Gun control ~ surely time has come for something to be done?

gun control

I read a statistic recently that more people die around the world taking selfies than in shark attacks. Mashable reported than a Japanese tourist died after falling down stairs at the Taj Mahal while attempting to take a selfie. 12 selfie deaths in 2015 puts selfies as a more common killer than sharks (8).

It’s a bit like the stat that more people die in their toilet than due to a number of other causes, due to wet floors and other accidents. I fear to wonder how many were taking selfies (or “belfies” as they’re known, yes, that’s ‘bathroom selfies’) at the time.

No doubt selfie deaths will be used by those decrying the latest narcissistic craze as more evidence that the world is going to the dogs. We certainly take more interest in sharks (last year in our State of Western Australia the government paid people to go around baiting and shooting them off our coast); I am not suggesting we shoot selfie takers.

Some of those outraged at the calls for some increased gun control in the States have noted how car deaths amount for far more fatalities than gun deaths, and heart attacks still more again. ‘We’re not going to ban cars or burgers now are we?’ goes their argument.

Well no, but there are restrictions on car ownership, how fast you can go, the wearing of seatbelts and other safety measures installed in automobiles. Each one was derided as it came in (I remember the outcry over seatbelts), but each one has worked. Likewise, we are far more aware now of a healthy diet and the need for exercise than we ever were, and McDonalds has to display the kJs in each burger meal. Only a few decades ago, cigarettes were openly advertised on TV, with doctors (yes doctors!) smoking away saying how satisfying they were. In Australia, plain packaging has almost eradicated tobacco brands entirely.

And in any case, the calls are not to gun bans, just for gun control. Just knowing who has a gun and where they live would be a good start, and perhaps insisting on reasonable background checks on anyone buying a gun before they buy one, too.

Over time as more information comes to light, we learn, we think and then we act, in the public interest. Research and statistics, theories and evidence (shock horror!) guide our understanding over time, and we accept a little less freedom in order to enjoy a greater good. That is what a government’s job primarily is all about. That, and leadership.

The Port Arthur massacre of April 1996 shocked Australia (35 killed), and the newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard swiftly introduced strict gun controls by Act of Parliament. All States and territories concurred. 85% of Australians wanted gun control, and a few outspoken groups opposed the new laws. The government announced a ‘buy back’ of guns and 643,000 firearms were handed in. John Howard famously faced up to his critics (wearing a bullet proof vest no less) and argued passionately for the new laws.

A Fox News anchor in the States, recently called these same laws “childish”, claiming Aussies “have no freedom”.

But the fact is that there has been not one mass shooting in Australia since these ‘childish freedom-hating’ laws have been put in place. By comparison, there have been over 50 mass school shootings in the US this year alone, the latest one in Roseberg, Oregon where 10 were killed and another 9 injured. There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists them all. (In fact, there have been 2 more mass shootings at schools since, that’s 3 this month already.)

Australia is not the US. I get that.

In the US, 350 million people own about 300 million firearms. On average, every man, woman and child has a gun, pretty much.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), probably the most misnamed pressure group in history (we’re talking handguns, semi automatic weapons here, not quaint 19th century rifles) campaigns strongly against gun control and “for freedom” (such as the freedom to get shot, supposedly?). They argue the “only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun”.

If we are talking about the wild west of the 1870s, then I concede this point. But I think we’ve moved on haven’t we? And in any case, pretty much everyone does have a gun – is this making things safer? How many more guns are required before everyone feels really, really safe then?

In the US, there are 10 firearm related deaths per 100,000 people every year. 1.3% of ALL deaths in the States are due to firearms. And this does not count the number of non fatal injuries, which outnumber deaths 8 to 1. Gun violence alone costs the US taxpayer over $500m in hospital costs a year.

In the UK, the figure is 0.26 deaths per 100,000 people; or put it another way, you are 40 times more likely to be shot dead in the US as you are in the UK by a gun. In Australia, it’s 0.86 deaths per 100,000.

Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore (in some countries in Asia the death penalty exists for even owning part of a gun) there are 0.03, 0.06 and 0.16 deaths per 100,000 people a year.

When you look at developed nations, the US simply has more guns and more gun deaths than anyone else. Only places like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia have more per 100,000 population. Does anyone seriously not believe there is a link between access to firearms and the number of firearm related deaths, plus all the associated grief and costs that result?

So the weight of evidence is clearly for tighter gun control, but it’s the emotional argument (not rational) that holds sway. ‘Don’t take away our 2nd amendment rights / freedom’ chime the proponents of gun ownership. No, I’m not taking away your 2nd amendments rights to hold a gun or your freedom. In the same way you are free to smoke, eat burgers and drive cars, you have to accept there must be reasonable restrictions on what you can and cannot do with what is (by definition) a lethal weapon. We are about protecting the innocent (50 mass school shootings a year – are you serious?!) and the greater good, while still allowing you to own a gun, go down the rifle range, keep it under lock and key in a safe place.

By the way, I like guns. I enjoyed shooting at a rifle range when I was a teenager. I grew up in the English countryside. Farmers and friends had guns. My Dad had an air rifle at home, and regularly went on shoots. I practised shooting the air rifle with my brothers, at cardboard pigeon targets out back when I was a kid. I loved it.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Steve Elliott from the States, who, 6 days ago, posted on his Facebook how he destroyed his own gun page to remove 1 gun from the millions circulating in the US…

None of us individually can stop gun violence in America, but as a responsible gun owner, I will no longer be used as a justification for doing nothing about it. Today I did what I could. Today there is ‪#‎ONELESSGUN‬.

It’s had 36,000 shares, and has been picked up my major media outlets around the world. Will something happen this time?

Farewell Jon Stewart, #jonvoyage

Jon Stewart

Jonathan Stuart Lebowitz (aka Jon Stewart), from New Jersey, the world’s foremost satirist, did his final ‘Daily Show’ this week, after 16 years spent poking fun at, and laying bare, political absurdists, buffons and bulls**t artists.

Not a hard job, you may ponder, but done with the precision of a supreme Zen master. Jon used a deftness of touch, warming up his favourite topics of derision with a few minutes of ‘following their logic’ only to expose their stupidity and two facedness with a mix of acidic wit and explosive evidence.

Everyone from the loons at Fox News to those running for (or holding) high office would be laid bare, their own words skewering their own arguments, with Jon just playing the conductor, interlacing clips with biting interjections.

No one was safe, not those on the left, right or centre. The right certainly gave him plenty of fodder every night, but he went after everyone. In the era of ‘sound bite’ politics, where slogans masquerade for political debate, thank goodness for the cutting exposure of The Daily Show, a program I think I watched (almost without missing an episode) these last 10 years or so.

Along the way, Jon brought us Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Aasif Mandvi, Al Madrigal, John Hodgman, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal, John Oliver, Jason Jones, Samantha Bee,  Olivia Munn, Rob Corddry and Ed Helms. Without The Daily Show there would have been no Colbert Report (who is now taking over the Letterman Show) or Last Week Tonight. Downunder, Charlie Pickering does a pretty good Aussie version on the ABC on Wednesday nights with the ‘Weekly Show’.

Without JS, we now have to smell the BS for ourselves. As Jon himself said, there is a lot of it around. Be aware of it, don’t let it defeat you. “The best defense against it is vigilance”.

His last 4 minute monologue puts it perfectly, and is well worth a watch.

Thanks Jon, #jonvoyage.

Behaviours are set early

Dickensian pick pocketers

The passing of Alan Bond this week has made many think back to the decade of the ’80s with its big hair and even bigger, brasher entrepreneurs. It was the decade that saw a new generation of leaders in Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson come into their own (their companies still hold sway to this day), and downunder it was Bondy, Skasey, Murdoch & Packer.

Reading Paul Barry’s book, The Rise and Fall of Alan Bond (pub. 1991), made you realise that Bondy had been up to his old tricks way back when he was a sign writer and wannabee businessman. Legend has it that having seen For Sale/Sold signs go and up and down on various developments around Perth, Alan realised he was in the wrong game. The serious money was being made in property development, not in sign boards. Allegedly, the various deals he started making back then were just as risky, as he flew close to the wind many, many times, and made enemies and riches in equal measure. He was the consummate salesman, a bit loud, full of himself and convincing, and every now and again struck gold.

In 1983 I visited Australia for the first time. The bright sun, land of opportunity and, yes, brashness, appealed to this 20 year old back packing uni student. I lobbed up in Brisbane where my brother had been working for a year (he’s still there, 30 years on). The Commonwealth Games had just happened, and of course it was the time of the famous America’s Cup win (which did wonders for WA, Fremantle and Bond Corporation in particular). The USA had won the Cup continuously since 1851. No more. Bondy bankrolled this fourth attempt at resting it from their hands, and won. He made sure he cashed in too, and all went well (Bond Towers, 6X Brewery, Channel 9 and van Gogh’s Irises among some notable deals) until the stock market crash of 1987 exposed the problems within his vast empire. To keep things going he had illegally taken $1.3 billion in cash from one business to prop up another, an action that would land him up in jail for 3-4 years.

4 years in jail is what another sometime Perth businessman ended up with this week. A Perth court found that Bill Ardrey had faked $394,000 of consultants’ fees paid by a company he was a non-executive director of. The money was going to him. He had put up an elaborate web of deceit to cover his tracks, even faking a stroke in an attempt to stay out of court. (As with Mubarak of Egypt, Milosevic of Serbia and Alan Bond, an imminent court appearance can often herald sudden illness). It was sad to hear of his misdeeds. I had met Bill at UWA when he was completing a PhD. He sometimes subbed for lecturers if they were away, and he was an odd looking but amusing presenter, with a mix of humour and what seemed a little like shyness. I remember once he rushed through a 3-hour lecture to have it all done in 75 minutes. He wanted to get off early, and I suppose so did we. I met him a few times years later, in Singapore, where he and I did some occasional lecturing for UWA. He was good company, but had those ‘shifty eyes’, which I put down to shyness, but perhaps hid something he was up to. On the night I won a 40under40 Award in 2003, so did he. Whatever the ins and outs of the case, it’s sad to see someone fall so badly, and make the mistakes he must have made that led him to the court last week.

I feel sorry for the families of those affected by these deeds, the companies and people defrauded. I never met Bond, but I bet he was charming company. Great salespeople (and great fraudsters, and Bondy was Australia’s biggest fraudster) always are. These behaviours are often set in stone early in life.

In a footnote, it seems odd though that Bill gets 4 years in jail for $400k, the same as Alan for $1.3billion. If jail time was linked to dollars, Bondy would have had 13,000 years. Or Bill would have had half a day. Maybe he’ll get out early with good behaviour.

The genius of David Letterman

Letterman Show on Broadway

I’ve been a David Letterman fan since I first saw his shows in the late 1980s. I loved the irreverent send-ups, self deprecating humour, the sharp quick wit. It was New Yorker wise cracking, stand up delivered with a huge smile. It was fresh. David was having as much fun as everyone else.

In January 2010, I had a week in New York at a tech conference, and one of the things I had on my list apart from the Empire State, State of Liberty and pastrami on rye was a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman, filmed at the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, just a few blocks up from Time Square. So a few hours after touching down and making it to my hotel, I went to walk off some of the jetlag and found my self outside the theatre, and noticed people walking inside (it was a dark wintry Sunday evening, so I was amazed to see the doors open). There were people with clipboards ushering people in, so I walked in and was quickly told that if I wanted to see a taping, there would be two shows tomorrow, one at 2pm and another at 4pm. They asked me a couple of easy questions about the show, and said they’d leave a message at my hotel if I was on the list. By the time I got back to the hotel, a message was there. ‘Turn up tomorrow at 1pm’, which I did. Again, they asked me some questions about the show, and seeing I was a bit keen, told me to go to queue A inside the theatre. There were about 30 others there, and once there were about 50, we were told we had been chosen as we “looked nice” and were “big fans” so were going to be in the front rows. About 30 minutes of what I can only describe as “whipping us up into a frenzy” ensued where we were told to laugh and applaud at everything David says, but no calling out or taking photos.

Ed Sullivan theatre

Into the theatre we went and down to the front seats, I was in the second row left by the aisle. The set was as you’d expect, with people milling about, and then a local warm up comedian came on to get us all in the spirit of things, then they played us the famous 1996 Taco Bell bit, and finally the band came on, and played 3 or 4 songs. By this stage the whole theatre was full and clapping along, and finally, about 2 minutes before filming, out walked Dave himself, took one quick question, and as the theme music was started (all music and effects were played live) he ran off and we were into it.

As it was, the show went for 60 minutes as if in real time. During the ad breaks Dave would wander off to the side to talk through something with the producer. It all flowed like clockwork, perfect every time, first time. Well, the gang had done the show over 5000 times up to that point (and over 6000 times in all after Dave retired the show this week). There was Paul Shaffer leading the band, which included Tom “Bones” Malone (of Blues Brother’s fame). At the time Letterman rival Jay Leno had left the Today Show about 6 months earlier and Conan O’Brien (who’d started his career as a writer on Letterman’s Late Show) had taken over, but Conan had been sacked that day, and Leno was set to return. Dave (who everyone had expected to get the Today Show from Johnny Carson back in 1993) nonchalantly walked out to begin his monologue with “Agh well, looks like I didn’t get the Today Show again!”, with a pretend annoyance that turned into his signature beaming tooth-gap smile. It was an incredible experience and an amazing start to my week in New York.

Letterman’s late night show ran for 32 years (he’d had a morning show before that for a few years before switching to late night) and after Leno was given the Today Show, he regularly beat Leno in the ratings for years. While Leno was all smarmy establishment and slick one liners, Letterman was the edgy risk-taker. You were either a Leno person or Letterman. I was Letterman. Leno finally retired (again) a few years later, and Letterman, having gone past his good mate Carson’s 31 year record a couple of years ago, and aged 68 decided this was the moment to go. Everyone else in late night was in their 30s and using hash tags. His first guest on Late Night Bill Murray was there on his last show, as were all living Presidents, Foo Fighters and a cavalcade of stars who had guested many times for one last Top Ten list. Dave had survived major heart surgery (his Dad died of a heart attack in his 50s), blackmail, a stalker and 4 decades in the industry. There was not much more to do, except spend time with his wife and Harry his son. In the end, as he said farewell, “family is the most important thing.”

Letterman mugI sit and look at my Late Show mug on my desk every day, and smile. Thanks Dave. You’re a legend. 12 Emmys (more than any other chat show host), 53 nominations (more than anyone), producer of prime time shows, a real entrepreneur and raconteur, paid $20 million a year to entertain us (his $14m starting salary at CBS was 3 times that of Leno).

I reckon Dave had the last laugh.

Happy retirement.

P.S. Last Weds, Conan O’Brien, in an act of selfless admiration, even implored his own audience to turn over and watch Dave’s last show “You have to watch Dave; we will never see his like again.”

Richie

Richie

Looking back, it seems odd that an Aussie would be anchoring live cricket on TV in England from the 1960s onwards. 50 years and 500 test matches in all. Could the old dart not find a homegrown talent to front the game? (I doubt it would happen in any other sport.) Richie Benaud’s professionalism seemed to personify the coverage way back before T20, pajama cricket and IPL took over. These days, it’s all superlatives, laddish laughter and mass exaggeration. You have keep the ratings up, so whatever game you are ‘calling’, it has to be incredible, brilliant and tragic all at the same time. Not for Richie. Richie’s tone was measured, informed and educational. His golden rule – ‘don’t talk unless you can add to the pictures.

Perhaps only John Arlott was in his class, although John was a radio man, all rasping poetry laced with red wine (“the field is spreading like missionaries”). Richie was a TV man, pressed jackets and perfectly groomed hair (which in itself was a piece of work, in the Donald Trump vein of carefully crimped ear comb over). My Dad would call him ‘frog face’ (mainly to wind up my Mum, who adored him), and my Mum would reply ‘Oh he’s lovely’. My wife thought he looked a bit like a Chinese Auntie.

But we could all listen to Richie all day. From his crisp welcome (‘Morning everyone‘) to his well chosen phrases (‘he’s hit that into the confectionery stand and out again‘) and signature ‘Marrrrvelous‘. The sideways glance (was his deaf in one ear?), the curled bottom lip (did the top one ever move?) Richie was the first to eschew convention and look directly into the camera when answering a question made by a fellow commentator (he never forget the audience at home mattered the most). He was a pro from head to toe, unruffled, and could fill 6 minutes or 6 hours keeping the viewers engaged and educated. He knew when the detailed exposition of the LBW law was required, and when it was not. He knew when words were needed and were not. Often, they were not. He was the master of the pause. The well timed punchline.

After 1985 Ashes series, the British commentators were up in the open air toasting the English victory. Richie was there as the only Aussie. As the English buffoons gloated, Richie sipped his champagne. ‘How does it taste Richie?’ asked an English colleague. ‘Of Ashes’ replied Richie. After that Australia would win series after series for almost 20 years, and never once would Richie become partisan. His commentary was always straight down the middle. No one seems capable of doing that these days.

I never got to meet him, but I did once see him in person. In the mid 80s he and his wife Daphne were on holiday in Italy. I was there too, at the end of a long summer. I did a second take as I spotted the great man queuing (like me) at a museum or somewhere. He looked back at me and half smiled. I did not want to interrupt the great man, and his lady wife, while on holiday, and he half nodded perhaps in recognition of the fact. I doubt many in Italy would have recognised them, perhaps that is why they were there.

I doubt the world will see his like again, and for that, the world is a little poorer.

Richie’s last appearance – for Aussie Day lamb… a classic

Richie Benaud highlights

Why walking is the right thing to do

Interestingly, one of the most famous 'walkers' was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs 'Walking to Victory')

WALKER: One of the most famous ‘walkers’ was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs ‘Walking to Victory’)

It’s not the cheating that got me, it was the feeling I had got away with it.” I’m not sure what movie that’s from (do please tell), but when I heard it I understood the meaning. The guilt, the knowledge that your victory had been sullied, that you had not played fair was all consuming.

I know many of my posts are about cricket, but it’s the world cup final tomorrow, and as the season draws to a close (mine as cricket coach, backyard player and avid watcher), I get to thinking about the old game and it’s life parallels.

For those who do not know all the ins and outs of the game, over the centuries cricket developed it’s own ‘spirit‘, as embodied by the great Sir Don Bradman (Aussie, best player ever) who had this to say on cricketers’ virtues:

“When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill. They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness. “

He also said:

‘It is the responsibility of all those that play the game (the custodians) to leave the game in a better state than when they first became involved’.

Bradman was by all accounts a genius, extremely argumentative and loved nothing more than “grinding the English into the dust”. He was not the most likable chap, he was very competitive. He ended up with a test batting average of almost 100, way above all over players (the next best are in the low 60s; a ‘great’ batsman is considered such if their average tops 50.) But to him conduct, integrity and leaving the game ‘in a better state’ was the most important thing.

I have played cricket in England, Singapore and Australia, and one thing that sets your average weekend English social cricketer apart from their Aussie counterpart is the issue of ‘walking‘.

Imagine you’ve just nicked the ball off your bat’s edge (you’ve heard it, everyone has) and it goes through to be caught by the keeper. Most Englishmen will walk, knowing they are out, just as if their stumps had been knocked over or if the ball had been cleanly caught by an outfielder. It’s clearly out. Why hang around like a goose? You just look stupid. To wait around and hope the umpire might somehow miss the edge (knowing you’re out) is tantamount to cheating. In fact, it is cheating. In the rules, you’re out, fair and square. Walk off.

To an Aussie though, this last paragraph is pure heresy. “Umpire’s got a job to do mate,” they say, “they make mistakes, so do we as players, often I’ve been given out when I wasn’t so I’m not moving if I know I’m out; I’m waiting for the umpire to give me out.”

OK, I get the logic, but you wouldn’t wait around if you were clean bowled, run out by a mile, played on, or had been caught out by an outfielder, or even a slip or gully would you … so what’s the difference between a clear nick to the keeper, that you know is out?

The difference is that you’re trying to get away it. You’re trying to cheat. By the rules you are out, but you are hoping to stay. You felt the ball snick the edge of your bat (believe me, batsmen know 99% of the time). So go. Umpires usually give the batsman the benefit of the doubt anyway, and it’s this that the non-walker is preying (praying!) on. It’s out and out cheating.

If the situation was reversed, and you heard the nick, you’d be giving the batsman all sorts of abuse if they stayed around. So you’re being two-faced as well.

The same goes for appealing for catches, run outs or LBWs that you know are not out, in the hope the umpire might get it wrong.

If you walk every time, you are not going to be given out as much by umpires (after all, when you nick it, you walk). I walked, and I can’t remember ever being given out incorrectly for a nick behind. A few dodgy LBWs perhaps (edged into the pads) but then again how many were given not out when they may have been? No one walks on LBWs, but on everything else bar a mighty close run out when you’re not sure as you’re diving your ground, get out of there.

I also quite liked the abrupt turn and move off the pitch, as if to say “Yep, good ball, I got that wrong, I’m out of here”. I played hard, I played fair. (I could get annoyed with myself in the sanctity of the changing rooms, but I would be dignified in my public exit!)

Afterwards, you know you’ve done the right thing. You’ve set the right example. To yourself, the team, opposition, spectators and your children. Winning fairly is a great feeling, when you’ve played well. Winning on a cheat is not winning. Losing on a cheat is utterly galling, but never lower yourself to those standards.

What’s true in sport is the same in business, love and life generally.

I’m as competitive as the next bloke, but I see ‘not walking’ as clear cheating. Always have, always will. I lose respect for anyone who does not walk (they look ridiculous when DRS proves them wrong), and I think less of them. I’m a walker, are you ..?

Lessons from history – part two (the conclusion)

Rainy Singapore

In my previous post I related the story of my history teacher Peter Sibley, who we suspected was not exactly reading every (any?) word of our essays, over 30 years ago.

15 years pass. I am now a teacher myself, in far flung Singapore, and have helped organise a cricket tour back in the old country, including a game against the MCC (no, not them, but the Monkton Combe Cavaliers), a team of teachers and friends, played at my old school pitch. Picture the scene – a tricking stream running past a thatched pavilion, proud chestnut trees waving in the breeze, a viaduct tramping across the valley, and (typical for England) the threat of rain. We batted first, were in trouble, and somehow managed a half decent score. Which was immaterial as the threatened rain duly arrived and we repaired to the nearest pub.

Over a few pints, Peter then asked me if I might make contact with a visiting hockey tour he was organising for a nearby school. ‘They’re a bit high maintenance,’ he said, ‘but if you could maybe meet them or say ‘Hi’ it will allay their fears. Everything – hotels, games, flights, transport, meals… – is organised, so there’s nothing to do.’ Sure, I’d be happy to, I said.

And so it was a few weeks later, back in the tropics, I got a call from one of their teachers, and said I would be happy to meet them for a drink in a local pub to see how they were travelling. ‘Oh, you’re just an ex teacher of Pete’s then?’ they said, ‘we thought you were his ‘man on the ground’, a member of his staff over here …’.

‘Err, not exactly’ I said, ‘but if I can help in any way, do let me know.’

‘Well, there is something you can help us with – we have to get from our hotel to the railway station on Saturday evening because we are taking the night train up to Malaysia for our game on Sunday afternoon.’

‘I can arrange that, I’ll get permission for our school bus company to drop you guys off,’ I said. By amazing coincidence, our deputy head had taught with one of their teachers many years ago, so he was happy to oblige.

That Saturday evening, I am sitting down for a drink on the balcony with my parents, who are out for a visit, watching the evening tropical downpur. I receive an agitated call from the school’s teacher, ‘The bus never arrived! So we have now missed our train, and now have nowhere to stay the night. We’re stuck! Peter Sibley better pull something out of his hat right now, or there will be hell to pay.’

Hardly Peter’s fault I thought; what on earth had happened? I rang the bus company. No reply. I had to get the team into a hotel somehow (not easy on a rainy Saturday night in Singapore, when you are talking about 30 staff and students). On about the 12th attempt I find somewhere that will take them; they pile into taxis and get the train in the next morning. I contact the place they are going to saying they will be half a day later than planned. I find out our bus company had got the timing wrong, had turned up at 8am in the morning, not the evening as it should have been, found no hockey team and thought they were not needed. Huge apologies all round on Monday when I went into school.

Karma for Mr Sibley not reading my essays? You be the judge.

Lessons from history – part one

the same old marking

When I was training to be a teacher back in the mid 80s, I remember marking my first set of (Economics) essays. I was excited to see what my first batch of students had written – had they understood the concepts, could they apply it, what original ideas could they come up with..? Sadly, I was to be less than overwhelmed (underwhelmed?). As time went on, I found marking a drudgery, something that went with the job, about as interesting as invigilating an exam (which, believe me, is mindbogglingly tedious). No doubt this was all my fault.

Over time I developed a system of speed reading scripts, and when I analysed my marking comparing grades given when I read every word, deliberated long about the marks, to when I sped read, there was no difference. After a few years, I was speed reading, maybe going back and picking apart more intricate and interesting paragraphs, but I found the human brain could actually read very fast, keep alert and do a better job than when you painstakingly went over things line by line, word by word and became distracted. Get through it fast, in one sitting, and keep the standard consistent. In the end, that is the job of marking. I suspect most seasoned teachers and academics do likewise. There are just not enough hours in the day otherwise. You have all this prep to do, and a million other admin tasks.

And so I arrive at the story of my former History teacher, Peter Sibley. A legend in his own time, he had played a good standard of rugby in England (captaining the Bath team in the 1960s: “Peter Sibley was the first to develop the ethos for fast, attacking rugby – an ethos that still lives on in today’s team.” says the Bath Rugby club website). He was also the school 1st XI cricket coach, international sports tour guy and Housemaster. Back in the late 70s, he was probably in his early 40s, wore a cool leather jacket, had a nice manner about him, and turned up to every lesson about 5 minutes late. He was entertaining, things were not too high pressure and everyone enjoyed his classes. I saw him lose his cool only once, after a boarder went around smashing various windows in a fit of what must have been post punk teenage rage. Peter took the lad by the scruff of the neck, his own face turning a brilliant shade of purple as he marched the boy off to the Headmaster’s office.

Around this time, we students suspected Mr Sibley was not exactly reading every word of our essays. The clue was in the fact that as we compared each other’s scripts, every one of us had a neat little red tick on the bottom of each page, with no comments made whatsoever throughout the pieces of work. At the end was a simple comment and a mark. We got to wondering if our history teacher was actually reading the work at all. One of us braver types decided to test the theory. He would put in inappropriate words in the middle of the odd paragraph. We waited with baited breath as to the outcome. Would these be spotted, crossed out, and the poor student made a fool of in next history class?

Nope. A simple red tick at the bottom of each page and a plain mark at the end resulted, as always. OK, maybe he just missed that occasional word, we surmised? Let’s put in some things that are plainly obvious to anyone (who is at least scanning the work). They were not picked up either. Eventually, we started putting in whole paragraphs such as “you’re not really reading this are you sir” and “old man Sibley is asleep” and other entirely non historical elements to our essays. Nothing was spotted.

And so, we lost our faith in the academic validity of our history scores. But we did not turn him in, or complain (as perhaps the modern competitive parent may have done). It did not put us off, we worked away and all got good grades, and we turned out OK. I look back on this and smile, but when I became a teacher about 10 years later, I made sure I read every paragraph (if not every word), and although I may have sped read (and still do, to this day), I do look out for the odd silly phrase, lest someone is trying one on. Working at a media business now, I can proof read with the best of them and spot a careless error at 10 paces.

For now, this little history lesson ends here. However, in a follow up post, I will tell you what happened 15 years later when I ended up helping out Mr Sibley with a hockey tour to Singapore, which may provide karma to the above.

Willing on the minnows

minnows
Like many, I have been willing on the ‘minnows’ in the current World Cup of cricket.
Of the 14 nations participating, 8 have full test playing status and so half the initial pool games involve an ‘Associations’ nation playing against their ilk or a much better resourced and experienced full time professional team. Already we’ve seen Ireland beat the West Indies (who seem to blow hot and cold almost at will). Afghanistan played a close game against Sri Lanka. My bet is England will be downed by either Bangladesh or Afghanistan, having lost all their 3 games so far to test playing nations.
18 years ago, I played for the Singapore team in the ICC Trophy 1997. Back then, the Association playing nations were all grouped together in their own competition (with Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Canada, USA, etc…) with the top 2 teams then gaining a berth to the 1999 World Cup in England.
I was but a very average league cricketer, and only sneaked into the team by virtue of an ICC ruling – players had to be either born nationals or residents of 5+ years standing. (Allegedly, in a previous competition, UAE had stacked their team with former Pakistan test players, having given them PR status only weeks before.) Not many cricketers in Singapore had been there 5 years or more.

We were all amateurs (in the truest sense of the word) and in game 2, we were up against a well trained, athletic Kenyan team who had beaten West Indies the year before, were to be runners up in this tournament and go on to play in that 1999 World Cup in England.

We batted first, and I was in at number 3 in the first over. Somehow I clung on and made a very ugly 13 in an hour (I did not know it at the time but my bat was breaking – in the next but one game against Ireland it completely snapped), and we were bowled out for a hopeless 89. Our opening bowlers then tore into the top order and at one stage we had them 52 for 7, only for them to crawl over the line with 2 wickets left. Almost an upset.

We even made it onto the sports broadcast of that night’s BBC World Service sports roundup. What might have been.  2 years later I’m watching Alec Stewart smash Kenyan opener Martin Suji all over Taunton, making him look like a medium pace trundler. To me he was searing pace and could make it move late almost at will.

The gulf between professional sport and amateur is a chasm, but for a moment we glimpsed into the light… go the minnows! 

English cricket sinks to another low

Rooted

The long English suffering cricket fan had another reason to shake their head and shrug a saddening smile yesterday as their one day side subsided to their equal worst ever defeat, and in an important World Cup game, against New Zealand (population 3 million, lest we forget England & Wales’ combined population of 56 million, plus a few imported Irish and South African players).

I had this post half ready to go last week, in which I predicted a loss to the Kiwis (but even I could not imagine the annihilation they were to suffer), and further probable losses to Bangladesh, a close scare against Scotland, a win against Afghanistan and a possible win against Sri Lanka (… now I’m not so sure). The week got away with me, so here I sit with another anemic performance. Let’s not forget England are one of the highest paid, best supported teams in history. Legions of support staff, thousands of lines of computer code and a 7 month diet of one dayers in the lead up to this World Cup were all designed to prepare the team for their best chance in decades. An Ashes test series was cleared away to give the one day team the chance to concentrate on this format. After non performances in all world cups since 1992 (where they made the final, as they did in 1987), this was going to be their best chance to shine.

Instead, we witness a shattered team lumbering about 10 years behind other sides in thought and deed, despite having some exciting new players in Ali, Buttler, Taylor and Root. It’s all come to naught, and by my reckoning they will do extremely well from here to even qualify for the quarter finals, where they will probably lose to South Africa anyway. Last week I had them as 3 or maybe 4 wins from their 8 pool matches, now it looks like 2 or 3 wins and that won’t be good enough to make progress.

None of this need be the case. So much cricket is played by England now (around 300 playing/travelling days a year) that coaching and playing squads are simply worn out. In the chase for the almighty Indian and Australian TV dollar, Ashes series are now run every 2 years, rather than 4, and even back to back. India, England and Australia have carved up the game to take the spoils, but the impact is (for England, the only northern hemisphere test team) of all year round cricket, and players not coping. They don’t have any chance to go back to country cricket to repair, or take any time off. It’s a continuous merry go round in the gold fish bowl (to mix my metaphors).

The solution is fairly simple, but probably a stretch for the ECB to imagine. Just as rugby players do not play the sevens format as well as the full XV game (it’s a different game!), so cricketers should specialise in the full or one day format. Different players, different coaches, different formats. Split it down the middle and never the twain shall meet.

Simple.

You still have all the TV spoils, still have wall to wall cricket, but the test players take a break when the one dayers and T20s are on, and vice versa. Importantly, the one day players are all automatically available for the Indian Premier League (where the best one day players learn their trade in the ultimate T20 cauldron). As Adam Smith once said (in 1776!), “division and specialisation of labour” is key.

T20 has revolutionised one day cricket in the last few years. Teams now think nothing to hitting (or chasing down) 120 in the last 10 overs. 180 off the last 20 is a doddle (it’s just a reasonable T20 score). They simply take the batting power play from 15 overs out and then ride it all the way home to the finish at 10+ an over. They have effectively put at T20 game inside a 50 over format in the last 40% of the innings. Just as Sri Lankan openers and then Adam Gilchrist revolutionised the first 15 overs in the 1990s regularly blasting 100+, now teams are playing cautiously in the first 30 knowing they can get almost anything in the last 20 because that is the format they all know (and come from).

While England looks at one dayers from the test team down, all other teams look at it from T20 up, which is the right approach.

It means teams can be 160 off 30 overs (just over 5 an over) and chase down (or post) 340. 300 is no longer the Rubicon. It’s the new minimum, and not easily defendable. The plucky Irish chased down 300 on Monday against the once all conquering West Indies (who are now almost as shambolic as the English and will probably join them in leaving this tournament early).

Imagine having 2 coaches, 2 teams and complete separation of test from one dayers/T20s. Imagine the specialisation and increase in quality that will go on. Tell Cook, Ballance, Bell, Anderson and Broad to play test cricket only and let them go and score 10,000 runs each and take 500 wickets. Give them huge swathes of time off. Even with this idea, England play no less than 17 tests in the next 10 months. Yes, 17!

How on earth can Ali, Buttler, Root et al play all this and the one dayers? Get Carberry (playing in one of the most successful T20 sides ever, the Perth Scorchers) and KP into the one day format. They have 3 years left in them. Make KP captain.

The one day game is now far removed from the test cricket as you can imagine, and that’s due to T20 and the IPL. We can bemoan it (I don’t actually), or we can just live with it and adapt. Be innovative, “think different” as Apple one said. The crusty old establishment that is the English Cricket Board will not do this of course. Or maybe they will, sometime in 2025, but by then the world would have moved on… again.

For the record, here are my 2 teams:

England One Day and T20 team         

1. Hales
2. Carberry
3. Taylor
4. Pietersen
5. Morgan
6. Bopara
7. Kieswetter
8. Jordan
9. Woakes
10. Tredwell
11. Rankin

Test side

1. Cook
2. Robson
3. Ballance
4. Bell
5. Root
6. Ali
7. Buttler
8. Stokes
9. Broad
10. Finn
11. Anderson