Thursday, April 25, 2019

Number of the day: 360,000

That’s the number of children in three African countries who will receive the world’s first malaria vaccine each year. The vaccine is not a magic bullet as it prevents approximately four in 10 malaria cases. But it has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. More than 250,000 children die from the disease every year in Africa.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The scary suicide bombers in Sri Lanka

Each day brings new details of the terrorists who executed the catastrophic bombings. They indicate an alarming new trend toward fragmentation and escalation.


The woman suicide bomber:  The eight suicide bombers included two millionaire brothers, Inshaf and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim (they attacked one of the hotels). Inshaf’s wife, Fatima—who was pregnant—blew herself up along with her three young sons when the police raided their home after the attacks. The blast also killed three police personnel. Fatima can be seen standing right behind her husband in this image of the bombers taken before the attacks -- dressed in identical ISIS attire.


A group of well-educated sociopaths: Another striking element is the socio-economic profile of the bombers. According to Sri Lankan minister Ruwan Wijewardene, “This group of suicide bombers, most of them are well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class, so they are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially. That is a worrying factor in this.” He said a number of them hold law degrees and studied overseas: “We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and later did his postgraduate [studies] in Australia before coming back and settling in Sri Lanka.”


A group of ‘rogue’ terrorists? The leader was clearly Zaharan Hashim, founder of National Thowheeth Jamaath—a local group which was blamed by the government soon after the attacks. However, new details indicate that he may have been working alone, or with an independent splinter group. Hasim was a radical Muslim preacher in Batticaloa who was in constant conflict with the local Muslim community. They had repeatedly complained to the authorities about his activities. “Once Zahran took a sword out to kill people belonging to the traditional Muslim mosque,” said a Muslim leader. Hashim also often travelled back and forth to India—suggesting he was running his own covert operations.


Links to cells in India: The intelligence warnings passed on by India to Sri Lankan authorities were based on information gathered from arrests made in South India. According to Asia Times, one of the Kerala men arrested revealed an ISIS module working out of Coimbatore. Subsequent raids found clear links between the Coimbatore group and Hashim in Sri Lanka.


Learn more: Times of India has a must-read report on Hashim. Firstpost has more on Fatima. Asia Times looks at links to ISIS cells in India. The absolute must-read is this Twitter thread by Rukmini Callimachi, who reports on ISIS for the New York Times. Her insights into what it takes to execute an attack on this scale, and ISIS’ likely role are eye-opening. Also: there is now a video clip of the suicide bombers taking the pledge of allegiance to the leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before the attacks. It’s frightening. Related read: A fascinating book excerpt in Quartz on why Indian muslims don’t react to aggressive Hindutva politics.


In unrelated news that you need: Shaymaa Ismaa’eel, a behavioural therapist for children with autism in the US, was attending an Islamic conference—which attracted a group of angry anti-Muslim protesters. So she took this photo to fight hatred with kindness. It went viral. (Buzzfeed)

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discussing sleep schedules with your ‘achha dost’ Ranbir Kapoor

Jab Akhay met Narendra: Actor Akshay Kumar did a “COMPLETELY NON POLITICAL” (his all caps, not ours) interview with the Prime Minister. And the advance clips of the encounter went viral on Twitter—confirming it as a genius Modi PR move. Here are some highlights:

  • Huffington Post has the list of seven weighty questions posed by Kumar -- example: “Aapko agar kabhi Aladdin ka chirag milta hai, toh aap jinn ko kya poochhenge” (If you ever find Alladin’s lamp, what will you ask the djinn)?

  • Indian Express and Mint round up Modi’s answers to said questions.

  • This clip owned social media—for the wrong reasons. Asked about his poor sleeping habits, Modi namechecked his “achha dost” Obama with whom he shares such a close relationship that they call each other ‘tu’. Cue jokes about Obama speaking Hindi and this other clip of the former US prez sidestepping a question about his friendship with Modi… by carrying on at length about Manmohan Singh.


The hottest election rumour: is that there is a “50-50” chance that Priyanka Gandhi may take on PM Modi in Varanasi. We’re gonna need a lot of popcorn! (NDTV)


The not-so-fine art of the political insult: The dirty secret of Indian elections is that cheap talk pays rich rewards. Crasser the political rhetoric, the more likely it is to be blessed with breathless media headlines… and, of course, a zillion RTs. An analysis of netaji activity of Twitter shows that the greatest beneficiary of trash-talking has been Rahul ‘ no more nice guy’ Gandhi. (Mint)


Jab Trump met Jack: He didn’t talk to the Twitter CEO about the toxicity of social media or the urgent need to curb the spread of fake news. He “accused Twitter of playing political games’” and deliberately limiting or removing a number of his nearly 60 million followers. Because, priorities. (Washington Post)


Netflix remains Oscar-worthy: as do Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services. After a bitter dispute—which included the likes of Steven Speilberg jumping into the fray—the Academy’s board ruled that any movie released online on the same day of its theatrical release will be eligible for award consideration. But it must also run in a Los Angeles County theater for at least seven days, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission. Hollywood movie studios are sad! (Axios)


This is what women’s work looks like: This clip of tribal women in Nashik painstakingly lowering themselves into a 60-foot well with ropes to fetch water. And look how little reward there is for all that effort. This is also what extreme water shortage looks like.


And Tik Tok is back! The Madras High Court vacated its interim order banning new downloads of the video-sharing app—on the condition that it will scrub all pornographic content. The company has sworn on all things holy to go fully G-rated. (NDTV)


Weird shit women put in their vagina: includes garlic, apparently to cure yeast infections. Yes, this is true. And no, it doesn’t work… at all! (Mashable)


Rumoured Bollywood travesty in the making: Katrina Kaif may play PT Usha in an upcoming biopic. We have no words. (NDTV)


AI came up with this new team sport: It invented a game that combines rugby, croquet, soccer and Ultimate Frisbee, which has been dubbed Speedgate (watch the demo here). More amusing are its initial bright ideas which included: An exploding Frisbee relay where racers run on a track while disks that explode on impact are thrown at them; “Pommel horse sawing,” where two people sit on pommel horses on opposite sides of a giant log and rock back and forth with a saw. AI is trying to kill us. (Washington Post)                                                                                                                                                                                             

Indians heart Europe a lot!: In 2018, Indians applied for a record-breaking one million Schengen visas—that’s double the number in 2014. The largest number of applications for the visa—which allows tourists to travel through 26 European countries—were filed in Delhi at the Swiss consulate. Yash Chopra may be dead and gone, but a little bit of him will always stay alive in our phoren trip plans. (Quartz)


Your tongue smells: a lot of stuff. A new study found that tongues contain olfactory receptors similar to those found in the nose. So it may be that our perception of what is ‘yummy’ is driven by a mingling of taste and smell on our tongues. Why does this matter? “This may lead to the development of odour-based taste modifiers that can help combat the excess salt, sugar, and fat intake associated with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes.” (Newsweek)


The price of a five-star hotel room: is the cheapest during peak months—ie December, March, June and September—in these ten cities (in order): Manila, Chennai, Dubai, Cairo, Siem Reap, Panama City, Brussels, Bali,  New Delhi and Addis Ababa. (Lonely Planet)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Photos Tell A Story’ Edition

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or so the cliche insists. But in this age of Insta, that picture is usually a lie—carefully posed, edited and filtered to mislead. These two collections of photos, however,  are not. 

This is what visual storytelling looks like

The LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards recognise photographers from around the world who use their camera lens to weave a compelling tale. It could be a stunning image that captures salt mining in Bolivia, an arresting photo of Palestinians running from tear gas, or a gorgeous staged (fictitious) shot of a woman in a kitchen, titled ‘What Do We Get Used To?’ These are the winners.


Check out: The art of storytelling—in pictures | Guardian

Sex, Love etc 2

This is what ‘deviant’ desire looks like

Photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki’s most famous and provocative series were photographed on nighttime strolls through Tokyo’s Chuo park. These are not pretty pictures, but photos of ‘Peeping Toms’ stalking couples as they make out (and more) in the bushes. They tell an uncomfortable story about voyeurism, perversion and human desire—one perhaps all too familiar to us Indians. (Must read: Artsy offers context to Yoshiyuki’s photos and intent.) 

Check out: The Intimacy and Voyeurism in Kohei Yoshiyuki's The Park | WideWalls

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