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Best of January 2015

📅 2015-Feb-18 ⬩ ✍️ Ashwin Nanjappa ⬩ 🏷️ links ⬩ 📚 Archive

Ancient and modern mariners: A surprisingly beautiful essay compares life aboard today’s fully automated self-driving container ships to sealife during Captain Ahab.

The silence. Conrad wrote that “the true peace of God begins at any spot a thousand miles from the nearest land.” The Marie Maersk never gets that far on the South China Sea. But late one evening, after the captain has lingered at dinner telling old stories (sharkfishing off Mauritius; minatory pods of killer whales at Vancouver Island), natural-gas rigs belch commas of fire into the cloudless night. The ship sails forward, through a silent crescent of Vietnamese and Cambodian fishing boats, beneath an impossibly broad and luminous canopy of stars.

Empire of the pig: A long read about pork and its historical and current importance in China.

PIG number 5422 saunters into the pen, circles its few square metres and mounts a plastic stand. The farmer cleans the animal’s underside, feels around and draws out what appears to be a thin pink tube around 30cm long. He begins to massage. Pigs elsewhere snort, grunt or squeal, but the alpha pig is unmoved. Soon he has filled a thermal cup with more than 60 billion sperm. Around 150 pigs will owe their short, brutish lives to this emission.

The man who thought Gandhi a sissy: Life and times of the controversial Savarkar.

In 1906, in a lodging house for Indian students in Highgate, a pleasant area of north London, a young lawyer called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi dropped in on a law student called Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who happened to be frying prawns at the time. Savarkar offered Gandhi some of his meal; Gandhi, a vegetarian, refused. Savarkar allegedly retorted that only a fool would attempt to resist the British without being fortified by animal protein.

The World is not Falling Apart by Steven Pinker.

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

When the second rate sets the standards by Gautam Bhatia

While living abroad in the 1980s, whenever I returned home, my airport arrival was always greeted with a range of reassuring visual signals that said very clearly that I had landed in India: the airline bus rattled and squeaked on a potholed tarmac heading to the terminal. Inside, four makeshift immigration counters were lit in the late night arrival by a lopsided tube light hanging on a cracked wall, partially whitewashed. As the immigration lines grew, the lone official manning the four counters would break for tea. Standing amidst the foreign crowd, in a wasted, unmanned hall, I would feel immediately comforted by the familiarity of India — no service, no welcoming pictures, no washrooms, no fuss. A realistic portrait of the country, it immediately prepared you for what was to come — the unlit outside, the fight for a taxi. As the broken Ambassador taxi rattled through uninhabited scrubland beyond the airport, you still felt entirely safe and secure; this was home, if slightly second rate. Delhi’s new T3 terminal leaves you wondering if the India outside the building will be as slick, efficient, safe and first rate as well. It takes but a few steps to find out.

Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory: Should sound familiar to anyone who studied in India!

When I returned to Maotanchang in June, the night before the students’ mass departure for the gaokao, the darkened sky was illuminated by dozens of floating paper lanterns. The ethereal orange orbs rose higher and higher, until they formed a constellation of hope. I followed the trail of lanterns to their source: an empty lot near the school’s side gate. There, several families were lighting oiled wads of cloth. As the expanding heat lifted their lanterns off the ground, their prayers grew louder. “Please, take my son past the line!” one mother intoned.

The new puritans: Hilarious piece in The Economist about our modern gym going habit

To anthropologists of the future, however, the gym boom may look as much like a sinister cult as a commercial triumph. Gym-going, after all, has all the basic lineaments of a religion. Its adherents are motivated by feelings of guilt, and the urge to atone for fleshly sins. Many visit their places of worship with a fanatical regularity: a third of LA Fitness members, for instance, go virtually every day. Once there, believers are led by sacerdotal instructors, who either goad them into mass ecstasy during aerobics classes, or preside over the confessional tête-à-tête of personal training. Each devotee has his own rituals, though most rely on the principles of self-mortification and delayed gratification. The extremist cult of body-building, whose Mecca is Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, has become a mass movement.

© 2022 Ashwin Nanjappa • All writing under CC BY-SA license • 🐘📧