Monday, September 21, 2009

Layer 199 . . . DID, Rooney, The Rover Four, Right Wing Hate and In Our Time

An interesting question in the Guardian's 'Notes and Queries' last week: Has anyone who has been on Desert Island Discs ever not selected at least one piece of classical music? Respondents came up with Louis Armstrong and Philip Larkin, but I can well remember Greg Dyke coming up with the best and the most interesting set of choices I've heard so far -

1. Born to Run
Performer Bruce Springsteen

2. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore
Performer Buddy Holly

3. Strawberry Fields Forever
Performer The Beatles

4. Like a Rolling Stone
Performer Bob Dylan

5. Summertime
Performer Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

6. Bat Out of Hell
Performer Meat Loaf

7. Great Balls of Fire
Performer Jerry Lee Lewis

8. Country House
Performer Blur

Record: Like a Rolling Stone
Book: Complete works of Dylan Thomas
Luxury: A guitar with a guide to playing it.

It's not a perfect list, and the only one of these tunes I'd have in my top 8 is Like A Rolling Stone, but it's by far the best list so far. Greg Dyke is terrific, and it was such a relief to have such an interesting set of good tracks instead of the usual muck.

It's interesting to consider the correlation between celebrities/castaways and a complete lack of taste when it comes to music. The majority of these people haven't got a clue. I sometimes wonder whether they ever pay any attention to music at all. Either that or there's a huge failure to offer people any sort of education in music in this country. Probably both.

Womad took up residence in the moat of the Tower of London this weekend – to very good effect. In an ideal world there would be a permanent stage and ongoing musical workshops on the site all year round.

Last week I finally got round to starting "Like A Rolling Stone" by Greil Marcus - a book that should be owned and read by everyone who's interested in music, in the history of blues, folk and rock, and of course interested in the Sixties, and especially Bob Dylan.
"July 24 1965 was the day Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone went into the charts. It was on the radio across the US and heading straight up. When drummer Bobby Gregg brought his stick down for the opening noise of the six-minute single, the sound - a kind of announcement, then a void of silence, then a rising fanfare, then the song - fixed a moment when all those caught up in modern music found themselves engaged in a running battle for a prize no one bothered to name: the greatest record ever made, perhaps, or the greatest record that ever would be made.
That first drum shot is what seals it. "The first time I heard Bob Dylan," Bruce Springsteen said in 1989, inducting Dylan into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, "I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind."


The papers were full of digs at Rooney last week, again, because after being substituted he took off a boot and flung it down as he sat down in the dugout. It was a very minor display of petulance, and possibly just venting his frustration with the opposition's fans taunting him rather than with his manager, but of course he got slagged off in the press. Having praised him in a recent blog for his tremendously improved attitude and anger management I have to defend him and say – credit where it's due! The guy's trying hard, and playing better than ever. Leave him alone! It's the emotional and spiritual intelligence of the press that needs greater scrutiny.

The Rover Four

I don't think I've mentioned 4 guys who hit the headlines recently – the four bastards who bought MG/Rover for £10 and milked fucking millions from it before it crashed again. These were people who'd been lauded as the saviors of what remained of the British motor industry! 
MG Rover: how the Phoenix Four hit the jackpot
Report into demise of car manufacturer reveals owners bought software to wipe clean hard drives and ran tax avoidance schemes
This has to be on record – how these arseholes went about making themselves rich at the expense of a workforce, and an entire community.

"Evidence Eliminator" computer software, a tax avoidance plot called "Project Slag", six-figure bribes and an office affair were just some of the more outlandish ingredients revealed today by the long-awaited investigation into the MG Rover scandal.
The 850-page report lays bare the breathtaking lengths to which its former owners, the so-called Phoenix Four, went to enrich themselves before the company – Britain's last large car manufacturer – collapsed in April 2005 with the loss of 6,500 jobs.
The four local businessmen and former MG Rover chief executive Kevin Howe paid themselves a total of £42m during their five-year ownership of the company, which they bought for a token £10 and left with more than £1bn in debts. The report concluded their financial rewards were "excessively large" despite the fact that the businessmen invested no money in the group after they bought it and took risks which were "relatively insubstantial".

The inspectors also criticised how one or more members of the Phoenix Four made business decisions on an ad hoc basis, with no board meeting being held or minutes produced. They also criticised them for employing Dr Li, who received £1.6m in consultancy services over 15 months before MG Rover collapsed, even though one of the Phoenix Four – Nick Stephenson – had a "personal relationship" with her. Inspectors said that her fees were "excessive" and that apart from translation, she "didn't seem to add much".

But the Serious Fraud Office, which examined the report last month, decided that it did not reveal enough evidence to justify criminal proceedings against the Four. The only likely sanction they face is being disqualified as company directors.
Discussions on how the Phoenix Four businessmen could extract millions of pounds from MG Rover began the day before the deal to buy the car company from BMW for £10 was officially announced.

While John Towers was being given a hero's welcome on 9 May 2000 as he met workers in Longbridge, his financial advisers were already hatching a plan which would allow the four executives to take £75m out of the business.

The government report into the salvation and collapse of Britain's last volume carmaker highlights many occasions where the Phoenix Four appear to have put their own interests ahead of the MG Rover car company, which collapsed in April 2005.

Right Wing Hate, Racism, Fox and Glen Beck

“Despite having accused President Obama of possessing "a deep-seated hatred of white people" and being "a racist" – which one might think would contravene Beck's much-vaunted "patriotism" – he remains employed by Fox News. Of course, seeing as the channel seems to have confused the words "news" and "propaganda", it's perhaps not that surprising that it might also mix up "talkshow" and "excuse for wackiness". That 50 advertisers have pulled out of his show has not dimmed Fox's love for its self-described "rodeo clown" because, as the channel pointed out, the advertisers have simply moved to different time slots, not other stations – so, as long as the hate speech doesn't cost them, meh.” - Hadley Freeman

Jon Stewart in his Daily Show programme is also continuing to highlight the way in which the militant Right is becoming ever more hateful in its vilification of Obama – accusing him of being a socialist, a communist, un-American, a reverse racist, unpatriotic, etc.

Obama is pressing ahead with his proposals for health care reform, and now he's also announced his intention to scrap the installation of so-called anti-missile missiles in Poland. The man is admired and appreciated right around the world, and yet the level of hatred for him within his own country is incredible. These people are just indescribably vile, and crazed. They've had things their own way for so long under Bush and throughout the conservative ascendancy, and they can' t abide the fact that they now no longer hold the levers of power and completely rule the roost.

In yesterday's Observer Keith Richburg wrote a column on this subject.
“Jimmy Carter has always been one to speak bluntly – irritatingly so, to some of his critics. Even at 84, the former president continues to show his willingness to raise the most indelicate topics, often at the most inopportune time. This time, the topic is race and, more specifically, the racism that underlies some of the ugliest, most vociferous criticism of President Obama.

"I think people that are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by the belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American," Carter said.
Obama-hatred among a certain segment of the extreme right has crossed a line into something else – it borders on the pathological.

Republican and conservative leaders rushed to the microphones to condemn Jimmy Carter for playing the race card. Too bad that when it comes to condemning the racists – the ones carrying the signs and questioning the country of the president's birth – those same "leaders" have offered only a deafening silence.

Take a close look at the numbers. Obama won 53% of the vote overall, but he won just 43% of the white vote – McCain beat him by 12 percentage points among whites.
This fact is the really devastating one – 57% of whites who voted in the last election were too fucking dumb to understand that Obama is America's best hope for a decent future and for intelligent, enlightened leadership – an outstanding individual in every way. They were also so dumb they also didn't understand that McCain and the Lipstick Pig would have been a national disaster.

It's true that these fuckwits were, and are (see above), the victims of overwhelming and relentless right-wing propaganda over many years, but you can't help feeling that the majority of them were either the fatcat rich who support Republicanism for reasons of greed and ideology through thick and thin, or the kind of poor whites who really can't tell their arse from a hole in the ground. 

In Our Time – Melvyn Bragg

Bragg's back!

St Thomas Aquinas
Melvyn Bragg discusses the life, works and enduring influence of the medieval philosopher and theologian St Thomas Aquinas with Martin Palmer, John Haldane and Annabel Brett.
St Thomas Aquinas' ideas remain at the heart of the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church today and inform philosophical debates on human rights, natural law and what constitutes a 'just war'.

Martin Palmer is Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; Annabel Brett is Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
A radical form of Christianity - Dominicans and Franciscans - challenged the wealth of the church. They were vilified as a cult - denying themselves all the advantages of the established church. Their attitude was characterised as like a 'dumb ox', as they went about preaching to the poor.

In a sense this movement was an intellectual revolution. Albert the Great of Cologne engaged in a project to incorporate philosophy into Christianity. However, the secular clergy – the established officers of the church – were hostile to Aristotle, whose philosophy of nature believed in establishing secure scientific foundations for how the world works.

At that time there was considerable success on the part of 'the commentators' within the Arabic world in developing a workable model of science that could be taught at a university.

Autonomous enquiry into nature and 'natural being' was a challenge to the established church, which challenged over 200 Aristotelian propositions and their temporal framework. Aristotle had said we are dynamic agents seeking our own ends, which didn't sit well with people who believed we are all subject to “God's will”.

In the Platonic scheme the action happens in the intellectual sphere. Aristotle believed you have to look at what actually goes on in the word in order to understand it – the 'danger' here being that God drops out of the picture. Such thinking was also a threat to Islam.
Teleology (Greek: telos: end, purpose) is the philosophical study of design and purpose. A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists. - Wikipedia
This belief says the world is a system of interacting substances, but ultimately things are not self-explanatory. St T used the archer and target analogy – with God seen as the archer or conductor.

He argues that by observing the world we can draw conclusions that still lead us towards God - we have to conclude that before things are able to move there is that which moves them, which itself is immovable and initiates movement.

But what happened before anything happens, and therefore what is God?

St T was more interested in establishing the idea of the 'first cause' than in describing God – linking the material and the spiritual. Yet he continued to believe in Revelation - something beyond reason.

St T did not think there's an innate desire for God, as such - only for 'our highest good'. So what is our highest good? We need to discover out our highest principles.

St T said we participate in God's reason - it is of our essence to share in God's governance of us, and exercise self-direction towards the good. This rational being needs to live in a society that is governed by reason and adherence to God's will.

[Check out Blair and Bush here . . . and their supporters in the fundamentalist Christian movement - an eye for an eye etc.]

There was a delicate balance between the sphere of human reason and the sphere in which rulers should take their direction from the Pope, who spoke as God's messenger.

St T raised the question - what if you personally think the king, the ruler or the emperor was wrong? He was condemned for this. However, he ended up in theologically orthodox positions - though at the time he seemed like a revolutionary. Some of us can identify with this.

Post-Reformation the Council of Trent turned to St T for an idea of synthesis. Political heads may have to lead through the power of reason, but their political philosophy must be formed by God and adherence to His will. Amazing.

Eventually St T says ' there are no more words'. 'After all my writing, I am speechless.'

Which is pretty much in line with Zen! Words can only do so much, and there are spiritual realities and truths that are beyond words.

"Reality is something of which we have only a dim sense." "Our completion is something that words cannot begin to describe." And of course it's the pursuit of the nature of reality that Zen sets out to address – chiefly through use of the senses combined with silent meditation and the use of intuitive, not logical, intelligence – i.e. spiritual intelligence, and not use of the 'intellect'.

So my own interpretation is that St T was in favour of intellectual flourishing, but also metaphysical engagement and understanding. Not that a programme devoted to science and to the intellect would use a word like metaphysical!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Layer 198 . . . Mansfield, Empathy, Duncan Smith, Work, Benefits, and Happiness

Mansfield, Identity and Empathy

What makes an outstanding individual? (see also blog on Maslow - Layer 20  Fully Evolved Human Beings)

Michael Mansfield QC on Radio 4's Midweek today was promoting his autobiography and talking about the need to 'identify' with the people he's representing in court, as Libby Purves put it. He spoke about 'being able to get inside someone's skin”. Actually this isn't identification – it's empathy. You can empathise with someone who may be a completely different sort of character, living a completely different lifestyle, with very different attitudes and behavior, without needing to feel any sense of common identity, providing you have the ability to imagine what it might be like to be that person and providing you can understand why and how they do things.

Words are very precise, and we ought to make an effort to use them properly.

Empathy is the essential component of social intelligence – the ability to relate to others, to understand their feelings and motives, and to form positive relationships. Mansfield is highly successful in what he does, partly because he's able to make positive relationships with his clients, partly because he is able to empathise with them, partly because he has a strong sense of compassion, and partly because he has a burning desire to see justice done, and to make sure it's seen to be done.

He's also an effective, persuasive, convincing and fearless communicator. It's a powerful combination of social and spiritual intelligence that makes Mansfield outstanding in his field. No-one doubts he also has a very clear grasp of the complexities of the law, and all the professional knowledge that goes with the territory, plus first-class thinking skills and powers of analysis. But no-one even knows or cares about how successful he was academically. Education policy makers please note.

The Quiet Man, Empathy and Social Justice

"On 7 December 2005, Ian Duncan Smith was appointed Chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group which was facilitated by the Centre for Social Justice. The group's aim was to "study the causes and consequences of poverty in Britain and seek practical ideas to empower the least well-off."
There was an amazing interview with Ian Duncan Smith in the 8.10 slot on the Today programme on R4 this morning, in which he talked convincingly with passion and conviction about the need to invest more money in the process of getting unemployed people into work. His point was that there's a tipping point that arises when someone is considering taking on a job and declaring earnings, since the system as it stands allows people to take home virtually no more when they take on a low-paid job than when they were unemployed but free and time rich. What does it take to make people go beyond the tipping point? At least that's my interpretation of what he was saying.

I've been thinking about this very thing for some time now. Our stupid politicians say they're desperate to get the unemployed into the habit of paid work, but they totally fail to take into account, and to factor into the equation, the loss of freedom and the reduction of time for personal and family pursuits when someone takes on a poorly paid and possibly boring job. Those things are actually worth something to the unemployed, and must be taken into account.

The answer therefore, if I heard IDS correctly, is to not ìmmediately reduce all of a claimant's benefits when they start work, so that their income becomes significantly boosted even when they're working for a minimum wage rate. I can hardly believe I heard a Tory saying this. I must go immediately and look this up on the internet, assuming IDS has published these thoughts elsewhere.

My own solution is along slightly different lines. When someone takes on a new job, especially if it's a dull and poorly paid job, neither the worker nor the employer knows whether they're going to be suitable and successful in the job, and during that period of uncertainty, when both are making up their minds whether the employment is going to be long-term, the benefits the individual has been receiving should not be cut. Neither should the new earner be taxed at the standard rate. There should either be a period of exemption from tax or the tax should be at 10% of earnings.

After a suitable transition period the new employee would lose the benefits income, since you can't expect double bubble indefinitely. By that time, though, relationships in the workplace will have been established, job prospects checked out, new workmates become pals, and the habit of getting up in the morning and commuting acquired. When faced with the financial, social, emotional and spiritual benefits of the new lifestyle versus returning to the old one, the vast majority are going to opt to stay in the job and not go back on unemployment and jobseeker benefits.

In a sense we'd be rewarding the unemployed just for making the effort to go out and start work, for giving up time for themselves, and for getting into the work habit – and why not? As things stand there's very little in the way or incentives or rewards for giving up one's liberty and taking on crappy, low status, poorly paid jobs, ie becoming a wage slave.

Faced with a choice of being a wage slave (and a very poorly paid wage slave), and a dropout, is it so surprising that so many choose to just drop out? Especially if they can make some money by ducking and diving. We clearly need to pay people to give up ducking and diving, or being a drug user, or being a slacker and a slob, or someone who just can't face the hassle of 'signing off' and losing benefits when they suspect they might be very quickly back on them but having to face a period of no income whatsoever whilst a new claim is processed.

I suspect very few politicians have bothered to look very closely at the predicaments and the lifestyles of the poor and the unemployed, let alone feel able to empathise with them, so respect! to IDS for spending time thinking of ways to actually help such people.


Sarkozy and the Quality of Life

"A great revolution is waiting for us," [Sarkozy] said. "For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos."
"The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so," he said.

Measuring well-being would make France's economy, famous for its short workweek and generous social benefits, look more rosy.

"If leisure has no accounting value because it's essentially full of non-market activities like sport or culture, we put productivity below human fulfillment," Sarkozy said.
It was interesting that Keith Floyd, as a bon viveur, and having written a brilliant book on French cuisine, bought a house in France and chose to spend a lot of his time there.

"Endorsing the recommendations of a report given to him by Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, Sarkozy said governments should do away with the "religion of statistics" in which financial prowess was the sole indicator of a country's [or an individual's!] state of health.
"For years statistics have registered an increasingly strong economic growth as a victory over shoperation and Development. "We need better measures of people's expectations and levels of satisfaction, of how they spend their time, of their relations with other people in their community."

Layard and the Greatest Good – Tackling the Happiness Question 

Lord Layard is at it again this week:

"What is progress? That is the question President Sarkozy of France has posed to a distinguished commission. It is exactly the right question, and the future of our culture depends on the answer.
GDP is not the answer, and the Stiglitz commission – whose report, What is Social Progress?, is published today – is clear about that: progress must be measured by the overall quality of people's lives. At this point the commission identifies two possible approaches. One is to focus on how people feel: are they happy and contented? (This idea goes back to philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Jeremy Bentham.)

The other is to focus on people's objective circumstances: do they have the capabilities (as Amartya Sen calls them) that are conducive to human flourishing? The commission does not choose between these approaches, and both are infinitely superior to GDP. But it matters greatly which way we choose.

It would obviously be convenient if we could identify one overarching good and, together with many Enlightenment philosophers, I believe that good is happiness.

There are many things that are highly desirable: health, freedom, love, and so on. But if we ask why they matter, we can have a discussion: if you are ill, you feel bad. The same if you are enslaved or unloved; it makes you unhappy. But if we ask why it matters if you feel bad and unhappy, there is no answer. It is self-evident.

So it is time to reassert the noble philosophy of the Enlightenment. In this view, every human being wants to be happy, and everybody counts equally. It follows that progress is measured by the overall scale of human happiness and misery. And the right action is the one that produces the greatest happiness in the world and (especially) the least misery. I can think of no nobler ideal.

So I propose a campaign for the Principle of the Greatest Happiness. This says that I should aim to produce the most happiness I can in the world and, above all, the least misery. And my rulers should do the same. This principle would lead to better private lives and better public policy. We desperately need a social norm in which the good of others figures more prominently in our personal goals. Today's excessive individualism removes so much of the joy from family life, work and even friendship."
I can't be bothered at this point to go over again the arguments in favour of making Zen enlightenment (as opposed to 'Enlightenment' enlightenment) our goal, and not the pursuit of happiness.

I'll just say this – people pursue money and material things because they believe those things will make them happy. Governments pursue the generation of money and the production of goods because they believe people need lots more of those things in order to be happy. It all depends on what you think is going to make you, and other people, happy. Chasing after happiness is dumb behaviour. There – I've said it.

Still, Layard's thing is 'happiness' – and it's his hobby horse, his political franchise. No point in arguing with him.

Stiglitz and Wall Street

Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote an excellent piece this week, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse. It's worth taking time to read it in full.
What went wrong? Have the right lessons been learned? I fear that our collective response has been mistaken and inadequate – that we may just have made matters worse.

Lehmans was . . . a consequence of flawed lending practices, and of inadequate oversight by regulators.

Bailing out the US banks need not have meant bailing out the bankers, their shareholders, and bondholders. We could have kept the banks as ongoing institutions, even if we had played by the ordinary rules of capitalism which say that when a firm can't meet its obligations to creditors, the shareholders lose everything.

Unquestionably we should not have allowed banks to become so big and so intertwined that their failure would cause a crisis.

[Our government] has failed to take adequate steps to restrict institutions' size, their risk-taking, and their interconnectedness. Indeed, it has allowed the big banks to become even bigger – just as it has failed to stem the flow of profligate executive bonuses.

After the fall of Bear Stearns, with rumours that Lehmans was next, the Fed and the Treasury should have done a serious job of figuring out how to manage an orderly shutdown of a large, complex institution; and if they determined that they lacked adequate legal authority, they should have requested it.

They appear, remarkably, to have been repeatedly caught off-guard.

After saying that they did not want to bail out Lehmans because of a concern about moral hazard, they extended the government's safety net further than it had ever been. Bear Stearns extended it to investment banks, and AIG to all financial institutions. Perhaps they were doing the best they could at the time; but that is no excuse for not having anticipated the problems and been better prepared.

Lehman Brothers was a symptom of a dysfunctional financial system and regulatory failure. It should have taught us that preventing problems is easier, and certainly less costly, than dealing with them when they become virtually intractable.


Carter – Obama – Racism

"The former US president Jimmy Carter has condemned as "dastardly" and "based on racism" a southern Republican's outburst during Barack Obama's big healthcare speech to Congress last week. Carter said the "You lie" interjection by Joe Wilson showed there was "an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president".
The 84-year-old said the case was part of a disturbing trend directed at Obama that has included equating the president to Nazi leaders. "Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national programme on healthcare. It's deeper than that."

In an interview with NBC News, Carter attributed much of the conservative opposition to Obama to his race. "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

Dick Harpootlian, a former Democrat party chairman in South Carolina, said he did not believe Wilson was motivated by racism but added that his actions encouraged racist views. "I think Joe's conduct was asinine, but I think it would be asinine no matter what the colour of the president." Harpootlian, who has known Wilson for decades, said: "I don't think Joe's outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American. I think it was caused by no filter being between his brain and his mouth."

Surely they're both correct in their assessments.

Interesting comment on the Guardian film blog on David Lynch:
“There are too few living directors out there who can successfully translate the craziness inside their heads into compelling movie-making. Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang still inspire devotion from beyond the grave. Lynch, at 65, is only getting started.

Which is why it worries me that he's so stuck on meditation. I don't want his silence. I want his noise. So if anyone out there finds his voice, could you please hand it in?”

Chavez and South America

“I would be worried if they spoke well of me.”

Hugo Chavez –  Oliver Stone - South of the Border


Max Mosley shared some interesting thoughts in an interview with Donald McCrae in the Guardian yesterday. He's agreed to stand down from the presidency of the FIA and his leading role in F1 at the end of this season, after being put under huge pressure by the F1 teams to do so, following the revelations in the New of the Screws about his sex life in S & M cellars and dungeons. (has anyone turned it into a Playstation game yet – Dungeons and Dragracers?)

He's a fascinating guy, and you have to say very gutsy (and wealthy) to fight back against the Screws and win his right to privacy case. His family background is unbelievable – Oswald and Diana Mosley as parents, involvement in his father's post-war Union Movement (successor to the British Union of Fascists) from an early age, and the loss of his only child, Alexander, from a drugs overdose, just a few months ago.

In the paper he's quoted as saying,

“Retirement will be a big relief. The work is absolutely non-stop and I always feel I haven't really done what I should've done. And I am tired of the battling. It's more or less, in different guises, the same problems with the same people and you're never going to finish. At a certain point it's time to stop. You've only got a limited amount of time left before you drop off – and do you really want to spend it solving other people's problems?"
“I'm dying to have a bit more time for myself. There are so many books I want to read and maybe I will write a book myself – because there is so much to tell."
That could be a book worth reading. I seem to be developing a strange regard for high-profile right-wing characters – IDS, Sarkozy, etc. Worrying.

Today's musical treat, for no particular reason, is Seasick Steve:

click on the 'Live on Jules Holland' video. Doghouse Blues Boogie.

This version is probably even better, apart from the quality of sound on the voice PA.

Steve decided at the age of fourteen that the quality of life he had at home was so piss poor he'd do better to hit the road and go out on his own. There's never been a lot of money in playing the blues and boogie, unless you get very lucky. Steve's been materially poor most of his life, but rich in spirit and attitude.

Taoist Thought for Today:

Free of self-focused expectations, one is free of disappointment.
Free of self-focused motivation, one is free of regrets.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Layer 197 Home Time, Keith Floyd, Primary Education, Lehman's and the Shock Doctrine Reversed.

Last night's television provided two wonderful and unexpected programmes.

1)    Home Time
– BBC2 - by Emma Fryer & Neil Edmund

"Sitcom. Gaynor Jacks, aged 29, returns to her mum and dad's house in Coventry after running off to find her place in the big wide world when she was 17-years-old

Emma Fryer plays the lead role of Gaynor Jacks who returns to her hometown – Coventry, home to her mum and dad's house, and home to her three best friends.
Aged 17, she ran off to find her place in the big wide world, but now aged 29 she's back with her tail between her legs."
"Lucy Lumsden, BBC Controller, Comedy Commissioning, says: "It's incredibly exciting when a new writer/performer comes along with a story to tell that is close to their own experience. Female-led and with a strong sense of place, we eagerly await the world of Home Time which explores the themes of growing up and longing to be different."
The series was commissioned by Lucy Lumsden and produced by Baby Cow, the makers of the award-winning Gavin And Stacey and The Mighty Boosh."

You can watch it here:

Directed by Christine Gernon  and produced by Ted Dowd, who both worked on Gavin and Stacey.

The main character's final words in this first episode were, “I'm so sorry. But I was only seventeen. You know what I mean?”

Edge of Seventeen video with silly visuals but excellent sound quality for Stevie Nick's great track:

2)    Keith Meets Keith

"Documentary about the funny, thought-provoking and moving encounter between the man who 'deconstructed television' years before the phrase became fashionable among the media-savvy, and a protégé who has continued that tradition."
"Actor and documentary-maker Keith Allen was hugely influenced by TV chef Keith Floyd's anarchic presentational style, and is determined to track down his long-time hero. He finally locates him in rural France.
Both known for their wild lifestyles, it's unsurprising that the two Keiths immediately hit it off. The result is a compelling profile of Floyd's life, as well as his musings on the current TV chefs, the mendacity of television, the state of modern Britain, and the human condition."
And then this morning Floyd goes and dies of a heart attack.

You can watch the programme on the web, here:


On Radio 4 today -

From Abacus to Circle Time: A Short History of the Primary School

“Education journalist Mike Baker traces the controversial changes to the ways we have educated our youngest children over the past 150 years, from the rigidity of the Victorian age to the occasionally anarchic, experiential learning of the progressive 1970s.”
Traditional v progressive?
Facts v child centred?
Open plan and activity led learning?

The Primary Review is about to be published, and this series is a serious effort by Mike Baker to understand the history of Primary education in England.

Classes of 40, sometimes 2 combined into 80, weren't unknown in the past. Far from it.
Lots of caning, sitting in rows, learning tables and poetry by heart.
The Blunk popped up to say “It was more difficult for me than for other people – the whole intention was to get information into the heads of individuals.” Hmmm. Difficult, eh?
Should England still have SATs tests?
We now think knowledge, skills and experiences are at the heart of education, it seems.
Was the 'golden age' post-Plowden really as good as nostalgia suggests?

In the beginning, the purpose of schools was to make children obedient, God-fearing Bible readers.

Then came new thinking about child development – from Dewey, Montessori, at al. We started to believe that schools and education should be based on activity and experience rather than 'knowledge to be acquired and facts to be stored'.

The Hadow report – with a major section on child development – was 'revolutionary' – according to Prof Robin Alexander, who is leading the Cambridge-based Primary Review, shortly to be published in full. He also says Dewey was hugely influential.

But Hadow made relatively little impact, and in spite of this progressive thinking Victorian practices were still dominant. As was the expectation that working class kids would just follow their parents.
Then came the Plowden Report in 1966-67 – a major review of Primary education
Shirley Williams spoke about the way in which the 11+ dominated primary schools in the 40s and 50s. Tony Crosland, as the Minister of Education, was determined to get rid of it.
Plowden herself was mainly concerned with the joy of learning and emancipating teachers and children from 'the terribly narrow curriculum.' The profession began to seriously consider the real reasons for children to learn – from a fundamental interest in and fascination with with their world, which could   motivate them to learn through the sheer enjoyment of learning.


Wasted – Channel 4

You have 28 days left to catch two really excellent programmes on the way in which skunk and cocaine fuck people up. Difficult to watch, but worth it. People with kids should consider recording these.


Shock Doctrine, Continued

It's the first anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' collapse - the event that triggered the worldwide financial crisis. The recent TV documentary on it showed the head man of Lehman's yelling at his staff - “Crush our enemies!” And there we have it in a nutshell. This crazed individual didn't see competitors - he saw only enemies. He didn't want to compete with them - he wanted to crush and kill them. A megalomanic totally off his trolley, using language that betrayed his total lack of emotional intelligence.

This was a guy who was being paid incredible amounts, unbelievable millions, and managed to lead his company to the biggest bankruptcy in history. It was a financial disaster ten times bigger than the collapse of Enron. Lehman's were 40 times leveraged, which means they were working with practically no money of their own, and for every dollar they actually had on deposit they owed the money markets 40 dollars.

Clearly the people at Lehmans thought the company was far too big for the government to allow it to go bust. In a sense it was, and it was really a stupid government that did stupid things that just sat back and allowed the bankruptcy to happen, instead of just stepping in and taking the business into State ownership - which they couldn't bring themselves to do for purely ideological reasons. I guess there were also plenty of 'enemies' that relished seeing it go down.

Thankfully Brown and Darling weren't so stupid and they did act to take failing banks into public or part-public ownership. But they've done nothing since. The Shock Doctrine ought now to be used by the likes of Brown and Obama to transform our societies. This means swift and radical action, justified on the grounds of the necessity of preventing any future financial crises. This means passing legislation to break up the banking cartels and monopolies, capping executive pay, banning bonuses, taking a controlling stake in the major banks, and forcing them to make loans to solvent or near-solvent companies and individuals, instead if withdrawing credit and forcing them to go bankrupt.

It also means cutting all future expenditure on weapons of mass destruction, raising taxes on the rich and super-rich, cutting expenditure on state surveillance and spying, scrapping identity cards, and capping the pension entitlements of anyone 'earning' more than £100,000 per year. No-one should expect a 'pension' of more than £40,000 a year. If anyone 'needs' more than that, they should fucking work for it. Greed is NOT good. All monies saved on these pensions should be ring-fenced to pay a higher minimum wage.

Obama and the Money Men - Obama Warns Bankers

From yesterday's Guardian

President Barack Obama delivered a stern warning to Wall Street today that bankers must scrap "quick kills and bloated bonuses" in favour of a new sense of social responsibility as the first anniversary of Lehman Brothers' spectacular bankruptcy dawns with a sense of fragile hope for an economic recovery.
"There are some in the financial industry who are misreading this moment. Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we are recovering, they are choosing to ignore them," said Obama. "We will not go back to the days of reckless behaviour and unchecked excess that were at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses."

Obama has come under pressure from liberal Democrats, and from leaders of European nations, to be tougher in cracking down on bonuses and on unfettered risk taken by top US institutions.

"It was a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street and across America that led to the near collapse of our financial system one year ago," said Obama. He told bankers that they should not wait for legislative action forcing them to translate financial products into plain language, put executive pay up for shareholder votes and alter bonuses to focus on long-term, rather than short-term, performance.

"Many of the firms that are now returning to prosperity owe a debt to the American people," said Obama. "It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system and a more broadly shared prosperity."

The Obama administration's plans to avert future crises include a sharpening of financial regulation to cover hitherto free-for-all markets in hedge funds and exotic derivatives, tougher powers for the Federal Reserve to monitor banks considered "too big to fail" and shareholder votes intended to counter excessive pay deals in corporate boardrooms. Mortgage companies will be obliged to hang onto part of every loan, rather than selling them on to shed risk. But the White House has backed away from earlier efforts to cap bankers' pay."

Lehmans – one year on: have we learned the lessons?

The apocalypse has been averted but banks have returned, unfettered, to business as usual.
Check out this piece in the Guardian on whether lessons have been learned.
"Britain should stop dragging its feet and promote global reform on capital requirements for banks.
The credit crunch was not just a financial collapse, but the collapse of an ideology – that the wider and deeper markets became the greater the public good. What response have we had to the crisis at this level of ideas? Virtually nothing.

With the notable exception of Adair Turner there is, as yet, zero sense that those in authority have made any real attempt at the fundamental reappraisal we clearly need.Hardly anything seems to have been learned in terms of required regulation.

Banks that were "too big to fail" have got bigger. Flawed incentive structures continue to promote short-term profit-seeking rather than social good. So we have protected private profiteering and socialised its risks. Meanwhile, speculative behaviour in global commodity markets can still cause a repeat of the recent crazy volatility in world fuel and food prices, which created so much havoc in the developing world. This opportunity wasted by governments – reflecting the lack of basic change in the power equations governing capitalism – will prove to be expensive. We should brace ourselves for an even worse replay of the financial crisis in the foreseeable future. And the lopsided government response – benefiting those responsible for the crisis without adequate concern for the collateral damage on innocent citizens – may give public intervention a bad name, at a time when we desperately need such intervention for more democratic and sustainable economies.

Tragically, The global crisis is still managed by policymakers holding fast to the disastrous Bush-Paulson legacy. Fooled into believing the crisis is over, by a stock market bubble, they share the pathological belief that the market knows best; that banks cannot be fully nationalised or obliged to lend at low rates; and that while wages and incomes fall, top directors can ignore inflation when awarding themselves bonuses and pay.
Sadly, because lessons have not been learned, there will be no policy tools left to deal with the next banking crisis – due in 2010, if not sooner.

The collapse of Lehmans Brothers and the chaos that ensued taught governments an old lesson they had forgotten: finance is too important to be treated like just another industry. No, a system to make payments and extend credit is an essential utility, just like water and public transport. That's why the British taxpayer has shelled out hundreds of billions to keep the entire banking system afloat. Ever since learning that lesson, however, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have done their damnedest to forget it, again – and to talk instead about arms' length management and (tired old theme, this) Britain's comparative advantage in financial services.

A short-term mindset is still the rule of the day. If a banker, trader or executive can make a bet that yields them riches in the short term and makes the rest of us pay over the long term, who thinks that bet won't get placed?" 

Eddie Izzard

1100 miles, 43 marathons in 51 days, running for Comic relief. The guy's incredible. Mad.


Gary Younge

As usual, an excellent piece in yesterday's paper by the wonderful Mr Younge:


Ashley Seager

Keeping up the good work:



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Layer 196 . . . Firefox, FoxyTunes, BB, Santana, Into The Night, More Great Football and Emotional Intelligence


BB King

A Public Information Announcement

“Discover tons of cool stuff like videos, lyrics, photographs, biographies, and more, related to what's currently playing. It's all in one convenient place, and just a click away with FoxyTunes.”
In the first place, change your computer browser from Internet Explorer to Firefox. Students and lovers of music should then find, and download, free software called FoxyTunes.

You get a very small control panel at the bottom of the page when Firefox is open, which gives precise control of the music you're listening to whilst you're working at the computer. But that's just the beginning

You can then click an icon and go instantly to a web page called Foxy Tunes Planet that shows information about the artist and the tune that's currently playing. There's a biog of the artist, a list of web pages about the artist/band (including Wikipedia and the artist's own website), the lyrics of the song that's currently playing, a list of their videos available on YouTube and Yahoo, photos of the artist or band, a list of their albums, a list of their 'top tracks', and a list of 'similar artists' on Last FM. Bloody amazing.

For example, you might be playing a track by the Bhundu Boys, click on Foxy Tunes Planet, get a list of 'similar artists' such as The Four Brothers, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, click on one or more of them, bring up their video pages, and play their music videos. Even more reasons to get an excellent sound system for yer computa!

What's more, having surfed around from artist to artist, song to song, each page you bring up actually stays up on its own tab at the top of the page, so it's easy to go back to the pages you've been  visiting and browsing previously. Unbelievable.

Meanwhile your Windows Media Player will stay running, and you can go back and forth between the music you're playing from your computer's music library and the music that's available on the 'net, through FoxyTunes, YouTube, etc. Add in Spotify, and you're in music heaven. (see below, Guardian article)

My Zen tune of the day – BB King 'Into The Night'  -

Going off on a tangent, Carlos Santana also has an amazing track called Into The Night on YouTube.Very different to BB's! Guitar playing does NOT come any better then this. Rock music at its very best too. MOVE ya body!

For better sound quality, and no distracting visuals, listen to it on Spotify. Pure, relentless, inspirational, emotional, physical music. Great vocals too, by Chad Kroeger.

Carlos at 62 is an absolute god of the guitar and rhythmic blues/rock. I reckon he'll be like BB and John Lee and just carry on playing till the end of his days.

Here's the track that brought Santana to the world's attention – the stand-out performance at Woodstock and also on their first album – Soul Sacrifice – 40 years old. Superb Hammond, drums and bass, as well as guitar -

Catch a great live performance of "Smooth" here -

Match of the Day

It's been quite a week for football, starting with the England international and qualification for the World Cup in South Africa. Yesterday's Premier League matches provided an incredible feast of exciting football, especially the games involving the top teams. Considering the top talent has supposedly left for, or is leaving for, Spain (Ronaldo, Alonso, etc) the left-overs played unbelievably well yesterday.

There was fantastic teamwork, brilliant goalscoring, and great midfield play in several games. Man U beat Spurs 1 – 3 at WHL, Man C thrashed the Gunners 4 – 2 in spite of being the second best team on the pitch for long passages of the game, Chelsea beat Stoke 2 – 1 thanks to another phenomenal strike by Drogba,  and Liverpool hammered Burnley 4 – 0.

As said in a previous blog this week, the best games involve great goals, great imagination, great skills, creativity, and pulsating teamwork. We need excitement, and unpredictability – not just the 4 or 5 top teams grinding down lesser opposition.

It was good to hear John Motson keeping up standards in his commentary on the Man C – Arsenal game. . Adebayor blatantly kicked an Arsenal opponent in the face, horribly gouged his cheek, got away with it Scot free, and then, after scoring with a header, he ran the entire length of the pitch to celebrate his goal sliding on his knees in front of the hate-filled fans of his previous club – Arsenal. The ever sage and insightful Motty pondered, and asked, “Will that be seen as inflamatory by Adebayor?” Well Motty, we think it just might.

It was a pity, because Adebayor had shown incredible skill and application in this match, at one point dribbling from the half way line through four tackles in very tight spaces to set up a team mate in front of goal. It's not often these days we see anyone with the ambition or the ability to dribble past even one or two opponents. He even kicked a shot off his own goal line with his goalkeeper beaten.

And then he squanders all the credit he's put in the bank – by screwing up with those two moments of absolute zero emotional intelligence – no control whatsoever over his ego and his emotions, either his anger or his joy.

There are two photographs on the front of the sports section in today's Observer showing both incidents. Van Persie calls Adebayor's assault on him mindless and malicious. Adebayor is quoted as saying, “To be very honest, I'm very sorry for all this. Sometimes the emotion takes over.” He can say that again.

By contrast, Wayne Rooney has been much praised recently for the way in which he now deals with pressure, and emotion. We might start to think that learning to be emotionally intelligent is something that starts to happen to young men, and young athletes, after the age of 22 or 23, with the assumption that prior to that age it's impossible to acquire the attitudes and skills you need to be emotionally intelligent.

The reality is that learning to be emotionally intelligent is something that should be happening from the Nursery class onwards, and hopefully at home even before that. The problem is that boys (and girls) in many homes are exposed to the opposite – parents and siblings, and older brothers, sisters and cousins, to say nothing of the mainstream media, magazines, films, etc,  who espouse the culture of aggression, hostile rivalry, egocentric selfishness, unrestrained competitiveness and macho posturing.

If schools then do little or nothing to combat such attitudes and teach the skills of emotional intelligence, you end up with young footballers, and in fact a whole population of young men, who haven't a clue how to cope with their extreme emotions. Some of them fail in life as a result; some fail in their profession, and their relationships, and others get themselves into situations where they get killed.

When will we ever learn?


F1 Emotional and Social Intelligence

At the other end of the sporting EQ spectrum we find guys like Rubens Barrichello and Jensen Button, who came first and second in today's Italian Grand Prix, driving Braun cars. The more I see of Button the more I'm impressed – and I'm not easily impressed – with his incredibly mature and intelligent aura, with his attitude to himself and others, and the way in which he expresses himself. Barrichello is another guy who's had to work hard for many years in the shadows of more successful drivers - so affability, humility and balance are now second nature to him. Maybe when ultimate success comes relatively late in life it's helpful in creating better human beings. The sheer joy of what he's been able to achieve with Braun, as compared with his Ferrari days, is so apparent whenever Barrichello speaks.

During the post-race analysis the pundits discussed the possibility of Braun changing their drivers for next season, possibly bringing in one of the 'top' drivers, at the expense of Barrichello, who's now in his mid thirties. There seemed to be agreement that the key factor in Braun's success this year, apart from having a good car, is what they called friendship, teamwork and cameraderie. It's what I'd call rapport. It's a key component of Social Intelligence.

The rapport and the success would be at risk if the team is changed, especially after their achievements this season. Succession planning is all very well, but why give Barrichello the boot when he's still driving so well - better than ever according to him?

Before the season began it looked as though this team was being wound up, and every single one of them was going to be out of a job. Then Ross Braun stepped in, bought the team, and the rest is history. A team that chronically underperformed for many years is now poised to take the constructors championship, with their drivers finishing first and second - an unprecedented achievement, even for the most settled and established teams.

The situation's akin to a football team that's achieved success in spite of the fact that their players are not considered to be the real superstars of the game, but they have rapport and they perform better as a team than the teams that are full of egocentric stars who are basically playing for themselves, and not the rest of the club.

Similar thoughts about the value of teamwork and rapport were expressed by Paul Wilson in his column today, in which he said, talking about effective counter-attacks, "Manchester City's initial attempts to build on their lead only served to demonstrate that while you can have all the pace and space in the world, it takes understanding between players [my italics] to turn quick counters into slick counters."

"Football's not about individuals."



Another mellow and affable soul, Alexei Sayle(!), was on TV this morning bemoaning the fact that the books in line for this year's Booker Prize all have historical subject matter. Alexei thinks people should be prepared to think about what's happening in the world in the present day. I agree with Alexei. I reckon that whilst there's a place for well-crafted fiction that throws light on the human condition through examining things that happened in the past, we surely need a balance of subject matter that encourages us to consider our current society and gives us immediate and direct insight into present-day politics and human affairs.

Good to see Rory Bremner on the same programme taking the piss out of our lamentable defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth.



Here's a very silly article about Spotify, and I've absolutely no idea why the Guardian decided to print it on their Comments pages.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Layer 195 . . . Born To Be Wild, Route 66, and the Long and Whining Road


In response to the panning I gave this song in a recent blog about The Beatles, a friend asked me this week, what's wrong with The Long and Winding Road? It's difficult to know where to start, and I'm bound to say, what's right with it?

It's an appalling, turgid, mawkish, sentimental piece of crap - maudlin, nauseating  and insipid. Look at this -

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day

Well now. Rain is the product of a wild and windy night – how on earth can it wash one away? And how can a 'pool of tears' (nonsense, hopeless imagery) do anything, let alone cry? 'For the day'? What's that supposed to mean? This is just silly, lazy, unimaginative wordplay - a McCartney trademark. As are mawkishness and sentimentality.

This is a guy who turns up at a recording studio, feels desperate for some songwriting inspiration, thinks of an image (a long and winding road!) and a tune, and dashes off several lines of trite rubbish as lyrics. Don't try to tell me he worked long and hard at it. That would make it really bad.

It doesn't work on the musical level either. Dee dah deeee dah dee dah. Dee-ee dah, dah dee dahhahhh . . . It's a ditty - a little lightweight piece of fluff by way of a melody. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. But then there's the awful orchestration – da DAH! da DAH! Please!

Syrupy, sludgy ballady crap. So far away from where the band started - from the optimism and energy and dynamism of their younger days. And why should young people be the only ones entitled to optimism, energy and dynamism?

This is a young man sounding both immature and prematurely aged. “Don't leave me waiting here.” Pathetic and hopeless. Makes you feel like giving him a slap and saying, “Don't wait there you pillock – get up and go somewhere else – hopefully a better place. You're pitiful and a prat. You expect someone to feel sorry for you?” Wallowing in self pity is not a good place to be.

Contrast this with other songs about roads. Chuck Berry's Route 66, for example. It's basically a list of places en route to California, a mythical place of sunshine and plenty, of opportunity and optimism. And a hook by way of advice - “Get hip to this kindly tip - get your kicks on Route 66!”

It's a song about freedom, and it's some sound advice to grab it, embrace life, and explore the big wide world. The music drives you clean through Oklahoma City (oh, so pretty), Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico . . .  all the way to the West Coast. Macca's preferred west coast environment was the dreek of the Mull of Kintyre, mist rolling in, bagpipes and all.

Another song about hitting the road, and about a world of opportunity opening up to those who have the energy to get out and explore it, is Steppenwolf's classic - “Born To Be Wild”. “Get your motor running – head out on the highway!”

Of course if you're a pop and rock megastar like Paul it's a little hard to do this. He may have fantasised about being the leader of a 'band on the run' (another atrocious song) but his band (the unlamented Wings), after a couple of exploratory weeks driving around the country in a large van doing impromptu gigs in various uni bars, did no more than cruise from place to place in a luxury coach, with Macca and Linda making their own way to the next tour stop in a limo.

Superstardom tends to preclude anyone from a normal life, from the opportunity to do normal things, like getting out on the highway and having unpremeditated adventures. It also gets in the way of authenticity and spontaneity. The Maccas of this world have to find other ways to get their kicks, since simple pleasures aren't easily available.

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
- Born To Be Wild

The idea here is embracing the world and life itself, not escaping and hiding from it. You only get one chance.

The Beatles crashed on to the scene with a blast of bluesy harmonica (Love me Do!) at a time when the British popular music scene was dominated by terrible manufactured rock and roll wannabies who had quickly retreated to crooning Tin Pan Alley ballads (a la latter-day Macca) as soon as they realised they didn't have the aptitude or the temperament to be authentic rockers – Cliff, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, etc

The Beatles in those early days were absolute masters of passionate and optimistic love songs, and were able to express the libidinous energy of youth with dynamic songs that grabbed you with the absolute conviction and authenticity that told what it felt like to be young and alive and in love with life itself – I Wanna Hold Your Hand! Please Please Me!  I Saw Her Standing There! I Wanna Be Your Man!

What a long strange trip - a long and winding road indeed - from all of that to the dreary witless hopelessness of TLAWR and the uninspired mess of the Let It Be album.

One way to read that song is that it's about a man crying out to his estranged partner, Lennon, who had clearly moved on and, in spirit at least, abandoned his former bosom buddy - who was now left behind,   begging to be reunited, calling out, “Don't leave me standing here!”

Alternatively you can see it as a desperate love song to the real love of his life, Jane Asher, written some time after she'd abandoned him.

Macca's most successful Wings album was Band On The Run, and a total bummer, a complete dog's breakfast, it was.

Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one nice again like you,
Mama you, mama you.
If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here.


Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun,
And the first one said to the second one there I hope you're having fun.


Well, the night was falling as the desert world began to settle down.
In the town they're searching for us everywhere, but we never will be found.

The poor guy couldn't even find himself. Glory days over and gone, he goes through the rest of his life doing pastiches of previously great work - the songs that were written when he was one half of Lennon/McCartney - whilst going through a series of relationships with inappropriate women who have been no help whatsoever in helping him find either his true potential or his true self.

It's possible Paul never really got over Jane Asher after she broke off their engagement and baled out of their five year relationship. She was and still is, after all, a very good looking, creative and intelligent woman. It's obvious the majority of Paul's best songs were written whilst they were together, between '63 and '68. It's difficult not to see Jane as his real muse, as well as the great lost love of his life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Layer 194 . . . Fair Play, Delights and Rapport


Fair Play

It's not often when you watch a live football match on TV that you experience a moment of sheer joy that has you yelling out or jumping up in ecstatic amazement and excitement - and this goes for whichever team you support (as if sitting on a sofa constitutes support!), or whatever match you're watching. Those moments of terrific surprise and delight when somebody or some team does something so beautifully and so unexpectedly that it sends a shock through your nervous system so as to cause an involuntary spasm of shouting, cheering and swearing – such moments tend to be very few and far between, especially if you're English and you enjoy football.

To have it happen three times, then, in a match - and what's even more amazing, in a match involving England - is a rare treat. To see an England team completely dominate and outplay another team ranked in the world's top 10 is – well, unknown. Almost. I won't forget the 5 – 1 thrashing of Germany, in Germany. And so it was when England defeated Croatia 5 – 1 at Wembley last night, and in doing so qualified for the finals of the World Cup in South Africa next year. Job done. Capello 8 – Others 0.

What a guy. Talk about emotionally intelligent! He doesn't fake or exaggerate excitement, or anger, or disgust, or frustration – and if he feels those things he doesn't necessarily try to stop himself from showing small signs of them either. What you see is what you get, and what we have is a team manager who's a real man – a mensch – who can keep a check on his dominant emotions without completely covering them up or denying they exist.

According to Leo Rosten, the author of The Joys of Yiddish, a mensch is “a person of integrity and honor, someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, and a sense of what is right, responsible, and decorous”.

Capello's a three-dimensional human being who's a thinker and a planner, a plotter and an analyst, a calculator and a strategist, as well as someone who knows how to relate to the people he's leading and managing, both as professionals and as human beings. He has intellect, plus emotional, social and spiritual intelligence, in abundance and in harmony, in contrast to every dork of an England manager you can possibly remember, with the honourable exceptions of Bobby Robson, dearly departed, and maybe Ron Greenwood and Alf Ramsey.

He doesn't try to be overly pally with them, like the Rain Man - the Wally with the Brolly - who shall remain nameless, who so shamefully and so spectacularly fucked up on the job, finally crashing and burning in a corresponding fixture with Croatia two years ago, a game that England unbelievably lost 2 - 3 at Wembley.

Capello is polite, and courteous, and professionally distant, as he should be. But he also knows how to coach, how to explain things, how to empathise, how to enthuse, and how to motivate. But not in a gung-ho up-and-at-em ridiculous pumped-up adrenaline-rush kind of a Keegan or (ahem) 'Turnip' Tayloresque way. (I still have to smile to myself whenever I remember dear Graham's little gems – Do I Not Like That!, You've Just Cost Me My Job!, etc)

“Very few of us have any idea whatsoever of what life is like living in a goldfish bowl, except, of course, for those of us who are goldfish.”
No – forget I said smile - laugh uproariously out loud.

Two of the goals last night gave a quiet little buzz of pleasure – when Lennon jinked his way through to a penalty and Lampard efficiently slotted his kick, and when Rooney also unspectacularly threaded the ball past the goalkeeper after the hapless chap had dreadfully mis-kicked to our unmarked striker. (A real shame for the poor goalie – his superb 'keeping had kept the score down to only 2 – 0 at half time when it could easily have been 5 – 0 by then.)

The other three goals were all superbly made and superbly taken headers that flashed into the net – very “English”, as Bilic, the Croatian manager, might have said. Cue ecstatic celebration. To be fair to Bilic he later admitted his team had been humiliated and destroyed.

Whenever someone asks me which team I support I have to admit I don't really 'support' any team. What I do is watch with interest, and hope to enjoy some brilliant action – thoughtful, disciplined and passionate teamwork, great skills, effective defending, dynamic attacking and brilliant goalscoring. I hope to see the game well played, with lots of goals, and victory going to whichever team deserves to win.

I know people who are passionate supporters of a particular team – certain Millwall supporters for example – who don't give a shit about the quality of the football or the justice of the result. Winning is all that matters, no matter how badly the game is played, no matter how dire the football. It's 'my team right or wrong', which is pretty much the way they play the game of life. Within their own little world, their family and their mates can do absolutely NO wrong, and they'll support them and fight for them no matter what, against all comers if necessary.

Sadly such people often only get really excited in life when they're seeing their team win a match, or when they're having a fight or a 'bundle' on 'behalf' of their team or their mates. They might admit to themselves that their team deserved to lose, and they might mention it to their mates down the pub, but they'd never let on to an 'outsider'.

Thankfully, though, there are many more people who have a sense of 'fair play', and who will even feel some odd little sense of satisfaction when their team loses a match, on the basis that the useless f****** b*******'s deserve to be beaten up and defeated. Lots of English people don't like winning if it's a result of cheating or unfair tactics, and lots of us don't even like winning if the victory is undeserved.

But even those of us who are the least partisan and the least nationalistic feel some sort of emotional attachment to our national and our city or town teams, and we get enormous amounts of enjoyment when 'our lads' do their jobs as well as they did them last night.

It's the women's turn this afternoon – 5.00pm BBC2 – England v Germany – European Nations Final.

Bafana Bafana? Crazy name, crazy guys:


PS Try to record the sounds you make (by using some mechanical or electronic means) as you read the following quotes, because I guarantee you will never laugh so much again in your entire life. If anyone ever doubts the power of words and language to affect our moods – here's the proof. Have some tissues handy to dry your eyes. Do NOT read this if you're in your office, supposedly working. But DO make a recording of your laughter the first time you read it because nothing's ever as funny the second time around.


Life's Little Delights

Yesterday on the Today programme there was a discussion about what delights us in our day to day lives. Oxzen had always been a strong believer that the capacity and the ability to experience delight is a strong marker of spiritual intelligence. It's the little things . . .

Here's a description of the book called Delight that JB Priestley first published in 1949 – taken from the Amazon website -

“In the years following the Second World War, there didn't seem much to smile about, but as JB Priestley illustrated in the classic "1949 Delight", there are many joys to be found in even the simplest things. This charming book comprises a series of short essays, which all depict a simple pleasure - the smallest things in life that Priestley delighted in at that bleak time - a notion that chimes perfectly with the current national mood. Just some of the simple things Priestley enjoyed include; fountains; a walk in a pine wood; a new box of matches; Sunday papers in the country; reading in bed about foul weather; suddenly doing nothing and waking to smell bacon . . .

Priestley's sense of humor and literary flare are in evidence on every page. Each self-contained essay is a joy to read and will no doubt bring a little 'delight' to the reader - just as Priestley originally intended sixty years ago. In 'timeless mornings' Priestley muses, 'There is one kind of morning in early summer that is for me very special, the most delightful of all mornings. The sun is up and blazing somewhere but not visible yet down here, where there is a lot of gold mist about and the birds are singing from lost thickets.' The new 60th anniversary edition of "Delight" contains the full, unabridged text of over one hundred of Priestley's personal joys and pleasures.”

On the Today programme Alexei Sayle, the one and only, the wonderful, said he delights in re-reading old copies of guides to restaurants and bars that no longer exist.



I have a new theory that the secret of his success is the 'rapport' that Capello has developed with his players, and it's also what readers have with a writer like Priestly, or whoever their favourite authors happen to be. To have rapport with someone doesn't mean you have to like or admire that individual. You may have reservations about them as an individual, and you may even dislike some aspects of their behaviour or their ideas. But what you do have is the ability to be on their wavelength, and to be able to communicate or empathise from a basis of shared assumptions about life or about the nature of the task you're working on, or whatever.

To experience 'flow' is hard enough as an individual. For two or more people working together to experience it simultaneously whilst engaged in a particular project, or activity, or game, is almost impossible unless you have rapport. I suspect that what great coaches can do is build rapport, between themselves and others, and between other individuals.

It's a shared sense of what's right and what's wrong, what's effective and what's not, when to do something, and when not. It's part instinct, part empathy, part logic, part knowledge, part understanding, and part intuition. We need rapport that's both inner and outer, within oneself and with others. It's a coming together in three dimensions. It's harmony and resonance, like voices in a choir or strings on an instrument.

Or players on a pitch. England's play last night had a 'flow' to it. They're finally starting to play as a team whose members have a proper rapport. After years of failing to play well together, people like Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon and Rooney are beginning to 'gel' and harmonise. It's partly down to experience, and partly down to the consistent messages and sets of beliefs and understandings that a good coach or manager is able to instil. It's the fine tuning as well as the correct choice of strings, instruments or players. Without rapport and flow nothing is achieved. You can have great skills and individual flair, but without rapport you tend to go nowhere.


Obama and his Congregation

Like a priest talking to his parishioners Barack Obama yesterday met with, and spoke to, the Congressmen and women and the Senators of the House of Representatives who may or may not be willing to vote for his health care proposals. It seems he made a great speech, or delivered a great sermon, whichever way you prefer to look at it. It seems like a great effort to establish, or re-establish, some rapport with the teams that must function properly together if anything is going to be achieved, and if the country is to make any progress towards becoming more civilised and properly democratic. The country voted for change. Will it be allowed to have it?

30 million Americans can't even get health insurance, let alone are able to afford it. 46 million of them have no health insurance whatsoever.

Check out clips of his speech here:

“We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”

Full text of the speech here:

Michael Tomasky's blog on the speech:

Tons of comments on it already.

Other Random Musings

Abdullah Abdullah

In case you haven't been paying attention, this is the name of the hapless guy who lost out in this week's election for the presidency of Afghanistan. How lucky is he! However, he's now complaining that the vote, and the count, were fixed. Some people just don't know when to shut the fuck up and just be grateful.

I'm always fascinated by these guys with double names, like Boutros Boutros-Ghali – people so good they name them twice. Imagine Obama Obama, or Barack Barack. Which would it be?

Brown Brown. Cameron Cameron.

I remember Billy Connelly once making a comment about posh people in Scotland having surnames as first names. Like Cameron.

This naming business is really bizarre. What happens to people, that they want to actually change their names? The most famous examples are when people change their religions, or suddenly adopt a religion. On the other hand, why should we stayed lumbered with names we don't like?

Oxzen Oxzen. Definitely a ring to it.

John Cooper Clark

I  think I wrote about JCC some time ago, and yesterday I came across a poem of his on Spotify that you should listen to if you ever get so angry with someone you want to beat them up and call them a twat. It's called Twat. Just type Twat in the Spotify search box.

Dion, Dion

I know I've mentioned Dion before, but I'm going to put in another plug for King of the New York Streets because I think it's possibly the best anti-drug song ever written. It's not didactic – it just sets out what it feels like to be someone living a coke-fuelled life, thinking he's the boss and the head honcho of his neighbourhood, or whatever, and ends with a blank statement - “This attitude comes from cocaine lies ”- the delusions of that particular drug. The refrain goes, “I was only sixteen years, so what could I have known . . . . ?”

The very best thing about the track is that it ROCKS. You want to listen to it on account of the great rhythm and the driving groove, plus the great vocals. Catch it on Spotify and YouTube. Steve Cropper's wearing the same sweater he wore on the Booker T/Green Onions video!

The lyrics are hard to find on the Internet, but you can see them here:
– a great piece of rock n roll writing by Dave Marsh. Read it at your leisure.

Dave Marsh

Here's another great example of his writing – about Springsteen:

“Marsh is also a member of the National Advisory Board of PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children.”   -  The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

This man has TASTE! Feel the rapport.