Friday, September 20, 2019

Number of the day: 3 billion

That’s how many birds the US and Canada have lost since 1970—that’s about one in four birds. A new study shows that the losses are spread across a variety of species, ranging from “songbirds such as meadowlarks to long-distance migratory birds such as swallows and backyard birds like sparrows.” The most likely reason: the destruction of habitats due to development and agriculture. Scientists are calling it “a wake-up call” for North Americans. It is as much a warning to the rest of us. 

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Israel turning into a hot electoral mess

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gambled on a second election in five months. And he still failed to gain a majority—which may spell the end of his political career and mark a new era in Israeli politics.

A quick background: in the form of a timeline:

  • In April, Israel went to the polls and the Netanyahu-led Likud Party appeared poised to form the government—despite a close election. 

  • But Netanyahu’s coalition of rightwing parties fell apart, and he couldn’t secure the 61-seat majority required to form the government.

  • So he gambled on calling a second snap election which took place earlier this week. The hope: his party will score more seats and retain power.

So what happened this time? With 99% of the votes counted, the Likud party has only scored 31 seats—lower than the 35 they won in April. Its main rival, the liberal Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz has 33 seats. The rest are split among various smaller parties. As of now, the center-left Blue and White alliance has 57 seats, and the right-wing Likud bloc has 55. In other words, both are well short of a majority. So all eyes are on the one party that straddles the left-right split: Yisrael Beiteinu led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman which has eight seats. 

What happens now? Everyone wants to avoid a third election, but it is unclear how any of the parties can break through the deadlock:

  • Netanyahu called on Gantz to form a ‘unity government’—but Gantz adamantly rebuffed any alliance that includes a Netanyahu-led Likud or its rightwing allies.

  • Gantz claims his party ought to be called on to form the government—as it scored more seats than Likud—but his centre-left alliance simply doesn’t have the numbers to hit the majority mark.

  • Kingmaker Lieberman wants a ‘unity government’ that includes all three parties—but his party’s adamantly secular stance would lose Likud the support of its religious allies.

Why does this matter? For starters, it spells political chaos for Israel—and at a time when the situation in the Middle East is volatile (See: our explainers on the strikes on Saudi oil; escalating US-Iran conflict). But the person with the most to lose is Netanyahu.The Israeli Attorney General has recommended he be charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud. Bibi was hoping to score a majority that will allow him to pass legislation providing immunity from prosecution. That doesn’t seem likely any more. 


Learn more: Vox offers a detailed analysis of the election results and the array of likely outcomes. Associated Press via The Hindu explains the reasons for Netanyahu’s spectacular failure. CNN reports on the prospects of a third election. Haaretz explains why Netanyahu’s days in politics are numbered—comparing him to Richard Nixon. BBC has an explainer on the corruption charges against Netanyahu. 

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wondering why brown people never dress up in whiteface

Justin Trudeau has a blackface problem: Yesterday, the world discovered the Canadian PM’s favourite pastime as a young man: strutting around in blackface. First, Time unearthed photos of him painted brown in an attempt to look like Aladdin at an ‘Arabian Nights’ party. Trudeau apologized and also fessed up to dressing up as a Jamaican singer in high school. Then that photo went viral. The final straw: Global News Canada found another clip of Trudeau, again in blackface—but in a plain white tee and ripped jeans (i.e. without even the excuse of playing dress-up). Did we mention he is running for reelection? Ozy offers more context and background.

Trump made a phone call: to a foreign leader and made some kind of “promise” which in turn made someone in his administration unhappy enough to file an anonymous complaint. Now it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a Cheeto. Vox has all the details on what may or may not be the next big Trump scandal.

Ugh, that high tiger count may be wrong: Earlier this summer, we were all elated when the government announced the results of the Tiger Survey: 2,967 tigers—up from 2,226 in 2015. As part of the survey, a great majority of these tigers are documented on camera. So Indian Express took a closer look at photos from the 2015 survey (the latest aren’t available as yet). And here’s what it found: 221 photos are dubious and should not have been counted. The paper concludes, “This works out to 16% over-reporting — in other words, there is one paper tiger for every seven tigers in the data.” This finding in turn raises worries about the latest survey. (Indian Express)

Twitter rolls out its best tool yet: You could always block or mute trolls. But the new ‘hide replies’ tool goes one step further. It allows you to hide the nasty replies to your tweet from you and other users. But in the interest of not censoring free speech, others can still click on an icon to reveal hidden tweets… if they are in the mood to wade through the toxic sludge. (The Verge)

Does Jeff Bezos care about Earth? You may think not given his plans to turn the moon into a Disney amusement park. But he’s now made a hugely ambitious climate change pledge: 80% of Amazon’s energy use will be renewable by 2024—hitting 100% by 2030. The reason for this sudden burst of wokeness: his employees plan to join a ‘global climate strike’ on September 20 to protest the company’s polluting policies and support of fossil fuel companies and climate deniers. In related news: Google, also facing a similar walkout, announced “the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.” (Gizmodo)

Akshay totally hearts the Mumbai metro: and he made this awkward this-is-not-a-shameless-pitch video of him slumming it on a train to prove it. Sadly, the covert pitch only enraged Mumbaikars—furious that he is shilling for the government which wants to raze parts of Aarey forest to build a metro shed. Also shilling for the metro: Amitabh Bachhan who also received his share of gaalis. 


Wanna call your Google assistant? Now you can dial a toll-free number and ask the Google Assistant—in English or Hindi—about the weather, sports scores, traffic conditions, and more. Oh, and this tool is available only in India. Are we feeling special now? (Buzzfeed News)

The most powerful anti-gun advertisement: is this one created by Sandy Hook Promise—an NGO created after 20 kids were killed in a mass shooting.

Demi, Ashton and threesomes: In her new memoir, Moore writes that she agreed to participate in two threesomes during her marriage to Kutcher because “I wanted to show him how great and fun I could be.” But Kutcher later used them to justify his infidelity: “Because we had brought a third party into our relationship, Ashton said, that blurred the lines and, to some extent, justified what he’d done.” Why do we share this? Because women routinely feel pressured into various kinds of sexual acts and behaviour to please men. It is important to know that it happens even to a Demi. (Page Six)

These photographs of young girls: living in refugee camps are a must-see. The photographer set this task for the kids: “Find or make a costume that will represent what you want to be when you grow up, and I will take a portrait of you in it.” The result is incredibly moving. (Buzzfeed News)


Your daily sunshine quota: includes the following:


  • A French bulldog as Chucky? Please, Halloween has already been won.

  • This baby is best lip-syncher ever! And also maybe the most adorable.

  • We stumbled upon Carl Sagan explaining how the ancient Greeks figured out that the earth wasn’t flat. Now, we really, really miss him.

  • The design of the Pornhub award is astonishingly clever and cool.

  • Here are two little boys plus a trash can playing together. It is also proof that we will never understand little boys. 

  • Ok, so someone on Twitter claims that this clip is a PSA for child birth from back-in-the-days India. We don't really believe that but it doesn’t make this piece of moviemaking any less, well, insane. 

  • “This is the world’s largest Amazon campus. It’s in India and 50 times the size of the Taj Mahal.” Curious? Check out Bloomberg’s video report.

  • Things to file under ‘stuff the world does not need’: This ‘wearable chair’ and this recipe for Maggi. Hint: it involves milk.

  • Soviet-era soldiers dancing to Eminem, perchance?

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Stuff we buy, use or love.

 A List of Excellent Indian Detectives
We were in the mood for a juicy crime novel and asked our Ambassadors for recommendations. We got so many—and of so many different kinds—that we’ve decided to turn it into a series. Here is part one. 
image blue sidebar The informer image blue sidebar

Time travel back to 1920s Bombay…

In Sujata Massey’s ‘Murder on Malabar Hill’ which Akanksha Sharma hugely enjoyed. This Raj-era novel is one of the first in a highly recommended series featuring Perveen Mistry—the city’s first woman lawyer. It skilfully interweaves history, feminism and law to create a novel far beyond a run-of-the-mill whodunit. (Read reviews in the LA Review of Books and Hindustan Times)

Price: Rs. 299 | A Murder on Malabar Hill | Amazon

The informer 2

Take a walk on the dark side of Bangalore…

In Anita Nair’s ‘Chain of Custody’, highly recommended by Sindhu Nair. This isn’t the Bengaluru of pubs, techies and laidback Kannadigas. On a quest to find a missing girl, Inspector Gowda enters the dark and seedy side of the city—straight into the harrowing world of child trafficking. As Scroll explains, “This is a novel very hard to read, but the way Nair tells it, it is also very hard to look away and stop reading.” (Read reviews in Mint and Scroll)

Price: Rs. 349 | Chain of Custody | Amazon

The informer 3

For a taste of the delightful wackiness of Delhi…

We recommend Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series. Really, how can you resist titles like ‘The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken’? These are less serious crime novels and more a delightful romp featuring a very portly private detective named Vish Puri—and his sidekicks Tubelight, Flush, and Facecream. Hall’s greatest gift is his ability to riff with affectionate humour on ‘only in Delhi’ tropes and themes even as he spins a highly enjoyable mystery. (Read reviews in The Washington Times and Huffington Post)

Price: Rs. 1246 | The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken | Amazon


PS: While on the subject of Indian detectives, Sunainaa Chadha insists we don’t forget her all-time favourite Feluda. Volume one of the ‘complete adventures’ of Satyajit Ray’s immortal Bengali creation is available here.


Note: These products are personally picked by the editors (or in this case trusted Ambassadors). We do not receive any revenue from the brands recommended. 

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