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Harry

Why do people keep saying that a bad agreement is worse than no agreement? They—not just May and her friends, but reasonably serious journalists—say it as if it means something. Isn’t it just the truism that an agreement that is worse than no agreement is worse than no agreement? Why is that observation relevant to anything? Everyone knows it is true, including the EU negotiating team. So the EU negotiating team is not going to try for a worse-than-no-agreement agreement, because they know that if that is the best on offer the UK can just walk away into WTO rules. So the observation that a bad agreement is worse than no agreement has no bearing on anything that anyone should do.

I’m missing something, right? [1] What is it?

[1] Really. I’ve been puzzling about this a while. I suppose an email to Henry should clear things up, but its more fun to open it up on CT, even at the cost of exposing myself as obtuse, which I obviously am being.

Another Open Thread on the UK Election.

by Harry on June 8, 2017

Nobody believes exit polls, obviously. But go ahead, say whatever comes to mind, as long as it keeps to our comments policy.

Open thread on the UK election

by Harry on June 7, 2017

So, what’s going to happen tomorrow? And what will it mean for the future? Who have been your favorite and least favorite performers? Who will be leading the Labour Party in 6 months time? Who will be leading the Conservative Party? More amusingly and less consequentially who will be leading UKIP (will Farage come back yet again?). In making your predictions, bear in mind Jeremy Hardy’s comment on the News Quiz last week: “If you’d asked me three years ago which of my friends was most likely to become leader of the Labour Party I wouldn’t have put Jeremy Corbyn in the top 20, and he’d have been far below Tim Brooke-Taylor”. Personally I’m not sure Jeremy Corbyn would have been in the top 20 Jeremys most likely to lead the Labour Party at that point.

Please remember the comments policy—in particular, no personal insults. I’ll check in as well as I can to moderate comments, but for those of you who live in the country in question, remember I am 6 hours behind (maybe the UKers will approve comments in a more timely fashion). If you’re lucky I’ll open another thread when the polls close….

The Color of Law

by Harry on May 31, 2017

I just finished Richard Rothstein’s brilliant—and far from uplifting—book The Color of Law. It’s been getting a lot of favorable press, and rightly so.

The book accepts (for the sake of argument, maybe—Rothstein is always parsimonious in his arguments) the principle that Chief Justice Roberts puts forward when he says that if residential segregation ‘is a product not of state action but of private choices, it does not have constitutional implications’. It is devoted to showing that, contrary to the prevailing myth that residential segregation (between whites and African Americans) is a product of a private choices it is, in fact, a product of government policies, all the way from the Federal level to the most local level, and this is true in the North as well as the South. Housing segregation in the US is de jure, not de facto. And… it shows just that. He makes his case in careful, meticulous detail, but in unfussy and inviting prose, packed with illuminating stories that illustrate the central claims.

Here are some of the basic mechanisms through which government in some cases reinforced and in other created housing segregation:

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I stayed up on election night to watch the results come in (can’t wait till June 8th, that’s going to be a thriller!). I had a bad feeling about the whole thing starting the moment I walked on campus that morning, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the result by about 7.30 pm (Central). But I stayed up anyway, partly because I that’s just what I do, and partly because the first test match between England and India started at 10 pm, and I couldn’t wait to see Haseeb Hameed, whom everyone was talking about. And, indeed, you could see why they were talking about him (as Aggers said, in frustration at the England camp trying to dampen down pressure: “Are we supposed to pretend we’re not seeing what we are seeing?”; or, imagine being 19 and hearing Geoffrey describe you as “a proper opening bat”).

But the player who really shone that night was Moeen Ali, who, fortunately, was still in when I awoke the next morning. And that seemed particularly fitting to me, because he seems to be the embodiment of everything Donald Trump isn’t.

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Grade compression and elite schools

by Harry on May 17, 2017

A very interesting piece by Catherine Rampell prompted by a consortium of elite prep school planning to to phase out grade altogether and replace them with qualitative evaluations. The piece is really about grade compression/inflation in elite colleges. Her thesis, which, she says, game theory would predict, is that grade compression is much more pronounced at elite colleges than at non-elite colleges, because elite colleges want to make it difficult to identify their weaker students who, thereby, have a labor market advantage over students from less elite colleges by virtue of the brand; whereas less elite colleges want to make it easy to identify their stronger students who, otherwise, might be overlooked because employers (grad schools, etc) assume they are weaker.


If you’re a top-ranked school, having more “noise” in your grading system reduces the ability of potential employers (or admissions officers) to accurately judge particular students. On average, this can boost your school’s job/admissions placement rate. That’s because the impressive school name does the work of signaling a student’s abilities, rather than a more finely grained assessment of the student’s actual abilities.

By contrast, lower-ranked schools really want superstars to stand out, lest they get written off because of the less-elite brand. To be sure, students at these lesser-ranked institutions are still pressuring grades upward, but administrators know they need some segmentation at the very top.

Thoughts?

My department just held its second annual ceremony celebrating our graduating majors and, again, the chair was kind enough to ask me to make some remarks (you can find last year’s remarks here). Again I followed two of our majors, whose talks were excellent.

I’m posting the comments here, again, partly because it was fun, and partly as a resource for others. Last time I invited people to use whatever they want without attribution and, again, feel free though in this case the two personal examples make that a little more difficult.

I have omitted four jokes that went down particularly well, three of which don’t look quite right in writing, the other of which was spontaneous. But the video of the speech is up on facebook and shouldn’t be hard to find (it’s public) so you can watch/listen there, and critique my delivery. Maybe someone else can figure out how to embed it here (I can’t).

A tranche of about 10 students graduated this year, all of whom took a class with me in their first semester as freshmen, and who have taken (or attended without taking) classes with me on and off throughout. I saw 9 of them (plus a boyfriend) the night before the event, and realised that not only are none of them Philosophy majors, but none of them are even graduating from my college (Letters and Science). But two of them (and a mum) kindly attended the Philosophy reception, non-awkwardly. The comment about liking, admiring, and respecting at the end—well, that’s how I feel about lots of our majors too, but it was formulated with those others in mind.

Here are the comments:

First I want to congratulate the students who are graduating, and thank the parents, friends, and supporters who are here to celebrate with you. And to thank especially whoever has been paying tuition the past few years. We’re all sad that we don’t get to teach the students any more, but somebody at least is glad that the paying is over.

Last year I reassured the parents about how well prepared philosophy graduates are for the labor market. That was an exercise in futility – if you are here, you either know that they are well-prepared for the labour market, or you don’t care or, perhaps, you are just really pissed off with them, and going through this whole weekend with gritted teeth; and nothing much I say will convince you otherwise.

So this year I thought I’d explore how well-prepared they are to be leaders in our democracy. Now, in saying that, I don’t want you to think they have a high chance of being elected. Probably not, in fact. But they are well-trained and well-prepared to contribute to changing the way the culture of our democracy works.

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Geoffrey Bayldon is dead

by Harry on May 11, 2017

In my properly aspiringly middle class household we were allowed to watch ITV, but we were mocked for it. So when Catweazle was first shown, I never saw it. I knew about it, though, and for a while I bought Look In, solely for the Catweazle and Timelsip strips. I did watch it in repeats when I was a bit older, and more willing to endure the mockery. But when Network put out the DVDs I got them immediately, and have now watched every episode several times, with each of the kids and lots of the their friends. The second series is great, but the first series is sublime. Packed with character actors, many yet to become famous; stupid—and brilliant—sight gags and puns; short, and sweet, episodes. But, at the core, is Bayldon; dirty, ragged, mischievous, bewildered. Its hard to imagine anyone else—maybe not even Jon Pertwee—succeeding in the role. And, for me, seeing him in anything else is bizarre (his presence makes it as hard for me to take To Sir With Love seriously as Leonard Rossiter’s makes 2001 A Space Odyssey). You don’t have to get the DVDs, by the way. Every episode seems to be on youtube.

Here’s the evening standard, because I can’t find a BBC or grauniad obit. Nothing works.

Alan Simpson is dead

by Harry on February 8, 2017

My dad lost a lot of blood a couple of years ago. Enough to have us all quite worried. I knew he was getting better when I asked him how much he’d lost and he said “very nearly a legful”.

Listen to the lead up to the punchline. Listen to every word. Of course, ‘very nearly’ is perfect—better than ‘nearly’ or ‘almost’ or… any other word. But every word Hancock says is perfect—chosen to emphasize all the features of the real Hancock’s personality that make the fictional Hancock so grotesque, pitiable, but loveable. For some reason, Pinter won a Nobel prize for literature, but Galton and Simpson didn’t. And now they won’t.

Alan Simpson obit here. (My dad’s fine—he got refilled thanks, presumably, to someone who had ‘a body full of good British blood’ [1] and was ‘raring to go’).

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Doctor recommendations needed.

by Harry on January 31, 2017

Forgive the momentary frivolity. I’m as exercised as anyone by what is going on. But Capaldi’s leaving. Give us a moment of your distracted time to provide recommendations for his replacement, ideally with reasons. Personally, I am such a fan of Toby Jones at the moment that I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Except maybe Sean Pertwee. Still, I can listen.

GF Newman’s The Corrupted is back, this time covering the 1970s. (As of today, you have 11 days to listen to the first episode, 12 to listen to the second, etc: here). I think you can find the first two decades on youtube pretty easily. It is a masterpiece—mingling a fictional crime family with harsh but believable portrayals of real historical figures they interact with (Driberg, Thatcher, Robert Mark, Slipper of the Yard and more!). I thought it would wear out a bit after the first, riveting, decade, but it hasn’t. Each episode is punctuated by brief clips of pop songs from the year in question, and each musical selection is so perfect for the narrative that at one point I wondered whether GF Newman had selected the songs first and written the drama around them. But even he couldn’t be that good.

The Corrupted came back just after we started binge-watching (or the closest we get to it—12 episodes in 4 weeks or so) detectorists (on netflix). This has had the strange consequence that pretty much every day I see or hear Toby Jones playing either the monstrous Joey—sorry, Joseph—Oldman, or the utterly delightful (as Sophie Thomson says in the penultimate episode, ‘and you’re lovely, Lance’) Lance. detectorists is as different from The Corrupted as Toby Jones’s character in detectorists is different from his character in The Corrupted. It, too, is a masterpiece—sparsely written, perfectly cast and beautifully acted. The casual in-jokes are adorable—if you’re over 40 you’ll grin in delight when the Simon and Garfunkel characters tell the police their real last names (Garfunkel brilliantly played by that bloke off Horrible Histories!). In common with the best sitcoms (is it a sitcom though?) the characters don’t really develop over the course of the show—instead they reveal themselves. Even Terry and Sheila, who appear to be objects of ridicule in the first few episodes, become understandable and real without actually changing. If you don’t shed a tear at the end of the 12th episode, there’s something wrong with you. And Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling play mother and daughter. Again!

Apparently Alan Ayckbourn used to direct radio dramas. A lot of them! So, if you feel like a radical change of pace, try Roy Clarke’s The Events at Black Tor from 1968. Very much of its time, anticipating The Wicker Man, Children of the Stones, etc. A great way to spend three hours.

The racist incidents I mentioned in the this post have, probably rightly, absorbed a good deal of administrative time and energy. One response has been to go a bit more deeply into climate and, more generally, equity issues on campus. The provost’s office recently asked departments (very nicely!) to plan events around the rubric of ‘equity and diversity’.

But, what should a department do, when asked to plan a response to equity and diversity issues? A number of colleagues went straight to talking about the racist and hate and bias incidents themselves. Fair enough, although if every department ran events on how to deal with racist incidents that might produce a fair bit of redundancy. I wanted at least some departments to focus on addressing what I think is an unduly neglected equity issue: the uneven, and in a significant number of cases downright poor, quality of instruction on the campus. I also believe that high quality instruction (with instruction broadly understood to include mentoring) can even counteract some of the effects of the kinds of incidents under the spotlight, by affecting the climate within which students encounter those incidents.

Let me give you three examples.

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All Around My Hat

by Harry on December 24, 2016

Weird memory. 1985, in some sort of lecture room in Kings College overlooking the Strand. A song starts to fade in, seeming to come from the road below. “Whatever You Want, Whatever You Need….etc”. It gets louder and LOUDER. A new song begins, using the same chords… “Again and Again” maybe? It’s impossible to ignore. We look down at the street and there they are, moving along slowly on a flatbed truck. The lecturer has no idea who the band is. In fact, some of the kids at Kings then are so posh they don’t seem to know. Impressive. I guess that’s the only time I’ll see Status Quo live.

Welcoming the new boy at school

by Harry on December 21, 2016

When I was 13 a new boy called Matthew Arnold arrived at my secondary school. It wasn’t the beginning of the year, just some random autumn day—not even a Monday. 15 minutes before the bell went for school Ms. Bolton brought him to me through the drizzle, told me his name, and told me to look after him and introduce him to people. He wasn’t in my class, and Ms. Bolton had never taught me, so God knows why she asked me to do it—I was not the friendliest, or the most socially adept, kid, by a long shot. He was taller than me, gangly, with big NHS specs, and more socially awkward. Being the new kid could be a cruel experience, as I later discovered myself.

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Racist incidents on campus

by Harry on December 20, 2016

My campus—like, no doubt, a good number of others—has been afflicted over the past 18 months or so by what seems like a rise in the number of racist incidents. We made the headlines recently, when someone attended a football game with an Obama mask on and a noose around his neck. (Oddly enough, the football stadium did not have a standing rule against people attending with nooses round their necks – and I am not sure how you can reasonably introduce such a rule frankly when you are about to introduce a rule that people can attend carrying guns). But there have been other, to my mind nastier (because anonymous) incidents. Nazi and other white-supremacist symbols scrawled here and there; “Heil Hitler” salutes in the face of two girls leaving sorority known (by those in the know which, bizarrely, includes me) to have a preponderance of Jewish members; racist graffiti in the bathrooms, etc. I say it ‘seems’ like a rise, because we don’t know how well reported incidents were before we introduced a specific mechanism for distinguishing racist and other ‘hate and bias’ incidents from general bad behaviour a couple of years ago. If there has really been a growth in incidents, that would be easy to explain. But one point of the post is to ask what the evidence suggests about whether there actually has been an increase on other campuses.

The other is to tell a little story about one of the lesser-known incidents. I tell the story because it is mildly amusing, but also because it hints at a different response to such incidents than that which has been publicized so much by the anti-coddling brigades. (I should say that students on my campus do not seem to demand coddling, though you might think that my response in the vignette below was a coddling response).

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