Friday, 14 December 2012

Jacintha Saldanha: Duchess hospital nurse suicide note 'criticised hospital'


A suicide note left by the nurse found dead after the hoax call to the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge criticised fellow staff, it emerged tonight. 

The letter was one of three Jacintha Saldanha, 46, wrote before she was found hanging in her room at a nurses’ accommodation block at the King Edward VII Hospital in London last Friday.
Injuries to her wrists were also found, a coroner heard today. Attempts were made to revive the nurse but they were "to no avail".

Mrs Saldanha, from Bristol, had left three suicide notes for her family and had also written emails and made telephone calls that police believe might help shed light on what happened, the court was told.

Tonight, reports claimed that one note specifically addresses her employers and criticism of hospital staff despite officials previously maintaining they were fully supportive of the nurse. 

The Guardian reported that one note also specifically referred to the hoax call made by the two Australian radio presenters while a third detailed wishes for her funeral.
Two notes were found at the scene in central London and the third recovered in the nurse’s belongings.

The mother of two’s family has been given typed copies of the three handwritten notes by the police and has read the contents, the Guardian claimed.

It has been reported that the family did not know about the hoax call until after Mrs Saldanha’s death.
Today, during a five-minute hearing at Westminster Coroner’s Court, Det Chief Insp James Harman said Mrs Saldanha, a night sister, was found by a colleague and a security guard who called the emergency services.

DCI Harman told the court: “At this time there are no suspicious circumstances apparent to me in relation to this death.”

Detectives are talking to witnesses, friends, colleagues and Mrs Saldanha’s telephone contacts, DCI Harman said, in order to establish the circumstances that may have led to, and contributed, to her death.

Referring to the two 2 Day FM presenters who made the prank call, he added: “You will be aware of the wider circumstances in this case and I can expect in the very near future we will be in contact with colleagues in New South Wales to establish the best means of putting the evidence before you.”
Coroner’s officer Lynda Martindill said Mrs Saldanha’s accountant husband Ben Barboza, 49, had identified her body. The coroner opened and adjourned the inquest, with a full hearing listed for March 26 next year.

None of Mrs Saldanha’s family attended the hearing, but one of her colleagues was there. The coroner said: “Can I express my sympathy to you and to the family.”

Mrs Saldanha was a nurse at King Edward VII hospital, West London, where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe pregnancy sickness.

During the hoax call, the nurse transferred the DJs, believing they were the Queen and Prince of Wales, to a colleague who described in detail the condition of the Duchess of Cambridge during her hospital treatment for severe pregnancy sickness.

The Australian DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, have both issued emotional apologies for her death and have since been moved into “safe houses” and given 24-hour bodyguards after receiving death threats.

It emerged last night that the broadcasters responsible for airing the call are to be officially investigated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting, in line with the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice.

Her family are set to receive more than £320,000 from Southern Cross Austereo, the parent company for whom the presenters work for.

The hearing comes on the day that Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) is to resume advertising on 2 Day FM. All profits from the adverts until the end of the year will be donated to a memorial fund established in aid of her family.

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who is helping Mr Barboza, daughter Lisha, 14, and son Junal, 16, said a memorial service would be held in Bristol tomorrow, followed by one in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday. The hospital has offered bereavement counselling for the family in Bristol, which they have decided to take up, he added.

He did not attend the hearing but said of the family: “They are grieving in their homes, they are comforting each other and the community is comforting them, that is why they have not come.” Her body was released to her family in order to arrange her funeral in India.

A hospital spokeswoman tonight said no one in senior management knew what the contents of the notes left were but she said officials “were very clear that there were no disciplinary issues in this matter”.

Both the nurses involved had been offered “full support” and “it was made clear they were victims of a cruel journalistic trick,” she added.

 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Why England's spinners are better



Monty Panesar celebrates his first wicket with Graeme Swann, Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 1st Day, January, 25, 2012
Swann and Panesar have been more impressive than the Indian spinners, despite theoretically having had to bowl to batsmen more adept at playing spin © Getty Images
Enlarge

A look at why Panesar and Swann have outbowled Ojha and Ashwin in India

December 13, 2012



There were times in India when the sight of a spinner running in to the crease was intimidating for the batsman. The close-in fielders hovered, standing by to take the catches that would inevitably be produced. Back then Indian spinners sent out strong signals - that they were as lethal as the Caribbean quick bowlers, and no second fiddles. Invariably India's spinners were superior to those from other countries, and the land of Bedi, Chandrashekhar and Prasanna kept producing quality spinners, so much so that some of them didn't even play for India - for these three kept going for years. 

Today, though, even on wilting, dusty turners, Indian spinners don't hold the same threat. For the longest time, dishing out a dustbowl guaranteed success, for India's batsmen would score a mountain of runs and the spinners would bowl the opposition out twice, double quick. But since the retirement of Anil Kumble, things have changed.
The signs of the downward spiral have been there for everyone to see. The lowest ebb has been reached in the ongoing series against England - probably the first time in Indian cricket's history that a visiting team from outside the subcontinent has had the services of better spinners, and the decision to dish out a rank turner has been more likely to backfire on India than guarantee success - as happened in Mumbai.

Why is it that Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann are extracting a lot more out of the tracks than their Indian counterparts? (Remember also that they're bowling against a batting line-up that is known for its proficiency against the turning ball.)

Panesar has been the most impressive bowler in the series, operating at a pace ideally suited to the tracks provided thus far. He bowls at least 10kph quicker than is usually recommended for spinners. While that extra pace goes against him on good batting surfaces - because he doesn't keep the ball in the air long enough to create deception - it's working absolutely fine on slow Indian pitches. The extra pace in the air doesn't allow the batsman the luxury of stepping out or of waiting on the back foot. It is this extra pace that made Panesar unplayable at times in Mumbai, because handling a viciously turning ball at high speeds is extremely difficult.

If it was only about the pace, then why didn't India's spinners crack the code and bowl quicker too? After all, how difficult could it be to increase your pace as a spinner?

That's where the basics are important, for speed can work in your favour only if the ball comes out of the hand properly, with enough revolutions on it. That's precisely where Panesar has scored over Pragyan Ojha.

Panesar's action is that of a classical left-arm spinner, with the bowling arm very close to the ear, which enables him to not only get the wrist position slightly tilted (about 45 degrees) at the point of release but also to extract more bounce off the surface with the higher point of release.

He delivers from the middle of the box, which allows him to bowl a lot straighter. Bowling closer to the stumps makes his arm ball a lot more effective, for it is always pitching and finishing in line with the stumps. Also, his follow-through takes him towards the batsman, which means the body momentum is heading in the direction of the ball; that translates into him getting a fair bit of zip off the surface.

In contrast, Ojha releases the ball from the corner of the box, and his bowling arm is further away from the ear than in Panesar's case. Ojha's position on the crease creates an acute angle, which might give a false impression of the ball drifting in. It also means he needs a lot of assistance from the pitch to generate spin off the surface to compensate for that angle. His wrist position is slightly more tilted than Panesar's at the point of release, which negatively affects not just bounce off the surface but also his chances of turning the ball. Finally, there's no follow-through whatsoever: Ojha stops as soon as he delivers the ball, which indicates that his bowling is a lot about wrist and shoulder instead of being about hips and torso as well.

Swann is technically superior to R Ashwin too. His bowling is all about using every limb to impart more revolutions on the ball. Since he plays most of his cricket on unresponsive English pitches, he has learnt the importance of putting revs on the ball every single time, which creates deception in the air by making the ball dip on the batsman, and also produces bite off the surface.



In Test cricket there needs to be a stock ball that one should bowl, ball after ball. You need to create deception in the air by varying the lines and speeds ever so slightly





Swann doesn't have too many variations; in fact he has got only two deliveries - the one that spins in to the right-hander and the arm ball that goes straight on. Having fewer variations has led him to become more patient, and made him rely on changing the point of release, speed and flight without compromising on length. He has struck a fine balance between being aggressive and being patient.

His lines of operation to right-handed batsmen are slightly outside off, challenging the batsman to play against the spin. Against the left-handers, he bowls a lot closer, cramping them for room. Like with Panesar, Swann's body momentum too takes him towards the batsman.

Ashwin, on the other hand, has a lot of tricks in his bag. He can bowl the traditional offspinner, a doosra and a carrom ball at will, and with a reasonable amount of control. His high-arm action gets him bounce off the surface too. But while having so many options works wonders in the shorter formats, where the batsmen can't line him up, it works against him in Test cricket.

Wickets in Test matches are a result of setting up a dismissal, and for that you need to be patient, almost bordering on being boring and predictable. There needs to be a stock ball that one should bowl, ball after ball. You need to create deception in the air by varying the lines and speeds ever so slightly. The longer you keep the batsman occupied with one kind of delivery, the better your chances of the variation catching him off guard. Ashwin, with all the weapons in his armoury, feels obliged to bring them out at regular intervals. This hampers his consistency with line and length, and results in him offering up boundary balls often.

Technically, while his wrist and arm position are good, like Ojha he too doesn't put his body behind the ball as much as he should; he falls towards the left after delivering the ball, instead of taking the momentum towards the batsman.

The quality of India's spinners was one of the reasons the team became a force to reckon with in Test cricket. The remarkable records at home were all courtesy spin. India may have had a pantheon of quality spinners but the current crop does not seem to have been able to master the craft. There are plenty of former players around who were masters of the skill. Time India got these veterans to guide the youngsters on how to spin a web around teams again.

Google's tax avoidance is called 'Capitalism'

 Google chairman Eric Schmidt has insisted that he is "very proud" of the company's tax structure, and said that measures to lower its payments were just "capitalism". 

 

Also read Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four accountancy firms

 

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has insisted that he is
Mr Schmidt's comments risk inflaming the row over the amount of tax multinationals pay, after it emerged that Google funnelled $9.8bn of revenues from international subsidiaries into Bermuda last year in order to halve its tax bill. Photo: Bloomberg News
 
Mr Schmidt's comments risk inflaming the row over the amount of tax multinationals pay, after it emerged that Google funnelled $9.8bn (£6.07bn) of revenues from international subsidiaries into Bermuda last year in order to halve its tax bill.
However, Mr Schmidt defended the company's legitimate tax arrangements. “We pay lots of taxes; we pay them in the legally prescribed ways,” he told Bloomberg. “I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate.”
“It’s called capitalism,” he said. “We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.”
In Britain Vince Cable was unimpressed by Mr Schmidt’s views. The Business Secretary told The Daily Telegraph: “It may well be [capitalism] but it’s certainly not the job of governments to accommodate it.”
Consumer Watchdog’s director John Simpson called for the Committee to schedule a time for Mr Schmidt and Google’s chief executive could “testify under oath and explain their company’s apparent abuse of the tax code to the detriment of all who play fairly.”

Mr Simpson urged the Senate to work with “other countries’ tax authorities” to “put an end to egregious loopholes that allow cynical exploitation by this generation’s Robber Barons.”

“Governments in Europe, many of which have been targets of Google’s morally bankrupt tax policies, are actively seeking redress,” he wrote. “But this is not a problem that only impacts other countries’ revenues. Google’s tactics strike at the US Treasury as well, forcing the rest of us to make up for the Internet giant’s unwillingness to pay its fair share.”

He added: “What makes Google’s activities so reprehensible is its hypocritical assertion of its corporate motto, 'Don’t Be Evil'.”

Documents filed last month in the Netherlands show that Britain is Google’s second biggest market generating 11pc of its sales, or $4.1bn last year.

But the company paid just £6m in corporation tax. Overall, Google paid a rate of 3.2pc on its overseas earnings, despite generating most of its revenues in high-tax jurdisdictions in Europe.
The company reportedly uses complex tax schemes called the Double Irish and Dutch Sandwich, which take large royalty payments from international subsidiaries and pay tax in low rate regimes.
By channelling its revenues through Bermuda, Google avoided $2bn of global income levies last year.

The tax arrangements add fuel to accusations made by British MPs that Google and other firms including Starbucks and Amazon, have been “immorally” minimising its tax bills.
 
Matt Brittin, Google’s UK boss, said MPs were blaming companies for a system that they had designed. “Google plays by the rules set by politicians,” he said. “The only people who really have choices are politicians who set the tax rates.”

Last week, Starbucks caved into public pressure and promised to pay £20m to the Treasury over the next two years. However the trigger more criticism of “optional” tax payments.

Figuring out the Modi speed machine

Vidya Subrahmaniam

The Hindu

Rural Gujarat is in distress and today more and more people seem willing to speak out against Narendra Modi. Yet even his detractors say he will win
You should go to Gujarat only if you can will yourself to dismiss the contrarian signals: Because in the land of Narendra Modi, anything that mars the big picture, which is Narendra Modi himself, can be a red herring.

So much so, even the grouch with the litany of complaints — oh yes, he exists and his tribe is growing — will say in the end that much as he wishes otherwise, nothing can stop the three-time Chief minister from winning again. Apparently, the only point of curiosity in election 2012 is whether Modi will hold his current tally of 117 of 182 Assembly seats or fall behind it and, if the latter, by how much.

The 2007 scenario

I stepped into the Modi minefield in the 2007 Assembly election when the theoretical odds seemed stacked against the Chief Minister. In September of that year, Saurashtra, accounting for 54 seats, had risen in revolt against Modi; in a spectacle quite at odds with the picture of bounty and happiness that was Gujarat in the publicity brochures, over 5 lakh farmers had gathered in Rajkot, denouncing the Chief Minister for leaving them to rot while he ministered to the business-affluent classes. “We will finish you,” the milling, surging crowds vowed, their war-cry echoing off the power corridors of Gandhinagar.

As elections neared, the underclass, their wretchedness revealed in their tattered clothing and the lines on their faces, turned up in hordes to hear Sonia Gandhi. The numbers, formed by Gujarat’s poor, Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, seemed ranged on her side. This not counting Modi’s own not inconsiderable problems. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose cadre worked on the ground to deliver votes to the Bharatiya Janata Party, was deeply discomfited by the growing personality cult around Gujarat’s Chief Minister: The sangh’s once disciplined, devoted foot-soldier was now an icon who inspired hysteria and revelled in it too. An influential local RSS leader told me that Modi had crossed the line on a fundamental sangh belief: vyakti se paksh mahan, paksh se desh mahan (party is greater than person, country is greater than party). Modi as an autonomous power centre also upset sections of the administration, from ministers and bureaucrats to lower level staff, police personnel and teachers. The latter manned the election machinery and conventional wisdom had it that you didn’t win elections by alienating them.

On the other hand, there was Modi’s incredible chemistry with the voters, visible at all his rallies. They wore Modi masks, waved his posters and roared in approval as he made off-colour jokes about Sonia and the Congress. On counting day, the arithmetic came apart. The policeman who had called up a day earlier to tell me “Hitler is losing,” was untraceable. The RSS was numb with shock, and most unbelievably, it was a near clean-sweep for Modi in dissenting Saurashtra. Like Indira Gandhi, Modi had dispensed with party and government — in his case also the sangh — and connected directly with the people. The crowds that attended the Congress chief’s rallies had no one to vote for in the Congress whose local leadership was diminished even more by Modi’s towering presence.
Returning to Gujarat five years later, I’m struck by the far wider rich-poor gulf. Ahmedabad exemplifies Shining Gujarat, with showrooms and shopping plazas to rival the best in Europe. The beautified Sabarmati Riverfront is a captivating sight that is the regime’s newest pride. Happy stories greet the visiting journalist on the mofussil stops along the super highway from the State Capital to Rajkot in Saurashtra. “Narendrabhai, Narendrabhai” chant little children as their parents gush about the rewards of having Modi as Chief Minister: uninterrupted power supply, adequate water, pucca roads, houses, strife and fear-free environment and, above all, a leader who fans the fires of Gujarati asmita (identity) . At Sangani in Chotila, Sarpanch Waghabhai Danabhai describes Modi as a God-send to Gujarat. Next door, Bharatbhai, who is unemployed, gives Modi 130 seats, up 13 from 2007, and insists that after this election, he would be unstoppable on the road to Delhi and Prime Ministership. Bharatbhai is unbothered by his own jobless state.

Off the highway into rural Saurashtra, the narrative changes gradually, yet dramatically — from striking prosperity and raging Modi-mania to poorer habitations and robust Modi-bashing. This is also Keshubhai country. The BJP veteran and now leader of the Gujarat Parivartan Party, had sided with the Congress in 2007 only for his dream to go up in smoke. His Leva Patel community preferred Modi to the Congress. Now his hope is that the GPP will tap into the anger which had no outlet then.
Indeed, in the deeper interiors the shine entirely comes off Gujarat’s magnificent bijli, paani, sadak (power, water, roads) story, told and retold by Modi, and magnified online and offline by his manic fan clubs. Patchy and potholed roads are quite the norm here. The villages here could be from impoverished Uttar Pradesh, judging by the dusty, arid landscape, rundown homes, dark, dank shops, and turbaned men sitting around in groups, their foreheads creased in anxiety over the persistent drought conditions and what that means for their cotton crop. The luckier villages here get water once in three days for 15-odd minutes, others wait up to a week or more. Modi has promised a massive irrigation project for the region but what looms large for now is acute water scarcity made worse by reduced job prospects and runaway prices of essentials.

For Premjibhai, who works as a daily wager on the cotton fields, no water means almost no money to take home. “Vikas (development)? What vikas? Can’t you see the conditions here? Modi speaks for the rich and they speak for him. I hope Keshubhai defeats Modi but it won’t happen because Modi is too clever.”

Industrialised North Gujarat has always boasted a healthy bottom line, and this is reflected in the region’s admiration for Modi. “Sautaka (hundred per cent) he will win,” is a familiar one-liner in these parts. But here too there are strong anti-Modi voices, and as in Saurashtra, he is portrayed as the rich man’s Chief Minister without a care for the poor and the marginalised. At Nugar village in Becharaji, Mehsana, Ganpatbhai, a destitute lower-caste tailor rants against Modi, “Write this down,” he shouts, charging with his fists at the Sarpanch who tries to shut him up, “the darji jaat [tailor caste] doesn’t get plots. Modi is a capitalist surrounded by rich industrialists. And the village headmen are in league with him.” As I leave, Ganpatbhai says grumpily, “I know Modi will win.”

Scary

Why is Modi’s victory treated as a given? Is it because the Congress in Gujarat is in abject surrender? Or is it because people have been conditioned not to see beyond Modi? The magic Modi works on his audience is to be seen to be believed. Modi was scheduled to address an election meeting on October 9 at 7 p.m. in Ahmedabad. He arrived at 10 p.m. to frenzied crowds asking for more — and more. An hour earlier, BJP managers had flung poll memorabilia at them: Modi masks, Modi posters, Modi gloves, Modi T-shirts, bandana, scarves and the works. If the sight of ordinary men turning in an instant into thousands of Modis, waving thousands of Modi posters, was unnerving, the music that pumped them up — relating the gatha (story) of Gujarat and Modi — was infinitely more scary, macho, muscular and intended to induce fear and admiration.

As the crowds grew restive, the organisers pressed other resources into service: high-ranking party functionaries eulogised Modi, a folk singer compared him to Shivaji, Prithviraj Chauhan and Vivekananda. But the masked men would have none of it. “Not you, not you” they cried, as a line-up of partymen competed to paint Modi in hagiographic shades. Modi finally arrived, giving the audience their paisa-wasool moment. He mocked at Sonia and Manmohan Singh, knowing that would elicit the laughs. And he thundered and rallied — “Pradhan Mantriji, don’t you dare trifle with Gujarat” — knowing that would stir the Gujarati pride, his ever-ever formula for success.

India was Indira and Indira was India. But in Gujarat today, every Gujarati is Modi. Or so you are told by Modi himself. His blog, narendramodi.in, says: “In the by lanes of Gujarat’s towns and cities, on the fields of Gujarat, on the coasts of Gujarat, people [are] taking pride in saying one thing — Hoon to Modi No Manas Chu [I am Modi’s person!]” No BJP here. Only Modi.

As in 2007, so in 2012, perhaps more so this time: Saurashtra is angry, the RSS is openly backing Keshubhai, who now has his own party — even a few seats lost in Saurashtra would be a setback for Modi — and there is disaffection within the Gujarat administration. But 58 per cent of Gujarat is urban which is Modi’s strength. The Modi speed machine overrode all obstacles in 2007. What now? Over to December 20, 2012.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Why is no one defending teaching at our universities?

Your undergraduate experience depends upon the quality of teaching staff - yet universities continue to put research first, argues Gervas Huxley.

University teaching: it’s time for both Parliament and the public to address the quality of teaching at our universities.
University teaching: it’s time for both Parliament and the public to address the quality of teaching at our universities.  Photo: OJO Images Ltd / Alamy
Much as we wish it weren’t so, Christmas shopping really boils down to one simple rule – the more you spend, the more you end up with under your tree.
The same does not seem to apply to our university system. Students are typically taught in tutorials of 15 or more students these days, whilst their parents (if they went to university) studied in classes less than half this size and of course paid no fee.

How can this be fair? For all the talk about market forces and value for money supposedly reshaping our university system, it doesn’t take an Economics lecturer to see there’s something amiss.

And yet when do we ever hear concerns about the quality of teaching? Rarely, if at all.

As it happens I am an Economics lecturer. More specifically, I am a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol. This means I am paid to teach, and only to teach.
I mention this because the status of my profession gives a good insight into the esteem in which teaching is held in academia. As the balance between teaching and research has shifted decisively in favour of research, not just in this country but around the world, the emphasis on research in Russell Group universities means that the role of teaching is increasingly neglected.

And it's not just the universities – almost any academic you’ll find speaking about our university system in the Houses of Parliament or in a national newspaper will be there because of their research.
I’ve been asked to give evidence at the House of Lords this week on the state of higher education teaching – and invited to write this blog – because of a lecture voted for by my students which appeared online last year. But this is highly unusual.

This lack of emphasis on teaching is one of the major problems facing our higher education system. The quality of education received by undergraduates relies increasingly on what teaching staff like myself have to offer, but far too little is known about our role.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the near-total absence of discussion about class size. If increasing class size was the inevitable consequence of falling funding per student for almost two decades from 1979 until 1998 – when students began to pay fees of £1,000 – shouldn’t students be seeing a benefit from the successive increases in the fee since 1998?

So far there’s been no sign of this happening. It’s time for both Parliament and the public to address the quality of teaching at our universities.

And it’s time that those of us in academia whose main concern is teaching began contributing to this debate.

Gervas Huxley is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol and consults on Higher Education policy.

There are no shortcuts


Pritish Nandy in The Times of India

When people run short of ideas, they reach out for other things.

There’s money, the first crutch of all fools. For all those who lack self esteem, the first argument is: If I had enough money, I could have done it. This is untrue. Money can make nothing happen unless you will it. And you can will nothing without a precise premise, a strategy or game plan that you have clearly thought through. In short, an idea. Without the idea, without the intellectual or emotional muscle that goes with that idea, any idle dream based only on the availability of money is always doomed. That’s why angel investors do due diligence. Not only of the idea to invest in but also of the person who will deliver it. Does he or she have the grit, gumption, dedication and leadership? Or the persistence to see the idea through its initial days when all that can go wrong always does, following Murphy’s Law?

The other crutch, very popular in India, is connections. Most people think they can achieve anything if only they had a godfather to see them through. The truth is, much as we may like to believe the opposite, few success stories of modern India have anything to do with godfathers. Except in politics and business, where it has been a tradition to mentor heirs from within the family. So it’s tough to break in. It’s far simpler to go out and make your own road. To do that, the first important step is to stop looking for godfathers. Mentor yourself. The rich uncle will always come to you once you have demonstrated your ability to deliver on your own promise. But if you hang around him hoping he will give you the first break, be sure that he will soon start avoiding you.

The third crutch is fate. We believe so much in it that we spend the best years of our life chasing those who pretend they can predict it. Fortune telling is big business out here and there’s a large contingent of charlatans who make their money telling us how we must live our life, what coloured stones to wear, which God to pray to, and on what days we ought to fast. The same person who is vegetarian five days a week to appease a certain God is also ready to slaughter a hapless animal to please another God on another occasion. We would rather go with what others tell us to do than follow our own heart. We are not ready to think through our own solutions. We need intermediaries to advise us on how to live, how to invest, how to seduce luck. Curiously, the richer people become, the more they depend on fake gurus and fraudulent fortune tellers.

The fourth crutch is new: Technology. We have suddenly found technology as a placebo for everything. Doctors have forgotten how to diagnose. So everyone goes for every stupid test. Robotic surgery is replacing human skill and ingenuity. You can’t make good movies. Go for 3D. Dazzle everyone with SFX and sheer wizardry. Demand a 250 million dollar budget when the greatest films in the world have been made for a pittance. (Pather Panchali was made for Rs 150,000 and Bicycle Thief, $133,000!) We have become so stupid that we can’t even make imaginative porn. So Hugh Hefner now uses 3D to make his centrespread girls look sexy whereas a fully clad Garbo once had the whole world salivating every time she turned around and Mae West, at 83, could get any young man into her pad with a single come hither line.

The purpose of technology, we often forget, is not to replace human ingenuity but to support it. We don’t need a computer to write like Shakespeare. We need to create new Shakespeares. The future lies in technology that can support our skills, not supplant them. Avatar is not the future of movies. Marge Simpson is not the future of sexuality even though she was on the Playboy centrespread. Ever seen Madhubala wet in the rain? Now try it. Rediscover the unforgettable power of sexuality.

On the 12th day of Christmas ... your gift will just be junk


Every year we splurge on pointless, planet-trashing products, most of which are not wanted. Why not just bake them a cake?
daniel pudles
Illustration by Daniel Pudles
 
There's nothing they need, nothing they don't own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly-button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub-holder; a "hilarious" inflatable Zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World Map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they're in landfill. For 30 seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that, of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold on to are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (wearing out or breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).
But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine T-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped iPhone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog. No one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production. We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smartphone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make "personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets". Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot. No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food, or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It's grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask, "spending on what?" When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. "I always knit my gifts," says a woman in a TV ad for an electronics outlet. "Well you shouldn't," replies the narrator. An ad for a Google tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7's special features. The best things in life are free, but we've found a way of selling them to you.

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010, a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population. The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this Earth are diminished.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week's edition of Radio 4's The Moral Maze, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it somehow with authoritarianism. When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for God's sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don't.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Family isn't dead – it's getting better


A businesswoman on her mobile phone
'It is actually exceedingly difficult in much of the world for women to achieve highly in a career while also having a thriving family and personal life.' Photograph: Aping Vision/STS/Getty Images
 
Are we living in a post-familial age? According to a new report, The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity's Future?, the answer is yes: the traditional family unit is slowly dying out as more people choose to forgo children and even marriage. As a result, society is economically imperilled, lacking the necessary workforce to support older generations. We're also "values-challenged", entering a brave new world of materialistic indulgence, selfishness and protracted adolescence.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? Luckily, almost none of it is true.

People around the world are indeed delaying childbearing and marriage, and larger numbers of people never marry or reproduce at all. But that is not synonymous with a moral decline, or selfish decadence. It represents an uptick in women's rights, a commitment to creating the family one wants, and wider choices for everyone.

It's no shock that the drop in the number of children a woman has came along with the advent of the birth control pill. The countries with the highest birth rates aren't just highly religious; they're poor, have abominable human rights records and lack access to reliable birth control. Contrary to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's position, it is not in fact the country with the most babies that wins: if that was the case, Nigeria would be running the show.

Despite the clear correlation between reproductive rights and prosperity, the report's author, joined by conservative commentators, laments the decline in childbearing because, as David Brooks says, it represents a rise of individualism and personal freedom – and that's a bad thing. Brooks writes:
"People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They're better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice – commitments to family, God, craft and country."
But the moral case against individualism and choice doesn't have legs. It's a moral good when people have a wide array of choices and increased personal freedom – not just for the individual, but also for children, family and society. And the evidence backs that up.

Valuing tradition, family and God doesn't automatically translate into healthy families or economic prosperity. Just look at the United States: the states that most idealise the conservative model do have higher birth rates, earlier marriage, higher levels of religiosity and more consistent church attendance. They make up consistent conservative voting blocks. They also have the highest levels of divorce in the country, the highest poverty rates, the highest teen pregnancy rates, the lowest child health ratings and the lowest education levels. On the other hand, the states that champion "liberal values" do have later marriage rates and lower birth rates. They're also richer and better educated, the children that reside in them are healthier and families split up less often.

And contrary to the assertions in both the report and the commentary surrounding it, a lower birth rate does not actually mean that individuals end up voting to support only the interests of affluent childless singles. Quite the opposite: the social safety net is much stronger in liberal, supposedly individualistic, lower-birthrate blue states. An array of choices seems to mean that people respect and support a variety of paths.

The rest of the world tells a similar story. There are obviously myriad complex factors that play into a nation's success, but the places where people are the healthiest and the most economically stable are the relatively liberal nations that provide for social welfare while allowing many different models of family to flourish.

Meanwhile, the arguments in favour of a return to the traditional family remain unconvincing, and even insulting. For example, NYT columnist Ross Douthat accuses single people of being "decadent" in their selfish singledom (an argument neatly taken down by Ann Friedman). In the report itself, the authors project a nobility on to staying at home and "sacrificing" for one's family, as opposed to young people who show "an almost defiant individualism" and "indulge themselves in hobbies, fashion or restaurants". Singapore pastor Andrew Ong says that the child-free media culture is "about not growing up".

Listening to these guys, you would think that kids are an awful drag, that raising a family requires (almost entirely female) sacrifice, and that such hardship simply must be endured for … something they don't quite specify. By contrast, they seem to think that single people are in a perpetual adolescence, out partying, eating and drinking until, I suppose, we get ours by dying alone with our cats.

That's not making much of a case for marriage and babies, is it?

In reality, most of these selfish singles are in fact eventually getting married and having babies. They're just doing it later. The result is that these selfish late procreators are wealthier, their marriages last longer and their kids are healthier. How awful.

Investing in future generations is crucial, but conservatives seem to value not so much investment as major personal sacrifice in the here-and-now that results in poorer outcomes for everyone involved. And for what? So that future generations can grow up to sacrifice themselves too? Feminists and other liberals aren't against supporting children and making the world a better place. We just realise that the best way to do that isn't by making ourselves collectively miserable, but by actually taking steps to improve society for everyone, now and later.

One of the ways we're doing that is by making it easier for women to choose to have children. Demanding that women sacrifice everything for child-rearing isn't exactly getting the young ladies to line up, but that's what our current employment model is based upon. It is actually exceedingly difficult in much of the world for women to achieve highly in a career while also having a thriving family and personal life. Our current employment model is based on a family economy with a male partner who is able to work full time, and a female partner who stays at home and tends to the children. Women are now in the workforce in unprecedented numbers – but the workforce hasn't adjusted to give people much time for anything other than work. And conservatives have championed this model, praising folks who do multiple jobs just to make ends meet or work 80 hours a week. High-achieving men still often have wives who stay home. What happens, then, is high-achieving women either "opt out" and let their husbands do the bread-winning, don't get married or decide that they want to have kids later or not at all. And the economy suffers for it.

But young single people don't just want to slave away at work all day, and we don't have someone at home taking care of the rest of our lives. We also want a work-life balance. We may not be going home to children, but we want to pursue our hobbies, spend time with the families we've created and engage with our communities. We realise there is much more to life than just work – but we also think there's much more to life than a traditional family.

That kind of push-back could be the key in making work-life balance a reality. Historically, women's work has been undervalued and disrespected. One reason "work-life balance" is discussed but not actually executed is because, I suspect, it's women – and the most disrespected and undervalued group of women, mothers – who that balance is perceived to benefit. So what if this new group of highly effective, highly motivated, hard-working young single people are now demanding more balance and reasonable work hours and leave policies? Everyone benefits.

Women today also want relationships that are mutually supportive and egalitarian, something they might struggle to find – but not for the reasons conservatives seem to think. Lots of men haven't caught up, and still want wives who will be subservient and financially dependent. For men, getting married and having kids comes with increased social status and emotional benefits, not to mention actual salary increases and workplace opportunities. For women it's the opposite: motherhood brings with it lost income and opportunity. There simply aren't enough subservient women who are willing to put themselves in financial, social and sometimes even physical peril to have a "traditional family".

Despite its reliance on rightwing values, there is much to be gleaned from this report. It identifies a place where liberal feminists worried about gender equality and conservatives worried about fertility rates can come together to promote both of our goals. Make reproductive freedom a priority, including the right to have healthy babies. We do this by promoting healthcare that covers the family planning tools that lead to healthy, wanted pregnancies. Federally mandated parental leave and other family-friendly policies like state-sponsored childcare would also make it easier for women and men to work and raise families. More affordable housing programmes would make it more plausible for parents to stay in the places where they choose to live, and where they have put down their social roots and earned their stripes at work. Real investment in public education would relieve much of the financial burden for parents who want their children to have the same opportunities they did.

Finally, support a variety of lifestyles and choices. When the traditional family model isn't something that everyone is expected to personally sacrifice to create, we can construct and implement policies that benefit actual families, in all of their incarnations. When they are not a crass economic contract where financial support is traded for housekeeping and child-rearing but instead a unit based on love, respect and mutual support, marriages last longer. The conservative and religious promise that there is only one best way to live, one that requires temporal sacrifice and is justified solely by obligation but will be rewarded by happiness in the afterlife, but it doesn't actually lead to good outcomes here on Earth.

Family isn't dead. It's just getting better. Expanding its definition and allowing people to choose their own happiness model is just making it more highly valued than ever.

Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four accountancy firms

UK Uncut at Vigo Street on 8 December
A Starbucks protest on 8 December. ‘A clever protest on the right issue can catch public imagination and media attention.' Photo: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
Sometimes it only takes a spark. Never imagine nothing can be done: UK Uncut packs a punch far above its weight, as did the suffragettes, slave trade abolitionists and most causes great and small. A clever protest deftly done on the right issue can catch the public imagination and the media's attention: now the public accounts committee investigates and the government is obliged to pledge action.

At Saturday's Starbucks occupation of 40 coffee shops, the point was easy to explain to passers-by: companies massively avoiding tax help to cause the cuts that shut libraries, Sure Starts and women's refuges. This short occupation with an orderly exit and loud chants causes Starbucks deep reputational damage. Costa, nearby, does pay its taxes, while Starbucks avoids its duty to the civilised society it depends on.

Take note, all other corporate avoiders: Manchester Business School estimates that Starbucks will see a 24% drop in sales over the next year, from the experience of reputational crises in 50 other companies. The eye-popping stupidity of choosing this same week to cut its staff's paid lunch breaks and sickness and maternity pay suggests a company whose only efficiency is in tax-avoiding. The £20m it offers as a "donation" to HMRC may even be tax deductible: it can offset this "overpayment" against future tax, once public attention has drifted elsewhere, adding to the phenomenal recent drop in corporation tax receipts, as companies copy one another's avoidance schemes.

In 2009 the Guardian's tax gap series kicked off this debate, exposing devious but legal devices such the "double Luxembourg", the "Dutch sandwich" and Roger the Dodger of Barclays. This is the most dangerous kind of investigation, where any mis-step risks lethal lawsuits from those with deep enough pockets to kill: it cost us £100,000 in lawyers' fees alone, plus months of journalists' time digging into opaque company accounts. We told how Boots, bought by private equity firm KKR, abandoned its Nottingham home to put its HQ in Zug, the Swiss tax haven. By loading the company with debt, its tax bill dropped from £606m to £74m – and Barclays lent them billions to do it. GlaxoSmithKline and Astra Zeneca moved to Puerto Rico and Shell took its trademark to Switzerland. Diageo transferred brand names to a Dutch subsidiary, so Johnnie Walker whisky paid just 2% tax.

How did they put the profits from a whisky blended in Kilmarnock into low-tax Amsterdam? Deloitte did it, reportedly so proud they broke open champagne when it went through. And that is the crux of the matter. At the heart of almost every tax-avoiding scheme is one of the big four accountancy firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), KPMG and Ernst & Young.

Tax campaigner Richard Murphy, whose razor-sharp work with the Tax Justice Network fuels so much of this campaign, says these four are at the heart of the worldwide web of avoidance, with offices in all the main tax havens. PwC explained on the radio last week that the reason it had large offices in Bermuda was to audit the local hospital. Few clients could use these havens without one of the big four as auditor: virtually no business happens in havens, but bankers, lawyers and accountants need to be located there.

The four have a grip on the auditing of many major firms. The dogged work of accountancy professor Prem Sikka shows how they work, cold-calling to offer elaborate tax schemes. They hardly ever give bad audits to companies hiring them, and despite grave failures in auditing banks, they are not disciplined by professional accountancy bodies. Nor does the Treasury recover costs, even when successfully challenging their elaborate scams.

The public accounts committee last week gave a satisfying roasting to three boutique tax-avoidance firms. Margaret Hodge tore a strip off them, as one admitted that all his schemes had been declared illegal and shut down. But now the committee needs to go after the big four: none of this could happen without them. In his autumn statement George Osborne declared – as chancellors always do – that he would pursue avoiders. But he replaced only a fraction of the Revenue's cuts, with another 10,000 staff still to be lost.

If Osborne were serious, stern regulation could stop all this. As it is, companies that pay their auditors £700 an hour will sometimes undeservedly get a clean bill of health, as did Northern Rock, HBOS, Bear Stearns and the rest. One radical suggestion is that the National Audit Office should take charge of all big company auditing itself, paid by a levy according to company size: it would protect shareholders from inadequate audit and taxpayers from avoidance. Banks are still receiving clean audits, despite the governor of the Bank of England declaring them to be zombies paralysed by undeclared bad debt.

So far attacks on tax avoidance focus on the web, but now it's time to go for the spiders that spin it. The same firms that conspire to deprive the state of revenues are paid large sums as consultants by the very government they weaken. KPMG, along with McKinsey, is conducting much of the sale of the NHS to private contractors. If you want to see this curious contradiction, look no further than PwC's website, which blends its contrary functions in one sentence: "Our Government and Public Sector practice comprises over 1,300 people, more than half of whom work in our consulting business, with the remainder in assurance and tax."

Osborne has announced a consultation on making honest tax payment a condition of winning government contracts. But these companies are woven into every aspect of government and business. The chair of the NAO, Sir Andrew Likierman, is a director of Barclays and past president of the Chartered Institute of Management Consultants. The NAO auditor general, Amyas Morse, was previously global managing partner at PwC. Meanwhile, accountancy firms are major donors to the Conservative party.

With political will, all this can be cleaned up. However remiss in office, Labour should seize the initiative. The OECD is urging the G20 to agree on a fair system for taxing companies according to where profits arise – though countries are locked in cut-throat corporation tax competition. However, the UK controls most tax havens and could shut them down overnight if it copied Charles de Gaulle: angered by tax scamming, he once surrounded Monaco and cut off its water supply until it relented.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The rotten New Zealand cricket administration - among others!


Martin Crowe in Cricinfo

Cricket has stood the test of time as a great sport. Its worth is obvious when the sun comes out and a contest between two teams can be enjoyed hour after hour, day after day.
Many play because of the unique nature of individual expression, bowler against batsman, inside a team environment. Eleven-a-side offers plenty of variety in personality and character, which is required, given the different roles and skills that are called upon. Cricket is a fine all-round sport: healthy for the body but without direct contact, and healthy for the mind as it makes you think and concentrate for long periods.
It's no different in New Zealand, despite our national game being rugby. Of course our climate is more suited to the winter code, but you still can't beat a summer afternoon Down Under playing cricket, either professionally or as a pastime. For a century we have embraced our favourite summer sport. It has added worth to our landscape, our culture, and to our international reputation as a nation.
Not anymore. When an organisation like New Zealand Cricket starts stripping the self-worth (and I don't mean monetary worth) from talented athletes, when a young player enters the system and leaves it disillusioned and dispirited, the the sport becomes worthless.
In a previous article I wrote about why I thought we struggled to score more Test hundreds compared to any other nation. I named a large group of batsmen through the last ten years who have come and gone through our appalling system, and no doubt most have departed feeling a certain disenchantment with their treatment.
It's sad to see young people chase their dreams only to miss out. Of course that is part of life and its challenges. But in New Zealand the cricket environment is failing more players than ever. In short, that is why we are now ninth below Bangladesh in ODIs, and eighth in Tests and T20.
Cricket is tough on the individual; you can spend half your life playing only to retire in your mid-30s with no other skills to offer in the workforce because cricket has consumed all your time and energy.
Over the last week NZC destroyed the soul of Ross Taylor, easily our best player. They have apparently apologised for the way his sacking from the captaincy was handled. Nevertheless they have amputated his spirit and there is no prosthetic for that. And yet NZC goes unaccountable. They continue to strip the worth from players and, therefore, as an organisation, they have definitely become worthless.
The leadership has been poor in the past, but the fish head couldn't smell any worse now. From the chairman to the CEO to the coach to the manager, they have all played their collective part in what is arguably the most botched administration in New Zealand sporting history.
 
 
This week the game in New Zealand has been severely damaged. Those who have contributed to this debacle may as well stay on because they have done such a murderous job that the next lot, no matter how good they are, will always be playing catch up
 
Some are saying that the removal of Taylor as captain was an orchestrated coup, stemming back to when John Wright resigned in April. No one will know, and who really cares whether it is by design or by incompetence? The fact is, the execution is rotten enough for accountability to be demanded and for all four positions be given to more transparent, more competent and more worthy men.
Taylor is such a resilient character that he will bounce back. But he will probably never trust NZC again. Coaches will come and go and it won't affect his batting, which has been amazing while he has been captain.
When he was told by the management just days before the first Test in Sri Lanka that he was useless, he didn't say anything, he didn't react; instead he went out and won the second Test off his own bat. Knowing the circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying that his 142 and 74 on a turning pitch, plus his winning captaincy, were the equal of Richard Hadlee's 15 wickets in Brisbane in 1985. These two performances stand out to me as the greatest in our Test history.
During New Zealand's next Test against South Arica in the New Year, Taylor will be on a beach somewhere, playing with his young family. It is extraordinary to think this could happen but NZC had no hesitation to make it so. Not one kid that I know in New Zealand understands it. They are confused.
And they are the future. They will be subconsciously wondering if playing cricket beyond school is worthwhile.
Everyone knows that the more New Zealand play badly, the less their players will be recruited to the likes of the IPL. The present players are thriving in it, but over time the money and opportunity will dry up for nations who drift into the backwaters. The next generation may not see the lure in playing unless the present players create an attraction that is good enough. This present bunch have acquired a reputation for looking after their own and forgetting the future.
This week the game in New Zealand has been severely damaged. Permanently, I believe. Those who have contributed to this debacle may as well stay on because they have done such a murderous job that the next lot, no matter how good they are, will always be playing catch up. But those directly accountable should go, simply as rightful punishment.
No matter what happens, who comes or goes, NZC has shown that it is not safe for a young person to risk the journey knowing that the likelihood of his or her worth being stolen away is odds on. If there is one thing in life that is always valuable and important, it's your feeling of self-worth. With cricket in New Zealand I wouldn't risk it; it's just not worth it.

European Gypsies have Indian Genes


Gypsies arrived in Europe 1,500 years ago, genetic study says

Migrants from India came to continent much earlier than previously thought, analysis suggests, and arrived in the Balkans
Gypsies in a shanty town in Madrid, Spain
Gypsies in a shanty town in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Navia/Cover/Getty Images
In parts of Europe they are still shunned as disruptive outsiders or patronised as little more than an exotic source of music and dance, but Gypsies have ancient roots that stretch back more than a millennium, scientists have proved.
A genetic analysis of 13 Gypsy groups around Europe, published in Current Biologyjournal, has revealed that the arrival on the continent of their forebears from northern India happened far earlier than was thought, about 1,500 years ago.
The earliest population reached the Balkans, while the spread outwards from there came nine centuries ago, according to researchers at Spain's Institute of Evolutionary Biology and elsewhere.
"There were already some linguistic studies that gave clues pointing to India and genetic studies too, though without being precise about the where or when," said David Comas, who led the research group.
"Now we can see that they arrived in one single wave from the north-west of India around 1,500 years ago."
Gypsies were originally thought to have come from Egypt and some of the earliest references to them in English, dating back to the 16th century, call them "Egyptians".
Early European references describe wandering, nomadic communities who were known for their music and skill with horses.
They arrived in Spain in the 15th century or earlier – with records of groups of up to a hundred Gypsies travelling together, often led by someone who termed himself a "count" or "duke" – and held on despite attempts to expel them or imprison those who refused to give up their language and culture.
They were accompanied by a legend that they had been expelled from Egypt for trying to hide Jesus.
The new study now sets their arrival in Europe in the sixth century – a time when Britain was still in its early post-Roman era.
Gypsies, often referred to as Roma, are found across all of Europe and make up the continent's largest ethnic minority. There are about 11 million of Gypsies in Europe.
Centuries of discrimination, including systematic extermination by some 20th-century fascist regimes, have helped keep many of them marginalised.
"There is still widespread discrimination and this is the most marginalised minority in Europe," said Robert Kushen of the European Roma Rights Centre in Hungary.
Both France, during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, and Italy, under Silvio Berlusconi, targeted Gypsy communities with populist eviction policies, while long-running discrimination continues in much of eastern Europe.
Sarkozy's Socialist successor, François Hollande, has done little to change policies in France.
"They suffer from forced evictions – and have been targeted recently in both France and Italy," Kushen said. "And it seems that in some places, like Romania and Bulgaria, the laws applying to free movement within the European Union don't quite apply to them in the same way that they apply to other people."
But the stereotypical wandering Gypsy in a mule-drawn caravan belongs to the distant past. The vast majority of Europe's Gypsies have long been settled. "There is still the myth of the nomad, which drives bad policy in places like Italy, where the government maintains they are nomads when in fact they are not," said Kushen.
His group has called on the European Union to bypass national governments, many of whom ignore EU rules on the treatment of Gypsies and Roma, in order to enforce policies.
And Comas's study shows not only that they share common ancestry from north-west India, but also that they have mixed extensively with other Europeans.
"That is more pronounced in northern and western Europe," he said. "They conserve the genetic footprint from India, but their ancestors are both European and Indian."

Adjust your Defaults


This column will change your life: adjust your defaults

'This notion turns out to be a surprisingly useful way to think about other kinds of habit change'
ladythingamajig.co.uk illustration View larger picture
'Every hour spent sitting watching TV knocks almost 22 minutes off your life.' Illustration:ladythingamajig.co.uk
Are you sitting comfortably? Then get up, because sitting is killing you. Or that, at any rate, was the conclusion of two studies widely reported a few weeks back: one suggestedthat, after the age of 25, every hour spent sitting watching TV knocks almost 22 minutes off your life – twice the impact of one cigarette. The other found that the average adult spends 50-70% of the day sitting down, with the most sedentary among us at vastly greater risk of disease and early death. Across the world, I'm guessing, people saw this news and leapt from their chairs, determined to take the first of many bracing walks – before becoming distracted by something on TV and flopping absent-mindedly back down, like a dead-eyed crystal meth addict lured back to his destruction. Except with a sofa, instead of crystal meth. I'm aware this analogy may need some work, but I trust you see my point.
Fashionable solutions to the sitting epidemic, in the context of work, include standing desks (one of Donald Rumsfeld's favourite things, along with reckless military interventions) and treadmill desks (great, so long as you don't mind the sweat-flecked keyboard). But I solved the problem differently, by accident, while trying to solve another. As a feckless work-from-home type, I decided it was time to make sure I was sitting with good posture, so I forked out £500 for a widely recommended Norwegian ergonomic chair, the Håg Capisco. Its seat resembles a saddle, so instead of slouching, you perch. Or that's the idea; in reality, it's just rather uncomfortable. After 40 minutes, it's extremely uncomfortable – so I get up, stretch, go for a stroll, or squeeze out 30 push-ups, although technically I've never done the push-ups. Now I don't sit for too long, because it's simply no fun to do so. After a few weeks, I realised that something intriguing had happened: I'd switched my default state. Standing or strolling was now my automatic, baseline behaviour; sitting was something I actively "did".
This notion of adjusting your defaults turns out to be a surprisingly useful way to think about other kinds of habit change. It becomes easier to resist the siren call of the web and social media, for example, if you come to see "not being online" as the default state, and "being online" as the active, chosen one – something you sporadically choose to do, then stop doing. It's also the spirit behind the idea the productivity blogger Thanh Pham calls"clearing to neutral": the habit, after any activity, of clearing up the equipment involved – dirty pans, work files – so they're ready for next time. Gradually, tidiness becomes the default, mess the anomaly, and the good habit happens without thinking or effort. My latest experiment is a default bedtime of 10.30pm. I'm not sticking to it religiously, but that's not the point: it's what I revert to when there is no good reason to do otherwise.
This idea goes deeper: "adjusting your defaults" is one way that the meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn defines the goal of mindfulness meditation. Being lost in thought is the default state for most of us; adjusting your defaults involves not ceasing to think, but rather making "present-moment awareness" the default, with thinking as the activity you choose to do when it's useful. He doesn't pretend this is easy. But it is a shift in perspective worth contemplating – preferably, of course, while standing up.