Archive for May, 2019

Making of a Writer …

Posted on May 30, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Ridhi Dastidhar in The Wire –

A prolific author, journalist and playwright, Annie Zaidi’s forte since her first book has been the personal essay – a fact now recognised with the prize and $100,000 award. And a book-deal to develop her essay ‘Bread, Cement Cactus’. 

I fight with my mother: We don’t come from this! You came from cities like Lucknow and Delhi, from secularism and cosmopolitanism, from an English-medium education. You wore breeches and rode horses!

“In Muhammadabad, a mofussil village struggling to morph into a town, we trace fourteen generations. The uncle who told me this is now gone. Fifteen generations, then.

Mom counters: Daddy said never to forget our roots. Over all protest, she builds a morsel sized house there.”

“In Muhammadabad, a mofussil village struggling to morph into a town, we trace fourteen generations. The uncle who told me this is now gone. Fifteen generations, then.

I fight with my mother: We don’t come from this! You came from cities like Lucknow and Delhi, from secularism and cosmopolitanism, from an English-medium education. You wore breeches and rode horses!

Mom counters: Daddy said never to forget our roots. Over all protest, she builds a morsel sized house there.”

“Mom says, wherever you can trace your bloodline, that place is yours. Yours as much as anybody else’s. 

By that measure, the province of Uttar Pradesh is flecked with my blood. Not just Uttar Pradesh, not just India. Pakistan too. My father’s side of t“Partition along religious lines shattered the Indian Subcontinent and nobody is allowed to forget. The wound of millions being killed and displaced is scratched raw every few years. 

Three wars, constant accusations of cross-border infiltration and terrorist activity. India and Pakistan do not give each other tourist visas. I’ve had brows raised at the post office when I tried to send books to friends across the border.”

The Nine Dots Prize aims to encourage innovative thinking on contemporary issues. In its second year it posed a provocation, ‘Is there still no place like home?’, for entrants to answer in a 3,000-word essay.

Zaidi’s entry, ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’ came out of multiple essays she’d been wanting to write for a while. “Where you grow up is very different from where your grandparents, or actually, your great-grandparents grew up,” she says. “How do you reconcile these two in terms of self-definition and identity?” 

“Whether it was about my village, or about my relationship with the land itself and where that comes from… or about the industrial township in another context – in my head these were separate books. When I saw the [Nine Dots] topic, all the ideas started to come together. I was thinking about these as disparate, but the topic forced me to draw connections between them.”

Zaidi’s essay evokes the ‘call of blood’. “What is this call of blood?” she asks. “All I understand right now is that the call exists for me. I know my cousins do not feel as strongly about that village. So this is also an investigation of how responses are shaped. Part of it is just the person I am, and part is, how do you define blood? It’s not literal DNA. I’m talking about something else.”

“It’s also interesting to think about where we draw our sense of personal identification from. I don’t feel that call comes from necessarily a narrow community. I’m not talking about Muslims, because that’s also a very fractured community with multiple identities – I mean my actual literal great-grandfather. Is this just about how I determine my personal identity or is it something larger?”

In addition to being published in print, the book that emerges from the Prize is also made available online for free as an open access pdf. 

“A great thing about Nine Dots is that it’s not invested in books per se,” Zaidi says. “The focus is more on ideas that are relevant in contemporary society. Getting the book out is just a way to get you to think about that idea.”

Zaidi is understandably jittery about elaborating on the bullet points in the press release.

It lists themes her book will address, including: the politics and economics of death in India; how industrial townships are created on the back of dislocations, and what it means for citizens’ relationships to the land; the struggle to belong to a city which changes in all recognisable forms, even down to its name.

She’s still framing her own ideas, and not ready to say too much about them. 

“I’m still in the pitch phase,” she says. “Right now all I have is a book proposal!” And about six months to come up with a first draft. The book will be published in 2020, and the Prize will enable a singular focus until then.

This kind of hybrid writing, blending memoir and journalism, is her forte. “My first book of non-fiction, Known Turf came out of blogging and me telling the stories behind the stories,” she said. At the time, Zaidi worked at Tehelka. “It was reportage-based, but also all personal essays. Some of my recent essays have also been about… [the idea] the personal is the political. As much as journalism is objective, we are all a film of experiences, and we only understand the things we’re able to understand”.

I suggest that it’s a good time for the personal essay and Zaidi immediately disagrees.

“Because of the way our media has become, suddenly everyone wants 1500-word pieces. I’ve been sitting on a 7000-word piece for two years now. When you want to deeply think about something, there’s not a place for that,” she says.

Zaidi declares herself a huge admirer of Doris Lessing. “I can’t get over the sheer narrative craft involved in The Golden Notebook,” she says. “I read it only a few years back and in a sense, my jaw is still sort of fallen.” Otherwise, she says, almost everything you read and like influences you.

In the sort of rare admission that’s so reassuring for working writers, Zaidi says, “I’ve had so many rejections! This year alone I’ve been rejected in 10-15 places. You write what you can where you can, and move on, and keep applying like mad.”

Her next novella, out later this year from Aleph Book Company, is called Prelude to a Riot. She wrote it about a year and a half ago, and it also pushes genre boundaries.

“Structurally I was employing different voices and narrative tones to show a story. It’s not actually about a riot,” she says. “I’m not interested in violence. All acts of violence – the gory detail etcetera isn’t interesting beyond a point.”

“What’s interesting [to me] is how things get that way, what are the things we’re saying to each other that push it that way. How these things develop in a seemingly normal ‘up until now everyone was happy living together’ , ‘all this while everything was happy – what changed?’ I’m interested in that.”he family came from that side of the border. Their traditions, their connection to the soil were lost when the country was carved up in 1947.”

“Mom says, wherever you can trace your bloodline, that place is yours. Yours as much as anybody else’s. By that measure, the province of Uttar Pradesh is flecked with my blood. Not just Uttar Pradesh, not just India. Pakistan too. My father’s side of the family came from that side of the border. Their traditions, their connection to the soil were lost when the country was carved up in 1947.”

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

China Bans Wikipedia …

Posted on May 30, 2019. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom |

Stephen Harrison

Censorship of encyclopedias has a long history. In the 18th century, Denis Diderot and other authors of the famous Encyclopédie were denounced as heretics for suggesting that knowledge stems from observation and reason rather than religious tradition or papal authority.

In 1752, the French king’s council issued a stop order on its distribution on the basis that the publication was “destroying royal authority and encouraging a spirit of independence and revolt,” a prophetic statement just three decades before the French Revolution. 

Blocking a website appears to be the 21st-century equivalent of these encyclopaedic press injunctions, and Wikipedia has dealt with more than its fair share.

China first blocked the Chinese-language Wikipedia in June 2004 before the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Before 2015, countries could even block specific articles because Wikipedia was running on an HTTP protocol. Iran, for example, blocked Articles deemed undesirable for political, religious, or sexual reasons in 2013, including Harry Potter actress Emma Watson’s page.

But since Wikipedia switched over entirely to HTTPS in 2015, a nation’s only censorship option has been to block entire language versions. 

Turkey went ahead and blocked all of Wikipedia in April 2017, citing a controversial law to ban websites in the name of “national security.” 

Turkey has so far been the only country since the full implementation of HTTPS to institute a long-term block across all languages – at least until the latest developments with China.

As Omer Benjakob reported for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Turkish officials reached out to Wikimedia several times in 2017 to request that content be changed in two Wikipedia articles: “State-sponsored terrorism” and “Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War.”

As a matter of policy, Wikimedia does not interfere with its community-written encyclopedia projects, so Turkish representatives took matters into their own hands. As one Turkish official tweeted, “This content was not allowed to be edited. … Therefore, entire Wikipedia content had to be filtered.” 

 By contrast, China appears to have blocked the site without forewarning.

Wikimedia noted in its statement, “We have not received notice or any indication as to why this current block is occurring and why now.”

The silent approach seems to be customary for Chinese officials, who have blocked thousands of websites including the BBC, the New York Times, Quora, Reddit and Amnesty International.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has increasingly soughtto use the Great Firewall to maintain a unified “Chinanet” that reflects the party’s express values rather than diversity of opinions.

China’s banning of certain American, Japanese and European domains has helped domestic companies grow. 

Nine of the world’s 20 largest internet firms, by market value, are now Chinese, including Baidu and WeChat, which have grown exponentially partly because they have been sheltered from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

But it seems unlikely that China is blocking Wikipedia across all languages simply to provide its homegrown company with an advantage.

The Chinese-language internet encyclopaedia Baidu Baike, owned by Baidu, already has millions more articles than Chinese Wikipedia, which has been blocked since 2015.

When Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales met with Cyberspace Administration of China chief Lue Wei later that year, Wales said Wikipedia’s blocked status did not come up. But spoken or not, the key difference is openness to censorship.

Unlike Wikipedia, Baidu Baike removes content when directed to do so by the Chinese government. 

 That’s where the circumstantial evidence of the 30th anniversary of the violence in Tiananmen Square becomes too compelling to ignore.

Back in 2009, during the 20th anniversary, internet references to the demonstrations were strictly censored. When Chinese internet users searched for “June 4” on the Chinese search engine Baidu, they would receive a message that said, “The search does not comply with laws, regulations and policies.” 

With today’s prevalence of online translation tools, it would be much easier for Chinese citizens to read content from other encyclopedia editions.

Advances in translation software might explain why the government felt the need to expand what was previously only a block of the Chinese (Mandarin) edition.

Since Wikipedia is collaboratively written by a decentralised group of editors, the Chinese government is also unable to control the narrative or the nomenclature.

On the English-language edition of Wikipedia, for example, there have been fiery debates between editors about whether the events of 1989 should be referred to as the “Tiananmen Square massacre” or the “Tiananmen Square protests.”

The current English Wikipedia article uses the latter title, but devotes substantial space to describing the death toll and “the extent of bloodshed in the Square. … ”

It’s foreseeable that potentially millions of Chinese citizens would have been curious enough to conduct some basic internet research in the months and weeks leading up to the anniversary of the events at Tiananmen Square, and that they would have preferred to use a source that wasn’t censored by the government.

Now, by design, many of them will be unable to.

When Turkey blocked all editions of Wikipedia in 2017, there was some expectation that the censorship would be short-lived. The country’s previous blocks were often limited in duration, such as a two-week block of Twitter in 2014.

But Turkey’s block of Wikipedia has now lasted more than two years and is a lose-lose situation for humanity at large. The anti-censorship organisation Turkey Blocks recently tweeted, “The block of #Wikipedia in #Turkey is not only annoying, it means Turkish citizens are essentially self-excluded from writing their own history or expressing a Turkish point of view in millions of articles that chronicle our age.”

Wikimedia made a similar point in its recent statement: When one country cannot contribute to the internet’s knowledge ecosystem, “the entire world is poorer.”

Already there is a Wikipedia entry describing China’s recent censorship of all Wikipedia. Let’s hope this Wikipedia article is soon updated to describe the block in the past tense, and that the revised version will soon be accessible globally without restriction.


Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Field of

Posted on May 26, 2019. Filed under: From Russia with Love |

From Wikipedia –

This is the Center of St Petersburg, Russia …

Field of Mars

An aerial view of the Field of Mars, a large park in central St Petersburg, Russia, pictured in 2016.

It is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The park’s history goes back to the 18th century, when it was converted from bogland and named the Grand Meadow.

Later, it was the setting for celebrations to mark Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. Its next name, the Tsaritsyn Meadow, appears after the royal family commissioned Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to build the Summer Palace for Empress Elizabeth.

It became the Field of Mars during the reign of Paul I, becoming officially named such in 1805. Towards the end of the 18th century, the park became a military drill ground, where they erected monuments commemorating the victories of the Russian Army and where parades and military exercises took place regularly.

After the February Revolution in 1917, the Field of Mars finally lost its significance as a military drill ground and became a memorial area, used to bury the revolution’s honoured dead.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

The Monks and the Mind …

Posted on May 22, 2019. Filed under: Guide Posts |

Jamie Kreiner –   This Article was originally published at ‘Aeon’.

Medieval monks were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. 

They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem – it is an inherently jumpy thing. 

John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind “seems driven by random incursions”. It “wanders around like it were drunk”. 

It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420S – Cassian was writing at a time when Christian monastic communities were beginning to boom in Europe and the Mediterranean. 

A century earlier, ascetics had mostly lived in isolation. And the new enthusiasm for communal enterprises resulted in a new enthusiasm for monastic planning. 

These innovative social spaces were assumed to function most optimally when monks had guidelines about how to do their jobs.

Their job, more than anything else, was to focus on divine communication – to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God, in order to improve the health of their souls and the souls of the people who supported them. 

For these monks, the meditating mind wasn’t supposed to be at ease. It was supposed to be energised. Their favourite words for describing concentration stemmed from the Latin tenere, to hold tight to something. 

The ideal was a mens intentus, a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target. And doing that successfully meant taking the weaknesses of their bodies and brains seriously, and to work hard at making them behave.

Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved – families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama – not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. 

When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention.

Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. 

Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. 

For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labour to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.

There were also solutions that might strike people today as strange, which depended on imaginary pictures. 

Part of monastic education involved learning how to form cartoonish cognitive figures, to help sharpen one’s mnemonic and meditative skills. The mind loves stimuli such as colour, gore, sex, violence, noise and wild gesticulations. 

The challenge was to accept its delights and preferences, in order to take advantage of them. Authors and artists might do some of the legwork here, by writing vivid narratives or sculpting grotesque figures that embodied the ideas they wanted to communicate. 

But if a nun wanted to really learn something she’d read or heard, she would do this work herself, by rendering the material as a series of bizarre animations in her mind. The weirder the mnemonic devices the better – strangeness would make them easier to retrieve, and more captivating to think with when she ‘returned’ to look them over.

Say that you wanted to learn the sequence of the zodiac. Thomas Bradwardine (a 14th-century university master, theologian and advisor to Edward III of England) suggests that you imagine a gleaming white ram with golden horns, kicking a bright red bull in the testicles. 

While the bull bleeds profusely, imagine that there’s a woman in front of it, giving birth to twins, in a gory labour that seems to split her up to her chest. As her twins burst forth, they’re playing with an awful red crab, which is pinching them and making them cry. And so on.

A more advanced method for concentrating was to build elaborate mental structures in the course of reading and thinking. Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were always encouraged to visualise the material they were processing. 

A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel – or in the case of Hugh of St Victor (who wrote a vivid little guide to this strategy in the 12th century), a multilevel ark in the heart of the cosmos – could become the template for dividing complex material into an ordered system. 

The images might closely correspond to the substance of an idea. Hugh, for example, imagined a column rising out of his ark that stood for the tree of life in paradise, which as it ascended linked the earth on the ark to the generations past, and on to the vault of the heavens. 

Or instead, the images might only be organisational placeholders, where a tree representing a text or topic (say, ‘Natural Law’) could have eight branches and eight fruits on each branch, representing 64 different ideas clustered into eight larger conce

The point wasn’t to paint these pictures on parchment. It was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for aesthetically interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure. 

I teach medieval cognitive techniques to college freshmen, and this last one is by far their favourite. Constructing complex mental apparatuses gives them a way to organise – and, in the process, analyse – material they need to learn for other classes. 

The process also keeps their minds occupied with something that feels palpable and riveting. Concentration and critical thinking, in this mode, feel less like a slog and more like a game.

But caveat cogitator: the problem of concentration is recursive. Any strategy for sidestepping distraction calls for strategies on sidestepping distraction. 

When Cassian made one of his simplest recommendations – repeat a psalm over and over, to keep your brain reined in – he knew what he was going to hear next. ‘How can we stay fixated on that verse?’ the monks would ask. 

Distraction is an old problem, and so is the fantasy that it can be dodged once and for all. There were just as many exciting things to think about 1,600 years ago as there are now. Sometimes it boggled the mind.

 

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Weights n Measures Stand Changed …

Posted on May 20, 2019. Filed under: Business |

The Way We Define Kilogram, Metres and Seconds Changes Today –

May 20, 2019, marks one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of measurement – and the new standards on how we define units of mass, length, time and so on are not easy to explain.

We measure stuff all the time – how long, how heavy, how hot, and so on – because we need to for things such as trade, health and knowledge. But making sure our measurements compare apples with apples has been a challenge: how to know if my kilogram weight or metre length is the same as yours.

Attempts have been made to define the units of measurement over the years. But today – International Metrology Day – sees the complete revision of those standards come into play.

You won’t notice anything – you will not be heavier or lighter than yesterday – because the transition has been made to be seamless.

Just the definitions of the seven base units of the SI (Système International d’Unités, or the International System of Units) are now completely different from yesterday.

Humans have always been able to count, but as we evolved we quickly moved to measuring lengths, weights and time.

The Egyptian Pharaohs caused pyramids to be built based on the length of the royal forearm, known as the Royal Cubit. This was kept and promulgated by engineer priests who maintained the standard under pain of death.

But the cubit wasn’t a fixed unit over time – it was about half a metre, plus or minus a few tens of millimetres by today’s measure.

The first suggestion of a universal set of decimal measures was made by John Wilkins, in 1668, then Secretary of the Royal Society in London.

The impetus for doing something practical came with the French Revolution. It was the French who defined the first standards of length and mass, with two platinum standards representing the metre  and the kilogram on June 22, 1799, in the Archives de la République in Paris.

Scientists backed the idea, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss being particularly keen. Representatives of 17 nations came together to create the International System of Units by signing the Metre Convention treaty on May 20, 1875.

France, whose street cred had taken a battering in the Franco-Prussian war and was not the scientific power it once was, offered a beaten-up chateau in the Forest of Saint-Cloud as an international home for the new system.

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.)

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.) Imperial system, which it still mostly uses today.

The US may have rued that decision in 1999, however, when the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) went missing in action. The report into the incident, quaintly called a “mishap” (which cost $193.1 million in 1999), said: […] the root cause for the loss of the MCO spacecraft was the failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, “Small Forces”, used in trajectory models.

Essentially the spacecraft was lost in the atmosphere of Mars as it entered orbit lower than planned.

So why the change today? The main problems with the previous definitions were, in the case of the kilogram, they were not stable and, for the unit of electric current, the ampere, could not be realised.

And from weighings against official copies, we think the Big K was slowly losing mass.

All the units are now defined in a common way using what the BIPM calls the “explicit constant” formulation.

The idea is that we take a universal constant – for example, the speed of light in a vacuum – and from now on fix its numerical value at our best-measured value, without uncertainty.

Reality is fixed, the number is fixed, and so the units are now defined.

We therefore needed to find seven constants and make sure all  measurements are consistent, within measurement uncertainty, and then start the countdown to today. (All the technical details are available here.)

Australia had a hand in fashioning the roundest macroscopic object on the Earth, a silicon sphere used to measure the Avogadro constant, the number of entities in a fixed amount of substance. This now defines the SI unit, mole, used largely in chemistry.

We measure stuff all the time – how long, how heavy, how hot, and so on – because we need to for things such as trade, health and knowledge. But making sure our measurements compare apples with apples has been a challenge: how to know if my kilogram weight or metre length is the same as yours.

Attempts have been made to define the units of measurement over the years. But today – International Metrology Day – sees the complete revision of those standards come into play.

You won’t notice anything – you will not be heavier or lighter than yesterday – because the transition has been made to be seamless.

Just the definitions of the seven base units of the SI (Système International d’Unités, or the International System of Units) are now completely different from yesterday.

How we used to measure

Humans have always been able to count, but as we evolved we quickly moved to measuring lengths, weights and time.

The Egyptian Pharaohs caused pyramids to be built based on the length of the royal forearm, known as the Royal Cubit. This was kept and promulgated by engineer priests who maintained the standard under pain of death.

But the cubit wasn’t a fixed unit over time – it was about half a metre, plus or minus a few tens of millimetres by today’s measure.

The first suggestion of a universal set of decimal measures was made by John Wilkins, in 1668, then Secretary of the Royal Society in London.

The impetus for doing something practical came with the French Revolution. It was the French who defined the first standards of length and mass, with two platinum standards representing the metre and the kilogram on June 22, 1799, in the Archives de la République in Paris.

Agreed standards

Scientists backed the idea, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss being particularly keen. Representatives of 17 nations came together to create the International System of Units by signing the Metre Convention treaty on May 20, 1875.

France, whose street cred had taken a battering in the Franco-Prussian war and was not the scientific power it once was, offered a beaten-up chateau in the Forest of Saint-Cloud as an international home for the new system.

The Pavilion de Breteuil still houses the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (BIPM), where resides the International Prototype of the Kilogram (henceforth the Big K) in two safes and three glass bell jars.

The Big K is a polished block of platinum-iridium used to define the kilogram, against which all kilogram weights are ultimately measured. (The original has only been weighed three times against a number of near-identical copies.)

The British, who had been prominent in the discussions and had provided the platinum-iridium kilogram, refused to sign the Treaty until 1884.

Even then the new system was only used by scientists, with everyday life being measured in traditional Imperial units such as pounds and ounces, feet and inches.

The United States signed the Treaty on the day, but then never actually implemented it, hanging on to its own version of the British Imperial system, which it still mostly uses today.

The US may have rued that decision in 1999, however, when the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) went missing in action. The report into the incident, quaintly called a “mishap” (which cost $193.1 million in 1999), said:

[…] the root cause for the loss of the MCO spacecraft was the failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, “Small Forces”, used in trajectory models.

Essentially the spacecraft was lost in the atmosphere of Mars as it entered orbit lower than planned.

The new SI definitions

So why the change today? The main problems with the previous definitions were, in the case of the kilogram, they were not stable and, for the unit of electric current, the ampere, could not be realised.

And from weighings against official copies, we think the Big K was slowly losing mass.

All the units are now defined in a common way using what the BIPM calls the “explicit constant” formulation.

The idea is that we take a universal constant – for example, the speed of light in a vacuum – and from now on fix its numerical value at our best-measured value, without uncertainty.

Reality is fixed, the number is fixed, and so the units are now defined.

We therefore needed to find seven constants and make sure all measurements are consistent, within measurement uncertainty, and then start the countdown to today. (All the technical details are available here.)

Australia had a hand in fashioning the roundest macroscopic object on the Earth, a silicon sphere used to measure the Avogadro constant, the number of entities in a fixed amount of substance. This now defines the SI unit, mole, used largely in chemistry.

From standard to artefact

What of the Big K – the standard kilogram? Today it becomes an object of great historical significance that can be weighed and its mass will have measurement uncertainty.

From today the kilogram is defined using the Planck constant, something that doesn’t change from quantum physics.

The challenge now though is to explain these new definitions to people – especially non-scientists – so they understand. Comparing a kilogram to a metal block is easy.

Technically a kilogram (kg) is now defined:

[…] by taking the fixed numerical value of the Planck constant hto be 6.626 070 15 × 10–34 when expressed in the unit J s, which is equal to kg m2 s–1, where the metre and the second are defined in terms of c and ΔνCs.

Try explaining that to someone!

David Brynn Hibbert, Emeritus Professor of Analytical Chemistry, UNSW



Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Book – How to Write …

Posted on May 17, 2019. Filed under: Books |

Excerpted from an Article in The Wire –

She might be the world’s most famous romance writer, nay the highest selling living author bar none, but there’s little room for flowers and chocolates in Danielle Steel’s writing regime. In a recent interview she laughed at the idea of young people insisting on a worl life balance, and has claimed she reguarly writing for 20 t0 22 hours a day, and sometimes 24.

The result: 179 books in under 50 years, selling about 800 million copies.

Here’s How some Others See it –

Liam Murray Bell, University of Stirling. Steel’s claim reminds me of the thriller writer Edgar Wallace, who was known to write a novel over the course of a long weekend. He’d retire to his study on a Friday evening and not emerge until Monday morning, dictating his words to a secretary and stopping only for half-hourly cups of tea. Poor secretary..

Sarah Corbett, University of Lancaster. I’m sorry to say there isn’t a formula for how to write a novel (so don’t buy those “how to” books) – only hard graft, staying power, blinding self belief (rescued every morning from the teeth of doubt), and the willingness to meet the devil at the crossroads and outwit him. And to write, rewrite, write, rewrite, write, rewrite…

Edward Hogan, Open UniversityFor his 2016 book Rest, the writer and Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang collected the routines of creative people throughout history. From the habits of writers such as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Alice Munro, he concluded that four hours a day is optimum, and you need to wake up early. .

 David Bishop, Edinburgh Napier University. Steel’s regime sounds extreme, but if that works for her – so be it. Every writer has their own unique sweet spot, a time and place where they can produce words that will be ready for reading one day. The trick is finding your personal approach, and also recognising it might not suit every project.

Bottom Line – If you want to be a writer, you have to write – however you do it. That much is inescapable.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Punjab Today …

Posted on May 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Here is Life in Punjab thru the Eyes of a Tragedy Stricken 2019 Election Candidate – Extracted from Kabir Agrawal’ Article in The Wire …

In 1999, when the match of Veerpal Kaur and Dharamvir Singh was proposed, one thing was common. Both had lost their Fathers to farmer Suicides due to debts. Kaur’s father drank poison in 1995 and Singh’s hanged himself in 1990.

After four years of marriage, they had a three-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son. Then her husband, burdened by new debt and failed crops, set himself on fire in 2003.

“It was horrifying. Imagine my children seeing his body,” Kaur said as she stood by a multi-seater Mahindra auto rickshaw, asking people to vote for the matka – her election symbol.

She is contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from her home constituency, Bathinda, where she is challenging Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Congress’s Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.

Kaur knows her candidature is only symbolic. “I know I am not going to win. But I am not worried about that. I have lost a lot in life, what is one election?” she said.

“My fight is bigger than just an election. I want to bring the focus to the plight of the suicide victim families. Maybe I can give hope to others – that ‘If she can fight, we can too’.

In Punjab, families whose members have committed suicide due to farm distress are referred to as “victim families”. In the last couple of decades, Punjab has become home to thousands of them.

According to data compiled by three state universities in Punjab, 16,606 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in the state between 2000 and 2015.

Devinder Sharma, an agriculture authority, calls this Punjab’s paradox – high productivity levels and thousands of farmer suicides.

“You look at the productivity of crops like wheat and rice in Punjab. They are among the highest in the world. Then, 98% of the crop area is irrigated. On the other hand, there are more than a thousand suicides every year. You pick up any local paper, and there are at least three or four reports of farmer suicides every day,” he sid.

The problem is not equally distributed across the state and is particularly acute in the South. According to the three-university study, 88% of the suicides took place in six districts of the Malwa region, and 3,388 in Veerpal Kaur’s home district of Mansa – a part of the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency.

It is a problem not addressed by either the SAD-BJP alliance or the Congress, the two formations that have held power in the state, said Kaur to a small group assembled in Jeeda, a village on the outskirts of Bathinda city.

“No candidate discusses the problems faced by farmers,” she said, struggling to be audible. “Both parties have made promises and they haven’t been fulfilled. But we have to fight. We have to ensure that no party can ignore farmers and farmer suicide victim families. By supporting me, you are supporting the voiceless farmer who is the heart of Punjab.”

Her audience, comprising entirely men, was receptive but unsure about what impact she is likely to have. “What she is saying is right. We understand her pain and her struggle. But the two parties (SAD and Congress) are strong here,” said Sukhbir Maan, a 58-year-old farmer.

Sant Ram, a young potter in Jeeda, said he will vote for her. “I will vote for her even if she is not winning. More people like her should. 

Everyone gathered contributed to her campaign. So far, she has raised a little over Rs 14,000. The idea is to be able to cover the cost of the security deposit (Rs 25,000) that she has incurred to contest.

Kaur has been campaigning since May 4. Her day begins at 7 in the morning when she sets off in the hired auto rickshaw from her village Ralla in Mansa district. She has a light meal and a glass of lassi. She does not carry any meals with her and relies on langars in gurdwaras and the hospitality of residents in the villages she visits.

Her 19-year-old daughter, Diljot, and 17-year-old son, Abhishek, accompany her. They are both writing their college exams and divide duties between them.

“When he has an exam the next day, he doesn’t travel and the same goes for me. But we ensure that one of us is there every day,” said Diljot, who is studying for a Bachelor of Arts in political science and is in the third year.

A couple of patrons, originally from Ludhiana and now based in Canada, are funding the education of the siblings. “When they heard about my father’s suicide, they offered to fund our education,” said Diljot. 

One of the activists supporting Veerpal Kaur is Kiranjeet Kaur, a gutsy and determined postgraduate student. Her father, a cotton farmer in Mansa, committed suicide in 2016. He had been burdened by Rs 8 lakh in debt after a year of crop loss and a subsequent medical emergency that cost the family Rs 2 lakh. 

Soon after her father’s suicide, Kiranjeet started realising that her plight was shared by several others in her village. She said, “I talked to people and I realised that around 40 families in my village alone had lost at least one member due to suicide.”

She then went to meet the ‘victim families’, as she refers to them, in neighbouring villages.

“You enter any village in Punjab, you will find a victim family. They will take you to another ten families and so on,” she said. Slowly, other people joined her and she formed a village committee, then a block committee, a district committee and finally a state level organisation called the Kisan Mazdoor Khudkhushi Pidit Parivar Committee. 

On her own, she has visited 4,500 victim families and collected information on their incomes, property owned, status of the widow pension and of children’s’ education. “We also help the families get their widow pensions and other entitlements,” said Kiranjeet.

The organisation is also a source of mutual support, where the victim families can meet each other. “We have regular meetings, and providing emotional support has become one of our major functions.”

She plans to take her organisation to each district of Punjab. “Our work is only beginning. We want to reach each and every village in each and every district of Punjab,” she said.

Saara Punjab aaj victim hai (The whole of Punjab is a victim today),”

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Four Term PM with Boozing Record Unbeat …

Posted on May 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

SORRY the Guy Died at 89 – But a Four Term PM and with a Boozing Record Unbeat THREE CHEERS FOR THE GUY .

Bob Hawke, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Party prime minister, whose charisma and powers of persuasion earned him near-folk hero status among many Australians, died on Thursday, his wife said. He was 89.

The former union leader dedicated much of his political career to trade union issues, and he was widely regarded as a man of his people. He had a down-to-earth attitude, a passion for sports and legendary status among beer lovers — for once drinking himself into the record books.

He won four terms as prime minister, serving from 1983 to 1991 before being ousted by his own center-left party when the economy soured. Only two other prime ministers served Australia longer, and both were members of the conservative Liberal Party.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Attack on Vidyasagar – the Beloved of Bengal …

Posted on May 16, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

From an Article by Shikha Mukerjee, in The Wire –

Vidyasagar, from undivided Midnapore was an educationist, indefatigable crusader for women’s rights, an orthodox Brahmin with a vast tolerance and a generous benefactor whose humility is so profound that he is not paraded as one of the greatest Bengalis that ever lived – is embedded in all our lives. 

He is part of our identity as Bengalis – even though my family has been detached from Bengal for at least 150 years, if not more.   

Vandals destroying his bust with sticks and rods on Tuesday shook us to the very core, because that is where this erudite educationist and staunch Hindu is located. But he is a Hindu, not a votary of Hindutva.

Therefore, what happened in Kolkata on May 14 as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s gaudy road show trundled down College Street was a confrontation of the Hindu way of thought and life by lumpens who preach Hindutva, a manufactured political ideology that exploits the word, but has no faith in the idea.

Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar. Credit: Vidyasagar University Prospectus/Wikimedia

It was a clash to beat down a civilisation and a culture that produced Vidyasagar and made him a part of our being. 

What else is Vidyasagar to us? He is the man who would swim across a swollen Hooghly to reach his mother. He was the man who sat under a gas lamp on the street to study and slake his thirst for knowledge. He is the man who was so humble that he carried the luggage of a foreigner who had travelled to meet him and who mistook him for a “coolie.”

He promoted women’s education. He is the man who practiced what he preached – widow remarriage; he married his son to a child widow. He is the man who defended the right of the Bramho Samaj to pursue their own interpretations of oldest Sanskrit texts even though he was a practicing ‘Sanatan’ Hindu.

When one of Bengal’s greatest poets and social radical was reduced to penury, it was Vidyasagar who rescued him from destitution. The poet was Michael Madhusudan Dutt; convert to Christianity, a beef eater and consumer of alcohol, a poet who began writing sonnets in English and then wrote the extraordinary Meghnad Badh Kavya, reinterpreting the Ramayana from the perspective of Ravana’s son, Meghnad, who was a great warrior doomed to destruction. 

That the spirit of Vidyasagar and his place in secular, modern India is as secure as it was precarious when he lived in an age of confrontation between conforming to Sanatan Hindu ways and reinterpreting them to move into the present, is evident across West Bengal, as rallies, processions, protests and statements against the vandalisation reveal the anguish and the anger.

The Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left all organised major rallies. CPI(M)’s rally included General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat, who walked through the streets of the city to protest what occurred.

The outpouring of people on the streets was a reaffirmation that vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue serves to consolidate the opposition against the BJP.

That the BJP has not comprehended the deep anguish that vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue has inflicted on the Bengali psyche is obvious. On Twitter, BJPwallahs are using abusive and horrifyingly offensive language about Vidyasagar.

 
Organising a silent black arm/headband protest in New Delhi to “Save Democracy” from being destroyed by the Trinamool Congress is by far the best measure of how little the BJP understands West Bengal and its people.

By doing so, BJP has demonstrated that it is a party that has no roots in West Bengal.

The investment by the BJP in terms of money, time and other resources to conquer West Bengal politically has perhaps been wiped out by the vandalism on College Street.

After the incident occurred, there was a brief window of opportunity for the BJP to salvage some political capital. But it could not respond fast enough to issue a statement, express sorrow, shame and shock, because the leadership, including Amit Shah, failed to gauge the position of Vidyasagar in the Bengali psyche.

The degree of unfamiliarity, which is also an index of its alienation, that is reflected in its response to the vandalism marks the BJP irretrievably as the party of the Hindi speaking and representative of “cow belt” politics.

In contrast, Mamata Banerjee, fully aware of the consequences of the vandalism rushed to Vidyasagar College and swore vengeance against the perpetrators. The CPI(M) organised a morning rally, where Biman Bose pointed in the direction of “out of state” actors as responsible for the vandalism. 

Kolkata is buzzing with stories of who the vandals were. There are demands for an independent enquiry, a police investigation and whatever else is on offer to uncover the identity of the vandals. The speculation is that the vandals were BJP’s cadres from across the border or from Uttar Pradesh.  

The timing of the incident will cost the BJP politically. Its expectations of making a bid to capture North Kolkata, Jadavpur, South Kolkata will probably not work out. 

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

UP Election Forecaste … …

Posted on May 15, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

How Good are These Guys –
Anthro.Ai  ??

The NDA won 73 seats with 41% of the vote share in 2014. They won 325 assembly constituencies with a similar vote share in 2017. It’s simplistic to attribute these results to a Modi wave, or dismiss it as an anomaly or one-off and so on.

We know the BJP isn’t doing all that well this time around and we think we know what’s going on. But, let’s start by planting a flag. After five phases, we think it’s time to be clear about how the trends we have seen translate into numbers. We at anthro.ai will not mention individual seats till the 20th when we will publish a seat by seat breakdown with the local factors that impacted polling on each seat.

We expect the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan to win between 40 and 55 seats, likely closer to 55 than 40. We expect the BJP to win between 15 and 25 seats. There is a slim possibility that they will win 30, but we think that’s unlikely now and expect them to trend closer to the lower end of this range. The Congress is likely to win 5-9 seats.

Honestly, what interests us more is how the BJP’s average vote share will change – we are projecting a drop of between 3-5%. Here’s a chart on the impact different swing levels make, using 2014 vote shares as a base. For every seat, we have looked at the percentage of votes the BJP will lead or trail by for swing levels that range from +5% to -5%.

A vote share represents different types of people with different motivations – it is made up of some people who agree with an ideology, others who believe they are finding space (and access to power) for their particular identity, there are those who care about an issue or a set of issues and believe in a party’s position on those issues, and then others who find themselves believing in a person.

Clearly, the BJP has supporters who believe in their vision for the country rooted in a particular ideology. They also have a set of people who believe in Narendra Modi and think he’s the best leader for this country. In this election, the BJP has retained both these groups of voters and definitely added many first time voters to the second.

But, they’ve lost more than they’ve gained.

In the run-up to 2014, Amit Shah moved quickly to capitalise on years of work by the BJP wooing non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. By picking office-bearers and candidates from these communities, the BJP offered itself as the first party of choice for people who felt left out by the SP, BSP and Congress. These people had expectations rooted in what they believe had happened for the Yadavs and the Jatavs – access to power that translates into a disproportionate share of benefits, and increased respect in their neighbourhoods because of proximity to power.

Adding them to the upper caste voters they already had, the BJP built a formidable coalition around a charismatic leader who promised a lot.

The Narendra Modi government has centralised power like no one since Indira Gandhi. That has resulted in the perception that MPs have very little influence in New Delhi. And after the Yogi government came to power in Lucknow, disillusionment set in as the perception that their MPs had little power spread even more. It began with the selection of Yogi Adityanath as CM – an unexpected choice that took the backward-caste voter by surprise. Throughout the period of our study we kept picking up up rising resentment against the perception that Thakurs have too much influence. True or not, it’s also ended up impacting sections of the Brahmin vote.

The last-ditch attempt to replace sitting MPs with other candidates hasn’t gone down well either.

We believe there is a section of Kurmis and Kushwahas who haven’t voted for the BJP this time – they may have just decided to sit this one out, but the turnout suggests they have voted for the SP-BSP gathbandhan. And there’s a minor revolt brewing in the Nishad community as well.

And it will not be easy for them to recover from this shift; communities in this part of the world have long memories.

Which brings me to Ayodhya. There is a simple question being discussed there for which the BJP has no answer – after having been in power for five years in the Centre and two years in the state, why is there no progress on the temple?

But there is one group of people that may turn out to be the most significant: women.

Cutting across caste and community lines, women voted for Narendra Modi in 2014. To them, he represented an economic promise. “Good times,” they believed would arrive soon – their lives would become easier.

Demonetisation was a shock. It broke their trust. While men revelled in an outpouring of schadenfreude, believing the rich were suffering, it was women who saw their small savings become worthless, who scrambled to buy food or pay for essentials.

The stray cows that are roaming rural UP added insult to injury.

And well marketed, but poorly executed schemes, have only added to a growing anger amongst women – who’ve stayed quiet.

It is likely they are using this election as an opportunity to teach Narendra Modi’s BJP these lines written by William Congreve in 1697:

Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d,

Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.

The “undercurrent” is an earthquake. A series of tremors fuelled by mostly disappointment and sadness but also anger and a sense of betrayal. Tremors that grow stronger where Muslims are turning out in record numbers for the candidate they expect will defeat a BJP candidate. And because Yadav and Dalit voters are enjoying a battle where they can fight together, instead of against each other.

We expect these tremors to intensify in the final days.

We are also seeing a rising excitement around the realisation that this isn’t only a vote against Modi any longer. That each vote may count towards a Mayawati-led Central government.

This may well result in a rout in the Eastern UP.

A method to our madness

Anthro.ai is an experiment in alchemy — between experienced communications specialists, data scientists, anthropologists and mathematicians; and between the human mind heart and our instincts, and immersive data streams.

We have ingested and analysed nearly all publicly indexable data in, or about, UP. This includes news stories, job postings, classifieds about farm equipment, questions and answers about entrance exams, twitter posts etc. We have tried to match this data to a 1 square kilometre grid of Uttar Pradesh. We generate different patterns from this data – and immerse ourselves in these patterns.

Additionally, we join and quietly observe public fora.

We believe in the power of the human mind to connect the dots. No matter how complex the world gets, our brains continue to make sense of it for us. More often than not, how successfully we navigate complexity is a function of the dots we are able to see.

Our models start with answers to three basic questions: what do people hope for, what do they aspire to, and what are they scared of. Using the answers we come up with, we come up with motivations and triggers and then model how that translates into a vote. We then take historical electoral data, map swings there, and try and see how our model would impact electoral outcomes.

Lastly, we try and come up with markers/proxies for what the results may look like. These have ranged from predicting turnout numbers, to the use of a particular topic by a key politician in their messaging. If we see enough of our markers pop up, we start to believe in one of our models over others.

For every constituency in UP, we have a pre-poll prediction and the reasons why people turned out. We will publish this after the 19th, and before May 23.

This article was originally published on Anthro.Ai.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

« Previous Entries

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...