Thursday, November 28, 2013

Buddhas Birthplace: 600 BC Temple Excavated

Archaeologists have found in Lumbini, Nepal a 600 BC temple with tree roots in the middle.  This tree may
possibly validate the claim that Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha under a tree.

Excerpts from NY Times
In traditional narratives, Queen Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to a branch of a tree in a garden at Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. Accounts vary as to when this occurred, leaving uncertain the founding century of one of the world’s major religions.
Until now, archaeological evidence favored a date no earlier than the third century B.C., when the Emperor Asoka promoted the spread of Buddhism through South Asia, leaving a scattering of shrines and inscriptions to the man who became “the enlightened one.” A white temple on a gently sloping plateau at Lumbini, 20 miles from the border with India, draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year to read a sandstone pillar documenting Asoka’s homage at the Buddha’s birthplace.
But new excavations by archaeologists at Lumbini have uncovered evidence of a much earlier timber shrine and brick structures above it — all of which lay beneath the temple that is a Unesco World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace. Dating fragments of charcoal and grains of sand, researchers determined that the lower structures were erected as early as the sixth century B.C.
The international team of archaeologists said the lower structures were laid out on the same design as the more recent temple. The timber shrine even had an open space in the center that suggested a link to the Buddha’s nativity tradition. Deep tree roots in the center space may even have been from the tree his mother presumably held on to.
Although much is known of the Buddha’s teachings and half a billion people are Buddhists, there is little to document his life, Dr. Coningham said, except through textual sources and oral tradition. He said, “We thought, why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and a new form of head and neck cancer

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is considered the cause for Cervical and Genital cancers. In Sri Lanka Cervical Cancer is the second most common cancer among women.  Now it appears HPV can also cause throat and neck cancer and associated with those who have had many oral-sex partners.

the next year, she released a study showing that HPV-positive and HPV-negative oropharyngeal cancers had completely different risk profiles.

People with HPV-positive cancer tended to have had many oral-sex partners, but there was no statistical association with tobacco smoking or drinking;

those with HPV-negative cancers were heavy drinkers and cigarette smokers but there was no association with sexual activity.

“These were two completely different diseases,” says Gillison. “They might superficially look similar — a patient comes in with a neck mass and their throat hurts — but I realized what drove the pathogenesis was completely different in the two cases.”
more at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DNA and Skin Color

Recent study shows association rs1426654 SNP with skin pigmentation, explaining about 27% of total phenotypic* variation.  Previous studies have showed that rs1426654 SNP accounts for lighter skin in Europeans but not in East Asians.

Basically for South Asians if rs1426654 SNP is AA then light skin, if AG then medium dark and GG dark (see graph).  My rs1426654 is AG and I am medium dark. Also see this post on my DNA and heroin addiction etc.

We date the coalescence of the light skin associated allele at 22–28 KYA. Both our sequence and genome-wide genotype data confirm that this gene has been a target for positive selection among Europeans.

One of the key pigmentation genes in humans is SLC24A5.  That a non-synonymous variant (ref SNP ID: rs1426654) in the third exon of this gene explains 25–38% of the skin color variation between Europeans and West Africans. The ancestral (G) allele of the SNP predominates in African and East Asian populations (93–100%), whereas the derived (A) allele is almost fixed in Europe (98.7–100%)

In India here is a general trend of rs1426654-A allele frequency being higher in the Northern (0.70±0.18) and Northwestern regions (0.87±0.13), moderate in the Southern (0.55±0.22), and very low or virtually absent in Northeastern populations of the Indian subcontinent (Figure 2, Table S6). Notably, the Onge and the Great Andamanese populations of Andaman Islands also showed absence of the derived-A allele.

Loss of pigmentation in eastern and western Eurasia seems to be a case of convergent evolution (different mutations in overlapping sets of genes), the H. sapiens sapiens ancestral condition of darker skin is well conserved from Melanesia to Africa.

More at


*Genotype vs. Phenotype:
Very important concept. Even if the genes are identical (genotype) the outward expression / looks (phenotype) could be different. Example would be identical twin, who have the same genes will have differences and fingerprints will be different. Another example would be children of short parents (and also have the sort genes) could be taller because of better nutrition.

The opposite is also true in that just because outward appearance is similar (phenotype) the genes (genotype) do not have to be similar. Example: Africans and Papua New Guineans though superficially similar are about the furthest apart genetically.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Saudi Arabia may have Nuclear Weapons before Iran

From BBC.
Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight. While the kingdom's quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran's atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.
I wonder if these reports are being published because of the recent fall out between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Upset at President Barack Obama's policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a 'major shift' in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria's civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

Excerpts from

Thursday, November 7, 2013

District Quota System for Higher Education: 13th Century China

One of the oldest cases I know of large scale official discrimination to even out differences in performance Ming China. In 1370, the first Emperor of the Dynasty, Chu Yüan-chang, who expelled the Mongols in 1368, reinstituted the great Civil Service Examinations, which had been suspended by the Mongols. In 1371, 75% of the degrees from the national examination had gone to candidates from the South of China. This displeased the Emperor, who believed, with many traditionalists, that Northerners were morally more worthy -- from the area where Chinese civilization had begun. The examinations were thus suspended until 1385, but then the geographical division of those who passed did not change. At a special Palace examination in 1397, all of the 52 candidates who passed were Southerners. Borrowing from the Josef Stalin school of bureaucracy, the Emperor had two of the examiners executed. In a subsequent retesting, all the successful candidates were Northerners.
between populations that otherwise do not seem very different comes from

By 1425 it was decided that places in the national examinations would be reserved by region, with 35% for the North, 55% for the South, and 10% for some places in the middle. This extraordinary provision was imposed on a nation that to us may seem to be uniform in race, language, and religion. But clearly there were cultural differences, and these were not merely of an economic character. The Chinese Civil Service Examinations did not test economic susccess or even mathematics or engineering. It was all based on the literary culture of the Classics of Confucianism. In our own time when "Asians" are generally expected to do better on IQ tests, and in mathematics and science, it is extraordinary to see that Southern Chinese of the Ming Dynasty apparently enjoyed a marked advantage in literary culture over the Northerners, to the point where "affirmative action" or "reverse discrimination" was imposed by the Government in favor of the Northerners. Of course, there was nothing "reverse" about this. Chu Yüan-chang was probably as perplexed as anyone why such a difference had emerged between North and South [cf. Timothy Brook, The Troubled Empire, Harvard, 2010, pp.36-37].

See the paragraph preceding the above to at

Amnesty International does not oppose Drone Killings.

Naureen Shah of Amnesty International explained that Amnesty International cannot oppose all drone strikes in an
illegal war, because Amnesty International has never opposed a war, because doing so would make it look biased, and A.I. wants to appear to be an unbiased enforcer of the law.

However, now the U.N. special rapporteur finds that drones are making war the norm rather than the exception.  That’s a serious shifting of the ground, and might be good reason to reconsider the ongoing feasibility of a human rights group avoiding the existence of laws against war. Shah also argued against banning weaponized drones on the grounds that they could be used legally.  That is, there could be a legal war (ignoring Kellogg-Briand) and during that legal war a drone could legally kill people in accordance with someone’s interpretation of necessity, discrimination, proportionality, intention, and so forth. 

From the comments

So it felt like a betrayal when I heard that Amnesty’s American office was headed for most of last year by Suzanne Nossel; before taking up that job she had been a deputy assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton. Under Nossel’s leadership, Amnesty whitewashed the invasion of Afghanistan by hosting a conference praising NATO’s
 “progress” in that country. The guest of “honor” at that event was Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state who declared that killing as many as 500,000 children in Iraq by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.


Friday, November 1, 2013

CTB Buses on Katunayake Highway

Traveled yesterday on a CTB bus on the highway from Pettah to Negombo. Very comfortable, full air conditioned,no standing passengers and the bus seats 60 people.

There are two Buses one to Katunayake airport and the other to Negombo.  The Katunayake bus makes one straight run from Pettah to the Airport.  The Negombo bus makes stops once it exits the highway at Katunayake.

Travel time around 5:00 pm was 20 mins to Highway entrance at the Kelaniya Bridge, 20 mins on the Highway and 20 mins from Highway exit to Negombo. Regular AC Buses that travel on the Negombo road can take as much as two hours during rush hour.

Had to wait about half hour on the line to get a bus. i.e. Was able to get into the third bus.  Last bus to Negombo is supposed to be at 8:30 p.m.  The bus to Katunayake apparently operates 24 hours.

Fare: Pettah-Katunayake LKR 125.  Pettah-Negombo 150.

Check with Pettah Central Bus Stand (+94) 11 2329604-5 about changes.

Info on Southern Highway Buses: Galle to Maharagama

UK: Not just Trafficking Organ harvesting

An unnamed girl was brought to the UK from Somalia with the intention of removing her organs and selling them.

Child protection charities warned that the case was unlikely to be an isolated incident as traffickers were likely to have smuggled a group of children into the country.
The case emerged in a government report which showed that the number of human trafficking victims in the UK has risen by more than 50 per cent last year and reached record levels.

A total of 371 children were exploited, with the majority of them being used as slaves or sexually abused. They included 95 children from Vietnam, 67 from Nigeria and 25 from China. Others hailed from Romania and Bangladesh.