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The Daily Rhino
Friday, December 30, 2005

Medical Student Teaching #3
Presenting Complaint - Paediatric Fever

THIS teaching session concerns a three year old Japanese boy whom you see in A&E. His mother informs you that he has had a fever for seven days, which began soon after a ride on his father’s motorcycle. He has been crying excessively, more so over the last 48 hours. He has vomited and had an episode of diarrhoea. The toddler has been rather drowsy and occasionally makes a low-pitched humming noise and holds his hands out in front of him. His mother also reports that her son frequently places bowls on his head when he does this.

On examination the young boy is crying and has a fever of 38.9C. His heart rate is 120. You notice cracked and red lips, a blotchy rash and peeling hands. On auscultation you notice that the child is Vrrroooooom test positive. You order some investigations:

ECG – prolonged PR interval
ESR – 88mm/hr
Echo – ?Mild ectasia.

You are not entirely sure until a passing mime artist gestures that you should check the blood film, shown below.

What's the diagnosis?


That's right, it's Kawasaki’s Disease. The presence of minute Japanese motorbikes in the blood is pathognomonic for Kawasaki’s. One must remember to use the maximum possible magnification, as very small motorbikes can often be mistaken for endoplasmic reticula. One must be mindful to distinguish between the harmless Suzuki vasculitis and the rapidly fatal Yamaha fever – make a Kwik-Fit referral.

Kawasaki’s is often associated with Ruff Ryder’s Syndrome - treatment involves gradually starving the child of petrol, replacing this with diesel and playing DMX music on loop. Prescribe steroids, they never do any harm. Honestly, they're fucking awesome.



Medical Student Teaching #1
Medical Student Teaching #2

Originally published in Medical Student Newspaper.

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Looks and talent - unrelated

Remember Roy of the Rovers?


Remember Pelezinho?


Meet Ronaldinho Gaucho.
 


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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Misplaced heritage and a new boast for India
.


MUCH of ancient India's legacy to the modern world has been misattributed through centuries of Euro-centric history. It rests upon the shoulders of modern historians from the West and the East, to ensure ancient misnomers are put right; especially as India has a new claim to fame.

The first prehistoric art was always thought of as the Venus of Willendorf, which has been dated to around 24,000 BC. However a recent discovery has caused us to completely re-think how far back the history of art goes. Hundreds of cupules have been found carved into a quartz cave in Daraki-Chattan in Madhya Pradesh, which have been judged to have had no functional purpose, just aesthetic value. Art.

The cup-shaped marks have been dated back a staggering 200,000 years, putting the human desire to create art back 175,000 years. Say it with me: "India invented art!" The findings will be published next month in
Minerva.

Indians are proud of zero. Everyone in India knows zero. Indians outside India know zero. We brought the world zero and the world have us to thank; for zero. Of course I refer to the
number. It's something drummed into the head of most Indians that "we invented the zero", although few appreciate just how important that was.

It was not merely a numeral between -1 and 1, it was an entirely new concept. When Pingala first used zero in his Chhandah-shastra, written some time between 500-300BC, he was laying the groundwork for the computer you read this on, for it was the first binary numeral system recorded. He also began to explore
Pascal's triangle and the Fibonacci sequence.

Indians have done a great deal more than that. But this post isn't about India's contribution to the rest of the world as entire websites are devoted to that (e.g. Kamat's Potpourri). It's about how other Indian exports do not maintain their Indian origins in the same way zero does. The forgotten things India gave the world.

There are nine things that top the list.
The numbers from 1 to 9. Prior to the arrival of the numbers in Europe, Roman numerals were used. These were cumbersome and sums were notoriously difficult. The dark ages were so named as maths and science had not blossomed in Europe. In contrast, Indians were performing calculations involving trade and the stars rapidly and efficiently.

Yet today the symbols 1 - 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. Simply due to an accident of history - Europeans first encountered the numbers during interactions with Arab traders and henceforth the system was known as 'The Arabic Numerals'. The numbers met with great opposition when they came to Europe and the Roman Catholic Church (who've always done their bit to help science along) declared anyone caught using the system would be branded a heretic and would be liable to burning at the stake. More here.

Who invented
drainage? Ask most Westerners and they will tell you the Romans were the first to build advanced towns with sewage systems. Not so. The Indus valley civilisation is pretty well known worldwide, but many forget that two thousand years before the Romans, the ancient cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harrapa had highly developed drains. Lavatories emptied into 2 metre-deep sewers, which met at occasional cesspools which were, quite astonishingly, covered by manhole covers almost identical to the design we use today. More here and here.

The father of immunisation is known by all as Edward Jenner. A hero of medicine and a man who saved millions of lives. I see the chap every day, as a huge bust of him sits in my medschool foyer. Prior to vaccination with cowpox, which Jenner discovered conferred immunity to smallpox, the only form of protection was inoculation. This was, of course, far more dangerous but at around the time of Christ, evidence exists that suggests Indians were the first to be inoculating people against smallpox, by scratching the skin and applying pus from a smallpox sufferer. Nice. Exact instructions were laid out for the patient, including what food they were allowed to eat. They would be frequently bathed in cold water to avoid fever and it seems that the efforts were 50% successful. Not great by today's standards - but this method also saved millions.

Continuing the medical theme - I've written stacks on one man, the father of Indian surgery, Susruta. More about him another day, but one of his myriad achievements deserves a special mention on The Daily Rhino...Rhinoplasty! Yup, nose jobs were invented in India. And today they enjoy most popularity in Iran.

The
metallurgical history of India is also frequently overlooked, despite the high profile testament to ancient Indian iron-forging, the iron pillar which stands at Qutb Minar. It has stood, unweathered and unrusted for about 1700 years; predating the very religion of the mosque it was moved to! Around 500-300 BC, India made great leaps in metallurgy, including pioneering the crucible technique to produce the immensely strong yet flexible wootz steel. Techniques used in China and India two thousand years ago were not adopted in Europe until a few centuries ago.

China and India shared a great deal of knowledge in past and it is natural some inventions have been associated more closely with one country than another. The Chinese invented
rockets, but many strides forward in their use in warfare were made by Tipu Sultan's army. However, surely the greatest travesty of Sino-Indian history is the repeated association of Buddhism with China. Vast swathes of America consider Buddhism and Buddha quite Chinese. Whilst many would contend that martial arts initially came from India, which now seems very probable, the Chinese stand alone in their mastery and refinement of the arts, so I'm willing to let them have that one!

Lastly, there are two pastimes which have not been attributed to other countries, but whose heritage is occasionally forgotten. Make sure next time you plass
snooker or chess, you let your opponent know where the game comes from.
 


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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Make it so
THE British TV company Home Media Networks surveyed a thousand people asking which television show they would like to see return to the box.

Which is the most missed show? Star Trek of course! But not fucking Enterprise, you suck Enterprise, YOU SUCK!

But looking through the list, I am somewhat disconcerted:

1. Star Trek
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Friends
4. Fawlty Towers
5. Blake's 7
6. The X-Files
7. Babylon 5
8. Stargate
9. Seinfeld
10. The A-Team
[link]

Buffy? Puh-lease, who gives a shit about that anymore? Friends? Have these people not heard of E4? An entire channel devoted to Friends re-runs!

A-Team and Seinfeld, fine choices. My personal nomination for a show that doesn't get repeated nearly enough is QUANTUM LEAP. Amazing how one man can traverse the central roles in both one of the coolest and one of the lamest shows of my lifetime.


"Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top secret project known as Quantum Leap."


What kind of crazy-ass logic is that? Why could he time travel only within his own lifetime? Am I asking too many questions in this post? Anyway, there was clearly some genetic influence to his time travel as once he went back in time so far that he was in the American Civil War - because you see he travelled within his grandfather's lifetime. How this is possible, I don't know. I'd already given Belisarius the benefit of the doubt about the whole time-travel-in-his-own-life-thing. Then he freed his slave and the slave said Oh Happy Days! and he became Martin Luther King's dad and and and well..the rest is history. Excellent.

In the entire history of spoken language, no word has ever had as much emotion as that 'home' at the end of the intro.

"Trapped in the past, Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap would be the leap home."


 


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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Ghost of the Tower
TOWER Bridge is one of the Thames' most famous crossings. Opened in 1870, the bascule bridge is the very last point at which one can cross the river without taking a boat or going underground - east of Tower Bridge is nothing but water.

However, the bridge and the neighbouring Tower of London, after which the bridge was named, have a dark past. The Tower of London has been home to a millennium of bloody murder, betrayal and incarceration.
Countless victims were brought in via traitor's gate, at the foot of the bridge, for beheading. Once a year, visitors can go on a 'ghost tour' of the Tower.

Although, like all ghost-related paranormal paraphernalia, there is never any evidence. Until now. I've managed to capture the Ghost looming large over Tower Bridge, but in the vein of all alleged proof of ghosts/UFOs/Canadians, it is a grainy and blurred phone picture. You know you wouldn't want it any other way!

It is, as I'm sure you'll agree, deeply chilling. Moouahahahaha!


Tower Bridge Ghost
 


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Monday, December 26, 2005

Tsunami Politics
WHEN I worked in tsunami-hit areas around Sri Lanka's coastline earlier this year, I quickly learnt the politics of the tsunami. Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh in Indonesia represent the two worst-affected regions of Asia and both have been marred by civil conflict for many years. In the past, lax government efforts in the face of natural disaster have precipitated major turning points in the histories of several countries. For example, when East Pakistan was ravaged by a cyclone in 1970, the appalling response of the Pakistani government contributed significantly to the death of 300,000. Some estimates put it as high as 500,000. Either way, the chapter galvanised East Pakistani politics and brought Independence for Bangladesh soon after.

Indonesia

Despite the Ayn Rand foundation issuing a statement directly after the tsunami suggesting the "US Should Not Help Tsunami Victims", America thankfully embraced the tsunami as an opportunity to reach out to the most populous Muslim country in the world and build close ties with Jakarta.

Most of the world had not heard of Banda Aceh before the Sumatran region bore the full brunt of the huge earthquake's wake. Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (the Aceh Freedom Movement) had been fighting for independence from Indonesia for some time and Aceh was home to dangerous armed militia alongside religious fundamentalists. Many predicted the story of East Pakistan may be repeated - if Aceh separatists considered the government's response even slightly below par, they would step up their freedom fight. A friend flew out to Aceh with the WHO straight after the tsunami and called me. I was told how disorganised the relief effort was, massive areas were completely untouched by the military or foreign aid. I feared the worst.

I was proved wrong and in fact a peace agreement was later signed.

It is interesting to recall how Indonesia won its own independence from the Dutch as it echoes that of Bangladesh. The fight gathered steam after Krakatoa erupted exploded in 1883. But post-tsunami, the credit must first go to the freedom fighters as they almost unanimously laid down their arms. The destruction had simply been too great. Both sides acknowledged that nothing short of complete cooperation would allow effective rebuilding of millions of square miles that had been flattened. GAM have handed in a large amount of their arms and the government has also felt able to withdraw many of its troops from Aceh.

Sri Lanka

Most are probably more familiar with the troubles that had dogged Sri Lanka for decades. However it is incorrect to think of Sri Lanka as a land simply divided into Tamil and Sinhala communities. A sizeable minority (about 7%) are Muslim and think of themselves as quite separate to both the Sinhala and Tamil groups, I learnt. Kalmunai was ground zero, where about 15,000 perished. It's a predominantly Muslim fishing town and during my time there I met only two other foreign charities working in the area. When I went to Galle and Matara, both Sinhala areas, I could not move for Westerners. The Muslims in the east and the Tamils in the north/north east felt forgotten.

Whilst entirely anecdotal, the difference was stark. Friends who worked in LTTE-administered areas reported a similar dearth of foreigners, but wondered whether this was government-dictated or a result of the overzealous Tamil border guards who seemed reluctant to let anyone in. I know of several aid convoys that were stopped by Tamil soldiers, only for them to confiscate the supplies and turn the trucks around. Whether the soldiers distributed the aid is speculation, but it was apparent that suspicion was rife.

These stories were somewhat indicative of what happened in Sri Lanka following the tsunami.

The Supreme Court in Sri Lanka issued a verdict that as the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) were not state-recognised or authorised, they could play no part in rebuilding. Thus Tamil areas were left to the Tigers and NGOs, which, as you have already heard, were thin on the ground. Tamil associates were quick to sing the praises of the ultra-efficient Tigers, but in reality the aid distribution has been very lop-sided. Tamils who held the view that the Sinhala majority don't care for them have only had the impression strengthened.

However, voluntary groups from Sri Lanka have been instrumental in picking up where the government failed. The huge pandemics predicted never materialised due to the unstoppable efforts of Sri Lankan healthcare workers. Volunteers worked all over the island and none that I met cared whether they were treating or building a home for a Tamil or Sinhala family.

Little changed further down the line. The ceasefire held. However the recent election of Mahinda Rajapakse, thought of as a hardliner, surprised some - but he provided a second surprise when he offered peace talks with the Tamil Tigers. Perhaps the cloud does have a silver lining after all.

9 months ago, I wrote the article below focussing more specifically on Kalmunai and the problems I found in Sri Lanka. It was published in the May issue of Medical Student.


IT'S NOT GETTING ANY EASIER



ON a balmy March evening three Brits jump out of their auto-rickshaw outside the Sea Breeze restaurant. The two medical students and an SHO are looking for dinner in a small village on the outskirts of Kalmunai. It’s the most business the Sea Breeze has seen for a while.

Kalmunai, on Sri Lanka’s east coast, was ground zero several weeks ago. An estimated 15,000 died in and around the area, almost half of Sri Lanka’s entire death toll. Now the residents are wondering whether life can ever be normal again. The Sea Breeze stands alone - one of a very few buildings left erect in this once bustling Muslim village. Despite losing much of its staff and its chef, it has become something of a congregation point for survivors, many of whom are homeless. An ebullient fisherman, Shri Skandarajah, or Shri Master as he is known, sits with a cola and explains how bouncing back from the tsunami is being made very difficult.

Kalmunai is a predominantly Muslim and Tamil region of Sri Lanka. The country’s complicated demographic roughly breaks down into two main ethnic groups, the Sinhala and the Tamils. The long and bitter struggle between the Sinhala government and the Tamil Tigers has been covered worldwide, but a sizeable minority of Sri Lankans have been overlooked. Muslims make up approximately 7% of the population and most are concentrated on the East coast. International aid has poured into Sri Lanka since the start of the year, but the government has made sure that the distribution has been far from even. Food supplies due for Tamil or Muslim regions have been diverted or confiscated by government soldiers. Charity workers have been directed to Sinhala areas of the coast and all sorts of numbers have been fiddled.

Shri Master recently became something of a local celebrity as he was the man who discovered Baby 81 - the six week old boy found in a pile of rubble. A huge media furore ensued as nine families claimed parentage of the child. Shri Master explains that Tamil and Muslim areas have received far less help than Sinhala areas, “Go to Galle [a Sinhala city on the south coast], there are many charities and NGOs there, how many can you see here?”

Relief workers are thin on the ground. A religious group of British Sri Sathya Sai Baba devotees and an American charity called Safe Harbor are the only volunteers to visit several camps in the Kalmunai area for weeks. Sitting alongside Shri Master in the Sea Breeze is Aqeel, an English teacher.

“The Tamils have got far less help than the Sinhala, this is true, but the Tamils have the LTTE to do something about it. Who do Muslims have to fight for them?”

A large portion of northern Sri Lanka is controlled by the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tigers’ army personnel has played an important role in administering aid to victims along the LTTE-controlled coastline. Kalmunai does not fall within this region. Muslims seem to have become the forgotten minority in the wake of the wave. The large Tamil population in places like London have ensured that the plight of Tamil Sri Lankans has been reported in the Western press. The government has been roundly criticised, whether this had any effect it is hard to say. As a small number of Sri Lankan Muslims live outside the country, their problems are not so high profile.

Despite all of this, the mood on the east coast is surprisingly upbeat. Shri Master, Aqeel, the staff at the Sea Breeze and the whole town of Kalmunai are determined. Aqeel explains, “Tamil, Muslim - you’re used to not getting anything from the government, no help. So when the tsunami came, we will rebuild all ourselves.”

Health is also far better than expected; there have been no epidemics - largely due to local doctors and healthcare workers taking all the right precautions. Most of the medical problems seen by the doctors in the Sri Sathya Sai group are not major, and often a legacy of the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the government, as opposed to the tsunami. Some children are malnourished, many have lice and fungal dermatalogical complaints are rife. Scabies, TB and hepatitis are encountered on a regular, but infrequent basis. Psychological trauma is not to be underestimated and the group have brought counsellors with them. Many people have not returned to their homes and a fair amount of those that have will only sleep inland. There is widespread panic on the 28th of March when an earthquake hits Indonesia once again, despite no tsunami being reported.

Shri Master is right, Galle is a very different story. A major city, Galle is a tourist hotspot, as is most of the coast from here to Colombo, the capital. Walking through the Dutch Fort, one encounters almost as many foreign faces as local. Art galleries and hotel lobbies have been converted into tsunami aid headquarters. A representative from a charity called Project Galle rattled off a long list of the NGOs in the area. Driving along the Galle Road, which runs along the coast, one can see them all: The Red Cross, Oxfam, MSF, Japanese, British, Indian, Australian and American charities, religious charities, the UN and many more. It’s a very inspiring sight to see the international community rallying together to help. However one does notice a stark contrast between the south and the east. An Australian aid worker comments on how many of the residents have become so accustomed to handouts they have lost the motivation to rebuild their houses or look for work. She remarks that many children have learnt a new English phrase “I am tsunami, give me money.”

An hour’s worth of rubble away from Galle, Wasantha, 25, sits on his boat in Polhena. The boat lies in two pieces, he has no home and has lost his parents, his best friend and four brothers. But he is smiling and in high spirits. “No problem!” he exclaims. The phrase could be Sri Lanka’s unofficial motto.

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Remembering the wave
Children of the tsunami: many Kalmunai kids were orphanedTODAY the world looks back and remembers the 250,000 lives that were lost to the sea a year ago. The Indian Ocean looks serene as millions quietly contemplate the loved ones swept away by the Boxing Day Tsunami.

The World Wide Help Blog is observing Disaster Remembrance Week to mark what has been an horrific year of natural disasters (via DesiPundit). The Daily Rhino will be featuring several articles about different aspects of the tsunami from now until January the 1st.

Politics has pervaded all aspects of life since the tsunami. The affected areas, chiefly Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia, were parts of the world wracked by civil disputes and two of the worst-hit regions. Has the tsunami helped, or have the squabbles hindered the relief efforts? How much money has actually made it through to those who need it? The world's ordinary citizens triumphed over the indifference of the rich and poured out the hearts and wallets, but what has happened to that monumental amount of money?

In March, in Kalmunai on Sri Lanka's east coast, I interviewed the man who was responsible for finding a baby who came to symbolise the story of the tsunami. Baby 81 was the little boy separated from his parents and subsequently claimed by nine families. The tale of tragedy followed by hope, as Baby 81 was reunited with his real parents, became synonymous with the tsunami itself, as people tried to stay positive.

Over the last year, I've written a bunch of articles about the tsunami's effect on the survivors' health. A year on, the disaster's legacy lives on. Whilst many were physically affected, the overwhelming healthcare problem now is the burden the wave placed on the mental health of those who escaped with their lives but often without their loved ones.

Lastly I'll check back on the people and places I saw all over Sri Lanka's east and south coast. How have the small businesses and families fared?

The blog I made for the members of the relief trip I participated in.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

The Middle East's finest female singers
I KNOW loads of people have featured this charming young lady in their blogs today, but I didn't get time earlier and I can't miss a chance to feature a hot woman. Well she's hot, but she kind of reminds me of Johnny from the Muppet Show:



Wafah Dufour, née Wafah bin Ladin, took her mother's maiden name soon after her infamous uncle blew up the World Trade Centre. She is pursuing a career as a singer in America, where she has lived since the age of 10. She will soon be appearing in glossy soft porn rag GQ looking rather anti-al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's niece in a skimpy outfit in a lads' mag. EXCELLENT. She likes to say "ooh people go on about him but I've never met him and everyone in Saudi is related to him" but surely she realises that had it not been for her nefarious uncle, she would be nowhere near as famous. More about her here.





The DR likes to plug his friends, so it's high time Rouge were featured. Their first track, Don't Be Shy, was a big-ass hit all over the world, but since then they've been a bit quiet. Rouge are made up of Legha (right), Amrita (middle) and my favourite Laura. Why do I like her best? Cos she's been in me newspaper!

She's a few years below me at medical school and is our resident celebrity (after me, of course). Laura is originally Egyptian, a grade 8 classical singer and has already sung with Lemar. In my humble opinion, the most talented person on Envy's books. She, unfortunately, has some lame company on that record label.

Read the Medical Student interview with Laura here (page 15) or visit their fansite here.



Lastly, the barely-tolerable Sugababes have lost council-estate chic Mutya (such a pretty name) and replaced her with
Amelle Berrabah, who is originally Morrocan. I don't particularly care about this news, but I thought it completed the foxy Arab singer theme nicely.

Now, who's up for hitting a bellydancing joint?

 


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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Great Scott!
AN email just arrived from The Quiffman™:




Marty kneels down in front of the gravestone. He pushes away some plants on the stone (maybe flowers?)

Marty
This can't be happening! (reads) Back to the Future 4? No, oh please God no, no, please God, please God, no, this can't be happening! This can't be happening! This can't be.....

A shadow appears on the gravestone. Marty hears a twig snap and turns around. It's DOC and EINSTEIN!

Doc
I'm afraid it is happening Marty, all of it!





What's he talking about? Only the
biggest news to hit all 1980s-born geeks who made a flux capacitor out of pipe cleaners when they were kids.

Back to the Future Part IV?


UPDATE! Anangbhai informs The DR it's all a hoax. Well not a hoax per se, more a misinterpretation. A hack asked him if he'd be up for a fourth instalment and McFRRRRY said only if he's plays The Doc.
 


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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Technoshaadi.com
SHAADI.COM has announced a huge loss of business to a blog search engine, as millions of single Indians search for a smart brown partner at technorati.com today:

 


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Hot blogs and hotter girls
YOUNG Indian men are pervs. Old ones too. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Hence Aishwarya Rai quickly took the crown of having the MOST Internet fan sites. As Tim Berners-Lee famously said, the Internet was created for porn. For Indian boys all over the globe, the rise of sexy Bollywood girls led to all sorts of things rising - and in the Internet they had found their best friend. They would never again have to leave the house and, unlike magazines, monitors are wipe-clean.

A few days ago, the DR brought you the pick of Miss World, which included Miss England, Hammasa Kohistani (left). It turns out that the horny visitors to the web's leading Indian girlie site, SantaBanta, have clicked Hammasa above Miss India, racking up about 55,000 thousand clicks. Interestingly enough, the four girls picked out by the DR are the four with most SantaBanta clicks, England, India, Canada, Albania. Clearly SantaBanta's visitors have discerning tastes.

Most column inches dedicated to her have centred around death threats from nutty Islamists, but the DR sticks to the essentials. So Hammasa's officially got an Internet fanbase. Big star. Then the DR gets an invite to a party attended by Hammasa and other Asiana models, such as Tia (below), which took place yesterday. 'Fuck' is probably the only word suitable to fully express the sentiments of being unable to make it.



On the left is the new issue of Asiana's hot-or-not column. Asiana is the biggest South Asian magazine outside India bought by tens of thousands - and it's the publication that launched Hammasa's career. What's hot? That's right baby, blogs. Pickled Politics and Sepia Mutiny - the places I spend most of my time online. Huzzah!

The front cover promises of '50 Ultimate Eligible Bachelors' of the UK. Despite 49 being hunky dreamboats (always wanted to use that word in everyday speech), one particularly skinny Rhino-esque geek leaves a great deal to be desired. But there's no chance of me scanning THAT in.

Don't sue me Shabbs.


 


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Monday, December 19, 2005

Won't you join my slaying tonight?
"Of course Santa Claus is Indian. Think about it yaar, big beard, fat belly, bad suit - INDIAN!"

Click for the larger version


COME Christmas Day, I would far rather be nursing an eggnog-induced heart attack than blogging. Hence I thought I'd get festive a little early and give you some background on everyone's favourite alcoholic mince pie thief. You see, he's from Asia! Well...Asia Minor.


St. Nick

St. Nicholas of Myra was a 4th century Byzantine about whom we do not know a great deal. He lived in what is now Turkey and between 270 and 350 (we think). He has gone down in history as a man famed for giving gifts to the poor, whilst always maintaining anonymity. The most famous legend to surround St. Nick is that of a man so poor he had no choice but to sell his daughters into prostitution as he could raise no dowry. Umm...yeah that's what I'll be doing when I get hard up. Anyway, the father-of-three prepared to sell his eldest to the street. St. Nick got word and under the guise of night, threw a bag of gold through the man's window. The overjoyed man ran out of the house to see who the benevolent giver was in the morning, but St. Nick was long gone. He paid her dowry and she got married off.

The message was clear. Pretend to make your daughter a hooker and get gold. So the man did it again, some time later. Once again Nick left him gold and she got herself a fella. When it was the youngest daughter's turn, the man waited in the shadows. When the gold came through the window, he sprinted after Nick and caught him, so that he could thank him. Nick was upset and made him promise never to reveal his identity. The man swore a solemn oath. But somehow the whole town knew about St. Nick's kindness within a week.

I would like to take this opportunity to make the worst joke of my entire life to date. If the man hadn't been saved by St. Nick, how would you have referred to his three daughters? Ho ho ho!

St. Nicholas died some time later and at the time of his burial, his fame was minor and limited only to the local area. Little did anyone know what fate would posthumously await him.

Today St. Nick is the
patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prostitutes, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, the city of Amsterdam and of Russia. Why the FUCK do lawyers need a patron saint?! He is also celebrated as a festive gift-giver, bringing happiness to millions of children, under several different names.

In much of Europe, St. Nick retains his original name, whereas in Britain and America he is more commonly referred to as a corruption of the Dutch Sint Nicolaas >> Sinterklaas >> Santa Claus. Some facets of the Saint Nicholas tradition in mainland Europe can be traced back to the Germanic god Wodan (Odin). Odin rode through the sky and had diminuitive assistants called the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) which may be inspired by the black raven that accompanied Wodan. It may also be a reference to African slaves.

Martin Luther was the first to combine St. Nicholas (a canonised saint) with the
Christkindlein (Christ child) in order to 'Protestantise' the figure. Despite having a devout bishop as inspiration, the secular Santa Claus was free of the Christianity associated with St. Nicholas. Hence his popularity has spread far and wide, especially across Asia.


Sinister Folklore

Some stories tell of a darker side to the fairy tale. Germanic tribes would tell of St. Nick having a nemesis, a demon called Krampus. He would crawl down chimneys and disembowel children and stuff them in his sack to eat later. St. Nick would chase the demon and make him deliver presents as repentence. Wikipedia has
this disturbing passage:



But for many children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who would threaten to beat, or sometimes actually eat the children for misbehaviour. Knecht Rupert furthermore was equipped with goatlegs. In Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the Black Forest. In other accounts he would throw the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children within. These traditions were implemented more rigidly in Catholic countries such as Austria.

In highly Catholic regions, the local priest was informed by the parents about their children's behaviour and would then personally visit the homes in the traditional Christian garment and threaten them with rod-beatings. In parts of Austria, Krampusse, whom local tradition says are Nikolaus's helpers (in reality, typically children of poor families), roamed the streets during the festival. They wore masks and dragged chains behind them, even occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusläufe (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past.




Modern Santa

Much in the way other countries amalgamated St. Nicholas with their native childrens' gift-givers, Brits rolled him into the pagan character of Father Christmas (derived from Norse mythology), which created the classic Santa we see across most of the English-speaking world. An urban legend exists that Coca-Cola was responsible for inventing the Santa we know today and despite not being true, Coca Cola has had a long and close association with Santa Claus as their unofficial frontman.

The American Santa Claus was initially depicted wearing a green coat but he appeared in several different colours before red finally became a firm choice. This was largely due to the art of two men,
Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom, the second of whom was responsible for the Coca Cola advertising. The famous and anonymous poem, The Night Before Christmas, gave rise to the image of Santa as having "a broad face and a big round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!" It was also the first time all eight of Santa's reindeers were named.

This is a cross-post on Pickled Politics.


Futurama's Santabot

"Ho ho ho! I'm dreaming of a red X-mas!"

 


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Friday, December 16, 2005

One Giant Prank for Mankind
SPACE Cadets was amongst the most inventive television of recent years. It pains me to say this as it is, strictly speaking, the very lowest form of entertainment - reality TV.

It ended tonight in quite spectacular style. For those not privy to the big secret, Space Cadets fooled three people into thinking they are in space. Using a state-of-the-art simulator, world-class (geddit?) video projection and a meticulous eye for detail, the Channel 4 team created an entirely believable experience. Well sort of.

I was immensely impressed with the leg work that went into this show. The Kazakh cosmonaut training base was, in fact, in Ipswich in Suffolk. However the entire area, a disused military base, was Russianified with the fruits of gargantuan shopping sprees to Mockba's constellation of malls and supermarkets. Tampons, food, road signs, registration plates, actors - all Russian.

The Apollo 13 visual effects team were called into create the 'space ship' and their training was supervised by a former KGB agent who trains real space tourists.

But despite all the hype before the programme's launch, I had the same question much of the country was asking, "how can they fake weightlessness?" The answer became apparent when the first programme aired. They chose complete dunces. A series of bunk lectures convinced the would-be cosmonauts that gravity could be generated by a new machine. There was a priceless line in the first show, something along the lines of:



"Anyone who had studied science at A-level or who could name more than four characters from Star Trek, was instantly disqualified"

There were some worries that this cosmic joke was rather cruel. How would these hapless cosmonauts react when they find out they've been duped in front of the whole country? In the end I had no such guilt whilst laughing at these three space cadets, because they're so monumentally thick. Anyone that dumb deserves to be laughed at. Whilst the projection they see out of the window is admittedly awe-inspiring, the fucking take off was more tame than a tea-cup ride! In reality, astronauts wear nappies in case the immense G-force causes an accident.

Anyway, they didn't take it too badly and all ridicule turned into jealousy when their prizes of £25,000, a holiday to Star City in Russia and a flight in the parabolic 'vomit comet' were revealed. Very nice. In fact well worth all the public humiliation. Rumour has it that America is planning a repeat performance, so soon some American idiots will be boldly going where only British idiots have gone before.

In related news, the
RAS sent out a press release the other day explaining how the Hubble Space telescope has been used to weigh a white dwarf. The closest white dwarf to the Earth is Sirius B, which is right next to Sirius A in the sky, which is otherwise known as Keanu Reeves' band's name, the 'Dog Star'.

Sirius B is about the size of the Earth, but weighs about the same as our Sun. Fuck! Its gravitational field is 350,000 stronger than the Earth's, despite the similar size.

A white dwarf is the future of our Sun - stars which aren't that big don't explode in a supernova, they expand to a red giant whilst burning helium (the Sun will probably one day engulf the Earth) and then collapse into a white dwarf, leaving a planetary nebula (the name of which is something of a misnomer). A white dwarf is a dead, cooling star made up of oxygen and carbon, which is also immensely dense. The white dwarf is supported only by electron degeneracy pressure - which is overcome in the far smaller and denser neutron stars.

Sirius B is not far from the maximum
limit for a white dwarf's mass, which is about 1.4 times the mass of the Sun. This was named after the brilliant Indian physicist, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar.

Despite being discovered in 1862, few calculations were possible for Sirius B as it's so overshadowed by its massive neighbour, Sirius A - as demonstrated in the picture; Sirius B is the little dot bottom left, Sirius A's the daddy. Even though it's younger. Well you know what I mean.





 


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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Little Mermaid + Big Problem
FROM the BBC:





Peru's 'mermaid' girl doing well: A Peruvian baby born with fused legs is making good progress six months after having surgery to separate them, her doctors have said. [Link]

Her abdomen was connected to her legs, trapped in a sack of tissue and fat down to her heels and her feet were splayed in a "V" - like a mermaid's tail.



Delhi barbers lead AIDS campaign: Barbers in India's capital, Delhi, are part of a unique project aimed at increasing Aids awareness. [Link]

The men-only atmosphere has been identified as a useful place to spread the message due to its relaxed atmosphere. A pilot launched in 2001 has proved successful and now the Barbers Intervention Project is rolling out across India, with 10,000 barbers involved. Keen barbers distribute condoms and advice whilst giving their customers a short back & sides (with a clean blade, of course). They are not paid, they’re just keen to help. Cool dudes.



"I mostly bring up the topic myself," [Suresh Kumar Sain] says, as he gives a customer a haircut.


"But sometimes when I feel awkward, I point them to the posters in the shop. I have also trained others in my shop.
It helps, though, that nowadays most people are aware of the disease due to the media. [but] many young people simply turn a deaf ear.


"They say whatever will happen is their destiny. You can't do much for such people but I try my best to convince them."
 


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Hunter doesn't use a rest
OLD news now, but haven't had a chance to post this since Monday. I always thought Paul Hunter was a bit girlie as he used to sport flowing locks like this >

However now he looks rather more like this <


The 27 year-old Yorkshireman, expectant dad and three-times Masters champion is undergoing chemo for colon cancer. He produced a real corker of a comeback in the previous round to put himself in with a shout of the quarters. But Ding Junhui, a Chinese teenager, put him out.

Why I found this story so inpsirational is that Hunter still can't fully feel his hands or feet. He had to take off his shoes while playing to rub them to soothe the paraesthesiae and he was shaking throughout the match. Doing well even though you're playing snooker without any feeling in your hands, pretty fucking tough. Top lad. Ding himself has been a bit unlucky. Having put out the crowd favourite Jimmy White and ailing Hunter, this new face isn't endearing himself to anyone British.
 


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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gone Missin'
THE not overly-attractive Miss Iceland won the competition which seems to have taken permanent residence in China ever since 250 people died in Nigeria after a foolish hack said the prophet Mohammed would've liked to have boned a few of the contestants.


Hammasa Kohistani (right) was reppin' the perennially under- achieving England at Miss World 2005 and as the first Muslim to represent England she garnered plenty of column inches and of course a few
death threats. Indeed another Muslim girl had been in the race for Miss England and was advised to pull out by Liverpool's Islamic Institute. A friend of the DR's said of Kohistani:


"She's a model for Asiana Magazine. She's a total babe and down to earth and lovely and refused quite categorically to sleep with me, but I live in hope."


The DR brings you some highlights from this woefully tacky event, below. No matter what people say about it now being a celebration of womanhood, the acid test always fails: A male equivalent is just wrong. It's still a cattle market where women are products.

The organisers have also introduced some lame group system, where only finalist can come from each 'world group'. Bizarrely Asia Pacific comprises ALL of Asia east of Lebanon, including Australia and New Zealand (?)

L to R from top left:
Miss Canada Ramona Amiri who won the 'Traditional Dance' section with some belly dancing. Wow. And her ambition is to be a doctor (yeah!) but she wants to be a dermatologist (boo!), Miss Albania
Suada Sherifaj (twice) and the slightly disappointing Miss India Sindhura Gadde, who did a degree in pharmacology and physiology, which means she couldn't get in to medschool.


 


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Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor, 1940 - 2005

"What about reincarnation? Ah I'll worry about that shit when I get back."

"By telling the truth about his pain, Richard Pryor held a mirror up to society and we were able to see our fears, our beauty, our prejudice, our wretchedness, our hopes, our dreams - all of our contradictions. What other man has no secrets?"
Damon Wayans



Multiple sclerosis isn't a nice way to go out. It's slow, often painful and very distressing. It can be pretty embarrassing too. But Pryor's family say he was laughing and joking to the end; typical for a man who continued to perform as a 'sit-down' comic when his legs lost their function. Some people remember Richard Pryor for being a seven-times-married junkie who set fire to himself. I prefer to remember him as someone who is directly responsible for the world of comedy as we know it today. A funny, resilient motherfucker.
 


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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Medical Student Teaching #2
Presenting Complaint - Flank Pain

Mr JM presents to you in A&E with a four hour history of excruciating left flank pain. He introduces himself as a man of wealth and taste. It was first brought on in his bathroom (recently painted black) and is colicky in nature. He has experienced two episodes of vomiting associated with nausea. A slight fever is noted, otherwise examination is unremarkable. A urine dip showed the presence of Brown Sugar.

An X-ray is initially requested but confusingly returns negative, as does a renal ultrasound. The patient grows irritable, insisting that all he wants is some satisfaction by getting rid of his pain. For the sixth month in a row, you are stumped until a passing Brazilian model suggests a renal biopsy, where you see the film below:

What's the diagnosis?


That's right, kidney stones.

This common affliction affects more men than women and incidence is reducing as Hip Hop grows in popularity. The presence of any of the Stones on biopsy is pathognomonic for this condition. Symptoms include sufferers not being able to get any satisfaction, despite them trying and trying and trying and trying. It should be noted that the finding of Mick Jagger or Charlie Watts in young girls is not uncommon and is associated with a poor prognosis.

Management consists of smoking cessation, listening to the Beatles and prescribing shitloads of steroids - they're awesome. In uncomplicated cases, stones have been known to easily pass through the urinary tract, eased by their 'rolling' nature.


Medical Student Teaching #1
Medical Student Teaching #3

Originally published in Medical Student Newspaper.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Posh totty and wacky backy
HAD anyone heard of Arun Nayar before he started knobbing Hugh Grant's past-it ex? Anyway, a proud moment for Indian fans of posh totty (if you're not Indian or a fan of posh totty, shame on you) as Nayar has recently got his divorce granted.

They have announced their plans to wed at a "small, private gathering for close family and friends". This is clearly the reason why everyone knows the wedding date (Valentine's Day) and the venue (Devigarh Fort in Rajasthan) and why Pamela Anderson, Patsy Kensit, Posh Spice, Elton John and David Furnish are going. Ah! It's a has-been-a-thon. On the subject of a-thons...

Johnny Depp said that if Britain does ban shmokin' in public, he would come over the UK and have a 'smoke-a-thon'. "They have taken that whole pretzel and stretched it into as absurd a pretzel as I have ever seen," said the star of Fear & Loathing.

Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson has said that smoking a spliffiola and doing the yoga are basically the same shit. But one's, like, totally bad for you. Or whatever. Anyway, he's kicked the masharcarlartis in favour of his pursuit of yoga, no doubt wearing his hemp clothes (in case he DOES get desperate for a joint). He's also gone very anti-smoking and is favour of the proposed ban. The Daily Rhino he say Depp and Harrelson must fight and the winner gets to decide British law. Depp's skinny but the DR's met (= bumped into) Harrelson in Covent Garden, and he's short. Fight, fight, fight!
 


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Monday, December 05, 2005

Crys-tal poppin'
REPRESENTATIVES from all 192 countries that signed the Geneva Conventions are discussing the merits of a new, third emblem for the Red Cross.

I am a big fan of the Red Cross. Me dad worked for them for several years, in both Bangladesh and Indonesia, two Muslim countries. I was about 10 years old when I first heard that he was working for the '
ICRC' and got rather confused. Then I heard about the 'IFRCRCS' and was completely flummoxed. I soon learnt what an intensely complex setup the Red Cross and its various subsidiary/contributory bodies have. However the main thing that struck me was when I saw pictures of my dad's team in Jakarta, it was all crescent moons. Where were the crosses?

It's a reasonably well-known fact that Muslim countries have not been keen on letting little red crosses drive around their land, committing the heinous act of helping people in need. Still only a whippersnapper, I was outraged by this. I thought some firebrand Muslim despot must've made a song and dance in the 80s about the cross in his land and made the Red Cross change their logo. I was a bit hasty in my judgement.

The Red Cross works by having a national version of the organisation in each country. Here we have the British Red Cross, but in 31 of the 181 recognised societies around the world, the national body is called the Red Crescent. The Crescent actually dates back to the Russo-Turkish War (1876-1878), when the Ottoman Empire thought that the cross would alienate its Muslim soldiers. In 1877, Russia became the first country to state that they would recognise the Red Crescent as exactly equivalent to the Red Cross. The ICRC declared that non-Muslim countries would be able to adapt the crescent and be entitled to exactly the same protection and neutrality the cross conferred.

At present, the red cross and the red crescent are the only two recognised emblems that ensure that anyone or anything carrying them is protected by international law, as stipulated in the Geneva Conventions. They must be granted free access to areas where people are in need of help.

So the crescent has been around for yonks. I felt less bothered by it, but still somewhat peeved as the whole objection to the cross was a misnomer. The Red Cross was never a Christian organisation, the emblem is simply a reversal of the Swiss flag, which is a white cross on a red back. It was chosen to honour the Swiss founder, Henry Dunant.

However, one country remained stubborn. Israel. And here's where it all gets sticky.

Many countries have attempted to have their own emblem recognised for use within their borders. The list includes Sri Lanka and India, which both tried to get a red swastika (a Hindu symbol for those that only saw it behind Adolf) approved in the 70s. All these requests were refused as it was (IMO rightly) thought that too many emblems would mean they weren't recognised and protection would be compromised. So why has a third emblem been brought to the table?

Some Arab states will tell you that it is the ICRC bending over to please Israel. Israel's national Red Cross equivalent is called the Magen David Adom Society (MDA) and they have refused to either carry the cross or the crescent for decades. They presently use a red Star of David as their logo, which does NOT have international protection. Bear in mind that the MDA, like all ICRC groups, work all over the world. National relief societies are supposed to use either the cross or the crescent outside their borders, which means that MDA using the star in occupied territories is a bit naughty. Arab states have made it quite clear they will never recognise the Star of David.

So the Red Lozenge was put forward. Then it became the Red Diamond and it's now referred to as the Red Kris-tal, homeboy. This way, the MDA could work with the Palestinian Red Crescent in occupied territories. Surely the world's most boring and innocuous emblem EVAR, right? MDA said "yo!" Palestine said "yeah okay, we'll sort something out when it comes to disputed regions". But Syria said "we need to be involved in the Golan Heights, you infidel punks" so Israel said "Oye ve! We will never work with Syrian bastards!"

All this has thrown a spanner into the negotiations about the Crystal. Masood Khan is the Pakistani ambassador (vroom vroom!) and is trying to unify the 56 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. He wants the Syrian and Israeli national societies to make friends, "can't everyone just get along?"

However it seems likely it will be pushed through. Countries with mixed religious populations, such as India, may well adopt the neutral (= DULL) emblem. I'm hoping the Russians will too, so we can report "The Russian Red Square has left Moscow and arrived in Iraq".


This is a cross-post on Pickled Politics.
 


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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Snowdon Returns to India
I'M not a big fan of The Independent Magazine, but I have a flick through every Saturday, especially as today's sported a picture of former Badminton head girl, Ros Pike (right), looking very foxy. Anyway, inside were some pictures from Lord Snowdon's forthcoming photographic study of India. The ex-husband of Princess Margaret has had two previous India projects and despite now being 75, wheelchair bound and recovering from a stroke, he worked 12 to 18 hour days to catalogue a nascent India. His new book is all about the Indian success story, featuring portraits of India Shining's 120 movers and shakers. Here are a few...please don't sue me Mr Independent.





Naseeruddin Shah has been concentrating on the stage more than the screen as of late. He runs a Mumbai-based theatre group called Motley with his wife and daughter. Snowdon wanted his subjects in comfortable surroundings, so Shah sits in his son's flat with some rather queer graffiti in the background.





Kiran Bedi
was described by Snowdon as being "absolutely charming and an extraordinary success story". She is now special commissioner of police intelligence, but not without overcoming huge obstacles. She was discriminated against simply for being a woman and sent to Tihar Jail, the largest in Asia, which houses 10,000 inmates. Her work was so impressive, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994.



Indira Gandhi could only give Snowdon a few minutes whilst on her aeroplane when he was still a British Royal. Whereas Dr. Singh gave the photographer 45 minutes in his garden, but Snowdon eventually chose a plain wall as the backdrop. On the right sleeps George Fernandes. The former defence minister said he feels most comfortable in his bedroom and soon man and dog were snoozing. Snowdon said "what British politician would allow a photo like that?"



Legendary south Indian dancer, feminist and human rights campaigner, Chandralekha sits outside her rehearsal hall. Now 76, she is still described by all as having fiery eyes, a serene sexuality and generally being a hot mama. One of India's most innovative dancers and choreographers, she has united bharatanatyam, kalarippayyat and yoga. Famed for the eroticism of her dances she continues to teach long after her pension was due. Cardio-thoracic surgeon Naresh Trehan was earning over $1.5million a year in Manhattan in the mid-80s and thought to himself that he was better than most of his American counterparts. Thus he opened up Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi in 1988. It is today one of the largest specialist centres in the world and was the second hospital internationally to utilise robotic cardio-thoracic surgery techniques. I'm jealous.







The other little master, the Mozart of Madras, the Tchaikovsky of Chennai, Allahrakha Rahman.




Vijay Mallya isn't wearing his shoes because Snowdon didn't think they went with his suit. On the right is O P Jain, who is apparently referred to as India's cultural tsar, although I've never heard him called that. He has a lead role in conserving India's cultural heritage and founded Sanskriti. He stands in front of a sixteen year-old banyan tree he planted on his 60th birthday.

 


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