Sunday, March 15, 2015

A small grumble about place-names

I have been grumbling about this for a while. Why do we misname foreign places?  Why do we call Beograd Belgrade, Wien Vienna, Roma Rome and -- horror of horrors -- why do we call the historic Italian seaport of Livorno "Leghorn"?  That one always gets me. 

None of those names are hard to say for anyone used to English phonetics only. And Nederland is easy to say too. But we insist on calling it Holland, or in our better moments "The Netherlands".  At least the latter is an accurate translation, I guess.  But to refer to the Nederlanders as "Dutch" is certainly "insensitive", to use the language of political correctness. The Dutch ("Deutsch") are in fact the Germans and there have been a few  "issues" between the Germans and the Nederlanders -- a small famine here and there -- that sort of thing.

Some renaming I can understand.  Muenchen contains a nasty German guttural so "Munich" is understandable. And mispronouncing Paris is sort of defensible too.  The Parisians pronounce it as "Paree" but why should we take any notice if that?  The fact that Paris is the most visited overseas city for the English doesn't count, of course. The English quite like their train rides between St. Pancras and the Gare du Nord but you mustn't take too much notice of those "Frogs" at the other end.

But the misnaming that has been bothering me lately is the renaming of Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Archduke Johann.  Why do we have to call it "Styria"?  How ugly!  And how needless.  There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name.  If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark. Pronouncing it according to English rules won't get you the exact German pronunciation but it will be a lot better than "Styria".   Yes. I know that the name "Styria" is somehow derived from the city of Steyr (famous for its assault rifles) but Steyr lies OUTSIDE Steiermark.

Of course the English are not alone in renaming foreign parts.  Italians for instance refer to Paris as "Parigi".  I have no idea why.  An Italian can say "Paree" with perfect ease.

And we do make an effort with our own "difficult" place names.  You don't pronounce the "c" in Tucson, for instance.  And no Englishman pronounces "Worcester" as it is spelled.  He will always say "Wooster" -- and "Gloster" for Gloucester.  And Australian place names are at least as difficult as English ones -- mainly because many of them have Aboriginal origins.  Woolloongabba, where I live, is not pronounced well South of the Queensland border, for instance.  And you more or less have to live there to pronounce Mungindi correctly.

I could go on for many pages yet -- talking about Firenze, Modena, Sovietskaya Rossiya etc. -- but I guess we will just have to soldier on,  pronouncing the place names of half the world incorrectly -- JR.

Too white. Too male. And too damned British. No wonder the Beeb wants shot of Clarkson

A compulsively Leftist Cohen (There are a lot of them) wants to fire a top BBC talent  -- because that talent is prone to political incorrectness.  That the talent concerned would be snapped up by commercial TV (Rupert Murdoch anyone?) doesn't matter to him.  It won't cost him anything


Has Desperate Dan finally got his man? BBC television chief Danny Cohen appears determined to go down in history as The Man Who Sacked Jeremy Clarkson.

If he succeeds he’ll be the toast of fashionable Shoreditch salons, a folk hero to the Guardianistas and all those who despise Top Gear for being too white, too male and, frankly, too damned British.

The Lilliputian Lefties who infest the BBC see Clarkson as an embarrassment — a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic caveman, who shouldn’t be given house room by a ‘liberal’ publicly funded broadcaster.

Certainly, Cohen has made no secret of his contempt for Clarkson and this week seized his chance to suspend him over a ‘fracas’ on location, during which the presenter is alleged to have punched producer Oisin Tymon.

Cohen has also pulled the remaining three episodes of the programme while an ‘investigation’ is carried out by the BBC’s human resources department.

What’s to investigate? My understanding is that the facts are not in dispute and Tymon hasn’t made an official complaint. Clarkson denies punching him, but admits there was ‘contact’ and has apologised profusely.


Tymon is a long-standing and much-valued member of the Top Gear team and there is said to be no bad blood between him and the show’s star. Tempers were frayed after a difficult day’s filming, resulting in what James May calls a ‘dust-up’.

It’s the kind of thing which happens when people are living under pressure in each other’s pockets. Dressing room fisticuffs are not unknown among rock stars or on rugby tours. Normally what happens on tour stays on tour.

Because Clarkson is forced to live his life under a microscope, the incident inevitably came to Cohen’s attention, presenting him with an irresistible opportunity to dispose of his bête noire once and for all. (Can you still say bête noire at the BBC?)

Clarkson was already on a ‘final warning’ following a series of so-called ‘gaffes’, most of them confected.

He was forced by Cohen to make a grovelling public apology after being accused of using the N-word while reciting the nursery rhyme Eeny Meeny Miny Moe to compare two indistinguishable cars.

I watched the clip a dozen times and at best it was inconclusive. Halfway through the second line, he deliberately avoids dropping the N-bomb. More to the point, on Clarkson’s own instructions, it was never broadcast — precisely to avoid another bout of artificial outrage.

That didn’t stop someone at the BBC retrieving the footage from the cutting room floor and passing it to the Daily Mirror in an attempt to discredit him.

Instead of supporting Clarkson, Cohen deliberately humiliated him. I wondered at the time why he didn’t just tell Cohen to get lost and walk away? It’s not as if he needs the money and rival broadcasters would fall over each other to snap him up.

This is where I declare an interest. As regular readers are well aware, Jeremy is an old friend of mine. I’ve seen him rise from a young presenter on a niche motoring show to become one of the biggest television stars . . . in the wurrld.

Although he has more money than he could ever have imagined, his fortune could have been far larger had he accepted offers from the commercial sector.

When the rest of the Top Gear presenters jumped ship to Channel 5 fifteen years ago, Clarkson stayed put. His main concern was securing for his producer and old schoolfriend Andy Wilman a proper salary and a piece of the action.

Together, they reinvented the format, turning the show into a global phenomenon bringing in around £50 million a year for the BBC.

And make no mistake, this is Clarkson and Wilman’s triumph. BBC executives simply bask in the reflected glory. So you’d expect the show and its star presenter to be handled with more respect.

Despite his disdainful treatment by Cohen, Clarkson still wants to stay at the BBC — even though he gives every impression of hating it.

What he loves is the institution itself, the ‘Auntie’ we all grew up with. It gave him his first break in TV back in 1988.

What he hates is the cult of managerialism; the naked political posturing; unwanted interference from over-promoted non-entities, constantly carping, buck-passing and covering their own backsides.

He’s also fiercely loyal to his Top Gear team, who travel the world together. The reason he complied with Cohen’s order to apologise over the ridiculous N-word furore was because he felt an obligation towards his staff to keep the show going and them in work.

So it’s no surprise that he was appalled at the lack of backing from Cohen when the Top Gear crew were viciously attacked in Argentina recently and had to flee for their lives.

The only thing that seemed to bother the BBC bigwigs was whether Clarkson had set out to provoke the Argentinians by driving a car with a number-plate intended deliberately to remind them of Britain’s victory in the Falklands War.


Who knows? I haven’t asked, but I wouldn’t put it past him. Jeremy would admit he can be his own worst enemy. He shouldn’t take to Twitter after a few drinks and he was foolish to accept the advice of lawyers who told him to seek a super-injunction to cover up an extra-marital affair.

He’s capable of being gratuitously offensive, but so what? Funny how the Lefties at the BBC were quick to proclaim ‘Je Suis Charlie’ after a French magazine offended Muslims, but never declare themselves ‘Je Suis Jeremy’ whenever he upsets someone.

Clarkson doesn’t hide himself away, despite the controversy and constant attention from the public. He can’t use a toilet without someone shoving a mobile phone in his face or demanding to have their picture taken with him. And he has paid a physical and emotional price for his gruelling globe-trotting schedule.

Most poignantly, it cost him his marriage to Francie. Goodness knows what he’s going to do if he ever loses his looks.

So why does he do it? He’s nothing left to prove. Yet he ploughs on, writing weekly newspaper columns and touring in Top Gear Live arena shows as well the day job: Top Gear itself.

Michael Parkinson once told me that all the great stars he’d met had one thing in common. Talent, obviously. But primarily they worked harder than everyone else.

Clarkson combines enormous talent and hard work. Plus, he’s easily bored. The self-inflicted pressures upon him are enormous, so it’s no wonder that occasionally he can become consumed by madness.


But take away the madness and the genius might disappear, too. He has repaid the BBC in spades for his early break and is responsible for their most successful show ever. Yet the Director of Television treats him like a leper, while rolling out the red carpet for repulsive Russell Brand, who brought genuine disgrace on the BBC.

Cohen’s decision to pull the remaining Top Gear episodes will mean wasting hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of pounds of licence-payers’ money already spent on filmed sequences. It will also incur massive compensation claims from foreign broadcasters.

He couldn’t get away with that if he was a director of a commercial organisation, answerable to shareholders. And what about the millions of viewers being deprived of their favourite Sunday night show?

Cohen cares more about pandering to the political prejudices and petty jealousies of his Left-wing peer group in those Shoreditch salons. And that means securing his place in history as The Man Who Sacked Jeremy Clarkson.

For now, we shall just have to await the verdict of the BBC’s investigation. Let’s hope it doesn’t end in Jeremy being fired, although no one could blame him if he did decide to walk away.

If the viewers were ever to be asked who was most valuable to the BBC, Clarkson or the Director of Television, there would be only one winner. And it wouldn’t be Desperate Dan.


Incorrect to remember a defeat?

Australians commemorate one of their military defeats every year  -- ANZAC day.  They must be more mature than the French

It was the clash that finally lifted the threat of Napoleon’s imperial ambitions from Europe and brought peace after decades of war.  The Battle of Waterloo also marked a new era for France, freed from the yoke of Bonaparte tyranny.

But it seems that the French don’t see it that way, even after 200 years. The defeat of Napoleon’s army outside a Belgian town by Britain, Prussia and allies from Northern Europe still appears to be something of a sore point.

In an extraordinary intervention, France has blocked plans for a two euro coin to commemorate Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon.  President Francois Hollande claimed the Belgian project would be a ‘symbol that is negative’ and undermine eurozone unity.

Now the Belgians have scrapped plans to have the commemorative coin produced next month to avoid a diplomatic row.

Hollande’s government argued the battle was still a bad memory for the French people. A Brussels source said: ‘Belgium have withdrawn the project because it would not be in their interest to cause upset to the French.’ Last night British politicians said France’s reaction to the coin – and Belgium’s subsequent cave-in – was ‘absurd’.

Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: ‘I know the euro is a useless currency but I didn’t know that the French still could not cope with the fact they were defeated.

'It is absurd, I would have thought the French would have been quite keen to have got rid of an emperor. The French should grow up a bit.’

MP Philip Davies added: ‘It shows how thin skinned and small minded the French are, how desperate Hollande is politically and how weak the Belgians are. What a shower.’

A draft design of the coin was submitted to the Council of the European Union by Belgium in February this year.

It was expected to go into production next month but France objected to the coin last week, claiming in a letter to the Council of Europe that producing the coin would ‘risk… engendering unfavourable reactions in France’.

The Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, stopped the advance of Napoleon and sent him into exile for a second and final time.

In the one day of fighting there were around 55,000 either killed, wounded, or missing in action. However, the battle ushered in more than 50 years of peace.

While the proposed design of the coin has not been revealed, it is understood to have featured a battle scene. The UK has issued a £5 coin to mark the bicentenary.


A Legacy of Racial Grievance

Another shooting has taken place in Ferguson, Missouri – and this time, two police officers were the victims. The violence should not come as a surprise, given the ugly tone set by the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Eric Holder.

The most divisive attorney general since Richard Nixon’s John Mitchell, Holder has fanned the flames of racial grievance for much of his tenure. In his early days in office, he called America “a nation of cowards” on racial issues. Last week, his target was the Ferguson Police Department. Holder promised, “We are prepared to use all the power that we have … to ensure that the situation changes there.” No, he didn’t intend for someone to try to kill two police officers by shooting them in the face. But by portraying the police department as racist to the core, he contributed to the culture of vengeance that led to the shooting.

There is no doubt that the Ferguson Police Department has major problems and needs reform. As the 105-page Justice Department report issued last week documents, city officials have seen the police department largely as a cash cow: “The City budgets for sizeable increases in municipal fines and fees each year, exhorts police and court staff to deliver those revenue increases, and closely monitors whether those increases are achieved.”

The main sources of those revenues are criminal and civil fines. The policy encourages police to make more traffic stops, conduct more searches, issue more tickets and make more arrests and the courts to issue more warrants and fines to drive up revenues. It’s a lousy policy – but one not unique to Ferguson. If the Justice Department were truly serious about changing the abuses more broadly, it would have conducted a larger study that looked at similar patterns in other localities – including largely white tourist towns, where traffic tickets are often a huge source of revenue.

But Holder isn’t interested in the insatiable appetite of government for more revenues. He came to Ferguson in search of racism – and of course, he found it. It was predestined from the moment President Barack Obama announced he was sending Holder to Ferguson to investigate the shooting of Michael Brown last August.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the Justice Department’s investigation is that it cleared the Ferguson police officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, of any wrongdoing in Brown’s death. Obama, Holder and many of the liberal media were quick to suspect that Wilson, who is white, shot Brown because he was black. For months after the shooting, protesters around the country adopted the mantra “hands up, don’t shoot” to describe Brown’s actions before he was fatally shot by Wilson. Now the Justice Department’s investigation has concluded that nothing of the sort happened. According to all available forensic evidence and credible witnesses, Brown attacked the police officer and was in the process of charging toward him when Wilson fired the fatal shots.

Racism wasn’t responsible for Michael Brown’s death. Brown’s own behavior precipitated his unfortunate end.

Blaming racism for every statistical disparity that exists between whites and blacks – from education to income and poverty to crime – gets us no further in solving the problems that exist for many black Americans. Nor does it get us closer to wiping out the racial prejudices that do, unfortunately, still exist among a minority of the American population. But those prejudices – examples of which were found by the Justice Department among police officers in Ferguson – are not unique to whites. In every study of racial attitudes among Americans, whites are no likelier to harbor prejudices against people of other races than are blacks, Hispanics or Asians.

Eric Holder will leave office as early as next week if the Senate confirms Loretta Lynch to be his successor. It will be none too soon. A man who could have done much to improve race relations will instead leave behind a sorry legacy of inflaming racial tensions when the nation most needed a healer.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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