Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
India vs Canada: The latest update
If you need more context on the diplomatic war over the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, check out our Big Story.
One: According to “Western allied officials,” the US played a key role in the Canadian investigation into the killing:
In the aftermath of the killing, U.S. intelligence agencies offered their Canadian counterparts context that helped Canada conclude that India had been involved. Yet what appears to be the “smoking gun,” intercepted communications of Indian diplomats in Canada indicating involvement in the plot, was gathered by Canadian officials, allied officials said.
The information was “shared deliberately”—not just as part of routine intelligence sharing. New York Times published this exclusive—but some of the details were confirmed by the US ambassador to Canada David Cohen.
In an interview to Canadian TV, he said "there was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to making the statements that the Prime Minister made." He also said: "And, you know, if they prove to be true, it is a potentially very serious breach of the rules-based international order in which we like to function." Indian Express has more on the US emerging as an intermediary—trying to negotiate a truce between Ottawa and New Delhi.
Two: The government continues to take a tough line against suspected separatists. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) confiscated the properties of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in Amritsar and Chandigarh. He is the lawyer for Sikhs for Justice and recently issued threats against Indian diplomats in Canada. Pannun is part of a broader sweep targeting properties of 19 Khalistani extremists living overseas. The government is also moving to cancel OCI cards of “Khalistani militants and their sympathisers” living overseas. FYI: Back in 2019, the government removed the 312 out of 314 names of such alleged sympathisers from a blacklist—making them eligible for OCIs etc. (The Telegraph)
Point to note: This bit of counter-reporting in the Caravan raises questions about how the government identifies ‘terrorists’—and chooses to make some a bigger deal than others. For example, this is what a former extremist in Punjab says about Pannun:
Gill said that the Indian security agencies were making Pannun out to be a much bigger threat than he actually is by attaching his properties. Gill referred to other political outfits in Punjab that openly raise secessionist demand, but their properties have never been attached. For instance, neither the SAD(A) nor the Dal Khalsa have had any of their properties attached.
“He is a nobody and is not capable of conducting a referendum in a gurudwara in US or anywhere,” Gill told me. “Nobody entertains or endorses him here in Punjab or abroad. He is just a nuisance—the same way as many others with Khalistan rhetoric, like Jagjit Singh Chauhan who declared himself as the President of the Republic of Khalistan, named a cabinet, and even issued Khalistan passports, postage stamps, and Khalistan dollars, after announcing formation of Khalistan in Britain.”
You can read the rest of the report over at The Caravan.
Moody’s takes aim at Aadhaar
The global rating agency has raised a number of concerns about the digital ID system: “[T]he system often results in service denials, and the reliability of biometric technologies, especially for manual labourers in hot, humid climates, is questionable.” Why this matters: the government is now using Aadhaar to transfer welfare payments to beneficiaries—including those who are employed under the MGNREGA scheme. Also: Aadhaar is often viewed in the West as an important step toward digitisation, spurring India’s growth. (The Hindu)
A happy breakthrough on palm oil
Bye bye palm oil? Scottish researchers claim they have developed a groundbreaking alternative to palm oil. The stuff is made from a by-product of the linseed industry—and includes natural fibre and rapeseed oil. But most importantly: “It is palm and coconut-free and has no added flavourings, sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or colourings.” This is a huge breakthrough if true:
Palm oil production is said to have been responsible for about 8% of the world's deforestation between 1990 and 2008. This is because forests are burned to clear areas where people can grow oil palms—even if it is illegal.
This is devastating forests and wildlife in places like Indonesia—and very soon, it will be true of India (read our Big Story on India’s voracious appetite for the stuff). Palm oil is “used in everything from chocolate to shampoo, pizza, toothpaste and deodorant.” (BBC News)
Humans of Bombay under fire
The context: The Facebook property was created in 2014 by Karishma Mehta—and is clearly an Indian iteration of the original Humans of New York. But founder Karishma Mehta never acknowledged the source of her “inspiration”—even though she also ripped off its tagline: ‘one story at a time’. And unlike HoNY, the humans on the Bombay page often included clients—who paid to be featured.
What happened now: None of this was a problem until Humans of Bombay sued People of India—an Instagram handle—for ripping off its content, and “unique form of storytelling.” This prompted HoNY founder Brandon Stanton to speak up:
I've stayed quiet on the appropriation of my work because I think @HumansOfBombay shares important stories, even if they've monetized far past anything I'd feel comfortable doing on HONY. But you can't be suing people for what I've forgiven you for.
To be fair, People of India appears to have blatantly copy/pasted content from HoB. In any case, this has now become a great Twitter row—and, as usual, Modi-ji has become part of the debate. The reason: Mehta interviewed him ahead of the 2019 elections—even though he is not exactly a Human of Bombay. Watch Mehta claiming to have stumbled on the idea of HoB “completely randomly and out of the blue”—in the clip below. (Scroll)
Artificial Intelligence: It’s just like us… at taking tests!
Google DeepMind researchers made an astonishing discovery: their AI large language model—PaLM 2—is way better at solving maths problems when given the right prompt: "take a deep breath and work on this problem step by step."
When prompted with the phrase, researchers found that Google's PaLM 2 model was 80% accurate while responding to a set of grade school math problems. Without the prompt, the model was merely 34% accurate in answering the math problems, per the study. Meanwhile, prompting the AI with "let's think step by step" saw an increase in accuracy to 71%.
AI to Indian parents… (Business Insider)
Up next, an AI horror story: A small town in Spain made national headlines when teenage boys created AI-generated pornographic images of girls in their school:
The pictures were created using photos of the targeted girls fully clothed, many of them taken from their own social media accounts. These were then processed by an application that generates an imagined image of the person without clothes on.
New facts about human cells
Scientists have finally established the number of cells in a human body. Men have around 36 trillion cells; women have 28 trillion—while a 10-year-old has roughly 17 trillion. But here’s the cool pattern they detected:
Human cells, rather than all being roughly the same size, vary widely. The researchers estimated cell mass, size range and cell count for 1,200 cell groups, which can further be broken down into 400 cell types across 60 different tissues. They found that smaller cells, such as blood cells, are more common in our bodies, while larger ones, like muscle cells, are less plentiful. But the amount of matter that makes up cells in each size category is largely constant.
This holds true for Ma Nature, in general. There may be far more microorganisms than whales—“but the total mass of organisms in each category mostly stays consistent for all size classes.” Smithsonian Magazine has lots more nerdy details on the study.
Say goodbye to Circles
The platform formerly known as Twitter will shut down Circles—a tool that allowed you to make your tweets visible only to select followers. It was kinda similar to the ‘Close Friends’ feature on Insta. According to the official announcement:
X is deprecating Circles as of Oct 31st, 2023. After this date, you will not be able to create new posts that are limited to your Circle, nor will you be able to add people to your Circle. You will, however, be able to remove people from your Circle, by unfollowing them as described below.
“Deprecating”? Really? Our real Q: do Twitter folks not have access to Google? (Gizmodo)
It’s Bond, James… Burberry?
Dekho, we understand almost anything can be renamed for the right price. But no amount of moolah can make up for getting lost in the London Underground. And that’s exactly what happened to lots of folks when transport authorities renamed Bond Street as Burberry Street—just in time for London Fashion Week. As one expert explained, this is part of a larger transformation of iconic cities: “It’s part and parcel of the bigger picture of the branding and privatisation of the city, an approach which looks at space and place as primarily things to make a profit from.” New York Times (login required) has more on the story. The Guardian has more on the corporatisation of London. A good read: Harper’s Bazaar piece on how Burberry is trying to reposition itself.
Also maximising revenue: Amazon Prime Video—which is going to start showing ads to its paid subscribers… Unless they pay $3 more for an ad-free experience. If it’s any consolation: the company promised to show fewer ads than TV channels—the benchmark for which is four minutes per hour in the US. What’s interesting: While Amazon is planning to now introduce this tier in the US, UK, Germany and Canada—it’s already offering an ad-supported tier in India. It’s called Prime Lite and costs Rs 999/year—compared to the premium version that costs Rs 1,499. Where India goes, the world follows? (TechCrunch)
Two things to see
One: Here’s an ‘only in Delhi’ story. Employees at a Kamla Nagar market were beaten up by two customers because the delivery of their iPhone 15 was delayed. And they could not receive it on the first day as promised. (Mashable)
Two: Get ready for an awesome special—to be accurate, three special episodes—to mark the 60th anniversary of ‘Dr Who’. This one features our most beloved Dr Who, as in David Tennant—battling the Toymaker played by Neil Patrick Harris. We cannot wait! It drops on Disney+ Hotstar in November 2023. (Hollywood Reporter)