the headline part is to grab attention (and not quite get it) so that the repetition is given more attention? Why then is the public grasp of material so poor? I suspect that we need a third level of detail after the headline and content, such as the Guardian does (and in turn, I do this too, now) where pointers are given to a lot more detail, to the background, the history of the story, and so on. I find myself quite distressed at, say, the tv news, where it would be quite easy to catch the headlines (in 20 seconds) and turn the tv off again. That makes it take longer to find the headlines than to actually absorb them, which is probably why one sits through the repetition. 

I also notice that on the tv, the dense content (a reporter telling all they've discovered today in a relatively dense package) is very often padded around with individual, personal examples (which are not evidenced as representative, though that is implied) which are emotive and contain very little hard content. Is this pandering to a perception that we need this, or that it is relevant, or even that there is evidence that the customer requires both inputs (heart and mind, maybe) – or is it just that we are proven to collectively thick and therefore content must be diluted?


Devolution, that I am increasingly convinced is what we need is discussed intelligently by Roy Scothorne in The Guardian. I use that adjective because (i) it agrees with much of what I've been thinking (ii) it points to possibilities I had avoided thinking about and (iii) I'm supposed to come up with three things, not just two. So say all the politicians, in groups of three.

Points / Questions / Issues: 

Both major parties have promised to deliver (more) devolution for quite some time. So why has it not happened? Is this merely a carrot on a long pole? If they both want much the same thing, where is the excuse for inaction?

Would bringing (again, more) devolution to England really cause Scots to stop wanting independence? What happens if the Barnett formula is reviewed with an aim to make equality with say, the NE, NW and SW of England (regions as used throughout 2020) occur? It looks as though any change in the Barnett formula towards a needs basis would push Scotland more towards the brink. Looking beyond Barnett (2015); devolution success.

The issue, as reported for England, is that generally England gets what it wants. That does not devolve well except in London and I suspect that the reasoning that the NE and SW rejected devolution was more to do with the specific system offered than the general concept. The one benefit of FPTP is turnover of personnel; the big deficit of PR as offered is the exact opposite, that certain people can easily be seen as managing to stay in power forever, short of their party being dissolved. There is no local vote for graft, which has been the NE's past experience.

DJS 20201221-31

[1] https://www.lgcplus.com/politics/governance-and-structure/tory-manifesto-promises-full-devolution-25-11-2019/ continues to promise an English Devolution White Paper. The manifesto from 2019 promised a fundamental review of business rates and lots of other stuff we'd all heard before and seen no action on, such as Northern Powerhouse, which I begin to think means Acton or Potters Bar and just might stretch to Stevenage.

[2] https://labourlist.org/2020/06/labour-for-devolution-we-need-to-rebalance-britain-and-build-a-fairer-union/ argues for much the same thing, but goes, at last, beyond the metro-mayor idea to more nearly full regional devolution. The links are remarkably empty of content, I discovered; the mission statement has the most, which is still pitifully little. Tony Blair proposed that we rearrange the football leagues into regions, if only to gently create regional identity. Take the North-East, who rejected the idea of devolution with an 80% majority (78% of turnout, 2004, wikipedia), because, it was eventually realised, there is a region as observed from the outside, but no such thing when observed from the inside; Sunderland's maccams are as foreign to Geordies as the French are to the English; Teeside is somewhere else entirely, maybe Belgium..

There was a proper referendum in the north-east over devolution. In the north-west and south-west this reached the stage of asking about unitary authorities, some of which have happened despite the vote being to the contrary. Explain this, please. For example, Cornwall rejected this in 2002 but was apparently for it in 2003—but with no referendum—and the unitary authority formed in 2009. The north-west had a similar position. Gov't briefing paper. P26 for Lancashire. I am amazed how little is a matter of easily available public record; it seems to me that central government has been levering (leveraging?) this, but that the results are anything but devolution as understood. Far too little money is passed along. I wonder if this will change only when, like Scotland, there is tax collected locally. So that, in effect, instead of tax being collected nationally and then handed back, we revert to the opposite situation where it is collected locally and handed on to central government, automatically not necessarily in London at all. As we did in the days of King John, for example; where' is Robin Hood when we need him?

What white paper? [1] the FT reports it is shelved until 2021, and going backwards.

[2] A local government viewpoint, perhaps the consensus viewpoint. I was taken with Chapter 3 and annex B, which make a case for a localised portion of national taxation, such as income tax or VAT.   Worth a read. Unfortunately, a lot of what is written is froth and at the same time, content that is pretty specific merely demands—immediately—chapter and verse. What is wrong with this is the presentation of conversation, I think: I'd be happier presented with the arguments for alternatives and thus the background to decisions as to the way forward; to be persuaded that what is proposed is indeed sensible. Particularly, I want to be persuaded that what us proposed is transparent, free of cronyism, and not giving us the same people perpetually in power. 

I am particularly against the idea that a party has a ranked list of representatives and the voting in any cycle allocates people from the list. I dislike this because the opportunity to affect who is where on the list is well outside the provisions of the electorate. So, for example, if there is someone who you have, say, met and decided this is a bad egg, but that this person's party has the right idea, how do you reconcile this position? You want then to be able to vote not for party allocation (as decided by the party), but for those standing. You might be quite happy for some transfer of votes to occur, but I think it is important that it be possible to quite definitely not vote for an individual. I would settle for there being a life-cycle of say a ten year maximum. 

I wonder what the equivalent position is for security, thinking of the efforts put into protecting the Privy Council, for example. How senior would a local politician be for the public purse to afford security personnel for them on an individual basis?

 [3] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/our-work/devolution/devolution-uk-nations?gclid=CjwKCAiA25v_BRBNEiwAZb4-ZfvPi5JigpRJ5RIwny_XqGbsRPCIe7go7dN_c4AOIVKOnR0-ZYFU8BoC4ZQQAvD_BwE A much bigger read, but I found much of what I'd already put here on there. For example Akash Pun, 2018


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