Occupy Babel

occupy babel

daya dissanayake

It is time to occupy Babel, under one language. That is probably the only way to save mankind from self-annihilation and of destroying Mother earth. If 'barbar' originally meant a person who speaks in a tongue we do not understand, then we are all barbarians to each other.

When the descendants of Noah settled in a plain in the land of Sennar, they decided to build a city and a tower, "the top whereof may reach to heaven", the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." This had been discussed for ages, as to why God did not want the people be united under one language and settle down in one city. God felt threatened.

Looking back after tracing man's history over the past several thousand years, perhaps we can now understand why an omniscient deity would feel threatened. The threat was not to God, but to all life on earth. If man could do so much harm against the environment and all natural resources and all life on earth, in spite of having to use 7000 different languages to communicate, and having scattered all over the earth, what would have been the extent of the destruction if he had remained all together, all united, and communicating with the entire human race in one language?

Man was not trying to reach heaven, but trying to create a heaven on earth for himself, with no regard to all the life around him. Every time man thought he was taking one step forward it was really two steps backwards for the human race.

God's intention of scattering them around the world was to conserve the natural resources, to ensure that they were not over exploited, because cities and mega cities has caused most of the destruction. It was also to ensure that man did not use his hands to undue advantage to subdue all other life on earth, and that he did not become more powerful than his own creator.

Since man is believed to be the most intelligent animal on earth, he should have realized by now that he is responsible for all the destruction around us. He also should be able to realize that the violence of man against man, and all life is because man has failed to understand the thinking and the feelings of the others, due to the failure to communicate.

Since we also believe that we are the only animals on earth who can use speech, who can use language for communication, we should be able to use such communication skills to develop better relations with all human beings on earth. If man is so intelligent, ingenious and can reach out to the stars, why is it that he has failed to develop a universal language? We should be able to use our tongue, instead of our hands, to settle any dispute that may arise among us.

It is not because man had not tried. A few men would have realized that language had become a barrier instead of bringing all mankind together, and they would have tried to develop a world language, which could be used and understood by all. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (1859 - 1917), a doctor and a linguist, developed what is considered the most successful constructed language in recent history. His aim was to occupy the Tower of Babel, by creating an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language. Esperanto is a language accepted by many people around the world, and it is now occupying cyberspace too, as it has been added to Google Translate, since last year.

"The English language used by nearly 400 million people has over 600,000 non-technical words. Yet most Americans use only around 800 to 1,000 words in everyday conversation. A typical American college graduate knows only 20,000 - 30,000 by the time he or she graduates, which is less than 2 percent of all English words". (reported by Dr. Dennis O'Neil, Palomar College. http://anthro.palomar.edu/language/language_1.htm).

This data makes it encouraging for all the people around the world, engaged in developing a common language or a translation system, to reverse the curse placed on mankind when erecting the Tower of Babel.

There have been moves to bring in 'Lingua Anglia' instead of a 'Lingua Franca', but there would always be resistance from people using other languages. Even if we are to adapt English as a common language, it would still be difficult to get universal agreement for the use. Another obstacle would be the English used in different countries with their own varieties of English with their own cultural influence and accents.

It is believed that communication is efficient only when what is communicated by one person is clearly understood by the other. This would not be possible today with any of the world languages, and often a misunderstood word or phrase could lead to major conflicts, even leading to death and destruction. May be Esperanto did not become the universal language, because it was based on Indo-European languages used in Europe, which could have affected its credibility as a politically independent language.

Once we occupy Babel, we should be able to share all the knowledge on earth, and all the literature on earth, with everyone, everywhere, without any barriers of language between us. On occupation, we should also be able to control and contain all the unwanted noise which leads to confusion in communication.

However, we should be able to occupy Babel soon, with the aid of all the digital technology available, so that we could communicate with people from anywhere on earth, speaking any of the 7000 languages, with the aid of simultaneous automatic translations.

Aug. 20, 2013, 10:07 a.m. » Tagged: language barrier , Universal Language

A Writer by Any Other Name

A writer by any other name

daya dissanayake

A manuscript submitted by a new and unknown author was rejected by a publisher because "it failed to stand out from all the other manuscripts sent by hopeful authors". The author was an ex-soldier, working for a private security agency. Later it was accepted by another publisher. The book had sold only 500 copies in three months. The novel was 'The Cuckoo's Calling' by Robert Galbraith.

Then newspapers started investigating who really had written this novel. How could a man describe women's clothes, appearance of the characters, and how could a debut writer show skills in creating such a gripping novel? They uncovered the real author, by the name of J. K. Rowling, and then the sales shot up overnight. The Telegraph reports that on Amazon.UK the book "rose from 5076th place to the top of the sales chart".

It was long after 'Harry Potter' was first published in 1997, that readers discovered J. K. Rowling was Joanne Rowling (without the K), but now with an OBE. Her seven Harry Potter books had sold over 400 million copies.

Like 'Joanne' becoming 'J. K.', She may have wanted to appear as a man, or this could have been a prank by the imaginative creator of Harry Potter. May be she wanted to test the water again, as a new writer, because of her experience of been rejected by 12 publishers with her first book. Or it could have been a sales gimmick by the author and/or publisher to get more publicity, for the new novel, because Rowling's first adult fiction, 'The Casual Vacancy' did not achieve sales figures of the previous books.

Ever since the modern novel has been commodified, the authors and publishers claimed a right to promote their books and push up their sales using all promotional tactics used by sellers of other consumer goods. Rowling is also not the first woman writer to adapt a name to sound like a man, because of the belief that boys rejected books by female authors.

Rowling was not the first to try to fool her publisher and readers. Dorris Lessing writing under the name Jane Somers was rejected by her publisher Jonathan Cape, in 1984, because it was not submitted to her regular editor. When 'The Diary of a Good Neighbour' was published by Knopf (in USA) and Michael Joseph (UK), sales were very low, which proved Lessing's point that publishers and critics were influenced by the name attached to the book. Lessing claims she wanted "to settle a score with reviewers who hated her five Canopus novels". The sales picked up when later Lessing published it under her own name as 'The Diaries of Jane Somers'.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens is hardly heard of, even one hundred years after his death, because he always used, and has always been known as Mark Twain. Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault, used to write as Anatole France. Cecil Louis Traughton Smith was the man behind C. S. Forester. Eric Arthur Blair wrote 'Animal Farm' and '1984' as George Orwell. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' under the name Lewis Caroll. Mary Ann Evans wrote 'Silas Marner' as George Eliot. The list is long.

Prof. D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke, a world authority on Joseph Conrad wrote in the introduction to the 'Heart of Darkness' that Jozef Teodor Korad Korzeniowski adapted the pen name Joseph Conrad when he published his first book 'Almayer's Folly' in 1895.

According to the 'The Atlantic' Theodor Geisel wrote under his middle name, when he was fired from the post of editor-in-chief from the magazine 'Jack-O-Lantern', and added 'Dr.' as a joke because his father had wanted him to be a doctor.

Some writers use more than one name, like Stephen King using the name Richard Bachmann, "to publish more frequently than a single name would allow. Then later King killed Bachmann, like he would remove a character from his novels. The Bronte sisters used pen names. Charlotte was Currer , Emily was Ellis and Anne was Acton all with the family name Bell.

When Ricardo Neftali Reyes Basoalto won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 he received it as Pablo Neruda, because by then he had adapted his pen name as his legal name. Benjamin Franklin used more than one pen name, Silence Dogood, Anthony Afterwit, Poly Baker and Alice. Addertongue.

The early writings did not reveal the name of an author because they came down orally and even the epics may have been the work of several authors. Even though Enheduanna (2285 BC to 2250 BC) is considered as the earliest author on record, the book 'Inanna' could have been a poem which had come down orally. The same could be said about Sinuhe (20th century BC), who has been called the Egyptian Shakespeare.

Rowlings is probably following the tradition set since around the 17th century when female authors used male names to hide their gender. During her lifetime very few people outside her family and publishers would have known that George Eliot was really Mary Ann Evans. Sometimes a male would hide behind a female name. A few years ago, when a publisher found a demand for a new female thriller writer, Tania Carver began writing. She was awarded the 2010 Theakstone Crime Novel award, and it was Martyn Waites who walked up to accept the award, because Waites was also Carver.

In our country during the mid-twentieth century writers changed their names to 'Hela', like Ariyasena Ashubudha to Arisen Ahubudu, while Coperahewa changed his first name from Chandradasa to Sandadas.

Not everyone is fooled by pseudonyms. "Ah, my dear Madam, ah, "Mr." Serge Solntsev, how easy it is to guess that the author's name is a pseudonym, that the author is not a man! Every sentence of yours buttons to the left." so said Vladimir Nabokov.

Aug. 15, 2013, 11:13 p.m. » Tagged: Cuckoo's Calling , pen names , Rawling

nonviolence into art

non-violence into art

daya dissanayake

"Any beings who are not devoid of passion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of passion, focus with even more passion on things inspiring passion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of delusion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of delusion, focus with even more delusion on things inspiring delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. " (S.N. Talaputa Sutra, Thanissaro Bhikku translation)

Thus Buddha answered Talaputa, the head of an acting troupe.

In simpler language it means an actor will increase the defilements in those already defiled. In the same manner, it could also defile the young and the innocent. In the time of the Buddha, the role of the actor was very limited. It was during festivals, sometimes once a year, and not everyone had an opportunity to see them. The effect the actors had on the society could have been very limited.

As stage drama developed and became more popular, there was greater opportunity for people to see them. Today the actors are on the digital screen on television, computer and telephone, thus readily available for anyone, anywhere, for the elderly, the youth and even children. Talaputa was worried about his fate after death, with a fear of ending up in hell. Today more than the actors, it is the audience who would end up in hell, while some actors and producers enjoy heaven on earth with the ill-gotten gains. This applies not only to actors, but to writers too. Some of the creative artists today are more concerned about benefits they could gain in their present life.

Many writers and actors play on man's inherent weaknesses, of greed, envy and lust, and the desire for violence. There are still those who love humour and when they make us laugh we can forget our worries, frustrations and reduce our anger. Unfortunately we like to laugh at others discomfort, their pain or their misfortune. Yet there is hardly any demand for comedy today, because the greater demand is for violence, because we can even laugh at violence. We love to watch the bad people getting killed, and even to see the hero getting beaten up or tortured.

Even the greatest of all, William Shakespeare used violence, greed and lust to entertain his audience, as did the other greats in the past, Sophocles, Euripides and Valmiki.

The Ramayana was made into a play Ramlila, by Megha Bhagat, a disciple of Tulsidas, based on the Ramacharithamanas. It really got the entire community involved in the Ramayana since the 16th century. People all over North India are reminded of the Ramayana every year, with the enactment of Ramlila, which keeps the violence in the minds of the actors and the audience alive. The crowds love to attack the effigy of Ravana and then to set fire to it. When men, women and children watch the murder and then the burning of Ravana, it only reminds us that man is the only animal on earth who displays violent behavior. It is his so-called intelligence and creative powers which enable them to device such forms of cruelty.

This play was based on the Ramayana by Valmiki. An epic which describes how a Shudra person is beheaded by Rama for reciting the Veda, how the nose and ears of a beautiful maiden were cut off for expressing her love, how thousands of human beings were killed to satisfy the honour of one man. Most of us who read the Ramayana, watch it on the stage or on the screen, do not think for a moment about what made Ravana kidnap Sita. Even according to Valmiki, there was a good opportunity to avoid this unnecessary war, if Sita had accepted Hanuman's offer to carry her to India on his back. But Valmiki had to maintain the ideal wife concept and make Sita refuse to touch another man, not even to save her life, unless she too wanted Rama to wage war and destroy the Yaksha race.

Violence has often been directed against women. Rama wants Sita to prove her purity by jumping into the fire, though he knew very well that Sita did not elope with Ravana willingly, and she was banished again, when she was expecting Rama's own children.

Violence is what we find in most of the literary works and in historical chronicles, even in some religious stories. Sometimes men kill each other even because of their religious beliefs, and such men are glorified in epics, legends, paintings and films.

When writers and producers took to providing cheap entertainment to their readers and their audience, to cater to their sexual desires, producing erotica, the next inevitable step was sexual violence. Reading about sexual deviations, sadomasochism and watching them on screen creates temptation which could be one of the reasons for the increase in such forms of violence in our society today. The mass media who report such incidents in graphic detail could also be contributing to such an increase in sexual violence. Violent computer games played by children could make them immune to violence. All this has increased the threshold of tolerance for violence and would continue to increase if we do not control ourselves.

When we talk of our social responsibilities, it is time to think of our responsibilities as artists and writers towards the society, to get our children back into a life of peace and harmony, away from violence and hatred.

July 26, 2013, 12:48 a.m. » Tagged: nonviolence

Art of health

The Art of Health

daya dissanayake

"The practice of clinical medicine with its daily judgements is both science and art....the art is not merely part of the 'medical humanities' but is integral to medicine as an applied science". Dr. John Saunders, Consultant Physician at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny (published in the Medical Humanities, British Medical Journal).

The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, organizes 'The Examined Life Conference on Writing, Humanities and the Art of Medicine.' "The program seeks to encourage healthcare professionals, medical educators, patients and their family members to define methods for incorporating writing and humanities into medical education, patient care, and/or professional development schemes."

Dr. Serena J. Fox, New York University School of Medicine, is also a poet. She uses her poetry collection 'Night Shift' in a Humanities program to explore aspects of poetry unique to writers from the scientific and medical communities, because "poems inspire empathy and they are essential to the teaching of medicine and care-giving." She organizes a workshop 'Medicine and Poetry; Read One, Write One, Teach One'. Her book 'Night Shift' spans fifteen years of encounters in urban emergency rooms and intensive care units.

George Estreich's 'The Shape of the Eye' is a prose memoir of his daughter's heart surgery and recovery. Writing as a healing modality is used now with patients traumatized by the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Our great playwright, writer and actor, Henry Jayasena wrote about his experience with cancer in his 'Bala Gilano', published both in Sinhala and English.

Then there is the 'Blogosphere', because a "Blog as a literary form encompasses the gamut of emotions, from pathos to anger, from humour to trivia....Physicians blog for myriad reasons: as therapy, as art, as critique of the medical-industrial complex".

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." is the definition of Health, by the World Health Organization. There is a proposal that the term 'Spiritual' should also be added, because there is evidence that a person's physical well-being is linked to his emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and that the expressive arts can play a decisive role in promoting overall health.

That is what is promoted by the 'Weems Memorial Arts in Medicine' program by the University of Florida 'Arts into Medicine' at Shands Hospital. They have "hands-on arts projects for children and adults, colourful paintings and sculptures and diverse arts performances to assist in the healing process." 12 years ago in Brooklyn the organizers of a Parkinson's support group persuaded a professional dance troupe to give dance instructions to people with the disease. That is how Dance for PD (Parkinson's Disease) had spread.

The Arts Council of England had supported the development of a Charter for arts health and wellbeing, and in 2010 a national Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing was formed. They had realized the key role arts could play in healthcare. Community Cultural Development in Australia is a partnership between arts and health and wellbeing.

All this was known in the east for at least 5000 years. Chinese medicine sprang from a broad metaphysical base, as a part of their culture, and not as an isolated science. It is a comprehensive system of treatment, to alleviate ailments, balance mind and body, alter emotional states, augment restorative power, strengthen immunity.

The same could be said about Indian Healing systems. For they were true Healers, who treated a persons body and mind as one entity, not just scientists treating a particular isolated ailment in a part of the body.

When the physician holds the patients hand to check his pulse beat, he becomes one with the patient, both in body and mind. It is not only the pulse beat, but the texture and the warmth of the skin, the look in the patient's eyes, his breath, that would tell the physician a lot about his mental and physical condition. Then the physician would treat the patient as an individual, and he would never just treat the illness in isolation. That is why our indigenous medical system is an Art. Here medicine would only be about 25% of the cure. The rest would be the confidence the patient has in the treatment and the physician, the concern and good intentions of the physician and the strength of the patients own system. We find the Art of our medicine in our homes, as a mother would offer the medicine with both hands to her child and stroke his head as he drank it, wishing the medicine would heal him.

A well learned physician could diagnose almost any ailment, without resorting to the modern day investigation methods. But his diagnosis was always be accurate, because it was personal first hand investigation. There is no possibility of any human errors by a lab technician, or a software bug in the instrument, or the wrong sample being tested, the wrong report being sent to the patient. Diagnosis was never outsourced, probably nothing in our healthcare system was outsourced.

Gathering the herbs for the medicine, was an art, because the physician had to be a part of his environment, to identify the correct herb, growing in the correct place, and so is the preparation. He did not have to worry about sterile surroundings, purity of the ingredients, because his place would be always clean and hygienic. There would be no pollutants, and contamination. The indigenous physician did not have to worry about the quality, efficacy, and safety, because they had all been tested for over several thousand years. he did not have to worry about shelf life or the assay, because he would prepare the medicine for immediate use. He did not have to use innocent animals to test the safety of his medicine.

It is time we brought back the Art of healing into the modern healthcare system, incorporating the sensitive, humane, enlightened approach practiced by the ancient physicians.

July 23, 2013, 5:23 a.m. » Tagged: Art , health

legendary suicides

Legendary Suicides

daya dissanayake

"In the 15 (Shakespeare) plays classified as tragedies, there are 13 definite and 8 possible suicides, i.e, a total of 21 incidents for evaluation. Among the 13 overt suicides, at least 7 are depicted as being admirable under the circumstances at the time. Also, in various ways, 4 of these 13 were assisted, and at least 3 others contain an imitative element. Overall, the action of taking one's life is presented in a neutral or even favorable light, and the audience is left with a mingling of pity and admiration for the victim, not reproach." L. R. Kirkland, Department of Medicine, Emory University.

Almost always writers make suicides live for ever, like Romeo and Juliet. Rama and Sita too had committed suicide, according to some versions of Ramayama, but the Indian poets did not make them heroic acts.

If suicide is immoral, how is it that people consider Gertrude's monologue about Ophelia's drowning as one of the most beautiful descriptions of death in Shakespeare? What right had Shakespeare to show the cowardly act of suicide in such glory, by putting such immoral words into the mouths of his heroes and heroins. "what's brave, what's noble....and make death proud to take us" - Cleopatra. "A Roman, by a Roman valiantly vanquished" - Antony. "It is more worthy to leap in ourselves than tarry that they push us" - Brutus.

Anna Karenina, regrets her action, just before her death, but that message is not strong enough and what remains in the reader's mind is that she has escaped from her misery.

Human beings are probably the only animals on earth who engage in intentional self-destructive bahaviour, just as they are the only animals who display violence. There are of course recent reports of self-destructive attempts by animals, but such incidents had always been caused by man himself, by caging poor innocent animals in zoos and homes, or by depriving them of their traditional habitat.

There are many new terms regarding suicides, since it has become a new subject called Suicidology. One such term is 'indirect suicidal behaviour', and as examples they give smoking, and use of drugs and alcohol. We can now add use of agrochemicals and genetically modified food. But in reality all human beings have been showing indirect suicidal behaviour, suffering from Suicide Syndrome, because they are over-exploiting all natural resources, poisoning the environment and slowly destroying not only themselves, but all life on earth.

Fortunately writers have not harped on murder-suicides, where a person murders someone and kills himself. We have so many names, spousal murder-suicides, filicides (killing children and then killing oneself), familicide-suicide. There are mass suicides by religious fanatics.

Then there is rational suicide, if any suicide could be considered a rational decision. The only rational decisions could be the cases mentioned in the Buddhist literature, about Godhika, Vakkali and Channa, who had given up all attachments and they were not clinging to life.

There was forced suicide in ancient Greece. The elite were given the option of committing suicide instead being put to death. Aristotle drank the slow acting hemlock, and dictated his last dialogue as he was dying. Seneca's death was the most tragic. He had decided to cut his wrists instead of taking poison, but he bled so slowly, he asked for poison, which too did not kill him. He sank into a hot bath, to increase the bleeding,

There were others who preferred to die, in fear of been captured. Among them Hannibal Barca, who had brought mighty Rome to her knees, took poison. Cato the Younger who fought against Julius Caesar, tried to kill himself with his sword and died tearing at his wound. Marcus Junius Brutus who fought against Octavian and Marc Antony, fell upon his sword.

In our own country, according to historical narrative Culavamsa, Kasyapa was the first to die by his own hand, when he saw his imminent defeat at the hands of his step brother, "..the king with his dagger cut his throat, raised the knife on high and stuck it in the sheath", according to the Geiger translation. But L. C. Wijesinha has translated it as, "The king having cut off his head with his knife, threw it into the air, and put the knife back into its sheath". Next was Upatissa's son Kassapa, who was fighting Silakala, "...cut his throat, wiped the blood from his dagger and stuck it in the sheath." Then it was the turn of Dathapabhuti, who usurped the throne, cut off his head when facing defeat from Mogallana.

Jetthatissa "quickly drew his dagger out of that (betel-nut bag) and cut his throat. Then leaning upon his elephant, he stuck the knife back in his sheath". Then the 'high dignitary who carried the message of death to the queen, "cut his throat, stuck the knife in the sheath and spake; 'Thus died His Majesty'". Mahinda, brother of Sena I, "cut off his head even as he sat upon his elephant. When his men saw that, many of them likewise cut their throats.."

Prof. Gananath Obeysekara says that the manner of Kassapa's death produced a model for later kings to follow. Before that ideal death was through face-to-face fight unto death. May be the near impossible feat said to have been performed by Kasyapa was later included in describing the suicides of the later kings, to make them heroic deeds.

If suicide is not legal in any country, if it is not endorsed or encouraged in any of the original world religions, why is it allowed in literature and fiction? Literature also describes murder and other crimes, but such crimes are not shown as admirable or heroic deeds, or those committing them as heroes. It is only in suicides, which too are criminal acts, we find such glorification. This could be the reason that the suicide rate is going up, everywhere on earth.

July 18, 2013, 12:18 a.m. » Tagged: suicides

Art of Science

Art of Science

daya dissanayake

On March 13th, in Artscope I wrote about the Science of Art, which I ended with the mention of the Art of Science.

The 73 year old Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi, creates traditional Japanese art using Microsoft Excel. He had never used Excel for his office work till his retirement. He claims to be using the AutoShape feature to draw complicated shapes which he then colours in traditional Japanese style. Yet he is not the first Excel artist. Before Excel came in to use, there could have been even others who used the Lotus spreadsheet in the 90s, but Danielle Aubert is credited with creating 'pixelated works of art' using Excel. She would create a worksheet, set up grids, and try cell background colours, fill pattern, border styles to create her paintings.

William Besselink turns data into 3-D displays. He had tracked his sleep patterns into light boxes, showed each visitor to a museum as brightly hued Helium balloons, and had programmed an Aluminium sphere to expand and contract to represent a person's respiration as he recited a poem.

The Singing Ringing Tree is a musical sculpture standing in the wind on a hill. It is a tall structure visible from a distance, made up of stacked pipes of different lengths. As the wind passes through different length pipes, it plays different chords. This 'Tree' is designed by Tonkin Liu and is in Burnley, UK.

All this is hi-tech art, created by tech-savvi artists. Commercial art is been gradually taken over completely by science and technology. It has robbed the livelihood of many an artist in our part of the world. Even for a small tea boutique they would not get the village artist to pain a name board. It would be a digital print. It was the same with billboards and banners, and to a large extent book covers.

It is not just the paintings, but music too has been taken over by digital technology, so much so that we have artistes just mouthing words on the stage while their songs, recorded in most advanced sound studios using the latest digital equipment is played back to the audience. Digital sound technology is used to 'enhance' the natural voice of singers and orators. Just like the way artists paint in oils or water colours and then use digital techniques to 'enhance' the artwork.

Princeton University has been conducting the Art of Science exhibition since 2005, exploring the interplay between science and art. The 2013 competition drew 170 submissions from 24 departments. The exhibit includes work by undergraduates, faculty, staff, graduate students, and alumni. The exhibits were not art for art's sake. They had been produced during the course of scientific research and were chosen for their aesthetic excellence as well as scientific or technical interest. California Institute of technology, (Caltech) also holds an annual Art of Science exhibition.

The picture shown here is of roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) on an agar plate covered with Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, seen through a microscope, and photographed by Meredith Wright using the camera on her mobile phone.

Victoria Museum in Australia held an exhibition of scientific illustrations, titled Art of Science a few weeks ago. It is a collection of exacting scientific observations and illustrations, over a period of 300 years. "Whether they fly, swim, crawl, wiggle or walk, we are endlessly fascinated and inspired by the creatures of our world....As exploration and science have expanded our horizons across time and space, the ability to capture and communicate the truths held in nature have become increasingly important. Scientific artwork is as important and astonishing today as it was in the 18th century." said their website.

Music of Science is a sad story. The film score for the 1956 sci-fi film 'Forbidden Planet' was created by Louis and bebe Barron, but the American Federation of Musicians prevented them from getting the credits and their names were left off the film's Oscar nomination. It was all because they were not professional musicians. Louis Barron had built electronic circuits in their home, which could be manipulated to generate sounds. His wife Bebe sorted through the tapes of such electronically created music to bring out the music they wanted, and for the film. It was long before the days of the synthesizers and samplers.

F. L. Griffin, in his 'Introduction to Mathematical Analysis' had written, "Abstract mathematics is a work of invention - a free creation of the human spirit, as truely a work of art as the Moonlight Sonata or the Sistine Madonna, but on a much vaster scale than the entire library of great symphonies..."

David M. Hills, Derrick Zwickl and Robin Gutell of the University of Texas has drawn a Tree of Life, based on rRNA (Ribosomal Ribonucleic Acid) sequences of 3,000 species of bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, animals and plants.

Science is into poetry. David R. Maddison, Zoologist from Oregon State University has written a poem 'The Tree of Life' of evolution across three billion years.

We are talking about Science of Arts or Art of Science all because of our need to have labels, to have everything identified and placed in separate pigeon holes, just like we try to categorize, all arts and sciences in various categories and sub categories, and human beings into different races and nations. We are defying nature, which has her own categorizations, which we have tried to ignore or have failed to understand and is causing all the confusion today.

One great man, who understood the problem made this comment. “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” - Albert Einstein

June 28, 2013, 1:06 a.m. » Tagged: Art , science

Pharmaceuticals, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I wish to thank the States Pharmaceutical Corporation management for giving me this opportunity to voice my thoughts on the pharmaceutical industry in Sri Lanka. May i dedicate my presentation to one of our great Lankaputhra, a true human being who tried to bring back humaneness to humanity in the best way he knew. Dr. Senaka Bibile.

In the latter half of the 20th century the World Health Organization launched a very ambitious project, HFA-2000, Health For All by 2000. Despite all obstacles, had the WHO been able to achieve it, we would not be here today, because there would not have been any need for drugs. It could also happen if someday we can all accept the Zero Option and say No to Drugs.

Some of you would be familiar with the old Persian saying, "forego wealth for health, health for knowledge and distribute knowledge for true faith". If we have true faith in whatever we believe in, if we have the knowledge, then health and wealth will anyway be with us, without any special effort towards achieving them.

Medicine around the world goes back to pre-historic times. The oldest evidence is available from the study of the 5300 year old 'Iceman' found in the Italian Alps in 1991. He had in his pouch a lump of bracket fungus, Piptoporus betulinus, a mushroom which contained an acid which was laxative, and a resin that was toxic to bacteria and intestinal parasites. This showed that either the man himself could diagnose his illness, and knew how to treat it, or there was a medicine man or woman in his village who had prescribed the treatment.

Healthcare in our country too goes back many thousand years to the time of Ravana who was a great physician and had written several books on healthcare. This is not the Ravana created by Valmiki.

Dr. John Atygalle, Colonial Surgeon, in his Sinhalese Materia Medica written in 1917, comments on the medical miracles described in the 13th century chronicle, Culavamsa, about a cephalotomy by King Buddhadasa, for the removal of a hydatid tumour from a man's brain.He had also straightened out the back of a bhikkhu, who had been bent in half. He had once opened up a belly of a naga, with a knife he carried in his belt, removed an affected part, and treated with some herbs. Though it is normally accepted that the naga meant a snake, probably he was a man of the Naga tribe. The Pujawaliya, written in 1266, by a physician-monk, mentions an epidemic 'Rakthakshi Maraka Jwara Rogaya'. King Siri Sanghabodi had performed Satyakriya and was able to drive away the yaksha who caused it. Prof. Kumaradasa Jayasuriya had considered this could have been leptospirosis. Whatever it was, we had faced a serious epidemic and had been able to eradicate it.

In our literature we find many references to healthcare which display the awareness among the people of common treatment methods. Sadharmaratmavaliya mentions Avasta piliyam first aid. Treatment was known for hemorrohoids, filaria and leprosy. There were references to contraceptive drugs Vanda behet, and fertility drugs. Family planning would have been in practice.

The importance of taking good care of one's health is seen well in the precautions taken like gaba pirimesima or gaba raksanaya, during pregnancy. The Butsarana mentions that a mother would take medicine herself when her baby was sick.

Our ancient healers could diagnose and treat 76 different ailments of the eye, without the aid of any electronic or digital equipment. The Sivi Jataka even mentions the transplant of an eye. The bark of the Kumbuk tree, Terminalia arjuna, had been used in the treatment of Cadiomyopathy, which also means the disease could be diagnosed by our physicians.

When we talk of healthcare in Sri Lanka we have to look at the role played by Buddhist beliefs and rituals. The WHO definition today comes close to the Buddhist concept, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Whatever the ailment was, one of the major ingredients always found in our medicine was 'Loving Kindness'. The days are gone when a mother would prepare the coriander water by herself, hand it to the child and stroke his head as he drank it, telling him that with this drink the cold will be gone. Today we only remind our children to take the tablets or capsules. Coriander seed oil is one of the 20 major essential oils in the world market and it has been confirmed that it is effective against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and as a diuretic.

SPC can import all the drugs, and distribute them. But without the other ingredients, the loving kindness of the doctors, nursing staff and the family, the effect of the drugs would be minimal.

In the Anguttara Nikaya, Gilana Sutta, we read about three types of sick people. Some people require Medicine, food and nursing, others recover with or without one or two of these requirements, while others without any of them.

The role of SPC is to provide one of these requirements, the medicine, because most of us belong to the first category. This medicine should always be of the best quality, and yet affordable to every Sri Lankan, and not just the privileged few. Such quality, affordable medicine should always be available, both in our state hospitals and in the private pharmacies, without any shortage.

I recall the times when we did not hear of any drug shortages in the country, in our hospitals. There was hardly any emergency purchasing. All DHS tenders were announced and closed within the first few months of the year, with expected deliveries in January and June of the following year. There was always sufficient stocks of most of the drugs with long shelf life. This system helped in planning, budgeting and storage for the SPC and MSD, while it also helped the manufacturers, for they could plan their production and shipments and work out the costings accordingly. Even SPC tenders were very regular, and the tenderers were able to plan their productions accordingly.

Our government could also look into the possibility of controlling the prices of branded drugs, the way UK and Germany are trying to do, using value-based pricing. UK authorities recently decided the benefits of a new cancer drug did not outweigh the high price.

We could look forward to the day when SPC would move on to on-line tenders, so the bidders could submit their offers and follow-up on the evaluation and award and the shipments, which could make everything more transparent, would expedite the process and ensure continuous uninterrupted supply of the drugs. The process would also be more transparent, with most of the data available in the public domain.

On-line registration of drugs is also an urgent need, with CDDA, NDQAL, MSD and SPC all in one network.

When we talk about affordable prices, one important observation made is that the prices of almost all drugs kept coming down every year. This is one good factor with tenders, and the healthy competition generated by it.

That is where the quality should override the price. The consumer today is in a position to pick and choose, to select the best product at the best price. Thankfully now the SPC is insisting on pre-shipment samples, and perhaps they should also insist on the sources of the ingredients and the date of manufacture of the ingredients.

Patents and copyrights have become almost indispensable. But such protections often do not benefit the consumer, and there is always exploitation of the traditional medical systems and medical knowledge, and the exploitation of indigenous herbs in the developing countries. One example is turmeric (Curcuma longa). In 1995 US granted a patent but when India established that it had been used for thousands of years the patent was revoked. The Indian government had to fight again a new patent application in the United States, a few months ago, for Turmeric, Apple and Tulsi for treatment of inflammation, psoriasis and gastritis.

Indian scientists at the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute developed a sports drug using the Traditional Knowledge they obtained from the Kani tribe in Thiruvananthapuram, South India. The scientists isolated 12 active chemical compounds from the plant Arogyapaacha, (Trichopus zeylanicus travancoricus, what is called Bim Pol in our country) to develop the drug with a brand name Jeevani. The technology was sold to a commercial organization. As the Hindu reported on Oct. 8, 2012, "The benefit sharing is a shambles, ....all that is left for the Kani tribe is an unfinished computer training center."

Recently the US FDA has started Break-through drug approvals, specially for oncology drugs. It may be done all with good intentions, but if we cut down on the standard phase II and III procedures, could it not mean we will be using innocent patients as guinea-pigs? In 2012 US FDA has approved 39 New Molecular Entities. All of them would be patented drugs, which will be beyond the reach of about 80 percent of the people around the world. Yet they will bring in immense profits, or these companies would not invest over one billion dollars for each new drug. These companies have to recover not only the investment for these drugs, but all the investments on other R&D projects which fail along the line, specially which fail the trials in Phase II (with a 22% success rate) and III (65%). Then there is also the loss of revenue from the earlier drugs where patents have expired. EvaluatePharma forecasts that $ 290 billion in sales are at risk from patent expirations between 2012 and 2018.

Pfizer lost the Viagra patent in Europe yesterday, and there are 20 generics waiting. But last year viagra sales topped $ 2 billion.

FDA is not god. They are not infallible. There were many occasions when after approval of a drug, they had to withdraw it.

Just a week ago FDA had announced setting up of a new study to look into two diabetes drugs by two giants of the pharma industry, because of reports of possible pancreatic cell growth that could turn cancerous. It is the FDA who had approved these drugs originally and one of the drugs had earned $ 4.1 billion last year from its sales.

WHO has also set up guidelines for bio-similar products, where the generic is compared with an "innovator" product. But one such product is under investigations for its safety, and the innovator had up to last year paid $ 780 million in legal settlements. If the drug was so safe why did they pay that?

Are all these NMEs really necessary? Shouldn't the FDA consider if an NME had any reasonable benefits over the existing drugs. Because among the 39 NMEs approved by FDA last year there is a new erectile dysfunction drug (Strendra) and one for weight loss (Belviq).

The race for developing more new drugs means more clinical trials. Times of India reported on August 18th, 2012, that 211 people had died in the past six months due to serious adverse events during clinical trials carried out by the drug industry, and in 2010 the total number of deaths was 668 (2 more than the number of the beast). In 2008, in one trial 49 children had died.

Then there is corruption. In 2011, a leading drug maker was indicted for alleged bribery in an East European country. During the same year another giant had agreed to pay $ 7.9 million to end a probe of bribing officials in a European country, and to pay another $ 70 million in a settlement related to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Often every good thing is exploited by man. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, all ethical drugs, approved and registered by the Drugs Authority are free of all import duties. This is a real blessing for our people. Our government is able to keep drugs on duty free lists because there is no need for protecting a local industry. Pharmaceutical manufacture in our country has not been viable for the private sector. If we are to manufacture any drugs we have to import not just the APIs and the excipients but the empty capsules, vials, bottles, even the paper and the ink for printing the cartons and labels.

Yet the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation is doing an admirable job in contributing to the SPC's attempts to provide quality drugs at affordable prices.

SPC at present is the only importer who checks pre-shipment samples of their imports. For drug imports by the private sector there are no quality checks at the time of imports. Once a drug is registered with the CDDA, for the next five years, the only quality controls are the random checks by the Drug inspectors. Manufacturers are free to use any raw materials, any APIs of any quality, once the drug is registered.

Even for the import of cement, the shipments are released only after samples are tested by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute. But any registered drug can be imported, simply on the Certificate of Analysis from the manufacturer. Fortunately for vaccines, at least there is the requirement of a Lot Release Certificate from the country of manufacture. One problem we could face in quality checks of imported drugs is that our country may not have the facilities to test all the drugs imported. In such cases, perhaps we could negotiate with the Health departments in the countries of manufacture to provide a certificate which would be less expensive and more reliable, because any testing by private laboratories overseas could only add to the cost of the drug.

We are all very proud to always claim our drugs conform to all requirements of quality, efficacy and safety. But I have always believed that we should also satisfy our own conscience, specially about safety and efficacy. The drugs we manufacture, distribute and market should be only drugs which we have the confidence to give to our own children.

When it comes to quality issues and human or machine errors, not only the small time generic manufacturer, even the big names could fail. A man died in France recently, because the manufacturer had packed Zopiclone in a carton labelled Furosemide, and 190,000 boxes had to be withdrawn from the market.

Pharmaceuticals are not just a commodity, even though in the open market economy today even life saving drugs have been commodified. In our country we have a saying, Hamba karanava and hari Hamba karanava. That there is a difference between earning, and rightful earning. Pharmaceutical business should always be limited to rightful earning.

The business of ill-health also rides on the proliferation of WMDs. Weapons of Mass Destruction. I don't mean Nuclear weapons, but the chemical and biological weapons used legally and often subsidized by governments, in day to day life. They are the agrochemicals, and genetically modified plants and animals. They cause most of the diseases today, and in years to come for our future generations. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies also produce these WMDs and or are riding piggy back on them. We already have a serious epidemic of CKD in the rice producing regions due to use of agrochemicals.

There are two more WMDs legally manufactured, sold and consumed, which are harmful not only to the health of those who consume them but to their families and the society. We only talk about these two WMDs just on two days of the year. October 2nd against alcohol and May 31st against tobacco. Yet tobacco continues to kill 5 million human beings every year and 100 million suffer at least from one tobacco related illness. By 2030 the death toll will go up to 8 million. Alcohol causes 2.5 million deaths. WHO reports that 9% of deaths among the age group 15 - 29 are alcohol related.

If all governments around the world could ban both alcohol and tobacco, we could reduce this death and suffering drastically. Shouldn't this be a part of our preventive healthcare campaign?

One more product which helps us commit slow suicide is the sugar substitute. A study last year has confirmed that Aspartame is linked to Leukemia and Lymphoma, while the European Food Safety Authority reports "The body may sometimes convert aspartic acid into the neurotransmitter glutamate which can have neurotoxic effects." Another more recent sugar substitute is Sucralose, approved by FDA and used even in our country. It was a product that was accidentally discovered when developing a new insecticide. It is a Chlorocarbon, like DDT, but FDA has not conducted toxicity tests on it. This is all good news for some Pharma manufacturers, because when food manufactures add carcinogens and other toxins into the food, people get sick and need drugs.

Here too is a contradiction. FDA has not yet approved the natural sweetener extracted from the plant Stevia rebaudiana because they have concerns over the effect on kidneys, cardiovascular and reproductive systems!

Another threat to the world, to mankind and all life on Mother Earth, is the indiscriminate discharge of harmful effluents by the pharmaceutical industry too. Pollution in all forms is a major threat to health all over the world. Most of you here who are from India would have seen or heard of the plight of the Yamuna river, how the people in Agra do not use the water from the city supply even for bathing, because it is so contaminated. They are even worried about the foundation of the Taj Mahal.

Such pollution of our water we drink, the air we breath and the food we eat is causing most of the illness, and that is why we need drugs and drug manufacturers and distributors, who in turn contributed to pollution too.

We now talk of e-waste, of electronic equipment and consumables yet ignoring the d-waste, digital waste, all the garbage we are piling up as unwanted software and documents. P-waste, or pharmaceutical waste has been with us even longer.

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in New York carried out a research recently on water samples of biofilm from streams in Maryland, New York and Indiana, in which they found antibiotics, analgesics, antehistamines and even caffeine. It would be the same the world over. A study by the United States Geological Survey published in 2002, found measurable concentrations of prescription and nonprescription drugs, steroids, reproductive hormones and their by-products in 139 streams across 30 states.

We all of us, manufacturers, distributors and consumers are all responsible for pollution by pharmaceuticals. In addition to the effluents from the factories, there is effluent from hospitals, and from warehouses. How do we dispose of expired drugs, or in case of quality failure? Where does all these chemicals end up? And where does the residual drugs from excretions end up? A study in 2005 reported that 90% of the anti-seizure drug Pregabalin, 90% of Metformin and 75% of Lisinopril is excreted.

Even WHO guidelines sometimes could misguide people. In the WHO guidelines for disposal of drugs, they say, "most pharmaceuticals are relatively harmless to the environment; they do not present a serious threat to the public or environment unless handled recklessly". No environmentalist with an independent mind would agree with this statement. WHO takes this insult to mother earth further, by saying "syrups and IV fluids can be diluted and flushed into sewers... fast flowing watercourses may likewise be used to flush small quantities of well-diluted liquid pharmaceuticals or antiseptics". What is a small quantity?

We as human beings, have a collective responsibility to prevent such pollution, and formulate fresh guidelines for disposal based on the latest pollution studies.

Let us all get together to build a healthier nation, a healthier world, and let us bequeath our future generations a greener Mother earth, free of pain and suffering. Let us bequeath them a world where they would not be dependent on drugs (both narcotic and medicinal).

(my speech delivered at the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Sri Lanka, Suppliers Conventionm 2013, June 22nd, 2013 at Cinnamon Bey)

June 27, 2013, 3:51 a.m.


Mimetic Desire

daya dissanayake

"Violence always seems to be mingled with desire", wrote Rene Girard, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, in 'Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure'. "Desire is the generative force behind violence, the snake that turns friends and lovers into rivals." says Professor Per Bjornar Grande of Bergen University.

Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. The model is the mediator. Mediation is external when the mediator is beyond the reach of the subject, and is fictitious. It is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject, then the mediator transforms into a rival and becomes an obstacle.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed in others. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them.

In fiction and films, stories thrive on conflict between characters, and Girard believes that people do not fight over differences, but they fight because they all have the same ideas and want the same things, not because they really want the things, but that which will earn other's envy. Because man does not know what to choose, he looks at others, and he wants what the other is having or wants. When many people desire the same things, desire, jealousy and rivalry "provide perfect themes for great novelists".

Rene Girard calls it Mimetic Desires, that "mimesis is an unconscious form of imitation that invariably leads to competition and desire is the most virulent mimetic pathogen". The idea is not new as Thomas Hobbes had already written in Leviathen, "if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies". And long before that Buddha preached that all suffering and conflicts on earth is because of man's craving, desire.

Agganna Sutta is all about mimetic desire, if we are to interpret using Girardian logic.

Rene Girard has been identified by some critics as a modern day Christian philosopher, that he is taking the teachings of Jesus in his literary analysis. "Thou shall not covet the neighbour's ox, ass or wife". Cain murders his brother, because he cannot get what Abel had got.

This behavour is seen from early childhood, when a toy picked up by one child is immediately desired by another, and this is carried on to adulthood, desiring what the neighbour has acquired.

Mimetic desires could also lead to violence. Collective Violence against scapegoats. The example Girard sites is that only one man can be a king, who would be the most envied. But everyone can share the persecution of a victim. "Societies unify themselves by focussing their imitative desires on the destruction of a scapegoat", and this could be the origin of ritual sacrifice. "The victim of a mob is always innocent, and collective violence is unjust" as we see in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Girard says that scapegoat mechanism and sacrificial violence is "the dark secret underpinning all human cultures". It is the basis for many works of fiction and drama. Today it is not just individual human beings, but entire countries that face scapegoat violence led by a group of countries, behaving like a mob. Often as the desire for something goes viral, the desire itself could be forgotten, leaving behind only the rivalry and antagonism.

Sacrificial violence, says Per Bjornar Grande , is a kind of suicide, by killing the other, one also kills something of oneself, projecting one's own desires onto another.

With the Gospels, it is with full clarity that are unveiled these "things hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35), the foundation of social order on murder, described in all its repulsive ugliness in the account of the Passion. "This revelation is even clearer because the text is a work on desire and violence, from the serpent setting alight the desire of Eve in paradise to the prodigious strength of the mimetism that brings about the denial of Peter during the Passion (Mark 14: 66-72; Luke 22:54-62)." Girard reinterprets certain biblical expressions in light of his theories; for instance, he sees "scandal" (skandalon, literally, a "snare", or an "impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall", as signifying mimetic rivalry, for example Peter's denial of Jesus. No one escapes responsibility, neither the envious nor the envied: "Woe to the man through whom scandal comes" (Matthew 18:7).

Mimetic desire not only drives most novels and films, but also in recent times facebook and other social media which have gone viral because of this. The advertising medium survives totally on man's desires. That is how international brands exploit man's/or woman's weakness for miming other peoples desires. We are not ashamed, but rather proud to be identified as victims of mimetic desire, as we wear branded clothes or consume branded food and drink in public. That is why business organizations are investing in embedded marketing or brand entertainment. One example is 'The Bulgari Connection' by Fay Weldon. (Artscope, August 24, 2011).

As long as man is a slave to his own craving, mimetic desires will control him, and the society in which he lives. Creators of fiction and films and big business will continue to exploit it.

June 7, 2013, 1:18 a.m.