Emmy 2017: Wrapped up in surprises

Emmy, the Oscar for television wrapped up with a night of surprises. 69th annual Emmy Awards witnessed setting up of new records and surpassing the old ones on Sunday, September 17. This time in Emmys, not only the old favorites made it to the stage but also the well-deserved newcomers glittered.

Stephen Colbert hosted the show the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and it was aired live on CBS. His musical monologue, “Everything’s Better on TV” included many shows.

The night became a starry affair for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as it won awards for Outstanding Drama Series, actors Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd taking home awards for acting and also in the drama category, writing and direction awards. Hulu’s major win for streaming service gives a tough competition to Netflix and Amazon. Another big winner of the Emmy’s included HBO’s Big Little Lies and Saturday Night Live. After 22 years, Reed Morano became the first woman to win for directing a drama series. Donald Glover, became the black man to win for both directing and acting in Atlanta and Lena Waithe became the first black woman to make a win for writing. Glover said: “I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m up here.” After Archie Panjabi’s win in 2010 for The Good Wife, Aziz Ansari became the second Indian origin winner of an Emmy. He won for Outstanding Writing for Netflix’s Master of None.

The all-time favorite Veep again won for Comedy Series and the character of Selina Meyer played by Louis-Dreyfus wins the sixth time for her role and makes history in Emmys.

Politics makes a quick appearance at the Emmy awards as Sean Spicer, Former White House press secretary made a surprise visit. Also, Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon thanked Hillary Clinton as she won supporting actress award. Host Stephen Colbert took a jab at Donald Trump presidency and his tweets of not getting an Emmy as Celebrity Apprentice.

This year, Emmy was a big win for the women. The three major awards went to women-oriented shows- The Handmaid’s Tale about future sterilization of fertile women living in a dystopian future. Veep which is a funny take on women in politics took comedy award and best-limited series went to Big Little Lies which looks at domestic violence and women actress.

As per nominations in different categories, HBO led the race with 46 nominations followed by Netflix and FX being nominated for 27 each. Following them were NBC with 17 and ABC with 11 nominations. The award scoreboard is different. HBO took back 29 Emmy statues leading the scoreboard for the 17th year. Netflix got up to 20, NBC won 15, and Hulu had 10.

This time Emmy wasn’t a usual one. It was funny, dramatic, had smiles and tears, all that television requires.

Sources: LA Times, Hindustan Times

After Paytm, Now We Have Tez

Everyone seems to be capitalising on the after effect of the gaffe made by the Indian government last year. If it isn’t clear, the gaffe in question is demonetisation, where the Indian government banned the 1000 and 500 rupee notes, forcing a large chunk of the country’s population to steer away towards digital payments. As a result of this preference for digitised payments, Paytm, the most popular online payments app soared to new heights of popularity and recorded massive profits which allowed its owner to buy an expensive house, while the rest of the profits went to Alibaba, the Chinese company that owns the larger part of Paytm.

Looking to enter this profitable playing field and make a cut of the massive profits themselves, Google has launched their own payment app in India, named Tez (Hindi for fast). Tez, a United Payments Interface (UPI)-based digital app, goes a step beyond Android Pay, by allowing users to link payment apps from Indian banks. Tez also allows bank-to-bank payments and is comfortably protected by Tez Shield, Google’s own data security platform with the ability to detect fraud and protect user identity. Conveniently, Tez has a contact list that will give transaction history organised, somewhat like a chat app. According to Google, the app also allows small businesses to accept payments directly into their bank accounts.

“Send money home to your family, split a dinner bill with friends, or pay the neighbourhood chaiwala. Make all payments big or small, directly from your bank account with Tez, Google’s new digital payment app for India,” is Google’s official statement regarding their newest venture on its information portal.

But what makes Tez special, particularly in India, is that it uses Audio QR. This basically means that the app does not use user payment information but instead transfers money based on sounds. Twi devices can pair using these ultrasonic sounds, eliminating the need for payee and payer personal information. This will also make the process more rapid and frictionless and also bypasses the need for an NFC chip, since phones with NFC are still relatively rare and expensive.

The app will be available on both Android and iOS and Google is planning to release it in other emerging countries.

Sources: The Verge, TechCrunch 

In Memory of India’s War Hero Arjan Singh

September 18, 2017: Today India bid its final adieu to the nation’s oldest serving soldier Marshal Arjan Singh, with full state honors. Died at the age of 98, Singh was a military legend, whose illustrious career spoke volumes about his bravery and contribution to the Indian Air Force. Singh was the only Air Force officer to be promoted to five-star rank and was a vital figure in making IAF the fourth biggest in the world.

Born to a military family, on April 15, 1919, Singh joined Indian Air Force in 1938 at the young age of 19; and at the age of just 44, he took over as the chief of a young IAF in 1964. A year later, after taking up the charge as IAF Chief, Singh valiantly led the young air force team in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. His profound knowledge about air force was visible in the 1965 war and proved beneficial for the IAF to regain its stature after the 1962 debacle. Y B Chavan, the then Defence Minister wrote, “Air Marshal Arjan Singh is a jewel of a person, quite efficient and firm; unexcitable but a very able leader.”

In his career spanning over three decades and after that as well, Arjan Singh won many awards and accolades. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his contributions in the 1965 Indo-Pak War. He was the first Indian pilot to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) by the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia. In addition to this, West Bengal’s Air Force base at Panagarh was renamed as Air Force Station Arjan Singh in honor of him. Another highlight of his flying career was that he was leading the fly-past over the Red Fort on the morning of August 15, 1947, when India got independence.

Singh retired in 1969 and went on to accept the Ambassadorship of Switzerland. Later, he became Indian High Commissioner in Kenya in 1974. He has also served as India’s Ambassador to the Vatican and became Lieutenant Governor of Delhi after returning to India.

In his last three years, Arjan Singh’s health started to give up, but his zest for life and service to the nation did not stop. A dynamic personality, an excellent leader, and a man of courage, Arjan Singh in every way was and will remain India’s legendary ‘War Hero’.

Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh- 15 April 1919- 16 September 2017

Sources: Economic Times, News18

The Sardar Sarovar Dam: Engineering Miracle or Failure?

Narendra Modi inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is the world’s second largest dam on his 67th birthday, on September 17, 2017. He claimed that no other project in the world had faced so many obstacles and that the initiative had overcome numerous hurdles to finally be made. Present at Dabhoi, Gujarat, he dedicated the dam – which he called an “engineering miracle” – to the nation. The dam is supposed to provide power and water to 9,000 villages to the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

At the same time, miles away in a village in Madhya Pradesh, thousands carried out a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ – a protest sitting barefoot in water. The reason for this protest? They believed that the water from the dam will displace 40,000 families because their homes will be submerged. The protesters are led by activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan founder Medha Patkar. The protest had begun on Friday on the banks of Narmada at Chota Barda village in Dhar, about 300 km from Bhopal. The water level has been rising there constantly and has already submerged Nisarpur and Rajghat.

The highest embankment on a river in the country is built on the Narmada river and is expected to change the fortunes of Gujarat. However, since the foundation stone of this project was laid in 1961 by Jawaharlal Nehru, it has wrapped up in myriad controversies.

In September 1988, many environmentalists, social workers and scientists sent a memorandum to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asking him to reconsider environmental clearance granted to the project. Activists have since been demanding that the filling of water in the dam be stopped and the games opened so that the water level reduces.

Patkar, who had visited the areas expected to be submerged by the river project in 1985, submitted her critique of the project, saying that the people who were to be displaced had not been rehabilitated or informed properly about the issues. She also demanded that the water filling be stopped till rehabilitation is undertaken and compensation paid to the families, which however has not happened despite a Supreme Court order. She also took her case to the World Bank, which stoped funding the project in 1994. Modi himself has talked about the opposition to the construction of the dam from the World Bank. When the financial institution stopped giving money to the project, the temples of Gujarat donated money to it.

Narmada Bachao Andolan had approached the apex court over the environmental issues posed by the dam and received a stay in 1996, although eventually in 2000, work was allowed to resume with some restrictions in October 2000. When her efforts failed, she led the NBA and undertook several fasts for weeks along with Baba Amte, another veteran activist.

Modi is right when he says that the project has progressed despite problems. In 2000, the SC allowed the government to increase the height of the dam to 90-metres, which kept increasing till it reached its current and final height of 138.68 metres.

The dam thus holds in its stead both expectations of development as well as the fear of displacement and the lack of compensation for the people of India. It also sits high as a symbol of the failure of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. While Patkar’s Jal Satyagraha movement carries on, so does some iota of rehabilitation and compensation, albeit slowly.

Sources: NDTV, India Today

DU Elections Herald the Winds of Change

For students of Delhi University, it is common sight to see the winning candidates in any year’s student elections being fielded by the ABVP, the RSS-affiliated right wing student organisation that has till now commanded the majority support. But not anymore. If the recently concluded DUSU elections send a message, it is that ABVP is not the most popular party anymore. The stunning defeat of the ABVP, only to give over its stronghold to the Congress backed NSUI shows that BJP is losing its hold over campuses.

It is true that the ABVP was not totally decimated in the elections. NSUI won only the President and Vice-Presidential positions, while the other two of General Secretary and Joint Secretary were retained by ABVP. It is also true that statistically, the best performer in the election was still the ABVP candidate for secretary, Mahamedhaa Nagar who defeated her NSUI rival by 2624 votes to win the post of secretary. Her win was still the biggest margin. However, what counts more is that NSUI has made a comeback and a stunning one at that. For the last five years, ABVP has dominated the student politics scene in Delhi, leaving no leeway for other parties to set foot. Since 2012, NSUI has never held an important position in DUSU and while this may be a half-triumph, it is still a triumph.

ABVP’s shocking loss should sound the alarm bells for the BJP and the Modi-brigade which has thus far captured the imagination of the youth across campuses. Students across the world do not like being dictated to and Indian students are no different. With the Modi brigade dictating terms on cow vigilantism, coupled with the lack of tolerance and the alarming rise of Hindutva across the country, it should be of no surprise that the students have swung to the age old challenger of the BJP, the Congress and chosen to put their faith in them. This is certainly a reaction to the brand of hyper nationalism propagated by the centre, which has backfired against them. Moreover, the ABVP has been on a rampage of violence and disruption, with the Rohith Vemula suicide last year, the upheaval in JNU and the Ramjas incident early this year. On every one of these occasions, the ABVP was the muscular aggressor and on the receiving end of much criticism from left-wing liberals.

And NSUI’s win in DU is not a one-off incident. This is simply a follow up of the impressive performances by the outfit in the recent polls in Guwahati, Rajasthan and Punjab Universities. This is the concert result of the educated and urban youth taking up arms against the divisive and polarising politics wielded by the ABVP in every election it participates in. This is a wake-up call to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Ironically, the latter had termed ABVP’s victory in DUSU polls last year as the triumph of nationalism. The DUSU election is definitely a reflection of the current mood among the youngsters, who are witnessing a polarising of the country under the current government.

However, it is not all hunky-dory for the NSUI. This year’s election also saw a huge jump in NOTA votes, from less than 10% last year to 16.5% this year. This can only portray a certain disillusionment with the student wings of mainstream political parties and should be a cause of worry for both the Congress and the BJP. It is also to be noted that more students availed of the NOTA option in the DUSU elections than the JNSUSU elections. Nonetheless, the DUDU results should be doing much to boost the sagging morale of the Congress, which sadly, does not remain a key player at the centre politics any longer.

Sources: The Quint, Hindustan Times

No Reason for Fear, the Left is Still There

Left wing student associations, just a few days ago, led their parties to a thumping win in the recently concluded Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) elections, raising spirits of left-leaning student campuses everywhere. The united-Left alliance – which is a coalition of AISA, SFI and DSF – retained all four seats in the JNU students union election, defeating the RSS-backed ABVP by a considerable margin. The main players in this election were the United Left alliance, RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and the Birsa-Ambedkar-Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA).

United Left candidate Geeta Kumari won the president’s post by defeating Nidhi Tripathi of ABVP by 464 votes. AISA’s Simone Zoya Khan, who was contesting for the vice-presidents post, got 1,876 votes out of total 4,620 votes, defeating Durgesh Kumar of ABVP (1028 votes). The other important posts of General Secretary and Joint Secretary also went to Left candidates, who all beat their respective right-wing candidates by considerable margins. Last year, the Left alliance was between AISA and SFI, which was fortified this year by extending the alliance to bring DSF on board. While JNU has always been a Left bastion, there were concerns this year regarding the Left’s win because of the rise of identity based politics, represented by BAPSA. The fear was that the rise of BAPSA would take away votes from the left, leading to an ABVP win.

Not surprisingly, BAPSA candidates finished second in all the posts. More importantly, this year marked BAPSA’s entry into the school of sciences which till date has been an ABVP stronghold. The party’s thundering performance in the elections shows how the wave is moving towards identity-based politics, while also changing the political discourse from the choice between a left and a right to a voice between left, right and BAPSA. Both ABVP and the left-wing should be concerned with the meteoric rise of this party, which certainly shows a growing base within the university.

Soon after the stunning victory for the Left, the relieved student organisation brought out a press release claiming that the JNUSU results would have an effect on the upcoming DUSU elections. “The mandate of the JNUSU elections is a strong message for the power-protected gang of hooligans that the minds and souls of students can’t be captured by the threat of violence. The students of DU will give a strong mandate for a university without violence, academics without fear and country without hate,” stated the release.

Geeta Kumari, now elected JNUSU president, said that she and her administration would be taking up the Najeeb Jung issue, as well as the reigning issues of JNU seat cuts and new hostels. This begs the realisation that this year’s student elections was fought on issues that have been plaguing the JNU community for a while now. Left unity against the ABVP politics’ has been a main slogan in the campus since the February 9, 2016 events that put JNU in the spotlight for many reasons.

Sources: Firstpost, NDTV

Cassini’s swan song

At 7:55 am, Eastern Time in the United States, planet Earth received the final signal from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. After a twenty year mission, traveling two billion miles and having run out of fuel, Cassini took its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA dubbed the spacecraft’s free-fall as Cassini’s Grand Finale.

Cassini-Huygens’ remarkable journey over the years resulted in thrilling discoveries for the realm of space science especially of the planet Saturn itself, its moons, magnetosphere and its rings.

The spacecraft was named after two Italian astronomers – Giovanni Cassini who discovered Saturn and Christiaan Huygens who discovered Titan. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and ESA’s Huygens probe was the first unmanned mission sent to orbit the jewel of the solar system, Saturn and discover the planet closely. It was launched on October 15, 1997, and it took seven years to reach Saturn’s orbit. For the next thirteen years, Cassini sent fascinating information back to Earth about Saturn and its moons, which included the observation of the Great White Storm, Saturn’s hexagon, lakes on Titan and geysers on Enceladus.

The Cassini-Huygens mission did invite certain controversies. After all the arguments regarding contamination of other planets and the expenses incurred to send the probe, the fact remains that the spacecraft’s information helped scientists to understand the Saturnian system. It has collected and sent huge amounts of data that helped, still helps and will continue to help researchers and scientists to understand the Saturnian system and perhaps even other mysterious wonders of life outside Earth.

Not only did Cassini send information regarding Saturn having earth-like features, it also discovered seven new moons of the planet. It’s exploration of Titan resulted in scientists understanding how its atmosphere has a similar climate system and a water cycle. While exploring Enceladus, it detected water, carbon dioxide and various hydrocarbons that suggested the presence of a composition which could support life! It is Cassini’s observations and findings that have given scientists the chance to ponder over sustainable life outside Earth.

These are the reason why Cassini’s research matters. As Cassini plunges deep into Saturn’s atmosphere it carries more secrets that we may never know, but it has sent a treasure of information for scientists of today and tomorrow to study and understand other planetary systems. Even after the end of its primary mission, the little probe kept collecting and sending valuable information for many years that followed. Cassini’s descent may be its finale but its success is just the beginning for many more such space missions. The human spirit of adventure lives on, even if Cassini’s swan song is over.

Telegraph, NASA