A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2015

[LINK] “Venus and Jupiter Meet At Last”

Universe Today’s Bob King reports on a conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in the night sky. I actually saw it myself last night before I read this article, hovering in the western night sky above the condos from Queens Quay and Spadina.

The year’s finest conjunction is upon us. Chances are you’ve been watching Venus and Jupiter at dusk for some time.

Like two lovers in a long courtship, they’ve been slowly approaching one another for the past several months and will finally reach their minimum separation of just over 1/4° (half a Full Moon diameter) Tuesday evening June 30.

The view facing west-northwest about 50 minutes after sunset on June 30 when Venus and Jupiter will be at their closest. If bad weather moves in, they’ll be nearly as close tonight (June 29) and July 1. Two celestial bodies are said to be in conjunction when they have the same right ascension or “longitude”and line up one atop the other. Source: Stellarium

Most of us thrill to see a single bright planet let alone the two brightest so close together. That’s what makes this a very special conjunction. Conjunctions are actually fairly common with a dozen or more planet-to-planet events a year and 7 or 8 Moon-planet match-ups a month. It’s easy to see why.

All eight planets travel the same celestial highway around the sky called the ecliptic but at different rates depending upon their distance from the Sun. Distant Saturn and Neptune travel more slowly than closer-in planets like Mercury and Mars. Over time, we see them lap one another in the sky, pairing up for a week or so and inspiring the gaze of those lucky enough to look up. After these brief trysts, the worlds part ways and move on to future engagements.

More is at Universe Today, with King looking at how conjunctions work.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Prospects for a future Kurdistan”

Open Democracy’s Gary Kent writes about the issues likely to face a separatist Kurdistan.

Baghdad’s obstinacy is also driving independence but Kurdistan is landlocked and many are wary of putting all their eggs in the Turkish basket, which once prompted former KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih to argue for three export routes through Iraq, Turkey and Iran (and, conceivably, Syria one day.) A unilateral declaration of independence could cut off imports, exports, passports, and airports. Independence would have to be negotiated with Baghdad through complex agreements on assets and liabilities, water, energy and security. Crucially, the KRG’s southern boundaries including Kirkuk must to be finalised to avoid the province becoming a flashpoint for Arab revanchism for decades to come.

The commonsense view is that ISIS should first be defeated before independence but given, as a senior security adviser told me, “Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and definitely won’t be put back together,” maybe the way to defeat ISIS is to recognise that Sunnis and Kurds will never again accept unalloyed Baghdad rule.

Before ISIS, Sunni provinces neighbouring Kurdistan had begun to think that the dynamic Kurds could assist their economic salvation, especially in reliable electricity supplies. Shia Basra in the south, about the same size, population and economic weight as Kurdistan but with much more oil, had been champing at the bit for greater decentralisation. A much looser arrangement, perhaps one day a confederation, could be a bigger incentive for Sunnis to overthrow ISIS in Sunnistan than centralised and sectarian Shia rule from Baghdad. Every day that ISIS keeps Mosul makes it harder to reinstate the old Iraq.

Kurdistan has to be match fit for any possibility including independence and escape the sovietesque legacy of the old Iraq. The state employs most people, which suffocates the private sector and also undermines citizenship because, as one senior party official told me, “people who are employed by the state have to listen to the state.”

The rentier economy is almost wholly dependent on energy although the Kurdistan parliament has just passed a law allowing the KRG to borrow on international markets and is establishing a sovereign wealth fund for when energy revenues dry up. A mineral extraction law is also before Parliament and minerals could become a major money-spinner. Once the bread basket of Iraq, Kurdistan could achieve food self-sufficiency and export surplus wheat, apples and pomegranates.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:41 pm

[ISL] “Reward increased to $500,000 in potato tampering investigation in P.E.I.”

The Canadian Press reports on the latest in a criminal investigation on Prince Edward Island.

Prince Edward Island’s potato industry has increased the reward it is offering to $500,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whomever is responsible for inserting metal objects into potatoes.

The new reward is available until Aug. 15, and tips received from Aug. 16 to Oct. 31 will be eligible for the previous reward amount of $100,000.

The federal government recently announced it will spend $1.5 million to buy metal detection equipment to help find foreign objects in potatoes from the province.

The funding will be used to purchase and install detection equipment, while an extra $500,000 from the province is being used for on-site security assessments and training.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:39 pm

[LINK] On how Canadian television may break through in Ukraine

At the National Post, the Canadian Press’ Murray Brewster writes about how Canadian content may make it onto Ukrainian television.

The Littlest Hobo, Anne of Green Gables, maybe even Flashpoint could find a new lease on life in Ukraine as the country’s broadcasting council scrambles to fill TV screens with something other than Russian programming, says a senior Ukrainian official.

To counter — both real and perceived — propaganda throughout the war-torn country, President Petro Poroshenko’s government pulled the plug on the Russian signals, leaving a dramatic hole in entertainment and information schedules, said Iurii Artemenko.

The country needs both hardware to improve its own radio and television signals and replacement programming.

“We try to find something,” Artemenko said in an interview with The Canadian Press. He recently returned from a trip to South Korea, where he was pleading for content.

“We need high-quality content, shows, dramas, movies, cultural programs,” he said at the same time as expressing his fondness for Quebec cinema.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:35 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Blood & Fog: The Military’s Germ Warfare Tests in San Francisco”

At Discover‘s Body Horrors, Rebecca Kreston notes how the American military tested biological weapons in 1951.

The Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947 following the appalling revelations of human experimentation committed in Nazi concentration camps. The overarching goal of the Code was to establish a set of rules for the ethical conduct of research using human subjects, guaranteeing that the rights and welfare of such participants would be protected. Two important principles guide and define this Code: the concept of voluntary, informed consent and that no experiment shall be conducted in which “there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.”

Just four short years later, the government of the United States would violate the Code as it undertook one of the largest human experiments in history, spraying the city of San Francisco with a microbe, Serratia marcescens, in a simulated germ warfare attack.

The genus Serratia are a group of soil and water-dwelling microbes with one very neat party trick: the manufacture of a red pigment known as “prodigiosin,” derived from the Latin prodigiosus for its marvelous and seemingly supernatural coloring; this color ranges from a lurid vermillion to a washed-out pink depending upon the microbe’s age. This unique property has been regularly exploited in microbiology as a biological marker, tracking metabolic behavior and transmission of bacteria in various environments. For this reason, the microbe is an ideal tool for such work, a showy microbe that naturally flies a very noticeable red flag.

The origins of Serratia are, despite the microbe’s technical laboratory applications, often quite prosaic. The bacteria thrives in wet environments and may be seen forming pink streaks on the insides of shower curtains and along toilet bowls in the homes (surely not mine or yours) of the sanitationally challenged.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:33 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto’s connection to U.S. Supreme Court’s same sex marriage ruling”

Spacing Toronto’s John Lorinc notes how gay marriage in Toronto paved the way for same-sex marriage’s breakthroughs in the United States.

There’s a strange but compellingly human irony in that fact that last week’s momentous same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court can be traced back to a relationship between two Ontario women who had lived together for almost a decade in a relationship that subsequently fell apart.

Their private acrimony triggered a court battle that set the legal stage for the City of Toronto’s move to start issuing marriage licenses in 2003 to same sex couples — among them, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a long-time lesbian couple from New York who toppled the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the key precursor to this latest, and hopefully last, decision to guarantee same sex rights in all fifty states.

“M and H,” as those two women are referred to in court documents, met in the early 1980s, started a relationship, moved in together in a house H had owned since 1974, and established a small advertising firm. The business started to go sour, money became an issue, and M eventually walked out. She sued, demanding that the house be sold, and the proceeds divided.

At the time, courts and politicians were grappling with the question of same-sex benefits – i.e., do employee health plans or other benefits apply to same-sex couples in the same way they do with straight partners? But in the case of the break-up of M and H, the issue came to focus on the ragged end of a relationship, not its day-to-day finances. If straight couples, either formally married or in common-law relationships, have to divide up their assets when love dies, does it not follow that the same rules should also apply to same-sex couples?

On May 20, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld an Ontario court ruling, which had struck down a crucial definition in the province’s Family Law Act. Section 29 of that law defined married or common law relationships as being between a “man and a woman.” That specific language, the Supremes ruled, “is declared of no force and effect.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:31 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the reheated gas giant orbiting white dwarf WD 0806-661.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the poor state of the oceans in the Permian.
  • Geocurrents maps the right-wing nationalist note in the 2015 Turkish election.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the rapid and thorough success of the gay rights movement.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw considers the Greek crisis with reflections on Australia.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog maps population losses in Ukraine over 1939-1948.
  • Torontoist features a journalistic piece looking at a day in the life of a firefighter.
  • Towleroad notes that Christian protesters in South Korea were unable to shut down pride there.
  • Understanding Society considers quantum physics’ effects on the mind.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy announces a legal history panel at next year’s medieval conference at Kalamazoo.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi celebrates same-sex marriage in the United States.
  • Window on Eurasia argues Ukraine should continue to resist and finds risible Russia’s nullification of the 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine.