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The World in 1913 – Part V: This and that

What follows is based on a talk I gave at the end of August at one of Brian’s Fridays. See also Parts I, II, III, IV & VI.

In 1913, Britain has an empire. A very big empire. It’s pretty peaceful, doesn’t appear to be very expensive and doesn’t appear to be very controversial. The problem is that the British have no idea what to do with it. It is, let’s face it a pretty disparate and far flung bunch of territories. About the only thing that connects them is that Britain got to them before anyone else. In 1906, the Unionists went into the general election proposing an Empire-wide common external tariff otherwise known as Imperial Preference. Given that this would have put up the price of food and given that that’s what about 50% of average incomes were spent on it is not surprising that the Liberals won by a landslide. What is surprising is that the Unionists refuse to ditch it.

There are proposals to build a Channel Tunnel. Given that it didn’t get built until 80 years later, using much better technology and at great cost, you would have thought the main concern would have been over its feasibility. But no. The main concern, or at least the one occupying the minds of the Times and its correspondents, is how an invader might use it. Could an invader take both ends? Could it be blown up? What if they put the entrance on a viaduct and blew that up? Those are the sort of questions being asked.

Some controversies and concerns will seem odd to us. A lot of space is given over to agriculture, Welsh disestablishment and the teaching of Greek.

One of the big hullabaloos is over the Olympics. Britain did not do very well in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics only coming third in the medal table. This has caused a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth not least from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who feels that Britain risks losing her reputation as the “Mother of Sport”. He believes there are only three options for dealing with this catastrophe: accept the humiliation, withdraw from the Olympics entirely or create a subscription-based fund to pay for the recruitment and training of future Olympic champions. Cue letters to the Times arguing that we should withdraw as quickly as possible as the Olympics already represent a ridiculous perversion of the amateur principle.

At no point has anyone suggested that they should be using taxpayers’ money.

The sun has got its hat on – so let’s forget about football (soccer) for a while yet

Allan Massie has it absolutely right:

The national obsession with football will be back in the autumn. This is as certain as the fading of summer. If only our footballers could capture something of Joe Root’s delight in what he is doing. Football long ago styled itself “the beautiful game”, but too often it is mean and ugly. I have always hoped that the famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly had his tongue in his cheek when he observed that “some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it’s much more serious than that”; but too many people speak and act as if it were true. It’s nonsense, of course. The truth about sport is that it’s deadly serious, and ultimately not serious at all. I don’t suppose Joe Root would put it quite like that. Cricket is his business, after all, not an agreeable hobby. Yet he plays as if unconsciously he recognises this truth, and this is one reason he offers such delight. It will be a sad day if that happy smile, which also displays his relish for battle, fades from his face.

Like the author and professional cricketer Ed Smith, I think that sport is a part of life and therefore a worthy subject in what it tells us about the state of our culture. It is perhaps a shame that it takes a smiling, cheerful chap such as Root to remind us that playing games should be fun. Fun? How frightfully old-fashioned.

I am a football fan, but even I am quite happy to stop tormenting myself on Saturday afternoons when Ipswich Town is playing. There is a long autumn/winter/spring to come when that can happen. In the meantime, the Ashes cricket season continues.

On the uncertainty of sport

The Ashes, for the benefit of cricket infidels, is the name given to the more than a century long cricketing rivalry between England and Australia. Whoever won the last series has them. And today, an Ashes Marathon begins, in the form of no less than ten five day international cricket matches between England and Australia in the space of less than a year. In order to get the Ashes to stop clashing with the Cricket World Cup, or something, there will be a five match Ashes series here in England, and then straight after that another five match Ashes series in Australia.

England now have the Ashes and all the smart talk says that on paper they are by far the stronger side, and will still have the Ashes in a year’s time.

But sport is not played on paper. I remember as a child being utterly bewildered when Australia defeated, by the sickening margin of four games to nothing, an England cricket touring team containing batsmen May, Cowdrey, Graveney and Dexter, and (get this) bowlers Tyson, Trueman, Statham, Laker and Lock. To many Samizdata readers, those names will only be names, but believe me, those are names. You want paper? The paper they wrote that team on was paper all right. Yet England, on the actual pitches, were hammered. (Also hammered rather too much off the pitches, from what I have since read.) I learned the lesson good and early that with sport, you never know.

Consider that final British Lions v Australia rugby union game, last Saturday (highlights here – don’t click if you don’t want noise). Michael Jennings and I and a couple of mates watched it in a pub in Southwark, with me getting there about fifteen seconds before the kick-off, which was just as well because the Lions, having scored no tries at all in the previous game, scored their first try of this game in hardly more than a minute. We all then sagely agreed that going down in a game very early can be an advantage, because you then have to forget your nerves and really play, and often you do, with the resulting momentum sweeping you to a big win. Australia will be back, we said.

At first we were wrong, as the Lions opened up an amazing 19-3 lead. But although the Australian backs were operating behind a losing scrum they still looked dangerous, and Australia scored thirteen unanswered points either side of half time. Who was to say they wouldn’t carry on scoring? We all then expected a game just like the previous two, of the sort that would be settled by whoever kicked their penalty kicks in the final few minutes coming out one or two points ahead, in a series that could easily have gone either way, 3-0 in either direction if just a few kicks had fallen just a bit more this way or that way.

So, Lions only 3 points up, and from having been unstoppable suddenly looking very vulnerable, with about half an hour to go. What then happened? What happened was that the Lions backs suddenly sprang to life and scored three dashing tries, sweeping the Lions to victory by the mind-boggling margin of 25 points. Who saw that coming? Not me. Not Michael, or the two other blokes. In retrospect, that most flawless of observational procedures, it was all inevitable, given the scrum advantage the Lions had established. But at the time, it was astonishing.

Or consider Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win the following afternoon. No less a personage than former champion Boris Becker, commentating for the BBC, said that the one score-line he had really not been expecting was three sets to nil. He didn’t think either player would let that happen. Yet Djokovic, famously a man who is never beaten until truly beaten, did. Murray, who had come back from two sets down in an earlier round and who lost the first set of his semi-final, did not, come the final, lose a single set. What odds could you have got beforehand against that happening?

I am sure that there is some suitably Samizdata-ish moral to append to the above, about how the uncertainty of sport mirrors the uncertainty of life itself, and that the uncertainty of life proves the necessity for the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Well, that will have to be it. I have a cricket match to attend to.

England have won the toss, and will bat.

Is the site down or something?

How odd. No one seems to be commenting or posting, but there seems to be a bit of a racket going on down our street, people shouting and stuff.

Property rights and protests at sporting events

Much outrage in the Guardian because

The Australian activist who disrupted the 2012 Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race in protest at government cuts has been ordered to leave the country, after receiving a six-month jail term that many thought was severe.

The degree to which I shall miss Mr Oldfield’s anti-elitist activism when he leaves these shores is impossible to underestimate. He should regard deportation as an opportunity to activate his home nation of Australia instead. I believe you start the process by holding hold down the “sleep” button.

However the issues are wider than the question of whether he, or elitism, or the ejection of lawbreaking foreigners, is a good thing or a bad thing. One can see why the government felt they had to stomp down hard on this sort of protest. He ruined a contest for which the crews had trained for months and messed up the pleasure of thousands of spectators on the riverbanks and many more on TV. If one protester gets away with that then every sporting and cultural event is going to be liable to disruption by any fool with a grudge, particulary if, as in the case of the boat race, the event takes place on the public highway, so to speak. The cultural life of the country would be greatly diminished.

Would that actually be bad? My gut reaction says yes, but my gut would like some backup from principle.

Even if it would be bad, does “the country” have the right to stop it happening? Sure, the people who want the event to proceed uninterrupted are the majority, but so what?

Libertarian comes second to Ruler of the World


Are the horses trying to tell us something?

Hail Gayle!

One of the many excellent things about the excellent Indian Premier League is the opportunity that it has given to West Indian cricketers to do great things on a cricket field, as impressive as the great things done by their great fast bowlers in the 1970s and 1980s. There are now about half a dozen West Indians making their mark on the IPL. It is no exaggeration to say that what the Indians are doing is saving the West Indies for cricket.

Not that long ago, there was talk of West Indians, dispirited by the failure of their players to do the sort of grafting you have to do to do well in five day international cricket matches in places like England, giving up on cricket altogether, and switching to basketball, or some such American alternative.

Not now. The innings of Chris Gayle in this game, which I am now watching (thank goodness for the recent multiplication of digital TV channels in the UK) on my telly, open mouthed, is already the talk of the West Indies. Got to be. I don’t know what time of day it is over there, but trust me, they are awake and cheering themselves hoarse. As of now, Gayle is 154 not out, off 54 balls. Even if you know nothing of cricket, know this: that’s dynamite stuff. Gayle is only a handful of runs away from breaking the record for the biggest twenty-twenty innings ever, set in the very first IPL game by a guy from New Zealand.

Yes. West Indian IPL Commentator: “This is now the highest score ever in all twenty-twenty cricket.” Gale 161 not out. And counting.

West Indian IPL Commentator: This is now the biggest twenty-twenty total ever. 251-3 and counting. The South African AB de Villiers has just got out for 31, made in 8 balls. South African cricket has been somewhat in the doldrums ever since the Hanse Cronje match-fixing scandal, and the IPL has been a shot in the arm for South African cricket also. They are now the top team in the world, at test cricket. Twenty-twenty mania hasn’t done them any harm either.

Globalisation, commerce, free people spending their own money on what they love, previously poor countries getting rich, individual people in previously poor countries getting rich, by cheering up the entire world – well, my version of the entire world anyway. I love it. Love it. Opposition players all clustering around Gayle to shake his hand. 175 not out. Kiwi Commentator: “You’ve broken record after record tonight. It was one of the best innings anyone here has ever seen.” Amen.

I just wish that more of my fellow countrymen could see all this. The English continue to talk head-in-sand nonsense about the IPL. In this silly piece, David Hopps talks about the IPL being “an essentially trivial Indian T20 tournament”. As so often, the word “essentially”, as the late Kingsley Amis observed many years ago, here means “not”.

There is actually an Englishman playing in this match, Luke Wright of Sussex. And good on him, because he has had a pretty good IPL so far, once he got to play. Good on him today, because he bowled in this game, and his bowling figures were: 4-0-26-1. In a game like this one, those are impressively normal numbers, even if the reason Wright did that well was that he was bowling some of his overs just after Gayle got to a hundred, and Gayle was having a bit of a chill, man.


LATER: The Guardian sums it up.

Footballers are a bunch of play-acting wimps

This made me laugh:

These expensive professionals seem to be very fragile creatures; the smallest hack, which no Public School boy would think of noticing, is enough to send them to earth in a well-acted, but supremely ridiculous, agony of pain, whereupon the referee blows his hard-worked whistle and hurries to soothe the injured spot with a sympathetic paw.

As you can probably tell from the language it’s from a while ago. 1913 to be exact and it’s from The Times’s report of that year’s FA Cup final. Yes, people then were making exactly the same complaints about footballers that they do now. At least they weren’t trying to eat one another.

What is really astonishing is the size of the crowd. 120,000 (the second highest ever) at Crystal Palace, of all places. I googled and found this photo from 1905:


What a mess! But as the article I linked to points out most of the crowd had no idea what was going on. Not only that but it was clearly a dangerous place to be:

Many of the railings designed to render the crowd of standing spectators less fluid and mobile collapsed with a crash, and there must have been scores of minor casualties.

Read the whole thing as they used to say.

The ECB is slowly adjusting to the reality of the IPL

No, this is not a posting about the European Central Bank. ECB, in Brian Micklethwait World, stands for E(ngland and Wales) C(ricket) B(oard). And IPL stands for Indian Premier League, the twenty overs each way cricket tournament, the 2013 version of which has just got under way in India and which will end near the end of May. I’m watching it now on my television, and very entertaining it is.

What this posting is about, besides cricket, is the rise of India and the necessity for people in England who have dealings with India to acknowledge that India has risen.

From Cricinfo earlier this week:

David Collier, the ECB chief executive, has urged the BCCI …

BCCI is B(oard of) C(ontrol for) C(ricket in) India, i.e. India’s cricket bosses.

… to reschedule future IPL seasons to dovetail more successfully with the England first-class season in response to pressure from England players who are clamouring to participate in the event.

I told you so. That earlier posting, about how England star batsman Kevin Pietersen wants to play both for England and in the IPL, still holds up very well.

It isn’t just English players who are losing out here. Insofar as England’s own county cricket season involves, like the IPL, cricketers from around the world, the England season not clashing with the IPL would also make it easier for top overseas players to play in England over the summer. Playing in England is nothing like the financial windfall that an IPL contract is, but it can be a nice little earner, to say nothing of a nice little learner about the different playing conditions of England. Ricky Ponting, the former Australian captain, is now playing in the IPL, captaining one of the teams. Later this year, Ponting will be playing some English county cricket, for Surrey.

England’s cricket bosses still have a way to go. They appear to have at last realised that they do indeed have a problem, and that this problem is not adequately described by being labelled “Kevin Pietersen”. This is progress. But, this Collier man is still going on about what he and his mates would like.

“We have had very fruitful talks with India,” Collier said. “In an ideal world, we would like the IPL to be concluded by April 30, which is the cooler season for India. We have put that to them, they are doing their best, but they realise there are some limitations.

“It would make things a lot easier for us. …”

Yes, it would. But the IPL is now an established success. It has done wonders for Indian cricket, and for the comfort and excellence of India’s cricket grounds. It gives young Indian cricketers a marvellous stage to impress. It has transformed Indian fielding, once notoriously sluggish. Because twenty-twenty cricket only obliges bowlers to bowl four overs, it has also encouraged Indian fast bowling, which also was once upon a time a joke. (Fast bowlers from everywhere, come to that.) Whereas the typical Indian international cricketer used to a little man in the Sachin Tendulkar mould, of the sort who would have been a bank clerk had he not had the trick of playing cricket, the new Indian cricketer is more likely to be a towering alpha male with the physique of a super-hero, who either bowls like the wind or who hits the ball deep into the crowd with ease.

When Indians think about the IPL now, that is the stuff they are thinking about, not the fact that all the IPL clashes with the frigid beginnings of the English season.

Why on earth would India now rearrange the entire IPL timetable, just to suit the English? Would it not make more sense for the English to rearrange their season by starting that later? Like, after the increasingly cold and prolonged English winter has ended? (I would love to know what Britain’s Meteorological Office has been telling England’s cricket bosses about how the weather in April was going to get more cricket-friendly.) Why cannot the English season start in mid-May rather than mid-April, like it used to? (I can recall when a batsman getting a thousand runs in May in England was a huge deal, because he only had the fag end of May to do this in.) If England’s cricket season must start in the rain, wind and snow of April, then can it really not do without a few increasingly rebellious star players? It can, and it will, because it will have to.

All the English cricket bosses have to do is acknowledge reality. All the Indian cricket bosses have to do is … nothing. If the Indians do decide to shorten the IPL season, this will be entirely for their own reasons, mostly to do with television. Happening to oblige the damn English would probably, for many of them, be a bug rather than a feature.

The basic problem is that the English have for too long treated the IPL as just another foreign tournament, instead of what it clearly has been from the moment it started, namely the premier franchise cricket tournament in the world, based in the premier cricket-supporting nation in the world. Only now, prodded by England players who are becoming ever more desperate not to miss the IPL bus, are the England cricket hierarchy beginning to grasp this obvious fact. Even Wisden, in among having another moan about Kevin Pietersen, realises that the ECB has badly mishandled this issue.

Now, about that European Central Bank, and its need to adjust to reality

The Olympic legacy

But with the greatest respect, West Ham aren’t my football club. So why am paying to give them a brand new football stadium? OK, £25 million may not even add up to the GDP of Cyprus in this crazy world. But that’s still a fair chunk of change. And what are we getting for it? Some people are arguing that this is an important part of securing the fabled “Olympic Legacy”. But is this really what the late Baron de Coubertin had in mind? Half a dozen long balls aimed at Andy Carroll, and some lusty renditions of ”Oh Christian Dailly, You are the love of my life, Oh Christian Dailly, I’ll let you s**g my wife”.

Dan Hodges.

Samizdata quote of the day has already been taken but I couldn’t not share this one.

There is more:

Or, if the crude economics are too unpalatable, look at the whole thing through a footballing prism. If I was Peter Hill-Wood I’d be spitting blood. A club like Arsenal risks its entire future on moving to a state-of-the-art new stadium, pays the price on the pitch, and then watches as one of its local rivals walks into England’s second stadium for the princely cost of £15 million, plus £2 million rent a year.

The state has played an indirect role in the footballing world – such as policing, although the cost of policing grounds is shared by the clubs – and football has, mostly, been out of the state’s hands. The only time that its regulatory influence really tightened was after the various disasters, such as Heysel and Hillsborough, in which large numbers of fans were killed and regulations were changed to make grounds all-seater.

One commentator on the Hodges posting says this, though: ….” it is worth pointing out that West Ham will be paying £2m per year rent on the 99 year lease (not sure if that is inflation linked) and that there is a considerable cost in maintaining an empty stadium”.

Well quite. West Ham is going to have to pay a fair amount to use this ground, so it is not getting the site for free, which at times is the impression gained by the original article. Even so, given that compulsory purchase laws were used originally to clear the Olympic site – and some businesses never recovered – it is worth pointing out that one beneficiary is a privately owned football club which already has a ground of its own. It amounts to a transfer of valuable land and resources to a group of businessmen.


The underrated benefit of watching lots of sports

“Sports is remarkably cognitive. I think it’s underrated just how smart it is. Actually, if I had more time, I would spend more time with sports. Watching it, reading about it, I think it’s oddly underrated.”

Tyler Cowen, being interviewed about himself and his interest in things such as where and how to find good, tasty food. As to his remark on sports, I guess that one of the benefits of watching it – say if you are into baseball or cricket – is improving your basic maths. It does not surprise me that Samizdata’s Michael Jennings is a PhD in maths and a cricket fanatic.

One of my favourite books is this one, Creative Destruction, which Cowen published a few years ago now.

Future Hope in Kolkata

Last night, before going to sleep, I switched on the radio commentary for the India England cricket match now in progress in Kolkata, so that, in the event that I did the opposite of dozing off (dozing on?) I would keep up with England’s currrently very satisfactory progress in that game. With luck, tonight and tomorrow night, England will bowl out India cheaply in their second innings and England will go 2-1 up in the four game series. Find out if that happens by looking, e.g., here.

So far so sporty. But this morning, waking up at tea time, so to speak, I found myself listening, not to England’s batsmen batting and India’s bowlers bowling, but to this broadcast (that link switches it on straight away which you might not like – maybe going here would be more convenient – details down a bit on the left) done by the BBC’s long-time cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew. This broadcast was about a charitable enterprise in Kolkata which rescues street children, gives them somewhere unscary and unprecarious and unchanging to live, and which then educates them.

This broadcast lasts a mere fifteen minutes, otherwise it would have gone on longer than the tea interval. The enterprise it reports on is called Future Hope.

Learning about Future Hope is the sort of process that causes people with opinions about how the world should be organised to say: “and this just goes to show how right I have always been about …”. To me, what comes through is how morally uncorrupted these children were when first rescued, it having been precisely their moral excellence that got the attention of the man, a chap called Tim Grandage, who started Future Hope, in order to rescue some of these children from their terrible physical deprivations and torments. The children who have grown up in the care of Future Hope sound, in this broadcast anyway, like the very definition of the “deserving poor”.

This being a Test Match Special broadcast, you would expect cricket to figure in the story, and it does, although for a long time rugger seems to have been a bigger deal than cricket for Future Hope. Is Grandage a rugger enthusiast, I wonder? Indeed he is. Ever since it started, Future Hope has used sport to physically improve, to socialise and to excite its charges, and generally to give them positive and amusing things to think, and thereby helping to take their minds off past miseries. But India being India, Future Hope also wants to develop its cricket. The England Cricket Team have got involved, and they recently spent a day at Future Hope, as the broadcast describes. England’s formidable new captain, Alastair Cook, opened their new cricket coaching operation for them. Good for him.

This is the first time I have ever heard about Future Hope, and I have no idea if it really is as good a thing as Jonathan Agnew and the Future Hope people he talked to made it sound. These days, you can’t help but be slightly concerned about such a phenomenon. But it did sound like a very good thing indeed. And I want to believe that if there were any doubts about its excellence, the England cricket team would not have gone anywhere near it.