Wednesday, March  13, 2019

Number of the day: 391

The British parliament voted down PM Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal by 391 to 242 votes—embarrassing, but not as humiliating as the 230-vote defeat she suffered back in January. There will be yet another Brexit vote today—this time to decide whether Britain will walk out of the EU without a deal come March 29. And another one tomorrow… to decide whether to hold yet another referendum on Brexit. (In case you need a refresher, New Yorker offers a relatively pain-free visual guide to the Brexit endgame.)

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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America's biggest college scandal

The latest scandal to take America by storm has all the elements of a perfect tabloid story: Hollywood celebs, the nation’s most prestigious colleges, and pots of money. It’s also a story that is far too familiar to every Indian parent.


What happened? A bunch of very rich parents hired a ‘fixer’ to illegally get their kids into the best schools in the US, including Yale, Stanford, University of Southern California, and Georgetown University. They paid anywhere between $200,000 to $6.5 million disguised as a charitable donation—which they then claimed as a tax deduction (insult to injury etc).


How did they do it? The parents hired William Rick Singer, who owns a college admissions company. He would do one of two things to get their kid into the college of their choice:

  • US colleges essentially have a ‘sports quota’: coaches can recommend students with sub-par academic records for admissions. Singer would bribe these coaches and trainers. Together, they would create fake athletic profiles for the kids, say, as an ace soccer or volleyball player—including cases where the student didn’t even play the sport.

  • The other method: cheating on college tests like the SAT and ACT. The students would take the exam at a testing centre controlled by Singer, and monitored by a proctor (invigilator) paid off by him. The proctor would either give the kids the right answers or correct the answers after they turned in the test. In some cases, Singer would just hire someone else to take the exam instead.


So who are these celebs? The biggest name is Felicity Huffman of ‘Desperate Housewives’ fame—and married to the equally famous William H Macy. Her daughter took one of those ‘special’ SAT tests, and improved her score by a whopping 400 points. Huffman was arrested and is now behind bars awaiting bail. The other is Lori Loughlin, best known for the TV series ‘Full House’. Her husband is Mossimo Giannulli, the creator of clothing brand Mossimo. They allegedly paid $500,000 to have their daughters admitted to USC as members of the crew (rowing) team.


Anyone else? Among the 40 people charged in the case are prominent financiers like Bill McGlashan who was the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar social impact fund that counts billionaires Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Pierre Omidyar and Laurene Powell Jobs as board founders


Not indicted, however: are the colleges themselves, which are "not considered co-conspirators," according to federal investigators. Yale put out a statement describing itself as “the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach.” Most other universities have taken the same ‘victim’ line. Also not charged: the students—many of whom were apparently unaware of their parents' actions.


Why this matters: As lead investigator Joseph Bonavolonta summed it up: “This is a case where [parents] flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense, to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy, literally… Their actions were without a doubt insidious, selfish and shameful. And the real victims in the case are the hardworking students who did everything they could to set themselves up for success in the college admissions process, but ended up being shut out because far less qualified students and their families simply bought their way in.”

The bottomline: What he said.

Learn more: Los Angeles Times has all the details. Local newspaper Hartford Courant focuses on Yale. People dug up this embarrassing interview with William H Macy about the “stress” of getting his daughter into college. CNN reminds us that the uber-rich have many very legal ways to buy their kids’ way into the best colleges. Quartz weighs in on the weak relationship between a student’s happiness and the college she attends. Last but certainly not the least: The Cut’s very funny, very fake ‘Yale college application’

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...dreaming of your ‘Doggy Style’ Bedroom...


// India finally grounds Boeing 737 Max: Aviation authorities took the call late last night soon after a number of other countries—Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)—banned the plane from their airspace. The decision will only affect SpiceJet which had 12 planes in the air. The United States is among the countries yet to ground the plane. (Indian Express, our explainer here)


// The Pollachi sexual assault case: A video of a woman begging a group of men not to rape her went viral on Twitter. This was just one instance of the many assaults committed by a gang of four men from Pollachi, a town near Coimbatore. Their MO: to befriend women via Facebook, rape them—and use videos and pictures to keep their victims silent. One young woman decided to file a complaint, and now it’s a big criminal case—because it is election season and one of the men suspected of intimidating witnesses is a member of the ruling AIADMK party. (Scroll)


// The humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela: is summed up in the following headlines: One, ‘Desperate Venezuelans swarm sewage drains in search of water’;  Two: ‘Venezuela: blackouts in Caracas—in pictures’; Three: ‘Mother carries body of her emaciated 22 lb daughter to a morgue after the 19-year-old died when doctors couldn’t treat her because the blackout forced hospitals to shut.’


// In happier airline-related news: Oceania Express CEO Alex Jacquot wrote a very nice letter—scribbled on a piece of white paper—to Quantas CEO Alan Joyce seeking “tips on starting an airline.” Joyce wrote back with his best advice, also suggesting they meet to “compare notes.” Oh, did we mention the fact that Alex is 10 years old? Check out their heart-warming ‘correspondence’ here.


// Striking a blow for women’s representation: “Trinamool Congress will field 40.5% female candidates in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This is a proud moment for us,” declared Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. The announcement comes on the heels of BJD chief Biju Patnaik’s decision to reserve 33% of his party’s tickets in Odisha for women—which was promptly flagged as “hurting its winnability” by political pundits based on precisely zero evidence.


// Bitter complaints of Christian Michel: The middleman in the Agusta Westland deal has repeatedly alleged that he’s being pressured to implicate Sonia Gandhi in the bribery case (details here). On Tuesday, he told a Delhi court that he’s being subjected to mental torture in prison. Primary form of intimidation: jailing Michel in a high security cell alongside scary underground dons like Chota Rajan and Kashmiri separatist leaders. Michel’s last court outing literally ended in tears. Yeah, he’s kinda wimpy for an alleged arms dealer. (Indian Express)


// Indian engineers hit Ctrl-Alt-Stall: So what kind of job does an electrical engineering degree get you these days? Answer: repairing mixer-grinders, table fans and other household appliances in a tiny shop. The current unemployment crisis has underscored the more dangerous and enduring skills crisis. Reuters reports on the bleak future awaiting the many Indians for whom an engineering degree is the only pathway to a middle-class life. 


// Google pays off men who assault women: This story isn’t new, but fresh and damning details have now emerged as part of a shareholder lawsuit. The latest involves a female employee who accused Senior VP Amit Singhal of groping her at an off-campus event. She complained, the company investigated, forced Singhal to resign—and paid him $35 million as part of his exit package. Sexual harassment: nice work if you can get it… at Google. (Guardian)


// The full ‘Aladdin’ trailer is out: Feel free to check out Will Smith in all his genie glory right here.


// Ikea has a Kama Sutra manual for you: It’s a 44-page e-brochure with 20 bedroom designs with titles like ‘Widely Open’, ‘Busy Hands’ and ‘Doggy Style’ which promise “the highest level of fulfilment.” Daily Mail has both the gorgeous illustrations and a video—all of which are very much G-rated.

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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Sharing Lives, Sharing Wine

Forget love-shove. Domestic bliss is all about the C-word, i.e. compatibility. That’s what we’re told over and over again by parents, aunties and therapists alike. It’s important for couples to share values, life goals, hobbies and interests… and, as it turns out, a taste for alcohol. That’s according to a study which looked at couples who were married or had lived together for 30-odd years.


Read: Couples who drink together are “less irritated” by each other | Quartz

Sex, Love etc 2

Here’s How Tinder Controls Who You Date

We are all ruled by algorithms, and there is none mightier than the one which drives your dating app. For starters, it has total control on our options, i.e. who we see, and who gets to see us. So how does Tinder decide which subset of its users may be a good match for you? The answers are surprising and a little disconcerting—but also highly useful for the next time you get on a dating app.

Read: The Tinder algorithm, explained l Vox

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