Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Friday, 19 February 2010

World's top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage, report estimates


 

 

Report for the UN into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment

 Juliette Jowit


Black clouds over the central business district, Jakarta.

The report into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest public companies has estimated the cost of use, loss and damage of the environment. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images


The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.
The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study - dubbed the "Stern for nature" after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern - will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

Ahead of changes which would have a profound effect - not just on companies' profits but also their customers and pension funds and other investors - the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly ordered a report into the activities of the 3,000 biggest public companies in the world, which includes household names from the UK's FTSE 100 and other major stockmarkets.

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 - a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies' combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others.
"What we're talking about is a completely new paradigm," said Richard Mattison, Trucost's chief operating officer and leader of the report team. "Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them."

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the "social impacts" such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.
Trucost did not want to comment before the final report on which sectors incurred the highest "costs" of environmental damage, but they are likely to include power companies and heavy energy users like aluminium producers because of the greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels. Heavy water users like food, drink and clothing companies are also likely to feature high up on the list.

Sukhdev said the heads of the major companies at this year's annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, were increasingly concerned about the impact on their business if they were stopped or forced to pay for the damage.
"It can make the difference between profit and loss," Sukhdev told the annual Earthwatch Oxford lecture last week. "That sense of foreboding is there with many, many [chief executives], and that potential is a good thing because it leads to solutions."
The aim of the study is to encourage and help investors lobby companies to reduce their environmental impact before concerned governments act to restrict them through taxes or regulations, said Mattison.

"It's going to be a significant proportion of a lot of companies' profit margins," Mattison told the Guardian. "Whether they actually have to pay for these costs will be determined by the appetite for policy makers to enforce the 'polluter pays' principle. We should be seeking ways to fix the system, rather than waiting for the economy to adapt. Continued inefficient use of natural resources will cause significant impacts on [national economies] overall, and a massive problem for governments to fix."

Another major concern is the risk that companies simply run out of resources they need to operate, said Andrea Moffat, of the US-based investor lobby group Ceres, whose members include more than 80 funds with assets worth more than US$8tn. An example was the estimated loss of 20,000 jobs and $1bn last year for agricultural companies because of water shortages in California, said Moffat.

The price of environmental destruction? There is none

Putting a price on nature becomes meaningless if we treat the ecosystems upon which we depend as mere commodities with a price for trading

Factory pollution
'There is no wealth but life' ... smoke issues from a factory in Anfeh, Lebanon. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

The economy is no stranger to creating its own fantasy world with little or no relation to the real one. We witnessed the damage that can cause when the banks thought they had stumbled on financial alchemy and could transform bad debt into good – economic base metal into gold.


Now it's possible that a much bigger error is coming to light. The rise and rise of global corporations lifted on a wave of apparent productivity gains may have been little more than a mask for the reckless liquidation of natural capital. It's as if we've been so distracted by our impressive speed of economic travel that we forgot to look at the fuel gauge or the cloud of smog left in our wake.


A new UN report estimates that accounting for the environmental damage of the world's 3,000 biggest companies would wipe out one-third of their profits. Any precise figure, however, is a matter of how risk is quantified and of where you draw the line. In 2006, for example, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), of which I am the policy director, looked at the oil companies BP and Shell, who together had recently reported profits of £25bn. By applying the Treasury's own estimates of the social and environmental cost of carbon emissions, we calculated that the total bill for those costs would reach £46.5bn, massively outweighing profits and plunging the companies into the red.


Yet in exercises like this, we quickly hit the paradox of environmental economics. By putting a price on nature, hopefully it makes it less likely that we will treat the world, and its natural resources, as if it were a business in liquidation. Yet there is a point when it becomes meaningless to treat the ecosystems upon which we depend as mere commodities with a price for trading. For example, what price would you put on the additional tonne of carbon which, when burned, triggers irreversible, catastrophic climate change? Who would have the right to even consider selling off the climate upon which civilisation depends? The avoidance of such damage is literally priceless.


If that sounds dramatic, consider that last September a large, international group of scientists published a paper in the journal Nature which identified nine key planetary boundaries for key biological systems upon which we depend. They found that we had already transgressed three of those, and were on the cusp of several others. All are potential points of no return as such complex systems begin interacting.


The huge advantage of the UN work is that it attempts to improve the feedback system between the economy and its ultimate parent company, the biosphere. Better risk assessment and value measurement is essential to help prevent what happened to banks happening to the planet.


The concept of a balanced budget, so loved by conservatives in relation to finance and spending, seems to be an alien concept when the consumption of natural resources and the production of waste is concerned. Yet it is far more important to achieve a balanced environmental budget than an economic one. You can always print more money, but you can't print more planet. As John Ruskin put it, "There is no wealth but life."


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Monday, 15 February 2010

The Gifting Of Love


 

Pritish Nandy,  15 February 2010, 09:21 AM IST
 

V-Day week is a good time to ask: Is gifting the only way to show your love? Over the past week, wherever I looked, all I saw were exhortations to buy, buy, buy. What struck me as funny to begin with eventually became so high pitched that, despite my cynicism about such promotional antics, even I felt guilty for not rushing out to buy gifts. Everyone around me seemed to be flashing credit cards. The consumer society has taken Mother Teresa literally: Give till it hurts. So if you can't buy her a platinum ring or a candlelight dinner by the Aegean Sea, it means you can't afford her. Worse, it means you don't deserve her. From a day of love, V-Day has become a day to test your love.

 
It's actually a new premise, that love must be afforded. Like water, that was free till a few years back. It seems just the other day that the Beatles sang, Can't buy me love. Now love, like Evian, is expensive and branded. The bigger the brand, the more impressive the gift, the more powerful the love you profess. Or so declares the new consumer ethic, reinforced this time, no, not by the Beatles but by Abba. Money, money, money, it's a rich man's world. It's not just about women. It extends to even God. Tirupathi and Siddhivinayak grow richer every year. The offerings are more flashy. We are reaching a stage where we will soon be told if you can't afford to show your love for God with a big enough donation, don't come.

 
Ads warn me that if I don't buy the right insurance policies, I don't love my family enough. If I don't buy myself the right medical plan, I am not taking adequate care of them. If I don't pack off my kids to B-schools overseas, I am not preparing them properly for life. If I don't invest in the right mutual funds, I am not investing in their future. If I don't buy the correct cell phone plan for the family, I am not enabling them to talk all day and night to each other and bond as strongly as a family ought to. It all boils down to money. That's the ultimate test of love today.

 
But is that what your heart says? Is it what the people you love tell you? Is it what you believe is true? Well, not as yet perhaps. But the pitch is so high it's tough not to be persuaded that love is all about what you buy each other. Going back to the platinum ring, it's a beautiful gift and I am sure many of us would love to give it to the person we cherish. But not all of us can afford it. Those who can't are possibly no less loving than those who can. But do we really believe that any more in a world where we've reduced love to buying clichés? From the ubiquitous bouquet of roses to the Hallmark card to the blue Tiffany box, everything's now so tiresome, predictable. We have forgotten the power of the well crafted, hand written note, the stolen kiss.
 

Gifting is for the unimaginative. The more expensive it is, the more it speaks about who you are, not what you feel for her. It's untrue to say people don't like gifts but to assume that gifts can substitute for love is plain arrogance. That's what Sahir meant when he called the Taj Mahal not a symbol of love but an emperor's way of boasting that he could afford a love his subjects couldn't. From weddings to V-Day, every occasion is now becoming a test for love. You can buy your neighbour's wife a red Porsche convertible on her next birthday but will it win you her heart?


Gifts are never a substitute for love. Expensive gifts, even less so. They only reveal your own lack of ideas. Learn the salsa for her instead. Write her a poem. Mail her a song. Open the car door for her more often. Take her for a walk on Marine Drive. Play with her mastiff. Challenge your imagination. Surprise her. Enchant her. Woo her. Seduce her. Every day can be V-Day. You only have to make it so. Fight with her, argue with her, make love to her. Make her laugh more often. That's what love is all about. Not what you buy her.


As I sat in a dark hall, surrounded by so many bored young couples munching popcorn and staring at the screen, watching an unbearable movie called Valentine's Day, I am  reminded of how beautiful and ephemeral all love is. To preserve it, cherish it, hold on to it, you need imagination, courage, adventure. You need a heart that can beat fast and a pulse that races every time you are near her. Me? I get an adrenaline rush even when I speak to her on the phone. Her presence in my life is the biggest gift of all.


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Goldman Sachs: the Greek connection


 

 

By Stephen Foley in New York

Investment giant's role in eurozone debt crisis falls under spotlight

Goldman Sachs, the giant investment bank, is today at the centre of the row over the Greek government's finances, amid recriminations over complex financial deals that allowed the eurozone nation to skirt its debt limits.
With European finance ministers meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to discuss ways to prevent a debt crisis threatening the eurozone as a whole, a spotlight has been shone on techniques used by Greece and other indebted countries to give the appearance of lower budget deficits and debt levels.
 
The euro membership rules place strict caps on the size of government deficits relative to a national economy, but Goldman Sachs and other banks helped Greece raise cash earlier in the decade in ways that did not appear in the official statistics. With the current recession causing even official budget deficits to balloon all across the continent, fears of further hidden liabilities have been contributing to the crisis of confidence in Greek debt and pulling down the value of the euro.
 
Goldman Sachs has been the most important of more than a dozen banks used by the Greek government to manage its national debt using derivatives, and the bank's traders created a number of financial deals that allowed the country to raise money to cut its budget deficit now in return for repayments over time or at a later date. In one deal Goldman channelled $1bn of money to the government in 2002 in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. Such deals are an expensive way of raising money, but they have the advantage of not having to be accounted for as debt. The eurozone rules dictate that governments must run deficits no bigger than 3 per cent of the size of GDP and take on total debt of no more than 60 per cent of the economy - rules that Greece did not meet even during the economic boom.
 
Goldman Sachs, the world's most powerful investment bank, is already under intense scrutiny in the ongoing controversy over banking practices, pay and profits. Barack Obama last month launched an assault on Wall Street proposing to cap the size of the US's biggest banks and clamp down on their trading activities. On the same day Goldman began distributing nearly £10bn in pay and bonuses to its staff for performances in 2009, a year after the financial system was bailed out by governments.
 
Reflecting the importance of the Greek government as a client, and the scale of the fees that can be generated from derivatives deals, Goldman sent Gary Cohn, its chief operating officer and second in command of the global group, to Athens in November to pitch for new business with the debt management office. According to a report yesterday, Goldman suggested a way that Greece could push healthcare liabilities further out into the future. The bank refused to comment.
 
Other eurozone countries have been discovered using cross-currency swaps similar to one causing concern in Greece, including Italy, which did a controversial transaction with JP Morgan before it joined the euro. The size and scale of the use of derivatives is not fully understood, even by Eurostat, the European Union's official statistics body, which has complained that member nations' finances are opaque and the information it is given about derivatives deals is incomplete.
 
Gustavo Piga, an economics professor at the University of Rome, whose 2001 paper on the topic sparked furious debate within the EU, questioned the wisdom of using Wall Street banks to invent ways to skirt debt rules.
 
"What kind of relationships start to arise between these governments and these banks once they are in this mortal embrace of reciprocal blackmail potential? How does this change the dynamics on other issues such as the regulation of banks? We have no idea - maybe nothing, but certainly there is a conflict of interest here," he told Risk magazine this week.
EU leaders promised last Thursday to make sure that Greece could meet its debts, but they sketched no mechanism for doing so and pledged no specific sums of money, and reiterated their demands for Greece to redouble efforts to impose the swingeing public spending cuts that prompted widespread labour unrest.
 
Finance ministers continue the work on contingency plans for a bailout this week, amid signs of disagreement over the scale of austerity measures that should be demanded of Greece. The European Central Bank is asking for tougher measures than the ministers are willing to demand.
 
Underscoring the political pressures within the eurozone, a majority of Germans want Greece to be thrown out of the eurozone if necessary and more than two-thirds oppose handing Athens billions of euros in credit, a poll published yesterday showed.


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Saturday, 13 February 2010

UK's 'Independent Judiciary'


 

Binyam Mohamed case: Torture and a question of judgment

During the coming week three of the most senior judges in the land will have to sort out an almighty mess. In the most narrow terms they have to make a decision about a solitary paragraph in one court of appeal judgment. But the decision they will take goes to the heart of the independence of the judiciary; a commitment to legal and government transparency; the behaviour of our intelligence services; and the degree to which parliament and press can offer any meaningful oversight of the most secret corners of the state.

An idea of how high the stakes in the case are can be gauged from the extraordinary pressure exerted on the courts this week over the case of Binyam Mohamed, who (no one now disputes) was tortured with the knowledge of the US authorities. The White House has criticised Wednesday's appeal court judgment. Both the foreign secretary and home secretary have come out fighting. The head of the intelligence and security committee has insisted all is sweetness and light in his world. And, extraordinarily, the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, has written a newspaper article directly challenging the reported views of the judges.

But what are those views? Enter the almighty mess – a legal travesty for which there is no known precedent. It centres on paragraph 168 of the judgment drafted by the master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger, and adopted by the lord chief justice and by Sir Anthony May. When the government's QC, Jonathan Sumption, read the draft paragraph he wrote to the judges asking them to alter it – an approach of the kind which the court of appeal itself has deplored. Amazingly, they complied, substituting a bland alternative without consulting the other lawyers in the case. On realising that other parties had, until late in the day, been unaware of the Sumption manoeuvre, the judges conceded they might have been "over-hasty" and said they would reconsider. But, in the meantime, the bland substitute paragraph stands.

What was it that so exercised the government? Fortunately we can rely to an extent on Mr Sumption's summary of 168. He says the judges took the view that some in MI5 don't respect human rights or abjure torture; that this is true of a number of M15 officers; that MI5 deliberately misled parliament; and that there is such a "culture of suppression" within the service that its assurances cannot be trusted. These are utterly damning conclusions, and it is little wonder that the government should want to stamp on them. But it is, frankly, ­astonishing that the judges should have agreed to doctor their own considered verdict.

The judges now have a number of options – none of them very satisfactory. They could reinstate the original paragraph – though they would then have to explain why they so meekly caved in to Mr Sumption. They could stick to the bland paragraph – but the world would then ask why they had suppressed that which Mr Sumption's letter so eloquently summarised. Or they could redraft the original 168, explaining the thinking behind their change of mind. Were they to do so, they would do well to publish the original paragraph as a footnote so that full transparency was served.

If they feel they erred in their original verdict they owe it to MI5 to say so, even if it would prompt questions as to how three such distinguished judges could get such a crucial matter so wrong. If they feel their original words were right, they should defend them and reinstate them. The American courts have been ­unequivocal in Binyam Mohamed's case. Judge Gladys Kessler unequivocally called his treatment torture – and the American government, so quick to criticise our own courts, did not seek to contradict or challenge a word of the evidence. It would be extremely disturbing if there were any suggestion that our own judges had submitted to pressure or, alternatively, having made a mistake, could not admit it.



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Friday, 12 February 2010

Forgiveness for Haiti? We should be begging theirs


 

The very idea of Haiti as debtor needs to be abandoned. We in the west should pay arrears for years of violations

If we are to believe the G7 finance ministers, Haiti is on its way to getting something it has deserved for a very long time: full "forgiveness" of its foreign debt. In Port-au-Prince, Haitian economist Camille Chalmers has been watching these developments with cautious optimism. Debt cancellation is a good start, he told al-Jazeera English, but: "It's time to go much further. We have to talk about reparations and restitution for the devastating consequences of debt." In this telling, the whole idea that Haiti is a debtor needs to be abandoned. Haiti, he argues, is a creditor – and it is we, in the west, who are deeply in arrears.

Our debt to Haiti stems from four main sources: slavery, the US occupation, dictatorship and climate change. These claims are not fantastical, nor merely rhetorical. They rest on multiple violations of legal norms. Here, far too briefly, are highlights of the Haiti case.
 
The slavery debt. When Haitians won their independence from France in 1804, they had every right to claim reparations from the powers that had profited from three centuries of stolen labour. France, however, was convinced that it was Haitians who had stolen the property of slave owners, by refusing to work for free. So in 1825, with a flotilla of warships stationed off the Haitian coast threatening to re-enslave the former colony, King Charles X came to collect 90m gold francs – 10 times Haiti's annual revenue at the time. With no way to refuse, and no way to pay, the young nation was shackled to a debt that would take 122 years to pay off.

 

In 2003, Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, facing a crippling economic embargo, announced that Haiti would sue the French. "Our argument," Aristide's former lawyer Ira Kurzban told me, "was that the contract was an invalid agreement because it was based on the threat of re-enslavement at a time when the international community regarded slavery as an evil." The French government was sufficiently concerned that it sent a mediator to Port-au-Prince to keep the case out of court. In the end, however, its problem was eliminated: Aristide was toppled from power. The lawsuit disappeared, but for many Haitians the reparations claim lives on.

 

The dictatorship debt. From 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the defiantly kleptocratic Duvalier regime. Unlike the French debt, the case against the Duvaliers made it into several courts, which traced Haitian funds to an elaborate network of Swiss bank accounts and lavish properties. In 1988 Kurzban won a landmark suit against Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier when a US district court in Miami found that the deposed ruler had "misappropriated more than $504,000,000 from public monies".

 
Haitians, of course, are still waiting for their payback – but that was only the beginning of their losses. For more than two decades, the country's creditors insisted that Haitians honour the debts incurred by the Duvaliers, estimated at $844m, much of it owed to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In debt service alone, Haitians have paid out tens of millions every year.

 

Was it legal for foreign lenders to collect on the Duvalier debts when so much of it was never spent in Haiti? Very likely not. As Cephas Lumina, the UN independent expert on foreign debt, put it to me: "The case of Haiti is one of the best examples of odious debt in the world. On that basis alone the debt should be unconditionally cancelled." But even if Haiti does see full debt cancellation (a big if), that does not extinguish its right to be compensated for debts already collected.

 
The climate debt. Championed by several developing countries at the climate summit in Copenhagen, the case for climate debt is straightforward. Wealthy countries that have so spectacularly failed to address the climate crisis owe a debt to the developing countries that have done little to cause the crisis, but are disproportionately facing its effects. In short, the polluter pays. Haiti has a particularly compelling claim. Its contribution to climate change has been negligible; Haiti's per capita CO2 emissions are just 1% of US emissions. Yet Haiti is among the hardest hit countries.
 
Haiti's vulnerability to climate change is not only – or even mostly – because of geography. It is Haiti's weak infrastructure that turns challenges into disasters, and disasters into catastrophes. The earthquake, though not linked to climate change, is a prime example. And this is where all those debt payments may yet extract their most devastating cost. Each payment to a foreign creditor was money not spent on a road, a school, an electrical line. And that same illegitimate debt empowered the IMF and World Bank to attach onerous conditions to each new loan, requiring Haiti to deregulate its economy and slash its public sector still further. Failure to comply was met with a punishing aid embargo from 2001 to 2004, the death knell to Haiti's public sphere.
This history needs to be confronted now, because it threatens to repeat itself. Haiti's creditors are already using the desperate need for earthquake aid to push for a fivefold increase in garment-sector production, some of the most exploitative jobs in the country. Haitians have no status in these talks, because they are regarded as passive recipients of aid, not full and dignified participants in a process of redress and restitution.
 
A reckoning with the debts the world owes to Haiti would radically change this poisonous dynamic. This is where the road to repair begins – by recognising the right of Haitians to reparations.




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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Take Back Your Education


 

Take Back Your Education

By John Taylor Gatto

09 February, 2010
Yes Magazine

More and more people across America are waking up to the mismatch between what is taught in schools and what common sense tells us we need to know. What can you do about it?

Nobody gives you an education. If you want one, you have to take it.

Only you can educate you—and you can't do it by memorizing. You have to find out who you are by experience and by risk-taking, then pursue your own nature intensely. School routines are set up to discourage you from self-discovery. People who know who they are make trouble for schools.

To know yourself, you have to keep track of your random choices, figure out your patterns, and use this knowledge to dominate your own mind. It's the only way that free will can grow. If you avoid this, other minds will manipulate and control you lifelong.

One method people use to find out who they are becoming, before others do, is to keep a journal, where they log what attracts their attention, along with some commentary. In this way, you get to listen to yourself instead of listening only to others.

Another path to self-discovery that seems to have atrophied through schooling lies in finding a mentor. People aren't the only mentors. Books can serve as mentors if you learn to read intensely, with every sense alert to nuances. Books can change your life, as mentors do.

I experienced precious little of such thinking in 30 years of teaching in the public junior high schools of Manhattan's ultra-progressive Upper West Side. I was by turns amused, disgusted, and disbelieving when confronted with the curriculum—endless drills of fractions and decimals, reading assignments of science fiction, Jack London, and one or two Shakespeare plays for which the language had been simplified. The strategy was to kill time and stave off the worst kinds of boredom that can lead to trouble—the trouble that comes from being made aware that you are trapped in irrelevancy and powerless to escape.


Institutionalized schooling, I gradually realized, is about obedience in exchange for favors and advantages: Sit where I tell you, speak when I allow it, memorize what I've told you to memorize. Do these things, and I'll take care to put you above your classmates.

Wouldn't you think everyone could figure out that school "achievement tests" measure no achievement that common sense would recognize? The surrender required of students meets the primary duty of bureaucratic establishment: to protect established order.

It wasn't always this way. Classical schooling—the kind I was lucky enough to have growing up—teaches independent thought, appreciation for great works, and an experience of the world not found within the confines of a classroom. It was an education that is missing in public schools today but still exists in many private schools—and can for you and your children, too, if you take time to learn how to learn.

On the Wrong Side of the Tracks

In the fall of 2009, a documentary film will be released by a resident of my hometown of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Laura Magone's film, "One Extraordinary Street," centers on a two-mile-long road that parallels polluted Pigeon Creek. Park Avenue, as it's called, is on the wrong side of the tracks in this little-known coal-mining burg of 4,500 souls.

So far Park Avenue has produced an Army chief of staff, the founder of the Disney Channel, the inventor of the Nerf football, the only professional baseball player to ever strike out all 27 enemy batsmen in a nine-inning game, a winner of the National Book Award, a respected cardiologist, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, and the writer whose words you're reading.

Did the education Monongahela offered make all these miracles possible? I don't know. It was an education filled with hands-on experience, including cooking the school meals, serving them individually (not cafeteria-style) on tablecloths, and cleaning up afterward. Students handled the daily maintenance, including basic repairs. If you weren't earning money and adding value to the town by the age of seven, you were considered a jerk. I swept out a printing office daily, sold newspapers, shoveled snow, cut grass, and sold lemonade.

Classical schooling isn't psychologically driven. The ancient Greeks discovered thousands of years ago that rules and ironclad procedures, when taken too seriously, burn out imagination, stifle courage, and wipe the leadership clean of resourcefulness. Greek education was much more like play, with studies undertaken for their own sake, to satisfy curiosity. It assumed that sane children want to grow up and recognized that childhood ends much earlier than modern society typically allows.

We read Caesar's Gallic Wars—in translation between fifth and seventh grades and, for those who wanted, in Latin in ninth and tenth grades. Caesar was offered to us not as some historical relic but as a workshop in dividing and conquering superior enemies. We read The Odyssey as an aid to thinking about the role of family in a good life, as the beating heart of meaning.

Monongahela's education integrated students, from first grade on, into the intimate life and culture of the town. Its classrooms were free of the familiar tools of official pedagogy—dumbed-down textbooks, massively irrelevant standardized tests, insanely slowed-down sequences. It was an education rich in relationships, tradition, and respect for the best that's been written. It was a growing-up that demanded real achievement.

The admissions director at Harvard College told The New York Times a few years ago that Harvard admits only students with a record of distinctive accomplishment. I instantly thought of the Orwellian newspeak at my own Manhattan school where achievement tests were the order of the day. What achievement? Like the noisy royalty who intimidated Alice until her head cleared and she realized they were only a pack of cards, school achievement is just a pack of words.


A Deliberate Saboteur

As a schoolteacher, I was determined to act as a deliberate saboteur, and so for 30 years I woke up committed to making the system hurt in some small way and to changing the destiny of children in my orbit in a large way.

Without the eclectic grounding in classical training that I had partially absorbed, neither goal would have been possible. I set out to use the classical emphasis on qualities and specific powers. I collected from every kid a list of three powers they felt they already possessed and three weaknesses they might like to remedy in the course of the school year.

I pledged to them that I'd do my level best inside the limitations the institution imposed to make time, advice, and support available toward everyone's private goals. There would be group lessons as worthwhile as I could come up with, but my priorities were the opportunities outside the room, outside the school, even outside the city, to strengthen a power or work on a weakness.

I let a 13-year-old boy who dreamed of being a comic-book writer spend a week in the public library—with the assistance of the librarian—to learn the tricks of graphic storytelling. I sent a shy 13-year-old girl in the company of a loudmouth classmate to the state capitol—she to speak to her local legislator, he to teach her how to be fearless. Today, that shy girl is a trial attorney.

If you understand where a kid wants to go—the kid has to understand that first—it isn't hard to devise exercises, complete with academics, that can take them there.

But school often acts as an obstacle to success. To go from the confinement of early childhood to the confinement of the classroom to the confinement of homework, working to amass a record entitling you to a "good" college, where the radical reduction of your spirit will continue, isn't likely to build character or prepare you for a good life.

I quit teaching in 1991 and set out to discover where this destructive institution had come from, why it had taken the shape it had, how it managed to beat back its many critics for a century while growing bigger and more intrusive, and what we might do about it.

School does exactly what it was created to do: It solves, or at least mitigates, the problem of a restless, ambitious labor pool, so deadly for capitalist economies; and it confronts democracy's other deadly problem—that ordinary people might one day learn to un-divide themselves, band together in the common interest, and take control of the institutions that shape their lives.

The present system of institutionalized schooling is a product of two or three centuries of economic and political thinking that spread primarily from a militaristic state in the disunited Germanies known as Prussia. That philosophy destroyed classical training for the common people, reserving it for those who were expected to become leaders. Education, in the words of famous economists (such as William Playfair), captains of industry (Andrew Carnegie), and even a man who would be president (Woodrow Wilson), was a means of keeping the middle and lower classes in line and of keeping the engines of capitalism running.

In a 1909 address to New York City teachers, Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said, "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity to forgo the privilege of a liberal education."

My job isn't to indict Woodrow or anyone else, only to show you how inevitable the schools you hate must be in the economy and social order we're stuck with. Liberal education served the ancient Greeks well until they got too rich to allow it, just as it served America the same way until we got too rich to allow it.

What Can You Do About All This? A lot.

You can make the system an offer it can't refuse by doing small things, individually.

You can publicly oppose—in writing, in speech, in actions—anything that will perpetuate the institution as it is. The accumulated weight of your resistance and disapproval, together with that of thousands more, will erode the energy of any bureaucracy.

You can calmly refuse to take standardized tests. Follow the lead of Melville's moral genius in Bartleby, the Scrivener, and ask everyone, politely, to write: "I prefer not to take this test" on the face of the test packet.

You can, of course, homeschool or unschool. You can inform your kids that bad grades won't hurt them at all in life, if they actually learn to master valuable skills and put them on offer to the world at large. And you can begin to free yourself from the conditioned fear that not being accepted at a "good" college will preclude you from a comfortable life. If the lack of a college degree didn't stop Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell Computer), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA), Warren Avis (Avis Rent-a-Car), Ted Turner (CNN), and so many others, then it shouldn't be too hard for you to see that you've been bamboozled, flummoxed, played for a sap by the propaganda mills of schooling. Get rid of your assumptions.

If you are interested in education, I've tried to show you a little about how that's done, and I have faith you can learn the rest on your own. Schooling operates out of an assumption that ordinary people are biologically or psychologically or politically inferior; education assumes that individuals are sovereign spirits. Societies that don't know that need to be changed or broken.

Once you take responsibility for your own education, you'll join a growing army of men and women all across America who are waking up to the mismatch schools inflict on the young—a mismatch between what common sense tells you they'll need to know, and what is actually taught. You'll have the exquisite luxury of being able to adapt to conditions, to opportunities, to the particular spirits of your kids. With you as educational czar or czarina, feedback becomes your friend and guide.

I've traveled 3 million miles to every corner of this country and 12 others, and believe me, people everywhere are gradually waking up and striking out in new directions. Don't wait for the government to say it's OK, just come on in—the water's fine.

John Taylor Gatto wrote this article for Learn as You Go, the Fall 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Gatto was a New York State Teacher of the Year. An advocate for school reform, Gatto's books include Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and Weapons of Mass Instruction.




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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Money Man: Super-economist Joseph Stiglitz on how to fix the recession

 
February 9, 2010

 

A Nobel Laureate and former senior advisor to Bill Clinton, Joseph Stiglitz is the biggest brain in economics - and he predicted the slump years ago. In an exclusive interview, he talks to Sean O'Grady about 'crazy' capitalism, Britain's chances of recovery and why the banks must be punished

Anger doesn't sit easily on the urbane, vaguely cuddly frame of Joe Stiglitz. His beard and open-necked shirt lend him an unbuttoned air, and he has the veteran teacher's ability to put the intellectually inferior at their ease, which I am grateful for. A career that includes a spell as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton White House, chief economist at the World Bank and now a professorship at Columbia Business School has endowed him with patience. And yet I sense also some tension, that maybe he cannot quite struggle out from under the sense of pain many of us feel about the events of the last couple of years. Even in the calm, elegant surroundings of the Palm Court at London's Langham Hotel, where I join him for a cappuccino, his coffee his not the only thing that is, figuratively speaking, frothing away.
 
He is appalled that the banks have expressed "not a note of gratitude" about the funding and subsidies they have received from taxpayers "without which they would not exist", and that they have had the cheek to turn around and say that they don't have enough money to lend to small businesses or would-be homeowners, but that they have to spend vast sums of money raised from often hard-up taxpayers on obscene bonuses - amounting to $33bn in bonuses in the US alone. This perverse redistribution of income from the poor to the rich, a gigantic reverse exercise in the usual Robin Hood approach, is unprecedented in human history. The US government, Stiglitz says, was reduced to the role of garbage disposal service for the banks' toxic assets, bad loans and worthless securities they themselves had created. Why, Stiglitz asked, did the White House under Bush and Obama spend so much on keeping the banks going but so little on helping struggling homeowners, a policy that would have helped keep a roof over their heads, slow the slide in property values and protect the banks from the fundamental cause of their troubles, the crumbling value of securities based on those residential mortgages: "The current crisis has seen the government assume a new role - the 'bearer of risk of last resort'. When the private markets were at the point of meltdown, all risk was shifted to the government. The safety net should focus on protecting individuals; but the safety net was extended to corporations, in the belief that the consequences of not doing so would be too horrific. Once extended, it will be difficult to withdraw. Firms will know that if they are sufficiently big and their failure represents a sufficient threat to the economy - or if they are sufficiently politically influential - the government will bear the risk of failure."
 
The thing about Stiglitz - which he shares with one or two others, such as the governor of the Bank of England. Mervyn King, and the veteran ex-chair of the Fed and Obama adviser Paul Volcker - is that he just won't let go of the bankers. He is pleased that Obama has adopted the "Volcker principles" - a plan to break up the banks and prevent them doing anything too reckless - but says it doesn't go far enough. The world-weary response of the media and the politicians, after the immediate horrors have passed - to give in to the financial sector's blackmail, let things slide and hope for the best - is not for these men, and we ought to be glad that they keep banging on about what went wrong, who was to blame, and how we stop it happening again.
 
Not Stiglitz. He reminds us that the banks have effectively tried to keep "a gun to our heads", that says that if we don't keep them going on their terms then they will "kill the economy". Now, economics is not usually taken to be much to do with justice. The harsh "disciplines" of the market and the workings of Adam Smith's invisible hand are not about right or wrong but about efficiency, "optimal" distributions of resources, what are called "positive" or objective considerations, rather than subjective or "normative ones".
 
Stiglitz is an economist who naturally rebels at such naïve restrictions, the unnecessarily simplistic equation of economics with the outer reaches of conservative, free market theorising. Ideas of fairness, equity and justice are never far away from this philosopher-economist. Nor bravery.
 
He wants Gordon Brown - who he met for dinner yesterday evening - to hold his nerve, defy the markets and ignore those who want him to start reducing the budget deficit, which is pretty much everyone it would seem. Indeed Stiglitz suggests he keep some plans for a second fiscal expansion up his sleeve. When I suggest, as David Cameron has done, that some modest, symbolic trimming of the budget deficit this year might be enough to "appease" the markets, he recoils at the anthropomorphic stupidity of the idea.
 
"I've always been sceptical about the notion that the market is a person you can engage in an argument with, and that that person is an intelligent, rational, well-intentioned person: it is fantasy. We know that that person, the market, is subject to irrational optimism and pessimism, and is vindictive. If there is a speculative attack against you it is not an issue of appeasement but a judgement about whether they can break your back."
 
He goes on, with the confidence of a man who, as World Bank chief economist about a decade ago, watched such assaults on countries in the same way you might watch a Saw movie: "You're dealing with a crazy man, you're asking what I can do to placate a crazy man: Having got what he wants he will still kill you."
 
The professor appeals, instead to reason: "What I call 'fiscal fetishism' is really dangerous," he says. "Because cutting back means the economy goes into a downturn and the markets lose even more confidence, as it will trigger another recession or depression." If we do do that, he says, we will get the dreaded "double dip" recession. He urges ministers instead to tell the opposition and those short-sleeved, short-sighted, short-memoried traders in the City to consider the investment and returns that will come from all the public spending we are doing. It is true that the Government does seem to think that, for example, spending on our universities is just so much cash down the drain; for Stiglitz, certainly in the US, higher education remains a significant future engine of economic growth. Then again he is an academic.
 
In any case, he finds it "unconscionable" that the British Government is now being held to ransom by the very credit ratings agencies - currently murmuring about withdrawing the UK's AAA rating - which fouled up so badly over sub-prime mortgages and all those unfathomable securities that landed us in the mess we're in now. And if the markets won't buy our gilts - the bonds the Treasury issues to cover its vast borrowings (about £175bn this year) - he wants the Bank of England to be "cooperative" and buy them instead.
 
He is angry most of all on behalf of the 170 million people he estimates have lost their jobs globally because of this slump, and for the "ordinary taxpayers" now being asked to pay more taxes, defer their retirements and suffer poorer public services because of the greed of others.
 
"I sense in Greece and other countries under attack anger, that while financial markets started the crisis and governments got themselves into huge debts to bail them out and pay for the downturn, now the financial markets are punishing those same governments. You can imagine people feeling this irony, and it's not healthy." Indeed.
 
In his new book, Freefall, Stiglitz is at his most lapidary on the American financial interests responsible for dragging the world into its worst slump in three-quarters of a century: "The evident ability of the big banks to stop so much of the regulatory reforms that are needed is itself proof of taking action." Visa and MasterCard, he concludes, found it "easier just to hand out credit cards who anyone who breathed than to do the hard work of credit assessment and judge who was creditworthy and who was not".
He adds: "There used to be laws limiting interest rates - called usury laws. Such restrictions go back to the Bible, and have a long history in most religions - arising out of the even longer history of moneylenders (often described as the second-oldest profession) exploiting poor borrowers. But modern America threw the lessons of the dangers of usury aside. With interest rates so high, lending was highly profitable, even if some percentage of cardholders didn't repay what was owed."
 
The banks were not just avaricious, but "foolish", recklessly lending to those who could not possibly keep up their mortgage repayments after their initial sucker deal interest rates were withdrawn. "The wheelings and dealings of the mortgage industry in the United States will be remembered as the great scam of the early twenty-first century." Nor does he hold out that much hope of things changing. He points out that there are five lobbyists for every Congressman in Washington DC, and that there are 77 members of the House of Representatives on the House Financial Services Committee, its popularity mostly being accounted for by the fact that it guarantees a healthy flow of campaign contributions. "The called it a people's campaign," but the financial services industry, he adds, "contributed as much to the Obama election fund as all the small individual contributions put together". The system, he says, is "corrupt".
 
His sheer indignation at what he calls "the Great American Robbery" - that multi-trillion dollar bailout for the banks sanctioned by the Bush and Obama administrations - is as awesome as the sums involved, and as understandable. It is clear who he also holds responsible. Stiglitz, naturally enough, drips contempt for the failure of George W Bush to appreciate the enormity of what was about to hit the world - Bush's "cowboy boots and manly swagger" proving little substitute for the sort of intelligent, bold response to the crisis Stiglitz argued was on the way early on. Stiglitz does not draw the parallel, but all-too often President Bush sounds eerily like the President Hoover of JK Galbraith's classic account of the origins of the last Great Depression, The Great Crash, 1929. Both presidents spent much of their time expressing how the fundamentals of the US economy were sound, only to have their words greeted with another sell-off. Stiglitz seems set to be the left's chronicler and analyst of this slump - the man to stand up to the intellectual juggernaut of market orthodoxies, just as Galbraith was for a previous s generation.
 
Then again, Stiglitz, the most liberal of the liberal economic establishment in America, is even more disappointed in Barack Obama, because he admits he had higher hopes for him. Obama's attempts to "muddle though" the crisis, as Stiglitz puts it, leave him uncomfortably bracketed with his reviled Republican predecessor. Stiglitz seems almost as uncertain about the soundness of President Obama's current team, including economic adviser Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, as he is about the Bush team, drawn as it often was from Goldman Sachs and the other great Wall Street houses: "The entire series of efforts to rescue the banking system were so flawed partly because those who were somewhat responsible for the mess - as advocates of deregulation, as failed regulators, or as investment bankers - were put in charge of the repair."
 
As it happens, Brown comes off well in the comparison; "What Brown has done in terms of banks so far is far better than what the US did; he demanded better compensation for providing money, better accountability, better attempts to restart lending, than in the US."
 
The lesson Stiglitz takes from all this is a simple one: that markets can get things spectacularly wrong, as we have seen in this crisis, and cannot be allowed to operate in an economy without government intervention. This revelation, now so glaringly obvious but so heretical even a few years ago, is how he won his Nobel prize for economics in 2001. He and his co-authors showed how even the slightest deviation from the standard assumption taught to every A-level economics student - that all economic agents have equal access to information - can result in radically different outcomes to classic economic theory. Or, as we now might put it, what the banks knew and the rest of us did not.
 
In a world where no one under the age of 40 can recall a time when markets weren't automatically assumed to be efficient and best left alone, Stiglitz's break with those doctrines is violent. According to Stiglitz, far from free markets delivering a calm ocean of financial stability, they have delivered us a financial crisis, on average, every year or two. Moreover, they are completely unsuited to the new challenges of pricing-in environmental damage and degradation - "externalities" in the economist jargon.
The golden age of economic prosperity, he points out, came in the quarter-century or so after the Second World War, when the banks were tightly regulated by the rules that were drawn up after the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.
 
His vocation was felt early on. He says: "I'm from Gary, Indiana, a steel town on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. As I grew up, I saw persistent unemployment, which grew much larger as the economy faced one downturn after another. I knew that when people in my town faced hard times, they couldn't go to the bank and get money to tide them over. I saw racial discrimination.
"As I began to study economics, none of these conclusions of neoclassical theory seemed to make sense to me. It helped motivate me to look for alternatives. As graduate students, my classmates and I argued about which of the assumptions of neoclassical economics was critical - which was responsible for the 'absurd' conclusions of theory."
 
He is closer to that ambition today: "You can say you're angry, but for me it is more out of sorrow than anger. The crisis was predictable. And I hoped that it wouldn't happen and I thought we in the US and UK could do better because we had democracy. The game isn't over yet I hope."
 
Today, on Stiglitz's 67th birthday, he can at least take some satisfaction in the way that the world is coming around to sharing his anger at the absurdities - and the obscenities - of market economics.

 
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy by Joseph Stiglitz is published in hardback by Allen Lane (£25). To order a copy for the special price of £22.50 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk
 
Joseph Stiglitz: On economics
* "We have the good fortune to live in democracies, in which individuals can fight for their perception of what a better world might be like. We as academics have the good fortune to be further protected by our academic freedom. With freedom comes responsibility: the responsibility to use that freedom to do what we can to ensure that the world of the future be one in which there is not only greater economic prosperity, but also more social justice." Nobel Prize Lecture, December 2001

 
* "Never has the need for international organisations like the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation been greater, and seldom has confidence in them been lower. The lone superpower, the US, has demonstrated its disdain for supranational institutions and worked assiduously to undermine them." Making Globalization Work, 2006

 
* "The truth is, most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal." Vanity Fair, January 2009

 
* "[The banks] not only didn't innovate, they actually resisted innovations that were important. It was heads I win, tails you lose. And you lost." Speech at Columbia University, February 2009

 
* "What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalisation: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatising of gains and the socialising of losses. It is a 'partnership' in which one partner robs the other." New York Times, March 2009

 
* "Obama's policies have made a difference. But he and his economic team have made several critical mistakes. They underestimated the severity of the downturn. As a result, the stimulus programme was too small." NY Daily News, January 2010

* "The only surprise about the economic crisis of 2008 was that it came as a surprise to so many." Freefall, 2010




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Monday, 8 February 2010

Abdul Qadir

 

Abbamania

Twelve years ago, Abdul Qadir, still good enough to turn out for Pakistan, spent a summer playing club cricket in Melbourne. The few who saw him remember it like it was yesterday
February 8, 2010

Abdul Qadir
Qadir: clapped opposition batsmen's fine strokes, bowled downwind, told people what a pleasure it was to meet them © Getty Images
Related Links
Players/Officials: Abdul Qadir
On a sticky Peshawar afternoon in 1998, Mark Taylor clipped a Test triple-hundred while Pakistan's spinners tossed and chased and collected one wicket for 327 runs. Next morning Abdul Qadir, who was not any more a Pakistani Test spinner, and hadn't been for eight years, found himself in a car bound for Princes Park in one of Melbourne's lovelier suburbs.
Carlton was playing Footscray that day.
Carlton was Abdul Qadir's new club.
Driving the car was Carlton's vice-president, Craig Cook, who was relating the contents of an email his legspinning son Calum had sent - something about a Footscray batting wiz named "Larko".
"Tell Abba," the email went, "that Larko only picks wrong'uns from off the track, not out of the hand."
Qadir stared out the windscreen. The car pulled up at the oval.
"Hey Abdul," roared Ian Wrigglesworth, Carlton's captain. "Listen. Larko can't pick a wrong'un. You set it up, do whatever you want."
Qadir nodded and said nothing. Not until many minutes later, as they were walking out to field, did he ask politely: "When does this Larko come in?"
Larko was Rohan Larkin, an ex-state batsman, and he stepped out that day at No. 4.
Qadir watched him approach, stuck a fielder at close gully. And bowled. Wrong'un. Larkin, failing to pick it, went to square cut. The ball smacked the bat's edge and whistled through first slip's hands for two.
"Great," Larkin thought, "I'm off the mark and I've seen his wrong'un. I'll be right from here."
Qadir's second ball was faster; wicketkeeper Micky Butera rocked back instinctively on his heels. It was also wider. "Very close to the edge of the pitch," says Larkin. It was too wide to make mayhem, so wide that the umpire cleared his throat and gave a preliminary twitch of his arms. Larkin flung his own arms high, his bat even higher - "to allow the ball to travel through harmlessly".
Instead the ball dipped - swooped, more like - as if by remote control. It landed, veered headlong in the wrong direction, then hit middle stump, like Shane Warne dumbfounding Mike Gatting all over again. In reverse.
"Abdul spun this wrong'un one and a half feet," gasps Butera. "Sounds ridiculous when you say it."
"I would play that ball the same way a hundred times out of a hundred," believes Larkin.
"There was an element of luck in the Warne ball," Cook points out. "Whereas Abdul's was absolutely contrived."
The only person not surprised was the contriver himself. Deep down, Qadir knew that by rights he should have been in Peshawar that Saturday, playing for his country not a suburb. His Carlton team-mates knew that he knew it. He did not need to say so; though sometimes he said it anyway. There was and remained only one wonder of Pakistani spin.
But Qadir was 43. His face was unwrinkled. Brown eyes still danced with mischief. But selectors of Test teams have no love for 43-year-olds.
That was why he wasn't in Peshawar. It does not explain how he came to be playing park cricket in Melbourne.
****

IT HAPPENED, like many of the best ideas, after a long and jolly lunch. The Carlton Cricket and Football Social Club was the setting. Big Jack Elliott, football club president and one-time prime ministerial aspirant, glared at the cricket club vice-president and barked: "Why can't you bastards win like us?"
"Well," said Craig Cook, "we've lost a little bit of flair. We really need a big-name player."
Big Jack barked again. "You get the player and we'll pay for it."





On his last weekend in Melbourne he was handed the new ball, not for the first time that summer. And for the umpteenth time, from midday till sundown, he bowled and bowled and bowled





Cook, a legspin fanatic, thought of Qadir. He phoned an old pal, Javed Zaman Khan, cousin of Imran. An evening net tryout was arranged and Cook's ticket to Lahore booked. "We took Abdul down to the Lahore Gymkhana Club nets, where he bowled for an hour. And he looked beautiful. We signed him up on the spot."
Forty thousand dollars Carlton paid him. They put him up in a flat in Brunswick, not far from the practice nets. Larkin was one of eight men from Footscray he fooled that Saturday. At spectator-less playing fields all over Melbourne, the ranks of the befuddled grew: at Windy Hill, at Arden Street, at Ringwood's Jubilee Park.
Arms bucked and swayed and his tongue kept licking his fingers when Qadir skipped in and bowled. The passing of decades had taken a few spikes out of his flipper, which now slid more than it spat. But the miracles of his legbreak remained two-fold: the sheer stupendous size of the spin, and the way he could vary it at will. Wrong'uns, meanwhile, arrived in threes.
"Three types," Butera confirms. There was a lightning wrong'un, a mid-paced wrong'un lobbed up from wide of the stumps, and a slow wrong'un. "It looked like a lollipop," Butera says of this last invention, "and the batsman would think, here's an opportunity to come down and score. But it would drop incredibly late, and as soon as the batsman got there he'd realise he didn't have as much time as he thought he had." The lollipop wrong'un left more batsmen licked than any of Qadir's other variations, helping Butera rewrite the Victorian Cricket Association record books for most catches and stumpings in a season.
"Best time of my life. Abdul put me on the map," he says. That is not just rosy-glassed affection talking. Nine days after the Larkin ball Butera, previously unheralded, made his state 2nd XI debut.
Mid-January came; an encounter with the competition's in-form batsman beckoned. Geelong's Jason Bakker, tall and lumbering and toe-tied against even the gentlest spin bowling, had heard all about Qadir's variations. His coach Ken Davis tried to replicate them, hurling balls down, floating them up, while Bakker watched Ken's hand in the hope of reading what might happen. After a week of this it was time to face the real thing in a match. And it felt, to Bakker, as if he were still in the practice nets.
With eyes wide open he'd stare at Qadir's wrist. He left balls he was supposed to leave. He defended others comfortably. If he could get to the pitch of the ball, he'd drive. When it was wider, he'd cut, but softly, never forcing anything. Bakker had heard batsmen more debonair than him talk about being in "the zone", and for the first time he really understood it. "This sounds incredibly vain but I felt like I didn't play a false stroke."
They paused for drinks. Captain Wrigglesworth despaired. He trotted up to his star bowler. "Listen. This bloke's picking your wrong'un."
And just like that Qadir stopped bowling it. No flipper or flotilla of multi-speeded googlies. The magic act was over. Every ball was a legbreak, landing on or slightly outside off stump. Every ball twisted harmlessly away. This went on for an hour. It was a scorching afternoon, a flat deck. Bakker cruised past 50. "I'd broken him." And something else had happened too - "I was getting more confident, more relaxed, less vigilant."
So when another one wafted down, as ho-hum as all the others, Bakker took one stride forward and shouldered arms, intent on letting the thing whirr past, and then just as it was about to bounce, inches from his nose, he noticed that this particular delivery was actually a touch wider, and the seam looked different, and by then it was too late to do anything other than think, "Shit I hope it misses", which it didn't. It knocked back middle stump.

Abdul Qadir celebrates after he captures the vital wicket of Allan Lamb , Pakistan v England, Karachi, March 6, 1984
Against England in Karachi in 1984 © Getty Images

Eleven years on, Bakker's head is still shaking. "An hour - he was prepared to wait an hour. There was I falsely thinking I had broken him, when all that time he was working up a trap for me. I mean, my God, the mentality of the man, the mindset."
Later Qadir would boast, "I saw it in his eyes" - saw that microscopic let-up in the batsman's vigilance, which was what he had been waiting for all along.
****

HE LIVED for Saturdays, his new team-mates sensed. In his inner-city flat he was on his own. The club vice-president drove him to matches, to training. Most nights he ate at the vice-president's house. "Abdul had never cooked a meal in his life," Cook explains. "Never made a cup of tea in his life. So if he wasn't eating at our place I'd organise the Pakistani community to bring food in. And he got a bit lonely, so I'd have to go around and see him."
He would clap opposition batsmen's fine strokes. He would tell people what a pleasure it was to meet them. "No, no," he politely informed his captain one gusty Saturday, "I will bowl downwind." Another Saturday, batting against a fast bowler and a spinner, he insisted that his team-mates jump the fence to alternately ferry out and fetch his helmet at the end of every over.
He did not swear. When Qadir was around, Butera used to soften his own language. "But I don't think the rest of the boys did."
He did not lairise, throw high-fives or drink beer. "I wouldn't have thought he made a friend while he was here," says Wrigglesworth. "I don't know what he did from Monday to Friday and I wouldn't have thought many people do. As soon as the game finished on a Saturday he was pretty much off. I don't think he sang the team song once."
The song, in fairness, was seldom aired, for Carlton kept losing despite Qadir's wickets. By the eve of the season's final match at Northcote Park he had 66 - only seven shy of the post-war record set by Richmond quick Graeme Paterson in 1965-66. Qadir thought about that record often. "He never," Cook reflects, "reckoned he should have been left out of the Test side. So when he came over here it wasn't a holiday. He was wanting to show what he could do."
On his last weekend in Melbourne he was handed the new ball, not for the first time that summer. And for the umpteenth time, from midday till sundown, he bowled and bowled and bowled. His preoccupation with the record and those seven elusive wickets had become something close to an obsession. Nobody except Wrigglesworth and the Carlton committee men realised this - until, that is, the fall of Northcote's ninth wicket, Qadir's sixth, at which point he bounced into the team huddle and shrieked: "One more!"
"If he had just shut his gob," says Wrigglesworth, "no one else would have known. Instead the boys were all going: 'Hey, hang on a minute!'"
One more, alas, did not come easily. Northcote's last-wicket pair looked untroubled. Runs flowed. Wrigglesworth thought about taking Qadir off. Wrigglesworth couldn't take him off. "By this stage," he says, "I was a puppet of the president and the committee. And they wanted to see Abdul get this record."





A few short years later Douggie was picked for Australia's team of intellectually disabled cricketers. He has since represented his country in South Africa and England, this stranger who had never bowled a wrong'un until the day he met Abdul Qadir and asked how it was done





Qadir kept going. He ran through all his variations. The partnership kept swelling - to 95 by the tea break. Forty-six overs Qadir had bowled unchanged.
"Should I take him off now?"
Permission was granted. Five balls later the wicket fell.
The Ryder Medal he won as the competition's best player still hangs on his wall in Lahore. His 492 overs in a season might never be surpassed. Seventy-two wickets at 15.87 in the era of covered pitches at the age of 43 is a feat carved in club cricket legend. It could have been 73, the record should have been his, he told the Age's gossip columnist the day before he flew home; if only the captain had listened, if only the captain had bowled him a bit more.
"Oh, Abdul," sighed Wrigglesworth when he saw the paper next morning. "Where's this come from?"
****

WHEN Jason Bakker remembers the day that he did not play a false stroke and was deceived by the most mysterious ball he ever faced, he thinks of the heat. At tea-time he galloped upstairs to the Kardinia Park dining room and began gulping down water. "I was tucking into rockmelon and watermelon and whatever else I could find." That's when he glanced out the window and saw that Qadir, who had bowled through the entire afternoon session without a rest, was still on the oval.
Qadir was out there with Craig Whitehand, known to all at Geelong Cricket Club as "Douggie", the guy who fronted up every Saturday in his whites and his spikes to drag off the pitch covers and carry out drinks and take care of the equipment. As Qadir was walking off, Douggie had stopped him at the players' gate and asked, how do you bowl a wrong'un. Now the two of them were standing on the grass, metres apart. A couple of balls lay between them. Qadir would wave his arms and talk a bit. Then he'd bowl a few. Then Douggie would bowl a few. After a while Qadir would wander across and say something. Then Douggie would bowl a few more.
Bakker went back to his watermelon and forgot what he'd seen. Twenty minutes went by before he thought about strapping the pads back on. "As I was coming down the stairs," Bakker recalls, "I looked out on the ground. And the two of them were still there. Abdul had given his whole break on a hot day to this guy from Geelong who he knew nothing about."
At Geelong training the next week Douggie was gleefully flighting wrong'uns. A few short years later he was picked for Australia's team of intellectually disabled cricketers. He has since represented his country in South Africa and England, this stranger who had never bowled a wrong'un until the day he met Abdul Qadir and asked how it was done.
Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009


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