Uton herian

Real bread.

While the supermarket in the basement of the Far Eastern Department Store (远东广场) is a little ho-hum, next to it is a Japanese bakery called Yamazaki, which sells real bread, and if you go there at the right time, it’s really fresh as well.

When I first arrived in the Empire, bread seemed like a safe choice as something light for lunch, but like most foreigners, I instantly discovered that I was eating a concentrated sugar delivery system disguised as bread. Worse still, all the bread rolls, which seemed to be free of sugar, had some ghastly paste hidden inside them. You can smell the sugar which suffuses the bread, but you can’t smell the paste.

Perhaps there was a good side to this. I like (real) bread, but if I’d had ready access to it over the years, I fear that I’d be enormously fat by now, or would’ve turned into a massive loaf of bread myself.

Anyway, real bread is something I can have as a treat on Sundays. Besides, the Meadowlea spread and acacia honey cost enough, and need to get used.

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The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

By Stieg Larsson.

Although I’ve missed the second volume in the Millennium Trilogy, there’s enough material in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (GKHN) to reconstruct a little of The Girl who Played with Fire (GPF). That appears to be the tale of Mikael Blomkvist going after Wennerström using the information which Henrik Vanger supplied him in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (GDT). I assume that there’s a parallel plot about Lisbeth Salander tracking down her father and trying to kill him.

GKHN commences with Salander in hospital suffering from gunshot wounds while her father, whom she wounded badly, lies in another room nearby. It’s that classic trope where one of the main characters is incapacitated and in danger. I never liked such a trope the first time, and I didn’t like it any better on this occasion. Apart from that, it turns out Salander’s father is a Russian defector called Zalachenko who has been protected by a secret department inside Sweden’s secret service, Säpo. She also has a psychotic brother who can feel no pain and has imaginary demons of his own.

The problem for the Section (aka the Zalachenko Club) is that the story is going to get out and they need to take steps to prevent that. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t reckon with Mikael Blomkvist’s journalistic cunning and Salander’s hacking skills, and the self-appointed geriatric fanatics are brought to account.

Salander is also put on trial for attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms etc., but the case collapses faster than Christine O’Donnell’s hopes of a distinguished political career when Salander’s lawyer (Blomkvist’s sister) reveals that Dr Teleborian is a colossal pervert.

Meanwhile, in a different novel which somehow got merged with this one, Erika Berger has taken up a post as editor-in-chief of SMP, but everyone hates her until she’s informed that the paper’s proprietor has toilets made out of Vietnamese children (or something like that).

By the time you’ve done, you’re wishing that Larsson had signed a nine-book deal and had then left out the tedious and largely unnecessary B-plots to leave a trilogy of novels of about 200 pages each.

Blomkvist is still James Bond with a notepad, shagging every woman he meets, and still being hugely fanciable to Salander, who’s about half his age. Salander is a tiresomely petulant teenage girl. The members of the Zalachenko Club are elderly extremists who have no place in Larsson’s world.

I observe that the censor doesn’t seem to have read the book carefully because there’s at least one section promoting the virtues of дэмокрасй, and one of the characters is nicknamed (though I assume this is coincidental) Fάлuн, which also seems to have got past the inattentive defenders of the nation’s stupidity. (Again, given the level of paranoia which seems to be infecting the web from here, I’m encoding to avoid any potential bother.)

GKHN isn’t a bad read, but it does drag on and on and on, and does get quite dull in places. Too much time was wasted on the B-plot about Erika Berger, the removal of which would not be noticed. Overhyped.

An impersonal passive?

Style or substance?

Yesterday at our staff meeting, Peter told us that all the PAL students had done CATS, which is a sort of proficiency test measuring verbal and non-verbal skills. It’s apparently used to project exam results at GCSE level and higher, and is supposedly very accurate. We’re going to be sent the results, but the question is how we’re going to use them. My feeling is that they’re useful for revealing who the linguistically incompetent actually are so that I’m not mistaking lazy or inert students for complete cretins.

I was curious to find out more about CATS because they’re not something I’ve heard of before now. That took me to this FAQ page, but what caught my eye was not the information (or how dated it is; internal evidence suggests that the page was posted in 2003 and has never been updated since), but rather a curious instance of the passive.

20. My KS3 indicators show that 10% of pupils are indicated to obtain level 3 or below in English. However, no individual pupil has an in­dic­at­ed level 3 for English. How is this explained? (My italics.)

What on earth is going on? Is this an occasional use of the passive? Is this a passive which the writer thinks imparts formality and sophistication? Is it something else?

I’m not sure what it is. Keeping the various elements of the original sentence intact, I’d write, “My KS3 indicators show (that) it is indicated (that) 10% of pupils will obtain etc.” Not keeping everything, I’d write, “My KS3 indicators show that 10% of pupils will obtain etc.” When I rewrite the sentence my way, I instantly see that the writer was trying to avoid saying, “indicators indicate”, which isn’t exactly a cognate accusative (e.g. “plan plans”; actually more like a cognate nominative), but is the sort of construction English prefers to avoid. Saying, “My KS3 results indicate that etc.” would have been even better still.

To me, the original statement would seem to be on the margins of grammatical English with the past participle almost behaving like an adjective such as “possible” in sentences such as “It is possible that this statement is grammatical”. On the other hand, Google spits out 685,000 results for the string “are indicated to”, and 1.26 million for “is indicated to”, which reveals that this may not be such an odd fish after all. However, a straw poll of the results suggests that this construction is mainly to be found in medical texts, although this is from a very superficial survey.

I might’ve used the construction myself, although I don’t recall ever have done so. I found it noticeable because I found it a little odd.