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Jun 27, 2017, 04:36 PM
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 on: Jun 26, 2017, 04:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Curiosity is firing lasers on Mars– without help from humans

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

An autonomous targeting system originally announced by NASA last summer has allowed the Mars Curiosity rover to drastically increase the number of times per day it blasts rocks with its laser instrument, allowing it to collect more data than ever before, the agency has revealed.

Known as the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), the program allows Curiosity to select its own targets for its ChemCam instrument, then zap those rocks with its onboard laser instrument so that it can analyze the resulting gases, The Verge explained.
Before the software was uploaded last May, the rover was firing its laser an average of 256 times per day, the website said. From May 2016 to April 2017, however, that number spiked to 327 times per day, which will provide more information about the composition of Martian rocks.

AEGIS, which NASA confirms will also be used on its upcoming Mars 2020 mission, allows the rover to continue working when the ground team is unable to contact it, according to a new study published this week in the journal Science Robotics. The software, the agency said, is used nearly every time there is enough power to do so, and thus far, it is paying dividends.

“Time is precious on Mars, lead author Raymond Francis, lead system engineer for the program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, explained in a statement. “AEGIS allows us to make use of time that otherwise wasn't available because we were waiting for someone on Earth to make a decision.”

Target selection success rate has nearly quadrupled, says NASA

During its first year of service, AEGIS directed the ChemCam instrument 54 times, the authors reported in their study. This has enabled scientists to discover several interesting minerals, such as higher silica and chlorine quantities in nearby rocks, and helped them determine what course of action the spacecraft would take the following day, according to NASA.

“The goal is to provide more information for the science team,” said JPL’s Tara Estlin, study co-author and AEGIS team leader. “AEGIS has increased the total data coming from ChemCam by operating during times when the rover would otherwise just be waiting for a command.”

Before the new software was deployed, it would take ground-based engineers up to 20 minutes to send or receive signals to or from Mars, and that’s assuming that the Earth’s constant rotation did not prevent communication with the Red Planet at a given time. Not only does the program allow scientists to save time during the day, it allows Curiosity to continue working while they sleep.

“You've got all this science time after [each] drive, and often you have a few hours of daylight left, but Earth has not yet seen this new place that the rover is in,” Francis told The Verge. “And there’s no ability for people on the Earth to make decisions about what to target. That decision has to be made on Mars, and now we can make it on Mars. So that makes use of those hours that otherwise you wouldn't have been able to do these kinds of measurements.”

Prior to AEGIS, rover operators were only around 24% successful at finding the kind of rocks they were searching for using a technique known as “blind targeting,” in which Curiosity would be instructed to fire its laser at a specific angle with no visual confirmation of what was there. In the year since the vehicle started selecting its own targets, however, the success rate increased to 93%, according to The Verge.

 on: Jun 25, 2017, 03:06 PM 
Started by sue - Last post by sue
I'm wondering if anyone can help me to understand the possible interpretations of the North Node in the 12th house conjunct the ascendant. I can't seem to find much information on this aspect. Thanks

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 09:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Lenore
Uranus Is Even Freakier Than We Thought

Gizmodo Australia
Rae Paoletta

If David Lynch designed a planet, it would be Uranus. Much like every episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, Uranus is fiercely unique and weirdly endearing, even though it makes no sense. The planet's spin axis is 98 degrees, so it essentially rotates on its side -- and while we have some idea as to what could have caused that, no one's really sure. That's just how Uranus rolls, literally.

New research from Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that Uranus' unusual spin axis could be responsible for another one of the planet's oddities. Uranus' magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds it, gets flipped on and off every day as it rotates along with the planet.

Earth's magnetosphere is organised pretty neatly, around our planet's North and South magnetic poles. Sine Uranus is drunk, its magnetosphere is much more chaotic; tilted at a 60 degree angle to its rotational axis. Because of this, the magnetosphere is sometimes "open," depending on its orientation, and "closed" at other times. Frankly, it sounds exhausting.

According to Carol Paty, a Georgia Tech associate professor who co-authored the study, Uranus' magnetic field is "tumbling around" with each of the planet's rotations. Using numerical models from Voyager 2 data, Paty and Xin Cao, a Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate in Earth and atmospheric sciences, were able to simulate Uranus' magnetosphere and unlock some of its mysteries -- including how every day, the magnetosphere is letting in or blocking solar winds.

The team's work has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.
"The study shows that this magnetic shield around Uranus is quite dynamic and heavily dependent upon - of all things - its rotation," she told Gizmodo. "That's completely different from the Earth or any of the other planets."

Truly, we've only begun to scratch the surface of Uranus' strangeness. The first (and last) time NASA visited the Ice Giant was on its Voyager 2 mission back in 1986, and that was only a five-day flyby. Just this week, however, NASA scientists submitted a proposal to revisit Uranus and its Ice Giant companion, Neptune, at some point in the next few decades.

"We have the Kepler telescope, which is revealing thousands of planets throughout the galaxy," she said. "It turns out statistically, the largest proportion of these exoplanets are most similar in size - and likely dynamic - in structure to Uranus and Neptune. They might provide a bit of a benchmark for understanding dynamics at all of these exoplanets."

Stay weird, Uranus. We wouldn't have you any other way.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The Lady still in charge

By Irene Kostaki
Journalist, New Europe   

EU-27 preserve their much-guarded unity by pushing hard Brexit decisions in November and focus on the revival of an affair from the good old times for the EU, as “Merkron” is here to stay.

New confidence

While June’s heat wave hit Brussels hard this week, EU-28 heads of state and government gathered for their monthly meet-up, just a few days after the EU-27 “unity power” show-off on the other side of the street, at the European Commission.

EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team have been so well prepared for his first negotiating meeting UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis, that the British side agreed with whatever was offered to them in terms of talks logistics from Brussels’ Berlaymont. What was then left for the bloc to achieve at its first heads of state and government meeting would be the reconfirmation of the 27 member states unity.

Merkron to the rescue

However, this proved to be the easier task, after the French president, Emmanuel Macron concluded his first attendance at a European Council, alongside the German chancellor Angela Merkel. 

As France’s president praised the Franco-German cooperation during the preparation of the EU Summit, Merkel repeated that it is high time that the bloc of the 27 will have to look after their own future and not the negotiations Between the EU-27 and the UK upon the planned withdrawal of Britain from the EU.

Macron advocated a rules-based system of international trade, a point echoed by the German chancellor, ahead of the G20 meeting in Hamburg that will take place on 7-8 July. “Merkron” is now getting ready for the next meeting, a test on how the two sides can deepen cooperation and coordination in migration, defence, security, and trade matters.

Especially on free trade, just a month after US president Donald Trump’s visit to Brussels, challenging the EU trade concept of choice, both Merkel and Macron said that Europe should stand for free trade, and Macron insisted that the EU should put an end at the “rule of the jungle” that keeps governing international trade.

“We are fully committed to a free market economy,” said Macron, asking for respect to multilateral rules. “This attachment to multilateralism does not signify a naivety,” Macron said.

“Reciprocity is the right answer,” said Chancellor Merkel, referring to the Council’s call for European companies to be able to access public procurement markets of trade partners, an issue that was tabled at the European Summit and will be well debated at a G20 level.

A Europe that protects

It may have been the first European Summit for Macron, but not the first time he used the slogan “a Europe that protects. Dating back to 2008, Nicola Sarcozy’s idea about the need of “a Europe that protects”, suits Macron and Merkel’s strong will to move forward to a closer defence cooperation within the bloc.

“When France and Germany speak in one voice, Europe can move forward,” suggested Macron, suggesting that the French – German cooperation is aiming for all EU – member states’ common good. “We refer to a strong commitment,” said Macron, focusing on the launch of the European Defense Fund and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), a tool provided in EU’s Lisbon Treaty, that under a strong political will, could become a game changer in European security.

As Macron thanked the European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker for his work towards the direction of launching the European Defence Fund, Macron focused on how PESCO could make member states move forward together. “On PESCO and the creation of the European Defence Fund, I want to thank the COM for the proposal,” Merkel said echoing Macron. The UK’s departure from the EU opens the way for the EU and its stronger member states to proceed to a stronger defense cooperation, that would be complementary to their NATO membership.

May: “Fair and serious” – Tusk: “below expectations”

European Council president Donald Tusk from his side said that Britain’s offer on citizens’ rights was “below our expectations”. According to the Polish politician, what UK prime minister Theresa May had presented to EU-27 as a plan for EU citizens residing in the UK, it would even worsen the situation for people from the EU member states that will choose to remain within the UK after Brexit.

“Citizens’ rights are the number priority for EU27,” said Tusk. “We want to ensure full rights for EU and UK citizens. The UK offer is below our expectations and risks worsening the situation of citizens. But it will be for our negotiating team to analyse the offer line by line once we receive it on paper.” May is expected to table the full extent of the UK proposal on Monday.

Jean-Claude Juncker on behalf of the European Commission repeated to Ms. May and the UK that the European Council is not the place for negotiations, and that everything is to be discussed across the street between the two negotiating teams.

According to the EU Council president, overall Brexit talks took up “very little time” at the European Summit.

May defends her proposal on citizens’ rights

At the end of the two-day summit in Brussels, where May briefed the EU-27 on her citizens’ rights proposal, the British prime minister attempted to narrow down EU leaders’ criticism, saying that the UK is looking for similar assurances for UK citizens in the EU.

“I want all those EU citizens who are in the UK, who have made their lives and homes in our country, to know that no-one will have to leave,” May said.

“We won’t be seeing families split apart, people will be able to go on living their lives as before. This is a fair and serious offer. It gives those three million EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives and we want the same certainty for the more than one million UK citizens who are living in the European Union.”

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
EU leaders agree on Common Defence Policy and Security

By Irene Kostaki
Journalist, New Europe   

Further cooperation on tackling terrorism and a European Defense Fund was agreed upon during the first session of Thursday’s European Summit, as the presidents of the European Council Donald Tusk and of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters.

Ahead of the EU-27 Brexit dinner, the first part of the agenda that was discussed concluded to a rather easy agreement as EU heads of state and government managed to tick the boxes more than an hour earlier than it was initially estimated.

According to Tusk, Europe’s leaders had a big discussion on terrorism. “We are fully determined to protect our people,” said the EU Council president, suggesting that the bloc has agreed to deepen efforts in the direction of tackling foreign fighters, by all means.

Especially on the digital side, the EU has decided to apply more pressure to social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter “to do whatever necessary” to tackle the phenomenon. According to Tusk, this even means developing new tools to detect and remove terrorist material automatically. The European Council stands ready to adopt any legislation needed to address the problem.

As for the defense, EU leaders reached an agreement on the need to set up Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). “It is a historic step, because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence,” said Tusk, setting the agenda for the next three months when the EU heads of state and government are expected to agree upon a common list of criteria and commitments, together with concrete capability projects.

According to the conclusions adopted but the EU leaders, the work that will be done in three months, has to be consistent with member states’ national defense planning and commitments agreed to within NATO and the UN. “Concrete collaborative projects and initiatives should also be identified in support of PESCO’s common goals, commitments, and criteria.”

Juncker seconded Tusk on defense, adding that the Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with all instruments in order to achieve a closer defense cooperation. “We have put the agenda forward,” added Juncker calling PESCO the “sleeping princess of the Lisbon Treaty”. “The princess is now awakening because over the last few months we have put forward all the proposals which relate to Europe of defense.”

As for the European Defence Fund, Juncker welcomed the agreement over its creation as “in Europe, there are 178 types of weapons systems whereas the US has 30. There are 17 types of tanks in Europe but the US has only one. We are spending half but the efficiency is 15%,” while the 80% of research and 90% of procurement is still done on a strictly national basis.

EUCO’s dialogue with music

After Tusk’s “you may say I am a dreamer but I am not the only one,” earlier in the day, Juncker answered whether he is a John Lennon or a Paul McCartney fan. “I never have illusions because I don’t want to lose them,” answered Juncker, while Tusk remained at his position.

“You can totally feel the difference between illusions and dreams,” said Tusk, to add that “politics without dreams are nightmares”. The Polish politician further added that even if some of his political dreams have come true. “This is the best art of politics, that everything is possible. Concluding with his thoughts over Brexit, Tusk said that he remains a realist and this is the reason why the negotiations should start as positively as possible, adding that he prefers John Lennon’s music.

But Tusk and Juncker were not left alone. President Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania insisted relations would remain close and tweeted the on Brexit: “Ain’t no mountain high enough”.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Mueller’s grade-A legal team ‘uncomfortably close’ to obstruction case against Donald Trump

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
23 Jun 2017 at 18:30 ET                   

A Los Angeles Times feature details the ways in which members of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team have worked to prosecute obstruction of justice in the past — and how they’ll bring that expertise to the case of President Donald Trump.

According to the Times, Mueller’s “first 13 hires speak volumes: They include veteran prosecutors who spent years unraveling complicated conspiracies in high-pressure cases.”

Two of those hires include Andrew Weissman and Michael Dreebin, two men who worked successfully as prosecutors in 2001’s Enron accounting fraud trial.

“This case was really about a simple principle,” Weissman, who was lead prosecutor in the Enron accounting audit scandal, said during the trial. “Which is, when you expect the police, don’t destroy evidence.”

“These are guys that have a particular skill set that seems uncomfortably close to a potential case against Donald Trump,” Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, told the Times. “This is a team with prosecutors who have not been timid in stretching the criminal code when it comes to prosecutions.”

Along with Weissman and Dreebin, Mueller also tapped FBI lawyer Lisa Page, a money-laundering specialist, Elizabeth Prelogar, a Russian-speaking former Supreme Court clerk and Jeannie Rhee, who served as deputy assistant attorney general during Barack Obama’s administration and counseled on executive privilege and national security.

Read more about Mueller’s assembled team that “may be bad news for the president” via the L.A. Times.


Incoming GOP chair of House Oversight Committee says he’s completely dropping Russia investigation

Brad Reed
Raw Story
23 Jun 2017 at 14:28 ET                   

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who is taking over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from the departing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), said on Friday that he will not pursue any investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

Politico reports that Gowdy told reporters on Friday that he “wants to return the Oversight panel to its original ‘compulsory’ jurisdiction, including overseeing more mundane issues like government procurement and the Census.”

In making his case for dropping the probe, Gowdy said that he didn’t want to interfere with the work being done by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and he suggested that the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee were more natural fits to investigate the scandal.

Gowdy also ruled out looking into whether Trump White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.

“Allegations of criminal or quasi-criminal activity is squarely within Mueller’s jurisdiction,” Gowdy said. “So the process by which security clearances are granted, if that needs to be tightened, amended, changed, I’m all for it. The revocation of previously existing security clearances… we don’t investigate crime.”

Even though Chaffetz has often proved to be a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats, in the past he did hold multiple hearings on the Russia scandal while he chaired the House Oversight Committee.


Inside the secret Republican plan to unravel Medicaid

Robert Reich
Raw Story
24 Jun 2017 at 06:38 ET                   

Bad enough that the Republican Senate bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

Even worse, it unravels the Medicaid Act of 1965 – which, even before Obamacare, provided health insurance to millions of poor households and elderly.

It’s done with a sleight-of-hand intended to elude not only the public but also the Congressional Budget Office.

Here’s how the Senate Republican bill does it. The bill sets a per-person cap on Medicaid spending in each state. That cap looks innocent enough because it rises every year with inflation.

But there’s a catch. Starting 8 years from now, in 2025, the Senate bill switches its measure of inflation – from how rapidly medical costs are rising, to how rapidly overall costs in the economy are rising.

Yet medical costs are rising faster than overall costs. They’ll almost surely continue to do so – as America’s elderly population grows, and as new medical devices, technologies, and drugs prolong life.

Which means that after 2025, Medicaid will cover less and less of the costs of health care for the poor and elderly.

Over time, that gap becomes huge. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that just between 2025 and 2035, about $467 billion less will be spent on Medicaid than would be spent than if Medicaid funding were to keep up with the expected rise in medical costs.

So millions of Americans will lose the Medicaid coverage they would have received under the 1965 Medicaid act. Over the long term, Medicaid will unravel.

Will anyone in future years know Medicaid’s unraveling began with this Senate Republican bill ostensibly designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? Probably not. The unraveling will occur gradually.

Will future voters hold Republicans responsible? Again, unlikely. The effects of the unraveling won’t become noticeable until most current Republican senators are long past reelection.

Does anyone now know this time bomb is buried in this bill?

It doesn’t seem so. McConnell won’t even hold hearings on it.

Next week the Congressional Budget Office will publish its analysis of the bill. CBO reports on major bills like this are widely disseminated in the media. The CBO’s belated conclusion that the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would cause 23 million Americans to lose their health care prompted even Donald Trump to call it “mean, mean, mean.”

But because the CBO’s estimates of the consequences of bills are typically limited to 10 years (in this case, 2018 to 2028), the CBO’s analysis of the Senate Republican bill will dramatically underestimate how many people will be knocked off Medicaid over the long term.

Which is exactly what Mitch McConnell has planned. This way, the public won’t be tipped off to the Medicaid unraveling hidden inside the bill.

For years, Republicans have been looking for ways to undermine America’s three core social insurance programs – Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. The three constitute the major legacies of the Democrats, of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. All continue to be immensely popular.

Now, McConnell and his Senate Republican colleagues think they’ve found a way to unravel Medicaid without anyone noticing.

Don’t be fooled. Spread the word.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution, official says

Board of education chairman says subject is debatable, controversial and too complicated for students
​Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Kareem Shaheen and Gözde Hatunoğlu in Istanbul
Friday 23 June 2017 06.00 BST

Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools, a senior education official has said, in a move likely to raise the ire of the country’s secular opposition.

Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.

“We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

Durmuş said a chapter on evolution was being removed from ninth grade biology course books, and the subject postponed to the undergraduate period. Another change to the curriculum may reduce the amount of time that students spend studying the legacy of secularism.

Critics of the government believe public life is being increasingly stripped of the secular traditions instilled by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The secular opposition has long argued that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing a covert Islamist agenda contrary to the republic’s founding values. Education is a particularly contentious avenue, because of its potential in shaping future generations. Small-scale protests by parents in local schools have opposed the way religion is taught.

There is little acceptance of evolution as a concept among mainstream Muslim clerics in the Middle East, who believe it contradicts the story of creation in scripture, in which God breathed life into the first man, Adam, after shaping him from clay. Still, evolution is briefly taught in many high school biology courses in the region.

The final changes to the curriculum are likely to be announced next week after the Muslim Eid or Bayram festival at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The draft changes had been put forth for public consultation at the beginning of the year.

The subject of evolution in particular stirred debate earlier this year after Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy prime minister, described the process as a theory that was both archaic and lacking sufficient evidence.

Reports in Turkish media in recent weeks, based on apparent leaks of school board meetings, have also predicted a diminished role in the curriculum for the study of Atatürk, and an increase in the hours devoted to studying religion. Durmuş said that a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists and history classes would move away from a “Euro-centric” approach.

The changes were based on a broad public consultation in which parents and the public played a key role, he said.

The Islamist-secularist debate is just one of a series of divides in a country that two months ago narrowly approved a referendum granting President Erdoğan broad new powers.

Many in the religiously conservative element of the president’s support base admire his piety and see his ascension as a defeat of the elite “White Turks” – a westernised elite that used to dominate the upper echelons of society and was accused of looking down with disdain on poorer, more religiously inclined citizens.

The secular opposition worries that the president and his party are reshaping Turkish society and clinging to neo-Ottoman ideals that see Turkey as the vanguard of a greater Islamic nation.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
How a growing number of Muslim women clerics are challenging traditional narratives

The Conversation
24 Jun 2017 at 08:03 ET   

Recent terrorist attacks such as the one in London inevitably lead to coverage of Islamist ideology, Muslim culture and Muslim women’s rights. What is often missing, however, in my view is the fact that within Islam there are many diverse views – change is afoot and not least among women.

Indonesia recently hosted an unusual conference of Muslim women religious scholars that attracted hundreds of participants from across Indonesia as well as from countries such as Kenya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This International Forum of Women Ulamas (Muslim religious scholars) concluded by issuing fatwas, or nonbinding religious edicts, against child marriage, sexual abuse and environmental destruction.

It is believed to be the first-ever such gathering of Muslim women ulamas. Women have long been sidelined from the teaching and interpretation of Islam. But today, in many countries, women ulamas are emerging and acquiring more significant roles.

Indonesia’s women ulamas

In researching my book, “Mobilizing Piety,” which looked at Islam and feminism in Indonesia, I met many Muslim women who are scholars, teachers and leaders of their religion. They are not alone. There are a growing number of women ulamas around the globe. But Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, has an unusually long tradition of women ulamas.

Different from the Christian idea of priest or minister, the word ulama simply means a person who is learned in Islam. This can be a religious teacher or theologian, a judge in a religious court, a professor or a government religious official.

By this broad definition, women ulamas in Indonesia go back to the 17th century. Queen Tajul Alam Safiatuddin Syah ruled over the Islamic kingdom of Aceh (now Indonesia’s northernmost province) for 35 years and commissioned several important books of Islamic commentaries and theology. At a time when female rulers anywhere in the world were unusual, she was the primary upholder of religious authority in what was then a prosperous and peaceful kingdom.

A more recent example is that of Rasuna Said, who started as a teacher in 1923 at one of the first Islamic girls’ schools in West Sumatra. By the 1930s, she had become an important figure in the independence movement against the Dutch. After Indonesia achieved independence in 1945, Rasuna represented women’s groups in the new government. Later she served as a member of an advisory council to then-President Sukarno.

Today in Indonesia, women ulamas are helping to change how Islam is understood and practiced. Over the last three decades a new generation of women religious leaders has emerged in Indonesia, though it is not known just how many there are.

As I found in my research, Indonesian women’s rights activists are working together with women ulamas as well as progressive male ulamas who popularize alternative interpretations of the Quran that are empowering for women. For example, while some Muslims believe that the Quran allows husbands to strike wives who are disobedient, many activists counter this interpretation and point to other equally important verses that stress mutual respect and kindness between spouses.

Such a strategy has also been used by Muslim women activists in Iran and Malaysia, and is a focus of a global Muslim women’s network, which works for Muslim women’s equality. In many Muslim countries, women’s rights activists lack religious credentials. Indonesian women ulamas are more accepted as they are trained in Muslim schools and Islamic universities.
Increasing number of women ulamas

Aside from Indonesia, there are many other countries where women have begun to play a role as ulamas. Women prayer leaders (imams), however, remain rare. Many Muslims in Indonesia and elsewhere believe that women can be prayer leaders only to all-female congregations. Women-only mosques are still unusual, as in most Muslim societies, women pray at home or in a special section of the mosque. The only place with a long tradition of Muslim women who lead prayers is China.

Among China’s 21 million Muslims, women-led mosques and Quranic schools go back to at least the 19th century. The phenomenon has apparently spread in recent years as the government has loosened some restrictions on religion.

In other countries, governments have established programs to train women ulamas – and imams – as a strategy to counter the growth of extremism.

For example, in Egypt, the Religious Endowments Ministry plans to appoint 144 female imams for the first time so as to teach women about Islam and stop them from being radicalized. And in 2006, Morocco introduced the “murshidat” – Muslim women religious leaders – who now number over 400. In Turkey, as part of its effort to spread Islam more widely, the government has increased the number of official Muslim female preachers, who currently number over 700.

In Europe and North America, women have recently begun to lead prayers at several mosques. Most of these mosques are for women, but more controversially, Muslim feminist and scholar Amina Wadud has led prayer services for mixed congregations. in New York City and London.
Struggles over women’s religious authority

These are major changes, and not all Muslims agree with them.

As scholar Kathryn Robinson points out, some conservatives argue that only men should be religious leaders. Indeed, some of the attendees at the Indonesian conference were reluctant to consider themselves ulama because they see it as a masculine role. Also the issuing of fatwas by the conference of women clerics is unusual.

The conference comes at an important time, when the voices of religious conservatives and extremists, whose adherents also include women, seem to be dominant in many Muslim societies. For example, since Indonesia democratized after 1998, conservative interpretations of Islamic law have placed restrictions on women’s mobility and autonomy in some regions of the country. The recent conference’s fatwa against child marriage is especially significant because the percentage of women married before age 18 remains stubbornly high in Indonesia, with some religious leaders supporting early marriage. The same is true in other Muslim majority countries such as Egypt, where an estimated 17 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Against such trends, the meeting of women ulamas shows a multifaceted Islam in which Muslim women clerics are asserting their rights and promoting social justice.

Rachel Rinaldo has studied two of the organizations mentioned in this article -- Rahima and Fatayat -- and written about them in her book. The research for my book (linked to in the article) was funded by a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and a Dissertation Improvement grant from the National Science Foundation.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
From heatwaves to hurricanes, floods to famine: seven climate change hotspots

Global warming will not affect everyone equally. Here we look at seven key regions to see how each is tackling the consequences of climate change

John Vidal
Friday 23 June 2017 12.00 BST

It could have been the edge of the Sahara or even Death Valley, but it was the remains of a large orchard in the hills above the city of Murcia in southern Spain last year. The soil had broken down into fine white, lifeless sand, and a landscape of rock and dying orange and lemon trees stretched into the distance.

A long drought, the second in a few years, had devastated the harvest after city authorities had restricted water supplies and farmers were protesting in the street. It was a foretaste of what may happen if temperatures in the Mediterranean basin continue to rise and desertification grows.

All round the world, farmers, city authorities and scientists have observed changing patterns of rainfall, temperature rises and floods. Fifteen of the 16 hottest years have been recorded since 2000. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions steadily climb. Oceans are warming and glaciers, ice caps and sea ice are melting faster than expected. Meanwhile, heat and rainfall records tumble.

The evidence for the onset of climate change is compelling. But who and where is it hitting the hardest? How fast will it come to Africa, or the US? What will be its impact on tropical cities, forests or farming? On the poor, or the old? When it comes to details, much is uncertain.

Mapping the world’s climate hotspots and identifying where the impacts will be the greatest is increasingly important for governments, advocacy groups and others who need to prioritise resources, set goals and adapt to a warming world.

But lack of data and different priorities make it hard. Should scientists pinpoint the places most likely to see faster than average warming or wetter winters, or should they combine expected physical changes with countries’ vulnerability? Some hot-spot models use population data. Others seek to portray the impacts of a warming world on water resources or megacities. Global bodies want to know how climate might exacerbate natural hazards like floods and droughts. Economists want to know its impacts on resources. Charities want to know how it will affect women or the poorest.

What follows is a subjective appraisal of the seven most important climate hotspots, based on analysis of numerous scientific models and personal experience of observing climate change in a variety of places. Delta regions, semi-arid countries, and glacier- and snowpack-dependent river basins are all in the frontline. But so, too, are tropical coastal regions and some of the world’s greatest forests and cities.

For Wolfgang Cramer, scientific director of the Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology in Aix-en-Provence, France, climate change impacts are already visible not only in the vicinity of Murcia, but across much of the Mediterranean basin. If pledges to cut emissions are not met, catastrophe looms.

He and his colleague Joel Guiot, a paleoclimatologist, last year studied pollen locked in layers of sediment over the past 10,000 years and compared them with projections about climate and vegetation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If warming is allowed to rise to 2C, the scientists concluded, much of southern Spain and the Mediterranean basin could become desert. Their paper, published in Science, was shocking because it showed that even a small temperature increase could be enough to create ecological havoc in a very heavily populated region with relatively wealthy countries.

They warned that North African countries would see increased temperatures and drought that would drive the southern deserts further north; that deserts would expand in the Middle East, pushing temperate forests higher into the mountains; and that ecosystems not seen in the Mediterranean basin in more than 10,000 years could develop.

“We are more certain of the drying trend in the region than almost anywhere else on the planet. Temperatures have risen 1C globally but 1.4C in the Mediterranean region. The trend is for it to become ever warmer,” says Cramer.

Increasing temperature, he says, drives droughts. “More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means rising temperatures, less precipitation and then more drying that leads to desertification.”

Meanwhile, water stress, heat waves and an extended drought linked to climate change in the eastern Mediterranean has been widely implicated in the long Syrian war and an underlying driver of conflict in Middle East and North African countries.

The World Resources Institute concurred in 2015 that the Mediterranean basin was a climate hotspot when it placed 14 of the world’s 33 most water-stressed countries in 2040 in the Middle East and North Africa region. “Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilisation,” it said.

The fast-growing, heavily populated region is climatically vulnerable, it concluded. The food supplies and the social balance of places like Palestine, Israel, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan are all highly sensitive to even a small change in water supplies. As climate change intensifies, communities face grave threats from both droughts and floods.

The combined impact of many more people, higher temperatures and changing weather patterns on the region’s already scarce freshwater resources poses further potential for conflict. But optimists hope it could force compromise between competing states and water users. Rural areas already have no option but to switch to more efficient irrigation systems and drought tolerant crops, and urban areas are learning to conserve water.

I met Honufa soon after she arrived in Dhaka 10 years ago. Erosion and saltwater intrusion on her family’s land on one of the low-lying islands in the mouth of the Ganges River had forced the young Bangladeshi woman to leave her village for the capital. She had taken a boat and then an overnight bus and ended up in a slum called Beribadh.

Honufa is a climate refugee, one of thousands who have struggled to grow their crops. Millions are likely to follow her if current trends continue.

“In the next 20 years we would expect five to 10 million people to have to move from the coastal areas,” says Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development. “The whole country is a climate hotspot, but the most vulnerable area is the coast. Dhaka is the place where people head to,” he says.

Huq, who has advised the Bangladesh government at successive UN climate summits, says there is strong evidence that climate change is now impacting Dhaka. “Temperatures have already gone up by 1C. We can see that the weather patterns have changed. Ask anyone in the street, and they will say the frequency of floods has changed. Bangladesh has a long history of floods, but what used to be a one-in-20-year event now happens one year in five. It is what we would expect with climate change models.”

Huq and other Bangladeshi climate scientists expect to see more extremes. “Changing rain patterns suggest we will not get more rain over the coming years but it will be distributed differently, with less in the dry season and more during the monsoons. Paradoxically, this will lead to more floods and droughts, and heavier monsoons,” he says.

“We are beginning to see sea levels rising and increased salinity in coastal areas. It is a slow onset, which will get worse. It is a climate change phenomenon and not something we had before.”

Huq leads research into how Bangladesh can adapt to climate change. “We’ve done a lot of research looking at the most vulnerable hotspots. We are learning by doing,” he says. “Government has now invested in a major climate change action plan. To counter coastal salinity there is a big program of rainwater harvesting and coastal protection. Scientists are developing saline-tolerant rice. People and government are proactive.

“The trouble is that we are always catching up with the problem. There is a limit to what we can grow. At some point we will run out of options, then people will have to move. We know that if we don’t take action people will all end up in Dhaka, so [we] need to invest in other towns and cities.”

Late last year, the temperature in southern Malawi in southern Africa rose to more than 46C. A long regional drought crossing Zimbabwe, Zambia, Madagascar and Tanzania had scorched and killed the staple maize crop and millions of people who had not seen rain for more than a year depended on food aid.

Long-term climate data in southern Africa is sparse, but studies backed by oral evidence from villagers confirm the region is a climate hotspot where droughts are becoming more frequent, rains less regular, food supplies less certain, and the dry spells and floods are lasting longer.

With more than 90% of Malawi and the region depending on rain-fed agriculture, it does not need scientists to tell people that the climate is changing. I sat down with villagers near Nsanje in the south of Malawi.

“I know what it is to go hungry,” says Elvas Munthali, a Malawian aid worker. “My family depended on farming. The climate is changing. Now we plant maize at the end of December or even January; we used to do that in November.”

Patrick Kamzitu, a health worker in Nambuma, says: “It is much warmer now. The rains come and we plant but then there is a dry spell. The dry spells and the rains are heavier but shorter.”

One of best studies comes from the Chiwawa district near Nsanje, close to the Mozambique border. Detailed research by the University of Malawi, backed by 50 years of rainfall and temperature data, established that rains, floods, strong winds, high temperatures and droughts were all becoming more common.

The story is more or less repeated across southern Africa and backed by governments and scientific modeling. USAid, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and IPCC assessments suggest average annual temperatures rose nearly 1C between 1960 and 2006.

Looking ahead, scientists expect average annual temperatures across southern Africa to soar, possibly as much as 3C by the 2060s, to 5C by the 2090s – a temperature that would render most human life nearly impossible. But estimates vary greatly. Rainfall, says USAid, could decrease in some places by 13% and increase in others by 32%.

All African countries know that they must adapt their farming, restore their forests, improve their water supplies and grow their economies quickly to have any chance of surviving climate change. But the adaptation money pledged to these, the world’s poorest countries, by the rich at successive UN climate summits has barely started to trickle through.

Changes could be catastrophic. In North Africa, Egypt could lose 15% of its wheat crop if temperatures increase 2C – 36% if they rise 4C. Morocco expects crop yields to remain stable up to about 2030, but then to drop quickly afterward.

Conversely, a study of 11 west African countries from the International Food Policy Research Institute expects some farmers to be able to grow more food as temperatures rise and rainfall increases. Climate change may mean Nigeria, Ghana and Togo can grow and export more sorghum, raised for grain.

But most African countries are extremely vulnerable to climate change and have no reason to expect it will improve their lot. Instead of waiting for western money, they are pressing ahead where they can with water conservation, tree planting and small-scale irrigation schemes. Drought and flood resistant crops are being adopted by the few, but the odds of more severe droughts and floods are high and the resources to resist them are slim.

The temperature in Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago about 650 miles from the North Pole, averaged about –4C in April. If that sounds cold, consider that it was nearly 8C warmer than the 30-year average for the time of year, and that April was no outlier. The average temperature for the whole of 2016 in Longyearbyen was near freezing. Usually it is –10C.

“No region on the planet is experiencing more dramatic climate change than the Arctic,” says Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, who has lived on and off in Svalbard for 30 years. Although he is unsure precisely why temperatures are rising so fast there, he says, “make no mistake, there has never been a run of temperatures like this ever recorded.”

Holmén works at the Zeppelin research station at Ny-Ålesund, where 11 countries study climate change, air quality and ice. “Water temperatures on Svalbard have increased 10C or more in my time here,” he says. The fjord, which used to be covered with ice one-metre thick in winter, no longer freezes over. “We see temperatures changing, snow melting earlier, new species of fish. We are seeing big unexpected changes.”

Longyearbyen, home to some 2,100 people, is on borrowed time, Holmén says. “There have been two avalanches there in the last year, both defined as 1,000-year events. These are the types of events we expect to see increasing. A whole part of Longyearbyen may have to be abandoned.
The remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard brings a relatively warm stream of water from the south into the fjords and inlets which moderates the climate enough that coastal areas witness an explosion of green in the summer. In contrast, a cool ocean current keeps the eastern coasts cold and snowy even during the summer.

“The changes taking place now will influence [many other places]. The global climate is clearly influenced by the Arctic. There will be ramifications everywhere. We already see more precipitation in northern Scandinavia and low pressure weather systems taking a more northerly route.”

Holmén is backed by Julienne Stroeve, professor of polar observation at University College London. I first met her in 2012 on a Greenpeace ship which steamed north from Longyearbyen to within 300 miles of the pole across a sea that would normally be iced over. She spoke from Cambridge Bay in the Canadian high Arctic.

“2017 is already setting records,” she says. “There was a record low [ice cover] for March this year, so that makes six months in a row with record [or near record] low ice conditions. There are many ways the Arctic is changing. You see it in melt season starting earlier than it used to and taking longer to freeze up, in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic glaciers, the warming of permafrost temperatures, in increased coastal erosion, the northward migration of the tree line and species, and in how local communities can no longer keep their food in the ground because the thaw increased.”

Both Stroeve and Holmén are by nature cautious scientists, not given to dramatic statements. But both say they are astonished, even scared, by the speed at which the Arctic changes are happening.

“Given our current emission rates of 35 to 40 gigatons [of carbon dioxide] per year we should see ice-free conditions in September in about 20 years,” says Stroeve.

Longyearbyen residents are getting used to more extreme weather and coming to terms with what it means for them. The town has created a new risk assessment map and an avalanche warning system. Some parts of the town may be deemed unsafe and will have to be moved. Others may be protected by snow fences or walls.

“What is happening here is a very obvious case of climate change with consequences for animals, plants and humans,” says Holmén. It is happening across the Arctic much faster than we thought possible, and I expect now to see an ice-free Arctic in 20 or so years.”

When Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climatologists, lived in Manaus in the 1970s, the population was a few hundred thousand and the highest temperature ever recorded in the city had been 33.5C. The city was surrounded by cool, dense forest and the greatest river on Earth. Heat waves were rare and floods regular but manageable.

Today Manaus has more than 2 million people, and it and the wider Amazon region are changing fast. In 2015, Nobre says, the temperature in Manaus soared to 38.8C. “The Amazon is tropical and very hot, but when I lived there the hot spells were rare,” he says. “Now we see many more of them.” Not only that, he says, but dry seasons are longer by a week than they were a decade ago and weather is more erratic.

Nobre notes that tree loss is exacerbating the effects of climate change. “In many parts of continental South America one sees about 1C warming in the Amazon, which can be mostly attributed to global warming. In areas like Rondônia, where there has been widespread deforestation, we see an additional 1C warming due to replacement of forest – which is a high-evaporating vegetation – to pasture, which is less evaporating.”

Hot spells in such a humid climate are a real hazard to health. Yet adaptation to climate change in a teeming, poor city like Manaus is non-existent for the many people who must struggle just to survive. For the middle classes, air conditioning is now essential. The most city authorities can do is plant trees to cool the streets and protect the river banks from flooding.

The great uncertainty is how far the drying of the Amazon could affect the rest of the world. “If you change the rainfall in the Amazon, you could transport the impacts very far away,” Nobre says. “According to my calculations, there will be a lot of impacts in southeastern Brazil and also over equatorial Africa and the US. But we cannot pinpoint what will happen.”

Perhaps most ominous is the fact that a positive feedback loop appears to be in play. As the Amazon dries, Nobre says, tropical forest will gradually shift to savanna, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and further adding to global warming.

“When we see a dry season of over four months, or deforestation of more than 40%, then there is no way back. Trees will slowly decay, and in 50 years we would see a degraded savanna. It would take 100–200 years to see a fully fledged savanna.”

The Amazon then would be unrecognizable, along with much of Earth.

New York state may seem an unlikely climate hotspot, but research confirms its status in the top league of potential change. Drawing on the US national climate assessment and research by leading federal agencies and academics, it calculates that temperatures statewide have risen about 1.3C since 1970, spring begins a week sooner than it did just a few decades ago, there is less winter snow and more intense downpours. Meanwhile, sea levels are rising at nearly twice the global rate and birds and fish populations are all moving north.

Even more dramatically, the latest scientific projections suggest trouble ahead. By the 2050s, says the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, sea levels could rise nearly 76cm (30 inches), storm surges and flooding will be more common in coastal areas, and West Nile virus and many other diseases could be prevalent.

But, says Carl Pope, climate advisor to the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, if climate change is to be addressed, it must be led by big cities like New York, which release nearly 70% of the global emissions but also have the capacity to create solutions.

“Cities will always trump countries when it comes to climate change,” he says. “Cities are where emissions are. They are mostly consumers of fossil fuels, so they would like to use them as little as possible; they have a natural instinct to save on fossil fuels. Also, they are not very ideological. Improving quality of life is seen as a good.”

Mayors, Pope says, are now well ahead of most governments, leading attempts to reduce air pollution which contributes heavily to climate change, and eager to introduce electric cars and renewable energy. “There is a great public will to improve the quality of life in cities,” he says.

Pope identifies three groups of cities which he thinks will lead others on climate: “Cities in Nordic countries that will be meticulous about everything. Then there are a few in Latin America and Africa, which will be unbelievably creative. A third group is in east Asia and China, which will do things on a massive scale.”
A Taroyo family living along the coast of Manila Bay search for salvageable items after their house was damaged by typhoon Koppu in October 2015.

When Typhoon Haiyan struck the city of Tacloban in November 2013, Yeb Sano was the Philippines’ climate commissioner. He was distraught when I met him. He believed that his brother who lived there had been killed along with many thousands of others.

One hour later Sano broke down as he addressed the world’s diplomats. It was the third super typhoon to hit the Philippines in three years, and five of the 10 strongest typhoons had come in the previous eight years. “Climate change is real and now,” he told them in tears.

The Philippines is regularly ranked in lists of the top few countries most affected by climate change. “We are already experiencing climate change impacts, including sea-level rise, hotter temperatures, extreme weather events and changes in precipitation,” says Sano, who has now left government to direct Greenpeace SE Asia.

“These in turn, result in human rights impacts, such as loss of homes and livelihoods, water contamination, food scarcity, displacement of whole communities, disease outbreaks, and even the loss of life.”

Scientists widely agree that the country, along with nearby Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, is a hotspot. Analysis of 70 years’ of government data, published in the International Journal of Climatology last year, shows a small decrease in the number of smaller typhoons that hit the Philippines each year, but more intense ones. It is not conclusive evidence, but previous studies have suggested the increase may be due to rising sea-surface temperatures since the 1970s.

There is no doubt temperatures are rising on land. In Manila and the surrounding metropolitan area, which has a population of more than 12m, the tropical storms are more intense, the floods are more frequent, the nights are hotter and there are fewer cool days, says the state meteorological office, Pagasa.

“There has been a significant increase [in the last 30 years] in the number of hot days and warm nights and a decreasing trend in the number of cold days and cold nights,” Alicia Ilaga, head of climate change in the government’s agriculture department, told me in 2015. “Both maximum and minimum temperatures are getting warmer. Extreme rainfall events are becoming more frequent. In most parts ... the intensity of rainfall is increasing.”

It’s not just Manila feeling the heat. In its latest 2014 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it expects life in major Asian and African coastal cities like Manila, Guangzhou, Lagos, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata and Shanghai to worsen as temperatures rise.

“Urban climate change–related risks are increasing (including rising sea levels and storm surges, heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, increased aridity, water scarcity, and air pollution) with widespread negative impacts on people (and their health, livelihoods, and assets) and on local and national economies and ecosystems,” it says. “These risks are amplified for those who live in informal settlements and in hazardous areas and either lack essential infrastructure and services or where there is inadequate provision for adaptation.”

Food supplies are also threatened. I visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) outside Manila. This research centre, funded by the world’s richest nations to develop better strains of the crop that feeds nearly half the world, has seen temperatures soar.

A few years ago, IRRI’s deputy director general, Bruce Tolentino, called climate change the greatest global challenge in 50 years. “The challenge now is to rapidly adapt farming to climate change with modern varieties and feed a fast-growing global population, half of which depends on rice as a staple food. One billion people go hungry every day. In the 1990s, rice yields were growing 2% a year; now they are just 1%. Temperatures here have risen 2–4C. Climate change will reduce productivity. Rainfall is unpredictable and rice is grown in areas like deltas that are prone to sea level rises. We have to gear up for more challenging agro-ecological conditions, we need to be able to use swampy areas and develop varieties that can be grown in salty or flooded areas.”

IRRI has been working to develop rice varieties that can withstand extreme climatic conditions such as droughts, floods, heat and cold, and soil problems such as high salt and iron content. New drought-tolerant varieties that can produce up to 1.2 metric tons more per hectare [0.54 tons per acre] than varieties that perform poorly under drought conditions have been introduced to India, Nepal and elsewhere.

“Every city and every sector of society in the region is at risk,” says Sano. “The IPCC tells us it will probably get 4C warmer. That means everything will be compromised, from food and energy to settlements. We are not ready. The challenge is too huge. We are very vulnerable.”

The bottom line

Whether it’s faster than average warming, more vulnerable than average populations, or more severe than average drought, floods and storms, it’s clear that some places are being hit harder than others by Earth’s altered climate, and so face extra urgency when it comes to adapting to a new reality.

But the bottom line is that climate hotspots intersect, and nowhere will we escape the changes taking place. What happens in the Amazon affects West Africa; the North American growing season may depend on the melting of Arctic ice; flooding in Asian cities affected by warming on the high Tibetan plateau. And urban areas ultimately depend on the countryside.

We’re all in a hot spot now.

 on: Jun 24, 2017, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The week in wildlife – in pictures

Bison, bluebells, bumble bees and beavers are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Compiled by Eric Hilaire
Friday 23 June 2017 14.22 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/jun/23/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

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