Thursday, October 8, 2009
Thursday News In Review
Purple Hairstreak News:
A Purple Hairstreak butterfly was spotted in Scotland this week, hundreds of miles from its usual habitat in high in the oak branches in Wales. The extremely rare butterfly is notable because it feeds on honeydew instead of flowers. They get their name from the gorgeous purple streak in their upper wings. See for yourself. It's the big picture of a butterfly over to the left there.
Ben Notley, the discoverer of the butterfly at the Visitor's Center in Killiecrankie said, "It is the first time a Purple Hairstreak has been recorded at Killiecrankie and it was the first time personally that I've been lucky enough to see one."
This week in a move called bizarre by just about every news article I read about it (although to be fair, most of journalism these days is just cutting and pasting) Stalin's grandson is suing a Russian newspaper for "defaming Joseph Stalin" by claiming that Joseph Stalin personally ordered the deaths of Soviet citizens. Which, correct me if I'm wrong, is pretty much what Stalin is famous for.
Many in Russia see this as another part of the Kremlin's recent effort to Stalinize Stalin's reputation. The more unnerving part of that branch of the story is the implication that the reason the Russian government would want to do that would be to suggest that Russia was strongest under the more totalitarian rulers. Of course, in another critique of journalism, none of the articles I read would sight who the "many in Russia" might be.
All of which leaves me at the end of the story more confused than I was before I heard this story.
Nobel Prize News:
The Nobel Prize for Literature went to Herta Mueller, a Romanian author whose work focuses largely on growing up in communist Romania. There are some slight grumblings on the literary community over how Euro-centric the literature Nobels have been recently (much like, oh say, the mainstream news!) This rather puts me in mind of Jean-Paul Sartre who was the first author in history to decline the Nobel Prize. He claimed that "did not want to take sides in an East vs. West cultural struggle by accepting an award from a prominent Western cultural institution."
Although he later tried to get the money anyway.
I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the Nobel Prize for Literature although in this and many other cases I do find the prize bringing attention to authors I might not have otherwise heard of or ever read. In short, good for you, Herta Mueller. I'll look for your work in the library.
With Friends Like You... News:
The Cultural Minister in France, Frederic Mitterrand, is experiencing a good deal of political pressure and public outcry this week. The issue is over a passage in a book he wrote four years ago, before he became a government official, in which he talks about paying to have sex with young boys in Thailand. Being France, it didn't cause much of a stir until Mitterrand started giving impassioned speeches in support of Roman Polanski. Someone remembered the book and away we go.
Now, before we go too far with this story, despite appearances, there probably isn't really a dark and vast pedophilic elite underground in Europe conspiring to keep one another free and influencing government. But on the other hand, this isn't exactly the kind of support you want if you're trying to avoid conviction for a 30 year old child sex charge.
Astronomers discovered a giant ring around Saturn this week. At first glance that doesn't sound like news at all. People discover rings around Saturn every time they look at it. But this is a vast, outer ring that no one had noticed before. It's comprised of dust and ice particles and while it is very cold it shines with thermal radiation. The ring starts 3.7 million miles away from the planet and extends to 7.4 million miles from the planet. It's so big that it would take a billion Earths to fill it. Big big big. So big no one noticed it before.
Addendum: I'll leave the above as a testimony to my misunderstanding of the story, but I've since learned that the reason people didn't notice it was not that it was too big, but rather that no one was looking at thermal radiation at the particular spot. It only showed up as thermal radiation! Which makes it even cooler in my mind. What else is out there that we just haven't looked at in the right way yet?
Even More Crashing Things Into Other Things News:
If you're up on the west coast tomorrow morning at 4:30 am, that's when we're going to start bombing the moon! For those with short memories, this is an effort by NASA to learn more about the water molecules recently found on the moon. I hear all you will need is a halfway decent home telescope and you can watch the dust fly.
Celebrity Death News:
Photographer Irving Penn died this week. He was 92. Penn was a wonderful fashion photographer and while I'm glad he lived a rich full life, the world is a littler poorer in his absence. His work is stunning. As he said, "Photographing a cake can be art."
He took my favorite picture of Truman Capote:
In a move uncharacteristically in step with European norms, the Italian government have decided that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is not immune from charges of bribery and tax fraud. Berlusconi, a long time boon to European comedians, has had a rough year with claims of inappropriate behavior with an 18 year old and his subsequent wife serving him divorce papers, his inappropriate bellowing at the London G-20 summit that lead Queen Elizabeth to comment "Why does he have to shout?", his missing a photo op with 27 NATO leaders because he was chatting on his mobile phone, his statements that people made homeless by a devastating earthquake should pretend it's "a weekend of camping", high price prostitutes claiming he'd patronized their services. One paper referred to this as Berlusconi's Annus Horribilus.
You know, I there's a lot more going on in the world this week. I could have written on Afghanistan, the deficit, and jobless rates. But I think this week I'm going to take it a little easier. All I really wanted to talk about this morning was butterflies and Saturn's new ring.