Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Consume more, conserve more: sorry, but we just can’t do both

Economic growth is tearing the planet apart, and new research suggests that it can’t be reconciled with sustainability

George Monbiot in The Guardian

We can have it all: that is the promise of our age. We can own every gadget we are capable of imagining – and quite a few that we are not. We can live like monarchs without compromising the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The promise that makes all this possible is that as economies develop, they become more efficient in their use of resources. In other words, they decouple.

There are two kinds of decoupling: relative and absolute. Relative decoupling means using less stuff with every unit of economic growth; absolute decoupling means a total reduction in the use of resources, even though the economy continues to grow. Almost all economists believe that decoupling – relative or absolute – is an inexorable feature of economic growth.

On this notion rests the concept of sustainable development. It sits at the heart of the climate talks in Paris next month and of every other summit on environmental issues. But it appears to be unfounded.

A paper published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes that even the relative decoupling we claim to have achieved is an artefact of false accounting. It points out that governments and economists have measured our impacts in a way that seems irrational.

Here’s how the false accounting works. It takes the raw materials we extract in our own countries, adds them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtracts our exports, to end up with something called “domestic material consumption”. But by measuring only the products shifted from one nation to another, rather than the raw materials needed to create those products, it greatly underestimates the total use of resources by the rich nations.

For instance, if ores are mined and processed at home, these raw materials, as well as the machinery and infrastructure used to make finished metal, are included in the domestic material consumption accounts. But if we buy a metal product from abroad, only the weight of the metal is counted. So as mining and manufacturing shift from countries such as the UK and the US to countries like China and India, the rich nations appear to be using fewer resources. A more rational measure, called the material footprint, includes all the raw materials an economy uses, wherever they happen to be extracted. When these are taken into account, the apparent improvements in efficiency disappear.

Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant, in Belchatow, Poland. ‘New analysis suggests that in the EU, the US, Japan and the other rich nations, there have been ‘no improvements in resource productivity at all’.’ Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

In the UK, for instance, the absolute decoupling that the domestic material consumption accounts appear to show is replaced with an entirely different chart. Not only is there no absolute decoupling; there is no relative decoupling either. In fact, until the financial crisis in 2007, the graph was heading in the opposite direction: even relative to the rise in our gross domestic product, our economy was becoming less efficient in its use of materials. Against all predictions, a recoupling was taking place.

While the OECD has claimed that the richest countries have halved the intensity with which they use resources, the new analysis suggests that in the EU, the US, Japan and the other rich nations, there have been “no improvements in resource productivity at all”. This is astonishing news. It appears to makes a nonsense of everything we have been told about the trajectory of our environmental impacts.

I sent the paper to one of Britain’s leading thinkers on this issue, Chris Goodall, who has argued that the UK appears to have reached “peak stuff”: in other words, there has been a total reduction in our use of resources, otherwise known as absolute decoupling. What did he think?

To his great credit, he responded that “broadly, of course, they are right”, even though the new analysis appears to undermine the case he has made. He did have some reservations, however, particularly about the way in which the impacts of construction are calculated. I also consulted the country’s leading academic expert on the subject, Professor John Barrett. He told me that he and his colleagues had conducted a similar analysis, in this case of the UK’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, “and we find a similar pattern”. One of his papers reveals that while the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions officially fell by 194m tonnes between 1990 and 2012, this apparent reduction is more than cancelled out by the CO2 we commission through buying stuff from abroad. This rose by 280m tonnes in the same period.

Dozens of other papers come to similar conclusions. For instance, a report published in the journal Global Environmental Change found that with every doubling of income, a country needs a third more land and ocean to support its economy because of the rise in its consumption of animal products. A recent paper in the journal Resources found that the global consumption of materials has risen by 94% over 30 years, and has accelerated since 2000. “For the past 10 years, not even a relative decoupling was achieved on the global level.”

We can persuade ourselves that we are living on thin air, floating through a weightless economy, as gullible futurologists predicted in the 1990s. But it’s an illusion, created by the irrational accounting of our environmental impacts. This illusion permits an apparent reconciliation of incompatible policies.

Governments urge us both to consume more and to conserve more. We mustextract more fossil fuel from the ground, but burn less of it. We should reduce, reuse and recycle the stuff that enters our homes, and at the same time increase, discard and replace it. How else can the consumer economy grow? We should eat less meat to protect the living planet, and eat more meat to boost the farming industry. These policies are irreconcilable. The new analyses suggest that economic growth is the problem, regardless of whether the word sustainable is bolted to the front of it.

It’s not just that we don’t address this contradiction; scarcely anyone dares even name it. It’s as if the issue is too big, too frightening to contemplate. We seem unable to face the fact that our utopia is also our dystopia; that production appears to be indistinguishable from destruction.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

There’s a population crisis all right. But probably not the one you think

While all eyes are on human numbers, it’s the rise in farm animals that is laying the planet waste

‘By 2050 the world’s living systems will have to support about 120m tonnes of extra humans, and 400m tonnes of extra farm animals.’ Illustration by Nate Kitch

 in The Guardian

This column is about the population crisis. About the breeding that’s laying waste the world’s living systems. But it’s probably not the population crisis you’re thinking of. This is about another one, that we seem to find almost impossible to discuss.

You’ll hear a lot about population in the next three weeks, as the Paris climate summit approaches. Across the airwaves and on the comment threads it will invariably be described as “the elephant in the room”. When people are not using their own words, it means that they are not thinking their own thoughts. Ten thousand voices each ask why no one is talking about it. The growth in human numbers, they say, is our foremost environmental threat.

At their best, population campaigners seek to extend women’s reproductive choices. Some 225 million women have an unmet need for contraception. If this need were answered, the impact on population growth would be significant, though not decisive: the annual growth rate of 83 million would be reduced to 62 million. But contraception is rarely limited only by the physical availability of contraceptives. In most cases it’s about power: women are denied control of their wombs. The social transformations that they need are wider and deeper than donations from the other side of the world are likely to achieve.

At their worst, population campaigners seek to shift the blame from their own environmental impacts. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that so many post-reproductive white men are obsessed with human population growth, as it’s about the only environmental problem of which they can wash their hands. Nor, I believe, is it a coincidence that of all such topics this is the least tractable. When there is almost nothing to be done, there is no requirement to act.

Such is the momentum behind population growth, an analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered, that were every government to adopt the one-child policy China has just abandoned, there would still be as many people on Earth at the end of this century as there are today. If 2 billion people were wiped out by a catastrophe mid-century, the planet would still hold a billion more by 2100 than it does now.

If we want to reduce our impacts this century, the paper concludes, it is consumption we must address. Population growth is outpaced by the growth in our consumption of almost all resources. There is enough to meet everyone’s need, even in a world of 10 billion people. There is not enough to meet everyone’s greed, even in a world of 2 billion people.

So let’s turn to a population crisis over which we do have some influence. I’m talking about the growth in livestock numbers. Human numbers are rising at roughly 1.2% a year, while livestock numbers are rising at around 2.4% a year. By 2050 the world’s living systems will have to support about 120m tonnes of extra humans, and 400m tonnes of extra farm animals.

Raising these animals already uses three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land.A third of our cereal crops are used to feed livestock: this may rise to roughly half by 2050. More people will starve as a result, because the poor rely mainly on grain for their subsistence, and diverting it to livestock raises the price. And now the grain that farm animals consume is being supplemented by oil crops, particularly soya, for which the forests and savannahs of South America are being cleared at shocking rates.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but were we to eat soya rather than meat, the clearance of natural vegetation required to supply us with the same amount of protein would decline by 94%. Producing protein from chickens requires three times as much land as protein from soybeans. Pork needs nine times, beef 32 times.

A recent paper in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggests that our consumption of meat is likely to be “the leading cause of modern species extinctions”. Not only is livestock farming the major reason for habitat destruction and the killing of predators, but its waste products are overwhelming the world’s capacity to absorb them. Factory farms in the US generate 13 times as much sewage as the human population does. The dairy farms in Tulare County, California, produce five times as much as New York City.

Freshwater life is being wiped out across the world by farm manure. In England the system designed to protect us from the tide of slurry has comprehensively broken down. Dead zones now extend from many coasts, as farm sewage erases ocean life across thousands of square kilometres.

Livestock farming creates around 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions: slightly more than the output of the world’s cars, lorries, buses, trains, ships and planes. If you eat soya, your emissions per unit of protein are 20 times lower than eating pork or chicken, and 150 times lower than eating beef.

So why is hardly anyone talking about the cow, pig, sheep and chicken in the room? Why are there no government campaigns to reduce the consumption of animal products, just as they sometimes discourage our excessive use of electricity?

A factory farm in Missouri, USA. ‘Why is hardly anyone talking about the cow, pig, sheep and chicken in the room?’ Photograph: Daniel Pepper/Getty Images

A survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs found that people are not unwilling to change diets once they become aware of the problem, but that many have no idea that livestock farming damages the living world.

It’s not as if eating less meat and dairy will harm us. If we did as our doctors advise, our environmental impacts would decline in step with heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer. British people eat, on average, slightly more than their bodyweight in meat every year, while Americans consume another 50%: wildly more, in both cases, than is good for us or the rest of life on Earth.

But while plenty in the rich world are happy to discuss the dangers of brown people reproducing, the other population crisis scarcely crosses the threshold of perception. Livestock numbers present a direct moral challenge, as in this case we have agency. Hence the pregnant silence.

Road to Islamic State was paved by America’s Faustian bargain with Saudi Wahhabism

Sameer Arshad in Times of India

In the aftermath of the Paris carnage, US president Barack Obama led the usual counterproductive finger-pointing telling Muslims to ask themselves how extremist ideologies took root. Obama’s point is perhaps valid, but that is only a part of the problem. The West needs to answer far more serious questions. Besides waging destabilising, unjust wars and propping up despotic regimes in the Muslim world, it bears responsibility for planting cancer, which Daesh or the so-called Islamic State (IS) is a symptom of, in the process.
It is unfair to collectively blame Muslims for IS since they are and have been the worst victims of the mindless violence of the creed it represents for three centuries. Daesh has its roots in 18th century preacher Abd-al-Wahhab’s doctrine, which rejected Islamic pluralism enshrined in the Quran and declared war on Muslims other than Salafis.
The Ottoman Empire, which represented contemporary mainstream Muslims, resisted this challenge tooth and nail. It in fact coined the term Wahhabism to describe Wahhab’s creed and to underline it fell outside Islam’s pale. Thanks to the West’s myopic foreign policy goals and lust for oil, the creed has come a long way since the 18th century when even Wahhab’s brother and father rejected his doctrine. The creed has been defined mainly by hostility towards Islamic mysticism and seeking death for ‘deviant’ Muslims.
Beyond his family, Wahhab’s teaching found few takers. The vandalism inspired by him infuriated neighbouring tribes, who forced Wahhab to take refuge in Dariyya after threatening to kill him. Wahhab’s flight proved the turning point in his career as Dariyya chieftain Muhammad ibn Saud got into an irrevocable alliance with the preacher in 1747, under which he pledged his family would promote Wahhabism. It laid the foundation for Saudi Arabia on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1932.
By the time Wahhab died in 1792 his followers had become lethal. They declared a war on mainstream Islamic sects by branding them polytheists. Taking ‘deviant’ Muslim lives was justified along with seizure of their properties and enslaving their women and children. This prompted the Mecca qadi to denounce Wahhabis as non-Muslims and bar them from entering Islam’s holiest city. The Ottomans condemned Wahhabis as Kharjites (defectors) and banned them from performing Hajj.
But the Saudis have honoured their pact with Wahhab by using petrodollars to export his creed through a cultural offensive which has undermined Islamic pluralism, triggered fratricidal sectarian conflict and birthed terrorist groups like al-Qaida and IS. The US has been complicit as the principal backer of Saudi Arabia.
This has helped America satiate its thirst for oil and use Wahhabi doctrine for short term goals like defeating USSR in Afghanistan. In the 1970s, the US used the Saudi alliance to counter Egyptian pan-Arab socialist Gamal Abdel Nasser and post-revolution Iran. In the process it often patronised the nihilistic forces that have now turned their guns on the West.

Eating less meat key to curbing climate change

People are more likely to back policies to curb meat eating for health and climate reasons, Chatham House survey suggests


Meat production produces 15% of all greenhouse gases. Photograph: Alamy

Damian Carrington in The Guardian

Taxing meat to simultaneously tackle climate change and improve global health would be far less unpalatable than governments think, according to new research.

Meat production produces 15% of all greenhouse gases – more than all cars, trains, planes and ships combined – and halting global warming appears near impossible unless the world’s fast growing appetite for meat is addressed.

The new analysis says this could be done through taxes, increasing vegetarian food in schools, hospitals and the armed forces and cutting subsidies to livestock farmers, all supported by public information campaigns.

The research, from the international affairs thinktank Chatham House and Glasgow University, involved surveys and focus groups in 12 countries and found that even measures restricting peoples’ behaviour could be accepted if seen as in the public interest, as was seen with smoking bans.

“Governments are ignoring what should be a hugely appealing, win-win policy,” said lead author Laura Wellesley, at Chatham House.

“The idea that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too difficult to implement is unjustified. Our focus groups show people expect governments to lead action on issues that are for the global good. Our research indicates any backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived as long as the rationale for action was strong.”

Increasing appetite for meat and population growth in developing countries mean global meat consumption is on track to increase 75% by 2050, which would make it virtually impossible to keep global warming below the internationally-agreed limit of 2C.

Meat consumption is already well above healthy levels in developed nations and growing fast in other countries, and is linked to rising rates of heart disease and cancer. To get to healthy levels, US citizens would need to cut the meat they eat by two-thirds, those in the UK by a half and those in China by a third.

If the world’s population cuts to healthy levels of meat consumption – about 70g per day – it would reduce carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to annual output of the US, the world’s second biggest polluter.

The UN climate change summit begins in Paris on 30 November, where the world’s nations aim to seal a deal to tackle climate change.

Most countries have already submitted pledges to cut their emissions, but they are not enough to keep warming below dangerous levels. Cutting meat eating to healthy levels would make up a quarter of that shortfall and is very low cost way of curbing emissions, according to the report, but action to achieve this is non-existent.

Previous calls to cut meat consumption, from the chief of the UN’s climate science panel and the economist Lord Stern, or to tax it, have been both rare and controversial.

“We are not in any way advocating for global vegetarianism,” said Wellesley. “We can see massive changes [to emissions] from just converging around healthy levels of meat eating.” She said raising awareness of the impact on the climate from meat production was the first step, but was unlikely to shift diets by itself.

“The level of awareness is very low, indeed in China it is almost non-existent,” said Catherine Happer, at Glasgow University. She said people in the 36 focus groups viewed meat taxes as the most effective, if unpopular, but that cutting subsidies for meat production was seen as both effective and popular.

“An awful lot of people were surprised that there were subsidies at all,” she said. “They felt, particularly in the US, that governments had propped up a very unhealthy food market.” Livestock subsidies in the 34 OECD nations alone were $53bn in 2013, including an average of $190 per cow. People also said any government action must avoid disadvantaging poorer citizens.

Prof Greg Philo, also at Glasgow University, said the key was “creating a new public understanding that industrial production of meat is not only dangerous to your own health but to human ecology as a whole.”

Animal rights organisation Peta’s climate message in Munich, Germany, aims to raise awareness of the link between climate change and the consumption of meat. Photograph: Mathias Balk/Alamy Stock Photo

Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Meat consumption can no longer be ignored in the climate debate – shifting diets to less meat and more plant proteins will be crucial. The government must stop using consumer backlash as an excuse for inaction”.

The reductions mapped out by the report would not reduce the size of the global meat industry, the researchers said, because rising population is pushing up demand, but it would significantly slow its growth.

They also said efforts to make meat production greener could cut emissions by up to a third, but that this would be swamped by growing demand if action was not taken. Meat eating has plateaued in recent years in richer nations, but is growing fast in developing countries.

Previous studies have calculated that, on current trends, agricultural emissions will take up the entire world’s carbon budget by 2050, meaning every other sector, including energy, industry and transport, would have to be zero carbon, a scenario described as “impossible”.

Meat production produces greenhouse gases via the methane emitted by livestock, the cutting down of forests for pasture, the production of fertiliser for feed crops and the energy and transport used by farmers. Beef is responsible for far higher emissions than chicken or pork.

None of the report’s authors are vegetarians, but Rob Bailey, from Chatham House, said: “Having worked on this project, I have drastically reduced my meat consumption – I now eat it once a month.”

Monday, 23 November 2015

Freemasons from throughout history to be revealed

The list is being published online by the genealogy company, Ancestry

Ian Johnston in The Independent

A once highly secret list containing the identities of two million Freemasons throughout history is to be published online, revealing the extent of the organisation’s influence in the upper echelons of society.

Everyone from Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling to the Duke of Wellington and Lord Kitchener were members, The Daily Telegraph reported.

There are even claims that a singer suspected of being Jack the Ripper was protected from prosecution because he was a mason.

Other members include Sir Winston Churchill, Edward VII, George VI, Edward VIII, explorers Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott, scientists Edward Jenner and Sir Alexander Fleming, engineer Thomas Telford, businessman Harry Selfridge and social reformer Thomas Barnardo, as well as both Gilbert and Sullivan.

The list is being published online by the genealogy company, Ancestry.

Miriam Silverman, senior UK content manager at Ancestry, told the Telegraph: “We’re delighted to be able to offer people an online window into a relatively unknown organisation.”

Meanwhile a new book by the director and screenwriter of the film Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson, claims that Jack the Ripper was a singer called Michael Maybrick.

The book, The All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper, claims that all the murders had elements of masonic ritual. The symbol of a pair of compasses, for example, was carved into the face of one victim.

Maybrick and his brother James, also a suspect, were both masons, as were two senior police officers, three police doctors and two coroners involved in the case. Maybrick was a member of the “Supreme Grand Council of Freemasons”.

Robinson told the Telegraph: “It was endemic in the way England ran itself. At the time of Jack the Ripper, there were something like 360 Tory MPs, 330 of which I can identify as Masons.

“The whole of the ruling class was Masonic, from the heir to the throne down. It was part of being in the club.

Part of the whole ethic of Freemasonry is whatever it is, however it’s done, you protect the brotherhood – and that’s what happened.

“They weren’t protecting Jack the Ripper, they were protecting the system that Jack the Ripper was threatening. And to protect the system, they had to protect him. And the Ripper knew it.”

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Why job interviews are pointless

Richard Nisbett in The Guardian

Hard taskmaster: Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office. Photograph: Adrian Rogers/BBC

Statistics often sounds like a dry subject, but many judgments and decisions in everyday life would be improved by an application of statistical principles. Take the following scenario: a football scout hears of a player who has powered his team to a good win-loss record. His coaches think he’s one of the most talented players they’ve seen. But the scout is unimpressed by the one practice game he sees him in; he tells his manager it’s not worth trying to recruit the player. 

Most sports fans would think that was a pretty foolish call, right? Athletic performance is much too variable to base an important judgment on such a small sample. It’s not necessary to take a statistics course to get the correct answer to this problem.

But consider this problem: an employer gets an application from a junior executive with an excellent college record and strong references from his current employer. The employer interviews the applicant and is unimpressed. The employer tells his colleagues that it’s not worthwhile recruiting him.

Most people regard this as a reasonable sort of decision. But it isn’t. Countless studies show that the unstructured 30-minute interview is virtually worthless as a predictor of long-term performance by any criteria that have been examined. You have only slightly more chance of choosing the better of two employees after a half-hour interview as you would by flipping a coin.

In both of these cases, predictions based on references – school reports, prior performance, letters of recommendation – give a 65-75% chance of choosing the better of the two.

Why do we get the athletic problem right and the employment problem wrong? Because in the case of the job, unlike for athletic performance, we haven’t seen hundreds of candidates in interviews of a particular type and seen how well performance in the interview corresponds to ultimate performance in the setting we’re concerned about. We haven’t seen that the guy who looks like a dunce in the interview turns out to be a whiz on the job and the guy who aced the interview turns out to be a dud. The only way to see that the interview isn’t going to be worth much is to be able to apply the “law of large numbers”, which prompts the recognition that an interview represents a very small sample of behaviour, whereas the references summarise a lot of behaviour.

The bottom line: there’s safety in numbers. The more recommendations a person has, the more positive the outcome is likely to be for the employer. Consider the job interview: it’s not only a tiny sample, it’s not even a sample of job behaviour but of something else entirely. Extroverts in general do better in interviews than introverts, but for many if not most jobs, extroversion is not what we’re looking for. Psychological theory and data show that we are incapable of treating the interview data as little more than unreliable gossip. It’s just too compelling that we’ve learned a lot from those 30 minutes.

My recommendation is not to interview at all unless you’re going to develop an interview protocol, with the help of a professional, which is based on careful analysis of what you are looking for in a job candidate. And then ask exactly the same questions of every candidate. It’s harder to develop such a protocol than you might guess. But it can really pay off.

What if I fail?

Tom Hodkinson in The Guardian

Yes, even Johnny Depp (pictured with his wife, Amber Heard) feels like a failure sometimes. Photograph: Warren Toda/EPA

We are all failures. Every one of us.

That’s not always how it looks, of course. Other people seem so successful. Their own PR machines paint a positive picture. They are perpetually “excited” on Twitter about their new project. Their photos on Facebook show them looking happy and smiley.

Seen from the outside, our friends always seem to be earning more money than us. They have bigger houses and go on sunnier holidays. And we are surrounded by images of wealth. All I see when I walk the streets of London are fleets of black jeep-like cars everywhere, which has the effect of making me feel like a failure because I am skint.

  Aristotle felt we needed to make space for quiet study. Photograph: Hulton Getty

Add to that the sense that my contemporaries all seem to be writing best-selling novels or acting in Hollywood films or making tons of money somehow or other, and the sense of failure can easily creep up on you.

But if only we knew what failures other people felt, then we would not feel like failures. As Dr Johnson wrote in the mid-18th century: “All envy would be extinguished, if it were universally known that there are none to be envied, and surely none can much be envied who are not pleased with themselves.” Yes, and that even includes Johnny Depp. Can you imagine being an actor? Blimey, the insecurity of it.

Johnson’s advice was simple: drink, forget and take a nap. Sip the nectar of oblivion and conjure up happy fantasies while in a state of semi-slumber.

And what about the home lives of the rich and successful? Any amount of fame and money cannot compensate for bad relationships. Every life is full of joy and woe, probably in equal measure, so envy makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, to be envious at all shows a stunning lack of empathy, an inability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Everyone suffers.

Sir Paul McCartney said no matter how far you get, you feel everyone is doing better than you. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Even the most successful man in the world doesn’t feel successful. Who has done better than Paul McCartney? But he said in a 2013 interview: “No matter how accomplished you get – and I know a lot of people who are very accomplished – you feel that everyone is doing better than you, that it’s easier for them. You’ve got to the top of your profession – you’re now prime minister – but you still get shit off everyone.”

Successful people are failures because they have dozens of failed projects behind them. We tend only to see the successes. I’ve been reading a lot of business books recently, and if there is one thing that all entrepreneurs have in common, it’s a stunning track record of colossal disasters. Failure and success, then, are the same thing. Two sides of the same coin.

It is said that all political careers end in failure. And the merchants, the city traders – they can lose fortunes as well as make them.

So how can we answer the question: what if I fail?

‘Dr Johnson’s advice was simple: drink, forget and take a nap.’ Photograph: Alamy

The only real answer is that we need to cultivate wisdom and to do that, we need to make space for quiet study. That, anyway, was the view of Aristotle. Like most of the ancient Greek philosophers, he believed that the answer to life was to “know thyself”; in other words, not to push yourself in the wrong direction, or to chase money or fame. He said that the life of a merchant was full of worry, and that the glories of a political life were brief and fleeting. The happy life, he wrote, was the contemplative life. If you can read books and enjoy doing nothing, you can always be happy.

Another great Greek philosopher was Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school. The Stoics were so called because they taught in the Stoa, the marketplace. They did not believe in getting away from it all like the Epicureans. They reckoned that you should put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and develop a detached attitude. Their trick was to imagine that you were flying into space and looking down on the world. From that distance, our little problems and issues seem like nothing more than vanity.

Failure is polite. To be imperfect is an act of courtesy to your fellow humans. In the same way, to appear to be hugely successful is an act of extreme rudeness, simply because it excites envy and jealousy in others. A friend of mine took to calling the glossy mag World of Interiors World of Inferiors because it made people feel bad. And this truth is admirably expressed in the title of Marge Simpson’s favourite magazine: Better Homes Than Yours.

Failures are lovable. Who is more popular: Homer Simpson or Donald Trump?

The writers of comedy can make us feel a whole lot better. They are almost the heirs to the Stoics. Comedy is all about disaster and failure and anxiety, and has a great healing power, by making us realise that we are not alone.

‘Failures are lovable. Who is more popular: Homer Simpson or Donald Trump?’ Photograph: Matt Groening/AP

We’d also do well to remember that the admen out there try to make us feel like failures because it’s good for business. The world of trade, exciting though it is, thrives on negative emotion. It identifies problems in your life and then offers to fix them. Lonely? Go on Facebook. Afraid of missing the moment? Photograph it and put it on Instagram. Sexless? Try Ashley Madison. Anxious? Drink beer. Onion breath? Chew gum. The business owners have a vested interest in making you feel like a failure. Poor? Join my get-rich-quick scheme.

This is not necessarily an evil process. In fact, it is completely natural. After all, if it is dark, you can light a candle. Human life is all about the light and shade. I just think it helps to understand that advertisers deliberately appeal to our sense of failure in order to sell stuff.

‘What did Samuel Beckett say? Fail again.’ Photograph: Jane Bown/Observer

What if I fail? It doesn’t matter. Who cares? Keep failing. It’s good for society, it’s good for you and it makes your friends feel better. What did Samuel Beckett say? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Fail again. Fail better.”

Everything we hold dear is being cut to the bone. Weep for our country

Will Hutton in The Guardian

Last Thursday, my wife was readmitted to hospital nearly two years after her first admission for treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is very ill, but the nursing, always humane and in sufficient numbers two years ago, is reduced to a heroic but hard-pressed minimum. She has been left untended for hours at a stretch, reduced to tearful desperation at her neglect. The NHS, allegedly a “protected” public service, is beginning to show the signs of five years of real spending cumulatively not matching the growth of health need. Between 2010 and 2015, health spending grew at the slowest (0.7% a year) over a five-year period since the NHS’s foundation. As the Health Foundation observed last week, continuation of these trends is impossible: health spending must rise, funded if necessary by raising the standard rate of income tax.

There will be tens of thousands of patients suffering in the same way this weekend. Yet my protest on their behalf is purposeless. It will cut no ice with either the chancellor or his vicar on earth, Nick Macpherson, permanent secretary at the Treasury. Their twin drive to reduce public spending to just over 36% of GDP in the last year of this parliament is because, as Macpherson declares more fervently than any Tory politician, the budget must be in surplus and raising tax rates is impossible. Necessarily there will be collateral damage. It is obviously regrettable that there are too few nurses on a ward, too few police, too few teachers and too little of every public service. but this is necessary to serve the greater cause of debt reduction.

To reduce the stock of the public debt to below 80% of GDP and not pay a penny more in income or property tax, let alone higher taxes on pollution, sugar, petrol or alcohol, is now our collective national purpose. Everything – from the courts to local authority swimming pools – is subordinate to that aim.

Not every judgment George Osborne makes is wrong. He is right to advocate the northern powerhouse, to spend on infrastructure, to stay in the EU, radically to devolve control of public spending to city regions in return for the creation of coherent city governance and to sustain spending on aid and development. It is hard to fault raising the minimum wage or to try to spare science spending from the worst of the cuts.

But the big call he is making is entirely misconceived. There is no economic or social argument to justify these arbitrary targets for spending and debt, especially when the cost of debt service, given low interest rates and the average 14-year term of our government debt, has rarely been lower over the past 300 years.

This is not to contest the need to balance current public spending and current revenues over the economic cycle. As I wrote in my first book, The Revolution That Never Was, completed 30 years ago this month, Keynes was no deficit denier. But governments have choices about how they arrive at this outcome.

The Conservatives’ choice is driven by a refusal to see any merit in public activity: in their worldview, the point of life and the purpose of civilisation is to celebrate and protect the private individual, the private firm and private property. The state should be as small as possible. It has no role, say, in owning Channel 4 to secure public service broadcasting; it will be privatised with scant care about its ultimate owner. Equally, there was no point in holding the 40% stake in Eurostar, forecast to generate more than £700m in dividends over the next decade and a good payback for £3bn of public investment. Thus it was sold for £757m in March, the government concerned to get the sale through before the general election. You could only proclaim a £2.25bn loss on the public balance sheet and the surrender of £700m of dividends as a “fantastic deal for UK taxpayers”, as Osborne did, if you see zero value in public activity.

It is this philosophy that will drive the choices to be laid out on Wednesday. The spending of the so-called protected departments – the £189bn spent this year on the NHS, schools for five- to 16-year-olds, aid and defence – will rise in cash terms in line with inflation, but only to buy the same in 2019-20 as it does today, an unprecedented decade-long freeze in real terms. The block grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be hit slightly harder, protected only in cash terms, implying, after adjusting for inflation, a small real fall. The axe therefore has to fall on what is left – £77bn of spending by 15 departments along with non-school spending.

So if we take the summer budget and Office of Budget Responsibility economic forecasts as the baseline (both may change) – and there are no new tax increases – to meet his target, the chancellor has to find £22bn of cuts from this £77bn, crucial areas of our national life that have already cumulatively been cut by 30% since 2010.

As the Resolution Trust points out, seven of the smaller departments have settled for 21% cuts, which leaves the big five – Business, Communities and Local Government, Justice, the Home Office and non-schools education – to bear the brunt. This can only mean the de facto wind-up of the Department for Business as a pro-active department, further shrinkage of the criminal justice system (mitigated by prison sell-offs), local government reduced to a husk and the knell of further education. Meanwhile, the cuts in welfare will hit the wellbeing of millions, including their children. Expect on top a firesale of government assets – from housing associations to Channel 4.

Is this wanted, necessary or appropriate for these profoundly troubled times? I think it’s a first-order category error and that in 2015 the need – whether protection from terrorism or the promotion of innovation and investment – is for complex collaborative action between a properly resourced, agile public sector and a private sector in desperate need of remoralising and repurposing. There is no magic in a 36% state. But as Osborne knows, he is politically free to do what he wants. The leadership of the Labour party offers no substantive intellectual or political opposition, nor represents a potential governing coalition, nor, wedded to a bankrupt simplistic top-down statism, understands the complexities of these new times. Rarely has the principal opposition party been so irrelevant at a time of national need. All that is left is noises off – the odd newspaper editorial or column and civil society and business beginning to stir as they experience the impact. Weep for our country.

Don’t ignore the saner voices of moderate Muslims

SA Aiyar in The Times of India

There is much in common between those who hit Paris last week and Mumbai on 26/11. Let nobody pretend, like elements of the left, that Paris was just revenge against Western imperialism. ISIS aims to become the biggest imperialist of all, re-creating the ancient Islamic empire from Portugal to China. The Ottoman caliphate once came close to conquering the whole of Europe, and ISIS would like to finish the job. It claims a divine right to kill those who come in the way — Arabs, Jews, Americans, Europeans, Indians or anyone else.

UP home minister Azam Khan outraged many by making excuses for the Paris killings. He said this was a reaction to the actions of global superpowers like America and Russia. “History will decide who is the terrorist. Killing innocents whether in Syria or Paris is a highly deplorable act… But if you created such a situation, you have to face the backlash too.”

This determination to justify the attack, while grudgingly condemning it, is hypocritical communalism. It has parallels with the grudging criticism by BJP leaders of the lynching of the Dadri Muslim accused of eating beef. Tarun Vijay wrote that the lynching would indeed be terrible if it turned out that he had only eaten mutton. Culture minister Mahesh Sharma claims it was just “an accident.” Former MLA Nawab Singh Nagar said those who dared hurt the feelings of the dominant Thakurs should realize the consequences, and claimed that the murderous mob consisted of “innocent children” below 15 years of age. Srichand Sharma said violence was inevitable if Muslims disrespected Hindu sentiments.

The inability of these BJP leaders to condemn the lynching outright is matched by Azam Khan’s inability to condemn the Paris attackers outright. Communalists cherry-pick events from history to claim they are victims, with the right to vengeful retribution. Sorry, but groups across the world have been both attackers and victims. Through history, imperial conquest, killing and loot was considered great (hence Alexander the Great, or Peter the Great). Modern notions of civil rights, secularism and nationhood did not exist. Might was right, indeed greatness.

And so there were Muslims who conquered and plundered, and other Muslims who were at the receiving end. Christian conquerors created large empires by the sword, and were in turn subjugated by others. Hindu, Chinese, Mongol, Arab and African kings killed and looted for personal aggrandizement, and in turn were killed and looted.

Communalists harp on events in which they were victims, ignoring others where they were victimizers. ISIS and Azam Khan repeat the victimhood theme of Muslims in the 20th century, complaining of being bombed and dominated by the West, and claiming that revenge is both justifiable and inevitable. They are unable to see themselves also as victimizers who slaughtered and looted for centuries, from Portugal to China. Nor will they accept that victims from Portugal to China have a right to revenge.

Right message: Last week’s fatwa against ISIS signed by 1,070 Indian imams and muftis deserved more coverage

A sane, safe society is not possible if every community wants to avenge events of the past. Every community needs to accept that it has been both a victimizer and victim, and leave the past behind. Some communities have succeeded in doing this — notably Germany after World War II — and that has been the basis for civilized progress. The contrast with ISIS could not be greater.

While the media has rightly focused on Azam Khan, they have ignored the much saner response of moderate Muslims. It’s wrong to constantly highlight communal Muslims and downplay nationalist ones.

TOI last Wednesday reported “the biggest fatwa ever” against ISIS, signed by 1,070 Indian imams and muftis. The fatwa, which condemned ISIS categorically as “inhuman” and “un-lslamic”, has been forwarded by Abdur Rahman Anjaria of the Islamic Defence Cybercell to the UN, several foreign governments and the Prime Minister’s Office. Anjaria says the fatwa is the biggest ever initiative by Indian ulema to reject the dangerous ideology of ISIS, which “has disgraced the name of Allah and the Prophet….It is the duty of every Muslim to join the fight to defeat it.”

I think this news should have been on page one in every newspaper. Instead it was hidden in the inside pages of the Times of India. So was another small report on a protest meeting in Delhi by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, to condemn the strikes in Paris, Turkey and Lebanon in the name of Islam. Without naming Azam Khan, its general secretary, Maulana Madani, said “We completely dismiss the action-reaction theory propounded by some persons.”

Prime Minister Modi needs to highlight and cite such moderate views. It’s not enough to say India needs social harmony. It’s also necessary to give kudos to those who promote that moderation.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Misbah breaks it down

Osman Samiuddin in Cricinfo

The Pakistan captain talks about the many observations, plots and decisions that go into the game's most important task: taking wickets

Keep calm or Misbah will get you © Associated Press

Two sharp short balls, slightly misdirected either side of Stuart Broad's body, sandwiched a yorker in the 102nd over of England's second innings in Dubai. In total, that meant that five of the last six balls Wahab Riaz had bowled to Broad were short. A couple were genuinely hairy, but all were good enough to keep him rooted deep in the crease. Who knows what Broad was expecting fourth ball of that over, but could it have been anything other than a bouncer or a yorker?

Who knows, indeed, what Wahab would have bowled to him - in the end he went with the suggestion of Misbah-ul-Haq. The captain already had a conventional forward short leg in place. He decided to place another - another "silly", he said - in, but finer. He was standing at square leg himself and he told Wahab to bowl a yorker, but a slower one.

"We were attacking him with the bouncer and the yorker, so he was prepared for both," Misbah said a few days later. "His weight was moving back a little and he was prepared for the full yorker. So I felt, if he gets a slower one here, he will get time and his weight will still be on the back foot."

Sitting down, Misbah illustrated the movement he intended to elicit from Broad - a jerky, panicked jab down to the ball, the aim still to prevent it from hitting his toes or stumps but now scrambled by the lack of pace and flight.

"With that weight going back, if you go to play a slower ball inevitably you loft the shot in the air. I took two sillys on that side, one fine, one normal, and the plan was that he would lob to either."

Wahab bowled it just right, the slower ball not looping so much but dipping at Broad's toes with the lazy menace of a paper plane in descent. Broad did exactly as Misbah predicted, half-hopping while hurrying the bat down and lobbing the ball away. It went, with uncanny precision, between the two "sillys", flirting boldly with both, not committing to either.

Because he is a captain who understands so well the angles of the game, and the consequences of tweaking them to tiny degrees, his handling of spinners has mostly suggested he was born for it

Misbah's gambit did not come off, though in the way of unrequited love it was no less powerful for its failure.


Misbah-ul-Haq has stood between Pakistan and extinction. He has taken Pakistan by the collar and shaken some calm into them. He is a man of quiet integrity and dignity, of exceedingly stable temperament, and it is in this image that he has built his Pakistan side.

Five years after he became captain, a year after becoming their most successful captain (in terms of Test match wins), and now closer to an exit than ever before, these, bafflingly, remain the popular and intangible ways in which Misbah is spoken about - that is, we speak of his leadership as man, which in its example of him is ample. We hardly talk of his captaincy as cricketer, which is a different thing altogether (see Miandad, J), and when we do, it has swiftly escalated into fractious and tiresome ideological debates about the effect of his batting on his team in ODIs.

Which is odd in one sense because, by most accounts, Misbah is a cricket tragic, nerdily wired into the intricacies of the game. This revelation to Hassan Cheema in a recent profile , for example, from a producer when Misbah was working as a TV analyst:

"For him, every ball was something he needed to see. The only time he stopped watching was when he had to pray, but even then, after he was finished praying he would ask me or someone about every ball: who played the shot, what happened, was it a slower ball - he wanted to know everything. He knew about everyone too, and he read the mind of the fielding captains to perfection. Even as Netherlands were bowling their seventh over he would know who would bowl their 15th over, for example, and he would nearly always be proven right."

The details of that Broad set-up, in fact, Misbah had voluntarily divulged, and in typical Misbah fashion. At the post-win press conference, he had first put on his Misbah face (find wall, stare at wall, answer wall) and spoken in the generalised way about the game that these interactions require. Then, as often happens, he exited the stage, to be encircled by a group of journalists. It is here, usually, that he talks with surprising candidness and more specifically about the game. I asked him about another dismissal that day, which he talked us through, before he asked whether we had noticed the slower ball to Broad.

Give Hashim Amla "a doosra from middle and leg" © Getty Images

A few days later, on the second evening of the Sharjah Test, we sat down to discuss this and the other granules that make up the real substance of a captaincy. England were establishing a loose - and ultimately brief - sense of control over the game and it had been a long day. Misbah looked a little more haggard than usual. He had hemmed and hawed when I first mentioned the idea of the interview, worrying whether, in the middle of a Test, he would be able to summon enough such instances from such a long tenure. But he had agreed to meet and as it turned out, remembering was not a problem. Most of what he recalled was recent but had there been more time, I can imagine him remembering decisions he made in the tape-ball games of his youth.


The Bairstow wrong'un

On the same day as the Broad near-miss, Yasir Shah bowled Jonny Bairstow with a googly and ran straight to Misbah to celebrate, acknowledging his captain's role. Until then, Bairstow had played Shah securely, including three full overs late on the fourth day. On the fifth he again looked fairly confident, both in leaving and playing him with the bat. Shah came at him from both sides, and especially when he was over the wicket, Bairstow was recognising and leaving legbreaks pitched outside off so well, each leave carried the force of a firm-intentioned stroke. The googly was observing purdah.

The guiding force of Misbah's on-field captaincy is a deep grasp of the mechanics of batsmanship. It is an acuity that the greatest are sometimes unable to articulate; perhaps because Misbah operates so resolutely within his limitations, he recognises the boundaries within which opposing batsmen operate in different circumstances, as well as, of course, the overarching fragility of batting as a task.

"What was happening, actually, the legbreak that was coming on middle he was playing pretty easily. The one outside off, he had clearly made a plan that he was going to stretch out far forward and then leave it. He was leaving it well.
"Sometimes you see when a batsman is set on a plan, you want to mess with his mind a little. You see patterns, so you want to make him play differently, when there are chances of mistakes"

"As a batsman when I am doing this, if suddenly from the same line from where I am leaving I get a googly, even if I know it is a googly, the chances of my making a mistake are high. Even if you recognise it, because the intention from that line is to not play it - mentally you have planned you are going to leave it. Suddenly from there when it is a googly, you decide to try and play, you can still miss it. I said to Yasir, 'Bowl him two to three googlies in a row so that the intention he has to leave the legbreak from that line [is affected].'"

Shah bowled him the first googly that day and from how Bairstow shaped to play it he had clearly picked it. But having gotten used to leaving, or just defending, suddenly another option of scoring through the vacant midwicket - Misbah had a gully instead - affected the execution. That it happened off the very first googly was a bonus.

Tying up Hashim Amla

In the field, all captains work to one end: wickets. It's just that their approach to the cost of getting them - runs - is different. Some, like Michael Clarke, are willing to give up a few more. To Misbah, runs are gold dust. He hates conceding them, whatever the situation. He plans for wickets by not giving away runs, not by setting unusual fields or asking his bowlers to do anything fancy or cute.

It is an instinct that served him well in what he says is the one moment of captaincy he will never forget. It came at the death of an ODI in Port Elizabeth in 2013. South Africa, with Hashim Amla and JP Duminy at the crease, needed less than a run a ball from the last two overs (11 off 12). Misbah had Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan and it was the penultimate over from Ajmal that won it.

He remembers every detail because he talked Ajmal through the entire piece, but not exactly in its right place: he was off on the chronology of the over.

"Amla was on 97, Saeed was round the stumps. He asked me, 'What should I do?' I said, 'First ball, a little outside off, he will wait for the ball, push to covers and take one.' Back foot he will go to play there. So I said to him, make sure you finish on off stump, your offbreak, don't bowl the doosra. Don't bowl to middle and leg, bowl the offbreak on off so that if he moves to play it there, if it is a little slow, he will not get pace and he'll be waiting for the doosra. There is a chance that he does not get a single there. He wants a single, so try not to give him anything on his legs, or outside off."

To Jonathan Trott, "bowl short of length and either cramp him, or just outside off" © Associated Press

Misbah mistakenly remembers the first four balls as dots. Amla tucked the first ball, on middle and leg, to midwicket for a single. What Misbah remembers as the last ball of the over, to Duminy, was actually the second ball, though in instruction to Ajmal he was correct: "Last ball Duminy was there. Saeed said, give him a deep midwicket as he will sweep it, so I will bowl off stump. I said, he will sweep from outside off. Midwicket is up, just bowl him a straight offbreak, a bit quicker. If it stays straight he could be leg-before, if he hits it, he hits it." He tried to sweep and missed it, a dot ball.

Duminy got a single off the next, bringing Amla back on strike, on 98, three balls left in the over. The fourth was a dot, Ajmal following Amla's movement as he backed away. The fifth was the original plan, though probably a little wider than intended. Amla still couldn't get it away.

"He panicked a little, nine needed and it was ball to ball, the panic button was on. Saeed can also panic, of course. So I said to him, if I was a batsman at this stage, I would not be looking for a single, I will look for a boundary, a big shot. Because nine runs off eight [actually seven], however big a batsman, he is under pressure now.

"Now he will not try to hit over cover, he will go for a big shot. So I said, now you have to give him a doosra from middle and leg, because now he will hit it. He bowled it and Amla skied it straight up [to be caught halfway to the boundary]."

Pakistan won eventually by a run, sealing a first ODI series win in South Africa and the first by a subcontinent side in the country.

Fast, slow?

No Pakistani captain has relied as heavily on spin as Misbah, not even Miandad, who, usually in Imran's absence and at home, was happy to rely on them. Fifty-nine per cent of the wickets taken under Misbah have been by spin; 58% of the overs bowled by spinners. In that, he is an outlier among Pakistan's major captains. Corresponding percentages for Abdul Kardar, Imran and Miandad are, in order: 23% of wickets and 33% of overs; 29% of wickets and 36% of overs; 46% of wickets and 48% of overs.

Sitting down, Misbah illustrated the movement he intended to elicit from Broad, a jerky, panicked jab down to the ball, the aim being to prevent it from hitting his toes or stumps but now scrambled by the lack of pace and flight

To a degree it has been thrust upon him by circumstance: as much by the attack that was left to him once he took over as by the surfaces on which Pakistan played "home" Tests. Had he the Mohammads, Amir and Asif, who knows how his captaincy would have played out. But because he is a captain who understands so well the angles to which the game is played, and the consequences of tweaking them to tiny degrees, his handling of spinners has mostly suggested he was born for it.

He insisted he is as comfortable with fast bowlers, though he let slip a perhaps natural caution in expanding: "If a guy is bowling with control and he knows where the ball is going and how much it is swinging, then it becomes easy. It becomes difficult when the ball is not being controlled, or it is swinging both ways too much, or if he is struggling with line and length."

Control - not conceding runs - is vital to Misbah and it is his spinners who have always given him utmost control. Consequently, in the absence of Asif and Amir, and other than in a few phases, Misbah has sometimes come across as intrinsically untrusting of fast bowlers. He was, for instance, so despondent at the prospect of playing three fast bowlers in the first Test against England last month (Shah was injured, with no back-up) that it felt as if he had conceded the Test before it even began.

He has had his moments with them, though. He remembered the dismissal of Dinesh Chandimal in the second innings of the famous Sharjah Test last year. Mohammad Talha had bowled especially well on what was basically a strip of quicksand, and was brought into the attack with a 38-over-old ball. Misbah, at mid-off, had been watching Chandimal grow in confidence and told Talha to bowl a bouncer into his body. Talha did and Chandimal awkwardly ducked under it. He bowled a length ball outswinger next, which Chandimal left.

"Now he says, next ball I will bowl another outswinger. I said, 'Outswing and bouncer he is ready to leave. So from some way out, bring the ball in a little to get him to play a forward defensive.' It was reversing a little. I thought because of the bouncer, his weight will stay back a little. He will not come forward properly or fully. If you land it on a good spot, even if there is a tiny gap, he's gone."

It went as Misbah said, though it was helped by the size of the gap Chandimal left. (It is worth noting the degree to which Misbah can be involved in constructing overs, ball by ball, with his bowlers.)

Fifty-nine per cent of the wickets taken under Misbah have been by spin © AFP

A bigger tapestry to draw upon is Pakistan's working over of Jonathan Trott in the UAE. In a Test series marked by the control Pakistan's spinners exerted over England's batting, Trott being dismissed by pace in three innings out of six was almost anomalous (and more so than for anyone else in the top seven). Sure, at one-down he was always likelier to face fast bowlers than others but there was an undeniable pattern to the dismissals. Misbah and Pakistan had picked up on an imbalance in the Trott shuffle.

"He plays on the move lots and the shuffle was always towards off stump and a little moving forward. The back foot does not go back and across, it moves up a little. It is a different shuffle, so the ball that is pulled wide a little, he tries to drive it, he tries to get close to it.

"Whenever you bowl outside off to him, short-of-a-length ball, he will be on the move, weight going forward, and that gives you a chance. If you give him one towards his body [motions at his ribs], he will be playing that. Sometimes when he moved forward to try and play to leg, he would be a leg-before shout, and he hit so many through midwicket. So we noticed and thought that because he walks towards off, we bowl short of length and either cramp him [at his body], or just outside off. Only the odd ball towards pads. But however much he walks out, you pull him even further so that he plays on the move. We knew spin was our strength, but with him we thought, he will chase a ball outside off, or even a short ball past his ribs."

Trott's three dismissals to pace: the first, moving across and strangled down the leg side to a short ball; the second, chasing a short-of-length delivery far outside off; and the last, leg-before to one swinging into his pads. Trott's technical troubles with the short ball came to wider attention in 2013, in encounters with Mitchell Johnson, and it ended his career. But in the relative anonymity of Dubai, long before, Pakistan had already worked him out.


After a while Misbah was recalling all kinds of little plans and plots without prompting. Each time there was a conversational pause, on the verge of blossoming into an awkward silence, he thought of another, like the two dismissals of Alastair Cook in the second Test in Dubai.

To Misbah, runs are gold dust. He plans for wickets by not giving away runs, not by setting unusual fields or asking his bowlers to do anything fancy or cute

As with the Bairstow googly, they revealed Misbah's understanding of batsmanship but also a mental nimbleness. The plan was for Shah to attack the rough from round the wicket to Cook, with a man at 45 for the sweep. But Misbah sensed at one point that Cook was well set - "paka hua hai" - so he brought in a leg slip and Shah went over. Cook was gone almost immediately, caught there by Ahmed Shehzad.

In the second innings, he reversed it. Shah began at Cook from over the wicket. But during the drinks break before his next over, Misbah asked him to switch, to what was their original first-innings plan. "I said, 'Bowl to him from round, where he plays well.' Yasir said, 'No, this is our plan, this is what we stick to.' My thinking was that the sweep is his pet shot, he has confidence in it. But this is a fourth-day pitch, the rough is greater, he will hit but he might top-edge. As soon as he went there, he top-edged.

"Sometimes you see when a batsman is set on a plan, you want to mess with his mind a little. You see patterns, so you want to make him play differently, when there are chances of mistakes."

One of the more striking descriptions he used was for the body position he wanted to force David Warner into, in the second innings of the Dubai Test last year. Warner scored a hundred in the first and was playing well in the second. Misbah told Zulfiqar Babar, with a relatively new ball, to go round the wicket, convincing him to leave cover vacant. "From this angle if you bowl middle, you'll get drift and baazoo nahin khulenge [his shoulders won't open fully, or move freely] while trying to force a shot. He tried to do exactly that, to force one through covers, missed it - ball went with the angle straight past him and he got stumped."

Shoulder-charged: in Dubai last year David Warner was stumped from a delivery bowled round the wicket and pitched on middle stump © Getty Images

None of this is to paint Misbah as a unique and extraordinarily innovative tactician. Captaincy doesn't work to such simple descriptions. His reading of batsmen is notable, but most captains would - or could - make some of these moves. And any captain still has to have the bowlers to succeed.

If anything, an alternative (and not incorrect) interpretation would be that Misbah is extremely fortunate in having the bowlers he has had. Nor is he a solitary decision-maker. Ideas come from unexpected places. In Pallekele this summer, Misbah pointed out, it was Shan Masood who suggested bowling Azhar Ali at Dimuth Karunaratne in the second innings, because his googly would trouble him. Azhar had Karunaratne stumped - off the googly - and he took another wicket next ball, fortuitously, for good measure.

But Misbah is rare in the tradition of Pakistan captains, in that very few will recall and then want to talk about such details. Miandad, maybe Mushtaq Mohammad; and Miandad will segue effortlessly into a list of all the injustices enacted upon him. And also, it is worth reminding ourselves that being calm and equanimous doesn't win matches, not directly anyway. It doesn't make you your country's most successful captain. It is these moves, made every few overs, sometimes every few deliveries, that are the real debris of a captaincy.

Enough PhD’s, thank you

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Dawn
When Freeman Dyson suggested we have lunch together at the Princeton University cafeteria on my next visit, I almost fell off my chair. To be invited by this legendary physicist, now 90-plus but sharp as ever, meant more than a banquet especially arranged for me by the Queen of England. Countless kings, queens, and generals have come and gone but only a tiny number of visionaries, Dyson included, actually make history.
Overwhelmed, I was about to blurt “thank you, Dr Dyson” but stopped in time. Else this would have violated an unstated protocol. We theoretical physicists address colleagues by their first name. And so I simply thanked him as Freeman. This avoided a still more serious error. Freeman Dyson does not have a PhD and has never sought or needed one.
Three books and biographies have been written on this PhD-less scientific genius. But, were he to apply to a Pakistani university, at best he might become an assistant professor. I thought of this while suffering through some lectures last week at an international physics conference in Islamabad.
Sadly, the presentations by most Pakistani PhD’s were uninteresting, others were wrong. One was even laughably wrong. Probably the worst was by a professor who was not just a ‘doctor’ but a ‘professor doctor’. This terrible pomposity, borrowed from some German tradition, is now routinely augmented with ‘distinguished professor’, ‘national professor’ and what-not. Like cartoon generals who have won no wars but have medals stuck to oversized chests, Pakistan now has legions of highly paid ignoramus cartoon professors.

Pakistan now has legions of highly paid ignoramus cartoon professors.

But wait, am I not being terribly unfair? Our professors are publishing huge numbers of research papers these days, almost 10 times more than a decade ago. Some produce as many as 40-60 every year (Dyson’s lifetime total is a mere 50). These appear in so-called international journals with high-impact factors, are well-cited, and seeming fulfil all requirements of high quality. The authors rake in cash prizes, national awards, and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) screams about the post-2002 ‘revolution’ at every opportunity.
But the truth forlornly begs to be heard: there is no actual research behind most of these so-called research papers. The internet has placed at an author’s fingertip vast amounts of literature from which to freely cut and paste, invent data, and plagiarise ideas. Although software checks like Turn-It-In exist, they are next to useless. True, the ideal journal referee is supposed to be a know-all. But in fact he is too hard-pressed to check everything, or may even be complicit. Publishing in fly-by-night journals, or arranging for your paper to be cited, is now a finely developed art form.
Crime in Pakistani academia has overtaken even the legendary bribery of our police departments or the easy corruption of income tax authorities. But dealing with academic heist, now organised and systematised, won’t be easy. Here’s why.
First, knowledge is increasingly specialised and to detect cheating isn’t easy. A molecular biologist might not fairly judge the work of an ethologist, or a plasma physicist that of a string theorist. In principle any academic community must police itself rather than be policed from outside. But the small number of genuine academics in Pakistan means that there are precious few policemen.
Second, a thoughtless government policy that pays by the number of research papers and PhD’s produced allows cheats to get rich. Unable to tell good from bad, the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology actively encourages our professors to pillage public property.
The same dynamics applies to PhD production. The basic subject knowledge of PhD candidates is rarely tested and, if ever, only perfunctorily. Although the referees of a candidate’s thesis are supposed to be impartial, they are often chosen by a supervisor for being cooperative. Of course, the reports can be appropriately doctored when necessary.
Most PhD supervisors never get caught while doctoring. But if by rare chance someone does, he gets little more than a tap on the wrist. A colleague, a former professor of biology at Quaid-i-Azam University, then also the dean, was caught red-handed while faking referee reports for his PhD students. He admitted guilt but was not terminated and retained all retirement benefits. The administration and other colleagues shrugged off the incident; why be strict to one of your own kind? The man moved on to become dean at another university, and then emerged yet again as vice chancellor at still another university.
This ‘kindness’ has put the cancer of corruption into metastasis. Arresting further growth will require a harsh chemotherapy regime. As the very first step, rewarding authors of research papers with cash should be stopped. PCST, as well as other government organisations deliberately fuelling academic corruption, should be closed down and their directors charge-sheeted.
Transparency should be non-negotiable. While it cannot end abuse, it can discourage. So, before the author of a research paper gets any kind of credit, such as for promotion, he must give a presentation that anyone can freely attend. This should be video-recorded and archived for open access on HEC’s website. Whereas HEC’s present chairman privately agreed to my suggestion nearly two years ago, and then publicly on television a year later, I see no signs of implementation.
Still more radical therapy may be needed. As with a driving licence, all PhD degrees (including my own) should be de-recognised every 10 years, and re-recognised only after passing a literacy test in that particular discipline. Administered by some trustable overseas organisation, the written test should be at the level of an undergraduate examination equivalent to that taken by students after their first year of studies at a good foreign university. Will this reduce our current PhD population by 50 per cent? Eighty per cent?
No country becomes wealthy by printing a mountain of paper currency. And no university system becomes better by dishing out substandard PhD degrees, or by accepting vacuous research papers as valid. Instead, the way forward lies in adhering to strict ethical standards, cultivating excellence, rejecting mediocrity, and nurturing a spirit of inquiry and intellectual excitement.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

We accept that Russian bombs can provoke a terror backlash. Ours can too

Mehdi Hasan in The Guardian

‘Isn’t it odd that in the case of Russia, western governments have been keen to link Vladimir Putin’s – and only Vladimir Putin’s – foreign policy to terrorist violence?’ Illustration: S├ębastien Thibault

“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see,” wrote Ayn Rand in her novel The Fountainhead. That there is a link, a connection, between the west’s military interventions in the Middle East and terrorist attacks against the west, that violence begets violence, is “glaringly evident” to anyone with open eyes, if not open minds.

Yet over the past 14 years, too many of us have “decided not to see”. From New York to Madrid to London, any public utterance of the words “foreign” and “policy” in the aftermath of a terrorist attack has evoked paroxysms of outrage from politicians and pundits alike.

The response to the atrocities in Paris has followed the same pattern. Derided by a former Labour minister as “west-hating fury chimps”, the UK’s Stop the War coalition removed from its website a piece that blamed the rise of Islamic State (Isis) and the Paris attacks on “deliberate policies and actions undertaken by the United States and its allies”. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, scrapped a speech in which he was due to say that Britain’s “disastrous wars” have “increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security”. Such arguments are verboten in our public discourse.

Isn’t it odd, then, that in the case of Russia, western governments have been keen to link Vladimir Putin’s – and only Vladimir Putin’s – foreign policy to terrorist violence? On 1 October the US government and its allies issued a joint statement declaring that the Russian president’s decision to intervene in Syria would “only fuel more extremism and radicalisation”. Yes, you heard them: it’ll “fuel” it.

Moscow’s bombing campaign will “lead to further radicalisation and increased terrorism”, claimed David Cameron on 4 October. Note the words “lead to”. Speaking at a Nato summit on 8 October the US defence secretary, Ashton Carter, warned of the “consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks”. Got that? “Rightly fearful”.

And, in the days since the crash of the Russian Metrojet airliner in Egypt on 31 October, which killed 224 civilians, commentators have queued up to join the dots between Russia’s actions in Syria and this alleged terrorist attack by Isis. On a BBC panel discussion the Telegraph’s Janet Daley referred to the crash as “a direct consequence of [Russia’s] involvement in Syria”, adding: “[Putin] has perhaps incited this terrorist incident on Russian civilians.”

Compare and contrast Daley’s remarks on the downing of Flight 9268 with her reaction to the Paris attacks. Rather than accusing President Hollande of “inciting” terrorism against the people of France, or calling the carnage a “direct consequence” of French involvement in Syria, she took aim at anyone who might dare draw attention to the country’s military interventions in Muslim-majority countries such as Libya, Mali and, yes, Syria.

“If there is any need to argue about these matters, it should come at some other time,” she wrote, because “the French people did not deserve this”, and “it is wicked and irresponsible to suggest otherwise”. (To quote one of the leading foreign policy sages of our time, Phoebe Buffay of Friends: “Hello, kettle? This is pot. You’re black.”)

If Isis did bring down the Russian airliner, then of course it would be madness to pretend it wasn’t linked to Putin’s military campaign on behalf of the dictator of Damascus. Yet it would be equally insane to pretend that the horror in Paris had nothing at all to do with France’s recent military interventions in the Middle East and west Africa.

Yes, the attackers in the Bataclan concert hall chanted Allahu Akbar as they opened fire on the crowd, but they were also heard saying: “What you are doing in Syria? You are going to pay for it now.” Yes, Isis’s official statement of responsibility referred to Paris as “the capital of prostitution and obscenity”, but it also singled out the French government for leading a “Crusader campaign” and “striking the Muslims … with their planes”.

To understand political violence requires an understanding of political grievances; to blame terrorism only on religious ideology or medieval mindsets is short-sighted and self-serving. The inconvenient truth is that geopolitics is governed as much as is physics by Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The CIA, back in the 1950s, even coined a term – “blowback” – to describe the unintended negative consequences, for US civilians, of US military operations abroad.

Today, when it comes to Russia, an “official enemy”, we understand and embrace the concept of blowback. When it comes to our own countries, to the west, we become the child in the playground, sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “La la la, I can’t hear you.”

You can argue that French – or for that matter UK or US – military action in the Middle East is a legitimate and unavoidable response to the rise of a terrorist mini-state; but you can’t argue that actions don’t have consequences.

The former chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, Michael Scheuer, told me in 2011 that “people are going to ... bomb us because they don’t like what we’ve done”. In an interview for al-Jazeera in July, the retired US general Michael Flynn, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2013-15, admitted to me that “the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict”.

It is a view backed by the Pentagon’s Defence Science Board, which observed as long as ago as 1997: “Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States.”

Let me be clear: to explain is not to excuse; explication is not justification. There is no grievance on earth that can justify the wanton slaughter of innocent men, women and children, in France or anywhere else.

The savagery of Isis is perhaps without parallel in the modern era. But the point is that it did not emerge from nowhere: as the US president himself has conceded,Isis “grew out of our invasion” of Iraq.

Yet we avert our gaze from the “glaringly evident” and pretend that “they” – the Russians, the Iranians, the Chinese – are attacked for their policies while “we” –Europe, the west, the liberal democracies – are attacked only for our principles. This is the simplistic fantasy, the geopolitical fairytale, that we tell ourselves. It gives us solace and strength in the wake of terrorist atrocities. But it does nothing to stop the next attack.