Weekend Reading XXXXII

by uber

England’s Young People

This is a huge potential crisis for the UK. The NHS was founded because there was a fear that the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ were creating a generation of boys too weak to serve as soldiers. There can be little doubt that there is a need for a similar level of reaction to these sorts of figures. I don’t know that the direct application of the NHS model would work, perhaps something private sector-led would be better, I am more of the view that it’s time for a substantial shift. In Ireland, we fool ourselves into thinking we have an adequate education system. It’s notable that we are as bad or worse than the UK in crisis.


England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults, according to the first skills survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.


England is among a handful of nations where social background determines reading skills. Along with Germany, Italy, Poland and the United States, the children of parents with low levels of education in England have “significantly lower proficiency than those whose parents have higher levels of education”.


There’s something romantic and otherworldly about airships that is a romance I cannot escape.


Smoking for a living: The strange tale of Li Hui, a Chinese tobacco appraiser

I suppose someone has to taste and test tobacco, but the idea of this person having a job to be a professional smoker seems completely at odds with modern Western attitudes. It seems another good example of the fact that China is quite a foreign place, after all. It’s probably a mark of my prejudice, but I find the fact that she is educated, and a Chemistry graduate at that, particularly strange. I don’t know why, some nurses and doctors seem to be keen smokers.


Li, the tobacco tester, is an organic chemistry graduate; her job involves smoking “tobacco leaves from every production area across the country,” continuously throughout the day. She is so dedicated she was even recognized as a “model worker” by the city of Harbin.

How the Korean Alphabet Works

The idea of a written language that does not represent the one you speak, like the Chinese method, is a pretty amazing thing. It means you can communicate on paper with people you can’t talk to. On the other hand, you can learn to read Korean in 15 minutes.


Before 1446, Koreans had no writing system of their own. The educated elite wrote in hanja, classical Chinese characters, to record the meaning—but not the sound—of Korean speech. The Chinese script, however, was poorly suited to languages with complex grammars like Korean; though a leading scholar of the 7th century formalised Korea’s Idu script, a mixture of hanja and special grammatical markers, including new characters for Korean names, only the privileged few with a Confucian education could understand it. In 1443 King Sejong noted that using Chinese characters for Korean was “like trying to fit a square handle into a round hole”. He disliked the fact that so few of his subjects could express their concerns to him. “Saddened by this”, he proclaimed, “I have developed 28 new letters. It is my wish that people may learn these letters easily and that they be convenient for daily use”.

Catalan & Scottish Independence

Despite being an Irish citizen, I can’t help but feel that Catalan and Scots independence movements are based on fantasy. I can’t make a practical case for them. There seem to be so many good reasons not to be a small economic fish, and even more reasons not to undo complex legal, cultural and political ties without an enormous reason. Mere extremism absolutely does not make the case: they rarely represent even the smallest proportion of the populace, and violence is the inverse of justification for political ends. Moreover, there are so many uncertainties: especially with regard to EU membership, that I would be very wary if I lived in either place.

Sometimes it feels like the notional independence parties are reliant on the fact that they can be in a state of permanent, responsibility-free opposition, but are safe from ever actually having to deliver because the mass of the population is too sensible to actually implement independence.