Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Big move of the day

Indonesia is moving out of its current capital city, Jakarta. The reason: Jakarta is sinking by as much as ten inches every year—and a great part of it is already below sea level. Its new capital will be located in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The problem: the undeveloped forest land is currently home to orangutans, sun bears and long-nosed monkeys—and already under pressure from mining and palm oil production. But the government is promising to build "a smart city in the forest."

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The fires raging through the Amazon

The world’s largest rainforest has been burning for weeks without the world paying much attention. The crisis finally made headlines across the world, and jumped to the top of the G7 summit agenda this week.


What’s happening in the Amazon: There have been 57,509 fires reported in 2019 in the Brazilian part of the Amazon (other reports put the number above 75000) . That’s an 85% jump from last year. 


Why is this a crisis? Here are a couple of key reasons:

  • The destruction has released 228 megatonnes of carbon dioxide—and a significant amount of carbon monoxide. 

  • The Amazon rainforests are the “lungs” of the planet, and account for 6% of the planet’s oxygen (not 20% as widely reported).

  • But more importantly, 60% of the Amazon is in Brazil, which is home to two million species of plants and animals. One in ten of all known species live in the Amazon. 


So these are wildfires? Nope. And they aren’t a result of climate change—unlike the fires that spread across California and other parts of the world. This is a human-made catastrophe. President Jair Bolsonaro came into power vowing to rollback environmental protections—which he views as an obstacle to development. He has actively blocked conservation efforts, and encouraged deforestation via mining, logging etc. People are literally setting the forests on fire in order to clear them.


The result: According to the New York Times, “Brazil’s part of the Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover since Mr. Bolsonaro took office in January, a 39 percent increase over the same period last year.” In June alone, the deforestation rate was 80% higher than in the same month last year.


Bolsonaro under pressure: Until recently, Bolsonaro refused to take the crisis seriously—dismissing it as a plot by NGOs to defame him. However, there has been increasing international pressure:

  • In recent days, protesters around the world gathered outside Brazilian embassies to put pressure on Bolsonaro. Watch the video report here.

  • Also: on France’s urging, the G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) made the Amazon a priority at their summit over the weekend. And they have pledged $22 million in assistance—a sum being criticised as “insignificant.”

  • The more important point to note: France also threatened to spike a trade deal if Brazil failed to take action.


So what happens now? Bolsonaro has consistently rejected international offers of assistance. He said France’s plan to build an "alliance" to save the Amazon treats Brazil "as if we were a colony or no man's land.”  But happily, his environment minister plans to accept the promised funds. More importantly, Bolsonaro has been shamed into sending 44,000 troops and warplanes (armed with water) to affected areas.


The big question: sparked by the fires is this: Does Brazil have the right to do what it wishes with its part of the Amazon? When French President Macron tweeted, “our house is burning,” Bolsonaro accused him of having a “colonial mindset.” But as The Atlantic points out: 

“The Amazon rainforest does, in some sense, belong to Brazilians and the indigenous people who live there. But as a store of carbon, it is fundamental to the survival of every person. If destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is simply beyond humanity’s ability to get back: Even if people were to replant half a continent’s worth of trees, the diversity of creatures across Amazonia, once lost, will not be replenished for roughly 10 million years. And that is 33 times longer than Homo sapiens, as a species, has existed.”


Learn more: PBS put together a carefully vetted list of key numbers and data points. BBC explains the extent and impact of the fires with charts and maps. Its reporter also flew over the Amazon to capture this alarming footageNew York Times charts the destruction wreaked by Bolsonaro’s policies. The Atlantic argues that the Amazon fires are more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction—and require international intervention. On the same subject, New York Magazine writes on the glimmers of new climate change world order. Our lead photo is a NASA satellite image of the fires as seen from space. Daily Mail has more photos, as well. 

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consoling your cat on International Dog Day

RBI writes a big, fat check: The central bank will transfer a record Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the Union government. Here’s what you need to know about it:

  • The government has long been pushing the RBI to fork over a part of its more than Rs 9 trillion surplus. The former RBI governor Urjit Patel’s refusal to do so led in part to his exit. (See our explainer here

  • Part of this money—Rs 52.637 crore—will come out of RBI’s contingency aka ‘rainy day’ fund which stood at Rs 2.3 lakh crore in 2017-18. The contingency fund accounted for 6.8% of RBI’s assets. It will now come down to 5.5%—which is the minimum mandated level.

  • We don’t know what the government will spend this money on. It could be used to either shore up its revenue—since it is expected to miss its tax targets—or on a bigger stimulus package in the near future.


In related economic news: The limited stimulus package announced by the Finance Minister made the markets very happy on Monday. But is it enough to pull us out of the woods?

  • Andy Mukherjee doesn’t think so. He argues in Bloomberg that the stimulus plan is missing the wood for the trees. The wood in this case: a huge global opportunity to take advantage of the global trade wars in three key industries: textiles, electronics and autos. Our favourite line in his column: “When you’re always fighting fires, it’s difficult to turn off the water hose and start tending the garden. 

  • Harish Damodaran in Indian Express does an excellent job of explaining why the real culprit is not weakening consumer demand but diving corporate investment—and why it isn’t going to get better any time soon (with or without the stimulus package). Also: In case you need it, our explainers on the recent spate of economic bad news are here and here.


Your Chidambaram update is here: The former Finance Minister had a bad day in court—actually, two courts. The special Delhi court granted CBI’s request to keep him in custody for four more days. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court turned down his request for anticipatory bail (the one that failed to get a hearing last week and led to his arrest). The reason: Chidambaram is already in custody which renders his plea moot. (Times of India)


An IAS officer in big trouble: Remember Kannan Gopinathan? He’s the bureaucrat who quit his job because of the lockdown in Kashmir. His reasoning: while it may have been legal for the government to revoke Article 370, Kashmiris too have a fundamental right as citizens to respond to the government’s actions (His reasoning explained here). In any case, the Home Ministry has now served him a show cause notice that accuses him of “insubordination, dereliction of duty and dilatory tactics”—oddly none of them refer to Kashmir. (India Today)


Excess screen-time is killing childhood: Ok, maybe not quite. But they are killing that imaginary friend that many of us had as children. The reason: kids simply don’t have time to be bored, which in turn is stunting their imagination. (Daily Mail)


‘Breaking Bad’ is now a Netflix movie: Yes, the very popular series will now find new life as a Netflix movie titled ‘El Camino’ on October 11. Here is the trailer.


Women feel more pain: than men. According to the latest research, not only are women more likely to suffer from painful chronic conditions than men—they are also more likely to experience the same level of pain more intensely. And Mother Nature decided we were the ones best suited to give birth? How does this work? (NPR)


Say goodbye to Gaggan: The two-Michelin-starred Bangkok restaurant is rated #4 on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants, and co-owned by chef Gaggan Anand—who had long promised to shut it down at 2020 to do something new. But the restaurant’s demise came earlier and was more abrupt. The reason: a falling out between the chef and his investors. But, hey, Anand remains optimistic: “In ten years I will be one of the greatest chefs of the 21st century. A world star." Agence France Presse has the story plus all the details on this on wunderkind from Kolkata with a soft spot for Nirvana. 


Your International Dog Day special is here: and it includes: 

  • The good news that Alexa will playpuppy jams’ for your pooch… if you ask nicely, of course.

  • This science-based explanation as to why dogs are better than cats (pinky promise, we will find research that proves exactly the opposite on International Cats Day)

  • An excellent gallery of the bravest dogs to grace the Bollywood screen… most of them named Moti, of course. 

  • This clip of a golden retriever which explains why so many of us love our absurdly silly puppies.

  • Listen to Sandip Roy on KALW San Francisco on the Kolkata stray that decided to adopt him.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The incredible winners in the 2019 Bird Photographer of the Year competition (laptop viewing recommended).

  • An underwater cameraman being charged by a great white shark—what happens next will defy all your expectations.

  • The excellent news that the government may make it mandatory to serve tea and coffee in traditional terracotta pots at airports, railway stations and bus terminals.

  • The perfect illustration of Newton’s principle of inertia as demonstrated by a toy dinosaur.

  • Our super favourite: This young girl schooling her trash-talking ‘big guy’ rival on a basketball court. 

  • More animals getting a belly rub. Today’s entry: a very content koala bear. 

  • This is what happens when you ask your boyfriend to buy tampons.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Celebrity Home' edition

We all want to know how the other .00001% live—all the more so if they happen to be famous movie stars. So here’s a treat for the secret voyeur in us all.

The man who designed Gwynnie’s… bookshelves?

Hollywood celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow now employ someone called a ‘personal book curator’—and his name is Thatcher Wine. Bwahaha… sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves. If you’re silly enough to think that books are bought to be read (or at least with the virtuous intent to read), this don’t-miss interview is for you. Also: “The Stoic philosophers are having a moment now.” Bwahaha!

Read: Gwyneth Paltrow Hired a Personal Book Curator | Town & Country

Sex, Love etc 2

Beautiful homes of the beautiful Bollywood women

Ok, this is nothing more than a collection of photo galleries that capture the interiors of the biggest actresses, from Aishwarya Rai to Alia Bhatt and Kangana Ranaut. Just yenjoy!

Read: Take a tour of top Bollywood celebrity homes in Mumbai | Architectural Digest India

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