Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The End

Well, all good things come to an end, and unfortunately so do mediocre and bad ones as well. Since November, since I started writing this blog, I have come to realise that (a) I haven't anything really worth saying, and (b) It's better to appear stupid than to open ones mouth and clear all doubts.

So thank you everyone who did read the trash I had written. I won't waste any more of your time, so it's finito. Goodbye.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Patent Trap

Affordable Healthcare vs Pharmaceutical Profits - I've never been able to satisfactorily find a reasonable answer to this question. As a Bengali brought up among persuasive socialists I'm pulled one way, as a person working in an MNC pharma company, I'm pulled to the other.
Given the burden of healthcare costs, where even people in developed countries shudder about the cost of medicines, it is easy to blame pharmaceutical companies with obscenely high profit margins - a rough calculation of the cost of some medicines gives an estimate of more than 2000% profit margin. Even with Medicare, people in developed countries dread the rising healthcare costs of old age. In poor countries, if you fall ill, you die without adequate healthcare, your family starves to provide you with whatever healthcare they can afford. A friend of mine, a doctor, who's responsible for a line of Sanofi Aventis' oncology medicines, was once privately telling a colleague of his that he couldn't wish him better sales - because that mean that families of more cancer patients would be going bankrupt...
On the other hand, I've seen the sheer cost of pharmaceutical research. I've seen the sheer number of candidate molecules being screened, and so many promising molecules falling by the wayside. it costs a king's ransom to get a new drug out, and a lifetime of dedicated research usually results in a total of zero. A Gertrude Elion is a rarity - hundreds of equally brilliant scientists have gone to their maker empty handed.
It takes a huge incentive for an organisation to invest trillions of dollars to fund drug discovery - in the absence of a potential to earn multi-billion dollar profit, no business would risk blowing up funds the equal of many nations' GDPs to find the elusive treatment for cancer, TB, HIV etc. All that half a century of government funded research in India has resulted in is a handful of drugs, none of them successful. And all the price-controlled pharma companies in India have managed is to develop cheap copies of western research.
And because there is inadequate profit from diseases of the develping countries, few companies invest in them.
Is there a solution? Many pharmaceutical companies are involved in private-public partnership to provide drugs to the needy. For the companies, it is the most that is sustainable in the long run, but it is still not enough - treatment is still too expensive for most.
Is there a solution? I don't know. The sharpest minds in the world are working on it, but I fear that there may be no easy answer. And cheap populism from politicians will only complicate the road to an equitable solution.

Monday, February 05, 2007

High Performance Behaviours

My office is sending me on a training of high-performance behaviour - it's a British company, so the non-American spelling. I'm told that it will transform me into a brilliant team-leader who will get the best work out of oneself, and out of my team (in a sotto voce: at no added cost).
Great! So too bad for the hard driving task-master of yesteryears - no commanding, ordering bully, at whose snap of a finger things would get done. Now it's the time for soft skills - consultative, participatory, teamwork, all the alluring words which beguile you into a warm fuzzy feeling that you work in an organisation that cares for the employees. It's a new world where the team drives the business in the same direction, without a crack of a whip.
It's good to tell these things to new recruits; in fact I get a kick out of this when talking at campus presentations.
Unfortunately, the truth is a tad more real than the HR patter. Inaugarating the HPB training session for another group of my colleagues, the Managing Director was brutally honest - "If you do not exhibit High Performance Behaviour, you're out of the company!"

Ouch! The slave driver isn't out of business yet!

Friday, January 05, 2007

A fig for those by law protected...

Every paper and every news channel in Delhi is busy exposing the shocking details of the rape and murder of 30 children by Moninder Singh and his cook, Surendra. Everyone knows the details of the tamasha, so I'll not repeat the gory details. Everyone and his uncle has expressed horror at how low a human being can sink. But, unlike the poor people who have to be prevented by the police from forming a mob and rioting, most of us have missed the real point.

The true horror is that the police did not do anything because the victims were poor people. That too is a fact of life that we often try to shut our eyes and pretend does not exist. Ask any maid, or driver or sweeper - do they expect the police to help them if they are in trouble? The usual response is that they prefer to avoid the police, because if thy approach them, they will have to pay bribes, and still get harassed, and anyway, the police will do nothing for them.
There's a saying in Bengali:
Baaghe chule ek gha,
Police chule tin gha...

Roughly translated: A policeman's bite is three times worse than a tiger's. That's a common man's perception of the police. Not just in Delhi - anywhere in India

Personally, I suspect that there is nothing more ghastly or scandalous behind the crime - no politician enjoying a bit of necrophilia on the side, no senior policeman farming out kids to paedophils, no juicy story to be dug out.

What's there is worse, a sad tale of neglect and callousness. What the police are trying to cover up is not the crime of commision - namely the rape and murder of so many children, but the crime of omission - the refusal of the police to investigate while it was still possible to save the lives of most of the children.

I'll tell you what I guess will happen - the criminal has been arrested and will face the music in court 20 years from now. Som policemen have been dismissed - thT will stay. Senior policement have been suspended - after the case has faded from popular memory (i.e. the media has turned to a new story), these guys will be brought back and life will go on as usual.

Even after this, will the police take a poor person seriously when he/she comes to file a case? You must be joking!

If you don't live in an ivory tower, you'd know that when a rich or even a middle class person commits a crime against a poor person, there will be policemen, who for a consideration, will advise you on how to hush up the case, or at worst, escape from the clutches of the law. They'll scold you if you surrender, and tell you that you're a fool not to have disappeared and taken anticipatory bail. They'll advise you on how much to pay the victim or the victim's family (there will be a percentage deducted from that for every cop in the station, depending on the rank). This was true from the Mughal era, still true under the British and true even now.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Hangng of Saddam Hussain

So they've finally hanged Saddam. Saddam the great big evil dictator, who killed so many Iraqis. Saddam the terrible, who invaded Kuwait, supposedly had nuclear weapons and who promised to fight the mother of alll wars. Eventually, the shambling relic became, in his words, the sacrifice for Islam, and died at the end of a long rope at a secret location.
I'm not really sure the man didn't deserve it. He was a brutal man who headed a brutal repressive government, killed millions of fellow humans with poison gas, and tortured and executed political opponents. A man who lived by the sword, and who it was expected would die by one.
No, the question is simply this - did the Americans, or the puppet government who rules in their name, have the moral legitimacy to execute the man?
I can understand the need to hang Saddam - a deep desire to close a chapter, a feeling that as long as he was alive he would serve as a rallying point for insurgents, a fear that when the American armies left, the Baathists left could come back and return him to power. It's an age old tradition to execute the enemy after displaying him in a triumph - from Vercingetorix to Najibullah, via the Nazi top brass and the Romanovs. In fact it was good leadership, according to Macchiavelli.
Accept it, Admit it.
The neoconservative ruling class in the USA would not admit to such motives. Accepting such a motive would anger the voting public, sheltered from the harsh realities of real war.
OK, one can understand the need of the US to finish off the enemy commander before they finally cut their losses and run. One can understand the motive in handing over Saddam to the Iraqi government for the execution.
But what galls me is when Bush tries to be holier than thou when talking about the execution. After all, the US happily supported Iraq through the worst excesses of Saddam's regime and only turned against him when the Kuwaiti oil-wells were threatened. The US hasn't fought a moral holy war. It was realpolitik, plain and simple - and economics as well. The welfare of Iraqis was the last thing on the minds of US policymakers.
When the US will face the inevitable backlash of anger, its citizens will wring their hands in horror and wonder what they did to deserve that.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Worst PJ of the season: Bappi Lahiri on Radio Mirchi:
Yeh Merry Christmas hai to teri Christmas bhi to hai!
(For those who do not speak Hindi, translation impossible - thank God)

Anyway dear readers, the time approaches when ol' St. Nicholas squeezes himself down chimneys and radiator wires to bring gifts for little children. Poor man, it's lucky that he has so much to do while preparing for the season that he manages to slim down enough to be able to sqeeze down increasingly narrowing chimneys.
Mathematicians have calculated that Rudolf the red-nose successfully approaches the speed of light while ensuring delivery to milions of kids, taking advantage of time dilation and a rotating earth to get Santa's work done.

Poor Yesu, who it has now been revealed, was never the only child of a virgin but a younger sibling of a whole brood. No wonder he managed to feed the multitude with three loaves and some fish.
Being the runt of the litter must have given him enough training in eking out nourishment out of the scraps left over by the older siblings.
The poor kid, tested by birth by a triad of Zoroastrian priests, must have had a tough time getting looked at by shepherds in a cold December. I guess that toughened him enough to be able to take a bath under the guidance of St. John the Baptist - which couldn't have been a common thing at that time...
In the meantime I hear that this year the elves had struck work for a day demanding higher DA. Eventually it was settled by a 0.25% increase in the contributory retirement benefit, along with a promise not to outsource their work to Taiwan.

Meantime, please heed the warning by the WHO - chronic foot and mouth disease can be spread by Santa coming in contact with dirty stockings. A spokesperson for the organisation has advised parents to ensure that Santa gets to touch only freshly disinfected stockings. And Santa has been requested to keep his Form 37H (Exemption from Quarantine of Imported Animals) ready for easy transit of Rudolf.
Enough updates - there's a fat man trying to squeeze down the chimney - he's stuck and groaning about what seems to be the last piece of chocolate cake for which there was no space in the refrigerator. Poor man, I'd better give him a hand...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Necklace of Flash

The fashionable flash sticks have spelt the death of the floppy disk. Apart from the new series of double entendres in which the new device has replaced its jurassic predecessor, they are smaller, more rugged and hold more data.

They also have the dubious distinction of being small enough to fall down from your pocket and go down the drain. So new flash drives come with a strap which could be worn around the neck.

If you go so far, why not go a bit further? Current flash drives hold up to 4 GB data. If you wish to have 40 GB data - roughly the information in a hard drive, you need 10 flash sticks. Instead of 10 straps, why not string them into a necklace, and get designers make you gold, silver and platinum sticks. Alternatively the sticks can be rhodium polished to make them attractive. In fact you could do more - hold them together in a key-chain or wear them like a bandolier. A new industry of stick designers will vie with each other to make custom made stick ornaments.

By which time a new memory device would have been invented to hold 1 petabyte in a chip small as a nail. And a new ornament form would have to be invented. If I'd have my rathers, I'd select Theva memory chips...

Good night gentle reader... enough verbal diarrhoea from me.