For the first time in nearly 100 years, the shadow of a total solar eclipse is going to sweep across the United States.
The umbra — the darkest shadow cast by the moon blocking the sun — will appear in the Pacific Ocean and slice through 14 US states on Monday, August 21.
Starting around 10 a.m. PDT, parts of western Oregon will go dark in a condition called totality as the umbra travels east. The elliptical shadow will make its way to Idaho Falls by 11:33 MDT, hit Kansas City at 1 p.m. CDT, and begin to pass over Charleston, South Carolina, by about 2:45 p.m. EDT.
Although some eclipse fans spend years preparing for the event, totality lasts less than three minutes — so all it takes is one stray cloud to obscure the magic moment.
That’s why some people pay thousands of dollars to fly in chartered jets and pursue the moon’s shadow. In addition to beating the odds of bad weather, such hardcore “eclipse chasers” can extend their length of time in the umbra, sometimes by several minutes.
I was lucky enough to ride an eclipse-chasing flight on August 1, 2008. Here’s what the experience was like.
Total solar eclipses aren’t rare — they happen about once every 18 months — but most locations on Earth fall in one’s path roughly once every 375 years.
However, some hardcore eclipse chasers spend thousands of dollars to chase the moon’s shadow from the skies.
An airplane flies in front of the crescent of a solar eclipse.Shutterstock
Totality ended after three minutes with the appearance of a second “diamond ring” on the opposite side of the moon. The eclipse phases then moved in reverse as the umbra sped eastward ahead of our jet.
After totality, two passengers — Joel Moskowitz and Craig Small — paraded a custom eclipse flag around the cabin. The two were the most devout eclipse chasers I’d ever met. “I have no intention of ever missing an eclipse for the rest of my life. I don’t care where it is, even in the remotest area of the Earth,” Small told me. “I have to be there, I will be there.”
Joel Moskowitz (left) and Craig Small (right).Dave Mosher
“When you see one, you want to see more. You get hooked,” Moskowitz added. “Seeing the corona during totality is better than sex.”
The trip wasn’t over, though: The airplane banked hard and turned toward the North Pole. At the time, it looked like this — a bunch of fractured sea ice.
The only indication that we’d arrived at the Pole was an announcement over the intercom.
Back on the tarmac in Düsseldorf, the group snapped a celebratory photo, and then everyone began making their way home.
The prosecution abandoned the case, apparently to avoid embarrassing the intelligence services. The defence argued that going ahead with the trial would have been an affront to justice when there was plenty of evidence the British state was itself providing extensive support to the armed Syrian opposition.
That didnt only include the non-lethal assistance boasted of by the government (including body armour and military vehicles), but training, logistical support and the secret supply of arms on a massive scale. Reports were cited that MI6 had cooperated with the CIA on a rat line of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
Clearly, the absurdity of sending someone to prison for doing what ministers and their security officials were up to themselves became too much. But its only the latest of a string of such cases. Less fortunate was a London cab driver Anis Sardar, who was given a life sentence a fortnight earlier for taking part in 2007 in resistance to the occupation of Iraq by US and British forces. Armed opposition to illegal invasion and occupation clearly doesnt constitute terrorism or murder on most definitions, including the Geneva convention.
But terrorism is now squarely in the eye of the beholder. And nowhere is that more so than in the Middle East, where todays terrorists are tomorrows fighters against tyranny and allies are enemies often at the bewildering whim of a western policymakers conference call.
For the past year, US, British and other western forces have been back in Iraq, supposedly in the cause of destroying the hyper-sectarian terror group Islamic State (formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq). This was after Isis overran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territory and proclaimed a self-styled Islamic caliphate.
The campaign isnt going well. Last month, Isis rolled into the Iraqi city of Ramadi, while on the other side of the now nonexistent border its forces conquered the Syrian town of Palmyra. Al-Qaidas official franchise, the Nusra Front, has also been making gains in Syria.
Some Iraqis complain that the US sat on its hands while all this was going on. The Americans insist they are trying to avoid civilian casualties, and claim significant successes. Privately, officials say they dont want to be seen hammering Sunni strongholds in a sectarian war and risk upsetting their Sunni allies in the Gulf.
A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts and effectively welcomes the prospect of a Salafist principality in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria and states that western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey were supporting the oppositions efforts to take control of eastern Syria.
Raising the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality, the Pentagon report goes on, this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
Which is pretty well exactly what happened two years later. The report isnt a policy document. Its heavily redacted and there are ambiguities in the language. But the implications are clear enough. A year into the Syrian rebellion, the US and its allies werent only supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups; they were prepared to countenance the creation of some sort of Islamic state despite the grave danger to Iraqs unity as a Sunni buffer to weaken Syria.
That doesnt mean the US created Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies certainly played a role in it as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, acknowledged last year. But there was no al-Qaida in Iraq until the US and Britain invaded. And the US has certainly exploited the existence of Isis against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western control.
The calculus changed when Isis started beheading westerners and posting atrocities online, and the Gulf states are now backing other groups in the Syrian war, such as the Nusra Front. But this US and western habit of playing with jihadi groups, which then come back to bite them, goes back at least to the 1980s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which fostered the original al-Qaida under CIA tutelage.
In reality, US and western policy in the conflagration that is now the Middle East is in the classic mould of imperial divide-and-rule. American forces bomb one set of rebels while backing another in Syria, and mount what are effectively joint military operations with Iran against Isis in Iraq while supporting Saudi Arabias military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. However confused US policy may often be, a weak, partitioned Iraq and Syria fit such an approach perfectly.
Whats clear is that Isis and its monstrosities wont be defeated by the same powers that brought it to Iraq and Syria in the first place, or whose open and covert war-making has fostered it in the years since. Endless western military interventions in the Middle East have brought only destruction and division. Its the people of the region who can cure this disease not those who incubated the virus.
A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens
Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.
And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.
So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.
And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.
And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.
Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.
And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
Daenerys will help the North if Jon bends the knee.
Image: Macall B. Polay/HBO
Warning: This article contains major spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happened in last night’s episode, then white walk away!
Since his arrival at Dragonstone, Jon Snow has been petitioning Daenerys for her help in the impending battle against the White Walkers. The queen has everything the North needs to have a fighting chance the army, the dragonglass, three fire-breathing dragons. The problem is that Dany and her council aren’t convinced that the legend of the White Walkers is real.
During last night’s episode, Jon showed Dany something that shook the queen and changed her mind about the army of the dead. Deep inside the dark caverns beneath Dragonstone were walls covered in pre-historic drawings of the First Men and the Children of the Forest fighting as one against their common enemy the White Walkers.
While Dany seemed convinced of the legitimacy of the ancient drawings pledging her support to the North if Jon bended the knee some fans weren’t buying it.
*Jon Snow, hiding paint brushes* hey guys I found these cave paintings
It’s obviously a joke, but perhaps there’s something to this comical fan theory. After all, Jon and Ser Davos werethe only two people at the caves when Daenerys arrived on scene. And it’s pretty convenient that Jon happened to stumble upon these cave paintings that proved that the White Walkers were a threat.
Hong Kong (CNN)Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the Communist Party’s control over the military as he prepares for a key leadership reshuffle later this year.
Speaking Tuesday at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Xi said the military should “carry forward and implement the Party’s absolute leadership.”
“As comrade Mao Zedong once pointed out, our principle is to have the Party command the military, not the military command the Party,” Xi said.
Analysts say Xi has taken advantage of the PLA anniversary to firmly establish his personal authority ahead of a Party Congress around November, during which the next Politburo Standing Committee — the most powerful governing body in China, headed by Xi — will be revealed. An exact date for the congress has not been announced.
Speaking after the parade Sunday, Yvonne Chiu, an assistant politics professor at the University of Hong Kong, said Xi wanted to “remind the military that they pledge loyalty to the Party, not the country” and to send a message to the country “that the military is firmly onside with him, especially as they’re still pursuing the anti-corruption campaign, which continues to shake things up and cause uneasiness among the elite.”
While the congress will almost certainly give the 64-year-old Xi another five years as China’s top leader, it has been rumored he will seek to buck an established norm that leaders retire after two terms.
“The importance of the Party’s control over the military is an oft-repeated phrase, but Xi has emphasized it heavily during his tenure,” said Tom Rafferty, China manager at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
He added Xi has sought the backing of “a younger generation of military officers” for his reforms, even as former top generals have fallen foul of corruption investigations.
At the same time, a wide-reaching and highly popular anti-corruption campaign has brought down many of Xi’s rivals or potential successors. Typically the next Chinese leader would be obvious by the time of the Party Congress, as Xi was in 2007.
Last month however, Sun Zhengcai, widely seen as a rising star in the Party, was abruptly sacked as boss of Chongqing and placed under investigation for corruption. At 53, Sun was one of only a handful of senior Chinese officials capable of succeeding Xi under the current informal retirement age of 68.
While some have predicted Xi will break with the age cap norm — upheld during the last three leadership turnovers — as to allow himself and his allies to stay on, Chinese leadership analyst Bo Zhiyue told CNN in April that attempting to serve a third term might be more difficult.
“(Even if) he wants to be like Putin in Russia, to stay beyond his second term, we don’t know if this can be realized,” Bo said.
US-China tensions rising
While Tuesday’s speech was primarily focused on political matters — encouraging the PLA to root out corruption and follow Marxist military principles — Xi also referenced the army’s increasing role overseas.
China shows off new J-20 stealth fighter
“The People’s Army is an army with strong war capabilities,” he said, one that will “never allow any parties to separate any piece of land from China.”