Sunday, 30 April 2017

Quiz for the politically correct

I just picked up on the remarkable case of Barry Trayhorn, a Pentecostal preacher who felt pressured out of his job for quoting the bible in a church. Trayhorn was a gardener at HMP Littlehey, a prison for sex offenders. At the invitation of the chaplain, Trayhorn lead some chapel services on a voluntary basis. He quoted from memory from 1 Corinthians at a service in May 2014. The relevant verses offer Jesus's forgiveness for sinners who repent and mentions a few sins - routine stuff: adultery, greed and drunkenness. Oh and homosexual practices, of course. Trayhorn, who had told the congregation he was as big a sinner as anyone so wasn't "preaching" in that sense, found himself firstly barred from taking services and then subject to a barrage of concerns about his conduct as a horticulturalist at the prison, which of course had not been raised hitherto. He resigned in November, claiming to have been harassed because of his Christian faith. He took a case to an Employment Tribunal which gave its verdict in March. Of course they found against him, saying he was not discriminated against on the grounds of his religion, "because of the way his message was received" (implying that it doesn't matter what you have actually said) and that Mr Trayhorn spoke of God's forgiveness in an "insensitive" way which "failed to have regard for the special nature of the congregation in the prison". The fact that the sex offenders present were exactly the people who arguably should hear that message if they have come to a chapel seems to have been beyond the tribunal. Trayhorn has appealed and the verdict on that is awaited.*

While born C of E, I'm religiously agnostic verging on atheist but it seems to me that Christians are now a persecuted minority in our country. I wouldn't mind so much if the same approach was applied diligently to all religions. After all, isn't the view of homosexuality in Islamic scripture identical  and generally somewhat more strongly put?

But we live in a country in which the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a born again Christian, felt he had to sell out his God in exchange for votes by denying that he thought homosexual sex was a sin. (Don't tell me he thought that all along, else why did it take him a few days and several repeats of the question?) And where it has been decided that the Colston Hall venue in Bristol should be renamed, because one of the city's most generous benefactors made some of his dosh from slave trading. And in which students funded by a legacy by Rhodes campaign against his statue. So, in the once Christian country in which you can't quote from the bible in church without losing your job, here's a quiz for any politically correct readers to try.

1. Who said that the typical African was "only one degree removed from the animal" and that an ordinary African's only goal in life was "to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness"?

2. Who said "The Aryan stock is bound to triumph"?

3. Who told a black clergyman "I think your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence"? The same person also thought that, if slaves remained in his country "there must be the position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man am in favour of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

4. Who claimed to be an opponent of slavery, yet owned at least 135 slaves and secretly sent bounty hunters to track one down when she ran away?

The answers are:
1. Gandhi
2. Churchill. The context was his view that China should be partitioned and colonised by European powers.
3. Abraham Lincoln
4. George Washington, though he did free his slaves outright after he had no further use for them - he did it via his will.

There is good and bad in most folks and we are all products of our time. One would have thought that the presence of statues and halls named after famous people would be a useful prompt for current generations to learn about how things were done in the past, what people thought and achieved and how views have changed.  But no. So going by the quiz answers we can expect there to be very few statues left of famous historical figures. They will all be replaced by people we've never heard of but whose views were either ahead of their time or matched current prejudices, as you wish. But I'd bet they weren't all free of sin, either, relatively useless concept though I think that is.

Happy Sunday one and all!


Monday, 24 April 2017

It's Different For Girls

I've always thought that there's nothing a man can do that a woman can't. Not necessarily in direct competition when it comes to sport, of course, as you can't defy the statistic I once heard that 99% of men are stronger than 5% of women. My wife asking me to open a jar reveals this truism most days.

And I always thought it a bit odd that, at school, there were boys' sports (football, rugby, cricket) and girls' sports (netball and hockey). Athletics and gymnastics were the less usual, gender-neutral sports. Wouldn't the girls have preferred to play footie?

And I made my then teenage sons look at me askance when I predicted that women's soccer would become a big spectator sport, with probably a different and maybe better balance between skill and strength, some 15 years or more ago. Which it gradually is.

But maybe there was a reason the girls played lower contact sports. Dr Mike Turner, medical director of the International Head Injury Research Foundation is 12 months into a 3 year project examining that issue. When he was chief adviser to the British Horseracing Authority he realised that, despite falling far less often than their male counterparts, female jockeys are knocked out 3.6 times more often than the men. The rates of injuries such as broken legs is the same for both genders of jockey. Concussion is the exception. Some sources say sportswomen are 50% more likely to suffer concussion than sportsmen. But to date, from a study of 250 retired amateur and professional riders from horse racing, show jumping and point to point, there is no evidence of any different long term outcomes for women. "We don't appear to have any Jeff Astles in our cohort" Tuner said, referring to the former West Brom striker who broke my heart in the 1968 FA Cup Final but died aged 59 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, associated (not proven I thought - and hope as a former centre back!) with repeatedly heading footballs. Astle will have headed a few more than me, mind.

Turner hopes to extend his study to former footballers, rugby players and boxers, though it is only recently that women have taken these sports up in any numbers. He doesn't know why women lose consciousness more than men in an equivalent situation, but offers three theories:
  • girls are more honest than boys: they will admit they feel dizzy, have a headache or double vision whereas "boys invariably lie" (been there). But in horse racing they rely on a doctor diagnosis: each faller has a medical assessment
  • Sportswomen have more delicate necks. It is weak neck muscles that are the cause of a boxer's so-called "glass jaw". But most women involved in impact sports have "sturdy necks" (his words, feministas, not mine!)
  • The third and most likely reason is "the fundamental genetic and hormonal difference between genders. The female brain appears more sensitive to impact than the male brain". (Glad he added "to impact", else it would have been a case of "tell us something we don't know").
So maybe, instinctively, there was a reason why the girls played netball and not footie or rugby.

Not that I am arguing that should be the case. But if this is proven it is information that parents would surely want to be aware of. And, in this wonderful modern world, we might find that schools don't offer girls the opportunity to play traditionally boys' sports in case they get sued.

PS my positive remarks about women's football as a spectator sport need to be leavened by the recent news about Notts County winding up its team just days before the Spring series was due to start, leaving it with 9 teams instead of 10. It must have been an easy decision for Alan Hardy, the new owner of County's male and female clubs. Notts Counties Ladies (yes, indeed, "Ladies" not wimmin) was £350k in debt (mainly to HMRC) and was expected to cost £500k to run this year with a projected income from attendances and sponsorship of - wait for it - £28k. I expect you would be hard pushed to run a serious amateur team of national standing with an income that small. This all goes to show how far women's soccer is from being a viable professional sport. While attendances went up last year it was only by an average of 52 per match, to 1128. A 50% increase in gates at Manchester City accounted for most of the national increase. So, ironically the women's professional game remains totally reliant on subsidy from the men's game; in the case of Man City by a rich man, Sheik Mansour, who comes from a country which doesn't believe in women's rights.

This story appeared in the Times* and Sunday Times but you'll find it in the Guardian. Mirror, Washington Post and loads of other places over the last couple of months.
The demise of Notts County Ladies was covered in many places including the Independent, but I got the numbers from Martin Samuel's always excellent Daily Mail column.

Joe Jackson, of course, sang "It's Different For Girls".

Friday, 21 April 2017

A quiz

I've read some thought provoking statistics lately. I wouldn't have done very well at the quiz I've constructed with them below: see how you do

1. What proportion of prisoners in jails in England and Wales are Muslims?

2. What percentage of the prison population in France is Muslim?

3. What percentage of attempted logins on the world's banks, retailers, airlines and government departments are made by cyber hackers?

4. What was the password Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) used for his Twitter and Pinterest accounts that were hacked?


1. One in seven. As Niall Ferguson said in the Sunday Times "Guess what goes on there - clue: it's not like an episode of Porridge. The number of Muslim prisoners doubled between 2004 and 2014

2. About 60-70%, compared with 8% in the French population, also according to Niall Ferguson. The French authorities reckon they have 11,400 radical Islamists. It is projected that our Muslim population will be about the same as France's is now by 2030.

3. 90% according to the chief technology officer of Shape Security a Silicon Valley cyber specialist company. Most of these attempts are made by botnets, computers or networked devices which have been hijacked and run the hacking software without the user of the computer being aware. Between 0.1 and 2% of these attempts are successful

4. Amazingly it was "dadada". Zuckerberg is the 5th richest man in the world......

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Tactical genius?

The Special One (aka Jose Mourinho) was hailed by the Sky pundits as a tactical genius after Manchester United's 2-0 win over Chelsea turned the Premier League procession back into a race. Though if Chelsea win the 4 home games out of their remaining 6, Spurs will have to win 5 and draw the 6th of their matches, so Chelsea must still be strong favourites.

The reason for my implied snort at Mourinho's tactical genius (or maybe you heard it from where you are sitting) is that the basis of the Special One's plan was to man mark Chelsea's danger man, Eden Hazard, together  with a physical approach and two quick young forwards. The last part of this might have been accidental, as Mourinho may well have rested the ageing bones of Zlatan Ibrahimovic anyway, after United's away game in the Europa league 3 days before from which the poor dears got back rather late.

Man to man marking is how youngsters are first taught to defend. Revolutionary, huh?  Indeed, in his column today Martin Samuel called United's tactics "primitive". Jamie Carragher said on Sky that "you don't see it often now" as he showed an extended example of how Ander Herrera followed Hazard wherever he went (though I wouldn't really have thought that needed pictures to explain it!) The kids soon learn that they need to either mark their man or stay in their position as they quickly realise that a 100% man marking approach sets up lots of one on ones around the pitch in such a way that the defenders can't easily support each other.  So you don't see teams at almost any standard going for man to man marking across the team. But the tactic of man marking the opposition's most dangerous player, to cancel him out and effectively make it a game of 10 against 10, must be something that every coach of a boys' team has thought of, if not used. I certainly did, though Carragher is right that it isn't used much at the top level now.

It certainly was. West Germany assigned arguably their best player, Franz Beckenbauer to mark England's man of the tournament in the 1966 World Cup Final. That didn't work as man of the match Alan Ball ran Germany ragged. Bizzarrely it emerged afterwards that Alf Ramsey had instructed Charlton to mark Beckenbauer, so the two men accompanied each other closely round the Wembley pitch for 2 hours. Beckenbauer has since said that he was relieved to hear the final whistle*.

A few years later, Borussia Moenchengladbach assigned Bertie Vogts to man mark Kevin Keegan in the 1977 European Cup Final. That also didn't work as Keegan ran his marker into exhaustion, a tired Vogts bringing down his opponent for the penalty that sealed the game 3-1**.

But man marking the opponent's star player can work. I arrived at university in Manchester in the heyday of George Best, a genuinely world class player and certainly one of the best British players ever to play the game. One of our tutors was football mad and an evangelist for Best's skills. On one occasion, when he was eulogising about George, I provocatively chipped in "well, I've seen him half a dozen times at least and he ain't scored yet". Now scoring isn't the only measure of a player playing well, of course, but there was a reason. All of those games were against my team, Everton, who were a very good side at the time  - winning the championship in 1970 - and they had a good manager (see my post of 15 March) who had a plan for dealing with Best.

That plan included tight marking. From about 1971 onwards, Catterick selected a young full back, Terry Darracott, specifically to man mark Best. Darracott went on to play nearly 200 times for Everton but is often best remembered (sorry, lame pun intended) for his limpet like marking. But the plan also included keeping the team compact, not getting drawn up the pitch and playing quickly on the counter. The final ingredient was tackling. It always seemed to me watching that, when Best got the ball, Everton appeared close to panic. If his marker was tight (God help him later with Catterick if he ever wasn't!) he would try to hold Best up, inviting him to pass. Meanwhile the nearest two other Everton players abandoned their duties to sprint goalside of Best. They had to get close enough to launch a tackle if Best went on one of his mazy and often devastating runs with the ball. If Best took his man on and got past then two or three Everton players in succession would fly into challenges to stop him getting into his stride. And I mean fly: Kendall and Harvey loved a sliding tackle and this was before red and yellow cards had been invented***. If Best got past that lot, he would be clean through with overlapping colleagues and a goal would be very likely. But that pretty much didn't happen. In a five year period from 1967 to 1972, United played Everton 12 times, winning 3 and losing 7 and Best only scored twice. Piecing it together from the football stat-nerd site 11 v 11****, I went to 8 of those games, 6 of them at Goodison. Everton won 6, drew the other 2 and Best indeed did not score. Remarkably United, with its team of the talents including Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Brian Kidd as well as Best, only scored once in those 8 games. So Catterick's tactics worked. They relied on Best's inclination, faced with a defender, to take him on rather than pass (ditto Hazard). And Mourinho's tactics were similar, including getting quite physical, or at least as physical as you can in the modern game and playing on the counter.

One surprise was that the pundits were surprised by the way United played. After all, Mourinho set his team up just the same for the FA Cup quarter final at Stamford Bridge only last month. On that occasion the plan failed as the man assigned to mark Hazard, Ander Herrera, got sent off. This is always a risk with man marking as the two players can easily get tetchy with each other.

Herrera, by the way, is an ideal candidate as a man marker. A mobile midfielder, he is nippy and so able to catch up a few paces if his man drifts away from him. He is comfortable almost anywhere on the pitch, so happy to follow his man everywhere. And most of all he's a nark, well up for niggling his opponent for 90 minutes and never letting him get any peace. As an added bonus he can play a bit and we saw the result. Many defenders assigned to a man marking role lose concentration and dislike being unable to make runs to receive the ball. But sometimes this thwarted desire to be creative results in the marker doing a few really good things when the ball falls to him. And so it was with Herrera, not just marking Hazard out of the game, but playing the pass for United's first goal and scoring the second. The pundits praised him for playing the ball quickly to Rashford, but the man marker must to do that anyway: he has the "freedom of a tight brief" in the words of a PR guru I worked with. So no need to think, let the ball go and immediately get back on the case and look where your man is.

There is, of course, nothing more dispiriting for a team than to see the man marking their star player out of the game doing the things they expect of their team-mate.

Everton's star player of the 60s, Alan Ball, often found himself facing tactics simialr to those Everton deployed on George Best. But Catterick, or Ball himself, devised a counter based on one and two touch football, which kept Ball in the game and, with Ball's perpetual motion, tested the marker to the limit. Imagine going to your man, he releases it and moves, you spin and try to follow only to find he's done another give and go and is off again. This isn't the way Best played and it isn't natural to Hazard, either. Worse for Chelsea, they only had two creative players on the pitch - well, one and a half really, the half being Pedro. Which was why, after the result was almost certain anyway, Conte eventually brought on Fabregas.

The first time I experienced really tight man marking as a schoolboy winger I found it difficult having someone follow me everywhere like a puppy dog and had a poor match. But then I didn't have any of the skills of a Ball or a Best, which is why I ended up on the other side of the marking equation, at centre back, where I was comfortable playing in a flat back four zonally or, as many park teams do, playing with a traditional centre half, who marks the centre forward and a "sweeper" centre back whose job is to cover. I enjoyed playing both of these roles, though the marking role requires much less thought and positional awareness. I used to psyche myself up for the marking role by joining my wife shopping on a Saturday morning. I found the jostly crowd at St Helens indoor market, with its 3 tripe stalls in those days (wonder if that's still the case?) perfect for getting me in the right kind of bad mood. "What a you glaring at?" she would say and I would reply "I'm getting ready to stay within 2 paces of some bugger wherever he goes on a 7000 square yard pitch". Because if you do that you are in a position to challenge every time he receives the ball before he can control it, he can never run at you with the ball and only the very best players at any particular level will be able to deal with it. The centre forward will always be one of the other team's better players, if not their best but only a few have the temperament to be trying as hard in the last 10 minutes as the first 10, if they haven't had a sniff of a chance all game - those guys are a nightmare to mark. And you get a lot of satisfaction if he gets substituted. Made a lot of my Saturdays in the late 1970s and early 80s!

I wonder if we'll see more "primitive" man marking tactics after this result of United's win. I'm not sure tactics can be primitive - there are tactics that work and tactics that don't. If I was managing a team playing Chelsea in the next few weeks, Hazard could certainly expect more of the same.

*Franz Beckenbauer recalls marking Bobby Charlton for two hours -
**Liverpool's glory night in Rome -
*** Players got "booked" (officially "cautioned") and sent off, of course, but not very often then. Best was a tough lad - he didn't complain and he didn't retaliate, great temperament (though not one for temperance!)
**** I don't remember all of these games though the 3-1 win against then reigning European champions United on 19 August 1967 is a vivid memory, as is the 2-0 win for Everton at Old Trafford on 13 August 1969, which helped set Everton on their way to the title. I reminisced with the scorer of Everton's 2nd goal, John Hurst, a year or two ago. He remembered it just the same as I do - a neat one two 10 yards inside United's half set him clean through against a defence pushing up for offside. I don't think it was filmed for tv.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Is it Getting Better All The Time?

My mother in law, while she was able to focus on such things bless her, always took the view that things were getting worse, going to the dogs and sliding towards catastrophe. All through the 70s, 80s and 90s news of job losses, the occasional riot, or missing child (or cat) fuelled her belief that the country, and indeed the world, was becoming a poorer, more dangerous, crime infested and anarchic sort of place. TV news of any factory closure would deepen her gloom. Any attempt at explaining that bad news travels more and that traditional labour intensive industries, often with dangerous or unhealthy conditions and low pay, were being replaced by safer, better paid jobs in service industries was met with an icy stare of incomprehension.

I used to resort to parody - well, sarcasm probably - noting what an awful invention the plough was, let alone the combine harvester, as things were so much better when more than 90% of the population had to work in the fields to produce enough food for survival.

Reputable academic studies have proved that the world has been on a long run trend over hundreds of years of becoming a more civilised place. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a book in 2011 called "The Better Angels Of Our Nature" in which he showed, by careful statistical analysis, how the world has become steadily less violent. Despite - or maybe because of - the advent of weapons of mass destruction, casualties in time of war have reduced, from 300 per 100,000 people in the Second World War to a figure in the 20s for the Korean war and the teens for Vietnam. For most of the 20th Century there has been less than one death in conflict per 100,000 people. Pinker also found a long term historical decline in the levels of murder, genocide and terrorism. One of the main reasons people feel otherwise is the speed with which modern media conveys bad news from around the globe, so we are aware of events that previously would never have been brought to our attention and definitely without real time pictures.

So, it's getting better. But is it going to get better all the time? (Yes, of course it was a Sgt Pepper/Beatles reference. After all, it was 50 years ago today on the 1st of June).

There is a lot of concern that the software-driven automation of processes currently carried out by people will lead to a world in which full employment becomes impossible. After all, some newspaper stories are now created directly from data (for example, earthquake tremors in California) and you can create all sorts of legal and contractual documents without recourse to a person, for example challenging parking tickets. Talking of software-driven change, there are half a million taxi drivers and 1.5 million truck drivers in the USA whose jobs could all be threatened in time by driverless technology. And Mckinsey say 45% of American "work activities" are at risk from automation. (Note they didn't say "jobs").

I take a more positive view than the doom-mongers on this. I think it's mainly a matter of whether there will be enough wealth to fuel the massive potential for jobs in leisure-based activities if people have more time to spend. And the health and care sectors could absorb vastly more labour if it could be paid for. And, despite the advent of the Siris and Alexas, which in time just feed you more of what they've gleaned you "like", wouldn't you want to chat to a person once you're old and unable to do much else? And hear about something new, or be reminded of something you've forgotten (so Siri and Alexa wouldn't be much help)?

We've known for around 200 years that replacing a means of production with a cheaper one generally makes us all wealthier, even if it means there are short term losers. (I'm probably bastardising Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage here which was more about trade than efficiency, but bear with me). So if driverless technology meant there were 2 million unemployed drivers in the USA - so a few hundred thousand here in the UK - everybody should be paying less for all transported food and goods, making society wealthier. In this view, all those jobs that would be displaced by a new wave of automation represent an opportunity cost, a cost which could be saved and re-allocated in a very different future where personal services such as health and care are not so restricted in terms of what can be done. There would be no need for anybody to work 60 or 80 hours a week and the demand for leisure services would boom.

It wouldn't all happen overnight - this will be the mother of all transitions, not Brexit! - and governments will need to make sure that markets operated to make enough of the benefits accrue in reduced prices and did not all disappear in untaxed profits. Bill Gates offered an answer for this part of the problem a few months ago - as the exchequer's take from employment taxes (the equivalent of our National Insurance) will be hit by a large expansion in robotics, then governments will just have to tax the use of robots by companies. Bill said "robots" but really it may have to be "software" - sorry Bill - or the definition of what a robot is would have to be broad. I suspect if we want to define a robot, while we might start with the old Isaac Asimov books - good though they were - we might have to think rather more broadly. This should keep an absolute army of legal draughtsmen in clover for ages.

If full employment became a thing of the past, society might have to function through a living wage tax credit type of arrangement. I know this all sounds both rose-tinted and Brownite, if not Corbynite-communistic compared with my normal rather dry economic view. And David Smith, writing in the SundayTimes (5 February 2017) pointed out that studies have shown introduction of such a system would currently double the cost of the welfare state (this was actually a study in Austria) while also reducing benefits for people in real need, to pay for the cost of benefits to everyone. But, just as our grandparents could not anticipate how jobs in heavy industries would be replaced by jobs that did not exist then, the future will undoubtedly be different in ways most of us can't anticipate. Indeed, I don't rule out the inventiveness of the market system creating opportunities for full employment in the future, whether or not some employment takes the form of community service in return for what is currently viewed as "benefits". I know this is politically fraught (should you "earn" benefits or are they a "right") but in a positive world most people would willingly do worthwhile things to keep themselves active and stimulated. Everywhere you look you can see things that society would benefit from if it could be paid for or if volunteers would do it for free. (I know, when people try the health and safety elfs block them. But there must be an answer....)

I realise this analysis is significantly flawed by lack of quantification but I refuse to be drawn into what I think of as a "mother in law" view of the future, rather than one where things, broadly and with major bumps on the road, continue on a generally improving trend, at least over the timescales that are relevant to us and our children. After all, unless we let ISIS or Kim Jong Un take over the world, why wouldn't it?

Beyond that, eventually the world heats up and burns, either relatively quickly (global warming) or in the very, very long run, as the earth gets incinerated by the sun evolving into a red dwarf. So in the long run, as John Maynard Keynes said and my mother-in-law instinctively knew, we're all dead. But there's plenty of meantime for us to make hay and enjoy what life has to offer.

I started drafting this post about a year ago, prompted by the first flush of publicity on Google's driverless cars. I have kept returning to it to tweak it and add extra quotes, like the Bill Gates robot tax. And over that time many commentators have picked up aspects of these issues, like the extent of jobs at risk, living wage type benefits, etc. Not that I'm claiming to have got there first by any means. Indeed, none of todays commentators can claim that. For it was Keynes who predicted, in 1928, that rapid technological progress over the next century would afflict with us with a new disease, which he called "technological unemployment". He saw this as a temporary phase, creating wealth and leisure and enabling us to "prefer the good to the useful". I read that quote last weekend in Irwin Stelzer's Sunday Times column and it prompted me to attempt to bring this rambling essay together. It neatly summarises what I've been mulling over for months.

I'm with Keynes rather than the mother in law. It's a shame I can't sensibly attempt to debate it with her.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Todays dose of poiltical non-correctness

I read that what was still being called the "Manchester Guardian" when I was a youngster (it changed its title in 1959 and moved its editorial functions to London in 1964) might be moving back to Manchester to save money. I expect that will be a bit of a shock to some of its writers, even though they should be able to find essentials like hummus and polenta if they look hard enough. I'm deliberately using stereotypes here, because The Guardian has become the fount of so much political correctness which is one of the reasons I find it so indigestible. Forget Brexit: I don't think the metropolitan elites remotely realise how much this stuff gets the goat of us old fogeys.

One such recent intrusion into my consciousness, for which I should probably blame students rather than Guardianistas, is "Cultural Appropriation", the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation is sometimes portrayed as harmful and even claimed to be a violation of the intellectual property rights of the originating culture, for which I suppose it should be called cultural misappropriation. As if a culture can have IP rights.

Little did any of us realise that this is what Joe Strummer and The Clash were doing with songs like Police and Thieves and  Armagideon Time  nearly 40 years ago. Or UB40 come to that. And, in the decade before that, the Rolling Stones with Chuck Berry. In the 60s my teenage ears couldn't, or wouldn't, hear much similarity. But the BBC showed a newsreel clip of Berry when he died which was startlingly obviously where Richards got his guitar playing style from and Jagger his singing.

Anyway, we've been having lots of deliveries to our house lately. One such was brought by two men who were very pleasant, if not the best of drivers, executing an eleven point turn on the drive rather than reversing straight in or out, as most experienced van drivers do.  One was wearing a splendid rasta type wooly hat. I've often admired those rasta colours and nearly bought something like it when we were on holiday in the Caribbean a few years ago. Just as well I didn't, as now that sort of behaviour has apparently become an example of cultural appropriation and, if this isn't a pejorative phrase, beyond the pale. Or at least beyond what pale skinned folk should properly do. OK, but if that's how you want it, next time I see a West Indian man in a suit I might just accuse him of cultural appropriation. Or maybe it would have to be a knotted hanky.....

Which reminds me that the company I last worked for had an extensive policy on discrimination. The list of reasons for not discriminating grew every year. I used to joke that the policy (which, quite properly, explicitly mentioned not discriminating on grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc etc) blatantly allowed discrimination against ginger haired scousers, to which the HR director would jokingly reply "that should be compulsory". My constructive suggestion was that instead of the ever lengthening list - I don't know if it now includes the infamous list of lord knows how many sexual identities - the policy should have said that the company only discriminated on grounds of ability to do the job. Which would deliberately rule out positive discrimination, even though I indulged in it myself on occasion, giving the female of fairly equal candidates preference because we didn't have many women in engineering roles, for example. But it seems to me that the only group that now can be discriminated against legally is old, white Christian males. Or have I got a persecution complex?

I'm beginning to understand why the old feel they are strangers in their own land. A bit like some of the Guardian editorial staff will feel when they get out and about in Manchester, I'll venture.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it

Watching some of Crystal Palace 3 Arse-nil the other evening and catching some of Jamie Carragher's analysis after the game was interesting, but there was a pair of statistics that particularly caught my eye: possession - Palace 28% Arsenil 72%; touches in opposition penalty area Palace 32, Arsenil 30. Wow. Palace had more touches in their opponents box with 40% less of the ball. Which just goes to show that it's what you do with it that counts.

Carra was scathing - indeed almost despairing - about Arsenil's defending. He showed clips of Bellerin and Mustafi making very weak challenges on Benteke, who Wenger noted later "was up for it today". Benteke has a reputation for only being up for it on some days, but you really shouldn't rely on your opponents feeling as if they can't be Arsed. Carra also noted that, when you are faced with a strong, particularly if large, centre forward, it's essential for the midfielders to protect their centre backs by making it hard for the opposing team to hit the target man on his head, chest or on the deck by positioning themselves in between the opposing centre forward and the ball and challenging strongly. He said this was stuff that "any schoolboy knows". Maybe they do now, but I certainly learned it quickly when I started playing centre back in my mid 20s in the mid 70s. I can vividly remember screaming at my midfielders to "get in front" of the centre forward at restarts - throw ins, corners and when the opposing goalkeeper was kicking long, as led to Palace's first goal this week. If he was a gorilla compared with my rather slim line figure for a centre back, it's then even more important to challenge strongly and be ready to pick up the second ball. Like Carra I thought everybody who plays football knew that. But not Wenger, who subscribes to the Barcelona school of thought that, if we are better than our opponents and play the game we want, we will always win. Except even Barcelona don't believe that.

No doubt I'll have to eat my words, but I'm looking forward to the 6th place decider on the last day of the Premier League season: Arsenal v Everton at the Emirates. Everton don't have a good record there, but this is a team there for the taking. Mind, their best player, Alexis Sanchez, who looked on Monday as if he couldn't wait to get away, will probably want to sign off in style before moving in the summer, so we'd better be awake.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Tweety Bird triumphs

Like many, I was delighted that, at his 74th attempt, Sergio Garcia at last won a major golf title, the Masters, on Sunday. Like many, I didn't think he would win one, including Garcia himself. At least the Garcia of 2012 who told reporters* after his collapse at that year's Masters that he would never win a major: "I'm not good enough. I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for 2nd or 3rd place..... I had my chances and wasted them".

Which might have seemed overly negative, or even reverse psychology on himself. After all, Garcia had been a runner up 4 times, 3 of them near misses. In recent times Garcia, while a lion in the Ryder Cup, always seemed to lack belief in himself and, crucially, in his putting stroke. I must admit I feared for him on the Augusta back nine on Sunday, as Justin Rose cranked up the pressure with a nerveless performance. But Garcia showed bottle to hang in there as he fell 2 shots behind, in particular salvaging a par on the 13th with a good putt after hitting his ball into the trees and taking a penalty drop. Rose flinched for the first time, missing his birdie putt and what could have been a 4 shot lead stayed at two. When Garcia birdied the 14th and then eagled the 15th to draw level it was clear we had a game on. My heart sank when, after both men hit good tee shots on the par 3 16th, Rose holed out and Garcia missed his birdie putt. This would have crushed the Garcia of a few years ago. But Garcia showed a mental toughness I didn't think he had, at least when not playing in the team version of golf. It was Rose's turn to flinch as he missed a gettable putt on 17 and they were level again. Rose didn't capitalise as his approach shot took a fortunate bounce on 18 leaving Garcia with a putt to win. Again I feared for him when he missed and they headed into the play off. But again it was Rose who flinched, hitting a poor tee shot and opening the way for Sergio. As we always knew he could, given two putts from 15 feet or so to win, Sergio only needed one.

No-one thought it would take this long when Garcia burst on the scene in 1999, a couple of years after Tiger Woods. There's a memorable clip of a youthful Garcia hitting a blind shot out of trouble in one of that year's big events in a manner reminiscent of Seve Ballesteros and running out to see where the ball had gone. It seemed a given that Garcia and Woods would compete head to head on fairly level terms over many years. Instead they competed on tetchy terms as Woods piled up one of history's greatest tally of wins, 2nd only to Nicklaus in Majors and Sam Snead on the PGA tour. Garcia won often enough in tour events but it didn't look like happening in the majors. Meanwhile, Woods took exception to Garcia's glare in 1999 and over-exhuberant celebration at an event in 2000. He upped the ante in 2006 when they were paired in the final group at the Open at Royal Liverpool. While Woods was in his standard last day red shirt, Garcia was somewhat eccentrically dressed in yellow. After Woods had won, Garcia recording a weak final round, he reportedly said to friends "I just bludgeoned Tweety Bird". It made me smirk at the time, but it was another unfortunate example of Tiger Woods's almost total lack of anything akin to sportsmanship. They sniped at each other through May 2013, until Garcia, asked how he would react to Woods during the US Open, said: "We will have him around every night. We will serve fried chicken." This inevitably came across as racist and Garcia had to apologise, though for me this was in no worse taste than Woods's tweety bird comment. The full history of their spat is recorded in many places. **

It is perhaps no surprise that Garcia's redemption - and popular it was too with the Augusta patrons - came about once Woods was off the scene. But it also seems likely that Garcia's relationship with his fiancée has been crucial. She seems to have brought him inner peace, which might not be needed for success in many sports, but certainly seems to help in golf.

For me the moral of this story was stop wanting it so much and, if you are good enough, it will probably just happen. In the final round at Augusta Garcia seemed to have the inner calm of a man who wanted to win but who could bear to lose, who could treat triumph and failure as imposters and live with himself either way.

And, with the truly sportsmanlike reaction of Justin Rose, who badly wanted to win and was visibly crestfallen in defeat but warmly congratulated Garcia, this gladiatorial battle was a superb advert for golf as well as riveting television.

But I haven't read whether Woods has sent congratulations to Tweety Bird.


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Despite his fall, will Dustin win the Masters?

The Masters starts today and long standing readers will know that, before he went on his run of form taking him to his first Major and world no 1 ranking, I had a hang up about Dustin Johnson's putting. My hang up was that Dustin had a hang up. When I checked his stats just before last year's Masters they revealed his overall average for putts per round ranked very highly - 7th. And he was amongst the best putters on day 1 of a competition, ranked 3rd. But he slipped to ok on day 2 (46th), much the same on day 3 (51st) and relatively poor on day 4 (142nd). Which explained why he didn't win as often as his game seemed to merit.

This time last year Dustin was carrying the load of the current "best player never to win a major", once held by Colin Montgomerie. Monty finished runner up 5 times, famously being prematurely congratulated by Jack Nicklaus "on your first US Open win" at Pebble Beach in 1992, only for Tom Kite, still out on the course, to post the winning score. And most painfully, late in his career at Winged Foot in the 2006 US Open, where he stood for ages over his ball in the middle of the 18th fairway as joint leader with Phil Mickelson and with Mickelson's ball in trouble. In pole position to win, when the green was finally clear he suddenly changed his mind about the club, switching from a six iron to a seven to allow for the effect of adrenaline and then promptly hitting his ball short into tricky rough wide of the green. And with that his final chance slipped away.

Dustin also had his travails, being penalised in the USPGA at Whistling Straits in 2010 for grounding his club in what he hadn't realised was a small shallow bunker, trodden flat by spectators, when he was otherwise on his way to a 3 way play off with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.  And he had a putt to possibly win the US Open at Chambers Bay in 2015 but attacked it, missing the one on the way back as well and so missing out on a play off with Jordan Spieth. True to the pattern of his putting stats, Dustin lead the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews but had two poor rounds of 75 at the weekend to fall out of contention. That looked as if it would be the prevailing pattern for him.

Johnson's other travails included taking the second half of the 2014 season off to recover from partying too much, or "seek professional help for personal challenges" as it was actually put. Golf Magazine reported he'd tested positive for cocaine, saying it was his third positive test after tests for cannabis in 2009 and cocaine in 2012, but the PGA tour denied he had taken a positive test and said he was on leave of absence and not suspended. I have no particular problem with these recreational drugs which I can't believe would help his game. However, since then he is affectionately known as "cokehead" in our house in order for my wife to be clear precisely which American golfer we are talking about.

Be that as it may, Johnson came back from his break in much the same vein of form as before his break. But last summer something clicked and he's been on a great run of form, winning his first major, the US Open, in June. Though even that was after more controversy, with him being penalised one shot during the final round for his ball moving after he had addressed it on the 5th green. In one of those arcane golf situations, Johnson claimed he hadn't addressed the ball and his playing partners agreed with him. No-one was suggesting that he made the ball move or attempted to gain an advantage and the incident rumbled through the rest of his round, with the PGA deciding to penalise him probably once it was clear he was going to win anyway, which he did by 3 strokes.

Since then Johnson has made history by winning the WGC Matchplay championship, becoming the first player ever, including Tiger Woods, to have won all four of the annual WGC events. He has won his last 3 events in a row, which has taken him to the world number one ranking. And by winning a tour event in February this year he became the only the fourth player to win at least once in his first 10 years on the tour, the others being Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods. Mind, after 10 years on tour, Palmer had seven majors, Nicklaus nine and Woods twelve.

So what shape is Dustin's game in going into the Masters? Well, out of 238 players, he's ranked 2nd off the tee and 1st tee to green - no great surprise there, they are the strengths of his game. He's 10th on approaches to the green, which I'd wager is a big improvement - he has apparently worked hard on his wedge play. But his putting? Year to date, over 6 tournaments, he seems to have addressed his problem of deterioration through a tournament as he's now ranked 120th for the first round and then 201st, 16th and 199th in the following three. So he seems to have fixed it by "dumbing down" as it were, though putts per round is a blunt measure and on the Strokes Gained stat (which compares his performance to the average for all players in a tournament) he ranks quite highly at 29th. So he's in great shape.

Mind, I've never envied Dustin's putting, though I was heard to say 3 years ago while at the Open at Hoylake that if I could have the swing of any current professional player, it would be Dustin's. I've always admired and envied his almost languid and apparently effortless swing, which is remarkably long and straight off the tee. And like Dustin, I've also had to take a break from golf for medical reasons, though in my case a bad back. After 3 months out I've played 6 holes and then another 9 trying it out. The back is still a bit dodgy but the surprising thing was my game - 6 shots  better than my handicap and no dropped shots at all in 15 holes, without any practice, which I thought would put more strain on the back than playing. I have attributed the reason to having an "empty mind", which I've read is essential for good golf. In particular, no traumas from missed putts or bad shots on particular holes in recent times to stew over and no expectations of playing any holes well or badly. But, while I envy Dustin his golf swing, I don't envy his brain because, pleasant bloke though he is, anyone who has seen one of his interviews will know that Dustin, bless him, has a fairly empty mind. Not only that, he managed to fall down the stairs in his rented house last night and is on medication (anti-inflammatories rather than suspect painkillers one hopes) and ice before the first round. But I hope he does well at Augusta, even if I'm shouting for the record contingent of English golfers this year at Augusta.

Post script: Dustin had to pull out with his back injury. That's the problem with the "empty mind" approach, you see - you can generally allow the subconscious part of your brain, that does after all control your motor functions without you having to think about it, to walk you down the stairs or putt the golf ball. But sometimes you fall over or miss and then you start to think......

Saturday, 1 April 2017

And so it begins....(and it ain't all black)

So we have invoked Article 50 and the yapping has begun - or at least the rather depressing opening salvos to soften each side up before the negotiation, which rather reminded me of the old football saying about "getting your retaliation in first". And it's going to carry on for some time...

An interesting member of the public phoned in to Tony Livesey's show on Radio 5 Live a few days ago. It turned out he had been one of the negotiators when we joined the EEC (as it then was) in the 1970s. He recalled how the Brussels machine had removed lots of things that had been agreed in negotiation from the first full draft of the agreement, which reminded me of similar experiences with the purchasing functions of a number of large bureaucratic companies. You could never trust that what had been agreed was in the document presented for signature without having every page checked. Just like Brussels they had a habit of pasting back in their standard terms. He warned that the negotiation will be long, hard and complex. The only thing I took issue with was his statement that nobody seemed to have foreseen this - sorry, mate, I never thought this would be easy (see my blogs from last May and June). I'm sure this will be one of those two steps forward and three back negotiations, with backsliding and reneging more common than mutual self interest.

However, I am encouraged at what seems to be the increasing number of people in business and commerce who are openly looking forward to the future and see it as positive. One example is James Dyson, of the ubiquitous but heavy vacuum cleaners and airblade hand dryers that blast you into next week. He says it is in both parties interests to reach a deal. Well, yes in principle, but the EU isn't like that because the integrity of their project matters more to them than the well being of their people. As I've said before, you can't negotiate with a psychopath who doesn't mind a fair bit of self harm. There will be times when our negotiators will be pulling their hair out with frustration. And Livesey's guest only had 6 other countries to deal with, not 27.

Despite all that, all the signs are that the overwhelming majority of Brits just want the deed done. Even the institutionally biased BBC (it's not just me saying that lately, I note) has admitted that only one third of the electorate wants to remain in the EU, with a third wanting to leave and the other third just wanting to get the deed done. So a 2 to 1 majority want to get on with it and leave.

The other thing that I saw the first sight of this week was the start of this year's display of blackthorn in bloom, which readers will know lifts my heart for the spring and summer ahead (see post of 14 April 2016, particularly if you want to be able to tell the difference between blackthorn and hawthorn. Quick reminder - if it's got creamy blossom but no leaves right now it's blackthorn, if it's got fresh lime green leaves and no blossom now it's hawthorn).

Both of these dramas will rumble on, but I think I will enjoy the year in bloom more than the year in gloom.