Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Obesity and affluence

When guys in their late 30s, or even late 20s now-a-days, put on a small pot belly, the taunt is: "Sign of prosperity!" Stretching that a bit, is obesity a sign of affluence?

The August 14 issue of Outlook had this issue as its cover story. It quotes a study of 1,900 schoolchildren in Delhi by Dr Anoop Misra, director and head, Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, Fortis Hospital, and formerly with AIIMS. It found that 18 per cent had abdominal obesity and complications like diabetes, hypertension and bad lipid profiles.

The magazine quotes endocrinologist Dr Shaukat Sadikote at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai: "The average age of adult diabetes was 40, today it’s 16. Everyone has the latest Nike shoes, but who is exercising?"

It's all being blamed on fat-rich food that is far tastier than the healthier bland ones.

In the US, an advocacy group that promotes increased funding for public health programmes -- Trust for America's Health -- came out today with the results of a study. According to it, 31 states in the US showed an increase in obesity. An estimated 29.5 percent of adults there are considered obese.

Interestingly, the five states with the highest obesity rates — Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky — exhibit much higher rates of poverty than the national norm. The five states with the lowest obesity have less poverty — Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

I have always wondered about this paradox: The more educated and well-advanced societies have poorer health index. When such societies can ensure cleaner food, drinks and air, why not also healthier body system?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

'Kazhcha' on a Closed Holiday

Today was what we print journalists call “a closed holiday”. The occasion: Ganesh Chaturthi, one of the major Hindu festivals in India.

We call it “closed holiday” because none of us go to the office on such a day, and there’s no issue of the paper the next day.

Is there something called an 'open holiday', when we go to office?

Yes. We don't call it 'open holiday' though. A normal working day, for us. Barring four days in a year, every day is a working day for the journalist, at least in the paper I work for. Those who work on such days are eligible for a “compensatory off”, in addition to the normal “weekly off”.

It was a day of relaxation for me. In the evening, I watched the Malayalam movie Kazhcha (Sight). Stunning visuals, controlled pace, balanced handling of the theme, remarkable acting by Mammooty and Yash are some of the features of the film by the upcoming director Blessy.

If you haven’t seen the much-talked about greenery of Kerala, its backwaters, and the countryside, you must see this film. Even if you don’t understand Malayalam, as the movie is not so dialogue-intensive, there shouldn’t be a problem enjoying it.

The movie’s all about emotions, loving and caring. It’s about a small boy’s life in an alien land (Kuttanad in Kerala). Not just how he (the boy, Yash as Pawan) himself adjusts to a new place, but how the society (Mammooty, a small-time film operator as Madhavan) takes care of the boy who has strayed in from elsewhere (from Kutch in Gujarat after the earthquake).

Blessy also allows us a peep into how our bureaucracy, politics and law deal with such a situation. A movie definitely worth seeing.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mumbai - Shanghai

The PMO has laid out a Rs 50,500-crore plan that looks at changing the face of Mumbai to bring it on a par with the international standards – something on the lines of China’s Shanghai.

Good to raise Mumbai's levels further up. But what about other cities? I don't think Mumbai needs any extra funds. May be to some extent, but certainly not to this extent. What is needed is better regulation of funds and quicker, cost-effective implementation of projects.

India has to look beyond its big cities. Because decongestion of these 4 or 5 cities is equally important. Or else, it will be the same story all over again. People will continue to flock to these cities for better living standards. And, infrastructure will again be found wanting.

A huge percentage of India is underdeveloped. Forget villages. There are second-level and third-level cities and towns in all the states that are crying for attention. And also the municipality areas in bigger cities. They have stagnated all these years, only because they have not been a priority area.

If it is India, it is Mumbai or Delhi.

If it is Karnataka, it is Bangalore.

If it is Bangalore, it is M G Road or Brigade Road...

Isn't there an India beyond these...?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Indian Interdependence Day

That’s today’s editorial in The Times of India. “Independence Day ought to be a day of reflection where we consider whether mindless politics is the way ahead, or whether true independence can only arise out of acknowledging the interdependence of all,” it says.

Foreign policy expert at John Hopkins Michael Mandelbaum, who spent part of his youth in India, said, Y2K should be called Indian Interdependence Day, because it was India’s ability to collaborate with Western companies, thanks to the interdependence created by fibre optics networks, that really vaulted it forward and gave more Indians than ever some real freedom of choice in how, for whom, and where they worked. (Quoted by John Friedman, in The World is Flat, page 136.)

Long before Y2K, Mahatma Gandhi used the word: “If it’s man’s privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be interdependent.”

As India today enters its 60th year of being a sovereign democratic state, my only wish is that our political class puts a lot more effort in governance of our country, and ensures that development of India’s infrastructure keeps pace with advancement in information technology. Because, we still aren’t able to derive the complete benefit of our scientific progress since infrastructure is so way behind electronics and IT.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Blogs v/s conventional media

The debate is all over again.

The trigger is Charles Johnson’s expose on his blog Little Green Footballs on Aug 5 of how a photograph of Beirut -- after an Israeli air strike, taken by Adnan Hajj -- was significantly manipulated before being published, a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

This issue has been discussed in The Guardian by Patrick Barkham, and in The Christian Science Monitor by Randy Dotinga.

When we didn’t have the benefit of today’s technology, people had only the conventional media to look up to when they needed information. Now, the scope and dynamics of mass media have expanded by exponential proportions. Thus, the extent of reliance on newspapers or TV for news has been reduced with the advent of mobile phones and blogs.

But to run down the conventional media as biased is not correct. Journalistic practices have remained essentially the same down the ages. Today because of improved technology, the few genuine mistakes that journalists commit and the few black sheep in profession are exposed much easily and widely.

Let us not be overawed by the phenomenon of blogs. It’s another medium of expression with its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. It’s wholly wrong to assume that what is on a blog is the ultimate truth. If a blog has to be credible, its author has to work hard in the pursuit of information. Whether you are a professional journalist, citizen journalist or freelance journalist, the journalistic work is exacting, it takes pains and effort.

The Lebanese photographer Hajj may have doctored images. Reuters immediately acknowledged the error, once it was brought to its notice. And, it removed the photographer immediately. It’s commendable that a blogger like Charles Johnson could detect that. I am sure has worked hard to get to this truth.

One Adnan Hajj does not discredit the entire conventional media, just as one Charles Johnson does not mean everything that appears on millions of blogs is the ultimate truth. There is nothing like absolute objectivity. Everything is seen through someone’s eyes. A blogger can distort information and doctor images as much as anyone else. Only that blogs are not under so much of scrutiny as conventional media.

The tendency of some bloggers to be “holier than thou” vis-à-vis conventional media is not healthy and must be curbed. Citizen journalists and professional journalists have to draw from each other so that technology-facilitated mass communication becomes more comprehensive and serves the purpose it is intended to.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

He's still the same!

There are a number of institutions – religious and non-religious, most of them run on corporate lines – that conduct stress-busting programmes. Many of them are virtual lifestyle clinics, running yoga and meditation courses. One common objective they have is to make “you a better person, more useful to yourself, your family and your employer and others”. The number of such institutions has grown exponentially over the past few years. In fact, these centres have ceased to be anything new in town now.

I don’t know if our world has become a better place to live in, ever since people started attending these courses. But I was struck by one person who has attended many such courses, but hasn't changed one bit. Flights of temper, mood swings, inability to cope with pressure etc are all still intact. Apparently, even one of his subordinates quit, because of his temper tantrums.

So what did he spend his time on? Probably one reason could be that he was sent for these courses by the MNC that he works for, at its expense. Naturally, he never spent a rupee.

The ‘lifestyle clinics’ should ideally keep track of people who come to them. If not at least, the offices that sent their employees on such “reformation” exercises should follow up to see if their employees have been sufficiently reformed or not. Or else, what's the point?

Saturday, August 5, 2006

15 years of web

Tomorrow, August 6, it will be exactly 15 years since Tim Berners-Lee formally introduced his World Wide Web project to the world.... That was in 1991.

In November 1992, there were just 26web servers online!

April 30, 1993 -- It was announced that World Wide Web can used by anyone for free...

Nov 1993 -- First webcam goes online: showing a coffee pot!

October 13, 1994 -- Bill Clinton puts White House on the web.

August 1995 -- There are 18,957 websites online

December 17, 1997 -- Web commentator Jorn Barger coins the term Weblog later shortened to blog

August 2000 -- Nearly 20 million website online

January 11, 2001 -- Jimmy Wales launches Wikipedia.

October 2005 -- Web grows more in 2005 than during the whole dotcom boom.

Read about it and more here on BBC.