The dangers of misleading metaphors – War

Consider “war”, another popular trope. Wars on poverty, drugs and terrorism have all failed. Why? Politicians aim to summon one element of the “war” metaphor when they use it: an intense national struggle. But there is another crucial part of war, namely the adversary.

In a real war, they fight back and might win. When your side prevails, the foe might be persuaded to formally surrender on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Drugs or poverty or terrorism don’t do that, leaving the public that had been roused by the talk of “war” frustrated. The metaphor backfires. You don’t need to be Sun Tzu to know that you shouldn’t declare a war that cannot be won.

— The Economist, in ‘The dangers of misleading metaphors

What does ‘x-times less’ mean?

TransferWise, for example, charges six times less for international cash transfers than Santander, a high-street bank.

—The Economist in ‘The great foreign exchange rip-off is coming to an end


I’ve never understood using multiples for discounts. What does charging ‘six times less’ even mean?
I understand what charging ‘a sixth’ means – ⅙ times the original.
I understand what charging ‘six times’ (more) means – 6 times the original.
I do not understand what ‘six times less’ means. It’s a ridiculously ambiguous term, and I’m sad that even the Economist used it.

P.S.: I love Transferwise. I cannot comprehend how people transferred money internationally before it came around – it’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s transparent. Everything that the banking system is not. I really love it.

Welcome to the UK…

They were initially bemused by the complexity of bus timetables, bin collections and—most of all—by the changeable weather. “In our country, when it’s summer, it’s summer,” says Ziead Alsaouah, Mr Batak’s son-in-law.

—The Economist | After the exodus


I had a very similar reaction to the weather when I moved here 8 years ago.

North India, where I spent the first 24 years of my life, has a very predictable weather. When it’s summer, it’s hot and dry for months on end. When it’s the rain season, it’s raining almost every day for a month. And when winter arrives, it’s bitterly cold, mostly dry, and frequently foggy (recently smoggy) for months on end.

Contrast that to the weather here on the island – it’s common to have at least two seasons in a day. Three’s not uncommon either. We had two months of constant dry, warm summers this year, and it’s already caused a mild panic. If we get a week of snow in the winter, news bulletins are full of ‘snowcalypse’ references.

It’s unsettling, at least initially, for people coming from places with stable, ‘continental’ weather patterns. Where culture, life, traditions, activities are based on the season, what do we do when the seasons just aren’t anymore?

Continue reading Welcome to the UK…

Democratic heroes

Liberal democracies, he has argued, faced with the dark menace of nationalism, need heroes if they are to rouse a positive national spirit and defeat the “sad passions” fanned by populists.

—The Economist on Emmanuel Macron in France’s victorious footballers do Emmanuel Macron a favour – France’s World Cup triumph

Continue reading Democratic heroes