Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Word of the day: Karen

The Karen generation. That’s what Gen Z is calling Gen-Xers, i.e. their parents. Karen, as in “the middle-aged white mom who is always asking for the manager and wondering why kids are so obsessed with their identities.” Also: “usually racist, homophobic, and transphobic, don’t believe in vaccines or climate change.” Ouch! Meanwhile, Indians be like: why these Amreekis bitching about mummy/daddy, always. Feminists be like: Why not Kenneth?

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Consumer spending going down, down, down

A leaked survey published in the Business Standard shows that consumer spending has fallen for the first time in 40 years! But the government is refusing to release the report because of “data quality issues.”

Tell me about the survey: Every five years, the National Statistics Office releases data on consumer expenditure based on a massive, one-of-its-kind survey. Its latest 2017-18 survey shows that the average amount of money spent by a person in a month was Rs 1,446. This represents a 3.7% fall from the previous survey conducted in 2011-12—and the first time this number has fallen in 40 years. But more importantly, it reveals a big slump in rural demand—which could indicate an increase in poverty and malnutrition.

Explain that to me: Let’s look at the data more closely:

  • The overall 3.7% dip in consumer spending is a result of a slump in rural consumption—which has fallen by 8.8%. In urban India, OTOH, it has risen by 2%.

  • The most worrying trend: a dip in food consumption for the first time in decades. On average, rural Indians spent Rs 580 a month on food in 2017-18—compared to Rs 643 back in 2011-12. That is nearly a 10% decline! 

  • And they are scrimping on essentials: cereals, sugar, spices, edible oil, and pulses.

  • What does this indicate? According to a former member of the Planning Commission, “It’s a real concern from the point of view of the welfare of the people. A fall in food spending, especially in villages, shows that malnutrition has increased. It would be fair to say that poverty must have increased significantly.”

  • Another expert reckons, "A back of the envelope calculation would suggest that the percentage of population in poverty would have gone up by at least 10 percentage points”—i.e. there are 10% more poor people in India. 

What about the cities? As we noted above, consumer expenditure has risen by 2.2% in urban India. That’s a modest increase. But here’s the puzzling part: the less affluent classes actually spent more money (plus 20%), on non-food items, such as clothing, conveyance, and durable goods—while the top 10% radically cut down their expenses on the same. As a result the rich-poor income gap (between the top and bottom 10%) has actually narrowed—from a ratio of 9.7 in 2011-12 to 7.9 in 2017-18. 

That’s weird: Now, this trend of the rich cutting back more than the poor is also true in rural India. But experts say that’s probably because demonetisation impacted rich farmers more than landless labourers. But they don’t have “a coherent explanation” for what is going on in the cities.

Ok, why won't the government release these numbers: For starters, the government says this is a draft and not a final report. The data submitted by the NSO is still being vetted because it has certain “deficiencies” in both the data and its methodology. Plus: the declining consumption trend it indicates “does not match other administrative data sources like the actual production of goods and services”—which we leave you to decode. 

So what’s next? The government is scrapping these survey results. It will conduct fresh surveys over the next two years—“after incorporating all data quality refinements in the survey process.” According to the Business Standard, this also implies that India will unlikely have an estimate on poverty for the past ten years—since the 2011-12 survey. 

The bottomline: This is the first time that the government has scrapped an NSO survey of this scale—since government institutions started collecting such data back in 1950. But it isn’t the first time that this government has junked or fudged data. Earlier this year, the government held back another key survey that showed that India’s unemployment rate was at an all-time 45-year high (see our explainer here). And it’s received plenty of flak for changing the methodology used to calculate the GDP—to show a higher growth rate. Unfortunately, changing numbers doesn’t change the harsh reality facing great many Indians. 


Learn more: The original Business Standard stories that leaked the data are here and here—but they are behind a leaky and unpredictable paywall. The best read: Vivek Kaul in News Laundry sums up the five key takeaways from the report—and the government’s decision to junk it. A related read: Mint on the bleak jobs outlook for Millennial Indians. Read Broadsheet’s explainer on consumer spending and how it affects the economy. Also: ICYMI, our explainer on the previous jobs data survey that the government blocked.

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losing all respect and interest in the royal family

A big story about electoral bonds: Back in early 2017, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled a brand new way to donate money to political parties: electoral bonds. These essentially allowed companies and other entities to make anonymous donations, i.e. no one would ever know who gave how much to any given party. But in the run up to the grand unveiling, the government encountered a teeny hitch: legalising such bonds would require amendments to the Reserve Bank of India Act. Huffington Post has now released confidential and highly incriminating documents that show how the government ran roughshod over the RBI’s strong objections. Why this story matters: “Thus far, electoral bonds worth at least Rs 6,000 crore have been sold since March 2018. Of the first tranche, worth Rs 222 crore, the BJP has garnered 95% of the money.” (Huffington Post)

Your Maha drama update is here: And it includes the emerging possibility that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will stake a claim to be CM—with deputy CMs from Congress and NCP. Or so unnamed sources claim. (Indian Express)

A totally new definition of a ‘con call’: The Delhi police busted a call centre that was conning Canadians out of tons of money. First, they acquired personal information of those who were tax defaulters or had other similar issues in the past. Then they impersonated the Canadian police to extract up to $20,000 in fines for made-up violations. Times of India has the WTF story. 

Prince Andrew used the N-word? Rohan Silva—who was an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron back in 2012—asked Andrew if the government could be doing a better job on trade. His answer: “Well, If you’ll pardon the expression, that really is the n***** in the woodpile.” Ugh! Click through if you want to know what that ugly phrase means. (Evening Standard)

Your phone bill is gonna get bigger: Airtel and Vodafone plan to hike their prices next month—for the first time in over a decade! And you can blame the Supreme Court for it. The court recently ruled against telecom companies, ordering them to pay Rs 92,000 crore to the government in past dues. So they need us to pay more so they can pay the government, and still stay in business. (our Vodafone explainer here) (Mint)

TikTok is doing a Spotify: Its parent company ByteDance is planning to launch a music streaming service next month in India, Indonesia and Brazil. An added feature: “The on-demand music service will also include a library of short video clips for listeners to search through and sync to songs as they listen.” Also: TikTok has crossed the 1.5 billion download mark thanks to India, which accounts for 31% of all installs. The company added 500 million installs in nine months!

The mystery of John Allen Chau: Remember the nutty missionary who smuggled himself on to one of the Andaman islands—in order to make contact with a protected tribe? (No? Here’s a refresher) Well, a year after Chau was reported dead—or rather, killed by the islanders—some say that he may in fact be alive. According to a police officer, “Chau trained for months to live on that island. He was conditioned mentally and physically to live with them. Until we find his body there is a remote possibility that he may be alive.” Point to remember: Indian authorities never retrieved Chau’s body, which was reportedly seen “half-buried” from a distance. (Hindustan Times)

A real life ‘Breaking Bad’: Two chemistry professors in the United States were arrested for cooking meth in their university lab. Enuf said. (The Guardian)

Is heart surgery overrated? According to a massive and hugely significant study, some of the most common invasive heart procedures—stents, bypass etc—are no better at preventing heart attacks and death in patients than pills and lifestyle improvements alone. But this only holds true for those who have “stable heart disease — generally defined as having clogged arteries, sometimes accompanied by chest pain, or angina, when they exert themselves.” Cardiologists are calling this “a milestone study that people will talk about and write about for years to come.” (Washington Post)

What in the world is happening to men’s pants? We read this GQ piece, saw (and enjoyed) the wacky photos, and still don’t get it.

A new magical coating for your potty: saves water by making your toilet so slippery that the poop just flushes itself away. This self-cleaning version cuts water consumption by half and the coating repels bacteria! Sorry, we have no potty jokes for you. (Fast Company)

Your daily dose of sunshine: includes the following 

  • Aamir Khan’s ‘first look’ as the Indian Forrest Gump. Hmm, sardars may not be pleased.

  • “If you, as a White person, would like to be treated the way Black people are in this society, stand,” demands an anti-racism activist. Watch and wonder how this powerful moment would pan out if ‘black’ was swapped out with women/ Muslims/ Kashmiris.

  • The Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow is just plain stunning.

  • Watch this mesmerising clip of a fast-moving flock of sandpipers appear and disappear. You have to see it to grasp its wonder.

  • Ok, billi lovers. This may be the best sunshine treat for you yet. We adore these photoshopped over-sized cats in whimsical creations by Andrey Scherbak, the creative director of a Moscow advertising agency. 

  • Watch ‘seriously hot’ street hawkers in Singapore courtesy the Strait Times and a gay friend with an excellent eye.

  • Ok, this story is old but we love these photos of rescued elephants in sweaters knitted by villagers in Mathura.

  • Did you know you could legally mail children to one another in the United States over a century ago? No? Behold, adorable toddlers stuffed into mail bags.
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Beauty of Imperfection’ Edition

Until now, beauty was all about erasing imperfections. But have we finally got to a point where we can jettison the entire notion of ‘perfection’? When gray hair and pimples can be and are beautiful? Or more radically, when we no longer care if they are beautiful or not?


In praise of gray hair

Yes, we all know that gray hair had its moment on the runways of Paris and New York. Oh look, 18-year olds with artificially dyed hair that just happens to be gray. But as anyone who grays with age knows, embracing one’s silver requires something else—maybe something very close to authentic self-love.

Read: The life-changing magic of discovering gray hair | Quartzy


Sex, Love etc 2

Should we be ‘acne neutral’ or ‘acne positive’?

Yes, this is one of those questions that makes all of us go ‘hain?’. But here’s what it boils down to: do you celebrate pimples as ‘beautiful’ or say being ‘beautiful’ doesn’t matter at all? And that’s the difference between being ‘skin positive’ and ‘skin neutral’—between flaunting your zits and not caring if you have one, many or none at all.

Read: ‘Acne Neutrality A Better Confidence-Boosting Benchmark than ‘Acne Positivity’ | Fashionista

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