Sunday, September 29, 2013

What is the "obscene" content in class 6th science textbook in Lahore?

by Salman Hameed

There is an emergency in Lahore. An elite school in Lahore has the gall to introduce a class on comparative religion. Noooo! You cannot teach a class that necessitates a respect for other religions. But thankfully a special departmental committee has worked overtime to quickly come up with a report on this dangerous situation:
"The department said the introduction of religious studies “is tantamount to mislead and confuse the young generation with complexity of topics like comparative study of religions at such a lower level”.
And the Chief Minister of Punjab has the constitution behind him:
“Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan is quite clear about the provision that no Pakistani citizen should be taught a religion other than his own religion”, the minister added.
Yup - the state always knows what it best for you. Oh - wait. What Article of the constitution? A helpful commentator on the article pointed the link - and here is Article 25 (thanks to one of the commentators on Express Tribune for providing the link):
25 Equality of citizens.
(1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.
(2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex  32[] 32.
(3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children. 

25A. Right to education:
The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.

I'm sure the Chief Minister is doing all he can to make sure that all children between 5 and 16 are getting compulsory education...

But this is not what got me to this story. This did:
The Punjab Education Department has issued orders to confiscate the science book of class six of Lahore Grammar School (LGS) which the department says has obscene material which is provocative for youth.
Well what? They didn't say what the objectionable material was. I hope it didn't say that human beings of all religions share the same basic biology!! Eewww. I guess it is obscene to think that we may be made up of the same material - when it is clear that Punjab Chief Minister is made up of a rare and special material.

Since I don't know what are they referring to, can someone please find out about the nature of the objectionable material in the 6th grade science textbook? Thanks.

Here is the original story.

New website on "Islam and Science"

by Salman Hameed

A new website has been launched with a focus on Islam and Science: An Educational Approach (thanks to Abdelaziz Gillali for sending the link). The effort is led by Nidhal Guessoum (he used to contribute to Irtiqa as well) and is a collaboration between the American University of Sharjah and the
Interdisciplinary University of Paris (though there are many more individuals from different institutions involved in it). This is an important addition to the discourse over science and Islam and I think it will be good counter to sites propagated by people like Zakir Naik,  Harun Yahya, etc. While I'm a proponent of a strong separation of science and religion, this website/project will also provide a platform for those who are seeking a synthesis and integration between science and Islam. Go check it out.

Here are its Vision and Objectives:

  • Pursue the elaboration of a new synthesis between modern scientific knowledge and Muslim traditions, approaches which are removed both from easy concordism and the view according to which it is impossible to reach a fruitful harmony between those fields.
  • Contribute to open a high-level dialogue between Islam and modernity, thus allowing the development of a unified and coherent understanding of the world, without conflict or dissonance.
  • Propose an education and training program to Muslim scholars, who would be able to develop a modern and sophisticated Science-Islam discourse and to present these points of view in international arenas.
  • Develop and broadcast, on a large international scale, a well-informed discourse on  Islam & Science, one which is reasoned and scientifically solid.
  • Delineate the fruitful pathways for the development of scientific culture in the Arab/Muslim World and popularize certain philosophical implications of contemporary science towards/aiming at the elite as well as the public at large.
  • Show how the Muslim tradition can be a factor of dialogue and peace.
  • Particpate to a high-level inter-religious dialogue and contribute to the emergence of a “common discourse” among the world’s major religions, that can be the basis of a new form of dialogue among cultures.
  • Construct a process for delineating the role of science in the search of meaning in a more and more complex globalized world, a world full of promise but one which also carries dangers and threats for future generations.
  • Contribute in a spirit of dialogue and openness to reopen the question of the meaning that modern societies are facing.
Go check out and explore their website.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Googled Mufti's quandry

by Salman Hameed

Here is a short, insightful, and entertaining article from the Magazine section of NYT by Sahahan Mufti, about being mistaken for a Mufti:

 The first time I received such an e-mail, I assumed it was a mistake and ignored it. I ignored the next few e-mails as well, but I began to wonder if someone was playing a prank on me. The e-mails kept coming, sporadically, and without any hint of a setup or any sign of a punch line. Eventually I discovered the explanation. 
My surname, Mufti, is an Arabic word meaning “one who gives a fatwa.” 
And his name shows up quite high on Google searches. Okay that part is not that interesting. However, he provides an example that nicely illustrate what many people expect from fatwas:

This e-mail with the pushy subject line was unlike any other I had received. “My friend, who lives in Sweden, wants to get married to a Swedish woman,” it began in Latinized Urdu. “But this marriage will be a fake marriage.” Tahir, the sender, explained that his friend was already married to a woman in Pakistan but wanted to marry a Swedish woman to obtain Swedish citizenship. Tahir’s friend wanted him to deliver fake Pakistani divorce papers by forging both his and his wife’s signatures. Oblivious to the forgery, the Swedes would allow Tahir’s friend to marry, putting the secret bigamist on a path to Swedish citizenship and all that it offered. I doubted that either of the women were privy to the elaborate scheme. 
It was Tahir’s heedlessly narrow question at the end that surprised me the most: “If I forge the signatures on the divorce papers, will that really mean my friend will be divorced from his wife?” It was this small, rather arcane detail about God’s view of the marital bond that nagged his conscience — not the various international and domestic laws and criminal codes that he would break. “Would you do me a favor and resolve this problem?” 
For his answer, you have to read the article here. However, I was wondering about two things. First, often times people make so much of some crazy fatwas on the internet. Well, in the absence of a centralized authority and the easy of issuing a fatwa, this is exactly one would expect, for better or for worse. Second, I know the point of the article was to point to mundane nature of the question, but it is also about seeking a justification (approval) from an authority - any authority - and the bar for the qualification of being such an authority can be set quite low (for example, whatever google brings up first).

In case you are interested in the subject matter, also check out this project on internet fatwas and new trends in authority.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Video: Feynman on not being afraid of not knowing

by Salman Hameed

I posted this clip several years ago, so I thought I'll post it again. Here is Richard Feynman on doubt, uncertainty and religion. Unlike some of the newer breed of scientists, he states his own beliefs, but does not intend to be offensive to others. This doesn't mean that some people will not take offense to his views - but that is not his intent, and he stays with his personal opinion. It is also his delivery that makes the difference. This is fantastic! One of the best lines in there: "..I can live with doubt...and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong".

Friday, September 20, 2013

Frontline episode - "Egypt in Crisis"

by Salman Hameed

I could not embed the video, but here is the link to this week's Frontline episode titled Egypt in Crisis. It does not provide any new picture, but it does show some heartbreaking images from some of the recent violence in Cairo. Here is the trailer for the episode:

The Frontline website also has this page that links other news stories that provide a broader context: Dig Deeper - More on Egypt's Political Turmoil. Also, listen to this excellent Fresh Air interview with David Kirkpatrick, who has been doing a fantastic job reporting from Cairo for the New York Times. Here is are two short bits from the interview that might be of interest for the broader context:
On what forces might have been behind Morsi's ouster 
"When the generals stepped in to remove President Mubarak at the end of those 18 days of protest in Tahrir Square, they did it with a relatively anonymous communiqué from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. This time was different. This time it was a televised press conference. It was Gen. [Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi standing alone looking rakish almost in a short-sleeved shirt and a black beret, surrounded by civilian leaders seated behind him. ... 
"So right there it changed him, and it changed the perception of the event, and it thrust him into the public spotlight. And he's followed that up with a number of carefully choreographed public speeches and presentations — you know, footage on private and state-run television of the military intervening to protect the people, set against kind of heroic, operatic scores. So I don't know. It may be that in addition to everything we might say about what the military's interests were and what their role was in the Egyptian state, it may be that Gen. Sisi sees an opportunity here for himself." 
On the aborted conversation of what pluralism would look like in an Islamic democracy 
"One of the most fascinating things we saw over these two years since the Arab Spring broke out — as the Islamic movement around the region stepped closer to power, found themselves actually for the first time winning elections and making decisions — a new debate broke out within the Islamic political movement about what did it really want? What would an Islamic democracy look like? How could it make peace with pluralism? 
"And you saw the movement itself changing. You saw people who had shunned the ballot box, embracing the ballot box because they saw new opportunities there. ... You saw new debates within the Muslim Brotherhood about whether their movement ought to go back to its roots and just do preaching and social work, and separate out the politics. In another direction, you know, what should be the role of Christians in an Islamic-dominated democracy, and what does that mean? ... This notion that any one person could speak for Islam in politics was crumbling. You know, that debate itself was ending that idea which to my mind is itself an opening for democracy. This event closes that down. That debate inside Egypt is over for the moment."
Listen to the full interview here.

I also had a chat with the editor of Nature Middle East, Mohammed Yahia, after the July coup. He lives in Cairo and he provided his thoughts on the ongoing political turmoil. Here is the link to our conversation: Mohammed Yahia on Science, Democracy, and the Unfinished Revolution in Egypt.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Recipe: How to make gold in space...

by Salman Hameed

I have been contributing astronomy articles to the Magazine section of Pakistan's Express Tribune. I have to say that it has been a lot of fun (here is the one from last month: Urdu floating at the edge of our Solar system). This past Sunday, I wrote about collisions of dead stars that may help us explain how gold (and other rare elements) are created in the universe.

Here is the article:

Cosmic Bling

The announcement was short. It lasted only a fraction of second — a blink of an eye. But a spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, keeping an eye on such events, captured it on June 3 this year. The announcement may have been brief, but it told us that two exotic dead stars, called neutron stars, have collided with each other. This is a relatively rare event, but it bears good news for the merchants in the Sona bazaar. This collision has created gold — lots of it.

But before you head over to Sona bazaar, you should know that this particular collision happened in a galaxy so far away that it has taken light — traveling at a stupendous speed of 186,000 miles every second — four billion years to reach us! In astronomical terms, this collision happened in a galaxy four billion light-years away. In comparison, light from our Sun gets to us in 8 minutes, and is therefore only 8 light-minutes away. The distance of billions of light-years doesn’t intimidate astronomers, as they routinely study events and objects that are even farther away than this particular galaxy. The significance of this event, however, resides in the fact that for the first time, astronomers have been able to study light from collisions that may help us understand the way elements like gold are created in the universe.

Before we get too caught up in the cosmic glamour, we should remember that almost all of the elements that make our bodies were cooked up inside the stars: the carbon in our DNA, oxygen in our lungs, and iron in our blood. Hydrogen in the water molecule, on the other hand, is a leftover from processes in the early history of the universe. The classic quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan is indeed true: “We are made up of star stuff”.

But for years, astronomers had been seeking an explanation for elements like gold, lead, platinum etc. It was thought that most of them formed when large stars — stars that are ten times the size of our Sun — die in large explosions called Supernovae. However, calculations showed that supernovae in the universe could only account for a fraction of these elements. There must be another way to make gold in the universe.

Now we know how.

Here is the recipe: You take two stars that are orbiting each other. This is not as hard as it seems. Nearly half of all stars in our own Galaxy have at least one other star in its system. But make sure that both of these stars are at least 10 times bigger than our Sun. Then wait about 10 million years. This is the average lifetime of big stars. They will eventually exhaust all their fuel and explode in their individual supernovae. All that will be left of them will be their cores, called neutron stars. These are some of the strangest objects in the universe. Each of the neutron star contains mass equal to that of our Sun, but all packed in a size no greater than a city like Karachi. This means that they have very high density. A teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh as much as a mountain. Now you have two of these neutron stars orbiting each other. But orbits for such exotic objects are unstable. The two stars will eventually collide with each other — and this collision will result in the creation of gold and other rare elements.

However, in an act of ultimate charity, these elements are spread into the surrounding space.

By the time our Solar system was born, many such collisions had enriched our Galaxy with gold (and other elements). The gas cloud that formed the Sun and the Earth already contained these elements. Some of this gold became part of the Earth. Four-and-a-half billion years later, this rare element caught the attention of bipedal species and it became an object of desire and envy.

So the next time when you wear a gold ring or necklace, pause for a minute and appreciate how the cosmos gave us bling.

Read the article at Express Tribune.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Video: Burka Avenger - episode 1

by Salman Hameed

Since I'm no longer 4 (sigh!), it is hard for me to say how Burka Avenger is connecting with kids. It will be very interesting to look at the impact across different socio-economic groups, as well as across the urban-rural divide. I hope someone is doing that. If nothing else, the intentions of the show are all in the right place (even if the creator of the show, Haroon, is also the "much-anticipated" buff cartoon pop star at the end of the first episode), and it takes sufficient swipes at the Taliban.

Here is episode 1 - with english subtitles:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Pakistan, some religious "scholars" are calling for the persecution of a religious minority...

by Salman Hameed

It is easy to target a minority. History, unfortunately, is full of such examples. We are seeing one of the extreme cases unfolding in Pakistan. Just recently, a bunch of religious "scholars" got together to celebrate the 39th anniversary of the second amendment to Pakistan's constitution - the amendment that officially declared Ahmadis non-Muslims. There once was a time, when an imam or an a'lim was expected to talk about compassion, charity, and other actions that could potentially help fellow human beings. But not today - at least not the ones that were gathered in Lahore. The "scholars" that were celebrating the second amendment primarily offered provincialism, scorn,  and hate. It is a shame that their interpretation of religion has left them with this sad and tragic courses of actions. But they are also being egged on by a majority of Pakistanis (see the Pew survey results below).

It is fantastic that Express Tribune has provided the quotes from this "alim". Here is a sampling:
Several clerics called for further persecution of the Ahmadi community at conferences held on Saturday night to mark the 39th anniversary of the passage of the Second Amendment, which declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.
The speakers branded Ahmadis enemies of Pakistan, called for their social and economic boycott, and demanded that they be banned from taking up any government or military jobs.
 For the actual quotes, lets start with head of the Moon-sighting committee:
At the Markazi Khatm-i-Nabuwat Conference in Johar Town, Ruet-i-Halal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman said that he and his followers were prepared to make sacrifices for Khatm-i-Nabuwat. He alleged that Ahmadis were involved in “suspicious activities” and “serious measures” were needed against them. 
Dr Amir Liaqat Hussain, of Geo TV fame, defended Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. He said that the Ummah needed to unite in support of the laws. He said that they would not allow any amendment to the laws. 
Maulana Muhammad Azam Naeemi said there was a need to mobilise the common man against Ahmadis. Maulana Raghib Hussain Naeemi termed Ahmadis and their leaders “stooges of the West”.
Oh - and we haven't even gotten to the real vile comments yet. And again, I should remind you that these are folks who are representing some form of religious organization or, in some unfortunate cases, are religious celebrities. Here are some more highlights:
Pir Muhibullah Noori, caretaker of Baseerpur, said that Ahmadis should be banished from Pakistan. He told the audience that if they truly loved the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), they would not let Ahmadis live their lives freely. 
Allama Raza-i-Mustafa said Ahmadis should be chased till death.
So the love of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) translates into not letting Ahmadis live lives freely! And if "Allama" holds any meaning, the latter is openly calling for the killing of Ahmadis (a genocide?)! Note that this is being reported in a mainstream newspaper.

And here is a retired judge:
Justice (retired) Mian Nazeer Akhtar said that the time for speeches against Ahmadis was over and it was now time to do something practical. He said everyone should play their role against Ahmadis to tighten the noose around them. 
The participants in the conference passed a resolution demanding a ban on Ahmadi publications and legal action against their publishers; the removal of all Ahmadis from government jobs; government-sponsored celebrations of September 7 at a national level; and for the introduction of a new oath of office for holders of important posts affirming that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the last prophet.
I forgot to mention that all of the above was from just one of the gatherings. Here is a sampling from another one:
The 26th annual International Khatm-i-Nabuwat Conference, organised by the International Khatm-i-Nabuwat Movement, was held in Chenab Nagar, whose population is mostly Ahmadi. 
The speakers at the conference made derogatory remarks about Jamaat-i-Ahmadia leaders and blamed them for terrorism in Pakistan. 
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) Secretary Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi said it was time to pounce on Ahmadis. He called them apostates and said that they deserved “extreme steps”.
Allama Muhammad Younas Hasan said that a “massive search operation” should be launched across the country to identify all of them. He said that he and his followers were willing to make “any sacrifice” for their cause. He said all sects of Islam were united in their opposition to Ahmadis. He said that Muslims should boycott Ahmadis socially and economically to make it harder for them to live in Pakistan. 
Maulana Qari Shabbir Ahmed Usmani said that the struggle against Ahmadis would continue “till its logical end”. He said all Ahmadis and their leaders should convert in order to gain Allah’s blessings. 
Maulana Asadullah Farooq demanded a ban on Ahmadis joining the armed forces as they were “traitors”.
Read the full article here. This is not just shameful, but here we are looking at the calls for severe persecution and extermination of a group based on their religious identity. We should not be witnessing something like this in the 21st century.

Pew also looked at the views of Pakistanis on Ahmadis. Here is what they found:

Now Pew didn't ask the question, but I'm wondering what fraction of the 66% would go along with the calls for persecution of Ahmadis. Perhaps, it is good that the Pew survey didn't ask that question as I fear the numbers would be too depressing.

But they did find that there is widespread support for Pakistan's Blasphemy law, which has been used to persecute minorities on so many occasions:
The poll also found that a majority of Pakistani Muslims support the country’s blasphemy laws, which predate Pakistan’s independence in 1947 but have since been expanded. The laws, which carry a potential death sentence for insulting Islam, have been frequently invoked against Ahmadis and other religious minorities in Pakistan; although formal criminal prosecutions are rare, social discrimination and harassment of Ahmadis is widespread. Fully 75% of Pakistani Muslims say blasphemy laws are necessary to protect Islam in their country, while 6% say blasphemy laws unfairly target minority communities, and 19% express no opinion on the issue.
Read the Pew report here.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Pew survey on US public opinion on airstrikes on Syria

by Salman Hameed

As the Obama administration marches towards the inevitable bombing of Syria, it seems that almost half of all Americans oppose this action (see the Pew results here). Now, in theory, a moral argument can always trump public opinion. But in this particular case, it is the preservation of US "credibility" that seems to be driving the push for bombing. In an alternative universe that would play as a black comedy, but here the consequences may include the worsening of humanitarian crisis and a further escalation of sectarian tensions. It is not that Assad is exactly a mushy and nice fellow. But we have to understand the consequences of bombing for the people that we are supposedly trying to save.

Here are two excellent articles on the Syrian situation. The first one is by Hampshire College professor, Omar Dahi, and focuses on how to think about these chemical attacks: Chemical Attacks and Military Interventions:

It is hard to avoid the hopeless feeling that Syrians have lost almost all agency over their collective future. The European Union, Gulf, and the United States may very well increase armaments to the rebels, the United States may launch cruise missiles into Syria, NATO may impose a no-fly zone or invade part or all Syrian territory. But whatever actions take place, continuing to claim them in the interests of the Syrian people is simply an exercise in public relations and deception. 
Both the supporters of the government and the rebels continue to frame the possible outcomes of the conflict as either a victory for the government or the rebels—a way to avoid coming to terms with the third possibility: that both sides have already lost. The only option left for Syrians still interested in stopping the fall further down the abyss is to demand a political settlement and massive aid to help heal the mass humanitarian catastrophe inside Syria and the neighboring countries. It would be the beginning of politics and possibilities—very bleak ones as things stand, but nevetheless ones that do not now exist.

Read this full article here.

And here is one by Vijay Prashad, who is currently the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut: Letter to a Syrian Friend Who Said: ‘Your Opposition to the US Attack on Syria Means You Support the Asad Regime’ (with a little Habib Jalib at the end):

I recognize that you are in the midst of a civil war and that what I propose sounds to you like surrender. You wish to fight on, with the messianic view that eventually you will prevail over the regime of Asad. This might be the case, but the odds are stacked against you as much as they are stacked against the Asad regime that it will have a complete victory. Neither of you are willing to see that the human suffering is not worth the chances of triumph. Empire enjoys watching the two sides battle like caged mice, weakening each other to its advantage.  
Syria deserves better. But now the cord of Syrian nationalism is wrapped around the neck of the Syrian people, asphyxiating your dreams of sovereignty and freedom. A mediated peace alongside a process for genuine democratization guaranteed by your neighboring states would strengthen the chances for the renewal of your national ambitions. Anything else will simply lead to the destruction of your country, its history, and its future. I am not in favor of the gallows of Ba‘th, nor the execution chambers of Jabhat al-Nusra, neither the guns of NATO nor the neoliberal spirits of the Gulf Arab regimes. Humans have complex minds, and even more complex ambitions. It is for us on the Left to foster those desires, and not to fall prey to the choices of the present. Neither this nor that, but only the future.
For you, my friend, a taste of the great Pakistani leftwing poet Habib Jalib, this is the opening of Dastoor, from 1962: 
Deep jis ka sirf mehellaat hi mein jalay,
Chand logon ki khushyon ko lay ker chalay,
Wo jo saye main har maslihat kay palay;
Aisay dastoor ko,
Subh-e-bay noor ko,
Main naheen maanta,
Main naheen jaanta. 
The light that shines alone in palaces,
Steals away the people’s happiness.
Feigns its strength from other’s weakness.
That kind of system,
Dawn without light,
I refuse.
I deny

Read the full article here.

And here is the main Pew Survey of American public opinion on Syrian airstrikes:

And there is opposition from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents:
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1 among 1,000 adults, finds that Obama has significant ground to make up in his own party. Just 29% of Democrats favor conducting airstrikes against Syria while 48% are opposed. Opinion among independents is similar (29% favor, 50% oppose). Republicans are more divided, with 35% favoring airstrikes and 40% opposed.
And here is how most Americans see the impact of these airstrikes:

Read the full Pew report here. By the way, Obama is currently in Stockholm. Can't the Nobel committee take its 2009 Peace Prize back? 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Join "Irtiqa" on Facebook as well!

by Salman Hameed

This is just a short note to say that if you have a Facebook account, and it seems that a significant portion of the world does, then join (or "like") the Irtiqa Facebook page. What is the advantage, you might justifiably ask? Well, all of Irtiqa posts are linked over there - so you are not loosing anything. However, I have also started to link more science & religion stories over there - primarily because it is easy to do so. So in case, you have a Facebook account, you can now get a deluxe version of Irtiqa there (oh and you will see another banner designed by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad). But if not, posts will continue here as well.

Tectonic plates, building codes, and cities in South Asia

by Salman Hameed

I was struck by a graphic from a recent article in Science. It shows different tectonic plates, cumulative deaths from earthquakes from 900-1900 CE, deaths from earthquakes since 1900, and the sizes of major cities. As an aside, for those who believe that earthquakes are God's punishment, we have a good idea where most of the evildoers live - we are looking at you, Iran!

Here is the figure:

As can be seen from the histogram, Iran has indeed suffered most fatalities from these earthquakes. However, the deaths south asia has more deaths since 1900 than for prior 1000 years. It is this point that the authors want to highlight:
A quarter of the world's population inhabits the nations of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. These countries lie on or near the northern edge of the Arabian and Indian Plates that are colliding with the southern margin of the Eurasian Plate (see the figure, panel A) . The collision occurs mid-continent and, as a result, earthquakes have historically destroyed many settlements, especially in Iran (1). Deaths from earthquakes since 1900 have exceeded those in all previous centuries, and earthquake deaths to the east of Iran have far outnumbered those in Iran (see the figure, panel B). We ascribe this to the recently increased population at risk in Pakistan and India and to the fragility of construction methods introduced there in the past century. 
Since I grew up in Karachi, I'm well aware of the explosive growth of the city as well as its rows and rows of cement buildings. The late columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee wrote in 1999 a series of articles about the earthquake scenario in Pakistan and concluded that:
The people of Karachi should know that all the commercial and residential high-rises are unsafe and dangerous to live in. Most of the builders and contractors, their attorneys or the entity they have established to construct a particular building, disappear from the scene as soon as a building is semi-complete and all spaces sold. The majority are members of the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD), the body which makes the most noise when any building is ordered to be demolished and accepts no responsibility for the conduct of its members.
The authors of the Science article reach a similar conclusion and offer a modest proposal for the enforcement of existing building codes to save lives:
Earthquake hazard maps characterizing potentially active faults (in India, few active faults are exposed at Earth's surface) are in their infancy, and there are almost no data on the attenuation of strong shaking with distance in large earthquakes or the local amplification of seismic waves in cities. The establishment and implementation of credible earthquake-resistant building codes thus remains a data-gathering challenge for scientists, engineers, and planners of South Asia.  
These studies will take many decades to complete, yet immediate and crucial decisions must also be made by those responsible for the safety of critical facilities. Nuclear power plants can be constructed to withstand the largest of earthquakes, but engineers need trustworthy estimates of potential future accelerations. India has adopted a routine approach to calculating these accelerations (14) but unsubstantiated claims for low seismic hazards at a planned nuclear power plant at Jaitapur south of Mumbai have left many uneasy (15). The plant will be constructed on a coastal plain crossed by a fault that since 50,000 years ago may have lowered (11) the planned plant site by more than 20 m. The timing of earthquakes that permitted the fault to slip, and therefore its earthquake hazard, is unknown (11, 15). 
However, by far the greatest risk from earthquakes in South Asia is currently not from its nuclear facilities but from its fragile dwellings that will collapse in quite modest future shaking. Deaths from future earthquakes could be vastly reduced, with no additional scientific input, were governments to enforce existing construction codes. Conversely, the development of improved estimates of seismic risk will be futile if governments permit unauthorized and unsound construction practices to continue (3, 4). 

Read the full article here (you may need subscription to access the full text).

Anti-vaccination idiocy at a Texas megachurch

by Salman Hameed

I have posted stories about the rise of polio cases in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Several vaccination workers have been shot at and killed in these countries. Many of these regions are ravaged by war and there is a mistrust of any outsiders. The use of a fake vaccination program in Pakistan by the CIA did not exactly help the matters either.

But then we have this Texas megachurch, where measles are starting to appear again. Is there any excuse for this in a first world country? In addition, this non-vaccination jeopardizes the health of infants who haven't had MMR vaccine yet, and those who haven't had the vaccine for other health issues. This is disappointing, unethical, and tragic. Here is the story from NPR:

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. more than a decade ago. But in recent years, the highly infectious disease has cropped up in communities with low vaccination rates,
most recently in North Texas. 
There, 21 people — the majority of whom have not been immunized — have gotten the disease, which began at a vaccine-skeptical megachurch. 
The outbreak began when a man who contracted the virus on a recent trip to Indonesia visited the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, about an hour and a half northwest of Dallas. 
Earlier this week, crowds flooded in for regular services. Rose Mwangi had her Bible in hand and said she's not worried "because I know Jesus is a healer, so I know he's covered us with the blood...There's no place for fear."
And yes, those who came down with measles were not vaccinated. This is not magic. There are some diseases that we can control, and this is one of them:

Most of the Eagle Mountain parishioners — and all of the children — who came down with measles had never been vaccinated. 
Dr. Jason Terk, an infectious disease specialist in North Texas, says such communities can spread a disease quickly. 
"This is a good example, unfortunately, of how birds of a feather flock together," Terk says. "If you have individuals who are vaccine-hesitant or vaccine-hostile, they congregate together, and that creates its own unique situation where a population of individuals is susceptible to getting the very disease that they decided they don't want to protect themselves from." 
Measles is spread by sneezing, coughing and close personal contact. It's one of the most contagious diseases. 
The vaccine is extremely effective. Before it was introduced in the 1960s, nearly everyone got the red rash. Today, most doctors have never even seen a case of the measles.
But in the last few years, there have been pockets of those who choose not to vaccinate their children. 
"When that decision's been made, it's been made on bad information," says Dr. Paul Offit, one of the country's leading vaccine researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Typically, it's the fear that the combination measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR vaccine may have in some way contributed to the epidemic of autism — which has clearly been shown not to be true in study after study," Offit says. He says those who choose to skip vaccines cause serious ripple effects. 
There are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who can't get vaccinated because they're undergoing medical treatment or are too young, for example.
"They depend on those around them to be vaccinated, and I think when you make a choice not to vaccinate yourself or your children it is a selfish, ill-founded choice that only can possibly hurt you or those who come in contact with you." 
Already this year, the U.S. has had more than twice as many reports of measles than in all of 2012, when there were only 55 cases — and none in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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