God behind Big Bang and evolution – Pope

Pope Francis (AFP Photo / Alberto Pizzoli)

Pope Francis (AFP Photo / Alberto Pizzoli)

The Big Bang and evolution both happened, but at God’s impetus, according to new comments made by the Pope. He told a religious meeting that the Big Bang theory did not contradict the existence of God, but required it.

Pope Francis told a meeting of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Sciences that the “Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.”

He added that scientific studies, which have led us to believe that some 13.8 billion years ago the Big Bang created the universe, all slotted into God’s grand plan – as did evolution. Both theories are completely compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church, according to the Pope.

This is because evolution requires that beings are actually created so that evolutionary process can proceed.

Pope Francis said that Genesis gives the impression that God is ‘a wizard with a magic wand’ and it is within his potential to do all things. However, reality somewhat contradicts this notion.

“But it is not so. He created life and let each creature develop according to the natural laws which he had given each one,” according to the Pope.

He went on to make his now-expected criticisms of corruption, which he labeled to be a “worse evil than sin,” and spoke in praise of his predecessor Benedict, terming him extremely clever.

The Church has a history of maintaining an anti-scientific stance throughout the ages – with the most notorious incident being the imprisonment of Galileo, who stated that the Earth went around the sun.

However, Benedict XVI was more open to evolutionary ideas, e.g. intelligent design. It also echoes the statements of John Paul II who said in 1996 that evolution was more than a hypothesis and rather an“effectively proven fact.”

Francis went on to praise Benedict. “Benedict XVI: a great pope, great for the strength and penetration of his intelligence, great for his contribution to theology, great for his love of the church and all humans, great for his virtues and religiosity,” he said.

Pope Francis is renowned for rocking the papal boat more than his predecessors and has attempted to reconcile divorce and gay issues.

Conservative factions have stated that the Papacy has been fomenting confusion within the Catholic Church over homosexuality and marriage issues. However, progressives maintain the church has been effectively responding to contemporary pressures and issues.


Source: RT

Coursera: Free online education platform

Short analysis

Coursera

Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.

Their main mission:

  • Envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education.
  • Aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

How It Works

  • Discover a course and sign up for free: Choose from 400+ courses created by the world’s top educational institutions.
  • Learn on your own schedule: Watch short video lectures, take interactive quizzes, complete peer graded assessments, and connect with classmates and teachers.
  • Achieve your goal: Finish your class and receive recognition for your accomplishment.

The Approach

The Coursera experience

It’s simple. It’s mainly to help students learn better — and faster. That’s why they designed their platform based on proven teaching methods verified by top researchers.

Here are 4 key ideas that were influential in shaping the vision:

  • Effectiveness of online learning

Online learning plays a significant role in a lifelong education. In fact, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education found that “classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction.”

  • Mastery learning

Based on an approach developed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, Mastery Learning helps students fully understand a topic before moving onto a more advanced topic. On Coursera, they typically give immediate feedback on a concept a student did not understand. In many cases, they provide randomized versions of the assignment so a student can re-study and re-attempt the homework.

  • Peer assessments
  • Blended learning

How to Become Rich, and 24 Other Insights from Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett
Nati Harnik—AP

The investing legend shares the secrets to his success.

Warren Buffett is a true genius as he is able to simplify complex ideas into quotes that will stand the test of time. Warren Buffett spent his life dispensing advice to all who would listen, earning him the nickname of the Oracle of Omaha. In the 1960s, this advice came about twice a year in letters to investors in his investment partnerships. Starting a few years later, Warren Buffett’s wisdom was distilled through the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting and the annual shareholder letter, and in the past 20 years, Warren Buffett has become a household name through appearances on TV and interviews in magazines.

Read on for Warren Buffett’s best quotes on life, investing, and his top five insights.

On life

1. “You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.”

2. “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be a more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

3. “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”

4. “What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.”

5. “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

6. “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”

7. “Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money.”

8. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

9. “It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

10. “Long ago, Ben Graham taught me that ‘Price is what you pay; value is what you get.’ Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

On investing

1. “The most important quality for an investor is temperament, not intellect. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd.”

2. “Successful Investing takes time, discipline and patience. No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

3. “I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars; I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.”

4. “In the short term, the market is a popularity contest. In the long term, the market is a weighing machine.”

5. “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble”

6. “Diversification is a protection against ignorance. It makes very little sense for those who know what they’re doing.”

7. “If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.”

8. “The key to investing is not assessing how much an industry is going to affect society, or how much it will grow, but rather determining the competitive advantage of any given company and, above all, the durability of that advantage.”

9. “I am a better investor because I am a businessman, and a better businessman because I am an investor.”

10. “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

Top five insights

Einstein said there are 5 ascending levels of intelligence: Smart, Intelligent, Brilliant, Genius, Simple. Warren Buffett’s top 5 insights each explain a truth about life or investing in the simplest way possible.

1. “I will tell you how to become rich. Close the doors. Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.”

It is a gross oversimplification to say that the key to investing is to buy low and sell high. This quote from when Warren Buffett has been the basis of his most successful investments over time and the basis of how you could have avoided the last few bubbles.

2. “I tell college students, when you get to be my age you will be successful if the people who you hope to have love you, do love you.”

Warren Buffett has spent a lifetime studying conventionally successful people. It’s important to hear that at the end of the day, money is not the thing that matters most in life.

3. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Numerous greats including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett have attributed their success to focus. Many people have long to-do lists and work on becoming more productive, when in fact, having a not-do list is more important if you want to do great things.

4. “I’ve seen more people fail because of liquor and leverage — leverage being borrowed money. You really don’t need leverage in this world much. If you’re smart, you’re going to make a lot of money without borrowing.”

People succeed in life countless different ways but failures group around a few key themes. As such, you learn more from people’s failures than people’s successes.

5. “What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses. Note that word ‘selected’: You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”

One of the quotes I hate the most in investing is Peter Lynch’s “Buy what you know” as it oversimplifies investing. The above quote is sort of the same idea but highlights that the important thing is being able to evaluate companies and also avoid companies you don’t understand. It’s that simple.

Warren Buffett is quoted so much because he has developed a great deal of wisdom over his lifetime. How did he do it?

The secret to Warren Buffett’s success

The secret to Warren Buffett’s success is that he continuously learns. Buffett is a far better investor today than he was 50 years ago. As Charlie Munger has explained:

Warren Buffett has become one hell of a lot better investor since the day I met him, and so have I. If we had been frozen at any given stage, with the knowledge we had, the record would have been much worse than it is. So the game is to keep learning, and I don’t think people are going to keep learning who don’t like the learning process.

While you may pick up a nugget of wisdom or two from the 25 best Warren Buffett quotes, committing yourself to a lifetime of learning is the best advice you should take from Warren Buffett.

Apple Pay Signals New Era at Cash Register

Timothy D. Cook, chief executive of Apple, unveiling Apple Pay at a news conference last month. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Not a single purchase has been made with Apple’s new payment system, Apple Pay, which will allow people to pay for everyday goods with their smartphone.

But the service, expected in the coming weeks, already has the technology industry scrambling to profit from a future in which apps could regularly replace cash, checks and credit cards.

If doubts remained about the far-reaching implications of Apple’s entry into the market, they were almost surely cast aside on Tuesday. In a surprise announcement, the e-commerce giant eBay said it would spin off PayPal, long the dominant digital payment service — a move meant to make PayPal more nimble in a fast-changing market.

“The era of digital payments is upon us,” said John Donahoe, chief executive of eBay, announcing the split to investors.

It remains far from certain that Apple Pay, which uses the fingerprint reader on recent iPhones to confirm identities, will become a hit. The promise of convenient and secure mobile payments has long been hailed — by start-ups and powerful companies like Google and Verizon. That promise has remained largely unfulfilled.

But the swift reaction by companies in the three weeks since Apple Pay was unveiled makes clear that how we normally pay for goods and services is ripe for transformation.

Square, a prominent payment start-up, plans to allow merchants the ability to accept Apple Pay transactions in the future. Stripe, a payment processing start-up based in San Francisco, has agreed to work with Apple to help more small businesses accept Apple Pay.

EBay’s announcement, meanwhile, was an abrupt about-face. This year, facing calls by the activist investor Carl C. Icahn to split the company in two, eBay’s executives vehemently argued that eBay and PayPal were more valuable together. PayPal probably has the most to lose if Apple Pay becomes successful.

“It used to be the case that the Internet was kind of the Wild West,” said John Collison, co-founder and president of Stripe. “Ten years ago, people were scared of checking out on random websites. Now, consumers are no longer unfamiliar with online commerce.”

Each previous form of mobile payment has run into one problem or another. Google Wallet, for example, was hamstrung by limitations on the types of phones and cellular networks with which it was compatible, leaving Google to focus its mobile commerce efforts elsewhere. Softcard, the product backed by major wireless carriers, has seen little enthusiasm for its mobile wallet for similar reasons.

As a result, cash and credit cards remain the norm in physical stores. So consumers have been unconvinced that paying with a phone at the register is any faster or safer than doing so with a credit card.

And online, only 11 percent of e-commerce spending happened on mobile devices in the second quarter, according to data from comScore, an Internet market research firm. The rest is made on desktop computers, largely because it is easier to enter payment information on a desktop than a smartphone.

“Apple Pay is good for everyone in the payments ecosystem because ultimately, it increases the amount of transactions that are happening on mobile,” Mr. Collison said.

With Apple Pay, which is expected to be available within a month, people can pay online or in person with their phone, using an iPhone’s fingerprint sensor to check out, an experience that Apple says will be faster and safer than offerings from its predecessors. Many major restaurant and retail chains, including McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Macy’s, have signed up to accept payments this way.

Part of the scramble among companies comes from Apple’s reputation for upending other industries. The iPod, for instance, revolutionized how consumers buy digital music. The iPhone has changed the way people use their cellphones in their daily life.

Companies large and small think Apple’s payments service could potentially have the same effect.

“Apple in particular has a reputation of harnessing and mobilizing an ecosystem,” said Denée Carrington, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Perhaps no company has more to lose from a new payment system than PayPal. Started in 1998 by a handful of entrepreneurs, PayPal quickly grew to become the dominant online payment company, widely recognized as a safe and easy way to send and receive money over the Internet.

In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, and PayPal has continued to grow. It now has more than 150 million regular users, and last year, it had revenue of $6.6 billion.

“Everyone is gunning for PayPal,” Ms. Carrington said. “PayPal needs speed and flexibility to effectively defend and grow its business.”

Shortly after Apple unveiled its payment product in early September, PayPal took out a series of full-page print advertisements in several major newspapers, criticizing Apple for its perceived weaknesses in software security.

When a purchase is made, the iPhone wirelessly transmits a one-time code along with encrypted customer data, which the company says is more secure than swiping a traditional credit card.

“We the people want our money safer than our selfies,” the advertisement read, an apparent reference to a recent episode in which some celebrities had nude photographs stolen from their Apple online storage accounts.

Mr. Donahoe said multiple factors played into the decision to split eBay and PayPal, including the successful Wall Street debut of Alibaba, the huge Chinese e-commerce company. By being separate from eBay, Mr. Donahoe said, PayPal would have more agility, an attribute some analysts and tech insiders have said that PayPal has lacked for years.

“PayPal hasn’t innovated in the United States in a decade, and it shows,” said Keith Rabois, a partner at Khosla Ventures and a former PayPal executive. “You’ve seen the rise of companies like Braintree, Stripe and Square” — three fast-rising payment start-ups of the last few years — “and all of them happened right under PayPal’s nose.” PayPal bought Braintree last year.

And some people said PayPal, especially if standing alone, could benefit from Apple Pay’s introduction.

“For one, there is no equivalent yet of Apple Pay on Android devices,” said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Robert W. Baird and Company, referring to devices that run Google’s operating system. Android smartphone users, he said, could flock to PayPal, which runs on both Apple and Google operating systems.

And other competitors to Apple — like Samsung or Microsoft, which manufacture millions of smartphones, or Alibaba, which has its own highly successful payment operation in China — could more heartily support PayPal in the future.

In an appearance on CNBC, Mr. Donahoe said: “The way technology’s evolving, the way mobile technology’s evolving, we think you’re going to continue to see profound changes in how consumers shop and how they pay.”

The Destruction of Mecca

SEPT. 30, 2014


WHEN Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”

Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new. Meanwhile, the sites are expanding to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims, up to almost three million today from 200,000 in the 1960s.

The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.

Continue reading the main storySlide Show

Mecca Over the Years

The annual hajj in Mecca on Sept. 27. Credit: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Apart from the Kaaba itself, only the inner core of the Sacred Mosque retains a fragment of history. It consists of intricately carved marble columns, adorned with calligraphy of the names of the prophet’s companions. Built by a succession of Ottoman sultans, the columns date from the early 16th century. And yet plans are afoot to demolish them, along with the whole of the interior of the Sacred Mosque, and to replace it with an ultramodern doughnut-shaped building.

The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot.

The cultural devastation of Mecca has radically transformed the city. Unlike Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, Mecca was never a great intellectual and cultural center of Islam. But it was always a pluralistic city where debate among different Muslim sects and schools of thought was not unusual. Now it has been reduced to a monolithic religious entity where only one, ahistoric, literal interpretation of Islam is permitted, and where all other sects, outside of the Salafist brand of Saudi Islam, are regarded as false. Indeed, zealots frequently threaten pilgrims of different sects. Last year, a group of Shiite pilgrims from Michigan were attacked with knives by extremists, and in August, a coalition of American Muslim groups wrote to the State Department asking for protection during this year’s hajj.

The erasure of Meccan history has had a tremendous impact on the hajj itself. The word “hajj” means effort. It is through the effort of traveling to Mecca, walking from one ritual site to another, finding and engaging with people from different cultures and sects, and soaking in the history of Islam that the pilgrims acquired knowledge as well as spiritual fulfillment. Today, hajj is a packaged tour, where you move, tied to your group, from hotel to hotel, and seldom encounter people of different cultures and ethnicities. Drained of history and religious and cultural plurality, hajj is no longer a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. It has been reduced to a mundane exercise in rituals and shopping.

Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.

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