Friday, August 16, 2019

Record of the day

 July was the hottest month on the planet in the 140 years we humans have tracked global temperatures. The global temperature was 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th century average for the month. More importantly, this is a trend, not an anomaly. As one expert notes, “Nine of the 10 hottest Julys have occurred since 2005—with the last five years ranking as the five hottest.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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India’s 73rd Independence Day

Here’s a quick roundup of everything that happened while you were binge-watching ‘Sacred Games’ on Netflix.


The I-Day speech: The PM’s address lasted 90 minutes and was pretty much par for course. One surprising touch was a pitch for family planning.


One big announcement: in his speech was the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff who will serve above the three Service Chiefs for the Army, Navy and Air Force. The aim is to appoint to “a single-point military advisor” to the government. The Hindu has an excellent explainer that lays out what this new post is and why it matters.


Key Independence Day reads: There were lots of news reports, features and op-eds. We found these four to be of greatest value:

  • New York Times took the opportunity to look at Rani Laxmibai as historical fact rather than popular legend. Our favourite quote is from Sir Hugh Rose, the leader of the British troops, who said upon her death on the battlefield: “The Indian Mutiny had produced but one man, and that man was a woman.”

  • Is India’s diversity an asset or a dangerous weakness? The question has haunted Indians from the very moment our leaders came together in 1885 at the first inaugural meeting of the Indian National Congress. And there have always been competing answers. Popular historian Manu Pillai’s long—but engaging—essay explores the various ways this debate has played out in our history as a nation. This India Forum piece is appropriately titled ‘An Essay for Our Times’. 

  • In the Washington Post, an anguished Ram Guha assesses the state of Indian democracy, and says it is time for a downgrade. Noting that in 2007, he’d described India as a 50-50 democracy (equally strong and lacking in parts), Guha explains why we are now 40-60–and perhaps well on our way to hitting 30-70 in the near future.

  • Now, this Conscious Leadership video isn’t something new or even about Independence Day. But it is a video all of us should watch at this critical juncture of our history. Laid out in the form of an animated illustration, it perfectly outlines where we are and the significant choices each of us face. (🙏to our Ambassador who sent it our way)


On the lighter side: Here’s a fun list of I-Day content we enjoyed:

  • Scroll put together five guitar renditions of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ that completely reimagine our national anthem.

  • Cadbury’s print ad for its special ‘Unity Bar’ is a stroke of advertising brilliance.

  • We were amused by Amit Shah’s attempts to raise the flag.

  • And we enjoyed this clip tracing the long and colourful history of our national flag. All we can say is that we dodged a couple of bullets there.

The bottomline: belongs to Flag Uncle, Abdul Ghafoor, who has been lovingly sewing flags for over 40 years, and distributes them for free on Independence Day. He says, "People fight over the Hindu-Muslim issue. But I think we are human beings first - an Indian, then we can be divided into castes and religions. I don't have to prove my loyalty towards my country.” Jai Hind!

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adding ‘Maambazhamam Maambazham’ to your workout playlist

Your Kashmir update is here: and it includes the following:

  • The UN Security Council will hold “closed door consultations” on Kashmir on the request of China. The Hindu explains why this is “a diplomatic landmark.”

  • According to The Telegraph, it was a very quiet I-Day in the Valley. The celebrations were sparse and mostly attended by outsiders.

  • The Madras Bar Association cancelled a lecture on Article 370 due to opposition from the BJP. "If an elite association is not able to conduct a peaceful debate on the issue, then it is a dangerous trend. That it should happen in Tamil Nadu worries me,” said a senior justice. 

  • The Press Club of India denied permission to a group of activists who wanted to screen footage and photos recorded on their trip to Kashmir. You can watch the 10-minute documentary here.

  • There have been a couple of notable arrests. Shah Faesal—who first made news for becoming the first Kashmiri IAS topper—was arrested at Delhi airport and flown back to Kashmir where he is being held in “preventive detention.” Irfan Amin Malik may be the first Kashmiri journalist to be taken into custody since the suspension of Article 370. No one seems to know why he was arrested in a late-night raid on his home. Huffington Post reports on the pattern of arrests, and the government’s refusal to release any numbers.


Your Hong Kong protest update is here: China is amassing paramilitary troops armed with riot gear along the Shenzhen border with Hong Kong—even as its ambassador to London warned that Beijing “will not sit on its hands and watch.” Meanwhile, the US State Department has expressed its concern. President Trump urged President Xi to deal “humanely” with the protesters, and suggested a “personal meeting.” First Kashmir, now Hong Kong. The man is on a roll. 


In Trump-related news: Israel has banned two Democratic members of Congress from entering the country upon the President’s insistence. Why is this a big deal? This is the US President asking a foreign government to punish his political rivals—who are US citizens and legislators. (BBC)


New rules for Everest: After a lethal climbing season that witnessed 11 deaths, a high-level commission has set stricter requirements. Permits will only be given to those who have climbed at least one Nepalese peak higher than 6,500-metres (21,325 ft). They also must submit a certificate of good health and physical fitness and be accompanied by a trained Nepalese guide. (The Guardian)


No justice for Pehlu Khan: More than two years after a mob beat the dairy farmer to death, a court in Rajasthan has acquitted the six accused—even though they were seen on a video recording of the lynching. The reason offered by the judge: the cellphone footage was not clear, and the person who captured it refused to testify. And this despite an NDTV sting video which showed one of them boasting of his role in the killing. His eldest son vows to continue the fight for justice. (NDTV)


New green card rules will hurt Indians: The Trump Administration plans to deny green cards to anyone who has received public assistance. Also ineligible: couples who make less than $41,000 a year, and a family of five that makes less than $73,000. As a result, many ageing parents will no longer be able to join their kids in America (as their children’s income will not be considered). And given the other pending plan to strip H1-B spouses of work permits, many couples could also be in trouble. (India West)


Don’t mention underwear in your FB post: Apparently, we now live in a country where we can make an entire movie about sanitary pads—hell, even have it right there in the title (Hello ‘Padman’!). But a social media post noting that women in flood relief camps desperately need underwear is a big no-no. An activist who did just that was arrested by the Kerala police. The complaint: his post was “derogatory” and “humiliated women at the relief camp.” In related news: A researcher in Assam has been charged for a Facebook message she posted and deleted immediately—two years ago! (The News Minute)


Amazon can ‘see’ your fear: Amazon’s facial recognition tech—called Rekognition (duh!)—can now detect fear on your face. It could already ‘see’ whether you were happy, sad, angry, surprised, disgusted, calm, or confused. The latest update is quite handy given that the company is flogging Rekognition to the US government. Oh look, a terrified migrant child in a detention centre! (Futurism)


Microplastic in Arctic ice: A team of scientists have found visible plastic beads and filaments in ice cores drilled in the Arctic—confirming the spread of pollution to even the remotest spots on the planet. “We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean… When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut,” said a lead researcher. (Reuters)


Men can now breakfast at Tiffany’s: The jewellery brand has unveiled its first-ever line for men. The nearly 100 designs range in price from $200 to $15,000. (Associated Press)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This must-see gallery of incredible photos shortlisted by the Royal Photographic Society's science photographer of the year competition. We strongly recommend desktop viewing.

  • This viral clip of dudes at an Iranian gym warming up to ‘Maambazhamam Maambazham’ from the Tamil movie ‘Pokkiri’.

  • A ridiculously feel-good video report on proud gay penguin parents in Germany who finally got themselves a real egg—as opposed to the stones they’d been trying desperately to hatch.

  • All the cutest animal gifs packed into one aww-overload minute. 

  • This birthing photo that reminds us how intense labour can be: "The strength in this photo is physical and mental. It’s immeasurable."

  • These lovely childhood photos that Priyanka tweeted at her brother on Raksha Bandhan.

  • Jeremy Renner being wonderfully bad at posing with rugged-ass camping gear.

  • This baby monkey and a very patient goat with very handy horns. 

  • This heartwarming Twitter thread from a woman who tweeted out a request: help me find the man who gifted me a bike when I was a five-year-old refugee. The rest is internet magic.

  • This book cover for ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift which was a blistering indictment of the British government’s indifference toward poverty in Ireland. 

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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A Slice of the British Raj
These are three different and compelling glimpses of life under British colonial rule—as captured on film, in art and in fiction.
image blue sidebar The informer image blue sidebar

Watch the Raj come alive on the screen…

In this Channel 4 series titled ‘India on Film’. It deftly weaves rare footage from colonial-era India with expert commentary from William Dalrymple, Manu Pillai and others. The scenes capture everything from life on the streets to spectacles of pomp and ceremony. Nice touch: screening the footage for ordinary Indians and getting their reactions. This is a must-see.

Price: Free | India on Film | Channel News Asia

The informer 2

Read a brilliant Raj-era novel…

that is NOT ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ or ‘The Far Pavilions’. We have two recommendations. One: George Orwell’s first novel ‘Burmese Days’ which brilliantly skewers the petty insularity of colonial officers at a remote outpost in Burma. We all know about ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’, but this is Orwell at his funniest. Two: Booker-prizewinning ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ by JG Farrell which unfolds during the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857. Widely hailed as a ‘masterpiece’, it vividly documents the emotional, physical and moral collapse of proud colonialists as they come under siege—and manages to be very funny.

Price: Rs. 284 | Burmese Days | Amazon

Price: Rs. 901 | The Siege of Krishnapur | Amazon

The informer 3

Laugh at these sketches of colonial life…

In ‘Curry and Rice’, a collection of 40 satirical sketches by George Atkinson, a Captain in the British Indian Army stationed in Bengal. While the accompanying prose reflects a very colonial mindset, his caricatures of stereotypical burra sahibs and memsahibs are delightful as are their names—Lord and Lady Coriander, magistrate Maximilian Adolphus Fitznoodle Chutney, Dr Mc Ghee etc. (Get a taste of his work here)

Price: Rs. 188 | Curry and Rice | Amazon

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