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.


‘England aim to trample over New Zealand on road to world domination’ and I am writing this from a new pram on the planet Zog

November 16, 2013

Child's pramA Guardian Sports Writer reaches new heights of irony in his pre-match analysis, or is he in need of serious new medication?

On the eve of the 2013 England v New Zealand rugby union international, the Guardian’s Rugby Union Correspondent Robert Kitson offered a remarkable analysis of what might happen. The article stands for itself but I couldn’t resist adding a few comments of my own.

The surge

Stuart Lancaster’s young side are surging up the world rankings and victory over the All Blacks may send them to a new level

[This is true. The surge has taken England from sixth to third in the rankings during the period when the New Zealand All Blacks comfortably retained the number one slot.]

It could be different …

What price would the bookies be quoting, if Alex Corbisiero, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade were all fit? Instead Paddy Power has England at 13-2 with the All Blacks 1-9, reflective of the home side’s imperfect build up.

[So the bookies think the victory somewhat unlikely, offering odds of 9 to 1 on for an All Blacks victory despite England’s aim to trample them.]

England coke?

Nobody yet knows whether Stuart Lancaster’s new England are the real thing, or some other brand of cola.

[Nobody except our insightful Guardian columnist]

The Emperor’s new strip

Those who reckon they are overhyped and got lucky a year ago are still out there. If the English lose by 20-odd points it will be seized upon as proof that the Twickenham megastore is flogging the emperor’s new clothes.

[Not to mention the Guardian’s megastore? My previously private view was that England should be pleased if they keep the deficit in the match to less than 20 points.]

Lucky All Blacks

What if New Zealand are actually the lucky ones, fortunate to catch England’s fledglings now before they soar to a different level?

[Hard to fault this brilliant logic. The momentum is well and truly on Mr Kitson and England’s sweet charioteers.]

It’s the ref wot done it

England are an increasingly tough side to shake off in the final quarter and the referee, Craig Joubert, cannot possibly be as generous to New Zealand as he was in the fateful 2011 World Cup final against France.

[Ah, yes, New Zealand are the world champions because of a dodgy French-speaking South African referee who should have gone to Spec Savers. An easy obstacle to brush aside.]

Swing low, sweet chariot, bloo bloo chocky wocky

Either way, it will be closer than last time. New Zealand must remain favourites by virtue of their 12 straight wins this year. But England are more composed than 12 months ago and 13 is not always the luckiest of numbers.

[And I am writing this from a pram swinging softly in the breeze from a tree on the planet Zog, while plotting England’s rightful domination of the world of Rugby Union down there.]

Humble pie

England nearly fulfilled their dreams, losing narrowly. My remarks were shown to be unworthy. Well done England.


Why there are no gay football players in England

April 30, 2013

Jason CollinsOf course there are. The more interesting question is why there is so much reluctance for any of them to declare their sexuality, at a time when American businessmen are saying that in sport at the moment “it pays to be gay”

This week, Jason Collins, an American basketball athlete spoke up and revealed that he was gay. It was treated as a monumental event. At very least it is an act of leadership, bravery or desperation.

The Daily News reported:

Jason Collins is the first active athlete in a major American sport to announce that he is gay, but ESPN radio’s Jared Max says he won’t be the last. Collins has been rightly applauded as a civil rights pioneer who will embolden other closeted athletes to stop hiding their sexuality and start living honest lives. By simply being who he is, he will also become a role model for all those kids who struggle with depression and self-doubt because of their sexuality.

It wasn’t that long ago when homophobic athletes felt free to share their anti-gay attitudes with the rest of the world. Teammates remained silent, unwilling to make waves in a macho world where homosexuality was perceived as weakness. But a new generation of athletes, ones that grew up in a world where actors, politicians, business leaders and professionals are openly gay, has taken over the nation’s stadiums and arenas, and many of them are more concerned about their teammate’s ability to turn a double play than who he is dating. There’s been a big change in front offices, too. Giants co-owner Steve Tisch was among the NFL executives and players who submitted a brief in support of gay marriage to the United States Supreme Court.

The attitude of sponsors, too, has radically changed in recent years. Nike has been eagerly anticipating the first active player to come out. Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts – who came out two years ago himself – told Bloomberg News earlier this month that Nike officials made it clear to him in a recent meeting that they would fully embrace the first gay athlete in major sport.
That’s why we are likely to see more players come out in the very near future: It will pay to be gay. Companies that cater to gay men and lesbians will shovel sponsorship dollars at athletes they believe will help their businesses grow.

Collins’ announcement, of course, won’t end homophobia any more than Jackie Robinson eliminated racism when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. “It won’t be all rosy,” Max says. “The part of the world that is ignorant won’t change overnight. But this is a victory for closeted athletes. It’s a victory for us as Americans.”

Irony in a supportive article

I could not help noting some accidental irony in what was a thoroughly supportive article in which one sports analyst quoted as saying that “[T]he entire National League East could come out by Memorial Day and receive far more cheers than jeers.” [The entire league. That would be a surprise]. The article also noted that “Nike officials made it clear [to Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts - who came out two years ago himself] that they would fully embrace the first gay athlete in major sport [who would come out].

Meanwhile in the UK

In the UK, there have been gay athletes who have declared their sexuality, but only at the end of their careers. In football, a vociferous section of the fans will use any form of abuse that might rattle an opponent. The most noxious racist chants are being legislated out of the game. But a gay player may still feel that the American belief that “It pays to be gay” comes at a considerable personal cost.

Update

On the other hand, in another sport loving nation, McDonalds, an Olympic sponsor is embroiled in a gay discrimination case


The Rugby World Cup: Will it be 1966 or 1066 for Wales?

October 14, 2011

triple-crown-2008.jpg60,000 Welsh rugby fans pack the Millenium stadium to watch a match being played 12,000 miles away between Wales and France. The talk is of the glory days of the 1970s, and matching the forty years of celebrations after England’s 1966 World Cup triumph against Germany

A little history

To mark the event we have reproduced a LWD post written a few years ago. It records the story of Warren Gatland, now in charge of the Welsh team in its quest for glory in New Zealand.

The Original Post (2008)

In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland. Yesterday’s match against Ireland was billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O’ Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.

The start of a legend

Where to start the story? A few years ago Graham Henry came to Wales as coach. Henry went back to his native New Zealand to build a team expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007 but who failed to meet expectations.

Enter Graham Henry

A few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned to another would-be rescuer from across the seas. The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. His creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.

Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows

Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).

Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He created a brotherhood. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle. And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park, where Ireland were held to be huge favourites.

The Battle

The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, althoughdrilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds. Even then they clung on.

The Decisive Blow

The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field. Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.

After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.

The Independent View

The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches

In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O'Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.

The love affair lasted

And as in all legends, the story never ended. Three years later, Gatland had replaced many of his original warriers with new young players for their place in Rugby history, possibly against the New Zealand All Blacks, coached by, (who else) Warren Gatland. The film rights are already being lined up for another Invictus.

Postscipt: it was 1066 and all that

The semi-final made wonderful drama which ended in France winning by one point. Wales had played for most of the match with great spirit and skill, but with fourteen men, having lost their Captain through a controversial refereeing decision. The film may not now be made, but the story will be added to Welsh Rugby mythology.


Not a good week for leaders

February 25, 2011

Earthquake damage to Christchurch Cathedral
The news has been full of leadership stories this week. But they have been not so much about heroic figures, as leaders struggling to deal with crises from Libya to London, from Wall Street to Washington. For personal heroism we have to go to rescuers after the earthquake in Christchurch Canterbury, New Zealand

The start of February 2011 has produced global shocks politically, and in their wake economically. The headlines have been reserved for events in the middle east, when attention shifted from Egypt to neighbouring Libya where Colonel Gadhafi has appeared weakened. Events there appear more like an old-fashioned and bloody insurrection than the new-media supported challenges to regimes in Tunisia and Egypt last month.

What appears to be in common to these events is the weakening or termination of authority of a long-standing ruler, charged with being out of touch with the democratic rights of their people.

Efforts to maintain a ‘strong man’ position have tended to be followed by concessionary offers of reform, which have encouraged further efforts to depose the regimes.

Drugged by al Qaeda

Moammar Gadhafi at present has refused to take such a conciliatory stance. In a telephoned speech [24 Feb 2011] to Libyan state television he put the blame for the uprising sweeping Libya on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, saying that terrorist group had been drugging Libyans and thus inducing them to revolt. Western commentators remain unconvinced.

Shockwaves

Shockwaves from the region have troubled other leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague have been under pressure for acting too slowly to support repatriation of British citizens. President Obama continues to take political hits as he struggles to avoid accusations of America being too enthusiastic in favour of military intervention. Stock market speculation was evident in light of uncertainties over oil supplies and prices.

And at Apple

One of the sad leadership tales of the week was at Apple. Shareholders are increasing demands for the company to reveal a succession plan for the iconic Steve Jobs, whose medical condition is seen to be a serious threat to the company’s future prospects. Unlike most political leaders, Jobs’ contributions have been visible, immense, and widely acclaimed.

A real crisis

Events even in Libya have had less human consequences than were produced in the earthquake which has devastated the city of Canterbury, New Zealand this week. There, the response has had less to do with top-down leadership than with community response and personal heroism.

Image

Christchurch Cathedral and the effects of the Earthquake [23rd Feb 2011]. Image from australiangeographic.


Ospralia wins Triple Crown by a Mumbles Mile

March 9, 2008

triple-crown-2008.jpg

Update October 14th 1011
One of the first posts in LWD recognised the skills of Warran Gatland in building a successsful Welsh rugby team. The original is reproduced on the eve of the semi-finals of Rugby’s World Cup in New Zealand, where Gatland’s youthful team prepared to play France

Original Post

In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. There is admiration for the rugby success of a hilly little nation with more sheep than potential scrum halves. The admiration is not diminished by neighbours with sporting attitude. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland

Maybe, as a long-time exile, I am out of touch with the Principality and its contemporary culture. Rugby was always the national sport by a Mumbles mile. And in Rugby, The Triple Crown held a mystique in Wales that goes beyond any other sporting challenge that I can think of.

Arguably, boxing success might be up there, with rugby achievements. At the moment, Joe Calzaghi is adding another name to a hall of fame occupied by the shades of Jimmy Wilde, Tommy Farr, and Dai Dower. But for the most part, it’s rugby all the way down. And it has been pretty much all the way down, since the glory days of the 1970s.

Yesterday’s match against Ireland had another twist to it. It had been billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.

The start of a legend

Where to start the story? Wherever you like, but mention the hunger rations of Welsh rugby fans for decades. Mention the flicker of hope when the brilliant Graham Henry came in as coach from New Zealand a few years ago. Henry went back to New Zealand to build a team there billed as one of the greatest ever seen. That was the team that was expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007, and slunk away in near disgrace from the rubble of expectations.

Mention the local heroes who tried and failed after Henry. But above all, mention Warren Gatland.

Gatland begats Osprayia on the Mumbles

And so it was that a few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned away from local heroes, and brought in another New Zealand coach, another would-be rescuer from across the seas.

The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. HIs creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.

Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows

Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).

Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He would create new hope in a new dream. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle.

And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park. Ireland were held to be favourites on track record, plus home advantage.

The Battle

The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, drilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, by Gatland, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds.

Even then they clung on.

The Decisive Blow

The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field (Ireland’s own mini-hero, Skinner, was on the replacement bench). Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.

After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.

The Independent View

The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches

In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O'Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.

Maybe. That’s the thing about leadership myths. Sometimes the hero gets to bask in glory ever after. More often he is brought low. Ask the Greeks. Ask the bards of Wales brought up on the tales on the Mabinogion, in which the warrior princes of Wales travel to Ireland in search of glory and honour, back in the Land of their fathers.

Image: Appropriately disoriented image from disoriented blogger


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