Hi, this is Gerry and welcome to my News Digest for Friday, January 28th, 2011. On today's show I'm going to talk about donating organs  for medical purposes. This has become a bit of a political issue here in Wales, but in order to understand why, I need to start with a little bit of background on the powers of our Welsh Assembly and government. After that there are some thoughts about the etiquette of emails. What is the correct way to start and finish an email? What's the difference between an email and an old-fashioned letter?
Wales has a devolved government. Devolution is the term we use in this country to describe the transferring of power from one place to another, in particular from London to the centres of power of the other nations of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is made up of, in order of size, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the 1990s power was devolved from London to the three smaller countries of the Union, i.e.  to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. The situation in each bit of the United Kingdom is now different.
Wales has its own Assembly and government, but their powers are quite limited. The devolved areas of government, that is to say the areas where the Welsh can make their own policies, include health, education, culture, food and agriculture, and the environment. But London still has a power of veto: it can block decisions made by the Welsh Assembly. Wales will have a referendum in March this year to decide about increasing the powers of the Welsh Assembly. At the moment it looks as though the Welsh will vote in favour , but so far all the votes on devolution have been very close . There isn't the same desire for independence from London here as you find in Scotland, it seems. But I'll report more on the referendum in future podcasts.
For the moment there's one issue which is quite an interesting one and which may or may not come within the statutory powers  of the Welsh Assembly. There's a bit of a row  going on at present between Cardiff and London about whether Cardiff is allowed to decide this matter. It's to do with organ transplants, so on the face of it  it's a health policy matter and clearly within the powers of the Welsh Assembly. The problem we have in Wales - and it's the same in other countries, I'm sure - is that we have many more people waiting for transplant operations for a new heart, kidney, cornea or whatever than we have donors, people who have decided in the event of their death that they'll make their organs available for doctors to transplant. At the moment organ donors  carry a card that makes clear their willingness to donate their organs. What the Welsh government wants to do is to make the assent, the agreement to give ones' organs, assumed , and people will have to carry a card that states that they do not wish their organs to be used if that is their will. In other words, you would have to opt out rather than opt in . You'll have to say "I don't want anybody interfering with my body after I die" rather than "I agree that my organs may be used for medical purposes."
A historical parallel would be membership of the Labour Party if you were a member of a trade union . Most unions used to be affiliated  to the Labour Party and trade union members automatically became members of the Labour Party and paid their membership fee through the union. This ensured both a big membership of the Labour Party and good funding. The other parties objected, of course, and the situation has now largely changed, although the Labour party still relies on the unions for a lot of its money. The thinking behind the new organ donor scheme is that most people are probably not against donating their organs but it's difficult to persuade them to think about it, i.e. their death, and go to the trouble of obtaining and filling out the card to give permission.
The political argument between London and Cardiff is about whether this is essentially a health policy matter, or is it more of a human rights and judicial question, in which case that's a matter for the London parliament. There are also practical questions, of course, about identifying where somebody comes from. We don't have identity cards in this country, and if somebody was killed, for example in a car accident on a Welsh road, it wouldn't always be so easy to work out if the person was normally resident in Wales or in England. And what about residents who don't have British nationality? It's a complicated area, but for people waiting for transplants, vital, of course.
There was a report on the BBC website this week about the dilemma facing the email writer. How should she or he address the recipient and how should they sign off at the end? In the old days of letter-writing there used to be very strict rules about this, and you might well have learnt them when you were learning English in school. All letters used to begin with "Dear": Dear Madam, Dear Mrs Smith, Dear Elizabeth - depending on how well you knew the person. Then you finished the letter with "Yours faithfully" for a letter that started with "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam", "Yours sincerely" for a more formal letter or something like "With love from" for an informal, personal letter. The rules were quite clear and everybody was quite happy with them.
Then along came emails and texts and so on, and nobody was really sure at the beginning what kind of message an email was. It seemed to be different from a letter, and to begin with emails weren't used in business like letters were. Because emails and texts are quick and easy to write there was a general tendency to adopt much more informal forms of address. Because "Dear" was typically used in letter writing it became common  to find other forms of address in emails, even business emails: forms of address that are more typical of what you would say if you were actually talking to the person, such as "Hi" or even "Good morning". Emails tend to be signed off not with "Yours sincerely", etc. but with expressions such as "Best wishes", sometimes even abbreviations, for example "BW".
The piece on the BBC website was triggered  by an American Congressman's spokeswoman who started off an email to a group of reporters with the greeting "Hey, folks ". The Wall Street Journal reacted to this and asked the spokeswoman, Giselle Barry, why she'd chosen this formulation and she replied: "'Dear...' is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship." This, it seems to me, is a very odd  remark. I'm not shocked by the "Hey folks", but I ampuzzled by  the lady's explanation. It's the sort of reaction that a German speaker might make, I thought. German distinguishes , or used to distinguish, between "Sehr geehrte(r)" for formal relationships and "Liebe(r)" for informal, and so the traditional use of "Dear" in English sometimes seems a bit strange to German speakers when they first come across it. This American though, is not a German speaker as far as I know. "Dear" in English letters was never a sign of intimacy, of a close personal relationship. It's the opposite. It's a standard, formulaic convention. I can only guess, therefore, that this Ms Barry belongs to a new generation of professionals who've grown up with email and for whom the writing of physical letters is as exotic as the telegram. The Wall Street Journal commented, "Across the internet the use of "dear" is going the way of sealing wax " - an old way of closing a letter to make sure nobody read it before it was delivered to its proper recipient.
The BBC asked a few other people what they thought were appropriate greetings for emails. An etiquette expert complained about how people that she's never met write to her with the greeting "Hi Jean", and she hates the British habit of signing off with the greeting "Cheers". (I have to confess that that's one I use with friends.)
A young businessman starts his email with "Hello". He writes that he only ever uses "dear" when he's complaining about something, so it's a sort of ironic use of the word. An English teacher starts her email with the person's first name and an exclamation mark . She explains that she likes to greet people in an email in the same way as she would if she met them in the street. So she might say "James!" The exclamation mark suggests a sort of intonation. She explains, however, that when she's writing to the parents of her students she would normally use "dear" for the first message. After that she sees what the parents write and she copies that.
In the email to the BBC journalist, she signs off with "Let's meet soon," and then "Katie x". The "x" signifies a kiss, and that's a very old-fashioned symbol that people have been using on letters and cards for a very long time. The Oxford English Dictionary has dated it back to at least 1763, it seems. In the age of the email there are lots of symbols like this in use. They are usually called emoticons: things like smiley faces. And exclamation marks are also very popular. Personally now, I have to say that I find the use of most of these devices very annoying. I think it should be possible to write something funny in an email without having to tell your reader, "Oh, by the way, that was a joke." But that's probably me being a grumpy  old man again.
On the whole though I don't really find the changes in style that characterise the difference between an old-fashioned letter and an email are things that really annoy me. It seems to me that the introduction of these new forms of written communication have meant that the old conventions have been loosened up  considerably, and people are freer to choose forms that they find appropriate to their particular style and their relationship with the person they're writing to. But what about you, do you welcome the fresh new style of emails or do they get on your nerves? What's happening in your language? Remember that you can use the website to respond to this or anything else I say.
Fortunately, my text is not an email or a traditional letter; it's what you might call an audiomail and I've found my way of signing off each time. I'm sure you all know it by now and so in my customary manner, I'll leave you with the following valedictory  words: Until the next time in two weeks, thanks for listening and take care!
 donating organs: giving parts of your body  i.e.: that is (from the Latin 'id est')  vote in favour: say yes  close: with a narrow gap or margin between the winner and the loser  statutory powers: what the written law says (the Assembly) can do  row: (pronounced like 'now'): argument, dispute  on the face of it: at first sight, judging from what you can see at first  donors: people who donate (or give) something  assumed: believed to be true even if it's not completely certain  opt out/in: choose to leave/join  trade union: an organisation of workers that fights for good pay and working conditions  affiliated: officially connected  common: frequent, usual  triggered: originally started  folks: here: people  odd: strange  am puzzled by: don't understand  distinguishes: makes a difference  sealing wax: wax (like from a candle) that people melted onto the place where you opened a letter in order to seal it (close it so that you could see if somebody opened it)  an exclamation mark: !  grumpy: bad-tempered, in a bad mood, not happy  loosened up: here: made less strict, more flexible  valedictory: saying goodbye