With all the mounting accusations of sexual misconduct by men in power, I have had several conversations in different countries — with men and women — that have made me pause. To date, there have been at least 40 well-known men singled out for their transgressions. In light of these headline stories, the three questions I have are:
When and how does one (or not) pardon an ethical failure?
Are ethics ever universal?
How and why do ethics differ from one country to another?
How to gauge the accusations?
To the extent someone commits an act that isn’t illegal, but is ethically questionable, the justice system will not be the arbiter of a punishment or reprieve. How then should society operate? How should one’s friends and family behave? In my opinion, one ought to start by qualifying the different acts. To start, one must evaluate the level of transgression and not to put all acts in the same basket. The range goes from sexism to sexual harassment to sexual aggression/assault up to predatory behavior. None is acceptable, but the scale is important (as any regular corporate training will establish). Secondly, one needs to establish the context, which includes looking at the time/era and cultural environment. Thirdly, for the less serious acts (sexist/sexual harassment), was it one-off or repetitive? Continue reading →
Having just spent a week at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin Texas, I heard a number of recurrent themes throughout many of the panels and sessions I attended. Two of the themes struck me as most paradoxical:
the right to privacy
defense of the freedom of speech (First Amendment)
Managing both ends of the spectrum
Somehow, we must fight for both, knowing that the freedom of speech may invade somebody’s privacy. The stories of Kim Dotcom (the founder of MegaUpload) and Gawker (the news media that revealed the Hulk Hogan sex tapes) are two cases in point. Both were the subject of premieres at SXSW (see below).
In the case of Kim Dotcom, he set up a site (Mega Upload) to facilitate online piracy. He was first charged with copyright infringement (and a number of other charges); but in the quest to undo his empire, the NZ authorities (implicitly backed by the US) illegally tapped into his private life. And then wanted to quash him.
Kim Dotcom, Caught in a Web
The absurdities of this “fight” include the flip flop one makes about Kim Dotcom the Pirate, to Kim Dotcom the Crusader (for rights to privacy and freedom of speech…). He goes from villain to victim after the NZ government authorises a military-style operation to arrest him.
The film, Kim Dotcom, will be coming out on Amazon Film as of April 26.
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press
In this film, the parallel with the Kim Dotcom film were evident: the use of excessive means to close down an “unwanted” element. The nominal topic in this documentary is the privacy of a public figure (Hulk Hogan). The real topic: the use of money by moguls to close down media and the freedom of speech. The funniest moment in the film, however, was the notion that an individual can — in a court of law — seamlessly speak about himself as a character (Hulk Hogan) when he is being interviewed, in order to deflect from his real-life identity (Terry Bollea). And what if Hulk (the character) were to commit a crime (in real life)? I’m sure his response would be: “Whoops, it was just my character Hulk Hogan doing that, not me Bollea!”
The film Nobody Speak will be coming out on Netflix soon enough! Watch this space.
I am mortified when I see the values of the highest paid and most watched football players and managers. It’s a disgrace. Watching the most recent Euro 2012 tournament which winds up tonight, I have been reminded about the way professional football is just not good for society.
Professional Sports a Source of Inspiration
At a professional level, sports are entertainment, an industry vying for attention and consumer dollars. Sports provide an outlet for unbridled testosterone. They buffer empty spaces and minds with conversation topics. They fill the minds of the youth with dreams. And, more importantly, provide role models to inspire us mere mortals and amateurs.
Professional Football a Source of Deep Frustration
It is for this last reason that I tolerate little professional football (aka soccer), especially since it is the single most popular sport in the world and, certainly, the most mediatized. On the positive side, you have to admire how national football matches can galvanize a nation and help override internal tensions (maybe the USA would do better to play in more shared international team sports as opposed to the insular American Football and Baseball which are extremely inward looking, albeit with some Canadian teams here and there). And national tournaments have a way of crystallizing the state of a nation, as witnessed by the display of ego-laden individualism in the French team in Euro 2012.
My Top ten list
Herewith, meanwhile, are the top ten things (from least to most) that irritate me in professional football:
When the ball goes out, both sides immediately shoot up their arm to claim the ball, even when the call is perfectly obvious.
No one ever throwsin the ball where it went out. It seems that there is a lax acceptance of 5 extra meters.
When a free kick or a throw-in is awarded, the penalized team often holds on to the ball or throws it away disparagingly.
When a free kick is given, the defenders are never 10 yards away and, right after the referee measures out the 10 yards, they mechanically creep up toward the ball.
People and managers still pay attention to the formations (4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2…) whereas such stated formations have no resemblance to what actually happens on the pitch. Formations are a charade.
There is no way to go take a break midway through a half without a risk of missing THE single goal of the match. Ok, I’ll admit this is not going to be a big deal once I have TIVO installed.
Any time physical contact is made or might be made, far too often the player will dive onto the ground and claim a free kick, with the hand going up even as they fall, and with the look of horror on the face that would make a B class actor proud.
The pain and writhing of a player that has been or claims to have been tripped lasts as long as the referee is potentially thought to be looking in his direction.
Mario Balotelli – doing his job alone
Despite being the most lucrative sport in the world, there is still no goal line camera technology.
And the winner is: When a goal scorer scores, his first reaction is to take off his shirt (if only it were to hide his name) and run from his team mates to self-promote. Never mind that he only accomplished that for which he is paid. Your job is to score. I say, well done for doing your job. Punto. Mario Balotelli’s display, so symptomatic, in the Euro semi-final match against Germany is not what team sports are made of.
Between the lack of goal-line camera, only one referee on the pitch and no TV review, there is a gaping opportunity for corruption and manipulated results in professional football. As has been covered recently in English professional football, there is widespread gambling and corruption (run by the Chinese it seems) even down in the lower divisions. Corruption is rampant around the world in a game that attracts too much money, and too many low levels.
My take: Professional football should concern itself more with its image, values and sportsmanship. What do you think? Does it deserve to be the most watched sport in the world?
POST SCRIPTUM 6 JULY 2012:
I just read that the English Premiership is looking at implementing goal line technology for the 2012-2013 season. A revolution is at hand? See the BBC report.
We spent last weekend in sunny, windy, & rainy Dorset, around the wedding of my dear old friend, Tom. Using our Tom-Tom to find Tom was something of a leitmotif for the weekend as we drove around endless country roads hidden from cows’ views by huge parallel hedges. Having not had the opportunity to stay up to date with the progress in GPS (“satnav” in the UK), I found out that this Tom-Tom also told us off when we sped (note to Audi: this functionality is not available in my Audi GPS).
For historic value, you will not find this type of photo opportunity too frequently any longer: driving a London double decker through the country roads of Dorset. This bus shuttled the wedding guests to and fro the church. The major benefit was that, riding on top, you could finally look over the ever present hedges. The downside was that the overhanging trees were not used to the more-than-average vehicular height.
A couple of highlight addresses from our visit:
We stayed at the Old Manor, Kingston Maurwood, near Dorchester, run by the charming Andrew and Mulu Thomson, whom we thoroughly enjoyed. The rooms are large and comfortable. Plenty of charm in this manor house whose roots date back to the late 16th century, but which needed a major rebuild (basically up from scratch) in the 1990s.
Down the road from the Old Manor is Athelhampton House & Gardens (Entry £8.75/adult). This is a charming 15th century house (built 1485, the year of the Reformation) that is owned and lived in by Patrick & Andrea Cooke (in the North wing). To be visited is the King’s Bedroom which was never slept in by a King; and the double bed is at best Queen size. The top floor of the House has an exposition of the Russian artist, Marevna. We had a lovely walk the the garden (dating back to 1891), featuring splendid topiary pyramids (picture below). Athelhampton is a prized wedding location (although you only have the ceremony in the House, because it does not have any large rooms in the house itself). The House was used recently in the about-to-appear film “From Time to Time” by Julian Fellowes with Dame Maggie Smith.
Despite the blustery winds, it was a grand weekend and a lovely wedding.
Gun sales in the US have gone [blasted a hole] through the roof since the end of last year.
In November 2008, after the election win of Obama, requests for gun licenses in the U.S. spiked +42% to 1.5 million. The following months have seen year over year increases of between 23% and 29% (through March 2009).
Numerous theories abound for this gigantic leap, centering on Obama’s anti-gun past and a fear of a clampdown. Obama suggested a 500% tax hike on gun sales in 2000. With the continuing headlines of daylight massacres (57 people killed YTD in the US), you wonder how the gun lobbyists and fervent 2nd Amendment defenders resist. Yet, they maintain a lethal stranglehold on Washington, pushing back enough to have dropped the latest proposed ban on assault weapons.
Meanwhile, underneath the increase in gun purchases — hardly your regular anti-crisis remedy or an expected recession-resistant category — some speculate on a fear of increased violence and social instability generated by the crisis. Is it possible that the violence of gangs — that so desperately turn the impoverished (or immigrant’s) dream into a nightmare — will bleed into normal society? Is the US social fabric that weak? While racism and social tension admittedly abounds in many cities, one has to hope that very presence of Obama and his campaigns will bring the US through to the other side; at the very least, so that there is no massive breakdown in social order. I have to believe that we are observing, in this hike in gun sales, more exaggerated and outrageous fear-mongering.
What can be done to reverse this trend or, more importantly, undo the US proclivity to buy and use guns? On this the tenth anniversary of Columbine (April 20 1999), maybe it could be via the viral internet that a mass anti-gun movement could be started to aide the White House and the DC crowd to see straight. I remain deeply saddened by the American violence that is so hardly reconcilable with the world’s leading democracy.
Any such action should also be accompanied, in my opinion, by an element of greater controls on the video gaming worlds (PG, G, R, X-ratings?) that have clearly contributed to the wild dreams of the gun frenzied youth. At the same time, parental leadership and guidance must also play a major role in instructing their children, providing them love and solid (non-aggressive) values. The blame for the gun craze and the rampages is spread around: parents, schools and society at large. We must all take responsibility. Spread the word to un-gun the American Dream!
For those of you following this blog, you may know that among my interests is Astrophysics, with a focus on the String Theory, smoothly vulgarized in Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe.” (Here is Greene’s Faculty page at Columbia; and PBS NOVA provides excerpts of the eponymous documentary). On an ongoing basis, my interest in astrophysics does not play a large part in my daily life. Other than in lively dinner conversations, as an explanation for the random things that happen in life or as the founding principle for creating a whole new philosophy of life (based on the unifying String Theory), astrophysics has been, at best, an elegant support system in my life.
Not until recently, however, have I heard of a truly useful and practical application for astrophysics. And, in a two-for-the-price-of-one mentality, so in vogue in today’s economic climate, astrophysics and star wars technology bring a truly unique (if not unifying) value with a singular objective: the demise the mosquito. You can read here about this extraordinary invention in this CNN Report.
My exceptional and visionary wife, founder of the ERACE ‘EM Campaign, the Eternal Radical and Complete Extermination of Every Mosquito, is in full support, “this [potential eradication] would truly be a stellar reward after years of struggle against the mighty mosquito.” Mosquitoes serve no grand purpose in the eco-system. As Dr Jordin Kare indicates, no animal feeds exclusively on the mosquito and no one would miss them if they disappeared. They are responsible for having killed many millions of people over the years and I would hate to think about the aggregate lost sleep caused by that very dear little shrill buzzzzzzzzzzzzz sound they make. In place of donations to the ERACE ‘EM campaign, we are gladly accepting comments on this blog.
Twitter, it seems, is making mainstream headlines daily these days. Yesterday, the IHT featured on page 2, an article “A truth renewed online: It still takes a village,” which begins: “Twitter and Facebook are, OMG, so last millennium”. The article, written by Anand Giridharadas, actually suggests that today’s social media are a modern representation of the old-fashioned [Indian] village, providing “ambient love.” Giridharadas writes that social media “maintain not your 10 key relationships, but your hundred semi-key mini-relationships. They are not about understanding or soul-baring, but about being simply, ambiently present…”. It is a well expressed point of view. In today’s ice cold economic climate, the ambient warmth of a Twitter or Facebook poke or birthday wishes are a welcome reprieve.
And, on another level, speaking of the economy, I read yesterday how Mr. Martin Schmeldon, a Harvard professor, correlated the rise in twittering to the fall in the stock market and, in a case of brazen marketing, said that Twitter was at fault for the current economic crisis. Read here: http://www.gaebler.com/Economist-Blames-Twitter-for-Down-Economy.htm.
As the article goes on later to say, however, the validity of Schmeldon’s research is a little curious. Pat Sooshisif, an associate professor of public policy at the Yale School of Management is quoted as saying, “I think an informed reader of this research paper should be able to determine that Schmeldon wasn’t engaging in serious statistical analysis of this data.” [From March 2009 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspective and Analysis.]
If you listen to MSM (mainstream media not to be mixed up with MSN!), you might be excused for concluding that the global village — via Twitter’s 7 million unique visitors a month — is running, if not ruining the world.
I maintain that Twitter’s ascension is reflective of a society that is in search of itself: a community that is communicating, without having found a greater meaning or sense of purpose (akin to the general chatter one can hear in the Indian village). It is certainly not a society that is creating value. However, even if 65% of twittering is happening at the workplace, Schmeldon may yet find a better field of research in measuring the twitterers and the performance of the companies for which they work. He might potentially be surprised to find these companies doing rather well, for being more online, more open minded and, potentially more plugged in to social trends. That is a mere supposition, but likely more plausible than pointing to Twitter as the fallguy for the current recession.
MEANINGFUL MESSAGES AND SINGULAR SHOPPING EXPERIENCES…
A consumer’s journey with a brand
Ever since I latched on to the Firebrand (RIP) site, I have been interested in the concept of advertising as content, beyond merely being a reflection of contemporary society. Ads that have content have meaning and create conversations. They can become viral, for example, because they transmit values to which people adhere or humour that bring true cheer. Content-filled ads are rather rare, as marketers are reluctant to step away from the classic advertising ways; and, yet, in today’s environment, I believe that creating meaningful ads should be on the top of marketers’ priorities — at least for those up and comers wishing to make waves, make a difference and make a buck. Arguably, all brands with at least a little attitude or a semblance of community, should be looking to make their message meaningful.
The brand’s marketing [advertising] message is one thing; but, the in-store “live” feeling is another. There is a lot of work to be done for a brand to connect its advertising message with that in store feeling down the line. In today’s economically depressed and evermore time-compressed conditions — not to mention the paroxysm of information and misinformation that besiege the consumer — there is a need to rethink the shopping experience. And, whether it is the high street independent, the department store or the supermarket, the shopping experience is in need of a significant [r]evolution. Consumers are no longer willing to put up with the deluge of confusing messages, lost time and wasted packaging.
Here is a wonderful return-to-values and bring-me-emotion campaign by the German discount supermarket chain, LIDL (with stores in 17 countries, including major presences in UK, France & Holland…). I add a Wikipedia write-up here on LIDL. This web-based 1’31 ad (below) associates fundamental, daily emotions with basic (and cheap) accoutrements that you can find at LIDL. It is perhaps a more practical take on MasterCard’s Priceless campaign. Of course, I now need to see how this translates in the LIDL in-store situation.
For such a great creation, I was surprised to see that it only has 39K views (since its October 2008 posting). Perhaps, that is because it is only in German. In any event, I think you can get the gist from the euro figures…and the English lyrics to the accompanying song.
What are your thoughts? Please drop me a line!
UPDATED on 2nd June, 2009: Since there was a decision (I assume by Lidl) to shut down access to this ad above, I have re-added a different link to the YouTube ad from LIDL. In any event, if they do the same thing again, I add the link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkSOv52qvD4.
UPDATED on 19th April, 2011: This last ad was also taken down. I guess LIDL don’t want their ads on line — or at least certainly not on YouTube?
Don’t you find that too many professional sports smack of too much money & poor values? Below is an email that has been circulating since the end of last year. It is a great story, with a “mostly true” rating from Snopes. The event occurred November 23, 2008. It was first posted on this NHL Home Ice blog back on Dec 8, 2008.
“In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto’s International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team.
Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada, but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.
After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and head back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto. On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry.
To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald’s, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.
Have I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No, this a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon’s fathers funeral. Its amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers. Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television. This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any “hockey” team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team.
I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.”
Here is the Yahoo News version, printed on Christmas Eve.
The story is a testament indeed to the solid values in hockey. And, as far as the Blackhawks go, their brand value — as in lovemark, although they have yet to be nominated there — just went through the roof. Moreover, the team is the youngest in the league (average age of 25.5 years) and is positioned 4th in the Western conference. I wish them all the luck. And, I would certainly like to know of any other sports teams that have that kind of heart.
The wheels are coming off the track for the Vélib bicycle programme in Paris, a subject I have been following since its inception. According to this BBC write-up (taken in turn from Le Parisien), the Parisians seem to have taken a little too much liberty with the vélo liberté…
It seems that, after 18 months, the verdict is that the Vélib system in Paris simply does not function. The city of Paris has had to indemnify JCDecaux for the damage and disappearance of so many bicycles. In fact, 19,600 out of 20,000 bicycles have had to be replaced or repaired, with nearly 8,000 of them having disappeared (into Eastern Europe and Africa). The replacement value of each bike is 400 euros, not cheap, eh? And, then there is the Vélib Extrême / Freeride trend which has popped up on YouTube.
What a poor statement. The youtube site dislaims: “none of the vélibs in this film were mistreated…” Appropriately, the accompanying music is Highway to Hell. Why has the criminal underworld descended on Paris? How many Parisians are responsible themselves? How is it that the similar programmes work so much better in other cities? And, importantly, for cities wanting to replicate the Parisian system (London, San Francisco…), how can such base vandalism be avoided?