Word of the Week #122:

Pestilence

Okay, I’ll try not to get too dramatic, here.

However, as I mentioned two weeks ago, we may be approaching what can only be described as the beginning of the end.

Let us skip the feels and focus on the facts.

Last week we discussed how the world we live in can be defined by two words: Liberalism and Globalisation. Of course, these are not firmly established truths in all parts of the world, but at least they have been seen as ideals worth striving towards. Unfortunately, in many nations around the world, that no longer seems to be a case.

In the words of every horde of aliens invading the planet, let us start with America. The so-called leaders of the free world are themselves being led by a historically incompetent administration, and its population is deeply divided on all major issues. Of course, a difference of opinion among the masses is not a bad thing. But if those opinions are based less on rational facts and more on irrational feelings, there is no way to address those differences and move forward.

Sure, we could talk about the situations with xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, Nazism, gun control, or the lack thereof, failing healthcare, crumbling infrastructure, income inequality and dozens of other things going wrong with the country, but those are just the symptoms. The two causes are actually quite simple, and exceedingly common:

  1. Apathetic ignorance among the many
  2. Unmitigated dishonesty among the few

The British are similar of course, but with better accents. Their own chicken, fondly known as Brexit, is coming home to roost soon enough and they could not be less prepared if they tried.

The rest of Europe is also far from flawless. Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán is extremely popular, both within and beyond his own country. This is despite his blatantly Islamophobic views on immigration and the European society in general, or is it because of those views? Just last week, the government in Poland passed a law that allows them to handpick the chief of the Supreme Court. Neat.

Additionally, economies like Greece still remain in crisis, while Italy is plunging towards a crash. That is definitely going to hurt the entire European Union.

Towards the Middle East, just earlier today, Israel signed a new law, essentially mandating apartheid. The crises in Syria and Yemen are far from resolved, and the Arab Spring has subsided into the Arab Winter.

And this is all without even talking about the Russias and the Chinas of the world.

These can be seen as isolated problems faced by separate countries, but nothing is truly isolated in this ever-shrinking world of ours. If allowed to fester, I see this as an epidemic that can decimate our world just like Black Death through Medieval Europe.

Some people might think this is too outlandish. They would want to remind me that, despite all its problems, this is by far the best time to be alive.

Well, they are not wrong.

However, I would counter with this: A mango is the sweetest just a day before it starts rotting.

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Word of the Week #121:

Advent

Democracy by itself is not a new thing.

As with many other things, the Greeks did it first. The format itself was dissimilar to what we observe today, but the intent was largely the same.

Experiments with electoral systems continued almost for two thousand years, before the first modern democracy was established. Of course, even that seems archaic by today’s standards.

So, when did real, modern democracy become a norm? As we discussed last week, a lot of this was an aftermath of the two world wars. Essentially, we can mark three major points of inflexion in our recent history.

1918

After their losses in World War I, the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empire fell, laying ground for the foundation of—at least relatively—democratic regimes. Universal suffrage in the United States followed soon.

However, this push could not build to a tipping point, as a combination of economic strain and budding nationalist sentiments led several states towards authoritarianism. This was one of the major causes for World War II.

1945

After World War II, the balance did tip in most cases. The newly liberated colonies opted into this democratic experiment, as did Japan. However, authoritarian communism stayed strong in the Soviet Union, and soon spread to China as well.

With the world divided between the two superpowers, each espousing a diametrically opposite ideology, tension continued to brew. Often referred to as the Cold War, this tension further precipitated in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

1992

Eventually, the Russian influence began to wane, before being extinguished completely with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War ushered an era of economic growth in the former Soviet dominions and allies, and saw another push towards liberal democracy. The unparalleled power of the United States, the consolidation of the European Union and the rise of China and India, aided by the rapid progress in technology, initiated a movement towards unprecedented globalisation.

Those are the two words I would say represent these past few decades: Liberalism and Globalisation.

So, why do we need to talk about this now? Well, to put it simply, I believe we may be moving towards another point of inflexion. The pieces are all there, one simply needs to put the puzzle together.

What is going on? Why should we care? Let us discuss that next week, shall we…

Word of the Week #120:

Genesis

What was the most important event of the 1940? What led the world where it stands today?

The answer can, obviously, vary according person to person.

Around here, the most popular answer would be the 15th of August, 1947, the day India earned independence from the Brutish Empire.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say the British Empire. My auto-correct tends to malfunction at times, you know. Totally an honest mistake…

Some of the more learned of us might argue that the 26th of November, 1949, the day our constitution was ratified, went a long way forward in making us who we are today. However, the constitution did not actually come into effect for another two months, so… Different decade…

Further West, the 8th of May, 1945 holds a significant place, being the day the Germans surrendered in World War II, although the war officially did not end till 2nd of September.

Regardless, it is safe to say that the end of the Second World War also marked the end of the old world order, and it shaped the world that our past generations have known. The subsequent decolonisation, the establishment of the United Nations, and the growth of modern powers was all a consequence of the same.

In my opinion, however, the day of the new beginning should be considered far more important. To wit, the 17th of July, 1945 marks the day Chairman Stalin of Russia, President Truman of the US, and Prime Minister Churchill of the UK met in Potsdam, and essentially laid the foundations for the world order that lasted for, one might estimate, 45 years. Perhaps we could discuss more about that, some other time.

Considering that, it seems ironic how, over the past week, the current POTUS has held successive meetings with the current heads of both the UK and Russia. And from what we know about the content and the nature of both the meetings, it would not be overly dramatic to believe that we have reached another of those interesting junctures in history where the entire fabric of the world is unwinded.

Let us take another couple of weeks to explore exactly what that might entail.

I do believe I must warn you in advance. These could get somewhat bleak.

After all, this may just be the beginning of an end.

Word of the Week #119:

Deluge

When it rains, it pours.

We have all heard this, right?

Well, throughout the course of my life, I have always found it to be true, but rarely have I experienced it quite as literally as in the past week.

Last Saturday, we saw 265mm of rainfall in a span of 8 hours. In contrast, the average rainfall for the entire month of July is 317mm.

And according to meteorological experts, the worst is yet to come.

Sounds like a good time to jump off SS Sinking Ship, if you ask me…

The odd thing is that we have now come to expect and accept what are clearly major anomalies in the weather. Getting the entire month’s rainfall over a single weekend cannot be normal.

Just imagine it: Can you eat a month’s worth of food, and then not eat for the rest of the month?

Okay, “a month’s worth” is not very specific, I suppose.

Consider it this way… An average adult consumes roughly 2500 calories a day. That is 10 slices of a supreme pizza from Pizza Hut. So, roughly 300 slices a month. Now, does each pizza have 6 slices or 8? Let’s assume the latter. So, 37.5 pizzas.

Now, imagine trying to eat 37.5 pizza in two days. Will you eat yourself into the hospital or into bankruptcy, that is the question.

Wait… I forgot the point I wanted to make… And now I want pizza.

The point is, never try to get work done when you’re starving.

And maybe stock up on food and water and drinks and batteries, and get ready to stay indoors for a fair part of the week.

And for the love of God, turn off those ACs that are permanently cranked up to 22°C. You are only making it worse.

A storm is coming. And, by all accounts, it is only going to get worse.

Word of the Week #118:

Sinister

It was only tonight that I realised that I had not really spoken much on the blog about the fact that I am left-handed.

I think it is rather odd… After all, being a lefty is an immutable part of my identity, but at the same time, it does not come up that often in the normal course of a conversation, right?

Think about the last time you heard someone say, “As a left-handed person, this is what I think about this issue.” It just does not happen.

However, as with any demographic minority, there is always some bias, intentional or otherwise, that we have to deal with growing up.

Things as basic as scissors are made with the assumption that the user will be right-handed. It may seem inconsequential to us as adults, but you cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic it can be to an eight-year-old sitting in art class trying to understand just why he cannot get the scissors to work.

Yeah, it took me half a decade to realise that I’d have to use it with my right hand to make it work, but to be honest, I no longer care…

Even pens and pencils are not designed for use, and let us not even talk about chalk boards and white boards and spiral-bound notebooks…

As a young adult in college, it did not take me as long to realise why the drafting equipment would not support me, and how to compensate. This was largely because I knew I could ask other lefty friends who had done it before.

Even now, most tables I use are asymmetrical. As a result, half of the space remains unused.

Such impedance is always annoying, but after several years of bumbling about, it can certainly be circumvented.

What is a much larger annoyance is the extreme stupidity of the people we meet all across the world.

If I could get an extra mark every time an invigilator asked me, “Oh, do you really write like that,” I might have actually made the cut-off for Delhi University.

“Yes, of course, I really do write like. What did you think, I’m doing a bit, here in the examination room? Moron…”

Of course, I never really said that, but I assume my glare would have sufficed.

I remember one morning, I must have been 10 or so, when a shopkeeper refused to take money from me because I offered it with my left hand. Give it with your right hand, he told me, and of course, when he said right, he meant correct. I did what was the natural thing to do in the situation: I left the cash midair, glaring into the man’s eyes till the coins clanged onto the floor, and just walked away.

When I look back now, I feel lucky to have had family and teachers who did understand what it meant to be left-handed. I have met others who have not been as lucky.

There are many who erroneously believe that being left-handed is a disease, and needs to be corrected. A forced change in the handedness of a person, particularly at an extremely young age, can have catastrophic repercussions. Since handiwork is controlled by the same part of the brain as speech, such a change is often accompanied by speech disorders. Learning disabilities are also a common side-effect.

And then, of course, are the morons who actually believe that lefties are unlucky or inauspicious or whatever. To quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “When I come to power, those people will be sterilised.”

I recently attended a Pride Carnival, and while I was generally quite, well, proud to be there, I could not stop this one thought from continually nagging at the back of my head.

For a society that still struggles with the idea of “left-handedness”, concepts like “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” might be far too advanced.

Now that I think about it, there is a simpler way to explain these things to the more moronic parts of our society:

Some people are different. That is all. It is not a disease. It is not a curse. It is not something to be outgrown or corrected.

Different is not wrong.

Word of the Week #117:

Maladroit

From the brilliant minds that brought you Demonetisation ’16, comes another blockbuster that will melt your brains: Plastic Ban ’18.

And in the few days since its implementation, it has already shown to be as imbecilic.

Now, I do not mean to be overly harsh. The industry and the people at large did have three months to prepare for the switch. And on the very face of it, banning plastics does seem like a good thing to do, with respect to the environment, sanitation and other such concerns.

Plastic is one of the few things that can be described as being ubiquitous. Replacing it from every single application may be possible, but is it actually viable? And how will this discarded plastic be disposed of? Surely you cannot just throw it in the dumpsters and forget about it. If that had worked, we wouldn’t need to worry about it in the first place, right?

However, the biggest problem with such a step is actually quite simple: We do not have a viable alternative.

You cannot possibly sell cookies in paper packages, especially in the monsoon. They won’t last a day.

And what if I order some hot soup from a restaurant nearby. Surely, paper cups cannot hold that for long. Will you use metal cans? Those are actually not the most eco-friendly of materials. Glass is too bulky and fairly fragile. Not to mention, both are significantly more expensive. That does make a difference in an economy like ours.

What about silicone, though? It has almost all the upsides of plastics, but that is just the beginning. It is safe and durable. It is expensive, but not prohibitively so. Being based on silicon and not carbon, it is significantly better for the environment if disposed of correctly.

But therein lies the problem: Silicone is not biodegradable either.

Sure, it can be recycled, but that is predicated on, surprise surprise, proper disposal. And, if you are anyway going to do that, might as well get your plastics recycled.

Yes, that’s right. Many plastic products can be recycled. It would not be nearly as big a nuisance if all of plastic waste could be reused or recycled, but no. We want to dump it in a landfill, right?

plasgran-guide-to-plastic-recycling-grades

I am sure you must have encountered these labels, right? Usually on the bottom of a soda bottle or such… Ever wondered what they mean?

Well, this is the gist:

  • #2, #4 and #5 are the best. Use responsibly, and recycle. Plastic bags, which are primarily made from LDPE (#4) have been banned.
  • #1 is good enough, but try to avoid it. Interestingly enough, soda bottles made from PET (#1) have been exempt.
  • #3, #6 and #7 are bad. Avoid. However, thermocol decorations (#6) will be allowed till the end of a major religious festival in September. Because, priorities.

Unfortunately, our government seems to lack the nuance required to craft a thoughtful, thorough policy to implement waste disposal techniques that actually work. Instead they choose to harass local business owners and consumers for long-exsisting systemic failures.

It is quite clear that more thought and research goes into my weekly blog posts than in governmental policies.

Yes. Let that sink in.

Word of the Week #116:

Pivot

Now, before you get your hopes too high, let me just clarify that this is not a Ross Geller appreciation post.

Although, now that I think about it, that too is long overdue…

No, today we talk about this one trick that politicians and their spokespersons use when asked a difficult question.

The truly inept ones will start by lying, and end up looking foolishly out of depth. Of course, for some individuals, this is their go-to move.

The skilled ones, however, will follow a simple routine to dance around the discussion until the interviewer and the audience are too confounded to carry on.

I could teach you how to do it, if you’d like…

Step #0: Catch the interviewer, or the camera, in a dead eye stare. Establish a position of benevolent dominance.

Step #1: Catch a keyword, or a phrase, from the question and shoot off into an unrelated tangent. This way, it looks like you have answered the question, but you have not.

Now, most interviewers, either trying to seem polite or adhering to a strict timeline, will let the question go. Some reporters, however, are more tenacious than others, and will keep repeating the question. What do you do now?

Step #1 (a): As a novice, you might try to dodge the specifics and continue to move farther and faster on the tangent. This may exasperated the interviewer enough to lose balance, or simply leave the audience too disinterested to care.

Step #1 (b): Once you are experienced enough, you will be able to take this chance to paint the interviewer as a biased, and rude, opponent, instead of being a neutral observer. This is meant to sow seeds of mistrust towards the media, and will usually polarise the audience.

Step #2: Blame it on the opposition. This is, of course, the most basic tactic but its efficacy is almost alarming. Irrespective of whether this blame is justified, the audience will be distracted from the facts.

Step #3: Equate the interviewer with the opposition. Firmly establish a bias against yourself. YOU are the real victim here.

Step #4: Counter. Since you have already established that the media is the opposition and the opposition is guilty, you can now force your interviewer on the defensive with some sharp questions and allegations of your own.

  • If he tries to dissociate himself from your allegations, he undercuts your opponents in the process.
  • If he tries to justify your opponents’ actions, he further consolidates the perception of bias.
  • If he tries to dodge the questions or deny the allegations, he seems evasive and unreliable.

In any of the above, you are the winner.

Step #5: Accept your victory, and assure the audience that things are better with you in charge of the situation.

See. Simple, right?

Of course, don’t blame me if you try this on your college professor and get into trouble, okay?

Class dismissed.