alea iacta esto


A Plan For Reforming English Spelling

Year 1: that useless letter ‘c’ would be dropped to be replaced either by a ‘k’ or ‘s’, and likewise ‘x’. The only case in which ‘c’ would be retained would be the ‘ch’ formation of which more later.
Year 2: reform ‘w’ spelling, so that ‘which’ and ‘won’ would take the same konsonant,
Year 3: might well abolish ‘y’ replasing it with ‘i’
Iear 4: fiks the ‘g/j’ anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, improvement would kontinue iear bai iear.
Iear 5: do awai with useless double konsonants
Iears 6-12: modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.
Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridundant letez ‘c’, ‘y’ and ‘x’ – bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez – tu riplais ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘th’ rispektivli. Fainali, xen, after sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl reform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Often attributed to Mark Twain but believed to have been by an MJ Shields: adapted from Henry Hitchings’ fabulous book “The Language Wars – A History of Proper English”


The Grapes Of Wrath

Forever has to end sometime and it (not forever but the book) had sat on my floor forever. My fingers would from time to time flick through its pages, eyes scanning the words, heart quickening at the one-sure-day prospect of starting this new book. I do this often to all the unread books on my weary floor or at least to the ones that I can reach easy. Today I finally came round to reading John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”; its turn had come; the bell had tolled; its number had come up. Ah, but first the painful thirty pages of Introduction. Who writes these long pro-prologues?

I always read Introductions because from experience they add context that’s more often than not inestimable. For Steinbeck’s book I was moved by the background accounts of dust bowl 1930s California; starving migrants on the quest for a home, to “eat what they raise, use what they produce … and share in the works of their hands and their heads.” The feudal landlords who ran California would hear none of this. Despite the Federal Government’s efforts to provide humane living conditions for the migrants, conservatives in Congress worked to wreck the Government’s plan by slashing the budget (sound familiar?). It’s a sure bet these conservatives were all church-going christians. Helping the poor is just not the American way.

“There are about five thousand families starving to death …, not just hungry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed them and get medical attention to them with the fascist group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the thing all along the line.” – from a letter Steinbeck wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Otis.

I’m reminded of the famous Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius; social reformers in Rome almost a century before the great Julius, that dictator for life who has come to define the Roman epoch. The famous brothers planned land reforms to tackle the plight of the peasants who worked the lands of the rich landowners. Not surprisingly these plans were stoutly opposed. In the end both brothers were assassinated by their political opponents and by vested interests. But the thread they unravelled wound its infernal way down the ages until Augustus wound the last metre around the throat of the established order and snuffed out the Republic. After that, the vested interests (that is, those who hadn’t been killed off) adjusted to the new regime of Empire and the poor continued being destitute. Jesus said we will always have the poor (Mark 14:7) and he was damn right. But does he have to be right forever and ever?

After Steinbeck’s book came out the conservative Right went into overdrive. They called the book “communist”, “immoral”, “warped”, “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.” And there’s the tactic of calling a hated work “an embodiment of Marxist Soviet propaganda.” [Admittedly, this coming in the shadow of Stalin’s show trials must have been particularly damning]. Even in a democracy standing up to entrenched power is often a dangerous adventure.

PS The edition I have is the Penguin one introduced by Robert DeMott

Cafe Wit

“Cafe wit may be divided into jokes about those who are absent and jibes at those who are present. This kind of wittiness is known elsewhere as mere vulgarity. There’s no greater proof of an impoverished mind than its inability to be witty except at other people’s expense”

– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

That just about rules out all comedy and satire which, to be candid, are only funny when you’re not the butt of the joke. Still …

Speedy Gonzales

Thought this was funny. Taken from Don DeLillo’s book Underworld:

So this guy’s on his honeymoon in Acapulco and he’s heard all the stories about the incredible cunning of Speedy Gonzalez, the fastest lover in Mexico,  and he’s frankly worried, he’s a highly nervous type and so on the first night, the night of nights, he’s in bed with his wife and he’s got his middle finger plugged up her snatch to keep Speedy Gonzalez from sneaking in there when he’s not looking. So then he’s dying for a smoke and he reaches over for a second to get his cigarettes and matches. So then he lights up quick and and reaches back to the bed finger-first.  And Speedy Gonzalez says, Sen-yor-or, you got your finger up my a-ass.

Who Made Me?

The question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the question immediately presents itself, Who made God?

Autobiography, John Stuart Mill. First published 1873.

The Amazing Power Of Faking It

Bullshit has never been my strongest suit and that has been a spectacular failing. I can only surmise from the actions of some people I have met on my journey through time that there is an LSD kind of trip that comes with knowingly stringing people along pretending to expert views on things one can not possibly be assured of.

If I don’t know something pretty well it’s pretty clear soon enough that I don’t. I hedge, I “er” and I “hmm”. To my frustration, I’ve found that this does not work very well in the traditional corporate environment. Actually it doesn’t work at all! People, it seems, demand rock solid assurance and the type of conviction that only comes from hallucinogenic and spiritual omniscience.

So when I have found myself listening to an economist or an analyst it’s obvious as mud that they are good, not at forecasting or guesstimating the future, but at telling stories. They are usually so convincing that the content in their message becomes irrelevant. Listeners are easily impressed by presentation skills (ah, that’s why oratory was such a core part of Ancient Greek and Roman curriculum) and I have often heard colleagues say things like “I liked him. He presented very well.” Not what he presented but how.

As I reflect on my working life I see that it’s colleagues who suck up, fit in, palm off other people’s ideas as theirs, fold into the consensus and who speak volubly of views in a cock “sure 100%” manner who do way better than the practical logical guy who won’t factually state an opinion except it can be backed up by a QED.

Walter Isaacson relates in his bio of Steve Jobs a piece of advice given to young Steve by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell: “Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.” Now without that sleeve of wisdom being imbibed and executed to perfection I may not have been typing this blog today on a MacBook Pro or any computer at all. The wonders of faking it never ceases to amaze and I sure do have a lot to learn about the peculiar earth-born genus called homo.

Lost Pages

You get on the train and take your seat. Phew! The light is good and your eyes are rested. Your book, itching to be read, falls open at the right page and the world around you, like sugar in boiling water, speedily dissolves. Another day, a new train but this time, your ear catches on to floating conversation and hangs tight. As hard as you try you can’t unhook it and dive into your book. Oh Sisyphus, you should see my uphill struggle! Why, why, why, does this happen? By the time you or Chatterbox get off the train you’ve lost five or six pages that are never coming back.