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Readers' Paradise - December 2014

Readers' Paradise - December 2014

TestFunda ,  01-Dec-14

About Readers' Paradise


Are some diets “mass murder”?

Some of you are going to begin your new year with resolutions. If your resolution is about better health, a healthy way to start is to find what “healthy” means. My neighbor recently started with GM diet and asked me to join in (having company is a great motivator in diet and exercise). I refused, knowing my love for food and skepticism for all kinds of diets that ask you to drastically reduce your intake or ask you to focus on certain foods only. Today’s link will give you important information about diet. A lot of people still think that saturated fat is the culprit behind lifestyle disorders and obesity. This article will explain why that may not be the case and why sugar may be a bigger factor.


How to read well: getting a way into the text – getting something to think about

If I have a purpose behind reading, I won’t just skim text or be lost in something else. However, that is not the only factor that helps me read well (when I do or when a really good-write-up makes me read well). Today’s link is an excellent write-up on active reading. One of the chief ways to engage with the text is to explore the material with deep questions. Here’s more:


A perspective on Santa Claus and Slavery

Harry Potter stood up against dark magic but he (and especially Hermione) also stood up for house-elves and against shoddy treatment of the elves by their owners/masters. Here’s an interesting perspective on treatment of elves in the North Pole – Santa’s workshop where tonnes of toys are produced by these elves. The question is - is Santa a dictator who makes elves work like slaves on low wages and takes the credit (and fame) for their work? Apart from the interestingness of the idea, the authors attempts to understand why slavery existed or exists, and what are the (economic) factors that promote slavery or reduce slavery.


The Art of Gifting

I think I am good at gifting – that is, knowing what the recipient would love to have, what he or she does not have, put thought behind it and then make the purchase. But, not always! I mean, I do go wrong at times. Here’s some research on Christmas gifting and some ideas – do recipients like more expensive gifts; do they like surprises; or would they prefer money rather than a purchased item? In any case, paying attention to what the recipient wants should win half the battle at least.


Helping make minds healthy

It was quite shocking at first to know that a cousin of mine had to undergo psychiatric treatment. She had issues but then who doesn’t? If you are strong enough, you can combat any situation, right? A smart scrabble player I used to play against in online scrabble had bipolar disorder. And I remember being surprised when while chatting between (scrabble play) moves he had nonchalantly disclosed the fact. That sums up my earlier attitude and the attitude of a lot of other people towards visiting a shrink/psychiatrist. Now I have known several people who have gone to the doctor or a counselor for getting help with depression. I know a few who have taken it for years. That scrabble player was living in Italy, a developed country where visiting a shrink does not involve as much shame as in a developing or an underdeveloped nation. Ironically, we need the treatment more: as the author puts it – in poor countries there is a good deal more to be depressed about. The write-up is about the success of an initiative to spread mental health awareness and create systems that can address people who need treatment.


Bread and Peace: Understanding the Language of Politics

In a slum close to my place lives my housemaid with her two children and husband. She mentioned that during elections political party workers visit the area and distribute money and push people to vote for their party. Last state-election in spite of the vigilance, a local party did manage to visit her area and offer Rs. 1000 to people with voters’ card. My housemaid regretted not being there while the money was being distributed. She told me that her sisters are very clear that they will vote only if offered money and vote only for those who give them money. Such deprived areas are easy vote banks for political parties. However, the important questions are - why are such political parties still in existence; how do they get away with all this all the time; and why can’t intelligent well-meaning political science students take up the challenge of being the government and making a difference in governance? Here are some thought-provoking answers by Pablo Iglesias, the general secretary of Spain’s newest political party. In less than a year, his party has impressively captured 8 percent of the vote and is now the second largest party in Spain by membership. Mr. Iglesias talks about why the general population cannot understand the language of great political revolutionaries, analysts or activists.


Two intelligent books on violence

Why are people violent? Why do we like bloodshed and war? Two authors explore the subject of human violence. A reviewer takes note of these books:


Unconscious Denial

In KungFu Panda, Master Oogway urges Shifu to believe that he can train a big fat cuddly Panda to become the Dragon Warrior – a Kung-Fu warrior who can beat the vain Tai Lung. In Matrix, Morpheus motivates Neo to believe that he is The One – the one who can lead the human race to victory over sentient machines. In these make-believe stories, we see the power of belief. What if the other extreme is also true – what if being in denial makes you believe that a certain thing does not exist. I know a few people who say that if you do not make a big deal about illness, it won’t be a big deal. Here’s what happens when some women repeatedly tell themselves that they are not pregnant when they are:


Art at the bottom of a whiskey glass

If you thought alcohol was just for drinking, here’s someone who creates art from whiskey. The author explains how such beautiful patterns are created in a whiskey glass.


The Insulting and Prejudiced James Watson

What happens when a shining but conceited Nobel Laureate who has had a distinguished career as a brilliant scientist working on cancer and genetics, makes racist and sexist remarks time and again dismissing groups of people (women, obese individuals, fellow scientists or black people) as inferior? What happens when this co-discoverer of the double-helical structure of DNA sticks out his tongue to the scientific community when the community shuns him? Well then, James Watson decides to sell his Nobel Medallion and obviously he is criticized for his act:


Guilty and we won’t let you prove your innocence

When the residents of our society (apartment-complex) had neighbour issues – noisy parties till late night, arrogance and perhaps a few other graver issues - with certain foreigners and certain single people living as tenants, the society people decided it was safest to bar all foreigners and bachelors from taking up rental accommodations. We are not alone. Such a blanket ban is also seen in apartment-complexes/societies around us. We get threatened so easily and out of fear we become blind to other people’s goodness. Hence, we create laws and policies that do not treat people as just other humans because of their race, religion, colour, caste, gender, wealth, or marital status. Here’s a brilliantly written write-up on how laws are created to appear humane but which are essentially subtly dehumanizing tools to stop immigration or to debase immigrants.

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Stealing: The incentive to go Green

The author of this article believes that solar energy (among other clean energies) can provide 5000 times the energy humans require! With cheaper technologies to harness this power, soon solar powered life (and life powered by other green non-carbon fuels) will become a reality. Unfortunately, we are cursed with an abundance of polluting fossil fuels. When non-renewable energy becomes cheap and abundant, we tend to waste it; we have no incentive to innovate and go for cleaner energy. Perhaps a better way would be that a thief steals two-thirds of our fossil fuels so we are pushed to work on clean energy.


“Hard Reading” versus “Soft Reading”

I remember reading a story in my English Textbook titled “The Country of the Blind”. It left quite an impression. In the story, the author talks about a secluded country in which all the citizens are blind. They have different habits – for example they would perceive the world by touch, smell and feel. So, the people were active at night when it was cooler and would sleep during the day when it was warmer. Our bodies are in sync with the environment by our biological clock, body thermostat or Circadian rhythms. The clock signals sleep and wake-up time. But now we have a multitude of man-made-signals that interfere with this age-old mechanism. One of them is the screen light of our electronic devices that tells our bodies that it is still daylight. Consequently, we keep pushing sleep, and wake up tired and sleepy the next day - sometimes even after what we might call adequate number of sleep hours. If I read a book at bedtime, I feel sleepy earlier; reading on my cell-phone, as this article says, would postpone my sleep time.


Happy First Birthday!

I am a lucky girl – my dear husband gifted me the entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes on my birthday. So the celebrations have to begin with one of the strips of my favourite comic.


Never date a writer

Here are the downsides of dating a writer who (after having broken up with you) portrays the protagonist of his next book on you! Gives you the heebies jeebies, doesn’t it?


The Power of Storytelling in Business

The third one is not a new idea – since the times of yore we have used storytelling to influence people. Management gurus, the business world and the start-up world are rediscovering the power of storytelling to sell their ideas.


A slice of ex-union life

When I think about it, I know awfully less about such a huge country – Russia. Back when it was the bigger Soviet Union, I knew that it was eleven times the size of India; it was India’s ‘friend’ and quite anti-America during the cold war; and of course the deadly gulags that I heard of much later paint a disturbing picture. I know a lot of “fictionized” facts about Russia: for a long-long time, the Russians were the chief villains (think James Bond or Iron Man 2!) in American and English movies (later, it was the turn of Chinese or Koreans). But, this one really takes the cake – it gives a glimpse into post-USSR -dissolution- life of Moscow and yet in many ways it is much more than a glimpse:


Unregulated and Unsafe Transportation in India

If my spouse is not in the city to pick me up from the railway station or the airport, he asks me to hire a cab. However, at wee hours in the morning or late in the night, I sometimes find the semi-open auto-rickshaws safer – in which I might have the option to jump out. Although I hate crowds, I prefer people around me (public transport is sometimes safer) if I ever travel at odd hours. I know, my options might sound ridiculous. However, if you are a woman traveling in India, you must have your antenna up and find the safest ways to commute and travel.


Understanding ISIS extremism

Before prescription comes diagnosis. Before formulating a strategy to combat this extremist group ISIS, it is important to know couple of things: what is ISIS; what it is fighting against; what are its major objectives; and who its main enemies are. The author of today’s article reiterates that beheading foreign nationals is not the major objective of ISIS; rather, it is a war within Islam. He attempts to explain the outfit and also believes that to contain and beat the ISIS, the US needs to play a more tactical role rather than an aggressive one.


Dissecting Online Reviews

After delivery of a few books and other items that I had picked up from, I received emails from the website asking me to review the product. Another website offered me discounts if I could review them on their Facebook page. While checking for furniture online, I came across a website I hadn’t heard of. After reading a couple of customer reviews, I realized it was a fraudulent one. Before I make online purchases, I often check the reviews – it gives me a better idea about the product and/or the service involved. Knowing this, the website/product owners (and distributers) often put up fake reviews of products. On the trend of increasing reviews of products and a burgeoning base of customers writing reviews online, this linguist (Camila Vasquez), who studies the language of these reviews, made some interesting observations. Here are some insights:


Mean People Fail

I quite liked the idea of today’s article - that successful startup founders are generally not-mean and that success and meanness may share an inverse correlation when it comes to entrepreneurship. While it is a feel-good idea, I am not totally convinced. However, the author does make a good argument on it and several parts of the article do make a lot of sense. One of the successful start-up founders I know just celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Yet, if work calls him at six thirty in the morning, he is there. I think I know his strengths. And, meanness sometimes works for him and sometimes it doesn’t. Thankfully, I also know startup founders who apart from having a very smart head on their shoulders are few of the nicest people I know.

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