Smog at China's Airports Incite Riots, Require Blind Landings

Forget the days when pilots were expected to have perfect vision. China prefers pilots who can fly blind.

Smog in China's major cities has gotten so bad that it's actually visible from space, and airline pilots can no longer rely on sight alone when landing their aircraft. So, starting in January, Chinese aviation authorities will require pilots to master low-visibility landings.

China's notoriously bad air quality isn't just an environmental issue, it also has consequences for air travel in the country. Beijing Capital International Airport has become notorious for its flight delays, many of which are caused or exacerbated by air pollution. Only 18 percent of flights departing Beijing leave on time. Shanghai has a slightly better but still dismal record, with 28 percent of flights leaving on time. Delays are so severe in some cases that they've caused near riots. Between May and August of this year, state media reported 26 brawls in airports around the country. In January, disgruntled travelers at Changshui International Airport in Kunming climbed over check-in counters, took over the airport's PA system, and attacked both airport staff and ticket machines when their flights were canceled due to low visibility. And at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, delayed travelers have been running onto airport runways in protest. Even airline workers aren't immune to the mania -- here's a video of a ground crew member getting into a fight with a disgruntled passenger:

Come January, pilots flying into Beijing from other Chinese airports will have to rely on auto-landing equipment when visibility is low, which should reduce delays to some extent. But smog is only part of the problem. Another is the state of Chinese skies, 80 percent of which are controlled by the military.

The military, for its part, isn't too troubled by the pollution. One nationalist Chinese newspaper tried to spin the rampant smog as a national defense strategy. 

Tell that to China's commercial pilots.

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How Victorian Morality Still Screws Over Gays in India

Upholding a colonial law whose wording is nothing short of medieval, the Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday banned gay sex, or  "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman, or animal." Violators of the law, Section 377 of the Indian penal code, will face up to 10 years in prison.

The ruling, which overturns a decision from Delhi's high court to decriminalize gay sex in 2009, caused an uproar in the country and within its political establishment.

"I think these matters should be left to the individuals. These are personal choices. This country is known for its freedom, freedom of expression. So let that be," said Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the Indian National Congress, the country's majority party.

The Supreme Court ruled that the decision to overturn the law belongs to Parliament, and not to the Delhi High Court. But whether the politicians decide to decriminalize homosexuality remains an open question. "I hope that Parliament will address the issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by the judgement," said Sonia Gandhi, mother of Rahul and head of the Congress party.

But analysts say that with the rise of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party before India's national elections this spring there's no good news in store for India's LGBT community, which understandably decries the ruling as a significant backward step for gay rights. The law wasn't strictly enforced before the 2009 Delhi ruling, but the past few years have seen progress for gay rights in India with a blossoming of gay pride parades, film festivals, and gay campus groups.

The law comes from a colonial statute, introduced in 1861, when India was part of the British empire.  Many former British colonies have similar hundred-year-old laws prohibiting gay sexual relations -- including Jamaica, Malaysia, Uganda, and Belize.

According to Jeremy Seabrook, the author of Love in a Different Climate: Men Who Have Sex with Men in India, these anti-sodomy laws stem from the Victorian uneasiness about homosocial behaviors traditional in many  local cultures. That uneasiness became codified in colonial laws in societies that prior to colonization had a more condoning attitude toward homosexuality. "To label customary and complex relationships as 'homosexuality,' as colonial officials did, was the work of characteristic and arrogant reductionism" Seabrook wrote in 2004.

To root out the homophobic laws imported by the British to India may take a long time. As a start, the high court judges of India, who like to take their cues from the laws of their former empire, could follow the example of another relic of the past -- Queen Elizabeth II, who gave her official stamp of approval to gay marriage earlier this year.

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