August 31, 2009

The Tyranny of Triviality

I was wondering why it is that humans are mostly interested in trivialities.

The deep things to consider in life, I believe, could be these:
  • what are the goals we have in life,
  • what is the impact of our actions on the larger society,
  • to question whether social traditions and customs serve a purpose or are merely deadweights, and
  • always try to have some perspective about whatever joys and sorrows come our way in life.

I must have missed many things in the above random list. We can add and subtract from this list.

I am somehow interesting in reading about palliative care specialists ... the challenge of caring for an ageing population is a clear and present challenge for advanced nations and an emergent challenge or a lurking one for developing nations like India. It's therefore instructive to learn about how developed nations are coping with this issue.

Recent days have seen a sustained rise in the prices of groceries in India. That would not be such a big issue in developed nations where people probably spend 5 percent of their income on food. However, it's a big issue for poor families in India where probably 50 percent of the money that comes in every month goes towards buying groceries.

I think this price rise is a "canary in the mine." If we do not take this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, we might be faced with a humanitarian crisis in the future.

I remember Robert Kennedy's words from his eulogy by Ted Kennedy:"... ultimately all of us will be judged, and as the years pass, surely, we'll judge ourselves."

Jinnah and Jaswant Singh

With all the uproar over MA Jinnah in recent days, here's my two cents worth.

Chetan Bhagat made a point that the young generation of today doesn't care about who Jinnah is. For better or for worse, I think that's correct. The younger generation would be hard put to write one paragraph if asked to about who Jinnah was. Now, it's a different matter altogether whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

The young generation is busy playing with cell phones and texting and watching cricket and Bollywood movies — I am talking about the young generation in India, of course.

The young generation would likely be ignorant about all history, not only about what Jinnah's role was.

I love to ask this question to a gathering of youngsters (if the date happens to be August 15): why is India's Independence Day celebrated on August 15 and not on some other day out of all the 365 days of the year? Expectedly, no one knows the answer to that and indeed, nobody cares.

The other question I like to ask youngsters and others is pretty much my favorite question of all: How many men have landed on the Moon?

The second most favorite question I have is this: How many Indians have landed on the Moon?

The confused answers I receive to either of these questions gives me some amount of illicit pleasure.

For this generation that is so fascinated with Blackberrys, very few know that Blackberry is a product of a company called RIM (Research In Motion).

On a completely unrelated note, it gives me some hope that two persons who dropped out of college have done very well for themselves in life: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. No, make that three. I think even Michael Dell is in that category. Why that gives me some hope is becase I myself am a dropout from engineering ... and much else really.

Ted Kennedy Passes Away

I don't know why it hit me like a shock when I heard the news of his passing.

May be, it's because I keep track of things closely, but I anyhow felt like a family member had passed away.

The lesson I learnt from watching the eulogies and reading about him is that one can commit mistakes in life and pick up the pieces and move on.

That's a very important lesson to be learnt for fallible mortals like me.

Alcohol is bad for unborn babies

Dr. Dipak Sarkar has recently received a $3.5 million MERIT award from the NIH "to continue researching the damaging effects of alcohol on the nervous systems of the unborn."

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant public health problem and may result in a wide range of adverse outcomes for the child," Dr. Sarkar says.

"Many Fetal Alcohol Syndrome patients have problems coping with stress; they have learning disabilities, infections, and increased susceptibility to diseases," Dr. Sarkar adds.

These problems stem from the alcohol-induced destruction of neurons in the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. These beta-endorphin neurons produce the endorphin hormone and are particularly vulnerable during the early development of the fetus.

Sarkar's research has shown that a seemingly irreversible reduction in the number and function of beta-endorphin neurons results in a permanent impairment of stress and immune system functions throughout life. While the body often displays the ability to recover from damage or disease, this does not seem to come into play with the loss of beta-endorphin neurons.

His continuing research is aimed at discovering the molecular mechanism involved in alcohol's toxic action on beta-endorphin neurons. A clear understanding of the underlying mechanism could offer a starting point from which to develop pharmaceuticals for fetal alcohol patients in the future.

Beta-endorphin neurons are also known as opioids because, like opium-based narcotics, their hormone products have the ability to reduce pain and increase a sense of well-being. Their loss would consequently have an opposite effect, reducing the ability to manage stress.

Well, that's all nice and dandy and even interesting in a nerdy kind of way. What I was wondering about is this: what about all those other studies which seem to suggest that a peg a day of alcohol keeps many diseases at bay?

Well, I guess it's okay for everyone to have their daily drink or two unless they happen to be pregnant.

Also, one could simply ask grandma if it's okay for a pregnant woman to drink and she would have the correct answer!

And that too without the benefit of having done a multimillion dollar research on it...
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