The great pandemic: a quick update
- First, the numbers: India recorded 171,934 new cases—and 1,000 deaths.
- At least six members of the Indian cricket squad—three players and three support staff members, including a coaching staff member—have tested positive ahead of Sunday’s first ODI versus the West Indies. The three players: opener Shikhar Dhawan, reserve opener Ruturaj Gaikwad and middle-order batter Shreyas Iyer.
- Tonga’s fears about taking foreign aid have come true. The nation is in lockdown after two port workers tested positive. The silver lining: 61% of Tongans are fully vaccinated.
- A UK study has established a link between resistance to taking a vaccine and childhood trauma—such as physical, verbal and sexual abuse, parental separation, exposure to domestic violence etc. But we don’t know if there is a direct cause-effect relationship.
- The US military has begun discharging soldiers who refuse to take the vaccine.
US troops head for Europe
President Biden has ordered 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe—in case a Russian invasion of Ukraine spills over into their borders. According to the Pentagon, the aim is to send a “strong signal” to Putin “that we're going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that. Hopefully it won't come to that.” Tensions continue to simmer as diplomatic negotiations have stalled out. UK Boris Johnson recently visited Ukraine in a gesture of support. Reuters has the latest state of play. Also read: our explainer on the Russia vs Ukraine faceoff.
India heads for U-19 World Cup final
If you’ve been down and out over the Indian cricket team’s performance lately, here’s a bit of news to cheer you up: The under-19 team has reached their fourth consecutive final in the World Cup. The kids in blue scored a 96-run victory over Australia thanks to a fabulous 110-run knock by skipper Yash Dhull. The Hindu has more details. Watch the winning moment below:
Rahul Mishra + Reliance ki jodi
The Delhi-based designer is on a roll. He recently became the first Indian designer to be invited to show at Paris Couture Week, and has now forged a partnership with Reliance to create a ready-to-wear brand. The line will include everything from clothes to jewellery and accessories—and will be aimed at the global customer: “The first store both online and physical would, in all probability, be in an international fashion capital: London, New York or Dubai.” So we will have to wait to buy this stuff—just like we did with the foreign brands? How does that work? What to watch for: the race between Reliance and Aditya Birla Fashion (which owns Sabyasachi) to become the first out-of-India global apparel brand. (Mint)
Four studies of note
Corpses on sticks: Archaeologists published a new study on a surprising discovery made in tombs in Peru's Chincha Valley. They found nearly 200 sticks strung up with human vertebrae. The 16th century bones come from adults and children alike—and the vertebrae don’t show evidence of cut marks.
One explanation for this puzzling find: The age of the remains coincides with the arrival of the Spanish—who systematically looted graves in search of gold, and to destroy Andean cemeteries and mummies: “When you view it in that light, it becomes more tenable to imagine them going back into these burial grounds and trying to reconstitute their ancestors.” (Smithsonian Magazine)
Very hot oceans: Extreme heat in oceans ‘passed point of no return’ way back in 2014. That’s the conclusion of scientists who studied sea surface temperatures for the past 150 years. Very high temperatures that used to occur just 2% of the time a century ago now occur at least 50% of the time—and even 90% in some hotspots. The worst-affected areas are off the north-east coasts of the US and Canada, off Somalia and Indonesia, and in the Norwegian Sea. Why this matters:
“By using this measure of extremes, we’ve shown that climate change is not something that is uncertain and may happen in the distant future—it’s something that is a historical fact and has occurred already. Extreme climate change is here, it’s in the ocean, and the ocean underpins all life on Earth.”
Going vegetarian: Speaking of the climate crisis, a study offers a straightforward (if unpleasant to many) solution to cut global emissions. If the world phased out animal agriculture over the next 15 years—and everyone switched to a plant-based diet—we can reach net zero emissions by 2030… even if all other sources of pollution continue unabated! A big caution: The lead author of this peer-reviewed study is Patrick Brown—founder and CEO of Impossible Foods. But the data is definitely food for thought. (Fast Company)
Alcoholic monkeys: Research on monkeys has identified a hormone FGF21 that cuts their alcohol consumption by 50%—which potentially opens the door to a novel approach to fighting alcoholism in humans. The analogue version of this hormone was originally developed to fight obesity and diabetes—but didn’t really work that well. If you’re concerned about getting monkeys drunk:
“Don’t worry—the monkeys in this study weren’t plied with alcohol until they developed an addiction. Flippo and his team turned to a colony of green vervet monkeys on St Kitts island that are predisposed to finding and consuming alcohol, most likely due to genetic traits that are passed down from generation to generation.”
Slaughter at a gaushala
A large number of carcasses of dead cows were found at a cow shelter in Madhya Pradesh—and sparked outrage when a clip of the discovery went viral. The visuals show dead animals stuffed inside a well, and strewn across the boundary wall. Of course, since cows are involved—and the shelter is run by a BJP worker—this has become a big political controversy. NDTV has more details on the incident and India Today looks at the political fallout.
Mind control at the movies
Attendees of the Gothenburg Film Festival in Sweden received an unusual “treatment” before the start of the movie—instead of the usual line-up of trailers. They were treated to a 20-minute session with a hypnotist:
“Standing on stage in front of a large hypnotic spiral, Praesto began with physical exercises—such as asking audience members to bring their hands together as if they were magnets and to close their eyes.”
The aim is to transform the experience of film making—which seems to have worked with viewers: “You get rid of all the noises and the distractions and all of that and also with the sound you really get into the movie.” (Daily Sabah)
Crows kick butts… sorta
Cigarette butts make up 62% of all litter—and the city of Södertälje spends $2.16 million (£1.6 million) on street cleaning. A company in Sweden has now trained crows to pick them up—an ingenious hack that is both cheap and effective. The wild birds receive a little food for every butt that they deposit:
“They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish.”
Irony alert: Teaching crows seems to be far easier than teaching humans not to throw their trash on the street. (The Guardian)
Two things to see
One: Scientists have found 99-million-year old flowers perfectly preserved in amber in Myanmar. The truly surprising part: “These particular flowers are almost identical to their modern relatives. There really are no major differences.” CNN has more on what they tell us about the evolution of ancient flowers—which are an extremely rare find.
Two: China ushered in the Year of the Tiger with a spectacular light show—spread across the skylines over Beijing, Wuhan, Chongqing and Qingdao. See the Qingdao display below: