Tuesday, June 18, 2019

RIP notice of the day

After a long, agonising stint on life support, Jet Airways is officially headed for bankruptcy. None of the potential buyers came through, and now its lenders have thrown in the towel. Everyone from unpaid staff to debtors is already lining up to recover their due.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Over a hundred dead children in Bihar

The state is in the midst of a serious public health crisis as children die from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) whose causes remain disputed. Not in dispute: the colossal failure of the Bihar government.


What happened? Very young children—mostly under the age of ten—are dying in North Bihar due to AES. The death count was seven in 2018, but has already hit 103 thus far.


What is AES? Encephalitis describes a medical condition: the inflammation of the brain. It can be caused by various diseases, most commonly viral infections—ranging from Zika to measles or mumps. Last year, in Uttar Pradesh, 500 children died of Japanese encephalitis, which is caused by mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and West Nile. But in many cases, the exact cause remains unknown.


What is the cause in Bihar? According to the Bihar government: Hypoglycemia triggered by lychees. Hypoglycemia refers to dangerously low levels of glucose. Lychees are known to contain a toxic substance called hypoglycin A which reduces glucose levels in the body.  Muzaffarpur—where most of the deaths have occurred—is one of the leading producers of lychee. And the theory is that the children gorged on the fruit stolen from the orchards on an empty stomach.


Other likely causes: Doctors also point to extremely hot weather and humidity—which again cause dehydration and drive down glucose levels.


But the larger causes for these deaths: have been sidestepped by the Bihar government.

  • Malnutrition. These children simply do not have enough to eat. As a doctor told Indian Express: “Most AES deaths are reported in mornings, which shows that the children went without food the previous night, making sugar levels dip.” It is also likely why these hungry children ate far too many lychees.

  • Public health failure. In past years, the Bihar government had been diligent in following a UNICEF-prescribed protocol: An aggressive awareness campaign plus distribution of oral rehydration solutions (drinks with sodium and potassium) and sufficient food. But this year, the state clearly dropped the ball.

  • No vaccination campaign. After the disaster in Gorakhpur, UP CM Yogi Adityanath launched a grassroots vaccination and cleanliness program—which has been highly lauded by UNICEF. Despite having a similar AES problem, Bihar failed to take equivalent steps.

The bottomline: AES is typically caused by a virus, but no one has identified the viral agent in Bihar. In fact, the government first resisted acknowledging these as AES deaths—likely to cover its failures. The central and state governments have now announced plans to set up virology labs, but it will do little to address the deeper reason for this tragedy: a fatal mix of heat and hunger.

Learn more: The Wire has the best analysis of the immediate cause of the AES outbreak. Indian Express highlights the infrastructural failures that led to this tragedy. But this video interview with a harried Muzaffarpur doctor trying to save the children at the local ICU offers more stark and telling evidence. News 18 has a wrenching photo gallery of the little children at the hospital. Then there is this local politician—hanging out in his shoes in the ICU!—as he waits to pay his respects to the visiting Union Minister Harsh Vardhan.

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worrying about your not-so-smart TV

Water wars everywhere: Acute water shortage in Chennai is sparking violent clashes between desperate residents. IT workers have been asked to work from home, restaurants have shut down, and other companies are limiting the number of bathrooms in use. But Chennai is hardly an outlier:

  • Times of India traces the journey of a 10-year old boy who travels 14 km on a train to get two cans of water in Aurangabad.

  • This wrenching photo on the cover of India Today’s Hindi edition is more powerful than thousands of futile words.

  • New Indian Express reports on the collapse of India’s hill stations, from Shimla to Kodaikanal—which are also facing terrible water shortages.

  • A related New Indian Express report: a plan to raze 60 acres of forest in Ooty to make a new road to promote tourism. Let’s play ‘connect the dots’.


Hong Kong protests are not over: Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologised and dropped her plans to pass the controversial extradition bill. And that apology has been soundly rejected. Hong Kongers are out on the street again, this time demanding her resignation. (The Guardian)


Was Rahul betrayed by bad tech? This fascinating ET story digs into the reasons for Rahul Gandhi’s wildly misplaced expectations about the 2016 election result. The answer may lie in the party’s Shakti app which threw up bad data—the numbers were then fudged further by party officials aiming to please. The result: zero connection between Rahul and reality. It’s a fascinating read on how bad tech and India’s lackey culture combined to create an electoral disaster. (Economic Times)


Your World Cup humour update: includes the following:

  • The amusing connection between Ben Stokes and Virat Kohli’s fave cuss word, ‘bhen****’.

  • This interview with a Pakistani fan distraught over the dining habits of his team. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over gulab jamuns and burgers... Lol!

  • This Indian mega-fan—with conch in hand, no less—consoling the same Pakistani fans.

  • This fab clip of a NaMo-masked admirer doing the bhangra in the stands—if only our PM would follow suit!


Indian driving regulations get a rehaul: A motor vehicles bill set to become law will dramatically upgrade safety regulations, amp up traffic fines, and make Aadhar a requirement for a driver’s license and vehicle registration. (Economic Times)


When is someone old? Now that we are living longer than ever, when do we officially become ‘old’? A new theory suggests that the word should be defined not by the number of years we’ve already lived—say, 65 or 80—but the number of years we are expected to live in the future. Already ancient: smokers and other such unrepentant sinners. (Washington Post)


A son’s goodbye to his mother: CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died at the ripe age of 95. She led a long and rich life (in every sense of the word), and was ready to go. But the value of his tribute has little to do with her fame (or his). It moved us because it captures a son’s abiding love for his mother—without OTT sentimentality or self-indulgence. (Watch it here)


Indian Houdini may be dead: Chanchal Lahiri was shackled with six locks and a chain as he was lowered into the Hooghly river. His last words: “If I do it right, it's magic. If I make a mistake, it becomes tragic.” Sadly, it seems to have been the latter. (BBC has the story and the video of his stunt)


The mystery of the missing plane: Malaysian Airlines MH 370 just vanished into thin air and sparked a long and futile global search. This fascinating essay follows one man’s search for answers—and ends with a ‘most likely’ theory. It’s a very long and somewhat nerdy read but certainly worth your time. (The Atlantic)


Samsung TV ought to come with a warning: We spend a lot of our money on smart TVs, marvelling at their cool conveniences. But where there is a computer connected to the internet, there is a potential virus and, of course, all sorts of privacy implications. A must-read for any smart TV owner (The Verge)


Meghan & Harry did good: with this lovely Insta photo for Father’s Day.


The worst sex advice you could ever get: is this list of household ‘sex toys’. Public service announcement of the day: a cucumber is not a safe dildo, neither is your electric toothbrush a substitute vibrator 🙄(Popxo)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Serial Killer' edition

The higher the body count, the more famous and ‘glamorous’ the killer. From Jack the Ripper to Hannibal Lecter, movies and the media have turned monsters into great anti-heroes—and to great profit. But here are two reads that take a very different tack.

Whatever you do, I can do better…

It’s a perverse kind of sexism: when we think ‘serial killer’, we immediately imagine a man. Yet, there have been plenty of prolific murderers among the so-called ‘gentler sex’, but their motivations and modus operandi often differ from men.

Read: If male serial killers “hunt” their victims, what do female serial killers do? | Quartz

Sex, Love etc 2

The misdirected gaze of our outrage

It’s odd, isn’t it? We remember serial killers more easily than their victims—who often blur into a numerical count. Those we condemn most are those who get our most attention. But this author realised a simple truth about her friend’s killer: Murderers are terribly dull.

Read: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Serial Killers | The Cut

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