Researched by: Rachel John & Aarthi Ramnath
Modi-ji gave an interview
In an astonishing move, the Prime Minister—notoriously allergic to the press—gave an interview to the Financial Times. This is his first extended response to the US claim that Indian officials orchestrated a plot to kill a prominent Khalistani supporter—Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (See: our Big Story). What Modi-ji said: New Delhi has no clue about this plot:
If someone gives us any information, we would definitely look into it. If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.
But he would like to point out “the activities of certain extremist groups based overseas… These elements, under the guise of freedom of expression, have engaged in intimidation and incited violence.” And he ain’t worried about pissing off Washington—whether it’s Joe Biden or Donald Trump in charge:
There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership… Security and counter-terrorism co-operation has been a key component of our partnership… I don’t think it is appropriate to link a few incidents with diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The flurry of big legislation
The Lok Sabha Speaker suspended two more Opposition MPs—bringing the total of those kicked out of Parliament to 143. But that did not deter the Lok Sabha from passing three critical crime bills that will overhaul our penal system—and make it even more draconian in many ways (See: our Big Story on the sedition angle). There are a number of other key changes—including decriminalising homosexuality and adultery. Indian Express, The Wire and The Quint have the best breakdown of the three bills. (The Hindu)
Also passed in the Lok Sabha: The Telecommunications Bill which will likely give the government unprecedented powers over all forms of communication—including emails and SMSes. Apar Gupta in this post explains why we should be worried.
The Gaza war: The latest update
The death toll: At least 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza—including 8,000 children and 6,200 women.
About that ceasefire: A top Hamas leader is in Egypt to discuss a truce—and the Israeli hostages. Tel Aviv is under pressure to free them ever since the IDF killed three unarmed hostages—holding a white flag—in the middle of an offensive. What’s interesting: Hamas claims that Israel made the first move to restart negotiations this time. (New York Times)
Impasse at the UN: The Security Council postponed a key vote on a bid to boost humanitarian aid for Gaza for the third time—to avoid a veto from the US. That pretty much says it all. (Al Jazeera)
Streaming mega-merger alerts!
According to an Axios scoop, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount are discussing a possible merger. The talks are at an early stage, but the intent is to find an effective way to take on Disney and Netflix. But nothing is a done deal—as the Zee-Sony merger shows.
The two sides faced prolonged regulatory hurdles—and investigations into Zee promoters Cyquator Media and Direct Media Ventures. They have now agreed to re-enter negotiations—extending the December 21 deadline for their merger. The point of disagreement: Sony no longer wants Punit Goenka in any executive position within the merged entity. The original deal was to put him in charge. (Hindu Business Line)
French get tough on immigration
The Parliament passed an extremely rigorous immigration bill—so tough that members of Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet had threatened to resign. In the end, it passed with a wide margin—and with the support of the far-right Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. The new laws will make it easier to deport migrants—including children. They make it difficult to bring family into the country—and for immigrants' children to become French. One immigration rights activist says:
France has voted through many immigration bills, but it feels like we are passing a new threshold of toughness with this one―for example by making it easier to expel foreign parents of French children, which was beforehand only possible if they had committed serious crimes.
Reminder: The French are headed for elections in June next year. (Reuters)
Humans are the worst bird-killers
A recent study found that cats consume up to 347 species of animals including small birds, mammals and reptiles—many of which are threatened or extinct. Turns out we’re far worse. New research shows that humans are responsible for wiping out 1,430 species of birds—that’s 12% of all bird species—in the past 126,000 years.
Humans have rapidly devastated bird populations via habitat loss, overexploitation and the introduction of rats, pigs and dogs that raided nests of birds and competed with them for food… We show that many species became extinct before written records and left no trace, lost from history.
Many of these extinctions began 11,700 years ago—just after the end of the last ice age. And 55% had not yet been discovered since most studies only look at the past 500 years. In other words, we’ve had lots of practice being bad for the environment—we’re just paying closer attention now. (Newsweek)
Moving on to flowers: A new French study shows that pansies are now “giving up on pollinators” and “evolving towards self-pollination, where each plant reproduces with itself.” It’s a response to the decline in insect populations—which are decreasing at the rate of 2% a year. Flowers and pollinators like bees etc are caught in a self-inforcing cycle. Flowers stop producing big, nectar-rich flowers because it takes too much energy with less reward—since there are fewer pollinators. In turn, these pollinators are wiped out at a faster rate because of decreasing supplies of nectar. Data point to note: Pansies growing near Paris are “10% smaller and produce 20% less nectar than flowers in the same fields 20 to 30 years.” (The Guardian)
In happier news about chimps: A new study shows that chimpanzees and bonobos can still remember faces they have not seen for years—showing that they form long-term memories. One bonobo recognized a face after 26 years—beating even the average human capacity for facial memory. Scientists suspect this may hold true for other long-living animals that live in groups. (New York Times)
Say hello to a new Indian chess prodigy!
India’s best-known child genius is R Praggnanandhaa—who is now already 18-years old. Happily, the world has spotted the next chess grandmaster in the making—eight-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan from Harlow, England. She has just been crowned best female player at the European blitz chess championships. Btw: She has a vibhuti mark similar to Praggnanandhaa on her forehead. Is this now a good luck charm for budding chess geniuses? Needless to say, she’s adorable. Watch her take on 79-year-old British chess champ Peter Lee below. (Times UK, paywall, BBC News)
Christmas revellers: Beware of penile fractures!
New German research shows a sharp rise in the risk of injuries to one’s penis during Christmas. A very specific kind of injury known as ‘penile fractures’:
“This injury tends to occur during wild sex — particularly in positions where you’re not in direct eye contact [with your partner], such as the reverse cowgirl,” said [lead researcher] Dr Nikolaos Pyrgides. The fractures are often heralded by an audible crack, followed by severe pain, rapid loss of erection and severe swelling and bruising. “When [patients] present to their doctor their penis often looks like an eggplant,” Pyrgides said.
Thanks to the festive mood, such injuries jump by up to 43% in the holiday season. Interesting point to note: New Year’s Eve doesn’t carry the same risk. (The Guardian)
Meet JIWYA: Plant-made luxury fashion & design
Editor’s note: Every once in a while, we give a shout out to a worthy event or company that shares our values. JIWYA is certainly one of them. It was founded by Aishwarya Lahariya and Adhiraj Shinde—textile scientists who moved back from the US to start their venture last year. We leave them to tell you why their take on sustainable apparel is truly unique:
JIWYA is our attempt to answer two core questions: can luxury fashion be entirely plant-made? Can this entirely plant-made material be fashionable? Our startup is built on the vision of using only regenerative and native plant resources to make our products—and being zero waste through the entire production process. We believe in slow fashion in the fullest sense of the word.
Our first collection is an assembly of 161 hand-curated products representing a unique blend of wall art, gender-neutral products as well as men’s and women’s apparel. There are only one or two pieces of any JIWYA product—and our clothes can be customised to your size. And each product includes at least two different Indian art forms. They are created by generational and award-winning artists—who you can meet on the JIWYA website. You can get a glimpse of our collection below.
Four things to see
One: SRK is having an excellent time promoting ‘Dunki’. A PR spectacle for the flick in Dubai included a drone show that recreated his iconic pose against the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa—while Shah Rukh mirrored it on the ground. Yes, it’s seriously cheesy. (The Telegraph)
Two: In this Christmas-themed edition, we leave you with this sparkly image from the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA scientists have termed this one the ‘Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster’. Space has more nerdy details.
Three: Villagers in Madhya Pradesh have long worshipped ball-shaped stones as "Kakar Bhairav"—or Bhilat Baba. They offered coconuts, even goats, to pray for rains and a good harvest. Researchers have recently discovered that these are actually fossilised dinosaur eggs—laid by Titanosaurs that lived between 145 to 66 million years ago. FYI: The revelation isn’t all that surprising since MP is a key prehistoric site—and even has its own dinosaur park. (NDTV)
Four: The trailer for the highly anticipated Sriram Raghavan flick—of ‘Badlapur’ and ‘Andhadhun’ fame—has just dropped. ‘Merry Christmas’ has an unusual superstar pairing: Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif. Also: Sanjay Kapoor as a villain, maybe? Needless to say, we’re intrigued. No, the movie will not be released over Christmas—because that would be way too obvious (or logical?). You’ll have to wait until January 12 to see it in the theatres. The Tamil version is here and the Hindi trailer is below. (The Hindu)