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The Parliament gas attack: The latest update
ICYMI, we have all the details on the attack in this Big Story.
The charges: The six suspects have been charged under the stringent anti-terror law—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The police claim the attack was “well-planned”—and they could be linked with terrorist organisations. But they have not revealed any evidence of terrorist activity for now. What we do know:
One of the accused had posted on social media a pamphlet with a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the word ‘Missing’ plastered over it. “Please see the pamphlet they were carrying,” [Additional Public Prosecutor told the judge]... “It has a picture of our Prime Minister who is shown as a missing person. They have declared a reward to be paid by Swiss bank.... They tried to show PM like a proclaimed offender,” he added.
The mastermind? We now know a little more about the sixth suspect—Lalit Jha—whom BJP leaders are calling the “mastermind” of the attack. He was on the scene—recording videos of the gas attacks. He lived in Kolkata for a while—teaching kids for free. Jha too is an admirer of Bhagat Singh, Swami Vivekananda etc.
A panchayat protest: The panchayat in Jind is speaking up on behalf of one of their residents: the suspect Neelam Devi:
Adopting a three-point resolution at the panchayat, Haryana Sanyukt Kisan Morcha member Azad Palwa said Ms. Devi had raised her voice against unemployment, dictatorship, and the issues faced by farmers and small traders. Mr. Palwa said the method adopted by the youth may not be right, but the panchayat supported the issues raised by them.
They are seeking her immediate release.
The Gaza war: A quick roundup
The latest death toll: is 18,787.
One: The Biden administration is now pushing Israel to wrap up the ground invasion by the end of the month—and “switch to more precise tactics.” This would offer hope except Tel Aviv has never once heeded Washington’s “advice.” According to a new CNN investigation, nearly half of the strikes dropped unguided ‘dumb bombs’ in densely populated neighbourhoods—which is likely one reason for the soaring civilian toll. And that number is an US intelligence estimate, btw.
Two: The Biden Gaza policy is unpopular with the President’s own people. His own staffers held a vigil outside the White House to support a ceasefire. And the US Homeland Security staff have signed an open letter accusing their bosses of turning a “blind eye” to suffering in Gaza. Homeland Security—not exactly bleeding hearts.
Three: Desperate Gazans are dying of hunger—and raiding aid trucks. Greater part of the population has been squeezed into makeshift shelters on the Rafah border. Meanwhile, Israel killed 12 Palestinians on the West Bank. And in Gaza, footage obtained by Al Jazeera suggests IDF troops executed women and children sheltering at a school.
Four: Germany continues on a censorship spree—punishing anyone who criticises Israel. The latest person to be cancelled: journalist Masha Gessen—for a New Yorker essay comparing Gazans to ghettoised Jews during the Nazi era. The Heinrich Böll Foundation—associated with the Green Party—has taken back the prestigious Hannah Arendt prize for Political Thought. (Lithub)
Five: A reliable opinion poll conducted during the seven-day truce shows Hamas has become extremely popular among Gazans: 72% support the October 7 attacks; 72% are satisfied with its conduct of the war—and barely 11% believe a two-state solution is now possible. All of which suggests that the war has sown the seeds for bloody violence for yet another generation. (Reuters)
Six: Donald Trump finally shared his views on the war—and sounded oddly reasonable:
A list of banned & suspended things
Opposition MPs: Fourteen of them have been suspended from the remainder of the Winter session for “gross misconduct.” That’s how the Speaker described their repeated demands for a discussion on the security breach in the Lok Sabha (see: this Big Story). BTW: The number of MPs suspended has doubled under the NDA. You can see Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien being kicked out of the Rajya Sabha below. (The Hindu)
Sales of meat & eggs: The newly elected Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh—Mohan Yadav—has been on a banning spree. He has outlawed the open sale of meat and eggs. New rules also include strict limits and timings for loudspeakers at all religious and public places. (The Hindu)
Chinese students in Florida: Research labs in state universities will no longer be able hire Chinese students:
[T]he law prohibits institutions from taking money from or partnering with entities in China and six other “countries of concern.” The list of banned interactions includes offering anyone living in one of those countries a contract to do research. Students could be hired only if they are granted a waiver from the state’s top higher education body.
The reason: Governor Ron DeSantis—who is also a presidential candidate—is convinced that Chinese students will “steal intellectual property”. FYI: Florida already has a law that limits Chinese citizens from buying property in the state. (Science)
Identified: The cause for ‘morning sickness’
Over two-thirds of pregnant women experience persistent nausea and vomiting in their first trimester—which is misleadingly described as ‘morning sickness’. But in some cases, the condition can be more severe. It is called hyperemesis gravidarum—and can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration. Well, scientists have identified the culprit: the hormone, called GDF15:
The researchers found that the amount of hormone circulating in a woman’s blood during pregnancy — as well as her exposure to it before pregnancy — drives the severity of her symptoms… GDF15 is released by many tissues in response to stress, such as an infection. And its signal is highly specific: Receptors for the hormone are clustered in a part of the brain responsible for feeling sick and vomiting.
A related good read: We did a Big Story on pain and why women’s pain has been undertreated throughout history. Btw, it holds true of hyperemesis gravidarum, as well. (New York Times, paywall, BBC News)
In equally intriguing news: A Swedish study found that hypochondriacs—who are paranoid about serious illness—have a higher death rate. They die early due to both natural and unnatural causes, particularly suicide. One likely reason: chronic stress. (Associated Press)
Morning people are such neanderthals!
According to a new study, Neanderthal DNA may be the reason why some people are annoyingly comfortable waking up early—and going to bed early, as well. Scientists suspect that kind of body clock was an advantage when living up north:
We don’t think that being a morning person is actually what was beneficial. Rather, we think it is a signal of having a faster running clock that is better able to adapt to seasonal variation in light levels. At higher latitudes it is beneficial to have a clock that is more flexible and better able to change to match the variable seasonal light levels.
So when homo sapiens migrated from Africa to Eurasia around 70,000 years ago, they met Neanderthals—whose circadian rhythm was already well-adapted to cold temperatures. They made babies… and here we are today. Reminder: “humans alive today carry up to 4% of Neanderthal DNA, including genes linked to skin pigmentation, hair, fat and immunity.” (The Guardian)
The 95-year-old Mickey Mouse is copyright-free!
The earliest version of the iconic Disney toons Mickey and Minnie Mouse will become public domain in 2024. So expect filmmakers to take creative liberties. Maybe we’ll get a serial killer Minnie—a la poor Winnie the Pooh. Btw, his buddy Tigger is up for grabs next year—as are Charlie Chaplin’s film ‘Circus’, Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando’, and Eugene O’Neill’s play ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’. Disney insists it still has copyright over the modern versions of its toons. As you can see below, the early mice weren’t quite as cute. (Associated Press)
Time for the 2023 ‘Swiggy Wrap’
The food delivery company rolled out its annual report on what Indians ate this year. Yes, the number one dish is biryani for the eighth consecutive time—with people ordering 2.5 biryanis per second. The badshah of biryani: some guy in Hyderabad who ordered 1,633 biryanis this year—which comes to more than four a day. Another intriguing fact: the biggest pizza party during the World Cup finals was in Bhubaneswar—where someone ordered 207 pies! CNBCTV18 has lots of food delivery trivia.
Three things to see
One: Researchers in Greece have spotted a rare dolphin that has hook-shaped "thumbs" carved out of its flippers. It is likely a genetic abnormality due to inbreeding—but not an illness of any kind. The dolphin seems perfectly content in its pod. FYI: Dolphins actually have bones that resemble a hand inside their flippers—as you can see here. (Live Science)
Two: We’re not sure who needs to know this but Doritos just rolled out the Nacho Cheese Spirit—a liquor made of, umm, real Doritos chips:
Not only does this liquor taste like nacho cheese Doritos, it's actually made with the chips themselves. Empirical uses vacuum distillation to infuse the spirit with the cheesy flavour of real Doritos. You can also pick up notes of toasted corn, umami, and a hint of acidity in every sip.
Three: Fans of Kung Fu Panda rejoice! The trailer for the much awaited ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ just dropped. The journey of the Dragon Warrior Po is coming to an end—and he has to choose his successor. The brilliantly hilarious cast—Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie and Lucy Liu—are joined by three newcomers: Awkwafina, Ke Huy Quan and Viola Davis. The movie drops in theatres on March 8. (Variety)