India’s newest temples – luxury malls to indulge the new elite

India’s small-town industrialists have been travelling to New Delhi, the capital, in their safari suits and gold Rolex watches to shop for handbags, watches, and shoes from luxury brand showrooms. On the streets of Bombay, Fendi strollers and Prada diaper bags are currently the most coveted items for some of the new mothers in India’s new elite…

India, today has the fastest growing number of dollar millionaires in the world. The 2008 Forbes List of Billionaires featured 53 Indians, the highest ever figure in Asia.

And in Vasant Kunj, a suburb in south Delhi, one “super-mall” promises to offer the new elite consumers exclusively luxury brands especially designed for India’s rich and famous. DLF Emporio.

DLF Emporio is a temple to self-indulgence; the rich can stroll past the imposing imperial palms, through courtyards where Mughal fountains tinkle and under the gold leaf ceilings in what is intended to be a brand heaven. “They need a Chanel bag or Armani tie to show the world their status. It’s the easiest way of distinguishing themselves from the crowd,” says Priya Tanna.

Technopak, a New Delhi-based retail consultancy group, estimates that 1.8 million Indian households earn $100,000 or more a year and spend about $10,000 per year on luxury goods.

And there are plans to build even bigger malls.

These are gated compounds of consumption. The rich are “sealed off from the sight and smells of the poor.” The malls symbolise the rigid segregation of Indians based on wealth.

Please understand – these people are not evil. They let themselves become symptoms of contradictions impossible to maintain in a healthy society.

Kickbacks and corruption drain millions in Military Space Pork

Cantrell, contractors, Congressional aides go fishing

Michael Cantrell, an engineer at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters in Huntsville, Ala., along with his deputy, Doug Ennis, had lined up millions of dollars from Congress for defense companies. In 2000, Cantrell decided, it was time to take a cut.

“The contractors are making a killing,” Cantrell said he recalled thinking at the meeting, in 2000. “The lobbyists are getting their fees, and the contractors and lobbyists are writing out campaign checks to the politicians. Everybody is making money here — except us.”

Within months, Cantrell began getting personal checks from contractors and later returned to Ronald Reagan airport with Ennis to pick up a briefcase stuffed with $75,000. The two men eventually collected more than $1.6 million in kickbacks, through 2007, prompting them to plead guilty this year to corruption charges.

Cantrell readily acknowledges concocting the crime. But what has drawn little scrutiny are his activities leading up to it. Thanks to important allies in Congress, he extracted nearly $350 million for projects the Pentagon did not want, wasting taxpayer money on what would become dead-end ventures.

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Irish immigrant honored as the first through Ellis Island

More than 80 years after her death, the first person to pass through Ellis Island finally has a marker on her last resting place. A Celtic cross carved from Irish blue limestone has been placed on the Queens gravesite of Annie Moore, who was just a teen when her 1892 trip through the immigration center made headlines worldwide.

Her descendants, clergy and Irish personalities dedicated the memorial inside Calvary Cemetery in Woodside during an emotional ceremony that featured bagpipes and a letter from presidential candidate Barack Obama…

As a 17-year-old from County Cork, Ireland, Moore was given $10 in gold when she passed through Ellis Island on Jan. 1, 1892. Historians long believed that the mother of at least 10 moved West and settled in Texas, but a dedicated genealogist debunked the myth while researching a documentary.

In 2006, Moore was found in an unmarked grave at the cemetery, buried with six of her children.

“She stands for the countless hundreds of thousands of Irish people who crossed the Atlantic and settled here in New York,” said Niall Burgess, Irish consul general.

My Italian grandfather’s naturalisation documents sit here on my desk. I don’t ever forget where my family came from and how.

Priest gave children hands-on sex ‘lessons’

Two men who say they were molested as teens by the Rev. Donald McGuire testified Friday that the now-defrocked priest convinced them that they were “addicted” to masturbation and needed to be “educated” on how to stop it.

The “education” included looking at sexually explicit magazines such as Playboy and Playgirl and watching X-rated films.

The Rev. Donald McGuire, 78, a Chicago-based Jesuit priest for most of his career, is charged with taking children across state lines to abuse them.

One alleged victim, identified in federal court only as Dominick, now 22, said McGuire had him masturbate just short of climax. Now married and living in Rochester, N.Y., said he felt guilty about masturbating twice a week as a 13-year-old.

“It was new to me, and I was scared about it,” said Dominick. McGuire told the teen that “if I didn’t master this, I would go to hell,” said Dominick…

Both alleged victims said McGuire had them give him massages that included rubbing his genitals. Dominick alleged that McGuire put oil on the boy’s penis, examined it with a magnifying glass, and performed oral sex on him.

Nothing quite matches a well-informed, thoughtful religious education.

Pirates reveal a tangled web of illegal weapons trading

Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian ship, the Faina, have threatened to blow up the vessel – which is carrying an undercover cargo of Soviet-made tanks for an African state – unless a multi-million pound ransom is paid.

The pirates in the saga – now in its fourth week – are the equivalent of Fagin’s pickpockets who have made the mistake of stealing a mafia godfather’s top-secret briefcase. Inadvertently, the pirates have done the world’s ordinary citizens a favour. Without their intervention, it would not have been known that Ukraine, with the help of a cast-list of other shady players, is helping to fuel a potentially deadly future conflict in Africa’s largest country, Sudan…

While NATO, the UN, the European Union and innumerable states have now recognised the seriousness of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and northwestern Indian Ocean and have created a UN-sanctioned Maritime Security Patrol Area to combat attacks, the Faina’s murky cargo raises even bigger issues.

The ship – which is Belize-registered and has had three previous names – is carrying thousands of tonnes of weapons, including 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks.

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The Mystery Worshipper

Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service. Churches enlist Thomas Harrison, a former pastor from Tulsa, Okla., and a professional mystery worshipper.

Mr. Harrison — a meticulous inspector who often uses the phrase “I was horrified” to register his disapproval of dust bunnies and rude congregants — poses as a first-time churchgoer and covertly evaluates everything from the cleanliness of the bathrooms to the strength of the sermon. This summer, Mr. Harrison scoured a megachurch in Cedar Hill, Texas, and jotted down a laundry list of imperfections: a water stain on the ceiling, a “stuffy odor” in the children’s area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink and a sullen greeter who failed to say good morning before the worship service. “I am a stickler for light bulbs and bathrooms,” he says…

At least half a dozen consulting companies have introduced secret-church-shopper services in recent years. The A Group, a Brentwood, Tenn., marketing firm for churches and faith-based groups, now conducts mystery-worshipper surveys at 15 to 20 churches a year, up from a handful five years ago. Church marketing company Real Church Solutions in Corona, Calif., introduced mystery-worshipper services five years ago. “First-time guests, they don’t come with mercy, they come with judgment,” says the company’s president, Chris Sonksen. “They’re looking for a reason to leave.”

Having done some mystery shopping for a global chain, I get a special chuckle from the whole tale. And the complete article is a fun read.

There will be some who shun modern merchandising research and, no doubt, some of it is as spooky as software designed by engineers and sold by hucksters. Lots of disconnects from reality.

The basic premise is sound if grounded in useful information. And fun for the cranky and curious.

Thanks, Helen

Veterans group rates McCain/Obama voting record

The veterans group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has released a “scorecard” which gives letter grades to members of congress based on their voting record for veterans issues. Senator John McCain received a D, while Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden both received a B.

According to the group’s Website, the grades were based off of how many times a member of Congress voted along the same line as the IAVA’s own position on 22 key votes affecting veterans (nine in the Senate and 13 in the House).

The report also features a list of the best and worst voting records on such issues.

I’ve seen the director of the IAVA, Paul Rieckhoff, on TV a few times in recent months – saw him mention this study in passing, last week, and looked up this story about it.

The IAVA doesn’t especially endorse political candidates; but, is willing to confront a hypocrite like McCain who prattles about his war stories as if he’s speaking for all veterans when, in fact his record on veterans’ needs sucks.