PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins Discuss Aliens and Evolution

This video is rather old but I enjoyed watching it immensely, so I thought I’d share it anyway. It’s funny, and it’s very informative. They joke around and speculate how alien life would look like based on what we know about evolution and delve a little bit deep into evolution and what is common and what is rare and it all ends with a very funny anecdote. Watching it also makes me feel very good. Watch and enjoy.

Ideological Persecution Complex and Gambling on the Oppressed

Many ideologies are shaped in reaction to real social ills and real oppression. They are in fact inspired by oppression, they are a plea for justice in an unjust situation. They are most of the times revolutionary ideologies, meant to overthrow and oppressive regime or social system. They are naturally considered liberating forces and attract well-meaning people who support them and leagues of angry supporters. Then a revolution happens, and that ideology becomes the regime or it becomes the dominant ideology. Then, to everyone’s surprise, it’ll turn out to be actually as repressive as the previous system or more, and soon it will lose all the respect it held as a liberating ideology.

But why? Was it because the power corrupted them? Was it because they were never sincere? I think among some individual believers this is possible, but ultimately the problem is somewhere else, somewhere integral to all revolutionary ideologies which makes them potential oppressive opportunities, and what makes them appealing in the first place.

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Rouhani’s Minister of Science Removed by the Parliament

Reza Faraji Dana, Rouhani’s minister of science, in charge of academia and science research, the most successful minister of Rouhani when it comes to implementing reforms in his own field, was impeached today, and he did not survive the impeachment, and was removed by the conservative Parliament of Iran.

faraji in majles

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Tyrants’ Crocodile Tears for Ferguson

Of course the thoughts of all people concerned with liberty and human rights go out to the people of Ferguson which is rooted in the racial tensions and inequalities and hope things get better for them. However some suspicious personalities are getting on the bandwagon too. Like the Supreme Leader of Iran:

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Link Round-Up 8/17/2014

Story of the week: Robin Williams passed away. David Wong of Cracked has a moving article on the link between comedy and depression. Salon has an interesting compilation of his best moments and Vulture has more moments. Jerry Coyne has the best overview of the reactions of the atheist community to his death. Ashley Miller discusses the role of depression in the light of his death. This is some teachers inspired by his role in Dead Poets Society, a sentiment I expressed in my own obituary as well.

JT Ebehard and Dan Fincke have both touching tributes.

Lauren Bacall was another great actor we lost. Here is a review of her great career. Richard Brody explains how being a strong woman shaped her career. This NPR article includes some of her interview highlights. But my favorite article after her death was Amy Davidson’s. And you can see her life narrated in pictures.

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Hijab and the First Woman Fields Medal Winner

As I’ve already told you on this blog, Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman and the first Iranian to win the highly reputable math prize the Fields Medal. Now of course the interesting part is how the Iranian media reacted to this event.

The answer is, the most contentious thing was her hijab. Yes, the concept of hijab became the center of attention.

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How Does Internet Look to An Iranian?

I have a proxy software on my computer – it’s a Kerio VPN. It starts automatically when Windows is booted, and it immediately connect me to a server somewhere which enables me to bypass Iranian internet censorship. I have another software on my android tablet - Open VPN, which helps me bypass filtering too. These are not the first anti-filer proxies that I have used, I have used many less sophisticated programs, and different ways to bypass filtering, softwares like FreeGate or Psiphone. I have used Tor as well which is painfully slow. The battle between filtering and anti-filtering has been slow and never ending, as filtering becomes sophisticated and it closes access to many simpler ways of bypassing it, people move on and use more sophisticated methods. It’s a cat and mouse game, it’s a game that defines every tyrannical country.

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Maryam Mirzakhani Wins Fields Prize, and What Does This Mean for Iran-US Relations

Fields Medal is Nobel Prize of mathematics, and Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman and the first Iranian, to win this prestigious prize.

maryam

Via Feministing:

Congrats to Maryam Mirzakhani, who is the first woman to win the Fields Medal! Basically the Nobel Prize of mathematics, the honor has gone to 56 men since it began back to 1936.

Born and raised in Iran, Mirzakhani studied at Harvard (ironically, President Larry Summers made his infamous comments about how women are naturally bad at math just a year after she finished her degree) and is now a professor at Stanford who works on ”the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe,” which I’m sure would sound even more impressive if I understood what it meant. At her girls high school in Tehran, she convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like the ones being taught at the boys high school so she could make Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She went on to be the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the competition.

As Quanta notes, the gender imbalance in Fields Medal recipients probably reflects both the general gender gap in mathematics as well as the fact that the award is for mathematicians younger than 40, “focusing on the very years during which many women dial back their careers to raise children.” But Mirzakhani expects many more women will follow her. “There are really many great female mathematicians doing great things,” she said.

This is great news and I congratulate Maryam Mirzakhani. However, while feminist bloggers are focusing on the woman side of the issue, (and rightfully so), let me focus on the Iranian side of it.

It’s incredibly hard for Iranians to leave Iran and study abroad. There are many obstacles inside, like those studying in public universities need to pay a hefty amount of money to have their certificates and official transcripts, but the main obstacle is from the outside, as the consequence of the sanctions, and the unfriendly relationships between the two countries.

It’s very expensive to apply to American universities, because of the price of dollar, and because of the banking sanctions it’s very hard to make that money reach the university (often increasing the costs), and the there is all the problems of travelling, and then there’s this very tough interviews in the embassies for VISA which causes many students to be rejected after spending so much money and going through so much trouble to be accepted somewhere.

Mirzakhani’s success shows that Iranian students coming to USA have a lot to offer and might enrich the academic environment of USA considerably. I think this is good case to show that we need to soften some of the most draconian sanctions against Iran, especially those that mainly target academics and don’t harm regime officials, and also to work hard for amending the relations so that there are less obstacles before Iranian talented people who want to come to USA and contribute to it.

If she could never leave Iran, a position many Iranian students end up this day, she would never win Fields Medal, and remember, that is a prize which predicts excellence in future as well as rewarding it in the past.

Normalizing relationships and opening the doors is in the interest of both nations.

For You the Flag Is Flung: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

When one has touched as many hearts and has brought joy to as many lives as Robin Williams did, whom we lost yesterday, your life, although a unified whole, will mean something specific to each different person who mourns your passing. In that sense every great man or a woman is like a poem, as it will be read across the world and throughout the history, and each reader will remember a different line, and it becomes a different poem for every reader. In the end, mourning a man as great as Robin Williams will reveal as much about the mourner as the one we’ve lost, and it is there that their true greatness lies.

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To many, Robin Williams was a comedic genius who graced the stage with his courageous wit. To them, he was rebellious and uncompromising, and a tortured soul. To many he was the kind and gentle actor who played light comedic roles in movies like Good Morning Vietnam, HookMrs. Doubtfire, and Jumanji. To many he was the great and skilled serious actor of movies like AwakeningsInsomnia, Good Will Hunting, and One Hour Photo. To many he was the genie of Aladdin. And all of them are right – the man was complex, a true artistic genius, with fascinating range, who could easily portray the darkest and the brightest, as they all possibly defined his lived experience as well. He contained multitudes.

To me, he always, and always will be, John Keating of Dead Poets Society.

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No Justice for the Murdered Iranian Blogger

It was a while ago that news broke out that the Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti was murdered under torture.

IRAN SATTAR BEHESHTI --- USED 12-11-12

Via Wikipedia:

Sattar Beheshti (Persian: ستار بهشتی‎) was an Iranian blogger who died in early November 2012 several days after being arrested by the Iranian Cyber Police unit for criticizing the government of the Islamic Republic on Facebook, and after making a signed complaint of being tortured while in custody. His reported death has drawn international condemnation and led to the dismissal of the commander of Iran’s cybercrimes police unit.

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His website “My Life for My Iran” at magalh91.blogspot.de was not a major blog, and had fewer than 30 viewers in October. But although he “was regarded as a relatively minor figure” among Iran’s bloggers, according to the New York Times, Beheshti’s death “has provoked outrage among both opponents and supporters of Iran’s leaders”.

On October 22, 2012, Beheshti posted a criticism of the Islamic Republic on his blog addressed to the Supreme Leader. Beheshti stated that the judicial system of the Islamic Republic was “nothing but a slaughterhouse,” and that “the sentences and … the executions carried out … were not out of a desire for justice – but were aimed at terrorizing the people! So that no one will complain!”

In a blog post a day before his arrest, Beheshti wrote: “They threatened me yesterday and said, ‘Your mother will soon wear black because you don’t shut your big mouth’”.

Then they began a trial for his murderer. He wasn’t charged with murder, but quasi-murder, and now he has been convicted today – he has been convicted to only three years in prison.

In comparison, Ahmad Zeidabadi, an esteemed journalist whose “crime” is “insulting the Supreme Leader”, has been convicted to 6 years in prison, 5 years in exile, and a lifetime ban on social and political activities.