Saturday, March 08, 2008

The final afternoon of campaigning for the general election on Sunday was suspended by all parties after ETA murdered another politician by shooting him in the back of the head, in front of his wife and daughter. The consensus seems to be this won’t have much of an impact on the results, though it will be ironic if it does. Especially if it helps the right-of-centre PP, which suffered greatly the last time round. Albeit after shooting itself in all available limbs.

I see the BBC report says it’s expected that ETA will claim responsibility for this murder in due course. Why do they use the word ‘claim’ when ‘admit’ would be a far more appropriate word? Do embezzlers ‘claim’ responsibility for the lesser crime of pocketing a few thousand? Even a few million? Do I claim responsibility for all my DIY cock-ups?

This question allows me to report that the Spanish for ‘to claim’ – pretender – is something of a false friend. Apart from ‘to claim’, it also means ‘to intend’ and ‘to mean’. The only English similar usages I can think of are in ‘I don’t pretend to know the answer’ and ‘The pretender to the throne’. Both of which have the ‘claim’ element. If you want to convey the English word ‘pretend’ in Spanish, you have to use fingir or similar. The latter clearly comes from the same Latin route as ‘simulate’ and I wonder if fingir is related to ‘feign’.

Talking of language - Back in the UK, my younger daughter is a teacher by vocation. And a very good one. But she’s thinking of quitting after only two years because of everything in British education that now gets in the way of controlling a classroom, never mind actually teaching. I was reminded of this when reading these words on the impact of the Labour administration’s socially-progressive micro-management on the work of charity trustees:- The other day, I was sitting in a very long meeting of the board of a charity. We were trying to wrestle with government requirements to show what our "policy" was on various matters. A "policy", you must understand, is not a simple thing any more. It is not just a statement like: "We aim to provide residential care for the elderly" or "We try to cure children with spinal injuries" (or whatever). Nor is it just a statement of specific rules such as "No alcohol may be consumed on the premises" or "Pupils need not wear school uniform in the sixth form". No, a policy has to be a lengthy document on anything that the Government thinks important. It must set out aims, procedures, targets, monitoring, assessment, evaluation and so on. Depending slightly on what sort of organisation you are, you must have policies on health and safety, access, disability, recruitment, transparency, energy efficiency, environmental health, etc, etc. To get money, pass inspections, avoid litigation, be accepted as a charity - virtually to exist at all - you must keep your "policies" in constant repair, all shipshape and Whitehall fashion. To survive, you really need to have a policy about your policies. . . Phrases that now come to us from government and public bodies seemed to take physical form before me. Thick and fast they crowded in. "Best practice", "diversity", "gender", "sustainability", "community", "ethnicity", "governance", "delivery", "targeting", "orientation", "timelines", "resources", "empowerment", "renewables", "compliance", "strategies" and "wheelchair access" all hurried into my mental room. "Rolling programmes", unable to maintain their "work/life balance" in the absence of a "level playing field", sprawled in the corner. All were escorted by "key workers", "work colleagues", "care workers", "user groups", "mentors" (their "mentees" trotting eagerly along behind them), "service providers", "diversity champions", "stakeholders", "key drivers" (though these seemed not to be people) and many varieties of "partners", including those with experience of the "sharp end" or the "front line". Some of them said they couldn't stay long because they were busy "managing outcomes" Once they were all present and politically correct, they became somewhat insistent in their demands. They had been "tasked", they explained, to "identify needs" by "addressing the issues around" my failure to understand the concepts adequately. They were concerned about my "skills gap", which might "adversely impact" my "life-chances". For their part, they were "committed to excellence", which must be "world-class". To "meet the challenge" I represented, they felt, required "risk assessments", "constant monitoring" and possibly a "raft of measures", "going forward". Theirs, they said, was "a stretching offer" in the "time period", as well as an "iterative process", and would require a "coherent evidence trail" in order to effect the necessary "knowledge transfer" from the "Knowledge Bank". But they thought it could all be provided at a "one-stop shop". My response "might be monitored for training purposes", and, obviously, "benchmarked" to see if I had absorbed the "learnings". If there was anything I did not understand, they were "happy to have that conversation", "non-judgmentally".

As in education, this is counter-productive lunacy. And vibrant evidence of the fact that the UK at least is living through the Age of the Bureaucrat. It will end in tears. I hope.

Whether the English language will ever recover from this assault is an open question. I only wish Orwell were here to write about it. And about idiots who’ve clearly never read his celebrated essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. If you can’t face the whole thing, here’s an apposite quote – Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. How depressing to see how much worse things have got since he wrote this sixty years ago, in 1946. In my lifetime, in short.

Galicia Facts

To end on a lighter note – If you’re going to be anywhere near Pontevedra, you should go to the main square to visit a lovely little exhibition on the pre-Roman Iberians. Whom we would presumably call the Ancient Iberians, by analogy with the Ancient Britons. If you enter via the Entrada to follow the displays in the intended order, be warned that a percentage of the locals prefers to enter via the Salida and come the other way. God knows why. Unless it’s just an obsession with ignoring rules and norms.

But, if and when they bump into you, they will at least apologise profusely. I like to engender these clashes just for the thrill of this. It compensates for a lot.

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