February 10, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Weaponizing Cows

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi created a National Cow Commission late last year, he aimed to educate his constituents and protect the animals Hindus view as sacred, News 18 India explained.

Then Modi announced that the commission would hold a new nationwide examination online on Feb. 25 to promote cow knowledge. Among the material on the exam was a theory that posited how killing cows can cause earthquakes, reported Al Jazeera.

Indian-bred cows “have some unique features like a hump on their back that has the special power to absorb the sun’s energy with the help of the ‘solar pulse’ situated on their humps,” stated the commission’s exam study guide, which officials took offline but was still available on Scribd.

Hindu nationalists have claimed that ancient Hindu texts prove that Indians invented airplanes, stem cell technology, the Internet and other modern-day inventions thousands of years ago, Science magazine wrote.

These ideas are not kept solely within the religious realm. The commission and exam, for example, reflect a tightening of rules related to cows in a religious and ethnically diverse and technically secular country where Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has consolidated power.

Slaughtering cows and eating beef is becoming increasingly illegal throughout India. The southern state of Karnataka recently permitted police to search and arrest anyone without a warrant if they allegedly slaughter cows, for instance. Those convicted of killing a cow illegally face seven years in jail and about $14,000 in fines. Meanwhile, instances of vigilantes attacking suspected cow killers are also on the rise.

Modi and local education officials have pushed to change school curricula to downplay India’s secular roots, which reflect the country’s founders’ goals to promote peace between the majority Hindus and the sizable Muslim minority and other religious communities, reported Coda Story.

They have also sought to discredit Romila Thapar, an 89-year-old historian who is considered the world’s preeminent scholar on ancient India, the Washington Post wrote. For example, administrators at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, where Thapar taught for decades, asked for her CV to determine whether she deserved to be considered a professor emeritus.

Such moves reflect the views of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization tied to Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As the BBC explained, the BJP, in power since 2014, has become Indian’s dominant political force as the once-formidable Congress Party has grown “adrift and enfeebled” and other political groups are weak.

Some point to an adage to explain trends in India these days: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But others say that political imbalance and power vacuums can also become intellectual vacuums.

WANT TO KNOW

POLAND

Historicity’s Folly

A Polish court ruled against two renowned Holocaust researchers Tuesday in a case that could set an important precedent regarding independent research of the Holocaust in Poland, the Associated Press reported.

Judges ordered scholars Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski to formally apologize to 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska, who said her deceased uncle had been slandered in a historical work.

Leszczynska’s uncle, Edward Malinowski, was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, the family said. The researchers briefly mentioned Malinowski in their work, writing that he had robbed a Jewish woman during World War II and was complicit in the death of 18 Jews in 1943, when Poland was under German occupation. He was acquitted by a court in Poland in 1950 of involvement in the deaths.

The case has been monitored closely internationally as it comes amid a broader attempt by Poland’s conservative government to whitewash Polish involvement in the Holocaust, say critics: In 2018, the ruling Law and Justice Party tried to criminalize falsely blaming Poland for Holocaust crimes but squashed the law after it sparked a diplomatic dispute with Israel.

Engelking and Grabowski criticized the ruling as an attempt to discredit their overall findings and discourage other researchers investigating Polish involvement in the Holocaust. Engelking said she plans to appeal the ruling.

Following Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1939, Poland’s population was subjected to mass murder and slave labor. About three million Jews and more than two million Christian Poles were murdered.

Poland’s conservative authorities don’t deny that some Poles harmed Jews but they believe the focus on Polish wrongdoing obscures the fact that most of these killings occurred under German orders and terror even as some pogroms continued after Nazi Germany’s defeat, historians say.

COLOMBIA

A Shining Example

Colombia plans to give protected status to almost one million undocumented Venezuelan migrants living in the country, bucking the trend by other nations to expel or marginalize the refugees, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said the status will last for 10 years and will allow Venezuelan migrants to create a ‘normal’ life in the country: It allows them to work and access health care services.

The move was praised by United Nations officials as “historic,” and Duque added that the decision will encourage “other countries (to) follow our example.”

The announcement comes days after Columbia’s conservative government reversed a policy that excluded undocumented Venezuelan migrants from its upcoming coronavirus vaccination campaign.

Millions of people have fled Venezuela in recent years to escape the poverty and political instability that has led to shortages of essentials such as food, medicine and fuel. About 1.7 million Venezuelans are thought to have arrived in Colombia but more than half exist without legal status.

The UN has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation for Venezuelans living around Latin America and left them vulnerable to dangerous exploitation by traffickers.

SAUDI ARABIA

The Next Steps

Saudi Arabia commuted the death sentences of three men who were arrested for taking part in anti-government protests when they were minors, a move seen as an attempt to improve the country’s image and human rights record, Al Jazeera reported.

The kingdom’s Human Rights Commission said this week that the three individuals were re-sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment” with time served considered. Their release date is set for 2022.

The move follows the nation’s decision in April to end the use of the death penalty for those who committed infractions – except for charges of terrorism – as minors.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to reform the country’s conservative image since he was appointed the kingdom’s heir presumptive to the throne in 2017.

On Monday, he unveiled new judicial reforms that put the country on track toward establishing a codified system of law: This would include four draft laws regarding personal status, civil transactions, penal code discretionary sentences and rules of evidence, according to United Press International.

The crown prince has been trying to portray himself as a reformer but his reputation has been tarnished by his crackdown on dissent and his alleged involvement in the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.

DISCOVERIES

Winging It

The butterfly’s flamboyant wings have confused scientists for decades.

The mesmerizing insects have unusually large wings relative to their body size, which are aerodynamically inefficient for flight.

Researchers, however, have discovered that these big wings have evolved to help butterflies flee dangerous predators, according to the BBC.

In the 1970s, scientists theorized that the oversized wings allowed the butterfly to clap them together on the upstroke to power their take off.

Recently, a research team tested this theory in a new study using a wind tunnel and high-speed cameras to record the insect’s unusual flight pattern. They confirmed that the arthropod did indeed clap its wings on the upstroke but in a very sophisticated manner.

“We think that sort of behavior is going to improve the clap because it forms an air pocket between the wings which, when the wings collapse, makes the jet even stronger and more efficient,” explained co-author Per Henningsson.

In another experiment, Henningsson’s team created two pairs of mechanical clappers – one rigid and one flexible – to test how they performed in the wind tunnel.

Their findings showed that the flexible wings – more similar to the butterflies’ – dramatically increased the efficiency of the clap by 28 percent, which is very high for an airborne insect.

They suggested that the unique wings and flight patterns gave butterflies an evolutionary advantage in matters of life and death.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 27,192,821 (+0.35%)
  2. India: 10,858,371 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 9,599,565 (+0.79%)
  4. UK: 3,983,756 (+0.31%)
  5. Russia: 3,968,228 (+0.36%)
  6. France: 3,419,210 (+0.56%)
  7. Spain: 3,005,487 (+0.55%)
  8. Italy: 2,655,319 (+0.40%)
  9. Turkey: 2,548,195 (+0.34%)
  10. Germany: 2,302,051 (+0.25%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours