WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2023-01

About: World Inthavaaram is news that made the week. ‘Inthavaaram’, in Tamil, means ‘this week’. I began in week 41 of the year 2020 and have been writing and publishing every week with a unique calligraphy doodle -in my own hand -to match the stories. I collect news from all over the world and present it in a fresh, light-hearted manner.

This week is about a never-ending war, lingering Covid19, a path-breaking medical invention, politics of economics, bidding bye to a Pope and a legendary football player.

Everywhere

New cold winds are blowing in January of the brand New Year. The sun itself has become awfully shy and wears a blazer to keep itself warm, I guess. But dear Earth is getting warmer by the degree. In the United Kingdom (UK), for example, last year 2022, was the warmest year on record. The average annual temperature was more than 10 degrees Centigrade for the first time. Is this a hot sign of things to come?

Kick-starting the New Year, the diaries, calendars, and resolutions are singing all over the world. I started a new Bullet Journal-doing it fo the past four years. In every month I allocate a page titled ‘World’ to record the ‘news temperatures and flare-up’s’ of the year. Some events keep hugging the pages, hogging the headlines seemingly forever.

Ukraine is fighting back like hell in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War. This week a Ukrainian missile strike killed 89 Russian troops – the actual death toll is still being assessed: we may never know. The attack was one of the deadliest by Ukrainian forces since the war began last year. It involved four rockets fired from United States-made launchers targeting barracks in the Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region. And it is a massive blow to Russia’s ill thought-out, meaningless invasion of Ukraine. Russia surely finds itself at a stage where it does not know how to exit honourably.Late in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire for 36 hours on 6th and 7th January along the entire line of contact between the armies in Ukraine. This is to allow Russian Orthodox Christians to attend Christmas services, considering the appeal of Patriarch Kirill, Bishop and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Perhaps, he should appeal and pray for the war to stop?

Covid 19 has a stranglehold on China and is tearing through the country, with most of its people never exposed to the coronavirus and the elderly not fully vaccinated. While the coronavirus Omicron variant causes mild symptoms in most people, a large number of Chinese are still vulnerable to severe illness. The country’s weak health-care system is already under huge pressure.

The always tight-lipped and walled China says only 13 people have died from Covid19 so far in December. The real toll is undoubtedly much higher. China only counts as Covid19 deaths those who die from respiratory failure or pneumonia. But the virus often causes death by damaging other organs-other kinds of failure. China’s crematoriums are busy: it is estimated that over 5,000 people are probably dying of Covid19 every day; the burial queues are getting longer. And a model predicts that in a worst-case scenario 1.5 million Chinese will die from the virus in the coming months. The World Health Organization (WHO) has demanded that more information be shared with the World. And has accused China of ‘under-representing’ the severity of its Covid outbreak and criticised its ‘narrow’ definition of what constitutes a Covid death But, is China listening?

Base Editing: A Path-breaking Invention

First, a quick basic lesson in the science of Genetics.

Bases are nitrogen containing biological compounds which store information and is the language of life. We must have learnt in school that the four types of Base – Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T)-are the building blocks of our genetic code-the DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). Just as letters in the alphabet spell out words that carry meaning, the billions of bases in our DNA spell out the instruction manual for our body. In RNA (RiboNucleic Acid), the base Uracil (U) takes the place of T.

The incurable cancer of a teenage girl, Alyssa from Leicester, UK, has been cleared from her body in the first use of a revolutionary new type of technology medicine, called ‘Base Editing’.

Alyssa was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May last year. T-cells are the body’s guardian angels-seeking out and destroying devilish disease threats – but for Alyssa they had become the danger and were growing out of control. Her cancer was aggressive. Chemotherapy, and then a bone-marrow transplant, were unable to rid it from her body.

All other treatments for Alyssa’s leukaemia having failed, doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, Bloomsbury, London Borough of Camden, UK, used ‘base editing’, which was invented only six years ago-to perform a feat of biological engineering to build her a new living drug. Six months later, the cancer is undetectable, but Alyssa is still being monitored in case it makes a comeback. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago and has been made possible by incredible advances in Genetics.

Base Editing allows scientists to zoom to a precise part of the genetic code and then alter the molecular structure of just one base, converting it into another and changing the genetic instructions. The large team of doctors and scientists used this tool to engineer a new type of T-cell that was capable of hunting down and killing Alyssa’s cancerous T-cells. They started with healthy T-cells that came from a donor and went about modifying (editing) them.

The first base edit disabled the T-cells targeting mechanism, so they would not assault Alyssa’s body; the second removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells; the third edit was an invisibility cloak that prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug; the final stage of genetic modification instructed the T-cells to go hunting for anything with the CD7 marking on it so that it would destroy every T-cell in her body – including the cancerous ones. That’s why this marking has to be removed from the therapy – otherwise it would just destroy itself. Looks so easy!

If the therapy works, Alyssa’s immune system-including T-cells-will be rebuilt with the second bone-marrow transplant. She is the first patient to be treated with this technology. This kind of genetic manipulation is a very fast-moving area of science with enormous potential across a range of diseases. What a start in the New Year!

America Fails to Elect a Speaker: Speechless

Meanwhile, in the United States (US) of America, for the first time in a century, the House of Representatives, one person did not receive the necessary 218 votes on the first ballot to become Speaker of the House. Speaker hopeful, Kevin McCarthy secured 203 votes, leaving the top job up for grabs as Republicans took control of the Chamber. Hard right lawmakers followed through on their threats to oppose him as Speaker. By the end of the week Kevin McCarthy lost a historic eleventh vote over three days. And still no US House Speaker. Democracy is a work in progress!

A Pope Dies

Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI the first Pope to resign in 600 years, died on 31st December, aged 95. He had resigned in February 2013 citing a ‘lack of strength of mind and body’ due to his advanced age. Speaking in Latin he had said: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Pope Benedict’s handling of sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church and opposition to usage of condoms in areas of high HIV transmission, despite their effectiveness in preventing the spread of HIV, led to substantial criticism in the public domain.

Amazon Sheds Fat-Letters

This week, e-commerce technology giant Amazon announced that it is shedding about 18,000, A to Z roles as it goes on a drive to cut costs. The job cuts amount to around 6% of the company’s roughly 3,00,000 strong corporate workforce. Amazon is the latest technology firm to unveil major layoffs as the cost of living crisis sees customers cut back on spending. Amazon said it had to announce the layoffs sooner than they wanted to, as the information had leaked out.

India’s Demonetisation is OK

Most of us may faintly recall that dour day of 8 November 2016 when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appeared on National Television to announce that all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes, of the Mahatma Gandhi Series, will no longer carry legal tender.

He said the action would curtail the shadow economy, increase cashless transactions and reduce the use of illicit and counterfeit cash that funds illegal activities and terrorism. The Govt also announced the issuance of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 banknotes in exchange for the demonetised banknotes. Oh, I loved those new green 500, pink 2000, which first emerged, followed by the orange 200 and blue 100 notes, later on.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stipulated that demonetised notes should be deposited with the Bank over a period of 50 days until 30 December 2016. In the final tally, the RBI said that approximately 99.3% of demonetised currency was deposited- returned to the Government coffers.

The announcement of the demonetisation decision sparked massive confusion and chaos for several weeks as people scrambled for the new currency notes, forming snaky queues before Banks and ATM kiosks, for days. Some people even died waiting to have their money exchanged. The move was severely criticised by those opposed to the Government, as poorly planned and unfair, sparking protests.

India has previously demonetised bank notes in 1946 and 1978 with the objective of curbing counterfeit money and black money.

This week the Supreme Court of India upheld the demonetisation decision with a 4:1 majority. A five-judge Constitution bench dismissed a batch of 58 petitions challenging the demonetisation exercise. It said that the decision, being the Executive’s economic policy, cannot be reversed. And that Centre’s decision-making process cannot be flawed as there was consultation between RBI and the Government. It is not relevant whether the objectives were achieved or not.

The ruling comes as yet another badge to pin on the chest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been subjected to tremendous outrage on the demonetisation drive by the Opposition Parties. And the BJP is shining the light and ringing the bell on the awesome changes, especially the significant rise in digital payments, brought about by demonetisation.

A Dragging Horror in New Delhi

India’s capital Delhi has a knack of getting into gruesome acts, every year, at stunning regularity.

This year on New Year’s Eve a young 20 year old woman, Anjali Singh along with her friend, Nidhi drives a few streets away from her home to a Hotel for an event management. On the return, after midnight, she and a her friend after some kind of an altercation mount the scooter to ride Home. On the way they are hit by a car with Nidhi on the pillion ‘safely’ falling off and Anjali getting trapped under the car along with the scooter. And being dragged for about 10km and mauled to death in a horrific manner, with body parts split-up. It appears that someone in the car knew Anjali was stuck as the car went forward and backwards with Anjali screaming before dragging her in an unmindful manner. It appears the five people inside the car were drunk and with loud music running, they did not hear anything! Heart-wrenching. Police weren’t around despite being called to the scene and the city being under a New Year Security blanket. Nidhi, who could have shouted her guts out, scooted from the scene – fled, fearing ‘everything’ and stayed silent without telling anyone anything for almost two days. Further, Nidhi said Anjali was in an ‘inebriated’ state while the post-mortem report she was not under the influence of Alcohol. As the stories spin, investigations have begun to find out what exactly happened. Unbelievable that a friend could do this to a friend. It is a combined failure of the Police System in particular and the community at large?

Everybody needs to do their part, and unfortunately not one person did theirs, that day.

Goodbye Pele

Football King, Pele passed away last week, and this week his funeral was held in the city of Santos, Brazil. His coffin was kept in the Urbano Caldeira -Vila Belmiro- stadium, home of Pele’s former club Santos, for mourners to pass through for one final look at one of history’s most magnificent athletes, before entombment.

Pele’s coffin was then driven to the mausoleum that he had bought 19 years ago inside the Memorial Ecumenical Cemetery, a high-rise building that holds the Guinness world record as the tallest cemetery in the world. The Santos soccer club estimated that 230,000 mourners had been through the stadium. And huge crowds turned out to accompany the procession.

The procession had started at the Stadium and his coffin was carried through the streets of Santos, including the street where Pele’s 100 year old mother lives.

Hundreds of thousands of people waited for hours under a burning sun on Monday to file past Pele’s coffin. “This is no sacrifice,” said one who traveled three hours to the Stadium and had to be at work in five hours, yet had another few hours before he would be through the line. “He gave us so much joy that it’s a pleasure to be here.”

Pele being a footballer like no other, his final resting place is exceptional too: a large replica stadium complete with artificial turf inside the world’s tallest vertical cemetery.

Some of Brazil’s best-known footballers have faced a furious backlash as fans questioned why they had failed to attend ceremonies bidding farewell to Pele. And only a handful of Brazil’s World Cup winners made the trip to pay homage. “Pele is a citizen of the world, at the same level as Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, but Brazilians don’t know how to recognise that,” lamented a former player.

Pele married three times, fathering seven children. He leaves behind his present wife, Marcia Aoki.

Play well through the year 2023. Fix the posts and shoot your goals, with World Inthavaaram.

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WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2022-35

About –the stories of the world this week, 28 August to 3 September 2022: a third of a country under water; a flock gathers under a Shepherd; death by stalking; dying in Home, alone; and the Mark of a Man.

Everywhere

Pakistan Under Water

They say one-third of Pakistan is under water in the worst ever floods in over a decade. The United Nations (UN) which became a Word-Play expert with new names for the COVID19 causing virus, in the last season, came up with a phrase this time: “Pakistan is facing a monsoon on steroids” – said wordsmith, Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

The floods are due to the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain: water gushing down streets, swallowing villages, and destroying bridges. More than 1,140 people have been killed since June and roads, crops, homes, and bridges washed away across the country.

This best sums up the catastrophe, said a flood-water survivor, “when the water entered my house the only thing left untouched was the ceiling fan”.

This year’s record monsoon is comparable to the devastating floods of the year 2010 – the deadliest in Pakistan’s history – which left more than 2,000 people dead. It is estimate that more than 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding. And described as a ‘climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions’.

Pakistan produces less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but ranks consistently in the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. A warming atmosphere caused by climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely. The world has already warmed by about 1.2 Centigrade since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world take action and make steep cuts to emissions.

No doubt at all that all other countries will have to work ‘damn hard’ to keep Pakistan above water!

The Pope and His Pack of Cardinals

The Pope was in an expansive mood and last Saturday in a quiet, Godly ceremony held at the Ordinary Public Consistory, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, he created 21 new Cardinals to ‘bring fire to God’s love to all’.

This is Pope Francis’ Eighth Consistory and among the newly created Cardinals, 16 are under the age of 80-thus electors in a future Conclave- and four non-electors, over the age of 80. Members of three religious orders entered the hallowed College of Cardinals, and four new countries got representation: Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, and East Timor.

Eight of the newly named Cardinals are from Europe, six from Asia, two from Africa, one from North America, and four from Central and Latin America.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Cardinals approved the canonization (sainthood) of the founder of the Scalabrinians, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, and Salesian layman, Artemide Zatti. The Scalabrinian Missionaries called the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo was founded in Italy in 1887. The Salesiaans (of Don Bosco) was founded by Saint Don Bosco in 1859, in Italy. And Artemide Zatti was responsible for an inexplicable cure of disease after which he remained a Pharmacist and healer -rather than Priest- in Argentina where he had emigrated to from Italy.

In the Cardinal list, two are from India: Anthony Poola – Archbishop of Hyderabad and Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastiao Di Rosario Ferrao – Archbishop of Goa & Daman.

Anthony Poola, 62, is the first Telugu-speaking person and also the first Dalit Christian to enter the College of Cardinals, which elects the Pope. This is a historic moment for Christianity in India.

Anthony Poola hails from Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. He led the diocese of Kurnool for over 12 years before being appointed as Archbishop of Hyderabad in 2020. Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastiao di Rosario Ferrao, 69 was Born in Aldona Village near Panaji and has been heading the local Church since 2003. He was ordained as a priest in 1979, and in 2003, he was consecrated as Archbishop of Goa and Daman.

Stalking

In India’s State of Jharkhand, known for a history of lawlessness, a 17 years old school girl, Ankita Singh was doused with petrol and set on fire. This was by a stalker, Shahrukh Hussain, who had been harassing her to become his friend, which advances she spurned. Ankita Singh died in the early hours of Sunday in a hospital in Ranchi, where she had been admitted with severe burn injuries.

Ankita’s death has sparked protests by Hindu organisations who claim that Shahrukh, a Muslim, wanted to commit ‘Love Jihad’ by converting the victim, a Hindu, to his religion. Love-jihad is a term constantly used by Hindu groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage.

Shahrukh was arrested after being identified by the dying Ankita, and is in police custody.

Home Alone

Known as the ‘Man of the Hole’, the last remaining ‘nameless’ member of an un-contacted indigenous group living in the Tanaru area, Rondonia, in Brazil, which borders Bolivia, died of natural causes at an estimated age of 60.

The majority of his tribe are believed to have been killed in the 1970s by ranchers wanting to expand their land. In 1995, six of the remaining members of his tribe were killed in an attack by illegal miners, making him the sole survivor, and ever since – over 26 years- the man has lived in total isolation. He earned the nickname ‘Man of the Hole’ because he dug deep holes, apparently to trap animals or for hiding in them, himself.

His body was found on 23rd August in a hammock outside his straw hut, covered in macaw feathers. There were no signs of violence. And the finding was that the man knew his end was coming and prepared for it.

Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency (Funai) became aware of his survival only in 1996, and had been monitoring the area ever since for his own safety. It was during a routine patrol that a Funai agent found the man’s body, which has now been sent for a post-mortem. And maybe used for research…to fill the holes in his life and his origin.

The Mark of Gorbachev

This week, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War, died at 91, of a ‘serious and protracted disease’ after a period of illness. He presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union-Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR)-that had existed for nearly 70 years, dominating huge parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. Gorbachev was one of the most influential political figures of the 20th Century.

Most of us would remember that the most distinguishing feature of Gorbachev’s appearance was a large, deep red blemish on his almost bald forehead. The mark started high on his head and came down to a little above his right eyebrow: it was a birthmark called a ‘port wine stain’, a name that is derived from the way it looked. That mark marked the man.

Gorbachev was born in March 1931 to poor peasant parents who worked on Collective Farms in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, when Russia was under the violent rule of Joseph Stalin. Russia and the Ukraine were then living through one of the most brutal acts of political terror ever devised: with Stalin forcing the population into, what was called, Collective Farms, purging successful peasants and creating an artificial famine, which killed millions.

Gorbachev had one sibling-a brother called Alexander -who was born 17 years after him. And maybe there was a total disconnect with Gorbachev, because of the gap.

Gorbachev’s maternal grandfather was a committed communist and became the chairman of a Collective Farm. He was a solid influence on Gorbachev’s early development, providing him with advice on farming and opening him to good books such as Pushkin’s poems, Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’ from the farm’s unusually good library.

Gorbachev excelled in academics in his village school, where he learnt to read voraciously, moving from the Western novels of Thomas Mayne Reid to the works of Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolai Gogol, besides Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov.

After primary school he moved to the high school in Molotovskoye where he stayed during the week and walked home 19 km every weekend to be with his parents. Over the course of five consecutive summers, from 1946 onward, he returned home to assist his father in operating a combine harvester in the Collective Farms, during which time they sometimes worked 20 hour days. In 1948, they harvested over 8,000 quintals of grain, a feat for which his father Sergey was awarded the Order of Lenin and he, the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

In June 1950, Gorbachev became a candidate member of the Communist Party-the only Party in Russia. About that time, he also applied to study at the prestigious Law School of Moscow State University (MSU). And secured admission without appearing for an exam – likely because of his worker-peasant origins and his possession of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

At MSU, Gorbachev, met Raisa Maximovna Titarenko, a student from Siberia who was studying in the university’s philosophy department, and they began a relationship, which progressed to marriage in September 1953. Perhaps it was love at first sight, or Raisa was struck by the mark of Gorbachev, and he in turn by her classic looks!

After graduating in 1955, he returned to Stavropol and then began a rapid ascent through the ranks of the Communist Party, rising to the very top.

Gorbachev was expected to succeed Yuri Andropov when the latter died in 1984, but instead, the ailing Konstantin Chernenko became General Secretary of the Communist Party because it was thought that at 53, Gorbachev was too young. Within a year, Chernenko too was dead and Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Ruling Council called the Politburo, succeeded him – being the personal choice of both Andropov and Chernenko.

In March 1985, Gorbachev at 54, became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and de-facto leader of the country, up to collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. When he reached the top of that hierarchy he began to transform the world’s last empire, reshaping not only the foundations of his country but also the assumptions of his youth.

He was seen as a breath of fresh air after several ageing leaders and the stagnation of the Leonid Brezhnev years. He was the first General Secretary to have been born after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Gorbachev’s leadership style differed from that of his predecessors. He would stop to talk to civilians on the street, forbade the display of his portrait at the 1985 Red Square holiday celebrations, and encouraged frank and open discussions at Politburo meetings. Gorbachev’s stylish sense of dressing and direct manner, was also unlike those before him, and his wife Raisa was more like a warm American first lady than a cold General Secretary’s wife. And she had a high public profile of her own.

Few leaders have had such a profound effect on the global order, but Gorbachev did not come to power seeking to end the Soviet grip over Eastern Europe. Rather, he hoped to revitalise its society.

His first task was to revive the moribund Soviet economy, which was almost at the point of collapse and nowhere near being any kind of a competition to the booming economy of the United States. He was also shrewd enough to understand that there needed to be a root-and-branch reform of the Communist Party itself if his economic reforms were to succeed.

Gorbachev’s solution brought two Russian words that Russia and the world became familiar with. He said the country needed ‘perestroika’ or restructuring and his tool for dealing with it was ‘glasnost’ – openness.

“You’re lagging behind the rest of the economy. Your shoddy goods are a disgrace. Some of you look at the market as a lifesaver for your economies. But, comrades, you should not think about lifesavers but about the ship, and the ship is socialism”, he told his communist bosses.

But it was not his intention to replace state control with a free market economy. His other weapon for dealing with the stagnation of the system was democracy. For the first time, there were free elections for Russia’s Congress of People’s Deputies.

Gorbachev also wanted to end the Cold War, and successfully negotiated with US President Ronald Reagan for the abolition of a whole class of weapons through the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. And he announced unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces, while finally ending the humiliating and bloody occupation of Afghanistan.

However, Gorbachev’s efforts became the catalyst for a series of events that brought an end to communist rule, not just within the USSR, but also across its former satellite states.

Here openness and democracy led to calls for independence, which initially Gorbachev put down by force. The break-up of the USSR began in the Baltic republics in the north. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia broke free from the Soivet Union, starting a rollercoaster that spread to Russia’s Warsaw Pact allies. It culminated on 9 November 1989 when, following mass demonstrations, the citizens of East Germany, the most hard-line of the Soviet satellites, were allowed to cross freely into West Berlin. Gorbachev’s reaction was not to send in tanks, the traditional Soviet reaction to such blatant opposition, but to announce that ‘reunification of Germany was an internal German affair’. And then the Cold War era German Wall was broken and Germany became one.

In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded, deservedly so, the Nobel Peace Prize for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations.

But by August 1991 the communist old guard in Moscow had had enough. They staged a military coup and Gorbachev was arrested while holidaying on the Black Sea. The Moscow party boss, Boris Yeltsin, seized his chance, ending the coup, arresting the demonstrators and stripping Gorbachev of almost all his political power in return for his freedom. But in the new Russia that emerged after 1991, he was on the fringes of politics, focusing on educational and humanitarian projects.

Despite warnings from his wife Raisa, he stood for the Russian presidency in 1996 and received less than 5% of the vote. During the 1990s he took to the international lecture circuit and kept up contacts with world leaders, remaining a heroic figure to many non-Russians.

Gorbachev doted on his wife Raisa, whose constant presence at his side lent a humanising touch to his political reforms. And when she died in 1999 of leukaemia, he suffered a personal blow. They’d been married for nearly 46 years and from the tender way in which he talked about her, in later years, it was clear that Gorbachev missed her deeply.

Gorbachev maintained a close relationship with his only daughter, Irina Virganskaya-Gorbacheva. After her mother fell ill, Virganskaya-Gorbacheva was tapped by her father to be the vice president of his organization, The Gorbachev Foundation, which aimed to help children who have leukemia — the same form of cancer that killed her mother.

Said Gorbachev’s biographer, William Taubman of him:

“Gorbachev succeeded in destroying what was left of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union; he brought freedom of speech, of assembly, and of conscience to people who had never known it, except perhaps for a few chaotic months in 1917. By introducing free elections and creating parliamentary institutions, he laid the groundwork for democracy. It is more the fault of the raw material he worked with than of his own real shortcomings and mistakes that Russian democracy will take much longer to build than he thought”.

What ordinary Russians thought of him was perhaps encapsulated in a Pizza Hut advertisement-designed for the US market-that he took part in 1997.

In the advertisement, diners debate the chaos unleashed – or the opportunities created – by the end of the USSR, before toasting him.

Gorbachev indeed left an indelible mark on the world. Unforgettable.

I had planned to write on NASA’s Artemis Mission to the Moon, which was to be launched early this week. But the lift-off was put-off to end of the week, due to a technical defect, which was subsequently set right. I hope NASA launches Artemis on the 3rd September, as scheduled. Good luck to them. Return to the Moon.

More ‘marking’ stories coming-up in the weeks ahead. See the world with World Inthavaaram.

WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021-10

About: The story of the world this week-fascinating, with many firsts.

Everywhere

Smoke in my Eyes

Some news refuses to vacate the front page headlines-hogs it-and the Myanmar saga is one. This week 38 people protesting the military coup were killed and the retaliation against the pro-democracy demonstrators is becoming more brutal and deadly, with every new day of the strife. More than 50 people have died, and many wounded, since the coup began.

Where does Myanmar go from here? There was another thought channel-and I think it made sense-which believes that the ‘Aung San Suu Kyi Moment’ has passed, and Myanmar needs the next crop of leaders to step-in and make radical changes, especially in the Constitution. But then, clearing the military minefield would be the biggest challenge.

The World has been ‘shot and wounded’ by the incidents in Myanmar and should apply more pressure on the Military Junta to release leaders, hand over power to the people-elected Government-like it or not-and step behind. And watch from the shadows of their barracks.

The Pope in Iraq and the Rivers of Babylon.

Iraq is a war-torn country and healing is required in every dimension. It is also a land steeped in ancient biblical history. With this in mind perhaps Pope Francis decided to make a first-ever papal visit to Iraq, this week, and the first overseas visit by the Pope, since the pandemic caged all of us.

His Holiness was invited by President Barham Salih in 2019 and when it actually happened was received at the Baghdad Airport by Prime Minister Kadhimi.

On landing in Iraq, the 84 years old Pontiff said he comes as a pilgrim of peace and called for an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance.

Babylon, in Iraq, is the birthplace of Abraham, patriarch of the Jews, Christians and Muslims: it has been the dream of every Pope to make a visit. Pope Francis should be realising this dream.

Remember the Music Group, Boney M’s famous song, ‘Rivers of Babylon’, which lyrics are adapted from the Hebrew Bible and has a history stretching back to thousands of years. It’s about a time when Jerusalem has been conquered, the Temple destroyed and Israelites exiled in Babylon. They weep and mourn their fate sitting on the banks of the River Tigris and Euphrates remembering Zion- Jerusalem. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? The Pope will surely find answers.

The visit will also be the first meeting in history between the head of the Catholic Church and the head of the Shia Islamic Establishment-the Hawza-now led by the 90 years old Grand Ayatollah Ali-al Sistani, one of the most influential religious authorities in the Muslim World. They met in the holy city of Najaf and probably exchanged ‘religious views’.

Great minds are at work: hope peace and progress of humanity occupies the largest space.

Roaming on Mars

America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Perseverance Rover which successfully touched down on Mars, on 18th February, at the Jezero Crater took its first drive this week, traveling about 21 feet and doing a little spin across the Crater. NASA says that it all went ‘incredibly well’. Once the mission begins exploring Mars, in a more ‘whole-hearted manner’, it will go on drives averaging about 656 feet or more.

Meanwhile, Perseverance has been soaking itself in the Martian weather hoping to get a Martian tan: it deployed wind sensors to set up its own weather station, flexed its robotic arm-carrying a muscle of instruments-and even received a software update. And has sent about 7,000 images back to Earth.

Wow, the Rover seems to be enjoying the holidays! I’m still waiting for the Ingenuity helicopter to be dropped so that it can start preparing for its own test flights. Lots to look up to!

Chicks of the Old

A Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, regarded as the oldest know wild bird in history, aged at least 70, has hatched another chick in the Midway Wildlife Refuge-home for the largest colony of Albatrosses in the World-in the North Pacific Ocean. Though the chick was hatched in February it was only this week that it was reported.

Albatrosses mate for life, rarely cheating on their partners, during a normal life span of about 40 years. Wisdom having lived up to 70 must have outlived mates, and picked up new partners, probably through ‘dance parties’, which is an elaborate pair-selection ritual in the Albatross clan. Her present long-term, steady companion, since 2010 is a guy called Akeakamai-the father of the new chick-with whom Wisdom shares incubation duties and chick feeding duties, while she forages for food-a part of the Albatross culture.

Typically, Albatrosses hatch eggs every few years and Wisdom must have brought about 35 chicks into the World.

Laysan Albatrosses are large sea-birds with wingspans of about 2 metres. They are spectacular gliders, able to stay aloft in windy weather for hours without ever flapping their extremely long narrow wings. They drink seawater and feed on squid, fish, and crustaceans. Like most seabirds Albatrosses breed on land where they appear clumsy compared to their majestic, soaring flights in the air.

In the Bird World, only parrots, especially cockatoos, are known to live beyond 70 years and into the hundreds. Most animals are productive right up to old age, and this Albatross is indeed a magnificent old bird.

Cricket

The fourth test match between India and England in underway at the ‘freshly named’ Narendra Modi Stadium, in Ahmedabad, India, and England is finding the going awfully tough. Call it a name swing.

Vaccination Tracking, COVID-19.

More than 291 million doses have been administered across 111 countries at about 7.23 million doses per day.

Israel is continuing to lead the vaccination marathon with 95 doses given per 100 people; about 54.2% of the population has received at least one shot, and 40.4% are fully vaccinated. The United States (US) has given 26 doses per 100 people, while the United Kingdom has done 34 doses per 100.

India has given about 1.80 crore vaccine doses till date, at 1.4 doses per 100, with only 0.2% fully vaccinated. India needs to scale-up, quickly.

With the rollout of the second phase of the vaccination drive, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took his first dose of a made-in-India COVID-19 Vaccine, Covaxin, at the, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, early this Monday and appealed to Indians to get themselves inoculated. Setting an example is the finest point in leadership and this should give the much-needed momentum to Vaccinating India.

Please Yourself: The Oscars

I’ve always been fascinated by the Oscars, the Red Carpet dresses-often leaving so much to the wildest possible imagination with haunting colour, sparkle, ‘transparency’, revealing hidden treasures, and unbelievable curves-a reflection of the fantasy of movie making. And the fantastic stories, song, music, and sheer brilliance of make-believe. Along with watching movies nothing compares to sitting back and watching the best movies of the year gone by and living the creative world of man’s mind.

This year, in the list of 366 movies, released by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences eligible for consideration at the 93rd Oscars, in various categories, three Indian Films have earned a place. One is, ‘Mmmmm’ (Sound of Pain), a film in the Kurumba language spoken by the tribal community in Attapadi, Kerala’s Palakkad District, South India. The film tells the story of a person from the Kurumba Tribe, who ekes out a living by collecting honey, and trials and tribulations in making his life ‘honey sweet’.

The second is, Tamil movie ‘Soorarai Pottru’ (hail the brave) which is a fictionalised true-story based on the start of India’s first low-cost airline-the struggle to lift and fly the common man. The theme being, everybody can afford to fly!

The third is ‘Bittu’ shortlisted in the Live Action Short Film category, which is set in rural India and revolves around the close friendship between two little girls, eclipsed by an accident of food poisoning at School.

Indian movies have not it made to holding the golden statues at the prestigious Oscars-though many Indian Artists and Actors have-and the only films that came close to being nominated are, Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay (1988), and Lagaan(2001). India should get its act together. And it has fabulous stories to tell!

The voting will start on 5th March, and the official nominations will be announced on 15th March.

More golden stories, with ‘lots of span’, coming up next week.

WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2020-44

About: This is what happened this week, in our World.

Wisdom

“Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them.” –Marissa Meyer, CEO, Yahoo!

Everywhere

United States (US)

The ‘red’, Grand Old, Republican Party – Trump-Pence, and the ‘blue’ Democratic Party – Biden-Harris teams are in the throw of the Finals of the US Presidential Election. Early voting is underway and ends on 1st November. Election Day is on 3rd November. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is still a star campaigner growing in momentum across many parts of the US, spreading a message of pandemic mismanagement and a refusal to look at the science of virus things.

Will Joe Biden trump over Donald Trump? I hope it doesn’t end in a ‘well shampooed’ hair-raising photo-finish or a refusal to accept the outcome. We should be knowing next week, by this time.

I’m hoping Joe makes it, with Kamala.

France

Awfully tough and horrific times in France, this time of the year.

On 16th October a 18year old Chechen refugee beheaded a School Teacher, Samuel Paty, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris. This, days after he had shown images of Prophet Mohammed, alongside other caricatures and cartoons, to his students while teaching and discussing the topic ‘freedom of expression’. He has even asked pupils who feared they might be offended by them to look away if they wanted to.

Is there a better way to teach freedom of expression?

The killer was subsequently gunned down by the Police.

Later, in a similar incident on 29th October a knifeman, shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), killed three people and injured several others in an attack inside a Church in France’s Nice, on the Cote d’Azur. One of the victims, a woman, was decapitated. The scene was described as a ‘vision of horror’. This time too, the attacker was shot, injured, and taken to hospital. Glad that the Police have acted with superb alacrity and responsibility.

France has a long and cherished tradition of freedom of expression, and there can be no justification for attacking this freedom. French President Emmanuel Macron, enraged by the first incident, said that France will continue to defend the freedom that the School Teacher taught so well, and will bring back secularism; and France will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others back down.

Macron’s war cry on Islamic fundamentalism has infuriated many Islamic countries denouncing it as Islamophobia, and they in turn are going to Town shouting that anything to do with France be banned.

Fanatic elements in any religion cannot be encouraged and France should be given every possible support in dealing with this hydra-headed problem. Religions Leaders should step in to control such radicals living on the fringes of humanity. I believe religion should be strictly kept in the confines of one’s soul, one’s home, and only the best effects should be visible on the outside.

Cartoons are images intended for humour and satire, as a means of communication to convey news, entertainment, and the kind, in a light-hearted manner. It’s best we look at a cartoon as just that, shrug it off with a smile, and not delve too deep into them. Nothing can demean the original, which is forever taken. Why give importance to a cartoon and allow another meaning in a dimension we should not be thinking at all? Why cannot we laugh at ourselves?

Laughter is the best medicine, they say, for many of our ills. When was the last time we enjoyed a Tom & Jerry Cartoon? Imagine if all the Cats meowed endlessly and mice squeaked tirelessly about showing them in caricature? Or, our Politicians -they become famous because of cartooning, didn’t they?

The Vatican City

Last Sunday, Pope Francis announced that Wilton Daniel Gregory, currently the Archbishop of Washington DC, is being elevated to Cardinal, in a list of 13 new Cardinals, all under the age of ‘heavy 80’. With this appointment, Gregory becomes America’s first African American Catholic Cardinal-adding to another of becoming Washington DC’s first African American Archbishop. The primary responsibility of Cardinals is in electing a new Pope, should the present Pope step down or die.

The new Cardinals ‘start getting old’ from 28th November onwards. Cardinals wear the distinctive red vestment to indicate their willingness to sacrifice themselves to the point of shedding ‘their own blood in the service of the Successor of Peter.’

Successor of Peter? Recall, that the primacy of the Pope, also known as Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff, is largely derived from his role as at the Apostolic Successor to Saint Peter, to whom the primacy was conferred by Jesus, giving him the ‘Keys of Heaven’ and the powers of ‘binding and loosing’, naming him as the ‘rock’ upon which the Church would be built.

Pope Francis has been making progressive changes, shaking-up and reinvigorating Christianity. Recently, he approved of same-sex marriages. ‘They are also children of God’, he said. I think that any Religion should constantly evolve, keeping with our better understanding of humanity, without losing sight of core fundamentals. The Pope has listened…and acted. God speaks through him.

Europe

Europe is being demolished and populated by COVID-19 numbers. New cases are a sensation in Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, and Italy, grappling with positivity rates of between 20% and 31%.

The only way they can be avoided is with aggressive testing, tracing, use of masks, hand hygiene, maintaining of physical distance and avoidance of crowds.

If everyone in the world washed their hands properly, an estimated one million lives would be saved every year, according to researchers in London.

Space

On 26th October NASA revealed that its Stratosphere Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has discovered water in the Clavius Crater of the sunlit parts of the Moon’s Southern Hemisphere. The quantity detected is minuscule – the Sahara Desert contains 100 times the water found by SOFIA – but it is a very significant discovery, which matters a lot in setting up say, a Base on the Moon or as a stop-over for greater and longer Space missions. NASA hopes to put a Man and a Woman on the Moon, in 2024, through its Artemis Mission.

India

Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)

We almost took it for granted, as an Indian, that we could buy land and property anywhere in India. But until the abrogation of Article 370 this was not possible in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Only residents of J&K could buy land on producing a Domicile or Permanent Residency Certificate. Not any longer, and from 26th October the Government has gazetted that any Indian can buy land in J&K just like any other State in India.

This simple notification was long overdue. How about buying a nice little cottage overlooking the Dal Lake? Let’s do it?

Elections

Elections keeping rolling in State after State during the year, that one keeps wondering if Democracy is only about voting and forgetting about whom you voted for.

Democracy can succeed only if there is a constant engagement by the people.

This time it’s Bihar State that is going to the polls to elect a new State Government. Current Chief Minister (CM), Nitish Kumar, has been ruling for three five-year terms and is hoping to make it to a fourth. Isn’t it time to give way to someone else?

Voting started on 28th October in a first of three phases for 243 Assembly Seats. The Second and Third Phases are on 3rd and 7th November respectively. We will know the results on the counting day, 10th November.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Janata Dal(United), JD(U), are together pitted against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Left Parties. Opinion Polls give an edge to the ruling BJP – JD(U) combo.

CM, Nitish Kumar has governed, and managed the pandemic, reasonably well: comes across as a level-headed Chief Minister. Years ago, he was voted one of the best Chief Ministers of India and even thought of as a best candidate Prime Minister. But, he could do more to develop Bihar faster. I would give him one more term to deliver and, whatever, quit after this period. Make way for more talented people. Moreover, we are tired of the same old faces, aren’t we?

Sport

Cricket

The IPL 2020 Cricket Tournament is still scoring in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Match No 52 will be played this Saturday. After Match No 56 on 3rd November, it will be over to the Qualifiers and Eliminators before the Final, near the middle of November.

Mumbai Indians still lead the points table followed by Royal Challengers Bangalore, and then Delhi Capitals. Chennai Super Kings is well-settled at the bottom of the Table with Sunrisers Hyderabad, ‘keeping close’ company.

KL Rahul of Kings XI has the most runs to his name, 641 in thirteen games, Shekar Dhiwan of Delhi Capitals is the closest with 471 runs. Not far away are, David Warner with 436 runs and Viral Kohli at 424 runs. Rajasthan Royals’ Sanju Samson has hit the highest number of sixes – 26. That’s living up to the ‘power of Samson’, in his name

Motor Racing: Formula One

Six-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has broken Michael Schumacher’s all-time Formula One win record after dominating the Portuguese Grand Prix.

His victory in Portimao, Portugal, was the 92nd of his career, moving past the German’s previous record of 91. Hamilton squandered his lead on the opening lap but after reclaiming it on the 20th lap, he held off all competitors to win the Driver’s Championship.

Lewis Hamilton, of the United Kingdom, competes in Formula One for the Mercedes -AMG Petronas Team. He won his first championship in 2008 while in the McLaren Team before moving to Mercedes. That maiden win was dramatic, making a crucial overtake on the ‘last corner of the last lap in the last race’ of the season to become the then youngest Formula One World Champion in History.

Ever wondered why it is called Formula One? In the beginning when motor car racing was racing to become a sport it was a free-for-all design for the Designer and the Drivers. Then, the Regulators framed a clear set of rules for the design of these cars such as single seating, open wheels, engine power specification, etc. Only cars complying with this ‘formula’ of rules could compete. Somewhere along the road the number One got added, as the sport was the ultimate in car racing. Then it became widely known a Formula One.

With the formula being generated, It begs the question, is there a Formula Two, Three? Yes, with smaller cars and versions, in terms of the power, and the kind.

Potpourri

Taiwan

Taiwan was quick to act when the coronavirus hit the world, and they have the best record in Asia and probably the World, with almost 200 days without a locally transmitted case. What did they do right? In an Island of about 23 million people that had about 553 confirmed cases and only 7 deaths. Their deadly experience with SARS has given them a heads-up start driving them involuntarily into submitting to the strict government directives. They closed borders early, tightly regulated travel, did rigorous contact tracing, enforced technology-driven quarantine and ensured widespread mask wearing.

We have got the experience we never thought we wanted. Should be easy to put ourselves in the shoes of Taiwanese and transplant their mentality to where we live – that’s a good infection to spread, isn’t it?

Enter the Beetle

We have known Superman, Batman, Iron-man; now it’s time to know about a Super Beetle rightly named ‘diabolical ironclad beetle’, biting with the scientific name of ‘Phloeodes diabolicus’. This beetle can survive being run over by a car and is mostly found in the arid western regions of the United States.

The ironclad beetle’s super-toughness lies in its armour. It has two armour like ‘elytron’ (a sheet, cover, protective wing case), that meet at a line, called a suture, running the length of its abdomen. Typically, flying beetles have hardened forewings-elytra-to protect the underlying hindwings, which are used for flight. But the ironclad beetle having lost its ability to fly, its elytra are permanently locked together to provide protection from predators.

The suture acts like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting the beetle’s various exoskeletal blades in the abdomen, which lock to prevent themselves from pulling out. If the suture is broken, another protective mechanism also allows for the blades to deform slowly. That prevents a sudden release of energy, which would otherwise break its neck.

The Beetle can take an applied force of 150 newtons – some 39,000 times its body weight -before its exoskeleton starts to fracture. A car tire would apply force of around 100 newtons if driving over the insect on a dirt surface.

How about a Beetle-Man superhero movie? Anybody dare drive over him?

Until next week with more ‘iron-clad’ stories! Meanwhile, spend the weekend listening to The Beatles we all know so well. ‘Hey Jude, Come Together, I Want To Hold your Hand, Yesterday, Something, In My Life, Love Me Do, While My Guitar Gently Weeps…are some of the best songs strung by them.