Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Number of the day: 21

Twenty-one of the world's 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India. And if you add in Pakistan and Bangladesh—27 are all right here in South Asia. Right at the top of that list of polluted cities: Ghaziabad. Delhi is the most polluted capital city, while India itself comes in at #6 in the list of countries.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Armed mobs terrorising New Delhi

On the third consecutive day of violence, groups of armed men attacked people, shops and homes in the presence of police—while the government played host to the Trumps.


The toll so far: Thirteen are dead, including a head constable. The civilian casualties include both Hindus and Muslims—typically innocent bystanders caught by mobs or in the crossfire. The number of injured: 200-plus. At least 20 were admitted to hospitals with gunshot injuries. And the Delhi High Court had to step in to rescue patients stranded at a hospital, and order police protection for ambulances and doctors.


The pattern: While the violence is being described as a ‘riot’, the media consensus (across mainstream outlets) is that the attacks were organised, targeted and mostly one-sided. Times of India, for example, describes “frenzied mobs raising incendiary slogans” and “armed with stones, rods and even swords.” Indian Express is more explicit about their identity: “In embattled neighbourhood after neighbourhood in northeast Delhi, which has been in the grip of violence for three days, one story played through Tuesday from morning to midnight — groups of young men armed with sticks and rods looking for a fight, setting shops and homes owned by Muslims on fire.”


Zero law or order: The violence took place in plain view of the police and in places like Maujpur—even though these neighbourhoods were supposedly under curfew. And the police had shoot on sight orders. Indian Express has a long, long list of instances of policemen visibly allowing the mob to attack at will—and without restraint. In some cases, when the police did try to intervene, they were pushed back by these groups.


The damage: There are hundreds of clips and reports that capture the violence. Here is a sampling of the worst:

  • Ashok Nagar witnessed a mini Babri Masjid moment: mobs attacked and set fire to a local mosque
  • A clip of policemen beating injured men lying on the ground—and forcing them to recite the national anthem.
  • The worst of the lot: this one from Chand Bagh.
  • And clips here and here show how entire neighbourhoods were set on fire.


The media: became part of the story yesterday, as numerous journalists and photographers were attacked—by both sides, btw. Mobs were angry at them for capturing the violence on their phones—and many were forced to delete photos and clips. One was shot, four from NDTV were badly beaten, and many were asked if they were Hindu or Muslim. The Telegraph has that story.


The politicians: CM Arvind Kejriwal and Home Minister Amit Shah held many meetings—separately and together. Kejriwal even staged a photo-op at Rajghat calling for peace. The victims (Hindu and Muslim) unanimously blame BJP leader Kapil Mishra for instigating the violence. (Reminder: Mishra led a rally in Jafrabad on Sunday to intimidate anti-CAA protesters—and threatened to take matters into his own hands if the police did not remove their blockade.)


The present status quo: National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited the violence-affected neighbourhoods. Nearly 35 companies of CRPF and other central armed forces have finally been deployed to keep the peace. 


‘Green shoots’ of hope: Local residents did their best to protect each other. At Yamuna Vihar, they formed a human chain to escort school children to safety. Residents also staged a Hindu-Muslim unity march in Brijpuri.


The bottomline: All protest sites in northeast Delhi—including Jaffrabad—have been cleared. So Kapil Mishra got his wish after all.


Learn more: Here’s the best of the rest:

  • Indian Express has the best ground report on police inaction, and on the victims and their families. 
  • The Hindu’s report on a single stretch of the Wazirabad road pretty much sums up the state of affairs. 
  • Hindustan Times analyses the reasons why the Delhi police is doing such an appalling job. 
  • Times of India has a must-read first-person horror story of what it is like to report from ground zero of the violence.
  • The violence made news around the world, including the New York Times—which tied it to Trump’s visit and Gujarat violence. So not the headline either leader was looking for.
  • BBC News has a must-watch video report that captures Delhi’s night of horror.
  • Our explainer laid out the trigger that led to this ugly outbreak of violence.
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wondering WTF is happening to your country

The Trump yatra is finally over: And here are the highlights of the last stretch in Delhi:


  • As expected, no key trade deals were signed despite all the tamasha. But there were some ‘modest’ defence agreements worth $3 billion. CNN has the details on a visit that was mostly all talk without much substance.
  • Unlike the PM, the US President took questions from the press—and talked about his “good relationship” with Pakistan. Mint has more on the joint statement and presser.
  • Melania attended a Happiness class at a Delhi school, sporting lots of kaajal and a bindi. Pic here. Also: a clip of her awkwardly interacting with the kids.
  • And if we need a reality check on how Americans see us: Google trends showed an uptick in India-related searches during Trump’s visit. The most popular questions: Where is India? Also: What is India? 🤦🏽‍♀️
  • Happily for the Trumps, the menu for the President’s Banquet was way more fancy and delicious than the ghastly Sabarmati spread. 
  • A reality check for the Trumps: folks at Sabarmati ashram gave zero effs about their visit. Quartz has that story.


Your viral outbreak update: is here and is never ending:


  • Who’s afraid of the p-word, as in pandemic—the term the WHO is trying its best to avoid. Its chief said: “For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.” 
  • But a number of scientists think it's time to name the unavoidable given that the disease is rapidly spreading in places as distant as Iran—where the deputy health minister has tested positive  for the virus. And experts say there may be as many as 20,000 unreported cases in the country.
  • The reason to embrace the p-word: it will shift the focus from trying to contain the virus—too late!—to actually prepare for large numbers of cases. Two medical experts explain what a pandemic means, and how to prepare for one.
  • Also: The International Olympic Association has three months to decide whether to cancel the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for this summer.
  • Plus: did you know there are such things called ‘pandemic bonds’? And those who hold them stand to lose millions. Business Insider has that story.


Animals who don’t breathe? Scientists have discovered the first known animal that doesn't need oxygen to live. Here was the conventional wisdom until now: all animals have mitochondria. These are bits in our cells that break down nutrients and turn them into energy through something called ‘aerobic respiration’.  Ergo, all animals need to ‘breathe’. But this newly discovered critter—a salmon parasite called Henneguya salminicola—doesn’t even have mitochondria. So how does it survive? Sadly, they haven’t figured out that bit yet. (Vice)


New research on female desire: Yes, this new study only looked at Australian women, but the results are eye-opening. One, “50.2% of the young women experienced some form of sexually-related personal distress. Distress included feeling guilty, embarrassed, stressed, or unhappy about their sex lives.” Also this: The most common reason was low sexual self-image, According to researchers, “Women whose appearance determined their level of physical self-worth, or who monitored their appearance habitually, reported being less sexually assertive and more self-conscious during intimacy and experienced lower sexual satisfaction.” Yup, sounds about right! (Inverse)


Why you can’t quit smoking: A team of researchers conducted a series of studies to test the connection between emotions and the urge to light up a cigarette. And their conclusions are near-unanimous: feeling sad makes you far more likely to smoke. So if you’re trying to quit, we suggest binge watching sitcoms. (BPS Research Digest)


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following:


  • Attention, aspiring novelists: Big Think offers five scientific techniques that make you a better storyteller.
  • The Print has an illuminating first-person account of eating an authentic Harappan-era meal—and it sounds delicious!
  • New Yorker explains how neuroscience can teach you to break bad habits. No, it’s not about will power at all!
  • Futurism reports on the hottest trend in radical plastic surgery: leg extensions! 
  • This stunning footage of 1911 New York City, colorized by artificial intelligence. 
  • Scroll highlights 8000 species of native medicinal plants in India—and explains why they are under threat.
  • Last but not least, Kitchn tells us the best way to store pizza and tested five different ways to reheat that fridge-cold slice.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • This mama snow leopard and her litter of four cubs. 
  • The excellent news that Netflix is planning a new series on the hotbed of university politics—starring the wonderful Sandra Oh as the chair of the English department. 
  • Otter, phone, ‘Careless Whisper’. Enuf said. 
  • Speaking of otters, did you know they make excellent playmates for little pugs?
  • This powerful must-watch video titled ‘Be a Lady’—brought to you by the always amazing Cynthia Nixon. (Courtesy our ambassador Sadhvi Saran)
  • The inspiring news that music director Salil Chowdhury’s wife Jyoti will debut her first exhibit of paintings… at the tender age of 92! 
  • Just as inspiring: this 62-year-old who broke the Guinness World Record after planking for 8 hours and 15 minutes 
  • This gorgeous photo of the Milky Way taken right outside namma Bengaluru!
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