Sunday, November 04, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 4.11.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • I trust everyone has read the article on the difficulty of learning German. There seems to be a bit of controversy about how many forms of 'the' there are in this benighted language. Some say a mere 17 but other say 24 or more.
  • Reader María expresses sympathy for German kids. Understandably. A German friend of mine told me years ago that these poor creatures don't achieve command until they're around 12. And some of them never manage it, of course. Even in 'Low German'. In contrast, my granddaughter already out-talks her parents at 3. But, then, she is using a far simpler tool.
  • One small example . . . My host tells me that both mich and mir in these 2 sentences mean 'me' in English. Though I have a sneaking suspicion one of them could be translated (albeit literally) as 'myself'.
- Ich habe interesse an einem Beratungsgesprach zum neuen Macan oder moechte mich allgemein informieren.
- Bitte senden Sie mir weitere informationen

Query: Why is 'you'(Sie) capitalised but 'me' isn't???? Don't bother answering.

Matters Spanish
  • Here's El Pais's annual article on prostitution in Spain, where one could argue it's neither legal nor illegal. But widespread. To say the least. No one seems to have the political will to do much about the appalling trafficking of women that goes with it. 
  • The sin of a wages increase, according to the Bank of Spain
Matters USA
  • Even before I read the article below, I'd wondered how a man with Fart's much-written-about personality and temperament could ever be as happy as, say, me or you. Now I'm clear on how he gets his rocks off – by frightening himself and others on as large a scale as he can. As the author says: Fart is a one-dimensional politician. He can’t or won’t keep the nation safe against domestic terrorists whose twisted ideology he has tolerated and even endorsed. He can’t or won’t inspire the nation to optimism because he is animated by a sense of impending doom.
Matters UK
  • The State of the Nation. A columnist this morning opines that the police can't be expected to deal well with 'old' crimes if society – or at least the government – increasingly demands they deal with new crimes based on little but hurt feelings. In another paper, I read that a supermarket whose magazine included an alleged Persian recipe has been accused by some massively irate Anglo-Iranian of ‘lazy, casual racism’ because the dish was primarily Indian in nature. Ye gods. Is everyone in the UK a bloody snowflake now?
  • I came across the word 'woke' twice this morning. Not being up on these things, I had to check its meaning. Which is 'To be aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)'. We needed the word, if only to be able to use it pejoratively. I suspect Owen Jones of the Guardian is a classic case.
Finally . . .
  1. Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. I was almost born on this day. Thankfully, I wasn't as my parents were planning to call me Guy if this came about.
  2. Here's a cartoon which brings a couple of today's items together. For non-Brits, it relates to the attempt by Guy Fawkes and other Catholic guys to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, the so-called Gunpowder Plot:

© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 4.11.18


The only thing Trump seems to fear is running out of fear itself: Richard Wolffe

The economy is booming but it is less Morning in America, more Recurring Nightmare. Truly, this is a Fox News election

By this stage of the Trump presidency, our greatest of great leaders promised, we would be winning pretty much in every sphere of human civilization. The economy, the military, healthcare, fantasy football, the Mega Millions lottery. You name it.

In fact, he predicted that all this orgasmic winning would be so awesome that we would obviously be tired and begging him (please!) to stop with all the winning.

“You’ll say, ‘Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it any more. Mr President, it’s too much,’ he told a rally in Albany, New York, in 2016.

“And I’ll say, ‘No, it isn’t.’”

This game of fantasy politics is not just some alternate universe that occupies an alarmingly sizable proportion of the president’s very, very large brain. In his delusional nirvana of the future, Trump understands, nobody will ever be truly happy. His exhausted fans/lovers will beg him to stop, but he will deny them even that shallow pleasure.

It’s less Morning in America than our Recurring Nightmare in America. Which helps explain the curious crisis of Trump’s closing arguments in these midterm elections.

As Friday’s jobs data vividly underscored, this should be – at least economically speaking – an optimistic time in American politics. The economy is stacking up historically large numbers of new jobs, continuing a winning streak that awkwardly started under, um, Barack Obama all of 97 months ago. The unemployment rate stayed at the winningly low rate of 3.7% (a 49-year low) while wages rose 3.1% over the year.

For most politicians, this would be a frabjous day. But there are no calloohs or callays in this Trumperwocky

For most politicians, this would be a frabjous day of well-nigh full employment and fatter paychecks. But there are no calloohs or callays in this Trumperwocky.

There are just rock-wielding caravans of disease-plagued murderers invading a fragile nation at risk of imminent collapse from the enemies within: notably the media and a bunch of radical leftwing mobs in cahoots with a suspiciously Semitic man called Soros. If you haven’t already spat out your dentures, you’re not watching Fox News.

This is not a small challenge for Republicans across the country and for the Trump campaign as it looks to 2020. Much has been made of Trump’s determination to play to his base and alienate suburban voters – especially Republican women – who could, you know, decide these contests.

But Trump has an even greater limitation than his love of his own loving base. He is the candidate of crisis: not just a smash-mouth street-fighter but a peddler of the impending apocalypse.

This type of candidate gains traction after a genuine crisis, such as a once-in-a-lifetime financial collapse whose suffering lingers on for many years into the recovery. Such a candidate might live off the fumes of crisis as long as distant terrorists unsettle us.

However, it’s hard to keep a good crisis going when your voters are feeling pretty secure, at a time of relative peace and prosperity. You end up grasping at Halloween ghouls that make you look weak and out of touch. This kind of populism is only popular when things are truly scary.

What happens when 15,000 troops arrive at the Mexican border to watch an empty horizon that will not be filled with a couple of thousand unarmed civilians until next spring? How will this TV show continue without a meaningful cliffhanger? Even if George Soros flies the entire caravan to the border on a fleet of private jets, is there any suspense in seeing how the US military uses its five-to-one advantage in manpower, never mind firepower?

To use a flattering historical example, British voters famously decided that Winston Churchill was a fine wartime leader, but that the old racist rabble-rouser wasn’t exactly the national leader they wanted for peacetime. Trump may have been – for a minority of the popular vote – a better choice to shake up the system than Hillary Clinton. But the only people who want to shake up the system now are the anti-Trump resistance, and they are voting early in record numbers.

To use a less flattering European example, Italian voters decided time and again to ignore the proto-fascism of Silvio Berlusconi because he looked like he was having fun. He may have been a grotesque national embarrassment, but between his wealth and his women there were plenty of older Italian men who found him an aspirational figure.

Trump, on the other hand, rarely looks like he’s having fun. He may still appeal to older, white men. But he radiates resentment and racial fears at a time when the only people who find that aspirational are pipe-bombers and mass murderers.

So we have the weird sight of a president celebrating the good economic news by expressing his shock and fears about natural disasters.

“I will say that we had tremendous jobs numbers today,” he told reporters on Friday. “That was shocking to a number of people. That was shocking by any standard and that’s despite the hurricane.”

Trump thinks that “shocking” is a good thing. That sentiment echoed his tweetabout the jobs numbers on Friday, which expressed his surprise at the data: “Wow! The US added 250,000 Jobs in October – and this was despite the hurricanes.”

He could have said the jobs numbers were thanks to his own deficit-busting tax cuts or his environment-crushing deregulation. But no. He did tweet, two hours later, a photo of himself in a Game of Thrones design, warning darkly about sanctions against Iran. So let the good times roll!

In between tweets, he continued to stoke outrage and concoct crises by blaming the media for domestic terrorism and saying it was OK for US troops to shoot migrants who might throw rocks.

This is a parody of the terrorist-whupping presidency of George W Bush, whose own claims to national security superiority collapsed in the civil war in Iraq and the waters that flooded New Orleans. Bush was more than just a gunslinger: he aspired to Reaganesque sunshine about America’s present and future.

Trump has neither political quality; he is a one-dimensional politician. He can’t or won’t keep the nation safe against domestic terrorists whose twisted ideology he has tolerated and even endorsed. He can’t or won’t inspire the nation to optimism because he is animated by a sense of impending doom.

That crisis is real for Trump, but it isn’t coming across the border. It’s arriving next week with a Congress that will no longer shield him from investigation. And it’s probably arriving soon after that with a Mueller report that needs to claim asylum outside election season.

Never mind the fake constitutional debate about birthright citizenship. The real constitutional debate about an unlawful president is about to begin.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Let us see.

Personally, I only count 16 possible cases of The in German, and even in that group many of them 'double' for different 'roles', bringing the grand total of pure forms to a mere 6. To wit: Der, Des, Dem, Den, Die, Das. I'd be interested to hear how anybody finds 17 different forms of determined article. Or 24. But especially 17, as we only have four cases for each of the masculine singular, feminine singular, neutral singular and the plural.

What, for crying out loud, is "moemicht"? Even Goethe never used that! You are right that the correct translation of 'mich' would by 'myself'.

I suppose you meant to write 'Sie' instead of 'Sir'. I won't answer your query.


Anthea said...

Regarding the difficulty of German, I know someone who has apparently mastered (or should that be mistressed?) the German language, and Dutch, which I think of as very similar, but has just given up on learning Spanish in hernsecond year of study. She claims it is too difficult and that the verbs are too complicated. How odd! I ffind Spanish mostlY very logical. Even the irregular verbs have their very own kind of regularity and can be put into groups for learning. Now, I know she had anvery good German teacher , my friend Heidy, but I can only think she has perhaps not got such a good grasp of it asnshe thinks.

sp said...


OK - many of them are the same, but you need to treat them as 24 to know when a "den" is a singular masculine accusative and when it's a plural neutral dative.

I've only been learning German for 37 years, so I'm still having difficulties. Dutch is much better. Many of the words are the same as German, but there are only 2 genders and it sounds more amusing.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

But my dear SP:

There are only 4 cases in masculine singular. Only 4 in feminine singular. Only 4 in neutral singular. And only 4 in plural (which are the same for all genders). How does that make 24, please??

I must be missing something, having learned my German 50 years ago, and still speaking it sort-of!

Dutch is indeed much better, since it tossed them irritating cases out the window, into the dirty canals. And then marked the grammatical role of the nouns etc. the same way English does: by word order and subtle prepositions.

And, my dear Anthea, saying that Dutch is pretty much the same as German is telling Spaniards that they are only a rougher sort of Portuguese. One wants to take care with such brash statements in this day and age!


sp said...

As explained above, the singular and plural grids are each 3 by 4. Even if many spaces contain the same words there are 24 use cases and the educated speaker needs to be aware of that.

Colin Davies said...

Well, at a guess - and without knowing which of these is the exact same as one or more of the others - I'd say the 24 arise as follows. And, as SP says, you need to know which one to use each time. Albeit you have, I suppose, a 25% chance of success:-

Maculine singular


Feminine Singular


Neutral Single


Masculine Plural


Feminine Plural


Neutral plural


So, you are both right. But SP is more right on the complexity issue.

P. S. Anthea did say 'to me'. Not that they're absolutely similar. Though they are, of course, to English-speakers' ears. But you are right, of course, that Dutch is simpller. How could it not be??????

Colin Davies said...

P. P. S. I guess you mean the 'definite' article, not 'determined'. Your bloody spellcheck again???? Or Dutch influence???

Colin Davies said...

Or c.16% chance of success, if there are 6 forms, not 4, as I first thought.

sp said...

Do I win 5 pounds?

Colin Davies said...

Indeed you do. Please come and collect any time.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

My dear ignoramuses,

Grammar is not arithmetic!!! It is not a matter of multiplying all cases with all genders and numbers.

In German there is NO DISTINCTION between masculine, feminine and neutral plural. There is only ONE plural. They ALL look the same. And behave the same. And sound the same. And bless the Lord for that!!

So you got 4 x 4 cases, which makes 16. At best.

Oh dear, the kind of airheads a man of taste and sophistication has to deal with these days...!!!


Colin Davies said...

My dear Arrogant-Al,

My (true-German) host tells the that you are wrong. As with everything in German, he says - and as Twain said before him - there are exceptions.

While he thinks of examples, here's a page which shows that neither the genitive nor the dative neutral plural is 'die' . . . .

Please contact the page if you disagree . . . .

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Looking forward to the examples.

And the web-address of the page you wish me to look at.


Colin Davies said...

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Thank you. Looked at it. They still list only 16 cases, 4 of which are common to the mass, fem and neutral plural. I do not see them mentioning any exceptions.

Incidentally, I never said that the genitive and the dative plural definite article is 'die'. Possibly I confused you by not pointing out clearly that the small document I sent you separately comes in a different order, to wit: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative. So I was taught, long time ago, as these were called (in identical order) 1º Fall, 2º Fall etc. Don't know when they changed that in language education or grammar description. Or why.

In any case, you will see, on comparison, that my list and the one on the website you sent me are perfectly identical.


Colin Davies said...

Pick the meat out of this. I am told it's correct by 2 German speakers but WhoTF really knows???

The ship Das Schiff Neutral noun.
The ships Die Schiffe Normal plural
The mast Der Mast
The masts Die Maste
The mast of the ship broke and fell down Der Mast des Schiffes brach und fiel hin
The masts of the ships broke and fell down Die Masten DER Schiffe brachen und fielen um Genitive plural of neutral noun,

Colin Davies said...

I wrote that half an hour ago but failed to post it . . .

Yes, everything you say is true but you did say - or very much gave the impression - that, in the plural with neutral nouns, it would always be DIE. 'Never changing', or something like that.

Maria said...

Now that the definite article in German has been discussed, dismantled, and re-established, can anyone tell me why we use the preposition "to" with the infinitive of the verb in English? I know of no other language where that happens.

I await Grammatic-Al.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

As in Die Die Die Die ??? Die for all cases in a Neutral Plural that does not exist independently of the masc and the fem plural? No, my dear friend, I never said that. Read back the comments above. If you find me saying that, you've won a bottle of wine.

Your sentences in the penultimate comment seem fine to me. And are in perfect keeping with the list I sent you separately.

BTW you forgot an N at the end of the first 'Maste'. Can't be too careful when it comes to the krauts. Oh, and don't mention you-know-what!


Colin Davies said...

"In German there is NO DISTINCTION between masculine, feminine and neutral plural. There is only ONE plural. They ALL look the same. And behave the same. And sound the same."

Which, you said/implied, was 'Die'.

FIN (unless you want the last word) . . . .

Alfred B. Mittington said...

No, that was not implied.

What was implied was that all three genders, once in plural, assume the same four case forms for the definite article. Not that all those four definite articles (nom, gen, dat, acc) are the same.

Yes, let us stop this useless discussion between one who knows German and one who has not a German word to his name...


Colin Davies said...

Blame Google: The mast, Der Maste.

BTW, Oh Master: Why does 'hin' become 'um'?

I have the slightest of impressions your English is not as perfect as your German. I blame some mongrel blood. Perhaps Dutch . . .

Colin Davies said...


1. Ordained by God for His language,


2. Because, if not, the English infinitive would be the same as the stem used in almost all present tense cases??????
Etre. Je suis etc
Ir - (Yo) voy etc.
Venir - (Yo) vengo etc.
et., etc.

Which of the versions of the latter verbs ((or any verb) )would one choose as the infinitive if one followed the English usage?