Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Emperor of the day

Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne to become Japan's 126th emperor. His ascendance will usher in a new "Reiwa" era of harmony in the Japanese calendar—and create an inharmonious mini-Y2K type problem for the country’s software. Naruhito is known as an easygoing maverick with a sense of humour, and who is deeply protective of his wife, Princess Masako.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Rahul Gandhi’s ‘birther’ controversy

The Congress party president has been asked by the Home Ministry to respond to a complaint that he may not be Indian—right in the thick of a national election.


What happened? BJP MP and well-known truthteller/nutjob (based on one’s fiercely held views) Subramanian Swamy lodged a complaint back in September insisting that Rahul Gandhi has claimed British citizenship in the past. Gandhi has now been asked by the Home Ministry to “intimate a factual position in this matter” within two weeks.


Is this for real? This isn’t the first time Swamy has raised this issue. Back in 2015, he made an identical claim to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee based on exactly the same evidence—and wrote a letter to Modi. The evidence in question includes three documents that pertain to a company called Backops Limited.


What’s this company? It was an engineering design outsourcing company set up in the UK back in 2003. Gandhi was its director and secretary. The firm was dissolved in 2009. What makes these allegations damaging is the fact that Gandhi first became a member of Parliament in 2004—which requires Indian citizenship.


Ok, what’s this evidence? There are three documents cited by Swamy, and one offered up by Congress.

  • Congress points to the original 2003 certification of incorporation where Gandhi’s nationality is recorded as Indian.

  • Swamy focuses on the 2005 and 2006 company’s tax returns where his nationality was identified as British.

  • Swamy also considers suspicious a scanned 2004 document filed by his co-director Ulrik McKnight. Gandhi’s nationality was hand-written as British, and then crossed out and changed to Indian.


So Swamy is saying he has a British passport? Lol! That would be too simple for Swamy. As per the theory he laid out recently on Republic TV, Rahul is also an Italian citizen: “He has got three citizenships. When he was born, his mother was still an Italian citizen and so she sent her birth certificate in the name of Raul Vinci to Italy to register him as an Italian citizen. Because automatically all women if they are Italian citizen, wherever they are in the world, their children become Italian citizen.”


Ok, now I’m confused, help? The most helpful take is the one Raj Ruparelia, a Principal at a UK CA firm, offered Indian Express back in 2015. “Hiding details about the nationality of directors is a fraudulent activity, most probably punishable by a fine,” he said, emphasising the absence of any tax incentives for doing so in the UK. He also noted that most company formation filings and returns are done by third party agents: “Ideally a client should thoroughly check all the documents filed on their behalf, but my experience suggests, in many cases, this doesn’t happen.” In other words, it’s probably sloppy bookkeeping.


Also our two naya paisa: It is highly unlikely and risky that any prominent politician (or member of a political dynasty) would risk holding on to one, leave alone two illegal passports (It is against Indian law to hold dual citizenship). And for what? Most wealthy and powerful Indians manage to do exactly what they want around the world with just one passport.


What do the Gandhis say? Rahul has not responded, but Priyanka shrugged it off as “bakwaas.”


What does the government say? Home Minister Rajnath Singh insisted that the government notice was routine: “When a member of Parliament writes to any ministry, action required on their query is taken. It is not a big development, it is normal process.”

The bottomline: It is extremely unlikely—except to fervent conspiracy theorists and habitual troublemakers—that Rahul Gandhi is anything but an Indian citizen. But in this era of fake news, just making an accusation (irrespective of facts) often does sufficient damage. If the government is indeed obliged to respond to Swamy’s complaint as an MP, it could have waited a couple of weeks until the elections were over. Or it could have acted back in 2015, when Swamy first submitted the documents to PM Modi and demanded he look into the matter.


Learn more: The Hindu reports on the Supreme Court decision dismissing a 2015 PIL seeking a probe into Gandhi’s citizenship as “frivolous.” This older Indian Express report has the most detailed analysis of Swamy’s evidence. Also making related news: This Alt News report debunking a viral video where a man points to various historical buildings in Italy, claiming, “[Gandhi] has looted India and bought these buildings in Italy.” As Quartz notes, the video is still available on Facebook and is being widely distributed. Our favourite: Today’s front page of The Telegraph which pretty much sums up the current state of affairs.

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fondly remembering ‘Tintin in Tibet’

Venezuela uprising just got serious: It all kicked off when opposition leader Juan Guaido announced the “final phase” of the movement to oust President Nicolas Maduro from power. Violent street protests followed, and this video of an armoured vehicle running over protesters went viral. There is wide anticipation of a possible overthrow with military support, but for now Maduro appears to be still in place. (New York Times)


The Indian army’s ‘Yeti or not’ moment: The PR division of the Indian Army released photos of an alleged snowman discovered by its mountaineering team on Twitter. It was instantly heckled by the twitterati, and generated sceptical headlines around the world. Now, the Indian Army is hardly the first to believe that it has indisputable proof of the existence of the Yeti. But as this fascinating 2017 article from The Wire reveals, the current scientific consensus is that such footprints belong to a brown bear.


Facebook is changing in a big way: The social media platform is gearing up for a massive makeover—the most drastic since 2011. So what’s new? For starters, a brand new look and a huge emphasis on groups, making communities as central as friends. Also: Secret Crush. It’s a new ‘dating’ tool where you can add nine friends to your secret crush list. If one or more of them also have you on their list, then Facebook reveals both your identities to one another. Right now, this service is only available in countries that already have Facebook Dating—so sadly not India, as yet.


Gogoi’s accuser walks out of SC probe: The woman who has accused Chief Justice Gogoi of sexual harassment has refused to participate in the Court’s internal investigation. The reasons include: She was not allowed to have a lawyer present; there will be no recording of the proceedings; she was not informed of the procedure that the committee plans to follow. (Scroll)


Trump has a new lawsuit: The US president’s now reached a new personal goal of telling more than 10,000 lies. Unfortunately for him, some of them may be more damaging than others. Hence his decision to sue two banks, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, to block the subpoenas issued by House Democrats seeking his financial records. Also: Trump has one other problem. He just can’t hang up a phone, as this hilarious CNN video reveals.


The exam result travesty in Telangana: 25 students committed suicide after the state exam results were published. The reason: 33% of the students were declared to have failed. The grading quality was so poor that one recount showed that a student who had scored 99 in Telugu was given a zero. There is justifiable outrage at the government for bungling what is often a make-or-break outcome for children in India. (NDTV)


John Singleton is dead: He died of a massive stroke at the young age of 51. Singleton made history as the youngest director to be nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Boyz N the Hood’—and transformed the face of black cinema. The Guardian has the obituary, The Atlantic has the profile.


Preity Zinta’s ex-beau aka Ness in trouble: The son of Nusli Wadia, best known for his stormy relationship with Zinta, did a not very bright thing. He got caught at a Japanese airport carrying nearly 25 grams of cannabis resin in his trouser pockets. Happily for Ness, authorities let him off with a suspended two-year jail term. Japan has some of the harshest drug laws in the world, so the gods must’ve been feeling exceptionally kind. (Quint)


Meet Freddy, the bravest parrot ever: It’s hard enough being saddled with a name like Freddy Kreuger, but this Amazonian parrot has been shot by gangsters, bitten by a snake, even kidnapped from the zoo by armed thieves. (The Guardian)


Say hello to fanny pack crocs: Take one ugly thing—fanny packs—and slap it onto another, ie crocs. The result is predictable… but handy if you’re looking to stow that lipstick. (People)

A good reason why not to watch ‘13 Reasons Why’? A new study shows that the suicide rate among American kids aged 10-17 rose by 28.9% after the series was launched on Netflix. Oddly enough, the biggest increase was seen among boys—even though the protagonist is a girl. Point to note: it is far too early to establish a strong causal link as of now, but mental health experts are advising caution. (CNN)

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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Can a Psychic Cure Heartbreak?

A “lifelong admirer of both science and logic” struggling in a painful relationship turns to a psychic in desperation. Does the experience destroy her worldview? Or does it confirm her lifelong skepticism about a profession she always believed to be “full of shit?” The answer to both questions is the same: Not quite.

Read: How a non-believer found solace in the strange world of psychics | The Guardian

Sex, Love etc 2

These Are the Ecosexuals

This melding of sexuality and environmental consciousness is hard to define. The category ranges from people who try to use sustainable sex products on one end to "people who roll around in the dirt having an orgasm covered in potting soil" on the other. Let’s just say theirs ain’t your grandma’s mother earth.

Read: Ecosexuals Believe Having Sex with the Earth Could Save It | Vice

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