Monday, December 28, 2009

Well at least it wasn't embarrassing

Hull City 1 Manchester United 3

None of our immediate rivals have managed to make much progress, so this run of tough games has not gone so badly.
Need to pick up a few points now though. Bolton tomorrow.

(Update: Bolton 2 Hull City 2. Good fightback, gets the unfortunate Megson sacked. Obviously the ignominy of being held at home by Hull City was too much for the Bolton board.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Third Way: A Concise Definition

In a Matt Taibbi post we get this critique of one of the architects of Obama administration economic policy:

"Rubin is the quintessential “new Democrat,” a Wall Street oligarch who believes strongly in balanced budgets, free trade and a laissez-faire deregulatory posture toward big business but sees himself as a political liberal because he favors minimal social safety nets of the sort dreamed up in cherry-paneled offices at the Brookings Institute, i.e. expanded unemployment insurance or wage insurance. In other words, repeal Glass-Steagall by day, give eight bucks to the soup kitchen by night. The more recent Rubinite legacy has been the push for huge and unrelenting bailouts of Wall Street companies followed by ameliorative and comparatively much smaller one-off bailouts of actual human beings, spread out over the entire population".

When I'm in a bad mood, this starts to look like a pretty good description of New Labour.

Try changing a few proper names and see what happens...

Variable Geometry Premiership

The English Premier League, after the first couple of years (can you see Blackburn ever winning it again?), quickly developed into two leagues: one league with the 'big four' (now about six) fighting over the Premier League title and the Champions League, and another for everyone else, largely about Premier League survival. An early effect of this emerging hierarchy was the 'big four' teams' practice of resting key players in unimportant games such as FA Cup ties against weak opposition.

Now, the full logic of the balkanized Premiership has been rolled out, by Wolverhampton Wanderers' decision to rest their first 11 against Manchester United at Old Trafford. With just four days rest after a tough away game at Spurs, Mick McCarthy decided that since his team would doubtless lose at Old Trafford whichever team he fielded, he may as well rest his best players to protect them from injury and get them back to their best for next weekend.

In what at first reading appears a surreal statement, Sir Alex Ferguson supported McCarthy's decision, on the grounds that 'they've got a massive game coming up against Burnley'.

In some ways it's surprising it has taken this long for it to happen. The weaker Premier League teams have little incentive to risk their best players for almost certain away defeats against big clubs, and it is far more important for them to beat rivals in the relegation battle than to avoid cricket scores against title contenders. The Wolves' strategy has given birth to a new kind of football folk wisdom: 'yes, I'm disappointed not to play at Stamford Bridge, but of course I've got to be fresh for the KC Stadium next Monday'.

Maybe we should quit the pretence and just let the top clubs play each other every fortnight, like in Scotland. The rest of us can get back to watching English football as it used to be played -  not much skill and a few hangovers, but with players who were usually trying to win.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Malthus and marriage

Wonderful little article by Catherine Bennett in today's Guardian/Observer. As well as pointing out the vacuousness of the Conservatives' proposal to give married couples a tax break (just what is needed with a £175 billion budget deficit), she makes the simple yet rarely made point that marriage for life has meant something different for nearly all of its history:

"For much of its history the length of the average union, before it was ended by the death of a partner, was the same as it is now, before being terminated by divorce: 11 years. If Cameron wants to make marriages last for ever, he is expecting them to last three times longer than they would have done before the institution was threatened by the democratisation of divorce, women's rights, sexual liberation, secularisation and – some think most damaging of all – the concept of enduring marital love."

The Conservatives may claim to have modernized, but they are still living in a fantasy world where 'old maids cycle to holy communion through the morning mist'. Their tax proposal is not only pointless, but perverse. A monogamous non-married union is penalized in favour of a marriage of (potentially pluri-) divorcees. Where is the moral incentive in that?

If this is the kind of thinking behind the future government, God (or the flying spaghetti monster ) help us.

Business as usual

Aston Villa 3 Hull City 0

Never in the game, even before Bullard got injured.
Brown has got the harrowed look again.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The crisis of the left, Part 13,267: Where's the patient?

The funniest thing dropped into my inbox today. I think it might contain the answer to a puzzle I've been pondering for a while: why the left is in decline at the very moment that right-wing ideas about the beneficial effects of liberalization have been challenged, shall we say, by indisputable facts.

The email in question announces to interested parties something called The Amsterdam Process. The Amsterdam Process has the ambition of bringing about nothing less than 'The ideological renewal of European Social Democracy – A new revisionism for the 21st century'. It correctly diagnoses that 'European social democracy is in desperate need of a period of ideological renewal' and proposes 'a new and ambitious process of reflection and strategic thinking'. So, what's wrong with that?

Well, what's wrong with it is the participants. Nothing personal of course, there are plenty of clever people with sound progressive values involved. The problem is that 'ideological renewal' is to come about through an entirely elitist process. The document reports that the Amsterdam process was 'launched and conceptualised at a high-level brainstorming session (...) which brought together distinguished academics, policymakers, political leaders and thinkers from across the European centre-left'. It will proceed by 'bring(ing) together an “avant-garde group” of individuals and organisations', 'seek the direct involvement of senior experts and policymakers from countries outside Europe' and 'publish a series of research papers and edited volumes which aim to inform the debate among key stakeholders on the centre-left'.

Surely there is something missing from this project? Let me think.... Ah, yes. The people. The people - the electorate and potential electorate of the left, are simply not included, or even mentioned, in this proposal. There is a recognition that 'the root of the problem is the ideological vacuum the crisis has exposed in European social democracy, alongside the low levels of trust in centre-left parties and in their governing ideas', and the document states that 'this vacuum cannot be filled by any tactical re-positioning, questioning of leadership or any other short-term fixes'. But the network proposes to address this without any engagement with what in the previous century we might have called 'the masses'.

I think this tells us a lot about what has happened to the left in Europe. 'Stakeholders' - presumably trade union leaders, policy wonks and political professionals - are supposed to sort out the debacle created by... (you can fill in the rest). Very reminiscent of the way in which bankers are being handsomely paid to clear up the mess they made.

Socialism emerged in Europe through mass movements. Sure, there were intellectuals and there is no political movement without ideas. But now, the producers and consumers of ideas appear to be entirely removed from the everyday lives of voters, and in no mood to engage with them. Social democracy has become an elitist project. And elitist projects can't generate mass support - at least, not with progressive ideas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Human Activity and Climate Change: The Definitive Proof

Yes, for those who were doubting it, we finally have the definitive evidence that human-induced climate change is happening.

The evidence is in the fact that a highly trained squad of climate sceptic propagandists trawling through 10 years of emails at the CRU in Norwich could only find a bit of low-level jiggerypockery about one graph put together for a political event. Oh, and some ungracious comment on the death of another scientist. Most people familiar with academic life will have seen a lot worse than that in their inboxes. The CRU is starting to look like a rather saintly place after this.

I'm pretty sure that 10 years of emails of a representative sample of anyone involved in the climate change-sceptic campaign would yield rather more sordid discoveries. So why is Phil Jones resigning as director of the CRU? This can only help the hackers and pseudoscientists, who will immediately ask - why would someone resign if they've done nothing wrong?

Instead of conceding points to criminal hackers, it should be explained to people that despite the reserved nature of what goes in many emails, you can't get anywhere in science - even political science - these days without being more or less open about your data, even if you don't want to send it out to any loony blogger that asks for it. The idea that Phil Jones and colleagues can have got away with systematically withholding data and misleading the scientific community for over a decade of the biggest debate of our time is ludricrous, although not quite as ludricrous as the people expressing it. To fail to make this point gives way too much ground to the sceptics.

Climate change researchers need a few lessons from Richard Dawkins!

Lots of money 1 Lots of Fish and Chips 1

Manchester City 1 Hull City 1

Correction: Paul MacShane now does play like that for Hull City. After the victory over Everton in mid-week, that makes it four games without defeat. Adam Pearson has introduced a whole new meaning to the words 'The board has full confidence in the manager'.
Can it last?