Daily Archives: February 15, 2017

Happy Valentine’s Day from Joshua Tree National Park!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Joshua Tree National Park!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Joshua Tree National Park!
[NPS Photo/Lacy Ditto; a small cactus paddle that resembles a heart and 5 unopened blossoms grown from a larger cactus paddle]


Tilman RiemenschneiderMary in Mourning, 1505Sculpture, woodMainfränkisches Museum, Wurzburg

Another sweet shot for Valentine’s Day: a pair of Maroon-bellied Parakeets. (Photo by Glenn Bartley Nature Photography)

Another sweet shot for Valentine’s Day: a pair of Maroon-bellied Parakeets. (Photo by Glenn Bartley Nature Photography)

Today’s Holiday:Lupercalia

Today’s Holiday:

This was an ancient Roman festival during which worshippers gathered at a grotto on the Palatine Hill in Rome called the Lupercal. The sacrifice of goats and dogs to the Roman deities Lupercus and Faunus was part of the ceremony. Luperci (priests of Lupercus) dressed in goatskins and, smeared with the sacrificial blood, would run about striking women with thongs of goat skin. This was thought to assure them of fertility and an easy delivery. The name for these thongs—februa—meant “means of purification” and eventually gave the month of February its name.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Today’s Birthday:Susan Brownell Anthony (1820)

Today’s Birthday:
Susan Brownell Anthony (1820)

Anthony was a pioneer in the US women’s suffrage movement. The daughter of an abolitionist, she was well-educated and campaigned tirelessly for abolition and suffrage, attempting to secure laws to protect women’s rights. In 1869, she and fellow suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. She helped edit a history of the movement and purchased copies for American and European universities. In 1872, she was arrested days after doing what?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

This Day in History:Decimal Day (1971)

This Day in History:
Decimal Day (1971)

Financial calculations using the old currency of the UK were complicated, as one pound was made up of 240 pence or 20 shillings, a shilling was equal to 12 pence, and the half-crown was worth two shillings and sixpence. After considering decimalization for over a century, Parliament passed the Decimal Currency Act in 1969. The pound was to be divided into 100 “new pence,” and a massive publicity campaign was launched in the weeks leading up to Decimal Day. How did people react to the change?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Quote of the Day:Ambrose Bierce

Quote of the Day:
Ambrose Bierce

In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Article of the Day:The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Article of the Day:
The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Michel was a German woman who died in 1976 while undergoing exorcism treatments for demonic possession. She began suffering from seizures and depression when she was 16, the symptoms of which were not eased by conventional medical treatment. Convinced her condition was the result of demonic possession, Michel began a series of hour-long exorcism sessions that lasted nearly a year and ended with her death. Why were her parents and the priests who performed the exorcisms convicted of manslaughter?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Word of the Day:jamboree

Word of the Day:

Definition: (noun) A noisy celebration.
Synonyms: gala, blowout
Usage: Mary could not bear to miss the party and begged her mother for permission to attend the jamboree.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

From Kristen Ritter: BONFIRE is a dark and twisted suspense novel and it’s coming out this November. 

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! Thrilled to announce that my first novel will be released in November! It’s a major passion project of mine and I’ve been working on it for a very long time. It’s been torture keeping it a secret! 

BONFIRE is a dark and twisted suspense novel and it’s coming out this November. I am so proud of it and can’t WAIT for you to read it. Stay tuned for lots more info, teasers, giveaways and more… #BonfiretheBook @paperlanternlit @crownpublishing http://ew.com/books/2017/02/15/krysten-ritter-debut-novel-bonfire/

France 24 : White House voices doubts over two-state solution ahead of Netanyahu meeting

White House voices doubts over two-state solution ahead of Netanyahu meeting


The Trump administration suggested Tuesday that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians may not come in the form of a two-state solution — a position that could represent a dramatic shift from Barack Obama, who said he saw no alternative.

Speaking to reporters ahead of PresidentDonald Trump‘s meeting Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior White House official said Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hoping to bring them together soon.

But the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the meeting beforehand, said it will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail — and that peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal.

For decades, the U.S. position has been that Israelis and Palestinians must work through direct negotiations to establish two states living side by side, with Palestinians to ultimately create an independent state. All serious peace negotiations in that have time have assumed that the two-state solution was the basis for future peace.

State Department officials expressed surprise at the comments and said Tuesday they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of a two-state solution. Three officials said the department was seeking clarification from the White House comments, which came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was having dinner with Netanyahu. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

During his final White House news conference, Obama warned that the moment for a two-state solution “may be passing” and said the “status quo is unsustainable.”

It was not clear if the White House had intended to declare a major shift in policy during the hastily arranged briefing Tuesday night.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House Wednesday. The two leaders will hold a joint press conference before convening for meetings and a working lunch. The prime minister will then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Trump takes pride in his deal-making skills and said during his campaign that he’d love the challenge of negotiating a Mideast agreement. He has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to lead the effort.

The official said the visit was meant to mark a new, closer relationship between Israel and the United States, which grew strained during the Obama years.

Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts as well as expanded Israeli settlements, Iran and Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The latter would signal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would infuriate Palestinians. They claim the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in 1967, as their capital.

American presidents have long struck a delicate balance addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing the close U.S. friendship and lavishing the Jewish state with aid. But recent presidents also have tried to negotiate, and they have called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Trump told The Associated Press during his campaign that he wanted to be “very neutral” and try to get both sides together. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the campaign progressed. He has spoken disparagingly of Palestinians, saying they have been “taken over” by or are condoning militant groups. Some of his top aides challenge the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state.

After repeatedly clashing with Obama for eight years, capped by a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, Netanyahu seemed relieved by Trump’s arrival. Trump slammed the U.S. decision to abstain from the U.N. vote, saying in December that Israel is being treated “very, very unfairly.”

Now in office, however, Trump has been forced to reevaluate and revisit his position on a number of issues — including those relating to Israel.

After initially greeting Israel’s settlement announcements with a shrug, Trump appears to be having second thoughts. In an interview with a pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily Friday, Trump said, “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

While the meeting is expected to be much warmer than Netanyahu’s famously tense encounters with Obama, the Israeli leader will still need to tread with caution on sensitive issues like Israeli settlement construction, Iran and the war in Syria.

In dealing with such a divisive president, Netanyahu will also face some potential pitfalls. Key constituencies, including congressional Democrats and many American Jews, oppose Trump’s policies, while at home Netanyahu is under pressure from his hard-line allies to push for policies that Trump may not support.

“Netanyahu seeks to shift the discussion in the U.S.-Israel relationship away from settlements and peace and back to Iran so that he can put off the difficult political decisions that would roil his coalition and put his rule in jeopardy,” said Yousef Munayyer, a political analyst and executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

“The challenge to Netanyahu is domestic,” Munayyer added. “He spent so much time arguing that Obama was the problem that now that we are in the post-Obama era, his right-wing coalition partners want to exploit the moment and take huge steps that would further isolate Israel, trigger international condemnation from other corners, and potentially destabilize the land and Israeli politics.”

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu said he would handle ties with the U.S. in a “prudent manner,” but he steered clear of specifics.

The Israeli prime minister is also scheduled to have breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence before departing back to Israel.


France 24 : French air force deploys eagles to intercept drones

French air force deploys eagles to intercept drones


The French army is using birds of prey to take down drones to protect its air bases as well as to secure public airspace in case a drone poses a threat.

Eagles were first used by the Dutch police force to intercept drones used by criminals andterrorists. Inspired by this success, the French military began training eagles for military programmes.

The pilot programme started last spring at Mont de Marsan air base in southwestern France with a team of four raptors – three females and one male. They are taught from a very young age until they become fully-trained at around 8 months, when they reach full maturity. The eagles used in France are bred using artificial insemination since eagles are a protected species and harvesting wild eggs is strictly forbidden.

Part of the training involves familiarising the eagles with the sight of drones. Even before they hatch, the eagles are surrounded by drones so they become part of their natural environment. Eventually they are taught to associate drones with being fed.

“A drone means food for these birds,” Gerald Machoukow, the military base’s falconer, told FRANCE 24’s Fanny Allard. “Now they automatically go after them.”

The falconers also try to reproduce the conditions under which a bird will chase its prey. Since they normally begin a hunt by swooping down from a great height, these eagles are trained to take off from rooftops or man-made towers.

Criminal drones

The drones being targeted are small, weighing less than 2kg, and are readily available on the commercial market. Nevertheless, their use in sensitive zones – including during demonstrations and around airports – has led to accidents that prompted France and other countries to introduce restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Furthermore, these battery-powered drones can be used for criminal purposes – they are large enough to contain an explosive charge, carry a camera to make illegal recordings, or smuggle weapons or mobile phones into a prison. A radioactive drone once landed on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office.

The use of off-the-shelf drones carrying makeshift bombs has also become more common in war zones. Last October, an Islamic State group drone packed with explosiveskilled Kurdish fighters and injured a member of the French special forces.

According to the squadron commander of France’s aviation safety service, eagles are very reliable in stopping drones. “Just as a soldier with a gun can sometimes miss a target, eagles can also miss their targets – but it’s rare,” he said.

Animal welfare concerns

Royal eagles, which can hunt prey up to 25kg – the size of a deer – are often used by the programme due to their strength.

In the Netherlands, the use of eagles in police work sparked animal welfare concerns among falconers. When eagles intercept a drone, a pressure of 250kg per square centimetre is exerted on their claws.

Dutch police told the NRC daily newspaper that their eagles have so far not suffered any problems from intercepting small drones, but that larger drones may damage their claws. Eagles in the French programme wear kevlar and leather claw coverings as a protective measure.

The programme has been successful enough that the French air force has decided to expand the team with four more eagles by the summer. The first official report on the programme will be released in June.

France 24 : NATO is ‘bedrock’ for US, says Trump’s defence chief

NATO is ‘bedrock’ for US, says Trump’s defence chief


New Pentagon chief James Mattis said Wednesday that NATO was a “fundamental bedrock” for the United States as he tried to reassure allies concerned about President Donald Trump’s commitment.

“The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community, bonded as we are together,” Mattis said as he met his counterparts in Brussels for the first time.

“And as President Trump has stated, he has strong support for NATO,” added the former marine general, who has himself previously served with the alliance.

“I am here to listen to my fellow ministers, to have an open conversation among friends and allies, about where we’re going and our shared level of commitment.”

That message, delivered as Mattis stood alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, comes amid mixed signals from Trump and as chaos swirls in Washington. The Pentagon chief made no references to the abrupt forced resignation Monday of Michael Flynn, the US national security adviser, over his pre-inauguration discussions with Russia, and what the change may mean for US policy toward Moscow.

“I haven’t changed what I’m heading there for,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the NATO gathering. “It doesn’t change my message at all.”

The allies’ interest and concern about the latest furor in Washington was evident early on as officials crowded around televisions at the NATO meeting to watch Mattis’ initial appearance with Stoltenberg. Ministers immediately clustered around the retired Marine general as he entered the meeting room.

In public statements, however, NATO leaders brushed aside questions about the turmoil in Washington.

Stoltenberg said he has spoken to Trump twice on the phone, and has gotten the same reassurance from Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“They have all conveyed the same message to me as they have conveyed to other leaders in NATO countries, and that is that the United States will stay committed to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” Stoltenberg said.

Nevertheless, Mattis also urged that “all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom.” The US wants allies to increase their military funding to the benchmark goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product. Some NATO members have been slowly moving toward that.

He also was expected to press for greater assistance, including additional trainers, in the military campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Mattis said he wanted the US to “maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO.”

Trump has criticised NATO as “obsolete,” repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and threatened that the US might not defend allies that don’t fulfill their financial obligations as NATO members. This discourse has clearly alarmed European leaders – particularly those in the east – who are looking for some clarity from Mattis.

Such comments are playing into fears that Trump will ease US sanctions imposed on Moscow after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Another concern is decreased US military support for Eastern European allies near Russia’s border who worry about possibly being the next target for an increasingly confident Putin.

PM May says Trump ‘100 percent’ behind NATO

In recent weeks, Trump’s public statements on NATO have softened somewhat.

After meeting Trump, British Prime MinisterTheresa May told reporters that he assured her he was “100 percent” behind NATO. A joint statement issued after Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone said the two agreed on the “fundamental importance that the NATO alliance has for trans-Atlantic relations” and the need for all members to pay their fair share. Trump made similar comments in a call with French President Francois Hollande.

Only four countries other than the US — Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — are meeting NATO’s 2 percent spending target. Many are increasing their budgets in response to Russia’s actions.

Still, the US spends more on its armed forces than all the others combined. Washington also pays more than 22 percent of NATO’s commonly funded budget.

The US also would like to see an increased NATO commitment in Afghanistan, where forces have been fighting the Taliban since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Washington wants more trainers in Afghanistan, where about 8,400 American troops are still deployed.

There also will be discussions about how to accelerate the newer, US-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

eastern screech owl 

eastern screech owl

eastern screech owl 

Watch “Nat King Cole – Happy New Year” on YouTube

Nat King Cole – Happy New Year Lyrics

happy new year

the snow makes teardrops on my window
the wind blows memories through my hall
and I am all alone on new year’s eve
the time i need you most of all

the gay ones don their silly paper hats
and blow their stupid little h*rns
at midnight they will all be singing,? auld lang syne?
but the sad ones sit alone before the fire and sip a gl*ss of lonely wine

i wish you a happy new year darling
may your new love be bright and fair
i hope, he’ll do those special things for you
that i would do if i were there

i love the days we spent together
before the old year lost its shine
i’ll keep that memory locked within my heart
that happy new year, you were mine