Thursday, March 5, 2020

App of the day

ByteDance has a new gift for India. Not content with uplifting our lives with Tik Tok, the Chinese company has unveiled a new tofaah: Resso, a “social music streaming app.” What does that mean? “[U]sers are encouraged to share lyrics, comments and other user-generated content with each other, alongside full-length tracks of music that they can consume and also share with others.” But unlike Tik Tok—and more like Spotify—only the basic version of the app is free. The premium version costs Rs 99 on Android and Rs 119 on iOS.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Big brands using forced labour of Uighur Muslims

TBH, not many people are talking about this story. But we believe it's important that we do. And here’s why.


What’s this about? A recent investigative report shows that 83 of the biggest brands are supplied by Chinese factories linked to the brutal repression of Uighur Muslims. According to a highly respected Australian think tank—Australian Strategic Policy Institute—these brands include Apple, Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo, Muji, Skechers, Gap, Amazon, Samsung, Zara, H&M, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and more.


I’ve heard about the Uyghurs...: They are Turkic Muslims, and there are about 11 million of them in western China—mostly concentrated in the Xinjiang region. FYI, Xinjiang shares borders with eight countries, including India. It is technically considered an autonomous region like Tibet, but it came under direct Chinese control back in 1949. However, the current campaign of repression dates back to 2017—when five people were stabbed in a separatist attack. Point to note: Despite Beijing’s insistence on tying them to the Islamic State, Uighur separatists have only been responsible for sporadic acts of violence.


What’s happening to them? We now finally know the details thanks to damning documents accessed by a consortium of media outlets. As The Guardian describes it, these “confirm the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic-religious minority since second world war”—i.e. the Holocaust. 

  • Three million ethnic Uyghurs have likely been rounded up since 2017 into 465 suspected prison and internment camps. (Other estimates put the number at a million-plus)
  • Beijing first denied the existence of these camps, and then acknowledged them as “re-education centres.” 
  • But it is clear these are run like prisons, and the inmates are held for at least a year before they “graduate.” Also: there are multiple first-person accounts of torture, rape and abuse.
  • The stated aim of these camps: “ideological transformation”, “compliance with discipline” and “study and training.”


My Nikes are made in these camps? No, not in the detention camps. Once the inmates “graduate,” they are then interned in another “labour skills training” facility for 3-6 months. The Chinese government claimed that the Uighurs are freed once they complete their training at these “voluntary vocational training centres.” Turns out, it was lying. The new report shows that:


  • Around 80,000 Uighurs were forcibly transported—“in special segregated trains"—to at least 27 factories since 2017. And the conditions there aren’t all that different from the camps: constant surveillance, very little freedom, and ideological brainwashing.
  • This is part of the government’s “Xinjiang Aid” initiative, which seeks to  “assign work” to “idle” Uighurs to bring them out of poverty.
  • And this program isn’t a secret. The Xinjiang government pays brokers and local officials to ‘place’ these workers: One advertisement offering teenage Uighur workers boasts, “The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel … Minimum order 100 workers!”
  • Saying no to this job placement program isn’t an option. If Uighur workers refuse this work or escape from the factories, they face "arbitrary detention"—i.e. they likely go right back to the internment camps.
  • And yet big global brands have played—or been—exceptionally dumb. Example: O-Film—which manufactures selfie cameras for Apple, Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung—has 700 Uighur workers who were transferred from Xinjiang. During a 2017 visit, Apple CEO Tim Cook praised the same factory for its "humane approach towards employees.”
  • In the past, Japanese brands like Muji and Uniqlo have flaunted their “Xingjiang cotton” in their advertising
  • Washington Post checked out a factory that supplies Nike, and reports that it “resembles a prison. There are watchtowers with cameras pointed in all directions and barbed-wire fences atop the walls.”


What do these brands say? A whole lot of nothing. Apple’s statement said: "We have not seen this report but we work closely with all our suppliers to ensure our high standards are upheld." Nike has no comment. Others are promising to “investigate” the allegations.


And China? A spokesperson dismissed the evidence as “baseless rumours,” claiming: “Such measures are taken in accordance with law and have produced good outcomes and won approval and support of all ethnic groups living in Xinjiang."

The bottomline: The next time we get all worked up about Islamophobia, maybe we ought to take a second look at the make of our sneakers, or phone, or leggings or car... It's always better to know.


Learn more: The Guardian has the most details on the ASPI report. You can check out the report in its entirety here. BBC News has the most concise explainer on Uighurs, their history and the internment camps. If you prefer a more visual and immersive explainer, check out PBS.

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rethinking your party plans for Holi

The Democratic race just got interesting: That initial giant pool of presidential wannabes—ranging from gay mayors to part-Indian attorney generals—shrank over the course of one day to just two. The day after Super Tuesday—when 14 states voted for their Democratic nominee—two white men remained standing: former Veep Joe Biden and socialist-turned-Dem Bernie Sanders. But the big winner among them was Biden who won nine contests, staging an unexpected comeback. And he won the endorsements of all the others who dropped out—including billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Yup, with the imminent exit of Elizabeth Warren, all the women will soon be out, as well. Wanna know more? Five Thirty Eight decodes Biden’s sweep. The Atlantic explains Bernie’s rude shock.


Your coronavirus update is here: And the news continues to be gloomy:


  • WHO has revised the mortality rate for COVID-19 to 3.4%—which was previously pegged close to 2%. In comparison, seasonal flu kills less than 1% of those infected.
  • Total number of cases around the world: 95,481. Total fatalities: 3285.
  • Total number of cases in India: 29—due to an overnight surge of 23 new cases. Total fatalities: zero. 
  • Reason for the spike: 15 Italians plus an Indian driver on the same tour group as the tourist first diagnosed in Rajasthan. Also: A Paytm employee tested positive, forcing the company to shutter its Gurgaon office for two days. Five others are suspected of being infected in Bangalore.
  • Authorities have stepped up protective measures at airports. Now all international arrivals will be screened at the airport and sea ports, using thermal imagery. But some experts say that the government is not looking in the right places—i.e. hospitals: “We should be thinking of moving beyond to screen people in the community —perhaps sample at random people with severe respiratory illness at selected hospitals.”
  • On the subject of screening: British scientists are developing a breathalyser to detect possible infections. And Alibaba has developed an AI-driven method of diagnosing Covid-19 from chest scans within seconds.
  • Plus: The PM cancelled his Holi plans, as did many other netas. Yes, it’s safe to celebrate Holi, but wise to avoid large crowds. 
  • No homeopathic medicines such as Arsenicum album 30 will not protect you from infection. Even expert practitioners in homeopathy have not made any such claim.
  • While there is still no vaccine, China has approved the use of the anti-inflammation drug Actemra for patients who develop severe complications. The aim: to save their lives by preventing catastrophic organ failure. Point to note: China has done a stellar job of keeping the death toll down despite the very large number of cases.
  • Everyone’s loving Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp for offering this very sane answer to a coronavirus question. We so wish our netas would follow his example.
  • On a lighter note: people in Australia, Hong Kong and elsewhere are so panicked that they’re hoarding… toilet rolls?! Also: this fun Vietnamese song-and-dance number that offers more useful advice: wash your damn hands! 


Social media blockade lifts in Kashmir: After seven months, the government finally lifted all restrictions on online access, including to social media sites and WhatsApp—which had remained blocked despite the end of the internet shutdown. The timing is intriguing as the decision comes soon after media reports that the US tech firm Cisco was involved in creating the Kashmir-specific firewall—which was instantly denied by the company. In any case, TLDR: Kashmiris can access any site they want but at painfully slow 2G speeds—unless they have a fixed line connection. (Indian Express)


The latest on Delhi violence: includes some upbeat news:


  • All northeast Delhi schools have been ordered to give students uniforms, textbooks and other study supplies to help them through exam season. 
  • Also: the relief camp set up by the Delhi government—and run with the help of the wakf board and NGOs—is actually doing a lot of good.
  • The Print profiles the ‘man with the gun’—i.e. the person seen firing off shots, and even pointing his country-made pistol at a policeman in a viral clip. Turns out Shahrukh is an aspiring model, hookah smoker and a TikTok buff with no criminal record. What was he smoking?
  • Last but not least: A BBC video report that exposes the active participation of the police in anti-Muslim violence.


India is ‘Free’ but less so: Our score dropped from 75/100 to 71 over the course of one year in the 2020 edition of Freedom in the World report. It is the single largest decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies. India is still rated as ‘Free’, but Kashmir has fallen from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’. If it is any consolation, we have plenty of company. Flagging a “global recession in democracy," the report’s authors say: "Almost twice as many countries declined in their scores this year as improved, and those declines aren't just happening in places that you expect, like China or Russia, but also in established democracies." And that includes the United States which has dropped 8 points since 2008. (NPR)


Supreme Court overturns ban on cryptocurrency: The Reserve Bank of India had banned trading in cryptocurrency trading back in April 2018. The reason: “concerns of money laundering, consumer protection and market integrity.” But the Court begged to differ, and called its policy “disproportional.” Why this matters: 5 million Indians trade in currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and 5000-plus other cryptocurrencies. Until the RBI ban, there were crypto transactions worth Rs 100 crore per day in India. But before you rush out to stock up on Bitcoins, the government is already working on a bill to ban cryptocurrencies entirely. (Business Standard


Twitter is testing disappearing content: because why miss the opportunity to be a super-late entrant to an already ‘over it’ trend. First Snapchat introduced videos that vanish into thin air. Me-too Instagram followed suit with Stories. Now, Twitter in Brazil is testing ‘Fleets’—content that disappears after 24 hours. And they work a little differently than a normal tweet: “You could visit someone’s public Twitter profile and tap to view their Fleets even if you don’t follow them. But their Fleet won’t circulate Twitter’s network, show up in Search or Moments, and it can’t be embedded on an external website.” Also: they cannot receive likes, replies or RTs—i.e. all the reasons why anyone tweets anything. (TechCrunch)

Parrots are better at math than you: Did you flub all those probability questions in school? Too bad you didn’t have kea parrot as your tutor. Six members of this endangered species were subjected to a variety of tests—which revealed their exceptional ability to calculate the odds of receiving a tasty treat. And they may be the only species to possess this ability outside humans and great apes. Our fave detail in this story: Among the birds involved were Blofeld, Loki and Taz—named for their reputations. ‘​Most of our birds are named after villains,’ said Bastos, adding that Moriarty and Megatron were not involved in the current study.” (The Guardian)


A bit of super-good news: How do you raise a three-year-old in Idlib, Syria—a circle of hell, continually bombed by Turkish, Syrian and Russian planes. Salwa’s father turned the horror into a game, teaching his little one to laugh each time she heard a big boom. The clip of her giggling during an air raid won the internet’s jaded heart. The good news: Salwa and her family are now safe in Turkey! Yes, there’s a photo of her laughing in her new home, but for all the right reasons. (BBC News)


Cool stuff we learnt online: includes the following:


  • BMW changed its iconic logo—and not everybody likes it. 
  • Big Think has everything you need to know about the psychology of shopaholics—which is a very real disorder. 
  • New York Times explains how to respond to microaggressions—those seemingly minor jibes and attacks that really hurt. 
  • Samsung’s new desktop monitors that are ultra curved and ultra cool. 
  • Business Insider digs into the nasty side effects of eating too much dairy. But we looove our cheese platters! 
  • In a diet-obsessed culture, Eating Well flags seven signs that you are may not be eating enough calories.
  • Famous VC and worried dad Hunter Walk explains why personal assistant devices like Echo is turning his daughter into “an asshole.”


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • The excellent news that all non-consensual sex will soon be treated as rape under a Spanish 'Only yes means yes' law. 
  • A woman lovingly watered her plant for two years… only to realise it is made of plastic
  • Indian Railways saluting its super-strong team of women platform coolies. 
  • 11-year old Bella showing off her ‘bionic R2 D2-style arm’ to Luke Skywalker aka Mark Hamill.
  • Kate Middleton’s £6 H&M earrings that she rocked on her official tour of Ireland. 
  • A ‘Donald Trump Golden Dump’ toilet timer—being talked up as “hilarious and bowel-provoking!
  • These photos of OTT and totally blinged out celeb nail art. 
  • And if you really need a guaranteed ROFL break: check out Ryker the German Shepherd totally flunking out of a service dog training school.
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