Friday, February 21, 2020

Number of the day: $3.04 billion

According to a new report, the Indian economy lost nearly $3.04 billion (Rs 19,434.7 crore) due to internet shutdowns between 2012 and 2017. There have already been four such shutdowns in 2020, and 382 since 2012. The cost per hour of a shutdown: Rs 2.45 crore.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The mysterious welcome committee for Trump

We did our best to avoid doing a lead on Donald Trump, but sadly it is not meant to be. Here’s a quick round up of all the media madness out there—starting with the fevered speculation on just who’s putting on that grand old party in Ahmedabad.


A ‘Namaste Trump’ recap:  For days now, there has been endless talk about the mega-event in Ahmedabad—the Indian equivalent of the ‘Howdy Modi’ extravaganza in Houston. First dubbed ‘Khem Cho Trump’ and now ‘Namaste Trump’, the event will be held at the spanking new Motera stadium, slated to be the biggest cricket arena in the world. But who’s hosting this big ass party?


Who? The Donald Trump Nagarik Abhivadan Samiti. When asked if opposition leaders had received invites, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar blithely said: “This is an event being organised by the Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti. They are the ones who are taking a decision on who to be invited. I think this question should be addressed to them. The Samiti is taking all decisions on whom to invite.” At which point everyone issued a collective ‘Hain?’.


So who are they? Nobody knows. In fact, no one had heard this samiti until Kumar dropped the DTNAS bomb. They apparently don’t have a website or find any mention in event posters plastered around town. Even officials in Gujarat don’t have a clue. The Congress party handily summed up the questions on everyone’s mind: 

  • “Who is the President Donald Trump Abhinandan Samiti? 
  • When was the invitation extended to US President & accepted? 
  • Why is President Trump then saying you have promised him a grand event with 7 million people?... 
  • Dear PM, why is Gujarat Govt then spending Rs 120 crore for a 3 hour event organised by an unknown pvt entity?”


They’re spending what? That figure is a bit of an exaggeration.The Gujarat government plans to spend Rs 80-85 crore—half of which will go on security arrangements. The rest is being spent on ‘beautification’ projects: putting up walls to hide slums, widening roads etc. But to be fair: none of the reporting thus far indicated any spending specifically set aside for the event. 


Also, thickening the plot: Earlier, there were reports that the event was being organised by the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) since Trump was slated to inaugurate the new stadium. The Hindu now reports: “However, mysteriously, the inauguration of the stadium has been put off from the menu and now only Namaste Trump event is being held. Though no official reason has been given why the inauguration of the stadium has been put on hold but insiders said ‘apparently PMO is not keen for inauguration of the stadium along with the event’.”


Why does this matter? It’s about who foots the bill. When pushed on the expenditure, Kumar said: “When our Prime Minister visits abroad, we do expect such arrangements and facilitation to be done by other countries as well. So I don’t understand the big deal here.” But the ‘Howdy Modi’ event was organised and funded entirely by devoted NRIs and brand sponsors. As The Telegraph notes, “During Trump’s trip, the Ahmedabad municipal corporation is organising a roadshow and by all indications, it is the state government that is bearing the cost of the entire event and the arrangements.” Hence all the mystery and fudging of facts.


🙄 ok what else? Here’s the rest of the itinerary for Don & Melania’s excellent Indian adventure:

  • A trip to the Taj. The Obamas had to cancel their Agra plans due to security concerns. And New Delhi is determined to avoid repeating that mess-up: .“We are checking every house that falls on the route. The hotels have been asked to submit details of those staying with them to the local intelligence unit. Snipers will be placed on rooftops along the route.”  
  • Also: The presidential posse will have to ditch ‘The Beast’ and ride up to the Taj in a special battery bus—as per strict anti-pollution rules that protect the monument. Don’t know what ‘The Beast’ is? Read all about Trump’s gas-guzzling monstrosity here.
  • On a less frantic note, Melania will sit in on a ‘Happiness Class’ at a Delhi school—accompanied by Arvind Kejriwal & Co. 
  • In Delhi, the Trumps will reside at ITC Maurya. The hotel is busy preparing lots of Indian sweets and a Trump platter of kebabs, tikkas etc.—while the Donald orders a McChicken on Swiggy.
  • Also: despite reports to the contrary, the Trumps may not have time to drop in on Bapu-ji at Sabarmati. His atma is undoubtedly crushed.


Bottomline: We offer you this bit of news: “Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to India, White House officials met members of pro-Khalistani group 'Sikhs For Justice' (SFJ), which has been banned by India as an unlawful association for supporting militancy and secessionism in Punjab. As always with the Donald, no generosity goes unpunished.

Learn more: if you need it: The Huffington Post has an exhaustive list of all the window dressing done by the government so far. Hindustan Times has the photos. Mint has more on the five pacts likely to be sealed during the Trump visit. Quartz looks at Trump’s soaring approval rates among Indians.

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getting an NOC from your bae to head to the mall

Michael Bloomberg is in trouble: The billionaire candidate was pummelled during the latest Democratic debate over his rep as a seriously crappy boss. His company has faced 40 sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuits from 64 employees over the last twenty years. And an exclusive Washington Post investigation has now unearthed some of the legal docs—and they paint a very unflattering picture. For example, when his leading saleswoman shared the news of her pregnancy, Bloomberg responded: ‘Kill it.” The Cut lists the most egregious stuff Bloomberg has said to or about women. Or read the original WaPo investigation.


Your coronavirus update is here: and it includes the following: 

  • New research suggests the virus is far more contagious than scientists presumed.
  • Meanwhile, China claims that the number of new cases is declining—but that may be because it’s changed the way it confirms an infection… again! First, Beijing said it wouldn’t wait on lab results but go with doctors’ diagnoses and chest x-rays. Now, it’s going back to using lab results as a final confirmation. Medical experts are worried that all this back-and-forth will hurt efforts to track the disease.
  • Washington Post explains how the novel coronavirus actually works—and why it kills some and not others.
  • Time has an important read on how the viral outbreak has revealed the ugly xenophobic side of the Hong Kong protests.
  • In other virus related news: German software group SAP has shut down all its India offices after two of its employees in Bengaluru tested positive for the H1N1 virus. 


Deepika stirs a heated gender debate: The actor shared a photo of her as Romi Dev—the wife of Kapil Dev—from the upcoming film ‘83’. It shows her adoringly standing with hubby Ranveer who stars as the cricketing legend. But it’s the accompanying tweet that got her in trouble: “To be able to play a small part in a film that captures one of the most iconic moments in sporting history has been an absolute honour. I’ve seen very closely the role a wife plays in the success of her husband’s professional and personal aspirations in my mother and ‘83’ for me in many ways is an ode to every woman who puts her husband’s dream before her own.” And that made a whole lot of people, especially women, kinda mad—but others came to DP’s defence. Check out the Twitter debate here and here.


Alia Bhatt is winning the brand ambassador game: Alia Bhatt has cracked the top ten list of celebs earning serious moolah from hawking stuff. She is currently #7 courtesy Vicco Vajradanti, Garnier, Nokia and Flipkart—brands that are worth $45.8 million. More importantly, she’s higher on the list than Amitabh Bachchan, M S Dhoni, Ranbir Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra. The only other woman on the top ten list: Deepika Padukone. (Business Standard)


Climate change update: We’ve tried to balance the good news with the bad. First, the bad news: Extreme temperatures are putting an already vulnerable Great Barrier Reef in greater danger. The reason: Across about two thirds of the reef, temperature of the sea surface water is between 2°C and 3°C above average. The result: massive coral bleaching. That’s when corals expel the algae within them, and lose their colour. Bleaching doesn’t mean the coral is dead, but they are far more likely to die if it continues over a period of time. The reef experienced the last mass bleaching in 2016/17, and has still not recovered from its effects. In happier, happier news: A "truly, truly amazing” sighting of a huge pod of 55 blue whales off a sub-Antarctic island suggests that whale conservation efforts are working!! This is the first time the whales have returned en masse since they were butchered by commercial whalers in the early 20th century.


No meat at the NGMA: A week-long Historical Gastronomica event at the National Museum and Gallery of Arts planned to serve up an ‘Indus dining experience’. The planned menu included fish in turmeric stew, quail/fowl/country chicken roasted in saal leaf, lamb liver with chickpea etc. etc. That’s until “some MPs” objected, and now the meal will be shuddh vegetarian only. A senior Ministry of Culture official said: “This museum has so many idols of gods and goddesses, and a relic of Lord Buddha. International dignitaries visit this museum. We have to consider these sensitivities here.” (Indian Express)

Steven Spielberg’s kid has a new gig: Daughter Mikaela made waves for announcing career plans that are unusual for a famous director’s progeny. She wants to be porn star: “I got really tired of not being able to capitalize on my body and frankly, I got really tired of being told to hate my body. And I also just got tired of working day to day in a way that wasn't satisfying my soul.” According to Mikaela, her parents were “intrigued” but “not upset”. (The Sun)


Stuff that makes you go WTF: Well, we’ve got a decent haul today:

  • We discovered that Indian women travelling alone are asked by travel agents for No Objection Certificate from either their husband, father or son. We spotted this tweet, which in turn led us to this Indian Express story that indicates this shit actually happens! 
  • Some white folks are choosing to soothe their guilt by literally kissing the boots of people of colour. 
  • A new book claims that Mark Zuckerberg gets employees to blow-dry his armpits. 
  • The MP government plans to dock the salary and compulsorily retire any health worker who fails to persuade at least one man to undergo voluntary sterilisation.
  • Burger King’s new ad campaign features a disgusting, moldy Whopper. The intent: to show it is free of all preservatives. Umm, ok.


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following:

  • The Conversation offers surprising science-backed ways to beat anxiety—and a lot of them are very doable. For example: set aside 10 minutes each day during which you can worry about anything.
  • Artsy has an excellent read on the India Art Fair in Delhi—along with some lovely photos of the installations.
  • GQ profiles designer Thom Browne’s newest creation: a custom-made version of the new Galaxy Z Flip that sells for $2,500.
  • Harvard Business Review offers a fascinating ‘status signalling’ analysis of a new trend: insanely priced luxury items ‘inspired’ by super-cheap stuff. For example: a $2,000 Balenciaga purse modeled after a $1 blue Ikea shopping bag.
  • The Guardian explains why the future of perfume is gender-free.
  • For airpod owners, Gizmodo has an excellent guide on all the nifty things you can do with them. Note: you will still look weird sticking those white things in your ears. Sadly, there is no cure for that.
  • CNet reports on a mysterious looping signal received from a galaxy far away—and why some scientists think it is a sign of alien life. 
  • Inverse reports on the new and innovative methods being used by conservationists to track lions in the Gir forest. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • A beautiful second century image of a Buddha sculpture, being worshipped by  Zoroastrians worshipers. This one shows him surrounded by Hindu deities, including Indra and Brahma.
  • Madara Music performing ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’. 
  • This amazing clip of a musician playing the violin while surgeons operate on her brain. 
  • This recording of Mahatma Gandhi’s voice reading out his article on God, recorded in 1931.
  • If at first you don't succeed, Try, try again—as illustrated by this adorable pooch and an out-of-reach bowl of food.
  • Just three bear cubs playing ring a ring o’roses.
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