Friday, October 11, 2013

The privileged people’s game

'Not for him the usual histrionics of football jubilation: instead Boris Jelovac looked around, tried to spot a figure in the crowd (Prince William)... and bowed'

In the week where a fresher’s guide to Trinity College Cambridge from 1660 advised the new intake to avoid football, it ‘being… a rude, boistrous exercise, & fitter for Clownes then for Scholler’, the FA’s 150th anniversary match inadvertently showed how far the game has come in being accepted as a natural pastime for the upper and ruling classes – and our deference to and mute acceptance of their involvement in our game.

The FA anniversary was supposed to be a celebration of the grassroots – its website trumpets its ‘not-for-profit commitment to investing in football.’ Civil Service FC, which proudly claims to be the world's oldest amateur club (formed 1863) as well as the only existing founder member club of the FA, played Polytechnic FC (formed 1875), but the symbolism of the match was heavy for the wrong reasons – suggesting instead privileged access, facilities geared toward the wealthier strata and a ruling class who as we know have no idea how to run the game.

That the princes take every opportunity to declare their love for the game is no surprise. But it doesn’t so much demonstrate their egalitarian streak, as they might hope, as their being in tune with a rich younger generation used to the game accommodating them (20 years or more after the move toward edging out the undesirable elements with more costly all-seater stadia – that and floating the idea of letting the indebted clubs go to the wall). The chattering classes and above depend on it for their spectacle (rugby, let’s face it, is a niche sport even for the posh), but in a lot more parasitic way. Oh look, uncouth footballer does something bad, how terrible, let’s have some more of it.

Richer segments have always been involved - these original amateur clubs were very paternalist enterprises formed with the idea of improving the health of the working classes – but when all this comes amid growing popular struggle to ‘take back’ the game some more well-rounded representation of where football is today would have been appropriate, not some gadabout on a royal lawn. Notts County, Stoke and Sheffield FC had all formed by 1863 but there doesn’t seem to be much promoting of the game’s northern heartlands in the anniversary.

But that’s where football is today – administrators talking about investment and development in the grassroots while the global-not-local game continues to alienate traditional supporters at the top level (and not just here). Bring back the clownes.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

What a modern drugs raid looks like

So Silk Road bit the FBI dust, and with it the preciously harvested bitcoins of thousands of users keen on sourcing narcotic goods in an online rating environment reputed to insure quality and reliability. I don’t know enough about the mechanics of the bust to work out how the little people’s 26,000 BTC has been impounded while they still can’t get at the founder Dread Pirate Roberts’ 600,000 BTC ($80ishm).

But as CoinDesk suggests one thing is certain: this type of deep web, crypto-currency-fuelled and highly encrypted virtual marketplace is not going to go away. Nor will it hasten the demise of Bitcoin. The arrest of DPR (Ross Ulbricht) was due to an inability to control his non-deep web footprint - a key issue this year after all the NSA revelations - and claims of extra-curricular activities that closed the net around him. The Silk Road set-up, though it would be naïve to suggest it was impenetrable to law enforcers, had been resilient for more than two years.

Though users and transactions had been growing steadily, it was still a niche for tech-savvy users willing to go through the hassle of changing money (and living with wild fluctuations in the BTC rate), learning the set-up and paying a bit extra for drugs through the front door. Yet all the feedback suggested it was a powerful, self-policed and effective prototype, and a glimpse into the type of site that would operate in a future world of drugs decriminalisation.

Imitators are benefiting from Silk Road hitting an impasse, though they are said to lack the rigour of SR in terms of an anything-goes approach to what they sell. Yet while police forces worldwide place scrutiny on these sites vendors and buyers will no doubt question the viability of such operations.

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