Monthly Archive: September 2017

Indirect Speech #1 – The disguised sneer

In dialogue between humans, there are some fundamental ways in which one can easily reduce the chance of a positive outcome to the dialogue down to zero.
One of the ways in which you can be effective in discussion is to extend the principle of charity to the person at the other end of the dialogue. This requires an initial assumption that the other person is trying to engage in a good faith discussion, followed by verification that this is in fact true.
We validate the extent to which the other person is showing good faith by parsing their words carefully.
Now…some people read better than others, so this is not a foolproof concept.
There are, however, a number of ways in which you can quite easily convince the other party to an attempted dialogue that you are not interested in good faith discussion. Some of them are obvious. Some are not so obvious, and some are rather subtle.
Obvious approaches include:opening with a slur or a snark in the first sentence, often preceded by “you”. Words like “libtard”, “sheeple”, “snowflake” or “Trumpaloo” are prime examples. They make the writer look both juvenile and mean-spirited.
The next worst thing is to use strawman accusatory words like “statist”, “marxist” or “bleeding heart”. Those, in addition to making the writer look juvenile, are usually assumptive about the person on other end of the dialogue, and make the writer look like he or she is trapped in binary thinking. it’s not a good message.
The more subtle signalling is the use of indirect speech.
The first rhetorical device is the use of pre-inoculation. A classic example is beginning a response with “with the greatest respect”. This is usually deployed by the writer for one of two reasons:
– They fear that what they are about to say will be contentious, so they are engaging in pre-immunization
– They have no respect at all for the person or persons they are talking to, and they are attempting to offset this by excessive politeness
The second rhetorical device is the use of ingratiation. This usually takes the form of an introductory sentence such as “here is one for my conservative/liberal friends”.
The first thing that enters my mind when I read rhetoric like this is “why are you writing this?”. As a preface, it adds no content to the discussion.
The second thing that I wonder is whether the writer really has any respect for the positions or views that their “liberal friends” or “conservative friends” hold. In my mind, what I am really reading is “this is one for my conservative/liberal friends, who I consider to be idiots”. It is a form of dog-whistling, the communication of a message of dismissal in advance of the actual argument or response to a discussion point.


Bill Bruford – Feels Good To Me

While working away this weekend in the home office, I found myself listening to Bill Bruford’s LP “Feels Good To Me“.
It is difficult to explain how eye-opening this LP was when I first went out and bought it in early 1979. It is also amazing and gratifying to find out that it still sounds like a damn fine LP nearly 40 years later.
For those of us who were following the UK music scene, Bruford had already shown his willingness to go out on a limb musically more than once. He had quit the drum seat in the band Yes in 1972, when Yes were poised to break out and become a massive band worldwide. At the time the move was greeted with a fair bit of astonishment in the UK, not only because Bruford was leaving Yes, a band seemingly on the rise, but because he was leaving Yes to join…King Crimson, a band whose audience, in contrast to that of Yes, seemed to be shrinking, and whose main newsworthy activity seemed to be the latest item of news about who had just left the band. King Crimson violated most people’s expectations at the time that bands should have a stable enduring line-up. Not only that, but Crimson’s musical approach seemingly changed from LP to LP, confusing listeners and reviewers alike.
At the time that Bruford joined King Crimson, the previous version of the band had essentially ceased to exist, and Robert Fripp had recruited Bruford into a brand new incarnation of Crimson.
The band, with Bruford’s straight man drumming offset by the unique percussion stylings of Scottish percussionist Jamie Muir, was either brave or suicidal depending on your point of view – they opened their first gig in 1972 in Germany with with a 30 minute free improvisation, and played “20th Century Schizoid Man” only as an encore. However, playing with Muir awakened Bruford’s interest in tuned untuned percussion, which he would use to good effect on his own projects.
That version of the band recorded “Larks Tongues In Aspic” in 1973, an album that, for those who bought it, had an impact out of all proportion to its modest sales. “Larks Tongues” was a mixture of jazz, heavy metal, classical music and other forms not even categorizable. (One thing that you will not find in “Larks Tongues”, however, is any trace of the blues). It still sounds unique and fresh to this day.
However, after 1972, King Crimson began to shed members once more, and Fripp disbanded that version of the band in 1974, leaving Bruford to pursue itinerant session and touring gigs, until he teamed up with Eddie Jobson, John Wetton (who had been the bass player and vocalist in Crimson), and guitar player Allan Holdsworth to form the progressive rock band UK. UK released one album to good reviews, but Holdsworth left during their first major tour, and the band fizzled out.
After the UK experiment, Bruford retreated to his home studio, and working with Dave Stewart and Jeff Berlin, wrote the tunes for what would become “Feels Good To Me”. For the LP recording sessions, Bruford showed that he was a man of much more musical reach relative to just about every drummer on the planet. He recruited Stewart to play keyboards, Jeff Berlin to play bass, and persuaded Holdsworth to play guitar (in true Holdsworthian style, he would again leave the band after its first UK tour). He also called on the unique lyrical and vocal approach of the American singer Annette Peacock. Lastly, he asked jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler to play on several tunes.
“Feels Good To Me” covers a lot of stylistic ground, from hard pop through to intricate instrumental tunes, some with odd standard time signatures, led by Bruford’s mallet and tuned percussion playing, through to mini suites. However, what still rises to the surface is Bruford’s innate sense of melodicism. His tune melodies refuse to go in straight lines, but they have a logic and a destination, they just take more time than 8 4/4 bars to get there as they tell a more elaborate story than most instrumental melodies.
“Feels Good To Me” is a long way removed from most drummer LPs, which tend to comprise tunes designed more to showcase technique than musical story telling. Bruford has technique to throw away, but it was always used to support the tunes.
After “Feels Good To Me”, the band recorded “One Of A Kind”, this time without Peacock or Wheeler, but Holdsworth left the band before their next tour, and John Clark became the band’s guitar player. The LP is less accessible than “Feels Good To Me”, mainly because of the lack of the lack of vocals. The band then recorded a third LP “Gradually Going Tornado”, with Jef Berlin trying his hand at singing (verdict: average). They disbanded in 1983, and Bruford would then re-group and launch his project Earthworks, another genre-smashing ensemble.


The F1 engine supply mess

THe current complicated negotiations involving Mclaren, Honda, and Scuderia Toro Rosso are said to be reaching a conclusion over the Monza Grand Prix weekend.
The situation is complicated partly because none of the other F1 power unit suppliers are keen to supply Mclaren. Earlier in the season, Mclaren was said to have an outline deal in place to return to being a Mercedes customer from 2018. However, that proposal seems to have disappeared off the table. Mclaren cannot sensibly obtain Ferrari power units because the two companies compete in the luxury car market. That left only Renault, but the French company is publicly reluctant to expand to supplying a fourth team.
Numerically, the three other power unit suppliers currently supply three teams each. Under the terms of the current power unit regulations, if Honda withdraws from Formula 1, one of those suppliers will end up supplying Mclaren in 2018. Here is a summary explanation from Fabrice Lom, the FIA Head of Powertrain:

For the obligation to supply: the idea was to have no team that is not able to have access to a power unit. This was a big part of the discussion because we also don’t want people to be able to play with that and to change from one power unit to another from one year to another in order to have the best one. So there is a quite complex system in place, but the basic [premise] is that if you are a team with no offer, so nobody is offering you a power unit, you can ask the FIA to have one and there is a system of ballots. So we will take the power unit that has the smallest number of customers. If there is only one, this will be the one that will be required to give the power unit. If there is more than one there will be a ballot between the two to decide which one will supply, and there is a low price of €12m from 2018 for this supply.

This rule is one that none of the power unit suppliers wants to see invoked. If Honda does withdraw, one of the current suppliers will, by ballot, be told to supply Mclaren with power units for 2018 for the bargain price of €12m, a price which may not even cover their costs.
So…Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault would much prefer that Honda stays, in order to avoid that scenario. They want to negotiate their own power unit supply contracts, not have a supply contract mandated for them.
So, there is a deep imperative by the FIA and LibertyF1 to ensure that Honda stays in F1. The ideal current solution is essentially a power unit supply swap where Toro Rosso has Honda power units in 2018, and Mclaren has Renault power units. However, that requires Mclaren to negotiate an end to its current contract with Honda. Since that contract was 10 years in duration with lots of money attached, that is proving difficult. Honda is also said to be demanding that any Toro Rosso contract contains the option for Honda to supply Red Bull racing from 2019 onwards, since the Toro Rosso driver line up does not contain a world champion.
So, all of this, as Jean Todt admitted, complicated…


Interview with Gene Haas

I just watched an interview with Gene Haas during the rain delay of Qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix.
Haas came across as a deeply frustrated man. Having set up his own Formula 1 team from scratch, headquartered in the USA, he is now in his second season of F1. Superficially the team has done well, scoring points regularly. Haas did most things right, hiring experienced F1 leaders such as Gunther Steiner, and making deals with Ferrari (to supply engines, drivetrain and other parts) and Dallara to supply the chassis, in order to assure quality.
However, Haas is clearly concerned by the combination of the budgets in F1, and the reality that only three teams currently have any chance of winning races.
Whether the interview reflected his real position on the continued participation of the Haas team in F1 is difficult to tell. In this sport, public posturing and negotiation has been the norm for decades, as most of the key participants followed the divide-and-rule lead of Bernie Ecclestone. Liberty F1 are clearly not of the same mind. Chase Carey has consistently stated in interviews that he believes that businesses should negotiate privately and only announce deals after they are completed. So he may not be too happy about this public positioning by Haas. However, a lot of the Haas team infrastructure is shared with his NASCAR operation, so if he does decide to withdraw from F1, Haas can probably put that infrastructure to use, and find jobs for some of his personnel.
At any point in time, there are usually F1 teams available for sale. This has been the case for some time, ever since the slow distortion of revenue and payment structures created the current scenario, were the top three teams get given large guaranteed sums of money just for showing up. The last F1 attempt to bring new teams into the sport, which initially attracted Manor, Caterham, HRT and the failed-to-make-it USF1, did not end well, with all of the teams now defunct. Haas is the first new team in a long time to actually do well in its first two seasons. However, it is clear from Gene Haas’ comments that he is far from convinced that F1 is where he wants to be long-term.


Conflict of Interest

Conflicts of interest are inevitably going to arise in corporate and political governance.
However, the behavior pathology of driven people is to ignore potential or actual conflicts of interest. Hubris plays a part in this pathology. Successful, entrepreneurial people have a mindset that the normal rules should not apply to them. I have seen this close up in business.
A lot of politicians in the USA are former businessmen, and they carry that pathology with them into government. They regard conflicts of interest as something to be managed for the benefit of all parties, including lobbyists and influencers. The law is generally fairly clear on this topic. Conflicts of interest are to be avoided. This applies not only to clear conflicts of interest, but also to perceived conflicts of interest.
It is probably correct to state that the current administration in the USA has contempt for many basic political norms, including conflicts of interest.
However, the revelation that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was appointed several months ago by the POTUS to head up his Electoral Commission, is also a paid contributor to Breitbart, takes the phrase “conflict of interest” to a whole new level. It confirms in my mind that Breitbart is not in any sense of the word, an independent media outlet. It is operating a significant part of the time as a propaganda channel for the Trump administration.

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