Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Priyanka Gulati
A new world order is here
President Putin has suspended the last major nuclear treaty with the US—ending a long era of arms control. The New START treaty was signed in 2010 under the Obama administration. It caps the number of nuclear warheads, bombers and missiles each side can possess—and allows both to inspect each other’s facilities. But with the West supplying Ukraine with arms, Putin no longer finds the terms acceptable. He announced the suspension in an angry speech—where he railed, “And now they want to inspect our defense facilities? In the conditions of today’s confrontation, it sounds like sheer nonsense.”
Point to note: The foreign ministry immediately clarified that Moscow will still honour the limits imposed by the treaty. But experts say the world may be regressing back to a global nuclear arms race:
[W]hen the treaty expires in a bit more than 1,000 days, [the US President] may face a new world that will look, at first glance, similar to the one of a half-century ago, when arms races were in full swing and nations could field as many nuclear weapons as they wanted… “With Russia breaking treaties, China building up, North Korea testing missiles and Iran now close to weapons-grade uranium, it is a bad period for nuclear stability and restraint,” said [anti-nuclear expert] Jon Wolfsthal.
Need more proof? A new study polled citizens in 15 nations on the Ukraine war—including nine EU states, the US, China, Russia, India and Turkey. The results were unsurprising and sharply divided—with India, China and Turkey taking a far kinder view of the Russian invasion. But they also reveal the waning influence of the West:
…Russia’s aggression may be a historic turning point marking the emergence of a “post-western” world order. “The paradox of the Ukraine war is that the west is both more united, and less influential in the world, than ever before,” said [co–author] Mark Leonard.
The Guardian has more on the poll—and its significance.
Mukesh-bhai’s big IPL treat
Viacom18 Media Pvt.—Reliance’s joint venture with Paramount Global—bought the IPL streaming rights for a staggering $2.7 billion. And now the company plans to offer it for free—allowing “users to watch any number of games for any length time on any internet-connected device.” The reason for this generosity: Viacom18 expects the league matches to bring in an audience in excess of 550 million—which is sure to drive yet another nail into the Disney+ Hotstar coffin. Disney’s global streaming platform is already haemorrhaging subscribers—after losing the IPL bidding war to Reliance. (Mint)
In other IPL news: English test captain Ben Stokes announced that he will be leaving the tournament early—for a test match against Ireland and to prep for the Ashes. This is likely a rude surprise for the Chennai Super Kings who paid Rs 162 million for Stokes at the IPL auction. Btw, Stokes’ decision might boost BCCI’s efforts to rest India’s star players during the tournament—so they’re ready for the T20 World Cup. (Times of India)
In other sports-related drama: Tennis legend Bjorn Borg walked out of a ceremony to honour him in Bangalore—because chief minister Basavaraj Bommai failed to show up on time. He arrived at the event almost two hours late—at which point Borg had already left to watch his son’s match at the Bengaluru Tennis Open. (BBC News)
Seattle bans caste discrimination
Seattle became the first US city to explicitly add caste as a category protected by its anti-discrimination laws. The legislation was crafted by Kshama Sawant, the only Indian American on the city council. While supporters have hailed it as a landmark legislation, Hindu American groups declared “advances nothing but bigotry against the South Asian community by using racist, colonial tropes of ‘caste’.” Watch joyous supporters yell ‘Jai Bhim’ at the historic moment below. We highly recommend reading our Big Story on caste discrimination in the United States—for much needed context on this story. (Al Jazeera)
AI chatbot wars, continued
The Chinese giant Baidu announced that it will integrate its chatbot—named Ernie Bot!—into its search tools in March. But that’s just the first step:
Baidu CEO Robin Li said that Ernie Bot will be integrated across all of Baidu’s operations, including its search and cloud services. Baidu also plans to integrate Ernie into its smart car operating system and smart speaker.
Associated Press has more on Baidu’s big plans.
Meanwhile, over at Microsoft: The company wrapped the beta phase of its chatbot-driven search engine Bing—and is bringing it to your mobile phone. It will soon be part of its Bing smartphone app—as well the Edge internet browser. Bing’s AI bot ChatGPT struggled when tested by users—often “insulting them, professing its love or voicing other disturbing or bizarre language.” Apparently, it has now been taught to politely decline to answer questions that may get it into trouble: "I'm sorry but I prefer not to continue this conversation.” Hey, even chatbots have boundaries! (The Hindu)
Are South Koreans going ‘extinct’?
A recent study predicted that by 2750 Koreans will go extinct if current low birth rates do not improve—which is a bit alarmist but there is good reason to panic. South Korea broke its own record to register the world’s lowest fertility rate in 2022. A South Korean woman is now expected to have 0.78 babies during her reproductive years. The rate required to keep population numbers steady: 2.1. FYI: fertility rate is different from birth rate—which measures the number of babies per 1,000 people. As of 2021, South Korea’s birth rate was 5.1. The numbers continue to drop despite the government spending $210 billion over the past 16 years to encourage citizens to make more babies. Al Jazeera explains why in its analysis of the fertility crisis.
Vivek Ramaswamy is running for president
The Indian American and biotech multimillionaire has thrown his hat into the race for the Republican party nomination. He will take on Donald Trump, fellow desi Nikki Haley—and likely many other strong contenders, including Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Since splainer is always ahead of the curve (haha), we already did a Big Story on Ramaswamy—filled with colourful details of his childhood and insanely successful career. (CNN)
A rare Beatles-Rolling Stones union
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will team up with the Stones for a new album—the first for the group since 2005. The two legendary British groups have rarely collaborated—except for some minor appearances on some songs. We don’t know exactly how McCartney and Starr will feature in the new tracks—or if they will sing together on the same song. We personally can’t wait for the music video—with Paul and Mick—the yin and yang of English pop rocking together. (The Variety)
Also staging a comeback: The Backstreet Boys who will return to India in May after 13 years. The concert at Jio World Gardens, Mumbai, will be on May 4—and on May 5, they play at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. This is part of their ‘DNA World Tour’. (The Hindu)
Two things to see
One: Severely low tides have dried out Venice’s famous canals—making it impossible for gondolas, water taxis and ambulances to navigate the city. Water levels are 50 cm below average—hitting lows that were last seen 15 years ago. You can see the dismal state of affairs below. (Reuters)
Two: Archeologists in China have unearthed the world’s oldest-known toilet flush—which is at least 2,400 years old. It was likely a “luxury object” located inside a castle. Why this find matters:
Prior to the newly announced discovery, the invention of the first flush toilet was widely credited to English courtier John Harington, who supposedly installed one for Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, though 4,000-year-old drainage systems that might have been connected with toilets have been found in northwest India.
While it doesn’t look like much, this potty has struck a great blow against West-centric history:) (CNN)