Monday, October 11 2021

Dive In


I am not the person who instigated the split. Oh no, no, no. John walked into a room one day and said I am leaving the Beatles. Is that instigating the split, or not?

That’s Paul McCartney finally making it crystal clear that it was John Lennon’s decision to break up the Beatles. McCartney—who has most often been blamed for the split—says the split was inevitable because Lennon “wanted to go in a bag and lie in bed for a week in Amsterdam for peace.” The Guardian has more from McCartney’s upcoming BBC interview.

Big Story

A very big win for the free press

The TLDR: Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel peace prize—in a surprising move that has delighted democracy-watchers around the world. But unlike a Dalai Lama or even Barack Obama, most of us haven’t heard of either of these people—or what makes their work so invaluable. Here’s a quick introduction to the winners and why this peace prize matters.


First, some background

A rare honour: While at least six journalists have received the peace prize before, only two of them have been honoured specifically for their journalism: Italian journalist Ernesto Teodoro Moneta in 1907 and Carl von Ossietzky in 1935—for his fierce opposition to Nazism, and exposés on German militarisation. FYI, Ossietzky was being held in a concentration camp when the award was announced. Also this: Ressa is only the 18th woman to win the Peace Prize in its 120-year history.


Point to note: Since then, journalists have been top contenders but never made the cut. In 2020, for example, the Committee to Protect Journalists was at the top of the list, but ultimately lost out to the World Food Programme


But why journalists?

Ressa and Muratov were chosen from a pool of 329 candidates—the largest ever for the prize—and beat out many. The Nobel committee noted that a free press is a necessary condition of peace—praising “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” But the timing is hardly a coincidence. 


A global siege: In 2020, 21 reporters were killed around the world in retaliation for their work—and 274 were thrown in jail. The number of deaths was around double from the year before. The state of press freedom is “very bad,” “bad” or “problematic” in 73% of the 180 countries listed on the World Press Freedom Index—and is “favourable” in only 7% of them. Ressa and Muratov both work in countries that rank woefully low—The Philippines is #138 and Russia is even lower at #150. FYI: India comes in at #142. Yes, we are even lower than the Philippines. 


Point to note: And it’s getting worse. According to the V-Dem Institute, “32 countries are declining substantially, compared to only 19 just three years ago” with respect to media freedom. 


A social media plague: Many view the decision to honour Ressa and Muratov as a pointed slap in the face for Facebook—which has been tied to the spread of misinformation, hate speech and violence in multiple countries. And Ressa especially has been a fierce critic long before any of us heard of ‘fake news’. The decision to honour her also underlines her critique:


“Facebook is now the world’s largest distributor of news and yet it has refused to be the gatekeeper, and when it does that, when you allow lies to actually get on the same playing field as facts, it taints the entire public sphere.”


Anecdote to note: In the Philippines, Facebook successfully rolled out the ‘Free Basics’ program—which offers free internet access to promote its platforms (an initiative rejected by India). As a result, most of the country is on Facebook—which was critical to the rise of a strongman like President Duterte. But when Ressa tried to flag the problem for Mark Zuckerberg, this happened:


“Ressa told Zuckerberg that 97% of Filipinos used Facebook, and she invited him to the Philippines to get a better understanding of the problems that result. Zuckerberg seemed to ignore the invitation, concentrating instead on how Facebook could increase its domination in the country. ‘What are the other 3 percent doing, Maria?’ he allegedly asked.” 


Ok, tell me about these journalists


Headlines that matter

 Lebanon is in darkness

The country’s electricity grid collapsed on Saturday after its two largest power plants ran out of fuel. Also: distributors of gas cylinders have stopped operating. The reason: the country is almost entirely dependent on fuel imports—but the currency has been collapsing due to a prolonged economic crisis. Add to that a highly inefficient power industry that has annual losses of up to $1.5 billion, and has cost the state more than $40 billion over the past decades. Authorities are hoping to bring the power back up this week—maybe. (USA Today)

Speaking of a power crisis: Indian power plants are running out of coal—due to high import prices, rising demand and monsoon-related supply disruptions. The Delhi government hit the alarm bell, saying three plants that supply Delhi have coal stocks for only a day—even lower than the national average of four days. This in turn made Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi very cranky. He said there is “ample coal is available in the country”—calling any fears about disruptions in power supply “entirely misplaced.” Also worried about coal: Punjab, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Kerala. (Indian Express)


Antarctica is insanely cold

Here’s a change of pace from the usual global warming stories. While the Arctic has been heating up, temperatures are plunging at the opposite end of the globe. Antarctica's last six months were the coldest on record. From April through September, the average temperature was minus-60.9°C (minus-77.6°F), a record for those months. Point to note: “[O]ver the past few decades the most northerly parts of Antarctica have warmed five times faster than the global average—that's faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere.” CNN explains how to understand this anomaly in the context of climate change.


Silencing China’s ‘dancing grannies’ 

They are old, they are loud, and they love to dance! Giant groups of middle-aged and older women gather in public squares and parks, turn up the music and get their groove on. And they are a serious pain-in-the-ass for many who want some peace and quiet—but are too afraid to confront them. The latest weapon in this war: a remote stun gun-style device that claims to be able to disable a speaker from 50 metres away. Sounds silly, but as The Guardian explains, it reflects a far deeper generational battle between old and new China. Also: if you want to watch a bit of the dancing, check out this older Wall Street Journal report. 


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Daniel Craig and James Corden recreate 24 big blockbuster movies


Smart & Curious

  • A scientific argument for reopening schools
  • The fashion explosion triggered by ‘Squid Game’
  • The art of writing about the ordinary
  • A deep dive into ‘menopause brain’

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