The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast changing world.
In the Thirty Second Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Gunika Vij, Ashika Deb and Shitij Goyal)


WHO became China’s puppet, will take a decision soon: Trump
US President Donald Trump said he would soon make an announcement on the World Health Organization (WHO), which he alleged had become “a puppet of China”. Trump has already suspended funding to the WHO, accusing it of misguiding the world on the coronavirus crisis and siding with China on the issue. “I don’t believe it was done on purpose, but it was done through probably incompetence. It probably got out and they didn’t know how to talk about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview. Read MoreTrump said he wanted to go in and help the Chinese. “They didn’t want us to go in. The World Health Organization, as you know, we pay them almost $500 million a year. I’m going to be making an announcement on that soon because they are like a puppet for China. Everything China does is OK. They get $38 million from China,” Trump said. “But they are a pipe organ for China. So I’m going to make a decision very soon. I held back all funds. We held back almost $500 million from them. I’ll make a decision, but think of it.” The Trump administration is currently weighing punitive action against China over its early handling of the global health emergency. Washington is also pressing Beijing to allow American experts to probe the origin of the deadly virus. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China continued to hide and obfuscate Covid-19 data from the world. “We have got an economy now that is really struggling and it is all a direct result of the Chinese Communist Party covering up, hiding information, silencing doctors who wanted to tell the story about where this began, how patient zero was formed and how it emanated from that person, and yet we cannot get those answers,” Pompeo said.

China hits back at ‘preposterous allegations’ by Trump and allies
China has issued a lengthy rebuttal of what it said were 24 “preposterous allegations” by some leading US politicians over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The Chinese foreign ministry has dedicated most of its press briefings over the past week to rejecting accusations by US politicians, especially Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, that China had withheld information about the new coronavirus and that it had originated in a laboratory in the city of Wuhan. Read MoreA 30-page, 11,000-word article posted on the ministry website on Saturday night repeated and expanded on the refutations made during the press briefings, and began by invoking Abraham Lincoln, the 19th century US president. The article also cited media reports that said Americans had been infected with the virus before the first case was confirmed in Wuhan. There is no evidence to suggest that is the case. Keen to quash US suggestions that the virus was deliberately created or somehow leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the article said that all evidence shows the virus is not man-made and that the institute is not capable of synthesising a new coronavirus. The article also provided a timeline of how China had provided information to the international community in a “timely”, “open and transparent” manner to rebuke US suggestions that it had been slow to sound the alarm.

Senate Republicans break with Trump over ‘Obamagate’
President Donald Trump’s aggressive campaign to encourage sweeping investigations of his predecessor Barack Obama met a unanimous response from Senate Republicans: No thanks. Trump’s Senate allies on Monday stopped short of echoing Trump’s claim that Obama acted illegally when the Justice Department began probing incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn in late 2016. Read MoreAnd they indicated that the Senate would pass on investigating the former president as they conduct their own investigations that could soon ensnare other senior Obama administration officials. Senate Republicans, however, sidestepped questions of whether the Justice Department should pursue criminal investigations against the former Obama officials, instead deferring to the ongoing investigation of U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was tapped by Attorney General Williams Barr to probe the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. Trump and his allies have pinned their hopes on Durham to unveil charges of misconduct against former officials at the highest levels of the Obama administration who spearheaded the Russia probe, though there’s no indication Durham has uncovered any evidence of criminal activity by senior Obama aides.

Congress distances itself from Adhir Ranjan’s dig at Beijing
The Congress leadership has distanced itself from its senior leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s statement suggesting the Centre “to accord diplomatic recognition to Taiwan”. This coincided with the Congress floor leader in the Lok Sabha deleting his controversial tweet which, apparently, was his overenthusiastic response to Taiwan donating one million masks to India to fight the Covid-19 crisis. Read MoreTaiwan’s gesture had also inspired Adhir Ranjan to take potshot at Beijing in the context of the coronavirus spread. Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Anand Shama said: “The Indian National Congress recognises and values the special strategic partnership between India and China. Chowdhury’s views on China “are his own and do not reflect the party position”.

Chidambaram Mocks Modi’s Financial Package, Says PM Gave ‘Headline and Blank Page’
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Wednesday mocked the prime minister’s announcement of a Rs 20 lakh crore financial package as a “headline and blank page”, and said he was looking forward to the finance minister filling the blank page. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced massive new financial incentives on top of the previously announced packages for a combined stimulus of Rs 20 lakh crore. Read MoreChidambaram said he would count every additional rupee the government infuses into the economy and examine what the poor, hungry and devastated migrant workers get after walking hundreds of kilometres to their home states. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh also slammed the prime minister’s announcement. “Last night the Prime Minister did what comes to him best. Maximum packaging , Minimum meaning. It was a case of classic NAMO. No Action Message Only,” he said on Twitter.

Society and Culture

Hyderabad Virtual Reality Tours
In a recent bid to provide citizens over the globe with a taste of the heritage state of Hyderabad, Hyderabad Trails kick started their virtual heritage walk in compliance with the government’s COVID-19 regulations. The organisation plans on continuing these heritage walks till the lockdown ends and it is finally safe for people to travel again. Read MoreThe organisation started this initially through a few old photographs of the city’s usual heritage sites and shared these over twitter along with other relevant information like the guides would usually do while actually conducting a heritage walk. Taking an idea from this heritage walk, several other heritage walks under the name “Stories of India” will cover other landmark locations and cities across the country. This initiative brings about an extremely positive change and news for people who like to travel and have a keen interest in history and culture of different places. This will also give a boost tourism as it promotes the various cities of India.

Happiest Country in the World
The Gross Domestic Product is not and cannot be an indicator of a country or a nation’s happiness and overall wellbeing. It does not indicate if the wealth is equally distributed and does not account for various other factors that are crucial to a person’s individual wellbeing. It was the former ruler of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who declared and claimed that Gross National Happiness was a more important concept than Gross National Product. Read MoreIn 2012, the UN convened a high-level meeting on ‘Well-being and happiness: defining a new economic paradigm’ to encourage the spread of Bhutan’s philosophy. When the first World Happiness Report was published that year, Bhutan ranked only 95th among the 156 nations surveyed. The newly elected government in the Himalayan nation decided to do its own survey. The GNH Survey was conducted by the Centre for Bhutan Studies in 2015; and found that 91.2% of Bhutanese reported being happy and 43.4% deeply happy. That’s a lot of happiness. Tourists flock to pay $200 a day to visit an idyllic land that embodies the king’s vision of low-volume, high-quality tourism. And Lonely Planet ranks Bhutan as the No.1 place to visit in 2020, calling it a “tiny piece of Himalayan paradise” and “A real-life Shangri-La”.

Eid amidst the COVID-19
Ramazan spreads the idea of love, joy and above all faith in humanity and the lord who is above all. This ramazan however is a different yet special one for all the Muslim households across not only the country but the world, due to the ongoing lockdown and the COVID-19 epidemic  almost all Muslim households are forced to perform the prayers and other Ramazan rituals at their own homes to ensure safety of the citizens. Read MoreAlthough this also means that this ramazan and consequently Eid will be a rather boring one for almost everyone, there will be no going to the mosque and praying and hugging everyone after the prayer, there will be no celebrating together with friends but only with the family this time. There are a lot of families whose loved ones are either in hospitals quarantined or are stuck abroad as all international flights have been suspended. However it is important that people stay faithful and hopeful and pray to the almighty for the safe return of their family members. It is in testing times like these that our faith is most questioned but it is extremely important that we stay faithful and strong, it is our strength which in times such as these can help us float in the deep water.

Lockdown and Psychology
While we are staying locked inside our homes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is our mental health that is most affected. The constant worry about the rising numbers and other COVID-19 related statistics, living in the constant fear that you might be affected by the virus, constantly worrying about the lives of your loved ones. What adds to this cycle of worry are the whatsapp forwards that spread misinformation at such crucial times. Read MoreDoctors usually prescribe social interaction for elderly for emotional wellbeing however in situations such as these they are asking them to stay away from even their grand-children. Coupled with all this is the fear of losing your job and livelihood as various markets collapse, so many workers across the globe have been laid-off. In such times of uncertainty, the only way forward is to accept that while we don’t have control over everything, there are some things we can do. Avoiding information overload from social media, avoiding speculation about the pandemic, keeping busy with activities, playing games, engaging with books, music, dance and movies — all this helps. 

Science and Technology

Ericsson’s trends for the post COVID-19 world
Five trends that will have the biggest impact post COVID-19 as per the Swedish tech giant, Ericsson’s virtual ‘Unboxed Office’ conference are as follows:

  1. Emphasis on telecom sector – Uptake of 5G is expected to increase because of shift of focus to remote working and tele-health. The demand for seamless connectivity for work and leisure helped the telecommunications industry keep everyone connected during the crisis. 
  1. Autonomous commerce – There will be a broader acceptance for automotive delivery drones and driverless fleets in the future. 
  1. Borderless workspaces – The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of workers to work remotely from their homes and it’s likely to continue even after the pandemic is over, especially for the white collared workers. 
  1. The rise of telemedicine- Instead of going to a doctor, patients can use their smartphone to video chat with a remotely-located physician who can evaluate their symptoms and determine what next steps to take.
  1. Virtual experience economy – If we start spending more time online, instead of going outside to amusement parks or malls and the like, it is very likely that virtual goods will become much more important than actual physical ownership of goods.

Lethal levels of heat and humidity are gripping global ‘hot spots’
An analysis of 4 decades of data from thousands of weather stations shows that a handful of hot spots around the globe are experiencing a potentially lethal mix of heat and humidity. Previous studies predicted it happening around mid-century. Just heat does not kill; humidity is deadly when it prevents the evaporation of sweat. Read MoreTo measure the effects of heat plus humidity, scientists use wet bulb at temperatures above 35°C. Researchers estimate that even healthy people will overheat and potentially die within 6 hours. Climate change will likely make these conditions more common in Southwest Asia, India and China.The research found a handful of individual spots had crossed the 35°C wet bulb threshold, though only for an hour or two at a time. Mexican towns near the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California, and the coastal city of San Francisco in Venezuela. Areas in the Caribbean, West Africa, and southern China also had extreme readings. The new study suggests the models might even be underestimating how soon these extremes will take hold.

New solar panels suck water from air to cool themselves down
Most solar panels use silicon to convert sunlight to electricity but typical silicon cells convert only 20% of the Sun’s energy; the rest turns into heat, warming the panels by as much as 40°C and efficiency of the panel drops with every degree above 25°C. Researchers have devised materials for sucking vapour from air and condense it into liquid water for drinking. Read MoreAmong the best is a gel that strongly absorbs water vapour at night and in the day, releases water vapour. Peng Wang, an environmental engineer at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and his colleagues used it to make coolant for solar panels. They pressed a 1cm thick sheet of the gel against the underside of a silicon solar panel. During the day, the gel would pull heat from the solar panel to evaporate water it had pulled out of the air at night, releasing the vapour through the bottom of the gel. The evaporating water would cool the solar panel. The amount of gel needed depends primarily on the environment’s humidity. The temperature of the water-cooled solar panel dropped by 10°C and efficiency increased by 15%. They are also working on a second-generation gel that shouldn’t degrade, even when wet.

Closest black hole to Earth found
A team of astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has discovered a black hole lying just 1000 light-years away from Earth, closer to our Solar System than any other found till date. It forms part of a triple system and its stars can be viewed from the southern hemisphere on a dark, clear night with naked eye. The team found evidence for the invisible object by tracking its two companion stars at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Read MoreThey said that many more similar black holes could be found in the future. It’s one of the very first stellar-mass black holes found that don’t interact violently with their environment and appear truly black. But the team could spot its presence and calculate its mass by studying the orbit of the star in the inner pair. Only a couple of dozen black holes have been spotted in our galaxy to date, nearly all of which strongly interact with their environment and make their presence known by releasing powerful X-rays in this interaction. The discovery of a silent, invisible black hole in the system HR 6819 provides clues about where the many hidden black holes in the Milky Way might be. 

Nasa picks Bezos’s Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX to build new lunar landers
The three companies selected by Nasa for the development of lunar landers are Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos; Elon Musk’s SpaceX; and Dynetics, based in Huntsville. They will carry the astronauts from the lunar orbit to the Moon’s surface and back. Blue Origin’s contract is worth $579m, SpaceX’s $135m and Dynetics will receive $253m, covering the next 10 months as each team works with Nasa to determine how their proposed solution would work in practice. Read MoreThese smaller aerospace companies have developed newer, more cost-effective ways of building space hardware. Blue Origin proposes a three-stage lander that would abandon its landing engines on the moon’s surface to lighten the load when it is time to return to Earth. SpaceX wants to use its general purpose “Starship” spacecraft. Dynetics plan an innovative lander that could be launched on any rocket. The landings will be the first-time astronauts have walked on the moon since the Apollo moon landings of the late 60s and early 70s.The current Nasa programme is known as Artemis and aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

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