Belgium win World Cup

worldcupI tipped Belgium to win the World Cup before the Finals began. Should they win against France in the semis, having decisively outplayed Brazil, they might reasonably feel that they have been in three finals.

Football, bloody hell” Alex Ferguson’s wisest words can be quoted again: Germany were a surprise, Spain and Argentina less so. I was disappointed that neither Nigeria nor Senegal progressed, and it would have been good to see more of Mexico too.

My first World Cup final was in 1966. We were on the beach on Elba and family lore is that the Italian family next to us told my father that they didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t the Germans. In 1970 I do remember watching some games – we had just got a colour tv and I was a keen left-winger at primary school. I do remember the 1974 final (we had been to the wonderful Olympic Stadium the previous year). I have no recollection of the 1978, 1982 and 1986 finals: I was travelling, at university and starting my first professional job respectively. I bought my first tv in Honduras for the 1990 finals. The chief agricultural extension officer in Taulabé invited his staff and me to his house to watch Cameroon (with a cameo appearance by the great Roger Milla) vs Argentina who at that time were automatically supported by most Central Americans. They were genuinely shocked at the Cameroonian performance and result which they were unlucky not to repeat against England, a game that I saw with a Brit forester in the Pizzaria Venezia on the main highway out of Siguatepeque. I don’t remember the 1994, 1998, or 2002 finals: busy travelling for work, and busy with a young family. As an aside I was doing field work in May 1999 with a group of Bolivian foresters and we were keen to get back to watch the Champions League Final, but we had taken an age to get around the perennial road block near the airport and so the game was all but over when I was dropped off at my hotel in Santa Cruz… I saw some of the games in the 2010 finals and 2014 finals while working in Nairobi. The first were marred by the vuvuzuelas and the treatment of Nelson Mandela, and both by England’s abject performances.

I saw my first and only World Cup qualifier game –  Liberia vs Congo in 2005. I bought a couple of tickets for the roofed VIP stand, with one for my regular taxi driver (a Nigerian who stayed on when ECOMOG left) since the game was held at the Chinese stadium just outside Monrovia and I would be guaranteed a ride back into town after the match. Like most authorities UNMIL were instinctively nervous about football and did not want a mob in the city centre; the police had themselves rioted a few weeks earlier. We were conspicuous in the VIP stand until George Weah arrived with his sons and their friends to a great cheer from the crowd. His Congress for Democratic Change party would wipe the board in Monrovia, although he lost in the presidential run-offs against the West’s favourite Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (a result that seemed fixed to me). There was a spectacular downpour just before the scheduled kick-off, which did little to improve the pitch. Liberia almost scored from the onset, but the Liberian forward seemed as surprised as everyone else to find the ball at his feet on the edge of the penalty area and the ball was still rising as it went out of the stadium. And that was it, Congo won 2-0. George Weah kindly came over to chat at half-time, we talked about football and forestry.  While living in Monrovia I caught up – somewhat belatedly for sure – with the reach and influence of football. Football replica shirts were everywhere (Arsenal and Barcelona seemed most popular – in part for the colours, in part for their African contingents – but Newcastle too), and the day after the 2005 Champions league final the kids on the Mamba Point beach were mimicking Jerzy Dudek’s antics. In early 2007 I was with a FAO team working on an agricultural strategy and we were travelling from Ganta on the border with Guinea down to Harper in the south-east bordering the Cote d’Ivoire. On the map it looks like a major road, in parts after Zwedru it was literally little more than a logging trail. South of Fish Town we stopped in a small hamlet to stretch our legs: the Ghanaian agronomist and I heard the telltale throb of a generator and found in the tin-roofed shack about 20 good folk enjoying a cool drink and a Premier League game pirated off a DSTV satellite.

With hindsight the arc of my football viewing life has coincided with the demise of the “semi-feudal” management of football – described by Jon Henderson in When Footballers Were Skint – to today’s late neoliberal capitalism phase characterised by inequalities of wealth, income, opportunity and outcome amongst nations, clubs and footballers. I have written before about ending clubs’ ownership of players as one step to counter corruption and fraud in the game. What was one-upmanship (play-acting) has morphed into shithousery and is as prevalent in the Premier League as in the World Cup: VAR and post-game reviews will help but at the end its down to supporters. I remember a game at the Valley in the 1998–1999 season when a Charlton player was rolling about on the ground near the touch-line; he was told to get back on his feet and back into the game by the home fans in the East Stand.

Football as a game that has not changed, unlike cricket and rugby. Maybe it is time. Here are some thoughts on how to incentivize goal scoring and better behavior:

  1. Play two 30 minutes halves of real time (kept by 4th referee). This will reduce time-wasting during substitutions or injuries feigned or otherwise.
  2. Ban passing back over the halfway line (as in basketball).
  3. Revise the offside rules: a player can only be offside in a penalty area during open play, and in the area any player forward of the ball is offside.
  4. No more extra time. This seems to increase injuries and is rarely a great spectacle. If the game is not decided in regulation time, decide the game on shoots on goal.
  5. Replace yellow cards with 5 minutes in a sin bin, keeping a red card for repeat sin bin bookings and serious misconduct. Managers and supporters will be more than peeved if players are off the pitch while the opposition is scoring.


There are some great graphics in The Guardian illustrating the points about inequality:


Plus 48% (47.8% – don’t you just love those decimals) of the England squad are the sons of migrants.

Marina Hyde writes

Shame on the politicians looking at this sweltering hot, heady summer of football and thinking: “Ooh, this would totally be enhanced by a general election”

And the contrarian Chris Dillow gently reminds us what Gareth Southgate’s success show us, not least our underestimatation of our of cognitive biases

Great success is largely unpredictable. Pundits and experts know less than they pretend…

Things might have turned out very differently for England. We might well have lost the penalty shoot-out against Colombia: David Ospina came close to saving all the penalties. And even a mediocre Swedish team might have got a result were it not for some great saves by Pickford.



Fantasy Football

Congratulations to Champion Yusuf Sheikh from Tanzania who scored 2,512 points to top the Fantasy Premier League. But it was a proverbial season of two-halves, and certainly not one of success, for the All-Stars.


Out of 5.9 million participants – & how many of theses are active across the season? – I finished in 2,215,487th place, with 1,876 points.  The only good news is that I managed to move up 1.6m places from a low point on week 20, perhaps to the equivalent to mid-table respectability. The problem is that I put some more thought into team selection throughout this my ninth season. But it is my lowest ranking, and fourth lowest points score.


I managed a little better with the BBC Football Predictor game finishing in 27,017th position but with a huge points deficit to the top ranked players.


Fortunately everyone starts with a clean state on August 11th, including Squadguru and perhaps other AI players.

Sustainable dog walkers sought


Joan Robinson quipped that the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.

I have almost lost count of the number of posts and consultancies for which I have applied over the past 18 months. I have been fortunate to have worked for 30+ years, on interesting tasks & meeting lots of tremendous folk, and I know how much good luck I have enjoyed over time.

My only gripe is with companies that cannot be bothered to acknowledge applications, seemingly careless about the effort that has been made to write a cover letter (“due to the high number of applicants” ); doing assessment exercises and on-line interviews is no guarantee of even the simplest of thank-yous. This cavalier attitude sadly seems to be prevalent in many private companies, and in particular the larger ones, which are themselves dependent on bilateral and multilateral funding. They are bidding for example on governance programmes, and yet seem less than transparent themselves.

The great British satirical magazine “Private Eye” used to have a section in its classified ads for students seeking work, which would invariably say `anything legal considered´. In the meantime I am writing an e-book “A Political Economy of Tropical Forestry“, some parts of which I shall be posting here.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Firearms Control Bill

“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good law”


“On the weekend
of July 4th, 2015,
American Independence Day,
55 people were shot and wounded
and 10 were murdered,
a seven-year-old boy.
Where was their freedom?
Where was their right
to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness?”

Mass shootings understandably are headline news. But little has been done to address gun violence in general. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that every day 318 people are shot, and 96 die (of whom 34 are murder and 59 are suicide victims). Gun possession and gun deaths are related; gun-related homicides (excluding suicides) haven taken more lives than the US military losses in the Viet Nam war over the past decade alone. All other rich democratic countries have more stringent gun laws, and consequently fewer guns in circulation, and much less gun violence.

muders by firearm

Gun-related homicides in the US

There is a mishmash of gun control laws in the US at federal, state and local levels – for example, in Chicago and New York.

Gun control is an unequivocal political and not constitutional issue. The so-called gun culture has been assiduously promoted by gun manufacturers and supported by supine politicians backed by the NRA. Adam Hochschild is good on the evolving perpetuation of a gun culture.

Nonetheless, today more than a third of Americans report that they own a gun, and about 40 % are in a household in which someone has a gun. Ownership is higher among men than women, and more common in rural than suburban and urban areas. Estimates of the total number of guns suggest that there are about one for every man, woman and child in the country. A very small number (about 3%) own half of these guns.

The constitutional debate over the Second Amendment is instructive. In its 2008 ruling (District of Columbia v. Heller) the Supreme Court reaffirmed that an individual has the right to bear arms – Justice Scalia ruled that “law-abiding, responsible citizens” have a right to own a handgun “in defense of hearth and home” – but this right was not absolute, and that this does not prohibit the regulation of firearms nor the firearms industry and the latter’s liability for injury caused by illegal use of firearms.

Initiatives like the March for Our Lives show that attitudes on gun-related violence and gun laws are shifting. And the Marjory Stoneman Douglas pupils have published a manifesto for gun control.

So setting aside a reinterpretation of the Second Amendment, and accepting the current case for the legality of the private ownership of handguns (and hunting and sporting guns), what might be the key elements in a new federal law to regulate private firearm possession and to reduce gun-related violence?

The starting point is that ownership and use comes with responsibility and liability. A gun owner should be licensed and insured. This is no different to buying and driving a car, or borrowing money to buy a property. These are not onerous measures for legitimate gun owners. Nor do they infringe individual liberty. Similarly, the retail trade in guns and ammunition needs to be tightened with unregulated sales made illegal. Also more use should be made of insurance markets to regulate the gun industry. Firearm owners – not least collectors, hunters and sport gun owners – who can show responsible practice in terms of gun protection devices and training are likely to benefit with premium discounts on their liability should a gun be lost, stolen or used by a third party to commit a crime. And funding – both federal and state – will be needed to compensate owners for giving up firearms made illegal by the change in the law, and the cost of destroying these firearms. This will be an initial burden on public finances but will be soon offset by the reduction in the public costs of dealing with gun violence and gun-related crimes.

Here is a three-part framework and suggested plain English wording for a new gun control law.

1. Firearm licenses

  1. No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearm license holder.
  1. No person shall own or purchase a firearm or ammunition without a firearm license.
  1. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall regulate this Act, and with the FBI vet and approve or deny firearm license applications based on background checks.
  1. States may issue a firearm license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including additional age limits, firearms safety training, lengths of waiting periods, and fees as determined by the State.
  1. A firearm license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
  1. A person shall be prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm if the individual is:

(a) convicted for violent, firearm-related, and other serious misdemeanors

(b) subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or extreme risk protective order

(c) involuntarily hospitalized or identified as dangerous by mental health professionals or law enforcement agencies

(d) on the consolidated Terrorist Watch List.

  1. Any person who becomes disqualified from possessing firearms shall surrender the firearms to a local law enforcement agency or sell the firearms to a licensed dealer without delay and within 30 days, or the designated local law enforcement agencies shall seize the firearms.
  1. A firearm license holder may only purchase a firearm and ammunition in the State in which the firearm license was issued, and the license holder shall present the license at the point of sale.
  1. A firearm license holder shall declare the ownership of all firearms (make and model and serial number) in the holder’s possession to local law enforcement agencies.
  1. A firearm license holder may only sell previously-registered firearms to a firearms vendor license holder.
  1. A firearm license holder may only transfer previously-registered firearms to another firearm license holder.
  1. A firearm license holder shall only possess or carry a firearm in the State in which the license was issued unless permitted by law in another State.
  1. A firearm license holder shall report the sale, transfer, loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies.
  1. Failure to declare all firearms or to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license, a fine or both.
  1. Any person without a valid firearm license in possession of a firearm or ammunition shall be committing a felony.

2. Firearms vendor licenses

  1. No person under 21 years of age shall be a firearms vendor license holder.
  1. No person shall sell, barter, gift, trade or transfer firearms or ammunition without a firearms vendor license.
  1. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) shall vet and approve or deny firearm vendor incense applications based on background checks.
  1. States may issue a firearm vendor license upon approval by the ATF & FBI and subject to any further requirements, including firearms safety training, and fees as determined by the State.
  1. A firearm vendor license shall be valid for 5 years only, and may be renewed thereafter.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder shall report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours to local law enforcement agencies. Failure to report a loss or theft may lead to the revocation of the license.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder may only sell firearms and ammunition in the State in which the firearm sales license was issued.
  1. A firearm vendor license holder shall record all sales of firearms and ammunition and report each transfer to State law enforcement agencies within 48 hours.
  1. The sale, barter, gift, trade or transfer of firearms or ammunition to a person not holding a firearm license shall be a felony.

3. Other provisions

  1. State law enforcement agencies and the AFT & FBI shall keep firearm background check records and firearm registry records indefinitely.
  1. Firearms license holders and firearms vendor license holders shall be required to take out firearms liability insurance.
  2. Large capacity ammunition magazines holding and feeding more than 10 rounds are banned.
  1. States may prescribe the quantity of ammunition that may be purchased by a firearms license holder in a given time.
  1. All firearms shall be sold fitted with approved gun lock or gun safety device approved by the ATF, within 30 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
  1. A firearm license holder and firearm vendor license holder shall store firearms in a locked container or equipped with a gun safety device, except when the license holder is carrying a firearm on his or her person or has the firearm under his or her immediate control.
  1. New models of handguns shall be designed, manufactured and delivered microstamp-ready, capable of identifying the make and model and serial number of the handgun.
  1. All automatic and semi-automatic assault and any other proscribed weapons, and large capacity ammunition magazines, shall be surrendered to State and designated law enforcement agencies within 90 days of the effective date of the firearm control law.
  1. Gun buyback programs shall be carried out covering all firearm types. State and designated local law enforcement agencies shall operate:

(a) anonymous buyback schemes for firearms and ammunition to be exchange for vouchers at established set rates

(b) a temporary buyback from gun owners of firearms and ammunition made illegal by the firearms control laws, to be exchanged for vouchers at established rates depending on firearm type and pre-ban market prices.

  1. States shall be responsible for the destruction of all returned firearms and ammunition.
  2. The export of used firearms shall be prohibited.


UPDATE: This is an excellent article on the gun violence culture:

A lot of us adults watching the march and the walkout felt hope for the first time in a long time, and not just because of the incredible signs. We saw a generation who is succeeding where we failed, an emerging new force that thinks differently and who is willing to take the power they democratically deserve.


It just goes on

“This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing).”  Chief Art Acevedo of Houston, following Santa Fe High School atrocity.