Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rajat Gupta as one among the 99% of the top 1%, Africa's male victims of rape, Delhi's Darwinian road rules, Asian Americans most bullied in school

1 Paul Krugman writing on Iceland in The New York Times, titled ‘The Path not taken’. Iceland was supposed to be the ultimate economic disaster story: its runaway bankers saddled the country with huge debts and seemed to leave the nation in a hopeless position. But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver. So how’s it going? Iceland hasn’t avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable; the social safety net has survived intact, as has the basic decency of its society.

2 The New York Times on Rajat Gupta, a mere affluent. Rajat Gupta was rich by almost any standard. He just wasn’t rich compared with many of the people who surrounded him. He knew it, and he didn’t seem to like it. More than a few of his friends and colleagues had tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. They included his fellow board members at Goldman Sachs, the alumni of McKinsey & Company — a firm that Mr. Gupta ran and that paid him a few millions of dollars a year — who then made fortunes on Wall Street and, perhaps most important, his friend Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge-fund manager sentenced to 11 years in prison for insider trading. What seems beyond doubt, however, is that Mr Gupta was envious of the wealth that his peers were amassing. In that way, Mr. Gupta is a symbol of a different kind of income inequality from the one at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protests, where demonstrators proclaim themselves part of the “other 99 percent” and criticize the top 1 percent of earners.

Mr. Gupta was surely part of the 1 percent. But seems to have felt as if he was part of the other 99 percent of that 1 percent. Such envy extends well beyond people accused of committing crimes. The inequality among the rich is a major force pushing many graduates of the country’s top colleges to Wall Street and drawing middle-aged professionals from other lines of work to finance. Consider the numbers. Three decades ago, a taxpayer at the cutoff for the top 0.01 percent of earners — that is, in the top 1/10,000th — was making about 10 times as much as someone at the cutoff for the top 1 percent. Since then, the top 1 percent has done very well, nearly doubling its income in inflation-adjusted terms. Yet the very rich have done vastly better: someone at the cutoff for the top 0.01 percent now makes 30 times as much as someone at the top 1 percent, according to the latest numbers.

3 Johannesburg Times on Africa’s male victims of rape speaking up. Job is a big and tall man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, strong and healthy looking. Once he begins to speak, however, the facade falls and the 50-year-old shows himself to be in tatters, suffering deep physical and mental wounds from a secret weapon of war being employed in central Africa. So secret, many deny it exists. But more people like Job are coming forward to shed light on an often neglected group of victims. Repeatedly gang-raped by Congolese government soldiers in 2007, Job is being cared for now by doctors and counsellors to help him heal from an attack by an army supposedly fighting insurgents, but also meting out wrath on civilians. "I was arrested in an operation by the soldiers and, while in prison, two soldiers picked me, tied my hands and legs and one after another raped me. I screamed but no one helped me. I fainted. The same thing happened to me the following day and for weeks. I was bleeding all the time," says Job. Rape as a weapon of war has been used in the African Great Lakes region for many years, but most of the focus of aid groups has been on female victims. Slowly, however, men are seeking help. Many victims have a simple goal: being able to lead a normal life, without ending up in an asylum. "Male victims have been neglected for a long time in all regions of the world. Worse, advocates say, rich world donors often only donate to groups treating female victims of rape, thus potentially sidelining a whole segment of society in need.

4 Straits Times on Samsung as the world’s top smart-phone maker. Samsung Electronics Co surpassed Apple Inc as the world's top smart-phone maker with more than 40 per cent shipment growth, and forecast strong sales in the fourth quarter, as it aims to consolidate its lead against rivals. Samsung, which had little traction in the booming smart-phone market until early last year, has since staged a strong comeback.

5 Straits Times reporting on Taiwan showcasing Ai Weiwei art. A new exhibition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's work launched in Taiwan on Friday, featuring a photo of the dissident giving a middle-finger gesture to the portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The show at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum also showcases other controversial works by Ai, including a picture of Wei Jingsheng, one of China's best-known democracy activists, who spent 15 years in a Chinese jail before being exiled to the United States. Ai, who is banned from leaving Beijing, suggested that his absence from the exhibition, his largest solo show ever in a Chinese community, had significance in itself. '(My absence) will give the exhibition a special meaning,' he said in a statement.

6 Ranjani Iyer Mohanty in The Wall Street Journal on Delhi’s Darwinian rules of the road. During my early days in India, someone asked me why – if I could drive in Toronto and Amsterdam and Lisbon – did I not drive in Delhi? When I replied diplomatically that I didn’t yet understand the rules of driving here, the elderly gentleman smiled sagely and said, “That’s the beauty of it: there are no rules.” But even while I laughed politely, I realized that it was not true: There are indeed rules to driving in Delhi. One of the most important is that the lane markings on the road are not meant to specify lanes to drive in: they are to be treated merely like markings on a ruler. The strategy of choice is to drive in the middle of two lanes, thereby keeping your options open to move into either lane, at your will or when the car behind you honks loudly. Another rule is to avoid coming to a full stop if at all possible. If the car in front of you is slowing down, simply veer around it, even if that means going onto the wrong side of the road. You can overtake someone from the left or right once you feel you’ve correctly understood his psychological make-up and gauged his position on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He may be happy with his current level of achievement and so will let you overtake. But if he is striving to reach the next or going for broke for “self-actualization,” you don’t stand a chance. Note: using signal lights is prohibited for both you and your opponent. Signalling is for the faint of heart because it gives away your game and thereby takes away the fun. A critical rule of the road here: don’t drive your car if the horn is not working. Rules of traffic circles are also quite straightforward: The largest vehicle gets right of way, as do drivers with serious attitude. (The author has obviously not been in Chennai.)

7 The Wall Street Journal on Metallica’s F1 Delhi fiasco. Dow Jones Newswires metal-head Santanu Choudhury was there and sent us this eyewitness account of the fiasco: “The Metallica concert has become yet another example of chaos and mismanagement in organizing events in India, especially in the National Capital Region. The gates were scheduled to open at 3 p.m. as printed on the tickets. I was there around 4 p.m. and by 6 p.m. when the gates didn’t open, thousands of fans who had gathered began shouting slogans and later grew restive and began kicking the barriers and climbing on top of cars, screaming. Around 6.30 p.m., some guy from inside announced on the public address system that due to some technical glitches the show has been postponed to 4 p.m. Saturday. Post the announcement, there was lot of confusion among the fans, which included several foreigners. I later came to know that some fans who managed to enter the venue earlier damaged equipment and also parts of the stage and the barriers. Forgive at least a moment to remember the multitude of embarrassments Delhi suffered last year leading up to the Commonwealth Games. F1 was supposed to represent the triumph of the private sector in organizing mega-events over the public sector. Em, right.

8 Drudge Report story on an Indian firm launching gold, diamond cash machine. An Indian company has launched what it says is the world’s first ‘cash machine” that dispenses gold and silver coins and diamond-studded jewellery. The Gitanjali Group launched the Gold and Diamond automatic teller machine at a central Mumbai shopping mall for the annual Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. "The machine is a first of its kind anywhere in the world and will further revolutionise the processes by which precious metals and jewellery is bought," said Gitanjali Export Corporation chief executive Sanjeev Agarwal. The ATM offers customers the choice of up to 36 products of varying sizes, designs and prices, from 1,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees ($20 to $600). Payment is either through credit or debit card or by depositing cash. Indians bought 540 tonnes of gold in the first half of 2011, up 21 percent from the same period last year, according to data from industry body the World Gold Council.

9 Drudge Report story that Asian Americans are the most bullied in US schools. Asian Americans endure far more bullying at US schools than members of other ethnic groups, with teenagers of the community three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet, new data shows. Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers faced by some Asian American students and a spike in racial abuse following the September 11, 2001 attacks against children perceived as Muslim. The research found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on. The disparity was even more striking for cyber-bullying. Some 62 percent of Asian Americans reported online harassment once or twice a month, compared with 18.1 percent of whites.

10 The Hindu lead story that in 16 years, farm suicides in India have crossed a quarter million. (I don’t believe the figure, though.)

11 The Hindu editorial arguing why the Armed Forces Special Powers Act must go in Kashmir. Based on an analysis of central government data, The Hindu had reported that J&K was more peaceful than many ‘perfectly peaceful' States — among them, economically vibrant Haryana. In population-adjusted terms, violent deaths in J&K — those of terrorists and security force personnel, as well as murders of civilians, whether terrorism-related or otherwise — were at the same level as in Bihar, and not significantly higher than in Delhi. No one in New Delhi, though, wishes to be charged with overruling an assessment by the armed forces — an assessment which, regrettably, is driven more by fear than hard-headed strategic sense.

Three spurious arguments are being used to justify the status quo. First, the Army contends that the situation across the Line of Control needs a robust military presence. But Mr. Abdullah’s proposals would only lift AFSPA from two areas where the Army in any case has no security responsibilities. Secondly, it is claimed that without AFSPA, the Army will not be able to stage counter-terrorism operations in an emergency. Proponents of this argument forget that AFSPA did not have to be imposed to allow the Army to assist in the defence of Parliament House when it came under terrorist attack in 2001. Finally, some argue that the AFSPA-free enclaves will be magnets for terrorists. This, too, makes little sense, since the Army is not present in the enclaves anyway.

12 The Hindu on life after death for the Longwood Shola in the Nilgiris which until recently was in danger of vanishing altogether. The forest is an important water source, according to K. Senthil Prasad, who works with the NGO Keystone Foundation and is involved with wetland mapping, conservation and management in the Nilgiris. "The wetlands inside provide drinking water to thousands of villagers in downtown Kotagiri," he explains. "Preserving the forest is vital because it also controls the micro-climatic conditions of the town; it is a water resource and a wildlife corridor."

13 The Financial Express on why India is fixated on a ‘national F1 brand’. Very soon, on the Buddh International circuit near Delhi, ‘India’ will compete with Ferrari, Mercedes, Sauber, Renault and many such ‘corporate’ names. No, the contest will not be between France, Germany and India—it will be between some teams branded by global corporations and a team bearing a country brand. We understand that India is pretty much a global brand today—but does it justify naming an F1 team Force India? India is possibly the only ‘nation’ that is open to sponsorship. The greatest example of that is the Indian cricket team. The team is owned by a private body called the BCCI—but they are pretty much free to sell national pride and jingoism to a sponsor. Naming a team Force India is an extension of the same thought process. F1 is a marginal sporting activity in India. The only hope the sponsors and the team owners have is to create a national feeling so that people get interested in the sport and the team. But how exactly is the national pride being awakened? The driver Adrian Sutil is from Germany and Paul di Resta is from Scotland. The car has a Mercedes-Benz engine and Pirelli tyres. The closest it comes to anything national is the money put in by Vijay Mallya and Sahara. Unless, of course, we consider the tricolour used in the logo, and the car graphics are sufficiently national.

14 Aakar Patel writing in Mint explaining why the ‘honour’ killing Bill won’t work. The Congress government has drafted a Bill against honour killing. It is called “The Prevention of Crimes in the Name of ‘Honour’ and Tradition Bill”. Strangely, all the acts which find mention in this Bill—murder, coercion, abetting murder — are already punishable. What is new is that soon we will be prosecuting people specifically for doing honour killing. Will it work? No. At a recent conference, former chief justice KG Balakrishnan, who heads India’s Human Rights Commission, said a separate law wasn’t needed. All the punishments were already in place. However, Girija Vyas, the force behind this Bill, says: “A law is the need of the hour,” adding, “I get at least two calls every week.” Putting quote marks around “honour” does not make it less appealing to the peasant. This law is an English-medium solution to a Hindi-medium crime. I can assure Vyas, whose name indicates she is Brahmin, that her law will not work. In fact, I am willing to bet her that the effect will be the opposite: It will encourage honour killing. Conviction under this law will be displayed by the peasant with great pride, because the highest point of honour is martyrdom.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Facebook can spark a revolution or quell one; England's males-first monarchy to go; Sandwich generation; America's daughter, Pakistan's wife

1 San Francisco Chronicle saying Obama lost many donors from the 2008 presidential race. An Associated Press analysis found tens of thousands of supporters who gave Obama cash in the early stages of his last campaign have held out this time. And a handful have given to Republican candidates. Obama’s re-election effort is hardly hurting for cash: His campaign and the Democratic Party has raised more than $70 million for his re-election since July, and the campaign boasts a million contributors. At the same time, one Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, has closed in financially in areas of the country that gave a solid stream of checks to Obama in the 2008 campaign, including Southern California, Florida and New England.

2 San Francisco Chronicle on the dark side of ‘Facebook revolution’. Sοmе observers dubbed thіѕ year’s well Ɩονеԁ uprisings throughout thе Middle East thе “Facebook Revolution,” celebrating thе role thаt social media played іn organizing аnԁ amplifying thе demonstrations. Bυt Facebook took οn a very different connotation іn Bahrain, whеrе thе repressive government employed thе social network fοr іtѕ οwn purposes, posting photos οf protesters аnԁ calling οn Bahrainis tο reveal thеіr names аnԁ workplaces. At Ɩеаѕt one young woman wаѕ arrested аѕ a result, according tο аn Al Jazeera documentary. Thе incident highlights thе plain fact thаt whіƖе social media іѕ аn incredibly powerful tool, іt’s аn incredibly powerful tool fοr everyone, whatever thеіr agenda.

3 The New York Times on China reining in entertainment and blogging. Political censorship in this authoritarian state has long been heavy-handed. But for years, the Communist Party has tolerated a creeping liberalization in popular culture. Now, the party appears to be saying “enough.” Whether spooked by popular uprisings worldwide, a coming leadership transition at home or their own citizens’ increasingly provocative tastes, Communist leaders are proposing new limits on media and Internet freedoms that include some of the most restrictive measures in years. The most striking instance occurred this week, when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major satellite television stations to limit themselves to no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each per week, and collectively 10 nationwide. The ministry said the measures, to go into effect on Jan. 1, were aimed at rooting out “excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies.”

4 BBC quoting Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis saying "Greece is in the middle of the storm, but it is not the source of the problems of European debt and deficits. We see this with Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy. So it doesn't help to scapegoat a particular country when you're dealing with a European problem." In a TV interview on Thursday, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said admitting Greece to the eurozone had been "a mistake" because the country had "entered with false [economic] figures. It was not ready".

5 The Guardian on the impending end of the males-first monarchy in England. Royal equality act will end succession of first born male- rather than older sister. Commonwealth leaders will pledge to amend legislation dating back to the 17th century to allow daughters of the monarch to take precedence over younger sons in the line of succession. David Cameron will hail the agreement of the 16 Queen's realms, the Commonwealth countries where the queen serves as head of state, to amend "outdated" rules that also prevent a potential monarch from marrying a Catholic. The prime minister will introduce legislation in Britain before the next general election to ensure that the changes will apply to any children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Officials say the changes will apply even if a child is born before the new legislation is passed.

6 BBC on protests in South Africa demanding more economic power to black people. Several thousand protesters in South Africa's main city, Johannesburg, have demanded greater economic power for black people. The demonstrators waved placards calling for the nationalisation of mines in order to reduce the influence of white-owned businesses. The governing party's youth wing organised the protest under the theme "economic freedom in our lifetime". White minority rule (apartheid) ended in South Africa in 1994.

7 BBC’s Stephanie Flanders on Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F. The missing details in last night's statement from eurozone leaders have been much discussed. But we know two key things today that we didn't know at the start of this week. One is short-term, but welcome. The other is very long-term, and will be troubling to some. The first thing we have learned is that the European Central Bank will remain in a position to buy the government debt of countries like Italy and Spain, even now the enhanced rescue facility, the EFSF, has been ratified. Second, and most important, we know that the eurozone is on a path towards fiscal union - and it will indeed be Fiscal union with a capital F. All the talk about closer coordination and surveillance in the statement comes down to one thing: more centralised control of national budgets and tax policy. Outside Germany, "fiscal union" has increasingly been code for "getting hold of Germany's money". Inside Germany, it means having the power to make sure other members never overspend again. It's just one of the areas of disconnect that has made this crisis so exciting. But non-Germans reading this statement should be in no doubt as to which version of fiscal union they are signing up to.

8 Khaleej Times on the Sandwich generation. I heard a nomenclature at a party the other day that really inspired a spirited conversation. Someone said that we, particularly South Asians in their early fifties to mid-sixties, are the “sandwich generation”. I was intrigued. What do you mean? I asked. Well, said the person, with justifiable pride at having captured an audience. “We desis, in our fifties and sixties, are really the bridge between two generations. The older generation, which believed in saving for the future and all the rites and conventions of our Asian culture and the younger generation which is wired completely differently, more attuned to western lifestyles and multicultural norms of behaviour. The older generation is trying to keep our eastern values alive. They want us to speak the native language to preserve it, they want their kids and grandkids to observe all the rituals of religious festivals and they want us to continue the traditions of saving for a rainy day, building up a nest egg, and having children while our bodies are able to bear them easily. The younger generation, on the other hand, is the wired generation of social networking geeks, with a thirst for making as much money in as short a time as possible. This new breed lives on credit card debt, parties hard and works hard. Marriage is not a prime goal in life and kids are often being borne to women in the mid to late thirties because of career aspirations”. So, said the person at the party, we people are the sandwich generation.

We “sandwiches” are concerned about family values and we tend to look after our parents in their old age. We still respect authority figures like bosses and teachers and are uncomfortable with the informality of these relationships in the west. Our kids have no such compunctions. They are comfortable calling authority figures by their first names, they are not awed by a person’s venerability or experience and they have the courage to voice their opinions no matter what. Our kids will not look after us when we are old, the person at the party said mournfully. They might pay to keep us in a retirement home, but they will not let us board with them. So is it hard being one of the sandwich generation? Yes, most of the party people agreed. We are neither here nor there, like the dhobi’s donkey.

9 Khaleej Times asking if Mukesh Ambani’s home is a towering waste. Mukesh Ambani is billed to be the world’s richest man with a net worth of $62 billion by 2014, when the ongoing financial crisis in Mexico will have shrunk the fortunes of the current incumbent, Carlos Slim. But even that achievement might not bring much cheer to Ambani, who currently finds himself facing a tough predilection: he owns the most expensive home in the world but is yet to have the pleasure of living in it!

While Ambani himself has managed to avoid talking about the 27-storey, $ 2 billion Antilla, speculation is rife that the reason behind the family’s hesitation in moving is, perhaps, because experts are now saying that the house does not conform to basic requirements of Vaastu, the ancient Indian architectural doctrine regarding directional alignments required to make a house a home where peace, good health and prosperity is bountiful. With Ambani now well aware of his potential to be the world’s richest man, we are fairly sure he is unlikely to wave a red flag under destiny’s nose and move in, risking any threat to his fortunes. We are curious to see how Mukesh, a chemical engineer, will face this issue. Will a scientific mind prevail over matters of belief? Or will superstition prevail? (The story is datelined Dubai, which means people from other parts of the world are also casting scornful glances at Antilla.)

10 Straits Times on Formula One drivers being stunned by Indian poverty. They screech in on private jets and party with the rich and famous, but Formula One's pampered drivers admitted India's grinding poverty had given them a jolting reality check. Although the brand new Buddh International Circuit appears, against many expectations, to be ready for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, the plush facilities cannot hide the sheer squalor of the country outside. Britain's Jenson Button said coming to India was 'difficult' for the drivers, who have been stunned at the living conditions glimpsed outside their luxury hotels. 'You can't forget the poverty in India. It's difficult coming here for the first time, you realise there's a big divide between the wealthy people and the poor people,' he said. (You won’t get to read this in Indian media. On the contrary, it can also be argued that foreign media have a penchant to highlight the ugly side of India.)

11 The Dawn article, ‘America’s daughter, Pakistan’s wife’. During a press conference hosted by the US State Department in Lahore, a participant explained that America was like an insatiable mother-in-law who was never satisfied with the work of her child’s spouse. While the speaker was alluding to the stereotypical relationship between a Pakistani man’s wife and mother, Mrs Clinton’s uproarious laughter was based on an opposite archetypal American relationship between a daughter’s husband and her mother. The question then becomes if the US is a never-satisfied mother-in-law to Pakistan, then who is America’s daughter and Pakistan’s wife? The answer comes in the form of the following parable:

In the days when people were busy rebuilding from the ravages of the Second Great War, the spoils of victory were being divided by the Great Powers. Out of many, two powers emerged: one from the capitalistic West in the name of Lady America, and the other as an eastern Soviet Communist empire. Neither had grown tired of the Great War, because they saw the world for their taking. Both moved with swiftness to convince their neighbors that their ideologies and weapons were better than the “other guys.” So began the Cold War, and when Lady America needed a weapon to battle her Soviet arch-nemesis, she became Mother America after giving birth to a daughter. This daughter was a strategy deployed by the CIA throughout its history: to depose governments by secretly funding and training guerrilla groups.

Thereafter, Mother America may have come to a real awareness: that her daughter was no good and was a cancer spreading across the world threatening everyone’s future, especially her own. Since the Soviets were destroyed, America no longer benefited from the intolerance and violence spread by their rebellious daughter. Now Pakistan’s mother-in-law needs the country to divorce itself from its Taliban wife, but Mother America does so while capitulating to the demands of her daughter in the form of negotiating with the Taliban and allowing them to be part of the future government in Afghanistan. However, what the mother-in-law does not understand is that divorce can be quite a painful drawn-out process. Though the US wants to break the marriage, they are not involved in the complex relationship directly. So while the world can suggest that Pakistan divorce their Taliban bride, this cannot happen until the nation’s leaders critically examine the worth of their relationship to terrorist groups and the intolerant environment established to incubate them.

12 The Dawn on Indian models being out of fashion overseas. For top Indian model Apoorva Vishwanathan, the difference between success on the catwalks of her own country and an international modelling career can be measured in inches – two of them. “I wish I had endless legs. I could be cat-walking with the Heidi Klums of the world,” said the Bangalore-based Vishwanathan who stands five feet nine inches (175cm) in her bare feet. “But you’ve got to be at least 5’11” for any international fashion house to come near you,” she told AFP. Only a handful of Indian models have tasted success abroad, with the likes of Lakshmi Menon and Ujjwala Raut modelling for Gucci and Yves Saint-Laurent. The financial pay-off for those who do break out of the relatively low-paid domestic scene can be enormous. Vishwanathan believes the main barrier is the natural body shape of Indian women. “We are genetically more voluptuous and curvaceous,” Vishwanathan said. “Agencies abroad want girls who are really thin, almost skinny. It is tough for us to fit into their requirements.

13 Sydney Morning Herald asking whether manners are dead. Spitters, swearers, armrest hoggers and interrupters be warned: there is a growing gang of radicals coming after you. Taking aim at what he sees as the demise of good manners, demographer Bernard Salt and his increasing army of followers want to eradicate rudeness. Affronted by bad manners at business functions Mr Salt recently formed a Facebook group called the Society for Normal People as a place where people "who feel aggrieved by the bad manners of others can publicly, but ever so politely express displeasure". "We are a group of normal people and we intend taking over the world with our radical ideas of manners and respect for everyone," Mr Salt said. "This all flowed from an article I wrote maybe two months ago, where I said I was sick of ... people not returning phone calls, not returning emails, people who hog the armrest on a plane. "People who go to functions and they talk to each other in tight little circles, so that if you don't know anyone you're effectively excluded.

14 Reuters story in The Economic Times on India’s poor sex ratio leading to wife-sharing. When Munni arrived in Baghpat, a fertile, sugarcane-growing region of north India as a young bride years ago, little did she imagine she would be forced into having sex and bearing children with her husband's two brothers who had failed to find wives. "My husband and his parents said I had to share myself with his brothers," said the woman in her mid-40s, at a village community centre in Baghpat district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. "They took me whenever they wanted -- day or night. When I resisted, they beat me with anything at hand," said Munni, who had managed to leave her home after three months only on the pretext of visiting a doctor.
Social workers say decades of aborting female babies in a deeply patriarchal culture has led to a decline in the population of women in some parts of India, like Baghpat, and in turn has resulted in rising incidents of rape, human trafficking and the emergence of "wife-sharing" amongst brothers. Just two hours drive from New Delhi, with its gleaming office towers and swanky malls, where girls clad in jeans ride motor bikes and women occupy senior positions in multi-nationals, the mud-and-brick villages of Baghpat appear a world apart. According to India's 2011 census, there are only 858 women to every 1,000 men in Baghpat district, compared to the national sex ratio of 940.

15 The Economic Times editorial stating that the National Manufacturing Policy is a waste of time and a fine example of a policy for the sake of a policy. What the country needs is a coherent plan for planned urbanisation, to house ever-growing numbers of industrial and service sector enterprises and migrants from villages who man these enterprises.
16 The Economic Times editorial, “Subsidy for the elite’. Borrowers who can afford home loans of Rs 15 lakh do not need interest sops. (Many of ET’s readers fall in this group, yet the paper has the guts to make an economic point.)

17 The Hindu editorial, ‘Recycle the bulb’. India consumes a few hundred million energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps every year and the volumes are growing. This is welcome news not just for the lighting industry, which places the number of pieces manufactured in 2010 at around 304 million, but also for climate change mitigation efforts. Yet this also presents a waste management challenge. The problem with fluorescent lamps is that they contain small amounts of mercury. Unfortunately, India has not evolved a good system to recover this hazardous heavy metal from end-of-life lamps.

18 The Hindu story about state legislatures seeking clemency for death-row victims. Former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha, PDT Achary, has warned that the recent resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly seeking the President to commute the death sentence of three of Rajiv Gandhi's killers and a similar attempt made by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in favour of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru might result in “unintended consequences.” Mr. Achary said neither the State government has constitutionally-sanctioned powers in this regard nor can the Assembly perform that role. “In other words, the Legislative Assembly of a State has no power to request the President to consider a mercy petition in a particular way,” he pointed out. Commenting on the powers of the State legislatures to pass such resolutions seeking mercy for the convicts even after the President has rejected them, Mr. Achary said: “Passing a resolution by an Assembly seeking Presidential pardon for someone who did an act of terrorism is tantamount to saying ‘He is our terrorist, therefore, please spare him.' This message goes across the world.”

19 Deccan Chronicle quoting Forbes on India’s rich getting poorer. India's richest are getting poorer, according to Forbes, as falling stock prices, corruption scandals in Asia's third-largest economy and a global slowdown wiped 20% off the total value of the country's 100 wealthiest in the last year.

20 Eavesdropper column in Financial Express on Congress party leader Digvijay Singh tweeting for Rajat Gupta, “What a sad news. May God be with him”. In the past Singh has played devil’s advocate to “Osamaji”, “Kalmadiji” and “A Rajaji”.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Income of top 1% grows 275%, Why Apple must avoid the Walt Disney trap, Gaddafi's driver on the despot's last moments, Yemeni women burning veils

1 San Francisco Chronicle reporting that income for top 1% grew 275% from 1979 to 2007. Between 1979 and 2007, the report, culled from IRS data, found: Income for the top 1 percent of US households grew by 275%, four times the increase for the next highest group, and 15 times that of the lowest income group. As higher-income households saw their share of the national income pie rise, lower income households saw theirs fall. The top fifth of the population saw a 10 percent increase in their share of after-tax income, most of it going to the top 1 percent. "All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points."

2 San Francisco Chronicle on Steve Jobs wanting Apple to avoid the Walt Disney trap. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, at a memorial tribute to Steve Jobs at the company's campus last week, shared a piece of advice Jobs gave him before his death on Oct. 5. "Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. 'Just do what's right,' " Cook said. Jobs wanted Apple to avoid the trap that Walt Disney Co. fell into after the death of its iconic founder, Cook said, where "everyone spent all their time thinking and talking about what Walt would do." Walt Disney was surrounded by a cadre of creative people who were every bit the equal of Jobs' lieutenants, but they became haunted by the question, 'What would Walt do?' "

3 Muammar Gaddafi’s driver Huneish Nasr on the dictator’s last moments, in The Guardian. Huneish Nasr last saw the boss he served for 30 years standing in the ruins of Sirte looking confused as all hell broke loose around them. "Everything was exploding," said Nasr, Muammar Gaddafi’s personal driver, recalling the moments before the deposed dictator was caught last week. "The revolutionaries were coming for us. He wasn't scared, but he didn't seem to know what to do. It was the only time I ever saw him like that." Nasr said he threw his hands up in surrender as gun-toting rebels approached. He was knocked to the ground with a rifle butt, which blackened his left eye. Gaddafi was being pulled from a drainpipe just before Nasr fell. He caught a final glimpse of his master being swarmed over by rebels. Then blows rained down on them both.

Nasr said he spent the last five days of the siege with Gaddafi, moving from house to house to evade fighters. Still wearing the blood-spattered purple checked shirt he wore last Thursday when Gaddafi was killed, Nasr, a man in his mid-60s, said his former boss could not seem to grasp what was unfolding around him. "He was strange," said Nasr. "He was always standing still and looking to the west. I didn't see fear in him. I was with him for 30 years and I swear by God that I never saw any bad behaviour in him. He was always just the boss. He treated me well," he added. Like many of the members of the tyrant's inner court, Nasr came from the Gaddafi tribe. Without the tribal name – and decades of service – he would have been unlikely to have won a place at his master's side during the final days. In the early hours of Tuesday, Gaddafi's loyal driver was thrown in the back of a van and driven deep into the desert with a handful of others. He saw his former boss lowered into an unmarked grave and covered with sand. It was a fate he never expected for a man he had seen as infallible. Nasr's own fate is far less certain.

4 The Guardian on Yemeni women burning veils. Hundreds of Yemeni women set fire to veils on Wednesday in protest at the government's crackdown on demonstrators, after overnight clashes in the capital and another city left 25 people dead. The women spread a black cloth across a main street in Sana'a and threw their full-body veils, known as makrama, on to a pile, sprayed it with oil and set it ablaze. As the flames rose, they chanted: "Who protects Yemeni women from the crimes of the thugs?" Women have taken a key role in the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's authoritarian rule. This month the Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman was awarded the Nobel peace prize along with two Liberian women, for their struggle for women's rights. Wednesday's protest was not related to women's rights or issues surrounding the Islamic veil. The act of burning their clothing is a symbolic Bedouin gesture signifying an appeal to tribesmen for help, in this case to stop the attacks on the protesters.

5 The Guardian’s report that the world may miss economic benefits of 1.8 billion people. The world is in danger of missing a golden opportunity for development and economic growth, a "demographic dividend", as the largest cohort of young people ever known see their most economically productive years wasted, a major UN population report has warned. The potential economic benefits of having such a large global population of young people will go unfulfilled, as a generation suffers from a lack of education, and investment in infrastructure and job creation, the authors said. World population is close to crossing 7 billion. Of this 7 billion, 1.8 billion are aged between 10 and 24, and 90% of those live in the developing world.

6 The Guardian report about Rajat Gupta being accused of running an instant messaging service with Raj Rajaratnam. Prosecutors said Gupta had provided disgraced trader Raj Rajaratnam with an "instant messaging" service from inside some of America's most esteemed boardrooms. The indictment accuses Gupta of entering into an insider arrangement with Rajaratnam, founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group. Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in jail for insider dealing offences this month. Best known as the former head of consultancy group McKinsey, where he worked for 34 years, Gupta was in the upper echelons of the corporate establishment in America, courted as a non-executive director by some of the biggest companies in the world. As well as Goldman Sachs, past directorships also include Procter & Gamble and the parent company of American Airlines. The charges against Gupta carry a maximum sentence of 105 years imprisonment and are part of a crackdown on Wall Street.

7 George Soros comparing Eurozone problem to collapse of USSR, on BBC. Soros said both cases had the same air of disintegration. He also said that the "plan", as we understand it, might get the single currency through the next three months, but it would not tackle the underlying problems. Growth was a massive problem. And they were going to have to write off a lot more Greek sovereign debt - not just the bonds held by private investors.

8 Khaleej Times querying, ‘Do you honour your parents?’ Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable for a grown up child to place his parents in a home and move on. The cultural ingraining over centuries in Asia and the Middle East would forbid the thought. Yet, as technology and the nuclear family kick in the unthinkable slowly creeps onto the cards. It is more practical to put aging parents into a home with facilities, it gets them better medical attention, they have company, they are not at the mercy of their children’s whim nor are they parcelled off to another offspring every six months. All these are fairly good reasons and none of them goes against logic nor do they indict anyone for loving their parents less. Parental dignity can be placed on hock by uncaring children who do not want their lifestyle curtailed. They then are a liability. But, can you do it?

9 The Wall Street Journal about scores of hotel-owing Patels scarred by debts. Alkesh Patel, a 44-year-old immigrant from India, borrowed about $5 million to open the Best Western Plus motel on Main Street in this city of 17,500 north of Portland, Ore. Five years later, Mr. Patel still works the front desk with his wife, chats with the housekeeping staff and helps do laundry while making the morning rounds, much as family members have done at other motels nearby for two decades. But Mr. Patel doesn't own the Best Western anymore. The bank that lent him the money failed in 2008, and his loan was sold to one of the many investment firms specializing in buying distressed assets from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in the wake of the financial crisis. The new owners of the loan demanded $3 million in repayment. Mr. Patel didn't have it, so the owners foreclosed. Mr. Patel's comedown from property owner to hired help is part of a commercial real-estate slowdown that has swept through the roadside lodging business in the US. About half of the nation's 50,000 motels are owned or controlled by immigrants who trace their origin to the state of Gujarat in western India, many with the last name Patel.

10 The Wall Street Journal on Tibetans setting foot on smuggled home soil. Many Tibetans living in exile have long harbored the desire to set foot on Tibetan soil. On Wednesday morning, Tibetans based in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala did just that. And they didn’t have to go very far: Tibetan soil was brought to their doorstep, courtesy of Tenzing Rigdol, a New York-based artist. Mr. Rigdol arranged for 20 tons of soil to be smuggled from Chinese-controlled Tibet to the Dharamsala area, where it was stored in a secret location. By Wednesday morning, in a surprise stunt, the soil had been laid out on a stage in a basketball court, ready to be walked over by Tibetan exiles.

11 The Wall Street Journal on China’s shadow banking as the next sub-prime. We’re still cleaning up the mess from the massive debt-fuelled housing bubble in the US when suddenly we’ve got to deal with Europe’s public finances. We haven’t even gotten started on that one when a third debt debacle starts rumbling, in China. We all know by now the standard-issue worry about China — too much debt-fuelled building too fast, raising the risk of a hard landing. There’s an additional wrinkle to the story, too, one that might be more worrying, as it has a bit of the feel of the sub-prime mortgage debacle that took down the global economy just a few years ago. We’re talking about a large, off-balance-sheet world of debt, China’s “shadow banking” system, which has grown to make up about 22% of all new financing in China, Barclays Capital reports.

12 The Dawn on Japan battling a falling birth rate. Companies have been urged to give their employees more time off to procreate; shops have offered discounts for larger families; and the government has introduced child allowances to lift the birth rate. Yet try as it may, Japan appears unable to stop its inexorable slide into long-term population decline. The long-term trend points to an accelerated decline. The current population will dip below 100 million in 2046, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo, before sinking to below 45 million in 2105.

13 Swaminathan Aiyar arguing in The Economic Times that even flawed crusaders (like Team Anna Hazare) can win. If Tamil Nadu leader Jayalalithaa with her dreadful record can be viewed by voters as a means to oust the corrupt DMK, then clearly India is fertile territory even for flawed crusaders.

14 Business Line quoting Shoppers Stop and Future Group officials, stating Diwali fizzled out on poor consumer sentiment. (Good old news reporting without attempting to weave in a growth angle or a feel-good twist.)

15 Business Line editorial on the Reserve Bank of India being a one-trick pony. If raising interest rates is the only trick a pony knows, there is no telling how much money would cost in India, even as elsewhere in the world its price nears zero.

16 The International Herald Tribune on falling prices angering Chinese homeowners. Property owners in Shanghai and other big Chinese cities are protesting as measures to cool the once-overheated real estate market prompt developers to cut prices. There is worry that the market could collapse, angering many middle-class owners who put their savings into property, expecting prices would only rise. Upset home buyers gathered outside a developer's sales office in central Shanghai over the weekend, demanding refunds after learning of the discounts now being offered. The state news media reported similar gatherings in other cities over efforts by property companies to trim inventories of unsold homes by offering discounts of as much as 40% from recent prices. Smaller cities are still booming, thanks to a gradual shift of investment inland from the coastal areas, said Xue Jianxiong, an analyst. “There will be an even more serious correction in the future, when the smaller cities see growth weaken due to the impact of the debt crisis on exports.There could be a drop of up to 50%”, Mr Xue said.

17 Mint quick edit on the Centre raising minimum support price of wheat on the same day that RBI raised policy rates by 25 basis points. No better recipe for food inflation, it says.

18 Financial Chronicle cartoon showing RBI governor D Subbarao saying, “We are hoping to wish you a happy X-mas if not a happy Diwali”.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Africa will overcome dictators, India's bridal slaves and China's prison slaves, Is America built on a lie?, Bangalore as suicide capital, and more

1 Johannesburg Times editorial saying other African nations, too, will overcome dictators. The killing of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in his home town of Sirte at the hands of his own people, should be a lesson to politicians around the world that people power will always triumph. When Gaddafi seized the reins of power in a military coup in 1969, his people never imagined that they would have to take up arms to remove him. In the 42 years that he was in charge, Libya became a world player and Gaddafi used his country's oil resources to push his agenda. In Africa, he played a critical role in helping struggling governments to liberate themselves from colonialism but the "brotherly" help soon changed into dictatorship. African leaders whose hold on power was dependent on his money and influence failed to challenge him, even when his actions imperilled African unity and progress. The collapse of his administration and his death, which were achieved with the crucial assistance of the West, gives the AU a chance to chart a new road. The likes of Gaddafi continued in power because their peers on the continent failed to condemn them. The Arab Spring movement that led to the removal of the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, and now of Libya, has given hope to nations in Africa still under dictatorship. One day, they too shall overcome.

2 The Guardian on the Gaddafi cult. He was everywhere. For more than four decades, Muammar Gaddafi’s image adorned countless buildings, billboards, banners, railings and lamp-posts. Giant portraits hung in hotel lobbies and offices. Miniature laminated versions swung on green ribbons around the necks of his supporters. His face was on T-shirts, baseball caps and wristwatches. Schoolchildren took lessons beneath his gaze, hospital patients were treated within his view. Gaddafi was not the first, and will not be the last, leader to develop a cult of the personality in order to entrench his position. But the entire modern state of Libya was built around one man and his eccentric philosophies and whims. Nowhere was the cult of Gaddafi more evident than at Bab al-Aziziya, the sprawling compound in the Libyan capital which was the nexus of his dominion. For months the hard core of the Gaddafi cult flocked there to act as human shields against the "crusader aggressor", as they described Nato warplanes. They came wrapped in loyalist green and ready to die. The long queues and rigorous security checks did not deter them. Sometimes there were tens of thousands, sometimes the numbers dwindled to a few hundred. As with all cults, some were genuinely enthralled and some were too afraid to voice doubts. Open dissent was impossible.

3 Times of India quoting a doctor from Kerala, Mundol Abdulla, who ran a Libyan government clinic in 1973 at Abu Hadhi, 15 km from Gaddafi’s home town, Sirte. Gaddafi visited his clinic and the Abdullas were invited to his residence several times where Gaddafi personally served them, tea and snacks. The 70-year-old doctor from Kasaragod revised his opinion after seeing bodies of students hanging in public places. He says bodies of university students were kept hanging on campus for a week as an example to others.(My cousin Abraham was involved in construction of the Tripoli airport, and his son, a doctor, was caught in the recent turmoil in Sirte. When I was doing a few stories for ET on the Arab Spring’s impact on India and Kerala, this young doctor who was holed up in Sirte was giving me ground-level inputs. He managed to be evacuated well before Gaddafi himself fled to Sirte.)

4 Al Jazeera on India’s bridal slaves and China’s prison slaves. India has the world's largest number of slaves, among them an increasing number of women and girls sold into marriage. India has one of the world's fastest growing economies. But the southwest Asian country also has the largest number of slaves in the world. In the midst of widespread poverty, fuelled by economic inequality and rampant corruption, a new form of slavery - bridal slavery - has flourished. Women and young girls are sold for as little as $120 to men who often burden them with strenuous labour and abuse them.

China is the world's factory, but does a dark secret lurk behind this apparent success story? Once an isolationist communist state, over the last 20 years China has become the world's biggest exporter of consumer goods. But behind this apparent success story is a dark secret - millions of men and women locked up in prisons and forced into intensive manual labour. China has the biggest penal colony in the world - a top secret network of more than 1,000 slave labour prisons and camps known collectively as "The Laogai".

5 The BBC on India’s internet surfing and shopping boom. India has a long and dominant tradition of small family businesses and street traders, but the online marketplace is growing here too. As internet use rises at a rapid pace, so too does the uptake of internet shopping. There are more than 65 million people logging onto the web in India. This might be a small proportion of the country as a whole, but in itself represents a sizeable market. It is estimated that four in every five of these web surfers shop online. At this rate, India could become one of the top 10 e-commerce hubs in the world by 2015, says Murali Krishnan, the boss of eBay India.

6 The BBC wondering whether America was built on a lie. In Philadelphia, American and British lawyers have debated the legality of America's founding documents. Recently, when Republican candidates in Nevada were debating such American issues as nuclear waste disposal and the immigration status of Mitt Romney's gardener, American and British lawyers in Philadelphia were taking on a far more fundamental topic. Namely, just what did Thomas Jefferson think he was doing?

Some background: during the hot and sweltering summer of 1776, members of the second Continental Congress travelled to Philadelphia to discuss their frustration with royal rule. By 4 July, America's founding fathers approved a simple document penned by Jefferson that enumerated their grievances and announced themselves a sovereign nation. Called the Declaration of Independence, it was a blow for freedom, a call to war, and the founding of a new empire. It was also totally illegitimate and illegal. At least, that was what lawyers from the UK argued during a debate at Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Hall.

7 The Dawn on conversions threatening a ‘Macedonian’ tribe. Nestled among the valleys of Pakistan’s mountainous northwest, a tiny religious community that claims descent from Alexander the Great’s army is under increasing pressure from radicals bent on converting them to Islam. The Kalash, who number just about 3,500 in Pakistan’s population of 180 million, are spread over three valleys along the border with Afghanistan. For centuries they practiced polytheism and animal sacrifice without interference from members of Pakistan’s Muslim majority. But now they are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants just across the border, and a hardline interpretation of Islam creeping through mainstream society.

8 The Dawn on a camera that lets you shoot first and focus later. Startup Lytro has unveiled a camera that lets people adjust the focus on photos after they take them. Work that Ren Ng started in a lab while working on a PhD at Stanford University about eight years ago has led to the creation of what is billed as the first camera that captures the entire light field in a scene. “Our goal is to forever change the way people take and experience pictures, and today marks our first major step,” Ng said as pocket-sized, telescope-shaped Lytro cameras made their public debut in San Francisco. The Silicon Valley company began taking limited orders in the United States for two Lytro camera models, a $399 version capable of holding about 350 pictures and one priced at $499 offering twice the memory space.

9 Straits Times on Hong Kong’s pampered pooches taking yoga classes. Hong Kong's pampered canines may have their own spas complete with jacuzzis and massage, but it can still be difficult for a dog to find inner peace. Help is now at hand in the shape of yoga instructor Suzette Ackermann and her yoga class - for dogs. Each Saturday morning in the city's Sheung Wan district, owners massage their pets before bringing them into postures such as the cobra pose, in which the hind legs are stretched out to the rear, as soothing music plays. (Did someone talk of brazen inequality in the world?)

10 Wall Street Journal on Bangalore as India’s suicide capital. Bangalore, known as the “Silicon Valley of India” or sometimes the “Garden City,” tragically could now also be christened “India’s Suicide Capital.” According to the latest statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau, Bangalore reported the highest number of suicides with 2,167 cases in 2009, the latest year for which data is available. Chennai was the second, with 1,412, and Delhi third with 1,215. Together the four metropolitan areas of Bangalore, Chennai , Delhi and Mumbai accounted for almost 43% of the total suicides in 35 cities measured. Bangalore topped the list for the previous five years before 2009, too. Experts point to accelerated development, sudden social urbanization and high migration as the prime factors responsible. “Rapidly rising aspirations of individuals are almost impossible to be satisfied in the city, where many have been found unable to cope up with stress,” said Mohan Isaac, a professor at the School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences in the University of Western Australia, who has studied Bangalore suicides.

11 Sandipan Deb writing in Mint about the less discussed side of Steve Jobs. Everyone knows from his 2005 Stanford speech that he was an adopted child. It is less well-known that in 1977 when his live-in girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan became pregnant, Jobs denied paternity and demanded that she abort the baby.

12 Mint story on the life of white collar inmates in Tihar jail. Dr Anju Gupta, who worked as a Tihar Jail psychologist for two and a half years says, “They tend not to mix with other people. They eat in their cells. The fell embarrassed and shy and when they go from their cells to the gates for court they are surrounded by prison security. We cannot put them among the rest of the people so they are usually separated in single cells."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Imagined in America, Tiger tale, Britain's imperial past, Child obesity in India, and more

1 Paul Krugman writing in The New York Times, ‘Imagined in America’. I am typing this column on a Dell laptop that says “Made in China” on the bottom. In fact, it was assembled in China — but the design, memory board, screen, casing and dozens of other parts were all made in other countries. And while the machine says “Made in China,” the lion’s share of its value and profit goes to the firm that conceived the idea and orchestrated that supply chain — Dell Inc. in Texas. We are never going to get those labor-intensive assembly jobs back from China — the wage differentials are far too great, no matter how much China revalues its currency. We need to focus on multiplying more people at the high-value ideation and orchestration end of the supply chain, and in the manufacturing processes where one person can be highly productive, and well paid, by operating multiple machines. We need to focus on “Imagined in America” and “Orchestrated From America” and “Made in America by a smart worker using a phalanx of smarter robots.” In total value terms, America still manufactures almost as much as China. We just do it with far fewer people, which is why we need more start-ups.

2 A tiger tale from San Francisco Chronicle. The plan was to bring home only one tiger. But then Oakland Zoo staffers got a look at the four yarn-chasing, ball-pouncing tigers that a Texas zoo was giving away. "There's no way we could take just one," said Erica Calcagno, an Oakland zookeeper who made the trek to Brownsville, Texas, where the tigers - all sisters - had been rescued from a roadside freak show. "They're gorgeous. Even when they're sleeping they're gorgeous. And we thought their story was an important one for us to tell." The Oakland Zoo will formally introduce to the public Molly, Milou, Ginger and Grace - who join 12-year-old Torako, a female whose mate died a few months ago. Beyond entertaining visitors, zoo staff hopes the tigers serve a broader purpose: to educate the public about tiger mills. Owning tigers is legal is 21 states, including California. More than 8,000 tigers live in the U.S., far more than live in the wild globally. Of the 8,000, only a few hundred live in accredited zoos. The rest live in backyards.

3 The Guardian on Britain’s imperial past. David Cameron would have us look back to the days of the British empire with pride. But there is little in the brutal oppression and naked greed with which it was built that deserves our respect. Many early campaigns in India in the 18th century were characterised by sepoy disaffection. Britain's harsh treatment of sepoy mutineers at Manjee in 1764, with the order that they should be "shot from guns", was a terrible warning to others not to step out of line. Mutiny, as the British discovered a century later in 1857, was a formidable weapon of resistance at the disposal of the soldiers they had trained. Crushing it through "cannonading", standing the condemned prisoner with his shoulders placed against the muzzle of a cannon, was essential to the maintenance of imperial control. This simple threat helped to keep the sepoys in line throughout most of imperial history.

4 Dawn story, ‘Can’t change history? Rewrite it’. Some people change history, others censor it. A much-acclaimed 1987 essay by Prof A.K. Ramanujan about the many written and oral legends of Lord Ram was deleted last week from the history syllabus of Delhi University. The tinkering with high academia had an insidious purpose. Previous assaults on scientific history writing in India occurred when the Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party was in power. The latest outrage came under the Congress’s watch. Some background would be useful. As a young boy in Lucknow I was exposed to the legend of Ram as a benign god. Allama Iqbal and Hasrat Mohani were regarded among his better-known Muslim fans. The nawabs of Awadh had ensured enough amity between upper-caste Hindus and Muslims to last a century or more. The standard greeting among ordinary Hindus of Lucknow or when they met their Muslim friends was either Aadaab or Ram Ram, occasionally Jai Ramji Ki, long live Ramji. In the 1990s, the phrase suddenly turned into Jai Shri Ram. One could smell social engineering. It is akin to turning Khudahafiz into Allah Hafiz in Pakistan. Hindutva has a political agenda, whereas Hinduism is a way of life with countless variables in beliefs and customs.

5 Dawn, on unpaid Pakistan Railways staff. With the retired workers’ protest against non-payment of pension entering its 19th day on Wednesday, most serving employees of the Pakistan Railways in Lahore could not get salaries for September. Carrying pension books and cheques that were not honoured, the elderly former workers of railways held a demonstration in front of the PR headquarters for two hours. A number of pensioners told Dawn they had not been paid for the last two to three months and were on the verge of starvation. (Heard of any railway company in the world not paying salaries?)

6 Khaleej Times on the melting of the Arctic ice. Largely unnoticed, a silent drama has been unfolding over the past weeks in the Arctic. The drama – more accurately, a tragedy – playing out in the North is the rapid disappearance of the polar ice cap, the Arctic Ocean’s defining feature. In September, the sea-ice cover on the Arctic Ocean melted all the way back to the record-low level recorded in September 2007. At 4.4 million square kilometers, it was the smallest ice cover since satellite observations began 40 years ago, with 40 per cent less ice than in the 1970’s and 1980’s. If this continues, we will probably see an ice-free North Pole within the next 10-20 years. Yes, that sounds shocking. But there is good reason to fear that the rate of decline will indeed continue to rise, and that satellite images of a blue polar ocean will grace the covers of news magazines sooner rather than later. Global warming, caused by our greenhouse-gas emissions, is thus far continuing unabated. 2010 was one of the two hottest years on record globally, despite extremely low solar activity. Thus, it is almost certain that warming – including in the Arctic – will continue in the coming decades. And the ice will continue to melt.

7 Straits Times on unregulated mining leading to collapse of a part of Great Wall of China. Unregulated mining has caused part of China's ancient Great Wall to collapse, setting off alarm bells for the Unesco World Heritage Site. The damaged portion is located in a remote area near the county of Laiyuan in Hebei province, about 200km south-west of Beijing. Villagers and local cultural heritage protection officials said about 700m of the wall, which was built during the reign of Emperor Wanli in the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620), had collapsed.

8 Straits Times reporting that the number of Singapore’s millionaires will rise by more than 100% by 2016. The number of millionaires in Singapore is expected to more than double by 2016, from the current 183,000 to 408,000. Singaporeans are also the second richest in the Asia Pacific region, and the fifth richest in the world, with an average wealth of US$285,000. This is a 32.1 per cent increase from the figure of US$215,000 in Jan 2010, less than two years ago.

9 TK Arun in The Economic Times, rubbishing the traditional idea that power derives from three things – GDP size, magnitude of trade and the extent to which a country is net creditor to the rest of the world. In the modern day, the four key determinants of power are the ability to innovate technology, cultural influence, the gap between current levels of national military technology, and the ability to muster and lead international coalitions. In all of these, the US is far ahead of others.

10 The Economic Times’ profile of Malayalam writer Kakkanadan, who lived in Delhi, Germany and Kollam. He was surrounded by people who dropped in from everywhere. They included drunkards and strangers. His doors were always open for whoever walked in. We will miss the smile of the anarchist who taught us a thing or two about the magic of words.

11 The Economic Times editorial, ‘Walk the talk’, on childhood obesity becoming a problem among the prosperous classes even in India.

12 Business Standard editorial on dealing with the grain glut. This year’s paddy procurement season in India has started with foodgrain stocks being more than double the buffer stock norms. An increase in grain stocks will put a strain on the already-scarce warehousing space. Maintaining a stockpile of nearly 55 million tonnes would mean locking up resource worth Rs 1 trillion. This is a clear sign of flawed food policy and bad economics. Government now has a monopoly and private trade has been marginalised. All limits on stockholding, movement and external trade of foodgrain should be lifted so that private trade can play its role in purchasing grains from producers, storing them and delivering them to consumers in a competitive market.

13 Business Standard on Himachal Pradesh struggling with a monkey menace. The state has over 3,00,000 monkeys and the government has a target to sterilise 2,00,000 of them in the next eight months. There will be 25 monkey-sterilisation centres to do the job. People are offered an incentive of Rs 500 for each monkey they catch. (Another reason for a holiday in HP?)

14 Financial Chronicle story that Rs 560 billion of the total bank exposure of Rs 4.8 trillion to the Indian power sector is in serious threat of default and restructuring unless power tariffs are raised by at least 50% (Yes, 50%).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joe's News Picks -- October 19, 2011

1 New York Times story, that for Mukesh Ambani and family, their palatial house is not home yet. When India’s richest man completed his extravagant 27-story new house in Mumbai last year, it incited a public debate along the lines of “What’s he trying to prove?” Now, the chatter involves a different question: Why hasn’t he moved in? The owner, Mukesh Ambani, and his spokesman have declined to discuss the matter, leaving the theorists plenty of room to ruminate. One popular explanation is that, despite the time and money lavished upon it, the building does not conform to the ancient Indian architectural doctrine known as Vastu Shastra.
Certainly the home — which is called Antilia and according to Indian news reports has three helipads, six floors of parking and a series of floating gardens — looks lived in.

When does Mukesh Ambani plan to actually move into Antilia? “I have asked him the question twice,” said a friend who has attended several parties there. He asked not to be identified for fear of ruining his relationship with Mr. Ambani, whose net worth Forbes has estimated at $ 27 billion. “He said, ‘Yes, we’ll go next month. Let it be done.’ They don’t talk about it.” Another close family friend confirmed that the Ambani family did not live at Antilia but said they did sleep there “sometimes.” This friend, who also insisted on anonymity, had no explanation. A half-mile away, in the waterfront Breach Candy neighborhood that is home to the American consulate, another rich Mumbai business clan, the Singhania family, is building a tower with cantilevered floors. Many say it resembles Antilia. The move-in date? Don’t ask.

2 Roy Greenslade criticising a headline in The Sun. The Sun’s splash headline today hardly rolls off the tongue: FISH FOOT SPA VIRUS BOMBSHELL. The sub-deck didn't help either: Treatment 'could spread Hep C and HIV'. So, naturally enough, turned to the copy, which explained that there is a health risk to people who undergo "fish pedicures." These pedicures involve people placing their feet in water so that garra rufa fish can nibble away at dead skin. (The Straits Times had a more straight-forward headline: People risk contracting infections at fish spa therapies.)

3 BBC on climate change posing a grave security threat. Climate change poses "an immediate, growing and grave threat" to health and security around the world, according to an expert conference in London. Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases. A statement from the meeting asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

4 BBC on debt collectors targeting Facebook to get money back. The Office of Fair Trading is warning debt collectors not to pursue people who owe them money on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. It is concerned that embarrassing details about their financial problems will be revealed on the internet. The OFT received complaints from debtors who were being pressurised online to pay off loans.

5 Khaleej Times on the world food situation. The Londoner who walks home with three bags of groceries will never eat the contents of one of them. Americans discarded a staggering 33 million tons of food in 2009, making food the single largest component of solid waste in US municipal landfills and incinerators. It costs the United States nearly one billion dollars a year to dispose of food waste. The countries of South and Southeast Asia produce less food per capita than industrialised countries in the West, but they waste roughly the same proportion, 30 to 35 per cent. The problem of hunger cannot be solved if we continue to seek solutions focused almost exclusively on boosting agricultural production and yields. When one-third of the food produced in the world is never even consumed, limiting waste must be our first priority.

6 MJ Akbar writing in Khaleej Times on corrupt media persons. I can’t quite determine which part of the story made me laugh, and which brought on tears, when I learnt that some zealous functionaries had passed around envelopes with Rs 500 notes to journalists in Satna who had been summoned to report on LK Advani’s anti-corruption campaign. It was not Advani’s fault; he was victim of a prevailing system. However, as pitfalls go this was a bit of a crater dip. But laughter is thin icing on a very rotten cake, and the cake is media. The journalists were indeed summoned, not invited. They were paid at the previously negotiated price of Rs 500 each. What wrenched the gut was that no one refused. This was not an isolated incident; that is obviously the going rate in Satna. But do not imagine that the isolation is limited to Satna. Few cities are as corrupt as Delhi when it comes to keeping journalists happy with the right level of lifestyle-expense compensation. The more cynically bleary among the media tribe are probably consumed by only one nagging, if private, thought: why did those reporters sell themselves so cheap?

7 Wall Street Journal asking if anyone will occupy Dalal Street. Occupy Dalal Street, anyone? Yawn. America’s Occupy Wall Street movement which started a month ago has caught on in various parts of the world, but it is unlikely to catch fire in India. The idea behind Occupy Wall Street is broadly to protest against top-level executives and bankers of corporate America and elsewhere who have grown wealthy even as the average citizen has suffered. Many of the protestors are college students, upset about having to take on more student loans to pay for college or about high unemployment. In recent days, people in other countries have tried to replicate the US protests, with varying results. Many of these factors are not relevant to India. A majority of the people live on less than $2 a day and they are more concerned about basic issues such as food, health, jobs and the need for basic infrastructure.

8 Wall Street Journal saying Indian bureaucrats are no Steve Jobs. The Indian government has launched an ultra-cheap tablet called Aakash (meaning sky) to be sold to secondary school students for just $35. The Aakash, which was designed by DataWind—a company owned by an Indian-Canadian—is the result of a government tender for an inexpensive tablet. The cost of the tablet is $46, and the government is subsidizing the difference of $11. Education Minister Kapil Sibal proclaims this will take cheap computing to the masses. But hold the champagne. India has launched several ultra-cheap initiatives like the Tata Group's Nano car that sells for under $3,000, yet that doesn't mean every one of them will succeed. It's especially risky if the government picks winners and losers, as in Aakash's case. For one thing, cheapness doesn't always guarantee customers. The famed Tata Nano, unveiled in 2009, has so far been a disappointment.

9 The Economic Times story on rising room numbers putting hotel occupancy under pressure. (It’s getting ever so rare to see such truthful stories in Indian media that do not play to advertising galleries.)

10 Deccan Chronicle reporting about two sisters aged 18 and 16 committing suicide in Madurai, Tamil Nadu because their father, a vada stall owner, questioned them for long hours of mobile phone chatting.

11 Financial Express’ ‘Eavesdropper’ column mentioning Maharashtra governor K Sankaranarayanan addressing Praful Patel as “late Patel”. Praful apparently sat staring at Sankaranarayanan, wide-eyed. (Kerala politicians are not known for their English-speaking skills. I used to know Sankaranarayanan closely in Trivandrum, particularly during his stint as finance minister, and can vouch that he is not above the Kerala average in English-speaking abilities.)

12 International Herald Tribune on Greek bureaucracy resisting efforts to reduce it. The public sector in Greece employs one in every five workers and offers lifetime tenure. (Do we need economists/analysts/journos to tell us why Greece is in trouble? )

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Joe's News Picks -- October 18, 2011

1 New York Times on the US Postal Union turning to Wall Street Journal for advice on its future. Can Ron Bloom, the restructuring expert who helped shore up the automobile and steel industries in the United States, save the ailing United States Postal Service? The labor union representing more than 280,000 current and retired letter carriers is counting on him. The union’s announcement comes as the postal service, facing a deficit of nearly $10 billion this fiscal year, is confronting critical problems in both revenue and expenses. With nearly 600,000 employees, the agency has huge labor costs even as first-class mail, a major source of revenue, has been declining because of consumers’ increasing use of e-mail. The postal service also must comply with a law requiring a $5.5 billion annual payment to finance the health coverage of future employees — an obligation shared by no other public agency or private company. The postal service says it has overpaid into the federal pension plan and proposes to recover billions of dollars from the government to meet the health payments.

The post office operates 32,000 retail outlets and delivers mail to some 150 million addresses, including businesses, residences and post office boxes. To deliver mail six days a week to those households and businesses, the agency employed about 5,84,000 people last year. Labor costs now account for 80 percent of the agency’s expenses while the United Parcel Service, for example, devotes only 53 percent of expenses to labor costs. Meanwhile, over the last five years, mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces. In that time, the volume of first-class mail declined 25 percent, including a 36 percent decline in individual letters — the kind that use stamps rather than meters.

2 San Francisco Chronicle on a hit-and-run in China sparking outrage. A video showing a toddler being struck twice by vans and then ignored by passers-by is sparking outrage in China and prompting soul-searching over why people didn't help the child. The 2-year-old girl, identified as Wang Yue, is in a coma in critical condition in Guangzhou following Thursday's acciden. The Guangzhou Daily quoted the hospital's head of neurosurgery as saying the girl is likely to remain in a vegetative state if she survives. A closed-circuit television video obtained by state media shows the toddler wandering along a narrow market street in the city of Foshan when she is struck by a van. As several people walk or cycle by, the child lies in a pool of blood and is then hit by another van. All told local media count 18 people passing by before a trash collector finally picks up the child and gives her to a woman identified as her mother. The case is the latest heavily publicized example of Chinese in distress being ignored by fellow citizens in a phenomenon seen as illustrating the corrosive effect China's headlong pursuit of economic growth has had on public ethics.

3 Guardian on scientists advising women to freeze their eggs while they are young, for better fertility. Single women who have their eggs frozen so they can put off having a family till later in life may be delaying the procedure too long, fertility specialists warn. Freezing offers women the chance to store their eggs while they are still in good condition, but many wait until their late-30s, when the quality of their eggs has started to decline, scientists found. (If this is what girls are planning to do, my condolences to young men around the world.)

4 Guardian report that Philips’ job cuts heralds a cold winter for Europe. Philips, the Dutch electronics group, has underscored the harsh prospects for European industry by cutting 4,500 jobs as part of an €800m) savings programme. Philips remains Europe's largest consumer electronics firm and a global leader in lighting but it reported an 85% decline in third quarter net profit to €74m, from €524m a year earlier. Sales were down 1.3% to €5.39bn.

5 Matthew Good writing in Guardian, ‘Don’t occupy Wall Street, surround the Pentagon’. What I want to know is why there aren't throngs of people currently surrounding the Pentagon? Yes, the people of the United States bailed out the villains on Wall Street to the tune of $700bn dollars. That said, why isn't anyone just as disgusted – or far more disgusted – with the fact that the defence budget for the fiscal year 2012 is more than a trillion dollars (supplemental costs included)? That, friends, is approximately one 14th of the entire national deficit of the US and roughly what the US owes China, its largest foreign debtor. And that's not the sum total of a bailout because of financial mismanagement. That's a single, fiscal year's budget all on its own.

6 BBC on Israel swapping over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to get one of its soldiers released. Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is due to be freed from five years' captivity on Tuesday in return for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Sgt Shalit was seized in 2006 by Hamas militants who tunnelled into Israel. The first of 477 Palestinian prisoners due to be freed on Tuesday have now started leaving their jails. The remaining 550 are scheduled to be released next month. "I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

7. BBC on China’s economy slowing. China's economic expansion slowed during the third quarter of the year as government measures to control inflation hurt growth. China's economy grew by 9.1% in the three months to the end of September from a year earlier, down from 9.5% in the previous quarter. The data comes amid fears that a slowdown in the US and Europe's debt crisis may also hurt China's growth. China is the world's second-largest economy.

8 Johannesburg Times on South Africa’s problem in issuing a visa to Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is to apply for a South African visa for the third time in two years - IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has invited him to attend a prayer meeting on Human Rights Day next year. The fresh application will be yet another headache for President Jacob Zuma, who was accused of ducking the issue as controversy swirled around the government's stonewalling of the Tibetan spiritual leader's visa bid earlier this month. Recently the government had snubbed a visa application by the Dalai Lama, reinforcing the impression that Zuma was kowtowing to China - South Africa's biggest trading partner - and sparking protests countrywide.

9 Straits Times on Richard Branson opening a spaceport. British billionaire Richard Branson on Monday opened the world's first-ever commercial spaceport in the New Mexico desert, the new home for his company, Virgin Galactic. 'Spaceport America,' as the site is called, will serve 'as the operating hub for Virgin Galactic and is expected to house up to two WhiteKnightTwos and five SpaceShipTwos, in addition to all of Virgin's astronaut preparation facilities and mission control,' said the company. About 150 people already booked for travel on the first flights to orbit attended the event. Among attendees was famed US astronaut - and second human being to step on the moon - Buzz Aldrin.

10 Straits Times on Chinese activists saving 1,000 dogs from slaughter. Animal rights activists brought together through an online campaign have rescued nearly 1,000 dogs on their way to slaughterhouses in south-west China. Around 200 activists stopped three trucks crammed with the dogs on Saturday after a web user calling himself 'Mosquito' called for the rescue on a social media site. The dogs were being taken to be slaughtered for meat, but were freed after two local animal protection groups bought the animals for 80,000 yuan (S$15,969).

11 Wall Street Journal wondering whether the Diwali bonus should be scrapped. With Diwali just around the corner, many employees look forward to a Diwali bonus from their companies. But this universe has been shrinking over the years as companies increasingly have veered away from Diwali bonuses, especially for managers. “Over the last 10 years…the nature of managerial compensation has changed,” says Santrupt Misra, director of human resources at the Aditya Birla Group. “A lot of productivity and performance-linked incentives have come in, which were almost non-existent earlier” thereby making the Diwali bonus less relevant. The “concept of Diwali bonus is more prevalent in ‘Old Economy’ companies like manufacturing and consumer goods,” says Kris Lakshmikanth, chief executive officer of recruitment firm The Head Hunters India Pvt. There, too, companies often restrict the Diwali bonus to their blue-collar workers, in line with regulations. In this globally competitive age, performance-based bonuses best help motivate employees as they are “earned and not just given out,” says Babuji Abraham who heads human resources at information technology firm MindTree Ltd.

12 Abheek Barman in The Economic Times about what Maruti Suzuki must learn. Work practices at Maruti seem to resemble China’s punishing regimes, not Japan’s famed workfloor discipline. Maruti’s contract workers are not contract workers as you and I know, but contractor workers as they used to be on plantations during the colonial era. The job of hiring these workers is given to contractors, who take a cut in the money they get from the company and pass the rest to workers. Maruti must understand today’s workers are tomorrow’s consumers.

13 PK Krishnakumar in The Economic Times on tyre majors scouting for rubber estates abroad as costlier rubber is hiking input prices.

14 AP photo in The Hindu’s Young World, showing baby tortoises chilling out on their mother’s shell.

15 Deccan Chronicle on mobile phone recharge outlets selling mobile phone numbers of their girl customers to unscrupulous people. Mobile recharge shop employees in Kerala apparently write down the approximate ages of the girls when they come to recharge their phones. They then sell a set of 20 numbers to young men, especially college students, for a large amount of money.

16 Mint story on Kingfisher Airlines telling employees that a looming capital crunch and gloomy economic environment are making it difficult to pay salaries on time.

17 Mint story on Amazon cutting out the book publisher and reaching out direct to authors. (Are you planning a book?)

18 Mint stating in ‘OurView’ that it is important that elected, and unelected institutions (like the CAG) respect the boundaries demarcated for them under the constitutional framework. It is time prime minister Manmohan Singh woke up and put an end to the chaos. As a former civil servant he can appreciate the dangers inherent in the civil service acquiring a politicized outlook.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Joe's News Picks -- October 17, 2011

1 Guardian article, ‘The global economy is broken. Here's how to fix it’. Massive injections of public money three years ago saved the system without fixing it. A financial crisis was transformed, through bailouts, into a crisis of sovereign debt. That sovereign debt crisis is now leaking back into the financial system. The system is broken, here's how we fix it. Don't tinker with ring-fencing banks. Break them up as the first step to creating an effective local lending
infrastructure. This is not pie in the sky. This is what the German banking system looks like. Its local public savings banks have supported small businesses and ordinary people throughout the
recession, where big banks run away at the first sign of trouble. Don't create new money just to feather-bed bankers and enrich the wealthy. Create new money to create new jobs and new wealth. Use quantitative easing directly to fund the renewal of our infrastructure, to build the new green economy, eradicate fuel poverty, re-skill the unemployed and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.

2 BBC’s ‘Criminal penguin captured on film’. A "criminal" stone-stealing Adelie penguin has been captured on camera by a BBC film crew. The team, filming for the documentary Frozen Planet, spent four months with the penguin colony on Ross Island, Antarctica. The footage they captured shows a male penguin stealing stones from its neighbour's nest. The birds build their stone nests to elevate and protect their eggs from run-off when the Antarctic ice melts. Males
with the best nests are more likely to attract a mate, so, in a colony of half a million penguins, the best stones are highly prized.

3 Khaleej Times reporting, Rents continue to fall in Abu Dhabi. While a number of residential projects have remained delayed at the handover stage in Abu Dhabi, additional housing supply continued to enter the market during the third quarter, with a further 2,800 units delivered,
a trend real estate advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle expects to continue in the fourth quarter. With the current residential stock of 193,000 units rising to more than 246,000 units by end of 2013, Abu Dhabi’s residential market will continue to be favourable for both buyers and renters.
4 Manu Joseph writing in Khaleej Times on new steps to tackle poverty. India’s battle against poverty is as old as its national identity, and it has achieved reasonable success, especially in the last two decades. Among the stark tokens of absolute poverty that have disappeared are those lumbering human beings with deformities and injuries that made grown men shut their eyes and children remember forever. Fewer children than ever in the history of modern India are dying of malnutrition. More than ever are going to school, and they are wearing shoes, too. Urban Indians complain almost every day that it’s getting harder to find maids and drivers. That’s a good sign.

5 Khaleej Times on the strange ambivalence on Syria. The Arab yearning for democracy that burst forth last spring has not only toppled entrenched autocratic rulers, but also presented democracies with an embarrassing dilemma. Arab Spring has held up a discomforting mirror
especially to developing countries that pride themselves for being democracies. Three major democracies – India, Brazil and South Africa, known as IBSA – by abstaining on a censure-Syria motion last week have yet again shown in practice that they do not side with aspiring democrats in the developing world. The stronger a country becomes the less disposed it may be to support principles it does not need for protection any more – and some of its oppressed citizens may invoke. Exactly one year ago, in his UN General Assembly address, President Barack Obama pointedly appealed to newly democratic countries “don’t stand idly by, don’t be silent.” India, Brazil and South Africa had almost the opposite reaction. With Muammar Gaddafi’s forces about to launch a massacre in Ben Ghazi, the UN Security Council, passed a resolution authorising all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians. India and Brazil joined authoritarian China and Russia to abstain. South Africa voted for it, only to reverse itself.

6 The Dawn, on poverty in pakistan. In Pakistan’s scenario, where approximately two-thirds of the people live in rural areas, rural poverty is a major destabilising factor. Authoritative studies have documented rising poverty levels with a decreased capacity to acquire and hold land which is the main source of subsistence in the agricultural areas. Nearly 67 per cent of Pakistan’s households are landless. The problem is thrown into sharp relief when compared to the decline in India’s rural poverty levels between 1987 and 2000.

7 Straits Times reporting on more young women taking to binge-drinking. Experts say more young women are now binge-drinking as there is no longer a stigma attached to the act. Many also have the means to support the habit.

8 Straits Times reporting, ‘School of romance’ trains men in dating. Complimenting girls he fancied did not seem to work for project engineer Ganaesh Kumaresan. Once, after meeting a girl for the first time, the 22-year-old praised her lovely smile, then her dress. Her rebuff left him scratching his head in bewilderment. He decided it was time to go back to school - to Aura Dating Academy, which claims to be the first such school in Singapore. This academy offers a year-long course to train men in the art of dating and getting into a relationship. (Has the situation anything to do with girls getting into binge-drinking?)

9 Jaswant Singh writing in Straits Times, on India’s wounded state. The September 7 bomb blast at the entrance to the High Court in New Delhi was a macabre finale to a summer of crisis. Previously, weeks of anti-corruption protests launched by Anna Harare, and supported by the
country's rising middle class, had brought India's government to a virtual standstill. To be sure, a large part of urban 'middle India' has revolted against the tyranny of daily corruption. But will the Harare-led protests deliver real change or merely media hyperbole? Whichever side one takes, the consequences are disturbing: Indian society, the core of Indian nationhood, is now questioning the very legitimacy of the Indian state.

10 Sydney Morning Herald on Test cap for teenager Cummins. Teenager Pat Cummins's meteoric rise to stardom has continued after winning a shock call-up to the Test squad for the tour of South Africa. Should he be handed his baggy green in South Africa, Cummins, who turned 18 in May, will be Australia's second youngest Test debutant, behind only Ian Craig, who debuted aged 17 years and 239 days.

11 Wall Street Journal on Jeff Bezos, titled ‘Birth of a salesman’, which has this interesting info: Last December, word leaked out about another new patent, for a system that enables people who get gifts through Amazon to return them even before they arrive. If Aunt Mildred has a habit of sending unwanted gifts, the patent says, the site will include an option to "convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred." (The patent includes the name of the presumably fictitious relative.) It allows the receiver to track when the well-meaning relative buys a gift for him and to change it to something more desirable before it ships. Gift recipients can also apply other rules such as, "No clothes with wool." The idea is not only to please fussy would-be gift recipients; it also could save Amazon millions of dollars in purchases that don't have to be exchanged. The patent lists Bezos as the inventor.

12 The Economic Times reporting on top firms sitting on Rs 4.7 trillion of cash. It signifies their refusal to invest in uncertain economic period. Corporate groups are either conserving cash or
investing it overseas.

13 Business Line on Indian aviation sector. What goes up must come down. From10 to six, and one or two more to go. Which of India’s remaining airlines will be the first to fold up?

14 Shekhar Gupta writing in Financial Express, on the Officer Raj. With the weakening of the political authority of the UPA2, civil services are enjoying a golden era of unfettered, unquestioned power. They are controlling their ministries, with the political bosses afraid of questioning any bureaucratic input as it would later be seen as a scam by a regulator or anticorruption watchdog, all totally manned by brethren in the same civil service.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Joe's News Picks -- October 15, 2011

1 New York Times on a Catholic Bishop in the US being indicted for the first time in 25 years, for failing to report abuse. The indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced on Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year. They pleaded not guilty. The case caused an uproar among Catholics in Kansas City this year when Bishop Finn acknowledged that he knew of the photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May. During that time, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, is said to have continued to attend church events with children, and took lewd photographs of another young girl. “This is huge for us,” said Michael Hunter, director of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. “It’s something that I personally have been waiting for years to see, some real accountability. We’re very pleased with the prosecuting attorney here to have the guts to do it.” The bishop signalled he would fight the charges with all his strength.

2 Johannesburg Times on ‘Facebook rapist’ getting 50 years in prison. 'Facebook rapist' Thabo Bester was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment on Friday for raping and robbing two women. (His own story, if true, is equally tragic: He burst into tears in the Durban Magistrate's Court on Friday when he explained the circumstances which he said led him to commit his crimes. He said he had been raped by his grandmother's friend when he was young, raped several times by a man who promised to look after him, and that he was gang-raped in prison. Bester told the court the difficulties he encountered forced him to commit crime. "I know I have done terrible things. This is not truly who I am. I want the opportunity to put things right," he said.)

3 Straits Times report, 'Tiger mum' urges Asian parents to relax, give kids freedom. United States 'Tiger Mum' Amy Chua urged strict Asian parents to relax and give their children more freedom but also to avoid the 'romanticised' Western focus on creativity over hard work. The Chinese-American law professor at Yale University sparked international controversy this year with her book Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, which detailed the strict parenting regime she put in place for her children and called this approach the key to success. “I think Western parents give kids too much freedom, too much choice at a young age... Asian parents like in Korea have opposite problems, giving too little freedom, too little choice for our kids,” Prof Chua said. She stressed that Asian parents often put too much focus on children's academic excellence while failing to foster social skills and 'emotional intelligence'.

4 Wall Street Journal wondering whether an MBA is worth it. Graduate business programs gained popularity during the recession as out-of-work bankers and consultants sought to bolster their résumés and others looked to change industries. But with the economy still fragile, some are wondering whether leaving the work force to pursue a full-time program is worth the risk. Applications for two-year, full-time MBA programs that started this fall fell an average of 9.9% from a year earlier, the third year in a row with a decline. Still, some people continue to believe an MBA is worth the investment. Not only do students get valuable training in managerial and technical skills, they say, but when the job market is bleak, having a network of classmates can make a difference in landing a coveted spot in finance, consulting or other industries.

5 Reserve Bank of India executive director VK Sharma writing in Business Line, ‘Meltdown fears are back’. It is not a not a question of if, but when, the asset bubble caused by increases in balance sheets of central banks will burst.

6 Financial Chronicle on Vijay Mallya – the Kind is struggling. His group of 60 firms is under pressure due to Rs 6,000 crore debt of the airlines.

7 Times of India story, ‘My symbol is diamond and I can’t give you one’, about election symbols in Tamil Nadu civic elections ranging from cot to conch, paint brush to pineapple, tree to toffee, and mirror to diamond.

8 The Hindu’s Telan ‘Gaana’ cartoon.

9 Business Standard on ‘Moving a village’ about how fields, houses and hills will all have to make way for the Navi Mumbai airport, and about the people’s resistance to it.