About: World Inthavaaram is news that made the week. ‘Inthavaaram’, in Tamil, means ‘this week’. I began in week 41 of the year 2020 and have been writing and publishing every week with a unique calligraphy doodle -in my own hand -to match the stories. I collect news from all over the world and present it in a fresh, light-hearted manner.
This week is about a never-ending war, lingering Covid19, a path-breaking medical invention, politics of economics, bidding bye to a Pope and a legendary football player.
New cold winds are blowing in January of the brand New Year. The sun itself has become awfully shy and wears a blazer to keep itself warm, I guess. But dear Earth is getting warmer by the degree. In the United Kingdom (UK), for example, last year 2022, was the warmest year on record. The average annual temperature was more than 10 degrees Centigrade for the first time. Is this a hot sign of things to come?
Kick-starting the New Year, the diaries, calendars, and resolutions are singing all over the world. I started a new Bullet Journal-doing it fo the past four years. In every month I allocate a page titled ‘World’ to record the ‘news temperatures and flare-up’s’ of the year. Some events keep hugging the pages, hogging the headlines seemingly forever.
Ukraine is fighting back like hell in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War. This week a Ukrainian missile strike killed 89 Russian troops – the actual death toll is still being assessed: we may never know. The attack was one of the deadliest by Ukrainian forces since the war began last year. It involved four rockets fired from United States-made launchers targeting barracks in the Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region. And it is a massive blow to Russia’s ill thought-out, meaningless invasion of Ukraine. Russia surely finds itself at a stage where it does not know how to exit honourably.Late in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire for 36 hours on 6th and 7th January along the entire line of contact between the armies in Ukraine. This is to allow Russian Orthodox Christians to attend Christmas services, considering the appeal of Patriarch Kirill, Bishop and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Perhaps, he should appeal and pray for the war to stop?
Covid 19 has a stranglehold on China and is tearing through the country, with most of its people never exposed to the coronavirus and the elderly not fully vaccinated. While the coronavirus Omicron variant causes mild symptoms in most people, a large number of Chinese are still vulnerable to severe illness. The country’s weak health-care system is already under huge pressure.
The always tight-lipped and walled China says only 13 people have died from Covid19 so far in December. The real toll is undoubtedly much higher. China only counts as Covid19 deaths those who die from respiratory failure or pneumonia. But the virus often causes death by damaging other organs-other kinds of failure. China’s crematoriums are busy: it is estimated that over 5,000 people are probably dying of Covid19 every day; the burial queues are getting longer. And a model predicts that in a worst-case scenario 1.5 million Chinese will die from the virus in the coming months. The World Health Organization (WHO) has demanded that more information be shared with the World. And has accused China of ‘under-representing’ the severity of its Covid outbreak and criticised its ‘narrow’ definition of what constitutes a Covid death But, is China listening?
Base Editing: A Path-breaking Invention
First, a quick basic lesson in the science of Genetics.
Bases are nitrogen containing biological compounds which store information and is the language of life. We must have learnt in school that the four types of Base – Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T)-are the building blocks of our genetic code-the DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). Just as letters in the alphabet spell out words that carry meaning, the billions of bases in our DNA spell out the instruction manual for our body. In RNA (RiboNucleic Acid), the base Uracil (U) takes the place of T.
The incurable cancer of a teenage girl, Alyssa from Leicester, UK, has been cleared from her body in the first use of a revolutionary new type of technology medicine, called ‘Base Editing’.
Alyssa was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May last year. T-cells are the body’s guardian angels-seeking out and destroying devilish disease threats – but for Alyssa they had become the danger and were growing out of control. Her cancer was aggressive. Chemotherapy, and then a bone-marrow transplant, were unable to rid it from her body.
All other treatments for Alyssa’s leukaemia having failed, doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, Bloomsbury, London Borough of Camden, UK, used ‘base editing’, which was invented only six years ago-to perform a feat of biological engineering to build her a new living drug. Six months later, the cancer is undetectable, but Alyssa is still being monitored in case it makes a comeback. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago and has been made possible by incredible advances in Genetics.
Base Editing allows scientists to zoom to a precise part of the genetic code and then alter the molecular structure of just one base, converting it into another and changing the genetic instructions. The large team of doctors and scientists used this tool to engineer a new type of T-cell that was capable of hunting down and killing Alyssa’s cancerous T-cells. They started with healthy T-cells that came from a donor and went about modifying (editing) them.
The first base edit disabled the T-cells targeting mechanism, so they would not assault Alyssa’s body; the second removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells; the third edit was an invisibility cloak that prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug; the final stage of genetic modification instructed the T-cells to go hunting for anything with the CD7 marking on it so that it would destroy every T-cell in her body – including the cancerous ones. That’s why this marking has to be removed from the therapy – otherwise it would just destroy itself. Looks so easy!
If the therapy works, Alyssa’s immune system-including T-cells-will be rebuilt with the second bone-marrow transplant. She is the first patient to be treated with this technology. This kind of genetic manipulation is a very fast-moving area of science with enormous potential across a range of diseases. What a start in the New Year!
America Fails to Elect a Speaker: Speechless
Meanwhile, in the United States (US) of America, for the first time in a century, the House of Representatives, one person did not receive the necessary 218 votes on the first ballot to become Speaker of the House. Speaker hopeful, Kevin McCarthy secured 203 votes, leaving the top job up for grabs as Republicans took control of the Chamber. Hard right lawmakers followed through on their threats to oppose him as Speaker. By the end of the week Kevin McCarthy lost a historic eleventh vote over three days. And still no US House Speaker. Democracy is a work in progress!
A Pope Dies
Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI the first Pope to resign in 600 years, died on 31st December, aged 95. He had resigned in February 2013 citing a ‘lack of strength of mind and body’ due to his advanced age. Speaking in Latin he had said: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Pope Benedict’s handling of sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church and opposition to usage of condoms in areas of high HIV transmission, despite their effectiveness in preventing the spread of HIV, led to substantial criticism in the public domain.
Amazon Sheds Fat-Letters
This week, e-commerce technology giant Amazon announced that it is shedding about 18,000, A to Z roles as it goes on a drive to cut costs. The job cuts amount to around 6% of the company’s roughly 3,00,000 strong corporate workforce. Amazon is the latest technology firm to unveil major layoffs as the cost of living crisis sees customers cut back on spending. Amazon said it had to announce the layoffs sooner than they wanted to, as the information had leaked out.
India’s Demonetisation is OK
Most of us may faintly recall that dour day of 8 November 2016 when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appeared on National Television to announce that all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes, of the Mahatma Gandhi Series, will no longer carry legal tender.
He said the action would curtail the shadow economy, increase cashless transactions and reduce the use of illicit and counterfeit cash that funds illegal activities and terrorism. The Govt also announced the issuance of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 banknotes in exchange for the demonetised banknotes. Oh, I loved those new green 500, pink 2000, which first emerged, followed by the orange 200 and blue 100 notes, later on.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stipulated that demonetised notes should be deposited with the Bank over a period of 50 days until 30 December 2016. In the final tally, the RBI said that approximately 99.3% of demonetised currency was deposited- returned to the Government coffers.
The announcement of the demonetisation decision sparked massive confusion and chaos for several weeks as people scrambled for the new currency notes, forming snaky queues before Banks and ATM kiosks, for days. Some people even died waiting to have their money exchanged. The move was severely criticised by those opposed to the Government, as poorly planned and unfair, sparking protests.
India has previously demonetised bank notes in 1946 and 1978 with the objective of curbing counterfeit money and black money.
This week the Supreme Court of India upheld the demonetisation decision with a 4:1 majority. A five-judge Constitution bench dismissed a batch of 58 petitions challenging the demonetisation exercise. It said that the decision, being the Executive’s economic policy, cannot be reversed. And that Centre’s decision-making process cannot be flawed as there was consultation between RBI and the Government. It is not relevant whether the objectives were achieved or not.
The ruling comes as yet another badge to pin on the chest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been subjected to tremendous outrage on the demonetisation drive by the Opposition Parties. And the BJP is shining the light and ringing the bell on the awesome changes, especially the significant rise in digital payments, brought about by demonetisation.
A Dragging Horror in New Delhi
India’s capital Delhi has a knack of getting into gruesome acts, every year, at stunning regularity.
This year on New Year’s Eve a young 20 year old woman, Anjali Singh along with her friend, Nidhi drives a few streets away from her home to a Hotel for an event management. On the return, after midnight, she and a her friend after some kind of an altercation mount the scooter to ride Home. On the way they are hit by a car with Nidhi on the pillion ‘safely’ falling off and Anjali getting trapped under the car along with the scooter. And being dragged for about 10km and mauled to death in a horrific manner, with body parts split-up. It appears that someone in the car knew Anjali was stuck as the car went forward and backwards with Anjali screaming before dragging her in an unmindful manner. It appears the five people inside the car were drunk and with loud music running, they did not hear anything! Heart-wrenching. Police weren’t around despite being called to the scene and the city being under a New Year Security blanket. Nidhi, who could have shouted her guts out, scooted from the scene – fled, fearing ‘everything’ and stayed silent without telling anyone anything for almost two days. Further, Nidhi said Anjali was in an ‘inebriated’ state while the post-mortem report she was not under the influence of Alcohol. As the stories spin, investigations have begun to find out what exactly happened. Unbelievable that a friend could do this to a friend. It is a combined failure of the Police System in particular and the community at large?
Everybody needs to do their part, and unfortunately not one person did theirs, that day.
Football King, Pele passed away last week, and this week his funeral was held in the city of Santos, Brazil. His coffin was kept in the Urbano Caldeira -Vila Belmiro- stadium, home of Pele’s former club Santos, for mourners to pass through for one final look at one of history’s most magnificent athletes, before entombment.
Pele’s coffin was then driven to the mausoleum that he had bought 19 years ago inside the Memorial Ecumenical Cemetery, a high-rise building that holds the Guinness world record as the tallest cemetery in the world. The Santos soccer club estimated that 230,000 mourners had been through the stadium. And huge crowds turned out to accompany the procession.
The procession had started at the Stadium and his coffin was carried through the streets of Santos, including the street where Pele’s 100 year old mother lives.
Hundreds of thousands of people waited for hours under a burning sun on Monday to file past Pele’s coffin. “This is no sacrifice,” said one who traveled three hours to the Stadium and had to be at work in five hours, yet had another few hours before he would be through the line. “He gave us so much joy that it’s a pleasure to be here.”
Pele being a footballer like no other, his final resting place is exceptional too: a large replica stadium complete with artificial turf inside the world’s tallest vertical cemetery.
Some of Brazil’s best-known footballers have faced a furious backlash as fans questioned why they had failed to attend ceremonies bidding farewell to Pele. And only a handful of Brazil’s World Cup winners made the trip to pay homage. “Pele is a citizen of the world, at the same level as Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, but Brazilians don’t know how to recognise that,” lamented a former player.
Pele married three times, fathering seven children. He leaves behind his present wife, Marcia Aoki.
Play well through the year 2023. Fix the posts and shoot your goals, with World Inthavaaram.