Wine for my men, we ride at dawn.

We were in Barcelona a few weeks ago for the excellent Mozilla Camp Europe. That was only my second trip to the city, my first being a holiday there in 2001 when I rather ambitiously took with me the complete Michel de Montaigne (over 1,200 pages).  Inspired by the recent trip, I felt it was time to revisit Montaigne too, after 7 years.

Michel de Montaigne was a public figure and essayist who, according to my edition, is

the bridge linking the thought of pagan antiquity and of Christian antiquity with our own

To which we might add, he is also very hard to put down – as I had cause to reflect at 2 o’clock this morning.  Blaise Pascal said he gained thirty years of study and reflection from reading Montaigne: consider that before picking up the latest Malcolm Gladwell.

What is great about this book is the immediacy of it: the way that Montaigne feels direct, fresh and relevant, even though he was writing over 500 years ago.  In one essay, (On the inequality there is between us), he contemplates how inequality in wealth and status can lead us to overlook that which is really important.  According to Monaigne, we should be asking the question,

Is he wise, lord of himself, not terrified of death, poverty or shackles? Is he a man who stoutly defies his passions, who scorns ambition? Is he entirely self-sufficient? Is he like a smooth round sphere which no foreign object can adhere to and which maims Fortune herself if she attacks him?

That kind of man is miles above kingdoms and dukedoms. He is an empire unto himself.

Compare with him the mass of men nowadays, senseless, base, servile, unstable, continually bobbing about in a storm of conflicting passions which drive them which drive them hither and thither, men totally dependent upon others: they are farther apart than earth and sky. But so blind are our habitual ways that we take little or no account of such things, when we come to consider a peasant or a monarch, a nobleman or a commoner, a statesman or a private citizen, a rich man or a poor man, we find therefore an immense disparity beween men who, it could be said, differ only by their breeches.

And in conclusion he writes:

Each man’s morals shape his destiny.

Tonight Liverpool host Olypique Marseille in Champions League Group D, while Chelsea travel to Girondins Bordeaux in Group A.

Reflections on the Merseyside derby

Or more specifically, the BBC’s coverage of it.  During Match of the Day‘s broadcast, we were treated to the kind of image normally associated with the advertising concerning the wisdom of taking out life insurance, or twenty years ago, for the soothing properties of Hamlet cigars:

Quite why the BBC’s Steve Wilson felt the need to adopt an earnestly concerned tone, and tell us,

Oh, that’s the wrong shirt to wear there.  That really is the wrong shirt to wear there.  Good luck.

I do not know.  The chap in red is clearly sitting with a close friend or possibly a relative, and he does not seem to be in any trouble whatsoever.  Surely it’s better to reflect (as Canal+ Sweden’s coverage did) on how pleasant it is to see football supporters being able to behave in such a civilised manner (“the friendly derby”).  Liverpool against Everton is characterised by a great deal of rancour on the pitch – indeed no other fixture in the league genrates as many red cards.  And certainly, the manner of Liverpool’s walkover on Saturday will have put many Bluenoses out of joint.  But rather than cajole fans into unpleasant aggression by giving them violent and intolerant reputations to live up to, would it not have been better for the BBC to applaud the amicable nature of Liverpudlian rivalry away from the pitch?

Precious metals

Amazing news on Monday as Manchester City Football Club was suddenly acquired by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG). Who immediately gazumped the previously financially peerless Chelsea to the signing of good-but-not-that-good Brazilian forward Robinho for a British record transfer fee, making the inconsistent Robinho the highest paid player in the history of the game.

The transfer window is now closed, but when it reopens, we are hearing from ADUG that money will be no object as they intend to assemble the best team in the world. The English game has been struggling for a while to accommodate Chelsea, whose financial clout is underwritten by one of the world’s richest men, Roman Abramovich. Chelsea’s sudden weight in the transfer market immediately inflated transfer fees, and queered the pitch for all. To what extent? Well, Chelsea’s losses frequently exceed the turnover of even their closest rivals.

Now Abramovich is understood “to be worth” (curious phrase, that) around $23.5 billion, or about €16 billion. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, owners of ADUG, have an estimated wealth of upwards of €800 billion and have signaled their intention to sign just about every top player in Europe, and Critistiano Ronaldo, in the January transfer window.

How do we view investors like Abramovich, and the ADUG? Are they bringing excitement to all, making for a more exciting sport, or are they spoiling it, their unnatural concentrations of wealth making for an uncompetitive and distorted market? Is the game about the people, or about the rich? About the stars, or the grassroots? Clearly the game has changed: a giant with obscure motives and vast wealth has entered the market.

In other news on Monday, Google announced its Chrome browser.