A raid on Bollywood critics
The Income-Tax Department conducted searches on at least 30 locations linked to filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, producers Vikas Bahl and Madhu Mantena and actor Taapsee Pannu in Mumbai and Pune. The allegation: tax evasion by Phantom Films, which was dissolved in 2018. Kashyap, Bahl and Mantena were co-founders of the production company:
“The I-T Department is also likely to contact certain auditors for cross-checking details. Sources said some inter-linked transactions between the entities searched were under the scanner of the Department and the raids were aimed at gathering more evidence into allegations of tax evasion.”
Many are crying foul, calling this a witch hunt against critics of the government. A former CBI director told The Telegraph:
“The IT raids were expected as both Kashyap and Pannu have been very vocal against the Modi government’s policies. We were expecting it to happen any time soon because they were refusing to kowtow to the government as most Bollywood stars have… The raids are also a message to them and their ilk—fall in line or else...”
In perhaps related news: The global democracy watchdog Freedom House has removed India from its list of ‘free’ countries. We have now been designated as ‘partly free’. (The Telegraph)
Faring somewhat better: 25 courses offered by Indian universities—mostly Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)—have been included in a top 100 list: “the petroleum engineering course at IIT Madras was ranked 30th in the world, mineral and mining engineering at IIT Bombay (41) and IIT Kharagpur (44) were among the best 50 courses in the world.” (Mint)
Also ranking favourably: Indian women in India Inc. According to a new study, 39% have a position in senior management compared to the global average of 31%. Also this: Over 98% of businesses in India have at least one woman in senior management while the global average is 90%. (Mint)
Google tries to be less evil
The company will stop stalking your browsing history to sell ads. The company had already announced its decision to phase out third party cookies on its browser. But now it says, “We will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.” Why this matters: “Google’s heft means the change could reshape the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure the ads’ effectiveness and stop fraud.”
Also trying to be good: SoundCloud, which is moving to a radically new system of paying royalties to artists. Right now, the standard industry practice is to pool all royalties on a streaming music service at the end of each payment period—and then pay the rights-holders according to their market share of the total plays across the platform. SoundCloud’s new “fan powered” system works instead like this:
“This model sees streaming royalties paid out based on individual subscriber behavior—with a percentage of each subscriber’s subscription fee being distributed only to the artists/labels they have individually listened to that month.”
This presumably will help indie artists who often lose out to the big players in the current system.
Not doing well: Facebook which is in the news again, this time for its classified ads platform—which is being used to illegally sell plots in the Amazon rainforest. BBC News has that story.
The great pandemic: A quick update
- The result of the phase 3 trial of Covaxin is finally out—and it is 81% effective. This is data from the largest such vaccine trial—with 25,800 participants—in India. Times of India has more details.
- Maharashtra’s numbers continue to soar. The state reported a fresh spike of 9,855 daily cases—the highest in four months.
- Good news for Covid long haulers. At least a third of them report feeling much better after being vaccinated. But the evidence is anecdotal for now.
- A global survey of 18,000 women in 16 countries shows that “vaccine acceptance"—willingness to be vaccinated—is the highest among pregnant women in India, the Philippines, and countries in Latin America. It is lowest in Russia, the US and Australia.
- Male politicians just can’t resist using their vaccine jabs to post thirst traps. The latest, French health minister Olivier Veran. The Independent hilariously skewers this latest trend.
Amazon ‘fixes’ its new logo
The company had proudly unveiled a new icon in January—and received a rude shock when some folks saw Hitler, or specifically his moustache in the bit of blue tape. The company has now quietly ‘revised’ the design. See before and after pictures below. Washington Post has the story.
In other Amazon news: It has been ordered to take down the Telugu movie ‘V’ by the Bombay High Court. The reason: a scene that uses a stock photo of actor Sakshi Malik to depict a sex worker—and taken without her consent from her Insta account. The News Minute has more.
Bullying allegations against Meghan
First, The Times UK published a story based on unnamed royal aides who claim that a bullying complaint was lodged against the princess in 2018. She allegedly drove two of her personal assistants out of the Palace due to her behaviour. But it was never taken up due to pressure from Harry:
“Senior people in the household, Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, knew that they had a situation where members of staff, particularly young women, were being bullied to the point of tears. The institution just protected Meghan constantly. All the men in grey suits who she hates have a lot to answer for, because they did absolutely nothing to protect people.”
Meanwhile, the Sussexes have dismissed the story as “a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation.” OTOH, Buckingham Palace is now launching a formal investigation into the complaint. Yes, this is getting ugly—right before the couple’s highly anticipated interview with Oprah, set to air on Sunday. The Times story requires a sign in, but CNN has the overview.
Dr Seuss books to be axed
Six books—including ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’ and ‘If I Ran the Zoo’—will no longer be published. The reason: they contain racist imagery of people of colour. Example: “a Chinese man with sticks,” who has two lines for eyes and can be seen holding chopsticks and a bowl. Why the company which owns the rights pulled the books: “Research has shown that children as young as three can form racial biases, and those biases become fixed by age seven.” The Guardian has more.
In happier literary news: Kazuo Ishiguro has released his first novel since he won the Nobel in 2017. ‘Klara and the Sun’ is being compared to our personal favourite Ishiguro, ‘Never Let Me Go’. Vox has more details and a review.
A septuagenarian bird mommy
The world’s oldest known wild bird—a Laysan albatross named Wisdom—turned 70 this year, and reared what is at least her 40th chick. This is quite a feat for a bird that has already re-written the natural history books—until a few decades ago, scientists thought Laysan albatrosses only lived about 40 years. Also: She looks as sprightly as ever, as you can see from this photo of her sitting on her egg back in November. National Geographic has a lot more on Wisdom.
In other avian news: The flamingos are back in Mumbai, turning its lakes into a ‘sea of pink’. Watch:
Angelina sells a Winston
Angelina Jolie has sold a painting by (in)famous British PM Sir Winston Churchill for a whopping £7 million ($9.7 million) at an auction. ‘The Tower Of The Koutoubia Mosque’—painted in Marrakech during World War II—is supposed to be his “most important work”—and the highest ever price received by a Churchill painting. All of which goes to show that both beauty and value lies in the eyes of the beholder. BBC News has the story. Also, it looks like this:
Reading a folded letter
In a first, scientists have been able to read an intricately folded 300-year-old letter without opening it—using an X-ray scanner and computer algorithms. Why this matters:
“Until now, the standard way to read a letterlocked letter necessitated physically unfolding it, disturbing the intricate folds and potentially damaging the paper as a result of removing sealing wax and cutting the paper.”
As for what the letter said, it turned out to be a request for a death certificate. More things change… CNN has more on how they did it. Also, it looks like this: