Curious Bends – Warren Anderson, handheld malaria detectors, ancient Indian science and more

1. Warren Anderson, who faced one of history’s worst industrial disasters, is dead

“After he became chairman and chief executive in 1982, he improved productivity and sales, and acquired several companies, including STP Oil. Ecologists said Union Carbide began shaking off the reputation as a polluter that had long dogged it. Mr. Anderson ruled over an empire with 700 plants in more than three dozen countries. Then came Bhopal. For the first time in his life, Mr. Anderson couldn’t sleep; at one point he holed up for a week at a hotel in Stamford, Conn. He and his wife, Lillian, spent evenings reading newspaper articles about the tragedy to each other. When they went to restaurants, he was afraid to be seen laughing because people “might not think it was appropriate,” he told The Times.” (5 min read, The New York Times)

2. A handheld device that detects malaria in 30 minutes

““The algorithms we have developed run on a smartphone-like platform and do this evaluation automatically. It doesn’t require the intervention of a skilled technician. While the qualitative test results can be known instantaneously, quantitative parasitemia levels are assessed and displayed in about 30 minutes,” said Gorthi. The scientists also believe that this portable handheld device can be modified for diagnosing other diseases as well.” (3 min read, LiveMint)

3. Modern food retailing has struggled to win customers from India’s old-fashioned merchants

“In large part it is because supermarkets are not a compelling draw in terms of price and service. Most shoppers in India buy dairy products, vegetables and fruit either daily or every two to three days, and the traditional trade has a lock on these frequent purchases, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Its hold weakens a bit (and the appeal of supermarkets correspondingly tightens) on rich consumers and for less regular purchases: packaged foods; soaps, detergents and other groceries; and staples, such as rice and grains (see chart). But in general even affluent consumers prefer traditional stores, because they are closer to home, are usually open longer and offer credit to familiar customers. Many will deliver free of charge.” (6 min read, The Economist)

4. The Prime Minister and early Indian science

“Mr Modi’s claims are an inversion of the logic of faith; he is asserting that the supernatural, in this case the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, is not an instance of divine magic but the consequence of human technology. He is, if you like, offering us a secular explanation for a deity in the Hindu pantheon. If this is a reasonable characterization of his claims, then the closest parallel to the Prime Minister’s thinking is to be found not in the religious beliefs of other political figures, but in the speculative theories of Erich von Daniken. Von Daniken was an enormously successful Swiss writer in the 60s and 70s who wrote a series of best-selling books based on a single conceit: the idea that the artefacts of ancient civilisation were littered with signs that pre-historical human societies were raised from their primitive state by intelligent extraterrestrials” (7 min read, NDTV)

5. For ‘Clean India’ to work, the country needs to solve its waste disposal problem

“In addition, Delhi’s four landfill sites extend over 164 acres, when the current requirement is nearly four times the available area – 650 acres, according to a 2011 report by the Central Pollution Control Board. “Even if people learn to dump their garbage at the dhalaos [a small garbage dump typically servicing a few streets of a neighbourhood], how will that help if thedhalaos can’t be emptied, since there are barely any space left in landfills,” Narain asked.” (4 min read,

Chart of the week

“The death penalty divides public opinion in America and has mostly ended in Europe. But around the world, the number of places that carry out capital punishment and the number of people killed is rising. Executions took place in 22 countries last year, according to Amnesty International, a human-rights lobby. In America there were 39 executions—more than the known number of executions in Yemen, Sudan or Somalia. Countries whose gallows had been left unused for long periods put prisoners to death, notably Indonesia (for the first time in four years), Kuwait (in six years) and Nigeria (in seven years).” The Economist has more.

Countries which carried out the death penalty in 2013

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