Saturday, May 03, 2008

[national stereotypes] n1 - the brummie

David Harrison, tutor in political science at Warwick University, who illustrates that Brummies occupy the upper echelons of the intelligentsia

There are some appalling things said of the Brummie and this post is intended as a service to non-British readers to help dispel those stereotypes. Wiki begins with a typical fallacy:

A study was conducted in 2008 where people were asked to grade the intelligence of a person based on their accent and the Brummie accent was ranked as the least intelligent accent. It even scored lower than being silent ...
According to Birmingham English: A Sociolinguistic Study (Steve Thorne, 2003), among UK listeners "Birmingham English in previous academic studies and opinion polls consistently fares as the most disfavoured variety of British English, yet with no satisfying account of the dislike".

At the same time, by the way:

[P]sychologists found that the Yorkshire accent has overtaken the Queen's English, also known as received pronunciation, as the dialect most commonly associated with wisdom and intellect.

Indeed yes - reassuring to find oneself wise. The previous study also notes:

overseas visitors in contrast find [the Brummie accent] "lilting and melodious"


The BBC has alleged that intonation and rhythm is unvaried and that most sentences end with downward intonation. This can give a false impression of despondency and lack of imagination.

... but what would the BBC know? In an excellent commentary on Brummyism, Sackerson gets down to brass tacks:

First, I think the affected contempt for Brummies is a displaced scorn for industrial labour perhaps impermissible to express so baldly in relation to Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians.

Decades of regarding going into industry as the wooden spoon in life's competition, has brought Britain to our current sorry pass.

There may be a London-centric jealousy because Birmingham is not Britain's Second City, but, technically speaking, its first in geographical area and population.

On the accent, Sackers adds:

My personal preference is Sedgley, an exceptionally musical tone. Their pronunciation of the word "flowers" makes me think there must indeed have been a Golden Age in which men sang rather than spoke.

Some Brummie expressions include:

  • "Rock" ... a children's hard sweet (as in "give us a rock").
  • "Snap" ... food, a meal, allegedly derived from the act of eating itself (example usage "I'm off to get my snap" equates to "I'm leaving to get my dinner").
  • "Trap" ... to leave suddenly, or flee.
  • "Up the cut" ... Up the canal (not uniquely Birmingham).

For some homespun Brummie philosophy, try here. Well that's the accent but what about the behaviour of Brummies? This Alan Partridge analysis throws some light on this:

A fine initiative breaking down prejudice was National Talk like a Brummie Day in 2007 but I'm not sure if Britain is being prepared for a repeat dose in 2008.

[it's boris] now the hard work begins

Well that's a relief. Now comes the sober reflection. I'm sure many others are issuing words of warning so why should I be any different?

But historically, poor results for the ruling party in local British elections are not necessarily harbingers of poor results in subsequent general elections.

“We’ve been here before,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics.

“It’s a bad time for the government, but not nearly so bad that the government couldn’t recover, even as early as spring 2009.”

And as for the Boris result being applicable to Brown:

In London, Mr. Livingstone was seen as an authoritarian figure who had become increasingly isolated and prickly. His efforts to write off Mr. Johnson as a lightweight buffoon failed to pay off, and by the time he began attacking his opponent on the substance of issues like the cost of the Tories’ transportation program, it was too late.


Boris Johnson (Tory): 1,043,761
Ken Livingstone (Lab): 893,877
Brian Paddick (Lib Dem): 236,685
Sian Berry, (Green): 77,374
Richard Barnbrook (BNP): 69,710
Alan Craig, (Christian Choice): 39,249
Lindsey German (Left List): 16,796
Matt O'Connor, (Eng Democrats): 10,695
Winston McKenzie (Ind): 5,389

I thought the acceptance and concession speeches were gracious.

Friday, May 02, 2008

[thought for the day] friday evening

[Image courtesy of Luc Viatour]

Never consume an entire packet of frozen strawberries at one sitting.

[Higham, 2008]

[food quiz] odd one out

1. Which of these is not a rich source of folate - spinach, lettuces, yoghurt, fortified cereal, sunflower seeds?

2. Vitamin B12 is not found in - meat, seaweed, milk, eggs, citrus juice?

3. Beta carotene is an inactive form of - Vitamin A, B12, C, D or E?

4. A poor source of calcium is - molasses, beef, hazelnuts, brown sugar, flour?

5. Which is pasta usually not formed from - dried orange pith, semolina flour, farina, buckwheat flour, eggs?

Answers [need to highlight below]

yoghurt, citrus juice, A, beef, dried orange pith

[boris] don't forget the name now folks

Still too early of course but would rather be in his position than Ken's.

[hammersmith] and 16th century benedictine music

You'd perhaps need to know something of Brian Sewell and his writing to more fully appreciate the clip which follows:

He writes for the Evening Standard and is noted for his artistic conservatism and acerbic reviews of the Turner Prize and conceptual art; these, and his upper class demeanour, have also made him into a figure of fun.

He has become a popular subject for impersonation and is sometimes described as having "the poshest voice in Britain", or, as Paul Merton once told him: "You make the Queen sound rough."

Similarly John Humphrys, in his book Lost for Words, writes "They (people who deliberately speak 'poshly') try to speak like the Queen or even Brian Sewell, the only man I have ever met who makes the Queen sound common."

So presenting a talk on 16th century Benedictine music, with a camp lithp, to the worthy patrons of the Hammersmith Club was always going to be interesting:

"But there are a number of sadly forgotten great composers." :)

"... for which the archdeacon was ... you might like to view this as well. :)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

[thought for the day] thursday evening

You, as you, may not matter to anyone in the world but you as a person in a particular place and a particular context may matter unimaginably.

[Agatha Christie, The Tuesday Club Murders, 1932]

[banksy] fun but is it art

Alleged pic of Banksy, possibly not of him

It's fair to say, I think, that most Brits would be aware of Banksy's little stunts and the shroud of secrecy he surrounds himself with. The police would like to interview him and critics are divided on the artistic merit of his work.

Some critics scorn Banksy as a passing fad for lightweight art fashionistas. "This man is nothing but a clown .. he has absolutely nothing to do with art," British critic Brian Sewell has haughtily proclaimed.

Partly for quicker getaways with his graffiti, he's become known for his stencil work and is noted for forays into places like the British Museum, where he'd hung a work of his own, replete with plaque, informing visitors:

"This finely preserved example of primitive art dates from the Post-Catatonic era. The artist responsible is known to have created a substantial body of work across South East of England under the moniker Banksymus Maximus but little else is known about him. Most art of this type has unfortunately not survived. The majority is destroyed by zealous municipal officials who fail to recognise the artistic merit and historical value of daubing on walls."

Apart from art critics, the police and museum officials, he gets up other people's noses as well. In a visit to Jamaica, Peter Richards, a local photographer said of him:

To me he seems a phoney. He pretends to be a revolutionary artist yet does work for a major corporation like Puma and sells his canvasses for thousands. It's fake activism.

Richards allegedly took photos of him and sent them to the Evening Standard. Banksy's exhibitions have been closed down when as he admits in his site, painting live animals caused them distress.

So is he an artist or a sham? For me it's as much art as Warhol ever was and shows a not inconsiderable talent. One Mail reader decried him as a criminal vandal but another, Bob from Worcester put a view closer to my own:

Well actually, Ian, if I woke up and found he'd written this across the front of MY house, I should be delighted. I'd be able to deny all knowledge of how it got there when the blackshirts came to complain and I would "find it extremely difficult to clean off" for at least a couple of years.

You may differ.

[demographic stats] or maybe just some salsa

I think you can do the mathematics:

Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, now account for about one in four children younger than 5 in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

"Hispanics have both a larger proportion of people in their child-bearing years and tend to have slightly more children," said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center and co-author of a recent study predicting that the Latino population will double from 15 percent today to 30 percent by 2050.

OK - those are the stats. Cut to Northern Ireland:

White: 1,670,988 (99.15%)

Religious Affiliations in Northern Ireland 1961–2001
Religions 1961 1991 2001
Roman Catholic 34.9% 38.4% 40.3%
Presbyterian (Protestant) 29.0% 21.4% 20.7%
Church of Ireland (Protestant) 24.2% 17.7% 15.3%
Other Religions (including other Protestant) 9.3% 11.5% 9.9%
Not Stated 2.0% 7.3% 9.0%
None 0.0% 3.8% 5.0%

I'd like to nip in the bud any speculation that this post is trying to prove anything. Just throwing random stats about. The first thing which strikes me about NI is that though the plantations started in 1610, nevertheless the Catholics still haven't overtaken the others in population, possibly due to migration and the modern lack of religious affiliation.

That's one thing and the second is wondering what the difference is between the two peoples anyway. Both are white, both look similar and yet the Catholic seems to me more from "the wrong side of the tracks" but if you look at the Protestant, he doesn't seem greatly different. Oversimplification, yes and it ignores the Boyne and so on but what's the problem unless one side was forced to worship as the other does?

Coming back to the Hispanics - well that's another issue and 24% is substantial. The only question remaining is if it's bad or not. I'm in no position to say but I've read much of the feeling about ghettos and underclass and so on. Here are some random stats:

Deborah Duran established correlation between acculturation and depression (Duran, 1995) Women and Latinos are more likely to experience a major depressive episode. Prevalence of depression is higher in Latino women (46%) than Latino men (19.6%).

Among female high-school students in 1997, the rate of attempted suicide among Latino girls (14.9%) was one-and-a-half times that of African American (9.0%) and non-Hispanic white (10.3%) girls.

Still don't know what to conclude but in the meantime, here's some salsa:

[tribulation] optimism, wal-mart and other goodies

An Albert Durex pic, coming to your part of the world or not

There's a notion in many people's minds that there is a coming Tribulation and better not to debate that in this post. Rather, I'd like to look at the mental set of different people in reaction to it because it says a lot about character.

Basically, those who believe in the idea fall into three camps - that the Lord will come before the great persecution/torture, pluck the believers up our of harm's way and that this is the reward for faith.

There are those who believe that a certain amount of discomfort will take place first and then there are the others who feel that they will go through a living hell first, persecuted and tortured for their faith and only then will they be plucked out of the final conflagration.

This latter idea is difficult for anyone to wrap his mind round who is also of the opinion that one can take a tablet and fat will miraculously leave the body or that when you go to the forest for a picnic, you take your comfort zone along with you in the form of a mobile home on wheels.

I'm afraid I don't believe in the comfort zone and just as with Jesus the Carpenter's Son, there is no timely airlift from unpleasantness. I believe the unpleasantness indeed comes and what your faith has bought you is the means to cope. It seems more in line with history and the story of the Cross to accept this latter idea.

It seems more like a Walmart employment contract to me. We'll take you on as long as you offer up your soul and believe in the company ethos and its ability to prevail. In return we guarantee you protection, benefits, childcare and so on. We'll get you out of tight fixes and provide a social network for you to enjoy, linked with fellow Walmarters worldwide.

Sometimes, as part of your training, the protective umbrella is pulled back because Walmart would like to see how you perform under stress, how strong your belief in the brand truly is. So as long as you follow the Walmart way, they'll do their bit and look after you - you could almost call that the comfort zone, where things seem to fall into place, except that sooner or later another training session has to come along, in order for your to advance to the next level.

So what if you don't believe any of the above and feel we're on our little own-some and that no one's coming to the rescue? That there is no fairy godmother? Well, for you, the issue now becomes where you place yourself along the optimism/realism continuum. I'll only get your backs up if I try to intimate that it's an illusion that humans can cope as islands - so I shan't say that.

Rather, I'll say that mental set becomes a huge factor. As a Brit who basically believes in forming an orderly queue of one at a bus stop and paying his taxes, my current woes can be daunting and it's easy to resign oneself to one's fate, trusting in the process to see one through and abiding by the law.

There is an entirely other point of view which thrives on chaos, sees everything as negotiable and seeks lateral solutions, which either gets you nicely out of trouble for the nonce or else lands you in heaps more. I call this the Alan Bond or Nick Leeson mentality. This latter requires nerve, a certain ability to see the overview and it takes a certain arrogance in one's ability to pull it off.

Society admires such people but does that make them right?

Plus there is one other factor which I call the Thomas Wilson syndrome. What seems a lively course of action in one's early 30s does not take into account what happens in later years and which Somerset Maugham alluded to - the lack of resolve which the years bring, the lessening ability to cope with both change and its consequences, the lessening ability to live on one's wits.

There must come a point where one can no longer show steely resolve and attempt outrageous solutions and yet such is what might be the only way to survive. It's a nice dilemma for the ageing cavalier.