Monday, April 22, 2019
Winner of the day

Volodymyr Zelensky has emerged as the indisputable winner in Ukraine’s national election. What makes Zelensky’s win special? He’s best known for playing a fake president on a wildly popular comedy TV series and has zero political experience (get a taste of the series here). Maybe Julia ‘Veep’ Dreyfus can throw her hat in the American ring for real now. But we’ll pass on Kiefer Sutherland, thanks!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The national tragedy in Sri Lanka

Eight bomb blasts spread across the country killed at least 207 people and left 450 injured. The horrific attacks ended nearly a decade of peace in a country recovering from a brutal civil war.


The eight bombings: targeted four hotels and a church in Colombo; one residential home on the city outskirts; and two churches on the east coast in Negombo and Batticaloa. The first six (three hotels and churches) occurred between 8:45 a.m. and 9:30 a.m, and caused the most damage. In the afternoon, two died in an explosion in another Colombo hotel, and three police personnel were killed while raiding the home.


The victims: were mostly Sri Lankans, but also included at least 30-plus foreign citizens— including four Indians—from the US, UK, the Netherlands, China, and Turkey. In three of the hotels, the bombs were set off at the restaurant where people were eating breakfast. In the churches, they were timed to coincide with Sunday Easter services. "You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church," said a church spokesperson.


The suspects: No one has claimed credit for the attacks. Police have arrested thirteen suspects so far. All that Sri Lankan defence minister would say is that a number of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, and they are the work of a single group of “religious extremists.” A high-ranking Sri Lankan official also told Indian Express, “We suspect the role of international elements behind this. We cannot pinpoint anyone, a political or religious angle, to this tragedy right now.”


An early warning? Ten days before the attacks, Sri Lanka's police chief sent out a nationwide alert to top intelligence officers which said, “'A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.”


Who is the NTJ? The NTJ is a radical Muslim group previously linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues. Sri Lankan police also seized 100kgs of high explosives and 100 detonators belonging to “a newly formed radical Muslim group” earlier this year— though not the NTJ. Also: the NTJ has issued a statement condemning the attacks, and demanded the highest punishment for its perpetrators.


The India angle: While others wait on official confirmation, some Indian newspapers have doubled down on the NTJ as a likely suspect. Indian Express, for example, talked to “two sources” who claim that it was India who sent the warning regarding the group’s planned suicide attacks. In the Times of India, unnamed “counter-intelligence experts” point the finger squarely at these “radicalised Lankan Muslims” with “outside terror support.”


Why the churches? There were 86 cases of discrimination, harassment and violence targeting Christians last year—mostly perpetrated by the Sinhalese. There have also been simmering tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslims. In 2018, the government declared a state of emergency when Sinhalese mobs attacked mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in Kandy. Sri Lanka's total population is 22 million, of which 70.2% are Buddhist, 12% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.4% Christians—most of whom are Catholic.


The bottomline: Given that Catholics were targeted by both Sinhalese and Muslim groups, we won’t know the reason for this appalling tragedy until the government reveals more information. What is clear is that the targets were chosen to maximise the loss of life and ensure international attention—much like 26/11. And coming on the heels of the mosque attacks in New Zealand during Friday prayers, the church blasts on Easter mark a dangerous new trend in terrorism.

Learn more: Time pulls together all the details put out by the wires. Daily Mail has the most photos and video footage of the aftermath. Washington Post has the timeline. Mint has the speculation about an ISIS connection among Indian intelligence sources. Stories in Times of India and Indian Express have more on the NTJ angle. New York Times looks at the SL government’s decision to block all social media platforms to prevent the spread of false news.

The sexual harassment charge against the CJI

A woman has accused the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ranjan Gogoi, of sexual harassment and destroying her career and family. He claims this is a conspiracy to undermine him and the judiciary.


The accusation: A 35-year-old woman who was a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday. In her affidavit—accompanied by documents and video recordings of conversations—she alleges:

  • Gogoi had made sexual advances on two separate occasions at his residence office: “He hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine, and did not let go.”

  • Two months after she rebuffed him, she was dismissed from her job. One of the three reasons offered was that she had showed “insubordination, lack of devotion to duty and indiscipline” by taking a casual leave.

  • Her husband and brother-in-law, head constables in the Delhi Police, were then suspended in December for a case involving a neighbourhood dispute which occurred in 2011—though documents she shared with the media indicate it had already been resolved by mutual consent.

  • She then was taken by a police officer to the Gogoi residence in January: “Mrs. Gogoi told me ‘naak ragad ke jao’. I do not know why Mrs. Gogoi was involved in this. But … by this time the only thing I wanted was to save myself and my family. I fell at the feet of Mrs. Gogoi and rubbed my nose at Mrs. Gogoi’s feet, and said ‘sorry.’ And then we left.”

  • In March, she, her husband, and other family members were detained at a police station on a cheating complaint. The person claimed that she had taken a payment of Rs 50,000 for arranging a Supreme Court job which never came through.

  • In the letter, the woman alleges this amounts to a pattern of “consistent persecution,” and that “the CJI has misused his position, office and authority and abused his clout and power to influence the police.”


Gogoi’s response: After the story appeared in the media, he immediately convened an “extraordinary” sitting along with two other SC judges on Saturday. At the hearing, Gogoi claimed:

  • The allegations are a political plot to undermine him just as he is poised to hear “sensitive cases” next week: “There has to be a bigger, bigger force behind this...They want to deactivate the office of the CJI.”

  • He also said: “I have Rs 6,80,000 in my account after 20 years…Even my peon has more money than me… Nobody can catch me on money. They have to find something else and they have found this.”

  • The woman lost her job because of a report of “inappropriate conduct,” and that she has a “criminal background” with two FIRs against her—a reference to the neighbourhood dispute and the latest cheating complaint.


The court’s response: The Solicitor General called the woman an “unscrupulous” person and dismissed the charges as “rubbish”. He even asked the court to register a complaint against her. The other two judges also described her claims as “unscrupulous allegations.” The hearing did not address the actual complaint at all. Instead, the judicial order—which did not carry Gogoi’s name even though he presided over the hearing—admonished media coverage of the case. It advised the media to exercise “restraint” in deciding “what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate the independence of the judiciary.”


What’s next? Delhi Police has moved to cancel the woman’s bail in the cheating complaint so she may end up in jail. All eyes are on the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC). Headed by Justice Indu Malhotra, it is empowered to deal with cases of sexual harassment on the Supreme Court’s premises. However, a lot of what it can and cannot do requires the approval of the Chief Justice. Official procedure offers no guidance on what to do if the CJI himself is accused of harassment.


Learn more: Both Caravan and Scroll have a detailed account of the affidavit and the accompanying evidence. Indian Express looks at the sexual harassment process in place within the Supreme Court. Gautam Bhatia in a scathing Mumbai Mirror op-ed explains why the hearing was a “kangaroo court.” Neerja Gurnani in Quint takes aim at Gogoi for delivering a huge setback to the #MeToo movement. Dushyant Dave in The Hindu weighs in on the judicial order which “seeks to overpower independent media and discourage reporting.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley penned a surprise Facebook post vehemently defending Gogoi from “unverified allegations coming from a disgruntled person with a not-so-glorious track record,” and attacking the media.

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dragging your feet to work after the long weekend

BJP cried foul in Bangalore: Party leaders claim nearly 50,000 to 60,000 names have been deleted in each constituency in the city, and some experts think it's true. Related read: Citizen Matters points to red flags in Bangalore’s voter registration system. (The Hindu)


Wanna buy a baby T-rex? You can now buy a 15-foot T. rex skeleton on eBay for $2.95 million, and it’s sparked a fierce debate over sales of fossils—which are lost to science and the public once they end up in collectors’ hands. (Washington Post)


Samsung’s folding phone debacle: According to a number of reviewers, the $2000 Galaxy Fold is a dud. Journalists claimed that the screen started to flicker and turn black within a few days. Others reported bulges that emerged on the folding crease. Samsung blamed the problems on user error—the reviewers removed a thin protective layer which then caused the damage. The phones will go on sale this week as planned.


Instagram is going through changes: Plans being tested include making the number of ‘likes’ invisible and a co-watching feature which allows users to watch a video together, and see and hear each other on another window.


Why skinny people are skinny: New research finds that people who remain thin all their lives don’t have a high metabolism. Instead, they have a genetic mutation which ensures they just don’t care much about food, never overeat or obsess about the next meal. (New York Times)


Weekend reads you may have missed: include the following:

  • This New York Times op-ed that uses data to challenge conventional tyranny wisdom on breastfeeding.

  • Al Jazeera’s heart-warming feature on acting schools in the slums of Mumbai.

  • Outside’s deep dive into why people take ‘killfies’—i.e. risky selfies that prove fatal. (Scroll past the overly long intro)

  • Quartz looks at how malnutrition affects the learning abilities of Indian kids.

  • Buzzfeed’s nuanced report on the Tik Tok ban and the complexities of tackling child sex abuse in India.

  • Gizmodo on what would happen if Thanos (of Avengers fame) really did erase half of all living creatures. It’s a fascinating if slightly nerdy read.

  • CNN on the enduring myth that sugar makes kids hyper.


Your Monday morning pick-me-ups: include the following:

  • A rare feel-good election rally clip of a politician’s wife professing her love for her husband, Jyotiraditya Scindia. Watch the man blush!

  • This #AllEqual ad campaign highlighting the gender pay gap in India. It awesomely features male employees dressed up as women.

  • Your animal stories quota includes this rude baby elephant (scroll down the Twitter thread for more cute elephant clips). Also: This fabulous BBC story on how starving Yemenis came together to rescue a Bulgarian vulture being held hostage by militants.

  • Remember those priceless giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban? This video report reveals the inspiring effort to restore them to their previous glory.

  • Last but not least: the best Trump impersonation ever!

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The best place for the best advice

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How to master the microwave

We all take the microwave for granted. But how many of us know how to make the most of this everyday appliance? Or when it is wisest not to use it?


What not to nuke: Apart from the well-known advice about never using anything made of metal—including tin foil—there are a number of other ‘do not microwave’ items including:

  • Hard-boiled eggs, with or without the shell. Eggs release steam, and the egg white seals all of it inside. All looks well until you cut that egg—or worse, bite into it and burn your tongue.

  • Styrofoam or most plastic containers—especially in India since you can never be sure they’re microwave-safe. Also: in many cases, chemicals from the plastic can leach into the food, and vice versa. So it’s best to stick to glass or ceramic.

  • Water. Just plain water heated by itself in a mug becomes superheated even though you won’t see it boiling. The moment you put in a spoon or even move the cup, it can immediately boil over or explode… on to your hand.  Reheating any kind of liquid sauce can be equally hazardous. So handle with care.

  • Processed meats like sausages, hot dogs or bacon. The microwave radiation triggers chemical changes—the release of cholesterol oxidation products (COPs), to be precise, which have been linked to coronary heart disease.

  • Chilies. When heated, they release capsaicin which is going to burn your eyes and throat the moment you open that door.

  • Meat. Microwaves do not fully or evenly cook meat, and hence do not kill bacteria. So it’s safer to reheat a salmonella-prone meat like chicken on the stovetop. And if you must use the microwave to thaw frozen meat, make sure you cook it immediately on the stove—or else the germs will happily multiply in half-cooked meat.


How to nuke it right: There’s still plenty of stuff you can microwave, but just be sure you do it right. For example:

  • Look for the bubbles. Anything that has a sauce or gravy needs to be reheated to at least 75 degrees. So make sure your dish is bubbling hot. When you open the lid, you should see steam.

  • Use the power setting: We rarely change the power settings on our microwave, but nuking at high power can be ruinous to eggs and smaller vegetables.

  • Nuke your veggies: Boiling vegetables can rob them of antioxidants and other nutrients. It’s actually better to cook them in the microwave.

  • Plate your food properly: Outer sections of any plate will cook more quickly than the inner bits. So don’t slap a mound of pasta or biryani in the middle of the plate—arrange it in a ring, leaving the middle hollow (like so). Or if you’re reheating different items on the same plate, keep the thicker items on the outside, and smaller in the middle.

  • Always cover your food. Microwave plastic wrap helps heat the food faster and more quickly—but remember to punch some holes using a fork so the steam can escape. And if you want to avoid plastic, go with a paper towel.

  • Check your container: Place a cup full of water and the dish you want to test in the microwave. Cook at 100% power for one minute. If the water gets hot and the dish you're testing stays cool, it is safe to use. If the dish gets hot, it contains lead or metals and shouldn't be used in the microwave.


How to keep it clean: Guess what? You don’t need a detergent to keep your microwave spic and span. Either add 2 tbsp of lemon juice to a cup of water OR half a cup each of water and vinegar. Microwave on high for five minutes—with a wooden toothpick in the cup to minimise the risk of explosion (see above). Leave it inside for a few minutes so the steam can do its magic. Wait for the mixture to cool a little, and then use it to clean the oven with a paper towel. All that nasty gunk will come right off.  (Step-by-step instructions here)


Learn more: Spruce and Huffington Post have a longer list of tips. Spruce also has an excellent microwave recipe for the easiest fudge in the world. We weren’t that impressed with this list of recipes from Parenting, but scroll all the way to the bottom for an excellent list of hacks to peel garlic, restore soggy potato chips etc. Kitchn teaches you how to poach an egg.

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