Monday 21 September 2020

Foreign Agent

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Sanity Break #1

Manoj Bajpayee is an actor full of surprises. Bhojpuri rap song, ‘Bambai Main Ka Ba’ (What’s there in Mumbai?) pays tribute to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who leave their homes to toil in the city. Read more about the song .

Sanity Break #1

Headlines that matter

FARM BILLS TRIGGER MASSIVE UPROAR The government introduced and passed two of three sweeping bills that will radically transform how agricultural produce is bought and sold.    Bill #1: allows farmers to sell their produce to private companies anywhere in the country—outside of government-controlled mandis. Until now, all transactions were restricted to mandis—and the government agencies who bought the produce paid fees to both the state government and the middlemen who sold the produce. While mandis will remain, they will likely become far less important.   Bill #2: creates a legal framework for direct contracts between farmers and large agri-businesses—where they agree to grow and harvest certain crops for a pre-agreed price.   Bill #3: hasn’t been passed as yet. But it mainly removes restrictions on stockpiling of produce that has been declared “essential commodities.” For example, cereals, potatoes, onions etc.   The problem: Farmers are worried about the many implications of privatising agriculture. But the most important: None of the bills mention a minimum support price—this is the minimum price mandated by the government. Independent small farmers—who constitute the vast majority—say that they will be left at the mercy of big business without such a guarantee.    The uproar: Rajya Sabha broke out in unprecedented chaos as Opposition members raised enraged objections to the bills. Both sides accuse each other of behaving very badly. has that story. After the ruckus, 12 Opposition parties a no-confidence resolution against the Deputy Chairman.   Read more: offers a detailed and easy-to-understand report on why farmers are rising in rebellion. sums up the pros and cons of the bill. offers a middle-of-the-road take.   AN EXPOSÉ OF GLOBAL FINANCIAL CORRUPTION Leading news outlets around the world published investigative scoops based on 2,100 “suspicious activity reports” generated by US banks—and shared with the US government. It shows how at least $2 trillion were laundered across the globe by financiers of terrorism, corrupt businessmen and drug kingpins.  * offers a good explainer on these documents and why they matter. * pulls together a global view. * The Express also reports on key India findings on , of an IPL team, and .   TIKTOK SURVIVES IN THE US After all the tamasha, President Trump did not ban the app in the United States. Nope, ByteDance did not sell its US operations either. Instead, TikTok will be owned by a new parent company called TikTok Global, and headquartered in the US. Oracle will only get a 12.5% stake, while Walmart will claim 7.5%. ByteDance will still have the greatest share, but the majority will be American-owned if you add all the other investor stakes together. But that’s good enough for Trump who’s given the deal his “blessing.” has more details on the deal.   Related reads: has more on the company’s valuation—rumoured to be $60 billion. explains why TikTok India doesn’t have any buyers as yet—though many are interested. reports on the fate of WeChat—which was indeed banned, but has won a temporary reprieve thanks to the courts.   A CASE OF MISSING DATA The head of India’s leading medical authority—Indian Council of Medical Research—asked his co-authors to remove key data from a scientific paper. The paper looked at the results of a Covid survey taken right after the end of the lockdown in early May. The data was collected from 70 districts and hotspots in 10 cities—Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune and Surat. But critical data from areas with the highest infection rates were scrubbed:   > “Under Bhargava’s directive, the researchers omitted from their paper the relatively high prevalence rates found in the > hotspots—for instance, 36% in Dharavi, Mumbai; 48% in Ahmedabad; 30% in Calcutta. > >   > > Their paper, published this month in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, described only the lower prevalence rates in the > other districts—ranging from 0.62% to 1.03%—and a national average of 0.73 per cent in early May.”   The likely reason: including the data would have shown that the lockdown had been less effective in containing the spread that the government claimed. has the exclusive. Related read: explains why India failed to contain the virus despite the lockdown.   ANURAG KASHYAP ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT Actor Payal Ghosh first made the accusation in a :   > “@anuragkashyap72 has forced himself on me and extremely badly. @PMOIndia @narendramodi ji, kindly take action and let the > country see the demon behind this creative guy. I am aware that it can harm me and my security is at risk. Pls help!”   And she pointed to given to a Telugu channel. Kashyap the allegations “baseless.” A number of Bollywood celebs—including —have spoken up in support. In Ghosh’s corner: Kangana Ranaut. Ghosh elaborated on the incident in an interview with .   THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC: A QUICK UPDATE * Europe is now officially in the midst of a second wave—with the EU plus the UK adding over 45,000 cases every day. UK PM Boris Johnson : “There's no question, as I've said for weeks now, that we could (and) are now seeing a second wave coming in. We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe. It has been absolutely inevitable we will see it in this country.” * Speaking of the UK, people who refuse to self-isolate if they test positive—or have been exposed to the virus—will face fines up to 10,000 pounds ($13,000).  * show that the threat of catching the disease on long-haul flights is real. But they both looked at data from flights early in the pandemic—when masks were not required. Hence, a very useful related read: explains exactly what keeps you safe on a flight. Masks, yes. Those disposable coveralls: not so much. * The Indian government has approved a Covid test nicknamed Feluda that uses a simple strip that changes colour—much like the pregnancy kind. explains how it works. In related news: Canada has launched the first-of-its-kind that eliminates the need for uncomfortable nasal or throat swabs.  * New research points to a different culprit that triggers a ‘vicious cycle’ of inflammation—which in turn causes severe organ damage in serious patients. offers a long and nerdy explanation of ‘Bradykinin storms’. * Indian companies 300 employees may soon be able to fire their employees at will—thanks to a proposed law that raises the threshold from 100 employees. * An informative read from : The pros and cons of different vaccine technologies.   WHAT REALLY SANK THE TITANIC? The answer according to a new study: A solar flare. Researchers say a solar storm may have knocked out the ship’s navigation system and radio communications—which led it straight into the infamous iceberg. explains.   INDIA COUTURE WEEK GOES VIRTUAL The first-ever digital edition kicked off over the weekend showcasing the work of 12 designers. Gaurav Gupta’s ‘My Name is Love’ collection offered signature designs worn—by a hearteningly diverse array of models. Watch them . has more on the show.  

Foreign Agent

Sanity Break #2

A star-studded cast—including Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey—did a table reading of ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ (a 1982 cult classic) to help raise money for charity. But the true scene-stealers: Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt reading this . Julia’s expression is priceless! You can watch the reading in its entirety .

Sanity Break #2

Smart & Curious

A LIST OF GOOD READS * The offers an engaging read on how self-isolation will affect the mental health of IPL players. * Starr Davis’ searing poem ‘’ is a meditation on desire, grief and the anguish of being Black in America. * offers Jhumpa Lahiri’s pining love letter to Italy. * Working mothers are falling behind at the workplace thanks to a mass transition to WFH. offers a valuable guide (and clarion call to action) explaining how companies can “refuse to be complicit in setting women back generations.” * Andy Mukherjee in offers a scathing takedown of high taxes in India, and explains why the government has to “stop treating cars as though they were drugs or alcohol.” * offers an invaluable interview with a suicidologist—which explains who they are and what they do.  * Sharanya Deepak in pens a wonderful essay on the Great Famine on Bengali cuisine. * pays wonderful tribute to the ‘flaneuse’—the women who walk the streets of great cities around the world. * A mother—whose car broke down on the highway—was raped in front of her children in Pakistan. The next day, the leading law enforcement official slut-shamed her for being out of her home after dark. reports on a case that has triggered widespread outrage in the country.

Smart & Curious

Feel Good Place

: Do you speak Hindi? The answer from these clearly well-trained Americans is hilarious. Alternative title: The Great Tamilian Revenge. : Great art can move you. But sometimes, great art can move, period. : Have the ‘Avengers’ ever been this good? We think not. : And the ‘very good sport’ trophy goes to…  Spanish triathlete Diego Méntriga who shows the great value of letting the other person win (in this case, James Teagle who made a slight error before the finish line).

Feel good place