Splainer
Wednesday, April 28 2021

Would this have happened if I had worn a suit, and a tie?... I felt hurt, and I felt alone, as a woman, and as a European. Because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are. This goes to the values our union stands for, and this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals, always and everywhere.

That’s European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen finally speaking up about a diplomatic incident that literally left her standing. Earlier this month, der Leyen and fellow EU chief Charles Michel met with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. There were only two chairs, however, at the meeting—and both men quickly grabbed them, leaving der Leyen—who precedes Michel in protocol—awkwardly perched at a distance on a sofa (see the clip here). That small incident spoke volumes about male entitlement and knee-jerk sexism at the very highest levels of diplomacy. Michel did not apologise until earlier this week.

Big Story

The big debate over IPL

The TLDR: Is the daily parade of ball-cracking cricket a tasteless spectacle of excess amid great suffering? Or a valuable service to “humanity,” as the Indian cricket board insists? We take a look at the controversy over IPL’s bio-bubble of privilege.

 

Some quick context

The IPL season: kicked off on April 9 and is due to end on May 30. It will roughly span the entirety of the second wave which is due to peak around mid-May according to experts.

 

The pressure of money: The cricket board expects to earn Rs 40 billion (4000 crore) in sponsorship moolah this IPL season. And the players aren’t exactly hurting either. South African all-rounder Chris Morris sold for a record-breaking Rs 162.5 million (16.25 crore) during the IPL auction. So yeah, there is a lot of money at stake here.

 

The political pressure: The government has been cracking down on anyone raising alarm over oxygen shortage and/or deaths. It ordered social media platforms to block 150-plus posts—including those of opposition party spokespersons, journalists and activists. It has also pushed back against foreign coverage of the crisis. 

 

This mirrors the government’s near-identical strategy during the farmer protests. At that time, it also pushed Bollywood celebrities and prominent cricketers to defend the government on Twitter—almost all at the same time—with Sachin Tendulkar tweeting: "India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let's remain united as a nation.”

 

An ugly spectacle?

Today, the first IPL match will be played in Delhi—in a city gasping for air amid severe oxygen shortages and running out of space for cremations. It is the first of eight matches to be held in the capital from April 28 to May 8. But cricket officials have been less concerned with optics than keeping cricketers safe from the pandemic killing hundreds every day: 

 

“There is a health and safety protocol that is already in place where teams move around in bubbles. They stay in bubbles, practice happens in a bubble, and any and every person who comes in contact is part of the bubble. There is no one who is outside the bubble.”

 

And Delhi Capitals player Chris Woakes would only say:

 

"It's a shame with the situation at the moment with the people all around the world having to deal with Covid, which isn't ideal. Within the bubble, we are trying to stay positive. We are very lucky that we still get a chance to play cricket and entertain people on the outside." 

 

There appears to be little understanding that the very privilege of these bio-bubbles—enforced in the comfort of five-star hotels—may spark anger and questions. 

 

The naysayers: have been few and far between. Andrew Tye of Rajasthan Royals—who has chosen to drop out and return to Australia—offered the most blunt comment to date: 

 

“Looking at it from an Indian point of view, how are these companies and franchises spending so much money, and the government, on the IPL when there’s people not being able to get accepted into hospital?”

 

Big point to note: The National Shooting Championships scheduled to be held in the city this month has been postponed—as is the India Open badminton—a qualifying event for Tokyo Olympics—which was slated for May. Also indefinitely postponed: The Women’s T20 Challenge which was to coincide with the IPL playoffs. The reason: “logistical challenges” involved in flying out overseas players.

 

But, but, but: The Indian cricket board just sent a letter to IPL players saying:

 

“We understand that many of you are apprehensive about how you will get back home once the tournament concludes, which is natural and understandable. We want to apprise you that you have nothing to worry about. The BCCI will do everything to ensure that you reach your respective destinations seamlessly… Be rest assured that the tournament is not over for BCCI till each one of you has reached your home, safe and sound.”

 

Vaccine privileges

Quick context: Ordinary citizens are scrambling to get the jab in the midst of a raging second wave—but even senior citizens are not able to get the required second dose. India is in the middle of a massive vaccine shortage—so much so that we are grateful to the US for sharing its stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And they are likely to become even more scarce when eligibility is extended to everyone above the age of 18, starting May 1. A number of states have raised the alarm about their ability to vaccinate their residents. 

 

Point to note: Most experts agree a massive vaccination rollout to protect the most vulnerable is a must. It may not stop the second wave, but it is the only way to definitively end the pandemic—and avoid a third wave. 

 

Meanwhile at the BCCI: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is entirely focused on vaccinating Indian players ASAP so they will be ready for the England tour—which kicks off right after the IPL. And then Mumbai Indian player Chris Lynn let slip that his team will be vaccinated this week. Almost no Indian media outlet has flagged the glaring inequity, but British tabloids have no such qualms. Daily Mail’s take:

 

“Excuse me? The fittest, most protected young men, currently playing cricket in a bio-secure environment are jumping the vaccine queue in a Covid-ravaged country where thousands are dying because of a shortage of medical resources, not least jabs? Surely not?”

 

Point to note: The BCCI insists that it will only vaccinate Indian players.

 

Adding to the perception of privilege: MS Dhoni’s parents tested positive in Jharkhand—and there was great worry in the Chennai Super Kings camp. Fans began praying for a speedy recovery, and there were fears that he may fly out to be with them—breaking the bio bubble. The coach had to reassure everyone that the situation was “under control.” Also this: Dhoni’s parents managed to get beds at a private hospital despite the fact that their oxygen levels were well within the safe limits.

 

A selective silence 

Indian cricketers, coaches and owners have been remarkably silent on the second wave. There have been no expressions of sympathy or even donations—none of which would require taking a political stance per se. Instead, these have come mostly from foreign players such as Pat Cummins and Bret Lee—who just donated one bitcoin (Rs 50 lakh) to Crypto Relief to help hospitals purchase oxygen supplies.

 

Indian players have instead participated in orchestrated messaging around Covid protocols arranged by their teams. For example, the Royal Challengers Bangalore video below:

 

OTOH, Delhi Capitals is urging Covid survivors to donate blood plasma (which is of spurious value, according to medical experts). 

 

What’s missing: These efforts are especially remarkable given that the desperate need of the hour is oxygen, hospital beds and medicines. Also telling: The complete lack of acknowledgement that Indians are dying by the thousands. What’s striking: These bland social distancing messages could have been just as easily sent out any time in the past year—except during election rallies and Kumbh melas, of course.

 

Chart of note: Dibyendu Mishra put together a graph that mapped when athletes tweeted at politicians. The peaks: The PM’s birthday, the first Janata Lockdown and after the general election results. 

 

The BCCI defence…

Is fairly straightforward:

  • One: “IPL is not an election rally or congregation of people. There are no spectators involved and it is in no way contributing to the growing number of Covid-19 positive cases.”
  • Two: “IPL is at least helping people to stay indoors and at home. Then why all such talk?... People need succour during these times of distress and the IPL is capable of providing that. It provides positive vibes all around.”
  • Three: “Remember, the IPL is also contributing to the economy in a big way. A lot of livelihood is dependent on it.”
  • Four: “Nowhere in the world sport has stopped because of the pandemic. EPL [English Premier League] matches were on even when the second wave was ravaging the UK. The same story applies in Spain.”

 

Last but not least: BCCI’s recent email reassuring IPL players struck this grandiose note: 

 

“When you all walk out onto the field, you are bringing hope to millions of people who have tuned in. If, even for a minute, you can bring a smile on someone’s face, then you have done well. While you are professionals and will play to win, this time you are also playing for something much more important … humanity.”


The bottomline: We leave it to you to figure out where you stand on this one. But in our view, this shouldn’t be a debate about what players etc are doing on the field. We have to ask: Why are they doing so little when they are off it?

 

Reading list

There isn’t a lot of in-depth reporting on this. The Guardian and The Telegraph have details of the BCCI email to IPL players. The Telegraph also talked to an unnamed senior BCCI official who defended the IPL. Firstpost’s Shantanu Shrivastava explains why he can’t watch IPL right now. Viju Cherian in MoneyControl argues that suspending IPL is a hare-brained idea.

Sanity Break #1

Now, this is the kind of Covid reporting we can really get behind! Hey, you either laugh or cry… or most likely, both.

Headlines that matter

The great pandemic: A long update

First, the numbers: We added 3,62,723 cases and 3,306 deaths—and the total number of fatalities crossed the 200,000 mark. Also this: India surpassed Brazil’s average number of new deaths to become the country with the most daily fatalities. The deaths include more than 100 journalists: “Away from the din of social media, they [local journalists] strive to get us the truth while being vulnerable to ‘punishment’ by state governments and no access to legal protection or healthcare.” 

 

A related big picture read: The Telegraph on the rush to offer us global aid shows how much better prepared other countries are compared to us—i.e they actually have stocks to dip into. 

 

Looking ahead: A University of Washington model predicts one million deaths in India by August—and says that the number of cases is being undercounted by 58X. This thread has all the alarming data. Related must read: Narayana Health founder Dr Devi Shetty warns of an imminent severe shortage of healthcare workers—and what we can do about it. 

 

Undercounting deaths: At least 1,158 deaths are missing from Delhi’s official data. The reason: It doesn’t include those who die in home quarantine—which are filed under ‘suspected deaths’. Also read: CNN on the many reasons our Covid data is mostly fiction.

 

Speaking of deaths: Scroll has a must-read ground report from Uttar Pradesh villages where people are “dropping dead like flies”—without being tested or proper care. The Print reports on a village which recorded “over a dozen deaths” in a 15 day period due to “fever and cough.” These losses won’t be counted either.

 

Meanwhile at the US embassy: Covid cases in India include diplomatic staff—of whom 100 have tested positive and two have died. One reason: the employees had not been vaccinated unlike others at consulates even in places like Kabul. CNN has more. Speaking of Americans in India: New York Times’ bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman wrote an emotional essay on what it’s like to live in Delhi right now. 

 

Oxygen shortage: 

  • Delhi announced plans to import 18 tankers from Thailand and 21 ready-to-use oxygen plants from France. The goal: to have 44 oxygen plants in place—including those installed by the union government. 
  • Already in trouble: the plan to set up a 100-bed dedicated facility for High Court judges and employees at the Ashoka hotel. The High Court judges said: "When people aren't getting beds, you are passing such orders? Is it to appease us? You can't create special facility like this. We never asked for it."
  • The Telegraph reports on a couple who travelled 850km from Ayodhya to  Chinsurah in Bengal in an ambulance to get a hospital bed. 
  • Very useful: This thread explains exactly what you need to do to get medical help for a loved one—including how to best use online platforms, resources and leads.
  • Steaming ahead: As expected, the Supreme Court has greenlit the reopening of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu. It was shut down in 2018 due to serious environmental and health concerns. But now the company says it will use the plant to produce medical oxygen. All crisis is opportunity. 
  • Two good reads. Indian Express explains why the shortage is created not by the lack of supplies but the broken logistics of transportation. The Hindu charts the desperate search for medical care across the country. 

 

Also steaming ahead: The Central Vista project, despite a devastating second wave and a lockdown in Delhi. The reason: The union government has categorised the construction as an essential service

 

Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh: Police have charged a young man for seeking oxygen for his ailing grandfather. His friend tagged a Wire reporter who then amplified the appeal—getting a prompt response from Amethi MP Smriti Irani. Now, the grandfather eventually died. But the police have decided to charge his grandson for the “criminal offence” of “spreading rumours.” The reason: the grandfather died of heart complications and was not a Covid patient—which of course doesn’t mean he didn’t need a cylinder. The Wire has more on this story.


Also in UP: At least 36 school teachers have died—ten days after they completed election duties during the ongoing Panchayat elections. The Telegraph has that story. And the Allahabad High Court has decided to step in and issue a series of directives to get the madness under control—including a notice to the UP election commission asking why it failed to enforce pandemic protocols.

 

As for elections: Labeled by the Madras High Court as possible “murderers”, a chastised Election Commission has issued a preemptive ban on all victory processions when results are announced on May 2. Not in the least bit affected: the BJP in Telangana which held this political rally in Warangal. The official BJP handle that happily shared the photos has since deleted the tweet.

 

Meanwhile in Australia: The government has banned all flights from India until May 5. And an Australian leader says the country has a real problem with people arriving from India. They land with Covid-negative certificates but often test positive soon after. He said

 

“If there are tests that are inaccurate or a bit dodgy being produced so that people get on flights, that is impinging the integrity of the system and that is why we are suffering these problems.”

 

To end on a good note: Jack Butcher is selling an NFT artwork titled ‘Oxygen’, and all proceeds will go to a Covid relief fund in India (h/t subscriber Aarathi Ganesan):

 

We loved this clip of a couple getting hitched in full PPE gear—because the groom’s tested positive:

 

We love this mural from Melbourne celebrating health workers—and it rings truer than ever right now:

 

Casteist bully at IIT Kharagpur

Videos of online classes at the prestigious engineering school have outed associate professor Seema Singh as a vicious serial abuser of lower caste students. She is tasked with teaching a preparatory English class—which is meant to prepare SC, ST and OBC students and those with physical disabilities for IIT admission next year. The teacher of this class holds absolute power: if she fails the student then s/he will not be allotted a seat at an IIT. So it’s no wonder, she tells the students:

 

“Nothing on earth can prevent me from doing that to you. Go to the Ministry of Woman and Child Development, go to the Ministry of SC/ST and Minorities, nothing will prevent me from doing what I have to do to you. Is it clear? Hello, bloody bastards, is it clear? I will call you what you deserved to be called.” 

 

You can watch videos of the abuse here, here and here. She has since apologised for her behaviour—blaming it on the fact that she has tested positive for Covid. The Wire has an excellent report—including analysis of the kind of language Singh uses to humiliate her students. 

 

A postscript to the submarine tragedy

An Indonesian navy submarine went missing during a training exercise—and was later found in pieces. The 53 aboard were all declared dead. Now, a new video shows the crew singing just weeks before they went underwater. The title ‘Till We Meet Again’—a farewell song that is now being seen as prophetic. New York Times has the story on the social media storm sparked by the video. The Guardian has photos of the wreckage—and also the clip below.

 

Controversial human cell research

Scientists are injecting human stem cells into animal embryos—think rats, pigs, cows—to create ‘chimeras’, which may one day be used to grow and harvest human organs. Recently, researchers created the first ever human-monkey chimeras which survived for 19 days. And now bioethicists are sounding the alarm about the use of primates closely related to humans:

 

“It does show that the human stem cells tend to migrate far and wide through the monkey embryo… That is what leads to the theoretical concern: There is a chance that in an uncontrolled way it may lead to a mixing of human cells that may result in human cells developing in the brain or the heart or from head to toe across the body.” 

 

Basically, we now have the technology to “radically humanize the biology of laboratory animals”—and many aren’t sure that’s such a good thing. (Wall Street Journal)

 

Three special things to behold!

Very special shoes: These Nike Air Yeezy 1 sneakers—worn by Kanye West during a 2008 performance—sold for an insane $1.8 million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction. To make things more insane, they were bought by a RARES—a sneaker investing platform (?!)—which now plans to sell shares in this pair of shoes. Those will only cost you between $15-$25. Business Insider has the story. Also, the shoes look like this:

 

A very special photo: The mighty drone Ingenuity took the first ever colour photo of Mars, and it looks like this:  

 


A very special house: A Chennai startup unveiled India’s second 3D printed house—which is a single-storey 600 sq. ft home with one bedroom, hall and kitchen. News18 has more details. Also, It looks like this:

Point to note: The first 3D printed house was unveiled in December 2020 by Larsen & Toubro—and it looks seriously lame in comparison.

 

Dine With Data: All About Habbit Health 💯

Editor’s Note: Here is DWD’s weekly installment of one cool, innovative or just plain quirky startup from around the world.

 

Company: Habbit Health 💯

 

About: Founded in November 2019, Habbit is a daily nutrition startup. Its products don't seek to alter your lifestyle to make it healthy, and instead work by replacing parts of your already existing life to increase nutrition. 

 

The two founders have interesting histories. Dhruv Bhushan is a serial entrepreneur, and Dev Kabir Malik is a brand expert, having been in-charge of Bira's brand efforts since its inception. 🍻

 

In August 20, the company announced an undisclosed pre-seed funding from AngelList, 3one4Capital, Better Capital and a few others. 

 

Food for Thought: The company started by launching three products this February. A low-cal ice cream, single-serve protein packs, and a super shake. The brand is not just targeting India, but wants to build a global presence and the branding resembles that choice. 🌍

 

DWD Take: Healthy food is a massively competitive market, but Habbit seems to have an equally ambitious roadmap planned. Their early debuts look impressive, and we'll wait to see how successful they are in providing daily nutrition to us!

 

URL: https://habbit.health/ 


About DWD: Dine With Data🍴 sends you a short summary on one new startup every day, delivered straight to your WhatsApp inbox!

Sanity Break #2

‘Secrets of the Whales’ is executive produced by James Cameron, and narrated by Sigourney Weaver—and is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. The series is a stunning, moving tribute to these magnificent creatures—with never-before-seen footage of their secret lives under the seas. We’ve found that watching bits of it at bedtime helped wash the stresses of the day away. The lesson of this series: “Community is important.” No, we couldn’t wait until the Weekend Advisory to recommend this one. ABC News has lovely photos and more background. Read a rave review here.

Smart & Curious

A list of curious facts

One: Women are now shaving their entire face. Yes, it’s a thing, and we leave it to this hilarious Guardian Q&A to explain. 

 

Two: A group of researchers have ‘translated’ spider webs into ‘music’. We put that in quote marks for good reason once you hear what it sounds like. Reuters explains how scientists achieved this feat.

 

Three: Daisugi is the Japanese art for growing trees… out of other trees! The technique was developed in Kyoto as a means of solving a seedling shortage—and to create a sustainable harvest of timber from a single tree. The result is wondrous. OpenCulture has more on the technique. And here’s a lovely thread with more photos.

 

Four: A Welshman mailed himself out of Australia in a crate measuring 30 x 26 x 38 inches—along with his suitcase, a pillow, a torch, a bottle for water, a bottle for urine, and a tiny hammer. Here’s the miraculous part of the story: He lived to tell the tale, but ended up in Los Angeles instead of London—and scored a first class Pan Am ticket back home! CNN has this amazing tale! 


Five: Here’s a curious fact for you to discover: A quiz to determine your internet personality type.

Feel good place

One: National unity & integrity, Boney M style!

 

Two: Move over, bhangra! Bhesterners have discovered Tamizh awesomeness.

 

Three: Otter baby!

 

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