Friday, September 28, 2012

I recommend "Democracy Now!"

Democracy Now! is a left wing American daily news program. I download the audio and listen to it as often as I can which isn't often enough sadly. It's also available as video.  I highly recommend it.

Taking a recent episode more or less at random, here's the one sent out on 13th September. (From this you can tell how behind I am with my listening!).

Anti-U.S. protests prompted by the Youtube clip defaming Islam were spreading across the Middle East. Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University was on the show. (For many years he was barred from entering the United States by President George W. Bush, but that’s really a testament to Bush’s stupidity, as Tariq Ramadan isn't quite that dangerous!)

Populism is everywhere, he said. There is religious populism in the Muslim-majority countries as much as populism in the USA.  Political parties in the Middle East had to condemn the film, or risk being outflanked but the Salafists, the literalists. In Egypt the Nour Party is the largest Salafi party.

The United Nations resolution on a no-fly zone for Libya was taken as permission for NATO to go there and intervene.  But the motive wasn’t saving Libyans, rather it was economic and “It’s quite clear now that all the economic interest and the access to resources is secured between four countries” namely the US, France, Britain and Qatar. The reaction of Russia and China to Syria should be understood in the light of what happened in Libya, he says,  because Russia and China lost out in their access to the oil resources there.

Another in-depth interview in the same episode was with anti poverty campaigners scholar Cornel West and broadcaster Tavis Smiley (pictured). They are launching a “Poverty Tour 2.0”.

Data from the Census Bureau, a US government agency, shows economic inequality continued to widen in the United States last year. The wealthiest Americans increased their share of total wealth by 4.9 percent, while the median income reached its lowest level since 1995. Some 46.2 million Americans were classified as living in poverty.

Smiley and West think that Obama would like to sweep poverty under the rug in the presidential election campaign - they claim this is what he did in 2008 - and they hope by their campaign to ensure this can't happen again.

Democracy Now! Is presented by Juan Gonz├ílez & Amy Goodman (pictured). It's funded entirely through contributions from listeners, viewers, and foundations, and every episode ends with an appeal for donations. 

On their website they say they maintain their independence by refusing to accept advertisers, corporate underwriting, or government funding.

Give it a try.

Today’s edition has an interview Alice Walker on the 30th Anniversary of The Color Purple. Racism and violence against women are global issues. She is also a longtime advocate for the rights of Palestinians, whose conditions are "more brutal" than in the US South of 50 years ago, she says.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Another human bootprint on the fragile Earth

Or the fragile ocean in this case. Plastic debris has reached the Southern Ocean, previously thought to be pristine.

This is reported by researchers following a two-and-a-half-year 70,000-mile voyage by the schooner Tara (pictured) to investigate marine ecosystems and biodiversity under climate change.

The scientific co-ordinator of Tara Oceans, Chris Bowler, is quoted in today’s Guardian saying: "We had always assumed that this was a pristine environment, very little touched by human beings … The fact that we found these plastics is a sign that the reach of human beings is truly planetary in scale."  Moreover, even if future pollution is mitigated by less waste and substituting biodegradable materials,  "It's too late to do much about what's already out there at this stage, as this stuff is going to hang around for thousands of years."

The fatal impact of plastic pollutants on the marine environment has been widely observed, the Great Pacific Trash Vortex being the most notorious example, see this Wikipedia article.

Birds and fish regularly consume waste products, mistaking them for jellyfish or other prey. The plastics cannot be degraded in the stomach and slowly release toxins and other chemical substances that work their way up the marine food chain.

Tara Oceans seems so rely on charitable funding mainly from France and the USA. Its
objectives are to finance scientific research into the impact of global warming on ecosystems, to increase general awareness about environmental issues, and to diffuse scientific data for educational and policy purposes.

Worth supporting I think. Here's their donations page

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I report a fireball - or did I see a UFO?

No picture accompanies this report
I wonder if anyone reading this saw the fireball on Friday night, 21st Sept? It appeared over Ireland, and parts of Britain, at about 22.55 BST on Friday 21 September.

It seems to have been space junk, a dead satellite perhaps.  See this Irish Times report (updated Sunday, September 23).

If you did see it you should file a report.  Believe it or not in this day and age, that really is how astronomers work out what's happened. By people sending reports, saying what they saw, how bright, at what elevation in the sky, travelling in which direction and most important of all, your precise location, and what direction which you were looking in.

Here's what I saw. About 11 o’clock I just happened to be admiring a cloudless night sky when the fireball crossed my field of view. Though at the time I had no idea what I was looking at. I actually muttered to myself, only half in jest, Spooky! I've seen a UFO. A string of brightly glowing yellow spots travelling horizontally across the sky.  Much brighter than any Venus I've seen, and definitely yellow. From where I was standing it was only visible for 15 seconds. They appeared to me to be quite near and quite low and travelling quite slowly. Say 100 mph, at about half a mile distant from me. It put me in mind of nothing so much as one of those low-flying biplanes pulling an advertising slogan across the sky that I used to see at the seaside. Or a string of Chinese lanterns a few hundred yards away. The apparition travelled due East to West then passed behind some trees.  That’s what it felt like at the time, but of course it wasn’t half a mile away, nor a few hundred yards, it was, I now know, about 250 km away over County Down.

What baffled me, and still does, was that the thing was travelling horizontally, parallel with the ground. A meteor, I thought to myself, should be falling out of the sky and towards the Earth.  This wasn’t like that at all. That could all be an optical illusion of course, compounded by a faulty memory.  All I can do is send in the report as I recall it.

When I tell them that I was 52 deg N, and 8 deg W, and according to my inexpert estimate the fireball was at an elevation of 10 degrees above the horizon, that information, once combined with reports from elsewhere, will help scientists work out at what height the stuff was actually travelling. You would think there would be radar reports that would answer all that, and maybe there are, maybe there aren’t, it all happened so quickly.

So if you did see it and can file a report, here's Armagh Observatory's Fireball report form.