Thursday, August 30, 2012

ethics boy

My team at Leeds have accused me in the past of being a bit "definite"on my views regarding the ethics of fundraising. Well, I have a problem. It's not simply my former career. It's my academic training. Unlike most fundraisers (straw poll in a room of fundraisers this morning - not many had any ethics training per se) ethics was very much part of my academic background. It was a fairly major part of my second go at Oxford.

And it wasn't the theory or history or philosophy of ethics that I was any good at. It was the logic, the sense and the dynamism of ethics that fired me. 'If you do 'A' then 'B' will apply. Given that, what should your response be?'

Fundraisers are simply not ethics professionals. Very few possess the ability to think with any kind of ethical complexity. Why should they? That's like saying they aren't veterinary professionals, and can't operate on horses. Except, of course, that the occasions when fundraisers are expected to operate on horses with any degree of success are (in my limited experience) unusual. The occasions when fundraisers are expected to operate with ethical understanding are daily.

So I was interested in the session this morning at CEAC2012 on the ethics of fundraising. It was a very serious and considered review of a terrible situation faced by LSE and a discussion of what happened afterwards.

In that terrible situation, a furore happened because not quite good enough questions were asked which meant that the fundraisers were crucified due to the mistakes of others. Now, on the other side of all the fuss, the fundraisers won't be caught out so easily; there are better firewalls.

I simplify, and that's unfair, but honestly the last thing that seemed to have happened was that anyone was educated ethically. Maybe I missed that bit. What did happen was that processes were set in place so that when people did their job (i.e. get donations from rich people) it clearly wasn't their fault if some of the rich people turned out to be dodgy. Others were given the responsibility for making that call.

I'm being harsh - but I'm being harsh with a purpose.

A question was asked at this conference, right at the start in the fundraising  plenary. If there were qualifications for fundraisers, what would you put in there as essential?

Ethics. I'd make teaching ethics essential.

Here's a basic issue: I wonder how many institutions make first contact with potential donors to their universities by talking about "involvement" and never mention giving? Just how ethical is that?

There's a simpler way of asking that question:

How honest is that? Or try this: How transparent is that?

I'm not going to rehearse arguments here. Please feel free to disagree. Please be offended by me. But be offended by me because you have a well thought out ethical understanding that has a good response to the things I have questioned. And if you do - as a fundraiser I am going to posit that you are in a minority. Which is a shame. A shame on our profession.

I was naughty in the session I attended, and I didn't get the opportunity to apologise to the speaker, who did a great job at talking us through what had clearly been a terrible time for her & her team. I was naughty because I asked a question which cheaply pointed out that there was ethical work still to be done.

It remains.

For the head of that department to put a slide up at a conference with a recommendation that we should 'use the ethics thing to embed our work deeper into our institutions' demonstrated that there is a lot of work to be done to help fundraising professionals truly understand ethical issues. I say that again not to belittle a situation but to demonstrate that process is not understanding. That department in that university went through hell; their process in dealing with the same situation is now much better. The ethical understanding of individuals is - well, I have no idea. But at no point were we told - everyone was sent on a professional ethics course. Everyone was educated. Everyone understands more.

The university where I'm employed is doing enormous work on professional ethics. CASE Europe might well turn to the guys at Leeds and ask for some input. It's not just bankers and geneticists who need that help.

What can I say? I'll get off my soap box.

Those of you who know me well know that at heart I'll always be an ethics boy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

awkward friends

I'm here at the CASE2012 conference in Birmingham - a gathering of over a thousand people involved in fundraising in higher education and its related concerns.

I came last year, when I'd just started at Leeds, and when I felt like I had no idea what I was doing in my new career. Now that I'm fairly confident I can fool some of the people all of the time, it's great to be back - to listen, to learn, to meet others involved in the trade.

The conference kicked off with a plenary session at which Mark Damazer, former head of Radio 4 and now Master of St Peter's Oxford, spoke. His main theme was the necessity for creativity in what we do, a creativity which can appear messy but which produces vital results.

However, during his address he said something which has been rattling around my mind all afternoon & through the evening. I've been listening to others, chatting with people, consuming wine & sociably munching nibbles - and this has been churning away within me.

Mark made a point about how the value of an academic subject was not simply economic. There is still a point to studying the purely esoteric - for example mediaeval history - even if it doesn't add to UK plc's bottom line.

His example is what has made my mind whir away all day.

My undergraduate college at Oxford was Merton. But for my mediaeval history, I was tutored at - you've guessed it - St Peter's. I'm pretty sure my old tutor Henry Mayr-Harting still haunts the corridors there.

And I would want to suggest in the strongest terms that mediaeval history - any history - is not an esoteric pleasure to be indulged in by academic Byronists, but is as necessary to the effective running of UK plc as any more obviously mechanical subject that one might care to mention. Listen, this is what happens when there is no history taught:

Someone makes it up.

Throughout history, tyrants in need of quick legitimacy have simply resorted to burning the past, sacking the history teachers, and employing new creatives to re-write something more palatable instead. Long dead Persians, popes and protestant Tudors, as well as proper evil men of the political left and right in the all too recent past - all of them knew that if no-one really knows what actually happened, propaganda wins.

Propaganda should never win. Historians are the awkward friends of freedom.

History is not an esoteric subject that is allowed to remain in the syllabus out of nostalgia; it is a social necessity. Unless freedom, perspective, honesty, understanding, morality, and careful restraint on those who would condemn us to cheap future slaveries are all things we hold lightly, things for which UK plc  has now no nor ever will possess any need.

Memory, and the nuance it gives to society, has a very real economic value. And a very much greater societal worth. Without it, you might teach all the physics you like but the physicists with any creativity get locked up. You can teach all the maths you like - except you won't, for fear that someone will eventually realise that when the state teaches that 2+2=7, there is a basic logical flaw.

It's not Mark's argument with which I disagree. Good argument. Badly made. Mediaeval history - any history - is at the core of the wellbeing of a free state. Without it, the loudest voice gets to set the framework for all of our lives. With it, truth quietly wins.

That's not esoteric. It's essential.

Monday, August 27, 2012

rattle and hum

I read this review of a new recording by Sir Simon Rattle & the Berlin Philharmonic of Bizet's Carmen the other day; with a weekend of driving ahead of me, and noticing that it was available on iTunes at the bargain price of £10, I downloaded it to my Mac & then onto my iPhone ready for the journey.

(I was travelling to the wedding of good friends - what could be better than a cautionary tale of falling for the wrong woman, betrayal, lust & murder, all set to some of the best tunes known to humanity?)

There are a fair number of great recordings of Carmen around. Three things sell this one: at £10 on iTunes it's a budget price for a brand new recording with star performers. The EMI acoustic is what you'd expect - lots of 'bloom', but also some real detail, and actually I found it worked especially well in the car (better than on my home system, strangely). Second, Jonas Kaufmann is simply superb. His baritonal tenor at times feels deeper than you know the part actually is, and then he reaches up and thrills you with some glorious top register notes. Fantastic, grin-inducing singing. I've never seen Kaufmann 'live'; clearly I've missed out. I love the Alagna recording (always at his best in French), but Kaufmann is right up there with him. Finally, and this is the real winner, Rattle & the Berlin Philharmonic are stunning. I'm not always a fan of symphony orchestras pretending to be pit bands. They usually have the wrong sound for opera. But this works. Big time. From start to finish - perhaps especially the finish; Act Four is wonderful.

I enjoyed the current Lady Rattle as Carmen. Some of the reviews are a bit sniffy; different people want different things I guess. For me, Carmen will always sound in my mind's ear like Julia Migenes, and I guess we all come expecting certain moments to sound in certain ways. It's that kind of opera. Magdalena Kozena for me didn't always maintain the passion level - though much of the time I was totally sold. The Micaela of Genia Kuehmeier is constantly beautiful, and again I see why some of the reviews particularly pick her out for praise.  

Driving from Leeds to Kendal, and then back, I had a great time following the tragedy as it unfolded. I thoroughly commend this recording to you. There are other great recordings of this work out there, but this should disappoint very few. The CD is more expensive than the download. But if you don't own a Carmen - this is not a bad place to start.

(And as for the wedding I attended - it went very well, and unlike the Opera, there was lots of dancing but no-one was murdered as far as I could see!)

Just a final note: as I downloaded it onto the Mac first, when it copied onto the iPhone, it made a mess of it & didn't separate into different CDs, so the track listings got confused & mixed the Acts up. This is not good for an opera recording. Or any classical recording. I sorted this by creating playlists from my Mac. If there's another way of avoiding this, I'd be happy to receive tips!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

home coming

The problem with going away is coming home.

I used to have a rush of Springer Spaniel love hit me as I entered the door. Smiles & wags & sheer joy to greet me wherever I had been, however long my absence. As Matt grew older, he didn't always hear me come in. Sometimes I could get in, get my coat off, sort myself out & creep upstairs to find him still asleep on the bed. But then he'd wake. And the pleasure would hit, and the joy take root, and I'd truly be home.

A couple of weeks ago I caught myself looking for him as I came home. I realised I was actually searching for him. It's been more than two months since he died.

Without question last week I had three great days at the Olympics; and then I came home. I think the Friday evening at the Olympic stadium will stay in my mind as one of the greatest things I have ever done. The warmth of the evening air, the occasional breeze, the noise of the crowd, the excitement of the races, the disappointment of Team GB's relay squad being disqualified, the sight of the pole vaulters defying gravity.

And then the home coming. Silence. Emptiness.

When I am home, I miss Matt. But sometimes I am beginning to get used to how life now is. And then there are moments when the sadness, the grief simply bites hard. Opening that door and stepping in alone is one of them.

I am grateful for the gift of having had Matt. I guess the play of emotion through these days will just roll on. I miss him. Moments magnify that. My dear friend, my shadow, my companion, my beloved dog. My heart.  

public service broadcasting

I'm hardly alone in making this comment, but still I want to make it: The BBC's coverage of the Olympics was astounding.

I watched their coverage on my iPhone, on my Mac, on my works PC, on my TV, and I listened on various radios analogue & digital too. I read reports & followed the medals table on their website.


They promised that we wouldn't miss a moment. And with BBC 1 and BBC 3 exclusively devoted to the Olympics for the duratuion, and with twenty four HD channels broadcasting live from every venue, they kept their promise. Red button access, or specific channels on Sky, meant that everything was easy. It's claimed that 90% of the UK population watched something. Over 50% of us were watching regularly.

Did commercial TV bother broadcasting during the last two weeks? I didn't notice. I'm not sure anybody did.

Clive James in the Telegraph was a little sniffy at the use of language employed by some of the BBC's TV presenters. Almost a fair point; in the context of the technical brilliance we were being shown, I will forgive pretty much anything.

This is how digital broadcasting works. And add to it social media commenting on everything, with everyone joining in - this was a quiet and quietly thorough revolution.

Astounding. And all without an advert or a sponsor coming anywhere near it. Why do we pay a universal TV license fee in this country? So we can show the world how to do this kind of thing, and so we can lead the way. Our US friends could only dream of having what we have just seen. They could only dream of it. I'm not sure that, on reading this, they can even begin to imagine what we have just enjoyed. And in our own context - it just knocked Sky Sports out of the park. They have great multi-platform opportunities, but for limited audiences and with pay-walls and advertising. This far surpassed their limitations. 

Hats off. And please - more sport on the BBC, and done like this. Bring back Grandstand! And FIFA, this is why you give a major competition to a major country. Everyone owns it. A World Cup in Qatar? Really? After this?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

a walk in the park

So I went for a walk in the park. The 2012 Olympics Park.

My perseverance finally paid off & I got my athletics tickets; one for this morning's session; one for Friday night. I headed off on the early train & arrived in London in time for breakfast.

I am so impressed by the whole deal. The park is wonderful. The organisation perfect. Travelling across to the site was flawless. Everyone was helpful and everything was easy.

The park is amazing. People from all over the world - but mostly, overwhelming Team GB support. Even at lunchtime, when the park was fullest, there was good humour and ease of movement, and the whole place was fantastic. And huge.

This morning was a series of heats; Phillis Idowu was the big hope in the triple jump, but he was off form, and it seems he needs an operation. He jumped right in front of where I was sitting. He was never quite at the games. 

Which was not the case with Usain Bolt (he's sitting on the number 5 in the photo). I watched him in the 200m heat and knew I had seen an Olympian. He is a giant amongst men. Literally - he stands so much taller than the other sprinters. And when he ran, he loped into the lead and then ambled to victory. It was incredible. 20 of the most exciting seconds I have ever seen. 

I was there. I have been to the Olympics. I sat at London 2012 in Olympic park, in the stadium. I saw Usain Bolt. 

And then, as I left, there was a sudden flurry & a crowd, and someone shouted, "Boris!" And there was the Mayor of London. There was a cameraman, a reporter, and he was wandering through the crowds on his way in. Not a security person in sight. I wandered into his path, took a photo & shook his hand. 

It was a walk in the park. It was a pleasure. It was a dream. It was the Olympics. It was fantastic.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

the greatest show on earth

The greatest show on earth.

It is summer in Britain at last, and the weather is even joining in - pretty much. When it rains now, it rains gold. Perfect strangers smile at each other. Slogans sound like wisdom - and they aren't advertising anything, they are inspiring a generation.

Andy Murray has beaten Federer in a final at Wimbledon. Ben Ainslie is the greatest sailor in Olympic history. Jess Ennis is not just the face of the Olympics, she is its heart. And Bradley Wiggins lounged on a throne at Hampton Court having won everything he could.

British gymnasts have won medals.

British people have discovered the opposite of cynicism.

The Royal Triumvirate has been everywhere; William, Kate & Harry have clearly been the reason why so many have struggled to get tickets... But it has been sensational to see their wide-eyed and enthusiastic support mirroring our own from the sofa.

There's a saying that we do well at sports where we sit down - rowing, sailing, cycling. Swimming kind of counts, because basically they are lying down in water. But what about tennis? The heptathlon? The 10,000 metres? The long jump?

Or the organisation of a phenomenal international event?

If Lord Coe could be given some kind of new honour, it should be delivered post-haste, wrapped up in gold paper, with all of us carrying it after we've all signed the thank-you note.

Congrats to all. Congrats to every participant. Every winner. Everybody who has helped and volunteered and simply been there. I've been at one Team GB football match so far. I have tickets for the athletics at the Olympic Stadium twice this week, and at Wembley for the football final. Once in a lifetime. Transforming and defining a nation.

The greatest show on earth.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Isles of Wonder: God, Great Britain and Glory

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak'd,

I cried to dream again. 

How to encapsulate a nation? What to choose, what to omit? 

I was certainly ready to be thrilled as I sat down with friends on Friday. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is one of my all time favourite films, and I had no doubt his Olympic opening ceremony would challenge, entertain and amaze. I had no idea that he would provide a near-perfect reflection to the nation in which we live. He wouldn't show everything; but in his choices, he would find what matters.

The pre-ceremony show ended with Nimrod, the crowd providing the ocean around the central island, a protective blanket around an emotional paradise. And then...

A lone chorister (Carols from King's, anyone?) began Blake's Jerusalem. It's easy to be sniffy about Jerusalem. Pure nationalistic bombast. Religiously questionable. Yet here was a single voice, echoing one of our greatest annual Christian occasions offering words which with sweet melancholy question the idyll set before us - was such a scene ever real? We dream of such days, but were they ever so? And we found ourselves not in the theatre, but in liturgy, public worship in an open air cathedral. 

Hello world. This is Britain. We look at our glorious past and feel some loss. The past we so often proclaim might ever really have been what we thought it was. And the only way we can make sense of such a thing is to worship. We may not be the most Christian country. Yet we come back to this place.

The British don't go to church; but every census says we believe. From the earliest age, it's different and the same wherever we come from - as we saw in the children's choirs singing around the country, before the choir in the stadium pulled us back with Jerusalem's second verse. Whatever the past, whatever the mess of today - we will strive to do better, and this striving makes most sense in God's presence.

And then it falls apart. The hopeful dream is split apart by the greed and the marvel of invention. A classless society (which never was) becomes split by masters and slaves. Protest is born. Beijing stamped down on protest - it was invisible. London celebrated protest. It is our voice. 

It is human, it is divine to protest the breaking of the world. It is human, it is divine to celebrate the mending of the world. 

Redemption is the healing of past hurts. 

So the industrialisation that spoiled the fields led to the creation of new hopes - the five rings showering down light, bringing people together. Brunel invented the steamships that crossed the Atlantic; we had the Windrush come back, bringing people home from the other side of the Empire which Brunel's work helped establish. Ultimately, technology was turned into a gift not to separate but to unify, with Tim Berners-Lee and the Web and "This is for everyone" lighting up the arena. But healing hurts is also for everyone - so kindness and health and imagination and the NHS and children were all brought together with amazing energy. The fear of brokenness starts young; the celebration of healing that, and the determination to get there never ends. 

All of this was never allowed to feel preachy - because like the best sermons, it was filled with a delicious self-depricating humour. Rowan Atkinson pricked the balloon of "Chariots de feu". Bradley Wiggins was simply Bradley Wiggins. Paul McCartney was out of time on a song he's only had forty years to get right. And, in the greatest TV moment ever, the Queen turned around from her desk at Buckingham Palace and said, "Good evening, Mr Bond," before apparently jumping out of a helicopter. 

Welcome to Britain. We have a past. We have a present. They are not perfect. We'll laugh at ourselves along the way, because we deserve it. We'll protest, and do it in our leaders' faces (the Sex Pistols being played in HMQ's presence? Twice? Two Jubilees ago they were banned!) and do it together so that past hurts get healed and everyone gets to play.

And first and last, we do this as a nation that holds its seminal moments in the presence of God. 

At the start, a lone chorister. At the end Emeli Sande hymning those who have gone before. A beautiful dance group. And Henry Francis Lyte's Abide with Me, written three weeks before he died, sung in its entirety, pointing us to the skies. 

There are questions. There are uncertainties. But there are essential British values that fire through us along the way. And we celebrate who we are with passion, with thousands of ordinary people, with boundless creativity, with stunning music, with a smile and a tear, with pride and humility, with Christian faith suffusing the whole thing on and under the surface.

This is the Britain I love. 

Then we welcomed the world, marching behind their flags. And seven anonymous children received torches from seven stars and the flames of the nations united to become a fire of peace. Our nation is for everyone; society that at its best builds on the shoulders of giants and cherishes children.

O yes, I cried to dream again.