Hafta letters: The issue of vaccine scepticism, poetry, dealing with distrust of the media

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

ByNL Team
Hafta letters: The issue of vaccine scepticism, poetry, dealing with distrust of the media
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Hello NL team,

Thanks for the amazing work you guys do. In recent weeks, a lot of questions have been pouring in asking about Shekhar Gupta and I think rightly so. I feel we are a group of like-minded people who have been disillusioned by the Print's coverage of recent events. Their chief editor's own leanings are becoming quite evident on their website and videos.

This is my concern. What assurance can you offer that similar editorial slicing and funneling won't happen at Newslaundry? Does Abhinandan have an editorial role? Does all content need to be checked or dictated by an old uncle (no offence, Raman Sir)? And I know I can always stop subscribing (did so with the Print), but would rather have an unbiased NL.

All the best for your war on toadies.

Nipun Mahajan

***

Hi NL team,

I'm a long time subscriber writing in for two things: one admin and one Hafta-related.

Admin matters first: I'm an NRI, so could you please add [removed] to the NRI channel on Discord? If you have a Chicago-based group, that would be awesome as well. We'd love to meet more NL janta in the city. Please let me know!

With that out of the way, I wanted to write in a response to an email you read out on Hafta 312. In it, a fellow subscriber expressed his displeasure at the NL team’s dismissal of Ramdev and his contributions to the country. He noted that “credit must be given where it is due and with interest.”

To that end, it is with great interest that I ask the subscriber for a complete listing of what we should credit Ramdev with. Violating food safety norms? Crony capitalism? Cheerleading religious chauvinism? Peddling snake oil cures to the coronavirus? Endorsing pseudoscience? Or endorsing the patriarchy via pseudoscience? Mainstreaming drinking actual cow urine?

Ramdev gets enough credit, unwarranted as it may be, from his media teams at McCann and Mudra, and from his marketing teams at Republic and Aaj Tak. He then capitalises on the credit he gets for this godman persona to mint money by misleading people into endangering themselves and others, consequences be damned. With the relentless cheerleading of Patanjali and Ramdev that the traditional media apparatus is engaged in, NL calling them out is exactly the nuance that needs to be added to the conversation.

If the writer of the Hafta 312 letter remains unconvinced, he might want to consider writing a sternly worded letter to the CEO of postcolonialism to remind them of how “actually the British Raj made railways and so British actually must be given credit where it’s due.”

I applaud the Hafta team for their cautious stand on Ramdev and for engaging with letters sent in by subscribers regardless of tone or bias. As a token of appreciation and genuine concern for the writer of Hafta 312’s letter, I will be donating to the NL godman project. Mere kharch pe azaad hai khabrein etcetera etcetera.

Thank you once again for keeping us up to date and putting up with what I imagine is incredible amounts of cyberbullying from the troll armies!

Thanks,

Devika

***

Dear NL Team,

I would like to point out that the NL team has been very prompt at addressing software grievances and has done a very good job of setting up the Discord server. Abhinandan, you should consider paying Chitranshu a one-time bonus or give him paid leave as a token of appreciation. Keep up the good work.

Venkata Rao Krishnamurthi

***

(Mandatory "I love everyone and you girls and boys are totes amaze etc".)

Under the "all purchases" tab of the website, I feel all the students' subscriptions that one has made should also appear. This might sound petty but it could help better structure those who want to contribute and, of course, keep a tab on their contributions.

Love,

Rohit Mehrotra

PS: Does Anand Vardhan ever smile or laugh? I think he provides a good balance to NL and am a big fan of his thoughts.

***

Hey Hafta team,

This is regarding the Covid vaccines.

I am an anaesthesiologist in the district headquarters hospital in Sambalpur, Odisha.

My hospital was converted into an exclusive Covid facility during the peak of the pandemic, and I have worked for extended hours in our ICU and seen healthy young patients die within hours despite the best of our efforts.

I lost my father to Covid too.

So, when I got the opportunity, I took my vaccine on the very first day it was available: January 1, 2021. I would like to share my experience.

I was informed in writing that I will be given the Covishield vaccine, the date and time I would be administered the vaccine, also when my next dose would be due. Also, I was observed for half an hour and given a booklet with FAQs and the helpline number to call if I needed to.

In my personal experience, it felt like nothing more than a tetanus shot.

Also, among all my colleagues – including sanitation workers and paramedical staff too – the adverse effects ranged from a sore arm for a couple of days to a mild fever at most.

I understand the sample size from my small hospital isn't enough to allay all fears. I just wanted to give my first-hand account and, in my eyes, the risk versus benefit ratio is in the favour of the vaccine, rather than getting the disease. Maybe we can just take this as another layer of protection in addition to hand hygiene, masks, and social distancing.

Sorry for the long email but vaccine scepticism scares me on a personal level, so I had to write to you guys about how I felt.

Thanks for all that you do!

Disclaimer: I am totally not a bhakt of any kind, an avowed atheist in fact!

Neha

***

My beloved NL Hafta team,

I just wanted to make a small point about what is wrong with the Right and Left of this country.

TV Newsance has shed enough light on what is wrong with the Right. I, however, want to point to what is wrong with the Left.

On the Wire, Mr Bowtie was interviewing Arun Shourie and dishing out stats like how 50 lakh people in Punjab are in the army as opposed to five lakh in Gujarat. Essentially, the Left turned this farmer protest from "farmer vs government" to "Punjab vs Gujarat". This is very dangerous, just as dangerous as, as Hartosh Singh Bal rightly pointed out, the games Doval is up to.

We know that with a slightly better Opposition, the BJP would have lost Gujarat, seaplane entry notwithstanding.

NL should also do a lot more of critical analysis of the so-called liberal Left; some of their stupidity opens opportunities for the current disposition.

Best,

Nitesh Pandey

***

Hi NL team,

The fact that we have subscribed for a few years now and also contributed recently to NL legal fund is proof enough of the appreciation we have for the work you are doing. I really liked the topic of discussion on Hafta 313 about how basic facts are up for questioning especially in the current era.

In this regard, there has been worrying trends about how many of my middle class family and friends have stopped trusting any news and have become extremely sceptical of anything they hear online or on TV. This is scary and I had a suggestion about how to deal with this.

One way I was thinking is to have a weekly show which takes up an issue (which has happened in the recent past) and compare how different news portals – from the Wire and Scroll to Swarajya and OpIndia, from Indian Express to the Times of India – dealt with it, and filter information from all these channels and media houses and come upon basic facts agreed, or not agreed, by all, and then where the interpretation of news enters. This will, in some way, mitigate the blatant and dumb sceptics who refuse to believe anything at all: basic facts like wearing masks stops the spread of Covid, farmer protests include farmers from many states, etc.

We badly need a way to arrive at basic facts. If we can't even imagine that, it's going to be the sequence rather poignantly articulated by Timothy Snyder in his book On Tyranny: Lessons from the Twentieth Century. He wrote: “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticise power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

Re the website, the page looks so empty and one has to scroll down to view the completed projects or stories. Also, the completed story looks like a management profile or résumé. Sena stories should be emphasised more as everyone whom I talk with about NL has no clue that you have journalistic stories about current issues. And the website's front page does not highlight the great stories you have done previously, like the ones on the RSS in Kerala, or the Cauvery issue. You are doing a disservice to new visitors.

Also, under the Sena tab, it would be good if you have two widgets, like "Upcoming Stories" and "Completed Stories", and link the content accordingly. These are only suggestions and please feel free to ignore them if you are already addressing them.

Lastly, I am sure it is easy to come up with suggestions but executing them is a different matter. In any case, keep up the good work.

Thanks,

Niranjan and Shobha

***

Hi Hafta people,

This is my small bit on the privacy conversation.

The way online platforms operate is: they get data from users, analyse it to understand user behaviour, and then extract surplus from said users. When it comes to data, it seems that almost any information about people can be used to extract surplus from them. There are economic papers that show this:

https://www1.nseindia.com/research/content/nse_nyu/Sudip_Gupta_et_all_Fintech_and_Credit_Scoring_for_the_Millennials.pdf

https://www.fdic.gov/analysis/cfr/2018/wp2018/cfr-wp2018-04.pdf

Online platforms use information like whether you use your first and last name in your email, the device you use to login, the time of your login, whether you make a typing mistake when logging in, etc.

Without going into specifics, the new policies of WhatsApp make it easier for Facebook to combine the information it has on us, get an even more detailed and intrusive profile of us, and then use it for commercial purposes.

What are these commercial purposes, you ask? Well, personalised advertising is one way, of course. But even if you believe that these ads don't affect you, there are a lot of other ways that your data is being used to get surplus from you:

- If you are profiled to be a disagreeable person, then your insurance company will charge you a higher premium.

- The device you use to login indicates your income and that, in turn, determines if you should get a higher or lower interest on online loans.

-When you buy airline tickets, book a hotel room, etc, online, the price offered to you is personalised.

The bottom line is, websites are using your data to get the highest possible price you are willing to pay. It can be products, insurance, finance, basically anything that involves money.

Unfortunately, this is just the start. The bigger aim of Big Tech is to manipulate and modify our behaviour in order to make us give up on privacy (like Manisha, many people think it is inevitable) and make us buy stuff that we otherwise never would have.

I have so much more to share on the dystopian future that Big Tech is trying to usher in, ranging from the misuse of the market model in the US to the government hammering by China. But this email is already too long, so bye for now. Keep up the good work and the great humor.

Best,

Goonj

PS: The emails on privacy in the previous weeks were a good and informative read, so thank you to the fellow subscribers. I second the book suggested by one of the subscribers: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zubof

***

Hi Abhinandan,

I just wrote this poem. Hope you may like it and read it in your NL Hafta.

Kush log gujrat se aye the..

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Muje pta nhi tha kbi,

Musalman kese hote hai,

Jabran ye path pda dia,

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Chota tha toh debates sunta tha,

Ab debates ka star (level) bahot gira dia..

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Kbi dheyan hi nhi dia tha,

Ki me sikh hu,

Par dheyan dena sikha dia...

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Kashmir ko bas itna jana tha,

Ki bahot sunder jga hai,

Or kush lafda chalta hai wha,

Par kya tha ?

Bas nehru ki galtio ko ginva dia..

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Muje problem hai padne se,

Me nhi pdta itna,

Or nahi padna chahta hu,

Jo log kehte the,

Me yakeen krta tha,

Ab muje har kahi baat par,

Shaq krna or use cross check krna sikha dia...

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Batein toh or b hai,

Me krta jau khatam na ho,

Intelect sir dird Lgta tha, or

Or lagta hai bhi,

Khamkha, mere jese,

mulk ke aneko nasamjho ko,

Bevajeh samajdaar bna dia....

Or social media par,

Apna ghatia vichar share krne bitha dia..

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

Kush log gujrat se aye the,

Or pura mulk gujrat bna dia..

- Mani Sidhu (my pen name)

***

Dear NL team,

Introduction

I am a subscriber mostly thanks to Hafta, I really enjoy the discussion, although I don't always agree, and some rare times find the discussion not having a value add (for example, WhatsApp privacy policy). Really appreciate the way Hafta is conducted.

Apologies and reading guide

1. I write this letter reacting to a really old Hafta episode, apologies. As a new Hafta fan, I tend to go back to listen to the older ones, because I enjoy the contours of the discussion and the banter.

2. This letter might be long and if chosen to be read out, I'm sure AS will admonish me, I will highlight in yellow the only operative bits.

2A. I would also be happy with as simple acknowledgement from the Hafta panel members. This is more about getting my point across to you all, rather than having the view read out on Hafta.

3. I have spammed these two email IDs with this rather long letter, apologies if this is the incorrect destination. I am a new subscriber. Please do let me know how to better route this, I intend to write in more. Plus I really do love that you take time to read letters and discuss them, this is how it should be. News shouldn't "talk down" to its consumers like traditional models. Interacting with us has helped us both, and made your journalism more meaningful. Of course, it has also endeared you guys to me so much!

Operative Portion (My message to Hafta panel)

Abhinandan and Mainsha's casual way of claiming to not fully understand about what the JKR issue was about (or, at the very least, what the other side was up in arms about) but nonetheless going on to speak about it with some rather strong language and a flippant attitude is my personal pick for the moment I least liked the Hafta panel.

Re safetyism and JKR, I think Abhinandan (primarily) and the others unfairly paint everyone "cancelled" with a rather broad brush. In Abhinandan's own account, he speaks of how he stood happily corrected when presented with a counter view, when he (I'm guessing) expressed an unsavoury opinion. Inherently, that's what distinguishes JKR and him, and this critical nuance should not have been missed. JKR was publicly and repeatedly corrected and was told why her views are transphobic and inappropriate. Rather than seeing it from their perspective, she dug her heels in and made it about domestic violence etc, presumably in an attempt to pit domestic violence against trans rights, and has gone on to endorse her problematic views.

Now, once one is made aware that their take is dehumanising or "triggering" to another, to fail to recognise that and even go beyond that to claim that their opinion is a counter "idea" is insensitive and definitely socially acceptable. To draw a very simple parallel, if you do not like your colleague sitting too close to you at the office, for whatever reason, and they simply claim that this is an alternative way of living life, and that they are free to do so, one is not obviously not going to hail this as a marketplace of lifestyles. Some things are plainly unacceptable.

Perhaps the panel would find an opinion that "Muslims don't deserve reproductive rights" and acting on it cancel-worthy. For far too long, what is acceptable and not has been shaped by ignoring the lived experiences and struggles of marginalised communities or persons and, in this case, failing to recognise the centrality of trans persons' self identification and its validity probably (and sadly) comes from never having gone through what that must be like.

Therefore, conflating Twitter handles that are trigger-happy and cancel every other person versus duly begotten social backlash for saying insensitive stuff is dangerous. Many of your followers may be fence-sitters on these kind of issues, and the panel must make an effort to normalise unacceptable behavior.

To sum it up in Abhinandan's own words (in relation to employees taking leave because they feel like it): "Sure, it's your right [to be a dick], doesn't mean that people will embrace you for it." Being a persistent bigot has consequences, and they shouldn't be shunned away under the garb of "marketplace of ideas".

Disclaimer: I am not a pro-cancel culture person, in fact, I am yet to make my mind up about how I fell about the broader phenomena. That said, I also don't think all instances of cancelling are the same, and need to be analysed from a common and singular perspective. My views here are restricted to the instance of JKR.

Recommendation

If you want to discuss something that you might not have an important perspective on, mostly because the panel (through no fault of its own) have a privilege-induced blind spot, either skip it or take some time out and understand that other side instead of saying, "I didn't understand it, but will still go ahead to say something". There is absolutely nothing wrong in taking effort to not offend someone, and that's what makes us better.

In sincere good faith and with my best intentions (honestly, guys)!

Ujval Mohan

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