Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Love and Despair

"She never wanted to outlive me and be left at the mercy of someone else. We loved each other so much. It was a wonderful life in spite of all the hard things we had at the end."
"We did a lot of things together, always loved each other. I took care of her through that (health deterioration) day and night."
"It was just the last straw She didn't want to go to that hospital ... start cutting her toes off. I said, 'I can't do it, honey'. She says, 'Yes you can.'"
"She says, 'Is this going to hurt', and I said, 'You won't feel a thing'."
"She was saying, 'Do it. Do it. Do it.' And I just let it go."
George Sanders, 86

George Sanders' 81-year-old wife Virgina Sanders didn't die immediately, as he promised her she would. He loved her, she begged to be put out of her misery and he found himself incapable of denying her that one last wish. She had been diagnosed with gangrene, had been suffering with multiple sclerosis since 1969. He had been carefully, lovingly, looking after her needs for all those years.

He confessed to shooting her. He sat in a police station in Phoenix, wrapped in a blanket. He sat there for about five hours. His wife was hospitalized. After shooting her with his revolver, wrapping a towel around it, he hadn't managed to kill her outright. She died a few days later.

"Virginia was at this present moment currently still alive but not expected to make it. She's not expected to live", he was told by the detective.
"I think of her laying in her bed and it haunts me. I've taken care of her all these years and to think of somebody else doing it that really doesn't care. Terrible. I sit here and I don't know how I could have done that. It seemed to make sense at the time."

Soon, a deputy entered the room where the elderly man sat, distraught, in pain and suffering. He was handcuffed, led out the door to be fingerprinted.

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Eve of Holiday, Muslims Hurl Rocks at Jews on Temple Mount

Extremist Muslims tried on the 7th day of Passover but failed to prevent Jews from accessing the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount.

By Hana Levi Julian -- Arutz Sheva 7
First Publish: 3/31/2013, 12:13 PM

The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount
Israel news photo: Flash 90
Once again, extremist Muslims tried but failed to prevent Jews from accessing the holiest site in the Jewish faith, with the threat of attacks.

Dozens of Arab teens hurled rocks Sunday morning at groups of Jews who were touring the Temple Mount.

The site was open on the eve of the final day of the Passover holiday in the morning from 7:30 a.m to 11:00 a.m and scheduled to reopen from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon.

But a crowd of “at least 30" Arab rioters gathered at about 10:30 a.m. and began hurling rocks at the Jewish visitors when they reached the site, the most sacred place in the world in Judaism.

All the groups were accompanied by a police escort, according to Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, who told Arutz Sheva that six rioters were arrested in connection with the incident.
No one was injured in the attack, he said.

According to Rosenfeld, the site remained open to Jews and other non-Muslim visitors until the end of “regularly-scheduled visiting hours, and then closed on time at 11:00 a.m.”
Rosenfeld assured Arutz Sheva the site would reopen for visitors at 1:00 p.m.

A spokesperson for The Temple Mount Movement said he was not surprised by the incident and called on police to keep the sacred site open to Jewish worshipers on a constant basis.

There have been numerous attempts by Muslim extremists to prevent Jews from accessing the Temple Mount, which is also the location of the Al Aqsa Mosque and considered the third holiest site in Islam. The site is administered by the Waqf -- the Islamic Religious Authority -- with the agreement and cooperation of the Israeli government.

Although not mentioned in the Qur'an, within Temple Mount is the site of the Holy Temple's "holy of holies" mentioned numerous times in the Torah, central to Jewish worship.

There are numerous Jewish laws connected with the manner of ascending to and treading upon the grounds of the Temple Mount, and because the precise location of the "holy of holies" is no longer known, exquisite care is taken by educated, observant Jews who visit the area.

More on this topic

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Pope Francis delivers Easter plea for peace

BBC News online -- 31 March 2013
Pope Francis: "We ask the risen Jesus... to change hatred into love"
Pope Francis has delivered a passionate plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message since being elected.

Francis used his "Urbi et Orbi" address to call for peace in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and across the globe.

He singled out "dear Syria", saying: "How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution is found?"

Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar and pilgrims have attended church across the world.


In past years there have been two parts to the Pope's Easter message - a heartfelt appeal for peace in the world's trouble spots, and multilingual greetings to the crowds thronging St Peter's Square.
There were 250,000 people from more than 100 countries present this morning.
But Pope Francis decided to cut the vernacular greetings.
He is, of course, most comfortable speaking his native Spanish, and he is also completely fluent in Italian as his family is from Piedmont in northern Italy.
Pope Francis was, however, almost incomprehensible when he tried out a few words in English to the crowds in St Peter's Square last week.
So he decided not to read out the "Happy Easter" greetings that had been prepared for him in 65 different languages including difficult-to-pronounce oriental tongues.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict used to struggle to pronounce even a short phrase in Burmese, Chinese or Korean, Pope Francis chose not even to try.
But his body language spoke volumes. He was completely at ease saluting families, kissing babies and tenderly embracing a young disabled man, as the Pope was driven in an open jeep around the packed square.
Pope Francis also speaks when he remains silent.
  • In Iraq, Catholics flocked to churches amid tight security. Some 200 worshippers celebrated Mass at St Joseph Chaldean Church in Baghdad
  • In South Africa, many congregations included ailing former President Nelson Mandela in their prayers
  • In a message for Easter, UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised the "incredible role" played by Christian churches and organisations in Britain and around the globe
Pope Francis, formerly Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected on 13 March, becoming the first non-European pope for almost 1,300 years.

He replaced Benedict XVI, who held the office for eight years and became the first pontiff in more than 700 years to resign, saying he no longer had the physical strength to continue.

In his Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world) speech, Pope Francis began with a simple "Happy Easter!"

The 76-year-old Pope, who has begun his tenure by emphasising humility, went on: "Christ has risen! What a joy it is for me to announce this message... I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons."

Later in his speech, Pope Francis said: "We ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace."

The Pope then mentioned troubled regions of the world in turn.

Christians attend church in Baghdad, Iraq, 31 March
"Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long.

"Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort."

For Africa, the Pope referred to Mali, Nigeria - "where attacks sadly continue" - the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

He added: "Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow."

Pope Francis

  • Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
  • Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
  • Studied in Argentina, Chile and Germany
  • Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
  • Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice
  • First Latin American and first Jesuit to become pope, the 266th to lead the Church
Pope Francis concluded by saying: "Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st Century."

BBC Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston, says the Pope has reinforced his image as a man of simple, down-to-earth tastes, not wearing the more ostentatious of papal costumes and, for the moment, not moving into the grandiose papal apartments.

One pilgrim in Rome on Sunday, Briton Tina Hughes, said that Francis represented a "new beginning".

"I think he brings something special. He connects with people. I feel good about him," she told Reuters.

In the days before Easter, the Pope had reached out to women and Muslims.

During a Holy Thursday Mass at a youth detention centre he washed and kissed the feet of 12 people, including two girls and two Muslims, and in a Good Friday procession referred to the "friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters" in the Middle East.

Belarusian Catholics celebrate in Minsk, 31 March Belarusian Catholics celebrate in Minsk
But our correspondent says that, after Easter, the Pope will have to begin tackling the key issues facing the Catholic Church, such as reforming a Vatican bureaucracy riven by infighting and allegations of corruption, and tackling the issue of clerical sexual abuse.

Vatican watchers will also be keeping a keen eye on new appointments to key positions.
In his Easter homily, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, invited the Pope to visit.

The patriarch, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, also urged the international community to take "concrete and effective decisions to find a balanced and just solution for the Palestinian cause, which lies at the heart of all the Middle East's troubles".

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lenticular by Night

Cloudy nights aren’t always a disaster for astrophotographers.

Take Ben Canales. He takes magnificent night sky photos (like this one in Oregon that totally blew me away), so you’d think he’d always want clear skies.

But on Mar. 9, 2013, near Mt. Hood in Oregon, he took this unbelievable picture:

Ben Canales pic of Mt Hood and cloud
The scene shortly before Richard Dreyfuss flies away into the night and the John Williams music kicks in.
Image credit: Ben Canales (used by permission)

I know, right? That’s a lenticular cloud, so called because they’re shaped like lenses. They’re fairly common near tall mountains, where moist air flowing around and over the peak condenses downwind of the mountain. The air is always flowing, but the spot where the moisture condenses is stationary, so it looks like the cloud is hovering.

Some lenticulars are huge and dramatic, looking just like UFOs (and because they hover they’ve been reported as such). Others are smaller, and may only be rounded on the upwind side, trailing away downwind. I see that kind all the time here in Boulder, with the ragged tops of the Rockies to the west.

Ben’s shot is incredible. Mt. Hood and the cloud dominate the shot, but if you look at the full-res picture you can see some stars dotting the sky; I could see the constellations of Cassiopeia to the left of the volcano and part of Aquila to the right. He mentioned he took this shot at dawn, so I knew he was west of Mt. Hood facing east, making the stars easier to identify.

Taking great pictures takes a lot of preparation and experience, but sometimes being lucky helps. Even if that luck is bad—and clouds block the star shot you want—you can still make some good of it.

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Serving Children's Needs

In a community about as geographically remote as one can get, neighbours alerted local authorities that something appeared awry. A nearby resident of a home where seven young children were present without any parental supervision, complained. That complaint resulted in Chief Simeon Tshakapesh of Natuashish setting out to visit the home in question.

He took a mental health worker and staff from Child, Youth and Family Services with him.

They discovered children staggering about, vomiting, attempting to exit the home through windows. When RCMP also responded on the remote Labrador reserve, they discovered on the premises two unsecured firearms. And there was ammunition as well.

No adults anywhere to be seen. The seven children ranged in age from 9 to 12.

Only one of the children belonged in the house. The others were from other homes. When the RCMP checked they were unable to find any of the parents of any of the children. They had been left to their own devices. And they had spent the time sniffing gas, becoming ill from the effects of their self-destructive behaviour.

Eventually the parents of some of the children were located.  The children were taken into protective custody by the staff from Child, Youth and Family Services to safe homes or foster homes within Natuashish.

"It's disgusting" said Chief Tshakapesh afterward in an interview.  "Just very young kids sitting on the couch and garbage everywhere." Charges may in the offing with respect to the unsecured firearms and ammunition. That one of the children had a lighter in his possession was another item of concern.

The nine-year-old boy had been left on his own for four days before authorities discovered him inhaling gas with the six other children, all of them pre-adolescents.

Natuashish is accessible only by water or air, situated on Labrador's north coast, close to Davis Inlet. It is a new community, developed in 2002 where Mushuau Inni live.

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King Herod the Great is best known to Christians for trying to kill the infant Jesus. But he also left his mark with stunning architectural achievements, as seen in a new exhibit at the Israel Museum.

By Staff writer / March 30, 2013
Archeological excavations at Herodian, West Bank, Thursday, the artificial mountain where Herod the Great built his largest and most lavish palace, yielded much of the material for an immense Herod the Great exhibit at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor

Herod the Great may be best known among Christians as the cruel ruler who sought to kill Jesus as an infant, and whose son book-ended Jesus’ earthly travails, mocking him en route to his crucifixion.
But this shrewd politician, appointed by Rome, left a far broader imprint on history.

From Corinthian columns to lavish frescoes, Herod etched the latest fashions of the Roman world into the Holy Land in rare and costly colors such as cinnabar. Even rabbinic literature of his day recognized Herod as the greatest builder of the land, though he was controversial among some Jewish subjects who doubted his Judaism and saw him as a puppet of Rome.

Among the monuments to Herod’s terrific construction are the imposing mountain fortress of Masada, perched on a desert plateau with cliffs on all sides; Caesarea, the largest artificial port of its day, complete with an amphitheater for 10,000 spectators of chariot races; and Herodian, an artificial mountain that punctuates the skyline just south of Jerusalem, a palatial complex which he is believed to have built as his final resting place.

After decades of excavation at these sites by the late Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem recently launched a nine-month exhibit, “Herod the Great: The King’s Last Journey.” The exhibit includes more than 30 tons of material, a massive undertaking that required the museum to shore up its foundations and heighten its ceilings.

While packed with eager visitors during the Passover holiday this week, the Herod exhibit has also received a fair amount of negative attention. Much of the material for the exhibit was taken from Herodian, which is located in an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank, drawing Palestinian accusations that Israel is using archeology to expand its occupation.

And Prof. Netzer's excavations and subsequent conclusions are not universally accepted; Herod's presumed sarcophagus, for example, has no inscription proving it was indeed his. Many details of the exhibit have been pieced together based on the writings of 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

It is perhaps noteworthy that the exhibit is not controversial among Israelis themselves. But why would the Jewish people seek to honor such a leader, who murdered his own wife and children and was seen by more than a few Jews as a Roman sellout?

“He was the last great Jewish king here,” responds Ilya Burda, an employee at Herodian.
As for his more savage exploits, well, that was par for the course in his day, Mr. Burda suggests.
“He was a great builder, a great administrator, and a great killer, and all these things came together,” he says, taking a break from the busy cash register where crowds of Israelis are waiting for a ticket.

“In the ancient world, you could not be the great something without killing someone.”

Herod, who also built a magnificent theater at Herodian before changing his mind and filling it all in, was a key figure in the drama of Roman rule in ancient Israel.

The son of a Nabatean mother and a father from an influential Idumean family who had converted to Judaism, he was born in 73 BC and was appointed by the Roman senate in 40 BC to be “king of the Jews.” His original patron was Marc Antony, who ruled Syria, Egypt, and Judea, with Herod as his man. But after Antony’s demise with his Egyptian lover Cleopatra, Herod deftly switched his alliance to the victorious Octavian.

Octavian, later known as Augustus Caesar, accepted Herod’s continued rule and even expanded the borders of his kingdom, which eventually stretched from Gaza up the coast to Caesarea, which Herod named after his new patron. Herod also showed his strong connection to Rome in other ways, such as sending two sons to be educated in Rome.

Ever conscious of the importance of banquets to forge social and political ties, he sought to reveal to his high-ranking Roman guests “not only his fondness for Roman culture but also that he had good taste and was ‘one of them,’” explains one plaque at The Israel Museum exhibit.

But there were clear tensions between Herod’s loyalty to Rome and his Jewish subjects, perhaps seen most clearly after 10,000 laborers and 1,000 priests completed Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple – a huge feat of ancient stonework, with one stone weighing more than 500 tons.

“Torn between his desire to show respect for Jewish tradition and an equally compelling desire to please his Roman overlords, he dedicated [the temple] to the God of the Jews but later placed a golden eagle, a symbol of the might of Rome, above the temple gate,” according to the exhibit.

While the temple was considered the pinnacle of Herod’s architectural achievement, Herodian was the largest and most lavish of his palaces. Set atop a cone-like mountain with the top shaved off, it commands a 360-degree view of Jerusalem and the Judean hills.

Herod is believed to have created the complex, complete with a large pool with boats and a mausoleum for his burial, as a memorial to himself.

Today the small peak is surrounded by Palestinian villages and the Israeli settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim, home to former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Local Palestinians say they used to frequent the site before the second intifada broke out in 2000, but today there is heightened security.

“People from [surrounding] neighborhoods could go and sell ice cream and chocolate,” says Eyad Ali, a local whose father and grandfather worked on the archeological excavations. “It’s become more difficult for them to go there now…. It’s like a military zone, because it protects the settlements.”

The site lies within Area C, which covers 62 percent of the West Bank and has remained under full Israeli control according to the 1993 Oslo Accords. Meant to be merely an interim division of land, the accords are but the latest in a long history of shifting political boundaries in this ancient land.

After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided between four of his children. Herod Antipas, who conferred with Roman prefect Pontius Pilate ahead of Jesus’ crucifixion, reigned the longest, until 39 AD. But by then the Herodian kingdom had been overtaken by direct Roman rulers, who destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD, though much of Herod's stamp on the land can still be seen today.

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Friday, March 29, 2013


"Instead of receiving something useful ... the court [was] delivered a diatribe by a highly partisan and poorly trained probation officer. This is not only a waste of taxpayer's monies but a disservice to the criminal justice system."
"This is not the first case where Quebec authorities have flouted, if not outright ignored, the sentencing requirements set out in the Criminal Code -- legislation that is of federal origin and therefore applies to all jurisdictions within Canada."
Ontario Superior Court Justice Denna Baltman
Justice Baltman is clearly fed up with the state of non-cooperation between the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario through their justice systems. Presumably working in tandem with the federal justice system within Canada. She is affronted, understandably, that when asked to provide a legal document for an Ontario sentencing hearing, Quebec justice submitted a document that was seen to be "highly partisan", so "inflammatory" it defied belief.

This Ontario Superior Court Justice denounced the Quebec justice authorities in a March 19 decision in which she sentenced a Montreal man on prostitution related charges in Brampton, Ontario. According to the outraged judge, the "gross deficiencies" of the Quebec report were "all the more galling" having been submitted over a month late, and not in the language of the Ontario justice's stated choice. Both charges, in fact, instances of uncontrite unprofessionalism.

Time was lost in tending to the case because of the necessity to send the report out for translation services, from French to English. Whereas Judge Baltman had repeatedly urged and reminded the parole officer involved in the case to submit the offending report in English, causing no little disturbance within the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services.

The case being judged was for 36-year-old Montrealer Kelvin McPherson, convicted of prostitution charges for forcing his girlfriend, 21 years of age, to perform sex acts for strangers, while he took possession of her sizeable income related to the sex acts. The Criminal Code of Canada orders that a parole officer must prepare a pre-sentencing report of basic details prior to any sentencing.

As the 2001 book The Law of Sentencing explains, the ideal pre-sentencing report must convey "background, character and circumstances of the person convicted". What the report received by the Brampton court was comprised of was a discourse describing details of the man's crime, reiterating the man's guilt as charged. It also repeated the offender's stated belief that a "corrupt justice system" was responsible for his conviction, and he was a "victim" of justice.

"Essentially", wrote Judge Baltman indignantly, "she maligned him for maintaining his innocence, a factor which should be irrelevant given his pleas of 'not guilty'." Both the defence and prosecution lawyers were in complete agreement that the report, written by Montreal-based parole officer Lisette Charland, was "improper and inflammatory".

The hearing proceeded only once the defence lawyer -- on behalf of this manipulating pimp who forced a young girl into prostitution to avail himself of her hefty fees -- had first taken steps to have Ms. Charland's "extensive commentary" properly excised. Whereupon the offender, Kelvin McPherson was sentenced to three years in prison.

Written in French or in English, perhaps Ms. Charland should be given a congratulatory medal for allowing neutrality to lapse in favour of ordinary, everyday human outrage at the nastily oppressive manipulations of a male predator who believes his criminally predatory behaviour to be beyond juridical reproach.

And the sanctimonious, legality-precise sensibilities of the others given a good stiff mule-kick in the backside.

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Global Good News

"The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps 100 million people, but this is a story about billions of people. For the first time in 140 years, the combined output of the developing world's three leading economies -- Brazil, China and India -- is about equal to the combined GDP of the long-standing industrial powers of the North -- Canada, France, Germany,Italy, United Kingdom and the United States."
Khalid Malik, lead author of the UN's 2013 Human Development Report
 The United Nations has released its 2013 Human Development Report, and its conclusions are that much has been successfully done through international co-operation to alleviate the great burden of poverty and hunger in the world. "Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast."

In countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania and India whose endemic poverty among their millions of undernourished, underprivileged, underserved people is legendary, fortunes are changing. Slowly, people are finding employment, and though still impoverished by First World standards, there is a steadily rising lower middle class, and hunger is being alleviated, living conditions improving.

The conventionally wealthy, technologically advanced countries of the world, the traditional First World countries have, on the other hand, experienced some notable backsliding. Unemployment is up dramatically and it is growing, national economies are faltering, the large middle class is under duress and many of them are joining the ranks of the poverty-stricken, all as a result of the global financial meltdown of 2008.

Oxford University has issued a report of its own in a study of trends in extreme poverty prevailing in twenty-two of the world's poorest countries, where about two billion people live; a significant proportion of the world's population. Their Poverty and Human Development report comes to the conclusion that if current trends continue, the direst poverty in fully half of those 22 countries will be completely defeated within 20 years.

Despite all the protests around the activities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to further open international markets, it is just that opening and the free trade that results from them that have helped the situation. State investments in literacy, and the emancipation of women in cultures that have traditionally been male dominated have done their part.

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Memo on puported UFO discovery in New Mexico becomes most read file in FBI’s electronic reading room

This 1950 document released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts Section, shows a Federal Bureau of Investigation report of "flying saucers" in New Mexico sent to then-Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1950. The document has become the FBI's most popular file in the bureau's electronic reading room.
FBI / The Associated Press     This 1950 document released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts Section, shows a Federal Bureau of Investigation report of "flying saucers" in New Mexico sent to then-Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1950. The document has become the FBI's most popular file in the bureau's electronic reading room. 
A single-page FBI memo relaying a vague and unconfirmed report of flying saucers found in New Mexico in 1950 has become the most popular file in the bureau’s electronic reading room.
The memo, dated March 22, 1950, was sent by FBI Washington, D.C. field office chief Guy Hottel to then-Director J. Edgar Hoover.

According to the FBI, the document was first made public in the late 1970s and more recently has been available in the “Vault,” an electronic reading room launched by the agency in 2011, where it has become the most popular item, viewed nearly 1 million times. The Vault contains around 6,700 public documents.
Vaguely written, the memo describes a story told by an unnamed third party who claims an Air Force investigator reported that three flying saucers were recovered in New Mexico, though the memo doesn’t say exactly where in the state. The FBI indexed the report for its files but did not investigate further; the name of an “informant” reporting some of the information is blacked out in the memo.
The memo offers several bizarre details.

Inside each saucer, “each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture,” according to the report. “Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed fliers and test pilots.”

The saucers were found in New Mexico because the government had a high-powered radar set up in the area and it is believed the radar interfered with the controlling mechanism of the UFOs, according to the informant.

The FBI filed the typed page neatly away 63 years ago at its headquarters and “no further evaluation was attempted.”

The memo does not appear to be related to the 1947 case in Roswell, New Mexico when Air Force officials said they recovered a UFO, only later to recant and say it was a research balloon.

“For a few years after the Roswell incident, Director (J. Edgar) Hoover did order his agents — at the request of the Air Force — to verify any UFO sightings,” the FBI said Thursday. “That practice ended in July 1950, four months after the Hottel memo. Suggesting that our Washington Field Office didn’t think enough of that flying saucer story to look into it.”

FBI / The Associated Press
FBI / The Associated Press     A Federal Bureau of Investigation report of "flying saucers" in New Mexico sent to then-Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1950.

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New Gullies Found in a Young(ish) Crater on Mars

My first two science loves are, in order, astronomy and geology. If you combine the two your options are limited. You can observe the Earth from space, you can collect meteorites, or you can soak in the beauty of landscapes on other worlds provided by spacecraft.

I have a deep affection for all three, and which one I like best depends on when you catch me. For example, today, I’m fond of that last one, due to this gorgeous picture taken of ridges and gullies on Mars:

gullies on Mars
Gullies run down the rim of a crater on Mars, as seen here in an image by the HiRISE camera in orbit around the red planet. Click to enaresenate.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This shot shows some of the terrain (or aresain or whatever term you use for Mars) inside Gasa crater, a 7 kilometer (4 mile) wide crater in the southern mid-latitude of the red planet. Weirdly, Gasa sits inside a larger 20-km-wide crater; whatever impact formed it happened in the same place as a larger impact a long time before. Gasa is young, probably less than two million years old.

The edge of Gasa is heavily scalloped, clearly caused by the rim eroding away. There’s a lot of carbon dioxide ice in this location, much of it beneath the surface. Every summer the ground warms up, the ice sublimates (turns directly into a gas) and some of the crater rim collapses inward.

Over time this forms gullies, erosional channels. They’re not terribly hard to find in some craters, since they look like, well, gullies: nearly straight channels in the crater wall dug out by material flowing downhill. There are fan-shaped regions surrounding them, and in the top image, which has been color enhanced, the fans are bluish, showing fresh deposits of carbon dioxide.

How fresh? This picture was taken in the austral spring of Mars, and those deposits weren’t there the year before! So the CO2 ice was laid down last winter in the Martian southern hemisphere, just months ago.

Mars is not a dead planet, at least not geologically. It changes year by year, even month by month.
Here’s a close-up, taken from the full-res image:

close up of the crater rim
Close-up of the crater rim showing the gullies better.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

You can see how sharp the ridges are. The Sun is shining down from the upper left, and the tops of the ridges look like a knife’s edge. You can also see boulders dotting the landscape as well, casting long shadows. That’s convenient, since the size of the boulders can be directly measured, and the angle of sunlight is known. That means the slope of the ridges can be determined, too. It’s amazing what you can squeeze out of an image like this.

It gets better, too. Here is a wider shot, showing more of the crater rim:

wide view of Gasa crater on Mars
A wider view of the Gasa crater showing more of the rim. Click to impactenate.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

See how the scalloped region with gullies is on the right? That’s the northern rim of the crater. Now think this through: In the southern hemisphere summer, when it’s warmer, the Sun will be shining more directly into the northern rim of the crater (just like having southern exposure in a house in the northern hemisphere on Earth gets you more sunlight). That’s why there’s more erosion there on the northern rim; the ground gets warmer and frees more carbon dioxide. As you look around the crater rim in both directions (east and west, heading south) the scalloping gets weaker, because the ground doesn’t get as much direct sunlight, and so is somewhat cooler.

That’s evidence of seasonal variation in the erosion, just like you’d see on Earth!

Mars is such an odd place. Thick gray basaltic sand is everywhere, covered itself by fine dust (tinged red due to iron oxide: rust). Cratered, battered, barely holding an atmosphere, yet it still has ways of reminding us of home. Comparative planetology is a fascinating field.

Huh. I may have to make that Number 3 on my list.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Criminal Entertainment

Ottawa's two universities, Carleton University and University of Ottawa, collaborate on the presentation of a popular annual concert to which university students flock to see and hear popular entertainers. Carleton University Students' Association funded the appearance of a rapper, Rick Ross for the April 9 show. And that prospective performance has quite a few people upset.

Rappers have been known to test the boundaries of social acceptance since the first rapper introduced this form of musical entertainment into the annals of youth entertainment that invariably puzzles the older generation. This particular rapper has recently released a song that celebrates and glorifies date rape. Hi-hop bloggers and commentators in the U.S. have identified that song as offensive.

It seems to have skipped the notice of the Carleton University Students' Association executive. That's the charitable view of it; it could be, on the other hand, that the CUSA executive appreciates the unqualified approval of the song's dedication to the pleasures of drugging a woman and raping her, because she will never know what happened, while the rapist has satisfied his violent carnal urge.

A former Carleton student who studied Women's Studies and Human Rights at the university formerly, was not amused. She opened a Facebook page critical of the CUSA's decision to fund Rick Ross's appearance. "In the past couple of years, Carleton students have been trying to get the school to take sexual assault on campus seriously", she wrote.

"The song itself is such a blatant celebration of rape", she commented -- the lyrics would be painful for many young university students who "have not just experienced some kind of sexual assault but the kind, specifically, that he's talking about", so approvingly and lovingly. The writer, Kira-Lynn Ferderber, calls on CUSA to cancel the event.

In a stark contrast of reactions, Ethan Plato, president of the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa, explained why his group had withdrawn support for the annual Pandamonium concert, jointly sponsored by both student unions: "Rick Ross has gained notoriety through misogynistic lyrics including those that explicitly depict sexual assault through drugging women."

His University of Ottawa Student Federal could not in good conscience promote the event in "recognizing our role as agents of social progress". Concert organizers, Urban Jamz Entertainment defended themselves by saying Urban Jamz "does not support rape culture". They seem to feel the problem will be solved as long as Ross does not perform the offending song.

Two related stories revolving around sadistic criminal minds intent on raping women. One of an Ottawa man identified by Ontario Superior Court Justice Colin McKinnon as a "dangerous serial rapist" to be locked up indeterminately to protect women from his vicious predations. The rapist, Kasagama Olimi, 25, held a "natural predisposition to violent sexual assault".

Olimi held a University of Ottawa student hostage in her dormitory room, assaulting her repeatedly throughout the night until she was finally able to escape. He has twice been convicted for brutal and prolonged rapes during the commission of which he humiliated and taunted his victims.

The second occasion took place two months after his release from jail when he grabbed another women from a street, took her to his apartment and, threatening her with a knife, raped her repeatedly, while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet designed to track him to ensure he was following conditions of his release.

Yet another news report out of Toronto, where a high school youth planned to abduct, torture, rape and kill a girl in the school's "sound-proof music room". The 17-year-old was found by the presiding judge to be "a sadist", and convicted of threatening bodily harm. He had on an earlier occasion raped a woman but charges were dropped, and he had spent months in a psychiatric facility.

On the occasion of this case that recently played out in a courtroom, the youth had informed the young woman through a Facebook chat that he planned to violently rape her; cut her skin, break her bones while committing rape. She informed a teacher, the teacher spoke to the vice-principal, who called police, who conducted their investigation, apprehending a crime, planned and close to execution.

Impressionable young men with shaky morals and values do not need encouragement through the auspices of famous and industry-acclaimed rappers to lead them to believe that rape is normal and desirable and can be readily accomplished with the use of drugs.

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The Dark, Dusty Graves of the GRAIL Spacecraft

The twin GRAIL probes were sent into orbit around the Moon in the last days of 2011, designed to use gravity itself to measure the Moon’s interior composition and structure. On Dec. 17, 2012 they were sent plummeting to the surface after completing their major objectives, slamming into the ground near the Moon’s north pole.

Another mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, was able to spot the impact sites where the two spacecraft met their doom, and you can see them in these before-and-after shots:

GRAIL impact sites
The impact sites of the twin GRAIL spacecraft. The area before the impact is above, and after the impacts below (I brightened those images a bit to make it easier to see).
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

On the left, stacked vertically, is where GRAIL A (nicknamed Ebb) hit, and on the right is GRAIL B (Flow). As you can see in the bottom images, there are dust plumes that fanned out over the surface that weren’t there before. Note the scale; each image is about 200 meters across, twice the length of a football field. That may sound big, but the Moon has a lot of crater-saturated real estate. It’s amazing they found these sites.

Impact side (wide angle)
A wider view of the impact site, showing where they hit: the base of a lunar massif.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
They actually hit near the base of a massif, or long mountain, on the south-facing bank, just a couple of thousand meters apart—they were flying together in the same orbit, to help measure the change in gravity due to changes in density of the lunar material beneath them. The lower they flew, the better their measurements, so in the end their orbits were lowered to just a few kilometers above the Moon. The final impact was placed at the north pole to avoid any possible contamination of historical spots like the Apollo landings.

The two spacecraft each approached the surface at 1.6 kilometers per second (1 mile per second)—twice as fast as a rifle bullet—moving south to north. Note the excavated material fanned out to the north as you’d expect from a low-angle impact. The irregular distribution is unusual though. Each made craters about 5 meters (16 feet) across.

And there’s another surprise, too: the ejected material is dark. Usually, dust blown out by impacts is lighter in color than the surrounding material, eventually darkening over the eons as it gets zapped by cosmic radiation and whacked by micrometeorite impacts (like, for example, the rays around the relative young impact crater Tycho). It’s not clear why there’s darker material under the surface where the impacts were.

Even in death, GRAIL was trying to teach us something about the Moon.

Controlled impacts are common in planetary exploration when missions are at their ends. Engineers and scientists do try to squeeze out every last drop of information they can in situations like that, which I think is fine, and even noble. We should all do so well in our own last moments.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Humanitarian Charity

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) operates their teams all over the world wherever people's lives and their health are in jeopardy as a result of political instability, refugee situations, civil wars or other human-detrimental conditions, including natural disasters such as earthquakes or torrential rains leading to massive flooding, leaving migrants exposed to deprivation and risks to health.

Doctors Without Borders has its teams working in Syria, amidst the conflict, in small towns and in cities where it is felt that the teams can be reasonably safe and enabled to conduct their healing and life-saving procedures on behalf of the civilian populations under threat from both the regime's attacks and those of the undiscriminating rebel militias.

These teams open up small temporary clinics in the hopes of providing maternal-child health care, treating children and pregnant women. The country's own medical system has been understandably devastated by the two years of unrelenting conflict and destruction of infrastructure. Basic health care is lacking for a desperate population caught between warring factions.

Doctors Without Borders face a shortage of routine vaccines, of antibiotics, pain medications. Let alone protocols for chronic medical conditions like diabetes, anaemia or epilepsy. Before the onset of the conflict it was standard procedure that pregnant women would have their babies delivered in hospital. It has now become standard for women to deliver at home, often without help if anything occurs out of the ordinary in childbirth.

Vulnerable children are routinely sent for their nighttime safety from shelling to sleep in caves nearby their towns where the cold, damp conditions prevailing there increases risk of pneumonia and other respiratory conditions. Children living in refugee camps for internally and externally displaced, suffer winter conditions of exposure to cold and damp living in tents and suffer perpetual colds and fevers.

The medical teams work in place for as long as they can be assured they may do so with relative safety. They are able to tolerate being shelled several times weekly, hoping to remain unscathed. When the attacks accelerate in frequency they understand it is time to evacuate, to remove themselves and move on to areas which are less frequently under fire.

Having to do so, leaves them feeling dejected and miserable, being forced to leave the anxious and the ill, deprived of both standard and emergency medical treatment and procedures that help make their lives just a little bit more tolerable. The medical teams, in reluctantly leaving, have hopes that they will be enabled to return once the situation becomes less violently volatile.

Many of the village residents who have already perhaps left their own villages under more frequent bombardment, have nowhere else to go, and remain there, hoping that salvation will eventually arrive through a cessation in hostilities. Leaving them free to return to their home villages, free to live once again in peace and security in a country rent by dire tribal and sectarian misery.    

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Recognized and Protected

Abortion rights advocates have their work cut out for them in North Dakota. According to Nancy Northrup, president and chief executive officer of the New-York-based group, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the new restrictive abortion law brought into place in the state makes it "now home to the most extreme restrictions on women's constitutionally protected reproductive rights in the nation."

The law, as it written, now makes no exception for rape or incest victims. A foetus at six weeks or over is smaller than a dime; at six weeks of pregnancy most women haven't yet realized that they are pregnant Yet the new law bans abortions as a felony charge once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. And that can be at six weeks' gestation.

A second bill brought into law at the same time makes North Dakota the first in the union to bar terminations as a result of genetic abnormalities. Another signed bill requiring doctors working at the state's single operating abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital may result finally in the closing of that sole abortion clinic, cutting off all access to abortions to any woman at any stage of pregnancy.

The time limit involved in terminating a pregnancy will come hard up against the 1973 Supreme Court decision giving women the right to terminate a pregnancy until such time as a foetus reaches viability. And that time would be roughly 24 weeks. There is a vast disparity between six weeks' gestation and 24 weeks.

"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v.Wade", stated North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, calling upon his fellow legislators to make preparations for a long and costly court battle.

The most reprehensible portion of this abortion agenda on the part of this state legislature is that there are no exceptions. Women pregnant as a result of rape or incest will be victimized, denied the opportunity for termination of such a repugnant pregnancy.  And in 2014 the opportunity will arise for voters in the state to decide whether they wish to have their constitution amended by a personhood measure.

Such a measure would ensure definitively that abortion would be outlawed entirely in the state. The proposed amendment already initially approved by lawmakers claims "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected".

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 Setting Examples

"Something was leaning against the back door and the car drove off and I walked over to see what it was, and it was a purse.
"I ran after the car waving the purse but the people didn't see me so I took it back to the 'Y' and opened it to look for a phone number. I couldn't find one, but then I found this wad of cash, of hundred dollar bills.
I never thought about keeping the money. It wasn't mine. I grew up going to church, I sang in the choir. And you don't keep something that doesn't belong to you.
"I don't know how you could."
Unnamed 62-year-old Calgarian

“I  never thought about keeping the money,” says Calgary woman, 
62, shown in her new bachelor suite. “It wasn’t mine.”
Keith Morison for National Post     “I never thought about keeping the money,” says Calgary woman, 62, shown in her new bachelor suite. “It wasn’t mine.”

This is a woman of character and of persevering values. She also happened, at the time she discovered the purse with its large sum of cash, homeless. Living in a homeless shelter operated by the YMCA in downtown Calgary. Who wouldn't, finding such a cache, reason to themselves that anyone carrying so much money with them and casually overlooking its security could doubtless afford the loss of that ten thousand.

Whereas she, with no possessions of her own, homeless and wholly dependent on the charity of others, could certainly make good use of all that cash. Obviously, from what transpired, such a scenario was the furthest thing from this woman's mind. It did not reflect her beliefs and her values and her thoughts of herself as a member of society. She saw to it that the money was returned to its rightful owner.

In gratitude they expressed their appreciation for her selfless sacrifice -- there are many who would describe it as just that, though she did not -- and gave her a reward of $500 to have and to hold for her own. A munificent enough award on the part of the grateful owners of the lost cash. And with their act of appreciation, others too added to this woman's future through their own appreciation of her honesty and modesty.

A local bank accepted a trust established in her name. And little by little donations came in over the period from October 2012 when the incident occurred, to a more recent date, where enough money was placed in the trust account to enable her to move from the shelter into a rent-subsidized seniors' complex.

"I think it says a lot about human nature and, personally, I think a lot of people -- had they found that money in the purse -- would have done exactly what I did", she commented, in appreciation for her good fortune. "I am just so thankful to the people that donated money on my behalf."

Perhaps her newfound good fortune will give her the confidence to find paid employment that will suit her temperament and her abilities and her experience, enabling her to find further pride in her life, become self-sufficient and completely independent.

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Much Ado About Quinoa

Quinoa (pron.: /ˈknwɑː/ or /kɨˈn.ə/, Spanish: quinua, from Quechua: kinwa), a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.

Quinoa has been a staple for thousands of years for the people living in the Andean regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Of recent vintage has been its appearance as an edible seed emulating cereal grains in North America. Where, in its incarnation as one of the 'ancient grains', it has achieved wide popularity. It represents a healthy, nutritional choice, offering helpings of lysine, calcium, phosphorus and iron.

And the shocking news out of rabbinical councils is that this seed that is not a grain is held to be non-kosher. Non-kosher, that is, for Passover. "We can't certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused", is the scholarly opinion of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union. This critical information has dreadfully upset the orthodox Jewish community, and it has created an understandable backlash.

Many Jews, it would seem, have developed a dependency on quinoa as a grain substitute during the eight-day holiday of Passover, when leavened products are forbidden, in memory of the passage out of Egypt when Jewish slaves were liberated by Moses, and were unable to cook anything but unleavened products on the hot desert stones, baked by the burning rays of the sun. Matzoh remains the 'bread' of choice during Passover.

And it is a decidedly acquired taste. Looked on with fond appreciation by those whose childhood memories of grandparents presiding over the Passover seders imbue matzoh with special powers of blood and belonging. The memory-and-taste uninitiated can be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Does this photograph exemplify the delight someone unaccustomed to the taste evinces while eating matzoh?
Just a photo of Obama eating Matzah given to him by an Israeli robot

Amazingly, the 7.8 million citizens of Israel eat more quinoa than all of Europe manages to do. "Perfect for Passover" recipes for Passover are available everywhere. "Listen, give me a topic in which there isn't a conflict. Since it appeared on the scene, it is seen as being absolutely kosher for Passover. It's a seed", commented Vancouver's Temple Shalom's Rabbi Philip Bregman.

The Kashrut Council of Canada, however, as the country's largest kosher certification agency, begs, officially, to differ saying only that "there are differing opinions". While a kosher-certifying agency based in Baltimore, Star K, has decided on the basis of subjecting the seed to a series of leavening tests, that it is appropriate for Passover use.

For its part, the Bible lists wheat, spelt, barley, rye and oats as grains to be avoided during Passover for those who pay attention to such trivia. However, according to Canada's Kashruth Council, not only does the seed look like the banned grains, it happens to grow on long stalks like other forbidden grains.

This nonsense is in the grand old tradition of GIMMEEABREAK!

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Two Eclipses, Two Stories

For NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, it’s eclipse season.

SDO circles the Earth in a geosynchronous orbit, meaning it makes one complete path around our planet every 24 hours. This is a special orbit, because it means to someone on Earth the satellite stays in one spot in the sky, making communication with it much easier.

But it means that twice a year the orbits of SDO and Earth line up, and the Earth irritatingly gets in the way of SDO’s view of the Sun, partially blocking it. These times are called “eclipse seasons”, and we’re in the middle of one of them now. On Mar. 2, the Earth got between SDO and the Sun…and not only that, a few hours later the Moon did as well! Here’s the result:

SDO sees an Earth and Moon eclipse
The Earth (left) and the Moon (right) take turns taking a bite out of the Sun as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Image credit: NASA/SDO

I love the two different tales of these pictures. In the picture on the right the Moon’s silhouette is sharp and distinct, but on the left the Earth’s edge is fuzzy and distorted. The reason for that is pretty obvious: We have air! There is no sharp edge to our atmosphere, and so the amount of light it blocks from the Sun varies. Brighter stuff gets through, so you can see that bright, twisting filament in the Sun is more visible through Earth’s air than the dimmer parts of the Sun’s surface.

Note how the Earth’s edge is nearly straight, too, while the Moon’s is highly curved. The Earth is far bigger than the Moon (by a factor of four in diameter), so you’d expect that. But SDO is much closer to the Earth as well, so the curve of the Earth’s edge isn’t as obvious, looking more like a line.

One more thing: You might think SDO’s view of the Sun would be blocked every orbit as the Earth got in the way, but the designers accounted for that by inclining the orbit by about 29° so the Earth usually stays out of the way:

diagram of SDO's orbit
A diagram of the orbit of the Earth, Moon, and SDO (not to scale).
Image credit: Phil Plait

This also has the advantage of keeping it close to Earth to accommodate its pretty bandwidth-intensive data stream back to Earth. Most of the time SDO has a clear view of the Sun, like the way I drew the diagram. You can see that the orbital plane of SDO intersects the orbit of Earth at two points, called the nodes. When SDO is at one of its nodes, twice per orbit, it is in the same plane as the Earth and Sun.

Normally that’s no big deal. But as the Earth goes around the Sun, eventually those nodes line up with the line connecting the Earth and Sun. When SDO passes through its node on the outside part of its orbit, Earth gets in the way. That alignment can happen for about three weeks, twice per year, and that’s when we have eclipse seasons.

The Moon’s orbit is tilted with respect to the Earth’s by about 5°, so it has two nodes as well. Over time the Moon will eventually be at a node when the node aligns with the Earth-Sun line, and we get a lunar or solar eclipse—that’s why we don’t get an eclipse every month! The Moon has to be at a node at the right time to get an eclipse.

So for SDO to see Earth eclipses the geometry has to be just right… and then to have the Moon get in the way of the Sun is even more rare, especially on the same day!

So this year, we hit the orbital alignment jackpot. I imagine the SDO scientists are lamenting so many big objects getting in their way of the Sun, but for the rest of us it makes a pretty picture, and a fun lesson in orbital mechanics.

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