Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most interesting topics covered in this week's iteration are related to 'Grandmothers and evolution', 'shortcoming of marshmallow test', and 'The No-bra movement'

Published: Jun 24, 2018 08:00:16 AM IST
Updated: Jun 22, 2018 05:54:19 PM IST

Ten interesting things we read this weekImage: Shutterstock 
At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, including investment analysis, psychology, science, technology, philosophy, etc. We have been sharing our favorite reads with clients under our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most interesting topics covered in this week’s iteration are related to ‘Grandmothers and evolution’, ‘shortcoming of marshmallow test’, and ‘The No-bra movement’.

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended June 22, 2018.

1) Japan’s literature of loneliness depicts solitude as a noble state [Source: Financial Times
A deluge of recently published books, several of which have spent months atop the bestseller charts in Japan share a central theme — the conscious relishing of isolation. It may horrify those who view loneliness as a health hazard on a par with smoking or obesity, but a rich vein of unconventional thinking has been found and exploited. Brilliantly so. In its exaltation of solitude, this literature has managed to shift the nation’s understanding of the word “loneliness” (kodoku) from a pitiable, frightening state into something self-assured and liberating. At the apex of the phenomenon stands Hiroyuki Itsuki and his main work on the subject, Kodoku no Susume (Advice for the Lonely). “The reason I feel fulfilled,” he declares from the outset, “is because I am not afraid of loneliness.” Only just behind him, in terms of sales, is Akiko Shimoju’s hugely popular Gokujou no Kodoku (Top-notch Solitude), which mounts an explicit challenge to the “idea these days that loneliness is evil”.

There are many more: some books condemn the constraints of the family unit, others warn against the “exhaustion caused by trying to be liked”. Others still assert that it is only in a state of solitude that the elderly can enjoyably “masticate their memories”.  Set implacably against this in Japanese bookstores is the rather smaller body of writing that not only warns about the multiple dangers of loneliness, but of the perils of making a virtue of it. Junko Okamoto’s Sekai Ichi Kodoku na Nihon no Ojisan (Japan’s Old Men are the World’s Loneliest) decries Japan’s status as a “loneliness superpower” and condemns pro-loneliness literature as a cynical comfort to the vulnerable. “Society is not doing enough to address loneliness and people don’t want to admit how unhappy they are, so they use the pro-loneliness books to comfort themselves. They want to feel that what they are doing is right,” she says.

The grim background is that, one way or another, Japan is creating an awful lot of lonely people. The country is by no means unique in that respect, say social scientists, but the peculiarities of the corporate system and the demographic effects of having a quarter of the population aged over 65, make Japan stand out. Salarymen whose social networks were entirely structured around the workplace, seem especially prone to isolation when they retire. The calculus of solitude, which includes the estimate that around 45,000 people in Japan died last year without anyone noticing, makes hard reading. Twice as many Japanese live alone now as did 30 years ago. Today, single person households are the most common type (at roughly a third of all households) and some 18.4m adults live alone. By 2030, the ratio of men and women who never marry will rise, respectively, to 30% and 23% (from 23% and 14% in 2015).

Government researchers expect the number of over-65s living alone to rise from about 6m now to about 9m in 2040. A cabinet office survey of seniors found that 60% of those who live alone have only one or two conversations per month. The alarming shortage of practical solutions to all this has intensified the ideological battle on the bookshelves. And for now, at least, the favoured answer is to take fortification from the belief that the lonesome existence can be a rich one.

2) Why grandmothers may hold the key to human evolution
A hunter with bow and arrow, in a steamy sub-Saharan savanna, stalks a big, exotic animal. After killing and butchering it, he and his hunt-mates bring it back to their families and celebrate. This enduring scenario is probably what many of us have stuck in our heads about how early humans lived. It's an image with drama and danger. And it happens to coincide with Western ideas about the division of labor and the nuclear family that were prevalent in the 1960s when this so-called "Man the Hunter" theory first emerged. A newer body of research and theory, much of it created by women, has conjured a very different scenario. It probably looks a little more like a quirky indie film than a Hollywood blockbuster. The star of this new film? Grandma. Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, tried to figure out our past by studying modern hunter-gatherers like the Hadza, who likely have lived in the area that is now northern Tanzania for thousands of years.

Over many extended field visits, Hawkes and her colleagues kept track of how much food a wide sample of Hadza community members were bringing home. She says that when they tracked the success rates of individual men, "they almost always failed to get a big animal." They found that the average hunter went out pretty much every day and was successful on exactly 3.4% of those excursions. That meant that, in this society at least, the hunting hypothesis seemed way off the mark. If people here were depending on wild meat to survive, they would starve. So if dad wasn't bringing home the bacon, who was? After spending a lot of time with the women on their daily foraging trips, the researchers were surprised to discover that the women, both young and old, were providing the majority of calories to their families and group-mates. But something else surprisingly happened once mom had a second baby: That original relationship went away and a new correlation emerged with the amount of food their grandmother was gathering. In this foraging society, it turns out, grandmothers were more important to child survival than fathers. Mom and grandma were keeping the kids fed. Not Man the Hunter.

This finding led Hawkes to completely re-evaluate what she thought she knew about human evolution. So, maybe it wasn't an accident that humans are the only great ape species in which women live so long past reproductive age. If having a helpful grandmother increased a kid's chances of survival, natural selection may well have started selecting for older and older women. Sarah Hrdy is a primatologist at U.C. Davis who also studies connections between child-rearing and human evolution. She says, "An ape that produced such costly, costly slow-maturing offspring as we have could not have evolved unless mothers had a lot of help." First among these helpers, she thinks, would have been grandma – likely joined eventually by many other new helpers, who could have included fathers, aunts, uncles and siblings. She adds, "People often try to explain the fact that humans are so good at cooperating by saying, well, we needed to cooperate in order to succeed at big game hunting, or so that men in one group could bond with other men to go wipe out the neighboring group. What that doesn't do is explain why these traits emerge so early."

She's talking about babies and the advanced social traits that we can see even before they begin walking – like pointing, sharing and paying attention to social cues like smiling and frowning. For human babies, other human adults are usually present right at, or shortly after, birth — first helping the mother and then later helping and feeding the baby. We are the only great ape species that does this. Human babies, Hrdy argues, have an incentive to care about what other people are doing and thinking and feeling in a way that other apes don't. Knowing who might help and who might hurt, and learning how to appeal to the former, might be the difference between eating well or going hungry – maybe even the difference between life and death in some cases.

Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist at Duke University and the Max Planck Institute, after a career of comparing cognitive differences between babies and apes, has found that other apes don't show anywhere near the level of interest in the sharing and cooperative behaviours that emerge so early in humans. It's this ability to "put our heads together," as Tomasello puts it, that may have allowed humans to survive, thrive and spread across the globe. While the men were out hunting, grandmothers and babies were building the foundation of our species' success – sharing food, cooperating on more and more complex levels and developing new social relationships. In a nutshell, humanity's success may all be dependent on the unique way our ancestors raised their kids.”

3) Why rich kids are so good at the Marshmallow test [Source: The Atlantic] 
One of the most famous tests – the marshmallow test has been debunked by a few researchers. What’s the test? Put a marshmallow in front of a child, tell her that she can have a second one if she can go 15 minutes without eating the first one, and then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her payout is supposedly indicative of a willpower that will pay dividends down the line, at school and eventually at work. Passing the test is, to many, a promising signal of future success. But a new study has cast the whole concept into doubt. The researchers—NYU’s Tyler Watts and UC Irvine’s Greg Duncan and Hoanan Quan—restaged the classic marshmallow test, which was developed by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s. Mischel and his colleagues administered the test and then tracked how children went on to fare later in life. They described the results in a 1990 study, which suggested that delayed gratification had huge benefits, including on such measures as standardised test scores.

Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding. The original results were based on studies that included fewer than 90 children—all enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In restaging the experiment, Watts and his colleagues thus adjusted the experimental design in important ways; the researchers used a sample of more than 900 children – more representative of the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and parents’ education. The researchers also, when analysing their test’s results, controlled the income of a child’s household—that might explain children’s ability to delay gratification and their long-term success. Ultimately, the new study found limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggested that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background and not the ability to delay gratification.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardised test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behaviour—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

The failed replication of the marshmallow test suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. Meanwhile, for kids who come from households headed by parents who are better educated and earn more money, it’s typically easier to delay gratification: Experience tends to tell them that adults have the resources and financial stability to keep the pantry well stocked. The Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and the Princeton behavioural scientist Eldar Shafir wrote a book in 2013, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, that detailed how poverty can lead people to opt for short-term rather than long-term rewards; the state of not having enough can change the way people think about what’s available now.

Some more qualitative sociological research also can provide insight here. For example, Ranita Ray, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, recently wrote a book describing how many teenagers growing up in poverty work long hours in poorly paid jobs to support themselves and their families. Yet, despite sometimes not being able to afford food, the teens still splurge on payday, buying things like McDonald’s or new clothes or hair dye. These findings point to the idea that poorer parents try to indulge their kids when they can, while more affluent parents tend to make their kids wait for bigger rewards.

4) The lifespan of a lie [Source:
The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) of 1971 is often used to teach the lesson that our behaviour is profoundly affected by the social roles and situations in which we find ourselves. But its deeper, more disturbing implication is that we all have a wellspring of potential sadism lurking within us, waiting to be tapped by circumstance. This past April, a French academic and filmmaker named Thibault Le Texier published Histoire d’un Mensonge [History of a Lie], plumbing newly-released documents from Zimbardo’s (the conductor of experiment) archives at Stanford University to tell a dramatically different story of the experiment. When Zimbardo told the author that Korpi and Yacco’s (prisoners) accusations of not letting them out were baseless, the author read him a transcript unearthed by Le Texier of a taped conversation between Zimbardo and his staff on day three of the simulation: “An interesting thing was that the guys who came in yesterday, the two guys who came in and said they wanted to leave, and I said no,” Zimbardo told his staff. “There are only two conditions under which you can leave, medical help or psychiatric… I think they really believed they can’t get out.”

While Zimbardo accepted saying that, he immediately said that the informed consent forms which subjects signed had included an explicit safe phrase: “I quit the experiment.” Only that precise phrase would trigger their release. But the informed consent forms that Zimbardo’s subjects signed, which are available online from Zimbardo’s own website, contain no mention of the phrase “I quit the experiment.” Zimbardo’s standard narrative of the SPE offers the prisoners’ emotional responses as proof of how powerfully affected they were by the guards’ mistreatment. The shock of real imprisonment provides a simpler and far less groundbreaking explanation. It may also have had legal implications, should prisoners have thought to pursue them.

According to Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, psychologists who co-directed an attempted replication of the SPE in Great Britain in 2001, a critical factor in making people commit atrocities is a leader assuring them that they are acting in the service of a higher moral cause with which they identify — for instance, scientific progress or prison reform. We have been taught that guards abused prisoners in the SPE because of the power of their roles, but Haslam and Reicher argue that their behaviour arose instead from their identification with the experimenters. The SPE established Zimbardo as perhaps the most prominent living American psychologist. He became the primary author of one of the field’s most popular and long-running textbooks, Psychology: Core Concepts, and the host of a 1990 PBS video series, Discovering Psychology, which gained wide usage in high school and college classes and is still screened today. Zimbardo’s decades-long effort to turn his work into a feature film finally bore fruit in 2015 with the SPE, for which he served as consultant (he is played by Billy Crudup).

Some scholars have argued that it wasn’t an experiment at all. Leon Festinger, the psychologist who pioneered the concept of cognitive dissonance, dismissed it as a “happening.” In 2005, Carlo Prescott, the San Quentin parolee who consulted on the experiment’s design, published an Op-Ed in The Stanford Daily entitled “The Lie of the Stanford Prison Experiment,” revealing that many of the guards’ techniques for tormenting prisoners had been taken from his own experience at San Quentin rather than having been invented by the participants. In another blow to the experiment’s scientific credibility, Haslam and Reicher’s attempted replication, in which guards received no coaching and prisoners were free to quit at any time, failed to reproduce Zimbardo’s findings. Far from breaking down under escalating abuse, prisoners banded together and won extra privileges from guards, who became increasingly passive and cowed.

After reviewing some of Le Texier’s evidence, textbook author Greg Feist, said he is considering taking a firmer stand in the forthcoming edition of Psychology: Perspectives and Connections. “I hope there does come a point, now that we know what we do, where Zimbardo’s narrative dies,” Feist said. “Unfortunately it’s not going to happen soon, but hopefully it will happen. Because I just think it’s a…” Feist paused, searching for the appropriate word, then settled on a simple one. “It is a lie.”

5) The progressive case for holding auctions for everything
[Source: Financial Times
British economist Tim Harford in this piece talks about the challenge of securing tickets to any popular event. Economists, he says, have had a solution to such frustrations for so long that it is becoming our cliché. The problem is that a limited supply of such tickets is priced too cheaply relative to demand. Auctioning off the tickets to the highest bidders would fix that problem, and all but eliminate touts and scalpers: if true fans have already submitted their highest bids in the auction, there is little profit left for re-sellers. But of course, some people find auctions distasteful, and event managers prefer not to be tainted by that. But leaving such qualms aside, the auction design problem itself is more intriguing than it might appear.

What seems at first to be a single commodity — concert tickets — is actually a cluster of related products. Standing, seated, on Wednesday, on Thursday, far back, close up, two tickets for the diehard fans among us or five for the whole family — different combinations of these products might have appealed, depending on their absolute prices and their prices relative to each other. Elizabeth Baldwin and Paul Klemperer, economists at Oxford University, have designed auction software that can easily accommodate such complexity. Looking at hundreds of thousands of bids, aggregated by a computer, event managers could sell tickets to the keenest bidders, but could also adjust the mix on offer by installing some seats in an area previously reserved for standing, or arranging an extra tour date. It could easily allow favourable terms for fans with proven loyalty.

A more important (and likely) use of such a “product mix” auction would be a treasury raising money from the bond markets. How much money might be borrowed, and at what maturities, would depend on the demand. It is more efficient to combine several separate bond auctions into a single process. The Bank of England has used “product mix auctions” to inject liquidity into the banking system. They could be used in most situations where a range of similar goods might be bought or sold in different mixes, depending on relative prices.

Tim discusses the work on auctions by economists Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, authors of a new book, Radical Markets. One of several eye-catching ideas in the book is, in effect, that everyone’s big possessions — your car, your house — should be up for auction all the time. One would put a price on their car — say, £5,000. It would go into a searchable public register, and if you thought the price was attractive, you could buy it. Having named the price, the seller would have no right to refuse. If the car had a sentimental value, a higher price can be quoted. But one would hesitate to name a crazy price like £5m, because under Messrs Posner and Weyl’s system, the taxes would be determined by the self-declared value of my assets. This system has enormous potential — simple, fair, progressive taxes and a more dynamic economy. It would be much easier to develop new infrastructure, build new homes, buy your neighbour’s garden, and pour concrete all over twee villages to build monorails or airport runways.

Under Messrs Posner and Weyl’s system, subjectivity is reduced and mutually beneficial trades would not be derailed. And compulsory purchase would no longer be a piece of contested bureaucratic coercion: homeowners would name their price (and thus their tax bill) and the developers of Heathrow airport, the Hyperloop, or the latest stunt skyscraper would decide whether or not to pay it.

6) The legacy of book burning [Source: Financial Times
Burning of books was quite common in the past when ideologies of the government were not matched (or ridiculed) by the books published. But it still happens today, sometimes just for effect, sometimes with more chilling intent. In 2010, a far-right Hindu nationalist party, the Shiv Sena, burnt copies of Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey in Mumbai in a made-for-TV political protest; in 2013, far-right extremists conducted a book burning in the Hungarian city of Miskolc, burning work by Jewish poet Miklós Radnóti and other publications; in 2015, infamously, Isis consigned over 100,000 books and manuscripts in the university library of Mosul to the flames.

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 science-fiction novel, Fahrenheit 45, books are outlawed in a time saturated by mindless television, loud and banal radio streams, where people fear books, silence, pedestrians. Those immersed in the relentless stream of vapid information and entertainment are suspicious not just of the few lurking readers left, but of those who opt out in another way — who walk too much or too aimlessly, sit on park benches, think too much.

Bradbury wrote the novel in the middle of the McCarthy era, with the recent memories of the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s reminding him that America might one day take that path. The FBI briefly scrutinised him in the 1950s, noting that he had shouted, “Cowards and McCarthyites!” during a meeting of the Screen Writers Guild that debated whether to keep on writers who were members of the Communist party. One of their informants showed a suspicion of science-fiction writers, for their large audiences, and their ability to “frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria”, by spreading “poison” regarding American political institutions. But like a few other science-fiction writers, Walter Miller among them, what Bradbury reacted so strongly to was the prospect of a future citizenry who hate and distrust books and learning.

As Bradbury said in a 1993 interview, “The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. Look at the magazines, the newspapers around us — it’s all junk, all trash, titbits of news. The average TV ad has 120 images a minute. Everything just falls off your mind. You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

What he anticipated, even in the pre-internet, pre-Twitter, pre-WhatsApp 1950s, was the time we’ve reached — an age of manic consumption of a constant stream of often useless information. For Bradbury, what was terrifying was not just the burning of books, it was the way in which people were prepared to turn against those who refused to sup at the same shallow pools, to persecute those who step away from the stream. The message is quite clear- In a world gone mad from too much junk, don’t forget reading, or books, or the necessity of slow conversations and contemplative silence in a time of howling mobs and incessant noise.

7) The generational shift in European politics [Source: Livemint
According to Politico’s Ryan Heath, one of the most knowledgeable journalists covering the European Union (EU) today, for the first time ever, the average European national leader now is younger than 50. No matter how you calculate, the generational change in Europe is obvious. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is 31, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and his Estonian colleague Jüri Ratas are 39, French President Emmanuel Macron is 40, the prime ministers of Belgium and Slovakia, Charles Michel and Peter Pellegrini, respectively, are 42. At 63—not an advanced age given the EU’s average life expectancy of 79.6 years—German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš are the oldest leaders in Continental Europe. In the EU, only 71-year-old Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, is older.

In December, 2017, Andreas Beger, a data scientist at Ward Associates, a consulting firm, mapped the age of current national leaders based on a dataset that includes information about 2,300 current and former leaders from 201 countries. He found that the mean age stood at 62, just about the upper bound for today’s EU. One could theorize that Europe has a lot of small countries where it could be easier for a young person to cut through an established hierarchy, but Beger discovered no correlation between a leader’s age and a country’s size. There’s really no plausible explanation for the relative youth of the men running Europe in 2018 other than that voters are increasingly opting for fresh blood at the top. This doesn’t just mean fresh faces: Young politicians benefit from challenging conventions, especially traditional notions of how political forces should be aligned on a left-right spectrum.

That can mean unabashed populism, as in the case of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was 40 when he was elected in 2015. Matteo Salvini, 45, and Luigi Di Maio, 31, who are not on the list of formal leaders but who are the real forces behind the new Italian government, are also firmly anti-establishment. But certain flexibility and a disregard for the traditional spectrum are another possibility: Macron, with his new right-left party, and Kurz, who has just about erased the border between the centre-right and the far-right, are two examples. Albert Rivera, 38, the leader of Spain’s definition-defying but recognizably centrist Ciudadanos party, has a good shot at the prime minister’s job in the next election. One doesn’t need to be young to disrupt traditional political oligarchies—the election of Donald Trump at 70 was evidence of that. But, unlike in the US, where the president wields more power as an individual than as head of a party, European politics are, for the most part, parliamentary. So the generational change is accompanied by the destruction of traditional party systems.
The voter sentiment that’s lifting the new generation of European politicians to the top is often agnostic of ideological divisions and focused on expectations of change, experiments, different ways of government. It may be interpreted as a rejection of wisdom, professionalism and expertise, but it can also be seen as a protest against business as usual, which in many European countries means cronyism, corruption and an indifference to voters’ core interests. So unusual programmes win and unusual policies are tried. Somewhat paradoxically, the EU’s common rules and member states’ interdependence provide a certain incentive to experiment: Voters know a certain political and economic safety net will be there for them if things go badly wrong. Sometimes, as in Greece, they hate how that safety net works—but they don’t want it to disappear, as evidenced by increasing popular support for the EU. In the rest of the world, where the safety net is not provided, change may be slower, but what’s happening in Europe can be a useful preview of what will happen to politics in a world run by millennials.

8) Bye bye bikini: The bra refuseniks rethinking femininity [Source: Financial Times
The definition of female glamour is shifting in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp. The organisers of the Miss America pageant announced recently that as part of the new “cultural revolution” they would be putting an end to the swimsuit round. “We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” said the chairwoman Gretchen Carlson (Miss America 1989), seemingly without any irony. The author says that this is a noble sentiment, though it sounds like the kind of euphemism that the card-carrying misogynist Commander Fred might spout in the dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even as the hashtag #byebyebikini spread across the digital sphere, bras are also in the line of fire. Not because they’re being burnt this time round, but because they are being traded in. During the second half of 2017, push-up bra sales in the US fell 45% compared to the year before. Meanwhile sales of sports bras rose 39%, according to retail analytics company, Edited. Meanwhile sales of “bralettes” — which have no uncomfortable underwiring and use simple sizing (small, medium, large) — more than doubled in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year. There is a growing teenage movement online of bra refuseniks (#freethenipple) among millennials like Savannah Brown, whose poem “Sav’s guide to going braless” became wildly popular on YouTube.

In the US, some of these trends are already being partly attributed to the Weinstein effect. When glamour lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret (annual revenue: $7bn) aired its annual televised special in the weeks after the first #MeToo allegations, ratings were down 30%. “Is Victoria’s Secret too sexy for its own good?” asked one recent headline. The author doesn’t believe this is about women becoming more puritanical, though. Lots of the bralettes are sexy. And consumer spending on lingerie is not down. Women are simply switching allegiances. Something is being reclaimed. The problem is — what, exactly? Retail analysts are looking at these trends and deciding that consumers want a message that “speaks to them”. Still, this message is extremely conflicted and hard to read.

9) Oxbridge’s £3.5bn portfolio makes it bigger landowner than church [Source: The Times
Oxbridge colleges own more land than the Church of England, including the O2 arena in London and the Rose Bowl cricket ground in Hampshire. The colleges have a portfolio of properties worth £3.5 billion, with land and buildings spread over 126,000 acres — about a third of the size of greater London, it was claimed. The Church of England, said to be Britain’s largest landowner, owns 100,000 acres across 41 dioceses. The biggest Cambridge landowners are St. John’s and Trinity, with 26,000 acres worth £1.1 billion, which make up more than half of the land owned by Cambridge colleges. Collectively, the two universities have property investments worth £863 million, while the estates, endowments and other assets of its colleges are worth almost £21 billion. This does not account for unmeasured land held by several colleges.

Earlier this year, Trinity sold a block of retail and residential properties in Kensington, west London, for £28 million, the newspaper said, basing its findings on Land Registry records, archives and Freedom of Information requests. The college also owns the O2 arena, formerly the Millennium Dome, on a 999-year lease after buying it for £24 million in 2009. It has registered a profit of nearly £22 million from the site, operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group, which pays rent to Trinity. It also owns the site of the Top Gear test track, Dunsfold Aerodrome, in Surrey. Balliol College, Oxford, owns Buittle Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, built in the 12th century. The Rose Bowl, home of Hampshire cricket club, is owned by The Queen’s College, Oxford. St John’s, Oxford’s wealthiest college, is the landlord of Millwall football club’s training ground, as well as industrial estates in Leeds, and owns freeholds for more than 100 retail outlets.

All Souls College owns more than 300 properties in Brent, north London. Most are houses, but also include the freehold of a Ladbrokes betting shop. Colleges at both universities have received government subsidies and grants to conserve the environment. Oxford’s endowment includes 600 trusts with funds earmarked for specific purposes such as teaching posts, buildings and research. About £270 million of that supports student scholarships. A report last month suggested that university wealth had ballooned since tuition fees were trebled in 2012. Budget surpluses in the past academic year amounted to £2.27 billion across the UK’s 164 universities, more than double the £1.11 billion surplus in 2011-12, the year before higher fees came in. Income last year was £35.7 billion, up about a third since 2011-12.

Nick Hillman, chief executive of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that with so much uncertainty over the future of university finances, accumulating reserves was sensible. Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, said: “Many of the ‘assets’ valued are fixed in the buildings where we teach, house our students, do the groundbreaking research that has earned us more than 90 Nobel prizes and has brought, and continues to bring, change to the world. The invested assets of our endowment fund allow the university to pay for research, to provide bursaries for students and to continue to strive for wider access. Our other assets include invaluable treasures such as Samuel Pepys’ library and Sir Isaac Newton’s notebooks . . . conserved and held in trust for everyone.”

10) The Afghanistan story [Source: The Cricket Monthly
In this piece, the author illustrates the evolution story of Afghan cricket in graphical representation. In 1980s, war was raging in Afghanistan and people were driven out of the country as refugees to Pakistan. A refugee kid, Taj Malik, then 13, discovered cricket and started playing with his brothers. They used plastic bags for balls, sticks for bats and when they lucked out, they played with tennis ball. Taj set up the Afghan Cricket Club in the camp with his brothers and fellow refugee kids. With Taliban in power in early 1990s, and with their hardline regime, they had no time for sport. In cricket, however, they saw a no-contact sport that could comply with their dress-code regulations. With their blessings, the Afghan Cricket Federation (ACF) was set up in 1995 by cricketer Allah Dad Noori.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Cricket Club was playing in Peshawar leagues, rubbing shoulders with future Pakistan stars. They even beat some strong sides. Six years after ACF came into existence, the International Cricket Council awarded it affiliate status, the lowest in cricket’s three-tier structure. Taj was now the national coach. Taj’s men beat Pakistani club sides, smaller Asian nations and, in 2008, reached base camp; division 5 of the world cricket league, five stages below world cup qualification. What differentiated Afghanistan from other smaller cricketing nations was their ambition, guided by coach Taj Malik and inspirational captain, Nawroz Mangal. By 2008, they were turning heads around the world. The BBC started making a documentary on their rise and their quest for a place in the World Cup. It’s in 2009 that they made their way up from division five to three, into the 2011 Would Cup qualifiers.

They lost to Canada, and that’s why they couldn’t make to the World Cup. But, they achieved ODI status, barely a decade after they started out. By then, Taj had been sacked as national coach in favour of a professional set-up, helmed by former Pakistan test cricketer Kabir Khan. Rigorous fitness routines and more advanced training regimes now helped channel raw passion and unflinching commitment. Their band of former refugees won the 2010 world T20 qualifier. Afghanistan’s ambition of going to a major world tournament had been fulfilled. Despite cricket politics and low funding to associates, they’ve qualified for three world T20s and two ODI world cups. In the 2016 world T20, they were the only side to beat eventual champions West Indies. By then, beating test nations like Zimbabwe had become a habit. When they returned from the 2015 World Cup, gunshots were fired, except this time into the air in celebration. Thanks to their persistence and these giant-killing acts, the ICC inducted them, along with Ireland, as a test-playing nation in 2017. This year, they won the world cup qualifier in Zimbabwe.

While Afghanistan continues to be ravaged by violence, the one binding force that brings the nation together is cricket. The team now features players from various parts of the nation, and some, including Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, are global superstars in the IPL and other T20 leagues. Their cricket stars give them plenty of reasons to dance these days. They are a test nation, they get more fixtures and ICC funding, and their under-19 kids were 2018 World Cup semi-finalists.