We are back with a call out for our crowd-sourced recommendation list. This time, we are asking for your fave piece of carry-on luggage—it could be a handbag, suitcase, briefcase or backpack. Whatever you rely on to make your travel experience smoother and more comfortable. Please do the needful and fill this short form!
ICYMI: Our latest weekend advisory had the second instalment of veteran journalist and classical music aficionado Harini Calamur’s beginner’s guide on Hindustani classical music—this time it’s with the raga of the dusk, Puriya Dhanashree. We also had a wonderful selection from the Dog Photography Awards 2022. Champaca had excellent recommendations for books under 250 pages. In the Buy section, we brought eclectic and useful personal shopping picks from the splainer team. And as always, a list of the best stuff to watch.
Download the awesome app: Our app has been rebooted and now has some fab features such as the ability to swipe back and forth inside an edition. Of course, it is every bit as pretty as our new design. So hurry up and download it already!
IT officials swarmed the BBC India offices in Mumbai and Delhi yesterday—confiscating laptops and phones. The operation started at 11 am yesterday and is still underway. While there is no official statement on BBC India’s sins, unnamed government sources accuse it of “deliberate non-compliance with the transfer pricing rules” and “vast diversion of profits.”
The ‘S’ word: Tax officials insist that Tuesday’s daytime visits were not raids—but surveys. The difference: Surveys only target business premises—not residences—and only impounds transaction records. They are also undertaken during business hours. So no midnight knocks on the door. Point to note: surveys are usually precursors to a full-blown raid—though they can also be used to just send a message.
The allegations: are currently wrapped in mind-numbing jargon—with little evidence to back them. In essence, the investigation focuses on violations of the ‘transfer pricing’ rules. Transfer pricing is the value of transactions between two companies associated with one another—say a parent and a subsidiary.
The fees charged for goods, services or technology in these transactions can be manipulated to avoid paying taxes—and/or divert profits outside a country. We presume this has something to do with transactions between BBC India and its parent corporation in the UK—but are still waiting for more clarity.
A quick reminder: if you need it. BBC UK recently ran a two-part documentary on the Gujarat violence targeting Muslims in 2002—looking at the role of then Chief Minister Modi. The government has been on a rampage ever since—forcing Twitter to take down links to the documentary, and pulling it off YouTube. FYI: BBC India had no role in the making of the film.
The great earthquake: The latest update
The official death count has now crossed 40,000. But there is some good news for Syrian survivors stranded without aid. President Bashar al-Assad has finally agreed to open two border crossings to allow aid to be sent from Turkey to parts of the country controlled by rebels. The first Saudi plane in over a decade landed in the city of Aleppo carrying 35 tonnes of food aid. Why this is notable: the Saudis severed ties with Assad in 2011—and backed the rebels in the civil war. It has now pledged assistance for areas held by both sides.
Related read: New Yorker on how Assad blocked international aid for dying Syrians for over a week.
Air India’s big effing aviation deal
The Tata-owned company is on a wild shopping spree—and has placed the biggest aircraft order ever. It is buying 540 planes from Boeing and Airbus priced at a whopping $82 billion—though we presume the actual price will reflect a serious bulk order discount:). The shopping cart includes both short-haul aircraft for domestic flights and long-haul carriers that can fly to the US and Europe.
This was such a big deal that both PM Modi and French President Macron made a virtual appearance for the announcement. All of which is fabulous except AI international tickets will likely become stupidly expensive—to finance this big splurge. FYI: the previous single largest order was a 460-plane purchase by American Airlines in 2011. (Mint)
In other transportation news: The EU has given final approval to a total ban on new sales of petrol- and diesel-fueled cars—starting in 2035. What’s interesting: while conservative parties and some governments are not happy with the ban, “the European car industry itself did not lobby hard against the law, with many firms already jockeying for position in the race to become electric vehicle giants.” (France24)
UFOs in the US: The latest update
Over the past two weeks, the US military has shot down four mysterious flying objects out of the sky. One of them was a confirmed Chinese balloon. National security officials have now clarified that the other three have no connection to Beijing—or any other government. And it is unlikely that they were being used to spy on the US. In fact, they could be “tied to some commercial or benign purpose”—in which case downing them with missiles seems to be a bit of an overkill. As one Democratic senator politely put it:
It’s an expensive endeavour to scramble planes and jets, shoot these down and then muster recovery teams. We just have to decide whether that’s going to be our continuing approach anytime you see one of these.
As the New York Times reports, the skies are now increasingly crowded with all sorts of balloons—including those launched by private citizens. For example: the guy who paid to loft a device that played Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. (Wall Street Journal, paywall, Politico)
Amazon’s escalating commission fees
A new study has found that the online ecommerce platform is squeezing sellers dry. In order to offer their products on Amazon, sellers have to pay a commission fee to the company. That amount has been ticking up steadily over the years—jumping from 35.2% in 2016 to 51.8% today. Amazon now receives a 15% transaction/referral fee, anywhere between 25% to 35% in fulfilment fees and 15% in advertising and promotion fees. The increased revenue is critical for the company because of the post-pandemic slump in online shopping—but it is proving brutal for retailers:
For these small businesses, it’s getting harder and harder to be profitable because they are spending more and more money on Amazon fees. Amazon might be tempted to keep increasing fees because it’s in a tough spot, but you have to reach some kind of equilibrium.
Not helping matters: Consumers are becoming increasingly more discount-conscious—forcing sellers to keep their prices down. (Bloomberg News via Economic Times)
Beware great global warming floods!
New research lays out the catastrophic consequences of flooding caused by melting glaciers. As the planet heats up, glaciers retreat and melt—forming glacial lakes. These lakes can flood at any time—posing a huge threat to everyone who lives downstream. According to the study, 15 million people are currently exposed to this looming threat of devastating floods. At greatest risk: people in India, Pakistan, Peru and China—who together account for 50% of the total population at risk. BBC News has more on how these floods will occur.
Top Iranian chess player exiled
Sara Khadem is one of the bright up-and-coming talents in the chess world—currently ranked #17 in the world. She has been exiled by the Iranian government because she decided to participate in an international tournament in Kazakhstan without her headscarf. Arrest papers were promptly issued back in Iran. She has now relocated to Spain with her husband and baby—having successfully sought asylum.
We all romanticise those all-night study sessions and parties—stumbling through the campus bleary-eyed. But a new study shows that the lack of sleep has a serious impact on a student’s grades:
Researchers found that every lost hour of average nightly sleep at the start of an academic term was associated with a 0.07-point drop in a student’s end-of-term GPA. When a student slept less than six hours a night, the effect of lost sleep on a student’s grades was even more pronounced.
The reason for this link: Sleep deprivation affects memory and attention span. And yet the average college student in the US gets less than six hours of sleep.(Washington Post)
On a more bizarre note: A study out of London claims to have found evidence to back up what mean folks have been saying forever—men buy sports cars to compensate for their penis size. The paper—titled "Small Penises and Fast Cars: Evidence for a Psychological Link"—has not been peer-reviewed and its methodology is, umm, dubious. Researchers first fed participants ‘inflated’ information about penis sizes—to make them feel inadequate. And then asked them about their shopping habits: "We found that males, and males over 30 in particular, rated sports cars as more desirable when they were made to feel that they had a small penis." Yeah, right! (Futurism)
Speaking of sports cars: Insanely priced Lamborghinis have already sold out for the year. The company planned to sell 100 cars in 2023 for a whopping minimum price of Rs 38 million (3.8 crore). India is one of the fastest growing markets for Lambos—usually bought by “businessmen and ultra-high networth individuals.” Hmm, wonder what it says about their penis size… fine, fine, we won’t be mean. But still, Rs 38 million on Indian roads? (NDTV)
Something to see
Warner Bros just dropped the trailer for ‘The Flash’. What’s not to like about a movie with multiple Batmans—both Ben Afflect and Michael Keaton—plus Supergirl. Okay, you may not be as fond of the leading man Ezra Miller—who has been in constant trouble with law enforcement for worrying incidents of aggression and violence. The movie is set to release on June 16. (The Verge)