Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Number of the day: 2.1%

In more dismal economic news, growth in eight of our core infrastructure industries has slowed to 2.1%—down from 7.3% in July last year. Why does this matter? It indicates that the economic slowdown is deep-rooted and serious—and will deepen without effective government intervention. The silver lining: the latest numbers are an improvement on the 0.7% growth recorded in July. Meanwhile, a BJP spokesperson said, “The world economy is facing a slowdown but we can say with happiness that Indian economy is doing well.” Sigh.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A nasty hurricane named Dorian

Five people have been reported dead as a Category Five hurricane smashed its way across the Bahamas. The really bad news: it is moving very, very slowly. 


Tell me about Dorian: Here are the basic deets on this monster storm:

  • It is a Category Five hurricane with wind speeds of 185 miles/hour—which makes it the second fiercest hurricane in the recorded history of the Atlantic Ocean. The only storm with higher wind speeds was Hurricane Allen in 1980 at 190 miles/hour. 

  • Forecasters have warned that the storm can potentially create "life-threatening" storm surges as high as 23 feet (7 metres).

  • The storm itself is moving very, very slowly at 1 mile/hour—slower than the average human being. In others words, it’s been practically parked over the Bahamas for two days.


How bad is it in the Bahamas? The PM Hubert Minnis is calling it “a historic tragedy.” The fierce winds have battered most buildings and many are submerged under “buckets of rain.” One reporter told BBC, “You can't fathom that but that's what people are showing us with their videos, saying 'Please come and rescue me. I'm in the roof of my home and this is where the water is'. And you can see the water outside pressing in. It's stories like that and images like that that you can't get out of your mind." (Watch an example here)


How many have died? While only five people have been reported dead, the actual situation on the ground remains unclear. Rescue crews have not been able to do much with the police chief declaring, “We simply cannot get to you.” Meanwhile, a local news team reports, “[T]he place is a disaster, no business is operable and bodies are floating around Big Cat. The concern is [that] nobody knows how many people died, and they feel when the water subsides some bodies will be washed out to sea.”


When will this be over? The storm has spent two nightmarish days crawling over the Bahamas—but has weakened to a Category Four hurricane. It is currently moving west but is expected to turn north or north-west which will take it along the eastern coastline of the United States. Officials in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina have already issued mandatory evacuation orders for those living in coastal towns. Hurricanes, however, typically peter out soon after they make landfall—but not before they have destroyed everything in sight.


Is this another example of climate change? Scientists say that climate change doesn’t increase the frequency of hurricanes, but it does make them more intense. The reason: as the oceans’ surface temperature rises, the storms pick up wind speed and dump more water. 

Learn more: BBC offers the best overview. The Guardian captures the level of despair in the Bahamas. Photos of the storm taken from the International Space Station are here and here (also the source for lead image above). And this image is quite literally the eye of the storm. Business Insider explains why climate change is making hurricanes wetter and stronger.

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slouching back to work after a long weekend

Prison notes from Kashmir: The Hindu reports on the state of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti in custody. He is nearly unrecognisable in “an untrimmed white beard” and she is “agitated and depressed.” The Independent has more on the reports of torture out of Pulwama and arrests in Shopian. Indian Express has the story on the eight prominent business leaders in the Valley who have been placed under detention. Guess they won’t be attending that Rs 10,000 crore Global Investment Summit the government is planning this month. 


In related Kashmir news: Is there an unwritten international travel ban on Kashmiris? Journalist Gowhar Geelani was not allowed to fly to Germany to attend a media conference. But he was not shown any written order or offered a specific reason by the officers other than “Aajkal Kashmir ko lekar kafi diqqat hai.” However, unlike former IAS officer Shah Faesal who was also stopped at the airport, Geelani was not arrested. (Indian Journalism Review)


NRC final list is not final: Assam’s Finance Minister now insists: “I want to make it clear that nothing is final till Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah are there… till the names of foreigners are excluded and that of genuine Indians included. Nobody should say the last word.” It isn’t clear what the party can do to alter the list other than petitioning the Supreme Court—which in fact oversaw the entire the NRC process. A related read: The Wire has a thought-provoking op-ed which argues that Indian liberals are wrong to brush aside genuine Assamese fears about their land and identity.


In other grim media-related news: Pawan Jaiswal, a UP journalist, shot a video which showed children in a government school eating roti with salt as part of their mandated midday meal. According to the UP government’s meal chart, however, its students are served pulses, rice, rotis and vegetables—plus fruits and milk, no less! Now, what do you think happened next? Why the police have charged the journalist with criminal conspiracy and “maligning the image of the state government,” of course! Watch Jaiswal explain how and why he reported this story. (Indian Express)


Your tax auditor will be a machine: India is poised to become the first nation to use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to detect potential problems in income tax returns. Tax department officials are not pleased as the plan “is based on the premise that tax officers are corrupt and harass taxpayers.” And some warn it could end up creating a giant mess a la GST. Be afraid, be very afraid. (Deccan Herald)


Mohammed Shami faces arrest for domestic violence: Shami is one of India’s star bowlers—and the three wickets he took yesterday were key to India’s 2-0 sweep of the West Indies series. But his performance was overshadowed by news of the arrest warrant. Shami was charged with domestic violence last year based on allegations filed by his wife Hasin Jahan. He now has 15 days to surrender himself. The BCCI, however, has no plans to take action until it sees the chargesheet. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • Two lovely Ganeshas: this one is made of leaves; and this one of stone.

  • This astonishingly clueless Zee News report on how to survive a nuclear attack. Sometimes you laugh so you don’t cry.

  • In that same spirit, here’s someone navigating Bangalore’s many potholes dressed as… an astronaut

  • This brilliant Twitter thread with photos that showcase African architecture… we’re in love!

  • This lovely video story of a mother-son duo from Mysore who are on a pan-India tour on their 20-year old scooter. 

  • Moral of this lesson: never try and overtake a camel. 

  • A mama & baby monkey clip all of us can relate to.

  • Did you know cats can learn to ask for food in sign language

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘History of Booze’ Edition

Humans have been hitting the bottle for a very long time. Some of those age-old liquors are making a comeback as a hipster millennial tipple of choice.

'Excavating' beers of ancient times

Yes, beer archaeology is a thing. And a restaurant in Colorado serves up eight ‘Ales of Antiquity’, which include Beersheba favoured by King King Zimri-Lim of Israel. It smells “a little like baby spit-up” and tastes “like a funky fruit rollup.” This piece offers a fun romp through the history of beer which is fascinating to read—if not taste. 

Read: Beer Archaeologists Are Reviving Ancient Ales — With Some Strange Results | NPR

Sex, Love etc 2

A liquor brewed from flowers

This ancient Indian brew finds its first mention in an ancient Sanskrit text on Ayurveda as a laxative. The distilled version of mahua, however, has long remained popular with the Gond tribe, and is now finding its way into our liquor cabinets. This is a fantastic immersive long read on the history of mahua and its place in Adivasi culture.

Read: The Mahua Story | Fountain Ink

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