WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2022–01

About: the beginning of the year, the world this week, 2 January to 8 January 2022, Elizabeth Holmes, Desmond Tutu, James Webb, Richard Leakey, Apple, Narendra Modi, and Novak Djokovic.

Everywhere

Elizabeth Holmes

Dropping out of a famous College in America -and often finding brain-ticking space in your Dad’s garage-is the surest way to building up on a great start-up idea, turning it into a World-filling Company, and stardom. Apple, Microsoft, Google…used this mantra to get to where they are now.

Then came Elizabeth Holmes also using the garage path. She founded a Company called Theranos in the year 2003, at age 19, shortly after dropping out of chemical engineering at Stanford University, United States (US). Theranos is a combination of the words, ‘therapy and diagnosis’.

On its birth, Theranos was spoken of as a breakthrough health technology company, with claims of having devised blood tests that required minuscule amounts of blood and could be performed rapidly, using small automated devices that the company had developed. The firm promised it would revolutionise the healthcare industry. But it began to unravel in 2015, after a Wall Street Journal ‘Sherlock Holmes’ investigation, that its core blood-testing technology did not actually work. Theranos was officially closed-down in 2018. Elementary, Dr Watson!

During its growing-up years, Theranos was able to raise more than USD 900 million from Venture Capitalists including billionaires such as media magnate Rupert Murdoch and tech mogul Larry Ellison, and at one point was valued at USD 9 Billion. It was also considered the darling of Silicon Valley and Elizabeth Holmes was placed on a ‘Steve Jobs Pedestal’.

This week, in California, after nearly four months at trial, Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of conspiring to defraud investors. Holmes was convicted on four -conspiracy to commit fraud against investors and three counts of wire transfer fraud — of 11 counts, acquitted on four counts and the jury could not reach a decision on three counts.

Holmes knew the product she was selling to investors was a sham, but remained tight-lipped and hell-bent on the firm’s success. Lab directors told Holmes about the flaws in Theranos’ technology but were instructed to downplay their concerns. At the same time, Holmes told investors that the technology was operating as planned.

There was also another angle of blame on Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, Holmes’ former business partner and long-term boyfriend. Holmes has accused Balwani, 19 years her senior, of emotional and sexual abuse. She described an intense relationship, in which Balwani controlled how she ran Theranos, who she spoke to, how she spoke to them, and what she ate. He has denied the allegations. Their decade-long relationship came to an end around the same time he stepped down as Chief Executive Officer in May 2016. He faces a separate trial next month.

This tarnishes the image of Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs like never before. And the now 37 years old Elizabeth Holmes could face more than 20 years in prison.

Desmond Tutu

This week Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, aged 90 years, who passed away on 26 December 2021 in South Africa was cremated by a green, climate friendly process called Aquamation. He has specifically requested this method before his death and wanted his funeral to be a non-ostentatious one.

Aquamation, or Alkaline Hydrolysis, consists of cremation by water rather than fire. In the process, the body is immersed for three to four hours in a mixture of water and a strong alkali like potassium hydroxide in a pressurised metal cylinder, and heated to around 150 degrees Celsius. Through the process, the entire body is liquified, except for the bones, which are dried in an oven and then reduced to dust (…unto dust you shall return). Alkaline Hydrolysis is sometimes referred to as flameless cremation.

Desmond Tutu was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, known for his work as an anti-apartheid and a human rights activist. He bravely opposed apartheid in South Africa and won the Nobel for his non-violent struggle against apartheid.

He served as Bishop of Johannesburg and then as Archbishop of Cape Town, in both cases being the first black African to hold the position.

He was, kind of, best friends with Nelson Mandela and participated in peacefully dismantling apartheid in South Africa when Mandela was released after 27 years in jail and later took over the reins of government as the first black President.

Desmond Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, a teacher whom he had met while at college. He leaves behind his wife and four children. One of his daughters married her partner, an atheist woman Professor in the Netherlands, and he was supportive of the union. Though same sex marriage is legal in South Africa, the Anglican Church insists that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. He had said, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this”.

His daughter said of him, “My Dad has a real gift of being on the right side of an issue, not from the point of the argument of right and wrong, but from the point of caring for people on the margins. Who is the least powerful one in the configuration? What is the most loving thing in any situation? That generally leads him in the right direction”.

His remarkable warmth and mischievous humour were recognised by world leaders, many of whom consider him to be their moral compass.

The world will miss his liberal kind. Sleep well Reverend Desmond Tutu.

Richard Leakey

It’s almost common knowledge, and agreed by most Scientists, that the human species-now living with the name Homo Sapiens-first emerged somewhere in Africa about 2.5 million years ago. This is based on fossilised bones and skulls that have been uncovered in East Africa and dated accurately by radiometric dating. These age of the bones and skulls discovered range between 25,000 and 4.4 million years and show different stages of human evolution. These fossils have been uncovered by paleoarchaeologists: scientists who study the material remains of the entire human evolutionary line.

The story of human origin goes like this: For 99.9 % of our history, from the time of the first living cell, the human ancestral line was the same as that of Chimpanzees. Then, about 6 million years ago, a new line split off from the Chimpanzee line, and a new group appeared in the open Savannas (grass lands and wood lands) of Africa, rather than in the Rainforest Jungle. The old ‘Rainforest Group’ continued to evolve separately, and two of its species remain in existence to this day: the common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo(an endangered Great Ape).

The new ‘Savanna Group’ evolved, over the millennia, into several species (how many is not entirely clear, but at least 18 different ones — all bearing the Genus Homo), until only one was left: us, Homo Sapiens.

Until the 1950s, European scientists believed that Homo Sapiens evolved in Europe, or possibly in Asia, about 60,000 years ago. Since then, excavation of fossil bones in East Africa, pioneered by famous palaeontologists, Mary and Louis Leakey, has revealed that Homo Sapiens may have emerged in Africa much earlier.

To bring you on step. The first early human fossil bones were found in Europe- of Neanderthals in Germany in 1857 and in France in 1868. The Java Man was found in Indonesia, in 1894. The Peking Man was found in China in 1923–1927. And more recently, confirmation of the Dragon Man — a more than 1.4 million years old skull found in China’s Harbin in 1933.

Confusing, what do we make of all of this?

Then steps-in, Richard Leakey, the son of Mary and Louis Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist (studies human evolution through fossil and archaeological records) who helped uncover evidence to prove humankind evolved in Africa. He nailed it.

Leakey’s expeditions in the 1970s altered our understanding of human evolution, especially with the discovery of a 1.9 million year old skull of Homo Habilis in 1972 and a 1.6 million year old skull of Homo Erectus in 1975.

In 1984, his team including Kamoya Kimeu-considered one of the greatest fossil hunters of all time-uncovered a near complete Homo Erectus (Homo Ergaster) skeleton on the banks of the Nariokotome River, near Lake Turkana in Kenya that became known as the ‘Turkana Boy’, a youth — 7 to 11 years old — who lived 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago. This was the most complete early human skeleton ever found and became a game changer in understanding the very early history of mankind.

Richard Leakey then went on to unlocking more secrets of our evolution.

In 1993, a small propeller-driven plane piloted by Richard Leakey crashed, crushing his lower legs, both of which were later amputated and thereafter he lived with artificial legs. In later years his kidneys refused to function and he survived, with reasonable health, on a kidney transplant-donated by his brother.

This week, on 2 January 2022, the famed anthropologist who was nearly 77 years old passed away in Kenya.

Leakey was also a conservationist, leading the charge to try to wipe out the poaching of African elephants and rhinos, although his methods were often considered controversial — He once burnt down a whole stack of poached ivory.

Later, he tried his hand at Politics too and leaves the world with the title of paleoanthropologist, fossil-hunter, conservationist, and politician.

James Webb

The James Webb Telescope Observatory, built by the US and named after one of the architects of the Apollo moon landings, was launched into Space on 25 December 2021 by an Ariane rocket from the Kourou, in French Guiana. Webb is the world’s largest space telescope and is the successor to the Hubble telescope.

The mission’s goal is to show the first stars to light up the Universe. The Webb telescope has a life of 10 years (compared to the Hubble’s 30 years) has a 6.5 metre(m) mirror, weighs 6200 kilograms and can withstand temperatures of (-) 230 Degrees Centrigrade.

In about two weeks after launch, Webb will unfold from its compact launch configuration into the operational configuration, which is nearly the size of a Tennis Court. This week saw the observatory’s secondary mirror locked into position on the end of three 8 metre long booms. It sets the stage for the all-important unpacking of Webb’s primary mirror -the biggest reflecting surface ever sent into orbit. The mirror’s size will enable it to gather the faintest signals in the most exquisite detail. But the reflector will be useless if the light it collects cannot be directed into the telescope’s instruments. This is the role of the 74 cm-wide secondary mirror. Sitting out in front, it will bounce back into the heart of the observatory whatever the main mirror sees.

Webb’s primary mirror consists of 18 hexagonal segments made of gold-plated beryllium, which is light-weight and holds its shape at very low temperatures. The gold coating makes for near-perfect reflection in the infrared-the wavelength of light in which the pioneer stars will be seen to shine.

Now we have Eyes at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth looking deep into Space. Wonder what it would see?

Apple

Apple became the first US company to be valued at over USD three Trillion on Monday as the tech company continued its phenomenal share price growth, tripling in value in under four years. A pandemic-era surge in tech stocks has driven the major US tech companies to new highs, pulling US stock markets with them. Apple got past USD 2 trillion in 2020. Apple alone is now more valuable than the combined values of Boeing, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon-Mobil, McDonald’s, Netflix, and Walmart. Its shares have risen 38% since the beginning of 2021, one of the largest gains on the Dow Jones industrial average stock market index.

Narendra Modi

The Prime Minister (PM) of India, Narendra Modi, was on a visit to the State of Punjab — bordering Pakistan- to inaugurate new projects and also address a rally in the city of Ferozepur, ahead of State Elections. He arrived at Punjab’s Bhatinda Airport this Wednesday morning, and was supposed to fly to the National Martyrs’ Memorial and later to the rally in a helicopter. But the helicopter trip was delayed by bad weather and poor visibility. And the convoy finally took to the road. On the way the PM’s Convoy got stuck, almost trapped for about 20 minutes on a flyover, some 30km from the memorial due to a blockade by protesters, in what is being seen as a mighty serious security lapse. The protesters were demanding the resignation of a cabinet minister whose son has been accused over the deaths of farmers during the Farm Laws repeal agitation. The PM turned back to Bhatinda Airport and and then flew to New Delhi.

Seems that the Farmers were tipped off by the Punjab Police -acting on the behest of the Sate Government-when it was the sworn sacred duty of the Police to ensure contingency plans and safety of the PM of the Country.

The security breach, a first of its kind, caused a major uproar all over India with people demanding punishment for those responsible: Punjab being awfully close to Pakistan and previous shooting incidents in the area coming back to memory.

This is an unacceptable unprecedented situation and a severe wake-up call to the security think-tanks and Politicians. I would like to see some heads roll-top down.

Novak Djokovic

With the Australian Open Tennis Tennis Tournament set to begin in Australia the World No 1 Champion Novak Djokovic-a noted vaccine sceptic-played into a controversy resulting in being served with a quarantine in an Australian Hotel.

Djokovic boasted of getting a vaccination exemption, on unexplained medical grounds, when rules said that all players in the Australian Open must be double-jabbed.

Someone messed-up by giving a free-pass Visa and someone else woke up in time to stop him at the Airport in Australia for not being vaccinated, and promptly had his Visa cancelled. He now faces an unceremonious deportation, while the legal rules play across the net with him sitting it out on his Hotel bench. Should not Djokovic be more responsible? Watch out for that ace.

More fascinating and wild-eyed stories about people and communities coming up in the weeks and months ahead. Play and serve World Inthavaaram.

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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Kumar Govindan

Kumar Govindan

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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