Monday, April 02, 2018

The moon

I was planning to write about Mars tonight; however, I see that it is Global Astronomy Month (the largest yearly celebration of astronomy).  I did not know that, nor did I know this was about the moon.  SKY AND TELESCOPE reports:   
The Moon – the theme for this year’s edition of Global Astronomy Month (GAM) throughout April – outshines every other celestial object in its ability to inspire. From a bad omen to a sign of love, the Earth’s Moon has been important in cultures throughout the ages. For denizens of brightly-lit modern cities it’s practically the only nighttime object anyone ever notices.
The Moon can also play a role in connecting our planet’s inhabitants. A government minister in Kurdistan, Iraq, told me how, during a visit to California in the US, he was talking to someone in Iraq when they realized they could both see the Moon – rising in California, setting in Iraq. Both saw the same object but from different angles on Earth’s sphere. Always visible from half the Earth’s surface, how many amateur astronomers, poets, lovers, and others gaze at the Moon at the same time?

Until recently, lunar craters were identified manually, using truly ‘old school’ methods. On March 12th, the University of Toronto was rocked by an announcement which would almost make the human eye a thing of the past: artificial intelligence (AI), using the neural networks technique, had succeeded in identifying thousands of craters on the moon… and on Mercury
To hone the eye of AI, the researchers trained it by feeding it images covering two-thirds of the moon’s surface. The AI then analyzed the images for the final third alone. The result: 6,000 new craters were identified. This method using AI is two times more effective than the manual method.
This is not the first time that this type of mission has been entrusted to AI. But the results obtained previously were disappointing. And they didn’t cover Mercury. The success of the operation comes in a context in which visual recognition – as used in self-driving cars or satellites, for example – has seen rapid progress.
Is that not interesting.  Are we going back to the moon, by the way?  I think we should.  I think our technology is so much greater today than it was in the sixties.  But a lot of people seem to have the attitude of ‘been there done that.’

Now about Global Astronomy Month, here’s a press release explaining it:
Press Release From: Astronomers Without Borders
Posted: Friday, March 30, 2018

Global Astronomy Month 2018 (#GAM2018) fills the entire month of April again with exciting programs for astronomy enthusiasts worldwide. Whether it's stargazing, sharing with the public, or the cosmos in art, there is something for everyone in GAM 2018.

Global Astronomy Month (GAM,, organized each April by Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), is the world's largest annual global celebration of astronomy. Each GAM brings new ideas and new opportunities, and GAM 2018 is no exception, once again bringing enthusiasts together worldwide to celebrate Astronomers Without Borders' motto One People, One Sky.

Our main theme this year centers on Earth's lone natural companion that has fascinated cultures around the world -- the Moon. Throughout Global Astronomy Month this year, the Moon will be celebrated with special series of programming that will be dedicated to helping people rediscover our closest companion in space.

Dozens of programs fill the month of April, with highlighted events worldwide including...

* Lunar Facebook Lives: A series of Facebook Lives will explore the role our Moon has historically played in art, science and exploration. Special guest panelists will be joining the discussion, that includes a NASA mission scientist, a retired astronaut,, a science illustrator, a film director and even an actor from the Star Trek TV universe.

* Global Star Party: Astronomers Without Borders is nothing without its community. We launch Global Astronomy Month with public stargazing parties being held worldwide. And this year we have asked organizers and participants to share their local star party experiences through a series of Facebook Lives highlighting differences and similarities of everyone in the AWB global astronomy community. All webcasts will be shared with the world, and the AWB Facebook page will be highlighting them all.

* OPTICKS, a Cosmic Mail Art, transmits images to the Moon and back as radio signals in real time.

* Thousands will view the heavens through telescopes provided by amateur astronomers and science centers during SunDay, and other observing events.

* Online observing with popular astronomer Gianluca Masi will feature live interaction with a worldwide audience in the hugely popular Online Messier Marathon. The Virtual Telescope Project will also offer a Walk on the Moon live tour of lunar features including guided visits to craters named after women.

* AWB's wide-ranging AstroArts program connects art and culture with astronomy in exciting ways with blog posts including a special live online lunar sketching workshop

Partner programs bring new audiences and participants: Measuring light pollution worldwide in Globe at Night, classrooms discovering asteroids in the International Asteroid Search Campaign, and more.

Learn more about GAM 2018 programs on the website ( The GAM 2018 website is the hub of all activities, with galleries, articles, and fresh content continuously posted. GAM participants will be adding their reports and photos about their local GAM events and program from all parts of the world.

Mike Simmons
President, Astronomers Without Borders
+1 (818) 597 0223, cell: +1 (818) 486 7633

Andrew Fazekas
AWB Communications Manager
+1 (514) 620 1672

Follow GAM2018 on Twitter @GAM_AWB and the hashtag #GAM2018, and on Facebook at

Follow Astronomers Without Borders on Twitter @awb_org and on Facebook at

Astronomers Without Borders ( connects people worldwide through innovative programs that are accessible to everyone regardless of geography and culture. Combining local events with online technology and a global community, Astronomers Without borders is a leader in promoting understanding and peaceful international relations, while also supporting outreach and education in astronomy.

So that's this whole month.

"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):
Monday, April 2, 2018.  In 2010, the US government overturned the results of Iraq's election.  The effects of this decision are still felt today.

"We often, in the United States, focus too much on human rights and democracy," declared Anthony Cordesman last week at War Criminal Henry Kissinger's CSIS think tank.  "Not because they're not important but because they're not the primary process of government."

Thereby explaining how the US government has held hands with Saudi Arabia for all those decades.  In the case of Bully Boy Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, they literally held hands.

In last Friday's CSIS podcast, Cordesman insisted, "The primary purpose of government is to serve citizens in the areas that are shown in these charts [government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption, etc]."  I'm not really sure how you can serve citizens if one of your areas does not include human rights.  But we'll move on.

Cordesman:  We keep hearing about oil wealth but the truth is by and large in most Opec countries, it does not exist.  It is essentally something that brings you to the edge of development incomes but it does so generally by moving money through a very narrow group of people at the top and not through broad, balanced development.  And, from the viewpoint of Iraqis, certainly, if you look at the income even assuming it was properly distributed, you would see that you had not had the same level of development that you have seen in other countries.

This morning, REUTERS reports, "Baker Hughes and General Electric signed a contract with Iraq’s government on Monday to process natural gas extracted alongside crude oil at two fields in southern Iraq, the oil ministry said."

Per Cordesman, this deal's not going to do much for the Iraqi people.  Why is that view not noted in the news report?  Cordesman was discussing economics and one of his visuals was a chart that included this fact: "over 30% youth real unemployment."  Cordesman noted that he believed the unemployment figure was actually higher than that number.

Where are the jobs?

The ongoing war has left Iraq decimated.  It's a land of orphans and widows, a country where, the United Nation notes, over 40% of the population weren't even born in 2003 when the war began.

Iraq's prime minister Hayder al-Abadi has failed to deliver jobs.  He has failed to end corruption.

May 12th, Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections and no one's been bothered by the fact that Ramadan takes place from May 15th to June 14th.   Past elections in Iraq have resulted in many delays -- in the case of the 2010 parliamentary elections, many months -- to settle.  If the post-election process goes even 1/4 as poorly as it did in 2010, Ramadan will only compound that.  Holding the election three days before Ramadan was very poor planning.

Hayder al-Abadi staked his future on the premature claim that he vanquished ISIS in Iraq.  That, of course, hasn't proven to be the case.   ISIS was supposed to be Hayder's big claim to fame. Supposed to be.  Borzou Daragahi (BUZZFEED) reports:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared ISIS defeated last December, a call likely timed to give his coalition’s reelection prospects a boost ahead of the vote on May 12. US President Donald Trump claimed credit for devising a military strategy that forced ISIS into “giving up” in Mosul. On Thursday he claimed the US was “knocking the hell out of ISIS.” But ISIS persists as an insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria, and some of its remnants, including the White Flags, already appear to be building new militant factions.

Cordesman, in his podcast, was speaking with Dr. Munqith Dagher about Dagher's polling which is predicting that 55% of Iraqis eligible to vote will turn out for the May elections -- Sunnis are, per his analysis, expected to vote at a 60% rate as are Kurds but Shi'ites are expected to see only a 51% turnout.  (This 51% will still allow Shi'ites to be the largest number of voters because they are a more populous group in Iraq than are Sunnis or Kurds.)  "The good news right now," Dagher said, "is that Sunni persons who will vote are more [percentage, not total voters] than Shias and this will be for the first time since 2010 like this election."

Why was that?

Dagher didn't bother to comment.

Come May 12th, the pollster expects the total turnout will fall from the 55% that it would be today to around 40%.

"Reason for election boycott?  Those that say we won't vote?"  he asked before explaining, "They don't trust the system. Different reasons because they don't trust the system. They don't believe it will make a difference."

Why would they believe that?

Again, Dagher ignored it.  But it's a basic question and one that demands an answer.

In 2010, they turned out in large numbers.  Sunnis haven't turned out in numbers that large since -- but are expected to increase participation this year -- eight years later, two parliamentary elections later.  Why is that?  What about those who are planning to boycott because they don't trust the system and don't believe it will make a difference?

Did Russia hack the 2010 Iraqi elections?

No, that was the US government hacking Iraq's election.

Ayad Allawi should have been prime minister per the 2010 elections.  But Nouri refused to step down for eight months and brought the country to a stalemate.  Let's review, Barack Obama, then president, refused to back the winner of the election and instead brokered The Erbil Agreement which, in November of 2010, gave Nouri a second term as prime minister -- in effect, nullifying the election results and overturning the will of the Iraqi people.

March 7, 2010, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August 2010, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 

November 10, 2010, The Erbil Agreement is signed.  November 11, 2010, the Iraqi Parliament has their first real session in over eight months and finally declares a president, a Speaker of Parliament and Nouri as prime minister-designate -- all the things that were supposed to happen in April of 2010 but didn't.  Again, it wasn't smart to schedule elections right before Ramadan.

This move was not minor, it was not insignificant.

It was a blow, a serious blow, to democracy.

Iraqis turned out and voted for Ayad Allawi -- a Shi'ite.  He was promising a non-sectarian government.  His party was created to be a place for all Iraqis, regardless of sect, regardless of religion, regardless of gender.  In fact, the most prominent Iraqi woman in 2010 was a member of Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya -- the party's spokesperson Maysoon al-Damaluji.  She and other elements of the party gave many the hope that Iraq could return to the vibrant society it had once been.

Iraqiya also represented a parting with religious radicals and hope for the future.

Somehow, then-US President Barack Obama didn't think that mattered.  Nor did then-US Vice President Joe Biden.

In fact, Joe jabbered away about Ireland when he went to Iraq to explain to Ayad Allawi that the US government would not be supporting him, Iraqiya or the Iraqi voters.  He babbled on about Ireland, as Emma Sky described in her book  The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq.

Grasp that this decision had a huge impact on Iraq's security.  Granting Nouri his second term resulted in the rise of ISIS due to Nouri's persecution of Sunnis.

But grasp the point we were making in real time: This was damaging for any hope of democracy in Iraq.  Overturning the voice of the Iraqi people would set back voting rights.

And that was what happened.

Serious damage was done.

Let's again note the August 2015 broadcast of Kevin Sylvester's THIS SUNDAY EDITION (CBC) which featured Emma Sky discussing Iraq:

Emma Sky: And that [2010] national election was a very closely contested election. Iraqis of all persuasions and stripes went out to participate in that election.  They'd become convinced that politics was the way forward, that they could achieve what they wanted through politics and not violence.  To people who had previously been insurgents, people who'd not voted before turned out in large numbers to vote in that election.  And during that election, the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, lost by 2 seats.  And the bloc that won was a bloc called Iraqiya led by Ayad Allawi which campaigned on "NO" to sectarianism, really trying to move beyond this horrible sectarian fighting -- an Iraq for Iraqis and no sectarianism.  And that message had attracted most of the Sunnis, a lot of the secular Shia and minority groups as well.

Kevin Sylvester:  People who felt they'd been shut out during Maliki's regime basically -- or his governance.

Emma Sky:  Yes, people that felt, you know, that they wanted to be part of the country called Iraq not -- they wanted to be this, they wanted Iraq to be the focus and not sect or ethnicity to be the focus.  And Maliki refused to accept the results.  He just said, "It is not right."  He wanted a recount.  He tried to use de-Ba'athification to eliminate or disqualify some Iraqiya members and take away the votes that they had gained.  And he just sat in his seat and sat in his seat.  And it became a real sort of internal disagreement within the US system about what to do?  So my boss, Gen [Ray] Odierno, was adamant that the US should uphold the Constitutional process, protect the political process, allow the winning group to have first go at trying to form the government for thirty days.  And he didn't think Allawi would be able to do it with himself as prime minister but he thought if you start the process they could reach agreement between Allawi and Maliki or a third candidate might appear who could become the new prime minister. So that was his recommendation.

Kevin Sylvester:   Well he even calls [US Vice President Joe] Biden -- Biden seems to suggest that that's what the administration will support and then they do a complete switch around.  What happened?

Emma Sky:  Well the ambassador at the time was a guy who hadn't got experience of the region, he was new in Iraq and didn't really want to be there.  He didn't have the same feel for the country as the general who'd been there for year after year after year.

Kevin Sylvester:  Chris Hill.

Emma Sky:  And he had, for him, you know 'Iraq needs a Shia strongman. Maliki's our man.  Maliki's our friend.  Maliki will give us a follow on security agreement to keep troops in country.'  So it looks as if Biden's listening to these two recommendations and that at the end Biden went along with the Ambassador's recommendation.  And the problem -- well a number of problems -- but nobody wanted Maliki.  People were very fearful that he was becoming a dictator, that he was sectarian, that he was divisive. And the elites had tried to remove him through votes of no confidence in previous years and the US had stepped in each time and said, "Look, this is not the time, do it through a national election."  So they had a national election, Maliki lost and they were really convinced they'd be able to get rid of him.  So when Biden made clear that the US position was to keep Maliki as prime minister, this caused a huge upset with Iraqiya.  They began to fear that America was plotting with Iran in secret agreement.  So they moved further and further and further away from being able to reach a compromise with Maliki.  And no matter how much pressure the Americans put on Iraqiya, they weren't going to agree to Maliki as prime minister and provided this opening to Iran because Iran's influence was way low at this stage because America -- America was credited with ending the civil war through the 'surge.'  But Iran sensed an opportunity and the Iranians pressured Moqtada al-Sadr -- and they pressured him and pressured him.  And he hated Maliki but they put so much pressure on to agree to a second Maliki term and the price for that was all American troops out of the country by the end of 2011.  So during this period, Americans got outplayed by Iran and Maliki moved very much over to the Iranian camp because they'd guaranteed his second term.

Kevin Sylvester:  Should-should the Obama administration been paying more attention?  Should they have -- You know, you talk about Chris Hill, the ambassador you mentioned, seemed more -- at one point, you describe him being more interested in putting green lawn turf down on the Embassy in order to play la crosse or something.  This is a guy you definitely paint as not having his head in Iraq.  How much of what has happened since then is at the fault of the Obama administration?  Hillary Clinton who put Chris Hill in place? [For the record, Barack Obama nominated Chris Hill for the post -- and the Senate confirmed it -- not Hillary.]  How much of what happens -- has happened since -- is at their feet?

Emma Sky:  Well, you know, I think they have to take some responsibility for this because of this mistake made in 2010.  And Hillary Clinton wasn't very much involved in Iraq.  She did appoint the ambassador but she wasn't involved in Iraq because President Obama had designated Biden to be his point-man on Iraq and Biden really didn't have the instinct for Iraq. He very much believed in ancient hatreds, it's in your blood, you just grow up hating each other and you think if there was anybody who would have actually understood Iraq it would have been Obama himself.  You know, he understands identity more than many people.  He understands multiple identities and how identities can change.  He understands the potential of people to change. So he's got quite a different world view from somebody like Joe Biden who's always, you know, "My grandfather was Irish and hated the British.  That's how things are."  So it is unfortunate that when the American public had enough of this war, they wanted to end the war.  For me, it wasn't so much about the troops leaving, it was the politics -- the poisonous politics.  And keeping Maliki in power when his poisonous politics were already evident was, for me, the huge mistake the Obama administration made. Because what Maliki did in his second term was to go after his rivals.  He was determined he was never going to lose an election again.  So he accused leading Sunni politicians of terrorism and pushed them out of the political process.  He reneged on his promises that he'd made to the tribal leaders who had fought against al Qaeda in Iraq during the surge. [She's referring to Sahwa, also known as Sons of Iraq and Daughters of Iraq and as Awakenings.]  He didn't pay them.  He subverted the judiciary.  And just ended up causing these mass Sunni protests that created the environment that the Islamic State could rear its ugly head and say, "Hey!"  And sadly -- and tragically, many Sunnis thought, "Maybe the Islamic State is better than Maliki."  And you've got to be pretty bad for people to think the Islamic State's better. 

This was a major moment.  And yet few wanted to address it in the US press in real time or, really, even since.

It's easy to scream about Russia supposedly interfering in an election in the US over US airwaves, Rachel Maddow -- such a good dog -- makes the topic her chew toy nightly on MSNBC.

But overturning an actual election -- which the US government did?  No one on MSNBC appears to want to address that.

Or the problems that resulted from the US overturning the 2010 election.

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