You may appeal to my authority

There are plenty of people making hay over credit agency Moody’s declaration that the UK economic outlook has turned ‘negative’. This may or may not be correct. The rider that there will be  “a prolonged period of uncertainty” doesn’t look like a particularly insightful comment, whatever their data sources. It’s not that long ago – February 2013 in fact – since Osborne’s economic approach was hammered using (Moody’s) removal of its Triple A credit rating. This was because “the government’s debt reduction programme faced significant “challenges” ahead”.

Well, something must have happened that was unanticipated by the agencies if  Moody’s rival, Standard & Poor only yesterday, after Brexit, decided they would remove the Triple A status, apparently joined by Moody’s, as well as  Fitch (the third big agency). One suspects that Moody’s original claim had been rather overdone (and possibly this one too). Had they in fact restored their Triple A rating in the interim? It looks like it.

My point in all this is that these agencies are big businesses in themselves, with their own agendas. When they get it wrong it gets less publicity. Even uber-liberal cat loving Nobel economic guru Paul Krugman thinks it’s overdone :

“…right now all the talk is about financial repercussions – plunging markets, recession in Britain and maybe around the world, and so on. I still don’t see it. It’s true that the pound has fallen by a lot compared with normal daily fluctuations. But for those of us who cut our teeth on emerging-market crises, the fall isn’t that big – in fact, it’s not that big compared with British historical episodes. The pound fell by a third during the 70s crisis; it fell by a quarter during Britain’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992; it’s down about 8 percent as I write this….This is not a world-class shock”

These appeals to authority, in this case credit ratings agencies, are an omnipresent feature of modern life, hugely abetted by the intrinsically unreflective nature of much of the internet and its social media. That is not to suggest that all such pontifications embody the fallacious appeal to authority – but clearly some/many of them do. Nearly all of the EU referendum campaign was built on unreliable speculation on both sides (which is why this was the single best argument I read on the topic).

I call it the Formula 1 argument. F1 as we know and (possibly) love it, is a suitably important sounding name for the fastest level of motor racing. It is overseen by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) otherwise known as the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus,  where the last word means ‘recognised’. Recognised by whom?  In other words, although FIA has historical precedent, it is essentially a self-appointed authority. There is nothing to stop the entire set of F1 teams decamping to a brand new tournament calling itself whatever it wants. Boxing has already recognised this, which is why there are currently four ‘world’ authorities – the WBC, WBO, WBA and the IBF. Big bucks all round with their many different titles to fight for.

Football is the same. Let’s dump FIFA and invite all the countries to play every four years in a new tournament, preferably in somewhere with an appropriate climate (not Qatar). We can call it the Mundial. Who decided a bunch of corrupt phonies like FIFA should still get the prize? The main reason of course is that like Formula 1, like boxing, there is a very healthy living to be made from the many lucrative sidelines., and it’s worth clinging on to.

And you get it in medicine, all the time. The phrase ‘top doctors’ is regularly trotted out, and is frequently associated with the most paternalistic self-important drivel. One of my favourites is when the grandly named King’s Fund pronounces. They self describe as a “health charity that shapes health and social care policy and practice”. Perhaps they do produce the odd good idea that no-one in the NHS would come up with, but in reality, they are a private body with plenty of well paid staff, some of whom may have a sketchy knowledge of actual health care delivery. An acquaintance of mine went for a job there, and it was very revealing. The key thing is the brand name, which relates to a long lost charitable fund named after King Edward VII (died 1910). Somehow, if it was just called ‘private NHS advisory think tank’ – a more accurate description – I feel its authority may appear diminished.

And on that note, what about the ‘Royal’ colleges of medicine, surgery etc? The presidency of these bodies is undoubtedly a classic bully pulpit, but what are they for? The answer is that they organise the odd educational event, they run (very good and necessary) postgraduate exams, and they produce not very good journals. None of this comes cheap. They also, however, choose to proclaim on NHS issues where they may or may not have any real insight. Naturally they tend to get a media hearing, and sometimes a governmental one. This lapses rapidly into ex cathedra nonsense in many cases, and gets the NHS nowhere.  An academic colleague of mine, who is extremely competent, distinguished and sensible and did himself hold high office in such a college, wearily confessed to me recently how disillusioned he was by the institution “I’m not sure what it’s for these days”. Like most clinicians, he now favours his own specialty organisation when it comes to practical issues, and for very good reasons.

What makes an ‘expert’ and thus an ‘authority’ has been debated and often healthily derided in the EU referendum, one of its more beneficial side effects. As is often the case, Thomas Sowell provides the necessary wisdom.  On balance, Eddie Izzard probably doesn’t make the cut.

So Moody’s, FIFA, numerous ‘royal’ institutions and many, many more, maybe your time is running out. It’s long overdue.

heath_rob_pp
This is what a real expert looks like

 

 

 

 

 

Hillsborough and the 80’s

Bad times

A  sensitive topic this, but nevertheless, I’m going to write about it. The Knife was at Old Trafford, to watch Man Utd against Liverpool, on 19th October, 1985 (I checked the date). A 1-1 draw, 54,492 in attendance. After the game, the United fans were coming from the Stretford End, heading down the side of the ground – a confined wideish passage – to the main entrance area. There were police about, in large numbers. A whole crowd of Liverpool fans were at the away end, to which we were heading, and they ran at us. Hundreds of people. The police did their best, but the whole tightly packed crowd of Man Utd fans retreated quickly, then swayed forward again. Lots of people were bodily lifted by the rush – I protected a young lad in front of me – and a few went down. There was a lot of fear in a very tense situation. The police got control again, and it eventually settled down.

That was three and a half years before the Hillsborough disaster. Nobody thought it was unusual. That’s what happened at big football matches. You wonder if the Hillsborough Inquiry members realise that. It was indeed dangerous, but it was fairly commonplace. The Heysel disaster, 5 months earlier, which by an amazing coincidence also involved Liverpool, and was foremost in our minds there at Old Trafford, was probably kicked off by something similar.

Fast forward to now. At Hillsborough, 23 years ago, there were a lot of failures, and a lot of subsequent bad behaviour. The police cocked up the security and behaved badly in the aftermath, the emergency medical care and evacuation could probably have been better, the papers, particularly the Sun, were too keen to report – in error it seems – cases of appalling behaviour. The deaths remain a terrible blight on many families.

But, and there is a but, people would not have died had the fans  – who didn’t die, coming in late – behaved differently. It seems indisputable to The Knife, and in the welter of recrimination, points scoring and a carefully balanced apology by Dave – a trend started in a ludicrous way by Tony Blair – a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s society’s habit to blame those in power, absolving individuals of culpability for grave events, and the dreaded “public inquiry” nearly always fosters this tendency to shift responsibility. It also allows opportunistic politicians to endlessly grandstand, is this reallyone of the greatest injustices in our country’s history in the 20th Century“?

Here’s a comment today, by JoeThorpe1963 in The Commentator, following Dave’s statement to Parliament:

Those that died were not drunken thugs but those that caused their deaths were Drunken Liverpudlians that arrived en mass without tickets & stormed the entrances as kick off approached. I was there I came in from the Liverpool end, I was pestered for tickets from Liverpudlians pouring out of the pubs asking for spares. Of course the culprits then scarperred after the carnage & were not breathalysed. Quite why the dead would have their blood tested for Alcohol is pointless, they were there on time with their tickets. Its not a coincidence that death & destruction followed Liverpool during these terrible times. People from Liverpool caused these deaths & no one else, we live in a society where we have to blame authority every time for any issue in our lives. The police should have told it as it was at the time & not tried to find excuses for drunken scum from Liverpool. Why were we never asked to write a witness statement? If it had been a fatal car crash I would have been asked to give evidence? If this is ever reopened we should all be asked for a written statement although I suspect like on the day there would be far more contributions made than those who on the day had tickets!

Well, I wasn’t at Hillsborough, but anyone who regularly went to the big matches in the 80’s would have experienced plenty of similar risky crowd behaviour. I wouldn’t entirely blame the Liverpool fans for Heysel, and I wouldn’t entirely absolve them of Hillsborough.

***I note that one of the police involved concurs with some of this. You might say that “he would, wouldn’t he”, but…

Paralympics: saluting the survivors

The Paralympics opening ceremony was not really for me. It is remarkable though, how the whole games seem to be sold out. Nice for the competitors, no doubt.

However, amidst the self-congratulatory stuff, as well as the genuine joy, lurks a monster of hypocrisy. Most of the competitors have acquired disability, such as traumatic amputees, spinal cord injuries and the like. A significant number though were born with their disability. You can easily work it out.

The categories traditionally were:

  • Amputee
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Wheelchair
  • Visually Impaired
  • Les Autres: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall strictly under one of the other five categories, such as dwarfism, multiple sclerosis or congenital deformities of the limbs.

This is now switching to a functional impairment classification, with ten categories:

impaired muscle power, impaired range of motion, leg length difference, limb deficiency, short stature, ataxia, athetosis, hypertonia, visual impairment and ) intellectual impairment.

My point is that while we celebrate their achievement – and our achievement as a society for doing this – we also readily abort humans with exactly the same physical problems, because we became aware of them in utero. Early enough to get rid of them without any awkwardness.

I don’t see how we can have it both ways.

.

Racism and me

What a waste of time and money.**

The Knife has personal experience in one way or another, of the two most successful areas in British life, in terms of a mixed race environment, to the point where it’s not an issue: the NHS and professional football.

Genuinely, I can’t think of a situation where you’re more likely to have a role model of a non-white race than football, and one that’s generally without the trappings of  drugs,violence and general stupidity found in some areas of “popular music”. Just look at the England squad.

I entirely accept that John Terry is possibly an obnoxious prat, but why is he in court? Is his (alleged) reference to the mediocre Anton Ferdinand’s skin colour really worse than Ferdinand’s admitted insults around Terry’s private life?

In the bizarre world of right on CPS officials and weird legislators, possibly. In the real world that the rest of us inhabit, I don’t think so. It’s not as if Terry sat him down and insulted him, it was on a bloody football pitch. Have these idiots who mounted the prosecution ever been to a game?

This snippet of the court transcript admittedly has a certain comedy value:

Ferdinand said: ‘He called me a c*** and I called him a c*** back and he gave me a gesture as if to say my breath smelled.

‘I said to him “How can you call me a c***? You shagged your team-mate’s missus, you’re a c***”.”

This was a reference to Terry’s alleged affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend, Vanessa Perroncel.

Ferdinand jogged down the pitch making a fist gesture to imply sex, he told the court.

Handbags at dawn. Like I say, Terry is probably not the nicest man in football, but when Ferdinand says:
‘When someone brings your colour into it, it takes it to another level and it’s very hurtful.’
I actually don’t believe him.
**Just to reinforce the point, it didn’t take long to reach the only sensible decision. What gets into the minds of these prosecutors?
A racially mixed squad. Anton wasn’t quite good enough.

In praise of xenophobia

Frankly a bit creepy

This blog bows to no-one in its opposition to racism.

Xenophobia though, is a different matter.

What The Knife loves most about Argentina’s  pathetic scurrying off to whinge at the United Nations is not just the fact that Britain has really only sent a fairly small, if effective, warship there, but that they felt the need to specifically complain about a prince too. Are they worried that he’ll bring fairytale powers with him, or just a small private army?

Throw in the predictable fact that this week’s president, Cristina Kirchner, is using the Falklands as a bit of propaganda to boost her popularity at home, given the fact that what progress was made with quality of life and  the economy under her late husband seems to be stalling at the moment ***. Ms Kirchner seems to gleefully fit the stereotype of a Latin American woman and a leader of a supposedly democratic country, although in reality one that has a dodgy past history of torture etc  and occasional economic calamities. Unsurprisingly, she has been quick to make a personal fortune, and  after taking over from her husband, she’s now grooming her son Maximo, a chubby lad with bad hair, to take over from her.

All this melodramatic posturing does is make the Brits dislike the Argies even more. It’s not often that The Knife quotes the Daily Mirror approvingly, but as Tony Parsons wrote:

In the Falklands, Maggie showed future prime ministers that gaining quick military glory was infinitely easier than solving the problems of home.

You can see the appeal for the likes of Cameron and Blair – soft little men who never heard a shot fired in anger in their lives, who never thought about the dead, the boys in wheelchairs, the men with their faces burned.

Because of the Falklands, British servicemen gave their lives and limbs in Iraq, and the cash-strapped British people gave millions of pounds for Libya, for our intervention in conflicts that we could have so easily avoided.

The Falklands War had a toxic effect on British life because of the seductive effect it had on British prime ministers who can’t solve the problems of home.

And that is savagely ironic because fighting for the freedom of the Falklands was a good and noble cause. Seized by the military dictatorship of a grotesque fascist thug called General Galtieri, the Falklands were worth fighting for.

And as long as they wish to remain British, they always will be.

It doesn’t matter what you think of Thatcher, or how she milked the Falklands for the rest of her career. The servicemen who went to the South Atlantic in the spring of 1982 were fighting for a cause no less righteous than their fathers who fought older battles at Normandy and Dunkirk.

Two hundred and fifty seven British servicemen gave their lives for the freedom of the Falkland Islands, a part of the South Atlantic that is as resolutely British as Liverpool or London or Cardiff.

All true, and a nice summary of the serious aspect of all this. Which brings me to the fun side. 10 years ago, England met Argentina in the South Korean World Cup. Tensions were high, as they always will be following Maradona’s pathetic cheating in 1986. On the Yahoo message boards the day before was a truly magnificent rant, by Falklandsheroes, which I can only quote in part (the rest is very very funny, but a bit too much):

Re the Argies….”then they go back to their homes made from cardboard boxes and located in sewers and apply grease to their silly long girlish hair while brushing their rottenblack teeth with garlic paste using a toilet brush. Then they kiss a picture of England and dream of one day living there before pledging undying love to the Queen of England who is also the ruler of Argentina  – although she pretends she isn’t because she is too embarrassed. In fact I have heard that we plan to sell Argentina to America for $10 so that they can use it as a sewer…”

Well, it made me laugh. And England won 1-0.

*** A week or so after The Knife posted this, here is a superb Jeremy Warner blog pointing out just how screwed – and dishonest – the Argentine government is, including a nice dig at the failed economic guru, Paul Krugman.

Sporting greats (3): Socrates

Brazil 82...look upon my works ye mighty and despair!

Now this is news, and sad news at that. Socrates, the captain of Brazil in the Spanish Mundial of 1982 has died, possibly of some sort of food poisoning. He was only 57.

The Knife loves the World Cup, even if it’s occasionally a bit of a letdown in reality, 2002 for example. The best one in my lifetime was 1982 (France v West Germany – best match ever?). I was in Spain just after it finished, and the remnants of it were everywhere. Brazil had played in Andalusia, where I was, and they’d made quite an impression.

As every football fan knows though, even though Brazil were great to watch – just try YouTube – the classic quarter final with Italy and the Paolo Rossi hat trick showed just how weak parts of the side were, despite Falcao scoring with the best dummy ever.

The main joy in watching them was the effortless exoticism of their play, and the sheer charisma of the midfield: Cerezo, Falcao, Eder (astonishing at times), and the great Socrates. Add in Junior at full back and, of course, Zico up front, you had half of the best team the world had seen. The problem was the rest of them were crap.

Anyway, Socrates was the captain, and imperturbably cool. Tall, slim, elegant and a stroller. Perfect short passing and terrific vision. A chain smoking doctor with a crazy name (his dad was a fan of the Greek philosopher).  As Pele said:

Socrates played better going backwards than most footballers going forward

There is a persuasive argument that France in the 1984 European Championship and in the 1998 World Cup were the best international sides of the last fifty years. Part of the mystique of Brazil ’82 is that they didn’t win, but we were very lucky to have seen that side at their peak. Socrates, we salute your memory.

Socrates scores!!!

Sporting greats (2): Diego Forlan

Just after his election, Barack Obama’s style was described by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian as “cool,  civilised, imperial“, creating a vivid image of the Obama persona, whatever the reality.

The Knife considers Diego Forlan, leader of enigmatic Uruguay,  to possess similar qualities. Five goals, with a typically tantalising near sixth with the last kick of his World Cup, are just the statistical mark of an exceptional leader and man.

Rarely smiling on the pitch, Forlan’s brooding intensity and huge work-rate are spiced with football at an exceptional tactical and aesthetic peak.  Talented finalists such as Arjen Robben possess none of Forlan’s charisma, the sense of a nation carried on his shoulders, of  a team swept on to an unfeasibly high level of achievement by his persona and flair.

It’s no surprise that Forlan’s life has been touched by tragedy, with his sister Alejandra paralysed in a car crash, her boyfriend killed. Forlan has raised huge amounts of money to support her and to help associated charities for the disabled , as well as to campaign against dangerous driving.

Great footballer, great man.

Diego destroying Liverpool

Education education education

er... I didn't mean it, honest

Private Eye’s take on online stupidity “From the Messageboards” is scarily realistic. However, a lot of the fun is in the comments – you only have to read Guido’s fanclub to get a taste.

The Knife was enjoying Mehdi Hasan’s piece on last night’s Uruguay v Ghana classic, on the philosophical conundrum  “Is Suarez a hero or villain?“.  Commenter no 3, known as ‘Nana’ seemed upset, signing off with:

“….that is bullshit to ya all for thinking that dickhead of Suarez will ever be HERO, maybe in his stupid country but not to all the heartbroken Ghanaians and the whole of Africa as a whole, he cheated and do you know someone will loose his or her dear life bcos of what that twat did.

he is a professional footballer and should always know that what goes round comes round.

Better luck next time Ghana.

Shame on you Suarez and your so called Uruguay.”

It may not make you laugh but I loved the ‘so called’