Life and Times of the Robert Johnson.

Having little else to do after moving into our house, I spent most free time with my Ibanez  learning new songs and faffing about when I stumbled upon the recordings of Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson born ( possibly ) on May 8, 1911 is one of the pioneers of the blues genre and a influence on many legends including Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. His entire life story is the basis of much fascination and research.

Born in Mississippi and later moved to Memphis to his father and continued to play in and around the large cities in Mississippi and Arkansas. He mostly toured around the state and also recorded about the 27-29 song along this line. He left a crappy guitarist and returned with unrivalled skill. With this being the 1920s, a rumour spread that he made a deal with a large black man ( the devil in disguise ) at a crossroads to gain mastery over his instrument. This evolved into the legend of the deal with the devil Johnson had made.

The second part of his mystery deals with his death, on August 16, 1938 near Greenwood in Mississippi . According to Sonny Williamson ( another fellow blues legend ) touring with him, his flirting with a married woman was followed by downing a bottle offered to him. This was further followed by apparent vomiting and in about 3 days, death ( always check for poison in your bottles kids! ). To top it off, there are not one but three possible grave sites where this Legend is buried as the first member of the infamous 27 Club. So all in all, the interesting mystery of this shadowy blues figure served no small part in popularizing his iconic songs when rediscovered by white musicians about 20-30 years later and cementing the legend of ‘Robert Johnson’.

PS:

  • Some new info was discovered about Rob. John., check it out: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/07/136063911/robert-johnson-at-100-still-dispelling-myths

Sources:

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68 years ago.

After completing my first term exams, not writing for 2 weeks, decidedly ignoring the Prime Ministers speech and finally browsing the same monotonous “Happy Independence Day!” posts. I get around to doing something and share a description of my grandfather,79, recollecting his memories of August 15,1947 at the grand old age of 10.

Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony held at 8.30 a. m.on August 15, 1947.
Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony held at 8.30 a. m.on August 15, 1947. Source

My grandfather was staying in Akola, a small city in central Maharashtra. The news came through his school that the Congress had accepted the Mountbatten plan for India and Pakistan and Nehru was sworn in as the 1st Prime minister. Children assembled at school for the day while Policemen in their best uniforms paraded on the grounds. Interestingly, the schools at that time had no uniforms. Later, Gandhi was shot dead in Jan 30 on 1948 by Nathuram Godse of Brahmin descent, triggering riots in an already uneasy atmosphere during the partition. My grandmother also witnessed protests and riots against the RSS and Brahmins during this time.

The Independence movement was a very messy and very political business. Communal-ism dictated every move of the INC and Muslim league with each religious sect of society wanting more recognition and some even a separate state. Even after 60 years and several inter-religious clashes and pogroms, today a far cry from the riots and mass displacement of 68 years ago, schools still ask kids to attend Independence day.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”

-Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Reddit Meltdown

Reddit’s interim CEO Ellen Pao resigned on Saturday after a number of controversial decisions regarding Reddits freedom of speech and management. This was stated on Reddit on a post by Sam Altman, an investor in Reddit who was also acting CEO for 8 days. The resignation was by mutual agreement.

Not exactly the most popular CEO.

This is in the wake of a fresh new controversy involving the firing of the director of talent, Elizabeth Taylor ( /u/chooter ) who acted as a manager of r/IamA which is one of the most popular subreddits featuring on the spot Q&As by famous personalities, scientists, experts and people with unique life experiences and careers. This was the last straw for the moderators and users of Reddit. Several Mods have complained about the uncommunicative nature of the Reddit staff ( admins ) and the inadequate tools provided for regulating these ever-growing forums ( a lot of mods use the forum r/toolbox for aiding their activities due to little response from admins ).

Another decision made by the management was the removal of 5 very infamous subreddits- r/fatepeoplehate, r/hamplanethatred, r/transfags, r/neo_fags and r/shitniggersay. I’ll let that sink in.

Yup, As the name suggests, these weren’t exactly acceptance and one-love encouraging forums. But how could this stir up controversy? For starters, it goes against Reddits very Pro-Free speech stand and also because several forums with very similar themes ( NO EXAMPLES ) still exist on Reddit. So one must question the motives of the management of Reddit.

In response, Several of the biggest subreddits were set to private by its moderators as a form of protest against the firing of one of the integral parts of the Reddit community and the bigger underlying problem with the management. Meanwhile its original CEO and a co-founder, Steve Huffman will be taking over as the new CEO. This also raises the question where Reddit will go from now on under Steve and its stand on Freedom of speech on its site. This is a company is powered by its users and its very unique community. It must balance the wishes of its users and investors and also manage to keep its public image from being ruined by a few bigots or hate-mongers. Mr.Huffman will have a tough set of challenges awaiting him and I hope the company realizes the reason it was founded and not be in rush to appeal to investors or to blame and deface any person ho makes a decision that the community disagrees with.

PS: The announcement of banning of the subreddits was majority downvoted ( 51% ) whereas the announcement of Ellen Pao’s resignation was gilded ( a reward allowing access to certain special features which needs actual money ) 52 times over.

Sources:

  • Mrs.Pao leaves: https://www.reddit.com/r/announcements/comments/3cucye/an_old_team_at_reddit/
  • The Shut-down protest overview: http://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/3bxduw/why_was_riama_along_with_a_number_of_other_large/
  • Opinions of the moderators in a NY Times Op-Ed : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/08/opinion/why-we-shut-down-reddits-ask-me-anything-forum.html
  • Banning of bigoted Subreddits : https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/39bzdf/why_was_rfatpeoplehate_along_with_several_other/

Section 377 and June 26

When I logged into wordpress, it was hard not to notice the gleeful rainbow scheme in my account theme. A similar theme was followed on all major websites. It marks a historic decision by the US Supreme Court. A decision which made same-sex marriage a nation-wide right. This is just an obligatory post marking this historic movement and its contrast to what’s happening here at home. This short acknowledgement can hardly convey the feelings, hardship and effort of litigation, protest and campaigns spanning several decades.

I have written this post as a reminder to myself I was ,indeed, alive and aware at this time in the same way my grandparents were alive when India gained its independence and Nehru made his famous,”A tryst with destiny…” speech . Aware of the fact that these are not passages in a textbook or paragraphs of a project, so disconnected they might as well be fictional to their grandchildren living with world containing terrorists with Twitter handles, Indian Naruto fanbases and an indigenous Mars mission. It must be surreal indeed, going from fighting for Independence, fiery freedom writers and crackly radio broadcasts to figuring out ‘how does this Skype thing work?’ in a single lifetime. I can sum it up with the rather amusing thought that students will frustratingly try to remember this date for their history finals in the next 20 years.

Makes me wonder what will happen within my lifetime.

Time Warner-Charter Deal.

This week, instead of examining the economic effects and history of a single subject, I will write a short note on the Time Warner Cable and Charter deal which was announced on May 8 2015. This deal would mean the acquisition of one of the biggest Cable service companies in the US.

The Time Warner Center
The Time Warner Centre

The deal, worth about 55 billion dollars, came after a month Comcast considered merging with Time Warner. The Comcast-Warner did not go through do to the objections by the Federal Communications Commission ( FCC ) and that the Anti-Trust division of the Justice Department will file legal  challenges against the deal. The merger of two of the biggest companies in an already concentrated market would be anti-competitive. This is a country where most people only have one or two choices for high speed internet, all big names. This would be even more worrying considering that these companies have abhorrent feedback from customers and rank among the least popular companies.

The FCC said if this acquisition is successful, it would need to prove it is beneficial to consumers, not just harmless. The Cable and Net industry in the US and Canada is dominated by a few big names, names that want to keep it that way. This may not be anticompetitive at first, but definitely will have significant effect on both companies policies in the future regardless of what they want you to believe.

Sources:

  • The Deal synopsis : http://www.wsj.com/articles/charter-communications-nearing-deal-for-time-warner-cable-1432569555
  • The FCC Chairman’s statement : https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler-statement-chartertime-warnerbright-house
  • Time Warner’s crappy ratings : http://consumerist.com/2015/06/02/time-warner-cable-has-lowest-customer-satisfaction-score-of-all-u-s-companies-not-just-cable-providers/
  • A look on the deal by NY times : http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/will-the-charter-time-warner-deal-benefit-customers/?_r=0

The Almighty Nobel.

The Nobel prize needs no introduction. It is, in simple words, the most well known and one of the most prestigious decorations a person or group can ever hold. But how did it get so big?..

The Nobel Prize was established ( indirectly ) by Alfred Nobel,a very wealthy scientist ( due to his 355 patents ) and arms manufacturer. His most famous patent being dynamite, which was ironically first named ‘Nobel’s Safety Powder’ due to its stability. He also engineered ballistite, a smokeless propellant which is still used as rocket propellent.

The Nobel Foundation was established 1900 ( a nice round number,eh? ) five years after his death. The delay was due to scepticism of the latest of his many wills which ordered the establishment of such a organization. At last, the Nobel Foundation was set up and it established  Nobel committees for selecting nominees in the fields of  physics, chemistry, physiology, literature and peace. The Peace prize winner, unlike others, is selected by a Norwegian Committee. This was partly to encourage Norway-Sweden relations after the Norwegian-Swedish union dissolved.  But what did the Foundation do? Simply put, it was tasked with making the prize popular or ‘attract patrons’.It also works similarly to an investment company that invests to provide some funding for its prizes and administration. The successful funding scheme combined with patronage from the Norwegian and Swedish government and royalty has led to it being established as one of the most prestigious decorations.

But even the world-renowned Nobel Prize is not free from controversy. The most controversial being,of course, the peace prize. It has several questionable nominees and winners…..

nien2
Exhibit A.

Thankfully, the Fuhrer was nominated somewhat sarcastically nominated. But this was before World War 2. When he was ( arguably ) a respected military leader at the time. The Literature committee has been accused of favouring  European writers and writers which support their ideologies, excluding writers like Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and Chinua Achebe.  Reasons include antipathy towards Russia and favouring Swede writers ( Swedes also hold more literature Nobel laureates than all the Asian countries combined ). In the peace prize winners, some controversial winners include  Yasser Arafat, the then head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, for his efforts to bring peace to the Israeli- Palestine region. Le Duc Tho along with Henry Kissinger, who received it for  ‘their efforts in negotiating the Paris Peace Accords’.  The decision to award Barack Obama only nine months into his presidency also came as a huge surprise. The decision was criticised as being rash and politically motivated.

In my opinion, even the science Nobel Prizes present a catch-22 that:-

A: To get one, you must perform ground-breaking research.

B: If your research is big enough for it to warrant a Nobel, it is too important for it for it to matter.

While it is and still will be a great honour to receive one. If you reach the point in your work where you are eligible. It will ( probably )not matter to you. The Peace prize is different from the others because it seeks to raise awareness of issues and campaigns and the work done by individuals and groups. This is also why it can be applied to such a broad spectrum of people and thus its controversial winners. All in all, even the Nobel Committee is not infallible or completely unbiased. They just are abnormally successful in making this piece of metal popular.

PS: The Nobel Foundation had to reduce its prize money due to its slowing performance. Here’s a look why: http://www.forbes.com/sites/baldwin/2012/02/08/the-forever-portfolio/

Net Neutrality and Free Internet.

By now, most people have heard of Net Neutrality and in celebration of Mark Zuckerberg’s birthday. I shall take a look at one of Facebook’s recent project,its mixed responses and the debate it brings up

Internet.org is a movement by Facebook to provide net access to billions of underprivileged people. It was heralded by his post on Facebook that expressed that connectivity is a human right. It was followed by the announcement of Internet.org, a project to partner with seven mobile companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Microsoft, Opera Software,Reliance and Qualcomm).  But it was found that Internet.org would only allow access to sites hand-picked by Facebook and its partner companies, it also excluded Over-the-top ( OTT ) like messaging and calling apps ( indirectly encouraging more SMSes and calls ) and sites of rival net companies like Google . Similarly, a initiative launched by Airtel called “Airtel Zero Plan” to provide access to free mobile apps and the costs borne by the application providers. It was welcomed by some bigger companies, most namely Flipkart. But due to the intense backlash and bad reception, soon pulled out. Even MTNL ( the state-run service provider in Delhi and Mumbai ) has indicated that such deals defeat the Net neutrality concept and may damage small operators.

Mark Zuckerberg has defended his position in another facebook post detailing his experiences in India and the positive effects of the project, also stating that its aim is not to block or used to compete with other services and that arguments about Net Neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent net access to the underprivileged. Despite this, there still has been backlash against Facebook more recently due to a hilarious mistake when Mark Zuckerberg posted an infographic containing a map of India without the state of Kashmir ( nothing could go wrong there…).

Though Facebook, Reliance, Airtel and other big service providers and tech giants claim to be completely for Net Neutrality and are using these means to provide net access to the underprivileged, some of their actions suggest otherwise. Net Neutrality may become a bigger problem if the question of universal access is brought to the table and if Net Neutrality really does discourage the chance of free net access to underdeveloped areas sponsored by service providers . But if this continues regardless of the debate, big service providers and Tech companies will use this power to influence the large amount of people who may come to rely on them for these services regardless of what their PR departments may say.

“PCs are not, in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs.”

But one of the most important perspectives comes from Bill Gates. His view differs in the fact that he does not believe that technology or the internet itself will save the world. Universal connectivity must take a back seat until more serious problems like child survival, nutrition and education are dealt with. In the interview by Financial Times, he quotes Peter Singer, why would anyone donate money to build a new wing of a museum rather than give it to prevent illnesses?. While younger generation of IT Billionaires are convinced about the utmost importance of connecting 5 billion people immediately. We must first stop kids dying of diarrhea and malaria instead of getting caught up whether whatsapp must or must not be included in free internet.

Sources:

  • Financial Times Interview: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/dacd1f84-41bf-11e3-b064-00144feabdc0.html
  • MTNL’s stand on Airtel and Internet.org: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/airtel-zero-internet-org-defeat-net-neutrality-concept-mtnl/articleshow/47316319.cms
  • A timeline of Internet.org in India : http://tech.firstpost.com/news-analysis/timeline-airtel-zero-to-internet-org-what-fuelled-the-ongoing-net-neutrality-debate-in-india-264130.html
  • A first hand look at Internet.org by NDTV : http://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/features/facebooks-internetorg-comes-to-india-everything-you-need-to-know-659505