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‘Last Lecture’ Randy Pautsch dies

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I was wandering around a book store in the Philippines while a friend who i was there with was finishing off something.  I says this book titled the ‘Last Lecture’ with a cover that looked like it was that of a journal or scrapbook.  I had been reading about the ‘Last Lecture’ series on the internet and was curious to see what the author had to say.

Randy Pautsch as we all know, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had just a few months to live.  So when he was asked to give a ‘last lecture’ in the tradition of the Carnegie Mellon’s outgoing professors, he knew it would be truly the last one and focussed the lecture on achieving childhood dreams.  The thing that i enjoyed most about this book was the fact that rather than being a chest thumping display of prowess Randy thought of it as being a legacy to leave behind for his children.

Here is the wired story link on his passing.  Condolences to his wife and children.


Written by jayanth

July 26, 2008 at 1:26 am

Posted in Opinion

Myanmar: a televised revolution

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I fell in love with Burma (that is now Myanmar) more from Amitav Gosh’s ‘The Glass Palace‘ than anything else i have read about it. Amy Tan’s interestingly title ‘Saving Fish from Drowning‘ provided the context to understand this very interesting country that borders India’s north east. Another rare text that added to this was ‘Dancing in Cambodia, at large in Burma‘.

So, it is not surprising to me the way things are going in this junta-ruled nation of Buddhist monks and intermittent internet. But, this post is not about that (there is so much that has been blogged about that, i am sure).

This is about Josh Wolf’s blog’s title ‘The Revolution will be televised’. Josh Wolf is a blogger-journalist (?) who claimed the privileges of a mainstream journalist to protect his sources. He shot video of a protest in San Fransisco in 2005 where a police officer was injured, but refused to provide the tape of the video to authorities. He ended up spending time in jail for this. (Background)

If what is happening in Myanmar is a revolution, then this one sure is being televised. Youtube became a great way to post video. Even Facebook kicked in with an unexpected hero with a wierd name – Bookbinder. And the most important impact of the televisation is that fact that the issue has made it to the Security Council and an UN Envoy is trying to get some action from the junta. What would have happened if we did not have You Tube and camera phones and the internet?

I am anxiously following this ‘revolution’ to see where it goes. And Human Rights Watch is saying that India can exert some influence on the generals. But, aren’t we too busy with the nuclear deal, the Karnataka power transfer debacle and the Tamilnadu bandh. As usual.

While i am on the topic of revolution, do you realise that means it is about going round full circle? So what do the people of Myanmar want from this – a half revolution?

Written by jayanth

October 2, 2007 at 4:52 am

Posted in Opinion

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Climate change and Pink Floyd

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With the release of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the issue that was the focus of Micheal Chrichton’s novel ‘State of Fear’ has taken centre stage – again. While i am working on a more extensive piece on the impact of climate change on third world economies here is an interesting take on Pink Floyd’s immortal number on education. Click here.

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Written by jayanth

February 17, 2007 at 4:31 am

Posted in Opinion

Indian children adding more blood to tainted diamonds?

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Leonardo di Caprio may well be nominated for the Oscar for his role as the South African diamond smuggler in ‘Blood Diamond’, a film attempting to lay bare the thriving international trade in conflict diamonds that fuels wars and conflicts in several part of Africa. The movie, supported by Global Witness and Amnesty International, opened in India a few weeks ago and is showing in glittering multiplexes in the heart of Mumbai, just around the corner from the diamond markets of this bustling ‘financiapolis’ of India.

Over 90% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through these markets on their journey to Surat, the biggest small-diamond processing centre in the world 326 kms by road from the city. A Guardian Observer investigation alleges that ‘blood diamonds’ from Ivory Coast and Liberia are being illegally processed here.

According to the article, “The stones brought in by dhows and fishing boats through the shallow waters of Gujarat’s ungovernable west coast make a laughing stock of attempts to stem the global flow of blood diamonds.” The Kimberly Process, set up by diamond merchants, NGOs, governments and the UN in 2003 governs, albeit loosely the trade in diamonds and should help prevent the use of diamonds to fuel conflicts.

But the Kimberly process does not make any mention of child labour that is reported to be so prevalent in Surat, adding more blood the already tainted stones. Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children Foundation) alleges that over 30,000 children are stuck in this trade in Dickensian conditions. These claims are stoutly denied by the industry.

And why not? Reports [1, 2] allege that over the years the diamond cutting industry has resisted unionisation or bringing itself under the purview of the Indian Factory Act that promised minimum wages and benefits for its workers. This is done by keeping the number of workers in each unit under nine (the legal limit requiring registration under the Act) and registering hundreds of small units. And it is in these units that the children are lost without a trace.

Diamond cutting is on the top of the list of ‘hazardous work’ that the law prohibits children from work in. And these are the children who sweat and toil, losing out on their childhood to add small value the ‘bling, bling’ that is the fad. The Kimberly process is meeting at this time to review the working of the ban.

Would they stop to consider for a moment the children in Surat, who are churning out these diamonds, paying with their own blood?

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Written by jayanth

January 23, 2007 at 3:05 am

Posted in Media, Opinion

Do we care about our children?

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The year 2006 was an interesting one as far as the Indian policy environment relating to children was concerned. This was the year that the much appreciated and equally maligned ‘child labour ban’ that punished those who employed children below 14 in domestic labour or in hotels and eateries around the country was put in place. The child marriage act made it possible for children to step out of the forced alliance with legal remedy. Children with HIV in six states would get free antiretroviral treatment through a programme rolled out by the National AIDS Control Society – a much needed measure that needs to be made universal. On December 13, 2006 the Supreme Court reiterated an order that pulled up the government for lax implementation of the Integrated Child Development Scheme, calling for the top bureaucrats in several states to explain why the scheme was not implemented satisfactorily.

But then, all of this was brushed aside by the ‘Horror of Nithari’. Almost at the fag end of the year the country watched horrified as skeletons of children were dug up from a drain separating a posh Bungalow in one of the high value suburbs of the capital of India from the village of Nithari.

As I watched this the first thought that I had was a poll by the Reuters group in August 2006; the one that reported that India was the sixth most dangerous place for children. As news reports showed that the number of children who could have been murdered edge slowly towards the 34 they are stuck at now, I was reminded of the passionate denials of this status by several media as well as the general public.

A Hindu editorial that appeared a week after this poll went public was almost tongue in cheek in saying, “Exaggeration and over-the-top assertions will prove counter-productive.” Well, the reports and pictures of rage from the villagers were not exaggerations but counter productive they may well be.

And the question being asked again and again is what did the villagers, the police and the neighbours do as 34 (and the number keeps growing) children went missing. While the debate rages around this with all and sundry (present company included) I have a sneaky feeling that a scene like this will be played back again…and again…and again.

This surmise is not without reason. Almost universally (and more pronouncedly in India), children are more valued for what they can do for us than for what they are – the value we place on them is dependent on what they can do for us, rather than for the . They are often called ‘resources of the future’ and things like that and hence any child has value only if he or she is in school, has rich parents or has a chance at making something out of their lives. The ‘Nithari 34’ did not fall into any of these categories and hence ‘do not count’. Whose children were they?

Well, nothing’s gonna change….and i am sure we will be having this discussion once again when the horror is repeated.

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Written by jayanth

January 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Media, Opinion

A few good doctors – rural pioneers show the way

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The Medical Council of India lists 262 accredited colleges that train and create 29172 doctors every year. And still the state of the healthcare in our rural areas is dismal at best. Outlook describe India’s rural medical scenario as “a state healthcare machinery that’s cynical, corrupt, non-accountable and non-functional, forcing patients to opt for rapacious private practitioners, quacks—or no medical care at all.”

And this is the industry that is expected to bring in more than $100 million as additional revenue for the medical sector through ‘medical tourism’ according to a 2004 McKinsey – Confederation of Indian Industries study. Several articles have been written about this phenomenon by Time and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

But not many stories tell the plight of the rural poor’s battle for health.

“Seventy per cent of our population lives outside the cities but eight out of ten doctors and a shocking eighty percent of all hospital beds are urban,” according to Kavery Nambisan, a surgeon and novelist in her article titled ‘Rural Gangrene’ in a recent issue of the Outlook. The same issue goes on to talk about the movement created by a courageous group of doctors who have been ‘true to their oath’ to reach out and help people living in remote areas such as Baingangaon in Bihar, Sittingli in Tamilnadu, rural Gujarat, or Uttaranchal. On their own.

Four doctor-couples in Ganiyari, Chattisgarh helped make healthcare a reality for the villagers in the area. Drs. Regi and Lalitha Thomas are helping make healthcare sustainable and reach more people by making community health workers of adivasis in the villages of Sittingli, Tamilnadu. There are several others that are profiled as part of the series.

They toil on without much recompense, other than “two juicy cucumbers or a plump river fish for having operated … a bull gore injury, a ruptured intestine or a motorcycle accident?” They innovate and ‘make do’ using sterilised mosquito netting as a cheap alternative to expensive prolene mesh for hernia repair. They are the pioneers and the unsung heroes of India’s medical fraternity that stays true to their oath.

While the call is for increased spending on the rural medical system and infrastructure, what good is that without the doctors to provide the care. The hope is that as the Government gets its act together around this, the lives and sacrifices of these doctors would serve as an example for the 29,172 doctors that step out of medical colleges this year.

Cross posted at bloggernewsnetwork

Written by jayanth

December 29, 2006 at 2:34 am

Posted in Media, Opinion

Airport security and dancing

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I had to cancel a trip to the US for meetings today because of respiratory infection. While I was a tad disappointed by this (my wife and family were overjoyed, strangely) it was also a relief not to have to go through the ignominy of the security checks of US airports (note I say US and not North America – my trip to Canada was as sweet as going through Chennai airport in better times).

With the current heightened security environment caused by the FBI warning to India about possible Al-Quaeda attacks on southern Indian airports, I was planning to check in three hours earlier then required. And I was worried about the security in LAX where I was supposed to land this time as a passenger from south India sporting a beard.

In previous trips to the US, I have devised something called the ‘DC Dance’ for going through security at US airports. It starts even before you leave for the airport. You dress as smartly and formally as possible, without wearing a jacket (I hate jackets). This usually for me means a nice powder blue shirt, black trousers and black formal shoes. I hate the shoes especially because they are murder on your feet before, during and after 11-hour flights in Economy. Also, hate wearing them to the toilet in planes.

Make sure all your coins and keys are backed in your bags. And when you get to the security counter do not act nonchalant. Watch the security procedure carefully and when you get close to the X-ray machine (this is the dance part) take off all metallic items that are removable (woe unto those who have metal plates fixed in their bodies, make sure you have a doctor’s certificate or something) from person. For me this includes a small gold chain my co-brother gave me for my engagement, my marriage ring, my lucky charm ring with elephant hair in it, my favourite brass buckled belt etc.. My cell phone and wallet are already in my cabin bags and I just carry my passport and ticket (with all staples removed for good measure). Then you take off your shoes..what relief! The shoes are a necessity because of the ‘shoe bomber’ (Duh!)

And then take your computer out and any camera gear out. And put these all into the tray provided and send in for scanning. The goal of all this is to not get a beep when you walk through the frame and when you get wanded. No beeps – then go collect bags and stuff, get dressed, do not stop anywhere, just board plane.

If not – well, you know the stories.

One story that struck me appeared in the Hindu this Sunday(12 November 2006) and really was a lesson on what should not be done in the air – by American air marshals. According to a wired.com story there is a study that shows that better baggage screening could make a bigger difference than ‘profiling’ (that is, all Muslims with beards are bad – Nah!). The comments to this article seem well informed…but if the recommendations are accepted I will be one of the few(?) people rejoicing.

Written by jayanth

November 14, 2006 at 4:06 am

Posted in Humour, Opinion