Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Corporation

I saw the documentary ‘Corporation’ over the weekend and I thought that the documentary raises some serious concerns. At the outset I want to say that this article is not so much of a review of the documentary as it is a discussion of some of the topics covered in the documentary. I would also appreciate your input on the issues.

When I popped in the Corporation DVD, I anticipated a documentary on the perils of a capitalistic society (which it was). Even though the documentary has an air of anti-capitalistic agenda I found that the concerns in the documentary are very real and should be given a lot more attention than currently given by the mainstream media. The documentary shows how every individual (be it as a customer, employee or investor) is a part of the problem and could be a part of the solution.

As a consumer I thought I was pretty savvy until I watched the documentary. I discovered that a lot of information is withheld from the customers. I was especially alarmed about the rbST (artificially introduced growth hormone) in the milk issue. I will be discussing the rbST issue in depth in the next post.

[Do check your milk cartons for rbST content. If there is no mention of rbST on the carton then there is a strong possibility that the milk you are drinking contains rbST. Milk that does not contain rbST explicitly says so. However the presence of rbST is NOT mentioned on cartons of milk that contain rbST. The potential risks of consuming milks from cows that are treated with growth hormones are not clearly understood. So if you don’t want to consume milk with rbST, start buying all natural or organic milk.]

Although the discussion in this article relates to America, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that these issues are relevant to every country. After watching the documentary I realized that I had grossly underestimated the extent of exploitation by large corporations.

Profits over people - Exploitation of employees
We know that giant corporations exist and that they are willing to cut corners to maximize their profits. Wal-mart is an exemplary example of that. I know many people who boycott shopping at Wal-mart altogether. But even if you don’t shop at Wal-mart, no matter which giant retailer you choose, you are still supporting some sleazy corporation which is violating human rights. Everybody has heard about Nike outsourcing jobs to sweatshops in countries like China to get cheap labor. What I didn’t know was that all the other major shoe retailers like Reebok and Adidas also do the same. So unless you exclusively buy shoes from (expensive) stores like Beyond Skin or limit your purchase to the few domestically made lines of shoes from companies such as Converse, you are supporting the overseas exploitation in sweat shops. Same goes for clothes. If you have a pair of jeans from Levis or a shirt from GAP in your closet, you have bought a garment made in some sweatshop overseas. In fact there is a strong possibility that all your clothes were made in some sweatshop, unless the garment has a union label or you only buy clothes from fair trade organizations or employee owned businesses.

The pro-sweat shop argument
The companies that employ cheap labor claim that the people who work in the sweatshops would’ve been unemployed and even starved to death without their business. So in essence, the businesses are doing the sweatshop workers a big favor. In reality the wages are starkly low. The businesses can afford to pay higher wages. The profit margins are absurdly high. The laborers work inhuman amount of hours to make enough money so that they can sustain themselves. Of course if the workers demand better wages, the businesses wouldn’t think twice about taking their business elsewhere.

Exploitation of consumers
The exploitation does not stop at getting cheap labor. The corporations don’t care about the well being of the customers either. Important product information (such as the presence of rbST in milk) is withheld from the customers in the interest of product sales. Here is a clip of Erin Burnett from MSNBC who justifies the sale of low quality (to the point of being hazardous) products. She thinks it is okay to sell children’s toys with lead paint or toxic food-products because it keeps prices low.
Environmental hazards
Our increasing dependence on modern commodities has fueled a lifestyle that results in detrimental pollution of our environment. It is the price we pay for progress. I regard people who enjoy the comforts and advancements of a capitalist society as hypocrites when they talk about the evils of capitalism without altering their lifestyles. It is silly to try and impede progress. Capitalism is not a bad idea, it needs some tweaking not abandoning. The better strategy is to find solutions to reduce/regulate the toxic waste generation. There are several green earth organizations working towards these goals. Hence my belief was that the best solution was to create awareness about nature conservation and designing protocols for environmentally friendly practices would slowly steer us towards an eco-friendly environment.

Turns out the availability of green alternatives or lack of awareness is not even a main issue with corporations. It is all about money. Big corporations are so ruthless about making profits that they make a risk-benefit assessment for getting caught dumping poisons in the environment in terms of the fines they have to pay. They’d rather take the risk of getting caught and paying fines instead of investing in better practices for sewage disposal. So to control illegal dumping of toxic wastes, we have to find better solutions. Since, the only thing that these corporations care about is money; in my opinion the monetary fines should be raised to a point that the corporations seriously rethink their strategy of dealing with wastes.

What can we do?
As customers we can make many choices to work against bad practices that harm people and environment. It is not going to be easy to make the necessary changes because (a) it requires extra effort and (b) the alternative lifestyle can be expensive. But realizing that the alternative lifestyle is not so much of a choice as it is a necessity should help foster the necessary changes.

The first step to make these changes is to learn and research these issues. I did my own research and discovered some websites that offer information and solutions on some of the issues I discussed.
1) Fair Trade Federation This organization stipulates better environment and income for workers and artisans to bypass the exploitative work conditions in sweatshops. The website also states that the FTF marked products don’t cost more than the amount you pay the major retailers. How? The organization works directly with the producers to cut out the middlemen.
2) Sweat shop watch
3) Earth 911

If you have additional tips or quips about the issues at hand I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The future's not ours to see, que Sera Sera

As a student in India, I found that critical thinking was largely lacking in science classrooms. Even the examinations seemed to test ones ability to memorize rather than indulgence in critical thinking which is at the very core of scientific thinking. It is no mystery to me then, that the two scientists I worked for in India were highly superstitious. One of them would put a red tilak on the paper mail that contained the manuscript about to be delivered for review before publication in a science journal. The other scientist I worked for was well traveled and even did a stint in research labs in the UK. But all the training in scientific thought did not shake her beliefs in her spiritually advanced Guru who could appear in two places at one time.

If this is the state of the scientific thinkers in India then what can one expect from the scientifically ignorant masses? It is no wonder that astrology is so popular in India. The idea that one can predict someone’s future based on the position of the planets in the solar system does not sound ludicrous to a (ridiculously) large number of people. It can be hard to regard astrology as hogwash when you grow up in a society where it is not uncommon to make major life decisions based on astrological charts. Marriages are fixed depending on the position of Saturn. Cars are purchased on the most auspicious days as determined by planetary alignment. A streak of bad luck can be fixed by wearing prescription precious stone (rings) in an effort to woo the planets in your favor or to ward off the cosmic bad vibes.

As with most superstitious beliefs, the faith in astrology is set through personal anecdotes. Once the superstitious beliefs are set in through confirmation bias it is hard to convince the person otherwise. No amount of experimental or statistical evidence that debunks astrology will challenge a believer’s set notion. A handy personal anecdote will void the need for questions or doubt. Questions such as, “how does astrology work?” become irrelevant. It has already been strongly instilled in the minds of the believers that it does not pay to have doubts. Blind faith is regarded as a virtue. The flaw lies in asking questions. So a person who sets his/her beliefs through rational thinking is thought to be close minded (the irony!) to things which have proved their efficacy through personal anecdotes rather than evidence based methodology.

Dawkins butts heads with astrology in his TV series called “the enemies of reason”. He chats with an astrologer who makes a living by publishing horoscopes in a newspaper. Dawkins suggests a simple experiment to test the veracity of astrological predictions. The experiment would be to cut out any one horoscope from a week old newspaper. Tell each individual (irrespective of their sun-sign) that the predictions apply to their sun-sign and then ask them how accurately it predicts what happened to them in the last week. Then calculate the accuracy of the prediction. The astrologer flat out refused to participate in the experiment.

Here is a short video clip of “The enemies of reason”. You can also watch the entire episode here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stardust: Movie review



Stardust is another patriarchal fairytale that has not strayed from the standard recipe of a Hollywood magic fantasy drama. Although the movie is based on a book, the plot is rather sloppy. I am afraid J.K.R.’s stories have made movie goers like me expect a little more from the world of magic in general. So even though the special effects were great and the movie had some fun laughs I found the movie underwhelming. There is no complexity to the characters or the plot. Things happen just so that the plot moves along and most of the times it doesn’t make any sense, even in the magical kingdom where the writer is only limited by his imagination. The only saving grace for the movie is the humor which is very reminiscent of the Pirates movies.

The main plot is about lovers and finding love (ugh!). So you should be prepared for a fair amount of lovey dovey stuff piled onto more mush. When I say that the mush quotient is pretty high, I kid you not. There are lines like, “For you my love I would do anything. I would go to the end of the earth and pluck out some stars for you.”

The plot (that never thickens):
Once upon a time there lived a horny young man who wasn’t getting any action in the human world and so decided to try his luck in the magical kingdom which happened to be in the forbidden area across a wall. The man manages to sneak into the magical kingdom and starts checking out the streets of the magic kingdom for prospective mates. As luck would have it, he meets a super horny princess who is chained to a trailer which is in the middle of the busy market. What is a horny princess doing in the middle of a market soliciting strange men? A witch has enslaved the princess with her magic powers and so the princess is bound to the witch's trailer. (Cue: gasp!). But that still does not explain the horniness. Is she under a horny spell? Nope. Hey, women have needs too you know.

Anyhow, since the princess is bound to the trailer, the first order of business would be to rescue her. Nyoooo! There is no time. Well a quick quickie if you insist. Into the trailer they go and nobody comes a knocking when the trailer is rocking. It is wham bam thank you ma'm. The man returns to the human world and forgets about the whole thing. Alas, nine months later he finds a baby at the doorstep. The new daddy takes the news of his fatherhood pretty well by the commitment-phobic-movie-dad standards. He does not even get a paternity test. But that is not as strange as the fact that he does not ever try to get in touch with the woman who bore his son. Maybe they didn't have much in common, other than the son. At this point it is best you lay your questioning mind to rest if you want to enjoy the movie.

The rest that follows is the same old rehash of fairytales. There are two types of women, the smart hence ugly witches. Okay, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a witch, so they aren't all ugly. But all the independent women are evil witches. The other women fall in the category of damsels in distress. The men are busy killing each other when they are not romancing the women...except Robert De Niro who is a closet cross-dresser. Then there is the matter of saving the life of a fallen star (who morphs into Claire Danes on earth) before the witches or power hungry men get to her.

In the end, good conquers evil and the good guys live happily ever after...oops gave away the ending. But you knew that since the story began with once upon a time.

Rating: Blah with some giggles

Thursday, August 09, 2007

3,2,1...lift off Endeavour

Yesterday was the day that space shuttle Endeavour launched. I had the noble intentions of witnessing it in person as Cape Canaveral isn’t too long a drive from where I live. But all such plans had to be sacrificed due to cruel work deadlines for Buck. So I camped out in front of the PC and turned on the live coverage feed on NASA’s website. It was pretty cool to watch the astronauts get suited up in the prep room, all with a wide grins on their faces. If it were me, I would’ve been shitting bricks at that point. I guess the grueling training and their (crazy) dream of floating in space keeps them strong. I take my position in the cheering section and gape at the countdown clock.

As I made myself comfortable in the office chair I wondered why I wasn’t on the couch instead. No this is not about the logistics of moving my couch. I am asking why doesn’t a single mainstream/popular channel give a live feed of the shuttle launch. Look at the popularity ratings of all the crappy reality shows. I am sure that a TV show on astronauts would do well. Not that it would be a crappy show but I think it would still be appealing for the masses.

Am I the only one who thinks that this is one of the most exciting events? Dare I say it is even more exciting than the World Cup or Superbowl. Sure, there are folks who follow shuttle launches closely but it is nothing compared to the hysteria a game or ever Harry Potter’s fate has managed to generate. Maybe my nerdiness prevents me from understanding the lack of enthusiasm for such events. So I am going to build a case for shuttle launch friendly channel(s). I predict that a reality show on astronauts will have a good demographic provided TV channels join in to create hype.

I mean we follow the dreams and aspirations of models (America’s next top hoochy mama) and Southwest air-hostesses (Airline). So why not astronauts and space shuttle launches?

What are the things that have a good following?
1) People who do crazy things (usually for money)
2) Sports
3) Magic, paranormals, psychics
4) Science fiction based shows
5) Celebrity related shows

(1) It is no secret that reality TV shows cast people who are crazy (for the drama and cat fights). If they are looking for kooky characters, I am sure there are plenty of those at NASA (remember the diaper wearing astronaut lady who, not surprisingly, got a lot of media coverage). Let’s face it, to be an astronaut you have to be a little crazy. Who in their right minds would volunteer to sit in a vehicle that is attached to a massive fuel tank that burns a million liters of fuel in less than ten minute? (Fear factor…phooey!)

(2) The shuttle travels at 17,180 mph for some part of its journey. Talk about zero to 60 in a fraction of a millisecond. NASCAR fans…hello?

(3) If David Blaine can dazzle the audiences using cheap tricks, space technology should be able to woo the audiences. Like Arthur C. Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

(4) I can’t imagine this being a hard sell to audiences that love watching science fiction shows.

(5) This would be a great publicity stunt. Put one of the celebrities on a shuttle launch. There are quite a few adrenaline junkies in show biz and they can certainly afford to pay for the ride.

Wouldn’t the HP fans (who waited patiently for three years to figure out the fate of little Harry Potter) want to know what is to be of these valiant muggles who are about to float in space? Look no magic!

It isn’t a stretch to imagine a star wars and star trek fan camping out in front of Cape Canaveral for all of last week. I haven’t watched star wars and so I am not sure if it is accurate to deem the fans as folks who would appreciate space related technology.

From the popularity of action movies I would guess that there are a lot of folks who enjoy watching stuff blown up. When was the last time you watched a million liters of fuel burned up in 8.5 minutes?

The movie channels could pitch in with a day of space movies like Apollo 13. News channels that seem to have a dearth of news stories and spend air time covering local hot dog competitions and stories of women who want to go to jail to quit their compulsive smoking habits (Bah!) should be happy to do an in depth coverage on the shuttle launch. It is not a hot political issue that their sponsors might have objections to.

At least for one day we could ‘space out’ from the regular mind numbing programming. Interview the astronauts, do a short film on what kind of training these astronauts go through, what would they achieve from this mission, what kind of food they eat on the shuttle, how they shower (or not), what kind of difficulties and odds they have to surpass for a successful mission. It is a physically and mentally challenging ordeal and a once in a lifetime experience. Aren’t more people interested?

Wait…don’t answer that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Go Dawkins!

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and one of the most prominent pro-science voices. He has authored several eloquently written books like “The selfish gene” and “The blind watchmaker”. I only wish more people would read Dawkins and Sagan instead of Crichton and Cook.

In his latest venture, Dawkins is making a series called ‘The enemies of Reason’ which is to be aired on TV on 13 August, 2007. In this series, Dawkins takes on practices such as astrology, tarot, psychic readings and the topic we recently discussed, homeopathy. I quote from the Sunday Times review on Dawkins’ series:


As Dawkins says: “There might be bad scientists, but that does not mean the methodology of science is bad.” For him the acid test is forever and always: “Test it!” This is a principle totally lacking, he charges, at the Royal London Homeopathic hospital, recently refurbished to the tune of £20m, including £10m from the cash-strapped NHS, and with a plaque certifying the endorsement of the Prince of Wales. (His title for episode two of The Enemies of Reason is The Irrational Health Service.)


Meanwhile it is no secret that there is a severe funding crisis in biomedical science research. Currently in the US, eight out of ten quality research grant application are going unfunded.


What is undisputed is that homeopathy derived from an early misunderstanding of the principle behind vaccination: that like cures like. But actually a real vaccine stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. What makes homeopathy so truly absurd in Dawkins’s inexorable logic is the idea that a substance becomes more powerful the more it is diluted. The idea, widely believed though totally unproven, is that water retains a “memory” of the molecule, though if it did he points out – as the people of Gloucester might nowadays bear in mind – it would also “remember” the salt, mud and urine it once contained. He cites the statistical probability that “one molecule in every litre of water drunk once passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell”. Hardly reassuring for royalists.

“I say to doctors who use homeopathy: if you can identify this you’d have discovered a whole new force in physics. Either there is no effect, in which case you shouldn’t be charging people money, or there is an effect, in which case you should prove it and win the Nobel prize.”

The fact that homeopathic doctors and patients do claim there is a benefit he puts down to the human body’s power to restore itself when given the psychological boost of someone else’s concentrated concern and attention: the average half hour to an hour, rather than the typical eight-minute NHS GP consultation. “There was a time when old-fash-ioned family doctors used to hand out placebos but now they aren’t allowed to because it’s against medical ethics. Now it’s only the homeopaths who are allowed to benefit from the placebo effect.

“Homeopathy started out about 200 years ago at a time when conventional medicine was considerably more dangerous. At least they weren’t applying leeches.” Dawkins insists that phenomena including religion, myths, superstition and science need to be seen in their historical context. He quotes the science fiction author Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law, “any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

“But you can’t simply reverse that and say that because it calls itself magic now it must be future science.”


The article in the New York times gives a good overview on what the show is about and if you won’t be able to catch the show do read the article because it touches on most of the topics that will be covered in the show.

I am happy that finally such initiatives are taking place and being broadcast on national television…albeit on Channel 4.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Top 11 all time favorite video/PC games

(11) Ignition
This game had the most scenic and awesome looking routes. Amongst the rides, you can choose to drive a school bus and the kids will yell when you drive recklessly. It was a riot.

(10) Prince of Persia
This game used to stress me out with the super long jumps and guards sneaking up on you. Never made it to the princess. If only it was a prince I was rescuing, I would've tried harder.

(9) Bejeweled 2
Mildly addictive for me but it used to annoy me to no end when a PC voice would declare loudly at the end of every failed level, "No more moves." I know that!!

(8) Mortal Kombat
Finish him...flawless victory! Still cracks me up. I have no idea why I enjoyed playing this game. I am not a big fan of combat games but this one was pretty entertaining. I even liked the movie and I had nightmares of the Scorpion character. Anything that moves in a snake like manner and shoots snakes through its palms is creepy!

(7) Street Fighters
I loved the fact that there were female characters to choose from. There was no blood and gore and every character had a different combat style. So I loved this game.

(6) Mario brothers
Who doesn't love Mario brothers? Even my mom would play this game and she had the tendency to lean in the direction of the jump. Okay I did that too.

(5) Minesweeper/Pearl Hunter
It took me a while to actually get the game but once I did there was no stopping me. But it is not as exciting once you figure it out. Nevertheless a great game to learn while growing up.

(4) Word racer
Started playing this game with the sole intention of kicking a certain somebody's ass which I did (:p). Haven't played this game too much recently ('coz there aren't too many takers as I kick everybody's ass).Okay I don't want to do too much trash talk or I might have to eat my words one of these days.

(3) Text twist
Oh man! There was a time when my entire lab was addicted. All of us would gather around a PC and play this game obsessively. The highest score ever was in the 200 thousands.

(2) Cubis 2
Love this game! It is something like Rubik's cube but not exactly. I have finished all the levels so I am hoping that yahoo games will come up with Cubis 3. Come on people!

(1) Guitar hero
You have to play it to believe it. It has to be one of the most addictive games ever. I was hooked after playing it just once. I actually bought Playstation 2 to be able to play GH!! I know it is nerdy to have guitar-controller skills (and no skills whatsoever when it comes to a real guitar). But it is the best simulated rock star experience money can buy. Plus it is a good insight into how complicated it really is to play a real guitar because the controller is the super simplified version of a guitar and it is still challenging.

None of the Wii games made the list because I haven't had the chance to try it out yet. But that be my fav list and now you know.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The sugar pill that kills

In our quest for finding remedies for diseases, we have acquired a deep knowledge of many of the diseases. Even though there are still a number of diseases that we cannot clearly understand or treat, we have made an incredible amount of progress. On our way to these discoveries, we have also tried out therapies which were designed out of limited knowledge and ignorance about the inner workings of the human body. One such treatment was designed by a German man named Samuel Hahnemann (1755 – 1843). Now we are talking about a time when the cures were worse than the disease. It was a common practice to use leeches to treat everything from fever to menopause.

The way that menstruation was seen during the 1700s was as a way of the body to get rid of impurities. So when menstruation ceased during menopause, what was thought to happen was that the blood remained within the body, clotting and stagnating ... The logical solution was the application of leeches — to a woman's genitalia, to her back, or to the nape of her neck, to try and remove this excess blood. — Dr Marilys Guillemin
Ouch! The good old days seem not so good anymore.

Okay so if you were a woman from the 18th century your options were (a) get a blood sucking leech stuck on your crotch or (b) eat two sugar pills (or whatever form they sold their sugar pills then) a day. I am sure that the woman without a leech stuck upon her crotch reported that she felt healthier than her leech therapy availing counterpart. So it wasn’t a surprise that homeopathic treatments became immensely popular.

Hahnemann came up with treatments based on the “laws of the similar”. It is something akin to ‘it takes a thorn to remove a thorn’. He came up with the idea that if you give the patient an extremely small amount of the substance that is causing the disease then you will get better. So if you were suffering from malaria and you go to the homeopath, s/he would give you an extremely diluted (no not plasmodium!) 18th century version of the causative agent of malaria. By extremely dilute, I mean that the substance is diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. In other words pure water.

Some of you might say that nobody with a sound mind would treat severe diseases like cancer or malaria with homeopathic medicine. From my personal experience, I know that people don’t always make the right call given the choice between Western medicine and herbal (no side effects) treatments. When I was about six years old, I got malaria and my father decided that I should take homeopathic treatment for the fever. I ended up with malaria so severe that I had to be admitted to a hospital for several days. Thankfully I was able to recover completely after I was taken to a proper doctor. But even so my father still gets homeopathic prescriptions for many of his illnesses.

When people resort to homeopathic medicines for conditions that are chronic or not treatable by Western medicine I deem it the same as praying. Although the medication does not make the patient better it also does not make the condition worse. However, there are also people who rely solely on homeopathic remedies and succumb to the disease when they could’ve made a recovery with allopathic treatment. I knew one such woman, who lived in my neighborhood and died of jaundice because she decided to take the homeopathy pills (solely) instead of allopathic medicine.

This is one of the many examples of the gullibility of the masses that blindly follow arcane ideologies. People don’t bother to assess the authenticity of the treatment that they choose. If it is popular it must work. The quack doctors who practice this stuff are licensed by government institutions giving B.H.M.S. and D.H.M.S. degrees to sell sugar pills to the sick that are in need of some real medicine. It is no wonder that homeopathy is not regarded as the quack medicine that it really is.

Many of you might even know people who swear by the benefits of homeopathic treatments…people who have recovered by taking homeopathic pills where allopathic treatments failed. These folks have simply experienced a placebo effect or have recovered as a result of the natural healing process of the body. Like they say, “If you take medicine to cure a cold it would take a week and if you don’t take medicine it will take seven days.” Our body is a complex system that has evolved with an arsenal of defense mechanisms to combat the myriad of bugs on its own. Most of the time, we are successful in warding off these menacing diseases without any medication. The amount of recovery time varies and sometimes people take homeopathic medicines after an initial round of allopathic medicine. The allopathic medicine can reduce the burden of pathogens and give the body a chance to recuperate and sometimes the recovery time is long. So although the relief was primarily due to the allopathic medicine, since the patient’s full recovery happens while taking the homeopathic follow-up treatment, the patient’s belief in homeopathic medicine is re-iterated.

Some people in developing countries also lend credibility to homeopathy because of its popularity in the West. This kind of thinking comes from the common misconception that the Western world is made up of (scientifically) progressive thinkers. Even though most of the cutting edge research comes from developed countries, the majority of the Western population is superstitious and largely ignorant about science.

The popularity of homeopathic medicine is such that it is accepted as a branch of major hospitals (affiliated with research centers). The problem with this is that its association with research hospitals is giving it undue credibility. Unlike the extensive research that backs all the allopathic drugs before they hit the market, most of the homeopathic medicines have not even been tested, partly because it is impossible to test something that doesn’t even exist in the final prescription as a result of the incredible dilutions. The few studies that claim to test homeopathic medicine do so without proper controls, statistics or scientific methodology or protocols. Batra hospital and research center is one such hospital in New Delhi that offers alternative medicine in addition to allopathic treatments. Here are some of the quotes from their website that advertises the benefits of homeopathic treatment.

Homoeopathy: Magic of minimum dose:
Homoeopathy has a unique approach for preparation of drugs in which the end result will contain only the ‘dynamic curative power’ of drug substance, devoid of any original crude substance. By a special mode of preparation called ‘potentization’, over 2500 homeopathic medicines are prepared from sources such as vegetables, animals, minerals, chemicals, etc. Hence homeopathic remedies with its ultra minute doses are non-toxic, absolutely harmless and bring about SAFE CURE.


Of course it is harmless, you are prescribing water!

Homoeopathy offers wonder treatment for Viral infections:
Viral infections such as common cold, influenza, measles, Chickenpox, mumps, viral hepatitis (jaundice), viral meningitis etc. are very well treated with homoeopathy.


Now this is where it gets scary. If they were selling drugs to treat common cold it would be nothing more than fraud. But they are making false claims about curing diseases that can be fatal if left untreated. They are murdering people.

So in a nutshell, homeopathy is a large scale fraud operation that needs to be thwarted by educating people and not associating such quack therapies with hospitals and research centers. The government needs to take an active role in condemning such medical malpractices instead of certifying these mass-murdering witch-doctors.

If you are interested in reading more about why homeopathy is quack medicine check out this article called Homeopathy: The ultimate fake by Stephen Barett M.D.

If you would rather watch a video then check out “Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural” by Brian Brushwood

(Also crossposted at my new blog for science writing)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Miss Potter

I am not entirely sure how I ended up watching the movie Miss Potter. The DVD cover had a photo of Renee Zellweger’s and Ewan McGregor in a lip lock. Did Zellweger snag a typecast role of a Bridget Jones like character? The blurb about the movie on the back of the DVD case screamed sappy romantic comedy as well. So my expectation for this movie was set to the likes of “the holiday” and “the family stone”. I was pleasantly surprise to find that the movie was so much more than a silly romantic comedy. Even with the directorial attempts to mellow down Miss Potter’s story she comes across as the fierce firebrand feminist that she must’ve been. After I watched the movie I realized that categorizing this movie as a silly romantic comedy was an evil marketing ploy.

Miss Potter is a movie based on the true story of an extraordinary woman called Beatrix Potter who struggled against the societal constrains of being a woman in a time (early 1900s) when women were compelled to become housewives. In her quest to become a published writer and artist she fought tooth and nail to become a financially self-sufficient woman. She reminded me of J. K. Rowling, not merely for the common denominator of Potter but for their struggle (as women) to become published writers and their amazing success as writers of children’s books. Isn’t it disgraceful that after all the struggle women have gone through to be able to make it in a man’s world, even today, Joanne had to publish her books under the name J.K. Rowling to conceal her identity as a woman, in an effort to appeal to the male readers? Maybe a similar reasoning went into the marketing strategy of Miss Potter. Who would want to watch a movie about a woman protagonist who struggled to be accepted as a scientist, writer and artist? The audience would much rather prefer Miss Potter to be a love story. The movie makers took a lot of liberties in the storytelling and as a result compromised on Potter’s achievements. Potter had printed and sold some of her stories on her own but in the movie all the props for publishing are given to the male lead that Potter falls in love with. I guess they didn’t want the guy to look like the side-kick and wanted him to have a substantial role in Potter’s success as a writer. The movie makers entirely ignored many of Potter’s accomplishments so that she does not overshadow the other (male) characters. There was not even a mention of her scientific achievements.

I am a little miffed at all the historical inaccuracies of the movie but at the same time I was glad that this movie introduced me to this wonderful woman. I wish I had read all the stories about Peter rabbit and Jemima Puddle Duck when I was little. But like they say, ‘better late than never’. So I bought her entire published collection and although the stories are for little kids I must admit that I enjoyed reading some of those stories even now. You have to read the Jemima Puddle duck story if you haven’t already.

So here is remembering Miss Potter who was an extraordinary woman and still wins the hearts of people with her amusing stories. Happy Birthday to you Miss Potter ! I wish I could be half as accomplished as you were.

[ This review is also posted at http://moviereviewsanddiscussions.blogspot.com ]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chapter 9: The elephant man

Vyasa is waiting at D’rakshas, the local bar, chewing on some Juicy Root gum. Earlier in the day, he got a pigeon mail from Ganapati.

Running errands for mom. Will be a little late.

–G.

Vyasa is a little nervous as this is his first time in the bar. He straightens up and shifts his weight in the seat as he sees a beautiful woman approach him. She looks a little familiar and Vyasa jogs his memory to no avail. He wonders if she was in one of the Play Apsara center folds.

Waitress (non-chalantly): “Welcome to D’rakshas. My name is Laupadi.”
Vyasa: “My name is Vyasa. It is an honor to meet you.”
Laupadi: “That’s nice…what do you want to drink.”
Vyasa: “I will have a glass of soma, but I insist that I will pay.”
Laupadi (chuckles): “You are funny.”

A familiar voice interjects.

Ganapati: “No he is not. He is just weird. I will have a glass of soma on the rocks please.”
Laupadi: “Sorry, we are all out of rocks.”
Ganapati: “Alright, just soma then.”
Laupadi: “Okay. I will be back soon.”

Laupadi walks away from the table. Ganapati pulls up a chair.

Vyasa: “Ugh! Do you have to ruin everything? I was just getting acquainted with the kind lady”

Vyasa dreamily checks out Laupadi heading towards the bar. Ganapati snaps his fingers in Vyasa’s face.

Ganapati: “Oye, snap out of it. The kind lady happens to be a man.”
Vyasa (in a hushed whisper): “No!”
Ganapati: “Trust me, I have a nose for these things.”
Vyasa: “My God G…really? But that is impossible. No man can have that body….that body…did you even look at her? I don’t believe you.”
Ganapati: “Heard of tantric sex change?”
Vyasa: “What? You don’t believe in those quack witch doctors do you? This is ridiculous. You can’t change your gender. It is ludicrous. Okay quiet here she comes.”

Laupadi approaches them and places the drinks on the table. Vyasa has an abnormal grin on his face while Ganapati looks bored. Vyasa stares at Laupadi with narrow eyes.

Laupadi (talks to Ganapati): “You are right, he is weird.”

Laupadi briskly walks back to the bar.

Vyasa: “You are right her face looks weird, like it is artificial…it almost does not look human.”

Ganapati menacingly stares at Vyasa.

Vyasa: “Ahem! This soma is great. Did you try it?”
Ganapati: “Alright let’s just get it out. I know I am a little different looking. I see how people look at me when I enter a room. I am like the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.”
Vyasa: “What? Don’t be silly. You are one of the most normal people I’ve met.”
Ganapati: “I have a trunk for a nose.”

Ganapati wriggles his trunk in the air inspecting it with his eyes squinting.

Vyasa: “Oh come on…it is hardly noticeable.”
Ganapati: “You are saying that there is nothing odd about my face?”
Vyasa: “Its…its…its um.”
Ganapati: “Listen, I know what I look like and I am not ashamed of it.”

Ganapati gulps down the drink and signals Laupadi from across the room to refill his glass. Laupadi comes by the table and refills the glass. Ganapati asks Laupadi to leave the pitcher at the table and continues gulping the drink furiously.

Ganapati: “You are a nice person Vyasa…no you are not nice…you are great. But you know who is an ass? My dad.”
Vyasa: “You don’t mean that G. Believe me, everybody has issues with their parents but every parent loves their child.”
Ganapati: “Not my father he doesn’t. You want to know why I look like this?”
Vyasa: “Alright I admit it. I am a little curious to know how you ended up with a…”
Ganapati: “Elephant’s head?”
Vyasa: “Yeah”
Ganapati: “Well I was a normal human baby when I was born. But my dad didn’t even know he had a son. He was away on one of his rock gigs.”
Vyasa: “Wow! Is your dad a rock star? Is it someone I know?”
Ganapati: “He wears a leopard skirt and carries a snake around his neck. Need I say more?"
Vyasa: “Your dad is the drummer for the Himalayan Howlers! I love them…Shivar me timbers is one of my favorite songs.”
Ganapati (a little annoyed): “As I was saying…”
Vyasa (sensing Ganapati’s tone): “Sorry, go on.”
Ganapati: “Well…he is such an attention whore. Did you see his latest look? He has dread locks with a water sprinkler as an accessory. Ever heard of less is more dad?”
Vyasa: “So he is a little extravagant with his wardrobe. I’m sure he loves you even though he may not show it as well. Different people have different ways of expressing their feelings. It would kill my dad to pat my back or say something nice.”
Ganapati: “Has your Dad ever chopped off your head?”

Vyasa gasps and looks aghast. Ganapati chugs down the remaining drink to empty the pitcher.

Vyasa: “What? Your dad did that to you? Why?”
Ganapati: “Because he is a lunatic murderer.”
Vyasa: “That is horrible.”
Ganapati: “Yeah he is the dad of the year.”
Vyasa: “So is that how?”
Ganapati: “Yeah pretty much. He comes home after a long tour one day. Mom was in the shower and she had specifically asked me to not let anyone in the house. I had never seen Dad so when he returned I treated him like a perfect stranger. He reeked of alcohol and didn’t make any sense when he talked. So I didn’t let him into the house. Before I knew what was happening he chopped off my head.”

Vyasa listens to Ganapati with an expression of disbelief.

Ganapati: “Mom threw a fit when she saw what he had done and told dad that I was his son. She cried uncontrollably and demanded I be brought to life. I wish she would’ve done it herself instead of asking my drunken dad. He took me somewhere in the forest and realized that he had carried the body but had forgotten the head. It was too late to get my head because the head wasn’t kept on ice. So he decided to find an alternative. He found a baby elephant around where we were and chopped off its head.”
Vyasa: “He killed a baby elephant? This is beyond horrible.”
Ganapati: “And then he superglues the elephants head onto my body. Voila!”
Vyasa: “Wow! I mean I thought I was the ultimate gruesome fiction writer but even I couldn’t have made up something so awful. G you need a butt load of therapy.”
Ganapati: “Tell me about it.”
Vyasa: “How could your mom stick with him? She should’ve gotten a divorce.”
Ganapati: “She wanted to but my dad is a very powerful man. He has a cult following and he is worshipped like a God. Dad threatened mom. He told her that nobody would believe a woman’s word over a man’s word and that he could easily prove that I wasn’t his son. There was no facial resemblance after all.”
Vyasa: “Oh no.”
Ganapati: “So now you know.”
Vyasa: “There are corrective surgery options available nowadays you know?”
Ganapati: “Why would you say that? Why would I want a corrective surgery?”
Vyasa: “I thought you … never mind.”

Laupadi comes by the table and clears the glasses.

Laupadi: “The bar is closed now. I will leave the bill here. Thanks.”

Vyasa and Ganapati sip the remains of the drink and place gold coins on the table.

Vyasa: “Are you coming by my cottage over the weekend?”
Ganapati: “Hic!”
Vyasa: “Great. How are you going to get home? I will hail you a chariot.”
Ganapati: “Don’t worry I can ride. I came here on my mouse.”
Vyasa: “You rode a mouse? Okay! I am taking you home.”

Vyasa struggles to support Ganapati’s weight but his knees buckle.

Laupadi: “Need a hand?”

Vyasa grins sheepishly. Laupadi gives Ganapati a boost and gets him off the chair effortlessly.

Vyasa: “Wow! You are pretty…”

Vyasa luckily finishes the sentence in his mind – ‘strong for a woman’.

Laupadi (smiles): “Why thanks sweety.”

Laupadi and Vyasa move steadily towards the chariot stand and get Ganapati into the chariot. Vyasa thanks Laupadi and hands her a generous tip. Laupadi smiles and heads back to the bar. The chariot rolls on towards Ganapati’s mansion while Ganapati blissfully snores with drool coming out of his mouth. Vyasa leans back and rests his head as the chariot rolls on into the dark forest.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Simpsons, how dare you?

As a promotion for the upcoming movie, the Simpsons guys have changed twelve 7-elevens into Kwik-E-Marts. The Kwik-E-Mart products include Buzz coca-cola, Krusty-O’s cereal and Bart’s favorite comic called Radioactive man. But the most anticipated product, Duff beer did not make it to the shelves. The reason being (you are not going to believe this) the movie is PG 13. You would think that people would be outraged by this promotional move but there have been no protests so far. The Simpsons controversy is about Apu.

In Simpsons TV show, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon or Apu, is an Asian Indian immigrant who owns the Kwik-E-Mart and sells overpriced merchandise to Americans who complain about the prices but buy the stuff anyway. The Springfield residents are often shown to be verbally abusive to Apu and sometimes even trash the store. Despite the ridicule from customers (to avoid losing business?) Apu never fails to say the customary, “thank you, come again”. Naturally, as a part of the real life Kwik-E-Mart theme you are given the same greeting by Indians dressed like Apu. This has offended some Indians who say “no thank you” to this irksome campaign.

Being America’s news leader, CNN quickly picked up this story and asked hard hitting questions like, “Considering the profits, is stereotyping people as a part of a promotional campaign really offensive?” One responsible angry Indian voiced his protest on CNN by expressing his disgust at being represented as Apu. The protestor stated that the promotion would have never dared to cast an Ahmed in the same role and concluded that it is downright racism. Due to time constrains most part of the interview did not make it on air. Nevertheless CNN thwarted the possibility of racist propaganda by featuring cheerful Indian staff playing the role of Apu in the real life Kwik-E-Mart. This was followed by a happy Kwik-e-mart (Indian) owner who said that his business has been booming since he did the Simpsons makeover to the store and is more than happy to say “thank you, come again and again” if it meant more business. Thus, CNN established from this incisive coverage that the Indians are in fact not offended and are more than happy to cash in on the profits that this promotion is bringing in.

But is this campaign really racist? The answer is no according to some (liberal know-nothings who have nothing better to do than watch such distasteful TV shows) people. The Simpsons supporters say that there is no insinuation of one race/ethnicity being superior to another on Simpsons and that the show has always mocked racial stereotypes on TV without a racist agenda. But the outraged protestors insist that the racist motivations are transparent and evident from their movie promotion.

The protestors urge Indians to be seriously offended and if possible take a day off from work in protest. Join in the fervor. The protestors have come up with a (not so catchy) motto, “equal mockery of all races every time a racial stereotype joke is cracked or no racial stereotype mocking jokes at all”. Some protestors have demanded Simpsons promotions to be extended to Italian restaurants and as a part of the promotion, ask the waiters to dress like Fat Toni and his mafia gang and threaten customers who do not pay a handsome tip.

The Simpsons movie

Simpsons movie is coming out on July 27, 2007 and I can hardly wait. The previews look hilarious. I have already picked out my favorite lines from the previews...like the one where Homer frantically looks through the bible and throws it aside disappointed and says, "This book doesn't have any answers". (Har har!)

Even though the movie comes out next week ya don't have to twiddle yer fingers. If ya ever wondered how ya would look like as a Simpsons character ya can head over to this site and find out.


Here be mine:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Potter plot challenge

BBC has announced a writing contest for all the Harry Potter fans. The challenge is to write the Harry Potter story so far (Books 1-6) in 100 words or less. The winning story will be published on BBC before the Deathly Hallows is released. So are you up for it?

Go here for more details of the contest.


Update:

On Drunken Master's idea of collaborative effort how about 6 of us get together and each person writes a 16 word summary on one of the 6 Potter books. Any takers?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Transformers and Potter review

Transformers:


I felt like the story for Transformers was a well conceived idea that was aborted before it was carried to full term. The movie was a one trick pony and without the transforming there was nothing more to it. The dialogues were pitiful and the story line was predictable.

As usual the good guys came from a poorly funded lab and so had the older technology and the villains had great funding and so had all the cutting edge gizmo. The adapting morphing gibberish speaking robot on the evil side was especially cool. But in the end good conquers evil with all the set backs. Oops, sorry I gave away the ending without a plot spoiler warning. But seriously, if you didn’t know the ending before watching this movie you got to be from another planet.

Every action movie has to dabble into philosophy…the philosophy usually being science is evil. But in this one it was, humans are sadistic war mongering bastards and deserve to die but even monsters deserve a second chance except if the monsters happen to be robots that are more advanced than the transformer robots.

Then of course there is the love angle…well okay being a teenage centric movie it was more of ‘coming of age’ sexual tension. Watching the sweat covered tight abs of a (teenage) girl glistening in the sun, made me feel like a cradle robbing pervert…even though I am a non-lesbo and non-man.

Overall the movie sucked like an average Hollywood flick. So go watch it for special effects but expect nothing more.


Harry Potter and the order of phoenix:



Never compare a movie with a book (it was based on) because the book will always outdo the movie. How can any film-maker meet the expectations of a reader’s fantabulous mind imagery? The book is not limited by length, time, budget or special effects. David Yates, the director of HP 5 did a decent job considering that he was faced with the additional challenge of directing the HP movie based on the longest book (so far) of the HP series.

The special effects (as with most movies nowadays) were very well done…especially the final battle scenes. It was a good editorial decision to not drag a movie for more than 2.5 hours but the editing took its toll on the movie by making it incoherent in many parts. I can’t imagine how the people who have not read the book could keep up with the movie plot. Yet there were scenes that could’ve been vastly improvised. Especially in scenes like the one where you know who (and by you know who I don’t mean he who shall not be named) is struck by the avada kedavra curse and falls in the arch and Lupin holds onto Harry who is now squirming and screaming noooooooo…in super slow motion. Ugh!

The actress who played Dolores Umbridge was very successful in bringing out the viciousness of the character, all with a smile on her face. Luna “Loony” Lovegood was also perfect for the role. The only cast member I didn’t like was the guy who played (the new) Dumbledore. Even his walk is too hasty and unsophisticated for Dumbledore. Sheesh!

Anyhow, I was left pondering about the plot. Why wasn’t McGonagall at the ministry of magic in the final battle? In Book 5, why doesn’t Harry consort with McGonagall in Dumbledore’s absence as Dumbledore has already advised him to do that when he isn’t around or accessible? I want to end this post with a final comment which is really a general objection for all the stories with human transformation themes. Hulksters are you listening? You got to figure out what happens to the clothes during transformations. With JKR’s stories it is with Sirius, Lupin and Wormtail. When they become animals they shed their clothes but when they transform back they are never naked. Ok fine it is magic!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

300 manages to offend Iranians

The only good thing about the video is that someone in Iran decided to rap about it instead of bombing the nearest American embassy. Now if only this catches on in the middle east.

This video was made in protest of the movie 300.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Spooktacular movies


One of the perks of being an atheist is that you don’t get spooked out by horror movies. Without the thrill of a good spook you are left with a predictable plot and special effects that rarely (if ever) are adequate enough to make the movie worth watching.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I watched (most of) ‘the skeleton key’ last night and actually liked it. Although I must admit that I watched the first and last 20 minutes of the movie (and I still dare critique the movie haha!), the unexpected twist in the end makes me predict that the movie may be worth the torture (anyone watched the entire movie?). I give this movie a “worth a watch” thumbs up.

Now the other horror movie that I watched had a mediocre plot and shabby dialogues. I only watched it to see Tony Shalhoub suffer through it. Poor guy must have accepted the role to pay his bills. I decided to watch the movie hoping that it would be hilarious to watch Tony Shalhoub scream and run around in panic (which it totally was). ‘Thir13en ghosts’ delivered a predictable plot, but an unexpected bonus was the CGI effects and creative movie sets. Kudos to the special effects guys for the make-up of the ghosts and the crazy maze they built. I give this movie a “worth a watch if it is playing on TV and you have nothing better to do” thumbs up.


Spooktacular worth watch suggestions welcome.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A trip to the zooooooo

Went to the zoo over the weekend because it is a great place to hone photography skills. I sure don't have the patience to sit in the wild for hours only for some no show. As usual the primate cell was the saddest one. But the other animals didn't look all that sad. In fact they seemed to do better than most humans I know. They don't have to sit in cubicles day after day only to be able to afford a certain life style. These buggers have it made. Sure they don't get to prance around in the jungle but the last I heard, the jungle is not the easiest place to live in.


In the zoo on the other hand there are no predators to worry about, no bills to pay and no hours to bill. It is a paid vacation. These free loaders get a fully loaded unit (no chance of temperature controlled dwellings in the jungle) and a full health coverage (including dental). The creators of the animated movie Madagascar got it right after all. Talking about animated features, you got to watch Ratatouille. Pixar has redeemed itself in my eyes after the Cars fiasco.


Anyway, getting back to the zoo, here are some photos of the party animals (and one particularly interesting plant):

The snoozer


Tug of war


The "Oh my" plant ;)

Get a room

Respect my authoritay!!

The failed bombings in Glasgow and London have made the headlines for a couple of days now. Security is beefed up which means there will be endless lines at the airports and the airport security will have the green signal to anything from strip searches to anal probing. The security measures strangely resemble the panic of a chicken with its head cut off.

How do you find method in madness? If you think about it, almost anything can be used as a weapon. The target is the entire population of USA and UK. The borders are porous. The zealots are too many. To add to this explosive atmosphere there are foolish pranksters who get a kick out of creating panic in an edgy and nervous crowd. For instance, just after the UK bomb news appeared on the news some fellow went to a local airport in US and declared that he intends to blow up an entire city and that he was armed with explosives. The cops blocked the area and after hours of negotiations (or whatever it is that they do) the culprit was caught only to discover that he was making empty threats.

What resulted out of the incident was another new safety measure. The cops declared that they were going to do random searches of vehicles arriving at the airport. This meant that in addition to your inability to carry scissors or a bottle of drinking water on board, being subjected to random strip searches and wire tapping of your phone, the cops can now search your vehicle without a search warrant. Anything or anyone that is ‘suspicious looking’ is a fair game. What’s next? House searches without any warrants? This is like the Gestapo looking for Jews in Nazi Germany. Just like the terrorists, according to the new safety measures, the government is answerable only to God. (Dick Cheney is way ahead of the game).

If you are making plans for air travel and you are an Asian male with a goatee, shave it off today or you might find yourself on the next flight to Guantanamo Bay. In fact carry a copy of the bible and wear a big cross around the neck and paste some support the (US) troops, Jesus rocks and other Christian/patriotic logos on your suitcase. Even better carry a pair of red white and blue underwear…er…or may be not. Most importantly don’t forget to look unsuspicious.



Airport SecurityArtist Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons. Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

In all fairness

It is not unusual to find an Indian matrimony ad that would read:
“Looking for a (insert caste) well educated girl, fair and respects tradition.”

The ad might as well say, “Wanted a (virgin) woman who would serve as a sex slave and chambermaid. P.S. Blacks do not apply.”

In the same spirit Dhanashree M. gives her beauty tips to the brides to be. The article is titled ‘Whitening tips for you’ :
Fair complexion is a dream and achievement of everyone. In the marriage market
and dreams the first preference will be to those with a fair skin. Why should
you stay away from this perfect appearance? Try these handy beauty tips and see
the changes within a short period.

Growing up, I had come to accept that fairness of skin is the foremost standard of beauty. A song praising the beauty of a woman would inevitably have the word gori in it.
“Dhoop mein nikla na karo roop ki rani, gora rang kala na padh jaaye.”
Keeping in line with the lyrics, every well-adored Hindi film actress was fair.

Living in a white supremacist society, my lifesaver was that my parents did not hold the ‘white is beautiful’ outlook. But even so it was hard to keep me protected from the ire of the white skin worshipping neighbors.

The incident I am about to narrate happened when I was 5 years old. Being the first born child I was the apple of the eye…the star performer of the house. But after 4 years of my uncontested rule in the Blur household, my soon to be nemesis made his debut. I wasn’t a happy camper to find out that I suddenly had to share my fame and celebrity status in the household with my brand new brother who was a doodh ka dhoola, white complexioned baby boy.

My parents tried their best to keep the sibling jealousy (on my part) on the down low. But there were visitors and they came in waves. Comments about how pretty and fair the baby boy looks were made over and over. There was one woman (I fondly remember as the racist bitch) who lived in the house across from ours. She would make her friendly visits more often than I’d liked. She would say to me, “Oh how is it that your brother looks so fair and you look so dark?” I would feel very hurt and angry but I could never think of a good come back.

One evening, the woman paid a visit to our house and she sat on the couch conversing with my mother. I knew that it was inevitable that she will soon take a jibe at me. So the moment came. She decided to tease me a little differently. She said, “Crys, do you like your little brother?” Frankly, I would’ve liked the things to be the way they were before my brother arrived. Ever since my brother had made an appearance everything had changed for the worse. I did not answer. Then the woman continued, “I am going to take your brother with me”. This was it. This was my opportunity.

I quickly climbed on the couch and got hold of the woman’s hair and yanked it with all my strength. Even though I was five years old, I gathered enough strength to give her a professional hair yanking if there was any such thing. The woman started howling in pain. My mother tried hard to stop herself from laughing. She somehow managed to summon me in her best disciplining voice, “Crys! Let go…NOW!” I was determined to make a Jain monk out of that woman but my effort was thwarted as my mother pulled me away. The woman was visibly shaken. She said, “Bhaarich poolka aahe bhavacha.” (Loosely translated: My! I didn’t realize how attached she is to her brother). My mom escorted the woman out of our house.

The woman kept her distance from me but the social conditioning never stopped. I believed that to be appreciated by boys, I had to literally be the fairer sex. By the age of 12, I initiated the process of bleaching my skin in hopes of becoming a white princess. I bought a tube of ‘Fair and lovely’ dream cream which is doing just as well even today and is expanding its sales by marketing the ivory dream to Indian men.

I am not sure how I eventually opened myself to the idea that a dark skinned person can be beautiful too. Today, as I read the words of Maya Angelou in her book “I know why the cage bird sings”, my mind races back to my childhood.

Maya Angelou:
Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten? My light blue eyes were going to hypnotize them after all the things they said about my daddy being a Chinaman because my eyes were so small and squinty. Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pig tails and snouts. Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.

The last time I visited India, a cute old lady who I love dearly gave me some advice, “Girl you have finished your education and now it is time you found yourself a good man and you should not be picky. You are not fair skinned after all.”

I laughed a hearty laugh when I heard her say that. I laughed the way I do when I hear nine year old Eric Cartman crack a racist joke.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A strange encounter

I was standing in a hotel lobby wearing a designer gown. Stitched to perfection by the fashion Gods, the gown was a chocolate ecstasy with a hint of delicate azure beading. The lobby was grandiose. The marble walls looked pristine, standing tall with pride. The ceiling was embellished with sparkling chandeliers and a soothing babble of bubbly fountain caressed my ears. Kids were running around and parents were ushering them. It was all very pleasant and peaceful. I approached the owner of the hotel, an old guy standing by the balcony overlooking his empire. He was none other than Hugh Hefner. I said to him, “You know, I have to hand it to you. I would’ve never guessed that you could make such a great family friendly hotel. You’ve done a spectacular job.” Hef smiled and said, “Thanks”. I woke up. I have been having some crazy dreams lately.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Moral combat

I finally update my resume (one small step for me, mankind couldn’t care less). In the process I dusted off some dust-mites on my certificates from what seems like a lifetime ago. Turns out I was quite the winner growing up. My favorite certificate was for ‘bunny jumping’ when I was 6. For all the pervy pervertsons, bunny jumping is an innocent sport where kids hop like bunnies to get from point A to point B. Anyhow, I was saying that li’l Crys was quite the winner and so it was inevitable that I asked myself, “What happened?” This self-deprecating humor is killing me. Who am I kidding, of course I’m still quite the winner…solving 1024 pieces jigsaw puzzle in 3.25 days and all.

Anyway, I came across this particular piece of paper.



At the time, it didn’t strike me as anything odd but now I find it incredibly audacious of the school. Being the moral authority must be quite something. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that I was being graded for morality in addition to math, science and stuff. It is pretty amazing that we were expected to behave morally even before we understood the concept of morality. The least the school could do was hand out a book of moral codes …wait they did pawn off some mini bibles to us.

But all said and done, I am a certified moral person. In fact, I have decided to carry my character certificate with me. Next time a traffic cop pulls me over for speeding, it will be his word against mine and little would he know that I have a small piece of paper that would undeniably prove that I am right and he and his little speed gun gizmo is wrong. A moral person would never lie and if I say that I wasn’t speeding, that has to be the truth because I am a certified moral person. In your face cop! Burn!! He should know better than pull over a moral citizen. The only loophole in this plan being that the cop has a character certificate. But as far as I know, Americans don’t hand out character certificates. So ha!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Re: Mahabharat fan club

G. bappa morya!
I want to give a pointer to this excellent post by Falstaff titled "Brothers in arms". Falstaff does an analysis on the role (or lack there of) of Nakul and Sahadev in Mahabharat.
P.S. Don't even think about asking, "when is the next MB post expected?"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Run

She stood in a cold wooden cottage along with 8 other girls. Some of the girls stood there defiantly while others looked distressed and disoriented. The girls were surrounded by a group of armed men, who were parading their weapons threateningly. The girls weren’t welcome. An abrupt questioning began.

A man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, spoke sternly, “You know what you have done. There is one thing you women have in common.”
One of the girls interrupted, “Being an Asian has nothing to do with my actions and you are fully aware of that.”

She didn’t know what the girl spoke of but there was no doubt in her mind that the girl’s words could cost all of them their lives. Why was that girl being brash? They were clearly not in a position to challenge the authority.

The man yelled, “It has everything to do with you being an Asian.” The other men get the cue. A gun is placed on the defiant girl’s throat, piercing into her skin. Then a gun is pulled on another girl’s forehead and one more into another girl’s mouth in quick succession making it clear that no one is safe.

At this point her brain kicks into survival mode. She couldn’t hear what the guy was saying…just some muffled sounds. It was clear that she had two options. Either she could stand there cowering like a sheep and hope that the men would have mercy on her and release her or die trying to save her life. She felt it in her gut that the men had no intention of sparing anyone’s life. She made a run for her life. She dashed out of the cottage, expecting bullets to shower her back. The only clear path in sight was to take the wooden bridge going downhill from the cottage. She turned around but the men weren’t on her tail yet. Maybe they were unprepared for this or may be they wanted to secure the other girls. Either way, she had a head start.

She ran some more and turned back and saw the men emerge out of the cottage. Cold, dark metals strapped firmly to their shoulders, the men sprinted effortlessly. She tried to increase her pace and by now had almost made it across the bridge. She looked beyond the bridge as the men were closing in and felt sick inside her stomach. She realized that the bridge dead ended into the ocean. The men were gaining on her. She thought of jumping into the water, but how long could she stay afloat? Drown or get shot at? She decided to jump. She hit the turbulent waters. Even though she had learned to swim as a child, the training hadn’t prepared her to remain afloat in the ocean. Swimming in the ocean was a completely different ball game. She looked for something to hold onto. After almost getting knocked unconscious by hitting against one of the pillars holding up the bridge she somehow pulled herself onto a ledge under the bridge. The men retreated knowing that she was as good as dead in the ocean. She knew she was running out of energy and would not be able to hold up there much longer. She was going to die trying…she was not ready to give up.

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She was in a house, reunited with her clan. She was a part of some organization, perhaps? It was all hazy to her now. But she remembers that there was a sense of urgency as if they were in some underground resistance. She felt a strong kinship to the group, although she wasn’t related to them. She and her boyfriend were about to leave the house to go to a regular eat out place. A close ally from the clan got word that the place they were about to visit was a trap. There were snipers waiting for her to arrive, ready to take her out. They knew that she had managed to escape alive and that she knew too much or may be she had done nothing at all. Maybe she didn’t have to be a heretic to get in trouble. The times were such that trouble found you, whether you asked for it or not.

She was on the run again. No place was safe for more than a day. She had to move constantly. This time she had an accomplice…her boyfriend. They made their way to the railway station and waited for the next train, trying to look inconspicuous. How easy it is to take a life nowadays. One click of a trigger is all it takes. It is easy…too easy. Her eyes were constantly moving across the crowd. The train arrived and just as she was about to exude a sigh of relief, she heard a loud explosion shatter one of the compartments of the train. The two of them ran out of the station. They didn’t know where to go. They got into a taxi and asked the driver to take them north.

They finally had a sense of some relief. They sat in the taxi in silence. The driver was now close to the place where she was held at gun point just the day before. Or was it a couple of days back? She had lost all sense of time. The taxi driver pulled over and declared he couldn’t go any further. She was trying to talk him into driving forward, but her boyfriend realized they were wasting time. They were in the lion’s mouth and had to find a way out. They had to hitch another cab before they were spotted. As they made their way on the street, they realized that there weren’t any cabs in the vicinity. She was as vigilant as could be. She stopped in her tracks as she saw a line of snipers waiting in the balcony of a building which was less than a block away. She signaled her boyfriend and they quickly took cover. Her boyfriend’s composure was about to break down. She could sense desperation in his voice, “My father is dead and my mother is all alone. She needs me. I don’t want to die.” How could she have been so oblivious? What had she done! She had jeopardized his life unthinkingly. She rubbed her forehead anxiously. How could a selfless act of heresy become a selfish act of a wayward child?

She decided to run back to the cab and force the taxi driver to drive them out of this mess to safety. The driver was reluctant but they somehow managed to coerce him into driving. The hesitant driver was driving too slowly and that was drawing attention in the fast moving traffic on the street. Two men accosted the taxi. The men reached for their guns and opened fire.

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I woke up…feeling vulnerable, tense like I was about to be hunted down and killed like a house rat. It was a sick feeling. Dreams have this disconcerting quality of seeming more real than reality. The colors are vivid, intentions are transparent and the emotions are gripping. My brain probably concocted this dream from what I have been reading and watching recently like Sophie Scholl (the strong defiant woman), Nazi Germany, Idi Amin’s murderous rule, the dot buster gang, religious intolerance and the recent rhetoric of patriotism in the US. Four hours after waking up, I still can’t shake away the tense feelings in my mind. What is really scary is that there could be someone out there living this nightmare…probably in one of the warring countries…being hunted down, for having the ‘wrong’ ethnicity, skin color or simply the audacity to speak their mind. I shudder.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unite and conquer

Date: 1 June 07
Time: 5 ish o’clock
Location: Crys Blur’s living room
Weather: Raining billis and kuttas
Mission: Solve 1026 piece photomosaic jigsaw puzzle (that’s right, 1026)
Motivation: Strong

Day 1:
Subject 1 (Crys) and Subject 2 (Buck) clear the dining table and dump all the contents of the puzzle box on it.



The subjects are confronted with a tall mountain of jigsaw pieces.



Step 1:
Demolish the mountain.

Step 2:
Straighten up all the puzzle pieces such that no piece is hidden from the eye.



Step 3:
Realize that the eye needs light and lots of it. Also realize that there isn’t any space left on the dining table to assemble the puzzle.

Step 4:
Move the dining table to a well lit room. Take over another table and designate it as the assembly table. Assort the puzzle pieces into groups based on color. Call the pizza guy.



Step 5: With tummies full, the subjects seriously stare at the task at hand.

Step 6: Subject 2, being a veteran puzzle solver (relatively speaking) decides to isolate the border pieces (with smooth edges) first. Meanwhile subject 1, a puzzle virgin, deciding to take her own approach, begins assembling a random part of the puzzle.

Step 7: Subject 2 gets immersed in resolving the border issue, but the line of control starts getting out of control. Subject 2 furiously begins to calculate the number of pieces on each side for a 27 inch by 20 inch puzzle with 1026 pieces. The math-phobic Subject 1 stares in disbelief that Subject 2 could somehow find a way to introduce a math problem in the middle of such a unique spatial orientation problem.

Step 8: Subject 1 realizes that she would be alone for a while as Subject 2 unleashes the inner engineer/math nerd, and equipped with his arsenal of tape measure, calculator, paper and pencil, goes into a serious number crunching mode. Subject 1 studiously continues work on her part of the puzzle muttering “Blue Flowers Red Thorns…” over and over.


Step 9: Subject 2 screams, “It is 38 by 27! We need 126 pieces for the border!! Wait a minute. That is 3 times 42. Maybe we’re on to something.” and resumes the hunt for the edge pieces.

Step10: Subject 2 starts randomly aligning the edge pieces based on previously measured and marked dimensions. After an impressive 100 odd pieces, Subject 1 eyes Subject 2’s progress enviously, and shelving her modest assembly of some 10 odd pieces, joins the volunteers for the border control efforts.

Step 11: Even with all the edge pieces located, the border control project progresses at snail speed.

Mood: Gloomy

Step 12: Subject 1 has a ‘waaaiit a nimit’ moment (#1). All the mini-pictures on the jigsaw puzzle pieces are facing north-south. In a jiffy the border is done.



Mood: Ecstatic

Step 13: The subjects celebrate their success with the border securing project with a high five. 136 pieces down, 888 pieces to go. The subjects retire to bed recouping for another day.

Day 2
Time: Noonish

Subject 1 rolls out of bed and goes through the ritual of brush-tea-cookies. Subject 1 decides to give the jigsaw puzzle a crack by herself.

Step 14: Assort jigsaw pieces in the north south orientation.



Half way into step 14 there is a rumble in the tummy. Rumble is pacified with yet another take out.

Step 15: Subject 1 hunts and fetches puzzle pieces by hunching over the dining table and realizes that at this rate, she is going to end up at the chiropractor center to realign the spine that is twisted from hunching. Subject 2 decides to join in for a couple of hours and quits again. Subject 1 continues obsessively.

Step 16: Subject 1 has ‘waaiit a nimit’ moment (#2). Instead of hunting and fetching for puzzle pieces she decides to pick up pieces with distinguishable pictures and hunts for the location on the template poster. Even with recurring motifs in the puzzle, it is easier to look for patterns on the poster than located a piece in an ocean of puzzle pieces. Plus this strategy gives relief to the spine as hunching is not required anymore.



The strategy works well but it is 3am and Subject 1 decides to reluctantly retire to bed.

Day 3
Time: Noonish
Subject 1 is excited to continue with the new and improved strategy. The pace of progress is much quicker now.



Subject 2 realizes the weekend is almost over and there is much laundering, grocery shopping and such to be done. Subject 1 finally relinquishes the task at hand to join in with the chores, partly out of guilt but mostly because her eyeballs had turned many shades of pink and red. (I know there is a visine for that).

Time: 10pm

Subject 1 coerces Subject 2 to take a crack at the puzzle for 20 minutes. Five hours later (yes it is past 3am now) the puzzle is oh-so close to be done. Out of sheer exhaustion and obligation to worldly duties, the subjects decided to call it a night.




Day 4:
Subject 2 is in cubicle bright and early. Subject 1 strolls out of bed at around 10:30 am and calls Subject 1 to plan another outing for lunch. (Hehe). After a satisfying lunch Subject 1 takes a final crack at the puzzle.




Before you know it, Subject 2 is back at home and joins in with fervor of finishing the puzzle.



Finally at around 10pm the last piece of the puzzle lays to rest as do the subjects.





Mission: Accomplished!


The puzzle now hangs on a wall, neatly framed and all.



--The end--

{On a side note, I think that anyone considering a research career should buy one of these and use it as a diagnostic tool for one’s liking for research. It tests your patience and organizational skills to no end. Of course there are so many other skills that you require to be in research but looking for a needle in a haystack along with repetitive mundane experiments and a thirst for puzzle solving is very much a part of the process. If at the end of solving a 1026 piece (or more) jigsaw puzzle, you think you would buy another one of those then you would probably enjoy research. }

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review: Sophie Scholl (The final days)

Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst
Photo from wikipedia


"Sophie Scholl – the final days” is a movie about a German girl who was a valiant student activist against the Nazi Germany. This movie is unlike Schindler’s list in that there isn’t any atrocity portrayed on the screen. The extravagant bright red Nazi flag looming in the background depicts the blood bathed Nazi regime effortlessly. Even though the movie title has the words ‘the final days’ I was gripped by fear for Sophie’s safety while I witnessed Sophie’s defiance to the Gestapo. How did she find the courage to stand for her convictions in the most treacherous of times?

When I am confronted with movie depiction of idealistic revolutionaries such as Sophie, I always suspect that there may be biased glorification of the heroic character. Thoughts like how could anyone know what Sophie said to the Nazi interrogators? ...and such. It turns out that the movie script is based on sources such as original interrogation records, video footage of “people’s court” proceedings by the judge Roland Freisler and interview with the surviving members of the White Rose and Scholl family. So when you hear Sophie talk in the movie, those are her words and not the screenwriter’s twist of imagination. The knowledge that this movie is closely if not exactly based on a true story makes it overbearing to watch at times.

The events depicted in the movie happened about 50 years ago but the debates that transpire between Sophie and the Gestapo are (strikingly) reminiscent of current state of affairs. According to the Gestapo, speaking out against Hitler’s war was commensurate with not supporting the troops and deemed unpatriotic. Ring any bells?



The only complaint I have about this movie is that it sort of pitches the idea of religious righteousness (in form of Sophie) against immoral atheism (synonymous to Hitler’s regime). Sophie was a God fearing protestant but from her words it is clear that her fight was for freedom of thought and speech and not out of religious fervor. At the young age of 21 it was understandable if Sophie turned to God for strength and hope. So the movie made me cringe in the aspect that this movie (intentionally or not) fuels the idea that atheism leads to immorality.

Over all I loved the movie for its simplicity and realistic depiction of a heroic woman.