Thursday, October 10, 2019

Cancellations of the day

Both the Times Litfest in Mumbai and the Hindu Lit for Life in Chennai have been cancelled this year. In an email informing invited participants, organisers of the Times litfest said that “despite herculean efforts, on account of a seriously floundering economy, no sponsors are available and that we have been asked to call off the event for this year.” The Hindu email is even more blunt: “There is no opportunity at this juncture also to get a commitment of sponsorship amounts from our marketing and events teams as companies outside appear to be reeling under the current economic climate and have no money to spare for other people’s events.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A mass rebellion against global extinction 

While all the attention in India has been fixed on Greta Thunberg, a huge climate change movement is making waves in the UK—and plans to shut London down over the next couple of weeks. They call themselves Extinction Rebellion.

A brief introduction: Extinction Rebellion (or XR) was launched in the UK in 2018 soon after the UN released a massive report that warned we have only 11 years to prevent catastrophic damage triggered by global warming. It describes itself as a "nonviolent civil disobedience activist movement.” The aim is to pressure governments to declare a "climate and ecological emergency" and take immediate and urgent action to fight climate change. Its logo depicts an hourglass inside a circle to represent time running out for many species.

So what do they do? Hold disruptive protests that shut down great parts of a city. Their rationale: “You can have a million people marching through the city each week and no one cares, but you block a road, people stand up and take notice.” For example, a huge protest in April looked something like this: “They took a large pink boat emblazoned with the words ‘Tell The Truth’ to Oxford Circus, staged a ‘die-in’ at the Natural History Museum to bring attention to the mass die-off of species, barricaded roads, locked and glued themselves to the Waterloo Bridge, climbed on top of trains, and sat in trees in Parliament Square.”

Sounds kinda funny…: Yeah, their protests do have an element of creative humour, but not everyone approves. XR protesters have been slammed as “environmental fanatics” with unrealistic demands—which includes reducing carbon emissions in the UK to net zero within six years. And many say that their tactics—which cause huge upheavals in the daily lives of citizens—does little to gain supporters for an important cause. Point to note: In the UK, at least, there is a huge generational divide over XR with 47% of 18-24 year olds supporting their methods. So it’s mostly the olds who are grumbling.

What are they doing now? On Monday, thousands of protesters shut down roads and bridges around Parliament in London and set up tents in an Occupy Wall Street-style protest. The plan is to stay put for up to two weeks. Around 800 have been arrested so far. The more entertaining highlights of the ongoing protest include: 

  • The police valiantly trying to corral a very large pink octopus. Clip here.

  • Hundreds of women breast and bottle-feeding their babies in a mass ‘nurse-in’. See video here.  

  • A delightful family spat between PM Boris Johnson and his father, Stanley. The PM dismissed the protesters as “uncooperative crusties” (Brit for ‘hippies’) and urged “importunate nose-ringed climate change protesters” to stop blocking roads with their “heaving hemp-smelling bivouacs.” His father got right up on stage with the protesters and declared, “It’s one of the nicest things that has been said about me for a long time. A non-cooperative crusty, absolutely superb—do they taste good? That’s my thought, I think they do.”

Will any of this work? There’s hardly any guarantee of success given the vested interests of companies and governments. But at the very least, these protests remind us of the high price we pay for every day that we carry on with ‘business as usual’.

Learn more: Financial Times did an excellent in-depth profile of the movement back in April. BBC and Vox have a detailed explainers on the movement and their demands. New York Times looks at why XR protesters actually want to be arrested. Economist looks at whether this could be the next ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The Guardian has both a brilliant photo gallery and a video report on XR protests around the world.

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deciphering the astrophysics of your style mind

Turkey attacks Syria, surprising nobody: Soon after President Trump declared he will “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey” if it attacks Kurds in Syria, Turkey launched a massive attack on Kurds in Syria. Ground forces have crossed the border and its planes are bombing towns and villages in the north. Trump is calling the offensive a “bad idea”—and continues to defend his decision to abandon the United States’ closest allies in the war against ISIS. 

The Nobel prize in chemistry: this year has been awarded to three scientists for work that helped develop lithium-ion batteries—the stuff that powers smartphones, laptops, medical devices such as pacemakers and more. (Buzzfeed News)

Bijli bandh for California: The Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced electricity cuts across vast swathes of Northern California. It will affect 800,000 homes and last several days! The reason: the company’s power lines helped spark some of the massive wildfires that devastated the state last year. And the current weather forecast indicates the need for caution: "The conditions are ripe: dry fuel, high winds, warm event. Any spark can create a significant event." All Indians: Welcome to the club! (BBC)

The 20 dirtiest companies in the world: Just 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for a third of all greenhouse emissions. According to new data, “The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.” Top of the list is Saudi Aramco while Coal India comes in at #8. (The Guardian)

Xi makes India unhappy: At the end of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to China, the two leaders issued a joint statement that mentioned (ack!) Kashmir: “The Chinese side responded that it was paying close attention to the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir and reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.” This on the eve of President Xi’s visit to Mahabalipuram where he will hold an informal summit with PM Modi. Also: Mahabalipuram is getting a full-on makeover to host the bigwigs, and some locals are rightfully pissed. 

In related Imran Khan news: he seems to have acquired a full-time babysitter—Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who accompanied him to Beijing, hung out at all the meetings, and is hinting at plans for a bigger role. (Times of India)

In other China-related news: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise announcement imposing "visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs or other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China." This new emphasis on human rights may be the one silver lining to Trump’s faceoff with Beijing. A related read: Washington Post’s chilling report (via NDTV) on Muslim women refugees in Kazakhstan who were raped, tortured and forced to undergo abortions. 

Bihar police drops sedition case: Prominent figures such as Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Ramachandra Guha wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express their concern over rising incidents of lynching and intolerance. Some person decided to file a case accusing them of sedition. Some judge decided this complaint was worthy of investigation and an FIR was filed. Now, sanity has prevailed. The case is closed and the accuser has instead been booked for filing a false complaint. (Indian Express)

A short list of things that are pricier: One: Jio calls to other network providers. They used to be free but now will cost 6 paise/minute. Two: Tomatoes which now cost Rs 80/kg in Delhi—making onions look downright affordable.

The ‘Sky is Pink’ reviews are in: and they are lukewarm. The Quint complains that a potentially heartwarming story is scuttled by Priyanka Chopra’s star power—especially her "perfectly done hair and make-up". Indian Express calls it “constructed and sentimental,” and dismisses Chopra as “a manicured version of a tiger mom.” 

The astrophysics of fashion: Companies like Netflix and Spotify are hiring astrophysicists to figure out what you really, really want. Or in the case of apparel company, Stitch Fix: use “eigenvector decomposition” to understand “the complexities of the clients’ style minds.” Our style mind: oversized nighties pretending to be dresses. (Wired)

Move over Jupiter, Saturn is king! Scientists have discovered 20 new moons orbiting the planet—bringing its total to 82 and setting a new solar system record. Jupiter and its 79 moons have been left woefully behind. (National Geographic)


Dogs are good for your health: A new study finds that owning a pooch reduces the risk of dying from a heart attack by 65%. No word on cats as yet. (Yahoo News)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This delightful demonstration of FootGolf. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
  • This Calvin Klein ad starring Justin and Hailey Beiber—made to mark the brand’s 50th anniversary.

  • The announcement that “North Korea and Russia’s state news agencies are joining forces to tackle ‘fake news’ as part of an agreement signed in Pyongyang.” C’mon! That’s funny!

  • This hapless owl being harassed by a parrot with zero boundaries.

  • This wonderful little boy chanting a self-affirmation mantra on the way to school.

  • This teaser of Shah Rukh Khan’s appearance on David Letterman’s Netflix show.

  • This very chill police inspector being groomed for lice by… a monkey!!

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ Edition

Once upon a time when getting on a plane was a luxury, it was truly a delightful experience. Now, many more of us can jump on a flight—which is good and as it should be—but that makes the experience that much more stressful. Here are two pieces that might help alleviate some of that. 


Aisle, Window, Aisle, Window, Aisle…. 

We obstinately prefer the window if only because we don’t want to be uprooted every time someone needs to use the bathroom, get their laptop out of their carry-on, or just be annoying in general. But is that truly the wise choice?

Read: Is the Aisle Seat Better than the Window? | Outside

Sex, Love etc 2

An etiquette guide to getting off planes 

Ok, so this may be an entirely futile exercise in a nation that can’t even queue properly at an airport gate. So think of this piece as a lovely dream if we decided to actually behave like real human beings on a flight.

Read: The completely correct guide to getting off a plane | The Washington Post

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