Thursday, January 9, 2020

Quote of the day

Ek galti to bhagwaan bhi maaf kar deta hai” (One mistake is forgiven even by God). That was the reaction of a neighbour of one of the men sentenced to death for the 2012 Delhi gang rape. That the parents of these men are in denial is perhaps understandable. But that residents in their community are standing in solidarity with them speaks volumes about patriarchy in our society.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The tragic plane crash in Iran

A Ukranian Airlines plane crashed just outside Tehran, killing all passengers and crew aboard. The reasons for the crash remain mysterious. And its timing and circumstances is fuelling heated speculation.

What happened? A Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 jet came down three minutes after takeoff—killing 168 passengers and nine crew members. Most of the victims were Iranian (82) and Canadians (63). The cheaply priced UIA flight to Kiev and onward to Toronto is a popular choice for Canadians of Iranian descent. See a clip of the burning wreckage. Also: A clip of the actual crash captured on a person’s phone.

Wait, another Boeing plane? Yes, it is another Boeing plane but an older model—737-800—than the 737 Max which has been grounded since the Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed back in March (more in our explainer here). But at an emotional press conference, UIA President Yevgeniy Dykhne insisted, “It was one of our best planes with a wonderful crew.” Also, this model is one of the most widely used commercial planes in the world. 

So it’s super-safe? Well, 737-800s have been involved in a number of fatal crashes since their launch in 1998. And it was recently flagged for a specific safety issue: cracks on part of the fuselage that connects the wings to the aircraft.

Do we know why it crashed? Here’s what we know so far. One, the plane was climbing normally until about 8000 feet—which is when the flight data suddenly disappears. Two, footage aired on Iranian TV shows that the plane caught fire while in the air. 

That’s it? The airline came down hours after Tehran launched missile attacks on US bases in Iraq. And the government is refusing to turn over the black box—which records all flight data—to Boeing or the US. All of which is fueling lots of speculation. 

What kind of speculation? There are a number of different theories:

  • OPS, an aviation monitoring group, says it “would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event.” It points to photos of the wreckage that “show obvious projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section”—but also conceded that “whether that projectile was an engine part, or a missile fragment is still conjecture.” More details on their website.

  • The Independent quotes an Israeli aviation expert who outlines two possibilities. One: “a bomb on board that runs on a timer or altitude monitor, exploding when the plane reaches a certain height.” Two: “a technical malfunction about which we don't know anything yet. Unfortunately from what I see that looks less likely.”

  • BBC’s transport correspondent says that the plane’s ascent path would not have been normal if it was experiencing engine failure: “This is unusual and would suggest some type of catastrophic incident on board the plane.”

  • Other theories making the rounds include: a collision with an unmanned drone; a mistaken missile attack by jumpy Iranian air defence forces in the wake of the strikes; and, of course, pilot error.

  • Point to note: In 2014—when Ukranian forces were fighting Russia-backed separatists—a Russian missile mistakenly shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight, killing 298 people.

What is Iran saying? Here’s what various official sources are saying:

  • An Iranian government spokesperson claims that the pilot “lost control of the plane” after a fire broke out in one of its engines. He also said that the crew did not report any emergency. Responding to the speculation of a shootdown, a military official said: “This is ridiculous. Most of the passengers on this flight were our valued young Iranian men and women.”

  • The Ukraine Embassy put out a statement on its website saying the plane crashed due to “a technical failure of the engine”—but later took it down. President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “All possible versions of what occurred must be examined.”

  • Boeing put out a statement saying, “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

Point to note: Commercial planes are designed so that they can fly even if one of their engines fail. And while engine fires are fairly common, they rarely result in crashes.

So what’s next? It’s not clear whether Iran will turn over the black box, or to whom. For now, a number of airlines have decided to steer clear of the airspace over Iran and Iraq. They include: British Airways, Air France, KLM, Qantas, Air India, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines. Lufthansa has cancelled its daily flight to Tehran. The Indian government has also issued a travel advisory to Indians asking them to avoid traveling to Iraq (though not Iran?). 

The bottomline: Plane crash investigations are notoriously complex and take over a year to reach conclusive results. Given the state of hostilities between the US and Iran—and Tehran’s unpredictable and secretive attitude—we may never fully learn what happened to this plane.

Learn more: BBC News has the most details on the crash. New York Times and The Independent have more on the theories surrounding the crash. Daily Mail has all the photos, maps etc. CBC has more on the airlines who are rerouting their flights.

In related Iran news: Here’s what’s happening in the ongoing US-Iran face-off:

  • Donald Trump made a speech where he confirmed that no one was hurt in the Iranian missile strikes on the two US bases. 

  • This in turn is fueling theories that Tehran carefully targeted and timed its attacks to make sure that no one will be killed—and gave advance warning to Iraq (hence, the US). Also confirming that theory: Tehran saying, “For the time being, the Americans have been given a slap, revenge is a different issue.” 

  • NPR has satellite photos of the aftermath, and more on the kind of missiles that were used.

  • Responding to Iran’s missile strikes, an unnamed Democratic member of Congress said: “You need two crazy leaders to start a war, and fortunately, Iran doesn’t have one.” 🔥
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frantically updating your Tik Tok app

Your protest update is here: And it includes the following:

  • Deepika Padukone is facing the inevitable backlash for her decision to support JNU students. #BoycottChhapaak and #BlockDeepika were trending on Wednesday. But the troll rage had its lighter moments. For example: Many tweeted screenshots of their canceled tickets for ‘Chhapaak’—except they were all canceling the same seats in the same movie theatres. 

  • On the up side, BJP minister Prakash Javadekar clarified that the BJP was not calling for a boycott of Padukone’s film. The party also released a video with a number of mostly Bollywood B-listers speaking out in support of the citizenship law.

  • Also: Swarajya magazine waded into the fray with a story that the movie changed the name of the man who attacked acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal in real life from Nadeem Khan to ‘Rajesh’—a claim that turned out to be false.

  • A couple of good reads: BBC News has a long piece that looks at the likely impact of Padukone’s bold stance on the debate. Huffington Post explains why it doesn’t matter if her JNU visit was also a PR stunt.

  • Broadsheet ambassador Radhika Ghose sent in this news video on a face-off between women students and BJP workers in Bangalore. They were trying to force students to support the citizenship law.

  • See also: clips and pics of protests held at Delhi University, Shaheen Bagh and Carter Road last night. Plus: this video of a young woman singing ‘Hum Dekhenge’ outside the Indian consulate in Cape Town. We have goosebumps.

Your Australian wildfires update is here: And it includes the following:

  • A new estimate puts the total damage and economic loss caused by wildfires since September at $110 billion. 

  • These before-and-after images from NASA document the ecological devastation on Kangaroo island—which is home to a number of endangered species. More than 25,000 koalas have perished and experts fear that the glossy black cockatoo—which was brought back from the brink of extinction—may be lost as well. 

  • Adding to the tragedy: The government plans to kill 10,000 feral camels because they are drinking too much water in drought-affected regions—especially among aboriginal communities. There are approximately 1.2 million camels in Australia. Authorities say that if the culling does not take place, the camel population will double every 8 to 10 years.

  • Now for the silver linings. Thousands around the world have united to knit, sew and crochet to help rescued animals recover from their injuries. These include pouches for baby kangaroos, mittens for koalas with burnt paws, and wraps for flying fox bats. The Guardian photos are adorable. 

  • Also: LA model, Kaylen Ward, has raised over $1 million for the rescue effort. She promised to send every donor a nude photo of herself. Instagram, however, shut down her account as it violated its content guidelines. But she has inspired other women to kickstart similar campaigns.

  • Finally: This heartwarming video of a firefighter rescuing a baby kangaroo.

Tik Tok has a serious security problem: An Israeli cybersecurity company has uncovered “serious vulnerabilities” in the app: "The weaknesses would have allowed attackers to send TikTok users messages that carried malicious links. Once users clicked on the links, attackers would have been able to take control of their accounts, including uploading videos or gaining access to private videos. A separate flaw allowed Check Point researchers to retrieve personal information from TikTok user accounts through the company’s website." The company has since issued a patch that fixes the problems—so you better update your app, like, now! (New York Times)

Carlos Ghosn has his say: At his first press conference since his escape from Japan, the ex-Nissan chairman proclaimed his innocence, indicted the Japanese justice system and named names: “There was no way I was going to be treated fairly... So I can tell you that, I mean, it's not very difficult to come to [the] conclusion that you're going to die in Japan, or you're going to have to get out." Yes, there were PowerPoint slides. (NPR)

Harry & Meghan are exiting the palace: In an Instagram announcement, the couple declared: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.” They plan to split their time between the UK and the United States. The royal family is very upset—more so as they were not consulted. And no one knows exactly how this novel arrangement is going to work—or who will foot the bill for their transatlantic security arrangements. (BBC News)

ISRO reveals why Vikram crash-landed: We now have the first official account as to why the Chandrayaan 2 mission failed. TLDR: The lander—which was supposed to spin 55 degrees—ended up spinning over 410 degrees! (Indian Express)

Accenture issues a correction: As you may remember, a viral poster of an RSS-organised event named the chiefs of  Zoho and Accenture as prominent speakers. But Accenture MD Rama Ramachandran’s name has since been deleted. And he later tweeted: “I am not sure how this misunderstanding happened, but I have no affiliation with this group and never agreed to speak at or attend this event.” (Financial Express)

A case of explosive mangoes: In a security raid on Pakistani novelist Mohammad Hanif’s offices, ISI agents confiscated all copies of his novel ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’—which is all about the suspicious death of President Zia ul Haq. And Hanif also recently received a defamation notice from Zia’s son Ijaz-ul-Haq, demanding Rs 1 billion for “maligning” the former dictator’s name. Point to note: The novel was published in 2008. (The Telegraph)

Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • Kareena Kapoor’s knees went mysteriously missing in a heavily photoshopped Grazia magazine image.

  • Three tigers have been found dead in a wildlife sanctuary in Goa—over the course of four days! They were poisoned by farmers in retaliation for killing their cattle.

  • Every one of the 18 actors nominated for the British BAFTA film awards is white.

  • This heart-stopping video of a toddler ambling along the fourth-floor ledge of a building in Spain.

  • The discovery that Jupiter is actively flinging comets at earth. Reminder: Comets cause mass extinctions. Thanks for nothing, J!

  • The Pope—who recently smacked the hands of a woman who grabbed on to him—cautiously kissed the cheek of a nun. But he first secured a promise: “I’ll give you a kiss, but keep calm. Don’t bite!”

Cool stuff we learned on the internet: includes the following:

  • Real men don’t rent clothes from services such as RentTheRunway, as per the New York Times. Most intriguing point: male aversion to fast fashion.

  • A British project allows survivors of Partition to experience a computer-generated simulation of their childhood homes in an interactive, 3D virtual reality environment.

  • The fashion industry’s obsession with youth could cost it $14 billion over the next 20 years. The reason: older people have more money. 

  • Couples in long-distance relationships are now using video chat services like Skype to “sleep together.”
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Climate Change Anxiety’ Edition

The news stories are relentless, and relentlessly gloomy. The result: climate change anxiety or denial. Both are very natural and very human reactions to the prospect of impending catastrophe.


How your brain deals with climate change

We’ve all read the reports. And the facts are undeniable. Yet so many of us—especially governments and those who elect them—seem unwilling to act. The reason for seeming apathy: how our brain views the future—including our future selves and generations.

Read: Why Your Brain Can’t Process Climate Change | Time

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Grieving for a vanishing world

“There’s no clear-cut way to grieve for a place. It’s a specific kind of heartache, because it’s grief in anticipation, grief without end. How do you know when a place is really gone? What could you have done? What can you do?” This essay may not ease the grief we all experience—sooner or later—but it can help us embrace it.

Read: The 4 Stages of Climate Grief | Outside

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