Archive for the 'Science & Technology' Category

Remembering Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel was the role model to my role models. Today, on the first anniversary of his death, we remember him fondly.

In a country where ritual hygiene is sacrosanct and actual hygiene is observed mostly in the breach, Ishwarbhai devoted his life to the rational, hygienic management of human waste. Recipient of India’s Padma Shri for distinguished service to the country, among many other national and international awards, Ishwarbhai’s greatness and achievements were certainly widely admired. But, true to his modesty and good humor, he got more pleasure from his more humble nickname, “Mr. Toilet”.

Ishwarbhai was as matter-of-fact as could be about all matters of human waste. Within the first five minutes of the first time we met, he advised me how much my average daily dump weighed in grams – I forget the number – and added that it was likely more dense than the average Indian feces, because the Western diet includes more refined and processed foods. This was typical conversation, and there was nothing casual about it. It was part of Ishwarbhai’s mission. Having made sanitation his life’s work, he could hardly afford to be abashed in discussing these things. Moreover, he understood that the polite refusal of most people to talk about human waste entailed a pernicious complicity in the epidemic of debilitating and frequently lethal diarrheal diseases in India. “How can we solve a problem people are too embarrassed to talk about sensibly?” he complained.

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Incredible Vision

Book Cover: Infinite Vision by Pavithra Metha and Suchitra Shenoy

Pavi Mehta and Suchi Shenoy have just published an outrageous book, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. These are two women not usually given to prevarication;* but the inventiveness, thoroughness, and depth of their deceit in Infinite Vision is really quite breathtaking.

The book makes the following absurd claims:

1. That a doctor hailing from a tiny, rural village in South India, whose hands were so badly gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis he had to specially train himself to hold surgical implements, became perhaps the most important eye surgeon in history.

2. That this man, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, following his retirement from government service, started an eleven-bed eye clinic, called Aravind, which grew within his lifetime to become the largest eye-care hospital system in the world.

3. That Dr. V and his Aravind colleagues revolutionized cataract surgery, allowing massive numbers of patients suffering from the leading cause of needless blindness to have their sight restored.

4. That ophthalmology residents from the leading medical institutions in Europe and the United States come in droves to train at Aravind, and that Aravind openly and actively teaches its methods to administrators of public and private health care from around the developed and developing world.

5. That, in order to make cataract surgery affordable to the world’s poor, Aravind developed world-class manufacturing capability to deliver intraocular replacement lenses and other surgical supplies at a tiny fraction of the cost at which they were available from American and European manufacturers.

6. That Aravind operates an extensive, well-coordinated mobile outreach program to ensure that its services reach into the poorest districts and most remote villages.

7. That Aravind is the subject of a famous case study at Harvard Business School.

8. That Aravind sees more than 7,500 patients a day and performs more than 300,000 sight-restoring surgeries each year.

Finally, in a coup de grace of imaginary thinking, the book makes the preposterous claim that Aravind provides two-thirds of its services absolutely free-of-charge.

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The Frogs Are Croaking

It’s fun having brilliant friends; and all-the-more-so to have brilliant friends who can express their brilliance through talent. Jennifer Sohn is one of those special people.

This evening I was lucky to attend an art exhibition at SOMAarts Cultural Center, called “Blue Planet”. The show was the demonstrative element in a week-long conference dedicated to the ways in which art enhances our understanding and appreciation of the environment, and inspires activism on behalf of the ecological systems impacted by human activity. Jen’s latest work, Toxic Habits, a portion of which is pictured above, was featured in the exhibition.

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Advances in Clinical Chemistry

Carl Wittwer Profiled in Clinical Chemistry

My second-most-favorite magazine of all time is Clinical Chemistry. Like my first-most-favorite magazine, I pretend to read it for the excellent articles, but mostly only look at the pictures.

If that’s not entirely true, it’s only because the images in Playboy (do they still publish Playboy?) are considerably more interesting than those in Clinical Chemistry, which tend to run toward crazy-shit-complicated graphs and conceptual layouts of brain-melting science. So, alas, I do struggle through the articles — which take me several hours for six to eight hard-won pages — with a Googleload of reference help.

No one will ever adjudge the literary merits of Clinical Chemistry to be on a par with Granta or the quality and usefulness of the science it contains to rival that of Cooks Illustrated. Still, the rag has its own nerdy charm.

Imagine my delight, then, when Clinical Chemistry finally published something that not only covers my favorite subject in all of science, but does so in an article I could read without feeling like a third-grader: a profile of Carl Wittwer.

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The Truth About Women

Gender Fencers

Women are such hypocrites.

They claim a special talent in understanding the rhythms of nature – as though their “divine feminine” and Earth Motherly roots give them special access to the concepts of seasonality and ripeness. In some ways, they are extremely attuned. Many women, for example, are acutely well-prepared to demand a degree of carte blanche, forbearance, and pre-approved forgiveness every 28 days or so. In other important ways, however, they are willful and pigheaded in their rejection of the most basic notions of gestation and timeliness.

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Sarah Palin, Energy Expert

Out of Oil

Is anyone else tired of the meme that Sarah Palin is an expert in energy matters? John McCain goes so far as to say, “She knows more about energy than probably anyone in the United States of America.” This is more than simply an absurdity; it is a dangerous idea.

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Greening the Indian Economy. ZZZZzzzz.

Solid Waste Management Policy Paper, Shuddham

Last weekend, Shuddham participated in the National Workshop on Environmental Policy Integration for Greening the Indian Economy at Pondicherry University. We were asked to present a paper and give a presentation on approaches to policy development for solid waste management, based on the Shuddham experience.

Continue reading ‘Greening the Indian Economy. ZZZZzzzz.’


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.

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Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

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Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

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America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.

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Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

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Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

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Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.

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India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

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Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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