What the World is Reading

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List of the best and the worst of the year are as ubiquitous as resolutions and hangovers.

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This article appeared in the Indian Express on Dec 30, 2008. All Images and Text are copyright.


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What the world is reading about…

Article Appeared in The Indian Express on October 13, 2008. All Text is Copyright.

The Globe and Mail – Anger Erupts Over Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

Even though he is being lauded for his diplomatic prowess, former Finnish president and ‘peace broker’ Martti Ahtisaari has managed to rack up an impressive list of enemies, says columnist Doug Saunders. Ahtisaari was most recently credited for playing a key role in the interminable talks with Serbia that resulted in the Albanian-majority Kosovo becoming an independent nation earlier this year. This did not win him any popularity prizes with the Serbs who “saw him as an advocate of European interests” and bitterly resented the loss of Kosovo. Saunders cites instances of Serbians calling Ahtisaari a “Nazi” and his winning the prize a “sick joke”. Nonetheless, his efforts ended years of violence and allowed Serbia to move towards stability. Ahtisaari’s much-criticised “lack of neutrality” says Saunders, is what makes him so effective. “He has not always pretended to be guided by high principles…he is simply interested in getting the conflict to end….” Behind his “bland Scandinavian facade”, Ahtisaari knows how to “dangle very solid carrots and sticks at the bargaining table”.

Forbes – A Prize Tarnished

According to Stanford professor of medicine Abraham Verghese, the most startling fact about the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine is not who got the award, but who didn’t. The committee’s choice of French scientists Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi to share half the prize for ‘discovering’ HIV, was a “slap in the face for American virologist Robert Gallo, “dismissing his role in the saga of scientific discovery around AIDS”. Gallo first described retroviruses and his lab identified HIV in 1984 around the same time that the French scientists did. However, since the virus he studied came from a sample sent by Luc Montagnier, Gallo was largely discredited in Europe but did fight back. This did not help him win friends there. According to Verghese, “not to give Gallo the Nobel Prize when rewarding other breakthroughs in AIDS winds up diminishing the prize’s lustre”. Claiming that the Nobel judges are unduly influenced by “politics and personalities”, Verghese says the solution would be for the “US (recession and all) to institute a prize that eclipses the Nobel, at least in monetary value and eventually in prestige”.

Der Spiegel – The Nobel Literature Debate: Big Sam Has Bigger Problems

French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio may have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Americans are still smarting over the comments made by Horace Engdahl. The permanent secretary of the award’s committee infamously remarked that US writers are too “insular” and “insensitive” to produce anything of literary merit. It is ridiculously easy to refute such claims, says writer Ulrich Baron, suggesting that Engdahl’s vinegary comments may come from sour grapes: “Engdahl’s collection of somewhat pompous works never quite made it to the best-seller list of the New York Times. After one well-meaning critic called the work “airy”, could the sledge hammer now be falling?”

http://www.improbable.com – Annals of Improbable Research

Discoveries that promise to unveil the secrets of the universe and life-saving medical research are all very well, but there are smaller mysteries that are equally worthy of attention. And the bi-monthly Annals of Improbable Research in the article “Research that makes people laugh and then think”, applauds those who plumb the depths of the irrelevant with the Ig Nobel Awards. This year’s winners include discoveries of use to pet lovers (fleas on dogs jump higher than on cats); hypochondriacs (expensive fake medicines work better than cheap ones); and the experimentally inclined (one winner said cola is a spermicide, another discovered the opposite, the rest is up to you)….

Kim Jong-Il: The Dear Leader… or no more?

When North Korea’s head of state, ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il, did not show up for the 60th anniversary ceremony of the country on Tuesday, there were speculations that he had serious health problems. But if Japanese professor Toshmitsu Shigemura from Waseda University is to be believed, Kim is already dead. Outrageous as this seems, it is hard to come by any credible information about the reclusive leader of a notoriously secretive country. A look at some of the speculations about him that have been doing the rounds…

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(Appeared in the Indian Express. Image by Sasikumar. Article by Asavari Singh. All Images and Text are copyright)