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. » more
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. » more
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!” » more
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. » more
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. » more
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 » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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)
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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 » more
“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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
For a festive, dressy-but-easy first-course salad for the holiday season, you can’t go wrong with sea scallops. Yes, it’s true, wild Atlantic sea scallops (the ones you want) are a bit pricey, but that’s exactly why I recommend them as a first course. You can feed four people with only three-quarters of a pound.
When I’m in Paris, it’s always exciting to see great piles of sea scallops, or coquilles St. Jacques, still in their beautiful giant fan-shaped shells. Every fish merchant sells them this way; they are shucked to order in the blink of an eye. Fresh? Of course.
In this week’s City Kitchen column there’s a recipe for a simple Meyer lemon vinaigrette that’s a bit on the chunky side, almost salsalike. And it takes only one Meyer lemon (or two small ones) to make it.
The Meyer lemon is sweet and floral, with hints of bergamot, another fragrant citrus, though it is probably a cross between an ordinary Eureka lemon and a variety of orange. Its soft smooth peel is entirely edible and not at all bitter, and its juice is not in the least sour. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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." » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
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. » more
I love two of Stardock’s software products: Objectdock and Fences. The former works seamlessly, giving me a very cool customisable launch bar that is very like the one on a Mac and an acceptably close approximation to the custom toolbars of Windows XP (I have no idea why Microsoft took that away from us). » more
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.” » more
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. » more
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. » more
ONE morning on St. Lucia, as I was waking from beatific dreams, I discovered that I had turned into a luscious, ripe cocoa pod.
Or so I imagined, borrowing freely from Kafka’s opening line in “Metamorphosis.” For three decadent days, I had been eating chocolate-stuffed liver pâté, cocoa-encrusted kingfish and, for breakfast, cocoa-and-cashew granola. At night I drank cocoa Bellinis. I indulged in a cocoa oil massage, hiked through cocoa fields and created my own chocolate bar. Dawn consistently carried the pungent aroma of cocoa trees, because I was staying on a verdant cocoa estate — and sleeping in a cocoa pod.
Well, sort of: Hotel Chocolat, a boutique property in St. Lucia, features not rooms but “luxe pods,” where even the magnificently minimalist décor (rich mahogany floors, ivory-colored bathroom with open-air shower) evokes the essence of chocolate. » more
“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. » more
Perhaps thanks to Mr. Sperber, each of my children passed through adolescence and young adulthood without serious sexual mishap — no pregnancies, no S.T.D.’s — so I figured I was off the hook in the sex-talk department. Nothing prepared me for the moment in 2002 when Ethan, who had recently started his own design firm in San Francisco, came out — not as gay, but with something much more shocking.
“Mom, I’m going to design vibrators.”
If I’d been drinking tea, it would have come out my nose. My mind whirled with images of bleached-blond porn stars in black bustiers, dark “Adult Only” storefronts in the sleaziest part of town, a leering Hugh Hefner surrounded by his bunnies. I couldn’t reconcile my sweet, funny son with those images. Where had I gone wrong? » more
WHEN they don’t involve sailors kissing nurses, the symbolic photographs of New York City usually involve skyscrapers: Alfred Stieglitz’s snowy shot of the Flatiron Building; Berenice Abbott’s electric “Night View”; Margaret Bourke-White perched atop an art-deco eagle of the Chrysler Building. And Lewis Hine’s celebrated portrait of 11 Depression-era ironworkers, lunching along an I-beam on the unfinished Empire State Building.
No, on several counts.
The shot isn’t by Hine. And it’s not atop the Empire State Building — despite common misperceptions, misrepresentations and an Internet that insists otherwise. Taken Sept. 20, 1932, during the construction of Rockefeller Center, the well-known portrait of 11 immigrant laborers, legs dangling 850 feet above Midtown, ran in the Oct. 2 Sunday supplement of The New York Herald-Tribune, with the caption “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.” Everybody knows the picture. Nobody knows who took it. And for most of its 80 years no one has known who’s in it. » more
SanitizeBlogs 2 is a variant of the mt-plugin-SanitizeBlogs by Six Apart. While the Six Apart version sanitizes blogs based upon a blog URL prefix (useful for blogs published under the Community Platform), the present variant is more useful for a blog farm where you want all blogs to be sanitized with the ability to refine or prevent the sanitization for selected blogs.
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. » more
Notes on books, film and music
Ramblings in MovableType and elsewhere
From environment to justice, from cabbages to kings. Opinions. Strongly held.