Friday, January 3, 2020

Number of the day: 50%

Here’s some good news for a change. The number of people killed in plane crashes fell by a whopping 50%—dropping to 257 in 2019 from 538 in 2018. And over half of that number died in a single tragedy—the headline-making crash of Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia which claimed 157 lives. Experts say 2019 was "one of the safest years ever for commercial aviation.” There was one fatal accident for every 5.58 million commercial passenger flights.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The apocalyptic wildfires devastating Australia

Australia is experiencing the worst wildfires in decades. They have been raging since September. The toll in terms of lives, destruction of property and the environment is now catastrophic. The culprit: climate change. Or rather, the government’s stubborn denial of climate change.

How bad is it? These numbers capture the size of this ongoing tragedy:

  • Half a billion animals have died since the fires began—including 8,000 koalas. That’s 30% of their population in the state of New South Wales—which has experienced the greatest damage. 

  • Entire towns have been lost, and close to 1,300 homes have been destroyed. 

  • The fires have burned through 5.9 million hectares (14.6 million acres) of land—of which 3.6 million are in New South Wales. 

  • To put that in perspective: that’s an area larger than Belgium and Haiti combined. And in comparison, the California wildfires consumed a mere 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). 

  • 18 people have died in the fires so far.

Point to note: Some of the largest wildfires have been raging for months, and continue to do so—despite best efforts of the nation’s firefighting and military services, and assistance from countries like the United States.

Why can’t they put out the fires? A combination of drought and strong winds. The country experienced one of the driest springs (September-November) on record. The huge shortfall in rain was followed by a scorching summer. In mid-December, Australia recorded its hottest day on record, with average highs of 41.9 degrees Celsius. The extremely dry conditions sparked bigger and more frequent bushfires. But they have spread rapidly and proved impossible to contain because of winds gusting up to 60 miles/hour. They have fuelled and spread the fires, choking cities like Sydney in smoke. 

And what about climate change? As in India, Australia’s monsoon seasons have been out of whack for several years. The country suffered massive floods in February, but it’s experienced three extremely dry winters (our summer) in a row—which is unprecedented. Other complex changes in ocean temperature and Antarctic winds (explained here) have triggered long, extremely hot and dry summers. While wildfires are a natural part of Australia’s climate, they are growing in severity, frequency and intensity due to long-term changes in earth's eco-system. 

What is the government doing about it? The wildfires? The government has deployed all its emergency services including the air force and navy. New South Wales has declared a 7-day emergency, and may soon force its residents to evacuate. And the Scott Morrison government has promised $16.2 million in compensation.

No, the climate change bit: Not much. And that’s why Morrisson is getting a lot of hate from citizens. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, and Morrison has long pooh-poohed demands for greener policies—insisting he will not set “reckless, job-destroying and economy-crunching targets” to curb coal production. 


The bottomline: On New Year’s Eve—when wildfires were raging across the country—Morrison insisted on going ahead with a massive fireworks display in Sydney. He declared instead, “I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country.” Point to note: Back in December, the air quality in Sydney was 11 times the "hazardous" level. Climate change is scary. Climate change denial is scarier still.


Learn more: Vox has the most detailed explainer, including the climate change angle. New York Magazine has a must-read piece on why the world has been slow to respond to the Australian tragedy. BBC News has the latest photos of the wildfires. has photos of the rescued animals. Bloomberg has Morrison’s record on climate change.

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getting your binge list ready for the weekend

The end of the Shaheen Bagh protest? Since December 15, hundreds of residents have gathered in this southeast Delhi neighbourhood in peaceful protest against the new citizenship law. Images of women and children huddled in the freezing cold have become symbols of resistance. But yesterday, one of the key organisers—JNU student Sharjeel Imam—called the protest off in a Facebook announcement. The reason: “We have called off the Shaheen Bagh road blockade today to avoid the impending violence from party goons and to avoid politicisation of the stage by parties. Police was probably asked not to intervene because the BJP intends to intervene themselves. If that happens, our peaceful protest will be tarnished, and it will break the morale of the people.” Soon after, the protesters appeared to disperse, but the numbers swelled again by the evening. Local resident Hena Ahmed said: “This is a mass movement and withdrawal by a few people will not end it.” (Hindustan Times)

Other anti-CAA protest-related news: includes the following:

  • IIT-Kanpur has set up an internal probe committee to investigate whether Faiz Ahmad Faiz's poem "Hum Dekhenge" is “anti-Hindu.” The reason: its students chanted the poem at a protest march to express solidarity with Jamia students. The committee will also look into whether other communal or anti-India slogans were raised.
  • Muzaffarnagar police have been forced to admit that they have been arresting innocent Muslim residents. Four of them have been released due to the complete—and shocking—lack of evidence.

  • Two members of Hindutva organisations have been arrested for the brutal murder of an 18-year old. His crime: he was fleeing a protest that turned violent with a tiranga in hand. The Telegraph has the depressing details.

Google is doing evil: The company’s former head of International Relations has penned a tell-all essay that claims it no longer has any interest in human rights. Also this: “Senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks. At an all-hands meeting, my boss said, ‘Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions.’” Google’s response is here.

Big changes to criminal law? The government is planning to amend key provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Among the plans being considered: making it harder to file appeals, and moving to an ‘inquisitorial system’—where the judge takes an active role in directing the investigation of the case (as opposed to being an impartial ‘referee’). The Home Ministry’s justification for changing the law: huge delays in justice, especially in rape cases. (Economic Times)

Hollywood is holidaying in India: Gerard Butler did the spirituality thing—surya namaskars, ash-coated forehead and all—as he wandered from Rishikesh all the way to a Buddhist monastery in Karnataka. The excellent photos are here. Meanwhile, a posse of Bollywood superstar couples—Anushka/Virat, Saif/Kareena etc.—were busy partying together in (where else?) Switzerland. All those photos here.

India leads Tik Tok censorship: As per the company’s latest transparency report India filed 107 requests for information on 143 user accounts, and 11 requests to remove content—that’s 36% of the total requests from around the world. (The News Minute)

Kindness is an excellent painkiller: A new study out of China shows that doing a good deed can actually reduce physical pain. Cancer patients feel less discomfort when they perform the same household tasks for others than for themselves. Blood donors in the wake of a major tragedy feel less pain than those undergoing a routine blood test. And this: "In perhaps the most telling experiment, participants felt less pain when their hands were given an electric shock – if they first gave money to help orphans.” (Daily Mail)

And the Nostradamus award goes to…: Here’s a look back at the predictions for 2020 made by super-smart futurists—ranging from Bill Gates to Ray Kurzweil. Some got it surprisingly right, while others were off by miles. Books will be dead? What were they thinking?! (USA Today)

Is this Anuradha Paudwal’s daughter? A 45-year-old woman has filed a case in a Kerala family court claiming that the singer is her mom: “Born in 1974, Karmala Modex claims Paudwal handed her over to her foster parents Ponnachan and Agnes when she was barely four days old as she had a busy playback singing schedule and did not want to raise a child at the time.” She is demanding a DNA test and Rs 50 crore in compensation. (Indian Express)

Loan wolves of Mumbai: This must-read piece exposes the nasty and often ignored world of 'vasooli'—and the seedy recovery agents who are hired by banks to bully ordinary people struggling with debt. (Mumbai Mirror)

Also worth your attention: This deep dive into the global garbage economy which challenges “a familiar story about garbage, in which trash becomes a facile metaphor for global inequalities between the haves and have-nots.” But the real reason why garbage travels great distances across the world is because it is profitable—and fuels entire economies, as in the case of Senegal. (The Nation)

Good stuff to stream: It’s Friday and time to get your weekend schedule in order. Need some ideas? Here’s stuff that we and our ambassadors think is worthy of your ‘chill out’ time:

  • Kumbalangi Nights on Amazon Prime. Everyone who’s ever watched this Malayalam movie absolutely loves it—and it’s now on our must-stream list. Rave review here.

  • The Good Place on Netflix. This is our go-to series when we’re winding it all down in bed. The show deals with surprisingly weighty topics like ethics and free will—without ever being dull or unfunny! Review here

  • In the mood for something about love and relationships? Check out ‘Lovesick’. Review here.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Donald Trump hilariously confusing birthday wishes with new year resolutions.

  • BBC’s list of ten books to read in 2020. 

  • This caterpillar wearing its fave penguin sweater. Yes, the 'sweater' is for real, literally so.

  • Mallus rocking it out to Daler Mehdi’s ‘Bolo Ta Ra Ra’.

  • This simple but moving human act of kindness toward a stranded kitten.

  • This simply but moving canine act of kindness towards a fellow doggie.

  • This ROFL take on the ten most sexist Hindi films of the decade.

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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A List to Help You Go Organic
Want to go organic in 2020? Here’s a list of companies that make a wide range of products to help you switch to a lifestyle that will do a whole lot of good for you and others.
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If you want to switch up what’s on your plate…

Opt for HappyHealthyMe. They stock everything on your newly mindful grocery list—from gluten free grains to rice, pasta and nut butters. And all of it is 100% certified organic. The best bit: the company is committed to doing its very best to help our environment, embracing biodegradable packaging, local sourcing and recycling. Full disclosure: the founder Nammu Kini is a friend and a Broadsheet subscriber. But we’re recommending her store because we personally shop at HappyHealthyMe.


The informer 2

If you worry about chemicals in your baby’s food…

Check out Early Foods. It is specially designed for very young children and toddlers, and has no chemicals or preservatives of any kind. Each batch is freshly made after you order. And they source all their products from local farmers in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Their best sellers include sprouted ragi, dates and almond porridge (Rs 275) and wheat ajwain jaggery sticks (Rs 175).

Early Foods: Buy Homemade Organic Baby, Toddler & Pregnancy Foods

The informer 3

If you want a chemical-free beauty regimen…

Pahadi Local is the best known pick for skin care. Every beauty mag editor is wild about their gutti ka tel (Rs 775). What’s also awesome: the company’s hardwired eco-conscious philosophy. Looking for cruelty- and chemical free lipsticks, foundations and more? Broadsheet Ambassador Sadhvi Saran recommends Ruby’s Organics and Spekta Cosmetics.

Pahadi Local


Note: These products are personally picked by the editors. We do not receive any revenue from the brands recommended.

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