Free Friday: Information Overload & A Compassion Transplant

Free Friday: Information Overload & A Compassion Transplant
May 1, 2020 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week, as chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes:

Once again we’ve had plenty of informed and varied discussion on the subject that has changed the world – but we’ve had plenty of new football content on the site this past week too.

Here are some comments we’ve picked out:

1 – Tony McKenna, replying to Mike H, on  information overload on Coronavirus:

Really enjoyed reading your Post, Mike. It epitomises the wide context of dilemma as we are constantly blitzed with stats, figures, numbers and facts, on a daily basis.

Amidst the information swirl, I feel that I know only that I have had access to both correct information and incorrect information. The problem is that, due to the overload, it is now becoming difficult to discern which is which.

The fear is that people will base their own strategy on misinformation. This has already had the most tragic of outcomes and in the most bizarre of circumstances. Trump’s ill utterance of ‘bleach prescriptions’ (my phrase), compares with the blood-sucking leeches applied by quacks during 14th Century treatments for the bubonic plague. If Trump has achieved anything, it is the ability to travel back in time. Regrettably, some people had followed the buffoon’s advice.

If disbelief ensues, we must remember that society consists of many vulnerable people, and those whose mental health is currently subject to unprecedented strain and impact. And we all, to a large extent, rely on people whom we credit with superior knowledge bases in subject areas we know little about. Or maybe nothing at all. Experts and scientists become the gods from whom we seek enlightenment and guidance. But even they can be wrong.

Government policy can be prey to the same outcome. I mentioned Sweden being featured as an item on Newsnight last week. The strategy in this country seems radical and unique. But it is based on what their scientists are saying. Yet it leaves you with the overall impression that, all said and done, it is a huge gamble without guarantee. And the cost is ultimately, human lives.

By the same token, our own Government is at the whim of scientific advice. Like ourselves, politicians are reliant on those schooled in a field of study beyond their scope. And scientists have been clear that they provide the information. But the interpretation, and subsequent strategy will be the domain of the politicians. That is a huge concern in itself. More so when scientists can contradict one another.

Neither can I forget that, from the outset, Boris and Trump were downplaying the potential of the virus. Who the hell was advising them then? If anyone.

2 –  Bob Pearce on the Government’s lack of empathy and compassion, in the wake of a BBC Panorama programme about the Government’s treatment of the NHS:

My life experience has taught me to assume that there will be a place in which a person’s apparently ‘bizarre’ behaviour made sense, however incomprehensible it seemed to others. I’ve tried to do this with the behaviour of this government in this crisis.

Once power was just inherited. Then we tried using meritocracy. Loyalty is everything today. To remain loyal to Johnson, someone needs to have the capacity to disregard the consequences of their actions (like snatching a phone with a picture of a suffering child and hiding it in your pocket). A lack of empathy will be top of the person specification for his cabinet.

If this profile fits, we would be foolish to expect to see compassion and care in such people. Why would they behave any differently? Their ‘heartless’ personality has got them where they are today. While they may ‘get’ that people feel upset about their actions, they can only feel sorry that people let themselves get upset, rather than be sorry for their own actions.

We can’t expect the person behind their eyes to go away and be replaced by somebody who cares. Unless Johnson had a compassion transplant while he was in hospital, he will not have changed, meaning the loyal people around him will remain there, continuing to see a human catastrophe and have no capacity to feel compassion, and unable to feel remorse. Can you picture any cabinet minister being kept awake at night worrying about their failings? Surely, if that was happening, their conscience would have had their resignation letter ready for signing in the morning. We should not expect words and actions from such people that they are incapable of. This is what these people do, and have been very successful doing.

Much of this could be said for Trump too. Maximum loyalty plus zero empathy.

3  – Tony McKenna again, this time about Gary Neville’s barely disguised reasons for calling for the season to be halted:

Don’t think that it is just you, Sheriff. Or, at least, I am of the same observations. I have been well pissed off with Neville’s constant whining.

Simply because, despite his verbal, seemingly health conscious espousing, I detect that his subconscious is not wanting Liverpool to win the title. For most of the season, he has been resenting Liverpool closing down on United’s 20 title wins; and the fact that we possibly look set to exceed this over the coming years.

Here’s the spin. Why has he no other creative alternative suggestions? For example, finish this season when possible and forget next season. Neville’s view has been replicated by Luke Shaw, Ferdinand and Schmeichel. Too pat.

There is also too much of this suspected false sense, as with Karren Brady, that a reprieve may see their respective fortunes fare better as another season starts.

What if they did end the season and they honoured standings as they currently are? Liverpool win the title. And we can all tell Gary Neville: you know what, lad? You were fucking right. Way too risky to have restarted the season.

4 – Bob Pearce’s Boris Q & A:

‘The Prime Minister is doing everything he can to fight the pandemic’

  ‘What about providing PPE for frontline staff?’

‘Yeah, that’s something he hasn’t done.’

  ‘What about testing and tracing?’

‘Ok, he’s struggled with that.’

  ‘What about attending COBRA meetings?’

‘Fair enough, he did skip most of those.’

  ‘What about working weekends?’

‘Well, we all like our weekends, don’t we.’

  ‘What about learning the lessons from other countries?’

‘Well of course he could have learned lessons from other countries. But, apart from providing PPE, testing and tracing, attending meetings, working weekends, and learning from other countries, the Prime Minister is doing everything he can to fight the pandemic.’

5 – Mekokrasum responded to an thought-provoking debate about the government’s reaction:

Jennifer, whilst you are quite correct that the UK approach to the novel coronavirus outbreak was laissez-faire to be polite, the actual data available is rather difficult to interpret bearing in mind how inaccurate it is Worldwide. The WHO has acknowledged that maybe 2-3% of the World population has antibodies to COVID-19 which implies that they have been exposed and that most people have survived it without any serious sequelae yet… That is an awful lot of people i.e. possibly around 200 million coronavirus infections Worldwide with a mortality of only 234,000 deaths, albeit that latter figure is still a large underestimate due to the low rates of testing! This disease is rather deadly but is nowhere near as lethal (so far) as the media have portrayed it to be. I have pointed out previously that in Italy, in a very bad influenza season they have experienced 20,000 ‘flu deaths and that is despite there being an established vaccine and the disease not being a new, unknown entity.

We need to acknowledge that the Chinese essentially lied about the nature of the outbreak in Wuhan city and were economical about the clinical conditions which had occurred in the wider Hubei province. We actually cannot be certain about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and the accepted notion of a zoonotic transmission via traditional wet-markets is rather convenient but not definitively proven this time around.

The reasons for the relatively high mortality in European countries apart from Germany are multifactorial and much more complex than immediately apparent. One needs to factor in the following: the population density, population demographics, the ethnic heterogeneity, the relative latitude of countries, the relative time of the seasonal year which affects climatic conditions, healthcare expenditure, the paucity or fecundity of national statistics, the clinical coding methods, the different strains of the coronavirus(how many are there and where?) and also the political and cultural norms present in different countries. It is too simplistic to look at OECD or European countries and just compare their mortality rates and then draw conclusions however much we despise Johnson and his sybaritic cronies.

Germany, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands in particular are densely populated countries with a similar climate and latitude. Holland and Belgium have a more urbanised population so packed into tighter spaces; similar to London and the south of England. The natural capacity for ‘social distancing’ even before the coronavirus outbreak was more limited than in Germany. The Germans are clearly outliers (as usual) and should be applauded for their very aggressive and efficient testing programme and contact tracing which started months ahead of their neighbours. Sweden is not a densely populated country, is highly urbanised but still quite ‘young’ for Europeans, like the UK. However, their number of cases and the deaths are comparable to Holland and the Republic of Ireland despite them spending more on healthcare as a percentage of GDP. The Swedes eschewed aggressive testing and were not that bothered about a ‘lockdown’. Compared to their Scandanavian peers their performance has been shocking and they quite rightly ought to have a second and third look at their overall strategy… Clearly the number of deaths/million of population in Spain, Italy and France are higher than in the UK at this moment and far higher than Germany despite all having mature, well developed health systems. Their populations are relatively old in World terms but all younger than Germany’s. There is something more complex at play going on which is yet to be determined. It is probably more than Germany being better than the rest of us. The high susceptibility of people with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease to this new virus has put people of a non-caucasian background at a substantial disadvantage. This group of people known as BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) seem to particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and death.

There are unknown reasons for this some of which may include socio-economic disadvantage e.g. more crowded living conditions, multi-generational households, longer working hours, front-line exposure to COVID-19, lack of appropriate PPE, poorer overall health status, genetic variation, low Vitamin D3 levels and less assertive behaviours i.e. a ‘willingness’ to be exploited by employers. The UK has, despite the relative youth of the population a high proportion of BAME citizens who have contributed disproportionately to the mortality figures. Another argument in ‘defence’ of the UK’s abject mortality figures is that the NHS – a wholly publicly funded health system has kept a disproportionate number of elderly people alive who would otherwise have passed away a decade ago. Many of these frailer elders have cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia which might well be significant risk factors for death. This new virus has simply selected out those individuals who have been unfortunate..? I certainly do not have any data to show what the comparable rates of frail elders with extensive cardiovascular co-morbidity are in the rest of Europe but we do know that Southern Europeans (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Italy) who do survive to old age have been known to be “healthier” as a result of their ‘Mediterranean diet’, lifestyle and the better, sunnier climate. This has been shown to correlate with higher Vitamin D3 levels. Insufficient Vitamin D levels are associated with a greater risk of respiratory infections including Pneumonia.

We are a long way off from knowing what this disease entity really is, what the natural history is of the conditions that it causes and whether humans develop lasting immunity once infected. We genuinely do not know the true mortality rate as we are still in the midst of the pandemic although the figures seem to be improving everywhere. The Ro – transmission rate has been reduced dramatically but is likely to go back up, even with good contact tracing and efficient testing if countries exit ‘lockdown’. New Zealand is an island with a low population so if they open up their economy it may still be difficult even for them to have such impressive figures especially as they enter the ‘winter’ period. The near universal shut down of the World has created an artificial buffer to health system stress and the gradual easing of restrictions will inevitably lead to a slow increase in coronavirus infections and subsequent COVID-19 deaths until a miracle treatment is discovered or a stable, viable vaccine is developed. We could be just six months away from a working vaccine but it may take a lot longer than this.

We may have a relatively simple and effective ‘cure’ on the horizon but it needs to undergo controlled trials. See link (should be free for the time being)

Stay safe and look after yourselves.

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Friday 24th April:

Who Needs Football When There’s Music? A Break From The Madness of Must-Win Weeklyby Paul Tomkins.

I still listen to a lot of new music, but until recently I tended to pick at the bones of a new album by creating an 80-minute playlist each month, which would go onto a CD for the car (my car still only has a CD player), and onto my phone for other times. My rules, for 20 years, have been that there cannot be two tracks from the same artist, and I try to sequence them so that they flow together. (Pretty much the same as when I started making mixtapes in 1990, although I would sometimes include multiple tracks by the same band.)

It has to be new music, or music that is new to me. 

(I still make tons of compilations and playlists of my favourite bands, my favourite years for music, best songs from each decade, and so on; and I have a “great songs” playlist that is over 3,000 songs strong, despite limiting the inclusions to just a few per artist.)

I may find that a new album yields five good-to-great tracks, so that makes for five months of listening to songs from that album via my own compilation CDs and playlists, but rarely do I listen to whole albums anymore. 

I still try, but find myself losing interest. Sometimes I’ll find I increasingly love the songs I’ve picked for my own compilations and then go back to the whole album, but then it can become unbalanced as a listen, as I know half the album incredibly well and the other half still isn’t immediately grabbing me. (This is also due to the way new albums are released on iTunes, and presumably Spotify – often a song at a time, for several months before the full album is released. In the old days you may get five singles from an album, but four would be released after the album – not before.)

Monday April 27th:

Matches That Meant Most To Me – No. 4by Jonathan Naylor.

My 2nd trip to Anfield finally resulted in me seeing Liverpool in the flesh, after 11+ years of supporting them.

I remember the vividness of the green pitch as I clambered onto the Kop and thinking Anfield was much smaller than I expected. I would like to say it was a hugely emotional moment but not really. I was with a group of relatively new university friends, so I played it a bit cool. Although in retrospect it was a key game (our opponents, Villa, finished second behind us that year), it didn’t have the feel of a title decider.

Barnes went off injured in the first half (replaced by Nicky Tanner, don’t complain about current squad depth). Liverpool came from behind to grab a draw. Peter Beardsley got the equaliser in front of the Kop, with just over an hour played. A clever finish steered through a crowded penalty box.

Later that season I saw us win the title against QPR. My main claim to fame as a supporter is that I was literally the first person in the queue for the Kop for the trophy presentation against Derby a few days later – which of course is the last time we have lifted the league title until, hopefully, this season.

Tuesday April 28th:

Blowing Bubbles On Football’s Wall Street – Part Twoby Tony Mckenna.

Fan-bases are not an ill-informed Shakespearian mob, hell-bent on plebeian protest, when espying financial and immoral shortcomings within their respective clubs. They know a bit about football finance. But still they may not see the whole, for one simple reason: football financial statements are not a tell-all story of a club’s financial health.

There are two important appraisals of football accounts, both published in 2014, that every fan should read: Accounting and Disclosure of Football Player Registrations: Do they present a true and fair view of the financial statement? (Bengtsson/Wallstrom); and Financial Fair Play – Implications for Football Club Financial Reporting (Morrow).

The first of these based its study on the following football clubs: Juventus; Porto; Borussia Dortmund; Arsenal and Manchester United. The objective was exactly as it says: to evaluate accounting procedures of player registration and to determine if they manifest a true picture of club finances.

Not that the authors had selectively orientated themselves for their own curiosity, but rather because that this is a pre-requisite of of IAS (International Accounting Standards), as regulated by the IASB (International Accounting Standards Board).

The bottom line is: if financial statements fall short of a fair view, then they are not useful tools to inform economic decision making on behalf of investors.

Overall, Juventus and Porto come out on top, simply because the findings suggest that both clubs facilitate comprehensive and ample opportunity for investors to do just this. Dortmund and two of the Premier League top six, however, do not fare so well.

“On the other hand, a low level of disclosure by clubs such as Arsenal FC, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund leaves too many unanswered questions”.

Thursday April 29th:

The Match That Meant The Most To Me by Dave Duffday

Borussia Moenchengladbach, Rome, May 25th 1977.

After the now legendary quarter final against St Etienne, the 1977 European Cup semi-final against Zurich was quite the anti-climax. It was only after the game that the full realisation of what was about to happen hit home.

We were, “On our way to Roma, on the 25th of May.”

How many of you oldies just sang the rest of that little ditty in your head?

I’d just been made redundant, I was skint and on the dole, but there wasn’t anything on this fucking Earth going to stop me getting to Rome.

I’d recently moved to Huddersfield from Liverpool and it wasn’t long before I got to know a few of the Yorkshire reds. It was they who told me that for forty quid, a ticket and a bus ride to Rome could be had from the Unicorn Pub, in the town centre.

It was beg, steal and borrow time.

I managed to find the money, £10 of it coming from my dear old mum’s “other purse”. You know, the one my dad never knew existed.

It’s at this point, I should explain, that I was married and shacked up at the in-laws’ house in Huddersfield. They made it quite clear that going to Rome would be more than frowned upon, having been made redundant and such.

And so, on Sunday 22nd May, I was granted permission to go for a dinner time bevvy with the lads down at The Unicorn, the ones who were lucky enough to be going to the Final. Guessing the reaction I’d get from the in-laws, I’d given my mate, Tommy, my bag and my ticket on the Friday night. Sly and shocking, I know, but this was the European Cup Final.

The Return of the TTT Podcast

Topics include:

  • Microphone masturbation
  • The Voice of Doom
  • Calderdale recycling policy and pyromaniacs
  • Only Connect Championship memories and Beez’s claim for Sports Personality of the Year
  • The Future of football clubs and the huge hit on their finances
  • TTT’s best album lists