Researched and collated by: Rachel John & Ayaan Malhotra
The gorgeous Splainer X Champaca gift box
We’re a bit nervous about this one as it’s our very first gift box—curated with great love and care by the team. We teamed up with our partners Champaca—a wonderful women-run independent bookstore—did our collective best to create a goodie bag designed to inspire wonder, laughter and delight. It makes a lovely gift for any occasion—weddings, festivals or birthdays. Or you could just treat yourself!
Please note: This gift box is part of our promise to offer special value to our subscribers. So this is just for you—we don’t make money off this box :)
What you get: The box includes three books—each unique and wonderful in its own way. And to add a splash of beauty, the package includes a beautiful box of silkscreen cards that you are sure to treasure. We have lots more detail on the books and the cards over here.
The big bonus: The box comes with a quarterly gift subscription worth Rs 900. You also get two specially-illustrated Champaca bookmarks—so you can keep track of your reading in style ;)
The very big discount: You pay only Rs 2,500 for this gift box valued at Rs 4000—a massive discount that is available for just 30 days. In other words, be sure to snap these up before November 20.
Delhi air is officially terrible
Pollution levels have now breached "severe" and "hazardous" levels across the capital. The AQI numbers climbed as high as 800 in certain parts. Many Delhites are calling on the AAP government to shut down school to save the children’s lungs. The culprit for this sudden deterioration is most likely crop stubble fires in Punjab. There were more than 3,600 fires on Wednesday—the highest this year. And that smoke contributed up to 32% of the PM 2.5 pollutants in the air.
That said, there are plenty of local contributing factors—including vehicles which contribute to 80% of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide—and are responsible for 41% of the total pollution load. Our Big Story from 2021 lays all the reasons for this dreary deja vu. Not much has changed since. BBC News and Reuters have more on what’s happening right now. The Print explains why it is so difficult to stop stubble burning in Punjab.
A sacking spree at Twitter
Elon Musk recently promised that rumours of plans to fire 75% of the staff were untrue. But fresh reports suggest that the number may be closer to 50%—anywhere between 3,700-3,800 employees. According to Bloomberg News, the announcement will be made on Friday and those fired will be given 60 days of severance pay. Also getting canned: the company policy of allowing employees to work from home “forever.” Everyone has to head back to the office—with few exceptions. (Bloomberg, paywall, The Verge)
Another billionaire having staff problems: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He is being sued by a former housekeeper—who claims that she was forced to work 10-14 hours a day in fairly dismal conditions:
“Staff didn’t have a designated break room or rest area and no easily accessible restroom, according to the complaint. Housekeeping staff would try to eat in a laundry room, and were prohibited from using a toilet in a nearby security room, forcing them to climb out a window to access a bathroom, according to the complaint.”
She was also subjected to racial abuse by one of the household managers–who discriminated against Latino staff. Bezos’ lawyers say the claims “have no merit, and we’ll defend against them.” And you thought treating household staff like crap was an Indian specialty… (Bloomberg News via Indian Express)
Disappointing news about dropout rates
As we all feared, the pandemic was ruinous for school kids. The dropout rate for grades 6 through 8 went from 1.9% to 3% in 2021—while it almost doubled to 1.5% for classes 1-5. Of course, more girls left school than boys. The rate for upper primary school is the highest in three years. But the good news is that the overall number of students has increased—as we added 196,300 new students this year. And the dropout rate for the higher classes has actually declined. (The Print)
A great Canadian welcome for migrants
Canada unveiled an ambitious plan to open the country’s border to 500,000 new immigrants each year–by 2025. That’s a big jump from the 405,000 who became permanent residents last year. To be clear, this warm welcome is being extended to “economic immigrants”—with the work skills to fill the one million job vacancies in the country. Also this:
“Canada's birth rate continues to be one of the lowest in the world at 1.4 children per woman while the country has one of the world’s oldest populations. Almost nine million people, nearly a quarter of Canada’s population, will reach retirement age by 2030.”
The Hindu has more details.
Oximeters have a skin tone bias
A US Food and Drug Administration panel has flagged a serious flaw in oximeters—which are used to measure blood oxygen levels, and were critical to saving Covid patients. The problem: the devices are less accurate when patients have darker skins. And here’s why:
“Pulse oximeters work by sending light through your finger; a sensor on the other side of the device receives this light and uses it to detect the colour of your blood. Bright red blood is highly oxygenated, while blue or purplish blood is less so. If the device isn’t calibrated for darker skin tones, the pigmentation of the skin could affect how the light is absorbed by the sensor, leading to flawed oxygen readings.”
So it could falsely indicate normal oxygen levels in a darker skin patient—who then would be discharged from hospital. Point to note: some medical experts had flagged this problem in India back in 2021 saying there is “a huge possibility” that a great number of Covid deaths in India during the second wave could have been caused by false oximeter readings. CNN has lots more details.
In other health-related news: According to established medical wisdom, monkeypox patients become infectious after they begin to show symptoms. In fact, the US health authorities confidently claim that “there is no evidence that monkeypox spreads from people with no symptoms.” But a new study has uncovered evidence of “considerable” transmission a few days before a person becomes symptomatic. And it may explain why the disease spread so quickly across Europe and the US this year. Why this matters: viruses that spread from asymptomatic patients spread more easily are harder to control. That said, this is a modelling study and there’s more research required to change current policy. (The Guardian)
A whale-sized plastics diet
Researchers studied three varieties of baleen whales that feed in the waters off the California coast. These are all ‘filter feeders’: “They strain food—shrimp-like crustaceans called krill and other small prey—from the seawater using baleen plates in the mouth made of keratin.” They found that blue whales—the planet’s largest animals—are consuming up to 10 million microplastic pieces, approximately 43.5 kg, every day. The number for humpbacks that feed mostly on krill: four million—while fin whales consume six million.
They don’t directly swallow plastic when they feed. Up to 99% of it comes via prey that have ingested plastic. Why this matters: “[O]ther research has shown that if plastics are small enough they can cross the gut wall and get into internal organs, though the long-term effects are still unclear. Plastics can also release chemicals that are endocrine disruptors." Point to remember: At least 1,500 marine species ingest plastic in the oceans. (Reuters)
In less serious environmental news: To all Harry Potter fans, the moment Dobby dies in his arms is truly iconic. The scene was filmed on a beach in Wales—which hosts a memorial built by fans. It’s all very lovely except the town authorities were seriously considering tearing it down. The reason: the hordes that gather at the spot leave a sock as a tribute (No, we’re not going to explain why). But these and other trinkets pose a serious threat to marine life. As a result, local officials have agreed to keep the memorial—but only if people stop leaving behind trash tributes. FYI: this is what the memorial looks like. (New York Times)
The hazards of Neanderthal-human sex
For the longest time, experts believed that Neanderthals went extinct due to conflict with humans. We were smarter and so we won. But new research suggests that it is love and not war that did them in. There is now evidence that ancient humans mated and had children with Neanderthals after they left Africa—the starting point of our species. Now, interspecies breeding in itself isn’t surprising. Example: the tiger X lion offspring known as the liger. But it can also be tricky:
“The lack of mitochondrial DNA (inherited from mother to child) from Neanderthals present in living humans might be evidence that only male Neanderthals and female Homo sapiens could successfully mate. If the researchers’ theory is correct, fewer Neanderthals may have been breeding with one another, opting for interspecies mating. This would decimate populations of the already existing small and scattered groups of Neanderthal families, eventually pushing them towards decline.”
Translation: male Neanderthals may have preferred having sex with human females—producing infertile offspring—which eventually wiped out their own population. Right now, we don’t have enough data to assert this as a fact. But it most certainly makes for a fascinating theory. Popular Science has a detailed analysis if you want it.
Two things to see
One: Shah Rukh Khan thanked the thousands of adoring fans who came to greet him on his birthday with this video and the message: “The sea of love as I see it. Thank u all for being there and making this day ever so special. Gratitude…and only Love to you all.” Lol, his every move on that balcony is classic SRK.
Two: Here’s a delightful pageant twist. Two beauty queens—Miss Argentina Mariana Varela and Miss Puerto Rico Fabiola Valentín—fell in love with each other, and got married. They announced the happy news with this sweet video. (People)