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The real War against Terror is the war of Ideology & Counter Narrative

“THIS is a war of narratives ... there is a dire need to come up with counter-narratives ... the menace of terrorism cannot be dealt...

14 February 2016

This is the most profound explanation I've heard of what it means to detect gravitational waves

"We can hear the cosmos."
The scientific world is still reeling over the first ever detection of ripples in the fabric of space-time, called gravitational waves.
Albert Einstein predicted their existence 100 years ago but never believed we'd actually detect the waves. So right now if you hang around physicists, who can't contain their excitement, you're bound to hear some profound scientific poetry.

One scientist from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, which announced the detection of gravitational waves on February 11, shared what is perhaps the most beautiful and poignant description Tech Insider has heard so far.

Physicist Szabi Marka, a LIGO collaborator based at Columbia University, gushed about the coming scientific revolution to a crowded Columbia lecture hall in New York.

"The skies will never be the same," Marka told the audience, mainly physics students. "Gravitational waves will let us listen to the music of the cosmos."

Marka's use of the word "listen" is no accident.
Sound travels as waves, and so does a gravitational wave. Except instead of air or water or some other matter, gravitational waves move through a medium that permits everything in it — you, me, the Earth, the stars — to exist at all.

What's more, when something calamitous happens in outer space, like the truly awesome collision of two black holes, the waves warp space as they pass by. Until September 2015, when LIGO first recorded this "music," it was entirely out of reach of humankind.

No telescope that detects light of any wavelength — radio, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray, or gamma — could have detected such an event.

"Imagine that you can touch, you can smell, you can taste, you can see, and one day, one day you can hear. That day is a glorious day," Marka said. "You can appreciate Beethoven … Your life will never be the same again. This is what happened to us. This is what happened to us as a community."
Marka finished: "From today, we can hear the cosmos. We can see the unseen."

Many researchers, like Marka, told us the discovery of gravitational waves is just the beginning of a revolution in science. It's such a radically new paradigm that the detection itself brought with it a (growing) list of firsts.

"We're humans, we're curious, and on a quest to understand such weird things that are a big part of our universe," Kip Thorne, a physicist at Caltech and a cofounder of LIGO, told Tech Insider. "It's a quest that's part of dream of humanity that goes back to a child's earliest days."

This is the most profound explanation I've heard of what it means to detect gravitational waves
By Dave Mosher,

Artificial Intelligence (AI) 'could leave half of world unemployed

Scientist Moshe Vardi tells colleagues that change could come within 30 years, with few professions immune to effect of advanced artificial intelligence.
Machines could put more than half the world’s population out of a job in the next 30 years, according to a computer scientist who said on Saturday that artificial intelligence’s threat to the economy should not be understated.

Expert Moshe Vardi told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task.

“I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?”

Physicist Stephen Hawking and the tech billionaires Bill Gates and Elon Musk issued a similar warning last year. Hawking warned that AI “could spell the end of the human race” and Musk said it represents “our biggest existential threat”.

The fear of artificial intelligence has even reached the UN, where a group billing itself the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots met with diplomats last year.

Vardi, a professor at Rice University and Guggenheim fellow, said that technology presents a more subtle threat than the masterless drones that some activists fear. He suggested AI could drive global unemployment to 50%, wiping out middle-class jobs and exacerbating inequality.

Unlike the industrial revolution, Vardi said, “the AI revolution” will not be a matter of physically powerful machines that outperform human laborers, but rather a contest between human wit and mechanical intelligence and strength. In China the question has already affected thousands of jobs, as electronics manufacturers, Foxconn and Samsung among them, develop precision robots to replace human workers.

In his talk, the computer scientist alluded to economist John Maynard Keynes’ rosy vision of a future in which billions worked only a few hours a week, with intelligent machines to support their easy lifestyles – a prediction embraced wholesale by Google head of engineering Ray Kurzweil, who believes “the singularity” of super-AI could bring about utopia for a future hybrid of mankind.

Vardi insisted that even if machines make life easier, humanity will face an existential challenge.

“I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing,” he said. “I believe that work is essential to human wellbeing.”

Computer scientist Bart Selman told reporters at the conference that as self-driving cars, “household robots, service robots” and other intelligent systems become more common, humans will “sort of be in a symbiosis with those machines, and we’ll start to trust them and start to work with them”.

Selman, a professor at Cornell University, said: “Computers are basically starting to hear and see the way humans do,” thanks to advances in big data and “deep learning”.

Vardi predicted that driving will be almost fully automated in the next 25 years, and asked, for all the benefits of technology, “what can humans do when machines can do almost everything?”

He said that technology has already massively changed the US economy in the last 50 years. “We were all delighted to hear that unemployment went down to 4.8%” this month, he said, “but focusing on the monthly job report hides the fact that for the last 35 years the country has been in economic crisis.”

Citing research from MIT, he noted that although Americans continue to drive GDP with increasing productivity, employment peaked around 1980 and average wages for families have gone down. “It’s automation,” Vardi said.

He also predicted that automation’s effect on unemployment would have huge political consequences, and lamented that leaders have largely ignored it. “We are in a presidential election year and this issue is just nowhere on the radar screen.”

He said that virtually no human profession is totally immune: “Are you going to bet against sex robots? I would not.”

Last year, the consultant company McKinsey published research about which jobs are at risk thanks to intelligent machines, and found that some jobs – or at least well-paid careers like doctors and hedge fund managers – are better protected than others. Less intuitively, the researchers also concluded that some low-paying jobs, including landscapers and health aides, are also less likely to be changed than others.

In contrast, they concluded that 20% of a CEO’s working time could be automated with existing technologies, and nearly 80% of a file clerk’s job could be automated. Their research dovetails with Vardi’s worst-case scenario predictions, however; they argued that as much as 45% of the work people are paid to do could be automated by existing technology.

Vardi said he wanted the gathering of scientists to consider: “Does the technology we are developing ultimately benefit mankind?

“Humanity is about to face perhaps its greatest challenge ever, which is finding meaning in life after the end of ‘in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’,” he said. “We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge.”

In the US, the labor secretary, Thomas Perez, has told American seaports that they should consider robotic cranes and automatic vehicles in order to compete with docks around the world, despite the resistance of unions. In 2013, two Oxford professors predicted that as much as 47% of the US workforce, from telemarketers to legal secretaries and cooks, were vulnerable to automation.

Dire forecasts such as Vardi’s are not without their critics, including Pulitzer-winning author Nicholas Carr and Stanford scientist Edward Geist. Carr has argued that human creativity and intuition in the face of complex problems is essentially irreplaceable, and an advantage over computers and their overly accurate reputation.

Walking the line between the pessimists and optimists, Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, has suggested that automation will come down to politics today, telling National Geographic that if scientists and governments don’t address the issue “for lots of people who are not economically at the top, it’s going to be pretty dystopian”.

By Alan Yuhas in Washington DC,

12 February 2016

From Atheism To Violent Extremism: The 8 Stages Of Religiosity

Today, in the frightening milieu of religious extremism, intolerance, and terrorist attacks, one gets a little uncomfortable even mentioning of the word "religion". Very often, in TV shows and debates I see younger the generation boiling with a rebellion of sorts against religion. Suddenly, people with tilaks, skull caps, robes and gowns have started to symbolise the sources of all the conflict in the world.

While it's true that a bunch of terrorists and extremists pose a grave threat to world peace and human civilisation, I think it is misguided to malign and vilify all those who publicly profess their religious identity and display its symbols. Therefore, it becomes crucial to explore the journey of religiosity to find out the nuances of the phenomenon in which a person travels from atheism or most basic theism to religious extremism.

The earliest stage could be atheism, which means an absence of faith in any omniscient, omnipotent being or supersensible entities like soul and consciousness. It also implies a counter-narrative which propounds the ultimate reality of the material world.

The next stage is agnosticism which is more of an academic concept, expressing one's inability to have any affirmative or negative judgment about entities like God, soul, and cosmos, in a very Kantian sense of the "impossibility of metaphysics".

Theism implies having a very rudimentary sense of belief in supersensible entities. However, in the case of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other oriental traditions, it might not be a correct approach to see things through the prism of theism and atheism, as there is complete oneness between God or ultimate truth and mankind, and all the plurality is illusory and relative. Hinduism incorporates atheism when Charvaka, a die-hard materialist is revered as a great sage in the Mahabharata. But, certainly Hinduism in the majority of its multiple belief systems would fall in theist category because there is a belief in the existence of transcendental entities.

The next stage is of being "religious", where one follows a particular belief system in a very basic manner with a sense of devotion which implies practicing some primary rituals and following the belief system as a part of life. However, at this stage there is no rigidity in one's outlook emanating from one's belief system. For instance, any Hindu or Muslim who adheres to scriptural injunctions and rituals without rigidity and exclusivist tendencies, and with faith in the general underlying principles of the religion and, shows respect or tolerance towards other belief systems, could be called religious.

In the next stage of religious fundamentalism, one witnesses a rigorous form of discipline obeying the fundamentals of religion which could be in the form of routine prayers, rituals, customs and other scriptural injunctions. At this stage, one witnesses a strong element of rigidity and a certain degree of intolerance towards other faiths or even a sense of superiority in one's own belief system over others. Until this stage, one can survive in a multicultural society with some level of discomfort.

The real problem begins with the stage of religious extremism. Politically, this stage demands the domination of state institutions by the people following a particular religious ideology at the expense of other minorities. It could be a theocratic state like Saudi Arabia, Iran or the Sunni-dominated Iraq of Saddam Hussein, or the Islamic republic of Pakistan. At this stage, one has to have a feeling of animosity and hatred towards other faith systems and their followers. Extremists generally have a revisionist agenda (the concept of Gajwa-e-Hind i.e. re-conquest of India by Islam, nurtured by radical Islamic outfits and individuals), a very high degree of intolerance, hatred, and contempt towards other religious systems. Often, such systems discriminate against a religious minority, persecute them and even nurture political dreams of the ethnic cleansing of minorities. Socially such systems thrive on the strict literal translation of sacred texts in the matters of social regulation and jurisprudence (punishments). Usually, such readings of scriptural injunctions are rigid, anachronistic, out of context, and to serve the socio-political objectives of extremist organisations/governments and individuals. However, in this stage, large-scale violence to secure one's religious and socio-political objectives is not generally prevalent.

The next stage of radicalism is more of a preparatory stage leading someone towards the final stage of terrorist violence. Radicalisation may involve specialised indoctrination or brainwashing programs for specific individuals, who are in the state of religious extremism. Such individuals, by virtue of the degree of their passionate extremism, are considered more suitable to be indoctrinated for committing acts of terrorist violence.

The last stage is of violent extremism or terrorism. At this stage, terrorist organisations and individuals indulge in extreme and most brutal forms of violence to secure their socio-political ends based on their narrow reading of scriptures. The intensity, brutality and frequency of violence - always aimed to strike terror in the minds of common folk -- could vary depending on the strength of cadres and military capabilities.

After the stage of religious fundamentalism, there is a possibility of mild diversion into the spiritual domain. One may realise the futility of rigidity and contempt towards other faiths, for one's own spiritual growth. Such an individual may lose the obsession with religious symbols and rituals, especially if these are in conflict with rationality and the requirements of changing times, while retaining the core philosophical message of the religion.

Counter-terrorism measures must reflect a nuanced understanding of the process in which an individual turns from a "religious person" to a "terrorist". Most followers fall in the second and third categories i.e. "religious" and "religious fundamentalist" so the right kind of policy intervention at these stages will be very helpful in checking the growth of radicalisation. And, it might be very helpful to engage liberal and spiritual religious scholars in such policy interventions as followers will be able to repose their trust in them.

09 February 2016

The long history of Muslims and Christians killing people together

In 1683, a vast Ottoman army camped outside the gates of Vienna. For centuries thereafter, the siege and final decisive battle that took place would be cast as a defining moment in a clash of civilizations -- that time the forces of Islam were halted at the ramparts of Christendom.
Yet look just a little bit harder, and that tidy narrative falls apart. The Ottoman assault had been coordinated in league with French King Louis XIV. And perhaps more than half of the soldiers seeking to capture the Austrian capital were Christians themselves. There were Greeks, Armenians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, all fighting alongside Arabs, Turks, Kurds and others in the Ottoman ranks.
One of the main figures joining the Turkish campaign was Imre Thokoly, who was a Protestant born in what's now Slovakia and an avowed Hungarian nationalist. Tens of thousands of Hungarian peasants who were angry at the rapacious behavior of the Catholic Church, and the imperial Habsburg dynasty in Vienna had rallied to Thokoly's banner. His alliance with the Ottomans enabled the rapid Turkish march toward the Austrian capital.
It reflected, writes British academic Ian Almond in his 2009 book "Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched With Christians Across Europe's Battlegrounds," how "little use terms such as 'Muslim' and 'Christian' are to describe the almost hopelessly complex web of shifting power-relations, feudal alliances, ethnic sympathies and historical grudges" that shaped much of European history.
That sense of nuance fades over centuries, and certainly wasn't apparent last year when another Hungarian nationalist -- the country's current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán -- cited the legacy of the Ottoman conquest to justify keeping Syrian refugees from passing through Hungary's borders.
"I have to say that when it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go through that experience for 150 years," Orbán told reporters last year, apparently referring to the period of dynastic warfare and mayhem that was sparked by the initial Ottoman invasion in the 16th century.
Orban has hardly been alone with this sort of grand, historical rhetoric. A host of Eastern European leaders, representing various right-of-center, nationalist governments, echoed Orbán's line, painting the migrant influx as an existential threat, an "invasion" of people whose cultural identity is wholly alien to Europe. A coalition of far-right activist groups in the region last week warned of "Islam conquering Europe" and announced plans for joint protests.
Further west, from France to the United States, conservative politicians -- including Republican presidential candidates -- also have gestured at a clash of civilizations when proposing bans on refugees or even halting Muslim migration altogether.
"Today, words such as 'Islam' and 'Europe' appear to have all the consistency of oil and water," Almond writes. But, he goes on, "the fact remains that in the history of Europe, for hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians shared common cultures, spoke common languages, and did not necessarily see one another as 'strange' or 'other.'"
The starkest proof of that lies in the battlefield, where Muslims and Christians died next to one another over many centuries.
It wasn't just the Ottomans who had multi-confessional armies. Muslims and Christians fought on all sides of the struggles in medieval Spain, where the last Muslim kingdom was snuffed out only in 1492. The Grand Catalan Company, an infamous mercenary outfit, ended up employing thousands of Turks even after it had been paid to fight them.
Frederick II, a 13th-century king who became the Holy Roman Emperor, deployed thousands of Arab Muslim archers and warriors during his wars with rival factions in Italy, including the armies of the pope. Chroniclers at the time documented the presence in the emperor's ranks of elephants bearing wooden towers bristling with Saracen, or Muslim, soldiers.
The Crimean War of the mid-19th century, a conflict a bit closer to our modern moment, saw a similar mishmash of identities and loyalties. Algerian soldiers were conscripted into the French army; Tatar Muslims were in the Russian ranks; all sorts of Christians -- including Cossacks, Romanian militias and Greek doctors -- were in the service of the Ottomans.
The point is not to romanticize this past -- which, in any event, was rather bloody and brutal. But it's worth bearing in mind these historical footnotes when thinking about the ideological divides and political rhetoric of the present.
"Strategically choosing when to talk about religious differences and when to keep quiet is the oldest trick in history," Almond writes. It's a pretty useful tactic in politics, too.
Washington Post:


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The Ark Before Noah by Irving Finkel

 The story of the Flood retold, An account of the Flood significantly different from that told in the Bible should have resonances with modern audiences
Dr Irving 》》》》》》》
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Makkah, The sacred city

Image result for makkah tower
In the name of icon-smashing, the Saudis have almost completely destroyed the city’s built culture, making instead a steel and glass “haven of consumerism”. The luxurious Royal Makkah Clock Tower, an unfeasibly silly and vertiginous development overlooking the massively expanded holy sanctuary, symbolises this “eruption of architectural bling”, though in truth “even the relatively poor are incited to shop at every available moment”. Shopping has always been part of Mecca but now, Sardar says, the pilgrimage is an adjunct to the retail, not the other way around.》》》》》》

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08 February 2016

Zika Virus- Basic information

There are many things we don’t know about Zika virus, the mosquito-borne disease that may infect three to four million people before the epidemic dies out, according to the World Health Organization.
Experts suspect Zika may be responsible for thousands of babies born with birth defects and an increase in neurological disorders, but it’s going to be a while before we have clear answers on if, and how, the virus actually causes these problems.》》》》》
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What it like being a Muslim during the US presidential elections?

Children from Al-Rahmah school and other guests react after seeing President Barack Obama during his visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday.
Barack Obama used his first presidential visit to an American mosque on Wednesday to call for writers and producers to create more rounded Muslim characters on television.
If you’re a Muslim living in America, we want to know what you think of Obama’s comments, what it’s like living in the US, and what you think of the presidential candidates’ views of Islam.
The president addressed thousands of attendees at the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, and said many Americans do not know a Muslim person and form a “hugely distorted impression” based on TV, film and negative news reports. Since 9/11, Paris and San Bernardino attacks, he continued, “You’ve seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith.
“And of course recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged.”
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio then criticised Obama for the speech.
“Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s discrimination in America, of every kind. But the bigger issue is: radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.” >>>>>>

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