Is Sepp Blatter a Machiavellian Leader?

May 31, 2015

Sepp Blatter’s contoverial re-election as President of FIFA raises the question of his leadership style

One journalist who has followed his career believes so. In a BBC radio broadcast [29th May, 2015] he related an interview he held in which Blatter had pointed to his ‘poisoned box’ , a filing cabinet of information that would protect him from enemies who attempted to dislodge him.

It brought to my mind the strategies of ‘Comrade Card Index’ Stalin, and the monstrous efforts of other dictatorial regimes to collect information as a matter of self-preservation.

The New Machiavelli?

Other commentators  have borrowed the Machiavellian tag in an attempt to understand Blatter’s success in retaining his high office in FIFA for two decades.

This of itself is not evidence that Blatter is the heir to Machiavelli. After all, Machiavelli was adviser to those in power on survival strategies (rather than being himself one of those who had gained power through following his principles).  Also, for his guile Machiavelli did not succeed in retaining his own position, and suffered lengthy periods of imprisonment as a consequence.

The New Machiavelleans

In the UK, the political advisers to Tony Blair’s leadership were unashamed students of Machiavelli, advocating the practice of a modernized Machiavellian approach to politics.

Tyrants of the boardroom

Perhaps a closer analogy is to those ‘tyrants of the boardroom’ described by Jeff Schubert who likened many powerful business leaders to all-powerful dictators such as Stalin, and Gaddafi


LWD commentator Paul Hinks expresses his own views on the re-appointment of Sepp Blatter

FIFA is now fighting corruption allegations associated with ‘irregularities’ in the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Nine Fifa officials and four executives of sports management companies have been arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes totalling $100m (£65m), according to the US Department of Justice.

The Guardian was among the print media reporting on the incident:

“More than a dozen plain-clothed officers descended on the five-star Baur au Lac hotel on Wednesday [May 28th, 2015], where officials had gathered for Fifa’s annual meeting.

The arrests were made on behalf of US authorities, after an FBI investigation that has been under way for at least three years. The US Department of Justice said authorities had charged 14 officials, nine of whom are current or former Fifa executives. Those arrested in Zurich face extradition to the US.

‘They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves,” said the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, at a news conference in New York. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.’ Events tainted by corruption included the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, she said.”

Blatter questioned the timing of the Wednesday’s arrests of current and former FIFA members – suggesting the raids were carried out in order to influence the presidential vote.

Here is a leader struggling for credibility, out of touch with reality and in love with his own image; Narcissism personified.

Is ‘Fifagate’ a re-run of All The President’s Men?

May 27, 2015

The arrest of five Fifa executives in a Swiss luxury hotel has freaky echoes of the Watergate scandal which was to lead to the impeachment of President Nixon

Wednesday 27th of May, 2015:  Breaking news that five Fifa executives had been arrested by Swiss police on charges of corruption and money-laundering over a period of twenty years.

In breaking the news, The New York Times offered the curious headline: FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Sepp Blatter Isn’t Among Them

In its first report, still in the early hours in New York, the paper outlined the background to the breaking news:

Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation here [today] to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.

As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel,

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. Blatter has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.

An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give Mr. Blatter a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday. A FIFA spokesman insisted [at the news conference] that Mr. Blatter was not involved in any alleged wrongdoing and that the election would go ahead as planned.

The Lessons of History

In my mind, the business has remarkable aspects of the Watergate affair which eventually led to the impeachment and disgrace of President Nixon. The plot, if not the details of All The President’s Men, carries a great deal of accurate reporting of the drama.

It is usual to acknowledge the dangers of assuming history repeats itself accurately. It may help suggest ways of interpreting a contemporary story. Or, if we follow the gloss on Hegel made famous by Marx, the events of Watergate occurred as tragedy and may now be re-occurring as farce.

If Fifagate is a farcical rerun of Watergate, don’t expect a sudden resolution. Richard Nixon continued to protest his innocence as the evidence against him mounted. Sepp Blatter, will do likewise, although the suggestion that he was unaware of any corruption going on around him is itself evidence of at least leadership incompetence on a heroic scale.

The Irish same-sex marriage referendum, and its footnote in history

May 25, 2015

The Irish referendum legalizing same-sex marriages will have its footnote in the history of social emancipation

Similar legislation permitting single-sex marriage has been enacted in some twenty nation states around the work over a period of years. However, the Irish vote has been claimed as the first such constitutional change achieved through the democratic vote. It resulted in a outburst of joy as crowds gathered in Dublin and around the country to welcome the ‘sixty percent’ Yes vote.

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The Manchester Method: A Leaders We Deserve Monograph

May 21, 2015

by Conor Glean

In April 2015, Leaders We Deserve announced the publication of a series of monographs selected from materials published in over a thousand posts over the period 2006-2015 Manchester Method

The Manchester Method is an experiential means of supporting business education which was developed within The Manchester Business School, primarily within its MBA programmes.

It was chosen as the topic of the first monograph in the series, and published by Book Tango in April 2015.

To purchase The Manchester Method you can use various devices such as

Your Kindle/e-reader

The kindle app (downloadable from Apple App Store, Google Play, Microsoft Windows Store)

Or you can use this link


To purchase directly from Google, search for “The Manchester Method” in Google play, or use this link


To purchase in PDF, MOBI or EPUB form, use this link


[Prices may vary and those quoted were available at May 18th 2015]

Why Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal reminds me, in some ways, of Brian Clough

May 20, 2015

Last night I found myself comparing the leadership style of Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal with that of the great English manager Brian Clough

The occasion [May 19th 2015] was the Gala night at the end of the season, at which seven hundred of the club’s supporters, players, and staff gather at the Old Trafford Conference facility to honour the players for their achievements. Money raised for various charities is the tenuous justification for a glitzy and boozy night out.

This year there were several unusual factors at play at the Players of The Year (POTY) do. The season was not quite finished. The team had barely reached the minimum goal set its new manager, of a top four Premiership position. This was achieved in a nervous draw against Arsenal in the penultimate match a few days earlier. The team will now compete [in a pre-qualifying match] to re-enter the European Cup competition for the 2015-16 season.

Mingling with celebrities

Some seven hundred participants were gathered at the tightly packed tables to enjoy a meal together with carefully-controlled mingling with the world’s top footballers. The award ceremonies, large screen replays of memorable moments, and auctions for involvement at celebrity events were conducted with varying degrees of attention being paid from the tables.

An early highlight was the arrival of the first team squad led by Captain Wayne Rooney. The team members were wearing dinner suits (no team numbers on the back) and black ties. Some looked as if they had been issued with the wrong suits.

Don’t spoil the party

An important unmentionable was a developing story which threatened to spoil the party. Throughout the week rumours had been increasing that the team’s brilliant goalkeeper David de Gea was to be attracted back to Spain by Real Madrid. In the match that secured United’s access to the European Cup, de Gea had kept United ahead in the match with a serious of typically spectacular saves, then limped off injured. Arsenal pressed and scored a deserved equaliser, almost guaranteeing them third position above United. The evening was to turn into a remarkable attempt to demonstrate how much the fans supported de Gea. It also turned into the Louis van Gaal show, as the manager made his own unique contributions, and the comparison I began to draw with Brian Clough, the great but eccentric English Manager.

The Damned United

In an earlier post [2010] I described the documentary The Damned United. It dealt with the tumultuous late career of Brian Clough including his rejection by Manchester United, and his ultimate failure at Leeds United where he was unable to overcome the influence of Don Revie, the previous manager of Leeds (and of England)

I had noted that

Brian Clough is fondly regarded nowadays, not because he was ahead of his time but because he was very much of it, despite upsetting football’s authoritarian old guard with his cocky contempt for them. He would never have got away with his genius in today’s world of agents and multimillionaire egos. With copious footage, this documentary traces his rise from a dazzling young centre-forward scythed down in his prime, turned brilliant, self-assured manager, to the ruddy-faced figure he cut in his sad decline.

When the film was first released, Prof Szymanski of CASS Business School told the BBC “It was socialism if you like …You do see this idea in business sometimes. The focus was on the needs of his players. These were his frontline staff – they’re the ones under the pressure, they’re the ones who deliver, so you need to meet their needs whatever it takes. … [however] he was a very overbearing employer, incredibly paternalistic – like Stalin and just as frightening.”

When Van Gaal was appointed to United , there was a special factor which bears comparison with the situation facing Clough at Leeds. He was arriving in the shadow of one of the most famous and successful of football managers, Sir Alex Ferguson.

In just over a year of appointment he also shown himself to have a self-confidence and idiosyncratic public persona which reminded me of that of Brian Clough.

I would add, however, that Clough denied he had some secret system, whereas Van Gaal repeatedly insists that his success is grounded in his ‘philosophy’ which cannot be easily explained in a media interview.

Inevitably at the Gala Night the hidden agenda surfaced. The players voted De Gea the United player of the year for the second time in succession. Van Gaal spoke in his elliptical way which appeared to grant De Gea the greatest accolade, the approval of Louis van Gaal.

The Jolly Green Giant

At that point, he handed over the award to a puzzled-looking De Gea. It seemed to be a statue of the club’s greatest icon, Sir Matt Busby in churchyard Verdigris, and in the style of trophies awarded on the ATP Masters tennis competitions. The Louis Van Gaal show was only beginning.

The Louis Van Gaal show

Some three hours into the evening’s entertainments, the table guests were showing signs of fatigue. Many were getting ready for the obligatory smart exit from Old Trafford so necessary on match days. It was then that Van Gall showed that flash of genius in his closing remarks.

Viewers who have watched Van Gaal’s press conferences would have had some expectation of someone who communicates while speaking in a fractured form of English. Brazilian friends used to tell be that the hugely popular Lula, [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] when President, had a similar impact while speaking in his own homely dialect.

Van Gaal’s performance went viral. The audience was swept up by his surreal eulogy to Manchester United. In football today, the effect might only be matched by the media efforts sometimes of Jose Mourinho after a rare Chelsea defeat.

As with other charismatics , Louis dominated the occasion with the utter self-belief of the inspired leader, intoxicated by the power of his own vision.

To be continued

I am still reflecting on the leadership lessons (if any) are be drawn from this rumbustious end of season party.

The video clip of the Van Gaal performance is now not available.  MUTV has exercised a copyright claim.

Thomas Cook Group faces serious risks to its brand image

May 18, 2015

A highly damaging story had developed following the way Thomas Cook dealt with the deaths of two children on a package holiday in Corfu. The personal tragedy also threatens the reputation of the organization

The developing story

Approximately ten years ago, a family holiday turned to tragedy.

Last week [13th May 2015] an inquest in Wakefield Yorkshire found a verdict of unlawful killing, and that Thomas Cook had failed in exercising its duty of care.

Thomas Cook responded by sending a letter of apology to the parents who claim to have seen it only through journalists covering the story.

According to The Guardian

According to The Guardian, The apology was reportedly sent by Thomas Cook’s chief executive, Peter Frankhauser, two days before it was revealed that the company received £3.5m in compensation from the owners of the hotel in Corfu where the tragedy occurred in 2006.

Christianne and Robert Shepherd, who were on holiday with their father and his partner, were overcome by fumes from a decrepit boiler.

Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd said in a statement on Sunday that they had not received the travel company’s letter, and had only been shown it by reporters. “It is disgraceful that after all we’ve been through Thomas Cook are still putting us last in the equation.”

The popular press began to call for reparations from Thomas Cook to the family.

Background to the Thomas Cook group

Over the last decade the company’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly. The venerable firm of Thomas Cook was the prey of financial takeovers which resulted in considerable reconstruction, although the value of the historical brand has been recognized.

Harriet Green was appointed CEO in 2006 at around the time of the Corfu affair. Her leadership has been widely acknowledged as the outcome of an outsider successfully brought in with fresh ideas for rescuing the new company.

In earlier posts, I wondered whether she would be able to make an impact on the strongly entrenched corporate culture.

Hariet Green was replaced in November 2014 by Peter Frankhauser. The company stated that it needed someone more familiar with the leisure industry. Exit Harriet with a controversial golden goodbye, and promotion for the Thomas Cook insider from his role as Chief Operating Officer.

The sleeping crisis for the Company

For the company, attention to the Corfu hotel tragedy may have been replaced by concerns for more pressing strategic and financial difficulties. But the family fight for support began to attract media attention. Four years after the fatalities, [in 2010] the BBC had reported that:

a Greek criminal court [has]convicted the manager of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in Gouvia and two other staff of manslaughter. The travel representatives of Thomas Cook were not changed.

Thomas Cook said in a statement: “What happened in Corfu was a tragedy and the thoughts and sympathy of everyone at Thomas Cook will always be with the family and friends of Christianne and Robert Shepherd.

“We have always maintained that this tragic accident was the result of a unique set of circumstances, none of which could be the responsibility of the company or [of its representatives]

“We believe that they should never have formed part of this court case.”

Further delays had resulted in appeals for the intervention of The Prime minister David Cameron before legal aid was provided.

An embarrassing development at the inquest

As the inquest proceeded this month, it emerged that Thomas Cook had received compensation from the owners of the hotel. At the same time, the company sent a letter ‘saying sorry’ to the parents who had themselves narrowly escaped death in the original incident. The parents claim they learned of the letter from journalists covering the story.

“We are all deeply shocked and saddened”

I have not [yet] been able to read the letter. The company is refusing to comment further, although through a spokesperson has announced how deeply shocked and saddened the company remains over the tragic events.

Questions for students of leadership and CSR

Can you ‘read’ the story in terms of dilemmas facing Thomas Cook and its leadership?

What might have been unintended consequences of the decision to remove Harriet Green as CEO?

How might you as a new CEO dealt differently with the emerging story?


To be continued

UKIP leadership drama: Coriolanus meets The Thick of Things

May 16, 2015

The week’s leadership struggles in UKIP have echoes of a Shakespearean drama combined with and a modern political satire Nest of vipers

A week ago [8th May,2015] I noted that twenty four hours is a long time in politics. The high-velocity drama has continued throughout the first week of the new Conservative government.

Among the various stories is the remarkable series of events surrounding Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). These could be summed up a defeated leader honouring his pre-election pledge to resign, and then reversing his decision, within another twenty four hours. Internal warfare erupts among his colleagues.


Farage led UKIP to a very successful electoral result in terms of four million votes and unsuccessful in seats, won. Douglas Carstairs, the Conservative defector remains as sole elected UKIP Member of Parliament.

Farage himself, having failed to win the seat at South Thanet, confirms his earlier intention of resigning as leader of UKIP if he were to lose the South Thanet contest.

Dark Humour from The Thick of Things

As the drame unfolded, I felt I was witnessing a rerun of an episode of The Thick of Things. One deposed Farage aide, Raheem Kassam on Radio Five Live’s breakfast show (14th May 2014] gave a passable imitation of Peter Capelli as the scary Malcolm Tucker.

Then I found further connections with Coriolanus, one of the less-celebrated of Shakespeare’s dramas.

Farage and Coriolanus

In leadership style, the chummy Farage could hardly be further removed from that of the tragic Shakespearean figure of Coriolanus. Yet
the tale of triumph and ultimate failure depicts political unrest, with dangers to the ruling elite from the discontented plebeian masses of ancient Rome.

Although dismissive of the common people, Coriolanus wins their approval, but he is eventually killed by plotters against his dictatorial ambitions.

There is often dark humour to be found in Shakespearean tragedies. The unfolding UKIP drama has its darker moments, part Shakespearean, part The Thick of Things.

The resignation of Farage is accompanied by the entry on stage of assorted figures attempting to justify their efforts and conflicts. Farage is vilified as ‘snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive’ by one former ally Patrick O’Flinn

Farage’s advisors proceed to accuse each other of having mislead their leader, in the execution of campaign policy, and in particular over the headline-grabbing but divisive attacks on immigrants.

The noble Carswell resists

In one sub-plot, attempts are made to involve the residual UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, in setting up a large staff at Westminster with money made available as a consequence of the 4 million votes obtained by the party. But the noble Carswell considers the money inappropriate for a one-MP party and rejects it, remaining aloof and beyond the fray.

Nigel is urged to return

As the plots and counter-plots develop, Farage is urged to remain. After a secret conclave, Nigel reluctantly accepts he must take back the leadership by overwhelming demands from his followers. Assorted plotters and counter-plotters with different views resign from the party.

Auditions for a new drama

Auditions are now taking place for the modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, with roles to be filled for Caesar, (offered the crown but who only reluctantly accepts it) Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Calpurnia (soothsayer anticipating her husband Caesar’s sudden and bloody removal from power).

Casting possibilities: Nigel, Dave, George, Nick, Ed., Nicola, Boris, Natalee …


The drama continues with more attempts to dislodge Nigel Farage.

The dilemmas of talent management. The case of Kevin Pietersen

May 13, 2015

KPIn the space of a week, Kevin Pietersen, cricket’s most talented and controversial figure, scored a record number of runs and learned that he would not be selected for the England test team

Great individual talent sometimes requires great talent management. Kevin Pietersen’s international cricket career is a prime example.

The English cricket establishment has since his arrival on the scene struggled with the challenge of harnessing the exceptional talent of Kevin Pietersen and dealing with assorted off-field controversies.

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Liverpool FC’s Leader under pressure

May 9, 2015

Brendon Rogers

Brendan Rogers’ performance as Manager of Liverpool Football Club is now under scrutiny. There’s a sense of disunity and tension between Manager and the club’s passionate supporters

by Paul Hinks

It was just 12 short months ago that the uncharismatic Rogers was crowned League Managers’ Association Manager of the Year. Yet, before Liverpool’s recent home game against Queen’s Park Rangers [May 2nd 2015], The BBC reported that a Liverpool supporters group chartered a small plane and flew a banner over Anfield reading “Rogers out, Rafa in”.  A clear message symbolizing the desire from some fans for the Liverpool hierarchy to make changes and re-instate previous Liverpool Manager, Rafa Benetez.

Liverpool FC remains in a state of perpetual transition

With the close of the 2014/15 season. Rodgers will become the first Liverpool manager since the 1950s to fail to win a trophy over three seasons in charge. The closest came last season when the club finished second in the Premier League. Rogers and Liverpool appear to have dropped back this this season.

Getting it Right … then Getting it Wrong

Rogers did well in the previous campaign. but coming close is often not good enough. A slip by the team captain Steven Gerrard at an inopportune moment in a crucial game against rivals Chelsea gifted a chance for Chelsea who subsequently won the game. Liverpool’s title challenge fell away.

This season, Liverpool and Rogers have never really reached what Tuckman describes as the ‘perform and norm’ stage of team development.

Tuckman’s team development model

Tuckman’s classic model provides a framework usually applied to project teams to help team members better understand the different phases of team development. Manchester Business School’s MBA Global Events and Leadership module uses the framework to help students learn more about team dynamics and their overall effectiveness as a team.

I suggest that Tuckman’s model can extrapolated and applied to Rogers’ and Liverpool’s season.

Rogers has proven man-management skills

The BBC recently provided a balanced assessment of Rogers’ ability to manage the big names providing insights into his leadership style:

“He proved he could handle Luis Suarez, coaxing the best season of his career from the combustible Uruguayan as Liverpool almost won the league after getting tough with him when he wanted to leave in pre-season.

Rodgers also helped Daniel Sturridge to deliver the finest form of his career when he was fit after unfulfilling spells at Manchester City and Chelsea.

Steven Gerrard’s departure was always going to be a hospital pass for one Liverpool manager and it landed at the feet of Rodgers. The debate about whether he was offered a contract early enough continues and is more of a question for Liverpool’s hierarchy but the brutal truth is Gerrard’s form this season proves the time is right for club and player to part ways.

As for Raheem Sterling, it is hard to see how Rodgers could have handled him better. He even allowed him a break in Jamaica at the turn of the year to recharge his batteries.

It is clear Sterling’s relationship with the club itself is now fragile but it is tough to see how the blame could be pinned on Rodgers, who has been nothing but supportive. The idea that Sterling has become disaffected by being played out of position is also a myth.”

Reflecting on a season of ‘Storming’

Liverpool’s season has can be reflected on as having plenty ‘storming’ – both on and off the pitch. Individual Liverpool players have tested Rogers leadership skills. Think Balotelli, or perhaps even Sterling.

Balotelli in particular has struggled to fit into the Liverpool team and its high tempo style. Conversely, Rogers and Liverpool could be accused of being unable to successfully leverage the talent that Balotelli undoubtedly has and play to his strengths. An interesting dilemma itself.

Balotelli’s rebellious streak can be seen in the way that he typically labours around the pitch, rather than demonstrating a level of commitment and high tempo work ethic associated with previous Liverpool stars. A classic example of a team member not being utilized effectively for the benefit of the team?

Liverpool’s team need to grow together if they are to succeed. Rogers must motivate and nurture his team of highly paid talent and get them to gel in such a way that they break through the barriers of mediocracy and start to perform to their potential.

Moving beyond normal levels of Team Performance

As Chelsea clinched the title this weekend [May 3rd, 2015], Liverpool fans maybe forgiven for casting an envious eye was towards Stamford Bridge and the achievements of Jose Mourinho. Recently criticized in the media for playing boring football, Mourinho has motivated and galvanized the Chelsea team to deliver success in the currency that Liverpool fans can relate to.

Where Mourinho effortlessly relates to ‘his’ Chelsea team and Chelsea supporters, its clear that Rogers now needs to build and foster emotional attachment with both his Liverpool players and the Liverpool supporters.

Football is frequently described as a ‘results’ driven business. The better run clubs support their appointed manager in different ways: funding for new players, providing adequate training facilities to allow their players and team to develop, the list goes on. The BBC’s reporting of support for Rogers from Liverpool’s former chief executive Rick Parry is timely – Rogers and Liverpool will need to break out of the ‘storming’ phase of Tuckman’s model and reach the elevated standards of previous Liverpool teams

GE 2015: “A night is a long time in politics”

May 8, 2015

Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet
On the first day of hustings the pollsters said to me:
There’s no party with a clear majorityTudor Rickards

One the third day of hustings Grant Shapps said to me:
You can’t believe their pledges but you can believe me

Tudor Rickards @Tudortweet · Apr 21
Nicola Sturgeon named as the most dangerous woman in Britain

Tudor Rickards @Tudortweet · Apr 24
English votes for English voters. The prospects for survival of the United Kingdom declines again.

Tudor Rickards @Tudortweet · May 2
On the last week of hustings the media brought to me
Red Ed derided
Dodgy undecided
Audience one-sided
On the very unbiased BBC

PiratePartyUK-Maria ‏@PiratePUKMaria May 8th
UK electoral system logic: @TheGreenParty got 1 Seat with as many votes as SNP (56 Seats) via @nblanchart Maybe they just counted the ballots wrong can we start again tomorrow?

The twelve hours that changed the British political scene

The General Election campaign took place over five weeks in which the polls stubbornly refused to predict anything but a hung parliament. At precisely 10pm on the 7th May 2015 a comprehensive exit poll announced that the Conservatives would win enough support to be to form a Government. By midnight, widespread disbelief turned to shocked acceptance of the prediction. By midday, Prime Minister Cameron was on his way the Buckingham Palace to announce to The Queen that he would be able to form a new Government unaided by other parties.

I was among those shocked by the unexpectedness of this exit poll, and then by the speed of subsequent events. My intention was to watch for a few hours for a general indication of how events were turning out, and maybe get a clearer idea in the early morning news bulletins.

As it turned out, the exit poll was more or less confirmed by the first few results. I went to bed having made the following notes.

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