Saturday, December 10, 2011


The Times coverage of the horrible hospital fire in Kolkata (olim Calcutta) suggests that one of its causes was the fact that the Advanced Medical Research Institute is a private hospital, which means apparently less heavily regulated than the public ones:

The blaze is sure to raise fresh questions about safety in India’s booming private hospital business, which, like much else in India, is poorly regulated.
The hospital had recently been named one of the city’s best by The Week, an Indian magazine that regularly ranks hospitals. Like many such hospitals in India, the Advanced Medical Research Institute offered expensive Western-style facilities to middle- and upper-middle-class Indians who have shunned government hospitals, which are crowded and less well equipped.
A great hospital in the aspects seen by its wealthy clientele, in other words, but not so much so in those seen by India's famously onerous, nitpicking regulators--like what are they storing in the basement (diesel fuel and motor oil), is the fire detection system regularly tested and the staff drilled,
and what about the privately contracted security guards?
Local people who tried to get inside the hospital to help rescue patients said they were turned away by security guards who assured them it was only a small kitchen fire.
 Right; death toll is currently 94.

Another story in today's Times details how lobbyists launched a blitzkrieg on the US Department of Education to weaken proposed regulations on for-profit colleges. Including, of course, Kaplan University, prize possession of the Washington Post (but when Donald Graham came to call that wasn't lobbying--I guess he's one of the gentlemen who comes in through the front door instead of the tradesmen's entrance).

One thing that jumped out at me was that the lobbyists "questioned why nonprofit schools were untouched". Well, golly, I wonder. Maybe nonprofit schools weren't trapping students into federally guaranteed loans that they would never be able to pay because they would never get the jobs the schools promised them because they weren't trying to make a profit. Do you think that might explain it?

And maybe public hospitals in Kolkata don't store gas in the basement, and maybe they have stupid boring fire drills every week and generally follow all those annoying bureaucratic rules because they aren't trying to make a profit either. Just taking care of a lot of poor people. Like, socialism*.

Irrelevant linguistical note

Disasters of the familiar Indian type happen so rarely in Kolkata, for all the dire poverty and such, that this is the first time I've heard the sound of the Indian name adopted in 2001 in opposition to colonial Calcutta, like Mumbai for colonial Bombay. NPR, including their intrepid Vir Singh, pronounce it just like the old one except for the first vowel (like "coal"), with stress on the penultimate. For some subconscious reason I had imagined the stress on the antepenult.

Anyway it turns out that that in fact the Bengali way: stress is always at the beginning, as in Czech. The last syllable is unstressed but long: ['koʊlkʌta:]. Then again, as I like to remind people, English is an Indian language too, so shouldn't people like Vir Singh (an educated native speaker if ever there was one, and there certainly was) be the ones to decide how you pronounce it when you're speaking English?

*Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal state, whose government coalition from 1977 to this year was a Left Front dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the longest-lasting democratically elected Communist government in the history of the world. Stress on the democratic--they sure didn't establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Honni soit qui mal y pense!

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