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Category: Dave Brockington

Milk Snatching in the UK

[ 5 ] August 8, 2010 |

has been avoided for the 21st Century, in a comical manner.

Last night as I went to sleep, I was informed by BBC Radio 4 that the coalition government was going to eliminate free milk for the under five set as it did not “provide value for money”.  At £50 odd million, it’s not very expensive, and while I doubt that it makes a huge difference in terms of public health, it does allegedly teach good dietary habits.  But, I immediately recognized the scale of the political blunder.

In grasping free milk from my daughter’s delicate hands, the government, rather stupidly, invoked the image of “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”, when Thatcher did the same for 7 to 11 year-olds as Education Minister in the early 1970s.  The last thing that David Cameron would want is a direct and valid comparison with Thatcher.

Hence, a classic U-turn, clumsily executed.

Turkey in the EU

[ 26 ] July 27, 2010 |

Finally, something the PM and I agree on.  I especially like the comparison regarding French intransigence regarding the UK’s membership in the 1960s and their same position today regarding Turkey — though it’s likely that their position vis-à-vis Turkey is more racially motivated than that regarding the UK, which had more to do about entrenching French “power”.

The logic of Turkish membership has always seemed clear to me.  Political scientists who study the EU have long held on to theoretical notions of how potential EU membership prods a country to adopt progressively more democratic features, and once membership has been secured democratic norms and institutions become entrenched.  Turkey has come a long way on the former with the explicit goal to satisfy Brussels; the only point I see blocking formal accession talks is Cyprus.  Furthermore, the benefits of Europe in institutionally embracing a Muslim nation are plain (even if this means a watershed moment in legitimizing cults everywhere, especially in Tennessee).

I’d be surprised if this were a popular position back on the (British) island.  Indeed, the poll in the Daily Mail, which otherwise did an atypically even-handed job with this story, runs 80% against.  While it’s a self-selecting population of self-selected Daily Mail readers, rendering the results theoretically a hair short of reliable, that 80% of British citizens are opposed to Turkey’s membership doesn’t seem too wide of the mark.

The PM risks more than alienating several EU partners, but also his own party:

Mr Cameron’s words put him at odds with France, Germany and Tory Right-wingers who believe Turkey may be incompatible with the EU.

Though it must be said that those same Tory right-wingers also believe the United Kingdom to be incompatible with the EU.

Privatize by Stealth.

[ 2 ] July 24, 2010 |

After seven years of living in the UK, two institutions that I admire (which never fails to invite derision from some quarters in Britain) are the BBC and the NHS.  The former is funded by one of the most regressive taxes on the planet, one that I happily pay every December.  Last August, at the height of the health care “reform” debate in the United States, I wrote at some length about my personal experiences with the NHS.

Fortunately, with the Tory erm, so-called “coalition” government, privatization is once again all the rage, so neither are likely to emerge from the current Government unscathed.  The BBC is under a muted threat, with Tory plans to reduce the annual license fee.  Their incentive for doing so is unclear: the license fee tax is solely used for the BBC, so their incentive is either demonstrating their tax cutting prowess in a manner that doesn’t affect the current fiscal position, or a spiteful assault on the institution.

The NHS is under a more direct threat.  The best MSM analysis I’ve read about this comes from the NYT, which is perhaps understandable given the distance.  Devolving budgetary authority and responsibility to GPs is risky, bonkers, and is unlikely to generate the savings promised.  What is clear to me is that this is a Tory wet dream: it’s a stealth privatization scheme, one utterly inconsistent with the promises of the coalition Government.  But hey, it worked for the trains.

Considering the weight and direction of these policies, one has to wonder what the hell the Liberal Democrats are doing in this coalition (besides selling out)?  Lib Dem supporters are themselves befuddled, with deserters breaking 2:1 to Labour.  Lib Dem support is down to 16%, and only 41% of the electorate support the coalition government.

It would be easy to quip that it’s little wonder the Tories want to adopt a five-year fixed term Parliament, but in reality it is now in the interests of the Tories for the government to fall.

The Purpose of Higher Education

[ 24 ] July 22, 2010 |

Something that I and other colleagues have noted at institutions similar to my current employer is that there seems to be an omnipresent implied, when not explicit, anti-intellectual current defining the place.  While a bit muddled at times, this CIF entry in The Guardian captures this sense.  I chuckled at this line:

This has undoubtedly led to a mass increase in the population of students in the UK, but with it a rise in degrees in such subjects as sports, human resources and marketing – which may have slender academic perspectives but are in essence vocational.

During the most recent reorganisation of my home institution (where we slimmed down from seven faculties to five and dispersed the social sciences as an organized, going concern in any recognizable form) my “department”, a political science department, was placed into the “School of Management” in the Business School, along with, yes, human resources and marketing, among other intellectually and pedagogically compatible departments (e.g. shipping and logistics).

I was completely unaware of the meaning of “former Poly” when I applied for my present position, being neither British by birth nor culture, and naturally assumed that if the word “university” was in the title, the institution did as it says on the tin.  My initial ignorance of the term “former poly” aside, this entry does seem to capture the ambiguity of the position such institutions find themselves in.  At mine, the current pitch is all about vocation and applied knowledge, period.  We have styled ourselves as “The Enterprise University”, emphasis in original, for the past two or three years, after all.

The budget cuts the sector has only just begun to face in the UK (and it will get a lot worse in the next few years) does beg the question, and not to sound glib or flip, but: what’s the point?  What purpose should a university serve in broader society?  The British have a clear idea, again pointed out by the Guardian entry: “which is why we have the total absurdity of the business secretary, not the education secretary, pronouncing on the future of higher education”.

While pondering this, I’ll return to writing a book proposal . . .

Convert ‘em While They’re Young

[ 10 ] July 13, 2010 |

and, no, this is not about the regrettable Polanski affair.  I’m befuddled and bemused by that one.

This, on the other hand, makes obvious sense: LGM’s favorite ex-Governor of Alaska needs not only her own auto / biography, she also needs one aimed at nine to 12 year-old children.  Imagine the shitstorm that would arise from Wingnut Central HQ if a similar book were pitched about the life and achievements of the sitting President of the United States, as opposed to a failed VP candidate who is also a quitter.

Lazy Friday Blogging: Cliff Lee, Austerity Budgets, England in the WC Final

[ 6 ] July 9, 2010 |

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to this, and like Rob, I’m delighted — even though it’s a rare deal within the same division.  This seems to be a better deal than the mooted Yankees offering.  It’s only a shame that the M’s couldn’t put together a season that justified keeping Lee around all year.  He’s had an amazing year.

I wonder what the Miami Heat put forward as an alternative to the Rangers’ package?

I had been trying to cobble together a piece on the UK Coalition Government’s austerity budget, but found it all a bit too depressing.  The New York Times does a decent job of aggregating the grim, and they’re not impressed.  Oddly enough, the kids over at think 40% cuts are fantastic (in a good way).  I’m not sure if my daughter would agree, with I being ostensibly a public sector employee, and her police officer mother very much an employee of a department that is not ring fenced.  Yes, even the Conservatives admit it: Cameron is little more than a Thatcherite — with one small exception: Thatcher relied on the cops a hell of a lot to quell the concomitant riots that her policies ensued.

At least Labour are devouring one another rather than fielding a credible opposition, as David Miliband goes out on a limb and critiques Gordon Brown.  Only a year too late, mate; I’d link to my several posts on the subject, but the archives link under my name doesn’t seem to be functioning.

And, yes, the English have made the World Cup final.  The refereeing team, that is.

Consultation Periods Work?!?!

[ 0 ] July 5, 2010 |

BBC 6 Music has been saved from closure.

Independence Day Redux

[ 2 ] July 5, 2010 |

I spent my first independence day in the US since 1999 driving a massive GMC truck from Idaho to Portland, towing a 1973 VW Type III that was gifted to me by my future brother in law.  We drove through “Real America”, full of, presumably, real Americans, tending to their amber waves of grain.  Or something.  It was an eventful 732 mile round trip journey.

The VW didn’t fall off the tow dolly, our best efforts regardless.

Upon my return to Oregon, I was stunned to see that Portland has been named “America’s Most Patriotic City“, according to that most seminal of arbiters, Men’s Health (or simply MH for those in the know).  High voter turnout, loads of volunteerism, heaps of cash spent on veterans, and copious purchases of flags and material to blow stuff up with.

What’s missing from this list?  Republicans.  Portland is one of the heavier Democratic cities in the union.  Clearly the methodology employed by MH is deeply flawed; I thought Republicans were the only “true Americans”.

I’ll leave you with an old standard, that I posted last year:

Did Luis Suarez cheat?

[ 167 ] July 2, 2010 |

Uruguay 1 – 1 Ghana

Uruguay win 4 – 2 on penalties.

For those of you who didn’t watch the match, in the 120th minute, literally the last few seconds of the 30 minutes of extra time in the match, Ghana had a series of shots on goal, three if memory serves me correctly (and it seldom does).  The first two shots were parried by the Uruguayan keeper and a defender on the line, legitimately.  The third, a header, was deliberately punched away — by Luis Suarez, a Uruguayan striker.  In other words, one of the ten guys in blue and black who technically can not touch the ball with his hands.  Unlike the 2002 Quarter Final match between the USA and Germany, the ref spotted the foul, red carded Suarez, and awarded Ghana a penalty.

Ghana make this penalty, the match is effectively over, and Ghana go through to the Semi Finals.

I’m not certain that Suarez considered the various probabilities in his decision tree, but he clearly, deliberately punched the ball clear, so he did make some sort of split second decision, on purpose.

So, did he cheat?

No.  He did the rational thing.  It was perhaps not the sporting, moral, or ethical choice, and definitely the cynical choice, but given the nature of the match, he made the correct decision.

If he doesn’t act, the ball goes in, and Uruguay are out.  Plain and simple.  If he acts, there’s a small chance that he does not get spotted by the referee (again, see USA v Germany 2002).  If he does get spotted and correctly sent off, there’s a chance that Ghana miss the penalty.  The odds of both of those events occurring in that order are slim, but as luck would have it, did indeed occur.  Suarez didn’t cheat, he operated within the rules of the game.  Odds are Ghana would have converted the penalty, and we wouldn’t be discussing this.  However, they didn’t, and continued to miss a couple more during the shootout.

The solution to this is plain (as plain as the solution to the Lampard disallowed goal in England v Germany): FIFA need to change the rule.  When it’s plain as day that the goal would have scored in the absence of this deliberate hand ball, they should go ahead and count the goal.  Goals scored are disallowed for any number of reasons; why not allow a goal that hasn’t crossed the line?


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World Cup Quarter Finals

[ 12 ] July 1, 2010 |

I was going to write something about this, but . . . no.  I’ve grown addicted to my monthly “paycheque”.

The quarter final brackets for the World Cup are . . . unbalanced.  Look for yourself:

Friday, 2 July
Netherlands v Brazil 15:00 BST, 10:00 EDT, 07:00 PDT
Uruguay v Ghana 19:30 BST, 14:30 EDT, 11:30 PDT

Saturday, 3 July
Argentina v Germany 15:00 BST, 10:00 EDT, 07:00 PDT
Paraguay v Spain 19:30 BST, 14:30 EDT, 11:30 PDT

I’m going to boldly predict that the final will include the team that wins the Netherlands v Brazil match and the Argentina v Germany match.  This should not be taken as a disparagement of Spain, the reigning European Champions, but they haven’t really appeared all that sharp, especially with a blatantly unfit Fernando Torres playing in every match.

As I am now happily ensconced in Oregon, catching up on research that I haven’t had the time to work on back in Plymouth (goal for the next month: three new articles sent off, and two book proposals in the can by September.  no, really!), I’ll be waking early to go visit a friend’s house to watch the Netherlands v Brazil match.  Since the USA were eliminated, I’ve transferred my allegiance to the Dutch.  Ironic, considering the only tournament held during my three years in the NL, the 2002 World Cup, didn’t feature the side at all.

This will not be one of the Holland Brazil matches of yore.  Both sides have adopted the more circumspect, cautious football that everybody save for the English have managed to master at this level (which in part may explain the relative paucity of goals at this tournament).  Both sides line up in what traditional nomenclature would refer to a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3, but both formations are more nuanced than tradition allows: it’s really a 4-2-1-2-1.  England, of course, stay wedded to the tried and true (and outdated) 4-4-2.  It worked in 1966!!!  But then, they also stay wedded to the tried and true Single Member District / Plurality electoral system, but I digress.

Realistically, one has to like Brazil to win this match, but I am holding out hope for De Oranje, as Brazil have a few niggles and suspensions, whereas Holland manager Bert van Marwijk has an injury and suspension free 23 to choose from.

For those interested, I’ve read a few excellent books on Dutch football.  Indeed, I’ve found the quality of insightful writing on football soccer to be excellent at times, and both of these blend football with broader observations of Dutch politics and society:

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football (at Amazon here).

as well as the brilliant Simon Kuper‘s Ajax, the Dutch, the War: Football in Europe during the Second World War.

Kuper also wrote the excellent Football Against the Enemy, which includes a chapter on the 1974 World Cup final between the Dutch and West Germany if I recall correctly, as well as coverage of the same two sides match in the finals of the 1988 European Championship.  I have several other suggestions, but, alas, my library is in England, and I’m in Oregon.

USA v Ghana

[ 11 ] June 26, 2010 |

19:30 (BST), 14:30 (EDT), 11:30 (PDT).

The US MNT plays in its first knock-out match in the World Cup since the glorious 2-0 victory over Mexico in 2002 (UPDATE: forgetting, of course, the match against Germany in the QF in ’02, which I continue to happily do).  These two sides have a deep and stirring history that the media can not stop talking about . . . 1966, 1970, 1972, 1990, 1996 . . . where did it all go wrong? . . . no, wait, that’s England v Germany.  Ghana and the USA have met exactly once, the final group match of 2006, in which Ghana won 2-1 on a sketchy penalty call at the end of the first half.

Ghana don’t score goals.  Indeed, in 13 internationals in 2010, they’ve scored more than one goal once: a 5-2 victory over the mighty Burkina Faso.  Both goals they’ve scored during this tournament were penalties by Rennes forward Asamoah Gyan.  Given that the Guardian projects them to come out in a defensive-minded 4-1-4-1 for this match, and are without Michael Essien during this tournament, expect more of the same.  However, don’t underestimate Ghana; they’re a strong, physical side that will press American players and disrupt any passing set up play.  The US will have to rely on its pace to find space on counter attack.

It looks as though Bradley will make two changes from the side that beat Algeria on Wednesday: Gooch returns in central defence, and Findley partners Altidore up front.

While I’d love to discuss the bracket we’re in and its relative placid ease, I can’t.  I expect Uruguay to get past South Korea, to face the winner of USA v Ghana.  I underestimated Ghana in my predictions back in December (I saw them finishing last in their group), and won’t do so again.

Side note: Asamoah Gyan and US Captain Carlos Bocanegra are teammates at French 1st Division side Stade Rennais.

UPDATE (and this one I did miss): Ghana right back John Paintsil and Clint Dempsey are teammates at Fulham.

World Cup Predictions Foolishly Revisited

[ 19 ] June 24, 2010 |

Back in December, immediately after the draw for the World Cup, I had the temerity to write a long post breaking down each group, and I foolishly offered predictions as to how the sides would finish.  I’ve been meaning to write this post prior to the last round of matches from the group stage, but a series of events have intervened.

Now, half way through those matches, let’s see how I have fared.

Group A

Prediction: 1. Mexico, 2. France, 3. Uruguay, 4. South Africa

Result: 1. Uruguay, 2. Mexico, 3. South Africa, 4. France.

The difference between Mexico and South Africa was down to goal differential.  At least I was smart enough to state “And Uruguay don’t suck either”.  I don’t think I can be faulted for horribly mis-predicting France, as I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the circus that France became in this tournament.

Group B

Prediction: 1. Argentina, 2. Greece, 3. South Korea, 4. Nigeria.

Result: 1. Argentina, 2. South Korea, 3. Greece, 4. Nigeria.

Not a bad prediction, only a point separated South Korea from Greece.  Of course suggesting that Argentina take the group isn’t exactly a risky proposition.

Group C

Prediction: 1. England, 2. USA, 3. Slovenia, 4. Algeria.

Result: 1. USA, 2. England, 3. Slovenia, 4. Algeria.

As predictions go, as I was only off by the “goals scored” tie breaker, I can’t feel too bad about this one.  Furthermore,m I did say “Don’t underestimate Slovenia, any of you”.  I should have also said “don’t overestimate England”.  Furthermore, it was a lot closer on the final day than most would have predicted, and had those two 1-0 scorelines been reversed, it would be Slovenia and Algeria progressing, not the USA and England.

Group D

Ill-Advised Prediction: 1. Germany, 2. Serbia, 3. Australia, 4. Ghana.

Result: 1. Germany, 2. Ghana, 3. Australia, 4. Serbia.

Well, two out of four isn’t bad.  And I did say the following about Ghana:

And Ghana may be all about Essien in the international media, but they have a reputation of being well organized in a disorganized way. Which, as a faux statistician, I can appreciate. But more critically, they have a lot of youth, and their kids have done well in FIFA tournaments in the past decade or so. That said, I still see them finishing last in this tough group. Serbia are that good.

If one chooses to ignore the final two sentences, I come out looking pretty good.

Group E

Prediction: 1. Holland, 2. Denmark

Situation: 1. Netherlands 6, 2. Japan 3, 3. Denmark 3, 4. Cameroon 0.

Fina matches: tonight, 19:30 BST.

The Dutch should win the group — they play Cameroon tonight, and all they need is a draw to win the group.  Even if the Oranje were to lose, their goal differential advantage (+3 over Japan, +4 over Denmark) should be enough to protect them.  The big match is Denmark v Japan.  They’re only separated by goal differential, and that’s one goal; however, that logically means Denmark have to win in order to progress.

Group F

Prediction: 1. Italy, 2. Paraguay, 3. Slovakia, 4. New Zealand.

Situation: 1. Paraguay 4, 2. Italy 2, 3. New Zealand 2, 4. Slovakia 1.

Final matches: today, 15:00 BST.

Any of the four can still progress, and any of the four can still go out.  If Paraguay draw New Zealand, they’re through.  Nothing separates Italy and New Zealand at the moment, they’ve both drawn two, scored two goals, and conceded two goals.  This will be a fascinating one, much like Group C yesterday afternoon.

Group G

Prediction: 1. Brazil, 2. Cote D’Ivoire, 3. Portugal, 4. North Korea.

Situation: 1. Brazil 6, 2. Portugal 4, 3. Cote D’Ivoire 1, 4. North Korea, 0.

Final matches: Friday, 15:00 BST.

Brazil are through, but have not secured the top seed.  However, if Brazil and Portugal merely draw, Brazil are through as top, Portugal are through in second.  The Ivory Coast will beat our reclusive friends from North Korea, but even if Portugal were to lose, the commanding goal differential advantage currently enjoyed by Portugal (+7) over the Ivory Coast (-2) dooms the Ivory Coast to third with near certainty.  Unless Brazil win by a couple, and the Ivory Coast put seven or eight in against North Korea.  An unlikely proposition.

Group H

Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Chile, 3. Switzerland, 4. Honduras.

Situation: 1. Chile 6, 2. Spain 3, 3. Switzerland 3 , 4. Honduras 0.

Final matches: Friday, 19:30 BST.

The Switzerland victory over Spain threw a spanner into the works of this group.  Chile are through, but (UPDATE: as per the first comment below, there is a scenario, not improbable, where Chile don’t get through) face Spain in their final match.  All that separates Spain from Switzerland is a single goal on goal differential.  Again, this will provide for an engaging set of matches.

All said, I haven’t done terribly bad.  I horribly overrated both France and Serbia, and have slightly overrated Italy and England.  I predicted England 2-1 over USA, which was ever so slightly off, and predicted USA 2-1 over Algeria.  I knew we would beat Algeria, if I began to seriously doubt that around the 80th minute of yesterday’s match.

At least I seem to have nailed the North Korea position.

I fly to the USA on the 28th, which means I’ll miss a couple of the first knockout matches, but I’ll be able to watch USA v Ghana from home on Saturday (with my daughter no less).  If the USA make it past Ghana, and I think we will, I’ll be able to watch a USMNT quarter final match in the USA, which will be a pleasant change.  The next match would be against the winner of Uruguay and South Korea . . . and an English friend of mine here sent me an email this morning predicting that the USA make the semi finals.  He thinks we’ll get past both Ghana and Uruguay.

Me, I’m happy getting out of the group.  Not getting out of the group would have been a major disappointment.  Finishing top means we avoid Germany (for the time being), which does help our cause for progression.

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