Thursday, May 9, 2019

Name of the day

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. That’s the official name of Meghan and Harry’s son. The child has been spared the usual dull royal first names like Charles, William, Andrew etc. It’s Harrison because… he’s Harry’s son, of course! And Mountbatten-Windsor is a compound of the surnames of the Queen and Prince Phillip. What we learnt from all this: Archie is already a hugely popular name in Britain right now. Really? Also: Here are the first baby pics.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The escalating battle between the United States and Iran

Iran announced that it will no longer honour commitments made as part of a significant nuclear deal, and threatened to restart its nuclear program. The move sets up a potentially disastrous confrontation with an already aggressive United States—one that will have serious repercussions for the Middle East.


First, some background: Back in 2015, the Obama White House—along with key European nations, Russia and China—engineered an accord with Iran called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). At the time, Iran was actively developing its nuclear weapons program. The deal placed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear capacity for a decade or more. And in exchange, the Western nations partially lifted their economic sanctions which had long crippled the Iranian economy. However, last year, President Trump nixed the agreement, calling it “the worst deal in the world”, and reimposed sanctions on Iran.


What did Iran do then? Iran continued honouring its side of the deal, hoping that the Europeans would mitigate the worst effects of the US sanctions. However, the US has instead taken an increasingly harsher line. For example, Washington had given India and other nations a sanction waiver so they could continue to import crude oil from Tehran. But in April, the Trump administration abruptly cancelled the waiver. Also: last week, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced the deployment of a strike group of aircraft-carriers and a bomber task-force near Iran. Yup, the same Bolton who was the key architect of the Iraq War under Bush.


What’s Iran saying now? President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will renege on some of its JCPOA commitments. It will begin to build up its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and of heavy water, which are used in different types of nuclear reactors. Tehran will give the European nations 60 days to find ways to protect Iran’s economy from US reprisals—especially its oil and financial sectors. If they fail to do so, the country will remove all limits on its enriched uranium production and rebuild its shuttered nuclear reactor—opening the door to possible weapons development.


Yikes, so what happens next? While Iran is hardly an injured innocent, it has few other options but to stand its ground. The renewed US sanctions have sent its GDP rate into the red (minus 6%), and the danger of economic meltdown is very real. China and Russia have already blamed the US for its actions. UK, France, Germany et al want to save the deal, but have been unable to persuade Trump who is hell-bent on destroying it. And they can’t force European companies to do business with Iran if the price is being blacklisted by the United States. The only hope: the other JCPOA signatories can band together to persuade Tehran to back down, and Washington to take a softer line.


The bottomline: Right now, Rouhani and Trump are engaged in a dangerous game of ‘chicken’—each escalating the conflict to force the other to back off. But with war-hungry hawks like Bolton driving US foreign policy, it’s a game that can turn very ugly, very fast.

Learn more: BBC has more details and background. CNN explains why the unravelling deal poses a serious danger to Middle East peace. The Economist’s sharply worded analysis of the US role is a must read. The Hindu looks at the downside for India which is now being forced to import more expensive crude from the United States.

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wondering if you got Kimmie all wrong

The Uber dream sours around the world: Even as the company prepares for its IPO with an expected valuation of $80 billion, its drivers are rising in rebellion. Hundreds of them went on strike in the UK and the United States, demanding better benefits and lower commissions paid per ride to the app. Meanwhile, in India, the cab-hailing company heavily slashed incentives for its drivers—sending many into near-poverty and debt. As for the Indian customer, the exodus of drivers may well mean longer waiting times and fewer cabs in the future.


The growing storm over GDP data: Yesterday, Mint reported that the government database used to calculate GDP numbers is highly corrupted. About 36% of the companies it contains either cannot be traced or they are wrongly categorised as being ‘active’. Why is this a problem? When a firm does not report data in a particular year, government agencies use something called a “blow-up" technique. This method estimates the value of the goods or services it produced in that year using its paid-up capital (PUC) at the time of setting up of the company. But in fact, many of these are ghost or shell companies. In other words, current GDP calculations rely on estimated value added by companies that simply don’t exist or are not in operation. (Mint)


Tales of trafficking: According to the Associated Press, young Christian women in Pakistan are being trafficked as ‘brides’ to China where they are vulnerable to abuse. Human Rights Watch warned there is "increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China." In related news: Times of India features three poignant interviews with women from Hyderabad who went to work in Saudi Arabia but ended up as modern-day slaves in their employers’ homes.


Wonder Lawyer to the rescue: In South Asia, #MeToo superheroes wear a robe. Women lawyers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are creating powerful networks to help survivors of harassment. (The Guardian)


Sri Lankans to the rescue: This aww-inducing video clip of two baby elephants being rescued went viral—probably because it symbolises the hope of compassion and unity in a nation in great need of it.


Naresh Goyal wrote a sad letter: to his former employees praising their “peace marches” which he saw as evidence of their “love and unfaltering commitment to Jet Airways.” Dear Mr Goyal: Those are peaceful protests against a company which has shown neither love nor unfaltering commitment to its employees. (Conde Nast Traveller)


Can this spy whale get any cuter? Remember the friendly beluga trained by Russians and found by the Norwegians? Well, the defector has become a bit of a tourist attraction. So some young women decided to do a bit of beluga-spotting, and then this happened. Also: in case you’re worried, Norway is considering moving whale-who-really-needs-a-name to a sanctuary in Iceland to keep him safe. 


So what will Meghan and Harry’s baby look like? Will his African American ancestry reveal itself in his hair or skin colour? And how will that change the way he is viewed? This op-ed offers a thoughtful take on a question no one else has dared ask. (New York Times)


Madonna wore a burqa: so she could walk through JFK airport unrecognised. It clearly didn’t work. Also: she paired it with a New York Yankees coat and sweatpants… because why not. (Daily Mail)


In defence of Kim Kardashian: She may be fabulously famous, admired for her keen business acumen or shipped for her lifestyle and looks. And she’s also helped 17 people secure their release from prison in the past three months. But almost no one has written a passionate defence of her as a great human being… until now. The somewhat OTT essay is worth a read even if you don’t much care for Kim K. (Medium)


Things not to eat: An uncooked marmot. Also: A live octopus.

Now you can get extensions: for your, um, nose hair. See it to believe it...if you dare.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Friends Who Count' Edition

Friendship is one of the great joys of human existence, and perhaps the least acknowledged. These are two very different kinds of stories about two very different kinds of friends—and the value they add to our lives.

A new friend in a new city

This lovely little essay traces a childhood friendship forged by two teenage boys who moved to the Mumbai suburb of Kandivali from their respective small towns. It offers no big insights or reveals, but offers a sepia-toned tribute to friends and years we all have left behind.

Read: Growing Up in Bombay | The City Story

Sex, Love etc 2

The importance of acquaintances

BFF. The very acronym reveals the great value we place on having besties. Greater the intimacy, the more valuable the friendship. But this opinion piece argues that a network of “weak ties”—i.e. friendly acquaintances—is just as important for our well-being. Like that guy you say ‘hello’ to in the hallway at work.

Read: Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships | New York Times

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