Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Number of the day: 95

Indians ordered on an average 95 biryanis per minute from Swiggy in 2019. According to the company's annual 'StatEATistics' report, another big winner: 'khichdi'—with a 128% jump in orders. Also rising: keto-friendly dishes which rose 306%. The most unusual order from Swiggy Stores: 'gaumutra' (cow urine) from an ayurvedic store in Gurgaon. Wait, what? Related sunshine: this very funny Varun Grover clip on momos. Yes, we Indians are passionate about our food.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The great Iowa debacle

The US democracy suffered a gigantic embarrassment yesterday thanks to a state best known for its cornfields and hosting the first primary of the presidential election season. The big culprit: a smartphone app.


A quick intro to US elections: In Amreeka, each party’s candidate for a presidential election has to be chosen via primaries—unless it is a sitting president running for reelection. What are primaries? Think of them as pre-elections in each state where voters pick their choice for their party’s presidential candidate. Now, Iowa is always the first state to hold a primary, and that makes it a big deal.


Why is that? Well, not because it represents the rest of the country. The state has only 3.1 million people (less than 1% of the US population)—and 85% of them are white. But scoring a first big win offers visibility and that precious thing called ‘momentum’. And at least for Democrats, the Iowa caucuses have correctly predicted the party front-runner for the last 6 elections.


Er, what’s a caucus now? Ha! Glad you asked. Unlike the rest of humanity, Iowans do not line up at a voting booth to do the deed. Instead, voters in each precinct (district) gather at various public places—i.e. churches, schools, convention centres etc.—and listen to reps for each candidate make their pitch. Then they all shuffle together in groups based on which candidate they support. There is a head count. Any candidate with less than 15% of the votes is eliminated. Then the yelling starts.


Yelling? Yes. Because now the voters whose candidate is eliminated have to either pick someone else or abstain. So voters for the remaining candidates do their best to persuade them to join their side. Or as one expert describes it, “Folks that are wandering around are likely to get persuaded quite forcefully by supporters of other candidates" to join them.” Also: if there is a tie, Iowa Democrats use a coin toss to decide the winner—like so. This happens in all 1.678 precincts.


No wonder it became a mess! Actually, Iowans have managed to do this without incident for many, many years. But this year, they changed around a few things. The state decided it won’t declare one but four (!) sets of results—even though the final tally is the only one that matters (If you really, really need to know why, New York Times has more). Also: they decided to use a spanking new app to report these four sets of results from each precinct. 


What about the app? Developed by aptly named company Shadow Inc, the app was hastily put together two months ago—and was not vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, and never tested at scale. Also: thanks to paranoia about hacking, it was super hard to install and confusing to use. 


So what happened? Precinct leaders frantically tried to call in the results. The result of that: phone lines were jammed, and folks were on hold for three hours! Others took to Twitter to try and push out the results. Some took photos of the results and tried to hand-deliver them. In other words, chaos!


Remind me of the candidates: There are twelve of them—of whom former Obama Veep Joe Biden and Hillary’s great nemesis in 2016, Bernie Sanders are the front runners. The others include: Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bloomberg, Deval Patrick, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, and Amy Klobuchar. And that’s down from the 27 who originally kicked off the Democratic race. (CNN has candidate profiles if you need them.)


Do we have a winner? Not yet. The counting is still underway. With 62% of votes tallied, Buttigieg is in the lead with 26.9% of the votes, followed by Sanders (25.1%), and Warren (18.3%). You can check the latest tally over at The Guardian. But the person who is definitely not gonna win: Joe Biden who is leading in the national polls.


The big picture: This maha mess comes on the heels of the last presidential election drama—when Democratic party servers were hacked by Russian operatives. And given the paranoia about election interference, Iowa has already spawned a multitude of conspiracy theories. Also: it has been a huge embarrassment for a Democratic Party getting ready to take on Donald Trump—who, of course, is gloating.


Learn more: BBC News highlights nine unusual things about the Iowa caucus. The Guardian has more on the killer app at the centre of the row. CNN explains why Iowa has handed the advantage to Trump. Buzzfeed has all the best memes. For live results, head over to The Guardian. And RealClear Politics has all the latest Democratic party polls.

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teaching yourself to love all things swadeshi

Phoren-made goods under fire: The government is planning to amend the law to ban the import or export of any good if it hurts the local economy. Until now, only gold and silver could be banned under the Customs Act. The likely target: “The measures are aimed at narrowing the trade deficit with China, which has flooded the Indian market with items such as toys, firecrackers and solar power equipment.” (Mint)


Your virus update is here: Total number of cases: 20,438 in China plus 200 spread across across 24 countries. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is struggling to feed its 1.4 billion people. (New York Times)


Anurag Kashyap disses Indigo: The director took a 4 am Vistara flight to make a point: "I was booked on IndiGo by the organisers to come to Dum Dum…. After Kamra was banned, I told the organisers I will not fly IndiGo. I told them I will not fly this airline because I thought the ban was very unreasonable." The reason why Kashyap’s mad at IndiGo: it banned comedian Kunal Kamra for confronting Arnab Goswami on one of its flights. (Our explainer on flight bans is here) (The Telegraph)


Parents can snoop on their kids: Facebook has introduced a slew of new features on its messaging app for users under the age of 13. Parents can now check their kid’s chat history, recent contacts and any photos or videos that were exchanged. (Reuters


A new tool to identify doctored photos: Jigsaw—owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet—rolled out a new weapon in the war on fake news. The Assembler allows media organisations to verify whether photos are authentic, and exactly how they have been doctored. (New York Times)


Sedition shocker in Bidar: A parent and the headmistress of a school in Karnataka were arrested for staging a play that criticised the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The evidence of sedition: A nine-year old threatened to hit anyone who asked for her documents with a slipper as part of the play. The slippers have since been confiscated, the single mother is in prison, and the child is being cared for by neighbours. (Indian Express)


Sexism shocker in the Supreme Court: In a case challenging the ban on women holding command posts in the Army, the government argued that women simply aren’t cut out for the job. One reason: “[T]he (male) troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers.” Another reason: “pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families.” Mercifully, the justices don’t sound very convinced. Quick reminder: Tania Shergill became the first woman to lead the all-male contingents at the recent Army Day parade. (Times of India)


Samsung’s new flip phone looks awesome: A leaked video has revealed the details of the soon-to-be-released Samsung Galaxy Z Flip—which has two screens and a 6.7-inch foldable display. Watch the clip here. (Verge)


The ‘Know your skin’ Pop Up: Here are two smart beauty reads that explain how your skin works

  • Who What Wear explains what happens to your skin when you drink alcohol.
  • Want to pop that pimple? Glamour UK answers everyone’s most pressing question: What causes acne pustules and can you pop them? 


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following: 


  • CNN offers nine reasons why big companies like Microsoft and IBM turn to Indian CEOs.
  • Vox has an excellent explainer on fast fashion that explains exactly why it is such a huge success. 
  • Hindustan Times lays out what is required to successfully relocate the African cheetah to India. 
  • The reason why Priyanka Chopra’s barely-there gown at the Grammys stayed in place. Hey, we all wanna know, right?
  • These giant pink slugs that live in an ancient Australian volcano. They are seriously pink! 
  • News Laundry reports on why India's newspaper industry may be dying. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • This Kerala bride's rocking entrance to her wedding.
  • This gorgeous photo of Shruti Haasan that recreates a Raja Ravi Varma painting. 
  • A seal trapped in plastic, and a reminder that humans can be kind. 
  • Hasan Minhaj, a ‘lost twin’, and a marriage proposal. 
  • Bubbles the elephant and Bella the black Labrador. Enuf said. 
  • This fab celebration of National Handloom Day that brings together a gorgeous sari and the 3000-year-old martial art of Silambam from Tamil Nadu. 
  • This toddler being mauled by a ferocious horde of puppies. 
  • UK Home Secretary Priti Patel—who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between ‘terrorism’ and ‘counter-terrorism’. 
  • The happy news that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—who lost her husband five years ago—is engaged, and to a man she met through her deceased husband’s brother.
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