Saturday, November 20, 2010

End of Year Speech at Cricket Dinner

The first thing I need to do in valediction is to thank the people who didn't play, but who made a difference to us. Bones, for his wonderful coaching and umpiring. Caroline, for turning up and scoring week in week out. James for our pub to drink in afterwards, and for the beer he gave us to celebrate our games. And I'd like to thank Terry, who taught us what the 'right spirit' was in the first place.

We should also, as a team, thank Steve Haslemere, who as well as being one of our best players, did a huge amount of unseen work behind the scenes to make everything happen.

Last year, we lost almost every game. For some of them we couldn't scrape up 11 players.

The consensus opinion was that the only way we could beat the Champion of the Thames was by being different people.

Furthermore, I promised when I took the captaincy that I wouldn't select people on their ability, although I did say that I'd care about how much work people put into practising over the Winter.

And I also promised that I wouldn't pick people who weren't regular drinkers in the Radegund unless there weren't enough regulars to make a team.

This year, we played 17 matches.

On all but two occasions I had enough people to make an XI committed to playing weeks before. On those two occasions when we didn't have enough, it took me five minutes on the phone to find our 11th man.

Two of our games were rained off, two were Veras matches when we played against ourselves, and for two our opposition couldn't raise a team.

When we played the Devonshire Arms, the Radegund was so clearly the stronger team that we divided the available players up in order to engineer an even match.

Out of the remaining 10 games:

We lost three, we drew one, and we won six.

I'll just mention two high points.

We played the Red Guards for the first time this year, and they were by common agreement the best Cambridge team any of us has ever played against.
And we scored 229.
And by the end of the game they were dead-batting. Grimly hanging on for a draw at 204 with no wickets left.
The tension throughout was electric. It was the best cricket match I have ever played in.

And we beat the Champion of the Thames, our old rivals whom we had thought invincible, by seven wickets.
We bowled them out for fifty.

I think our results speak for themselves, but more importantly, we were a team of friends, made up of people who'd been practising in our nets and drinking together in the Radegund for the previous year.

What made the difference? The usual things that make a sport good fun: Good Coaching, Practice and Team Spirit.

We organised regular nets, and people came.

Bones came to coach almost every net, and gave great advice to everyone. Whether it was teaching some of us to bat from scratch, or making small adjustments to our best players, I don't think there's any one of us who wasn't much improved by listening to what he said and practising it.

Once we had a hard core of people coming regularly, nets became a thing that people didn't want to miss.

I was getting people ringing me up to say sorry that they couldn't make it.

And the attitude carried on into the Summer. Mostly, everyone involved wanted to play in every game.

By the time of the match against the Champion of the Thames, we'd only lost one real game and we'd won six.

I think we'd have beaten the Champ anyway, but Steve Haslemere's immortal 5 wickets reduced them to rubble.

And after that anticlimax I was wondering if we'd overdone it a bit.

It was a huge amount of fun getting better together over the Winter, but if we'd been playing in a league we'd have been about to be promoted out of it.

I was starting to wonder if there'd be any reason to try next year, or whether we'd just coast aimlessly to meaningless victories whilst our wonderful team disintegrated under the lack of pressure.

Even our single defeat in the first game of the season looked like a distant, bad, inexplicable memory. Teething troubles.

By a great stroke of luck, at that point, the wheels fell off.

The Free Press and Jack Frost XI showed us in consecutive weeks that given the opportunity, our batting can collapse without resistance. The last game of the season had *us* grimly hanging on for a draw in a timed game. And we didn't make it.

So, here we are, recently beaten and newly hungry. With something left to prove.

And on that note I give you, ladies and gentlemen, Tom Lewis, our captain for 2011.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three Moral Schools

I read the other day that thousands of years of philosophical thought had produced three ethical schools, and that they were called utilitarian ethics, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics.

I hadn't heard that there were three answers. Ten minutes of research seems to indicate that they can be characterized as: 'act for best consequences', 'follow rules', and 'be virtuous of character'?

'Be virtuous of character' seems vacuous. How are you supposed to decide what virtue is?

'Follow rules' seems at best silly and at worst evil. If you've made up your own list of rules, then again, you need some way of working out what's on the list. If you're following someone else's rules, then they had the same problem, plus you've now got to worry that they might be trying to get you to act in their interests, plus their rules might have been corrupted in the process of being transmitted from their head to yours.

Which leaves only 'act for best consequences', but of course, we need to say who is to judge the best consequences. If the judger is me, then surely that's the definition of evil? If the judger is some sort of average of everyone, then it defines a sort of altruism. I don't like either of those.

My personal morality has always been 'Do what you like'. It doesn't seem to have had (that many) bad consequences. I think that most people who know me think that I am a moral man. My main character defect seems to be that I tend to dislike people who bore me or whom I find physically unattractive, even if they are otherwise good people.

It seems unlikely that I have come to a better conclusion than 3000 years of accumulated philosophers. But then, if they've come up with any sensible answers, why are there three schools? Surely the correct ones should be able to convince the others that they are wrong. If they are arguing about anything real.

So further thoughts:

I can't even begin to work out what 'be virtuous' might imply, absent a definition of virtue. So I'll just ignore that one.

As far as rule-following goes, then, for instance, the old seem to be often quite keen on 'respect the old' as a rule. I'm old, and I don't think that I deserve any more respect than I did when I was young. I am more skilled and more knowledgeable. I don't need to tell you to respect me for that. I will be better than you at some things. That will make you respect me. On the other hand, I will be less mentally flexible than I was, and less physically strong, which will make me lose at some games that I would once have won. Why should you respect me for that? Pity perhaps. Make allowances for, perhaps. Tolerate, perhaps. But respect?

My advice to you, if you are young, is to respect people for and only for what they do, not for who they are. Recognize, however, that if you are twenty, then you only have a few years of experience of life as an adult, and so you are probably wrong about everything. Still. Lots of old people are also completely wrong about all sorts of things. So pick the models to follow carefully. 

That might be an answer. Pick the old people that you want to be like, and find out what their rules are, and do that. But that's not really ethics. That's self-interest.

So screw following other people's rules as an ethical system. And how do I work out my own rules? And if I do, and then find that my rules end up making me do something that I don't want to do, should I change the rules, or do the bad thing?

And utilitarianism seems to be at least a system you could think about, but:

I am not an altruist. You can tell that because I am not starvation poor. If I were an altruist I would spend everything I own on helping the less happy. The charity Smile Train springs to mind. For £50 they claim that they can fix hideous deformities and so permanently and uncontroversially change people's lives immeasurably for the better. I will happily spend £50 on lunch. Which proves that I care more about lunch than I do about making stranger's lives incomparably better.

I am not claiming that working very hard and giving all the money to Smile Train is the best plan for a sincere utilitarian, but it is a plan, and whatever plan they are following must at least be judged against it.

So if you ever meet someone who claims to be a utilitarian, and yet they are not sleeping in a skip, ask them why.

If their answer is that their weighting of utility functions is biased heavily towards their own utility rather than to that of other people, then they are basically following my scheme.

Anyway, it looks as though there are three schools of thought, and two of them are silly, and one of them is not silly, but leads to the wrong conclusions, unless you calibrate the argument very carefully so that it leads to the right conclusions. Which makes it vacuous. Because you still need a way of working out which right conclusions you want to come out.

Is it possible that three thousand years of philosophy has been directed to deriving by pure thought reasons to do what we feel like doing anyway? If the conclusions are, as a result, roughly the same, but the derivations are all a bit silly, that explains why they are still arguing. But then why are there only three?

Does 'do what you like' have a posh greek name? Is it a sub-school of one of the major three? Why is it not the same as 'be evil'? What is evil if it is not acting in your own interests?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hymn to the Watchmaker

ichneumon wasps without ruth do it
sting a bug and over months, chew it

let's do it, let's reproduce

bugs in the filth, where it stinks, do it
bees through the agency of queens do it


yeast in beer, to their doom, do it
viruses in peoples cells, do it


cuckoos in nests, that aren't theirs, do it
using sharp claws, polar bears do it


humans in pain and in fear, do it
using us and syringes, steer do it

let's do it, let's reproduce!