Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
A new splainer series on YouTube!!
We have launched exclusive video explainers on YouTube, hosted by our editor Lakshmi Chaudhry.
Our first video looks at the seemingly never ending war in Gaza. What is the endgame for Israel? What will postwar Gaza look like? The answers to the present lie in the past—dating all the way back to the Ottoman empire. Also: a map of a ‘new’ Middle East waved around by Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN.
Check it out below. And stay tuned for more such explainers on the big fat election coming soon. So be sure to hit the notification button.
PS: this is also a great way to share splainer with your friends and family—especially anyone who is kinda text-averse :)
Moon lander debacle for NASA
The context: On Monday, a company called Astrobotic Technology launched the Vulcan Centaur rocket in Florida. It was carrying a moon lander called Peregrine—which would conduct experiments on the Moon’s surface. It was the first lunar mission backed by NASA—but executed by a private company. It’s part of the agency’s new strategy to cut costs. NASA paid Astrobiotic $108 million to execute five such missions.
What happened now: The rocket successfully launched Peregrine—which was headed for the Moon. But the lander ran into trouble within hours:
The lunar lander… was unable to place itself in a position facing the sun, likely because of a propulsion issue, according to Astrobotic. That wayward orientation prevented the spacecraft from charging its batteries.
The likely culprit is a fuel leak in the propulsion system. It is unlikely that Peregrine will be able to complete its mission. Point to note: So far three private companies have tried to land on the moon’s surface—and all three have failed. All of which calls NASA’s strategy into question. (New York Times)
A key related story: The lander was carrying payloads of other private companies—notably Celestis and Elysium Space—which memorialises people by sending some of their ashes or DNA into space. These included remains of Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry—and hair samples of three US presidents. This greatly upset Native American leaders:
The moon holds a sacred place in Navajo cosmology. The suggestion of transforming it into a resting place for human remains is deeply disturbing and unacceptable to our people and many other tribal nations.
At least that issue has been resolved for now. (CNN)
In related news: NASA has postponed its plan to send a crewed mission to the Moon to 2025—thanks to all these snafus. CNBC has that story.
A worrying move in Manipur
The context: The recent violence in the state was a result of a bitter clash between the dominant Meitei community and the minority Kuki tribes. The trigger was a move to give the Meitei tribal status—which will give them the same protections as the Kuki. Only members of the tribal community can buy land in the hills. If the Meiteis were granted tribal status, they could expand into the hills—hence the enraged backlash from the Kukis. More context in this Big Story.
What happened now: The union government in its infinite wisdom has asked the state of Manipur to look at removing Kukis from the list of Scheduled Tribes. Why this is unprecedented: “This is the first time Meiteis have staked a claim to tribal status by demanding the exclusion of Kuki and Zomi tribes from the list. The reasoning is that they are not indigenous to the land.” Any move to even consider that option is guaranteed to fuel even more violence in the state. But that doesn’t seem to faze CM Biren Singh—who told reporters the inclusion of Kukis on the list has to be “examined” by a committee. The Hindu has lots more.
‘Loose bolts’ on Boeing 737 Max planes
The context: A part of an Alaskan Airlines plane, a Boeing 737 Max, blew out mid-flight on Friday, leaving a massive hole in the hull. It has resuscitated old fears about Boeing’s 737 Max model—which was implicated in two horrific airline crashes back in 2018/2019. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in the US—and ordered a safety inspection. (More details in this Big Story.)
What happened now: These inspections have revealed more worrying problems. Both United Airlines and Alaska have found “loose bolts”—used to secure so-called ‘door plugs’. Why this matters: This is the bit that blew off on Friday:
The panel that came off the plane, called a door plug, is placed where an emergency exit door would be if a jet had more seats. [Aviation official] Ms. Homendy said on Monday that four bolts, known as stop bolts, should have prevented the door plug from moving upward and coming off the plane.
Aviation officials say these bolts were never found on the Alaskan Airline door plug recovered on Monday: ““We don’t know if they were there or if, again, they came out during the violent explosive decompression event.” Or maybe they were just “loose.”
Also this: Alaska was warned three times about problems with cabin pressure on the plane. The airline didn’t do anything about it other than deciding not to use the Max 9 for long-haul flights over water. (New York Times)
Meanwhile, in India: Airlines conducted a similar safety inspection—but of 737 Max 8 planes since we don’t have Max 9s. One of them found a “washer” in the rudder control system missing—but it doesn’t seem to be serious. (The Hindu)
Moving on to IndiGo: The “budget” airline will now charge an extra Rs 2,000 for window or aisle seats in the front row. It will be an extra Rs 1,500 for a middle seat. Happily the extra charge drops to Rs 400 for the second and third row. (NDTV)
France PM makes history
Thirty-four-year-old Gabriel Attal is the youngest prime minister of France—and the first who is openly gay. He replaces 62-year-old Élisabeth Borne—who was forced out by President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the national elections this year. According to a recent survey, he is France’s most popular politician—but with an approval rating of just 40%. Also this: Attal is widely considered to be Macron’s protégé—being groomed to replace him in the next presidential election—which Macron cannot contest due to term limits. As you can see in the news report below, he’s also pretty easy on the eye:) (New York Times)
Also doing well: Former Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal—who was pushed out by Elon Musk—after months of public hazing. He has supposedly raised about $30 million for an AI startup—but the details are thin. Quartz reports on the rumours.
A sex abuse shocker in Haryana
Five hundred female students at the Chaudhary Devi Lal University in Sirsa have written a letter to PM Modi—accusing one of their professors of sexual assault:
The letter accuses the professor of "filthy and obscene acts". According to the letter, he calls girls to his office, takes them to a bathroom, and "touches private parts, and (does) obscene things with us". The girls said that when they protested, they were threatened with "very bad" consequences.
When the girls protested, they were threatened with expulsion because he is a “person of immense political influence." The Vice Chancellor also offered them higher marks in exams to shut them up. Point to note: This is the fourth such letter penned by the students—who was exonerated by an internal probe. (NDTV)
In other horror stories: A Bangalore-based female CEO of an AI startup called The Mindful AI Lab is accused of killing her four-year-old son—while on vacation in Goa. Indian Express has all the gory details—and a profile of the accused.
South Korea bans dog meat
Lawmakers passed a historic bill that will phase out the farming, slaughter and sale of dog meat by 2027. Penalties include three years in jail or a fine of up to $22,800 (30 million won). This marks the end of a time-honoured cultural tradition:
For centuries, dog meat was an exalted food in Korean cuisine, with locals believing that consuming it would improve one’s stamina and cool down the body—making it a prized dish during the summer months.
But TBH, only about 5% of Koreans had eaten dog meat in 2023. FYI: Mizoram and Nagaland banned dog meat only in 2020. It continues to be available in other Asian countries such as Vietnam and China. (Washington Post, paywall, Associated Press)
‘12th Fail’ soars to #1
The Vidhu Vinod Chopra flick is now the highest rated Indian film on IMDb—where it’s scored 9.2 out 10. That’s a higher score than ‘Oppenheimer’ (8.4), ‘Barbie’ (6.9), ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (7.8) and ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ (8.6). The film didn’t rock the box office when released in October—but has become a sleeper hit after its recent release on Disney+ Hotstar. The others in the top five Indian films: ‘Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama’, ‘Nayakan’, ‘Gol Maal’ and ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ (The Telegraph)
A ‘Ram Mandir’ directive in Indore
The city’s mayor has ordered all shopkeepers to install a replica of the temple—to mark its inauguration on January 22. He said:
No one should have any objection in doing so and if people do not cooperate in this Rammay Utsav without any reason, then the people of Indore know how to respond to them. This is the work of Ram ji. It is the work for Ramrajya. I don’t think anyone should have any objection to this.
Four things to see
One: Here’s yet more gloomy evidence of global warming. Gulmarg—the fabled winter wonderland—has barely received any snow this year. The ski slopes are brown and bone-dry. Rainfall in Kashmir Valley has nosedived by 79% in December—compared to the average. The Hindu has more on what this means for skiers. The image below offers a stark comparison between January in 2023 and 2024.
Two: Ziya Us Salam delivered a moving speech at the launch of his new book ‘Being Muslim in Hindu India’—it is an important reminder of a very different reality experienced by many Indians. The clip below is a must-watch.
Three: In equally gloomy news, hundreds of Italians attended a rally in Rome—and “raised their right arm in a straight-armed salute that harks back to the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.” The gesture is banned in Italy—but rightwing extremism is making a comeback thanks to its far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. (See: This Big Story) (Associated Press)