Short-ish and simple-ish guide to using some HTML tags in comments sections of some websites

Some websites allow you to make comments on some of their webpages. Some of those allow you to use a limited part of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) to help format your comments. For example, I find it useful to differentiate me quoting someone else from my own comments, and at the moment for that quoting I use “italics and inverted commas”: the inverted commas mark it as quote and the italics differentiate it clearly from my own text.

What follows is intended to be a very simple guide to this assuming you know nothing about HTML.

Some websites use to handle comments.
On this IntenseDebate features page about halfway down is:
More neat features
HTML Formatting
You can also customize your links and add some photos to your comments. IntenseDebate supports the following HTML tags:
<a>, <b>, <i>, <u>, <em>, <p>, <blockquote>, <br>, <strong>, <strike>, <img>.

  • * the “a” tag is a bit (not very) tricky, so I won’t explain it – it enables you to insert a link to another webpage, but on IntenseDebate you can easily do that by just using the address of the webpage, so it’s not essential that you know how the “a” tag works;
  • * the “u” and “strike” tags seems to mean different things and/or are deprecated depending on which HTML version you’re using, so I’ll avoid explaining them;
  • * I’m not at all sure I want to encourage people to post images in a comment, so for now I’m not going to explain the “img” tag;

That leaves these HTML tags to use in comments using IntenseDebate:

(1) b = bold, i = italics, em = emphasis, strong = strong emphasis;
the HTML for that: b = <b>bold</b>, i = <i>italics</i>, em = <em>emphasis</em>, strong = <strong>strong emphasis</strong>;

(2) p = paragraph which groups a chunk of text; blockquote = indicate the quotation of a large section of text from another source – taken from Wikipedia.

(3) br = new line;

Each of the tags in (1) and (2) formats text between a starting tag and a closing tag.
Example, no italics here, text in italics, and more text without italics.
HTML: no italics here, <i>text in italics</i>, and more text without italics.
I turned on the italics by putting a starting tag <i> immediately before the text I wanted in italics, and turned off the italics by putting a closing tag </i> immediately after the text I wanted in italics.

* For each of the HTML tags in (1) and (2) the starting tag is just the name of the tag enclosed by < and > and the closing tag is the same as the starting tag except immediately after the < is /

You can use more than one type of formatting on one piece of text:
Example: this is in italics and this is also BOLD and this is not formatted;
HTML: this is <i>in italics and <b>this is also BOLD</b></i> and this is not formatted;
*BUT* each starting tag must have a matching closing tag, and the matching should be on a “last in – first out” basis. That example would be wrong if the closing bold tag was after the closing italics tag. So if I’d wanted the “BOLD” to be bold but not in italics, then I’d have to do this:
Example: this is in italics and this is also BOLD and this is not formatted;
HTML: this is <i>in italics and <b>this is also</b></i> <b> BOLD</b> and this is not formatted;

I think that’s all you need to know about (1).

For (2) the “p” tag groups text into a paragraph. You don’t need it on IntenseDebate because you can just use an empty line to separate paragraphs.
You might find “blockquote” useful for large quotations – I haven’t yet used it in a comment, but I might experiment with it in the future.

For (3) the “br” tag starts a new line: unlike the tags in (1) and (2) it only has a “starting” tag – there is no closing tag for a new line. (The “br” is short for “break”.) You don’t need it on IntenseDebate because you can just start a new line

WARNING: If you’re lucky, the website you’re posting a comment on will let you preview the comment, and if you’ve made a mistake you can correct it before you make your comment definite. But if you can’t preview your comment, then be careful. For example, more than once I’ve started italicising something and then either forgotten to put a closing italics tag or have accidentally used another starting italics tag instead, with the result that the italics continue to the end of my text: that did not look good! So my advice is to be sparing of your use of tags, and when you do use them be careful that each starting tag has a matching closing tag in the correct place.

BEWARE: At least one website which uses IntenseDebate seems to have the annoying feature that if you’re reading a webpage, and someone makes a new comment, then the entire webpage is refreshed and more than once that appears to have made me lose a comment or reply I was typing in myself. So my strong recommendation is not to type text directly into a comment or reply box on the webpage, but instead draft your reply in a text editor (for example Microsoft Notepad or the also free and in my opinion much superior Metapad) or open up your email, and draft your comment or reply as a draft email. When you are happy with your draft, select and copy all the text, including any HTML tags, and then paste that into the comment or reply box on the webpage. (I’ve just tried that and it seems to work with GoogleMail.) Then either delete (or don’t save) the draft, or do save the draft just in case your comment or reply doesn’t work or mysteriously disappears (that has happened to me), and only delete the draft when you are sure your comment or reply has “taken root” on the webpage.

If you have any questions, or have a suggestion for making this short explanation clearer, then leave a comment (I don’t know if WordPress accepts HTML formatting in comments – my guess is yes, but I’ve never tried!) or contact me via the Contact link near the top of this page. I don’t guarantee to reply, but you’ll probably get a response from me, albeit not necessarily very quickly.

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Ode to a Teacher

Twists and Tales

There is a memory that has been playing on my mind lately: I was six I think and my Year One teacher (if that’s what the English equivalent is, it was the year where you learn to read and write) asked me to stay after school because he wanted to discuss something with me.

Blackboard Blackboard (Photo credit: rickerbh)

I was, quelle surprise, a precocious child and he had recently discovered that, while everyone else was mastering words, I could actually already read full sentences. He was a very popular  teacher; our school quite hippy-ish in its approach anyway (No, not quite Steiner 😉 ) and had the policy to address teachers by their first name, except for the preschool years in which we could address them as “Miss” (or “Mum”, if you forgot where you were).

This teacher would actually effectively kill off “Sir” and “Mr” by theatrically shouting…

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In memory of a Maths Teacher

Twists and Tales

Today, on my sister’s birthday, some sad news reached us: one of our old maths teachers died of a heart-attack whilst out cycling with his son.  My flatmate remarked it was a very Dutch way to go.  When I say old maths teacher, I don’t actually mean his age: in fact, he is a similar age to my parents and I dare anyone to call my mother old to her face!  (Still, the fact is a little terrifying.)

Mr H. was a great teacher, even though he never intended to go into teaching. He wanted to a carpenter or do something more creative. He met a girl, got married, had a family and decided he needed a more stable career to provide for them.

He was one of the rare teachers who, despite 25 years of teaching experience – oh didn’t we all know it- , didn’t believed there was just one way of doing things. If…

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Estimates of the probability of Donald Trump being replaced as President of the USA before his first 4 year term ends

(1) The current (that is 13.July.2017) online betting odds – and so implied probability – of Donald Trump being replaced as President of the USA before his first 4 year term ends seem to be rather high. Below are are odds taken from betting websites and calculations showing the probabilities (net of implied bookmaker’s margins) implied by those odds. Don’t take this probabilities too seriously, and in particular if a range of probabilities is given that is merely the range given by these odds and the calculations made: the actual probabilities might be lower or higher that the naive might think implied by that range (or by a single figure).

That said, I don’t know if Trump holds the record for the 20th and 21st century USA President with the highest first presidential year odds of being replaced before the end of his first 4 year term, but he must be a very strong contender for that record.

(1.1) Odds (and implied bookmaker’s margins) can differ quite widely. So using only Coral, which seems to have smallish spread of bookmaker’s margin of 9% to 11%, and has the advantage that odds are given for Trump being replaced in 2020 (all other odds I found were for Trump being replaced in 2020 or later), here are some odds and calculations of implied probabilities net of bookmaker’s margins as at the afternoon of 14.July.2017:

q= aproximate probability net of an estimate of bookmaker’s margin
o= *approximate* odds net of an estimate of bookmaker’s margin
O= odds including bookmaker’s margin

* Trump replaced within 12 months: q= 0.23 o= 3.5/1
* Trump replaced within 15 months (mid-term): q= 0.26 o= 3/1
* Trump replaced in 2017-2020: q= 0.45 o= 1.25/1
check: Trump To Leave Office Via Impeachment Or Resignation Before End 1st Term:
O= 11/10; q= 10/(11 plus 10) / 1.11 (margin) = 0.43
which is reasonably close to 0.45, and anyway should be smaller:
the 0.45 should be including the possibility that Trump dies in office by 2020;
* Trump replaced after 2020: q= 0.55 o= 0.8/1;
check: Trump to serve full first term: O= 8/11;
q= 11/(8 plus 11) / 1.11 (margin) = 0.52
which is reasonably close to 0.55

* May replaced within 12 months: q= 0.4 o= 1.5/1
* Next General Election within 12 months: q= 0.27 o= 2.75/1

* Trump & May replaced within 12 months: q= 0.23*0.41 = 0.094 o= 9.5/1
* Trump replaced & GE within 12 months: q= 0.23*0.27 = 0.062 o= 15/1
When Will Trump Be Replaced?
2017 = 5/1; Q = 1/(5 plus 1) = 0.17; q = Q/1.11 = 0.15;
2018 = 5/1; Q = 1/(5 plus 1) = 0.17; q = Q/1.11 = 0.15;
2019 = 8/1; Q = 1/(8 plus 1) = 0.11; q = Q/1.11 = 0.10;
2020 = 16/1; Q = 1/(16 plus 1) = 0.06; q = Q/1.11 = 0.05;
2021 = 11/8; Q = 8/(11 plus 8) = 0.42; q = Q/1.11 = 0.38;
2022 = 33/1; Q = 1/(33 plus 1) = 0.03; q = Q/1.11 = 0.03;
2023 = 40/1; Q = 1/(40 plus 1) = 0.02; q = Q/1.11 = 0.02;
2024 = 50/1; Q = 1/(50 plus 1) = 0.02; q = Q/1.11 = 0.02;
2025 or later = 8/1; Q = 1/(8 plus 1) = 0.11; q = Q/1.11 = 0.10;
total Q = 1.11 implying bookmaker’s margin = 11%; total q = 1.00;
Trump being replaced within 12 months q = 0.23;
approximate calculation q2017-Jun.2018 = q2017 plus 6/12 * q2018
Year May Is Replaced As Prime Minister
2017 = 5/2; Q = 2/(5 plus 2) = 0.29; q = Q/1.09 = 0.27;
2018 = 5/2; Q = 2/(5 plus 2) = 0.29; q = Q/1.09 = 0.27;
2019 = 9/4; Q = 4/(9 plus 4) = 0.31; q = Q/1.09 = 0.28;
2020 or later = 4/1; Q = 1/(4 plus 1) = 0.20; q = Q/1.09 = 0.18;
total Q = 1.09 implying bookmaker’s margin = 9%; total q = 1.00;
May being replaced as Prime Minister within 12 months q = 0.41;
approximate calculation q2017-Jun.2018 = q2017 plus 6/12 * q2018
Year of Next General Election
2017 = 5/1; Q = 1/(5 plus 1) = 0.17; q = Q/1.11 = 0.15;
2018 = 11/4; Q = 4/(11 plus 4) = 0.27; q = Q/1.11 = 0.24;
2019 = 5/2; Q = 2/(5 plus 2) = 0.29; q = Q/1.11 = 0.26;
2020 = 12/1; Q = 1/(12 plus 1) = 0.08; q = Q/1.11 = 0.07;
2021 = 12/1; Q = 1/(12 plus 1) = 0.08; q = Q/1.11 = 0.07;
2022 or later = 7/2; Q = 2/(7 plus 2) = 0.22; q = Q/1.11 = 0.20;
total Q = 1.11 implying bookmaker’s margin = 11%; total q = 0.99;
(I’m ignoring the 0.01 rounding error in q)
Next General Election in or before Jun.2018 q = 0.27;
approximate calculation q2017-Jun.2018 = q2017 plus 6/12 * q2018

What follows gives an indication (no more than that) of the spread of the odds amongst bookmakers.

(2) Example calculated implied net of bookmaker’s margins probabilities for Trump ceasing to be President:

  • 23% to 31% for being replaced in 12 months July.2017 to June.2018
  • 26% to 36% for being replaced in 15 months July.2017 to mid-term elections November.2018
  • 40% to 52% for being replaced in 2 years 6 months July.2017 to December.2019
  • 45% (Coral) for being replaced before January.2021
  • 55% (Coral) for surviving to January.2021

(3) Odds for Trump being replaced from Coral and Oddschecker on 13.July.2017:

Trump replacement year Coral BetVictor PaddyPower Betfair SkyBet
2017: 5/1 4 3 34/5 6
2018: 5/1 3 4 10/3 10/3
2019: 8/1 11/2 7 24/5 4
2020: 16/1
2021: 11/8
2022: 33/1
2023: 40/1
2024: 50/1
2020 or later: 5/6 4/5 9/10
2025 or later: 8/1

(4) Calculate implied probabilities before adjusting for bookmaker’s margins

examples: 3 is 3/1 giving 1/(3+1) = 0.25; 34/5 gives 5/(34+5) = 0.13;

Trump replacement year Coral BetVictor PaddyPower Betfair SkyBet
2017: 0.17 0.20 0.25 0.13 0.14
2018: 0.17 0.25 0.20 0.23 0.23
2019: 0.11 0.15 0.13 0.17 0.20
2020: 0.06
2021: 0.42
2022: 0.03
2023: 0.02
2024: 0.02
2020 or later: 0.55 0.56 0.53
2025 or later: 0.11
==== ==== ==== ====
total 1.11 1.15 1.14 1.06
implied bookmaker’s margin 11% 15% 14% 6% assume 10%

(5) True probabilities for exclusive and exhaustive events should add up to 1. But bookmaker’s need to cover their expenses and make a profit, so they must reduce their odds, which implies increasing the apparent probabilities, so the sum of the implied probabilities for exclusive and exhaustive events will add up to more than 1. See Wikipedia – Odds – Gambling odds versus probabilities and Wikipedia – Mathematics of bookmaking – Overround on multiple bets.

(6) Calculate implied probabilities net of implied bookmaker’s margin
example: Betfair 0.13/(1+6%) = 0.13/1.06 = 0.12

Trump replacement year Coral BetVictor PaddyPower Betfair SkyBet
2017: 0.15 0.17 0.22 0.12 0.13
2018: 0.15 0.22 0.18 0.22 0.21
2019: 0.10 0.13 0.11 0.16 0.18
2020: 0.05
2021: 0.38
2022: 0.03
2023: 0.02
2024: 0.02
2020 or later: 0.48 0.49 0.50 0.48**
2025 or later: 0.10*
==== ==== ==== ==== ====
total: 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00

* 2020 or later = 0.60 = 0.05 + 0.38 + 0.03 + 0.02 + 0.02 + 0.10
** 0.48 = 1.00 – (0.13 + 0.21 + 0.18)

(7) Other implied probabilities net of implied bookmaker’s margin

Trump replacement year Coral BetVictor PaddyPower Betfair SkyBet
(7.1) 2017 annualised: 0.28 0.31 0.39 0.23 0.24
(7.2) Jul.2017-Jun.2018: 0.23 0.29 0.31 0.24 0.24
(7.3) Jul.2017-Nov.2018: 0.26 0.34 0.36 0.29 0.29
(7.4) 2017-2019: 0.40 0.52 0.51 0.50 0.52
(7.5) 2017-2020: 0.45
(7.6) 2021 or later: 0.55
  • (7.1) the 2017 probability is for Trump leaving in the 6 months July-December 2017;
    this annualised figure is for comparison with the 2018 and 2019 figures for full years;
    example 2017 annualised for Betfair: 1.00 – (1.00 – 0.12) * (1.00 – 0.12) = 0.23

  • (7.2) probability for Trump leaving in the 12 months July.2017-June.2018;
    example for Betfair: 0.12 + (1.00 – (1.00 – 0.22)**0.5) = 0.24

  • (7.3) probability for Trump leaving in the 15 months July.2017-November.2018;
    example for Betfair: 0.12 + (1.00 – (1.00 – 0.22)**0.75) = 0.29

  • (7.4) sum of probabilities for Trump leaving in 2017, 2018, 2019;
  • (7.5) sum of probabilities for Trump leaving in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020;
  • (7.6) sum of probabilities for Trump leaving in 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025 or later;
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Will the real Howard Flight please stand up?

Prompted by this article by Howard Flight on ConservativeHome advocating a higher minimum wage, I made a search of that website for other articles by him making significant points on the desirability, or otherwise, of a minimum wage, including its impact on productivity.

I did that because I was curious that a – as I see him – relatively right-wing commentator was apparently in favour of not only a minimum wage, but a higher one, when I (someone who is to the left of the Conservative & Unionist Party and to the right of Jeremy Corbyn) am not wholly persuaded that a minimum wage is the best way to enhance the income of the low paid: I wonder if a negative income tax – or the similar tax credits introduced by Gordon Brown – might be better. I want something done to improve the lot of the lower paid (and those unable to work), but I have no ideological preference for any particular way to do that. I do, however, suspect that the current enthusiasm for minimum wages on both the left and right of the United Kingdom political spectrum might partly be because it’s easier to persuade the electorate to vote for employers paying more to their employees than to vote for money being transferred – via taxation and negative income tax or tax credits – partly from voting taxpayers.

(I note in passing that two economists who Margaret Thatcher was reputed to be rather fond of were in favour of negative income tax or minimum income: Milton Friedman, albeit in his case some brief internet searching suggests that he was reluctant about negative income tax and may later have changed his mind, and from Wikpedia I learn that “In his 1994 “autobiographical dialog,” classical liberal Friedrich Hayek stated: “I have always said that I am in favor of a minimum income for every person in the country” … Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue by F. A. Hayek, edited by Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)”.)

But I digress. I was intrigued to find that Howard Flight’s policy recommendations seemed to have shifted more than somewhat between 2009 and 2017. Moreover, as far as I can see (I am not an economist) the reason he gives for now having a higher minimum wage – that as a by-product it should increase productivity – also applied between 2009 and 2015. I believe his points on ConservativeHome about minimum wages can be summarised as: in 2009, 2014 and 2015 he thought the Minimum Wage was a necessary evil (not his words – my summary of his arguments); in 2010 it was “economically wrong”; also in 2014 as I understand it he wanted both tax credits and the minimum wage abolished. In particular, in August.2010 he appeared to be arguing for a lower or zero minimum wage: “faced with the growing competition from Asia, the minimum wage is now pricing large numbers of people out of work”.

His first mentions of the effect of a minimum wage on productivity seem to be in August.2016 and December.2016, when we are told that the increases in the minimum wage should stimulate an increase in productivity, at the cost of pricing some people out of work. Finally, in the current article of June.2017 is: “Here, there is a strong case for a significantly higher minimum wage, which should have the by-product effect of increasing productivity”. What I’d like to know is if that’s true now and in 2016, but apparently not true – in his opinion – from 2009 to 2015, what were the differences in economics and politics between 2009-2015 and 2016-2017 which led to him changing his mind?

Below are verbatim extracts from the relevant articles by Howard Flight on ConservativeHome. I have tried to avoid quoting out of context, which is why some extracts are longish. I believe that I have not misrepresented him, but am willing to consider including longer extracts and/or extracts from his other articles on ConservativeHome if anyone provides reasoned arguments showing that I have.

  • 15.October.2009: The Conservative Party needs a manifesto to promote growth in the private sector … In an economic climate where the key objective must be the creation of new jobs in the private sector, it is demonstrable that the Minimum Wage reduces potential employment and thus serves to increase the welfare expenditure bill. Labour’s introduction of employment tax credits makes it difficult not to have some level of minimum wage as otherwise employers would be incentivised to cut their labour costs further, and exploit the tax credit top up. …

  • 31.March.2010: [Labour Party Government budget] Darling’s last stand – The Budgetary challenges bequeathed by the Chancellor to the next Conservative government … Increasing the minimum wage by 2.2% – albeit economically wrong – will be welcome to low income earners. …

  • 16.August.2010: Growing the (Private Sector) Economy John Llewellyn and Bimal Dharmasena have written an interesting CPS Paper reviewing what Government could do to create the conditions which will lead to an increase in the UK long term growth rate. As it points out, avoiding bad policies is as important as promoting good policies – particularly relevant with regard to taxation. While the political reasons for apportioning the restoration of sound public finances at around 33% increased tax and 67% cutting or freezing expenditure, are readily understood, it is also clear from an economic standpoint that an approach of 100% (or even 120%) cuts and no tax increases (or a reduction in tax) would be better for encouraging economic recovery. Their proposals for labour market reforms are broadly sensible but they duck the crucial issues that in work tax credits are a major disincentive for individuals to increase their skills, where for the majority the differential in post tax-credit take home pay is small as between the more skilled and the less skilled: and, secondly, that faced with the growing competition from Asia, the minimum wage is now pricing large numbers of people out of work. …

  • 22.January.2014: The cost of the EU … Tax credits and the minimum wage … Back in 1974, the Heath Government sought to introduce a negative income tax regime, essentially similar to the tax credits introduced by Chancellor Brown. The leading Labour politicians then argued, convincingly, against a negative income tax on the grounds that it would lead to the suppression of natural pay increases and end up costing a fortune, much as had the “Speenhamland” system in the early 19th Century. This is precisely what has happened. I argued against Tax Credits being introduced at the time, quoting the well-considered opposition of previous Labour politicians back in 1974 to the negative income tax proposals.

    Not surprisingly, the Government is now considering increasing the minimum wage to try to offset the effect of tax credits in holding down pay and so ballooning their costs. This would, however, represent little more than a sticking plaster measure. The tax credits regime needs to be abolished, to allow wages to reach their natural, market levels, with compensation where required via the welfare payment reforms.

    In the wake of the 2008/09 financial and economic crisis, it may have been a good thing, in the short term, that tax credits suppressed wages, thus enabling employment levels to hold up; but in the longer term, wages need to be driven by market forces, and individuals need to see that if they improve their skills, their take home pay increases. Moreover, the sort of massive subsidisation of employment which Tax Credits represents leads, inevitably, to over-employment in many areas and a fall in productivity growth, (as occurred with the Speenhamland system) as we have seen over the last 5 years. Hiking the minimum wage by Government dictate may reduce the current costs of tax credits, but will also serve to price unskilled employees out of work.

  • 8.June.2015: What must be done now that we’ve won … Now is also the time to take measures to increase the savings rate. This is necessary both in order to help those under 60 to provide more adequately for their retirement years, and also to correct our economic imbalance – illustrated particularly by the ballooning current account deficit. There is a limit to the assets which can sensibly be sold to foreigners to finance it without this leading to strategic problems. A higher level of saving would also underpin a higher level of investment, and in turn productivity growth. Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms have clearly made work pay with dramatic success, but subsidies for those in work are also a major cause of holding down wages, sector over-employment and poor productivity growth. I remain of the view that the income tax credit element of Universal Credit should be phased out. It is having the same effect as what was known as the Speenhamland System in the early part of the nineteenth century. …

  • 3.August.2015: The stealth taxes in Osborne’s latest Budget would have made Gordon Brown proud … Many have criticised the increased minimum wage – now termed the National Living Wage (NLW). I do not like Governments interfering in pay, especially where growing regional differences in the cost of living should allow pay rates to be determined locally. But where Government (the taxpayer) continues to subsidise pay – outdoor relief as it used to be known – an adequate minimum wage cannot be avoided, in order to stop employers constraining pay deliberately and optimising the government subsidy. The cost of in-work tax credits has increased from around £8 billion to over £30 billion per annum over the last decade. …

  • 28.March.2016: We simply cannot afford to carry on protecting spending on welfare, the NHS and schools … Iain Duncan Smith’s commitment to get people into work is to be praised and has protected large numbers of people from being thrown out of work post the financial crisis. But, looking forward, taxpayer subsidy of those in work has to be phased out. It serves to put downward pressure on pay and encourage over-employment – a major cause of poor British productivity. It is a nonsense that many working 16 hours a week and receiving substantial income tax credits enjoy a similar overall income to many working 40 hours a week. The Universal Credit is a good idea from an administrative perspective, but I believe that the Income Tax Credit element needs to be phased out. …

  • 1.August.2016: Conundrums of economic policy in the wake of Brexit … This, in turn, raises the issue of productivity. The reason why productivity growth has been negative is that there has not been an increase in GDP matching the two million increase in those in employment. As Alastair Darling has pointed out, Labour’s working tax credits have served to put downward pressure on wages (why should employers pay up if tax credits are subsidising employment), in turn encouraging ‘labour hoarding’ when labour costs are cheap. The inevitable result is a fall in productivity. Arguably, the Universal Credit will also increase the downward pressure on pay. The coming increase in the minimum wage should serve to address this issue, but at the cost of pricing some people out of employment altogether. … Finally, I would advise the new Government against socialist-leaning Government sponsored measures, intended to address perceived inequalities and perceived market failure. These are inevitably costly, and often have unexpected outcomes. [Added to emphasise how little advice Theresa May’s Government seems to be taking from Howard Flight: whether that is or is not a wise position is another question.]

  • 5.December.2016 We are spending too much on health, education and welfare … The higher minimum wage should stimulate an improvement in productivity, although it will also price many out of work. …

  • 26.June.2017: The Government must tackle Britain’s low productivity … An important factor restraining capital investment is relatively cheap UK labour costs. As Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, has conceded, Labour’s tax credits, intended to raise living standards, have largely had the effect of reducing pay. Why should the employer increase pay when the Government will pay up? With labour relatively cheap to the employer, many businesses have more staff than they really need, and as an alternative to capital investment. It is interesting to note that poor British productivity has coincided with the introduction of tax credits: when we finally got back to pre-crash GDP in 2015/16, it was with some two million more in employment – productivity had fallen. Here, there is a strong case for a significantly higher minimum wage, which should have the by-product effect of increasing productivity. Businesses will not employ more people than they need and will look at investment as an alternative. …
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Whose English Is It Anyway?

Chok Notes to Self

Whose English Is It Anyway? – The Immigrant Experience

– my notes for the panel discussion at Waterstones Cheltenham, Aug 13th 2016. With novelist and writer Susmita Bhattacharya and chaired by Zeba Talkhani.

The title brings to mind
– “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” – comedy, improvisation
– “Mind Your Language”, the TV comedy show about immigrants to the UK
– question of authenticity

Fluent in English but not considered a “native” speaker.
I grew up in Malaysia speaking English as my first language. It’s not that common. Quite specific to the era whereby my parents lived during the time the British were still in power in Malaysia. They aspired to be be part of the British education system. They were, I think one of the first waves of teachers who trained in the UK. This specific history and relationship to the EMPIRE. The status of English language and the…

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Film: The World of Us (South Korea, 2016) – written and directed by Yoon Ga-eun

for V, C, L

I’ve been intermittently feeling very guilty for not writing something about “The World of Us” – written and directed by Yoon Ga-eun – in the 2016 London East Asian Film Festival because during and after the screening I very much wanted to try to say why this was such a special film.

But now I can at least point to an excellent review by Andrew C Routledge.
While preparing this post I found several good reviews of “The World of Us” and I want to especially mention two reviews which in their own ways are as perceptive as that by Andrew C Routledge. All three should be read in full.
* Sanja Struna at ViewOfTheArts
* Sara Hayden at WeAreResonate

I originally intended simply to add a comment to Andrew C Routledge’s review, but this grew and grew until I felt it was more polite to make a post here (it was also easier to control the formatting), and add a short comment on his review with a link to this. What follows is a combination of what I thought while watching this film (including some films I was reminded of), reinforcements of some of his points, and two relatively small disagreements. I recommend first reading the three reviews by him, Sanja Struna, and Sara Hayden. (In what follows quotes from Andrew C Routledge’s review are preceded by “ACR:”.)

  • Other interesting reviews I found, which are worth reading carefully. (I’d be grateful for notification of any good reviews of “The World of Us” which I haven’t listed.)
  • some very perceptive comments by people who have seen the film, including:
    *iceberrie: How much raw can a film be? There was never a single moment that I thought “Hmm… here should be some gorgeous shots of scenery…” I mean, this film shows why sometimes thinking about mise-en-scene or exhibiting awesome filmmaking skills is not at all important. Not. At. All. The director leads the audience into this world of friendship between two girls in a way that is never artificial or melodramatic. This is such a precious film. I have to cherish it.
    *Dave Crewe: … The World of Us, in many ways, feels like a prepubescent, Korean version of Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe. Like that film, it closely interrogates the politics of female friendship; like that film, it feels like it could only have been made by a female filmmaker. It’s a simpler story, naturally; the younger characters don’t allow for the psychosexual tension humming under Breathe’s surface. It’s not as formally flashy as the French film, either, but its cinematographic subtlety is shared with an ending that sidesteps Laurent’s misguided gearshift into full-on thriller territory. This is a quieter film, and as – perhaps more – devastating for it. …
  • TimeOut-US: “…rarely has the world of a young child been so vividly and delicately brought to life… It is a small marvel that cloaks its complexities with an effortless simplicity.”
  • a plot summary and some stills
  • Jason Bechervaise’s review is very positive, but suggests that in some respects Yoon tackles too many issues at once, a view which I disagree with.

First my two disagreements with Andrew C Routledge’s review:
* ACR: “The pacing is deliberately slow, which can be frustating” – The pacing is slow, but I didn’t find it in any way frustrating: I was completely held throughout the film.
* ACR: “In a few rare moments, the kids feel like they are acting inorganically for the sake of plot, rather than character.” – That’s not something I noticed.

I’ve occasionally been at plays where almost everyone but me seems to be loving the performance, and I’m thinking it’s dire. One experience: I and two friends were at a play because they knew one of the actors, and all three of us found it clunky and simply bad theatre. But the rest of the audience – who were a quite different demographic from us – were enthused by it, I suspect because their lives were only infrequently represented on stage. In other words, I think the rest of the audience were – not unreasonably – using different criteria to judge the performance. From a purely artistic viewpoint, I think we three were correct, but we weren’t the main target audience.

The reverse has also happened: I’ve loved a performance (play, dance, music) and seem to have been in a very small minority. On those occasions of course it’s mostly due to me having far superior artistic judgment to those lesser mortals who didn’t get it, but there’s sometimes a small nagging doubt that if I’m seeing a wonderful performance by (for example) someone I know, maybe my view is being clouded by non-artistic factors.

So: when I was at school I was something of an outsider, which is why I empathised and identified with Sun (judging by what the writer/director and others said in the Q&A I was not alone in that), and that may account for the two things which were negatives for Andrew C Routledge completely passing me by.

Now for the much more positive thoughts. I make some direct comments on “The World of Us“, but more often praise it indirectly by citing other films (and two plays and two books).

* ACR: “There’s something strangely unassuming about The World of Us that actually makes it quite compelling.” – A particularly perceptive comment. My similar thought immediately after the screening was that a very great strength of the film is in what it doesn’t do. For example: no tricksy camera movements, and almost no use of music. I’m not using that as a general artistic criterion (there are superb films which use one or both of those), but here it absolutely reinforces what the film does. And I suspect it’s more difficult to make a compelling work of art by not doing things than by doing things?

I don’t recall when I first suddenly realised there was no music (maybe about 20 minutes into the film), and in the Q&A I asked a question about the almost complete absence of music. From memory, Yoon Ga-eun said it was a very deliberate decision, and that she had chosen to use music in only two places: first, in a scene where the two young girls are playing on swings and enjoying each other’s company; second in the closing credits, using music which is similar to, but not the same as, the music during the swings scene to give the film’s audience a reminder that the two girls were close friends, and might or might not – the film’s superb last scene, similar to, but not the same as, the film’s first scene, is very ambiguous on this – be reconciled in the future.

* Bearing in mind what I said above about my empathy for Sun, during the screening I was thinking this is one of the best films I have ever seen, and – since I was comparing it with films like Sopyonje by Im Kwon-taek (for me one of the two best films ever made) – I was also thinking is it really that good, or is my personal history clouding my judgment? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I would very much love this film to have more UK (and worldwide!) screenings, and that I would be doing my best to persuade people to see it.

* ACR: “The two young leads, who had never acted before, are extremely well cast.” – They gave superb performances, as did the rest of the cast, adults and children. In this regard I was very strongly reminded of a 2008 South Korean film which I admire very much: “Treeless Mountain” written and directed by So-yong Kim. There are some differences: for example, “Treeless Mountain” was made for children but also has a strong appeal for adults; by contrast, I think “The World of Us” is a film for adults. (And maybe also for older children: I’d be very interested to know how children the same age as Sun and Jia would react to this film.) After the screening I said to Yoon Ga-eun (though the excellent translator at the Q&A) that I’d been reminded in a good way of “Treeless Mountain” and she replied that it was a film she liked very much.
MORE about other films with excellent acting by young children

* In the header to ACR’s review: “The politics of the playground” – As an example of independent convergent thought, after seeing the film I too thought of using the word “politics” to describe the changing relationships between all the young girls in the film. From ACR’s review: “what happens between Sun and Jai might seem trivial to adults, but clearly it’s life and death for these girls at this particular age“. True, but also one thing that struck me was that although the film is about changing relationships between ten year old girls, with little (or even no!) changes it also serves as a metaphor (or even as a very direct model) for changing relationships between adults, both in social relationships which are “political” and in “purely political” machinations.
MORE films about personal relationships
MORE films, plays, and books about the politics of relationships

Films which I thought of after seeing the superb acting by the young children in “The World of Us”

  • Treeless Mountain” on Wikipedia – I’d forgotten this in the Wikipedia article: “… Most reviews generally praise the quiet and subtle nature of the film along with the performances of the two young actresses. Negative reviews generally cite the lack of dialogue and slow plot progression. …” (Given Andrew C Routledge’s perception of the slow pacing of “The World of Us” as being sometimes frustrating I wonder how he’d react to “Treeless Mountain“?)
  • Treeless Mountain” on IMDb
  • Treeless Mountain” review in The Daily Telegraph – I hadn’t seen this review before, and several comments in it could have been written about “The World of Us”. For example: … Treeless Mountain is … a film that prefers to show rather than to tell, and to intimate rather than to show. Its minimalism – not unlike that of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (2008) – is a kind of maximalism. Its silences lasso our imaginations, and speak greater truths than those in any number of more eloquent, gabby independent movies. … (In passing, that’s excellent writing by Sukhdev Sandhu – I very strongly recommend reading the whole review. The phrase “Its minimalism is a kind of maximalism” reminds me of the C major prelude in Book 1 of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues for The Well-Tempered Clavier.)
  • Written for a screening at Dundee Contemporary Arts, this review could also be about “The World of Us“. For example: … Without artifice, cheesy music, or special effects, “Treeless Mountain” has a purity and restraint that is reminiscent of some of the best films ever made about childhood, like “Ponette”, or “Kes”. As Truffaut was blessed with the discovery of Jean-Pierre Leaud in “The 400 Blows”, Kim has been very lucky to discover in her two non-professional leads two extraordinary actors. Hee-Yeon Kim was found in an elementary school in Seoul City, while five-year-old Song-Hee was auditioned along with her fellow housemates at a Korean orphanage. …
  • Very interesting Berlinale festival information by the writer/director on how “Treeless Mountain” was made. An extract: … The most important and difficult task in making the film was finding the two leads. In order to cast Jin, we visited 14 elementary schools and kindergartens in Seoul. When I first met Kim Hee-Yeon, who plays Jin in the film, I had this gut feeling that she was the one. When I approached her in the school’s cafeteria, she told me it was her dream to have a younger sister. After that she corrected my poor Korean. I fell for her completely. …
  • A document on the filmmaker’s site; almost all of this information is also in the Berlinale site document.
  • review by Kristi Mitsuda, astaff writer on So Yong Kim’s cinema can break your heart. Not by invoking the usual tearjerking music swells and dramatic crescendos, but by constructing narratives authentically attuned to the behavioral and emotional rhythms of particular age groups, from childhood to teenage years. In the course of only two films — the impeccable adolescent tale “In Between Days” being the first – Kim has demonstrated a mastery of the medium similar to Ramin Bahrani; both directors craft character stories and share realist aesthetic tendencies, evincing an almost anthropological attention to detail whilst weaving immigrant experiences into the fabric of a shared American narrative. “Treeless Mountain” again sees Korean-American director Kim – drawing upon memories of growing up in Pusan – expertly turning her gaze upon a female protagonist, this time undergoing an experience more harrowing than high school. … Numerous shots also capture Jin and Bin peering out of windows, and a mournful tone haunts the frequent dusky shots of the horizon, another day passing in which their mother doesn’t return. Lingering over the bodies of the listless sisters after they come to the realization that a full piggy bank isn’t a genie in a bottle, Kim makes palpable their sorrow simply, through careful composition and pacing; later, a joyful endpoint is just as subtly expressed through lighting. Skillfully steering clear of sentimentality in relaying her semiautobiographical tale – not just of childhood but also of women – the director creates a raw portrait that’s exquisite in its miniaturist scope.
  • Mostly just the plot but has some insights.
  • Links to several good reviews, including:
  • Robert Koehler in Variety: … Drawing out beautifully natural performances from her child actors, Kim once again has a distinct way of letting her camera observe her characters with kind thoughtfulness, allowing for a quiet mood to wash over the scenes. …
  • David Jenkins in TimeOut – London: … Not since Jacques Doillon’s enchanting 1996 drama ‘Ponette’ have the collective, small-scale traumas and vertiginous learning curve that come with a childhood on the lam been captured with such psychological diligence and hardscrabble poetics as in this autumnal, toddler’s-eye heartbreaker. …
  • Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian: Korean director Kim So Yong has made a sombre yet touching film about the vulnerability and loneliness of children in a world of not-very-benign neglect. … Not an easy watch, but worth sticking with.

[BACK to the superb acting by young children in “The World of Us”]
Some more films that I love which have excellent acting by young children:

  • A 1961 South Korean film for adults: My Mother and Her Guest (or “Mother and a Guest” or similar variations). More information and links here, and there is an essay on Blue Devil’s Blog which at a quick first read seems interesting.
  • A 2005 Dutch film for children (and adults!): Winky’s Horse (original Dutch title “Het paard van Sinterklaas)“). On IMDb. From the Dundee Contemporary Arts website: A magical Christmas story about Winky, a little girl who has come from China to make a new home in Holland. Winky has one burning desire, to have her own pony, but her Mum won’t hear of it. When she [Winky] discovers a tradition in Holland that is new to her, she realises that Santa Claus and his present bearer Schwarte Pete might be able to help her to fulfil her dreams. A lovely film, no matter what country you come from.
  • A 1996 Chinese film for children (and adults!): “The King of Masks“.

    • Spoiler warning: if you haven’t seen this film then please don’t use any of these links for more information until you have seen it: there’s a plot twist which will come as a lovely surprise. The film is wonderful even if you know the plot twist (I’ve seen it three times), but it would be a pity not to be surprised by the plot twist the first time you see the film.
    • The_King_of_Masks” on IMDb
    • Roger Ebert’s review including a very perceptive observation
    • CultureVulture

[BACK to the superb acting by young children in “The World of Us”]

Films about personal relationships which I thought of after seeing “The World of Us”

  • There’s an excellent portrait of relationships between 17 year olds (who are also outsiders) in the 1991 Australian film Flirting, which has Thandie Newton in one of the leading roles, and Nicole Kidman in a supporting role. The film is very carefully made, and there’s an excellent review by Roger Ebert: excellent both in the sense that it highly praises the film, and excellent in the sense of being perceptive and well written – his review ends: So often we settle for noise and movement from the movie screen, for stupid people indulging unworthy fantasies. Only rare movies like “Flirting” remind us that the movies are capable of providing us with the touch of other lives, that when all the conditions are right we can grow a little and learn a little, just like the people on the screen. This movie is joyous, wise and life-affirming, and certainly one of the year’s best films.
  • Another excellent portrait of relationships between teenagers (who are also outsiders) is the 1981 Scottish film Gregory’s Girl. and there’s another excellent review by Roger Ebert. Here is a retrospective review from 2014 which also makes me want to see “Gregory’s Girl” again, as does this (formerly on the Film4 website): … The film has fresh, no-nonsense performances and a script so rooted in truth that it seems to have materialized not been written. The strength is in the uncluttered presentation of this slight story of adolescent pangs (about both football and first love) that never veers over into passion. …. The comment about “a script so rooted in truth that it seems to have materialized not been written” could also have been said about “The World of Us
  • A wonderful film about the relationships between six somewhat older characters – five young women who have just graduated from school and (as acutely observed by a speaker at the 2016 London Korean Film Festival) Incheon, the city they live in – is the 2001 South Korean film Take Care of My Cat. There’s an informative Wikipedia article and, intriguingly, this fullwiki article is allegedly from Wikipedia but is actually even more informative! I first saw this film shortly after it was made and loved it: even the somewhat unsympathetic character of the five is a sympathetic character! In 2016 it was screened again in London, and I was more that somewhat worried that on re-seeing the film it wouldn’t live up to my memories of it, but I was very relieved to find that my memories were broadly correct. Indeed the film exceeded them: for example, I recalled that the identical twins were somewhat subsidiary characters to the other three young women, but re-seeing the film I realised that they have more important roles than I remembered (this article captures my former view of the twins, is perceptive, and has several stills from the film.). Also the twins are ethnically Chinese, so in some ways even more outsiders than the other three. And “Take Care of My Cat” easily passes the Bechdel test: see this perceptive article by Adam Hartzell.

Films, plays, book which I thought of relating to the “politics of relationships” in “The World of Us”

The World of Us” indirectly reminded me of a 1992 film from South Korea: Our Twisted Hero, based on a short South Korean novel of the same name by Yi Munyol. (I’ve seen the film – IMDb – but I haven’t read the novel.) Ostensibly this is a story about bullying in a boy’s school of and by pupils aged maybe 15 or 16, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is really about adult politics in South Korea. And not just about South Korea – think carefully about what the film shows (and it really does “show, not tell”), and you realise it has a universal application to politics. (Yes, even here in the – for now – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.)

About two years ago (in 2014) I had no idea this novel and film existed, and the Korean Cultural Centre held a screening at SOAS. I arrived a little while after the screening started, but I rapidly decided this was an exceptional film, an impression which was strongly reinforced by the end of the screening.

The story (I’m describing the film, which seems to have a somewhat different ending to the novel) is of a 15 (or thereabouts) year old boy whose family moves to another town and he attends a school in that new town. He joins a class which is dominated by a boy who is a bully (even the teacher of the class is intimidated), and the new boy is bullied but tries to resist the bullying. Eventually he stops resisting, and is accepted by and joins the gang of bullies. A year goes by, and all the pupils move up a class. Their new teacher realises what is happening, and breaks up the gang and destroys the power of the chief bully and his accolytes. But: the film is told in flashback – the now grown-up new boy is attending the funeral of a former teacher, and eventually the now grown-up chief bully also (sort of) attends, and we discover that this bully has actually done rather well for himself in adult life.

Question: did the new teacher’s reforms actually achieve much?

An even more important question: who is the “twisted hero” of the story? During and immediately after the screening I was sure that it was the new boy, who first resists the bullies, then joins them: not so heroic. I’ve seen a review suggesting that the twisted hero is the chief bully: I can see there’s a sort of argument for that, but I mostly disagree. (Unless you think that it’s heroic – albeit in a “twisted” way – to bully and succeed by trampling on people.) As I write this, I wonder if the new “reforming” teacher of the class is not also in a way a twisted hero: his reforms have an immediate effect, but the bully still eventually succeeds.

Indeed, maybe the twisted hero is the reader of the novel, the watcher of the film? Suppose I – or you, dear reader – had been an adult in, say, the regimes of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s 1930s Soviet Union with the horrific “purges”: would I – or you – have heroically resisted, or would I – or you – have been complicit by inaction. Worse: would I – or you – have collaborated with the regime in small (or large) ways simply to survive. (Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s “1984″ would I – or you – want someone else to suffer instead of me – or you?) Worse still, would I – or you – have actively joined with the regime to further my – or your – careers? I hope that, at least, I wouldn’t have gone that far; but as for the “lesser” evils, who knows? In, for example, Nazi-occupied France in World War 2, there were heroic resisters, collaborators who were in sympathy with the Nazi philosophy, doubtless other collaborators who were just out for themselves, and the majority of the population who were unheroically somewhere on the spectrum between the heroes and the villains. (I’m not singling out France: if anyone seriously imagines that – for example – the British would have overall behaved much better than the French if Britain had been occupied by the Nazis then I suggest they think again. Fortunately the British were never put to that test.)

Put another way, who the twisted hero really is is – rightly – ambigous.

No character in “Our Twisted Hero” escapes censure. In that it is similar to a 2014 USA independent film Dear White People (well, actually there are two characters in “Dear White People“, one major, one minor, who largely escape censure), a very intelligent, imaginative, angry, funny examination of racial politics in an American university. And it has an excellent music score, using European classical music, jazz and hip-hop to underline differences in the main characters. (I once mentioned this to a university lecturer on music, who intelligently asked if it was similar to Wagner’s use of leitmotifs. Answer: sort of. In “Dear White People” styles of music are used instead of individual letimotif themes, but the actual music changes, which seems a quite close analogy to leitmotif. From Wikipedia: “the crucial aspect of a leitmotif – as opposed to the plain musical motif or theme – [is] that it is transformable and recurs in different guises throughout the piece in which it occurs“.) If you haven’t seen “Dear White People“, please do so as soon as possible!

[BACK to the relationships in “The World of Us”]

Some related works on individual responsibility, using and abusing political systems, and what would I or you do:

  • Antigone, a 1944 play by Jean Anouilh – this isn’t a simple heroine versus villain plot: King Creon (the “villain”) has some very persuasive arguments – in the 1980s I saw an amateur performance which was one of the best things I have ever seen in a theatre.
  • The Ivankiad (or, The tale of the writer Voinovich’s installation in his new apartment), a short (144 pages) 1976 book by Vladimir Voinovich – I have called this one of the most important books of the 20th century: Voinovich shows (using humour, satire, and fantasy, and his own entirely legitimate quest for a larger apartment) the deep flaws in the Soviet Communist political system in the 1970s. The excellent English translation is currently out of print, but secondhand copies can be easily found by searching the internet. Here is another view on “The Ivankiad
  • Good, a 1981 play by C P Taylor: “…it shows how John Halder, a liberal-minded professor whose best friend is the Jewish Maurice, could not only be seduced into joining the Nazis, but step-by-rationalised-step end up embracing the final solution justifying to his conscience the terrible actions…”
  • The Nasty Girl” (a more accurate translation of the original German title “Das schreckliche Mädchen” might be “The Terrible Girl“), a 1990 film. Question: is Sonja, the heroine of the film, a heroine? Maybe yes, maybe partly no. Put another way, is Sonja pursuing awkward truth purely selflessly, or has she an element of self-importance. With that in mind, consider review by Roger Ebert. After a reasonable summary of the plot, Ebert writes: “… It’s the film’s style that I object to. The story itself is fascinating, but the style seems to add another tone, a level of irony that is somehow confusing: Does Verhoeven see this as quite the cheery romp he pretends, or is there a sly edge to his method? As a rule I welcome stylistic experiments – most movies are much too straightforward – but this time I’m not sure the movie’s odd tone adds anything. Realism might have worked better. The tone is most noticeable in the film’s visual style, which uses obviously artificial sets and locations, and at times has its heroine walking in front of back-projected streets, or standing on pedestals in the embrace of the local statues. … as I watched the film, I found that the disparity between the subject and the style was so strange that it distracted from what the film was really about. …” That odd visual style is one of the things that make me like this film so much: it’s “Brechtian alienation” (an interesting alternative explanation of “Brechtian alienation”) makes the viewer think about my question “is the heroine of the film a heroine?“. In other words, I think there is “a sly edge to his method” and that it’s intentionally a much more interesting film than a simple “feel good” story of one good woman (or man) uncovering the truth against the odds.

[BACK to the relationships in “The World of Us”]

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