Sunday, July 23, 2017

World's Most Dangerous Snakes


The most dangerous snakes in the world tend to be sea snakes around Australia, the Coral Sea, Indonesia and adjacent land areas.  These are even worse than mambas, cobras and rattlesnakes.

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Sea snake
Inland Taipan
Coral Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea and Indian Ocean
Eastern brown snake
Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia
Tropical oceanic waters
Gulf of Siam, Strait of Taiwan, Coral sea islands, and other places
Mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma
eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula and Brunei, and in Halmahera, Indonesia
Western Australian Tiger snake
Tropical Indo-Pacific

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble, and is one of NASA's Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

With a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) mirror, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared spectra. Hubble's orbit outside the distortion of Earth's atmosphere allows it to take extremely high-resolution images, with substantially lower background light than ground-based telescopes. Hubble has recorded some of the most detailed visible light images ever, allowing a deep view into space and time. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

The HST was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) selects Hubble's targets and processes the resulting data, while the Goddard Space Flight Center controls the spacecraft.

Space telescopes were proposed as early as 1923. Hubble was funded in the 1970s, with a proposed launch in 1983, but the project was beset by technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster (1986). When finally launched in 1990, Hubble's main mirror was found to have been ground incorrectly, compromising the telescope's capabilities. The optics were corrected to their intended quality by a servicing mission in 1993.

Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. After launch by Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, five subsequent Space Shuttle missions repaired, upgraded, and replaced systems on the telescope, including all five of the main instruments. The fifth mission was initially canceled on safety grounds following the Columbia disaster (2003). However, after spirited public discussion, NASA administrator Mike Griffin approved the fifth servicing mission, completed in 2009. The telescope is operating as of 2017, and could last until 2030–2040. Its scientific successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is scheduled for launch in 2018.

List of Hubble Instruments

Hubble accommodates five science instruments at a given time, plus the Fine Guidance Sensors, which are mainly used for aiming the telescope but are occasionally used for science (astrometry). Early instruments were replaced with more advanced ones during the Shuttle servicing missions. COSTAR was strictly a corrective optics device rather than a true science instrument, but occupied one of the five instrument bays.

Since the final servicing mission in 2009, the four active instruments have been ACS, COS, STIS and WFC3. NICMOS is kept in hibernation, but may be revived if WFC3 were to fail in the future.

  • Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS; 2002-present)
  • Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS; 2009-present)
  • Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR; 1993-2009)
  • Faint Object Camera (FOC; 1990-2002)
  • Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS; 1990-1997)
  • Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS; 1990-present)
  • Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS/HRS; 1990-1997)
  • High Speed Photometer (HSP; 1990-1993)
  • Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS; 1997-present, hibernating since 2008)
  • Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS; 1997-present (non-operative 2004-2009)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC; 1990-1993)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2; 1993-2009)
  • Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3; 2009-present)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Girard Defines "Mimetic Desire"

Mimetic Desire

After almost a decade of teaching French literature in the United States, Rene Girard began to develop a new way of speaking about literary texts. Beyond the "uniqueness" of individual works, he looked for their common structural properties, having observed that characters in great fiction evolved in a system of relationships otherwise common to the wider generality of novels. But there was a distinction to be made:

Only the great writers succeed in painting these mechanisms faithfully, without falsifying them: we have here a system of relationships that paradoxically, or rather not paradoxically at all, has less variability the greater a writer is.

So there did indeed exist "psychological laws" as Proust calls them. These laws and this system are the consequences of a fundamental reality grasped by the novelists, which Girard called "the mimetic character of desire." This is the content of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961). We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person—the model—for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be", it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

Mediation is external when the mediator of the desire is socially beyond the reach of the subject or, for example, a fictional character, as in the case of Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote. The hero lives a kind of folly that nonetheless remains optimistic. Mediation is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject. The mediator then transforms into a rival and an obstacle to the acquisition of the object, whose value increases as the rivalry grows. This is the universe of the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky, which are particularly studied in this book.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them. Some, pursuing this logic, come to seek the failures that are the signs of the proximity of the ideal to which they aspire. This can manifest as a heightened experience of the universal pseudo-masochism inherent in seeking the unattainable, which can, of course, turn into sadism should the actor play this part in reverse.

This fundamental focus on mimetic desire would be pursued by Girard throughout the rest of his career. The stress on imitation in humans was not a popular subject when Girard developed his theories, but today there is independent support for his claims coming from empirical research in psychology and neuroscience (see the link below). Farneti (2013) also discusses the role of mimetic desire in intractable conflicts, using the case study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and referencing Girard's theory. He posits that intensified conflict is a product of the imitative behaviors of Israelis and Palestinians, entitling them ‘Siamese twins'.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dogs' Social Behavior

Researchers Identify a Common underlying Genetic Basis for Social Behavior in Dogs and Humans

Pooja Makhijani, Princeton University Office of Communications

July 19, 2017 -- Dogs’ ability to communicate and interact with humans is one the most astonishing differences between them and their wild cousins, wolves. A new study published today in the journal Science Advances identifies genetic changes that are linked to dogs’ human-directed social behaviors and suggests there is a common underlying genetic basis for hyper-social behavior in both dogs and humans.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, including those from Princeton University, sequenced a region of chromosome 6 in dogs and found multiple sections of canine DNA that were associated with differences in social behavior. In many cases, unique genetic insertions called transposons on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) were strongly associated with the tendency to seek out humans for physical contact, assistance and information.

In contrast, in humans, it is the deletion of genes from the counterpart of this region on the human genome, rather than insertions, that causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by hyper-social traits such as exceptional gregariousness.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author.

VonHoldt had identified the canine analog of the WBSCR in her publication in Nature in 2010. But it was Emily Shuldiner, a 2016 Princeton alumna and the study’s other lead co-author, who, as part of her senior thesis, pinpointed the commonalities in the genetic architecture of Williams-Beuren syndrome and canine tameness.

By analyzing behavioral and genetic data from dogs and gray wolves, vonHoldt, Shuldiner and their colleagues reported a strong genetic aspect to human-directed social behavior by dogs. Monique Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University and the paper’s senior author, collected and analyzed the behavioral data for 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive human-socialized wolves, as well as the biological samples used to sequence their genomes.

First, Udell quantified human-directed sociability traits in canines, such as to what extent they turned to a human in the room to seek assistance in trying to lift a puzzle box lid in order to get a sausage treat below or the degree to which they sought out social interactions with familiar and unfamiliar humans. Then, vonHoldt and Shuldiner sequenced the genome in vonHoldt’s lab and correlated their findings.

Consistent with their hypothesis, the researchers confirmed that the domesticated dogs displayed more human-directed behavior and spent more time in proximity to humans than the wolves. The also discovered that some of these transposons on the WBSCR were only found in domestic dogs, and not in wolves at all.

VonHoldt’s findings suggest that only a few transposons on this region likely govern a complex set of social behaviors. “We haven’t found a ‘social gene,’ but rather an important [genetic] component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog,” she said.

Anna Kukekova, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is familiar with the research but had no role in it, said that the paper points to these genes as being evolutionarily conserved, or essentially unchanged throughout evolution. “The research provides evidence that there exist certain evolutionary conservative mechanisms that contribute to sociability across species,” she said. “That they have found that this region contributes to sociability in dogs is exciting.”

Survival of the friendliest

The researchers’ evidence also calls into question the role of domestication in the evolution of canine behavior. Most experts agree that the first domesticated dogs were wolves that ventured into early human settlements. These proto-dogs evolved not only in their looks, but also their behavior, a process likely influenced by the species’ cohabitation, according to vonHoldt.

However, unlike previous research which suggests that, during the process of domestication, dogs were selected for a set of cognitive abilities, particularly an ability to discern gesture and voice, vonHoldt and Shuldiner’s research posits that dogs were instead selected for their tendency to seek human companionship.

“If early humans came into contact with a wolf that had a personality of being interested in them, and only lived with and bred those ‘primitive dogs,’ they would have exaggerated the trait of being social,” vonHoldt said.

Other authors on the paper were Ilana Janowitz Koch and Rebecca Kartzinel of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton; Andrew Hogan and Elaine Ostrander of the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute the National Institutes of Health; Lauren Brubaker and Shelby Wanser of the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University; Daniel Stahler of Yellowstone Center for Resources, National Park Service at Yellowstone National Park; Clive Wynne of the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health; and Janet Sinsheimer of the Departments of Human Genetics and Biomathematics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.

The study, “Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren Syndrome underlie stereotypical hyper-sociability in domestic dogs,” was published July 19 by Science Advances.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, as published in his first paper, "Cours d'économie politique". Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients." Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.

The Pareto principle is only tangentially related to Pareto efficiency. Pareto developed both concepts in the context of the distribution of income and wealth among the population.

In Economics

The original observation was in connection with population and wealth. Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the population. He then carried out surveys on a variety of other countries and found to his surprise that a similar distribution applied.

A chart that gave the inequality a very visible and comprehensible form, the so-called 'champagne glass' effect, was contained in the 1992 United Nations Development Program Report, which showed that distribution of global income is very uneven, with the richest 20% of the world's population controlling 82.7% of the world's income.

In Science

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Software

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Sports

It is said that about 20% of sportsmen participate in 80% of big competitions and out of them, 20% win 80% of the awards. This could also be applied to teams in many popular games.

The Pareto principle has also been applied to training, where roughly 20% of the exercises and habits have 80% of the impact and the trainee should not focus so much on a varied training. This does not necessarily mean eating heartily or going to the gym are not important, just that they are not as significant as the key activities.

The law of the few can be also seen in betting, where it is said that with 20% effort you can match the accuracy of 80% of the bettors.

Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational health and safety professionals use the Pareto principle to underline the importance of hazard prioritization. Assuming 20% of the hazards account for 80% of the injuries, and by categorizing hazards, safety professionals can target those 20% of the hazards that cause 80% of the injuries or accidents. Alternatively, if hazards are addressed in random order, a safety professional is more likely to fix one of the 80% of hazards that account only for some fraction of the remaining 20% of injuries.

Aside from ensuring efficient accident prevention practices, the Pareto principle also ensures hazards are addressed in an economical order as the technique ensures the resources used are best used to prevent the most accidents.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

World Record for Coup Attempts

The nation with the most coup attempts in history is Spain (even more than the attempts in Greece).  Here they are:

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  1. 603 by General Witerico against king Liuva II
  2. 631 by Duke Sisenando against king Suintila
  3. 642 : Tulga was overthrown by Chindasvinto
  4. 692 : Égica was briefly overthrown by Suniefredo
  5. 1814 : Absolutist pronunciamiento of Fernando VII and Francisco Javier de Elío
  6. 1815 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Juan Díaz Porlier at A Coruña
  7. 1820 : successful liberal pronunciamiento of Rafael del Riego, start of the Trienio Liberal
  8. 1822 : failed absolutist coup by the Royal Guard of Fernando VII
  9. 1831 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Manuel de Torrijos
  10. 1835 : liberal pronunciamiento of Cordero y de Quesada
  11. 1836 : successful liberal mutiny of La Granja de San Ildefonso
  12. 1841 : failed Moderate pronunciamiento
  13. 1843 : successful Moderate pronunciamiento of Narváez and Francisco Serrano y Domínguez, end of the Baldomero Espartero regency
  14. 1844 : failed liberal and Esparterist coup, led by Martín Zurbano
  15. 1846 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Galicia, led by Miguel Solís Cuetos
  16. 1848 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Madrid, led by colonel Manuel Buceta
  17. 1854 : successful revolutionary coup in Madrid, led by general Leopoldo O'Donnell
  18. 1860 : failed carlist military uprising at Sant Carles de la Ràpita, led by general Jaime Ortega y Olleta
  19. 1866 : failed Progressive and Democrat coup in Madrid
  20. 1866 : failed pronunciamiento of Villarejo de Salvanés, led by general Juan Prim
  21. 1868 : successful Glorious Revolution, started by the pronunciamiento of Juan Bautista Topete in Cádiz
  22. 1874 : successful coup of Manuel Pavía y Rodríguez de Alburquerque
  23. 1874 : successful "Pronunciamiento de Sagunto", that ends the Spanish First Republic and restores monarchy and the Borbón family at the throne
  24. 1883 : failed 5 August republican pronunciamiento in Badajoz
  25. 1886 : failed republican coup in Madrid, led by Manuel Villacampa del Castillo and Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla
  26. 1923 by Miguel Primo de Rivera against Manuel García Prieto
  27. 1926 : failed "Sanjuanada", a coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera
  28. 1929 : failed coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, led by José Sánchez-Guerra y Martínez
  29. 1930 : failed republican pronunciamiento in Jaca
  30. 1932 by José Sanjurjo failed to overthrow Manuel Azaña
  31. 1936 by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña and the Second Spanish Republic, starting the Spanish Civil War
  32. 1939 by Segismundo Casado against the republican government of Juan Negrín
  33. November 17, 1978: An aborted coup led by Antonio Tejero to stop the Spanish transition to democracy.
  34. February 23, 1981: A group led by Tejero broke into the Congress of Deputies while they were preparing to elect Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as the new prime minister. King Juan Carlos denounced the coup in a nationally televised address, and the coup collapsed the next day with no casualties.
  35. October 27, 1982: A group of far-right colonels failed to overthrow Calvo Sotelo.
  36. June 2, 1985: a group of far-right soldiers and officers (along with some civilians) planned to take power thanks to a false flag attack, but the conspiracy was later aborted

The Disney Railroads

“Yes, in one way or another I have always loved trains.”
          —Walt Disney

Rail transport can be found in every theme park resort property owned or licensed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the theme park and vacation resort segment of the larger Walt Disney Company. The origins of Disney theme park rail transport can be traced back to Walt Disney himself and his personal fondness for railroads, who insisted that they be included in the first Disney park, the original Disneyland (a key component of the Disneyland Resort) in California in the United States, which opened on July 17, 1955. The Disney tradition of including transport by rail in its parks has since been extended to other Disney properties with the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida in the United States, Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan, Disneyland Paris in France, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in China, and Shanghai Disney Resort in China.

Each Disney theme park resort has a rail transport system serving its general resort area, whether it's a monorail system located inside the Disney resort properties in the United States and Japan, or a conventional rail system connecting external rail networks to the Disney resorts in France and China. The Disneyland Monorail System in California is notable for being the first monorail system to operate in the United States, while the Walt Disney World Monorail System in Florida, with an estimated 150,000 passengers each day, is one of the busiest monorail systems in the world. Both Disney park resort properties in the United States, as well as those in Japan and France, contain theme parks that feature genuine steam-powered railroads. The Disney park chain has one of the world's largest private collections of operational steam locomotives, with seventeen in total spread across the globe. Additional rail systems within the theme parks in both United States resorts and the Hong Kong resort resemble steam-powered railroads, but their locomotives are powered by internal combustion engines. Other rail transport modes found in Disney parks include horse-drawn streetcar rail lines in the parks within both resorts in the United States and the resort in France, as well as replica vintage electric rail lines in the parks in California and Japan.

The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chain of theme parks is the largest on the planet by annual attendance with over 140.4 million visitors in 2016, and the rail systems located inside its properties play key roles as modes of transportation and as attractions for its visitors.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Untimely Death: Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani (May 3, 1977 to July 15, 2017) was an Iranian mathematician and a professor of mathematics at Stanford University. Her research topics include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.

On August 13, 2014, Mirzakhani became both the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. The award committee cited her work in "the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces."

Early Life and Education

Mirzakhani was born on 3 May 1977 in Tehran, Iran. She attended Farzanegan School there, part of the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents.

In 1994, Mirzakhani won a gold medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad, the first female Iranian student to do so. In the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad, she became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score and to win two gold medals.

She obtained her BSc in mathematics (1999) from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. She went to the United States for graduate work, earning a PhD from Harvard University in 2004, where she worked under the supervision of the Fields Medalist Curtis McMullen.


Mirzakhani was a 2004 research fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professor at Princeton University. In 2008 she became a professor at Stanford University.

Research Work

Mirzakhani made several contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. In her early work, Mirzakhani discovered a formula expressing the volume of a moduli space with a given genus as a polynomial in the number of boundary components. This led her to obtain a new proof for the formula discovered by Edward Witten and Maxim Kontsevich on the intersection numbers of tautological classes on moduli space, as well as an asymptotic formula for the growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on a compact hyperbolic surface, generalizing the theorem of the three geodesics for spherical surfaces. Her subsequent work focused on Teichmüller dynamics of moduli space. In particular, she was able to prove the long-standing conjecture that William Thurston's earthquake flow on Teichmüller space is ergodic.

Most recently as of 2014, with Alex Eskin and with input from Amir Mohammadi, Mirzakhani proved that complex geodesics and their closures in moduli space are surprisingly regular, rather than irregular or fractal. The closures of complex geodesics are algebraic objects defined in terms of polynomials and therefore they have certain rigidity properties, which is analogous to a celebrated result that Marina Ratner arrived at during the 1990s. The International Mathematical Union said in its press release that, "It is astounding to find that the rigidity in homogeneous spaces has an echo in the inhomogeneous world of moduli space."

Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces". The award was made in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians on 13 August.

At the time of the award, Jordan Ellenberg explained her research to a popular audience:

... [Her] work expertly blends dynamics with geometry. Among other things, she studies billiards. But now, in a move very characteristic of modern mathematics, it gets kind of meta: She considers not just one billiard table, but the universe of all possible billiard tables. And the kind of dynamics she studies doesn't directly concern the motion of the billiards on the table, but instead a transformation of the billiard table itself, which is changing its shape in a rule-governed way; if you like, the table itself moves like a strange planet around the universe of all possible tables ... This isn't the kind of thing you do to win at pool, but it's the kind of thing you do to win a Fields Medal. And it's what you need to do in order to expose the dynamics at the heart of geometry; for there's no question that they're there.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran congratulated her.

Personal Life

Mirzakhani was married to Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist and applied mathematician who is an associate professor at Stanford University; they had a daughter named Anahita. Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. After four years, it spread to her bone marrow. She died on 15 July 2017.

Major Awards and Honors

  • AMS Blumenthal Award 2009
  • The 2013 AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics. "Presented every two years by the American Mathematical Society, the Satter Prize recognizes an outstanding contribution to mathematics research by a woman in the preceding six years. The prize was awarded on Thursday, 10 January 2013, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego
  • Clay Research Award 2014
  • Fields Medal 2014


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele [granite-like, igneous, monument slab], found in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic script and Demotic script, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree is the same (with some minor differences) in all three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The stone, carved in black granodiorite during the Hellenistic period, is believed to have originally been displayed within a temple, possibly at nearby Sais. It was probably moved during the early Christian or medieval period, and was eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. It was rediscovered there in July 1799 by a French soldier named Pierre-François Bouchard during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. It was the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text recovered in modern times, and it aroused widespread public interest with its potential to decipher this previously untranslated hieroglyphic language. Lithographic copies and plaster casts began circulating among European museums and scholars. Meanwhile, British troops defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, and the original stone came into British possession under the Capitulation of Alexandria and was transported to London. It has been on public display at the British Museum almost continuously since 1802. It is the most-visited object in the British Museum.

Study of the decree was already under way when the first full translation of the Greek text appeared in 1803. It was 20 years, however, before the transliteration of the Egyptian scripts was announced by Jean-François Champollion in Paris in 1822; it took longer still before scholars were able to read Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently. Major advances in the decoding were recognition that the stone offered three versions of the same text (1799); that the demotic text used phonetic characters to spell foreign names (1802); that the hieroglyphic text did so as well, and had pervasive similarities to the demotic (Thomas Young, 1814); and that, in addition to being used for foreign names, phonetic characters were also used to spell native Egyptian words (Champollion, 1822–1824).

Ever since its rediscovery, the stone has been the focus of nationalist rivalries, including its transfer from French to British possession during the Napoleonic Wars, a long-running dispute over the relative value of Young and Champollion's contributions to the decipherment and, since 2003, demands for the stone's return to Egypt.

Two other fragmentary copies of the same decree were discovered later, and several similar Egyptian bilingual or trilingual inscriptions are now known, including two slightly earlier Ptolemaic decrees (the Decree of Canopus in 238 BC, and the Memphis decree of Ptolemy IV, c. 218 BC). The Rosetta Stone is, therefore, no longer unique, but it was the essential key to modern understanding of Ancient Egyptian literature and civilisation. The term Rosetta Stone is now used in other contexts as the name for the essential clue to a new field of knowledge.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Character Actor and Actress

A character actor or character actress is a supporting actor who plays unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters.  The term, often contrasted with that of leading actor, is somewhat abstract and open to interpretation. In a literal sense, all actors can be considered character actors since they all play "characters", but in the usual sense it is an actor who plays a distinctive and important supporting role.

The term is sometimes used to describe an actor who plays characters who are very different from the actor's off-screen real-life personality, while in another sense it describes an actor who specializes in minor roles. In either case, character actor roles are more substantial than bit parts or non-speaking extras.

The term is used primarily to describe television and film actors, and is less used to describe theater actors. An early use of the term was in the 1883 edition of The Stage, which defined a character actor as "one who portrays individualities and eccentricities". Actors with a long career history of playing character roles may be difficult for audiences to recognize as being the same actor.

Unlike leading actors, they are generally seen as less glamorous. While a leading actor often has physical beauty needed to play the love interest, a character actor may be short or tall, heavy or thin, balding, older, or simply unconventional-looking and distinctive in some physical way. For example, the face of Chicago character actor William Schutz was disfigured in a car accident when he was five years old, but his appearance despite reconstructive surgery helped him to be memorable and distinctive to theater audiences. Generally, the names of character actors are not featured prominently in movie and television advertising on the marquee, since a character actor's name is not expected to attract film audiences. The roles that character actors play in film or television are often identified by only one name, such as "Officer Fred", while roles of leading actors often have a full name, such as "Captain Jack Sparrow". Some character actors have distinctive voices or accents, or they develop memorable mannerisms. A character actor with a long career may not have a well-known name, yet may be instantly recognizable.

During the course of an acting career, an actor can sometimes shift between leading roles and secondary roles. Some leading actors, as they get older, find that access to leading roles is limited by their increasing age. In the past, actors of color, who were often barred from roles for which they were otherwise suited, found work performing ethnic stereotypes. Sometimes character actors have developed careers based on specific talents needed in genre films, such as dancing, horsemanship, acrobatics, swimming ability, or boxing. Many up-and-coming actors find themselves typecast in character roles due to an early success with a particular part or in a certain genre, such that the actor becomes so strongly identified with a particular type of role that casting directors steer the actor to similar roles. Some character actors play essentially the same character over and over, as with Andy Devine's humorous but resourceful sidekick, while other actors, such as Sir Laurence Olivier, have the capacity of submerging themselves in any role they play. Some character actors develop a cult following with a particular audience, such as with the fans of Star Trek or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Character actors tend to play the same type of role throughout their careers, including Harvey Keitel as a "tough and determined guy", Dame Maggie Smith as an "upstanding lady matriarch", Christopher Lloyd as an eccentric, Claude Rains as a "sophisticated, sometimes ambiguously moral man", Abe Vigoda as a "leathery, sunken-eyed" and tired hoodlum on the verge of retirement, Christopher Walken as a "speech maker", Vincent Schiavelli as "the confused guy", Steve Buscemi as "a quirky, smart guy with a mind just outside of reality" and Forest Whitaker as a "calm, composed character with an edge and potential to explode". Ed Lauter usually portrayed a menacing figure because of his "long, angular face" which was easily recognized in public, although audiences rarely knew his name. Character actors can play a variety of types, such as the femme fatale, gunslinger, sidekick, town drunk, villain, whore with a heart of gold, and many others. A character actor's roles are often perceived as being substantially different from their perceived real-life persona, meaning that they do not portray an extension of themselves, but rather a character substantially different from their off-screen persona. Character actors subsume themselves into the characters they portray, such that their off-screen acting persona is practically unrecognizable. According to one view, great character actors are rarely out of work, and often have long careers that span decades. They are also often highly regarded by fellow actors.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Liu Xiaobo Dies

Liu Xiaobo (28 December 1955 – 13 July 2017) was a Chinese literary critic, writer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who called for political reforms and the end of communist single-party rule. He was incarcerated as a political prisoner in Jinzhou, Liaoning. On 26 June 2017, he was granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and died on 13 July 2017 at the hospital.

Liu rose to fame in the literary circle with his literary critiques and became a visiting scholar at several overseas universities. He returned home to support the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was imprisoned for the first time from 1989 to 1991 and again from 1995 to 1996 and from 1996 to 1999 for his involvement in democracy and human rights movement. He served as the President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, from 2003 to 2007. He was also the president of Minzhu Zhongguo (Democratic China) magazine since the mid-1990s. On 8 December 2008, Liu was detained due to his participation with the Charter 08 manifesto. He was formally arrested on 23 June 2009 on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power".  He was tried on the same charges on 23 December 2009, and sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights on 25 December 2009.

During his fourth prison term, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." He was the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China. Liu is the third person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison or detention, after Germany's Carl von Ossietzky (1935) and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi (1991). Liu was also the second person to have been denied the right to have a representative collect the Nobel Prize for him and died in custody. (The first being Carl von Ossietzky who died in a Nazi concentration camp.)

Thoughts and Political Views

Evolving from his aesthetic notion of "Individual Subjectivity" as opposed to Li Zehou's theory of aesthetic subjectivity which combined Marxist materialism and Kantian idealism, he upheld the notion of "aesthetic freedom" which was based on the individualistic conception of freedom and aesthetics. He also strongly criticized the traditional attitude of Chinese intellectuals of searching for rationalism and harmony as "slave mentality" as it was criticized by radical left-wing literary critic Lu Xun during the New Cultural Movement. He also echoed the New Cultural Movement's call for wholesale westernization and rejection of the Chinese traditional culture. In an interview, he said "modernization means wholesale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs. in-humane, there's no middle ground... Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race." In 2002, he reflected his Mao-style radical aesthetic and political views at the time:

"I realized my entire youth and early writings had all been nurtured in hatred, violence and arrogance, or lies, cynicism and sarcasm. I knew at the time that Mao-style thinking and Cultural Revolution-style language had become ingrained in me, and I had become my own gaol [...]. It may take me a lifetime to get rid of the poison."

In a 1988 interview with Hong Kong's Liberation Monthly (now known as Open Magazine), Liu was asked what it would take for China to realize a true historical transformation. He replied:

"[It would take] 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would require 300 years as a colony for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough."

Liu admitted in 2006 that the response was extemporaneous, although he did not intend to take it back, as it represented "an extreme expression of his long-held belief." The quote was nonetheless used against him. He has commented, "Even today [in 2006], radical patriotic 'angry youth' still frequently use these words to paint me with 'treason'."

He was also a strong critic of Chinese nationalism, believing that the "abnormal nationalism" existed in China over the last century had turned from a defensive style of the "mixed feelings of inferiority, envy, complaint, and blame to an aggressive "patriotism" of "blind self-confidence, empty boasts, and pent-up hatred". The "ultra-nationalism", being deployed by the Chinese Communist Party since the Tiananmen protests, has also become "a euphemism for worship of violence in service of autocratic goals."

In his letter to his friend Liao Yiwu in 2000, he expressed his thought on the prospect of the democracy movement in China:

"Compared to others under the Communist black curtain, we cannot call ourselves real men. Through the great tragedies of all these years, we still don’t have a righteous giant like [Václav] Havel. In order for everyone to have the right to be selfish, there has to be a righteous giant who will sacrifice selflessly. In order to obtain "passive freedoms" (freedom from the arbitrary oppression by those in power), there has to be a will for active resistance. In history, nothing is fated. The appearance of a martyr will completely change a nation’s soul and raise the spiritual quality of the people. But Gandhi was by chance, Havel was by chance; two thousand years ago, a peasant’s boy born in the manger was even more by chance. Human progress relies on the chance birth of these individuals. One cannot count on the collective conscience of the masses but only on the great individual conscience to consolidate the weak masses. In particular, our nation needs this righteous giant; the appeal of a role model is infinite; a symbol can rouse an abundance of moral resources. For example, Fang Lizhi’s ability to walk out of the U.S. Embassy, or Zhao Ziyang’s ability to actively resist after stepping down, or so-and-so refusing to go abroad. A very important reason for the silence and amnesia after June Fourth is that we did not have a righteous giant who stepped forward."

In 2009 when he was tried for "inciting subversion of state power" due to his participation with the Charter 08 manifesto which demanded freedom of expression, human rights and democratic elections, he wrote an essay known as "I Have No Enemies", stating that "the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy", and declared he had no enemies, and no hatred.

On international affairs, he supported U.S. President George W. Bush's 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, 2003 invasion of Iraq and his re-election. However, he also criticized the Iraq prison abuse scandals.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

W.H.O. Essential Medicines List

The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (EML), published by the World Health Organization (WHO), contains the medications considered to be most effective and safe to meet the most important needs in a health system. The list is frequently used by countries to help develop their own local lists of essential medicine. As of 2016, more than 155 countries have created national lists of essential medicines based on the World Health Organization's model list. This includes countries in both the developed and developing world.

The list is divided into core items and complementary items. The core items are deemed to be the most cost effective options for key health problems and are usable with little additional health care resources. The complementary items either require additional infrastructure such as specially trained health care providers or diagnostic equipment or have a lower cost-benefit ratio. About 25% of items are in the complementary list. Some medications are listed as both core and complementary. While most medications on the list are available as generic products, being under patent does not exclude inclusion.

The first list was published in 1977 and included 212 medications. The WHO updates the list every two years. The 14th list was published in 2005 and contained 306 medications. In 2015 the 19th edition of the list was published and contains around 410 medications. The 20th edition was published in 2017. The national lists contain between 334 and 580 medications.

A separate list for children up to 12 years of age, known as the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for Children (EMLc), was created in 2007 and is in its 5th edition. It was created to make sure that the needs of children were systematically considered such as availability of proper formulations. Everything in the children's list is also included in the main list.


This article can be found along with a current complete list of medicines at:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Turkey's "March for Justice"

The March for Justice  was a 450 km (280-mile) march from Ankara to Istanbul to protest against arrests that were made as part of the government crackdown following the July 2016 coup d'état attempt. After the coup attempt, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government declared a state of emergency. Since then at least 50,000 people have been arrested and another 140,000 people have been removed from their positions. The protest was led by opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in response to a lengthy prison sentence that Enis Berberoğlu received for allegedly giving the press a video that shows Turkish intelligence smuggling weapons into Syria. The march concluded in Istanbul on July 9 with a rally attended by hundreds of thousands of people, during which Kılıçdaroğlu spoke at length about the effect that the government purge has had on the judiciary and rule of law in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared the protest march illegal. During the march, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and President Erdoğan compared the march to the July 2016 coup attempt, and accused the participants and Kılıçdaroğlu of supporting the Gülenist FETÖ organization that the government says was behind the coup attempt. Counter-demonstrations have been held by AKP supporters. Police officers provided security for the marchers, and the march concluded peacefully at Maltepe, Istanbul (where Berberoğlu is imprisoned).


A "state of emergency" was declared in Turkey after the failed coup attempt in 2016. Over 50,000 Turks were jailed in the aftermath of the failed coup. 140,000 have been removed from their jobs in a number of fields, particularly civil service, military, judiciary, academia and media. The government has said that it is targeting those who are suspected of supporting Fethullah Gülen, who the government believes was behind the coup attempt.

The Guardian reported that interviews with people involved with the Turkish judiciary and various experts on the topic has shown:

"a broad and systematic attempt at intimidating and reshaping Turkey's judicial branch in an effort to further consolidate power in the hands of the ruling AKP and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan."

Experts have commented that the Turkish justice system was "crippled" following the 2016 coup attempt. 4,000 prosecutors and judges have lost their jobs since the coup attempt. Kılıçdaroğlu commented that judges wait for orders from the presidential palace before making decisions.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that he and others were marching for "democracy, justice and freedom from fear and authoritarian rule in Turkey." Kılıçdaroğlu listed democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, the jailing of parliament members, and dysfunctional courts as reasons for the march.

The march began in Ankara on June 15, 2017 after CHP member Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in prison for providing the opposition paper Cumhuriyet with a video that showed Turkish intelligence agents smuggling weapons into Syria. Turkish government officials have confirmed the authenticity of the videos, but have maintained that the videos were published by FETÖ members. Cumhuriyet's editor in chief Can Dündar was sentenced to five years in prison, and fled to Germany after surviving an assassination attempt outside the Courthouse.

The law that stripped members of parliament of their immunity and made Berberoğlu's imprisonment possible was passed in May 2016. Though dozens of pro-Kurdish HDP members have since been jailed, including HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, Berberoğlu is the first CHP member to be imprisoned in 15 years of AKP rule.


The protest was led by opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The march has been compared to Gandhi's 1930 Salt March. Thousands of protesters participated in the march, carrying signs that read adalet (the Turkish word for "justice") and chanting "rights, law, justice".

A diverse group of citizens participated, including members from different political parties, trade unions, as well as ordinary citizens. On 6 July 2017 Bloomberg reported that 30,000 protestors were participating in the march. Marchers have reported difficult conditions, including walking 20 kilometers a day, hot weather and rain. At least one elderly protester has died of cardiac arrest during the march.

Protestors have given many different reasons for participating in the March, including a recent court decision permitting a mining project in Artvin that has been opposed by many local residents and other citizens throughout the country. In the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, the government declared a "state of emergency" in which 50,000 Turks have been arrested and a further 140,000 people have been fired or suspended from their jobs, including the chairman of Amnesty International Turkey. Judge Aydin Sefa Akay, a member of the United Nations war crime panel, was sentenced to more then seven years in prison for suspected involvement in the coup attempt. Some who participated in the march had been directly affected by the purges, including a former political science professor who was fired by government decree in April 2017. He was one of the 1,100 academics who was investigated for signing a petition calling for an end to violence in Turkey's southeastern conflict with the Kurdish people.

Counter-demonstrations have been held by AKP supporters.

Maltepe rally

The march reached Istanbul on July 9, 2017 with a mass rally attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Maltepe, where Berberoğlu is imprisoned. – the biggest opposition gathering since the protests in Gezi Park in 2013. Kılıçdaroğlu spoke at the rally. During his speech Kılıçdaroğlu said that the state of emergency declared by Erdoğan and his government in response to the 2016 coup attempt had suspended the powers of the national parliament and the judiciary. He said: "We marched for justice, we marched for the rights of the oppressed. We marched for the MPs in jail. We marched for the arrested journalists. We marched for the university academics dismissed from their jobs.”

He read a list of demands which included: an end to the state of emergency, an independent judiciary, and the release of imprisoned journalists, politicians and others who were arrested during the purges that followed the coup attempt. He said that "subjecting the judiciary to partisan politics is a betrayal of democracy." He also said that the rally was only the beginning, adding: "This is a rebirth for us, for our country and our children. We will revolt against injustice." He said that the April constitutional referendum that had eliminated the post of prime minister and greatly expanded the powers of the presidency was "unlawful" (the changes take effect in 2019). Because the state of emergency was in place when the referendum was carried out, Kılıçdaroğlu said that "all public resources were exploited to manipulate the outcome".[