Barry Pennock-Speck's Blog

Stuff on linguistics and lots of other things

Archive for January, 2009

Conspiracy theories and incompetence theories

Posted by pennock on 25th January 2009

You know, I could never really get into conspiracy theories. Just because there is one -the murder of Kennedy- that might be true, doesn’t mean we have to go for the whole lot. I mean, the Queen ordering the elimination of Lady Diana. What the hell for? Can you imagine her finishing her afternoon of tea to call up the SAS or whoever to bump her off. Come on! Get real!

Another gripe I have with conspiracy theories is they are always so complicated like the twin towers one. Everyone had to be in on it for that one to be true.

Conspiracy theories are dangerous because you never have to prove anything convincingly for the idiots out there to believe in them. They undermine reason and logic and are therefor the breeding ground of totalitarianism.If  anything can be true maybe even the white power people are right!

I believe in the incompetence theory -don’t know if that has already been thought of. I mean, we all know how incompetent we can all be sometimes. Some people believe that the Germans lost the Second World War because of some massive conspiracy when the truth is that Hitler was the most incompetent dick-head the world has ever seen. He launched an offensive against Russia (a tiny little country) without finishing off Britain. Now how stupid or incompetent can you get. Some people think that Pearl Harbour was a conspiracy, that the Yanks wanted the Japenese to attack to get into the war. I think it was just American incompetence -either military or diplomatic that let that happen. Some people actually think that the Partido Popular lost the elections due to some socialist conspiracy. Rubbish! They lost it because they stupidly played the ETA card even though everyone else in the world knew it was some Islamist group. I mean, honestly!

As Frank Zappa said hydrogen is not the most common element in the Universe, stupidity is and its little brother incompetence isn’t far behind.

That’s it, I have had my say.

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Black birds, ravens, crows and bad translations?

Posted by pennock on 24th January 2009

We have all seen black birds (main stress on the word birds) that is, birds that happen to be black -not to be confused with blackbirds (main stress on black) that is, turdus merula in Latin or mirlo in Spanish.

There are several all black birds, or birds which look all black. We have just mentioned the blackbird (on the right 25 cms). A bird of about the same size is the starling (estornino or in Latin sturnus vulgaris 21 cms) on the left. It is the bird that goes around in giant flocks. They have probably defecated on your car if you have parked under a tree at night. They come to the city to roost as it is several degree warmer in the city than it is in the country. You can tell them apart because they look different and the starling walks while the blackbird hops. By the way, the female blackbird is not black at all but brown!

Blackbird_side starling

Another group of black birds belongs to the crow family (corvidae). These birds are often confused as they are all, well, black. Let’s have a look at them. From biggest to smallest. First we have the Raven (cuervo 64 cms), then the crow (corneja 47 cms), then the rook (graja 46 cms), and finally, the jackdaw (grajilla 33 cms). I have made the pictures proportional. In any case you can see that the raven is three times the size of a starling and just under twice the size of the jackdaw. You may have noticed that I called the grajo a graja. The reason is that graja is the official name but it seems no-one uses it.





Bad translations?

Do you remember the film The Crow? What was the translation in Spanish. Yeah, you’re right El Cuervo. As you can see, a crow is really a corneja in Spanish. I suppose they didn’t call the Spanish film La Corneja because, first of all, it is feminine and secondly, who would go to see a film called La Corneja?


More confusion

You might remember that some black birds were in the news not long back. A pair of birds attacked passers-by to protect their chicks, which had fallen out of their nest. The news was: “Una pareja de grajos ataca a varios viandantes en Sevilla” / “A pair of rooks attacks passers-by in Seville” (see footnote). However, if you look closely you will see that they are really not rooks (grajos) but jackdaws (grajillas). Rooks are normally found in large groups and are a lot bigger and have no grey. Their beaks are white too! Ace reporting, man! The photo has disappeared from their web page so you’ll just have to take my word for it.



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Birds along the riverbed (Río Turia, Valencia)

Posted by pennock on 23rd January 2009

The riverbed of the River Turia as it winds its way through the capital Valencia is almost totally dry, except for a few ornamental ponds and a large lake where Valencia borders on Mislata. A few years ago there was some water –a stream of murky liquid that looked anything but ornamental but all that is underground now. The river was strewn with rubbish from one end to another –not a pretty sight. A whole new riverbed was built after the floods in 1957 so hopefully Valencia will never be flooded again.

When democracy came there was a popular movement called Ho volem verd which in Valencian means “We want it green”. So, the then Socialist town hall started to design and landscape the riverbed. Near where I live they built the concrete monstruoisity known as “vetges tú” (the nearest translation is the Welsh saying Look you”!). The conservatives really had a go at the socialists about that forgetting that they wanted to make a ten-lane highway out of the riverbed. You might not remember this as Rita Barberá has been mayoress for so long but the City of Arts and Sciences was actually a socialist project. Anyway, I digress.

Nowadays the riverbed is a green and pleasant land with trees dotted around. It is really nice to see people strolling along the paths, playing basketball, riding their bikes and, like me, walking their dogs. (remember to pick up your doggies’ doodies!)

There is actually quite a lot of birdlife and most of the birds are quite easy to recognize. The most common birds are the pigeons (palomas). You all know what they look like:

Then there are the collared doves (tórtola turca),


followed by blackbirds (mirlos)


I forgot the siskin (verdecillo). There are loads of them. In Spring you can hear their courting song. They are easy to spot due to the yellow rump (lower back)

There is also an abundance of pied wagtails (lavandera blanca)


Grey wagtails (lavandera cascadeña),


robins (petirrojo),


black redstarts (colirrojo tizón)


chaffinches (pinzón vulgar)


hoopoes (abubilla)


There is at least one kingfisher (martín pescador)


A Great Shrike (alcaudón real):


I even saw a Peregrine Falcon (halcón peregrino) eating a collared dove clear as day in January 2009. Fantastic.


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