Monday, March 4, 2019
Number of the day: 17

The US News and World Report ranks 80 of the most powerful nations in the world based on their political and financial influence, military clout, global alliances, and soft power in the international arena. India comes in at #17 this year, two spots down from 2018. But in the overall ranking of ‘Best Countries’—based on a survey of 20K respondents around the world—India ranked far lower at #27. The United States is still #1 in terms of power, but #8 in the ‘Best Countries’ list—far behind Switzerland (#1), Japan and Canada.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Evidence on the Balakot strikes

Now that the prospect of war has receded, attention has shifted to ‘evidence’ of the various claims.  Meanwhile, PM Modi claims that raising questions about the strike hurts “the morale of our forces” and offers comfort to our enemies. In any case, here’s our breakdown of the ‘proof’ presented to answer the key questions.


1) Is JeM chief Masood Azhar dead? No. The rumour, started by an anonymous blog yesterday evening, quickly spread to news sites who dutifully reported on the “intense speculation.” According to the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Azhar is unwell—most likely in hospital on dialysis due to renal failure.


2) Did India strike JeM camps in Balakot? Everyone—except Islamabad—agrees there was/is a JeM campus in the targeted area What’s up for debate is whether India hit it.


The naysayers: Those refuting the claim of a successful strike include:

  • Foreign media: Most on-the-ground reports suggest that India missed its target. Reuters reached its conclusion after speaking to local villagers and “Western diplomats in Islamabad.” Al Jazeera concurs, but is more definitive about the presence of a JeM training centre—but located a kilometre away from the strikes.

  • Satellite imagery experts:  Images and analysis published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the Digital Forensic Research Lab show the impact of the strikes, but the buildings appear to be untouched.


The aye-sayers: Those confirming a successful strike include:

  • The Indian government: In response, “official sources” offered new information to Indian Express and Times of India. One, they have high-tech radar images which offer a far closer look at the ground than satellites. (These have not been publicly shared as yet.) Two, the IAF used Israeli S-2000 precision-guided munition (PGM) which do not create craters (as shown on Pakistani images) but mounds of earth—which can be quickly covered with corrugated roofs (to pretend the buildings are still intact).

  • An Italian journalist: In a Firstpost exclusive, Francesca Marino writes that her ‘local government sources’ confirmed 35 casualties including a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer, a colonel, a JeM instructor, and a bomb expert. No reference to Masood Azhar, though.

  • Jaish-e-Mohammad: In a speech likely given at a Peshawar mosque, an unidentified JeM leader declares, “India has crossed from its territory, entered our country and attacked our centre (markaz) and has made jihad a reason to defend ourselves.” But experts on Islamic militancy caution that it is in JeM’s interest to use a successful strike “to further its own agenda of rallying people for jihad.”


3) How many were killed in the strike? Marino over at Firstpost puts the number at 35. BJP Union Minister SS Ahluwalia said at an event there was “no damage” or human casualties, and that was intentional—the aim was simply “to prove that we can destroy their (terrorists’) house by dropping bombs beside it.” JeM also claims there were no casualties. The Indian government has refused to confirm any kind of number—but that didn’t stop BJP chief Amit Shah from claiming 250-plus body count on the election trail.


4) Did India cross into Pakistani airspace? From the very beginning, the media and Islamabad claimed the IAF crossed the international border into Balakot—a fact never officially refuted by the Indian government. On Saturday, “government officials” in the Indian Express claimed that “no IAF aircraft crossed the LoC and as per radar data reviewed by the IAF”—the missiles which have a 100km range were instead fired from the Indian side of the border. Then on Sunday morning, Indian Express quotes “a top official” saying: “By striking in KPK, India made the LoC and the International Border irrelevant when it comes to cross-border strikes.”  Read that as you will.


The bottomline: Here’s what we learned over the past week:

  • Evidence lies in the eye of the beholder. And the waters have been sufficiently muddied by all sides that each of us is free to latch on to facts that most fit our bias.

  • The definition of propaganda is also subjective. What one nation presents as ‘evidence’ is dismissed by the other as ‘misinformation’. More importantly, on both sides of the border, blind faith in one’s own government’s ‘facts’ is the litmus test for patriotism.

  • The Indian mainstream media is terrible at its job. Yes, the over-the-top jingoism is unforgivable. But more subtly corrosive is the ‘objective reporting’ based entirely on anonymous official sources. There has been no effort to question or crosscheck a single claim—each has instead been treated as front-page gospel.

  • This kind of reporting allows those in power—any government ruled by any party—to say what they want with full deniability and zero accountability. And to keep changing their story at will. As The Telegraph reports, this is exactly what happened with the original 300-plus casualty count.

  • All of which raises this key question: Do we want a democracy where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, stenography from journalism, love for country from loyalty to power?


Learn More: Here’s a quick round-up of all the related coverage:

  • The Wire has a detailed backgrounder on the unanswered questions.

  • Three pieces that analyse the aftermath: Quartz reminds us that strikes have not altered Pakistan’s terror policy—as both the US and USSR have shown in the past. BBC looks at who won the PR war: Khan or Modi? Guardian on Kashmiris hoping for a war that “will solve this once and for all.”

  • For media criticism: This Caravan piece takes all Indian journalists to task—not just low-hanging fruit like Arnab. Foreign Policy weighs in on India’s war-crazy media.

  • Squadron Leader Ninad Mandavgane died in the Mi-17 crash in Budgam at the height of the conflict. Watch his widow’s brilliant response to patriotic warmongering.

  • On a lighter note: Pakistan’s foreign minister offers an object lesson on how not to answer a question on JeM in this BBC clip. Amul pays tribute to Abhinandan’s mooch. Also: first came the Pulwama-inspired saris, but featuring US soldiers (?!). Now a Balakot strike sari has come to the rescue (scroll down for video). And this: Delhi BJP MLA Manoj Tiwari campaigning in military fatigues while he namechecks Abhinandan.


In very much related news: A lecturer in Karnataka was forced to kneel and apologise by Hindu rightwing activists—in front of college authorities and a policeman—for a Facebook post allegedly criticising the BJP’s handling of the war. And they made him do it on video which then went viral. The college is owned by Karnataka home minister, Congressman M.B. Patil. (The Print)

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throwing cheese slices at your delighted dog

Modi’s tone-deaf response on dyslexia: A BTech student from Uttarakhand started to explain her project which helps people with dyslexia. Modi responded by taking a crack at Rahul Gandhi’s intelligence. The audience dutifully laughed, the young woman was uncomfortable and embarrassed—but the Prime Minister was not. (The Telegraph has the story, video clip is here)


Second highest cause of death in India: is COPD, ie Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which killed one million in 2017. It is caused by outdoor and indoor pollution, and yet remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. (IndiaSpend)


Nope, you didn’t assault her because you were drunk: It’s true that a vast number of sexual assault cases involve alcohol. And not because the woman was drunk. According to numerous studies, “perpetrators were more likely to report using alcohol at the time of an assault than victims—60 to 65 percent of perpetrators compared with 30 to 55 percent of victims.” But alcohol does not cause sexual assault. The best predictor of rape according to science? Toxic attitudes toward women. (FiveThirtyEight)


Hollywood ruined Jeff Bezos’ happiness: The ruthless businessman, ferociously focused on expanding his empire, is now tabloid fodder. And it all started when he bought a home in Beverly Hills, and went “from a low-key, geeky Seattle dad to a chiselled presence on the red carpet.” This is a delicious, in-depth look at Bezos’ spiral into sensationalism. (New York Times)


Spielberg wants to ruin Netflix’s happiness: The legendary director wants to rain all over Netflix’s ‘Roma’ party. He plans to introduce a change in Academy rules that would disqualify Netflix original films from Oscar contention. (Complex)


Priyanka stars in Nick’s video: The Jonas Brothers have reunited for a new single, and its music video features the women in their lives—including PC, or is that PCJ now? Well, she looks lovely, as usual, but the other two women seem to be having a whole lot more fun.


Cheese meets baby in stupidest viral challenge ever: Take a slice of crappy processed cheese. Fling it at the face of a very young child. Watch child cry, laugh or look shocked. Ha, ha, ha! #ParentingFail #SaveChildrenFromMorons. (Daily Mail)


Johnny Depp’s big Elon Musk revelation: The ‘pretty boy turned ugly middle-aged drunk’ actor has filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against his former partner, Amber Heard. The reason: She wrote a Washington Post op-ed in December implying that Depp abused her—though she never directly refers to him. But the real shocker in the lawsuit is this line: “Unbeknownst to Mr. Depp, no later than one month after his marriage to Ms. Heard, she was spending time in a new relationship with Tesla and Space X founder, Elon Musk." (E! Online)


Not-so-young, footloose and single: The olds are invading a dating app near you. Yes, folks under 30 still constitute the vast majority of users, but there’s been a significant uptick in 35-plus swipers—the oldest being 67. And they’re looking for love and friendship “without any shehnai strings attached.” (Times of India)


Is that pesticide in my beer? Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, and a new US study found traces of it in 19 brands of wine and beer. While US authorities have deemed these levels to be “safe,” WHO views glyphosate as a potential human carcinogen linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Big Think)


In case you needed one more reason to love: Neil Gaiman or Stephen King. Check out what each said about their respective wives on Twitter. Gaiman here. King here.

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The best place for the best advice

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How to make Google search your bff

When in doubt, turn to Google. That’s our mantra, whether we’re looking for directions, restaurants, news, recipes or just more information on whatever’s on our mind. But there are far better ways to use Google than just typing keywords into the search box. Here then is a list of handy stuff you never knew it can do for you.


  • The best way to whittle down those endless search results: add a plus sign to the word that is absolutely essential—to skip default results that don’t include it. For example: +Broadsheet. A minus sign does exactly the opposite, ie exclude results which include that word.

  • Want to find a quote or a song when you know only some of the words? Use the asterisk (*). And be sure to put in quotes. For example: "ask not what * * do for you".

  • Most internal search tools on websites don’t work very well. A better solution is to use the “Site: URL keyword” option on Google. For example: “Site: Pulwama”. It will give you results only from that that source.

  • Love a song but looking for a cool remix or cover of the same? Just search for the artist and song title, and Google will list “Other recordings of this song” alongside the main result.

  • Google any individual ingredient to find its detailed nutritional information. The best bit: you can be very specific. For example: How many calories in one egg yolk? How much protein in one cup of chana?

  • You don’t need to reach for the phone when you need a timer or a stopwatch. Just type it into Google. Even better you can specify the length in your search term. Example: “20 minute timer”

  • Confused about your current IP address? Just enter “IP address”.

  • You probably know this one, but you can get precise flight info by typing the details directly into the search box.

  • This is especially handy in India where numbers (especially in corruption scandals!) can run to innumerable zeroes. You can search for any long string of numbers and have Google translate it into plain English by typing: “very long number=english”

  • No, you don’t have to deal with a clunky time zone converter. Just type in the time at the other location, and Google will tell you what time it will be in India. For example: 2:00 pm Buenos Aires.

  • Want to know the weather. Just type ‘weather’ followed by the city. Specify a day if you’re looking for info in advance.

  • Google can also search your Gmail, Google Photos, and Calendar. You can ask for “my Vodafone bills from 2018” or “my photos from goa”. Creepy but handy.

  • Finally, want to erase your entire or just part of your search history? Use this link.


Learn more: Both Entrepreneur and Fast Company list a lot more useful ways to use Google Search. TechyWaky has 15 funny Google tricks to entertain yourself while pretending to work. TooManyAdapters and GadgetsNow list the many cool things you can do on Google Maps. USA TODAY teaches you how to ace Google Photos.

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