Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Number of the day: 84

The Indian passport is losing its cachet, and has dropped 10 places since 2014 in the latest Henley Passport Index. Its new spot: #84—a ranking shared with tiny nations like Mauritania and Tajikistan. We now enjoy visa-free access to only 58 nations. The nation with the most powerful passport in the world: Japan, followed by Singapore. If it’s any consolation, the United States and the UK—which shared the top spot in 2015—are now tied for #8.


Note: Today, our Sex, Love Etc. section at the end has an image of sex toys that may be NSFW. Forewarned is forearmed:)

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A lot of bad news about climate change

We hate to do this to you, but a new set of reports are raising fresh alarm about the state of our planet. But, but, but: we have real glimmers of hope, as well.

Our oceans are heating up: According to a new study, they reached their warmest level in recorded history in 2019. One of the study’s authors says: "The pace of warming has increased about 500 percent since the late 1980s… Warming is continuing, it has accelerated, and it is unabated. Unless we do something significant and quickly, it's really dire news."

How hot? The actual increase seems miniscule: The average ocean temperature in 2019 was just 0.075 degrees Celsius (0.135 degrees Fahrenheit) above the previous twenty year average. But it represents a lot of heat spread across our vast waters. As one lead author puts it: “The amount of heat we have put in the world's oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom bomb explosions." Also: “We are now at five to six Hiroshima bombs of heat each second."

Why so hot? Oceans cover almost three quarters of Earth's surface, and absorb the vast majority of the world's heat. Since 1970, they have absorbed more than 90% of the heat generated by burning of fossil fuels.

Also, a ten-year deadline for mass extinction: A new UN report warns that we are in the midst of a mass extinction. It is the sixth in earth’s history, and the first one caused by humans. Currently, eight million species are facing extinction. The report outlines a new plan to save what we can. But it will require protecting a third of our planet, and cutting pollution in half. 

A mega-disaster plan: The draft plan lays out 20 targets for the next ten years. The most critical include giving protected status to areas that are key to preserving biodiversity. We must cover at least 30% of key land and sea habitats by 2030, and at least 10% must be under "strict protection.” And we have to cut pollution from biocides, plastic wastes, and excess nutrients by at least 50%. Here’s the full report.

But here’s the good news: According to a new survey, a significant number of citizens in China (73%), Europe (47%) and the US (47%) are highly concerned about global warming. In comparison, 18%  in the US do not believe in climate change—a view shared by 9% of Europeans and 1% of Chinese respondents. The majority of them believe that climate change is still reversible—and 60% are willing to make drastic changes in their lifestyle to make it happen. That includes scaling back on flying, cutting down on red meat and avoiding the use of plastics. 


What about Indians? This one didn’t cover India, but a YouGov survey released in September said that 71% of Indians believe that human activity is responsible for climate change—way ahead of other countries, including the United States. And 60% think the government ought to be doing more. But we are also the most resigned to accepting that it is irreversible (22%). 


Another very good sign: The $7 trillion investment firm Blackrock made a startling and unprecedented announcement yesterday: They are pulling their money out of all firms that get more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal production. The firm will actively focus on sustainable-investing instead. And it will heavily lean on companies that have not worked toward making their businesses more sustainable. Quartz describes Blackrock’s move as a potential “tipping point” for the future of Wall Street.

The bottomline: Citizens are waking up, as are investment bankers. But our governments continue to hit the snooze button.


Learn more: NBC News and CNN have different aspects of the ocean warming report. Also worth a read: Quartz has global maps of nitrous oxide emissions—an often ignored but lethal source of greenhouse gas. In Anthropocene Magazine, the impact of climate change on human mortality rates. New York Times looks at an intriguing study that argues our genes have evolved to deal with air pollution.

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wishing a happy Sankranthi, Pongal, Bihu and Lohri to all

Jeff Bezos is in town: And he is already doing a full Trudeau. Yup, that’s him at  Gandhi-ji’s memorial in full Indian regalia. Though to be fair, this is what he wore the last time he came to visit. Mint has more details on his itinerary which includes a “fireside chat” with Bollywood celebs.

Monks are mad at Modi: The Prime Minister recently paid a visit to the Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) at Belur Math. He offered a staunch defence of the citizenship law in his speech—and (more egregiously) “egged on students in the audience to raise their hands to show where they stood on the legislation.” And that’s made many of its members unhappy. A member told The Hindu, it is “deeply hurtful to see controversial political messages being disseminated from the platform of RKM, which is an apolitical body.” Under fire, the monks who run the mission defended themselves to The Telegraph, saying they had no warning of his intentions—and “we could not have whispered into the Prime Minister’s ears to stop midway.” The mission’s General Secretary insisted, “We are an inclusive organization, which has monks from Hindu, Islam and Christian communities. We live like brothers of the same parents.”

Wildfires are choking the Australian Open: The Grand Slam event is yet to kick off, but it’s already clear that smoke will pose a serious problem. Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic was leading her round one qualifier against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she collapsed to her knees with a coughing fit—and had to withdraw from the match. She said, “I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore… I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat.” Meanwhile, the umpire presiding over Maria Sharapova’s match decided to stop play when her opponent complained. Watch Jakupovic collapse here. (The West Australian)

Your anti-CAA protest update: includes the following:

  • Inspired by Shaheen Bagh, 5000 protesters—mostly women—have staged a continuous sit-in in Prayagraj for over three days. Point to note: Prayagraj is in Uttar Pradesh. Story here, clip here.

  • The BJP took aim at Bangalore’s Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology yesterday. A local MLA—accompanied by residents of a neighbouring apartment complex—demanded that students be punished for anti-Modi graffiti painted near the college. The local residents, OTOH, were more concerned about the un-bharatiya behaviour of Srishti students. The result: the college has closed doors for two days, and asked students to refrain from wearing shorts and smoking. The News Minute has all the details.

  • Also in Bangalore: Workers from VHP, RSS etc. diligently painted over anti-CAA signs on Church Street.

  • Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium got its protest mojo on thanks to 25 students wearing anti-CAA tees. Some claimed that authorities stopped people wearing black from entering the stadium.

  • Everyone’s talking about the judge currently presiding over Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s bail hearing. The reason: her blistering quotes upholding freedom of expression. The Telegraph has more on Additional sessions judge Kamini Lau’s big day in court.

Women in Bolly/Hollywood: Two excellent reads on how gender plays out in two of the biggest entertainment industries in the world. Ozy looks at why women actors (like Deepika Padukone, Swara Bhaskar etc) in Bollywood have been braver than men in speaking up for protesters. Washington Post points to the Academy’s love for certain very male, very white genres that may explain why some movies and actors are nominated and not others.

No chicken biryani for MPs: The Parliament’s canteen is currently catered by the Indian Railways. And its menu is known for “signature dishes” such as biryani, chicken cutlets and fish and chips. But our dear masahaari netas may soon have to bid farewell to such highly subsidised delicacies. The reason: the government is planning to save Rs 17 crore per year by roping in private vendors. The most likely contenders: Haldiram or Bikanerwala who serve only shuddh vegetarian khana. Oh dear. (Economic Times)

India Today vs the trolls: The TV channel conducted a sting that exposed a first-year ABVP activist who was part of the masked mob attack. (Read the story here or watch a clip featuring the activist). Soon after, its anchors—Rahul Kanwal and Tanushree Pandey—became the target of rightwing troll rage, and deluged with doctored clips challenging the reporting. So India Today decided to publish a curiously worded dukhi kahaani of troll harassment—that makes zero mention of their affiliation. What we learned: ABVP is the new Voldemort.

Should the kid eat or study? Scroll has a must read on the very real impact of spiralling food prices on working class families. Like Tambe, a street hawker, who says, “We can’t compromise on our children’s education, so my family is making very big adjustments in our food and other expenses… We put less of everything in our sabzi-bhaji now. Dals and vegetables that we would buy for one day, we are now making it last for two days.” (Scroll)

We messed up yesterday: Our delusional Oscars update claimed that no woman director has ever been nominated in the best director category. The reality: in the Academy Awards’ 92-year history, only five women have ever been nominated for best director, and only one has ever won—Kathryn Bigelow for ‘Hurt Locker’.

Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • A British 14-year old set a Guinness world record by identifying 129 books solely from their opening lines. The previous record—a paltry 30 books—was held by an Indian. We hang our heads in collective shame.

  • Think Akshay Kumar’s mango question for PM Modi was a travesty? Here are some astonishing gems posed by New York Times reporters to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. 

  • Akon has created his own city in Senegal, and imaginatively named it Akon City. It has its own digital cash currency: AKoin. Mull on that the next time you shimmy to ‘Chammak Challo’.

  • The CBI is relying on a retired professor to prove that the skull found by the police matches that of Sheena Bora. The professor’s forensic tool of choice: Fantamorph, a software used to create screensavers, web graphics etc.

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

  • Quartz has a thought-provoking read on how the internet changed the price and market for sex in the US—and for the better. 

  • A Spanish company has rolled out the “most realistic” plant-based steak. The 3-D printed slab of meat is made of pea, seaweed and beetroot juice, “which are extruded into fine fibres to recreate muscle.” Uh, yum? 

  • This must-read Harvard Business Review piece on why eliminating the pitching process in a venture capital raise is the best way to tackle gender bias in funding. 

  • Do you have plans to travel in 2020? Here’s a bucket list/ calendar of amazing fashion exhibitions around the world. 

  • We all know that person who lies for no reason—or profit—and all the time. Refinery 29 has a great piece on pathological liars and why they lie. 

  • The oldest material on earth: 7-billion-year-old stardust from a meteorite that crashed into Australia—and predates the birth of our sun!

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • What makes these wedding photos picture perfect? An erupting volcano in the background, of course. Yes, that volcano in the Philippines isn’t exactly the bearer of sunshine. So this is kinda a romantic silver lining. 

  • Hrithik Roshan is highly impressed by the air walking skills of this TikTok dancer. As should you. 

  • This hilariously breathless Page 3 item on Amit Shah’s son—Jay Shah—at a Raghvendra Rathore store opening. The photo is just the cherry on top. 

  • Joyous Lohri celebrations at Shaheen Bagh. Enuf said. 

  • What could be cuter than a couple of grizzly bear cubs trying to climb a hammock? 

  • This $2590 Hello Kitty bag from Balenciaga.

  • Ralph Fiennes wandering around India, posting random photos on Insta 

  • Remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candles. There are user reviews!
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Everything we don't know about human desire

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So what makes for a ‘good’ marriage?

We have a soft spot for Eric Barker who does a fab job of curating the best available knowledge—from a variety of fields—on a particular self-help topic. Here he brings together the best research to create an excellent clear-eyed guide to building healthy long-term relationships.

Read: 4 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage | Eric Barker’s Blog

Sex, Love etc 2

An Indian woman and her vibrator

Thousands of Indian women are purchasing sex toys thanks to online shopping. But their relationship with their vibrator is as complicated as their relationship to sex. And buying one isn’t guaranteed to make men better lovers, or women less repressed about sex.

Read: Indian Women’s Complicated Relationship With Sex Toys | Huffington Post

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