Saturday, 8 August 2009

England fail intelligence test

Angus Fraser:

Fast bowlers have the somewhat unfair reputation of being big, thick, dopey so and sos, incapable of thinking for themselves.

The stigma is historical, arising from the fact that previous generations of batsmen tended to be privately educated chaps that had picked up a degree at some flash university. The roots of a fast bowler tend to be far more working-class, as England's northern-based bowling attack highlights.

Australia's fast bowlers made a mockery of the generalisation yesterday morning as they intelligently adapted their game to capitalise on helpful bowling conditions to dismantle England's batting line-up for a paltry 102. With the stock of fast bowlers at a high England's bowlers then let the fraternity down with a thoughtless display during the afternoon. Only when Australia had passed England's total did Andrew Strauss's attack begin to follow the example set by their opponents.

The modern game is obsessed by pace, with many selectors and pundits believing that 85mph is the minimum speed a bowler needs to reach to be effective on the International stage. It is absolute tosh, as many of cricket's greatest bowlers have and continue to prove.

Yes, pace is important, but the one proviso is that the ball is pitched on the correct spot – a length that makes life for a batsman uncomfortable and difficult for him to complete the task he is paid to do – score runs. If the ball is released at speed but comes out like the spray from an aerosol can, it only disappears to the boundary quicker. Much of the blame for the obsession can be laid at the feet of the speed gun at grounds and the egos of He-man bowlers.

James Anderson, Stephen Harmison, Graeme Onions and Stuart Broad could not blame their shortcomings on the fact they needed time to acclimatise – Australia's bowlers had already shown them how to bowl at Headingley earlier in the day. With the ball swinging Australia's bowlers largely pitched the ball up, drawing England's top order in to apprehensive prods and pushes that fed the hands of an expectant slip cordon. On watching this England's bowlers then opted to test the middle of the pitch, a transgression that kept the crowd rather than the slips busy.

The early dismissal of Simon Katich, who gloved a lifter from Stephen Harmison to leg gully, may have encouraged England's attack to bang the ball in. But with Australia's score rattling along at six runs an over it should not have taken long to work out this was not the correct tactic. The three lbws that followed highlighted the error.

Peter Siddle will grab the headlines for his second five-wicket haul in Test cricket, but it was Stuart Clark who set the tone for Australia with three pre-lunch wickets in a beautiful seven-over spell of bowling that conceded only seven runs. Clark is a bowler from the old school, a seamer who takes great pride in bowling a consistent line and length.

Clark is not fast, bowling generally between 78 and 82mph, and like many traditional seamers he struggles to comprehend the trends and attitudes of modern bowlers. Half-volleys and long hops are not part of his game plan, not at any cost. In Clark's world batsmen have to work for their runs.

In Glenn McGrath, Clark had a great tutor, possibly the best line and length bowler the game has seen. Like Clark, McGrath cannot understand why so many young bowlers continually press the gamble button as they desperately search for wickets. In many ways their attitude mirrors that of the world outside. Instant gratification rather than patient reward is what they want.

"Work on the ego of the batsman," was one of McGrath's mottos. Basically he was saying that batsmen want to be in control and score freely when they bat, and when they are not they are likely to make mistakes attempting to gain it.

It therefore makes sense for bowlers to follow the logic of McGrath and the example set by Clark, especially at a venue like Headingley. Batsmen will make mistakes so be patient, wait for the errors to come along and grasp the chance when it arises. Bowlers may have the reputation of being a bit thick but it is batsmen who are really the dopey, impatient so and sos.

Spicy pitch makes life more fun

England may have been second best yesterday but the play highlighted how much more enjoyable Test cricket is when wickets are falling regularly.

A pitch used to be described as good if it was nice to bat on. If Test cricket is to remain attractive that must change, and groundsmen need to be encouraged to produce pitches that offer bowlers assistance.

Test cricket should not be played on minefields that offer inconsistent bounce and generous lateral movement, but scores of 450-plus should be a rarity not the norm.

Little has changed since the secretive days of the Suez crisis


Robert Fisk's World:

It seems we really are going to have an Iraq inquiry. But I'm not holding my breath

Saturday, 8 August 2009

If I were an examiner – a secret Fisk-wish ever since my schooldays – I would award a double-A to Professor Peter Beck of Kingston University. "Given your interest in the present-day resonance of history, including the Iraq inquiry," he writes to me, "you might be interested in the enclosed article..." Oh indeed, Professor Beck, I said to myself.


For his recent paper is a time capsule of the High Tory need to avoid – ever – a public inquiry into the Suez scandal. Yes, the predecessors of Mr Cameron's very own party were doing everything they could to prevent the shameful story of Britain's collusion with France and Israel to invade Egypt. No 10, it turns out, was busy destroying the secret documents of the agreement at Sèvres where the three powers concocted their outrageous act of aggression. Thanks only to the Israelis, we still have the Sèvres papers, the British copies of which Prime Minister Anthony Eden may well have personally burned.


Of course, it was Labour that was then demanding a public inquiry, not the Tories, although the parallels with the whimsical inquiry with which Sir John Chilcot threatens us – including the public appearance of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara himself – are so ironic and fatuous that they will need no reference from me. Read Suez. Think Iraq.


It was Hugh Gaitskill who first noted that "if there was collusion, the motives of the men who practised it were so various that, sooner or later, they are bound to start giving one another away". Eden tried to bluff it out. "Certainly the documents are there, and will remain there," he told Gaitskill in the Commons. "Anybody who wishes to dive into them, in due course, can dive into them!" "In due course", indeed. Eden had already burned some of them. Eden's successor, Harold Macmillan – who had his own dark role in Suez – tried the same insouciance. "I believe history will justify what we did," he blithely announced. A few weeks later, he was bellyaching about how "our best interests will be served if we concentrate on the future and do not revive controversy".


That, I suppose was the 1950s version of "closure" and "moving on". Macmillan thought that the desire to turn up the facts on Suez had more to do with party politics than a desire for real history. In any event, as Beck rightly points out, "the politics of affluence superseded the politics of Suez". Yet Macmillan was so frightened of the truth that he insisted that even the Ministry of Defence could not publish a dispatch by British General Sir Charles Keightley about the military campaign without his personal authorisation. The published version, he decided, must give rise to no "public difficulties", "political controversy" or "friction in foreign relations". The Foreign Office observed that publication must be accompanied by "no flourish of trumpets".


Labour's Michael Stewart, as foreign secretary less than a decade later, commented that the only way to gain "a true history of events" would be to hold – whoops – a public inquiry. But Macmillan had already forestalled that, even disapproving of a proposed study by the Joint Services Staff College on the grounds that it would have "obvious political implications". It was only in 1986 that the government of Margaret Thatcher concluded that the British copy of the Sèvres meeting had been "destroyed by Sir Anthony Eden himself or by a No 10 Private Secretary".


There were precedents for a public inquiry. There had been inquiries into the disasters at Gallipoli and in First World War Mesopotamia (ie Iraq!). Yet there was Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 – most of these characters had a role in Suez – telling the Commons that "no grounds" existed for an inquiry.


By the time Harold Wilson became prime minister, Labour's demands melted in the light of power. He didn't want to look back at a period when his own party was accused of pursuing an unpatriotic course – Gaitskill opposed the whole Suez adventure – which could divide the nation. "I do not believe that an official history would be the way to deal with the situation," he told Michael Foot. Yet this was the same Wilson who told the Commons that "there is now strong prima facie evidence of the whole thing being a put-up job in advance of the fighting we were supposed to intervene to stop".


Wilson did subsequently float the idea of an inquiry – partly, it seems, to distract attention from the 1966 sterling crisis. But one of Macmillan's former private secretaries announced that even a parliamentary debate on Suez would serve no purpose "from the national point of view". The Tory high command deemed it was "still too early to have full disclosure of this episode [sic]". Then it was the Zionist Richard Crossman who decided "to prevent the setting up of an inquiry and to minimise public discussion of this issue for both domestic and foreign policy reasons". Foreign Secretary George Brown now concluded that "the harmful effects of such an inquiry would, I am convinced, be worldwide".


By November 1966, it was our old pal Tam Dalyell who was waffling along the same lines, warning Crossman that "to establish a select committee in order to rake over the ashes might make us liable to the charge of diverting attention from the modern scene to ancient history". This wonderful stuff goes on and on. First, Suez is too recent to discuss. Then it's too far in the past to bother about. It was left to Wilson again to utter the truly Blair-like assertion that it would be unwise for the government to launch an inquiry "when all our efforts should be directed toward reducing the tensions in the Middle East".


The French didn't care much about their own Suez secrets – they had just suffered defeat in the Algerian war – but the British fear of Middle East inquiries never seemed to fade. "This is not the time for such (inquiry) decisions," Blair said of Iraq in 2006, while Lord Malloch-Brown (Foreign Office minister of state) came out with the old canard about the need for distance and perspective.

Well, it seems we really are going to have an inquiry this time round. But I'm not holding my breath for any revelations from the safe pairs of hands whom Gordon Brown has manoeuvred into position for Sir John Chilcot. Crossman on Suez is the best cure for optimism. "It means keeping out of the Middle East," he wrote, "and treating Arabs like adult Latin Americans, who don't want to be improved or democratised and who must be allowed to have what regimes they like."


And that's OUCH! from me.

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The truth about lying: who does it, and why Are human beings by nature duplicitous?

Psychologist Robert Feldman reports on what his research reveals about fibbing. Plus Pete Docherty, Katie Price and more come clean about their biggest porkies

Hillary Clinton, while campaigning for the US Democratic presidential nomination last spring, described a memorable trip she made to war-torn Bosnia more than a decade earlier. "I remember landing under sniper fire," she said. "There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base." News footage, however, showed Clinton strolling calmly with her daughter, Chelsea, upon arrival. During that same election cycle, Mitt Romney, a candidate for the Republican nomination, claimed his father, George Romney, a former Michigan governor, had "marched with Martin Luther King". It was soon revealed that the elder Romney had never actually done so.

It would be easy to conclude, particularly in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal, that politicians are simply by nature duplicitous, and people who seek power are the kind of people who lie. But what if their dishonest behaviour actually makes them resemble us more than it sets them apart?

To attempt to find out just how common lying is, I conducted a study of more than 100 people in ordinary social situations. Two at a time, I had participants meet and spend 10 minutes getting to know each other. I didn't tell them I was conducting a study of lying. Instead, I said I was interested in investigating how people interact when they meet someone new. Most studies of lying involve a fairly artificial setup, but I wanted to reproduce a typical, everyday experience.

I did, though, introduce one other twist. I wanted to know if the frequency of lying might change with the specifics of the conversation. Perhaps some social interactions were more prone to deception than others. To try to find out, I told some of the participants to attempt to come across as very likable, as they might at a party, for example. In other cases, I told one of the participants to convince the other that he or she was very competent, as they might in a job interview. Everyone else I instructed simply to get to know the other person. I reasoned that while assigning goals to certain people did introduce a slightly greater degree of artificiality into the experiment, social situations in which one person is trying to demonstrate his or her charm to another are very common. As far as the pairs of strangers were concerned, deception had no relevance to the study. Something I didn't mention was that each pair's entire conversation would be secretly videotaped.

After the conversation finished, I revealed the secret surveillance to the participants and asked each one to watch the video, identifying, moment by moment, any instances in which he or she said something that was "inaccurate". (I didn't ask participants to report "lies", wanting to avoid their becoming defensive or embarrassed and, consequently, not admitting to deception.)

One conversation, between a man and a woman I'll call Tim and Allison, was fairly typical. Tim was a laid-back college student. Once they were a little bit acquainted, he told her about his band.

Tim: We just signed to a record company, actually.

Allison: Really?

Tim: Yeah, Epitaph.

Allison: Do you sing or...

Tim: Yeah, I'm the lead singer.

Allison: Wow!

Another participant, Natasha, also discussed her musical background, telling her partner how she entered competitions as a pianist and toured the country with a chamber group. It was all more or less what you would expect from two strangers making small talk – one person, directly or unconsciously, trying to impress another with his or her achievements, or just passing the time by discussing his or her life.

What makes this remarkable is that they are all lies. Natasha never toured the country. Tim's band didn't sign with Epitaph. In fact, there's no band at all. And these are only a few examples of what I found to be an extraordinary pattern. Participants in my study confessed to lies that were big and small, rooted in truth and fantastic, relatively defensible and simply baffling. Further, the lying was not limited to those to whom I had given a directive to appear likable or competent. These people lied with greater frequency, but even those with no specific agenda lied regularly.

All told, I found that most people lied three times in the course of a 10-minute conversation. Some lied as many as 12 times, and those are just the lies participants admitted to. It's possible the frequency was even higher. Of course, it would be easy to conclude that the randomly selected participants in my study just happened to be unusually duplicitous, or that some factor in my study induced people to lie far more than they normally would. But my subsequent research on conversations between unacquainted strangers has shown, fairly consistently, that they lie to each other about three times every 10 minutes, both inside and outside the lab.

Indeed, diary research studies, in which participants are asked to record their daily social interactions and indicate which contained lies, show that lying occurs regularly even in the most intimate relationships. Although deception occurs at lower levels, and is often meant to put another person at ease ("Of course you're not putting on weight"), lying is still a routine part of the rapport between spouses, lovers, close friends and family members.

But why, when they meet strangers, do people feel compelled to make up bands they don't belong to or competitions they never entered? We probably don't spend much time wondering why a tobacco executive would lie about the dangers of cigarettes. Nor does it baffle us when a mechanic tells us a replacement part costs three times more than it actually does. Profit, the avoidance of punishment: these are the sorts of motivations we often associate with deception. We might also include mental imbalance as another motive for lies, yet conditions such as mythomania, or pathological lying, are very rare.

Tellingly, those instructed to impress their partner with their likability tended to tell lies about their feelings. They distorted their true opinions and emotions, often in order to mirror those expressed by their partners. Meanwhile, those instructed to come off as competent tended to invent achievements and plans that would enhance the way they were perceived. But when Tim told Allison about his nonexistent band and nonexistent record contract, he did so without any larger agenda of fooling her. For all he knew, he'd never see Allison again. Tim's lies seemed to involve her only secondarily, and his primary goal to be fostering his own persona or addressing his own insecurities when meeting a new person. To put it simply, Tim's lies were about Tim.

Sometimes, too, lying can be used to benefit the conversation itself. There are times in any interaction when a strict adherence to the truth would only interrupt its natural flow. When a friend wants to tell you about the great time he had at Sam's house over the weekend, and asks, "You know where Sam's house is, right?" the conversation goes much more smoothly if you nod and say, "Oh, yes, Sam's house." I call such deception "lies of social convenience". Indeed, psychologists have found an association between socially successful people and skill at deception. Popular people tend to be good liars.

But why lie to appear competent or likable? Why not just be yourself? In fact, "just being yourself", if we examine it closely, takes creative effort. Our expression of who we are involves choices that reflect social and interpersonal context, our mood, our personality, our need to maintain our self-image and so on. If we consider self-presentation as a creative process, we can see how it can easily slide into deception. Every interaction involves decisions about which attributes to emphasise and which to minimise, which impulses to follow and which to ignore. At some point, we may not be choosing among our actual traits and our sincere reactions. We may simply fabricate the traits and reactions the social situation calls for, or that we think it calls for. In other words, we might lie.

Alexi Santana's application to Princeton University must have stood out right away. Rather than include an essay about a backpacking trip or his private school education, Santana discussed his life as a parentless ranch hand: sleeping outdoors, teaching himself the great works of world literature, and running for miles in the Nevada wilderness. An admission officer's dream, Santana was accepted into the class of 1993. He became a sporting standout and earned mostly As.

Then, at a sporting event, a Yale student recognised Santana as James Hogue, an ex-convict in his 30s who had posed as a high school student years earlier. Hogue was eventually jailed for defrauding the Princeton student-aid office of financial assistance.

You could write volumes about the pathology of people like Hogue – what compels them to deceive, how they live with their fabrications. The causes underlying impostorism remain a topic both fascinating and elusive. Many psychologists would argue that even the perpetrators don't really know why they've carried out their deceit. Yet perhaps the most incredible part of Hogue's unlikely story is that for so long, he got away with it. He was far from the polished, unflappable charlatan we expect from movie and television portrayals of con men, yet he fooled some of the brightest, most educated people in America. Hogue's success illustrates an essential truth about deception, one we rarely recognise: lying is easy.

Study after study has shown that most people have a great deal of faith in their ability to catch a lie. Few of us think of ourselves as pushovers, easily susceptible to cons and dishonesty. But in 2006, psychologists Charles Bond and Bella DePaulo analysed tens of thousands of individual performances and found that people can differentiate truth from lies only 47% of the time. In other words, we are actually a little worse at figuring out when someone is deceiving us than we would be if we just guessed randomly.

Why is that? First, let's assume lie detection is a skill like any other. The way you acquire and improve upon a skill is through practice. How, though, does one practise lie detection in ordinary life? Identifying a lie is difficult to master. We think that when someone tells a lie, there are red flags: a person lying will avert his gaze. He'll shuffle his feet or drum his fingers. If it's a particularly big lie, he might even start to sweat. When we don't see these red flags, we often decide the person is telling the truth.

Yet experts on deception have concluded that there are no physical tics that universally signal that a person is lying. Individual differences in how people lie are strong. One person might blink rapidly when she lies; another might stare at you, taking elongated pauses between blinks. Further, practised liars learn their own giveaways (or the conventionally assumed giveaways, such as gaze aversion) and teach themselves to avoid them.

Even polygraph machines are unreliable. The polygraph is predicated on the idea that when people lie, they experience anxiety, but the fact is that some people don't get anxious when they lie. Some even experience pleasure. Paul Ekman of the University of California is one of the leading researchers in the area of nonverbal behaviour and deception. He has identified a feeling among liars he calls "duping delight". Just as people will jump out of aeroplanes and climb mountains precisely because of the physical and mental challenges, so, too, do people find an almost recreational thrill in deception.

Once we recognise that it is possible to enjoy a lie with intent, this form of deceit becomes more understandable and more complex. It is not just the function of the lie that matters. It is the form, too. The act of telling the lie brings a kind of profit: an adrenaline rush, a feeling of superiority or accomplishment. Just like a lie that defends self-esteem, one with intent can make a liar feel good.

Meanwhile most of us, in fact, don't spend a lot of time in our daily lives wondering, "Am I being lied to?" This psychological phenomenon, in which we assume we aren't being deceived, is known as the truth bias: our default belief is that other people are telling the truth. Someone needs to give us a compelling reason to think they're lying; otherwise the idea never occurs to us. Recent thinking in the psychological community suggests the truth bias operates as a judgment heuristic, or cognitive rule of thumb. Rather than assess every situation based on all the available information, we use subconscious mental rules to make quick determinations about things. To scrutinise a statement for the truth takes up mental energy – and we like to save that when we can. But this allows liars to float beneath our cognitive radar.

Other times, we simply don't want to uncover a lie. It's not only less strenuous cognitively, it's also more flattering and comforting to accept certain statements at face value. But, like the truth bias, what I call the "willing accomplice principle" may operate more powerfully than we might expect.

Imagine that an estate agent is showing you a house. Not surprisingly, she is falling over herself to praise it. You know enough to be sceptical of someone with an obvious financial motive but you love the house, too. If you are like most people, your initially sceptical assessment of what the estate agent says probably begins to change: instead of being on guard against deceit, you will start to want to believe her. In this way, we enter into a kind of unstated conspiracy with liars.

In many cases, a liar and the target of the lie both benefit from the lie's success. If a liar can hit upon deception that we'd like to believe, too, we're both hoping on some level that the lie won't be revealed for what it is.

Consider the collapse of the American sub-prime market in 2008. Lenders extended loans to those with terrible track records of repayment. There was mutually convenient deception on both sides: borrowers with miserable credit ratings assured lenders that this time they would repay their loans; lenders assured borrowers that astronomical interest rates wouldn't lead them to financial ruin and eventual default. Both sides had a financial stake in allowing the deception to continue. Economic forces, though, rarely tolerate such arrangements. The (now seemingly inevitable) collapse of the market triggered global repercussions that are still being felt.

Although it seems clear in retrospect that vigilance in seeking the truth would have been appropriate, the problem is that the cognitive rules we play by – the truth bias, our trust in flatterers, our need for cognitive efficiency – are not, as the Princeton professors discovered, ones we can easily alter.

• This is an edited extract from The Liar In Your Life: How Lies Work And What They Tell Us About Ourselves, by Robert Feldman, published by Virgin Books on 13 August at £18.99. To order a copy for £16.99, with free UK p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

Famous fibbers
"The last lie I told was 'not guilty'."
Pete Doherty, musician

"Earlier I said, 'I'm ready, I'll be down in a minute.' But I was only getting in the shower. Half an hour later…"
Katie Price, businesswoman

"I've never lied in all my life."
Arthur Smith, comedian

"My last lie was, 'I am absolutely fine.' If you ask anyone over 70 how they are and they say, I am absolutely fine' they are lying."
Jilly Cooper, author

"I often lie about my name. If you were called Lewycka, wouldn't you? I say Mary Lewis, or occasionally I branch out into something more exotic like Lucinda Firestorm."
Marina Lewycka, author

"The most recent outright lie I told was to my publisher, about how fantastically well I was getting on with writing my current book."
John Simpson, journalist

"I'm like everybody else: if somebody says, 'Do you like my new dress?' then I'm going to say yes."
Ann Widdecombe, MP

"I declined work by claiming that I was busy doing something else. And I didn't have to do it, my agent did it very politely on my behalf, so the lie was once removed. But it was me lying."
Reece Shearsmith, comedian

"The only lie I ever tell is in answer to the question: 'Can you come to my wedding/birthday party/baby's christening?' 'Oh, when is it?... Oh, damn, I can't.' This has gone wrong only once (and we put it in The Office) when someone where I used to work invited me to their party and I said: 'Oh, I can't… When is it?' The biggest ever white lie I had ready was when my mum was dying. If she asked me if I thought there was a God, I planned to say, 'Yes. Definitely.' She never asked. I wish she had."
Ricky Gervais, comedian.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

To unlock millions of children's lives, Britain must look to the Harlem miracle.


A piecemeal approach will never deliver change for those at the bottom. We can learn from a bold, radical US experiment.


Jenni Russell


Here we are, still stuck. A fifth of Britain's 11-year-olds, children not born when Blair was elected, can't read well enough to cope with school. Statistically, they're set for failure now. Only 5% will catch up enough to get five worthwhile GCSEs. Ministers confess themselves puzzled by the continued failure of those at the bottom to learn. Whatever we're doing in schools to give all children a chance, it isn't working. So what can we try next?
This is the holy grail of centre-left politics. How do you prevent poor children from being fatally handicapped by their backgrounds? Across the ocean, President Obama thinks he's found the answer. He plans to reproduce it in 20 US cities – and it comes from a unique project in Harlem.
The Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) is a fiercely ambitious programme to change the achievements and expectations of every one of the 10,000 children living in 97 blocks of one of the most devastated communities in America. An eight-year-old boy from Harlem has a 33% chance of ending up in prison. Three-quarters of Harlem schoolchildren can't pass the grade exams for their age. A third of students drop out of high school. Unemployment is double the average. The hundreds of millions in community support and educational initiatives tried in Harlem over the past decades have effectively achieved almost nothing. Some lives have been turned around, but the grim backdrop of most people's existence has remained stubbornly unchanged.
That realisation drove the HCZ founder, Geoffrey Canada, to revolutionise the way he worked. Canada had been a community organiser in Harlem since 1990, and he was fed up with rescuing one drug addict, or criminal, or failing schoolchild, only to watch another dozen slip away. A radical change of approach was needed, and he thought two bold ideas could form the basis for it.
The first was the concept of the tipping point. In Harlem, poverty was so great, and crime and drugs so prevalent, that only the exceptionally lucky or driven child could avoid joining in. Canada wanted to raise the expectations of the whole community simultaneously, so that going to college or avoiding teenage pregnancy would become normal behaviour. Focusing on a minority of talented children wasn't enough. But if 60% of the peer group were ambitious, hardworking and supported by adult, all those antisocial pressures would alter too.
This wasn't just some utopian fantasy. Canada had a theory for how it could be done. All the latest research on the brain showed that much of a child's capacity to think and to learn was set in the first three years of life. Middle-class families were spending those years talking, singing and reading to their children. Poor children weren't getting any of that. They were arriving at school with an average of 25 hours of one-to-one reading behind them. Middle-class children had had 1,700 hours, and their vocabulary was twice as large. They had learned to argue and discuss, and had been introduced to conceptual thinking. Above all, the middle-class children arrived with confidence. They had been encouraged. By the age of three they had heard six times as many encouraging words as discouraging ones. Poor children had been reprimanded two and a half times more than they had been praised. Meanwhile, James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, showed that by the late teenage years, deprived children were very hard to help or teach new skills.
Canada's plan was simple, and staggering. Forget the dozens of small, uncoordinated interventions, many aimed at helping adults. If he could only change the way Harlem's children were raised, he could end the cycle of despair, and transform their future. He wanted to create a pipeline for achievement that would start before birth, with parenting classes that revolutionised adults' approach to their babies, and continued until after college. It would be a tight safety net, involving pre-kindergartens, academies, tutoring, dance and sport classes, food co-ops, social service, and help with housing and health. Every child in the zone would be offered support, and school admission would be done by lottery. It would engage the whole community in a project to transform the lives of the next generation. It was too late for Harlem's adults to expect radical change for themselves, but it could be done for their children.
On the strength of his vision, Canada raised millions of dollars – one-third from the government, two-thirds from philanthropists and charities. The total cost would by $5,000 per child per year.
Five years after Canada opened the first of his Promise academy schools, initially with kindergarten and sixth-grade (for 12-year-olds) classes, a Harvard University study has just evaluated what it calls "one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time". The schools' intake is random, and very deprived: 10% of the children live in homeless shelters or foster care. Yet Harvard concludes that even in a few short years, the combination of community transformation, high-quality teaching and parental support has been "enormously effective at raising the achievement level of the poorest minority children". Whereas the American pattern is for the black/white achievement gap to start wide and become a gulf, so that only 7% of black 14-year-olds pass their grade in maths, the Promise academies are reversing that. Some 97% of their eighth-graders are performing at or above grade level. The elementary school has closed the racial gap in language and in maths, and the pre-kindergarten children are outperforming their white counterparts.

The effects of the HCZ are, says Harvard, much greater than all other initiatives tried across the country – whether it's lowering class size, giving bonuses to teachers in tough schools, or running the classic early-childhood programmes like Head Start. Studying the HCZ offers "many opportunities to answer the important questions that have evaded social scientists for decades".
What the Harlem experiment tells us is that our own piecemeal approaches are never going to deliver real change for those at the bottom. The HCZ is starting where it matters, with the plasticity of babies' brains, and it's trying to recreate, in homes and in the community, what prosperous children already get – sustained care and concern over a lifetime. We, by contrast, keep trying little interventions – like Sure Start – where we engage with families for a couple of years and then retreat, hoping they've learned what they needed. It doesn't work. Without continuity, the effects don't last.
The other lesson of Harlem is that no change comes cheap. Quality is everything. The kindergartens have one teacher for every four children. In the academies half the teachers left – they were not suited to the job – at the end of the first year. Rolling this out to other poor neighbourhoods will cost America billions. But the potential prize is astonishing – the raising of many children's achievement beyond what we ever thought possible. Officially, British ministers like Liam Byrne and John Denham are said to be waiting to see what we can learn from Harlem. This is not a good time to be suggesting radical spending plans. But if we're not prepared to take ambitious action like this, we can't claim to be surprised that the poorest children just don't achieve.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The hidden truth behind drug company profits


Johann Hari:


Ring-fencing medical knowledge is one of the great grotesqueries of our age.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009


This is the story of one of the great unspoken scandals of our times. Today, the people across the world who most need life-saving medicine are being prevented from producing it. Here's the latest example: factories across the poor world are desperate to start producing their own cheaper Tamiflu to protect their populations – but they are being sternly told not to. Why? So rich drug companies can protect their patents – and profits. There is an alternative to this sick system, but we are choosing to ignore it.

To understand this tale, we have to start with an apparent mystery. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been correctly warning for months that if swine flu spreads to the poorest parts of the world, it could cull hundreds of thousands of people – or more. Yet they have also been telling the governments of the poor world not to go ahead and produce as much Tamiflu – the only drug we have to reduce the symptoms, and potentially save lives – as they possibly can.


In the answer to this whodunnit, there lies a much bigger story about how our world works today.

Our governments have chosen, over decades, to allow a strange system for developing medicines to build up. Most of the work carried out by scientists to bring a drug to your local pharmacist – and into your lungs, or stomach, or bowels – is done in government-funded university labs, paid for by your taxes.


Drug companies usually come in late in the process of development, and pay for part of the expensive, but largely uncreative final stages, like buying some of the chemicals and trials that are needed. In return, then they own the exclusive rights to manufacture and profit from the resulting medicine for years. Nobody else can make it.


Although it's not the goal of the individuals working within the system, the outcome is often deadly. The drug companies who owned the patent for Aids drugs went to court to stop the post-Apartheid government of South Africa producing generic copies of it – which are just as effective – for $100 a year to save their dying citizens. They wanted them to pay the full $10,000 a year to buy the branded version – or nothing. In the poor world, the patenting system every day puts medicines beyond the reach of sick people.


This is where the solution to the swine flu mystery comes in. Ordinary democratic citizens were so disgusted by the attempt to deprive South Africa of life-saving medicine that public pressure won a small concession in the global trading rules. It was agreed that, in an overwhelming public health emergency, poor countries would be allowed to produce generic drugs. They are the exact same product, but without the brand name – or the fat patent payments to drug companies in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands.

So under the new rules, the countries of the poor world should be entitled to start making as much generic Tamiflu as they want. There are companies across India and China who say they are raring to go. But Roche – the drug company that owns the patent – doesn't want the poor world making cheaper copies for themselves. They want people to buy the branded version, from which they receive profits. Although not obliged to, they have licensed a handful of companies in the developing world to make the treatment – but they have to pay for license, and they can't possibly meet the demand.


And the WHO seems to be backing Roche – against the rest of us. They are the ones best qualified to judge what constitutes an overwhelming emergency, justifying a breaching of the patent rules. And their message is: Don't use the loophole.

Professor Brook Baker, an expert on drug patenting, says: "Why do they behave like this? Because of direct or indirect pressure from the pharmaceutical companies. It's shocking."


What will be the end-result? James Love, director of Knowledge Economy International, which campaigns against the current patenting system, says: "Poor countries are not as prepared as they could have been. If there's a pandemic, the number of people who die will be much greater than it had to be. Much greater. It's horrible."


The argument in defence of this system offered by Big Pharma is simple, and sounds reasonable at first: we need to charge large sums for "our" drugs so we can develop more life-saving medicines. We want to develop as many treatments as we can, and we can only do that if we have revenue. A lot of the research we back doesn't result in a marketable drug, so it's an expensive process.

But a detailed study by Dr Marcia Angell, the former editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, says that only 14 per cent of their budgets go on developing drugs – usually at the uncreative final part of the drug-trail. The rest goes on marketing and profits. And even with that puny 14 per cent, drug companies squander a fortune developing "me-too" drugs – medicines that do exactly the same job as a drug that already exists, but has one molecule different, so they can take out a new patent, and receive another avalanche of profits.


As a result, the US Government Accountability Office says that far from being a font of innovation, the drug market has become "stagnant". They spend virtually nothing on the diseases that kill the most human beings, like malaria, because the victims are poor, so there's hardly any profit to be sucked out.


We all suffer as a result of this patent dysfunction. The European Union's competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, recently concluded that Europeans pay 40 per cent more for their medicines than they should because of this "rotten" system – money that could be saving many lives if it was redirected towards real health care.


Why would we keep this system, if it is so bad? The drug companies have spent more than $3bn on lobbyists and political "contributions" over the past decade in the US alone. They have paid politicians to make the system work in their interests. If you doubt how deeply this influence goes, listen to a Republican congressman, Walter Burton, who admitted of the last big health care legislation passed in the US in 2003: "The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill."


There is a far better way to develop medicines, if only we will take it. It was first proposed by Joseph Stiglitz, the recent Nobel Prize winner for economics. He says: "Research needs money, but the current system results in limited funds being spent in the wrong way."


Stiglitz's plan is simple. The governments of the Western world should establish a multi-billion dollar prize fund that will give payments to scientists who develop cures or vaccines for diseases. The highest prizes would go to cures for diseases that kill millions of people, like malaria. Once the pay-out is made, the rights to use the treatment will be in the public domain. Anybody, anywhere in the world, could manufacture the drug and use it to save lives.


The financial incentive in this system for scientists remains exactly the same – but all humanity reaps the benefits, not a tiny private monopoly and those lucky few who can afford to pay their bloated prices. The irrationalities of the current system – spending a fortune on me-too drugs, and preventing sick people from making the medicines that would save them – would end.

It isn't cheap – it would cost 0.6 per cent of GDP – but in the medium-term it would save us all a fortune because our health care systems would no longer have to pay huge premiums to drug companies. Meanwhile, the cost of medicine would come crashing down for the poor – and tens of millions would be able to afford it for the first time.


Yet moves to change the current system are blocked by the drug companies and their armies of lobbyists. That's why the way we regulate the production of medicines across the world is still designed to serve the interests of the shareholders of the drug companies – not the health of humanity.


The idea of ring-fencing life-saving medical knowledge so a few people can profit from it is one of the great grotesqueries of our age. We have to tear down this sick system – so the sick can live. Only then we can globalise the spirit of Jonas Salk, the great scientist who invented the polio vaccine, but refused to patent it, saying simply: "It would be like patenting the sun."

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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Time is up for once-great Britain

The man who hailed Cool Britannia in 1996 believes the Great Recession heralds an era of decline

Stryker McGuire

Even in the decades after it lost its empire, Britain strode the world like a pocket superpower. Its economic strength and cultural heft, its nuclear-backed military might, its extraordinary relationship with America — all these things helped this small island nation to punch well above its weight class. Now all that is changing as the bills become due on Britain’s role in last year’s financial meltdown, the rescue of the banks and the ensuing recession. Suddenly the country is having to rethink its role in the world — perhaps as Little Britain, certainly as a lesser Britain.

This is a watershed moment for the UK. The country’s public debt is soaring, possibly doubling to a record 100 per cent of GDP over the next five years, according to the International Monetary Fund. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research forecasts that it will take six years for per capita income to reach early 2008 levels again.

The effects will cascade across government. Budgets will be slashed at the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, affecting Britain’s ability to project power, hard and soft. And there’s little that can be done to reverse the trend, either by Gordon Brown or by David Cameron. As William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said in a recent speech: “It will become more difficult over time for Britain to exert on world affairs the influence which we are used to.”

History has been closing in on Britain for some time. The rise of China and India always meant that Britain would have a smaller seat at the increasingly crowded top table of nations. It also meant that the US would recalibrate the so-called special relationship as it sought new partners and alliances, inevitably shrinking the disproportionate role Britain has long played in world affairs.

Tony Blair made a final stab at greatness with what amounted to a 51st-state strategy: by locking Britain into America’s wars — on terror, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq — London achieved an importance it hadn’t had since Churchill. But whatever advantage Britain gained in the short term was wiped out by the political damage Mr Blair’s strategy caused at home. Ordinary Britons and even members of the Establishment grew critical of what they saw as London’s subservient relationship with Washington. Mr Blair’s authority was diminished, his political agenda at home suffered and it became clear that Britain’s geopolitical default setting would no longer be to follow America’s lead automatically. Mr Blair may merely have postponed the inevitable: a lesser Britain is a consequence of world events.

The global recession has hit virtually every country, but Britain more than most. The great engine room of British prosperity, the financial sector, now feels like an anchor. The IMF believes that Britain’s slump will be deeper and longer than that of any other advanced economy. The number of Britons claiming unemployment benefits has jumped from 1.3 million (4.6 per cent of the workforce) in 1999 to more than two million and is on track to top three million.

The OECD says Britain’s recovery may begin this year, but will lag behind those of other rich countries. At the moment, Britain is arguably saddled with the worst public finances of any leading nation, thanks to voracious spending in recent years and to borrowing that is growing faster than in other developed nations. Britain is so heavily indebted that one political commentator dubbed it Iceland-on-Thames, suggesting that Britain could follow that nation into bankruptcy.

What makes the British case stand out even more is that it is the only country of its size in recent history that has sought such a disproportionately large role on the world stage. During the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher saw herself as second only to Ronald Reagan as a leader who helped to bring down the Soviet Union. During Mr Blair’s decade in office, Britain fought three wars — in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq — in which its military participation was right behind that of the US. Now that’s changing.

The UK still maintains one of the largest defence budgets in the world, but probably not for much longer. As the number of British deaths in Afghanistan has risen dramatically, both Labour and the Conservatives have felt obliged to say they would not reduce defence spending, so as not to put troops at greater risk. But in the longer term experts say big cuts are inevitable.

A Royal United Services Institute paper estimates that the MoD budget will be cut by 11 per cent in real terms over the next six years. Other estimates are much higher. Paddy Ashdown, a former Royal Marine, has said the annual £35 billion MoD budget might have to be cut by almost a quarter, which would put Britain more in line with traditionally lower-spending continental powers. Britain’s role in the world will shrink with its budget.

The future of Britain’s nuclear force, the ultimate symbol of a great power, is also uncertain. Britain’s submarine-based Trident missile system is due to be replaced over the next decade at a cost of some £20 billion. But according to a recent poll 54 per cent of the British people say that Britain should give up its nuclear deterrent altogether. That’s unlikely, but it may force the next government to find a cheap way to extend Trident’s lifespan. Traditionally, being a nuclear power was one way of securing permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and any downgrading of Britain’s deterrent could strengthen the demands of big emerging powers that they should have more seats on the council, possibly at the UK’s expense.

The glory days of the City of London are now grinding to a halt, too. London stole the march on Wall Street by seizing the highest growth areas, such as hedge funds, exotic derivatives and the like. Unluckily for London, these areas were also the hardest hit by the financial crisis. But now London, like New York, awaits a slew of new national, regional and global regulation that appears likely to diminish its role in the world for years to come. The EU has already endorsed the creation of a systemic risk board with oversight powers that will include the City. Britain has sidestepped such intervention in the past, but this time is different. Germany and France appear intent on restraining the excesses of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and may seek to engineer reforms that steer a greater share of global capital flows into more cautious continental hands.

London, as the glitzier icon of laissez faire, will pay a steeper price than Wall Street in the financial new world order. Ever since the Big Bang of the 1980s, London has regulated the banking industry with a light touch. If European regulations are harmonised to include London and if London’s light touch gets a little heavier, the City could suddenly become “more antagonistic to the institutions that are being regulated”, as Andrew Hilton, of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, puts it. In that event, financial centres such as Singapore and Hong Kong could draw business away from the City.

Britain’s bout of reflection on its last gasps of empire comes at a natural point in its history. The Great Recession came as a surprise and has accelerated the trend, but the rise of China, India and Brazil, and the changing ties to a declining America, have been visible for many years. As America turns to building new ties with the advancing powers of Asia and Latin America, Britain can only feel less special. The nation is in the totally predictable grip of the ennui and grumpiness that accompany the end of a political era.

Eleven years ago, the year after Mr Blair swept to victory, he spoke in Dublin of a Britain that was “emerging from its post-empire malaise”. Phrases such as “new Labour” and “new dawn” and “new Britain” were not yet curdling on the tongue. Today, Mr Blair is two years out of office and Mr Brown suffers from a grey, been-there-too-long aura. Long gone is the cultural ferment of Cool Britannia that made London the capital of cool in the early Blair years.

Pity the prime minister who takes over from Mr Brown. A Conservative victory at the next election would have little of the game-changing feeling that accompanied Mr Blair’s triumph 12 years ago. Then, Britain bought into Mr Blair’s mantra because it was real enough: the economy had already begun a period of unprecedented growth, immigration was enriching the country, an entrepreneurial fervour crackled across even the old industrial heartland. Today that has evaporated. The great test of the next prime minister will be not only to redefine Britain’s place among great nations but also to renew the kind of spirit that has ruled Britannia in the past.

Stryker McGuire is contributing editor of Newsweek magazine. A longer version of this article appears in the current issue

10 places women want to be touched

Forget a woman's cleavage, there are more erogenous spots that you can now explore to get your lady sexcited. Read on to discover her ten most Know her trigger points and enjoy sexual bliss like never before(Getty Images)
sensuous body parts waiting to be discovered.

Women are sensuous creatures and they love being kissed and caressed. What guys often mistake is that they go straight for the woman's breasts or other private parts, without concentrating on her other moan zones. So, if you want to get your gal into the mood, stimulate some of her often-neglected body parts.

Touch these places during foreplay and sex, or just give her some pleasure after a hard day and she'll surely reward you with brownie points in bed.

All guys like women with gorgeous locks. But what you need to know is that women love being touched on their head. It's quite a stress reliever. Running your hands sensuously through her tresses is likely to send shivers down her spine. Massage her temples to the nape of her neck and she’ll be game to your desires.

Nape of her neck
In ancient Japan, the back of a woman’s neck was considered extremely attractive by men as it was one of the few zones that were not covered by the elaborate kimono. Today, very few men focus on the nape of the neck, but we suggest you build up the pleasure by gentle touching and kissing your lady love from her hairline down to her shoulders. It will make her reach dizzying heights of pleasure.

Collar bone
A well-defined collarbone is what men find irresistible. So, why not touch and kiss her there. Unbutton her shirt just a little and stimulate her collarbone with your touch. Create circles with your tongue and give her love bites right there, just to remind her of how much you want her.

Small of her back
Most women love it when their guy places his protective hand against the small of her back as it shows that he feels very strongly about her. So, why not incorporate this gesture into your foreplay routine, by kissing or licking down her spine to end up with a kiss on the small of her back. It will definitely get her into the mood for more!

Behind her knees
This area is a power house of sensitive nerve endings. You can gently caress the back of her knee under her skirt while the two of you are in an open public space as it is sure to get her excited by the time you reach home.

Palms of her hands
We use our hands to please our partners, but have you ever thought that you could arouse a woman by stimulating the palm of her hand? Run your finger along her palm as that will make her feel relaxed and ready for a sexy rendezvous ahead.

Her earlobes
This is one of the most erogenous moan centers of a woman's body. Touching, kissing and even gently biting her earlobes will send her into a sexual tizzy. If you are getting extra adventurous, simply nibble around the outside of the rest of her ear as well, but don't put your tongue inside her ear. That's a major turn off!

Happy feet
There's nothing more sinfully seductive than a foot massage. It will help her relax, especially if her job requires her to be on them all day. Get yourself some aromatic massage oil or lotion. Pay extra attention to the pressure points such as her toes, ankles and the sides of her feet too. Some women love enjoy having their toes sucked, but others find it repulsive, so ask your babe what she would have you do before putting them in your mouth.

Soft thighs
Touching a woman's inner thighs without touching her private parts is the most sensual tease that is sure to get her all charged up. Employ your hands and mouth to caress and kiss the insides of her thighs, remember to pull back before going all the way.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Private Airlines in India - A case of Market failure

Yesterday, under the leadership of showman Vijay Mallya, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) ratcheted up the pressure on the Indian government to help these private airlines to avoid the consequence of unpaid bills and loans. They threatened a day's strike on 18 August and promised more of more to come; in an attempt to browbeat the Indian government. If the FIA wins, it will be one more instance of 'privatisation of profits and socialization of costs'.

On the CNN-IBN news programme at six pm last evening, an expert mentioned that most of these private airlines were offering flight tickets at $60 when the actual cost to the airline was $ 100. These lower fares may have been a part of the price penetration strategy that is taught at business schools. The beneficiaries of such a strategy are the new entrant airlines and the passengers that availed of this freebie. The moot question therefore is why should the majority of Indians bail out this minority group when none of them have obtained any benefits of the profusion of loss making airlines.

In a free market, a firm that makes losses will quit the market thereby lowering supply and will raise prices resulting in better bottom lines for the survivors. Why is this basic principle of the market being ignored by Mallya and co? It is because in India the FIA believes they can bully the pliant government to support their profligate ways. Praful Patel, the civil aviation minister, himself has not been a neutral arbiter in the civil aviation industry, acceding to arbitrary rules that supported incumbent airlines.

I think the private airlines should not be offered any handout other than what they have obtained so far. If they go bust, so be it and India may have a better civil aviation industry.

The art of staying in the present

Concentration is about living in the moment - which unfortunately isn't as easy as it sounds

Aakash Chopra

July 30, 2009

Did Tendulkar never once think of playing the cover-drive during his 241 in Sydney? Unlikely.

Ever since I started playing cricket I've been told about the importance of concentration and how it's the key to batting for a long time and scoring a lot of runs. There has always been plenty of emphasis on this aspect of the game. I'd often hear a commentator say that a lapse in concentration cost the batsman his wicket, or a coach telling me to concentrate harder whenever I couldn't put the bat to ball.

Though I understood the importance of concentration fairly early in my career, I didn't entirely understand the concept itself. And I wasn't the only one.

What exactly is concentration?
A few years ago I was selected to play in the Challenger Trophy (before I made my international debut). We had an interactive session with Geet Sethi, the billiards player, whose definition of concentration remains etched in my memory. He said that concentration is simply remaining in the present. The longer you can remain in the present, the greater your span of concentration. Sounds easy, right?

Nearly two decades of playing cricket has taught me that it isn't. The mind has the peculiar ability of wandering off at the first available moment, and it doesn't need any permission. You might be in the middle of an important match, playing an important knock or bowling the most crucial over, but the mind has a mind of its own. Two places it likes to wander off to are the past and the future.

I'd either start feeling bad or good about what had happened in the past - the ball before - and get disconnected from the present, or I would start worrying about or prematurely celebrating events in the future, getting away from the task at hand.

Whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future does not have, or at least should not have, any bearing on the ball you're going to bowl or play next. All that matters is what you do with that particular ball. Remaining in the present is the only way to concentrate.

One needs to start concentrating once the bowler starts his run-up and the concentration has to be at its peak from the time of delivery till the ball hits the bat. (Of course, this changes for fielders, who need to be alert till one of them fields the ball.)

How can you improve your concentration?

Most games of cricket go on for at least six hours at a time, with occasional breaks. Now concentrating for a few minutes at a time is quite difficult, let alone six hours. So the idea is to switch off after every delivery and then switch on before the next. Switching off means allowing the mind to wander away for a few seconds before getting it back on track. This is not restricted to only batting and bowling; fielders do it too. One needs to relax before starting to concentrate again.

Batting or bowling in the nets can be instrumental in improving concentration, since one needs to concentrate ball after ball in that situation, with very little time in between (as there are usually about six or seven bowlers operating at all times).

The trigger movement
Most players follow a set routine - adjusting the equipment, or something else - that acts as a trigger to snap them out of wander mode and back to the game. Greg Chappell would look at the crowd after playing every ball; MS Dhoni fiddles with his bat and gloves; I scratch the leg-stump mark on the pitch with my shoe; Jason Gillespie used to stop for a few seconds and take a deep breath at the top of his run-up.

Staying in the game
While it's important to switch off and allow your mind to wander, one still needs to ensure that it doesn't drift too far away. For example, a captain has to still think about the field placements and plan his course of action, like bowling and fielding changes. A fielder is supposed to always be looking at the captain or bowler for instructions on any possible changes in the fielding position before starting to concentrate again. A batsman weighs his options of scoring runs off the next ball. I call this not-so-focused form of concentration "staying in the game".

The zone
Then there are some - we call them geniuses - who seemed to get into the zone at will: the state of mind where everything flows automatically. You don't consciously switch on or off, your mind doesn't wander into the past or the future, you're constantly aware of your surroundings and almost always play the ball on its merit or bowl where you want to bowl. We all have times when we get into such states, but to do it on a consistent basis is an art that only a few have mastered. Sachin Tendulkar seemed to get into the zone more regularly than the rest.

How can one attain that state at will?
Honestly, I don't know for sure. I've gathered over the years that even the greatest minds can wander. Thoughts keep coming into your head regardless of whether you want them to. The best way to deal with them is to acknowledge their presence rather than trying to ignore them. Trying to push the thoughts away gets you involved and takes you away from the task at hand. When you leave them unattended, they disappear. Tendulkar's innings in Sydney in 2004 is the perfect example of not paying heed to the thoughts that try to intrude. He didn't play a cover-drive for most, if not all, of his innings of over 200, and I refuse to believe that the thought of playing the shot didn't cross his mind, especially once he was set.

Sunil Gavaskar once told me that when you reach a milestone your mind takes you to the ones you love most. You feel an immediate connection to those close to you who are watching you achieve the feat and your heart goes out to them and with it your mind too, which results in a loss of concentration

When are we most vulnerable to losing concentration?

I used to think that staying in the present was important only at the beginning of the innings. After all, it's only at the start, when we're plagued with self-doubt, that we are most susceptible to failure; once we get that elusive start, everything falls in place. But I've learned that I was mistaken. A loss of concentration can occur at any point during an innings, and most often does when you're feeling good, like after going past a milestone, when you drop your guard a bit.

I once asked Sunil Gavaskar about it, and he said that when you reach a milestone, the mind takes you to the ones you love most. You feel an immediate connection to those close to you who are watching you achieve the feat and your heart goes out to them, and with it your mind too. You thank everyone on the ground by raising the bat, thank God for his blessings, and your family members in your heart. At such times the mind is anywhere but on the cricket field, and you often end up taking the long walk back before realising what's happened. His advice to me was to recognise that emotional surge and allow yourself a little time to regroup; perhaps spending a few overs at the non-striker's end at such times is a good idea.

The external factors
Bowlers and fielders, especially the ones close to the bat, often try to talk the batsman into playing a poor stroke. Few batsmen succumb to the tactic and lose focus; the majority have their own ways of dealing with it.

Sunny bhai told me that the best way is to ignore the comments and even avoid eye contact with the talkers. On the contrary, someone like Matthew Hayden relishes a chat with the bowler and the fielders. Then there's Brian Lara. The Indian team would decide before the start of a series against West Indies to leave him alone, because if you try to get under his skin he starts concentrating harder and then is almost impossible to dislodge.

Even the crowd has a role to play. But contrary to popular belief, a hostile crowd doesn't have as much of an impact as a cheering crowd.

I remember getting hit on the helmet in Melbourne during the Boxing Day Test in 2003, and 70,000 people cheered Brett Lee and Co to do it again. But the only effect it had on my game plan was to make me more determined. On the other hand only 30,000 people egging me on to hit another four off Daniel Vettori in my debut Test, in Ahmedabad, was enough to lure me into a false stroke. I got ahead of myself and was dismissed.

We now know that regardless of whether we know the definition of concentration or not, whether we play cricket - or any other sport or for that matter - remaining in the present is the essence to being successful. We all do it unconsciously, and perhaps that's why we slip out of it without knowing, but if we manage to do it consciously, at will, keeping close tabs on our mind, we'll be able to control it a lot better and produce better results.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here

Warne, Cricket and Poker

The spin legend is attempting to turn a lifelong hobby, poker, into a career every bit as illustrious as the one he is leaving behind on the cricket field

Andrew Miller

July 31, 2009

"I see a lot of similarities between poker and cricket, and I thoroughly enjoy them both" ©

When great sportsmen retire, they often find it hard to carve a new niche in life. Some find solace in coaching or commentary, but many drift listlessly into middle age, unable to find a suitable outlet for the competitive instincts that drove them to the peak of their professions. Not for the first time in his life, however, Shane Warne has taken it upon himself to buck convention. His 40th birthday is fast approaching at the end of the summer, but far from dwelling on past glories, he has immersed himself in a second career that promises a whole new wave of fame, fortune and razor-sharp gameplay.

The world of professional poker is where Warne's passions reside these days, and it's hard to imagine a cricketer more likely to succeed in such a glitzy and unfamiliar world. While his punditry during Sky Sports' Ashes coverage has been lauded for his acerbic opinions and typically keen insight, his absence from last month's historic first Test in Cardiff was ample proof of his new priorities. Instead of fronting up at Sophia Gardens, Warne spent the week holed up in the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, competing in the World Series of Poker - the single most prestigious tournament on the circuit - and coming within a whisker of taking the event by storm.

It's a safe bet that, somewhere in a quiet corner of the England and Australia dressing rooms on a frustrating first day at Edgbaston, a deck of cards and a stack of chips were brought out of someone's coffin, as the players whiled away the washed-out hours in traditional fashion. In his retirement speech on the eve of the Ashes, Michael Vaughan said that the England squad's regular poker games at the back of the team bus were an aspect of his professional life that he would particularly miss, while in London last month, Warne and Darren Gough brought the two pastimes together under one banner, and led their respective countries in the inaugural Poker Ashes, a contest that finished in a familiar 4-1 Australian victory.

"I see a lot of similarities between poker and cricket, and I thoroughly enjoy them both," Warne told Cricinfo. "People associate poker with gambling, but that's not actually the case. Tournament poker, which is what I play, is completely different to playing at home or in a re-buy tournament, and it has actually been deemed in a court of law a sport and a game of skill. It's all about reading your opponents, it's all about when you think they are bluffing and when they are not, it's about table image, and position on the table, and playing the percentages. There's a real sense of satisfaction about risking your chips and making a great call, or making a great lay-down when you're behind, Playing your cards right gives a massive sense of satisfaction."

Poker, like cricket, has a wealth of jargon designed to baffle the uninitiated, but when you cut through Warne's complicated turns of phrase, it's self-evident why he is so well suited to this alternative form of cut-and-thrust. When you think of the traits that turned him into arguably the greatest match-winner of his generation, there's more at play than merely his peerless ability to spin a cricket ball on all surfaces. There was the showmanship that he brought to his game - the strut and confidence with which he set his fields and controlled the tempo of the innings, the look of incredulity after each delivery that failed to take a wicket, the absolute confidence that he, and only he, had the power to dictate the direction of a match.

"It's all about reading your opponents, it's all about when you think they are bluffing and when they are not"

There was his ability to seize the slightest moment of weakness in a team (especially England, who were in thrall of him from the very first ball he bowled in Ashes cricket) or an individual (for instance, Daryl Cullinan, who was effortlessly out-psyched throughout their jousts in the mid-1990s). And there was his ability to adapt his game to suit the needs of the hour, never more memorably than at Adelaide in 2006-07, when he took his licks from Kevin Pietersen during a humiliating first-innings return of 1 for 167, only to strike with lethal speed and intent on that irresistible final day, when at last the cards fell in his favour.

"There's a huge element of skill and tactics involved in poker, and that's one of the things I enjoyed with cricket," said Warne. "The tactical side, the gamesmanship involved, when to push your opponent around and when not to, when to huff and puff and when not to. I'd like to be as successful on the poker table as the cricket field, but I think I've got a few years to go before that happens.

"Days at big tournaments are pretty tough," he added. "Before my first World Series [in 2008] I played in three or four Aussie Millions, a tournament in South Africa and a European World Series, and they are all long days in which you have to concentrate from first hand to last, and in that respect it's just like cricket as well. You have five two-hour sessions, and every two hours you have 20 minutes off. That adds up to 12- or 13-hour days, which start at 12pm and finish at 1 o'clock in the morning." His Test-match instincts could hardly have honed him to better effect.

The basic rules of Texas hold'em poker, the world's most popular form of the game, are simple enough to grasp. Each player is dealt two cards, upon which they make an initial judgment on whether to bet or to fold (and as a rule, picture cards or pairs are the likeliest route to success). After an opening round of betting, the first three of five community cards are dealt in the middle of the table ("the flop"), followed by "the turn" and "the river", each punctuated with another round of betting. The aim of the game is to create (or give the impression you've created) the strongest five-card hand from the seven cards available, just as the aim of cricket is to score more runs than the opposition. But as with both games, the devil is in the details.

"The more tournaments you play, the more you get to understand the tactics, and you don't get intimidated when the big heavies are at play," said Warne. "One of my tables [at the WSOP] was described as the table of death. I started on 19,000 chips with six really aggressive pros at the table, but I managed to get down at 100,000 and then walked away at the end of the day in 24th position overall, and more than 173,000 in chips. You don't just do that by luck. There's a lot of strategy at play."

Dealing with aggression, particularly of the batting variety, is something Warne proved long ago he was a past master at. While fast bowlers have their own aggressive tendencies to throw back at belligerent opponents, Warne could only rely on his innate skill and deeply considered strategies to stay in command of the situation. Given that he has been a card-player for as long as he can remember (he and his brother Jason used to play for matchsticks while their parents hosted Friday-night card games) you sometimes wonder in which direction his skills have travelled.

You've gotta schmooze: Warne with Matt Damon at the World Series of Poker ©

But even Warne was not an instant success at Test level. On debut against India in January 1992, he was clattered around the SCG for figures of 1 for 150, and it wasn't until the tour of Sri Lanka eight months later that he came up with the performance that confirmed he could mix it with the big boys. His final-day figures of 3 for 11 inched Australia to a remarkable 16-run victory, and from that moment on there was no stopping the momentum of his career.

"I had to try and hide my nerves in my first Test, and in poker the same thing applies," he said. "When I played my first Aussie Millions tournament in 2004-05, sure, I was nervous, but I pulled off a bluff on the flop, and won my first pot, and once I'd got over that, I started to feel okay. After that, you can start to understand the tables a bit more, and establish your own table image, and then you can begin to work out who the pros are, and who the weak players on the table are. Hopefully the weak players steal the good players' chips, and then you steal the weak players' chips! But it takes a while to work all that out."

And when it comes to stealing weak players' chips, that is where the bluff comes into its own. "A bluff is all about telling a story," said Warne. "You have pick the right opponent, and set it up right from the word go, pre-flop. It's about representing strength. You have to fire again on the flop, and fire again on the turn, and expect some action on the river, and actually have the strength to do that. It takes a fair amount of skill to actually back your bluff up, or if you're halfway through a bluff and you realise you haven't got the best hand after all, you have to have the skill to know that too, and lay it down."

Once again, the parallels with Warne's Test career are self-evident. Take, for instance, the occasions (usually before an Ashes series) when he would announce to the world that he had developed a new and mysterious delivery, such as the zooter, which nobody to this day is sure ever actually existed. "I vary my play depending on what table I'm at," he said. "If I'm at a super-aggressive table, I just play tight, and try to pick my mark, and wait for someone to try to take me off a hand that I've actually hit. But if I'm at a tight table, I play aggressive, because I'm a pretty aggressive player full stop, which probably doesn't come as much of a surprise!"

All the same, there's a subtle difference between aggression and blind recklessness, and as far as Warne is concerned, the greatest pride he takes from his play comes on the occasions he actually has to admit defeat - which he never knowingly conceded on the cricket field. "It's really tough to do, but it gives you great satisfaction when you make a great lay-down," he said. "Sometimes you don't find out whether you were beat, but usually, about five seconds after a hand has finished, you generally get an instinct or a gut feel that it wasn't on, just by your opponent's reaction. He'll look down at his chips or he'll swallow, all those little tells that say you got away with one, and actually made a great decision."

Sometimes, however, even the best calls don't work out in your favour - as Warne, to his chagrin, discovered in Las Vegas this month. The manner in which he was eliminated on the third day of the World Series still brings him out in a grimace, but typical of his sporting career, he refuses to take a backward step. Here, in his own words, is his tale of World Series woe:

"Hopefully the weak players steal the good players' chips, and then you steal the weak players' chips!"

"About an hour into the day's play, a guy in middle position raised four times the blind, I called on the button with J10 hearts. The flop came 7, Q, K hearts. I think I'm good. He checks, I bet the pot, he calls, the turn card comes a spade. He bets the pot, and has about 70,000 left in his chip stack. I put him all in. He calls and turns over a set, he's got three kings. I'm good, I'm miles ahead, but then he beats the bullet with a queen on the river, and that crippled my stack."

In layman's terms, Warne was brutally unlucky. After the first four cards of the crucial hand had been dealt, he was sitting pretty with a king-high flush, which meant, at that stage, the only hand that could have beaten him was one involving two further hearts, one of which had to be an ace. When the two players laid their cards out on the table for "the race", the only way his opponent could escape was if the river produced the last remaining K, to complete four-of-a-kind, or paired up with one of the other cards on the table, for a full house. The odds were therefore roughly 4 to 1 in Warne's favour, and had he won the pot of 300,000 chips, he would have been propelled up to fifth in the chip count, from an initial field of nearly 6500 competitors.

"People say poker is all about luck, but it's not about good luck, it's about not getting unlucky," he said. "Four out of the five times I risked all my chips at the World Series, I actually had the best hand. The fifth and final time came right at the end of my tournament, after I had waited an hour with my last 20,000 chips. I went all-in with a pair of eights, and when the flop came 4 2 6 rainbow [a variety of different suits] I was looking pretty good. But I ran into a pair of aces, and that summed my day up. I copped some pretty ordinary beats."

There's no question, however, that Warne will be back for another crack next year. With the best players in the world, a buy-in of $10,000, and an outlay of US$70 million in sponsorship and TV rights, the World Series of Poker is a massive event, and as prestigious in its own way as any cricket contest he's ever played in. "The winner of the WSOP gets more than $10 million, and I can't think of any individual sporting prize in the world that pays out that amount," said Warne. "You might get a million dollars for winning Wimbledon, or three or four million for a golf tournament, but $10 million is massive."

So too is his desire to turn a lifelong hobby into a career every bit as illustrious as the one he is leaving behind on the cricket field. In only one aspect does his outlook to poker seem to differ, however. "I just stick to my game, and don't worry much about the verbals," he said. "If a conversation comes up I might get involved, but usually I just stick my headphones on, and that's it." If, one day, we spot Warne goading Phil Ivey to "have a go, go on, you know you want to," in the manner in which he destroyed Mark Ramprakash at Trent Bridge in 2001, then maybe we'll know for sure that he really has arrived as a poker star. is offering cricket lovers the opportunity of a lifetime - a net session with Shane Warne. The king of spin will visit one lucky cricket club and put the players through their paces as he shows off the skills that earned him 708 Test wickets. Warne is looking for a group of cricketers who share his passion for poker. For full information on how to enter, please email

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo