All posts for the month January, 2013

Sorry folks. The site has started running very slowly – 4 seconds to load?

Something to do with memory cacheing and the database size (growing over 12 years). I have a dedicated VPS with 800Meg allocated RAM running this baby, though it barely ever reaches 0.5 CPU capacity. Guess I need to optimise the cacheing somewhere?

Where there’s ALF & Hope (Akpan) there’s a way. Fair bit of  rhetoric (standard memes) about skills, spirit, youth, experience & character too, but it’s telling that Brian says

“We sign the person first.”

And I think he means it, judging by the other relationships in the club. Some mad results for Reading FC recently. ALF’s late goals as substitute striker (1, 2 & 2) giving us points in three important games recently, despite him failing to score in the cup game where we scored 4 and he was on the pitch the whole 90 minutes.

Particularly mad yesterday where ALF came on in 66th minute and scored in 87th and 94th, both assisted by Hope Akpan, and both scored by single-touch volley / half-volleys, and the ONLY two touches he had in the whole game, a game in which  we barely even got into their final third, let alone a single shot on or off target until then.

BHA have an “Are you a humanist” quiz doing the rounds at the moment. I scored 80% incidentally but I had to be playfully creative with the actual responses to get through it since there were too many questions (including the first one) where my answer was none-of-the-above.

I’ve been a humanist since before the BHA existed, and it makes a mockery of humanism to reduce it to a caricature of scientistic arrogance.

I’m a big fan of George, not least because a party called Respect names the right virtue for a complicated life, and politics is as complicated as it gets. And, being a small independent, you can be fairly sure George is genuinely true to his expressed principles. Trust and respect – a great combination.

Much twittering around the personally dismissive straw-man Dave threw back at George in response to his PMQ – about hypocrisy in which Islamic regimes we support and which we don’t. Now (see complicated, above) there is always a level of “hypocrisy” between actions and justifying reasons, and even with open debate before the Mali action, I doubt the outcome of supporting the French in Saharan Africa would have been different. Even with principles, in practice you always need to choose your battle-grounds, fighting where you might expect a positive result, pulling punches where …. life’s complicated.

George is a first class rhetorician, and an ace orator in steadily enunciating his whole question amid the house heckling, and ultimately in resisting the impulse to react to the personal insult he received for his troubles. In fact you might say he’s too good; hoist by his own petard even. His own use of rhetoric, right from the off with the euphemistic “adumbrate”, followed by a string of emotive venom-loaded barbs within the basic question, meant the undoubted moral high-ground in the question, is largely eroded by the time we get to its end. In essence:

“Could the PM explain why his government chooses to support Regime X but not Regime Y?”

The PM is maybe entitled to respond to the rhetorical barbs, but he is not entitled to introduce a straw-man of George’s controversial personal history, nor is he entitled to use it as a deflector to avoid the actual question. Too many barbs let Dave off the hook. (Anyway – the follow-up is in writing.)

But of course the question was not framed to elicit an answer, it was framed as a sound bite to raise the debate in public. Too good ? Very good. Dave and George both knew it full well. It’s a tough high-stakes game, a rhetorical arms-race. Another case of “the medium is the message” when the medium is George – quite clear from the moment Bercow introduces George to speak.

[Post Note: Here in intelligent debate with Andrew Neil – very impressive. A side issue, but given my rhetorical comments above, interesting that Neil opens with the question of his PMQ leaving him open to the attack.]

I am to Brian Cox as Stephen Hawking is to Schrödinger’s cat:

“When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat, I reach for my gun”

The worst possible face of popular science imaginable. (Closely followed by – I am to popular news items about the Higg’s Boson as Hawking is …. but that’s last years “news”.)

Amazingly candid and positive comments from Dave Kitson, talking about the pain of relegation with Reading FC:

“You are responsible for people losing their jobs and you are coming into training in your nice car and you see people carrying boxes of their possessions out. You just think, ‘I did that, that’s my fault’. It has affected me to this day and I nearly lost everything over what happened there.”

“They’re my team and they’re the team I take my son to watch; I always have a chat with [Reading boss] Brian McDermott after their games, whatever the result, He was the one who convinced Steve Coppell to take a chance on me and I can never thank him enough for that. I really hope he can keep them on their current run and they can survive.”

Funny after (appearing to be one of those) holding out for unreasonable financial reward following the demise of Pompey, but as he says in the article he nearly lost everything. I remember Dave Kitson standing out at Cambridge against Reading before we bought him. He was never going to be “top-flight” Premiership quality, but fondly remembered after that oh-so-nearly era of Butler, Cureton and Forster.

Dan Pink’s “Drive” caught on as a best seller in the last couple of years in promoting the concept of “Motivation 3.0”. Of course, the terminology catches the fashion of the internet generation, and good luck if the brief readable book, with its “Toolkit” of ideas does lead to more management catching on in more organizations. (Hat tip to Robin for bringing up Pink’s Drive in a business call.)

Some may resist its obviously “faddish” looks, and some will be attracted precisely by that latest-fashion aspect, but like all good messages, there is nothing new under the sun. Absolutely nothing, and that’s why you can tell it’s good, despite the tag line “the surprising truth” – nothing could be less surprising, even though it opposes “received wisdom”. The core idea is very simple, far from rocket science, and not difficult to implement providing one overcomes the fear of letting go.

In a word – Autonomy.

People perform better if given a reasonable degree of autonomy. The hard bit is working out for your own particular case how much is reasonable, but even then, Pareto’s 80:20 rule of thumb says, anything less that 20% autonomy ought to be considered suspect, 32% autonomy a normal case, and 80% autonomy about as good as it gets. Go figure. No need to read on if that’s self-evident already.

Anyway, between then (F.W.Taylor and Abraham Maslow say) and now (Dan Pink say) there have been a thousand management gurus plying their trade in the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st. Each standing on the shoulders of giants, though as I often point out, in order to do that, you have to recognize the giant. Even the original Psybertron agenda (About >> Agenda) includes recovering from the status quo where “management mistook itself for a science” – a thinly veiled allusion to the errors of Taylorism. Very old news. (Gurus that spring to mind, all referenced in this blog, include; Taylor, Maslow, MacGregor, Ouchi,  Argyris, Parker-Follett, Drucker, Handy, Peters, Godin, Gladwell, Ariely, Pink to name but a few, and not to mention the myriad of empirical anthropologists, behavioural-psychologists, scientists and philosophers of mind on whose research they depend. You no doubt have your own favourites.)

If we go back to Maslow, we can superimpose quite easily the evolving story that management gurus are trying to communicate to us. In fact he has been much maligned and, as I already blogged, there is a significant movement to rehabilitate Maslow in the “positive psychology” school.


Naturally, the first three levels of Maslow, are pretty much accepted as basic human rights anywhere in the developed and developing world, so they quite rightly look antiquated as motivators these days. They remain important of course, if you understand the hygiene rule. And like all generalizations, exactly what motivates / demotivates in each band varies by individual and circumstance; any general rules implied are “for the guidance of wise men and the enslavement of fools“. And, as Theodore Zeldin reminds us we all have limits to our own competencies whatever our motivation. In the modern “professional” world most people find themselves somewhere through Motivation2.0, with diminishing returns on, even seemingly-perverse negative responses to, extrinsic rewards as motivators. As Pink highlights, we’ve been struggling with variations of Motivation2.x (ref any number of management gurus) on our way to recognising Motivation3.0 for what it is.

The other main thrust of Drive is Engagement.

Once properly motivated and empowered (yeuch!) by autonomy, the point is that people can properly engage with tasks, achieving a sweet-spot in performance. Zen and the Art … of doing what you do well … Optimisation is achieved when the task and the person effectively become one – there are no extraneous distinctions between the task and the person – what a radical empiricist / monist like James or Pirsig might call “dynamic quality” – or kinetic quality, relationalism, inclusionality, you name it – what has become dubbed “flow” these days.

And finally for now, this is all closely tied to the movement that suggests we all recognize the difference between our life’s work and our day job. Or to express that the other way around, the closer our day job – the one that pays the bills – comes to our life’s work – that which we find intrinsically valuable to our purpose and meaning in the world – the better for all of us.

[Post Notes:

Oh look, the following day Dilbert is on topic too:

And recently, Gaping Void’s Message for the Next Generation.

Further Reading ?

If any of this looks  new or unbelievable to you,
or you can’t imagine how you would apply it in real life,
then read Dan Pink’s Drive, it’s an easy read with practical advice.
Or if you prefer, start with this video animation.

Pink has his own list of further reading, so I won’t put a spoiler here;
suffice to say Peter Drucker is amongst them.
In this up to date context, Drucker is interesting and impressive;
generally recognized as having been the guru of management gurus,
he himself acknowledged his own debt to Mary Parker-Follett.
(Drucker and Parker-Follett jumping off points already linked above.)

If you want some deeper background on the psychology,
or more generally on “how the mind works” in these contexts,
my recent favourites are Haidt, Kahneman, Kauffman and McGilchrist.
Not to mention recognizing the “flow” in the “peak experiences” writings of
James and Dewey, much-used by much-maligned Maslow.]

[Post Note : An interesting corrective on real autonomy and empowerment. It’s bottom up you dummy.]

OK, so since I tend to use the sins of Chelski as moral parables, I should restore the balance with this one.

Chelski’s Hazard did NOT kick the Swansea ball boy. He tried to get the ball from him and eventually kicked it out from under him. He shouldn’t have done that, he should no doubt have drawn attention to the officials that he had tried and the ball-boy was resisting. Fortunately the red-card seems to be the end of any “punishment”, but I’d say that was harsh if probably the letter of the law applied by the official for “excessive force”. He and Chelski seem to have taken their punishment on the chin, and responded appropriately.

The ball-“boy”, on the other hand, should be shot, along with his “coach”. Or made a public example, if the death penalty isn’t an option. Disgraceful behaviour by a 17-year-old, no doubt a football apprentice, as old as some in the professional game these days, rolling about like a true-pro actor for the cameras, no doubt doing as instructed by his coach – to waste time on behalf of his team and interfere with an opponent trying to get on with the game. Correct me if I’m wrong about the young man, his club and his coach, but … jeez … Swansea too, who had seemed model professionals on the pitch. This stuff should be stamped out of the game hard.

[Post Note – Oh yes, look, it was indeed pre-meditated:
I wasn’t wrong about the “boy”. Called in because he was needed for time-wasting.

Harry Rednapp – “He [Eden Hazard] kicked the ball from underneath him and the whole thing got blown out of proportion. You only have to see that he was tweeting before the game that he [the ball boy] was a super timewaster, I think it was disgusting the way he behaved.”

Heads must roll at Swansea. ]

[Post Post Note – Oh and the FA is planning further punishment of Hazard- shame – hopefully a matter of formality for an off-the-pitch action – this is a million miles from the Cantona precedent. Pretty weak wording – no doubt because these are issues for the competitions, beyond the FA’s jurisdiction – also saying the ball-boy’s action was “inappropriate” and clubs should control this. And finally – for Hazard – the buck stops there. Phew!]

[PS Unconnected but related, re Robbie Savage’s rant on 606 last weekend about justifying the “professional foul” – taking one for the team – I already addressed a few of years ago with John Terry’s cynical mis-calculation – game-changing rules change. That’s why we have judges in court a referees on the pitch to notice the game-changers and have the courage to apply them. Any idiot can apply the existing explicit rule – rules, remember, are for the guidance of wise men, and enslavement of fools.]

Interesting “In Our Time” this morning. Subject is Romulus and Remus, but already majoring on the recurring myths aspect. Interesting in itself.

Most interesting the argument about the original “creation” of the myth. I agree with those arguing against Peter Wiseman; there is no actual point when a particular story is created or first told. Evolution only throws up new “species” with hindsight, and the hindsight is a choice to attach the label to the recurring pattern. There is no point when all elements are “brought” together for the first time. (Even in biology, this speciation has arbitrary choice elements.)

Intriguing – just another “creation vs evolution” meta-myth of myths.

How long before Herring are the next “eat only occasionally” protected species ? I eat a lot of Herring; pickled, a habit picked-up in Norway, and kippers, a habit rekindled by returning to home not far from Whitby.

Mackerel have certainly dwindled in both size and abundance in my own experience. Back in the 60’s and 70’s you could hardly fail to catch 2 and 3 pounders from piers on the North Sea coast in the summer, these days you need to be out in a boat to get into a shoal of 0.5 to 1.5 pounders. Certainly always notice that those on the fishmonger’s ice are tiny compared to those we used to catch. Herring were never a  rod-caught fish of course, but size-wise they still look like they always did. The Mackerel article recommends we eat Herring instead.

Good to remember why the EU came about, when politicians of all colours use the rhetoric “yes, but always with UK national interest paramount”. I beg to differ – human interest paramount, with UK and Europe as useful constituencies to organize ourselves towards that end, and with the planet and the cosmos as wider constituencies and Scotland, Yorkshire, “my culture”, “my team” whatever as smaller ones. None is “paramount” wrt the others.

An underused word (like the word “grace”). Nice piece from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void (hat tip to tweet from Dave Gurteen). Message to the next generation to notice the difference between a life’s work and a career in a day job. In this case, based on the advertising business, but good for bringing in this Joe Campbell quote too:

“Follow your bliss.
Find where it is,
and don’t be afraid to follow it.”

Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth

A common message from the wise to those starting out. Here my favourite plea from Richard Russo in his 2004 commencement address.

“While you search for this work, you’ll need a job. [It’s] a fine thing to be good at your job, as long as you don’t confuse it with your work, which it’s hard not to do.”


Last episode of Melvyn Bragg’s “The Value of Culture” today.

Hooray for Tiffany Jenkins – no matter how wide you include all human activity in your culture / Culture definitions and how those activities are distributed “tribally” in your definition, we must not dodge the question of quality – there is a hierarchy of value – high / mass / pop / local / general / received / traditional / radical / whatever – in terms of the content and processes of culture and in terms of experts / elites / cliques. None of which boxes fixed definitions into fixed constituencies; communication / education / evolution happens and it happens at the boundaries of those constituencies, therefore many smaller “ponds” is an advantage.

Yes the definition is broad, but the spectrum of value is real across many dimensions. To pretend “anything goes” on some artificially equal footing is pure cultural relativism.

The integration of science into culture – a third culture – has happened for sure, but a value-free science does not make culture value-free. (Not that science itself is value-free …)

There are things that science can’t explain, or that can be truly explained “better” by other forms of culture …. Shakespeare / Austen are better psychologists than Freud say, better moral philosophers than Kant say.

Cultural evolution may be Darwinian, sure, but it’s also Lamarkian and can be (must be) directed to greater value and quality in the current generation, with the learnings of previous generations – our moral responsibility.

philip-pullman-500-160 copy

Experts are not perfect, but they are essential; wisdom is essential. We need to manage our memes, using our better memes, not simply let them run riot on social media.

And more : A narrow economic definition of “Utility” is not the sole measure of quality and value – far from it, etc …

Interesting these days, that a £250m airport gets precedent over a £10m internet cable connection?

Mind you, if they’re getting £20m per year anyway, surely they could use their own discretion to prioritise £10m over a year or two ?

[Post Note : Just an observation; quite a few programmes on railways these days – interesting in how many it’s the communication of ideas and opportunities that seems to come out on top, over the physical movement of people and goods, as the main life-changing consequences.]

Spiritual but not religious” is a meme of a joke these days, because (as this BBC Magazine piece shows) the term spiritual can cover a multitude of new-agey sins. Interestingly the list of “spiritual” books includes Pirsig’s 5m-selling ZMM, but none of the books are actually mentioned in the piece. Instead we get interview quotes from the like of Copson and Baggini:

Humanists [I’m one] are deadlocked over the issue of the “spiritual” category. Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, accepts that:

For many people it’s a shorthand for saying “there must be more to life than this”. Its vagueness is unhelpful. It can be used for everything from the full Catholic mass to whale songs, crystals, angels and fairies. As a humanist I prefer to avoid spirituality. Humanism is about the belief that human beings find value in the here and now rather than in something above and beyond. People have social instincts and as a humanist it’s about reinforcing those instincts.

His “preferring” to avoid it is on exactly the same level as some “yearning” for it. Real vagueness as to what more is, is best met with acceptance for what it is, not with wishful thinking. But that vague more is still here and now. Everywhere and always, for a humanist who believes there is more value to the human spirit in the cosmos than can be usefully rationalised or “explained” in classical empirical scientistic terms. That’s spirituality. It may “transcend” the simplistic, reductionist scientistic, but it’s not a different place and time, just harder for our real, here and now, “social instincts” to access confidently through these science-memetic filters of our times.

Looking for those alternative explanations can be lead down some whacky and dubious (and worse) avenues for sure (just ask Mystic Bourgeoisie / Kat Herding). Religious tradition is one such avenue, but “New-Age++” fashions come and go.

Philosopher Julian Baggini writes in The Shrink & the Sage:

The search for meaning can be exhausting. There is a yearning for something more. My short reply is that you can yearn for higher as much as you like, but what you’re yearning for ain’t there. But the desire won’t go away.”

Author Mark Vernon says:

That doesn’t make [the desire] a bad thing, but it may lead to awkward questions. And that may explain why the research finds that spiritual people have more mental health problems. You’re going on an interior mental journey. It’s risky to go and try and see things from a bigger perspective. The promise is tremendous but the journey can be very painful.

It’s there all right – it’s “the Buddha in the machine, and the machine is you”. The problem is the “yearning” and, perversely, the more the world around us says it’s not there, the more problematic becomes that yearning. The risk of mental illness is a common angle and recurring outcome [and a topic of this blog] of the “effort to outflank the entire body of [received wisdom of] western civilisation”. But that’s a feature of the science-meme’s response to the yearning, not a problem with the underlying desire to find answers to awkward questions. There but for grace … go we all … unless we can trust and live for today with the easy [highest value] pragmatic answers.

Science is as good a religious traditional source of “easy” answers as any, providing its practitioners don’t become so arrogant as to believe it’s the one true path to privileged value, and learn to live with those who don’t. Personally, I choose humanism.

(PS by easy scientific answers – I’m not of course trivialising the effort, difficulty and value of science, just suggesting that vague answers, where certainly & uncertainty have not been objectified, are harder for the scientistic to accept. Simply not liking vagueness – on your own terms – is no response to its existence.)

(PPS Of course this week’s “Value of Culture” series by Melvyn Bragg is addressing exactly this debate about whether different “cultural” outlooks – a la CP Snow / Matthew Arnold etc. – have some hierarchical advantages of value over others.)