Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Number of the day: 2.3

Shocking Gallup survey results reveal the extent of despair in Afghanistan. And it is unprecedented in the history of the poll. On a scale where "0" represents their worst possible life and "10" their best possible life, Afghans gave their life a rating of 2.7. But even worse: when asked to predict where their lives would be in five years, they offered a rating of 2.3! Why does this matter? It is the first time in Gallup’s history of data collection that any population has offered a gloomier view of their future than their present. And this in a survey where 2/3rds of the respondents were under 35!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The arrest of Farooq Abdullah

In a shocking move, the government has charged Kashmir’s most veteran and respected leader under a law that allows detention for up to two years. 

Remind me about Abdullah: Kashmir has been led by the Abdullah family—on-and-off—since it joined India. Farooq is the son of Sheikh Abdullah—considered the ‘founding father’ of modern Kashmir.  the first Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir.  He has served as CM three times and is currently a Member of Parliament. His son, Omar Abdullah, became the state’s youngest CM in 2009 and is an MP as well. 

Tell me what happened: Abdullah has been charged under the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act and his residence has been designated as a “subsidiary jail.” He is now confined to one room within his home.

And why is this a big deal? One reason is that the 83-year old Abdullah has long been a staunch Unionist—i.e. he supports Kashmir’s accession to India. Considered a moderate, mainstream leader who has served in the Union Cabinet, Abdullah is also a hugely respected ‘father figure’ within the state's political establishment. Also: just weeks ago, Home Minister fiercely denied that Abdullah was under any kind of house arrest or detention.

The other reason? He is the first former CM to be arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA). His son Omar and the other former CM Mehbooba Mufti have been placed in “preventive detention”—which is less serious.

What is this law, anyway? The PSA was introduced in 1978 by none other than Sheikh Abdullah (an irony not lost on anyone) to allegedly fight timber smuggling. Over the years, it has been used by various ruling parties in Kashmir to crack down on militants and separatists who might pose a political threat.  However, what makes the law notable is its arbitrary and draconian provisions:

  • One, the language is deliberately vague and allows the state to detain a person for up to two years if they act “in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State.” In Abdullah’s case, he can be detained for up to one year for “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”

  • Two, the detention order does not require the ruling of a judge—but can be issued by a divisional commissioner or district magistrate. 

  • Three, the authorities need not reveal any facts about the reasons for the detention “which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose.”

  • Four, the state or its officials also cannot be sued or be subject to any legal complaint as long as they act in “good faith.”

  • Finally, the PSA gives the state the freedom to make any rules that are “consistent” with the act or required to execute it. One example is the amendment that allows those arrested under the PSA to be held outside Kashmir.

Can Abdullah go to court then? There are two possible legal avenues for him.

  • One, there is already a plea in front of the Supreme Court of India challenging his “illegal detention.” The Court has issued a notice to the government to respond by September 30. Point to note: Abdullah was charged under the PSA the night before the Court issued its order—presumably to cover its legal bases.

  • Two, the first court of appeal for PSA cases is the J&K High Court which hears habeas corpus petitions—where the person has to be produced in court to determine the legality of the charges. Since Pulwama, there have been 39 verdicts in such cases—and 80% have ordered the release of the detainee. 

  • Point to note: Yesterday, the SC also heard a petition claiming that the government has blocked access to the High Court—which the Chief Justice deemed “very serious” and promised to investigate.

The bottomline: Abdullah is an 83-year old politician in poor health. And he has never once advocated separatism or violence. While he is a staunch supporter of Article 370, it is hardly sufficient ground to arbitrarily detain him—and do so using the most heavy-fisted law available. This is a clear case of overreach that raises questions about the 4000 others who have been arrested under the PSA since the lockdown. The silver lining: it has brought much-needed attention to a vastly undemocratic law that should have never been passed in the first place. Sins of the father…

Learn more: Indian Express has a detailed explainer on the PSA. Firstpost looks at the 4000 detained under the PSA since the suspension of Article 370. It also offers this very readable walk through the history of the PSA—and how it has backfired on every government that has used it, starting with Sheikh Abdullah. The Hindu has more details on Abdullah’s detention—where he will stay, who he will be allowed to see.

In related news: The latest report of torture entails the use of electric shocks administered to the genitals. (Yahoo News)

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congratulating yourself for never taking up smoking

Your Middle East update is here: and it includes the following:

  • The United States released satellite images which—it claims—prove the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities involved a dozen cruise missiles and more than 20 drones. Some experts disagree. Why does this matter? A more sophisticated attack would suggest Iranian involvement—as opposed to an independent Yemeni rebel attack. BBC has more.

  • Bloomberg via NDTV looks at Saudi Arabia’s next move. No, open war with Iran is not on the top of its list. Surprisingly, negotiating with the Yemenis might be its best bet.

  • Oil prices jumped by 19.5% to hit $71.95/barrel. Some experts predict it will breach the $100 mark. The Indian government says it will be okay as long as the pricetag stays under $80. Mint has a lot more on the potential effects on oil prices and the economy.

  • If you missed reading about the devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, here's the explainer we did yesterday.


Say ‘howdy’ to Modi: It will be a double billing in Houston when Donald Trump joins PM Modi at a ‘Howdy Modi’ rally in Houston. Over 50,000 are expected to attend the event slated for September 22nd. Important reminder: Trump has a presidential election coming up next year and most people of colour don’t really like him. This would also explain why Democratic hopeful Tulsi Gabbard turned down the invite. 

Amazon’s algorithm wants all your money: A Wall Street Journal (paywall) investigation found: “Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company." The company has issued a fierce denial. WSJ is behind a paywall, but Ars Technica has the details and more analysis.

Google wants all your money: Its Cit-e backpack comes connected to a mini computer hosted in the left strap. And it works with an app on your phone that lets you do lots of stuff—like wave your hand to take a selfie. Surely, you will pay $995 for that? (The Hustle)

The 100 best movies of the 21st century: that white people know about are listed in The Guardian. There is only one Indian entry: ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ which comes in at #59.

The blackest black ever created: absorbs over 99.99% of light. MIT scientists unveiled their creation at an art exhibit. They coated a 16.78-carat yellow diamond in this new material made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs)—and it disappeared into the darkness. Because that’s really want your diamonds to do. (Newsweek)

Americans are turning to cigarettes, again! The reason: they are trying to wean themselves from vaping—which has sparked panic due to reports of a mysterious lung illness. Scientists are still investigating the exact cause and health authorities have asked people to stay off vaping pens. So bye bye Juuls, hello old-fashioned cancer stick. (Quartz)

A new ‘Live Aid’ concert is coming soon! Bob Geldof gained lasting fame by pulling together a celebrity-studded, 16-hour concert for African famine relief back in 1985. Well, get ready for its 21st century edition: a 10-hour, five-continent concert on Sept. 26, 2020—aimed at helping end “extreme poverty, tackle climate change and reduce inequality.” We don't know who will be performing or which cities it will be held in as yet. (CNN

Guess which former ‘vampire’ is in town? Actor Robert Pattinson and director Christopher Nolan landed in Mumbai to shoot their upcoming movie ‘Tenet’—which also stars Dimple Kapadia. We rounded up the best photos. One: Pattinson looking remarkably un-filmi as he poses with a fan—he looks a lot more like himself here.. Two: Nolan and Kapadia in the midst of shooting. On a related note: ICYMI, Dimple has totally aced the hot older lady look.

Waiting for a ‘Friends’ reboot? An author who has just finished an entire book on the series offers four compelling reasons for why it ain’t never gonna happen. (New York Times)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Fake Smile’ Edition

Smile and the whole world smiles with you! Yeah, but what if you aren’t smiling inside? Today, we look at two different kinds of fake smiles—the kind that make you sad and the kind that make you smile.


The science of faking happiness

According to the popular "facial feedback hypothesis," smiling will make you happier and frowning will make you sadder or angrier. But can your facial expression change your mood? Or will faking it make you feel worse? 

Read: The Science Of Smiles, Real And Fake | NPR

Sex, Love etc 2

Just put a smile on it!

Why is everyone in those famous paintings soooo serious? Actually, there’s a very good historical reason for why no one said ‘cheese’ back then (which you can read more about here). But here’s something a lot more fun: This collection which uses FaceApp to put a smile on some of the most famous classical paintings in Western art.

Read: We Re-Imagined These 30 Famous Portraits With A Smile And It’s Hilarious | Boredpanda

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