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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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.

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”.