State of the Union address. Teleprompter Trump quietens Twitter Trump for the occasion.

January 31, 2018

Child's pram

I was awakened by a familiar voice from my bedside radio. It was that of the President of the United States (POTUS) who was half way through his State of the Union Speech (SOTU).

That’s at least one acronym too many  for an opening paragraph. It least it will remind me of what the acronyms stand for, in the various bits of news already filtering through the social media sites.

I listened as POTUS warmed to his task. After each sound bite (roughly, after each sentence ) he paused to tumultuous applause. I remembered. He is addressing the congregated masses of the Senate and House of Representatives in some pomp. Puzzled at the electrifying effect his words were having, I abandoned my security blankets and headed for a view of the proceedings courtesy of BBC news (presumably by courtesy of some US networking. Hey, that’s the special relationship for you, folks.)

On the screen, Donald is doing something rare and wonderful. He is stringing words together in a more than passable imitation of the English Language. He is, you might say, on message. This departure from his normal style has not appeared to weaken its rapturous reception. Before my eyes , I see the hypnotic state of the delighted audience as the promises fall from his lips.

There is a cornucopia of promises pouring forth. They are jostling for reality, each being another chunk of the American dream realised. Evil drug-masters will be caught. And imprisoned and never released. Guantanamo Bay will be rescued from closure. The Military will never be hamstrung for lack of funding. At home, Republicans and Democrats alike will work to gather the achieve these steps towards making America Great Again (MAGA, the third and greatest of parts of the Holy Triacronym ).

The desolated infrastructure will be rebuilt with American heart, American hands and American grit (as someone earlier also said) with a budget call of $1.5 trillion left over from walls and bombs.

And each offer was greeted by a vast multitude, more than anyone else’s multitude. But there is more to come. The POTUS has assembled heroes and victims of failed heroes to be honoured for the courage of their loved ones or themselves. A victim of North Korean torture was given special place, as he waved his crutches defiantly to even more thunderous applause.

A part of my sleep-befuddled brain was telling me this is not quite right. Why, persisted the thought, would his political opponents not baulk a little at coming across with permission to spend the odd $1.5 trillion to MAGA? After all, these near-treacherous Democrats were continuing to hold up progress with the possibility of crash and burn of a functioning administration in weeks.

A clue came from the post-mortem. It is one of the oldest theatrical tricks of all. Get your supporters in the front rows and their cheers around out the jeers of opponents. The unanimous admiration was confined the sectors of Republicans entrusted as cheerleaders. Elsewhere, as one reporter put it, ‘Democrats sat or stood in stony silence’. They appeared to have hissed as the retention of the infamous Guantanamo Bay complex.

Indeed this is much to reflect on. The absences as well as the presences. The enemies to be confounded were essentialized as North Korea, but no mention of Russia. The bid for internal harmony on Capital Hill, but no mention of steps which might be leading to a POTUS impeachment.

Culturally, I had trouble with the speech, but the man showed his skills as a consummate showman, yes, even one with the dangerous gift of charismatic impact. Of his predecessors, he reminded me most of the long-departed Billy Graham. I wanted him to heal that North Korean hero on the spot.

This was Teleprompter Trump, as a BBC reporter put it, who went on to speculate how long it will be, before Twitter Trump escapes again.


‘Prepare to Lose’. Astonishing claims about Jose Mourinho by Spanish journalist

December 11, 2015

Jose MourinhoBook Review of The Special One: The Secret World of Jose Mourinho

In the spirit of a work of fiction, this book begins with a bang. The first paragraph describes vividly how Supercoach Jose Mourinho broke down uncontrollably, on learning he would not become the next Manchester United Manager

The Author Jose Torres is a well-respected Spanish journalist, and not to be confused with a former Chelsea forward Fernando Torres, who might also have been included in such a biographic work. If the book is essentially more fact than fiction, it undermines Mourinho’s repeated claims of his unwavering love of Chelsea Football Club.

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Denis Healey: ‘The best leader Labour never had?’

October 14, 2015

A Reflective Obituary

Denis Healey (30 November 1917 – 3 October 2015) has been widely described as ‘The best leader Labour never had.’ What might lie behind such claims?

This week [October 2015] the deaths were announced of two influential political figures, Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. Although from opposing political parties they will be linked in the history of the late 20th century. I will take a brief look at the attempts made by Denis Healey to become leader of his party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and claims that he was ‘The best leader Labour never had’.

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Charismatic Animals

September 7, 2015

How far is it helpful to extend the construct of charisma into the animal world?Desert Orchid

For many people there is little doubt. Some animals are treated as ‘the special ones’, just as is the case for humans.

Race horses are already genetically special ones, bred for performance. In this respect they begin life as ‘born to lead’, and receive intensive training to release their natural potential.

Desert Orchid

A classic example from the 1980s in England was Desert Orchid, a magnificent white creature (or grey, in racing parlance). His spectacular appearance, coupled with his front running style and stamina, gave him iconic status. Dessie seemed to enjoy attention, enthralling his audiences as he cantered up to the start, or as he paused to acknowledge applause. His National Jump racing results were exceptional, considered to place him among the top six hurdlers of all time.

Janice Coyne, long-serving stable girl, had to defend Dessie after a rare act of its petulance. “He’s only human” she protested.

Red Rum and Sea Biscuit

In some contrast is the more plebeian courage and stamina of two other horse legends, Red Rum and Sea Biscuit. Whereas Dessie had an ethereal beauty, neither Red Rum nor Sea Biscuit stood out for their natural grace among the other horses on parade.

Red Rum suffered from a form of arthritis that threatened his career and left him with a rather ungainly gait. Under different circumstances he might not have been spared from an early end. To add to evident physical weaknesses he was lethargic in training and inclined to prefer sleep over exercise. He was not even bred for jump racing at which he excelled. He was to become one of the greatest of racers over Aintree’s’ Grand National course, an idol for his fans. He was to star in films and books about his remarkable career. On retirement, he appeared on the celebrity circuit ahead of B List humans in demand for opening charity events and supermarkets.

Sea Biscuit, an earlier sensation in American horse racing history, was as unpromising as a foal as Red Rum. Undersized, ungainly, almost unmanageable, the damaged horse was rescued by an equally scarred Jockey. The combination released Sea Biscuit’s potential. During the Great Depression the horse became a symbol of hope and even a money earner for the near defeated masses who backed it.

Perfection and hope

I think of Dessie as symbolizing perfection; Red Rum and Sea Biscuit as symbolizing hope, and triumph of the weak over the privileged, the flawed over the perfect. Or maybe  beauty. as is often suggested, lies in the eye of the beholder.

Acknowledgement

To Susan Moger for her unrivaled knowledge of equine history


Leadership Bingo: How to assess leadership performance in the General Election debates

April 6, 2015

QueencerseiIn their attempts to appear authentic, political leaders ‘leak’ information about their leadership styles. Here are some signals which help you play a game of Leadership Bingo during the General Election debates

I examined the great ‘seven leaders’ debate of April 2nd, in search of leadership styles.

Using my notes, I began to work out a more comparative analysis of the leaders combining their performance on the night with more general patterns of leadership behaviour to be found in the literature and in popular culture (Game of Thrones candidate above).

A jumble of leadership styles

My first efforts resulted in a jumble of leadership styles which began to connect what I had observed with more general concepts:

Charismatic style [CS]: (induces belief in those around without need to use statistics or reference to other evidence of authority. Offers hope (vision) for future}
Democratic style [DS] (Distributed leadership: Let’s share leadership responsibilities)
Empathic style [ES]: (I share your pain)
Heroic Warrior style [HWS] : (Lone Ranger: This dude has something special in a tough fight)
Level 5 style [L5S] : Modest but with evidence of determination (‘fierce resolve’)
Nurturing style [NS]: ( I’ll look after you)
Servant leader style [SLS]: (I am an instrument to help you achieve your goals)

The leadership bingo card

So there you have it: the political wonk’s bingo card for use alone, electronically, in the classroom or in the pub (suited for UKIP gatherings).

Fill in the card for each speaker. Needless to say, the winner is the bingo player who can identify every speaker with a leadership style line.

In the case of a tie, the winner goes to the player who has identified the most additional styles on the card.DSCN0938
Make your own cards for other leaders you are interested in. Here is the card I used

Let me know (comments) if you like Leadership Bingo.

 

 


Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015): Singapore’s State maker remembered

March 23, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew was one of the influential State makers of the 20th Century. A case could be made that he conceived and brought about a prosperous and peaceful future for Singapore.

I became interested in the culture of Singapore some years ago, after taking part in the celebrations of its national day. After three decades in power, Lee Kuan Yew had handed over control of the State he had helped create. In the process he was showing dynastic aspirations.

Dynastic aspirations

It was being rumoured at the time, correctly as it turned out, that Prime Minister Goh, who succeeded him, was a transition figure who was to be replaced by Lee’s son. Informally we were also given to believe that Lee would remain the power behind his son’s actions.

Tickets for a celebration

It had been hard to get tickets for the celebrations at the old National Stadium in Kalang Leisure Park, close the Changi airport close to where the new and impressive modern sports stadium was later built.

Our tickets had came from a Singaporean friend who had seen enough ceremonies to make them less valued for him. Well worth seeing it all for the first few times, he reassured us.

We reached the stadium by subway, another of Singapore’s marvels. Allegedly, it was maintained in those days in pristine condition through President Lee’s regime of corporal punishment handed out to any litter-making individual. Westerners tended to admire the results, if not the means of achieving them.

Pre-conceptions

I had preconceived beliefs that we were going to observe a demonstration of State orchestrated loyalty. What happened was enough to unsettle such assumptions. To be sure there was the orchestration. Everyone was issued with a goodie bag, complete with a national flag to wave, an a small torch with coloured tissue paper over the business end,

There were the obligatory displays of military music, and marching discipline. Jet fighters roared low over the stadium, trailing slipstreams in the national colours. We tried to join in the passionate singing of the national anthem. Later, as night fell, the torches helped produce an equally impressive light-show in the national colours.

Unexpected experiences

What was unexpected was a warmth and mood of enjoyment throughout the lengthy event which seemed spontaneous and genuine. This was not evidence of a State operating under dictatorial edict.

At the time, the charismatic President had already become a mythic figure, a State-maker in the mold of Nelson Mandela. Much later, Lee attributed the role of ‘China’s Mandela’ to Xi Jinping, a judgement not shared by Time magazine.

Today, the appreciation of Lee’s period as all-powerful State maker is more balanced internally. His contribution towards the creation of the modern hi-tech, highly educated little country is recognized. But opposing views can be expressed publicly.


Mr. Turner’s charismatic charm

December 5, 2014

Fighting TemeraireBefore viewing Mr Turner, I had read and heard almost universally positive views of the film. What was it that produced such unconditional praise?

Partly, I suspect, because the film appeals through visceral rather than intellectual means. That is not to deny an exceptional level of intelligence behind its creation and delivery. My point is that we risk being dazzled and beguiled perhaps in ways similar to those produced by close encounters of a charismatic kind.

Charismatic lettuce and tomatoes

Charisma remains a fascinating concept. It has become over-used in popular culture. In his excellent book on the subject, John Potts gleefully reported the description of a charismatic lettuce, which presumably resulted in charismatic sandwiches. [I was reminded of the recent headlines in which Ed Miliband was confirmed as lacking in charisma because of the way he ate a bacon sandwich in public.]

The review of reviews, Rotten Tomatoes, confirms my point about the charismatic effect that Mr. Turner has had on its critics. Not so much rotten tomatoes, symbolizing artistic abuse, but veritable vegetable accolades.

Mr. Turner’s charisma

The film oozes charisma. there is a self-confidence in its visual impact. The demonstrations of sky- and sea- scapes were stunning and dog-whistle evocative. Reading the reviews is a humbling experience of dimensions of technical excellence which go unnoticed by amateur critics like myself.

The central performance by Timothy Spall as Turner was utterly compelling. This was the charisma of the physically near-grotesque yet ultimately endearing character. It also celebrated the notion of the disregard for convention of the creative genius. Does that sound like a cliche? If so, is it my cliche imposed on something subtler intentions?

Mike Leigh and distributed leadership

Over the years, Leigh has earned high regard for the integrity of his work, characterized by his unique improvisational style permitting artists to co-create characters. In leadership terms, this proves opportunities for distributed leadership.

The outcome is a set of performances mostly of high-quality, but inevitably individualistic. This has creative impact at the level of the individual and at the dyadic relationships with Spall’s Turner. What the approach gains in differentiated performances it loses in a lack of cohesion at the wider level of a narrative.

High on artistic values with a whiff of the didactic

The film manifests high artistic values. We are drawn to the scenic beauty and accompanying existential anguish which inspired Turner. We are invited to appreciate his innovative techniques he brought to his art.

For me, at times, the overall impact had rather too much of the earnest and didactic about its treatment of Turner’s artistic and moral integrity. This is rescued by a non-judgmental insistence on its ambiguities and contradictions.

Beyond Worthy

The result is an experience that is visually engaging and intellectually stimulating, this is a film beyond worthy, if not quite the masterpiece implied by critical comment. Which, come to think of it, is another way of interpreting Mr. Turner.

Image

The Fighting Temeraire [creative commons via Wikipedia]. One of many wondrous paintings by Turner weaved into the film.