Sunday, 31 December 2017

The first supermoon of 2018 will appear on New Year's Day — and it's more special than usual

On January 1 — New Year's Day — we'll see the first supermoon of 2018.

Different cultures around the world have given various names to each full moon of the year. The first full moon of the year is called the wolf moon after the idea that wolves howl at the moon.

And in this case, it's also a supermoon, a full moon that arrives when the moon is at or near the part of its orbit that's closest to Earth.

The difference between a supermoon and a regular full moon isn't always easy to tell — though if you could put a supermoon next to a micromoon, a full moon at the part of its orbit furthest from Earth, you'd see it.

But looking up to observe our celestial companion is worth it, and a supermoon (or another full moon) is as good an occasion as any to check it out.

This event is made a bit more special by the fact that this supermoon is one of three occurring in a row. The first appeared on December 3, this one is on January 1, and we'll see the third on January 31.

And as a NASA post on the "supermoon trilogy" explains, the one on January 31 will definitely be worth seeing.

A supermoon compared with a micromoon. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Looking to January 31
A second full moon to appear in a month — like the one on January 31 — is called a blue moon. They happen about once every two and a half years.

But NASA says that "super blue moon" will also feature a total lunar eclipse, or when the moon lines up so that the Earth blocks the sun's light we see reflected in the moon. These happen about twice a year.

As NASA explains it: "The moon will lose its brightness and take on an eerie, fainter-than-normal glow from the scant sunlight that makes its way through Earth's atmosphere. Often cast in a reddish hue because of the way the atmosphere bends the light, totally eclipsed Moons are sometimes called 'blood moons.'"

"The lunar eclipse on January 31 will be visible during moonset," said Noah Petro, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Folks in the eastern United States, where the eclipse will be partial, will have to get up in the morning to see it."

And these occasions all serve to remind us of one thing, Petro says: The moon is pretty cool and worth looking at, no matter what.

"The supermoons are a great opportunity for people to start looking at the moon," he said, "not just that once, but every chance they have!"

(Source: BI)

Rajinikanth enters politics after decades of speculation, to form own political party

On the last day of 2017, the superstar announced his political entry at a fan-packed Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam in Chennai.

The decades long guessing game has finally come to an end. Superstar Rajinikanth, the actor loved by the masses in Tamil Nadu and beyond, has officially announced his entry into politics.

On Sunday, dressed in a white kurta and pants, Rajinikanth walked into the Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam in Chennai’s T Nagar to an audience of excited fans and TV cameras that were ready to finally capture the moment. As Rajini walked on stage, the fans cheered for their ‘Thalaivar’, who had announced an announcement less than a week ago.

And minutes later, the question that Tamil Nadu has been asking for decades was answered in six simple words: "My entry into politics is certain."

To a roaring audience, Rajinikanth said, "I will form my own political party and contest from all 234 seats in the next assembly election."

He further added, "About Lok Sabha polls, I will decide then. I am not here for money or fame, you have already given that to me a thousand times over. I am not enamored by position or post. At 45, I didn't have that, at 68 will I get that? Will I not be a mad man then? Am I not deserving of being called a spiritual?"

Lamenting about the state of politics in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth said, “In the past one year, events in TN politics have made people of Tamil Nadu hang their head in shame. At this time if I don't take this decision, it is not fair to the people who made me live. The guilt would have followed me to the grave. We have to change, we have to change everything fast.”

Talking about his vision, Rajinikanth said, “Devoid of caste, a spiritual governance, spiritual politics, honesty and transparency. That's my goal.”

Addressing his fans, the superstar said, “I cannot do this on my own, this is like taking pearl from sea, God's grace, people's love, respect and cooperation and support, all these are needed to achieve this. I fully believe I will get god's grace and people's support.”

"The party worker is the most important part of any party. But I don't want party workers, I want protectors. I want protectors who ensure that no one acts out of selfishness. I want protectors who hold leaders accountable. I am the representative of a a group of protectors. Every corner of state should have our office that is our first task. Till then, do not talk politics, including me. Don't talk about other politicians, don't protest," he added.

In his vintage style, Rajinikanth told his fans that there has been too much build up regarding his political entry. "I didn't create the build up," he said.

"I'm not scared about entering politics. Only scared of media. Greatest people are scared of media. They ask me something, I reply and it becomes a debate. Someone asked me about my goals and I got dizzy. Cho (Ramaswamy) scared me. He said please be very careful with media," he said.

While there has been speculation for years now that Rajini has a special affection towards the BJP, especially after Narendra Modi met him at his residence ahead of the 2014 General Elections, Rajini did not commit to either joining the party or supporting them.

Rajinikanth’s political entry is seen by many as rather late in the day, especially as he has been flirting with politics for several decades now. In 1996, the actor had taken a strong political stand against Jayalalithaa ahead of the Assembly elections that year. In a speech, Rajini said, “Even God can’t save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa returns to power.” The statement is believed to have turned the tide in the favour of the DMK-Tamil Manila Congress combine in that election.

While Rajini has apologised for the comment in recent years, it has been quoted time and again as an example of the sway that a star like him holds on the people, when it comes to political decisions.

So what will Rajini’s end game be? Political analysts believe that the superstar is likely to announce his own party in a while, and that he will be aiming for the Chief Minister’s chair by the next Assembly elections. However, whether the actor turned politician will be able to sway the votes towards him the same way that he was able to 20 years ago, is a question that many are asking.

(Source: TNM)

Advice on New Year’s Resolutions from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

Radical freedom means we are radically responsible both for keeping and for transgressing promises. The fragility of our promises is what makes them meaningful. So go ahead: make your resolutions. You have the right to make promises. And you have the right to break them. But you don’t have to make them during an evening of late-night drunkenness. That is what the rest of your sober life is for, say John Kaag, the author of American Philosophy: A Love Story, and Skye C. Cleary, the author of Existentialism and Romantic Love, in The Paris Review. Read on:

It will soon be that time of year where many of us set ourselves up for failure. Make a resolution or don’t make a resolution; you will regret either. Or so the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard might quip. One estimate suggests that almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and yet less than 10 percent successfully follow through. Maybe we forget about them long before our snow boots dry out. Maybe life takes us on a different path. Maybe we stop caring. Maybe we simply fail. It might be tempting to do away with this farce altogether, but before we commit to being noncommittal about the New Year, it’s worth thinking through some of the options.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is at least four thousand years old. The ancient Babylonians celebrated their new year—the rebirth of the sun god Marduk—in spring, to coincide with barley-sowing season. Akitu was a twelve-day festival in which the king would promise to fulfill an extensive list of duties. To seal the king’s commitment, the high priest would slap him hard across the face. The slap had to be firm enough to draw tears: proof of the king’s dedication and a reminder to him to be humble. As part of the festival, other people also pledged their allegiance to the king and the gods and promised to repay their debts.

It may be tempting to overthrow this ancient tradition, to make no resolutions, and to go along with the flow of life like a carefree leaf on the surface of a happily bubbling stream. But Kierkegaard would argue that such a metaphor is deceptive: we would be akin to a stone hurled across the surface of the water, which “skips lightly for a time, but as soon as it stops skipping, instantly sinks down into the depths.” Without commitments, we risk disappearing into the existential abyss. A life that lacks purpose creates anxiety. A meaningful life, Kierkegaard suggests, is one in which we actively assert ourselves in order to live more fully.

It’s all well and good to make promises, but there’s still the challenge of keeping them. Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that what differentiates humans from other creatures is that we have “the right to make promises.” Making promises addresses a fundamental aspect of our humanity: that each of us is and is not the person we will become in the future. This is confusing, so let’s get concrete: Are you the same person you will be next year? Well, not exactly. Gray hair may sprout, wrinkles may emerge, your voice may deepen and thicken, your joints begin to ache. Your physical characteristics will objectively change, even if minutely.

Your emotional and psychological identity may also shift; you might get a new job or a new partner, a new hobby or a new therapist. A promise is a way of laying claim to an uncertain future. It is a way of projecting oneself into the coming months, protecting a commitment that may be impossible to keep. It is also a means of guarding or binding one’s identity—the I in I promise. Why does a nonhuman animal not make promises? Most don’t have a conception of themselves as individuals or a vested sense of identity. Yes, some animals may experience guilt, but guilt is not the same as the shame of breaking a longstanding promise. Nietzsche’s suggestion is that we ought to keep making resolutions—heartfelt, honest-to-God promises—lest we devolve into an animal-like state.

Nietzsche does not say, however, that we must keep our resolutions. Sometimes, many times, the cost is simply too high. To fulfill all promises unconditionally may be unwise, if not pig-headed and arrogant. For example, perhaps you committed to shedding a few pounds, but it turns out that your blood sugar plummets every time you go for more than two hours without a snack and you’re constantly on the verge of passing out. So that wasn’t a great resolution after all. Or you resolved not to go on any new dates and to focus on your career, but every morning you bump into the same lovely person at your favorite cafĂ©.

With new information, you just might need to leave some commitments behind. There’s no reason to feel guilty about that. The Romantic view of the self is that there’s no need to feel enslaved to an idea of ourselves that we wanted in the past. The self is forever in flux, changing, growing. The Romantic self is one that is ready to annihilate itself over and over again. As Nietzsche’s most famous protagonist Zarathustra says, “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

For an existentialist an unwillingness to “burn yourself in your own flame,” to overcome or break a promise, can be a sign of “bad faith.” “Bad faith” is a situation in which you disavow the immediate free will that is always at your disposal. Bad faith is “bad” because it denies the hard, metaphysical core of being human—radical freedom. Radical freedom means we are radically responsible both for keeping and for transgressing promises. The fragility of our promises is what makes them meaningful.

So go ahead: make your resolutions. You have the right to make promises. And you have the right to break them. But you don’t have to make them during an evening of late-night drunkenness. That is what the rest of your sober life is for.

What bestsellers taught me about feminism

All the bestsellers have been written in our lifetime, and yet there is so much disparity in their respective portrayal of women characters, writes Yamini Pustake Bhalero in STP. Read on: 

Being a bibliophile, the year 2017 began with a pledge to read as many bestsellers as my pocket and eyes would allow. But this year, I vowed to move my focus from my favourite thriller/mystery. Even if slightly. Most of the books this list cannot be called feminist books and that is precisely the reason for writing this article. What did these bestsellers, had to offer a feminist?

Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami) – Many people, take it personally when you say anything negative about Murakami’s writing, men and women alike. Much as I loved both these books by Murakami I had serious issues as a millennial woman with the way he treats his female characters. Why are women in his books a mere vessel of sexual and philosophical awakening? He surrounds his female characters with a lot of mysticism. But alas! They end up like empty casings of women that could have been.

Murakami is a great writer, an exceptionally gifted one. But as a feminist, it feels that in his quest to make these characters a mystery he has hollowed them out.

The Devotion of Suspect X (Kiego Hagashino)- Another bestseller by a Japanese author. This one is a murder mystery, where the fun is in the cat and mouse game rather than unveiling who is the killer. So what could a feminist expect to learn from such a bestselling thriller? The notion that a working woman still has to depend on a man for help and for her happiness. It is impossible to make my point without giving away spoilers. But the lead male character here is made into a pinnacle of devotion and sacrifice in this book.

What seems unpalatable is that the writer sculpts the female lead as a timid woman, who spends the entire length of the book in fear of one man or another.

Rekha- The Untold Story (Yasser Usman) : How I loved the spirit of this book, which celebrates the life of one of the most enigmatic female actors of Indian cinema. What the author gets right, is to portray Rekha as a fighter, who fought against society at every step in her life. He makes it a point to make sure that this book is much more than just a record of her scandalous love life.

It talks about her work, and her evolution both as an artist and a professional. This book is a masterclass on how to write a book about a woman who struggled to come out empowered and successful. The only thing to dislike? The book gives too many pages to her relationship with a certain superstar and the effects it had on her.

But why not end a perfectly good book, which started out as a story of an illegitimate daughter, on a point where life came full circle for her, when she was publicly accepted by her father.

Sita – Warrior of Mithila (Amish)– The story of the princess of Mithila, has seen many feminist takes on it in past few years. While feminist still cringe at the mere use of terms like “Agni pariksha” and “Van Vaas”. Author Amish gave a new take on the mythology. A take the women of 2017 so rightly deserved. Amish’s Sita is strong, intelligent and independent. She makes her own choices in life and knows how to kick some ass. We can only hope that he continues to surprise us through the remaining series.

Jaya (Devdutt Pattanaik)- When I read Pattanaik’s Sita last year, I was overwhelmed. It was the most soul-satisfying version of the epic I had ever read. It made me look at the character of Sita not as that of a helpless wronged queen. Hence, I had great expectations from Jaya.

Jaya unlike Sita, is not about Draupadi. It is a retelling of the epic of Mahabharata, where Draupadi is a pivotal character. Devdutt does full justice to her and every female character in the epic.

He attached a social commentary on mistreatment of women in modern times to every issue in the epic that revolves around women like, Satyavati, Draupadi, Gandhari and Amba.
He neither portrays them as helpless or conniving women, but gives reasons to their each and every action. And then he makes us wonder about how things have changed or failed to change.

In Other Words (Jhumpa Lahiri)- Written in Italian the book talks about Lahiri’s love for the language. Her first attempt at writing something non-fiction, the work is highly autobiographical. The author is on a quest to find herself. It traces her journey to master this “other” language (Italian) she is in love with and culminates in writing this book.

Books which are about self realisation and a zeal to overcome a hardship always strike a chord with readers. In this book, her tenacity to not give up even when her goal seemed illusive inspired me.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad (Twinkle Khanna)- Mrs. Fuunybones, took a break from chronicling her misadventures, to write a collection of four short stories on feminism. Be it marriage, love, changing the mentality of a village, or the struggles of a man to bring dignity to menstruating women. These stories were beyond heartfelt. They were a tad to close to reality. I could associate with them, because I knew of women and men who had been in such situation.

Twinkle Khanna‘s  take on feminism is not downright revolutionary. It is like a gust of cool wind, which will rustle up your thoughts and make you feel alive!

Cat Person (Kristen Roupenian)- When was the last time a short story lead to so much discussion and left its readers so divided?

Roupenian’s short story is familiar tale. Every girl who has dated a guy like the male lead- who appear non-threatening, but still isn’t quite right for you, knows what she is talking about. Love it or hate it, this short read once again raises the debate of what exactly is a consent in a relationship.

In the year 2017, the story is not just perfectly timed, it also the discussion around relationships and feminism alive. I liked it not just because it captures the mindset of a young woman very well, but it makes us rethink our definition of a nice harmless guy.

I choose these books deliberately because each one of them made a distinct commentary on women. All these bestsellers have been written in our lifetime, and yet there is so much disparity in their respective portrayal of women characters.

I will continue reading popular books from our lifetime, and try to understand how and why popular authors write female characters in their books.

Mirza Ghalib’s 300-year-old haveli is a forgotten treasure

“Hai aur bhi duniya mein sukhanwar bahut ache
Kehte hain ke ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur.”
(“There are many good poets worthy of praise,
  But it is said that Ghalib has a distinctive style.”) – Mirza Ghalib

Down a quiet Ballimaran lane in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk stands a haveli like many others in this historic part of the Indian capital. An old dilapidated structure with a semi-circular brick arch as its entrance, this mansion was once home to Mirza Asadullah Khan, better known as Ghalib, one of India’s most celebrated and quoted Urdu poets.

Ghalib was born to Mirza Abdullah Beg in December 1797 in Agra. His father died when he was hardly five years old and his childhood was spent with his uncle who passed away when Ghalib was eight, and mostly his aunts. Married in 1810 at the age of 13 to Umrao Begum, Ghalib soon left his birth city Agra for Delhi, a city where he lived until his death in 1869.

The haveli was presented to Ghalib by a hakim (traditional physician) who was an ardent fan of his poetry. It was here that Ghalib wrote some of his finest ghazals and recited them to a huge audience every evening. After Ghalib’s death in 1869, the crestfallen hakim who had presented the haveli to Ghalib would go and sit there for hours every evening refusing to let anyone occupy it.

The government took possession of the haveli in 1964 but soon auctioned it to one Mohammed Ali Farooqi whose bid was the highest at ₹ 22,400. He rented it out to tenants but a few years later he died without leaving a legal heir to the property. Since then, the haveli has changed multiple hands, from being the poet’s abode to a coal store, a small manufacturing unit, to a baraat ghar (wedding hall). In 1999, a part of the haveli was finally acquired and restored by the Delhi government.

Now a heritage site under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the memorial museum displays the objects and other things used during those times to make it look like the actual dwelling of the poet. As soon as one enters, a huge portrait of Ghalib’s couplets in his own handwriting can be seen hung on the sidewall. Further ahead, the couplets of Ustaad Zauq, Abu Zafar, Momin Khan Momin, and other noted contemporaries of Ghalib have been creatively arranged in the vast collage.

Another wall sheds some light on Ghalib’s personal favorites. While his trademark ‘baalon wali lambi topi’ and ‘lamba kurta’ are listed as among his favorite attire, a chart shows Ghalib’s favourite dishes – taley hue kabab, bhuna gosht, sohan halwa, aam ka achaar and dal murabba. There is also list mentioning activities he took an avid interest in like patangbaazi (kite flying), chausar (cross and circle board game that originated in ancient India) and shatranj (chess).

The only room with a door, set slightly aside from the rest of the haveli, features a large frame with Ghalib’s last ever taken photograph. On either side of the room hung various ageing pictures and portraits of Ghalib during his lifetime. Apart from his hand-written books on display, there are collections of Ghalib’s letters, translated couplets, a life-size replica of Ghalib with a hookah and curiously, utensils of Ghalib’s time.

Other highlights of this haveli include the original sandstone floors, wooden gateway entrance, the Mughal lakhori (kiln-fired) bricks and the chhajjas (overhanging eaves)within the courtyard.

Ghalib lived during an age of tumult and transformation in Indian history. His diary kept during the revolt of 1857 presents a personal record of the events that shook and ravaged the capital. In a letter (English translation) to a friend on Nov. 13, 1864, Ghalib writes,

“After the wishes, let me state that right from Nov. 1 till Nov. 11, I can’t tell you how perturbed I had remained owing to the turmoil of the Mutiny. I would have myself come to deliver this letter, but for the trying times. I have also not been feeling well besides being harried by these troubling times. Nevertheless, pray to God that you may be safe and sound with the following couplet:

You live long for thousands of years
Let the days of each year be fifty thousand”

Ghalib also witnessed the decline of Mughal Empire and the establishment of British colonial rule in India. This makes his haveli not just a living memory of the poet but a standing testimonial to a bygone era. Renowned poet and lyricist, Gulzar, immortalized the character and life of Ghalib’s haveli in his beautifully written verse:

“Isee be-noor andheri see gali qaasim se
Ek tarteeb charaghon ki shuru hoti hai
Ek quran-e-sukhan ka safa khulta hai
Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ ka patha milta hai.”

(In one such dark, dimly-lit street
Where a row of lit lamps starts,
Where a new page of poetry begins
There, the whereabouts of Asadullah Khan Ghalib can be  found).

A heritage site that offers you an insight into the legendary poet’s life and times, Ghalib’s haveli is open throughout the day, but the best time to visit would be in the morning. Go explore, and read out some verses from the walls to your special one.

Where: Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Delhi
Nearest Metro Stop: Chawri bazaar
Time: 9 am to 5 pm (Monday closed)

(Source: The Better India)

Aisling Bea: ‘My father’s death has given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness’

The comedian’s father killed himself when she was three. She was plagued by the fact he made no mention of her or her sister in the letter he left. Then, 30 years after his death, a box arrived

My father died when I was three years old and my sister was three months. For years, we thought he had died of some sort of back injury – a story that we had never really investigated because we were just too busy with the Spice Girls and which one we were (I was a Geri/Mel B mix FYI). Then, on the 10th anniversary of his death, my mother sat us down and explained the concept of suicide. Sure, we knew about suicide. At 13, I had already known of too many young men from our town who had taken their own lives. Spoken about as inexplicable sadnesses for the families, spoken about but never really talked about … “terrible tragedy … nobody knows why he did it”. What we had not known until that day, was that our father had, 10 years beforehand, also taken his own life.

When I was growing up, I idolised my father. I thought his ghost followed me around the house. I had been told how he adored me, how I was funny, just like him. Because of our lovely Catholic upbringing, I secretly assumed that he would eventually come back, like our good friend Jesus.

My mother, being the wonder woman that she is, never held his death against him. When she looked into his coffin, she felt she saw the face of the man she had married: his stress lines had gone, he seemed free of the sadness that had been dogging him of late. But it was still tough for her to talk about. She didn’t want to have to explain to a stranger in the middle of a party how he was not defined by his ending, but how loved he was, how cherished the charismatic, handsome vet in a small town had been. She didn’t want his whole person being judged.

Once she had told us, I did not want to talk about him. Ever again. I now hated him. He had not been “taken” from us, he had left. His suicide felt like the opposite of parenting. Abandonment. Selfishness. Taking us for granted.

I didn’t care that he had not been “in his right mind”, because if I had been important enough to him I would have put him back into his “right mind” before he did it. I didn’t care that he had been in “chronic pain” and that men in Ireland don’t talk about their feelings, so instead die of sadness. I didn’t want him at peace. I wanted him struggling, but alive, so he could meet my boyfriends and give them a hard time, like in American movies. I wanted him to come to pick me up from discos, so my mother didn’t have to go out alone in her pyjamas at night to get me.

I look like him. For all of my teens and early 20s, I smothered my face in fake tan and bleached my hair blond so that elderly relatives would stop looking at me like I was the ghost of Christmas past whenever I did something funny. “You look so like your father,” they would say. And as much as people might think a teenage girl wants to be told that she looks like a dead man, she doesn’t.

Aisling Bea with her father. Photograph: Aisling Bea
And then there was the letter.

My mother gave us the letter to read the day she told us, but, in it, he didn’t mention my sister or me.

I had not been adored. He had forgotten we existed. I didn’t believe it at first. When I was 15, I took the letter out of my mother’s Filofax and used the photocopying machine at my summer job to make a copy so I could really examine it. Like a CSI detective, I stared at it, desperate to see if there had been a trace of the start of an “A” anywhere.

I would often fantasise that, if I ever killed myself, I would write a letter to every single person I had ever met, explaining why I was doing it. Every. Single. Person. Right down to the lad I struck up a conversation with once in a chip shop and the girl I met at summer camp when I was 12. No one would be left thinking: “Why?” I would be very non-selfish about it. When Facebook came in, I thought: “Well, this will save me a fortune on stamps.”

Sometimes, in my less lucid moments, I was convinced that he had left a secret note for me somewhere. Maybe, on my 16th … no, 18th … no, 21st … no, 30th birthday, a letter would arrive, like in Back to the Future. “Aisling, I wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand. I was secretly a spy. That is why I did it. I love you. I love your sister, too. PS Heaven is real, your philosophy essay is wrong and I am totally still watching over you. Stop shoplifting.”

This summer was the 30th anniversary of his death. In that time, a few things have happened that have radically changed how I feel.

Three years ago, Robin Williams took his own life. He was my comedy hero, my TV dad – he had always reminded my mother of my father and his death spurred me to finally start opening up. I had always found it so hard to talk about. I think I had been afraid that if I ever did, my soul would fall out of my mouth and I would never get it back in again.

Last year, I watched Grayson Perry’s documentary All Man. It featured a woman whose son had ended his life. She thought that he probably hadn’t wanted to die for ever, just on that day, when he had been in so much pain. A lightbulb moment – it had never occurred to me that maybe suicide had seemed like the best option in that hour. In my head, my father had taken a clear decision, as my parent, to opt out for ever.

My father had always seemed like an adult making adult decisions, but I suddenly found myself at almost his age, still feeling like a giant child. I looked at some of my male friends – gorgeous idiots doing their gorgeous, idiotic best to bring up little daughters, just like he would have been.

Finally, just after my 30th birthday, a box turned up.

The miserable people he had worked for had found a box of his things filed away and rang my mother (30 years later) wondering whether she wanted them or whether they should just “throw them in the bin”.

She waited for us to fly home and we opened it together – three little women staring into an almost-abandoned cardboard box.

Now, most of the box was horse ultrasounds – which, I’ll be honest, I am not into. But there was also his handwriting around the edges and, then, underneath the horse X-rays and files, there were the photographs.

 ‘Sometimes, in my less lucid moments, I was convinced that he had left a secret note for me somewhere’ ... Aisling Bea. Photograph: Troy Conrad
Any child who has lost a parent probably knows every single photograph in existence of that parent. I had pored over them all, trying to put together the person he might have been.

The photos in the box had been collected from his desk after he had died. We had never seen them before. They were nearly all of me. He had had all of these photos stuck on his desk. I was probably the last thing he looked at before he died.

My father’s death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardness – traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness – traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity.

To Daddy, here is my note to you:

I’m sad you killed yourself, because I really think that, if you could see the life you left behind, you would regret it. You didn’t get to see the Berlin wall fall or Ireland qualify for Italia 90. You didn’t get to see all the encyclopedias that you bought for us to one day ‘use at university’ get squashed into a CD and subsequently the internet. You have never got to hear your younger daughter’s voice – it annoys me sometimes, but it has also said some of the most amazing things when drunk. I think you would have been proud to watch your daughter do standup at the O2 and sad to see my mother watching it on her own. Then again, if you hadn’t died, I probably wouldn’t have been mad enough to become a clown for a living. I am your daughter and I am really fucking funny, just like you. But, unlike you, I’m going to stop being it for five minutes and write our story in the hope that it may help someone who didn’t get to have a box turn up, or who may not feel ‘in their right mind’ right now and needs a reminder to find hope.


(Source: The Guardian)

The internet is still actually controlled by 14 people who hold 7 secret keys

It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown book, but it isn't: The whole internet is protected by seven highly protected keys in the hands of 14 people.

They hold a historic ritual known as the Root Signing Ceremony.

Recently,  the world got a good reminder about the importance of the organisation these people belong to.

A good chunk of the internet went down for a while when hackers managed to throw so much traffic at a company called Dyn that Dyn's servers couldn't take it.

Dyn is a major provider of something called a domain name system, which translates web addresses such as into the numerical IP addresses that computers use to identify web pages.

Dyn is just one DNS provider. And while hackers never gained control of its network, successfully taking it offline for even just a few hours via a distributed denial of service attack shows how much the internet relies on DNS. This attack briefly brought down sites like Business Insider, Amazon, Twitter, Github, Spotify, and many others.
Participants in the August 2016 ICANN key ceremony. ICANN
If you control all of DNS, you can control all of the internet
DNS at its highest levels is secured by a handful of people around the world, known crypto officers.

Every three months since 2010, some — but typically not all — of these people gather to conduct a highly secure ritual known as a key ceremony, where the keys to the internet's metaphorical master lock are verified and updated.

The people conducting the ceremony are part of an organisation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is responsible for assigning numerical internet addresses to websites and computers.

If someone were to gain control of ICANN's database, that person would pretty much control the internet. For instance, the person could send people to fake bank websites instead of real bank websites.

To protect DNS, ICANN came up with a way of securing it without entrusting too much control to any one person. It selected seven people as key holders and gave each one an actual key to the internet. It selected seven more people as backup key holders — 14 people in all. The ceremony requires at least three of them, and their keys, attend, because three keys are needed to unlock the equipment that protects DNS. The Guardian's James Ball wrote a great story about them in 2014.

A highly scripted ritual
The physical keys unlock safe deposit boxes. Inside those boxes are smart key cards. It takes multiple keys to gain access to the device that generates the internet's master key.

That master key is really some computer code known as a root key-signing key. It is a password of sorts that can access the master ICANN database. This key generates more keys that trickle down to protect various bits and pieces of the internet, in various places, used by different internet security organisations.

The security surrounding the ceremonies before and after is intense. It involves participants passing through a series of locked doors using key codes and hand scanners until they enter a room so secure that no electronic communications can escape it. Inside the room, the crypto officers assemble along with other ICANN officials and typically some guests and observers.

The whole event is heavily scripted, meticulously recorded, and audited. The exact steps of the ceremony are mapped out in advance and distributed to the participants so that if any deviation occurs the whole room will know.

The group conducts the ceremony, as scripted, then each person files out of the room one by one. They've been known to go to a local restaurant and celebrate after that.

But as secure as all of this is, the internet is an open piece of technology not owned by any single entity. The internet was invented in the US, but the US relinquished its decades of stewardship of DNS earlier this month. ICANN is officially in charge.

Keenly aware of its international role and the worldwide trust placed on it, ICANN lets anyone monitor this ceremony, providing a live stream over the internet. It also publishes the scripts for each ceremony.

On October 27, ICANN will hold another ceremony – and this one will be historic, too. For the first time, it will change out the master key itself. Technically speaking, it will change the "key pair" upon which all DNS security is built, known as the Root Zone Signing Key.

"If you had this key and were able to, for example, generate your own version of the root zone, you would be in the position to redirect a tremendous amount of traffic," Matt Larson, vice president of research at ICANN, recently told Motherboard's Joseph Cox.

(Source: BI UK)

Books by women authors that defined 2017

This year saw a great variety of fiction as well as nonfiction getting published. We saw, after two decades, Arundhati Roy release a much awaited book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, that was praised and panned alike, and went on to make it to prestigious shortlists. After her 1997 Booker winner, The God of Small Things, this book brought back the Roy facility with words and her extensive canvas, as well as her inimitable passionate prose that one cannot just stay indifferent to. Amongst the other winners this year, was the biography on India’s Iron Lady, Indira by journalist Sagarika Ghose that didn’t wince from showing us the good, the bad and the ugly with a gaze that was meticulously detailed yet empathetic.

Another book that made waves was one based on a true life case, the famous Nanavati murder In Hot Blood, written by veteran journalist Bachi Karkaria. Poet and writer Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, disturbing, exquisite and volatile, was a must read account of a dysfunctional marriage. Mythologist and ace narrator, Anuja Chandramouli amazed us all by having four books release all at once. The very witty and wry Lalita Iyer put together her very popular columns into The Whole Shebang. And there were many more.

Here’s a list of the books by women you should have read in 2017, if you haven’t yet, please do. They all come highly recommended. Surely, there are many we’ve probably missed out inadvertently, do feel free to list them out, says the team of STP. Read on:

Indira by Sagarika Ghose :  This no-holds-barred biographical portrait looks for answers to lingering issues: from why Indira revoked the Emergency to her son Sanjay’s curious grip over her; and from her bad marriage and love affairs to her dangerous religious politics.

The Whole Shebang by Lalita Iyer : For the urban woman who wants to enjoy a guilt-free life, this book will take you on a journey towards self-realisation and renewed self-confidence.

In Hot Blood by Bachi Karkaria : In this laboriously researched book – part thriller, part courtroom drama and legal history and part social portrait of post Independence Bombay – Bachi Karkaria gives a most comprehensive account of the Nanavati case and the Constitutional crisis to which it gave birth.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy : The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years – the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.

How I became a Tree by Sumana Roy : Mixing memoir, literary history, nature studies, spiritual philosophies and botanical research, How I Became a Tree is a book that will prompt readers to think of themselves and the natural world that they are an intrinsic part of, in fresh ways.

Girls are coming out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi : In this collection, Tishani Doshi inhabits the different homes: her childhood, the body, cities that were passed through, cycles of rain. There are poems of celebration and homages, as there are poems lamenting human cruelty and dispassion.

Woman to Woman by Madhulika Liddle : Written with sensitivity but unafraid to explore the hidden secrets and dark corners in ordinary lives, Woman to Woman is a collection of twelve beautifully crafted short stories by award-winning writer Madhulika Liddle.

When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy : At once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art, When I Hit You is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India.

The Windfall by Diksha Basu : A sharply observed tale of social aspiration and anxiety, The Windfall is a thoroughly modern comedy of manners about family, friendship and what it means to belong in a rapidly changing India.

A Hundred Little Flames by Preeti Shenoy :  A  charming account of a relationship across generations and also a meditative look at the issues of old people, this is bestselling author Preeti Shenoy’s first foray into literary fiction.

The Girl Who Couldn’t Love by Shinie Antony : The story of an introverted, middle-aged spinster, Roo or Rudrakshi Sen, comes alive with Antony’s sparse, evocative prose.

“2” by Paro Anand: This graphic novel This slick and ground-breaking graphic novel tells the story of a young Indian boy, Ganga, and a Swedish girl, Helga, whose destinies get tied with one another in a strange and magical way.

Who Me, Poor?: How India’s Youth are Living in Urban Poverty to Make it Big by Gayatri Jayaraman: The author explores in detail the lives of the ‘urban poor‘ and the reasons for their poverty.

An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar co-authored by Poonam Saxena : In this book, Karan Johar looks back at his childhood, his obsession with Bollywood, foray into films, friendships with Aditya Chopra, SRK and Kajol, his love life, the AIB Roast, and much more.

A Night With A Black Spider by Ambai : A collection of short stories based around train journeys, these are compelling tales, translated from the Tamil.

Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts by Anuja Chandramouli:  A compelling tale of one of the greatest warriors in our history.

 Ants Among Elephants by Sujata Gidla: This unflinching account of being born an untouchable by Sujata Gidla has been acclaimed around the world.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Claire's makeup kit found to contain asbestos

A mother in America has discovered that a makeup kit from Claire’s that was given to her six-year-old daughter contained asbestos.

Kristi Warner, 30, from Rhode Island, said she felt compelled to investigate when she checked the ingredients on her daughter’s glitter makeup kit from the US store, and saw that the only information given was that the product was made in China.

She decided to have the kit sent to a lab for testing. A few months later, results confirmed that the makeup kit contained asbestos.

Warner had a further 17 products from Claire's US sent for testing, all of which also tested positively for asbestos.

Inhaling asbestos can lead to a number of life-threatening diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening.

When Warner found out that the makeup kit had potentially put her daughter’s life at risk, she said she was devastated.

“I physically sank,” Warner told her local radio station WJAR. “I ended up sitting on the ground, just trying to wrap my head around how something like that could end up in our home.”

When six-year-old Mackenzie asked her mother what was happening, Warner didn’t know how to reply.

“Her response was, ‘Am I going to die?’”, she said. “There’s no right answer to that because I don’t want to lie to her.”

Claire’s has issued a statement in regard to the news, writing: “At Claire’s the safety of our customers is of paramount importance, and we are passionate about the safety and integrity of our products.

“As a result of today’s inquiry from WJAR-TV, we have taken the precautionary measure of pulling items in question from sale, and will be conducting an immediate investigation into the alleged issues.”

One Twitter user wrote: “You’re full of it. A company of your size has the money and resources to perform proper quality control inspections.

“Sourcing products from other countries without testing and due diligence is at best, lazy, dangerous, and definitely negligent.”

Claire’s has also released a link to a page with a list of the products that are subject to being recalled.

The Independent has contacted Claire’s UK to find out whether they will be testing any of their makeup products.

(Source: Independent)

The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry

Nearly a century ago, journalist Napoleon Hill set out on a mission to uncover and document the strategies used by the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in America.

He studied more than 500 self-made millionaires over 20 years, and his research culminated in the 1937 bestseller "Think and Grow Rich," which shares what he calls the "money-making secret" in 13 principles.

His 10th principle — "the mystery of sex transmutation" — suggests that love, romance, and sex are critical factors in the determination of one's success and wealth.

Hill writes:

"Sex desire is the most powerful of human desires ...

"When harnessed, and redirected along other lines, this motivating force maintains all of its attributes of keenness of imagination, courage, etc., which may be used as powerful creative forces in literature, art, or in any other profession or calling, including, of course, the accumulation of riches ...

"Love, romance, and sex are all emotions capable of driving men to heights of super achievement ... When combined, these three emotions may lift one to an altitude of a genius."

Hill makes some bold claims: "The men of greatest achievement are men with highly developed sex natures," and "the men who have accumulated great fortunes ... were motivated by the influence of a woman."

While this principle may seem a little far-fetched, there is something to be said about having a supportive partner to achieve financial success — an idea that has surfaced and gained relevance today, 78 years later.

"The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose estimated net worth is $1.1 billion, said at the 2011 IGNITION conference in New York.

Many echo this sentiment, including Catherine Alford of The Simple Dollar, who wrote: "If I'd selected a different spouse, my life would look very different ... My spouse, whether I realised it or not at the time, has been the best money decision of my life."

It makes sense. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said: We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, which is especially true when it comes to our spouses.

These claims are backed by research. One study, by Brittany C. Solomon and Joshua J. Jackson of Washington University in St. Louis, shows that having a conscientious spouse can boost your salary significantly.

"With every standard-deviation increase in a spouse's conscientiousness, an employee is likely to earn about $4,000 more a year," reported the Harvard Business Review. "An employee with an extremely conscientious spouse (two standard deviations above the mean) is 50% more likely to get a promotion than an employee with an extremely unconscientious spouse (two standard deviations below the mean)."

Conscientious spouses tend to allow their partner to focus more on their career. Also, people with conscientious spouses generally feel more satisfied with their marriage, and this absence of stress and drama at home allows them to bring more emotional and physical energy to work, the researchers concluded.

While parts of Hill's philosophy are outdated — he analysed only rich men and wrote for a predominantly male audience — he was on to something when he suggested relationships are a crucial step toward accumulating wealth.

(Source: Independent)

Three important lessons you learn after losing your mother

It is not easy to accept that death is a foreseeable part of the human life. Most people are afraid of it, whether it takes away their loved ones or pets. People are scared of leaving this world and meeting the unknown. In fact, most of us find it difficult to accept this inevitable stage of life. Death is particularly painful if it takes away a mother. One blogger decided to write about the three lessons she has learned since her mother died. She said that her mother’s death was caused by ovarian cancer when the blogger was still a small kid.

The blogger is now in her late thirties and has been thinking about her loss over the years. She has spent most of her years without her mom and she still misses her.

Lesson #1
According to the blogger, grief is a nonlinear feeling. It does not peak as soon as a person dies and gradually disappear over time. The truth is that it may never disappear.

She also said that grief is a natural phenomenon, but individuals experience it differently. It manifests in the form of rage, sadness, fear, guilt, or even peace. According to her, grief is an unpredictable feeling that may make you feel exhausted.

The blogger also said that she could not stop crying after her mother’s death. She shed tears at the funeral and at her school choir. However, she didn’t cry much in the subsequent years.

Nonetheless, sadness hit her like countless bricks in her early twenties.

She broke down when a good friend asked her about her mother because she had not shared her story with other people apart from her family members. However, she described the situation as “a good release” after going through several stages of grief over the years.

The blogger also talked about the most difficult days of her life. She mentioned Mother’s Day and the day she went to choose her wedding dress.

According to her, she grieves because she loved so deeply. She said that she has learned to adjust to her emotions and acknowledge the affection, pain, and loss.

Lesson #2
She also realized that you cannot replace someone who has died. She learned that no one can take the place of a mother, but she has learned to deal with her feeling by focusing on specific qualities.

She said that her mother was warm, radiant, considerate, kind, sensible, humorous, and strong. These are the qualities she has been looking for over the years.

She also said that some of the people she has met have some of these qualities, but they cannot be compared to her mother. According to her, it is impossible to replace most of her mother’s qualities.

Lesson #3
She also learned that some people care about her and these include her father, cousins, friends, and members of the extended family. These people have been there during her sorrowful moments since her mother’s death.

She realized that some people loved her while other people needed love.

According to the blogger, we live in a big world, but the world is also small because of the technology we are using today. She said that we can easily reach out to other people across the world.

She finally acknowledged our mothers for being the first people to show us true love and asked people to honor their mothers and share that love wherever possible.

(Source: Small Joys)

Women in Indian mythology that are symbols of empowerment

Women in India are often asked to follow the example of Indian goddesses who are seen as loving and nurturing figures that remain calm and obedient and are figures of tolerance. These women, however, teach us much more than just these qualities. SheThePeople.TV tells you traits you can learn from four mythological Indian women.

We can go on and on talking about how Sita was a victim of her society and the men in her life, but what shouldn’t be ignored is that she was a strong-willed woman. She chose to go to the forest with her husband, even though she was persuaded to not go. After she was rejected by him later, without any fault of her own, she bought up her two sons independently and later chose to walk away when Ram invited her back.

Draupadi is one of the strongest women in Indian mythology. With limited say and power in the society that she was living in, Draupadi was fierce, strong and more intelligent that most men in Mahabharat. Stories of her courage and valour, are present throughout the epic. When she was being disrobed in the courtroom by members of her husbands’family, she used her brains to reason with all the men present there and left everyone speechless.

Considered to be the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, epitomizes the young women we want to see in our country today. She is also the goddess of arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric, eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence and self of a person. The festival of Vasant Panchami that is celebrated in her honour is marked by helping young children learn how to write alphabets on that day.

Celebrated widely across India as the goddess of strength and empowerment, Kali, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to Indian Goddesses. Unlike others, she is not tame and calm but aggressive and destructive. She proves that women, who have the power to create and nurture, are equally capable of destructing and annihilating the sources of evil.

The ring changed Dushyanta from a lying cad to an honourable man: Wendy Doniger

In Wendy Doniger’s ingenious new book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry, she traces the story of the ring across tales and cultures: from Shakuntala’s ring to Portia’s, from Rama’s ring that Sita recognises to DeBeers’ engagement rings. The ring often signifies the woman’s self, it saves honour, reveals identity, ignites memory and marks desire while the wearing of the ring imitates the act of sex. In an email interview with Charmy Harikrishnan, Doniger, who is the Mircea Eliade distinguished service professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, talks about the evolution of the signet ring in some of the prominent Indian texts, how the ring helped Kalidasa whitewash Dushyanta’s erotic record, and how Indians are now confusing their great myths with ancient history, and hurling racial and sexist abuses at scholars like her and Audrey Truschke. Excerpts:
"Kalidasa created his Shakuntala at a time when the power of women —
which was fairly robust in the Mahabharata; think of Draupadi! — had
significantly waned," Wendy Doniger said. 

When and how did the signet ring appear in Indian texts? It has a significant presence in literature — from the Ramayana to Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa to Kalidasa’s Abhinjana Shakuntalam. 
The texts you mention, which I discuss in the book, are the earliest ones I know that refer to signet rings. It’s generally thought that such rings came into India with the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 326 BCE. But I think, since we have hundreds of examples of seals, though not seal rings, from the Indus Valley Civilisation before 2000 BCE, someone in India may well have had the bright idea of using a seal on a ring long before the Greeks came to India.

In the earliest version of Shakuntala’s story in the Mahabharata, there is no ring but the woman is wise, vocal and discourses on dharma. But Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, as you say, is ‘hardly more than a child and says little’. 
Kalidasa created his Shakuntala at a time when the power of women — which was fairly robust in the Mahabharata; think of Draupadi! — had significantly waned. The perfect heroine would no longer be able to defend herself as the Mahabharata’s Shakuntala was able to do, to chastise King Dushyanta and teach him a lesson in dharma. So Kalidasa had to give his heroine some help, in the form of the magic ring that first erased and then restored Dushyanta’s memory of her.

Interestingly, you and critics like Romila Thapar point to Kalidasa’s use of the device of the ring to protect the king from ‘blame’ and ‘the royal sin’ of abandoning a woman. 
Yes, the ring changed Dushyanta from a lying cad (which he was in the Mahabharata) to a perfectly honourable man who was the victim of a curse — carried by a ring — that clouded his memory. Since Kalidasa’s patrons, the Gupta dynasty, traced their lineage back to Bharata, the son of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, it was in Kalidasa’s best interests to whitewash the king’s erotic record.

How did the ring become a repository of so much even when it doesn’t hold huge symbolism in the society at large in India? Even wedding rings are rather recent. 
Rings signify an enduring promise of love, but they also signify the identity of the lover. The idea of endurance is suggested by the material that the ring is made of, usually a form of metal. And the idea of sexual love is suggested by the relationship between the ring and the finger. Given as an emotional pledge of affection, rings often end up as vital legal evidence of marriage and paternity. As for their prominence in India, they play an important part in the earliest literature of India, which is in Sanskrit, and the use of Sanskrit at first was limited to the very small upper crust of the Indian population.

The rings in these texts, therefore, usually belong to kings and princesses, though also to merchants. Some of those stories about rings filtered down into the folk literature in several vernacular Indian languages; for instance, the story of the clever wife — who uses a ring to prove to her husband that he fathered her child — is told in many folk traditions ‘in society at large in India’. But wedding rings are not prominent in these folk tales, or in Indian popular culture; bangles and anklets and nose rings really play a larger part there. Still, they are rings (circular jewellery)!

You trace the presence of the ring across cultures. How different is it in Indian literature? 
The Indian stories share many of the more general meanings — of love, marriage and betrayal — that are found throughout the corpus in the Indo-European world, but they have a particular inflection of their own, growing out of ideas, unique to India, about the nature of women, the customs of marriage, the physical process of paternity and the distribution of wealth. And, in my humble opinion, the Indian stories are the best, the most ingenious and the most richly embellished, simply because the Indian tradition of storytelling is the most vivid and robust.

In India, why is there a tendency to approach literature/ myths as historical truths rather than as texts?
India has always had a rich tradition of literature and myth, and it has also always had a rich tradition of science, in the form of the shastras: the sciences of mathematics, grammar and astronomy, architecture, medicine, the care of horses and elephants, and much more. These two realms of myth and science were always quite distinct. But in reaction to the scorn of the British during colonisation, and Indian admiration for colonial scientific achievements such as trains, some Hindus began to insist, first, that Europe might have science but India had spirituality; and, then, that Hindu religious texts (particularly the Vedas) also had science — such as airplanes — long before the British did.

Dayanand Saraswati argued that Krishna and Arjuna had flown to North America during the Vedic period (so that when Columbus landed in 1492 and called the people there ‘Indians’, he was right). This sort of colonial-period ‘science envy’ of the West has recently been revived by Hindu nationalists, against whose fabrications genuine Indian scientists have vehemently protested. Hindutva factions have also mixed myth and history by asserting that the Babri Masjid was built over the place where Rama was born and by opposing the construction of a shipping canal between India and Sri Lanka by insisting that such a canal would destroy a causeway that, according to the Ramayana, an army of talking monkeys built in order to attack the fortress of a ten-headed demon.

How do you see the ‘Hinduisation’ of present-day India by the editing out of Mughals — from renaming roads and railway stations to changes in school and university syllabi? 
Hindutva factions are, again, at the heart of these attempts to replace history with myth, in this case anti-Muslim myth. In a similar way, PN Oak’s argument that Hindus built the Taj Mahal was revived this month when the Central Information Commission reportedly ‘sent a directive to the Union Culture Ministry to clarify its stand on whether the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan or a Shiva temple’.

Why has it become so difficult for scholars to study, analyse and write about India? After the case against your book The Hindus: An Alternative History, there was the vicious trolling of Audrey Truschke over her book on Aurangzeb? 
The difficulty comes not in the writing — some excellent writing about India has been published by Indian scholars in recent years — but in the ability of authors and publishers in India nowadays to avoid violent repercussions against serious works of scholarship. Despite a lawsuit, my books are still available in India and are widely read; some people like them, some people don’t, as should always be the case with scholarship that deals with volatile issues.

But some booksellers are afraid to carry them, or to carry them openly, and, given the violence of some of the Hindutva censorship tactics, I certainly cannot blame such booksellers, though I applaud the courage and integrity of those who do in fact sell the books. The attacks on Audrey Truschke are more of the same; such attacks have nothing to do with the author or the treatment of the subject, but with an anti-Muslim agenda backed by physical violence that the present government of India shows no inclination to control. The attacks, on both me and Dr Truschke, are laden with sexism and anti-Semitism that have nothing to do with the issues raised by our books — issues that should instead inspire spirited discussion of the actual historical.

Have you looked at some of the popular retellings of the epics and puranas? 
I have indeed, and some of them are truly wonderful. I particularly love Amruta Patil’s retellings, and Chitra Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusion, and Arshia Sattar’s version of the Ramayana for children, but there are many others. They bring out threads and connections and undertones that are really there in the Sanskrit texts but are muted and hidden, easy to miss until these modern writers bring them out. The old Amar Chitra Katha reduced all the stories they retold and bowdlerised them; these modern retellings, by contrast, make the stories stretch and expand into the modern world, taking on deeper meanings.

Apart from rings, jewellery is central to Chilapatikaaram and Mrichhakatika. Was it indeed the line that a woman can be identified by the jewellery she is wearing? 
Indian jewellery, in particular, is beautifully wrought in silver and gold; Indian craftsmanship is rightly famous throughout the world. Such pieces would therefore be unique, and make it possible to identify the woman who owned them, as in fact Sita’s jewellery identifies her in the Ramayana. And India has been the home of fabulous jewels, often unique rubies and emeralds, the pearls of Sri Lanka and the diamonds of Golconda, the source of so many European stories of the stolen idol’s eye and other enormous jewels with equally enormous curses upon them. So it is not surprising that jewellery should identify the women in some of the greatest works of ancient Indian literature, and that this mythology should also find its place in popular folklore.

(Source: ET)

The dangerous and bizarre square shaped waves

There is no shortage of special effects on our digital screens these days, but believe it or not, there are equally peculiar phenomenons in nature that seem like work of technology rather than Mother Nature.

Isle of Rhe in France is one such destination which is known for being romantic, as well as bizarre. A tiny island measuring just 19 miles long and three miles wide, Isle of Rhe is located on the west coast of France near La Rochelle in the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular tourist destination with quaint places to stay.

Just like France's more famous southern coast, Isle of Rhe has fabulous beaches and great weather to lure tourists from all over Europe and the world. But unlike the southern coast, there is something truly unique about the waves that can be seen from many of its beaches.

To the naked eye, the waves appear to be square shaped, repeating over and over again to form a chessboard pattern on the surface of the ocean. The sight is so unusual that each year, residents and tourists alike, often flock to an old lighthouse on the shore to get a better view from its higher elevation.

What seems like the doings of aliens or an equally bizarre outer force, is actually easily explained by science.

Isle of Rhe lies at the intersection of two seas, often referred to as a cross sea. Miles under the surface of the ocean where the two meet, two different weather patterns can produce two wave systems traveling at opposing angles.

When these weather patterns last for longer periods of time, they produce these unusually large, square shapes that make for quite a sight!

While they might look beautiful, they also make the waters very dangerous. The strong currents formed due to a cross sea can be much stronger than any riptide we are familiar with.

In fact, it is not unusual to hear of ship accidents being caused as vessels get caught in these square waves. Thankfully, these square waves are not a constant phenomenon, making the beaches of Isle of Rhe mostly safe during all the other times.

It is truly amazing to see how nature works in the most bizarre ways. Some of the other unbelievable wonders of nature include flammable ice bubbles beneath Alberta's Lake Abraham, underwater crop circles off the coast of Japan, and the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize to name a few.

Turning off our screens once in a while and heading out into the world to check out these natural sights might make for more interesting and memorable times for all of us!

(Source: Life Aspire)

Friday, 29 December 2017

How big are the biggest squid, whales, sharks, jellyfish?

A few years ago, Carl Zimmer and I ran a workshop on science writing, where we talked, among other things, about explaining science without talking down to your audience. It apparently left an impression on Craig McClain, a marine biologist and blogger who was in the audience. “I made a comment about how I always wanted to write a post on how giant squid sizes are bullsh*t,” he recalls,” but that those always come off as an arrogant scientist telling the world that it’s wrong. And you said: You should write it, but you just need to find the right tone. That kicked me off.”

Rather than an angry blog post, McClain decided to put together a scientific paper that would accurately answer a simple yet slippery question: How big do the biggest animals in the ocean get?

The oceans are home to giants: blue whales and great white sharks; giant squids and giant clams; elephant seals and Japanese spider crabs. These creatures have no trouble capturing the public imagination, but scientists often have trouble capturing them. Many are rare, elusive, or live in inaccessible parts of the sea. Some are only measured when they wash ashore, after dry land distends or deflates their bodies. Some are so big that they are just plain hard to measure. And so, oceans are also home to exaggeration.

Take the giant squid. Umpteen media report claim that this nigh-mythic animal can grow up to 60 feet (18 metres) in length. That’s absurd, McClain thought. The vast majority are less than half that length. Many individuals are measured when they wash ashore, after decomposition loosens their muscles and eager humans stretch their tentacles. One size estimate even came from someone counting his paces next to a beached squid! Shoddy data had been unleashed upon the kraken.

McClain, together with Meghan Balk from the University of New Mexico, went after better sources. They recruited five keen undergraduate students and large team of colleagues, who divided a list of target species between them. They trawled the scientific literature for measurements. They combed through books, newsletters, and newspapers. They asked colleagues at museums to measure specimens in their collections. They contacted networks that rescue stranded turtles. They reeled in eBay records to find the measurements of giant clams and snail shells. And together, they found the best possible estimates for the maximum sizes of 25 ocean giants.

For some species, widely quoted figures were outrageously wrong. The largest verifiable giant squid was 12 metres long—giant, sure, but a damn sight smaller than 18 metres. The biggest known walrus weighed 1,883 kilograms, a far cry from the 2,500 kilogram titan that a hunter supposedly shot, and clearly embellished.

For some species, estimates were outdated—giant clam sizes all date to the 60s and 70s. For others, like the lion’s mane jellyfish and Japanese spider crab, the team found that accurate data just doesn’t exist.

And “some animals may just not be getting as big as they used to get,” says McClain. In 1885, fishermen in the Aleutian Islands caught a Giant Pacific octopus that was 9.8 metres from one arm tip to the next. “The two octopus experts who were with me on this paper say that they just don’t get that big any more,” says McClain. “It could be pollution or climate change.”

Hype and decline aside, the stats from the paper still tell of oceans that are full of impressive leviathans. There are giant barrel sponges, whose bodies are just two layers of cells sandwiching a jelly filling, but can nonetheless grow to 2.5 metres wide. There are 2-metre-wide Nomura’s jellyfish that can weigh 200 kilograms. In the depths, 3-metre-long giant tube worms thrive near hot, belching, volcanically heated vents, and giant isopods—a kind of undersea woodlouse on steroids—can reach 50 centimetres. Seven treacherous metres exist between the tip of a great white shark’s toothy snout and the end of its powerful tail.

The maximum verifiable sizes of various ocean giants. CREDIT: EMILY M. ENG, NG STAFF. SOURCE: C. R. MCCLAIN, ET AL. PEERJ
The largest mammal, the blue whale, grows up to 33 metres long, and can swallow half a million calories in one mouthful. The longest fish—the star-backed whale shark—gets to 18.8 metres. The longest bony fish—the bizarre, serpentine oarfish—can reach 8 metres. The heaviest bony fish—the ocean sunfish, which looks like the decapitated head of a much larger fish—grows to just 3.3 metres long but weighs up to 2,300 kilograms. That’s much heavier than the biggest turtle (leatherback, 650 kg), a little heavier than the biggest walrus (1,883 kg), and not a patch on the heaviest seal (Southern elephant seal, 5,000 kg).

These measurements are all as accurate as possible; finding them often involved a labyrinth of references and phone calls. For the Australian trumpet—a beachball-sized monster of a snail—McClain found an issue of Hawaiian Shell News, in which a collector named Don Pisor holds up an enormous and supposedly 90-cm shell. But McClain also found a copy of the Registry of World Record Size Shells, which said that the record-holder was just 72 centimetres long. It was also attributed to Don Pisor. Were these the same specimens? Was this guy a charlatan? Or just phenomenally good at catching escargods? There was only one thing to do: McClain tracked down Pisor and asked him. It was just one specimen, he said, and he donated it to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. McClain called the museum. 72 centimetres, they said. Another data point for the list.

In a few cases, the team discovered new things about the giants. Andrew Thaler, who collected the data on giant isopods suddenly realised that males were, on average, much bigger than females. “That’s not something either of us knew before and both of us know everything there is to know about giant isopods,” says McClain.

And for several animals, the team managed to plot out the distribution of their sizes, rather than just the maximum. Scientifically, that’s more useful. People love to know how big animals can get, but that tells us very little about their typical lives. The biggest known giant squid was 12 metres long, but their average length is 7.3 metres, and most individuals are shorter than 9.2. Its archenemy, the sperm whale, has a recorded maximum size of 24 metres, but 95 percent of these whales are shorter than 15 metres.

As McClain—himself a bear of a man at 6’ 2”—points out, “individuals may reach these extraordinary large sizes through developmental or genetic defects.” The tallest human ever, Robert Wadlow, was 8 feet and 11 inches in height; he also needed leg braces to walk and died at 21 from an infection aggravated by an autoimmune disease. The tallest woman, Zeng Jillian, reached her lofty 8 feet and 1 inch because of a tumour in her pituitary gland; she died at 17. We are fascinated by extremes, but life mostly plays out in the middle.

Reference: McClain, Balk, Benfield, Branch, Chen, Cosgrove, Dove, Helm, Hochberg, Gaskins, Lee, Marshall, McMurray, Schanche, Stone & Thaler. 2015. Sizing ocean giants: patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna. PeerJ

More: The students created a website—Story of Size—where they wrote about their work.

(Source: National Geographic)

Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?

Kingdom releases 50 names parents are forbidden from calling their children, such as Linda, Alice and Elaine

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry has banned 50 names they argue contradict the culture or religion of the Kingdom, according to reports by local media.

Parents in the Kingdom will reportedly no longer be able to call their children by names such as Linda, Alice, Elaine or Binyamin (Arabic for Benjamin) after the civil affairs department at the ministry issued a list of the prohibited names.

Binyamin is believed in Islam to be the son of Prophet Jacob, but is also the name of the current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some names on the list are allegedly banned by the interior ministry because they are considered “blasphemous,” non-Arabic or non-Islamic, or contradictory to the kingdom’s culture or religion, Gulf News has reported.

The ban was also allegedly justified by the ministry because some of the names were deemed foreign or "inappropriate".

Other sets of forbidden names include those with royal connotations, such as Sumuw (highness), Malek (king) and Malika (queen).

Some on the list do not fit into any of these categories however, leaving the reason for banning them open to speculation.
The Saudi royal crest Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
The full list of forbidden names as reported in Gulf News is listed below:

Malaak (angel)
Abdul Aati
Abdul Naser
Abdul Musleh
Binyamin (Arabic for Benjamin)
Abdul Nabi
Abdul Rasool
Sumuw (highness)
Al Mamlaka (the kingdom)
Malika (queen)
Mamlaka (kingdom)
Tabarak (blessed)
Rama (Hindu god)
Basmala (utterance of the name of God)
Jibreel (angel Gabriel)
Abdul Mu’een
Nabi (prophet)
Nabiyya (female prophet)
Amir (prince)

(Source: Independent)

Why happy couples rarely share their relationship statuses on social media

Northwestern University found those who posted more frequently about their partner actually feel insecure in their relationship.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets a little annoyed by that couple on social media. You know who I'm talking about. Their profile pictures are selfies of them together smiling. Their statuses are inside jokes or cheesy relationship goals. But when you actually spend time with them, you're wondering why they're together.

Unlike their public facade, behind closed doors, this couple is always bickering about everything from chores to finances, and they seem on the verge of breaking up.

It becomes so tiresome that you long for the days when a social-media status was merely a shout out in your AIM profile. Unfortunately, social media has evolved to become a part of our daily lives -- which includes sharing too much information about our relationships.

The thing is, genuinely happy couples don't have to boast about it. In fact, they hardly discuss their relationship on social media. Here are eight reasons why over-posting couples may not be doing as well as they make it seem.

1. They're convincing others to convince themselves.
When two people constantly post inside jokes, confess their love for each other, or share pictures of themselves doing fun and romantic activities, it's a ploy to convince everyone else they're in a happy and healthy relationship, which is really just a way to trick themselves into thinking they're in a happy and healthy relationship.

Sexologist Nikki Goldstein told Mail Online: "Often it's the people who post the most who are seeking validation for their relationship from other people on social media.

"The likes and comments can be so validating that when someone is really struggling, that's where they get their up from -- not the person making the gesture, but what other people will say about it."

2. People who post more often are more likely to be psychopathic and narcissistic.
A survey of 800 men ages 18 to 40 found that "narcissism and psychopathy predicted the number of selfies posted, whereas narcissism and self-objectification predicted editing photographs of oneself posted" on social-media networks.

Another study discovered that posting, tagging, and commenting on Facebook is often associated with narcissism in both men and women.

In short, the more often you post or engage on social media, the more likely you are to be either narcissistic or, even worse, psychopathic. And in case you're wondering, "Narcissists are very bad relationship partners," says professor Brad Bushman of Ohio State University.

3. When you're happy, you don't get distracted by social media.
Sure. There will be plenty of times where you'll share a status or a couple of pictures of you and your significant other. Happy couples, though, are busy enjoying each other's company in the present. This means that they're not going to stop enjoying each other's company just to post a status or snap a selfie.

That's why you'll see this couple post a collage of their recent trip after they get home. They were too preoccupied with having fun to keep posting pictures.

4. Couples who post a lot tend to be insecure.
After surveying more than 100 couples, researchers from Northwestern University found those who posted more frequently on social media about their partner actually feel insecure in their relationship.

5. Couples are better off when they keep arguments offline.
Have you ever been in the presence of couple that's fighting? It's awkward, to say the least. Now imagine that fight playing out for the whole world to see on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube?

Instead of filming and uploading an anger and profanity-filled video, for example, the argument should be discussed in private between the couple. There's no need to air your dirty laundry to all of your friends, family, co-workers, or even clients.

6. Those who post more often on social media rely on their relationship for happiness.
Researchers from Albright College call this Relationship Contingent Self-Esteem (RCSE). RCSE is described as "an unhealthy form of self-esteem that depends on how well your relationship is going." These people use social media to brag about their relationship, make others jealous, or even spy on their partner.

"These results suggest that those high in RCSE feel a need to show others, their partners and perhaps themselves that their relationship is 'OK' and, thus, they are OK," said Albright assistant professor of psychology Gwendolyn Seidman, PhD.

7. They don't have anything to prove.
Couples that are genuinely happy do not need validation from social media to prove how happy they are. They don't need to show-off, make anyone else jealous, or keep tabs on their significant other. They're so secure and content in the relationship that there's no need to gush about it.

8. People who stay off Facebook are happier.
Denmark's Happiness Research Institute wanted to know what would happen if people quit Facebook for a week. So, they conducted an experiment that involved 1,095 people.

"After one week without Facebook, the treatment group reported a significantly higher level of life satisfaction," stated the researchers.

Prior to the experiment, the volunteers were asked to rate their lives on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the happiest. The "no Facebook" group increased from an average of 7.75/10 to 8.12/10, while the group that kept using Facebook actually decreased from 7.67/10 to 7.56/10.

The researchers also found that frequent Facebook users were more likely to feel angry (20 percent versus 12 percent), depressed (33 percent versus 22 percent) and worried (54 percent versus 41 percent).

In reality, it doesn't really matter what all the research says. It matters what you think and feel. However, the comments and findings from professionals may be something to at least take a look at. And if you feel you, a partner or friend has a "social media" issue, you may want to take a much closer look.

(Source: Inc.)