Tuesday, 28 February 2017

What does focus mean in cricket ?

Simon Barnes in Cricinfo

Cricketers are always talking about focus. So is everybody else in big-time sport. You hear more talk about focus from professional athletes than you do from professional photographers. The difference is that when photographers mention it, there's a general agreement on what they are talking about.

"Hard work, sacrifice and focus will never show up in tests," said Lance Armstrong, making focus unlike most of the other stuff he used. Focus has become a magic word, one used to explain every half-decent performance in sport.

It has also become an interview staple - the right answer to almost any question.

"How do you feel about the shattering on-pitch row that took place today?"

"I just try and stay focused on my batting."

It's a rebuff to the interviewer, a statement of intent and a personal call to order: what matters here is not your story but my batting.

Focus reflects the idea that you can train your mind, that your mind is as much an instrument of the will as your body

Focus takes in every part of modern sport. It is used in the minutiae of action. A batsman's first job is to focus on the ball, and that involves literal and metaphorical use of the word. Batting is first about looking at the ball - some batsmen mutter "watch the ball" every single time. But there is also a figurative focus. You confine your attention to the action, refusing to get distracted by sledging fielders, the fact that the team is 108 for 7, and that you haven't made double figures for the last five innings.

From here the idea of focus expands beyond the immediate action and takes you to the mindset of the professional athlete. This fearsome thing combines a horror of the past with a straw-clutching concentration on the future. For some, this is a natural state, for others, one that requires painful effort.

Either way, the idea is that concentrating - focusing - on the past is counterproductive. Memories of both success and failure are equally damaging. All that matters is the next match. "I prefer to focus on what is coming next," said the racing driver, Sebastian Vettel, spelling out the way professional athletes school themselves to think.

Focus reflects the idea that you can train your mind, that your mind is as much an instrument of the will as your body. Both can be improved by coaching and training and sheer bloody effort. You can school yourself to "focus on the positives".

While everyone watches you, you watch the ball © Getty Images

So after a horrendous defeat, you talk about the good things it involved. Tim Henman, the British tennis player, was a master at this. "But there's a lot of positive I can take from this," he would say, before leaving Wimbledon at the semi-final stage once again. A focused individual chooses what kind of defeat he endures. The best make defeat a stepping stone to victory. Tim never quite did, of course, but we British never stopped loving him.

Focus can operate over a still wider field. You keep your focus not just on the ball or on the future or on the positives. You also keep focus on your entire life. Don't let outside distractions affect you. Stay focused on football or cricket or running.

So if you shift your focus from golf to cocktail waitresses, you end up like Tiger Woods. The conventional view of Tiger's troubles is that he lost his focus. The fact of the matter is that he had his life in perfect balance. What threw him off was getting found out.
That's because there is a contradiction in the idea of focus. It is normally understood as unrelenting concentration on a single thing, but batsmen maintain their focus by constantly going out of focus. The key to a long innings, as all batsmen will explain, is "switching off" between balls and at the non-striker's end.
The focused athlete has become part of 21st-century mythology - a perfect example of what we all need to do if we are to become more successful people

In the same way, many male athletes improve dramatically when they become fathers. The loss of focus actually helps. Sport is no longer the only thing or even the most important thing in life. The consequent lessening of intensity - of focus - becomes a positive asset.

Focus has become part of the survival kit of the modern athlete. The focused athlete has become part of 21st-century mythology - a perfect example of what we all need to do if we are to become more successful people. The image (preferably in sharp focus) of a sprinter at the start of a race or, a footballer making contact with the ball, or a batsman in the instant before the ball arrives - these seem to reveal important truths about the way life should be lived. Only focus, and the world is yours!

The myth is that once you have achieved focus you can do just about anything. The word has acquired an almost religious significance, a mystic state of perfect attainment. That's mostly because it can mean more or less anything you choose.

Monday, 27 February 2017

How I learnt to (nearly) bowl the doosra

Ashley Mallett in Cricinfo

The final day of the South Australia versus West Indies match was supposed to be a red-letter day for the local spin twins, offie Ashley Mallett and leggie Terry Jenner. Opener Ashley "Splinter" Woodcock was standing in for our captain, Ian Chappell, and Splinter told all and sundry in the media overnight that the spinners would take his team to victory.

It was December 23, 1975. West Indies had scored just 188 and we had declared with eight down for 419. Not all went to plan in Splinter's spin strategy, though, for neither TJ nor I got a bowl before lunch and had to wait an hour to get on in the middle session.

I got left-hander Roy Fredericks caught at first slip by Gary Cosier, who rarely hung on to one in that position. Then I found myself trying to breach the seemingly impenetrable defence of the two incumbents enjoying a good fourth-wicket stand: Viv Richards and Lawrence Rowe. I vividly recall bowling two ordinary offies to Rowe, which he dismissed with all the energy and obvious joy of a headmaster whacking you with a full swipe of his cane.

It was then I hit on the idea of doing what I used to do as a youngster when my offbreaks were off the radar; I decided to bowl a legbreak.

The ball left in a song of spin, a fluttering-buzzing sound to gladden the ear. As it made its way towards the relaxed Rowe, it curved slightly to the leg side. I figured he would pick the change from my hand, but that didn't matter. He still had to play it. As it turned out, the ball landed in a bit of rough outside leg stump, Rowe attempted to sweep, missed the ball entirely, and it crept round the back of his legs, hitting middle and off stumps with just enough force to dislodge a bail.

TJ was at first slip and I waltzed down the pitch, spinning leggies from hand to hand, and said: "Mate, this legspin caper is a breeze. I think I'll stop right now."

And indeed, I never bowled another leggie in international cricket. Maybe I should have done.

----Also read

Leg spin Q & A from Warne's coach

On Walking - Advice for a Fifteen Year Old

Drift - Spin Bowling


I had always hoped to create a genuine hard-spun legbreak with an offbreak action. I could achieve it okay, but not by bowling it. It had to be thrown.

In Perth grade cricket I bowled offies and would keep bowling that way until inevitably the day would come when offbreaks didn't bring enough wickets. So the next week I'd bowl legbreaks

I remember a Perth grade match when our main spinner, a slow-medium offie, Ron Frankish, was operating to a right-hander, Fremantle's Brian Muggleton. From point, I watched the batsman work four balls in a row with the spin to midwicket. Along came the fifth ball and Muggleton went well back to try and penetrate the on side, shaping to hit with the spin. He was in perfect position to negotiate an offbreak, but this time the ball fizzed from the leg. It had pitched middle and leg and hit the top of off stump. We all knew Frankish had a decided jerk in his bowling arm. He was once called for an alleged throw when playing for Western Australia in 1948.

What if an offie could perfect the ball without actually throwing it?

Personally I decided early in my career that I couldn't achieve bowling a legbreak with an offbreak action unless I chucked it, so I gave the idea away.

What I did need was a ball that shaped away from the right-hand batsman to beat the outside edge. I discovered that if you held the ball the same as for an offbreak, but delivered it in such a way that the seam is pointing towards square leg, and the back of your hand facing yourself, it will react much the same way as a leggie's ball out the front of the hand does: it hits the pitch and skids on straight.

Having bowled offies and leggies as a kid helped me understand how the offspinner's "square" one reacted almost identically to the legspinner's front-of-the hand ball.

Mostly it worked for me. My last Test wicket in Australia was England's Graham Gooch, at the MCG in 1980. I decided to set him up with the square spinner, which came out nicely and upon pitching, skipped off straight. The next ball was an offbreak that turned through a huge gap between bat and pad.

As a coach, I have showed quite a few top-notch spinners this delivery, including Graeme Swann and Daniel Vettori, both of whom cottoned on straight away. Later I showed John Davison, who in turn, as Nathan Lyon's mentor, passed the knowledge on.

The master: Clarrie Grimmett gave Ashley Mallett the best coaching lesson of his life © Associated Press

Since that Old Trafford Test match in 1956 when Jim Laker destroyed Australia, taking 19 for 90 for the game, offspin was the big attraction for me. Playing for Mt Lawley fourths in Perth grade cricket, I bowled offies and would keep bowling them until inevitably the day would come when they didn't bring enough wickets. So the next week I would bowl legbreaks.

When I was ten, my parents bought me a cricket book, entitled How to Bowl Them Out by Christopher Sly. In the section devoted to slow bowling there was an illustration of the grip for the offbreak. The index finger was to the left of the seam. The one-finger grip along the seam was the one I used until the day at the WACA nets when the coach of the WA Special Spin Squad, Tony Lock, advised me to change it.

He showed me how two fingers needed to be placed widely spaced so that I would have the advantage of spinning with both fingers. Lock said that the one-finger grip would be okay to continue to use as a variation, because often the ball didn't hit the wicket on the seam but would hit on the shiny part and skid straight on.

I learnt it was a good thing to vary how the ball was released: a topspinning offie, a little spin and undercut. However, I had no idea of the magic of flight.

Bob Simpson came to the club one day and I was asked to bowl to him. I was about 15 and had represented Western Australia in an interstate carnival in Adelaide, but bowling to Simpson was something else: it was akin to bowling to a barn door that had suddenly come alive and kept banging the ball back at me at the rate of knots.

I didn't dare bowl a leggie to Simpson, but I still practiced leggies in backyard "Tests". My older brother Nick always seemed to be batting and he was "Australia". I had to settle for "England". We wrote the team list and you had to bowl the same as the players. So if Laker was brought on, I would bowl offies, but if "Tich" Freeman was in action, I would bowl legspin.

In 1972 I finally caught up with Laker, my early hero, in England. He had a classic sideways action and bowled with a fairly high arm, although he seemed to undercut many of his deliveries, robbing himself of the dipping flight that other offspinners with high-arm actions, especially India's Erapalli Prasanna, achieved.

During a chat over a beer in a Nottingham pub, I asked Jim how he bowled his "away" ball. His normal offbreak grip involved spreading his index and middle fingers wide apart across the seam. For his away ball he changed his grip, having the seam run perpendicularly beneath his spinning fingers. Land the ball on the shiny side and it would often skid slightly away.


Everything changed for me when I wrote to Clarrie Grimmett, the great Australian legspinner between the wars. I knew Grimmett had played 248 first-class matches and had bagged no less than 127 hauls of five wickets or more in an innings. Perhaps if I travelled to see him in Adelaide, he might help me find a better pathway to success.

At that time I was playing first grade for Mt Lawley and would bowl tightly but never got many people out. At first I thought it was my lot: a good bowler out of luck. Then I realised no one could keep having that much bad luck. After two and half days on the train from Perth I arrived at Grimmett's home, where he had a full-sized wicket in the backyard.

I bowled to him and it hit the middle of his Jack Hobbs bat. He walked towards me and declared: "Give up bowling, son, and become a batsman. I could play you blindfolded."

I produced a handkerchief and he laughed as he put it over his horn-rimmed glasses. My second ball met the middle of his bat.

When he stopped giggling, Clarrie gave me the best coaching lesson of my life.

"I suspect you are not getting many wickets because you are one-hand, one-paced, and you are bowling a trajectory which follows a pathway all the way from your hand to the pitch, and every ball is beneath the batsman's eyeline."

Mallett offers Malinga Bandara a few words of advice in Adelaide in 2006 David Hancock / © AFP

He said that if I were to stand on a bridge overlooking a motorway, it would be easy to judge where a car would be in a second or two, "because you are looking down on things".

"From a batsman's perspective, if the slow man operates on a flat trajectory, below the eyeline all the way, as soon as the ball leaves your hand, he knows exactly where it will land and he will move to hit it hard."

"If you happened to walk onto the motorway and stand in a manhole - don't try this, son - it would be far more difficult to judge when the car was arriving. Similarly, if the ball arrives hard-spun and above the eyeline, the batsman doesn't know precisely where it will land."

Grimmett emphasised that the key to spin bowling - legspin and offspin - was how the ball arrived, not where it landed.

He learnt to bowl a googly (also known as "bosey" and "wrong'un") by reading a magazine article about a legspinner wheeling them down at the beach. The legspinner found when he bowled on the beach that his front foot sank a little and the ball flipped out of the back of his hand not in the traditional leggie's style, over the wrist.


Years ago I showed Geoff Lawson and Michael Kasprowicz the grip for the offbreak. Lawson wanted a different slower ball, so too Kasprowicz, who used his offie to great effect on the slow turning wickets in India.

I produced a handkerchief and Grimmett laughed as he put it over his horn-rimmed glasses. My second ball met the middle of his bat

WA and Test offspinner Bruce Yardley began his first-class career as a medium-paced bowler and hard-hitting lower-order batsman. As a medium-pacer his best ball was his change-up slower one, a hard-spun, dipping offbreak. He then switched to offspin and forged a successful Test career. All spinners must master the stock ball: hard-spun and dipping.

The more purchase on the ball, the greater the area of danger for the batsman. Shane Warne's area of danger was about as big as your average dining-room table, so too Muttiah Muralitharan's, for both men gave the ball an almighty rip.

In contrast, Ashley Giles, say, wasn't a big spinner of the ball, and his area of danger was about as big as a dinner plate. So Giles, in effect, had to be super-accurate compared with Warne and Murali - which, happily for him, he was; he fit in perfectly in the England Test team, building pressure as he held up one end for long periods and took key wickets.

Throughout cricket history there have been creative cricketers who have "invented" new deliveries such as the wrong'un, the flipper, the finger-flicked delivery (Jack Iverson), the square-spinner and the doosra. What I have loved about a few modern offies is that they have succeeded in finding ways to beat both sides of the bat other than by depending on natural variation or resorting to the doosra. Swann and R Ashwin are the two outstanding examples.

The possibilities of finding new and exciting ways of weaving a web over batsmen are never-ending.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Now a degree is a commodity, no wonder more students are cheating

Poppy Noor in The Guardian

It was reported this week that the Department for Education is considering new penalties for students who plagiarise essays. This comes after an investigation by the Times in 2016 found that 50,000 students had been caught cheating on their university degrees in the three years before.
Students were paying anywhere between £100 and £6,750 for an essay, and this widespread cheating has led to suggestions that criminal records could be dished out to offenders. But with a generation now forking out in excess of £50,000 for their degrees, is anybody surprised that a university education now feels like another asset that can simply be bought?
Since the 1990s, when Tony Blair brought in tuition fees, a number of changes have been introduced that have made the decision of whether or not to go to university more about your ability to afford it (or at least not be put off by the cost) and less about your desire to learn.
Fees have increased – in the most extreme cases nearly tenfold – since they were introduced, and bursaries have been removed for the poorest students, meaning that those without family money will inevitably end up paying more, as it will take them longer to pay off their loans.
This sends a very clear message to students: your money is just as important as your mind. The right grades aren’t enough to get you into university. You need the cash (or loan) to pay for it in the first place. Buying essays – any form of plagiarism – is clearly wrong, but it feels like the logical extension of an education that comes with a high and rising price tag.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot at university. I went because I loved the subject that I wanted to study, I was hungry for more knowledge, and I wanted to self-improve. But for a lot of people, that’s not what university is for. The government itself, since the introduction of tuition fees, has justified them on the basis that students will end up earning more if they go to university – and so, for many, a degree feels like a route to a career rather than an opportunity to learn.
Employers have bought into the idea that university can simply be used as a proxy for employability, as is shown by the minimum 2:1 threshold required for most jobs, despite this not necessarily correlating with better performance at work. For students who feel they’re just buying a rubber stamp, what’s the point in putting in the effort?
If you plan to purchase, rather than partake in your degree, purely so you can meet that minimum 2:1 requirement, there are many ways to blag your way through it that require much less than a critical mind. You read your pre-decided list of writers, normally white male authors who have been on the list for years – often past the time when their novels felt culturally relevant or their theories genuinely held water. In fact, you don’t even have to read these writers – you can just go on SparkNotes and find a summary. Then you make some mundane criticisms that have probably been made by many others before – because, for some reason, no matter how many times students write the same essay on how Marx didn’t anticipate the resilience of capitalism, it’s apparently still worth saying. And then you move on to the next essay.
When large amounts of money are necessary to attend university, and degrees are described more and more often simply as a route to a profitable job, it’s not surprising that a pure interest in education is jettisoned.
It’s for this reason that I find the sudden dismay about all this cheating a bit of a joke. Of course action should be taken – cheating is a serious offence. But before we lament a situation in which thousands of students waste their time and opportunities by plagiarising rather than actually learning, we might want to ask how we got into this position in the first place. The £50,000 cost of a degree, rather than the comparative pennies spent on stolen essays, might be the first place to look.

Fatah ka Fatwa - Episode 8

Attack on Tarek Fatah - Intolerance? 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Blair is right on Brexit: parliament must have a democratic debate

Anatole Kaletsky in The Guardian

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s recent call for voters to think again about leaving the EU, echoed in parliamentary debates ahead of the government’s official launch of the process in March, is an emperor’s new clothes moment. Although Blair is now an unpopular figure, his voice, like that of the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, is loud enough to carry above the cabal of flatterers assuring Theresa May that her naked gamble with Britain’s future is clad in democratic finery.

The importance of Blair’s speech can be gauged by the hysterical overreaction to his suggestion of reopening the Brexit debate, even from supposedly objective media: “It will be seen by some as a call to arms – Tony Blair’s Brexit insurrection,” according to the BBC.

Such is the tyranny of the majority in post-referendum Britain that a “remainer” proposal for rational debate and persuasion is considered an insurrection. And anyone questioning government policy on Brexit is routinely described as an “enemy of the people,” whose treachery will provoke “blood in the streets.”

What explains this sudden paranoia? After all, political opposition is a necessary condition for functioning democracy – and nobody would have been shocked if Eurosceptics continued to oppose Europe after losing the referendum, just as Scottish nationalists have continued campaigning for independence after their 10-point referendum defeat in 2014. And no one seriously expects US opponents of Donald Trump to stop protesting and unite with his supporters.

The difference with Brexit is that last June’s referendum subverted British democracy in two insidious ways. First, the leave vote was inspired mainly by resentments unconnected with Europe. Second, the government has exploited this confusion of issues to claim a mandate to do anything it wants.

Six months before the referendum, the EU did not even appear among the 10 most important issues facing Britain as mentioned by potential voters. Immigration did rank at the top, but, as Blair noted in his speech, anti-immigration sentiment was mainly against multicultural immigration, which had little or nothing to do with the EU. The leave campaign’s strategy was therefore to open a Pandora’s box of resentments over regional imbalances, economic inequality, social values and cultural change. The remain campaign completely failed to respond to this, because it concentrated on the question that was literally on the ballot, and addressed the costs and benefits of EU membership.

The fact that the referendum was such an amorphous but all-encompassing protest vote explains its second politically corrosive effect. Because the leave campaign successfully combined a multitude of different grievances, May now claims the referendum as an open-ended mandate. Instead of arguing for controversial Conservative policies – including corporate tax cuts, deregulation, unpopular infrastructure projects and social security reforms – on their merits, May now portrays such policies as necessary conditions for a “successful Brexit”. Anyone who disagrees is dismissed as an elitist “remoaner” showing contempt for ordinary voters.

Making matters worse, the obvious risks of Brexit have created a siege mentality. “Successful Brexit” has become a matter of national survival, turning even the mildest proposals to limit the government’s negotiating options – for example, parliamentary votes to guarantee rights for EU citizens already living in Britain – into acts of sabotage.

As in wartime, every criticism shades into treason. That is why the Labour party has collaborated in defeating all parliamentary efforts to moderate May’s hardline Brexit plans, even on such relatively uncontentious issues as visa-free travel, pharmaceutical testing or science funding. Likewise, more ambitious demands from Britain’s smaller opposition parties for a second referendum on the final exit deal have gained no traction, even among committed pro-Europeans, who are intimidated by the witch-hunting atmosphere against unrepentant remainers.

Sir Ivan Rogers, who was forced to resign last month as the UK’s permanent representative to the EU because he questioned May’s negotiating approach, predicted this week a “gory, bitter, and twisted” breakup between Britain and Europe. But this scenario is not inevitable. A more constructive possibility is now emerging along the lines suggested by Blair. Instead of vainly trying to influence May’s hardline stance in the negotiations, the new priority should be to restart a rational debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe and to convince the public that this debate is democratically legitimate.

This means challenging the idea that a referendum permanently outweighs all other mechanisms of democratic politics and persuading voters that a referendum mandate refers to a specific question in specific conditions, at a specific time. If the conditions change or the referendum question acquires a different meaning, voters should be allowed to change their minds.

The process of restoring a proper understanding of democracy could start within the next few weeks. The catalyst would be amendments to the Brexit legislation now passing through parliament. The goal would be to prevent any new relationship between Britain and the EU from taking effect unless approved by a parliamentary vote that allowed for the possibility of continuing EU membership. Such an amendment would make the status quo the default option if the government failed to satisfy parliament with the new arrangements negotiated over the next two years. It would avert the Hobson’s choice the government now proposes: either accept whatever deal we offer, or crash out of the EU with no agreed relationship at all.

Allowing parliament to decide about the new relationship with Europe, instead of leaving it entirely up to May, would restore the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. More important, it would legitimise a new political debate in Britain about the true costs and benefits of EU membership, possibly leading to a second referendum on the government’s Brexit plans.

This is precisely why May vehemently opposes giving parliament any meaningful voice on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Presumably, she will block any such requirement from being attached to the Brexit legislation in March. But that may not matter: if a genuine debate about Brexit gets restarted, democracy will prevent her from closing it down.

Pakistan and Radd-ul-Fasaad

Najam Sethi in The Friday Times

The Pakistan Army has launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad across the country to “indiscriminately eliminate residual threat of terrorism, consolidate gains of operations made thus far and further ensure security of our borders”. The ISPR statement claims that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Armed Forces (Rangers) and other LEAs (police, etc) will participate in this “Broad Spectrum Security/Counter Terrorism operation”.

The key words are, first, “indiscriminately”. This suggests that in earlier operations some terrorist groups and elements were spared for one reason or another but they will be targeted this time round. The second key word is “residual”. This suggests that much of the core work in eliminating terrorism has already been done in the past and only some “cleaning” or “mopping up” remains. The third key word is “Broad Spectrum”. This suggests that operations will be conducted across the country and not just in Fata and Karachi as in the past and that both small and big targets will be fair game. In other words, the operation aims to rid us of all internal and external elements which are creating terrorist anarchy in the country.

If this operation succeeds in even half its stated objectives it would be a great boon for Pakistan. Consider.

In earlier operations, the Pakistani Taliban in Fata and the criminal terrorizing cadres of the MQM in Karachi were targeted. Of late attempts were made to eliminate a handful of leading sectarian elements in the Punjab through police encounters but no systematic attempt was made to uproot the sectarian organisations spread across Southern Punjab. In other words, the actions were discriminatory. One reason may have had to do with the political affiliations of such elements with mainstream parties that stayed the hand of the local administrations. Another may be lack of will in local and provincial governments to face any violent or militant backlash. Are we to understand that now concerted action will be taken against these elements as well? And if action is taken, what sort of action will this be? If sweeping arrests are going to be made without adequately provisioning for successful prosecution, then this will be no more than a temporary palliative because the civil courts will set them free sooner or later. But if summary military courts are to sentence them, then a whole new upgraded legal edifice has to be constructed that is accorded approval by a consensus in parliament and which is not challenged by the superior judiciary. How this is to be accomplished remains to be seen because parliament is still debating the pros and cons of extending the legal cover of military courts for a limited period of time and the Supreme Court has stayed the executions of several terrorists convicted by military courts on one ground or another.

But the problem won’t end even if all this is accomplished quickly and another few hundred are executed or jailed for life. The roots of sectarianism go deep in society and are related to the narrative of “Islamic ideology” that underpins state and society in Pakistan and permeates the political parties, state institutions, education system and media. How on earth are we going to depoliticize Pakistan’s version of Islam in a few years when we have taken six decades to enshrine it as the be-all and end-all, and what it means to be a true Pakistani soaked in this ideology? Operation Radd-ul-Fassad may rid us of a score or two of potent sectarian troublemakers but it will not make a dent in the system that gives birth to and nurtures tens of thousands of such people every year in the bowels of its madrassahs.

The second word “residual” is clearly aimed at the tip of the terrorist iceberg. If the sectarian organisations are the “residual”, what about the jihadi organisations that are unable to stop their “members” from splitting and joining sectarian, IS or TTP groups or infiltrating militants across the border into Indian-held Kashmir? Is the military establishment ready to disband these jihadi groups that trigger the proxy terrorist wars between India and Pakistan? Equally, we may ask whether this operation that claims to secure our border with Afghanistan will target the Haqqani network based in Pakistan and drive it into Afghanistan so that the Afghan government will reciprocate and deny refuge to the TTP that is sending its terrorists across the border to wreak havoc in Pakistan? Like the sectarian organisations that feed off the “narrative” of Pakistan, the jihadis feed off the continuing conflict with India over Kashmir that has now become part and parcel of our national security narrative of India as the perpetual and existential enemy of Pakistan.

These are some of the many thorny questions that remain unaddressed by Radd-ul-Fasaad. Central to the theme of eliminating terrorism is the legitimizing “idea” or “narrative” of Pakistan that feeds into it. On that score, we have not seen any serious initiative by the civil-military establishment that fashioned it in the first place.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Study Economics To Win Every Argument

by Girish Menon

Image result for emperor's new clothes
The Emperor's new clothes courtesy Cactus Records

Since 1992 when former US President Bill Clinton’s campaign manager coined the winning slogan, ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ persuaders of all belief systems have been increasingly relying on economic arguments to win the debate. The Brexit vote and Trump’s election are recent examples of the success of an economic point of view to the detriment of all others. A student with a good A level in economics will be equipped to reason out the merits and demerits of each argument and defend her own belief system or prejudice.

The A Level syllabus

In the book The Econocracy three Manchester University students describe the irrelevance of their university’s economics syllabus, which failed to acknowledge and explain the financial crisis of 2008. On the other hand, the A level syllabus of the AQA board not only discusses the financial crisis of 2008 but also explores themes in behavioural economics, the fast emerging and highly popular area in modern economics..

In a nutshell an A level in economics is divided into two parts viz. Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Microeconomics explores the theoretical utopia of a free market which is known as perfect competition and compares it with modern market phenomena like Monopoly, Oligopoly and Monopsony. Macroeconomics looks at the picture from a national point of view and explores themes like Inequality, Unemployment and Immigration, Economic Growth and Trade/Budget deficits. It also considers the tradeoffs that governments face as they try to resolve crises.

Am I suited for an Economics A Level Course?

Unlike economics courses at most universities which rely on a strong foundation in mathematics, an A level economics course is right for any student who has an A grade in Mathematics and English at the GCSE level. He should have a curiosity about the world he lives in, is able to think logically and must have a desire to debate issues based on evidence.

In short, an Economics A Level Course can combine well with the sciences, the arts, the languages as well as the humanities. You could do this A level especially when you wish to specialise in other subjects at the degree level.

What will I gain from doing the Economics A Level Course?

You will realise that there is no such thing as a free market. You will have heard politicians and other persuaders trying to praise the virtues of the free market. After doing an A level in Economics, you will understand the assumptions that underlie free market theory. You will then conclude that those arguing for a free market are not making objective arguments but are indulging in alternative facts.

You will realise the bluntness of economic policy tools and why governments are unable to solve the problems of climate change, rising inequality, racism and other social ills.

Most importantly, you will understand the meaning of economic terms. You will discover that many popular ‘economic arguments’ are actually political arguments couched in economic terms. You will then be able to indulge in debate in a confident manner and be able to point out loopholes in your opponents’ arguments.

Many handed person

A businessperson was once asked what kind of economist she wished to hire. She replied, ‘a one handed economist’. When she was asked to explain her strange reply, she said, ‘When I ask a question of an economist I want him to give me a straight reply and not resort to phrases like on the other hand…’.

A good A level economist may not be employed by the above businessperson, but he will get the ability to realise that almost all economic decisions are fraught with uncertainty and the law of unintended consequences. It will enable him to separate truthful people from snake oil salesmen. Isn’t that a worthwhile asset to have?

We’re doomed by the identity trap, damned when we try to escape

Nesrine Malik in The Guardian

Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

Diane Abbott wrote a powerful article in these pages last week about the hatred she receives. Whatever one thinks of her politics, the veteran Labour MP has for decades been a fireball of public service. But her star has always been followed by a comet tail of toxic vapour. This personal abuse is at times snide and implied, at other times explicit, vicious and unprintable. But it is a constant in her political life, following her round, undermining her, consistently framing her in terms of her gender and her race.

Abbott’s article came just days after she received an exceptional and sustained amount of personal abuse over the article 50 vote, culminating in a leaked text sent by Brexit secretary David Davis, in which he made derogatory comments on her appearance. Her article was necessary and timely, but something about her speaking out made my heart sink. It felt like defeat; the ultimate feeding of the trolls. It is important to look beyond the headlines and understand the significance of what happened.

The fact is that her tormentors had hounded this most resilient of characters to a point where she finally cracked and, breaking a longstanding habit in a 30-year career of not commenting on personal insults, she laid it all out. She was forced to sound an alert, warning that something must be done before we get to the point in our democracy where women and minority candidates, already low in number, are bullied out of the political arena altogether.

Diane Abbott: misogyny and abuse are putting women off politics

Since then, she has been forced to go further, revealing this weekend that she does not walk or drive around her constituency as freely as she used to because, in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder, the death threats she receives can’t be shrugged off any more. It was a piece in which she used the word “I” for the first time in respect of her identity – it wasn’t about her profession or her political views. It is this forced “coming out” by Abbott as a black woman in public life that was disheartening.

Contrary to the view so widely held on the right, of this country being in the grip of a constantly aggrieved professional-victim class, few people actually like to talk about their experience of receiving abuse. It is uncomfortable and excruciating and diminishing, and above all a distraction when one just wants to get on with one’s business.

It is also, as many who are on the receiving end of such onslaughts (including myself) can testify, boring and predictable to have to keep running the gauntlet between attack and defence. There is another, silencing fear, as the bile swirls and rises around you: that you come across as attention-seeking or fragile. Above all, you want to show that the blows have not landed.

But when somebody occupies a public position, not speaking out becomes an abdication. It is a decision that is never taken lightly because it plays into the hands of the racists and misogynists whose ultimate motivating animus is to disabuse you of the notion that you can ever be anything but a woman who does not know her place or a member of an inferior race.

Oh but now you wince at the N-word. Come on now, you might say, let’s not get carried away and blow it all out of proportion. And besides, Abbott is hardly a flawless political figure who doesn’t deserve criticism. OK, she gets compared to a monkey and is the butt of her male colleague’s jokes about being too unattractive to hug, but what about sending her child to private school?

This is the line of argument that enables the masking of abuse behind legitimate criticism of an individual or their views. As if calling for a tree strong enough to carry her weight so she can be hanged, as was said, is a logical follow-on from any of her failings or political hypocrisies.

And then there are the accusations of playing the race card or the gender card – both denying that the abuse is real, and blaming the victim for using their minority status as a shield of deflection. It is a closed loop, a circular firing squad. You either accept the abuse with grace, turn the other cheek, or invite more abuse and derision for speaking out against it. The logical conclusion is that the only winning move is not to play.

It is ultimately this potential chilling effect that forces people to break their silence. Abbott said she had never complained until now. And she will have known of the potential cost to her stature, not to mention the possibility that her perceived vulnerability might encourage trolls further.

But ultimately, she said, she went into politics “to create space for women and other groups who have historically been treated unfairly”. It is only by creating this space that the abuse will subside, and that an individual like Diane Abbott will no longer be an offending novelty who is seen to only represent her own narrow racial or gender interests, rather than the people who elected her.

Diane Abbott on abuse of MPs: 'My staff try not to let me go out alone'

She and others like her are obliged to confront one of the most persistent political myths: that identity politics is a divisive phenomenon that actively seeks to separate minorities or women from the mainstream, conferring on them dispensation to act with impunity because any criticism is automatically bigotry. It is a notion that fails to recognise what is obvious, which is that identity is dictated from above. Abbott’s defining character as a black woman is imposed and kept alive by others, not by her. She has spent decades integrating into the mainstream.

Women or minorities aren’t droning on about discrimination and abuse because they’re snowflakes demanding special treatment. They do so because they keep being limited, circumscribed, told that they cannot have roles in public life that extend beyond their identity. But then they are condemned when they respond in terms of what is being attacked. But what else can one do? Hannah Arendt said: “If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew.”

Playing identity politics, as critics describe it, seems less an offensive ploy than a defensive posture, akin to raising your arms to cover your face when it is repeatedly being punched.
The whole affair exemplifies the precariousness of how to deal with what is now an epidemic. Silence is not an option. Even those not personally distressed have a duty towards others – those younger, more vulnerable or just made of different stuff – to clear the way for them to claim their rightful positions in public life. But there is also a risk that by doing so, any progress minorities or women have made to break out of their pen is undermined. It is a quiet stranglehold. Diane Abbott is trying to break free of it, but at what price?

Monday, 20 February 2017

The supermarket food gamble may be up

Illustration by Nathalie Lees

Felicity Lawrence in The Guardian

The UK’s clock has been set to Permanent Global Summer Time once more after a temporary blip. Courgettes, spinach and iceberg lettuce are back on the shelves, and the panic over the lack of imported fruit and vegetables has been contained. “As you were, everyone,” appears to be the message.

But why would supermarkets – which are said to have lost sales worth as much as £8m in January thanks to record-breaking, crop-wrecking snow and rainfall in the usually mild winter regions of Spain and Italy – be so keen to fly in substitutes from the US at exorbitant cost?

Why would they sell at a loss rather than let us go without, or put up prices to reflect the changing market? Why indeed would anyone air-freight watery lettuce across the whole of the American continent and the Atlantic when it takes 127 calories of fuel energy to fly just 1 food calorie of that lettuce to the UK from California?

The answer is that, in the past 40 years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusion of this Permanent Global Summer Time. As a result, a cornucopia of perpetual harvest is one of the key selling points that big stores have over rival retailers. If the enticing fresh produce section placed near the front of each store to draw you in starts looking a bit empty, we might not bother to shop there at all.

But when you take into account climate change, the shortages of early 2017 look more like a taste of things to come than just a blip, and that is almost impossible for supermarkets to admit.

Add the impact of this winter’s weather on Mediterranean production, the inflationary pressures from a post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling against the euro, and the threat of tariffs as we exit the single market, and suddenly the model begins to look extraordinarily vulnerable.

I can remember the precise moment I first understood that we had been taken into this fantastical, nature-defying system without most of us really noticing. It was 1990 and I had been living and working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province for a long period. The bazaars where we bought our food were seasonal, and stocked from the immediate region. Back home on leave in the UK, I had that sense of dislocation that enables you to see your own culture as if from the outside. It was winter, but the supermarkets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell. It was vaguely troubling in a way I couldn’t identify at the time.

 ‘The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell.’ Photograph: Alexander Britton/PA

Our food was not like this before the 1980s. The transformation was made possible by the third industrial revolution – the great leap in information technology and logistics that enabled retailers to dispense with keeping stock at the back of stores. Instead they were able to switch to minutely tuned, just-in-time electronic ordering from centralised distribution centres and to use the space freed up to extend their ranges from a typical 8,000 lines to 40,000, knocking out competition from all sorts of independent specialist shops as they did so.

The precursor to these new constantly replenished supply lines was our joining the European common market. Then with Spain, Portugal and Greece also joining in 1986, fresh territories from which to source opened up. European funds paid for fast new road networks across the Mediterranean, building the infrastructure for 44-tonne refrigerated trucks to whisk southern produce to northern Europe in the winter months, not just to the UK but to Germany and Scandinavia too. During the 90s there was a 90% increase in the movement of agricultural and food products between the UK and Europe.

Food writer Joanna Blythman coined the term Permanent Global Summer Time in an article for the Guardian in 2002. By then the astonishing shift in supply chains had come into sharp focus. Although the new supply system is miraculous in its scale, speed and efficiency, it has two fatal flaws.

First, it depends on the profligate use of finite resources – water, soil, and fossil fuels (with all their greenhouse gas emissions). Depending on whose figures you take, between a fifth and a third of UK emissions relate to food. More and more, we eat by exploiting the often fragile ecosystems of other countries. The UK is the sixth largest importer in the world of virtual water – the water needed to produce our food elsewhere.

Second, the system is built on the exploitation of cheap labour, mostly migrant, that has been socially disruptive and politically fraught. Migrant labour is not coincidental but structural to the just-in-time model, which needs the extreme flexibility of a class of desperate workers to function. Undocumented, underpaid migrants from Africa have provided the labour to harvest Italian and Spanish crops. Low-paid migrants, predominantly from eastern Europe, have become the backbone of the UK’s centralised distribution centres, providing 35% of food manufacturing labour, and 70-80% of harvesting labour.

‘Migrant labour is structural to the just-in-time model, which needs the extreme flexibility of a class of desperate workers to function.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The brief disappearance of a few green and salad vegetables was hardly a great deprivation, but we should take it seriously as an early warning sign. Like the banking system, our food system seems too big, too sophisticated and too embedded in everyday life to fail. Yet privately, supermarket buyers have been talking for at least five years about “choice editing” – that is, editing out some of the fresh foods we have come to take for granted because importing them is unsustainable. Examples might include asparagus from Peru, 95% of which comes from the Ica valley where wells are running dry, and Moroccan tomatoes sourced from areas suffering severe water stress and aquifer depletion.

Supermarkets expected water shortages to bring the first jolts to the system. Brexit and climate change have brought other potential shocks to the fore. 

The UK only produces a little over half of what its people consume; over a quarterof what we eat and drink comes from the EU. Reverting to more local ways of meeting our needs has become harder as the old infrastructure of regional wholesale markets has disappeared, and as farmers continue to exit the food business because they cannot make a living.

The government view, under the current Conservative administration and previous coalition and Labour ones, has been that the market will provide. In a new era of protectionism and with the UK heading out of the EU, that looks increasingly complacent. A decade ago, the Ministry of Defence predicted that changes to the climate, globalisation and global inequality would “touch the lives of everyone on the planet” within the next 20 years. “Food and water insecurity will drive mass migrations in the worst areas, but may also be possible in more affluent areas because of distribution problems, specialised agriculture and aggressive pricing … a succession of poor harvests may cause major price spikes resulting in significant economic and political turbulence,” a document warned.

Leaving the EU could be an opportunity for a radical rethink of the food system, but the government shows little sign of grasping it. So when I see glossy magazine pictures and Instagram snaps of summer dishes conjured up in the middle of winter of ingredients flown in from distant climes, I wonder if, a couple of decades from now, we will look to ourselves like the late Victorian colonials photographed proudly next to dead lions and other game in Africa. They could hardly have imagined they were consuming their world out of existence.

Cricket Captains aren't that important anymore. Same for high paid Business Leaders

Tim Wigmore in Cricinfo

It has been a seminal fortnight for the England cricket team. The country has a new Test match captain, and Joe Root's appointment could herald obvious changes to the team's approach, on and off the field. Yet whether the change of captaincy will have any positive or negative effect on results is an altogether different matter.

How much does individual leadership really matter? It's a question valid in cricket, sport and beyond.

"Being in charge isn't what it used to be," writes Moisés Naím in The End of Power. He shows how, for all the focus on the figureheads of teams, the powers of leaders are being eroded, in everything from business to politics and the military. "In the 21st century, power is easier to get, harder to use - and easier to lose," Naím says, arguing that, because of the digital revolution, the collapse of deference, and increased accountability within organisations, the powerful now face more limitations on their power than ever before. In the second half of the 20th century, weaker sides (in terms of soldiers and weapons) achieved their strategic goals in the majority of wars. The tenures of chief executives are becoming shorter, and those in charge also face more internal constraints on their power than ever before.

The most successful leaders have never been more venerated: the leadership-coaching industry is worth an estimated US$50 billion every year, brimming with corporate bigwigs attempting to learn the "lessons" of other leaders' success. Yet there is no real evidence of the enduring superstar qualities of those who cash in. Award-winning chief executives subsequently underperform, both against their own performance and against non-prize-winning CEOs, as research by Ulrike Malmendier and Geoffrey Tate shows. A lot of the lauded CEOs' previous success, in other words, might have been simply luck, and their subsequent underperformance regression to the mean.

The obsession with leadership extends to sport, yet leaders' power is being reduced here also. "In early-modern sports - the late 19th century - there was little or no coaching and hence the captain on the field had a significant leadership role to play," explains the sports economist and historian Stefan Szymanski. "As sport became more organised and coaching strategy developed, the role of the captain on the field diminished."

Compared with other sports, cricket is unusual in giving as much power to the captain as it does. Yet the cricket captain has not been immune to the wider erosion in the importance of leadership across sport. "The role is declining as the potential of coaches to add analytical support based on data analysis has increased," Szymanski says.

It is instructive to compare the responsibility of Mike Brearley to that of Root today. While Root will be supported by a coterie of coaches, physiologists and analysts, Brearley operated before the modern coach, and had to oversee warming up and stretching before each day. In the days of amateurism, captains even had to motivate amateurs to play at all. Today the captain is far more important in club cricket, where they have no coaches to aid them and often face an arduous task to even get a full team together, than in the professional game.

The power of individual coaches has also been diminished, because the responsibilities that were once the preserve of one man are now divided up among a multitude of personnel. In international cricket teams today, what were, 25 years ago, the sole functions of the coach are now divided up among what often amounts to a 2nd XI of support staff.

While the narrative of football's Premier League now revolves around managers, each result explored through the prism of their success or failure, perhaps they have never mattered less. In the 1930s, Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman not merely coached innovatively but led Arsenal to introduce numbered shirts, and build floodlights and a new stand. Unless they are named Arsene Wenger, the average Premier League manager now lasts a year in the job. Given the complexities of modern sport, there is a limit to what they can do. Indeed, studies of poorly performing clubs find that performances improve by an almost identical amount whether or not a new manager is appointed. The new boss, then, is rarely much better or worse than the old boss.

The book Soccernomics finds a 90% correlation between wage bills and league finishes over a ten-year period; just 10% of top-flight managers consistently overachieve when wages are factored into account. So, brilliant leadership can make a difference, but only in exceptional cases. It was not merely modesty that led Yogi Berra, when asked what made a great baseball coach, to reply: "A great ball team."

Joe Root will enjoy the services of several coaches, analysts and managers in his role as England's Test captain, thereby diffusing his leadership responsibilities © Getty Images

The captain in golf's Ryder Cup has a job akin to the coach in other sports. It offers a prime example of how narratives are constructed around the leader, assigning them more power than they really have. In The Captain Myth, Richard Gillis explores how victories or defeats are retrospectively explained through a captain's mistakes or shrewd decisions. Every match must consist of a Good Captain and Bad Captain, and the Good Captain is always the victor. The trouble with this simplistic narrative is that, as Paul Azinger, who led the US to victory in the 2008 Ryder Cup, reflects, "There have been some captains who have micro-managed everything and lost. There have been captains who were drunk every night and won. There is no blueprint on winning."

There is a paradox to leadership in modern sport. Leaders have never faced more scrutiny - but most have never had less power. Professionalism and the explosion of money in sport means that decisions once the sole preserve of a captain or head coach are now influenced by dozens of others behind the scenes: specialist coaches, performance analysts who mine data, dieticians, psychologists and those responsible for nurturing academy players. Perhaps the cricket team that has performed most above themselves in recent years is Northamptonshire in the T20 Blast. Reaching three finals in four years has not just been a triumph for Alex Wakely's astute captaincy, but also for the coaching staff, the data analyst, the physio and all those involved in player recruitment.

The reluctance to recognise the limits of leadership has deep roots. We are a storytelling species. People make for much better stories than underlying, impersonal factors; Soccernomics shows that success in international football can broadly be explained by three factors - population size, GDP, and experience playing the sport - that have nothing to do with leadership. In The Captain Myth, Gillis writes that, because of psychological biases "meshed with our obsession with celebrity, it's easy to understand how the captain has become such a prominent figure in the sports world". In cricket, he tells me that "the decisions of the captain can be significant, but the relationship between the decisions and the outcome is not linear, it's far messier than that, and makes a far less enjoyable tale".

As much as coaches and fans crave inspirational leadership, in modern sport, with huge and complex professional structures to manage, perhaps it is easier for a single leader to make a negative difference than a positive one. "Good captaincy and coaching have far less of an impact on outcomes than bad captaincy and coaching does," believes Trent Woodhill, a leading T20 coach. Bad leadership can marginalise and disempower the backroom team, effectively preventing support staff from doing their jobs properly. Beyond sport, Naím believes that we are in an age of "heightened vulnerability to bad ideas and bad leaders". The analysis extends beyond sport. Disruptive technology has not only changed the nature of power, Naím believes, but also led to an age of "heightened vulnerability to bad ideas and bad leaders".

Root has captained in just four first-class games, yet this is in keeping with modern norms. That Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Kane Williamson have all been successful after their appointments as captain, despite a derisory amount of prior leadership experience in professional sport, suggests that captaincy experience - and, by implication, captaincy skill - is simply not that important. The absence of specialist captains, at both domestic and international level, also reflects a recognition of the limits of what a skipper can achieve.

"Playing in the middle and understanding the demands is more important than captaincy," Andrew Strauss said when Root was unveiled. The greatest potential boon of a Root captaincy lies not in a new culture he might create, or more enterprising leadership, but the possibility of greater run-scoring: if Alastair Cook is reinvigorated without the leadership, while, in keeping with recent England captains, Root's own batting initially enjoys an upswing.

Leadership is not irrelevant. Occasionally cricketers are particularly suited to a leadership role - Brearley, Graeme Smith, or Misbah-ul-Haq, say; some, like Kevin Pietersen, might be the opposite. But the overwhelming majority of captains are bunched in the middle - and, in any case, a captain's ability to do good is marginal, now more than ever. For all the tendency to focus on a team's figurehead, great leadership is a collective endeavour, and operates against wider limitations. Perhaps this is why Strauss is so unperturbed by Root's lack of captaincy experience. Only rarely does the identity of a captain really matter.