Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Archive for April, 2016

Gay Paree

I’m wondering how to understand the comments of David Cameron in the House of Commons, disparaging Nigel Farage for pronouncing his name to rhyme with massage and not to rhyme with… well, disparage. Except that what he said was (in reference to a comment on NF by another MP)

I’m glad he takes the English pronunciation of Farage rather than the rather poncey foreign-sounding one that he seems to prefer.

Now, ponce is one of those English expressions that I’m sort of familiar with, but not sure I get the nuance of. I understand it to be a term of ridicule for effeminate or homosexual men, and the OED agrees (though the earliest meaning seems to be pimp or kept man). But I’m not sure whether that’s the current understanding that natives have of the word. So I’m not sure whether Cameron’s comments ought best to be understood as gay-baiting, French-baiting, or a twofer where the French are mocked for being gay and the gay are mocked for being French. And Farage is mocked for being both. There are times when Cameron can’t resist reminding everyone that he was at Eton.
I’ve long been fascinated by the centuries of schoolboy-level taunts, where the British consider the French to be insufficiently masculine and probably gay, and the French think the same of the British.

Cyber Sutton

Asked about the motivation for recent cyberattacks on the Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system, banking security consultant Shane Shook said

These hacks specifically target financial institutions because smaller efforts result in much larger thefts. It’s much more efficient than stealing from consumers.

Shades of Slick Willie.

Taking the lead

The BBC has a surprising headline:

Screenshot 2016-04-15 11.30.25

Leading financial institutions welcomed a crackdown on tax dodging? That’s a surprise. Which institutions are these? Goldman Sachs? Deutsche Bank? Maybe UBS? Well, no. What they mean are International Financial Institutions (capitalised), which is a different thing from financial institutions (such as banks) that happen to act internationally and have the world economy by the throat. Government institutions. Somewhat less surprising.

Even the reference to “financial institutions” (plural) is misleading, since the only institution that is mentioned by name in the article is the IMF. Maybe the World Bank requested anonymity.

 

The value of a reputation

I strongly appreciate the importance of a reputation for probity.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands.

So many vague accusations and suspicions can float around in everyday life where the best basis for judgement is to appeal to prior probability. But this goes too far:

Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing.

Mossack Fonseca has just mislaid 11 million documents that show its complicity in a vast web of tax evasion through secret accounts in Panama. Even to say that it has operated legally would be stretching credulity. To say that it has been “beyond reproach”… well, I suppose it’s technically true, since no one knew enough about them to reproach them. Similarly a master burglar, when finally caught with his home full of stolen jewels and cash, could say, “This is an outrage. No one has ever cast such aspersions on my good name.”

Jews gone Wilde

I just read The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I last read — not very attentively, I think — in high school, more than 30 years ago. (For the record, it seems to me now an inappropriate choice of reading for high school.) No question that it is a great novel, even if Wilde would have been well served by a more assiduous editor who pointed out just how many times his characters “flung themselves” onto sofas, divans, wicker arm chairs, and “a luxuriously cushioned couch”. (They occasionally “throw themselves” as well. I wonder whether Stephen Leacock had this example in mind in writing his famous line “Lord Ronald… flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”)

The thoroughgoing misogyny of the book was familiar, but I had forgotten, or not noticed, the antisemitism. Early in the book significant attention is devoted to the peripheral figure of the low-rent theatre impresario who employs Dorian’s first idol, the young actress Sibyl Vane. He is first described as

A hideous Jew, in the most amazing waistcoat I ever beheld in my life, was standing at the entrance, smoking a vile cigar. He had greasy ringlets, and an enormous diamond blazed in the centre of a soiled shirt.

He is almost never referred to by name. He is always “the Jew”, “the horrid Jew”, “the old Jew” (and there is constant reference to his gaudy “jewelled fingers”). He is ugly, mean, wheedling, slovenly, an “offensive brute”, and even his “extraordinary passion for Shakespeare” is played for laughs, with the Jew blaming “the Bard” for his five bankruptcies, seemingly a parody of the only way a money-grubbing Jew could relate to the sublimities of English culture.

The pianist at the theatre, at his “cracked piano”, is also described as a “young Hebrew”, for no apparent reason other than to intensify the sense of artistic degradation.

Synergy

I passed this shop recently near the train station in Leamington Spa:

2016-04-04 17.48.26 HDR-2

Fireworks and upholstery foam. It sounds like a joke that would come up after insurance underwriters have been up drinking all night.

Coffee and tea

I’ve been on Sardinia for the past few days. In the supermarket I noticed this: 

Of course, in Italian the words caffeine and coffee are more similar than in English, but I never would have thought they would invent what seems like a nonsense word — deteinato — as an adjective for decaffeinated tea. A bit like the way broadcasting on television became, in English, telecast.

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