Scenes from the Bangalore Literature Festival

I still have Indian dust on my shoes from the city of Bangalore, where I spent almost a week at the international literary festival.

I was mind-boggled at the scale of this national Indian event: literature, politics, activism, feminism. There was music and even street art, but what a crowd. Sixteen thousand highly literate participants, roaming from one outdoor stage to another, and engaged with every atom of their souls.

Literary culture persists in this part of the world, where people still believe that leafing through books is a transformative spiritual experience that can change the world.

Authors of the first world, beset with Internet and economic crisis, often seem like plastic vanity-toys kept past their sell-by date, but maybe what they lack most keenly is a creative readership. As a passionate reader, I often claim it is more difficult to read a book well than it is to to write one. As a less passionate writer, I know that even one ideal reader is enough to motivate a decent book.

The beautiful literary carnival -- held on the broad, leafy grounds of one of Bangalore’s finest hotels, an oasis of glamor and privilege -- contrasted with the crooked streets of Bangalore where the sacred cows, pariah dogs and torrents of honking traffic live with a passion for survival. This was not my first visit to India, so I was ready for the epic scale of grandeur and abject poverty, but it was still a culture shock.

The jet-set’s digitized skyscrapers tower like phantoms over vast bazaars seething with a seize-the-day human vitality. Read the rest

Beautiful and serene footage of a mountaintop fort in India

The Raigad Movie captures the stunning light and windswepts cliffs of a 17th century fort, shot entirely on a phone by Sanket Khuntale. . Read the rest

The future of "fake news": Pepsi gets Facebook to censor jokes about plastic in its Kurkure corn puffs

There is a conspiracy theory that Pepsico's Kurkure corn puffs -- developed and sold in India -- contain plastic; there's a much wider discussion in which people are making fun of this dumb theory (while simultaneously pointing out that Kurkure might as well be made of plastic, given their nutritional value and flavor). Read the rest

Photographers document India's wondrous and weird church architecture

Postcolonial Enlightenment is an exhibition of churches and movie theatres that were built in the wake of independence in 1947, with a bold new aesthetic in mind. As the curators describe: Read the rest

Authoritarians used to be scared of social media, now they rule it

A new report from the Institute For the Future on "state-sponsored trolling" documents the rise and rise of government-backed troll armies who terrorize journalists and opposition figures with seemingly endless waves of individuals who bombard their targets with vile vitriol, from racial slurs to rape threats. Read the rest

The world's most popular smartphones are underpowered, unusable hot messes

The "next billion" are the holy grail of tech and mobile companies -- the next billion users to come online, from the poor world, whose preferences and norms regarding technology have yet to be formed. Read the rest

A viral hoax video has inspired Indian mobs to multiple, brutal murders

Someone edited a Pakistani child-safety education video to make it look like evidence of a ring of kidnappers was snatching children and taking them away on motorcycles; the video went viral in India, spread on Whatsapp, and it has inspired terrified mobs to attack and murder strangers on suspicion of being involved in the fictitious kidnapping rings. Read the rest

Ahead of national elections, India's authoritarian ruling party loses a key regional battle

India's national elections are only a year away, and things aren't looking good for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an authoritarian war criminal who has a mutual love affair with US President Donald Trump. Read the rest

The Taj Mahal's white marble walls are turning green and brown with pollution

Thanks to pollution, bug excrement, and particulates thrown into the air by construction in the vicinity, the Taj Mahal has turned color. Constructed primarily using white marble in the 17th century, the UNESCO world heritage site building has changed in color from white, to a troublesome yellow and, more recently, has become sullied with shades of brown and green. Given the Taj Mahal's importance as a tourist destination (it draws close to 70,000 people per day!) and its cultural significance, India's Supreme Court has said enough's enough: they've ordered the country's government to seek foreign help to bring the building back to its former glory.

According to the BBC, the Indian Supreme Court recently scolded the country's government for allowing the site to fall into such disrepair, with one court justice saying, "Even if you have the expertise, you are not utilizing it. Or perhaps you don't care."

Ouch.

For its part, the Indian government has moved to protect the Taj Mahal in the past: it forced the closure of thousands of factories near the site in an effort to protect the building and grounds from pollution. Unfortunately, fighting pollution in the area is an uphill battle. The mausoleum, located in the city of Agra, sits adjacent to the Yamuna River. The river is rife with raw sewage, which attracts hordes of insects. Those bugs apparently love to poop on the world heritage site. On several occasions over the past couple of decades, the Indian government has attempted to clean the exterior of the building, in the hopes of bringing it back to its original coloring. Read the rest

India ironically loses communications with new communications satellite

If you were to ask the Indian Space Research Organization, they'd tell you that space is hard: the IRSO has lost communications with one of its satellites mere days after launching it into orbit.

According to The Times of India, the IRSO launched the GSAT-6A communications satellite into orbit on March 29. Indian ground control was able to command the satellite to alter its orbit on two separate occasions. Smooth sailing! Then, on Saturday, things went south:

After remaining incommunicado the whole of Saturday, ISRO, on Sunday said: “The second orbit raising operation of GSAT-6A satellite has been successfully carried out by LAM Engine firing for about 53 minutes on March 31, 2018 in the morning. After the successful long duration firings, when the satellite was on course to normal operating configuration for the third and the final firing, scheduled for April 1, 2018, communication from the satellite was lost. Efforts are underway to establish the link with the satellite.”

That's got to be disappointing. It's worth mentioning that just because they've lost communications with the GSAT-6A doesn't mean that it's lost forever – yet. There have been plenty of instances where long-range communications have been lost by ground control and then restored. Given the satellite's mission, providing mobile communications for the people of India over the next decade, it'd be nice if the ISRO could get the thing back online.

If they fail, however, a permanent loss of communications with the satellite would mark the second mission failure for the space agency in less than a year. Read the rest

Who may swim in the ocean of knowledge?

I've written an op-ed on The Wire, a prominent nonprofit publication in India about access to knowledge. Access to scientific knowledge has been colonized by a few publishers who have improperly laid claim to the ocean of knowledge. This situation is morally untenable and contrary to law. It must change because education is a fundamental right.

The parallels between companies such as Reed Elsevier and the exploiters of old such as the East India Company are remarkable. Scientists are the new indigo farmers. Journals are the railroads built, not to benefit the population of scholars, but to ship raw materials back to England and high-priced goods back to the universities. Paywalls and DRM are the new salt taxes.

The decolonization of knowledge is a great opportunity for our times and I believe India is poised to lead that revolution.

In India, the principle that copyright does not apply for materials used in the course of instruction was recently affirmed by the Delhi high court in the Delhi University copy shop case. The Rameshwari Photocopy Shop is located on the premises of Delhi University, and was selling students course packs with copies of journal articles. At the behest of three large publishers, the shop was raided by armed police and charged with high crimes for violating copyright. After an intervention by an association of students and an association of academics pointed to the “for the purposes of instruction” exception to the copyright, the court said no wrongs had been committed. The right to education triumphed over the baseless claims of the publishers.

Read the rest

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is quietly funding an "anti-smoking" foundation offering $1 billion in "grants" to public health leaders

Derek Yach, president of The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, sent a letter to 344 public health researchers and groups inviting them to bid for grants from a $1b fund set up by tobacco giant -- the list was a roster of Yach's former colleagues from his stint at the World Health Organization. Read the rest

Watch: Scotty travels to India to make a manhole cover

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO8DQrSp5yEP937qNqTooOw

Scotty of Strange Parts took a train across India to try to make a manhole cover at a cast iron foundry. His goal was to replace an existing manhole cover on Mission Street in San Francisco with his homemade manhole cover. Even though he failed, because everyone at the foundries thought he was an industrial spy, it's fascinating to get an inside look at a small foundry in India and to meet the very nice foundry owner. Scotty also started to have second thoughts about putting a manhole of his own design on a city street. Read the rest

How do you train for the most polluted race in the world?

Emily James (previously) writes, "The air in Delhi is so polluted the government’s instruments can't measure it but they are still going to run a half marathon on Sunday!" Read the rest

Tamil pulp fiction is basically totally amazing

On Strange Horizons, Rachel Cordasco reviews the latest Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, the third such volume, and makes a compelling case for exploring the amazing world of Tamil pulp, expertly translated into English. Read the rest

Remarkable portraits of Indian flower vendors

Ken Hermann went to the flower market in Kolkata, where he snapped these cool portraits of flower sellers with their wares. Read the rest

India supreme court rules sexual orientation is a fundamental right

India, the world's largest democracy, declares freedom of sexual orientation of fundamental right.

India’s Supreme Court has given the country’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community the freedom to safely express their sexual orientation. In a historic decision on Thursday, the nine-judge panel declared that an individual’s sexual orientation is protected under the country’s Right to Privacy law.

“Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy,” the decision reads. “Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform.”

The ruling does not obviate existing laws criminalizing or discriminating against queer folk but lays the groundwork for doing so, especially a pending court challenge to Section 377. Read the rest

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