Henna Banned in New Jersey!

henna2.jpgWhat’s a Jersey Desi girl to do without her “henna tattoo”? The New Jersey Legislature today passed a bill, A940, which would prohibits application of certain temporary tattoos. (h/t inothernews). I was surprised that all hell didn’t break loose from the Jersey Desi Bridezilla population who had to rework the activity on their Mehndi night. Then I read the legislation.

Assembly Bill No. 940 prohibits body art establishments from applying temporary tattoos containing paraphenylenediamine (PPD), including “black or blue henna…

[U]nlike traditional henna which is made from an organic, plant substance, certain temporary tattoos contain additives, in some cases, PPD which can unknowingly cause permanent health concerns and scarring. Long term effects include severe dermatitis, eye irritation and tearing, asthma, gastritis, renal failure, vertigo, tremors, convulsions and coma in humans…PPD is not approved for direct application to the skin. [njleg]

Phew! Y’all can relax.The ban is only on the black henna w/ PPD, not the traditional organic mehndi made from smashing up henna leaves. Though the South Asian subcontinent henna leaves all leave a deep red dying of the skin, the traditional black henna comes from Africa and the Middle East. It turns out black henna isn’t even derived from the same plant as regular henna is.

“Black Henna” is a misnomer arising from imports of plant-based hair dyes into the West in the late 19th century. Partly fermented, dried indigo was called “black henna” because it could be used in combination with henna to dye hair black. This gave rise to the belief that there was such a thing as “black henna” which could dye skin black. Indigo will not dye skin black.[wiki]

The lesson here, Mutiny? Don’t use henna/mehndi unless it is pure and natural, the kind from the motherland. And never get yourself tattooed at one of those beach side tattoo places. Desi, please. Everything-is-Indian Uncle now has another story to add to his list. Continue reading

Should Indians worry about this scary infographic?

Yes. I think so. They should be absolutely terrified by what it implies

According to this graphic, India is doing pretty well in avoiding packaged food (but also eating a lot less total food…not always by choice) relative to America and some other western cultures. Yet here is the inescapable fact about where India is headed (and China as well):

After an extensive nationwide survey, China has more than doubled the estimate of its diabetic people to 92.4 million from 43.2 million in 2009, thus replacing India as the country with the maximum number of diabetics in the world.

India has 50.8 million people with diabetes.

The China study, published in New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday pushes up the global diabetes estimates from 285 million to 334.2 million.

Diabetes was almost 1.4 times more common among urban residents than rural ones, the study found, sampling 46,239 adults above the age of 20, from 14 provinces and municipalities.

“The ageing of the population, urbanisation, nutritional changes and decreasing levels of physical activity, with a consequent epidemic of obesity, have probably contributed to the rapid increase in the diabetes burden in the Chinese population,” wrote Yang Wenying, head of endocrinology, at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, who carried out the study between June 2007 and May 2008. [Link]

We Americans are likely to continue to export our food culture around the world. Or rather, countries like India and China will continue to enthusiastically import it and are probably even less equipped than us to deal with the repercussions.

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Working the prefrontal cortex since the Gupta Empire

There were two stories relating to human cognition today that really had me thinking about the way we…think (how appropriate). The first involves the game of chess. You know, the game of kings invented so long ago in India:

Chess is commonly believed to have originated in North-West India during the Gupta empire, where its early form in the 6th century was known as caturanga (Sanskrit: four divisions [of the military] – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively). The earliest evidence of Chess is found in the neighboring Sassanid Persia around 600 where the game is known under the name became chatrang. [Link]

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion (the current is India’s Viswanathan Anand) has penned a brilliant (absolute must-read) essay/review of the new book, Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind. The title of his essay could have easily been, “How I Learned to Stop Battling and Love the Computer.” It chronicles his victories over the machines, followed by his losses, followed finally by a type of brutally efficient partnership. Let the human worry about strategy and the machine about tactics.

…I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts–and doubled Deep Blue’s processing power–and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind’s submission before the almighty computer. (“The Brain’s Last Stand” read the Newsweek headline.) Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.

It was the specialists–the chess players and the programmers and the artificial intelligence enthusiasts–who had a more nuanced appreciation of the result. Grandmasters had already begun to see the implications of the existence of machines that could play–if only, at this point, in a select few types of board configurations–with godlike perfection. The computer chess people were delighted with the conquest of one of the earliest and holiest grails of computer science, in many cases matching the mainstream media’s hyperbole. The 2003 book Deep Blue by Monty Newborn was blurbed as follows: “a rare, pivotal watershed beyond all other triumphs: Orville Wright’s first flight, NASA’s landing on the moon….” [Link]

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Maya’s Slim Chance – Bone Marrow Donor Needed

maya.jpgHere at Sepia Mutiny, we have covered many bone marrow campaigns over the years. As you know by now, South Asian Americans have a 1:20,000 chance of finding a match in the bone marrow registry which is a stark difference to Caucasians who have an 80% chance of finding a match. To put that in terms of numbers, as of Jan ’09 there were 5,408,623 Caucasians in the donor registry, and only 139,460 South Asian donors in the registry. The mutiny has helped to publicize the the Help Vinay & Sameer campaigns, which added 25,000 new South Asian names to the national registry.

But there is a new little girl that needs our help, the precious four year old Maya Chamberlain.

In September, 4-year-old Maya Chamberlin was diagnosed with a rare blood disease known as HLH. Her chances of survival depend on finding a suitable bone marrow donor…. Maya’s mother, Dr. Mina Chamberlin, says her daughter’s illness, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, affects the immune system. [kpcc]

The reason that makes a match especially tough? She’s half desi.

The pool of potentially mixed-race donors is made even more difficult because blood relatives of patients often don’t qualify, and trying to find a volunteer with the right racial combination can be extremely tough, experts said. Marrow transplants are also more complex than those involving organs. [latimes]

> “It’s difficult with Maya because she comes from a mixed genetic background,” Chamberlin says. “I myself am from India and my husband is Caucasian — German and English descent — so the combination of the two is making it more difficult to find a match.” > > A donor’s compatibility is based on their HLA — or human leukocyte antigen — type. “And HLA is basically inherited. So the probability of finding a suitable donor is highest among people of your own race,” Chamberlin says. > >She says the chances of finding a donor are “pretty low — pretty, pretty low… But it is not hopeless. I mean, I know there is that one person out there.”[[kpcc](http://www.scpr.org/news/2009/12/27/4-year-old-girl-faces-long-odds-in-search-for-dono/)] Continue reading

Follow Up on Glenn Beck, Ganges, Cipro, etc.

Again via Media Matters, it appears that Glenn Beck has made a very brief, minimal apology about his comment about the “river that sounds like a disease” last week:

Pretty weak, no? It reminds me a bit of trying to convince a little kid to say “sorry” for something he’s done. You coax and coax, and when he finally says “sorry” in a half-hearted, minimal way you realize that there’s no remorse there whatsoever; he’s just doing it to get you to leave him alone. Glenn Beck is, apparently, that naughty little kid.

This little stab at an apology comes as the story has been starting to pick up steam in the Indian media, and as a growing number of Indian American groups have been speaking out about it. Arzan mentioned to me that he’s seen coverage of the story on a few Indian television channels, and there is also a smattering of print coverage in the Indian Express, Zee News, and Times Now.

The Indian American groups cited in the coverage have included the AAPI (Indian doctors), USINPAC, and … Rajan Zed. (Rajan Zed is still apparently the first, and maybe only, Hindu leader in the U.S. on everyone’s speed dial.) Where is everyone else?

A group called the Forum For Hindu Awakening, has also apparently filed a complaint against Beck with the FCC, though I do not expect that to amount to much.

Is that the end of it? (Next we will find out that Beck is also a paid spokesman for one of the companies that makes “Cipro,” too.) Continue reading

“The big river they have there that sounds like a disease”: Glenn Beck on India

I have been struggling and failing to find an appropriate way to respond to Glenn Beck’s latest insanity. MediaMatters has the video and the almost unbelievable quotes, which about 1.2 billion people are likely to deem to be offensive and tasteless, from a recent Beck broadcast:

For those not able to stomach watching the actual video, the choice quotes are as follows:

And also, in our research that it took us, oh about 40 seconds, we figured out that some of that money here in America winds up in the pocket of a skilled doctor that helps off-set the 20 years of schooling that he endured and the loans he took out. And – you’re not going to believe this one, Karlyn – some of that money seems to go to the 1 million SEIU workers in the healthcare industry that make slightly more here than in India. Because, you know, they have an American lifestyle, maybe a couple of cars, great union benefits, and homes with something that we in America like to call flush toilets. (link)

Quite separately from the nasty slur about India in this quote, Beck’s logic completely escapes me. If anyone can actually make sense of what he is trying to say, I would be curious to hear it. I think this is an elaborate way of saying Americans shouldn’t do medical tourism in India, but rather pay premium rates for procedures not covered by insurance, because some of the money they might be giving a surgeon will somehow go to SEIU workers? (But what’s all this about loans and so on? Is he aware that Indian students bring millions upon millions of dollars into American higher education?)

But of course, the real stunner in this ‘bit’ from Beck is the following:

I don’t want a discounted doctor. I don’t want discounted wages. I don’t want any of this stuff. If I wanted to live in India, I’d live in India. I want not the Indian lifestyle, I want the American lifestyle. I’m sure, no offense to India, I’m sure it’s beautiful and everything. I’ve heard especially this time of year, especially by the – you know that one big river they have there that sounds like a disease? Come on, it does. I mean, if somebody said, ‘I’m sorry, you have a really bad case of Ganges,’ you’d want Cipro.” (link)

While the earlier rant directed at medical tourism, incoherent as it was, had some salience to the health care debate, this bit of assholery is just utterly gratuitous.

I’m looking forward to the day this guy falls back into obscurity. A few months ago, left-leaning activists launched a campaign to get Beck’s advertisers to pull back from his show. While they were successful, it hasn’t done anything to slow him down. Beck’s provocations are working: his rating continue to be high, no matter how many times he’s mocked by comedians and spat at by bloggers. It’s hard for me personally to get newly outraged when this guy has been, for months, comparing President Obama to Hitler and the like.

Still, the level of offense these statements could provoke in India itself, if the comments end up being covered in the Indian media (hint hint), could make things interesting for Beck. (Here’s a tip for any Indian journalists reading this: Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News, also owns Star TV… Hmm…) Continue reading

Affordable healthcare essay contest

Just a quick note for our loquacious readers (many of whom also enjoy blogging): the Asian American Action-fund blog is sponsoring an essay contest centered around the healthcare debate. Specifically, how do we fix our system? Given the number of healthcare professionals in the South Asian American community I am guessing there are a lot of thoughts out there. Have at it:

AAA-Fund proudly announces its 2009 Healthcare Blogathon. Please send us your blog post on the following topic

How can we fix our healthcare system so that everyone can get access to quality, affordable healthcare? Please share your thoughts and personal stories on why we need healthcare reform now (500 words or less).


Send your entries to Richard Chen (rchen [at] aaa-fund.org).

But hurry! The deadline: Friday, September 25, 8 pm ET. [Link]

I think I will end up being one of the judges. Prizes are as follows

First Place: One Hundred Fifty Dollars ($150), 2 free tickets to the 2010 AAA-Fund Gala (a $200 value), and an exclusive invitation to become a featured AAA-Fund Blogger

Second Place: 2 free tickets to the 2010 AAA-Fund Gala (a $200 value), and an exclusive invitation to become a featured AAA-Fund Blogger

Third Place: Lunch with a AAA-Fund leader, and an exclusive invitation to become a featured AAA-Fund Blogger [Link]

Good luck SM-ers! Continue reading

Desi doctors ubiquitous…even in propaganda

As I blogged about a couple of days ago, the Republican party sees the health care health insurance debate as “Obama’s Waterloo.” They intend to break him. As part of that campaign they have been circulating the following flyer which they title, “House Democrats’ Health Plan.” The purpose is to try and communicate that the Democrats’ plan is a hot mess that will be the end of the world. Scary things like “IRS” are prominently highlighted. It is by no means the Republicans alone that put out unhelpful propaganda like this, but this example is a particularly disgusting commentary on how far our political discourse has sunk:

Click for higher res image

My eagle-eyed friend Ankur, a physician, spotted that the icon of the doctor in the bottom right corner looks like a desi woman. She does to me too (but it makes no difference even if she is Hispanic for the following point). Now take a look at the yellow box with the arrow feeding in to the doctor. It reads “Cultural and Linguistic Competence Training.” This training is important because it allows doctors to better serve under-served minorities. However, the implication here is flipped. The woman is a minority so a mere glance would imply that the Democrats’ health care plan would use taxpayer dollars to teach language skills to foreign doctors. Or cultural skills maybe? The entire poster is a menu of scare tactics but this one is particularly ill-conceived. I wonder if AAPI has any opinion about this.

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Cancer Disparities in the Community

Saath_SACflier01.jpg If you are in Southern California this weekend, I highly recommend stopping by USC to check out the following conference on cancer in the South Asian community.

According to the California Cancer Registry, the top cancers affecting South Asians in Los Angeles include breast, colorectal, corpus uterine, ovarian, thyroid, prostate, lung, leukemias and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Recent research conducted by Saath …has uncovered very low screening rates among South Asians for top cancers affecting them. As a result, Saath, with its goal to collaborate with communities to improve the health of South Asians, has developed programs to increase awareness and screening in the community and support those who are affected by cancer. [pakistanlink]

Health disparities for the broader Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities are relatively stark and it’s not surprising to hear that in the sub-ethnic group of the South Asian American community that the disparities are just as striking. These disparities often revolve around issues of access to screening or lack of education which is also related to a need for in-language resources and culturally competent providers. Saath, a Los Angeles based non-profit organization, focuses their work on researching and outreaching to assist South Asians afflicted with cancer.

What exactly are the cancer disparities? Well this is the tricky part – there hasn’t been much research done on cancer in the South Asian American community. In my opinion, a large reason why there hasn’t been targeted research is because the standard traditional research methods is not able to a) capture the sub-South Asian categories properly or b) capture a statistically significant sample population i.e. the “n”. This is the perpetual catch-22 cycle when it comes to researching our community – how to develop research using both culturally relevant and statistically significant methods that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the research. Continue reading

Perrier, Evian, or B’eau Pal?

bhopal water 3.jpg

A few days ago, I received a press announcement for a new line of luxury bottled water: B’eau Pal. (Oo la la!) But the fine print was a little less enticing:

The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world’s largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical — who bought Union Carbide — has refused to clean up and whole new generations are being poisoned.

An explanation? Suffice it to say that The Yes Men have been at it again. Continue reading