The Commonwealth Games illustrates the potency and symbolic nature of sport

August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Games takes place in Glasgow as Scotland temporarily suspends campaigning for its referendum next month on independence from the United Kingdom

The Games reminded me of the Christmas Day truce in World War One. Not that I was there personally for Glasgow or WW1. According to the legend, on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops downed arms, left their trenches and played a football match before resuming battle.

Don’t mention the war

In Glasgow during the Games, it was very much ‘don’t mention the war for independence’. If so, the truce was successful. This was perhaps because it was not clear to either the Yes or the No campaign whether political posturing would lose much-needed votes.

Overall, the Games have proceeded in an atmosphere of scarcely- controlled hysteria. Hysteria among spectators; among adrenalized athletes gasping out their semi-coherent replies at interviews minutes after completing events (“tell us what you are feeling as poster-girl now you have failed to win a medal in your favorite event”); and above all, hysteria among the assembled ranks of the broadcast media.

Gilded and giddy commentators

The BBC had more than its fair share of gilded and giddy commentators interviewing athletes and proud parents. These were performances honed by BBC experience of numerous interviews with Andy Murray and celebrity mum Judy before, during and after Wimbledon fortnight over the last few years.

The Gold standard

Great efforts were made to preserve or even enhance the value of the gold standard. The actual events were represented as all equivalently-compelling and equivalently worth watching. After all, they all offered changes to win Gold. The prospect of winning ‘yet another gold’ was the dominant marketing offer from the start of the Games. Each session was going to be special as there were so many gold medals to be won. Somehow the discourse permitted at the same time acknowledgement of the equivalence and specialness of gold and of gold-medal winners, and the lower status silver and bronze medals . (Another image: the satirical sketch of the British class system beginning “I look up to him because he is upper class and I am middle class”).

All events are equal but some are more equal than others

I enjoyed most of the actual athletic events, particularly those that lasted fewer than several hours of running, cycling, or wheel-chairing around the track. You could keep your percentage time watching athletes up by ‘using the red button’. Otherwise you were faced with a choice of multi-tasking or taking full-on the high-intensity but very cozy chats between the assorted teams of BBC commentators and guests.

Soon our revels will be over

I multi-tasked, with mobile, tablet, and library book at the ready at all times. In a few days the Games truce will be over and the referendum campaigning will begin again.


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?


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