Silly season starts

Several signs denoting the arrival of the annual silly season have appeared recently in the media. This morning the Today programme used a change in the design of the ten pound note to spark a discussion (RealOne Player required) about the superiority of science over the arts.

Charles Darwin on the ten pound noteThe old ten pound note with a picture of Charles Dickens on the back is being replaced by one with a portrait of Charles Darwin. After briefly debating the relative merits of Dickens versus Darwin, the host asked one of her distinguished guests what the two men had in common: they were direct contemporaries, belonged to the same London club, and apparently suffered from a chronic “digestive complaint”.

I knew the silly season had begun when the guest quickly added: “I think flatulence was terribly popular in Victorian times”.

Do we need nature?

There’s less than a month left in which to write the next award-winning essay in the Shell Economist Writing Prize. If you are not familiar with the competition, the winning entries from previous years have been impressive. A Ramble to Africa (Adobe Acrobat Reader required), which addressed the question Going faster, but where? in 2001, was particularly memorable.

This year’s topic is Do we need nature? and a quick search of Daypop reveals that a couple of weblogs have already discussed it. For an analysis of the strategic options available to aspiring authors see
Secretly Ironic: Do we need nature. For a less than rigorous debate featuring some serious cynics see
MetaFilter for June 19, 2003.

So hurry up and get writing. You could win $20,000 US.

Pathological business studies

Sumantra Ghoshal is a professor of strategy and international management at London Business School. Last week an article that he wrote was published in the Financial Times. It was titled Business schools share the blame for Enron (subscription required). It was an interesting critique of business education, and it occurred to me that his conclusion could form the basis of an excellent final exam question for MBA students:

“By incorporating negative and highly pessimistic assumptions about people and institutions, pseudo-scientific theories of management have done much to reinforce, if not create, pathological behaviour on the part of managers and companies.”


Green all year, no mosquitos reports that American immigration to Canada may be increasing (see Life | Discontented Americans consider Canada).

It’s amazing how irrational human beings can be. Most cite Canada’s health care system as a positive reason for immigrating, and yet until recently hospitals in Toronto were one of the best places in the world to catch SARS. Others like Canada’s gun control laws, and yet in recent months Canadians have been up in arms (excuse the pun) about the country’s exceedingly expensive gun control registry. One Minnesotan even wants to go for the Canadian climate! She dreamily described Vancouver as “Green all year, no mosquitos“.

Given that more Canadians continue to move to America each year than vice versa, I guess the grass really is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Signs of intelligent life

On the weekend the Financial Times magazine published an article on the increasing popularity of the BBC in the United States (see Trust me, I’m British). Apparently, the BBC is now the main source of international news for PBS, and one of BBC America’s producers is quoted as saying “What the Americans really value from us is the broader agenda”.

I can well believe that statement given Elizabeth Lane Lawley’s amusing post titled why I don’t watch the news. The fact that there are still signs of intelligent life in the British mainstream media is one of the reasons I like living in the UK.

Hidden agenda

The weapons expert accused by the Ministry of Defence as being the source of the “dodgy dossier” story has gone missing (see MoD expert goes missing). This development is worthy of a thriller. In fact, it reminds me of an excellent film directed by Ken Loach called Hidden Agenda. You could be forgiven for thinking that an apt title for current events.

Update: the BBC is now reporting that a body has been found.

Crisis? What crisis?

Several years ago the Economist published an interesting series of articles about crisis management. More recently the magazine suggested that it was important for any business in a crisis “to act fast, tell the whole truth and look as if you have nothing to hide” (see Bad for you). So it’s been interesting to watch the self-imposed crisis at the Franklin Mint that has been brewing since last November and developed rapidly during the last 72 hours.

The Franklin Mint, which sells “collectibles” including several Princess Diana dolls, is suing the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund for “malicious prosecution”, accusing the charity of having “acted in bad faith” when it initially sued the Franklin Mint for the rights to Princess Diana’s image in the late 1990s. The charity lost that case and was required to pay all the legal fees. The Franklin Mint subsequently decided it wanted revenge, and filed suit last November. This week the charity froze all grants to its beneficiaries citing the Franklin Mint’s lawsuit as the reason.

The initial reaction in the press was that the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is in crisis, but in fact I think the Franklin Mint has more to lose from this unnecessary and wasteful dispute. The charity and its beneficiaries may suffer in the short-term, particularly if the Franklin Mint wins its case, but it’s unlikely that they will be affected permanently. The social problems that they address combined with the public’s collective memory of Princess Diana, will ensure that her favourite causes continue to receive help.

The Franklin Mint on the other hand is playing with fire. The media have cast them as the aggressor in this story, with Princess Diana’s favourite causes as the victims. Can you imagine the dilemma some of the Franklin Mint’s customers now face? Do they boycott Diana dolls in order to support her memorial fund, or do they continue to feed their collecting habit but possibly harm her charitable legacy in the process? That’s a tough call; either way the doll collectors can’t help but feel unhappy, and they may well hold the Franklin Mint responsible.

What was the Franklin Mint’s management thinking by taking on the ghost of a martyred royal celebrity? How could they possibly hope to win?

For more on this story see:

The irony is that the Franklin Mint is suing for “malicious prosecution”, but what other kind is there? Can you sue someone out of “good faith”?

Canada, the 51st state

Some people claim that Canada becomes more like the United States every day, but the Washington Post published an article on Canada Day that argues against that trend: Whoa! Canada!
Legal Marijuana. Gay Marriage. Peace. What the Heck’s Going On Up North, Eh?

It refers to a best-selling Canadian book titled Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values which includes a New Yorker cartoon showing a man and woman enjoying drinks before dinner. The man says, “You seem familiar, yet somehow strange — are you by any chance Canadian?”

For more on the reaction to this book see The Christian Science Monitor and The Nation.

Arts news

Anyone interested in the Arts should be reading at least weekly. The New York Times has published an article (see Conversing on the Arts by Clicking a Mouse) about its editor and founder, Douglas McLennan (a Canadian now living in Seattle), who recently wrote an interesting article on the perceived decline in cultural importance of classical music (see Requiem).

Also interesting is The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences by Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling in the Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology
, June 2003, Volume 84, Number 6. Unfortunately, it’s not online, so you can only read about the research in The Age: You probably think this song is about you ….

Of course the idea that your taste in music can reveal your personality is the premise behind Desert Island Discs.