VISIT TO PERM, RUSSIA SEPTEMBER 2019

January 11, 2019

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Karen Hewitt writes:

I need to ask you if you know people who would like to go (or return) to Perm. Many of you know what is involved, although of course it changes slightly from year to year.

One point – as far as possible that person should have an Oxford/Oxon connection. Local residents, people who are close, people who are/were at the universities, students at the Department for Continuing Education, people with relatives here, etc.
That doesn’t mean that we are ruling out ideal people from further away, just that we hope to select as many as possible with some kind of Oxford connection. After all, it is Oxford which is twinned with Perm. 

The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre together with Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

Perm is Oxford’s twin city in Russia so the visit is open chiefly to people in Oxfordshire or with an Oxford connection such as attendance at OUDCE summer schools. Others will be considered if we do not fill all places. The programme of the fortnight can vary according to individual interests. As guests of Perm University you will be asked to talk to University students, while your activities can include: visits around the city, and to the Urals countryside; canoeing along the Silva river; professional and specialist contacts with economists, lawyers, local politicians, (and lectures if you are willing and able); visits to art galleries, concerts, ballet; studying the work of the city council and local voluntary groups; taking part in family life with your hosts and their friends. Previous visitors on this scheme have seized all sorts of opportunities to see how Russian society works. Several have returned for a second visit.

A knowledge of Russian is not necessary since interpreters will be provided, but obviously you will learn more if you know a little Russian. Participants should be physically fit and willing to walk reasonable distances. Some of our hosts do not have cars, and walking, climbing flights of stairs and public transport are normal. And you should be adaptable…

DATES: Saturday 7th September to Sunday 22nd September 2019 (Fifteen nights) The journey is by British Airways scheduled flight to Moscow. You will travel from Moscow to Perm by train – about 900 miles and the first day of the Trans-Siberian route. You will have a few hours in Moscow on the return journey.

COST: £1050 This includes air fares, train fares, other travel in Russia, accommodation with a family, breakfast and many other meals, a programme of activities including two visits to the opera or ballet, and two full day tours. It does not include visas, insurance, and some cheap meals. We will arrange your visas and inform you in June of the cost. Currently official visas are £50 plus admin and special delivery postage – in total about £85. You will need to go to London to give your fingerprints, but otherwise it should be straightforward.

Better email Karen if you are interested and sufficiently Oxonian!  You can also read about 2012…

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More Brexit planning assumptions

December 21, 2018
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Man looks at unicorn and remains unconvinced

We have been asked for some further planning assumptions to go with the original set.  These are given below.

Asset prices

The optimistic assumption would be that Brexit does not happen or happens in a way that is not harmful so some of the correction is recovered from what had been priced in on that account.  So say a loss of 10%.  And the middle option would be 20%.

Investment performance

The most optimistic figure that has been canvassed is 3.5%, but this is surely too optimistic in the circumstances.  Say 3%, with a middle figure of 2%.

Cash

The question here is really what the difference between inflation and interest rates will be.  The BoE forecasts suggest a real interest rate of around -2%, as at present.  To be more scientific, real interest rates are currently something like -1.75% (0.75% Bank Rate – 2.5% inflation).  The BoE forecasts tend to imply a real interest rate of about -2%, but it would depend on how the rate was adjusted to counter inflation.  Say -2.5%/-2%/-1.5% for pessimistic/middle/optimistic.

As for inflation itself, the optimistic forecast would be that MPC manages to hold inflation to say 2.5% over the period, giving overall inflation of 13%.  So we take 22% as the middle point.

CS Pension

There seems to be no room for variation here.

State Pension

If one assumes 2.5 % inflation then the only room for growth even under the ‘triple lock’ would be if earnings rose faster than inflation.  The latest ONS figures show essentially no real growth in earnings over the period from 2005 (!), so one cannot expect any real increase there either.

Tax rates and allowances

Hard to see any room for giveaways here!

> 60 concessions

Too make things easy for ourselves, we assume that in the optimistic case these survive for the next 5 years, while in the middle case half of them do.

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Table of assumptions (unless otherwise stated in real terms and for period 2019-20 to 2024-25)

Discussion

The pessimistic scenario reflects a coherent view of unmediated Brexit plus asset price correction while the optimistic scenario also reflects a coherent (but unlikely) outcome where Brexit is rendered harmless.  It is hard to give such a definite interpretation to the middle scenario and as such it should be treated with caution.

The treatment of tax and pension changes  as proxied by >60 concessions is very likely insufficient–at the very least, one could consider allowances as being constant in nominal terms, thus reducing in real terms.

The present treatment also implicitly assumes that things remain as they are for the remainder of 2018-19, which is certainly open to challenge.

Planning assumptions for Brexit and after

December 17, 2018

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Having grown tired of insomnia, our client has now fled the Civil Service and hopes to avoid starvation by a combination of his investments in bonds and equities, a Civil Service Pension (soon) and a State Pension (not so soon).

He writes:

Meanwhile, I need to make some concrete plans without knowing exactly what is going to happen around Brexit and indeed asset price correction generally. I would like some planning assumptions–the idea is to give a solid basis for planning on the basis that things should not realistically be worse than this.

Our advice is as set out above.  We draw on on the Bank of England forecasts.  These have been criticised on the grounds that:

i)  they take no account of any policy response;

ii)  they are phenomenological, based on observed correlations more than causal modelling.

The point about a policy response is that it can spread the effect out to different times or different people but cannot in general create value from nothing.  So this is really a question of distributional effects–who gets how much of the pain and when–rather than the quantum.

As for correlations, there are times when you need to produce numbers and don’t have time to model the economic universe in detail.  The effect size claimed is similar to that of the credit crunch of 2007/08, which is the nearest–if hardly most similar–comparator.

In summary, our advice would be to look not so much towards the destruction of value (something between significant and staggering) to be expected over the next year but at the effect changed circumstances might have on the revaluation of pensions.

Taking a rather more short-term view focused on the immediate future, our client says:

Applying this set of assumptions to my circumstances, I come to the conclusion that I would lose money that I can afford to lose, which is irritating but no worse than that.

There’s nothing like a satisfied client!  But we can hardly say we have always been in the Brexit loop.  On our first encounter, we took three days to work out what it was, and a further two to decide it could hardly happen.

This analysis has now been extended here.

Recommending a dictionary

December 14, 2018

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We were asked by a Russian contact to recommend an English dictionary. I think I would plump for the Concise OED.

Naturally enough, both dictionaries of American English and dictionaries for learners of English are beyond my ken.  A very long time ago (probably before I left school) I got myself a Concise OED.  When I had worn that out I got a copy of the Chambers dictionary (in 1989) on the grounds that it had more words.  The corresponding Wikipedia article has a different opinion, but as they say it depends on how you count entries.

Anyway the single-volume candidates that a native (but non-specialist) English speaker would use seem to be the Concise OED and the offerings from Collins and Chambers.

I had a look at what was available in the shops today.  As for new words, the Concise OED had entries for hashtag and flashmob (as flash mob) while the Collins Reference dictionary didn’t (although it was published later).  It also had something useful to say about the stressing of controversy, while the  Collins Reference didn’t do pronunciation at all.  The large Collins was covered in cellophane while there was no sign of the Chambers.

Back home, I was able to compare some bits of the large Collins and the COED on Amazon.  The Collins annoyed me by including encyclopedia-style entries, which I don’t like, while for  the terms aorist and accusative the Collins tended to flap around giving examples while the COED gave concise, pointed definitions.

While I can’t judge how up-to-date the Chambers is on the basis of my 1989 copy, the definitions of aorist and accusative there are a lot better than the ones in Collins if not quite as good as the Oxford ones.

In general terms, I think that the Oxford dictionaries:

i)   have the most systematic infrastructure for capturing new words and usage;

ii)  have the best definitions and etymologies. (In fact I think that in many cases they have the natural definition since they were there first and other dictionaries have to work round it for reasons of copyright or at least embarrassment);

iii)  are taken as the default in libraries and schools.

So in general you would take the suitable size Oxford dictionary as your default and look to something else only if you had particular needs.  The Concise OED also happens to be cheaper than the other candidates.

Turning now to the Internet, if you’ve got a word that refers to something reasonably definite and you’re dealing with widely-used languages (like English and Russian), your best bet is often to turn to Wikipedia where you can see a picture/chemical formula/mathematical definition/Linnean binominal and compare what the corresponding articles say in the two languages.

Nowadays, if I find that I don’t know an English word it tends to be something I can either look up on Wikipedia or find in the Urban Dictionary.  And there are also resources like OneLook that will search the free online versions of numerous dictionaries for you.

 

Challenging times at the Premier Inn (Cumberland Lodge) Southampton

November 23, 2018

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My visit to Southampton was marked by the normal provincial routine of inflated prices, offhand service and disappearing change.  I say nothing of dirt, grease and cracked crockery.

The Premier Inn (Cumberland Lodge) proved to be a remarkable experience, even ignoring the automatic door that opened with deathly slowness as you tried to gain admittance.  Upon arriving, I signed up for a £ 9-50 breakfast and paid with a £ 20 note, for which I got £1-00 back, until I protested.

Then check-out was at midday on the following day.  At ten o’clock I went out to the shops and when I got back…they had taken my stuff away.  Eventually after protestations I was admitted to the linen room and got some of it back.

Surely taking people’s things away without asking is theft?

So when I finally decided to depart shortly before midday I had a sudden urge to go back and check that I hadn’t left anything behind, but the keycard had been deactivated.

When I checked out I was asked how things had been and I said they had been difficult for the reasons above.  The reception staff searched briefly for an Internet address and then said I could find it myself so as to complain, there was nothing they could do for me.

Following our previous experiences, we can only say:  don’t go to Southampton and if you do, don’t stay in a hotel.

Conversation Exchange, use and abuse

November 21, 2018
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FIGURE 1:  COMPARATIVE M/F INDICATORS BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

Once my Conversation Exchange partner Kseniya (from the provincial town of X, well-known in 19th century literature) and I discussed the proper use of that resource.

I said that it was 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. I also said that you needed 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.

Kseniya felt that these points were of frightening irrelevance. Her thoughts were that it was very difficult to find an English speaker who wanted to practise Russian and many of those you did find were in fact just looking for a woman.

I said that there were plenty of sites for that and these days you could surely speak to your intended via Skype on one of those. She had asked one of her undesired contacts about this and he had said that all the women there were crazy. I also said that she could look for female conversation partners, but they were apparently likely to want to talk about clothes and cosmetics.

She asked me why such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.  I said that since I wasn’t one of them I didn’t really know.

Anyway, the aim of the present study is to see whether there is evidence of men looking to use CE specifically to make contact with women from Russia/Ukraine (that is, Russian speakers) rather than to enhance their language skills.

The hypotheses to be tested as indicators of this behaviour were:
i) There is an excess of M over F for ENG->RUS;
ii) This surplus is more marked below Upper Intermediate;
iii) This excess is greater for ENG->RUS than for comparator languages.

Here by ENG->RUS and so on we mean English speakers seeking to exchange with Russian speakers.  From the data at https://wp.me/pBfTB-28k we take Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Japanese as comparators, because they seem to be languages of similar importance and popularity to Russian among English speakers and also to avoid excessive labour in counting instances.

We give some results below.  (Data was collected on 18/19 November 2018.)

TABLE 1:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-RUS via chat M F
Beginner 1205 219
Elementary 276 52
Pre-intermediate 160 41
Intermediate 153 35
Upper intermediate 65 13
Advanced 40 15
Proficient 11 2
TOTAL 1910 377

A comparison of males and females as in Table 1 above certainly showed an excess of males, which is strange in view of the belief that the vast majority of students of modern languages in English-speaking countries are female.  However, this anomalous pattern was repeated for the other languages considered, for instance Italian as in Table 2 below:

TABLE 2:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-ITA via chat M F
Beginner 675 570
Elementary 332 249
Pre-intermediate 265 154
Intermediate 264 173
Upper intermediate 125 66
Advanced 82 44
Proficient 26 9
TOTAL 1769 1265

Now then, Italian is really only spoken in Italy and Switzerland, so it is hard to see the excess men here all looking for an exploitative relationship with a woman from a poor country.

We can also see from the data above that a great many of the users of CE do not claim to be at a level to make use of it effectively.  But we can compare the difference in the percentage of M and F declaring themselves to be below Upper Intermediate level.  For instance, with regard to those seeking Russian speakers (Table 1), 93.93 % of men assign themselves to a level below UI as opposed to 92.04% of women, a difference of +1.88%, indicating that the men report themselves as less linguistically advanced than the women.  Similarly, the ratio of M to F here is 5.07.

Table 3 below shows these indicators for English speakers seeking the languages indicated:

TABLE 3:  COMPARATIVE INDICATORS OF M/F RATIO AND PERCENT <UI BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

RATIO PCDIFF
ITA 1.40 -3.76
POR 2.87 -4.71
RUS 5.07 1.88
TUR 2.12 -6.81
JAP 2.23 -2.03

These results are illustrated in Figure 1 above.  We see that by comparison with the other languages considered, those seeking Russian are marked by a large number of men relative to women and a large number of these men assigning themselves to lower levels of proficiency.

To summarise:  this study provides support to the hypothesis that such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.

Perm-36 at Pushkin House

October 4, 2018

This film looks very interesting, especially if you have visited the site as it used to be.  Aleksey Kamenskikh says:

It’s a brilliant film! Its author is my friend Sergei Kachkin.  The film itself is not about “politics at present”, it’s theme is “past perfect” of the museum: in 2013-14 Perm-36 was invaded by a pro-governmental group, its conception was radically modified. 

Sergei himself adds:  well, everything is politics and yes, Aleksey is right, my film is not about politics, let’s call it this way – about a human inviroment in nowadays Russia.

I will certainly be going along to this.  Event details are here.

Update:  there will also be a screening at QMUL the following day.  It seems as though you can also stream it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/video/detail/Perm-36-Reflexion/B07CR8KD2R 

Красный цвет, “червонность”, и “Смерть Сталина”

September 26, 2018

 

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Данный киноплакат из Любляны (в июне) интересен тем, что:

а) в Словении также издеваются над кириллицей;

б) русский и словенский отличаются от всеж других славянских языков тем, что у них красный цвет никак не червонный.

Tu so barve, po slovensko, angleško in v Sanskrtu. Dodal pa sem še sanskrtske glasoslovne vzporednice (fonetične paralele) z angleškim prevodom: 
Slovensko English Sanskrit // English – Sanskrit
Barva – color varna // to digest – bharv
Bela – white – balakša // power, the sun – bala
Rumena -yellow – hariman // yellow – hariman
Oranžna – orange – naranga varna // orange tree – naranga
Rdeča red – rakta, lohita // growth – rddhi 
Violična (lila) – violet – nila lohita // blue – nila
Modra (plava) blue – nila // sea (swim)-samudra (plava)
Zelena – green -samula // fluid, water – jala
Rjava – brown – kadru // honesty, nobility -aryava 
Siva – grey -dhumra // bright – šveta 
Črna – – black -kršna // powder – čurna

Интересно, спасибо. Думаю, что red/rdeča восходят к праиндоевропейскому корню *h₁rewdʰ-, означающему то же. По каким причнинам русские и словеняне отказались от червей (и от братских славян) в этой связи мне остается неизвестно.

Česky by to šlo napsat jako čer(ven)ná komedie. Černa = black, červená = red. Opravdový český titul je ale “Ztratili jsme Stalin” (We’ve Lost Stalin) se sloganem “Komedie, při které uvidíte rudě” (A comedy which will make you see red).

Смотрел фильм здесь в Лондоне, никак не фигурировал красный цвет. Кажется, что интерес к этой теме возник впервые в Восточной Европе. Не знаю, насколько такая любовь к красному цвету харатерна для всех славян (оставляя в стороне русских).

The Burial at Thebes, CSSD 25 July

July 26, 2018

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Picture acquired from Twitter

A large audience of thin and good-looking young people followed with interest this version of Antigone, which struck me as a mainstream translation without added Heaney.  The theatre was also quite Greek, with its curved and raked rows of seats and a bare playing space.  The production alluded to Greece at the time of the War of Independence and some effective choruses were sung in a language that was not Attic or Greek or Irish.  The production concept worked rather well and effectively captured the necessary scale of the public and the communal. Our Antigone was probably mad, certainly dangerous to know and definitely her father’s daughter.  I was not sure that Heaney’s version captured the contrast between her language and that of Creon, though he did get some dead monsters of metaphors.

Our Antigone was certainly vehement, but especially at the beginning I had difficulty following her words.  The same kind of thing applied to Ismene, and it meant that Antigone tended to come off worse in her confrontations with Creon.  Creon and Eurydice were the performers who actually dominated the stage.  The Messenger for some reason had a Scottish accent that sometimes turned Irish, especially for constructions like I was after…The production was not entirely in control of time–the narrated deaths of Antigone and Haemon passed by rather quickly, then Eurydice’s death became one more thing after another.

All in all, a production that recognised the issues in staging Greek tragedy and dealt with them thoughtfully, though it did not always succeed in resolving them.

 

11 pictures, 8 days, 4 places, 2 countries, 1 holiday

June 8, 2018

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Ljubljana Castle was quite a nice tourist attraction (from the outside).

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And there was also a bijou opera house, which put on a very nice performance of Pepelka/La Cenerentola/Cinderella:

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The orchestra were especially good and really tore into the music as though it meant something, while our Angelina dealt very prettily with her coloratura and the Prince also impressed. The Slovenes’ idea of bringing their Slovene children along was less successful, causing me irritation and the children an eternal agony of boredom. I’m not sure the grown-up Slovene’s really got bel canto either.

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This picture of the really rather impressive gluten-free section of Maximarket earned me a telling-off…

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…while here is a further example of disrespect to the Cyrillic alphabet–rdeča must just be ‘red’…

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The journey to Nova Gorica occasioned scenes of wild panic, as he bus managed no more than 5 metres in the direction of Nova Gorica when the driver declared it was kaputt. After lengthy consultations on his mobile, he said there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage. Then he couldn’t open the baggage compartment because the bus was kaputt…

Or rather: said something in Slovene which starting from Russian I interpreted as indicating there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage.

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This is the border between Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy), with an abandoned Cold War style checkpoint–you just walk, drive or cycle on through. Wouldn’t it be great to be part of the civilised world like these two countries?  (Even though recent elections produced desirable results in neither of them.)

O Iago the pity of it, Iago the pity…

What confused me was that the signposts in Nova Gorica failed to acknowledge the existence of Gorizia (though they are now essentially the same place). Then at the suggestion of a helpful local gentleman I got the shuttle from the Nova Gorica bus station to the Gorizia train station, which was just as far from my hotel but did have a map on display, so I eventually reached safety.

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A picture of Italians talking in the street, accompanied by small dogs.

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The hills above Lake Bled had something of Caspar David Friedrich about them, or perhaps Arnold Böcklin…

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…while the lake itself provided a picturesque pre-lunch walk.

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Back in Ljubljana before flying out, some traditional British-style holiday weather cleared the streets pretty quickly–you can’t expect these Europeans to understand the point of taking one’s pleasures sadly, masochistically even.