in Cabbages and Kings: There’s a word for it, this feeling of wanting to say something biting and nasty when you catch the day’s news, triggered by a constant sense of absurdity overwhelming logic, of contradictions without consistency, of shifting sands. The word is snark, and it has two origins, one perhaps from Low German or Swedish, meaning a snide remark, and the other from Lewis Carroll. » continue reading
in Cabbages and Kings: Few words have the immediacy of this one. In its first known usage in English, it’s nearly 400 years old, going back to the mid-1630s. Its roots are probably from the very similar Germanic, schlappe, and both are onomatopoeic, suggestive of the sound they make. » continue reading
in Cabbages and Kings: It is hard to imagine our childhoods without him. We lost ourselves in his world. We laughed at the crazy things his friends did, but his struggles and ultimate triumphs were always our own. » continue reading
in Cabbages and Kings: As the volcanic ash-eclipsing dust finally settles on the Modi-Tharoor brouhaha, perhaps it is time for a reassessment of what was won and what was lost. Clearly, this was the theatre of the absurd, and India and its media nearly reduced to a laughing stock: a somewhat sleazy sports czar took a potshot at an international bureaucrat-turned-politician, they sniped at each other on a micro-blogging site, and instead of seeing the fracas for what it was — a childish ruffling of each other’s hairdos — all other news was swamped out. » continue reading
in Cabbages and Kings: The only time BBC’s congenitally obnoxious Tim Sebastian was thoroughly non-plussed was when he interviewed the redoubtable Nina Simone. While NDTV’s Barkha Dutt is no Sebastian, and Shashi Tharoor no Simone, she, too, seemed competely mesmerized by her subject. » continue reading
in Censorship: Perhaps it’s the summer heat, this silly season in which everyone seems infected. The time was when our leaders were thinkers, or at least capable of rational thought. No longer, alas. Today bullying substitutes for liberty, and banning substitutes for debate. » continue reading
in Censorship: The conceit of India’s Republic is founded on one major premise: equality. It is this premise that underlies the thinking of our Constituent Assembly, and it is this premise that, perhaps in the interest of retaining its collective sanity, led the Constituent Assembly to believe that the elected representatives of the people who were to form Parliament would be not materially different from themselves: men and women of understanding, some learning, stature, maturity, committed, with a sense of purpose and public service, and also with the ability to laugh at themselves. » continue reading
in Censorship: It’s a vision from hell or, at the very least, from Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale or Fahrenheit 451. An award-winning film is slated for its television premiere. At the last minute, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting — it’s hard to think of a government authority with a more quintessentially dystopian moniker — pulls the plug and insists the telecast be moved to a late-night slot. We must protect our children, we are told. » continue reading
in Censorship: In the first week of April this year, India’s Department of Information Technology notified drafts of four sets of rules under the Information Technology Act 2000. Two of these, relating to sensitive personal data and guidelines for service providers, have tucked away in them provisions that have gone largely unnoticed. The New York Times had a strong article about these rules, and The Hindu carried an excellent analysis but the rules have otherwise been largely unnoticed by the Indian newspapers, reports being buried on the inside pages. The rules demand closer attention. Their wording is deliberately hazy, and they arm the government with wide unregulated powers against citizens. » continue reading
in Censorship: What could these three things possibly have in common: the appointment of a new head of the censor board, a tax on a music concert and a book a famous Indian figure by a foreign author? It all seems innocuous, even routine. But underlying each of these is something extremely dangerous at play: state-sponsored domination of individual freedom. » continue reading
in Censorship: Last week, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry peremptorily ordered two TV channels (Colors and NDTV Imagine) to change the time-slots of their top-rated shows. While the channels got a reprieve from the High Court a day later, the government’s knee-jerk reaction to programming content shows just how out of step the government and our statutes are with media technology. » continue reading
in Censorship: “It was a pleasure to burn.”
In the dystopian future envisioned in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, it is illegal to think; to think, you have to read. Therefore, “… the pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house.” This is not vandalism. This is what the principal character in the book, Guy Montag, does for a living. He burns books. » continue reading
in Cities: “People don’t come to the Gateway of India to gape at some pointless pile of stones put up by the British to remind us that we were once slaves. They come there to relieve themselves.” » continue reading
in Cities: Late last month, Maharashtra’s Chief Minister called a meeting “to review the dismal performance of the [State’s] tourism department”. The deputy chief minister and the ministers of tourism and industry were present. No one seems to have defended the department. Reference was made to the state’s 2006 tourism promotion policy but the discussion soon digressed when the minister of state for tourism launched a tirade against Mumbai’s hockey-stick wielding, pub-wrecking, party-pooping guardian angel, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Morality), Vasant Dhoble. (No such designation exists, of course, but it might as well have). The Minister of state, an otherwise uncontroversial figure, was joined by his senior colleagues, all of whom said that the police high-handedness had destroyed the city’s nightlife, and hence tourism. A few days later, the deputy chief minister was somewhat more elliptical when he said that the tourism policy had failed for “administrative reasons”. » continue reading
in Cities: There are times in the lives of cities when the city seems suddenly to spawn great music, art, literature and architecture. At the turn of the 19th century, Vienna was such a place. » continue reading
in Cities: 1989 was a year of revolutions, one that saw the collapse of several communist states—Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Except for Romania, the others were singularly bloodless. All succeeded. To the east, another uprising against the communist regime of China gathered momentum and culminated in the brutality of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989. » continue reading
in Cities: It’s an easy city to love, a hard one to hate, Mumbai, Bombay, whatever you want to call it. It grates on your nerves one day, and charms you the next. It is irresistible and it is undeniable, and it belongs to every one who comes here. If Delhi is a city of power brokers and their pawns, Bombay is truly a city of its people, resilient against all odds. » continue reading
in Conservation: Newspaper reports would have us believe that this was a political tussle between the neighbouring states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, dumbing down an serious issue to something infantile, like two children squabbling over a plaything. It is anything but. Whether some lions from Gujarat’s Gir forest should be translocated to another site in Madhya Pradesh raises several difficult questions about viable wildlife conservation strategies and environmental law. » continue reading
in Conservation: Some years ago, at one of those mind-numbing but inescapble dinner events, a well-built man then in his forties was holding court, extolling to his fawning audience the many pleasures of hunting animals. He spoke of tracking porcupine in Old Mahabaleshwar, driving through the night with a harsh spotlight mounted on the roof of a 4x4, sitting on the hood with a rifle in his hands; and how, on seeing one, he and his companions needed to be so very precise and skilled in killing it. He described with relish the death of the creature, the use of a knife, the dangers of the quills. Sickened, I commisserated him on whatever inadequacy it was that drove him to compensate in this fashion. We haven’t spoken since. It seems a small price to pay. » continue reading
in Development: The government’s recent decision to open up India’s foreign direct investment (FSI) in retail markets, part of a package of economic measures to reboot the economy, generated the predictable howls of protest. For some odd reason, just one name was used again and again while slamming the government’s move. “Wal-Mart” is now in imminent danger of becoming its own grammar, at once a verb, an adjective, an adverb and a collective noun. » continue reading
in Environment: He was nothing like I expected. A serving municipal officer in charge of the water department of a local ward, he was soft-spoken and urbane, with uncommon empathy. He showed a map of the ward. » continue reading
in Environment: For over a quarter of a century, the husband-wife team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert from Botswana have been filming, photographing and documenting African wildlife. Their work is astonishing: 22 films, 10 books, scientific papers, articles and photographs (Beverly Joubert’s) in National Geographic magazine. The awards are many, and include six Emmys, a Peabody, the World Ecology Award and induction into the American Academy of Achievement. » continue reading
in Environment: It is a scheme unlike any other: four times the capacity of China’s Three Gorges dam, five times the capacity of similar projects in America, six times that of existing projects in India. This is the Indian river interlinking project, one that four weeks ago received judicial benediction from the Supreme Court. » continue reading
in Environment: Not so long ago, Jairam Ramesh and his Ministry of Environment and Forests were being pilloried by industrialists and the business establishment while being cheered by environmentalists. Finally, it seemed, there was someone unafraid of consequences and determined to do what his portfolio demands. There was action on the Niyamgiri issue, on POSCO, on mining near forest areas, on tiger conservation, on Adarsh and Lavasa and, briefly, even Jaitapur. Business satraps howled that he was choking development and consigning India to perennial poverty. The environmental lobby retaliated, repeatedly pointing out that savaging the environment could not possibly lead to ‘development’. » continue reading
in Environment: Once upon a time in a land that now seems far, far away, India had a Prime Minister of a very different hue. In fact, Indira Gandhi had so many hues she was entirely different things to different people. To environmentalists, she was very nearly a patron saint, at least from the time of her address to the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference. Her November 1981 letter to the chief ministers of India’s states demanding protection for India’s coastline and the maintenance of a 500-metre strip to be “clear of all activities” was seen as a re-affirmation of her—and therefore India’s—commitment to environmental protection. This letter (often called a ‘directive’, and sometimes even capitalized as if that lends it some sanctity) was always of the most dubious legal effect but as a piece of posturing, especially one designed to catch the eye of the international political community, it was magnificent; and if there was one thing that Mrs Gandhi was acutely sensitive about, it was the world’s perception of her as an enlightened leader. A few years earlier, it was she who had plunged India into a seemingly bottomless democratic abyss and it was only a miscalculation on her part that brought us out of it. During that time, her stock on the international stage had plummeted. » continue reading
in Environment: The only reason our Congress-led coalition government, fondly named UPA-II like some yet to be test-fired rocket missile, hasn’t collapsed is because its opponents are in such complete disarray. What UPA-II offers is a party that is, with the sole exception of its in-house hyperbolic serial interrupter Manish Tewari, either preternaturally reticent on almost every issue of consequence or given to mouthing platitudes which do not translate into practice. It claims to be solidly against corruption. Our Queen Mum says our moral universe is shrinking. How would she know? » continue reading
in Environment: In the midst of the several incisive comments he made during a recent Walk the Talk interview with Shekhar Gupta (the video is available on the NDTV website), HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh made one profoundly distressing comment. He said, “… environment issues are coming in the way of development. Now, we want the environment to be protected, we want ecological improvements, but somewhere, we have to draw a balance. Do we want growth, and if we want growth, we have to make some sacrifices or take precautions. But you cannot say that you cannot give permissions. There is a disconnect between the industry ministry and the environment ministry. My personal view is, look at the existing industries that are creating all the pollution, emissions. They are going scot-free. Why can’t you try and clean the existing ones? I think you should have a responsibility to improve the existing industries. Don’t block a new entrant.” » continue reading
in Environment: Pity Jairam Ramesh. The spirited Minister of State for Environment and Forests finds himself fighting a lonely battle against the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) project. The Aviation Minister lashed out at him in public. Now others — the editors of the Indian Express; the Governor of Maharashtra; and the young (and clueless) Turks of Indian politics — have also waded in against him. They accuse Ramesh of kowtowing to a knee-jerk, maudlin, impractical and fundamentally brainless “green” lobby, an amorphous group that conveniently excludes local citizens opposing the project. Environmentalists are afflicted by the BANANA (“Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone”) syndrome; the local population is ignored altogether. Both green and brown must be sacrificed for the greater good of the airborne. » continue reading
in Environment: At Devprayag in the Garhwal Himalaya, the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi slam into each other and become the Ganga. Once, both were mighty. The Bhagirathi’s waters poured at nearly 29000 litres per second. Today, it is a trickle: just 56 litres per second. » continue reading
in Environment: At 107 sq kms, it is 34 times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park. There is nothing ornamental here. This is an old-growth forest, the home of 274 bird species, 150 species of butterflies and 42 mammals — including the leopard. This is Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and it is probably the only biosphere reserve within local municipal limits anywhere on the planet. » continue reading
in Governance: If any of us should be asked to write an impressionistic description of this country, the chances are that we’d come up with every one of those old bromides: snake charmers, the Great Indian Rope Trick, the Taj Mahal. A more contemporary iteration should, I believe, include what is now becoming our defining trait: our inexplicable, abject and persistent desire to be ruled rather than governed. » continue reading
in Governance: “Important message for Savings Account holders having Aadhaar / UID number issued by UIDAI” says the message on my bank’s online banking page. I follow the link. “You can now link your Aadhaar / UID Number to your Savings Account to avail the benefits of Government subsidies/payments directly into your bank account,” I am told. » continue reading
in Governance: If there is one thing with which every Indian is familiar, it is this thing called procedure. Whether it’s getting a certificate of death or transferring money or renewing a passport, we have procedures, and these are now so complex, cumbersome and often so senseless that it is now every Indian’s fundamental right to try and bypass them. » continue reading
in Governance: How did we fall so far? What happened to the excitement and enthusiasm of 60 years ago, that sense of belonging and participation in the realisation of a dream? How did that dream become such a nightmare? » continue reading
in Governance: In a city of the licentious, dissolute, and perennially inebriated, only the policeman is sober and decent. That, at least, is what the worthies — an assistant Commissioner of Police, his chief and their Minister — who decide such things would have us believe. As so often happens, the truth is very different. » continue reading
in Governance: O tempora! O mores! Thanks to the nature of these things, we can no longer say what we all know, and are forced into the needlessly elliptical. Therefore and thusly: the recent demise of the political career of a government spokesperson on accusations of his — for want of a better phrase — infelicitous conduct caught on some dull security camera videotape has generated all manner of controversies, from protestations of this being an entirely private matter to accusations of besmirching high office. » continue reading
in Governance: Our existing systems for tackling corruption are catastrophic failures. Prosecuting public servants needs prior sanction. It seldom comes. Prosecutions drag on for years. Relative to the (intangible) result, the effort is monumental. If the comparisons to cancer are accurate, is the solution to administer a mild sedative and only address the symptoms, which is what many say is all that the Government Lokpal Bill does, or is it to use a treatment many feel is so severe that it risks killing the body, the charge made against the Jan Lokpal Bill? In a time to heal, we must have something effective but not fatal. » continue reading
in Governance: If there exists popular perception that this is a government with an embarrassment of vices — an inexhaustible capacity for corruption, inventive mendacity (the dementia defence), and, it now seems, even gross political ineptitude — the Congress-led UPA has only itself to blame. Arresting Anna Hazare, then offering to release him, imposing conditions on his right to protest and then launching personal attacks all tell of a rudderless government bent on committing political suicide by ritual disembowelment. » continue reading
in Governance: Who or what is this “civil society” that has occupied so much airtime and newsprint, and what gives it the right to speak for everyone? Let’s be clear: “civil society” means half a dozen people who, by their own admission, refuse to face citizens at an election. These people have assumed the moral, legal and Constitutional authority to govern us. They say that “just because” a party won an election a few years ago does not mean it can “sit on our chests”. » continue reading
in Governance: For all the wide-spectrum, scattershot weaponry they have built into version 2.1 of the Jan Lokpal Bill, Anna Hazare and the core group of supporters of his “movement” have a curiously narrow focus: the only form of corruption targeted is monetary corruption in public affairs. That such an eradication is impossible to achieve is another matter. Given the acknowledgement of widespread and pervasive venality and the need for effective regulatory mechanisms, we need a clearer definition of the objective. » continue reading
in Governance: It isn’t a good feeling, this confusion and sense of conflict of the past week or ten days. Yes, we understand what everybody and his uncle have been saying (mea culpa): the Jan Lokpal Bill, or People’s Bill, is undemocratic, dangerous, Draconian. It puts too much power in a few hands, and it hasn’t got enough controls on the use of that power. I suspect we’re also more than a little fed up of the potshots at Anna Hazare: he supports NaMo; undermines democracy; trashes ‘civil society’; doubts the electorate’s intelligence; has skeletons in his almirah; lacks the moral authority to Fast Until Death (FUD); he’s just another clueless FUDdy daddy. The flakes don’t help: Anupam Kher saying we need to change the Constitution just like we change gas cylinders. And Baba Ramdev’s paternity claims to the agitation make many of us very uncomfortable. Of all these, the most disturbing statement from Hazare is his contempt for the voters. This one assertion speaks of a man who hasn’t the foggiest notion of how democracies work. After every election, people get the government they deserve; it’s as simple as that. And it’s not for Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal or, god forbid, the yogi-who-would-be-king to tell us what is right and thereby trump the electorate. » continue reading
in Governance: Just days after the crowds of the World Cup frenzy, it seems strange that another type of crowd should gather so quickly, one that seems to involve every one of us. At the centre of the storm is an unlikely icon, a lone man whose diminutive build belies the enormity of his moral stature. » continue reading
in Governance: At least 600 years old, the word “commonwealth” comes from the phrase “common weal”, and the first known use of the word ‘weal’ pre-dates the 12th century. From the Middle English wele, similar to the Old English ‘wel’, it connotes a general well-being and commonwealth now means a sound, healthy and prosperous state with a shared well-being. In many legal and historical texts, it is used interchangeably with the word ‘republic’, from the Latin res publica signifying public affairs. A republic is a government of laws, not men, one in which decisions are based on law, not on the whims of an individual or a small group, and are designed to serve the common good. » continue reading
in Governance: The heart of democracy is individual liberty. In most democracies, and certainly in the three that claim some form of historical or numerical primacy—the United States, the United Kingdom and India—personal freedoms are increasingly under siege as law enforcement agencies seek ever wider and more Draconian powers against citizens. The justification is only one: terrorism. » continue reading
in Governance: During the 30 May 1949 Constituent Assembly debates, Dr BR Ambedkar described the Comptroller and Auditor General as “probably the most important officer in the Constitution of India” with duties “far more important than the duties even of the judiciary”, one who should have “far greater independence than the judiciary itself.” That is a remarkably strong statement and underscores the unique position of the CAG. It is a constitutional post, and the holder of that office can only be removed in the same manner and for the same reasons as a Judge of the Supreme Court. » continue reading
in Governance: All that grumbling about the security surrounding Barack Obama’s visit seems silly now. Was it all worthwhile? Yes; if only for each of these four unique events: Obama’s message at the memorial at the Taj, the visit to Mani Bhavan, the Town Hall style meeting at my old alma mater, St Xavier’s College, and the address to Parliament. » continue reading
in Governance: Nothing is sacred. A forest is decimated by a mining operation, the lease granted to nonentity whose only claim to fame is that he is the fruit of the loins of a legislative assembly member or an ruling party factotum. Land reserved for a building for war veterans and widows is usurped by politicians and bureaucrats, whose notion of a defence of the realm means finding new ways to protect their personal hoard. The land mining and Adarsh Society allotment scams are only the most recent instances of government corruption. Others are of such long standing that they have now become institutionalized systems with lives of their own; perhaps the best-kept secrets are those involving the purchase of equipment and materiel for the armed forces and police. » continue reading
in Governance: The word “police” has a convoluted etymology, from the English of the 1500s, middle French, Latin and ultimately the ancient Greek polisoos — polis or city, and sozo, to save, to keep. The word describes the function. In time, it has acquired multiple connotations most often expressed in the mottos of organized police forces; terms such as to protect and to serve, for example. In small print beneath the emblem of the Mumbai Police are the words “Sadraksanaya Khalanigrahanaya”: protect the good and punish the evil. » continue reading
in Governance: Dear diary,
Sometimes I think my head will explode. There’s so much I need to do, so much I want to do, so much I should do. But will they let me? All I hear is noise. All I see is more and more dirt and filth, in every stinking variant. One billion people to care for and I am allowed to do nothing. Every day I wake up with an OOPS (out of place sensation). » continue reading
in Governance: Anonymous sources at an certain ministry in the Central Government told an undisclosed reporter of a popular but nameless daily newspaper that at a meeting of the Embowelled Group of Mantrijis, chaired by a de facto (if not de jure) Head of Government (HoG), a new act quietly passed through both Houses during Happy Hour and is set to change the face of Indian politics. The salient features of the new legislation are presented for general delectation in the larger public interest. » continue reading
in Journalism: In all the heat and dust raised by the disclosure of the Radia tapes, the country has been asked to forget something essential: the disclosures and wiretaps are both entirely illegal. The persons now accused of all manner of things were never the subjects of those phonetaps. The purpose of the recorded conversations has nothing at all to do with the uses to which they are now being put. What these tapes do show, and what we are being asked to accept without question is that the government is permitted, even entitled, to illegally curtail our most fundamental civil liberties and that this is not only perfectly all right but is actually necessary. » continue reading
in Judiciary: Law, medicine and theology are said to be the three “learned” professions. Of their practitioners, lawyers have always been singularly unloved. They arouse public suspicion — they are, after all, defenders of criminals and the corrupt and, therefore, believed to be tainted by association. They invite derision and contempt: from popular lawyer jokes to real and imaginary accounts of bizarre courtroom exchanges portraying lawyers as people of limitless stupidity. » continue reading
in Judiciary: It is a remarkable milestone when any single institution anywhere can claim to have functioned for a full 150 years without interruption. When that institution is a court of law, it affords all of us — not just the lawyers and judges — a very special opportunity. » continue reading
in Judiciary: In one respect, being a lawyer is very like being a schoolteacher, except that it pays much better. You get vacations. The annual calendar is vitally important: the first thing we do is to look at the red-letter days: long weekends, a four-week vacation in summer, two weeks at Diwali, another two over Christmas and the New Year and every public holiday in between, plus weekends. All told, High Courts work for only 210 days in the year, the Supreme Court for about 180 (lower courts work longer). » continue reading
in Judiciary: It’s not about Rama. It’s not about Babur. It’s not even about a temple or a mosque. It’s about an assault of a kind we’ve never seen before, on history, law and the truth. » continue reading
in Judiciary: It’s a day like any other. There is the usual hectic activity in the squalid room. The furniture is creaky and damaged. There are more people than the room can comfortably hold, and, for a courtroom, there’s an unacceptable level of noise. Sitting on a plain bench against the far wall is a quiet man in a suit. He’s been sitting there for hours. It’s not his first visit either. He could be anyone. He just happens to be one of the city’s — possibly the world’s — most renowned cancer surgeons. If this sounds familiar, it should. At some point, all of us have had a similar experience, or know someone who has. No one is spared the indignities of our judicial system. » continue reading
in Judiciary: For the most part, lawyers in the Karnataka High Court, a stately neo-classical structure in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park, are a restrained and circumspect lot. So when Udaya Holla, a distinguished senior advocate, complains about a judge’s conduct and language, you know something is seriously wrong. » continue reading
in Justice: Ram Singh, the prime accused in last December’s ghastly gang-rape in New Delhi, is said to have hanged himself from a ventilation grill in his cell in Tihar Jail. The officials call it suicide, but the improbabilities are impossible to ignore. There were other inmates in the cell. None, it is claimed, heard or saw anything. There was a guard on duty outside the cell, which has a grilled door through which the entire cell is visible. The guard saw nothing though, in the normal course, he’d have walked past this cell at least five times between the time Ram Singh was last seen alive and when he was found dead. The ventilation grill from which Ram Singh is said to have hanged himself is much higher than he could have reached, given his height. He had an injured right arm. There are far too many questions here. None lend themselves to a satisfactory answer. » continue reading
in Justice: When we set about refashioning the law to better secure justice, populism is our worst enemy. It leads us into framing statutes that look good on paper but are impossible to enforce, or, worse, do not achieve their objective. » continue reading
in Justice: There is another victim of the Delhi gang-rape case and, as is its lot, it is silent. When we talk of amending the law to provide for chemical castration, the death penalty and other forms of state-sponsored brutalisation, we are not seeking justice. We seek revenge, and revenge is not justice. Baying for blood pulls us into the gutter too, to the level of the perpetrators of that New Delhi horror. » continue reading
in Justice: Welcome to hell. One incident shocks us and then is pushed back in memory as another horror takes its place, and then a third, and a fourth. We just don’t know when it will stop and you cannot help thinking that the human race is like a virus infecting this planet. » continue reading
in Justice: Two decades, 20 years, a fifth of a century; these words elongate time and, used in certain contexts, force into the dimness of memory matters that should never be forgotten. There have been, in human history, and most often in the last century, epochal periods of unspeakable horror, times when we seemed to have lost our humanity. We survived each — barely — and each time we swore never again, only to see the cycle repeat itself. To some victims we built memorials and monuments. For others, we concocted catch phrases and slogans. Then there were those that we let slip into the obscurity of a past because confronting the perpetrators and seeing justice through for the victims was simply uncomfortable. Time is not always a great healer; it is too often an excuse for timidity, and it can be the greatest betrayer of justice. » continue reading
in Justice: This is a day bracketed by the 20th anniversaries of two events. Neither should have happened. Both made us uglier as a nation and as a people. Both betrayed something that the framers of our Constitution, men and women who struggled to give us shape and form, held sacred. » continue reading
in Justice: A practicing dentist in Galway, Ireland, Savita Halappanavar was, at 31, several weeks into a pregnancy when she was taken to hospital complaining of back pain. Though she was miscarrying and the attending physicians knew the baby she was carrying had no hope of survival, yet they would not operate. Mrs Halappanavar begged for her life; she pleaded for an abortion. The doctors told her that they would not, and that an abortion was illegal because the fetus’s heart was still beating. They knew that not intervening then put Savita in a life-threatening situation. When they did, it was too late. » continue reading
in Justice: Every few months I find myself circling back to this issue. On a daily basis, there’s a grim reminder in the morning newspapers: yet another rape. There are so many so often now that we are in danger of seeing the victims reduced to meaningless statistics. » continue reading
in Justice: A little over four years ago, on the night of 16-17 May 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found dead in her bedroom at her family’s residence in Noida. A day later, the family servant, Hemraj, was also found dead. Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, are the main accused. From the start this has been a bewildering case, with the newspapers reporting one inconsistency after another, the trading of allegations on both sides, and the periodic uncovering of yet another bizarre surrounding circumstance. Had this been the stuff of a novel or a movie, people would have found it less than credible. And yet, in this as in so many other things, life is proving itself stranger than the strangest fiction. » continue reading
in Justice: It’s a familiar story in India. Whether it’s a mobile phone connection, a bank account, investments or an Internet connection, you must have “proof of address”. Not just any proof; it must be a passport or an electricity or landline telephone bill, and the address must be local. In an age of increased mobility, in a world where travel is this easy, at a time when people are used to shifting to different cities for jobs, this is just absurd. » continue reading
in Justice: Unless I am very wrong, the date this article appears in print is one of only three such dates every century; and each one is special. 11-11-11, like 10-10-10 and 01-01-01 are all binary in appearance. (Of course, should you have the luck to read this at eleven minutes past an hour before noon, you should consider yourself twice blessed: 11-11-11-11-11). » continue reading
in Justice: It’s one of the three oldest professions known to man. The other two, prostitution and smuggling, are on the wrong side of common social acceptance; and law — criminal law in particular — has always existed in a slightly murky twilight zone between good and evil, right and wrong. The fact that lawyers make a living out of something as basic as justice makes them a favourite butt of jokes (“why won’t a shark attack a lawyer? Professional courtesy”), and the best always seem to echo a truth. Given the legal penchant for ‘maxims’, there’s a Latin phrase for this: in joco veritas. In jest there is truth. » continue reading
in Justice: In early 1977, Jacobo Timerman, the publisher of a liberal newspaper in Argentina, was arrested by the military junta. For some time previously, he had used his newspaper to publish accounts of government brutality and human rights violations. After his arrest, Timerman was kept in isolation, blindfolded for long periods and subjected to brutal torture with an electric cattle prod. He was finally released in 1979 and his 1981 book Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number is a harrowing account of his years of imprisonment. Never sentimental, the book has the dispassion of a professional journalist; this only makes it the more horrifying. But Timerman was a Jew, and his captors were anti-Semitic, and what troubled Timerman most, what he could not understand or reconcile, was the unreasoning hatred for his being a Jew. » continue reading
in Justice: Titus Andronicus is the bloodiest and most gruesome of Shakespeare’s tragedies; the scholar and critic Clark Hulse, of the University of Illinois and a contributor to the Cambridge Collections, reckons that the play averages five atrocities in each act, one every 97 lines. Perhaps the worst is the gang-rape and mutilation of Lavinia, Titus’s daughter. In Julie Taymor’s 1999 film adaptation of the play, with Anthony Hopkins as Titus, this horrifying scene shows Lavinia after her rape seated on a tree-stump in a devastated landscape, her tongue cut out, her hands chopped off. The sequence is particularly startling because it makes no overt attempt to shock. » continue reading
in Justice: Not a week passes when on the city, sometimes the nation, pages of every national daily there isn’t a report of some horrific atrocity against a child. A 6-year-old raped in Shahapur (7 July); a 16-year-old gang raped in Ghaziabad (23 June); a 5-year-old gang raped in Chennai (4 November 2006); another in Panvel (4 January 2010); a six-year-old raped and murdered in Bhayander (13 June 2010). This month, a young man has been arrested in Kurla, suspected of having raped and killed three minor girls. In June, a 41-year-old man repeatedly raped his teenage daughter, impregnated her, forcing an abortion (13 June 2010). » continue reading
in Law: In some form or the other, we all run up against the law. Some have the great good fortune not to run up against those who practice (and preach) law, but everyone has to deal with some manifestation of a legal regime, at work, at home, in the matter of habits and preferences or the hundred little things we encounter and do, or are forced to do, on a daily basis. Whether it is getting a passport or an Aadhaar card or a ration card, getting a telephone or cellular connection, a cooking gas cylinder, banking (those wretched KYC forms), a driving license or leaving a nightclub before an overzealous cop spirits off (so to speak) a hundred tipplers for daring, without a ragged piece of paper, to quaff a few, the law is always muscling in on us. » continue reading
in Law: It’s a day that begins like any other. A man rides his daughter to school on his motorcycle. A lady alights from an auto rickshaw. A group enters a café. And then it all turns inside out and upside down as a car careens into a one-way street the wrong way. In the mayhem that follows — “carnage” might be a better word — two lives are lost: the rickshaw driver and the father of the young schoolgirl. Two more are seriously injured, one with a broken back. The driver of the vehicle, we are told, was not drunk but attempted a ‘short-cut’. He is not the car owner but a paid employee, a chauffeur; and his employer is in the car too. » continue reading
in Law: In this country, we have to come to expect that specially appointed commissions and committees will fulfill their charter in the most leisurely way, grinding for years together till the events that led to their formation, and even their purpose, become but the dimmest of memories. The Justice Verma Committee, appointed after the horrific gang-rape in New Delhi, has shown us what a focussed and dedicated team can achieve within an impossible deadline. » continue reading
in Law: Recent events that have occupied so much of our time and attention have also goaded some, among them a surprising number of young men and women, into blaming modern communication technology and cinema for our apparent fall from if not a state of grace then certainly a condition of decency. » continue reading
in Law: There are not many positive things to take away from the case of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the surviving terrorist of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, whose death sentence the Supreme Court recently confirmed and upheld. But there is a victory of sorts here, and it belongs to our judiciary for the manner in which it handled a difficult case with strong international overtones. » continue reading
in Law: As a rule, Courts are not much given to strongly worded chastisements in their written orders, possibly on the understanding that it takes all types. Except for its language, there was, therefore, nothing very remarkable about the recent order of a Delhi tribunal fining a law firm for what is perhaps best described only as a series of procedural missteps. » continue reading
in Law: Hugh Lofting’s Dr Doolittle children’s books had many wonderful imaginary creatures. One of these was the pushmi-pullyu, a gazelle-unicorn hybrid with a head at either end of its body. When it moved, both ends headed off in opposite directions. » continue reading
in Law: He has been on death row for years. Now, three days before he was scheduled to be put to death, the Central Government has stayed his execution. This particular case, Balwant Singh Rajoana, seems to be peculiar. He was convicted for the assassination of Punjab’s Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995. He chose not to represent himself. He still does not seek a reprieve. He says he has no grounds to do so, and has no faith in our system. Instead, today, it is the ruling party in the state that urges clemency. » continue reading
in Law: It would be comic if it wasn’t so insidious. Karnataka proposes to pass into law the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill. This isn’t just to ensure the health of livestock (it does exactly the reverse) or control slaughter-houses. It targets specific communities and groups, particularly the poor, Dalits and Muslims. » continue reading
in Law: At the end of 2008, six people met at the Cardozo School of Law’s moot courtroom in New York. They included the free speech expert, Floyd Abrams; a sitting judge the United States Court of Appeals, Richard Posner; a judge of the New York state Supreme Court’s appellate division; a professor of law and novelist, Bernard Schlink; and a professor of literature. They were there to decide what appeared to be a simple case concerning a loan default. » continue reading
in Law: What is about judges that so upsets politicians and political columnists? A couple of days ago, one politician referred to High Court and Supreme Court judges as the “laziest” layer of the judiciary. That’s a curious statement coming from someone who’s made a career and an exceedingly good living out of that “laziness”. On television, a self-anointed political pundit was even more waspish, suggesting that judges “get off their butts” and saying that the judiciary was thoroughly useless, or words to that effect. » continue reading
in Law: We find television shows about lawyers, law firms and crime detection so compelling because we perceive court rooms as arenas for a civilized form of gladiatorial combat. ‘Courtroom’ TV serials show feisty lawyers trading verbal blows against each other and sometimes even against awkward judges. Witnesses are the hapless victims fed to legal lions. Every now and then an ‘expert’ witness — a scientist or a doctor, perhaps — is trundled out; sly lawyers try to tie them in knots, usually saying something like “so you can’t say for sure”, to which the witness responds “of course not; that’s just the most likely answer, in my professional opinion.” » continue reading
in Law: Of all the opening words of the Preamble to our Constitution, the most difficult is one that wasn’t even originally there. Till 1977, we were a sovereign democratic republic, recently turned gloomy with Mrs G in the middle of her run up to pole-vaulting us into bananadom. In that year, we became both socialist and secular; and, as the Aston Martins and Bentleys on our potholed roads, and repeated outbreaks of sectarian violence show, we have honoured both ideals. » continue reading
in Law: As our world gets more complex, so do our statutes. We now have laws for everything from the preservation of wild elephants (1879; seriously) to the running of cybercafes. This statutory morass is confusing and intimidating, and the citizen is more often victim than intended beneficiary. This is a situation that breeds corruption and administrative oppression; few, for instance, know precisely what their rights are whether it is a traffic offence or applying for a factory license. » continue reading
in Law: Civilization’s future, EM Forster wrote in his July 1941 essay, originally broadcast on BBC, demands something less dramatic and emotional than prattle about love. “Tolerance,” he said, “is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things.” Speaking about a post-War England, he was convinced that it was this quality that would most be needed in the years ahead. » continue reading
in Law: We Indians are especially fond of noise. It appeases our gods. It makes us go faster on our pot-holed roads. It makes us better neighbours and fellow passengers on railway trains. Shouting into a cellphone shows how important we are (never mind that some of us like to shout into the wrong end of the phone). It also makes us incredibly stupid. When I once yelled at a driver for honking he looked genuinely perplexed and said, “but I wasn’t honking at you!” » continue reading
in Law: The Adarsh Society scam has many dimensions—illegal permissions, allotments, extra FSI, contraventions of the law, ownership of the land, and more. But there’s another scandal quietly brewing and it is possibly the worst of all. On the basis that, following the Ministry of Environment & Forests’ notice to the society asking it to show cause why it should not be demolished, some lobbies have recently suggested that the building should be “auctioned” (the auction proceeds to go to the state treasury). » continue reading
in Law: In 2006–2007, Bryan Garner, the paladin of plain language in the law, video-interviewed eight justices of the US Supreme Court on their views on legal writing and advocacy. American lawyers studied these videos closely to see what each judge liked and didn’t, and began tailoring their writing and arguments to fit. » continue reading
in Law: Last week, India’s Law Minister, M Veerappa Moily, announced his shiny new ‘National Litigation Policy’. It recognises that the single largest litigant in this country is the government itself, and outlines several measures to make the government an ‘efficient and responsible’ litigant. » continue reading
in Obituaries: When that voice boomed through the school, even at the noisiest of times, everybody listened. By her desk in her small cabin — not for her the large and plush corporate-style offices; this one could barely seat three visitors — there was always her handheld mike and she would swivel around and thunder her will. » continue reading
in Obituaries: It was the first thing that you noticed in her home. The books. There were books everywhere, on every surface, racked, stacked and piled, novels, histories, coffee table books, old books, new books. Even the furniture seemed to morph itself around books. Here was a sturdy old chair, a shaded lamp just so beside it, which could only be meant for reading. By its side another old piece of furniture, a revolving book stand. It was quiet here, as books demand. The books were visibly well-thumbed but undamaged, like good friends, and the furniture was lovingly restored. Books, as they say, are the spine of a house, and if there was one thing Sharada Dwivedi and the house she and her husband Bhagirath had, it was plenty of spine. » continue reading
in Others: by Siddhartha Mitter
With the gutting of foreign coverage by most U.S. newspapers and the need to populate infinite Web space with content, a new creature has emerged: the foreign affairs blogger. Max Fisher, who hosts the Washington Post’s WorldViews page, is a leading exemplar of the species. Fisher’s newsy nuggets are often low-priority zeitgeist items that may or may not be vignettes of greater themes: examples in recent days include the tunnel-smuggled delivery of KFC chicken into Gaza, the video of the Czech president possibly drunk, a staff-passenger brawl at Beijing airport, and New Zealand’s “war on cats.” Fisher also concocts FAQ-style explainers on places in the news that he judges to be obscure to his readers (Chechnya and Dagestan, Central African Republic, Mali). And he is very keen on global surveys, whose results he summarizes, augments with his own interpretation, and typically renders with color-coded maps that drive home the key message.
This week, Fisher proposed to his readers what he titled “A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries.” The deep-blue, racially tolerant areas included the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, and much of Latin America. The deepest-red, or most racially intolerant, countries were India, Bangladesh and Jordan. Russia and China fell in the middle; much of Africa was left out for lack of data, but South Africa came out light blue (highly tolerant), and Nigeria light red (highly intolerant). Other highly tolerant countries included Pakistan and Belarus. » continue reading
in Others: Glen Greenwald
Senior Obama officials tell the US Senate: the ‘war’, in limitless form, will continue for ‘at least’ another decade — or two
Last October, senior Obama officials anonymously unveiled to the Washington Post their newly minted “disposition matrix”, a complex computer system that will be used to determine how a terrorist suspect will be “disposed of”: indefinite detention, prosecution in a real court, assassination-by-CIA-drones, etc. Their rationale for why this was needed now, a full 12 years after the 9/11 attack:
“Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaida continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight. … That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on whether the statutory basis for this “war” — the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) - should be revised (meaning: expanded). This is how Wired’s Spencer Ackerman (soon to be the Guardian US’s national security editor) described the most significant exchange:
“Asked at a Senate hearing today how long the war on terrorism will last, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, answered, ‘At least 10 to 20 years.’ … A spokeswoman, Army Col. Anne Edgecomb, clarified that Sheehan meant the conflict is likely to last 10 to 20 more years from today — atop the 12 years that the conflict has already lasted. Welcome to America’s Thirty Years War.”
That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the “war on terror” will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week’s big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined. The military historian Andrew Bacevich has spent years warning that US policy planners have adopted an explicit doctrine of “endless war”. Obama officials, despite repeatedly boasting that they have delivered permanently crippling blows to al-Qaida, are now, as clearly as the English language permits, openly declaring this to be so. » continue reading
in Others: By Ellen Ullman
How can you resist a book whose first chapter begins: “Have you ever peeked inside a friend’s trash can? I have.” Trash is like “one’s sex life,” the book continues, “the less said about it, the better.”
Yet the Internet can convert this private affair into an object of public surveillance, and Evgeny Morozov tells you how. Cameras in your trash bin help determine if you are doing a good job of sorting recyclables. Your score is computed and, via the Net, is compared to the scores of other sorters. If you win, you will be rewarded with praise. Those doing a bad job will be subjected to social scorn. This is no technophobic nightmare. Project BinCam is already being studied in Britain and Germany.
The BinCam example encapsulates what Morozov, a contributing editor at The New Republic, will go on to discuss in “To Save Everything, Click Here.” The book crackles with intellectual energy and is encyclopedic in scope, examining the effects of technology on subjects ranging from politics to criminology to the endless quest to lose weight. One might wish for less breadth and more focus, however; often we barely have time to think about one topic when we are off to the next. Still, Morozov’s overall perspective is vital and important.
He derides an ideology he calls ”Internet-centrism,” which defines the network not as a tool created by fallible human beings but as a creed to live by. » continue reading
in Others: by Ron Lieber
“I wonder if Princeton should be poorer.”
If you’re a high school senior trying to seduce the admissions officer reading your application essay, this may not strike you as the ideal opening line. But Shanti Kumar, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, went ahead anyway when the university prompted her to react in writing to the idea of “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”
Back in January, when I asked high school seniors to send in college application essays about money, class, working and the economy, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come in over the transom.
But 66 students submitted essays, and with the help of Harry Bauld, the author of “On Writing the College Application Essay,” we’ve selected four to publish in full online and in part in this column. That allowed us to be slightly more selective than Princeton itself was last year.
What these four writers have in common is an appetite for risk. Not only did they talk openly about issues that are emotionally complex and often outright taboo, but they took brave and counterintuitive positions on class, national identity and the application process itself. For anyone looking to inspire their own children or grandchildren who are seeking to go to college in the fall of 2014, these four essays would be a good place to start.
Read the four essays online » continue reading
in Others: By Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi
If you are an Indian reading this, you are very likely among the top 10 percent in the country, since you have Internet access. It is also very likely that you, just like me, consider yourself middle class, though we are not anywhere close to the middle of this country in income or standard of living. We may well have trended the hashtag #IamSoMiddleClass last month, but being in the top decile of a 1.2 billion population, perhaps it’s time to ask #WhyICallMyselfMiddleClass?
“The elite in many parts of the world do not like to be called the elite,” said Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist. “In the U.K., they called themselves the nobility; in current American discourse, the elite are called the job creators. In India, the elite call themselves middle class.”
Like the rich in the United States who use the “job creator” tag to lobby for tax breaks, India’s elite has devised the middle-class narrative to capture more public resources like fuel, food and education subsidies, often at the cost of the country’s poor millions. Using their proximity to the center of power and media amplification, the rich, masquerading as the middle class, have a disproportionate influence in policy formulation and the Indian government’s allocation of funds. » continue reading
in Others: By Mark V. Vlasic And Tess Davis
Stones and bones rarely make the front page, and even less frequently in the same month, but this has been no ordinary month. And it’s not over yet.
On May 4, The New York Times announced that the Metropolitan Museum of Art would voluntarily repatriate twin 10th century statues to Cambodia, after the museum received “dispositive” evidence that the pieces were products of the illicit antiquities trade.
A few miles away and a few days later, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security celebrated the not-so-voluntary repatriation of a looted 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar (a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex) to Mongolia, having seized it from a self-described “commercial paleontologist” (and now confessed smuggler) named Eric Prokopi. Taken from the Gobi Desert, the dinosaur bones were seized last year after Prokopi tried to sell them in violation of U.S. and Mongolian law.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Cambodia publicly called upon other American museums to examine their Khmer collections and return any pieces that were plundered after the start of the country’s civil war in 1970.
With these two high-profile returns, attention may turn to Sotheby’s auction house next. The historic institution is fighting in New York courts to hawk a Cambodian sculpture that — along with the Met’s pair — once formed a three-dimensional tableau at the ancient temple of Koh Ker. These stone figures remained in situ for a millennium, until the country descended into war against the Khmer Rouge, when they were allegedly looted and trafficked overseas. Having traveled around the world through illicit and licit markets, the statues finally resurfaced in Manhattan. » continue reading
in Others: By Elias E. Lopez
Jorge Rafael Videla, the military junta leader who oversaw a ruthless campaign of political killings and forced disappearances during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War against dissidents in the mid-1970s, died on Friday in the Marcos Paz Prison in Buenos Aires, where he was serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity. He was 87.
His death was announced by Argentina’s Secretariat for Human Rights.
At least 15,000 people were killed or “disappeared” during the junta’s campaign, according to government estimates. Human rights officials say the figure is closer to 30,000.
General Videla rose to power in 1976, when he led a largely bloodless coup against President Isabel Martínez de Perón, widow of Juan Domingo Perón, the founder of the country’s populist movement. Whisked away by helicopter in the dead of night, Mrs. Perón was arrested and charged with corruption, and General Videla, the chief of the armed forces, took over the presidency and established a military junta, promising to restore civilian rule promptly.
Instead he declared as a priority the “eradication” of the leftist guerrillas who had begun a fierce offensive against Mrs. Perón’s government. The junta’s net soon widened to include lawyers, students, journalists and union leaders suspected of ties to radical groups. Congress was suspended, political parties were abolished, strikes were made illegal and death squads roamed the country.
General Videla survived numerous assassination attempts, including one in 1977 when a bomb exploded on the airport runway in Buenos Aires seconds after his plane took off. After the junta collapsed in 1983 and democracy returned, General Videla and the other main junta officials were tried in 1985 and convicted of human rights abuses that included torture and murder. General Videla was sentenced to life in prison. » continue reading
in Others: By Anita Raghavan
Late one Friday morning, Rajat Gupta was rushing through security at Philadelphia International Airport, carry-on in tow, when his cellphone rang. When Gupta heard from Goldman Sachs, on whose board he sat, it was often from its chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein. But on this morning, it was Gregory K. Palm, his old Harvard Business School classmate and the bank’s general counsel, on the line. Palm sounded unusually serious. So Gupta asked if he could call him back from the other side of security.
When he did, Palm quickly made two odd disclosures. First, he told Gupta that he had arranged for a colleague to listen in on their conversation. Then he said, “We are representing the corporation, and not you.” Palm wanted to make sure that there was no doubt that this was not a privileged conversation. If the matter evolved into something bigger, their discussion could be handed over to law-enforcement officers.
As Gupta listened, Palm stuck to the script that he worked out beforehand. “What can you tell me about Raj Rajaratnam, and have you ever provided him with information about what we do?” he asked.
Of course Gupta knew Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire head of the Galleon Group hedge fund and No. 236 on the Forbes 400 list. He had worked with him on a number of projects since stepping down from the top job at McKinsey, the consulting giant, in 2003. But Rajaratnam’s name had turned radioactive since his arrest, on Oct. 16, 2009, for trading on closely guarded corporate information.
“What are you talking about?” Gupta asked, seemingly taken aback.
Palm explained that Goldman officials had come to believe Gupta may have provided Rajaratnam with crucial information about the firm. Ever cool, Gupta calmly denied that he had given Rajaratnam confidential information about Goldman. Then Gupta said that he and Rajaratnam had indeed been business partners on an investment fund called New Silk Route. Teaming up with Rajaratnam seemed to be his plan for a spectacular career finale — a bid not only to stay vital after stepping down from McKinsey but also to establish himself in the elite circle of billionaires, like the private-equity giant Henry Kravis, that made up his new coterie. » continue reading
in Others: by Susana Martinez-Conde
Your eyes are the sharks of the human body: they never stop moving.
In the past minute alone, your eyes made as many as 240 quick movements called “saccades” (French for “jolts”). In your waking hours today, you will very likely make some 200,000 of them, give or take a few thousand. When you sleep, your eyes keep moving — though in different ways and at varying speeds, depending on the stage of sleep.
A portion of our eye movements we do consciously and are at least aware of on some level: when we follow a moving bird or plane across the sky with our gaze, for instance. But most of these tiny back-and-forths and ups-and-downs — split-second moves that would make the Flying Karamazov Brothers weep with jealousy — are unconscious and nearly imperceptible to us. Our brain suppresses the feeling of our eye jumps, to avoid the sensation that the world is constantly quaking.
Even when we think our gazes are petrified, in fact, we are still making eye motions, including tiny saccades called “microsaccades” — between 60 and 120 of them per minute. Just as we don’t notice most of our breathing, we are almost wholly unaware of this frenetic, nonstop ocular activity.
Without it, though, we couldn’t see a thing. » continue reading
in Others: Jack Ewing
HAMBURG, Germany — Hangar doors slid open to reveal a fleet of white Mercedes-Benz vehicles arrayed on a rain-slicked runway.
As fireworks shot skyward, an imposing gray sedan zoomed forward onto a temporary stage, delivering Alicia Keys, in a dark floor-length evening gown, to the piano where she performed with a local backup band, the Hamburg Symphony.
Befitting the flagship of the Mercedes line, the premiere of the new S-Class at a vast Airbus jetliner factory here on Wednesday night was a grandiose event. Always a showcase for luxury appointments, this latest incarnation of the S-Class is notable for much more than features like the so-called hot-stone massages offered by its reclining rear seats. Or the Wi-Fi. Or the cup holders that keep drinks warm or cold.
The 2014 S-Class, which goes on sale in September at an estimated starting price of $100,000, is a significant advance in the development of autonomous autos. That is, while it still requires a human behind the steering wheel, in the right conditions the car can steer itself through city traffic or drive on the highway at speeds upward of 120 miles an hour using an array of radar, infrared and optical sensors to track lane markings or the car ahead — even around curves.
“It marks the beginning of autonomous driving,” said Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
There might be an element of hyperbole in that statement. But certainly the S-Class, which can also park itself, brake automatically to avoid hitting humans or other cars and sense when a driver is becoming fatigued, is a further evolution of systems intended to relieve some of the tedium of driving.
The optional system is analogous to the autopilots that enable airliners to carry out many of the routine tasks of flight and cruising but still require a human pilot to keep an eye on things. Future upgrades of the Mercedes S-Class will enable the car to automatically change lanes at autobahn speeds. » continue reading
in Others: By Christopher Solomon
For a decade now I’ve been obsessed with one of the most overlooked patches of real estate on the American Monopoly board — a place I’ve never even seen and that you’ve probably never heard of called Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. Aniakchak, which is in Alaska, is the least-visited of the 401 National Park Service properties. Just 19 people stopped by Aniakchak last year, which makes the runner-up, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in California — visitors: 533 — a logjam of humanity by comparison.
I’m obsessed with Aniakchak for what’s there, of course — a blown-out volcano like Oregon’s Crater Lake that today is home to pumpkin-colored hot springs and a lake where salmon that taste like volcanic minerals spawn, and to brown bears that crawl from dens in the 2,000-foot caldera walls each summer to feed on them.
But I’m also obsessed with the place for what I won’t find there when I finally do visit: crowds. Aniakchak lies 350 miles southwest of Anchorage at the base of the Aleutian Islands, that frozen tail of North America that wags at Kamchatka. This is where the weather is made for the rest of the country, an outfitter once told me. Even in summer the monument can be rain-lashed, inhospitable, its willows rustling with big-toothed carnivores, and without a ranger station or a Winnebago in sight. And that’s why I can’t get it out of my head.
So many people on vacation follow the trampling herd to Las Vegas, or South Beach, or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most popular park, where nearly 9.7 million visitors last year dueled with sporks over picnic tables. I have never understood such urges. When I have a few days to spare, I flee in the opposite direction, away from the hive. I don’t mean I simply like lesser-known destinations. No, I love to go deep — and the more remote and vacant, the better. I’ve got no beef with Manhattan. I’ve met fascinating people in Seattle bars and in Boston suburbs and in tiny ski towns high in the Rockies. But give me the empty places, the abandoned places, the mountains where the sound of the wind through the ponderosas draws a shivery finger down your spine. » continue reading
in Others: By Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy
Washington Post has put together “a fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries,” a nifty infographic that paints the world in hues ranging from deep blue tolerant to a dark red racist. India is swathed in crimson.
The underlying data was culled by WaPo writer Max Fisher from the World Values survey which measures public attitudes around the world across a staggeringly broad range of issues, ranging from family values to political beliefs, from thoughts on women as single parents to taking soft drugs. The polls were conducted at different times between 1981 and 2008, and a number of questions were tested across many countries, while others were only polled in a couple of nations. In this case, Fisher drew his map on the basis of responses to a single query (inspired by Swedish researchers who published a study doing the same):
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, that also included “drug addicts”, “homosexuals”, “unmarried couples living together” chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races… the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher finds that more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbour of a different race in only four of the 81 nations. These are India (43.5 percent), Jordan (51.4 percent), Hong Kong (71.8 percent) and Bangladesh (71.7 percent). And also this: Only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objected to a neighbour of a different race, making them more racially tolerant than even the Germans or the Dutch. » continue reading
in Others: by Judith Shulevitz
Sometime in the late ’50s, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann sat down to write an essay about a subject that had been mostly overlooked by other psychoanalysts up to that point. Even Freud had only touched on it in passing. She was not sure, she wrote, “what inner forces” made her struggle with the problem of loneliness, though she had a notion. It might have been the young female catatonic patient who began to communicate only when Fromm-Reichmann asked her how lonely she was. “She raised her hand with her thumb lifted, the other four fingers bent toward her palm,” Fromm-Reichmann wrote. The thumb stood alone, “isolated from the four hidden fingers.” Fromm-Reichmann responded gently, “That lonely?” And at that, the woman’s “facial expression loosened up as though in great relief and gratitude, and her fingers opened.”
Fromm-Reichmann would later become world-famous as the dumpy little therapist mistaken for a housekeeper by a new patient, a severely disturbed schizophrenic girl named Joanne Greenberg. Fromm-Reichmann cured Greenberg, who had been deemed incurable. Greenberg left the hospital, went to college, became a writer, and immortalized her beloved analyst as “Dr. Fried” in the best-selling autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (later also a movie and a pop song). Among analysts, Fromm-Reichmann, who had come to the United States from Germany to escape Hitler, was known for insisting that no patient was too sick to be healed through trust and intimacy. She figured that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world. She once chastised her fellow therapists for withdrawing from emotionally unreachable patients rather than risk being contaminated by them. The uncanny specter of loneliness “touches on our own possibility of loneliness,” she said. “We evade it and feel guilty.” » continue reading
in Others: Rowan More
The “tube house” in Ahmedabad is a model of contemporary sustainable design. It is shaped such that cool air is naturally drawn through it, leaving via a vent close to the apex of the roof. It’s a prototype of low-income housing, and cleverly minimises the number of windows, which are relatively expensive items, while creating a humane and livable interior. It uses readily available building materials and techniques. It shows the sort of thinking for which architects such as Chile’s Alejandro Aravena are being lavishly praised.
Except it is not contemporary, but was completed in 1962. It should in fact be spoken of in the past tense — only one was built and it was demolished in 1995. It was the work of Charles Correa, now aged 82 and the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at the RIBA that bills him as “India’s greatest architect”. Correa defined modern architecture in India, moving on from the monuments that Le Corbusier created in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad in the early years after independence. These works, Correa tells me, “had a huge effect … they were very powerful and very lyrical they showed that you could be on the cutting edge of architecture right where you lived”. His use of concrete and masonry shows their influence, but he makes Le Corbusier’s motifs serve his own principles and purposes.
For more than half a century, Correa has been pursuing the idea that buildings should use passive means to protect people against the elements - not mechanical air conditioning and heating, but breezes, shade, orientation, the ability of masonry to absorb heat, and what he calls “using a house in a nomadic way”, which means inhabiting different parts at different times of day. He cites as an inspiration the Gamble House, an arts and crafts masterpiece in Los Angeles, which has porches on the south side for sunbathing and on the north side for outdoor sleeping. » continue reading
in Others: Kim Arora
NEW DELHI: In Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight, the billionaire industrialist hero Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) turns every phone in the crime-ridden Gotham city into a microphone to spy on conversations. He thinks it is “beautiful,” even though his man Friday Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) feels that the method is “unethical” and invasive.
The union ministry of communications and information technology’s recent hush-hush surveillance project, Central Monitoring System (CMS), has invoked Lucius Fox-like responses from cyber world activists and lawyers. The CMS can bypass manual intervention from telecom service providers to access call records and enable the government to access surveillance data directly. But activists feel such a pervasive system is vulnerable to abuse and needs to be legally examined before being implemented.
Back in November 2009, Union minister Gurudas Kamat told Rajya Sabha that the government proposes to set up a centralised system to monitor communications on mobile phones, landlines and the internet in the country. Among CMS’ salient features was the creation of a “central and regional database which will help central and state-level law enforcement agencies in interception and monitoring. » continue reading
in Others: Evan Ackerman | 30 October 2012
What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa.
The One Laptop Per Child project started as a way of delivering technology and resources to schools in countries with little or no education infrastructure, using inexpensive computers to improve traditional curricula. What the OLPC Project has realized over the last five or six years, though, is that teaching kids stuff is really not that valuable. Yes, knowing all your state capitols how to spell “neighborhood” properly and whatnot isn’t a bad thing, but memorizing facts and procedures isn’t going to inspire kids to go out and learn by teaching themselves, which is the key to a good education. Instead, OLPC is trying to figure out a way to teach kids to learn, which is what this experiment is all about.
Rather than give out laptops (they’re actually Motorola Zoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software) to kids in schools with teachers, the OLPC Project decided to try something completely different: it delivered some boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut, with no instructions whatsoever. Just like, “hey kids, here’s this box, you can open it if you want, see ya!” » continue reading
in Others: David Talbot | 29 October 2012
With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages—simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens.
The goal: to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.
Early observations are encouraging, said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.
The devices involved are Motorola Xoom tablets—used together with a solar charging system, which Ethiopian technicians had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used. » continue reading
in Others: Eric Pfanner
Here we go again. The United Nations is trying to take over the Internet! Or maybe it isn’t.
Only five months ago, at a treaty conference convened by a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union, the U.S. delegation stormed out, refusing to sign the proposed document, saying it posed a threat to the current, decentralized Internet governance system. Several dozen other countries joined the boycott.
The telecommunication union has always insisted that the treaty, which it is still lobbying holdout governments to sign, had nothing to do with the Internet, even though pretty much everyone else in Dubai seemed to think it did.
Next week, beginning Monday, the agency can make no such protestations about a meeting it is convening in Geneva. The stated topic of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum is, yes, Internet governance. » continue reading
in Others: Taslima Akhter, the Bangladeshi photographer that took the photo, told TIME that she spent the entire day of the collapse taking pictures, and that she felt like she knew the couple from the moment she found them amid the rubble.
“I looked at who they were in their last moments as they stood together and tried to save each other — to save their beloved lives,” Akhter told TIME.
Akhter is no stranger to taking photos amid devastation. In November, when a Bangladesh factory fire killed more than 100 workers, Akhter was on the scene.
“I took photos because they work dawn to dusk for very little money and their lives are considered to be so cheap, worth nothing,” she told The New York Times last year » continue reading
in Others: By Girish Shahane
The tangled histories of today’s eastern metropolises
SPEAKING AT the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Mid-Century Convocation in March 1949, Winston Churchill argued that, though war appeared likely to break out between the communist bloc and Western European nations, it was far from inevitable. He reminded the audience that:
Four or five hundred years ago Europe seemed about to be conquered by the Mongols. Two great battles were fought almost on the same day near Vienna and in Poland. In both of these the chivalry and armed power of Europe was completely shattered by the Asiatic hordes. It seemed that nothing could avert the doom of the famous Continent from which modern civilisation and culture have spread throughout the world. But at the critical moment the Great Khan died. The succession was vacant, and the Mongol armies and their leaders trooped back on their ponies across the seven thousand miles which separated them from their capital in order to choose a successor. They never returned till now.
Though they did not return, the Asiatic hordes menaced Europe’s imagination for centuries. The barbarians were perpetually at the gates, threatening the cultural as well as ethnic purity of the continent. Nazi propagandists used the phrase “asiatischen Horden” for the Red Army, on the basis, presumably, that Russia had in the past been ruled by Mongols. The word ‘horde’ originates in ‘ordu’, the Turkic and Mongol term for army camp, but ‘Asiatic hordes’, which has equivalents in most major European languages (‘hordes asiatiques’ in French, ‘hordas asiáticas’ in Spanish), eventually came to represent any perceived Eastern threat, whether from invaders or migrants.
Unlike Western Europe, which was fortuitously spared thanks to a Great Khan’s demise, India endured a number of invasions by Central Asians. The Hunas destroyed the Gupta empire early in the 6th century; Mahmud of Ghazni raided the subcontinent repeatedly early in the 11th; Timur massacred a substantial portion of Delhi’s populace at the end of the 14th; and Timur’s infinitely more refined descendant Babur established a kingdom in Agra in the 16th. The armies of the mainly Turkic kings who ruled north India between the 13th and 18th centuries included a mix of foreign and indigenous troops. The foreigners learned the local language, but mixed it with large numbers of loanwords and alien constructions. This jumbled idiom came to be called Zuban-e-Ordu, or tongue of the camp, and eventually developed into the sophisticated literary language known as Urdu, simultaneously an emblem of confluence and conflict. » continue reading
in Others: By Meghnad Desai
The news about rape does not get any better. Relentlessly, week after week, we have news of young and old women as well as girls being brutally raped, physically abused and often burnt or killed. The system fails to do much more than wring its hands, limply pointing to the Act it passed. The police continue to have feudal mentality. Politicians, when they are not rapists themselves, are not much help. The idea of politics in India is tied up with patronage, handouts and subsidies to voting blocs—caste Hindu or Dalits or Muslims. There is no idea of human rights and most ‘leaders’ of these voting blocs are men who are as likely to burn their daughters-in-law for dowry if not do something worse.
The forthcoming elections will fail to address the demands of women for safety or for their rights. Indian politics only recognises groups, not individuals. Someone like Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin has no rights since the group to which they ‘belong’ is hostile to them. M F Husain was driven into exile because a secular government let Hindutva bullyboys hound him. The whole notion of secularism is about religious collectivities and not about individuals. An atheist Muslim will be abandoned by the authorities. When he spoke about the ubiquity of corruption in Indian politics, Ashis Nandy was left to fend for himself because some Dalit groups took umbrage at what he had said, having failed to appreciate irony. No political power stood up for his freedom of speech. » continue reading
in Others: Madhuparna Das
It is nearing 6 pm at the Jaldapara National Park. The grassland is harsh and beautiful, painted in shades of yellow and green. On the small wooden bridge over a tributary of the Torsa river, forest guards Rajakanta Bunta Burman and Paresh Burman are cycling to get to the tower in the core area. Paresh has a double-barrel gun slung over his shoulder. They work 12-hour shifts and have to get to the tower by 6 pm to sign the duty register.
Rajakanta, 45, hops off his bicycle to talk. “I joined the department in 1983. That was when poaching was at its worst. We lost 22 rhinos over the next one year. The poachers used to come in groups and had sophisticated weapons such as AK-47s. But gradually, things began changing. We were trained to use weapons and forest guards patrolled round the clock. Since then, the number of rhinos kept going up and now there are almost 200 of them,” says Burman.
The Jaldapara sanctuary, with its tall elephant grass, is spread across 216.43 sq km in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. The park was established in 1941 to protect the one-horned rhinoceros and today, has the largest rhino population in India after Kaziranga National Park in Assam (which incidentally is battling poaching). But the one-horned armoured toughie didn’t always roam free in Jaldapara.
According to the 2012 annual report of the state Forest Department, 75 rhinos were reported and recorded in Jaldapara sanctuary in 1969. However, over the next two decades, the number of rhinos dropped drastically, till it reached 14 in 1986. Senior forest officers in Kolkata admit the actual numbers might have been even lower—about eight to 10. » continue reading
in Others: by Arefa Tehsin
No entrance ticket, no guide, no literature, no maintenance… Why has the Gujarat Archaeological Department chosen to forget the spectacular monuments in Junagadh’s Mahabat Maqbara complex?
Histories are written, documented, rigged and forgotten. At times, they turn into exaggerated myths; at others, they vanish unnoticed, eaten away by termites, neglect or wrong intentions. On the other hand, monuments — reminders of history — can’t be wished away unless demolished by angry mobs driven by political will. Of course, they can also be left unattended to wither and die.
The showcasing of Gir in the Gujarat tourism campaign by Amitabh Bachchan rekindled our desire to see the wild Asiatic Lion. We drove down the flat and rusty countryside, reached Gir and stayed in the forest guesthouse near the well-managed Gir National Park.
On our way back, early in the morning, we passed Junagarh, grey and bleak in the early morning hours. There was no traffic and we were glad to be crossing what would likely be the most congested areas later in the day while the city was still sleeping. Suddenly, a jaw-dropping sight, right in the middle of the city, compelled us to stop and get down for a closer look. » continue reading
in Others: By Salman Rushdie
WE find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage — the courage of the life of the mind, or of public figures. A man in a cowboy hat vaults a fence to help Boston bomb victims while others flee the scene: we salute his bravery, as we do that of servicemen returning from the battlefront, or men and women struggling to overcome debilitating illnesses or injuries.
It’s harder for us to see politicians, with the exception of Nelson Mandela and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as courageous these days. Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the inevitable compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore. One man’s hero (Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro) is another’s villain. We no longer easily agree on what it means to be good, or principled, or brave. When political leaders do take courageous steps — as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, then president, did in Libya by intervening militarily to support the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — there are as many who doubt as approve. Political courage, nowadays, is almost always ambiguous.
Even more strangely, we have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma.
It was not always so. The writers and intellectuals who opposed Communism, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the rest, were widely esteemed for their stand. The poet Osip Mandelstam was much admired for his “Stalin Epigram” of 1933, in which he described the fearsome leader in fearless terms — “the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip” — not least because the poem led to his arrest and eventual death in a Soviet labor camp.
As recently as 1989, the image of a man carrying two shopping bags and defying the tanks of Tiananmen Square became, almost at once, a global symbol of courage.
Then, it seems, things changed. The “Tank Man” has been largely forgotten in China, while the pro-democracy protesters, including those who died in the massacre of June 3 and 4, have been successfully redescribed by the Chinese authorities as counterrevolutionaries. The battle for redescription continues, obscuring or at least confusing our understanding of how “courageous” people should be judged. This is how the Chinese authorities are treating their best known critics: the use of “subversion” charges against Liu Xiaobo, and of alleged tax crimes against Ai Weiwei, is a deliberate attempt to blind people to their courage, and paint them, instead, as criminals. » continue reading
in Others: by Swati Daftuar
The new Dove commercial makes you wonder who made beauty our greatest asset, so central to our happiness. Does beauty in this world always have to be our own?
There were a few things Sleeping Beauty could have learned from her mother. Not much; just a couple of important things like the recipe for a mean poisoned apple, and the confidence to look in the mirror, ask that now-eternal question, and always expect a yes. Of course, that infamous ‘no’ did send things spiralling downhill, so I should cut my metaphor short before it starts to unravel.
I’ve been thinking about beauty, spurred by an ad gone viral, a few gruesome blogs by teenagers who refuse to eat and/or digest their food, and an always-ready interest in suddenly raging debates around me.
Even back then, when Sleeping Beauty was keeping house for seven strange men and Cinderella was cleaning out her chimney, someone had decided for us. Even when there were no competing products in the market to remove your cellulite and make you fairer, even when there were no models walking the ramps in clothes you could never really wear outside, our fate had been sealed. Beauty had become an asset and, for a women, it had become a precious asset, may be even her greatest. Her pretty face would be kissed and married, her name would go down in history and sail a thousand ships. » continue reading
in Others: Shamshad Begum, a star singer in India during the early years of Hindi cinema, died on Tuesday at her home in Mumbai. She was 94. Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Usha Ratra.
Ms. Begum was one of the first female playback singers in Hindi cinema — singers who are heard but not seen on screen, with actresses lip-syncing to the recorded voices. She was in great demand throughout the 1940s and remained popular even as another singer, Lata Mangeshkar, became the dominant playback singer of the 1950s.
“I could never achieve the kind of popularity, stardom and respect she enjoyed,” Ms. Mangeshkar said in an interview.
Shamshad Begum was born on April 14, 1919, in Amritsar, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and grew up in Lahore, which was then in India and is now in Pakistan. One of 12 children of orthodox Muslim parents, she displayed a talent for singing at an early age but was discouraged by her father from studying music.
Her career began when a leading music company signed her at 13 after a successful audition for the composer Ghulam Haider. Her father allowed her to sing professionally only after she promised that she would wear a burqa to the recording studio and never attend functions or parties. Ms. Begum kept her word even after her marriage, at 15, to Ganpatlal Batto, a lawyer who was also an amateur photographer. » continue reading
in Others: By Shamnad Basheer
The lawsuit by publishers seeking to stop Delhi University from distributing photocopied course packs goes against the spirit of education for all.
Late last year, leading publishing houses including Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press brought a copyright action against Delhi University and a tiny photocopy shop licensed by it, seeking to restrain them from supplying educational course packs to students. This lawsuit sent shock waves across the academic community, leading more than 300 authors and academics including famed Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen to protest this copyright aggression in an open letter to publishers. Tellingly, 33 of the authors of various books mentioned specifically in the lawsuit (as having been copied in the course packs) signed this protest letter making it clear that they were dissociating themselves from this unfortunate lawsuit.
For those not familiar with the term, course packs are compilations of limited excerpts from copyrighted books, put together painstakingly by faculty members in accordance with a carefully designed syllabus and teaching plan. » continue reading
in Others: Salil Tripathi
The Shiv Sena has always been known to be a can-do party, not bothering with details such as laws and regulations. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), being its off-shoot, is the can-do-better party. And as the two flex their muscles, the result is silence enforced by fear.
Even as Palghar is beginning to recover from the bizarre strike the Shiv Sena called in support of police officers who were suspended after they overzealously arrested Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, two young women who politely expressed their displeasure over the “voluntary” closure in Mumbai and its surroundings following Bal Thackeray’s funeral, comes the new development: MNS activists reportedly took a teenager, Sunil Vishwakarma, to the police station, seeking his arrest because he criticized MNS leader Raj Thackeray. The Palghar police officers are understandably in a quandary: If they do arrest the teenager, they risk being transferred; if they don’t, the MNS is capable of taking the law in its hands. » continue reading
in Others: BY LEE C. BOLLINGER
This year certainly saw great personal courage and selfless leadership in the struggle for free speech reminiscent of the bravery displayed in earlier decades, complete with familiar antagonists and tools of repression. Among Foreign Policy’s 2012 Global Thinkers, there is Chen Guangcheng (No. 9), the blind human rights activist who made a harrowing escape from China and is now living in exile in New York; Ahlem Belhadj (No. 18), the Tunisian feminist leading the fight to make sure the revolution doesn’t backfire on women as she tries to block attempts to revive polygamy and female circumcision, among other regressive measures; and Bassel Khartabil (No. 19), an innovative Syrian activist who defied President Bashar al-Assad and has not been heard from since his arrest in March. I also must mention Adela Navarro Bello (No. 76), whose Tijuana magazine is investigating the bank accounts and investments of Mexico’s drug cartel bosses in a country where 40 journalists have been murdered or have disappeared in the past six years. (She travels with bodyguards.) And just as the underground rock bands of the 1980s rallied youth against a decaying Soviet Union with their lyrics of defiance, there are even punk rockers featured among these Global Thinkers, though Russian band Pussy Riot (No. 16)
Yet the impetus for revisiting free speech, as Foreign Policy urges us to do with this year-end issue, is precisely the opposite: not to dwell on the familiar, but to take stock of the sweeping changes before us and the profoundly altered dimensions of both free speech and the actions required to preserve it. This is a distinct moment in time when even our shared understanding of what constitutes expression is evolving right along with radical advances in communications technology. Many on this year’s list — from Twitter’s in-house lawyer, Alexander Macgillivray (No. 66), to the U.S. naval lab researchers (No. 78) who created a safe, anonymous way for allowing those who might be silenced online to speak — are struggling in different ways to help us define (and protect) this most fundamental of freedoms at a moment when the available tools for safeguarding speech have become much harder to identify, let alone employ. Increasingly, governments are using laws criminalizing the "defamation" of religion as a tool to repress free speech. The NGO Human Rights First documented more than 100 recent examples of "gross abuse" of such laws around the world, many of them in Muslim countries. Even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seemed to question free speech as an absolute right after the release of the video Innocence of Muslims sparked riots across the Islamic world, insisting that "when some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected." » continue reading
in Others: By L.V. Anderson
A British politician is seeking damages from high-profile Twitter users who repeated or retweeted a false report linking him to child sex abuse. The former Conservative Party official, Alistair McAlpine, is also asking lower-profile Twitter users who libeled him to apologize and make a donation to charity. The United Kingdom is notorious for its plaintiff-friendly defamation laws—but what about in the United States? Could an American be sued for libel based on tweets, too?
Yes. Medium of communication is irrelevant in American defamation laws; even an email sent to a single person can be libelous. To be libelous (in the United States), a statement must be false and damaging to an individual or corporation, and the person who made that statement must have been at fault (i.e., known that the statement was false, acted recklessly with regard to the facts, or otherwise been irresponsible). Whether a person makes a defamatory statement on a blog, in a newspaper, or on Twitter or Facebook, he or she can be held legally liable for it.
In the United States, however, if you retweet a libelous statement, you are unlikely to be sued for damages. That’s because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” with regard to defamation and invasion-of-privacy cases. A simple retweet or Facebook “like” is likely to be protected under Section 230—but a modified tweet or Facebook comment could constitute libel. » continue reading
in Others: Twitter and Libel Law | When everyone is a publisher, everyone can be sued
A PALTRY 140 characters can certainly stir up trouble. A BBC report earlier this month did not identify the Tory it wrongly suggested had molested a child, but Twitter users did. Some 1,000 individuals implicated Lord McAlpine, and a further 9,000 retweeted those messages to a wider audience. The former Conservative Party treasurer called it “trial by Twitter”. On November 20th lawyers for the peer informed people with fewer than 500 followers that they can make amends with a donation to charity (the BBC’s Children in Need). Tweeters with larger followings may face legal action.
Applying classic legal remedies to online information is hardly new. But threatening a libel claim against thousands of people at once is novel. Libel law has typically held to account large, centralised institutions that enjoy broad reach, like newspapers. It has not been used to check the discrete actions of a huge number of individuals, which together have a broad effect. » continue reading
in Others: Death Penalty in South Asia
IT IS hard to feel particularly sorry at the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, in Pune, India, early on November 21st. He was the sole surviving gunman from a 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, in which Pakistani infiltrators killed at least 166 people during a prolonged and traumatising rampage in the city. The assault on ordinary residents and tourists, at a busy train station, a Jewish centre and most notably a prominent hotel, was vicious, intended to spread terror and possibly to provoke a wider conflict between India and Pakistan. That the assailants probably had help from elements connected to Pakistan’s army or spy network made the assault all the worse.
Mr Kasab, who was 21 in November 2008, presumably expected to be killed during the abhorrent attack. Instead he was arrested, interrogated, tried and imprisoned fairly. Now he has been executed according to Indian law, which allows the use of the death penalty only in the “rarest of rare” cases. A majority of Indians almost certainly support the hanging in this case and probably back the death penalty in general. The timing seems to be related to the fourth anniversary of the attack, later this week, but is also because Mr Kasab had used up all possible legal appeals: the president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, recently rejected any chance of a pardon.
Yet despite all this, his execution, and thus an end to a prolonged unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty in India, should be deeply lamented. In India, and the region, individual human life is too often given an extremely low value. By upholding a ban on the death penalty, even in the toughest of cases, India had previously been promoting respect for the value of a life. An alternative existed: Mr Kasab could have been punished severely by keeping him in prison for the rest of his days—just as Norway will keep its vile terrorist attacker, Anders Breivik, locked up. That would arguably have been a greater deterrent than hanging a man who had planned anyway to die. » continue reading
in Others: Development in India: In rural India there is hope that the worst policies can be improved
A PAINTED milestone marks the turn-off to Kailashpur. The slab sports a poor likeness of Gandhi and announces “The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Rural road constructed from the curve at Pansara to Kailashpur forest road. Sanctioned: 2007-08. Cost: 4.3m rupees [$80,000].”
The road winds a few miles through the jungle and ends at the village’s new primary school, gaily painted with a rainbow, Tom and Jerry, and Mickey Mouse. The schoolteacher, Solomon Ming, busily shepherds his little charges back to their schoolroom after a free lunch. Outside, villagers trudge painstakingly back from the nearest town, balancing on their heads bundles of firewood each the size of desks. Inside, the girls chatter excitedly about new satchels which had arrived that morning. They came from the Chhattisgarh state government, and only the girls got them, for they are intended as inducements to boost female literacy. On the wall are a list of the 85 children at the school and details of the three teachers, their qualifications and when they started work. Another sign outside says “National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Cost of levelling ground for a school: 25,000 rupees.” » continue reading
in Others: By GAIL COLLINS
Somewhere Over South America
“Maybe I’ll get a decorating show,” said Hillary Clinton.
It was a few weeks before the election. Clinton was flying back from an overnight trip to Peru, talking — without any great enthusiasm — about the topic that would begin to obsess the American political world as soon as the presidential ballots had been counted: Will Hillary run in 2016?
It’s more than two months until this inauguration. But the speculation is already roaring. On Friday, Politico reported that Public Policy Polling had a new survey showing that if the Iowa caucuses were held today — there’s a terrifying thought — Clinton would get 58 percent of the vote. Joe Biden limped in with 17 percent.
Every day, people approach Hillary Clinton and tell her she has an obligation to run and give America its first woman president. “Yes, they do!” she laughs, with the trademark H.C. chortle. Being asked to run for president is a kind of side career all by itself.
Clinton gives many variations on the theme of don’t-think-so. (“Oh, I’ve ruled it out, but you know me. Everybody keeps asking me. So I keep ruling it out and being asked.”) Also a thousand different forms of beats-me. (“I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”) What she does not do is offer the kind of Shermanesque if-nominated-I-will-not-run language that would end the conversation. » continue reading
in Others: By KIRK JOHNSON
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Through a live video feed from half a world away in Afghanistan, in an extraordinary night court session, descriptions of chaos and horror poured into a military courtroom here as if from an open spigot.
“Their brains were still on the pillows,” said Mullah Khamal Adin, 39, staring into the camera with his arms folded on the table, describing the 11 members of his cousin’s family he found dead in the family compound — most of the bodies burned in a pile in one room.
Mr. Adin, in a hearing that started here late Friday, was asked about the smell. Was there an odor of gasoline or kerosene?
Just bodies and burned plastic, he replied through a translator.
The Army’s preliminary hearing in the case against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province this year, unfolded last week mostly in the bustling daylight of a working military base an hour south of Seattle. But to accommodate witnesses in Afghanistan, and the 12-and-a-half-hour time difference, the schedule was shifted at week’s end, with testimony through cameras and uplinks in Afghanistan and here at Lewis-McChord starting at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time on Friday and running until shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday. » continue reading
in Others: By MICHAEL TRIMBLE
IN 2008, at a zoo in Münster, Germany, a gorilla named Gana gave birth to a male infant, who died after three months. Photographs of Gana, looking stricken and inconsolable, were ubiquitous. “Heartbroken gorilla cradles her dead baby,” Britain’s Daily Mail declared. Crowds thronged the zoo to see the grieving mother.
Sad as the scene was, the humans, not Gana, were the only ones crying. The notion that animals can weep — apologies to Dumbo, Bambi and Wilbur — has no scientific basis. Years of observations by the primatologists Dian Fossey, who observed gorillas, and Jane Goodall, who worked with chimpanzees, could not prove that animals cry tears from emotion.
In his book “The Emotional Lives of Animals,” the only tears the biologist Marc Bekoff were certain of were his own. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, the authors of “When Elephants Weep,” admit that “most elephant watchers have never seen them weep.”
It’s true that many mammals shed tears, especially in response to pain. Tears protect the eye by keeping it moist, and they contain antimicrobial proteins. But crying as an embodiment of empathy is, I maintain, unique to humans and has played an essential role in human evolution and the development of human cultures. » continue reading
in Others: By COREY KILGANNON
War is hell, but there is one aspect of the Korean War that John T. Meyers, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who lives in Upper Manhattan, remembers fondly every Veterans Day.
The memory is about one of his best war buddies – a popular sergeant who was decorated for battleground bravery. On Friday morning, Mr. Meyer, who lives in Inwood, pulled out a well-worn photograph he brought back from Korea of the sergeant grazing in a field.
“She was a heck of a work horse – she could carry 12 rounds of ammo,” he said. “She was a dependable, beautiful animal, and she was sociable.”
Mr. Meyers was speaking of Sgt. Reckless, a Mongolian mare who won two Purple Hearts and earned the rank of staff sergeant for carrying ammunition in battle. Mr. Meyers became close with the horse both on the battlefield, where he was a gunner, and in the mess tent, where he often worked as a cook with the Fifth Marine Regiment Anti-tank Company.
“I would feed her, so every time she’d see me, she’d trot over,” said Mr. Meyers, a retired shipping clerk. “I gave her an apple a day. She knew exactly where I slept and she’d come in the tent and lick my face to wake me up, so she could eat.” » continue reading
in Others: HONG KONG — Joshua Oppenheimer was in northern Sumatra when he first heard the story.
It was about 10 years ago, and he was working on a documentary about a group of Indonesian plantation workers suffering from exposure to a dangerous pesticide. The workers, he found, were too afraid to organize a union to press their case.
Labor organizing on a mass scale has not really taken hold in Indonesia for more than 40 years, in part because in 1965 the union movement was so brutally suppressed. Union workers were labeled communists then, and they were seen as a threat to the nation. As many as 3 million people were said to have been killed in the purges, including some of the parents, grandfathers, aunts and uncles of the Sumatran workers.
Mr. Oppenheimer, a Danish filmmaker, wanted to tell their story, and one of the workers told him, “Well, you can speak to the killers.”
The members of the death squads had lived and been celebrated as heroes of Indonesia. They were called preman — gangsters — and their ruthlessness had been normalized as part of the country’s historical narrative. At first, Mr. Oppenheimer was afraid to talk to them. » continue reading
in Others: HIS boyhood enthusiasm for the countryside, especially for its birds, never left him. His heart soared at the sight of a red kite or a hen harrier. He mourned how rarely he heard the song of the yellowhammer, “a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese”, on his hikes through the hills of mid-Wales to which he had retreated, close to the River Wye.
Eric Hobsbawm was a rare bird himself: “the last living Communist”, as he was teased at his 90th birthday party, and one of the last committed Marxist historians. He had become a Communist at secondary school in Berlin in 1932, and joined the party when he went up to his beloved King’s, Cambridge in 1936, because politics was his passion and it was either Hitler or the other side. But he remained for 50 years until Communism foundered, collapsing “so completely”, he wrote, “that it must now be obvious that failure was built into this enterprise from the start.” Why, then, had he stayed? Because he was of the generation that believed the October Revolution of 1917 was the great hope of the world; and he could not bear to betray either the revolution itself, or those who had fought for it. » continue reading
in Others: by Mukund Padmanabhan
Salman Rushdie on religious insult, freedom of expression and the dark years spent in hiding
*A phone call on February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, altered Salman Rushdie’s life forever. He was told that Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa calling for his death for allegedly insulting the Prophet and the Quran in The Satanic Verses. His recently launched memoir Joseph Anton is a transfixing account of the nine years spent in hiding that is at once overtly political and deeply personal.
Religion and secularism, truth and falsity, friendship and enmity, hope and despair, bravery and cowardice, love and betrayal, collide in the pages to form a highly-charged battleground of ideas about a world poised for an uncertain future.
In this phone interview, Salman Rushdie talks about the novel that robbed him of a decade and the lessons it has taught him about free speech, religious fundamentalism and the importance of standing up for what you believe in.*
It is a coincidence that Joseph Anton is being launched at a time when there is a storm over the “Innocence of Muslims” film and the caricatures in a French newspaper. But since the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, there has been a virtual explosion in what novelist Monica Ali called ‘the marketplace of outrage’ — this phenomenon of people, not necessarily Muslim, being offended and sometimes violently so. In retrospect, do you see The Satanic Verses as the forerunner of this narrative of blasphemy, insult, indignation and violence?
Yes, of course I do. In fact, I explicitly state in the book that I see this as a prologue rather than an isolated event. In the years that followed, there were attacks across the Muslim world on other writers and intellectuals who were accused of exactly the same crimes — these medieval crimes of heresy and apostasy in a language that, in a way, one hadn’t heard since the Spanish Inquisition.
For example, the Turkish journalist Ug˘ur Mumcu was killed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Egypt, the philosopher Farag Foda was killed and Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck. In Algeria, the novelist Tahar Djaout was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists and so on. This has been a broadening attack and the combination of fanaticism and this outrage industry has become a very powerful force in our times.
You have used the expression ‘manufactured’ to describe this outrage, which you now refer to as industry. This is accurate inasmuch as the protests are usually carefully planned and coordinated. But do you think this ignores the fact that people could also be genuinely upset or hurt by what they construe as religious insult?
That’s their problem. The world is full of things that upset people. But most of us deal with it and move on and don’t try and burn the planet down.
There is no right in the world not to be offended. That right simply doesn’t exist. In a free society, an open society, people have strong opinions, and these opinions very often clash. In a democracy, we have to learn to deal with this. And this is true about novels, it’s true about cartoons, it’s true about all these products.
A question I have often asked is, ‘What would an inoffensive political cartoon look like?’ What would a respectful cartoon look like? The form requires disrespect and so if we are going to have in the world things like cartoons and satire, we just have to accept it as part of the price of freedom. » continue reading
in Others: By Timothy Snyder, special for CNN
Editor’s note: Eric Hobsbawm, seen by many peers as the greatest post-war historian of European ideas, has died aged 95. Here, Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, explains why Hobsbawm’s determination to stick with Marxism long after it went out of fashion made his message so special to historians and readers around the world. The paperback of Snyder’s most recent book, “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” was released on Monday.
(CNN) — Why did Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest historians of modern times, remain a Marxist after the end of the Soviet Union, and defend communism into the 21st century?
To be a man of Hobsbawm’s generation was to have experienced the collapse of capitalism in the Great Depression, to be a Jew of Hobsbawm’s generation was to have seen the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In those years of the 1930s, the years when Hobsbawm was a brilliant youth, was to face what seemed to be a binary choice, to be with the Nazis or against them. And no one seemed to be more against the Nazis than the communists. Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party as a very young man, and was loyal, in his way, to the end. » continue reading
in Others: By DAN BILEFSKY
ISTANBUL — An aggressive campaign by Turkey to reclaim antiquities it says were looted has led in recent months to the return of an ancient sphinx and many golden treasures from the region’s rich past. But it has also drawn condemnation from some of the world’s largest museums, which call the campaign cultural blackmail.
In their latest salvo, Turkish officials this summer filed a criminal complaint in the Turkish court system seeking an investigation into what they say was the illegal excavation of 18 objects that are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Norbert Schimmel collection.
Last year, Turkish officials recalled, Turkey’s director-general of cultural heritage and museums, Murat Suslu, presented Met officials with a stunning ultimatum: prove the provenance of ancient figurines and golden bowls in the collection, or Turkey could halt lending treasures. Turkey says that threat has now gone into effect. » continue reading
in Others: By Charlie Savage
WASHINGTON — Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has said much about torture as part of terrorism investigations during the 2012 general campaign. But the future of American government practices when interrogating high-level terrorism suspects appears likely to turn on the outcome of the election.
In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.
By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.
While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.
“We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December. » continue reading
in Others: WHEN Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007, he changed an industry. Apple’s brilliant new device was a huge advance on the mobile phones that had gone before: it looked different and it worked better. The iPhone represented innovation at its finest, making it the top-selling smartphone soon after it came out and helping to turn Apple into the world’s most valuable company, with a market capitalisation that now exceeds $630 billion.
Apple’s achievement spawned a raft of imitators. Many smartphone manufacturers now boast touch-screens and colourful icons. Among them is Samsung, the world’s biggest technology manufacturer, whose gadgets are the iPhone’s nearest rivals and closest lookalikes. The competition and the similarities were close enough for Apple to sue Samsung for patent infringement in several countries, spurring the South Korean firm to counterclaim that it had been ripped off by Apple as well. On August 24th an American jury found that Samsung had infringed six patents and ordered it to pay Apple more than $1 billion in damages, one of the steepest awards yet seen in a patent case (see article). » continue reading
in Others: IT IS growing harder to distinguish one bloody day in Syria from the next, unless the horror is so stark as to earn a special mark in the trajectory of an increasingly gruesome conflict. Daraya, a town on the south-western fringe of Damascus with a reputation for stubborn but peaceful opposition to the regime, was the most recent to suffer. Surrounded by loyalist troops from a neighbouring air base, the town endured five days of shelling before a full-scale invasion on August 25th. The pattern of the attack, complete with door-to-door raids and summary executions, has become familiar. But the number of deaths in Daraya exceeded any so far counted in a single incident. According to opposition sources, backed by videos, at least 380 bodies were buried, many in mass graves, wrapped in coarse blankets because white funeral shrouds have become too scarce.
August was certainly the bloodiest month so far: as many as 4,000 may have died, 3,000 of them civilians and rebels, the rest soldiers or pro-regime militiamen. The death toll now often tops 250 a day. The opposition reckons that 23,000-plus Syrians have been killed since protests began in March last year; the UN, more conservatively, puts the toll at 17,000. » continue reading
in Others: by BHAVIKA JAIN & SUMITRA DEB ROY
MUMBAI: Mumbai is among the noisiest cities in the world, which perhaps explains why this city never sleeps. Quality of life in the city has taken a severe beating in the last five years owing to high levels of pollution — noise, air and water — with noise wreaking the most havoc and putting Mumbaikars at increased risk of disturbed sleep patterns and high blood pressure.
Recent civic reports on Mumbai’s environment show that noise levels in residential areas have steadily increased during the day as well as at night. Silence zones in the city are anything but so. Noise levels in 2011-12 were around 63 decibels (db) by day and 78db at night, against the permissible limits of 50db and 40db respectively. In fact, noise levels in Mumbai’s 1112 notified silence zones have steadily increased in the last four years. “There is a complete disregard for the noise quotient in the city. Most people aren’t even aware of the silence zones around their area. They are also ignorant of the health hazards due to the constant exposure to loud noise,” said Rubina Aslam, an environmentalist, who is working to make silence zones more ‘silent’.
Neither is the air Mumbaikars breathe, any good. The BMC’s reports have highlighted a rise in suspended particulate matter (SPM) at all six sites where air quality monitoring is done. The highest levels were recorded in Maravli (Chembur), where it doubled from 389 in 2007, to 760 in 2011. In the last five years, most sites recorded higher-than-permissible SPM levels. » continue reading
in Others: by KUNAL PUROHIT
The city has always struggled for open spaces, and the report brought out by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region-Environment Improvement Society (MMR-EIS), quantifies how badly off Mumbai is. There are 45 open spaces plots on the critical list and in need of urgent attention, only 35% of the open spaces designated for Mumbaiites are accessible to all and 160 hectares of open spaces could be lost forever if the civic body goes ahead with its controversial open spaces policy.
The civic body’s proposed open spaces policy permits private parties to take over 25% of the area of recreation grounds, provided they pay to maintain the remaining 75% of the ground.
Past experiences have revealed that in such cases, often clubs backed by political parties take over these open spaces and block access to the public. Since November 2007, HT has been campaigning for the city’s open spaces and tracking the issue.
The report prepared by the MMR-EIS, a body funded by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, is on all environmental features of the city. » continue reading
in Others: By HEATHER TIMMONS
The government of India’s sometimes uncomfortable relationship with technology in general, and the Internet in particular, came to a head last week, when officials confirmed they had asked Internet service providers and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to remove certain items and block some users in a response to violence in Assam.
The move was widely criticized by analysts and citizens - after all, social media sites have controls in place to remove both users who are impersonating others and using hate speech. Making the situation more puzzling, some of the items the government asked to be removed included those debunking fraudulent material that sought to incite violence.
The Indian government has a long history of curious engagement with the Internet and has passed tough laws limiting free speech on the Internet. Late last year, the minister of communications, Kapil Sibal, asked social media sites to screen user content before it was posted. » continue reading
in Others: By LYDIA NETZER
MOST technological advances are actually just improvements. One thing builds on the next: from shoddy to serviceable, from helpful to amazing. First you had a carriage, then a car, and then an airplane; now you have a jet. You improve on what is there. Technological advances are like that.
Except for the one that involved landing on the Moon. When a human went and stood on the Moon and looked back at the Earth, that was a different kind of breakthrough. Nothing tangible changed when Neil Armstrong’s foot dug into the lunar dust and his eyes turned back at us. We didn’t get faster wheels or smaller machines or more effective medicine. But we changed, fundamentally. What had been unknown, was known. What had been unseen was seen. And our human horizon popped out 200,000 miles. Forever, we would see the Earth differently, because we had seen it from someplace truly foreign.
This is why Mars is important. When we get a human to Mars — in the next few decades, NASA has predicted — our horizon will expand 1,000 times farther, and it will never go back.
Watching the first images from the rover, Curiosity, which landed on Mars early this month, I was reminded of a short story by Ray Bradbury called “Mars Is Heaven!” In it, Mars is populated by aliens who fool visiting Earthlings into thinking they’re in a familiar environment before murdering them. It’s about how stupid nostalgia is, how it tricks us into wanting things that were never that great in the first place. What strikes me about the story is that, just over 60 years ago, someone could seriously write about aliens on Mars. » continue reading
in Others: By MICHAEL POWELL
Earlier this summer, Thomas P. Galati, commanding officer of the [New York Police Department]’s elite intelligence division, sat for an unusual legal interrogation, during which he talked of his keen interest in Urdu-speaking New Yorkers.
“I’m seeing Urdu,” Assistant Chief Galati said of the data generated by his eight-person demographics unit, which has eavesdropped on thousands of conversations between Muslims in restaurants and stores in New York City and New Jersey and on Long Island. “I’m using that information for me to determine that this would be a kind of place that a terrorist would be comfortable in.”
Chief Galati, whose job it is to stalk the terrorists who may live in our midst, continued along this line. “A potential terrorist could hide in here,” he said. “Most Urdu speakers would be of concern.”
All of which sounds reasonable, sort of, maybe. Except that something in the neighborhood of 80,000 New Yorkers, mostly of Pakistani and Indian descent, speak Urdu. » continue reading
in Others: By JOHN J. GEOGHEGAN
If the world’s shipping fleet were a country, it would be the world’s sixth leading emitter of greenhouse gases. To reduce those emissions — and, not incidentally, to conserve expensive fossil fuels — cargo ship designers are now turning to the oldest source of power there is: the wind.
The new vessels, mainly still on drawing boards and in prototype, look nothing like the graceful schooners and galleons of centuries past. Last spring, for example, the University of Tokyo unveiled a model of its UT Wind Challenger at the Sea Japan trade show. It has nine masts, each 164 feet tall, with five rigid sails made of aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic; the sails are hollow, designed to telescope into one another in rough weather or at anchor.
Then there is the 328-foot, 3,000-ton cargo carrier being designed by B9 Shipping (pronounced benign), part of the B9 Energy Group in Northern Ireland. Its three masts rise 180 feet, as tall as a 14-story building.
Powered by a combination of wind and a Rolls-Royce biogas engine, it is intended to operate with no fossil fuels.
A model of the B9 ship was tested last month at the University of Southampton in England. “The tests were promising,” said Diane Gilpin, a founder-director of B9 Shipping. “They validated the economic case for deploying a B9 ship on certain trading routes.”
The next step, she said, is to seek financing for a full-size ship to demonstrate the technology. It would cost $45 million and take three years to build. » continue reading
in Others: by JANE E. BRODY
What would it take to persuade you to exercise?
A desire to lose weight or improve your figure? To keep heart disease, cancer or diabetes at bay? To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? To protect your bones? To live to a healthy old age?
You’d think any of those reasons would be sufficient to get Americans exercising, but scores of studies have shown otherwise. It seems that public health experts, doctors and exercise devotees in the media — like me — have been using ineffective tactics to entice sedentary people to become, and remain, physically active.
For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.” » continue reading
in Others: By KAIVAN MUNSHI | 16 JULY 2012
Despite many efforts by the government and by civic institutions, the caste system continues to have a firm hold on Indian society. This column presents an economic explanation for this persistence and argues that economic development rather than social engineering may be the most effective way to dismantle this system.
Why does caste continue to play such an important role in Indian life? One explanation is that ancient inequities and prejudices are slow to change. The higher castes, which exploited the lower castes for centuries, continue to discriminate against them both socially and economically today. A second explanation, which has been the subject of intense public debate, is that caste reservation in higher education and the government has served to perpetuate a system that would otherwise have withered away. While these explanations for caste-persistence are clearly potentially salient, I focus on a third explanation that has received relatively little attention. This explanation, which synthesizes research I have conducted in rural and urban India over the past 15 years, is based on the many forms of economic support that the caste provides to its members.
Kaivan Munshi completed his B.Tech. in Civil Engineering from IIT Bombay in 1986 and his Ph.D.in economics from MIT in 1995. He is currently professor of economics at Brown University. Munshi’sresearch career has been devoted almost exclusively to the analysis of social networks. His early research focused on social learning in the adoption of agricultural and contraceptive technology, and the identification of migrant labor market networks. His subsequent research has examined the effect of networks on education, health, and mobility, which are key determinants of growth and development. Much of this research has been situated in India, where caste is a natural social domain around which networks are organized. However, other work has been situated in diverse locales, including Kenya, Bangladesh, and the United States. » continue reading
in Others: By DIANE ACKERMAN
I’ve always loved scuba diving and the cell-tickling feel of being underwater, though it poses unique frustrations. Alone, but with others, you may share the same sights and feelings, but you can’t communicate well.
There are few ways to convey joy, amazement or thrill. How many divers know American Sign Language? The vocabulary of scuba talk is small and inadequate, circling around the transactional analyst’s bywords, I’m O.K. Are you O.K.? One can also signal: I’m in trouble, I’m low on air, I’m going to surface, Look at that, I’m cold, Danger over there, My ears haven’t pressurized, Stay where you are — but little more.
“Isn’t that fish on the rock face spending his whole life guarding a minute territory mind-blowing?” is just as unsayable as “I’ve got to go to the toilet.” Or “My throat feels parched from the wheeze of the regulator.” Or “Those brown angelfish are hanging like flak in the water.”
I think some people may dive, in part, for the thick layers of quiet and the luxury of not having to converse.
Once, offshore in Jamaica, I swam through a variety of vividly colored fish, including some I’d never seen before, and was so spellbound that one hand automatically touched my chest and my eyes teared. My guide’s eyes questioned me through the fishbowl of his face mask. There was no way to signal that I wasn’t hurt or frightened, but jubilant, merely glad to the brink of tears. How do you scuba-sign wonder? » continue reading
in Others: By DAMIEN CAVE and HWAIDA SAAD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dozens of bodies, possibly more than 200, were found Saturday in a town outside Damascus, raising the specter of a massacre by Syrian troops as bad as any atrocity committed since the Syrian uprising began nearly 18 months ago.
The circumstances and number of deaths in the town, a suburb named Daraya, could not be confirmed independently, and the reported death toll varied.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group with a network of activists inside Syria, said early Saturday that there were 40 to 50 bodies, while another activist organization, the Local Coordination Committees, raised the toll to more than 200 that night.
The latter group said its activists found one mass body dump after another. They posted two videos showing what they said were different groups of victims; in one a series of charred bodies could be seen wrapped in blankets; in another, a far larger group of bodies — more than 150, according to the video’s narrator — had been lined up together in a dark area of what was said to be a local mosque. » continue reading
in Others: By JENNA WORTHAM
ONE recent sweltering afternoon, a friend and I trekked to a new public pool, armed with books, sunglasses and icy drinks, planning to beat the heat with a swim. But upon our arrival, we had an unwelcome surprise: no cellphones were allowed in the pool area.
The ban threw me into a tailspin. I lingered by the locker where I had stashed my phone, wondering what messages, photos and updates I might already be missing.
After walking to the side of the pool and reluctantly stretching out on a towel by the water, my hands ached for my phone. I longed to upload details and pictures of my leisurely afternoon, and to skim through my various social networks to see how other friends were spending the weekend. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some barbecue or summer music festival that we should be heading to instead. » continue reading
in Others: By DAVID EWING DUNCAN
SINCE 1900, the life expectancy of Americans has jumped to just shy of 80 from 47 years. This surge comes mostly from improved hygiene and nutrition, but also from new discoveries and interventions: everything from antibiotics and heart bypass surgery to cancer drugs that target and neutralize the impact of specific genetic mutations.
Now scientists studying the intricacies of DNA and other molecular bio-dynamics may be poised to offer even more dramatic boosts to longevity. This comes not from setting out explicitly to conquer aging, which remains controversial in mainstream science, but from researchers developing new drugs and therapies for such maladies of growing old as heart disease and diabetes. » continue reading
in Others: AMERICA is not an easy place for atheists. Religion pervades the public sphere, and studies show that non-believers are more distrusted than other minorities.
Several states still ban atheists from holding public office. These rules, which are unconstitutional, are never enforced, but that hardly matters. Over 40% of Americans say they would never vote for an atheist presidential candidate.
Yet the past seven years have seen a fivefold increase in people who call themselves atheists, to 5% of the population, according to WIN-Gallup International, a network of pollsters. Meanwhile the proportion of Americans who say they are religious has fallen from 73% in 2005 to 60% in 2011.
Such a large drop in religiosity is startling, but the data on atheists are in line with other polling. A Pew survey in 2009 also found that 5% of Americans did not believe in God. But only a quarter of those called themselves atheists. The newest polling, therefore, may simply show an increase in those willing to say the word. » continue reading
in Others: by JIM YARDLEY
ISHWARDI, Bangladesh — The air thickened with tear gas as police and paramilitary officers jogged into the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone firing rubber bullets and swinging cane poles. Panicked factory workers tried to flee. A seamstress crumpled to the ground, knocked unconscious by a shot in the head.
Dozens of people were bloodied and hospitalized. The officers were cracking down on protests at two garment factories inside this industrial area in western Bangladesh. But they were also protecting two ingredients of a manufacturing formula that has quietly made Bangladesh a leading apparel exporter to the United States and Europe: cheap labor and foreign investment.
Both were at stake on that March morning. Workers earning as little as $50 a month, less than the cost of one of the knit sweaters they stitched for European stores, were furious over a cut in wages. Their anger was directed at the Hong Kong and Chinese bosses of the two factories, turning a labor dispute into something potentially much larger. » continue reading
in Others: by HOLLAND COTTER
‘Candid,’ Photos by Homai Vyarawalla, at Rubin Museum
The Indian photographer Homai Vyarawalla, who died in January at 98, spoke many times, with undiminished regret, of two opportunities missed.
On Jan. 30, 1948, she left her home in New Delhi intending to film the elderly Mohandas K. Gandhi at his daily prayer meeting at Birla House in the city. Something distracted her, and she turned back. If she had continued on, she would have witnessed, and probably documented, Gandhi’s assassination.
Two weeks later she traveled with a party of international journalists to Allahabad to photograph the immersion of Gandhi’s ashes at the confluence the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. At the last minute the boat assigned to reporters and photographers got stuck on a sandbar. The immersion went on without them. Again, she didn’t get the shot. » continue reading
in Others: by DWIGHT GARNER
In the spring of 1983, Esquire convened what it called a revenge symposium. The editors asked a group of well-known writers to “let go unbridled comments” on their harshest and least favorite critics. The results were spectacular.
Jim Harrison called his detractors “tweed fops” and “snack-food artists.” Roy Blount Jr. declared about Larry McMurtry, who panned one of his books: “I hear he is absurdly, egregiously — especially in a cowboy hat — short.” Erica Jong recalled that Paul Theroux, while reviewing her novel “Fear of Flying,” referred to her as a “mammoth pudenda.” (Actually he was referring to the novel’s main character.) She replied: “Since Mr. Theroux has no personal acquaintance with the organ in question, I cannot help but wonder whether some anxieties about his own anatomy were at the root (as it were) of his review.” » continue reading
in Others: By ALEX STONE
SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.
Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.
So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero. » continue reading
in Others: by CHARLES M. BLOW
Shady money, voter suppression, shifting positions, murky details and widespread apathy.
If there is a road map for a Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan win in November, that’s it. Distasteful all.
As The New York Times reported this week, Paul Ryan made the trip on Tuesday to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has pledged to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. No reporters were allowed in, of course.
As The Times’s editorial page pointed out on Friday:
“Last year, his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, announced that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — specifically, that it bribed Chinese officials for help in expanding its casino empire in Macau. Later, the F.B.I. became involved, and even Chinese regulators looked askance at the company’s conduct, fining it $1.6 million for violating foreign exchange rules, The Times reported on Monday.”
There was a saying I heard growing up in Louisiana: “Bad money doesn’t spend right.” » continue reading
in Others: By REVATI LAUL
Perhaps idealism, conscience and a keen sense of righteous rage are not enough. Perhaps intransigent ego — even a modicum of megalomania, a small zone of blindness — are necessary traits in a would be revolutionary. How else can one make the leap and believe powerful vested structures can be overthrown overnight and supplanted with one’s own?
At THiNK — TEHELKA’s event in Goa — last year, there was one man international guests like The New York Times columnist Tom Freidman and astronomer Mike Brown wanted to meet more than any other. A short, stout, earnest man in trademark loose grey pants and chequered shirt. And an even more trademarked earnest face. A man around whom zealous crowds had swelled last year, teeming seas of humanity, shouting anti-corruption slogans in ‘I’m Anna’ caps. All along though, it was clear to everyone that the real face of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement wasn’t Anna Hazare. It was Arvind Kejriwal. Anna was the mascot. Arvind was the architect. » continue reading
in Others: By JENNIFER BURNS
Palo Alto, Calif.— EARLY in his Congressional career, Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin representative and presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, would give out copies of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents. He described the novelist of heroic capitalism as “the reason I got into public service.” But what would Rand think of Mr. Ryan?
While Rand, an atheist, did enjoy a good Christmas celebration for its cheerful commercialism, she would have scoffed at the idea of public service. And though Mr. Ryan’s advocacy of steep cuts in government spending would have pleased her, she would have vehemently opposed his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy. She would have denounced Mr. Ryan as she denounced Ronald Reagan, for trying “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.” » continue reading
in Others: By Jane Mayer
With the choice of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney adds more to the Republican ticket than youth, vigor, and the possibility of carrying Wisconsin—he also adds the ghostly presence of the controversial Russian émigré philosopher and writer Ayn Rand.
Although she died thirty years ago, Rand’s influence appears on the rise on the right. As my colleague Ryan Lizza noted in his terrific biographical Profile of Ryan, Rand’s works were an early and important influence on him, shaping his thinking as far back as high school. Later, as a Congressman, Ryan not only tried to get all of the interns in his congressional office to read Rand’s writing, he also gave copies of her novel “Atlas Shrugged” to his staff as Christmas presents, as he told the Weekly Standard in 2003. » continue reading
in Others: by NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE
What happened that night in Abbottabad.Shortly after eleven o’clock on the night of May 1st, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters lifted off from Jalalabad Air Field, in eastern Afghanistan, and embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Inside the aircraft were twenty-three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani-American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo—a Belgian Malinois—were also aboard. It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters’ pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, flew without lights over mountains that straddle the border with Pakistan. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft.
Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters ducked into an alpine valley and slipped, undetected, into Pakistani airspace. For more than sixty years, Pakistan’s military has maintained a state of high alert against its eastern neighbor, India. Because of this obsession, Pakistan’s “principal air defenses are all pointing east,” Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani Army and the author of “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within,” told me. Senior defense and Administration officials concur with this assessment, but a Pakistani senior military official, whom I reached at his office, in Rawalpindi, disagreed. “No one leaves their borders unattended,” he said. Though he declined to elaborate on the location or orientation of Pakistan’s radars—“It’s not where the radars are or aren’t”—he said that the American infiltration was the result of “technological gaps we have vis-à-vis the U.S.” The Black Hawks, each of which had two pilots and a crewman from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or the Night Stalkers, had been modified to mask heat, noise, and movement; the copters’ exteriors had sharp, flat angles and were covered with radar-dampening “skin.” » continue reading
in Others: by Anastasia Tsioulcas
Opera: the stuff of passion, fury, sorrow and … disquisitions on jurisprudence?
Maybe, if a panel discussion at the just-finished annual meeting of the American Bar Association is to be believed. Called “Arias of Law: The Rule of Law at Work in Opera and the Supreme Court,” the session, which was created and moderated by Craig Martin of Jenner & Block LLP, featured U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Anthony Freud, general director of Chicago’s Lyric Opera; and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. » continue reading
in Others: by ANON
On my way back from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, dreaming of the day that Delhi would one day host the Commonwealth Games, I ran into Sebastian Coe, now organising the London Olympics, when he had a hurried breakfast with Rajiv Gandhi and I in the first-class lounge at Changi airport. Later, when we became friends after our regular lunches together every Davos, we would laugh about our first meeting. I was a young patrakaar then, and arrogant as our fraternity is, especially if you are from Haryana, where Coe’s maternal grandmother was also born. So I took my heart in my hands, as I had at the Battle of Jaffna. Coeji, I asked him, why can India win no golds? “Shekhar”, he said - he always called me “Shekhar” - “It is because your jholawallas have not let you reform and open your retail sector to foreign investment ”
Editorial in The Hindu
Already at the top of the gold-medal tally, the People’s Republic of China has once again demonstrated the folly of a de-stabilising alliance with the United States of America, on the assumption that the US’ dominance of the world order will continue forever. Although the structure of the Olympics is hopelessly biased towards the West, with few of the People’s Republic’s indigenous sports represented - such as the traditional folk game of Stone-the-Corrupt-CounterRevolutionary-Running-Dog - the wisdom of international multi-polarity has been on display in London. India, too, disadvantaged by the absence of native Tamil-Brahmin sports like chess, would do well to learn from China instead of following the discredited Anglo-American approach
Is it any wonder that we cannot hold our head up at the Olympics? It is because of the emasculation of India by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Nehru despised competition, meaning that he stifled India’s entrepreneurs and its athletes. Today, Sonia Gandhi has shown herself completely out of touch with new India, which is no longer satisfied with a bronze or two. Her cultural alienation is at fault. Someone from the Italian countryside who wears her mother-in-law’s sarees so unadorned cannot understand India’s civilisational yearning for gold
Gold. What a word it is - round, weighty, Western. Gold is what India’s obscenely rich, in their comfortable Jor Bagh enclaves and their forest houses in Pachmarhi, strive for. Their veins run not with the red of the working man, but the Gold of the indolent, slim-wristed rentier. In the holiest place of post-liberalisation India, the stratified hell that is Gurgaon - where multi-storeyed buildings crush beneath their layers the hovels of those that clean twelfth-floor bathrooms and wash seventeenth-floor windows with water stolen from indigenous tribes - there stands a mall devoted only to Gold.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his 30-page letter to the Minister of Sports of the newly-formed state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, said that one day he hoped the Olympics would come to an Indian city, “and the Olympiad would bring with it the breath of Greek civility and French science that have given life to this United Nations of Sport in which assembly the deathless and eternal Indian nation will one day, inevitably, find its voice”. Nehru’s bright vision was undermined by the failure of the Indian state to broaden the appeal of sport, which I will explore in my forthcoming seven-volume work “A Corner of a Domestic Field”. This is in spite of the centrality of sport to pre-Independence political activity, a fact glossed over by the indolent Bengalis who have produced our official histories. It is a little-known fact that the last London Olympics, but a year after Independence, featured members of the Congress Azaadi Ki Daur Dal, which had been trained in long-distance marching by Gandhi himself
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
There are 12 essential paradoxes to the Olympics. First, it speaks in a forked tongue: claiming a Kantian spirit of universality when it exalts in fact the particular and the parochial, the Nietzschian Übermensch. Second, it is a playground sanctified to the politics of the individual. In its motto, the current of liberalism, the freedom to be higher, stronger, faster, is reinforced. But it has been made, by the malign intervention of successive forms of identity politics, into a location of ever increasing division. Third, it is both the ultimate stronghold of the worship of the West and the site of its greatest challenges
Of all the Olympic cafeterias at which I have eaten, the best was at Barcelona in 1992. I, together with Sam Pitroda and MJ Akbar, remember eating there the best seafood paella I had tasted till I finally visited Ferran Adria’s famous restaurant on the Catalonian cliffs. Beijing, in 2008, overawed with its 72 giant cafeterias each serving a different national cuisine, and its heavy breakfast of Peking Duck - renamed Revolutionary Duck of the Glorious Peaceful Rise - but it failed to throw into the shade Atlanta 1996, where competitive eating practically became a gold-medal sport, won naturally by the Americans. In London, it has become clear to me that the best curries and kebabs are now not available in Old Delhi, but in the East End
Young India wants golds. I get countless letters from MBAs, engineering students and marriageable girls asking me why, if little countries like Surinam can win golds, that Rahul Gandhi does not care that India does not win any? And is there anything we can do about it? One of the problems is that we educated people are not going into sports like we should, leaving it to illiterates and tribals. Nothing prepares you for the tough competition of the Olympics like success in the IIT exam » continue reading
in Others: by M. B., New York
“SHUT up a minute,” Gore Vidal told William F. Buckley, junior, during a famously heated exchange on ABC television. The news programme was covering the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where police violently clashed against anti-war protestors. But Buckley continued comparing the war’s opponents, who included Vidal, to Nazi appeasers. Vidal retaliated with “the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Furious, Buckley called Vidal “queer” and threatened to “sock [him] in the goddamn face.”
Seen in isolation, this exchange can seem depressingly familiar: two political adversaries shouting past each other (albeit with some unusually harsh language) as they play to their respective ideological bases. But step back a bit and it becomes clear just how alien their testy debate is. » continue reading
in Others: by A. R. | Banyan
HERE is a paradox. India churns out lots of brainboxes, including clever economists who thrive at home and abroad. Almost anywhere in the world you can drop into a bookshop, an international development institution, a university or a prospering company and likely as not be confronted by bright Indians offering sharp analyses of how best to fight poverty, create wealth and promote innovation. Yet the performance of the Indian economy itself, over the decades, fell well behind (most of) the rest of Asia.
Despite even the rapid expansion of the past 20 years, India still endures high rates of poverty that Asia, by and large, has long left behind. Surprisingly few Indian politicians, officials, or press folk show much interest in getting to grips with economic questions. Even now, with growth sliding to a worrying 5% or so, public debate on economic matters is limited to a narrow field. » continue reading
in Others: By Neha Thirani
Jyoti Gupta, age 8, had never been inside a classroom when she started at the Sitaram Mill Compound Mumbai Public School this past June.
When she started, she was a very naughty and unresponsive child, her teachers say. She routinely disobeyed teachers and ignored homework assignments. After six months of regularly attending the school, however, Jyoti has learned how to read and write basic English words and is now one of the brightest and most motivated students in her class, they say. » continue reading
in Others: By Samnath Subramanian | 30 December 2011
Even Mohandas K. Gandhi, the architect of the Indian obsession with the hunger strike, did not always succeed in his fasts — although success was, admittedly, measured by Mr. Gandhi’s own standards.
He considered, for instance, a 1918 fast in Ahmedabad a moral failure. He had stopped eating in solidarity with striking mill workers, and three days into his fast, the factory owners agreed to raise worker wages by 35 percent. » continue reading
in Others: By JON PARELES
It’s not the ball drop, but for tens of thousands of people, Phish’s annual run of shows at Madison Square Garden, which winds up on New Year’s Eve, is the more significant year-end event in Manhattan. Always an immediate sellout (but still available for pay per view at livephish.com), the concerts are both a tradition and a challenge. Phish has to provide its familiar joys but vary them enough to surprise fans who are obsessively meticulous tabulators.
Thursday night’s concert was Phish in crowd-pleasing mode: uptempo, playing familiar songs and ready to keep fans dancing — never getting too abstract or experimental. Its two sets were both CD-length, just under 80 minutes each, with the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup” as a splashy, gospelly encore.
This was the Phish that’s so light-fingered that its remarkable musicianship is often taken for granted; after all, things just keep bubbling along. The camaraderie of musicians who have been playing together since 1983 (with two major breaks) was acted out in the way each player’s improvisations peeked out and then tucked themselves back into the band. » continue reading
in Others: By NAMINI WIJEDASA
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—THE Sri Lankan government’s defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009 ended a three-decade war that took tens of thousands of lives. But only now is the government beginning to acknowledge its huge human cost. Two weeks ago, a government-appointed reconciliation commission released a long-awaited report, giving voice to the war’s civilian victims for the first time.
From August 2010 to January 2011, hundreds of people appeared before the commission in tears, begging for news of their loved ones, many of whom had last been seen in the custody of security forces. A doctor spoke of how they managed to survive under deplorable conditions in places “littered with dead bodies and carcasses of dying animals.” » continue reading
in Others: By Vikas Bajaj and Jim Yardley | 30 December 2011
HYDERABAD, India — For more than two decades, M. A. Hakeem has arguably done the job of the Indian government. His private Holy Town High School has educated thousands of poor students, squeezing them into cramped classrooms where, when the electricity goes out, the children simply learn in the dark.
Parents in Holy Town’s low-income, predominantly Muslim neighborhood do not mind the bare-bones conditions. They like the modest tuition (as low as $2 per month), the English-language curriculum and the success rate on standardized tests. Indeed, low-cost schools like Holy Town are part of an ad hoc network that now dominates education in this south Indian city, where an estimated two-thirds of all students attend private institutions. » continue reading
in Others: By Anahad O’Connor | 29 December 2011
It is not hard to argue that we live in a youth-centric culture, one in which young age and beauty are almost synonymous. And that obsession does not end with humans. Puppies and kittens melt hearts; images and videos of baby animals flood the Internet. But rarely does an image of an animal in old age ignite the same interest and adoration.
In an unusual project, Isa Leshko, a fine-art photographer who lives in Philadelphia, set out to capture glimpses of animals at a time when they rarely attract much admiration or media attention — in their twilight years. The photographs, part of a series called “Elderly Animals”, are intimate and at times gripping. In one, a thoroughbred horse named Handsome One, age 33, stands in a stable, his hair wispy and his frame showing signs of time. In another, a pair of Finn sheep at the advanced age of 12 embrace as an elderly couple on a park bench might. And in another, a geriatric chow mix named Red lies with his paw under his chin, the signs of glaucoma apparent in his onyx-colored eyes. » continue reading
in Others: By Pico Iyer
ABOUT a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began — I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign — was stillness.
A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”
Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.
Has it really come to this?
In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight. » continue reading
in Others: By Tara Parker-Pope 28 December 2011
For 15 years, Joseph Proietto has been helping people lose weight. When these obese patients arrive at his weight-loss clinic in Australia, they are determined to slim down. And most of the time, he says, they do just that, sticking to the clinic’s program and dropping excess pounds. But then, almost without exception, the weight begins to creep back. In a matter of months or years, the entire effort has come undone, and the patient is fat again. “It has always seemed strange to me,” says Proietto, who is a physician at the University of Melbourne. “These are people who are very motivated to lose weight, who achieve weight loss most of the time without too much trouble and yet, inevitably, gradually, they regain the weight.” » continue reading
in Others: By Catherine Rampell
Workers are dropping out of the labor force in droves, and they are mostly women. In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives to get more education. There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.
“I was working part-time at Starbucks for a year and a half,” said Laura Baker, 24, who started a master’s program in strategic communications this fall at the University of Denver. “I wasn’t willing to just stay there. I had to do something.” » continue reading
in Others: By Nate Chinen
Sam Rivers, an inexhaustibly creative saxophonist, flutist, bandleader and composer who cut his own decisive path through the jazz world, spearheading the 1970s loft scene in New York and later establishing a rugged outpost in Florida, died on Monday in Orlando, Fla. He was 88.
The cause was pneumonia, his daughter Monique Rivers Williams said.
With an approach to improvisation that was garrulous and uninhibited but firmly grounded in intellect and technique, Mr. Rivers was among the leading figures in the postwar jazz avant-garde. His sound on the tenor saxophone, his primary instrument, was distinctive: taut and throaty, slightly burred, dark-hued. He also had a recognizable voice on the soprano saxophone, flute and piano, and as a composer and arranger. » continue reading
in Others: LONDON — It would be Europe’s worst nightmare: after weeks of rumors, the Greek prime minister announces late on a Saturday night that the country will abandon the euro currency and return to the drachma.
Instead of business as usual on Monday morning, lines of angry Greeks form at the shuttered doors of the country’s banks, trying to get at their frozen deposits. The drachma’s value plummets more than 60 percent against the euro, and prices soar at the few shops willing to open. » continue reading
in Others: By John Markoff
More than 70 years ago, the M.I.T. electrical engineer Harold (Doc) Edgerton began using strobe lights to create remarkable photographs: a bullet stopped in flight as it pierced an apple, the coronet created by the splash of a drop of milk.
Now scientists at M.I.T.’s Media Lab are using an ultrafast imaging system to capture light itself as it passes through liquids and objects, in effect snapping a picture in less than two-trillionths of a second.
The project began as a whimsical effort to literally see around corners — by capturing reflected light and then computing the paths of the returning light, thereby building images coming from rooms that would otherwise not be directly visible. » continue reading
in Others: By Vikas Bajaj | 30 November 2011
NEW DELHI — Every three months, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, meets with a special panel assigned the ambitious task of figuring out how to produce 500 million skilled workers over the next two decades.
The panel is a cross section of India’s power elite, including many of the usual figures like the education minister, the finance minister and the former chief executive of the country’s biggest software outsourcing company. Then there is a more curious choice: Manish Sabharwal.
Mr. Sabharwal runs TeamLease, a Bangalore-based agency that has created thousands of jobs by fielding temporary workers for companies in India that want to expand their work force while skirting India’s stringent labor laws, which businesses say discourage the hiring of permanent employees. Many labor leaders and left-leaning politicians accuse him of running the nation’s largest illegal business.
He does not completely disagree.
“We should not exist,” Mr. Sabharwal, a 40-year-old graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said about his company, which has 60,000 employees. “The genius of India is to allow us to exist.” » continue reading
in Others: By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI — Talk about outsourcing.
At a sprawling manufacturing complex here, hundreds of Chinese laborers are now completing work on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Next month, the last four of more than two dozen giant steel modules — each with a roadbed segment about half the size of a football field — will be loaded onto a huge ship and transported 6,500 miles to Oakland. There, they will be assembled to fit into the eastern span of the new Bay Bridge. » continue reading
in Others: by George Packer
In the fall of 2003, Anil Kumar, a senior executive with the consulting firm McKinsey, and Raj Rajaratnam, the head of a multibillion-dollar hedge fund called Galleon, attended a charity event in Manhattan. They had known each other since the early eighties, when, as recent immigrants, they were classmates at the Wharton School of Business, in Philadelphia. Their friendship, intermittent over the years, was based on self-interest rather than on intimacy. Kumar, born in Chennai, formerly Madras, India, was fastidious and morose, travelling at least thirty thousand miles a month for work, and seldom socializing. Rajaratnam, a Tamil from Colombo, Sri Lanka, was fleshy and dark-skinned, with a charming gap-toothed smile and a sports fan’s appetite for competition and conquest. Kumar was not among the group whom Rajaratnam took on his private plane to the Super Bowl every year for a weekend of partying. “I’m a consultant at heart,” Kumar liked to say. “I’m a rogue,” Rajaratnam once said. Kumar had the more precise diction and was better educated, but Rajaratnam was one of the world’s new billionaires and therefore a luminary among businessmen from the subcontinent. In an earlier generation of immigrant financiers, Kumar would have been the German Jew, Rajaratnam the Russian. Kumar might have felt some disdain for Rajaratnam, but Rajaratnam’s fortune made him irresistible. » continue reading
in Others: By JAMES PARCHMAN
MURIDKE, Pakistan.—HERE on the historic Grand Trunk Road, some 40 miles north of Lahore and a few hours south of the former Bin Laden hideout of Abbottabad, a mosque’s call to Friday afternoon prayers was overwhelmed by Pakistani pop music spilling from open-air markets. The barks of bus conductors calling out destinations added to the din. » continue reading
in Others: Ed Pilkington in New York
Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child. Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death – they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence. » continue reading
in Others: By NORIMITSU ONISHI
SHIKA, Japan — Near a nuclear power plant facing the Sea of Japan, a series of exhibitions in a large public relations building here extols the virtues of the energy source with some help from “Alice in Wonderland.” » continue reading
in Others: By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and MICHAEL BARBARO
ALBANY — Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born. » continue reading
in Others: By MARK ADAMS
AS we neared the end of a very long climb up a very steep ridge, my guide, John Leivers, shouted at me over his shoulder. “It’s said that the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, but I disagree,” he said. I caught up to him — for what seemed like the 20th time that day — and he pointed his bamboo trekking pole at the strangely familiar-looking set of ruins ahead. “It’s this place they never found.” » continue reading
in Others: By Andrew Buncombe
It was the writer and activist Arundhati Roy who set foreign journalists in India busily chattering recently. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, Ms Roy was discussing the Maoist and Adavasi “resistance” to encroachment on tribal lands. Mr Moss, asked her why, “we in the West don’t hear about these mini-wars?”. Ms Roy replied: “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.” » continue reading
in Others: by William Dalrymple
Last week William Dalrymple bid farewell to his friend, mentor, and hero, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Here he remembers one of the world’s greatest writers—and a British hero.
They buried Patrick Leigh Fermor in the soft green turf of a Cotswold graveyard on a cloudy Thursday afternoon. In the church, a wonderfully abstruse reading from the Restoration mystic Sir Thomas Browne was read out by Paddy’s friend and executor, the travel writer Colin Thubron: “But the Quincunx of Heaven runs low,” he intoned, “and ‘tis time to close the five ports of knowledge; we are unwilling to spin out our awaking thoughts into the phantasmes of sleep, which often continueth præcogitations; making Cables of Cobwebbes and Wildernesses of handsome Groves.”
Also see: Telegraph obituary; 2008 book review by Dalrymple in the Telegraph » continue reading
in Others: by Yasmine El Rashidi
The forty-year-old Virgin Mary Church on Cairo’s al-Wahda Street—the name means unity, or oneness—looks striking these days. Its cream and white façade is unscathed by the dust and smog that otherwise blanket neighboring buildings and the rest of the city, and inside, its walls and floors glisten with newly laid cappuccino-colored marble. The church, its guardians say, has never looked better. “Ever, in its entire history.” » continue reading
in Others: WITH a mere circling wave of His Hand, Sai Baba could make objects materialise out of the air. Gold rings, amulets and necklaces; blocks of sugar candy; images of Shiva made of topaz and sapphire; bottles of tonic and packets of blue pills; rosaries, silver vessels and even medallions inscribed with the name of the recipient, the day and date. He could produce vibhuti too, holy Ash that poured from under His fingernails. On average a pound a day flowed from Him as He gave darshan, allowing His followers a sight of God as He moved among them, a tiny ochre-robed figure with an immense black afro, or halo, of hair. The Ash might be salty or sweet, blackish or white. Smeared on the body, it forgave sins; taken in water, it helped digestive complaints. » continue reading
in Others: BY JAMISON FIRESTONE
If there remains any pretense that justice and rule of law exist in Moscow today, that notion should now be counted as pure fantasy. The case of Sergei Magnitsky — a senior partner at my law firm who was imprisoned, tortured, and murdered after his efforts to shed light on a massive governmental fraud by Interior Ministry officials stealing subsidiaries of my client’s company, the Hermitage Fund, and the $230 million of taxes they had paid — has illuminated the cruelty and criminality of Russian legal enforcement. And new evidence released last week on YouTube as part of the broad campaign seeking justice for Sergei, goes even further — exposing the blatant theft, impunity, and ill-gotten gains of senior Russian tax officials who were complicit in the fraud and subsequent murder of my colleague. » continue reading
in Others: By HIROKO TABUCHI and KEITH BRADSHER
TOKYO — Japan has raised its assessment of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the worst rating on an international scale, putting the disaster on par with the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, meanwhile, called on the country to rebuild. While acknowledging the decision to raise the severity of the nuclear accident at Fukushima to the highest level, he took pains in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday evening to say that the reactors were being stabilized and to emphasize that radiation releases are declining.
The prime minister said he had ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of Fukushima Daiichi, to present its plans and expectations for the stricken nuclear power plant. He also expressed concern about the economic consequences of the accident, calling on people across Japan to continue buying products from the affected areas of northeast Japan. » continue reading
in Others: By Alison Flood
Banned in Ireland when it first appeared in 1932, and removed from shelves and objected to ever since, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is still making waves today. The novel of a dystopian future was one of the most complained about books in America last year, with readers protesting over its sexually explicit scenes, “offensive” language and “insensitivity”.
The American Library Association (ALA) has just released its list of the 10 books which Americans tried hardest to ban last year. Topped yet again by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three, a picture-book telling the true story of a chick adopted by two male Emperor penguins at New York’s Central Park zoo, the list is a compilation of complaints made to libraries and schools requesting a book be banned because of its content. Dozens of attempts were made to remove And Tango Makes Three from library shelves, said the ALA, with those seeking to ban the title protesting at the “homosexuality” of the two penguins and its “religious viewpoint”. » continue reading
in Others: By HIROKO TABUCHI and KEITH BRADSHER
TOKYO—Japan is preparing to expand the evacuation zone around a crippled nuclear power plant to address concerns over long-term exposure to radiation, the government announced on Monday.
Thousands of people bowed their heads in silence at 2:46 p.m., marking the passage of exactly one month since a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami brought widespread destruction to a wide swath of Japan’s northeast Pacific coast.
The mourning was punctuated by another strong aftershock off Japan’s Pacific coast, which briefly set off a tsunami warning, killed at least one person and knocked out cooling at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant for almost an hour, underscoring the vulnerability of the plant’s reactors to continuing seismic activity. » continue reading
in Others: By Carol J. Williams
A federal appeals court panel ruled Monday that a 2008 deal between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and three former Harvard colleagues is valid and enforceable.
The decision upheld a negotiated agreement between Zuckerberg and the founders of a rival social-networking site, ConnectU, in their dispute over who came up with the Facebook idea by giving Divya Narendra and Olympic rowing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss a share of the privately held company, deemed to be worth about $65 million at the time of the settlement three years ago. Because of Facebook’s soaring value, that share is now worth in excess of $160 million.
In the opinion from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote for the three-judge panel, he said: “The Winklevosses are not the first parties bested by a competitor who then seek to gain through litigation what they were unable to achieve in the marketplace. And the courts might have obliged, had the Winklevosses not settled their dispute and signed a release of all claims against Facebook.”
He concluded: “At some point, litigation must come to an end. That point has now been reached.” » continue reading
in Others: Shane Watson hit a record 15 sixes to guide Australia to a series-clinching nine-wicket win over Bangladesh in Mirpur. The 29-year-old, who also hit 15 fours, ended on 185 not out after smashing the most sixes ever in a one-day international innings as the tourists moved into an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Watson’s knock - which came from just 96 balls as his side chased down their 230 victory target with 24 overs to spare - was the highest one-day innings ever made by an Australian. He had earlier also taken two catches and a wicket as the hosts made 229 for seven. » continue reading
in Others: by Paul Krugman
What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?
I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.
His remarks after last week’s budget deal were a case in point.
Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve — although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions » continue reading
in Others: By Peter Roebuck
NOT even a week after the spectacular final of the 2011 World Cup, the cricketers are back among us, not wearing the colours of their country and playing 50-over cricket, but dressed in the apparently arbitrary attire of their Twenty20 franchises.
Of course, it is the future.
Cricket is finished as an international game. It faces a long and slow decline caused by an international cricket board that lacks vision and integrity, a board of knaves and fools that makes one-star decisions while staying in five-star hotels.
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Through no fault of the ICC’s admirable employees, cricket has become a corrupt and worthless activity and deserves nothing better than the Indian Premier League, a format known for jiggery pokery, social excesses and cosmetic grins. » continue reading
in Others: By Jonathan Jones
The Joan Miró exhibition at Tate Modern will draw attention, once again, to one of the 20th century’s most famous art movements: surrealism. As a young artist from Catalonia coming to Paris, home of the surrealist movement, Miró absorbed its ideas and became one of its most brilliant artists. In its time, surrealism was seen as amoral, disgusting and extreme because it claimed to make art from the stuff of dreams. Today it is celebrated as a living influence. But was surrealism an original art movement at all?
I think that far from being a revolutionary vision hatched out of the brain of its leader, André Breton, the surrealist movement was actually the last echo of a quest for the irrational that has roots deep in the 19th century. The surrealists themselves hinted at this by frequently citing influences such as art nouveau. But when you examine the sheer scale, and radical scope, of the 19th-century obsession with dreams, illicit sex, secret confessions and the collapse of reason, you have to wonder if the surrealist movement actually said anything new at all. » continue reading
in Others: Adam Wagner | Guardian | 8 April 2011
Is the master of the rolls Lord Neuberger the busiest judge in England? He has given another fascinating speech entitled Who are the masters now?
The question posed is paraphrased from one asked in parliament in 1946, itself paraphrasing Humpty Dumpty. Neuberger used the Lord Alexander of Weedon lecture to tackle the slippery issue of parliamentary sovereignty. So, who is the master: the unelected judge or the elected politician? » continue reading
in Others: By Janet Malcolm
The nine-part docu-series Sarah Palin’s Alaska, shown late last year on the cable channel TLC, has the atmosphere of a cold war propaganda film.1 It shows the Palin family during the summer of 2010, making happy trips to one pristine Alaskan wilderness area after another — fishing, hunting, kayaking, dogsledding, rock climbing — and taking repeated little swipes at the left. During a visit with her dad to a store in Anchorage named Chimo Guns, where she is buying a rifle for a camping trip in bear country, Palin remarks:
Out and about in Alaska’s wilds it’s more common than not to see somebody having some kind of weapon on their person, in fact it’s probably as commonplace as if you’re walking down in New York City and you see somebody with a Blackberry on their hip.
New York, of course, is code for all the things that Palin-style populism is against. I don’t have to tell my fellow Commies what these things are. …
Perhaps the most surreal episode of Sarah Palin’s Alaska is the one in which the TV celebrity Kate Gosselin appears and shamelessly upstages Palin. Gosselin has eight children — a pair of twins and sextuplets — who are the raison d’être of the TLC reality series originally called Jon and Kate Plus Eight, and renamed Kate Plus Eight when the pair split up. Palin has invited Gosselin and her children to join her family on a camping trip to a mountain lake in a remote wilderness area that can only be reached by seaplane, and the role she assigns to herself is that of protectress: she will prevent bears from eating her guests. At Chimo Guns, as she selects her purchase, she tells the salesman about the “gal who’s never camped before” who is “going to rely on me to protect her.” But the minute we lay eyes on Gosselin, we know that Palin herself may need protection from this small, pretty, powerfully unsentimental blond.
“Beautiful view,” Gosselin says in a deadpan voice, as she and her eight enter the Palins’ lakefront house in Wasilla, and adds, “There’s a bear on the floor. Did anyone notice?” The kids throw themselves on the bear rug and toss about a tongue that has fallen out of its taxidermed head. After telling them to put the tongue back, Gosselin looks into the bear’s glass eyes and says, “Is this really real? Like this was once walking outside?” Todd Palin says, “Yeah, Sarah’s dad shot this a few years ago.” Gosselin stares at the trophy with an expression of pain and disgust. » continue reading
in Others: Isabel Hilton | Guardian | 7 April 2011
Such a distortion of the judiciary means those who seek to protect their fellow citizens are now most at risk in China
When the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted to reporters in Beijing this week that “China is a country ruled by law”, and “other countries have no right to interfere” in the case of the detained avant-garde artist Ai Weiwei, there was a certain truth to his remarks. China is a country ruled by law. But this is quite different, as many victims of official corruption in China have discovered, from being a country in which the rule of law prevails.
The rule of law contains important principles: the law is supreme, and all have equal rights before it. The concept of rule by law was pioneered by one of China’s harshest imperial regimes, the shortlived but influential Qin dynasty, 2,000 years ago. The Qin emperor saw the law as an instrument of authoritarian rule, to be defined and used as he chose, and it is this tradition that appeals to the current Chinese leadership. » continue reading
in Others: Adam Shatz | 4 February 2011
Popular uprisings are clarifying events, and so it is with the revolt in Egypt. The Mubarak regime - or some post-Mubarak continuation of it - may survive this challenge, but the illusions that have held it in place have crumbled. The protests in Tahrir Square are a message not only to Mubarak and the military regime that has ruled Egypt since the Free Officers coup of 1952; they are a message to all the region’s autocrats, particularly those supported by the West, and to Washington and Tel Aviv, which, after spending years lamenting the lack of democracy in the Muslim world, have responded with a mixture of trepidation, fear and hostility to the emergence of a pro-democracy movement in the Arab world’s largest country. If these are the ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’, they are very different from those Condoleezza Rice claimed to discern during Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. » continue reading
in Others: India and the Naxalites
The Economist | 27 January 2011
Convicting a human-rights activist for sedition does India’s image no favours
HE WAS accused of being a Naxali daakiya—a postman for the Naxalites, India’s leftist terror movement. Binayak Sen, a 61-year-old doctor and rights activist, was a frequent visitor to a jail in Chhattisgarh where he tended, among many others, to an elderly inmate, said to be a Naxalite leader. The visits were official: he visited the jail as a leader of a local civil-liberties group. Then in May 2007, after his 33rd visit in 18 months, the police arrested the doctor and charged him with sedition and helping a banned group.
The case looked flimsy, resting on the claim that Dr Sen has carried messages to other Maoists (as the Naxalites are also known). He denies it. The jailers, who had sat in on the 33 meetings, testified that nothing had been couriered. An unsigned letter, said to be from the leftists and thanking the doctor for help, which the police claimed they had found at his house, was the hardest piece of evidence on offer. The Bengali doctor, pointing to a dodgy paper trail, said that was planted. » continue reading
in Others: Daniel Robinson | 21 January 21
A SNOW-WHITE fortress in the style of the English Renaissance, garnished with crenellations, pepper pot turrets and an octagonal keep, is not quite what you’d expect to find on a steamy bluff overlooking an equatorial river in Malaysian Borneo. But Fort Margherita, built in 1879 by Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, is just one of the many charms of Kuching, a gracious and kaleidoscopically diverse city of about 600,000 just an hour and a half by air from Singapore. » continue reading
in Others: Brad Adams | 23 January 2011
Do good fences make good neighbours? Not along the India-Bangladesh border. Here, India has almost finished building a 2,000km fence. Where once people on both sides were part of a greater Bengal, now India has put up a “keep out” sign to stop illegal immigration, smuggling and infiltration by anti-government militants.
This might seem unexceptional in a world increasingly hostile to migration. But to police the border, India’s Border Security Force (BSF), has carried out a shoot-to-kill policy - even on unarmed local villagers. The toll has been huge. Over the past 10 years Indian security forces have killed almost 1,000 people, mostly Bangladeshis, turning the border area into a south Asian killing fields. No one has been prosecuted for any of these killings, in spite of evidence in many cases that makes it clear the killings were in cold blood against unarmed and defenceless local residents » continue reading
in Others: Amy Thomas | 9 February 2011
Toss a praliné truffe in any direction in Paris, and you’ll hit a chocolatier, whether an award-winning master or a modest neighborhood peddler. But lately the city seems particularly cuckoo for cocoa, as a new breed of chocolate artisans has opened up salons, boutiques and bars all over the city.
Pierre Cluizel, son of the master chocolatier Michel Cluizel, recently opened Un Dimanche à Paris, his sprawling chocolate concept store occupying three addresses in a historic back alley in Saint Germain des Pres. In the boutique, you can buy bonbons by the piece, chocolate by the block or baked goods ranging from macarons to éclairs to chocolate chip cookies, all of it made with white, milk or dark chocolate. Past the glass-walled pastry kitchen — where you can watch desserts being whipped, mixed and baked — is a restaurant and decadent salon de thé, and upstairs is a kitchen offering workshops. » continue reading
in Others: Ian Johnson | 5 February 2011
As US-backed strongmen around North Africa and the Middle East are being toppled or shaken by popular protests, Washington is grappling with a crucial foreign-policy issue: how to deal with the powerful but opaque Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt, the Brotherhood has taken an increasingly forceful part in the protests, issuing a statement Thursday calling for Mubarak’s immediate resignation. And though it is far from clear what role the Brotherhood would have should Mubarak step down, the Egyptian president has been claiming it will take over. In any case, the movement is likely to be a major player in any transitional government.
Journalists and pundits are already weighing in with advice on the strengths and dangers of this 83-year-old Islamist movement, whose various national branches are the most potent opposition force in virtually all of these countries. Some wonder how the Brotherhood will treat Israel, or if it really has renounced violence. Most—including the Obama administration —seem to think that it is a movement the West can do business with, even if the White House denies formal contacts. » continue reading
in Others: Christian Caryl | 13 January 2011
WikiLeaks changes everything. We can act as if the old standards of journalism still apply to the Internet, but WikiLeaks shows why this is wishful thinking. On November 28 the Internet organization started posting examples from a cache of 251,287 formerly secret US diplomatic cables. The few thousand journalists in this country who regularly track the State Department’s doings would have needed a couple of centuries to wheedle out this volume of information by traditional methods; the linkage of disparate government computer networks (a well-meaning response to the compartmentalization of data in the pre-September 11 period) apparently allowed one disgruntled Army private to pull it off in a few moments. As WikiLeaks itself boasts, this is “the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.”
The scale is unprecedented. So, too, is the intent—or, more precisely, the lack thereof. Raffi Khatchadourian on the New Yorker website speculates that the aim of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “is not to reveal a single act of abuse , but rather to open up the inner workings of a closed and complex system, to call the world in to help judge its morality.”1 This may indeed be Assange’s vision, but he doesn’t seem capable of articulating it himself. The WikiLeaks website contends that it’s out to expose “contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors” (as if a charge of hypocrisy were an adequate reason for exposing official secrets) and informs us that “every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington—the country’s first President—could not tell a lie.” » continue reading
in Others: Orhan Pamuk | 10 February 2011
In the schoolbooks I read as a child in the 1950s and 1960s, Europe was a rosy land of legend. While forging his new republic from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, which had been crushed and fragmented in World War I, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk fought against the Greek army, but with the support of his own army he later introduced a slew of social and cultural modernization reforms that were not anti- but pro-Western. It was to legitimize these reforms, which helped to strengthen the new Turkish state’s new elites (and were the subject of continuous debate in Turkey over the next eighty years), that we were called upon to embrace and even imitate a rosy-pink—occidentalist—European dream.
The schoolbooks of my childhood were texts designed to teach us why a line was to be drawn between the state and religion, why it had been necessary to shut down the lodges of the dervishes, or why we’d had to abandon the Arab alphabet for the Latin. But they were also overflowing with questions that aimed to unlock the secret of Europe’s great power and success. “Describe the aims and outcomes of the Renaissance,” the middle school history teacher would ask in his exam. “If it turned out we were sitting on as much oil as the Arabs, would we then be as rich and modern as Europeans?” my more naive classmates at the lycée would say. In my first year at university, whenever my classmates came across such questions in class, they would fret over why “we never had an enlightenment.” The fourteenth-century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun said that civilizations in decline were able to keep from disintegrating by imitating their victors. Because Turks were never colonized by a world power, “worshiping Europe” or “imitating the West” has never carried the damning, humiliating overtones described by Frantz Fanon, V.S. Naipaul, or Edward Said. To look to Europe has been seen as a historical imperative or even a technical question of adaptation. » continue reading
in Others: Tony Judt | 13 January 2011
The Way We Live Now
Railways have been declining since the 1950s. There had always been competition for the traveler (and, though less marked, for freight). From the 1890s horse-drawn trams and buses, followed a generation later by the electric or diesel or petrol variant, were cheaper to make and run than trains. Lorries (trucks)—the successor to the horse and cart—were always competitive over the short haul. With diesel engines they could now cover long distances. And there were now airplanes and, above all, there were cars: the latter becoming cheaper, faster, safer, more reliable every year.
Even over the longer distances for which it was originally conceived, the railway was at a disadvantage: its start-up and maintenance costs—in surveying, tunneling, laying track, building stations and rolling stock, switching to diesel, installing electrification—were greater than those of its competitors and it never succeeded in paying them off. Mass-produced cars, in contrast, were cheap to build and the roads on which they ran were subsidized by taxpayers. To be sure, they carried a high social overhead cost, notably to the environment; but that would only be paid at a future date. Above all, cars represented the possibility of private travel once again. Rail travel, in what were increasingly open-plan trains whose managers had to fill them in order to break even, was decidedly public transport. » continue reading
in Others: By HOLLAND COTTER10 February 2011
It’s 1912, and Pablo Picasso is in Paris, thinking: All right, what’s next?
A few years earlier he painted a killer picture, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” People had thrown up their hands in alarm; his friends hardly knew what to say. Energized by the fuss, he punched out variations on the theme: paintings of sharp-elbowed, wood-brown nude women, their bodies all ax-cut facets, set in pockets of shallow space.
He’d changed history with this work. He’d replaced the benign ideal of the Classical nude with a new race of sexually armed and dangerous beings. He’d made art as much a problem as a pleasure. At the same time he left fundamentals unchanged. The human figure remained sovereign, abstraction unexplored. Painting was still a reflection of the world we knew, not an alternative reality with laws of its own.
So there were further leaps to take. And Picasso had to ask himself how far he was willing to go.
Quite far, it turned out, and exactly how far is the subject of “Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914,” a subtly buzzing manifesto of an exhibition that opens Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s made up of 70 smallish, thematically related objects borrowed from hither and yon: paintings, drawings, collages and combinations thereof, along with two renowned sculptures, one seen complete for the first time since it left Picasso’s studio after his death. » continue reading
in Others: By JESSE McKINLEY | February 11, 2011
HONOLULU — In the annals of the sea, there were few sailors whose luck was worse than George Pollard Jr.’s.
Pollard, you see, was the captain of the Essex, the doomed Nantucket whaler whose demise, in 1820, came in a most unbelievable fashion: it was attacked and sunk by an angry sperm whale, an event that inspired Herman Melville to write “Moby-Dick.”
Unlike the tale of Ahab and Ishmael, however, Pollard’s story didn’t end there: After the Essex sank, Pollard and his crew floated through the Pacific for three months, a journey punctuated by death, starvation, madness and, in the end, cannibalism. (Pollard, alas, ate his cousin.)
Despite all that, Pollard survived and was given another ship to steer: the Two Brothers, the very boat that had brought the poor captain back to Nantucket.
And then, that ship sank, too. » continue reading
in Others: Vikas Bajaj | 11 February 2011
BAMNOD, India — The 50-year-old farmer knew from experience that his onion crop was doomed when torrential rains pounded his fields throughout September, a month when the Indian monsoon normally peters out.
For lack of modern agricultural systems in this part of rural India, his land does not have adequate drainage trenches, and he has no safe, dry place to store onions. The farmer, Arun Namder Talele, said he lost 70 percent of his onion crop on his five-acre farm here, about 70 miles north of the western city of Aurangabad. » continue reading
in Others: Tim Adams | 27 January 2011
“The thing about being a painter,” Andrew Vicari, who has claims to being the most lavishly rewarded painter in the world, was saying, “is that every night you go to bed thinking the work you have done that day is fabulous. And then you wake up the next morning and look at your canvas and think it is worthless, a piece of junk, and you start again.”
We were traveling on the upper deck of a double-decker bus along London’s Piccadilly in early December, on the way to meet the artist’s manager. Vicari, a heavyset man in a big coat, gestured outside in exaggerated despondency. “Sometimes I see pavement artists, working in chalk, work that the rain will wash away,” he said, “and I think: Is Vicari really any better than any of them?” He looked me in the eye, clutched my arm. “I mean, am I?” » continue reading
in Others: MUSIC seemed to require him to use every part of his body. From a slow, mesmerised, almost motionless start his eyes would roll upwards, foreshadowing the ascent of the notes that emerged from his distended, gaping mouth. His hands flailed, as though reaching for some imagined object just out of his grasp. Perhaps Bhimsen Joshi was trying to bring back to earth a soaring note from one of his magnificent taans, the series of rapid melodic passages with which great classical singers in the Hindustani tradition of northern India demonstrate how skilled they are.
Few could sing them like he could, his sonorous voice ranging effortlessly over three octaves as he explored the nuances of ragas—Indian music’s tonal settings for improvisation and composition, each associated with a season or a time of day. Yet those who packed concert halls to listen to him sing, as Indians did for over six decades, rarely mentioned his technique. Instead, they would talk about how he had made them feel, on a night long ago at the Dover Lane music conference in Calcutta, or under a tent in the grounds of Modern School on New Delhi’s Barakhamba Road, when he sang a raga of the monsoon—and suddenly the skies were full of thundering black rainclouds, even though it was bone dry and bitterly cold.
It was on nights like these that Indians fell in love with this strange man, whose contortions defied the best efforts of those in charge of microphone placement. For nobody could match the extraordinary ability of Bhimsen—always Bhimsen to his listeners—to capture the essential character of a raga, whether playful or grave, and send audiences out into the night humming, with the music under their skin, almost stunned with the force of something they could not quite comprehend. » continue reading
in Others: The Economist | 27 January 2011
WHEN Michael Tilson Thomas was a boy growing up in Los Angeles, the young Frank Gehry sometimes acted as his babysitter. Since then Mr Gehry has become one of the world’s most famous architects and Mr Thomas a prominent conductor, and the two have remained friends. Now they have collaborated. On January 25th Miami unveiled the latest addition to its fast-improving cultural scene. The New World Centre, a gorgeous new concert hall designed by Mr Gehry, staged its first concert the following night with Mr Thomas conducting works by Wagner and Copland.
See also the New York Times article. The photograph is from the NYT piece. » continue reading
in Others: Celia McGee | 28 January 2011
Princeton, N.J.—SCRATCH most architecture wonks, and at some point they’ve studied the house that Michael Graves began creating for himself here in 1969. A 1920s furniture storehouse remade to evoke a Tuscan villa, it sits as solidly in the canon as it rests in the Italianate grounds he laid out around this laboratory for the classically inflected ideas, forms and design vocabulary that helped make his name. It has been widely covered, visited and debated. Every room, niche and cranny, which helped give shape to the movement that became postmodernism, has been photographed. » continue reading
in Others: Ellen Barry | 21 January 2011
KIEV, Ukraine. — IT has become difficult to locate Aleksei Plutser-Sarno.
As a police dragnet closed around Voina, the radical Russian art collective that he belongs to, Mr. Plutser-Sarno stopped using cellphones out of fear they would alert the police to his whereabouts, resorting to Skype and, sometimes, letters hand-delivered by intermediaries.
When pressure from the police is high, he tries not to spend two consecutive nights at the same place, and he will concoct elaborate diversions — once he gave a flurry of interviews saying he was in Estonia while simultaneously posting blog entries from Tel Aviv, another place where he was not.
Interviewing Mr. Plutser-Sarno this month required waiting at the foot of a statue of an 18th-century Ukrainian philosopher for a young woman in a blue coat, who examined passports and led a circuitous walk to his location. Though no one mentioned it at the time, the philosopher was Hryhorii Skovoroda, and his epitaph read, “The world tried to catch me, but it did not succeed.”
If it sounds like a game, there is a good reason for it. For three years, Voina, which means war, has been playing cat-and-mouse with Russian law enforcement, staging street actions that ranged from the obscure (throwing live cats at McDonald’s cashiers) to the monumental (a 210-foot penis painted on a St. Petersburg drawbridge, so that it rose up pointing at the offices of the F.S.B., the security service).
Last September, Voina launched its most audacious project: “Palace Revolution,” which involved running up to parked police cars and flipping them over — a commentary, the group explained, on police corruption. » continue reading
in Others: Elisabeth Rosenthal | 21 January 2011
KINANGOP, Kenya — Simon Joakim Kiiru remembers a time not long ago when familiar birdsongs filled the air here and life was correlated with bird sightings. His lush, well-tended homestead is in the highlands next to the Aberdare National Park, one of the premier birding destinations in the world.
When the hornbill arrived, Mr. Kiiru recalled, the rains were near, meaning that it was time to plant. When a buzzard showed a man his chest, it meant a visitor was imminent. When an owl called at night, it foretold a death. » continue reading
in Others: Tony Judt | 23 December 2010
More than any other technical design or social institution, the railway stands for modernity. No competing form of transport, no subsequent technological innovation, no other industry has wrought or facilitated change on the scale that has been brought about by the invention and adoption of the railway. Peter Laslett once referred to “the world we have lost”—the unimaginably different character of things as they once were. Try to think of a world before the railway and the meaning of distance and the impediment it imposed when the time it took to travel from, for example, Paris to Rome—and the means employed to do so—had changed little for two millennia. Think of the limits placed on economic activity and human life chances by the impossibility of moving food, goods, and people in large numbers or at any speed in excess of ten miles per hour; of the enduringly local nature of all knowledge, whether cultural, social, or political, and the consequences of such compartmentalization.
Above all, think of how different the world looked to men and women before the coming of the railways. In part this was a function of restricted perception. Until 1830, few people knew what unfamiliar landscapes, distant towns, or foreign lands looked like because they had no opportunity or reason to visit them. But in part, too, the world before the railways appeared so very different from what came afterward and from what we know today because the railways did more than just facilitate travel and thereby change the way the world was seen and depicted. They transformed the very landscape itself. » continue reading
in Others: Leo Steinberg | 3 December 2010
Jubilation is the dominant mood when- and wherever a Christo/Jeanne-Claude project is realized. I have witnessed it time and again—32 years ago, in Loose Park, Kansas City, overlooking its Wrapped Walk Ways, every inch of the winding itinerary paved with bright clinquant stuff, of which Christo remarked: “When the sunlight falls on that nylon and sets it sparkling, it’s very beautiful.” He saw no need to boast about cheerful families bestriding the luster under their feet as if walking on air.
Joy hailed the Surrounded Islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami, May 1983: eleven small isles, each in its private hug, embraced by the scandalous pink of buoyant industrial fabric.
Or, more recently in Central Park, Manhattan (2005): abundance of Gates, waving their saffron scarves, 7,503 of them, erected to host processions of walkers, whose glee reminded ambulant seniors of the smiles that lit up this same city on V-E Day, 1945—except that the present fête needed no losing side.
For half a century now, I have wondered what it is in the actuality of a Christo/Jeanne-Claude project that generates such civic felicity. Let me try again. » continue reading
in Others: I arrived in Rangoon at the beginning of the monsoon this summer after 36 hours of travel from New York, with a stop in Tokyo and a second change of planes in Bangkok. There I boarded an old Air Myanmar jet, and it was immediately clear that I was traveling to a country that lived in semi-isolation as the plane filled with migrant workers, many of whom were awkwardly toting large, makeshift bundles of carry-on goods—clothing, medicine, electronics, and other items that were either unavailable or unaffordable back home. » continue reading
in Others: Elizabeth Drew | 22 November 2010
After an election, there’s inevitably a variety of pronouncements of politicians on what they “heard the voters say.” They and the various pundits largely “hear” an echo of their own previously held views and find vindication of their particular hobbyhorses. It’s a subjective and self-serving exercise.
There’s also the question of how representative the electorate of 2010 was: Was it the sign of things to come, or was it an aberration? The Democratic consultant Geoff Garin said in an interview, “The idea that these voters represent the center of gravity in this country is not correct, because the 2010 electorate didn’t represent the full range of American voters: it’s very different from the electorate of 2006.” By several accounts, it was older, whiter, and more conservative than the usual electorate. » continue reading
in Others: Born in 1930, the American artist Peter Winslow Milton creates monochromatic and black-and-white drawings, etchings and engravings of astonishing realism. His work has the quality of the old large format cameras—enormous depth of field and exquisite sharpness throughout the frame. Thematically, the work ranges from architecture and architectural history to mythology, frequently melding several elements in one. In some works, there is a telescoping of time into a single, apparently transient, moment.
Milton graduated Yale University’s Master of Fine Art program in 1961. His work is in the collection of most major museums, notably the the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the British Museum and the Tate Gallery, London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. » continue reading
in Others: Christian Caryl | 7 December 2010
WikiLeaks changes everything. We can act as if the old standards of journalism still apply to the Internet, but WikiLeaks shows why this is wishful thinking. On November 28—as pretty much anyone who has the capacity to read this should know by now—the Internet organization started posting examples from a cache of 251,287 formerly secret US diplomatic cables. The few thousand journalists in this country who regularly track the State Department’s doings would have needed a couple of centuries to wheedle out this volume of information by traditional methods; the linkage of disparate government computer networks (a well-meaning response to the compartmentalization of data in the pre-9/11 period) apparently allowed one disgruntled Army private to pull it off in a few moments. As WikiLeaks itself boasts, this is “the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.” » continue reading
in Others: By THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE | November 26, 2010
DAWEI, MYANMAR — The vast, pristine stretch of coastline here is almost deserted, save for fishermen hauling their bountiful catches onto white-sand beaches. But a deal signed this month would transform these placid waters into a seaport for giant cargo ships. Cashew nut groves and rice fields would be plowed under and replaced with a warren of factories, refineries and an expansive coal-burning power plant.
Myanmar, which is run by a repressive military regime that controls both economic and political life, recently captured the world’s attention with its first elections in two decades and the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leading dissident, from house arrest.
But the Dawei Development Project, as it is known, could have as much of an impact on Myanmar’s future as the decades-old political chess games between the military and its opponents — and perhaps more. » continue reading
in Others: By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL | December 10, 2010
KRISTIANSTAD, Sweden — When this city vowed a decade ago to wean itself from fossil fuels, it was a lofty aspiration, like zero deaths from traffic accidents or the elimination of childhood obesity.
But Kristianstad has already crossed a crucial threshold: the city and surrounding county, with a population of 80,000, essentially use no oil, natural gas or coal to heat homes and businesses, even during the long frigid winters. It is a complete reversal from 20 years ago, when all of their heat came from fossil fuels.
But this area in southern Sweden, best known as the home of Absolut vodka, has not generally substituted solar panels or wind turbines for the traditional fuels it has forsaken. Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines. » continue reading
in Others: by John Paul Stevens | December 2010
Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition
by David Garland
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 417 pp., $35.00
Ken Light/Contact Press Images
David Garland is a well-respected sociologist and legal scholar who taught courses on crime and punishment at the University of Edinburgh before relocating to the United States over a decade ago. His recent Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition is the product of his attempt to learn “why the United States is such an outlier in the severity of its criminal sentencing.” Thus, while the book primarily concerns the death penalty, it also illuminates the broader, dramatic differences between American and Western European prison sentences. » continue reading
in Others: by Hari Kunzru | 25 November 2010
I had to mention the VS Naipaul Islam row in my address to the European Writers’ Parliament, even though others seem to be shying away from politics
I’m writing from the first commission session of the European Writers’ Parliament in Istanbul, while one of my colleagues expounds on his relationship to the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. When I was first invited, my imagination conjured a series of occupation-specific European institutions - a doctor’s parliament, a parliament for firemen, for painters Sadly, it seems we’re the only such institution in existence. The EWP was started on the initiative of José Saramago and Orhan Pamuk, as a way for writers to come together and discuss our shared problems and concerns. Or talk about ourselves. One or the other. Which of the two paths we will choose remains in doubt right now. I’m hoping we manage to get down to business. » continue reading
in Others: By CELIA W. DUGGER | November 17, 2010
JOHANNESBURG — When he was only in his 20s Ernest Cole, a black photographer who stood barely five feet tall, created one of the most harrowing pictorial records of what it was like to be black in apartheid South Africa. He went into exile in 1966, and the next year his work was published in the United States in a book, “House of Bondage,” but his photographs were banned in his homeland where he and his work have remained little known.
In exile Mr. Cole’s life crumbled. For much of the late 1970s and 1980s he was homeless in New York, bereft of even his cameras. “His life had become a shadow,” a friend later said. Mr. Cole died at 49 in 1990, just a week after Nelson Mandela walked free. His sister flew back to South Africa with his ashes on her lap.
Mr. Cole is at last having another kind of homecoming. The largest retrospective of his work ever mounted is now on display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, built in the neo-Classical style almost a century ago in an era when South Africa’s great mining fortunes were being made on the backs of black labor. It is a collection of images that still possesses the power to shock and anger. » continue reading
in Others: By Seth Sherwood | November 17, 2010
BEIRUT, Lebanon.—WHEN Lina Shammaa first saw the town house here that would become her home, it was a bullet-riddled wreck on the former Green Line, a street dividing the Muslim and Christian sides of Beirut during the civil war that ravaged Lebanon from 1975 to 1990.
“It was a pile of rubble,” Ms. Shammaa, 50, a jewelry designer, said recently while sipping espresso in the soaring white living room of her 10,000-square-foot stone house.
“When I first visited the place,” 10 years ago, she continued, “there were half-broken doors that said, ‘Visits are 15 minutes only, please.’ “
The three-story house had been split into four apartments, which she believes were used by prostitutes. “It was a hotel for hookers.” » continue reading
in Others: Bryan Appleyard | 24 January 2010
The essays, like his conversation and, indeed, his novels, are models of clarity, care and thoughtfulness. They are the product of a western-educated mind, but are suffused with an Igbo sensibility. Proverbs abound, as well as a sense of surrounding divinities. He concludes with a Bantu saying: “A human is a human because of other humans.”
Achebe has just started a new novel, and he’s moving to Brown. He bears his age and his handicap with astonishing lightness, perhaps because of the first thing he said to me — he has noticed, with age, that both the Igbo religion and language seem to be reasserting themselves. It is a confusing consolation. “Maybe as one grows older, or for some other reason, there are moments in one’s life when the things I liked, rejected or feared as a child come back and regain some of the energy they seemed to have lost between childhood and now, and my own position becomes a little confusing…”
He struggles to pull on an anorak as I go to look for the man who will wheel him away. The man appears, then, haloed by divinities, Chinualumogu Achebe is gone. No story ever really ends. » continue reading
in Others: John Feffer | Posted: November 8, 2010 02:19 PM
As long as our unfinished wars still burn in the collective consciousness — and still rage in Kabul, Baghdad, Sana’a, and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan — Islamophobia will make its impact felt in our media, politics, and daily life. Only if we decisively end the millennial Crusades, the half-century Cold War, and the decade-long War on Terror (under whatever name) will we overcome the dangerous divide that has consumed so many lives, wasted so much wealth, and distorted our very understanding of our Western selves. » continue reading
in Others: Salil Tripathi | LiveMint 12 November 2010
And I’d see the landscape as nature had intended. And if there were gods, this is what they saw, how they saw, the earth beneath those green meadows, snow-capped mountains, clear skies and the deep blue lake. It seemed so perfect—palpable and momentary, making me feel it would always be like this—heavenly, cloudless, without tumult. Occasionally my friend Javed would join me, with his girlfriend of the season, and other friends he knew at his college in England, and my friends from America would come, and we’d trek those hills, our backpacks light, our concerns minimal, our cares none. I often carried my Walkman, but instead of listening to the sounds alone, I’d turn on the speaker, and with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Ravi Shankar’s Megh Malhar as my calling card, I’d make friends with kindred souls—from New Zealand, from Denmark—exchange addresses at youth hostels at night, hoping that one day we might meet again. We had our lives in front of us; we had our resolves, our plans. We had seen the sun that calmed, the moon that mellowed, the stars that we thought would guide us. » continue reading
in Others: By SHARON LaFRANIERE and DAN LEVIN | Published: November 11, 2010
LOUHE, China — Xu Lindong, a poor village farmer with close-cropped hair and a fourth-grade education, knew nothing but decades of backbreaking labor. Even at age 50, the rope of muscles on his arms bespoke a lifetime of hard plowing and harvesting in the fields of his native Henan Province.
But after four years locked up in Zhumadian Psychiatric Hospital, he was barely recognizable to his siblings. Emaciated, barefoot, clad in tattered striped pajamas, Mr. Xu spoke haltingly. His face was etched with exhaustion.
“I was so heartbroken when I saw him I cannot describe it,” said his elder brother, Xu Linfu, recalling his first visit there, in 2007. “My brother was a strong as a bull. Now he looked like a hospital patient.”
Xu Lindong’s confinement in a locked mental ward was all the more notable, his brother says, for one extraordinary fact: he was not the least bit deranged. Angered by a dispute over land, he had merely filed a series of complaints against the local government. The government’s response was to draw up an order to commit him to a mental hospital — and then to forge his brother’s name on the signature line. » continue reading
in Others: By JIM YARDLEY | Published: November 6, 2010
NEW DELHI — At a panel discussion last week on relations between India and the United States, Strobe Talbott, the former American diplomat, told an audience of Indian business leaders that he had learned a valuable lesson about India: Do not hyphenate it. As in Indo-Pak. (Or, in a close cousin of a hyphen, as in Chindia.) The audience smiled at his epiphany: India matters because it is India.
In a nutshell, President Obama is trying to deliver the same message during his three-day visit to India, the first stop on a broader Asian tour. Both countries are eager to build on their improved ties and set up a unique, special relationship, given that together they represent the world’s richest and largest democracies. Faced with a rising authoritarian China, and an economically wounded Europe, a weakened United States is casting about for global partners. India would seem a nice fit.
“This is the time to be ambitious about this relationship,” said Shivshankar Menon, India’s national security adviser, speaking on the panel with Mr. Talbott. » continue reading
in Others: By JIM YARDLEY | Published: November 6, 2010
NEW DELHI — Not long after Barack Obama was elected president, the United States Embassy in India printed a postcard showing him sitting in his old Senate office beneath framed photographs of his political heroes: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and the great Indian apostle of peace, democracy and nonviolent protest, Mohandas K. Gandhi.
The postcard was a trinket of public diplomacy, a souvenir of the new president’s affinity for India. Now that Mr. Obama is visiting India for the first time, on a trip pitched as a jobs mission, his fascination with Gandhi is influencing his itinerary and his message as he tries to win over India’s skeptical political class.
“He is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” the president wrote in a guest book on Saturday in Gandhi’s modest former home in Mumbai, now the Mani Bhavan museum. » continue reading
in Others: By MICHAEL WINES | Published: November 5, 2010
BEIJING — A phalanx of Beijing police officers confined the prominent artist and activist Ai Weiwei to his north Beijing home on Friday, a move he suggested came at the behest of unnamed but powerful political figures in Shanghai who feared that he was about to embarrass them.
If so, they were correct.
Mr. Ai had planned to fly to Shanghai on Friday to prepare a Sunday goodbye party at his million-dollar art studio meant to draw attention to its pending destruction. In telephone interviews this week, Mr. Ai said he built the studio only after Shanghai officials, on a campaign to burnish the city’s cultural credentials, implored him to. But in July, they ordered the finished building demolished at the command of anonymous higher-ups. » continue reading
in Others: By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF | Published: November 6, 2010
In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie.
But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home — and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, it may get worse.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. » continue reading
in Others: By ANDREW C. REVKIN | November 5, 2010
A pair of energy and development specialists from the mayors’ offices in New York City and Los Angeles are going global.
Jay Carson, a former deputy Los Angeles mayor and aide to both Clintons, and Rohit Aggarwala, the former chief sustainability advisor to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, are going to work for C40 Cities, a coalition of cities in rich and developing countries working to initiate and share ways to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and boost resilience to impacts of climate change.
Aggarwala noted that cities are natural hubs for initiatives that use energy more sparingly and move people more efficiently through transportation options involving feet, bicycles or mass transit. … “A city is inherently more transit oriented and walkable than a suburb,” Aggarwala said. “You’re going with the grain of urbanization.” » continue reading
in Others: By RACHEL DONADIO | Published: November 4, 2010
CÓRDOBA, Spain— The great mosque of Córdoba was begun by the Muslim caliphs in the eighth century, its forest of pillars and red-and-white striped arches meant to convey a powerful sense of the infinite. With the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 13th century, it was consecrated as a cathedral.
Today, signs throughout this whitewashed Andalusian city refer to the monument, a Unesco World Heritage site, as the “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba. But that terminology is now in question. Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.
His friend Celestino González from Málaga disagreed. “It’s a mosque,” Mr. González said, pointing to the Islamic architecture. “I’m not practicing, and I don’t see any problem in combining the two names. For me it’s the same thing.”
As Conchi Bello stood in the doorway to her house nearby, she said the debate was purely academic. “For us, for everyone in Córdoba, it’s normal to give tourists directions to the mosque,” Ms. Bello said. “We’re not offended. On the contrary, it’s a nice example of the history of our land.” » continue reading
in Others: By A. G. SULZBERGER | Published: November 3, 2010
DES MOINES — An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state was celebrated by conservatives as a popular rebuke of judicial overreach, even as it alarmed proponents of an independent judiciary.
The outcome of the election was heralded both as a statewide repudiation of same-sex marriage and as a national demonstration that conservatives who have long complained about “legislators in robes” are able to effectively target and remove judges who issue unpopular decisions. » continue reading
in Others: By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | Published: October 30, 2010
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, Tanzania — Every spring, out here on this endless sheet of yellow grass, two million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and other grazers march north in search of greener pastures, with lions and hyenas stalking them and vultures circling above.
It is called the Great Migration, and it is widely considered one of the most spectacular assemblies of animal life on the planet.
But how much longer it will stay that way is another matter. Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, plans to build a national highway straight through the Serengeti park, bisecting the migration route and possibly sending a thick stream of overloaded trucks and speeding buses through the traveling herds. » continue reading
in Others: 28 October 2010 | SALIL TRIPATHI
“Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian Government has accepted this.”
These words may exasperate an Indian nationalist, but they are hardly unusual, and if they are considered inflammatory and capable of inciting hatred, then something is indeed rotten in the state of India. » continue reading
in Others: By KATE ROSS | Published: October 27, 2010
PARIS — It might seem to be a futuristic scene like the one depicted in Kevin Reynolds’s 1995 movie “Waterworld.” But floating pavilions and cities may in fact help communities adapt to the effects of climate change, as well as meet the challenges of ever-rising real estate prices and congestion in urban areas.
From single homes to office blocks and even roads, the construction of floating cities could make low-lying nations habitable amid dramatically rising sea levels and storm surges, according to DeltaSync, a design and research company that specializes in floating urbanization. » continue reading
in Others: By PAOLA SINGER | Published: October 27, 2010
PARIS.—THE French describe love at first sight as a coup de foudre, or a lightning bolt. That’s what Charles and Julie Carmignac said they felt in the summer of 2009, when they first saw the house they now share in the 14th Arrondissement on this city’s lower Left Bank.
“We were totally captivated,” said Mr. Carmignac, 32, a member of the folk-rock band Moriarty. “It had a crazy charm and a beauty that left us breathless.” » continue reading
in Others: By Edwin Heathcote | Published: October 22 2010
Books, like bricks, are a basic element of architecture. I wasn’t quite aware of this until I viewed a couple of properties recently and was struck, and appalled, by the lack of books. No books. Not one. The otherwise impeccable interiors seemed painfully incomplete. Bereft.
At the exact moment that the book would seem to be in the greatest danger in its history, threatened by e-books and a proliferation of disposable gadgets, the book’s very old technology seems at its most attractive - and its most physical. E-readers may be able to convey content but they leave no physical trace. Once the machine is turned off or fails, the knowledge disappears. They are resolutely not a part of the architecture but rather of the increasingly messy landscape of stuff. Libraries and bookstacks have always been a physical and aesthetic manifestation of knowledge, of the world informed by reading and, consequently, a way of reading the inhabitant. There is more information to be gleaned about the occupant of a house from what is on the shelves than from the furniture or the food. Books, or the lack of them, form an almost perfect mirror of concerns and character. » continue reading
in Others: By LYDIA POLGREEN | Published: October 23, 2010
AURANGABAD, India — For decades this central Indian city was vintage old India: crumbling Mughal-era ruins and ancient Buddhist caves surrounded by endless parched acres from which farmers coaxed cotton.
But this month Aurangabad became an emblem of an altogether different India: the booming, increasingly urbanized economic powerhouse filled with ambition and a new desire to flaunt its wealth.
A group of more than 150 local businessmen decided to buy, en masse, a Mercedes-Benz car each, spending nearly $15 million in a single day and putting this small but thriving city on the map. Frustrated that the usual Chamber of Commerce brochures were slow to attract new investment, the businessmen decided to buy the cars as a stunt intended to stimulate investment in Aurangabad, one of several largely unknown but thriving urban centers across India’s more prosperous states. » continue reading
in Others: By JIM YARDLEY | Published: October 21, 2010
CALCUTTA — Lenin’s statue still rises near the center of the city, and portraits of Stalin and Marx still hang inside the biggest union hall. Anyone doubting the local political dominance — and cold war humor — of India’s Communists need only visit the street in front of the United States Consulate: It was long ago renamed for Ho Chi Minh.
In the past 33 years, India’s Communists have built a political dynasty here in the state of West Bengal, staging one of the most remarkable runs in any democracy by winning seven consecutive statewide elections. This would seem to be a ripe moment to expand their influence: India is a nation of deep inequities, with millions of destitute farmers and laborers disconnected from an increasingly capitalistic economy. » continue reading
in Others: By KEN MAGUIRE | Published: October 21, 2010
WASHINGTON — Sikhs in the United States expressed their frustration Thursday that President Obama would skip a tentatively planned visit to their holiest site in India, while advocacy groups called on the White House to reconsider.
Mr. Obama was expected to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, next month, but there were questions about how he would cover his head. Sikh tradition requires that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads before entering the spiritual center. The president, who is Christian, has fought the perception that he is Muslim. Sikhs are regularly mistaken for Muslims. » continue reading
in Others: Bulletin boards on the sleepy walls of village panchayat offices, rarely greeted with a glance, have started attracting a loyal audience in parts of Satara district over the last three years. That’s because boring pamphlets and notices have been plucked out to make way for a daily dose of toilet humour with unsavoury photographs of half-naked rich sugarcane farmers, businessmen and other villagers easing themselves in the open. The panchayat bulletin boards, one of the many innovative and potent weapons employed in the struggle for freedom from open defection under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), brought so much embarrassment to the exposed that they almost immediately sanctioned a home toilet. “Our work was to generate demand, create willpower to get home toilets built after shattering myths about toilets being an unnecessary luxury,” says Tukaram Garale, deputy CEO (Village Panchayat) who oversees the implementation of the center-run TSC in Satara under the banner of Sampoorna Swacchata Abhiyan. “We used all the methods we could imagine,” he says. » continue reading
in Others: Vir Sanghvi | Hindustan Times
Now that the Commonwealth Games have passed off without any major hitches we can all breathe sighs of relief. Thanks mainly to the public uproar that followed the revelations that preparations were shockingly behind schedule, the organisers (and the entire government of India) got their act together and delivered a Games that went off smoothly. But the big question remains: was it all worth it? Did the Games justify the heartache, the humiliation, the moments of panic, and the vast expense? » continue reading
in Others: By JOHN MARKOFF | Published: October 9, 2010
During a half-hour drive beginning on Google’s campus 35 miles south of San Francisco last Wednesday, a Prius equipped with a variety of sensors and following a route programmed into the GPS navigation system nimbly accelerated in the entrance lane and merged into fast-moving traffic on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley.
It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.
The car then drove in city traffic through Mountain View, stopping for lights and stop signs, as well as making announcements like “approaching a crosswalk” (to warn the human at the wheel) or “turn ahead” in a pleasant female voice. This same pleasant voice would, engineers said, alert the driver if a master control system detected anything amiss with the various sensors.
The car can be programmed for different driving personalities — from cautious, in which it is more likely to yield to another car, to aggressive, where it is more likely to go first. » continue reading
in Others: By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF | 8 October 2010
Some prominent climate scientists, like NASA’s James Hansen, think the safe threshold for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is no higher than 350 parts per million. Beyond this point, they say, we risk severe climatic consequences: melting ice caps and glaciers, rising seas, and a sharp increase in heat waves, droughts, crop failures and extreme weather events.
Of course, the world bid farewell to 350 p.p.m. more than 20 years ago and is cruising steadily toward 400 p.p.m.: last year, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii observed carbon dioxide concentrations above 390 p.p.m for the first time ever. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was 15 million years ago, scientists suggest.
But even as many policymakers now view halting carbon dioxide levels at 450 p.p.m as an ambitious if perhaps unrealistic goal, one leading climate activist group continues to make returning carbon levels to 350 p.p.m. its raison d’être. » continue reading
in Others: By Deepika Sorabjee 4 October, 2010
There is a singular, remarkable effort going on at Mumbai’s Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (BDL) in Byculla.
The oldest museum in Mumbai is restoring a tradition from a time when the posts of museum curator and Sir J.J. School of Art principal were held by the same person and works of artists from the school would be put on display at the museum.
In a rare public-private endeavor in the arts, Tasneem Mehta, the BDL’s honorary director, has revived the museum’s engagement with contemporary art in Mumbai and created a unique opportunity to see art of the present in an historic space.
Currently showing through October 31 is contemporary artist Sudarshan Shetty’s exhibition “this too shall pass.” It is the first of a series of exhibitions planned by the museum through a residency program that invites eminent artists who have studied at the Sir J.J. School of Art to work with the museum’s sumptuous space and legacy of historical objects. » continue reading
in Others: By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Published: September 25, 2010
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—Back in 2007, when the government here announced its plan for “the world’s first zero-carbon city” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, many Westerners dismissed it as a gimmick—a faddish follow-up to neighboring Dubai’s half-mile-high tower in the desert and archipelago of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees. » continue reading
in Others: By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: September 18, 2010
Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren. » continue reading
in Others: By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
OROSZLANY, Hungary. The European Commission is fighting a complicated battle against an influential but polluting industry. Above, Ferenc Rinyu, a miner at the Hungarian coal mine facing a shutdown. » continue reading
in Others: It’s incredible that in this day and age people still look at a tiger in the wild and don’t just feel awed but actually want to throw stones at it. If I believed in a god, I imagine he’d weep in shame at the two-legged monsters he created.
“What happened on that day is the result of a total militancy by villagers and NGOs who, instead of being sensitive towards the limitation of the department, not only obstructed them from working but also provoked the tiger by constantly pelting stones at it,” said R N Mehrotra, PCCF and Head of Forest Forces, Rajasthan. » continue reading
in Others: The fishermen of Bombay — the very people who were here first — are, like the poor everywhere in this country, being squeezed out, marginalized and ignored. The oil spill has hurt them most, and yet they are almost entirely ignored. » continue reading
Indian youth make a human pyramid to reach and break the ‘Dahi Handi,’ an earthen pot filled with yogurt, as they celebrate Janamashtami, the birth anniversary of Hindu God Krishna in Mumbai, India, August 22. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)
Indian Hindu priests hold a replica of the Cricket World Cup trophy during a special prayer organised to seek blessings of Hindu god Lord Ganesha for the victory of the Indian cricket team in the tournament, at the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai on Feburary 17, 2011. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)
in Society and Culture: How do you control a force of nature? When it is something that threatens the foundations of the world-as-we-knew-it, the sense of disorientation is immense. Next week, representatives of nearly 200 governments, telecom operators and Internet groups will meet in Dubai under the aegis of a United Nations agency, the International Telecommunication Union and, whether it is explicitly so stated or not, one underlying theme of that conference if of wide concern—controlling the Internet. This is an issue that didn’t matter as much 24 years ago at the last conference in 1988, for the Internet then wasn’t what it is now. » continue reading
in Society and Culture: It’s that time of year, two days when things should be different, when we should be different, a time that should be gentler, a time for friends and family and togetherness. It used to be that, once, in a time when we were younger and more innocent, when our cities and we were less vicious. It was a time for reaffirmation of old ties, of reparation of bonds severed, of forgiveness for wrongs done and imagined, a time for the many kindnesses that lent heft and meaning to saal mubarak. » continue reading
in Society and Culture: It was a typically squalid town in the heart of India’s cowbelt: the usual cats’ cradle of messed-up wiring, open sewers, cracked pavements, blaring horns, loudspeakers on every corner blaring something indecipherable, the air so thick with dust and grime and exhaust that even the sunlight seemed to have surrendered. I was here, against all better judgement, on a work trip and regretting every minute of it. Along the way, an unexpected possible refuge; inside, the bookshop was small and tired, pulp fiction potboilers and outdated magazines with curled covers, the paunchy proprietor, soaked in boredom, alternately picking his teeth with a matchstick and shouting at an assistant. On one shelf, facing out, was a thick book, its kitsch cover a challenge: buy me if you dare. » continue reading
in Society and Culture: In the summer of 1978, I took a train to Piparia in Madhya Pradesh. As far as I could tell, it was the middle of nowhere. I was straight out of school and was headed for a small village nearby. My parents had insisted I work for a few months with an NGO called Kishor Bharati which, with the Friends Rural Centre, had started a science teaching programme in rural Madhya Pradesh. » continue reading
in Society and Culture: I come from a family of migrants. My paternal grandparents were from Gujarat. My father’s younger brother was born in Karachi. On my mother’s side, the family is very distantly from Gujarat but more recently from Solapur. My mother’s sister lives abroad. My sister and I grew up in Bombay (not Mumbai). My sister and all (well, most; see the comment below) my cousins live abroad too. My wife’s father was a Gujarati from Varanasi, her mother is from Ahmedabad via Surat (or vice-versa). And for all of us, Mumbai (once Bombay) is home, though it is not the place from which we come. What are we in Mumbai but migrants? » continue reading
in Society and Culture: Harlan Ellison is an iconic writer of what has come to be known as speculative fiction—not quite science fiction, yet set in a cold-blooded and heartless future. Deathbird Stories, a collection first published in 1974, is something of a cult classic. Each story, superbly written, is horrifying. Ellison cautions readers not to attempt reading the entire book in one go. » continue reading
in Society and Culture: If the tragic death of Rouvanjit Rawla, a 13-year-old student of Kolkata’s La Martiniere for Boys, shows us anything it is this: that for all our gleaming buildings and six-lane expressways, we are still stuck in a time warp. It seems unbelievable that anyone, least of all the head of a school, should still believe that corporal punishment of students has value. » continue reading
A Bangladeshi garment worker lies crushed under the rubble 48 hours after the eight-story building collapse, April 26, 2013. At the disaster scene, where 304 have been found dead, exhausted teams of soldiers, firemen and volunteers continued to work through the mountain of mangled concrete and steel for a third day after staying on the job for a second straight night. Amid frustration about the slow pace of the efforts, thousands of anxious relatives burst onto the disaster site, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd. (Munir uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian Hindu Holy man gestures to well-wishers as he is carried down a trail during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)
Bernice Acosta and other enthusiast perform yoga in Times Square during an event marking the summer solstice on June 21, 2011 in New York City. Thousands of yogis will attend the free day-long event in Manhattan on the longest day of the year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A plume of ash, estimated six miles (10km) high and three mile wide is seen after a volcano erupted in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain, about 575 miles (920 km) south of the capital, Santiago June 4. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)
Hindu devotees have painted much of the town of Vrindavan — and themselves — red on March 21. The town, in Uttar Pradesh, India, is one of the cultural and religious centers of Hinduism and the site where one of the central figures of the religion, Krishna, grew up, according to tradition. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
Anti-government protesters and Egyptian Army soldiers on top of their vehicles, make traditional Muslim Friday prayers at the continuing demonstration in Tahrir Square, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)
Ski instructors with the Copper Mountain Ski and Ride School ski down the mountain into the village during the torchlight parade as part of the ski resort’s En Fuego Celebration at Copper Mountain, Colorado on Nov 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Summit Daily News, Mark Fox)
in Tiger: It took six hours to wound, maim and finally kill the tigress. She was already trapped in a net. The handful of forest officers present could not control the 5000-strong mob. The tigress, they said, had killed their cattle, and even a villager. And so they stoned and clubbed her to death. And then rejoiced in their bloodlust with a victory parade. » continue reading
in Tiger: The official report is so clinical and impersonal that one might be tempted to skim it and move on. That would be a mistake. Behind the dry words of the official report is the heart-rending tale of a monumental tragedy. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: This is a familiar sight. A police wagon rolls up. The street bursts into frenetic activity — shouts, calls, men running, wooden racks and trays being gathered and squirreled away into the some recess between buildings. The oddest things are flung into the police truck: pots, pans, shirts, pedestals, baskets, cutlery. It takes the better part of an hour, sometimes less, sometimes more, and then there is an unusual quiet to the street, a strange sense of space. It doesn’t last, of course; they are all soon back, later that day or the next or the day after. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: In the run up to Mumbai’s municipal elections, of the many to-be-left-unfufilled promises made by political parties, two were common: less corruption and more “infrastructure”. The latter, in our peculiar notion of what makes a ‘world-class’ city, only means more roads, more bridges. No one promised to make our city more liveable. In my constituency, apart from the familiar talk-to-the-hand and offerings for lotus-eaters, there were many odd symbols for candidates: a sewing machine, an LPG cylinder and something that looked like a pasta machine cross-bred with a meat grinder. Not one had a tree or anything that looked like it. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: Mumbai matters. How can it not? The sixth most populous city and one of the largest urban regions on the planet, it is home to over 20 million people. It’s a city that speaks over a dozen different languages, each one uniquely filtered, adapted and adopted: only here will you hear an irate bus conductor bellowing at a passenger “aage chal, khaali-peeli bichme khada hain khamba ke mafak” — an absolutely delicious phrase that melds Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Mumbai into one unmistakable linguistic bhel-puri that still gets the message across. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: Last Monday’s so-called “public hearing” on the Peddar Road flyover project seems to have been designed for failure. There is no logical reason why a large group of Nationalist Congress Party members should have felt it necessary to disrupt it — apart from the fact that the NCP controls the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, the project proponent. It’s unlikely that these fine, dedicated party workers will be found swanning back and forth along this road. The only reason why any road and bridge building contractor would love such a project is, of course, its monumental cost. There’s money to be made here, lots and lots of it. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: A few hundred yards down the road from Nana Chowk to Tardeo, next to Sunkersett Mansion on the road’s left, there stands a small temple. It has a handsome arched entrance and clear space on three sides. This is not one of the over-built modern temples that substitute spirituality with size and commerce; this is an old, quiet place of worship that appears ageless. It also looks like a last act of defiance against the towering monstrosities that surround it. A little further on is another, an agiary. That, too, has withstood the steady onslaught of commercial high-rise development. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: What kind of government, what kind of system allows suffering like this? Very early in Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram comes this reaction to a first view of Mumbai slums. It is a reaction fuelled by shame, guilt and rage, and it is the view of an outsider. We who live here have passed beyond such feelings. We simply do not even notice them any more. Perhaps this has to do with our ‘culture’ of the philosophical shrug and the always-reliable excuse of karma. But karma and justice are uneasy bedfellows. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: In Mumbai, we have become used to limiting our thinking of public open spaces to areas planned for public parks and gardens. To create a public open space out of abandoned, privately owned industrial infrastructure requires a leap of imagination. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: Last Tuesday, protesters from Vasai did the unthinkable: marching to South Mumbai from Vasai they diverted onto the Bandra Worli Sealink, otherwise closed to pedestrians, and so stormed a cars-only citadel. The police were unable to stop them. Questions were later raised about this act of “illegality”, but the comment from independent MLA Vijay Pandit, who led the march, provides another perspective. “Why should the Sea Link be only for rich people and their cars?” he asked, calling the Sea Link a rich people’s bastion. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: Part of the process of growing up is the recalibration of the dazzling career ambitions of childhood to far less glamorous endeavours. Few ever realize their dreams. Fewer still know exactly what they want to do when they grow up. Some dreams, like becoming a dentist, are unlikely. One thing no child ever dreams of being is an urban planner. » continue reading
in Urban Planning: On 1 September, Charles Correa turned 80. By any measure, it has been an extraordinary life, marked by uncommon professional success and international recognition as one of the great designers of the world. A week earlier, Ratan Tata released Correa’s new book, A Place in the Shade, a collection of essays and lectures spanning several decades and extending his previous book, The New Landscape. » continue reading
in Video: He sat quietly on the platform of the 42nd Street subway station, a haven for buskers of varying talent, this rumply, gray-mustachioed man, dressed in thick layers and a Yankees cap. From his shopping cart, which he had packed with two amplifiers, CDs of his music for sale and a plastic tip bucket, Geechee Dan cued his background music. (New York Times’ article video here)
As a disheveled man slumped near him on the crowded platform, and commuters peered occasionally into the tunnel hoping for a distant hint of an oncoming train, Geechee Dan, who is 72, started to sing. His voice broke through the rumble and swelled surprisingly; it turned the platform of the A, C and E trains into a musical nightspot. He started with the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” (“Every night, on my knees I pray,” he sang, and then he said in his smooth tenor: “Sometimes you got to get on your knees.”) He crooned, pleaded and growled for four hours, moving through such old-school rhythm-and-blues songs as Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved”; Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”; and Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” He remained seated with his arthritis, but he occasionally rocked from side to side, and shuffled his feet. …more » continue reading
in Video: Published on May 7, 2012
Palagummi Sainath, the 2007 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts, is an award winning Indian development journalist - a term he himself avoids, instead preferring to call himself a ‘rural reporter’, or simply a ‘reporter’ - and photojournalist focusing on social problems, rural affairs, poverty and the aftermaths of globalization in India. He spends between 270 and 300 days a year in the rural interior (in 2006, over 300 days) and has done so for the past 18 years. He is the Rural Affairs Editor for The Hindu, and the website India Together has been archiving some of his work in The Hindu daily for the past six years. His work has won praise from the likes of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen who referred him as “one of the world’s great experts on famine and hunger.” He is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts. » continue reading
in Video: Ohio really did go to President Obama last night. And he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is legitimately President of the United States. Again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math. And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing! And Benghazi was an attack ON us, it was not a scandal BY us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as Communism.
Listen. Last night was a good night for liberals and for Democrats for very obvious reasons. But it was also, possibly, a good night for this country as a whole. Because in this country we have a two party system, in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas, from both sides, about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff. And if the Republican party, and the conservative movement, and the conservative media is stuck in a vacuum sealed, door locked, spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good, and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived, as a nation, of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems.
Last night the Republicans got shellacked. And they had no idea it was coming. And we saw them, in real time, in real humiliating time, not believe it even as it was happening to them. And unless they’re going to secede, they’re going to have to pop the factual bubble they have been so happy living inside, if they do not want to get shellacked again. And that will be a painful process for them, I’m sure, but it will be good for the whole country - left, right, and center. You guys, we’re counting on you. Wake up. » continue reading
in Wildlife: My cousin, Aniruddh, a senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego has an ongoing love affair—with a sulfur-crested cockatoo. Aniruddh studies music, language and the brain. Two years ago, Aniruddh’s colleague introduced him to Snowball. He—Snowball—isn’t your garden-variety cockatoo. He has a very specific like, and it is, quite improbably, the Backstreet Boys’ song, Everybody. He dances to it. In an interview in June with the New York Times, Aniruddh spoke about his work (all cutting edge) and, specifically, Snowball. Throughout that interview, Aniruddh referred to Snowball by name, or as “the bird” or “he”. Never “it”. » continue reading
Simple and efficient, rail travel nonetheless inspires a sense of romance. By train, subway, and a seemingly endless variety of trams, trolleys, and coal shaft cars, we’ve moved on rails for hundreds of years. Industry too relies on the billions of tons of freight moved annually by rolling stock. Gathered here are images of rails in our lives, the third post in an occasional series on transport, following Automobiles and Pedal power. — Lane Turner
Commuters disembark from suburban trains during the morning rush hour at Churchgate railway station in Mumbai on July 11, 2012. (Vivek Prakash/Reuters)
A worker walks through Madrid Atocha train station during a general strike in Madrid on November 14, 2012. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press)
Passengers board a train as they rush home to be with their families in remote villages ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, in Dhaka on October 25, 2012. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait for their train to stop at the Solna subway station on November 6, 2012 in Stockholm. Over 90 of the 100 subway stations in Stockholm have been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings and reliefs by over 150 artists. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)
Commuters walk on an installation of a musical staircase designed like a piano at a train station in Osasco, Brazil on January 10, 2013. Out of 42 steps, 34 have been fitted with “piano keys” that activate when stepped on. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)
Freight trains are readied at the railroad shunting yard in Maschen, Germany on September 23, 2012. (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)
Thousands throng a platform waiting for trains to take them home after the Maha Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India on February 10, 2013. (Saurabh Das/Associated Press)
A train made of chocolate during a Guinness Book World record event ahead of the Brussels Week of Chocolate, entices at Brussels South station on November 19, 2012. The train by Andrew Farrugia of Malta is made of 1,285 kg of chocolate and is 34.05 meters long. (Julien Warnand/EPA)
Snow falls on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on January 7, 2013. (Bulent Kilic//AFP/Getty Images)
A man smokes a cigarette as he stands with his bike on a local train in New Delhi on November 8, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)
A passenger peers from a train heading to the Once train station in Buenos Aires on January 28, 2013. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)
The search for survivors continues in one of the worst manufacturing disasters in history. Fifty survivors were found today; the death toll stands at 304. Terrified workers notified the police, government officials and a powerful garment industry group about cracks in the walls, discovered just days before the collapse. The owner of the eight-story Rana Plaza assured 3,000 workers that the structure was safe and they returned to their jobs. The death toll nears 300 with more workers trapped under the massive concrete and wire. A small collection of the hundreds of images made over the last three days, follows. — Paula Nelson
A Bangladeshi garment worker lies crushed under the rubble 48 hours after the eight-story building collapse, April 26, 2013. At the disaster scene, where 304 have been found dead, exhausted teams of soldiers, firemen and volunteers continued to work through the mountain of mangled concrete and steel for a third day after staying on the job for a second straight night. Amid frustration about the slow pace of the efforts, thousands of anxious relatives burst onto the disaster site, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd. (Munir uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)
A Bangladeshi woman is lifted out of the rubble by rescuers at the site of a building that collapsed, April 25, 2013. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)
A Bangladeshi rescuer looking for survivors gestures from beneath a concrete slab, April 25, 2013. (A.M.Ahad/Associated Press)
Area residents crowd to watch rescue work in progress at the site of a building that collapsed, April 25, 2013, still hoping to learn the fate of their family and friends. (A.M. Ahad/Associated Press)
A youth reacts after seeing his relatives bodies, April 24, 2013. An eight-story building containing several garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh, and further highlighted documented safety problems in the clothing industry. Armed with concrete cutters and cranes, hundreds of fire service and army rescue workers struggled to find survivors in the mountain of concrete and mangled steel.(Munir uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)
Geechee Dan Plays the 42nd Street Subway: He once played splashy uptown venues like the Cotton Club. Now, seven nights a week, Geechee Dan takes the stage in the underbelly of New York City. | Stephen Farrell
He sat quietly on the platform of the 42nd Street subway station, a haven for buskers of varying talent, this rumply, gray-mustachioed man, dressed in thick layers and a Yankees cap. From his shopping cart, which he had packed with two amplifiers, CDs of his music for sale and a plastic tip bucket, Geechee Dan cued his background music. (New York Times’ article video here)
As a disheveled man slumped near him on the crowded platform, and commuters peered occasionally into the tunnel hoping for a distant hint of an oncoming train, Geechee Dan, who is 72, started to sing. His voice broke through the rumble and swelled surprisingly; it turned the platform of the A, C and E trains into a musical nightspot. He started with the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” (“Every night, on my knees I pray,” he sang, and then he said in his smooth tenor: “Sometimes you got to get on your knees.”) He crooned, pleaded and growled for four hours, moving through such old-school rhythm-and-blues songs as Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved”; Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”; and Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” He remained seated with his arthritis, but he occasionally rocked from side to side, and shuffled his feet. …more