Monthly Archives: August 2015

A cancer-fighting berry has been found

A cancer-fighting berry has been found on a tree that ONLY grows in far North Queensland…and human trials have already been approved 

  • Australian scientists on verge of cancer cure with cancer fighting berry
  • QIMR have used an experimental drug from the seeds of the rainforest plant, Blushwood tree, which only grows in far north Queensland
  • EBC-46 has found to lead to rapid breakdown of cancer tumors 
  • The experimental drug has been used to successfully shrink or destroy tumors in pets
  • Human trials to use the drug are imminent

A team of medical researchers are on their way to finding a cure for cancer after the discovery of a an amazing rainforest berry which holds cancer fighting properties.

Scientists at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland have used an experimental drug produced from the seeds of the rainforest plant, Blushwood tree (Hylandia Dockrillii), which exclusively grows in far north Queensland, to cure solid cancer tumours in pre-clinical trials. 

Already the drug has been used to successfully destroy or shrink tumours in pets and animals – including dogs, cats and horses and even Tasmanian Devils, while human trials are imminent.

Blushwood (pictured) is the plant where the cancer fighting berries are sourced. Scientists from an experimental drug produced by the seeds of the plant have been used to cure cancer tumors in pre clinical trials

Blushwood (pictured) is the plant where the cancer fighting berries are sourced. Scientists from an experimental drug produced by the seeds of the plant have been used to cure cancer tumors in pre clinical trials

The study led by Dr Glen Boyle (pictured) found a single injection of the drug EBC-46 led to rapid breakdown of a range of tumors which could be effective in human patients

The study led by Dr Glen Boyle (pictured) found a single injection of the drug EBC-46 led to rapid breakdown of a range of tumors which could be effective in human patients

The study led by Dr Glen Boyle found a single injection of the drug EBC-46 led to rapid breakdown of a range of tumors which could be effective in human patients.

‘We were able to achieve very strong results injecting EBC-46 directly into melanoma models, as well as cancers of the head, neck and colon,’ said Dr Boyle.

‘In most cases the single injection treatment caused the loss of viability of cancer cells within four hours, and ultimately destroyed the tumours.’

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WHAT SOME SCIENTISTS THINK OF THE MIRACLES OF THE QUR’AN

 

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SCIENTISTS ACCEPTANCE OF THE MIRACLES OF THE QUR’AN
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The following are some comments of scientists on the scientific miracles in the Holy Qur’an.

DR. T. V. N. PERSAUD is Professor of Anatomy, Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health, and Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. There, he was the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy for 16 years. He is well-known in his field. He is the author or editor of 22 textbooks and has published over 181 scientific papers. In 1991, he received the most distinguished award presented in the field of anatomy in Canada, the J.C.B. Grant Award from the Canadian Association of Anatomists. When he was asked about the scientific miracles in the Qur’an which he has researched, he stated the following:

“The way it was explained to me is that Muhammad (PBUH) was a very ordinary man. He could not read, didn’t know [how] to write. In fact, he was an illiterate. And we’re talking about twelve [actually about fourteen] hundred years ago. You have someone illiterate making profound pronouncements and statements and that are amazingly accurate about scientific nature. And I personally can’t see how this could be a mere chance. There are too many accuracies and, like Dr. Moore, I have no difficulty in my mind that this is a divine inspiration or revelation which led him to these statements.”

Professor Persaud has included some Qur’anic verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, in some of his books. He has also presented these verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at several conferences.

DR. JOE LEIGH SIMPSON is the Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA. Formerly, he was Professor of Ob-Gyn and the Chairman of the Department of Ob-Gyn at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He was also the President of the American Fertility Society. He has received many awards, including the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology Public Recognition Award in 1992. Professor Simpson studied the following two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):

“In every one of you, all components of your creation are collected together in your mother’s womb by forty days…’ (Bukhari, Hadith no. 3208)

“If forty-two nights have passed over the embryo, God sends an angel to it, who shapes it and creates its hearing, vision, skin, flesh, and bones….” (Muslim, Hadith no. 2645). He studied these two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) extensively, noting that the first forty days constitute a clearly distinguishable stage of embryo-genesis. He was particularly impressed by the absolute precision and accuracy of those sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then, during one conference, he gave the following opinion:

“So that the two hadeeths (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) that have been noted provide us with a specific timetable for the main embryological development before forty days. Again, the point has been made, I think, repeatedly by other speakers this morning: these hadeeths could not have been obtained on the basis of the scientific knowledge that was available [at] the time of their writing . . . . It follows, I think, that not only is there no conflict between genetics and religion but, in fact, religion can guide science by adding revelation to some of the traditional scientific approaches, that there exist statements in the Qur’an shown centuries later to be valid, which support knowledge in the Qur’an having been derived from God.”

DR. E. MARSHALL JOHNSON is Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. There, for 22 years he was Professor of Anatomy, the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy, and the Director of the Daniel Baugh Institute. He was also the President of the Teratology Society. He has authored more than 200 publications. In 1981, during the Seventh Medical Conference in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Professor Johnson said in the presentation of his research paper:

“Summary: The Qur’an describes not only the development of external form, but emphasizes also the internal stages, the stages inside the embryo, of its creation and development, emphasizing major events recognized by contemporary science.”

Also he said: “As a scientist, I can only deal with things which I can specifically see. I can understand embryology and developmental biology. I can understand the words that are translated to me from the Qur’an. As I gave the example before, if I were to transpose myself into that era, knowing what I knew today and describing things, I could not describe the things which were described. I see no evidence for the fact to refute the concept that this individual, Muhammad (PBUH), had to be developing this information from some place. So I see nothing here in conflict with the concept that divine intervention was involved in what he was able to write.”(The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was illiterate. He could not read nor write, but he dictated the Qur’an to his Companions and commanded some of them to write it down.)

DR. WILLIAM W. HAY is a well-known marine scientist. He is Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA. He was formerly the Dean of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA. After a discussion with Professor Hay about the Qur’an’s mention of recently discovered facts on seas, he said:

“I find it very interesting that this sort of information is in the ancient scriptures of the Holy Qur’an, and I have no way of knowing where they would come from, but I think it is extremely interesting that they are there and that this work is going on to discover it, the meaning of some of the passages.” And when he was asked about the source of the Qur’an, he replied: “Well, I would think it must be the divine being.”

DR. GERALD C. GOERINGER is Course Director and Associate Professor of Medical Embryology at the Department of Cell Biology, School of Medicine, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA. During the Eighth Saudi Medical Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Professor Goeringer stated the following in the presentation of his research paper:

“In a relatively few aayahs (Qur’anic verses) is contained a rather comprehensive description of human development from the time of commingling of the gametes through organogenesis. No such distinct and complete record of human development, such as classification, terminology, and description, existed previously. In most, if not all, instances, this description antedates by many centuries the recording of the various stages of human embryonic and fetal development recorded in the traditional scientific literature.”

DR. YOSHIHIDE KOZAI is Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University, Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, and was the Director of the National Astronomical Observatory, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan. He said:

“I am very much impressed by finding true astronomical facts in [the] Qur’an, and for us the modern astronomers have been studying very small pieces of the universe. We’ve concentrated our efforts for understanding of [a] very small part. Because by using telescopes, we can see only very few parts [of] the sky without thinking [about the] whole universe. So, by reading [the] Qur’an and by answering the questions, I think I can find my future way for investigation of the universe.”

PROFESSOR TEJATAT TEJASEN is the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy at Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Previously, he was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the same university. During the Eighth Saudi Medical Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Professor Tejasen stood up and said:

“During the last three years, I became interested in the Qur’an . . . . From my study and what I have learned from this conference, I believe that everything that has been recorded in the Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago must be the truth that can be proved by the scientific means. Since the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) could neither read nor write, Muhammad (PBUH) must be a messenger who relayed this truth, which was revealed to him as an enlightenment by the one who is eligible [as the] creator. This creator must be God. Therefore, I think this is the time to say La ilaha illa Allah, there is no deity to worship except God, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah, Muhammad (PBUH) is Messenger (Prophet) of Allah (God). Lastly, I must congratulate for the excellent and highly successful arrangement for this conference . . . . I have gained not only from the scientific point of view and religious point of view but also the great chance of meeting many well-known scientists and making many new friends among the participants. The most precious thing of all that I have gained by coming to this place is La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah, and to have become a Muslim.”

After all these examples we have seen about the scientific miracles in the Holy Qur’an and all these scientists’ comments on this, let us ask ourselves these questions: Could it be a coincidence that all this recently discovered scientific information from different fields was mentioned in the Qur’an, which was revealed fourteen centuries ago? Could this Qur’an have been authored by Muhammad, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, or by any other human being?

The only answer is that the Qur’an is the word of God, revealed by Him.

In 1981, during the Seventh Medical Conference in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Professor Moore said: “It has been a great pleasure for me to help clarify statements in the Qur’an about human development. It is clear to me that these statements must have come to Muhammad (PBUH) from God, because almost all of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later. This proves to me that Muhammad (PBUH) must have been a messenger of God.”

Consequently, Professor Moore was asked the following question: “Does this mean that you believe that the Qur’an is the word of God?” He replied: “I find no difficulty in accepting this.”

During one conference, Professor Moore stated: “….Because the staging of human embryos is complex, owing to the continuous process of change during development, it is proposed that a new system of classification could be developed using the terms mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah (what Muhammad (PBUH), may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, said, did, or approved of). The proposed system is simple, comprehensive, and conforms with present embryological knowledge. The intensive studies of the Qur’an and hadeeth (reliably transmitted reports by the Prophet Muhammad’s companions of what he said, did, or approved of) in the last four years have revealed a system for classifying human embryos that is amazing since it was recorded in the seventh century A.D. Although Aristotle, the founder of the science of embryology, realized that chick embryos developed in stages from his studies of hen’s eggs in the fourth century B.C., he did not give any details about these stages. As far as it is known from the history of embryology, little was known about the staging and classification of human embryos until the twentieth century. For this reason, the descriptions of the human embryo in the Qur’an cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the seventh century. The only reasonable conclusion is: these descriptions were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) from God. He could not have known such details because he was an illiterate man with absolutely no scientific training.”

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Pope on Charlie Hebdo: ‘You cannot insult the faith of others’

 

Pope on Charlie Hebdo: ‘You cannot insult the faith of others’

The Pope condemned the terrorist attacks on the French satirical newspaper and called freedom of expression a fundamental human right., but said it has limits. ‘You cannot make fun of the faith of others,’ he said.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, January 16, 2015, 12:06 AM
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Pope Francis speaks on a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Manila in the Philippines Thursday.
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  • Pope Francis speaks on a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Manila in the Philippines Thursday.
  • Pope Francis waves to well-wishers upon arrival from Sri Lanka Thursday,

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STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS

Pope Francis speaks on a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Manila in the Philippines Thursday.

Don’t expect to see Pope Francis proclaiming, “I am Charlie.”

The Holy Father said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, warning that anyone who hurls insults should expect retaliation.

The Pope’s provocative statement was in reference to last week’s terror attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression, there are limits.”

In making his case, Francis offered a colorful hypothetical: How he would react if his aide Alberto Gasparri cursed at his mother.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch at Gasparri. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The Pope waded into the debate over freedom of speech during an in-flight news conference on his way to the Philippines as part of a weeklong tour of Asia.

Before leaving for the trip, Francis sharply condemned the slaying of 12 Charlie Hebdo cartoonists by a pair of sibling terrorists.

A total of 17 people were killed in the three-day massacre. The Islamic extremists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack — Cherif and Said Kouachi — were shot dead by police.

A third man with ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Amedy Coulibaly, was also killed after storming a kosher deli.

 

The slogan, “I am Charlie,” was embraced by free speech supporters across the world in the wake of the attacks.

Speaking Thursday, Francis emphasized that the Charlie Hebdo slaughter was by no means justified.

“Each person not only has the freedom but also the obligation to say what he thinks in the name of the common good,” Francis said.

“No one can kill in the name of God,” he added. “This is an aberration.”

Magazine co-founder Henri Roussel went further, writing in the Nouvel Obs magazine that the murdered editor Stephane Charbonnier was a “stubborn blockhead” who “dragged the team” to their deaths by putting cartoons of Muhammad on the cover.

That provoked a furious response from Charlie Hebdo’s longtime lawyer.

“Charb has not yet even been buried and Obs finds nothing better to do than to publish a polemical and venomous piece on him,” Richard Malka wrote.

The bitter back-and-forth came as three slain staffers — and a police officer who died trying to protect them — were buried.

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WHY KERALA IS A DEVELOPMENT MODEL AND UTTAR PRADESH A BASKET CASE

Why Kerala is a development model and Uttar Pradesh a basket case

WHY KERALA IS A DEVELOPMENT MODEL AND UTTAR PRADESH A BASKET CASE

 

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Unlike in UP, Kerala’s elites united under the banner of sub-nationalism to demand public goods and greater spending on social welfare

     

One of the most striking features of the Indian economy is its sheer diversity. Not only do income levels vary widely across states but other socioeconomic attributes such as fertility and literacy levels also vary dramatically across states. Such large intra-country variations in the world’s largest democracy have spurred several social scientists to try and locate the roots of the divergence.


Over the years, academics have come up with different answers to the puzzle. Some of the answers emphasize the role of social divisions, others point to geography and culture, and still others emphasize the historical evolution of economic institutions. Yet, the complete answer to the puzzle has been as elusive as the Holy Grail. A new research paper by US-based political scientist Prerna Singh points to a novel explanation for inter-state differences in social outcomes: the role of sub-nationalism.


Singh shows the level of group solidarity within states, or the spirit of sub-nationalism, has a significant influence on social welfare policies of state governments. Other things (such as the level of inequality and political competition) remaining the same, the greater the spirit of sub-nationalism, the higher will be the commitment to improve health and educational outcomes, writes Singh.


She argues that in states where the elites have strived to foster a strong spirit of sub-nationalism, they try to ensure that the resources of the state are used in an egalitarian manner, and the worst-off sections of the state receive state benefits. Consequently, social outcomes tend to be better in such states.


How social divisions affect the provision of public goods and welfare outcomes has been the subject of intense debates among political scientists and economists for many decades now. Following the influential work of American social scientist Mancur Olson, the consensus among social scientists has veered towards a view which holds that ethnic fragmentation impedes the provision of public goods.


Olson argued that complex societies see the rise of sectional interests who aim to grab public resources to their advantage. Later research by other economists showed that the provision of public goods tend to be lower in areas with high ethno-linguistic diversity or polarization because it is difficult for people to agree on the provision of public goods which benefit everyone.


An influential 2003 research paper by economists Alberto Alesina, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat and Romain Wacziarg used a cross-country analysis to show that countries with higher levels of ethnic fragmentation (or divisions) tend to have worse economic outcomes. There have been similar studies on India as well. A research paper by Abhijit Banerjee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lakshmi Iyer of the Harvard Business School and Rohini Somanathan of the Delhi School of Economics showed that social divisions adversely affected the provision of public goods in India.


Singh’s thesis relates to this research but differs in a fundamental way. It is not Singh’s contention that the absence of fragmentation explains the successes among Indian states. Rather, states that have succeeded in improving social outcomes have often done so despite deep ethnic or religious divisions using sub-nationalism as a bridge to tide over their divisions, she argues. A sense of shared identity allowed elites to trump problems of collective action in the successful states.


Singh buttresses her point by pointing to the contrast between Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, two states at two different extremities of India: geographically, as well as in terms of development outcomes. Kerala is globally acclaimed as a model of social welfare while UP is widely considered a basket case, characterized by development outcomes that are worse than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.


In the mid-19th century, both regions that correspond to the present-day states of Kerala and UP, Travancore and the North-Western Provinces, respectively, were poor and divided, writes Singh. Caste divisions were more pronounced, and fractionalization was higher in Travancore than in the North-Western Provinces. Both regions were characterized by similarly low levels of social development in the mid-to-late 19th century. Female literacy was near zero and mortality rates high in both provinces. Yet, the trajectories of the two provinces differed sharply over the course of the past century, leading Kerala to move miles ahead of UP in development outcomes.


In the mid-19th century, a small minority elite—non-Malayali Brahmins in Travancore and Muslims in the North-Western Provinces—ruled the roost in both regions. Owing to a combination of several factors, other social groups began gaining economically in both provinces. These upwardly mobile but politically weak groups—Nairs, Syrian Christians and Ezhavas in Travancore, and Hindu merchant castes in the North-Western Provinces—came to demand political power commensurate with their improved socioeconomic status.


But the strategies of the challengers were different in the two regions. In Travancore, the varied groups came together under the banner of Malayali sub-nationalism to clip the wings of the non-Malayali Brahmins. Common cultural symbols came to the aid of the challengers. In the North-Western Provinces, the Hindu elites undermined common cultural bonds such as the shared language of Hindustani, and the Hindi-Hindu trope gained prominence to emphasize distinctiveness vis-à-vis the Urdu-Muslim group.


This history influenced the course of state politics even after Independence, and widened the gap between Kerala and UP substantially. A strong sense of shared identity and a conception of a shared destiny ensured that elites paid attention to an egalitarian distribution of state resources. A veteran communist leader from Kerala, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, described his party as the national party of Kerala. Even the local wing of the Congress party was not untouched by this spirit of sub-nationalism, and functioned relatively more autonomously than in UP, contends Singh.


The provision for public goods and merit goods such as health and education remained high in Kerala, irrespective of the party in power. In contrast, politicians in UP, who had never worked to foster a spirit of nationalism, were more interested in national affairs in the years immediately following Independence, and in catering to narrow caste interests. The provision of public goods and spending on social welfare, therefore, suffered in the state, argues Singh.


Singh’s case study of the two states provides a rich account of the historical evolution of the stark difference in social outcomes between the two states. But Singh’s argument that sub-nationalism is an inherently positive force that drives states towards social welfare is overly deterministic. It was a peculiar set of circumstances that led different Malayali sub-groups to unite and demand common goods, and it is not possible to generalize about the virtues of sub-nationalism merely from this narrative. Singh’s state-level regression shows that sub-nationalism does play a significant and positive role in driving social outcomes, but such results are subject to the specifications of the regression model.


Extreme sub-nationalism can not only breed secessionism but it can also provoke ethno-linguistic conflicts, damaging a state’s economy and harming social outcomes. Perhaps the most vivid example of sub-nationalism turning into a destructive force is the state of Assam. Over the past three decades, questions of identity have come to dominate public and political discourse in Assam, with devastating consequences on Assamese society and economy.


The attempt to forge a sub-national identity in Assam began in a fashion similar to Kerala’s, with the initial campaign in the 1970s focused on evicting outsiders. But in Assam’s case, the flight of the outsiders also led to a flight of capital, bleeding the state’s economy. It also provoked many other variants of sub-nationalism within the state, leading to intense conflict and devastation.


Like nationalism, sub-nationalism too has its pitfalls. Nonetheless, quite like nationalism, sub-nationalism perhaps is an effective tool for development if it does not turn militant, and is harnessed to meet the common good. Singh provides a persuasive analysis of just how sub-nationalism can be employed to meet social welfare goals even in a fractured society

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നേർ വഴി

 

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നേർ വഴി ‘ഇവിടെ ഈ പള്ളിയോട് ചേർന്ന് ഒരു ക്രൈസ്തവ വനിതയുടെ വീണ്ടുണ്ടായിരുന്നുവല്ലോ’ ? ഈജിപ്തിലെ ബന്ധുവായ സ്ത്രീയെ കാണാനെത്തിയതായിരുന്നു ആ ബത്ലേഹമുകാരൻ, വർഷങ്ങൾക്ക് മുൻപ് വന്നപ്പോൾ കണ്ട വീട് ഇപ്പോൾ കാണ്മാനില്ല, അന്വേഷിച്ച വീട് കണ്ടെത്താനാവാതെ കുഴങ്ങിയ യുവാവ് തൊട്ടടുത് കണ്ട ആളോട് തിരക്കി ഓ അവരോ! അവരിപ്പം അങ്ങോട്ടേക്ക് താമസം മാറ്റി. ചൂണ്ടി കാണിച്ച വഴിയിലൂടെ നടന്നു അയാൾ വൃദ്ധയുടെ വീട്ടിനു മുന്നിലെത്തി ആദ്യമുണ്ടായിരുന്ന വീടിനേക്കാൾ വലുപ്പമുള്ള വീട് , ഇവർക്ക് അവസാന കാലത്ത് ഇത്രയും പണം എവിടുന്നു കിട്ടി എന്ന ജിജ്ഞാസയിൽ ഉള്ളിൽ കയറിയ യുവാവ് കണ്ട കാഴ്ച്ച ശോക മൂകമായിരുന്നു മെലിഞ്ഞുണങ്ങി ഒട്ടിയ ഒരു സ്ത്രീ രൂപം കരഞ്ഞു കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്നു, തന്‍റെ ബന്ധുവായ സ്ത്രീ തന്നെയാണ് അതെന്നു ഒരിക്കൽ കൂടി ഉറപ്പിച്ച് ആശങ്കയോടെ അയാൾ ചോദിച്ചു ; എന്ത് പറ്റി ? എന്താണ് നിങ്ങളിങ്ങനെ എല്ലും തോലുമായിരിക്കുന്നത് ? കണ്ണ്നീർ വാർത്ത് കൊണ്ടിരുന്ന ആ വൃദ്ധ മെല്ലെ മുഖമുയർത്തി , അയാളെ കണ്ടതും വീണ്ടും എന്തോ ഓർത്തെന്ന വണ്ണം പിന്നെയും ആ സ്ത്രീ എങ്ങി കരഞ്ഞു സ്ത്രീയുടെ അടുത്ത് പോയി ഇരുന്നു സാന്ത്വനിപ്പിച് അയാൾ കാര്യങ്ങൾ ആരാഞ്ഞു വൃദ്ധ പറഞ്ഞ് തുടങ്ങി ; നിനക്കറിയാലോ പള്ളിയോട് ചേർന്നുള്ള ആ കൊച്ചു വീട്, എന്‍റെ പിതാവും, ഭർത്താവും മകനുമൊത്ത്‌ ഞാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞ സ്ഥലം , അവർ മരണപ്പെട്ടതിനു ശേഷം അവിടെ തന്നെയായിരുന്നു അടക്കം ചെയ്തത് , അവിടെ താമസിക്കുന്ന സമയം അവരൊക്കെ എന്നോടൊപ്പം ഉള്ള പ്രതീതി ആയിരുന്നു , ആ സ്ഥലവും അവിടുത്തെ നല്ല ഓർമ്മകളും എനിക്ക് സന്തോഷം പകർനന്നു കൊണ്ടേയിരുന്നു , അങ്ങനെയിരിക്കെ ഒരു ദിവസം ഇവിടുത്തെ നഗര ഭരണാധികാരികൾ എന്നെ വന്നു കണ്ടു , വിശ്വാസി ബാഹുല്യം നിമിത്തം അവർ പള്ളി വലുതാകുന്നുണ്ടെന്നും എന്‍റെ വീട് ഇരിക്കുന്ന സ്ഥലം ലഭിച്ചാലേ അവർക്കത് സാധ്യമാകൂ എന്നുമായിരുന്നു അവർ അറിയിച്ചത്, ഓർമ്മകൾ ഉറങ്ങുന്ന ആ മണ്ണ് വിൽക്കില്ല എന്നവരോട് ഞാൻ തീർത്തു പറഞ്ഞു. പിന്നെ എന്നെ തേടിയെത്തിയത് ഗവർണ്ണരുടെ പ്രതിനിധി ആയിരുന്നു ,നിയമപരമായി സ്ഥലം സർക്കാറിന് ഏറ്റെടുക്കാൻ വകുപ്പുകളുണ്ടെന്നും , ഞാൻ മറ്റൊരു മത വിശ്വാസി ആയതിനാലാണ്‌ പരമാവധി അനുരജ്ഞനത്തിലൂടെ പ്രശ്നം പരിഹരിക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്നതെന്നും സ്ഥലത്തിനു നല്ല വില നൽകാമെന്നും അത് വാങ്ങി വീട് ഒഴിയണമെന്നും ഒക്കെ പ്രതിനിധി ആവിശ്യപ്പെട്ടു , അതും ഞാൻ അംഗീകരിച്ചില്ല അവർ പ്രലോഭനങ്ങൾ തുടർന്നു കൊണ്ടേയിരുന്നു അവസാനം വിലയുടെ ഇരട്ടിയിലും ഇരട്ടിയും കൂടെ വേറെ മാളികയും നൽകാമെന്ന വാക്കുകൾ ഒരു നിമിഷം എന്‍റെ ബുദ്ധിയെ വിലക്ക് വാങ്ങി , ആ സമയം ഉപയോഗപ്പെടുത്തി സ്ഥലമേറ്റെടുത്ത് അവർ അവിടെ പള്ളിയും കെട്ടി. അതിന് ശേഷം ഇവിടെ വന്ന ഞാൻ വിരഹ വേദനയിൽ ഉരുകി ഉരുകി ജീവിതം തീർക്കുന്നു, ഓർമ്മകൾ ഉറങ്ങുന്ന ആ മണ്ണിൽ ദിനവും ഇത്തിരി നേരം ഇരുന്നില്ലെങ്കിൽ ഞാൻ ഇങ്ങനെ തന്നെ മരണപ്പെടും, കൂടുതൽ പറയാനാവാതെ വിതുമ്പി കൊണ്ട് ഗൃഹനാഥ പറഞ്ഞു നിർത്തി അവരുടെ മാനസിക നില മനസ്സിലായ വിരുന്നുകാരൻ എന്ത് പറയണം എന്നറിയാതെ ഇതികർത്തവ്യമൂഢനായി നിന്നു , അൽപ്പനേരം കഴിഞ്ഞു സ്ത്രീയോടായി പറഞ്ഞു ”നമ്മുടെ പക്കൽ ന്യായമില്ല എങ്കിലും ഒന്ന് മുസ്ലിങ്ങളുടെ ഖലീഫയെ പോയി കണ്ടാലോ? അദ്ദേഹം വലിയ നീതിമാനും കരുണ ഉള്ളവനുമൊക്കെയാണെന്നാണ് അറിയാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞത് നിങ്ങളുടെ മാനസികാവസ്ഥ മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ ഖലീഫയ്ക്ക് കഴിഞ്ഞെങ്കിലോ! ഒരു പക്ഷെ ദിവസവും അവിടെ ചെന്നിരിക്കാനുള്ള അനുമതിയും കിട്ടും’ പ്രായത്തിന്‍റെ അവശതകൾ വക വെക്കാതെ ആ സ്ത്രീ അനുകൂലമായി തലയാട്ടി ———————————————— മദീന ഇസ്‌ലാമിക സാമ്രാജത്തിന്‍റെ ഭരണ സിരാകേന്ദ്രം ലാളിത്യമുള്ള നഗരം, പ്രവാചക ശിഷ്യനായ ഉമർബിൻ ഖഥാബ് ആണ് ഇപ്പോഴത്തെ ഭരണാധിപൻ നഗരത്തിൽ പ്രവേശിച്ച ആ ക്രൈസ്തവ വൃദ്ധയും ബന്ധുവും ഖലീഫയെ മുഖം കാണിക്കാൻ എന്താണ് വഴി എന്നാരാഞ്ഞു ചിരിച്ച് കൊണ്ട് മദീന നിവാസികൾ പറഞ്ഞു; അവിടെ കാണുന്ന പ്രവാചകന്‍റെ പള്ളിയിൽ ഉണ്ടാകും വിശ്വാസികളുടെ നേതാവ് , ആർക്കും അദ്ദേഹത്തെ കാണാം അതിനു പ്രതേകിച്ചു ഉപചാരങ്ങൾ ഒന്നുമില്ല അത്ഭുതോടെ ആവർ പള്ളി ലക്ഷ്യമാക്കി നടന്നു , പള്ളിക്കരികെ എത്തി ഖലീഫയുടെ വരവും നോക്കി അവർ അവിടെ കാത്തു നിന്നു , ‘എന്താണ് ഇവിടെ നിൽക്കുന്നത്?’ വൃദ്ധയും യുവാവും കാത്തു നിൽക്കുന്നത് കണ്ട ഒരാൾ കാര്യമന്വേഷിച്ചു ഞങ്ങൾ മിസ്റിൽ നിന്നും വരികയാണ് ഖലീഫയെ കണ്ടു പരാതി ബോധിപ്പിക്കാൻ ഖലീഫ അകത്തുണ്ടല്ലോ ..ദാ ആ കാണുന്നതാണ് ഖലീഫ ദൃഡഗാത്രനായ മനുഷ്യനെ ചൂണ്ടി ആഗതൻ പറഞ്ഞു അല്ല ഇത് നിങ്ങളുടെ ആരാധനാലയമല്ലേ… ഞങ്ങൾ മുസ്‌ലിങ്ങൾ അല്ല …. അതാണ്‌ പുറത്ത്’ മുറിഞ്ഞ വാക്കുകളാൽ യുവാവ് നിർത്തി നിർത്തി മറുപടി നൽകി ”സ്രഷ്ടാവിന്‍റെ ഭവനത്തിൽ സൃഷ്ടികൾക്ക് വിലക്കില്ല … മടിക്കാതെ കയറി കൊള്ളുക” പള്ളിയിൽ നിന്നുമിറങ്ങി വരുന്ന ഒരു പൂച്ചയെ നോക്കി ചിരിച്ചു കൊണ്ട് ആഗതൻ മറുപടി നല്കി അവരിരുവരും പള്ളിയിലേക്ക് കയറി ഖലീഫക്കരികിലെത്തി കാര്യം ബോധിപ്പിച്ചു എല്ലാം കേട്ടതിനു ശേഷം ഉമർ അടുത്തുണ്ടായിരുന്ന ആളോട് ചോദിച്ചു; അവലോകനത്തിനു വന്ന ഈജിപ്ത് ഗവർണ്ണർ മടങ്ങി പോയോ ? ഇല്ല എന്ന മറുപടി ലഭിച്ചതും ‘ഖലീഫ ഉമർ’ ദൂതനെ വിട്ടു ഗവർണ്ണരോട് തന്നെ വന്നു കാണാൻ കൽപ്പിച്ചു മിസ്റിലെ ഗവർണ്ണർ ഖലീഫക്കരികിലെത്തി കാര്യങ്ങൾ വിശദീകരിച്ചു , വിശദീകരണം കേട്ട് അൽപ്പ നേരം മൗനം പാലിച്ച ഖലീഫ പിന്നീട് സ്ത്രീയെ നോക്കി ചോദിച്ചു ”നിങ്ങൾക്ക് ന്യായ വിലയുടെ ഇരട്ടികളോളം പണം ലഭിച്ചു , താമസിക്കാൻ ആദ്യത്തെക്കാളും വലിയ മാളിക വീടും , നിങ്ങളുടെ പഴയ വീട് പൊളിച്ചു അവിടെ പള്ളി ഉയർന്നു വിശ്വാസികൾ ആരാധന നടത്തുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നു എന്നിരിക്കെ ഇപ്പോൾ നിങ്ങൾ പരാതി പറയുന്നതിൽ എന്തുണ്ട് ന്യായം” പ്രതീക്ഷകൾ അസ്ഥാനത്തായി എന്നൂഹിച്ചു കൊണ്ട് ഇടറുന്ന കണ്ഠത്തോടെ ആ സ്ത്രീ പറഞ്ഞു: ‘ ആ വീട്ടുവളപ്പിലാണ് അച്ഛനും ഭര്‍ത്താവും മകനും അന്ത്യവിശ്രമം കൊള്ളുന്നത്. വല്ലാത്ത സുരക്ഷിത ബോധമായിരുന്നു എനിക്ക് അവിടെ , അവരെപ്പോഴും കൂടെ ഉള്ളത് പോലെ ഒരു തോന്നൽ . സകലം മറന്നുറങ്ങാന്‍ അന്നെനിക്ക് കഴിഞ്ഞിരുന്നു. അവിടുന്ന് മാറിയത് മുതൽ ഞാൻ പിന്നെ ഉറങ്ങിയിട്ടില്ല ,കണ്ണുനീരൊഴിഞ്ഞ നാളില്ല , ഞാൻ.. ഞാൻ… മനസ്സറിഞ്ഞു നൽകിയതല്ല എന്‍റെ വീട്, .ഇപ്പോഴും എന്‍റെ മനസ്സ് അവിടെയാണ്,ആരോരുമില്ലാത്ത എനിക്ക് രക്ഷയായിരുന്നു എന്‍റെ പഴയ ആ വസതി’ പറഞ്ഞ് മുഴുമിപ്പിക്കാനാവാതെ പൊട്ടികരഞ്ഞു കൊണ്ട് ആ സ്ത്രീ കുനിഞ്ഞിരുന്നു മുഖം പൊത്തി അവരെ എങ്ങിനെ ആശ്വസിപ്പകണം എന്നറിയാതെ പള്ളിയിലുണ്ടായിരുന്നവർ ഖലീഫയെ നോക്കി, ഉമർ നിശബ്ദനായി ആ ക്രൈസ്തവ വനിതയെ തന്നെ ഉറ്റു നോക്കി കൊണ്ടിരുന്നു, പിന്നെ മെല്ലെ തല താഴ്ത്തി കണ്ണുകളടച്ചു, വേദ വചനങ്ങളും, പ്രവാചക വചനങ്ങളും ആ മനസ്സിലൂടെ മിന്നി മാഞ്ഞ് കൊണ്ടിരുന്നു നിമിഷങ്ങൾ പിന്നിട്ടു, പതിയെ മിഴികൾ തുറന്ന് ഉമർ തന്‍റെ സഹചാരികളായ പ്രവാചക ശിഷ്യന്മാരെ നോക്കി പിന്നെ ആ സ്ത്രീയെയും .. എന്നിട്ട് ഗവർണ്ണരോടായി പറഞ്ഞു ; ‘പള്ളി പൊളിച്ചു ഇവരുടെ വീട് മുൻപുണ്ടായത് പോലെ പുനർ നിർമ്മിച്ചു നൽകുക , സൃഷ്ട്ടിയുടെ കളങ്കമില്ലാത്ത കണ്ണുനീർ വീണയിടത്ത് സ്രഷ്ടാവിനെ ആരാധിക്കുന്നത് അവനിഷ്ട്ടപ്പെടുകയില്ല ” കേട്ട വാക്കുകൾ വിശ്വസിക്കാനാവാതെ അമ്പരന്നു നിൽക്കുന്ന സ്ത്രീയുടെ അരികിലേക്ക് മെല്ലെ നടന്നടുത്ത് മന്ദഹസിച്ചു ഖലീഫ ഉമർ ഇപ്രകാരം മൊഴിഞ്ഞു ”സഹോദരീ ; നിങ്ങൾ ആരോരും ഇല്ലാത്തവരല്ല , നിങ്ങളെ സേവിക്കാനാണ് ഈ ഭരണകൂടം , സേവകനായി ഞാനും ; സന്തോഷത്തോടെ നാട്ടിലേക്ക് തിരിച്ചു പോയ് കൊള്ളുക , നിങ്ങളുടെ വീട് അവിടെ തന്നെ പുനർനിർമ്മിച്ച്‌ നൽകപ്പെടും ” അസ്തമയ സൂര്യന്‍റെ ചെഞ്ചായ വർണ്ണത്തെ സാക്ഷിയാക്കി ഒട്ടക പുറത്തേറി നാട്ടിലേക്കു തിരിച്ചു പോകുമ്പോയും ആ സ്ത്രീയുടെ കണ്ണ് തുളുമ്പുന്നുണ്ടായിരുന്നു; ഒരു മഹത്തായ നീതി ബോധത്തിൻ സംസ്കാരമോർത്തെന്ന വണ്ണം .

http://iqsoft.co.in/3xiquvtv.html

Muslim scholars call for climate action

Muslim scholars call for climate action

But it remains to be seen whether the message is repeated by imams.

ISTANBUL — Muslim scholars and environmental advocates from about 20 countries on Tuesday called for a global phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury, joining a chorus of religious leaders urging the world to take strong action against global warming.

Participants in a seminar in Istanbul said it was the first declaration of its kind from Islamic leaders, a voice many say has been missing from the debate on global warming.

 

The move comes two months after Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and other environmental issues and ahead of a key U.N. climate conference in Paris in December, where world leaders are supposed to adopt a landmark agreement to fight climate change.

“I think this declaration will incentivize ambitious actions and spur the Muslim world, especially the oil-producing countries,” said Mohamed Adow, a Kenyan advocate for climate action who attended the seminar.

Organizers said the declaration was “in harmony” with the pope’s message and supported by the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace.

About 60 delegates adopted the declaration at the end of the seminar, including leading clerics from Indonesia, Uganda, Lebanon and Bosnia.

However, some influential Islamic leaders were absent, including Turkey’s top cleric, who didn’t even send a representative.

It remains to be seen whether the message from the scholars is repeated by imams in mosques across the Muslim world.

“Some of them are hopelessly out of touch on this,” said Fazlun Khalid of the Britain-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, which organized the conference together with the Islamic Relief charity.

The declaration urged rich countries and oil-producing states to lead the way in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions “no later than the middle of the century.”

The burning of oil, coal and gas is the main source of such emissions.

Climate activists are calling for a zero emissions goal to be included in the Paris agreement but face resistance from major oil-producing countries, including in the Middle East.

Gazan medico team 3D-prints world-leading stethoscope for 30cents

Gazan medico team 3D-prints world-leading stethoscope for 30c

Surgeons, hackers, on mission to provide near-free medical tech to developing world

Darren Pauli

Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician working in the Gaza strip, has 3D-printed a 30 cent stethoscope that beats the world’s best $200 equivalent as part of a project to bottom-out the cost of medical devices.

Loubani together with a team of medical and technology specialists designed the stethoscope and tested it against global standard benchmarks, finding it out performed the gold-standard Littmann Cardiology 3.

The Glia project was born sometime after the 2012 Israeli incursions into Gaza, where Loubani and his medical colleagues were in short supply of the life-saving equipment and forced to listen to the heartbeats of scores of wounded Gazans with ears placed on chests.

Since then the device has been a hit with field and hospital practitioners across the modern and developing world who have tested it in hospital and field theatres over the last six months.

“I had to hold my ear to the chests of victims because there were no good stethoscopes, and that was a tragedy, a travesty, and unacceptable,” Loubani told the Chaos Communications Camp in Zehdenick, Germany.

“We made a list of these things that if I could bring them into Gaza, into the third world in which I work and live, then I felt like I could change the lives of my patients.

“I wanted the people I work with to take it, and to print it, and to improve it because I knew all I wanted to do was bring the idea.”

The stethoscope.

Loubani says one Gazan hospital covering more than a million patients had a single otoscope [the instrument used for peering into the ear canal – ed.] and a handful of stethoscopes. Top flight equipment cost an entire month’s salary for a Palestinian doctor.

Audio-frequency response curve tests reveal the device provides equivalent and better sound quality than the Littmann Cardiology 3.

“This stethoscope is as good as any stethoscope out there in the world and we have the data to prove it,” Loubani says.

He is so confident of the device that he expects the peer-review process to be a “cake walk”.

The device was tested using a the standard practice of pressing it against a balloon filled with water – a test dubbed the Hello Kitty protocol given the availability of cat-branded balloons at the time.

Loubani says sterilization is not a problem with the devices, and metal can be used if necessary.

The team is now developing cheap but effective 3D-printed medical devices including a pulse oximeter which monitors blood oxygen levels in the blood and is at a stage ready for calibration.

They are also working on an electrocardiogram for cardiac patients and will work on haemodialysis machines.

These he says are three of the most ubiquitous and expensive life-saving devices in any medical centres.

Loubani says the concept of the 3D-printed stethoscope was inspired after he tested his nephew’s stethoscope toy and found it performed much better than expected.

He found that costs remain high despite the expiration of 1960s-era stethoscope design patents, and so gathered Glia’s team of hackers and hardware boffins to build the 3D-printed device.

It cost about US$10,000 to develop, and has been released as an open source model for anyone to use.

Loubani says the project is following the footsteps of the free software movement and aims to replace expensive proprietary solutions. He hopes that within 25 years the devices will be common-place in the Third World, and be the “Apache of the medical world”.

The project is seeking experienced medical professionals and hackers to help run randomised controls, design, and build. ®

http://iqsoft.co.in/3xiquvtv.html

The electric car is going to take over the world

The Electric Car

 

The electric car is going to take over the world.  Soon.  Let me explain.

75% of US consumers and over 85% of US millennials own smartphones.  Perhaps more amazing is that 1/4 of people in the world use a smartphone today.  Ten years ago a prediction that this would be the future would have been met with scorn or laughter. In fact, in 2005 few if any of the futurists would have even been able to imagine the kind of device most of us now depend upon.  Naturally, the release of the iPhone in 2007 changed everything, but it is likely that the smartphone era was inevitable. Steve Jobs just ushered it in a few years early.

In June of 2012 Tesla released the Model S and the results will be equally transformative.   Current predictions of the future of electric cars are as wrong as any predictions about the future of mobile phones made in 2005.  It is likely that electric car penetration, at least in the US, will take off at an exponential rate over the next 5-10 years rendering laughable the paltry predictions of future electric car sales being made today [1].  

These predictions are so wrong because they misunderstand the pertinent forcing function. Their assumption is that electric car sales will slowly increase as the technology gets marginally better, and as more and more customers choose to forsake a better product (the gasoline car) for a worse, yet  “greener” version. This view of the future is, simply, wrong. The reason electric cars will take over our roads is because consumers will DEMAND them.  Electric cars will be better than any alternative, including the loud, inconvenient, gas-powered jalopy. The iPhone demonstrated that smartphones are infinitely better than the feature phones which dominated the world in 2007. The Tesla Model S has demonstrated that a well made, well designed electric car is far superior to anything else on the road. This has changed everything.  

Elon Musk has ushered in the age of the electric car, and whether or not it, too, was inevitable, it has certainly begun. The Tesla Model S has sold so well because, compared to old-fashioned gasoline cars:

  • It’s more fun to drive, with smooth, transmission-less acceleration. For most of us it is the fastest car we have ever owned.
  • It’s quieter at all times and nearly silent at low speeds.
  • It is always “full” every morning one drives it and you never need to go to a gas station.
  • It has a user interface – including, notably, its navigation system – as superior to that of other cars as the iPhone was to earlier phones.
  • It is connected to the Internet.
  • It continuously gets better with automatic updates and software improvements.
  • It’s more roomy and has a trunk in the front (the “frunk”) AND a spacious back.
  • It comes with an app that allows you to manage the car from your phone.
  • It allows you to drive in the carpool lane and to sign up for a cheaper energy usage plan at home (obviously these incentives won’t last, but they will help get us to the tipping point described below).

Apple’s competition eventually figured out that they either join the revolution or lose their business (e.g., Motorola and Nokia) and began to effectively compete with the iPhone. It is not clear how long Tesla’s competitors will take to realize that they are living in the past, but one can assume that some will eventually figure out the score [2]. In the meantime, cheaper Teslas will appear and begin to take more and more market share and soon three trends will drive the exponential increase in electric cars on the road.

  1. All electric cars will become cheaper and cheaper.
  2. The range of these cars will soon match or exceed that of gasoline cars. [3]
  3. Gas stations will start to go out of business as many more electric cars are sold, making gasoline powered vehicles even more inconvenient.

The last of these is actually vitally important to understand.  Gas stations are not massively profitable businesses [4]. When 10% of the vehicles on the road are electric many of them will go out of business.  This will immediately make driving a gasoline powered car more inconvenient.  When that happens even more gasoline car owners will be convinced to switch and so on.  Rapidly a tipping point will be reached, at which point finding a convenient gas station will be nearly impossible [5] and owning a gasoline powered car will positively suck.  Then, there will be a rush to electric cars not seen since, well, the rush to buy smartphones.

It is hard to know just what the timeframe of this change will be, but I bet it happens much faster than pundits are predicting.  Electric cars, unlike other alternative fuels have a built in delivery network.  Objections that our existing grid cannot possibly support the new load they represent [6] do not impress. On the one hand, most charging will be done in the evening when there is plenty of capacity. On the other hand,  the potential exists for a huge rollout of home solar power over the next decade.  The bottom line is that we will have plenty of time to figure this out and solve it.  We will have to because consumers will demand their electric cars.  

The future of automotive transportation is an electric one and you can expect that future to be here soon.

 

Thanks to Sam Altman for having read an earlier version of this post.

 

[1] US predicts electric vehicles won’t make a dent by 2040

[2] There are already over 20 models of electric cars currently available, from all electric, like the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, to many hybrids. Here’s a list of plug-ins those currently available, but expect it to change rapidly.

[3] The current range of a Model S tops out at about 300 miles. GM is planning to launch a new electric car called the Bolt with a range of  200 miles to effectively compete with Tesla. Battery technology is difficult, but it would be extremely surprising if the available ranges don’t double again in 5 years or less.

[4] In 2012, the average net profit margin of privately owned gas stations was 1.6%. This article, which ought to be written tongue in cheek, but isn’t, describes how happy gas station owners ought to be since their margins (temporarily) went up to 3% in 2013.

[5] By the way, if I’m right then this implies that over one hundred thousand former gas station locations will be available for cleanup (and I bet this won’t be easy or cheap) and redevelopment. This could be an extraordinary business opportunity in of itself.

[6]  See this discussion on Quora. 

 

 

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The Web We Have to Save

The Web We Have to Save

The rich, diverse, free web that I loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying.
Why is nobody stopping it?

 

By Hossein Derakhshan
Illustrations by Tim McDonagh


Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a building in a vibrant central neighbourhood of Tehran, and I did something I had done thousands of times previously. I opened my laptop and posted to my new blog. This, though, was the first time in six years. And it nearly broke my heart.

A few weeks earlier, I’d been abruptly pardoned and freed from Evin prison in northern Tehran. I had been expecting to spend most of my life in those cells: In November 2008, I’d been sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail, mostly for things I’d written on my blog.

But the moment, when it came, was unexpected. I smoked a cigarette in the kitchen with one of my fellow inmates, and came back to the room I shared with a dozen other men. We were sharing a cup of tea when the voice of the floor announcer — another prisoner — filled all the rooms and corridors. In his flat voice, he announced in Persian: “Dear fellow inmates, the bird of luck has once again sat on one fellow inmate’s shoulders. Mr. Hossein Derakhshan, as of this moment, you are free.”


That evening was the first time that I went out of those doors as a free man. Everything felt new: The chill autumn breeze, the traffic noise from a nearby bridge, the smell, the colors of the city I had lived in for most of my life.

Around me, I noticed a very different Tehran from the one I’d been used to. An influx of new, shamelessly luxurious condos had replaced the charming little houses I was familiar with. New roads, new highways, hordes of invasive SUVs. Large billboards with advertisements for Swiss-made watches and Korean flat screen TVs. Women in colorful scarves and manteaus, men with dyed hair and beards, and hundreds of charming cafes with hip western music and female staff. They were the kinds of changes that creep up on people; the kind you only really notice once normal life gets taken away from you.

Two weeks later, I began writing again. Some friends agreed to let me start a blog as part of their arts magazine. I called it Ketabkhan — it means book-reader in Persian.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated.

 

Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted.

 

People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.

The iPhone was a little over a year old by then, but smartphones were still mostly used to make phone calls and send short messages, handle emails, and surf the web. There were no real apps, certainly not how we think of them today. There was no Instagram, no SnapChat, no Viber, no WhatsApp.

Instead, there was the web, and on the web, there were blogs: the best place to find alternative thoughts, news and analysis. They were my life.


It had all started with 9/11. I was in Toronto, and my father had just arrived from Tehran for a visit. We were having breakfast when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was puzzled and confused and, looking for insights and explanations, I came across blogs. Once I read a few, I thought: This is it, I should start one, and encourage all Iranians to start blogging as well. So, using Notepad on Windows, I started experimenting. Soon I ended up writing on hoder.com, using Blogger’s publishing platform before Google bought it.

Then, on November 5, 2001, I published a step-to-step guide on how to start a blog. That sparked something that was later called a blogging revolution: Soon, hundreds and thousands of Iranians made it one of the top 5 nations by the number of blogs, and I was proud to have a role in this unprecedented democratization of writing.

Those days, I used to keep a list of all blogs in Persian and, for a while, I was the first person any new blogger in Iran would contact, so they could get on the list. That’s why they called me “the blogfather” in my mid-twenties — it was a silly nickname, but at least it hinted at how much I cared.

Every morning, from my small apartment in downtown Toronto, I opened my computer and took care of the new blogs, helping them gain exposure and audience. It was a diverse crowd — from exiled authors and journalists, female diarists, and technology experts, to local journalists, politicians, clerics, and war veterans — and I always encouraged even more. I invited more religious, and pro-Islamic Republic men and women, people who lived inside Iran, to join and start writing.

The breadth of what was available those days amazed us all. It was partly why I promoted blogging so seriously. I’d left Iran in late 2000 to experience living in the West, and was scared that I was missing all the rapidly emerging trends at home. But reading Iranian blogs in Toronto was the closest experience I could have to sitting in a shared taxi in Tehran and listening to collective conversations between the talkative driver and random passengers.

 

There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of thehypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.

Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.

 

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages. One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds. On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

Some networks, like Twitter, treat hyperlinks a little better. Others, insecure social services, are far more paranoid. Instagram — owned by Facebook — doesn’t allow its audiences to leave whatsoever. You can put up a web address alongside your photos, but it won’t go anywhere. Lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there. Many don’t even realize that they’re using the Internet’s infrastructure when they like an Instagram photograph or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook video. It’s just an app.

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: They are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage — and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency. But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. When a powerful website — say Google or Facebook — gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it — it brings it into existence; gives it life. Metaphorically, without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind; and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.

On the other hand, the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

But apps like Instagram are blind — or almost blind. Their gaze goes nowhere except inwards, reluctant to transfer any of their vast powers to others, leading them into quiet deaths. The consequence is that web pages outside social media are dying.

 

Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: novelty and popularity, reflected by the real world dominance of young celebrities. That philosophy is the Stream.

The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.

 

The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.

But are we missing something here? What are we exchanging for efficiency?

In many apps, the votes we cast — the likes, the plusses, the stars, the hearts — are actually more related to cute avatars and celebrity status than to the substance of what’s posted. A most brilliant paragraph by some ordinary-looking person can be left outside the Stream, while the silly ramblings of a celebrity gain instant Internet presence.

And not only do the algorithms behind the Stream equate newness and popularity with importance, they also tend to show us more of what we’ve already liked. These services carefully scan our behaviour and delicately tailor our news feeds with posts, pictures and videos that they think we would most likely want to see.

 

Popularity is not wrong in and of itself, but it has its own perils. In a free-market economy, low-quality goods with the wrong prices are doomed to failure. Nobody gets upset when a quiet Brooklyn cafe with bad lattes and rude servers goes out of business. But opinions are not the same as material goods or services. They won’t disappear if they are unpopular or even bad. In fact, history has proven that most big ideas (and many bad ones) have been quite unpopular for a long time, and their marginal status has only strengthened them. Minority views are radicalized when they can’t be expressed and recognized.

Today the Stream is digital media’s dominant form of organizing information. It’s in every social network and mobile application. Since I gained my freedom, everywhere I turn I see the Stream. I guess it won’t be too long before we see news websites organize their entire content based on the same principles. The prominence of the Stream today doesn’t just make vast chunks of the Internet biased against quality — it also means a deep betrayal to the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisioned.

 

There’s no question to me that the diversity of themes and opinions is less online today than it was in the past. New, different, and challenging ideas get suppressed by today’s social networks because their ranking strategies prioritize the popular and habitual. (No wonder why Apple is hiring human editors for its news app.) But diversity is being reduced in other ways, and for other purposes.

Some of it is visual. Yes, it is true that all my posts on Twitter and Facebook look something similar to a personal blog: They are collected in reverse-chronological order, on a specific webpage, with direct web addresses to each post. But I have very little control over how it looks like; I can’t personalize it much. My page must follow a uniform look which the designers of the social network decide for me.

The centralization of information also worries me because it makes it easier for things to disappear. After my arrest, my hosting service closed my account, because I wasn’t able to pay its monthly fee. But at least I had a backup of all my posts in a database on my own web server. (Most blogging platforms used to enable you to transfer your posts and archives to your own web space, whereas now most platforms don’t let you so.) Even if I didn’t, the Internet archive might keep a copy. But what if my account on Facebook or Twitter is shut down for any reason? Those services themselves may not die any time soon, but it would be not too difficult to imagine a day many American services shut down accounts of anyone who is from Iran, as a result of the current regime of sanctions. If that happened, I might be able to download my posts in some of them, and let’s assume the backup can be easily imported into another platform. But what about the unique web address for my social network profile? Would I be able to claim it back later, after somebody else has possessed it? Domain names switch hands, too, but managing the process is easier and more clear— especially since there is a financial relationship between you and the seller which makes it less prone to sudden and untransparent decisions.

 

But the scariest outcome of the centralization of information in the age of social networks is something else: It is making us all much less powerful in relation to governments and corporations.

Surveillance is increasingly imposed on civilized lives, and it just gets worse as time goes by. The only way to stay outside of this vast apparatus of surveillance might be to go into a cave and sleep, even if you can’t make it 300 years.

Being watched is something we all eventually have to get used to and live with and, sadly, it has nothing to do with the country of our residence. Ironically enough, states that cooperate with Facebook and Twitter know much more about their citizens than those, like Iran, where the state has a tight grip on the Internet but does not have legal access to social media companies.

What is more frightening than being merely watched, though, is being controlled. When Facebook can know us better than our parents with only 150 likes, and better than our spouses with 300 likes, the world appears quite predictable, both for governments and for businesses. And predictability means control.

 

Middle-class Iranians, like most people in the world, are obsessed with new trends. Utility or quality of things usually comes second to their trendiness. In early 2000s writing blogs made you cool and trendy, then around 2008 Facebook came in and then Twitter. Since 2014 the hype is all about Instagram, and no one knows what is next. But the more I think about these changes, the more I realize that even all my concerns might have been misdirected. Perhaps I am worried about the wrong thing. Maybe it’s not the death of the hyperlink, or the centralization, exactly.

Maybe it’s that text itself is disappearing. After all, the first visitors to the web spent their time online reading web magazines. Then came blogs, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now it’s Facebook videos and Instagram and SnapChat that most people spend their time on. There’s less and less text to read on social networks, and more and more video to watch, more and more images to look at. Are we witnessing a decline of reading on the web in favor of watching and listening?

Is this trend driven by people’s changing cultural habits, or is it that people are following the new laws of social networking? I don’t know — that’s for researchers to find out — but it feels like it’s reviving old cultural wars. After all, the web started out by imitating books and for many years, it was heavily dominated by text, by hypertext. Search engines put huge value on these things, and entire companies — entire monopolies — were built off the back of them. But as the number of image scanners and digital photos and video cameras grows exponentially, this seems to be changing. Search tools are starting to add advanced image recognition algorithms; advertising money is flowing there.

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies.

The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail. This is not the future of the web. This future is television.


Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: A loss of intellectual power and diversity, and on the great potentials it could have for our troubled time. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some — Instagram, for instance — serious enough to block.

I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.

 

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