Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Date of the day

After years of Brexit chaos, the United Kingdom will head to the polls on December 12. The Parliament overwhelmingly approved PM Boris Johnson’s bill setting the fateful date. The elections could deliver a decisive verdict on Brexit or (lord help us!) result in a narrowly divided Parliament, which would unleash yet more chaos. Reminder: the new deadline for Britain to exit the EU is January 31.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A European delegation’s Kashmir yatra

A delegation of 27 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) landed in India yesterday, met PM Modi and then took off on a one-day jaunt to Srinagar. Both the visit and its organisers raised a whole lot of eyebrows and questions.


The invitation: A woman named Madi Sharma sent out an invitation in October to 30 (mostly rightwing nationalist) MEPs. The invitation said:

  • Sharma is “organising a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi.”

  • She later claims, “He would like to meet influential decision makers from the European Union.”

  • Then comes a casual—and unexplained—reference to Kashmir: “The meeting with the Prime Minister is scheduled for 28th October, with a visit to Kashmir on 29th and a press conference on 30th.”

  • Also: she offers an assurance that all expenses of the three-day visit will be covered by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies.


Point to note: At least two of the invited MEPs were later un-invited—due to lack of space. At least one of them says the real reason is that he wanted to freely interact with the locals in Kashmir. Two others turned down the invite and publicly distanced themselves from the visit. 


Ok, so who is Madi Sharma? Ah, that’s where things get curiouser and curiouser. She apparently runs an NGO called WESTT (Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank), She also describes herself as an “international business broker” on her Twitter handle —and runs a company called Madi Group. A News Laundry investigation throws up a number of mysterious details:

  • No one knows exactly what Madi Group does. Even its website link doesn’t work.

  • No one knows what WESTT does either. There are no examples of its projects on its website.

  • No one knows her connection to the Prime Minister or the government.

  • No one knows her connection to the visit’s sponsor—IINS which is an unknown organisation based in Delhi that claims to provide “a platform to voice the viewpoint of billions of people of the Third World.” According to Indian Express, there is no information of its office-bearers or leadership. 

  • We do know that she is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, which—contrary to its name—is not an official EU committee, but a lobbying group targeting key EU policies. 

  • We also know that she wrote an article defending the decision to suspend Article 370 in EP Today, which contrary to its claim is not the official publication of the European Parliament. 


Ok, so this is an official EU visit? Nope. The EU had nothing to do with it. And the Ministry of External Affairs has also clarified that it “is not involved and [is] not coordinating the visit.” And yet the delegation met with the PM, Vice- President Venkaiah Naidu and attended meals hosted by the National Security Adviser’s office and the MEA. 


Why is this a big deal? Someone with mysterious connections to the government arranged a visit for a foreign delegation to Kashmir. And she achieved this feat at a time when almost every Indian opposition leader has been turned away at the Srinagar airport. CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had to move the Supreme Court in order to visit the state to check on a colleague. Also: Why these MEPs? Why do they need to visit Kashmir of all places and at such a “sensitive” time? And for whose benefit? Sometimes the questions offer clues to the answers. 


Learn more: News Laundry’s investigation into the visit is most comprehensive and is a must-read. It also offers details on the MEPs and their unsurprisingly pro-government stance on Kashmir. The Telegraph has the most on the British MEP who was un-invited. Indian Express spoke to one of the German far-right MEPs in the delegation who offered EU’s services as a “honest broker and mediator.” Check out the WESTT and IINS websites if you are curious. Also: Madi Sharma’s personal website.

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admiring Ranveer’s seriously chikna face

Trump and the Lt. Colonel: A decorated Army officer and member of the National Security Council was present when President Trump made the now infamous call to the Ukrainian president. Alexander Vindman testified in front of Congress, and confirmed what everyone already knows: Trump pushed President Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The money quote from Vindman: “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.” Don’t know what we are on about? Read our impeachment explainer here. (Associated Press)


#DeclassifiedDogs rule! After the US raid in Syria, President Trump tweeted a photo of a dog, saying: “We have declassified a picture of the wonderful dog (name not declassified) that did such a GREAT JOB in capturing and killing the Leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi!” The result: nearly 100,000 tweets with the hashtag #DeclassifiedDogs featuring absolutely adorable pooches. Indian Express has helpfully rounded up the best of them. Plus: a sweet little Syrian puppy was left orphaned after the US raid—and was happily rescued. You can check him out here.


A game-changer TB vaccine: GlaxoSmithKline has developed a new vaccine that can “revolutionise” the treatment of tuberculosis. Why is it remarkable? It can prevent a dormant infection from progressing to a full-blown disease in at least 50% of the cases —i.e. it works even with people who are already infected. As one medical expert points out, “Even if only 50% effective, with 10 million new cases and 1.4 million deaths annually, the number of lives that could be saved would be great.” (New Scientist)


A rumoured cyber attack on Kudankulam: A reputed cyber threat intelligence analyst claims that a virus—identified as 'DTrack RAT'—has compromised the IT network of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. And he informed the government of this fact back in September. Officials in charge of the nuclear reactor claim any such attack is “just not possible.” Quint has a lot more detail on this peculiar story. 


Netflix is speeding up! The company is testing a feature that lets Android users will watch movies up to 1.5 times faster. Kinda like a fast forward button that lets you skip the boring bits. Or you could slow down the speed just in case you want to linger during the good (or confusing) parts. (Bloomberg)


Indian techies are job-shopping: According to a new study, over four lakh or 27% of tech employees were actively looking for jobs in August/September—compared to just 1.6% in June/July. The reason: they are unhappy with their annual raise which was below 5% this year. (Economic Times)


A new anti-hate speech initiative: The National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) has launched a Twitter hashtag—#FightAgnstHate—and created an email address ( to identify and combat hate speech. They are looking for volunteers to monitor social media and news reports for hate speech, draft complaints and file FIRs. 


Botched rescue killed a two-year old: Sujith Wilson was trapped in a borewell for four days before he died. All of Tamil Nadu—including its politicians—prayed for his life, and there were strenuous efforts to rescue him. But there is now evidence that the rescue effort was indecisive and clumsy: “The government has put in so much of hard work without a scientific approach. Had they planned well, the boy should not have been let to slip further [and] deeper." (NDTV)


IIM Calcutta is the best B-school in India: It was ranked #17 in the Financial Times Master in Management Rankings 2019—and knocked IIM Ahmedabad off the #1 spot in India. (Livemint)


BBC has a gender inequity problem: Journalist Samira Ahmed  has filed an equal pay lawsuit against the news organisation. The reason: she was paid £465 per episode for a TV series very similar to one hosted by a male colleague. His rate per episode: £3,000. (The New York Times)


The many peaks of success: A Nepali mountaineer, Nirmal Purja, has set a new record by climbing 14 of the world’s highest mountains in seven months. The previous record was held by a Polish climber who achieved the feat in 7 years, 11 months and 14 days. (BBC News)


Do you know a moral grandstander? Know someone who gets into bitter fights on social media or in their personal lives over politics? Do they shame or attack others who don’t share their beliefs? Congratulations, you know a moral grandstander, defined as “a person who frequently uses public discussion of morality and politics to impress others with their moral qualities. Crucially, these individuals are primarily motivated by the desire to enhance their own status or ranking among their peers.” Important to note:  their actual beliefs—left or right—are irrelevant. More importantly, new research has identified ‘moral grandstanding’ as a key cause for increasing public conflict. This is a fascinating read for all of us in these vitriolic times. (Scientific American)


Paternity leave for male athletes? In recent years, women athletes around the world have made rapid strides in securing more maternity benefits. But men are praised for skipping even the birth of their child for the glory of the game. And those who do not are often shamed. Why is that? This is a valuable read that flags the other side of the working parent equation. (The Conversation)


Thanks to the latest AirPods Pro: you never have to deal with noisy fellow passengers on the plane. The pricey earbuds offer noise cancellation, are water and sweat resistant, and have a ‘transparency’ mode that lets you "simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them." The hefty price of this privilege: Rs 24,900. (CNBC)


Thanks to the latest WhatsApp update: you need no longer see ‘unread message’ notifications on your app icon for muted chats. Also: You can more narrowly specify who cannot add you to groups. (NDTV)


Star Wars fans rejoice! The two men who ruined the last season of Game of Thrones —showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss—have quit their gig as writers/producers of the upcoming Star Wars trilogy. Whew! (Mashable)


Sexing up the oddest Halloween themes: That’s the mission of a company which can turn any theme—impeachment, import tariffs, Buzz Lightyear—into a hot, slutty costume. Yes, there are photos. (Washington Post)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Ranveer’s facial hair which has bid us all adieu—an event that has merited over 40,000 Likes as of now.

  • This video report on an amazing grandpa in Tamil Nadu who has cooked his way to YouTube glory.  

  • This stunning clip of a German surfer riding a 115-foot tall wave.

  • This intriguing recipe for Magic Lung Tea for respiratory systems in deep post-Diwali distress.

  • This gorgeous time-lapse video of a freezing bubble.

  • Sugar gliders! Don’t know what they are? Well, it’s time to check one out.

  • The most useful 2.30 minute video guide to folding every kind of garment or sheet.

  • This adorable chubby baby getting a face massage—guaranteed to evoke instant and highly embarrassing baby talk.

  • This video of the world’s first all-electric aircraft.

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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A chatbot assistant for breakups

We’ve all been there: you met someone nice, went out a few times, and then lost interest. Now what? This Quartz chatbot uses AI to help you rehearse the perfect breakup. So you don’t just ghost them instead (as you’re already secretly planning to). Yes, we practised our dumping skills. Yes, we totally suck at it.


Take a spin: Before you ghost your date, practice politely dumping our chatbot | Quartzy

Sex, Love etc 2

The perfect aphrodisiac for women...

Is weed! While there isn’t definitive lab research establishing marijuana as the female viagra, there’s plenty of evidence that it enhances female desire—and the ability to achieve an orgasm!  Point to note: Unlike Viagra, marijuana is illegal in India. Of course it is 🙄

Read: Some Women Are Using Weed to Have Better Sex | Elemental

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