Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The seemingly never-ending protests in Hong Kong

For months now, residents of the island have been flooding the streets in gargantuan rallies that have left China irate and the world spellbound. 


The trigger: The demonstrations were first sparked by a bill which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited to China for serious crimes. Sounds harmless, but the proposed law would have opened the door to the extradition of anyone who angered Beijing. More importantly, protesters feared that it was “the endgame of a long battle to disable dissent and political opposition” in Hong Kong—marking total acquiescence to Chinese control.


The escalation: In June, the government agreed to suspend the bill. But the protests continued with demonstrators now demanding a lot more, including:

  • Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill.

  • Amnesty for all protesters who have been arrested so far.

  • An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

  • The right to elect their own Chief Executive. And relatedly, the resignation of the current Chief Executive Carrie Lam.


Explain that last one to me: In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’. The island would retain its sovereignty on most domestic matters while ceding control to Beijing in foreign and defence affairs—at least until 2047, as per the agreement. As a result, the island enjoys many democratic freedoms such as free speech except one—the right to elect its own leader. The chief executive of Hong Kong is currently picked by a 1,200-member election committee which is heavily dominated by pro-Beijing legislators.


Ok, so what happened now? On Sunday, at least 1.7 million people (one in four of Hong Kong’s population) flooded the streets in a show of strength.  The massive turnout—in defiance of a police crackdown and despite Chinese threats of intervention—was hugely significant. Just as significant: after weeks of clashing with the police, the protests remained entirely peaceful.


Why does that matter? Previous clashes with the police had been termed by Chinese officials as "behaviour that is close to terrorism." Besides, Chinese paramilitary troops have been armed and assembled along the border as a not-so-subtle threat. If the protests had turned violent, it may have provoked an already irate Beijing into taking direct action. 


So now what? The Sunday’s march and its aftermath marks a possible detente between the protesters and the Hong Kong government. After the march, a spokesperson did not “condemn” the rally, but instead said, “The most important thing currently is to restore social order as soon as possible. The government will begin a sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down.”


Will they get what they want? Some demands are entirely out of the question. It’s near impossible that Beijing will permit direct elections or the ouster of Carrie Lam. But the Hong Kong government is showing signs of softening its stance—and an inquiry into police brutality is a likely concession. Moreover, it is unclear—even to the protesters—how long the mass rallies can continue. As one of them told the Guardian, “The protest to me now is like a pot of boiling water, the steam is hot. The only problem is when the water is all boiled out.”

The bottomline: Barring an unexpected violent turn, the protests will eventually wind down once the government cedes to some of the demands. And Beijing doesn’t want to stage another Tiananmen Square with the whole world watching its every move—more so as it struggles with a slowing economy and a trade war with the United States. But the protests represent a much deeper problem for China best summed up by an expert who says, “The Chinese communist party [CCP] has lost Hong Kong for the foreseeable future. Not only that, but the people who represent the future, the young people, are the ones most opposed to the CCP… It can hold on to Hong Kong but it can’t control Hong Kong.”


Learn more: First, check out the astonishing drone footage of the protests. Reuters has a video report on the protests. Also worth checking out: this New York Times’ Twitter thread which reviews video footage of the illegal use of tear gas by the police. BBC put together a timeline of the protests. South China Morning Post analyses the protesters’ new strategy of non-violence. CBC and the Guardian offer their takes on the future of the protests.


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making wild plans to buy Micronesia

Thanks, but no thanks, Justice Gogoi: Surbhi Karwa won the gold medal for standing first in her class at the National Law University, Delhi. But she didn’t show up at the convocation to receive it. The reason: The medal would have been presented to her by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. She said, “Everything I learnt in the classroom put me in a moral quandary over the last few weeks on whether I should receive the award from CJI Gogoi. The institution he heads failed when sexual harassment allegations were made against him.” (Indian Express)


Shehla Rashid accused of sedition: Supreme Court lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava has filed a criminal complaint against the Kashmiri leader. Her crime: This Twitter thread where she listed reports she’s heard from people returning from Kashmir. It included the claim that “4 men were called into the Army camp and "interrogated" (tortured). A mic was kept close to them so that the entire area could hear them scream, and be terrorised. This created an environment of fear in the entire area.” She also expanded on these remarks to The Wire, saying, “Let the Indian Army conduct an impartial investigation. I’ll be happy to share details with them. My thread is quite balanced. I’ve pointed out the positive work of the administration too.” The Army has called her allegations “baseless” and “fake news.” Meanwhile, CNN News18 ran a poll asking whether she should be arrested for her tweets.


In other Kashmir-related news: Almost no kid showed up to school on Monday. As one parent said, “How can we risk the lives of our children?... Troops have arrested minor children in the last two weeks and several children were injured in clashes. Our children are safe inside their homes. If they go to school who can guarantee their safety?” Meanwhile, landlines have been partially restored, but mobile and internet connectivity remains blocked. (The Telegraph)


Sonam has her say: The actress offered inoffensive but somewhat clueless answers to questions about Pakistan and Kashmir. But we admire the chutzpah of anyone who plays up their connections to Pakistan in the current environment. Watch the clip here.


An online Ikea store for Mumbai: As a preview for a planned brick-and-mortar store, the Swedish company has launched an online store which will deliver goods within four days of placing of an order. Delivery charges range from Rs 199 to Rs 1,999. (Quartz


Trump’s grand Greenland plan foiled: In a pleasant change from his usual threats to bomb or sanction various nations, the US President is now offering to buy one. He told reporters, “Essentially it’s a large real estate deal,” adding that “owning” Greenland was “hurting Denmark very badly because they’re losing almost $700m a year carrying it.” (clip here) Happily for the people of Greenland, the Danish PM responded, “Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland.” Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time the US has had its eye on poor Greenland. Americans have twice tried to buy it in 1867 and 1946 (?!). Bonus Greenland joke: This cartoon strip from the New Yorker. (CNN)


Chennai’s sea is aglow and that’s no good: Folks on Twitter were gushing over the gorgeous blue glow emanating from the seawater along the city’s coastline (excellent photo here). Unfortunately, that pretty colour is the work of a micro-plankton called Noctiluca scintillans. And it’s not good news for the fish, say experts, who explain, “Noctiluca is an algae which thrives in areas where there is an oxygen deficit and it points to lack of marine health in the particular area. This blue-green Noctiluca also emanates ammonia and eats diatoms, a kind of plankton, which fish depend on food as well." If the Chennai seas remain blue for much longer, it will create a “death zone” for fish. (The News Minute)


Salman Rushdie is not sure of himself: these days. On a media tour to pitch his latest book, ‘Quichotte’, Rushdie is a far cry from his usual brash and opinionated self: “‘What I feel increasingly is that maybe I was wrong about the world I live in,’ he says, in a contemplative voice. ‘Maybe I thought it was A, and it turns out to be B.’” It’s definitely worth a read. (Vogue)


This may be the creepiest baby product ever: Do you want your baby to remember the first time she opened her eyes? The first time she saw her parents? Just pick up a product called Babeyes—an HD smart-camera that is attached to your child and records her POV. It has night vision and a motion detector. All we can say is… why? Really, why? (Mashable)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes only a handful today. One: An adorable story and photos of service dogs attending a performance of the musical ‘Billy Elliot’. Two: This soaring footage of French inventor Franky Zapata crossing the Channel from France to England on his FlyBoard. Three: This Indian Express report on 100Books, a Bangalore-based volunteer organisation which is doing amazing work teaching English to little kids in government schools.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Words are Funny’ Edition

Words are so versatile. One word can carry so many different meanings. And so-called synonyms can convey very different meanings. Here’s one for lovers of the English language.

The many shades of disaster

Quick, define the word ‘clusterf**k’. Now, tell us what makes it different from a shitshow, f**kup, or a snafu. Don’t know? Well, it might be time to learn the many glorious ways to describe what happens when things go very wrong. 

Read: The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterf**k | Quartz

Sex, Love etc 2

The many meanings of OMG

Ah, we love text-speak. It has given us handy acronyms that can ‘say’ so many wildly different things—and the recipient may never know which one we intend. Here’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek guide to everyone’s favourite. It’s like OMG, yaar!

Read: What I’m Saying When I Type ‘Omg’ | The Cut

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