Bang Bang Carter

“”The camera’s light meter did not work, and so I twisted the aperture wide open: f5.6 should be right……..As I focused, I noted that the early sun was right behind the burning man,” photographer Greg Marinovich wrote how he captured the moment that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

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A suspected Zulu spy burned and axed. Photograph by Greg Marinovich

The Bang Bang Club (2010) is the story of four photojournalists Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, Joao Silva and Kevin Carter who risked their lives to document the the brutal struggle that oppressed society of South Africa witnessed during first free elections in the early 90s. The movie is an adaptation of autobiography- The Bang Bang Club- Snapshots from a Hidden War.  The name Bang Bang Club first appeared in a South African Magazine Living that referred to the four photographers. Though they were unknown to each other, the passion for photography and the ideals united them. They  ran across the streets, hid in the corners and escaped from the bullets to capture the tumultuous clashes that broke out between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

The above was photographed by  Greg Marinovich on an early morning when the ANC supporters burned a man alive who was suspected to be a Zulu spy from IFP. The picture depicted the extremes of hatred and brutality where in the burning man was axed on the head.  Marinovich who was fairly new to the photojournalism in 1991 said in his own words “I had been too scared to say anything to try to stop it”.

There was more. The Bang Bang club banged the world with one more Pulitzer Prize in 1994 ! Two out of four in the club hitting the highest honor of photography was something remarkable. That did happen when Kevin Carter shot the disturbing and gut wrenching scene in Sudan. “A hawk waiting for a starving child to die”. What Carter narrated in his picture was the worst of human misery. I  remember that I had restrained myself from taking a re-look at this picture during my college days while it circulated all over as a forwarded  e-mail.

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A hawk waiting for a starving Sudanese child to die. Photograph by Kevin Carter

Yet another bang came when Kevin Carter committed suicide soon after he won the Pulitzer prize. He had come under intense criticism for failing to help the starving child. The movie runs on a slow pace and yet leaves you traumatized and guilty in a way. Although Kevin Carter’s achievement  and his death has been undoubtedly hyped, a serious aspect of him being a drug addict is often neglected. Kevin Carter in his suicide note writes “I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.” Psychoactive drugs that he was addicted to is known to alter perception, consciousness, cognition and behavior resulting in depression and mood changes. It could be that his act of death is more of a drug effect rather than the extremes of depression and guilt alone.

Nevertheless Taylor Kitsch (as Kevin Carter) is a perfect dude for being Carter in the movie. His sleepy accent is what makes you imagine Carter in a convincing way 🙂

When CERN analyzed wrong data ;P

Freak of Nature

Mainstream media outlets around the world have declared Barack Obama the victor in yesterday’s US presidential elections, but particle physicists at CERN say that the race is still too close to call.

With every state except Florida reporting, the New York Timesannounced that Obama had won the popular vote and easily gained the electoral college points needed to win re-election. The Princeton Election Consortium put the probability of Obama’s victory at 99.2%.

But that confidence level is still several standard deviations away from the point at which particle physicists would be willing to declare the next president. According to the norms of the field, pollsters would have to be 99.99995% confident that Obama had won before physicists would be willing to call the race.

“All we can say right now is there is some evidence that Barack Obama will return to the White House in January,” says Marcus Georgio…

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Shinan (Island) Tulip carnival

Three alarms went off consecutively on a spring sunny Sunday morning and I was unwilling to wake up.  I promised myself to go, fresh up after 5 minutes. Arvin, Shri, Myra, Mia and myself were scheduled to meet at the bus terminal by 7.  And we did it…. I did it!!

Shinan county (Sinan-gu) of Jollanam-do is a repertoire of around 900 islands where in Tulip flower festival is held annually at Imja-do from the second week of April. The venue boasts of ~6 million tulips every year and attracts tourists from all over the country. The festival is held on the shores of Daegwang Beach that is penetrated by rocks at half a mile walk from the venue.

Two hours and a half journey from Gwangju to Jido left us at the Jido Jeomam Dock ferry terminal from where we took a 15 minute ferry ride to Imja-do (Imja Island). Surprisingly the ferry ride was free of cost. (or was included in the bus ticket fare??).

* Click on the images to see original

Tv 1/250, Av 5.6, ISO 100

It was a nostalgic ride, reminded me of my childhood days, the family outing on barge across Sharavati 🙂

Railway across Sharavathi River, Honavar. Stolen from the internet (picasa)

From Imja-do Dock, we took a 10 minute shuttle bus ride to reach the Shinan Tulip festival venue. A sudden gush of serotonin was waiting for us. All that brought joy and excitement was the tantalizing welcome wave of the colorful tulips ! And yes, there is an entry fee of 4000 won.

1/320, 5.0. ISO 80 Tulip carnival

I couldn’t resist myself but to recollect the old days again..The only second poem that I enjoyed reciting during high-school. W. Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

“..They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance..”

1/400, 8.0, ISO 200 Vibrant symmetry

1/320, 8.0 ISO 80 Tulip’s history winds back to the time of Ottoman empire!

The sunny day was perfect for my camera as it suffers in low light. While most of the tulips obeyed the symmetric orders, some curious ones made ME curious 😉

1/320, 6.3, ISO 80. The inquisitive

1/320, 5.6, ISO 80 Odd men stand out

The obsolete yet aesthetic windmill on the shores of yellow sea was vivacious. I patiently waited for the couples to reach mid-way to give a whimsical touch 🙂

1/320, 8.0, ISO 80. Nirvana!

The venue gave us a true carnival feeling with some music, dance, doughnuts and horse cart ride.

1/250, 8.0, ISO 80

After a perfect brunch, it was time for a sand-walk. While some tried reaching the sky, others had more adventures in their wishlist.

1/640, 5.0, ISO 100 Flying sky

1/320, 5.6, ISO 80

1/320, 8.0, ISO 80. The great toil !

“It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.”  – John Keats

1/1250, 4.5, ISO 80. Endless vista

After the long scroll of photos, here goes the last and my favorite 🙂

1/2000, 4.0, ISO 80, sharpened, cropped.

Breaking the Barrier

While staying away from the homeland, I witnessed an untrue stereotype that Indians are smarter when it comes to research, IT and other professional skills which the  modern world demands. But the irony and dilemma of poor engineering, lack of quality research that affects the routine back home is an unsettling issue. Although business schools like IIMs and ISB raise the Grand masters of management, many of them with an exceptional  prior-training in engineering, the benefit sparsely reaches the  section of the society that solely look up to the  government. James Trevelyan, Winthrop Professor in the school of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering at the University of Western Australia, penned a sensible article in the Lead column of ‘The Hindu’ on 20th June, 2012 titled “The enigma of Indian engineering” that was well accepted for most of the facts and opinions. The article highlights some of the unnoticed causes of unnecessary expenditures that we Indians do due to lack of connectivity between the social life and engineering marvel. For example, he goes on to estimate the cost of clean, potable water as Rs. 1200 per tonne while the same costs only Rs. 80 in Perth. Nevertheless, he gives credits to the telecom sector that revolutionized India. Therefore it is nice if you can read the above article 🙂

 “The mobile phone revolution has transformed expensive, corrupt, inefficient government monopolies with appalling service into thriving, profitable enterprises providing high quality service at minimal cost, around the world. India is no exception“.  His focus on the mobile phone revolution is crucial for what I want to say below.

While reading the above research excerpt, I instantaneously remembered forwarding an impressive  column to my sister almost half past a year ago. It was an adept example of  breaking the  barrier between people with technical expertise and their coordinated social interactions.  Journalist Thomas Friedman, NY Times  covered the success story of Eko India Financial Service Pvt. Ltd. that reached out the low-wage urban mass for safe banking using mobile phones.

What started as a small startup in one of the Uttamnagar’s remote garage 5 years ago,  attracted billionaire Bill Gates and many more. Eko’s founders Abhishek (graduate of BIT Mesra) and Abhinav Sinha with two others  aimed at providing cash deposits, withdrawals, micro-insurance and micro-credit services via kiosks and small neighborhood shops which acted as banking agents.  Their target was >100 million migrant workers in India who cannot have official bank accounts because they lack official residency. Eko developed cellphone software systems that help the workers to do all the transactions in nationalized banks like SBI and deposit or withdraw the money  through kiosk banking agents. Turning point came when  a 1.78 million dollar fund was poured in from a World Bank agency.  Today NASSCOM has listed Eko among “50 Emerging companies which are redefining the benchmark of excellence for the next generation of SMEs (Small and medium enterprise).

Eko’s story would have gone unnoticed unless the international media shed light on it. Home grown talents and achievements deserve much more attention, or atleast in par with Indian corruption scandals.

Motivation – Part II

Return of  Narcisse from the dead stunned the world when BBC made a television documentary in early 1980s on him. BBC obtained his official death certificate and witnessed more than 200 family members ready to take oath that indeed the man is Clairvius Narcisse. It also obtained a sample of the  “zombie powder”, which according to legend was the key to turn a healthy man into a zombie. Intrigued by the story and the fake zombie powder that Nathan Kline had obtained for testing, he asked Wade Davis to investigate.

In Haitian villages  zombies are part of a traditional system- a social control that oversees individual behavior and dispenses justice. The downcast of Narcisse is a crossroad between death and misery. There is no life. Narcisse was zombified by the bokor (sorcerer) because he cheated his brother out of some land.    The bokor took the “soul” out of Narcisse as a part of severe punishment and made him work as a slave in a bucolic sugar factory. Upon the death of his master, Narcisse simply walked away from the factory and met his sister. Initially, he was given a powder that ‘killed’ him. Next day he was dug out from his coffin and was administered with another powder which turned him into zombie.

Investigation of  Wade Davis

Initial negotiations of Davis with a bokor resulted in obtaining a fake zombie powder which Davis proved by consuming the powder. However prolonged reiterations with the bokor lead  Davis to witness the preparation of the real stuff.  Davis accompanied the bokor to a grave yard where in a young girl’s decomposed body was unearthed and a few pieces of her skull were collected. The bone was charred along with pieces of two iridescent blue lizards, a large toad that Davis recognized as Bufo marinus, a highly toxic species and leaves of two plant species that do not cause any harmful or hallucinogenic effect. Finally the dried  puffer fish was added. The bokor and his helper chanted mysterious vodoun incantations while preparing the powder. It took sometime for the powder to get ready. Most zombie victims die inside the coffin due to hypoxia. But those who survive are treated as soulless slaves.

Davis sent the samples to New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia Presbyterian College for analysis. The powder was applied to shaved laboratory mice under the laboratory conditions. The mice became comatose and appeared dead. However the EKG monitors showed faint heartbeat and small brain waves appeared in EEG scanning. Presence of tetrodotoxin was confirmed in the powder. According to some sources the second powder that  was administered after his exhumation was a paste made from datura stramonium.

Puffer fish

Tetrodotoxin is a deadly neurotoxin. 0.00000065 g of tetrodotoxin is enough to kill an adult human, making it about 1000 times more toxic than cyanide. However  lower concentrations in the blood leads to paralysis state which can be mistaken for death. The victim suffers from difficulty in breathing, cyanosis, and a precipitous drop in blood pressure although he can see and hear what is going on around him. I shall not bug you further by giving details of underlying molecular mechanism. The highly prized Japanese dish fugu is prepared from the raw flesh of the puffer fish. Chefs must be specially trained and licensed to prepare fugu. Even then hundreds of fugu diners have payed the ultimate prize.

 

 

Bufo marinus

Bufotoxin that was also present in the powder probably enhanced the effect of tetrodotoxin derived from the puffer fish. The bufotenines induce hallucinogenic effects that have been used in many different cultures like the Yoruba tribesmen of Nigeria and the Mayans (1290 B.C.). The Chinese have used it as a drug for heart disease since 3500 B.C

datura stramonium

 

 

 

 

The second powder contained the extracts of datura stramonium, a plant rich in tropane alkaloids that induces psychotic state. The word datura has the Hindi origin (thorn apple) that dates back to 1662!!. Commonly found in tropics and temperate region, the amount of poison in the plant varies with geographical distribution, water, temperature and humidity. I happen to take this picture in a remote village (Salkod) of Karnataka during my recent visit to India.

 

 

The question is how come Haitian bokors knew the exact composition of the zombie powder?  The only scientific explaination would be trial and error which accounts for innumerable lives!!. But the bokors have mysterious answers.

Definition of death has been a topic of debate in the past. Scientists, philosophers and religion defined it in antithetic manner. The mid-18th century witnessed a chaotic state as there was a public upsurge in the fear of being buried alive. Thanks to advancement in medical technologies, the  status of death has been persistently re-evaluated. The investigation of Wade Davis had two important consequences. One, a nightmarish  folk legend had turned into a million dollar business for the pharmaceutical industries. Second, an ethnobotanist shaped himself as one of the world’s finest anthropologist. Davis has documented many heart-warming stories, the stories that depict the human endeavor to survive on this planet. His works have inspired many and shall continue to do so as long as one realizes that-

wide acceptance of an idea is not the proof of it’s validity. It has to be tested.

Motivation – Part I

Did you ever drop a book after reading and said “This is it! I want to become a biologist”? Did u ever tell a story to your student, son, daughter, or  a friend which motivated them to become a scientist or a historian? If not and if you wish to, then I shall suggest you one with great exhilaration. But before I begin, I must say that I owe infinite thanks to Sri T.N. Keshava, associate professor in physics from SDM College, Ujire who inspired me academically, personally and professionally.  He is the man of great wisdom and famously known as walking Encyclopedia in the college campus for his profound knowledge in all branches of academics including science, history, economics, arts and culture. However the below socioscientific exploration is equally inspiring and impressive…

This story is an intriguing true investigation of a young Harvard University graduate, an ethnobotanist, a world renown anthropologist and a real life Indiana Jones – Dr. Wade Davis. Dr. Davis was set out on a mission into the  Haitian secret society in 1982 upon the request of his mentor Richard Schultes and psychiatrist Nathan Kline, director of Rockland State Research Institute, New York in search of drugs that are of great pharmacological potential.  Dr. Davis is the author of international best seller The Serpent and The Rainbow (1985) that masterfully narrates his deep scientific and sociocultural exploration of Haitian Voodoo.

However the book also received wide criticism and anger from many scientists and anthropologists of his genre. The story was later filmed into motion picture in 1988 directed by Wes Craven. The Serpent and The Rainbow (book) is an eccentric journey of adventure, courage and quest for the veracity that takes you to the ultimate battleground of science and religion. It lets you know the terminal roots of all the Hollywood B grade zombie movies, light and dark side of the Haitian Voodoo, their beliefs and practices. However the movie fails to give the full details of the  story and borders on the absurd. Nevertheless it is one movie that deserves to be included in the science academic syllabi.

 On May 2, 1962, Clairvius Narcisse was declared dead by two medical practitioners at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Two of his sisters- Angelina and Marie Claire confirmed his death and signed his death certificate. Clairvius was  buried in his village, I’Estere  in the presence of his family and village men…

18 years later a vacant-eyed man walks to Angelina in the marketplace and identifies himself as her brother, Clairvius.

Let me continue this on the next post, meanwhile watch the movie if you can 🙂

Continued→

Online Infection!!

It was a month past a year of my stay in South Korea. I was filled with exhilaration on a sunny day as we ganged up to climb Mudeung-san. The conversation within hikers kicked off with usual introductory greetings and dumb smiles since some of us were new to each other.  One of them said “Hii..nice to meet you…..bla bla bla..So..do you have a Facebook account?.” He talked the Facebook up for five minutes while I was wondering what on Earth is Facebook a subject to talk about? Finally he said “See you there!.”

What? you mean it’s not your ‘thing’ to communicate in the real world? I said to myself since I was bedazzled.

The concept of social networking dates back to 1800 when sociologists like Ferdinand Tönnies made very first efforts to define it as groups that can exist personal and direct social ties that either link individuals who share values and belief or impersonal, formal, and instrumental social links. But in the recent past online social networking has rebelliously altered the above definition. Let us say that Facebook semi era has changed the perception of internet usage. Nevertheless it has also laid solid grounds for narcissists to boost their low self esteem. Every other individual’s random thought, moment, emotions, nodes, and ideas get instantly connected with others that can be unnecessary and nuisance to many. While contradicting shout-outs such as ” I am too busy…”, “Hell lot of  work”, “Today is my birthday”, “that awkward moment when my FB status go unnoticed” display an obvious symptom of attention deficiency, some tend to project an alter image of them. Also, peculiar selfish predisposition of  “you scratch under my photo, I shall scratch under yours” has deepened my skepticism on so called online socialism.

How much occupied are we on Facebook?

Rather alarming it was when Mark Zuckerberg proudly announced “If Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world”. With a massive social networked data available to the sociologists and cyber-psychologists,  your behavior on Facebook can become an embarrassing showpiece in CNN. Watchout! A case study of Cynthia Newton was a first jolt where in she was so addicted to Facebook that  her 12-year-old daughter’s request for help in her homework went unnoticed. So the daughter wrote an e-mail to Newton but Newton ignored it since she was busy in Facebook! According to another report published in Journal of European Psychiatry, a women lost her job as a waitress because she frequently skipped her work in order to check her Facebook updates. Both Cynthia Newton and the latter displayed mild anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression.

 For the individuals who feel some social interactions challenging in the real world, virtual reality like Facebook come handy since their thoughts are expressed in written formats which avoid face to face interaction and make them feel confident. As a result one tends to prefer virtual world rather than the real one which may lead to seclusion and introversion. It is interesting to note that some healthy individuals display tendency towards narcissism upon their increased exposure to Facebook.

A new project named Social Heart study by epidemiologist  Mark Pletcher at UCSF and behavioral geneticist James Fowler at UCSD aims at accessing the cardiovascular health of an individual based on his Facebook activity such as likes, comments and status updates. Rather bigger science news of 2011 was a publication in Proceedings of Royal Society of Biological Sciences which reveals that certain specific brain regions of individuals with bigger number of Facebook friends tend be more occupied than the others with less Facebook friends. These brain regions respond only to virtual reality and show bigger occupancy when compared to their real world counter part regions. Implications indicate complications.

Why do we behave so?

Some might argue that Facebook has become a routine as much as air conditioners and room heaters. Many have accepted it as a part of life. However we need to consider the social networks as a lens for others to see you as an individual. It is not a machine that you interact with mechanically. Although all social networks fall in a category, we tend to behave according to the “settings” of a particular social networking website. Unfortunately open wall, likes and comment options on photos and status messages have become potential tools to groom fools and vainglorious narcissists in Facebook. While posting and self embracing pictures, using all the wits and wills to draw out as much attention and replies as possible from the equally sallow-eyed e-friends have become trend, some cyber-psychologists see it differently. Michael Fenichel elaborates Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD), a diagnosable disorder that may enter DSM-5 under the social networking disorder category very soon.

Call it a trend, a social disease or addiction but our behavior is ultimately governed by complex network of immortal entities that always seek benefits. Consciously or unconsciously these entities order the human brain to loiter around, interact, socialize, calculate, take risk, sacrifice and even display altruism on a social platform to gain content, satisfaction, revenge, gratitude, and mental peace. These entities are called as…………………………. the “selfish genes”.