Sunday, 30 October 2016

Tarek Fatah - A Moses for Indian Muslims?

Girish Menon

Image result for moses leading the israelites out of egypt


I do not sign in to You-tube under the assumption that my preferences will not be known to Google. Yet, whenever I visit the channel I am nudged to watch at least two new videos of Tarek Fatah. This could mean that despite my best efforts Google knows my preferences and tries to keep me happy by suggesting videos of a person I agree with. Could it also mean that Tarek Fatah is a growing Indian phenomenon and may lead Indian Muslims to discard the mullah and embrace secularism? Could it also mean that I am dreaming?

I have been reading and following Tarek Fatah’s writing and speeches for over five years now. When I first came across his work he appeared on Canada’s Rawal TV and had authored the work “The Jew is not my enemy”. Today, he appears to be a permanent fixture on Indian TV channels and is the envy of most aspiring politicians and godmen.

Tarek Fatah “an Indian who was born in Pakistan” is a Canadian citizen. He says that the definition of India or Indianness (Hindustani) cannot be restricted to the current political borders while continuing to ignore the Indus Valley civilisation and the historical cities of Lahore, Kesh and Nankana Sahib.

He is highly critical of Indians who badmouth Gandhi and Nehru while praising Jinnah. According to Fatah, Jinnah was a pork eating Shia, elected from a Muslims only constituency of Mumbai, who espoused the cause of the Nawabs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Jinnah helped the state of Kalat negotiate independence from the British, got rewarded in his weight in gold, and then after Pakistan became free, sent in troops to annex what is now the troubled province of Baluchistan.

He is critical of Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad for not allowing Kalat and the North West Frontier province to join the Indian state despite them being much closer to the Indian border than erstwhile East and West Pakistan. He feels it is India’s responsibility to help resource rich Baluchistan (Kalat) break free from the yoke of Pakistan and to become a free country.

Another anathema to Fatah is the mullah. He feels that Indian Muslims have to make a clear choice between Allah’s Islam and Mullah’s Islam. Allah’s Islam is based on the Quran alone which was a revelation to God’s messenger Prophet Mohammed. Mullah’s Islam, on the other hand, which includes the Hadiths and the Sharia, is a view of the various aspirants to power who used Islam as a political ideology to control people. The mullah in India, like Hindu Brahmins, have ascribed to themselves the role of the sole agent of God and the interpreter of the religio - political legacies. The mullahs along with vote-bank politicians use this power to keep Indian Muslims, especially women, subjugated.

To me, I have been disturbed by some of the developments in history since the fall of the Soviet Union especially the rapid rise in ‘religious movements’ the most prominent being the Islamic one. I have been on the lookout for rationalists and secularists with Islamic sounding names and Fatah was the first one I encountered. I do hope that Fatah can lead a renaissance among Indian Muslims and thereby nudge Indian Hindus to move towards a more secular position as envisaged in the constitution. Power to you Tarek Fatah.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tarek Fatah vs Rabbani

In Urdu.

If economists want to be useful again they need to redeem themselves

Allister Heath in The Telegraph

Imagine that you kept getting it wrong, not just a little, but completely and utterly.

When times were bad you thought they were good, and when they were good you thought they were bad. You argued against successful solutions, and in favour of failed ones. You predicted a rise when in fact a fall materialised; to add insult to injury, you clung to your old ways of thinking, refusing to change apart from in the most trivial of ways. In normal industries you would be finished: your collection of P45s would fill half a drawer, and you would long since have been forced to retrain into somebody of more value to society.

But not in one profession. Yes, dear readers, I’m referring to the systemic, cultural problems of modern, applied macroeconomics, in the public as well as private sectors, where failure continues to be rewarded.

Economists who make all the wrong calls keep their jobs and big paychecks, as long as their faulty views echo the mainstream, received wisdom of the moment. I spent five years studying economics, and I still love the subject. At its best, economics is the answer to myriad problems, the prism through which to view the vast majority of decisions.

But I’m deeply frustrated with some of its practitioners: all those folk who predicted that the third quarter would see very little or negative growth, when in fact the economy grew by a remarkable 0.5pc, the most important statistic of recent times.

For political and psychological reasons, one small and rather unreliable snapshot had become all-important. Had that (preliminary and approximate number) been in negative territory, or close to zero, the outcry would have been deafening and reverberated around the world. The markets would either have slumped or more likely, bounced back, on the assumption that Brexit would be reversed. Yet the opposite happened, and the economy did well (France grew by just 0.2pc during the same time).

Combined with the news that Nissan will be sticking with the UK, it was a great week for Brexit, made all the better by the announcement of Heathrow expansion. Brexit won the referendum, lost the immediate aftermath, won the next few months and has now won again.

Of course, the war continues, and will do so for years. There are huge challenges looming. But this was the week that the economics profession was further discredited. The forecasts were not just completely wrong – my guess is that they were actually downright harmful, shaving growth in areas where elites that are most likely to be swayed by economists decisions.

Economists have form: most backed the euro, failed to see the financial crisis coming, missed the dot.com bubble and the Asian crisis, loved the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and never understood the Thatcherite revolution.
Previous generations failed just as badly: the vast majority loved Keynesian economics during the 1970s, read and recommended a textbook that thought that the USSR would eventually overtake America, backed corporatism, failed to predict the 1929 crash and provided all of the wrong answers in the 1930s.

One problem is groupthink, another is the inability to be objective. But the biggest problem is a faulty paradigm: a fundamental flaw at the heart of the models and assumptions of the economic mainstream, aided and abated by an academic establishment which excludes dissenters from its journals and top faculties.
So if economists want to be useful again, they should do two things.

First, we need a proper Parliamentary inquiry into the failures of the Treasury model and official forecasting before and after Brexit. There is an argument for this to be extended to the Bank of England and even to the private sector. Economists need to cooperate, if even anonymously: are some under pressure to toe various lines? If not, what is the real reason for such a succession of flawed consensuses?

Second, the real threat to the economy is absurd decisions such as the ruling that Uber drivers should be treated like employees (on the basis that the US firm exerts too much control and direction over drivers, even though they are free to choose their hours and commitment).

If not reversed, this judicial activism will destroy jobs and push up prices; it is a shame that such a good week ended on such a sour note. The Government may need to legislate to make it clear that Uber and other similar enterprises are platforms, not employers. If economists want to redeem themselves, they should explain why flexible markets are good and why it would be a genuine disaster if we kill off the sharing economy with red tape.

India and Intolerance - Free that Pigeon

Irfan Hussain in The Dawn

Image result for pigeon courier


INDIA has a population of over a billion, a thriving economy, a respected voice, a powerful military and an ancient civilisation. Its scientists have put a satellite into orbit around Mars.

So how does it proclaim its position in the world? By detaining a pigeon allegedly carrying a warning note to Prime Minister Modi. And for good measure, it has expelled a Pakistan High Commission staffer, Mahmood Akhtar, for espionage.

According to The Hindu, Akhtar had recruited two Indians to spy for Pakistan. One of them is Maulana Ramzan Khan, a preacher entrusted with the maintenance of a village mosque. The other is Subhash Jangir, the owner of a small grocery. So clearly no James Bond, either one of them.

The truth is that despite its rapid progress and its size, India is a deeply insecure country. While my columns critical of Pakistan have been met with praise and approval from Indian readers, I have been flooded with furious emails whenever I have said anything negative about their country.

It is almost as though Pakistani journalists were not permitted to talk about their neighbour. And not just Pakistanis: a few years ago, I met the Economist correspondent based in New Delhi who was visiting Lahore to cover the general elections.

Half-jokingly, I said to him that it must be a drag to be in Pakistan during the party season in Delhi. He assured me he loved to visit Pakistan because while in India, readers reviled him whenever he wrote a critical piece for his weekly. But when he wrote a negative article about Pakistan, his Pakistani readers immediately agreed with him.

About 15 years ago, I was in New Delhi, and was invited by the Times of India to speak to their editorial staff. In that informal discussion, I pointed out that despite all of Pakistan’s military interventions, a small group of us writing for the mainstream press still opposed core state policies on Afghanistan, Kashmir and the nuclear programme. The Indian media, on the other hand, were almost unanimous in rallying around the national (and nationalistic) agenda.

None of the journalists present challenged my view. However, one editorial writer pointed out that the ownership pattern of the mainstream press meant that businessmen relying on official contacts did not want to rock the boat.

But the reaction I get to negative articles from Indian readers suggests that the problem goes far deeper. Take the case of Arundhati Roy. Here is a hugely talented writer and a gutsy campaigner who has won international fame for her fiction, as well as for her reporting about the most vulnerable and persecuted segments of Indian society.

On the couple of occasions, I have cited her work in my columns, I have been inundated with emails from Indian readers denouncing her, and insisting that I had lost credibility by quoting Roy.

Clearly, her gritty exposure of the excesses committed by Indian security forces as well as by corporate groups against the marginalised has exposed a raw nerve running through the elites and the expanding middle class.

The current ban prohibiting Pakistani movie stars as well as musicians from acting and performing in India provides another example of the chauvinism that has gripped the country. True, this took place against the backdrop of the bloody attack on an army camp in Uri. But are cultural links to be forever hostage to acts of militancy?

To our shame, we retaliated by imposing a similar ban on Indian movies and TV channels. Had our leaders an ounce of common sense, they could have underlined the crassness of the Indian move by continuing with the previous laissez-faire policy. But sadly, common sense is in short supply on both sides of the border.

So why do so many Indians carry such large chips on their shoulders? Obviously, there is much to admire in the country, ranging from the vibrancy of its arts to its colourful traditions and fascinating history and geography. Then why are they so defensive about the occasional criticism? After all, they cannot hope to bask constantly in international adulation.

While I don’t have any empirical research to back me, I suspect that this touchy reaction to adverse comments derives from India’s history of domination by foreigners. Muslim invaders from Afghanistan and Central Asia ruled much of the subcontinent for the first 800 years or so. They were then displaced by the British who proceeded to govern India for the next couple of centuries.

South India, by contrast, remained largely independent of Muslim rule, and its people are much more self-confident as a result. On a visit to the region several years ago, I was repeatedly told that if it hadn’t been yoked to New Delhi, South India would have made far greater progress.
I realise I am sticking my neck out, and expect the usual flood of angry emails. But would the Indian authorities please set the poor captive pigeon free?

Uber ruling is a massive boost for a fairer jobs market

Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian

Yaseen Aslam. James Farrar. Remember those two names, because they are giant-killers. This summer the men took on not just one £50bn multinational, but an entire business model. On Friday, they won.

As minicab drivers for Uber, Aslam and Farrar were deemed to be self-employed. The status meant they were denied the most basic rights that other workers take: no minimum wage, no sick pay, no paid holiday. But as an employment tribunal judge heard over several days in July, that classification was both wrong and unfair. And he agreed.







The obvious thing to say about Anthony Snelson’s ruling is that it is huge. It poses an existential threat to Uber in Britain. It will also send shockwaves through a string of companies using the same business model to do everything from delivering takeaways to providing cleaners to couriering court documents.

Most of all, it is a massive boost for all of us who want a fairer jobs market – and a big slap in the face for the government. For most of the past six years, ministers have turned a blind eye to the growth in bogus self-employment, zero-hours contracts and Sports Direct-style agency work. They have preferred instead to celebrate the record employment numbers as proof that austerity is doing the trick. Just before the last election, Nick Clegg claimed: “If you want a glimpse of the sort of worker that will thrive in the new economy, you need look no further than the growing numbers of self-employed people.”

On this subject too, the hapless Lib Dem was wrong. The idea that the swelling army of self-employed Britons are all budding SurAlans and Bransons, swigging lattes and toting MacBooks, is for the birds. Serious labour-market analysts agree that a large number of those now in self-employment are there as a last resort. And many believe a big chunk should not even be classed as self-employed. As with much else in our insecure labour market, firm numbers are hard to come by. But the Citizens Advice Bureaux believe that the reserve army of bogus self-employed may number around half a million.

For some Britons, self-employment doubtless means freedom. But for others, it means the freedom to be exploited, deprived of rights – and to be underpaid. According to recent research from the Resolution Foundation, the typical self employed Brit is now earning less than when John Major was prime minister.

For the likes of Uber, self-employment is hugely profitable. The giant company has 40,000 drivers working for it in Britain – and as long as they are self-employed they are almost cost-free. On that basis, Uber can keep on adding to its fleet of drivers for next to nothing, and thus rack up ever more passengers and squeeze out competitors.

But as the judge found on Friday, Uber drivers are not self-employed at all. They have little of the liberty you might expect, but are instead interviewed, recruited and controlled by the firm. Uber sets their default driving routes. Uber fixes the fares. Uber instructs them on how to do their job and runs a disciplinary procedure. The drivers work for Uber – not the other way round.
As the ruling observes, the company and its highly-paid boosters do their best to cloak this relationship in the language of chummy marketing and hi-tech piety. They use the term “gig economy”, when what they mean is casualised labour. They claim to be “disrupters”, when what they’re really disrupting are our labour laws. And Uber still markets itself like a plucky underdog when it is now worth $62.5bn – more than Tesco and Barclays put together – and numbers among its public affairs and public relations people the former advisers to Ed Balls and Michael Howard. Pretending to be the future, it is really the past: a cab company that relies on its drivers being cheap and available. Except your local cab firm doesn’t have the lobbying muscle or the Westminster contacts.

Uber confirmed that it will appeal against the decision, and you can expect this case to keep the courts busy for a few months. Other businesses that have copied the Uber model will be watching anxiously. And so will their workers.

A few months back, I interviewed a courier called Mags Dewhurst, whose job is biking urgent medical supplies to hospitals around London. Like most other cycle couriers and drivers, she’s also classified as self-employed; she’s also fighting to change her status. Next month she will be battling her company, CitySprint, in court.

Dewhurst has a strong case. She wears a uniform with a logo, clocks in with a controller each morning. And then: “For 50 hours each week, I’m told what to do.” She’s been impatient for the Uber verdict, knowing that it will be of huge symbolic importance for her own case. On Friday afternoon, I texted her: How pleased are you?

Her reply: “On a scale of 1-10? A GAZZILLLLION.”

Friday, 28 October 2016

Cricket - Be your own role model

Pete Langman in Cricinfo

The Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi plied her trade, was renowned for having the maxim "know thyself" carved into its stone. This, along with Polonius' parting words to Laertes in Hamlet, "to thine own self be true", is perhaps the best advice that a cricketer can be given. For cricket, in all of its infinite variety, relies on judgement more than any other skill, and if there's one judgement that is absolutely vital, it is that of the self.

Geoffrey Boycott, for all his faults, knows a thing or two about the game. One of his mantras is "Make your opponent do something they don't want to do." He says this because it's true.

If you're bowling to Alastair Cook, you don't pitch the ball short and wide, or on his hips, you pitch it outside off... and when he's struggling, when his footwork isn't just so, or he's overbalancing, he'll invariably have a nibble. When he's in form, however, his judgement is impeccable. Ignoring practically everything that isn't in his arc, he simply waits for the bad ball and puts it away, and his leave is a thing of frustrating beauty. He's not the most elegant, attractive or technically proficient member of the England set-up, but one look at the numbers show just how effective a cricketer he is. This is because he knows his own game.

In April 1997, an article appeared in the music press arguing that accurate self-assessment was vital for a musician to perform at their best, and described a psychological test that could quantify the gap between a performer's self-belief and his or her actual ability. It was, as the month of publication suggests, a joke, though like all good jokes it was built around close observation and understanding. Two years later, in 1999, two psychologists at Cornell University came to a similar conclusion, noting that low-ability individuals consistently overestimate their skill levels, while the converse is true of high-ability individuals. They called it the Dunning-Kruger effect. I called it the Position of Attitudes.

We've all seen the results of extreme disparity between actual and perceived ability. The batsman who thinks he can hit every ball for six but is always oh-so-unlucky; the bowler who is convinced he's lightning fast and pitches it short and shorter still, but will get the batsman soon. Neither cricketer wins games.

Accurately gauging one's own ability relative to that of the other players on the field (whether they are on your side or not) is a vital part of playing at one's best.

As a wicketkeeper who sometimes keeps above himself, it's a constant battle to find the right place to stand, especially to spinners. Obviously one ought to stand up to spin, but some bowlers are just too quick for me. I leak byes and am unlikely to take many nicks. Standing back even a yard or two may take stumpings out of the equation, but the byes dry up and I pouch the nicks.

We must allow ourselves to play our own game. Yes, we adapt to the situation, and sometimes that means we must take greater risks, but in acknowledging those risks we may still make the best of it

I know my own capabilities, and usually keep within them, but sometimes I give in to pressure and move to where someone else thinks I ought to stand. It rarely goes well. I'm pretty confident I know my keeping self.

When batting, the same is true. If you're aware of your limitations (and accept them), then you reduce the risk of failure. It's when you're tempted to overreach that things go badly. You decide to go for big shots when you're really a nudger and a nurdler.

On tour this summer, I played a vital innings batting at No. 5 (when I was probably the 12th best bat in the team) during which I watched partner after partner try too hard and perish accordingly. I simply waited for the ball to be well within my arc. It worked because I played to my strengths (such as they are) and made the bowlers come to me. Occasionally I simply tee off. This doesn't go so well.

We must allow ourselves to play our own game and not be lured into playing someone else's. No matter what the wicketkeeper says. Yes, we adapt to the situation, and yes, sometimes that means we must take greater risks, but in acknowledging those risks we may still make the best of it. Try to hit the ball too hard, try to bowl it too fast, try too many variations and the percentages plummet. Ask not, as they say, what the ball is going to do to you, but what you can actually do with the ball.

The England Test side has left in its wake many who have struggled to succeed because they have tried to change their natural game. And by this I don't mean adapting to the new arena, fine-tuning technique, or working on shot selection.

Nick Compton, convinced he needed to impress, tried to change his natural game and was caught hooking. Alex Hales struggled as an opener because he couldn't decide who to be: had he played freely he may still have failed, but that's okay. Yes, James Vince, Gary Ballance and a few others have arguably failed to make their game work at Test level, but they were honest with themselves in the process. Fail on your own terms, not somebody else's.

When Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed opened together in the warm-up game in Bangladesh, they were in direct competition for the vacant opening berth. Both played their own game, neither trying to impress. The result? They both impressed. This can only be good for English cricket.

We should aim to do the same, learn from Duckett and Hameed and be our own role models.

Imran Khan and Insaaf or Justice

 Najam Sethi in The Friday Times

There is no justice or “insaf” in Pakistan. That is why citizens clutched desperately at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. There is rampant corruption and voracious greed in Pakistan. That is why citizens lent their shoulder to fashioning the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Every political leader in Pakistan is corrupt and incompetent and uncaring. That is why citizens put their hope and faith in Imran Khan, who was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore and Oxford University UK; who is a cricketing hero under whose captainship Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992; whose Shaukat Khanum Hospital is a beacon of light for the wretched and hopeless. Yet, the sound and fury of Imran Khan and the PTI has not signified anything that can remotely signal a serious or even sincere attempt to grapple purposefully with these real issues. The PTI is a one-man party whose leader is mercurial, autocratic, fickle, ill informed, misguided. There is no Insaf or internal democracy in it. There are corrupt lotas in it. The financial misdemeanors of its leaders, including misappropriation and misuse of party funds donated by well-wishers and supporters, cannot be brushed under the carpet. Worse, Khan’s double standards on morality are outrageous.

There is no justice or “insaf” in Pakistan. All hopes were pinned on the Lawyers Movement to restore an independent and qualified judiciary led by CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to fill this vacuum. Yet, nearly a decade after it was launched and after eight years of stewardship by Mr Chaudhry, that pious hope has all but faded. Mr Chaudhry’s populist suo motu notices and summons made headlines but quickly evaporated thereafter. Many of his judicial appointments politicized the judiciary and made it more controversial and less transparent or competent. In the end, the ex-chief justice has been reduced to squabbling with his benefactor Nawaz Sharif over the mundane spoils of retirement – a bullet proof vehicle, to boot – as he squats rather pathetically over a one man political party with an eminently forgettable name.

It is therefore not surprising that the cry for Insaf or Justice is still ringing loud and true. What is ironic, however, is that it is Imran Khan’s PTI that is knocking on the door of the Supreme Court, after having trashed state institutions like ECP, NAB, FBR, FIA, etc, as “worthless” and “corrupt”. It is Imran Khan’s PTI that first demanded the formation of a SC judicial commission on election rigging, then rubbished its findings when these didn’t suit it, and is now praying before the same SC to investigate the corrupt practices of Nawaz Sharif though the very state institutions like NAB, FBR and FIA that he has earlier denounced.

The SC is clearly in an unenviable position. On the one hand, it is trying to undo some of the consequences of an errant ex-chief justice, some of whose judicial appointees are facing inquiries in the Supreme Judicial Council or whose judgments have been blithely overturned (eg illegal appointments in the Islamabad High Court by an ex-chief justice who has had to resign) etc. On the other hand, it is trying to clean up the arch anti-corruption watchdog NAB that is accused of serious malpractices relating to the discretionary powers of the Chairman NAB (to adjudicate cases involving Plea Bargains or Voluntary Returns of Corruption Monies). This, while it claims to be the leading edge of the investigations demanded by Imran Khan against Nawaz Sharif. The irony is that the very chief justice of Pakistan who rejected Nawaz Sharif’s request six months ago to conduct a corruption inquiry because he felt that the inquiry law was inappropriate for the occasion is now entertaining the same petitions from the same protagonists on the same issues, and there is no discussion yet of the law or Terms Of Reference under which such an inquiry is proposed to be held.

The latest twist in this saga of Insaf-No Insaf again originates from the indefatigable Imran Khan and relates inevitably to the Sharifs. Imran has just accused Shahbaz Sharif of billions in corruption commissions though a front businessman. The self-righteous SS has retaliated by – you guessed it! – suing and bankrupting him in court. Indeed, he insists on fast tracking the court proceedings in order to get Insaf and clear his good name. But here’s the rub. The last recorded libel case that actually came to a conclusion took ten years and ended with a whimper of an apology from the wretched accuser. It is also highly doubtful that there is any judge in the country who will have the courage to deliver Insaf to anyone genuinely wronged by Imran Khan. Such is the populist clout and charisma wielded by the foremost advocate of Insaf against the very precepts of Insaf!

It is all looking rather hopeless. It seems that no state institution or political party or leader is up to the task of provisioning Insaf transparently across the board.

Cricket: Are we living through a new era of spin?

Warne and Murali's big turn has given way to something more subtle.

Jon Hotten in Cricinfo

The life of the impoverished writer has an occasional upside, and one of those came along a couple of weeks ago at the Guildford Book Festival, where I did an event with Tom Collomosse, cricket correspondent for the Evening Standard and Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain turned commentator. Nicholas told a story about facing Derek Underwood on an uncovered pitch. It was early in his career, which began at Hampshire in 1978. They were playing Kent in a three-day game and when the rain came down, the captains got together and negotiated a deal: Hampshire would chase 160 on the last afternoon to win.

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Paul Terry and Gordon Greenidge went in. Greenidge took six from the first over. Underwood opened at the other end and Terry got through it by playing from as deep in his crease as he could get. Greenidge took another six runs from the next at his end. Underwood came in again, having had six deliveries to work out the pitch. By the time Nicholas had been in and out shortly afterwards, Hampshire were 12 for 4.

"Derek didn't really bowl spin on wet pitches," he explained. "What he did was hold it down the seam and cut the ball. When you were at the non-striker's end, you could hear it" - he made a whirring sound - "it was an amazing thing."

Nicholas described the nearly impossible task of trying to bat against a ball that reared up from almost medium pace with fielders surrounding you and the immaculate Alan Knott breathing down your neck from behind the stumps. Hampshire lost, of course.

"Deadly" Derek and uncovered pitches are a part of history now, but those who can recall his flat-footed, curving run and liquid movement through the crease saw a bowler who was much more than just a specialist on drying wickets. Whatever the weather, whatever the day, he had the ball for it: 2465 first-class wickets at 20.28 tell his story.

Underwood had a thousand of those wickets by the age of 25 and retired in 1987 at 42. The game, and spin bowling, have changed irrevocably since, yet the spooky art is still shining, and perhaps about to enter a new golden age.

R Ashwin stands at the top of the Test bowling rankings, New Zealand the latest to fall to his strange magic. His buddy Ravindra Jadeja knocks them down at the other end. Bangladesh unleashed the 18-year-old Mehedi Hasan on England, and he had a five-bag on day one. Even England - brace yourselves for this - played three spinners in that game, and may well do so throughout the first part of the winter. Far from killing spin bowling, as it was supposed to do, the new way of batting has encouraged a new style of response.



On wet wickets, Derek Underwood would bowl cutters © PA Photos


To chart an evolution is fascinating. It is not so long since Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble slipped from the game, Warne having reasserted legspin, Murali reinventing offspin. The future looked as though it may be big; huge freaky turn of the kind that pair specialised in. Instead, it has become something more subtle: the notion of beating the bat narrowly on both edges.

These are broad brush strokes of course, and evolution doesn't come in a straight line. It's deeply intriguing though that T20 cricket has played such a role. Through Ashwin, who emerged there, and Jadeja and Sunil Narine and others, it raised the value of cleverness, of invention. Big bats were sometimes defeated by small or no turn. The slow ball was harder to hit. As the techniques bled into Test cricket, where wickets deteriorate and change and the psychology of batting switches, they have grown in value.
We're undoubtedly living through an era in which batting has been revolutionised, undergoing its greatest change in a century. It's the nature of the game that bowling should come up with an answer, and maybe we're starting to see its first iterations. As Jarrod Kimber pointed out in his piece about the inquest into the death of Phillip Hughes, there are more very fast bowlers around now than for generations. Spin bowling is making its move too. And just as the small increments in speed increase in value the higher they go - ask any batsman about the difference between 87mph and 90mph, and then 90mph and 93 or 94mph - the small changes that, for example, Ashwin is producing have their dividend too.

Underwood once described bowling, tongue no doubt in cheek, as, "a low-mentality occupation". His variation was as simple as an arm ball, and yet in the pre-DRS age, it brought him many lbw decisions. Now the subtle changes in the spooky art are wrecking a new and welcome kind of havoc of which Deadly will surely approve. Should we call it the era of small spin?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Assumptions of Modern Science

by Girish Menon

Modern science is founded on the belief in the Genesis, that nature was created by a law-giving God and so we must be governed by "laws of nature".

Equally important was the belief that human beings are made in the image of God and, as a consequence, can understand these "laws of nature".

What do scientists have to say to that?

I say all scientists are therefore Judeo-Christian in their beliefs.

Stop comparing the Canadian Ceta deal to Brexit – we are going to suffer much more in our trade negotiations

James Moore in The Independent


Those Brexiteers who fondly believe that Britain will be able to have its cake and eat it too as regards trade with the EU often used to like to point to Canada as a potential model for our future relationship with our former partners.

Canada, you see, was in the process of negotiating a trade deal that would have eliminated nearly all the tariffs between the two sides.

It would have thus facilitated access to the European single market for the country without it being a member and having to accept lots of Europeans turning up and looking for work in Toronto.

Everything was going swimmingly until, that is, the Walloons of Belgium kicked up a fuss and threatened to derail the deal, the future of which is now hanging on a knife edge.

To get agreements like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) up and running requires the assent of all of the EU’s 28 member states. Unfortunately, before Belgium can add its name to the list it first has to secure the assent of six regional assemblies. The Wallonian one is worried about the impact of the deal on its farmers.

Cue a blizzard of statements, and counter statements, and threats and counter threats, as both sides face up to the fact that they may have wasted seven years of complex and painstaking work.

Critics of the EU in Britain have used the debacle to bolster the case for leaving.

But critics within the EU have tabled a rather different argument. They suggest that the problem lies with Brussels having ceded too much control over trade to national Parliaments. There is a rich irony in the fact that Britain and its Eurosceptics are part of the reason for that.

For years they preached the virtue of national vetoes and subsidiarity. No handing power to Brussels Bureaucrats!

That may now come back to bite them because it might just scupper hopes of securing a favourable trade deal with Europe.


But, but, but we buy lots from the Wallonian farmers so they won’t have a problem with us!

That was the knuckle-headed response of Brexit supporting minister Chris Grayling. We’ve heard many variants on that sort of theme in recent months.

It’s true that Grayling’s flimsy argument was given something of a boost when the entirely more substantial figure of Germany’s Angela Merkel said she didn’t necessarily see parallels between this debacle and the upcoming talks between the UK and the EU.

But what if someone does kick up a fuss when the outcome of those talks becomes known? Germany might not, despite the childish insults lobbed its way by some right wing politicians and some right wing newspapers. Germany, however, doesn’t speak for the entire EU.

Perhaps the Spanish will decide to throw a spanner into the works unless there’s some movement on the question of Gibraltar. You could hardly blame the Poles for digging their heels in given the way Britain has treated the citizens of that country who live here. Maybe the French will decide it’s time for some payback for past British obstructionism.

Hang on, I hear you say, they’re grown ups. They surely wouldn’t stoop to such tactics. They’ll want a deal that works for both sides too.

Perhaps that’s so. But would you really be confident in ruling out the risk of a repeat performance when it’s Britain’s turn?


The Canadians will manage without this deal. They’re already part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and they have trade deals in place with other countries besides.

Britain shorn of the EU has nothing of the sort. And it has a very different international image to the one that Canada has.

You couldn’t imagine its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not guaranteeing the rights of Europeans living in his country if the issue cropped up, or of tolerating calls for child refugees to submit to dental testing.

Goodwill and good PR are powerful currencies, and Trudeau has lots of both, in stark contrast to Theresa May’s nasty and inward looking Tory administration.

An administration that doesn’t appear to have anything resembling a strategy beyond waving its fists, stomping its feet and threatening to go home and sulk if its former European friends won’t play the game by its rules.

Soon the reality of that will start to bite. The sort of problems Canada is having with Europe may ultimately pale by comparison to the ones faced by Britain.

We’ll know who to blame when they emerge. Clue: it won’t be the Wallonian farmers or their surrogates.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Markandey Katju - An Interview on Sedition law


Donald Trump is no outsider: he mirrors our political culture

George Monbiot in The Guardian

What is the worst thing about Donald Trump? The lies? The racist stereotypes? The misogyny? The alleged gropings? The apparent refusal to accept democratic outcomes? All these are bad enough. But they’re not the worst. The worst thing about Donald Trump is that he’s the man in the mirror.

We love to horrify ourselves with his excesses, and to see him as a monstrous outlier, the polar opposite of everything a modern, civilised society represents. But he is nothing of the kind. He is the distillation of all that we have been induced to desire and admire. Trump is so repulsive not because he offends our civilisation’s most basic values, but because he embodies them.

Trump personifies the traits promoted by the media and corporate worlds he affects to revile; the worlds that created him. He is the fetishisation of wealth, power and image in a nation where extrinsic values are championed throughout public discourse. His conspicuous consumption, self-amplification and towering (if fragile) ego are in tune with the dominant narratives of our age.


The entire electoral process is stolen from the American people before they even cast their vote

As the recipient of vast inherited wealth who markets himself as solely responsible for his good fortune, he is the man of our times. The US Apprentice TV show which he hosted tells the story of everything he is not: the little guy dragging himself up from the bottom through enterprise and skill. None of this distinguishes him from the majority of the very rich, whose entrepreneurial image, loyally projected by the media, clashes with their histories of huge bequests, government assistance, monopolies and rent-seeking.

If his politics differ from those of the rest of the modern Republican party, it is because he is, in some respects, more liberal. Every vice, for the Republican trailblazers such as Ted Cruz and Scott Walker, is now a virtue; every virtue a vice. Encouraged by the corporate media, the Republicans have been waging a full-spectrum assault on empathy, altruism and the decencies we owe to other people. Their gleeful stoving in of faces, their cackling destruction of political safeguards and democratic norms, their stomping on all that is generous and caring and cooperative in human nature, have turned the party into a game of Mortal Kombat scripted by Breitbart News.
Did Trump invent the xenophobia and racism that infuse his campaign? Did he invent his conspiracy theories about stolen elections and the criminality of his opponents? No. They were there all along. What is new and different about him is that he has streamlined these narratives into a virulent demagoguery. But the opportunity has been building for years; all that was required was someone blunt and unscrupulous enough to take it.


 
The fourth US president, James Madison. Photograph: White House/Reuters

Nor can you single out Trump for ignoring, denying and deriding the key issues of our time, such as climate change. Almost all prominent Republicans have been at it. In fact, across the four presidential debates, not one question about climate change was asked. Even when politicians and journalists accept the science, it makes little difference if they avoid the subject like the plague.

America’s fourth president, James Madison, envisaged the United States constitution as representation tempered by competition between factions. In the 10th federalist paper, written in 1787, he argued that large republics were better insulated from corruption than small, or “pure” democracies, as the greater number of citizens would make it “more difficult for unworthy candidates to practise with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried”. A large electorate would protect the system against oppressive interest groups. Politics practised on a grand scale would be more likely to select people of “enlightened views and virtuous sentiments”.

Instead, the US – in common with many other nations – now suffers the worst of both worlds: a large electorate dominated by a tiny faction. Instead of republics being governed, as Madison feared, by “the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority”, they are beholden to the not-so-secret wishes of an unjust and interested minority. What Madison could not have foreseen was the extent to which unconstrained campaign finance and a sophisticated lobbying industry would come to dominate an entire nation, regardless of its size.

For every representative, Republican or Democrat, who retains a trace element of independence, there are three sitting in the breast pocket of corporate capital. Since the supreme court decided that there should be no effective limits on campaign finance, and, to a lesser extent, long before, candidates have been reduced to tongue-tied automata, incapable of responding to those in need of help, incapable of regulating those in need of restraint, for fear of upsetting their funders.

Democracy in the US is so corrupted by money that it is no longer recognisable as democracy. You can kick individual politicians out of office, but what do you do when the entire structure of politics is corrupt? Turn to the demagogue who rages into this political vacuum, denouncing the forces he exemplifies. The problem is not, as Trump claims, that the election will be stolen by ballot rigging. It is that the entire electoral process is stolen from the American people before they get anywhere near casting their votes. When Trump claims that the little guy is being screwed by the system, he’s right. The only problem is that he is the system.

The political constitution of the United States is not, as Madison envisaged, representation tempered by competition between factions. The true constitution is plutocracy tempered by scandal. In other words, all that impedes the absolute power of money is the occasional exposure of the excesses of the wealthy. What distinguishes Trump’s political career is that, until recently, his scandals have done him no harm.

Trump disgusts us because, where others use a dog whistle, he uses a klaxon. We hate to hear his themes so clearly articulated. But we know in our hearts that they suffuse the way the world is run.

Because this story did not begin with Trump, it will not end with Trump, however badly he may lose the election. Yes, he is a shallow, mendacious, boorish and extremely dangerous man. But those traits ensure that he is not an outsider but the perfect representation of his caste, the caste that runs the global economy and governs our politics. He is our system, stripped of its pretences.

How do batsmen cope with the intensity of their lonely skill?

Digging the pitch, repetitive body movements, talking to themselves, superstitious behaviour, visualisation - different ways that batsmen deal with the pressure of their profession


Michael Bond in Cricinfo


All sportspeople like to imagine that their discipline is the most mentally challenging, that winning or losing comes from within. But batsmen have a stronger claim than most. What other sport demands such intense concentration, affords participants so little control over their situation and penalises mistakes so cruelly and with such dramatic ritual?

Batting is a game of life and death like no other. Success - a century, a match-saving last stand - can live with you forever. But getting out feels like the end of everything: you are dismissed not just from the field of play, but from your own dreams of hopefulness and redemption.


---Also read

THE MASKS WE WEAR

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Dismissed batsmen are like mourners at their own funerals. The dressing room falls silent as they return, "in respect for the dead", as Mike Brearley puts it in The Art of Captaincy (1985).

"There aren't many situations in sport where you have this challenge of one tiny mistake and that's it, finished, the rest of the day you're watching from the sidelines," says sports psychologist Steve Bull, who worked with the England cricket team for 17 years. "It creates a particular type of pressure which I don't think other athletes experience."

Given the intensity of the mental drama, it is little wonder that a batsman's struggles are with himself as much as with the bowler he faces, and that a lack of confidence can invite negative thinking and a fear of failure. For top-level batsmen with near-perfect technical skills, protecting themselves from such tendencies is critical. The methods they use to reduce anxiety, stay positive and maintain focus are idiosyncratic, often eccentric and tell us as much about the quirks of the human mind as the nuances of cricket.

If you watched England's three-match Test series against Sri Lanka this summer, you will have spotted a graphic example of one of these methods. Before each ball, the Sri Lankan opener Kaushal Silva performs what psychologists call a "pre-performance routine". He adjusts the velcro on his gloves, moves his bat from his left to his right hand and holds it up in front of him, moves his left elbow back and forth eight times (fewer if he's facing a spinner) as if pulling on an imaginary rope, then, gripping his bat with both hands, arches his back before settling into his crease.

The repetition looks neurotic, but Silva has developed it to help him feel settled. "I don't really count the exact number of times I do it, it just comes from my body," he says. "I do it until I have calmed my nerves and I feel OK and I'm really focused. These small things help me to be myself and to just concentrate on the next ball."

It seems to be working. Sri Lanka lost 0-2, but Silva won his team's Player-of-the-Series award for his 193 runs.

Most batsmen have pre-performance routines, though few as elaborate as Silva's. They might wander a few steps towards square leg, tap the bat on the ground a particular way or pull at their shirt. What psychological purpose does this serve? Brearley thinks it's "a way of clearing the mind of the last ball, getting on with the next one, making clear to oneself that a line needs to be drawn under the last one".

In Jonathan Trott's case this is literally true. He marks his guard with a shallow trench, which he reinforces before each delivery, as if to bury everything that's gone before, a habit he repeats whether he's batting in the nets or in a county or international game.

Such repetition is critical to why routines work, says Bull. "It has to be 100% consistent, every ball always the same. You need to get your routines habitualised to the point where you don't think about them, to practise them so that when you're in the middle you go into automatic pilot."

In other words, batsmen should tune their mental routines alongside their physical ones so that the two coalesce. Consider Kevin Pietersen's advice to a 12-year-old budding cricketer who asked him on Twitter how to stop "second-guessing" himself when playing a shot, a common mental error among cricketers still developing their technique. "Practise, practise, practise, and trust your practise," Pietersen replied. "Hardest thing to do but when you do it changes your game."

Perhaps the most tangible function of routines is that they give the batsman a sense of control over a situation which, for the most part, is out of their hands. The state of the wicket, the weather, the path of the ball through the air and off the pitch are beyond his reckoning; his pre-ball ritual is all his own. This need for control amid so much uncertainty may explain why batsmen are particularly prone to superstitions. Unlike a pre-performance routine, a superstition - essentially an irrational belief in implausible causality - is unlikely to improve performance. Yet cricket is full of them.

The Glamorgan opener Steve James avoided eating duck meat until he retired, and he wouldn't allow his daughter to have plastic ducks in her bath. Mike Atherton had to be first on to the field at the start of an innings, even if it meant barging past his opening partner on the way down the pavilion steps. The South African batsman Neil McKenzie used to tape his bat to the dressing-room ceiling because his team-mates had once done this as a practical joke prior to him scoring a century. Steve Waugh batted with a red rag in his pocket for similar reasons.

Derek Randall, like many batsmen, hated being on 13. "I couldn't wait to get off it," he says. "Sometimes I'd get out because I was trying too hard to get off the blooming thing."

Ed Smith, one of the most notoriously superstitious cricketers, had a habit of asking the umpire, mid-over, how many balls were left. For the first part of his career he did this always after the fourth ball, then switched to asking after the third ball. Since he batted for around 15,000 overs in his career, he must have asked this question of the umpire around 15,000 times.

"It was silly and I knew it," he writes in Luck: A Fresh Look at Fortune (2012). "It was unintelligent and I knew it. It was a source of mirth and I knew it. But I did it anyway. Superstition was a dependency I found hard to give up."

Many batsmens' superstitions revolve around an obsession with their kit. Trott is scrupulous about how he arranges his bats. Atherton always followed the same padding-up routine: box, chest guard, inside thigh-pad, outside thigh-pad, left pad, right pad, arm guard, gloves, helmet. This kind of fastidiousness is not too surprising since batting is much about organisation, repetition and structure.

Yet rigorously adhering to a ritual is unlikely to put you in the runs and could make things worse. "If the superstition is something you might not have control over, like wearing your lucky socks, what happens when you lose your lucky socks or they fall apart," says sports psychologist Stewart Cotterill. "It will have the opposite effect: you'll feel you're not ready."

Once all the fussing and the rituals and the routines are done and the batsman is settled at the crease, he can then focus on the bowling. This is where the real test begins. Unless you are an expert meditator, paying close sustained attention to something for long periods can be mentally draining. To deal with this, coaches encourage batsmen to "dial up" their focus when the bowler is running in and "dial down" between balls.

Atherton says switching on and off like this is "absolutely vital" and came easily to him, a naturally relaxed character. "All studies show you can't concentrate for lengthy periods without a break. The ball is 'live' for maybe six to ten seconds, so that is all you have to concentrate for."

Silva pares down the window of concentration even further, to three or four seconds, switching on only when the bowler is halfway through his run-up. He calculates that this way, if he sets out to score a century in, say, 180 to 200 balls, he will have to concentrate deeply for just ten to 15 minutes. "So it's 15 minutes to get 100 runs. If you cut it down like this then it will be easier. You don't worry about the long term, you just focus on the particular ball."

"Mental skills are like physical skills. You have to work at them relentlessly. You have to challenge your brain to get better at blocking out the negatives and replacing them with positives"

STEVE BULL, SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST


The thought of surviving hours at the crease can seem overwhelming if you don't break it down.

Tammy Beaumont, who this summer became the first woman to hit back-to-back ODI centuriesfor England, during the series against Pakistan, worries only about the next five runs. "I'll tell myself: get to five, once I get to five get to ten, keep it like that, keep it all about the next ball."

Another approach is to segment time. Brearley and Randall did this during the Centenary Testbetween England and Australia in Melbourne in 1977. Needing 463 to win with a wicket down, they decided to take it in 15-minute sections. "Stick at it, Skip. In ten minutes there'll only be 15 minutes to tea," Brearley recalls Randall saying, in The Art of Captaincy. They lost by 45 runs; Randall scored 174.

You don't have to be an international or even a professional cricketer to benefit from these mental heuristics. Bull says the key difference between elite and "Sunday afternoon batsmen" is that "Sunday afternoon batsmen tend to overcomplicate things. They're standing there tapping the ground as the bowler runs in, thinking about where the fields are, thinking about their left-hand grip, where their shoulders are. The best players in the world are just standing there saying: watch the ball."

Mental routines are a way to simplify things, to shut out technical thoughts, memories of mistimed shots and other internal distractions, and to help the batsman settle into a state of readiness that Bull calls "relaxed alertness". But routines alone may not be enough, especially in international games where the pressures can be immense. To settle nerves and maintain confidence through an innings, many batsmen engage in what used to be considered a symptom of mental illness but is now recognised as fully functional: talking to yourself.

In a 2013 study at an English first-class cricket club, psychologists at Cardiff Metropolitan University found that batsmen used self-talk regularly, either to motivate themselves in challenging situations - when walking out to bat, for example, or after a poor shot - or to deliver instructional cues that focus attention, such as "Watch the ball!"

In fact, "Watch the ball" seems to be the default cue for most batsmen. Ricky Ponting used it. You can sometimes see Eoin Morgan mouthing it before a ball. Beaumont, after watching one of Ponting's masterclasses, adopted it then adapted it - her current cue is "Time the ball, play straight". Easy if you know how.

One of the most notorious self-talkers in cricket history is Randall. He did it constantly and out loud. "It was spontaneous, it was a natural thing to do. When I'm nervous I start talking. It would help me concentrate. It annoyed everybody, including the people who played with me."

During the fourth Test of the 1978-79 Ashes, when Randall scored 150 during the second innings and turned the series in England's favour, his monologue continued throughout the nine hours and 42 minutes he spent at the crease. Here's a snatch of it, as related to Sunday Times journalist Dudley Doust by his opponents and team-mates: "Come on, Rags," he says. "Get stuck in. Don't take any chances. Get forward, get forward. Get behind the ball. Take your time, slow and easy. You idiot, Rags. Come on, come. Come on, England."

Younis Khan, who averages 53.72 in Test cricket and is Pakistan's highest-ever run scorer, also talks to himself all the time when he's at the wicket. But he has a slightly different approach to most, conducting his conversations with an alter ego that he conjures up as he goes out to bat.

"I imagine there is a guy standing in front of me and he is Younis Khan, and just talk with him. It's like there are two Younis Khans standing face to face like a boxer, and they are talking and looking each other in the eyes. Come on, Younis Khan, you can do this, you can do that."

Self-talk can keep you focused, and it can also help maintain confidence, without which batting can feel like Russian roulette. Mark Ramprakash, the England men's batting coach, says confidence and self-belief are "absolutely paramount. They can work wonders: they can make up for a less-than-perfect technique. The thing with cricket is that you have a lot of bad days. You make one wrong decision, or someone takes a great catch. The best players, like Alastair Cook, are incredibly resilient to those bad days. They maintain a belief in their own ability."

Ramprakash himself suffered a crisis of belief early on in his England career when he failed to make a big score and began to question whether he belonged at Test level. Then in 1998 he started working with Bull, brought in by England as team psychologist.

"He gave me a very simple framework of coping with all the scrambled thoughts that were going on in my head," says Ramprakash.

Silva pares down the window of concentration to three or four seconds, switching on only when the bowler is halfway through his run-up. "So it's 15 minutes to get 100 runs. If you cut it down like this then it will be easier"

It proved pivotal. Soon after meeting Bull he scored 154 against West Indies in Barbados - his first Test century - and then topped the averages the following winter in Australia. His team-mate Atherton, writing in his autobiography, said he sensed at the time that Ramprakash was "a totally different person, and consequently, player".

Today the mental side of batting and the pressures that come with playing at international level are taken very seriously by England's management, due in no small part to Ramprakash's influence. Yet confidence is a fickle trait. Sometimes it's necessary to fake it to make it, so to speak. Psychologists have known for decades that feelings and emotions stem from changes in the body, rather than the other way round - a phenomenon known as embodied cognition - which means it's possible to generate confidence simply by acting it out.

"Shadow batting" - practising sublime strokes between balls - or walking out to bat with head held high, can have a positive effect on the way you play. The sports psychologist Jamie Barker, who works with Nottinghamshire Cricket Club and the ECB's performance programme, makes a point of getting players to focus on their body language as they leave the pavilion, to appear confident even if they don't feel it: "If you're assertive, your brain will pick up on that."

Another way of "faking" confidence is to visualise the way you want to play in your mind's eye before the game begins.
In 1974, early in his career, Randall suffered four first-class innings in a row without scoring a run. "It was a nightmare," he says. "The pressure just builds on you." So on the morning of his fifth innings he got up early and arrived at the ground while it was still deserted, strapped on his pads, walked out to the middle, played a cover drive and took a run, "just to remember what it was like". He scored 93 that day.

Ramprakash encourages England's batsmen to use this kind of visualisation, which serves as a cognitive rehearsal for the main event. There is much evidence that it works. One problem with all these approaches is that worrying too much about your own performance can easily make things worse. Steven Sylvester, Middlesex's psychologist and author of the recent book Detox Your Ego(2016), thinks that for players at the top of their game what really matters is "where your heart is, why am I here?"

The important thing, he says, is to believe at an emotional level that you are playing not for yourself but for your team or your country, or some other ideal that transcends you. "When players start to think about their performance as serving the group it increases their self-esteem, their belief goes up and they become a bit freer in their skills. It gives them a little bit extra."

In 2013, Sylvester helped Australia and Middlesex batsman Chris Rogers after he was called up to the Ashes squad more than five years after his previous Test. "It became blindingly obvious that his fear of representing his country in the Ashes as an opening batsman was stopping him from moving forward," he says. "Through a deep discussion of how to serve his country he came up with a more compelling reason to doing well than if it was just about him."

Sylvester coached Moeen Ali through a similar process, helping him put his cricket in the context of his faith and his desire to be a role model. The Pakistan batsman Asad Shafiq, who has scored eight Test centuries at No. 6 - a world record - gives an equally compelling reason for his own success: "To bat at No. 6 you have to be patient, as most of the time the tailenders are with you. You have to give them confidence and support."

Shafiq is batting not just for himself, but for Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 as well. He epitomises CLR James' portrait in his classic Beyond a Boundary (1963) of the batsman as the ultimate team player. When facing the ball, writes James, he "does not merely represent his side. For that moment, to all intents and purposes, he is his side."

Without doubt, all batsmen can improve their confidence, resilience and other mental attributes if they're willing to practise. "Mental skills are like physical skills," says Bull. "You have to work at them relentlessly. You have to challenge your brain to get better at blocking out the negatives and replacing them with positives."

Yet it also seems clear that some people are inherently better at this than others. In 2005, Bull carried out a psychological analysis of 12 English cricketers from the previous two decades whom county coaches had identified as the toughest mentally in the country. Among them were Atherton, Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart. Bull found them all to be highly competitive and motivated, full of self-confidence and with a never-say-die attitude, some of which derived from their upbringing, some from the teams they had played with and some from their personality.

For the rest of us, it is comforting to know that we can learn such skills - and that even the greats can struggle at times. Even Don Bradman called batting "a nerve-racking business". In The Art of Cricket (1958), he implores us to give a thought to the batsman's travails as he wends his way to the wicket: "He is human like you, and desperately anxious to do well."

In excruciating pain. Unable to sleep. Yet John is still ‘fit for work’

Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian

 
Illustration: Andrzej Krauze


John’s world was torn apart on a Monday morning three weeks ago. First came a text message that read: “We will ring you within 2-3 hours to discuss the outcome of your work capability assessment.” Then the phone went. A “decision maker” at the Department for Work and Pensions told John he’d been judged fit for work – despite his extreme pain, despite all his doctors had said. One of the benefits he needed to live on – employment and support allowance – would stop immediately.





Maximus fit-for-work tests fail mental health patients, says doctor



You may have seen the new film I, Daniel Blake; John is living it. Just like Ken Loach’s character, he’s in his late 50s. He too is in no condition to hold down a full-time job, yet has been told by his own government that he must find work. His story tells you that the nightmare depicted by Loach and the scriptwriter Paul Laverty is neither fictional nor historical – but is being visited right now on our friends, our neighbours and us.

Just like Daniel Blake, John is slowly being crushed between the twin forces of a lumbering, unsympathetic, tick-box, brown-envelope bureaucracy, and a Tory government hellbent on slashing social security. The result is that a disabled man is today being forced to look for jobs that he can’t possibly do, purely to get benefits that won’t even keep a roof above his head.

John doesn’t want his full details made public. “A mauling by the rightwing press would be more than I could bear.” But he’s funny, good on Victorian novels and gentler than I would be in his position. His life has been shaped by an attack he suffered one evening in London 30 years ago. It left him in hospital for three months – and with major injuries to his leg, back and shoulder. They’ve got worse over the years, causing him to give up work about 15 years ago. He recently had a knee replacement; doctors are now contemplating a tricky operation on his spine.
He’s on Tramadol and other heavy-duty painkillers, yet even on the best of days he still has constant pins and needles. At other times, “it’s like someone is stamping on my spine in heavy hobnail boots and smashing nails into my feet and up my leg.” Even on sleeping pills, he hasn’t managed more than three hours a night for over 15 years.

This spring the government decided to test John’s capability for work. I’ve seen the forms myself: in his best exam-boy handwriting, John answers the questions with an almost painful trustingness. No exaggeration, no flinching from admitting that he sometimes wets himself. When it came to assessment day, he took along a local councillor, Denise Jones. At the testing centre run by Maximus – the outsourced provider of assessments – he faced the usual robotic questions about whether he could lift an empty box.

Then came the physical examination. The table was so high John can’t believe he managed to climb on it; Jones says he did, just. Both say the effort cost him visible struggle and pain – and both recall that the “healthcare professional” said she didn’t want to examine him. But the report stripping John of his ESA says it was he who “declined examination”.

That’s not the only discrepancy. The report talks of “lower back pain” – nothing about the legs or feet. It claims he can stay in one place for an hour – no mention of John’s need to move every 10-15 minutes. Other details that John and Jones remember coming up – the hours it takes him just to stretch out in the morning; his habit of falling over; the fact his pain is constant – are simply missing. Jones says in puzzlement: “The report looks like it was just cut and paste.”

I put these and several other detailed points to the DWP last week, but was advised on Monday that John’s was now a “historic claim”. Maximus would need to write to the DWP, then await the details to be posted back – a process that could take about a week. “A giant bureaucracy,” the Maximus spokesman said. If that’s how the head of communications for the company at the centre of this bureaucracy sees things, what hope for the likes of John?

I received instead a “generic response”, which states in part: “We will look into the issues raised in this particular case. All of our healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses and physiotherapists – are fully qualified with a minimum of two years’ postgraduate experience and they receive ongoing training.”

None of this helps John, but it’s not meant to. While awaiting the “reconsideration” of his claim, he’s been to the jobcentre and signed a declaration that he can work for 40 hours a week and commute 90 minutes each way. Both claims are a lie – the stupid, necessary lies John must now tell to get money. Perhaps he should have lied like that in the first place, rather than getting into debt just to keep going. This is for a man who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and hasn’t been to the cinema in two years.

His “coach” has lined him up for computer training and a course on how to do a CV. John doesn’t need either, but then this Kafka-meets-IDS bureaucracy in which Britons hand cash to private companies to frustrate other Britons isn’t about what anyone wants or needs. It has more in common with a correctional process – complete with nonsense tasks, the aggressive emphasis on procedure, and the disregard for people. There is only the occasional pinprick of humanity, like the DWP official who at the end of one phone call thanked John “for not shouting at me”.

John’s story is part of a much bigger national process, in which austerity Britain is narrowing down who deserves to live here. On the reject pile go “shirkers”, “benefit tourists” (however many they are), refugees fleeing the bombs of Syria who look insufficiently childlike. And disabled people who, according to the Centre for Welfare Reform, have been hit nine times harder by the Tories’ cuts than has any other group.

Loach’s film ends in defiance. “When you lose your self-respect you’re done for,” says Daniel Blake. But I wonder what it takes to keep your self-respect in a system intent on dehumanising you. I met a couple earlier this year; the husband faced a cut to his disability benefits. Paul Chapman remembered what he’d told his wife, Lisa: “The best thing we can do now is … I’ll clear off and I won’t take my tablets. And it’ll be over then. I won’t be here.” All for the sake of £49 a week.

Denise Jones can see how knackered John is, how often he wells up. “In three weeks, he’s collapsed,” she says. John knows it too. “I don’t want anybody to know how bad this is,” he tells me. “I don’t want anybody to see me so weak. I just feel beaten.” Not for the last time that morning, he breaks down crying.