Earbrushing out the truth

Dear Auntie BBC,

I am sorry if you find some thorns amongst the roses in this bouquet for your 90th birthday.

I have to ask you, “Does syntax matter any more? Is it a 21st century irrelevance, a dying art; or is it a subtle cover for biased reporting?”

This morning on BBC Radio 4 it was reported that The Metropolitan Police had dropped their investigation into allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg.

Somewhere along the line between facts and misinformation comes truth. I have always looked to you for truth. I weighed the different possibilities. I am willing to accept as fact that:

  1.  Chelsea FC made some allegations
  2. The nature of the allegations was that a particular player on their team had been the subject of racist remarks
  3. The racist remarks were said to have been spoken by a match referee named Mark Clattenberg
  4. Racist remarks may be construed as abusive
  5. Racial abuse is a criminal offence punishable by law
  6. The Police have a duty to investigate criminal offences
  7. The Police duly investigated allegations that an offence had taken place
  8. The Police have now dropped their investigation

The problem begins in where to go next.

  • Do we know why the Police dropped the investigation?
  • Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made no remarks towards the player?
  • Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made remarks towards the player but they were not racist?
  • Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made racist remarks but they were not directed towards the player?
  • Do they believe that Mark Clattenberg made racist remarks towards the player, but feel unable to reach a standard of proof necessary to arrest and charge him?

Your announcer said, “…allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg”. The position of the adverb “allegedly” affects the meeting in a very important way. Located where it is, it affirms that the referee made some remarks and that some people had alleged they were racist. I don’t know if he made “remarks” as no supporting evidence is given in the report. We hear much about the pace and volume of communication in the modern age. People are busy, we are told, and they don’t want communication in depth; they want accurate messages on which they can rely.

Using media such as Twitter and FaceBook, they reduce communication to a granular sequence of short statements of fact or opinion, sometimes expanded through links to more detail. There’s the rub! We skim, we scan, we select and we build a view of the world upon ever more scanty information. So when I hear on the BBC the words, “allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg” I might be inclined to “earbrush” out the word “allegedly”, and hear only “…racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg” thus reinforcing the opinion, “He did it. I heard it on the BBC”. “Allegedly made” is so different from “allegedly racist” and I need to know which is true.

Auntie, I trust and admire you, even though you are so much maligned at the present time. That’s why I urge you to take more care. The syntax used by your announcer might be deliberate. Did you want him to suggest to us that Clattenberg definitely made some remarks, and we should decide or ourselves whether he “got away with it” because The Police could not prove they were racist? I hope not; If I wanted “wink, wink; nudge, nudge” journalism, I’d have gone to the tabloid press or the Internet. So am I left to conclude that in this modern age it is no longer important for an announcer for you, the World’s premier broadcaster to understand how the order of words affects their meaning in a sentence? Please say it isn’t so.

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Strictly for the Birds

Captive cockatoo shows skill in making and using tools

I am frantic with worry.

  1. Ingenious carrion crows have been shown to use traffic to crack hard nuts.
  2. Problem-solving finches extract grubs from trees.
  3. Blue tits cream off the top from milk bottles.
  4. And now a cockatoo named Figaro has been observed making and using “tools” to reach food.

Experts from the University of Oxford; the University of Vienna and the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology in Germany say they are surprised , but it comes as no surprise to me. I saw what happened to Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film. Nor has it escaped my attention that Twitter is frankly, well, avian, aeriform, plumed, sometimes aigrette and always birdlike!

“No-one has ever reported [a parrot] sculpturing a tool out of shapeless wood in order to use it later with great sophistication,” said Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University, an author of the study.
Figaro was playing with a pebble and dropped it out of reach on the other side of his wire mesh enclosure. He then made his own tool by biting large splinters from a wooden beam. When they were the right shape and size, he used them to rake in his pebble and later, under experimental conditions, did the same with his nuts.

The professor said, “Nobody yet understands in what sense tool-use requires a very high level of intelligence. This behaviour could display a level of intelligence for solving a new problem in the species.”

Oh dear!

Politics is certain to be the first to fall to the feather and beak brigade. Parrot Obama will be President of the USA.  Here in the UK we’ll have a number of Great Bustards in parliament. On the front benches a Laughing Gull and a Brown Noddy will serve under the leadership of Dame Magpie Thatcher. Some countries in the Third World will be ruled by Longtailed Tyrants.

The Judiciary will be next. I can see a Cut Throat Finch looking after Policing and a Dark Eyed Junco will be Head of Narcotics. All Barred Owls will have been repatriated and appointed to run UK Borders Agency.

In sport Spur Winged Lapwings will be transferred for fabulous fees to Manchester City, and at the Olympics a Greater Roadrunner is sure to win gold.

In the media an Ovenbird is to be TV’s top celebrity chef. A Rock Parrot and a Rock Sparrow compete to win Britain’s Got Talons, and Placido Flamingo reigns at La Scala.  A Horned Lark is Controller of Programming and Children’s Entertainment, and a Common Babbler presides at the BBC.

An  Oilbird, a Coal Tit and a Chimney Swift are  responsible for Power and in Transport a Pilotbird wins the West Coast franchise. Travel and Tourism is managed by Welcome Swallows

Education, Learning and Development has been revolutionised by Eclectus Parrots who invent  blended learning.

Finally, I must bow to the inevitable; some day sooner than you might think, a Great Tit will be writing nonsense like this

By pgstips