Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
Uttarkashi tunnel rescue: Free at last!
The context: Forty one workers have been trapped in a collapsed tunnel that was under construction in Uttarakhand since November 12. We explained the collapse, the struggle to rescue the workers—and the reasons for this tragedy in our Big Story.
What happened now: The workers have finally been rescued after 17 long days. After foreign-made drilling machines collapsed or stalled out, the humble ‘rat miners’ saved the day. This is an illegal and dangerous form of mining—used in Meghalaya to extract coal:
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three to four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes", as each just about fits one person.
These miners crawled into a 45-metre pipe drilled into the tunnel—and removed the remaining 12 metres of debris—using “a handheld drill machine, hammer, trowel and shovel.” Here is one of them speaking about the experience to reporters:
And here’s a moving interview with a father waiting for his son to be rescued. He’s already lost one son in a construction accident, and says: “Mera ek bacha paudha bach gya” (one of the two saplings of mine is saved):
Reminder: The rescued workers were all migrants from poorer states such as Jharkhand, Odisha and Assam—working for a pittance. Mercifully, they are all in good health—–and each will receive Rs 100,000 in compensation from the government. Their relatives, however, have vowed not to allow them to return to the project again.
Politics of rescue: During the last hours of the rescue, crowds gathered near the tunnel—yelling slogans such as 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and 'Modi hai to Mumkin hai' etc. Indian Express has a piece crediting the Prime Minister’s Office for keeping the rescue operation on track.
Israel-Palestine War: The latest update
For more context on the Israel-Palestine war, check out our Big Stories on: The motive for the Hamas attack; the effect of civilian casualties on Gaza’s post-war fate; and the deal for a four-day truce.
Death toll: More than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza, which includes 6,150 children and over 4,000 women. About 7,000 people are missing under the rubble including 4,700 children and women.
Truce extension: Hamas freed ten Israelis and two Thai citizens on Tuesday in exchange for 30 imprisoned Palestinians. Despite counter-accusations of bad faith, the truce appears to be holding.
What’s next: US Secretary of State is headed back to the region to broker “a long term solution to the crisis including the creation of an independent Palestinian state.” He will also “stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages, and improve protections for civilians in Gaza.”
Also this: Washington is worried about a renewed flood of civilian deaths—and seems to be drawing some “red lines” with its ally:
The Biden administration has told Israel that it must work to avoid “significant further displacement” of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza if it renews its ground campaign aimed at eradicating the Hamas militant group,
PBS has more on that story.
An epidemic of deaths: The US’ anxiety reflects the growing recognition that far more people may die of disease rather than bombs: “All key sanitation services have ceased operating in Gaza, which raises the prospect of an enormous surge of gastrointestinal and infectious diseases among the local populations—including cholera.” The humanitarian aid plans are now focusing on bringing in vaccines and safe drinking water. Al Jazeera has more on the dire situation on the ground.
In other related news: The enormity of the destruction caused by the airstrikes is now becoming clear—as Gaza opens to the outside world. One of the casualties: The Gaza public library.
Coming soon: A Reddit IPO?
The upcoming batch of companies going public will include the site that describes itself as the “front page of the internet.” Reddit IPO was first planned for 2020—and then shelved due to the pandemic. Also making similar plans: The apparel giant Shein—maybe even Starlink—Elon Musk’s satellite company. Bloomberg News has more on Reddit.
Losing investors in India: Zomato. Chinese company Alipay will divest its 3.4% stake for nearly $400 million. This isn’t a bad sign, however:
Zomato shares have surged more than 90% this year, after falling by more than half in 2022 when tech stocks struggled around the world. Alipay "wants to cash out ... the (market) timing is good," said the first source, referring to the rapid rise in Zomato's shares in recent months.
Reuters has the exclusive.
In other biz-related news: The Zee-Sony merger may collapse due to a fight over who will lead the new entity. Bloomberg News via Economic Times has that story.
Amazon’s got an AI chatbot
The AI assistant is called Amazon Q—but isn’t aimed at consumers unlike ChatGPT or Bard. The chatbot will focus on biz customers of Amazon’s cloud computing division. It will “help employees with daily tasks, such as summarising strategy documents, filling out internal support tickets and answering questions about company policy.” Amazon claims it is more secure than others—and it is cheaper ($20/month). The amusing bit:
The name Q is a play on the word “question,” given the chatbot’s conversational nature, Mr. Selipsky said. It is also a play on the character Q in the James Bond novels, who makes stealthy, helpful tools, and on a powerful “Star Trek” figure, he added.
New York Times has more on the new Q.
The first sustainable long-haul flight
Virgin Atlantic successfully landed the first trans-Atlantic flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The Boeing 747 flew from London to New York powered by a blend of 88% waste fats and 12% synthetic aromatic kerosene. It isn’t a zero-emission solution but the overall “lifecycle emissions” are significantly lower than from regular petroleum-based fuel. FYI: a group of 60 companies across the airline, transport and cargo industries have pledged to reach 10% SAF use in global aviation by 2030. This may actually be doable since SAF doesn’t require modifying existing aircraft engines. (CNBC)
Two related bits of important media news
One: The iconic Popular Science magazine is no more. The print version was canned in 2021—but the digital avatar managed to survive until now. It isn’t clear what will be left of PopSci—as it only has five editorial staff members and “a few” workers on the publication’s commerce team. Why this matters:
However, its discontinuation marks the end of an era, and the other cuts across the science journalism field won’t make it easier to stay up to date on the state of our climate or dive into fascinating stories that you might not otherwise come across without the media outlets that bring them to our attention.
Science journalism is in the midst of a serious crisis. National Geographic cut the remainder of the magazine’s editorial staff in June. Gizmodo has laid off its last climate reporter, and CNBC shuttered its climate desk last week. The Verge has more on this dismal state of affairs.
Two: Even as real journalists lose their jobs, fake ones are proliferating like the plague. Sports Illustrated magazine has been secretly using AI writers—dummied up to look like real people with their own bylines, headshots and bios.
These articles were traced back to a company called AdVon which offers machine learning and AI solutions for ecommerce (!?). The same company has been linked to content published by Gannett and the financial news site TheStreet. What’s really worrying: There was no disclosure of the AI element in any of these cases. In fact, SI insists: “AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans.”
Even worse, such cases are becoming increasingly frequent—and among the biggest names in the biz:
We caught CNET and Bankrate, both owned by Red Ventures, publishing barely-disclosed AI content that was filled with factual mistakes and even plagiarism; in the ensuing storm of criticism, CNET issued corrections to more than half its AI-generated articles. G/O Media also published AI-generated material on its portfolio of sites, resulting in embarrassing bungles at Gizmodo and The A.V. Club. We caught BuzzFeed publishing slapdash AI-generated travel guides. And USA Today and other Gannett newspapers were busted publishing hilariously garbled AI-generated sports roundups that one of the company's own sports journalists described as "embarrassing," saying they "shouldn't ever" have been published.
We highly recommend reading the Futurism investigation.
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