Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Number of the day: 405%

In October 2018, the Indian government banned hundreds of porn websites. This is what happened next: Mobile downloads of virtual private network (VPN) apps in India grew 405% to 57 million in just 12 months! What’s a VPN? It’s a service that allows you to mask your location. For example, it lets you watch Netflix USA while you are logged in from India—or log on to Porn Hub despite the best efforts of the government and your internet service provider.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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India’s shockingly polluted beaches

The sea off the coast of Chennai is literally foaming—and for the worst reasons possible. But the problem is far greater than just one city or beach.

What happened? For the past four days, the famous Marina beach has been covered in white foam washed in from the sea. Local residents have been happily frolicking in the sea of suds—which, however, are dangerously toxic. (See selfies and a clip of kids playing.)

Why is the sea foaming? The foam is a mix of detergent residue, untreated sewage and industrial waste. And it now shows up like clockwork during the monsoon. Heavy rains cause sewage treatment plants to overflow, and vast amounts of waste flow into the sea—creating a toxic ‘bubble bath’ along the coastline. Main sources of pollution: municipal waste, farming and factories. Point to note: Only 40% of sewage in Chennai and other big cities is properly treated. The rest just flows straight into the sea.

Is this a new thing? Nope, this happened after heavy rains last year, as well. In fact, Chennai’s beaches have a serious pollution problem.

  • In August, the waters in Chennai’s Elliot’s beach started to glow due to the presence of bioluminescent algae. A beautiful sight that disguised an ugly fact: this kind of algae devour the microscopic marine organisms essential to sustaining the underwater food chain. They also secrete large amounts of ammonia that kill fish in vast numbers. Their presence has been linked to pollution and global warming.

  • A study published last year found that the city’s five most popular beaches contained “extremely high levels of microbial load—mainly fecal coliforms like E. coli”—i.e. shit. The reason: “Continuous, uncontrolled and untreated sewage discharge into Adyar and Cooum rivers which flow into the sea.”

  • Another big problem: microplastic pollution.

Is this only Chennai? Nope, a 2017 global study found that the seas near Mumbai, Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are among the most polluted in the world—and Mumbai is the worst of the lot. 

Tell me about Mumbai: According to the lead researcher: “The major contributing factors for the litter are from recreational and religious activities, and fishing, which suggests that most of the plastic pollution in the sea has its source on land. We also found that poorly treated domestic waste ended up polluting the ocean even more.” Another local study revealed that at any given time, there are 100 tonnes of trash on Mumbai’s beaches. Also: A recent report published by IIT Bombay predicts that by 2050 Mumbai's seas will have more plastic than fish. 

What can we do? It’s pretty simple. Move quickly toward a zero plastic economy. Invest heavily in sewage treatment plants. Crack down on dumping of industrial waste and move away from the use of pesticides. The solutions are well-established but the will to make drastic systemic changes remains weak. 

The big picture: Here’s a key fact: 10 rivers in the world are responsible for 90% of the plastic in the ocean. The Indus and the Ganges carry the second- and sixth-highest plastic debris to the ocean. According to a 2015 UN report, India ranks #12 in the list of the top 20 nations responsible for marine pollution. 

Learn more: The World Ocean Network lists all the key facts on marine pollution. WeForum explains how 10 rivers in the world do the most damage. The Guardian reports on Indian cities drowning in sewage and waste. Times of India has the study on fecal matter found in Chennai’s beaches. Conde Nast Traveller has more on the IIT Bombay study on Mumbai.


Feeling depressed? The World Wildlife Fund has a great guide on what we all can do to save our seas. Or maybe you want to check out lawyer Afroz Shah who spends his weekends cleaning up Mumbai’s beaches. In Chennai, you can learn more about the ‘Namma Beach, Namma Chennai’ project. National Geographic reports on Kerala fishermen are doing their bit to recycle plastic they collect out at sea.

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keeping your ‘pucker hole’ covered and sun-free

Vikram has been located: Chandrayaan 2's moon lander has finally been spotted by NASA, and as feared, it is in bits and pieces. (Times of India)

Your Hyderabad update is here: and it includes the following:

  • The Hyderabad police took immediate action to preserve women’s safety… by issuing a ‘safety advisory’ telling them all the things they can do to avoid getting raped. Sure, kinda like doctors offer helpful advice on how to avoid falling ill in flu season. Women are rightfully pissed.

  • There was a lot of grandstanding in the Lok Sabha as politicians across parties demanded new and unusual punishments for the accused—ranging from lynching (Jaya Bachchan) to castration (DMK’s P Wilson). The News Minute explains why these are terrible ideas.

  • Remember the young woman standing in lonely vigil outside the Parliament? Watch her explain the very personal reason why the Hyderabad rape hit home for her. 

Footage of a Russian-led massacre… or two: The best journalism often goes unnoticed. Like this painstaking visual reconstruction of two carefully targeted airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians in Syria—including pregnant women and children. In one cockpit recording, the Russian pilot drops his bombs and says, ‘Have sent candy.’ Watch the New York Times video report.

Ikea’s astonishing India feat: The company has minted Rs 407 crore in sales within just seven months—and with just one store in Hyderabad. It's making twice as much as Pepper Fry and has already equalled Urban Ladder. Coming soon: 25 other such cash cows. (Economic Times)

China’s scary new rules for mobile users: Forget Aadhaar, here’s what you need to buy a new sim card in China: a face scan. It is the latest move to use facial recognition and artificial intelligence to ramp up Beijing’s surveillance network. (Quartz)

‘Midnight’s Children’ has been canceled: Director Vishal Bhardwaj was working on a six-part adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s celebrated novel. But the project has now been canned. The reason: Bhardwaj’s proposed budget was sky-high—an estimated Rs 7 crore more per episode than what Netflix was willing to pay. But the split was amicable, and everyone is still saying nice things about each other. (Huffington Post)

Delhi’s shameful canine secret: The city’s residents abandon at least one thoroughbred dog a day: "Labradors and Retrievers are the most commonly abandoned breeds, followed closely by Pugs and St Bernards." This is a must-read on the high price dogs pay for Delhi’s infatuation with social status. (India Today)

Josh Brolin’s encounter with ‘perineum sunning’: The actor known for his stirring performance in movies such as ‘No Country for Old Men’ decided to dabble in sunbathing his ass****—a hot new wellness trend. And then this happened: “Tried this perineum sunning that I’ve been hearing about and my suggestion is DO NOT do it as long as I did. My pucker hole is crazy burned and I was going to spend the day shopping with my family and instead I’m icing and using aloe and burn creams because of the severity of the pain. I don’t know who the fuck thought of this stupid shit but fuck you nonetheless. Seriously. #blackholefriday #blackholesun #severeperineumburns #santamonicafiredepartment #assholecare.” Can’t. Stop. Laughing.

The Apostrophe Society is no more: A society in the UK dedicated to preserving the correct use of the apostrophe has shut down. The reason: “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won.” Its a shame (error entirely intended). (The Standard)

Menstrual badges? Really? Menstrual badges? Male execs at a Japanese store decided to do their bit to support their female staff. The plan: make women who are having their periods wear “physiology badges” featuring a cartoon character named Seiri Chan, a symbol of menstruation in Japan. Their logic: “It was hoped that the badges would help foster sympathy among co-workers, with those choosing to wear the pin likely to receive extra help or longer breaks.” For inexplicable reasons, this brilliant idea was not well-received, and has since been abandoned. (CNBC)

H&M wants to rent its clothes: Responding to the backlash against ‘fast fashion’, the apparel company is testing an in-store rental service at its Swedish flagship store. The reason: H&M wants to be ‘climate positive’ by 2040—i.e. it will offset more greenhouse emissions than it produces. Related read: ABC News report on why High Street brands like Zara and H&M are becoming more eco-conscious, and why it will be a challenge for them to fully change.  

Can AI tame the rampaging bandars? IIT-Delhi researchers are using AI to virtually ‘tag’ the city’s monkeys for sterilisation or contraception. (Daily Mail)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • The winners of the Image Quest photo competition that showcases amazing images of action-and-adventure sports.
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Aging Classics’ Edition

Many of our most cherished books were written decades, even centuries ago (Hello, Jane Austen). But time is not always kind to some of those iconic books. Here’s a list of ‘aging poorly’ classics and two beloved but sadly dated chick/dick lit pioneers.

Nah, don’t bother with that one!

Here’s a list to get everyone riled up. We guarantee that at least one of your all-time favourites is on this Do-Not-Read list. We personally shed a little tear for ‘Catch 22’. The upside: we greatly enjoyed GQ’s recommendations for what to read instead.

Read: 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read | GQ

Sex, Love etc 2

Breaking up is hard to do

This Gen-Xer revisits two iconic romantic novels of her generation—‘Bridget Jones Diary’ and ‘High Fidelity’—and has a horrifying revelation: “Namely, these books — despite their cool Gen-X setting, cool Gen-X props (cigarettes), and cool Gen-X openness about failure — are some inveterate Baby Boomer bullshit.” Eeks!

Read: Bridget Jones’s Staggeringly Outdated Diary | Longreads

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