Thursday, August 31, 2006

20 Years Ago today....

Back in 1925 the passenger liner Berlin III was launched - she served the Bremen - Southampton - Cherbourg - New York route in the days when you had to cross the Atlantic by sea. After being chartered by the Nazis as a workers cruising ship and then service in World War 2 as a hospital vessel, she was sunk by a mine in 1943.

The Soviet Union refloated her in 1949 , renovated her and renamed her Admiral Nakhimov after one of Russia's greatest naval commanders.

She ended up on the Black Sea, taking Soviet holidaymakers for 6 -day cruises along the beautiful coast.

And then 20 years ago today - August 31st 1986 - she was hit by the cargo ship Pyotr Vasev, and sank in a few minutes. 423 people perished. It was with a sense of disbelief that Russians heard the rumours that she had sunk - no official announcement was made for days.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Place is Cold -2

For those of you who really want to know what's going on about Pluto, a couple of interviews with the astronomical body himself.

The Place is Cold - 1

A lot of the Lib Dem Bloggers have been commenting on the Pluto controversy. Of course it's the astrologers who are going to be in a real panic over this. This comes from in 2001, where a couple of astrologers are discussing the Saturn-Pluto opposition (i.e. the arrangement that Saturn and Pluto are in opposite parts of the sky:

Nick Campion: To start with, Liz, I’d like to talk a little about Pluto, the planet of the moment, especially in view of the current Saturn-Pluto opposition. I’ve been reading what you wrote about Saturn and Pluto in your book Saturn; you stated that, when these planets combine, "there often seems to be a carefully and deliberately organised movement towards some sort of self-destructive experience."[1] You added that the person may be aware of this obsessive movement but may not be able to control it. I have that Saturn-Pluto opposition squared my Sun at the moment, so I was thinking: "How can I be conscious about it?" In fact, how does one become conscious of something? Have you experienced that opposition this year, in terms of your clients? Has it been noticeable?

Liz Greene: Oh yes, very noticeable. There aren’t many people who are not getting it in one form or another, because it doesn’t just involve planets in the mutable signs. It is also hitting things by semi-square and sesquiquadrate. That pulls in all the cardinal signs as well. So, yes, a lot of clients are beginning to put on their armadillo suits.

Nick Campion: Do you mean that they’re getting into a self-protective posture?

Liz Greene: That’s one reaction to it. I think it is a very common reaction - and probably a natural reaction. Saturn is much more individually graspable, whereas Pluto feels so overwhelming that the initial response is to pull into Saturn and try to defend oneself against Pluto. It is not "wrong" to do that. It is an inevitable, natural thing to do. But it is not necessarily the best thing to do. The aspect will work itself through anyway, but that certainly seems to be what people are doing.

Nick Campion: In view of the respective planetary positions, do you think that there is a particular Gemini-Sagittarius character to this Saturn-Pluto opposition?

Liz Greene: I think so, because it seems to be raising issues that have to do with morality, as well as with knowledge versus intuitive realisations of some kind. It is creating a lot of intellectual polarisation. There are ideas being battled out, although the form that the Saturn-Pluto opposition takes can be very concrete in lots of people’s lives. With all the conflicts that seem to be arising on both personal and collective levels, it is ideologies, concepts, belief systems, and bodies of knowledge that are at stake, even behind whatever wars are being fought.

Nick Campion: Is there one particular example at the moment of an ideological clash that you’d point to?

Liz Greene: Well, how about Northern Ireland? That’s been going on for a very long time, and I don’t think that it’s unique to Saturn-Pluto, but it may enter a new phase now.

Nick Campion: The Sun in the chart for the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (December 7, 1922) is at 14° Sagittarius.[2]

Liz Greene: The Sun and the Descendant are within five degrees of each other. The chart for southern Ireland[3] and the chart for the U.K., including Northern Ireland, are one day apart. They are both getting Saturn-Pluto.

Of course, now that Pluto has been demoted, this is now absolute hogwash, whereas as until last week, it was , er..

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A lot of countries still to visit...

create your personalized map of europe
or check out our Barcelona travel guide

Following on from Ryan et al, I still have a lot of places in Europe to visit. Mind you I spent 4 hours at Helsinki airport once. Does that count as "Finland"?

Most Encouraging Article of the Week?

It's by Labour MP Shahid Malik in the Sunday Times:

"...Last Tuesday, after a 90-minute meeting with John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, to discuss the challenges of extremism and foreign policy, I emerged and was immediately asked by the media whether I agreed that what British Muslims needed were Islamic holidays and sharia (Islamic law). I thought I had walked into some parallel universe.....
...The call for special public holidays for Muslims was unnecessary, impracticable and divisive. Most employers already allow their staff to take such days out of their annual leave. And what about special holidays for Sikhs, Hindus, Jews? If we amended our laws to accommodate all such requests, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men wouldn’t be able to put our workplaces and communities back together again....
...I believe that as a Muslim there is no better place to live than Britain....

Meanwhile the Sunday Times has an opinion poll with the headline "Public wants much harsher immigration policy".Actually, the figures are rather more liberal than I expected.

* Those surveyed are split almost evenly as to whether "Immigration is Generally Good for Britain". (Lib Dem supporters are most likely to support this statement).

* Although 63 percent say that immigration laws should be much tougher, only 1 percent want to ban immigration altogether.

* On average, people want a limit set on imigration each year - but the mean figure they'd accept is about 1,024,000 - which seems absurdly high!

.. and by the way, Ming 's personal rating has gone up by 2 percent.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Football Post

With England beating Greece 4-0 at half-time, it's looking good for once. But there were plenty of 'fans' who were ready to write him off before he started. These comments below are from the first 10 posters on the BBC 606 website before the game:

I'm just wondering exactly how long people think Steve McClaren will last in the job of England manager? i certainly don't see him lasting as long as Sven.

The fact that he hadn't the bottle to bin Fat Frank, and instead is using Hargreaves to cover up his lack of pace and inability to tackle does not augur well. The World Cup showed Lampard up as a big time Charlie who was finally found out.

A loss against greece tonight and he'll have no support and won't last long. A win and he'll keep going but I still thinkn England fans will have little confidence in him. I think Euro 2008 will be his only tournament.

After a poor Euro 2008 he will be shuffled off-stage and the FA will have a chance to bring in a real manager.

Longer than 606 lasts but not much longer. Gone before the next WC.

Well he's starting with Crouch so he can **** off now as far as I'm concerned

By playing one of the best central mid-fielders in the world wide on the right shows just how in touch he is.

McClaren used 4-5-1 at home for Middlesborough, which annoyed their fans no end. Expect equally dull football for England now.

I hope these guys hang their heads in shame!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Not Another International Crisis?

Full marks to James Graham for pointing out the importance of the International Astronomical Union's 12-day meeting that starts today in Prague.

As the BBC explains:
Astronomers are gathering in the Czech capital, Prague, hoping to define exactly what counts as a planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) hopes to settle the question of Pluto, which was first spotted in 1930. Experts are divided over whether Pluto - further away and considerably smaller than the eight other planets in our Solar System - deserves the title.

Here is a picture of Pluto and it's largest satellite, Charon, in their full glory, courtesy of Novacelestia:

By the way , if you want to know the names of the planets in various languages, look here. The Mandarin for "Pluto" is "Mingwangxing", which means "Star of the King of Hell". Nearly everyone else uses "Pluto" or something similar. I'm sure that Peter Black doesn't need me to tell him that the Welsh for "Pluto" is "Pliwto" . The Hebrew word is "Pluto" and the Arabic word is "Plutoon."

Now that's a worry. What happens if the IAU decides to leave things unchanged, but Hezbollah refuses to recognise Pluto's existence as a planet?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Peace and Sophia Loren vs. Intolerance and Murder

I sometimes assume that people who use the same blogger templates must have something in common. Myself and Paul Walter, for example. Paul makes the valid point today that

"On a Sunday it is always good to reflect on something positive being done in the world of faith. The peace vigil by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is one such event"

Meanwhile on another similarly-coloured blog, Petrelis reports that , horrifically, women are being stoned to death in Iran for adultery :

"Please feel free, and I emphatically encourage you, to cut and paste the Supes' resolution, or the information from Mazahery's site, on your own blog or web site. Get the word out that now is the time to open our mouths and say, in loud and clear voices, "No stoning of women!""

(Please have a look at Petrelis' links on this. According to Amnesty International

The Iranian Penal Code is very specific about the manner of execution and types of stones which should be used. Article 102 states that men will be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the purpose of execution by stoning. Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones")

So can I find something connected with religion that will sound positive at the end of a grim week?

Well, the the Daily Telegraph doesn't help me here. they reported yesterday that:

"Powerful evangelical churches are pressing Kenya's national museum to sideline its world-famous collection of hominid bones pointing to man's evolution from ape to human."

But the BBC website does help me. At last, a cleric with a sense of proportion and a sense of humour:

"Even the Archbishop of Genoa once said that although the Vatican opposed human cloning, "an exception might be made in the case of Sophia Loren"".

This chap is now Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone , the incoming Vatican Secretary of State.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Baghdad Calling

Yet another memorable post yesterday from Baghdad Burning. In particular :
For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger....

...I have nothing against the hijab, of course, as long as it is being worn by choice. Many of my relatives and friends wear a headscarf. Most of them began wearing it after the war. It started out as a way to avoid trouble and undue attention, and now they just keep it on because it makes no sense to take it off. What is happening to the country?

I realized how common it had become only in mid-July when M., a childhood friend, came to say goodbye before leaving the country. She walked into the house, complaining of the heat and the roads, her brother following closely behind. It took me to the end of the visit for the peculiarity of the situation to hit me. She was getting ready to leave before the sun set, and she picked up the beige headscarf folded neatly by her side. As she told me about one of her neighbors being shot, she opened up the scarf with a flourish, set it on her head like a pro, and pinned it snuggly under her chin with the precision of a seasoned hijab-wearer. All this without a mirror- like she had done it a hundred times over… Which would be fine, except that M. is Christian.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Place is Hot

The city of Phoenix, Arizona is known as "Hoozdo" or "the place is hot" in the Navajo language. I bet you didn't know that but it's an appropriate name. According to Wikipedia , out of the world's large urban areas, only some cities around the Persian Gulf, such as Riyadh and Baghdad have higher average summer temperatures. The temperature reaches or exceeds 100 °F (38 °C) on an average of 89 days during the year, including most days from early June through early September. With high night-time temperatures as well, that makes it hotter than Mexico City, or Athens, or Mumbai.

Last weekend I happened to read a thread here asking about global warming and bad weather, and I ended up conversing with Greg, who is a high school teacher in the Arizona city of Mesa. I've rejigged our conversations into a interview style. When you read this , try thinking of the phrases "climate change" and "my city in decades to come"

CB: Do you think global warming exists?

Greg: Yes, I think global warming exists, and I think it's reversible, but I doubt if it will happen. We're too addicted to things that help it along (if not cause it, which is still the debate, I guess). I live in Arizona! What do you think is the worst weather? If it's not the 115 degree temperatures, it's the few nights when we had violent windstorms. Fun!

CB: How do you cope?

Greg: Chris - everything - and I mean everything - is air conditioned. During the summer people rarely go outside except to get in their cars and go to the mall. If I didn't have a pool I'd never leave the inside of the house. At night it does get a bit uncomfortable, even inside, but we have big fans and the AC and I rarely sleep with sheets on. No fun whatsoever.

CB: I don't know hold old you are - but can you say if it is hotter now in Arizona than it used to be? What is the effect on nature - do you have gardens, do you have any birds or wildlife around?

Greg: no, I've only lived in Arizona for five long years, but I can tell you that it has gotten hotter here. The presence of lots of people in the past thirty years or so means more blacktop and Phoenix has become what they so nicely call a "heat island." At the same time, they've cut down the trees that used to give shade (they're trying to bring that back) and we have lost the orchards that used to be all over the valley and would keep things relatively cool and would definitely help in the nighttime. I have spoken with long-time residents who speak of summer nights in the 70s, which is almost unbelievable to me. So on a local scale, we have definite "global" warming and it's almost completely due to the human element.

CB: Orchards - what sort of fruits grow in the orchards - I'd guess it's lemons or oranges?

Greg: If there were any orchards left here (they have mostly been wiped out for development) it would be citrus fruits. Oranges used to be huge here.

CB: How do cats and dogs fare in this environment - the heat seems very tough on dogs? And what about children - do they need much sunscreen?

Greg: I don't know about dogs, because we don't have one, but a few of my friends do, and they seem fine. Our two cats are indoor cats, and they just lie around a lot. Interestingly, in the summer they lie in our kitchen window, which would seem to be hotter than most places, but they deal with it. They drink a lot of water, too. Kids need a lot of sunscreen, although I don't put any on them when I just go out in the car. If we go in the pool, they need it, but our car, like most, has tinted windows, so they don't get the full effect when we're driving around.

CB: Typically, where do people from Phoenix/ Mesa go on vacation?

Greg: People here go to San Diego or Rocky Point in Mexico (I can't remember the Spanish name, but everyone here calls it Rocky Point). Apparently (I've never been there) it's pretty much an American town in Mexico on the Gulf of California. Or they head to the northern part of the state, where there are lots of small towns with small resorts.

CB: If the temperatures are getting higher, how is this being viewed by the politicians and leader writers in your area? Is global warming accepted as a threat? Do people thinks its sustainable to have so many people living in your area if the temperatures go higher still?

Greg: Chris, the problem with AZ is that most people are not natives, and therefore don't have much of a connection to the area. I certainly don't, but then again, I don't want to stay here. The politicians and the populace are far more interested in expansion into what is essentially a flat land (we have some hills, but nothing to stop the expansion).

Housing is plentiful and relatively cheap, and people move here simply for the winter weather (which is nice) and for the jobs, which are also plentiful. They don't care about the effect on the environment and elect people who reflect this, and by the time they've been here for a few years and realize the problems, a new influx of immigrants is here and clamoring for more space. I think everyone accepts that we have a problem, but no one is willing to tell people they have to rein in their expansive tendencies and understand that they can't pave everything without making everything hotter. This is really the pure American West - you get what you can, and damn the consequences! People who come here, for the most part, want to be left alone by the government - they hate taxes and hate anyone telling them what to do.

That's a wild generalization, of course, but that's pretty much the way it is. Everyone wonders about what we're going to do when we run out of water, but nobody does much about it.

CB: Why do you want to move on from the Phoenix/ Mesa area?

Greg: I don't like Phoenix for oodles of reasons. I don't like the weather, and the few months of nice weather in the winter doesn't make up for the nine or so months of awfulness. I don't like the desert surroundings, either. And I came here from Portland, which had a lot of theater and good restaurants and interesting places to go. Here there's nothing. We moved here because of the job situation, but that has changed, so we're looking to leave.

CB: As a last thought , I guess that what you save on low gasoline prices (price of diesel here now is 99.9 p per litre - that's about $6.96 per us gallon) you spend on aircon?

Greg: I guess 3 dollars a gallon is cheap by European standards (it doesn't feel cheap!), but you're right - our electric bill this month was over 300 dollars. Of course, in the winter it's usually very small because we don't have to use the heat.

So How Would You Like to Go Canvassing Against Hezbollah?

So I've learned a little more about Hezbollah in the last few days. It literally means "The Party of God" and according to Wikipedia the name is derived from a Qur'anic ayat (verse) referring to those who belong to and follow the 'Party of God'.

Hezbollah is a political party and military organisation. We are talking about people who I think want to be treated as political leaders , not as organisers of terrorist attacks. I hadn't seen their party flag until I found it on Wikipedia this morning. It shows an arm emerging from Allah's name, holding aloft a Kalashnikov rifle poised above the world. What does that symbolise to you?

Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

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