Ruminations

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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remembering the Helpless Victims

"Our monument is not anti-Japanese government; it is pro-comfort women. We want to be very clear that it was the Imperial Japanese armed forces and not the government that, according to our historical research, committed these acts."
Kathleen Donovan, Bergen County, New Jersey official

Ms. Donovan, who has indeed conducted her own research, travelling to South Korea to meet with elderly survivors of forced Japanese bordellos to validate the accountings of local Korean-Americans, is too generous by far. For the Imperial Japanese forces were performing their duties on behalf of the Japanese government of the era. It was that government, during World War II, that engaged in terrorizing its neighbours.

The establishment of Comfort Women, forcing Korean and Chinese women to give sexual services to Japanese troops was just another atrocity committed by the Japanese against those whom they considered their inferiors, whom they oppressed and brutalized. Pride and loss of face is integral to Eastern cultures, and the Japanese prefer to be oblivious to their own history than to admit they behaved in such atrocious ways.

"It was quite an amazing experience to sit with them and have tea. These are women who lived through that horrible experience and wanted the world to know", said Ms. Donovan of her visit last year to Danjin, South Korea. The issue of the Comfort Women is an important one for Bergen Country. For there its population of Korean-Americans has quadrupled since 1990. Close to 8% of its population of 900,000 are of Korean descent.

And the local Korean-American community leader, Chejin Park, noticing that plaques were placed at the country courthouse commemorating the scourge of slavery, the unspeakable horrors of the  Holocaust and other dreadful events in history, thought that a tribute to the women of China and mostly Korea who had been forced into the shameful violence of repeated gang rape under the rubric of 'Comfort Women', might be a suitable memorial.

The county authorities agreed. And then were taken aback when a delegation of Japanese consular officials came along to make surprising offers; to donate books to the library, to plant Japanese cherry blossom trees, to engage in popular events for the purpose of "promoting U.S.-Japan relations". Of course, relations between the United States and Japan are alive and well, and always have been, post-war.

"In the meantime" recalled Mayor James Rotundo, the visiting officials which by then also included a delegations of members of Japan's parliament, informed him "It would be nice if you'd take the monument down".  It will remain. "These memorials are simply stating the fact that it happened, and Japan is arguing that it didn't happen. We just see the issue as a human rights issue. We see comfort women survivors screaming for justice", remarked Mr. Park.

And now, a similar memorial has been built in Los Angeles, with plans underway to build others as well in San Francisco, Georgia, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts.

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A Sparkling Imposter

Hubble picture of the star cluster NGC 411
Hubble photo of the odd but beautiful star cluster NGC 411. Click to embiggen.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

I love star clusters. They’re crucial to our understanding of the way stars form, live, and die—stars change as they age, making it hard to compare one to another if they are vastly different ages. But the stars in a cluster are all born at the same time, so that makes it a lot easier to understand their behavior. It’s like having them in a lab for study.
 
There are two kinds of clusters: globular clusters (old, roughly spherical, and densely packed), and open clusters (younger, shapeless, and with stars scattered throughout). I’ve seen both kinds many, many times in photos as well as with my own eyes; they’re a favorite target of mine when I’m using a small telescope.

Which is why this Hubble picture of NGC 411 really threw me for a moment. What kind of cluster is it?

I thought it was a globular for a moment. The shape is about right, if a little diffuse. But then I noticed all the blue stars. This image is a combination of ultraviolet (shown as blue), visible light (green), and infrared (red). All the globular clusters we know are old, as old as the galaxy itself, about 10-12 billion years. Blue stars are hot, massive, and young: They explode as supernovae after only a few million years. Globular clusters had lots of blue stars when they were young, eons ago, but those stars are long gone. All that remains are yellow, orange, and red stars (though there are exceptions).
The globular star cluster 47 Tucanae
The globular cluster 47 Tuc is a fantastic example of these old, dense beehives of stars. Click to apiarenate.
Image credit: ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey

NGC 411 has far too many blue stars to be a globular. So it’s an open cluster. In fact, its age can be determined by looking at the colors of the stars in it—bluer stars are more massive and blow up sooner, so by looking at the bluest stars in it, an upper limit to the age can be found. In practice it’s way harder than this, but studies show NGC 411 is about 1.5 billion years old. That’s far too young to be a globular, though fairly old for an open cluster.

Then I got my second surprise: NGC 411 isn’t even in our galaxy. It’s in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf companion galaxy to the Milky Way. That puts it at a distance of about 200,000 light years, far, far more distant than the clusters I peruse with my own ‘scope.

And there’s one more thing to notice. In the higher-resolution images (here’s the 3700 x 2750 pixel version) you can see several small galaxies dotting the sky in the background. Those galaxies are probably hundreds of millions or even billion of light years distant, thousands of times farther away than NGC 411. So think about that: In this picture you can see right through the cluster of stars, and right through its parent galaxy into truly deep space. You’re seeing those galaxies as they were before dinosaurs walked the Earth, some even before life arose out of our planet’s oceans.

Some objects like NGC 411 might be good at being deceptive about their ages, but whole galaxies? Not so much. The Universe has been around a long, long time. But I have to say: It looks pretty good for its age.

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Finally, a Website That Shows You Every Cat Video Posted on Vine

Vine cats
Aww.

Screenshot / Vinecats.com


I don't know what the Internet has been doing for the past seven days, but in a nigh-inexplicable lapse, it took from last Thursday all the way to today for someone to launch a website dedicated solely to pulling in all of the cat videos posted by users of Twitter's new video app, Vine.

Credit goes to photographer and designer Andrew Emond for making Vinecats.com a reality at long last. In an email to me, he was humble about the achievement, noting that he just created the site "for a bit of a laugh." But as everyone knows, "a bit of a laugh" is in fact the Internet's highest and noblest purpose, and cat videos its purest expression.

The site comes with a disclaimer alerting visitors that the cat videos are pulled in from Vine automatically in real-time, which means pretty much anything could show up there, up to and including the Internet's other all-consuming obsession. So be warned: "We take no responsibility for non-cat imagery or videos that are less than purr-fect.

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Rape squads of Tahrir Square: Marauding 'state-backed gangs' are still terrorising female protesters two years after revolution

  • Reports of 19 group sexual assaults logged on Friday in Tahrir Square
  • Claims that attacks are state-backed to deter women from protesting
  • Egypt's head of army warns the country is facing collapse
By Sean O'hare
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Sex attacks on female protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square are premeditated and state-backed, claims an organisation that rescues sexually assaulted female activists.
Last Friday marked the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution and the highest number of sexual crimes against women in Tahrir Square to date.

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSh), set up to rescue victims from the Square received 19 reports of group sexual assaults, six of which resulted in hospitalisation, while the worst case involved the mutilation of a woman's genitalia with a knife.
Tahir Square
Demonstrators against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi help a female protester. 19 separate sexual assaults were recorded last Friday in Tahir Square

OpAntiSh is convinced that the attacks are orchestrated by the state in an attempt to deter women from protesting against perceived failures by the Muslim Brotherhood to deliver on its revolutionary promises. 

'We have no concrete evidence, only testimonies from victims, but we know it is a tactic. 

'They are an attempt to ruin the image of Tahrir square and demonstrators in general.'

'They happen most of the time in the same places and at the same times, using the same methods.
 
'It is a disease in this country and encouraged and played on by the state to exclude women from public life and punish them for participating in political activism and demonstrations.

'We also recognise that any organised attack depends on the widespread and chronic harassment of women that exists on Egyptian streets, a problem which deserves equal attention and treatment.'

The spokesman added the testimonies recorded were similar to the accounts of attacks on female activists in 2005, believed to be instigated by the secret police and referred to as 'Black Wednesday.'

It comes as Egypt's army chief today warned that political strife was pushing the country to the brink of collapse.
Tahir Square
The state is accused of encouraging sexual assaults on women in a bid to stop them from protesting in Tahir Square (pictured) 

It's a stark warning from the institution that ran the country until last year as Cairo's first freely elected leader President Mohamed Mursi  struggles to contain bloody street violence.

Since Thursday of last week hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in protest against the President, the Muslim Brotherhood and the failure to deliver on pre-revolutionary promises.

'Nothing has changed since the revolution,' a spokesperson for OpAntiSh said.
'We protest for a reform of the Ministry of Interior and the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of demonstrators. 

'The reality is that Interior ministers still hold the same positions, in fact many have been promoted and had their salaries improved.'

OpAntiSh was set up in November 2012, the same month a woman was raped near to Tahir Square.

The organisation is made up of approximately 100 men and women who distribute flyers within Tahir Square, alerting people to their existence as an emergency rescue service for victims of sexual assault.

A female protester
A female protester opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi holds a stone during clashes, along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square in Cairo

Whenever their hotline number is called they descend on the Square and, with the help of the ambulance service, do their best to intervene and pull women from the middle of attacks that range in size from 15 men up to 500.

The privately-financed group takes victims to hospital and can provide legal aid, safe houses and psychological help if necessary.

The group, which has a Facebook page, also aims to prevent attacks by actively monitoring the square and intervening quickly in the early stages of mob formation.
'Our work is an integral part of this revolution and we want to force change,' said the spokesperson.

'Part of this revolution is about forcing changes for women, to ensure they are no longer looked upon as second-class citizens.'

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault's Facebook page
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault's Facebook page that has 2,500 followers. Its volunteers respond to calls to its hotline number and descend on Tahir Square to rescue assault victims

Drawing parallels with the December gang-rape attack on a 23-year-old student in Delhi, India, the spokesperson said: 'At least in India the country has reacted to the attack with outrage and protest. Here people are too afraid to discuss such things, as if it is the woman's shame.'

The outbreak of widespread protests highlight the mounting sense of crisis facing the Islamist head of state who is struggling to fix a teetering economy and needs to prepare Egypt for a parliamentary election in a few months that is meant to cement the new democracy.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi
Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said political strife was pushing state to brink of collapse

Protesters have spurned a call by Mursi for talks to try to end the violence. Instead, protesters have rallied in Cairo and Alexandria, and in the three Suez Canal cities - Port Said, Ismailia and Suez - where Mursi imposed emergency rule.

Today, thousands were again on the streets of Port Said to mourn the deaths of two people in the latest clashes there, taking the total toll in Mediterranean port alone to 42 people. Most were killed by gunshots in a city where weapons are rife.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed last year to head the military, added in a statement on Tuesday that one of the primary goals of deploying troops in cities on the Suez Canal was to protect the waterway that is vital for Egypt's economy and world trade.

Since the 2011 revolt, Islamists who Mubarak spent his 30-year rule suppressing have won two referendums, two parliamentary elections and a presidential vote. 
But that legitimacy has been challenged by an opposition that accuses Mursi of imposing a new form of authoritarianism. Mursi's supporters says protesters want to overthrow Egypt's first ever democratically elected leader by undemocratic means.

The instability has provoked unease in Western capitals, where officials worry about the direction of a powerful regional player that has a peace deal with Israel. The United States condemned the bloodshed and called on Egyptian leaders to make clear violence was not acceptable.

Egyptian protesters
Egyptian protesters defied the curfew in restive towns along the Suez Canal, attacking police stations and ignoring emergency rule imposed by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to end days of clashes that have killed at least 52 people

'THEY RAPED ME WITH THEIR HANDS': REPORTER LARA LOGAN AFTER HER MOB SEX ATTACK IN TAHIR SQUARE WHILE COVERING THE ARAB SPRING

Lara Logan
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan in Tahrir Square shortly before she was assaulted


The 39-year-old CBS foreign correspondent said she was convinced she was going to die when the frenzied mob tore her away from her film crew and bodyguard in Cairo's Tahrir Square in February 2011.

A group of at least 200 men beat her, pinched her and tore at her clothes in a 40-minute attack that only ended when a group of women came to her aid.

She told the New York Times: 'For an extended period of time, they raped me with their hands...What really struck me was how merciless they were. 

'They really enjoyed my pain and suffering. It incited them to more violence.'
She was attacked on February 11, on her first day back in the city - and the day Hosni Mubarak's government finally fell.

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#Boobs4Bieber is the worst Justin Bieber-and-boobs-related thing on the Internet this week

National Post Staff | Jan 31, 2013 1:08 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 31, 2013 2:13 PM ET
More from National Post Staff
Underage Justin Bieber fans are being pranked into posing topless on Twitter.
Ben Rose/Getty Images    Underage Justin Bieber fans are being pranked into posing topless on Twitter.
 
Canadian singing sensation Justin Bieber has made headlines twice this week (here, at least) for groping/maybe not groping teenage fan Jocelyn’s right breast at a Miami meet-and-greet. But those foibles were very innocent indeed compared to 4chan’s latest prank, the hashtag #Boobs4Bieber, which encourages Bieber fans to expose their breasts on Twitter … er, for Bieber.

The prank originated on 4chan’s notorious /b/ message board, with users doctoring images of underage girls to make them appear topless then tweeting them out in an attempt to get other Bieber fans to send out similar photos of themselves — or, more specifically, underage Bieber fans, who seem to be 4chan’s specific target, according to screengrabs posted on the Daily Dot.

Horrifying though the prank’s origins — and intent – may be, it has thankfully failed to pick up, with /b/ users lamenting its failure and encouraging users to create fake Twitter accounts to get the tag trending. But it hasn’t been without its successes — a search of the tag on Twitter does uncover several topless images, though it’s impossible to know how many of those are dummy accounts created by 4chan. It’s also impossible to know how many are actual images of underage girls, so in the interest of good taste (not to mention legality), we — like Wired, who has also reported the prank — won’t be linking out to them here.

Some Twitter users are suggesting that Bieber will be donating money to breast cancer research for every topless photo posted, which could be 4chan users desperately trying to get the prank to go viral.
4chan played a similar and no less nefarious prank on Bieber fans earlier this month, using the hashtag #Cutting4Bieber to convince fans of the pop star to commit acts of self-harm to convince the Boyfriend singer to stop smoking marijuana. Previously, the site had pushed #Bald4Bieber, which encouraged fans to shave their heads following a fake report that Bieber had cancer. 4chan users are pointing to these previous two pranks as a possible reason why the #Boobs4Bieber tag hasn’t taken off — it was easy to spot as a phony.

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‘Accident waiting to happen’: Derelict Russian cruise ship drifts dangerously close to Newfoundland oil platforms

Canadian Press | Jan 30, 2013 8:59 PM ET
More from Canadian Press
The Lyubov Orlova is anchored in Pangnirtung Fjord, Nunavut in 2007. There are growing safety and environmental concerns as the empty former cruise ship drifts toward the open sea off Newfoundland.
Hugo Miller/Bloomberg News   The Lyubov Orlova is anchored in Pangnirtung Fjord, Nunavut in 2007. There are growing safety and environmental concerns as the empty former cruise ship drifts toward the open sea off Newfoundland.
 
A derelict, rat-infested Russian cruise ship continued to keep Newfoundland oil platforms on edge Wednesday as it bobbed perilously around the storm-battered Atlantic — and questions mounted about why a rundown tugboat was allowed to haul it out of St. John’s harbour in the middle of winter.

The Lyubov Orlova, a 237-passenger vessel about 100 metres in length, has been adrift since its tow line snapped in rough weather last week as it was being taken to the Dominican Republic for scrap.
Transport Canada says it ordered the tugboat Charlene Hunt back to St. John’s over safety concerns and was inspecting it.

Department spokesman Steve Bone said Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Natural Resources Department and the Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board were working together on the Lyubov Orlova.
Paul Daly / The Canadian Press
Paul Daly / The Canadian Press   The tugboat Charlene Hunt is docked in St. John's harbour on Tuesday.
 
As of Wednesday night, the vessel was reported to be 170 nautical miles east of St. John’s and was being tracked by a coast guard satellite beacon.

Offshore oil operators about 315 kilometres east of St. John’s were keeping watch as the derelict vessel floated within about 40 km of the Hibernia oilfield.

Margot Bruce-O’Connell, a spokeswoman for Hibernia Management & Development Co., says they are continuing to monitor the vessel but it’s not expected to get too close.

In an email, Mr. Bone said operators of offshore oil rigs in the area have implemented contingency plans to deal with potential collisions from floating objects, such as icebergs and vessels that have lost power. He did not elaborate on what actions those plans include.

The Lyubov Orlova was named for a beloved Russian actress best known for the 1934 comedy Jolly Fellows.

It was a popular Arctic cruise ship before Canadian authorities seized it in St. John’s in September 2010 as part of a lawsuit by Cruise North Expeditions against its Russian owners. The company was trying to recoup the cost of a trip that was cancelled because of technical problems.
It’ll be interesting to know whose responsibility it is to clean it up
The ship’s mostly Russian crew members, who hadn’t been paid for months, were stranded in the city for six weeks. Residents offered everything from food to cigarettes to Internet access before the Russian government eventually helped fly most of them home.

The increasingly derelict, listing ship sat in the harbour for more than two years. It was bought last year by Iranian scrap merchant Hussein Humayuni for $275,000 in a federal court process in Montreal.

St. John’s Port Authority confirmed Mr. Humayuni hired the Charlene Hunt to tow his ship to a scrapyard in the Dominican Republic. He was in the capital Santo Domingo Tuesday but could not be reached.

The long journey started last Wednesday, but was halted the next day when the tug cable snapped. After efforts to reattach it failed, Transport Canada ordered the Charlene Hunt back to St. John’s Sunday.

It is not clear if it will return to try again.

Mac Mackay, a longtime ship watcher and marine blogger in Halifax, questions why the Charlene Hunt was given the job of pulling the Lyubov Orlova, especially in January’s turbulent seas.
He cites another major incident 17 months ago off Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia government / The Canadian Press
Nova Scotia government / The Canadian PressThe MV Miner ran aground off Scatarie Island, a provincially designated wilderness management area, on Sept. 20., 2011.
 
The MV Miner ran aground on Scaterie Island, near Cape Breton, on Sept. 20, 2011, while being towed to a scrapyard in Turkey. Federal and provincial officials continue to squabble over who should pay for the cleanup.

“If the Lyubov Orlova does pile up on the shore, it’ll be interesting to know whose responsibility it is to clean it up,” Mr. Mackay said.

“If it sinks in the ocean … there’s bound to be some pollution. It really is a drifting accident waiting to happen.”

Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice-president of U.S. campaigns for Oceana, called for quick action by Canada if the ship’s owner won’t step up.

Besides the risk of collision if the vessel drifts into shipping lanes, there’s significant environmental risk if it sinks, she said.

“This ship probably still contains lots of toxic chemicals, electronics, oil probably,” said Ms. Savit, whose organization is billed as the largest international group focused solely on ocean conservation.
“Those are all things we want to keep out of the ocean.”

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Witless Idiocy

What else could it be attributed to? The idea that the winning formula to capture peoples' attention is simple enough; confront them with a genuine celebrity, someone who is young, lively and outspoken, often seen on television and who espouses a cause. That this individual uses her public persona as a goad to influence people toward her untutored take on medical science, causing misinformation to guide both herself and those she influences, seems to be no impediment to using her public fame to raise funds for legitimate scientific-medical interventions.

That being said, what else can describe the decision to invite Jenny McCarthy - actor, television personality, model, author of books on topics fundamental to the manner in which people make decisions regarding their family lives - as the lead draw and headliner presentation of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation for its Bust a Move for Breast Health fundraiser to take place on March 3? She appears as a guest fitness instructor.

And it was the chair of the event, Bernice Rachkowski, who defended the decision to have Ms. McCarthy appear as the featured headliner, to inspire young women to look after themselves and their bodies as a role model, because ... "We chose her because she's funny, she's very much a people person, she's vivacious and full of life. That's what we look for in a celebrity". In other words the event is geared to the intellectual level of those whose inspiration for life's values appeals to the shallow.

Having attained status as a Playboy playmate, a grade B actor in occasional films, but notoriety as someone who has gained credentials as a health-conspiracy-theorist, Ms. McCarthy is qualified to appear as an inspiration to young women. The event to be held at the Ottawa Athletic Club will feature other guest appearances, featuring kick-boxing, fitness dance, yoga classes and urban-dance routines but hers is held to be the number one draw. What a message of incompetent selection of role model the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation has decided upon.

Her anti-vaccination views have resulted in their deleterious effect impacting on the necessity to vaccinate children against medical scourges, causing scientists to label her a menace. Yet even with this reputation, she was the elite choice of the scintillating brains of the fundraising committee.  A woman whose blame of biomedical treatments for causing autism in children - a charge that has been discredited by research and the experts in communicable diseases - viewed as appropriate to aid in fundraising for breast cancer.



When a valuable cause for human health is matched with an exponent of health-denial as a valid spokesperson, something is badly awry. Popular social values coming head-to-head with recognition that those who make an effort to delay and to defeat enterprises meant to further public health advances are in direct conflict. Ms. Rachkowsky feels people who attend the event will look upon Ms. McCarthy's participation as a celebrity, not as someone with controversial views on the connection she insists links vaccination with autism onset.

Can they be separated?  Hardly. "She also appeals to our target demographic because we want to engage younger women in being aware of breast cancer, how to prevent it and to be aware of all the help that is available if they, their aunt or mom are going through it", claims the event's fundraising head. How can this spokesperson for the event to raise awareness legitimately count on the message getting through when the larger message is that someone whose views conflicts with medical science is delivering the medical message?
"It's disappointing that someone who peddles in pseudo science and has had such a negative impact on the health and well-bring of so many children would ever be invited to participate in any type of legitimate health care program. It, unfortunately, could be viewed as a sign of legitimacy of her dangerous, damaging and totally inaccurate pronouncements regarding the importance of vaccines. Her actions have potentially caused innocent children to be unprotected from potentially life-threatening illnesses. That is inexcusable and should never be given a public forum."
Dr. Gary Freed, professor of pediatrics, University of Michigan, former chair National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the United States

However, according to the brilliant vision of the public relations and fundraising group at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, this menace to children's health outcomes, must be viewed for her talent in drawing attention to herself however misguided and harmful, and obviously rewarded.

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The Cold, Dusty Arms of Andromeda

I know I just posted an image of a nearby spiral galaxy that combines optical and infrared light. But by coincidence another picture just came out, and it shows the far more famous Andromeda Galaxy, and it’s a jaw-dropper:

Herschel's far-infrared view of the magnificent Andromeda Galaxy
The Herschel Observatory's far-infrared view of the magnificent spiral Andromeda Galaxy. Click to enchainedmaidenate.
Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz

Yegads. And yeah, you want to see this in all its full-res glory. This was taken by the European Herschel observatory, which sees in the far-infrared. Like, really far: What’s shown here as blue is actually IR light with a wavelength of 70 microns, a hundred times the reddest light our eyes can see; green is 100 microns, and red is a combination of 160 and 250 microns. The wavelength of light an object emits corresponds to its temperature, so the material you see as red in this image is at a frigid -261°C (-439F). The warmest material you see in the picture is at -232°C (-385°F). To give you an idea of how cold that is, at that temperature the oxygen in our air would be frozen as hard as rock.


Andromeda is a spiral galaxy much like our own Milky Way, though physically bigger. It’s also the closest spiral to us, so it’s intensely studied. Unfortunately, it’s tilted with respect to us by only about 13°, so it’s nearly edge-on. That makes it hard to study, because a lot of the material in the front of the galaxy blocks what’s behind it.

Side by side view of an optical and IR view of Andromeda
Visible light (left) and combined visible+infrared (right) views of Andromeda.
Image credit: Infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/J. Fritz, U. Gent; Optical: R. Gendler

But that’s when you look with an optical telescope. What astronomers call dust is made of lots of different molecules, and is opaque to the light we see. But that cold dust glows in the infrared, so using Herschel allows us to see all of it. Most of the dust, as expected, follows the spiral pattern of the galaxy. Since dust is created when stars are born and when they die—and this happens in the spiral arms for the most part—that’s where the dust is too.

But also revealed in this image is a large ring of dust (the brightest ring in the image) about 75,000 light years in radius. That may have been formed when Andromeda collided and merged with a smaller galaxy; Andromeda stripped that ill-fated galaxy of its dust, which settled into that ring shape. There are several rings of dust in the picture, so if the merger idea is correct it means Andromeda has been pretty hungry over the past few hundred million years.

Closeup of the core of Andromeda
Close-up of the core of the Andormeda Galaxy in far-infrared light.
Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz
A far-infrared image of Andromeda by Herschel was released a couple of years ago, but this one has higher-resolution, and also includes the warmer dust (shown in blue and green) in the galaxy’s heart. As you can see, this dust still traces the spiral pattern, all the way down to the very core of the galaxy. Things get a little messy, though, with the pattern getting a bit chaotic. That’s not too surprising: Hubble observations show that the very center of Andromeda has a lot going on; there was a burst of star formation a couple of hundred million years ago, and there are packs of stars circling the core. Also, every big galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its very center, and Andromeda is no exception: The monster there has a mass at least 30 million times that of our Sun, and may be as much as 100 million times as massive. That’s at least ten times the mass of the corresponding black hole in the center of the Milky Way.

The Andromeda Galaxy is about 2.5 million light years away, but so huge that it’s visible to the naked eye (as I write this, in January, it’s in the southwest just after sunset for Northern Hemisphere observers), though binoculars are probably needed in even mildly light-polluted skies. I have seen this galaxy myself literally hundreds of times through all manners of optical instruments, so images like this really appeal to me; I love seeing something old as if it’s new again.

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Oceans: Blue heart of the planet 

BBC online: Science
Earth is a blue planet.
Almost three quarters of the earth’s surface is covered in water and around 90% of all the living space on Earth is contained in the oceans.

These vast reserves cradled early life and continue to be home to a wealth of extraordinary creatures. At least 230,000 unique species have been documented, although as humans have only explored a small fraction of the depths, there may be as many as two million.

As well as being home to everything from whelks to whale sharks, the oceans offer a range of critical services, including acting as a source of food and regulating the atmosphere.

In particular, the oceans are also vital as sponges for green house gases, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through two processes - dissolving straight into the water column and also through photosynthesis by phytoplankton.

Today, the oceans soak up around one third of all of human carbon emissions

But this comes at a terrible cost. The composition of the oceans is changing to become more acidic, threatening the tremendous diversity  of creatures that call them home.

In this film, veteran wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, sustainability advisor and author Tony Juniper, British Antarctic Survey scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh and ecological economist Dr Trista Patterson reveal not only the huge diversity of life in the ocean but also the great contribution they make to cleaning our atmosphere.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 Deadly Pyrotechnics

"A problem in Brazil is that there is no control of how many people are admitted in a building. They never are clearly stated, and nobody controls how many people enter these night clubs."
Joao Daniel Nunes, civil engineer, Porto Alegre
In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, people gather outside the Kiss nightclub as firefighters respond to a fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Deivid Dutra, Agencia Brasil)
In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, people gather outside the Kiss nightclub as firefighters respond to a fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Deivid Dutra, Agencia Brasil)
The mayor of the city where the Kiss nightclub fire took 231 young lives informed Radio Gaucha that he, Jose Fortunati, knew of dozens of night spots that had been closed in the last year alone for their failure to meet norms. "At that time, we had lots of protest from those who frequented them, but I think that today people understand it better and that at times hard stands must be taken so that steps are taken to not put people's lives at risk."

Boastfully claiming that as mayor he has seen to it that clubs failing to respect safety and security guidelines are closed down, despite protests from those who frequent them, does not quite jive with the dreadful occurrence of a fire consuming a nightclub that had a single entrance and exit, no working fire extinguishers, no ceiling-mounted extinguishers nor fire alarms. Clearly, due diligence with regular inspections do not take place.

It has been reported that the establishment was not even in possession of a legal license to sell alcohol. Yet the sale of alcohol spells the financial success of the business. And the sale of alcohol among the two thousand young people - university students from the university town that Santa Maria represents - was responsible for personnel employed at the nightclub forcefully detaining young people desperate to escape the inferno, for not having paid their bar bills.

Why would it, to begin with, be legal for a band to use pyrotechnics within a confined area? Why was it possible that two thousand young people were crammed into this night spot? It is a proven formula for disaster. Other similar venues in other countries of the world have experienced their own tragic losses brought about by the use of fireworks to enliven live band performances, creating tragedies in the process.

Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior reported the arrest of four persons of interest one of whom the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hors has identified as Elissandro Sphor, a co-owner of the club, along with another co-owner. One of whom verified that the club's operating license had not been legally renewed.

There are over one hundred people still in hospital being treated for smoke inhalation, some of them in critical condition. The death toll, warns the national health minister, may yet rise dramatically, since 75 of those injured were in such critical condition they may not recover.

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Roma Holocaust survivor and artist Ceija Stojka dies

BBC News online - 29 January 2013
Roma artist and author Ceija Stojka with one of her paintings (image courtesy photographer Theresa Kennedy, from the Forget Us Not documentary, producer Heather E Connell) Ceija Stojka with one of her paintings (courtesy of Forget Us Not documentary, produced by Heather E Connell)
Ceija Stojka, a Roma (Gypsy) Holocaust survivor, writer and self-taught artist, has died aged 79.
Through her writing and artwork, Stojka raised international awareness of the plight of Roma people under the Nazis.

Hundreds of thousands of Roma were rounded up and killed during World War II.

Then just a young girl, Stojka was interned in multiple concentration camps and only five members of her extended family of over 200 survived.

"I have survived on paper and pieces of leather when I was hungry," she later told one interviewer.
"I remember Auschwitz every waking moment of my life."

The Budapest-based European Roma Cultural Foundation described Stojka as an "outstanding Austrian Romani woman... and a key figure for the history, art and literature of Romani culture in Europe", reported Reuters news agency.

Ceija Stojka - pronounced "Chaya Stoyka" - was a Roma from the Lovari tribe, born in Austria in 1933 - the year Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

Her family lived as horse-traders, travelling through Austria before World War II, when they were deported to Nazi concentration camps, along with other Roma, Jews, Poles, homosexuals and political opponents of the Nazis.

Her father and brother were killed in Auschwitz, while she survived with her mother and four remaining siblings.

Only 12 when she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, she bore the identification number from the concentration camp, tattooed on her arm in blue ink, for the rest of her life.

She returned to Austria with a brother and sister, and lived for many years selling carpets, before taking up painting at the age of 56 - reportedly often using her fingers or toothpicks as her painting implements.

Most of her work depicts the death camps, but there are also idyllic pictures of family life, in their painted wagon before the Holocaust, says the BBC's Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe.
Her 1988 autobiography, We Live in Seclusion, and a film made about her, drew international attention to the plight of the Roma in the past and present, our correspondent adds.

She will feature heavily in a film documentary, Forget Us Not, set for release later this year, which follows the stories of some of the five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
"I reached for the pen because I had to open myself, to scream," the activist said at an exhibition in Vienna's Jewish Museum in 2004.

Europe's Roma population of up to 12 million still faces widespread discrimination today, rights groups say.

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Roma Holocaust survivor and artist Ceija Stojka dies

BBC News online - 29 January 2013
Roma artist and author Ceija Stojka with one of her paintings (image courtesy photographer Theresa Kennedy, from the Forget Us Not documentary, producer Heather E Connell) Ceija Stojka with one of her paintings (courtesy of Forget Us Not documentary, produced by Heather E Connell)
Ceija Stojka, a Roma (Gypsy) Holocaust survivor, writer and self-taught artist, has died aged 79.
Through her writing and artwork, Stojka raised international awareness of the plight of Roma people under the Nazis.

Hundreds of thousands of Roma were rounded up and killed during World War II.

Then just a young girl, Stojka was interned in multiple concentration camps and only five members of her extended family of over 200 survived.

"I have survived on paper and pieces of leather when I was hungry," she later told one interviewer.
"I remember Auschwitz every waking moment of my life."

The Budapest-based European Roma Cultural Foundation described Stojka as an "outstanding Austrian Romani woman... and a key figure for the history, art and literature of Romani culture in Europe", reported Reuters news agency.

Ceija Stojka - pronounced "Chaya Stoyka" - was a Roma from the Lovari tribe, born in Austria in 1933 - the year Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

Her family lived as horse-traders, travelling through Austria before World War II, when they were deported to Nazi concentration camps, along with other Roma, Jews, Poles, homosexuals and political opponents of the Nazis.

Her father and brother were killed in Auschwitz, while she survived with her mother and four remaining siblings.

Only 12 when she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, she bore the identification number from the concentration camp, tattooed on her arm in blue ink, for the rest of her life.

She returned to Austria with a brother and sister, and lived for many years selling carpets, before taking up painting at the age of 56 - reportedly often using her fingers or toothpicks as her painting implements.

Most of her work depicts the death camps, but there are also idyllic pictures of family life, in their painted wagon before the Holocaust, says the BBC's Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe.
Her 1988 autobiography, We Live in Seclusion, and a film made about her, drew international attention to the plight of the Roma in the past and present, our correspondent adds.

She will feature heavily in a film documentary, Forget Us Not, set for release later this year, which follows the stories of some of the five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
"I reached for the pen because I had to open myself, to scream," the activist said at an exhibition in Vienna's Jewish Museum in 2004.

Europe's Roma population of up to 12 million still faces widespread discrimination today, rights groups say.

Related Stories

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Hot Stars Blow a Superbubble

Some stars are more carefree than others. How else would you explain a bunch of them getting together and blowing a superbubble?

Hot stars blow a superbubble
Gamma rays made the Hulk a superhero, but X-rays are coming from this superbubble. Click to enroentgenate.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/A.E.Jaskot, Optical: NOAO/CTIO/MCELS


This is combination of an X-ray image from the Chandra X-Ray observatory and an optical image from the University of Michigan (my alma mater!) 0.9 meter telescope in Chile. What you’re seeing is N186 (also called DEM L50), a nebula about 160,000 light years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to our Milky Way. N186 is several hundred light years across, so it’s pretty big.

Inside N186 are lots and lots of young stars. They probably formed only a few million years ago, which sounds like a lot until you remember our own Sun is middle aged at 4.5 billion years old. So these guys in N186 are whippersnappers.

A lot of those stars are probably like the Sun, with many even smaller and cooler. But a few are more massive, which makes them hotter. That means they blast out fierce winds of subatomic particles, like the solar wind but far, far stronger. These winds expand out from the stars, combining their forces and screaming into space at hundreds of kilometers per second. Surrounding the stars is the gas leftover from their own formation, and as those winds expand outward they sweep up material around them, blowing this ridiculously big superbubble. They also compress that gas, creating vast and powerful shock waves. These heat the gas inside to a temperature of a million degrees, which then glows in X-rays.

In the picture, you can see the twisted, compressed gas as a series of tangled orange filaments. See how it’s in a shell around the center? That’s the edge of the bubble, emitting visible light, the kind we see with our eyes. Inside the bubble is the superheated gas, glowing in X-rays (colored pink so you can see it). Not only that, but the pink swoosh at the top is the hot gas from a supernova, a star that exploded. It’s not clear if it’s related to N186 or just happens to be aligned with it in the sky.

Either way, it won’t be alone for long. Massive stars have an alarming tendency to explode, and there are plenty of hefty stars inside N186. Over the next few million years those things will pop off like firecrackers, their debris expanding outwards fast enough to eventually catch up with and slam into the bubble’s edge. When they do, they’ll blast the bubble from the inside out, shredding it. As the shrapnel expands it will eventually merge and mix with the gas between the stars, seeding it with the heavy elements forged in the hearts of the all those supernovae. These will eventually become the building blocks of other stars and planets.

Who knows? In a few billion years they may also become the seeds of life on those worlds. It’s weird to think that all that chaos can result in the amazing complexity and order of life, but that’s the way the Universe works.

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How did Justin Bieber celebrate the release of Believe Acoustic? By groping a boob, of course

National Post Staff | Jan 29, 2013 12:05 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 29, 2013 1:13 PM ET
More from National Post Staff
Justin Bieber goes in for the grope on a Miami fan.
BieberFever.comJustin Bieber goes in for the grope on a Miami fan.
 
Justin Bieber’s Believe Acoustic hit store shelves on Tuesday after months of anticipation and much Twitter talk. The album is almost a sure bet to top the charts, so it’s fair to say Bieber can start celebrating early. And what better way to kick up your heels than by grabbing a generous handful of bosom?

On Tuesday, a picture surfaced online of Bieber posing with a fan, in which the Boyfriend singer has his left hand cupped firmly around the girl’s left breast. Of course, we’re pulling your leg a little — according to Gawker, the fan asked Bieber to be groped at a meet-and-greet in Miami, and Bieber, being the 18-year-old boy he is, obliged.

The photo has since been removed from BieberFever.com, the Bieber fansite on which it was originally posted.

Earlier, Bieber disappointed more than 300 Miami dance students ahead of his Sunday concert there when he failed to show up at a scheduled gathering at the American Airlines Arena. The students had assembled at the arena to film scenes for an upcoming Bieber concert film, and were promised an appearance from the Biebs himself after their work was done.

“They were told they were going to see Justin Bieber,” dance director Damaris Eden told WSVN.com. “To hold down their energy, thank you for the performance, they were not getting paid for this. Their treat was to see Justin Bieber, and he just decided not to show up.”

The girls performed as a concert audience for the upcoming DVD. “We were all excited to meet him, and he just let us all down,” one fan told the website. “He told us to get our phones ready and everything, and he had a diva moment, and I’m like one of his biggest fans.”

Eden said the only way for Bieber to right the wrong would be by going to the dance school and meeting each and every one of the students personally, but a rep for Bieber says he was never supposed to be part of the event.

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The Russian president has insisted on a full slate of his traditional macho stunts this year, including scuba diving and possibly a trip to the way down under.

By Correspondent / January 29, 2013
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting on economic issues in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Friday. The Russian president eyes a possible trip to Antarctica.
Mikhail Klimentyev/Presidential Press Service/RIA-Novosti/AP
President Putin, who's now over 60, has insisted on a full slate of his traditional macho stunts this year, including scuba diving, hockey playing, actions to protect endangered animal species, and a possible visit to a science station in Antarctica, Izvestia says.

"Vladimir Putin will continue his active hobbies. Maybe he will go scuba diving in the summer. He continues the fight to preserve endangered species," the paper quotes Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying.

"As for a more 'patriarchal' style? Well, he has his own style, and that's his personal choice," he added.

Putin has been plagued with rumors of ill-health ever since he was seen limping at last September's APEC summit in Vladivostok. The Kremlin reacted indignantly to journalists' questions about his condition – which only seems to have inflamed the rumor-mill – and at some point Mr. Peskov conceded that the president was suffering from back pains.

Some pollsters argue that a recent dip in Putin's public approval rating, to about 62 percent from his usual 70 percent or so, might have been due to the uncertainties about his health.

"Putin's rating is down a bit, but it's a small fluctuation and doesn't spell a stable trend," says Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the independent Levada Center in Moscow.

"These fluctuations occur for various reasons, and we attribute the latest dip to rumors about Putin's health. It's logical, because his image has always been based on his robust health and capacity for extreme actions.... I think he will repeat such actions because they confirm his own view that he controls his health much as he controls the country," Mr. Grazhdankin says.

Until recently, Putin had been regularly practicing at nights on a Moscow ice rink with Russian hockey pros – and occasionally with journalists – in preparation for what some Moscow sources whisper might be an exhibition game Putin was hoping to hold with other world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Past stunts

Last September Putin took to the skies in a motorized hang glider to guide a group of endangered Siberian cranes onto their correct migratory flight path.

At other times he has shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun, harpooned a grey whale with a crossbow, and tagged a captured polar bear on an Arctic ice flow (all in the interest of science).

According to Izvestia, Putin accepted an invitation from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during a meeting in the Kremlin last September to visit Chilean and Russian science bases in Antarctica sometime early this year.

Peskov told the newspaper that the date has yet to be decided, "but since Putin is occupied with ecological issues, he will work with this question."

Some professional spin doctors argue that Putin would be wise to go with the flow of advancing age and cultivate a different, more realistic image for himself.

"A good PR specialist should not concoct beautiful lies, but find some merit in the client to focus on, tell people about, to show him in the best possible light," says Stanislav Radkevich, director of PR-3000, a Moscow think tank.

"In Putin's case, it should be connected with positive changes in the country that he has championed.... He needs to develop the image of a wise reformer, a competent leader, who is thinking about the fate of the country," he adds.

Elder image? Nyet.

But other experts argue that Putin will never accept the image of an aging, sedentary leader.
"At the beginning of his new term there was a lot of talk about how Putin might now be positioned [in the media], because of his age, as a wise man sitting in his study and handing down advice," says Leonid Polyakov, a political scientist with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

"Then Putin had a spinal trauma during a training session, and his spokesman confirmed that. His response to that appears to be that he is definitely not going to become the old man in the Kremlin....  I'm absolutely sure we're going to see more of Putin on horseback, jumping by parachute, taming tigers, and so on," he says.

"The explanation is simple. He just likes it. Sport is a way of life, Putin's still in good shape, and he simply can't stop."

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