Global


From Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption, here’s a view of how each country scored in Corruption Perception Index for 2009.  The darker the color, the higher the perceived level of public-sector corruption in that country.

2009 Corruption Perception Index (Click to go to an interactive map from source)

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world.

The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10, low levels. That ranking is based on data from country experts and business leaders at 10 independent institutions, including the World Bank, Economist Intelligence Unit and World Economic Forum.
Countries which saw their ranking drop included Iran, which fell to 1.8 from 2.3 following the presidential election in June. Political turmoil also contributed to a fall in Ukraine’s score to 2.2 from 2.5. Greece saw its score slide to 3.8 from 4.7, reflecting insufficient ‘anti-corruption enforcement’, lengthy delays in the judicial process and a string of corporate scandals that TI said pointed to “systemic weaknesses”.
Fragile, unstable states that are scarred by war and ongoing conflict linger at the bottom of the index. Meanwhile, the highest scorers in the 2009 CPI are New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland.
But the vast majority of countries in the 2009 index scored below five.

Click here for a ranked, tabular version of the data with New Zealand ranked #1 and yes, the country harboring, or according to some ruled by those  pirates of the Indian Ocean that revived the charm of piracy on high seas even in this 21st century, Somalia, is stunningly ranked last.

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World's connectedness

World's connectedness {Click for an enlarged view from source}

From New Scientist, an interesting data visualization map above where every spot depicts how long it would take to travel to the nearest city of 50,000 people or more by land or by water.

The model combines information on terrain and access to road, rail and river networks. It also considers how factors like altitude, steepness of terrain and hold-ups like border crossings slow travel.

Plotted onto a map, the results throw up surprises. First, less than 10% of the world’s land is more than 48 hours of ground-based travel from the nearest city.

What’s more, many areas considered remote and inaccessible are not as far from civilisation as you might think. In the Amazon, for example, extensive river networks and an increasing number of roads mean that only 20% of the land is more than two days from a city – around the same proportion as Canada’s Quebec province.

Based on that model, here’s the most remote place on earth – on the Tibetan plateau (34.7°N, 85.7°E).

Most remote place on the planet

Most remote place on the planet

From here, says Andy Nelson, a former researcher at the European Commission, it is a three-week trip to the cities of Lhasa or Korla – one day by car and the remaining 20 on foot.

Rough terrain and an altitude of 5200 metres also lend it a perfect air of “Do Not Disturb”.

Long gone are the days when the thought of obscure and remote places could conjure up visions of weeks and months of journey through unknown and wild terrains filled with exciting adventures – it’s a small small world shrinking by the day.


Marrying Absurd
Joan Didion
To be married in Las Vegas, Clark County’s Nevada, a bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission. Someone must put up five dollars for the license. (Sundays and holidays, fifteen dollars. The Clark County Courthouse issues marriage licenses at any time of the day or night except between noon and one in the afternoon, between eight and nine in the evening, and between four and five in the morning. Nothing else is required. The State of Nevada, alone among the United States, demands neither a premarital blood test nor a waiting period before or after the issuance of a marriage license. Driving in across the Mojave from Los Angeles, one sees the signs way out on the desert, looming up from that moonscape of rattlesnakes and mesquite, even before the Las Vegas lights appear like a mirage on the horizon: “GETTING MARRIED? Free License Information First Strip Exit.” Perhaps the Las Vegas wedding industry achieved its peak operational efficiency between 9:00 p.m. and midnight of August 26, 1965, an otherwise unremarkable Thursday which happened to be, by Presidential order, the last day on which anyone could improve his draft status merely by getting married. One hundred and seventy-one couples were pronounced man and wife in the name of Clark County and the State of Nevada that night sixty-seven of them by a single justice of the peace, Mr. James A. Brennan. Mr. Brennan did one wedding at the Dunes and the other sixty-six in his office, and charged each couple eight dollars. One bride lent her veil to six others. “I got it down from five to three minutes,” Mr. Brennan said later of his feat. “I could’ve married them en mass, but they’re people, not cattle. People expect more when they get married.”
What people who get married in Las Vegas actually do expect–what, in the largest sense, their “expectations” are– strikes one as a curious and self-contradictory business. Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification, a place the tone of which is set by mobsters and call girls and ladies’ room attendants with amyl nitrite poppers in their uniform pockets. Almost everyone notes that there is no “”time” in Las Vegas, no night and no day and no past and no future (no Las Vegas casino, however, has taken the obliteration of the ordinary time sense quite so far as Harold’s Club in Reno, which for a while issued, at odd intervals in the day and night, mimeographed “bulletins” carrying news from the world outside); neither is there any logical sense of where one is. One is standing on a highway in the middle of a vast hostile desert looking at an eighty-foot sign which blinks “STARDUST” or “CAESAR’S PALACE.” Yes, but what does that explain? This geographical implausibility reinforces the sense that what happens there has no connection with “real” life; Nevada cities like Reno and Carson are ranch towns, Western towns, places behind which there is some historical imperative. But Las Vegas seems to exist only in the eye of beholder all of which makes it an extraordinary and interesting place, but an odd one in which to want to wear a candlelight satin Priscilla of Boston wedding dress with Chantilly lace insets, tapered sleeves and a detachable modified train.
And yet the Las Vegas wedding business seems to appeal to precisely that impulse. “Sincere and Dignified Since 1954,” one wedding chapel advertises. There are nineteen such wedding chapels in Las Vegas, intensely competitive, each offering betters, faster, and, by implication, more sincere services than the next: Our Photos Best Anywhere, Your Wedding on A Phonograph Record, Candlelight with Your Ceremony, Honeymoon Accomodations, Free Transportation from Your Motel to Courthouse to Chapel and Return to Motel, Religious or Civil Ceremonies, Dressing Rooms, Flowers, Rings, Announcements, Witnesses Available, and Ample Parking. All of these services, like most others in Las Vegas (sauna baths, payroll-check cashing, chinchilla coats for sale or rent) are offered twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, presumably on the premise that marriage, like a craps, is a game to be played when the table seems hot.
But what strikes one most about the Strip chapels, with their wishing wells and stained-glass paper windows and their artificial bouvardia, is that so much of their business is by no means a matter of simple convenience, of late-night liaisons between show girls and baby Crosbys. Of course there is some of that. (One night about eleven o’clock in Las Vegas I watched a bride in an orange minidress and masses of flame-colored hair stumble from a Strip chapel on the arm of her bridegroom, who looked the part of the expendable nephew in movies like Miami Syndicate. “I gotta get the kids,” the bride whimpered. “I gotta pick up the sitters, I gotta get to the midnight show.” “What you gotta get,” the bridegroom said, opening the door of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and watching her crumple on the seat, “is sober.”) But Las Vegas seems to offer something other than “convenience”; it is merchandising “niceness,” the facsimile of proper ritual, to children who do not know how else to find it, how to make the arrangements, how to do it “right.” All day and evening long on the Strip, one sees actual wedding parties, waiting under the harsh lights at a crosswalk standing uneasily in the parking lot of the Frontier while the photographer hired by The Little Church of the West (“Wedding Place of the Stars”) certifies the occasion, takes the picture: the bride in a veil and white satin pumps, the bridegroom usually a white dinner iacket, and even an attendant or two, a sister or best friend in hot-pink peau de soier, a flirtation veil, a carnation nosegay. “When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever,” the organist plays, and then a few bars of Lohengrin. The mother cries; the stepfather, awkward in his role, invites the chapel hostess to join them for a drink at the Sands. The hostess declines with a professional smile; she has already transferred her interest to the group waiting outside. One bride out, another in, and again the sign goes up on the chapel door: “One moment please– Wedding.”
I sat next to one such wedding party in a Strip restaurant last time I was in Las Vegas. The marriage had just taken place; the bride still wore her dress, the mother her corsage. A bored waiter poured out a few swallows of pink champagne (“on the house”) for everyone but the bride, who was too young to be served. “You’ll need something with more kick than that,” the bride’s father said with heavy jocularity to his new son-in-law; the ritual jokes about the wedding night had a certain Panglossian character, since the bride was
clearly several months pregnant. Another round of pink champagne, this time not on the house, and the bride began to cry, “It was just as nice,” she sobbed, “as I hoped and dreamed it would be.”

Marrying Absurd

by Joan Didion

..wedding wonderland!

..wedding wonderland!

To be married in Las Vegas, Clark County’s Nevada, a bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission. Someone must put up five dollars for the license. (Sundays and holidays, fifteen dollars. The Clark County Courthouse issues marriage licenses at any time of the day or night except between noon and one in the afternoon, between eight and nine in the evening, and between four and five in the morning. Nothing else is required. The State of Nevada, alone among the United States, demands neither a premarital blood test nor a waiting period before or after the issuance of a marriage license. Driving in across the Mojave from Los Angeles, one sees the signs way out on the desert, looming up from that moonscape of rattlesnakes and mesquite, even before the Las Vegas lights appear like a mirage on the horizon: “GETTING MARRIED? Free License Information First Strip Exit.” Perhaps the Las Vegas wedding industry achieved its peak operational efficiency between 9:00 p.m. and midnight of August 26, 1965, an otherwise unremarkable Thursday which happened to be, by Presidential order, the last day on which anyone could improve his draft status merely by getting married. One hundred and seventy-one couples were pronounced man and wife in the name of Clark County and the State of Nevada that night sixty-seven of them by a single justice of the peace, Mr. James A. Brennan. Mr. Brennan did one wedding at the Dunes and the other sixty-six in his office, and charged each couple eight dollars. One bride lent her veil to six others. “I got it down from five to three minutes,” Mr. Brennan said later of his feat. “I could’ve married them en mass, but they’re people, not cattle. People expect more when they get married.”

A Las Vegas wedding

saying "I do".. the Las Vegas way.

What people who get married in Las Vegas actually do expect–what, in the largest sense, their “expectations” are– strikes one as a curious and self-contradictory business. Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification, a place the tone of which is set by mobsters and call girls and ladies’ room attendants with amyl nitrite poppers in their uniform pockets. Almost everyone notes that there is no “”time” in Las Vegas, no night and no day and no past and no future (no Las Vegas casino, however, has taken the obliteration of the ordinary time sense quite so far as Harold’s Club in Reno, which for a while issued, at odd intervals in the day and night, mimeographed “bulletins” carrying news from the world outside); neither is there any logical sense of where one is. One is standing on a highway in the middle of a vast hostile desert looking at an eighty-foot sign which blinks “STARDUST” or “CAESAR’S PALACE.” Yes, but what does that explain? This geographical implausibility reinforces the sense that what happens there has no connection with “real” life; Nevada cities like Reno and Carson are ranch towns, Western towns, places behind which there is some historical imperative. But Las Vegas seems to exist only in the eye of beholder all of which makes it an extraordinary and interesting place, but an odd one in which to want to wear a candlelight satin Priscilla of Boston wedding dress with Chantilly lace insets, tapered sleeves and a detachable modified train.

..get ir done!

..get ir done!

And yet the Las Vegas wedding business seems to appeal to precisely that impulse. “Sincere and Dignified Since 1954,” one wedding chapel advertises. There are nineteen such wedding chapels in Las Vegas, intensely competitive, each offering betters, faster, and, by implication, more sincere services than the next: Our Photos Best Anywhere, Your Wedding on A Phonograph Record, Candlelight with Your Ceremony, Honeymoon Accomodations, Free Transportation from Your Motel to Courthouse to Chapel and Return to Motel, Religious or Civil Ceremonies, Dressing Rooms, Flowers, Rings, Announcements, Witnesses Available, and Ample Parking. All of these services, like most others in Las Vegas (sauna baths, payroll-check cashing, chinchilla coats for sale or rent) are offered twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, presumably on the premise that marriage, like a craps, is a game to be played when the table seems hot.

..you can see the arrow of Cupid's ways.

..you can see the arrow of Cupid's ways.

But what strikes one most about the Strip chapels, with their wishing wells and stained-glass paper windows and their artificial bouvardia, is that so much of their business is by no means a matter of simple convenience, of late-night liaisons between show girls and baby Crosbys. Of course there is some of that. (One night about eleven o’clock in Las Vegas I watched a bride in an orange minidress and masses of flame-colored hair stumble from a Strip chapel on the arm of her bridegroom, who looked the part of the expendable nephew in movies like Miami Syndicate. “I gotta get the kids,” the bride whimpered. “I gotta pick up the sitters, I gotta get to the midnight show.” “What you gotta get,” the bridegroom said, opening the door of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and watching her crumple on the seat, “is sober.”) But Las Vegas seems to offer something other than “convenience”; it is merchandising “niceness,” the facsimile of proper ritual, to children who do not know how else to find it, how to make the arrangements, how to do it “right.” All day and evening long on the Strip, one sees actual wedding parties, waiting under the harsh lights at a crosswalk standing uneasily in the parking lot of the Frontier while the photographer hired by The Little Church of the West (“Wedding Place of the Stars”) certifies the occasion, takes the picture: the bride in a veil and white satin pumps, the bridegroom usually a white dinner iacket, and even an attendant or two, a sister or best friend in hot-pink peau de soier, a flirtation veil, a carnation nosegay. “When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever,” the organist plays, and then a few bars of Lohengrin. The mother cries; the stepfather, awkward in his role, invites the chapel hostess to join them for a drink at the Sands. The hostess declines with a professional smile; she has already transferred her interest to the group waiting outside. One bride out, another in, and again the sign goes up on the chapel door: “One moment please– Wedding.”

I sat next to one such wedding party in a Strip restaurant last time I was in Las Vegas. The marriage had just taken place; the bride still wore her dress, the mother her corsage. A bored waiter poured out a few swallows of pink champagne (“on the house”) for everyone but the bride, who was too young to be served. “You’ll need something with more kick than that,” the bride’s father said with heavy jocularity to his new son-in-law; the ritual jokes about the wedding night had a certain Panglossian character, since the bride was clearly several months pregnant. Another round of pink champagne, this time not on the house, and the bride began to cry, “It was just as nice,” she sobbed, “as I hoped and dreamed it would be.”


Joan Didion wrote this essay in 1967, which has since become part of classic literature.  40 years later, forget about marrying absurd in Las Vegas, it is not inconceivable to see in a future not too far ahead where marrying in intself will become an absurdity.  Once created to provide an order and structure within the civilizations and then institutionalized as a ritual through religious ceremonies to make everyone practice it,  it is increasingly viewed as an archaic, sentimental and purposeless tradition.  Just as the religious institutions are being increasingly questioned with continuing human evolution, the societal practices are challenged and discarded at an even higher rate.
Joan in the essay refers to the merchandise “niceness” provided by Las Vegas to children who do not know how else to find it, how to make the arrangements, or how to do it “right.”  While that might still be true, the reason for doing it “right” is now replaced by the disenchantment in doing it at all, without a truly clear purpose for having or wanting to go through the exercise.
These stats depict the clear trend of  increasing disillusionment in the institution of marriage – all over the world  (courtesy of info from Wolfram Alpha, I was able to search and compile this in a matter of minutes):
a continuing rapid reduction in marriages per year through out the world

a continuing rapid reduction in marriages per year through out the world

With that drastic downward trend, the absurdity of the Las Vegas chapels are soon to become a novelty for future generations not that far down the road.
..making a case for National Health Care

..organ donation saved this child twice

Read this heart warming story of a 16 yr old Hannah Clark few days ago.

In 1994 when she was eight-months-old, Hannah was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy — an inflammation of the heart muscle that impairs the heart’s ability to work properly.

Hannah’s heart was failing and she needed a transplant. But instead of taking her own heart out, doctors added a new donated heart to her own when she was just two-years-old.

The so-called “piggyback” operation allowed the donor heart to do the work while Hannah’s heart rested.

But Hannah was not in the clear yet. As with any organ transplant, Hannah’s body was likely to reject her new heart and she had to take powerful immune suppression drugs.

Those drugs allowed her body to accept the donor heart but also led to cancer and yet another medical battle for Hannah that lasted for years.

Nearly 11 years after receiving the extra heart, there was more bad news: The immuno-suppression drugs were no longer working. Hannah’s body was rejecting the donor heart.

In February 2006, her doctors tried something that had never been done before: They took out the donor heart. Doctors theorized that the donor heart had allowed Hannah’s heart to rest, recover and grow back stronger.

In 1994 when she was eight-months-old, Hannah was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy — an inflammation of the heart muscle that impairs the heart’s ability to work properly.
Hannah’s heart was failing and she needed a transplant. But instead of taking her own heart out, doctors added a new donated heart to her own when she was just two-years-old.
The so-called “piggyback” operation allowed the donor heart to do the work while Hannah’s heart rested.
But Hannah was not in the clear yet. As with any organ transplant, Hannah’s body was likely to reject her new heart and she had to take powerful immune suppression drugs.
Those drugs allowed her body to accept the donor heart but also led to cancer and yet another medical battle for Hannah that lasted for years.
Nearly 11 years after receiving the extra heart, there was more bad news: The immuno-suppression drugs were no longer working. Hannah’s body was rejecting the donor heart.

Two thing struck me immediately when I read the story.

1.  Not enough publicity goes into perhaps the easiest and most valuable gift anyone can give, an organ donation.  There are many people all over the world just waiting for an organ that can save their life, while there are many more passing away without ever knowing they could have saved some other life even in their death, all because either they were completely unaware of the donor program or because they didn’t feel it was important enough to register their perference while they were alive.  A story like this hopefully hits home the fact that the wonderful donor for this kid was able to save her not once, but twice.  Yes, it is a truly a gift that keeps on giving.

2.  Can you imagine without a national health care system, like this British Health Care that Hannah benefitted from, how difficult it would have been for her parents to afford to keep her alive, unless they were prosperous enough to begin with or were able to keep their insurance coverage via their employment through out the entire process?  It is insane to imagine that as a society, anyone can willfully choose to value life based on how much money one makes.  Capitalism as an economic system is hard to argue against, but how far do you go with it as a social system?

The police in Australia had steadfastly and not surprisingly maintained until now that there is no proof that these attacks are racially motivated. They’ve been trying to point out that these are no different than your garden variety muggings for your wallet and money and the victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Obviously they are doing their bit of damage control in this increasingly PR driven world.  This news flare-up isn’t helping what is already a negative perception of Australia outside their borders when it comes to these matters.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Australia’s high commissioner to India, John McCarthy, has been doing dozens of damage-control interviews, including appearances on popular panel debate shows such asThe Big Fight and We The People.

“Clearly the television coverage has altered some people’s perceptions of Australia,” he says. “I think the relationship is repairable, but it has been a rough patch … There was a huge reaction here. I don’t think we can kid ourselves that perceptions of Australia have not been affected.”

The actual concern of the Australian goverment is the potential damage to the $15 billion dollar “Student Market” which brings a steady stream of young Indians into Australia looking for greener pastures.

The Labor government’s initial response was one of damage-control. On June 1, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered assurances that “the more than 90,000 Indian students in Australia are welcome guests in our country”. The only thing “welcome” is the billions of dollars in fees paid by Indian students annually, part of the $15 billion dollars wrung from international students each year that the Rudd government fears losing.

Between 2005-08 the enrolment of overseas students in trade courses trebled to 173,432. Indians are the biggest group in this category.  It gave Australia a crucial advantage over rivals such as Britain and the US in the foreign student market, adding to advantages of cheapness and perceived safety.

While the Australian goverment is worried about their PR, the Indian students are concerned about the PR of their own, Permanent Residency, a common plight for any overseas student.  They are concerned that filing a complaint with the police when they are attacked might jeopardize their chances of getting clearance for their PR, which is just an awful situation to be in.

PR is a much used abbreviation in Harris Park, binding and isolating the community of Indian students there. It stands for permanent residency, the great goal of a migrant middle class, the reason many are studying here, and the reason they choose certain courses that are favoured for skilled migration. It is because of those ambitions that many students do not report crimes – they fear that in doing so they will prejudice their applications, a police clearance being needed before permanent residency is granted.

So, who are the perpetrators?  By all indications, at least some of these attacks were conducted by young men of Lebanese origin, confirmed by police.  The Lebanese were the majority ethnic group in that area, but have been outnumbered by the growing number of Indian students over the past few years.

In 1991 there were five times more Lebanese-born residents in Harris Park than there were Indian-born. At the last census, in 2006, Indians were Harris Park’s largest ethnic group, outnumbering the Lebanese two to one. Half of Harris Park’s residents are students.

Incensed by the police not even acknowledging that they are being targetted, the Indian strudent groups, who have been protesting daily for the past few days, are taking things into their own hands.

On Tuesday night a carload of young Middle Eastern men tore up Marion Street, chased by a hundred young Indians. “F—ing Lebs,” the group’s apparent leader yelled. “You want to kill me, kill me. You are f—ing racist.”  Later, a text message told the crowd there was a car of Lebanese men on neighbouring Weston Street. Twenty protesters broke away from the police cordon and ran up the street into a wall of white tracksuits. Two were beaten with poles, one was hit by a car. “Maybe tonight someone will be killed,” an Indian hospitality student said. “What will police do?”

As this issue gets divided along ethnic lines, and even as the world continues to shrink in the wake of this information revolution, especially within the melting pots of the global metroplises, I can’t help but wonder how  important it is to not let your identity defined by you, your family, your race, your religion and your origin to ever conflict with core human values of compassion, co-respect, tolerance, assimilation and co-existence independent of each other’s identities.  Sometimes, this appears like a thin distiction, but the difference is as wide as good and evil and as an individual, either you get it or you don’t.