Thursday, March 28, 2019

Investment of the day

The Tata Group along with two other foreign partners will invest Rs 8000 crore in GMR Infrastructure. The debt-ridden company runs Delhi and Hyderabad airports and is building a new one in Goa. Why is this significant? The Tatas also have significant investments in two airlines. AirAsia India and Vistara—which raises a potential “conflict of interest.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Shooting down satellites in space

PM Modi took everyone by surprise when he made an unexpected broadcast to the nation yesterday. Turns out he had big news to share, and it was every bit as unexpected.


The lead up: Around 10:50 am, the PM’s Twitter handle cryptically declared: “I would be addressing the nation at around 11:45 AM - 12.00 noon with an important message.” It immediately sparked great speculation—as it is two weeks to the election—and a lot of funny memes. All of which proved to be entirely off the mark.


What did he say? The PM announced that India has successfully tested an anti-satellite missile or ASAT (pronounced A-Sat), claiming “India today registered its name as a ‘Space Power’.” He was also careful to emphasise the missiles “do not threaten any country and nor are they directed against anyone.”


Tell me more about ASATs: Satellites are used for communications, early-warning systems, reconnaissance etc. A weapon that can jam enemy satellites or destroy them is a significant military asset in times of war. Other countries like Israel possess anti-satellite capabilities, but only three others have tested their ASATs: The US, Russia and China.


Tell me about the test: Dubbed Mission Shakti, the missile was launched from a yet unknown location. It took out a medium-sized military imaging satellite that was launched in January by the DRDO. It was in a Low Earth Orbit at around 300 km above earth. The entire test lasted three minutes.


So is this test a big deal? An ASAT is a powerful weapon in any nation’s arsenal and requires highly sophisticated technology. So this ‘Made in India’ moment is naturally a source of national pride. Then again, as experts point out, India has possessed ASAT capabilities for nearly a decade as part of its Ballistic Missile Defence programme. But the UPA government never greenlit an actual test—which has both potential pluses and minuses.  


The downside of testing: The biggest problem with testing ASATs is the dangerous space debris left behind. For example, when China tested its missile at 800 km in 2007, it generated 2600-plus pieces of debris, later destroying a Russian satellite. There was widespread diplomatic criticism, and China has since ensured its tests are debris-free. The US response to India’s test was hence to warn, “You cannot make (space) unstable. We cannot create the debris problem that ASAT tests create. So, thoughtfulness goes a long way."


Did we make a mess? According to the government press release, the Indian test was conducted at a lower altitude so the debris quickly enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up. Some argue that a fly-by test—where the missile merely passes the target satellite—would have been a better option, and would have demonstrated far superior technology.


Then again…: The counter-argument from some leading experts is: “You have to check the reliability of your technology and that can be ensured only through a test. Besides, you also have to demonstrate your technological capability. We have now proven this capability. With today’s test, we are telling the world, and our potential adversary, that we have this capability.”


What about the timing? Opposition leaders, while praising the DRDO, unanimously condemned the test as an election stunt. They have asked the Election Commission to look into whether the Prime Minister’s broadcast violated the Model Code of Conduct—which prohibits the ruling party from using the government to further its electoral prospects. The EC has set up a committee to do so.


Learn more: Here’s a lot more if you want it:

  • The Wire has the most details on the test and India’s ASAT technology.

  • Indian Express sums up the argument for testing the capability.

  • The Verge has the best piece on the debris factor.

  • This older piece from The Diplomat offers an excellent analysis of the geopolitical pros and cons of ASAT testing for India. The Space Review offers a harsher take on the same.

  • Scroll rounds up international coverage of the strike.

  • The best meme on the wild speculation about Modi’s broadcast is here. Cricket fans will be pleased.

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trying to get over Imran Khan’s 1980s mullet

Theresa May offers to quit: In a statement, the UK PM announced that she will step down if her party MPs back her Brexit deal—which will likely be put to a third vote next week. Meanwhile, British MPs held a series of non-binding votes to determine which of eight Brexit options had the most support. All eight failed to gain a majority. The proposal which came closest: a cross-party plan which would keep the UK in a new customs union with the EU after Brexit. The second referendum option failed by 27 votes. There will be another run-off vote between the most popular options next week… we think.


Balakot was a 'very precise miss': New high-resolution imagery examined by experts suggests that the missiles narrowly missed their target. The likely reason: an error in entering the GPS coordinates. If it’s any consolation, here’s a lol-inducing 1980s photo of Imran Khan lounging in his pjs in his bachelor pad. We take what we can get, people! (The Strategist)


Netaji, mental illness is not an insult: When Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav recently called the BJP “schizophrenic,” it was par for the political course. Her rivals have, for example, told Mamata Banerjee to get her “brain examined.” The Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) has now written to the Election Commission objecting to such language in politics, calling it “discriminatory, inhuman and degrading.” (The Wire)


Stay away from the ring: It is customary for Catholics to greet the Pope by kissing his ring. But new footage reveals Pope Francis doesn’t like it very much. He really, really doesn’t. (BBC)


Sleepless in Hyderabad: A whopping 79% of its residents say they suffer from insomnia, and 89% wake up between 1-2 times a night. One likely reason: mobile phones. (Inuth)


Cover up, you slutty mermaid! An Indonesian amusement park covered up the breasts of its mermaid sculptures with golden tube tops to become more family friendly. Unfortunately, visitors to the park responded by pulling them right off. They have since been removed for repairs. (ABC Australia)

ICC plays third umpire: There was an astonishing, unprecedented event at a street cricket game. The players asked the International Cricket Council to weigh in… and it did. (Indian Express)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Musical Greats' edition

The greatest musicians are also the most familiar. We know their most popular compositions, performances or songs—often by heart. So it is all the more delightful when our idols surprise us with something unexpected.


When East Meets East

When renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma paid a visit to Mumbai earlier this year, he was the star guest at an event held by the Asia Society—along with another star, Carnatic music rockstar TM Krishna. They performed a duet. Yo-Yo begins with Bach and is joined by Krishna who sings a well-known Javali. Do we really need us to tell you why you need to check this out?


Watch: Yo-Yo Ma and TM Krishna | YouTube

Sex, Love etc 2

The Prince You Never Knew

Nope, this isn’t the Sinead O’Connor cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ that you’ve heard ad nauseam, but a rare studio recording by its actual songwriter: Prince! He rarely performed the song, or claimed ownership of it. Released after his death by his estate, this original version is all the more electric because of the accompanying video. Do watch Prince cutting loose in rehearsal, and at his trippiest, coolest best.

Watch: Nothing Compares 2 U | YouTube

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