Researched by: Rachel John, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Israel-Palestine War: The latest update
The death toll: The war marked its 100th day on Sunday—and over 24,000 people have been killed in Gaza so far. According to UN estimates, 85% of the population or 1.9 million people have been displaced and more than 90% face acute food shortages. (Al Jazeera)
Israel’s arguments at ICJ: A day after South Africa presented its case at the UN’s International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide (explained here), Tel Aviv offered its counter submission on Friday. It accused South Africa of distorting and decontextualising its military action in Gaza. Israel’s arguments were primarily hinged on their right to self-defence after the October 7 attacks by Hamas.
But, but, but: In 2003, the ICJ had ruled that an occupying force cannot argue self-defence. While Israel does not consider itself an occupying force in Gaza—the UN and other human rights organisations reject this claim. What’s next: The ICJ said it will announce its decision soon but did not give any specific date. Experts note that a statement can be expected in the next few weeks. Al Jazeera and Indian Express have more on Israel’s arguments.
Quote to note: Two days after the hearing, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.”
Another White House controversy: In the midst of all this, there is a new controversy floating around in the White House. On Friday, Huff Post published a news report in which a top White House official Brett McGurk allegedly pitched a plan suggesting a 90-day reconstruction of Gaza after the war ends:
McGurk’s plan would use the incentive of aid for reconstruction from Saudi Arabia and possibly other wealthy Gulf countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to pressure both the Palestinians and the Israelis, per the officials. In this vision, Palestinian leaders would agree to a new government for both Gaza and the occupied West Bank and to ratchet down their criticisms of Israel, while Israel would accept limited influence in Gaza.
Soon after the news was published the Biden administration said the story was fabricated and HuffPost journalist Akbar Shahid Ahmed made up the quotes. This led to backlash on social media and several American journalists came forward to defend Ahmed. The Wrap has that story.
Rahul Gandhi begins Bharat Jodo Yatra 2.0
Rahul Gandhi began the second edition of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, now called the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, on Sunday. He is set to travel to 6,700 km—covering 110 districts, 100 Lok Sabha seats and 337 assembly segments—in the 67-day tour. His first stop was Imphal, the capital city of Manipur that has been reeling under ethnic violence since May last year—and the divisions were still visible:
The yatra had started and passed through the valley’s Thoubal and Imphal districts on the first day, where the larger audience and participants were Meiteis. On the second day, the yatra was through Kuki inhibited hill districts, where many community members returned to safety from the valley after the violence erupted. The compartmentalisation of society was highlighted by the fact that there were no Kukis in the first day’s yatra and no Meiteis in the second day.
Point to note: Gandhi’s yatra is the most significant political campaign in Manipur since the violence began last year. His next stop will be Nagaland. (Economic Times)
Not attending the yatra: Milind Deora who quit the Congress on Sunday—ending his family’s 55-year association with the party. He joined the Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena. Indian Express has more on why he didn’t join the BJP.
Canada’s big move against international students
The context: For the past year, Canada has been ramping up its immigration efforts—in an attempt to woo skilled workers to the country. This is because the Canadian economy depends on immigration and these workers are needed to support an increasingly ageing population. But the country is reeling under a housing affordability crisis, which is being blamed on the influx of migrants and international students. They allegedly drove up the demand for houses.
What happened now: In an attempt to tackle the housing crisis, the Canadian government has indicated that it could place a cap on its intake of international students. Canadian Immigration Minister Marc Miller made the announcement in an interview—but it is not clear what the number will be set at.
Mr Miller cautioned that reducing the number of students admitted to Canada is not a "one-size-fits-all" solution to the housing crisis, which he noted is also driven by short supply, affordability challenges and rising interest rates.
"It isn't immigrants that raised interest rates, but volume is volume and it's something that we need to look at," he said in an interview with CBC, Canada's public broadcaster.
Why this matters: There were more than 800,000 foreign students with active visas in 2022, compared to 275,000 in 2012. This will affect Indian students as well who account for 41% of the international students in Canada. FYI: Canada will go to elections next year, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not proven to be the most popular. (Reuters)
Delhi’s airport nightmare
North India has been hit with one of its worst fog seasons since 2019 and this has severely handicapped the aviation sector. Delhi is one of the worst-hit, with visibility reducing to zero and 50 metres for 10 hours on Sunday. As a result, nearly 600 flights were delayed, 76 were cancelled and ten were diverted to Jaipur. Today, 30 departures were delayed and 13 were cancelled. The delays have left hundreds of passengers stranded at the Delhi airport for hours.
Point to note: Delhi airport has four runways, but only one of them is functioning at the moment. This runway is also not CAT IIIB-compliant, which provides precision instrument landing—making the delays worse. The government has now asked Delhi Airport to make the CAT III compliant runway operational as soon as possible.
The DGCA has also issued SOPs for airlines to safeguard travellers from flight disruptions. Also handy: This thread from Hindustan Times on the rights of passengers affected by delays and cancellations of flights. (The Hindu)
Also, going viral: One of the flights delayed in this fog was an IndiGo aircraft bound for Goa. The passengers were forced to wait inside the craft on the tarmac for several hours. This angered one passenger—identified as Sahil Kataria—so much that he assaulted one of the captains of the flight while he was making an announcement. Kataria was arrested and then later released on bail. Watch the video of the appalling incident below. (NDTV)
Feeling the chill: Large parts of the US are witnessing extreme cold temperatures—as low as -6.7°C—because of winter storms that have brought Arctic air to the country. (Associated Press)
WEF kicks off in Davos
The context: The World Economic Forum is a prestigious and glitzy gathering of the rich and powerful in the Swiss town Davos. It’s basically a gargantuan networking event—with an A-plus list of attendees. While there are plenty of panels and speeches, the real action takes place behind closed doors—which is where corporate leaders and politicians cut big deals.
What happened now: This year’s edition of WEF kicked off on Monday night—with the theme ‘Rebuilding Trust’. The event is overshadowed by growing concerns that geopolitical flashpoints in Taiwan, Ukraine and Gaza could adversely affect the global economy. The other big topic of interest will be AI—with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman also in attendance.
Other people expected to attend: French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. Argentina’s newly-elected president Javier Milei will also attend the summit. The Indian delegation includes three Union ministers—Smriti Irani, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Hardeep Singh Puri—as well as three chief ministers—Maharashtra's Eknath Shinde, Telangana's Revanth Reddy and Karnataka's Siddaramaiah.
The rich are getting richer…
While the wealthy descended for the glitzy event in Davos, an Oxfam report revealed that the world’s five richest people—all men btw—more than doubled their fortunes since 2020. Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg saw their net worth increase from $405 billion to $869 billion since the beginning of this decade.
What’s worse: Over the same period of time, five billion people have become poorer. Also, there is also significant gender disparity in wealth accumulation:
Globally, men own about $105 trillion more wealth than women which represents a difference in wealth equivalent to more than four times the size of the entire U.S. economy. In 2019, according to Oxfam, women earned just 51 cents for every $1 in labour income earned by men.
In related news: Not all millionaires are thinking about doubling their wealth. Marlene Engelhorn, a 31-year-old Austrian woman, inherited millions from her grandmother in 2022—and now wants to give it back to society:
She has sent invitations to 10,000 randomly selected people in Austria, asking them to complete a survey. Out of those who complete it, she will narrow the pile down to 50 people of different backgrounds that she feels represent the Austrian population.
They will become Guter Rat – which translates to Good Council – and will help her develop ideas for how to distribute $25 million euros – more than $27 million U.S. dollars.
CBS News has more on this fascinating tale.
An alarming survey on AI
A large-scale survey of artificial intelligence researchers revealed that almost 58% of them believed there is a 5% chance that AI will lead to human extinction or some other extremely bad outcome. There were also some other grave predictions:
The possible development of AI that can outperform humans on every task was given 50% odds of happening by 2047, whereas the possibility of all human jobs becoming fully automatable was given 50% odds to occur by 2116. These estimates are 13 years and 48 years earlier than those given in last year’s survey.
While the predictions of AI experts cannot be taken as objective truth, it is significant that they fear such extreme consequences—especially since they are the most familiar with the technology: “It’s an important signal that most AI researchers don’t find it strongly implausible that advanced AI destroys humanity…this general belief in a non-minuscule risk is much more telling than the exact percentage risk.”
A related study from the IMF revealed that AI is likely to affect 40% jobs across the world. However, jobs in India may not be as impacted with 26% of Indian workers employed in high-exposure jobs. Economic Times has that story. (Gizmodo)
Decoded: The science behind romantic love
Despite waxing eloquent about it in almost every medium, love is actually a little-understood concept that has not been the subject of much scientific research. This is because scientists have been “embarrassed” to pursue it, believing that they will not be taken seriously. This is changing in Australia—which is spearheading research into romantic love.
Researchers at the Australian National University have now found what happens in our brains when people fall in love. The study states that there is a link between romantic love and a part of the brain called the brain activation system (BAS), which directs human behaviour. This is what prompts partners to put each other on a pedestal. While it was known that the hormone oxytocin plays a major role in romantic love, the exact brain processes were still a mystery:
When a person is in love, researchers say the brain reacts differently, making the loved one the centre of our lives… The new study suggests this is due to oxytocin combining with another brain chemical dopamine released during romantic love. “Essentially, love activates pathways in the brain associated with positive feeling,” study co-author Phil Kavanagh says.
An important breakthrough for tinnitus
Tinnitus is a condition when you experience perpetual ringing or other noises in one or both of your ears that are not caused by external sources. It is often a debilitating condition and there is no cure for it. A team of international researchers have created an app called MindEar that provides cognitive behavioural therapy to those affected by tinnitus:
While there is no cure, there are a number of ways of managing the condition, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This helps people to reduce their emotional connection to the sound, allowing the brain to learn to tune it out. However, CBT can be expensive and difficult for people to access.
MindEar provides therapy through a chatbot and also has the option of sound therapy. (The Guardian)
Record-breaking music streams in 2023
According to Luminate’s Year-End Report, a record-breaking 4.1 trillion music streams were registered by the global music industry in 2023—an increase of 34% from 2022. Both video and audio music streams collectively crossed a whopping 7.1 trillion last year. The US streamed the most music and ranked #1 on the list followed by India, which also had the most new net streams. The most popular artist in the US was, unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift who accounted for “nearly 1.8% of music consumption and one out of every 78 audio streams.”
Also breaking records: Namma Bangalore. The city now has the highest number of registered private cars in the country with 231,000 cars. It toppled Delhi from its top position, which has 207,000 cars at last count. Well, considering the traffic, we’re not entirely surprised with this fact. (Economic Times)
Three things to see
One: Baba Ramdev is in trouble! An undated video of his surfaced online, where he could be heard making remarks against the OBCs:
Mera mool gotra hai brahma gotra. Aur main hu agnihotri. Agnihotri brahmin hu main. Bole 'Babaji aap toh OBC ho'. OBC waale aisi taisi karaye. Faltu." (My original gotra is Brahma gotra. I am an Agnihotri Brahman. People say baba-ji is OBC which is ridiculous.)
The video went viral and people even began demanding a boycott on Patanjali items. When asked about the video, Ramdev said: “I have never said anything as such. I was talking about [AIMIM chief Asaduddin] Owaisi. He and his predecessors have always had anti-national thinking. I don’t take him seriously.” That’s convenient. (India Today)
Two: AI and art have a tenuous relationship—and it came to the fore once again with a controversy surrounding Keith Haring’s painting titled ‘Unfinished Painting’. Haring was a prominent American artist who was known for his political artwork. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1990—but just a year before that he painted ‘Unfinished Painting’, which was deliberately left unfinished “as a commentary on the AIDS crisis.” You can see it below:
However, a social media user made a new “completed” version of the painting using AI—which has angered fans of Haring’s work. They claim it is disrespectful to the artist and the cause he championed. You can judge for yourself with the AI version below. (Smithsonian Magazine)
Three: A group of tourists spotted a rare white Omura whale off the coast of Phuket in Thailand. Why it is special: “The first living Omura’s whale was seen in the wild in 2015, but this is the first known sighting of what could be an albino of the species off Thailand.” Watch the clip below. (BBC News)
Also spotted: A Tibetan brown bear—for the first time in India. It is one of the rarest subspecies of bears in the world and is rarely ever sighted in the wild. Honestly, we can’t get over the floof! (NDTV)