Thursday, November 14, 2019

Number of the day: 39

Pneumonia claims a child’s life every 39 seconds. According to a new UNICEF report, the number of children under five who died due to the disease last year: 800,000.  The countries most affected: Nigeria (162,000), India (127,000), Pakistan (58,000). Additional cause for Delhi residents to worry: children living in areas with high levels of air pollution are at a far greater risk.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A bunch of big international headlines

There isn’t anything new on the India front, but there’s been plenty of action in the rest of the world. Here are some of the biggest stories making headlines.

The SoftBank effect: Everyone is talking about New York Times’deep dive into the effects of its investment strategy on millions of contractors and contract workers around the world. In case you can’t access it, here are the key takeaways:

  • The Times reviewed contracts and internal company documents at SoftBank-funded start-ups. The paper also interviewed more than 50 workers and contractors in Chicago, New Delhi, Beijing and Bogotá.

  • The pattern: SoftBank’s strategy has been to throw piles of money at over-valued startups that rely on contractors for their business model. It has 16 such companies in its portfolio—and they are among its biggest investments. For example, Uber. In India: Oyo, Ola, Grofers and Delhivery.

  • The companies used SoftBank’s money to attract contractors with wildly attractive incentives. For example: at Ola, 62% of what drivers earned in 2016 came from investor money rather than fares.

  • However, SoftBank has started to pressure its companies to cut costs without sacrificing growth. As a result, companies like Oyo or Ola cancel and cut payments to their contractors and hike their fees—even as they offer deep discounts to customers. The Times offers the example of Sunil Solankey who signed an exclusive contract with Oyo—which guaranteed him Rs 6 lakh/month for three years. But the payments stopped within a year. Deeply discounted rooms have remained empty—but Solankey still owes Oyo its increasing fees. He is in debt and in danger of eviction.

  • The Times calls it “a distinctly modern version of the bait-and-switch.”

  • Read our explainers on Oyo and WeWork—and how they reflect a highly risky investment strategy that is failing to pay off.

Hong Kong protests turn very ugly: Protests that have been raging all year have recently taken a very nasty turn (Read our explainer for background).

  • Over the last couple of months, the police has resorted to more violent measures, leading angry protesters to retaliate in kind. 

  • On Monday, there were three separate incidents that marked a new escalation. A policeman shot a protester. Another policeman in a motorbike tried to run over a crowd. And a group of angry protesters set a man on fire in the midst of a confrontation.

  • Now the battlefield has spread to the Chinese University of Hong Kong—where students are using bricks and petrol bombs to stop police from entering the campus. The police used repeated rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets.

  • Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam warned: "[I]f there is any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the government will yield to pressure to satisfy protesters' so-called demands, I'm making this clear that will not happen." 

  • CNN has the story. CNA Singapore has the astonishing photos.

Impeachment proceedings begin: On the first day of public congressional hearings, two key State Department officials told a story that is now already familiar: President Trump asked Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, and used US aid to pressure him. There wasn’t much that was new here, except that the witnesses are now speaking in public. CNN offers its analysis. (For background, read our explainer)

(Un)Natural disasters around the world: Both Australia and Italy are reeling from extreme weather, but of an entirely different kind.

  • In Queensland and New South Wales, bushfires are wreaking havoc across large swathes of land. Australian authorities recently rated the situation as “catastrophic”—the highest point on its six-point fire danger scale.

  • Despite best efforts, 150 fires are still raging in NSW, while Queensland has 70. Around 1.1 million hectares have been scorched in NSW.

  • The situation is no longer considered “catastrophic” but remains extremely dangerous. The reason: there is no respite in sight from the hot and dry summer.

  • In Italy, Venice has been submerged by the highest tides in over 50 years. Nearly 85% of the city has been flooded, and the water level climbed to over six feet. The word being used to describe the situation: ‘apocalyptic’.

  • While ‘acqua alta’—the word used to describe high tides in the Adriatic sea—is a natural phenomenon, this occurrence was exceptionally extreme: flood waters reached the second-highest level since records began in 1923.

  • Two people have died and the waters have caused hundreds of millions of euros of possibly irreparable damage.

  • The suspected culprit in both cases: climate change.

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sipping wine from a very blurry glass

Supreme Court opens itself up… a little: In a landmark judgement, the court ruled that the Chief Justice of India and his office comes under the Right to Information (RTI) Act—but with important caveats. While it declared that "in a constitutional democracy, judges can't be above the law,” the court also emphasized the need to protect “judicial independence, privacy and genuine public interest.” Who will decide whether transparency or privacy will rule the day in any given case? Why, the Supreme Court, of course! Still, the judgement marks an important victory for judicial accountability. (Times of India)

SBI joins the gloomy GDP choir: The bank joined the ranks of every other global agency and downgraded its forecast on economic growth in the second quarter of this year. The SBI’s number: 4.2%. (India Today

Disney Plus has a blockbuster launch: with over 10 million sign-ups within a day in the United States. And this despite technical glitches that didn't allow many to connect with the service. To be fair: many of these folks are just in for the initial 7-day free trial. So the number of paying Disney customers remains to be determined—though its subscription plan is a whole lot cheaper than Netflix et al. As for its India plans, Hotstar tweeted: “Hi, We are working on bringing Disney+ to India. The launch date is yet to be announced; stay tuned. Thank you!” The illegal downloads, however, have already kicked off

The good/bad news about Facebook: The good news: Facebook Pay is finally here! Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, you can now send that money you totally do not have via Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram—and your payment information is seamlessly integrated across all platforms. The bad news: The camera on the Facebook’s iPhone and iPad app secretly turns on when the user scrolls through the news feed. The company says it is “a bug” that was "inadvertently introduced.” Uh-huh. 

In other surveillance-related news: Here is an excellent guide to protecting yourself from all kinds snoops—be it companies or the government. (Mint)

In other Instagram news: It has launched a Tik Tok rip-off called Reels in Brazil—and is likely to spread as quickly as a global epidemic if it does well. (TechCrunch)

The second bid to land on the moon: aka Chandrayaan 3 is already underway. The deadline: November 2020. (Times of India)

A big win against animal cruelty: Scientists can print a piece of skin—about the size of your thumbnail—in less than a minute. The ‘skin’ is made of donor skin cells and collagen, and can be used to test whether a beauty product or shampoo is toxic or will cause irritation. The result: it may put an end to animal testing! Yes, yes, yes! (Reuters)

Mixed news for spouses of H-1B workers: A US court has refused to abolish rules that allows work permits for holders of H-4 visa—which is granted to the spouses and kids of H-1B visa holders. But there is little cause to rejoice as yet. The matter has been sent back to a lower court for “reassessment.” And the work permit may well be ruled unconstitutional. (Quartz

Trump blames India for garbage in LA: The latest gem from the US president: "We have a relatively small piece of land—the United States. And you compare that to some of the other countries like China, like India, like Russia, like many other countries that absolutely are doing absolutely nothing to clean up their smokestacks and clean up all of their plants and all of the garbage that they're dropping in sea and that floats into Los Angeles."  Trump also described himself as “very much into climate.” Aren’t we all. (NDTV)


India Inc has a working women problem: And it looks like this: Of every 100 new corporate jobs that were created in 2018-19, only 37 went to women. The number for the year before: 25. Data collected by Business Standard

(paywall) from 77 of India’s largest companies shows that men took the lion’s share of the 1.15 lakh new jobs created over the past year. One expert “summed up impediments for the women workforce as the acronym 3M: marriage, maternity and mobility.”

Want some propaganda with your porn? China’s campaign against the Hong Kong protests has moved to Pornhub—where supporters are uploading videos that are being taken down by YouTube. Consider yourself warned. (Quartz)

An Eiffel Tower on Rajpath: The government is planning to construct a very tall tower as part of its plans to revamp Lutyens Delhi. It will be 194.7 metres to be exact—in tribute to the year of India’s independence. Well, at least it isn’t a statue. (Times of India)

John Legend was voted the sexiest man alive: by People magazine. And then he promptly ruined it by doing this

Nita Ambani has a job at the Met: She has been elected to the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She will be the Met’s first Indian trustee. We have no comment, but KJo is super-excited on behalf of all of us. 

Close your eyes, it’s sauvignon blanc! Indian censors have decided that our sensibilities are far too delicate to be subjected to the sight of seriously offensive content… like a wine glass! All alcohol-tainted bottles and glasses have been mercilessly blurred out in the upcoming Christian Bale-Matt Damon-starrer, 'Ford v Ferrari'. Yes, there are incriminating (and kinda funny) stills from the movie. (Huffington Post)

Emperor Penguins may march into extinction: by 2100 due to climate change. According to a new study, “all 54 known Emperor Penguin colonies would be in decline by 2100, and 80% of them would be quasi-extinct.” The reason: they depend on Antarctic sea ice to breed and to escape predators. And it is disappearing.  (The Conversation)

In happier climate change news: Asthma sufferers can breathe a little easier. Their inhalers are not choking the planet! According to a recent study, certain inhalers emit greenhouse gases to the tune of 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per device. Media headlines even in respected news sites like BBC News screamed: “Asthma carbon footprint 'as big as eating meat.'” Not quite. When we look at how much inhalers contribute to our total carbon emissions, the number is absurdly small. In the UK, for instance, they represent only 0.14% of all carbon emissions. So why the hype? Because it is easier to focus on individual choice than the vast systemic changes required to tackle global warming. (Washington Post)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Got Your Period?’ Edition

Menstruation is the blessing and bane of every woman’s existence. Getting your period can feel like a curse. But it’s no easier when they entirely stop.


Stop putting up with PMS 

Millions of women experience cramps, fatigue, mood swings, bloating, food cravings, and acne—all symptoms that our period is round the corner (or already here). According to one expert, what is ‘normal’ is not in fact ‘okay’. And she’s developed a method to biohack your PMS with lifestyle changes and natural supplements. We’re not sure we entirely buy it, but the interview is definitely worth your time.

Read: PMS is ‘not normal,’ this expert says: Women need to stop putting up with it | The Lily

Sex, Love etc 2

Losing my brain to menopause

New research is looking into the relationship between the onset of menopause and cognitive decline. And it may help explain why the vast majority of sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease are women. One key factor: the loss of estrogen. 

Read: What Menopause Does to Women’s Brains | The Atlantic

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