Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A right look at the left

August 13 is being celebrated the world over as the "International Lefthanders Day".

Right handed greetings to my left handed friends....

The left and right are really two complementary sides. However, the treatment meted out to the left is often far from complementary. It is often very confusing, and sometimes difficult, being left handed in a right handed world. The word "right" by itself, besides denoting a "side" also has a connotation of correctness; this makes everything NOT right , as being wrong. And so , many times, those preferring the left hand , and displaying "left handedness" end up suffering.

Even language is partial. You do not appreciate a "left handed compliment"; the words meaning "left" in , say French and Latin are "gauche" and "sinister", which is as bad as it can get; however, the words for "right" are an exemplary choice : from the French "droit", we get the English word adroit, and Latin for right is "dexter" (from which we get such words as dexterous), all very positive connotations.
My son was born and spent the first 25 years of his life in India. Somewhere around the time he was 6-7 months, his grandmother's sharp, about-to-develop -a-cataract eye noticed a distinct preference for what was called preferring the "wrong hand". In India, hands and their usage in everyday life is sacrosanct. The left hand is used for activities related to getting rid of body waste and cleaning oneself thereafter. The right hand is used for eating, conducting prayer activities, intellectual activities and the like. A family discussion ensued. Twenty years before, this would have been a crisis situation with people designing ways and means to get the kid to turn right handed. Luckily, better sense prevailed , and the child was allowed to grow up with his natural proclivities.

Then one fine day, when he was eight, a special teacher was selected to come teach the child the Indian percussion instrument, the "tabla". The teacher was aghast. The tabla consisted of two differently pitched percussion drums, and the main one, the actual tabla, MUST be played with the right hand. Strong will prevailed over the boys natural tendencies, and to this day, 20 years later, the boy plays the tabla, right handed.

One has heard about the use of force in changing the "handedness " of a child , leading to a sense of diffidence in the child, occasionally manifesting as stammering.

So one wonders as to what is this concept of left handedness, what does it imply, how advisable is it to be tough on such a child about changing, and how do children react to various levels of compulsion, about changing the "handedness".

Research done by a team from the Queens University at Belfast in 2004, suggests that the hand you prefer to use as a 10-week-old foetus is the hand you will favour for the rest of your life. These scientists, studied the foetuses through scans, and identified 60 foetuses sucking their right thumb and 12, their left thumb. They followed up these children at the ages of 10-12, and found that all the right thumb sucking foetuses were right handed children , but about a two thirds of the left thumb sucking Foetuses had developed as left handed children; the others had switched over from left to right!

Turns out that even at 10-15 weeks, when its too early to be thumb sucking, the foetuses still wave their arms about; majority appears to move their right arms more. At this point,at 10 weeks movements are not under brain control or conscious control, and could be just local reflexes determined by the spinal cord.

This team suggested that instead of the brain deciding the handedness, the opposite was probably the real story. Nerve connections from the body to the brain develop before the connections that allow the brain to control the body's movement. And so, my son must have been a vigorous left hand waver while in the womb......

The Jury is out on that one.

One in every 10 people is left-handed, and males are one and a half times more likely to be left-handed then females, according to Lefthanders International.

Statistics , of course , can end up showing connections you never anticipated. French researches at the Montpelier University indicate that left-handed people are more likely to be schizophrenic, alcoholic, delinquent, dyslexic, and have Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as mental disabilities. As if that's not bad enough, they're also more likely to die young and get into accidents.

But this ability to "be different" has its own benefits. Particularly in sports . Babe Ruth in baseball, and of course John Mcenroe and Martina Navratilova in tennis. Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh in Cricket. Oscar de la Hoya in boxing. You name a one-on-one sport, and one can point out left handed sportsmen who were masters in their field.

Is being a lefty an advantage ? The aforementioned French researches think so. Since right handed folks are a majority, for a leftie , fighting with a rightie, would be a predictable thing. Easy. However, for right handed types, fighting suddenly with a left handed warrior would be a surprise factor, and would need some getting used to.

Turns out that murder rates in countries and the proportion of lefties in their population have a correlation. While one needn't look apprehensively at the next leftie one meets, consider the fact that amongst the Dioula of Burkina Faso in West Africa, where the murder rate was only 0.013 murders per 1,000 residents each year, they found only 3.4 percent of the population were left-handers. However, studies from the Eipo of Indonesia, show 27 percent of the population is left-handed, and surprise, surprise, there are three murders per 1,000 people each year.

This clearly explains , how despite Darwin, (and I do not know if he was a leftie), the lefties manage to survive through. Maybe they are fitter, maybe they just try very hard.

So why do people get born left handed ? Our handedness is controlled by certain pathways in the brain. According to Stanley Coren, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia , any kind of trauma during the gestation or even during birth, can mess up some of these pathways, and affect the handedness factor, as such. Turns out that women above the age of 40 having a baby, are 128 percent more likely to have a left handed baby than those who have babies in their twenties.

Sometimes these birth traumas reflect in the health problems that folks face when they are older, Bill Clinton and George(Sr) H.W. Bush both have histories of birth stress. Clinton suffers from allergies and Bush from Graves' disease (hyperthyroid). In the 1992 U.S. Presidential election, all three major candidates were left-handed. There have been six left-handed presidents: James Garfield, Harry S Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan, George Bush, Bill Clinton. Some sources also list Herbert Hoover, but he appears to have been more right than left.

Before the lefties get all depressed, we need to also mention that Alan Searleman from St Lawrence University, New York found there were more left-handed people with IQ over 140 than right-handed people. You really need to figure out the "handedness of Albert (Einstein), Issac(Newton) and Benjamin (Franklin). ALL lefties. Wow .

Actually, being a leftie is not to be restricted to the hands. Some people are complete lefties, hands, feet , eyes, everything. But most are a mixture like left handed and right footed. For example, when you throw the ball you may be just like the general tightie population, but while writing, you cannot sit on the same bench as a right handed person, without having a shove-shove altercation. Think of which eye you use to look through a keyhole . One eye is always stronger. If you closely watch your friend closely as he /she smiles , it will be clear that one side of the face is almost always more expressive . According to the University of Waterloo in Canada , only 57% of left-handers are also left-eyed !

Lefties sometimes referred to as “southpaws. Possibly originating in baseball, as , given a typical layout of a major league baseball field, a left-handed pitcher would end up facing south as he finished throwing the ball. Some experts say this is actually a term used in wrestling, and may have originated there.

Southpaws or not, and given the plethora of right handed instruments we use, it may be of interest to note that given the standard "qwerty" keyboard, the number of words in English that are typed solely with the left hand is in the neighborhood of 3400. Around 450 words are typed solely with the right hand.

And fancy research apart, there are some everyday things of note.

Left handers who get an interesting mug on their birthday, will never see the picture on the mug ,when they lift it too drink their tea.

A child I know went to hospital to have the appendix removed, and woke up to find an IV in his left arm. he was miserable as he couldn't do any of his drawings while recuperating. he was a leftie, and the doctor did not know that ....

If you see someone using a spiral bound notebook that is bound at the top, chances are he/she is a leftie.

A leftie who had ankle surgery, had some problem with the plate and screws used to align the bone, as the screw was bothering him. The doctor asked him to do "friction massage" using a circular motion. This guy did the massage in the wrong direction being a leftie and messed up stuff , so that the doctor was constrained to remove the hardware to the save the nerve from the wrong direction massage.

Something as simple as playing cards. If you fan the cards out naturally left-handed, the numbers disappear !

Lefties are very good at visualization of abstract geometric shapes which probably explains why so many creative people are lefties. Research conducted by Dr Nick Cherbuin from the Australian National University in 2006, indicates that left-handed people can think quicker when carrying out tasks such as playing computer games or playing sport. Connections between the left and right hand sides or hemispheres of the brain are faster in left-handed people, and fast transfer of information in the brain makes left-handers more efficient when dealing with multiple stimuli.

The aforementioned child mentioned in the beginning of this article , is predictably, in the creative field of architecture , as well as communication about sports.

The DNA , with its helical structure is like a right handed screw. However, several journals , in blatant inattention to scientific veracity and more attention to urgency of publication, actually end up printing a mirror image. Thomas Schneider , a researcher at the NIH, has actually tabulated these happenings , all in prestigious scientific journals, and even maintains a web page on it. In all these a random left handed orientation is given to the DNA spiral.

Probably goes on to show that the editors are predominantly right handed. using only one side of their brain. But on the other hand, this "creativity" in the DNA could be attributed to a leftie , maybe ? (Researchers , eat your heart out.)

While we learn to live with and wonder about the world of lefties, two persons called Coulson and Lovett from the University of California at San Diego, actually managed to do research on , believe it or not, "Handedness, hemispheric asymmetries, and joke comprehension! " (Exclamation mark, mine). They actually attached electrodes to 16 lefties and 16 righties, and did experiments, subjecting them to jokes . Among other things , they said "Differences may reflect more efficient inter-hemispheric communication in the left-handers, as they are reputed to have relatively larger corpus callosal areas than right-handers. Results support the portrait of more bilateral language representation among left-handers, and suggest language lateralization affects high-level language comprehension tasks such as joke comprehension."

Sure. But of course. That's right. (Or should I say, that's left ?)

It probably means lefties laugh more.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Inconvenient Burp

There is a game called word association. You suggest a word and someone else comes up with a scenario.

For example, "Fireworks" immediately suggests Divali, and "hybrid" immediately suggests the Toyota Prius (or any of the new intelligent cars) . Time was when the word "hybrid" probably elicited a response of "some special variety of rice" . Someone mouthing the word "environment" would have had an entire population of educated folks suggesting how to go about saving it.

In the good old days, if you mentioned the word "cow", the first thing that came to mind was probably milk, and then one probably imagined scenarios where Jersey and other cows meandered through green and sylvan woods and meadows, chewing a bit here , ruminating a bit there, licking their calf clean during a break in the proceedings , and just to lighten the situation, generating a wonderful "moo".

Today, in the days of "Inconvenient Truths", cows have suddenly become inconvenient.

Believe it or not, but the problem lies in the fact that cows burp . It's certainly not a new phenomenon, cows have been burping ever since they existed, irrespective of the part of the world they came from, and what they ate and drank.

The culprit is methane, a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming.

Apparently, one of the biggest source of methane is the burping of the cow. A single cow, is supposed to be burping, 280 litres of methane gas every day. In case this boggles the mind, this is the equivalent of 140 two litre bottles of any soft drink filled with methane gas, being generated every day.

Now, cow dung, as we all know, also contains methane, but it is possible to harness that and generate fuel to aid in running farmland and even small village setups . Capturing and storing the burping methane is a dicey proposition, almost next to impossible, and so every year , the United Cows of America generate 6 million metric tons of
methane that, freely escapes and is supposed to contribute towards global warming.....

Of course, world wide, there are , besides cows , several other animals like sheep, goats,camels and others that burp too. I am sure all the animals in the National Parks and Safari Parks also burp to their heart's content. Some one has actually estimated the worldwide methane generation from these poor , unsuspecting animals to be 80 million metric tons.

And why do we get so excited about this ? It is because the methane molecule is 21 times better at trapping heat than the carbon dioxide molecule.

So now that automakers have faced their share of pollution and global warming related inconvenient truths, researchers have narrowed in, on the poor cows.

Before we humans got into the act analysing the milk production, and fiddling around with levels of fat and other things, cows the world over, were basically used in farms for milk, and ploughing the fields, and even in various indigenous oil mills in third world countries. They were taken to graze daily by the farmer's young children, and they wandered about through pastures and hilly terrain, getting their natural exercise as well as eating choice varieties of greenery. Sometimes the venues varied, and so, things were kept interesting for the cows. Wonderful novels and poetry were written visualising cows coming home to rest at sundown, trudging back with the herd, kicking up the dust , as the farmer sat in the compound , resting after a hard day at work, waiting with the evening meals , for everyone , including the animals.

Then , we humans got greedy . (So what's new ? We shouldn't be surprised at all.) Ploughing was now done by tractors, oil mills were mechanised, milk and milk products were in great demand across the world, and scientists started to figure out what to medicate the cows with so that milk production would increase. The poor cows were fed with hormones and antibiotics and experiments were done to see what worked best. Milk production increased. Television started showing advertisements about how milk was so wonderful a drink. Various celebrities , who probably actually preferred the tippling variety of drinks, got paid to do advertisements showing milk mustaches.

Today, health problems in humans have been associated with estrogen like compounds that exist in our milk, thanks to all the stuff the cows were medicated with. There is a hue and cry about that , papers are published, fingers get pointed, and , of course ,no one really worries about the poor cows.

Now some German scientists have come up with a wonder pill to reduce the cows burps. Not a coincidence in a country where meat eating is the relished norm. Dr. Winfried Drochner, professor of animal nutrition, leads the "ground-breaking" project at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. The professor says "Our aim is to increase the well being of the cow, to reduce the greenhouse gases produced and to increase agricultural production all at once. It is an effective way of fighting global warming."

(How simply amazing ...I am speechless)

The idea is to introduce a fist-sized plant-based pill, known as a bolus, combined with a special diet and strict feeding times, and this would lead to reduction in the methane produced by cows, by trapping some of the energy from the methane, which is naturally produced in the fermentation process when a cow digests grass.

The professor would like to use the pill to boost the cow's metabolism. The cows could then use the methane to produce glucose , instead of wasting it as a burp. Supposedly, this would enhance the cows milk production. And, unlike humans, who take several pills everyday, the cow would be given this bolus pill, say once a month.

Now the mind really boggles.

Just imagine an entire herd of super energetic cows , all clean smelling, no burps. And all those people who eat beef with great relish, with get that extra dollop of glucose as well. Then someone from the National Institutes of Health will do research on why so many cows are showing signs of diabetes, supposedly a disease of rich people.

Some opportunistic multinational pharmaceuticals that make veterinary medicine will make a killing in the bovine diabetes market. Special types of cow insulin will enter the market.

Since glucose metabolism in the body is connected to how well the protein tryptophan is available to the brain to make the hormone serotonin, and very soon, we will then see examples of bipolar cows, depressed cows , and panicking cows, just to name a few. Harvard and UCLA will lead in designing special psychological treatments for the bovine variety, with University of California at Davis probably beating them to it, due to their superior agricultural qualification and understanding of cows.

All of a sudden, the cows that happily gambolled with their calves in meadows will indicate pains in their limbs. Earlier, if you poked them in their feet, you probably stood in line for the biggest kick on your face, with a lash from the tail thrown in. Now, the poor cow probably will not feel the poke in the first place, thanks to its Neuro-"pathetic" legs...

And this is just cows. Once this bolus thing is made applicable to all animals that pass methane as a burp, say, above a certain quantity per day, you will have an entirely new set of diseases that veterinary doctors can look forward too. I am not current on insurance for veterinary medical treatments, but things are certainly going to get complicated for the poor animals, with, insurance companies defining what treatment they can get.

What about all the humans who will consume the beef ? Ten years from now will some university do research on the rising levels of genetic defects in humans and cows ? Will Trader Joe's then come up with non bolus fillet-Mignon cuts ?

Now that our weather has started going haywire, and global warming appears to have something to do with it, why do we consistently ignore the rising number of automobiles on the road spewing forth their contribution to global warming ? Why are gas guzzling monstrosities not uniformly banned across the nation ? Is this sudden attention to cows and other bovine varieties a ploy to deflect attention from humans addicted to over consumption ?

We need to remember that unlike us, cows and other animals maintain their own balance vis-a-vis nature. They fertilise the same meadows they graze on. Unlike us humans , they live in harmony with other livestock, bravely facing up to Darwin's principles whenever natural selection demands. Cows have NOT polluted the environment with plastics and fluorocarbons. Whatever they produce is recyclable.

The topic of burping cows and methane has now also got school children thinking. Being driven to school in family size cars (not filled with family), tickled pink whenever they got to use the carpool lane , say 4 tims a month, thinking up topics for their lesson on environment, for a project in Chemistry, someone had a query about Boyle's law.

Boyle's law states that for an "ideal gas" , the product of its pressure and volume is always a constant.

Don't know if the methane in the cow's gut is ideal or not, but with the increase in pressure of methane in the body, with burps not allowed, according to Boyle, an exploding cow is now a reality......

(Time for more research on "A Statistical study on incidences of explosions (or is it implosions) of burping cows, (amongst those that were subject to the Bolus treatment between the ages of 1-6 years......) and their correlation with the automobile density in Los Angeles , Texas , Detroit and New York.")

Monday, July 09, 2007

100% wash their hands. Congratulations.

There is medical RESEARCH, and there is MEDICAL research.

Sometimes , it' s the earth shattering type that says, that your ability to smell or lack of it is closely connected with your ability to develop Alzheimers. Other times its the type that simply overwhelms you. Like it happened , when one read the latest from the June 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Forget cancer, aids, cholera, typhoid, whooping cough, AIDS, heart attacks, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and other diseases named after smart folks.

The latest research says that , "Most people want doctors to shake their hand and be greeted by first name when they first meet but the expectation is not always met".

This is THE path breaking, mind boggling conclusion arrived at by several doctors from Northwestern University, lead by a Dr Makoul, who , along with several colleagues, surveyed 415 adults in the U.S. between 2004 and 2005 to learn what patients expect and prefer, and then analyzed videotapes of 123 new patient visits to doctor's office to see what actually happens.

The study goes on to say that , 78.1 per cent wanted physicians to shake their hand, while 18.1 per cent did not; 50.4 per cent wanted to be greeted with their first name, 17.3 per cent preferred their last name and 23.6 per cent favoured the doctor using both first and last names; 56.4 per cent wanted physicians to introduce themselves using first and last names, 32.5 per cent expected physicians to use their last name, and 7.2 per cent would like physicians to use their first name only.

They reached these landmark conclusions, by actually videotaping doctors meeting patients and officially eavesdropping on what everyone said to each other.

Is medical research all about a statement of statistical facts ? Where technology allows me today to push thin hairlike wires across paths worse that Lombard Street in San Francisco, to burst and clear plaque jams in arteries, and one can actually trace a drug being delivered to a tumor and confirm that the pharma companies are not fibbing, what prompted someone to fund this research, the conclusions to which could have been reached by any doctor , having an open house for friends and patients , say, on Fourth of July ?

Sorry. Thats Blasphemy. HOW can a doctor , whose fees multiply in powers of 10 , as the clock ticks away in minutes, actually spend time for FREE , with , (gulp, gulp), patients ?

What happened to the "bedside manner" ? What doctors of yore learnt about communication with patients, was not by taking a communications course. You learnt by taking a "whole view" of the patient's problems. You needed to be informal with some patients, very formal with others. What did not change is the rigour with which the case was exhaustively looked at.

Otherwise, do we now look forward to scholarly papers presented on topics as varied as "Recommended Decor for Pediatric Consultants offices west of the Sierras", or "Statistical Correlation between Age of the Physicians Assistant and patient Cure outcomes in a University Environment"?

Can we expect art dealers to offer a rotating system of prints for the doctors waiting room, based on the latest research "Waiting room patient demeanour as a function of scenery depicted in the paintings displayed there " ? What do you think of a company called U. P. Serotonin, offering different pictures each month, and giving you a 13th month free if you sign a contract for 12 months?

Maybe GE will offer refrigerators free to those gynaecologists who agree to store a specific brand of fruit yogurt ("buy one get one free") in their waiting room, as a complimentary offering to ladies in their various trimesters, uncomfortably changing their positions every 10 minutes; all this after the latest path breaking research on "Effect of lactobacillus and fruit concoctions on maternal and foetal stress levels in the first, second and third trimesters ".....

And what do you think about the group of urologists who displayed prints of various sportsmen in action in their Group practice reception rooms AND examination rooms, after the latest research about " Manifestation and perception of pain in higher middle class, marginally alcoholic, urogenitally compromised patients in the sixth decade of their life, in the presence of visually stimulating sports visuals : a landmark study"..............

Hats off to the ENT (Ear,Nose and Throat) consulting surgeon who had a permanent MTV transmission of Shakira ("Hips dont lie" (they actually stand up and shake, silly girl..) ) playing in his waiting room.

Music heals. Well, so say the doctors who recently published a paper on "Statistical correlations between Musical songs (played by groups with Insect names in the 60's and 70's), the anatomy related wording and tympanoplasty outcomes in postmenopausal females, NOT on HRT".......

Asthma is rising in the US. But did you see the latest publication on "Differential Analysis on swimming as a Asthma Treatment, as a function of the type of swimming stroke "; or better still , Speedo and TYR have joined up as a social commitment , and are offering 20% off if you buy your swimsuits and stuff from the entrance lobby of a wellknown metroplitan hospital in Los Angeles?

Whatever happened to doctors who knew your family members.? Not just who and how many, but also who was delivered by him, how the child was doing well in school ; and how it was no problem if you brought your visiting parents on your next appointment , as you were a bit worried about your Dad's intermittent loss of memory .

Nothing came free then. Least of all the fees . But you never felt the doctor was "acting" , if you know what I mean.

But what came free in the days of yore was an honest interest in your wellness, a professional interest in your family , in the interests of knowing your genetic predispositions ,now that you were reaching middle age. You never felt you were wasting his time. You did not get overcome by a feeling of being an ignoramus in a world populated by smart white coated scholars, who passed opinions without explaining things. And the decor in the office was what the receptionist, a 40 year old lady , liked to have around : a jar of gummy bears, some popular magazines, some games and toys for children, some nice scenic prints on the wall displaying the natural wonders of America, a hat and coat rack, some paper and pens/pencils for children to scribble and draw on (while waiting for their mothers maybe); and the doctor came to the door to wish you and see you off, congratulating you on your latest golf score, before he welcomed in another patient with a smile.

What we need to know is that no one taught the doctor this. He did no research on how to deal with patients; his entire learning and research was on how to TREAT the patient's sickness.

He was trained rigourously for the latter, where as the former came with years anf years of honest dedication to the wellness of those around him. If he felt that an expert opinion would help, he recommended you to another expert, and then got in touch with him himself. This was not done as a routine act to the mutual commercial benefit of all the doctors involved, and besides, every decision was taken after painstaking evaluation over a decent length of time.

Todays medical professionals, spend little time on a given case, reach conclusions in a half hour visit, and prescribe medication that brings a smile on the face of a pharma representative.

What would be very useful, is that graduating doctors should spend a year of their residency in a small medical set up, in a community away from the big cities. This would be priceless in teaching the new doctors , a way of relating to patients, that does not treat the patients, just as "laboratory values".

In the meanwhile, if you are one of the 78.1 per cent (that wanted physicians to shake their hand), and one of the 23.6 per cent (who favoured the doctor using both your first and last names), or, one of the 100% that wanted to get well, irrespective of the style of the doctor, lets just hope, that in all this greeting and hand shaking, ALL folks have remembered to thoroughly WASH their hands.......

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Clinton , Obama, and Shekhawat(2)

Electronic Voting Machine and the election officers being transported on an elephant?!!!..( A desert border so remote that polling booths arrive by camel/elephant caravan. One jungle district so inaccessible that only three voters are registered....... )

One returns from a short visit to the US, with news about Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama coming out of one's ears. Will she be nominated, wont she be nominated ? Is America ready for a Woman President ? Why does this question need to be asked ? Is it time for the US to set an example and nominate Obama , who has so many interesting qualifications, but is noticed, clearly, predominantly for his non-whiteness?

Politics is strange.

The reasons that people do not like Hilary Clinton, are probably the same reasons that are ignored in, say, Cheney; an ability to partcipate in business deals, and an even better ability to emerge from them, battering others , self unscathed.

In any other country, a woman lawyer, who has actually seriously worked as one, been on the right side of the White House fence for several years, travelled around a world that doesnt constantly contain Europe, been elected a Senator from New York, produced a book about her observations about travels across continents. also understands things like microfinance, and finally, an additional qualification , been and continues to be , a mother - she would be considered a great candidate to run for the highest office.

Politics is even stranger in other countries .

India, no novice at having strong women heads of state, real and /or virtual, is in the throes of decsion making, about nominating and getting the electoral college to elect its next President, Pratibha Patil Shekhawat, a woman. To confuse matters further, her main opponent is also named Shekhawat.

Actually, her being a woman is not an issue at all.

Pratibha Patil Shekhawat (she is married to a Mr Shekhawat), also studied to be a lawyer. It is not known if she ever practised s one. Active in the sort of typical rural politics practised in India, that majorly has to do with starting co-operative sugar factories and banks, with government subsidies and blessings, she was a minsiter in the state government, years ago. In the tradition of those who swear blind allegiance to the first family of politics, she was appointed Governer of a northern state, ruled by the opposition. Recently nominated by the ruling party as their candidate for President, her being a woman is a non-issue.

The rank and file of the party is busy applauding her choice since the choice is basically dictated by another woman, who no one dares contradict. (Vive la femme ?)

The fun part , is that her main opponent is also a Shekhawat; except he is currently the vice-president, he is 84, supremely marinated in politics as practised on the subcontinent. He has been chief minister of the state where his opponent recently resigned as Governor.

The incumbent President, who will not get another chance , thanks to his habit of being an independent thinker, is probably the popular choice of the common man. (The common man doesnt vote for President. The electoral college, consisting of folks voted in by John Public , votes for the President). A scientist, a scholar, a man with a deep appreciation of things, both nuclear, horticultural, and in between ; a man who excelled at communication with the younger generation, replied himself to emails from school children, and was well versed in the scriptures of the major religions that are important to India, and a man who was not afraid to ask questions , was probably what we needed .

What a contrast.

The US clobbers its citizenry with an information-overload regarding the possible presidential candiddates. Candidates visit the biggest industries, address the employees, answer questions. There are debates; the debates are analyzed; people get secretly depressed over a drop of so many percentage points in public approval. At the end of the day, if Hilary loses, it will be because she is a woman. If Obama loses it will be because he is partially nonwhite.

In India, the information is all secret. There are no debates, no analyses. There are only newspaper exposures and reports, presumably prompted by interested parties releasing what they consider bombshell new items. An ability to start an engineering college and treat it as a business opportunity for great profit makes you an education czar. An ability to extract government approval for starting a cooperative bank, grant loans (preferably to your relatives posing as you) and then write them off, is standard qualification today for aspiring to a political post. When all else fails (or doesnt have that much impact), the regional aspect is emphasized. An entire state is supposed to shake itself out of the monsoon stupor and be thrilled to bits about its "daughter" being nominated to the highest post in the land.

But look at the similarities.

Just like every American President has had a brother involved in things he shouldnt be involved in, the current leading Indian contender has a brother who is being sued by someone for murder.

Just like some US Presidents have invoked their special communication chanel to God, in an effort to justify their destructive actions somewhere in the world, we in India, hear about :

(1) a candidate's planets aligning themselves just so, starting a certain date, so that she has no option but to win the selection trials, so to speak; so speaks the family's loyal astrolger, and,

(2) A hitherto dead sage speaking to the presidential candidate through another living sage's body, and the possible future president lady commentating favourably and respectfully on it.

May be what we need is presidential debates here. Not shouting matches, as is the custom developed in Parliament, with microphones and furniture being flung around and others ducking the missiles, with a proficeincy which would amaze the best cricketers facing a bouncer. But some kind of impartial media person, highly trusted and respected by the citizenry , conducting an illuminating debate on issues.

And maybe we can make the US elections more fun, by exporting astrolgers, wise men, sages, flingable furniture, and before we forget, voting machines.

We in India, have successfully used them in several elections now, with a watch dog election commission monitoring its use, and if required, ordering revoting. (And whats more, doing that).

Is Florida listening ? (Or is that the next thing to be outsourced .....:-) ?