Wednesday, 31 May 2017

inglorious empire - what the british did to india

A few days ago, there was a very interesting debate on where India is today - and where it is going.
BBC Radio 4 - Start the Week, India's Rise?

And to understand the present and the future, you need to look at the past - and India's past is very much mixed up with Britain's past:
'But what about the railways ...?' ​​The myth of Britain's gifts to India | World news | The Guardian
Britons suffer 'historical amnesia' over atrocities of their former empire, says author | The Independent

This is a review of a very provocative book on these themes:

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor — the rapacious Raj

A combative history of the British in India swats aside notions of benevolent imperial rule

MARCH 17, 2017 by: Victor Mallet

India, surprisingly, does not loom large in the history taught in most British schools. This is not simply a matter of children having the wrong idea about the two centuries of exploitation that financed the British empire and many of its wars; often, they have no idea at all. Even the victims — or, more properly, their descendants, the nearly 2bn people of the Indian subcontinent — have only a hazy notion of the horrors inflicted during the colonial period.

Shashi Tharoor seems at first glance an improbable advocate to redress the balance. A writer and politician born in London and educated at English-language schools in India, he speaks in a languid, upper-class English drawl and confesses to a love of tea, cricket and PG Wodehouse, all of which the British imported to their richest colony. Inglorious Empire had its origins in an Oxford Union debate in 2015; Tharoor argued playfully that “Britain Owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies” and then found his speech had gone viral back in India. A Congress member of parliament, he was lauded even by his political rival Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata party prime minister.

Tharoor convincingly demolishes some of the more persistent myths about Britain’s supposedly civilising mission in India, echoing William Dalrymple’s laments over the looting of the country by the East India Company and the rise of British racism in the 19th century, and rejecting Niall Ferguson’s defence of imperialism as a force for free trade and the rule of law.

Summoning evidence from British and American historians as well as Indian thinkers, Tharoor charts the destruction of pre-colonial systems of government by the British and their ubiquitous ledgers and rule books; the punitive taxation of farmers and mismanagement of famines in which millions died; the imposition of laws against homosexuality and sedition used to this day by authoritarian Indian governments; and the extreme protectionism (in everything from textiles to shipbuilding) that crippled India’s world-class manufacturing sectors and its pre-existing international trade networks. “Britain’s Industrial Revolution,” he writes, “was built on the destruction of India’s thriving manufacturing industries.”

The statistics are worth repeating, the more so because India is now often neglected in favour of China when historians recall the economic dominance of Asia. When the East India Company was established in 1600, Britain accounted for 1.8 per cent of global gross domestic product and India for 23 per cent. India was one of the richest and most industrialised economies. In 1750, India and China together accounted for nearly three-quarters of world industrial output, but India “was transformed by the process of imperial rule into one of the poorest, most backward, illiterate and diseased societies on earth by the time of our independence in 1947”. By then, India’s share of world GDP was just 3 per cent, while Britain’s was three times as high.

Tharoor, a former UN diplomat who lost the 2006 race for the secretary-general post to Ban Ki-moon, accepts that bad colonial government by the British is no excuse for bad government by Indians (including those of his own party, the Congress) in the 70 years since independence.

But he does want us to understand the origins of the difficulties that confronted India after 1947. His most damning argument is that the British policy of divide and rule, as well as the colonialist obsession with rigid classification, entrenched the previously ill-defined distinctions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as between Hindu castes and between Sunni and Shia Islam, and so set the stage for the violent “shambles of that original Brexit” — the departure of the British from India — and the subsequent militarisation of the newborn nation of Pakistan.

“The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the project of divide et impera would reach its culmination in the horrors of Partition that eventually accompanied the collapse of British authority in 1947.”

This is a grave charge, and a well-argued one. If the more nostalgic Brexiters think trading with former colonial nations will in some way compensate for the costs of leaving the EU, they should first examine the blood-soaked history of their country’s relationship with India. It could be a revelation.

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, Hurst, RRP£20, 296 pages

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor — the rapacious Raj

And meanwhile, we have a lot of nostalgia going on, with a very nice piece from the Voice of America:
Britain Hopes to Build Post-Brexit ‘Empire 2.0’

With a little more context:

One motive for voting Brexit was a desire to 'make Britain great again':
BBC Radio 4 - The Briefing Room, Why Did People Vote Leave?

An alternative to the EU is of course the Commonwealth:

PETER OBORNE: Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with our true friends 

4 March 2017

Over the past four decades, our governments have shamefully ignored the benefits of the Commonwealth. Successive Prime Ministers from Edward Heath onwards have been blind to its economic, cultural and social value.

It is no coincidence that those decades of disgraceful neglect have coincided with Britain’s membership of the EU.

Part of the reason for this lies with the ridiculous sense of self-loathing felt by British liberals on account of our former Empire. Crippled by a post-imperial cringe, they have idiotically preferred the sclerotic, statist conformity of a German-dominated Europe to the exciting potential of the Commonwealth that shares many of our beliefs.

Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with true friends | Daily Mail Online

The only problem is that these same countries don't actually want an 'Empire 2.0':

Tories’ ‘imperial vision’ for post-Brexit trade branded disruptive and deluded

Top official slams Whitehall notion of colonial-style trade deals and says devising pact between UK and African, Caribbean and Pacific states would take six years

28 April 2017

The head of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations has ruled out a free trade deal with the UK until at least six years after Brexit and taken a sideswipe at the idea of a new British trade empire.

The ACP chief, Dr Patrick Gomes, condemned “reactionary” Whitehall talk of a second era of British colonialism – dubbed “Empire 2.0” – and poured scorn on the government’s trade strategy.

A six-year delay to any post-Brexit deal would be a bitter setback to the government, which had hoped to use the 2018 Commonwealth summit in London as a springboard for closer trade ties with Anglophone states such as South Africa, Nigeria and Jamaica.

Tories’ ‘imperial vision’ for post-Brexit trade branded disruptive and deluded | Global development | The Guardian

Great Britain’s Dangerous Attitude Problem | Geopolitical Monitor

Because what made Britain 'great' was in fact a very skewed kind of 'globalisation':

Is Brexit Britain suffering from an imperial hangover?

Britain's biggest post-Brexit challenge will be dealing with its imperial past.

29 MARCH 2017

May has promised a "truly global Britain" outside the EU and some supporters of Brexit have framed the break from Brussels as an opportunity for Britain to strengthen its historical, imperial relationships.

This is a deeply problematic and dangerous view. To become "truly global" Britain needs to shake off this imperial hangover.

As Twitter branded Wednesday, March 29 "Brexit Day", historian David Starkey appeared on the BBC's Today Programme to compare Brexit to Henry VIII's historic break from Rome. Crucially, he argued that the Reformation presaged the "expansion of England" and suggested that Brexit may see another age of empire.

Since the vote to leave the EU, visions of Britain's future relationship with the rest of the world has repeatedly invoked imperial motifs. From Theresa May's promise of a "red, white, and blue" Brexit to the suggestion that the Royal Yacht Britannia be recommissioned to facilitate trade deals, Britain's future has been presented as an opportunity to return to a glorious past.

Most famously, or infamously, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox's focus on deals with countries that once belonged to the British Empire has been labelled "Empire 2.0" by Whitehall officials.

Is Brexit Britain suffering from an imperial hangover? | UK | Al Jazeera

And yet what is actually happening is that old 'British' companies and industries are being bought out by former subjects:
How the East India Company became a weapon to challenge UK’s colonial past | World news | The Guardian
Steel baron Lakshmi Mittal stumps up close to £800m to help his embattled steel firm cope with tumbling prices | This is Money
Indian-origin Hinduja brothers stay on top of UK rich list | business-news | Hindustan Times
Indians: Three of Britain’s four wealthiest are Indians - The Economic Times

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

teamwork and the art of 'blagging'

Is working in 'teams' the best way to do things?Jay Doubleyou: team building activities

The latest research suggests maybe not:
Confidence matching in group decision-making : Nature Human Behaviour

With a report from the i newspaper:

Teamwork brings out the ‘blagger’ in colleagues with less expertise

Teamwork can bring out the “blagger” in people and lead to bad decisions, according to a new study from University College London and Oxford.

Researchers found people working together tend to mirror each other’s level of confidence, even when they have different amounts of expertise.

This means the weaker teammate can get overconfident and lead their expert co-worker astray.

“Making a decision collectively is most effective if the person with the most expertise expresses their opinion with the most confidence,” said Dr Dan Bang of the UCL Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging, who led the study.

Confidence vs expertise

“If my opinion is more reliable than yours, then I should also be more confident.

“But it’s difficult to express that effectively if you don’t know whether the person you’re working with is habitually overconfident or too modest.”

The study of 202 people in the UK and Iran put two participants in a room and asked them to identify a faint target appearing on one of two displays.

They each said which display they thought showed the target and how confident they were on a scale of one to six.

Working together

The results were shared with both participants who worked in pairs to decide which of them was correct.

Dr Bang said: “We found that even when an expert is paired with someone who lacks expertise, both participants will align their confidence levels so that their opinions will carry more equal weight.”

This “confidence matching” meant that teams with different levels of expertise performed badly, with the less reliable person being too confident and the more reliable person not confident enough.

But when the teams had roughly the same levels of expertise, this “confidence matching”‘ boosted their chances of being right by dodging miscommunication.

Political confidence tricks

Dr Bang said people might mirror each other’s confidence in this way to “ensure equal influence on group decisions, perhaps as a way to avoid conflict, or as a way to diffuse responsibility”.

Co-author Dr Bahador Bahrami of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience said the study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, could teach us about how politicians use confidence to gain public trust.

“The study invites us to reconsider confidence as a social tool, while helping to explain why we can identify local ‘cultures’ of confidence,” he said.

“For example, previous research has shown that finance professionals, who work in competitive environments, are more confident than the general population.

“It also helps explain why politicians seem so confident in their opinions; they may be tapping into how people use confidence as a marker of credibility.”

Sunday, 14 May 2017

education happens beyond the classroom

There is the unknown history of how schools evolved to what they are today:
The Devastating Rise of Mass Schooling - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world

And some would say we shouldn't be sending our kids to school anyway:
Important Skills Your Child Should Be Learning in School, but Isn't - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world

Because children have always learnt more beyond the classroom:

Education Used to Happen 

Outside of School

Kerry McDonald
Prior to passage of America's first compulsory schooling statute, in Massachusetts in 1852, it was generally accepted that education was a broad societal good and that there could be many ways to be educated: at home, through one's church, with a tutor, in a class, on your own as an autodidact, as an apprentice in the community – and often all of the above.
Schooling and education have become inextricably linked, with mixed results.

Even that first compulsory schooling statute only mandated school attendance for 12 weeks of the year for 8-14 year olds – hardly the childhood behemoth it has become.
Acknowledging that schooling is only a singular model of education opens up enormous possibilities for learning. Looking to successful education models of the past and present, we can imagine what the varied and vibrant future of education could be.
Educated but Unschooled
In earlier generations, individuals and groups often created dynamic learning communities all on their own, without coercion. The esteemed thinker, Noam Chomsky, references the rich and varied ways in which people learned prior to the onslaught of mass schooling. He states:
I grew up in the Depression. My family was a little, I'll say employed working class, but a lot of them never went to school in the first grade, but [were familiar with] very high culture. The plays of Shakespeare in the park, the WPA performances, concerts, and it's just part of life. The union had worker education programs and cultural programs. And high culture was just part of life.
Actually, if you're interested, there's a detailed scholarly study of working class people in England in the 19th century and what they were reading, and it's pretty fabulous. It turns out that they didn't go to school, mostly. But they had quite a high level of culture. They were reading contemporary literature and classics. In fact, the author concludes finally that they were probably more educated than aristocrats."
The scholarly study that Chomsky alludes to is Jonathan Rose's book, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. In the preface, Rose writes that "the roots of that autodidact culture go back as far as the late middle ages. It surged again in the nineteenth century... Thereafter, the working-class movement for self-education swiftly declined, for a number of converging reasons." 
Schooling is a ubiquitous and popular mode of education. But it is not the only one.
A main reason was the rise of compulsory schooling mandates in Europe and in the U.S., and the corresponding shift in education provided by individuals, families, and local community groups to the obligation of the state. Since then, schooling and education have become inextricably linked, with mixed results.
For example, the literacy rate in Massachusetts in 1850, just prior to passage of that first compulsory schooling statue, was 97 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Massachusetts adult literacy rate in 2003 was only 90%. Nationwide, the literacy rate today stands at 86 percent.
Minimally-Invasive Ed
Like cars are to transportation, schooling is a ubiquitous and popular mode of education. But it is not the only one. There are many ways to learn, to be educated, particularly as technology and information become increasingly accessible.
The power of technology and the Internet to propel learning without schooling is documented in extensive research by Dr. Sugata Mitra and his colleagues.
In one study of their "hole in the wall" experiments, Mitra presents compelling findings on how children from disadvantaged backgrounds in 17 urban slum and rural areas across India used publicly available computers to gain literacy and computing skills on their own, without any adult interference or instruction.
Formerly illiterate children learned to read simply by having access to computers and the Internet.

The children, ranging in age from six to 14 years, acquired these skills at rates comparable to children in control groups who were taught in formal, teacher-directed classroom settings. Mitra and his colleagues define this self-education as “minimally-invasive education,” or MIE.
In further studies, Mitra and his colleagues revealed that these same poor, formerly illiterate children also taught themselves English and learned to read simply by having access to computers and the Internet in safe, public spaces within their villages. Mitra's powerful, award-winning 2013 Ted Talk about his "hole in the wall" experiments and findings is definitely worth a watch.
By disentangling schooling from education – to truly de-school our mindset about learning – we can create enormous potential for education innovation. Schooling is one mode of education; but there are so many others to explore and invent.
Reprinted from Intellectual Takeout.
Get trained for success by leading entrepreneurs. 
Learn more at
Education Used to Happen Outside of School - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world

See also:
Jay Doubleyou: can children teach themselves - using technology?
Jay Doubleyou: teaching the teachers: the future of education

Friday, 12 May 2017

learn english with voice of america and esl-bits

An excellent place to go to improve your English is the VOA:
VOA - Voice of America English News
Quizzes Based On VOA Programs (ESL/EFL)
NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR

An another very good place to go is esl-bits:
ESL English Language Learning - Adult Literacy - Listening & Reading - Audiobooks - Stories

And put them together - and you have a big fat wedding:

This is Science in the News in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Bob Doughty. Today we will talk about diet and weight loss. Exercise is important if you want to get in good shape. But experts say exercise alone is not enough if your goal is to lose weight.

Skip's ESL BITS - ESL English Listening Advanced - ESL English Listening Intermediate - ESL English Listening Songs - ESL Listeninmg Audiobooks
Diet and Weight Loss (VOA Special English 2011-07-04)

From VOA Learning English, welcome to This Is America. I’m Avi Arditti.
And I’m Kelly Jean Kelly. This week, we look at weddings in America—how much they cost and how different they can be.

Skip's ESL BITS - ESL English Listening Advanced - ESL English Listening Intermediate - ESL English Listening Songs - ESL Listeninmg Audiobooks
Weddings Are a Billion Dollar Business in America

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST: Scaachi Koul's new book of essays begins by talking about anxiety. Koul - she's a culture writer and editor at BuzzFeed - grew up in Canada, the child of Indian immigrants. And she has an irrational fear of dying that comes, she says, from her parents.
SCAACHI KOUL: It starts with death, as all good things should. I promise this book has a lot more lighthearted (laughter) than I'm presenting it.

Skip's ESL BITS - English Language Learning - ESL Listening Stories, Songs, Audiobooks
Author Uses Humor To Shed Light On Feminism, Race, The Internet : NPR

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

“slowly but surely english is losing importance in europe”

Perhaps the days of English as an international language - at least on the Continent - are over:
Brexit: English is losing its importance in Europe, says Juncker | Politics | The Guardian

English language is losing its importance in Europe, says Juncker

Jibe by commission president caps week of confrontation between London and Brussels

Jean-Claude Juncker has taken a fresh dig at Britain, risking an escalation of tension with Prime Minister Theresa May despite pleas from other EU officials to tone down the rhetoric and restore calm.
At the end of a week in which a bitter public row between Brussels and London raised concern that Brexit talks could fail, the European Commission president stirred the pot by saying “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe”.
Mr Juncker’s comments at a conference of the European University Institute in Florence were greeted with laughter and applause from his audience.
After being introduced in English, Mr Juncker said he wanted to speak French to be better understood in France ahead of the run-off vote in the presidential election on Sunday. “I would like them to understand what I am saying about Europe and nations,” Mr Juncker said.
The remarks of the former prime minister of Luxembourg, who speaks German as well as French and English, were taken as yet another sign of simmering tension between the commission and London even before the Brexit negotiation begins.
English superseded French to become the EU’s lingua franca after the bloc’s big-bang enlargement in 2004, and it is the official working language of the European Central Bank, whose operations in Frankfurt are the linchpin of the single currency.
Mr Juncker went on to argue that the UK was preparing to leave the EU at a time when the bloc’s economic growth had reached twice the US level. “And at that point — despite the success, despite the growth — our British friends decided to leave the EU, which is a tragedy,” he said.
The mood between London and Brussels became confrontational this week after an unflattering leak to the German press of a testy dinner meeting in Downing Street with Mr Juncker and top Brexit aides.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator, drew applause at the same event in Florence when he opened his own address by saying he would speak in English.
English language is losing its importance in Europe, says Juncker

And maybe French it to make a come-back - with a view from French-speaking Montreal:
Celine Cooper: Is French about to make a comeback internationally? | Montreal Gazette