To Anthea, with love!
Until a few days ago, when Anthea Bell died at the age of 82, many didn’t know who she was. Then it began to dawn on people—she’s the one who’d translated all those Asterix comics from French! We’re all extremely sad at Madam Bell’s passing, but the translator par excellence has left us with a rich body of work. She once said that she became a translator purely by accident, when she helped out her publisher husband by translating a German children’s book. She’d also translated other books that humanities students grew up reading, like the works of Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and W.G. Sebald, among others. Here’s to Anthea Bell, By Toutatis! —BB
The CBI’s ‘civil war’
The high drama at the CBI headquarters this week has exposed the rot at the heart of the country’s premier investigative agency, and dealt a body blow to its public integrity. CBI director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana—both now sent on forced leave—stand accused of corruption, with the agency filing a case against the latter. No matter who comes out on top, this is a lose-lose situation for the CBI. Not only does this controversy give credence to rumblings about corruption at the top levels of the organization, the Central government’s intervention also brings the agency’s independence into further question, reinforcing the idea that it is the executive’s “caged parrot". For an agency tasked with investigating the country’s most sensitive cases involving powerful businessmen and politicians, this loss of credibility is catastrophic. The Centre and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) must conduct a thorough and speedy investigation into the various charges of corruption and impropriety, but that in itself will not be enough to address this crisis. Perhaps it is finally time the Centre took the long-standing demands for reforming the CBI more seriously. If the CBI is to rebuild its tattered reputation as an investigative agency, it must be given true autonomy from the executive. Anything less will be seen as an eyewash.—BK
How green is your bomb?
On 23 October, the Supreme Court permitted the sale and use of “green" fire crackers on Diwali, giving rise to mixed reactions and a series of jokes and memes about green-coloured crackers, of both the toxic and edible variety, on Twitter. While some environmental activists welcomed the decision, which has also clamped down on sales of polluting fire crackers through online portals or unlicensed shops, others have questioned the efficacy and timing of the verdict as Diwali is only two weeks away. In cities like Delhi, which are already choking under toxic levels of particulate matter in the air, Diwali is one of the biggest festivals of the year and manufacturers of firecrackers have already got their stocks in place and sales are well underway.
Although there are other positives in the ruling, like limits on decibel levels as well as a restriction on the timings for bursting crackers (between 8-10pm), the implementation of the guidelines on ground will remain a big question mark. Another big lacuna is the research carried out in the field. While scientists at organizations like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have formulated eco-friendly crackers with up to 35% reduced emissions, there is still a long way to go before they can be deemed environmentally friendly and manufactured on a large scale.—DK
AI art has arrived
Couched among works by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and David Hockney was a pick from the Artificial Intelligence- (AI-) created series La Famille de Belamy at Christie’s New York sale of prints and multiples. The portrait of a gentleman in a frock coat and white collar ensconced in a gilt frame, Edmond de Belamy, beguiled viewers with the aura of the old masters. It was the first of the series to go under the hammer. The print bearing the signature of GAN (generative adversarial network—a class of AI algorithms), has been published by Paris-based artist collective, Obvious.
The fictional Belamy family was reportedly created by feeding the AI algorithm with 15,000 portraits painted between the 14-20th centuries. With smudged facial features, the series is reminiscent of its schooling, but also breaks away from it, thus tinkering with art history. Earlier this month, we saw Banksy toy with the art market, when his work got partially shredded right after it got sold. Now with the Belamy, it looks like the great rebels, such as Roy Lichtenstein, have finally met their match.—BF