Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Social experiment of the day

An eight-hour experiment in Kolkata conducted by a young man worked as follows. Wearing traditional Muslim attire, Arifuddin Moila stood on a street corner holding up a sign that read: “I am from Pakistan. Please Hug me/Slap me.” The result: many hugs and zero slaps. He said, “[W]e are so happy that over the entire period, we received only love, with some persons even coming forward and willing to help me with money or whatever else I needed.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The flooding of great parts of India

Over the space of a few weeks, we’ve moved directly from widespread droughts to catastrophic flooding in many parts of the country. What in the world is going on?


Tell me about the floods: Floods have left 200 dead, and caused catastrophic damage affecting the lives of 12 lakh residents. Three states—Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka—suffered the greatest damage. 

  • Maharashtra: Four lakh people have been relocated to camps. More than 203 roads and 94 bridges have been shut down. The state’s transportation service has lost Rs 50 crores in just ten days.

  • Karnataka: Nearly 50 people have died and another 4 lakh are in camps.

  • Kerala: The body count as of now is 77, but many are still buried in 80 landslides across the state.


Why is this happening? Two reasons: Climate change plus human activity (of the most short-sighted kind). Here’s how it works…


Reason #1, Climate Change: We are now cycling between drought conditions and flooding. So we experienced a severe shortfall of rains in June and July. But now the same states have received torrential rain in just a week. Here are some quick stats:

  • From June 1 until August 7, Kerala recorded a 27% deficit in rainfall. But in just six days—between August 1 and August 7—the state received a 22% excess. Palakkad, for example, shot up to 80% above normal. 

  • On just one day, August 8, Karnataka received five times the rainfall than normal. Mysuru received 62.2 mm absolute rainfall—which is 32 times the long-term average for that day.

  • Irony alert: even as some parts of Maharashtra are being swept away in floods, other regions are still experiencing drought conditions.


Reason #2, Human Activity: Ok, so now we’re experiencing unprecedented bursts of torrential rainfall. What makes it worse is that the land is unable to absorb that rain because of development policies. Here are some examples:

  • In Kerala, granite mining has severely degraded parts of the Western Ghats. As Mint notes, “10 out of the 11 pockets which witnessed major landslides, and where 91 quarries operated, were classified as ecologically sensitive zones.” Yet, the Kerala government continued to give permission for mining. According to researchers, “Wayanad has lost a forest cover of 1086 square km, an area larger than all of Delhi.”

  • In Karnataka, forest cover and paddy fields—which protect against flooding—have been lost to plantations and tourism-related development (think highways, resorts, transmission lines).

  • In Maharashtra, a big part of the problem can be traced to reckless construction over wetlands, floodplains, and riverbeds.


And it’s going to get worse: For all the talk of environmental protection, the government is pushing through a number of policies that will further destroy forest cover. Just yesterday, it announced a new policy wherein state governments will now apply for mining licenses on behalf of private companies. Imagine that: The government applying for an environmental clearance to mine from itself! How hard will that be? The current Environment Minister has already said that delays are being "deleted" and that his ministry guarantees “timely delivery” of licenses and permissions.


The bottomline: In Bihar, monsoon floods claimed 125 lives. Earlier in the summer, extreme heat waves killed around 200 people in the same state. And that doesn’t take into account the wider loss to its economy. From here on, this will be the story of almost every state in India—unless we push our governments to take action. Climate change isn’t going away.

Learn more: India Today has the best overview of how climate change will impact India. News 18 takes an in-depth look at the devastating effect of climate change on farmers’ lives. Deccan Herald sums up the lessons not learned from last year’s floods. NewsClick points to severe failures in dam management in Maharashtra. Mint reports on the destruction of the Western Ghats. Indian Express has aerial footage of the floods in Kerala.

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falling a little in love with Drunk Taylor Swift

Your Kashmir update is here: and it includes the following:

  • Even as Pakistan seeks Chinese support, our External Affairs Minister hopped over to Beijing to clarify India’s position: a) Kashmir is “an internal matter”; b) India is not “raising any additional territorial claims”—i.e. you can keep your bit of Kashmir. 

  • A subdued and quiet Kashmir celebrated Eid as residents offered prayers in local mosques. The Punjab CM hosted an Eid lunch for Kashmiris in solidarity, as did a group of young Kashmiri Pandits in Delhi. Huffington Post has a lovely story of a grandfather’s ‘surprise’ Eid visit to Bangalore.

  • The government is leaning on BBC and Al Jazeera, insisting that their video footage of the protests is “fabricated.” It has demanded evidence of their authenticity.

  • Wall Street Journal (via Defence News) has an ominous piece on Pakistan’s inability to retaliate, and why it is no reason to celebrate. Frustrated Kashmiri militants will now turn to Al Qaeda and Islamic State instead. 


Hong Kong protests escalate: The anti-government demonstrations appeared to hit a new peak yesterday. Protesters occupied the airport over the weekend which triggered its shutdown yesterday. The police response has grown increasingly brutal—and included firing tear gas into an enclosed subway station (see clip). More ominously, China shows increasing signs of losing patience. A spokesperson yesterday warned: “In recent days, Hong Kong’s radical protesters have repeatedly attacked police with highly dangerous tools, which constitute serious violent crimes and have started to show signs of terrorism. This type of violent criminal activity must be resolutely combated according to the law, with no hesitation or mercy.” (BBC has more details and background)


Mukesh Ambani’s really big plans: At his company’s Annual General Meeting, Ambani announced that the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Aramco, will buy a 20% stake in Reliance’s oils-to-chemical business in a $15 billion deal. Microsoft and Jio will partner to launch new cloud data centers in India—taking direct aim at Amazon. And next month, Reliance will launch JIOFIBER broadband services—a bundle that includes a free full HD TV for long-term users—priced between Rs 700--Rs 10,000 per month. Mint has more on the Aramco deal.


Hurray, we now have a cure for Ebola: Two experimental treatments for the deadly virus that has haunted Africa have proved extremely effective. Scientists say, “Now we can say that 90% can come out of treatment cured.” The continent is in the midst of an epidemic which has now infected 2,800, and killed more than 1,800 of them. (New York Times)


When Modi met Bear Grylls: The highly anticipated episode finally aired on Discovery Channel last night. Quint has the details.


The exit of Rahul Gandhi: Here are two interesting reads that offer different takes on a familiar issue. Sugata Srinivasaraju in the Mumbai Mirror argues that his departure is as big a blow to his main rival (Modi) as it is to Gandhi family sycophants. Kaushik Deka in India Today lays out why Sonia Gandhi’s decision to accept the interim president post is huge blow to Rahul Gandhi—and undermines his decision to quit.


Indian Tik Tok has a hate speech problem: This in-depth investigation reveals a platform rife with “caste-based hate, threats, violence and ridicule attacking different communities.” And it’s an especially big problem in local communities in Tamil Nadu. (Wired)


BTS is taking a break: to “enjoy their normal lives as normal 20-something young men.” No, it’s not like any other boy band taking a break. The reason: BTS are worth more than $3.5 billion annually to South Korea’s economy. (The Guardian)


Where do Indians move for work? 45 million Indians moved outside their district of birth to seek work opportunities. And 15% of them moved to just five districts: Thane (1.6 million), Bangalore (1.5 million), Mumbai Suburban (1.3 million), Pune (1.2 million) and Surat (1 million). Point to note: Only 2% (7.2 million) of migrant women moved for work, as opposed to 26% of men. Their top destinations: Bangalore, Thane, Pune, Rangareddy (Telangana) and Mumbai Suburban. (Mint)


Deepika and PC are on a top 10 list: of top ten celebs with the most fake followers on Instagram. Padukone comes in #6 — 48% of her 37.9 million followers are bots. Priyanka is at #10 — 46% of her 43.6 million followers are bogus. But they are in good company. The top three are Ellen Degeneres, followed by BTS and Kourtney Kardashian. (Economic Times)


Would you pay Rs 1700 for two boiled andas? That’s the latest source of outrage on Twitter sparked when a Four Seasons hotel guest in Mumbai tweeted out his bill. But Nitin Pai in The Print explains why that insane price tag makes perfect sense to an economist.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Sleepy Time' Edition

It’s something we all do or stress about not doing enough. But getting a good night’s rest can be complicated business as these two stories reveal.

The secret world of sleep disorders

Either you are awake or you are asleep. Right? Wrong. This is a fascinating conversation with a sleep disorder specialist who has treated patients with insomnia, night terrors, narcolepsy, sleep walking, sleep eating and even sexsomnia—a condition in which a person has sex in their sleep.

Read: From Insomnia To Sexsomnia, Unlocking The 'Secret World' Of Sleep | NPR

Sex, Love etc 2

Which will keep you awake: cigarettes, alcohol or coffee?

We’re told all three are bad for you right before bedtime. But one isn’t all that harmful. The other will likely wake you up at night. And the third will make it harder to go to sleep. Match the culprit to the crime.

Read: The Way Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol Affect Sleep Is Counterintuitive | Inverse

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