Friday, February 7, 2020

Number of the day: 2000

Researchers have grown six date seedlings from 2000-year-old seeds recovered from an ancient fortress and caves in Israel and around the Dead Sea. Why is this amazing? To germinate, the seed's DNA has to be intact for thousands of years! As one expert explains, “This is an astonishing result… It shines a light on the fact that we don’t understand long-term seed viability.” Researchers plan to pollinate the female plants—which will hopefully allow them to bear ancient fruit!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Big trouble brewing in Indian skies

In less than a year, the airline industry has seen enough drama to make script-writers of saas-bahu serials green with envy. We take stock of the chaos, and decode what’s next.


Wait, what’s happening to these airlines? Coming up, a highlights reel of aviation trauma and tragedy.


The dead: Jet Airways. One of the oldest—and supposedly most successful—airlines in the country went belly up in early 2019. The company’s share price tanked over 90%. And despite a flurry of new bidders prodding its lifeless remains, there is little hope of a resurrection.  


The dying: Air India has lost enough money to make the entire board of Softbank stand up and slow clap in admiration. And the government recently took the loss-bleeding airline off life support—i.e. put it on sale (explainer here). There’s now talk of a death bed miracle, and the Tatas flying in to the rescue.


The resurrected: SpiceJet. The airline was brought back from the dead after having ceased operations in 2014—and was showing signs of a full recovery. But then it was hit by a Boeing bomb—i.e. the infamous 737 Max plane crash in Ethiopia in March 2019 that has since grounded the entire fleet (explained here). SpiceJet has 13 737 MAX planes in its fleet. And—in what is possibly the worst open bar tab in history—they have another 155 Boeing planes due for delivery. Say tata, bye-bye to operating profits and expansion plans. Also not helping: A massive data breach that affected 1.2 million SpiceJet passengers.


Exhibiting symptoms: IndiGo and GoAir. Both airlines have been ordered to stop flying older Airbus planes that use a glitchy Pratt & Whitney engine. Glitchy as in they are “prone to damage and can shut down mid-flight.” One Congress leader declared in Parliament: “My family and I fear for our lives when we are travelling on IndiGo and GoAir airlines due to rising cases of snag reported in their aircraft's engine." IndiGo now has until May 31 to buy and replace 135 engines! Number of engines Go has to replace: 54. Also see: GoAir’s potentially disastrous leadership problems


Rotting on the inside: AirAsia. While the airline has made its mark on the Indian map, there are huge red flags on its books—as in, investigations into corruption and bribery at the senior-most levels. The Enforcement Directorate is investigating the airline for money laundering and offering bribes to fast track the licence to operate international flights. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Malaysia-based airline’s CEO Tony Fernandes stepped down last week. He and his chairman are being investigated in a separate case of bribery in Malaysia. 


Still standing: Vistara. What’s not to like about Vistara. It’s India’s only remaining private full-service airline—offering business class seats and in-flight meals. It’s the darling of India’s A-list and, of course, free speech advocates—as the only airline not to ban Kunal Kamra. And the financial backing of the Tatas and Singapore Airlines doesn’t hurt. But, hey, Vistara still made a loss of Rs 831 crore last year. And fancy full-service airlines rarely survive thanks to paisa-conscious Indians (RIP Jet, Sahara, Kingfisher). 


Er, what does this mean for me? Expect a lot more turbulence to affect your future flights. The Indian aviation industry lost Rs 7800 crore in 2019-20—of which Rs 6300 is admittedly Air India. However, the remaining five airlines accounted for Rs1500 crore—and that’s not a small number. And here’s why:


  • Indians totally heart budget airlines. And a lot of the projected growth in air traffic will come from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities over the next decade. They would rather hop on a train than pay high fares. 
  • Also keeping revenues low: fleet size. There are currently 620 planes flying Indian skies, but 790 more planes have already been ordered. Soon enough, all that increased supply will prevent prices from going up.
  • Also not helping: Economic slowdown. Growth in the number of air passengers is now a measly 5.1%, down from a lofty 18.9% last year.
  • OTOH, there is no sign of relief on hemorrhaging costs of operating an airline. One big factor: the price of oil—which accounts for a whopping 22% of operating costs. Plus: airlines then have to pay an average tax of 35% of that fuel bill. It's one reason why airline execs have their pacemakers synced with Middle East news tickers. 

Learn more: Forbes explains why Indian airlines keep failing. Mint predicts future turmoil, pointing to baked-in costs and mindless growth. Also from Mint: Why Air India may not find a buyer.

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offering to sublet your 2 BHK to PC & Nick

Government to detain already detained Abdullah: Back in August, the government placed two J&K ex-Chief Ministers—Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti—in preventive detention. But now it is slapping charges on both of them under the Public Safety Act—which allows authorities to detain them without a trial for 6-12 months. The reason: Sources said the government decided to book the ex-CMs under PSA since it was becoming ‘legally untenable’ to keep them under preventive detention for longer.” Point to note: The J&K High Court has recently nixed PSA-related detentions in at least five cases. (Indian Express)


ISIS thrives without al-Baghdadi: The killing of its top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October was hailed as a death-blow to ISIS. But months later, it’s clear that the organisation is alive and killing. According to a new Pentagon report, al-Baghdadi’s death “did not result in any immediate degradation to ISIS’s capabilities," and that “the group’s capabilities in Syria remained the same." For background: read our explainer on al-Baghdadi. (ABC News)


Skin lightening ads are now illegal: and will attract a five-year jail term and a Rs 50 lakh fine. The government is planning to tweak the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act—which will also ban ads that promise stuff like magical hair regrowth, lighter skin, or a libido boost. (Livemint)


Is Nike’s new super-fast shoe a cheat? The world’s fastest man and woman have one thing in common: they both run in Vaporflys. The shoe—which allows a runner to run faster with less effort—has been fiercely criticised for conferring unfair advantage to athletes—and are a form of “technical doping.” Under the latest rules issued by the World Athletics authority—which banned any shoes with soles thicker than 40mm—they are also illegal. Nike’s response: Air Zoom Alphafly Next% which have a 39.5 mm sole and are even faster: “Two sources who have tried the Alphaflys said they were ridiculously quick, with one adding that ‘even a little effort pushes you more forward than a regular shoe.’” (Guardian)


Worried about flying in the time of the virus? Put away the face masks and gloves—which actually help spread the bugs. The best safeguard: "Top of the list is frequent hand washing, hand sanitizing, or both. Avoid touching your face. If you cough or sneeze, it’s important to cover your face with a sleeve. Better yet, a tissue to be disposed of carefully, and then sanitizing the hands afterward. Washing your hands and drying them is the best procedure. When that’s not easy to do, alcohol-based sanitizer is a good second-best." (Bloomberg)


Taking on Google: China's mobile giants Xiaomi, Huawei Technologies, Oppo and Vivo are joining forces to challenge the dominance of Google’s Play store. The four companies will create a platform for developers outside China to upload apps onto all of their app stores simultaneously. The platform will initially cover nine “regions” including India, Indonesia and Russia. (Reuters


The costs of congestion: According to a new study, the average Mumbaikar spends 11 days a year stuck in traffic: “The average commute on Mumbai’s critical routes is longer than one hour, which is double the averages of Hong Kong, Singapore and New York and this in turn imposes an economic cost of over Rs 350 everyday per person.”  (Hindustan Times


Look who’s funding fake news! Honda, Aquaguard, Jio, Raymond, and Zoho. These are just a few of the companies whose ads finance Republic TV’s relentless misinformation campaign targeting Jamia Milia, Shaheen Bagh etc. Newslaundry has the full list. 


Barnes and Noble has a 'literary blackface' problem: The bookstore chain decided to launch a new line of Diverse Editions—featuring black characters on the covers of classics such as ‘Emma’, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, and ‘Frankenstein’. Except all the characters in these novels are white! The backlash was instant. And the bright idea has since been cancelled. (BBC)


Madonna is shopping for royal tenants: In a bizarre video posted on her Insta, the pop diva offered to sublet her New York apartment to Meghan & Harry: “Two bedrooms, it's got the best views of Manhattan. Incredible balcony—I think that's gonna be a winner… Buckingham Palace has got nothing on CPW (Central Park West)." Watch it here.


Stuff that makes you go WTF: includes the following:

  • The roads of Thane are pink (!)—due to severe chemical pollution from local factories. The photos are astonishing.
  • Forget trolling on Twitter. The PM has taken the art of trolling to Parliament: "I was speaking for the last 30-40 minutes but it took this long for the current to reach there. Many tube lights are like this." That’s what the PM said when Rahul Gandhi interrupted him in the middle of a speech. Watch the clip here.
  • Paras Shah is a Citigroup banker in London, making a seven-figure salary. He is also the guy who is now suspended for stealing sandwiches from the staff canteen. 
  • A tigress and her three cubs were killed in Goa by locals for attacking their cattle. One MLA’s defense: "What is the punishment for a tiger when he eats a cow? When a human being eats cow, he is punished… As far as wildlife is concerned, tigers are important but as far as human beings are concerned, cows are important."
  • A study shows that humans love dogs more than other humans. Now we adore dogs, but this is seriously WTF. 


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following: 

  • explains why Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘The Goop Lab’—and its “healing energy” practices—are “a dangerous affront to mental health treatment.”
  • CNN explains why Sri Lanka is determined to save its mangrove forests—unlike some of us closer to home.
  • The Guardian explains why buying fancy designer stuff makes us miserable.
  • Karthik Srinivasan in Quartz makes a compelling case against Hinglish ad campaigns.


A super-duper sunshine item: Our subscribers and ambassadors have done an awesome job of helping Broadsheet grow! And today we want to say a big thank you to Ameya Nagarajan, Shivangi Sachdeva and Rhuta Deobagkar for referring us to so many fam and friends. Wanna spread the love as well? Hit our ‘Invite Friends’ button right up top, and send your own unique referral link to everyone you know. We will be eternally grateful. Also: we’ll send you an awesome tee the moment you hit the magic number of 10.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This cheeky strategically naked pic of Rahul Khanna 😂😂😂
  • The heart-warming news that Japanese officials are readying mosques on wheels so Muslim athletes can pray during the Tokyo Olympics.
  • The very good news that the Indian Railways is going diesel-free. All its tracks will be driven by electricity, making our rail gaadis very eco-friendly.
  • Vir Sanghvi’s eloquent, must-read ode to Usha Uthup and dying South Bombay.
  • Speaking of Bombay, the Irani Cafe in Mahim has a strict ‘no, no, no’ policy—as in it says no to everything, including discussing gambling.
  • These amazing zoomed-in photos of creepy-crawlies are a must-see. The beast in Alien isn’t a patch on these guys. 
  • Modi and Rajnath go to the Defence Expo. Unleash the memes!
  • This clip features Arnab and a golden Lab. Saying more would ruin it. Giggling guaranteed.
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