Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Toynbee, you Tool!!

Dame Polly is usually good for a laugh. Thanks to the guys and girls at Total Politics for running this - http://www.totalpolitics.com/blog/230562/toynbee-and-hutton-on-fairness-and-the-left.thtml. It seems that in her new book, the Queen of the British PC left awards New Labour a somewhat surprising six out of ten - I say surprising, since I expected more like a four on account of them not being 'radical' enough for her tastes. Anyway, after suggesting that New Labour's problem was that they didn't do PR well enough (oh, the irony), Polly produces something of a gem even by her own stupendous standards. Brace yourself:-

"Left Wing people are more intelligent and just generally better people" than those 'of the Right'.

You might wanna read that twice, rub your eyes then take it in a third (and final) time...

I try to avoid using the terms Left and Right because this axis simply isn't applicable to the three-dimensional nature of modern politics. Sure, it can be a simple way by which to refer to 'Tory vs Labour' or 'Democrat vs Republican' in a two party system, and I know many commentators still apply it in this context. However, Toynbee's latest test appears to be looking at things from a deeper and more philosophical level than that, which begs the question:- "By Left, what does she mean?" What is Toynbee-ism and once we establish that then we can work out what is the complete opposite, then fathom for ourselves which train of thought owes more to intellectual rigour and/or common decency.

If I could sum up the thinking of the Toynbeeist left in a very simple way, its central strand goes something like this, "the state is there to referee in ways that go beyond protecting people from violence, fraud or theft. Without nanny's interference, the less fortunate will become victims of economic and constitutional exploitation, since you cannot trust people to behave in a way that is decent. The state is therefore a necessity to improve living standards, exercise compassion and protect people from themselves and the wicked who seek to exploit and/or abuse them". This contrasts sharply with the instinctive Liberal philosophy that the sole functions of the state are to protect us from criminality and invasion, while providing a minimal safety net in those instances where individuals fall through the cracks of private charity (and some Libertarians wouldn't even include that last bit).

What are the practical solutions to everyday concerns that stem from such thinking? 'Making poverty history' necessitates high taxes not just for the rich, but for all of us - worry not since if you're left without enough money to live on then a tax credit from nanny will make up the shortfall. Welfare is, apparently, the only means by which people can be prevented from falling into the 'poverty trap'. Poor, oppressed ethnic minorities need 'protecting' from the millions of vicious racists who would no doubt shoot them dead were it not for the laws that had been passed preventing 'hate crimes', and make it their mission to stop them from gaining an opportunity to work in this lifetime or the next but for 'equal opportunities' legislation.

'Climate change' and 'our beloved NHS' are Toynbeeist sacred cows, so drivers, drinkers and smokers are evil drains on the rest of society who must be taxed to death before they either blow up the planet or take up a hospital bed that could be used by a far more deserving patient having a sex change operation. Kids 'failing' at anything will destroy them, so we must have prizes for everyone - and if you're gonna play that horrible game they call soccer at school, try not to do anything too bad, like tackle anyone (health and safety) or keep score of who's winning the game - it's the taking part, remember. In the same way, exams should be made progressively easier until everyone gets a grade that constitutes some sort of pass - and those that continue to fail are not lazy, stupid or both, but victims of 'poverty' or 'disenfranchisement'.

In reality, not only is this 'ideology' profoundly dumb, it is also dangerous and poisonous. The end result, whether intentional or otherwise, is to leave people less empowered and condition many to believe that they somehow need the state to survive on a day-to-day basis. "Thank god for my tax credits/child support/EQUOP legislation that got me my job, as opposed to me getting an opportunity myself on merit". People like Toynbee are not "just better people" than the rest of us, nor are they revolutionaries. Something that members of this particular section of the Statist left are loathe to tell you is that they have got the overwhelming majority of what they always wanted. High taxes, state-controlled diversity, political correctness and nationalised compassion, enterprise and initiative suffocated with individuals slung back into their little box.

Why not claim the credit for what is surely a glorious victory? Because, very simply, it would mean explaining to the general population why their 'solutions' have not worked. Why are state healthcare and education such disaster zones of MRSA and illiterate teenagers with no interest in doing anything useful? How come the welfare that was meant to 'make poverty history' has actually resulted in more families living a millimetre above the breadline courtesy of the taxpayer, taking the sweeties on offer as an incentive to have more children at somebody else's expense? Let me guess - it's a woman's right to have as many kids as she wants, even if she has no intention of supporting them and no idea how to?

I'll point you again in the direction of what was, in this bunny's view, Malpoet's finest ever work - http://malpoet.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/population-growth-welfare-not-immigration/.

Why are we on third generation worklessness, which had far more to do with the recent 'shopping with violence' in our cities than 'poverty' ever did? What a great idea that minimum wage was, pricing hundreds of thousands of young people out of gainful employment and consigning those that could still care less to a life on welfare - don't let some wicked capitalist bastard 'exploit' you, stay at home with nanny and watch Trisha. When are Grade A muppets like Polly going to entertain the possibility that we are not all evil racists and homophobes and that the laws on 'equal opportunities' and 'hate crimes' achieve nothing other than policing thought? Inciting people to commit crimes was itself an offence long before the PC loons took over this particular asylum.

To paraphrase ManNotNumber - "I've no problem with seeing a coffee shop that says "no Blacks allowed" in the window. Why? Because as a white man who finds racism stupid and repugnant in equal measure, I'll know not to go in there".

In short, when the State does people 'favours' it essentially deprives them of the sense of achievement that comes with making progress in any walk of life. I feel just as sorry for our young people and members of ethnic minorities as Dame Polly claims to, only she'd never quite understand why since my sympathy is sincere. Imagine feeling that you owed everything good that might punctuate your existence to a Guardian reader, or worse still, a Guardian columnist?

That's not an 'intelligent' state of mind to impose on someone, and it's certainly not 'nice' either. Take care and I'll catch you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

RIP Len Ganley

Snooker referee Len Ganley passed away on Sunday at the age of 68.

His family are urging well-wishers to make a donation to the Paul Hunter foundation - http://www.paulhunterfoundation.org/, rather than sending the customary flowers.

Ganley was the third man at the table during four World Championship finals at the Crucible, in 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1993. He also officiated at the finals of several other major tournaments and in the Ronnie O'Sullivan vs Mick Price match in the first round of the 1997 World Championship, where the Rocket made the fastest 147 break in history before retiring in 1999.


Top players from yesteryear have paid tribute to the man who refereed so many of the matches that shaped their careers.

Dennis Taylor:- "It is such very sad news. We travelled all over the world together and with his lovely Northern Ireland accent he was always very popular with snooker fans. We had a few words on the table but we were great friends throughout my professional career and Len was involved in most of that...he also did a terrific amount of work for charity - he was one of the good guys. During the world championships anyone that came anywhere near the Crucible Theatre and saw Len had to give him a tenner. He used to raise a lot of money for powered wheelchairs - he was right at the forefront of that."

Len was awarded an MBE for 1994 for his charity work which raised millions of pounds for sufferers of muscular dystrophy and spina bifida, as well as service to the game of snooker.

Steve Davis (winner of two of the world finals overseen by Ganley, in 1983 and 1987):- "Len did a very good job of being a referee and a personality at the same time. A referee is supposed to be unseen and he liked the limelight, but he still managed to do the job properly. He was a great character off the table, but in the arena he was an excellent referee. He knew the game as a player, having made century breaks himself, so when he was in charge of your match it was nice to know how well he understood the game."

Jimmy White (tweet):- "Just want to say RIP Len Ganley! He was not only a great referee but a great friend of mine and my family I spoke with him often! Sad loss!"

From chimney sweep, to milkman, bus driver then snooker referee, who was popular and well-known enough in his own right to appear in a Carling Black Label advert during snooker's 1980s heyday - perhaps ironic since Ganley was teetotal himself.


This commercial earned him the predictable nickname 'Ballcrusher', but perhaps the biggest sign that Ganley really became a somebody came when Birkenhead Indie Gods Half Man Half Biscuit made him the subject of their song. 'the Len Ganley Stance'.



I'm sure he'll appreciate the funny side from up above - god bless Len and condolences to his wife and six children. Take care and I'll catch you tomorrow.

Monday, 29 August 2011

OutspokenRabbit's non-Test nations XI

Throughout the history of cricket, all of the test playing countries have had their share of very good and even great players who have played their part in the ebb and flow of relative dominance or stagnation over a period of time. A strong international player can improve a team, while one great individual has the ability to completely transform a side and vastly improve their chances of competing with the best in the world. Perhaps the best example of this was Richard Hadlee, whose talent for skittling sides single-handedly meant that New Zealand were a team capable of beating any other in world cricket on a given day during the 1980s.

One of the best bits of recent cricketing news was that the original plan to keep the 2015 World Cup a closed shop for the recognised ODI nations has been abandoned, with four spots in a 14-strong tournament retained for the likes of Ireland, who performed credibly last time out to score a shock victory over England and win two matches in total - this in addition to their efforts in 2007 where they reached the second stage while achieving three postive results in the competition. The Netherlands, Canada and Kenya have also had their fair share of World Cup moments, with all benefiting from the fine performances of talented individuals within their team. There may not have been a truly great player to hail from an associate nation, but several very good ones who would walk into several test sides have indeed emerged.

Here is this bunny's best eleven who have represented non-test nations at the World Cup or other forms of cricket. Note that some of these players may have later represented a major international cricket side either in Test, ODI or both forms of the game.

1 - John Davison

A journeyman of Australian cricket, Davison rose to prominence when he scored 111 in a 2003 World Cup match against the West Indies, reaching his hundred off only 67 deliveries. His power-hitting at the top of the order will be of vital importance to this team, a talent he exhibited on two further occasions against New Zealand in the 2003 and 2007 tournaments. Half-centuries off 25 and 23 balls respectively have the ability to shift the dynamics of a match in your side's favour somewhat rapidly, and if Davison gets in then the platform can be built for the huge total that is often needed to win a one day international in the modern era. He also contributes useful off-spin, taking 31 wickets in 27 ODIs, including three in that same match against the Kiwis in 2003 - Davison announced his retirement from international cricket after the 2011 tournament.

Here's that explosive century against the West Indies - without doubt his finest hour
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko4IZ9WHl1g

2 - Ed Joyce

To compliment Davison's expansive but high-risk style of batting, we'll need a man at the other end who is capable of dropping anchor and manouevring the ball around the outfield. Joyce, a batsman with a long first class career behind him, provides our side with that much-needed stability. He has of course represented both Ireland and England at one-day level, contributing a match-winning knock of 107 in England's victory over Australia at the SCG in February 2007. He then made an excellent 86 in Ireland's narrow loss to the West Indies at the 2011 World Cup. There is a strong Irish presence in this team, but that should be no surprise given that they have been far and away the strongest associate nation in recent years. Openers with the calibre of Joyce are part of the reason why.

3 - Steve Tikolo

Tikolo was the star the Kenyan team for more than a decade - they in fact reached the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, in which he was captain. Tikolo has 23 half-centuries and three tons in one day internationals, including several significant scores against test-playing nations. He made two fifties in the 1999 tournament against India and England, while frequently top-scoring for his side in losing efforts against stronger opposition. Tikolo also had a successful career with Border in South African domestic cricket and represented an African XI in a one-off match against a requisite Asian side. Like Davison, Tikolo called it a day after the 2011 World Cup, which was his fifth. Not usually an explosive striker of the ball, but another capable of keeping things ticking with wickets in hand for others to come in and accelerate the scoring. such as...

4 - Ryan Ten Doeschate

Whilst Ten Doeschate's ODI average of 67 is somewhat inflated by the calibre of opposition faced in ICC tournaments and what have you, his first class figure of 46.56, earned largely in English and South African domestic competition, stands up to much more serious scrutiny and is an impressive figure in itself. Moreover, it is not just the runs he makes but the rapid pace with which he can take the game away from the opposition that makes Ten Doeschate so dangerous. His 119 at the last World Cup against England in Nagpur came at more than a run a ball, giving his side a real opportunity of repeating the shock victory that they achieved in the 2009 T20 tournament (England scrambled to victory, just) - he had already shown his potency with both bat and ball in that game, blasting a rapid 22 not out then removing both of England's openers.

In a warm-up match against India befor the 2007 World Cup, Ten Doeschate took no fewer than five Indian wickets - including Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni. As an all-round cricketer, he provides another dimension to this team, as he has shown for Essex, the Netherlands and in his selection for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.

That 119 against England appears here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEmMjS4c1tc

5 - Eoin Morgan

Morgan's ODI average of 38.28 is pheomenal when one considers the nature of the modern game and the fact that nine of his innings playing for Ireland in their successful 2007 World Cup yielded just 91 runs. That this figure when playing for England is actually higher (three centuries to one in fewer matches against stronger opposition) illustrates how much he has matured as a cricketer in the last three years or so. Now a regular in the England test side that sits number one in the world, his ability to either push the ball into gaps or take the attack on make him both a versatile and effective batsman who is capable of adapting to the match situation. He's also an excellent player of spin bowling in particular.

6 - Kevin O'Brien

There's only one place to start with the Gloucestershire and Ireland all-rounder. O'Brien plundered 205 runs at an impressive average of 41 in the 2011 World Cup - of course much of the reason for this impressive statistic was his knock of 113 in a stand of 162 for the sixth wicket with Alex Cusack to inspire an unlikely run chase against England (the Irish had tottered at 111-5 before O'Brien, ably supported by Cusack's 47, turned the match on its head). Blessed with a natural eye, immense physical strength and the ability to time the ball expertly, he is a dangerous man in the middle order capable of knocking bowlers out of their rhythm and clearing the rope, as he did six times in that match. With Davison, Ten Doeschate and O'Brien in the top six, the ability of this side to score rapidly means that you cannot count them out in even the most unlikely run chase. Some England fans may not enjoy seeing this again, but I struggled to get too wound up about it at the time, since Ireland were full value for their win.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1or9_PA_te4

7 - Niall O'Brien (wicket-keeper)

As well as brother Kevin and captain William Porterfield, Niall is one of only three Irishmen to have passed 1,000 ODI runs. That he is batting at number seven in this side perhaps indicates the depth of talent above him, since he has been known to come in at two or three wickets down for his country, while also being a prolific pinch-hitting opener for Northamptonshire in limited overs cricket. His first class average of 34.26 for the county between 2007 and 2010 is, though unspectacular, still above average for a gloveman even in the modern era. Most famously, he made a vital 72 in Ireland's stunning three wicket victory against Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup - this ability to make runs when they count, allied to his tidy glovework, make O'Brien a more than useful addition to the team.

8 - Thomas Odoyo

A hard-hitting batsman who also delivers brisk medium-fast bowling, Odoyo earned the (perhaps slightly unfounded) nickname 'the Black Botham' in his native Kenya. He first came to prominence as an 18-year old in the 1996 World Cup, contributing with the bat as the West Indies (still a strong team back then) were stunningly beaten in a low-scoring match. He also made 32 and took 3 wickets in an impressive individual performance against Pakistan in the same year, before being another integral part of that semi-finals side of 2003. Odoyo is the only Kenyan to have passed both 2,000 ODI and 100 wickets in the ODI format, and provides balance to this team as a man capable of making useful runs down the order in addition to his role as the fourth seam bowler. That 1996 Kenyan upset of the Windies appears here:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqdb4DAzNxs&feature=related

9 - Roland Lefebrve (captain)

The Netherlands' greatest ever player (although our number four is well on his way to surpassing him), Lefebrve was an accurate and economical bowler whose ability to tie batsmen down led to them dismissing themselves, either bored out by his medium pace or over-attacking when facing deliveries from elsewhere. In the middle overs of a match, with the opposition perhaps looking to accelerate the scoring, Lefebrve's knack of applying the handbrake may well prove decisive. He took five wickets in an innings on three occasions during his first class career for Somerset, Glamorgan and Canterbury in New Zealand, also contributing heavily to the Welsh county's Sunday League success in 1993.

Lefebrve holds the record for most ICC trophy wickets (71 at 11.64), along with some excellent individual performances in both English and Kiwi domestic cricket. His 6/53 off 33 overs against Auckland in the 1990/91 Shell Cup was a superb effort that proved that there was more to his game than simply tying down the man at the crease. However, it was his effectiveness in limited overs cricket for which he was most renowned, and saw most of his match-winning contributions. In the 1993 season in which Glamorgan also reached the semi-final of the NatWest trophy, Lefebrve produced phenomenal figures of 11-5-13-2 to effectively kill off Worcestershire's hopes in the last eight. Of the 215 overs he sent down in the shorter form that year, 55 were maidens.

He also has a first class century to his name, which is perhaps just as well as the last two men in this side are not exactly renowned for their batting. As a player with considerable experience at a high level (his county career would have carried on for a few more years but for injury) and a sound cricket brain, Lefebrve just edges out Steve Tikolo as captain.

10 - Ole Mortensen

A close second to Lefebrve in terms of ICC trophy wickets, Mortensen's 63 actually came at a better average of 10.41 - this included a one-man blitz of 7-19 for his native Denmark against the less than mighty Israel in 1994. 'Stan' as he predictably became known, also led the Derbyshire attack with Devon Malcolm during his long career in county cricket between 1983 and 1994. Although just short of absolute top pace, Mortensen was an awkward bowler against whom the batsman rarely had much time to think. His miserly economy rate of 2.60 across more than a decade was outstanding, and acted as the perfect foil for Malcolm's more devastating but expensive output.

Like Lefebrve, his accuracy with the ball also made him a potent weapon in limited overs cricket - Mortensen starred in the Derbyshire side which won the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1993. His own economy rate in the short form that year was 3.26 runs per over, which was highly impressive, even given the more prosaic nature of the sport back then. During his absolute peak of 1986-91, Mortensen was without doubt one of the best seam bowlers in the country - had he been eligible, he would no doubt have walked into the England side and in all likelihood performed with considerably more aptitude than some of the mediocrity that passed as their Test attack at the time.

As a batsman, Mortensen was limited, with a decent defence and nothing else, but he's in here as an opening bowler capable of removing top-order players at the highest level. A first class career average of 23.88 (this after an inevitable end-of-career dip) suggests he has the armoury to do it.

11 - Boyd Rankin

It was a successful World Cup in 2007 for both the Irish team and their strike bowler on a personal level. 12 wickets at 27 apiece was a fine effort, including a vital 3/32 in that famous victory against Pakistan. With his medium-fast bowling delivered from just back of a length, Rankin has also carved out a successful career in county cricket with Warwickshire - a first class bowling average of 27.30 is indeed a good return in the modern era at any serious level, and demonstrates an ability to do damage with the new ball. Injuries and inactivity contributed to a less successful World Cup in 2011, but he remains an operator capable of match-winning, if occasionally expensive performances. As with Mortensen, we are relying on Boyd for wickets not runs.

Honourable mentions - Gavin Hamilton, Bas Zuiderent, William Porterfield, James Brinkley

It would be interesting to consider how this side may fare against another 'all time' outfit from one of the weaker test-playing nations - of course such discussions are hypothetical, but they are what makes this aspect of competitive sport as compelling as it is. This bunny believes believe that against a requisite Zimbabwe or Bangladesh side (for example), this eleven chosen for 'Rest of the World' would stand a strong chance of victory, but then I would say that, yeah? It's all about opinions I suppose. Take care and I'll see you tomorrow...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Mine's a Guinness - and put a Shamrock on that, won't you?

I decided not to comment on the biggest football story of the last seven days until the weekend was over, just to make sure that it actually was. What developed on Sunday afternoon was certainly food for thought, as Manchester performed something of a demolition job on North London. First up, Spurs were hit for five by City, as Edin Dzeko's transformation from misfiring dud into a striker who might actually resemble £27 million well spent continued - yes, City look like genuine contenders this time. Then the decline of Arsenal into a gutless shambles reached what Gunners supporters can only hope was the ultimate nadir. You know the situation is pretty bleak when the opposition's rather hefty tally has to be spelled out on the vidiprinter for confirmation. Conceding eight (yes, E I G H T) in a single game, even to Manchester United, is the dismal stuff of which truly dire teams are made.

Having taken in a bit of 606 post match, those Arsenal supporters who expressed concern along the lines of "oh my god - we're definitely not good enough to crack the top four" are balls-on accurate in their analysis, but somewhat missing the point. A pal of mine casually enquired last week as to how the final placings might finish up this season, and two predictions of mine caused raised eyebrows - Liverpool to finish third, with Arsenal down in eighth (apologies to all Gooners who must be sick of that number already). After today I'm revising that view, and would be unsurprised if they finished somewhere in the 9-12 bracket come May - lots of pretty football, little in the way of end product, too many passengers and a lack of mental strength, both collectively and as individuals. Hardly a combination with success written all over it.

This bunny's considered thoughts are that Arsene Wenger is a manager who defined a previous era, but now looks lost having not won a trophy in six years. His squad is alarmingly absent of steel, leadership, tacklers, winners and players with a competitive edge. With Thomas Vermaelen, easily their best defensive player, in the side, the backline looks vulnerable as it did when Liverpool cruised to a 0-2 victory at the Emirates. Without him, we're into full-on Keystone Cops territory. Wenger appears in the last two seasons to have made it his personal mission to replace Arsenal 'legend' Gus Caesar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwxbhkDkoJI several times over, with the inevitable result:- a rearguard possessed of an exquisite combination of indecision and an impending sense of calamity.

Everyone with even a vague interest in football knows that Wenger needs to sign defensive re-enforcements before the transfer window closes on Wednesday. The killer question may not be as to the availability of funds, since it appears that they are certainly there after the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Perhaps a more burning issue is - does Wenger actually want to purchase an ugly centre half in the Phil Jagielka mould, along with a holding player who can provide much-needed steel in midfield? Or does there remain this misguided sense of footballing principle telling him that such an addition would somehow be 'wrong'? If shipping eight, even with a depleted side against the champions, does not spell out in black and white what the solution is, then nothing will.

My hunch is that Arsene, brilliant as he once was, may have crossed a line where his idealism is no longer applicable to 'real football' and has gone into what could best be described as a 'late period Malcolm Alison' phase. The god-like status of that famous back four of the 1990s rockets with every passing week (they always put up a fight didn't they? - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJG4K1Wlgeo) and that in reality is only just over half the true scale of the problem. It's a story that has of course been magnified after their midweek win over Udinese and qualification for the Champions League had appeared to paper over a few cracks. In that sense, we're fortunate that a much more positive tale had already aced it.

When I say positive, I am of course assuming that there are no fans of Partizan Belgrade reading this, since their take on Thursday night's events may vary somewhat. Anyway, Shamrock Rovers became the first Irish side ever to reach the group stage of a major European competition when they scored a shock 1-2 victory against the Serbian champions on their own patch to complete an equally unlikely 3-2 aggregate victory. Pat Sullivan's superb dipping volley from almost 30 yards out and Stephen O'Donnell's ice-cool penalty in extra time decided the outsome of what was evidently a dramatic game in which both sides could have nicked it - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp9iiuIB3H4. The reward is a guaranteed six games for manager, former Hibernian and Northern Ireland midfielder Michael O Neill, and his players home and away to Rubin Kazan, PAOK Salonika and the might of Tottenham Hotspur.

Shamrock are already faced with a dilemna as to whether they should stage the home games in their group at Tallaght, the tight and compact ground where the initial 1-1 draw with Partizan was achieved, or move the fixtures to the Aviva Stadium/Lansdowne Road, saving the trouble of installing temporary seating to meet UEFA requirements and netting a tidy sum in the process. As an outsider looking in, it would appear to come down to a straight choice between maximising potential revenue or the chance to progress further in the competition. Nobody, not even Spurs, will see a trip to Tallaght on a cold Thursday night as a foregone conclusion, and one gets the feeling based on last week's efforts that Shamrock will put up a far stronger fight against Harry Redknapp's side than a rather pathetic Hearts did. They will of course go into the group as rank outsiders, but it would be unwise to totally count them out if they can use the Tallaght experience to full effect.

Still, all of this is something of a sideshow for now and it's worth explaining why that victory in Belgrade is such a significant achievement, both for Shamrock themselves and club soccer in the Republic of Ireland as a whole.

In 2005, Shamrock were relegated after entering examinership and being bought out by a group of its supporters, the 400 club. Promotion back to the top flight was achieved at the first attempt by the club under fan ownership, then O'Neill was appointed as manager in 2009. After a second-placed finish in his first season, they secured their first title in sixteen years the following year, as well as knocking out Bnei Yehuda of Israel to land a high profile Europa League tie with Juventus. The current season had already seen Flora Tallinn defeated in the first stage of Champions League qualifying before going down in a competitive two-legged affair with FC Copenhagen. This brought them up against Partizan, the outcome of which was not a bad consolation prize.

Something I remember quite fondly was keeping an eye on the qualifying phases in various European competitions before the 'proper' football season kicked off, hoping to see someone from Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic progress to the first round proper. In European terms, clubs from those nations could all be lumped into the bracket of 'cannon fodder', often drawing sides from Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, with heavy defeat a fairly frequent occurrence. The victories were rare and invariably the product of favourable draws as opposed to any genuine and measurable improvement. All of this changed in the last decade, as the League of Ireland moved to the summer and many of its top sides went professional.

Perhaps the first sign of real progress to the wider football world came when Shelbourne stunned Hadjuk Split to reach the final qualifying round for the Champions League- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeCl7TG71hA&feature=related. With half an hour to play in the second leg of their tie with Deportivo La Coruna, the aggregate score remained goalless before the Spaniards finally broke Shels' resistance, eventually prevailing 3-0. 2006-07 was another solid year, with Derry City winning home and away against IFK Gothenborg, then anihalating Gretna of Scotland 5-1 on their own turf before themselves achieving a scorless draw at home against a European powerhouse in Paris St Germain. Meanwhile, Cork City, who had previously made headway in the InterToto Cup, eliminated the seeded team Apollon Limassol in the first stage of the Champions League.

There have been further successes, such as St Patricks Athletic upsetting Swedish side Elfsborg in 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN9AiKLsQ7k, and this is just the natural next step in what has been several years of progress for both Shamrock themselves and the League of Ireland in general. On the same night that the remaining Scottish representatives in Europe (namely Rangers, Celtic and Hearts) were knocked out, Shamrock stayed alive in style. Regardless of what happens from now, their current continental exploits are guaranteed to continue until at least December, and who's going to bet against them lasting slightly longer than that? Take care and I'll see you tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Poptarts

Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
Yeah, how I dearly wish
that I could play your game
Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
Please don't stop churning out
that shit that sounds the same

So is there a chance
you could teach me to dance
the way you do?
I always wanted to be a robot
Now I'm in the groove
could you teach me to move
just like you do?
I once knew how but then I forgot

Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
You're down with all the kids
it seems you're all the rage
Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
The way your soulless lives
fill up the gossip page

So here's the thing
can you teach me to sing
the way you do?
I always wanted to be a machine
If you've got the time
could you teach me to chime
just like you do?
Or do you not know what I mean?

It's not your fault
no you can't help it can you?
It's not your fault
your bra size is higher than your IQ

Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
The way you make the most
of no ability
Poptarts of the World
oh how I love you boys and girls
You must be lauging at
public gullability

Gonna get myself as sex change
iron out my vocal range
buy myself a facelift
give my image a seismic shift
I always wanted to be famous
and I'm amazed I never caught on
that the quickest way to make it
was staring me in the face

Yeah it was staring me in the face
yeah it was staring me in the face
yeah it was staring me in the face
yeah it was staring me in the face



Thursday, 25 August 2011

Why we Need to Know the Truth about Hillsborough

The e-petitions initiative is something that has clearly caught on. Our recent lively debate on the death penalty was of course as a result of it supporters seeking a parliamentary debate on the subject by this mechanism. On the whole, anything which enables ordinary people to put their own issues and concerns on the radar must be a change for the better, since it removes the monopoly that our representatives previously had on political discourse. As you will have gathered, this bunny is wholeheartedly against the death penalty, but if 100,000 individuals take the time to sign a petition expressing sentiments in its favour, then a serious discussion of the issue where it counts is the least they deserve.

There has been another petition doing the rounds this month calling for the full disclosure of all documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster, including minutes of cabinet meetings that took place in the aftermath of the tragedy. It can be found here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/2199 for anyone who wishes to add their name as this bunny has done. More than two decades on, blind spots remain for relatives and friends of the 96 people who lost their lives on that dreadful day of April 15th 1989. Missing pieces in the puzzle of truth are natural barriers to closure, a sense of finality at least in terms of what occurred and how the events that followed were played out in powerful circles.

Of course, everyone who was touched by the disaster in some way deserves a whole lot better than to see potentially vital information in its narrative buried away under the guise of the Official Secrets Act. There is no national security question at work here, the complete absence of any danger that we may come under nuclear attack as a result of these documents being made available for public digestion. Of the thousands of laws and Acts of Parliament that have been passed in the last 200 years, this is perhaps the single one that has received the most abusive, underhand and politically expedient methods of application. One simply hopes that the government's pledge to release this information into a wider domain is followed through - hopefully it will give us the answer to two questions which this bunny feels to be rather pertinent.

It is an open secret that the Thatch liked neither football nor those that followed it on a weekly basis. Following the riots at Kenilworth Road, Luton in 1985 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU2tCd0L_B8, her grand scheme to rid society of the cancer of football hooliganism was a requirement for all football supporters to carry identity cards when attending matches. Later that year came Heysel, where a minority of Liverpool supporters were indeed responsible for the death of 39 fans before their European Cup Final against Juventus.

It was Thatch herself who first floated the suggestion that not just Liverpool, but all English clubs should withdraw or be withdrawn from European competition. The FA and UEFA took the bait, and the rest is history. Banning Liverpool for a period of time was probably the right decision, but dragging Wimbledon, Oxford United and Luton Town (all of whom would have qualified for Europe in the 'banned years') into the equation made no sense whatsoever. This context is important, since while her antipathy for football and its supporters was obvious to anyone with a functioning brain, the police could be seen as an organisation that had served her well, particularly during the miners' strike.

So those two questions. that may or may not be answered by disclosure of cabinet minutes and Thatch's discussions with senior police officers, are as follows:-

1. Did the government seek to approach the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough from a starting position that was sympathetic to the police?

There are of course two versions of the Hillsborough story. One, peddled by the police and repeated to disgusting effect by the Sun and its notorious slimeball of an editor Kelvin McKenzie - http://www.anfieldroad.com/dont-buy-the-sun/ goes like this:- drunk football fans, many of whom did not possess match tickets, impatiently attempted to access the Leppings Lane end of the ground and forced the police to open a gate that had no turnstiles. This then caused the fatal crush, after which those same alcohol-fuelled scousers decided to pick-pocket the dead, urinate on ambulance crews and essentially exaccerbate the scale of what was unfolding.

Alternatively:- Chief Superintendent David Duckinfield and his right hand man Bernard Murray could see at around 15:05 from the control room that the Leppings Lane end of the ground had become dangerously overcrowded. The perimeter fences that had caged supporters in stadia like animals at a zoo did not help, but they were basically caught in the headlights and failed to do their job. The tragedy could have been avoided, or the scale of it at least reduced, had effective police action taken place earlier. Both Duckinfield and Murray are mightily fortunate to have later been cleared of manslaughter.

The first Taylor report (not the one that recommended all-seater stadia, but back to that very shortly) appeared to find much more credence in the latter theory than in the former. But were the government determined to see the police exonerated and Liverpool supporters at least partially blamed for the tragedy, regardless of the facts?

The second question to which this bunny would not mind an answer is somewhat more leftfield and, I appreciate, potentially controversial.

2. Was the idea suggested at an early stage that terraces would be blamed for the disaster, with all-seater stadia pushed as the solution?

I ask this because many have attempted to make a connection between football terraces and all manner of problems, from hooliganism to the tragic events that occurred at Hillsborough, Ibrox and other grounds. All of this is, when one thinks about it, deeply irrational and on some levels quite offensive. Many football fans, myself included, have stood up at matches and never once thought of starting a fight, invading the pitch during the game or joining the English Defence League. Moreover, despite what some might tell you, terracing is not inherently dangerous, as the Germans have proved by offering safe, modern standing capacity to their supporters - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaYyPl4Kj0k. Kudos on the soundtrack by the way...

Possibly the best analogy is with the crackdown on handguns after Dunblane. Such was the nature of the emotive response to the tragedy that the extreme solution suddenly made some sort of rational sense, while those who perhaps saw what was being proposed as the step too far that it was were cowed into guilty silence. Here's something that many readers may not know - at the time of the tragedy, Hillsborough was one of many stadia in the top two divisions not in possession of a current and valid safety certificate.

The legislation to cover ground standards, namely the Safety at Sports Grounds Act, was in place and had been updated as recently as 1986 in the wake of the horrendous Valley Parade fire of the previous year - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkTFG9c1QfY. It simply was not being enforced or adhered to, with terraces oversubscribed, the fences at grounds remaining a potential hazard and many stadia falling into disrepair having not seen a penny spent on them by their clubs in several years. Perhaps this is one area in which supporters, more keen to see the signing of a new midfielder than watch the game in an arena that did not represent a death-trap, may be as culpable as the directors and chairmen who pursued on-field glory above all else.

All-seater stadia are of course the norm now in both the Premier League and Championship, so one suspects that a return to some form of safe standing at matches is little more than a wild fantasy. The changing dynamics and character of football to include the middle classes, women and families owe a lot to the reccommendations of the second Taylor report in particular, and in many respects these shifts have been more good than bad for the game as a whole (jokes about prawn sandwiches aside). However, attracting a new clientele to matchday appears to have involved both pricing out the one that made it a spectacle in the first place, while depriving them of the opportunity to not just spectate, but participate, as those who inhabited the Kop, the Kippax and the Stretford End undeniably did.

This bunny's thoughts on the subject are that, at least hypothetically, the options of both seating and terracing should be available at football grounds to all those who wish to take them. Such a reasonable compromise driven by common sense appears to have been taken away from both the clubs themselves and their supporters, which is a great shame. Among the many questions surrounding the way in which the establishment handled the Hillsborough disaster, one blind spot may be whether the government themselves decided to steer the conversation in the direction of all-seater stadia, conveniently apportioning blame in the direction of concrete steps that could not answer back. Take care and I'll catch you soon.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

British and Irish Players in Italian Football (3 of 3)

The third and final part of this piece originally written for Football Italiano in May 2010

The summer of 1991 saw two high-profile transfers, one of which was delayed by unfortunate events. Paul Gascoigne and David Platt moved to Lazio and Bari respectively, both for the sum of £5.5 million. However, while Platt would shine with 11 goals from midfield in a relegated team, Gazza's 1991/92 season was a write-off due to the ligament damage he inflicted on himself during five minutes of madness at Wembley. It is ironic that while Channel 4 bought the rights to Serie A coverage on the back of Gazza's re-emergence in 1992, he would largely frustrate and disappoint, while Platt flourished especially at Sampdoria between 1993 and 1995, at one point becoming the player who had seen the most money spent on him in history. Des Walker played for Sampdoria while his pace appeared to deteriorate, and thus never had the success one would have hoped from a strong international defender.

Paul Ince's spell at Inter between 1995 and 1997 saw the self-styled 'Guvnor' become popular with the Nerazurri support for his all-action style, guided by Roy Hodgson, possibly Britain's greatest coaching export in the modern era. Again, we had lesser-name English players trying their luck in Italy. Franz Carr, Daniele Dichio and Lee Sharpe all appeared for clubs who were relegated from the top flight – Reggiana, Lecce and a declining Sampdoria respectively. There was also the curious case of Ronnie O'Brien, who left Middlesbrough only to find Juventus waiting for him on his release. Having never played a Serie A game, he now operates in the MLS over in the United States.

David Beckham's loan moves to AC Milan from the same league were perhaps an indication of the type of British activity we may see in Serie A in the near future. Whereas once the peninsula was the place to prove oneself, now it is the Premier League which is seen as an arena where both the action and the remuneration reside. A change of pace and a new experience in the latter stages of a player's career may well appeal to some who feel they still have nothing to prove. Of course, there is always the possibility that the Sky-fuelled hedonism of the world's biggest soccer franchise will implode with ghastly results. Until then however, the move of the cream of these isles to Italian shores may well be a thing of the past. One merely hopes that Beckham can recover from his injury and wear those Rossoneri stripes again.

Many thanks to Tim Doel and Rob Paton of Football Italiano - http://www.footballitaliano.co.uk/ for giving me a break, even if it was an unpaid one. Smart people tend not to forget who their friends are and you won't be forgotten - take care.

Short Parish Notice

I received an e-mail from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home reminding all who may be interested that the regular South East meetings are still taking place as usual despite the descent of LPUK into Vernon Howell/Branch Davidians territory. Anyone from the area who wishes to talk about smaller government over a few beers, cokes, glasses of wine, whatever can find more information at the link below. Newcomers are of course encouraged to turn up to find out if Libertarianism is for them or not, or simply to disagree with Simon and the gang.

http://libertarianhome.co.uk/2011/08/southark-drinks-are-open-as-usual/

ATB

Daz

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

In Response to James Garry (2 of 2)

This is the second part of my response to James Garry's article 'Supporting the Death Penalty' that appeared on the Anna Raccoon site last week - http://www.annaraccoon.com/politics/supporting-the-death-penalty/

Having dealt with the argument that 'capital punishment is a deterrent to kill and therefore saves lives', this ponders the question as to what extent the case for the death penalty actually centres around the notion of retribution and 'an eye for an eye'. While suggesting that "well no, actually it isn't about retribution", Mr Garry makes this point which this bunny thinks well worth re-reading in full:-

Maybe it is a failure of imagination on my opponents’ part, but do they really think that having a murderer executed brings any peace or any feeling of restoration to the families of murder victims? No, I don’t think it does. I don’t think the execution of the murderer comes anywhere close to soothing the unbearable grief, to quieting the anguish or to sating the howling emptiness caused by the loss of a loved one.

If you truly desire to avenge someone’s murder, you would keep their murderer in a state of perpetual, excruciating agony for the rest of their lives. That’s retribution.

The assumption in this line of argument is that when I talk about retribution, it is in the context of the victim's family, friends and loved ones coming to terms with their tragic loss. I'm fortunate in the sense that I can only imagine, but would agree with Mr Garry here that no punishment would come close to alleviating the constant grief and torment that must be a by-product of seeing a loved one snatched from you. It's often said that anyone who finds themselves in that position ends up serving the toughest life sentence of all, and that concepts such as 'moving on' are rendered wholly inappropriate by the gravity of what they've had to endure. Those sentiments are of course immensely difficult to argue with.

By retribution, I am referring to the instinctive reaction that many decent people have upon hearing of a particularly horrific murder. For instance, Harold Shipman was a man whose crimes against vulnerable patients in his care were met with many a call to 'hang the bastard' or issue some other form of ultimate penalty. This isn't necessarily the thinking of 'a rabble' or 'hotheads', but of individuals who would not normally be considered unreasonable by nature. Such emotive feelings from real people towards the taking of real lives are of course completely understandable, even if this bunny's principled objection to capital punishment leaves him muttering the relatively feeble "life to mean life" instead. Whether we want a judicial process that places such sentiments at its very heart is an entirely different matter.

I've stated previously that people who have an emotional stake in any situation are not usually the best placed to judge how it should ultimately be dealt with. What capital punishment does is it panders to that gut instinct evoked in someone watching the guilty verdict being announced on a news bulletin - where at that moment in time, they do want retribution, revenge, call it whatever you will. Some may have children of a similar age to the victim, with others simply repulsed by the scale of the evil that has been perpetrated. The retribution that they crave is not on behalf of the victim's family, but for themselves and/or society as a whole. I appreciate that some supporters of capital punishment do not think like this, but have come across many in everyday life who do and have no problem admitting as much. The desire for the state to 'equalise' on behalf of 'decent society' is much more common among the death penalty's advocates than Mr Garry appears prepared to acknowledge.

The most significant area of discussion regarded my reference to Stefan Kiszko and the awful miscarriage of justice that he endured, in my case against capital punishment. Mr Garry wholly appreciates the extent of the travesty (Kiszko spent sixteen years in prison that effectively killed him, for a murder he demonstrably had the square root of nothing to do with), but then questions its relevance to this discussion, describing my citing of it as "a very weak – and false – argument against the death penalty". Kiszko was of course not sentenced to death, so one cannot really hold him up as a tragic 'poster boy' of abolitionist sentiment - Derek Bentley, for instance, would be a far more appropriate individual to focus on were I attempting this. However, there are two major reasons why this bunny sees it as a very important case in shaping the parameters of the argument nonetheless.

First up, allowing the state to kill its own citizens in the name of justice is an investment of blind faith. Now, does nanny really warrant that degree of trust given her track record? I would suggest not, and that what the state did to Stefan Kiszko serves as perhaps the best instance of this point (it was after all dubbed 'the worst miscarriage of justice of all time'). Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Stefan did - an investigation that was ten parts ineptitude and ten parts rank dishonesty, bent cops and 'experts', a useless solicitor riding a 'two horses' defence that implied partial guilt, a phoney confession that he was bullied into signing on a promise that his mother would then be along to take him home - in short, they fit him up - it happens. Allowing the ultimate penalty is highly dependant upon the police and the courts having acting 1) diligently and 2) honestly at all times, even if we're allowing for the "unfortunate" fact that "no human system is perfect".

Hands up, who really believes in the police, solicitors and judges that much?

Of course the same could be said about any case regardless of the penalty that was eventually imposed at the end of it - however, this brings us neatly onto my next point. Kiszko's mother spent the best part of two decades working to have the original guilty verdict overturned, motivated at least in part by the prospect of seeing her son at home again with his name cleared. Someone in her position may still endeavour towards a posthumous pardon, or they might be prone to give up at an earlier point if there is not something tangible to keep them going through periods of stagnation. Anyone who spends time in prison for a crime that they did not commit has suffered enormously, but there remains the small relative comfort of being alive to see the wider world recognise their innocence, with a bag of money thrown in for undeserved troubles. Much of the tragedy of a posthumous pardon lies in how entirely useless it is, a signed confession to state murder, with zero relevance to its victim, nor any consequence to its perpetrator.

Like Mr Garry, I recognise the value of a justice system that inspires greater confidence from all of us. However, the re-introduction of capital punishment is an investment of blind faith that denies something most of us understand to be an unfortunate but inescapable truth - the state simply gets it wrong too often, usually through incompetence, but occasionally by selling a man they know to be innocent down the river to appease a public seeking closure. The best way in which we can clean up the judicial process is by exposing every last instance of ineptitude, corruption and other aspects of miscarriages such as prejudicial pre-trial media coverage. Only by bringing these cases into the public domain can we ask how and why they occurred, then do everything within reasonable limits to minimise the risk of it happening again.

The death penalty would surely make this less likely to take place, and that's why I believe that what happened to Stefan Kiszko must never be forgotten in the context of this argument. I look forward to Mr Garry's response on the subject, which will be the last word on it for the time being if he wishes - take care.

Monday, 22 August 2011

British and Irish Players in Italian Football (2 of 3)

John Charles was not just the greatest British to Italian export of all time. He was so good that in 1997, the man christened 'Il Buon Gigante' was voted by the Old Lady tifosi as the greatest foreign player in the club's history. Also the greatest Welsh player ever, Charles was one of the most complete all-round footballers of all time, and was able to play at international level in almost any outfield position, though the majority of his peak career was played as either a centre half or centre forward. Allied to his great technique and reading of the game was an incredible aerial prowess which served his side well at either end of the pitch. Before his move to Italy, two English professionals had bestowed a fitting accolade on him. When Nat Lofthouse was asked who was the best defender he had played against, and Billy Wright was asked which forward had caused him the most problems, both gave the same answer – John Charles.

Charles had come to prominence in Leeds United's promotion season of 1956, and had taken the First Division by storm, scoring 38 goals in the 1956-57 season. Juventus had struggled badly in the same season, only pulling away from relegation danger in the final weeks of the campaign, and saw Charles as the perfect addition to revive their fortunes. An outlay of £65,000 was a British transfer record, and the huge investment demanded results, which were instant. A debut goal against Vicenza was the first of 28 he would score as he was Serie A's top scorer by five clear goals and was Italian player of the year in 1958. He broke the 20-goal barrier again in 1960 as another Scudetto followed and was a key contributor as they retained the title the following season. A major part of their success was Charles' partnership with the often-volatile Argentinian forward Omar Sivori.

An explosive player capable of brilliance himself, Charles later joked that the catwalk had never been a likely destination for him, “whenever we scored we all used to run in the other direction, because he was such an ugly bugger no-one wanted to kiss him”. Harsh, but amusing nonetheless, especially when you consider the Juventus team 'ran away' from Sivori on 90 occasions while his partnership with Charles was in full swing. With his partner scoring 93 times in 155 appearances for the Old Lady, it is easy to see how they dominated in a period where catenaccio remained the tactical framework of choice and he has quite rightly acquired legendary status especially with Juve fans but also throughout the peninsula as a whole. A diminished and injury-prone Charles made ten appearances for Roma in 1962-63 but it is in the black and white of the Turin giants where he is most fondly remembered.

Charles' last season at Juventus saw no fewer than four British players arrive on the peninsula in the summer of 1961. Easily the most successful of these was Gerry Hitchens, the Aston Villa and England forward who scored twice on his Inter debut as they smashed Atalanta 6-0, and would net a further fourteen times that season. He broke the 10-goal barrier again for the Nerazurri the following season before a reasonably successful period with Torino between 1963 and 1965. Further spells with Atalanta and Gigi Riva's Cagliari followed, and his eight consecutive seasons attached to an Italian club remains a record for a British player. Other British players of the period fared less well. Jimmy Greaves, who had established himself as one of the best goalscorers in Europe with Chelsea, scored nine in twelve appearances for AC Milan, but found life on the peninsula unsettling and quickly negotiated a move to Bill Nicholson's Tottenham.

Torino signed two Scottish players, Joe Baker and Denis Law, in the summer of 1961. Both played in Serie A for only a season, despite the pair scoring a respectable 17 goals between them. In his autobiography, Law bemoaned the defensive nature of Italian coaches and the drawn-out tactical battles that Serie A matches often became. Baker did not take too well to the constant media interest in footballers on the peninsula, which contrasted with players back in England being able to take the bus to the ground on matchday with the team's supporters!!

The 1970's was a barren period in terms of British players moving to Italy to test themselves in a new football culture. It was a strange time, as Britannia ruled the waves in Europe, but there was an old joke about the England national team in particular struggling to qualify for the Home International series. Given that it was often the International stage on which players were spotted for Serie A stardom and riches, this fact is perhaps unsurprising in retrospect.

Moreover, many of the best players of the 1970's in Britain were also those who were known to have at least one and often several off-field vices. In fact, Brian Clough once said while managing Nottingham Forest, “Every player had a vice – it was either booze, birds or horses”. He then added that Peter Shilton was the only footballer of the period he had known who had not fallen into one of these lifestyle traps. Against this backdrop, perhaps the British players whose ability would have lit up Serie A at that time were ill-suited to it in terms of mentality and professionalism.

It was in the early 1980's era of New Romantics and Rubix Cubes that the next wave of British players got the opportunity to ply their trade in Serie A. Joe Jordan was a bustling and moderately successful forward with Milan and Verona, while the man signed to replace him, Luther Blissett, had a more difficult time, scoring only five times in the 1983/84 season. In another of football's cruel forays into sarcasm, an urban myth circulated that the Rossoneri had intended to sign Blissett's Watford team mate, John Barnes, and signed the target man for £1 million by mistake. More successful were Mark Hateley and Ray Wilkins at Milan and Trevor Francis and Graeme Souness at Sampdoria, who were all on the pitch when the two sides met in a Coppa Italia final 1985. Samp won the tie 3-1 on aggregate, with Souness scoring the decisive goal in the first leg at the San Siro.

It was also an era in which British players were not consigned to the peninsula's premier clubs. Paul Rideout and Gordon Cowans both moved from Aston Villa to Bari in 1985, only to play in a relegated side the following season. The same chain of events would occur with another English player six years later. Paul Elliott also played for a struggling Pisa side, whose Serie A survival in 1987/88 could not be repeated the following season. He had moved to Italy in the same summer as Ian Rush, whose unhappy spell with Juventus saw him fail to emulate the last Welshman to play for the Turin giants, namely John Charles (though he never actually said Italy was like 'a foreign country').

Part three to follow on Wednesday...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

In Response to James Garry (1 of 2)

Some of you may have seen this Anna Raccoon article http://www.annaraccoon.com/politics/supporting-the-death-penalty/ by James Garry of Politics on Toast - http://politicsontoast.com/. It is indeed a strong and highly coherent piece of writing, even if it expresses sentiments that I could not possibly agree with - this bunny also comes in for a bit of an intellectual kicking on more than one occasion and hey, that's the price of engaging in online debate with a capable opponent. So there are several points raised here which deserve no less than a detailed and thorough response.

First up, Mr Garry's critique of my observation on emotion vs reason (ie that abolitionists are generally more 'level headed' and 'rational' than supporters of the death penalty) is a fair one. There is of course a cocktail of rational and emotionally-charged discourse on either side of this particular argument. Both can highlight statistics that point in their general direction, while there are also martyrs to the death penalty itself (the wrongly executed) and its abolition if one believes in the ability of this particularly sharp sword of damocles to deter crime - in his article, Mr Garry points to the child who might be murdered in the future as such an instance.

Individuals in each camp will be more or less 'rational' or 'emotional' than others pursuing the same line of argument, so a fight over which side is slightly more or less level headed than the other may only go round in circles and be a waste of everyone's time. Of course, people are naturally inclined to believe that their case is more solid and based in fact than the directly opposing one, so what I said in the first instance about abolitionists being more rational should not have been a great surprise in that context. However, Mr Garry's point has considerable weight in the sense that the application of a broad brushstroke can often be the first step towards dismissing one's opponents as bloodthirsty lunatics who are foaming at the mouth, or 'bleeding heart liberals', depending on your starting position.

In my original piece on the subject - http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/2011/08/opposing-death-penalty.html, I raised two points which Mr Garry objects to, leading him to suggest that my comments were "misrepresentations of the ‘pro’ capital punishment argument". By saying that "to justify one unfounded claim he needs to make another", there is a clear recognition that these questions possess a natural link. Does the death penalty actually deter people who would otherwise kill? Is my claim that it does not 'unfounded', or merely an accurate reflection of the misplaced faith that many have in the poetic power of the noose or needle? And in the absence of clear evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of those crimes that would be punishable by it, what exactly is it there for?

Mr Garry cites that "In the five years since 1965 when the death penalty was suspended, there was a 125% increase in crimes that would have attracted the death penalty", also pointing out that nobody on the 'anti' side of the argument has made a successful attempt to either counter or otherwise explain this statistic to him. In truth, I haven't seen these figures despite having had a look for it, although I have no issue believing them to be true - there are, however, a few questions worth posing. By 'capital offences', we are presumably talking about those crimes where the death penalty would merely have been on the table as an option, since by definition, one can never say with utter certainty than defendant x would have been hanged?

Does the absence of capital punishment leave juries with greater confidence to find the defendant guilty? Perhaps something for all of us to consider is - the death penalty will almost certainly lead to innocent people being executed, but has it also brought about the acquittal of men and women who were actually as guilty as sin but faced with a jury who were not wholly convinced of that guilt? Conversely, does the 'mere' consequence of a life sentence lead to a more casual approach to what constitutes reasonable doubt?

Mr Garry argues persuasively for juries made up of individuals with qualifications and at least some degree of proven intelligence. He also makes the case for unanimous 12-0 verdicts across the board, something which I believe is fine in principle but unworkable in reality. A single rogue juror pursuing a perverse acquittal for their own reasons is hugely empowered by any system that calls for unanimity, and herein lies the problem. In the same way as something just short of utter certainty can constitute 'beyond a reasonable doubt' (cases in which we can be 100% sure of a defendant's guilt are extremely rare), 10-2 is the sort of majority threshold that appears to be sit comfortably with this. Yet Mr Garry is quite naturally uncomfortable about the notion of hanging, injecting or sizzling someone on a 10-2 verdict, so calls for unanimous decisions and 'smart' jurors.

Of course, intelligence and honesty are two entirely different things - just because a juror is professionally qualified or possessed of an above-average IQ does not mean that they will enter a courtroom free of their own agenda or prejudices. Notorious criminals are known to attract 'fanclubs', a single member of which could bring about a perverse acquittal or expensive re-trial because of the requirement for a 12-0 guilty verdict. This bunny is coming round to the view that juries need to be phased out and replaced by a system that relies more on forensic analysis of the facts, rather than two theatrical performers in wigs attempting to sell their case to an audience perhaps not versed in the details and their ramifications. However, that is of course an entirely separate conversation, and in the context of this one, it is the prospect of the death penalty that is the problem.

Back to the subject of the death penalty and its deterrent value. Some statistics shown here - http://davecoop.net/rate.htm detail the extent to which the murder rate declined in the United States between 1990 and 2007, identifying the separate trends that occurred in those states that 1) actively used capital punishment, 2) kept it on the books as an option but had effectively become abolitionist in all but name and 3) had formally abolished the death penalty. The graphs indicate that the homicide count actually fell faster in those states which did not carry out executions. I appreciate that Mr Garry has produced a compelling statistic to which an immediate and satisfactory reply from the 'anti' side may be lacking, but then these figures from a nation where the ultimate penalty is used in some places and not others would appear to seriously undermine the 'deterrent' argument.

In those seventeen years, might the prospect of ten thousand volts in the chair have caused someone, somewhere to think again before committing an act of murder? It would be arrogant in the extreme to suggest that this absolutely did not happen, and it may well have done. However, other factors invariably come into play before we base our judgement not on an isolated case, but the general trend of the statistics. Is a killer's 'urge' so strong as to make them unreachable in terms of weighing up the consequences? In a premeditated murder, where the body might be disposed of some distance from the scene of the crime, does the perpetrator actually believe that they will not be detected and therefore the fallout to be merely a hypothetical discussion? Are some murderers actually rather unperturbed at the thought of being executed themselves?

Were there a stack of evidence that all suggested a direct correlation between the absence or presence of capital punishment and its effect on the murder rate, then those of us who object to it on a point of principle would be in a very difficult position indeed. The reality is that the range of statistics that are out there is at best highly inconclusive - certainly nowhere near sufficiently compelling to say with any degree of certainty that 'capital punishment deters crime', as Mr Garry does. I mentioned in my opener on the subject that this is an argument I have heard with decreasing regularity over the years, not to be facetious but because many supporters of capital punishment appear to have abandoned it themselves and given greater focus to other aspects of their case. This brings us neatly onto the subject of retribution, which is where I'll pick up on Tuesday - take care.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

British and Irish Players in Italian Football (1 of 3)

This is the first instalment of a three-parter on British and Irish players who have contributed towards the history of Italian football. Part One was run in May 2010 by the good people at Football Italiano - http://www.footballitaliano.co.uk/. The subsequent chapters never got round to being published, so will follow this one in the coming days here on OutspokenRabbit.

The notion that foreign players and coaches see cracking England in the same way that rock bands regard a breakthrough in America is indeed a new and distinctly modern phenomenon. The role of those from these Isles in calcio is most visible in its recent history and it would be remiss of this writer not to give this period the attention it deserved. However, many of the origins of the game on the peninsula and the Serie A that we know and love are indeed attributable to a small group of Englishmen in particular. It is a fascinating tale, and one that is well worth both writing and reading.

The two dominant sides in the early years of League football on the peninsula were founded by Englishmen who had a different game in mind when they arrived. Genoa Athletics and Cricket club was formed in 1893 with the aim of taking those two sports to national prominence in Italy (it would be fair to say that one has since thrived much more than the other!!). The football side of the club was formed in 1897, with the early English-only rule lifted, which allowed Italians to play. James Richardson Spensley, a doctor, goalkeeper and later pioneer of the scout movement, led the Genovese to six of the first seven Italian championships, who from 1902 wore the red and navy halved shirts that have since become their trademark.

The other title winners in that period were AC Milan. They themselves had been founded by a group of English emigrants which included Herbert Kilpin, Samuel Davies, David Allison and the club's first president, Alfred Edwards. Also originally formed as a cricket and football club in 1899, they won the title in 1901 and have since kept the English spelling of the city in their name (pronounced Mee-lan) as a homage to their heritage. However, the original English contingent was replaced by an almost all-Italian team in the early 1900's and this caused a split amongst those who felt that foreign players could improve the Italian game. This is where the name of a new club, Internazionale, came from, with an emphasis on allowing better players from across the world to develop them as Spensley, seen as a 'founding father' of Italian football and the early English players had done for Genoa and their Milan rivals.

Another watershed moment was the outbreak of World War I, during which some of the original English pioneers of caclcio were among the millions who lost their lives. Spensley's death in Mainz while serving in the medical corps in 1915 was tragically symbolic of the change in the Italian game that was to follow (Spensley's grave was eventually discovered by some German students in 1990). Between the wars, the most important British influence in the Italian game was not a player.

William Thomas Garbutt, a former player with Blackburn Rovers and Woolwich Arsenal, became coach of Genoa in 1912 and revolutionised Italian coaching. He saw the move into the professional era, with the requisite changes in approach to paid transfers for players and a more thorough approach to fitness and tactics. Indeed, Garbutt was mirroring the work of Herbert Chapman, who was implementing the same adjustments to the profession in his homeland. Genoa would win three Scudetti under his stewardship, in 1915, 1923 and 1924. It is fitting that the last of these triumphs would coincide with Chapman's first success with Huddersfield Town in the same year. After this, he went on to manage Roma and Napoli, improving their fortunes but never quite repeating his earlier success.

A brief move to Spain saw him clinch a La Liga title in 1936 with Athletic Bilbao before a brief stay with Milan and a return to Genoa which saw two interruptions. Firstly, the club was renamed AC Genova 1893 under the instruction of Benito Mussolini in 1939. Of course, by this time, Britain and Italy had aligned themselves on opposing political axes and when the two countries became officially at war on 10 June 1940, Garbutt became an exile and was interned in a war camp. It was indeed a cruel irony that his wife, Anna would later be killed in an Allied bombing raid in 1943. After the war, Italy and the other defeated countries needed to be rebuilt from scratch, and their football clubs were no different. Garbutt returned to a warm ovation ahead of the Rossoblu's 4-0 defeat of Brescia on September 22. 1946 and saw the club to successive mid-table finishes before standing down in 1948.

The British players who plied their trade in Italy immediately after the war were fairly few and did not necessarily operate at the highest level. Charles Adcock scored 10 goals as Padova narrowly missed out on promotion to Serie A in 1947, and contributed a further 17 as they went one better a year later. He then struck a further 7 times to keep Biancoscudati in the top flight before spells with Triestina and Treviso. It was ironic that as an English forward left the club, an English coach would take them over in 1950. Frank Wong Soo had already become the first player of Chinese origin to represent an English FA side, making his debut in a War International against Wales on May 9. 1942.

Unfortunately, his international credentials would not stretch to success in Serie A. After Padova narrowly avoided relegation in 1951, Soo could not prevent them falling into Serie B in 1952, and was subsequently replaced. He moved to Scandinavia, where he had had more success, coaching Djurgaardens to the Swedish championship in 1955. Another English coach was Edmund Crawford, who sandwiched two struggling seasons for Bologna by coaching them to a sixth-placed finish in the 1950/51 season. His move to Livorno was less successful, as they were relegated from Serie B in 1952. However, the most successful coaching export of this time was Jesse Carver, who managed the Juvetus side of John Hansen and Gianpiero Boniperti to a Scudetto in 1950 before later spells with Lazio, Torino, Roma and Inter. He took the work of the previous English forefathers to a new level, introducing a more technical approach to preparation for matches, and dismissing the notion (that seems ridiculous now) that starving players of the ball during the week would make them hungrier for it when the whistle blew to start a competitive game.

Read the autobiographies of players in Britain from around that time and you may see how this primitive modus operandi remained conventional wisdom on these isles for many decades while a more patient, technical game was developed on the peninsula. In that sense, Carver can be credited for being a pioneer, and Juventus, the old lady of Italian football, would provide the platform for another British export, arguably the best of all time.

Part Two to follow on Monday...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Everywhere you Look

Keep your eyes open and Statism is something you'll invariably encounter in your everyday experience. Sometimes, the connection is not immediately obvious or may in fact run counter to the surface appearance with which you are met. Having just returned from picking up an NHS prescription (plenty has been said on here about how Statists leave many of us with no choice but to rely on an outdated model of healthcare), I found two further forms of Statism in the space of minutes.

One was completely of my own free will and is something of which I have been aware for many years now. Smokers are absolutely detested by the state - in fact, anti-smoking sentiment has become a convenient smokescreen (no pun intended) behind which some of the most nasty and vindictive forms of Statism have been allowed to hide and take pot-shots at decent people over a perfectly lawful lifestyle choice. I'm looking forward to seeing the new, improved, cigar-smoking Malpoet later on now that he has heeded the Statist call not to enter Mr McGregor's garden. Sometimes I think about quitting what is a pretty expensive and filthy habit in order to save a few quid more than anything - occasionally, I actually manage to kick cigarettes completely for a brief period of time.

However, without even knowing it, perhaps the constant wailing of nanny to put it out and stop being such a naughty boy actually makes me determined not to stop? Of course, alcohol is now going the same way as tobacco, and the typical yin and yang of a beer or glass of wine in one hand aligned with a cigarette in the other may soon be a frighteningly expensive form of escape from the soul-destroying nagging that people face in their daily lives - be it at home, in the workplace or via the unanswerable propaganda machine of nanny, who may present herself as Mary Poppins, but in reality is more akin to the rather gruesome Miss Trunchbull from Matilda (an interesting choice for a YouTube tribute, but then the sight of nanny troughing her way through the cake seems strangely appropriate to the point I'm making!!) .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6k10jlRg9k

Seconds before entering the tobacconist (one of those brilliant little independent shops that seem to be diminishing in number by the day, so I'm more than happy to get my fix from there if I can), I was approached by another of those 'charidee' collectors, who as I've stated previously, are invariably lovely in a multitude of (at least superficial) ways. Of course this is merely part of the general marketing strategy and is therefore not something this bunny should get too pious about - were I looking to seal a deal and knew an attractive member of the opposite sex to the potential customer, who also vaguely knew the subject matter, I'd be sure to include them in the conversation if I could get away with it. After all, physical attraction has this alarming tendency to soften even the toughest of people and bring out their more generous qualities.

Last time I discussed the issue of charity, someone pointed us in the direction of this excellent website - http://fakecharities.org/, which explores the lengths to which many organisations masquerading as concerns of the voluntary sector actually rely heavily on monies confiscated by taxpayers by force. So much of what could be seen as goodwill or compassion has now been nationalised, to the point where many of us (this bunny included) are now sceptical about giving a penny to 'charities' for two very good reasons.

First up, if the state sector was doing such a wonderful job as we're told, then surely there would be no gaps for the 'third sector' to step in and fill? Moreover, a charity may be serving its clients best by openly criticising the government's approach to whatever issue it is concerned with. If it receives x per cent of total funding from the state itself, then is an unwillingness to bite the hand that feeds not going to compromise the integrity of that organisation and its stated aims? Then there is the more simple observation that any corporation in receipt of so much as a penny obtained by taxation is in fact not a 'voluntary charity' at all. That is not to say that they do not do anything useful, merely that their claim to be a part of the 'third sector' is a fundamentally dishonest one.

A few years ago, a mate of mine came back from holiday with a story about a meal he'd had in a restaurant. The waiter, upon producing the bill, had 'helpfully' inserted a 'tipped' ammount at the bottom, which my pal had naturally got rather upset about. He ordered the waiter to come back with a new itemised bill, minus the offending and rather presumptuous item.Upon weighing up the scale of the damage, and considering the level of service he'd enjoyed, my friend put in exactly the same sum of cash as the waiter had originally assumed to be his tip. The point of course is that he wasn't being selfish or tight by any stretch - he simply wanted to hand the money over of his own free will as opposed to feeling that it had been taken from him by stealth.

Whenever I see nationalised compassion or state-funded charity at its worst, I realise that nanny is very similar to the waiter that my friend encountered - maybe like him, she just doesn't understand the feelgood factor that comes with giving something to a deserving individual without any sense of compulsion? This is a terrible shame, since in my experience most of us are prepared to find what we can for a cause that touches our hearts. If any readers wish to promote charities which absolutely do not receive a penny of taxpayer funding (note - the AP Withers benevolent fund does not count), then feel free to do so in the comments section. Take care and I'll catch you tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Your Rotter (Belongs to You)

People
do this all the time
Take ten too many
of their red wine
Standards descend
like a sinking boat
as your tongue makes friends
with some mush's throat

I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your lapse of taste
to the gutter
grabbed and discarded in haste
I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your big mistake
Just a nutter
whom you promptly laid to waste

Wastin
my precious time
Trash craving affection
from the sublime
Here those voices
Fulfil my dream
as your wise choices
just float downstream

I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your lapse of taste
to the gutter
grabbed and discarded in haste
I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your big mistake
Just a nutter
whom you promptly laid to waste

Cos as I watch the game restart
I can't play since my heart
belongs to you
It belongs to you
And when I get an open goal
I can't score cos my soul
belongs to you
It belongs to you

And now I'm the object of desire
She lunges at me, like she's on fire
But my sense of duty makes me walk away
There's a feeling inside me, I don't wanna betray

I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your lapse of taste
to the gutter
grabbed and discarded in haste
I wanna be your rotter
I wanna be your big mistake
Just a nutter
whom you promptly laid to waste

Cos as I watch the game restart
I can't play since my heart
belongs to you
It belongs to you
And when I get an open goal
I can't score cos my soul
belongs to you
It belongs to you

Belongs to you
It belongs to you

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Fate and Providence vs Personal Responsibility

As should be apparent to people who read this blog on a regular basis, this bunny and several of our contributors are politically what could be described as Libertarians. What is a Libertarian and what do they believe in? Libertarians favour small government, taking the view that the 'tax and squander' policies of Statist politicians lead to less prosperity for the general population along with a catalogue of economic anomalies. Allied to this is an equally firm belief in social and constitutional liberalism, that the state should stay out of people's bedrooms and personal lives, while being extremely careful with regard to eroding civil liberties such as free speech in the names of 'diversity' or 'security'. The typical Libertarian could best be described as someone who possesses liberal instincts on all issues at all times, while holding prejudice, discrimination and its 'foe' of political correctness in equal contempt.

Unlike many Libertarians, I also believe in the man upstairs, a higher authority and creator who clucks his wise tongue at our many forays into the realms of sin and vice. This of course is not the same as being a member of an organised religion, which from a little period of 'try before you buy' I found to be an expensive and soul-sapping business where fellow human beings appeared determined to deprive you of the ability to think for yourself. Like in any large organisation, those possessed with authority in the world of mass religion appear to want blind faith not to the man upstairs or his word, but themselves. Drawing on life experience, people who demand such a precious commodity on a no strings attached basis tend in reality to be the least worthy of it.

However, if you believe in God and hold liberal instincts, then there might appear on the surface to be a clear contradiction at work. How does one tie in the notion of fate (ie 'God's plan') with a belief that we as individuals both own and are responsible for our own lives? Many of the Libertarians I know are both very intelligent and confirmed atheists, and one supposes the answer for them is very simply:- they don't - you own your life and are responsible for the successes and failures within it, so leave God out of the equation since he's about as real as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. For an atheist Libertarian, it's far more simple on face value to square that particular circle, but I would naturally and fundamentally disagree with them that the notions of Christianity (which I wear more lightly than most) and instinctive liberalism are mutually exclusive.

The first point worth making is that freedom and responsibility are mutually inclusive, so perhaps the conversation only applies to those who are truly in possession of free will. I can certainly recall occasions during my formative years when life took a turn for the worse because of the inadequacies of others who made decisions on my behalf - I'm sure many of you will be able to relate to that. Now, can I seriously be held responsible for the negative consequences of other people's decisions? Methinks not, but whatever holes I found myself in as a result were, I believe, part of the preordained element of this bunny's timeline. At some point in the future I would of course have a greater degree of free will to either 'right the wrongs' or make things a whole lot worse (as I and many of us often have, but hey that's how we learn, yeah?).

A key part of this reconciliation is the understanding that there is both a fated and controllable element to most real life situations. We have all seen in our own lives how bad things happen to good people and vice versa, despite the best (or otherwise) endeavours and deeds of those involved. This may involve a significant turn for the better or worse that was entirely beyond the immediate control of the individual, but then how they either appreciate the unexpected opportunity to improve their lives, or revive themselves from an undeserved moment of disaster, is indeed a question of free will. One of the reasons this bunny is passionate about personal liberty is precisely because without the ability to (lawfully) get on with their lives unimpeded, it becomes very difficult for individuals to 'take responsibility' in the true sense.

Remember:-

Freedom - Responsibility = Anarchy
Responsibility - Freedom = Slavery

In time, I've come to view life as something resembling a game of snakes and ladders, with the caveat being the ability of external forces to either give one an undeserved but welcome break, or put the individual back where they started. I'll give you a very good example from my own life - I'm distinctly uncomfortable with being bossed around and have little time for people who are instinctively authoritarian (statist) by nature. While I was still professionally ambitious in rat race terms and clung onto the possibility of encountering 'the one', then this issue naturally brought about some deeply unhappy situations. However, once I came to the realisation that this was life's way of presenting this bunny with another choice, then the picture became a whole lot clearer. The rat race and its triumphs of obedience over ability can go to hell, while marriage is something they rightly refer to as an institution (see the slavery equation above for further details!!).

Someone who I talked to about this put the concept of a 'screwup timeline' far better than I could ever have done. She likened the fate/responsibility reconciliation with those ghost story books where one faces a string of choices, followed by several possible endings for which you would flick to a different page. If you end up dead in the book, then it is possible to trace your bad calls back to a point where things went seriously wrong. This is often the case in real life too, and I don't believe for a second that it is a mere accident or fluke. Perhaps life will throw another wannabe traffic warden at this bunny, or render him the smitten kitten to one temporary angel or another? Naturally, I sincerely hope that this does not happen!!

Of course, some truly dreadful and inexplicable things happen to people for which I could offer no rational explanation, but I know from personal experience that most of the time the source of our woes owes itself to a period in which we perhaps could have handled the free will element of a situation better than we did. That is not to say that it is or was entirely within our control, since there is likely to have been a preordained element too. However, having made more mistakes than most, I can cite plenty of situations where although there were aspects beyond this bunny's immediate sphere of influence, those that sat within it were not played particularly well.

God bless those that believe and take care all who don't - I'll see you tomorrow...