Once a while I only showcase

Once a while, I only showcase an issue or somebody's work. Usually, it is done with minimal introduction, analysis, copy a part of the text and a link. I get decent traffic and I want that person or issue a wider exposure through me. It is my way of making a small difference.

If you walk around the world, it is full of brainless hacks, jaded, and lacking imagination and that make us a little bit pessimistic.

But then, you do see a person a who has passion about something and full of hope. They are the ones who will make the difference. Let me please introduce you Sri, as a medical student from US who last year worked with Tibetan refugees in Bangalore (India) - his ancestral home and birth place. Without much ado, let me present a small piece written by Sri and a link to his complete article.

Sri's words in italics.

If a monk can show so much concern for the fate of a fly surely we can muster up enough courage to stop the death of those dying needlessly in front of our eyes. As my short month came to an end it became obvious that in this historical moment the requirements of being a real deal effective doctor goes up hundredfold.

Doctors must understand structural inequality and their underpinnings. We must understand the politics of funding projects, where the money comes from and where it is being funneled towards, and to what end? We must start one on one, patient by patient and expand out to include so many things we never thought were medicine. Poverty, race, class. World Bank funding practices. If only out of necessity, because our patients' lives depend on it. We must tell the stories again and again of who died and what commitment financial or otherwise could have prevented it. We must understand who is vulnerable and why? Who becomes sick and why? We must strive to be doctors and advocates. Doctors and organizers. Doctors and policy makers. Doctors and journalists.

Note: I found him through Sepia Mutiny and obviously Saheli - She finds good people.

Let's keep our fingers crossed - Earthquake risk

From The Telegraph of India:

Quake code

New Delhi, Feb. 3 (PTI): The Centre today informed the Supreme Court that it is planning to implement a national building code to ensure safety of structures from earthquakes in urban areas. [Link]

Let's keep our fingers crossed. Keep an eye on those corrupt contractors and enforcement officials. It puts the every kid of South Asia in peril. Keep the pressure on. Link the Telegraph article wherever you can. If you live in Pakistan and Nepal, ask your government to enforce building codes for earthquake risk.

Millions of South Asians (in India, Nepal, and Pakistan) live under the constant threat of Himalayan blunder - another major earthquake. The Himalayas has not released the pent-up strain and major earthquakes are overdue.

Act now !!! Inquire whether your kid's school in northern South Asia (Himalayas and Himalayan foreland - for example, Lahore, Delhi, Kathmandu, Lucknow) has been retrofitted for earthquake risk. At least blogging should be worth something - make noise. Rules without enforcement mean jack. Afghanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalis - everyone.

Schools are an excellent place to start.

Note: Visit my Science Archives for more earthquake and tsunami related discussions.  Also, human aspect of recent disasters under South Asia Archives here @ my blog. Please read and act. Cross-posted @ Desicritics.org

Open minds, A step in the right direction

I have very strongly advocated that scientific community all over the world, especially for countries like India and Pakistan should "think afresh" in start sharing the data in real time for natural disasters or for that matter most of the endeavors. Only, then there will be progress toward mitigation strategies and realistic first-responder approaches that will save millions of lives over the years. I have written about it in past too. I am encouraged to see that India is opening up for sharing data - it is not fully open yet but a step in the right direction. Excerpts from Nature, December 22 2005, India makes waves over tsunami warning system:

India has agreed to share seismic data from four of its monitoring stations as part of a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean. But its offer has left many unimpressed.

The warning system will use a maze of deep ocean sensors and tide gauges surrounding the fault that ruptured on 26 December 2004. This earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in 11 countries. But crucial to the network will be real-time seismic data from stations in the region.

India has been averse to sharing its seismic data in order to keep information about its underground nuclear tests a secret. "The only station that is available to the global seismic network has a delay of about three weeks before data are disseminated," says Walter Mooney of the US Geological Survey, headquartered in Reston, Virginia.

India's offer, announced at the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) in Hyderabad last week, is limited to data on earthquakes with a magnitude of six and above, along the coast of Indonesia and Pakistan. Signals from nuclear tests would be much weaker than this. "For the purpose of tsunami warning we think our offer should be quite satisfactory," India's science secretary Valangiman Ramamurthy told Nature.



A step in the right direction - let us not stop - let us keep moving. 

Brave new frontiers

hale1.jpgIn the words of Jimmy Carter, former President of United States:

"This is a time not for despair but for a global commitment to make the most of our scientific knowledge to address the problems of our age.”

 Let me introduce you the Institute for OneWorld Health:

The Institute for OneWorld Health, the first nonprofit pharmaceutical company in the U.S., announced that it has received a US$30 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to initiate and evaluate the impact of a pilot program to dramatically reduce morbidity and mortality from visceral leishmaniasis (VL) in the rural communities of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. [Link]

Read about them and their founder Victoria Hale, let them speak for themselves and their brave new frontiers - taking medicine to the poorest people.

Wikipedia - Only a starting point

I use Wikipedia very often. It acts as a starting point for me, not end all be all in seeking knowledge on a specific topic. I have always been aware of its power and weakness. Lack of peer-review makes the content quite vulnerable. However, the power of wikipedia lies in its speed and open house, open source knowledge, and the assumption that the contents are self-correcting by its collective and democratic nature. In topics, where I had some knowledge, I always thought their write-ups are quite accurate and at par. I have had wikipedia account for a while and maybe, I should contribute regularly in topics, I can. Some people like from inkycirc rightfully think that it is the duty of experts to give sometime to forums like Wikipedia if their work is funded through tax payer's money.

In light of recent faux pas or prank discovered, a very reputed journal Nature has stepped in and given heads up to Wikipedia. Also, Wikipedia is going to implement a review process starting next month.

I am quite pleased with their review process decision.

Stephen Hawking and I

051117_hawking_hmed.hmedium.jpgFollowing the news from MSNBC , some excerpts presented  here ………….
"They had to resuscitate, and that panicked a few people," Bristol told the audience. "But he's been there before."
Part of Hawking's appeal has to do with his sheer ability to carry on despite his disability. [Link]

Brought back some memories. It is spring of 2003, Texas A & M University.
Stephen Hawking is at Texas A & M University campus on a sabbatical. I have been to his over-packed, all-sold out campus talk that had a standing ovation towards the end even classical and rock musicians would envy. I only understand half of it . He presented the talk quite well. It is just beyond my wisdom but I enjoy and admire his genius, clarity, humor, and courage.

A few days later, I am headed for lunch on a bright, sunny day on the campus. I see Stephen Hawking and a woman (could be his wife) on the sidewalk. I decide that I will not disturb them at all. However, as we pass, the lady makes an eye contact, and she says hi. I say hi too. Stephen Hawking raises his eyes, and I say hi to him deferentially - that is it. We did not write any papers, or discuss cosmology, or wager. For next 3-4 days, I jump around like a giddy high-school girl telling everyone my story.

Some of his quotes do crack me up:

* What did he think of "The Simpsons" TV show, which has had Hawking as an animated guest star? "It's the best thing on American TV."

* What was his view of the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem-cell research: "America will be left behind if it doesn't change policy."

* What did he think of the program to send American astronauts back to the moon? "Stupid," he answered. "Sending politicians would be much cheaper, because you don't have to bring them back."

* How high is Hawking's IQ? The physicist replied that he didn't know. "People who boast about their IQ are losers," he said.

* Which late personage would he rather meet, Isaac Newton or Marilyn Monroe? "Marilyn," Hawking said. "Newton seems to have been an unpleasant character."


BBC Radio Five Live - South Asian earthquake

logo.gifI was with a panel of people discussing South Asian earthquake on BBC Radio Five Live. Please listen to Pod and Blogs - Asian Earthquake (also through All BBC Radio Science). Act upon it in ways you see fit - It is not only a South Asian problem but a third world problem too. Some of them were Pakistani bloggers and you could sense their anxiety and loss. I want to also salute private Pakistani samaritans on the ground and expats (for example, sepoy at chapati mystery is raising money) for their efforts.

Even for rest of the world, the stability of the South Asia, and continuing war on terrorism requires that there is a push for smart long-term disaster planning, preparation, and wide-spread awareness. I also see people are now talking about the corrosive role of corruption in South Asia and how it plays havoc in earthquakes at openDemocracy.

Himalayan blunders - Wake up call

21quake184.jpgThere is a beautiful, touching poem on Metroblogging Lahore, originally written by Mary Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

Something we all can do besides compassion and humanity for the present disaster (the Pakistan earthquake near Islamabad in Hindu Kush Mountains a few hours ago with over 18,000 casualties) is to donate International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent or Oxfam or your preferred charity but let us....

... also use this tragedy to remind people that one of the biggest disasters waiting to happen are giant earthquakes within Himalayas, especially the shallow thrust earthquakes with magnitude 8 or more like the one today. The extent of disaster will always get more exacerbated by extremely dense population in the region compared to many parts of the world. Historically, the Himalayan region has not seen big earthquakes recently and the strain has been building up. Please educate yourself about Himalayan risks- it is not an Indian or Pakistani problem only. It involves Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan all of them together - something beyond political boundaries. Same awareness should be raised in other South Asian countries besides India. Quote from Science article by Bilham, Gaur, and Molnar in 2001.

"Fve major earthquakes have visited India in the past decade (see the table), culminating in the devastating Bhuj earthquake of 26 January 2001. That earthquake in particular called attention to the hazards posed by buildings not designed to withstand major but obviously probable earthquakes. It also focused the eyes of the public away from a part of India where even worse damage and loss of life should be expected-the Himalayan arc (see the figure). Several lines of evidence show that one or more great earthquakes may be overdue in a large fraction of the Himalaya, threatening millions of people in that region."

If you live in India, please pester your elected officials for long-term earthquake risk mitigation policies. What good are those young, metrosexual, urbane politicians that are featured on India Today almost every month? Another idea mooted on Sepia Mutiny was that to begin with Multinational Companies demand that their buildings be highly earthquake damage prone as a starting point. If you felt or not even felt an earthquake event, contact Stacey Martin who is building a comprehensive earthquake database for South Asia. Intensity maps are very important for understanding earthquake risks, prevent future damages, and public policy. So if you live in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Afghanistan, please visit his website ASAP to fill out his questionnaire. You help build intensity maps not some nerd scientists only. That is the first step in quest for better preparing South Asia for future earthquakes, along with the strict implementation of building codes. There is an old adage "Earthquakes do not kill, buildings do". One has to begin with understanding the seismicity, nature of strong motion in the South Asian region, and then accordingly even update to newer building codes. In South Asia, strict and honest implementation of building codes is almost non-existent.Also, it is time to make peace for humanity and science, setting aside old mistrust.

If you live in US, MacArthur Genius Award winner/ fellow Brian Tucker has spent fair amount of time in Nepal and India trying to make schools earthquake resistant and is closely working with Indian NGOs like SEEDS. Please support them as school children are most vulnerable during earthquakes. Perhaps, businesses with interest in South Asia could support organizations like GeoHazards International and SEEDS financially as an outreach. Another organization doing similar work, and also experience both in Indian and Pakistan Himalayas but with slightly different mitigation approach is Earth Consultants International.

PPerhaps, businesses with interest in South Asia could support organizations like GeoHazards International and SEEDS financially as an outreach.eople like Roger Bilham from UC, Boulder, amongst other scientists including from India and to lesser degree I have been making noise for a while. Emergency numbers for earthquake information announced on Pakistan Television are: +92-51-921 3891 and +92-51-922 2666. The Indian Home Ministry's Crisis Management Center Control Room phone number is +91-11-2309 3563.

Do something for the present calamity and the future ones too - Do it. Learning from a disaster and acting upon is the only dignified and real way to pay homage.

Figure from New York Times and emergency numbers are from Bloomberg.com.

Science - Did we knew? New lessons from Katrina & Boxing Day Tsunami

KatrinaScience.jpgNote: I shall discuss what the scientists already knew (or learned) about Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, how they have failed to communicate this to policy makers effectively and most importantly, what are the lessons for future. No politics.

Part I: The havoc of Hurricane Katrina - writing on the wall.

There were some early warning signs, even in the popular scientific literature and newspapers..

In October 2001, the Scientific American published a clairvoyant article Drowning New Orleans by Mark Fischetti. It started as "A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city… New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen."

However, The New York Times acknowledges that they never really comprehended the complexity of vulnerability of the levees, the poverty and the dangerous mix together could do - they only had a very cursory discussion in last 10 years.

[In Preparation]

Part II: Coping with disasters, some lessons from Boxing Day Tsunami. [In Preparation]

Part III: Climate change and hurricanes. [In Preparation]

Part IV: Ray of hope. [In Preparation]

The simplicity of Bangladesh's approach in the way construction and crowd management is performed for a poorer country in case of floods is worth noting.

Epilogue: We need to concentrate on rebuilding New Orleans with newer technology, look at disaster mitigation strategies with fresher eyes for Los Angeles, Istanbul, and northern India, northern Pakistan, and Nepal along the Himalayan rim. We as scientist utterly fail if we cannot work for the betterment of our fellow men in ways that will bring change.

Courtesy: Picture from Science 9 September 2005: 1656-1659

Where is oil in the new world endgame?

Let's start discussing two very commonly held wrong perceptions even by people with seemingly astute knowledge of current affairs and history.

a) "We will soon build a world order that will be free of oil and gas politics." Oil and gas politics and intrigue are here to stay for a long time and has been with us for a while, primarily since World War I. The truth is that current or any administration in USA does not control oil politics contrary to lot of hyped coffee house talk we all hear around. Thirty-forty years from now, maybe we will be a hydrogen economy (the best-case scenario in terms of alternate energy) but most probably that it will be through derivative process of natural gas. Who are the top four countries that have the most reserves in natural gas: a) Russia, b) Iran, c) Qatar, and d) Saudi Arabia? In any case, the stock of OPEC as a whole is on the rise during 21st century. If tar sands become viable commodity anytime soon, then Canada will be in the mix too for oil and gas politics as an added major power broker.

A new player in the game is China in the way they are aggressively leasing exploration and production rights all over the world and buying other companies. On the other hand, India, Pakistan, and Iran are signing on a giant gas pipeline deal. There is talk of another pipeline through Turkmenistan, Pakistan to India for natural gas.

To a great degree, the US hands are tied. They are in the high stakes game and there is no way out, only a smarter way to play the game and perhaps conservation is just one route - one that can be achieved through some self-discipline.

b) "Oil will almost never cost less." History will tell you that oil and gas is the most fickle commodity. The pricing of oil is done through futures market and even the slightest perception that the inventories in USA are glutted and/ or China and India will not sustain the current growth, the price will be tumbling down to rock bottom in six months. In 1998-99, the price of crude had plummeted to ~$10/ barrel and most of the aggressive exploration and production in many parts of the world except Saudi Arabia was deemed unprofitable for nearly three years. In 1998-99, part of East Asian economy had slowed down. The price of oil is neither controlled by Saudi Arabia or USA only - a host of factors play into supply and demand equation, like state of world economy, Russia, Venezuela, Norway, Mexico, emerging technologies, etc.

Rockefeller with Standard Oil tried his best to control the pricing of oil but failed most of the time even though he became very rich in the process. I do not think at present the oil companies wield that kind of power anymore. I would encourage the students of politics and world affairs read "Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" by Daniel Yergin. Oil industry has made more people from pauper to prince to pauper again than any profession. However, the general consensus by the pundits is that in bigger picture and long run, the oil will cost more in future barring a number of ups and downs (quite ruthless ones) because the cheaper oil is depleting very soon.

End Note: The article was written before much publicized CNOOC's offer for Unocal.

Tsunami, Earthquakes, and You

By Kush Tandon

Day before yesterday, a decent thing happened in spite of the deaths in Banyak and Nias Islands. As soon as Sumatra earthquake of March 29, 2005 was identified, countries were warning each other of a possible tsunami, online major newspapers were updating their story every 5-10 minutes, colleagues who knew of the earthquake before the newspapers/ TV/ blogs broke the news were sending out emails. The Amateur Seismic Centre (a website run by a student, Stacey Martin in India) was emailing people on the email list to pay close attention to any directive from their local authorities. It was a very effective low-tech warning system for a probable tsunami in action even though full tragedy in Indonesia was not fully averted.

Why didn't we do this on December 26, 2004? The reason was complacency, ignorance, and plain apathy. We all thought it was somebody else's job and even the ones who tried could not succeed. Very basic of knowledge of earthquakes (even with rough estimates of size, location and depth) and tsunami should have had us on red alert for Indian Ocean nations immediately. The basic information about the earthquake known before the tsunami hit the shores of many Indian Ocean countries should have been enough. The reach of CNN and cell phones is almost everywhere. Some of the scientists in Indian Ocean countries were scared of being chastised for "crying wolf". Sure, the early information was incomplete and sketchy - but that will be always the case, in any disaster of any kind.

I agree that an occurrence of a possible tsunami was completely forgotten from the collective memory of Indian Ocean nations and there was no oceanographic data in Indian Ocean while the tsunami was being formed, and that definitely hindered our sense of foresight. Indigenous islanders in Indonesia and Andaman Islands knew better than rest of us.

A clear link between the magnitude, depth, and seafloor deformation accompanying a submarine earthquake and its capability to produce a tsunami is still a research question, and will be for sometime to come. Similarly, is the case about trying to predict an earthquake? We do not know enough about earthquake physics and do not have enough past data to be able to predict them precisely. However, we know a lot more than we did 20 years ago and have some probabilistic ideas and guesses that can help us in clearly identifying "danger zones" and act accordingly.

A high-tech warning system for tsunami or any natural disaster will only be worthwhile if there is real time data sharing and communication between different countries, and most importantly a high level of awareness amongst the populace. Also, we all have to think of other possible disasters too, and start acting now. Is India-Pakistan-Nepal-Afghanistan ready to jointly build an infrastructure for a warning system for Himalayan earthquake risk hazard, similar to one in Mexico City? There will be huge earthquakes in Himalayan region - maybe tomorrow, maybe 20 years from now or perhaps 80.

Suggested Readings:

  1. http://asc-india.org/
  2. http://cires.colorado.edu/~bilham/indexHimEq.html
  3. http://www.seismolab.caltech.edu/
  4. http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com/
  5. http://www.usgs.gov/