26 May 2013

Sunday Reads - Survivors & Prostitution in Deep Recession

  • Prostitution: An industry that is deep in recession. (Economist)
  • Survivors: Filthy and violent it may be, but life is still precious for the world's street children. Can you look them in the eye? (Aeon)
  • From IPL spot-fixing to political cop outs, why India has lost faith in its systems. (First Post)
  • Five reasons why rupee is depreciating despite record FII flows (Economic Times

Source: DNA

23 May 2013

The evolution of 'responsible singleness'

A student-friend, Suharika,shared this (via whatsapp) interesting piece on the evolution of 'responsible singleness'.

Here's an excerpt:
"The year is 1885, 100 years ago. You decide to leave the farm and move to the city with your wife and kids. Suddenly you are no longer part of an extended family; you’re a nuclear family. You think of the relatives you left behind, and wonder what happened to your commitment and loyalty.
Now, shift centuries: today, at the end of the 20th century, we are going through the same process, only this time it is not the extended family we are outgrowing – it is the nuclear family. You cannot commit yourself to one person; you don’t have a spouse, a home and kids. Again the same pressures: where the hell is your commitment? Your loyalty? Your attachment? Isn’t it time you settled down? After all, you are already 28 or 32 or 36, or whatever. The dynamics are essentially the same. Why are we outgrowing the nuclear family? What are the forces behind this evolution? What is replacing the nuclear family?" (End of excerpt)
The author says that, "we are at the beginning of a massive recontexting of our social life". Are we? Please leave your views in the comments space.
Read the rest of the piece here.

19 May 2013

Sunday Reads - Jolie, Propaganda, IPL, & the Internet

I am travelling today to Jodhpur (Rajasthan); I hope I do not get skewered in the terrible heat of the desert.
  • Propaganda: Lies and distortion. (BBC)
  • The Internet killed the Middle Class. (Salon)
  • Corporatisation of Angelina Jolie's breasts? (Outlook)
  • The seamier side of IPL: Women and money. (India Today)

As the IPL spot-fixing unravels, Manjul's cartoon in DNA captures it all.

18 May 2013

Playing with Life: The Ranbaxy Fraud

India's pharmaceutical sector comprises some of the largest generic drug makers, like Cipla, Sun Pharma, Ranbaxy, and Dr Reddy's. 

A few weeks back, Ranbaxy, which is owned by Japanese pharma giant Daiichi Sankyo, was slapped with a massive U.S.$500-million penalty by the U.S. government. The company agreed to pay the hefty penalty to settle a criminal and civil lawsuit which leveled charges of falsifying data from its drug facilities and shoddy manufacturing practices against it. The penalty is said to be the largest one ever imposed on a generic drug maker. 

The company's shoddy manufacturing practices were brought to light by one of its former employees, Dinesh Thakur, who worked as director of research information and project management. For his efforts, he was awarded U.S.$48 million (Rs 244 crore) as part of the settlement. 

The U.S. Justice Department said that, "Ranbaxy Laboratories, pleaded guilty to felony charges relating to the manufacture and distribution of certain adulterated drugs made at two of Ranbaxy's manufacturing facilities in India". 

In fact, the company pleaded guilty on account of three violations of the U.S.'s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), and accepted that it deliberately lied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The faulty generic drugs were manufactured at Ranbaxy's facilities in Paonta Sahib and Dewas. Ranbaxy USA admitted to introducing select batches of adulterated drugs that were produced at Paonta Sahib in 2005 and 2006.

Forbes has an investigative piece on the Ranbaxy fraud. Here's an excerpt:

In August 2004, Dinesh Thakur confronted his assignment to investigate possible fraud at his own company, Thakur gave each of his project managers a part of the world and asked them to compare Ranbaxy's manufacturing data against the claims made to regulators. His own efforts began with a visit to a company regulatory official.

It was a depressing conversation. The official explained, Thakur says, that the company culture was for management to dictate the results it wanted and for those beneath to bend the process to achieve it. He described how Ranbaxy took its greatest liberties in markets where regulation was weakest and the risk of discovery was lowest. He acknowledged there was no data supporting some of Ranbaxy's drug applications in those regions and that management knew that, according to Thakur.
... in Gurgaon, as Thakur's project managers gathered data and interviewed company scientists and executives, he says, they stumbled onto Ranbaxy's open secret: The company manipulated almost every aspect of its manufacturing process to quickly produce impressive-looking data that would bolster its bottom line. "This was not something that was concealed," Thakur says. It was "common knowledge among senior managers of the company, heads of research and development, people responsible for formulation to the clinical people."
Lying to regulators and backdating and forgery were commonplace, he says. The company even forged its own standard operating procedures, which FDA inspectors rely on to assess whether a company is following its own policies. Thakur's team was told of one instance in which company officials forged and backdated a standard operating procedure related to how patient data are stored, then aged the document in a "steam room" overnight to fool regulators.
Company scientists told Thakur's staff that they were directed to substitute cheaper, lower-quality ingredients in place of better ingredients, to manipulate test parameters to accommodate higher impurities, and even to substitute brand-name drugs in lieu of their own generics in bioequivalence tests to produce better results.
It just numbs the mind to know the dirty secrets of this pharma company's manufacturing practices. You can read the complete Forbes piece here.

14 May 2013

Politics Behind Team Selection

In this IPL season, it looks like the whole country is busy with the on-field and off-the-field shenanigans of national and international cricketers.

There are numerous considerations in the selection of players to represent the nation: performance, age, regionalism, favoritism, and nepotism. Yesterday, I read a piece in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, about the politics behind the selection of cricketers for the Pakistan national team.

Here’s an excerpt:

Pakistan cricket is probably filled with the most inspired, interesting, frustrating, amusing, baffling incidents of selection than any other country.

Though consideration of religion should be far removed from the arts and sport, if not from every profession and walk of life, it is a fact that there is a clash of civilisations and religion, race, caste and colour — undeniable catalysts.

Imran Khan has himself documented in his autobiography that he was selected purely on nepotism; his cousins Javed Burki and Majid Khan were the main reasons he made it into the squad for the 1971 tour of England. According to him he didn’t even have a proper bowling run-up and wrote that if it had not been for his cousins he wouldn’t have been on the plane.
(End of excerpt)

Looks like there are at least a few things, apart from mutual distrust and hatred, that connect us with Pakistan. Cricket is one such thing. 

To read more about the politics behind team selection, click here


12 May 2013

Sunday Reads - My Good Nazi Father & Chinese Dreams

  • North Korea's silent football matches. (BBC; Hat tip: Sudharsan R)
  • My father, the good Nazi. (Financial Times)
  • Controlling China's currency. (AlJazeera)
  • Chasing the Chinese dreams. (Economist)
Nawaz Sharif is all set to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time. Dawn has a slideshow on the life and times of one of Pakistan's richest men.

10 May 2013

Abducted by Aliens?

Human beings have always been fascinated by the idea of aliens, or extraterrestrial life. Stories abound of UFO and alien sightings, but none offer conclusive evidence of the existence of aliens.

I have been believed that we, human beings, have always been arrogant to dismiss that idea of alien life, one that exists beyond our planet. Somewhere I believe in the words of Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes): “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”  

But do aliens exist? If yes, do they kidnap human beings? What do they do after kidnapping human beings? 

Today I read a remarkable and intriguing piece titled, Alien Nation: Have Humans Been Abducted by Extraterrestrials? by Ralph Blumenthal. The article relates the work of John Edward Mack on alien abductions. Here’s an excerpt:
 "Kathleen Marden, the director of abduction research for the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, one of the oldest and largest U.F.O.-investigating groups, was 13 in 1961, when her aunt and uncle Betty and Barney Hill returned from a trip through the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the stupefying tale of having been chased by a giant flying disc that hovered over the treetops. They said they had stopped for a look with binoculars, spotted humanoid figures in the craft and, overcome with terror, sped away with their car suddenly enveloped in buzzing vibrations. They reached home inexplicably hours late and afterward recovered memories of having been taken into the ship and subjected to frightening medical probes. Their car showed some peculiar markings, and Betty’s dress had been ripped, the zipper torn. She remembered that the aliens had fumbled with her zipper before disrobing her for a pregnancy test with a needle in her navel. I was surprised to hear from Marden (but confirmed it) that the garment is preserved at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham." (End of excerpt)

This long Vanity Fair article makes for fascinating reading.

08 May 2013

Evil: Hitler's Food-Taster & Sexual Abuse Online

Today I found two varied and interesting pieces about evil in different forms. 

The first one, from Der Spiegel, captures the story of Margot Wölk, who was one of the food-tasters of Adolf Hitler. Forced to be a food-taster for Hitler for more than two years, the 95-year-old German says that she lived in constant fear. "I just wanted to say what happened there," she says. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig." 

The second one makes for scary reading, especially because it talks about women who are being threatened online with rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Here's an excerpt: 

Kavita Krishnan, a prominent Delhi-based women's activist, was attacked viciously during a recent online chat on violence against women on Rediff.com, one of India's leading news websites.

"It began well. I had answered a few interesting questions. And then one person, with the handle @RAPIST, started posting abusive comments. He then asked me where he could come to rape me using a condom," she said.
Mr Jaishankar, who counsels victims of cyber crime along with his colleague and lawyer Debarati Haldar, says that Indian users online are largely male introverts who have found the web a place where they can express themselves freely and anonymously.
"These men could be respectable professionals such as doctors, lawyers or professors in real life but online, they tend to show a darker side."
Read the complete BBC piece here

05 May 2013

Sunday Reads

This Sunday there will not be any Reads collection, as I am traveling.

However, let me share one interesting article: this is about how the Super Rich are hated in China

Keep learning!

02 May 2013

Violence & Buddhism

Death does not discriminate. But in life, discrimination is rife and all-pervading. It permeates all walks of our lives: birth, education, work and all social aspects.

In most global, regional and local conflicts, religion is the most potent discriminatory tool being used by all involved to further their aims.

Be they the radical Islamists, belonging to various sects (Sunni/Shia) and organisations (Al-Qaeda) or the Christian fundamentalists (ultra-orthodox evangelical churches, especially in the U.S.) or the Hindu radical fringe groups (like the Ram Sena), they all have centred their ideology on the religion they claim to profess and protect.

While no religion preaches violence, Buddhism stands apart in one major aspect: non-violence is the foundation of its tenets. Non-violence, especially compassion and tolerance toward all living beings, is the cornerstone of Buddhism.

But then why are the peace-loving Buddhist monks leading violent mobs against Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar? Aren’t Buddhist monks meant to be the good guys of religion, asks the BBC Magazine.
Aggressive thoughts are inimical to all Buddhist teachings. Buddhism even comes equipped with a practical way to eliminate them. Through meditation the distinction between your feelings and those of others should begin to dissolve, while your compassion for all living things grows.
Of course, there is a strong strain of pacifism in Christian teachings too: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," were the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
But however any religion starts out, sooner or later it enters into a Faustian pact with state power.
Christian crusaders, Islamist militants, or the leaders of "freedom-loving nations", all justify what they see as necessary violence in the name of a higher good. Buddhist rulers and monks have been no exception.
If you wish to know the story behind the violence between the Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, then click here (links to The Nation news site)

01 May 2013

Spain's Pain Getting Worse

Badly battered by the all-enveloping eurozone crisis, Spain's economy has shrunk, again. In the January-March 2013 quarter, the economy contracted by -0.5%, as against contraction by -2% in the corresponding quarter last year. This means the country’s economy has contracted for seven consecutive quarter now.
The government in Madrid believes that growth will falter again this year, as it announced that the economy will contract by -1.3% in this financial year. Ever since the euro crisis began in 2008, Spain, which witnessed its massive real estate bubble burst, has struggled to stay afloat, especially in the face of mounting debts and rising unemployment.

Rising unemployment
Rising unemployment is eating into domestic demand, thus setting in motion a vicious cycle of low demand-falling revenues-low generation of jobs-rising unemployment, which, in turn, meant that fewer people would have income that would help them buy stuff.
In other words, unemployment rates typically move in a cyclical way as they are largely related to business cycle, especially in the short and near medium long term. In addition to business cycles, government policy (especially labour policy), population trends, and to some extent, global economic environment (especially in case of export-oriented economies) determine the rates and levels of unemployment in the long run.
According to Eurostat, among the eurozone member states, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate, at 26.6%, just behind another badly bruised eurozone member, Greece, where the unemployment rate is hovering around 27.2%.
In fact, if Spain’s National Statistics Office is to be believed then it already has the highest unemployment rate at 27.2% of the workforce.
To make matters worse, the youth unemployment rates are even worse, with over 55% of young Spaniards not able to find work.
It is unlikely that Spain will come out of recession anytime soon. Till it emerges out of the economic doldrums, the suffering of the Spaniards will continue.
Stories of suffering
The BBC website carried a collection of stories of ordinary Spanish folks hit hard by a triple whammy caused by the serious downturn in their country’s economy: huge debts to pay, lack of jobs, and thus lack of income. I share the story of one such family:
Angel Moran is 53 and has been out of work now for five years. His wife, Conchi, is 48 and has been unemployed for four. Their home is one of 1.9 million in Spain in which no-one has a job, according to the latest unemployment figures.
They receive state benefits of 426 euros (£358) a month and rely on food handouts from the Red Cross.
"Our gas has been cut off and we can hardly pay the water. After paying the rent, there's nothing left for food."
Their daughter Noelia is 26 and she is also unemployed. Her 25-year-old boyfriend also lives in the house and he is also unemployed.
"I can't get my own place with my boyfriend," she says. "I can't afford to have kids. And you just have to think about every cent you spend."
Read more of such stories here.