Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Quote(s) of the day

"I think what is happening is sad... It's just bad.... I would love to see a Bangladeshi immigrant who comes to India and creates the next unicorn in India or becomes the next CEO of Infosys." That’s what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith—when asked about CAA. Microsoft then tweeted another Nadella statement which declared: “I’m shaped by my Indian heritage, growing up in a multicultural India and my immigrant experience in the United States. My hope is for an India where an immigrant can aspire to found a prosperous start-up or lead a multinational corporation benefitting Indian society and the economy at large.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A very royal family feud

Over the past year, Britain’s royal family’s troubles have unfolded like a classic Bollywood joint family drama: bhai-bhai ka jhagda, serious bahu vs bahu rivalry, disapproving elders and rebellious youngsters. Yesterday, the family matriarch—aka the Queen—finally stepped in and rendered her ruling. 

Family drama recap: Jab Harry met Meghan and decided to ‘settle down’, many approved. The once wild child—infamous for Nazi salutes and Las Vegas sex romps—had chosen a biracial divorcee and actress, making overdue history in a lily-white royal family. But the couple proceeded to build a much-too modern family, and their breaks with tradition became successively larger:

  • The birth of the great mutiny was marked by (what else) an Instagram account: @sussexroyal—as Harry & Meghan abandoned the handle they shared with Will & Kate. 

  • Then they abandoned the home they shared with bhai and bhabhi—Kensington Palace—to set up house in Frogmore Cottage (renovated to the tune of $3-plus million).

  • Then came a documentary where Harry acknowledged “inevitably stuff happens” and said that he and his brother “are certainly on different paths at the moment”.

  • The final breach: Their recent announcement on (where else) Instagram that the couple will “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent.”

  • An urgent family summit was called. And the two brothers issued a joint statement condemning a Sunday Times story suggesting a deep rift between the brothers.

Wait, what’s the problem, though? Members of the royal family lead lavish lives at the expense of taxpayer money. But with extreme privilege comes extreme scrutiny. And that includes inevitable and relentless hazing from British tabloids—which have been especially harsh on Meghan. Last year, Harry issued a statement condemning the “bullying”—which he said reopened the wounds of Diana’s death: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” As for Meghan, she teared up during the documentary when asked about the pressures of her royal role.

Ok, what did the Queen say? She issued a statement that was uncharacteristically personal—with one royal observer saying it "read to me like a grandmother talking about the family.” The media latched on to two key bits. 

  • The Guardian notes: “In a highly unusual move Harry and Meghan were not referred to as the duke and duchess in the statement, only as the Sussexes and by their first names, raising questions about whether they will retain their titles in the future.”

  • Also: While respecting the couple’s “wish to live a more independent life,” the Queen also emphasized: “Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives.” Translation: opting out of family duties also requires fully opting out of the taxpayer trust fund.

So how will they manage? The popular theory is that they will model themselves on the Obamas. Think lucrative book deals, Netflix series, speaking engagements etc. And the couple already have applied to trademark the ‘Sussex Royal’ brand across items including books, calendars, clothing, charitable fundraising and campaigning. But existing Palace guidelines insist that royal family members should not “try to exploit, either deliberately or inadvertently, the member of the royal family’s position, associations or access.” Also: any attempt to monetise their brand may in fact tarnish its regal sheen.

OTOH, mummy and daddy: If all else fails, Harry can always fall back on the old parental safety net. Diana left the bulk of her £13m fortune to her sons, and Prince Charles’ £20 million annual income currently funds over 95% of the couple’s bills. 

What’s next? As the Queen herself noted, there “are complex matters for my family to resolve.” These include the couple’s plan to split their time between Canada and the UK. But who’s going to pay for their security as they shuttle between homes? Canadian taxpayers or the Brits? Also up in the air: whether Harry & Meghan will give up their royal title in exchange for greater freedom in making financial choices. 

The bottomline: Unlike the Obamas, the royal couple do not have a proven track record of high-profile public service. Meghan was previously a successful TV actress, while Harry has mostly been, well, a junior prince. The two want the best of both worlds: to leverage the very royal status they’ve rejected to turn themselves into a brand. That’s a hazardous path in this fickle cancel-addicted world.

Learn more: The Guardian has the best overview. BBC News does the best job of delving into their current finances, and exploring future sources of income. Associated Press via Hindustan Times lists the many unanswered questions raised by this family drama. You can read the full text of the Queen’s statement here. Want goss on how that family summit went? Daily Mail has all the dirt. New York Times has a detailed timeline on how things went sour. Business Insider explains why the future of British monarchy may be at risk.

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tearing up over animal rescue videos out of Australia

Say hello to stagflation? Stagflation is when an economy experiences inflation, a slow or stagnant growth rate and a relatively high unemployment rate—all at the same time! The first warning sign: Retail inflation shot up to 7.35% in December—the highest since July 2014. And that’s a big jump from the November number: 5.54%. The biggest culprit for our shrinking buying power: vegetables which experienced a 60% spike in prices. Specifically, onions which skyrocketed by 328%. Some experts think the threat is overstated since our growth rate is still above 4%. And many hope that sabzi prices will come down in the months to come. But the number will affect the Reserve Bank of India’s willingness to cut interest rates. The reason: you don’t want to put more money in consumers’ hands when prices are rising. And that is a big blow to the government’s plan to kickstart consumer demand—which has been in the doldrums, as well. (The Telegraph)

The Oscar nominations are out: and the highlights include the following: 

  • ‘Joker’ swept 11 nominations, including best picture, director and actor for Joaquin Phoenix. Timely hot take:  ‘Why Joker is not the best picture of the year and is actually dumb as hell.’ 

  • The other big winner: Netflix which received 26 nominations—mostly because of ‘The Irishman’ and ‘Marriage Story’. 

  • The biggest snub: director Greta Gerwig whose movie 'Little Women' scored six nominations including best picture. Vox weighs in on the fact that a woman has never been nominated for best director.

  • Other snubs: Robert De Niro for ‘The Irishman’ (he was dissed by the Globes, as well); JLo for ‘Hustlers’; Lupita Nyong'o for ‘Us’. The entire list of disses here.

  • Cynthia Erivo is the sole person of colour nominated in an acting category.

  • But OTOH, the Korean language film ‘Parasite’ swept six nominations, including best picture and director.

  • The full list of nominees is here.


A new crackdown on Walmart, Amazon: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has launched a probe into the two big global e-commerce giants. The allegation: anti-competitive practices. Specifically: “exclusive launch of mobile phones by the e-commerce firms, promoting preferred sellers on their websites, deep discounting practices and prioritising some seller listings over others." (Reuters)


In more bad news about Walmart: The company’s India operation is slashing its cash-and-carry store operations. The result: 100 fired employees including a third of its top execs. It also plans to shut its largest warehouse in Mumbai, and halt new-store expansion in India. One reason for the rollback: A shift in focus from offline stores to e-commerce. The company will either sell its offline operations or merge it with Flipkart’s backend. In related layoff news: It’s not just Oyo. A number of high profile startups—including Ola, Paytm, Quickr, Zomato and Rivigo—are slashing their headcount. Economic Times details the widespread downsizing underway.

NPR really, really wants to get to know you: The planned National Population Register plans to collect the following information about you: the place and date of birth of your parents, nationality and—as per the latest leak—mother tongue! More alarmingly: “The objective of NPR is to create a ‘comprehensive identity database of every usual resident’ in India. The database… will be seeded with individual data points such as Aadhaar number, passport number, driving license, mobile number, and election cards.” Two points to note: One, unlike the census which collects aggregated data, the information collected by the NPR is linked to individual households and its members. Two, as one expert points out, “Unlike census data, which cannot be shared [it is protected by the Census Act], NPR data enjoys no protection.” (Hindustan Times

Australia rushes to the rescue: The death toll of animals lost to wildfires is now over a billion—yes, one billion! And Australians are scrambling to save as many as they can.

  • Animal shelter charities have launched search and rescue missions on Kangaroo Island—described as a “little Noah’s Ark”, for endangered species. A head of one such charity said her organisation “found one live koala among thousands of dead koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and birds. ‘The scenes were nothing short of apocalyptic.’” Watch a brief clip of the operations (no, there isn’t any footage of dead animals).  

  • Also: relief workers are air-droppingthousands of kilograms of vegetables to feed wallabies stranded by bushfires.

  • In related news, Australian Environment Minister has warned that koalas—once considered ‘vulnerable’—could be declared ‘endangered’ in many parts of the country. 

  • Recommended read: ABC News on what the potential loss of the koala means to Australia. 

  • The Atlantic has the best photo gallery of animals rescued from the bushfires (Warning: some are hard to look at).

  • Need some cheering up? Watch this lovely clip of a dehydrated koala in search of water, and the pup who plays generous host.

  • This story celebrates the gentle heroism of wombats who are selflessly sharing their burrows with animals fleeing the wildfires. Also: did you know that they are fricking huge?

  • Also: This hilarious video of a ‘drop bear’ prank the rescue workers played on an ITV reporter. A reminder that a sense of humour is essential even in the direst of times. 

  • In other news: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is being slammed for his donation of $690,000 to the Australian wildfire recovery—which is less than he makes in 5 minutes 

In happier news of a ‘playboy tortoise’: Diego was shipped over from the San Diego zoo to the Galapagos Island. His mission if he chose to accept it: save his species from extinction by making lots and lots of love. He was one of the 14 male tortoises selected to take part in a breeding programme—which has proved to be a giant success. And Diego is the proud papa of 800 of the 2000 tortoises produced by the project. (BBC News)

Chain smoking the blues away: It’s official. There’s a good reason why you crave that cigarette when you’re feeling down and out. New research shows that sadness plays a strong role in triggering addictive behaviour—more than any other negative emotion, including anger, disgust, stress, fear or shame. (Indian Express)

Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest Goop offering: ‘This Smells Like My Vagina’ scented candles. Hard pass.

  • The newest fashion trend: boob armour. A story that oddly also has a Gwynnie angle. 

  • Alex Karev has left 'Grey's Anatomy'—without warning or a send-off. And fans are rightly pissed. 

  • Cheetle. What is that, you ask? Hint: Try eating a bag of Cheetos. 

  • The bizarre three-way battle of Baazigar memes between Congress, AAP and the BJP. 

  • These jaw-dropping photos of a volcano eruption in the Philippines. 


Cool stuff we learned on the internet: 

  • So we saw this image of a gorgeous coconut octopus that emits a blue glow on Twitter. That got us googling, and then we found this priceless Smithsonian video on this amazing species than can ‘walk’ and use tools. 

  • The Guardian explains why the growing popularity of almond milk is threatening the survival of bees. Ok, this isn’t exactly a ‘cool thing’ to learn… but we are smarter for it, nevertheless. 

  • Reliance is working on a Chrome browser extension to its visual recommendation app Fynd. What this means: You will be able to find a knock-off to that fab PC outfit the moment you see it on Netflix.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The excellent news that ‘Chhapaak’ has already done a lot of good. The Uttarakhand government has now announced a pension scheme for acid attack survivors.

  • This Indian Express profile of ‘Nazmaa Aapi’, a delightful character created by Saloni Gaur—who has won many hearts thanks to her dark and dry sense of humour, especially on CAA. Check her out on Twitter or Insta.

  • A funny thread about a ticketless passenger worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

  • The wildest cars at the Tokyo Auto Salon 2020. Laptop/desktop viewing highly recommended. 

  • The newly appointed Army Chief Mukund Naravane offered to recover Pakistan occupied Kashmir if so commanded. Azad Kashmir’s Minister of Information, Sports, Youth Affairs, Archeology & Tourism (hey, that’s what his Twitter bio says) gave this fitting reply. We can’t stop laughing.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Desi Khana’ Edition

Americans have recently discovered what we Indians have long known: We have the most delicious cuisine in the world. Here are two very different takes on desi khana’s conquest of the New World.


Why does our food taste so damn good?

We live in a culture where we are constantly lured into bingeing, and scolded for being 'too fat`—creating the perfect environment for a booming industry of weight loss advice. Each fad or piece of research brings a new no-no or yes-yes. And a lot of it is bs. Here then are six of the worst diet myths. It's mostly common sense—but sometimes we all need to be reminded of the obvious.

Read: What makes Indian food so delicious? | Washington Post

Sex, Love etc 2

Say hello to the Dosa Man

Thiru Kumar’s dosa cart was the first of its kind when he opened shop nearly 18 years ago on a street in Greenwich Village. This Sri Lankan Tamil refugee’s spin on the almighty masala dosa—which includes less-than-classic ingredients like salad—has made him a culinary legend in New York.

Watch: The Legendary Dosa Man of NYC | YouTube

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