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Caveat Emptor

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

Friday, 16 June 2017

Getting your tables right

It's that time of year when MA/MSc student minds turn to dissertation writing. In my neck of the woods that frequently involves communicating some numerical information to the reader. As I explain annually, at length, to anyone that cares to ask me, this is all about putting the needs of the reader first and downsizing  one's own egotistical tendencies. 

Tables that look like pieces of modern art are obstacles to understanding and demonstrate nothing more  than  a complete lack of thought by the person who constructed them. It's all about craftsmanship really, and if you can't be bothered with craftsmanship, then personally I don't feel terribly motivated to pay much attention to whatever it is you have to say. Which is possibly a pity, because what you have to say might be important. It isn't rocket science, it's just about caring enough to take a little trouble. Think of it as reciprocity. If you go to the trouble to maximize the possibility that I understand what you are saying, I'll make an effort to do the understanding, and if you don't I won't.

Well now I don't need to go on at length, because someone at Darkhorse Analytics has gone to the trouble to illustrate it  much better than I could (hat tip to Eric Harrison for alerting me to this). Happy table making and I hope you never use a colour fill or a jungle of lines again. By the way, it's all in Tufte, but those books are expensive...

Friday, 9 June 2017

Politics. It's a funny old life.

It feels a bit odd to be so pleased about the outcome of the election. The party I support, but didn't vote for, didn't win, but did  much better than I expected with a leader that I also didn't vote for, while the candidate that I voted for, whose party I don't support, stormed to victory and regained his seat. Was electoral politics so much simpler in the past?

Perhaps I'm just glad I didn't make a public prediction before the event. If I had, I would have been completely wrong, again. On the other hand I would have been in the good company of the  majority of  professional political forecasters and pundits. Talk about a ship of fools.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Kom Änglar

Also on the charming side of sentimental  are Lars Winnerbäck and Lisa Ekdahl. If you look around there is probably an English translation somewhere out there.  The first verse is roughly:

The most beautiful moment in my life is when you came (into it),
And nothing was allowed.
And everything that we did I want to go on,
Because it echoes in my mind.

You get the idea of where this is going... to inevitable tragedy. One thing though. You wouldn't take an English song seriously whose chorus began:

Come angels, come fairies...

I guess it just shows that poetic register can be pretty much untranslatable. What makes perfect sense in one language/culture does not work in another when translated literally. Yes, War and Peace in English is really not the same book it is in Russian.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

You can close your eyes

Little time to post at the moment as I try to get a few things shifted from my "to do" to my "done" list. But music is always good. I think this falls on the right side of the touching/sentimental divide. And I could listen to James Taylor play guitar all day.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beam me up Scotty

I know I'm mixing my metaphors here but it's becoming increasing difficult not to reach the conclusion that I have slipped into a parallel universe where rationality works in some different and completely incomprehensible way. 

If you are applying for British citizenship you have to get your application signed by two referees one of whom should  be an "acceptable professional person". Helpfully you are supplied with a list of acceptable professional persons. It is a very interesting list. For example, medical doctors are not on it and thus I assume not regarded by the UK Border Agency as "acceptable professional persons". However, if you are a Christian Science Practitioner that's good enough for UKBA. 

Run that by me again. If you are a qualified medic you are not an "acceptable professional person" but if you believe  that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone then you are just the sort of person that UKBA thinks  can be trusted to certify a citizenship application.

I can't even begin to get into the mind of the person who made that decision.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Portes on Brexit books

Here is a rather informative interview with Jonathan Portes in which he recommends five books (actually 4 and a blog) to read about Brexit. Definitely worth the time it takes to digest it.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The liberal London tribe: Parsons or Merton?

It will take me a little time  to decode the implications of  David Goodhart's latest piece in the FT.  I think he has just declared war on liberal tolerance, but maybe that is an overstatement. I find the following sentence very odd though: 

"In 2004 I wrote an essay about the tension between diversity and solidarity, based on what I thought was the uncontroversial assumption that people are readier to share with people with whom they have something in common."

The set of people that I  (and David) share nothing in common with is empty, so to make sense his "something" must be a matter of degree. But he says nothing whatsoever about when the threshold is crossed  that means that  sharing something can  for all practical purposes be regarded as  sharing nothing. It seems to me that the great virtue of of liberalism is that it gives us some guidance, albeit mainly formal,  as to where that should be.

Anecdote time. Once when I used to regularly travel on the London Tube I was sitting in the late evening in a relatively empty carriage. The only other occupant of my section was a rather sozzled business type who was sipping from a can of beer. At the next stop two teenage girls sat down. I guess they were tourists and they began talking to each other in Italian. The business type got up, went over to them, and aggressively started to berate them for having the temerity to speak Italian in his presence in his country. Clearly they were terrified so I told him to shut the fuck up and leave them alone. Miraculously he did. Perhaps nobody else being there made loss of face more bearable. I felt I was lucky. It could have got nasty.

So who shared what with whom? I don't speak a word of Italian and the girls didn't seem to have a word of English between them. But gratitude doesn't have to be expressed in words. We all understood what happened because we shared some basic notions of human decency, let's say we endorsed  good old liberal values to do with not gratuitously threatening young foreigners who are doing you no harm. 

Unlike David I do want to say that Falangist, sorry, I meant Faragist, complaints about nobody speaking English on the train should be seen for what they are. And what they are is very ugly. As a citizen you should have a reasonable expectation that the person that sells you a ticket speaks English, that the announcements on the train are in English and that the guard that tells you you have the wrong ticket speaks English (in some countries  German, English and French or German, English and Dutch). But you don't get to dictate what language the other passengers use when holding private conversations with each other. You bought a ticket to get from A to B not to have an aural experience that satisfies your prejudices.

And what did I share with my own countryman,  the aggressor? At that precise moment not much, but I'm prepared to believe that when not pissed he was an entirely adequate husband and father. Hell he probably even took good care of his dog.

By the way Goodhart's piece is also notable for referring to Talcott Parsons. I wonder if that is a first for an FT article? Perhaps though he might have got more mileage out of Robert Merton who, as far as I'm aware, first made the distinction between cosmopolitan and local roles and identities.