Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hair Today - Gone Tomorrow

Cricket's Umpiring Woes.

News that Darrell Hair is to sue the cricket authorities makes it clear that the authorities have bowled themselves a bouncer.

Whatever happens, cricket is going to be the loser.

Hair alleges, quite rightly, that the authorities are being racist because he has been hung out to dry whilst his colleague, Billy Doctrove, continues to officiate in Test Matches. It's going to be difficult not to agree with him or for the authorities to claim that there is no case to answer

What is in danger of being lost in this mess is what the laws of cricket say about unfair play.

First: the umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play (Law 3.7). Therefore, it is for the umpires appointed for the match (Hair and Doctrove) to decided if any unfair play has taken place, without reference to any outside body!

Second: Under Law 42.3 the umpires are empowered to change a ball they think has been tampered with – without any reference to anyone else, or without apportioning blame to any one person. This is precisely what happened. The umpires changed the ball and the Pakistani captain was responsible, even though he may not have personally done anything to the ball.

Third: Under Law 3 it is clear that both umpires must agree before any action can take place under Law 42. Therefore, Darrell Hair's contention that since Billy Doctrove is still on the umpires circuit he is being discriminated against is, without a doubt, valid.

At the press reported at the time: On 20 August, Hair and Doctrove awarded England a five-run penalty because they believed the ball had been interfered with.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Cricket Board said, "It is crass for him (Hair) to say a black West Indian was let off [whereas] he was a white man and therefore he was charged.

"Mr Hair was the senior umpire and he literally took over that Oval cricket match. I was present there. "There was only one man that evening that did not want cricket to be played. [It was] a black spot on the history of cricket thanks to Mr Hair."

This is nonsense. The match was awarded to England under the laws when Pakistan refused to take the field.

An ICC spokesman stated that Doctrove's status was not discussed at the meeting to discuss events at the Oval. If that's not discrimination, I'm not sure what is!

Both umpires must agree, or the status quo must be maintained. The Laws do not sanction the idea of a “senior umpire”.

The Pakistan team refused to resume play after the tea interval in protest against the decision, leading to the first forfeiture in 129 years of Test cricket.

ICC adjudicator Ranjan Madugalle later cleared Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq of ball-tampering charges. Unfortunately, this verdict, which is a disgrace (insofar as it does not support the match umpires) has not and probably will not be made public. Likewise the ball in question may not be seen again.

Try to imagine the scenario. Umpire Hair sees the ball suddenly moving in strange ways. He is concerned that the ball has been tampered with. He calls “Dead Ball” and moves to the middle of the wicket to consult with Umpire Doctrove.

What was said? Here's my version.

Darrell: Well, Billy, this ball has clearly been tampered with. I examined it just a few minutes ago and now its condition is clearly not the same. And, it has begun to move in a way that it wasn't moving just a moment ago.

Billy: Yes, Darrell.

Darrell: I'm going to award 5 penalty runs to England and change the ball.

Billy: Ok, Darrell.

That's pretty much it. And, most importantly, that's exactly what the laws of cricket stipulate. The umpires confer regarding unfair play (Law 42). They reach a joint decision and impose penalty runs if they both agree. The concept of a “senior umpire” does not exist in law. Both umpires must agree or the status quo is maintained.

For the ECB or the Pakistani Board to now insist that the whole thing is Darrell Hair's fault is ridiculous. Darrell, unfortunately for cricket, has a good case for unfair treatment. The fact that Billy is still employed and the ECB “leaked” his memo regarding compensation are prima facie evidence that he has been discriminated against.

The authorities would do well to pay up to shut him up. He may get the 500,000 dollars in an out-of-court settlement. Cricket is the loser.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Another Brick in the Wall

Teacher's Woes.

Steve Downes' investigation into the state of teachers and teaching in the EDP, “Who'd want to be a teacher today”, confirms what everyone already knew. Teaching is tough and getting tougher.

A Yougov survey showed six out of ten teachers suffering from stress. I'm surprised it's so low. What are the other four doing? They were probably off sick the day the survey was taken.

A survey for Teachers' TV says half of all teachers have considered quitting because of stress. The other half must be downing prodigious quantities of Valium.

Teaching is stressful. I could have told them that and saved them the effort and money involved in taking a survey. This is not news. What Steve has brought to the table is some insights into why teachers may be stressed. Some of these bear closer inspection.

Quoting John Barnes of the ATL, Steve reminds us that society today is much different than it was when teachers who are in their 50's started their careers. Putting it another way, most people expect, as they reach the years approaching retirement, things will become “easier” at work. Their long experience of the job should lead to less stress and more in the way of financial rewards. With teaching it's the opposite. Those older teachers surveyed are reporting that the job is just getting harder. Leaving aside the government initiatives, it's society, in the shape of the raw materials provided (the kids) that is causing the stress.

Mr Barnes' take: “Parents have an attitude very often, which passes on to their children, that “you are paid to do this job and the pupil's job is to make it as difficult as possible for you”.

This is interesting. We are awash with signs in the hospital, doctor's surgery, post office, shops, supermarkets, pubs and other public places which inform the public that abusing staff will not be tolerated. You've all seen them.

Ever seen one in a school?

Mr Barnes goes on: “It's now automatically assumed that the child's rights are paramount. The assumption is that the child is always right and the teacher is always wrong.”.

The rest of the article is a litany of children swearing, being truculent or being downright violent towards their teachers. Little in the way of support from management is in evidence.

So, what is to be done? No-one has addressed solutions to teachers' problems for many a long year – and it would not be that difficult. It would be painful but not too difficult.

First. Insist that parents take responsibility for their children's actions. How? Install CCTV in every classroom. Then, instead of having meetings to discuss children's behaviour, just show the tape.

Second. Make parents' responsibilities truly extend to their children's education. Exclude the pupils who the teachers can't teach. All of them. No “ifs, ands or buts” . Remove them, now. The onus to get them back into school is now where it really belongs, with the parents. They can either educate them at home (and they better do it right – cause I'd be inspecting the devil out of them!!) or make sure they behave well enough to go to school. Simple. Sample scenario: teacher takes pupil to head teacher; informs head that pupil has sworn at them; head suspends pupil for that day; head informs parents to collect child; parents collect within an hour or the suspension becomes a week. Pupil returns from suspension and does it again. Same scenario repeats. Pupils and parents may begin to get message.

Third. Stop treating teachers as baby-sitters. Let them teach. Pupils who are violent towards their teachers (or other pupils) should be prosecuted by the police. Let the courts deal with them and their parents.

A sea change is needed in the way parents and pupils view education. Teachers, administrators and government must make it clear to parents that education is a privilege, not a right. If parents are not happy with what the teacher/school is doing – let then do it themselves.

I confidently predict things would improve.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Banning Barry Manilow

The gun crime crackdown is well under way. I confidently predict that it will be ineffectual. The government's recipe is to lower the age that criminals who carry guns can be jailed for the mandatory five years from 21 to 17.

Has anyone in the government remembered that there are no prison places? Apparently not.

Sixteen year-olds will only receive a smack on the bum and be told to go home.

Magic. Absolute magic!

Gangsta Rap is inexorably intertwined with young, mostly black, men and their penchant for joining gangs and shooting people. This U.S. based music phenomenon glorifies gang culture and violence.

My favourite paper, The Sunday Times says,

The notion that young people carry guns as a fashion accessory has by far exceeded its sell-by date. But what is increasingly true is that turf wars built on a gang culture are fast becoming the basis for retribution in the inner city. The existence of “street role models” and gangsta rap artists and the role of the media in glamorising crime have also been a growing negative influence on young people. “

So, young people mimic their music and movie heroes. Right. So what's new? Not a lot.

In the 1950's parents were outraged at the antics of one Elvis (The Pelvis) Presley. Establishment media figures queued up to heap outrage on Elvis. Parents were savagely opposed to Elvis' brand of music becoming mainstream and acceptable. In some respectable areas of society he was seen as The Anti-Christ and an instrument of the Devil – hell-bent on corrupting young people. His live performance on the Ed Sullivan show is legendary, not because of the music, but because the network famously refused to show his movements from the waist down.

This was only the start. Elvis could not be banned, he just cloned himself into a semi-respectable figure by moving via the Army and the movies into mainstream popular. His “pop-clones”, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones, Guns and Roses, Sid Vicious, Gary Glitter, et. al. simply invented new ways to offend parents and become massively popular.

So, perhaps parents, the media, and the establishment should get together and “ban” Gangsta Rap? Not a good plan! Banning Gangsta Rapping would simply create a massive demand for it and promote the very thing we ought to be trying to overcome.

What's wrong with Gangsta Rap is nothing to do with its musicality. The Rappers are making a tidy sum from their efforts. Good for them. At least they are not out in the community shooting people. What matters it if their lyrics seem to glorify violence and anti-social behaviour? It's the wrong message for young black men to aspire to – that's what's wrong with it. How do we convince them that Gangsta Rap is bad? Here's a radical solution. Ban Barry Manilow.

By banning Barry we could instantly make his particular brand of insipid, middle-of-the-road mish-mash “anti-establishment” and extremely popular. Barry could put the rappers out of business overnight. Young black men could return to those halcyon days of hanging around street corners practising their harmonies – instead of shooting each other.

This could work.

At least it's worth a try. It's got more chance of success than the government's daft plan to lock them all up.

I say – let's go for it. After all, Barry has had a good career and would probably sink quietly into oblivion with his new-found notoriety clutched firmly between his cheeks.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Valuable Commodity

Children are precious - maybe too precious!

News that GB Ltd has come dead last in a survey of child well-being seems to have outraged the media and sent the Government scrambling to explain that the statistics are out of date/meaningless.

The truth is, of course, the first commodity to get lost in the debate. Or, to put it another way, the truth is that the debate is focussing on the wrong issues.

Britain's children are last in family and peer relationships, and behaviour and risks (whatever they are ?) and almost last in subjective well-being and material well-being. Overall the impression is one of deprived and chronically abused children as the norm. What a load of old rubbish!

The fact is: children (and families in general) have never had it so good!

Sociologically speaking we are on the crest of a wave and riding along at breakneck speed towards a bright and beautiful future.

So, why the gloomy survey? Simple. They asked the wrong questions of the wrong people. Unicef sponsored the survey. Therefore, presumably they surveyed young people. On their website Unicef conclude: in rich countries children’s basic needs have been generally met but there is scope for further progress in child well-being. In other words, things could be better. If someone could specify some aspect of human civilization that could not do with some improvement, I'd be grateful. To characterize children in Britain as somehow falling behind others in Europe is just nonsense.

Unfortunately, nowhere on the web site does it tell us the methodology involved in gathering the data for this survey. I've got money to bet that the “statistics” came from the children themselves. Ask any child if, for example, they find their peers kind and helpful (one of the actual questions) and it's not hard to predict the answer. Perhaps the question seems somehow better when asked in Norwegian or Swedish? Who knows?

These type of surveys are next to useless in determining the basis for providing services. Ask any group in society if things are great and you will get the same answer, “Of course not!” Anyone who thinks differently is either very naive or very intellectually challenged!

What is important, however, is how children live today. Their life style goes a long way to explaining the results of the survey. There is no doubt that children's aspirations and expectations have changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Just look at your street. Most of the houses will be the traditional 3 bedrooms. Many will have been built more than 50 years ago. What was the average family size in, say 1900? From the net: Family size declined between 1800 and 1900 from 7.0 to 3.5 children (4). In 1900, six to nine of every 1000 women died in childbirth, and one in five children died during the first 5 years of life.* Distributing information and counselling patients about contraception and contraceptive devices was illegal under federal and state laws (8,9); the timing of ovulation, the length of the fertile period, and other reproductive facts were unknown.

Family size increased from 1940 until 1957 (Figure 1), when the average number of children per family peaked at 3.7 (14,15; CDC, unpublished data, 1999).

Without blinding you with science, the facts are family sizes are now very much smaller than they have been. Therefore, each child is by definition more precious than ever – and treated as such with their own room and own TV, stereo, computer, Uncle Tom Cobley and all! When one in five of your children would be dead before they reached 5, it did not pay to get too attached to them or spend too much of the families limited resources on them. No doubt that parents were just as distraught then as now when a child was lost – but at least they were prepared for it. Whole families were wiped out by diseases that today are just a nuisance. It was the norm.

The result? Children were viewed very differently and saw their roles differently as well.

Now, instead of being an investment for the future, children became a precious commodity to be indulged and acquiesced to at will. Instead of being a source of pride in their achievements children became a mirror of their parents insecurities. When each child is likely to live, parents devote more time and effort into each individual and have far fewer children. Therefore, the child who struggles at school must be a victim of the system. The child who is uncontrollable at home and in the community must be pandered to and the state's responsibility.

Children have become too valuable for parents to ignore. Children who are a disappointment to their parents are not allowed to be. It must be someone else's fault.

The Unicef survey simply confirms what thinking people already know. In Western industrialised society children have everything they need to succeed, yet some fail.

This is not society's fault. It's just the way things work.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

South of Thickthorn

Highways Agency Pockets Your Cash!

News that the long-awaited Attleborough by-pass improvement has opened was greeted with less than enthusiasm by the EDP when they discovered that the costs had risen from the published £22 million to £30! Now they want some answers. I suppose it is better late than never, but I would have thought the time for asking questions was a long time ago!!

I don't k now why we should be surprised. The cost of building roads in Norfolk is a scandal and always has been .

You may remember that the reason the Attleborough by-pass had to be improved is that the loonies who were in charge when it was built decided that one bit would be single carriageway. That's the bit they have just dualled. The fact that everyone in Norfolk told them that they should have built it as dual carriageway has, seemingly, been forgotten. Maybe some enterprising EDP journalist would like to add this to his list of questions to ask!

You may remember a similar story afflicting the Thetford by-pass. One section was originally built as single, only to be dualled a few years later. What a waste!! Building a road is not something you can do with a bucket and spade. So, while you have the men and equipment there, why not do the job all at once! Too sensible. Too simple.

That's the main reason why we are still waiting for the whole of the A11 to be dualled today. It has been 25 years in the expectation, planning, building a bit and pausing.

Much better to go away for a few years while the costs rocket. Then, have a lengthy planning process whilst the costs continue skyward. Then, attempt to scrimp and save by cutting a valuable part of the original plan (like the Besthorpe junction) thus ensuring that the original plan is emasculated in order to save a paltry sum. Finally, spend £8 million more than planned on “preparation, supervision, land compensation claims and land costs” and pretend that no-one will notice! Are they seriously saying that they didn't think that there would be any costs to do with planning, supervision or buying land when they started? How can they get away with this!

We may not live long enough to see the last bit done. You know the bit – from Thetford to Barton Mills. Must be all of 5 or six miles. Perfectly flat. Farm land on either side. No rivers to cross. Me and Paddy could do it with a wheelbarrow! Cost? By the time they ever got to it, I suggest it will be £50 million. It is a scandal!

There's a phrase for this: highway robbery.

Maybe the lads who rallied around Kett's Oak and marched on Norwich had the right idea. Only when the Norfolk Dumplings get mad enough to hang a few Highways Agency bean-counters from the walls of Norwich Castle might we get any sensible answers and sensible plans!

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jonny on the Spot

Wilko will make all the difference!!

The return of Jonny Wilkinson has galvanized the England rugby team into action – finally. After as dismal a run as you would not wish on your enemies, the team finally looked capable of winning a match in the Six Nations and duly did.

Is this a false dawn or a turning of the corner? (Nice mixed metaphor that, don't you think?)

There is no doubt that Jonny's return was little less than miraculous. Despite not playing seriously for years he seemed in a class of his own. Other players who have suffered the slings and arrows of recent fortune seemed suddenly to believe that all would be well, and it was. Such was his contribution.

Surely it has been a long time since the addition of just one player has made such an impact on what is very much a team game. Put Jonny behind a pack of useless forwards and give him service from a scrum-half without either a pass or a brain and the result would have been a lot different.

So, where do England go from here?

Today they have a home game against Italy who, despite the hype, seem again to be the milch cow of the Six Nations. Their much vaunted pack of forwards could not cope with the (so the pundits told us at the time!) “poor” pack of Frenchmen! Their backs are simply not up to international standard. Ergo – England will win comfortably. So the story goes.

No doubt this is the line the experts will be pushing today. They may well be right. But, some caution should be observed. Italy may not be as bad as they appeared last week. If they are it's going to be a long season for them!

Jonny may be stretchered off in the first ten minutes – or tweak something in the warm-up. England probably cannot survive such a psychological, never mind physical and tactical, blow.

Hopefully all will be well for Jonny and England. The real tests are down the line. Whoever makes up the schedule has been very kind to England. A mediocre Scots team followed by Italy in disarray – not a difficult start.

Let's hope England play well and Jonny comes through unscathed.

Let's also hope that Andy Robinson continues to show such dignity in the commentary box. Having been deprived, through no fault of his own, of most of England's world class players during his disastrous reign as coach, it is good to see him taking it on the chin and revelling in England's successes under a different, luckier coach!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Size Zero

Super Models.

Concern over the size of Super Models is well-founded. I listened attentively to a designer explaining how his clothes look better when hung from a super waif.

In other words,it's the public's fault. We demand nice-looking clothes. Clothes look nicest when hung on a skinny girl. Ergo – it's our fault.


The public are not crying out for more emaciated models. In fact, the public can not accurately judge. The public are just as much tools of the fashion industry as the models themselves. The public should know better, but that's not the same as using them as a scapegoat for the fashion industries less than savoury practices.

What's really disturbing is the relationship between the waifs on catwalks and child sexual exploitation. No-one seems to write about this relationship, so I will.

I'm old enough to remember when all the Hollywood sex goddesses were full sized women. The epitome of the female form was fully-grown and fully rounded. Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell and their peers were very much in need of artificial help in holding up their attributes – not a place to hang clothes from their frame and in need of a good meal. I can't remember the fashion industry complaining that clothes did not look good on Norma Jean! Her iconic, and fully-fleshed image lasted throughout the decades following her death.

Is there a relationship between what is perceived as the ideal female form and misplaced desire? I think so.

When the Queens of Hollywood were fully-rounded, no-one had ever heard of paedophilia. It may have been in the dictionary, but no-one discussed it or concerned themselves with it. For all intents and purposes it did not exist until the 1990's.

It would be ridiculous to imagine that Super Models “cause” perversion. But, and this is a big but, they probably encourage it.

If men are constantly bombarded with what is purported to be the ideal female and she is the same size as a pre-teenage girl, is it altogether surprising that some will get the wrong message? If Hollywood stars – like Keira Kneightly – are so thin they have to sue newspapers for reporting on their (supposed) eating disorders, what message is this sending out to young girls and (more importantly) to men of all ages?

Could this be at least part of the cause of misplaced sexual desire?

There are no statistics, and, I suspect, very little research is being done in this area. Just by mentioning this in a blog I may find my name on a database. I suspect it would be impossible to research the relationship between sexual perversion and size zero models. Either you would be arrested or the fashion industry would have you so discredited that the work would be useless.