Some media jottings
The Financial Times reports that:
The US has earmarked about 80 detainees for release but has faced difficulty sending them back to their home countries. In some cases countries have been unwilling to accept men who have been accused of terrorism. In other instances, the US has not been satisfied that the detainees would be treated humanely or that adequate security measures would be put in place. [My emphasis — BLB]
We obviously shouldn't hesitate to salute this American solicitude, however belated, for the humane treatment of Guantanamo graduates.
A front page article in today's Observer provides chilling examples of linguistic blunders committed by illiterate undergraduates of Imperial College and collected by an admirable IC tutor, Dr Bernard Lamb. Unfortunately the article itself includes the following (not, of course, written by Dr Lamb):
Some used herd instead of heard, fourth instead of forth, been instead of bean, and many of the writers were 'hopeless at punctuation'.
It's always dangerous to point the pedantic finger at others' language mistakes (which is why this pot is always — well, usually — chary of pointing its pedantic finger at black kettles), but you'd have thought, wouldn't you?, that the Observer's sub-editors and even its august Editor might have scrutinised this article with special care.
Having myself suffered more than once at the hands of newspaper Letters Editors — especially at the Guardian — who think they can express my thoughts better than I can, re-writing my prose so adventurously as sometimes to remove its meaning altogether, I'm in two minds about minor mistakes in readers' letters: should a compassionate letters editor correct them before launching the letter into the public prints, or should he or she let the writer's mistake speak for itself, leaving the rest of us to draw our own conclusions? The thought is prompted by the following in a letter in today's Observer:
I traced my birth mother. She was a lovely lady whom I am sure would have made an excellent mother.
That intrusive 'm' yet again! Long ago I gave up trying to persuade the then Readers' Editor of the Observer's sister paper, the Guardian, to persuade its writers to recognise the difference between the nominative and other cases of "who". Today's example, though, is made even more enjoyable by the sub-heading provided for the erring letter: Who are you calling 'mum'? Perhaps they are meant to cancel each other out.
Nine cheers (three each), though, for at least three other, good, things in today's Observer.
(1) It must have taken some courage to print Mary Warnock's article last week questioning the justice of sending to prison people who have downloaded images of child abuse (mis-named 'child pornography') onto their computers but against whom there is not a shred of evidence of having themselves ever abused a child. Paying to download these horrible pictures and videos certainly encourages and colludes indirectly in the abuse of the children shown in them, and is rightly regarded as an offence. But to equate it with physically abusing a child is grotesque, and there seems no case in equity or common sense for sending anyone to prison for it.
(2) Andrew Anthony rightly lambasts the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for their extraordinary joint statement denouncing a serious television programme, Undercover Mosque, for allegedly quoting Muslim preachers "out of context": they have even gone so far as to refer the matter to the regulator, Ofcom. The programme, made by reputable producers and editors, broadcast extracts from inflammatory sermons which the programme makers vehemently deny were in any way "out of context". No-one suggests that any breach of any law has been committed by the programme — or even necessarily by the preachers — and this apparent foray into television criticism by the West Midlands Police and the CPS seems both unwarranted and potentially sinister. Anthony's article's dissection of this incident is exemplary.
(3) The Observer's editorial about the EU "Reform Treaty" and whether there should be a referendum on it (as demanded by the Tories and the noisier tabloids) performs a useful service by pointing out that the government's real, as distinct from its "public", reason for refusing to hold a referendum on the treaty is that it would lose it, suspicion of the EU and all its works being so widespread in Britain. The institutional and procedural changes proposed by the treaty are made patently necessary by recent EU enlargement, and their defeat in a referendum would be extremely harmful. It's anyway questionable whether any large number of British voters would have read the document upon which they were required to pronounce, or whether, even if they had read them, many would understand their implications or the nature of the changes from existing practice that would be entailed — and I am certainly among those who would neither read nor understand the document, having much better things to do with my time. We can't seriously expect ministers to admit that the reason for not having a referendum is that its result would be to reject the treaty, which both the EU and Britain clearly need, but it's useful for the serious media to point this out as the Observer has done.
The blame for this inconvenient argument rests on (a) the Blair government for having recklessly promised a referendum on the now defunct proposal for a new EU 'Constitution', some of whose provisions are reproduced in the new draft treaty; and on (b) the Tories and their attendant tabloids for their mischievous and cynical opposition to the draft treaty and their demand for a referendum on it — a reversion to the bad old days of the pre-Cameron Conservatives' unprincipled, opportunistic Europhobia.
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Some things I would prefer never again to hear or read in trendy political commentaries and interviews:
What is the Daily Beast's take on this?
The Daily Beast goes with the terrorism story as its lead.
The Brown bounce.
That's all we have time for [followed by commercials aimed at four-year-olds, or sport, or a segment on doing up houses]
I'm sorry to interrupt [introduction to an interruption that prevents the speaker from making his or her main point]
Son of the manse [referring to the prime minister, or indeed anyone else]
At the end of the day [used first thing in the morning or mid-afternoon]
The next general election need not be held before 2009 [the last one was in May 2005 and we still have statutory provision for five-year parliaments in this country, not four]
I'm now joined by … [introducing someone speaking from a television studio several hundred miles away]
There are many more such irrritants, but you get the general idea.