Friday, January 24, 2020

Message of the day

“We’re experimenting!” In the spirit of a new year, we are trying new kinds of content, delivery times, length, formats etc. For example: you may have noticed that we’ve removed the last section in Broadsheet… for now. OTOH, we’ve introduced new kinds of lists, such as ‘Cool stuff we learned’. Our aim: to make Broadsheet the best it can be. And we need your help to make that happen. Early next week, we’ll be rolling out our first audience survey. We want you to tell us what’s great, valuable, boring, missing etc.—and which changes you love/hate. This is also a great time to share your own Broadsheet wish-list. This is our baby. So let’s make it better, together! 😊

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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WTF is going on at the WEF?

Not very much. The annual gathering of the global ‘who’s who’ comes in the midst of a climate change crisis and angry protests around the world. And yet, there seems little sense of urgency or action.


The WEF explained: The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Geneva-based NGO that hosts an annual meet in Davos, Switzerland, every January. It brings together over 3,000 business leaders, politicians, economists, celebrities and journalists. They all meet in a mountain resort in the Swiss Alps, and spend 5 days discussing things of great importance over 500 private and public sessions.


Sounds fun! Can I go? Sure. Individual membership is around $60,000, but that’s for a janta-class membership. They’ll let you in the door, but chances are you’ll be standing alone in a corner while Jeff Bezos sings karaoke with Putin. The high rollers at Davos pay upwards of $650,000. Of course, if you’re special like Greta Thunberg or Deepika Padukone, they’ll let you in for free.


Ah, Davos is like Delhi: Exactly! At WEF, your social status (or lack thereof) is made painfully obvious right on your badge. Or on your database ranking which ranges from lofty #1–i.e.  Donald Trump, ‘Head of State’—to lowly #7, like Ivanka Trump, ‘Functional Staff.’


So, what’s this big bash about? The WEF claims it is “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.” 


How exactly do they “improve” the world? To be fair, several initiatives have been started either by the WEF or were triggered by events at the WEF. For example, in 1988, Greece and Turkey signed a truce that averted war between the two countries. And in 2018, WEF announced the Earth BioGenome Project aimed at sequencing the genomes of every organism on Earth. This year, the WEF has announced the Trillion Trees initiative.


What’s that? It’s inspired by a study which shows that there is enough unused land on Earth to plant 1.2 trillion more trees—and that in turn will cancel out the last 10 years of CO2 emissions. Even the Donald has signed up for the program!


That sounds good, right? Sure. But critics say that for all the flashy announcements, its attendees rarely make meaningful, measurable commitments. Hence, the jokes about the stereotypical Davos Man—a term coined to describe a global superclass” of “gold-collar workers.” In reality—as author Nasim Taleb put it—the forum is most often about “chasing successful people who want to be seen with other successful people. That’s the game.” 


Also this: The summit’s guests flew in on hundreds of private jets to discuss this year’s theme: “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.” An irony that the WEF plans to offset by buying carbon credits.


Wait, what about the Davos Woman? Only 24% of attendees this year are women—and that’s an improvement from past years. Back in 2014, that figure was a paltry 15%.


What’s happened this year: It’s gone pretty much as expected:

  • Trump railed against environmentalists as “perennial prophets of doom” and “the heirs of yesterday's foolish fortune tellers.”  That was just his speech. He later held an impromptu presser where he called Democrats “major sleazebags.” 
  • Thunberg rained on the Trillion Trees initiative, saying "Let’s be clear. We don’t need a ‘low carbon economy.’ We don’t need to ‘lower emissions’. Our emissions have to stop." 
  • And the Swiss police used tear gas and water cannons to crack down on angry protesters. No, it’s not only our havaldars who are so over-enthusiastic.


And what about India? Deepika Padukone did good. She received the Crystal Award and gave a lovely speech on mental health (watch it here). Of course, most of us were more interested in her Rs 2.2 lakh dress. And Indian businessmen covered themselves in glory by dismissing clear signs of an economic slowdown. Anand Mahindra affectionately referred to the slump as a “detoxification” process. Many more embarrassing India Inc quotes here.


The bottomline: The reality is that companies are committed to fighting climate change but only as long as it doesn’t impact their bottom line. And Davos will continue to be an empty exercise until fighting climate change becomes profitable. Or until the rest of us make companies destroying the planet highly unprofitable.


Learn more: New York Times offers an overview. Quartz explains WEF’s snooty social pecking order, while Reuters has excellent infographics on the far less exalted 5% at Davos. A must-watch: Dutch author Rutger Bergman’s viral 2019 video where he rips apart the WEF—as an invited guest on one of its panels! Washington Post has a more upbeat piece of the trillion tree initiative. This Arre column explains why nothing will change at Davos unless climate change becomes big business.

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being mad at Republic Day for falling on a Sunday

A must-read report on online abuse: An Amnesty International study tracked the Twitter mentions of women politicians in India between March and May 2019—right around the election. The results are both unsurprising and shocking.

  • For starters, 95 Indian women politicians received one million abusive tweets over the period of just three months. 
  • One in seven tweets that mentioned them were abusive or problematic—and a fifth of these were highly misogynistic. 
  • The results were politically skewed: non-BJP women pols received 56.7% more hostile mentions than women from the BJP. In the case of Congress, that difference was 45.3%.  
  • Being ‘famous’ on Twitter is a bad thing for women. The top 10 who were mentioned the most (74.1%) also received the greatest number of gaalis (79.9%).
  • Religion matters: Over 55% of abusive tweets were directed at Muslim women.  They were on the receiving end of 94.1% more ethnic or religious slurs than women from other religions.
  • Caste matters: Dalit women received 59% more caste-based abuse compared to women from other castes.
  • Marital status matters: Unmarried women received 40.6% more abusive tweets than married women.
  • Highlights of the report are here. The full report is here.


Your viral outbreak update is here: and it includes the following:

  • The latest toll: 835 new cases, and 25 are now dead. The disease has now spread to Singapore and Vietnam.
  • Quarantine everything: The source of the virus is Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million people. And it has essentially been put into isolation by the Chinese government. The travel restrictions on Wuhan have been extended to nine more cities.
  • But can you quarantine a city? Both BBC News and Vox explain why it is near impossible. 
  • Who has died of the virus? Mostly older men with underlying health problems. New York Times has more.
  • Global airlines brace for trouble: All flights to Wuhan have been cancelled. But the bigger worry is a dramatic drop in revenues. China is the world's largest outbound travel market. Reminder: During the height of the SARS outbreak in April 2003, passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%.
  • Also cancelled: Lunar New Year celebrations. That’s as huge as cancelling Diwali.
  • Bats not snakes: Some scientists recently claimed that the virus may have originated in snakes. That finding has now been debunked. A new paper describes the virus in detail for the first time, and includes a picture of the virus infecting cells. It concludes that it is 96% identical to that of a coronavirus found in bats.
  • India angle: 25 Indian students are trapped in Wuhan, of whom 20 are from Kerala. There was also a false alarm about an Indian nurse in Saudi Arabia.


Kangna Ranaut has lost the plot: Weighing in on the death penalty given to Jyoti Singh’s assailants, Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh tweeted: “While I fully identify with the pain of Asha Devi I urge her to follow the example of Sonia Gandhi who forgave Nalini and said she didn’t not want the death penalty for her." And since Kangna is an expert on the death penalty, a reporter asked her about it. She said: "Uss lady ko un ladkon ke saath chaar din jail mein rakho. Unko rakhna chahiye. Usko zaroorat hai. Kaisi auratein hoti hai, jinko badi daya aati hai? Aur aisi hi auraton ke kokh se nikalte hai daishi darinde… Unhi ki kokh aisi hoti hai jo aisa sochte hai, jinko sympathy aati hai, pyaar aata hai inn daishiyon aur khooniyon pe (That lady should be kept in jail with those convicts for four days. It is necessary. What women are these who have this sympathy and love for monsters? Such women are the ones who give birth to monsters and murderers.)" Twitter Mahabharath ensued. Our pick for a rational take: Kavitha Krishnan’s Twitter thread. Watch Kangna’s clip here.


Google search has problems: The search engine rolled out a new look—where ads look exactly like legitimate search results, except for a tiny easy-to-miss label. Google says the new design “makes it easier for users to digest information” and adds “harmony” to the layout. Bwahaha. Also this: Google suggests "husband" after women's names more often than "wife" for men.


Tinder is getting safer: The dating app is adding a photo-verification system, new tools to report and restrict offensive messages, and a safety centre to protect its users. In other words, it's doing a Bumble. (Mashable)


Nope, not just Bezos: The story about the Saudi Crown Prince hacking the Amazon CEO’s phone isn’t about feuding fat cats. As this analysis explains, it shows why anyone’s phone could be next. And no, it's not WhatsApp's fault. And yes, there is something you can minimize your risk. Go to your Settings and do this. But Vox explains why none of us can ever be totally immune.


Yup, stress is making you gray: And the reason for it is a little complicated. So stay with us here. Our sympathetic nervous system takes care of all of the critical body processes that we never think about: heart rate, breathing, digestion etc. It’s also responsible for the fight-or-flight response—our instinctive reaction to stress. A new study found that normal stress triggers this system to release something called norepinephrine. This in turn stimulates melanocyte cells in our hair follicle to frantically release pigment—as it would with dark hair. Soon it runs out of colour—much like a pen—and that strand of hair turns gray. (Time)


YouTube’s newest audience segment: is… umm, cats? There are now thousands of videos made just for your feline friend on channels like Little Kitty & Family, Handsome Nature, and Videos for Your Cat. Last year, “videos for cats” were viewed over 55 million times on the platform. Spotify playlists, YouTube watchlists… coming next, Netflix subscriptions for your goldfish. (Wired)


Cool stuff that made us smarter:

  • BBC News’ video report on how Ivory Coast is using plastic waste to build classrooms.
  • An expert environmental panel in Jharkhand has deferred plans to build an airport because it would block an important elephant corridor, and destroy 80,000 trees. Times Prime has an excellent long read (paywall). Or read a recent news story from Mongabay.
  • We hate to alarm you, but according to Scientific American, no one really knows why planes stay in the air.
  • Quartzy has an all-things Mona Lisa that asks: Is the Da Vinci painting anything more than a good portrait of a pretty lady?
  • Deccan Herald looks at SAHMs who have been recruited into the gig economy by cloud kitchens—which don’t pay them enough.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The trailer for Taylor Swift’s Netflix documentary, which appears surprisingly candid.
  • This lovely clip from an old interview with Begum Akhtar about her near-disaster first performance at a Bihar earthquake relief concert. Every one of us can relate. 
  • Missing Obama yet? Here’s a nostalgic round up of all the times he broke into song
  • This video report on seventeen big cats rescued from Guatemalan circuses and relocated 8000 miles away in a South African sanctuary.
  • This little baby’s first taste of ice cream!
  • This unprecedented royal diss delivered by Prince Charles to US Veep Mike Pence. More context here.
  • Naseerudin Shah’s fiery ‘I am not afraid’ take on the CAA.
  • Ratan Tata’s Throwback Thursday pic from his younger, and seriously hotter days.
  • This aww-inducing clip of Rafael Nadal comforting a ball girl after smacking a forehand into her face.
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