ICYMI: In our latest Advisory edition, Shunali Shroff offers a lovely guide to Calcutta’s nostalgia-infused delights. The excerpt from ‘Courting India’ documents the hilarious encounter between Thomas Roe—the first ambassador sent by the royal court to India–and his Mughal hosts. It has all the elements of farce—including crossed cultural wires and, of course, white privilege. Champaca is back with their book of the month and a delightful list of sci-fi books penned by women, and A Humming Heart has some excellent indie earworms for your weekend listening pleasure. As always, the splainer team curates the best series and flicks to watch over the weekend.
Road Trippin’: That’s the theme for our next splainer fam-sourced playlist. What’s the perfect song for that long car ride with friends and family? Help us put together the perfect playlist for your summer vacay getaways. Add your fave songs in this super short form.
The 80-year-old announced his bid for reelection—setting up a possible rematch with Trump. He is already the oldest US president to hold office—and Democrats are desperate for a fresh face in 2024. The most recent poll showed that 58% say they would prefer someone other than Biden as their nominee. More importantly, 62% of all Americans said they would be ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘angry’ if Biden was reelected—compared to 56% for Trump. But it is highly unlikely any Democrat will challenge Biden:
After Democrats won more races than expected in the 2022 midterm elections, any energy to challenge Mr. Biden quickly dissipated. The left has stayed in line even as Mr. Biden has lately made more explicit appeals toward the center. And would-be rivals have stayed on the sidelines.
In 2021—just as US troops were hastily exiting the country—a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed 13 US soldiers and 170 Afghans. Taliban authorities have killed the Islamic State leader behind the attack—in the course of a broader crackdown on the organisation. His identity remains unknown. (AP via The Hindu)
A ceasefire in Sudan
The context: A raging battle between the military and a powerful militia is ripping the country apart (explained in this Big Story). Thus far, the violence has claimed at least 459 lives and left over 4,000 injured—and more than 20,000 have fled the country. Around a third of Sudan’s population of 45 million people were facing hunger before the fighting began. The violence has shut down humanitarian aid—and the healthcare system has collapsed.
What happened now: The two opposing generals—Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo—have agreed to a 72-hour truce. It is the fourth attempt to stem the violence. The shaky truce appears to be holding despite reports of blasts and gunfire. India was able to evacuate 278 nationals thanks to the temporary lull. FYI: the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned there is a "high risk of biological hazard" after fighters seized a laboratory holding samples of diseases, including polio and measles. (BBC News)
Japanese company loses a lunar lander
The first attempted landing of a commercially made spacecraft on the Moon failed when iSpace lost contact with its Hakuto-R moon lander. It was in the midst of controlled descent—and was less than 80 metres away from the surface—when it ‘disappeared’. FYI: This is the third recent failure to make a soft landing on the Moon—after failed attempts by the Israeli non-profit SpaceIL and India in 2019. (Quartz)
Ed Sheeran is getting sued
The singer is accused of ripping off the Marvin Gaye classic ‘Let’s Get It On’ in his wildly popular ‘Thinking Out Loud’. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by the heirs of Ed Townsend—who co-wrote and composed the song—and the trial started on Monday. While Gaye’s heirs are not involved in this lawsuit, they won the most significant copyright case to date—winning more than $5 million in damages when they sued Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. for their hit ‘Blurred Lines’. They were accused of copying ‘Got to Give It Up’.
Why this lawsuit matters: The music industry is worried about an increasing number of copyright lawsuits—which appear to penalise musicians for “using basic musical building blocks, like harmonies and rhythmic patterns, that had long been considered part of the public domain.” New York Times has more on the big picture, while Associated Press has more on the case. And you can see Sheeran segue seamlessly from ‘Thinking Out Loud’ to ‘Let’s Get It On’ at a live performance—at the 4:30 minute mark below.
University rankings tweaked to soothe IITs
For the past three years, six IITs have boycotted the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. They claim that there is no “transparency” in how the rankings are calculated. THE is now trying to woo them back by tweaking the criteria. Example: reducing the weightage given to the number of times a university’s published work is cited around the world—from 30% to 15%. They shared these “refinements” at a presentation held specifically for the big seven—including IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bombay and IIT Madras. (Indian Express)
A sleeping treatment for Alzheimer’s
According to a new study, taking a sleeping pill every night can reduce the level of proteins linked to Alzheimer’s in a person’s brain. The participants were given a high doseof suvorexant—which is used to treat insomnia. While the data isn’t anywhere close to conclusive, it confirms a significant link between poor sleep and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. We did a Big Story on why Alzheimer’s is known as the mystery illness—and why we know so little about the human brain. (Huffington Post)
Blue tick madness, continued
The controversy over Twitter’s verification badge just won’t go away—maybe because CEO Elon Musk can’t stop messing with it. The policy change was announced in a one-line tweet: “verified accounts are now ‘prioritised.’" No one really knows what this means, but this is the best guess:
Musk could be talking about a previously announced change, in which he said that "only verified accounts will be eligible" to be shown in the For You feed. That's Twitter's default, algorithmically created view, and even though you can switch to see tweets from the people you're following in chronological order, we assume most people default to the For You view.
Why this matters more than the brouhaha over status markers: “It effectively means your tweets will be all but invisible unless you pay for Twitter Blue.” If that is indeed true, then Twitter may no longer be a “public square” for debate and conversation—but a marketing channel for users to increase their follower count. (Mashable)
Musk’s other big reveal: He shared a screenshot of his account—which shows Musk has an alternate Twitter account with more than 24,700 followers—who pay $4 per month for access to subscriber-only content. Gizmodo offers a detailed analysis of this account if you need it.
Parkash Singh Badal is no more
The 95-year-old Akali Dal leader and five-time Chief Minister of Punjab passed away yesterday. Indian Express explains why this is the end of an era in Punjab politics.
Belgium’s war on Miller High Life
Custom officials destroyed 2,352 cans of Miller High Life beer because they had committed a cardinal sin—of being labelled as ‘The Champagne of Beers’. The word ‘champagne’ is protected by EU laws—designed to guarantee that a food or wine label reflects its true location of origin—in this case, the Champagne region in France. But don’t worry, the destruction spree was paid for by the champagne industry trade group—and it was carried out “with the utmost respect for environmental concerns by ensuring that the entire batch, both contents and container, was recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.” FYI: Miller has been using some variation of that slogan since 1906. (The Guardian)
Two things to see
One: Folks in New Zealand were treated to a dazzling light show—courtesy Mother Nature. The Aurora Australis—which is typically seen only in polar regions—was visible across many cities. FYI: auroras are caused by flares or storms on the sun’s surface. This rare treat was a result of an enormous burst of energy that’s being described as a “tsunami.” You can see a time-lapse video below. ABC News has more stunning images.
Two: SRK and his son Aryan star in this ad for the latter’s streetwear brandD’YAVOL X. FYI: D’yavol means ‘devil’ in Polish—which is also the name of the Polish vodka that Khan Jr is selling in India.