Special Issue Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 3
The mysterious golden ratio
- The golden ratio divides a line into two unequal parts as shown. The same ratio shows up in the human skull, when the arc over it is divided at the bregma.
- For centuries, the golden ratio has fascinated all kinds of people, not just mathematicians. Physicists and biologists have studied it, architects and artists have used it, and worshippers have described it as a divine design.
- And through the centuries, the golden ratio has continued to amaze its diverse fans, frequently cropping up at unexpected places.
- The latest such place is the human skull. If we draw an arc across the top of the skull and divide it at a key junction over the brain, the two arc-segments are approximately in the golden ratio. This feature was studied recently by researchers of Johns Hopkins University, US, who have reported their findings in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.
Just a ratio, yet special
- The golden ratio can be defined in terms of a line, divided into two unequal segments in a way that their lengths meet a simple condition. When the ratio between these two lengths (the longer segment divided by the shorter one) happens to be the same as the ratio between the entire line and the longer segment, then the line is said to be divided in the golden ratio (see illustration).
- For this condition to hold good, the ratio needs to be 1.61803… with the digits after the decimal going on forever; the golden ratio is what we call an “irrational number”. It is represented by the Greek letter phi.
- Why should such a ratio be considered special? Aesthetic appeal is among the first of many reasons. Architects such as Le Corbusier have consciously proportioned their works to the golden ratio, or close. So have artists such as Salvador Dalí and Leonardo da Vinci, whose fascination with the golden ratio features in the novel The Da Vinci Code and the film based on it.
- Interpretations of the golden ratio have not always been objective. Some have related it to their idea of aesthetic beauty in facial proportions, using the golden ratio to describe Audrey Hepburn’s face as perfection, and Marilyn Monroe’s as close.
- The fact remains, however, that the golden ratio frequently shows itself in nature, whether directly or indirectly (through its cousins called the Fibonacci numbers). To cite a few examples, the golden ratio appears in the seeds of sunflowers, the scales of pineapples, the arrangement of petals on a rose, DNA structures, the anatomy of the heart — and has now turned up in the human skull.
The newest appearance
- In the days before computerised scans became the norm, neurosurgeons would themselves carry out measurements on the skulls of their patients. One such measurement is the distance from the base of the nose (nasion) to the bump at the back of the head (inion).
- Measuring this arc in his patients, Dr Rafael J Tamargo of Johns Hopkins observed a trend. At a junction called the bregma, which is the meeting point of two important connective tissue joints, the arc was divided into two sub-arcs that respectively accounted for 61.8% and 38.2% of the total arc length.
- Tamargo realised that these fractions were in the golden ratio. “That’s how my interest started,” he said over the phone.
- For the new study, Tamargo and colleague Dr Jonathan A Pindrik, his co-author, examined the head CAT scans of 100 patients. Indeed, they found, the two sub-arcs on either side of the bregma are in a ratio that approximates the golden ratio.
Strength of Lok Sabha
Recently, former Union Minister and Congress leader Jitin Prasada said the number of Lok Sabha seats should be rationalised on the basis of population. The composition of the Lower House has remained more or less the same for four decades. How is the composition determined, and what are the arguments for and against a change?
Strength of Lok Sabha
- Article 81 of the Constitution defines the composition of the House of the People or Lok Sabha. It states that the House shall not consist of more than 550 elected members of whom not more than 20 will represent Union Territories.
- Under Article 331, the President can nominate up to two Anglo-Indians if he/she feels the community is inadequately represented in the House. At present, the strength of the Lok Sabha is 543, of which 530 have been allocated to the states and the rest to the Union Territories.
- Article 81 also mandates that the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to a state would be such that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, as far as possible, the same for all states.
- This is to ensure that every state is equally represented. However, this logic does not apply to small states whose population is not more than 60 lakh. So, at least one seat is allocated to every state even if it means that its population-to-seat-ratio is not enough to qualify it for that seat.
- As per Clause 3 of Article 81, population, for the purpose of allocation of seats, means “population as ascertained at the last preceding census of which the relevant figures have been published”. In other words, the last published Census. But, by an amendment to this Clause in 2003, the population now means population as per the 1971 Census, until the first Census taken after 2026
When it was changed
- The strength of the Lok Sabha hasn’t always been 543 seats. Originally, Article 81 provided that the Lok Sabha shall not have more than 500 members. The first House constituted in 1952 had 497.
- Since the Constitution provides for population as the basis of determining allocation of seats, the lower House’s composition (total seats as well as readjustment of seats allocated to different states) has also changed with each Census up to 1971.
- A temporary freeze was imposed in 1976 on ‘Delimitation’ until 2001. Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and state Assembly seats to represent changes in the population.
- However, the composition of the House did not change only with delimitation exercises in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002. There were other circumstances as well. For instance, the first change in the composition of Lok Sabha happened in 1953 after the reorganisation of the state of Madras.
- With a new state of Andhra Pradesh carved out, 28 of Madras’s 75 seats went to Andhra Pradesh. The total strength of the House (497) did not change.
- The first major change took place after the overall reorganisation of states in 1956, which divided the country into 14 states and six Union Territories. This meant subsequent changes in the boundaries of existing states and hence, a change in the allocation of seats to the states and Union Territories.
- So with reorganisation, the government also amended the Constitution by which the maximum number of seats allocated to the states remained 500, but an additional 20 seats (also maximum limit) were added to represent the six Union Territories. So the second Lok Sabha elected in 1957 had 503 members.
- Further down the years, the lower House’s composition also changed when the state of Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966 and when Goa and Daman and Diu were liberated in 1961 and merged with the Indian Union subsequently.
When it was frozen, and why
- As per Article 81, the composition of the Lok Sabha should represent changes in population. But it has remained more or less the same since the delimitation carried out based on the 1971 Census. Why is it so?
- The population-to-seat ratio, as mandated under Article 81, should be the same for all states. Although unintended, this implied that states that took little interest in population control could end up with a greater number of seats in Parliament.
- The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced. To allay these fears, the Constitution was amended during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.
- Despite the embargo, there have been a few occasions which have called for readjustment in the number of Parliament and Assembly seats allocated to a state. These include statehood attained by Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram in 1986, the creation of a Legislative Assembly for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and creation of new states such as Uttarakhand.
- Although the freeze on the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies should have been lifted after the Census of 2001, another amendment postponed this until 2026. This was justified on the ground that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026.
- So, the last delimitation exercise – started in July 2002 and finished on May 31, 2008 – was conducted on the basis of the 2001 Census and only readjusted boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and reworked the number of seats reserved for SCs and STs.
- With the total seats remaining the same since the 1970s, it is felt that states in north India, whose population has increased faster than the rest of the country, are now underrepresented in the Parliament.
- It is frequently argued that had the original provision of Article 81 been implemented today, then states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh would have gained seats and those in the south would have lost some.
Explained: What is plogging?
- ‘Plogging’ is a combination word formed from ‘jogging’ and ‘plocka upp’, which is Swedish for ‘pick up’.
- During his morning walk on a beach in Mamallapuram on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen picking up plastic litter, bottles and other items. In a tweet shortly after, Modi announced: “Plogging at a beach in Mamallapuram. It lasted for over 30 minutes.”
- ‘Plogging’ is a combination word formed from ‘jogging’ and ‘plocka upp’, which is Swedish for ‘pick up’.
- It refers to an emerging international trend, in which someone picks up trash while jogging or brisk walking as a way of cleaning up litter while also taking care of fitness.
- The trend was started in Sweden by Erik Ahlström in 2016. During his commute to work, Ahlström would frequently come across litter that would remain on the streets for weeks without anyone picking it up.
- This prompted him to pick up the trash during his commute and dispose of it. Eventually, he included the clean-up in his daily running and exercise routine.
- Thanks to social media and word of mouth, it has gradually turned into an international movement involving both fitness and environmental enthusiasts. Several groups have popped up across Europe, the US, South America, Asia and Africa.
- In India, the government organised the Fit India Plog Run on October 2, as part of the Fit India Movement launched by the Prime Minister on August 29. In his Mann Ki Baat address on September 29, PM Modi urged people to start plogging for a litter-free India.
- According to Ahlström, plogging for half an hour will burn at least 288 calories on an average as compared to 235 calories from regular jogging.
Dying scientist is about to become first cyborg
- A terminally-ill scientist who is dying from a muscle wasting disease has taken the final steps to become the world’s first full cyborg. Peter Scott-Morgan, 61, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago, but instead of accepting his fate he decided to challenge what it meant to be human.
- He said he wanted to push the boundaries of what science can achieve so decided to extend his life and become fully robotic — known as Peter 2.0.
- The world-renowned roboticist has already undergone a series of incredibly complex and risky operations during his journey. This has included developing a remarkably lifelike avatar of his face before he lost any muscle.
- The avatar is designed to respond using artificially intelligent body language and he has also explored eye-tracking technology to enable him to control multiple computers using only his eyes.
- And recently he announced the final procedure in his transition into a robot where he traded his voice for potentially decades of life.
- Speaking of his transition, he said: “‘I’m about to be turned into Peter 2.0. And when I say ‘Peter 2.0’, I mean ‘a Cyborg’… And when I say ‘Cyborg’, I don’t just mean any old cyborg, you understand, but by far the most advanced human cybernetic organism ever created in 13.8 billion years. I’m scheduled to become the world’s very first full Cyborg. Almost everything about me is going to be irreversibly changed — body and brain. It goes without saying that all my physical interaction with the world will become robotic. And naturally, my existing five senses are going to be enhanced… From then on, I’ll be part hardware/part wetware, part digital/part analogue. And it won’t stop there; I’ve got more upgrades in progress than Microsoft. Mine isn’t just a version change. It’s a metamorphosis.”
- He has undergone further surgery in what he believes to be the first ever operation of its kind, to insert a feeding tube directly into his stomach, a catheter directly into his bladder and a colostomy bag directly onto his colon.
- These procedures will help him to deal with any potential feeding and toileting problems, helping him to maintain his independence.
Recently, Kurdish forces who had until recently been America’s allies against both the Islamic State and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, announced an agreement with the Damascus regime, which is backed by Moscow and Tehran, the United States’ two great rivals in the region. This happened after President Donald Trump abruptly pulled US forces out of Syria, leaving Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to simply cross the border into Syria, pummel Kurdish positions, and take over Kurdish-held territory.
The developments mark a remarkable turn in the long-running conflict in Syria. Trump’s action, seemingly an effort to end America’s overseas wars ahead of his 2020 re-election bid, greatly helps Turkey, Assad, Russia and Iran — and possibly, the battered but still-potent Islamic State. With the US out of the picture, the Kremlin is now seen to be the major player in negotiations between the Kurds, Assad, and Erdogan.
An old culture, stateless people
- The Kurds are the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. There are an estimated 25 million to 35 million of them — numbers that are broadly comparable to those of Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, and Telangana, as well as of Canada and Australia.
- They live in the highlands of southern and eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, the northeastern Syria, northwestern Iran, and parts of south Armenia, and are a minority in each of these countries.
- Small communities live in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, and eastern Iran as well.
- Kurdish nationalists claim a history going back 2,500 years, but they became identifiable as a distinct community only in the 7th century, when most tribes in the area adopted Islam. The majority among the Kurdish people today are Sunni Muslim, but there are adherents of other faiths too, including Sufism and other mystical practices.
- They speak a language that is related to Persian and Pashto, although local dialects differ. Kurmanji, which most Kurds in Turkey speak, uses the Latin script; the other widely spoken Kurdish dialect, Sorani, is written in the Arabic script. Kurds have long had a reputation for being fearless fighters, and they have served as mercenaries in many armies over the centuries.
- The mediaeval warrior Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty that replaced the Fatimids in Egypt and ruled over large parts of the Middle East in the 12th and 13th centuries, was of Kurdish ethnicity.
Quest for an elusive homeland
- Their numbers, and distinct cultural and ethnic identity notwithstanding, the Kurdish people have never had their independent national homeland.
- At the Versailles peace conference after World War I, the Kurdish Ottoman diplomat Mehmet Sherif Pasha proposed borders of a new Kurdistan that covered parts of modern Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; however, the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which partitioned the old Ottoman dominions, marked out a much smaller territory, entirely in what is now Turkey.
- Turkey negotiated with the Allied powers and, in 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne overtook Sèvres and ended the idea of a self-governing Kurdistan.
- Over the decades that followed, the Kurds made repeated attempts at establishing a de facto Kurdistan with defined national borders — and in the process attracted massive Turkish repression, including bans on the Kurdish language, names, songs, and dress.
- In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Chemical Ali attacked them with chemical weapons, and in Iran, their uprisings of the 1980s and 1990s were crushed.
- In 1978, the Marxist revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan formed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê or PKK in Kurdish) with the aim of setting up an independent Kurdistan. PKK guerrillas fought the Turkish army from 1984 until Öcalan’s capture in 1999, during which some 40,000 Kurdish civilians were killed.
- Sporadic terrorist attacks continued until 2013, when the PKK declared a ceasefire. This collapsed when Turkey joined the war against the Islamic State in 2015 and started to bomb PKK targets in Iraq.
- An explosion is seen over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 12, 2019. (Reuters Photo: Stoyan Nenov)
Islamic State, Assad, the US
- As the Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, the only fighters who were able to resist the onslaught were the Syrian Kurdish militias, the most powerful of which was the People’s Protection Units, known by its Kurdish initials, YPG.
- The Kurds, who lived mostly along Syria’s border with Turkey, had begun an armed defence of their areas after the civil war started in 2011-12. In 2014, as the US joined the war against Da’esh, it found in the YPG a helpful regional ally.
- From the US perspective, the Kurds also served as a military counterpoint against the Iranians and Russians, and provided some leverage in a future deal to end the war.
- Once the Kurds, backed by the Americans, had forced Daesh out of northern Syria, they took over the re-captured land along the Syria-Turkey border, home mainly to ethnic Kurds, Arabs, and some other groups.
- The YPG has close links with the PKK, and for Erdogan’s regime, this seemed like a serious security threat. For the US, the problem was of balancing decades-old hostilities and suspicion between its two allies — Turkey was part of NATO and an ally against Assad; the Kurds had just helped defeat the Islamic State at the cost of losing over 11,000 fighters.
- On the nudging of the Obama administration, the Syrian Kurdish militia sought to cover its links with the Turkish guerrillas, changed its name to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and started to enlist larger numbers of non-Kurdish fighters.
- By 2016, the Americans were guessing that some 40% of SDF fighters belonged to non-Kurd ethnicities. The US also worked to keep the peace on the Turkish border, carrying out patrols both on its own, and jointly with the Turkish army.
- But earlier this month, Trump decided to withdraw forces from Syria — an idea he had had in 2018 as well, but had been thwarted.
- Americans troops are now on the way out, and even though Trump has issued dramatic warnings to Erdogan, the Turkish attacks on the Kurds continue.
Microbial fuel cells
- Microbial fuel cells are devices that use bacteria as the catalysts to oxidise organic and inorganic matter and generate current. A research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earlier this year explained that electrons produced by the bacteria are transferred to the negative terminal and flow to the positive terminal.
- In a statement on the ZSL website, Conservation Technology Specialist Al Davies explained: “Plants naturally deposit biomatter as they grow, which in turn feeds the natural bacteria present in the soil, creating energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of vital conservation tools remotely, including sensors, monitoring platforms and camera traps.”
- Among conventional power sources, batteries must be replaced while solar panels rely on a source of sunlight. On the other hand, plants can survive in the shade, naturally moving into position to maximise the potential of absorbing sunlight.
- The ground-breaking solution was enabled by ultra low-powered technology created by US AI company Xnor.ai. It works around the clock on any device while consuming such low energy that it can be powered by a small plant.
The Sunni Waqf Board
As the arguments in the Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi case concluded recently, the Supreme Court-appointed mediation panel submitted a fresh report offering a “consensual settlement” between parties. In any settlement, the role of the Sunni Waqf Board, a key party to the case, would be significant as the administration of a waqf property is legally determined.
What is a waqf?
- Waqf is the property given in the name of God for religious and charitable purposes. In legal terms, permanent dedication by a person professing Islam, of any movable or immovable property for any purpose recognised by the Muslim law as pious, religious or charitable.
- A waqf can be formed through a deed or instrument, or a property can be deemed waqf if it has been used for religious or charitable purposes for a long period of time. The proceeds are typically used to finance educational institutions, graveyards, mosques and shelter homes.
- A person creating the waqf cannot take back the property and the waqf would be a continuing entity. A non-Muslim can also create a waqf but the individual must profess Islam and the objective of creating the waqf has to be Islamic.
How is a waqf governed?
- Waqfs in India are governed by the Waqf Act, 1995. A survey commissioner under the Act lists all properties declared as waqf by making local investigation, summoning witnesses and requisitioning public documents. The waqf is managed by a mutawali, who acts as a supervisor.
- It is similar to a trust established under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, but trusts can be set up for a broader purpose than religious and charitable uses. A trust established can also be dissolved by the board unlike a waqf.
What is a Waqf Board?
- A Waqf Board is a juristic person with power to acquire and hold property and to transfer any such property. The board can sue and be sued in a court as it is recognised as a legal entity or juristic person.
- Each state has a Waqf Board headed by a chairperson, one or two nominees from the state government, Muslim legislators and parliamentarians, Muslim members of the state Bar Council, recognised scholars of Islamic theology and mutawalis of the waqfs with an annual income of Rs 1 lakh and above.
- The Waqf Board has powers under the law to administer the property and take measures for the recovery of lost properties of any waqf, to sanction any transfer of immovable property of a waqf by way of sale, gift, mortgage, exchange or lease.
- However, the sanction shall not be given unless at least two thirds of the members of the Waqf Board vote in favour of such transaction.
Connection between the disputed Ayodhya site and the UP Sunni Waqf Board
- According to the Waqf Act, the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board has the power to administer the disputed site.
- In 1945, in a suit before a Faizabad judge between the Sunni and Shia Waqf Boards, it was held that the Babri Masjid is a Sunni Waqf.
- The Sunni Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh became a defendant in 1989.
Can a Waqf Board give up its claim to any disputed site?
- Since waqf cannot be alienated unilaterally, any unilateral claims by the chairperson of the waqf will have no legal value or bind the Muslim community.
- Alienating waqf property without prior approval of state waqf boards is an offence and special tribunals established under the Waqf Act have jurisdiction to deal with such disputes.
- In the Ayodhya case, seven claimants, including six individual litigants and the Sunni Waqf Board, have filed suits as representatives of the Muslim community. With the arguments concluded and the judgment reserved, it would be too late for the Sunni Waqf Board to withdraw the suits.
- Even if the Sunni Waqf Board were to withdraw the suit, it would need the vote of two-thirds of the Board which would include members of the Muslim community. The other plaintiffs are still entitled to fight the suit on behalf of their community.
World’s fastest ant
- The Saharan silver ant is the fastest of the world’s 12,000 known ant species, clocking a blistering 855 millimetres — nearly a metre — persecond.
- Measured another way, the six-legged sprinter covers 108 times its own body length per second, a feat topped only by two other creatures, the Australian tiger beetle and the California coastal mite.
- To run 100 times his body length as quickly, the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, would need to sprint the 200-metre dash in less than a second.
- Making the exploit even more remarkable, the Saharan silver hits top speed racing at midday across desert sands that reach 60°C , the researchers reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
- At top speed, the Saharan silver easily outpaces its nearest ant competitor Cataglyphis fortis — despite having significantly shorter legs.
- It does this by swinging its tiny 5-mm long appendages at speeds of up to 1,300 mm per second.
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