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Archive for July, 2016

Today I thought I would share this great anti-war song – “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was released in September 1969, and is specifically about the lucky men who were born into families which, somehow, meant that they were not called up for the draft to fight in the Vietnam war.

These were the senators’ sons, the millionaires’ sons, the fortunate sons. Sons like George W. Bush, who miraculously found himself in the National Guard, far away from any danger, rather than in Vietnam fighting. I wonder why? Oh, maybe because his father, George H. Bush, had the political clout and importance to make sure his precious son didn’t go and fight in the jungles of Vietnam, unlike the poor white and black men who were drafted there.

As the draft went on, it became more and more apparent how many fortunate sons were avoiding going to war, thanks to their family’s influence in bending the rules. And how many poor blacks and whites had no choice, they were forced to go and would be jailed should they refuse. The Vietnam war was wrong on so many levels, but the inequity of the draft was certainly one of its wrongs.

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“Fortunate Son” was released in September 1969, and talks of the privileged few who, somehow, avoided the Vietnam war draft.

“Fortunate Son” is rated at 99 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It really is a great song, I am surprised that I haven’t blogged about it before.

Some folks are born, made to wave the flag
Ooo, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Ooo, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all
But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yeah

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, yeah
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!”, y’all

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one

Here is a video of the song. Enjoy!

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This interesting story about the Mars Curiosity Rover recently came to my attention – that its software has now been upgraded to allow the on-board computer to make decisions about choosing targets for its laser to zap. You can read the NASA press release by following this link.

It interested me for two reasons. Firstly, it is a reminder that we have two rovers actively studying Mars as I type (the Mars Curiosity Rover and the Opportunity Rover, which has been operating on the surface of Mars since January 2004!). Whereas Opportunity is about the size of a shopping trolley, the Curiosity Rover is about the size of a car, and has a whole suite of scientific instruments to learn more about the geology of Mars. This includes a chemical laboratory, which can analyse the composition of rocks. The laser is used to vaporise nearby rocks which are thought to be of interest. As the laser strikes the rock the gases emitted are analysed by a spectrometer, but Curiosity can also scoop up rock samples and place them in an on-board oven to heat them up and further analyse them.

But, the second interesting thing for me is that this marks a step forward in “artificial intelligence”. Now, I am very far from being an expert in “artificial intelligence”, so someone who knows more about it than I do may well correct much of what I am about to say. However, it is clear that the on-board computers on the Mars Curiosity Rover are now making decisions about potential targets for the rover’s laser, presumably based on analysing images of previous rocks which Mission Control (at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena) have chosen as targets. Thus, the computer has been learning which kind of rocks the geologists/experts on Earth have been choosing, and is now choosing its own based on some criteria of similarities. I find this very interesting (maybe I’m easily pleased!)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover can now fire its laser on its own, making decisions at to which rocks to fire it at, without mission control’s involvement.

Such computer-based learning and decision making are vital as we continue to explore the Solar System with robotic missions. The delay time between sending a command to a robot on a distant world and getting the response becomes longer and longer as we explore more distant planets and moons. With Mars the delay is not too bad, typically 20 minutes, but with Saturn it is more like 160 minutes between sending a command and getting the response. Nearly 3 hours is too long in some circumstances, so a rover on e.g. Titan in the future would need to be able to make some decisions on its own, after a period of being commanded and learning from those commands.

Having rovers which use artificial intelligence is, in my opinion, still no substitute for having a human being on Mars. The work which the various rovers on Mars have done in the last 12 years could have been accomplished by a skilled geologist in a few days. And, as the excitement over Tim Peake’s 6-month spell on the International Space Station has reminded us, nothing gets us more excited in the matter of space exploration than seeing a human being doing things in space; no matter how impressive are the things that robots can now do.Hopefully, I will see human beings on Mars in my lifetime.

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At number 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “She Loves You”. This song was recorded in July 1963 and was The Beatles’ 4th single release in the Disunited Kingdom, in late August 1963. “She Loves You” had advance orders of half a million copies in the DUK, and of course shot straight to number one in its first week of release. It remained in the charts for a staggering 31 weeks, with 18 of those being in the top 3 and spent 6 weeks in total at number 1.

“She Loves You” is a true joint Lennon-McCartney composition, both of them contributing to its lyrics and melody. Interestingly, it was credited as “Lennon-McCartney”, which would remain the credit of any song they wrote, either together or separately, from this point until The Beatles’ split in April 1970. But, prior to this single, their 2nd single “Please Please Me” and their 3rd single “From Me to You” were credited as “McCartney-Lennon”, something I did not know before I did the research for this blogpost. I have included photographs of the labels of their first four singles below so you can see how each was credited.

 

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At number 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “She Loves You”

Here are the lyrics of this incredibly catchy song. Paul McCartney once said in an interview that his father did not like the Americanism of “yeah, yeah, yeah” and asked why they could not have sung “yes, yes, yes”. An interesting suggestion, but I don’t think it would have worked in quite the same way!

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you lost your love
When I saw her yesterday
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say
She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
And now she says she knows
You’re not the hurting kind
She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad

You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her
Because she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Here is a video of a live performance of “She Loves You”. Enjoy!

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided not to serve Russia with a blanket ban from the upcoming Rio Olympics (they start 5 August). This, despite the finding of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that wide-spread doping was (is) being conducted in Russian sport with the implicit knowledge and cooperation of the Russian government and sports authorities. I am flabbergasted that the IOC has been so spineless.

Doping is ruining sport. In almost any event which involves a test of speed or endurance or strength, one can only wonder how clean a winning athlete is. When all eight of the athletes who started the 1988 mens’ 100 metres sprint were later found guilty of having taken performance enhancing substances at some point, and when a two-times drugs cheat like Justin Gatlan is still allowed to compete in athletics, the world of sport is in serious denial if it thinks that it is not in crisis.

Thankfully the IAAF has been a bit more bold; Russia is banned from competing in the athletics (track and field) at the Rio games. Individual athletes can, as I understand it, make an appeal against this blanket ban if they feel they can prove that they are and have been clean. The IOC should have done the same thing. By not doing so they have ducked the issue, in my opinion.

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Russia has escaped a blanket ban by the IOC from the Rio Olympics.

For me it is very sad when one watches the Olympic Games, one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, and one wonders how many of the athletes in each final are clean, and how many have managed to beat the testing system. Russia has been shown to have a state-sanctioned doping system, the evidence gathered by the WADA investigation is overwhelming. For that, Russia should be banned from the Olympics. No ifs or buts. An outright ban, until it can be shown to have cleaned up its act. The IOC has missed a big opportunity here to send out a clear message that doping should not be tolerated in sport.

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Yesterday (Sunday 24 June) cyclist Chris Froome won his third Tour de France, and his second in a row (he also won in 2013). He becomes the first cyclist to retain the Tour de France title since Miguel Indurain did so in 1994 and 1995 (Lance Armstrong’s wins have been erased from the record books, as they should, for cheating).

Winning the Tour de France is quite an achievement, one could argue the hardest achievement in sport. 3 weeks of cycling for 5-6 hours each day, with only two rest days over the 21-day race. It is the supreme test of endurance, which is sadly why doping is (was?) so common; if you can gain just a few percent in your recovery or endurance it will add up to a large advantage over 3 weeks.

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Chris Froome is a Kenyan-born cyclist who spent his childhood in both Kenya and South Africa. Whether he is “British” is a matter of debate, but he is a first rate cyclist!

Froome is a quiet character, very determined but not particularly interested in being a friendly, chatty sports star. This is probably the reason that he has not really been taken to the hearts of the British public. He is not as obviously funny or entertaining as Bradley Wiggins, who was the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France, in 2012. Whereas Wiggins has been made a “sir”, Froome has not, and surely this will be rectified in the New Year’s honours list at the end of this year. Not that getting a knighthood should be any validation of anything, but it is patently not fair for Wiggins to have been so honoured and for Froome not to have been.

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Froome won his third Tour de France yesterday (24 June 2016), having also won in 2015 and 2013. He thus becomes the first cyclist to retain the title since Miguel Indurain (as Lance Armstrong’s wins have been erased from the record books).

Froome is now 31 and, according to an interview I heard on the radio with the Sky team manager David Brailsford, there is no reason why he cannot go on for several more years and win a fourth and fifth (and even sixth) title. Brailsford thinks Froome has the ability physically to win 2 or 3 more, it is really a question of whether he can motivate himself to make the sacrifices necessary to do so.

There are four cyclists who have won the Tour de France five times,

  • Jacques Angquetil (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964)
  • Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
  • Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985)
  • Miguel Indurain (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)

Of these, only Indurain has won the five titles consecutively. With 3 wins now under his belt, there can surely be no greater motivation for Froome than to join this elite group of 5-time winners, and even to try to surpass them and win a sixth.

 

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One – U2 (song)

Today I thought I would blog about one of my favourite U2 songs – “One”, from their 7th studio album Achtung Baby. “One” was released as a single in March 1992, and was the 3rd single to be released from Achtung Baby, following on from “Mysterious Ways”. The words to “One” were written by Bono, with the music by the band.

The lyrics to “One” talk of the fractures that Bono felt were developing in the band, but also which he saw in Berlin, where they went to record the album just after the wall had fallen. Whilst, in theory, by then a united city, Bono saw dislocation and isolation all around him as the city struggled to become one after over forty years of being divided.

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now 
You got someone to blame

You say…
One love
One life
When it’s one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

Well it’s…
Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One…

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got

We’re one
But we’re not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again

You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers

One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…life
One

Here is one of the official videos of this song; the other one was a mesmerising black and white video showing a bison. I am sure that you will be able to find it online. Enjoy!

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At number 15 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Help!”. This John Lennon song is literally that, a cry for help. Lennon wrote it when he was depressed over the winter of 1964/65. It was recorded in April 1965, and was released as a single in July of the same year. It is also the opening track of their album Help!, which was released in August of 1965, a week or so after the movie of the same name was released.

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At number 15 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Help!”

Not surprisingly, Help! got to number 1 in many countries around the World, including the USA and Disunited Kingdom, but also Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone, help

When I was younger (So much younger than) so much younger than today
(I never needed) I never needed anybody’s help in any way
(Now) But now these days are gone (These days are gone), I’m not so self assured
(I know I’ve found) Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

(Now) And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
(My independence) My independence seems to vanish in the haze
(But) But every now (Every now and then) and then I feel so insecure
(I know that I) I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

When I was younger so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
(But) But now these days are gone (These days are gone), I’m not so self assured
(I know I’ve found) Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me, get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh

Here is a live version of Help!, performed on a British TV programme some two weeks before the famous concert at Shea Stadium. Enjoy!

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It was announced last week that the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) had discovered a new dwarf planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. The planet, provisionally named 2015 RR245 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has had its orbit measured over several months and from this it has been determined to have a highly elliptical orbit which brings it to within 34 AUs from the Sun, but takes it out as far as 120 AUs. By comparison, Neptune’s orbit is far closer to circular and at about 30 AUs (varying between 29.8 and 30.3 AUs).

From its current distance and brightness, its size has been estimated to be about 700km in diameter (Pluto, in comparison, has a diameter of 2374 km). This is based on an assumed albedo (reflectivity), so if it is more reflective than assumed it could be smaller, if it is less reflective it could be larger.

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The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope has discovered a new dwarf planet beyond the orbit of Neptune.

2015 RR245 was discovered as part of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), and was spotted in February 2016 on an image taken in September 2015. We thus have images of it spanning nearly 10 months of its orbit, enough to get a decent idea of its orbital parameters.

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If 2015 RR245 is as large as 700km in diameter then it will be amongst the largest dwarf planets known.

As of yet, the IAU has not admitted 2015 RR245 to the select club of official dwarf planets. At the moment, there are only five dwarf planets in this ‘official list’; namely Pluto, Eris, Ceres (in the asteroid belt), Makemake and Haumea. Since the creation of the dwarf planet category in 2006, these five are the only objects which have been classified as such. Haumea was the latest object to be added to the list, in September 2008. We shall have to see whether 2015 RR245 makes the list at some point in the future.

 

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Just over 7 years ago, in early 2009, I bought a CD of some of Robert Kennedy’s greatest speeches. Whilst his brother John F. Kennedy gave some memorable speeches, for me Bobby Kennedy possibly surpassed JFK with his eloquence. One of his most moving and wonderful speeches has been passing through my mind these last two weeks or so; with the senseless shootings of innocent black people by police in the United States, the killing of the five policemen by an assassin in Houston, the horrific terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day which has killed at least 84 people, many of them children, and the failed coup in Turkey with over 100 dead. And, just as I was putting this blog together yesterday, the shooting of 3 more police officers in Baton Rouge.

Robert Kennedy (RFK) served as Attonery General under his brother’s Prisidency, but in 1965 he entered the Senate as one of the senators for New York. On 16 March 1968, RFK announced that he would run for the presidency, and set about touring the USA to garner support for his campaign. On the evening of 4 April, he was due to give a speech in Indianapolis when he learnt en-route of the assassination of Martin Luther King. He broke the news to the gathered crowd, many of whom had not heard the news until Bobby Kennedy told them. He gave a very moving and powerful speech on that evening, and I may blog about that particular speech another time. 

But, today I am going to share the speech that he gave the day after MLK’s assassination, on 5 April 1968. The speech is entitled “The mindless menace of violence“, and it was delivered at the Cleveland Club in Ohio.

Kennedy toured the country as part of his campaign to become President of the United States, concentrating to a large part on some of the poorest communities in the country, where he met with dissaffected whites, blacks and latinos who had been left behind by the ‘American Dream’.

“this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.”

It is quite a long speech, nearly 10 minutes long, but bear with it and I think you will be struck by its eloquence. Bobby Kennedy wrote the speech himself, putting it together in the hours after the horror of MLK’s assassination had sunk into his mind. 

The speech opens with these lines….

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people……

But, Bobby Kennedy was also deeply concerned with the economic disparities in the United States, and with the sickening racism which had profoundly disturbed him. He later goes on to say…

……

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. 

Followed immediately by these words…

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

The entire text can be found here at the John F. Kennedy presidential library website.

There are several versions of this mesmerising speech on YouTube, but many seem to have had an annoying soundtrack of some music added. I feel the added music detracts from hearing Bobby Kennedy’s words, which are powerful enough and do not need any music to make them more dramatic. So, the version I have included here is just RFK’s incredible words.

What strikes me most when I hear or read these words of Bobby Kennedy is how little progress we have made. One could argue that we have digressed; there are more mass shootings now in the USA than in the 1960s when these words were spoken. There is more terrorism and conflict than ever. And, in the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump, we have a man who is the very antithesis of the wonderful ideals for which Bobby Kennedy stood.

I would say “enjoy” this video, but I am not sure that one can enjoy this speech. It is moving, harrowing, thought-provoking, upsetting, but also uplifting. To think that RFK was himself assassinated within a few months of giving this speech, it only adds poignancy to his words and highlights even more the truth and sadness of the mindless menace of violence

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Today I thought I would share this wonderful song by The Beautiful South – “The Prettiest Eyes”. It is from their fourth studio album Miaow, and is the fifth track on the CD. It is also on their compilation album Carry On up the Charts. The album was recorded in the spring of 1993, and released in March 1994. I don’t have any more detail about the song itself, but if someone reading this knows more feel free to add more information in the comments section below.

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“The Prettiest Eyes” is a song by The Beautiful South which appears on their fourth studio album Miaow.

The song is a lovely love song, the lyrics speak for themselves.

Line one is the time
That you, you first stayed over at mine
And we drank our first bottle of wine
And we cried

Line two, we’re away
And we both, we both had nowhere to stay
Well, the bus shelter’s always OK
When you’re young

Now you’re older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
That you die

Let’s take a look at these crow’s feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
60 25th of Decembers
59 4th of Julys
Not through the age or the failure, children
Not through the hate or despise
Take a good look at these crow’s feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Line three I forget
But I think, I think it was our first ever bet
And the horse we backed was short of a leg
Never mind

Line four in a park
And the things, the things that people do in the dark
I could hear the faintest beat of your heart
Then we did

Now you’re older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
You should die

Lets take a look at these crow’s feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
60 25th of Decembers
59 4th of Julys
You can’t have too many good times, children
You can’t have too many lines
Take a good look at these crow’s feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Well, my eyes look like a map of the town
And my teeth are either yellow or they’re brown
But you’ll never hear the crack of a frown
When you are here
You’ll never hear the crack
Of a frown
Of a frown
Of a frown
Of a frown

Here is the official video of this lovely song. Enjoy!

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