Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: India
Incoming from Michael Jennings:
As of this morning, thirteen successive Australia v India tests have been won by the home side. Seven of these matches have been won (and hosted) by India, and six by Australia. If Australia win the remaining two tests in this series (which may or may not happen) this will be the fourth successive Australia v India series to be a whitewash to the home side.
He was talking about this game.
Cricket has been a bit of a wasteland for me lately, what with county cricket being in hibernation and England playing nothing but one day cricket, which they are rather rubbish at. They have been preparing for the forthcoming one day World Cup, by losing a one day series in Sri Lanka and then by replacing their captain. But the feeling among cricket’s chattereres is that sacking Cook will improve England, and one day knock-out tournaments are such a lottery that I will live in hope, for as long as there is any.
What is it with vegetarians and their veggie sausages and burgers? I’m a meat eater, but I don’t go around making carrots and sprouts out of beef.
This is also a good one:
I work in a call centre in Norwich and we’ve just been told our jobs are moving to India. I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted to visit India and with the salary they pay me I’ll be able to live like a Maharaja over there. Well done Aviva, keep up the good work.
Interesting piece about the rise and fall and rise of Viz, here.
As of right now, late afternoon, there is rain and wind outside my window, and not long ago there was thunder. That’s in London SW1. And yet over in St John’s Wood, there is a test match going on, and there is no mention of any weather getting in the way of things.
Oh, as if to prove me wrong, Nasser Hussain has just talked about how the rain is staying “east of Regent’s Park”, in other words travelling northwards from me. North east and Lords would be getting a little bit of moisture some time around now.
It’s very tense, with England 62/1 and chasing just over three hundred, with an hour and a bit this evening and then all of tomorrow, weather permitting. Ballance and Cook have put on fifty, with Cook batting like his life depends on it. Which it does. He won’t die if he gets out soon, but how well he does today and tomorrow could have a big impact on how he lives from now on.
NOT MUCH LATER: 80/4. Cook just got out, for 22. Ballance and Bell already gone. England are not playing at all well at the moment.
Yesterday, someone emailed or tweeted Test Match Special, saying that the Notts captain, Chris Read, could be drafted in, to replace Cook as captain and Prior (who is now dropping catches) as wicketkeeper. It may eventually come to that. Continuity of selection is all very well, but what if they continuously selected team keeps on continuously losing?
See this earlier piece.
One of my favourite computer functions is Screen Capture. For years, I didn’t know how to do this. How is “prt sc” screen capture? I used to just photo the screen. Then I got told, and more to the point, told at a time just before I found many uses for this procedure, and as a result, I actually got it fixed in my head.
So it is that I am able to capture fleeting moments like this one:
That was the passage of play that turned the game England’s way, today, on day one of the test match at Headingley. Sri Lanka went from 228-5 and motoring to 229-9, in nine balls. In among all this, Broad got a hat trick, but didn’t even realise and had to be told! There was then a little last wicket stand and they got to over 250, but the big damage had been done.
Here is another interesting moment, which is the moment when they show me all the guys who worked on Adobe Photoshop, while I am loading Adobe Photoshop.
But, the trouble is, when I do a Screen Capture while that is happening, it doesn’t work. What gets captured is the moment when Adobe Photoshop is finally loaded. Until then, I guess my computer is too busy loading Photoshop to do a Screen Capture. Either all that, or else I just wasn’t doing it right, as is entirely possible.
But instead of obsessing about what I might or might not be doing wrong, I instead simply photographed the moment, just like old times:
The reason I wanted to photo this was all the Indian names, in among the occasional regular American ones. Interesting. Where are they all based, I wonder? I’m guessing somewhere in the USA, but what do I know? Adobe seems to have a lot of places where they could be. And of course, if something like Adobe doesn’t know how to plug a global network of co-workers together, who does? From where I sit, these Indian guys could be anywhere. Even so, like I say, interesting.
A lot of the Americans I read on the Internet say that Obama is destroying America, and he seems to be doing as much as he can along these lines. But there is a lot of ruin in a country, and a lot of ruin in American. This screen shot suggests that at least parts of the good old American upward economic mobility ladder are working just fine.
There was a truly terrific cricket game today, in Mumbai, between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals.
Rajasthan got 189, which is a pretty damn good score in twenty-twenty cricket. But the Mumbai Indians had to do better than do better than that. They had to get their run rate above the Rajasthan run rate, by getting 190 in 14 overs and 3 balls. Which is ridiculous, impossible, crazy. So, they duly failed in their quest to get 190. After 14 overs and 3 balls there were: 189-5. They tried to run two off ball 14.3, to get 190, but instead they got just the one, and there was a run out.
Rajasthan Royals celebrate! They’re through to the play-offs!
But no. It then emerges - frantic messages and conferences on the pitch establish this - that if Mumbai’s new batsman hits his first and only ball to the boundary, the Mumbai run rate still climbs above that of Rajasthan, and Mumbai still can win through to the play-offs, at the expense of Rajasthan. The new guy does! He hits it for six! And Mumbai do win through!
Shiva Jayaraman explains:
In the calculation of net run rate (NRR), the final score, and not the target, is the relevant number. For Mumbai Indians, the requirement to finish the chase in 87 deliveries was only subject to their final score being 190. The chasing team, if they take a few extra deliveries to get home, can still push their NRR up to the required fraction if they manage to achieve a final score that is sufficiently higher - by finishing things off with a boundary.
Mumbai Indians, despite failing to score that all-important extra run off 14.3, had already inched ahead of Rajasthan Royals’ NRR when they had drawn level on 189. At that stage, Mumbai Indians’ NRR read 0.078099, while Royals’ was 0.076821. Had Mumbai Indians just run the single they needed for victory off the fourth ball, though, their NRR would have gone below that of Royals’.
Since they were using the extra ball, they would have needed to get their score up to at least 191 off that delivery. Running two was not an option, as they needed just the one run to win. So their only option was to hit a boundary.
But the story doesn’t end there.
However, had they played out a dot ball, they still would have not been out of it. They could have hit a four off 14.5 or 14.6 and still finished with a NRR better than that of Royals. If they played out three dots, they would have needed to hit a six off 15.1 to bump their NRR up above Royals’. If this had happened, Mumbai would have ended with a NRR of 0.080519 against Royals’ 0.074163.
I watched all this, and I swear nobody knew this last bit at the time.
Cricket meets The Onion. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the IPL games don’t mean anything.
In other cricket news, Kevin Pietersen had another horrible day leading his Delhi Daredevils to a crushing defeat, again. But Pietersen himself batted effectively, and when he gets back to England to play for Surrey, not only will he be wanting to be proving a point, but he looks like he might be capable of proving it. Especially given that he won’t be the captain of Surrey, and have to carry the can for Surrey now being so crap.
England, having recently dispensed with the services of Pietersen and then got an actual win in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, were today totally creamed, in ODI number two. Pietersen would not be human if he didn’t smile, just a little.
Actually, Surrey may be bouncing back from total crapness. Today, they had a half decent day, bowling out Essex for not much. Now they’re talking about Gareth Batty, the ancient Surrey spin bowler responsible for this, as England’s replacement for Swann. Well, Batty is.
Yes, Surrey just won a cricket match. I know. You don’t care. All you care about is football. But I have supported Surrey ever since I was a tot, while football doesn’t really grab me. I am not totally hostile to it. I like it when Spurs win, and I watch the World Cup. But basically, I just don’t find the regular things that footballers do, when playing football but when not scoring goals, very interesting. At school I was a goalie, rather than a regular football player, and I never became that interested in how the people out there in that big field contrived to make balls fly towards me and my goal. All I cared about was stopping them, which is nothing to do with most of what happens on a football pitch. It was more like fielding in cricket, or wicketkeeping (which I also did).
When I say I “supported” Surrey I don’t mean I actually went to any games, but I did follow them on the radio, and now I follow them on the Internet. And this week, for the first time in about two years, and after being relegated from Division One of the County Championship at the end of last season, Surrey finally won a first class four day county match, against Gloucester.
Day one saw a clatter of wickets, with Surrey, having bowled Gloucester out cheaply, throwing away the chance of a first innings lead by losing six cheap wickets themselves. On day two, Surrey’s first innings having ended with its customary ignominy, Gloucester were building a big lead, and I went into “only a game” mode. I forgot about it in other words. Later I remembered, and by then Gloucester’s second innings had been ripped to bits by Chris Tremlett, the fast and very tall bowler who went on tour with England to Australia last winter but was hopelessly ineffective. On Tuesday, for the first time in ages, he stopped being ineffective. If he carries on bowling like this, Surrey could end up doing as well as people said they would at the start of the season.
So, by the end of day two, Surrey were already starting their fourth innings, chasing 267 to win, and then came another huge surprise. I assumed they’d be four down by the close and would lose by over a hundred, such has been the awfulness of the post-Ramprakash post-Maynard post-that-other-South-African-bloke Surrey batting. Instead, by the close, Surrey were forty four without loss. Astonishing.
The next day was almost entire rained off, and Surrey made it to forty seven, again without loss. The final day, Wednesday, was sunny, and Smith, Surrey’s ageing guest worker captain who until recently captained South Africa, also come good at last with the bat and got a hundred. Steve Davies, after abandoning his wicketkeeper’s gloves in this game to concentrate on batting (thereby kissing any chance of an England return goodbye), and after a disappointment in the first innings, got sixty, only getting out in a final little clatter of wickets just before the end. The end was actually quite funny. Jason Roy and Davies both got out with only one more good clout needed to win it, and then the dot balls started piling up, as if speed of scoring was proportional to the number of runs still needed, with the Surrey score becoming ever more static even as victory beckoned. Asymptotic, I think this is called, as when a graph nearly gets to a particular point, but never quite gets there, even as it keeps getting ever closer. But a single occurred, and then a two was finally managed, and all was well. So. Hurrah.
In other cricket news, it seems that England’s cricket bosses continue to take their time about adjusting to the IPL. I have been telling these people that the IPL is something else again for years, but although I am sure that they are aware of my views, they still choose not to act on them. This guy agrees with me. Of the relations between the IPL and England’s cricket bigwigs, he says this:
If the hand of friendship is being extended there, it’s being extended on the quiet, far from public view. A cold-war chill persists publicly, perhaps hardened by the presence of the establishment’s own Voldemort, Kevin Pietersen, in Delhi. One of the many irks that led to his estrangement was his ardent advocacy of the tournament.
That was attributed to money, and only a fool would deny its role, yet Pietersen’s sharpened cricketing instincts also recognised other values: the chance to deliver under pressure in front of hysterical crowds; the opportunities it provided as a learning experience and an information exchange; the way it was driving the patterns and techniques of the sport forwards. To be isolated from the less attractive elements of IPL cricket was also to be isolated from its benefits. The other day Chris Gayle tweeted news of a dinner he’d had with Pietersen, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. Maybe they didn’t speak about cricket at all, but maybe they did too, and imagine what a conversation that would have been.
Actually, Pietersen is having a wretched time of it in the IPL right now, captaining the Delhi “Daredevils”, who are now bottom. Well, someone has to be. Gayle is also not doing well this year, so far, because he is hurt. One of the ITV4 commentators recently described him as a liability to his team. Ouch.
Next year, apparently, the IPL will stop being free-to-view on ITV4 and will instead by on Sky. So, finally, I will stop recording all the games, as I have been doing, and can settle down to mining these past games for blogging purposes, on an “end of an era” basis. And apparently, it being a well known fact that Sky TV is the nearest thing to a World Government that the world now possesses, this means that the England cricket panjandra will be told to fit English cricket in with the IPL, and they will obey. That way, England players will be in the IPL, instead of just Pietersen, Sky will make more money.
Perhaps I’ll get out more and watch the IPL in pubs. Maybe I’ll get Sky, although my understanding is that Sky don’t do what they blitheringly obviously should do which is sell me all their cricket and nothing else for ten quid a month, or perhaps all their cricket and all their rugby union for fifteen quid a month. (Ten quid a month for one sport, five quid more for each extra sport.) I refuse to pay forty quid a month for sport the majority of which is of no interest to me. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want football but wants other Sky stuff, but at present people like that are just not catered for.
This afternoon, the Big Bang or Big Blast or whatever, the rejigged English county cricket version of T20, begins. Instead of concentrating all the T20 games in one concentrated burst IPL-style, the Big Whatever will see T20s every Friday evening throughout the summer. It might work. Trouble is, it will be harder to get the best foreigners involved, if they have to be here all summer long just for one little tournament. We shall see. Aaron Finch, recent T20 tormentor of England, will be playing for Yorkshire, presumably only after he has completed his duties at the IPL. And a chastened Pietersen will have “a lot to prove” with Surrey, but is he now getting past it? With luck, greed will kick in, and he will want to hang on in there for the sake of his bank balance. If his mate Yuvraj Singh can do it, he will even now be telling himself, so can he.
(In the first edition of this posting I erroneously claimed that Finch would be playing for Surrey, when actually he will be playing for Yorkshire. Apologies. It tells you something about my subconscious that I began by spelling Yorkshire as “Yorkshite”.)
Finally. Well, yes, fair comment, but I had and I have my reasons.
One of the reasons there have been so many inanimate objects in these wedding photos so far is that I got there so very, very early. And it was such a lovely day, and such a lovely place. What was I supposed to do? Not take photos of stuff?
But another reason for the relative absence of people in these photos is that just shoving random wedding photos of people at a wedding and its immediate aftermath onto the internet raises the question of just how public a wedding is. Is it the business of the entire world? Not really. Not necessarily. (Think of the arguments that rage about who may and may not photograph celebrity weddings. These arguments are not only about money.)
So, are weddings entirely private? Again, not really.
A wedding is certainly not just about the Bride and the Groom. They are of course central to everything, and in modern, self-scripted weddings, we guests are often included in the proceedings by being told that we are “sharing” this “special day”. But I think more is involved than us merely sharing a basically personal ceremony. What these two people, and typically also their two families, are doing is proclaiming to one and to all that, as of now, things are different. The Bride and the Groom are no longer separate individuals in quite the way they were before this day. They are now, in whatever way they want to do this, a couple. Still two individuals of course, but also in it together. And they are not just saying this to each other. They are saying it to … everyone. We are now living a different life. Back us up, people. Don’t hit on either of us during marital rough patches. Help us to live this new life we are embarking on, rather than expecting us to behave like the singles we used to be. If you are a long time friend of hers, but don’t much care for him, make the effort to change that, and meanwhile, keep your grumbles about him to yourself.
In the past, holding weddings in public was even more important, because only if you had lots of witnesses could most of those directly concerned be entirely sure that the wedding had even happened. Public ceremonies, a marriage ceremony being only one such, were public ceremonies in order that everyone could then agree that they had happened, on that day, in that place, and that this or that, these or those promises had indeed been exchanged. In pre-literate times, public ceremonies were the nearest thing most people had to a collective record of events. They weren’t merely the principal form of public propaganda (although there definitely were that too); they were the public record.
As the old Church of England marriage ceremony puts it, right at the very start of the event:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; …
God, this congregation, this Man, this Woman. The congregation is no afterthought.
But exactly who, at a wedding these days, are the members of this congregation? In the internet age, is the congregation the entire world? Hardly. Yes, families and friends gather together to tell each other, and then to pass the word on to all their families and friends, that, as of now, they’re a couple and we will all help them to be a couple and to stay a couple. But what of total strangers on the other side of the world? Do you want random bods in faraway places to be told all about this event, and all about who was present at it, what they were wearing, and about how drunk they all got? Maybe you will be delighted to be telling absolutely anyone who cares all about it. But, maybe you will not.
So, in this next clutch of photos I have once again downplayed the individual portrait aspect of things, and concentrated on the kind of generic wedding-ness of the event. Ceremonial niceties, beautiful or quirky fashion statements, food, sunshine, music making, distant shots of brideness and groomness. But individual, recognisable faces? Once again, hardly any.
For me, the fact that, in my pictures of my fellow amateur wedding photographers, faces are so often hidden behind cameras is a feature rather than a bug, when it comes to showing my snaps, at least in theory, potentially, to total strangers. That’s basically why there are more photos in that collection than there are in this one.
Let me add another point on the anonymity front, relating to the sticking up of photos of people on a blog. Let me put it thus: I have quite a few subjects which I instruct Google to email me about whenever anyone mentions them on the big old www. One of these subjects is “face recognition”. I get a lot of emails from Google about that, often involving Google itself.
By now, the name and face of the Groom is not much of a secret to any friends of mine or of his or of both who care, what with him explicitly name-checking a couple of us guests for a couple of our photos (in this piece), my one being one of the sign photos I took beforehand. I did take quite a lot of portraits of people at the event itself, of course I did. But they will be thrown into the photographic bran tub that the Bride and Groom will presumably trawl through about once every decade, without casual internet passers-by seeing them. I may even have the odd trawl through them myself in the years to come. But as for the rest of you, you will have to make do with snaps like this:
As you can see, this is not just the ceremony itself. It is also the reception.
In 2.1 we see the Bride putting a ring on the Groom. And in 1.2 we see us guests passing … something along between us, but I already forget what it was. This was in accordance with some kind of Hindu ceremony that the Groom had read about on the internet and, if I recall what the Bride’s Mum said, we (i.e. regular Hindus) never do. So the Groom, no sort of Hindu himself, had invented an entire Hindu wedding tradition. Outstanding.
I particularly enjoyed the bit later on in the day (see 3.2) where the Bride and Groom, surrounded by musicians, were photoed together, at the far end of the lawn from the rest of us. I got no really good photos of this, but what I saw reminded me somewhat of this famous Jack Vettriano painting, of people dancing on the beach, attended not by musicians but by umbrella holders. I thought there were musicians involved in that picture, but I now reckon I was combining in my mind that painting with this one. Ah, it seems that the man with the umbrella was singing. So music was involved.
Setting Vettriano aside, one of the musicians told me that although they had performed at many weddings, they had never, ever been asked to do anything like that before. So it was a slightly special day for them also. Excellent.
The IPL (twenty-twenty cricket) is so far proving to be one of the best yet. Just now, there was this, from Amit Mishra, this being his last over, to win it for Sunrisers Hyderabad against the Pune Warriors, by 11 runs:
1 W 1 W W W
When Mishra went in to bat, Hyderabad were 44-6. Mishra got 30 and Hyderabad struggled to 119-8, which never looked enough, until Mishra got stuck in, and Pune panicked, as in really panicked, even more than they had already been panicking. At one point Pune were 101-4, for heaven’s sakes, needing just 19 more runs. So, last six wickets for seven runs. In the end, it wasn’t even that close!
As I keep on saying, the English really should be allowed to get in on this.
At least Eoin Morgan (Eoin sounds like Owen) is doing okay. He is the nearest thing to an Englishman making any sort of impact in this tournament.
At his talk chez moi on Friday Feb 22nd (see below) on How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised, Michael Jennings intends to show us some photos. Indeed, he will be dropping by earlier in the week to make sure that the relevant technology can be guaranteed to work properly on the night. This may also require some creativity with the seating.
Here, in the meantime, are a few photos that he has emailed to me, together with commentary. Enjoy.
This is in Sukhomi, Abkhazia, a breakaway non-recognised state that is de jure part of Georgia (and is supported by Russia). Mango is a fashion label that grew out of a stall in the Ramblas market in Barcelona, and is now to globalised retail what the sub-prime market is to home ownership.
An interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a market for a particular international business, and that international business does not operate in that particular market for whatever reason: because the market is too small, too distant, too poor, too corrupt, or there are political problems. Clones of the business will often spring up. These can be particularly entertaining in places where there is no trademark law, trademark law is weak, or where it can be legally difficult to pursue claims from the owner of the trademark. This burger place in northern Cyprus in no way resembles Burger King. Obviously.
One of the most extreme cases in which this phenomenon occurred was in South Africa under apartheid. Many international companies boycotted the country, which in some ways was a modern country with a sizeable middle class, economy and legal system. (In various other ways, it wasn’t and isn’t.) South Africa in 1990 was therefore full of quite good clones of international businesses, that until then were constrained as to where they could operate, but faces competition only from one another at home. Post 1990, the international businesses that they were clones of entered South Africa in a big way, and the South Africans themselves were subsequently able to compete in the wider world. The South African clones weren’t good enough or rich enough to compete in the home markets of the major internationals, and have subsequently expanded into countries that are poorly served by the internationals for a variety of reason - this means Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East. Politically dubious markets of questionable legitimacy a lot the time. One often finds South Africans and Russians side by side.
One could write an entire book about fake Apple Stores. The ones in China (this one is in Tianjin) are the most awesome. The entire story of international brands in China is itself fascinating. Everyone is there, because of the perceived size and importance of the market. Yet the country is far more chaotic, far more unstable, far more corrupt, for more authoritarian, has weaker copyright and patent laws and a weaker rule of law in general than many of the markets these companies would generally consider operating in.
India is more problematic in some ways: bureaucratic beyond words, and culturally difficult in ways that make foreign business models work less well, or at least require a lot more adaptation. (Imagine you are McDonald’s, and you are told that you are not permitted to use either beef nor pork in the food you sell). There have historically been limits on foreign investment. Supermarkets are only now in the process of being legalised. Very large companies can find entry to the Indian market - car makers or mobile phone companies. Medium sized companies - which is where most of the interesting stuff happens - find it much harder.
It’s going to be an interesting evening.
I want to live here!
Here being here:
It’s Mumbai though. They will only ever finish half of it, and there will be a slum in the location where they want to build the second swimming pool that they cannot do anything about.
In a way, this would be good. In China, the slum would be demolished and the people living in it would be relocated 3000 miles into the middle of the desert at gunpoint. So there are different ways of doing it.
Incoming from Michael J:
This is right in the middle of Malabar Hill, the poshest address in Mumbai and some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Everything in India is next to everything else.
Incoming from Michael J:
Not a great photo, alas, but there is a sign at the entrance to the slum saying that this is in fact a co-op. housing society (proposed). The nearby rich residents have clearly decided that the slum should be demolished and replaced with something nicer and less unsightly for the residents to live in and to make the neighbourhood prettier. But this being India, it remains forever proposed.
A sane way of dealing with this situation would be to give the residents of the slum legal title to where they live. They could then sell it to developers, and use the money from it to build themselves palatial houses elsewhere. Everyone would then be better off.
Unfortunately, Indian bureaucracy is too stultifying for this to happen, and in addition Mumbai itself is too corrupt for it to happen in a fair way. Even if it could happen legally, gangsters would find a way to steal the money.
Micklethwait’s Law number about seven states that if you want to cheer yourself up about your own country, ignore your own country and look instead at all the others.
I’m trying to write a big old piece about how hard cricket is to organise these days.
Meanwhile this evening at the IPL, this just happened, to Dale Steyn!!!:
6 2 4 6 4 1
The batsman doing this was AB de Villiers, which explains it.
An earlier over by Steyn was a maiden. Against Chris Gayle. Maiden overs are rare in the IPL.
Now Simon Hughes is calling AB de Villiers a genius. Like he says, Steyn is now the best bowler in the world. What’s more, AB kept the bowling for the final over, thus making sure his team won.
The second 6 in that Steyn over was particularly amazing. It was a yorker on middle and leg that would have splattered most batsmen’s stumps. AB smoked it over extra cover into row … about Z. Shot of the tournament for me, that I’ve seen. Steyn just smiled.
In the previous game West Indian Dwayne Smith, playing in his first ever IPL game, had to hit 14 off the last 3 balls to win it. He did exactly that. 6 4 4. Off Hilfenhaus, who is also no mug at bowling. The first three balls of that last over had gone dot wicket dot.
Best day of the IPL yet.
I love what James Tooley has been doing with his life, namely telling the world about how the world’s poor are now getting themselves educated. The world’s poor are not getting education from their governments. They are purchasing it from their fellow citizens.
This is Tooley’s description of how he got started learning about this global educational miracle, and triumph of the free market economy. It’s from his book The Beautiful Tree (Chapter 1, pp. 3-7):
After a stint teaching philosophy of education at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, I returned to England to complete my doctorate and later became a professor of education. Thanks to my experiences in sub-Saharan Africa and my modest but respectable academic reputation, I was offered a commission by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries.
The lure of faraway places was too enticing to resist, but I was troubled by the project itself. Although I was to study private schools in developing countries, those schools were serving the middle classes and the elite. Despite my lifelong desire to help the poor, I’d somehow wound up researching bastions of privilege.
The first leg of the trip began in New York in January 2000. As if to reinforce my misgivings that the project would do little for the poor, I was flown first class to London in the inordinate luxury of the Concorde. Forty minutes into the flight, as we cruised at twice the speed of sound and two miles above conventional air traffic, caviar and champagne were served. The boxer Mike Tyson (sitting at the front with a towel over his head for much of the journey) and singer George Michael were on the same flight. I felt lost.
From London it was on to Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai. By day, I evaluated five-star private schools and colleges that were very definitely for the privileged. By night, I was put up in unbelievably salubrious and attentive five-star hotels. But in the evenings, sitting and chatting with street children outside these very same hotels, I wondered what effect any of my work could have on the poor, whose desperate needs I saw all around me. I didn’t just want my work to be a defense of privilege. The middle-class Indians, I felt, were wealthy already. To me it all seemed a bit of a con: just because they were in a “poor” country, they were able to latch onto this international assistance even though they as individuals had no pressing need for it at all. I didn’t like it, but as I returned to my room and lay on the 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, my discomfort with the program was forced to compete with a mounting sense of self-criticism.
Then one day, everything changed. Arriving in Hyderabad to evaluate brand-new private colleges at the forefront of India’s hi-tech revolution, I learned that January 26th was Republic Day, a national holiday. Left with some free time, I decided to take an autorickshaw - the three-wheeled taxis ubiquitous in India - from my posh hotel in Banjara Hills to the Charminar, the triumphal arch built at the center of Muhammad Quli Shah’s city in 1591. My Rough Guide to India described it as Hyderabad’s “must see” attraction, and also warned that it was situated in the teeming heart of the Old City slums. That appealed tome. I wanted to see the slums for myself.
As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools. Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices. Of course, it was nothing more than I’d been led to expect from my meetings in India already - senior government officials had impressed me with their candor when they told me it was common knowledge that even the middle classes were all sending their children to private schools. They all did themselves. But it was still surprising to see how many there were.
We crossed the bridge over the stinking ditch that is the once-proud River Musi. Here were autorickshaws in abundance, cattle-drawn carts meandering slowly with huge loads of hay, rickshaws agonizingly peddled by painfully thin men. Cars were few, but motorbikes and scooters ("two-wheelers") were everywhere - some carried whole families (the largest child standing in front; the father at the handlebars; his wife, sitting sidesaddle in her black burka or colorful sari, holding a baby, with another small child wedged in between). There were huge trucks brightly painted in lively colors. There were worn-out buses, cyclists, and everywhere pedestrians, whose cavalier attitude toward the traffic unnerved me as they stepped in front of us seemingly without a care in the world. From every vehicle came the noise of horns blaring - the drivers seemed to ignore their mirrors, if they had them at all. Instead, it seemed to be the responsibility of the vehicle behind to indicate its presence to the vehicle in front. This observation was borne out by the legend on the back of the trucks, buses, and autorickshaws, “Please Horn!” The noise of these horns was overwhelming: big, booming, deafening horns of the buses and trucks, harsh squealing horns from the autorickshaws. It’s the noise that will always represent India for me.
All along the streets were little stores and workshops in makeshift buildings - from body shops to autorickshaw repair shops, women washing clothes next to paan (snack) shops, men building new structures next to the stalls of market vendors, tailors next to a drugstore, butchers and bakers, all in the same small hovel-like shops, dark and grimy, a nation of shopkeepers. Beyond them all rose the 400-year-old Charminar.
My driver let me out, and told me he’d wait for an hour, but then called me back in a bewildered tone as I headed not to the Charminar but into the back streets behind. No, no, I assured him, this is where I was going, into the slums of the Old City. For the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools! I could see handwritten signs pointing to them even here on the edge of the slums. I was amazed, but also confused: why had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?
I left my driver and turned down one of the narrow side streets, getting quizzical glances from passers-by as I stopped underneath a sign for Al Hasnath School for Girls. Some young men were serving at the bean-and-vegetable store adjacent to a little alleyway leading to the school. I asked them if anyone was at the school today, and of course the answer was no for it was the national holiday. They pointed me to an alleyway immediately opposite, where a hand-painted sign precariously supported on the first floor of a three-story building advertised “Students Circle High School & Institute: Registered by the Gov’t of AP.” “Someone might be there today,” they helpfully suggested.
I climbed the narrow, dark staircase at the back of the building and met a watchman, who told me in broken English to come back tomorrow. As I exited, the young men at the bean-and-vegetable counter hailed me and said there was definitely someone at the Royal Grammar School just nearby, and that it was a very good private school and I should visit. They gave me directions, and I bade farewell. But I became muddled by the multiplicity of possible right turns down alleyways followed by sharp lefts, and so asked the way of a couple of fat old men sitting alongside a butcher shop.
Their shop was the dirtiest thing I had ever seen, with entrails and various bits and pieces of meat spread out on a mucky table over which literally thousands of flies swarmed. The stench was terrible. No one else seemed the least bit bothered by it. They immediately understood where I wanted to go and summoned a young boy who was headed in the opposite direction to take me there. He agreed without demur, and we walked quickly, not talking at all as he spoke no English. In the next street, young boys played cricket with stones as wickets and a plastic ball. One of them called me over, to shake my hand. Then we turned down another alleyway (with more boys playing cricket between makeshift houses outside of which men bathed and women did their laundry) and arrived at the Royal Grammar School, which proudly advertised, “English Medium, Recognised by the Gov’t of AP.” The owner, or “correspondent” as I soon came to realize he was called in Hyderabad, was in his tiny office. He enthusiastically welcomed me. Through that chance meeting, I was introduced to the warm, kind, and quietly charismatic Mr. Fazalur Rahman Khurrum and to a huge network of private schools in the slums and low-income areas of the Old City. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that my expertise in private education might after all have something to say about my concern for the poor.
Khurrum was the president of an association specifically set up to cater to private schools serving the poor, the Federation of Private Schools’ Management, which boasted a membership of over 500 schools, all serving low-income families. Once word got around that a foreign visitor was interested in seeing private schools, Khurrum was inundated with requests for me to visit. I spent as much time as I could over the next 10 days or so with Khurrum traveling the length and breadth of the Old City, in between doing my work for the International Finance Corporation in the new city. We visited nearly 50 private schools in some of the poorest parts of town, driving endlessly down narrow streets to schools whose owners were apparently anxious to meet me. (Our rented car was a large white Ambassador - the Indian vehicle modeled on the old British Morris Minor, proudly used by government officials when an Indian flag on the hood signified the importance of its user - horn blaring constantly, as much to signify our own importance as to get children and animals out of the way.) There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city. I visited so many, being greeted at narrow entrances by so many students, who marched me into tiny playgrounds, beating their drums, to a seat in front of the school, where I was welcomed in ceremonies officiated by senior students, while school managers garlanded me with flowers, heavy, prickly, and sticky around my neck in the hot sun, which I bore stoically as I did the rounds of the classrooms.
So many private schools, some had beautiful names, like Little Nightingale’s High School, named after Sarogini Naidu, a famous “freedom fighter” in the 1940s, known by Nehru as the “Little Nightingale” for her tender English songs. Or Firdaus Flowers Convent School, that is, “flowers of heaven.” The “convent” part of the name puzzled me at first, as did the many names such as St. Maria’s or St. John’s. It seemed odd, since these schools were clearly run by Muslims - indeed, for a while I fostered the illusion that these saints and nuns must be in the Islamic tradition too. But no, the names were chosen because of the connotations to parents - the old Catholic and Anglican schools were still viewed as great schools in the city, so their religious names were borrowed to signify quality to the parents. But did they really deliver a quality education? I needed to find out.
Cricinfo boffin Anantha Narayanan:
My surmise was correct. In the 210 4/5/6 match Test series played so far, the England win over India is the most comprehensive and devastating in history of Test cricket. That is what many experts are saying but this is now proved here with hard analytical conclusions.
I found the series utterly fascinating from beginning to end, despite its ever more extreme one-sidedness. Partly, this was ignoble sadism, watching my team slaughter the other fellows. But there was another slightly more honourable impulse at work, I think. The thing is, England have never played like this before. England don’t do whitewashes, or whatever such slaughters are more properly called when the white guys beat the non-white guys. They don’t win the series with a succession of wins, with no draws, and then win the dead test match at the end as well, also by an innings. If anything, I found the final test the most riveting of all. Would England keep it going, and win the lot? Yes they would. Yes they did. Wow. Fancy that.
There was also a backhanded compliment involved in my gloating. I can remember when England slaughtering India at cricket was about as much fun to contemplate as someone torturing a cat. It proved only that England were being horrid to poor defenceless India. It didn’t prove anything about England’s prowess. Ditto New Zealand. But India, in cricket and in the world generally, is now a major force, a fact reflected in their recent number one test match status and nouveau riche economic status, second only in public esteem in that particular contest to China. This result was as freakishly bad for them as it was freakishly good for England, which is all part of how freakishly good it was for England. India can live with us poor little Brits gloating about beating them at a mere game, while they continue to take over our steel industry. So, I gloat.
This, by the way, and I apologise for tangenting off, is one of the sources of anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism is a similarly backhanded compliment, paid by the world to the top country in the world. Americans, we all instinctively know, can take it. If people ever start hating China more than America, then watch out America, because that will mean that China is the top country.
But this is a cricket posting, so I really don’t want to end with that digression. And yes, there are a couple more things I want to say about cricket.
The first concerns a disagreeable new habit that the television cricket commentators have suddenly acquired, probably from Geoff Boycott. Whenever anything happens, instead of pausing, thinking, and then saying something pertinent, in clear-as-a-bell English, they are now groaning. Boycott and Michael Vaughan are the main offenders, so maybe it’s a Yorkshire thing. Ooooooh. Ooooor. Awwwww. Errrrrr. Often there is a rising inflection to it, as if they are disapproving of what they see. In short, the television commentators are starting to sound exactly like spectators. This is not what they are paid to do. They should be sent away on courses, presided over by Richie Benaud, the Pope of the pause think say something pertinent school of commentating. The worst offence was right at the end of one of the games. Instead of saying: England have won by however many runs it was, Boycott groaned and moaned and said something highly non-pertinent. Terrible.
The second thing I want to say about India is that I hope England slaughter them in the one-dayers also. England have already won the only T20 game, but then got the worst of a rained off start to the 50 over series. I hope that is no portent and that England come back hard and win the rest of the ODI series 4-0.
I do not say this out of sadism. I say it because cricket needs India to be good, and nothing provokes cricket goodness like a jolly good thrashing. England’s current excellence is directly traceable to earlier humiliations, when the Aussies five-nothing-ed them in 2006-7 or thenabouts, and when the Windies blew them away in Jamaica, just after Andy Flower became the coach. If India win these ODIs, lots of Indians will say: there you are, when we try, we win. Test cricket is boring, who needs it? We are the one day kings and we just proved it. Our team’s okay. It’s test matches that are the problem, blah blah blah. Cricket very much now needs Indians not to be able to say this, but instead to say to themselves: bloody hell, we are rubbish at ... cricket. All of it. We must spend some of our new money by not being so rubbish, across all the formats.
Against Bangalore in Chennai, during the last four overs of their innings in the IPL Final, Chennai go from 177-1 to 205-5:
2 . . . 1 2 | 6 1 . 1lb 2 6 | W W . 1wd 6 1 2 | 1 . . W W 6
During the exact same time period, also in four overs, in the their first innings in the First Test against Sri Lanka in Cardiff, England go from 168-2 to 172-2:
. . 1 . . . | . . 1 . . . | . . . . . . | . . 1 1b . .
Go Cook. Go Trott.
Generic ITV4 Telly Sport Announcer (Matt Smith?), talking about the IPL Final: “We all know what has to happen for this to be a match.”
Oh dear. Gayle gone. Match over? Probably. Bangalore now 16-2. It’s all happening in Chennai, but pretty soon it will stop happening and just dribble away into an inevitable Chennai win. (That’s how Twenty20 can be dull.)
England now 185-2. Two more days to go in Cardiff after this one, and it’ll probably be a draw, what with all the rain there has been. (That’s how test cricket can be dull.)
Yes, time for a link dump, of things I have cluttering up my screen but which I don’t want to just delete and totally forget about.
John Buchanan, on the left here, looks nothing like Christopher Martin-Jenkins, but he does look a lot like Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending. New York Times, September 30th, 1999. Steven A. Holmes is entitled to say: I told you so.
Since it’s Friday: Project Acoustic Kitty: how the CIA failed at using cats as spies. After many confusions, caused by the cat not doing as it was told (and who could possibly have seen that coming?):
The first mission took place in a park near the Soviet embassy, where the cat was tasked with eavesdropping on two men. A CIA reconnaissance van across the street released the operative, who took a few steps towards her foes and was immediately run over by a taxi.
And finally, just when you think you’ve seen and heard everything, Hugh Laurie sings the blues.