WLOG: Feb 22 – Mar 7, 2021

Profile Links

A profile of Shekhar Gupta on Caravan Magazine by Krishn Kaushik

Shekhar Gupta built multiple successful careers — as a journalist, as the host of NDTV’s Walk the Talk which featured the who’s who of contemporary India, as the ‘CEO’ of Indian Express and played a vital role to turn it around into a money-making enterprise, and now the Editor-in-Chief of a leading digital news website and the host of a popular daily news wrap on YouTube. A through line in his long career has to be the strength of relationships he cultivated with his subordinates in the newsroom and the powerful across the spectrum outside of it. These are, as you’ll read, more valuable than the eight figure compensation he received as the editor-in-chief.

Most things written about in this profile are before my time as an interested news consumer, so this has been educative to me. A great archive.

Food Links

The last GenSec of the Communist Party of USSR appears in a Pizza Hut commercial shot near Red Square in Moscow. Za Gorbacheva!. (Commercial embedded in the article.)

Learnings for me include the fact that Gorbachev, subsequent to the fall of USSR and the financial crises that followed, was deeply unpopular in Russia and that he lost most of his savings, and that he basically agreed to do this commercial for money.

Interesting, as this article points out as well, that Gorbachev was quite popular in the world outside USSR. I’d heard that he made some heroic attempts to make peace and normalise relations with the US but Reagan and Bush Sr were being very difficult. He also had ‘name-recognition’ in India, when I was growing up; I knew his name before I knew about USSR.

Cricket Links

Just not cricket, by Geoff Lemon for The Guardian. Companion discussion on Red Inker podcast.

A blistering attack on the standards of Channel 9 cricket commentary, to what it has fallen from the days of Richie Benaud, Tony Greig, Bill Lawry. Today, (this essay is six years old but the damage isn’t undone by any measure) “it’s all about being the matiest mates who ever mated.”

TV commentary is important. It’s valuable. To us television watchers, in our collected cricketing memories, commentary is inseparable from the action on the field. Romance and legends aside, commentators educate us about the game, not just teaching the rules of the game and welcoming the new audience to the party, but also carrying the viewers through the game’s slow hours, pressure points, bringing their trained expert’s eye to assess, contextualise, and predict the passage of play.

Granted, commentary should also be entertaining, but sorry, this won’t cut it.

Of course viewers want fun – the art of filling slow hours is cricket commentary’s joy and genius. But there’s a reason that it’s great to sit around with a bunch of mates and talk shit among yourselves, and boring to sit next to someone else’s bunch of mates while they talk shit among themselves.

An Unquiet History of Pakistani Cricket, by Osman Samiuddin on 81 All Out. A warm and personal history of Pakistani cricket through the eyes of a journalist-turned-fan.

Music Links

Sriman Narayana by Annamacharya, rendered by MS Subbulakshmi. Lyrics in Telugu here
The Scientist by Coldplay

WLOG: Feb 14 — Feb 21, 2021

Travel Links

Jarrod Kimber goes backpacking around the world while the 2003 World Cup is going on | Spotify and other podcast places

Here’s a combo of two super-hit genres of storytelling.

Where were you and what were you doing when X happened? Every answer makes for a fascinating story. Where the teller elevates and diminishes the event or parts thereof tells as much about the event itself as the teller.

A travelogue, which covers all the bases: unexpected encounters, throwing caution to the wind that is a symptom of youth as well as a necessity for backpacking, glimpses of life at the time of writing, self-knowledge received from total strangers, and the journey itself, which you will probably never undertake but are happily co-opted into.

Cricket Links

A Conversation on ESPNCricInfo’s Control Percentage | Spotify and other podcast places

A fascinating conversation about a fairly new cricket statistic and broadly about how we use data to tell stories about the game. KD, the host and a data maven in his own right, has rather contrarian views on cricket is reported and talked about. If I could summarise, his view is that our stories are more about what’s around the game – the romance, the mental projections, and “character” – and less about the game itself – the structure of the game, role of chance, and technique. And there is plenty of material to work with to develop this cricketingview.

I love it when KD goes into demolition mode and puts to rest the emotional roller coaster that we tend to associate with the game. Here, he takes the tropes of big-match players, performing when it matters, etc to the cleaners. Fun. The Episode that Really Matters | 81 All Out

Music Links

Jessica | The Allman Brothers Band. The rare music video where the live performance is as good as the studio version. (In my noob opinion, of course)

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down | The Band
Despite its charged subject matter, the song is rock-and-roll canon, listed as one of the best of all time by Time Magazine and Rolling Stone.
Why Some Hear ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ As A Neo-Confederate Anthem | On the Media, WNYC Studios

WLOG: Feb 7 – Feb 13, 2021

Long Reads Links

The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election | TIME Magazine
At the surface, a story about how activists, non-governmental organisations and such stepped up at a moment when almost everything about the 2020 general election was in doubt, thanks to the pandemic, disinformation about mail-in voting, and a refusal to acknowledge the elections. It took a lot, and this article makes a case that the US institutions didn’t just stand on their own strength. Another reading of the article lays out the level of involvement in the political process of organisations ranging from activists to technology companies. Make of it what you will.

WebMD, and the Tragedy of Legible Expertise | Astral Codex Ten (formerly Slate Star Codex)
Entertaining and thoughtful, as always. I don’t have anything intelligent to add; I’d just re-read the posts if I can to get to the bottom of what he writes.

History Reads Links

Read the stories written by Sai Priya Kodidala, founder of The Telugu Archive – an archive of (contemporary) history of the Telugu land and its people.
Read the articles on Firstpost
Instagram handle of The Telugu Archive

Podcast Links

Tadashi Tokieda on The Joy of X – Transcript here, audio available on all the podcast platforms

I first learnt about Prof Tokieda through Numberphile videos titled Tadashi’s Toys. Highlights and learnings for me from this conversation include:

  1. He was a philology lecturer before he taught himself calculus in his twenties. Don’t miss his description of the seasons as it relates to the concept of derivative. It uses nothing more than the definition that derivative means the rate of change of something! You get a glimpse into his wonderfully creative mind.
  2. The art of having conversations, as they were conducted in the French salons. A sign of intelligence is to “the ability to speak lightly about heavy things and heavily about light things”. Causerie. I quite like this idea. Do you have such conversations?
  3. A cruicial difference between what mathematicians and physicists mean by “if A, then B”. Spoiler alert: a mathematician means, “If A, then no matter what happens, I get at least B.” A physicist means, “If A, and if nothing else happens, then B.” He goes on to claim that mathematicians know their field better than physicists know theirs. I’d agree.
  4. The dreaded six word question: Does this have any practical applications? (Ans: Depends on what kind of applications one is interested in.) I quite like his answer: “When I show this to children, it makes them happy.”

I’ll say that even grown-ups like me feel happy when I watch his videos. Here’s the rabbit hole

Video Links

Why you should read Don Quioxte? | TED-Ed

A classic novel, and an extremely enjoyable one. I’ll have something more useful to say when I finish it. Beautiful animation from TED-Ed, as always. Check out their entire catalogue.

Week 3 links next Sunday!

WLOG: Jan 31 – Feb 6, 2021

Outrageous News Links

‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape | BBC News Testimonies from ex-detainees and ex-workers in the camps.

Women wearing long dresses and growing long hair are crimes. Detainees are denied food if they fail to memorise propaganda passages. Those who failed tests are forced to wear clothes that are colour-coded to show how many mistakes they made, so that they can be punished to different levels.

“Four kinds of electric shock – the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick”.

Cricket News Links

Three tests running in parallel in the sub-continent. West Indies pulled off a miracle of a test win against Bangladesh.

Science Links

Alex the grey parrot | Wikipedia. Featured in this week’s Fermat’s Library.

Alex, whose name is an acronym for avian language experiment, was bought at a pet store by the researcher Irene Pepperberg. His accomplishments include counting to six, having a vocabulary of 100 words, responding to irritation by defusing it, displaying anger and surprise to an unexpected outcome, understanding the concept of “zero” or nothing, and asking questions — all cognitively advanced skills. There’s some debate about the extent of his skills, for the claims of Alex’s abilities are not peer-reviewed. Still, a fascinating character. Alex lived to 31 (1976-2007). His last words (“You be good, I love you. See you tomorrow.”) were the same words that he would say every night when Pepperberg left the lab.

Astronomy Picture of the Day Feb 1 2021 – Lunar Halo over Snowy Trees and Rabbit Tracks

Music Links

Nee Nenaindal – Shankar Tucker ft. Vidya Vox & Vandana Iyer
Another Day of Sun – La La Land Opening Scene (shared for the video)
Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

Video Links

The documentary film ‘How to Start a Revolution‘, featuring Gene Sharp, academic and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, whose book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ and the ‘198 methods’ therein became the manual for non-violent protests around the world. I think we should all be aware of this.

Available on Kanopy and YouTube

Twitter Thread Links

Plug for India Wants to Know! A wonderful and warm bunch who can fulfil your trivia needs.

More links next Sunday!

యాంటీబాడీలు మరియు టీకాలు. ఇవేమిటి?

వ్యాధి కలిగించే సూక్ష్మక్రిములు (pathogens), ఉదాహరణకు వైరస్లు, మన శరీరంలోకి ప్రవేశించి, మన కణాలపై దాడిచేసి, వాటి సంఖ్యను పెంచుకుంటాయి. వీటికి వ్యతిరేకంగా మన రోగనిరోధక వ్యవస్థలో (immune system) ముఖ్యంగా రెండురకాల కణాలు  పనిచేస్తాయి. ఇవి టి-కణాలు మరియు బి-కణాలు. టి-కణాలు వైరస్లు కలిగియున్న కణాలను గుర్తించి నాశంచేయగా, బి-కణాలు యాంటీబాడీలను (antibodies) తయారుచేస్తాయి. యాంటీబాడీలు వైరస్లతో బంధమై వైరస్లు మన కణాలలోకి ప్రవేశించకుండా ఆపుతాయి. ఈ విధంగా వైరస్ నిర్మూలనలో తోడ్పడిన టి మరియు బి కణాలను మన శరీరం ప్రత్యేకంగా నిల్వ ఉంచుకుంటుంది. వీటిని మెమొరీ కణాలు (memory cells) అంటారు. మరోమారు వైరస్లు దాడిచేస్తే ఈ కణాలు వాటిని వెంటనే గుర్తించి నాశంచేయగలవు. వ్యాధి కలగదు. 

టీకాలు (vaccines) పనిచేసే తీరు ఒక ముఖ్యమైన తేడా మినహా ఇలాగే ఉంటుంది. అదేమంటే, టీకాలలో వైరస్లను పోలియున్న కొన్ని కణాలుంటాయి. ఇవి వ్యాధిని కలిగించలేవు, ఐతే వీటిద్వారా నిజమైన వైరస్లను నాశంచేసే మెమొరీ కణాల ఉత్పత్తి జరుగుతుంది.

కోవిడ్-19 వ్యాధిని కలిగించే కరోనావైరస్ మన శరీరంలో ఉన్నప్పుడు యాంటీబాడీల ఉత్పత్తి జరుగుతుంది. శాస్త్రవేత్తల పరిశీలనల ప్రకారం, వ్యాధి నయమైన వారిలో కొన్ని రోజుల తరువాత యాంటీబాడీల సంఖ్య తగ్గుతూవస్తోంది. ఈ విషయం కొందరిలో ఆందోళన కలిగిస్తోంది: రేపు టీకా కనుగొన్న తరువాత కూడా కరోనావైరస్కు వ్యతిరేకంగా వ్యాధినిరోధక శక్తి ఇలాగే కొన్నిరోజులపాటే ఉంటుందేమోనని. కానీ ఇది ఒక సహజమైన పరిణామమేననీ, వైరస్ / టీకాలోని కణాలకు వ్యతిరేకంగా పనిచేసే మెమొరీ కణాలు మన రక్తంలో ఎన్నోయేళ్ళపాటు పదిలంగా ఉంటాయనీ యేల్ విశ్వవిద్యాలయంలోని (అమెరికా) శాస్త్రవేత్తలు చెబుతున్నారు. కొన్నిమార్లు వైరస్ కంటే టీకాలద్వారా పొందిన వ్యాధినిరోధక శక్తి బలమైనదని కూడా చెబుతున్నారు. 

టీకాలను తీసుకుంటే మనకు వ్యాధి సోకదు. అంతేగాక, మనద్వారా ఇతరులకు కూడా సోకదు. అధికశాతం ప్రజలు టీకాలను తీసుకుంటే, కొన్ని కారణాల వల్ల (ఉదా: అనారోగ్యం, బలహీనమైన రోగనిరోధక శక్తి) వాటిని తీసుకోలేని వాళ్లకు కూడా రక్షణ లభిస్తుంది. దీన్నే హర్డ్ ఇమ్యూనిటీ (herd immunity) అంటారు. ఇది చాలా విలువైనది, భవిష్యత్తులో కోవిడ్ తిరిగిరాకుండా చూడగలదు. ఈ విధంగా వైరస్ను పూర్తిగా నిర్మూలించడం సాధ్యమే.

ప్రపంచవ్యాప్తంగా నేడు 165కు పైగా టీకాలకు క్లినికల్ ట్రయల్స్ (clinical trials) జరుగుతున్నాయి. రానున్న 3-4 నెలలలో వీటి ఫలితాలు మనముందుంటాయి. ఇవి విజయవంతమవ్వాలనీ, అందరికీ టీకాలు లభ్యమవ్వాలనీ కోరుకుందాం! 

మరిన్ని వివరాల కోసం ఈ వ్యాసాన్ని చదవండి: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/31/opinion/coronavirus-antibodies-immunity.html

On Memorable Phrases

I have been reading Mark Forsyth’s Elements of Eloquence, and it reminds me of all the reasons that I love language, and the English language slightly more than the rest. The book is about the craft of, well, crafting memorable phrases. Craft, not art, because it has many discernible patterns, and can be learnt by chipping away something something, ironing out something something, getting your hands dirty something something…

This is encouraging. Also encouraging is the charge that good writers borrow and great writers steal. And steal they did, sometimes from their own works. Knowing the spell that has been cast doesn’t make you immune to it. Just as you wouldn’t stop gawking at a rainbow even though you know what caused it.

I should not change the topic to anything else without talking about the TV series The West Wing, a show I love for reasons more than one. There are memorable lines from the cast, and cast members who consistently have many many memorable lines: the president, sometimes on his own and sometimes through his excellent speechwriters,

Toby Ziegler, the chief communications director, is the gentlest soul you meet in the series, if you ask me, though at the same time he’s also the most prickly. I love it when he spars with the president. That time when he authorised a state funeral to a veteran who died in a park (the first Christmas special, the festive mood really touched me) – “I can only hope so”. That time when he found out about the president’s MS – “And the walls came tumbling down” – (quite the opposite reaction to what a presidential aide ought to have, I thought). That time when he decides on the National Endowment for the Arts. That time in the campaign when the president – deliberately, we are shown – appears less than the most erudite and statesman-like; later on, after the president loses it and sees a trauma specialist, for such is the power of words, when they make peace, Toby says, “Remember, there is no such thing as too smart.” And this.

Yes, yes, we all crave and value what we don’t have and what we are not, but for me the unmissable feature of the entire series is one, how happy and productive they’re in their jobs that they love so much and two, how well-dressed they are. I don’t think it was unplanned at all.

A million other minds thought likewise.

We’re shown, while reading Elements of Eloquence, how the craft is put to use to a great effect in popular songs and in comedy, besides theatre, its preoccupation. Maybe the pythons put their Cambridge degrees to good use. Ditto for other comedians. Sample this rhetorical question: “Alright, besides aqueduct, sanitation… what have the Romans ever done for us?

And now, for something completely different.

Songwriting. This one should have been obvious but it took me some time to see it. Here, there, everywhere – An Anadiplosis, chapter 9. (Mirrors on the ceiling, Pink Champagne on ice – a syllepis (pg 112) Here’s my $0.02. My memorable lyrics in different languages are memorable for different reasons. In Sanskrit-derived languages, it is the elaborate or concise, dazzling or sly, similes and compound words. In Urdu it’s the deadly combination of love, God, and intoxication and the countless words for each of them. Words of English songs, and I’m only talking of the popular radio hits type, appear to have none of these aggrandizements but are eminently quotable and memorable. What gives? I’ll dig in for an answer.