Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Video of the day

A Kannada actor and his buddies bullied some people at a Bangalore movie theatre—calling them “Pakistani terrorists.” Their sin: they failed to stand up for the national anthem. He then posted a clip of the incident on his Facebook page with the message: “guys when it’s INDIA yaavan aadru (if anyone) goes against INDIA then I will be the first person to raise my voice.. share it till these guys get screwed to the core.. Jai Hind.. Jai Shree Ram.. ” Watch the clip here. PS: the Bangalore police say it is perfectly legal to sit out the national anthem.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

A US military operation in Syria has resulted in the death of the leader of ISIS. President Trump was quick to claim victory, but it may not spell the end of ISIS itself.


The raid: At least 50 members of US special-operations forces stormed a building in a village near Idlib after midnight on Saturday (local time). Here’s how the raid unfolded:

  • The US forces blew a hole in the side of the building after failing to persuade its residents to surrender. 

  • Al Baghdadi fled with his young children into a network of underground bunkers and tunnels that snaked under the compound—where he became trapped in a dead end. He then detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and his children. 

  • An on-the-spot DNA test was conducted to confirm his identity. 

  • The strike was codenamed Operation Kayla Mueller after an American woman who was abducted, repeatedly raped (by Baghdadi among others) and killed by ISIS in 2015.

  • The operation, which took just a couple of hours, was based on intelligence secured from the wife of a courier al-Baghdadi employed to hand-deliver messages. 

  • “I don’t think we could have done this without the help we got from the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, which continued after we began the troop pullout,” A US official told Time


Trump’s announcement: In a nationally televised address on Sunday, the President shared the news—boasting, “This is the biggest there is." He also shared blow-by-blow details of the operation—which he described as “watching a movie”—and claimed al-Baghdadi died "whimpering and crying and screaming.” As the New York Times reports, “But those surveillance feeds could not show what was happening in an underground tunnel, much less detect if Mr. al-Baghdadi was whimpering or crying.” Ah well. 


Tell me more about al-Baghdadi: Born Ibrahim Awad al-Samarrai in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq, he was the son of a Sunni cleric who showed a precocious interest in religious study. Here’s a quick timeline of his rise to power:


  • When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, he became part of the armed resistance—and was arrested and detained in a US prison camp in 2004. 

  • That’s where he banded with the other prisoners who organised themselves into a group that would later become ISIS.  As a New York Times op-ed notes: “The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.”

  • Released nine months later, al-Baghdadi quickly built ties with Al Qaeda. In 2010, he took over the reins of the Islamic State in Iraq and rapidly expanded into Syria—taking advantage of the chaos that followed President Assad’s ouster. 

  • At the height of his power, the Islamic State ruled 12 million people and controlled territory equivalent to the size of Great Britain. It had an annual budget of over $1 billion and an army of 30,000 soldiers. 

  • But al-Baghdadi was most notorious for unleashing unprecedented forms of violence, including televised executions and mass rapes. Other examples include the following: “A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages, as underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank, or strung up by their feet inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.”


This is a big deal, right? Yes and no. 


Yes, because...:  His death represents a long-elusive victory for the US which has been trying unsuccessfully to eliminate him for nearly ten years. al-Baghdadi also was a highly charismatic leader who persuaded thousands of volunteers to flock to Syria, eager to become to become "Jund al-Khilafa" (soldiers of the caliphate). More importantly, he created a completely distributed system of terror—inspiring ISIS loyalists around the world to launch independent attacks without any formal ties to the organisation. A recent example: The Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka.  Replacing him with a leader of equivalent stature will be a huge challenge for ISIS—and at a time when it is on the run, having lost its territory in Syria.


No, because…: The ISIS is a hydra-headed monster. The organisation has repeatedly recovered from crippling leadership losses in the past—and there are already reports of al-Baghdadi’s replacements readying to take charge. But more importantly, its decentralised structure will continue to pose a serious threat. According to the US Defense Department, ISIS still has between 14,000 and 18,000 members. And as this expert report concludes: “ISIS added four new provinces to its self-declared caliphate between April-May 2019: Central Africa, Turkey, India, and Pakistan. ISIS’s global expansion was sufficiently entrenched at the time of Baghdadi’s death such that a successor will likely be able to sustain much of ISIS’s global operations. Dangerous possibilities include a new collaboration between ISIS and al Qaeda to launch attacks in the West.”


But it is the biggest deal for…: Donald Trump! The successful military operation comes at the perfect time for a president who is facing both impeachment and a reelection campaign. 


What do others say? Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey have hailed it as a turning point in the fight against "terrorism," while usual critics such as Iran have dismissed its significance. But the most striking response came from the Russian Defence Ministry which said it had “no reliable information about U.S. servicemen conducting an operation for ‘yet another’ elimination of” al-Baghdadi. This after Trump declared in his announcement: "[The Russians] were very cooperative, they really were good... Russia treated us great. They opened up, we had to fly over certain Russia areas, Russia-held areas. Russia was great." Now that’s just mean. 


The bottomline: The reports of the demise of ISIS are greatly exaggerated… for now. 


Learn more: Here’s a quick round up of the best reporting:

  • New York Times pulls together the most detailed and in-depth profile of al-Baghdadi.

  • Time magazine has the best reporting on the raid. 

  • Read the Institute for the Study of War report on how ISIS will survive without al-Baghdadi. Bloomberg reaches the same conclusion, but in less policy wonk language.

  • Vox explains why Trump’s speech was a “mess” on many levels. 

  • Associated Press via Times of India compares the two photos of the operation against al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden. 

  • Washington Post has the best analysis of the possible replacements for al-Baghdadi.

  • Daily Show offers a very funny take on Trump’s announcement. 


In other ISIS-related news: The terrorist organisation has been using Tik Tok to court younger followers. According to the original Wall Street Journal story, “the videos featured corpses paraded through streets, Islamic State fighters with guns, and women who call themselves ‘jihadist and proud’... Some included TikTok filters, or images, of stars and hearts that stream across the screen in an apparent attempt to resonate with young people.” Tik Tok has since removed the two dozen accounts. Daily Mail has some (non-violent) screenshots of the videos.

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recovering from your three-day mithai binge

Your Brexit update is here: And we’re keeping it mercifully brief. One, the Brexit deadline has now been extended until January 31, 2020—so the UK will not be falling off a cliff come October 30. Two, the Parliament once again rejected Boris Johnson’s proposal to hold an election in December. No worries, he plans to propose the exact same thing again today.


An EU inspection tour of Kashmir: That’s right. While Opposition leaders were swiftly turned back from the Srinagar airport, 27 members of the European Parliament will tour the Valley today to get—as the PM’s office puts it—“a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, apart from giving them a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region.” The Opposition is understandably furious. Also: 22 out of the 27 belong to rightwing nationalist parties. (Quint)


Maha drama underway in Maharashtra: BJP failed to secure a majority on its own in the state—and its alliance partner Shiv Sena is determined to make the party pay for it. Sena leaders are refusing to concede their demand for a rotating CM gaddi—where Devendra Phadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray take turns to head the government for 2.5 years.  BJP is outraged that CM Devendra Phadnavis is being asked to share his post when his party secured twice as many seats as the Sena. Unfortunately for the BJP, its 105 seats are nowhere close to the 145 required to form the government. And the Sena is making noises about keeping its options open—all 56 seats in this case. Cue heated rumours of an unlikely alliance with Congress and the NCP. (Indian Express)


Wildfires return to California: Several wildfires broke out across the states⁠—including one nicknamed the Getty fire that raged through the most exclusive LA neighbourhoods (Brentwood, Bel Air etc.).  CNN has more on the fires. The Guardian put together a photo gallery. Plus: a powerful clip of a wildfire raging just off a highway.


An Indo-Pak spat over airspace: For the second time, Pakistan denied India permission to use its airspace for PM Modi’s flight. In September, Islamabad refused to clear Modi’s flight to the US. This time around, he is flying to Saudi Arabia. New Delhi has since lodged a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organisation. (NDTV)


Your post-Diwali haze update is here: After consecutive nights of festivities, Delhi’s air quality is ‘severe’ (as expected), but it is still far better than the past three years. Maybe Kejriwal’s laser show helped, after all. Though Connaught Place traders would disagree. They claim Kejri’s “community and pollution-free Diwali” ruined festival sales by up to 80%. What definitely didn’t help: green crackers. Quint has the update on the other major cities. The best of that lot: Kolkata. Mint has more on the warning issued for Delhi which is likely to experience severe pollution in the week ahead. 


Twitter’s Kashmir crackdown: Since August 2017, the company has blocked 920,000 tweets and 93 accounts that referenced Kashmirs⁠—on the Indian government’s request. Point to note: this is ‘country withheld content’, i.e. it is only blocked in India. Newsweek has the story. You can also read the detailed Committee to Protect Journalists report.


Botswana is humanity’s ‘native’:  New DNA research claims to have pinpointed the original ancestral home of all living human beings.  A stretch of wetland south of the Zambezi River contained an isolated founder population that later spread across the continent, and then the world. Other scientists are not as convinced. (The Guardian


900 Pakistani children test positive for HIV: This is a story of how one pediatrician single-handedly destroyed the lives of thousands of residents of a small town in Pakistan. And he did it by reusing syringes, which he often fished out of the trash. At least 1,100 of them have been diagnosed as HIV-positives⁠—of whom 900 are under the age of twelve. Children as young as 14 months have already died. The really bad news: there are many other doctors like him. Also: only a quarter of the city’s population has been tested. (New York Times)


Jab Letterman met SRK: Everyone was looking forward to Shah Rukh’s turn on Letterman’s Netflix show, ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.’ Scroll loved it, while Quint wasn’t sold. But hey, at least many more Indians now know the meaning of procreate. And this is our fave hot take on Letterman’s performance.


Our copy/pasting women athletes: What do PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom have in common? Yup, they are all amazing Indian women athletes. They also each tweeted this: “I thank @narendramodi for his initiative to honour and empower women this Diwali. Acknowledgement motivates us to work harder and make India proud. #bharatkilaxmi.” Except wrestler Pooja Dhanda forgot to delete one tiny word the government’s PR flack sent her. Behold and learn


Ayodhya sets a light-ful record: Six lakh diyas lit up the Saryu river bank on the eve of Diwali, setting a Guinness World Record for “the largest display of oil lamps.” You can either marvel at the photos or at the price tag of this achievement, which is Rs 130-plus crore. 


Cameras in your airline bathroom? According to a lawsuit filed by a US airline stewardess, pilots on one of its flights had installed cameras in the toilet, and were viewing the livestreaming footage on an iPad installed in the cockpit. When she confronted one of them, he told her it was a “top-secret security measure that had been installed in the lavatories of all Southwest Airlines' 737-800 planes." Southwest is fiercely denying the claim, and pilots say “they don't have sufficient knowledge to respond.” (CNN)


Indians aren’t buying underwear: Sales for panties, briefs and jockeys are nosediving by 20-25% across the industry. Yes, it is because we are all feeling a bit broke. One other big reason: small shops that typically sell underwear have been hard hit by demonetisation and simply don’t have money to buy stocks. The MD of Dollar, which targets semi-urban and rural markets, says, “It is unimaginable that people are not buying undergarments and even the festive season hasn’t helped us much.” The other item Indians aren’t buying: gold. This year, dhanteras sales were 20% lower than the year before.


A very unusual case of border detention: A US citizen of Pakistani descent has been languishing for months in an Indian jail. The reason: She forgot her passport in Kathmandu and couldn’t produce it at the border. But instead of turning her away—as is the norm at any borders⁠—authorities threw her in jail for violating Indian visa and passport laws. Her trial is underway and, if convicted, she could spend the next five years in jail. (Washington Post)


A feminist first for Asterix series: She is the first female hero in the series’ 60-year history. Called Adrenaline, the woman who is keeping Asterix and Obelix on their toes has “long red braided hair, black trousers, gold headphones and [a] grumpy teenage disposition.” (The Guardian)


Jack Ma channels his inner Rocky: The recently retired Alibaba CEO has challenged Floyd Mayweather to an exhibition match. Mayweather has a 50-0 record and is considered one of the all-time great boxers. This is what we call a ‘retirement life crisis’. (CNN


Weekend reads you may have missed: include the following:

  • Two grim reads on Kashmir: One, The Telegraph reports on the destruction of the Valley’s economy; Caravan has reports of torture and harassment of residents⁠—including women, which was rare in the past.  

  • New York magazine’s feature on the future of Conde Nast in an era of decline is a must-read. 

  • Huffington Post overturns the definition of ‘Bengali’ sweets—and the many ways that they are very ‘non-Bengali’ indeed.

  • Is Mark Zuckerberg liberal or conservative? This New York Times op-ed offers a surprising answer that went viral over the weekend.

  • Times of India has a thought-provoking interview with the CEO of Prosus Ventures⁠—one of the biggest investors in India’s digital market. He explains why he is betting big on food delivery, and why one day cooking your own food may become as rare as stitching your clothes.

  • Atlas Obscura has a super-fun read on how kale—yes, green beloved of millennial hipsters and health fanatics⁠—was once regarded as a ‘supernatural’ vegetable.

  • This Zora essay takes aim at Amazon Prime’s hot new romcom series ‘Modern Love—every episode of which focuses on the love lives of lily-white women. 

  • Scroll has an excellent piece on the heated debate over test match venues —should we limit them to the five big cities, as Virat Kohli suggests?

  • Manu Pillai writes evocatively in Mint on the many origins of Diwali.

  • While ‘Saand ki Aankh’ received mixed reviews, there is no debate over the amazingness of the real-life Tomar ladiesas this Indian Express video reveals.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The happy news that Belgium has elected its first woman prime minister. 

  • National Geographic’s brilliant #NatGeoWomenofImpact campaign on Instagram that features photos of women “who fearlessly push boundaries”—taken by women photographers! Our fave is here—explore all the others here.

  • This can’t-stop-smiling clip of a recently adopted and very happy baby with Down Syndrome.

  • A Frenchman singing a DDLJ song on the streets of Paris.

  • This Indian superfan’s super-jugaadi Iron Man suit 

  • Courtney Cox in a hot tub… with David Beckham! Caption contest required ASAP!

  • Karan Johar and his twins—all dressed in exactly the same outfit. That’s what they call both gender and age-neutral.

  • And in memory of Diwali, India’s very own Rocket Manliterally so. Warning: an exceptionally hazardous cigarette was involved in the making of this film.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Sustainable Daily Living’ Edition

We all worry about climate change. We all want to do more. But most of the advice is either obvious or overly broad. Well, the advice these two essays offer is not.

31 excellent tips for a sustainable Indian life

Google ‘sustainable living’ and most of the best advice you’ll find doesn’t really apply to life in India. Well, Mint just put out a much-needed and overdue primer brimming with helpful tips and suggestions. That it is written by one of our Broadsheet Ambassadors is an unexpected bonus.

Read: 31 things you can do to start living the sustainable life | Mint  

Sex, Love etc 2

A clothes-shopping guide for a healthier planet

Yes, we know fast fashion is bad for the environment. But do we know what to buy instead? Eco-friendly fashion isn’t about buying super-expensive organic clothing. It’s actually more like ‘mindful shopping’—and it won’t hurt your pocket at all.

Read: How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last | New York Times

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