Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

UK Statistics Authority 1: David Cameron 0

I see that Mr Cameron has been telling porkies again and has been rapped on the knuckles by the statistics watchdog. The line between selective presentation and downright falsehood is actually not a difficult one to stay the right side of but politicians and journalists seem congenitally unable to perceive it (some academics do no better). That's why we need people like Andrew Dilnot to keep pointing out where the line is and when ministers have stepped over it (confession of interest, Andrew is the Warden of my college). 

We also need people like the NIESR's Jonathan Portes to take the fight to journalists and MEPs who refuse to distinguish fact from fantasy, people like Dan Hannan who shares all these characteristics. Portes is also involved in a twitter spat with the Spectator's Damian Thompson who seems to think that Dan Hannan is a pretty OK sort of chap. In the course of their full and frank exchange of views Damian tweeted:

Interesting thought I, apart from the fact that Portes doesn't claim that facts are left-wing or right-wing (at least not as far as I can see) I happen to know something about Damian Thompson's doctoral studies. In fact while he was a doctoral student at the LSE he took a course from me on Methods of Social Investigation. He was also a semi-regular visitor to my office-hours. Being a gentleman I'll say no more.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ideologues and Crazies

I referred to ideologues and crazies in my last post. Most of you will know what I mean, but if you are in any doubt  you can find the sort of thing I was thinking about  here. The only hope is that what they say when they feel compelled to speak for public consumption is more irrational than what they actually believe. Tolerance admits ambivalence. Believing that those who are not for us are against us is essentially totalitarian.

Some 20 years ago, at a much calmer time, an Israeli jewish acquaintance said to me apropos West Bank settlement: "Those guys are crazy, you can't argue with them. They think the land belongs to them simply because Abraham pissed on it". I wonder what he would be prepared to say now?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


It's really not that difficult to find balanced views on what is going on in Gaza. I can only conclude that the British media, including the BBC, doesn't try very hard. Deutsche Welle does much better. Here is an interview they conducted with Amos Oz. I've admired Oz's writing for 30 odd years and I admire his tough minded views on the way forward. He, like others, believes that in the long run some sort of peace with justice is achievable in Palestine. He also believes that you can't ignore Hamas rockets and shouldn't condone everything the IDF does.

The only alternative to his vision I can see is what we have at the moment: letting the ideologues and crazies indulge their fantasies while demonizing anyone that dares to disagree with them. Oh, and allowing hundreds of innocent men, women and children to be slaughtered...

Friday, 11 July 2014

Happy Sounds

Listening to Michael Marmot on Desert Island Discs this morning while packing for a short trip & doing various household chores. His last choice was a knockout track by a band called Afriquoi.  His son plays the djembe. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


I was amused this morning to receive an email from PS informing me that access to Oxford Sociology has apparently been banned in Germany, or at least by his hotel's service provider. Here's the evidence (click on the image to make it larger).
I wonder what I've done to deserve this? I've been murdering the German language for years so perhaps it's payback time...

David Lockwood RIP

I don't really have much to add to David Rose's fine appreciation. I only met David Lockwood on a couple of occasions and we can't have exchanged more than a dozen words. But his work influenced me and The Blackcoated Worker was the first serious sociological study of social class and social status that I read as an undergraduate. It's symptomatic of what had already happened to sociology at the LSE by the late 1970s that it was recommended to me by Alan Dawe who was a visitor to the department. 

Solidarity and Schism is also a fine and subtle book which presents more of a serious intellectual challenge than most of the things that are today prescribed in u/g "theory" courses.  It is really a classic that is ripe to be rediscovered. It shouldn't take more than a moments reflection to convince you that problems of social and system integration are as pressing now as they've always been.

 And what a department it was that David Lockwood joined when he left Cambridge. Essex's Sociology Department in the late 60's was a Real Madrid type collection of galaticos: Peter Townsend, Dennis Marsden, Peter Abel, Patrick Doreian, Alisdair MacIntyre , Geoffrey Hawthorn, Paul Thompson, Herminio Martins. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive...

Friday, 6 June 2014

ABCD trial

And while we are on the topic of the Guardian, why has the secret ABCD trial scandal disappeared from the headlines? Sure if you hunt around the web site  and click a few links you can find comment from Owen Jones and Simon Jenkins - in both cases readers' comments are disabled "for legal reasons" - but what about on the front page? 

One reading of it is that the following stories are more important than one of the most serious infringements of our civil liberties for centuries: Obama: US wants Scotland in UK; Osborne admits house price threat (big surprise there); Pope Francis defends Gypsies; Let British cities grow, says Labour; Africa: phone net use 'to rise 20-fold'; Race to contain new strain of malaria; A year on a Herefordshire farm.

I'm sure these are great stories and entirely worthy of our attention, but as important as a trial held in secret which, if it wasn't for legal challenge the press would not be allowed even to mention? One has to wonder: are there legal restraints on reporting  - a DA notice? Or is the press just being leaned on more informally by the boys from Vauxhall?

Time to get those old Glasgow Media Group volumes out of storage and remind yourself that we have the freest press in the world, except for when someone  - in the public interest of course - decides that freedom is inconvenient.