Monday, January 27, 2020

Good news of the day

Goldman Sachs announced that it will refuse to take a company public if its board is all-white and all-male. It must have at least one woman or non-white board member. Point to note: About 60% of the most heavily venture-backed companies lack a single woman on the board. But, but, but the new rule will not apply to companies in Asia, including India. Reminder: Women constitute only 14% of all board members in India—which lags way behind US and Europe in gender equity at the highest corporate levels.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The state of the internet in Kashmir

The government partially restored connectivity in the Valley after five and a half months! But many have criticised the move as an empty gesture.


What's this about? Back in August, when the government revoked the state’s special status, it immediately imposed a communications blackout. In the following months, cell phone connections were restored, but online access remained blocked. The argument for the lockdown: internet access will allow terrorists to coordinate attacks.


So Kashmir is back online? Not entirely. On Saturday, the government restored 2G services to postpaid and prepaid phones. Also: Kashmiris can only access 300 authorised websites. Fixed line broadband connections are still banned.


Which ones? The whitelisted sites include 85 sites categorised as “utilities”—think shopping, travel and food delivery. Also accessible: Indian and international news outlets, education and bank sites, search engines and email (Yahoo, Outlook, Gmail and Rediff). Plus: streaming sites like Amazon, Netflix etc.—which are likely useless given the slow 2G connections. See screenshots of the full list here.


What’s blacklisted? All social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Also: WhatsApp. And oddly enough: websites of political parties, including the BJP. 


How will they enforce this? Internet providers have to install firewalls to block the banned sites.


So why did they lift it? Last week, the Supreme Court took the government to task over the indefinite internet ban, declaring: "Suspension of free movement, internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power.” The Court also said internet access “is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression.”


That’s a big statement: Not if you consider the price Kashmiris have paid for the near-six-month ban. Some examples:

  • Last month, Kashmir’s chamber of commerce estimated a staggering $2.4 billion loss to the state’s economy. And it noted that sectors directly dependent on the internet—e.g. information technology and e-commerce—have been entirely “ruined.”
  • Doctors had no access to research to help with diagnosis and care. The WhatsApp group Save Heart Kashmir that delivered critical cardiac care in remote areas was forced to shut down. And poor Kashmiris who relied on Ayushman Bharat were denied essential care because those claims have to be processed online.
  • During this period, hundreds of Kashmiris had to get on the “internet express”—a Srinagar train that takes them out of the Valley—to do stuff all of us take for granted: “renew driver’s licenses, apply for passports, fill out admissions forms and check email.”
  • Also: In early December, Kashmiris started disappearing from WhatsApp groups because the platform automatically deletes accounts that have been inactive for 120 days.
  • And for obvious reasons, the internet ban has been an unmitigated disaster for students.

So what now? The internet ban rendered Kashmir, its people and leaders literally invisible (which was probably one of its aims). The lifting of restrictions will at least bring the state and its situation into national view. An early omen of the damage: the most recent—and shocking—photo of former CM Omar Abdullah. 


The bigger picture: is that the internet ban has become the new normal in India—which is officially the internet shutdown capital of the world. We accounted for 68% of all documented cases in 2018! (see eye-opening graphic here). Just over the past months—at the height of the anti-CAA protests—the government cut access in Assam, large parts of Uttar Pradesh, and even Delhi. In 2019, India’s 100-plus shutdowns lasted 4.196 hours and cost a whopping $1.3 billion!

Learn more: The Guardian measures the toll of Kashmir’s internet ban. Mint offers an excellent ground report on the impact of such bans on the daily lives of citizens across India. InternetShutdowns has up-to-the-minute data on blackouts in India. Indian Express offers a more lengthy explainer. Business Insider reports on the economic price of such bans, both in India and across the world. Also: The Print on why the Indian economy cannot afford its trigger-happy approach to bans.

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celebrating all that's amazing about India on Republic Day 

Kobe Bryant is dead: The 41-year-old basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed when a helicopter crashed into a California hillside. Bryant won five NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, and was an 18-time NBA All-Star. Meanwhile, R&B singer Lizzo kicked off the Grammy Awards dedicating the night to Bryant. The show was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the home of Bryant’s team, the Los Angeles Lakers. (ESPN)


Your viral outbreak update is here: and it includes a flood of alarming news. (If you need it, here’s our explainer on the deadly new coronavirus spreading across the world.)

  • The latest numbers: There are now over 2700 confirmed cases, and the death toll has risen to 80. It has spread as far as the United States and Canada. Washington Post has a brilliant collection of maps that trace the virus’ origin and trajectory.
  • Bigger than what we see? Latest research warns that the number of documented cases in Wuhan, China are likely only 5% of those infected—and the actual number of cases may be closer to 120,000! And experts warn it is going to get a lot worse.
  • Going viral: An unverified video of a nurse in a hazmat suit claiming that the actual number of cases in Wuhan is 90,000.
  • New and alarming information: Chinese government warned that the virus is infectious even during its incubation period—unlike SARS, its closest viral relative which killed 800 back in 2002-03. What this means: a person can infect others even before the symptoms show. The incubation period can range from one to 14 days.
  • How deadly is the virus? The Telegraph explains the two numbers that matter most. One, the virus’ RO or reproduction number that measures how many people can be infected by one patient. Two, the percentage of deaths among the infected. As of Friday, that number was 3% of the total cases. And the RO number is estimated to be between 1.4 and 2.5—i.e. one person can infect anywhere between 14-25 people. In comparison, the numbers for SARS were 10% with an RO of 2 to 5.
  • A wildlife ban: While the actual source of the virus remains unknown, it likely originated in a seafood market that also sold wild animals. China has temporarily suspended wildlife trade. China and southeast Asian countries have a long tradition of consuming a variety of species, including badgers, salamanders, scorpions, hedgehogs and even wolf puppies. Scientists warn that the consumption of wildlife heightens the risk of new, more deadly viruses.
  • The India angle: Indian Express spoke to some of the 700 Indians stranded in Wuhan. Times of India reports on the External Affairs Ministry’s efforts to keep tabs on them.


An R-Day roundup: In case you were busy sleeping in on Sunday, here’s what you missed:

  • The most comprehensive gallery of photos of the celebrations is here
  • The show-stealers: women bikers from the Central Reserve Police Force performing daredevil stunts.
  • Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan assembled a great human wall of 7 million citizens to protest the CAA.
  • Protesters in Shaheen Bagh hoisted the tiranga, and read the preamble. Also: Here’s a wonderful India Today video with the likes of TM Krishna and Menaka Guruswamy explaining its significance.
  • Throwback R-Day: This old newsreel on India’s first R-Day celebrations back in 1951. 
  • A heart-warming Benetton ad tells the story of Muslim man in Lucknow and his special relationship with a local Shiv temple. #UnitedByHarmony.
  • On-point read: this Indian Express column on how the Indian flag emoji has become a badge of resistance. Related read: Shruti Rajagopalan in Mint on how the Constitution has become a part of the language of protest.


Does this screen make me look fat? Researchers have found that exposure to blue light—emitted by phones, laptops etc.—increases appetite… in rats! But the results are fairly alarming: “To investigate what happens with appetite control and food choice after exposure to blue light at night, the rats were given the option to choose among a nutritionally balanced food (standard rodent food), water, lard, and sugar water. After the exposure to blue light, they observed that the male animals drank more sugar that night than during the nights with no blue light exposure.” Yikes! (Deseret News


In happier health-related news: A new study suggests that men can improve their fertility by consuming supplements that are high in omega-3 fatty acids: “[M]en who took fish oil supplements for at least 60 days during the previous three months had higher sperm count, a greater proportion of normal sperm cells, higher average semen volume and larger average testicular size. (New York Times)


A super-fun social media challenge: is going viral. Users who take the #dollypartonchallenge—named after the country singer kicked it all off—create a mosaic of four ‘faux’ profile photos. One each for LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder. And the results are hilarious. Elle has an excellent selection from Hollywood celebs like Oprah, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Hindustan Times has Bolly contributions from KJo and—our fave—Ayushman K. Also: Hasan Minhaj. And don’t worry art-lovers, we’ve got you covered right here.


‘Party Rules’ Pop Up: Here are two excellent reads on the social networking game:

  • The best way to avoid someone at a party? The Cut advocates the very effective technique called ‘The Big Good-bye.’
  • When you meet someone new, you can play three possible kinds of games: ‘Basic Game’; ‘Importance Game’; ‘Levelling Game’. This is a super-smart fascinating read from The Point on the rules of social engagement. 


Weekend reads you may have missed: include the following: 


  • Two great pieces on plastic pollution. Japan Times’ Andrew McKirdy tries to go one week without using single-use plastic. The results are highly instructive and a must read. Gizmodo explains why Coke's reason for not ditching single-use plastic is bullshit 
  • Can a diet help improve your psychological health? Claire Fitzsimmons in Long Reads does a month on the Whole30 to find out.
  • Just how safe is your bank deposit? Vivek Kaul in Mint offers some insightful answers—and sound advice on how to protect yourself.
  • Also in Mint: GenZ and Millennials talk politics with their BJP-supporting elders. 
  • Netflix’s ‘The Goop Lab’—featuring PR magnet Gwyneth Paltrow—is branded content masquerading as prestige TV. Fast Company looks at whether this is the future of streaming. 
  • Last but not least, this scathingly funny essay that asks: What if Stephen King were treated like a Latina writer?


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • What makes a pretty good anti-CAA sign even better? When it is carried by this adorable cherub.
  • Men taking a shower on a motorbike. Yes, you read that right. 
  • The logo for Trump’s Space Force, and it looks hilariously familiar 
  • Drone footage of the annual migration of gray whales off the California coast. 
  • Baby elephant. He is so effing cute we don’t even have to sell it. 
  • A very pompous (and many times married) Imran Khan—with prayer beads in hand—blaming Hollywood and Bollywood for rising divorce rates in Pakistan.  C’mon, that kind of zero self-awareness is hilarious. 
  • This two-year old who can identify every flag in the world! 
  • This is the thread you need to survive this Monday morning. Here’s the caption for the first image: “I have come across a series of interpretations of famous figures as they would look today. Here’s Julius Caesar looking like he enjoys a flat white and works as a senior manager in Google.”
  • Ranveer Singh’s latest style statement. No words.
  • What do desi cows and African lions have in common? This.
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