Friday, November 1, 2019

Quote of the day

At an Obama Foundation event, former US President Barack Obama called out ‘call-out culture’: “Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb. Then, I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how woke I was? You know, that's not activism. That's not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far.” Watch the clip that went viral. It’s definitely worth your time.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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WhatsApp malware snooping on Indian citizens

An Israeli-made malware program called Pegasus was used to infiltrate the phones of human rights lawyers and journalists in India. 


A brief background: Pegasus is made and sold by NSO Group, an Israeli company, that sells spyware to governments and intelligence agencies to help them catch terrorists and criminals—or so it claims. It was operated entirely under the radar until 2016, when its product was detected on the iPhone of a human-rights activist now in prison in the UAE. WhatsApp sued NSO this week claiming that Pegasus was used to spy on more than 1,400 people in 20 countries. Two previous lawsuits against the company allege that it helps government jail and, in some instances, kill dissidents. (We did a detailed explainer on Pegasus in May)


How does this Pegasus work? This is the scary part. All it takes is a WhatsApp call to a target phone. And the owner doesn’t even have to answer the call. More creepily, the missed call often disappears from the call logs. According to Financial Times: “Within minutes of the missed call, the phone starts revealing its encrypted content, mirrored on a computer screen halfway across the world. It then transmits back the most intimate details such as private messages or location, and even turns on the camera and microphone to live-stream meetings.”


Yikes, who was targeted in India: Around two dozen human rights lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists. Seventeen of these cases have been confirmed by the targets so far. They were contacted by Citizen Lab—a Canadian cybersecurity research group—and told that their phones were compromised. Most also received a message from WhatsApp that said: “In May we stopped an attack where an advanced cyber actor exploited our video calling to install malware on user devices. There’s a possibility this phone number was impacted, and we want to make sure you know how to keep your phone secure.”


And who was spying on them? We don’t know. WhatsApp hasn’t revealed that information. NSO is fiercely denying the allegation: “The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime." And it is still unclear if the lawsuit will force it to reveal its clients.


What is the government saying? Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted, “Government of India is concerned at the breach of privacy of citizens of India on the messaging platform WhatsApp. We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens." It’s not clear why the government isn’t asking questions of NSO. A government official also said: “Some statements have appeared regarding breach of privacy of Indian citizens on WhatsApp. These reports to malign the government of India are completely misleading.”


Am I at risk? Unlikely but just make sure you are using the latest version of WhatsApp and keep your mobile operating system updated.


The bottomline: The government has demanded answers of WhatsApp—but NSO insists that it sells Pegasus only to government agencies. Hmm. 


Learn more: Broadsheet's earlier explainer has a lot more on NSO Group and its software. Indian Express put together a list of the 17 cases—which gives you a clear sense of the profile of the people targeted. The Wire and Scroll have lots more detail from the lawyers and activists they spoke to. Mint has more on the government’s response. Wired offers an in-depth analysis of the WhatsApp lawsuit.

The super stressed tigers of India

An important new study has uncovered a critical link between tourism and the health of tigers in two well-known forest reserves.


What’s this new study? Scientists tested the stress hormones found in samples of tiger scat (i.e. feces) taken from the Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. It was conducted by scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad. 


Ok, tell me more: Here’s how the study worked:

  • Researchers collected a total of 341 fecal samples. 

  • One set was collected during the tourist season, i.e. between January and March. 

  • The other was collected during the tourist-free month of September. 

  • They also classified the samples in terms of “disturbance”—number of vehicles and tourists entering the reserve. Also noted: the exact location where the sample was taken as some parts of the reserve are busier than others. 

  • From these samples, they extracted steroid hormones that are typically released when animals are stressed—and tested their levels. (If you really need to know, these hormones are called fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM).) 

  • Then they compared the various samples for stress levels.


Tourism made it worse? Yup, significantly so—and far more than researchers had anticipated. And all that stress—especially when it is prolonged—can have a lifelong and significant impact on all aspects of a tiger’s health, “including growth and development, maturation, reproductive fitness, behaviour and survival.” A previous study of tigers introduced into the Sariska reserve in Rajasthan showed that they failed to reproduce due to human-created disturbances, i.e. tourism.


Why is tourism stressful? The study found that human activity elevates physiological stress in tigers—especially when it is highly intrusive. The study notes, “Furthermore, recommended distances between vehicles is not often followed during a tiger sighting, which leads to an over-crowding of vehicles around the animal. This behaviour might directly affect the territorial and mating behaviour of tigers, resulting in an overall lower reproductive success due to increased stress.” 


To put it simply: Tourists stress out tigers who then don’t reproduce, leading in turn to fewer tigers. 


How many tourists visit these reserves? With 526 tigers, Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tigers in the country. During the past year, 1.9 million tourists visited the state's six wildlife reserves, generating about Rs 27 crore of revenue. Over a 9-month tourist season in 2015—when this study was conducted —the Bandhavgarh reserve received 106,535 visitors while Kanha let in 137,644. 


Is that a lot? The numbers are way higher than the strict limits imposed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. As per NTCA rules, the reserves can permit a maximum of 40 vehicles per day. However, Bhandhavgarh allowed 85 vehicles, while Kanha let in 106! MP has been red-flagged by the NTCA for its illegal attempts to boost wildlife tourism. 


Why does this matter? The tiger has lost more than 95% of its global habitat and India is now home to roughly two-thirds of the world’s population. Earlier this year, the government announced that the number of wild tigers has doubled from 1,411 to 2,967 since 2006. But that rosy number—which has been challenged by some— is still very modest and in grave danger of plummeting. 


The grimmer reality: India’s tigers are increasingly being penned into isolated reserves to be gawked at by tourists. We eliminate buffer zones in the name of development, build highways right through reserves, raze acres of precious habitat to promote tourism  —which in turn leads to greater human-animal conflict and, inevitably, dead tigers.


The bottomline: It’s important to recognise how tourism transforms wildlife into an “experience” for humans to consume—and the price our most vulnerable species pay for it.


Learn more: Mongabay has a detailed story with more wonky details on the study. This Nature essay offers the big picture on the future of the Indian tiger and is a must-read.

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being served coffee by scores of loyal minions

Donald Trump is officially being impeached: The House of Representatives voted largely along party lines (232-196) to formalize the process of impeachment. To refresh your memory, this is the investigative phase of this long process. Members will call witnesses and examine evidence in open hearings. Until now, such proceedings were conducted behind closed doors. After the inquiry is complete, a report will be sent to the Judiciary Committee that will decide whether or not to recommend Trump’s impeachment. If it does so, then the House again will vote on such a resolution. If that resolution passes, the process will move to the Senate—where Trump will in essence face trial with the House members acting as the prosecution, while his lawyers defend him. The Senate will act as the jury that decides his fate. We’re exhausted already. (BBC News)


ISIS names a new leader: In an audio message, the terrorist organisation confirmed the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and announced his successor: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashim al-Qurayshi. No one has heard of him, and his name was not among the possible replacements touted over the past few days. ISIS also took the opportunity to troll Trump: “Don’t you [America] see that you have become a laughing stock to the world? Your destiny is controlled by an old fool who goes to sleep with one opinion and wakes up with another.” In related news: the Pentagon released footage of the raid that led to al-Baghdadi’s death.


Anushka vs Farokh: Former Indian wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer stirred the shit in an interview taking aim at the cricket selectors, saying: “I didn't even know one of the selectors during the World Cup and I asked him who the hell he was, because he was wearing the India blazer and he said he was one of the selectors. All they were doing was getting Anushka Sharma cups of tea.” This immediately provoked an angry and extended denial from Anushka: "I came to one game during the World Cup and sat in the family box and not the selectors box as reported but when has the truth mattered when it’s about convenience!" Her response went far beyond Engineer—who has since apologised—to take aim at a variety of “false & fabricated” stories about her (Read it here). Our favourite line is the very last one: “...and for the record, I drink coffee.”


Indian Army says no to homosexuality, adultery: The Supreme Court has decriminalised both, but the Indian Army is bravely holding the line against progress. It has written to the Defence Ministry demanding that homosexuality and adultery remain punishable offences under a clause of the Army Act that deals with ‘unbecoming conduct’—a more apt description of its own behaviour. (News18


Hand-wringing over crop burning: It’s winter in Delhi and time to blame the farmers for the sad state of the air and its residents’ lungs. The burning of crop stubble is up by 45% in Punjab over the last 20 days compared to November. So why do farmers continue to generate smog despite a $160 million subsidy scheme that covers up to 80% of the cost of a mulching and seed drilling machine? Government officials blame their ‘mindset’, but as this ground report shows, the real cause may be the bureaucracy itself. (Reuters)


Time to say goodbye to Vodafone? Rumours are flying thick and fast that the phone company is readying to "pack up and leave any day now.” No prizes for guessing which dodo has not one but two Vodafone numbers. Yes, we are panicking. (Times of India


A whole lotta airports for you! The government plans to construct 100 more domestic airports by 2024— as part of a plan to revive the economy. The Rs 1 trillion plan aims to open 1,000 new routes connecting—as yet unspecified—smaller towns and villages. Also in the works: a plan to bring down jet fuel prices which are among the most expensive in the world due to government-imposed taxes. No, this is not a climate change initiative. (NDTV


AirPods Pro reviews are in: And here’s the bottomline: "The Pros pack a lot of features into a very, very small design, so if portability is your biggest concern, then the AirPods Pro are a fantastic premium option for people with Apple devices, use headphones for short, ~4-hour sessions (versus all day-wear), and have $250 to spend. But there are better options for noise-canceling headphones with better battery life." (BuzzFeed News)


The biggest reason for breakups: isn’t sexual temptation or lack of intimacy. A new study finds “that the more emotional support people received from outside their relationship, the more negatively they rated their relationship and the less stable they felt it was”—even if they were receiving plenty of support from their own partner! (British Psychological Society)


An app to crack down on peeping toms: Two Chinese companies have rolled out mobile phone tools that can help users spot hidden cameras. It is aimed at helping women in China where more than 80% of hotel rooms in some cities are fitted with spy cameras 😳(Quartz)


A boarding school fair in Gurgaon: Broadsheet Ambassador Namita Mehta’s company Red Pen is putting on a fair for parents interested in shopping for the right boarding school. You can check out schools from around the world, learn more about their curriculum and their application process. Time and date: November 6, between noon to 6 pm. Venue: The Leela, Gurgaon. Head over to the Red Pen website to learn more. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:


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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A lifesaving list of clothing rentals
The festivities start around Dussehra and then carry on for months into January—as we navigate parties, weddings and every other kind of social occasion. So what’s a gal to do? Why rent your partywear, of course! It’s both wallet- and planet-friendly.
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When you need to get that shaadi-ready look...

Opt for Stage3. It is our top pick for designer Indian wear which has so many moving parts: blouse and sari/lehenga; jewellery, including bangles, necklaces, rings etc; and, of course, the handbag. And each has to add up to that ‘look’.  The good news: You can now rent the entire ensemble rather than spend a fortune on each item.  


The added bonuses: One, Stage3 has in-house stylists whom you can call or WhatsApp for advice. Two, you can reserve an outfit three months in advance. Three, they offer either a three-day option or a six-day rental—which is great when you have a destination wedding to attend.

Price: Rs 2000-5000 | Stage3

The informer 2

When you need a sustainable social butterfly lifestyle...

Head over to Rent it Bae, which is perfect for your overactive social life. They offer a monthly subscription plan for clothes and accessories. You can order two outfits and one accessory at a time—which will be home delivered to you. When you are done, swap them out for new picks. Yes, you can switch your clothes as many times as you want in a month. We like this one for everyday socialising when you head out to a bar, restaurant or work party—but with enough options for a more glam-heavy occasion.


The added bonuses: One, they offer a one-week trial subscription model for Rs 799. Two, they offer free shipping and dry-cleaning. Three, you can pick a one, three or six-month plan.

Price: Rs. 3999/- per month | Rent it Bae

The informer 3

When you need high-end clothing for a very high-end occasion...

Your best bet is TheClothingRental, which offers premium designer gowns and dresses by the likes of Alexander Wang, Valentino, Herve Leger and more. It is the best-kept secret of social media influencers, fashionistas, stylists and other such glamorous creatures who have red carpet needs. (Take a look at their ‘Client Stories’ on Insta to get a sense of their range and clientele)


The added bonuses: One, Mumbaikars can head over to their two stores in Bandra and Versova to check out their options in person. Two, with its selection of suits and tuxedos, it is a life- and money-saver for men as well. Three, they offer global brands sourced out of their New York buying office.

Price: Rs 5000 and above | TheClothingRental

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