Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Padmaavat — A new film opened this week in India. Padmaavat, based on a 16th century epic poem, is the story of a fictional Hindu queen and legendary Muslim king. Spoiler alert: He kills her husband in battle, and she protects her honor by throwing herself on his funeral pyre.


Rumors that an earlier version of the film included a dream sequence of romance between the Muslim king and Hindu queen, denied by the filmmaker, have provoked death threats against the cast and bomb threats against theaters showing the film. Courts have blocked attempts to ban the film. Riots followed the opening, and a group of 300 women has petitioned the Indian government for the right to kill themselves to protest the film. As we’ve noted before, the rise in Hindu extremism in India is a disturbing trend that deserves close watch in 2018.

Brazil Beyond Lula — On Wednesday, an appeals court in Brazil upheld a corruption conviction against former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula, that bars him from running for president again this year. This court won’t have the last word on that, but the smart people we talk to think Lula probably wouldn’t win even if he were allowed on the ballot, whatever this week’s polls say. Brazilians will likely vote for change this October. We’ll be watching in coming weeks to see what form that change might take.

What We're Ignoring

Iran’s Austerity — Iran’s parliament will soon approve a request from President Hassan Rouhani for a more-than-40 percent cut in the popular cash transfer program that triggered localized unrest earlier this month. This is part of Rouhani’s ongoing effort to get Iran’s financial house in order. Expect more protests around the country, some of them colorful, but public anger in unlikely to have any bigger impact on government this time around.

Saudi Arabia’s Camel Beauty Contest — At the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a traditional dromedary beauty contest now held outside Riyadh, camels are judged by, among other things, the size and shape of their lips, cheeks, heads, and knees. For many years, your Signal team has condemned the objectification of camel beauty. But no more protests. We’re ignoring this contest going forward because a dozen camels were disqualified this year for using Botox. Think this story is fake? It isn’t. Ask the Italian Postal Police.

The Academy Awards — Speaking of rigged contests, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced nominees for this year’s Oscars on Tuesday, and for the 90th year in a row, not a single member of your Signal team was nominated. Wish I could say we’re surprised.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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