Category Archives: Foreignery

Poms, Paddies, Jocks & Taffs

I wrote this piece about British national terms after my Cross-Cultural Communication lecturer asked me about the differences between different UK-ish groups. Anyone/everyone disagree?

The most important bit, and by far the most offensive to get wrong, is recognising that the non-English nations within the UK can never be called ‘England’. England, Scotland and Wales are Great Britain; Great Britain and Northern Ireland together are the UK; and citizens of the UK are referred to as British citizens (the word ‘Britain’ on its own doesn’t have a set meaning). If you call someone from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland ‘English’, they’ll be extremely cross. This is a particular problem for non-native English speakers, since many languages don’t discriminate between ‘British’ and ‘English’.

However, there are also plenty of ways of using technically correct forms that can cause confusion, and sometimes offence.

Most Scottish or Welsh people don’t mind being referred to as ‘British’, although most wouldn’t use that term to describe themselves. However, a Scottish or Welsh person with strong political nationalist views might take offence at it. In general, it’s best to describe someone who’s Scottish or Welsh as simply Scottish or Welsh, although a mixed group of people from England, Scotland and Wales can be referred to as British without offending anyone.

With Northern Irish people, there’s a Protestant/Catholic divide (in the sense of heritage/culture rather than actual religions). Most NI Protestants are happy to identify as British; most NI Catholics would be angry to be described as British, even when they’re in a group that also includes people from England, Scotland and Wales. You can’t even sidestep that one by using ‘Northern Irish’, as most Catholics would just describe themselves as ‘Irish’ (particularly as many Catholics born and resident in Northern Ireland choose to carry [Southern] Irish passports, since the Republic of Ireland grants citizenship to anyone born anywhere on the island of Ireland, and Irish citizenship gives you full residency and voting rights anywhere in the UK). Nor can you sidestep it by using ‘Irish’, because many Protestants would be offended to be described as ‘Irish’ rather than ‘Northern Irish’.

Whether a person born in England says they are ‘English’ or ‘British’ is dependent on several factors: whether they have mixed UK heritage, whether or not they’ve grown up in London (‘English’ tends to have more rural, village green-ish connotations, whereas ‘British’ is more urban and ethnically mixed), if they’re from an ethnic minority (black and Asian people in England generally refer to themselves as ‘black British’ and ‘Asian British’, because they don’t identify so well with the stereotype of English), and political affiliations (because of the connotations above, people who are more conservative are more likely to identify as English and vice versa, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule).

However, most people born in England won’t be offended by being called the term they don’t personally use (I’m not offended to be described as English, and my Tory friends aren’t offended to be described as British) – I think this is largely because England is traditionally the dominant nation/culture within the UK, and in most English people’s minds there isn’t much of a difference between English/British. The exceptions here would include a few extreme English nationalists (but a far smaller percentage of the population than in Scotland or Wales) if called British, and possibly a few people from ethnic minority groups if called English.

(the entirely crazy-old-man David Duff has rightly pointed out that in the spirit of the headline, the Welsh are Taffs. CHANGED)

Secularists Go Silly On Halal

I’ve always found halal slaughter less unpleasant than regular industrial animal slaughter. As anyone who’s ever cut themselves with a properly sharp blade knows, cutting yourself with a sharp blade doesn’t hurt at all until about a minute after the event, by which point the animal is already distinctly dead. You might prefer your animals to be shot in the head with a bolt-gun first; whatever floats your boat.

There’s no strong evidence to support either view – the only thing it’s fair to conclude is that it doesn’t make much difference [*], that both methods are almost entirely painless and instantaneous, and that slaughter is probably the least problematic aspect of the entire industrial meat supply chain from an animal welfare point of view.

Anyway. Apparently a sizeable proportion of the meat on sale in the UK is killed halal-style, along with nearly all frozen lamb imported from New Zealand (the latter because the Gulf is New Zealand’s largest meat export destination). Now, I can see that if you were some kind of hardcore religious type, you might be opposed to eating halal meat, because a prayer was said to the wrong imaginary sky fairy when it was killed and so your imaginary sky fairy might be cross. In which case, fair play to you – I disagree, but it makes sense in your worldview.

But much more baffling is this response from the National Secular Society:

We suspected that meat killed by the halal and kosher methods was being used for general consumption but we never imagined it was so widespread. It is disgraceful that ­people aren’t being told if the food they are being served is from meat that has not been stunned prior to slaughter

This is a witless quote, for two reasons.

The biggest is that the NSS spokesman’s “if” clause is wrong: 90% of halal meat sold in the UK is pre-stunned, including all NZ meat and all meat sold to supermarket chains and major foodservice companies – which is what the article in question is talking about. The only difference between this sort of ‘halal’ meat and non-halal meat is that it’s been killed by a chap who said a prayer when he cut the animal’s throat. If you object to that for any reason other than “I’m worried my god will punish me”, you are purely and simply a bigot.

But even boycotting the other 10% of halal meat, killed in the traditional style (you’re unlikely to find this on sale outside of dedicated halal butchers shops, takeaways and curry houses), is still jumping to silly conclusions about animal welfare based on your own personal sense of ‘ewww’.

If you are, genuinely, so concerned about animal welfare that a possible, unproven, small difference in possibilities of consciousness between stunned and unstunned slaughter affects your purchasing decisions, then you shouldn’t be eating randomly sourced meat in the first place – the suffering that industrially farmed animals undergo compared to compassionately farmed animals is several orders of magnitude greater than anything that happens in the slaughterhouse.

So unless you’re veggie, or you stick solely to meat that’s been produced under a recognised ‘compassion in farming’ certification scheme (or a local farm that you know follows the same principles, of course), then you should probably shut up about halal meat already. Otherwise, people might start to think that you’re just in the ‘bigot’ camp too…

[*] people have been known to argue against halal slaughter from an animal welfare point of view. However, these people tend to be arguing from prejudice, not evidence: there have been surprisingly few scientific studies done on the topic, not least because working out how much an animal has suffered during slaughter is pretty much impossible. The most comprehensive study, carried out in Germany, found that ritual slaughter was painless for sheep and calves. There is some evidence to suggest that cows, being large, take show some signs of brain activity (which doesn’t necessarily mean suffering or pain) when killed by halal/kosher slaughter – there is none to suggest the same for chickens or sheep. The Farm Animal Welfare Council report that’s usually quoted on the subject by anti-halal/kosher types ignores the evidence on either side in favour of proof-by-assertion, which is a distinctly poor show (paragraph 195).

Unilever isn’t being racist – but you are

Aussie blogger Melinda Tankard Reist has a rather misguided post on Hindustan Unilever’s controversial face-whitening Facebook app:

Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing… These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.

Hmm. So in two sentences accusing Unilever of racism, she’s managed two rather irritating, patronising – and indeed, accidentally racist – mistakes.

The first is ‘non-white-European people don’t have opinions or make decisions’. So if Hindustan Unilever comes up with a marketing campaign, it must be because a white man in London told them to.

Great… except for the fact that Unilever’s Asian marketing operation is run by an Indian man in Mumbai, is locally devised and locally executed, and London doesn’t pre-approve campaigns.

The second is ‘the US-derived model of white-European versus everyone else is the only way to view prejudices and stereotypes based on skin colour’. So obviously if people in India are being told that lighter skin is better, that’s so they can be more like Europeans and less like Indians.

Great… except for the fact that the Indian preference for paler skin has absolutely cock-all to do with wanting to be European, and a great deal more to do with the fact that within India, long before the British invasion, the ruling castes have been paler-skinned than the workers (partly because they’re more likely to be of Persian descent, and partly because they don’t spend their time working in the hot sun).

Once you stop viewing non-European cultures through the prism of European race relations, playing on people’s desire to appear lighter is no worse than playing on their desire to appear less spotty or wrinkly. So if people from European cultures object to this campaign any more strongly than they’d object to a campaign for an anti-wrinkle cream, they’re basically telling Indians that they have to follow European values. Which is distinctly Not Cool.

Depressing but probably true

From the Rodent:

It would’ve been wiser and more useful in military and diplomatic terms; more humane, productive and billions of pounds less expensive if the US and Britain had responded to 9/11 by crashing two planeloads of US marines into the centre of a randomly-chosen Afghan city at 700 mph and executing 300 randomly-chosen British squaddies by firing squad.

Eggscerable reporting, or ‘no, the EU won’t ban eggs by the dozen’

The latest insane euromyth, as faithfully invented by the Daily Mail, is that the EU is planning to ban the sale of eggs by the dozen or half-dozen. As usual, the Littlejohn Rule applies here: if the story sounds like something you “really couldn’t make up” (thanks, Mr Dale), then somebody doubtless has made it up.

The main thrust of the Daily Mail’s story is that under proposed EU legislation, it will be illegal to print “six eggs” on a box of six eggs. Instead, the quantity of eggage will have to be listed solely in kilogrammes. This is simply – and really really obviously – false, and if you believe it then you’re doubtless someone who’s checked whether the word ‘gullible’ is really in the dictionary.

Here’s the actual legislation, proposed by the European Parliament. The quote that the press have misunderstood (or, more likely, lied about) is:

1. The net quantity of a food shall be expressed, using litres, centilitres, millilitres, kilograms or grams, as appropriate:
(a) in units of liquid in the case of liquids within the meaning of Council Directive 85/339/EEC of 27 June 1985 on containers of liquids for human consumption ;
(b) in units of mass in the case of other products.

In other words, all food that is sold in the EU will need to list either its volume (for liquids) or its mass (for solids) in metric units on the pack. Note the absence of anything banning the use of other indicators on the pack, such as “number of eggs”, “mass in pounds”, “number of moles of hydrogen atoms in the packet”, etc. Anyone who wishes to do so can advertise any or all of the above, as long as the metric unit of volume or mass is clearly marked. See: a pint of milk.

So the more outlandish claim, that the legislation would ban the sale of eggs in packs labelled as ‘six’ or ’12’, is obvious, total nonsense.

The only thing substantiating the piece at all is the Mail’s quote from an unnamed source at the UK’s Food Standards Agency, “Retailers would not be allowed to put ‘Six eggs’ on the front of the box.“. Whether the Mail has grossly misquoted the FSA spokesman, or whether the FSA spokesman is an idiot, is not clear. Either way, the quote is wrong.

A more sensible criticism of the proposed rule comes from The Devil’s Knife – that the change would cost food packagers money for very little benefit, wasting everyone’s time and resources:

Well, I would imagine that selling a 500g box of eggs that does not, in fact, contain 500g of produce is illegal under Trading Standards. So now the egg producers are going to have to weigh each and every box, and stamp the exact weight on each box. Not only will they have to buy the stamping equipment (because you can bet your bottom dollar that just writing the weight on is not legal: they even have to stamp each individual egg now, for fuck’s sake) but it is also labour-intensive.

Well, this would be true, except that eggs are already graded by weight – e.g. a ‘large’ egg weighs 63-73g – which requires them to be weighed. And under EU labelling rules, positive errors are allowed on packaging, as are negative errors of 3% (for a package that weighs 300-500g, like six large eggs).

So if the new rules do come in, an egg producer who wished to comply with them at zero cost could just add ‘weight 385g’ to all their boxes of large eggs, and otherwise carry on as before.

Meanwhile, an egg producer who wanted to emphasise the fact that their large eggs were super-large could put the actual weight if they chose, based on the grading by weight that they would have done anyway. Obviously, this would require more complicated software for labelling; whether the producer views it as worthwhile or not depends on whether they reckon it’ll help them make money. Like, erm, most commercial decisions…

Update: John Harrison of Allotment.co.uk has helpfully clarified the (current and not planned to change) rules for small producers in comments:

It’s currently perfectly legal to engage in farm gate sales (or front door sales for backgarden chicken keepers) so long as you do not grade the eggs and provide a use-by date.

This means the box sold at the door of six eggs will be various sizes, which is actually quite useful when cooking. Some things a small egg is perfect for and you can hardly use ‘half a large egg’. The useby date is generally just a matter of adding 30 days to the laid date.

Home producers do not need to stamp the eggs etc. It’s when you supply shops etc that the weight of regulation comes in.

‘Anti-Europe’ is an accurate term for UKIPpers

There are two possible meanings that the phrase ‘anti-Europe’ can carry.

One is the Fox News interpretation, under which Europe is full of gay, garlic-eating communists, and therefore should be bombed, or at least avoided. The other is the opposition to European political integration, or to the view of Europe as a political rather than solely a geographic entity.

If someone’s from Europe and/or voluntarily in Europe [*] – which includes almost everyone with any interest at all in the debate on European political integration – to describe that person as ‘anti-Europe’ in its first meaning would make no sense at all, unless they were actually an insane self-loather (Melanie Phillips is not a counterexample here).

Hence, people opposed to European political integration who complaining about the use of ‘anti-European’ to describe them are silly. Nobody’s claiming that you hate yourself, football, the Parthenon, black pudding, the English language and motorways. You do, however, hate the concept of Europe as a political entity. And that’s why you’re being described as ‘anti-Europe’.

There is some truth in the complaint, in that there’s a genuine conceptual difference between ‘anti-Europe’ and ‘anti-EU’. While most anti-EU types are also anti-Europe, there are a few people who favour European political integration but also believe that the EU is so hopelessly corrupt and useless that it should be abolished and we should start again. But they’re the only ones to whom that distinction applies, there really aren’t very many of them, and they’re not the people who join UKIP…

[*] a reminder to UKIPpers: the UK is, geographically, in Europe.

A thing of beauty

Charlie Brooker sums up Britishness with t3h excellence:

I was born in the 70s and grew up in a tiny rural village. There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him “blackjack”. The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.

We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can’t remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He spoke with eerie, measured anger. He’d fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone “different”, that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called “the Nazis”. Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were “different’ wasn’t merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial. And if he heard of anyone – anyone – using racist language again, they’d immediately get the slipper.

Corporal punishment was still alive and well, see. The slipper was his nuclear bomb.

It was the first time I was explicitly told that racism was unpleasant and it was a lesson served with a side order of patriot fries. Or rather, chips. Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That’s what I understood it meant to be truly “British”: to be polite, and civil and fair of mind. (And to occasionally wallop schoolkids with slippers, admittedly, but we’ll overlook that, OK? We’ve moved on.)

Hating furriners, wanting to kick out furriners, being jealous of furriners – all of that nonsense is as foreign, un-British and generally despicable as it gets.

End of the world update: time to buy tins and shotguns?

So, when I said “don’t bother switching banks,” what I actually meant was “don’t bother switching banks unless your bank, instead of falling under the UK compensation scheme, falls under the compensation scheme of a small, rainy, historically very poor island which crazily overexpanded over the last five years and has absolutely no chance of meeting its bailout obligations if things go wrong”.

Sorry, Icesave investors. On the plus side, my point about the daftness of transferring money to Irish banks is made rather conclusively.

Oh, and while I’m clarifying – I’m in the lucky position where my savings (just about) go over the protected limit, and I’ve had them split between several accounts to diversify risk even before the current crisis started. While I think it’s likely that a crash – especially if it’s of a real bank, rather than ultra-high-interest online chancers – will bring full protection, it might not, so get transferring now if you’ve still got over £50k with one institution.

Relatedly, Seth Freedman has a piece in the Guardian, wondering why people who chose to sign up for ultra-high interest rates with a ropey over-leveraged bank should be bailed out at the expense of the poor and the prudent – and he has a good point. It’s fair for the government to fully compensate savers in banks that a reasonable person would see as ‘safe’ [*], but hard to justify going over the clearly stated FSCS limits for people who’re choosing to gain an extra 2% interest in exchange for investing in, say, the First Bank of Nigeria rather than Lloyds TSB.

Looking to the longer term, and today’s liquidity-for-shares UK bank nationalisation announcement, my dad has a piece up on Liberal Conspiracy arguing that liquidity bail-outs are a terrible idea, as the crisis would otherwise be an excellent opportunity to get rid of the parasitical bastards at the major investment banks and end the toll they’ve exacted on the global economy ever since the Depression. If my dad were Mark Steel, that’d be unsurprising; since he’s been a stockbroker for 30 years and is currently head of investment banking for a broking firm, it’s a little more interesting…

[*] there’s a difference between savers in Northern Rock or HBOS, and Icesave or First Bank of Nigeria here. Northern Rock was originally a safe, conservative institution that made itself unsafe without most of its customers noticing, while HBOS did something similar (with less ineptitude and worse luck). On the other hand, Landsbanki was a foreign investment bank that nobody in the UK had ever heard of, and that was massively over-extended when Icesave started – and FBN is actually a reasonably good institution by local standards that appears to be holding up well, but hello! it’s a fucking Nigerian bank!

Update 8/10: Darling has copped out slightly. Rightly, he’s agreed to pay the €20,000 that the Icelandic government should have covered to Icesave savers; and rightly, he’s frozen Landsbanki’s remaining UK assets in the hope of recovering some money to offset against the compensation. Wrongly, he’s also covering deposits over £50k, which should have been written off to “if you’re that stupid then you don’t deserve to have 2x the average annual wage in cash”. Still, it’s more evidence for my “put the deposits in whatever goddamn bank you choose and you’re still safe” theory…

Another get-rich-quick scheme thwarted

I’m deeply annoyed that I work for a company that places onerous restrictions on my ability to trade shares, even on my personal account – if I didn’t, then I’d pile some serious money into HBOS stock right now…

September 17 update:

Fuckery. That’s £3,000 I would have made, buying at 150 yesterday and selling at 190 today. Lloyds TSB are wiseas, semirelatedly, are Barclays. Also, can the gibbering clowns who think this is the End Of The World / the Collapse Of The Global Financial System / etc please go away? Finally, this.

Unrelated October 1 update:

OK, so WordPress is doing some deeply weird things which stop me from, among other things, writing new posts and editing or approving comments. I’ll let you know when this is fixed…

Second Unrelated October 1 update:

Fixed.