Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Odanglesex Chronicles: Branding the Directorate (2)

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
TO: Dale Brashcon, Transformational Excellence Champion


The word for the entries to brand the Directorate is quality rather than quantity. Six entries was a bit low. Could you present the whole thing in an upbeat, positive way in line with our core values? You know the result, of course.


By the way - can we meet with Neil at four to discuss an implementation trajectory for my learning experiences from North Korea? I'd value your input.

FROM: Dale Brashcon
TO: All Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

I'm sure you were all drumming your fingers waiting for the announcement that's had us all excited - the result of our competition to brand the Directorate! Well, this is it. We experienced a massive surge in entries after my little note of encouragement - a 100% increase, in fact. We knew how keen you all were on this!

Judging the entries was really exciting, but frustrating too as only one could win. Congratulations to everybody, but especially to Scott Gerald Fitzwilliam, Management Trainee, FOR THE WINNING ENTRY:

Collaborative, Responsive, Agile, Proactive! I'm sure you'll all agree that's us to a T! This should go on all our outgoing e-mail traffic and I attach a guide explaining how to add it just under the text.

FROM: Scott Fitzwilliam, Management Trainee
TO: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer

REE! HELP!! I just meant to send that to you. Come and comfort me, PLEASE!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Another Word Rant

This time another word whose use makes me almost laugh and cry - expatriate. Maybe it's that I've been an expatriate myself, in Kenya and Finland. The word means someone living outside their fatherland (patria), or as we would say, mother-country.

It's one word, and the EX means outside (as in exoskeleton, external) and not former as in "she hadn't reckoned on meeting her ex there". So it should not be abbreviated to "ex-pat", as newspapers often do: that must surely mean "someone who used to be Irish". Worse - I've seen it printed in official places as "expatriot", which would have to mean either something outside a patriot, or, more plausibly, someone who used to love their country but now doesn't.

Expatriotism is the last infirmity of noble mind??

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Odanglesex Chronicles: Branding the Directorate

From: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

To: All Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

I was delighted that so many colleagues from Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision took part in the recent competition to suggest values for the Council that could be summarised in seven words for our branding. It was really exciting to be on the panel with Ed and Councillor Wayneflete and see so many excellent ideas! Unfortunately the winning entry was not from TESV, but I'm sure you'll agree that the suggestion by Bill Sidebottom, Acting Assistant Director of Transportation and Settlement, was brilliant and captured the values of this vibrant and exciting organisation. So I'm sure you were thrillled when it came up on your screens when you turned on your computers: Passionate, Innovative, Strategic, Sensitive, Organised, Factually Founded!

Now our next exciting step change transformation journey is to choose a similar message for our directorate! Suggestions to Kelly Pattrick in my office please, by the end of the month. Let's do better than the other lots and get our essential message, direction and culture into just four words. If teams want to hold brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas, just contact Neil Balderson to gain approval for booking accomodation.

Looking forward to all the wonderful ideas!




Hello campers! As you all know, Kenneth is out in North Korea putting the exciting final touches to the Lord Pond Leadership Values and Benefits Awards Scheme. When he comes back, of course, he'll be full of ideas from his learning experiences, but in the meantime, he's asked me to put a little extra fizz into our Directorate branding brainstorming. We've actually had only three suggestions for the four words and one of those had only two words in it. I'm absolutely sure everyone at this exciting, transformational time is bubbling over with ideas about our excellence journey, so JUST STICK THEM IN AN E-MAIL AND SEND THEM TO KELLY OR ME!! Come on, don't be shy!!



Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Happiness is not a cigar called Hamlet - 2

I promised I'd return to the subject of happiness in government policy.

The UK government has just published a well-being index which has been widely but inaccurately described as a measure of happiness. This is overtly and laudably aimed at supplementing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of how we're doing.

There is no serious doubt that GDP should not stand alone. For example, it measures present levels of economic activity only - so rapid use of non-renewable resources actually improves the score until we reach the point that even the markets get scared and recession results. Moreover, it counts economic activity rather than sufficiency of desirable things. Imagine you own a bit of land with plum and apple trees. You pick and eat your own plums and apples, so you don't lack fruit, but as no transaction is involved, nothing is contributed to GDP. But if you sold your plums and apples to person B and then bought other fruit from person C, that would contribute to GDP. Finally, it's increasingly clear that high growth does not necessarily bring greater happiness.

Even in the late 1950s, when it was easier to assume that a society at peace and growing wealthier was improving, when Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan declared "You've never had it so good", this was criticised for being too materialistic.

There are some problems, though. I think we can dismiss quickly the objection that such an index is merely an attempt to divert attention from the bad state of the economy. If Cameron could make people forget the economy that easily, he'd be delighted! Since growth in GDP can bring wealth to a very few and very little to the rest, while measures like the Government's index give equal importance to everyone (or everyone who can be located), the left should think twice before dismissing the idea. The argument that a well-being index is Orwellian shoudl be balanced against the existing tendency to refer to GDP only. Is it liberating to treat us as cogs in a production machine?

However, for a start, the concepts are imprecise. What exactly is happiness - or well-being? I honestly find it hard to say if I'm happy, and well-being implies that someone else (like the government) is deciding for me what is good for me and what constitutes mental as well as physical well-being. Moreover, to what extent is happiness - or contentment or well-being as defined by the government - something we should be aiming at as a good in its own right? Remember in my first post on this subject that contented slave society? And what about a society basking in its well-being and happily ignoring signs of impending environmental catastrophe which an unhappier soceity might act to prevent?

The index measures a number of things including physical health and good working conditions, so calling it a happiness index is misleading. However, happiness is one of the things measured. This is a list of

factors to form the "Emoptional Health Index" within the total measure:

  • Smiling or laughter
  • Being treated with respect
  • Enjoyment
  • Happiness
  • Worry
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Stress
  • Learning or doing something interesting
  • Depression.
I actually do think this is useful, but all of these are disputable.  Here's Fred. He smiles and laughs a lot at other people's misfortunes. He's treated with respect because he's very big and strong, and consequently he doesn't need to be angry often. He enjoys violent computer games and driving very fast and finds these interesting. He has no worries and little stress and feels happy. His partner died recently but he doesn't feel sad about that at all and isn't depressed.

OK, that's an individual and in reality a community containing Fred would contain some quite unhappy people. But the point is that contentment can be reached in ways many of us would consider unsustainable. After all, perhaps Fred is not an individual but a rich and powerful nation!

Sadness and anger can be healthy reactions. How easy it would be to govern and hoodwink a society without anger! Creativity, love and beauty often come out of sadness, stress, even anger. That is part of being fully human.So there is a little truth in the argument about diverting attention from unwelcome truths - not just from the lack of growth in the economy, but from evils we should be aware of and fighting. The Roman plebs were kept happy through "panem et circenses".

Finally, while the index will contain a lot of useful information, it might be better not to create a single figure for a factitious single measure. It would be bound to mislead (politicians as well as everyone else) and would depend heavily on what questions were asked and what weight was given to different factors. The kind of information that would be really useful would be that work-related stress was increasing or that more retired people felt they were doing something interesting in the North than in the South. You can base action on those.


Sunday, 20 November 2011


Now here is a thoroughly conservative post. I want to fight in the last ditch to rescue the word "refute".

All right - words change meanings. "Nice" once meant "precise", as in the fossilised phrase "a nice distinction". "Horrid" once meant "hairy, prickly". A "revolution" was once a cyclical movement, in politics as it still is in mechanics.

I still want to stop the word "refute" losing its old meaning.

The established meaning is to prove something false. It's being weakened radically to mean "strongly deny", almost certainly because it sounds too much like "rebut", which does mean deny. Well, if "refute" loses its original meaning, we still have "disprove", though that sounds weaker even if the meaning is the same. But the problem is that "refute" continues in its old, strong meaning in a number of contexts. To refute a proposition in science or mathematics is to prove conclusively and for all time that it can't be correct. The proposition that the sun revolves around the earth has been refuted. The contrary proposition was rebutted, not refuted, by the Catholic Church. In chess, to refute a move is to devise a response so devastating that the best chess players, having studied all the possible lines that could follow, conclude that no-one should ever make that move again. Moreover, a "refutation" still seems to mean a proof of falsehood, not just a rebuttal.

"The minister refuted suggestions that his remarks were meant to undermine the Prime Minister". No he didn't - he rebutted them. How could he refute such suggestions anyway? It's not provable or disprovable.

On another note (semi-deliberate pun), I've just listened once more to Nielsen's Fourth Symphony. It draws out my soul on a string. It is brilliant and moving. Too many people aren't aware of Nielsen's music. Another fight I'm a foot-soldier in...

Friday, 18 November 2011

In Praise of Real Ale

Subtle, diverse, refreshing, tasty if a little unpredictable, offered in thousands of varieties from hundreds of makers - not wine but British-style real ale. For years it has been the lazy default assumption of journalists and others that traditional real ale was in decline or narrowing to a niche market of discerning well-off middle-aged to elderly middle-class men in places like Shrewsbury and Eastbourne. The opposite is happening: its use is increasing against the trend for most drinks and pub services, supermarkets are now well-stocked with a good range of bottled real ales and the trend is extending to new groups of people, especially young people and women. The one domestic market it will never reach is people who seek oblivion through premium lager.

Real Ale has two weaknesses. One is because of that very variety: fifty or sixty years ago, strong regional breweries dominated trade plus a few nationals. The choice of real ales in nearly all pubs was limited even over a whole year, but a few names kept cropping up. Now the market is split between a huge number of competing beers which pop up all over the country, the only nationally familiar one is Greene King IPA and a drinker unfamiliar with the varieties may be put off by the range of unfamiliar names and instead of experimenmting or asking the bar person for guidance, opt for something really familiar like Foster's or (mea maxima culpa for even mentioning the stuff) Heineken. The other concerns quality. Because real ale is a live product, it can go off and keeping it is a little more demanding than keeping those mass-produced lagers. Consequently, quality can vary, though in many pubs it's uniformly high.

There is also that tired slur about "warm beer", beloved not only of some (but by no means all) Australians and Americans, but also of those far too numerous English (I except the Scots and Welsh) who like to join in sneering at themselves. "Warm" can only mean at or above room temperature. If you get served real ale like that, send it right back. It should be cool. It should not, however, be ice-cold. An ice-cold drink anaethesthetises the taste-buds. Real ales are almost all tasty, so you don't want to zonk out the taste-buds. On the other hand, presented with an American Budweiser, for example, zonking out the taste-buds is the best thing you can do. In fairness to Aussies and Good Ol' Boys, of course, in hot countries ice-cold anything not poisonous is attractive.

Let me tell two true stories.

The scene is a busy real-ale pub in Northumberland about fifteen years ago. Two thirtyish women approach the bar in high spirits, clearly looking forward to having a drink together. As they get nearer to the bar, however, those confident smiles are replaced by signs of uncertainty. They stop dead. They look at one another for guidance.

"What shall we have?" asks one, eying the impressive array of about seven real ales and four lagers.

"Er...lager," the other replies. "A lager, please."

Scene Two is in a small real-ale pub in Essex this year. Most of the clientele in this particular pub are, say, 40+. In walk two studenty young people - an attractive, slightly punky girl and a slightly geeky-looking lad. They share a word as they view the choices.

"What'll you have?" asks the barmaid. The expected answer for many years would have been something like "one Stella and one vodka-and-lime."

"Two milds, please" the lad replies. The barmaid is surprised and checks the order. That's what they want. The mild is Oscar Wilde Mild, a recent winner of the Campaign for Real Ale's Champion Beer of Britain award.

Now just let me dream a moment about Nelson's Revenge, Doom Bar, Reverend James, The Black Douglas, Landlord, 6X, Late Red, Mersea Mud, Workie Ticket...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Waxing poetic

Just a reminder that over on my other blog http://www.simonsworlds13.wordpress.com there is poetry and discussion of poetry. 20 hits so far today and I'm keen to increase the hits. If you're a bit scared of poetry, don't be: I promise to answer any questions and value any comments. Today's post was a short poem called "If" and the previous one a poem about Tollesbury Pier in Essex.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Happiness is not a cigar called Hamlet

There used to be clever and amusing TV adverts with the punchline "Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet". They stopped way back. Maybe now they sponsor Shakespeare plays in return for product placement. Was that guy in Denmark always called Hamlet?

Happiness goes in and out of politics. In the early 19th century Jeremy Bentham, many of whose ideas presaged scientific totalitarianism, said the aim of government should be "The greatest happiness of the greatest number". This is more or less accepted by a lot of people, and the old objection that you can't measure happiness has to some extent been answered by pollsters who can ask people how happy they are and count the results. It has strengths: if the whole population is miserable, one would expect a government to try to do something about it, and a focus on happiness prevents a narrow focus on, for example, economic growth or national aggrandisement. However, Bentham's formula implies that if we could make the great majority of people happy by unlimited oppression of a minority, we should do it. As a "deep Green" I don't think values should be based purely on human happiness, ignoring other life-forms (though I recognise political reality, that in human society human interests will come first and others may be decisive if the human interest debate is evenly balanced) and as a Christian I don't accept that the main human goal should be happiness, but awareness and love - still more difficult things to measure.

Consider this question I put to a friend who has deep moral convictions which seem to exist separated from his political philosophy. Imagine a society with slavery. The free exist happily without bad consciences on the proceeds of the slaves' work and the slaves, not realising they could be free or scared at the prospect of freedom, are content being slaves. Into this society comes someone preaching against slavery. Do you support or suppress him or her?

When I continue this post I'll talk about the British Government's "wellbeing index" which has been laughed at, preached against and praised as setting up happiness as a government goal.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Norfolk Coast

Another place to celebrate - the North Norfolk coast. I'm just back from three days there: it's almost a manageable day trip from Harwich. I go there mainly because it's an outstanding area for birdwatching, especially in autumn (not just for the Brits - there were Lithuanians visiting a reserve when I was there), but it appeals to me in other ways too.

The coast is open and bleak. If you stand on this coast and look north, there is no land between you and the Arctic. At a place like Deepdale Marsh, looking out to Scolt Head, the expanse of saltmarsh is so great you might imagine you were seeing halfway to the Arctic. In September to November it's full of the urgency of migrating birds, huge flocks of winter thrushes, starlings, skylarks; skeins of hinking and chattering geese; lone harriers and peregrines.

The villages, though, are full of quirky variety, no two old buildings the same or even very similar, brick and flint mixed in walls. Nowadays a lot of the small shops cater to visitors (delicatessens, mini art galleries, binocular and telescope shops), but they have variety too; and the pubs are superb, real ale havens and each with its own personality.

The coast is marked by many Second World War fortifications. When Britain expected invasion from Germany, both the British and the German high commands identified two likely locations for invasion, one Norfolk to north Suffolk and the other Sussex. The British fortified both strongly but thought Norfolk the most likely because of the open country behind the coast. After the war they discovered that the German plans had been made for Sussex because it offered a shorter sea crossing. The fortlets I knew as a kid as "pill-boxes" are now preserved as archaeological resources.

To change the subject briefly: in the Morrison's supermarket yesterday - 12 November - the staff were wearing "Happy Christmas" sweatshirts! Have I missed something?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Odanglesex Chronicles: the Water Safety Partnership

FROM: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager


Here's my report on our annual review of the Odanglesex Water Safety Partnership for transmission to Kenneth.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

Kenneth: here are the reports from Reema and Mike. All straightforward, I think.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
TO: Neil Balderson, Transformational Excellence Senior Manager

Neil: I need more information on the Water Safety Partnership from Reema. Please transmit.

FROM: Neil Balderson, Transformational Excellence Senior Manager
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

Hamish: Kenneth needs more info on this report.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer

Reema: Sorry, Can you flesh out your report on this a bit, please? Kenneth wants more information.

FROM: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

More information on WHAT?

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer

Sorry - no idea. He didn't say.

FROM: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob
cc: Neil Balderson, Hamish Carpenter

Kenneth: I gather you need more information. I've included all the minutes and the Police, Coastguard and Fire/Rescue summaries.

FROM: Kelly Pattrick, PA to Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Reema Narlikar

Rema: Kenneth hasn't got the time to read all this. Can you summarise?

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Neil Balderson, Transformational Excellence Senior Manager

Neil: Councillor Greer wants to know if it's safe to drink water. Can you get Reema Narlikar to draft a reply for my signature using this Partnership information she has?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Europe and Australia

Someone said yesterday,

"Dou you know, you could plonk down the whole of Europe in Australia."

Yes, but SHOULD we?

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Dirty Word Politics

Overheard from local TV news, an item about an NHS (public sector) hospital which had run into a lot of criticism, including from local members of parliament: an MP saying, "This is NOT about politics, it's about patient care." Presumably the senior doctors, who had hit back at the criticism, had accused her of "playing politics".

Now politics, as I argued in my posting on the pitfalls of being customer-centred, is the process by which any open society resolves disputes. You don't do it by diktat of the King or the President-for-Life, or by flipping a coin, or by selling the decision to the highest bidder. You do it by a process of debate and a decision by someone who can be called to account. There are many blots and weaknesses in the process, but the alternatives are not attractive and bad politics does not damn politics any more than bad football damns football or bad soup damns soup.

So did the MP think the care of hospital patients was outside politics? Seems to me if politicians behaved as if such a thing was nothing to do with them, we wouldn't be pleased. "Playing politics", however, refers to irresponsible politics for short-term party or personal gain, which is a bad thing and should be punished by criticism and by voters' votes - though in my experience any politician who raises something uncomfortable for the people in power gets accused of playing politics, just as media are when wrongdoing is exposed.

Earlier today I visited a website where there was discussion of the punishment of a politician who'd been convicted of falsely claiming expenses (those who share my background will know it was Lord Reservoir). He came in for a lot of understandable stick. But one commenter said all politicians were crooked. Now you may find this hard to accept, but that isn't true. At the very least, some politicians are more honest than others. If you react to corruption or other obvious wrongs by saying "they're all the same", that excuses the corrupt and cynical of all political punishment. If you are cynical and venal, you do something wrong and people don't blame you any more than all the other politicians, how can the system be made cleaner? If people react by saying, "I won't vote any more," that suits the exploiters fine.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Odanglesex Chronicles: Councillor Wayneflete's Volunteering (2)

FROM: Melissa Gurney, External Communications Facilitation Consultant

TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

cc: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

     William Wayneflete, Leader of the Council

The volunteering with Kiddiz Kingdom went fantastically! Councillor Wayneflete wanted everyone involved to know how pleased he was. I've spoken to the man from the Odsex News and he's promised not to use the one where the little kid threw the ice cream and it stuck on Bill's golf club tie. They're using one of him with the wheelbarrow and the one with him shaking hands with Charles Glover, the guy who runs KK.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

TO: Dale Brashcon, Transformational Excellence Champion


A potential problem. When I helped with Bill Wayneflete's volunteering as a means of publicising what we're doing to support the voluntary sector, I was not aware you'd deleted the part-time post of Volunteering Officer which supported volunteering by our employees and by the Odanglesex population in general. The opposition could suggest this is inconsistent.

FROM: Dale Brashcon, Transformational Excellence Champion
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
cc: Melissa Gurney, External Communications Facilitation Consultant


I'm afraid Kenneth is not very pleased about the debacle over Kiddiz Kingdom. First of all, the ON did use the photo with ice-cream all over Councillor Waynflete after all. More seriously, were we not aware that Charles Glover was about to be charged with fraud? What do we chair the Police Consultative Forum for? The ON ran the fraud story on its front page with the photo of Councillor Wayneflete shaking hands with Mr Glover. It also ran the wheelbarrow picture in its captions competition with the header, "What's he got in the wheelbarrow?". As you recommended Kiddiz Kingdom, Kenneth would like you to speak to Councillor Wayneflete and see what damage can be repaired.