Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.
India has had by far the most draconian lockdown in the world. The only other city (not country) to have a lockdown as strict and as prolonged was Wuhan. I had written a blog about the number of non-COVID deaths that COVID will cause. A pregnant woman died in Noida last week, trying to get into a hospital, being shunted from one to another for 13 hours!
Despite the most draconian lockdown, testing was limited and continues to be. I had mentioned this last time as well. Delhi is still dissuading testing!Indian Express
I had also written about the flash reforms that were undertaken under the guise of “stimulus”. Now, the government is offering embedded clearances for environmental and forest clearance for the auction of mineral mines.
[…] the government has now come out with a scheme under which non-coal, non-fuel mining blocks will have most clearances ready before these are put up for auction. According to an order issued by the mines ministry on June 3, the system of embedded clearances will be tried in at five green-field blocks in each mineral-rich state on a pilot basis, with the intent to scale it up over time.Source: Financial Express
A few years ago I was fortunate to have visited a Rotary meeting where Maja Daruwala happened to be speaking. She is the daughter of Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and the executive director at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She said, India borrowed its police force from the British and never re-trained them. This is part of the reason, one often dreads getting even a complaint registered. The police were a tool of oppression under the British and we never changed their culture. Seems like something similar is afoot in the USA. There is a call for change and there are models that exist.
One small example: In a 2012 study in Queensland, Australia, officers at random checkpoints would either read from a specially designed script that invoked the principles of procedural justice (asking the citizen for input, meeting them at eye level, thanking them for their time), while other officers conducted themselves as usual. Citizens who encountered script-reading officers were more compliant and more satisfied with the interaction.Source: Quartz
When I first visited Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), I had no idea what power an institution can wield on a city’s economy. VIT was plenty important to the economic growth of Vellore. The 25,000 students would create demand for food, retails, services and much more. So much so that Amazon set up a distribution centre in the city only to cater to the institution, thanks to the sheer volume that it represents.
Indians don’t go to any educational institution to get educated. They go to get a job. Period. Now with work Visas seeming unlikely, they are making their way from the USA to Canada. Think about the University towns in America, their economy.
The number of Indians enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering courses at American universities declined by more than 25% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).Source: Quartz
The Chinese pressure cooker requires a very important ingredient – Jobs. One and a half Billion people submit to some of the harshest laws on the planet with a complete absence of discontent because their lives keep improving each day. What the American Cops can do to the Blacks, the Chinese government can do to any citizen, rich or poor; powerful or not, and get away with impunity. The trade wars with the US, Coronavirus and the global slowdown has hurt Chinese jobs. Over the past decade, China had embarked on a journey to purge their cities of street vendors – now they are encouraging them!
Chinese premier Li Keqiang said on Monday (June 1, link in Chinese) that street stalls and small shops, just like bigger and high-end industries, are important sources of jobs and vital to the country’s economy.[…]
Prior to Li’s remarks, Beijing recently sent other welcoming signals to street vendors, marking a significant shift from the past—when municipal officials used to relocate, evict or fine them as China sought to “civilize” its cities into tidy, shiny places that evoke the gadgets its high-tech economy produces.Source: Quartz
Gig Economy – The Saviour?
Over the past few years, the gig economy has taken a lot of brickbats. Gig workers are treated as contractors who can take up one sliver of work. Legislators across the globe have been after these entities to regulate them and force them to classify these gig workers as employees and provide them with full benefit. But what happens when employers throw them out due to poor economic conditions? Gig work might just have a silver lining! Call it part-time but it is a way out.
The numbers suggest efforts to restart the US economy are working as several states and metropolitan areas reopen many types of businesses. But they also point to a slow recovery: 40% of the new jobs, or 1.6 million, were part-time.
Part-time positions often pay less than full-time employment. They don’t offer benefits like health insurance and paid leave, and are more unstable.Source: Quartz
During the 30 year war in Croatia, the Croatian soldiers used to wear a cloth around their neck to make them easier to identify. The French borrowed it and turned it into fashion. Even the French word for tie ‘Cravate’ comes from ‘Croat’. Every miserable period brings its fashion.
So what about this pandemic? The excess work from home has resulted in fashion being redefined. The pant business is a tough one to thrive in today! Peter England is begging people to keep their pants on and Amazon is promoting ‘Lounge Wear’ and ‘Style@Home’
Even Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase was photographed with shorts on!
Jamie Dimon kneeling on a taxpayer. pic.twitter.com/XZi5NS9acO— Rudy Havenstein, The Federal Reserve Is Violence (@RudyHavenstein) June 5, 2020
Over the last 5 years, there has been a huge push to use AI. AI – in today’s parlance, refers to technologies that can attempt to replicate human senses. Sight is Computer Vision; Listening is Natural Language Processing; and so on.
Using Computer Vision there have been a whole host of facial recognition solutions that have been created. While a company like Apple uses it to authenticate users. Countries like China have been furthering their totalitarian state. Tech companies seem to have suddenly grown a conscience. IBM announced that they will abandon their facial recognition project.
On June 8, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced the end of his firm’s involvement in facial recognition in a letter to US Senators. The company, he wrote, “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”Source: Quartz
And then Amazon announced that it will keep their system out of police hands for ONE YEAR because that is how long it takes for conscience to fade.
Amazon announced on Wednesday it was implementing a “one-year moratorium” on police use of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology. Lawmakers and civil liberties groups have expressed growing alarm over the tool’s potential for misuse by law enforcement for years, particularly against communities of color.Source: Wired
Technology / Science
Fight fire with fire
WhatsApp recently limited the number of people you could forward a message to. The move has reduced forward on the app by 30%. This was a step that was taken to curb misinformation. Misinformation is a massive problem across the world and such networks have been leveraged to influence elections. But when it comes to public health, there needs to be a firm solution. The Taiwanese government seems to have found a solution.
But Taiwan, which is lauded for its success in containing the spread of coronavirus, has adopted humour as a tool in fighting the pandemic. Speaking at the TED conference this week, Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang explained how a tactic called “humour over rumour” has effectively quashed misinformation about Covid-19.
Every time a hoax surfaces on social media, Tang and her band of civic hackers unleash a joke containing the facts of the matter within two hours of spotting the post, based on the idea that since people like to share funny memes on social media, doing so allows the government to wrest control of the narrative. Tang also said that government agencies have employed professional comedians as “engagement officers” to help in the cause. If they miss the two-hour window, Tang’s team locates the perpetrators and recruits them as allies in Taiwan’s coronavirus effort.Source: Quartz
Telangana State is one of the most supportive of new technologies. The government encourages startups that are working in areas such as blockchain to explore the possibility of deploying it within the government. They see it as a way to encourage such startups to be based out of Telangana. Now, the SEBI is taking a step in creating a sandbox for startups that are working on new technologies.
Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), on Friday (June 5), rolled out a circular to pave way for financial innovations in stock exchanges through regulatory sandboxes.[…]
For this, SEBI is looking to grant certain facilities and flexibilities to fintech platforms to test technologies in a live environment on a limited set of real customers for a limited time frame. “These features will be fortified with necessary safeguards for investor protection and risk mitigation,” SEBI said.Source: Inc42
Some data – TomTom, the french company that makes GPS guidance systems for cars puts out a traffic congestion index. Guess what? Bangalore is Number One. Check it out, four Indian cities make the top 10. I was surprised to see Pune as a part of it.
And finally, I have heard of landslides on the hills when it rains too much. Have you ever seen a continental shelf just cede land to the sea? I hope the houses were empty.
Wow… scary!— Amit Paranjape (@aparanjape) June 5, 2020
Several houses have been swept into the sea following a powerful landslide in Alta municipality in northern Norway.
Officials said no one was hurt in the landslide, and everyone was evacuated from the buildings.pic.twitter.com/L4XQ4VH3LC (via @cnn)