Obama v Romney: It’s not all about the economy

August 31, 2012

At the most basic level, the Presidential Race is becoming described as a close battle which will be decided by the state of the US economy. This suggests that there is little that either candidate can do to change the outcome, beyond making some monumental blunder

The Press Association’s appraisal of the situation after Mr Romney’s acceptance speech [30th August 2012] for the presidential nomination could have been written in advance:

Mr Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination, casting himself as the best hope to lift the struggling US economy and “restore the promise of America”.

His speech marked the climax of the three-day Republican National Convention and a milestone in his long, often-rocky quest for the presidency. He has had to fend off a series of Republican challengers, questions about his shifting positions and mutterings about his Mormon religion.

The ultimate prize, the White House, will be determined in a November vote. Polls show Mr Romney and Mr Obama in a dead heat with the economy the biggest issue in the campaign. The United States is struggling with 8.3% unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.

Mr Romney noted how excitement over Mr Obama’s promises from his campaign four years ago “gave way to disappointment and division…You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” he said.

Veering from the speech’s focus on domestic affairs, Mr Romney said Mr Obama failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat, abandoned Poland by changing missile defence plans and has “thrown allies like Israel under the bus”. He said Mr Obama is “eager to give Russia’s President (Vladimir) Putin the flexibility he desires after the election.” But he added: “Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty and Mr Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.”

The speech was seen as a national introduction of sorts for Mr Romney, 65. Yet for all his time as candidate, Massachusetts governor and head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he remains something of an enigma. He is often seen as stiff and distant. While polls show voters view Mr Romney, a multimillionaire former businessman, as more capable of fixing the economy, they find Mr Obama to be more honest and likeable.

It’s the trust in the candidates

The adage that “It’s the Economy Stupid” is a brilliant adage, but it needs qualifying. As the Press Association report indicates, the campaigns will seek to show that the candidates can be trusted to deliver what they promise.

And that’s why the dark arts needed to influence public opinion will cost approximately $6 billion in the couse of the campaign.

BBC Coverage

The BBC coverage followed the Press Association line with more background information about the candidates.

The consensus

The consensus was that Romney had made an effective and powerful acceptance speech which avoided a more often-seen wooden presentation style. At very least he avoided losing the Presidency. His running mate and supporters managed to add value to the campaign without outshining the main man. The race remains neck and neck, according to polls and pundits.

Strauss resigns as England Captain as pundits duck the tough questions

August 29, 2012

England cricket captain Andrew Strauss resigns after a series defeat and yet more off-field controversies. For several weeks, multiple former captains now turned into pundits adverse comments. They also rarely mentioned the decisions of the selectors who had first appointed Andrew Flintoff and then Kevin Pietersen in advance of Andrew Strauss

There are too many armchair pundits of cricket and I don’t want to add myself to the list. I feel a bit more comfortable in examining what has been said and written by those who have themselves played for and captained the England cricket team.

An unlucky General?

Over his three years of captaincy Strass led his team to the top of the international rankings, including wins over the previously near-invincible Australians. He has also been beset with off-the-field controversies which were outside his control. They included match fixing, accusations of ball-tampering, and much bad temper between England and Pakistan cricket authorities in particular. Napoleon might have said he had been an unlucky General.

Pressure mounts

As pressure mounted on out-of-form Strauss, the commentators began to dwell on his batting failures. Then, recently [Aug 2012] Pietersen (a South African by birth) was forced out of the England team after his disrespectful texts about Strauss to members of the South African team, the current opponents who were well on the way to replacing England as the highest ranked team.

Don’t scare the horses

The Pietersen affair produced a switch of tone from the commentators who seemed to avoid the slightest of adverse comments on Andrew Strauss’s capabilities. No one wanted to spook the selectors by remarking on the weaknesses of his captaincy. In real-time, the commentators had often said or implied his on-field decision-making was cautious and unimaginative. Now they were lining up to say he was one of the best England captains of recent times.

Why? The comments suggest that he was articulate and calm while dealing with the press (better than Flintoff or Pietersen). He had the confidence and loyalty of the players. (Except for the rogue horse Pietersen). He had also forged good relationship with coaches and administrators. Not bad, but are they necessary and sufficient criteria for success as a captain?

How to assess a captain

This evidence supports the view that Strauss was a quiet and rather uncharismatic individual, perhaps fitting the profile of a level five leader who is ‘modest but of fierce resolve’.

Such leaders are often only noticed in hindsight, and tend to be overlooked in selection processes which favour the gifted, the extraverted, and the charismatic. In other words, people like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

Learning from practice

It seems likely that the selectors have learned from the earlier appointments. The new captain Alistair Cook is closer to Strauss in temperament than to the cavaliers of yore mentioned above, and was being groomed for the job.

Lance Armstrong says he is abandoning efforts to clear his name

August 27, 2012

Lance Armstrong is an icon of cycling and a role model not least for his courageous and successful fight against cancer, while remaining the most successful cyclist of his generation. He rejects the accusations that he was a systematic drugs cheat

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France every year between 1999 and 2005. His astonishing successes have now been stripped away from him. He announced [Aug 23rd 2012] he will no longer fight drug charges from the US anti-doping agency, a day ahead of an appeal deadline.

In a statement, the 40-year-old maintains he is innocent, but says he is weary of the “nonsense” accusations. The US anti-doping agency (USADA) now says it will ban Armstrong from cycling for life and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles.

Armstrong retired from professional sport in 2011. USADA alleges he used banned substances as far back as 1996, including the blood-booster EPO, steroid and blood transfusions. Armstrong sued in federal court to block the charges but lost.

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said in the statement. “I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s [USADA’s chief executive] unconstitutional witch hunt.

The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense”.

The agency has said that 10 of Armstrong’s former teammates are prepared to testify against him. The cyclist has accused USADA of offering “corrupt inducements” to other riders.

Winning is everything

In his books, Armstrong presented himself as a warrior in a world where winning is everything. He also dealt with drug accusations against himself as being motivated through dirty tricks from rival teams and personal jealousy. Some of his devoted fans will remain loyal, accepting his claims that numerous drugs tests always failed to prove he had used illegal means to achieve his successes.

The individual and the culture

Since the Armstrong era, evidence has grown of widespread drug abuse by professional cyclists. The sport has an image problem to deal with. The period has also seen a near paranoid reaction of sports officials and athletes generally to demonise ‘drug cheats’. This helps preserve the belief in the highest ideals of sportsmanship which is only tarnished by a few wrong-doers. Cycling was among the most damaged sports as drug testing became more widespread and effective (although it is constantly battling against chemical innovations).

Armstrong has a point about the previous failure of testing to demonstrate his wrong-doings. On the other hand [as economists and other academics like to say] ‘absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence’. It is a weaselly kind of argument, although the fact that ten former teammates are prepared to testify against him seems a stronger one.

Golf, prejudice, and a small step towards the 21st century

August 23, 2012

News of the week. Augusta golf club admits Condoleezza Rice to membership. The move may be less about more enlightened attitudes, than about pressure for golf to become more inclusive in order to fulfil the ideals of a sport now included in a future Olympic Games

A few years ago, I was astonished to learn from close friends that golf clubs in England and Scotland were effectively barring women, people of colour, and of non-Christian beliefs and various other minorities from membership. For example, the distinguished President of a Ladies section of a Belgian club told me how she had offered hospitality to an English guest at her club. When he subsequently invited her to return her courtesies, he was forced to operate within ‘get round’ rules which made her an ‘honorary male’ of club to which he belonged.

What about Ginni Rometti?

Returning to the Auugusta story, The Australian suggested that the admission was the consequence of the tradition in the club of offering membership to the CEO of IBM, one of its main sponsors of the Masters event held at Augusta each year. This presented a problem when IBM recently appointed its first female CEO, Ginni Rometti.

A dilemma of tradition

It is tempting to speculate that within the club a strategy emerged, perhaps designed to placate IBM and the growing pressures being exerted on the institution from several libertarian pressure movements. Why not appoint a major female figure with sound political credentials and who is also black? And we can head off the IBM issue by inviting a local business woman, Darla Moore.

This glass ceiling is now expected to be smashed in the autumn, by the sight of Ms Rice and Ms Moore wielding their drivers. If Augusta National can move into the 21st century, then what about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland? Formed in 1754, the world’s most prestigious club has yet to open its doors to women. It has about 2400 members and is showing no sign of changing its all-male policy.

Then there are the Olympics

Another pressure point may be coming from the Olympics committee which has accepted Golf as a sport for the 2016 Games in Rio. [I have not been able to find any specific reference to back up this idea, and welcome comments from LWD subscribers: Ed].

Why bother to join such clubs?

Private clubs have to right to exclude anyone they choose. Groucho Marx famously and ironically noted, that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would let him in. It reminds me of a twist to another favourite saying of mine that golf clubs get the members they deserve and the power they can preserve.

McDonald’s tests PayPal’s mobile payments system

August 21, 2012

McDonald’s is partnering PayPal in a trial in France, with plans to roll-out the innovation within two years

According to Reuters, McDonald’s is testing a mobile payments service featuring PayPal at thirty of its restaurants in France. The report has a McDonald’s spokeswoman confirming the France tests, and saying that a PayPal demonstration at a conference was part of a booth that features “technology coming within the next 24 months or so.”

PayPal is racing against start-up organisation Square Inc and other technology companies to become the mobile payments service of choice as consumers increasingly use smart phones to make purchases in shops, restaurants and other retail locations.

Square Inc struck what could be its most important partnership to date last week when it teamed up with Starbucks Corp, the world’s largest coffee chain.

PayPal, [owned by eBay Inc] has signed up more than 15 retailers, including Home Depot and Office Depot, but adding a partner the size of McDonald’s, with over 30,000 restaurants, would be a big win.

The Apotheosis of Apps

Increasingly, Smart phones are looking as one of the most powerful drivers of innovation of the decade. In terms of impact, the iconification of Apps may one day be seen of itself as a major innovation, while smart-phones will be considered a game-changing alpha innovation for the way business is transacted globally

Decision dilemmas? Listen to the little boy inside you, says Van Persie

August 18, 2012


In his the much-publicised move from Arsenal football club to Manchester United, Robin van Persie could have chosen to sign for the wealthier club Manchester City. In making this difficult decision, he produced a quote which will appear in future sporting anthologies, and maybe even in a business textbook or two.

“I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations – when you have to make the harder decisions in life. What does he want? That boy was screaming for Man United”.

Don’t forget the little adult

This is part popular psychology, part from a life-skills manual for personal development. The idea offers one way of dealing with dilemmas or hard-to-resolve decisions. ‘Listening to the little boy [or girl]’ allows us to escape from the tyranny of a logical “either or” . In this case it might have been Either go to a weathier club, or to a club I find more attractive but which has fewer resources to buy top players

The approach overcomes decision paralysis. Hoever, it tends to work better when combined with ‘listening to the little adult’.

To follow

A post examining how the arrival of van Persie was in a week which saw Manchester United’s stock rise among its fans and fall on the New York exchange.

Riots at Maruti Suzuki halts production

August 17, 2012

Industrialisation has a bloody history of battles between workers and owners. Are the riots in an India car plant a re-run of industrial history?

At least 90 people have been arrested after violent clashes between workers and managers at a Maruti Suzuki factory near the Indian capital, Delhi. A senior factory official died and more than 85 were injured, including two Japanese nationals in the riot. Maruti, India’s biggest car maker, has halted production at the factory.

The blame game

Managers and workers blame each other for starting the clashes, which follow months of troubled labour relations. The violence at the vast factory in Haryana state is believed to have erupted after an altercation between a factory worker and a supervisor.

Workers reportedly ransacked offices and set fires at the height of the violence. It escalated when they tried to take disciplinary action against the employee as other workers protested and blocked all exit gates, preventing senior executives and managers from leaving the factory. The union denied responsibility for the violence and told local media that it was triggered by “objectionable remarks” made by the supervisor.

Leniency a reason for the riots?

The Times of india suggested leniency towards Union bosses was ‘reason for rift among staff’

it appears now that the management of the auto giant may have made a major miscalculation in handling a labour incident only weeks before violence broke out in the factory. [Union leaders were treated in a more lenient way than workers after aggression towards a supervisor].

Meanwhile, the plant remains closed. The company maintains that it is giving high priority to employee safety and is considering several initiatives to scale up safety in the Manesar plant. “In this direction, the company is exploring the best safety measures in terms of equipment, personnel and on ground training for the employees,” the company said in a statement.

The act of unprovoked violence [on July 18th 2012, but July 21st according to some news reports] started without any specific industrial relations issue.

A backdrop of financial losses

The story occurred against a backdrop of losses attributed to increased royalties to Suzuki.

The main reason for the fall was a rise in royalty payments to Japan’s Suzuki, which holds a large stake in Maruti. Analysts said the increase would also affect the carmaker’s future earnings.one observing: “Raw material costs have been easing but the effect of higher royalty payments will be there in the next few quarters”.

Outside of the increased payments to Suzuki, Maruti performed well during the quarter, “The sudden change in royalty charge overshadows an otherwise strong operating performance,” said Chirag Shah at Emkay Global Financial Services.

A similar pattern of violence

Reuters reported [6th August 2012] that other foreign owned car makers such as Hyundai, and Honda have also experienced troubles at their plants in recent years.

“This is definitely sending a wrong message. Investors will be reluctant,” P. Balendran, vice-president at General Motors’ Indian unit, said of the Manesar violence. “The need of the hour is flexible labour reforms. In 2012 you cannot afford to have a rule which is applicable … from 1956.”

A bone of contention

India’s labour laws, some dating to the 1920s, make it difficult for large companies to fire permanent workers, forcing companies to hire large numbers of contractors – a bone of contention with many unions.

“We knew that something of this sort might happen sooner or later,” said Balendran. “It happened to Suzuki today, tomorrow it could happen to us.”

Latest news

Regardless of the reported stringency of India’s labour laws, the company plans to make 500 employees redundant and will re-open the plant shortly [August 21st 2012]. The challenges to leadership are likely to continue.

How important was the BBC in the success of the London Olympics?

August 14, 2012

Many factors have been proposed as contributing to the success of the London Olympics. The efforts of the BBC should not be overlooked

The success of the London Olympics has been attributed to various factors which came together partly by design, partly by accident.

The BBC as a medium for state control

The British Broadcasting Corporation played its part in shaping the cultural mood in a way that was consistent with a state apparatus for controlling communications on behalf of a ruling elite.

Marxist training camps

Did I write that that stuff about BBC as a vehicle of state control? Have I become a spokesman for the neo-Marxist group known to have its training camps deep in the rolling pastures of the East Cheshire countryside? Has a fortnight of coverage of the London Olympics finally loosened my grasp of reality?

I hope not. It’s just that I have always encouraged my students to look behind the headlines. To read stories and then to look for concealed messages suggesting a different perspective.

Behind the headlines

Applying that principle, I wanted to look at the hidden story behind the widely reported one. The official story was that of the friendly games (sometimes coupled with the crying games) which had helped bring a nation together in harmony to celebrate the highest ideals of human performance and mutual respect. In the official story, criticism was brushed aside as untimely unpatriotic.

LOCOG’s fire-fighting

The London Olympic Committee (LOCOG) effectively snuffed out problems that broke out. A pre-Games failure to recruit security staff morphed into an appreciation by the public of the role played by the armed forces brought in to meet the challenge.

Complaints about empty seats petered out when members of the armed forces were re-assigned to seat-filling duties.

Cynics had a change of heart

Even the contrarian views expected from The Independent and the Guardian newspapers were overwhelmed by confessional pieces along the lines of “I was prepared to be cynical about all this, but won over by … [select from: the volunteers, the tears of joy and sorrow, the police, the cheering of the crowds, the sexiness of the athletes]. Other papers just celebrated the victories. Winning gold medals was great, but silver and bronze medal winners could make for stories of pluck and heartbreak.

The Prime Minister was a one-man political cheer leader, frequently shown shouting on Team GB to greater success. He also found time to fulfil other political duties, although reporting of these was minimal.

The BBC’s role

Then there was the role played by the BBC. Its coverage began hours before each day’s events, and was continuous until hours after the competitions had ended. There were temporarily 24 BBC channels of televised reporting. Most of its journalists seemed to be thriving on punishing schedules throughout the games, with a format of discussion, anticipation of events, interviews, background stories. Oh yes, and reporting of every competition on offer. The efforts showed the highest qualities of professionalism, motivation, and discipline. The absence of advertising breaks was mostly a blessing, but did make the challenge of continuity all the harder.

How might the East Cheshire neo-Marxist irregulars analyse the Games?

The political parties all take the same line. Mr Cameron supports the entire venture uncritically. The Queen played a now famous role in the opening ceremony to consolidate her position. Other members of the royal family were expected to be present at all the main events. [It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Ed]

The BBC is simply following orders imposed by a dictatorial regime to manipulate the emotions of the oppressed masses. The armed forces are presented as friends of the people. This will come in useful after rule of law is enforced in the attempted right-wing coup planned to coincide with a succession crisis.

Did I write that?

Yes. But only as an example of an alternative view of the Olympics. I don’t think the BBC is state-controlled. Rather, it is an institution in symbiotic relationship with the State, including the licence fee arrangements. I have no doubt that discussions are continuing about which BBC employees will receive which awards in the New Year’s honours list, to go with those for Bradley, Jessica, Mo, and maybe even Andy.

Was it worth nine billion pounds?

The calculated cost of the Olympics works out at about the same per head of population as the annual BBC licence fee. How can anyone say that’s not value for money?

Leveson enquiry calls Olympic athletes to testify at court

August 9, 2012

Olympic athletes have been accused by the court of public opinion. We wondered how they might have been cross-examined at the Leveson enquiry

In a sensational extension to its original brief, the Levenson enquiry is calling Olympic athletes to court following reports of match-fixing. The first witness was tiddlywinks competitor Ryan Badboy-Kray, whose statement was examined by Robert Jay.

Robert Jay: Thank you for attending and giving up your valuable time Mr Badboy-Kray. Can we start confirming the personal details provided in your statement? You are Mr Ryan Badboy-Kray of Streatham, London. You state your occupation as professional athlete , and a member of the East Croydon Harriers club where you do your training.

Badboy-Kray: Yes, your honour. That is all correct.

Robert Jay: And you describe your athletic specialism as Tiddlywinks, in which you compete in the super-heavyweight classification.

Badboy-Kray: Correct. Since the age of fifteen when I got too big for the heavyweight class.

Robert Jay: Thank you. And in your career you have won national and international honours including a silver medal at the Commonwealth games in Manchester, and more recently a bronze medal at the Athens Olympic Games. You did not compete at the Beijing Olympics. Why was that?.
Badboy-Kray: I was detained at the pleasure of her Majesty at the time, and could not travel to China, although being based in Wandsworth, I was able to keep up my training.

Robert Jay: In August this year, you won through to represent Great Britain in the London Olympics. Can we go on now to the competition and the final qualifying round for entry into the finals of the event? The newspaper accounts seem consistent in saying that your performance level dipped remarkably from that of previous rounds. Would you agree? Also that your drop in form was accompanied by heavy betting on your opponent who was already eliminated from the competition.

Badboy-Kray: I don’t know nothing about the betting. But as for my performance, that was sadly the case. I was rubbish.

Robert Jay: Do you also agree that you were booed by the crowd, and the referee warned you for not trying hard enough?

Badboy-Kray: I have never not tried my best, your honour

Lord Leveson: [leaning forward] Can we be quite clear about the use of the double negative? Are you saying you knew nothing about the betting and that you always try hard, in every event you compete in?

Badboy-Kray: Yes M’lord. That is what I meant to say

Robert Jay: The newspapers thought differently. I have one headline which described you as a limp-wristed loser. Do you agree with that description?

Badboy-Kray: Er. I wouldn’t put it like that. No. Not at all

Robert Jay Then how would you put it, Mr Badboy-Kray?

Badboy-Kray: It was Tiddlers Wrist. It afflicts professional Tiddlers. It’s like tennis elbow.

Robert Jay: I see. Thank you. Now, turning to another matter I have been asked to put to you. In your post-match interview after you lost in the next round, you did not seem to indicate remorse for your failure, or gratitude to your coach and to the watching public.

Lord Leveson: [rather smugly] To medal, Mr Key. I believe the current term is to medal
Robert Key: I am most grateful M’lord. [turning again to camera, and to Mr B-K] Could you help us understand what has been described as your lack of remorse or gratitude displayed shortly after you failed to medal?

Badboy-Kray: As I stand before you, Sir, I was well-gutted. But it’s my upbringing. Badboy-Krays don’t cry even when there’s serious pain being inflicted . I am truly sorry I did not medal. For that I apologise most sincerely to my coaches, and the press, and the great British public who cheered me on at every wink. I let you all down. I am sincerely sorry.

Lord Leveson: Thank you very much Mr Badboy-Kray. That seems to clear it up nicely. There will now be a brief recess, before we take evidence from our next witness, Lord Sebastian Coe.

No Clay Pigeon Shooting

August 6, 2012

For many years in brainstorming sessions, Clay Pigeon Shooting was used as a metaphor for negativity towards new ideas. After Peter Wilson’s Olympic success, it’s time for a new metaphor

Clay Pigeon Shooting as a discipline had its day of glory at the London Olympics [August 2nd 2012]. I watched the unfolding of the Double Bore shooting, its formal title, with interest. Team GB celebrated the victory and gold medal earned by dead-eye Peter Wilson.

Clay Pigeons and Creative Ideas

Participants in brainstorming, as well as students passing through programmes for stimulating creativity will maybe remember the injunction “No Clay Pigeon Shooting”. It was used as a metaphor to counteract the widespread tendency for people to shoot down new ideas before they [the ideas] were given a chance to fly.

“Have you ever been in a meeting” the trainer would ask “and the moment a new idea was suggested, everyone else would raise their guns and blast it out of the air?” When everyone agreed (they usually did) the trainer would enlarge a little on the sport of Clay Pigeon Shooting, finishing with the words “So remember, in brainstorming, there’s ‘No Clay Pigeon Shooting’ … give ideas a chance to fly.”

Killer Phrases

The metaphor was offered part of a process of sensitizing participants in team training to the heinous practice of premature evaluation. Lists of killer phrases were compiled:

“that will never work”
“it will cost too much”
“not the sort of idea for our organization”
“too risky”

Yes But

The mother of all killer phrases on our courses was “Yes But”. I am still an advocate for encouraging team members to convert “Yes Buts” into more constructive ways of thinking about an idea. “Yes But that’s too dangerous” is worth reframing as “Yes And if we did this it could reduce the risks substantially without killing the basic idea”.

Don’t be negative about Clay Pigeon Shooting

Yesterday’s triumphant day at the Olympics for Peter Wilson suggests a need for a different metaphor to encourage team creativity. Suggestions welcomed.

Historical footnote

In the Paris Olympics of 1900, real pigeons were realeased. The Olympic family quickly spotted the incenveniences of the contest, not least to the pigeons. After some Yes Anding, the modern version developed. In another enlightned advance, cardboard animals were provided for shooters in the 1908 Olympics.