Bellingcat, Bertha Dochouse 25 June

June 27, 2019

****
bellingcat

Bellingcat:  Truth in a Post-Truth World explained how you could work out hidden things from open-source data, and the basis seemed to be that if bad guys were going to flood social media with disinformation they would give away more than they realised.  Eliot Higgins made a charismatic and very English lead figure, and I finally got the point about the MH17 incident–there is not much that can shoot down something flying at the altitude of a civilian airliner.

On the other hand, I did not get much of a feeling for how the members of Bellingcat had assembled themselves into a group in the first place or indeed who it was we heard of extending financial support to Eliot Higgins in the telephone.  The academic talking heads we saw had sensible things to say, but we never found out who exactly they were or what their perspective was.  The film correctly laid emphasis on transparency–or, as I would say, reproducibility–but did not give any examples of Bellingcat’s results being reproduced or verified by other actors.

Eliot Higgins was keen to stress that everything came from open sources, but I am not sure how far the various Russian administrative databases used to identify the Skripal perpetrators would count as open source, more like knowing somebody who had bought a CD of knocked-off data in a Moscow subway.  (The Spectator has an intelligent discussion of the point here.)

Anyway, at the end of the film I felt enthused at the idea that reason and goodwill could triumph, and positively eager to do battle with the forces of darkness.

Genesis 41:56-42:5 in Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew

June 21, 2019
josephbh

Biblical Hebrew

For people who might be looking for a short parallel passage to compare Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew, we give the examples above and below.

josephmh`

Modern Hebrew

Prospects for a new team in Division 4 of the London Chess League

June 16, 2019

div4tab1

The table above shows results from the 2018/19 season of Division 4 of the London Chess League in terms of the final position of the various teams, the percentage of possible game points they achieved, the mean grade of the sides they fielded and the mean grade of the teams they faced.  We can see that the position followed the strength (mean grade) of the teams very closely and there was no significant difference in the strength of the opposition that different teams faced.

div4fig1

We can also consider the relationship between grading and percentage of possible game points achieved, as below.

div4fig2

On this basis, using the equation of the fitted trend line, we can estimate what average grading would be required to achieve various points percentages:

div4tab2

We do not believe that relegation operates from Division 4, but team members would hardly enjoy losing all the time, so we presume that a new team would wish to average at least 40% of game points, requiring an average grade of 113.  Or an average grade of 125 would be required for 50% performance.

We now consider the possible requirements for the specific boards, using the opposition faced by Team 9 (which scored 46%).

div4tab3

So we see that someone playing on Board 4 would meet opposition with a mean grade around 130 and should be of a strength to have a meaningful game with opposition graded between about 100 and about 150.  (Some figures in red italics are affected by the presence of defaults.)

More about things to read in French

June 12, 2019
alain-fournier

Henri-Alban Fournier

So, to continue the story, our client expressed a preference for doomed romance and a decided aversion for the passé simple and suspiciously un-French surnames (so much for Houellebecq!) That led to Modiano and Alain-Fournier.

The latter did not entirely escape censure on Facebook:

I really don’t like Le grand Meaulnes! Hated teaching it! But as ever that says more about me than the book. Should have thought of Le silence de la mer (Vercors) for passé simple if I remember correctly.

I tried re-reading Meaulnes a few years ago and gave up at page 192, oppressed by the thought of another 123 pages of the same…stuff…At least Alain-Fournier is conceptually simpler than Modiano (especially) or Vercors, since he bashes you repeatedly over the head with what he wants to say while they expect you to understand it from what they leave out…

Actually the first 3 paragraphs are not at all bad and helpfully illustrate the use of various tenses in the indicative:

Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189…

Je continue à dire “chez nous”, bien que la maison ne nous appartienne plus. Nous avons quitté le pays depuis bientôt quinze ans et nous n’y reviendrons certainement jamais.

Nous habitions les bâtiments du Cour Supérieur de Sainte-Agathe. Mon père, que j’appelais M. Seurel, comme les autres élèves, y dirigeait à la fois le Cours supérieur, où l’on préparait le brevet d’instituteur, et le Cours moyen. Ma mère faisait la petite classe.

You’d almost think it had been written to demonstrate use of tenses!!

Meanwhile, there will be a few Modiano-related events at the Institut français in September…

modiano

Patrick Modiano

 

Recommendations for things to read in French

June 9, 2019
DSCN0520

In order of size…that’s the way

Our friend Kseniya is now feeling bored living in Israel.  I suggested that she ought to read some French literature in the original, which would show she was a person of distinction and refinement who had better things to do with her time than look for a job.

So I assembled the items above from my bookshelves, guided by the principles of contemporaneity and concision, with some hope of impossible romance.  (Actually only Le Grand Meaulnes fits that particular bill).

Some discussion on Facebook yielded in addition:

Maupassant, Boule de suif. Or other short stories

But that’s really French literature as she is known in Russia and BdeS relates to a specific juncture of the Franco-Prussian war.  Also Turgenev, Chekhov and Bunin all did the same kind of thing with much greater subtlety and lightness of touch, or better as we simple souls put it.   But on the other hand ‘Misti’ has a cat in it of course and embodies animal cruelty to humans rather than the reverse, which tends to be the case in Maupassant.

I have recently read a few things by Jean-Christophe Rufin with mixed enthusiasm. But the one I’d really recommend, Rouge Brésil, is definitely long!

608 pages, and it looks like the kind of thing that Robert Nye used to turn out by the yard in the 1970s…

How about Beauvoir Le sang des autres?

310 pages!

And from Twitter:

Gaël Faye, Petit Pays (recent winner of the Goncourt des lycéens)

I think our client, as a right-thinking Russian girl, is interested in Metropolitan France, and in particular Paris, and specifically the few particular streets in Paris that all right-thinking Russians dream of.

JMG Le Clézio, L’Africain (Nobel Laureate)

Actually this looks interesting, but it still takes place in Africa (see on Gaël Faye above).

Further suggestions will be more than welcome!

DSCN0519

Ordered by date this time

 

Increase your illiteracy by 34%

June 5, 2019
rent2

Detail from an advert on the Tube

I was first of all impressed by the one observation over a whole month in the least representative possible location leading to the claimed 34% increase in income.  But the English language also came in for some rough treatment…

rent1

So let’s see what sense we can make of this:

Unlock the potential => let us make money out of you

potential = money

premium => it will cost somebody–everybody!–dear

solutions–perhaps this is ‘lettings’ in English

guest relations => don’t let them stay long enough to acquire any rights

housekeeping => (probably) we can charge you for what we make the ‘guests’ do

Prospects for Lewisham 2 in Division 3 of the London Chess League

June 2, 2019
2ndteaminpub

Happy chess players celebrate promotion

Now that Lewisham Chess Club’s second team has secured promotion to Division 3 of the London Chess League, we can ask what lies in store next season.

The table below shows the ranking of the various teams in this year’s Division 3, together with the average (mean!) grade of the teams they put out and faced, based on information as at 1 June.

TABLE OF RANKINGS AGAINST MEAN GRADE AND MEAN GRADE OF OPPONENTS

div3fig1

The first thing to note is that there is no real difference between the strength of the opposition the various teams faced.  Intuitively enough, the teams with higher mean grades also tended to finish in higher positions, as is shown in the graph below.

GRAPH OF RANKING AGAINST MEAN GRADING

div3fig2

We see that you really need to put out teams with an average grading somewhat over 140 to ensure survival.

Next we ask what this means for the various different boards next season.  In Division 4, over 8 boards (as opposed to the ten in Div 3) Lewisham 2 averaged 149, so we take the team ranked 9 in Division 3 with an average grade of 147 as a proxy.

TABLE OF GRADINGS FACED BY PROXY TEAM

div3fig3

So we would say that someone playing Board 5 would face opponents with an average grade about 160 and should be of such a strength as to have a meaningful game with players graded between about 190 and about 140.

 

Le Brexit

May 25, 2019
cameron

L’Irresponsable

Le Royaume-Uni, patrie du régime parlementaire, désormais sans majorité, désorienté, trébuchant, erratique, canard sans tête. Voici l’œuvre d’un référendum absurde, voulu par un irresponsable, cédant à une presse folle et furieuse, au terme d’une campagne manipulée et mensongère.  Dominique Reynié

canard

Un canard qui nettoie les plumes de son aile gauche avec son bec

More about playing chess again…

April 23, 2019
citadines

Main London Chess League venue 

We give some more reflections on playing league chess in London now as against in the North-East (mainly) 30 or even 40 years ago.

People

Active chess-players now seem to be either people (men) of retirement age or people (not all men in fact) from Eastern Europe–certainly a diverse group in terms of origins.  With a few exceptions, there is not much evidence of juniors–possibly because there is less time or willingness to organise chess clubs in schools.

I had thought that with the far greater number of players in London you would be more likely to end up playing opponents of the same strength.  In fact the reverse seems to be the case–with large teams (8 or 10 boards) you end up with a an even match somewhere (say on the middle boards) and a mismatch somewhere else (say on the lower boards).

Places

The fact that there is a shortage of public space in London (like church halls and community centres) is hardly a surprise.  You tend to end up doing what you can in a pub, but that won’t really do for chess.  It’s rare to encounter a venue that has sufficient space for both a match and casual games on the same evening.

Procedures

My recollection is that it used to be common practice for somebody to be on hand to welcome the visiting players and show them the toilets and other necessities (this could even be the visiting captain if he was familiar with the venue).  Now it seems that if you arrive early at an away match (and manage to find your way in) you wait like nervous sheep outside a slaughterhouse for some guidance.

The common practice of playing to a finish on the evening is surely to be preferred to adjournment or adjudication, but the quick-play regime means that you get far more possible infringements and penalties, which means that the captains get distracted from their games…

Another point possibly connected with premises is that in my past clubs used to have some ongoing activity in the form of an internal tournament and would also play matches with other clubs while in London it seems to be the other way around–there may (or may not) be some internal activity in between matches.

 

 

How to make best use of Conversation Exchange?

April 3, 2019

language-exchange

We have been asked give some advice on the use of Conversation Exchange, based on something like 4 years’ experience of Russian-English exchange with 10 or so partners, both in  person and over the Internet.

Clarify objectives

To start off, you should be clear from the beginning what you were looking to get out of the exchange and what exactly you could offer in return.

Control discomfort

It is useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance.  The aim is really to keep a level of linguistic discomfort that helps you to learn things that might not be entirely straightforward.  One way of doing this is to set a target of I am going to learn (say) five new things during this conversation–if you meet your target, it really doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make or how stupid you feel.

Exchange between equals

I think you need either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

It is probably also a good idea to explicitly agree on how long the session is going to last and to split the time so that half of it is spent in language A and half in language B.  There is always a tendency to drift into chatting in the language with the stronger learner (let’s say it’s language A), which of course minimises overall effort but then not speaking to foreigners at all reduces it still further.  So you should have discussion of points in language B and correction of mistakes in language B in language B, to avoid getting into language A as a lingua franca.

There is a tendency for some people to want their conversation partners to teach them language X, which is generally not realistic unless the partner is a language teacher by trade–and if they are, then they ought to be paid for their work.

Politeness and safety

Following the general rules for meeting people on sites of various kinds, you should avoid criticising other people you have met there (because the person you are talking to will fear you criticising them to others) and certainly give it up immediately if what is going on makes you feel uncomfortable at a personal level.  More on this here.

Time matters

There are also a number of practical points, which may apply especially to sessions of Internet contact.  It’s best to have a set time each week, because then you’re subconsciously preparing yourself for it.  It’s very difficult to arrange things on the fly with someone who is essentially a stranger–you don’t know what constraints they are operating under or what their conventions are regarding punctuality.  If you’re dealing with somebody from  another cultural background, while it may be clear to you that at five o’clock means some convenient time before 5:30–how are they meant to know that?