All posts for the month February, 2013

A coming together of BHA and Baroness Warsi.

Warsi [said] that while genuine, hateful religious intolerance should be confronted [and] incitement to religious hatred remains an offence in Britain, a blasphemy law once on our statute book was abolished in 2008 – in part because […] it was incompatible with the freedom of speech.

Copson […] said […] “Mere criticism of religion – even though it may always be perceived as offensive or blasphemous by some religious groups and individuals – cannot be automatically prohibited as hateful. Rather, the expression of humanist ideas, atheist and critical ideas per se must be protected.”

Warsi has previously been criticised by humanists and secularists in the UK for endorsing a greater role for Christian and other religious groups in national policy, and describing some forms of secularism as “intolerant and illiberal”. “Freedom of religion or belief applies equally to humanists, atheists and other non-religious people […] emphasis on religion or belief as – in her words – a universal right for all, rather than as a privilege for a majority religion in any given country.

Some forms of secularism are indeed intolerant and illiberal, so the real topic here is balanced freedom of expression. My one point to add here is this – it is criticism per se that is protected as a universal right, not  a right to offend. No offence, but …. has to be seen to be meant sincerely by mutual respect of human individuals.

Never seen this effect at this scale before; Von Karman vortices formed in the clouds stretching hundreds of miles beyond two small islands off Chile. Hat tip to Milind on Linked In for sharing the link.


Interesting not least (to a geek like me) because this is an effect that works at small and very small scales too – around towers and chimney stacks, around power distribution cables, around old aircraft struts and wires, even around tiny wires in instruments, where the effect is exploited to measure flow rate. (I often hear it at audible frequencies as the wind blows past the leg of my specs.)

Racial abuse from rival supporters, in fact any kind of tribal “abuse” is a no no for me, even at any competitive sporting event, but Diouf has to be the least likely target to raise any kind of outrage. (Maybe that’s why they’ve chosen him.) Talk about water off a duck’s back – is there any bigger wind-up merchant in the game – got to admire him for it. He and Warnock were made for each other, love ’em both.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not “racist” abuse. It’s abuse, a much bigger problem. Where ignoramuses pick on least popular (most effective) members of the opposing club, and find the most abusive taunts to hurl at them, and that’s always going to attack whatever makes them different, whatever is likely to be most offensive.

I could give plenty of examples – even in the Milwall vs Leeds case there is the Jimmy Savile example. Delivered with wit and originality, there can be valid comedic value in offensive material, but, the but matters. The problem is people believing that “abusive attack intended to cause offense” is valid behaviour full stop. Right from PM’s Questions downwards. This is a much more deep seated problem, I’ve blogged about before – most obviously here.

I remember Julie when she started at the NME – alongside Tony Parsons and Charles Shaar-Murray I seem to recall. You can’t help but notice she’s continued to be a contrarian in her life since, but this Desert Island Discs session is one for the scrapbook. You have to suspend disbelief, and Kirsty does a great job doing that.

Guess I need to check a few facts – became a Christian and is now ex-Christian and studying Judaism …. ? Spike interview from 2005.

My view: He’s no doubt stepping down due to frailty of age. They already have to wheel him about. In days when authority counted for something, the office of Pope could afford to continue until the demise of incumbent body. Pretty sure the Rap Singer sees that his church needs a person of some strength in leadership – in these days where the church needs to respond to anti-authoritarian attacks, and worse.

Sure enough:

“this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary”

Big data (*) – power of correlation of patterns without necessary causation, understanding or explanation – makes sense when the data largely reflects human psychology and behaviour. Because the human explanations would involve rationalisations and game-theoretic responses, not objective scientific causation. The what may be useful even before the why is considered. The what may provide pragmatic value, even near-real-time usefulness, whereas the why may ultimately provide new “knowledge”. These are not mutually exclusive.

The word model is overloaded here – all models are wrong, but some are more useful – but “useful for what?” matters. Important to recognise the different kinds of “model” here and how they’re used – statistical patterns and correlations of what happens, to assign odds to predictions (to markets, say) as distinct from models of mechanisms and processes, that represent how the world works (the economy, say) – especially in the latter case where we are trying to decide inputs, apply agency, to achieve valued outcomes.

“I can model the stars in the cosmos,
but not the madness of men.”

Humans will respond to the outcomes of such models – it’s a never ending arms-race – where values are at stake. The usual adage about management by measurement distorting the human process.What can be measured crowds-out other values that matter more to humanity.

The sceptics here are Tiffany and Lisa (and me). Lisa even makes the slip of referring to the geeks in maths and economics as “men”. Many a true word.

(Fair bit of discussion about brains, minds and consciousness too … even shared consciousness beyond any given brain … a longer story.)

[(*) And when I use “big-data” here, I’m simply implying a sample size so huge, that it is likely to be statistically significant for any pattern discovered within it, as opposed to a sample gathered with any particular investigation in mind. Like “cloud” it’s rapidly becoming just the latest jargon for the web of information on the internet of technology.]

Interesting watching the management manoeuvres at Reading FC since Brian became manager and Anton became owner, whilst Sir John and Nicky continue as chair and director. Definite signs of teamwork, compared to the usual knee-jerk headless-chickens at most clubs. Last mentioned here the equally encouraging signs of man-management, but many references to the “quality” of football decisions not to mention management gurus and motivation throughout this blog.

Sure enough, Times journalist Roger Alton, here writing in the Spectator, being impressed when meeting Brian. A cut above the rest.

Far more interesting [than talking with Steven Gerrard (*)] was the opportunity to chew the fat, or at least the sushi and avocado, with the admirable Brian McDermott, manager of beleaguered — or resurgent, depending where you’re standing — Reading FC. McDermott is a Heston Blumenthal lookalike with the easy manner of the bloke you like to meet down the pub. But what he’s achieved along the M4 is remarkable, and not just because he must have quadrupled his Russian owner’s £30-odd million investment. He is a real self-improver and a brilliant man manager. The books he reads are management books, not football ones, and that’s the ethos he’s brought into Reading.

That’s why he doesn’t seem intimidated by the challenge of surviving in the top flight even though the odds — and the wage bills, a fraction of most Premier League clubs’ — are so stacked against him. There is a culture there of hard work and improvement, so that he can be satisfied with his work even if it doesn’t keep his team up. When we spoke Reading had just beaten Newcastle away after being 1-0 down at half time. So no wonder when you ask, ‘How do you persuade players to come to Reading?’ McDermott says, ‘I don’t. They have to want to join and to learn.’ If there were more men like Brian McDermott in English football, then it might attract the Pep Guardiolas of this world.

‘There are really two different ways to look at the world,’ he says. ‘When you realise that success is in your own hands, rather than something that happens to you by way of talent, a light goes on in your mind. We never use words like “talent” here. We focus on hard work; how players and staff can grow over time. We may not become Premier League champions, but we will reach our potential.’ Well said, and come on you Royals.

Pep Guardiola and Brian McDermott in the same breath, notice. And of course Premier League manager of the month for January (and ALF Player of the month) !!!!

Excellent piece in GetReading too, of Jonny Fordham’s interview with Anton – management-wise, these guys know what they’re doing, blazing a distinctive trail in (football) management. Trust in people.

(Also interesting because Anton Zingarevic is much more like the Russians I’ve actually met and worked with, than the stereotypical villains typified by Roman Abramovic.)

(*) PS Love Stevie, but he’s never gonna set the world alight as a thinker and speaker.

We do care about the beautiful game of football, but this piece by Seth Godin is about some other televised sport, played with the hands whilst wearing full body armour, weirdly called “football” in just one country in the world.

The tribal culture is a common theme, sure, but I disagree on several points.

  • The tribe can be, and is, much wider, more positive, than any one team / club against another. The allegiance is to football.
  • TV suits real and fake football because it provides multi-angle replays – but this feature is common to any televised sport or any other event. Games that take place in smaller spaces, or where the action is highly static or localised benefit even more.
  • TV being asynchronous, of course you can see multiple games, including those you are unable to get to live (see live below).
  • The TV advertising model does NOT suit real football timing-wise, and that’s because:
  • TV beats live football, only if you can’t get to the game. You can’t be at two games at once. It is difficult, inconvenient and time-consuming and expensive travel-wise to get to multiple-games in any one day / week. Otherwise live beats TV – see tribal culture above. With real football, TV is no substitute for the real thing.

Yet real football does benefit enormously from TV investment, for the quantitative, multi-game, multi-angle, non-real-time benefits – even though the real thing is infinitely, qualitatively, better. Wonder which is actually the bigger business – the real thing or the fake version?

Now there’s a turn up for the BHA.

Hopefully enough to make the BHA think about its position.
Hopefully we’re beyond this being “just a bit of fun”.

[Video Here. No time to watch the whole right now, but after Copson vs the outgoing Archbishop, you can already see where the more subtle argument lies. Organized churches as agencies of communal humanity and tradition, BHA same as CofE in this respect. Immediate unmediated communities – social media etc –  allow freedom of communication and thought, but they bring no “conservative” narrative to the whole (*). Social, cultural and intellectual evolution without conservatism cannot progress, any more than biological evolution, merely change and repeat errors. The “aim” – purpose and meaning – needs to be enshrined “metaphysically”  (or maybe “transcendentally”) beyond the current process and content – even the concept of humanity beyond individuals – “bigger than themselves”. BHA is currently too naive and “scientistic” about where that value is maintained. Dawkinzzzzz …. when will he let go of childish things …. sarcastic, arrogant, ignorant, dogmatist and childish. How could this debate go any other way? As a humanist I’m embarrassed by the BHA.]

[Having listened on, Copson loses it at 1:07 by saying in his very own words that he is NOT actually for the motion as stated. Hope for him. Unmitigated disaster for the BHA. Tariq Ramadan and most of the students all very impressive. (*) As Douglas Murray says – we’d find ourselves living “The Only Way is Essex”. The opposition wins hands down – anyone know the actual voting numbers?]