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Superbugged

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There has been much brouhaha in India during the last two days  over a recently published paper in the journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases. The paper outlines the emergence of major antibiotic resistance in enterobacteria isolated from patients in  UK, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The appearance of bacteria resistant to the strongest of antibiotics is a cause for global concern, especially in these days of globe-trotting and in light of lack of new antibiotics developed by drug companies recently.

The authors conjecture is that patients in the UK who were found to harbor this ‘superbug’ picked it up during surgeries – some during health tourism visits – from the subcontinent. Needless to say, the results of the study  has been (excuse the pun) a bitter pill for Indians. The medical community is upset, the politicians and media are outraged and screaming ‘Western conspiracy‘.

Unfortunately most of this anger is highly misplaced. I strongly recommend reading Bhalomanush’s well-argued (and in the face of some of the stunning ignorance out there, highly restrained) response debunking much of the media outrage.

I just wanted to add a few words of my own.

1. The main problem I see with the Indian reaction is the  usual cry of victim-hood  (MNCs and the ‘West ‘are out to get us and our health tourism industry) that is unbecoming of a country that wants to be global player.

The mature (and the right) way of dealing with such a publication would have been a statement explaining that India has taken serious note of this study in major journal and will be conducting its own investigations, at the same time reassuring people with numbers (number of cases small compared to the vast number of patients in India) etc. Instead we’ve taken on a jstrange ingoistic tone mixed with juvenile petulance: blaming the scientists for spreading falsehoods and finger-pointing like a school kid (suggesting that the virus is everywhere, why point to us?).

The best (worst) example of this over-the-top reaction is the idiotic notion that naming the protein that confers resistance to the bacteria (NDM1 = New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1)  after our capital is somehow a huge insult to our nation.

National pride that is so easily dented is not really a pride worth having.

2. There seems to be no concern in the media about the actual consequences of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. The rise of resistant strains is a real, fearful possibility in our antibiotic munching culture. What is anyone doing to ensure that such strains do not turn into a large public health problem in our country?

The medical tourism industry and most private hospitals in India are restricted to an elite population. These are the places where disinfection and sanitary methods are at their best. One wonders about the consequences of these bugs turning up in regular hospitals.

I am quite surprised that the supposed champions-of-the-underprivileged Indian media is rather silent on this (OTOH, actual medical and health concerns such as this don’t make good screaming matches on TV).

(Sakshi has a longer post detailing this concern)

3. This is not to say the western media is not totally guilty of hyping things a bit and spreading panic and fear. As Bhalomanush has pointed out, the misrepresentation of the UK and other international media is equally disgusting.

But again, a kicking and screaming response to such smearing doesn’t do anyone any good.

But, do also read the very balanced pieces by LA Times and Discover Blogs

4. The Indian media claims that the lead author of the study, an Indian doctor, Karthikeyan Kumaraswamy, has ‘retracted’ the study or at least distanced himself. If this is true, then there has been gross misconduct on the part of either Dr. Kumaraswamy or Lancet. As is true for any scientific publication, final manuscripts have to be vetted by all authors. As the footnote in the paper says:

All authors were involved in the compiling of the report and approved the final version.

If something was added after Dr. K looked through the draft and it was something he did not agree with it, he can and should take it up with Lancet. Retracting is not done in front of TV.

[actually, if you see the actual video of the interview with Dr. Kumaraswamy, he doesn't really say anything that's related to dissociating himself!]

5. Finally, thrown into this conspiracy theory mix is the fact that Glaxo-SmithKline recently published a paper in the online version of the journal Nature, where they have identified a compound that binds to a bacterial processive enzyme. It is possible that such a compound could escape the antibody destroying enzyme of the resistant bacteria and kill them.

Firstly, do note: the paper describes the snap-shot of the protein in its inhibited state i.e in a state where it is in a crystallized form. How such a compound succeeds as a drug is anybody’s guess with details such as efficacy, safety and stability that needs to be worked out (over a period of years).

And to those seeing another conspiracy in this, I really doubt that GSK could have pulled off the timing of their publication  (which btw is currently an advanced publication online only, has not come out in an issue) to coincide with the Lancet publication. More likely, it was a fortuitous occasion and the GSK PR department has jumped on it seeing a great opportunity to raise share prices. This is borderline dishonesty because, as I mentioned above, there is really no way to determine if the compound will be an actual drug and such drugs aren’t expected to be produced in a short time.

There are few other issues e.g the constant touting of the supposed ‘conflict of interest’ that have been covered by fellow bloggers, so I am not going there.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Desi Connections, India, Rants

Tagged with ,

Shoddy journalism by Sagarika Ghose on Global Warming

with 29 comments

Last night on her Twitter account, Indian journalist Sagarika Ghose posted the following:

Is even the science of climate change dodgy? is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us? who says the climate’s changing for the worse?

I am not sure where to begin parsing the statement, which displays either a stunning naivete or a sly dishonesty  calculated to get people charged up. Either way, it is quite appalling.

Actually, what is really appalling is the way she then goes about trying to prove her point.

Considering she works for CNN-IBN, which must to their disposal have at least one computer connected to this technology called the internet, where there exists these sites called Google and Bing that can be used to quickly search any topic. Not to mention that she must have at her disposal some sort of a research team, or the ability to get in touch with the relevant specialists for researching.

But what does she do when called for evidence of her statement? She retweets from some other guy offering up Bjorn Lomborg, the thoroughly discredited Danish academic as her source for anti-climate change (e.g see this, this or this).

If you are going to argue such a controversial issue, it pays not to be lazy – not to mention incredibly lame – enough as to cite Lomborg as your anti-climate change source! Heck, she could have even gone the Dubner-Levitt pathway given it has been on the news so much recently!  This is just stupendously shoddy journalism.

I have no problems with Ghose formulating a question for a proper debate – after all it is a supposedly free country with freedom of speech (though one of her contemporaries at least, has some sort of a problem with the definition of free speech, but we will let that go for now). However, it is inexcusable that she goes forth and makes statements that could be proven to be laughably false with the most perfunctory research.

Could it be that she is simply indulging in cheap sensationalism to improve ratings of her news channel? Quite possible given that she framed her question in the context of India’s role in reducing green house emissions, and whether

we [are] about to retard our industrial development because of america’s demands that we cut carbon emissions? (link)

Trying to whip up a bit of nationalist pride and sentiments against the US does no harm to ratings.  Statements such as, “Interesting point raised last night: our problem is poverty, not climate. lets first get rich, then we can go green.” are lame but sure to be a hit with the masses. Even then, it is  rather sad what she does to a complex discourse.

Consider that most die-hard skeptics now agree that climate change is real, and there is even a major consensus regarding the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. But how to solve the issue is however a highly charged debate involving as it does socio-economics and politics of a wide variety of country. For Ghose to reduce such complexity to levels stooped by the likes of Fox News and cronies is an incredible low.

(Thanks to Sakshi for many of the links)

update: Found this link with an incredible amount of resources to satisfy anyone’s climate change questions. I am not asking Ghose or anyone to absolutely agree with everything said here, but at least the person should argue on some intellectual basis.

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1. On these lines, it is quite unfortunate that TV journalism in India has been reduced to screeching hosts and overexcited, juvenile on-site reporter.s Ghose is married to Rajdeep Sardesai, whose histrionics during the Mumbai bombings were rightly criticized. Much has also been said about the media’s culpability during the 26/11 siege of Mumbai.

2. On a lighter note, Ghose’s naive question “ is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us?” reminds me of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachman trying to argue that global warming is of no concern because carbon-dioxide is natural and causes no harm!!

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Barberian idiocy

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This:

After courting controversy days ahead of its release, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film ‘Billu Barber’ will see the term ‘barber’ dropped from its hoardings and posters across the country following objections from an association of hairdressers, terming it “derogatory”.

The actor-producer, who spoke to representatives of the Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association over the issue, on Sunday said his production house Red Chillies Entertainment will ensure that the term ‘barber’ is removed from all hoardings.

“We will put a piece of paper on the word barber wherever it can be done in India. We will send teams,” Khan said.

Once again, I am compelled to point out – this is not an Onion-like satire piece, but a sad, sad truth.

Sigh !

Henceforth I demand that ‘post-docs‘ be considered a demeaning term, and our underclass be referred to by the more descriptively appropriate FUUGSS (f$%#ing unbelievably underpaid glorified sweat-shop scientists). Thank You.

(link via a comment by the GreatBong on Facebook)

The Modern Man

with one comment

’tis a morning for teh funnies:

How long before certain people start feeling offended ?

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 8, 2008 at 5:57 pm

“Drabheed is the sinister…..a demon”

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This has made my morning, day and possibly the entire two days left before we fly off to Kolkata.

Via J. A. P., a Bong vents his feelings on ……who else, Sourav Ganguly (and his removal from the team two years ago).

BONGULY (its not in Bong, so everyone can enjoy).

[is there any way to d/l from e-snips - this will help me through the flight!! update: managed to do this. if anyone needs the mp3 file, let me know]

Nuggets:

“Greg Chappel is scarce” (I think he means scrared)

“Bradman bhi bowled hua…..clean bowled to Garfield Sobers bhi hua…”

“Ganguly is the person born to lid “

“UPA government ko fall kar dega Ganguly”

——————

And yeah, you heard that right, we are off to the home-base/mother-ship/the cracker of all places, Kolkata. Three weeks of fun and bliss.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 8, 2008 at 5:39 pm

This Nano doesn’t shuffle

with 9 comments

But it can carry you from point A to point B. The Tata Nano.

The much anticipated Nano (a name I don’t really care for much) was unveiled today amidst much fan-fare. Touted by Tata as ‘the people’s car’, it is the world’s cheapest automobile. Additionally, if you are so inclined to think such manners, it is an ‘environmental nightmare’ (even though there seems to be evidence to the contrary) and an assertion of India’s growing economic might [1].

Speaking of global might, it is possible that in addition to the cheapest car, Tata will also own some of the most expensive brands if their bid to buy Jaguar and LandRover goes through. Talk about a spectrum.

[1]: Check the link – even while talking about cars, there is a sly dig at the recent cricket controversies. :)

———————————————————-

Jaguar’s potential sale to Tata, however, hasn’t made everyone happy. US car dealers apparently think it will dilute the brand value (of Jagaurs).

“I don’t believe the U.S. public is ready for ownership out of India of a luxury car make,” Ken Gorin, chairman of the Jaguar Business Operations Council, told the Wall Street Journal. “And I believe it would severely throw a tremendous cast of doubt over the viability of the brand.” (link)

Hmmm…..I can imagine the before and after scenes. Pre-takeover:

Customer: I want to buy a luxury car.

Dealer (showing a Jaguar): How about this one. It will break down often, cost you high maintainence, and is generally unreliable. But ….oooooh look……. it is a Jaguar, the Brits make it and Ford owns it.

Customer: hmmmm…..

Dealer: it is enormously expensive and a great status symbol.

Customer: Yay-diddly-doo – thats the one I want then. Where do I sign?

Post Tata takeover of the brands:

Customer: I want to buy a luxury car.
Dealer (showing a Jaguar): How about this one. It will break down often, cost you high maintainence, and is generally unreliable. But ….oooooh….. look it is a Jaguar, the Brits make it and errrr…an Indian company called TATA owns it.

Customer: hmmmm…..

Dealer: it is enormously expensi-

Customer (interrupting): ….wait did you say – India ? Dammit – I don’t know how to drive an elephant.!! And I really wanted something faster……..

Dealer: ….but sir, its still a car, in fact the same car as before – not an eleph-

Customer (interrupting again): and do I have to wear one of them turbans ? I can’t do that – everyone’ll think I am Osama !!!

Dealer: sigh ! forget about it.

PS – here is an even worse piece on Tata’s takeover bid: dripping with post-colonial angst. Will rant about it separately.

————————

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 11, 2008 at 1:14 am

New kitsch, old kitsch

with 5 comments

So weekend before last, we were watching Dhoom2. Normally I would not undertake such an ordeal, but the movie garnered so much negative reviews, I wondered if it might entertain in the ‘so bad – that it’s good’ kind of way. Plus, I was drunk, with friends, and posters suggested gratuitous displays of Biapasha Basu‘s legs – so I took the plunge.

Since the GreatBong has satireviewed (a word I just made up meaning reviewed in a satirical manner) the movie so there is little to review as such, but a few observations anyway:

1. Unless you are a huge fan of Hrithik Roshan, his impossibly chiseled pecs and his incredibly fluid dance movements, this movie is not an experience you want to inflict on anyone – save the worst of enemies.

2. If you do not fall under (1) and still find yourself compelled to watch, make sure that like me, you are sloshed and have plenty of friends around to appreciate your wise-cracks (also so that you can have fun watching the infamous Aish-Hrithik kiss in slo-mo, see below). Three to four martinis (with more than liberal measures of gin or vodka), more than half a bottle of wine, or few six-packs of beer (the last has the added advantage of sending you to bathroom-breaks quite often) should do it.

3. It does not bode well for a film where the best performance, relatively speaking, comes from the goofiness of Uday Chopra.

4. I had a bad case of ‘like-alitis’ (interjection of the word ‘like’ within, like, every two, like, or like, three spoken, like, words) for a couple of days after trying to mimic Aishwarya’s (Suneihri from Andheri) conversation style during the movie. Thankfully, they did not incorporate the ‘you know’ habit. Seriously, are the youths in India really trying to out-do their American counterparts in the bad-speaking department ?

Ditto question for Hrithik‘s American-urban-ghetto getup and basketball playing routine.

5. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but a few things I actually liked in the film: Bipasha Basu‘s second role as the Copacabana hot bimbo surfer Monali Bose; I thought her ‘Hi Housie-Wowsie !’ routine was a hoot; Uday Chopra imagining married life in a Baywatch slo-mo sequence was fun as well.

6. There was much anticipation for the widely talked about, litigious, and now censored-on-request-of-future-in-laws kissing scene between Aish and Hritik. Perverted as we were, the scene was paused and slow-forwarded for an in-depth analysis. My only comment is that I hope Aish pays better lip-service to Abhishek in real life.

7. The filmmakers, one assumes in all honesty, were attempting to make a slick production that combined the suaveness of Ocean’s 11/12, edge-of-seat actions of Mission Impossible and the sexiness of Bond movies. However what is served up is only a con-fused mishmash of these elements. I am not even talking about the plot-holes and physical unrealities, which are but expected and can be tolerated with suspended disbelief in action films. But it works only if the plot elements gel together into some form of a minimally cohesive storyline. In the obsessive indulgence towards spicing up the film with chic glamour (shots of Rio, the Carnival and some dance resembling salsa etc) the story is totally ignored.

8. Okay, so the last bit of rant was a tad too serious for this kind of movie. Really, if all you want to do is ogle at the hip and trendy – this is the film for you. Enough shots of Aish’s bare belly, Bipasha’s pretty much everything and Hrithik’s bulges to satisfy everyone’s cravings (you only have to put up with a misshapen, though muscular, Uday Chopra)!

In conclusion, if you go in with the right attitude (see #2), enjoyment is to be had in watching this movie – else, use it to drive out guests who stay late.

——————————————

Last weekend, we watched ‘Yaadon Ki Baraat‘, a movie last viewed on the venerable Doordarshan almost twenty years ago. For some reason, I have a good recollection of having watched this film (which I also remember was shown a week or so after another great Nasir Hussein hit, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin). At that time, I think I actually liked the movie and was rather touched by the title song Yaadon Ki Baraat and all the sappy brother’s reunited after long-time stuff.

Watching it in the present day, I realize that the film has great songs – Chura Liya Hai is arguably the most recognizable, if not outright the best melody composed in Hindi cinema – and a few interesting twists in an otherwise formulaic story (family separated but brought together by a song), but is full of unintentional hilarity and fashion disasters.

Let’s begin with the the guitar, which while ubiquitous in almost all the songs, no attempt is made by any of the actors to at least pretend they are playing the instrument. It is really jarring to hear guitar strums while the fingers over the fret are static !! Then there is the debutante Tariq Ali, prancing around the stage like a high-strung Johnny Cash, wearing a velvet jacket with heavy silver gold-embroidery and oversized sunglasses (worn mostly indoors). Oversized sunglasses also find favor with the villain, essayed by the incomparable Ajit, who also happens to wear differently sized white shoes on each feet (an important plot element) to go with his white jackets, black gloves and enormous blonde wig. Worse still, there is the immensely proportioned Neetu Singh with a friendly appearance during the song Lekar Hum Diwana Dil, stomping around the psychedelic stage in a red mini-skirt. And there is Dharmendra, trying to hide his mid-section corpulence and following the angry-when-constipated method of acting (to be fair, he did have some good performances in the early B&W movies).

In spite of all this cringe-worthy material, I noticed we were more indulgent towards Yaadon Ki Baraat than Dhoom 2, even as they share the common trait of being strong in the glamour category but ultimately weak in the acting and story departments. YKB obviously scores in the music department: somehow I don’t see Crazy Kiya Rey retaining the same zeitgeist as O Meri Soni not to mention, Chura Liya Hai. D2 is on the other hand way more sophisticated in the technical aspects and special effects (even after accounting for the obvious difference in period): wooden sliding doors (supposedly pneumatic, but obviously hand-operated) and electrical signal boxes composed of piano-type switches being replaced by hand-held electromagnets and acid releasing shoes.

Eventually my conclusion was that while Hindi films might have reached a level of technical sophistication, its still pretty much the same kitsch.

———————–

Final note worth pointing out. In Dhoom 2, there was this really irritating trend I noticed in recent Hindi movies to deliver a dialog in English, and follow up with a Hindi translation – even for inane stuff like ‘I love you’. But Yaadon Ki Baraat had a number of short English dialogues – which, to our surprise were delivered without the subsequent Hindi translation !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 23, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Lee and Bhosle

with 4 comments

Found the Youtube video after reading this BBC article. Showing a softer side of the guy who hurls down the leather at 90+ mph.

The lyrics, by Brett Lee himself (at least the English portions I assume) are pretty sappy, but the tune is catchy enough.

Asha Bhsole has sung and appeared in videos with an eclectic group of performers – from Boy George to Colonial Cousins to the Kronos Quartret. This is perhaps the oddest pairing.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 13, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Desi ‘Black Friday': the changing consumer in Kolkata

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From Wikipedia:

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, is historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year. Many consider it the “official” beginning to the holiday season. Most retailers will open very early.

And from this site:

Retailers publish special sale ads on Thanksgiving day to get customers into their doors the following morning. “Doorbusters” and “Early Bird Specials” help lure customers in with heavy discounting on retail items. Lines often stretch around the block as customers jam parking lots waiting to snatch up the hot sale items of the year.

As the poet Bob Allen Zimmerman said – ‘the times….they are a changin’‘. The economic liberalization in India, set into motion some fifteen years ago by the current prime minister, is bearing interesting results. I will leave the debate on the socio-economic impacts of liberalization, good or bad (IMHO in short, mostly good), to other posts and other people. This is a brief comment on some primarily anecdotal evidence of changing consumer habits in my hometown, Kolkata.

For generations, people in Kolkata have been used to frequenting the local ‘bajaar‘ (market) every morning for fresh vegetables, fruits and fish (what is a Bengali without his fish), and the ‘parar moodir dokan’ (roughly translated: the local cornershop) for their grocery needs. For books, you went to College Street or waited for the famous Calcutta Book Fair; for trendy clothings, you would go to New Market or Gariahat, to Burrabuzar for bulk items and so on and so forth.

Now these age-old habits are changing, thanks to the profusion of supermarkets such as BigBazaar, C3 etc, that are fast becoming the one-stop shop for Kolkatans. Importantly, it is not just the rich elite that is frequenting these shops, but the regular working middle lass people.

“The man who comes in for his chal and dal and tel on a rickshaw is exciting,” smiles Ghosh. Shoppers are shifting to supermarkets for their monthly rations…..

If supermarkets are the future, the consumer most aggressively courted is not the elite family arriving in its air-conditioned car.

Additionally, I have anecdotal evidence from people back in Kolkata about the middle class going to these markets with increasing freqeuncy (even while the old fresh ‘fish, meat and veggies in the morning’ system is not obsolete by any means). The main attraction it seems, in addition to novelty, is the ability to browse and select products.

[Of course, the character of the middle class itself has changed. Whereas when we were young, our parents would be able to afford a car or a house only after holding a job for several years and that too on loans linked to their providend funds (and hence their jobs), right now, any professional can take out low interest loans to afford a car or buy an apartment. This improved economic condition cannot be bad for the country. Some people will argue that the poorest sections are not really benefitting. But I will disagree with that - maybe in another post ]

Coming back to the point of the post, last week we took our folks visiting us here to shop at Costco, one of those giant warehouse-type retailers where you become a member and have to purchase stuff in bulk. The folks were commenting on how buying in bulk to save is becoming commonplace in Kolkata due to the various buy-one-get-one-free schemes. Consumers are starting to hoard on their supply of cooking oil, soaps and other consumables. But most interesting to me was the anecdote about the day BigBazaar announced a big sale (I believe it was around the Republic Day holiday) – when everything in store was being sold at 50-80% discounts. People apparently lined up since very early morning, the roads going up to the store faced severe traffic jams and customers waited patiently for more than half a day to grab their bargains. In fact, to tackle the hordes of shoppers, the store had to close its front gate and allow only a few in at a time! Not really much different from the general chaos one finds in shopping malls across the USA on the day after Thanksgivings – popularly called Black Friday and defined above (it is called ‘black’ since most retailers make huge profits – denoted in balance sheets by black as opposed to red for losses- in the period betweem Thanksgiving and Christmas) .

[Final, slightly off-topic rambling:
Interestingly, there weren't any riots or burning of cars in Kolkata while people waited to get into the shop (unlike what happened in this city). I guess Kolkatans are somewhat used to waiting patiently in queues - before the advent of multiplexes, we used to have to queue upto two days in advance to get tickets to movies (especially blockbuster English releases like Jurrassic Park); lines for gas cylinders, kerosene oil, at the ration store, for tickets to cricket matches at Eden or classical concerts etc are legendary. It used to be a point of pride how long one waited in a line to get their ticket/kerosense/rice/whatever. I remember one of my high-school teacher joking: 'show a Bengali a queue and he will stand at the back first and ask where the line is going second'. :-) ]

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 17, 2006 at 10:20 am

Gandhi as a salesman: Part II

with 2 comments

After being featured in a telecom Italia ad, Gandhi’s image has been used again in an Red Hat (of Linux fame) ad - this time in a much more sutble manner. (H/T: rkay @ Sepia Mutiny News)



The underlying theme is about fighting the non-believers and the ‘big-guys’. IMO, a very well made and clever advert.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 13, 2006 at 1:57 pm

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