Thursday, 28 February 2019

Think like a civilisation

The biggest casualty of unquestioning enthusiasm for war is democracy and rational thought writes Shiv Vishwanathan

This essay is a piece of dissent at a time when dissent may not be welcome. It is an attempt to look at what I call the Pulwama syndrome, after India’s bombing of terrorist camps in Pakistan. There is an air of achievement and competence, a feeling that we have given a fitting reply to Pakistan. Newspapers have in unison supported the government, and citizens, from actors to cricketers, have been content in stating their loyalty, literally issuing certificates to the government. Yet watching all this, I feel a deep sense of unease, a feeling that India is celebrating a moment which needs to be located in a different context.

Peace needs courage

It reminded me of something that happened when I was in school. I had just come back from a war movie featuring Winston Churchill. I came back home excitedly and told my father about Churchill. He smiled sadly and said, “Churchill was a bully. He was not fit to touch Gandhi’s chappals.” He then added thoughtfully that “war creates a schoolboy loyalty, half boy scout, half mob”, which becomes epidemic. “Peace,” he said, “demands a courage few men have.” I still remember these lines, and I realised their relevance for the events this week.

One sees an instant unity which is almost miraculous. This sense of unity does not tolerate difference. People take loyalty literally and become paranoid. Crowds attack a long-standing bakery to remove the word ‘Karachi’ from its signage. War becomes an evangelical issue as each man desperately competes to prove his loyalty. Doubt and dissent become impossible, rationality is rare, and pluralism a remote possibility. There is a sense of solidarity with the ruling regime which is surreal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was encrusted with doubts a week before, appears like an untarnished hero. Even the cynicism around these attitudes is ignored. One watches with indifference as Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah virtually claims that security and war are part of his vote bank.

Thought becomes a casualty as people conflate terms such as Kashmiri, Pakistani and Muslim while threatening citizens peacefully pursuing their livelihood. One watches aghast as India turns war into a feud, indifferent to a wider conflagration. The whole country lives from event to event and TV becomes hysterical, not knowing the difference between war and cricket. It is a moment when we congratulate ourselves as a nation, forgetting that we are also a civilisation. In this movement of drum-beating, where jingoism as patriotism is the order of the day, a dissenting voice is not welcome. But dissent demands that one faces one’s fellow citizens with probably more courage than one needs to face the enemy. How does one begin a conversation, create a space for a more critical perspective?

What war feels like

Sadly, India as a country has not experienced war as a totality, unlike Europe or other countries in Asia such as Vietnam or Afghanistan. War has always been an activity at the border. It did not engulf our lives the way World War II corroded Germany or Russia. War is a trauma few nibble at in India. When our leaders talk even of surgical strikes, one is not quite sure whether they know the difference between Haldighati or modern war. They seem like actors enacting an outdated play. In fact, one wonders whether India as a society has thought through the idea of war. We talk of war as if it is a problem of traffic control. Our strategists, our international relations experts fetishise security and patriotism. The aridity of the idea of security has done more damage to freedom and democracy than any other modern concept. Security as an official concept needs a genocidal count, an accounting of the number of lives and bodies destroyed in pursuing its logic. The tom-tomming of such words in a bandwagon society destroys the power and pluralism of the idea of India as a society and a democracy.

The biggest casualty of such enthusiasm for war is democracy and rational thought. Our leaders know that the minute we create a demonology around Pakistan, we cease to think rationally or creatively about our own behaviour in Kashmir. We can talk with ease about Pakistani belligerency, about militarism in Pakistan, but we refuse to reflect on our own brutality in Kashmir or Manipur. At a time when the Berlin Wall appears like a distant nightmare and Ulster begins appearing normal, should not India as a creative democracy ask, why is there a state of internal war in Kashmir and the Northeast for decades? Why is it we do not have the moral leadership to challenge Pakistan to engage in peace? Why is it that we as a nation think we are a democracy when internal war and majoritarian mobs are eating into the core of our civilisation? Where does India stand in its vision of the civility of internationalism which we articulated through Panchsheel? Because Pakistan behaves as a rogue state, should we abandon the civilisational dream of a Mohandas Gandhi or an Abdul Ghaffar Khan?

Even if we think strategically, we are losers. Strategy today has been appropriated by the machismo of militarism and management. It has become a term without ethics or values. Strategy, unlike tactics, is a long-range term. It summons a value framework in any decent society. Sadly, strategy shows that India is moving into a geopolitical trap where China, which treats Pakistan as a vassal state, is the prime beneficiary of Pulwama. The Chinese as a society and a regime would be content to see an authoritarian India militarised, sans its greatest achievement which is democracy. What I wish to argue is that strategy also belongs to the perspectives of peace, and it is precisely as a democracy and as a peace-loving nation that we should out-think and outflank China. Peace is not an effeminate challenge to the machismo of the national security state as idol but a civilisational response to the easy brutality of the nation state.

Dissent as survival

In debating with our fellow citizens, we have to show through a Gandhian mode that our sense of Swadeshi and Swaraj is no less. Peace has responsibilities which an arid sense of patriotism may not have. Yet we are condemned to conversation, to dialogue, to arguments persuading those who are sceptical about the very integrity of our being. Dissent becomes an act of both survival and creative caring at this moment. One must realise that India as a civilisation has given the world some of its most creative concepts of peace, inspired by Buddha, Nanak, Kabir, Ghaffar Khan and Gandhi. The challenge before peacedom is to use these visions creatively in a world which takes nuclear war and genocide for granted. Here civil society, the ashram and the university must help create that neighbourhood of ideas, the civics that peace demands to go beyond the current imaginaries of the nation state.

Our peace is a testimony and testament to a society that must return to its civilisational values. It is an appeal to the dreams of the satyagrahi and a realisation that peace needs ideas, ideals and experiments to challenge the current hegemony of the nation state. India as a civilisation cannot do otherwise.

The One Skill That Beats Talent

Imran Khan's speech to Pakistan Parliament

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Why do so many incompetent men win at work?

 Emma Jacobs in The FT

 “Women are better leaders,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. “I am not neutral on this. I am sexist in favour of women. Women have better people skills, more altruistic, better able to control their impulses. They outperform men in university at graduate and undergraduate levels.” 

This subject is explored in his new book, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It). In it, he writes that “traits like overconfidence and self-absorption should be seen as red flags”, when, in fact, the opposite tends to happen. As Prof Chamorro-Premuzic puts it: “They prompt us to say: ‘Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material.’” 

It is this mistaken insistence that confidence equates to greatness that is the reason so many ill-suited men get top jobs, he argues. “The result in both business and politics is a surplus of incompetent men in charge, and this surplus reduces opportunities for competent people — women and men — while keeping the standards of leadership depressingly low.” 

This book is based on a Harvard Business Review blog of the same title which was published in 2013, and which elicited more feedback than any of his previous books or articles. He is currently professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, as well as being the “chief talent scientist” at Manpower Group and co-founder of two companies that deploy technological tools to enhance staff retention. This book builds on two of his professional interests: data and confidence. 

Too often, he argues, we use intuition rather than metrics to judge whether someone is competent. In his book he argues that confidence may well be a “compensatory strategy for lower competence”. The modern mantra to just believe in yourself is possibly foolish. Perhaps, he suggests, modesty is not false but an accurate awareness of one’s talents and limitations. 

The book’s title has been “too provocative” for many, Prof Chamorro-Premuzic tells me on the phone from Brooklyn, where he spends most of his time, juggling his teaching and corporate roles. “A lot of female leaders said they can’t endorse it as [they are] worried about looking like man-haters.” Some female colleagues feel depressed that his message is being heard because he is a man, whereas if it came from them it would be “dismissed”. Men criticise him for “virtue-signalling”. 

He makes a convincing case for a more modest style of leader, focused on the team rather than advancing their own careers. Angela Merkel is the “most boring and best leader” in politics, he says. In the corporate sphere, he picks Warren Buffett who, he says, started off as a finance geek and taught himself leadership skills. David Cameron, the former British prime minister, is cited as an example of misplaced confidence in a leader — he held a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, sure that he would win, an assurance that, as it turned out, was misplaced. 

A quiet leadership style is often overlooked as heads are turned by bravado and narcissism. “There is a cult of confidence,” says Prof Chamorro-Premuzic. In part this is because confidence is “easier to observe”. It is harder to discern whether someone is a good leader. “What we see is what we rely on, what we see is visible.” 

People “overrate their intuition”, he says. Too often it turns out to be “nepotistic, self-serving choices . . . most organisations don’t have data to tell you if the leader is good.” 

Those leaders who are celebrated for their volatility and short fuses, such as the late Apple boss Steve Jobs, might have succeeded despite, not because of, their personality defects, he argues. 

One common narrative holds that women are held back by a lack of confidence, yet studies show this to be a fallacy. Perhaps it would be better to say that they are less likely to overrate themselves. The book cites one study from Columbia University which found that men overstated their maths ability by 30 per cent and women by 15 per cent. 

It is also the case, he writes, that women are penalised for appearing confident: “Their mistakes are judged more harshly and remembered longer. Their behaviour is scrutinised more carefully and their colleagues are less likely to share vital information with them. When women speak, they’re more likely to be interrupted or ignored.” 

“The fundamental role of self-confidence is not to be as high as possible,” he adds, “but to be in sync with ability.” 

Prof Chamorro-Premuzic’s interest in leadership was nurtured while growing up in Argentina, a country that he describes as having had one terrible leader after another. He came from a pocket of Buenos Aires known as Villa Freud for its high concentration of psychotherapists (even his family dog had a therapist), so it was a natural step to enter the field of psychology. 

There are many observations in the book that posit women as the superior sex, for example, citing their higher emotional intelligence. Such biological essentialism has been contested, for example by Cordelia Fine in her book Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds. 

Prof Chamorro-Premuzic says describing such differences as “hard-wired” would be an “overstatement”. Nonetheless, he argues that men score higher for impulsivity, risk-taking, narcissism, aggression and overconfidence; while women do better on emotional intelligence, empathy, altruism, self-awareness and humility. 

The book’s central message, though, is not to make a case for preferential treatment for women, but rather to “elevate the standards of leadership”. We should be making it harder for terrible men to get to the top, rather than focusing solely on removing the hurdles for women. 

He makes the argument against setting quotas for women in senior positions, which, Prof Chamorro-Premuzic says, can look like special pleading. Rather, he says: “We should minimise biases when it comes to evaluating leaders, rely less and less on human valuations and use performance data.” 

Raising the leadership game will boost the number of women in such positions, but it will also highlight talented but modest men who are typically overlooked. “There are many competent men who are being disregarded for leadership roles,” he says. “They don’t float hypermasculine leadership roles.”

Saturday, 23 February 2019

The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders, and real reform

 By Thomas Frank in Harper's Magazine in 2016

All politicians love to complain about the press. They complain for good reasons and bad. They cry over frivolous slights and legitimate inquiries alike. They moan about bias. They talk to friendlies only. They manipulate reporters and squirm their way out of questions. And this all makes perfect sense, because politicians and the press are, or used to be, natural enemies.

Conservative politicians have built their hostility toward the press into a full-blown theory of liberal media bias, a pseudosociology that is today the obsessive pursuit of certain nonprofit foundations, the subject matter of an annual crop of books, and the beating heart of a successful cable-news network. Donald Trump, the current leader of the right’s war against the media, hates this traditional foe so much that he banned a number of news outlets from attending his campaign events and has proposed measures to encourage more libel lawsuits. He does this even though he owes his prominence almost entirely to his career as a TV celebrity and to the news media’s morbid fascination with his glowering mug.

His Democratic opponent hates the press, too. Hillary Clinton may not have a general theory of right-wing media bias to fall back on, but she knows that she has been the subject of lurid journalistic speculation for decades. Back in the Nineties, she watched her husband’s presidency drown in an endless series of petty scandals and petty fake scandals, many of them featuring her as a kind of diabolical villainess, and to this day, she stays well clear of press conferences. She does this even though it was the passionate enthusiasm of the punditry that made her husband a real contender in 1992—and even though she has stayed close to several commentators who did exemplary pro-Clinton journalism back in those days.

My project in the pages that follow is to review the media’s attitude toward yet a third politician, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year. By examining this recent history, much of it already forgotten, I hope to rescue a number of worthwhile facts about the press’s attitude toward Sanders. Just as crucially, however, I intend to raise some larger questions about the politics of the media in this time of difficulty and transition (or, depending on your panic threshold, industry-wide apocalypse) for newspapers.

To refresh your memory, the Vermont senator is an independent who likes to call himself a “democratic socialist.” He ran for the nomination on a platform of New Deal–style economic interventions such as single-payer health insurance, a regulatory war on big banks, and free tuition at public universities. Sanders was well to the left of where modern Democratic presidential candidates ordinarily stand, and in most elections, he would have been dismissed as a marginal figure, more petrified wood than presidential timber. But 2016 was different. It was a volcanic year, with the middle class erupting over a recovery that didn’t include them and the obvious indifference of Washington, D.C., toward the economic suffering in vast reaches of the country.

For once, a politician like Sanders seemed to have a chance with the public. He won a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and despite his advanced age and avuncular finger-wagging, he was wildly popular among young voters. Eventually he was flattened by the Clinton juggernaut, of course, but Sanders managed to stay competitive almost all the way to the California primary in June.

His chances with the prestige press were considerably more limited. Before we go into details here, let me confess: I was a Sanders voter, and even interviewed him back in 2014, so perhaps I am naturally inclined to find fault in others’ reporting on his candidacy. Perhaps it was the very particular media diet I was on in early 2016, which consisted of daily megadoses of the New York Times and the Washington Post and almost nothing else. Even so, I have never before seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.

This shocked me when I first noticed it. It felt like the news stories went out of their way to mock Sanders or to twist his words, while the op-ed pages, which of course don’t pretend to be balanced, seemed to be of one voice in denouncing my candidate. A New York Times article greeted the Sanders campaign in December by announcing that the public had moved away from his signature issue of the crumbling middle class. “Americans are more anxious about terrorism than income inequality,” the paper declared—nice try, liberal, and thanks for playing. In March, the Times was caught making a number of post-publication tweaks to a news story about the senator, changing what had been a sunny tale of his legislative victories into a darker account of his outrageous proposals. When Sanders was finally defeated in June, the same paper waved him goodbye with a bedtime-for-Grandpa headline, hillary clinton made history, but bernie sanders stubbornly ignored it.

I propose that we look into this matter methodically, and that we do so by examining Sanders-related opinion columns in a single publication: the Washington Post, the conscience of the nation’s political class and one of America’s few remaining first-rate news organizations. I admire the Post’s investigative and beat reporting. What I will focus on here, however, are pieces published between January and May 2016 on the paper’s editorial and op-ed pages, as well as on its many blogs. Now, editorials and blog posts are obviously not the same thing as news stories: punditry is my subject here, and its practitioners have never aimed to be nonpartisan. They do not, therefore, show media bias in the traditional sense. But maybe the traditional definition needs to be updated. We live in an era of reflexive opinionating and quasi opinionating, and we derive much of our information about the world from websites that have themselves blurred the distinction between reporting and commentary, or obliterated it completely. For many of us, this ungainly hybrid is the news. What matters, in any case, is that all the pieces I review here, whether they appeared in pixels or in print, bear the imprimatur of the Washington Post, the publication that defines the limits of the permissible in the capital city.

Why should anyone care today that the pundits were unkind to Bernie Sanders? The primaries are long over. Even the senator’s most die-hard fans suspect that he is unlikely to run for the presidency again. His campaign is, as we like to say, history. Still, I think that what befell the Vermont senator at the hands of the Post should be of interest to all of us. For starters, what I describe here represents a challenge to the standard theory of liberal bias. Sanders was, obviously, well to the left of Hillary Clinton, and yet that did not protect him from the scorn of the Post—a paper that media-hating conservatives regard as a sort of liberal death squad. Nor was Sanders undone by some seedy journalistic obsession with scandal or pseudoscandal. On the contrary, his record seemed remarkably free of public falsehoods, security-compromising email screwups, suspiciously large paychecks for pedestrian speeches, escapades with a comely staffer, or any of that stuff.

An alternative hypothesis is required for what happened to Sanders, and I want to propose one that takes into account who the media are in these rapidly changing times. As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post,there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views. He seems to have represented something horrifying, something that could not be spoken of directly but that clearly needed to be suppressed.

Who are those people? Let us think of them in the following way. The Washington Post, with its constant calls for civility, with its seemingly genetic predisposition for bipartisanship and consensus, is more than the paper of record for the capital—it is the house organ of a meritocratic elite, which views the federal city as the arena of its professional practice. Many of its leading personalities hail from a fairly exalted socioeconomic background (as is the case at most important American dailies). Its pundits are not workaday chroniclers of high-school football games or city-council meetings. They are professionals in the full sense of the word, well educated and well connected, often flaunting insider credentials of one sort or another. They are, of course, a comfortable bunch. And when they look around at the comfortable, well-educated folks who work in government, academia, Wall Street, medicine, and Silicon Valley, they see their peers.11 The professionalization of journalism is a well-known historical narrative. James Fallows, in Breaking the News (1996), describes how journalism went from being “a high working-class activity” to an occupation for “college boys” in the mid-1960s. The Washington Post’s role in this story, as a compulsive employer of Ivy League graduates, is also well known. Indeed, the concentration of obnoxious Ivy Leaguers at the Post was once so great, Fallows writes, that editor Leonard Downie (who went to Ohio State) was known among his colleagues as “Land-Grant Len.” At present, five of the eight members of the Post’s editorial board are graduates of Ivy League universities.

Now, consider the recent history of the Democratic Party. Beginning in the 1970s, it has increasingly become an organ of this same class. Affluent white-collar professionals are today the voting bloc that Democrats represent most faithfully, and they are the people whom Democrats see as the rightful winners in our economic order. Hillary Clinton, with her fantastic résumé and her life of striving and her much-commented-on qualifications, represents the aspirations of this class almost perfectly. An accomplished lawyer, she is also in with the foreign-policy in crowd; she has the respect of leading economists; she is a familiar face to sophisticated financiers. She knows how things work in the capital. To Washington Democrats, and possibly to many Republicans, she is not just a candidate but a colleague, the living embodiment of their professional worldview.

In Bernie Sanders and his “political revolution,” on the other hand, I believe these same people saw something kind of horrifying: a throwback to the low-rent Democratic politics of many decades ago. Sanders may refer to himself as a progressive, but to the affluent white-collar class, what he represented was atavism, a regression to a time when demagogues in rumpled jackets pandered to vulgar public prejudices against banks and capitalists and foreign factory owners. Ugh.

Choosing Clinton over Sanders was, I think, a no-brainer for this group. They understand modern economics, they know not to fear Wall Street or free trade. And they addressed themselves to the Sanders campaign by doing what professionals always do: defining the boundaries of legitimacy, by which I mean, defining Sanders out.

After reading through some two hundred Post editorials and op-eds about Sanders, I found a very basic disparity. Of the Post stories that could be said to take an obvious stand, the negative outnumbered the positive roughly five to one.2 (Opinion pieces about Hillary Clinton, by comparison, came much closer to a fifty-fifty split.)

One of the factors making this result so lopsided was the termination, in December, of Harold Meyerson, a social democrat and the only regular Post op-ed personality who might have been expected to support Sanders consistently. Fred Hiatt, who oversees the paper’s editorial page, told Politico that Meyerson “failed to attract readers.” Meyerson offered the magazine an additional explanation for his firing. Hiatt, he said, had blamed his unpopularity on his habit of writing about “unions and Germany”—meaning, presumably, that nation’s status as a manufacturing paradise.2 For research purposes, I used the Nexis electronic search service to find allWashington Post stories mentioning Bernie Sanders and identified as “editorial copy.” Judgments of what constituted “negative” and “positive” were made by me and a Harper’s Magazine intern and were entirely subjective. In arriving at this ratio, I did not count letters to the editor, articles that appeared in other sections of the paper, or blog posts, even though a number of the latter are reviewed in this essay. Throughout, I have used print rather than online headlines (which sometimes differ for identical stories). And finally: I am indebted to Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting for his help with this essay.

But the factor that really mattered was that the Post’s pundit platoon just seemed to despise Bernie Sanders. The rolling barrage against him began during the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, when it first dawned on Washington that the Vermonter might have a chance of winning. And so a January 20 editorial headlined level with us, mr. sanders decried his “lack of political realism” and noted with a certain amount of fury that Sanders had no plans for “deficit reduction” or for dealing with Social Security spending—standard Postsignifiers for seriousness. That same day, Catherine Rampell insisted that the repeal of Glass–Steagall “had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis,” and that those populists who pined for the old system of bank regulation were just revealing “the depths of their ignorance.”33 In point of fact, several authoritative works on the crisis describe how the multi-step repeal of Glass–Steagall (and the weak regulation that replaced it) set the stage for the meltdown. Nevertheless, dismissing the significance of the Glass–Steagall repeal was a frequent talking point for anti-Sanders pundits, possibly because (a) that’s what Hillary Clinton was saying, and (b) it showed their solidarity with the many experts and politicians who had participated in the repeal of Glass–Steagall, and (c) Glass–Steagall was killed off by the very sort of universal, bipartisan consensus that the Post frequently claims to be the model of correct policymaking.

The next morning, Charles Lane piled on with an essay ridiculing Sanders’s idea that there was a “billionaire class” that supported conservative causes. Many billionaires, Lane pointed out, are actually pretty liberal on social issues. “Reviewing this history,” he harrumphed, “you could almost get the impression billionaires have done more to advance progressive causes than Bernie Sanders has.”

On January 27, with the Iowa caucuses just days away, Dana Milbank nailed it with a headline: nominating sanders would be insane. After promising that he adored the Vermont senator, he cautioned his readers that “socialists don’t win national elections in the United States.” The next day, the paper’s editorial board chimed in with a campaign full of fiction, in which they branded Sanders as a kind of flimflam artist: “Mr. Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction to a slice of the country that eagerly wants to buy it.”

Stung by the Post’s trolling, Bernie Sanders fired back—which in turn allowed no fewer than three of the paper’s writers to report on the conflict between the candidate and their employer as a bona fide news item. Sensing weakness, the editorial board came back the next morning with yet another kidney punch, this one headlined the real problem with mr. sanders. By now, you can guess what that problem was: his ideas weren’t practical, and besides, he still had “no plausible plan for plugging looming deficits as the population ages.”

Actually, that was only one of two editorials to appear on January 29 berating Sanders. The other sideswiped the senator in the course of settling a question of history, evidently one of the paper’s regular duties. After the previous week’s lesson about Glass–Steagall, the editorial board now instructed politicians to stop reviling tarp—i.e., the Wall Street bailouts with which the Bush and Obama Administrations tried to halt the financial crisis. The bailouts had been controversial, the paper acknowledged, but they were also bipartisan, and opposing or questioning them in the Sanders manner was hereby declared anathema. After all, the editorial board intoned:

Contrary to much rhetoric, Wall Street banks and bankers still took losses and suffered upheaval, despite the bailout—but TARP helped limit the collateral damage that Main Street suffered from all of that. If not for the ingenuity of the executive branch officials who designed and carried out the program, and the responsibility of the legislators who approved it, the United States would be in much worse shape economically.

As a brief history of the financial crisis and the bailout, this is absurd. It is true that bailing out Wall Street was probably better than doing absolutely nothing, but saying this ignores the many other options that were available to public officials had they shown any real ingenuity in holding institutions accountable. All the Wall Street banks that existed at the time of TARP are flourishing to this day, since the government moved heaven and earth to spare them the consequences of the toxic securities they had issued and the lousy mortgage bets they made. The big banks were “made whole,” as the saying goes. Main Street banks, meanwhile, died off by the hundreds in 2009 and 2010. And average home owners, of course, got no comparable bailout. Instead, Main Street America saw trillions in household wealth disappear; it entered into a prolonged recession, with towering unemployment, increasing inequality, and other effects that linger to this day. There has never been a TARP for the rest of us.

Charles Krauthammer went into action on January 29, too, cautioning the Democrats that they “would be risking a November electoral disaster of historic dimensions” should they nominate Sanders—cynical advice that seems even more poisonous today, as scandal after scandal engulfs the Democratic candidate that so many Post pundits favored. Ruth Marcus brought the hammer down two days later, marveling at the folly of voters who thought the Vermont senator could achieve any of the things he aimed for. Had they forgotten “Obama’s excruciating experience with congressional Republicans”? The Iowa caucuses came the next day, and Stephen Stromberg was at the keyboard to identify the “three delusions” that supposedly animated the campaigns of Sanders and the Republican Ted Cruz alike. Namely: they had abandoned the “center,” they believed that things were bad in the United States, and they perceived an epidemic of corruption—in Sanders’s case, corruption via billionaires and campaign contributions. Delusions all.

And then, mirabile dictu, the Post ran an op-ed bearing the headline the case for bernie sanders (in iowa). It was not an endorsement of Sanders, of course (“This is not an endorsement of Sanders,” its author wrote), but it did favor the idea of a sustained conversation among Democrats. The people of Iowa “must make sure” that the battle between Clinton and Sanders continued. It was the best the Post could do, I suppose, before reverting to its customary position.

On and on it went, for month after month, a steady drumbeat of denunciation. The paper hit every possible anti-Sanders note, from the driest kind of math-based policy reproach to the lowest sort of nerd-shaming—from his inexcusable failure to embrace taxes on soda pop to his awkward gesticulating during a debate with Hillary Clinton (“an unrelenting hand jive,” wrote Post dance critic Sarah L. Kaufman, “that was missing only an upright bass and a plunky piano”).

The paper’s piling-up of the senator’s faults grew increasingly long and complicated. Soon after Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, the editorial board denounced him and Trump both as “unacceptable leaders” who proposed “simple-sounding” solutions. Sanders used the plutocracy as a “convenient scapegoat.” He was hostile to nuclear power. He didn’t have a specific recipe for breaking up the big banks. He attacked trade deals with “bogus numbers that defy the overwhelming consensus among economists.” This last charge was a particular favorite of Post pundits: David Ignatius and Charles Lane both scolded the candidate for putting prosperity at risk by threatening our trade deals. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer grew so despondent over the meager 2016 options that he actually pined for the lost days of the Bill Clinton presidency, when America was tough on crime, when welfare was being reformed, and when free trade was accorded its proper respect.

Ah, but none of this was to imply that Bernie Sanders, flouter of economic consensus, was a friend to the working class. Here too he was written off as a failure. Instead of encouraging the lowly to work hard and get “prepared for the new economy,” moaned Michael Gerson, the senator was merely offering them goodies—free health care and college—in the manner of outmoded “20th century liberalism.” Others took offense at Sanders’s health-care plan because it envisioned something beyond Obamacare, which had been won at such great cost.

This brings us to the question of qualifications, a non-issue that nevertheless caused enormous alarm among the punditry for a good part of April. Columnist after columnist and blogger after blogger offered judgments on how ridiculous, how very unjustified it was for Sanders to suggest Clinton wasn’t qualified for the presidency, and whether or not Clinton hadn’t started the whole thing first by implying Sanders wasn’t qualified, and whether she was right when she did or didn’t make that accusation. Reporters got into the act, too, wringing their hands over the lamentable “tone” of the primary contest and wondering what it portended for November. Maybe you’ve forgotten about this pointless roundelay, but believe me, it happened; acres of trees fell so that every breathless minute of it could be documented.

Then there was Sanders’s supposed tin ear for racial issues. Jonathan Capehart (a blogger, op-ed writer, and member of the paper’s editorial board) described the senator as a candidate with limited appeal among black voters, who had trouble talking “about issues of race outside of the confines of class and poverty” and was certainly no heir to Barack Obama. Sanders was conducting a “magic-wand campaign,” Capehart insisted on another occasion, since his voting-reform proposals would never be carried out. Even the inspiring story of the senator’s salad days in the civil-rights movement turned out to be tainted once Capehart started sleuthing. In February, the columnist examined a famous photograph from a 1962 protest and declared that the person in the picture wasn’t Sanders at all. Even when the photographer who took the image told Capehart that it was indeed Sanders, the Post grandee refused to apologize, fudging the issue with bromides: “This is a story where memory and historical certitude clash.” Clearly Sanders is someone to whom the ordinary courtesies of journalism do not apply.

Extra credit is due to Dana Milbank, one of the paper’s cleverest columnists, who kept varying his angle of attack. In February, he name-checked the Bernie Bros—socialist cyberbullies who were turning comment sections into pens of collectivist terror. In March, Milbank assured readers that Democrats were too “satisfied” to sign up with a rebel like Sanders. In April, he lamented Sanders’s stand on trade on the grounds that it was similar to Trump’s and that it would be hard on poor countries. In May, Milbank said he thought it was just awful the way frustrated Sanders supporters cursed and “threw chairs” at the Nevada Democratic convention—and something close to treachery when Sanders failed to rebuke those supporters afterward.4 “It is no longer accurate to say Sanders is campaigning against Clinton, who has essentially locked up the nomination,” the columnist warned on the occasion of the supposed chair-throwing. “The Vermont socialist is now running against the Democratic Party. And that’s excellent news for one Donald J. Trump.”4 The incident of the tossed chairs was cause for much clucking in Post-land. It was mentioned in an editorial on May 19 and referred to in at least three other stories. The myth of the thrown chairs turned out to be hugely exaggerated, while the D.N.C.’s non-neutrality was later established as fact.

The danger of Trump became an overwhelming fear as primary season drew to a close, and it redoubled the resentment toward Sanders. By complaining about mistreatment from the Democratic apparatus, the senator was supposedly weakening the party before its coming showdown with the billionaire blowhard. This matter, like so many others, found columnists and bloggers and op-ed panjandrums in solemn agreement. Even Eugene Robinson, who had stayed fairly neutral through most of the primary season, piled on in a May 20 piece, blaming Sanders and his noisy horde for “deliberately stoking anger and a sense of grievance—less against Clinton than the party itself,” actions that “could put Trump in the White House.” By then, the paper had buttressed its usual cast of pundits with heavy hitters from outside its own peculiar ecosystem. In something of a journalistic coup, the Post opened its blog pages in April to Jeffrey R. Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, so that he, too, could join in the chorus of denunciation aimed at the senator from Vermont. Comfort the comfortable, I suppose—and while you’re at it, be sure to afflict the afflicted.

It should be noted that there were some important exceptions to what I have described. The paper’s blogs, for instance, published regular pieces by Sanders sympathizers like Katrina vanden Heuvel and the cartoonist Tom Toles. (The blogs also featured the efforts of a few really persistent Clinton haters.) The Sunday Outlook section once featured a pro-Sanders essay by none other than Ralph Nader, a kind of demon figure and clay pigeon for many of the paper’s commentators. But readers of the editorial pages had to wait until May 26 to see a really full-throated essay supporting Sanders’s legislative proposals. Penned by Jeffrey Sachs, the eminent economist and professor at Columbia University, it insisted that virtually all the previous debate on the subject had been irrelevant, because standard economic models did not take into account the sort of large-scale reforms that Sanders was advocating:

It’s been decades since the United States had a progressive economic strategy, and mainstream economists have forgotten what one can deliver. In fact, Sanders’s recipes are supported by overwhelming evidence—notably from countries that already follow the policies he advocates. On health care, growth and income inequality, Sanders wins the policy debate hands down.

It was a striking departure from what nearly every opinionator had been saying for the preceding six months. Too bad it came just eleven days before the Post, following the lead of the Associated Press, declared Hillary Clinton to be the preemptive winner of the Democratic nomination.

What can we learn from reviewing one newspaper’s lopsided editorial treatment of a left-wing presidential candidate?

For one thing, we learn that the Washington Post, that gallant defender of a free press, that bold bringer-down of presidents, has a real problem with some types of political advocacy. Certain ideas, when voiced by certain people, are not merely debatable or incorrect or misguided, in the paper’s view: they are inadmissible. The ideas themselves might seem healthy, they might have a long and distinguished history, they might be commonplace in other lands. Nevertheless, when voiced by the people in question, they become damaging.

We hear a lot these days about the dangers to speech posed by political correctness, about those insane left-wing college students who demand to be shielded from uncomfortable ideas. What I am describing here is something similar, but far more consequential. It is the machinery by which the boundaries of the Washington consensus are enforced.

You will recall how, after the Nevada unpleasantness, Eugene Robinson, who claimed to share Sanders’s philosophy, nonetheless condemned the candidate’s criticism of the Democratic Party’s nominating process as “reckless in the extreme.” Impugning the party, Robinson argued, might empower Donald Trump. Looking back from the vantage point of several months, however, it seems to me that the real recklessness is the idea that certain political questions are off-limits to our candidates—that they must not disparage the party machinery, that they must not “revile” the Wall Street bailouts, and so on. Consider the circumstances in which Post pundits demanded that Sanders refrain from disparaging the Democratic National Committee. Democratic elected officials across the country were virtually unanimous in their support of Hillary Clinton, President Obama was doing nearly everything in his power to secure her nomination, and the D.N.C. itself was more or less openly taking her side. All these players were determined (as we later learned) to make this deeply unpopular woman the nominee, regardless of the consequences. Maybe Sanders didn’t have the story exactly right—nobody did, back then. But still: if ever a situation cried out for critique, for millions of newspaper readers gnashing their teeth, this was it.

Perhaps it is reckless of me to say so. Journalists these days are apparently expected to become soldiers in the political war, and so maybe we must weigh what we write against the possibility that it might in some way help the Republican candidate. As I have already noted: I am a liberal, I vote for Democrats, I don’t want Donald Trump to become president, I am almost certainly going to vote for Hillary Clinton. Maybe I should just turn off my laptop right now.

This is a political way of looking at things, I suppose, but it would be more accurate to say that it is anti-political, that it is actively hostile to political ideas. Consider once again the Post’s baseline philosophy, as the editorial board explained it in two February editorials. In one of them, headlined mr. sanders’ attack on reality, the editors denounced the candidate’s “simplistic” views, and argued that by advocating for better policies in certain areas, he was implicitly criticizing President Obama. What’s the harm in that? you might wonder. The Post unfolded its reasoning:

The system—and by this we mean the constitutional structure of checks and balances—requires policymakers to settle for incremental changes. Mr. Obama has scored several ambitious but incomplete reforms that have made people’s lives better while ideologues on both sides took potshots.

What the Post is saying here is that the American system, by its nature, doesn’t permit a president to achieve anything more than “incremental change.” Obama did the best anyone could under this system—indeed, as the paper pointed out, he had “no other option” than to proceed as he did. Therefore he should be exempt from criticism at the hands of other Democrats.

The board explained its philosophy slightly differently in the other editorial, battle of the extremes. Sanders, like Ted Cruz, was said to harbor the toxic belief that “the road to progress is purity, not compromise.” Again, his great failing was his refusal to acknowledge the indisputable rules of the game. Heed the wisdom of our savviest political journalists:

Progress will be made by politicians who are principled but eager to shape compromises, to acknowledge that they do not have a monopoly on wisdom and to accept incremental change. That is a harder message to sell in primary campaigns, but it is a message far likelier to produce a nominee who can win in November—and govern successfully for the next four years.

To say that this gets reality wrong—that there are many examples of sweeping political achievement in U.S. history, that it was indeed possible for Barack Obama to do more than he did in 2009, that even the most ideological politicians sometimes compromise, or that Bernie Sanders (unlike Ted Cruz) actually works well with his Senate colleagues—is only to begin unpacking the errors here. What matters more, though, is the paper’s curious, unrelenting logic. Since sweeping change is structurally impossible, the Postassures us, no such change should be advocated by political candidates. “No we can’t” turns out be the iron law of American politics, and should therefore become the slogan of every aspiring presidential candidate.

Perhaps you have noticed that the paper’s two great ideas, combined in this way, do not really make sense. Let’s say that it’s true, as the Post asserts, that the American system won’t allow a president to achieve high-flown goals—that such accomplishments are simply off-limits, even to a golden-tongued orator or an LBJ-style political animal. Okay. But what’s wrong with a candidate who talks about those goals? By the paper’s own definition, there’s no chance of them ever becoming law. The only person to be penalized for making such grand, hollow promises will be the politician herself, whose followers will be disappointed with her after she foolishly demands a hundred percent of everything (“purity, not compromise”) and is inevitably defeated by the system. Too bad for her, we will say. That was a really dumb way to play it. But why should we care what happens to her?

Indeed, this logic, applied across the board, would require us to condemn even the most pragmatic leaders. What are we to make, for example, of a politician who says we ought to enact some sort of gun control? Everyone knows that there is virtually no way such a measure will get through Congress, and even if it did, there’s the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment to contend with. How about a politician who goes to China and bravely proclaims that “women’s rights are human rights,” when all the wised-up observers know the Chinese system is organized to ensure that such an ideal will not be realized there anytime soon? And shouldn’t the Post be frothing with vituperation at the lèse-majesté of a candidate who once confronted a respected U.S. senator with the suggestion that politics ought to be the “art of making what appears to be impossible possible”?

The reason the Post pundits embrace these tidy sophistries is simple enough. Knee-jerk incrementalism is, after all, a nifty substitute for actually thinking difficult issues through. Bernie Sanders ran for the presidency by proposing reforms that these prestigious commentators, for whatever reason, found distasteful. Rather than grapple with his ideas, however, they simply blew the whistle and ruled them out of bounds. Plans that were impractical, proposals that would never pass Congress—these things are off the table, and they are staying off.

Clinging to this so-called pragmatism is also professionally self-serving. If “realism” is recognized as the ultimate trump card in American politics, it automatically prioritizes the thoughts and observations of the realism experts—also known as the Washington Post and its brother institutions of insider knowledge and professional policy practicality. Realism is what these organizations deal in; if you want it, you must come to them. Legitimacy is quite literally their property. They dole it out as they see fit.

Think of all the grand ideas that flicker in the background of the Sanders-denouncing stories I have just recounted. There is the admiration for consensus, the worship of pragmatism and bipartisanship, the contempt for populist outcry, the repeated equating of dissent with partisan disloyalty. And think of the specific policy pratfalls: the cheers for TARP, the jeers aimed at bank regulation, the dismissal of single-payer health care as a preposterous dream.

This stuff is not mysterious. We can easily identify the political orientation behind it from one of the very first pages of the Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to the Ideologies.This is common Seaboard Centrism, its markings of complacency and smugness as distinctive as ever, its habitat the familiar Beltway precincts of comfort and exclusivity. Whether you encounter it during a recession or a bull market, its call is the same: it reassures us that the experts who head up our system of government have everything well under control.

It is, of course, an ideology of the professional class, of sound-minded East Coast strivers, fresh out of Princeton or Harvard, eagerly quoting as “authorities” their peers in the other professions, whether economists at MIT or analysts at Credit Suisse or political scientists at Brookings. Above all, this is an insider’s ideology; a way of thinking that comes from a place of economic security and takes a view of the common people that is distinctly patrician.

Now, here’s the mystery. As a group, journalists aren’t economically secure. The boom years of journalistic professionalization are long over. Newspapers are museum pieces every bit as much as Bernie Sanders’s New Deal policies. The newsroom layoffs never end: in 2014 alone, 3,800 full-time editorial personnel got the axe, and the bloodletting continues, with Gannett announcing in September a plan to cut more than 200 staffers from its New Jersey papers. Book-review editors are so rare a specimen that they may disappear completely, unless somebody starts breeding them in captivity. The same thing goes for the journalists who once covered police departments and city government. At some papers, opinion columnists are expected to have day jobs elsewhere, and copy editors have largely gone the way of the great auk.

In other words, no group knows the story of the dying middle class more intimately than journalists. So why do the people at the very top of this profession identify themselves with the smug, the satisfied, the powerful? Why would a person working in a moribund industry compose a paean to the Wall Street bailouts? Why would someone like Post opinion writer Stephen Stromberg drop megatons of angry repudiation on a certain Vermont senator for his “outrageous negativity about the state of the country”? For the country’s journalists—Stromberg’s colleagues, technically speaking—that state is pretty goddamned negative.

Maybe it’s something about journalism itself. This is a field, after all, that has embraced the forces that are killing it to an almost pathological degree. No institution has a greater appetite for trendy internet thinkers than journalism schools. We are all desperately convincing ourselves that we need to become entrepreneurs, or to get ourselves attuned to the digital future—the future, that is, as it is described for us hardheaded journalists by a cast of transparent bullshit artists. When the TV comedian John Oliver recently did a riff on the tragic decline of newspaper journalism, just about the only group in America that didn’t like it was—that’s right, the Newspaper Association of America, which didn’t think we should be nostalgic about the days when its members were successful. Truly, we are like buffalo nuzzling the rifles of our hunters.

Or maybe the answer is that people at the top of the journalism hierarchy don’t really identify with their plummeting peers. Maybe the pundit corps thinks it will never suffer the same fate as, say, the Tampa Tribune. And maybe they’re right. As I wrote this story, I kept thinking back to Sound and Fury, a book that Eric Alterman published in 1992, when the power of pundits was something new and slightly alarming. Alterman suggested that the rise of the commentariat was dangerous, since it supplanted the judgment of millions with the clubby perspective of a handful of bogus experts. When he wrote that, of course, newspapers were doing great. Today they are dying, and as they gutter out, one might expect the power of this phony aristocracy to diminish as well. Instead, the opposite has happened: as serious journalism dies, Beltway punditry goes from strength to strength.

It was during that era, too, that the old-school Post columnist David Broder gave a speech deploring the rise of journalistic insiders, who were too chummy with the politicians they were supposed to be covering. This was, he suggested, not only professionally questionable. It also bespoke a fundamental misunderstanding of the journalist’s role as gadfly and societal superego:

I can’t for the life of me fathom why any journalists would want to become insiders, when it’s so damn much fun to be outsiders—irreverent, inquisitive, impudent, incorrigibly independent outsiders—thumbing our nose at authority and going our own way.

Yes, it’s fun to be an outsider, but it’s not particularly remunerative. As the rising waters inundate the Fourth Estate, it is increasingly obvious that becoming an insider is the only way to hoist yourself above the deluge. Maybe that is one reason why the Washington Post attracted the fancy of megabillionaire Jeff Bezos, and why the Postseems to be thriving, with a fancy new office building on K Street and a swelling cohort of young bloggers ravening to be the next George Will, the next Sid Blumenthal. It remains, however precariously, the cradle of the punditocracy.

Meanwhile, between journalism’s insiders and outsiders—between the ones who are rising and the ones who are sinking—there is no solidarity at all. Here in the capital city, every pundit and every would-be pundit identifies upward, always upward. We cling to our credentials and our professional-class fantasies, hobnobbing with senators and governors, trading witticisms with friendly Cabinet officials, helping ourselves to the champagne and lobster. Everyone wants to know our opinion, we like to believe, or to celebrate our birthday, or to find out where we went for cocktails after work last night.

Until the day, that is, when you wake up and learn that the tycoon behind your media concern has changed his mind and everyone is laid off and that it was never really about you in the first place. Gone, the private office or award-winning column or cable-news show. The checks start bouncing. The booker at MSNBC stops calling. And suddenly you find that you are a middle-aged maker of paragraphs—of useless things—dumped out into a billionaire’s world that has no need for you, and doesn’t really give a damn about your degree in comparative literature from Brown. You start to think a little differently about universal health care and tuition-free college and Wall Street bailouts. But of course it is too late now. Too late for all of us.

Why should we shoot ourselves in the foot by not playing Pakistan?

by Girish Menon

Tarek Fatah (a Pakistan exile and Indophile) has often lamented the lack of strategic thinking among India’s elite who are obsessed with a mercantilist (baniya in Hindi) worldview. He opined that so long as the Indian intelligentsia was preoccupied with profit and becoming CEOs, the suicide bombers of Islam will always have an edge on the Indian nation. I was reminded of this viewpoint when I heard Vinod Rai the head of BCCI (Indian cricket board) say:

“Why should we shoot ourselves in the foot by not playing (Pakistan in the cricket world cup)? We should seek their ouster and remove them from the cricketing committee.” (Indian Express 23/02/2019)

I interpret Mr. Rai as saying that ‘we (the cricket-business complex) don’t want to take any monetary losses on an issue of grave national concern.’

So what will happen if this view prevails is that there will be a lot of jingoism in the form of advertisements, flag sales etc leading to the match and the business interests will count their profits while flaunting their patriotic fervour.

The BCCI is the cricket world’s dominant body. Also, it has a force-majeure national event (Pulwama blasts) that it could use in its defence for boycotting the Pakistan game. Despite all this power, and when other Indian sports bodies have taken a stand and paid the price, the failure of BCCI to boycott the Pakistan game exposes its mercantilist nature.

This pattern of behaviour is not unique to the cricket-business complex. Some Bollywood nationalists continue to peddle their wares in Pakistan with Manikarnika still showing in Pakistan cinemas.

There could be many other business interests that continue to do business as usual with Pakistan and still stoke the fires of revenge by the military.

This also reminds me of the NIMBY (Not in my Backyard) argument. These better off nationalists do not mind ordinary Indians being sacrificed in a military conflict with Pakistan so long as their own profits from trade with Pakistan continue uninterrupted.

I too am faced with a similar dilemma. I have a student of Pakistani origin who has a crucial exam coming up soon. Should I stop my tuition and stop him from excelling in the exam just to make a point? But as a trained economist I too have come up with an ‘on the other hand argument’ which satisfies my mercantilist worldview. 

Friday, 22 February 2019

India, the Cricket World Cup and Revenge for Pulwama, Pathankot, Mumbai…

by Girish Menon

Some elements in India egged on by TV anchors and with persuasion from Whatsapp University have urged the Indian government to militarily avenge the latest bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir on Valentines Day. This car bomb resulted in the death of 42 paramilitary personnel. However, some of these people appear opposed to India boycotting a cricket match with Pakistan scheduled for June 16 in Manchester, England. In this article I will examine the weaknesses of such a position.  

Sports and Politics don’t mix: In his book ‘23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism’ writer Ha Joon Chang talks about a humbug on free markets:

A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How ‘free’ a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition.

There is a similar kind of deception involved in India being ready to fight a war with Pakistan, withdraw its MFN status on trade but be willing to play a world cup cricket match.

Sports and politics have always been thick as thieves. The apartheid boycott of South Africa, the suspension of Zimbabwe, the super trio at the ICC, the bilateral boycott of Pakistan by India have all been political decisions. India’s refusal to play Pakistan will be another such political decision.

Arm Chair Nationalists: Having been sold dreams about the power of its rising GDP there are many Indians who wish to right historical wrongs by sheer military power. They have urged the Indian government to retaliate against Pakistan’s undeclared war with overt military action.

Such nationalists however do not realise that any military retaliation will help Pakistan’s armed forces to justify their hold on the state and continue with their unaccounted access to resources.

Secondly, I wonder if they have considered the fallout of any overt war.

Break-up Pakistan: Bakistan, as she is known after separation from Bangladesh in 1971, is a motley crowd of dominant Punjabis who are hated by the Mohajirs, Sindhis, Balochis and Pashtuns. These oppressed groups need support in their fight for self determination.

India with Iran should help these oppressed groups rise up against the military apparatus and free them from the yoke of the Punjabi.

As for the cricket match on June 16, India should not only boycott it but also boycott the final should she reach there along with Pakistan. Is there a better way to isolate the Pakistan military?

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Shamima Begum has a right to British citizenship, whether you like it or not

Pakistan's Position on Pulwama

Javed Akhtar & Yogendra Yadav

Monday, 18 February 2019

Off Spin - Muralitharan

Part 1

Part 2

Leg Spin Basics - Shane Warne

Why players are ill equipped to play short bowling these days

Ian Chappell in Cricinfo

Following the tragically unlucky death of Phillip Hughes when he was struck by a short-pitched delivery, Cricket Australia conducted a review into safety in the game.

At the time I asked CA's CEO, James Sutherland, if that review included batting technique. He was unsure but eventually the answer came back that the review didn't include technique.

The ignorance of that decision is now being exposed as batsmen are regularly being hit in the helmet in all forms of the game.

As a result of the review, the knowledge about the damage done to the brain by blows to the head has greatly increased and sensible concussion rules have been put in place. The concussion rules are non-negotiable, and if a batsman is unable to pass the on-field test, he can take no further part in the match.

This is even more reason why batting technique in respect to short-pitched deliveries should be given far greater importance. With just a few runs required for victory in a Test but only one wicket in hand, a game can be lost if a batsman is felled by a bouncer.

The main reason for more batsmen being hit by short-pitched bowling is the advent of helmets and protective equipment, and the increased amount of T20 cricket, which has led to a drastic change in batting technique.

Before helmets, batting technique was more inclined to the back foot, succinctly summed up by former Australia batsman Stan McCabe's edict: "Drive or play back." Now there's an increasing tendency to charge onto the front foot, emboldened by the impression that the chances of injury are severely reduced than in days past. This change in attitude makes it harder to evade short-pitched deliveries, and this is exacerbated if the batsman takes his eyes off the ball.

When talking to young players about playing short-pitched deliveries, I emphasise that it's better to ensure the ball misses the target rather than relying on chance.

If a batsman is in position to move onto the back foot once he senses a short-pitched delivery, he can make sure his head is inside the line of the delivery, thereby ensuring that even if he misses an attempted hook shot, the ball passes by harmlessly. Once a player's head is inside the line of the ball he is far more likely to watch the delivery closely because he knows he has reduced the danger. 

Conversely, if a batsman is trying to hook a ball that is unerringly on a line for his head, he is almost certain to avert his eyes. This is when trouble occurs and it's more likely to happen when the player has prematurely charged onto the front foot. Once the weight is planted firmly on the front foot, it's virtually impossible to get the head inside the line of the ball unless the original path of the delivery placed the head inside the line.

There are players who have no intention of hooking but duck immediately on seeing a short-pitched delivery, and in doing so, take their eyes off the ball. This is inviting trouble, especially if the ball doesn't bounce as high as expected.

Before helmets, fewer players were hit in the head, because they had an interest in avoiding contact: it was going to hurt. Therefore they tended to watch the ball closely to make sure they didn't get hit.

Players who play the hook are rarely hit because it's a difficult shot to play and requires the player to watch the ball closely. The biggest danger for a player who hooks is of a top edge deflecting the ball onto the head.

With the increased emphasis on fast scoring in the modern game, there's a tendency to encourage young players to practise fancy shots like reverse sweeps and scoops. My advice would be to learn the traditional shots first, and, as it could cause injury and the possible loss of a match, ensure you know how to deal with the short-pitched delivery before attempting to practice any fancy shots.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

America’s unexpected socialist dawn

 Edward Luce in The FT

Anyone who thinks America’s populist moment has passed should think again. Donald Trump promised to make America great again. Half of the Democratic party now vows to make their country socialist for the first time. Much that is solid is melting into air. A few years ago, most Democrats were scared to call themselves liberal. Now they embrace socialism with abandon. 

It may end in tears. A defeat to Mr Trump in 2020 would deliver an early grave to America’s socialist dawn. Until then, however, US voters are catching a glimpse of something rare — a genuine ideological debate. It would be rash to predict the outcome. 

The chief exhibit is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. By any measure, her bill is preposterously extravagant. On one estimate Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed new entitlements and public works would cost $6.6tn a year, which is two-thirds larger again than America’s $4tn federal budget. 

The fact that a 29-year-old former bartender has gone from zero to the ubiquitous abbreviation of AOC in a few months tells us something about America’s appetite for change 

Nothing like it has been seen. Moreover, Ms Ocasio-Cortez seems to have little idea how she would pay for it. Some say the bill would be self-funding because it would stimulate the economy. Others are punting on cost-free debt. According to modern monetary theory, governments can simply create new money without causing inflation. 

Few Democrats are yet concerned with such details. Having watched Mr Trump take office with his brand of magical thinking, they are following suit. It would be tempting to write it off as a lengthy suicide note. But that would underestimate America’s restlessness. Almost every Democratic presidential hopeful in the Senate — including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand — supports Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution. It has turned into a litmus test of a candidate’s credentials. There are three reasons to take it seriously. 

The first is that the Green New Deal is already branded in the public’s mind. Just as Ms Ocasio-Cortez is known by her initials — AOC — her bill is already known by its shorthand, GND. Few politicians, or bills, make that distinction. Think of John F Kennedy (JFK) or Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). The fact that a 29-year-old former bartender has gone from zero to ubiquitous abbreviation in a few months tells us something about America’s appetite for change. She is now the most influential figure in US politics after Mr Trump. 

Second, Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is a bold declaration of intent rather than a serious legislative proposal. Much as Mr Trump’s supporters were said to have taken him seriously but not literally, the same applies to the green deal. Those doing the accounting may be missing the point. Its aim is to shake up the US debate. By that measure it has already succeeded. The term “green” is no longer a lifestyle preference. It is a part of the economic calculus. Global warming and public investment are now linked in the popular mind. 

Third, Americans seem to crave a choice. There was a time when US elections could be caricatured as Coca-Cola versus Pepsi — incrementalist Democrats versus free-market Republicans. For the time being, such timidity is over. Mr Trump’s example has bred imitation. The choice now looks more like vodka versus supergreen juice. When politics is framed this starkly, there are few places to hide. 

Mr Trump sees green socialism as his chance of electoral salvation. Democrats want to take away your cars and your cows, he says. Moreover, they would force you to travel by train, which is the US equivalent of being sent to the gulags. If his instinct is right, Ms Ocasio-Cortez could become Mr Trump’s secret weapon. Forcing Democrats to vote on her bill is an opportunity Republicans will not pass up. A vote against it could damage a Democratic senator’s prospects with the party’s base. A vote in favour could make them unpalatable to a general electorate. 

History suggests Republicans have the tactical advantage. But what went before is not necessarily a useful guide. The past told us Mr Trump had little chance of taking his party’s nomination. Experts made the error of taking him literally but not seriously. Today, a majority of American millennials describe themselves as socialist. In practice, they are thinking of Scandinavia rather than Venezuela. Persuading them to turn out in higher numbers is the holy grail of Democratic politics. If Ms Ocasio-Cortez does that, she will have changed the climate of US politics.

Neoliberalism is killing our love lives

Dependency and power imbalances brought on by capitalist financial insecurity are the enemies of true romance writes Bhaskara Sunkara in The Guardian

A broken heart drawn by a patron is shredded at Bottom Line, a bar and dance place in downtown D.C., which invites people to come and shred photos and cards from ex-spouses and lovers in honor of Valentine’s Day. 

For many of us, Valentine’s Day is a reminder that our love life sucks. Maybe we just had an unhappy end to a relationship, maybe we’re struggling to keep alive an existing one. For those of us, the conventional advice we receive is drab and unconvincing. Sure, having a regular date night to “keep the love alive” is just fine, I suppose. But if you really want to get the sparkle back, why not engage in a militant class struggle this Valentine’s Day instead?

You see, countries with powerful working-class movements tend to have more social rights and guarantees. And those protections can make your love life a lot less stressful.

Most Americans feel overwhelmed by their financial obligations, and it’s the leading cause of friction in relationships. That’s no surprise in a country where life is so precarious – where a trip to the hospital, a layoff, or shifts in the housing market can change everything. We’re overworked at our jobs and underpaid. Powerless to bargain for a better deal from our bosses, we zero-in on our partners’ spending habits or priorities instead.

Our financial insecurity also keeps us unhappily wedded to relationships we should leave. The median wage for a worker in the United States is $857 a week before taxes – most of us would struggle to take care of children on one income. For women, shouldering most of the burden of unpaid household work and dealing with workplace pay disparities, the situation is especially bad. What’s more, a quarter of women under 64 get their health insurance from their spouse’s plan. Loving marriages can be wonderful, but dependency and power imbalances are the enemies of true romance. 

Things don’t have to be like this. And we needn’t imagine what a better alternative looks like – it already exists, just not here. A century ago, life in Scandinavia was just as cutthroat as it was in the United States. A 1902 New York Times articles describes Sweden as “the most feudal and oligarchical country in Europe” – only rivaled by Tsarist Russia. Contemporaries called the country an “armed poorhouse”. But, over time, capitalism in the region was humanized by socialists and trade unionists. Working people joined vast labor confederations to collectively demand higher wages and shorter workdays from their employers. They also joined new parties set up to fight for the interest of regular people in government.

As well as more fairly distributing income for workers, the system allowed people to meet their basic needs outside the workplace. Even at the peak of social democracy, life wasn’t perfect, but the changes were especially profound for women. Child allowances, family leave, child care, even the provision of school meals – all eased the pressures placed on them by society. Beyond such legislation, the principle of “equal pay for equal work” and industry-level trade union bargaining favored sectors that disproportionately employed women.

During the 1960s in Sweden, still not content with the progress toward sexual equality, the governing social democrats and feminists took steps to generate policy that encouraged “free development” for women, challenged traditional sex roles, and expanded abortion rights. Despite rollbacks to its welfare state, the country is still one of the most equal in the world (and parents there are still entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, compared to zero days in most of the United States).

Kristen R Ghodsee, in her book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, observes a similar phenomenon in the Eastern Bloc. “Women [had] no economic reason to stay in abusive, unfulfilling, or otherwise unhealthy relationships” in countries where state guarantees meant that “personal relationships could be freed from market influences.” Of course, states like East Germany and Czechoslovakia were marked by political repression. But the experience of European social democracy shows that the same positives can be achieved in a far more liberal political environment.

And yes, as far as Ghodsee’s book title goes, there is proof that more secure people have better sex and are more sensitive lovers.

Will all these protections cure heartache? Are all your relationship woes rooted in economic anxiety? Absolutely not. But by organizing collectively, we can become more empowered as individuals. And when strong, free individuals decide to love they make for better partners.