Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Political Correctness Gone Mad

The title of today's blog is meant to catch your attention  - it is a phrase that has become a joke because it belongs to the old and the reactionary. I'm pretty sure that someone will quickly be able to track down The Donald having said it. The Overgraduate would not, of course, ever use it himself unless being ironic - ironic in the sense of being drunk and yet still talking.

So let's today provoke some thought and invite you to read these two items:
Faye's piece in The Guardian ends with a really well-made summation,

'No-platforming is as valid a means to exercise free speech as any other. We are not in a declining era of free speech - but we appear to be in a golden age of entitled hypocrisy.'

As a man who used to earn his living making cause for some fairly unpalatable types, I rather admire the spare, compelling quality of those words. Read his article and reach your own conclusion and see if you share my inference that this is bilge, stylish and persuasive, but bilge nonetheless.

The second link is to guidance given by a leading university to its students about how they should express themselves 'appropriately'. I've read it a couple of times now and it really is a magnificent specimen of Orwell's Newspeak. 'He who controls the past controls the future.' Aye, you're not wrong there son.

Tomorrow I shall share with you parts of my doctoral paper on 'Bogshite's Theorem: or precisely how many wrongs do make a right'.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Some weeks ago I suuggested that the American presidential wannabes should be made to sit down and watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (OG 4 March). I also mused about an appropriate film to set as required viewing for the warring factions in our own EU referendum. When I watched Selma last night I thought I had found it. As today has passed I have pulled back a little from that view - because they would all doubtless relish the film (hard not to) but it would fly over most heads as to how this very American story relates to the euthanising of democracy that is going on in Europe. I will return to that point but first the film.

Selma at its heart is about a particular battle in a long war - the battle to complete the black man's enfranchisement in Alabama. It has a wider context of course but the film itself is about a very singular skirmish in a war that still clamours. America does this sort of thing beautifully because it is (just about) a nation young enough to take its constitution seriously and to pay heed to its fundamentals. Dignity courses through this film from the outset - the first scene shows Annie Lee Cooper (played by Oprah Winfrey, whose company produced the film) attempting to register to vote and being rebuffed by callous white maladministration. There is no violence in her reaction, just proud composure. At times the film makes you ashamed to be human but by its end you are proud of the possibilities of all of us. It is a member of that select band of films that can make grown men cry. That good. Great films are not always important and important films even less frequently great. I've had twenty hours to think about it and, yes, this film achieves both. 8.5/10. 

Why then would this piece of distinct Americana be of relevance to the EU conundrum. One answer might be that I see everything in that context and I will concede there might be something in that observation, but I'll wade on regardless. Here's my reasoning:
  • Selma narrows in on one small objective of humanity and makes it large. That object is the right to vote.
  • From the vote grows representation and from representation issue forth laws made with the consent of the governed.
  • Within the vote resides the ability to alter or abolish a false or destructive government.
And (you will, if not already so, get tired of hearing this from me) the forthcoming referendum is about the second and third bulleted points above. Please do not take my word for it, go away and read all of the core texts - they are all public documents. The European Union will not take your vote off you. However the vote it allows you will not serve (in many areas of legislation already does not serve) to give you laws made with the consent of the governed. Nor will it give the distinct entity that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland any meaningful right to discard a false government. It is perfectly posssible, though in my view monstrously patrician, to believe that this chipping away at the value of the franchise is  a damned good thing since we sodding plebs can be a bloody nuiance when an educated chap is trying to run a country. You might take the Blair/Cameron position that notwithstanding the gaping stable door and the lack of any visible horses, we can still rein in the administocrats, that we still have a few horses hidden round the back and that by clever poilitics we'll be able to get some new ones. Four decades of experience suggests otherwise.

Or you might look at Selma and think about that tiny democratic tangibility, the vote (tangible I supppose until they make us do it online so that we need never leave our fetid pits). And perhaps, just perhaps, we might think also about what that vote might encompass and not accept the lazy fallacy that we have entered a 'post democratic' age.

I will link you to an article from the pro-EU cabinet minister Anna Soubry. Soubry - Brexit Danger .  She is, I note, a barrister (not automatically a bad thing) but I note that the six EU 'myths' she seeks to eviscerate are all economic matters. The legal and constitutional implications never get an airing. The only people who talk about it are Farage and Frederick Forsyth, the first of whom has justly been consigned to the bin marked 'swivel-eyed loon', as, less justly, has been Mr Forsyth. 

Anyway, enough of all that. See the film. It's brilliant.


Monday, 28 March 2016

How Trump Happened

There are a lot of Americans who simply can't abide Hillary Clinton and who are driven disaffected into the arms of the Donald. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that she feels that the rules are for little people, not for her. How the Clinton Email Scandal Took Root

It may all have been perfectly innocent, in fact I'm pretty convinced it must have been. But the problem is the familiar pattern of error/breach/discovery/absolute denial/dismissal as minor/obfuscation/victimhood. It's poor form and the rest of us sit back and hope that America will get its house in order. America's response is to give us the likelihood of a contest between the truly awful and the aloof. I know the choice is easy but it's pretty stinky nonetheless.

The Interview

Want reliable film criticism? In the absence of a new and reliable Halliwell (I'm afraid that the modern editions are a parody of the earlier austere and authoritative volumes) you can try IMDb but my preference is the site that preserves the name of the late Roger Ebert - Ebert Reviews . But, of course, you must not always get your opinions second hand. Sometimes you just need to watch the damned film. Which is what we did last night. We watched The Interview, a satire which attracted the vain ire of that paragon of democracy the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea to you and me. That ire is understandable when you realise that the film is a comedy about the assassination of the Republic's Darling Leader Kim Jong-un. The ire was (eventually - the delay is mildly shameful) ignored and the film got its limited theatrical release. You see North Korea's disgust at the premiss of the movie is rendered wholly irrelevant when you slap yourself in the face and remember that this is the most ludicrous and bonkers country in the whole wide world. And, shit man, remember they beat off some pretty strong competition to win that staus. Here is the Ebert site review of The Interview - Ebert: Interview

Point one of the OG review - no problem with the premiss. Point two - we have been in this territory before - Team America: World Police had its puppets fight against Jong-un's father and predecessor as Darling Leader, Kim Jong Il. I have reviewed Team America: World Police before and it is a film on which I diverge from Ebert - his review here: Team America: Ebert Review . Also linked is Ebert's laudatory piece on the more famed Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Strangelove, Ebert Review . Strangelove is of the same poitico/military genre and seemingly canonical. [Here's an interesting aside - how many films are there with a colon in their title?]

Point three of the OG review of The Interview: I liked it. It has its longeurs and is just a little too scatalogical (it was certainly very different from Sense and Sensibility which we had watched the night before) but it has funny/daft and funny/serious moments. Seth Rogan is exteremely good, James Franco a little too reminiscent of Jerry Lewis. You will see that the Ebert reviewer is not so enthused and when it came to Team America, Ebert himself was definitely not a fan. Risking impertinence, I disagree with both. And perhaps yet more heretical, I never did find Dr Strangelove that funny. It may well be that Strangelove has to be considered in the context of the red heat that characterised the Cold War of that time, but in my defence I first saw it in the 70s and the Cold Was was still pretty serious shit at the time. My problem may in fact be Peter Sellers. Except as Inspector Clouseau I don't find him very funny. Too often (and this is true of the later Clouseau) he was over-indulged. I think Kubrick indulged him in the physical comedy of the Strangelove character. Come to think of it over/self indulgence afflicted the Goons generally, particularly Milligan (the real genius of the troupe and a sadly troubled man) and Sellers. But back to The Interview, not a great film, but not an unimportant one and in its way sweetly ambitious. 7.5/10.

Roger Ebert's conclusion to his Strangelove review was this: 'If movies of this irreverence, intelligence and savagery were still being made, the world woud seem a younger place.' My point? Last night I watched The Interview and this morning the world seems if not younger, at least not any older. Small victories are still victories.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Negotiation Trump Style

The Washington Post is no friend to The Donald but I trust its journalism. Because it's so cheap, it's the only daily newspaper I subscribe to. I agree that is probably odd for an Englishman. But then I am odd.

Anyway here's a nice little story of Trump's business style - Trump v Coking

He did nothing illegal. He played hardball as he likes to call it. At no point does he seem to have been encumbered by any decency or principle. Self-serving pragmatism is all. He is obviously very good at it, indeed he keeps shouting about what a great negotiator he is and how much wealth this style has garnered.

All lawyers have clients like this, though few quite as endowed as the Donald. For my part I did once have one minor billionaire on the books. My chap seemed to have a moral compass. Which is nice.

Sense And Sensibility

That Emma Thompson may be something of a luvvie pain when she gobs off about politics, a trait which seems to be de rigueur for educated actors these days (observe the artistically fabulous but politically tedious Dominic Cumberbatch) but bloody hell she can't half act. I would point for example at her brilliance in what is actually an exploitative and slight film, Love Actually - you have to go a long way to see acting as good as hers in the scene where she gets the Joni Mitchell cd for Christmas. Quite superb.

She can write as well as act - a point reconfirmed to me last night when viewing Sense and Sensibility, the adapted screenplay for which won her an Oscar. It's a terrible thing for an English graduate to admit but I've never quite got the point of Jane Austen, but Ang Lee's film has made me vow to give it another go. Thompson does a bang-up job on the acting front as if contributing the script isn't enough. She is surrounded by thespian competence, notably Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon. Not an imprecation (unless you count 'blaggard' and I don't think I do) or flash of flesh in the whole two hours. Altogether well done. 7/10.

England Uber Alles - OG Gives The Definitive Verdict On 6N 2016

So England won the Six Nations Grand Slam. Well done. About bloody time one might say. This either means (if you are a swivel-eyed halfwit) that England are now poised for world domination, or (if you are a swivel-eyed halfwit) that this was the worst 6N in the history of the universe and that Wales were robbed by a South African referee, a duff scoring system, racial prejudice and the assembled forces of western capitalism. No, what you will get here is unalloyed truth, 100% wisdom. Which is:

Best Team 

This year, England by a comfortable margin. France are a basket case, their fabulous heritage now held hostage by a bloated club game that cannot afford to give game-time to up and coming native footballers because the clubs need to wring every last centime of value out of geriatric imports. Tres, tres triste. Ireland are a team reinventing themselves but they have a good front-row and half-backs, Sexton's head problems notwithstanding. I still like their coach, though this is a less fashionable view than it was. Italy - oh my poor Italy. By the end of the championship they had utterly shot their bolt. But once again we have to laud the mighty Parisse - some bloody player and he can even conduct post-match interviews in three languages - I think I have a man crush. Scotland - I love their coach and seriously hope he gets the Lions gig. Stuart Hogg is a gem and there are even signs that he may calm down, mind you he ran a bloody long way to involve himself in a forward scuffle in the Ireland match. Which leaves us with Wales. They have the greatest number of high quality international players in the 6N. This is an outstanding crop. Just look at their back-row stocks: Warburton (who I will concede showed signs of returning to his best); Tipuric; Faletau (as good as Parisse but I don't think he can speak French); Lydiate; and now we need to add to that list Ross Moriarty who came off the bench against Italy and was immense, my man of the match in fact. Watch out too for Tom Phillips who captained Wales U20 to their own Grand Slam. These are riches. You can allow them an off season and they did after all finish second in the table but duffing up a shot Italian team is not enough. The suspicion lingers that Warren Gatland has not got all he could out of this team. Or is it that the players don't really believe they can be world beaters? Their tour to New Zealand will be intriguing. Here's the news folks - the All Blacks are not, indeed never have been, unbeatable - check out their historic record against South Africa if you don't believe me. What they do have is a carefully and arrogantly concocted brand based upon high skill and psychological intimidation. I love NZ rugby but they are not gods. Mind you, if Sergio Parisse had been an All Black ...

England? Loose head prop worries me. Marler has made himself a marked man for referees and Mako Vunipola still doesn't look to me as if he can scrummage at the top level. Eddie Jones is an ex-hooker - he'll sort this out. Either that or he'll go back to his unprincipled campaign to depower the scrum per his time with Australia when the best they had to offer was Al Baxter. If he adopts this latter approach I will picket Twickenham until he is sacked. Itoje is magnificent. He is not Martin Johnson, rather closer to John Eales if comparisons must be made, but, here's an idea, let's just let him be Maro Itoje. Open-side flanker is a conundrum. I think Jones has very fixed views as to what 'makes' an international footballer. He believes Haskell has it (so do I) and preferred to play him ahead of altenatives he thinks do not have it - this would seem to include the much touted (at least by men of Gloucester) Kvesic. The penalty count must come down but it has been nice to see a bit of the mongrel back in an England team. The next few years ought to be fun to watch. I still think that Wales, for now, have the stronger squad. England have more professional players but those players partake of a lot more physically damaging rugby than the home based Welshmen - The Premiership is way more bruising than the Pro 12. For a start, there's relegation. Quite right too.

Player of the Tournament

George Kruis. This has not been the choice of the powers that be - they selected Stuart Hogg. Fair enough.

But Kruis is the OG's type of footballer. Big, damaging, uncompromising and technically very, very adept. An athlete with attitude. And to think England have Launchbury and Lawes in reserve. That's intimidating.

Best Referee

As ever and by a country mile. Res ipsa loquitur. Nigel Owens. Allocated only one match in the 6N. Shameful. I know up and comers have to be blooded, but you always pick your best player so why doesn't that apply to referees? I mean, Jaco bloody Peyper got two games for heaven's sake. And he's not fit to lace the Boy Owens' boots.

Best Try

Stuart Hogg. I never said the boy can't play.

Most Annoying Trend

Hordes of backs rushing to laud their forwards when they perceive them to have done something good. If forwards had more self-respect they would do as my great friend Tony Stafford (aka the Stumbling Beast) did to me (and I was at least a fellow forward) when I enquired as to his well-being during a torrid front-row encounter (that's what we used to call fights) with Newbold (you think Beirut's tough, you've never played at Newbold, God love them) - Staff told me to 'Fuck off, I'm busy!'. Nuff said, respect, indeed.

The Ronan O'Gara Gobshite Memorial Award

When the OG first generously decided to endow this award, he suspected that it would be contested by gobby backs who really ought to know better. It is therefore with considerable surprise that the selection panel (comprised of those who lastest longest in the bar at Colin Cragg's stag last weekend) have come up with three joint winners, one a prop forward, another who didn't even play in the championship, the third a committee of alickadoos.

First the non-com: Shay Clipson, whose spokesmanship has been so counterproductive as to make Joe Marler an unworthy cult hero. Roberts' First Rule: always be wary of those taking offence on behalf of those other than themselves.

Shay Clipson of the National Alliance of Gypsy, Traveller & Roma Women

Secondly, Marler himself. I know it was in the middle of a tussle in a game of international sport but I don't buy the 'banter' crap myself. You got it wrong Joe, something your immediate apology betrayed. It was a gobshite thing to do, hence the award. Pity, because I admire anyone who sticks it in the front-row. I got out of it as fast as my size 10's could carry me.

Third in this chamber of shame: the Six Nations Committee who did nothing about it all. An appropriate ban (four weeks perhaps) should have been forthcoming. Just for once I exonerate the usually hopeless (just why was Gary Street sacked after winning a World Cup?) RFU, who were left in an impossible position by the ineffectual dithering of the Six Nations Committee. Nice one lads - this tawdry business will now drag on and give unwarranted ammunition to the soft-headed nanny-staters who will not rest happy until the game is banned along with fox hunting.

Ah well it's only a game.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Six Nations - The Ignorance Of Crowds

I have a confession - I think I may be addicted to internet rugby forums. It's not big and it's not clever but now it's out there. These forums are nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty but spiced with occasional shafts of wit and wisdom. They are peopled by a disproportionate number of Welshmen (usually seems to be men) who, at their best, outsmart their English brethren with ease and, at their worst, are quite pitiful deluded racists. As for the English, they display far less wisdom and, one regrets to say, less wit. They do manage plenty of racism but it's rather less barbed. Don't you just love racial stereotypes.

So England are the champions, notwithstanding a concerted effort to chuck away their hard-won and substantial lead. I was surprised quite how much I wanted England to win this match. I think some of the less moderate Welsh bilge had affected me. Thus I was mightily pleased with the English first-half dominance but disquieted by the slightness of the resultant margin. A lot of opportunities were butchered. Possibly this will improve - one suspects that the very knowing Eddie Jones will in time ruthlessly discard players he determines are ineducable. Once again I have checked the Laws of Rugby Union and the number of points scored is the only determinant of the victor. Sometimes one wonders. In case you missed it, England won. Narrowly. That for now is enough.

The major talking points revolve around two props and a referee. In turn: Joe Marler - the crafty punch might have elicited a yellow card if spotted, therefore end of story; the 'Gypsy Boy' comment was misguided and stupid - he apologised promptly but that mitigates rather than excuses; Tom Francis - I seem to be almost alone amongst Englishmen in thinking he didn't mean to 'gouge' the eyes of Dan Cole - there is much unreasoned blather on this voguish crime but the mood is to punish 'recklessness' (see my last 6N blog) so one suspects he ought to be on the look out for thrown books. [Since drafting that remark the book has duly been thrown and he got eight weeks - I remain of the view that he is unlucky.] Finally the referee - never has a rugby subject been so prejudged quite so inaccurately. Craig Joubert had a perfectly acceptable game, not faultless but a far remove from the abject horror show in the RWC quarter-final. Not so good from the video offiicial who was prim, over-zealous and had an annoying voice.

My concentration has been an English one. Sorry I'm English. Nice to win and, though not blind to his roguishness, I find it hard not to like Eddie Jones. I am quite sure he knows his boys are far from world beaters but the project is underway and that, for and Englishman, makes a pleasant change.

Poor old Wales. It is tiring to keep saying it but they have a rich seam of talent. It is presently underused. Gatland (and I'm afraid he can come across as a graceless twat at times) may have reached the end of the road. It happens to the best. Incidentally there is no excuse for a 'world class' professional wing like George North consistently to carry the ball under the wrong arm. It's sloppy and self-indulgent and you can, if of a mishievous bent, construct an argument that it cost Wales the game on Saturday.

Elsewhere poor old Italy capitulated to Ireland and Scotland continued their improvement by downing France. There was more proof, not that it was needed, that Stuart Hogg is a very good player.

Onwards and upwards.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Trump Is A Lout - But Lack Of Intellectual Rigour Is An Unprincipled Response

Last week a proposed Trump rally was abandoned due to the presence/intervention of protesters. There seems to be some dispute as to whether the abandonment was made on police advice or whether it manifests savvy opportunism by Trump, either way the outcome seems to have been greeted as a triumph by certain simple souls on the activist left.

They had been attempting to get the event cancelled in advance - read the petition - MoveOn Petitions . Its argument is egregious crap. As egregious as that which the Donald spouts. Actually more dangerous. 'No Platforming' is a human failure. And if in fact you think that dainty principles such as mine must go out of the window when faced with a scumbag like Trump I'm afraid you're tactically naive. This is what the tosser wanted.

Just to ram home the point, read this juvenile blogger - Politicus USA . Nothing too wrong with being a pea-brained blogger I suppose. Pots and kettles indeed. But read the sainted Bernie Sanders' mealy-mouthed statement quoted within. Talk about missing an open goal. I know this stuff can seem difficult boys and girls but really it's not and, you know what, if you want to shout at the crowd (which I encourage), I can see a great place from which to do it. It's called the moral high ground and there's no bastard standing there.

Enough, let's finish with some wise words. Words, as it happens which came from a troubled soul who travelled widely over the political range. A blatantly imperfect man but here is Eldridge Cleaver getting it pretty right:
With all of its faults, the American political system is the freest and most democratic in the world. The system needs to be improved, with democracy spread to all areas of life, particularly the economic. All of these changes must be conducted through our established institutions, and people with grievances must find political method for obtaining redress.  
Hold onto that and make it happen. We have not yet reached the point where we need to impose ourselves violently on others. As DT might himself put it - let's win. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Ghost

The novels of Robert Harris are not great art, but who cares? What they together constitute is a body of bloody good professional writing. They are way beyond the capabilities of production of most mortals, not least production line students of creative writing. So there.

The Ghost attracted a deal of attention because of the perception of it as a roman a clef on the Blair governments. Yes, Harris was a friend of the Blairs and a Labour fellow traveller but there are key divergences from the real Blairs. Harris did nothing to dispel the notion that these changes were made to avoid litigation but the truth is that there was never going to be any allegation of libel - both Blairs are good enough lawyers to know that any such action would have been catastrophically counter-productive, and Harris himself is surely canny enough to have indulged the conjecture as a means of promoting his book. Certainly it is a touch his narrator (a jobbing ghost writer) would have appreciated.

What we have here is a book a little bit about modern global politics, but not so much as to be tedious. On this level, it is bloody good.

What we have here is a book a little bit in the thriller genre. On this level it is bloody good.

What we have here is a book a little bit about the process of writing. On this level it is bloody good.

So, in short, what we have here is a bloody good book. The sort that should be studied in creative writing classes.

A few interesting facts to toy with as you read this, they may elevate the fun: Blair (like Harris) went to Oxford; the fictional PM Adam Lang is a Cambridge man - in fact the last Cambridge PM was Stanley Baldwin and these sorts of things matter to Oxbridge types; the PM's wife and femme fatale Ruth Lang is an Oxford gal - this is a good joke because the real Cherie Booth is an LSE alumna and, quite properly, nothing winds up an LSE graduate more than being assumed Oxbridge. Just ask my dad.

Did I mention - bloody good book.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Why hadn't I seen this before? It is a completely brilliant film. One of the best. Seriously, that good.

What's not to like? John Ford directs. Tick. James Stewart is the seeming conscience of the film. Tick. John Wayne (and in Ford's hands, let us be clear, this guy could act) is the tragic true conscience of the film. Tick. Lee Marvin is completely and convincingly conscienceless (no victim of society he). Tick.

Read Richard Brody in The New Yorker on what makes a great film - Great Films . Brody thinks Liberty Valance one of the great political movies. Spot on.

8.5/10. So watch it. The whole thing is on YouTube but better to download it on Sky or buy the dvd. I could even let you have my thoughts on the applicability of this marvellous film to the American election but I've bored you enough already. How about this as a suggestion - instead of the next tiresome wrestling-in-mud style candidate debates, make all of them sit and watch this film and then give them each thirty seconds to apologise for having been gutless tossers. I don't just mean the Republicans either. Next mission - a search for the best film to show to the EU protagonists.

And lo, a miracle! Whilst typing this entry I have been listening to the sadly smug Now Show selectively eviscerating the Donald, only to be brought up short by Marcus Brigstocke of all people with a timely riff on the lazy certainties of the left. Marcus, I may have misjudged you. Or perhaps we're both growing! Bloody hell.

Donald Trump, Donald Bloody Trump

What a vexing week for the Boy Roberts. Too much to think about for this unquiet mind - that's a reference to my bipolar which has been peeping its head over the parapet in the face of all this mental stimulation. An Unquiet Mind, by the way, is the incisive title of Kay Redfield Jamison's book on manic depression.

So what's eating me? You name it: Europe, the NHS, God, state education, rugby football, but I think above all else the trigger has been Donald Trump, Donald Bloody Trump. His political rise has, as you will have surmised, got me in a right old tizzy. People keep telling me that I am daft but the more I try to ignore the wretched man, the more I am intrigued. In his phenomenon so many issues, cultural and political, are crystallizing.

Serious political analysis is needed - this bloke is at best a tosser
The problem out of which the Donald has sprung is, by a much discerned irony, the same one that has spawned the cults of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Large portions of the governed feel themselves utterly alienated from and deserted by their governors. These alienated people are not even remotely confined to the self-flagellating left and the amoral right. We are everywhere. Just yet, the numbers have not reached a tipping point but America is belatedly waking up to the fact that it is closer to that point than it had conceived. And those doing the tipping are, with respect, reaching for the wrong solutions - Trump/Sanders/Corbyn. At the moment the 'political class' (this ugly epiphet is often in Trump's mouth but he is completely right to designate them thus - look only at the shameless behaviour of Cameron in the Europe debate) is most alarmed by Trump because he has dared to scramble furthest up their greasy pole. Just wait to see what the post EU referendum Conservative Party will unleash on Corbyn as its easiest means of reunification. All the fun of the fair.

Is Trump right about anything? Of course he is. He identifies problems (and shamelessly fabricates others) but unerringly comes up with the wrong solutions. Crude is not automatically bad. Oafish is not automatically bad. Vulgarity is not automatically bad. Winning is not at all a bad thing. But, but, but. When crudeness, oafishness and vulgarity are deployed without any acknowledgement of their limitations and when winning becomes the only acceptable result, we cease to be civilised. And yes I do know that, 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing' was the delivered wisdom of Vince Lombardi (for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named) but not even the daftest sports coach suggests this as a mantra for life as a whole. In any understood and practical context, winners have their corollaries - losers. The Trump method takes all this nonsense a step further and dances on the downtrodden 'losers'. To my shame (trust me it lives with you) I have done this myself on the sporting field. It demeans both perpetrator and victim. As a model for government it is terrifying.

The most depressing fact pushed shamefacedly into the glare of the Trump spotlight is this - the moral poverty of his opposition. The Republican debate last night was raucous and uncouth. These guys really don't like each other. But at its end every candidate avowed that he would support the eventual GOP nominee. I admire loyalty chaps but one can take it too far. Up with this you should not put.

But the question of opposition goes further - look at the bloody Democrats. It seems it will be Hillary, a woman long known to the American public but who inspires them for no greater reason than that she would be the first woman president - Why do they like Hillary . This is not exactly what propelled Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi and Margaret Thatcher to power. Mind you, I don't suppose that my old mate Polly Toynbee would suggest any of those as an inspiration so perhaps I'm (wilfully?) missing the point. Let's put it another way - Hillary Clinton comes with a lot of baggage, although amusingly the neocons unremember the fact that her lothario husband Bill was the last president to run a budget surplus, this being what his VP Mr Gore might term an inconvenient truth.

Don'r cry for me Minnesota
Much of the American commentariat is available via that interweb thing so go on have some fun and drive yourself as bonkers as me. A lot of it is, once you dig a little, barking mad and you will be amazed what a mountain of invective you can build from the grainiest grain of truth - try for example the 'Truthers' (Trump was there at the conception of this movement and, seed sown, skulked away from the scene of his crime) who will prove to you that Obama is definitely not an American but is definitely a muslim. Rather more balanced (in its limited context) is Wesley Pruden in the right wing Washington TimesCommentariat Wrong . I make no case for the Washington Times in general (susidised by the Unification Church and Reagan's favourite paper) but Cruden's mischievous joy at the rise of Trump and the attendant discomfiture of the bien pensant is perhaps an antidote to my own melancholy. 

For a measured British perspective on the Trump thing and why it matters try this - Trump's Angry America .

As for me, well I'm going to stand myself down and gather some energy to fulminate against the loons who want to emasculate my precious game - Shock News - People Get Hurt Playing Rugby
Mind you, I might be wrong on this one. Maybe all this angst I experience is because I had too many knocks on the head playing God's own game. Having said that, I'm going to take some convincing that my life would be better without that tackle I made against Old Coventrians in 97. A small moment of perfection - and those are few indeed.

Oh well it's only a game. Which sentiment presumably makes me one of the Donald's 'losers'.  

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Six Nations - Full Of Sound And Fury Signifying Nothing

Ooh so much to talk about. Three more matches gone, one fairly dreadful, the other two imperfect but each enthralling in its way.

Let's get the dreadful match out of the way first. Wales v France was dreadful. I've watched it twice and, law of averages I'm afraid, these things will happen. It happens in the NFL, it happens in Super Rugby (a good deal of which is pap, as witnessed by the half empty stadia) and, yes, it happens in the Rugby Championship despite all the tosh you read in the papers. As we lawyers say, 'Shit happens'. Does any of this mean that Wales are a poor side? Of course not. Does it mean France are not getting marginally better? As it happens I can see some purpose to what the French are doing (the brilliant Stephen Jones disagrees with me on this so I am probably wrong). Whether it will lead to the promised land is a different question altogether. In truth I'm not really sure that French rugby has any shared notion of what the promised land looks like, much less where it is. The same has regularly been true of English rugby. At this time of year one only whispers it but international rugby isn't everything you know. I happen to think it the most important thing, but there are others (particularly in the professional club game) who quite legitimately disagree with me.

One last thing on the French - as others have noticed, their captain Guilhem Guirado was heroic, in fact the best player on the pitch.

 Wales? Same as it ever was. A highly talented and committed bunch of players still to take the step to the elevated place their skills warrant. Will they win at Twickenham? I believe they ought to. This last bit goes without saying - Taulupe Faletau, what a bloody player. Billy Vunipola was terrific (again) for England at the weekend but don't kid yourselves lads, at the moment Faletau is the dog's bollocks (that's a technical term).

Are we sure he's not English?
Italy v Scotland. This was rather fun. You know I really wanted Jaco Peyper to have a better game because I'm on the side of the referees. There are those who played with me who may have to stifle guffaws at this last protestation. Being utterly fair, he did have a better game but ultimately not better enough. Scotland were thoroughly professional at the breakdown when down to fourteen men and Peyper was too generous to them. It made no difference to the result (a deserved Scotland win) but one ought to get these things right. I like what the gloriously stern Vern Cotter is doing with the limited Scottish resources and, no matter what one makes of the eligibility criteria, the spiriting away from New Zealand of flanker John Hardie looks like good business. A good word this week for Stuart Hogg, who gave yet more evidence of just what a fine player he is. We shall, at unfortunate length, return to the subject of 'feisty' fullbacks below. Finally, Parisse and Laidlaw - I'm not sure I can recall a game where both captains were seen to such good effect.

England v Ireland. Refereeing again I'm afraid. Poite cost the Irish a try by asking the TMO the wrong question. A good referee having a moderate game. This is allowed. First things first - did Eddie Jones overstep the mark when he brought Johnny Sexton's parents into the ambit of his mischievous pre-match remarks? Yes, of course he did. Hanging offence? Get a bloody life. Joe Schmidt dealt classily (as he always seems to) with the situation. So did Brian O' Driscoll in his punditry. Move on.

His mother loves him apparently
Mike Brown. This shaven-headed English patriot has become the hate figure du jour for the Celtic blogosphere. Personally I've never met the bloke but I will concede his on-pitch manner can leave a little to be desired, hence another Ronan O'Gara Gobshite nomination from us here at the OG. However there really is an awful lot of ill-informed bluster about his behaviour at the ruck that brought Conor Murray a head injury. Now I'm all in favour of ill-informed bluster but not when it comes from someone being paid to comment as an expert on the matter. Keith Wood (one of my favourite all-time players - no angel, not that this disqualifies his opinion) brusquely dismissed Jeremy Guscott's reading of the incident as 'rubbish'. Wood did have the decency to seem to recant slightly from his peevishness but what was lacking was any evidence that he (or indeed anyone else on the screen) had bothered to read the Laws of the game and to place things in a jurisprudential context. The actual Laws involved were jumbled-up, misrepresented and misunderstood by both channels in their television coverage - and, yes, I'm afraid I have watched both. For those who care, these are the salient points:
  • Let's dispense with Law 16 ('The Ruck') - 'A player rucking for the ball must not intentionally ruck players on the ground etc'. If one judges that Brown deliberately booted Murray then he has a case to answer on this count. Most people seem willing to give Brown the benefit of the doubt on this one. That however is not the end of the matter. 
  • Law 10, 'Foul Play' is germane. 10.4(b) - 'A player must not stamp or trample on an opponent'. Neither 'stamp' nor 'trample' is defined in the Laws. A tyro prosecuting lawyer might try to fit Brown up under this Law. Said tyro would, I suggest, misunderstand what rugby understands by stamping and trampling. However I concede there is room for debate here. The Citing Commissioner seems to have sided with me on this one.
  • 10.4(c) - 'A player must not kick an opponent'. Gotcha? Again, it's not that simple. Certain commentators blithely referred to 'recklessness' as if that somehow clinches the argument. It doesn't. The word 'reckless' does not actually appear in the Laws. The concept is however relevant and this has been made clear in reported disciplinary hearings which are influential (though not in the strictest sense binding) upon those applying the Laws. But what is 'recklessness' in this judicial context? Try this: ' ... the person knew [or should have known] that his or her actions were likely to cause harm.' Now look at that definition again and take out the square bracketed words. What we have there is the difference between objective and subjective tests of recklessness and, trust me, lawyers have been getting excited about that since time immemorial!
Not so simple eh? For what it's worth my own final conclusion (for now!) is that Brown was certainly not reckless with the first kick whose back-stroke actually inflicted the damage on Murray, not that the inflicting of the damage has anything to do with it. His subsequent increasingly ineffectual swings of the boot might just be judged reckless and penalisable. Yellow card? Judgement call and, except when egregiously wrong, those should be left to the man on the spot, so no.

In a perfect (to this admittedy antediluvian writer) world Poite would have blown as soon as Murray himself infringed the ruck laws, first by being off his feet and next by pulling the ball back into the ruck. He would then have gone back to the first offence (Care lying on the ball) and yellow-carded Care, as indeed he eventually did. The problem with this posited 'perfect' world is that I doubt that my preferred sequence would have avoided Murray's injury unless Poite had been there improbably quickly and reacted brilliantly. Which leaves us with - 'Shit happens'.

One man seems to me to have reacted humanely, intellectually and interestingly and that is Joe Schmidt - Schmidt calls for law review . As it happens I would not like to see the ruck law changed but I do see where my opponents are coming from. What you cannot do is change the law retrospectively and then punish a player for a crime he had no way of knowing was a crime. Before we leave this benighted subject here are two questions to toy with: 1. Would I feel the same if the miscreant had been Stuart Hogg? I can only say I hope I would. 2. Would a Pacific Islander behaving as Brown be treated so charitably? This one does trouble me because I have a horrible feeling that the answer would be no. That says terrible things about the morality of the administration of the international game.

The game itself: England were markedly the more accomplished team but scored a lot fewer points than they should. That is problematic and, lest we get carried away with lauding Eddie Jones, hardly a new dilemma. What is James Haskell's problem? He was playing rather well but his foul on Murray was ugly and stupid. Am I the only person who thought the much derided Chris Robshaw had a good game, as in fact he usually does. This writer's derision has been reserved for his captaincy. He is what Bill McClaren might have termed an honest citizen.

By the way it is worth catching BBC Wales' Scrum V from Sunday. The Welsh analysis of the Ford/Farrell 10/12 axis is much less scathing than most Englishmen can bring themselves to manage.

The story so far is this: rugby union can be played far better than we have seen in the Six Nations. This is stating the bleeding obvious. England seem to be trying to improve. The more gifted Wales, say they are but are struggling to manifest progress. Scotland definitely are improving. Ireland do not have their troubles to seek but the situation is far from hopeless. France mystify. Italy, believe it or not, are getting somewhere - in Campagnaro and Garcia they have produced two very nice centres. Their coach is probably past his sell-by date but that's true of a lot of us.

Lastly the serious stuff. Backs with beards - not sure why but this looks wrong to me.