Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Smriti Arora
Rahul Gandhi’s appeal rejected
The context: Rahul Gandhi was convicted on charges of criminal defamation for saying this at a 2019 election rally: “Why do all thieves have Modi in their names whether it is Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi or Narendra Modi? We don’t know how many more such Modis will come out.“ He was accused of criminally defaming everyone with the surname Modi by the complainant BJP MLA Purnesh Modi.
On March 23, he was sentenced to two years in prison—which immediately disqualified him from holding a seat in Parliament. He is also barred from contesting an election for eight years. Gandhi appealed the ruling in a Surat sessions court—asking the court to suspend both the sentence and the conviction. Note: simply suspending the sentence doesn’t help reverse his disqualification. We did two Big Stories on the case and on India’s criminal defamation law.
What happened now: The Surat Sessions Court Judge Robin Paul Mogera dismissed Rahul Gandhi’s plea—saying:
Any defamatory words coming from the mouth of appellant are sufficient enough to cause mental agony to the aggrieved person. In this case, by uttering defamatory words viz. comparing persons having surname ‘Modi’ with thieves would definitely have caused mental agony… harm the reputation of the complainant who is socially active and dealing in public.
Gandhi’s lawyers are calling it a “most unfortunate and unsustainable legal decision”—and plan to move the Gujarat High Court. Interesting point to note: Judge Mogera was Amit Shah’s lawyer in a 2006 encounter case. The Wire has more on his back story. The Telegraph has all the reasons why Gandhi’s lawyers think they are on strong legal ground. Indian Express has the ruling.
SpaceX rocket launch ends in flames
On Thursday, SpaceX launched Spaceship—the most powerful rocket in history. It took off from the launch pad as planned. Its Super Heavy rocket booster was supposed to separate from the main spacecraft after 2.5 minutes—and Starship was expected to soar into the skies. Instead, the rocket exploded four minutes after liftoff—without separating. According to the company: “The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble.” SpaceX’s team will “continue to review data and work toward our next flight test.”
Key point to note: The failure isn’t a big setback for SpaceX—whose mantra is “Fail fast, but learn faster.” As the New York Times points out:
In the past, SpaceX has learned from its failures. When it tried to start landing Falcon 9 boosters, the first few hit too hard and exploded. With each attempt, SpaceX engineers tweaked the systems. After its first successful landing, more soon followed. Today, it is a rare surprise if a booster landing fails. A couple of years ago, the company took a similar approach to fine-tune the landing procedure for Starship.
Watch a clip of the explosion below:
Speaking of Elon Musk-owned companies: Twitter finally started removing legacy verification marks from accounts not subscribed to its paid service, Twitter Blue. Celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates—and even Pope Francis—lost their blue ticks. But as with all things Twitter, “Users reported confusing glitches—they saw their blue check marks disappear, then reappear, only to disappear once again.” (NBC News)
RIP, Buzzfeed News
The media company that embodied the rise (and fall) of digital journalism is shutting down. The parent company will shut shop, lay off about 180 employees—and focus on its other property HuffPost. Among other things, CEO Jonah Peretti blamed “a tech recession, a tough economy, a declining stock market, a decelerating digital advertising market, and ongoing audience and platform shifts” for his decision. Quartz has lots more on the end of Buzzfeed and what it means for the news industry.
Another terrible Gujarat violence ruling
The context: Maya Kodnani is the only BJP minister accused of playing a leading role in the 2002 Gujarat violence. She was implicated in the killings in the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam areas in Ahmedabad:
They were the two biggest massacres reported in Ahmedabad city, both on February 28, 2002. In Naroda Gam, 11 Muslims were burnt to death after mobs set their houses on fire in a locality known as Muslim Mohalla under Kumbhar Vas. In neighbouring Naroda Patiya that same day, Hindu mobs attacked a Muslim-dominated locality, in which officially 97 people were killed.
What happened now: In 2012, a lower case had convicted her as a “kingpin” in the Naroda Patiya case—but the ruling was overturned by the Gujarat High Court in 2018. Now, she and 68 others have been acquitted in the remaining Naroda Gam case—clearing her return to politics. FYI: her role in the Gujarat violence had been an election winner for Kodnani. She had been re-elected twice as an MLA and made state minister under CM Modi—before she was charged in the two cases. (Indian Express)
Foreign travellers: Get ready to be taxed!
From July 1, you will have to pay 20% tax (collected at source) on any foreign tour package you book on your credit card. That’s a massive jump from the current 5% rate. What this means:
[S]uppose you want to book a family tour package to Thailand that costs Rs 2 lakh. Now, if you use your credit card to purchase the package, you will have to spend an additional Rs 40,000.
That said, experts are not exactly sure how banks will figure out which credit card transaction is taxable at the higher rate—since the rate varies wildly based on the type of foreign currency spent. Economic Times explains why this may be a nightmare for banks.
The ‘free’ education of AI chatbots
Chatbots are typically trained on vast amounts of information available on the internet—that’s how the machines ‘learn’. But companies like OpenAI—which makes ChatGPT—have been very coy in exactly what goes into the ‘syllabus’ for their oh-so-clever AI.
A Washington Post investigation offers a partial glimpse of 15 million websites used to instruct AIs, like Google’s T5 and Facebook’s LLaMA—and it isn’t reassuring. The three biggest sites were patents.google.com, wikipedia.org and scribd.com. Some top sites also seemed random, like wowhead.com, a World of Warcraft player forum. But here’s the most worrying bit: “The copyright symbol — which denotes a work registered as intellectual property — appears more than 200 million times in the… data set.”
Why this matters: If tech companies think that content and news sites will allow them to build business models on cannibalising their work for free… well, we don’t know what they’re smoking. This is going to be the single biggest hurdle for any AI chatbot product—and it won’t go away by offering pennies in compensation. Gizmodo has a non-paywall summary.
Discovered: What makes grey hair, well, grey
Scientists have figured out why our hair turns grey with age. New hair grows from hair follicles—which contain pigment-producing melanocytes. These melanocytes are created by stem cells that become “stuck” with age:
As hair ages, sheds and then repeatedly grows back, increasing numbers of the melanocyte stem cells become sluggish at their job. The stem cells stop roaming around the follicle and become fixed, thereby failing to mature into fully-fledged melanocytes. With no pigment being produced, the hair turns grey, white or silver.
This breakthrough may help future generations reverse greying or never go grey. Hmm. (BBC News)
Are Woody & Matthew blood brothers?
If this is a publicity stunt, then it has to be the most bizarre one in the history of Hollywood. The plotline is totally filmy—two brothers separated at birth… except they happen to be the industry’s biggest stars—Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The two actors are openly speculating if they are step-brothers—where McConaughey was born of a fling his mother had with Woody’s father. Harrelson said on a TV show:
She was on a sabbatical from her relationship with [McConaughey's] supposed father, Jim. We want to go [DNA] test, but for him it's a bigger deal because he feels like he's losing a father. But I'm like, 'No, you're gaining a different father and a brother.”
Point to note: The two men are doing PR rounds for a TV show titled ‘Brother From Another Mother’—a fictional show where the two actors play themselves. And it’s described as “a heartfelt odd couple love story revolving around the strange and beautiful bond between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.” Hmm, we can’t figure out if fact is imitating fiction or vice versa. (Variety)
Going down Tenzing Norgay Sherpa Way
A street in Queens will be named after one of the first persons to scale Mount Everest. He was the sherpa to Sir Edmund Hillary—who successfully climbed the mountain in 1953. This is lovely, of course. But this is hardly Norgay’s greatest honour. NASA named a region of icy mountains on Pluto as Norgay Montes back in 2015—which is way cooler. They rise around 3,500 metres off the surface of the planet. You can see them below (way more interesting than a street, yes?) (The Telegraph)
Four things to see
TBH, it reminded us of this:
Two: Australia and Southeast Asia witnessed a rare solar eclipse yesterday—which lasted a minute. Why this one was special: it was both a total and annular eclipse:
When the moon fully blocks the sun, it is called a total eclipse, and when the moon blocks the sun but appears smaller, leaving the outline of a solar ring, it is called an annular eclipse.
Three: Speaking of celestial events, a mysterious flash witnessed over Kyiv, Ukraine, is likely a meteorite—not a dead NASA satellite as previously suspected. That sentence tells you everything you need to know about the times we live in lol! (BBC News)
Four: Ah, can we have too many ‘Fast & Furious’ flicks? Hollywood thinks not. Here is the trailer for instalment #10—which will drop May 19 at a theatre near you. It is apparently the first part of a two-part finale that will end the franchise. To which we say: promises, promises. (Collider)