German painter Volker Hermes has become an Instagram sensation thanks to his unique brand of pandemic humour: using outlandish face masks to transform famous Old Masters paintings. has more on his work. You can follow him on his Insta .
A BRAND NEW FLU SCARE Several states are scrambling to contain an outbreak of bird flu—which has killed thousands of birds. And authorities have killed thousands more to stop the spread. * Kerala has started culling , including ducks. Some districts have banned the sale of meat, eggs and waste (used for fertiliser) of all domestic birds. * Neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have put their authorities on alert. * In Rajasthan, 600 crows have died, along with herons and weaver birds. * In Himachal Pradesh, 1,800 migratory birds have been —many of them migratory birds like the bar-headed geese. * In Haryana, the “unusual” deaths of 400,000 poultry birds have in the past 10 days—but authorities have not determined the cause. Why this matters: In 1997, we recorded the first instance of avian flu spreading from birds to humans in Hong Kong. While it does not spread easily from person to person—unlike Covid—it is far more deadly, causing death in six out of ten cases. has a good explainer. IRAN STEPS UP ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM Back in 2015, Iran shut down its production of enriched uranium thanks to a deal with the US—which in turn lifted economic sanctions. Then Trump broke that deal, and doubled down on the sanctions—which sent Iran’s economy into a tailspin. Adding insult to grievous injury: the assassinations of its top general and then chief nuclear scientist last year. Tehran has finally decided to up its ante by resuming production of 20% enriched uranium—which, to be fair, is far lower than the 90% required for nuclear weapons. But it is a serious act of sabre rattling—and has been accompanied by the sudden seizure of a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf for “oil pollution.” has more on the big picture. In other Middle East news: The Arab quartet—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt—has ended a three-year boycott of Qatar—which had been previously cut off for supporting Shia-ruled nations like Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Previously, the quartet had presented 13 demands as a prerequisite to reestablishing relations—including the shuttering of the Doha-based Al Jazeera. It’s not clear what this new detente spells for its future. () NEW DETAILS ON THE COVAXIN APPROVAL The committee appointed to vet trial data first decided not to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine on January 1—and then abruptly changed its mind on January 2. This is according to minutes of the two meetings accessed by Indian Express. On the first day, the members said “efficacy is yet to be demonstrated”—and recommended that the company continue its Stage 3 trials and come back with interim data. But the very next day, : > On January 2, however, the SEC recommended restricted approval “in clinical trial mode” after the Hyderabad firm requested > consideration of its proposal “in the wake of incidence of new mutated coronavirus infection”. > > > > The SEC minutes say, “…(The) firm has presented the safety and efficacy data from non-human primate challenge study where the > vaccine has been found to be safe and effective.” Yup, they cited data on trials conducted on monkeys. Though to be fair, Bharat Biotech apparently presented “updated data” and “justification,” but the minutes do not reveal what was shared. has more. In important related news: At least 70 million Oxford vaccine doses are because the government and the Serum Institute are haggling over price. And it may explain the hasty Covaxin approval, according to some analysts: > “The Indian government may be looking to put pressure on Serum to lower its prices, as seen by its controversial decision to > greenlight a rival vaccine developed by a local company that’s still recruiting volunteers for final-stage testing.” The government has also Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla’s claim that his company has been banned from exporting its vaccine—which raised great global concern since Covishield may be the only possible candidate for many poorer countries. Also this: Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, however, have kissed and made up after slinging mud at each other’s vaccines (explained ). In a , the two companies acknowledged that "the more important task in front of them is saving the lives and livelihoods of populations in India and the world." THE GREAT PANDEMIC: A QUICK UPDATE * British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be gracing us with his presence on Republic Day. : spiralling Covid numbers in his country. * Also canceled thanks to rising numbers: in Los Angeles. Shows being produced by all major TV studios and streaming platforms including Netflix have come to a screeching halt. Yes, this will affect your viewing pleasure in the months to come. * Related fallout: The Grammy Awards—scheduled to be held in LA at the end of the month—have to March 14. * Singapore authorities once claimed that they will not use its highly effective contact tracing app for police investigations. It has conveniently —confirming privacy activists’ worst fears. * The Republic of Palau—a collection of islands in the Pacific—could become the that is fully vaccinated. It just received the first shipment of 2,800 Moderna doses. Population of Palau: 18,000. * Experts in the US are worried that in a number of cases, the loss of smell and taste—a key symptom of Covid—may . Why this matters: the loss of these key senses has been linked to social isolation, an inability to feel pleasure, “as well as a strange sense of detachment and isolation. Memories and emotions are intricately tied to smell, and the olfactory system plays an important though largely unrecognized role in emotional well-being.” * shows that stem cells harvested from umbilical cords vastly improve the survival chances of severely ill patients. According to the data, 91% of those who received the treatment survived compared to 42% in the group that did not. * A useful read: has more details on how to sign up for a vaccine—including what documents you need to file. * A good watch: below that shows dubious and incomplete information used to recruit vaccine trial participants in India. THE BIG PRICE OF INTERNET SHUTDOWNS India lost $2.8 billion in 2020 thanks to our government’s habit of cutting connectivity at the drop of a hat. We are also at the top of the list of the world’s biggest losers, accounting for three-quarters of the $4 billion lost worldwide. And our losses are double than that of 2019. The number of blackout hours: 8,927. One key point to note: We don’t have data on China or North Korea. (Bloomberg News via ) FRESH TROUBLE FINDS VIRAT KOHLI This time, it’s a potential conflict of interest created by his investment in a Bangalore-based company called Galactus Funware Technology. The problem: Galactus owns the online gaming platform Mobile Premier League—which is the official kit sponsor and merchandise partner for the Indian cricket team. has all the details on this new controversy. A JAPANESE BET ON BIRA Beer manufacturer Kirin Holdings will invest $30 million in Bira91 for a little under 10% stake—pegging its valuation around $300 million. This is good news for a company that has posted serious losses thanks to the pandemic. Coming soon: new lines of carbonated drinks, juices, energy, sports drinks and sparkling water. () A BIG BREAKTHROUGH FOR AIR TRAVEL A team of scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a cost-effective and efficient way to turn carbon dioxide into jet fuel—which would make a huge difference in hefty carbon footprint of air travel. The lead researcher said: > “As you can imagine, we are really excited about these results and the impact they will have on sustainable aviation fuel… Under > the pressure of climate change, our discovery will contribute significantly to worldwide sustainable fuel production processes.” has more on why this project matters. In less happy news: A new study has found that groundwater levels are critical in states such as Punjab that supply rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum to 76% of our population. We lose 2 cubic km of water each year due to unsustainable farming. Why this matters: This means the nation’s food supply is vulnerable and will be seriously disrupted if we do not take action now. () DADA CAN’T SELL COOKING OIL Adani Wilmar—which makes Fortune Rice Bran Cooking Oil—has suspended all ads featuring Sourav Ganguly. The reason: their brand ambassador recently suffered a heart attack, and company officials are taking it a bit : > “Ricebran oil is one of the world’s most healthy oils. It contains natural antioxidants and gama oryzonal present in it reduces > bad cholesterol and improves lipid profile… There are several factors which affect heart ailments including dietary and > hereditary issues.” Also, more hilariously “Recently, we heard about a senior IT executive who collapsed on the treadmill while exercising. Does that mean treadmill is bad?” COW AGENCY DISHES OUT BULLSH**T Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog—which is entrusted with the protection of gau-mata—announced that it will conduct a voluntary ‘cow science awareness’ exam—with different versions for school kids, college students and members of the janta, including foreigners (?!). It will mercifully be voluntary, and open to anyone who wants to score prizes and certificates. The agency also shared this bit of exciting news: > “A clinical trial on 800 patients… had found 96 per cent efficacy in treating Covid-19 patients using ‘panchagavya’—the five > main products derived from cows, including milk, urine, dung, curd/dahi and ghee—and ayurvedic products like kadha and > Sanjeevani vati.” And we grumble about Covaxin… () CHINA SHARES ITS BIG-ASS TELESCOPE For the first time ever, Beijing will allow foreign astronomers to use its called FAST. It is the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world—perfect for searching for alien life. Why this matters: It is also the world's only giant telescope following the collapse of the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico at the end of 2020. Here’s what this monster ‘Sky Eye’ looks like: UFOS ARE NOW LONG & BLUE Hawaiians a large blue unidentified object falling out of the sky and into the ocean near Oahu island. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that there weren’t any aircraft disappearing off the radar nor were there any reports of missing aircraft. Making everything more mysterious: The telephone pole-sized object reportedly —even when it hit the waters. Hmm… guess we don’t need a giant telescope after all!
Back in 2011, for DoCoMo’s cell phone—featuring a wooden xylophone playing Bach’s Cantata 147—became a viral sensation, eventually winning a . Some things never get old. Also: the perfect way to de-stress in the midst of your hump day.
A LIST OF INTRIGUING THINGS One: Gujo Hachiman, Japan, is the birthplace of fake food made of wax—which is used by restaurants across South East Asia as visual examples of menu items. These are also amazing examples of culinary art—as you can see with this below. Want more? Check out these . Two: These are just some of the many sculptures in Victor’s Park in Ireland—crafted by artisans in Mahabalipuram to fulfill an Irishman’s dream. They include very quirky figures of Ganesh, Shiva and also this: “more bizarre sculptures of a skeletal Buddha-like figure, an enormous disembodied finger, and a sculpture called ‘The Split Man’ which shows a figure ripping itself in two, representing ‘the mental state of the dysfunctional human.’” We do love Ganesha doing a John Travolta! Be sure to check out more awesome pics . Three: did a wonderful feature on Indian artisanal pens made across the country—from Pune in Maharashtra to Thirvallur in Tamil Nadu. Most are made of ebonite, a kind of hard rubber, others of titanium, brass, copper, sandalwood and even buffalo horn. All of them are gorgeous. Four: Museums have been staying alive during the pandemic thanks to unprecedented tie-ups with entertainment companies. For example, London’s National Portrait Gallery —which showcases paintings of historical figures—rolled out its version of ‘branded content’: A Disney-commissioned artwork called ‘’. reports on other examples including a collab with Netflix.
Nobody comes between me and my Starbucks… Everything's better with a friend… Ducks playing bongo. Enuf said.
The government’s obsession with a golden sceptre may be a clever election and/or Hindutva play.Read More
A UK report lays bare the abuse of tea workers—who still work like indentured plantation slaves.Read More