BBC Radio Four. Champion of cool rationality

May 8, 2014

While other media succumb to cheesiness, Radio Four remains a bastion of rationality

Yesterday, I combined business with pleasure, listening to Radio Four, driving to the metropolis of downtown Bramhall for early morning coffee, and thinking about a rewrite to a chapter in a textbook on leadership and rationality.

Radio Four remains a bastion for cool unemotional broadcasting. Even the most dreadful event is communicated with the minimum of fuss from Radio Four World.

If I want cheesiness…

If I want cheesiness, Radio Five is a button away. Radio Five World has cornered the market in the sort of personal hardship stories which are banned from Radio Four.

Back on Four, I hear the reassuringly rational tones of a national treasure who has been broadcasting for many a decade. She is in conversation with someone from the Empire. Sorry, I mean The Commonwealth.

Her guest is a creative artist whose work involves the indigenous culture of New Zealand. Talk turns to the expression of Maori culture through rugby, and its ferocious team performance of the Hakka before matches.

“And this Hakka. What’s it all about?”

“It’s a kind of war dance.”

“War dance!?” [Rationality alert.]

“The chanting and rhythmic stamping of feet bond the players into a team”

“Ah. That all seems very rational.” [ A relieved interviewer is audibly more relaxed.] The conversation was not drifting beyond the boundaries of the Dominant Rational Model.

Meanwhile, on Radio Five

I switch to Radio Five Live. An empathic interviewer is sharing the distress of a mother whose child is being bullied by Face-Book Trolls.


Did Hyman Minsky anticipate creative capitalism?

March 25, 2014

Bill Gates has called for a more creative form of Capitalism. The work of Hyman Minsky is being reappraised as relevant after the 2008 financial crisis

Minsky’s ideas were taken up by Paul Krugman, and later by other influential figures such as Janet Yellen, now head of the US Federal Reserve bank. They offer an explanation for the irrationalities of economic boom and bust, though inherent instabilities rather than temporary distortions. As such it relates to the Animal Spirits of John Maynard Keynes.

What is creative capitalism

Some posts ago I asked what is the nature of creative capitalism. The question arose after Bill Gates called for it, without exactly joining up the dots. My best shot was a suggestion that thinkers about capitalism were rewriting the map to deal with the uncertainties of the global economic climate. Under such uncertainties, creativity in thought and action becomes important. Mr Gates suggested that Capitalism needs to refocus its energy on social issues including the environment. Minsky suggests how this might come about.

Minsky’s destabilization hypothesis

An interesting article on the BBC website [March 2014] and a subsequent Radio Four broadcast outline why Minsky’s ideas might be relevant.

It seems that the relatively unknown Minsky has attracted attention recently for his theory of inherent instabilities of financial markets. Stock Market bubbles are inevitable as turbulent flow of water from a high pressure hose or water boiling in a saucepan on a hob through induction heating.

Minsky’s three stages

Minsky describes three stages within the process. The hedge is the stage in which the innate caution of professional investors dominates. The hedge offers possibilities for more risky gains, and the famous animal spirits kick in. In Wall Street jargon, the animal spirits move from those of cautious bears to those of Raging Bulls.

The ghost of Ponzi

Conventional wisdom is that bears and bulls eventually damp down irrational blips in the market. Minsky argues that after the speculative stage comes a fraudulent stage he termed the Ponzi stage. This honours or maybe I should say dishonours the schemes of Charles Ponzi, [1882-1949] the infamous modern inventor of a huge pyramid-selling scam.

To be continued

Regular subscribers should check for updates, which may not be notified by email


Bolivia’s cholitas take an elegant step forward against discrimination

March 19, 2014

Cholitas of BoliviaBolivia’s indigenous cholitas are overcoming the worse excesses of discrimination

Indigenous people are victims of deliberate discrimination around the world. Some respite is earned as a modicum of economic wealth and cultural change occurs.

One such story from Bolivia is recounted in a BBC documentary [february 2014].

With their high bowler hats, puffed skirts and coquettish demeanour, they may look like they have stepped out of an early 20th century television costume drama, but cholas – or as they are affectionately known, cholitas – are very much a driving force in modern Bolivia.

Until recent decades, these indigenous Aymara and Quechua women – who can be easily identified by their distinctive, elegant outfits – could be refused entry to certain restaurants, taxis and even some public buses.
For generations, they were not permitted to walk freely in the capital La Paz’s central square, Plaza Murillo – home to the presidential palace – nor in wealthy suburbs like the city’s Zona Sur. Predominantly rural peasants who had migrated to the cities, they were seen as a lower strata who stayed in the home, or worked as servants or hawkers.

“They used to say, ‘chola, no no!” when we tried to go to those places,” says Carmen Mamani de Espejo, who sells flowers every Saturday at La Paz’s Rodriguez Market. “Now it’s much better for cholitas. We have more confidence now, we can walk where we like.”

After Evo

The culture change in Bolivia has accelerated since 2005 with the election of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous President. Leading the change are the traditionally dressed women now acquiring the cool status of the fashion designer’s models. Interestingly the culture change seems, according to the BBC, primarily through the women who are more regularly to be seen in the up market area of La Paz where they were once excluded, cruelly barred, on racial grounds.

now they are stepping out making a political as well as cultural statement. Interestingly, the style has not spread to their male consorts who cling to their Western style suits.

the cool dudes from the Congo in a recent Guinness advert. gentlemen-of-bacongo-5[1]

Remember the sapeurs?

A gender reversal, but other ways with echoes of the fashion statement made by the sapeurs.

More images

You can see more images of Cholitas in this Fox News item


BBC SPOTY: Pretentious, sentimental, compulsive viewing

December 16, 2013

The BBC is extremely proud of its Sports Personality of the Year programme [SPOTY]. It combines much that is admirable and more than a little that is embarrassing and self indulgent

You know when a program has achieved cult status when the BBC gives it a cozy acronym or an abbreviated pet name. ‘Strictly’ [Come Dancing] and MOTD [Match of the day] are examples. SPOTY is another.

SPOTY bigged up

Each autumn, SPOTY is tirelessly and shamelessly bigged up by the BBC for several months. It has grown lengthier and more pretentious, decade by decade, for sixty years. It is tempting to have a rant about wasted money of license payers who are also hard working tax payers.By way of contrast MOTD at least remains cozy and relatively low budget and rather unchanged despite the intrusion of new technology, and countless replays of controversial refereeing decisions.

No vote fixing this year

So, SPOTY for 2013 came and went [December 15th, 2013]. One theme this year was avoiding any scandal of vote fixing. The concern was palpable and great effort went into the changes. This partly because of the rise of the mighty on-line betting industry, partly because the BBC is nearly paranoid about SOTY [scandal of the year]. Evidence abounded of potential SOTY bloopers. For example, the extra care to acknowledge disabled sporting figures, since the time they forgot to make suitable arrangements for athletes in wheelchairs, a few years ago.

Don’t forget the gals

Two women were added to the ten finalists after a twitch in the direction of a SOTY story earlier in the year. In a nice touch, John Inverdale, an appropriately cozy and lovey commentator, was banished from the show after inappropriate remarks he made last July about Wimbledon ladies winner Marion Bartoli. And all was made fine by having Marion announce one of the prizes, and having Marina Navratilova hand over the big one to Andy Murray, who, you may remember, won the gentleman’s singles at that same tennis tournament.

And the winner is …Andy Murray

The bookies had made Andy Murray overwhelming favourite. This could have also been the stuff of SOTY because Andy wasn’t present. In the build up to the SPOTY, there was some quite anxious discussion about whether Andy should be banned from receiving any award, because he had chosen to remain in Miami training and recovering from surgery.

PAOTY

Which brings me to PAOTY, the newly installed patronizing award of the year. The winning award was to a nice couple of ‘unsung heroes’ from Wilmslow, who had done much needed work to promote basketball in that neck of the woods. The interview seemed to have had the virtue of being completely unprompted and unrehearsed. A true contender for PAOTY.

Why didn’t I switch off?

OK. So the programme was pretentious, sentimental, and bling-heavy. Why didn’t I switch off? Why was the trusty remote not put to use? I don’t think it was only because of the promise of material for LWD. Truth is, SPOTY, despite all its other features, makes compelling watching. Like a cozy horror movie.


Who’s afraid of Machiavelli? BBC TV Review

December 4, 2013

Alan Yentob’s programme for the 500th Anniversary of the publication of The Prince by Machiavelli was a masterpiece. Download it from the BBC 1Player now. Watch it. Show it to students

The iPlayer version of this brilliant BBC TV programme [Tue 3 Dec 2013 22:35] is available for a week [until Dec 10th 2013]. A review for Leaders We Deserve is under construction. A must for serious students of leadership.

Understated

The BBC blurb was if anything understated :

Duration: 1 hour

With performances from Peter Capaldi, The programme [in the ‘imagine...’ series] marks the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli’s notorious book The Prince. Famous for lines like ‘It is better to be feared than loved’, The Prince has been a manual for tyrants from Napoleon to Stalin. But how relevant is The Prince today, and who are the 21st century Machiavellians? Alan Yentob talks to contributors including Colonel Tim Collins, who kept a copy of The Prince with him in Iraq; plus Hilary Devey, Alastair Campbell and Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin.

Full Review to follow …


A Spectator’s View

October 12, 2013

William Thompson

Seven leadership stories from The Spectator, 14th September 2013, are annotated by guest reviewer William Thompson for Leaders We Deserve

Leadership in the Christian Church
Are universities the breading ground of non- believers? Richard Dawkins the academic atheist describes the post-Christian world at Oxford. It is rare to meet someone who is religious in academic life he proclaims. He is influenced by Steven Pink’s book which believes that ‘humans are just getting nicer.’

What world are they living in? Come to our universities from across the world and we will convince you that Christianity is a myth. Is the Country that played a major role in the spread of Christianity leading the world away from the faith that sustains millions of people across the world?

Lack of Leadership at the BBC
The huge pay offs being made by the BBC have led the Trust and the Executives to blame each other for the missuse of license fees. The leadership from Lord Patten seems not to be bad but non-existent. Lord Reith’s mission was to entertain and inform to enrich the experiences of license fee payers; Patten’s pension payments merely enrich senior executives at the expense of license fee payers.

World Leadership
John Kerry US Secretary of State has a major leadership role dealing with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the issue of chemical weapons. Kerry also refers to the difference in tone between Rouhani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the President for 8 years who by his leadership caused Iran to be feared as a threat to civilisation across the world. Change of leader, change of tone.

‘As the leader of the football World I have decided not to decide..’
Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter aged 76 made a decision not to make a decision to move the 2020 World Cup from summer to winter. This is leadership of the highest order.

Silvio Berlusconi
The disgraced former prime minister of Italy was abandoned by five of his ministers plunging the government coalition into crisis. Has Berlusconi’s time as a significant leader come to an end?

Golden Dawn in Greece
In the news this week are four MP members of the neo-Nazi party who are charged with being members of a criminal group. Leadership of the wrong kind?

Jacques Rogge
Jacques Rogge 71 stood down as President of the Olympic Committee and was replaced by Thomas Back aged 59. Rogge is still younger than Blatter and Berlusconi. Can you be too old to be a leader?


What Inverdale’s dad told him when he was little

July 7, 2013


The BBC apologized for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition. This story presents the BBC’s sports commentator John Inverdale as an unthinking sexist. Leaders We Deserve looks behind the outrage that ensued

First the story, as told by his employers the BBC [July 6th 2013]:

Inverdale’s comment came about an hour before the match began as he chatted to former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport about Bartoli’s technique as a player. He said: “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. ‘You are never going to be somebody like a [supermodel such as] Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it’, and she kind of is.”

Inverdale’s comments on Radio 5 live as the French player prepared to face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger from many listeners. A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”

Inverdale’s Wimbledon Ways

John Inverdale’s Wimbledon was marked by his engaging style of interaction with players and commentators. He was (if I may borrow from his own words) slightly mocked for his boyish enthusiasm for Bartoli’s opponent, Sabine Lisicki, and also about how he was wont to nip down from the commentator’s box to get closer to her when she was playing her games.

They freak you out, your mum and dad

Bartoli’s father has indeed been the subject of stories about his influence over his immensely gifted daughter. Inverdale might have imagined Bartoli pere saying (in translation) “Listen, my little one. You have an IQ measured at 175, nearly twice that of the average tennis commentator. You have to compensate for that by developing a funny style of playing tennis before winning Wimbledon.”

What Inverdale’s dad told him

What Inverdale’s dad told him [we reveal in a flight of fancy] was

“Listen old boy. You will never be known as the sharpest knife in the box. You will never become an Albert Einstein. But nature has blessed you with natural good looks and you are tall enough to play rugby. You will be able to make your way in life, thanks to the bank of mum and dad. You will go to the best school my money as a Navy Dental Surgeon can buy. There you will learn the ways of endearing yourself to all sorts of people, even women. A bright career lies ahead of you.”

And so it came to pass. The BBC deserves credit for recognizing such talents and promoting their careers above others with more natural gifts of intelligence and sensitivity.


Ann Widdecombe’s ‘Are you having a laugh?’

March 28, 2013

Ann WiddecombeTV Review: BBC1 Wednesday March 27 2013

Last night I watched a rather sad late-night programme fronted by Ann Widdecombe. Her focus was the hurt caused to Christians by assorted humorous treatments of religious themes. The humorists she interviewed argued they were mocking not Christianity but attitudes of Christians

Background

Ann Widdecombe has celebrity status in the UK, for her uncompromising views on matters political, social, and religious. Following a career in politics she moved into the world of media and journalism. Her visibility is enhanced in a culture which delights in unself-conscious eccentricity. Her views are mostly of a socially conservative kind which she is prepared to back up by taking a moral position, at one stage refusing higher office during her time as a junior Government minister which would have required her to work against her beliefs.

A regiment of mockers

In the programme ‘Are you having a laugh: Humour and Christianity’ She offered an unshakable position, setting out to confirm it under the guise of rational discourse. Anger at the mockery naturally led her to name, shame, and confront a regiment of mockers ranging from the Monty Python team, Ricky Gervase, stand-up comedians as a tribe, and a few producers of other assorted media programmes.

Feel my pain

Her pain, induced by what she sees as the mocking of her beliefs, seemed genuine enough for some of her interviewees to show empathy, not a quality particularly manifest by the interviewer. I found my own sympathy diminishing she moved from the [in]famous crucifixion scene ending of the Life of Brian film to other less cogent examples of blasphemy through mockery.

Dangerous Territory

There was one point made about fundamentalist evangelical Christians in America, which fitted in with the general narrative, and yet was different. For once, Widdecombe’s views were not expressed with clarity. She seemed to be sensing dangerous territory to be skirted. Or maybe she felt that however egregious were the actions of these leaders, the basic point did not really fit into the theme of blasphemous mockery.

The arrogance of the mockers

The examples seemed to be located along a wide spectrum of any mock scale. Collectively they capture the libertarian component in British culture rather well. The perpetrators, one confessed to the confronting Widdecombe, are often prone to arrogance and a belief in the superiority of their views. Ms W, who presents herself as rather similar to another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, in her grasp of irony, found only pleasure in the repentance of the wrong-doer.

So long as it doesn’t offend…

I detected an inauthentic note in her conclusion that ‘we’, (presumably Christians), should be more robust about such humour,’as long as it doesn’t mock ‘our’ beliefs.’ Quite so.

It was then I turned

I watched the programme feeling that I really should go to bed, or turn over to anything else that might provide me with less disappointing viewing. Eventually, I turned to my trusty non-religious tablet, and began writing…


Lord Alistair McAlpine’s story

November 12, 2012

This morning [Nevember 6th 2012] I came across my unpublished notes concerning a story written by Lord Alistair McAlpine. It seems a good time to publish them in this era of scandals concealed and scandals revealed

The notes were tucked away in a book, and seem to have been written sometime in the late 1990s. I must have been collecting materials on political leadership, but I can’t recall completing them for publication.

Political intrigue

In the first of my notes, the author is writing about a political intrigue around a leadership challenge. He warns that the plotters have to be careful because “there was a time when the stalking horse won and stayed there for three terms (in office)”.

Hypocrisy and cynicism

In the second extract, I had marked up the following passage:

“Hypocrisy and cynicism are not uniquely the stuff of politics nor indeed of politicians. They are weapons of the second-rate in all walks of life … the tools of those who would only better their own positions. Those I write of have neither principles nor morals so they cannot be chastised for what they do”.

The trades are completely different

A final quote mused on “how strange it is that politicians have such admiration for those who succeed in business … The delusion explains a lot of the problems suffered by our nation … [because] the two trades are totally different”.

Disclaimer

The extracts are from Lord McAlpine’s work of fiction, Letters to a young politician, written around the mid 1990s. I re-read my copy of the book for this post.

You will find an excellent review of the book, by Andrew Marr, who exercises the reviewer’s right to avoid revealing how Lord McAlpine’s story turns out in the end.

Lord McAlpine has suffered from false accusations this week [Nov 6th-12th 2012]. The false allegations, repeated on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, contributed to the resignation of George Entwistle from the post of Director General of the BBC.


BBC chief Entwistle quizzed by MPs over the Jimmy Savile scandal

October 27, 2012

The Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle, went before a select committee of MPs at Westminster recently, arising from concerns about what had become known in the UK as ‘The Jimmy Savile’ affair. It was an unedifying event, part showboating, part inept and ill-informed interrogation

Do you know what a chief brewer, a chief engineer, a chief chemist, or a chief journalist does? Outside a specific business sector, the labels are misleading. Each designation refers to a head of a group of professionals within an organisation. These are important leadership roles. The more generic label for the role is that of COO or Chief Operating Officer, which is a director level function. A COO has ultimate responsibility for the professional operations in a company, including line-management responsibility for the effective functioning of more junior professionals.

A conflation of roles

In some organisations, the role of COO gets mixed up with that of the better-known one of CEO or chief executive officer. For example, at the BBC, George Entwistle turns out to be chief journalist, and also its Director General, bringing with it responsibilities roughly approximating to those of the CEO more common in in private sector organisations.

The Jimmy Savile affair

[October 2012].
Jilly Savile, a high profile TV personality over a period of decades, famed for the long-runing children’s programme Jim’ll fix it. Since his death in 2011, stories had begun to leak out over alleged child molestation within the BBC, but also extending far more widely. He had been knighted for services to charitable causes, although his charity work had become seen in hindsight as a cover for more sinister and predatory activities.

A potential cover up

The story had been broken by a TV programme from ITV which told of a possible cover-up at the rival state-owned BBC, which had cancelled a planned investigative piece on Savile being prepared for its Newsnight programme. The decision appeared to have been for influenced by a wider tribute to Savile which was imminent, and which was under preparation as a Christmas special.

The Director General gets embroiled

The newish Director General George Entwistle would always have been embroiled. But Entwistle had also been an editor of Newsnight at the time of another BBC debacle involving the documentation of Weapons of Mass Destruction during the Iraq war. More pertinently, he had also been head of the broader division at the BBC [‘Vision’] when the Newsnight piece on Savile was being prepared.

Another twist

A few days before he was called before the committee, there was another twist to the story. The current Newsnight editor Peter Rippon wrote in the BBC’s ‘Editors blog’ justifying the editorial decision he made to stop the broadcasting of the Savile item.

However, by then, investigations into the Savile affair ordered by Entwistle had begun internal to the BBC. Rippon’s blog was re-corrected’ . and Peter Rippon went on a spell of gardening leave.

At the committee hearing

At the committee hearing, The Director General repeatedly explained that he had been aware of a dilemma of leadership: either to get involved in the operational details [as chief journalist] or remain disinterested as Director General, a backstop ‘above’ those who might eventually have to be evaluated for their operational decisions.
Righteous indignation.

His performance gave the committee members opportunity to work up a head of righteous indignation about Entwistle’s ineffectiveness, The committee seemed to consider his approach” lacking of curiosity. Several of the MPs used the term, which suggested that rather extensive discussions had taken place in advance, and that consensus had been reached.

Not enough like Archie

Archie Norman, former CEO of a retailing organisation, was held up as an example of a hands-on leader, famed for ‘getting on to the shop floor’ . This fitted the prevailing ‘map’ of the MPs better than the more nuanced view being offered them by Entwistle.

Showboating?

The performances seemed to smack of showboating. Perhaps the interrogation of the Director General could have shown some flicker of understanding about the points he reiterated. It was possible that the MPs were genuinely unable to bridge point he was making at the same time as holding on to their pre-prepared lines of attack.

More charisma needed?

Their posture said it all. The MPs were looking for more charisma in a leader. They would not have behaved in such an inept fashion if they had been leader of the BBC. Or maybe they were in search of a scapegoat for the Savile affair. In either case, it was an unedifying performance.

It is mostly a simplistic notion of what a leader should do when faced with a crisis. He (presumably a he) must immediately and personally show who is in control, even if there is a case for holding back and recognising the dangers of impulsive action which, in this case would deny anyone else at the BBC space to take some leadership responsibilities.

Their view of Entwistle’s performance and competence was mostly echoed in the press the following day.


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