Peter Healey's blog

Just another WordPress site

Browsing Posts published by Peter

After fondly imagining that the free, open and accountable society was merely being gradually encroached on by military and commercial interests, the Guardian revelations over the last three days about the actions of the US National Security Agency seem to have shocked us awake from our dream to find that we are already living within a mature, widely embedded Orwellian nightmare.

If GCHQ has used the Prism software to spy on us at the US’s behest, let’s not accept their weasel words about operating under “legal and policy frameworks” – whose laws, whose policies? – but rather name and deal with this for what it is: institutional treachery. Secondly, if Apple, Google and their like are using the supply of their popular goods and services as a cover for spying on their customers, we should consider whether they should have a right to operate here. Thirdly, it should be a priority to investigate rigorously how far this mindset of US political paranoia has spread amongst UK national institutions – there are disturbing rumours, for example, that at lest one of our research councils have had their research programmes on security directly influenced by US security interests. Finally, the US must be challenged at a political level about the concept of extra-territoriality which supports all these deeply disturbing developments in the UK.

London’s Design Museum is doing something unusual by mounting an (admittedly slim) exhibition this summer which instead of the obsession with form and function in individual design objects, brings design, architecture and acute social analysis together in a ‘design fiction’ about a future divided UK. The divisions in this kingdom are not political, but about lifestyle, values and the appropriation of technology. Rather improbably, but usefully in analytically casting light upon the present as all good technology fictions should, each ‘micro kingdom’ or ‘super shires’ bases its lifestyle on a different technology: digitarians on every possible application of information and communication technologies and its “implicit totalitarianism” as the website puts it; communo-nuclearists, forced to move their energy-rich society continually on a vast train because of the unpopularity of the nuclear source which supplies it; bioliberals who use the power of synthetic biology to create a low environmental impact world where “gardens, farms and kitchens replace factories and workshops”, and anarcho-evolutionists who turn the same bioscience capabilities in upon themselves in strengthening their own capabilities, sometimes prompted by an explicitly post-humanist stance.

The designers behind the exhibition, Dunne & Raby, and rather more informative website ( point out the digitarian world is the most immediately chilling for us, because ITC has become all-pervasive in our current world. Whilst being still associated with counter cultural elements and praised for its role in the ‘Arab spring’, the internet has increasingly come to bolster traditional centres of power, as the power of surveillance grows, and services that support and expand social networks increasing commercially exploit them. The most chilling aspect of the digitarian world is that it may combine 100% transparency with zero accountability – “the digitarians are governed by technocrats, or algorithms – no-one is entirely sure, or even cares.”

There are of course some trivial and more significant nonsenses here: the idea that the paranoid nuclear state, with unlimited energy but many enemies, has to be continually on the move to protect itself against enemies and that train tracks will provide a secure way of doing so, or that indeed any society will base its future on one technology. However, in a broader sense the exhibition delivers: it is good to have a museum of design highlighting major societal choices and social trends, and good too to raise the issue as to whether social identities are diverging to such an extent that the modern state will have difficulty in accommodating them on the traditional 50% + 1, winner-takes-all, version of representative democracy, and if so how the state may improve its tolerance of diversity consistent with some central unifying values.

The question is, if it is true that such broader identity politics are on the rise, what their basis will be. Undoubtedly issues of ethics and values around technologies, like their distribution of benefits and costs, are becoming more important as technical change accelerates. It seems reasonable to believe, and perhaps hope, that in parallel traditional community identities of ethnicity and religion will decline in importance, although in vast swathes of the world that seems a distressingly remote prospect. The ground is shifting. However, to extrapolate from these trends to seeing technological choice becoming central to personal and then group identities seems a big step.

We are of course all technological fetishists on a microscale. I have just upgraded my internet bandwidth sevenfold without having a clear idea what I will use the extra speed for beyond streaming films in high definition. But it is important that technology policy be first policy and second technology: in framing social choices about technology it is important that political values predominate, that society makes choices about clear social objectives and then look for technologies, or portfolios of technologies, which safely and flexibly meet them.


No comments

Coming out of the Manet exhibition we meet in the lift a couple who have just come out of the parallel Royal Academy show in a neighbouring set of galleries. “Much better than the Manet”, they say, “Most of the big paintings weren’t there”. Well it is true that the exhibition showed mostly the unfamiliar, but it was no worse for that.

This was much more than the flat, plane of the canvas Manet that often comes to mind, a Manet of experiments, of contrasts. One juxtaposition is arranged for us on the gallery walls: the sensitive portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot with a bunch of violets, the icon picture of the exhibition publicity: calm, composed, if questioning and not entirely confident. To its right is displayed a portrait of the same woman “in mourning”, but not just in mourning, but distraught and distorted by grief.

Manet shows us people, faces, expressions, eyes. These are sometimes intimate pictures of the poor, sometimes people who are figures in Manet’s literary and artistic world in late 19th century Paris, and sometimes, but quite rarely, show full-length portraits of personal display. These people are all in some sense distant to us, not because of the simple distance of time and fashion, but because for the most part they are not looking at us, but are reflecting, processing what is going on for them. Manet’s genius is to capture something of his sitters’ interior lives, not in the most part in emotional extremis, as with Berthe in mourning, but in subtle and complex ways, as with blonde Bertha with violets.

So what is going on with this Bertha? Unlike many of the other portraits she is looking back, perhaps with uncertain interest and surprise, at the giver of the violets. Because we see her face-to-face, we are aware of her beauty, or more exactly of the sense of her beauty that the artist had. So perhaps we are seeing through this remarkable picture some sense of Manet’s interior life too.

Future Perfect?

No comments

In June 2011 a Hungarian physicist friend, staying with us in London, invited me to tag along to his meeting at UCL. The meeting, he explained, was about building a huge new IT project that could compete for EU ‘Flagship’ funding of €1billion over 10 years, funded equally between the European Commission and national sources. My friend said that he would be interested to have a social scientist’s perspective on what was proposed. When I got to the meeting I found that two distinguished UK social scientists were already involved.

What was proposed was set out by Dirk Helbing, the team leader. It went something like this: the world faces a range of stubborn problems including climate change, overpopulation, the spread of infectious disease, war and other forms of conflict. Politicians, advised by social scientists, had grappled unsuccessfully with these problems and failed. The time had come for the physicists and mathematicians to take over, solve these basic challenges, and accelerate human progress in desirable directions. Their ability to do this was a function of new capacities in modelling allied to the ‘data deluge’ that had become available through the explosive growth in social media. As a result quantitative social science was now held to have predictive capacity. Social science would be truly ‘big science’ at last.

I spent another day or two at the meeting, being involved in some detailed discussions of the ethics of using social media data for the purposes proposed. I also questioned the wider value of the exercise – its methodological strengths and normative assumptions – to no great effect at the meeting, but in greater depth with my friend when the sessions were over and we returned home. The detailed plan, it transpired, involved building a planetary environmental model, and a parallel agent based model for the earth’s population, then linking them. Some discussions as to the possibility and wisdom of this developed on the internet and I found an ally in a colleague in Manchester who thought like me that this was an exercise in epistemological hubris, naïve in intention, distorting of the investment priorities of the social sciences, unlikely to succeed but dangerous in any success it might achieve. In this last vein my favourite thought experiment about the project was: faced with the normative imperative of forestalling social conflict, and armed with the computer readouts suggesting that the DDR project was near fatal meltdown in the last few months of 1989, to whom precisely would the FuturICTs, had they been working then, given what information at the time? Perhaps keeping the Stasi up to date on the issues and troublemakers would have been seen as the way of minimising the risk of all that nasty social conflict, so disruptive of social order.

FuturICT, as it was known (pronounced “futurist”, as the lords of this pluperfect realm would no doubt be known) seemed only too likely to find friends in the European Commission, where technocratic solutions are favoured and democracy is sometimes seen as social “noise”, attenuating the European project. But the acceptance seemed to spread, not only amongst financially challenged central European scholars like my friend, but distinguished groups of researchers on complexity close to home who no doubt rationalised their support in terms of being able to control the beast more effectively from within, as well as of course positioning themselves to suck up the loot. There are, after all, few social science project managers who find themselves with the problem of how to spend over a quarter of a million euros each day. A UK research council found in favour of FuturICT – presumably happy to sacrifice other projects to these new gods – and a range of others crowded in behind them.

Fortunately it was not quite enough. The two winners, announced in February 2013, were more research on graphene, today’s fashionable scientific answer to everything, and work on brain modelling, which may for all I know appear equally hubristic to the specialists in that field. However, at a time of extreme pressure on national and European research budgets it was still found justifiable to concentrate research funding in this way. Some of this press towards bigger European research budgets, of which this is only the most extreme example, comes from the contradiction between DG Research and Innovation’s growing ambition to see itself shaping the productive future of Europe, and a staffing squeeze which leads to a diminishing ability to manage and draw lessons from its research portfolio.

Poor enough motive as this might be for the European Commission, the camp followers have even less excuse. It might be useful for them, and reassuring for us, to have their reflections now on what on earth they were thinking of, in terms of what contemporary social science can achieve, the ethics of use of the data it draws on, and the proper uses of its findings in free and democratic societies. Meanwhile there are most probably, and very sadly, no shortage of agencies in all sorts of countries, assessing the FuturICT tools and team. Watch for scientists disappearing from the public domain.

The fact that the Prince of Wales is permitted to intervene widely in the process of government without any subsequent public accountability is an affront to democracy.  Doing so as, in Dominic Grieve’s words, “a preparation for Kingship”, it is close to treasonable.

I was already born before the last London Olympics but was too young to remember anything about them.  My first Games memories are of Helsinki where the fact but not the form of some kind of anthem or fanfare are still in my mind in that funny sense that you know something that you nevertheless cannot dredge up from deep memory (even with the help of the opening ceremony found on YouTube).   It feels like a very primal musical memory, perhaps an anthem, perhaps a BBC radio ident, with an impact like the haunting sound of Tutenkamun’s trumpets as played after their discovery in the 1920s (which to my young mind seemed to echo directly across the millennia from ancient times, as if those stiff marching figures were going to walk off the papyri and around the street corner).

Thereafter the summer Games seemed to offer some innocent magic of the best of each generation offering their utmost, especially in athletics, where I admired middle distance running, a British strength in the mid twentieth century, when the African altitude runners were still to emerge.  It was still an innocent pleasure to admire your country’s sport in those days, but it was endeavour regardless of country that was most admired.  So it was Zatopek in Helsinki, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in Rome.  Melbourne followed Helsinki and Rome followed Melbourne, all Games it seemed held in a Corinthian spirit, and a friend and I travelled to Rome two years later to admire Nervi’s modernist Olympic architecture nestled amongst the Fascist art deco buildings of E.U.R. In 1968 the Mexico Games, at altitude Bob Beamon set a world record for the long jump that lasted for 23 years, and two American black athletes gave a black power salute on the winners’ podium.

About this time I became aware that racial politics had first entered the Olympics in 1936 Berlin through the way that Jesse Owens, the African American sprinter, eloquently countered Nazi theories of racial superiority with sprinting victories on the track.   Sport more sharply echoed politics in the 1972 Munich Olympics with the killing of nine Israeli athletes and most of the Black September movement who had taken them hostage.  A political boycott centred round the Russian presence in Afghanistan kept 66 countries away from the Moscow games in 1980, but the British went and their middle distance running then being at its peak one Sebastian Coe won 1500 metres with Steve Ovett third, and Ovett won the 800 metres with Coe second.  Sebastian Coe, now a member of the House of Lords for the Conservative party, is in charge of the 2012 London Olympics.

Of course I had constructed my early innocence.  In fact political, religious, financial, and drug-taking controversies, scandals and incidents seemed to dog most summer Olympics, with the possible bright exceptions of Sydney and Barcelona.  A famous refusal by the athlete Eric Liddell to run on Sunday for religious reasons, together with the struggle of Jewish athlete Harold Abrahams to overcome anti-Semitism, inspired the 1981 film Chariots of Fire about their participation in the 1924 Paris Olympics. There was even a dispute about whether all the Games of the modern Olympiad should be held in Athens, as the Greeks proposed.  London’s rich inheritance includes banning Germany and Japan in 1948. Each Games hold the mirror up to their times, and to the values of their hosts within those times. By their Games, you might say, shall you know them.

So it is with 2012 London Olympics.  Locally, it has established unprecedented degrees of control about how people can treat their own homes, with some boroughs seeking to prevent people renting them out to Games visitors, presumably to provide a boost to the London hotel industry.  Lanes of roads will be closed to allow limousines to ferry the sporting elite, many of whom have far from spotless reputations in the governance of their sports, or the disposal of the fortunes flowing from it.

For in line of current global obsessions the Games are clearly about money.  Not only have the sponsors bought advertising rights and marketing outlets within the Olympic Park, but, astonishingly, rival products can be confiscated from games goers who may in all innocence be carrying them.  Not only does this seem to be trespassing on the shores of individual rights but it is as if in late capitalism brand competition has gone ideological – committed not only to triumph over the competitor product but to airbrush out the evidence that it even exists. The ancient Greeks arranged a temporary truce from war during the Olympic Games, with the wisdom of knowing what unlimited military competition might do. Of course a temporary end of war would be nice in our era; perhaps more pertinent, and certainly more challenging, would be to try to ensure that the endemic competition of our times, commercial competition, and the glorification of commercial elites, would be given a holiday.

Nationally, it has to bear the burden of having supported the headline act in the war against terrorism and generally pursuing imperialism by proxy post 9/11 – that will mean helicopters overhead, fast patrol boats carrying military on the Thames, Eurofighters lined up to shoot down any aircraft that appear to be heading for the Park, and missiles on the roof of East End flats to catch any that evade the warplanes. Is it comforting to know that these measures will ensure that the 80,000 of the world sporting and business elite and a few members of the general public will be protected during the games at the cost of potentially many more deaths of ordinary Londoners, as a shot-down plane falls on it?

Last week nine men were found guilty of luring a number of mid-teen girls by plying them with drink and pretended affection until they found themselves by degrees recruited for a sex ring which the men operated in and near Rochdale.  The men were Asian, and nominally Muslim, as were their ‘clients’ for sexual services.  The girls were white, and, the early coverage emphasised, vulnerable, through limited parentage and supervision and support, and all thus known to social services; and through their being on the streets at hours when more strictly parented Asian girls were safe at home.  Threats kept the girls in line as they were passed through increasing numbers of hands, and the whole matter took several months to come to light.

Discussion of the case turned quickly to the communities and ethnicities of the perpetrators of the crime and their victims.  The judge made a comment that the perpetrators would not have treated young females from their own community in the same way.  Some respected people from the police service and from charities dealing with young people pointed out that this was not an isolated case and that numbers of additional cases of groups of older Asian men grooming young white girls who were then passed around for sex had occurred or were under investigation.  The central cultural issues behind such practice, it was said, needed to be looked at foursquare, despite the fact that the British National Party were making an anti-Islamic campaign out of the case by demonstrating outside the court.

Of course this is first and foremost a matter of sustained and deep individual and collective criminality.  Those who recruited the girls did so through deliberate deception, feigning affection for those whose home circumstances gave them a desperate emotional vulnerability.  They then exploited the feelings that they had created, and when that failed resorted to threats of violence.  Their many more numerous ‘clients’ could hardly be unaware of what they were participating in, and yet either had no feelings towards the victims, despite their age, or callously ignored or overrode them.

How could this happen?  What sustained this behaviour? Well, we have the example of the holocaust to remind us know it isn’t exclusively Muslims, or even those of religions in general, that behave in a way that allows them to commodify people or deny their humanity entirely: it certainly didn’t prevent the widespread sexual abuse of altar boys and school pupils within the Roman Catholic church, nor the trafficking of women from eastern Europe to the sexual markets of the west – trafficking of whites by whites, for whites.  But we can say that religion has a special place in systematically promoting perception of social distance, of the in-group and the out-group, of the self and the other, of those deserving of sympathy and help and those deserving of misfortune.  In particular the notion that a religion requires various beliefs and/or practices to be observed in order that an adherent shall have the rights to some kind of paradisiacal afterlife can be thought of as the ultimate form of social exclusion, since in the minds of the believers, it lasts for ever.  Even if half believed and half not believed, it is hard to believe that no social taint rubs off such doctrines onto the unbeliever, the excluded, undermining their social worth, the extent to which they deserve compassion, in the believer’s eyes.   Such beliefs are unpleasant enough when they crop up in families where the theories of difference and otherness at least have to meet the experiential test of everyday life.  They can develop to full force in the relatively self-contained single community neighbourhoods of inner cities.  Separate can develop into something far less healthy than unequal.

Which brings us to the US Army, and a far more chilling story.   An elective course run by a LT. Col. Dooley for U.S. military officers since 2004, suspended only within the last month in response to a student protest after some 800 students had been exposed to it, is reported to have called for “a direct ideological and philosophical confrontation with Islam” which would not be bound by the Geneva Conventions.  It would have included taking war to civilians through tactics like deliberate starvation and the destruction of the Muslim holy cities.

The story is chilling because it shows the US Army as sufficiently separate to maintain a subculture with such objectives, and because the subculture isn’t that exotic when set against the actions of US soldiers in the field: collectively at Abu Ghraib, and individually in incidents where soldiers have run amok shooting Muslims.  Over the last few years a version of the “final solution” for the Moslem world has also spread around amongst some Americans (and for all I know others) called “the glass solution” (referring to the effect of heat from nuclear weapons on sand deserts).  Such positions tap into and mould popular beliefs.  At another level entirely, but with a similar taint of anti-Islamic ideology, the idea that Barack Obama may have been a Moslem was allowed to circulate, in the belief no doubt that were it to become accepted, it would be a political knock-out blow.  We might say that the collapse of the Soviet Union created an ideology gap in the justification of the US military machine, and one reading of 9/11 allowed it to be filled, just below the surface, in ideological positions about Islam as a global enemy that of course are equally able to counter-exploitation by those wishing to stir up feelings against the West.  Thankfully above the surface the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey described Dooley’s course as “objectionable” and “counter to American appreciation for religious freedom and cultural awareness.”

The question both for the West and for Islamic societies is how to keep a clear collective head, a dispassionate sense of justice, and a long view: how to be able to examine and coolly debate the flaws and injustices in each of our cultures, and perhaps even face the potentially perverse consequences of the sacred texts which support them, without letting every incident become sorted by mirror ideologies into the justification for conflict, at least in our popular cultures.  It already feels as if this modest aim is becoming more difficult.

England expresses itself for me, in music, countryside and ale, and the unique if heterogeneous institution in which English ale is served, the pub.  This weekend was much about the English countryside, that man-made assemblage of natural elements, and something also about pubs and beers, the whole held together with history, modern and ancient.   Some of the history was personal.

We were visiting a friend whom I have known since he was four and I was six, but discontinuously, certainly more off than on.  As my 70th birthday party approached and I decided to try to bring together only those who were very important to me, so began a search for R. I use his real initial since I don’t think he would be embarrassed by my affection for him, indeed, would regard it as the natural order of a familiar ritual, long-established, if infrequently celebrated.  I rediscovered him in the early part last year, after the most recent gap in our friendship of some 14 years.  We met in a country pub in his adopted county and I reintroduced him to K, whom I think he may not have met previously other than at K and I’s London informal wedding reception, which took place – yes, you are getting into the spirit of the piece – in a pub.

At last year’s country pub reunion, with characteristic generosity, he immediately invited us to drive across the county from the north-east to the south-west to visit his home.  Since we were on our only non-driving day of that weekend we said that we would instead visit a Roman villa, which turned out to be almost as far away.  But the invitation having been renewed at the birthday party, this weekend we were off.

His part of England is of honey stone villages and market towns set amongst soft-shaped hills and some broad and exposed and other narrow, secretive, river valleys (water plays a strong part of the landscape).  Like all intrinsically beautiful places it attracted the ancients, and the town his village is set next to was the second biggest in Roman Britain, commanding some strategic roads to all parts of the province.  The area also accumulated wealth in sheep in medieval times, and concentrations of the commuting or retired London rich more recently, whilst it is currently notorious for some of the dealings between the Murdoch’s and their senior hirelings and David Cameron.  The biggest most beautiful houses and ravishing gardens of the rich and powerful of the early twentieth century are now open to the public either as showpieces or upscale hotels; their twenty-first century equivalents still keep their secrets behind automatic gates and long drives.

Our weekend there started with a drive from his house to a derelict canal, which entered, through a grand stone portal, a tunnel running some kilometers under the hills. Although some distance away, the canal is under restoration, this section is not in use, but the water had a cold, mineral transparency under which the water plants seemed frozen.  Despite this it runs quickly and this quality lies behind plans to use the canal system to transfer water from the wet west and north to the dry south and east, in a liquid national grid.  A duck flew off from the tow path, leaving a clutch of eggs behind.  Afterwards, lunch in a pub one would hope to feature in paradise, in fact to be paradise if it had bedrooms.

The next morning found us walking in pale sunlight in the paradise garden, in a narrow woody valley next the canal, at the other end of the tunnel, but now parallel to the local river.  Most of the canal water seemed to have drained into the river, because the derelict canal locks were now precipitous drops of four or five metres to the lock floor. Willows and birches had been pollarded here, sheltering bluebells and white stellar flowers of wild garlic, and some early summer butterflies: a bright active orange tip and a gorgeous sleepy peacock.  The bluebells still needed time and temperature to develop their full scent, and so the valley was dominated by the garlic smell, which reminded us of lunch, and encouraged us through the woods towards lunch, in another pub, which sadly was far from paradisiacal and very long arriving.

On the second morning we went to the local museum, named after the Roman name of the town, and containing some spectacular mosaics found in the town itself and villas hereabouts and wall plasters, some geometrical, some simply painted with those characteristic Roman blacks, reds and browns which always put me in mind of Mark Rothko (much of Rothko seems to me windows onto ancient or inaccessible worlds, windows that don’t allow you to pass through, but which trap you in the passing, claustrophobically, like death).  Despite its grandeurs the museum, like a recent television series, celebrated the ordinary Romans who had lived there, and tried to characterise their varied lives through real objects and imagined personal narratives. Children were clearly privileged customers and would have a good time here.

The museum was strong on what came before and after the Roman period.  In imperial decline, we saw the gradual modification and disuse of parts of the ancient town.  The forum was divided in two: perhaps some parts of it were put beyond use as the economy shrunk. Those who lived through those times must have been conscious of something of a crisis, but with periods of gradual change far outnumbering more dramatic episodes.  Few would have had a sense of irreversibility, of cultural loss, of the decline and fall of an empire, and of course European empires of the 19th and 20th centuries sharpened the contrasts in the story of ancient Rome for use as a model and a warning.  Outside, in the modern town’s marketplace, one of the biggest hotels was freshly painted but entirely boarded up…

Later today my team plays a match that will determine whether they get back into the Premier League after seven years which saw them falling to the third level of English football.  I shall be so paralysed with despair or delirium when the result is known I thought that I should provide myself a cautionary note for the future, a reminder for myself as to the ugliness of the “beautiful game” and the need not to get too sucked into it, a kind of anti-emotional suicide note.

The first thing to be said is that I am old enough to know that the ugliness isn’t new.  In the 70’s footballers wore long hair and short shorts mainly it would seem to expose bodily targets for the most vicious hacking tackles the game has ever seen, larded with sublime moments of grace from the likes of George Best and Mick Channon.  The crowd standing on the terraces accompanied this theatre of nightmares, this pantomime of beautiful cruelty, with equally nasty chants, with the same energy punk was echoing elsewhere, but with a broader range of targets, including each other.  Blessedly we are now spared the football killings of that era, when football couldn’t quite maintain itself as merely a substitute for war. But the crowd of those days still lurks as a proto-mob, one which still, despite the gentrification marked by the abolition of the standing terraces, is a powerful source locking football into morally primitive positions that are unacceptable, or at least inexpressible, on the surface of the wider society.

One of the eruptions this season concerned racism.  Racist chants from the crowd have painfully been eliminated from football, at least in north-western Europe (although less so from the south and east). The novel feature of the concluding English season is that two footballers were accused of racist comments on the pitch against their fellow players.  The English Football Association (FA) has already decided against one, the courts will decide on the other case, where the alleged perpetrator was until recently the England team captain.  In the case which the FA decided, the finding of the FA regulatory commission, in a comprehensive judgement running to over 115 pages in which all the evidence was carefully reviewed, was that a player had intentionally used the Spanish word ‘negro’ 5 times with the intention of insulting a fellow black player. The player who delivered the insult received an eight-match ban, a £40,000 fine and a warning on his future conduct.

What we learned about contemporary English football came not from the incident itself, as much as the reaction to it.  The manager of the club seemed unable to accept the judgement as fair and put it behind him.  Instead, he gave some at least ambiguous interviews about guilt and innocence and, in a reference to the words of the club anthem, said that the guilty player ‘would never walk alone’.  He seems to have been condoning racist behaviour as normal, or enough within the range of the normal not to justify such a strong penalty. This led the the club’s fans to the edge of collective bad behaviour in supporting the guilty player, with one fan being spoken to by the police for indulging in a bit of freelance racism against another black visiting player.  Hardly surprisingly, it also led this club to a run of bad results on the pitch.  It is said that club’s American owners had to step in to restore order and extract a public apology from the manager after one particularly provocative television interview.  This was a shaming moment for English football.

I know one supporter of this club well, who happens to be black.  He took the team line throughout the matter in supporting the player who was found guilty of abuse over the abused black player.  Is this a sign that we have reached some level of socio-political maturity in Britain, having got beyond the need for our ethnic identities to be uppermost in our choice of identities?  Or are we back to the explanation of the proto-mob, of a collective fan identity that is so strong that it threatens to dominate and distort even the most fundamental values that sustain multiculturalism?

Perhaps the most pernicious form of prejudice which the football mob supports is against homosexuality: pernicious because being gay is not, or does not have to be, immediately visible, and therefore men who are gay may be tempted to deny their sexual orientation.  At the top level of English football the only gay footballer that I am aware of who declared his sexuality committed suicide eight years later in confused circumstances, although has a legacy in a campaign to combat homophobia in football.

Whatever the football crowd is chanting, it sounds like a mob to my beloved and the male devotion to football is a symptom of immaturity to the overwhelming majority of most women I have discussed this with.  This should be reason enough to be cautious; but my team did win, so maybe it is too late to be careful what I wish for.

A Greek friend has written in support of yesterday’s second Greek bailout, believing that it will  keep Greece in the single currency and giving it the chance to institute deep structural and attitudinal changes.
I do of course agree with the need for a culture shift in Greece away from clientalism and towards more pragmatic, responsible and energetic engagement with the tasks of rebuilding the economy.  My doubt is whether deferring default and remaining in the euro are the routes to this goal.
I have three concerns with Greece staying in the euro: that the euro doesn’t act as a full common currency for any of its members because of the restricted role of the ECB which doesn’t act as it should as lender of the last resort; that staying in denies Greece the possibility of a currency devaluation which may be the one way to break out of the current deadlock and kick-start growth; and it also removes from Greece the important sense of taking full responsibility for its own future.  Better for Greece to quit the euro, repair its economy and return if the common currency is working better at that time and offers clear advantages to Greece as a member.  Otherwise we will be back where we are now in six months time, buying more time; or we won’t be because the cuts will have taken place but it will be more misery for the Greek people without ownership of the changes and without hope of what they can bring.  Where is growth going to come from after 5 years of decline without a Greek government willing and empowered – politically and technically – to make deep changes? After all, elections are coming up in Greece. Full democratic debate followed by commitment to a new path is not just a formal political legitimation of uncomfortable change, it is the only route to a process of deep national learning and a new politics which puts efficiency over cronyism and values honesty and transparency at every level of the national finances. However painful, these values and others that will guide change can only be decided by the Greeks. Otherwise they will simply not take root.
Perhaps it is also time to refloat the idea of English as a second official language in Greece.  In strategic economic terms the south-east corner of “official” Europe is not a bad place to be, with Turkey, North Africa and the Gulf all growing or poised for growth.  Plus it’s clear that EU membership is now off the agenda for Turkey so Greece’s position as the south-east corner boundary state isn’t going to be taken away soon.  A more open and competitive state in this position might be attractive to international capital.
The main cartoon in the the Guardian newspaper today, in the style of Munch’s”The Scream”  shows the patient Greece being pulled from the deck of an ageing old cruise ship by a line from a powerboat which symbolises the thrusting, energetic euro.  Crewmen on both ships have their thumbs up to signal that the Euro can now power away, pulling Greece with it; a happy outcome perhaps, except that the screaming Greek figure is being pulled by the Euro by his or her neck.  The metaphor is appropriate – the bailout isn’t for Greece – it is for more time for the banks of Europe to prepare against the shocks of Greek default.
The Greek tragedy that has been the European economy over this five year crisis seems always played out in terms of the inevitable clash of titanic opposing forces.  It seems that each political community is only able to identify with the programme of one of these massive interests in its totality, rather than seeking new ways to reconcile them, for example by protect banking business and domestic customers without protecting bank investors or the “bonus culture”.  We have made the business community our Olympian gods for so long that we have become craven supplicants at their sacrificial alter: politically trapped in indulgence of even their most bizarre social demands. We have to hope that Greece might say “no” not only for its own sake but for ours.