Joe’s News Picks — October 19, 2011

1 New York Times story, that for Mukesh Ambani and family, their palatial house is not home yet. When India’s richest man completed his extravagant 27-story new house in Mumbai last year, it incited a public debate along the lines of “What’s he trying to prove?” Now, the chatter involves a different question: Why hasn’t he moved in? The owner, Mukesh Ambani, and his spokesman have declined to discuss the matter, leaving the theorists plenty of room to ruminate. One popular explanation is that, despite the time and money lavished upon it, the building does not conform to the ancient Indian architectural doctrine known as Vastu Shastra.
Certainly the home — which is called Antilia and according to Indian news reports has three helipads, six floors of parking and a series of floating gardens — looks lived in.

When does Mukesh Ambani plan to actually move into Antilia? “I have asked him the question twice,” said a friend who has attended several parties there. He asked not to be identified for fear of ruining his relationship with Mr. Ambani, whose net worth Forbes has estimated at $ 27 billion. “He said, ‘Yes, we’ll go next month. Let it be done.’ They don’t talk about it.” Another close family friend confirmed that the Ambani family did not live at Antilia but said they did sleep there “sometimes.” This friend, who also insisted on anonymity, had no explanation. A half-mile away, in the waterfront Breach Candy neighborhood that is home to the American consulate, another rich Mumbai business clan, the Singhania family, is building a tower with cantilevered floors. Many say it resembles Antilia. The move-in date? Don’t ask.

2 Roy Greenslade criticising a headline in The Sun. The Sun’s splash headline today hardly rolls off the tongue: FISH FOOT SPA VIRUS BOMBSHELL. The sub-deck didn’t help either: Treatment ‘could spread Hep C and HIV’. So, naturally enough, turned to the copy, which explained that there is a health risk to people who undergo “fish pedicures.” These pedicures involve people placing their feet in water so that garra rufa fish can nibble away at dead skin. (The Straits Times had a more straight-forward headline: People risk contracting infections at fish spa therapies.)

3 BBC on climate change posing a grave security threat. Climate change poses “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to health and security around the world, according to an expert conference in London. Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases. A statement from the meeting asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

4 BBC on debt collectors targeting Facebook to get money back. The Office of Fair Trading is warning debt collectors not to pursue people who owe them money on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. It is concerned that embarrassing details about their financial problems will be revealed on the internet. The OFT received complaints from debtors who were being pressurised online to pay off loans.

5 Khaleej Times on the world food situation. The Londoner who walks home with three bags of groceries will never eat the contents of one of them. Americans discarded a staggering 33 million tons of food in 2009, making food the single largest component of solid waste in US municipal landfills and incinerators. It costs the United States nearly one billion dollars a year to dispose of food waste. The countries of South and Southeast Asia produce less food per capita than industrialised countries in the West, but they waste roughly the same proportion, 30 to 35 per cent. The problem of hunger cannot be solved if we continue to seek solutions focused almost exclusively on boosting agricultural production and yields. When one-third of the food produced in the world is never even consumed, limiting waste must be our first priority.

6 MJ Akbar writing in Khaleej Times on corrupt media persons. I can’t quite determine which part of the story made me laugh, and which brought on tears, when I learnt that some zealous functionaries had passed around envelopes with Rs 500 notes to journalists in Satna who had been summoned to report on LK Advani’s anti-corruption campaign. It was not Advani’s fault; he was victim of a prevailing system. However, as pitfalls go this was a bit of a crater dip. But laughter is thin icing on a very rotten cake, and the cake is media. The journalists were indeed summoned, not invited. They were paid at the previously negotiated price of Rs 500 each. What wrenched the gut was that no one refused. This was not an isolated incident; that is obviously the going rate in Satna. But do not imagine that the isolation is limited to Satna. Few cities are as corrupt as Delhi when it comes to keeping journalists happy with the right level of lifestyle-expense compensation. The more cynically bleary among the media tribe are probably consumed by only one nagging, if private, thought: why did those reporters sell themselves so cheap?

7 Wall Street Journal asking if anyone will occupy Dalal Street. Occupy Dalal Street, anyone? Yawn. America’s Occupy Wall Street movement which started a month ago has caught on in various parts of the world, but it is unlikely to catch fire in India. The idea behind Occupy Wall Street is broadly to protest against top-level executives and bankers of corporate America and elsewhere who have grown wealthy even as the average citizen has suffered. Many of the protestors are college students, upset about having to take on more student loans to pay for college or about high unemployment. In recent days, people in other countries have tried to replicate the US protests, with varying results. Many of these factors are not relevant to India. A majority of the people live on less than $2 a day and they are more concerned about basic issues such as food, health, jobs and the need for basic infrastructure.

8 Wall Street Journal saying Indian bureaucrats are no Steve Jobs. The Indian government has launched an ultra-cheap tablet called Aakash (meaning sky) to be sold to secondary school students for just $35. The Aakash, which was designed by DataWind—a company owned by an Indian-Canadian—is the result of a government tender for an inexpensive tablet. The cost of the tablet is $46, and the government is subsidizing the difference of $11. Education Minister Kapil Sibal proclaims this will take cheap computing to the masses. But hold the champagne. India has launched several ultra-cheap initiatives like the Tata Group’s Nano car that sells for under $3,000, yet that doesn’t mean every one of them will succeed. It’s especially risky if the government picks winners and losers, as in Aakash’s case. For one thing, cheapness doesn’t always guarantee customers. The famed Tata Nano, unveiled in 2009, has so far been a disappointment.

9 The Economic Times story on rising room numbers putting hotel occupancy under pressure. (It’s getting ever so rare to see such truthful stories in Indian media that do not play to advertising galleries.)

10 Deccan Chronicle reporting about two sisters aged 18 and 16 committing suicide in Madurai, Tamil Nadu because their father, a vada stall owner, questioned them for long hours of mobile phone chatting.

11 Financial Express’ ‘Eavesdropper’ column mentioning Maharashtra governor K Sankaranarayanan addressing Praful Patel as “late Patel”. Praful apparently sat staring at Sankaranarayanan, wide-eyed. (Kerala politicians are not known for their English-speaking skills. I used to know Sankaranarayanan closely in Trivandrum, particularly during his stint as finance minister, and can vouch that he is not above the Kerala average in English-speaking abilities.)

12 International Herald Tribune on Greek bureaucracy resisting efforts to reduce it. The public sector in Greece employs one in every five workers and offers lifetime tenure. (Do we need economists/analysts/journos to tell us why Greece is in trouble? )

About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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