Monday, May 15, 2006

Whine Rouneigh

So Nancy, I mean Sven, has announced the squad for England's forthcoming trip to the World Cup in Germany. A few surprises there, including his pronunciation of Wayne Rooney as "Whine Rouneigh", despite having worked with the lad for about 3 years and lived in England for 5. So here's the Freedmanslife evaluation of the squad...

Robinson is top class, nuff said - Spurs fans reckon having him in goal is the single difference between mid-table and a UEFA Cup spot. Calamity James is one of the best instinctive keepers in the world (anyone who saw him in the game against Turkey that got us into the Euro 2004 final will know he kept us in it), but give him too much thinking time and he turns into a rubber-armed buffoon. Rob Green plays for Norwich, and to be honest there's not really anyone else - Nigel Martyn's last trip to Germany was shortly after D-Day, Scott Carson and Chris Kirkland average 10 games and 7 broken bones a season between them, and Richard Wright is rumoured to be living in a caravan on the Isle of Skye. So pretty self-selecting then - well done Nancy, 8/10.

Terry and Rio pick themselves of course. Judas has pedigree, and is also an automatic selection provided FIFA's drug testing people approve his medication. Gharragha is an ideal utility player (not in the usual Scouse meaning of being handy with stolen white goods). Gary Neville is old but remarkably fit; luckily he no longer insists on taking the second choice Neville (Aaron) on holidays. Ashley Cole may not be match-sharp, but as his rehabilitation has included knobbing Cheryl Tweedy every night, it's a fair bet that his general fitness has been maintained. Wayne Bridge is better than Luke Young and Paul Konchesky, which is not saying much, but a few months playing on loan for Fulham should have inspired him to put in a good summer and escape back to the Bridge to replace the quite shocking Del Horno. No room in the squad for Ledley King, due to his injury plus plenty of decent cover in central defence and holding midfield - a bit unlucky but the right call. Michael Dawson will be one for the next big tourno, when Judas is over the hill - this one came just a tad early. All in, Nancy gets another 8/10.

Whilst yet to be convinced about Gerrard-Lampard in midfield together, they are world-class. Beckham has had one of his best seasons to date and is bang in-form and in excellent fitness for a major tournament for the first time I can remember. Joe Cole has shown for Chelsea and in qualifying that he is a very adequate answer to the left-wing question (Ming and Gordon Brown may beg to differ). Carrick has emerged as a reliable holding player for Spurs, and deserves his chance, although it is difficult to see him getting into the side if everyone remains fit. Downing has had a belter for Boro, and again is one of the few naturally left-sided players available - a bit of a punt, and something of a sop to Steve McClaren, but will run his socks off. Lennon is a great wild-card option but totally unproven at any level outside the domestic game - at least he is a rarity in that he is damn fast and takes people on. Owen Hargreaves must be Nancy and Sven's love-child, because nobody understands how this man can have nearly 30 caps and be an automatic squad choice. Jenas is erratic, doesn't bring anything new to central midfield, lacks versatility, and is an odd choice - whilst Eriksson was in take-a-punt mood, he could have thought about Reo-Coker, who has been excellent in central midfield, and can play the holding role or further advanced. Spare a thought for SWP, whose move to the bright lights of London has effectively cost him his place. For once, Sven didn't bottle a difficult decision. All in, Nancy's starting midfield picked itself, and the excellent wild-card selections have been neutralised by the two hangers-on. She gets 6/10.

Rooney is crocked, but we may as well take advantage of FIFA rules that he can be replaced at the last minute. Ditto Michael Owen, who is worth taking half-fit, given his amazing knack for poaching useful goals for Engerland. Not sure what rules FIFA have that allow us to chuck Crouch at the 11th hour (altitude sickness?), but in fairness he has improved immeasurably for Liverpool this year, and nobody has a clue what to do with his height and giraffe-like physique. It's almost like the cartoonists at Roy of the Rovers decided to include a new beanpole character, etched in a stick-man with a view to revisiting and improving later, and forgot all about it until after publishing. Theo Walcott - just bizarre. Fine, his girlfriend is feeeeeeyat but so is Jenas's bird, and he should be taking the summer off. I have no problem taking a punt with this nice young man (less so if Mel needs babysitting while he's away), even despite his lack of top-flight experience - or in fact any experience - but not when Nancy is only taking 4 strikers, 2 of which are crocked and one of which is Peter Crouch. I think Jenas should have been left behind and Defoe, despite the lack of form, taken instead. In fact, I reckon Eriksson missed a trick by not seeing whether a lean, on-form Fowler, or a vastly improved James Beattie, who is used to playing as a sole striker for attacking midfielders to run onto, could do a job. I agree that Darren Bent's style won't work at the World Cup, and Andy Johnson isn't good enough yet. Overall, a poor 4/10 for Nancy.

In conclusion, we have a pretty decent squad going forward, provided we get no further injuries to key players, and at least one of Whine Rouneigh and Owen regains fitness. But the Freedmanslife prediction is that we will be lucky to get to the semi-finals. We are incapable of beating Sweden, so unless we hammer Paraguay and T&T by more than they do, we'll probably get Germany in the last 16. If we scrape through that, we get the Czechs or Portugal, both on form and full of flair players who can beat anyone on their day. And then we get Brazil of course.

I will be placing my bets on England to lose to either Germany or Brazil, and probably on penalties or by a lucky goal - it's part of our tradition to lose to the hosts and/or eventual winners, and/or on penalties in a match where we play well and "woz robbed". Still, there will be that rare joy of choosing a second team to support - I'm already rallying behind Togo as the tournament dark horses...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Apprentice: Badger culled

I had rather a sense of anti-climax about last night's Apprentice finale. As most of you know (and could have guessed after last week), the Big Koala went all dewy-eyed over the brassy blonde from 'Ool, whilst maintaining a respectful distance from the snorting Badger. The final task was for each girl to pick 3 former team-mates and organise a party in one of Tower Bridge's pedestrian walkways. The winner would be the one who combined a great atmosphere with some sound finances and a sell-out crowd.

Whilst Michelle went down a safe but ultimately enjoyable route of James Bond themed black tie cocktail party, Ruth decided on something more ambitious and ultimately rather too complicated for the physical space - a period murder mystery evening. She did in fact sell more tickets and make more money, but her event was patently chaotic, and she reduced a poor assistant to a quivering wreck by requiring help stifling her ample bosom into a very small corset dress.

Sugar's decision appeared to come down to his preference for Michelle nicking his idea but carrying it off without a hitch and despite her team sabotaging events through their bickering (or should I say Syed being a bitter slimebag), over Ruth going against his instructions but making a more difficult concept work reasonably well. Of course, what we all know is that both candidates worked for him in different roles for the past 6 months while he made a decision.

I think this makes something of a mockery of the show - either we should be told that both finalists will be working for him for 6 months, with the cameras following their progress, and a decision made after the placement, or he should make his decision there and then. In the real business world, recruiters do not get to see several thousand candidates whittled down to the so-called "best" 14, then a 3-month process of elimination with complex practical exercises and a thorough interview session, let alone a 6-month "try before you buy" period.

Of the two candidates, I think Michelle fits much better the profile of the Apprentice, with her Cinderella background appealing to Sugar's secret sentimental side. Ruth's little speech in the boardroom, and her general demeanour, best exemplified in the interview round, shows that she clearly thinks she knows it all already.

Overall, this series has been somewhat disappointing. The candidates have all been pretty weak and/or Sugar has disposed of them for reasons seemingly unrelated to the task, the best example being Karen Bremner (whose blog is worth checking out for some insider info). Worst of all, I don't think we have seen much of the real Big Koala, his decision-making has been erratic, and we have not experienced much that has taught anything about the business world except how shockingly dishonest some salespeople can be.

Here is the final posting from Where Did It All Go Right, one of the only other decent blogs (!) I've found that provides the same weekly updates you have come to know and love here at Freedmanslife. Incidentally here are the ones from Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, Week Five, Week Six, Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine, Week Ten and Week Eleven for your enjoyment.

I'll probably manage more of a post-mortem on the series at a later date - we are reaching the denouement of the American show (a zillion times better), so I may start posting on the final few episodes of that in due course.

Your reactions on this series are hereby invited...

Monday, May 08, 2006

The new religion

This morning I gave an assembly for the motley assortment of non-Christian kids who don't want to attend the school's church service, at a school just north of London, as I do once a term for AJ6. Not feeling like talking about anything too heavy, and it being the day after Spurs lost out to Arsenal for the last Champions League place, my theme was football as the new religion.

Here is an outline of the themes:

I started by getting everyone to stand up, then sit down if they were from particular religions. Then they had to stand up again, and sit down if they supported particular teams. There were no other Cardiff supporters there, but I concealed my disappointment and ploughed on.

I talked a little about some of the religious symbolism in football:-

· Last game at Highbury, holy ground kissed by Henry, parade of honour etc, like in some kind of shrine
· Sectarianism of Rangers vs Celtic, including the perverse exception made by UEFA to permit sectarian chanting on the terraces at Ibrox and Parkhead, for "historical reasons"
· Why Spurs are “The Yids” and it seems acceptable (and how Steffen Freund found that he was the first German in history to get 20,000 Jews to shout "shoot!")
· Cardiff’s “Ayatollah” - the tradition of calling for players in the middle of a game to start patting their heads
· Fans bowing to the great players like Fatt Le Tissier

What makes us so passionate about it, that it divides families and friends? We know Bill Shankly's quote of “football is not a matter of life and death; it is much more important than that” - and football is filled with evocative language such as referring to Old Trafford as the “Theatre of Dreams”, and any commentary by Stuart Hall.

But look at the tragedies of football, from Heysel and Hillsborough to the general tarnishing of England by hooliganism, and the incidents of crowd racism in Italy and Spain. The role models have to start on the pitch:

· Lineker was never booked in his entire career
· Di Canio went from pushing the ref to catching the ball when the opposition keeper was injured, and winning a FIFA special award for fair play (before reverting to Mussolini salutes in the Rome derby - go figure)
· Robbie Fowler tripping over Seaman and telling the ref it was not a penalty (then missing it apologetically, though someone else snaffled up the rebound)
· Arsenal offering to replay an entire FA Cup game against Sheffield United after a player misunderstood that he should give the ball back after an injury (they still won)

But there are endless examples to the contrary – diving, claiming someone dived, malicious fouling, pretending to have been fouled, handballing it into the net, handballing it out of the net, claiming it crossed the line when it didn’t, claiming it didn’t when it did, swearing, spitting, shouting, ripping off your own shirt, trying to rip off the opponent’s shirt…

These contradictions make football fascinating and create fragile heroes like Maradona – look at the two goals he scored against England – one was cheating and the other one of the greatest goals of all time, then he fell into drugs, booze, womanizing, weight problems but then got his life in order.

Perspective is lost with football – it’s addictive and hypnotic. What was bigger news?
· Eriksson’s affair with Ulrika or Prescott’s affair with his secretary
· Posh and Becks’ “royal” wedding or Charles and Camilla
· Patricia Hewitt’s comments on the state of the NHS or the coverage of the health of Rooney’s foot

And this absurd sense continues with how we normally feel about backing whoever the British representative is (even if it's Greg Rusedski in the tennis). Do we support other British or English teams? Does that diminish our love for our own team? Spurs fans stand up – now it makes no difference to Spurs’ season, who will be cheering Arsenal on as the English team? Who is behind Middlesbrough?

There are 12 million football fans in the UK and 67% report that they experience depression at the end of the football season. Not surprisingly, since 60% are "psychologically dependent on the game". 75% say that the game "is more important than anything in their lives" and 86% plan their lives round games. Football then is the central organising principle of their lives - not family, not church, not friends, but football. Not of course that being a football fan does not go some way to meeting people's needs for belonging and communal identification. How do you belong? Join the 'united' faithful. Who are my people? The ones I instinctively feel a connection to wherever I go in the world, whatever their colour, whatever their income level.

This is a form of escapism from the much harsher realities of day-to-day life, like exams and homework. I know this from personal experience – I sat one of my finals at exactly the same time as England vs Argentina in the last World Cup, and there was a huge cheer outside when Beckham scored the penalty. At least most of us can unite behind England, despite some of the naffness that comes with, such as the Great Escape and turning the national anthem into a football chant.

As with the last assembly, which was about national anthems, I wanted to finish with a song. Under each chair was a song sheet, and I got the 100 or so boys to join in with a rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk

You'll never walk
You'll never walk alone.

(R. Rogers & O. Hammerstein II, performed by Gerry and the Pacemakers)

The headmaster of the school had been on the stage with me, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, despite being a Newcastle fan, and I have been invited back next term...

On the Spurs illness thing, by the way - whilst I do feel sorry for them, they chose to go ahead with the game. If their players were really so ill, they should have been more concerned for their health, and played a reserve team or no team. Then the fixture would have been an obvious farce and they might have had a chance to replay it. By choosing to field what was on paper pretty close to a First XI, they lost that chance. It seems to be unfair on West Ham to make them replay, when they could only beat the team put in front of them, and to Arsenal, who did what was required of them and were involved in a classic finale for Highbury.

Unfortunately, the onus should have been on Spurs to win some of the games they dropped easy points in earlier in the season. There is no legislating for a food bug sweeping away the side, but ill fortune can happen to many sides - Birmingham might have had a better chance of staying up if they hadn't lost half their squad to injury at one point or another. Just from games I watched, Spurs dropped 2 points at home to West Ham after having all the possession but Mido and Defoe were greedy and squandered chances to make the game safe, Stalteri gave away the ball in the last minute against Fulham and they dropped another point there, and how on earth could anyone fail to beat Sunderland is beyond me - 5 points there alone.

So whilst I feel sorry for them, I think some objectivity is required. If Martin Jol had been offered 5th place and a UEFA Cup spot back in August, he would have been thrilled. Next season his team has the chance to prove how hard done by they were, and challenge for a top 4 finish over the length of a season.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Muslim Reformation?

I was heartened by the recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary by Tariq Ramadan, erstwhile grandson of one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood. In it, he visited several European Muslim communities as well as other parts of the Muslim world such as Pakistan, in search of corroboration of his idea that there can, will and should be a Muslim Reformation. The basis of this would lie in the Islamic concept of ijtihad, a constant process of intellectual inquiry and challenge of precepts.

However, the elders of the community in Europe, and pretty much everyone in majority-Muslim countries, refuted the idea that ijtihad should extend beyond tinkering with the fringes - an uncanny echo of my own complaints on TWAJ and their inability to challenge the fundamentals.

Ramadan thinks that a Reformation would have to be born in the European Muslim Diaspora, as the next generations find ways to accommodate both their Western surroundings and Islamic culture. He believes that this process of using ijtihad to find mutual ground and salve the anger and tension between the rather monolithic and increasingly extreme Islam he sees, and the ever more liberal, godless and individualist West.

This is all nice in theory, but at the same time, a visit to his website finds plenty of essays in which he fails to apply objective thought to challenge the headline causes of political Islam - America's War On Terror, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His views, whilst beautifully articulated, are ultimately not far removed from the standards of Fisk, Galloway, Abu Hamza, Qaradawi et al.

Until the genuine religious liberals such as Tariq Ramadan can apply the same logic to reach new conclusions on political issues, and use the same eloquence to bring extremists to new accommodations of previously unacceptable views, there continues in my view to be no hope of a true Reformation, and therefore little chance of Islam sitting in genuine comfort alongside and within the European host culture.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Apprentice: a real test

This week's episode of The Apprentice came in the form of a series of interviews with three of the Big Koala's hardmen, Claude Littner, Bordan Tkachuk and Paul Kemsley.

I had a big debate with the Bison about the validity of this task as a true test of their skills; my argument was that it put them in a uniquely pressured situation where they were alone and stripped of the opportunity to blag it. This was certainly Paul's undoing, and to some extent Ruth was lucky to get through, perhaps saved only by her consistent performances in the tasks, and Ansell's perceived weakness of being a decent guy and lacking in depth. In addition, Sir Alan is not in a position to interview the candidates himself as Bison suggested - he is neither an experienced recruiter and interviewer as at least two of the hardmen are, nor is he objective due to his exposure to the candidates over the 10 weeks thus far.

The highlights included Ansell's naff effort at selling of Kemsley's own watch back to him, Littner dismantling Paul quite comprehensively on how he didn't get on with him, Kemsley's awesome dressing-down of Paul and his suits with his line of "the local second-hand car showroom has 4 Pauls in it, and 3 will be wearing nicer suits", and Tkachuk's trouncing of him with "I applaud you for your integrity saying you lie and cheat every day."

In all, I think the decision to fire Paul was harsh due to his excellent performances in the tasks, but ultimately fair, as he totally misjudged the situation, was exposed as rather shallow, and failed to do his homework on Amstrad. Similarly, Ansell's firing was not totally deserved but compared to Ruth he has not been able to demonstrate his tenacity and the full range of his skills, and had also not researched the company.

Bison wanted to know why it was such a crucial weakness not to have done research on the company, its products and structure. Key to applying for any job is a basic understanding of the industry you are entering, a grasp of the company itself, and at least some attempt at reading the "feel" of the business. What is the corporate culture? What is the office environment? How does the company interact with other businesses? What is the management structure and what does this tell us about employee ownership and inclusion in decision-making?

One of the big criticisms I have of the large companies running graduate recruitment schemes is their collective failure to match their external brand of what the company is and does with the internal realities. Equally, I blame educational bodies for their unwillingness to prepare graduates for working life, and the applicants themselves for not thinking about these questions.

Whilst The Apprentice is an elaborate TV programme rather than a traditional graduate scheme, the same rules must apply. Candidates should have spent time getting to grips with the nature and ethos of the company. Sir Alan, and certainly Kemsley, Littner and Tkachuk, have imbued whoever is the winning contestant with a true understanding of how Amstrad and its related companies operate and treat staff.

For that reason, this was an excellent episode that brought out the worst in the candidates and the very best in Sir Alan and his team, and made for illuminating and surprising TV. No wonder it represented a ratings peak and beat the same episode from last year. Hopefully the viewing public and the business community took note of the importance of matching the internal and external realities of the company, and understood that the blend of demonstrating practical skills in "real-life" environments and the kind of stripped-back grillings received by the candidates are the only way to show the mettle of the applicants, and equally reveal to them the harsh realities of working for Sugar.

On which basis, I suspect that Michelle, the dark horse of the series, may canter to victory as Ruth stumbles by the wayside under the pressure. Sugar likes triumph over adversity; Michelle has it in spades whilst Ruth seems to create adversity for herself...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Happy birthday Israel

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel's Independence Day. The little liferaft of democracy and enlightenment has been afloat in an ocean of theocracy, terrorism and feudalism for 58 years, after the bedraggled survivors of the Holocaust and the forgotten Jewish refugees of '48 found their way to a largely barren land.

With nothing but their bare hands, ingenuity, donations from the Diaspora, and the odd grudging assistance from the nations of the world, they built a country that survives daily attempts to destroy it, whether by physical, intellectual, economic, emotional or moral means, and at the hands of so-called Western intellectuals, the "Arab street", the world's liberals and fascists, and even other Jews.

That "little shit of a country", as named by the French ambassador to London, provides you, the world, with your laptop technology, your most advanced medicines and medical devices, your water purification and saving methods, and a mass of more esoteric gifts. You, the world, provide boycotts, anti-Semitism and moral equivalence. Is this what your liberal Hollywood darlings call "Fair Trade"?

I believe in Israel, right or wrong. I say this because I have realised that every country makes its mistakes, chooses from time to time a path of moral ambiguity, has men standing by to do violence so that ordinary people may sleep soundly. Israel has its lapses of judgement, but these must be set in the context of the challenges it faces, and the incredible restraint and care it shows, in absolute and relative terms. But only Israel (and increasingly its alleged puppet, the USA) ends up in the dock - sometimes literally - of world opinion.

How dare you sit in judgement on us? You, who perpetrated the Holocaust. You, who stood by in Rwanda, Biafra, Cambodia, Darfur, Bosnia, Chechnya, Tibet, Timor. You, who equate the responsibility for the death of a child eating falafel with his family in Tel Aviv, and that of a child whose parents send him into the crossfire of a battle between armed men. You, who bred your own citizens to kill you on your own trains, then pandered to their mentors. You, who took weeks to send aid after tsunamis and earthquakes, and allowed it to be frittered, and did not feel discomfited when our assistance was turned back for reasons of politics. You, who wilfully turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism because you place the potential danger to non-Jews above the real danger to Jews.

This is not another piece about a clash of civilizations. I no longer believe that there are civilizations to clash with each other, of the sense in which that phrase was coined. On one side is a puritanical desire to return the world to the Middle Ages through the practise of strictures so extreme and suffocating that it consumes all in its path. On the other side is an individualist, consumerist society which has lost its values, and only finds its voice when its safe, selfish little world is affected by action to improve the lot of others far away.

The neo-fascist barbarity of one, and the self-loathing moral suicide of the other, show two subcultures made mainstream, that are united only in seeking to shy away from responsibility for its circumstances and absolve itself of its sins by scapegoating one or more natural conspiracy targets - and hence in their ultimate desire to destroy the House of David.

Somewhere, subsumed by both cultures, are enlightened leaders and thinkers who are derided by their own countrymen, mocked as puppets of the insidious Jews. Until they gain the high ground of their societies, and pull the wool from the eyes of their compatriots, there is nothing in your future but despair.

So happy birthday Israel, truly a light unto the nations. Even when they prefer to sit in darkness.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A yiddle education

A couple of plugs for some upcoming Jewish events:

A walking tour of the real Stamford Hill is taking place this Sunday (7th) from 11am-1pm. Many London Jews have heard of Stamford Hill but may never have been there. They know it has a large strictly-Orthodox community but not much else. What lies behind the stereotypes and the headlines? What is the make-up of the community? What about its shuls, schools and welfare institutions? How does it interact with the non-Jewish local community?

To discover answers to all these questions, come on a walking tour of Stamford Hill, with the dynamic local Rabbi, Hershel Gluck, Rabbi of Walford Road Synagogue and Chairman Muslim Jewish Forum (hopefully his Muslim Co-Chair will join us for part of the tour). Meet at 20 Fountayne Road, London N16 7DX at 10.45.

This talk is free of charge, and is organised by Zaki Cooper. To book please contact or

Kinloss are hosting an evening of Jewish Medical Dilemmas of the 21st Century on Wednesday 10th May at 8pm. There is no need to book for this event. Entrance is £6 (Kinloss members £5), or free if you mention Freedmanslife and bring your blue Tribe TCM card. Choose any one of these three great lectures to attend:

Prof. A.S. Abraham, M.D., F.R.C.P. Chief of Internal Medicine at the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem. Professor of Medicine at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School.

Rabbi M. Halperin, M.D. Chief Officer of Medical Ethics at Israel’s Ministry of Health and the director of The Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halachic Research, Jerusalem, Israel. He received his Rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Ponivez and is the former Director of the Jerusalem Medical Centre for Impotence and Infertility.

Prof. Avraham Steinberg, M.D. A graduate of the Rabbinic Academy of Yeshivat Harav Kook, Jerusalem. Recipient of the Israel Prize 1999 for his Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics. He is currently the Director of The Centre for Medical Ethics, Hebrew University-Hadassa Medical School Jerusalem.

This event is the precursor to an entire term of KLC, which runs from Tuesday 16th May to Tuesday 13th June. Visit the website or download the complete programme brochure.