Saturday, 18 November 2017

How have south Indian actors fared outside their own industry?

From Kamal Haasan to Dulquer Salmaan and Parvathy, many south Indian actors have ventured into Bollywood. One look at some of their roles and we realise that it never falls in the typical mould of a Bollywood hero. They are either a character with a south Indian background, or with some patent difference in behaviour, characteristics or ethnicity, writes Neelima Menon on the News Minute. Read on: 

Malayalam superstar Dulquer Salmaan has just wrapped his first Hindi film Karwaan, written and directed by debutant Akarsh Khurana, co-starring Irrfan Khan and Mithila Palkar.  He is only the second male actor of his generation from the Malayalam industry to have taken the ‘big leap’ into Bollywood. Prithviraj tried it in 2012 with Aiyyaa opposite Rani Mukherjee.

While Dulquer fans professed their delight over the actor’s new innings, he had this to say—"I don’t think I want to play a fancy lead role in Hindi films just for the sake of it. I would prefer to do interesting roles. If I get a memorable role, it would have a bigger impact than debuting as a lead in a film where nobody knows me.”

The message is loud and clear; he is just testing waters in Bollywood, and has no intention of setting base there. Malayalam cinema will always be the priority. It’s probably this sense of security on home ground that often curtails south Indian male actors’ exploration of Bollywood at length.

Drawing a trajectory: from Kamal Haasan to Dhanush
“All of them had hits. Chiranjeevi had Gentleman, Rajinikanth had Andha Kanoon and Kamal Haasan had Ek Duuje Ke Liye. But they didn’t move bag and baggage to Bollywood unlike Sridevi or Jayaprada. I think proximity to the industry was a major part, they didn’t want to give up their mega stardom down south,” - Baradwaj Rangan, Film Companion South editor.

Though Sivaji Ganesan had a cameo in Dharti (1970), it was Kamal Haasan who made his big Bollywood debut as a hero in K Balachander’s Ek Duuje Ke liye (1981). He played a Tamilian who falls madly in love with a north Indian girl (this thread was later reconstructed in various Hindi soaps and films).

Out of the 18 films he did, most of them were either remakes or dubbed version of his own south Indian films. Probably Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar (1985) and Raaj Tilak (1984) are the only quintessential Bollywood films he was part of. Despite his talent, Kamal Haasan was never a sought-after hero in Hindi.

Rajinikanth has done around 20 films in Hindi, and there have been quite a few hits, but he was never able to replicate the phenomenal success from down south. Unlike Kamal, Rajinikanth took on original roles in Bollywood. Interestingly, both actors put a lid on their Bollywood goals post their superstardom in Tamil cinema.

Malayalam superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal were also part of an odd film or two. Mammootty was the hero in a highly forgettable Dhartiputra (1993) and Sau Jhooth Ek Sach (2004). While Mohanlal won rave reviews for his Palakkad based Police Commissioner in Company (2002), he gained nothing from being part of the awful Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007).

Chiranjeevi and Venkatesh, superstars of Telugu cinema have also starred in one or two Hindi films (most of their Telugu superhits were dubbed into Hindi) but it’s Nagarjuna who tasted some amount of success with films like Criminal (1995) and Khuda Gawah (1992).

Kannada superstar Kichcha Sudeep surprisingly made more fruitful inroads into Bollywood than many of his contemporaries (with Ram Gopal Varma films like Phoonk, Rann, Phoonk 2, Raktha Charitra 1 & 2).

Prithviraj made an unconventional debut with Rani Mukherjee in Aiyya where he played a Tamil man who becomes a Marathi woman's object of lust. He played a character with grey shades in Aurangzeb and had an extended cameo in Naam Shabana, but success still eluded the young actor in Bollywood.

Chiranjeevi’ son Ram Charan’s Hindi debut, Zanjeer (2013), which was a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer of the same name, sank without a trace. Then there is Dhanush who made a notable debut with Raanjhanaa (2013), won the Filmfare for best debut actor and starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Shamitabh (2015).

Not many of the young male superstars down south seem keen to experiment in Bollywood. There have been infrequent outings (including Ajith in Asoka, Surya in Raktha Charithra) but only two actors have managed to make some headway in Bollywood -  R Madhavan and Siddharth. While the former has been adept at balancing both industries, the latter has made an impact with the few Hindi films he did.  Telugu star Rana Daggubati has also done his share of Hindi films (Department, Dum Maro Dum, Ghazi Attack) without being pigeonholed as a south Indian character.

The women who charmed the boundaries
“In the 80s there were a lot of heroine oriented films being made that required a certain level of acting proficiency than glamour. But now it’s more a sporadic event. Look at how Aramm is being celebrated as a heroine-oriented movie,” - Baradwaj Rangan.

There have been widespread discussions on the dwindling success rate of south Indian male actors in Bollywood in contrast to female actors. Female actors have always succeeded in blurring the linguistic and topographic boundaries in cinema—from Padmini, Vyjayantimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, Jayaprada to Asin.

The heroines who made the crossover were all fair-skinned and once there, they were quick to fit into the Bollywood mould. Sridevi had a lot of substantial roles come her way but she was careful to even it out with enough glamour outings.  Ditto with Rekha.

Hema Malini was sought out mostly for scripts that had a meaningful woman lead. And they stood head and shoulders with the reigning superstars in Bollywood.

“Also at that time south heroines came with a certain skill set. They could dance, emote,” says Rangan.  However, no woman actor from the south has since been able to create that kind of impact in Bollywood. Although Aishwarya Rai is from the south and she made her debut in the Tamil film Iruvar, she grew up in Mumbai for the most part.

Among the younger lot, though Asin struck gold with the Hindi remake of Ghajini, she soon found herself being relegated to playing the ‘girl-next-door’. Her innings hardly went beyond 7 films. “There has always been a flavour of the month in southern industry. Not so much about acting, but about looking good and that means fair skin was the need of the hour. Especially post '90s. As the profile of the movie changed, the actresses also changed,” recalls Rangan.

At the same time, Tamannaah and Kajal Aggarwal are north Indian women actors who have set their base in the south, with occasional and forgettable Bollywood outings.  Taapsee Pannu is an exception in this case as, unlike her peers, she has invested in better characters in Hindi. Ironically, it’s when she migrated to Bollywood that she was accepted as a good actor.

Dubbing artist-turned-actor Bhagyalakshmi once said in a TV interview, “When it comes to north Indian actresses doing films in south, since their voices are dubbed, it’s easier to find acceptance in regional cinema. Simran and Jyothika had the same dubbing artist. It’s only recently that even Nayanthara started using her voice. Initially Sridevi and Rekha had dubbing artists and it’s once they were established that they started doing their own dubbing. Asin dubbed for herself in Hindi and Tamil. That’s also one reason why male actors struggle in either industries because voice is part of their popular image.”

But Parvathy who recently made her Hindi film debut in Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle opposite Irrfan Khan was received warmly by the critics and audience alike.

“This film’s beating heart is Parvathy. She is such a breath of fresh air, such a break from the dressed-up dolls of Bollywood: a breathing, alive young woman, sensitive to those around her, searching, but not too desperately, not for that mythical One, but for Someone who may be a right fit,” says Indian Express film critic Shubra Gupta in her review. Another notable aspect is that she has dubbed for herself in the film.

Bollywood was largely ruled by south Indian women actors for a long time but not a single male actor was able to gain a foothold in the industry. The marked 'south Indian' look of many actors doesn’t work in a typical Bollywood rom-com or potboiler, and their heavily accented Hindi also acts as a deterrent.  One look at some of their roles and we realise that it never falls in the typical mould of a Bollywood hero. They are either a character with a south Indian background, or with some patent difference in behaviour, characteristics or ethnicity.

The two-way street of typecasting...
 And it’s a two-way street when it comes to male actor’s acceptance in either industries. Except for cameos by Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Anil Kapoor, Bollywood male actors have never dared to play leading roles in any south Indian film as the same rule applies to these actors of north Indian origin. They have instead preferred to remake some of these mass films into their language. Four out of Akshay Kumar’s ten top grossers have been remakes of south Indian films (Rowdy Rathore, Singh is Bling, Holiday, Gabbar is Back) while five of Salman Khan’s all-time biggest hits (Kick, Ready, Bodyguard, Wanted, Jai Ho) were remakes of Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films.

Interestingly the south has also always beckoned the north Indian actors for the role of hard-nosed villains. For a long time, every mass Telugu/Tamil film featured a blue/grey-eyed, russet haired villain:  Atul Kulkarni, Sonu Sood (who made a successful career out of it), Sayaji Shinde, Rahul Dev, Pradeep Rawat, Vidyut Jamwaal to name a few.

...Ending in misrepresentations!
Baahubali 2, which is the second highest grossing film in India after Dangal can be credited for obscuring the wide margin between south and north Indian cinema in the recent past. But at what cost we may wonder? A lot of cinemagoers in north India now believe that this epic fantasy action film represents all cinema down south. It speaks a lot about the Bollywood-isation of Indian cinema.

Even as Bollywood continues to feed into the dark, huge, curly haired rowdy stereotypes (remember Chennai Express) for south Indian men, and pale, pretty and blue-eyed stereotypes (remember, well, everyone from dusky-turned-fair Rekha to Aishwarya Rai!) for all women, we hope that in times to come with independent cinema swallowing the gap between mainstream and offbeat, the south-north demarcation in Indian cinema will take a backseat.  Perhaps then, quality content and quality actors will triumph over topography and ethnicity. 

Husbands stress women twice as much as children

A middle-aged man jokes with his work friends, saying, “I love being a dad- I have 2 great kids…. but my wife has 3!” The group might laugh and allow the conversation to move on, but the truth is, many women today really do feel like they’re left to parent their partners instead of relying on their support with family life. Left to play chef, chauffeur, teacher, nurse, maid, special events coordinator, and correctional officer, many moms feel like they’re always running out of steam- especially if they work outside of the home as well.

It’s Not The Kids… It’s Hubby!

Unfortunately, for many women, as demanding as motherhood can be, their husbands can have an even greater impact on their stress levels. In fact, a survey conducted by Today of over 7,000 moms found that the average mom rates her stress levels an 8.5 out of 10, and 46% of women say their husbands are causing more stress than their kids! Researchers summarized: (1)

Moms stress most about not having enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done
3 in every 4 moms with partners say they do most of the parenting and household duties
1 in every 5 moms says not having enough help from their spouse is a major source of daily stress
What’s more, researchers from the University of Padova have recently discovered that this carries over into a difference in health further down the road, when one partner passes away. When husbands lose their wives, their health deteriorates, but when women lose their husbands, they actually become healthier and are better at coping with stress and depression. (2) The researchers suspected this was because the men relied more heavily on their female partners than vice versa.

Why Are Husbands Stressing Their Wives Out? 
Husbands Can Step Up More
There’s definitely more than one underlying theme here at play. On the one hand, moms are expecting equal support from their partners to take care of their families; things like organizing play dates, doctor appointments, and homework duties. But even in families in which both parents are working full-time, it’s still pretty commonplace for the women to be left with those responsibilities.

How To Fix It: If you notice you and your partner don’t have an even split of at-home responsibilities, talk with him about it! If it helps, try to make a list together of all of the little things that need to get done every week and see how you can make things more equitable. Try starting a shared calendar that both of you can easily access on your phones and computers, so no one has to be worried about forgetting important dates.

Wives Can Step Back More
There’s always two sides to a story. It might be easy to blame your partner for not taking more responsibility at home, but more often than not, they really do want to be the best father and husband they can be! The problem can sometimes be that moms aren’t fully trusting their partners to take on more.

How To Fix It: Women can have fantastic visions for their family and their children. But if not executed exactly right, it might seem easier just to do things yourself than to ask your partner to step in. Resist the temptation! Remember to value your own time to re-charge and care for yourself. If that means your kids are out in public with clashing outfits, so be it.

Put Some Spark In Your Relationship
When the flurry of parenthood starts, it can be all too easy to put your relationship on the back-burner. But that’s not how relationships work! You’re not just parents, you’re partners… and you’re individuals! Nurturing a loving relationship between the two of you will make a world of a difference both in the short term and in the long run.

How To Fix It: Do your best to commit a certain amount of time just to each other every week: no kids, no work, no distractions. Keeping the connection strong between each other can help you face those challenging days when all you want to do is scream or cry or hide in the closet with some comfort food. The truth is, both you, your partner and your kids will benefit from your family being founded on a strong partnership.

(Source: Healthy Holistic Living)

North Korea 'sentences Donald Trump to death' in state newspaper editorial

'He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people'

North Korea's people have sentenced Donald Trump to death, according to an editorial in its state newspaper.

The article says that the President offended the country when he denounced its "cruel dictatorship" during his tour around Asia. And for that he should be killed, the article suggested.

“The worst crime for which he can never be pardoned is that he dared [to] malignantly hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership,” the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun wrote.

“He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people."

The article also said that Mr Trump was a coward for cancelling a visit to the North Korean border, a decision that was made because of bad weather. But the article said that in fact the President "was just too scared to face the glaring eyes of our troops", according to AFP, which first reported the belligerent piece.

Throughout the trip, Mr Trump attempted to unite Asian governments in an attempt to crack down on North Korea's nuclear weapons, as well as insulting the current leadership.

In Seoul, for instance, he delivered a sharp warning to North Korea, saying: "Do not underestimate us. And do not try us." But he also signalled for the first time that he might be open to discussions with Mr Kim.

As the trip came to a close, he posted on Twitter: ""Why would Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat'?"

The state newspaper, which is seen as a mouthpiece for the government, has regularly been used to attack Mr Trump in aggressive terms. This year, it has called him a "rabid dog", a "psychopath" and suggested that it could "reduce the US mainland to ashes any moment".

(Source: Independent)

The benefits of a lousy passport

Having to choose from a limited number of holiday destinations can be strangely liberating, writes Leo Mirani in The Economist 1843. Read on: 

“What are you doing here?” is a question I got used to hearing pretty quickly in Kiev. It’s not that people were unhappy to see me – quite the opposite. But nobody in Ukraine could figure out why I was spending my summer vacation in a country that is the second poorest in Europe (after Moldova), at war (with Russia), and expensive to get to (a planned Ryanair route never took off). Perhaps, they ventured, I had an interest in Communist history and post-Soviet countries? Or maybe (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) because Ukrainian girls are very pretty?

The real reason is deeply unsexy. I went to Ukraine because Ukraine would have me. I hold an Indian passport – ranked 159th out of 199 countries on a list of the world’s most powerful passports measured by ease of travel. In April the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs announced that it would grant visas on arrival to citizens of nearly three dozen countries. Earlier this year, the president of neighbouring Belarus decreed visa-free access for citizens of 80 countries. Both lists included India. So I went.

The top five slots in the ranking of powerful passports are shared by 22 countries, two thirds of which are within the European Union. EU citizens can go to more than 150 countries visa-free or get a visa on arrival. People from Canada, Japan, Singapore and America have similar privileges. At the other end of the scale are Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, which occupy the bottom five ranks. Each one of those passports grants its holder access to, at most, 35 countries. The Indian passport is more useful, but not by much. It gives me easy access to a paltry 51 countries. The rest, including North America and all European countries, require a visa.

On the plus side, this means Indian passports tend to be full of stamps and stickers. On the minus side, getting a visa is hard. It requires lots of money in the bank, pre-booked flights and hotels, the disclosure of tax returns and payslips, proof of intent to return home, hefty fees and ritual humiliation. When a visa is rejected, it means losing money on application fees, plane tickets and other bookings as well as having to explain yourself the next time you make a visa application.

If you work in a profession that requires you to travel abroad at short notice, like journalism, having to apply for visas can hold you back. Once, in a previous job, I had to decline a free trip to report on a cocktail-making competition in Athens because I couldn’t get a visa appointment in time.

When I am travelling for leisure, I prefer to avoid the hassle of applying for a visa. I do not choose destinations so much as they choose me. That is why I have gone on holiday twice to Iran. I have ended up in countries where people are surprised and genuinely happy to meet a visitor. In Isfahan, a city in central Iran, a friend and I were stopped by a gang of excited youths as we crossed a bridge – they wanted a picture with us. (Europeans relate similar stories about feeling like mini-celebrities in small-town India.)

In Minsk, complete strangers I emailed agreed to meet for drinks and acquaintances of acquaintances offered to show me around. I’ve gained valuable insights into how societies operate. In Kiev, I spent an afternoon sitting in an ancient flat chatting to a bunch of undergraduates about everything from Ukrainian education standards and the local indie music scene to the situation in Donbas and corruption in the judiciary. I have experienced extraordinary acts of generosity. In Albania a few years ago, a complete stranger drove me halfway across the country after a bus driver decided against plying his route that day.

Letting the world’s bureaucrats choose my destinations has led to enriching, unforgettable holidays. I hope there will be many more to come. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have recently started granting e-visas to Indians. Over the past few years south-east Asian countries have liberalised their visa regimes, with the result that Indian and Chinese tourists have started pouring in. In September, Serbia abolished the visa requirement altogether. For the first time, I find myself confronted with a choice of where to spend my money. It is nice to feel wanted.

How the zombie fungus takes over ants’ bodies to control their minds

The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected, writes Ed Young in the Atlantic. Read on: 

To find the world’s most sinister examples of mind control, don’t look to science fiction. Instead, go to a tropical country like Brazil, and venture deep into the jungle. Find a leaf that’s hanging almost exactly 25 centimeters above the forest floor, no more and no less. Now look underneath it. If you’re in luck, you might find an ant clinging to the leaf’s central vein, jaws clamped tight for dear life. But this ant’s life is already over. And its body belongs to Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus.

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

The fungus’s skill at colonizing ants is surpassed only by its skill at colonizing popular culture. It’s the organism behind the monsters of the video game “The Last of Us” and the zombies of the book The Girl With All the Gifts. It’s also an obsession of one David Hughes, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying it for years. He wants to know exactly how this puppet master controls its puppets—and his latest experiments suggest that it’s even more ghoulish than it first appears.

Hughes’s student Maridel Fredericksen used a special microscope to julienne infected ants into slices that were just 50 nanometers thick—a thousandth of the width of a human hair. She scanned each slice, compiled the images into a three-dimensional model, and painstakingly annotated which bits were ant and which bits were fungus. It took three months to mark up just one muscle. To speed things up, Hughes teamed up with computer scientist Danny Chen, who trained an artificial intelligence to distinguish ant from fungus.

“Something much more intricate must be going on.”

When the fungus first enters its host, it exists as single cells that float around the ant’s bloodstream, budding off new copies of themselves. But at some point, as Fredericksen’s images show, these single cells start working together. They connect to each other by building short tubes, of a kind that have only ever been seen before in fungi that infects plants. Hooked up in this way, they can communicate and exchange nutrients.

They can also start invading the ant’s muscles, either by penetrating the muscle cells themselves or growing into the spaces between them. The result is what you can see in this video: a red muscle fiber, encircled and drained by a network of interconnected yellow fungal cells. This is something unique to Ophiocordyceps. Hughes’s team found that another parasitic fungus, which fatally infects ants but doesn’t manipulate their minds, also spreads into muscles but doesn’t form tubes between individual cells, and doesn’t wire itself into large networks.

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmith from Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn't invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Are Sri Lankan officers ordering soldiers to sexually assault Tamil detainees?

Last week, the Associated Press published an explosive report documenting more than 50 Tamil men’s allegations that Sri Lanka’s security forces sexually assaulted and tortured them. Their accounts of gang rape, sexual humiliation, and penetration with barbed wire are supported by medical records and psychiatric evaluations. The details are stomach-turning. The news broke at an inconvenient time for Sri Lanka, which is up for its Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week. The government delegation’s assurances of a “zero tolerance policy” on torture sat awkwardly alongside reports of abuses so shocking that one career human rights investigator described them as “the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.”

But it’s not just the brutality of the assaults that stands out; it’s their routine nature. Because, unsettlingly, these allegations are not anomalous. In 2016, the British organization Freedom from Torture reported that 71 percent of its predominantly male Tamil clients said they had been raped or endured other sexual torture. Given the stigma that conservative Tamil culture attaches to rape, male victims have a strong incentive to remain silent about such crimes. The actual incidence is likely to be even higher than the reported rate.

Why would Sri Lankan security forces rape and torture Tamil men?
Sri Lanka is ostensibly a country at peace, eight years out from the end of its bloody civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an insurgency that fought for an independent state for the Tamil ethnic minority. Sri Lanka today is also a democracy, one whose turn away from authoritarianism over the last two years has been enthusiastically welcomed by the international community. And yet, members of a marginalized ethnic minority are reporting ongoing sexual assault and torture by the state.

How can we make sense of such appalling crimes, committed in a supposedly “post-conflict” context by a member in good standing of the community of nations?

Violence doesn’t necessarily stop when war ends. Local conflict may survive a national peace agreement; demobilized groups may take up arms again; the return of refugees may cause tensions; and levels of violent crime may increase. Sexual violence, too, may persist or even increase; wartime trauma and the absence of rule of law can foster high levels of intimate partner and opportunistic violence.

But it’s not just that the monopoly of violence can remain fractured long after the formal cessation of hostilities. State violence itself may continue. From Guatemala to Nepal, heavily militarized security sectors often remain in place after a civil war — leading to continuing abuses.

In Sri Lanka, the government invokes the possibility of LTTE resurgence to justify heavy militarization of the former war zone. A recent mapping exercise estimated that in one district, there was at least one soldier present for every two civilians. Tamils living in these areas suffer ongoing surveillance and harassment by the security forces. And white van abductions and torture of those suspected of links to the LTTE continue to this day.

A Sri Lankan soldier stands at attention during the army’s 64th anniversary and Army Day ceremony in Colombo on Oct. 10, 2013. (Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images) 
Wartime impunity for sexual assault is lingering into peacetime
Wartime rape has also carried over. While the Sri Lankan civil war is often cited as having had a relatively low incidence of sexual violence, that’s because, unusually, such violence was committed primarily by one side only. The LTTE vigorously enforced a strict policy against sexual abuse of civilians and controlled territory for long periods of time, limiting the military’s access to Tamil civilians.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s state forces committed sexual assault habitually — when stopping civilians at military checkpoints, against captured female combatants whose fates are recorded in horrifying trophy videos, in government-operated “displacement camps” where women and girls were easy prey, during the post-war occupation of Tamil communities and against Haitian children while deployed as U.N. peacekeepers. Rape and sexual torture of men was documented as far back as 2000, when a study in the The Lancet found that one in five Tamil men detained by state forces reported being sexually assaulted while in custody.

Much of the sexual violence described above was likely committed opportunistically, by individuals or small groups taking advantage of a permissive environment. But the violations reported in the AP article sound alarmingly routine.

In a human rights report that provides more detail, survivors describe conversations between interrogators about applying the “normal treatment.” Some recall the presence of members of both the police and the military as well as senior officers. Most tellingly, individuals detained at different locations describe strikingly similar torture chambers, suggesting that these assaults are not just routine but standardized.

To date, the military perpetrators of only one post-war rape and two wartime incidents have been convicted. And Sri Lanka has failed entirely to punish any of its peacekeeping troops for their crimes in Haiti.

Are Sri Lankan commanders ordering their officers to rape Tamil detainees?
These details raise the disturbing possibility that Sri Lankan commanders are ordering their men to rape male detainees as part of their counter-insurgency strategy. It’s also possible that this is opportunistic sexual assault on an epidemic level, facilitated by a culture of aggressive impunity.

The distinction matters. Widespread opportunistic rape might be stopped by a significant commitment from the state to reforming the security sector and punishing the perpetrators. But that’s not a solution to top-down, systematic violence. And confusing one for the other will produce the wildly illogical result of expecting those who are ordering the abuses to put in the heroic effort necessary to stamp them out.

Sri Lanka has made extensive promises on human rights and accountability to the international community. Its officials reiterated these commitments, but delivery is long overdue. Despite its promise to prosecute war crimes, the government continues to assure its troops that they will never face justice. And the upcoming UPR report will detail serious human rights violations. Yet members of the international community continue to treat Sri Lanka like a good faith actor, restoring preferential trade arrangements and deepening military partnerships.

This approach rests on an assumption that partial progress will lead to real change. The ongoing rape and sexual torture of Tamil men in detention suggests otherwise.

(Source: Washington Post)

The mysterious phenomenon of Medieval Europe that drove people to dance until collapse

Before the world was struck with Beatlemania–much, much before, for that matter―a different kind of craze swept through Europe, one that would reveal ties to demonic forces, religious cults, and hallucinogenic drugs.

The Dancing Mania was a strange social phenomenon that escapes clear explanation to this day. It was recorded throughout the history of the Middle Ages, with earliest accounts dating from the 7th century.

The symptoms varied, but there was one constant―those “infected” would move in groups, performing something similar to dancing as their bodies twitched with spasms, leaving an observer with a sense of dread. People who engaged in this activity didn’t seem to be aware of themselves. As if in some sort of trance, sometimes the dancing mania would possess a person for days, weeks, and in some cases months. This was no joking matter, as the people afflicted by this peculiar obsession would sometimes die of exhaustion or hunger.

In 1237, in Erfurt, Germany, a group of children showed signs of the dancing mania, as they traveled the 13 miles to the nearby town of Arnstadt, dancing and jumping throughout their journey. Once they reached their destination, they fell to the ground, as a result of exhaustion.

A chronicle that perhaps dates from the time of the event claims that most of the children died soon afterward, and the ones who survived fell into a state of permanent mental illness accompanied by tremors.

It’s likely that it was this or a similar story from which the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin sprung―a folk tale about a piper with supernatural powers who leads a group of children to their death, as an act of revenge against the townsmen who refused to pay him for his services of eradicating rats in times of plague.

A native of Erfurt, Justus Friedrich Karl Hecker, wrote a book published in 1888, titled The Black Death and the Dancing Mania, in which he collected numerous accounts of Dancing Mania, relating it to the horrific consequences of the Bubonic plague that reached its peak in Europe in the mid-14th century.
Engraving of Hendrik Hondius portrays three women affected by the plague.
In the book, Hecker, a doctor of medicine, describes the dancing frenzy as a reaction to the years of Black Death, as the plague epidemic was dubbed. He believed that the hardships brought by the disease indirectly manifested themselves in the form of a collective madness. It is certainly true that the pandemic, which wiped out one-third of the world’s population, left a devastating effect on the human psyche.

One the largest outbreaks of the mysterious dancing “sickness” happened in Aachen, Germany, in 1374. Several thousand frenzied people danced in fits that lasted for weeks.

Hecker’s description of this strange gathering invokes rather hellish visions, resembling the miniatures of Hieronymus Bosch:

They formed circles hand in hand, and appears to have lost all control over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of the bystanders, for hours together, in wild delirium, until at length they fell to the ground in a state of exhaustion. They then complained of extreme oppression and groaned as if in the agonies of death, until they were swathed in cloths bound tightly around their waists, upon which they again recovered, and remained free from complaint until the next attack.

The Church was suspicious of these events right from the start. The theological explanation fell into three categories: people affected by the dancing plague were either under the control of the devil, or they were cursed by a saint, most probably St. John or St. Vitus. The third explanation was that this was nothing but a band of heretics, who through the guise of madness found a loophole to practice their unholy rituals without being disturbed.

Apart from claims that all these events were staged, the use of hallucinogens was also considered a potential explanation, by both the church and contemporary authorities. The names St. Vitus’ Dance, or St. John’s Dance, were soon accepted, and the people begged the ancient saints for forgiveness.

From Aachen, the mania was reported to spread to Utrecht in the Netherlands and Li├Ęge in Belgium. Around that time, a report from Metz in France claimed that 11,000 people had succumbed to the Dancing Mania. The rich trading city was turned into a bizarre gathering of the insane. The death toll was rising, as the “dancers” fell like flies after a while of non-stop jumping and dancing.

In order to soothe their sufferings, music was played, and in order to keep them off the streets, huge guild halls were adapted to fit a large number of people. The “sick” would then be herded into these structures, together with musicians, as if the entire spectacle resembled a modern musical concert.

After the outbreak in Aachen, the next documented case in which a large group of people was involved occurred in Strasbourg, France, in 1518.

Allegedly, a woman started the dance and within a month, more than 400 people were “possessed.” Historian John Waller, who is the author of the book A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518, studied the archives and concluded that the event indeed happened, as he confirmed it from various different sources:

These people were not just trembling, shaking or convulsing; although they were entranced, their arms and legs were moving as if they were purposefully dancing.

Many died of strokes and heart attacks, after pushing their bodies to extreme limits of endurance. During the course of history, experts have tried to produce a medical explanation on this subject but all have failed to properly explain the causes of this hysteria.

One of the most prominent theories claims that the main reason behind this mass mania was poisoning by Claviceps purpurea, a fungus known to infect rye and other cereals, a condition called ergotism. Symptoms of ergot poisoning include hallucinations, convulsions, delirium, psychosis, a painful burning sensation in the limbs and extremities, headache, and it can cause damage to the central nervous system.

Italian women dance the tarantella
Others propose that the symptoms were similar to encephalitis, epilepsy, and typhus, but none of these explanations could answer for all the symptoms exhibited in the reports.

In Italy, a similar social phenomena called the tarantella was attributed to spider bites. The poison produced by spiders or scorpions was considered to cause such madness, but this scenario is hardly possible in such mass cases.

Even though sources are scarce and unreliable, everyone agrees that the phenomena was no fiction. It indeed happened and it was the earliest-recorded case of a psychic epidemic that shook the world of medieval Europe just as the plague was retreating, leaving a trail of more than 350 million dead worldwide.

(Source: The Vintage News)

Why Katharine Hepburn hid her 26-year affair with Spencer Tracy

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” Katharine Hepburn certainly lived up to her famous quote. She broke rules, she had fun, she set her own agenda. During her long and illustrious career, the legendary silver-screen star appeared in at least 30 movies over 60 years and took home a record of four golden Oscars for Best Actress.

Glamorous, athletic, and fiercely independent, Hepburn also harbored a passionate and secret relationship with her married co-star Spencer Tracy for 26 years. She even tended to him in his final years of declining health but was unable to attend her lover’s funeral. Today, it’s not unreasonable to wonder why such an unabashed proto-feminist would seemingly subjugate herself to the role of unacknowledged mistress for over a quarter of a century. Why did the Hepburn-Tracy affair last so long?

Katharine Hepburn was born in Connecticut in 1907 to a doctor father and a feminist mother. Planting the seeds of independent intelligence that would flourish throughout Hepburn’s life, both of her parents encouraged and expected their daughter to excel in academics, athletics, and any arena she chose. As a young girl, Katharine cut her hair short and called herself “Jimmy.” She ran, swam, bicycled, and played tennis and golf, the latter so well that she won tournaments while in high school. She loved going to movies and staged performances for her family and friends.

Hepburn’s early teens were marked by tragedy: at 13, Katharine discovered her brother’s death by suicide. In their typical upper-class fashion, her parents urged her to get over it and move on, but Katharine had a hard time returning to “regular” life. Eventually, at her mother’s urging, she attended Bryn Mawr College. There she found solace in acting while getting into the kind of trouble you’d expect from someone with a fierce sense of her own destiny. She once got suspended for smoking in her room.

It was during those years she met Ludlow Ogden Smith, whom she married in 1928. But she was more invested in her career than in the relationship, and by 1934 they were divorced. Interestingly, the two remained friends until his death in 1979. She later had relationships with Hollywood power brokers Leland Hayward and Howard Hughes—both of whom proposed marriage, though Hepburn ultimately declined.

Straight out of college, Hepburn pursued a career in theater, taking roles on Broadway and in summer stock, though some directors and critics found her “odd” look and “shrill” voice so off-putting that she was fired from several productions.

Undaunted and unintimidated, she landed her first movie role in 1932 and held her own opposite the much more famous John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement. Shortly thereafter, she took home her first Academy Award for her role as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory (1933), though she didn’t attend the ceremony, and would only attend the gala once, in 1974, to present a lifetime achievement award. Many people equate Katharine Hepburn with the socialite Tracy Lord, one of her early defining roles in the critically acclaimed box-office hit The Philadelphia Story.

Lobby card for Woman of the Year (1942), the first of nine pictures Tracy made with Katharine Hepburn

Like many actors, Hepburn was an introverted extrovert. She loved the perks of fame but resented any intrusion into her privacy. She didn’t like the press or the demands of public attention, declining interviews and autograph sessions (she would’ve loathed requests for selfies). The tabloids called her “Katharine of Arrogance,” according to A. Scott Berg’s biography Kate Remembered.

It was on the set of Woman of the Year in 1942 that she got involved with her co-star Spencer Tracy, then 41 and married to Louise Treadwell, whom he would never leave. The script, full of articulate banter characteristic of the era, highlighted their evident oppositional attraction, providing heat for the screen and their own private affair. Pat and Mike (1952), written specifically for the pair, was her favorite of the nine films they made together.

“I loved Spencer Tracy,” Hepburn wrote in her 1991 autobiography. “I would have done anything for him.”

From the outside, theirs was a curious relationship: Sure, he was Hollywood handsome, but he was also a drunk and depressive. Usually so strong-willed and self-involved, Hepburn would become almost submissive around him, tending to his needs and obeying his wishes. A guilt-ridden Catholic, he would never divorce his wife and abandon his family. When he became ill with heart disease in his last years, Hepburn even moved in with him to care for him. After his death, she didn’t attend his funeral and never publicly acknowledged their relationship until the death of his wife, in 1983.

In their last movie together, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, they played parents dealing with their child’s interracial romance—a radical concept at the time. In obvious ill health, Tracy was battling heart disease, and the stress of performing while caring for his health put stress on them both. He died 17 days after filming his last scene, on June 10, 1967. When Hepburn won her second Academy Award for the role, she said it felt like it was a tribute to them both.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as Christina and Matt Drayton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
While Hollywood is historically unkind to aging actresses, Hepburn continued to act and her defining characteristics came into sharp focus as she grew older. Her role as undaunted Ethel Thayer opposite Henry Ford, 74, in On Golden Pond garnered her as record fourth Academy Award.

Some called it a sentimental win, as much a symbol of her longevity in the business as an award for a stellar performance. A sweet and poignant movie, it’s easy to imagine that this is how she would’ve preferred to live out her last years with Tracy.

Hepburn died June 29, 2003, aged 96 years old.

(Source: The Vintage News)

Man forgets where he parks his car - then finds it 20 years later

Back in 1997 in the German city of Frankfurt, a man reported his car as stolen to the police.

Twenty years later, the authorities in the city have tracked down the missing vehicle, only to discover that the man who owned it had in fact, just forgotten where he’d parked the car and had assumed it had been stolen.

The vehicle was found in a garage in an old industrial building that is due to be demolished.

The car was in the way of the demolition so it was reported to the police who then investigated who the owner was.

According to German regional paper Augsberger Allgemein, the man, now 76-years-old, was driven by the police with his daughter to be reunited with the car.

File photo of an old car Charlie Cars/Creative Commons
Unfortunately the car was no longer functional and had to be scrapped.

“The car can no longer be driven and will be sent to the scrap heap,” Frankfurt authorities said.

The incident is reminiscent of another German case, in which a man was reunited with his vehicle two years after parking up and going on a drinking binge in Munich, only to forget where he’d parked. He reported it missing and eventually police found the vehicle 4km away from where the man thought he’d parked it.

It had 40,000 euros in cash in the boot, along with 50,000 euros worth of tools.

Earlier this year a man from Scotland lost his car after attending a Stoneroses gig in Manchester. He reportedly searched for the vehicle for 5 days before giving up. He even contacted the council and various companies in a bid to trace the vehicle.

He eventually reported the car stolen, but it was found six months later, exactly where he’d left it, though with parking fines estimated at over £5,000.

(Source: Independent)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Prime Minister of Lebanon's unnerving interview

Saudi Arabia appears ready to sacrifice the country in its reckless bid to confront Iran.

In the Middle East, the parlor game of the moment is guessing whether Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister—or is it ex-prime minister?—is literally, or only figuratively, a prisoner of his Saudi patrons. In a stiff interview from an undisclosed location in Riyadh on Sunday, Hariri did little to allay concerns that he’s being held hostage by a foreign power that is now writing his speeches and seeking to use him to ignite a regional war. He insisted he was “free,” and would soon return to Lebanon. He said he wanted calm to prevail in any dispute with Hezbollah, the most influential party serving in his country’s government.

Since Hariri was summoned to Saudi Arabia last week and more or less disappeared from public life as a free head of state, rumors have swirled about his fate. On November 4, he delivered a stilted, forced-sounding resignation speech from Riyadh. Michael Aoun, Lebanon’s president, refused to accept the resignation, and Hezbollah—the target of the vituperative rhetoric in Hariri’s speech—deftly chose to stand above the fray, absolving Hariri of words that Hezbollah (and many others) believe were written by Hariri’s Saudi captors.

The bizarre quality of all this aside, the underlying matter is deadly serious. Saudi Arabia has embarked on another exponential escalation, one that may well sacrifice Lebanon as part of its reckless bid to confront Iran.

Foreign influence seeps through Middle Eastern politics, nowhere more endemically than Lebanon. Spies, militias, and heads of state, issue political directives and oversee military battles. Foreign powers have played malignant, pivotal roles in every conflict zone, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen and Libya. Lebanon, sadly, could come next. Even by the low standards of recent history, the saga of this past week beggars the imagination, unfolding with the imperial flair of colonial times—but with all the short-sighted recklessness that has characterized the missteps of the region’s declining powers.

Saudi Arabia, it seems, is bent on exacting a price from its rival Iran for its recent string of foreign-policy triumphs. Israel and the United States appear ready to strike a belligerent pose, one that leaders in the three countries, according to some reports, hope will contain Iran’s expansionism and produce a new alignment connecting President Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The problems with this approach are legion—most notably, it simply cannot work. Iran’s strength gives it a deterrence ability that makes preemptive war an even greater folly than it was a decade ago. No military barrage can “erase” Hezbollah, as some Israel war planners imagine; no “rollback,” as dreamed up by advisers to Trump and Mohamed bin Salman, can shift the strategic alliance connecting Iran with Iraq, Syria, and much of Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia, as the morbid joke circulating Beirut would have it, is ready to fight Iran to the last Lebanese. But the joke only gets it half right—the new war reportedly being contemplated wouldn’t actually hurt Iran. Instead, it would renew Hezbollah’s legitimacy and extend its strategic reach even if it caused untold suffering for countless Lebanese. Just as important, a new war might be biblical in its fire and fury, as the bombast of recent Israeli presentations suggests. But that fire and fury would point in many directions. Iran’s friends wouldn’t be the only ones to be singed.

Saudi Arabia’s moves have gotten plenty of attention in the days since Mohamed bin Salman rounded up his remaining rivals, supposedly as part of an anti-corruption campaign. Hariri was caught in the Saudi dragnet around the same time. It seemed puzzling at first: For years, Saudi Arabia had been angry with Hariri and his Future Movement, its client in Lebanon, for sharing power with Hezbollah rather than going to war with it. Riyadh was clearly displeased with Hariri’s pragmatic positions. He had learned the hard way, after several bruising political battles and a brief street battle in May 2008, that Hezbollah’s side was the stronger one. Rather than fuel a futile internecine struggle, Hariri (like the rest of Lebanon’s warlords) opted for precarious coexistence.

Once it became clear that Hariri could do nothing to prevent Hezbollah’s decisive intervention in the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia cut off funding for Hariri, bankrupting his family’s billion-dollar Saudi construction empire. It also ended its financial support for the Lebanese army, cultivating the impression that it considered Lebanon lost to the Iranians and Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 12, 2017
Now, Saudi Arabia has steamed back into the Lebanese theater with a vengeance. It dismisses Hezbollah as nothing but an Iranian proxy, and, in the words uttered by Hariri in his resignation speech, wants to “cut off the hands that are reaching for it.” In what must be an intentional move, it has destroyed Hariri as a viable ally, reducing him to a weak appendage of his sponsors, unable to move without the kingdom’s permission. Mohamed bin Salman won’t even let him resign on his home soil. If Hariri really were free to come and go, as he insisted so woodenly in his Sunday night interview, then he would already be in Beirut. Even his close allies have trouble believing that threats against his life prevent him from coming home, and the Internal Security Forces, considered loyal to Hariri, denied knowledge of any assassination plot.

The Saudis have fanned the flames of war, seemingly in ignorance of the fact that Iran can only be countered through long-term strategic alliances, the building of capable local proxies and allies, and a wider regional alliance built on shared interests, values, and short-term goals. What Saudi Arabia seems to prefer is a military response to a strategic shift, an approach made worse by its gross misread of reality. In Yemen, the Saudis insisted on treating the Houthi rebels as Iranian tools rather than as an indigenous force, initiating a doomed war of eradication. The horrific result has implicated Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States, in an array of war crimes against the Yemenis.

Hariri has clearly tried to balance between two masters: his Saudi bosses, who insist that he confront Hezbollah, and his own political interest in a stable Lebanon. On Sunday night, he appeared uncomfortable. At times, he and his interviewer, from his own television station, looked to handlers off camera. The exchange ended abruptly, after Hariri implied that he might take back his resignation and negotiate with Hezbollah, seemingly veering from the hardline Saudi script. “I am not against Hezbollah as a political party, but that doesn’t mean we allow it to destroy Lebanon,” he said. His resignation does nothing to thwart Hezbollah’s power; if anything, a vacuum benefits Hezbollah, which doesn’t need the Lebanese state to bolster its power or legitimacy.

One theory is that the Saudis removed Hariri to pave their way for an attack on Lebanon. Without the cover of a coalition government, the warmongering argument goes, Israel would be able to launch an attack, with the pretext of Hezbollah’s expanded armaments and operations in areas such as the Golan Heights and the Qalamoun Mountains from which they can challenge Israel. Supposedly, according to some analysts and politicians who have met with regional leaders, there’s a plan to punish Iran and cut Hezbollah down to size. Israel would lead the way with full support from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Even if this theory proves true, there’s no guarantee Israel would play along. Riyadh’s miscalculation in Yemen suggests it’s likely to misread the situation in Lebanon and Israel.

Short of seeking actual war, Saudi Arabia has, at a minimum, backed a campaign to fuel the idea that war is always possible. While a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran wouldn’t shift the balance of power back toward the kingdom, it would upend still more lives in a part of the world where the recently displaced number in the millions, the dead in the hundreds of thousands, and where epidemics of disease and malnutrition strike with depressing regularity. Short of direct war, Riyadh’s machinations will likely produce a destabilizing proxy war.

If Hariri were a savvier politician, he could have used different words; he could have refused to resign, or insisted on doing so from Beirut. But he is an ineffective leader in eclipse, unable to deliver either as a sectarian demagogue or a bridge-building conciliator. Saudi Arabia’s plan to use him to strike against Iran will fail. Just look at how willfully it has misused and now destroyed its billion-dollar Lebanese asset. It’s a poor preview of things to come in the Saudi campaign against Iran.

(Source: The Atlantic)

The fabled life of Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith, the son of Hollywood actors Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, is growing up to be a busy star, intent on making a difference, writes Karan PIllai in the New Indian Express. Read on: 

“Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do something” — that’s Will Smith’s dialogue from the 2006 movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, as he speaks to his on-screen son, Christopher Jr, played by his real-life son, Jaden Smith.

Over a decade later, looking at the range of projects that Jaden has been involved in, even before he steps out of his adolescent years, that piece of advice from his father seems to be more relevant for the star kid than ever before.

  Jaden has certainly grown beyond the lovable Christopher, and the feisty Karate Kid, having chosen a path where he assumes total accountability for the decisions he takes. Perhaps that’s why he remained unperturbed when he received mixed reviews for showing up wearing a skirt at a Louis Vuitton show, last year. Jaden knows what he’s doing and believes he’s doing the right thing. 

  His career choices too are as intriguing as his experimental fashion sense. Unlike his father, who started out as a musician (as the rapper Fresh Prince) before making it to the movies, Jaden started in front of the camera, before setting out to make music. He’s currently promoting his debut album that will be launched next week, while also making it to lists of high-profile influential teens.

All of 19 years in age, Jaden has developed a mature vision for himself, and he’s intent on changing the way we eat, dress and interact with nature. Ahead of Children’s Day, we got Jaden over the phone to speak about how he’s looking to shape the future in his own unique way.

Yes, and Syre thing!
Jaden’s set to take his biggest leap yet in his music career by releasing his debut EP — Syre: A Beautiful Confusion. Using his social media following to good effect — he has over six million followers on Instagram alone, the star kid is going all out to promote the album, releasing a series of first-look videos before the launch. Not to forget, breaking up the album cover into multiple Instagram thumbnails and posting it on his page as a giant collage of him sitting against a magenta sky — possibly revealing that he’s serious about using social media for professional reasons.

  “The songs in the album are all about young love and livelihood,” says Jaden. The theme is evident from the lyrics of the album’s first single, Fallen, an atmospheric fast-paced rap track that was released last December, and garnered positive reviews from industry bigwigs like Kid Cudi, one of the artistes whom Jaden looks up to. That was followed by a series of singles, which he dropped consistently all year, including the latest Batman, where he dons an all-white superhero costume in a trippy hip-hop video.

  “What I really want to spread through the songs in the album is the idea of opportunities, to the youth and people in general. You know, you can be anything in this world if you’re looking up to your own community,” says Jaden. This train of thought seems to have also inspired his 17-year-old younger sister Willow Smith as well, who followed up her first album with a second, The 1st, which released last month. As for an excited Jaden, he hopes his fans in India will love Syre too.

The skate bait
The Pursuit... may have been Jaden’s first proper movie role, but Karate Kid remains his breakthrough film. Reminiscing fond moments from the sets of the movie, where he starred alongside martial arts legend Jackie Chan, Jaden reveals, “The best part about shooting was waking up every day and heading straight to work out, to get ready for the day. It was such a blessing, and I really like looking back at those moments.”

  Jaden’s last outing on the big screen, however, the sci-fi movie After Earth, which also stars his father, is one that many viewers would like to forget. But that was four years ago. Currently, he’s putting his skateboarding skills to good use as well, while shooting for an upcoming untitled movie by Crystal Moselle (known for the documentary series Wolfpack). Meanwhile, the Senior Smith, Will’s new project, the Netflix movie Bright, is primed for a highly-anticipated release. All in all, that’s a very busy Smith family!

Apart from Jaden, Crystal has cast a team of real-life women skaters in the movie, with Elizabeth Rodriguez (from Orange is the New Black). “I would be skating on the streets of New York, and it is not easy!” remarks Jaden, who’s also shooting for a movie called Life in a Year, where he’s cast opposite 24-year-old model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne, who played the Enchantress in Suicide Squad, alongside Will Smith.

Saving the world?
Jaden may not be Batman in real life, but he’s doing every bit he can to better the environment. Much before the fame, and away from the glitz and glam, he always wanted to take up environmental causes. That led him to launch the eco-friendly water company Just Water, to manufacture bottles out of natural raw materials such as sugarcane, while sourcing spring water from Glens Falls, New York.

He was also in the news recently for collaborating with fast food chain Umami Burger and Impossible Foods, to create a trio of unique vegetarian burgers, explicitly to provide a measure of relief for hurricane victims in the US.

  Initiatives like this made him an ideal choice as an emcee at the Environmental Association Awards earlier this September. “There are a lot of people I look up to and like to study. I especially love Elon Musk (founder, SpaceX). He’s an amazing and awesome person. There’s also Al Gore (former US President and environmentalist), whom I absolutely love for being able to engage and open up conversations about the environment wherever he goes,” says Jaden.

Fashion forward
Meanwhile, as gender-fluid sensibilities rock fashion shows across the world, it only seems fair to expect stars like Jaden to broaden their playing field. We learn that Jaden is contemplating coming to India very soon, in an attempt to widen the cross-cultural spectrum in his designs, which are distributed under his multi-purpose collective, MSFTSRep.

  That apart, he’s constantly innovating to make his clothes sustainable. “Sustainability in fashion is the next big thing, which I’ve been working on. I think it will be great if people could recycle their old clothes. That said, I’d love to bring my apparel to India. I have been studying the fashion scene in the country very hard and I’d love to talk to the kids there, and bring them clothes too,” he promises.

Until then, his eccentric fashion statements might well continue to raise eyebrows — be it while shopping with girlfriend Odessa Adlon or attending high-profile events; for one, it’s hard to forget the dreadlocks that he sported at this year’s Met Gala. But will the inevitable attention unsettle Jaden in the long run? We’re quite certain, it will not.

Syre: A Beautiful Confusion releases on November 17.

The Karate Kid airs on Sony PIX on November 12, 2.30 pm, as a part of the Children’s Day PIXathon.

How unhelpful but accepted social norms fuel sexual assault against women

We can't solve this problem until we acknowledge some deep-rooted beliefs about male and female roles in sex and relationships, writes Natasha McKeever in Independent. Read on: 

The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before… over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Alfred Eisenstaedt's 'VJ Day at Times Square, New York, NY' Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty
Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex
The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots
It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure
Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk
These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

The ConversationWe need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.

Finally, Bengal wins 'Rosogolla war' over Odisha

The legal battle between Bengal and Odisha over Rosogolla finally came to an end after Geographical Identification registration was given to West Bengal.

The two states, Bengal and Odisha, had entered the fray to stake their claim on the dessert for far too long.

According to reports, they provided all documents claiming that Rosogolla was their discovery, however after months of legal battle and referring to history, the GI tag was given to Bengal.

Pahala rasagolas from Odisha and Bengali rasgullas 
GI authentication is a name or sign used on certain products which correspond to a specific geographical location or origin which may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.

Ever since both the governments asked for a Geographical Indication in 2015, the sweet had found itself at the centre of an interesting tug of war with West Bengal claiming it was invented by a Calcutta confectioner Nabin Chandra Das also known as the “Columbus of Rossogolla”.

Odisha said the sweet item was invented in the holy city of Puri way back in the 13th century, however, Bengal won the "battle for Rosogolla".

(Source: WION)  

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Vitamins are a waste of money

How people came to believe the myth that nutritional supplements could make them into better, healthier versions of themselves, writes Cari Romm in the Atlantic. Read on: 

In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summoned hundreds of scientists, doctors, and food manufacturers to Washington, D.C. to discuss a weapon that would help the U.S. win World War II: vitamins.

“There was this idea of optimization: ‘What do we need to do to optimize Americans’ health, to make sure we have enough pep and vigor to get us through this war?’” said Catherine Price, the author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection. “There were all these rumors that the Nazis were restricting vitamins in their conquered people’s foods and giving their young men vitamin supplements and basically race-building through vitamins.”

Three ideas emerged from the National Nutrition Conference for Defense that still exist today. One was the creation of the Recommended Daily Allowances, the first set of guidelines for how much of each nutrient a person ought to consume. The other was the practice of enriching the country’s flour supply with vitamins and minerals—particularly, Price said, with thiamin, or vitamin B1: “There was a huge trend with thiamin, the idea that all of America was deficient in thiamin, and, ‘Oh my god, if we don’t put thiamin in flour, then we’re not going to be able to fight the Nazis.’”

"There were all these rumors that the Nazis were basically race-building through vitamins."
The third idea wasn’t new, and wasn’t born from the conference so much as strengthened by it: the notion that vitamins were the key not only to health, but to a state of health-plus, with the ability to boost bodies past sick, past normal, and into something even better. In recent years, researchers have debunked, over and over, the idea that vitamin supplements confer any measureable benefit at all—but still, around half of Americans take them regularly. Together with other dietary supplements, they enjoy a reputation for nutritional power that stretches far beyond their true capabilities.

“In the case of religion, we put our faith in gods. And in nutrition, we have vitamins,” Price wrote in her book. “Despite the fact that nearly half of us take vitamins as pills, nearly none of us stop to wonder why—out of all of the thousands of chemicals in food—we revere these particular 13.” Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation about the history, the myth, and the staying power of vitamins.

Cari Romm: What is a vitamin, and how is that different from a dietary supplement?
Catherine Price: There’s actually only 13 human vitamins: A, D, E, K, C, and the eight B vitamins. But when we use the word vitamin in our everyday speech, we tend to lump in all the other dietary supplements that you could take—things like fish oil or all the herbals and botanicals that you can find if you go into the drugstore or GNC.

In terms of the chemical definition of a vitamin, there actually isn’t one. [Most of those 13] were discovered around the same time, and the word was coined before any of them had been isolated, and it just ended up being such a great word that it stuck around, even after scientists found out that the vitamins actually weren’t all chemically in the same family. But in general, it’s a substance you need in an extremely small amount, usually from your diet, that prevents a specific deficiency.

Romm: If they aren’t all chemically united, what is it that groups vitamins together?
"That was really revolutionary, the idea that you could get sick from something you didn’t have, as opposed to a germ."
Price: A lot of it is the history. They were discovered because of deficiency diseases—things like scurvy, which is a deficiency of vitamin C, or rickets with D. Or beriberi, which none of us know about now, which was horrible—that’s vitamin B1. And pellagra, which is niacin [B3]. So they were discovered through this process of recognizing the idea of a deficiency disease. And that was really revolutionary, because there was this idea that you could get sick from something you didn’t have, as opposed to a germ. So scientists started hypothesizing in the early 1900s that there was a group of chemical compounds in food that prevented these diseases. In 1911, this Polish biochemist, Casimir Funk, suggested that they be called vitamins. So that’s kind of how the concept became established and the word was created, and why they started to get lumped together. It was only after that point that they actually discovered what the substances were.

Romm: So how did vitamins get from the realm of science to something that consumers were concerned about?
Price: The first vitamin to actually be chemically isolated didn’t happen until 1926, with thiamin, B1. People suspected [there were] vitamins before then, but they had never separated one entirely from food. But what’s really fascinating is that starting as early as the late 1910s, and early 20s, food marketers started to latch on to this term vitamin as just a really great word. It was inspired by combining the Latin word for life, vita, and amine, which is the chemical structure that the scientists thought all the vitamins would be proven to be, which they’re not. And so it originally was vitamine, and then the e got chopped off when it became clear that they actually weren’t all amines.

So food marketers recognized that this was a brilliant term, and they started to use it to sell their products. What was particularly appealing about it was that you had these invisible compounds that scientists were increasingly discovering that we need in order to stay alive. But no one knew how to measure them in food, and you couldn’t see them, so you could kind of go crazy with your marketing claims and no one could disprove you. They became this incredibly useful marketing idea.

Romm: Were vitamins marketed more for their health benefits, or in terms of what would happen if people didn’t get enough of them?
Price: Both, actually. On the one hand, you had advertisers warning you of what would happen if you were deficient. Some of the early researchers were writing for the popular press, and they would write these terrifying columns saying how your teeth would fall out if you didn’t have enough vitamin C—which is true, but most Americans don’t have scurvy. That’s extreme deficiency. So a lot of it was this fear-mongering, and I thought that was fascinating because we still see it today all the time. And then there was this flipside, where the idea of optimization started to take hold—if vitamins were necessary to prevent a deficiency in a small amount, then if you had more of them, you’d be like a superhero. So yeah, they were doing both. Vitamins, more than any other dietary chemical, really established that two-sided relationship, where we’re driven both by fear and by the hope that we’ll become superhuman, that we can optimize ourselves if we just eat the right things.

Romm: So how did “vitamin” become shorthand for “healthy”?
Price: I think that that started early. The word itself has this aura—it means “life,” but health and life often go together. So I think that’s the reason it appealed so much to food marketers, is that the word itself had that connotation to begin with. Even Casimir Funk, the guy who came up with that word, thought it was brilliant. He was very into his own creation. And what I found really funny was, if you consider some of the other suggestions of the time—people were saying, “Oh, we shouldn’t call it a vitamin, we should call it a food hormone, or a food accessory factor.” It’s just funny to think about how our attitude towards these 13 unrelated dietary chemicals would be different if we called them “food accessory factors.” You’d never have ad campaigns or parents insisting that their children have their food accessory factors. It’s just not as catchy.

Romm: When did companies shift from advertising their foods’ natural vitamin content to advertising how they had fortified their food?
Price: Well, you couldn’t fortify until you had the ability to make synthetic vitamins that you could add to food. Fortification means adding vitamins in excess of what was already in the food, or adding micronutrients that weren’t there originally. So for example, the vitamin D that you find in milk these days is a synthetic addition, most of the time. You couldn’t do that until you could actually make these synthetic vitamins, and that started happening in the 1920s and 30s. That was when it started to become possible to add vitamins to products and use that as an additional selling point.

"We’re driven by the hope that we’ll become superhuman, that we can optimize ourselves if we just eat the right things."

Romm: Did the ability to add vitamins change the way Americans thought about their food?
Price: I think it did. It made it possible to pass off otherwise really unhealthy products as nutritionally complete or beneficial. And around the same time that all the stuff with vitamins was happening, you had the expansion of the modern-day processed-food industry and the development of the modern supermarket, which required having products that can be shelf-stable for a really long time and be transported around the country. The difficult thing is that shelf-stability requires a lot of refinement and processing, and that destroys a lot of a food’s natural vitamins and micronutrients. So unless you have a way of adding those back in, you’re not going to be able to have those foods as the cornerstone of the population’s diet. It’s kind of crazy to think that if we didn’t have these synthetic vitamins, Americans would be at risk for things like scurvy or rickets, but it’s actually true. There was a 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition that found a significant percentage of Americans’ vitamins were coming from synthetic sources.

Romm: When did vitamins make the leap from something you could get through food to something you could take as a pill?
Price: That was also in the 30s. Once it was possible to make the synthetic versions of vitamins and measure them, then you started seeing this idea of supplements become more popular, vitamins as pills as opposed to foods that contain them.

Romm: So is the popularity of dietary supplements tied to the rise in popularity of vitamins?
Price: I think they’re profoundly connected. When the dietary-supplement industry really started taking hold in the 1960s and 70s, they started using the word “vitamin” with the public to describe their products. And that word, the way they used it, represented far more than just vitamins. It eventually came to represent any substance that you use as a pill to supplement your diet. The supplement industry managed to launch an enormously successful campaign in the 90s when the FDA was trying to come up with new rules for regulation, and the theme was “Don’t let the government take your vitamins away.” They weren’t talking about vitamins—they were talking about all these herbals and botanicals and amino acids and all these other things. But I think that being associated with this halo of vitamins really affected how supplements are regulated. It gave this aura of health and safety to non-vitamin substances, and made us take their safety as a given without asking any more serious questions.

Romm: Why are vitamins and dietary supplements regulated differently than food or pharmaceuticals?
Price: That’s a long story, but in part because of this big industry push to portray them as totally safe. A law was passed in 1994, called the Dietary Health and Education Act, that separated the way supplements were regulated from the way food or pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter drugs were regulated. For over-the-counter and pharmaceutical drugs, you need to prove safety and efficacy before you sell anything. For supplements, there’s no requirement like that. And the argument was partially that since vitamins are in food, vitamins should be regulated more like food, which has lower standards of proof before you sell it. But that’s different from ginkgo biloba or St. John’s wort or bodybuilding powder or whatever else. Those are not vitamins, and so it does seem strange, at least to me, that those non-vitamin products should be regulated like food, or almost more loosely than food, which is what our current system is.

Romm: How much of this reverence of vitamins is legitimate? How much can they actually do to keep us healthy, or make us healthy-plus?
Price: At the base of it, we do need those 13 vitamins. If you don’t have enough of them, you’ll die in often quite gruesome ways. Scurvy is a horrible disease. It prevents your body from making collagen, which is the connective tissue that holds your body together, so you sort of fall apart from within—your teeth fall out, your connections all loosen, and you hemorrhage and die. So I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we do need vitamins. And there are a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to them—the latest estimate I read was 2 billion people [who are vitamin-deficient]. If you give someone vitamin A and they’re suffering from nutritional blindness, which is a stage of vitamin A deficiency, they will regain their sight, often within days. And that’s crazy. It’s like a miracle drug. But it doesn’t translate into the idea that we seem to want to have, which is that if you can cure nutritional blindness with vitamin A, then if you take 17 times that amount in a pill, you’ll be able to see in the dark. The idea that more is better, and more gives you superpowers, is not true.

Romm: How did that idea emerge, then?
"The claims quickly started to spin out of control, and I think that happens a lot today, too."
Price: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they really are so amazing when you need them—the idea that you can reverse these diseases with these invisible compounds does give them a legitimately miraculous aura. But those facts were used by food marketers to promote a product and then those claims started to go beyond what vitamins could actually do. An interesting example I found was thiamin [vitamin B1], which was enormously trendy in the 20s through the 40s. It started off with legitimate things that B1 is important for or can help with, and then by the 1940s you had ads saying that thiamin could do everything from improving your complexion to improving your energy, which they called “pep,” to giving the country better morale for World War II. There was a claim for these thiamin-rich yeast cakes that said they restored this woman’s ability to walk. So it quickly started to spin out of control, and I think that happens a lot today, too.

Romm: Why are people so willing to accept these sometimes outrageous claims of what vitamins can do?
Price: That’s where things can get pretty philosophical, because it doesn’t really make sense on the surface. What I came away with is the idea that we really don’t like uncertainty, especially in terms of our health. And there are so many things about health and life that are terrifying—not just getting sick, but inevitable mortality. So we’re really eager to have some kind of salve against that uncertainty, and vitamins really help play that role. I think part of that is probably because for the most part, with the exception of vitamin A, too much of a vitamin is not going to kill you. So you’re able to take these pills and feel like you’re doing something, and just feel like you have more of a sense of control over your life and your health than you did before. That sense of control is enormously appealing, and the desire for than control leaves us very susceptible to anyone who promises to provide it to us, in their pill or in their product.