Drought ended the Mayan civilization – Rice University Scientists

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In an effort to understand why the Mayan civilization of Central America met its sudden demise, a new study at the underwater caves of the Great Blue Hole, located some 40 miles off the coast of Belize, has revealed that minerals found at the site indicate an extreme drought in the region between 800 and 900 AD, which may have forced the Mayans to adapt and relocate, reducing the plush region to deserted ruins.

A civilization that thrived for over 2,000 years across the area of modern-day southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the Mayans are known to have been skilled astronomers, architects, masons, artists and mathematicians, chroniclers–as well as for creating calendar system and making doomsday predictions still referenced today. What spurred the team to investigate the lost civilization was the abrupt end of the once-thriving civilization, which continues to be widely referenced based on its pottery, artifacts and monolithic structures, as well as the desolate and ruined cities it left behind.

Andre Droxler from Rice University found that the mineral deposits in the caves of a 1,000-foot crater correlated with the period of the civilization’s demise.

Droxler’s team took core sediment samples and measured the ratio of titanium to aluminium. It is known that heavy rainfall deposit titanium from volcanic rocks into the Atlantic Ocean–ergo the Great Blue Hole. Over time, the deposits turn the crater into a “sediment trap”–a big bucket of titanium–leaving less titanium in the soil during dryer seasons.

A relief depicting the ancient Mayans. Source Flickr Dennis Jarvis.
A relief depicting the ancient Mayans. Source Flickr Dennis Jarvis.

With this information, Droxler compared the titanium levels in the soil to sediments dating to the Mayan era and found them to be significantly low. Live Science puts it in technical terms saying, “The team found that during the period between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1000, when the Mayan civilization collapsed, there were just one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, as opposed to the usual five or six.”

Although they wreak havoc, these cyclones were the only way the thirsty civilization was able to survive in the absence of a body of drinkable water. Besides water, the cyclones also redistribute titanium and other minerals to replenish the land of any minerals essential to make it inhabitable. The evidence recently observed corroborates a 2012 study published in Journal Science. A stalagmite from the caves in Belize dating to the Mayan era was analyzed and the observations are consistent with a sharp decrease in rainfall coinciding with the declining period of the Mayan culture.

By Rathan Harshavardan

Is Jay Wilds the real star of Serial?

Is Jay Wilds the real star of Serial?
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For those who are unaware, Serial is Sarah Koenig’s search for the truth behind Hae Min Lee’s murder in 1999.

The case is simple. The victims of the crime of passion in question were two teenage immigrant American lovers who split up at the turn of the century. Born abroad and raised in the US, Hae from Korea and Adnan Syed from  Pakistan, puppy love, if their relationship at the time could be called one was occupied their time together. Like all teenage crushes, the relationship cookie crumbled. Then there was Don. Onion Inc’s The Serial, called Don’s involvement with Lee a “bombshell.” Anyone who splits moves on, and so did Hae. Wiser than before, she moved on to an older man quicker than expected, who obviously would take her seriously, and hopefully not break her heart. Jilted by his first love, Adnan was upset, as would any hot-blooded boy experiencing his first heartbreak. He tells his “friend” Jay Wilds he’s upset, wants to hurt Hae, and misses school, but returns to his usual humdrum life as a student at Woodlawn High in Baltimore.

Weeks later, Lee was found dead, asphyxiated in a carpark, and a year later Adnan was arrested, tried and sent to a life in prison for the crime.

What sent him so quickly to jail was his friend Jay Wilds’ statement.

Everyone involved in the case was heard from, all except for Jay. Zigzagging his way through the trial, at least according to Koenig’s and attorney Rabia Chaudry’s research, Jay’s statements were questioned during the production of the first season. Chaudry’s believes that a version of events as sporadic as Jay’s ideally will have been questioned if not totally dismissed during Adnan’s trial. Cristina Gutierrez, Adnan’s defense lawyer, presented evidence that might have changed the course of the case. Alas, for her and Adnan this wasn’t enough for an acquittal. Adnan was sent to jail for life, Gutierrez was disbarred and later passed way, and Hae’s family moved back to Korea with no closure at all.

For Chaudry, whose keen interest in the case resurrected it from the dead, some things weren’t really adding up. She wanted justice for Adnan, and the logical way to get to it was question Jay’s statement. Very quickly, Serial turned from the quest for Hae’s killer to a full blown ideological war between Jay and Adnan. Adnan had to defend himself and so the taped interviews with Koenig provided an insight from his point of view. For Jay who declined to make any comments on the case, there were the old tapes, but just weeks after Serial ended he turns up to clear his name.

Released as a three part interview, The Intercept’s Natasha Vargas-Cooper spoke to Jay about Serial. If you’ve read the lengthy interview, you simply will find a defensive and understandably upset Jay recount events that occurred on Jan. 13, 1999 as simply as he can. Condensed and focused on the occurrence of the events on the day, during the trial and almost 13 years after Serial tossed his name notoriously in the mix, Jay made no bones about his thoughts on Serial and Sarah Koenig.

In the first part, Jay talks about being a 16-year old dope dealer dealing with racism, being ostracised from the popular clique in the school, taking refuge on the downlow with small groups of friends, music and the outdoors and resenting school, like any normal teenager in Maryland.

Jay vaguely hung out with Adnan, barely remembered anything the both of them shared in common  apart from smoking weed, having the odd laugh, his relationship with Hae –he, who thought the athlete  was wiser than her years – and what he worked as to pay his bills. For two people who supposedly buried a young woman sent to her death disgracefully as it was, here is where most listeners can’t understand what brought Jay and Adnan were ever together in this crime.

Jay mentions Adnan wanting to hurt Hae, but does not speculate or draw conclusions. He doesn’t even know why they broke up, yet, he is made privy to Adnan’s intentions of hurting Hae for moving on. I’m no criminal, but if I were to commit a crime, I’d probably put my confidence in a friend who I know very well. He or she will have my back and if we are really close, maybe even take the fall for me. That didn’t happen here.

By his own admission, Jay always felt like an outcast at school. He thought that Adnan was a prude and idolized Hae to a certain extent, which is what anyone who was looked down on would do at school. Typical high school behaviour, you see. What I can’t understand is why of all the Moslem friends Adnan had, if he was attached to his community that bad, would he zero in on Jay. Why would someone who just killed a girl, dumped her in the trunk of her car give their car to someone they rarely know to pick them up after the crime?

The whole premise has loopholes as wide as a ditch right in the middle of the street. Here’s how it went down according to Jay: Adnan ditched last period with Jay in the car. Adnan leaves his car and  keys with Jay, who has to run to the mall to get Stephanie (his girlfriend at the time a gift). Adnan convinces him to take his keys and car, get dropped off at school. Jay buys the gift at the mall, goes to his friend Jenm’s house, smokes and get Adnan’s call to pick him up. He goes, picks up Adnan and just like that Adnan confesses his crime.

Up until this point the events on Jan 13, read like the script to a very bad C-grade movie. No crime even committed unintentionally has a script this bad. No crime is this simple. No crime is so badly planned, even by the dumbest of the lot.

But, let’s move on to Jay’s story. He picks Adnan up at this now infamous Best Buy, while Hae is dumped lifeless in the trunk of her car parked somewhere to be buried later. They go over to Cathy’s  house to smoke where three other friends Jeff, Laura and Jenn have turned up too. If I was confessed to by someone who just committed murder, I probably would tell the police or some friends I know. Reporting the crime would at least rule me out as an accomplice, especially if I have been seen moving around with the criminal. Jay’s mind thinks otherwise. In what universe does killing someone deserve lesser justice than drugs or implicating the innocent. Even if they did launch an investigation, wouldn’t the police rule out everyone since you aren’t guilty unless proven?

Jay fears for his grandmother, a strong matriarchal figure who probably would have been devastated if she know her grandson had helped bury Hae. Afraid of being arrested for trafficking drugs, Jay seems to contradict himself when he claims that he was worried about his family and friends being involved in this crime. For anyone studying this case, the friends and family had nothing to do with the murder. Unexplained, but it is what it is.

Adnan goes home, meets Jay outside his house sometime later in the evening and convinces him to bury Hae in Leakin Park. According to Jay, who went home and was dealing with a moral dilemma the same time as Adnan, he finds himself agreeing to bury the lifeless body of a woman he respected, at the behest of Adnan who is now driving Hae’ car with her body in the trunk.

Not even the stiff, cold, and pale corpse in the car moves Jay to spring into action. Instead he is blackmailed into digging a hole in the ground, to bury Hae. The blackmail is as dead as a doornail; a police threat regarding drugs and some other “shit” Jay was involved in. In what world was murder not shit that hit the fan, I can’t fathom. For Jay, burying Hae was what sounded right at the time. A price to pay to earn Adnan’s silence.

It is clear that Jay and Adnan are probably the only two people who knew about what had happened. They decided to abandon the idea of burying her because she’s heavy, but complete it anyway with Adnan, doing it all on his own. A mind game with parking Hae’s car in an unrecognised location ensues and then they’re off to bed. Harebrained. That’s what the whole plan sounds to anyone listening to it.

I get why Jay’s often opposing statements may have us all confused. He’s worried sick over being arrested for drug possession or involving his grandmother and friends, and refused to speak to the police until he was badgered into it after they dropped the idea of pursuing him for drugs. So, when did drugs become far more important than the life of an individual?

Jay testified in the trial and was given two years probation for being an accessory to murder. Although he testified, he says wasn’t the whistle-blower, who led the police to Adnan for a crime only he and Adnan knew everything about. Instead he lays the blame for the first time with some coherence on a priest of the Moslem community Adnan belonged to, saying that a confession ot a confidante may have led to his arrest. Interesting fact, the Moslems are not bound by the absent rite of confession and either someone in the community would’ve been notified of it before Jay was, since he was well acquainted with those in the mosque.

Going through the condensed interview with The Intercept, I find Jay’s justification almost comical. The second part of the interview tries to gauge what mental and moral pressure, Jay had to go through to testify against Adnan. He says he’s sorry he was an accessory, but then all that talk about selling more weed or choosing the right circle of friends is incoherent bullshit. Pardon my French, but anyone can see through it. A criminal has already lost a sliver of humanity that can only be redeemed by repenting and making up for it, so Jay’s link to humanity has obviously been saved by someone who seems to have a vested interest in the case.

Serial blew up on the internet and had millions hooked to hear what was up with the case. Even as far as New Zealand, where I live, Serial had us hooked. For Jay not to have heard about his name on it is ridiculous. Serial’s production has been on all year, and his refusal to speak on grounds that only Hae’s family, who by now moved to Korea, deserved closure and answers is what put him on the spotlight.

As for the emails, Koenig is a journalist and writer by heart, and is evident in the professional wording of her villain. She never aimed to portray Jay as a villain, he did that really well all on his own, but wanted to hear his side of the story to bring it to a full circle. If anything, she may be accused of sensationalising the case, but then, most of us were left disappointed with the end.

Jay’s choice to come out now is interesting. The internet and technology have come a long way from 2000. We now have Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and whole lot of sites other than Reddit to look for Jay Wilds. It’s common knowledge that his life is changed post Serial. He’s angry with Julie Snyder, Koenig and Chaudry who’ve dug up the past and made his present a living hell.

Jay’s not going to give up blaming Adnan for the murder, Koenig for stereotyping him and the general public willing to harm him under a false sense of justice. Journalists are bound by a code of ethics that prevents them from taking measures to reveal information of any sort that can be tracked to them. It will ruin the reputation of the skilled storytellers who will be labelled the ones crying wolf every time, they want to tell a story. No journalist likes discredit, it is professional hara kiri. Jay is justified in believing that either Koenig or Chaudry are involved in leaking information, ut he probably will have to explain why he thinks they would want to do it 13 years later.

Serial was to Adnan and the listeners hope and an answer to the death of Hae Min Lee and an attempt to find the real killer in the whodunnit. Koenig speculated it until the end. There was Don, the cell records, the call, the note from the library and a whole lot of newly discovered evidence, but what it lacked was Jay’s version of the events.

Jay’s interview also brings his fear of being targeted to the fore. We’re sorry that people are targeting his family and bringing up a criminal past that runs in his family in the light of this case. There is no place for retribution from impassioned listeners, and dredging up a chequered past, when we’re all bound to have one isn’t helping Adnan. We aren’t the law and rightfully should refrain from judgement, until those equipped with the law decide where to take this case.

Adnan and Lee have found a new lease of life in 2014. They’re being remembered for what they were and so is Jay. His refusal, denial and timing of the tell-all interview is perfect, but now that he’s come out of the woods, he’s not going back in. If there is a justice system that works, we’ll hear a lot more about this case. Here’s to hoping that Lee’s family finally learns the truth, unfortunately only Jay has the truth and it is time he sets the record straight.

No matter what, Serial popularity has raised Jay Wilds’ notoriety through the roof and undoubtedly made him the star of the podcast. But this star has a lot to tell us about Adnan Syed, so let’s wait.

Rathan Paul Harshavardan

Does violence justify more violence?

Does violence justify more violence?
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An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Even in 2014, no one is really safe anywhere.

Does violence have to beget more violence? Are we as progressive humans regressing into creatures that do not comprehend pain and indulge in shock value to keep ourselves prominent? These questions, I believe, need to be answered at the earliest before it is too late to undo any wrongdoings against mankind.

In the last week alone, the world has seen indescribable pain and terror in three isolated incidents. Pakistan, Nigeria and Australia have all been struck by terror. Islamist jihadists whether it is the Taliban, the Boko Haram or the lone radical Man Haron Monis, have wreaked havoc in a way most of us can’t process. Since the attacks, I want to take a look at what reparative measures are being taken to protect the innocent and bring accused to justice.

Let me start by clarifying that no amount of writing about my empathy for the situation can justify the pain the mothers, fathers, siblings, extended family and friends are going through.

Who will be responsible for our security? Photo Flickr/ cricrich
Who will be responsible for our security? Photo Flickr/ cricrich


For Pakistan’s latest tragedy comparable to America’s 9/11, #Peshawarkillings is more than just a trending topic on Twitter. Summed up in a # and two words are the lives of 140 children. Children, who are the future of Pakistan. Innocents, who have done nothing to deserve the gory, ignominious death while at school. Apart from home, a child in any part of the world feels safe in a school, and for the 140 a military run school will have been the safest.

Vigils and prayers marked the event, but Pakistan was quick to act. A rather Biblical punishment on those languishing in prison, will be meted out by Pakistan’s top brass. Without any signs of haste, the deadly attack spurred Pakistan to rescind the four-year moratorium on the death penalty. Reports of Pakistan’s plan to execute 55 death row inmates, who have no connection to the Peshawar killings, are now making headlines. On Monday, four prisoners accused of attempting to assassinate ex-President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and a failed attack on the military in 2009 have already been executed.

Does this justify what happened to the children in Peshawar? I agree, that the inmates have committed crimes, but should they pay for crimes other than those they stand accused of. In an ideal world, that would be a no-no. This decision to execute the 55 inmates on death row is meant to appease a population that is in grief.

Tensions between my motherland and Pakistan are instantly forgotten in the face of this terrorising nightmare. But we’re more than neighbours aren’t we? Shouldn’t a brother guide you when you go astray? The Taliban is threatening to carry out more of these attacks, – on innocents – stage jailbreaks and free more prisoners if Pakistan lived up to its promise. A barter shouldn’t even be entertained here, but in light of what may happen in the future, it is best to keep the ones already captured in prison and concentrate the nation’s resources to finding who is responsible for this heinous crime.

Intensifying the countermilitancy campaign in the trial belt by the Pakistani military is a tactical move, but will only prod the Taliban into retaliating andgiven Pakistan’s history with collateral damage, will either push the surviving into the Taliban or turn to vigilantes.

Helplessness in the face of a survivor. Where are the #girls though? Photo Flickr/European Commission DG ECHO
Helplessness in the face of a survivor. Where are the #girls though? Photo Flickr/European Commission DG ECHO


Since vigilantes came up, this turns my focus to Nigeria. Since 2009, school children, women, the elderly and any non-Muslim in sight has been kidnapped, tortured, raped, burned, and lynched. “Western education is sin,” according to Abubakar Shekau, a proponent of the Shariah law and leader of the Boko Haram, terrorists who kidnapped 200 Christian school girls, none of whom we have heard of since they became #bringourgirlsback on Twitter. Celebrities held up placards with these words, nations had meetings, help poured in but as is evident from the reports in Nigeria, the youth and incapacitated military have had to help themselves. With nothing but sticks, stones and makeshift weapons, the civilian Joint Task Force and women in particular have braved their way through recent tragedies.

The latest report from Nigeria is the mindless assassination of elderly men and others branded “infidels,” at a school in Bama near Gwoza, Nigeria. Why a school, much less the elderly are important questions to ponder on? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this horror? Vigils and prayers are pouring in but as a nation in pain, nothing is being done in terms of alleviating that sorrow. Yes, there are efforts from vigilantes that can be justified as acts of self-defence, but does more killing reduce that?

Is this enough for the martyrs for who have given up their lives for us? Photo Flickr/Peter Hindmarsh

Sydney is lucky compared to the two third world countries put together. Justice was served in good measure, when the lone gunman was shot, not before he took down two innocents. Again vigils and prayers filled Martin Place, but the unprecedented coverage the siege received shows that terror big or small affects us in ways we cannot imagine. Protective measures are warranted, but Australia has resources that Nigeria and Pakistan lack, so it is understandable for the land Down Under to carry out corrective measures that are politically correct.

My focus on Sydney’s terror siege is lesser than what I’ve gleaned from Pakistan and Nigeria, simply because as a third world country citizen I come from situations that are more real to me than Sydney’s. I see the helplessness we have been reduced to and wonder if more can or should be done to help us. It is now time for help from the first world countries who once reigned us, took our possessions and sought to bring order in our supposed primitive and chaotic world to actually step up their game now.

What saddens me further is the negativity surrounding Islam. The religion that bears a striking resemblance to Christianity and shares its roots with Judaism, is a religion that advocates peace. A few disorientated and disillusioned members of the faith, have misinterpreted the Prophet’s teachings making the few who imbibe the essence of the faith, victims of ignorant Islamophobia in the face of these attacks.

I have only touched on a few salient points in this piece, and believe that most of us are thinking about the same things I do. As citizen journalists, I believe that as news makers we have to raise our voices for and against things that happen to the very people who make the news. I hope to use the platform of the written word to discuss what we can and must do to protect ourselves from descending into the darkeness we have taken so long to ascend from.

Violence does not have to beget violence. It must lead us to question why these senseless acts of violence are justified and push those in power to act on behalf of the helpless. For no matter what, an eye for an eye can never be justified.

Opinion by Rathan Harshavardan

The Daily Mail
The Guardian
Images courtesy Flickr

Boko Haram kills “infidels” and then justifies it

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While attacks from Muslim terrorist outfits in various parts of the world are making headlines, the Boko Haram made sure that their efforts to break the human spirit in Nigeria did not go unnoticed.

Released late on Saturday to journalists, a video landed on the internet just two days after reports of the Boko Haram rounding up helpless elderly captives and killing them in schools in Gwoza made headlines.

The “infidels” were massacred in a long dormitory with bunk beds in a school in Bama, some 40 miles north of Gwoza were the elderly were earlier rounded up.

The horrific NSFW video shows a substantial number of adult men, some of whom are still twitching for life as the gunmen tried to step over the corpses left behind in the aftermath.

The leader of the Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau said,“We have made sure the floor of this hall is turned red with blood, and this is how it is going to be in all future attacks and arrests of infidels. From now, killing, slaughtering, destructions and bombing will be our religious duty anywhere we invade.”

The video also quotes the leader of the Boko Haram saying, “we felt this is not the right time for us to keep prisoners; that is why we will continue to see that the grounds are crimsoned with the flowing blood of prisoners.” in reference to the Prophet’s teachings regarding taking one prisoner.

After falsely promising to spare the lives of residents as long as they were not enemies of the proposed Islamic Caliphate they swore to bring in Nigeria, the Boko Haram have reneged and unleashed a killing spree along the region in the north-eastern Nigeria bordering Cameroon.

The Boko Haram has declared that anyone claiming to be a Muslim is an infidel. The Sunni jihadists that follow Shariah law rose to a notorious prominence after they kidnapped nearly 200 Christian schoolgirls from Chibok.

Dubbed one of 2014 biggest failures, the #bringbackourgirls campaign has done nothing but draw attention to Boko Haram’s heinous crimes which started in 2009. Since the insurgency, schools, children, women, men and the elderly have been murdered mercilessly forcing nearly more than 2 million people to flee from Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

By Rathan Harshavardan

Huffington Post

Sony cancels The Interview’s release fearing threats

Sony cancels The Interview's release fearing threats
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Sony’s controversial Christmas Day comedy release “The Interview” is canceled following a series of leaks that exposed the politics happening behind Hollywood’s silver screen. In a sequence of events that unfolded over the past few days, the Guardians Of Peace threatened violence and engaged in cyber-warfare against the movie that centres around two funny journalists in the pursuit of Kim Jong-un.

Incensed by the release of what was supposed to be a $44 million comedy caper from funny men Seth Rogen and James Franco, Sony Corp was attacked by hackers leaking personal emails discussing work on other projects, employee details and unreleased movies distributing this information all over the world wide web.

A U.S. government source declared that Washington D.C. will officially announce who is behind the attack in the near future.

On Wednesday, when journalists asked if the movie will eventually be released in theaters or go straight to VOD, a Sony spokeswoman said, “Sony has no further release plans for the film.”

Security experts in Washington D.C. believe it is common knowledge that North Korea is behind the attacks, a fact vehemently denied by the Korean counterpart. Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “The North Koreans are probably tickled pink. Nobody has ever done anything this blatant in terms of political manipulation. This is a new high.”

Sony has come under criticism for its decision to pull the plug on the release of the movie, some viewing it as America’s first casualty in the cyber-war between the West and the East.

Former Republican House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich’s tweet sums up the reaction many Americans feel regarding the decision and its effect politically.

Despite the recent spate of attacks, Sony’s shares in Tokyo closed 4.8 percent higher than its previous 2.3 percent gain on the Nikkei benchmark index, on Thursday. Investors hope that the movie’s cancellation will end this crisis.

Makoto Kikuchi, CEO of Myojo Asset Management says, “By not releasing the movie, they won’t be hacked again. Investors think that from here on, further damage probably won’t be done. Whether that justifies a 5 percent jump in Sony’s stock, I’m not so sure.” Damian Thong, Macquarie Group’s analyst estimates that with the leaks, Sony’s worst case scenario is a loss of $84.41 million.

Sony stood by the film makers of “The Interview,” but said that it was, “ deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company.”

Despite threats of a 9/11 styled attack on theaters that play and movie goers that watch the movie, the U.S. believes that there is no credible evidence of such threats to civilians.

By Rathan Paul Harshavardan