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28 June 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Indian Capital Markets, BSE, NSE

I had been meaning to write on the above topic for almost a couple of months now but just kept procrastinating about it. That push came to a shove when Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu shared their understanding, wisdom, and all in the new book called Absolute Power Inside story of the National Stock Exchange s amazing success, leading to hubris, regulatory capture and algo scam . Now while I will go into the details of the new book as currently, I have not bought it but even if I had bought it and shared some of the revelations from it, it wouldn t have done justice to either the book or what is sharing before knowing some of the background before it.

Before I jump ahead, I would suggest people to read my sort of introductory blog post on banking history so they know where I m coming from. I m going to deviate a bit from Banking as this is about trade and capital markets, although Banking would come in later on. And I will also be sharing some cultural insights along with history so people are aware of why things happened the way they did. Calicut, Calcutta, Kolkata, one-time major depot around the world Now, one cannot start any topic about trade without talking about Kolkata. While today, it seems like a bastion of communism, at one time it was one of the major trade depots around the world. Both William Dalrymple and the Chinese have many times mentioned Kolkata as being one of the major centers of trade. This was between the 13th and the late 19th century. A cursory look throws up this article which talks about Kolkata or Calicut as it was known as a major trade depot. There are of course many, many articles and even books which do tell about how Kolkata was a major trade depot. Now between the 13th and 19th century, a lot of changes happened which made Kolkata poorer and shifted trade to Mumbai/Bombay which in those times was nothing but just a port city like many others.

The Rise of the Zamindar Around the 15th century when Babur Invaded Hindustan, he realized that Hindustan is too big a country to be governed alone. And Hindustan was much broader than independent India today. So he created the title of Zamindars. Interestingly, if you look at the Mughal period, they were much more in tune with Hindustani practices than the British who came later. They used the caste divisions and hierarchy wisely making sure that the status quo was maintained as far as castes/creed were concerned. While in-fighting with various rulers continued, it was more or less about land and power other than anything else. When the Britishers came they co-opted the same arrangement with a minor adjustment. While in the before system, the zamindars didn t have powers to be landowners. The Britishers gave them land ownerships. A huge percentage of thess zamindars especially in Bengal were from my own caste Banias or Baniyas. The problem and the solution for the Britishers had been this was a large land to control and exploit and the number of British officers and nobles were very less. So they gave virtually a lot of powers to the Banias. The only thing the British insisted on were very high rents from the newly minted Zamindars. The Zamindar in turn used the powers of personal fiefdom to give loans at very high interest rates when the poor were unable to pay the interest rate, they would take the land while at the same time slavery was forced on both men and women, many a time rapes and affairs. While there have been many records shedding light on it, don t think it could be any more powerful as enacted and shared by Shabana Azmi in Ankur:the Seedling. Another prominent grouping was formed around the same time was the Bhadralok. Now as shared Bhadralok while having all the amenities of belonging to the community, turned a blind eye to the excesses being done by the Zamindars. How much they played a hand in the decimation of Bengal has been a matter of debate, but they did have a hand, that much is not contested.

The Rise of Stock Exchanges Sadly and interestingly, many people believe and continue to believe that stock exchanges is recent phenomena. The first stock exchange though was the Calcutta Stock Exchange rather than the Bombay Stock Exchange. How valuable was Calcutta to the Britishers in its early years can be gauged from the fact that at one time it was made the capital of India in 1772 . In fact, after the Grand Trunk Road (on which there had been even Train names in both countries) x number of books have been written of the trade between Calcutta and Peshawar (Now in Pakistan). And it was not just limited to trade but also cultural give-and-take between the two centers. Even today, if you look at YT (Youtube) and look up some interviews of old people, you find many interesting anecdotes of people sharing both culture and trade.

The problem of the 60 s and rise of BSE
After India became independent and the Constitutional debates happened, the new elites understood that there cannot be two power centers that could govern India. On one hand, were the politicians who had come to power on the back of the popular vote, the other was the Zamindars, who more often than not had abused their powers which resulted in widespread poverty. The Britishers are to blame, but so do the middlemen as they became willing enablers to the same system of oppression. Hence, you had the 1951 amendment to the Constitution and the 1956 Zamindari Abolition Act. In fact, you can find much more of an in-depth article both about Zamindars and their final abolition here. Now once Zamindari was gone, there was nothing to replace it with. The Zamindars ousted of their old roles turned and tried to become Industrialists. The problem was that the poor and the downtrodden had already had experiences with the Zamindars. Also, some Industrialists from North and West also came to Bengal but they had no understanding of either the language or the cultural understanding of what had happened in Bengal. And notice that I have not talked about both the famines and the floods that wrecked Bengal since time immemorial and some of the ones which got etched on soul of Bengal and has marks even today  The psyche of the Bengali and the Bhadralok has gone through enormous shifts. I have met quite a few and do see the guilt they feel. If one wonders as to how socialist parties are able to hold power in Bengal, look no further than Tarikh which tells and shares with you that even today how many Bengalis still feel somewhat lost.

The Rise of BSE Now, while Kolkata Stock Exchange had been going down, for multiple reasons other than listed above. From the 1950s onwards Jawaharlal Nehru had this idea of 5-year plans, borrowed from socialist countries such as Russia, China etc. His vision and ambition for the newly minted Indian state were huge, while at the same time he understood we were poor. The loot by East India Company and the Britishers and on top of that the division of wealth with Pakistan even though the majority of Muslims chose and remained with India. Travel on Indian Railways was a risky affair. My grandfather had shared numerous tales where he used to fill money in socks and put the socks on in boots when going between either Delhi Kolkata or Pune Kolkata. Also, as the Capital became Delhi, it unofficially was for many years, the transparency from Kolkata-based firms became less. So many Kolkata firms either mismanaged and shut down while Maharashtra, my own state, saw a huge boon in Industrialization as well as farming. From the 1960s to the 1990s there were many booms and busts in the stock exchanges but most were manageable.

While the 60s began on a good note as Goa was finally freed from the Portuguese army and influence, the 1962 war with the Chinese made many a soul question where we went wrong. Jawaharlal Nehru went all over the world to ask for help but had to return home empty-handed. Bollywood showed a world of bell-bottoms and cars and whatnot, while the majority were still trying to figure out how to put two square meals on the table. India suffered one of the worst famines in those times. People had to ration food. Families made do with either one meal or just roti (flatbread) rather than rice. In Bengal, things were much more severe. There were huge milk shortages, so Bengalis were told to cut down on sweets. This enraged the Bangalis as nothing else could. Note If one wants to read how bad Indians felt at that time, all one has to read is V.S. Naipaul s An Area of darkness . This was also the time when quite a few Indians took their first step out of India. While Air India had just started, the fares were prohibitive. Those who were not well off, either worked on ships or went via passenger or cargo ships to Dubai/Qatar middle-east. Some went to Russia and some even to States. While today s migr s want to settle in the west forever and have their children and grandchildren grow up in the West, in the 1960s and 70s the idea was far different. The main purpose for a vast majority was to get jobs and whatnot, save maximum money and send it back to India as a remittance. The idea was to make enough money in 3-5-10 years, come back to India, and then lead a comfortable life. Sadly, there has hardly been any academic work done in India, at least to my knowledge to document the sacrifices done by Indians in search of jobs, life, purpose, etc. in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s was also when alternative cinema started its journey with people like Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah who portrayed people s struggles on-screen. Most of them didn t have commercial success because the movies and the stories were bleak. While the acting was superb, most Indians loved to be captured by fights, car-chases, and whatnot rather than the deary existence which they had. And the alt cinema forced them to look into the mirror, which was frowned upon both by the masses and the classes. So cinema which could have been a wake-up call for a lot of Indians failed. One of the most notable works of that decade, at least to me, was Manthan. 1961 was also marked by the launch of Economic Times and Financial Express which tells that there was some appetite for financial news and understanding. The 1970s was also a very turbulent time in the corporate sector and stock exchanges. Again, the companies which were listed were run by the very well-off and many of them had been abroad. At the same time, you had fly-by-night operators. One of the happenings which started in this decade is you had corporate wars and hostile takeovers, quite a few of them of which could well have a Web series or two of their own. This was also a decade marked by huge labor unrest, which again changed the face of Bombay/Mumbai. From the 1950s till the 1970s, Bombay was known for its mills. So large migrant communities from all over India came to Bombay to become the next Bollywood star and if that didn t happen, they would get jobs in the mills. Bombay/Mumbai has/had this unique feature that somehow you will make money to make ends meet. Of course, with the pandemic, even that has gone for a toss. Labor unrest was a defining character of that decade. Three movies, Kaala Patthar, Kalyug, and Ankush give a broad outlook of what happened in that decade. One thing which is present and omnipresent then and now is how time and time again we lost our demographic dividend. Again there was an exodus of young people who ventured out to seek fortunes elsewhere. The 1970s and 80s were also famous for the license Raj which they bought in. Just like the Soviets, there were waiting periods for everything. A telephone line meant waiting for things anywhere from 4 to 8 years. In 1987, when we applied and got a phone within 2-3 months, most of my relatives both from my mother and father s side could not believe we paid 0 to get a telephone line. We did pay the telephone guy INR 10/- which was a somewhat princely sum when he was installing it, even then they could not believe it as in Northern India, you couldn t get a phone line even if your number had come. You had to pay anywhere from INR 500/1000 or more to get a line. This was BSNL and to reiterate there were no alternatives at that time.

The 1990s and the Harshad Mehta Scam The 90s was when I was a teenager. You do all the stupid things for love, lust, whatever. That is also the time you are introduced really to the world of money. During my time, there were only three choices, Sciences, Commerce, and Arts. If History were your favorite subject then you would take Arts and if it was not, and you were not studious, then you would up commerce. This is how careers were chosen. So I enrolled in Commerce. Due to my grandfather and family on my mother s side interested in stocks both as a saving and compounding tool, I was able to see Pune Stock Exchange in action one day. The only thing I remember that day is people shouting loudly with various chits. I had no idea that deals of maybe thousands or even lakhs. The Pune Stock Exchange had been newly minted. I also participated in a couple of mock stock exchanges and came to understand that one has to be aggressive in order to win. You had to be really loud to be heard over others, you could not afford to be shy. Also, spread your risks. Sadly, nothing about the stock markets was there in the syllabus. 1991 was also when we saw the Iraq war, the balance of payments crisis in India, and didn t know that the Harshad Mehta scam was around the corner. Most of the scams in India have been caught because the person who was doing it was flashy. And this was the reason that even he was caught as Ms. Sucheta Dalal, a young beat reporter from Indian Express who had been covering Indian stock market. Many of her articles were thought-provoking. Now, a brief understanding is required to know before we actually get to the scam. Because of the 1991 balance of payments crisis, IMF rescued India on the condition that India throws its market open. In the 1980s itself, Rajeev Gandhi had wanted to partially make India open but both politicians and Industrialists advised him not to do the same, we are/were not ready. On 21st May 1991, Rajeev Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE. A month later, due to the sympathy vote, the Narsimha Rao Govt. took power. While for most new Governments there is usually a honeymoon period lasting 6 months or so till they get settled in their roles before people start asking tough questions. It was not to be for this Govt. Immediately, The problem had been building for a few years. Although, in many ways, our economy was better than it is today. The only thing India didn t do well at that time was managing foreign exchange. As only a few Indians had both the money and the opportunity to go abroad and need for electronics was limited. One of the biggest imports of the time then and still today is Energy, Oil. While today it is Oil/Gas and electronics, at that time it was only OIl. The Oil import bill was ballooning while exports were more or less stagnant and mostly comprised of raw materials rather than finished products. Even today, it is largely this, one of the biggest Industrialists in India Ambani exports gas/oil while Adani exports coal. Anyways, the deficit was large enough to trigger a payment crisis. And Narsimha Rao had to throw open the Indian market almost overnight. Some changes became quickly apparent, while others took a long time to come.

Satellite Television and Entry of Foreign Banks Almost overnight, from 1 channel we became multi-channel. Star TV (Rupert Murdoch) bought us Bold and Beautiful, while CNN broadcasted the Iraq War. It was unbelievable for us that we were getting reports of what had happened 24-48 hours earlier. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was still very much a teenager to understand the import of what was happening. Even in my college, except for one or two-person, it wasn t a topic for debate or talk or even the economy. We were basically somehow cocooned in our own little world. But this was not the case for the rest of India and especially banks. The entry of foreign banks was a rude shock to Indian banks. The foreign banks were bringing both technology and sophistication in their offerings, and Indian Banks needed and wanted fast money to show hefty profits. Demand for credit wasn t much, at least nowhere the level it today is. At the same time, default on credit was nowhere high as today is. But that will require its own space and article. To quench the thirst for hefty profits by banks, Enter Harshad Mehta. At that point in time, banks were not permitted at all to invest in the securities/share market. They could only buy Government securities or bonds which had a coupon rate of say 8-10% which was nowhere enough to satisfy the need for hefty profits as desired by Indian banks. On top of it, that cash was blocked for a long time. Most of these Government bonds had anywhere between 10-20 year maturity date and some even longer. Now, one loophole in that was that the banks themselves could not buy these securities. They had to approach a registered broker of the share market who will do these transactions on their behalf. Here is where Mr. Mehta played his game. He shared both legal and illegal ways in which both the bank and he would prosper. While banking at one time was thought to be conservative and somewhat cautious, either because they were too afraid that Western private banks will take that pie or whatever their reasons might be, they agreed to his antics. To play the game, Harshad Mehta needed lots of cash, which the banks provided him in the guise of buying securities that were never bought, but the amounts were transferred to his account. He actively traded stocks, at the same time made a group, and also made the rumor mill work to his benefit. The share market is largely a reactionary market. It operates on patience, news, and rumor-mill. The effect of his shenanigans was that the price of a stock that was trending at say INR 200 reached the stratospheric height of INR 9000/- without any change in the fundamentals or outlook of the stock. His thirst didn t remain restricted to stocks but also ventured into the unglamorous world of Govt. securities where he started trading even in them in large quantities. In order to attract new clients, he coveted a fancy lifestyle. The fancy lifestyle was what caught the eye of Sucheta Dalal, and she started investigating the deals he was doing. Being a reporter, she had the advantage of getting many doors to open and get information that otherwise would be under lock and key. On 23rd April 1992, Sucheta Dalal broke the scam.

The Impact The impact was almost like a shock to the markets. Even today, it can be counted as one of the biggest scams in the Indian market if you adjust it for inflation. I haven t revealed much of the scam and what happened, simply because Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu wrote The Scam for that purpose. How do I shorten a story and experience which has been roughly written in 300 odd pages in one or two paragraphs, it is simply impossible. The impact though was severe. The Indian stock market became a bear market for two years. Sucheta Dalal was kicked out/made to resign out of Indian Express. The thing is simple, all newspapers survive on readership and advertisements with advertisements. Companies who were having a golden run, whether justified or not, on the bourses/Stock Exchange. For many companies, having a good number on the stock exchange was better than the company fundamentals. There was supposed to be a speedy fast-track court setup for Financial crimes, but it worked only for the Harshad Mehta case and still took over 5 years. It led to the creation of NSE (National Stock Exchange). It also led to the creation of SEBI, perhaps one of the most powerful regulators, giving it a wide range of powers and remit but on the ground more often that proved to be no more than a glorified postman. And the few times it used, it used on the wrong people and people had to go to courts to get justice. But then this is not about SEBI nor is this blog post about NSE. I have anyways shared about Absolute power above, so will not repeat the link here. The Anecdotal impact was widespread. Our own family broker took the extreme step. For my grandfather on the mother s side, he was like the second son. The news of his suicide devastated my grandfather quite a bit, which we realized much later when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer s. Our family stockbroker had been punting, taking lots of cash from the market at very high rates, betting on stocks wildly as the stock market was reaching for the stars when the market crashed, he was insolvent. How the family survived is a tale in itself. They had just got married just a few years ago and had a cute boy and girl soon after. While today, both are grown-up, at that time what the wife faced only she knows. There were also quite a few shareholders who also took the extreme step. The stock markets in those days were largely based on trust and even today is unless you are into day-trading. So there was always some money left on the table for the share/stockbroker which would be squared off in the next deal/transaction where again you will leave something. My grandfather once thought of going over and meeting them, and we went to the lane where their house is, seeing the line of people who had come for recovery of loans, we turned back with a heavy heart. There was another taboo that kinda got broken that day. The taboo was that the stock market is open to scams. From 1992 to 2021 has been a cycle of scams. Even now, today, the stock market is at unnatural highs. We know for sure that a lot of hot money is rolling around, a lot of American pension funds etc. Till it will work, it will work, some news something and that money will be moved out. Who will be left handing the can, the Indian investors? A Few days back, Ambani writes about Adani. Now while the facts shared are correct, is Adani the only one, the only company to have a small free float in the market. There probably are more than 1/4th or 1/3rd of well-respected companies who may have a similar configuration, the only problem is it is difficult to know who the proxies are. Now if I were to reflect and compare this either with the 1960s or even the 1990s I don t find much difference apart from the fact that the proxy is sitting in Mauritius. At the same time, today you can speculate on almost anything. Whether it is stocks, commodities, derivatives, foreign exchange, cricket matches etc. the list is endless. Since 2014, the rise in speculation rather than investment has been dramatic, almost stratospheric. Sadly, there are no studies or even attempts made to document this. How much official and unofficial speculation is there in the market nobody knows. Money markets have become both fluid and non-transparent. In theory, you have all sorts of regulators, but it is still very much like the Wild West. One thing to note that even Income tax had to change and bring it provisions to account for speculative income.So, starting from being totally illegitimate, it has become kind of legal and is part of Income Tax. And if speculation is not wrong, why not make Indian cricket officially a speculative event, that will be honest and GOI will get part of the proceeds.

Conclusion I wish there was some positive conclusion I could drive, but sadly there is not. Just today read two articles about the ongoing environmental issues in Himachal Pradesh. As I had shared even earlier, the last time I visited those places in 2011, and even at that time I was devastated to see the kind of construction going on. Jogiwara Road which they showed used to be flat single ground/first floor dwellings, most of which were restaurants and whatnot. I had seen the water issues both in Himachal and UT (Uttarakhand) back then and this is when they made huge dams. In U.S. they are removing dams and here we want more dams

29 May 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Planes, Pandemic and Medical Devices I

The Great Electric Airplane Race It took me quite sometime to write as have been depressed about things. Then a few days back saw Nova s The Great Electric Airplane Race. While it was fabulous and a pleasure to see and know that there are more than 200 odd startups who are in the race of making an electric airplane which works and has FAA certification. I was disappointed though that there no coverage of any University projects. From what little I know, almost all advanced materials which U.S. had made has been first researched in mostly Universities and when it is close to fruition then either spin-off as a startup or give to some commercial organization/venture to make it scalable and profitable. If they had, I am sure more people could be convinced to join sciences and engineering in college. I actually do want to come to this as part of both general medicine and vaccine development in U.S. but will come later. The idea that industry works alone should be discouraged, but that perhaps may require another article to articulate why I believe so.

Medical Device Ventilators in India Before the pandemic, probably most didn t know what a ventilator is and was, at least I didn t, although I probably used it during my somewhat brief hospital stay a couple of years ago. It entered into the Indian twitter lexicon more so in the second wave as the number of people who got infected became more and more and the ventilators which were serving them became less and less just due to sheer mismatch of numbers and requirements. Rich countries donated/gifted ventilators to India on which GOI put GST of 28%. Apparently, they are a luxury item, just like my hearing aid. Last week Delhi High Court passed a judgement that imposition of GST should not be on a gift like ventilators or oxygenators. The order can be found here. Even without reading the judgement the shout from the right was judicial activism while after reading it is a good judgement which touches on several points. The first, in itself, stating the dichotomy that if a commercial organization wanted to import a ventilator or an oxygenator the IGST payable is nil while for an individual it is 12%. The State (here State refers to State Government in this case Gujarat Govt.) did reduce the IGST for state from 12% to NIL IGST for federal states but that to till only 30.06.2021. No relief to individuals on that account. The Court also made use of Mr. Arvind Datar, as Amicus Curiae or friend of court. The petitioner, an 85-year-old gentleman who has put it up has put broad assertions under Article 21 (right to live) and the court in its wisdom also added Article 14 which enshrines equality of everyone before law. The Amicus Curiae, as his duty, guided the court into how the IGST law works and shared a brief history of the law and the changes happening before and after it. During his submissions, he also shared the Mega Exemption Notification no. 50/2017 under which several items are there which are exempted from putting IGST. The Amicus Curiae did note that such exemptions were also there before Mega Exemption Notification had come into play. However, DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade) on 30-04-2021 issued notification No. 4/2015-2020 through which oxygenators had been exempted from Custom Duty/BCD (Basic Customs Duty. In another notification on no. 30/2021 dated 01.05.2021 it reduced IGST from 28% to 12% for personal use. If however the oxygenator was procured by a canalizing agency (bodies such as State Trading Corporation of India (STC) or/and Metals and Minerals Corporation (MMTC) and such are defined as canalising agents) then it will be fully exempted from paying any sort of IGST, albeit subject to certain conditions. What the conditions are were not shared in the open court. The Amicus Curiae further observed that it is contrary to practice where both BCD and IGST has been exempted for canalising agents and others, some IGST has to be paid for personal use. To share within the narrow boundaries of the topic, he shared entry no. 607A of General Exemption no.190 where duty and IGST in case of life-saving drugs are zero provided the life-saving drugs imported have been provided by zero cost from an overseas supplier for personal use. He further shared that the oxygen generator would fall in the same entry of 607A as it fulfills all the criteria as shared for life-saving medicines and devices. He also used the help of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 which provides such a relief. The Amicus Curiae further noted that GOI amended its foreign trade policy (2015-2020) via notification no.4/2015-2020, dated 30.04.2021, issued by DGFT where Rakhi and life-saving drugs for personal use has been exempted from BCD till 30-07-2021. No reason not to give the same exemption to oxygenators which fulfill the same thing. The Amicus Curiae, further observes that there are exceptional circumstances provisions as adverted to in sub-section (2) of Section 25 of the Customs Act, whereby Covid-19 which is known and labelled as a pandemic where the distinctions between the two classes of individuals or agencies do not make any sense. While he did make the observation that exemption from duty is not a right, in the light of the pandemic and Article 14, it does not make sense to have distinctions between the two classes of importers. He further shared from Circular no. 9/2014-Customs, dated 19.08.2014 by CBEC (Central Board of Excise and Customs) which gave broad exemptions under Section 25 (2) of the same act in respect of goods and services imported for safety and rehabilitation of people suffering and effected by natural disasters and epidemics. He further submits that the impugned notification is irrational as there is no intelligible differentia rule applied or observed in classifying the import of oxygen concentrators into two categories. One, by the State and its agencies; and the other, by an individual for personal use by way of gift. So there was an absence of adequate determining principle . To bolster his argument, he shared the judgements of

a) Union of India vs. N.S. Rathnam & Sons, (2015) 10 SCC 681 (N.S. Ratnams and Sons Case) b) Shayara Bano vs. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1 (Shayara Bano Case) The Amicus Curiae also rightly observed that the right to life also encompasses within it, the right to health. You cannot have one without the other and within that is the right to have affordable treatment. He further stated that the state does not only have a duty but a positive obligation is cast upon it to ensure that the citizen s health is secured. He again cited Navtej Singh Johars vs Union of India (Navtej Singh Johar Case) in defence of right to life. Mr. Datar also shared that unlike in normal circumstances, it is and should be enough to show distinct and noticeable burdensomeness which is directly attributable to the impugned/questionable tax. The gentleman cited Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Limited vs. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 (Indian Express case) 1985 which shared both about Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 21. Bloggers note At this juncture, I should point out which I am sharing the judgement and I would be sharing only the Amicus Curiae POV and then the judge s final observations. While I was reading it, I was stuck by the fact that the Amicus Curiae had cited 4 cases till now, 3 of them are pretty well known both in the legal fraternity and even among public at large. Another 3 which have been shared below which are also of great significance. Hence, felt the need to share the whole judgement. The Amicus Curiae further observed that this tax would have to be disproportionately will have to be paid by the old and the infirm, and they might find it difficult to pay the amounts needed to pay the customs duty/IGST as well as find the agent to pay in this pandemic. Blogger Note The situation with the elderly is something like this. Now there are a few things to note, only Central Govt. employees and pensioners get pensions which has been freezed since last year. The rest of the elderly population does not. The rate of interest has fallen to record lows from 5-6% in savings interest rate to 2% and on Fixed Deposits at 4.9% while the nominal inflation rate has up by 6% while CPI and real inflation rates are and would be much more. And this is when there is absolutely no demand in the economy. To add to all this, RBI shared a couple of months ago that fraud of 5 trillion rupees has been committed between 2015 and 2019 in banks. And this is different from the number of record NPA s that have been both in Public and Private Sector banks. To get out of this, the banks have squeezed their customers and are squeezing as well as asking GOI for bailouts. How much GOI is responsible for the frauds as well as NPA s would probably require its own space. And even now, RBI and banks have made heavy provisions as lockdowns are still a facet and are supposed to remain a facet till the end of the year or even next year (all depending upon when we get the vaccine). The Amicus Curiae further argued that the ventilators which are available locally are of bad quality. The result of all this has resulted in a huge amount of unsurmountable pressure on hospitals which they are unable to overcome. Therefore, the levy of IGST on oxygenators has direct impact on health of the citizen. So the examination of the law should not be by what intention it was but how it is affecting citizen rights now. For this he shared R.C.Cooper vs Union of India (another famous case R.C. Cooper vs Union of India) especially paragraph 49 and Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Association of India vs. Union of India, (1989) at paragraph 46 (Federation of Hotel Case) Mr. Datar further shared the Supreme Court order dated 18.12.2020, passed in Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No.7/2020, to buttress the plea that the right to health includes the right to affordable treatment. Blogger s Note For those, who don t know Suo Moto is when the Court, whether Supreme Court or the High Courts take up a matter for public good. It could be in anything, law and order, Banking, Finance, Public Health etc. etc. This was the norm before 2014. The excesses of the executive were curtailed by both the Higher and the lower Judiciary. That is and was the reason that Judiciary is and was known as the third pillar of Indian democracy. A good characterization of Suo Moto can be found here. Before ending his submission, the learned Amicus Curiae also shared Jeeja Ghosh vs. Union of India, (2016) (Jeeja Ghosh Case, an outstanding case as it deals with people with disabilities and their rights and the observations made by the Division Bench of Hon ble Mr. Justice A. K. Sikri as well as Hon ble Mr. Justice R. K. Agrawal.) After Amicus Curiae completed his submissions, it was the turn of Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog, and he adopted the arguments and submissions made by the Amicus Curiae. The gentleman reiterated the facts of the case and how the impugned notification was violative of both Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Blogger s Note The High Court s judgement which shows all the above arguments by the Amicus Curiae and the petitioner s lawyer also shared the State s view. It is only on page 24, where the Delhi High Court starts to share its own observations on the arguments of both sides. Judgement continued The first observation that the Court makes is that while the petitioner demonstrated that the impugned tax imposition would have a distinct and noticeable burdensomeness while the State did not state or share in any way how much of a loss it would incur if such a tax were let go and how much additional work would have to be done in order to receive this specific tax. It didn t need to do something which is down the wire or mathematically precise, but it didn t even care to show even theoretically how many people will be affected by the above. The counter-affidavit by the State is silent on the whole issue. The Court also contended that the State failed to prove how collecting IGST from the concerned individuals would help in fighting coronavirus in any substantial manner for the public at large. The High Court shared observations from the Navtej Singh Johar case where it is observed that the State has both negative and positive obligations to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy the right to health. The High Court further made the point that no respectable person does like to be turned into a charity case. If the State contends that those who obey the law should pay the taxes then it is also obligatory on the state s part to lessen exactions such as taxes at the very least in times of war, famine, floods, epidemics and pandemics. Such an approach would lead a person to live a life of dignity which is part of Article 21 of the Constitution. Another point that was made by the State that only the GST council is able to make any changes as regards to exemptions rather than the State were found to be false as the State had made some exemptions without going to the GST council using its own powers under Section 25 of the Customs Act. The Court also points out that it does send a discriminatory pattern when somebody like petitioner has to pay the tax for personal use while those who are buying it for commercial use do not have to pay the tax. The Court agreed of the view of the Amicus Curiae, Mr. Datar that oxygenator should be taxed at NIL rate at IGST as it is part of life-saving drugs and oxygenator fits the bill as medical equipment as it is used in the treatment, mitigation and prevention of spread of Coronavirus. Mr. Datar also did show that oxygenator is placed at the same level as other life-saving drugs. The Court felt further emboldened as the observations by Supreme Court in State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Linde India Limited, 2020 ( State of Andhra Pradesh vs Linde Ltd.) The Court further shared many subsequent notifications from the State and various press releases by the State itself which does make the Court s point that oxygenators indeed are drugs as defined in the court case above. The State should have it as part of notification 190. This would preserve the start of the notification date from 03.05.2021 and the state would not have to issue a new notification. The Court further went to postulate that any persons similar to the petitioner could avail of the same, if they furnish a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State that the medical equipment would not be put to commercial use. Till the state does not do that, in the interim the importer could give the same undertaking to Joint Secretary, Customs or their nominee can hand over the same to custom officer. The Court also shared that it does not disagree with the State s arguments but the challenges which have arisen are in a unique time period/circumstances, so they are basing their judgement based on how the situation is. The Court also mentioned an order given by Supreme Court Diary No. 10669/2020 passed on 20.03.2020 where SC has taken pains to understand the issues faced by the citizens. The court also mentioned the Small Scale Industrial Manufactures Association Case (both of these cases I don t know) . So in conclusion, the Court holds the imposition of IGST on oxygenator which are imported by individuals as gifts from their relatives as unconstitutional. They also shared that any taxes taken by GOI in above scenario have to be returned. The relief to the state is they will not have to pay interest cost on the same. To check misuse of the same, the petitioner or people who are in similar circumstances would have to give a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State within 7 days of the state notifying the patient or anybody authorized by him/her to act on their behalf to share the letter of undertaking with the State. And till the State doesn t provide an officer, the above will continue. Hence, both the writ petition and the pending application are disposed off. The Registry is directed to release any money deposited by the petitioner along with any interest occurred on it (if any) . At the end they record appreciation of Mr. Arvind Datar, Mr. Zoheb Hossain, Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog as well as Mr. Siddharth Bambha. It is only due to their assistance that the court could reach the conclusion it did. For Delhi High Court RAJIV SHAKDHER, J. TALWANT SINGH, J. May 21, 2020 Blogger s Observations Now, after the verdict GOI does have few choices, either accept the verdict or appeal in the SC. A third choice is to make a committee and come to the same conclusions via the committee. GOI has done something similar in the past. If that happens and the same conclusions are reached as before, then the aggrieved may have no choice but to appear in the highest court of law. And this will put the aggrieved at a much more vulnerable place than before as SC court fees, lawyer fees etc. are quite high compared to High Courts. So, there is a possibility that the petitioner may not even approach unless and until some non-profit (NGO) does decide to fight and put it up as common cause or something similar. There is another judgement that I will share, probably tomorrow. Thankfully, that one is pretty short compared to this one. So it should be far more easier to read. FWIW, I did learn about the whole freeenode stuff and many channels who have shifted from freenode to libera. I will share my own experience of the same but that probably will take a day or two.
Zeeshan of IYC (India Youth Congress) along with Salman Khan s non-profit Being Human getting oxygenators
The above picture of Zeeshan. There have been a whole team of Indian Youth Congress workers (main opposition party to the ruling party) who have doing lot of relief effort. They have been buying Oxygenators from abroad with help of Being Human Foundation started by Salman Khan, an actor who works in A-grade movies in Bollywood.

25 May 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Pandemic, Toolkit and India

Pandemic Situation in India. I don t know from where I should start. This is probably a good start. I actually would recommend Indiacable as they do attempt to share some things happening in India from day to day but still there is a lot thatt they just can t cover, nobody can cover. There were two reports which kind of shook me all inside. One which sadly came from the UK publication Independent, probably as no Indian publication would dare publish it. The other from Rural India. I have been privileged in many ways, including friends who have asked me if I need any financial help. But seeing reports like above, these people need more help, guidance and help than I. While I m never one to say give to Foundations. If some people do want to help people from Maharashtra, then moneylifefoundation could be a good place where they could donate. FWIW, they usually use the foundation to help savers and investors be safe and help in getting money when taken by companies with dubious intentions. That is their drive. Two articles show their bent. The first one is about the Algo scam which I have written previously about the same in this blog. Interestingly, when I talk about this scam, all Modi supporters are silent. The other one does give some idea as to why the Govt. is indifferent. That is going to a heavy cross for all relatives to bear. There has been a lot that has been happening. Now instead of being limited to cities, Covid has now gone hinterland in a big way. One could ask also Praveen as he probably knows what would be good for Kerala and surrounding areas. The biggest change, however, has been that India is now battling not just the pandemic but also Mucormycosis also known as black fungus and its deadlier cousin the white fungus. Mucormycosis came largely due to an ill-advise given that applying cow dung gives protection to Corona. And many applied it due to faith. And people who know science do know that in fact it has that bacteria. Sadly, those of us who are and were more interested in law, computer science etc. has now also have to keep on top of what is happening in the medical field. It isn t that I hate it, but it has a lot of costs. From what I could gather on various social media and elsewhere, a single injection of anti-fungal for the above costs INR 3k/- and that needs to be 5 times in a day and that course has to be for three weeks. So even the relatively wealthy people can and will become poor in no time. No wonder thousands of those went to UK, US, Dubai or wherever they could find safe-harbor from the pandemic with no plans of arriving back soon. There was also the whole bit about FBS or Fetal Bovin Serum. India ordered millions of blood serum products from abroad and continues to. This was quickly shut down as news on Social Media. Apparently, it is only the Indian cow which is worthy of reverence. All other cows and their children are fair game according to those in power. Of course, that discussion was quickly shut down as was the discussion about IGP (Indian Genome Project). People over the years had asked me why India never participated for the HGP (Human Gnome Project). I actually had no answer for that. Then in 2020, there was idea of IGP which was put up and then it was quickly shot down as the results could damage a political party s image. In fact, a note to people who want to join Indian civil services tells the reason exactly. While many countries in the world are hypocrites, including the U.S. none can take the place that India has made for itself in that field.

The Online experience The vaccination process has been made online and has led to severe heartburn and trouble for many including many memes. For e.g.

Daily work, get up, have a bath, see if you got a slot on the app, sleep.
People trying desperately to get a slot, taken from Hindi Movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaygenge.
Just to explain what is happening, one has to go to the website of cowin. Sharing a screenshot of the same.
Cowin app. sceeenshot
I have deliberately taken a screenshot of the cowin app. in U.P. which is one of the areas where the ruling party, BJP has. I haven t taken my state for the simple reason, even if a slot is open, it is of no use as there are no vaccines. As have been shared in India Cable as well as in many newspapers, it is the Central Govt. which holds the strings for the vaccines. Maharashtra did put up an international tender but to no effect. All vaccine manufacturers want only Central Govt. for purchases for multiple reasons. And GOI is saying it has no money even though recently it got loans as well as a dividend from RBI to the tune of 99k crore. For what all that money is, we have no clue. Coming back though, to the issue at hand. the cowin app. is made an open api. While normally, people like us should and are happy when an API is open, it has made those who understand how to use git, compile, etc. better than others. A copy of the public repo. of how you can do the same can be found on Github. Now, obviously, for people like me and many others it has ethical issues.

Kiran s Interview in Times of India (TOI) There isn t much to say apart from I haven t used it. I just didn t want to. It just is unethical. Hopefully, in the coming days GOI does something better. That is the only thing we are surviving on, hope.

The Toolkit saga A few days before, GOI shared a toolkit apparently made by Congress to defame the party in power. That toolkit was shared before the press and Altnews did the investigation and promptly shredded the claims. Congress promptly made an FIR in Chhattisgarh where it is in power. The gentleman who made the claims Mr. Sambit Patra refused to appear against the police without evidence citing personal reasons and asking 1 week to appear before them. Apart from Altnews which did a great job, sadly many people didn t even know that there is something called WYSIWYG. I had to explain that so many Industries, whether it is politics, creative industries, legal, ad industries, medical transcription, and imaging all use this, and all the participants use the same version of the software. The reason being that in most Industries, there is a huge loss and issue of legal liabilities if something untoward happens. For e.g. if medical transcription is done in India is wrong (although his or her work will be checked by a superior in the West), but for whatever reason is not, and a wrong diagnosis is put (due to wrong color or something) then a patient could die and the firm who does that work could face heavy penalties which could be the death of them. There is another myth that Congress has unlimited wealth or huge wealth. I asked if that was the case, why didn t they shift to Mac. Of course, none have answers on this one. There is another reason why they didn t want to appear. The Rona Wilson investigation by Arsenal Experts also has made them cautious. Previously, they had a free run. Nowadays, software forensic tools are available to one and all. For e.g. Debian itself has a good variety of tools for the same. I remember Vipin s sharing few years back. For those who want to start, just install the apps. and try figuring out. Expertise on using the tools takes years though, as you use the tool day in night. Update 25/05/2021 Apparently because Twitter made and showcased few tweets as Manipulated Media , those in Govt. are and were dead against it. So they conducted a raid against Twitter India headquarters, knowing fully well that there would be nobody except security. The moment I read this, my mind went to the whole Fruit of the poisonous tree legal doctrine. Sadly though, India doesn t recognize it and in fact, still believes in the pre-colonial era that evidence however collected is good. A good explanation of the same can be found here. There are some exceptions to the rule, but they are done so fine that more often than not, they can t be used in the court of law in India. Although a good RTI was shared by Mr. Saket Gokhale on the same issue, which does raise some interesting points
Twitter India Raid, Saket Gokhale RTI 1
Saket Gokhale RTI query , Twitter India Raid 2
FWIW, Saket has been successful in getting his prayers heard either as answers to RTI queries or then following it up in the various High Courts of India. Of course, those who are in the ruling party ridicule him but are unable to find faults in his application of logic. And quite a few times, I have learned from his applications as well as nuances or whatever is there in law, a judgment or a guideline which he invokes in his prayer. For e.g. the Lalitha Kumari Guidelines which the gentleman has shared in his prayer can be found here. Hence now, it would be upto the Delhi Police Cell to prove their case in response to RTI. He has also trapped them as he has shared they can t give excuses/exemptions which they have tried before. As I had shared earlier, High Courts in India have woken up, whether it is Delhi, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha or Kerala. Just today i.e. on 25th May 2021, Justices Bela Trivedi and Justice Kalra had asked how come all the hospitals don t have NOC from the Fire De[partment. They also questioned the ASG (Assistant Solicitor General) as how BU (Building Use Certificate) has been granted as almost all the 400 hospitals are in residential area. To which the ASG replies, it is the same state in almost 4000 schools as well as 6000 odd factories in Ahemdabad alone, leave the rest of the district and state alone. And this is when last year strict instuctions were passed. They chose to do nothing sadly. I will share a link on this when bar and bench gives me  The Hindu also shared the whole raid on twitter saga.

Conclusion In conclusion, I sincerely do not where we are headed. The only thing I know is that we cannot expect things to be better before year-end and maybe even after that. It all depends on the vaccines and their availability. After that ruralindia article, I had to see quite a few movies and whatnot just to get that out of my head. And this is apart from the 1600 odd teachers and workers who have died in the U.P. poll duty. Now, what a loss, not just to the family members of the victims, but a whole generation of school children who would not be able to get quality teaching and be deprived of education. What will be their future, God only knows. The only good Bollywood movie which I saw was Ramprasad ki Teravi . The movie was an accurate representation of most families in and around me. There was a movie called Sansar (1987) which showed the breakup of the joint family and into a nuclear family. This movie could very well have been a continuation of the same. Even Marathi movies which at one time were very progressive have gone back to the same boy, girl love story routine. Sameer, though released in late 2020, was able to see it only recently. Vakeel Saab was an ok copy of Pink . I loved Sameer as, unlike Salman Khan films, it showed pretty much an authentic human struggle of a person who goes to the Middle East without any qualifications and works as a laborer and the trials he goes through. Somehow, Malayalam movies have a knack for showing truth without much of budget. Most of the Indian web series didn t make an impact. I think many of them were just going through the motions, it seems as everybody is concerned with the well-being of their near and dear ones. There was also this (Trigger Warning: This story discusses organized campaigns glorifying and advocating sexual violence against Muslim women.) Hoping people somehow make it to the other side of the pandemic.

13 May 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Population, Immigration, Vaccines and Mass-Surveilance.

The Population Issue and its many facets Another couple of weeks passed. A Lot of things happening, lots of anger and depression in folks due to handling in pandemic, but instead of blaming they are willing to blame everybody else including the population. Many of them want forced sterilization like what Sanjay Gandhi did during the Emergency (1975). I had to share So Long, My son . A very moving tale of two families of what happened to them during the one-child policy in China. I was so moved by it and couldn t believe that the Chinese censors allowed it to be produced, shot, edited, and then shared worldwide. It also won a couple of awards at the 69th Berlin Film Festival, silver bear for the best actor and the actress in that category. But more than the award, the theme, and the concept as well as the length of the movie which was astonishing. Over a 3 hr. something it paints a moving picture of love, loss, shame, relief, anger, and asking for forgiveness. All of which can be identified by any rational person with feelings worldwide.

Girl child What was also interesting though was what it couldn t or wasn t able to talk about and that is the Chinese leftover men. In fact, a similar situation exists here in India, only it has been suppressed. This has been more pronounced more in Asia than in other places. One big thing in this is human trafficking and mostly women trafficking. For the Chinese male, that was happening on a large scale from all neighboring countries including India. This has been shared in media and everybody knows about it and yet people are silent. But this is not limited to just the Chinese, even Indians have been doing it. Even yesteryear actress Rupa Ganguly was caught red-handed but then later let off after formal questioning as she is from the ruling party. So much for justice. What is and has been surprising at least for me is Rwanda which is in the top 10 of some of the best places in equal gender. It, along with other African countries have also been in news for putting quite a significant amount of percentage of GDP into public healthcare (between 20-10%), but that is a story for a bit later. People forget or want to forget that it was in Satara, a city in my own state where 220 girls changed their name from nakusha or unwanted to something else and that had become a piece of global news. One would think that after so many years, things would have changed, the only change that has happened is that now we have two ministries, The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) and The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MoHFW). Sadly, in both cases, the ministries have been found wanting, Whether it was the high-profile Hathras case or even the routine cries of help which given by women on the twitter helpline. Sadly, neither of these ministries talks about POSH guidelines which came up after the 2012 gangrape case. For both these ministries, it should have been a pinned tweet. There is also the 1994 PCPNDT Act which although made in 1994, actually functioned in 2006, although what happens underground even today nobody knows  . On the global stage, about a decade ago, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt argued in their book Freakonomics how legalized abortion both made the coming population explosion as well as expected crime rates to be reduced. There was a huge pushback on the same from the conservatives and has become a matter of debate, perhaps something that the Conservatives wanted. Interestingly, it hasn t made them go back but go forward as can be seen from the Freakonomics site.

Climate Change Another topic that came up for discussion was repeatedly climate change, but when I share Shell s own 1998 Confidential report titled Greenhouse effect all become strangely silent. The silence here is of two parts, there probably is a large swathe of Indians who haven t read the report and there may be a minority who have read it and know what already has been shared with U.S. Congress. The Conservative s argument has been for it is jobs and a weak we need to research more . There was a partial debunk of it on the TBD podcast by Matt Farell and his brother Sean Farell as to how quickly the energy companies are taking to the coming change.

Health Budget Before going to Covid stories. I first wanted to talk about Health Budgets. From the last 7 years the Center s allocation for health has been between 0.34 to 0.8% per year. That amount barely covers the salaries to the staff, let alone any money for equipment or anything else. And here by allocation I mean, what is actually spent, not the one that is shared by GOI as part of budget proposal. In fact, an article on Wire gives a good breakdown of the numbers. Even those who are on the path of free markets describe India s health business model as a flawed one. See the Bloomberg Quint story on that. Now let me come to Rwanda. Why did I chose Rwanda, I could have chosen South Africa where I went for Debconf 2016, I chose because Rwanda s story is that much more inspiring. In many ways much more inspiring than that South Africa in many ways. Here is a country which for decades had one war or the other, culminating into the Rwanda Civil War which ended in 1994. And coincidentally, they gained independence on a similar timeline as South Africa ending Apartheid in 1994. What does the country do, when it gains its independence, it first puts most of its resources in the healthcare sector. The first few years at 20% of GDP, later than at 10% of GDP till everybody has universal medical coverage. Coming back to the Bloomberg article I shared, the story does not go into the depth of beyond-expiry date medicines, spurious medicines and whatnot. Sadly, most media in India does not cover the deaths happening in rural areas and this I am talking about normal times. Today what is happening in rural areas is just pure madness. For last couple of days have been talking with people who are and have been covering rural areas. In many of those communities, there is vaccine hesitancy and why, because there have been whatsapp forwards sharing that if you go to a hospital you will die and your kidney or some other part of the body will be taken by the doctor. This does two things, it scares people into not going and getting vaccinated, at the same time they are prejudiced against science. This is politics of the lowest kind. And they do it so that they will be forced to go to temples or babas and what not and ask for solutions. And whether they work or not is immaterial, they get fixed and property and money is seized. Sadly, there are not many Indian movies of North which have tried to show it except for oh my god but even here it doesn t go the distance. A much more honest approach was done in Trance . I have never understood how the South Indian movies are able to do a more honest job of story-telling than what is done in Bollywood even though they do in 1/10th the budget that is needed in Bollywood. Although, have to say with OTT, some baggage has been shed but with the whole film certification rearing its ugly head through MEITY orders, it seems two steps backward instead of forward. The idea being simply to infantilize the citizens even more. That is a whole different ball-game which probably will require its own space.

Vaccine issues One good news though is that Vaccination has started. But it has been a long story full of greed by none other than GOI (Government of India) or the ruling party BJP. Where should I start with. I probably should start with this excellent article done by Priyanka Pulla. It is interesting and fascinating to know how vaccines are made, at least one way which she shared. She also shared about the Cutter Incident which happened in the late 50 s. The response was on expected lines, character assassination of her and the newspaper they published but could not critique any of the points made by her. Not a single point that she didn t think about x or y. Interestingly enough, in January 2021 Bharati Biotech was supposed to be share phase 3 trial data but hasn t been put up in public domain till May 2021. In fact, there have been a few threads raised by both well-meaning Indians as well as others globally especially on twitter to which GOI/ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is silent. Another interesting point to note is that Russia did say in its press release that it is possible that their vaccine may not be standard (read inactivation on their vaccines and another way is possible but would take time, again Brazil has objected, but India hasn t till date.) What also has been interesting is the homegrown B.1.617 lineage or known as double mutant . This was first discovered from my own state, Maharashtra and then transported around the world. There is also B.1.618 which was found in West Bengal and is same or supposed to be similar to the one found in South Africa. This one is known as Triple mutant . About B.1.618 we don t know much other than knowing that it is much more easily transferable, much more infectious. Most countries have banned flights from India and I cannot fault them anyway. Hell, when even our diplomats do not care for procedures to be followed during the pandemic then how a common man is supposed to do. Of course, now for next month, Mr. Modi was supposed to go and now will not attend the G7 meeting. Whether, it is because he would have to face the press (the only Prime Minister and the only Indian Prime Minister who never has faced free press.) or because the Indian delegation has been disinvited, we would never know.

A good article which shares lots of lows with how things have been done in India has been an article by Arundhati Roy. And while the article in itself is excellent and shares a bit of the bitter truth but is still incomplete as so much has been happening. The problem is that the issue manifests in so many ways, it is difficult to hold on. As Arundhati shared, should we just look at figures and numbers and hold on, or should we look at individual ones, for e.g. the one shared in Outlook India. Or the one shared by Dr. Dipshika Ghosh who works in Covid ICU in some hospital
Dr. Dipika Ghosh sharing an incident in Covid Ward

Interestingly as well, while in the vaccine issue, Brazil Anvisa doesn t know what they are doing or the regulator just isn t knowledgeable etc. (statements by various people in GOI, when it comes to testing kits, the same is an approver.)

ICMR/DGCI approving internationally validated kits, Press release.

Twitter In the midst of all this, one thing that many people have forgotten and seem to have forgotten that Twitter and other tools are used by only the elite. The reason why the whole thing has become serious now than in the first phase is because the elite of India have also fallen sick and dying which was not the case so much in the first phase. The population on Twitter is estimated to be around 30-34 million and people who are everyday around 20 odd million or so, which is what 2% of the Indian population which is estimated to be around 1.34 billion. The other 98% don t even know that there is something like twitter on which you can ask help. Twitter itself is exclusionary in many ways, with both the emoticons, the language and all sorts of things. There is a small subset who does use Twitter in regional languages, but they are too small to write anything about. The main language is English which does become a hindrance to lot of people.

Censorship Censorship of Indians critical of Govt. mishandling has been non-stop. Even U.S. which usually doesn t interfere into India s internal politics was forced to make an exception. But of course, this has been on deaf ears. There is and was a good thread on Twitter by Gaurav Sabnis, a friend, fellow Puneite now settled in U.S. as a professor.
Gaurav on Trump-Biden on vaccination of their own citizens
Now just to surmise what has been happened in India and what has been happening in most of the countries around the world. Most of the countries have done centralization purchasing of the vaccine and then is distributed by the States, this is what we understand as co-operative federalism. While last year, GOI took a lot of money under the shady PM Cares fund for vaccine purchase, donations from well-meaning Indians as well as Industries and trade bodies. Then later, GOI said it would leave the states hanging and it is they who would have to buy vaccines from the manufacturers. This is again cheap politics. The idea behind it is simple, GOI knows that almost all the states are strapped for cash. This is not new news, this I have shared a couple of months back. The problem has been that for the last 6-8 months no GST meeting has taken place as shared by Punjab s Finance Minister Amarinder Singh. What will happen is that all the states will fight in-between themselves for the vaccine and most of them are now non-BJP Governments. The idea is let the states fight and somehow be on top. So, the pandemic, instead of being a public health issue has become something of on which politics has to played. The news on whatsapp by RW media is it s ok even if a million or two also die, as it is India is heavily populated. Although that argument vanishes for those who lose their dear and near ones. But that just isn t the issue, the issue goes much more deeper than that Oxygen:12%
Remedisivir:12%
Sanitiser:12%
Ventilator:12%
PPE:18%
Ambulances 28% Now all the products above are essential medical equipment and should be declared as essential medical equipment and should have price controls on which GST is levied. In times of pandemic, should the center be profiting on those. States want to let go and even want the center to let go so that some relief is there to the public, while at the same time make them as essential medical equipment with price controls. But GOI doesn t want to. Leaders of opposition parties wrote open letters but no effect. What is sad to me is how Ambulances are being taxed at 28%. Are they luxury items or sin goods ? This also reminds of the recent discovery shared by Mr. Pappu Yadav in Bihar. You can see the color of ambulances as shared by Mr. Yadav, and the same news being shared by India TV news showing other ambulances. Also, the weak argument being made of not having enough drivers. Ideally, you should have 2-3 people, both 9-1-1 and Chicago Fire show 2 people in ambulance but a few times they have also shown to be flipped over. European seems to have three people in ambulance, also they are also much more disciplined as drivers, at least an opinion shared by an American expat.
Pappu Yadav, President Jan Adhikar Party, Bihar May 11, 2021
What is also interesting to note is GOI plays this game of Health is State subject and health is Central subject depending on its convenience. Last year, when it invoked the Epidemic and DMA Act it was a Central subject, now when bodies are flowing down the Ganges and pyres being lit everywhere, it becomes a State subject. But when and where money is involved, it again becomes a Central subject. The States are also understanding it, but they are fighting on too many fronts.
Snippets from Karnataka High Court hearing today, 13th March 2021
One of the good things is most of the High Courts have woken up. Many of the people on the RW think that the Courts are doing Judicial activism . And while there may be an iota of truth in it, the bitter truth is that many judges or relatives or their helpers have diagnosed and some have even died due to Covid. In face of the inevitable, what can they do. They are hauling up local Governments to make sure they are accountable while at the same time making sure that they get access to medical facilities. And I as a citizen don t see any wrong in that even if they are doing it for selfish reasons. Because, even if justice is being done for selfish reasons, if it does improve medical delivery systems for the masses, it is cool. If it means that the poor and everybody else are able to get vaccinations, oxygen and whatever they need, it is cool. Of course, we are still seeing reports of patients spending in the region of INR 50k and more for each day spent in hospital. But as there are no price controls, judges cannot do anything unless they want to make an enemy of the medical lobby in the country. A good story on medicines and what happens in rural areas, see no further than Laakhon mein ek.
Allahabad High Court hauling Uttar Pradesh Govt. for lack of Oxygen is equal to genocide, May 11, 2021
The censorship is not just related to takedown requests on twitter but nowadays also any articles which are critical of the GOI s handling. I have been seeing many articles which have shared facts and have been critical of GOI being taken down. Previously, we used to see 404 errors happen 7-10 years down the line and that was reasonable. Now we see that happen, days weeks or months. India seems to be turning more into China and North Korea and become more anti-science day-by-day

Fake websites Before going into fake websites, let me start with a fake newspaper which was started by none other than the Gujarat CM Mr. Modi in 2005 .
Gujarat Satya Samachar 2005 launched by Mr. Modi.
And if this wasn t enough than on Feb 8, 2005, he had invoked Official Secrets Act
Mr. Modi invoking Official Secrets Act, Feb 8 2005 Gujarat Samachar
The headlines were In Modi s regime press freedom is in peril-Down with Modi s dictatorship. So this was a tried and tested technique. The above information was shared by Mr. Urvish Kothari, who incidentally also has his own youtube channel. Now cut to 2021, and we have a slew of fake websites being done by the same party. In fact, it seems they started this right from 2011. A good article on BBC itself tells the story. Hell, Disinfo.eu which basically combats disinformation in EU has a whole pdf chronicling how BJP has been doing it. Some of the sites it shared are

Times of New York
Manchester Times
Times of Los Angeles
Manhattan Post
Washington Herald
and many more. The idea being take any site name which sounds similar to a brand name recognized by Indians and make fool of them. Of course, those of who use whois and other such tools can easily know what is happening. Two more were added to the list yesterday, Daily Guardian and Australia Today. There are of course, many features which tell them apart from genuine websites. Most of these are on shared hosting rather than dedicated hosting, most of these are bought either from Godaddy and Bluehost. While Bluehost used to be a class act once upon a time, both the above will do anything as long as they get money. Don t care whether it s a fake website or true. Capitalism at its finest or worst depending upon how you look at it. But most of these details are lost on people who do not know web servers, at all and instead think see it is from an exotic site, a foreign site and it chooses to have same ideas as me. Those who are corrupt or see politics as a tool to win at any cost will not see it as evil. And as a gentleman Raghav shared with me, it is so easy to fool us. An example he shared which I had forgotten. Peter England which used to be an Irish brand was bought by Aditya Birla group way back in 2000. But even today, when you go for Peter England, the way the packaging is done, the way the prices are, more often than not, people believe they are buying the Irish brand. While sharing this, there is so much of Naom Chomsky which comes to my mind again and again

Caste Issues I had written about caste issues a few times on this blog. This again came to the fore as news came that a Hindu sect used forced labor from Dalit community to make a temple. This was also shared by the hill. In both, Mr. Joshi doesn t tell that if they were volunteers then why their passports have been taken forcibly, also I looked at both minimum wage prevailing in New Jersey as a state as well as wage given to those who are in the construction Industry. Even in minimum wage, they were giving $1 when the prevailing minimum wage for unskilled work is $12.00 and as Mr. Joshi shared that they are specialized artisans, then they should be paid between $23 $30 per hour. If this isn t exploitation, then I don t know what is. And this is not the first instance, the first instance was perhaps the case against Cisco which was done by John Doe. While I had been busy with other things, it seems Cisco had put up both a demurrer petition and a petition to strike which the Court stayed. This seemed to all over again a type of apartheid practice, only this time applied to caste. The good thing is that the court stayed the petition. Dr. Ambedkar s statement if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem given at Columbia University in 1916, seems to be proven right in today s time and sadly has aged well. But this is not just something which is there only in U.S. this is there in India even today, just couple of days back, a popular actress Munmun Dutta used a casteist slur and then later apologized giving the excuse that she didn t know Hindi. And this is patently false as she has been in the Bollywood industry for almost now 16-17 years. This again, was not an isolated incident. Seema Singh, a lecturer in IIT-Kharagpur abused students from SC, ST backgrounds and was later suspended. There is an SC/ST Atrocities Act but that has been diluted by this Govt. A bit on the background of Dr. Ambedkar can be found at a blog on Columbia website. As I have shared and asked before, how do we think, for what reason the Age of Englightenment or the Age of Reason happened. If I were a fat monk or a priest who was privileges, would I have let Age of Enlightenment happen. It broke religion or rather Church which was most powerful to not so powerful and that power was more distributed among all sort of thinkers, philosophers, tinkers, inventors and so on and so forth.

Situation going forward I believe things are going to be far more complex and deadly before they get better. I had to share another term called Comorbidities which fortunately or unfortunately has also become part of twitter lexicon. While I have shared what it means, it simply means when you have an existing ailment or condition and then Coronavirus attacks you. The Virus will weaken you. The Vaccine in the best case just stops the damage, but the damage already done can t be reversed. There are people who advise and people who are taking steroids but that again has its own side-effects. And this is now, when we are in summer. I am afraid for those who have recovered, what will happen to them during the Monsoons. We know that the Virus attacks most the lungs and their quality of life will be affected. Even the immune system may have issues. We also know about the inflammation. And the grant that has been given to University of Dundee also has signs of worry, both for people like me (obese) as well as those who have heart issues already. In other news, my city which has been under partial lockdown since a month, has been extended for another couple of weeks. There are rumors that the same may continue till the year-end even if it means economics goes out of the window.There is possibility that in the next few months something like 2 million odd Indians could die
The above is a conversation between Karan Thapar and an Oxford Mathematician Dr. Murad Banaji who has shared that the under-counting of cases in India is huge. Even BBC shared an article on the scope of under-counting. Of course, those on the RW call of the evidence including the deaths and obituaries in newspapers as a narrative . And when asked that when deaths used to be in the 20 s or 30 s which has jumped to 200-300 deaths and this is just the middle class and above. The poor don t have the money to get wood and that is the reason you are seeing the bodies in Ganges whether in Buxar Bihar or Gajipur, Uttar Pradesh. The sights and visuals makes for sorry reading
Pandit Ranjan Mishra son on his father s death due to unavailability of oxygen, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 11th May 2021.
For those who don t know Pandit Ranjan Mishra was a renowned classical singer. More importantly, he was the first person to suggest Mr. Modi s name as a Prime Ministerial Candidate. If they couldn t fulfil his oxygen needs, then what can be expected for the normal public.

Conclusion Sadly, this time I have no humorous piece to share, I can however share a documentary which was shared on Feluda . I have shared about Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitter a few times on this blog. He has been the answer of James Bond from India. I have shared previously about The Golden Fortress . An amazing piece of art by Satyajit Ray. I watched that documentary two-three times. I thought, mistakenly that I am the only fool or fan of Feluda in Pune to find out that there are people who are even more than me. There were so many facets both about Feluda and master craftsman Satyajit Ray that I was unaware about. I was just simply amazed. I even shared few of the tidbits with mum as well, although now she has been truly hooked to Korean dramas. The only solace from all the surrounding madness. So, if you have nothing to do, you can look up his books, read them and then see the movies. And my first recommendation would be the Golden Fortress. The only thing I would say, do not have high hopes. The movie is beautiful. It starts slow and then picks up speed, just like a train. So, till later. Update The Mass surveillance part I could not do justice do hence removed it at the last moment. It actually needs its whole space, article. There is so much that the Govt. is doing under the guise of the pandemic that it is difficult to share it all in one article. As it is, the article is big

6 March 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Making life difficult

Freedom house puts India in partly free Just couple of days ago, freedom house published its 2020 rankings for all countries including India. While freedom house shared how democracy in the world has weakened, India chose to take offense about it being called partly free .
India, leader in Internet shutdowns Access Now (copyright)
The above illustration is shared by accessnow . The next big ones who have Internet shutdowns are Yemen 6 and Ethiopia 4. Such internet shutdowns have and will have sad repercussions as would share in another story as well.

Color-coding journalists A story was broken by caravan magazine yesterday and which was followed by newslaundry which shows how the Govt. is looking to just drive some narrative, does not matter whether it s true or false, it should just show that the Govt. is right and others are all wrong. As can be seen, almost all reporters barring a few have kept silent rather than refuting statements attributed to them or happenings which didn t happen. And this goes to a much larger narrative and disinformation route taken by the Govt. which doesn t have any semblance to the truth or reality as people know it. I would illustrate couple of examples below which shares that. In all my young and even adult-life I hadn t seen a Govt. this much against its own people.

Omega Seiki puts a manufacturing plant in Bangladesh Now Omega Seiki is an Indian vendor who chose or had to go to manufacture their electric vehicles in Bangladesh. Now while this is a slightly old story this was broken on social media recently. Everybody starting blaming both the vendor and saying we should break FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with Bangladesh, not knowing that despite the FTA, India has put tariff barriers between India and Bangladesh. I had to share research from Brookings to show where India has been losing. Of course, those who don t want to see, wouldn t see anything wrong in the picture.

Teen raped, asked to marry the accused when she turns 18 Now you may see the above headlines and feel it is ridiculous, but the fact is that these orders were put or given by Madras High Court couple of months back. This was then reported by both Livelaw and BarandBench respectively. Now to be truthful, this news didn t make much noise as it should have, probably as I had shared previously that the Govt. wants to lower the marriageable age to 15 or even less. And this is despite all the medical evidence on the contrary, because it assuages this Govt s masculinity. There is also the very recent case where the SC CJI asked the rapist if he is willing to marry a girl who was underage when she reaches maturity. Another one in which it seems martial rape is not a crime according to the CJI. So it seems these are the state of things in which India finds itself today. There are judges like Vrinda Grover who do question CJI but they are few and there are costs to them who ask questions. Although, as shared this news was overtaken by other news and would have remained so, if not one of the leaders of the present Govt. , a Ramesh Jarkiholi, who hails from Belagavi region of north Karnataka was caught in a sex CD scandal basically asking sexual favors for a permanent Govt. job. He had made statements after the Madras High Court case applauding the judgement given by the judge. While, due to public pressure he had to resign, but not before stating that he had everybody blue films including the Chief Minister of the State. And sad to report that six Karnataka Ministers rushed today or rather yesterday to put a petition in the civil court to restrain media from airing/printing/publishing any defamatory content against them. The court has granted a media gag against 68 media houses for the same. Sadly, the recent happening only reinforce what has been happening in Karnataka since a decade. Update 07/03/2021 Seems yesterday another 10 odd ministers rushed to get the same order. Seems different laws apply to politicians vis-a-vis others. A recent example of Rhea Chakravarthy, an actress and girlfriend of Sushant Singh who was hounded in his suicide case and many accusations made on TV but no evidence till date. From what we know as facts, Sushant committed suicide as he was not getting work due to cronyism in Bollywood. In fact, those who were behind it have white-washed themselves, deleted their tweets etc. and while the public knows, no accountability on them. In fact, there is and was so much that I wanted to share as to what has been happening to women, sadly and thankfully arre did the needful for me. They wrote an entire article which tells what the situation for women in India today is. And if you are wondering why I said, that is because when a site which was made exclusively for people to laugh and have a good time and get relief, when they start writing serious articles, you can be sure that things have gone horribly wrong

Asking Tesla to come to India and at the same time ambivalent on battery Recently, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, a prominent minister of the present Govt. invited Tesla and gave all sorts of incentives to start a manufacturing plant here in India. And while it seems that Tesla has accepted, looking at the Vodafone case, hopefully Tesla does make such contracts where if something goes wrong and they need to sue the Govt. they can do it in States or elsewhere. The way the Govt. acted in the Vodafone case had been a dampener to any MNC investments so far. Although to be fair to both Tesla and GOI, the basic models even if they are manufactured in India will go to less than 1% of the population. The cheapest Tesla Model Y which retails in the U.S. for USD 40k would be around INR 30 lakh. And this is their cheapest car to date. I do know there are rumors of the 25k but that is probably 2-3 years away as shared by Tesla China President Tom Zhu in an interview shared on YT.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH5leMWFBxI There are couple of interesting comments being made. The fact that China is going to fully open its automobile market to western companies shows how confident China feels about their own vendors. And I m not much impressed about Tesla as I am about the tiny car revolution happening in China. India, if it wanted to, could learn many lessons from China. Even the electric buses they had started in 2010 itself where people in our auto industry thought it was all a fad. Sadly, we are missing most of the technology and if and by the time Tesla starts a production line, dunno where we could get our lithium. India hasn t been as aggressive as other countries when it comes to securing raw natural resources in other countries, as some other countries have.  Even besides that, it has been tough when you have so many people who still believe that ICE vehicles (Internal Combustion Engines) are better than EV s and even if they know they choose to believe the propaganda. Couple of months ago a young UK girl who had died due to asthma, an inquest found that air pollution was a factor. The girl s name was Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. This is the first case where the doctor ruled air pollution as a chief factor in a person s death. Probably first of its kind of ruling anywhere in the world. I also shared TCO studies between BEV and ICE vehicles done by people who are considering an electric vehicle but those studies seem to fall on deaf ears.

Starlink This is another of Elon Musk s ventures and would be a money spinner for sure in around the globe. While Starlink has asked TRAI for permission, I don t think they will get it. There is also Bharti Global s Oneweb which probably has a better chance of getting permissions. The reason is censorship. As shared above, India is now a leader in Internet shutdowns and do see this trend only accelerate rather than go the other way around. For people who don t remember, remember how satellite phones were made illegal even though only businessmen could afford it. And this was just 5 years ago. As shared Oneweb would have better shot as they would accept all Government directives without a second thought. Unless Starlink gives a binding to the Govt. to be a willing partner when it wants to have internet shutdowns, it will not work. Now how Elon approaches that is to be seen and known. FWIW, you can t access Starlink webpage on BSNL broadband. My broadband provider gives at the most 300 kbps and sometimes, at late nights or early mornings, around 500 kbps.

Farmer Protests
Lastly, farmer protests have entered 100 days. In the interim, Vivek Kaul, an economist took stock of the Bihar APMC to see if things have really worked as the Govt. supporters were telling. The investigation and the results didn t inspire the confidence as the Govt. said. The sad part is though, that nowadays nobody, at least those in power as well as those who are supporters are keen to read, understand and even argue otherwise. They are all happy with whatsapp knowledge. Till date 200+ people have died in the farmer protests. All mainstream media houses have stopped talking about farmers in the hope that they will disappear. At the end of the day the Govt. wants that the corporates should win at whatever the cost.

7 February 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2020

I won't reveal precisely how many books I read in 2020, but it was definitely an improvement on 74 in 2019, 53 in 2018 and 50 in 2017. But not only did I read more in a quantitative sense, the quality seemed higher as well. There were certainly fewer disappointments: given its cultural resonance, I was nonplussed by Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and whilst Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun was a little thin (again, given the obvious influence of the Bond franchise) the booked lacked 'thinness' in a way that made it interesting to critique. The weakest novel I read this year was probably J. M. Berger's Optimal, but even this hybrid of Ready Player One late-period Black Mirror wasn't that cringeworthy, all things considered. Alas, graphic novels continue to not quite be my thing, I'm afraid. I perhaps experienced more disappointments in the non-fiction section. Paul Bloom's Against Empathy was frustrating, particularly in that it expended unnecessary energy battling its misleading title and accepted terminology, and it could so easily have been an 20-minute video essay instead). (Elsewhere in the social sciences, David and Goliath will likely be the last Malcolm Gladwell book I voluntarily read.) After so many positive citations, I was also more than a little underwhelmed by Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and after Ryan Holiday's many engaging reboots of Stoic philosophy, his Conspiracy (on Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan taking on Gawker) was slightly wide of the mark for me. Anyway, here follows a selection of my favourites from 2020, in no particular order:

Fiction Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies & The Mirror and the Light Hilary Mantel During the early weeks of 2020, I re-read the first two parts of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy in time for the March release of The Mirror and the Light. I had actually spent the last few years eagerly following any news of the final instalment, feigning outrage whenever Mantel appeared to be spending time on other projects. Wolf Hall turned out to be an even better book than I remembered, and when The Mirror and the Light finally landed at midnight on 5th March, I began in earnest the next morning. Note that date carefully; this was early 2020, and the book swiftly became something of a heavy-handed allegory about the world at the time. That is to say and without claiming that I am Monsieur Cromuel in any meaningful sense it was an uneasy experience to be reading about a man whose confident grasp on his world, friends and life was slipping beyond his control, and at least in Cromwell's case, was heading inexorably towards its denouement. The final instalment in Mantel's trilogy is not perfect, and despite my love of her writing I would concur with the judges who decided against awarding her a third Booker Prize. For instance, there is something of the longueur that readers dislike in the second novel, although this might not be entirely Mantel's fault after all, the rise of the "ugly" Anne of Cleves and laborious trade negotiations for an uninspiring mineral (this is no Herbertian 'spice') will never match the court intrigues of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and that man for all seasons, Thomas More. Still, I am already looking forward to returning to the verbal sparring between King Henry and Cromwell when I read the entire trilogy once again, tentatively planned for 2022.

The Fault in Our Stars John Green I came across John Green's The Fault in Our Stars via a fantastic video by Lindsay Ellis discussing Roland Barthes famous 1967 essay on authorial intent. However, I might have eventually come across The Fault in Our Stars regardless, not because of Green's status as an internet celebrity of sorts but because I'm a complete sucker for this kind of emotionally-manipulative bildungsroman, likely due to reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials a few too many times in my teens. Although its title is taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, The Fault in Our Stars is actually more Romeo & Juliet. Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient falls in love with Gus, an equally ill teen from her cancer support group. Hazel and Gus share the same acerbic (and distinctly unteenage) wit and a love of books, centred around Hazel's obsession of An Imperial Affliction, a novel by the meta-fictional author Peter Van Houten. Through a kind of American version of Jim'll Fix It, Gus and Hazel go and visit Van Houten in Amsterdam. I'm afraid it's even cheesier than I'm describing it. Yet just as there is a time and a place for Michelin stars and Haribo Starmix, there's surely a place for this kind of well-constructed but altogether maudlin literature. One test for emotionally manipulative works like this is how well it can mask its internal contradictions while Green's story focuses on the universalities of love, fate and the shortness of life (as do almost all of his works, it seems), The Fault in Our Stars manages to hide, for example, that this is an exceedingly favourable treatment of terminal illness that is only possible for the better off. The 2014 film adaptation does somewhat worse in peddling this fantasy (and has a much weaker treatment of the relationship between the teens' parents too, an underappreciated subtlety of the book). The novel, however, is pretty slick stuff, and it is difficult to fault it for what it is. For some comparison, I later read Green's Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns which, as I mention, tug at many of the same strings, but they don't come together nearly as well as The Fault in Our Stars. James Joyce claimed that "sentimentality is unearned emotion", and in this respect, The Fault in Our Stars really does earn it.

The Plague Albert Camus P. D. James' The Children of Men, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon ... dystopian fiction was already a theme of my reading in 2020, so given world events it was an inevitability that I would end up with Camus's novel about a plague that swept through the Algerian city of Oran. Is The Plague an allegory about the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two? Where are all the female characters? Where are the Arab ones? Since its original publication in 1947, there's been so much written about The Plague that it's hard to say anything new today. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by how well it captured so much of the nuance of 2020. Whilst we were saying just how 'unprecedented' these times were, it was eerie how a novel written in the 1940s could accurately how many of us were feeling well over seventy years on later: the attitudes of the people; the confident declarations from the institutions; the misaligned conversations that led to accidental misunderstandings. The disconnected lovers. The only thing that perhaps did not work for me in The Plague was the 'character' of the church. Although I could appreciate most of the allusion and metaphor, it was difficult for me to relate to the significance of Father Paneloux, particularly regarding his change of view on the doctrinal implications of the virus, and spoiler alert that he finally died of a "doubtful case" of the disease, beyond the idea that Paneloux's beliefs are in themselves "doubtful". Answers on a postcard, perhaps. The Plague even seemed to predict how we, at least speaking of the UK, would react when the waves of the virus waxed and waned as well:
The disease stiffened and carried off three or four patients who were expected to recover. These were the unfortunates of the plague, those whom it killed when hope was high
It somehow captured the nostalgic yearning for high-definition videos of cities and public transport; one character even visits the completely deserted railway station in Oman simply to read the timetables on the wall.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John le Carr There's absolutely none of the Mad Men glamour of James Bond in John le Carr 's icy world of Cold War spies:
Small, podgy, and at best middle-aged, Smiley was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting, and extremely wet.
Almost a direct rebuttal to Ian Fleming's 007, Tinker, Tailor has broken-down cars, bad clothes, women with their own internal and external lives (!), pathetically primitive gadgets, and (contra Mad Men) hangovers that significantly longer than ten minutes. In fact, the main aspect that the mostly excellent 2011 film adaption doesn't really capture is the smoggy and run-down nature of 1970s London this is not your proto-Cool Britannia of Austin Powers or GTA:1969, the city is truly 'gritty' in the sense there is a thin film of dirt and grime on every surface imaginable. Another angle that the film cannot capture well is just how purposefully the novel does not mention the United States. Despite the US obviously being the dominant power, the British vacillate between pretending it doesn't exist or implying its irrelevance to the matter at hand. This is no mistake on Le Carr 's part, as careful readers are rewarded by finding this denial of US hegemony in metaphor throughout --pace Ian Fleming, there is no obvious Felix Leiter to loudly throw money at the problem or a Sheriff Pepper to serve as cartoon racist for the Brits to feel superior about. By contrast, I recall that a clever allusion to "dusty teabags" is subtly mirrored a few paragraphs later with a reference to the installation of a coffee machine in the office, likely symbolic of the omnipresent and unavoidable influence of America. (The officer class convince themselves that coffee is a European import.) Indeed, Le Carr communicates a feeling of being surrounded on all sides by the peeling wallpaper of Empire. Oftentimes, the writing style matches the graceless and inelegance of the world it depicts. The sentences are dense and you find your brain performing a fair amount of mid-flight sentence reconstruction, reparsing clauses, commas and conjunctions to interpret Le Carr 's intended meaning. In fact, in his eulogy-cum-analysis of Le Carr 's writing style, William Boyd, himself a ventrioquilist of Ian Fleming, named this intentional technique 'staccato'. Like the musical term, I suspect the effect of this literary staccato is as much about the impact it makes on a sentence as the imperceptible space it generates after it. Lastly, the large cast in this sprawling novel is completely believable, all the way from the Russian spymaster Karla to minor schoolboy Roach the latter possibly a stand-in for Le Carr himself. I got through the 500-odd pages in just a few days, somehow managing to hold the almost-absurdly complicated plot in my head. This is one of those classic books of the genre that made me wonder why I had not got around to it before.

The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead According to the judges who awarded it the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Nickel Boys is "a devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida" that serves as a "powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption". But whilst there is plenty of this perseverance and dignity on display, I found little redemption in this deeply cynical novel. It could almost be read as a follow-up book to Whitehead's popular The Underground Railroad, which itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Indeed, each book focuses on a young protagonist who might be euphemistically referred to as 'downtrodden'. But The Nickel Boys is not only far darker in tone, it feels much closer and more connected to us today. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that it is based on the story of the Dozier School in northern Florida which operated for over a century before its long history of institutional abuse and racism was exposed a 2012 investigation. Nevertheless, if you liked the social commentary in The Underground Railroad, then there is much more of that in The Nickel Boys:
Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.
Sardonic aper us of this kind are pretty relentless throughout the book, but it never tips its hand too far into on nihilism, especially when some of the visual metaphors are often first-rate: "An American flag sighed on a pole" is one I can easily recall from memory. In general though, The Nickel Boys is not only more world-weary in tenor than his previous novel, the United States it describes seems almost too beaten down to have the energy conjure up the Swiftian magical realism that prevented The Underground Railroad from being overly lachrymose. Indeed, even we Whitehead transports us a present-day New York City, we can't indulge in another kind of fantasy, the one where America has solved its problems:
The Daily News review described the [Manhattan restaurant] as nouveau Southern, "down-home plates with a twist." What was the twist that it was soul food made by white people?
It might be overly reductionist to connect Whitehead's tonal downshift with the racial justice movements of the past few years, but whatever the reason, we've ended up with a hard-hitting, crushing and frankly excellent book.

True Grit & No Country for Old Men Charles Portis & Cormac McCarthy It's one of the most tedious cliches to claim the book is better than the film, but these two books are of such high quality that even the Coen Brothers at their best cannot transcend them. I'm grouping these books together here though, not because their respective adaptations will exemplify some of the best cinema of the 21st century, but because of their superb treatment of language. Take the use of dialogue. Cormac McCarthy famously does not use any punctuation "I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that's it" but the conversations in No Country for Old Men together feel familiar and commonplace, despite being relayed through this unconventional technique. In lesser hands, McCarthy's written-out Texan drawl would be the novelistic equivalent of white rap or Jar Jar Binks, but not only is the effect entirely gripping, it helps you to believe you are physically present in the many intimate and domestic conversations that hold this book together. Perhaps the cinematic familiarity helps, as you can almost hear Tommy Lee Jones' voice as Sheriff Bell from the opening page to the last. Charles Portis' True Grit excels in its dialogue too, but in this book it is not so much in how it flows (although that is delightful in its own way) but in how forthright and sardonic Maddie Ross is:
"Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt." "One would be as unpleasant as the other."
Perhaps this should be unsurprising. Maddie, a fourteen-year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas, can barely fire her father's heavy pistol, so she can only has words to wield as her weapon. Anyway, it's not just me who treasures this book. In her encomium that presages most modern editions, Donna Tartt of The Secret History fame traces the novels origins through Huckleberry Finn, praising its elegance and economy: "The plot of True Grit is uncomplicated and as pure in its way as one of the Canterbury Tales". I've read any Chaucer, but I am inclined to agree. Tartt also recalls that True Grit vanished almost entirely from the public eye after the release of John Wayne's flimsy cinematic vehicle in 1969 this earlier film was, Tartt believes, "good enough, but doesn't do the book justice". As it happens, reading a book with its big screen adaptation as a chaser has been a minor theme of my 2020, including P. D. James' The Children of Men, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, John le Carr 's Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy and even a staged production of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol streamed from The Old Vic. For an autodidact with no academic background in literature or cinema, I've been finding this an effective and enjoyable means of getting closer to these fine books and films it is precisely where they deviate (or perhaps where they are deficient) that offers a means by which one can see how they were constructed. I've also found that adaptations can also tell you a lot about the culture in which they were made: take the 'straightwashing' in the film version of Strangers on a Train (1951) compared to the original novel, for example. It is certainly true that adaptions rarely (as Tartt put it) "do the book justice", but she might be also right to alight on a legal metaphor, for as the saying goes, to judge a movie in comparison to the book is to do both a disservice.

The Glass Hotel Emily St. John Mandel In The Glass Hotel, Mandel somehow pulls off the impossible; writing a loose roman- -clef on Bernie Madoff, a Ponzi scheme and the ephemeral nature of finance capital that is tranquil and shimmeringly beautiful. Indeed, don't get the wrong idea about the subject matter; this is no over over-caffeinated The Big Short, as The Glass Hotel is less about a Madoff or coked-up financebros but the fragile unreality of the late 2010s, a time which was, as we indeed discovered in 2020, one event away from almost shattering completely. Mandel's prose has that translucent, phantom quality to it where the chapters slip through your fingers when you try to grasp at them, and the plot is like a ghost ship that that slips silently, like the Mary Celeste, onto the Canadian water next to which the eponymous 'Glass Hotel' resides. Indeed, not unlike The Overlook Hotel, the novel so overflows with symbolism so that even the title needs to evoke the idea of impermanence permanently living in a hotel might serve as a house, but it won't provide a home. It's risky to generalise about such things post-2016, but the whole story sits in that the infinitesimally small distance between perception and reality, a self-constructed culture that is not so much 'post truth' but between them. There's something to consider in almost every character too. Take the stand-in for Bernie Madoff: no caricature of Wall Street out of a 1920s political cartoon or Brechtian satire, Jonathan Alkaitis has none of the oleaginous sleaze of a Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the cold sociopathy of a Marcus Halberstam nor the well-exercised sinuses of, say, Jordan Belford. Alkaitis is dare I say it? eminently likeable, and the book is all the better for it. Even the C-level characters have something to say: Enrico, trivially escaping from the regulators (who are pathetically late to the fraud without Mandel ever telling us explicitly), is daydreaming about the girlfriend he abandoned in New York: "He wished he'd realised he loved her before he left". What was in his previous life that prevented him from doing so? Perhaps he was never in love at all, or is love itself just as transient as the imaginary money in all those bank accounts? Maybe he fell in love just as he crossed safely into Mexico? When, precisely, do we fall in love anyway? I went on to read Mandel's Last Night in Montreal, an early work where you can feel her reaching for that other-worldly quality that she so masterfully achieves in The Glass Hotel. Her f ted Station Eleven is on my must-read list for 2021. "What is truth?" asked Pontius Pilate. Not even Mandel cannot give us the answer, but this will certainly do for now.

Running the Light Sam Tallent Although it trades in all of the clich s and stereotypes of the stand-up comedian (the triumvirate of drink, drugs and divorce), Sam Tallent's debut novel depicts an extremely convincing fictional account of a touring road comic. The comedian Doug Stanhope (who himself released a fairly decent No Encore for the Donkey memoir in 2020) hyped Sam's book relentlessly on his podcast during lockdown... and justifiably so. I ripped through Running the Light in a few short hours, the only disappointment being that I can't seem to find videos online of Sam that come anywhere close to match up to his writing style. If you liked the rollercoaster energy of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, the cynicism of George Carlin and the car-crash invertibility of final season Breaking Bad, check this great book out.

Non-fiction Inside Story Martin Amis This was my first introduction to Martin Amis's work after hearing that his "novelised autobiography" contained a fair amount about Christopher Hitchens, an author with whom I had a one of those rather clich d parasocial relationship with in the early days of YouTube. (Hey, it could have been much worse.) Amis calls his book a "novelised autobiography", and just as much has been made of its quasi-fictional nature as the many diversions into didactic writing advice that betwixt each chapter: "Not content with being a novel, this book also wants to tell you how to write novels", complained Tim Adams in The Guardian. I suspect that reviewers who grew up with Martin since his debut book in 1973 rolled their eyes at yet another demonstration of his manifest cleverness, but as my first exposure to Amis's gift of observation, I confess that I was thought it was actually kinda clever. Try, for example, "it remains a maddening truth that both sexual success and sexual failure are steeply self-perpetuating" or "a hospital gym is a contradiction like a young Conservative", etc. Then again, perhaps I was experiencing a form of nostalgia for a pre-Gamergate YouTube, when everything in the world was a lot simpler... or at least things could be solved by articulate gentlemen who honed their art of rhetoric at the Oxford Union. I went on to read Martin's first novel, The Rachel Papers (is it 'arrogance' if you are, indeed, that confident?), as well as his 1997 Night Train. I plan to read more of him in the future.

The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: Volume 1 & Volume 2 & Volume 3 & Volume 4 George Orwell These deceptively bulky four volumes contain all of George Orwell's essays, reviews and correspondence, from his teenage letters sent to local newspapers to notes to his literary executor on his deathbed in 1950. Reading this was part of a larger, multi-year project of mine to cover the entirety of his output. By including this here, however, I'm not recommending that you read everything that came out of Orwell's typewriter. The letters to friends and publishers will only be interesting to biographers or hardcore fans (although I would recommend Dorian Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell's 1984 first). Furthermore, many of his book reviews will be of little interest today. Still, some insights can be gleaned; if there is any inconsistency in this huge corpus is that his best work is almost 'too' good and too impactful, making his merely-average writing appear like hackwork. There are some gems that don't make the usual essay collections too, and some of Orwell's most astute social commentary came out of series of articles he wrote for the left-leaning newspaper Tribune, related in many ways to the US Jacobin. You can also see some of his most famous ideas start to take shape years if not decades before they appear in his novels in these prototype blog posts. I also read Dennis Glover's novelised account of the writing of Nineteen-Eighty Four called The Last Man in Europe, and I plan to re-read some of Orwell's earlier novels during 2021 too, including A Clergyman's Daughter and his 'antebellum' Coming Up for Air that he wrote just before the Second World War; his most under-rated novel in my estimation. As it happens, and with the exception of the US and Spain, copyright in the works published in his lifetime ends on 1st January 2021. Make of that what you will.

Capitalist Realism & Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class Mark Fisher & Owen Jones These two books are not natural companions to one another and there is likely much that Jones and Fisher would vehemently disagree on, but I am pairing these books together here because they represent the best of the 'political' books I read in 2020. Mark Fisher was a dedicated leftist whose first book, Capitalist Realism, marked an important contribution to political philosophy in the UK. However, since his suicide in early 2017, the currency of his writing has markedly risen, and Fisher is now frequently referenced due to his belief that the prevalence of mental health conditions in modern life is a side-effect of various material conditions, rather than a natural or unalterable fact "like weather". (Of course, our 'weather' is being increasingly determined by a combination of politics, economics and petrochemistry than pure randomness.) Still, Fisher wrote on all manner of topics, from the 2012 London Olympics and "weird and eerie" electronic music that yearns for a lost future that will never arrive, possibly prefiguring or influencing the Fallout video game series. Saying that, I suspect Fisher will resonate better with a UK audience more than one across the Atlantic, not necessarily because he was minded to write about the parochial politics and culture of Britain, but because his writing often carries some exasperation at the suppression of class in favour of identity-oriented politics, a viewpoint not entirely prevalent in the United States outside of, say, Tour F. Reed or the late Michael Brooks. (Indeed, Fisher is likely best known in the US as the author of his controversial 2013 essay, Exiting the Vampire Castle, but that does not figure greatly in this book). Regardless, Capitalist Realism is an insightful, damning and deeply unoptimistic book, best enjoyed in the warm sunshine I found it an ironic compliment that I had quoted so many paragraphs that my Kindle's copy protection routines prevented me from clipping any further. Owen Jones needs no introduction to anyone who regularly reads a British newspaper, especially since 2015 where he unofficially served as a proxy and punching bag for expressing frustrations with the then-Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. However, as the subtitle of Jones' 2012 book suggests, Chavs attempts to reveal the "demonisation of the working class" in post-financial crisis Britain. Indeed, the timing of the book is central to Jones' analysis, specifically that the stereotype of the "chav" is used by government and the media as a convenient figleaf to avoid meaningful engagement with economic and social problems on an austerity ridden island. (I'm not quite sure what the US equivalent to 'chav' might be. Perhaps Florida Man without the implications of mental health.) Anyway, Jones certainly has a point. From Vicky Pollard to the attacks on Jade Goody, there is an ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the 'chav' backlash, and that would be bad enough even if it was not being co-opted or criminalised for ideological ends. Elsewhere in political science, I also caught Michael Brooks' Against the Web and David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs, although they are not quite methodical enough to recommend here. However, Graeber's award-winning Debt: The First 5000 Years will be read in 2021. Matt Taibbi's Hate Inc: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another is worth a brief mention here though, but its sprawling nature felt very much like I was reading a set of Substack articles loosely edited together. And, indeed, I was.

The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing Ewan Clayton A recommendation from a dear friend, Ewan Clayton's The Golden Thread is a journey through the long history of the writing from the Dawn of Man to present day. Whether you are a linguist, a graphic designer, a visual artist, a typographer, an archaeologist or 'just' a reader, there is probably something in here for you. I was already dipping my quill into calligraphy this year so I suspect I would have liked this book in any case, but highlights would definitely include the changing role of writing due to the influence of textual forms in the workplace as well as digression on ergonomic desks employed by monks and scribes in the Middle Ages. A lot of books by otherwise-sensible authors overstretch themselves when they write about computers or other technology from the Information Age, at best resulting in bizarre non-sequiturs and dangerously Panglossian viewpoints at worst. But Clayton surprised me by writing extremely cogently and accurate on the role of text in this new and unpredictable era. After finishing it I realised why for a number of years, Clayton was a consultant for the legendary Xerox PARC where he worked in a group focusing on documents and contemporary communications whilst his colleagues were busy inventing the graphical user interface, laser printing, text editors and the computer mouse.

New Dark Age & Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life James Bridle & Adam Greenfield I struggled to describe these two books to friends, so I doubt I will suddenly do a better job here. Allow me to quote from Will Self's review of James Bridle's New Dark Age in the Guardian:
We're accustomed to worrying about AI systems being built that will either "go rogue" and attack us, or succeed us in a bizarre evolution of, um, evolution what we didn't reckon on is the sheer inscrutability of these manufactured minds. And minds is not a misnomer. How else should we think about the neural network Google has built so its translator can model the interrelation of all words in all languages, in a kind of three-dimensional "semantic space"?
New Dark Age also turns its attention to the weird, algorithmically-derived products offered for sale on Amazon as well as the disturbing and abusive videos that are automatically uploaded by bots to YouTube. It should, by rights, be a mess of disparate ideas and concerns, but Bridle has a flair for introducing topics which reveals he comes to computer science from another discipline altogether; indeed, on a four-part series he made for Radio 4, he's primarily referred to as "an artist". Whilst New Dark Age has rather abstract section topics, Adam Greenfield's Radical Technologies is a rather different book altogether. Each chapter dissects one of the so-called 'radical' technologies that condition the choices available to us, asking how do they work, what challenges do they present to us and who ultimately benefits from their adoption. Greenfield takes his scalpel to smartphones, machine learning, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, etc., and I don't think it would be unfair to say that starts and ends with a cynical point of view. He is no reactionary Luddite, though, and this is both informed and extremely well-explained, and it also lacks the lazy, affected and Private Eye-like cynicism of, say, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain. The books aren't a natural pair, for Bridle's writing contains quite a bit of air in places, ironically mimics the very 'clouds' he inveighs against. Greenfield's book, by contrast, as little air and much lower pH value. Still, it was more than refreshing to read two technology books that do not limit themselves to platitudinal booleans, be those dangerously naive (e.g. Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable) or relentlessly nihilistic (Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism). Sure, they are both anti-technology screeds, but they tend to make arguments about systems of power rather than specific companies and avoid being too anti-'Big Tech' through a narrower, Silicon Valley obsessed lens for that (dipping into some other 2020 reading of mine) I might suggest Wendy Liu's Abolish Silicon Valley or Scott Galloway's The Four. Still, both books are superlatively written. In fact, Adam Greenfield has some of the best non-fiction writing around, both in terms of how he can explain complicated concepts (particularly the smart contract mechanism of the Ethereum cryptocurrency) as well as in the extremely finely-crafted sentences I often felt that the writing style almost had no need to be that poetic, and I particularly enjoyed his fictional scenarios at the end of the book.

The Algebra of Happiness & Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life Scott Galloway & Nir Eyal A cocktail of insight, informality and abrasiveness makes NYU Professor Scott Galloway uncannily appealing to guys around my age. Although Galloway definitely has his own wisdom and experience, similar to Joe Rogan I suspect that a crucial part of Galloway's appeal is that you feel you are learning right alongside him. Thankfully, 'Prof G' is far less err problematic than Rogan (Galloway is more of a well-meaning, spirited centrist), although he, too, has some pretty awful takes at time. This is a shame, because removed from the whirlwind of social media he can be really quite considered, such as in this long-form interview with Stephanie Ruhle. In fact, it is this kind of sentiment that he captured in his 2019 Algebra of Happiness. When I look over my highlighted sections, it's clear that it's rather schmaltzy out of context ("Things you hate become just inconveniences in the presence of people you love..."), but his one-two punch of cynicism and saccharine ("Ask somebody who purchased a home in 2007 if their 'American Dream' came true...") is weirdly effective, especially when he uses his own family experiences as part of his story:
A better proxy for your life isn't your first home, but your last. Where you draw your last breath is more meaningful, as it's a reflection of your success and, more important, the number of people who care about your well-being. Your first house signals the meaningful your future and possibility. Your last home signals the profound the people who love you. Where you die, and who is around you at the end, is a strong signal of your success or failure in life.
Nir Eyal's Indistractable, however, is a totally different kind of 'self-help' book. The important background story is that Eyal was the author of the widely-read Hooked which turned into a secular Bible of so-called 'addictive design'. (If you've ever been cornered by a techbro wielding a Wikipedia-thin knowledge of B. F. Skinner's behaviourist psychology and how it can get you to click 'Like' more often, it ultimately came from Hooked.) However, Eyal's latest effort is actually an extended mea culpa for his previous sin and he offers both high and low-level palliative advice on how to avoid falling for the tricks he so studiously espoused before. I suppose we should be thankful to capitalism for selling both cause and cure. Speaking of markets, there appears to be a growing appetite for books in this 'anti-distraction' category, and whilst I cannot claim to have done an exhausting study of this nascent field, Indistractable argues its points well without relying on accurate-but-dry "studies show..." or, worse, Gladwellian gotchas. My main criticism, however, would be that Eyal doesn't acknowledge the limits of a self-help approach to this problem; it seems that many of the issues he outlines are an inescapable part of the alienation in modern Western society, and the only way one can really avoid distraction is to move up the income ladder or move out to a 500-acre ranch.

17 August 2017

Shirish Agarwal: Composers are not given due recognition

Update Some youtube links are not viewable or even seen on planet.debian.org. Seems p.d.o. tries its best to remove external links, sorry for the breakage. Beware some youtube-links would be shared in this entry, sorry couldn t find a better/easier media platform to work with. If anyone knows any other platform or wants to suggest, feel free to either mail me or let me know in comments. I want to start today s sharing with a picture of Ganesha I saw today. It is and was public art hence sharing it without an issue. Sketch of Ganesha/Ganapati This is starting of festivities time in India and Ganesha or Ganpati is looked up as a good omen in India. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi would be starting on the 25th of August and is a sight to behold. Just like Rio has its carnival, Ganesh Chaturthi is also a carnival. We also have parades where people come with Pandals (or temporary structures) The mythology says he has a sweet tooth (hence lot of distribution of sweets, especially modak) and anything which might be troubling people, he creates solutions for them. Here is one video of how people celebrate his immersion in India. This is from my home-town few years ago, every year the madness and the celebrations are becoming more and more. People from far off come to see how we celebrate and see how different people make their Pandals. While some are with music, others are with social messages. Usually people start going to see these structures after dusk and return home way after midnight or early morning. I hope to do this endeavour after many years. One is drunk from hearing all sorts of different kids of music, decoration, messages, a feast and a strain to all the senses. Ganesha immersion celebrations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjWfpGUryho If one is interested one can find more info. at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi After quite a bit of time, I wrote an article about various foss internships which I knew besides GSOC over the years. I finally penned them down at https://itsfoss.com/best-open-source-internships/ Interestingly, I was amazed to see that all FOSS U.S. projects (outside of GSOC) are for students who are either living or studying in U.S. and have a student work visa (which from private discussions I came to know is lot harder to get nowadays than before). Except for the National Science Foundation (NSF) which probably has U.S. defence relations and hence they might be sensitive, I fail to understand other institutes preferences for only getting people from the U.S. and hence having a lesser talent pool of people. This also affects the growth of the projects themselves. Just think how limited Debian would have been if it had decided to only have people from only any one community develop it. Dunno if this is due to the present President Trump or these policies had been there before. It would be nice and interesting if people in the know can share. What has also been interesting to watch is Mr. Trump blaming low-cost manufacturing centres like India and China when as far as I recall, lot of manufacturing, specifically auto-mobiles manufacturing was shifted out of the U.S. to Ireland and other places years before which are relatively high-cost places (at least compared to India). I *believe* the change was as early as in 1980 s itself where India was insulated and had a limited market for everything (similar to Russian communism as shown in popular media but not so bad.) Interestingly, it took almost a month for the perl 2.56 to make the transition smoothly. It took quite a bit of time for all the components to work together and be installable. Also saw this few days back http://fortune.com/2017/04/12/auto-industry-decline/ While Tesla is expensive even by American standards the idea of lesser parts, lesser complexity and hence lower costs to use, maintain is good. I do hope that he and his team or any of the competitors do overcome the significant challenges. Any significant improvement in battery technology is bound to have huge impact in almost everything that is used in 21st century. Two recent articles tell me the future may become present very quickly. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2017/Q2/instantly-rechargeable-battery-could-change-the-future-of-electric-and-hybrid-automobiles.html Toyota could finally start mass producing electric cars thanks to China I do hope to see EV being prevalent before the next decade is over otherwise we don t have any hope due to climate change. As for my health, I am much better than before. Just to share some stats, before my illness for lack of better word, I was 120 kgs. , when I was kept in the hospital for about 2-2.5 weeks I came down to 95 kgs. and now back upto 108 kgs. Do go for exercising every other day and trying to get back the strength, stamina and increasing a bit of both. Doctors have given me another 4-5 months after which a brain scan will reveal if there are any remaining blood clots in the brain or not. Lastly, while it has become somewhat of a sensitive issue to love Muslims or to talk about their work in any field in the current political climate, there are 4-5 music pieces I listen whenever I can, especially before going to bed. While almost all the pieces have been sung and written by Muslims, sadly I don t know who the composers of these beautiful songs are. While it is much easier to get the names of the singer and the lyricist, one of the more important roles in my view is the composer or/and music arranger. Without them, the songs would not have the same haunting quality that the songs have. While I have been lucky to find the names of the composer/music arranger for the pieces below but this is not the case if and when the songs comes on television. I do remember in old times at least on Radio they used to mention about who has given the music as well, dunno in modern times. I am sharing the songs, and hopefully will also share the translations if I find on the web, please see the lyrics. The numbering is for convenience only and am torn in these 4-5 songs which is the best. Just to share these are all sufi love songs except the last one which I am sharing. 1. Lyrical song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehqN6oTpmb8 Translation with video of song http://www.bollynook.com/en/lyrics/6443/aaj-din-chadheya/ While there probably are stories with each song, I was lucky to find the story about this one. The lyrics of the song are actually a love lost Punjabi poet who writes in the memory of his beloved to which he could not marry and he pens those when standing in line for his liquor. The story goes on that he marries a girl later in life who bears a resemblance to his beloved whom he couldn t forget till his dying day. 2. Lyrical song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTC_2c83qn0 The same song has been sung by different people and I love them all the more for it. Another video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G7Qg4LJ7WE Another video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOsvNuR3m5Y Translation http://www.bollynook.com/en/lyrics/10703/o-re-piya/ 3. Lyrical song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG7Kms_YA5Q The translation http://www.filmyquotes.com/songs/885 The translation of the song is a bit crude but then translations are supposed to be crude  Anyways, the above song is what would be called a perfect Sufi song. I hope people enjoy the longing and the silence which follows this piece. Another classic one 4. Lyrical song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ube5XhN_lpM English translation http://www.ardhamy.com/song/aye-dil-e-naadan While the song is from the movie Razia Sultana and was a flop as the movie was about Race and controversial then as it probably would be now. As seen in the other songs of the same genre, it has strands of longing, loneliness as seen of the above. 5. Lyrical song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv242qOnHJA This one is not a sufi song but I love all the women and the girls and the way they enhanced the song. I dunno how much they must have practised as it s a very fast and peppy song and doesn t give time to the singer to breathe except for that one section which has a bit of Carnatic music. At the very end I would like to share http://www.globalrhythm.net/ I have found some interesting sounds on the site. Hope the site enriches you as well. FWIW I have no links with the site except as somebody who likes to diversify his music listening. Lastly, for a long period of time, I had been hearing the criticism, especially for FOSS games that they don t have AAA quality assets. Recently I came across a game called Starship Theory (sadly its only for MS-Windows) Game video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imaL2pjNURg You look at the game and see the number of videos the guy has made. What FOSS game developers can learn from this, you don t need high-end 2.5/3d models, clipart will do but need depth in gameplay which can make FOSS games be popular and also earn a pretty bundle. I do hope some FOSS game upstream developers take note and use that game s inspiration to bring more depth. That doesn t mean games like 0ad are not liked by people but it takes huge amount of time and resources. 0ad video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHx5XBtypcQ Hope you have a good time with all the ideas, anecdotes and videos I shared above.
Filed under: Miscellenous Tagged: #FOSS Internships, #Ganesh Chaturthi, #Ganeshji, #planet-debian, #Sufi Bollywood Music, FOSS, FOSS games, politics

22 December 2016

Shirish Agarwal: The wine and dine at debconf16

For the wine connoisseur

FOR the Wine Connoisseur

All photos courtesy KK . If any deviations, would put up labels sharing whose copyright it is. Before I get into all of that, I was curious about Canada and taking the opportunity of debconf happening there in a few months, asked few people what they thought of digital payments, fees and expenses in their country and if plastic cash is indeed used therein. The first to answer was Tyler McDonald (no idea if he is anyway related to the fast-food chain McDonalds which is a worldwide operation.) This is what he had to say/share
You can use credit / debit cards almost everywhere. Restaurant waiters also usually have wireless credit / debit terminals that they will bring to your table for you to settle your bill. How much your bank charges depends on your Canadian bank and the banking plan you are on. For instance, on my plan through the Bank Of Montreal, I get (I think) 20 free transactions a month and then after that I m charged $0.50CDN/piece. However, if I go to a Bank Of Montreal ATM and withdraw cash, there is no service fee for that. There is no service fee for using *credit* cards, only *debit* cards tend to have the fee. I live in a really rural area so I can t always get to a Bank Of Montreal machine for cash. So what I usually end up doing, is either pay by credit and then pay of the balance right away so I don t have to pay interest, or when I do use my bank card to pay for something, I ask if I can get cash back as well. Yes, Canada converted to plastic notes a few years ago. We ve also eliminated the penny. For cashless transactions, you pay the exact amount billed. If you re paying somebody in cash, it is rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. And for $1 or $2, instead of notes, we ve moved over to coins. I personally like the plastic notes. They re smoother and feel more durable than the paper notes. I ve had one go through a laundry load by accident and it came out the other side fine.
Another gentleman responded with slightly more information which probably would interest travellers from around the world, not just Indians
Quebec has its own interbank system called Interac (https://interac.ca/en/about/our-company.html). Quebec is a very proud and independent region and for many historical reasons they want to stand on their own, which is why they support their local systems. Some vendors will support only Interac for debit card transactions (at least this was the case when I stayed there the beginning of this decade, it might have changed a bit). *Most* vendors (including supermarkets like Provigo, Metro, etc) will accept major credit and debit cards, although MasterCard isn t accepted as widely there as Visa is. So, if you have one of both, load up your Visa card instead of your MasterCard or get a prepaid Visa card from your bank. They support chip cards everywhere so don t worry about that. If you have a 5 digit pin on any of your cards and a vendor asks you for a 4 digit pin, it will work 90%+ of the times if you just enter the first 4 digits, but it s usually a good idea to go change your pin to a 4 digit just to be safe.
From the Indian perspective all of the above fits pretty neat as we also have Pin and Chip cards (domestically though most ATMs still use the magnetic strip and is suspected that the POS terminals aren t any better.) That would be a whole different story so probably left for another day. I do like the bit about pocketing the change tip. As far as number of free transactions go, it was pretty limited in India for few years before the demonetization happening now. Few years before, I do remember doing as many transactions on the ATM as I please but then ATM s have seen a downward spiral in terms of technology upgradation, maintenance etc. There is no penalty to the bank if the ATM is out-of-order. If there was significant penalty then we probably would have seen banks taking more care of ATM s. It is a slightly more complex topic hence would take a stab at it some other day. Do hope though that the terms for ATM usage for bank customers become lenient similar to Canada otherwise it would be difficult for Indians to jump on the digital band-wagon as you cannot function without cheap, user-friendly technology. Cash machines: Uneven spread, slowing growth - Copyright Indian Express The image has been taken from this fascinating article which appeared in Indian Express couple of days back. Coming back to the cheese and wine in the evening. I think we started coming back from Eagle Encounters around 16:30/17:00 hrs Cape Town time. Somehow the ride back was much more faster and we played some Bollywood party music while coming back (all cool). Suddenly remembered that I had to buy some cheese as I hadn t bought any from India. There is quite a bit of a post where I m trying to know/understand if spices can be smuggled (which much later I learnt I didn t need to but that s a different story altogether), I also had off-list conversations with people about cheese as well but wasn t able to get any good recommendations. Then saw that KK bought Mysore Pak (apparently she took a chance not declaring it) which while not being exactly cheese fit right into things. In her own words a South Indian ghee sweet fondly nicknamed the blocks of cholesterol and reason #3 for bypass surgery . KK So with Leonard s help we stopped at a place where it looked like a chain of stores. Each store was selling something. Seeing that, I was immediately transported to Connaught Place, Delhi Connaught Place, Delhi The image comes from http://planetden.com/food/roundabout-world-connaught-place-delhi which attempts to explain Connaught Place. While the article is okish, it lacks soul and not written like a Delhite would write or anybody who has spent a chunk having spent holidays at CP. Another day, another story, sorry. What I found interesting about the stores while they were next to each other, I also eyed an alcohol shop as well as an Adult/Sex shop. I asked Leonard as to how far we were from UCT and he replied hardly 5 minutes by car and was shocked to see both alcohol and a sex shop. While an alcohol shop some distance away from a college is understandable, there are few and far around Colleges all over India, but adult shops are a rarity. Unfortunately, none of us have any photos of the place as till that time everybody s phone was dead or just going to be dead and nobody had thought to bring a portable power pack to juice our mobile devices. A part of me was curious to see what the sex shop would have and look from inside, but as was with younger people didn t think it was appropriate. All of us except Jaminy and someone else (besides Leonard) decided to stay back, while the rest of us went inside to explore the stores. It took me sometime to make my way to the cheese corner and had no idea which was good and which wasn t. So with no idea of brands therein, the only way to figure out was the pricing. So bought two, one a larger 500 gm cheap piece and a smaller slightly more expensive one just to make sure that the Debian cheese team would be happy. We did have a mini-adventure as for sometime Jaminy was missing, apparently she went goofing off or went to freshen up or something and we were unable to connect with her as all our phones were dead or dying. Eventually we came back to UCT, barely freshened up when it was decided by our group to go and give our share of goodies to the cheese and wine party. When I went up to the room to share the cheese, came to know they needed a volunteer for cutting veggies etc. Having spent years seeing Yan Can Cook and having practised quite a bit tried to do some fancy decoration and some julian cutting but as we got dull knives and not much time, just did some plain old cutting
The salads

The Salads, partly done by me.

I have to share I had a fascinating discussion about cooking in Pressure Cookers. I was under the assumption that everybody knows how to use Pressure Cookers as they are one of the simplest ways to cook food without letting go of all the nutrients. At least, I believe this to be predominant in the Asian subcontinent and even the chinese have similar vessels for cooking. I use what is called the first generation Pressure Cooker. I have been using a 1.5 l Prestige Pressure Cooker over half a decade, almost used daily without issues. http://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Nakshatra-Aluminium-Pressure-Cooker/dp/B00CB7U1OU
Prestige 1.5 L Pressure Cooker

1.5 Litre Pressure Cooker with gasket and everything.

There are also induction pressure cookers nowadays in the Indian market and this model https://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Deluxe-Induction-Aluminum-Pressure/dp/B01KZVPNGE/ref=sr_1_2
Induction base cooking for basmati rice

Best cooker for doing Basmati Biryanis and things like that.

Basmati is long-grain, aromatic rice which most families used in very special occasions such as festivals, marriages, anything good and pure is associated with the rice. I had also shared my lack of knowledge of industrial Microwave Ovens. While I do get most small Microwave Ovens like these , cooking in industrial ovens I simply have no clue. Anyways, after that conversation I went back, freshened up a bit and sometime later found myself in the middle of this
Collection of Wine Bottles

Random selection of wine bottles from all over the world.

Also at times found myself in middle of this
Chocolates all around me.

CHOCOLATES

I tried quite a few chocolates but the best one I liked (don t remember the name) was a white caramel chocolate which literally melted into my mouth. Got the whole died and went to heaven experience . Who said gluttony is bad Or this
French Bread, Wine and chaos

French Bread, Wine and chaos

As can be seen the French really enjoy their bread. I do remember a story vaguely (don t remember if it was a children s fairy tale or something) about how the French won a war through their french bread. Or this
Juices for those who love their health

Juices for those who love their health

We also had juices for the teetotaller or who can t handle drinks. Unsurprisingly perhaps, by the end of the session, almost all the different wines were finito while there was still some juices left to go around. From the Indian perspective, it wasn t at all exciting, there were no brawls, everybody was too civilized and everybody staggered off when they met their quota. As I was in holiday spirit, stayed up late, staggered to my room, blissed out and woke up without any headache. Pro tip Drink lots and lots and lots of water especially if you are drinking. It flushes out most of the toxins and also helps in not having after-morning headaches. If I m going drinking, I usually drown myself in at least a litre or two of water, even if I had to the bathroom couple of times before going to bed. All in all, a perfect evening. I was able to connect/talk with some of the gods whom I had wanted to for a long time and they actually listened. Don t remember if I mumbled something or made some sense in small-talk or whatever I did. But as shared, a perfect evening
Filed under: Miscellenous Tagged: #ATM usage, #Canada, #Cheese and Wine party, #Cheese shopping, #Connaught Place Delhi, #Debconf16, #Debit card, #French bread, #Julian cutting, #Mysore Pak, #white caramel chocolate

20 July 2016

Shirish Agarwal: Debconf 16 and My Experience with Debian

It has been often said that you should continually try new things in life so that a. Unlike the fish you do not mistake the pond to be the sea. b. You see other people, other types and ways of living and being which you normally won t in your day-to-day existence. With both of those as mantras I decided to take a leap into the unknown. I was unsure both about the visa process as well as the travel bit as I was traveling to an unknown place and although I had done some research about the place I was unsure about the authenticity of whatever is/was shared on the web. During the whole journey both to and fro, I couldn t sleep a wink. The Doha airport is huge. There are 5 Concourses, A, B , C, D, E and around 30+ gates in each Concourse. The ambition of the small state is something to be reckoned with. Almost 95% of the blue workers in the entire airport were of Asian sub-continent. While the Qatari Rial is 19 times stronger to us, the workers I suspect are worse-off than people doing similar things back home. Add to that the sharia law, even for all the money in the world, I wouldn t want to settle therein. Anyways, during the journey, a small surprise awaited me, Ritesh Raj Saraff, a DD was also traveling to Debconf. We bumped into each other while going to see the Doha City, courtesy Al-Hamad International Airport. I would probably share a bit more about Doha and my experiences with the city in upcoming posts. Cut to Cape Town, South Africa, we landed in the city half an hour after our scheduled time and then we sped along to University of Cape Town (UCT) which was to become our home for the next 13 odd days. The first few days were a whirlwind as there were new people to meet, old people whom I knew only as an e-mail id or an IRC nickname turned out to be real people and you have to try to articulate yourself in English, which is not a native language of mine. During Debcamp I was fortunate to be able visit some of the places and the wiki page had a lot of places which I knew I wouldn t be able to complete unless I had 15 days unlimited time and money to go around so didn t even try. I had gone with few goals in mind :- a. Do some documentation of the event In this I failed completely as just the walk from the venue to where the talks were energy-draining for me. Apart from that, you get swept in meeting new people and talking about one of million topics in Debian which interest you or the other person and while they are fulfilling, it is and was both physically and emotionally draining for me (in a good way). Bernelle (one of the organizers) had warned us of this phenomenon but you disregard it as you know you have a limited time-frame in which to meet and greet people and it is all a over-whelming experience. b. Another goal was to meet my Indian brethren who had left the country around 60~100 years mostly as slaves of East India company In this I was partially successful. I met a couple of beautiful ladies who had either a father or a mother who was Indian while the other was of African heritage. It seemed in them a yearning to know the culture but from what little they had, only Bollywood and Indian cuisine was what they could make of Indian culture. One of the girls, ummm women to be more truer, shared a somewhat grim tale. She had both an African boyfriend as well as Indian boyfriend in her life and in both cases, she was rejected by the boy s parents because she wasn t pure enough. This was deja vu all over again as the same thing can be seen here happening in casteism so there wasn t any advice I could give but just nod in empathy. What was sort of relevation was when their parents or grandparents came, the name and surnames were thrown off and the surname was just the place from where they belong. From the discussions it emerged that there were also lot of cases of forced conversions to Christianity during that era as well as temptations of a better life. As shared, this goal succeeded partially, as I was actually interested in their parents or grand-parents to know the events that shaped the Indian diaspora over there. While the children know only of today, yester-years could only be known by those people who made the unwilling perilous journey to Africa. I had also wanted to know more about Gandhiji s role in that era but alas, that part of history would have to wait for another day as I guess, both those goals would only have met had I visited Durban but that was not to be. I had applied for one talk My Experience with Debian and one workshop for Installation of Debian on systems. The My Experience with Debian was aimed at newbies and I had thought of using show-and-tell to share the differences between proprietary Operating Systems and a FOSS distribution such as Debian. I was going to take simple things such as changelogs, apt-listbugs, real-time knowledge of updates and upgrades as well as /etc/apt/sources.list to share both the versatility of the Debian desktop and real improvements than what proprietary Operating Systems had to offer. But I found myself engaging with Debian Developers (DD s) rather than the newbies so had to change the orientation and fundamentals of the talk on the fly. I knew or suspected rather that the old idea would not work as it would just be repeating to the choir. With that in the back of mind, and the idea that perhaps they would not be so aware of the politics and events which happened in India over the last couple of decades, I tried to share what little I was able to recollect what little I was able to remember about those times. Apart from that, I was also highly conscious that I had been given just the before lunch slot aka You are in the way of my lunch slot. So I knew I had to speak my piece as quickly as possible being as clear as can be. Later, I did get feedback that I was fast and seeing it through couple of times, do agree that I could have done a better job. What s done is done and the only thing I could do to salvage it a bit is to make a presentation which I am sharing as below. my_experience_with_debian Would be nice if somebody could come up with a lighter template for presentations. For reference the template I have taken it from is shared at https://wiki.debian.org/Presentations . Some pictures from the presentation. vlcsnap-00004 me_sharing my_experience_with_debian You can find the video at http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2016/debconf16/My_Experience_with_Debian.webm This is by no means the end of the Debconf16 experience, but actually the starting. I hope to share more of my thoughts, ideas and get as much feedback from all the wonderful people I met during Debconf.
Filed under: Miscellenous Tagged: #Debconf16, Doha, My talk, Qatar

11 June 2016

Shirish Agarwal: The road to debconf 2016, tourism and arts.

A longish blog post, please bear, a second part of the blog post would be published in few days from now. My fixed visa finally arrived, yeah:) But this story doesn t start here, it starts about a year back. While I have been contributing to Debian in my free time over the years, and sometimes paid time as well, I had never thought of going overseas as the experiences I knew from friends and relatives, it isn t easy to get all the permissions and paperwork done to say the least (bureaucracy @ work). But last year, when Debconf 15 was being launched, there are/were 2-3 friends of mine who are studying, doing their Ph.D. in some computer/web stuff, living in Germany currently that they goaded me to apply. The first few times I gave some standard excuses, but when they kept on for a while, just to shut them up I applied to the debconf team applying for food, accommodation and travel sponsorship. I didn t have high hopes as there obviously are many more talented peers around me who understand FOSS and Debian at a much more fundamental, philosophical as well as technical level than me. Much to my surprise though, about a month (and around two or three weeks just before the event was about to take place) I got the bursary/sponsorships for food, accommodation as well as travel. I was unsure that the remaining time was enough to get a visa hence declined that time around. That whole episode gave me the confidence that perhaps my application would be accepted if I applied again. Using my previous years understanding, decided to give it a shot again as this would also enable me to get a feel of visa bureaucracy as well as gain a bit of novice understanding about what factors go in choosing a flight and believe me the latter part proved to be pretty confusing. While the visa business seems easy, the form at least is easy and what they ask, it can be troublesome as far as visa-processing process is concerned. It took a better part of the month to get the visa which I needed. The in-between time is and can be a bit stressful as you have committed funds for travel i.e. the airline tickets and are in a limbo as you didn t know that if the visa is cancelled for some reason, your tickets would be refunded or not. A little history is needed and hopefully is helpful for anybody who s applying for a short-stay Visa in South Africa. Exactly, A month and day back I had applied for visa. The visa I had applied for is 17 days as the flights within my budget was for those days only. The visa I got was for 10 days only which was ending in the middle of the conference. I tried many avenues to get information and was told that I needed to write a correction letter telling/sharing the information about the correct time period and dates in BOLD with a heavier weight/point which is what I did and gave to VFS office without any further payment on my part. It took a bit more time than the first time around but the consulate co-operated. While I can understand the oversight as they probably get more visas requests along with special and urgent requests so such occurrences can happen. I am and was happy that there was a recourse rather than starting from scratch which probably would have made me more anxious due to the first experience . Apparently I was lucky that I had done with Qatar Airways as later came to know that there are other airways which don t refund money even after visa rejection . This information I got to know pretty late in the game otherwise I wouldn t have been much stressed. As had committed knew had to go the whole hog and whatever barriers are there, have overcome at least as far as the visa part/process is concerned. Now after few days, will probably start to worry about the actual travel, part nervousness, part excitement, nervousness as it will be an alien land, am obese so traveling economy on 787-8 and 777-300 ER will be tricky. The 787-8 will probably be a rough ride as it s a 9 hr. journey and the seat are a mere 18 , the cattle class as shared by one of our esteemed politicians. This blame has to do with Boeing 787 rather than anybody else. Hopefully, if there is a next time, would make better choices. Anyways,have selected an aisle seat so that will be able to walk every hr. or so to get the circulation in legs going as leg room in economy is not much from my domestic air travel experiences. If I do survive the travel, then will see South Africa and try to get some free time and explore South Africa and try to figure out how are they able to get one and half time tourists while we get around half figure for a whole year even though we are bigger (area-wise) to South Africa. I did find something positive for us as well, it s not all doldrums all around. Now, I had been thinking about if I know any South African music and movies. I had explored djembe while growing up in teens but other than that, not much. The only music I have heard is Harry Belafonte . So I hope to bring some Indian movies and music with me so that people if they have not explored Bollywood as well as Indian classical music could explore some of it, of course it will be pale imitation of what Sawai Gandharva Music Festival for instance gives. I also hope to hear and get some music and movies to learn more about South Africa.
Filed under: Miscellenous Tagged: #bollywood, #Debconf Germany 2015, #Debconf South Africa 2016, #Debconf15, #Debconf16, #djembe, #South-African consulate, music, tourism, visa

1 February 2016

Lunar: Reproducible builds: week 40 in Stretch cycle

What happened in the reproducible builds effort between January 24th and January 30th:

Media coverage Holger Levsen was interviewed by the FOSDEM team to introduce his talk on Sunday 31st.

Toolchain fixes Jonas Smedegaard uploaded d-shlibs/0.63 which makes the order of dependencies generated by d-devlibdeps stable accross locales. Original patch by Reiner Herrmann.

Packages fixed The following 53 packages have become reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: appstream-glib, aptitude, arbtt, btrfs-tools, cinnamon-settings-daemon, cppcheck, debian-security-support, easytag, gitit, gnash, gnome-control-center, gnome-keyring, gnome-shell, gnome-software, graphite2, gtk+2.0, gupnp, gvfs, gyp, hgview, htmlcxx, i3status, imms, irker, jmapviewer, katarakt, kmod, lastpass-cli, libaccounts-glib, libam7xxx, libldm, libopenobex, libsecret, linthesia, mate-session-manager, mpris-remote, network-manager, paprefs, php-opencloud, pisa, pyacidobasic, python-pymzml, python-pyscss, qtquick1-opensource-src, rdkit, ruby-rails-html-sanitizer, shellex, slony1-2, spacezero, spamprobe, sugar-toolkit-gtk3, tachyon, tgt. The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed: Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues, but not all of them:
  • gnubg/1.05.000-4 by Russ Allbery.
  • grcompiler/4.2-6 by Hideki Yamane.
  • sdlgfx/2.0.25-5 fix by Felix Geyer, uploaded by Gianfranco Costamagna.
Patches submitted which have not made their way to the archive yet:
  • #812876 on glib2.0 by Lunar: ensure that functions are sorted using the C locale when giotypefuncs.c is generated.

diffoscope development diffoscope 48 was released on January 26th. It fixes several issues introduced by the retrieval of extra symbols from Debian debug packages. It also restores compatibility with older versions of binutils which does not support readelf --decompress.

strip-nondeterminism development strip-nondeterminism 0.015-1 was uploaded on January 27th. It fixes handling of signed JAR files which are now going to be ignored to keep the signatures intact.

Package reviews 54 reviews have been removed, 36 added and 17 updated in the previous week. 30 new FTBFS bugs have been submitted by Chris Lamb, Michael Tautschnig, Mattia Rizzolo, Tobias Frost.

Misc. Alexander Couzens and Bryan Newbold have been busy fixing more issues in OpenWrt. Version 1.6.3 of FreeBSD's package manager pkg(8) now supports SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH. Ross Karchner did a lightning talk about reproducible builds at his work place and shared the slides.

12 January 2016

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (November and December 2015)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

15 November 2015

Lunar: Reproducible builds: week 29 in Stretch cycle

What happened in the reproducible builds effort this week: Toolchain fixes Emmanuel Bourg uploaded eigenbase-resgen/1.3.0.13768-2 which uses of the scm-safe comment style by default to make them deterministic. Mattia Rizzolo started a new thread on debian-devel to ask a wider audience for issues about the -Wdate-time compile time flag. When enabled, GCC and clang print warnings when __DATE__, __TIME__, or __TIMESTAMP__ are used. Having the flag set by default would prompt maintainers to remove these source of unreproducibility from the sources. Packages fixed The following packages have become reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: bmake, cyrus-imapd-2.4, drobo-utils, eigenbase-farrago, fhist, fstrcmp, git-dpm, intercal, libexplain, libtemplates-parser, mcl, openimageio, pcal, powstatd, ruby-aggregate, ruby-archive-tar-minitar, ruby-bert, ruby-dbd-odbc, ruby-dbd-pg, ruby-extendmatrix, ruby-rack-mobile-detect, ruby-remcached, ruby-stomp, ruby-test-declarative, ruby-wirble, vtprint. The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed: Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues, but not all of them: Patches submitted which have not made their way to the archive yet: reproducible.debian.net The fifth and sixth armhf build nodes have been set up, resulting in five more builder jobs for armhf. More than 10,000 packages have now been identified as reproducible with the reproducible toolchain on armhf. (Vagrant Cascadian, h01ger) Helmut Grohne and Mattia Rizzolo now have root access on all 12 build nodes used by reproducible.debian.net and jenkins.debian.net. (h01ger) reproducible-builds.org is now linked from all package pages and the reproducible.debian.net dashboard. (h01ger) profitbricks-build5-amd64 and profitbricks-build6-amd64, responsible for running amd64 tests now run 398.26 days in the future. This means that one of the two builds that are being compared will be run on a different minute, hour, day, month, and year. This is not yet the case for armhf. FreeBSD tests are also done with 398.26 days difference. (h01ger) The design of the Arch Linux test page has been greatly improved. (Levente Polyak) diffoscope development Three releases of diffoscope happened this week numbered 39 to 41. It includes support for EPUB files (Reiner Herrmann) and Free Pascal unit files, usually having .ppu as extension (Paul Gevers). The rest of the changes were mostly targetting at making it easier to run diffoscope on other systems. The tlsh, rpm, and debian modules are now all optional. The test suite will properly skip tests that need optional tools or modules when they are not available. As a result, diffosope is now available on PyPI and thanks to the work of Levente Polyak in Arch Linux. Getting these versions in Debian was a bit cumbersome. Version 39 was uploaded with an expired key (according to the keyring on ftp.debian.org which will hopefully be updated soon) which is currently handled by keeping the files in the queue without REJECTing them. This prevented any other Debian Developpers to upload the same version. Version 40 was uploaded as a source-only upload but failed to build from source which had the undesirable side effect of removing the previous version from unstable. The package faild to build from source because it was built passing -I to debbuild. This excluded the ELF object files and static archives used by the test suite from the archive, preventing the test suite to work correctly. Hopefully, in a nearby future it will be possible to implement a sanity check to prevent such mistakes in the future. It has also been identified that ppudump outputs time in the system timezone without considering the TZ environment variable. Zachary Vance and Paul Gevers raised the issue on the appropriate channels. strip-nondeterminism development Chris Lamb released strip-nondeterminism version 0.014-1 which disables stripping Mono binaries as it is too aggressive and the source of the problem is being worked on by Mono upstream. Package reviews 133 reviews have been removed, 115 added and 103 updated this week. Chris West and Chris Lamb reported 57 new FTBFS bugs. Misc. The video of h01ger and Chris Lamb's talk at MiniDebConf Cambridge is now available. h01ger gave a talk at CCC Hamburg on November 13th, which was well received and sparked some interest among Gentoo folks. Slides and video should be available shortly. Frederick Kautz has started to revive Dhiru Kholia's work on testing Fedora packages. Your editor wish to once again thank #debian-reproducible regulars for reviewing these reports weeks after weeks.

11 November 2015

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (September and October 2015)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

8 September 2013

Paul Tagliamonte: libolla (src:olla) in experimental

It s been a long time since I last talked about libolla, but it s one of those things I use everywhere and never bothered to
package up and upload. Well. I packaged it. And uploaded it. Finally. Now, let s look at the new quickstart guide: (this assumes you use bash, since I decided to abuse bash_completions to insert an LD_PRELOAD. I know this is gross, but I totally need a better idea) Now, look on in dumbfounded obviousness as I show you what doesn t work:
$ ssh master.d.o
ssh: Could not resolve hostname master.d.o: Name or service not known
Sadsies. Now, let s make it work:
$ ssh master.d.o whoami
ssh: Could not resolve hostname master.d.o: Name or service not known
$ sudo apt-get install -t experimental olla
# (restart your terminal)
$ ssh master.d.o whoami
paultag
Thank you, thank you! I ll be here all week! Anyway. Have fun, kids! Remember, hacks are fun!

22 January 2013

Matthew Palmer: When is a guess not a guess?

when it s a prediction . In the 4th January edition of the Guardian Weekly , the front page story, entitled Meet the world s new boomers 1 contained this little gem:
Back in 2006, [PricewaterhouseCoopers] made some forecasts about what the global economy might look like in 2050, and it has now updated the predictions in the light of the financial crisis and its aftermath.
Delightful. They made some forecasts about what the global economy might look like. Given that they clearly didn t include any impact of the GFC in their forecasts, it clearly wasn t a particularly accurate forecast. Y know what an inaccurate prediction is called? Guesswork. Let s call a spade a spade here. I see this all the time, and it s starting to shit me. People making predictions and forecasts and projections hither and yon, and they re almost always complete bollocks, and they never get called on it. I read the Greater Fool blog now and then, and that blog is chock full of examples of people making predictions which have very little chance of being in any way accurate. While Dr Ben Goldacre and others are making inroads into requiring full disclosure in clinical trials, I m not aware of anyone taking a similar stand against charlatans making dodgy-as-hell predictions over and over again, with the sole purpose of getting attention, without any responsibility for the accuracy of those predictions. Is anyone aware of anyone doing work in this area, or do I need to register badpredictions.net and start calling out dodginess?

31 December 2012

Benjamin Mako Hill: Freedom for Users, Not for Software

I finally published a short essay I wrote about a year ago: Freedom for Users, Not for Software. Anybody who has hung around the free software community for a while will be familiar with the confusion created by the ambiguity between "free as in price" versus "free as freedom." In the essay I argue that there is a less appreciated semantic ambiguity that arises when we begin to think that what matters is that software is free. Software doesn't need freedom, of course; Users of software need freedom. My essay looks at how the focus on free software, as opposed to on free users, has created challenges and divisions in the free software movement. The essay was recently published in Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, a book edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich and published by Levellers Press. The book includes essays by 73 authors that include some other folks from the free software and free culture communities along with a ton of people working on very different types of commons. My essay is short and has two parts: The first is basically a short introduction to free software movement. The second lays out what I see as major challenges for free software. I will point out that these are some of the areas that I am working most closely with the FSF who are having their annual fundraiser at the moment to support and build advocacy programs around.

28 December 2011

Paul Tagliamonte: libolla (from the useless script department)

Hello, World! Today s hacks come remotely, on the first day of my long trek to Cleveland. As many debian readers know, debian URLs are usually transmitted over IRC or email with some snappy abbreviations. Usually, you ll see something like:
Feel free to check out information about frob at wiki.d.o/Frob
or something like:
I have uploaded package bar onto mentors.d.n for review
What bugs me most about this is that I have to expand URLs by hand. Which is lame. Enter libolla (a fitting name as well as a graceful nod to my alma mater John Carroll University s crest). When LD_PRELOAD d, it ll intercept and expand calls to getaddrinfo transparently. It seems to work fine on SSH, and chrome (but I can t test well, since I m not on a real line). This was all hacked up in a few hours I had to spare, and without any sort of internet love, so I m willing to bet there are some bits that can be cleaned up (after all, the name of the blog is Peace, Love and C++ , not Peace, Love and C - I don t clam to be a c expert ;) ) So, feel free to fork the project on github (or as I can now do - http://g.c/paultag/libolla) Now, I just need to find a way to globally pre-load this for apps that I start in my DE. Should be easy enough fiddling with some env-var files.

18 April 2011

Steve McIntyre: Lies, damn lies and voting system lies

So we're just over 2 weeks away from our next set of local elections in the UK (May 5th), and alongside those elections we're also being asked about switching to a new voting system for future elections. For a long time we've used the simple First Past The Post (FPTP) system here, but now we have the possbility of moving to Alternative Vote (AV) instead. First Past The Post FPTP is simple to understand - the person who receives more votes than any single other person wins. But that simplicity is the only good thing, and there are many problems with it. It's unfair: in an election with 10 candidate, it's possible for a winner to have just 11% of the vote, even in the case where the other 89% of voters would consider them to be the worst option. It's also very susceptible to tactical voting, leading to nasty tactics in parties' election literature like claiming "party foo cannot win here, so don't waste your vote on them - vote for us instead!". See this Wikipedia article for more background. Alternative Vote AV is slightly more complicated. Instead of just placing a mark against their single preferred candidate, voters are able to rank as many of the candidates as they like. In the case that there is not a clear winner with more than 50% of the votes from the initial count, the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and second-choice votes from their supporters are counted and re-distributed for the other candidates. Iterate this process until one candidate gets more than 50% of the total votes. By re-calculating the votes this way, supporters of less popular candidates / parties should no longer feel the pressure to vote tactically and a more accurate picture of voter intention should emerge. The downsides? AV will tend to lead to slower, more expensive counting due to the potential for several rounds. It's still not real proportional voting, but it's better than FPTP in this regard. Again, Wikipedia has a good article about this subject. Other options? I'd be much happier to see discussion / trials of other voting systems. For example, Debian uses a variation on Condorcet called Cloneproof Schwartz Sequential Dropping which is an excellent system for fair voting, but it's very difficult to explain and counting votes is comparatively very expensive. It's bad enough getting ostensibly-intelligent Debian developers to understand this system; extending this to a national election would be impossible in my opinion. It's also not an option on the ballot here... :-) Politicians spreading lies I know this won't come as a major shock for a nationwide referendum, but there's a lot of campaigning going on. And, in the best traditions of political campaigning, there's a huge amount of bullshit being spread. The worst is coming from the "No to AV" campaign, as far as I can see. Without many positive things to claim, various members of the Conservative party (current government, with most to fear from a change of voting system, of course) are spouting outright lies and sowing FUD in all directions:
  1. Claiming that AV will cost 250 million, most of which would be for the cost of electronic voting machines. Except... there's no evidence that these would be needed, nor are there any plans to use them.
  2. Continuing on, highlighting the alleged "extra costs" of AV: campaign poster FUD saying that we need to choose between cardiac facilities for babies and AV, or between equipment for our soldiers and AV. Except... there's no evidence that costs will be that high, nor that we have to make such binary choices.
  3. Claims from senior Conservative figures that changing to AV would mean more votes and legitimacy for extremists like the British National Party. Except... there is no evidence that AV will boost minority extremist parties. The BNP themselves are urging their supporters to vote against AV. Finally, if these parties have a high enough proportion of votes that they should be getting seats in parliament then they should have those seats - this is one of the tenets of democracy. Why should we be choosing a voting system to deliberately disenfranchise people?
  4. Finally, even David Cameron is at it: "too much of the debate about the alternative vote (AV) had so far been dominated by 'scientific' evaluation of the two systems' merits. But for me, politics shouldn't be some mind-bending exercise. It's about what you feel in your gut - about the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have. And I just feel it, in my gut, that AV is wrong." Well, it's nice that our Prime Minister wants to ignore all the scientific evidence and go with his gut feeling. After all, why would we want to think about choices like this?
Don't swallow the bullshit If you're eligible to vote in the UK, please ignore the bollocks. Make up your own mind how to vote in this referendum, by looking at the facts. I've done that and I'll be voting in favour of switching to AV.

31 December 2010

Dirk Eddelbuettel: R / Finance 2011 Call for Papers: Updated and expanded

One week ago, I sent the updated announcement below to the r-sig-finance list; this was kindly blogged about by fellow committee member Josh and by our pal Dave @ REvo. By now. I also updated the R / Finance conference website. So to round things off, a quick post here is in order as well. It may even get a few of the esteemed reader to make a New Year's resolution about submitting a paper :) Dear R / Finance community, The preparations for R/Finance 2011 are progressing, and due to favourable responses from the different sponsors we contacted, we are now able to offer

  1. a competition for best paper, which given the focus of the conference will award for both an 'academic' paper and an 'industry' paper
  2. availability of travel grants for up to two graduate students provided suitable papers were accepted for presentations
More details are below in the updated Call for Papers. Please feel free to re-circulate this Call for Papers with collegues, students and other associations. Cheers, and Season's Greeting, Dirk (on behalf of the organizing / program committee) Call for Papers: R/Finance 2011: Applied Finance with R April 29 and 30, 2011 Chicago, IL, USA The third annual R/Finance conference for applied finance using R will be held this spring in Chicago, IL, USA on April 29 and 30, 2011. The two-day conference will cover topics including portfolio management, time series analysis, advanced risk tools, high-performance computing, market microstructure and econometrics. All will be discussed within the context of using R as a primary tool for financial risk management, portfolio construction, and trading. Complete papers or one-page abstracts (in txt or pdf format) are invited to be submitted for consideration. Academic and practitioner proposals related to R are encouraged. We welcome submissions for full talks, abbreviated lightning talks, and for a limited number of pre-conference (longer) seminar sessions. Presenters are strongly encouraged to provide working R code to accompany the presentation/paper. Data sets should also be made public for the purposes of reproducibility (though we realize this may be limited due to contracts with data vendors). Preference may be given to presenters who have released R packages. The conference will award two $1000 prizes for best paper: one for best practitioner-oriented paper and one for best academic-oriented paper. Further, to defray costs for graduate students, two travel and expense grants of up to $500 each will be awarded to graduate students whose papers are accepted. To be eligible, a submission must be a full paper; extended abstracts are not eligible. Please send submissions to: committee at RinFinance.com The submission deadline is February 15th, 2011. Early submissions may receive early acceptance and scheduling. The graduate student grant winners will be notified by February 23rd, 2011. Submissions will be evaluated and submitters notified via email on a rolling basis. Determination of whether a presentation will be a long presentation or a lightning talk will be made once the full list of presenters is known. R/Finance 2009 and 2010 included attendees from around the world and featured keynote presentations from prominent academics and practitioners. 2009-2010 presenters names and presentations are online at the conference website. We anticipate another exciting line-up for 2011---including keynote presentations from John Bollinger, Mebane Faber, Stefano Iacus, and Louis Kates. Additional details will be announced via the conference website as they become available. For the program committee:
Gib Bassett, Peter Carl, Dirk Eddelbuettel, Brian Peterson,
Dale Rosenthal, Jeffrey Ryan, Joshua Ulrich

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