News from Russia, Switzerland and Iceland

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on February 19, 2013

RUSSIA – Meteoroid falling over Russia caught on camera

image685A meteoroid broke up in the atmosphere over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Friday morning, injuring nearly a thousand people as it lit up the sky and sprinkled fragments over the city.

Mikhail Yurevich, regional governor of Chelyabinsk, said up to 950 people suffered injuries from flying glass and debris as windows exploded from the shock wave. [Russian health officials on Monday raised the number of those injured from the meteor’s arrival to nearly 1,500 people, with 46 of them still hospitalized.  Miraculously, no one was killed.]

The toll is believed to be the largest number of people ever injured by space debris. “I am scratching my head to think of anything in recorded history when that number of people have been indirectly injured by an object like this,” said Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

“It’s very, very rare to have human casualties” from a meteorite, he said.

Mr. Yurevich said that two-thirds of the injuries were light wounds from pieces of glass and other materials. In the city of Chelyabinsk alone, 758 people had required medical help, the city said in a statement on its website. Sixteen were hospitalized, including three children.

Video footage taken by residents on dashboard cameras in cars and mobile phones in the Urals city showed a meteor streaking through the sky, and then a blaze of light followed later by the sound of explosions and breaking glass.

image690A warehouse wall at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk, 900 miles east of Moscow, collapsed from the force of a blast and at least one school had its windows blown out, injuring children.

Local residents expressed their shock and fear on social media. “I thought the world was about to end!” said one. One video showed residents swearing and shouting “It’s a bombardment!” at the sound of an explosion which sets off car alarms.

Lyudmila Belkova, a kindergarten teacher, told reporters: “I was giving a PE lesson when I saw a white streak in the sky through the window, and then there was a bright flash. I shouted at the children, ‘Lie on the floor and close your eyes!’ And then there were five or six explosions. Some of the kids raised their heads but I shouted at them to keep their eyes closed.”

Schools and kindergartens were closed and about 20,000 rescue officials were put on high alert, while the city’s internet and mobile phone services were disrupted.

“It was a meteoroid that burned up as it approached the Earth and broke into pieces,” an emergencies ministry official told news agencies. The object, which disintegrated at about 32,800ft, left a clear double trail in the sky.

Police said they had initiated “Operation Fortress,” increasing security at strategic buildings.

It was unclear if fragments of the meteor reached the ground, or if shock waves alone had caused the damage. Some witness spoke of dust and small pieces of debris falling. The regional governor’s office said one part of the meteoroid had fallen in a lake near the town of Chebarkul, 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk.

“This was a very bright bolide that was perfectly visible in the light morning sky; the object was quite big with, apparently, a mass of many tens of tons,” Sergei Smirnov of St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Observatory told Russian state television.

Another scientist said it most likely weighed “a few tons” and was probably made of iron.

SWITZERLAND – Beloved aerobatic Patrouille are cut from air force

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A former pilot with the aerobatic team denounced the move, stressing that the Patrouille Suisse had never had an accident since its creation in 1964.

Many Swiss were outraged Wednesday (Feb. 13) after hearing that the country’s beloved aerobatic red planes with their characteristic white crosses, the Patrouille Suisse, will be cut from the Swiss air force by 2016.

“We will no longer have planes simply for folklore,” President Ueli Maurer told a parliamentary security policy commission meeting on Tuesday, according to the Basler Zeitung daily.

The commission had been discussing Switzerland’s pending purchase of 22 JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden when a member reportedly asked about the future of the Patrouille Suisse, which has been a fixture in Swiss skies since 1964.

The Swiss president, who is also the country’s defense minister and a member of the populist right Swiss People’s Party, told the gathering that as of 2016 the cherished aerobatic team would cease to exist.

The revelation sparked outrage in Switzerland, with politicians leading the way.

“Maurer is underestimating the symbolic importance of the Patrouille Suisse,” Martin Landolt, the head of the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland [said].

The head of the Christian Democratic Party, Christoph Darbellay agreed, describing the decision as “a provocation.”

A former pilot with the aerobatic team, also…denounced the move, stressing that the Patrouille Suisse had never had an accident since its creation in 1964.

“The Patrouille is the best business card Switzerland has,” pilot John Huessy said, insisting: “It is unacceptable to say that what they do is about folklore.”

ICELAND – Government considers pornography ban

image686Iceland could become the first Western democracy to attempt censorship of the internet under proposals to block online pornography.

The government is considering introducing internet filters, such as those used to block China off form the worldwide web, in order to stop Icelanders downloading or viewing pornography on the internet.

The unprecedented censorship is justified by fears about damaging effects of the internet on children and women.

Ogmundur Jonasson, Iceland’s interior minister, is drafting legislation to stop the access of online pornographic images and videos by young people through computers, games consoles and smartphones.

“We have to be able to discuss a ban on violent pornography, which we all agree has a very harmful effects on young people and can have a clear link to incidences of violent crime,” he said.

Methods under consideration include blocking access to pornographic website addresses and making it illegal to use Icelandic credit cards to access pay-per-view pornography.

A law forbidding the printing and distribution of pornography is already in force in Iceland but it has yet to be updated to cover the internet.

The proposals are expected to become law this year despite a general election in April.

“There is a strong consensus building in Iceland. We have so many experts from educationalists to the police and those who work with children behind this, that this has become much broader than party politics,” Halla Gunnarsdottir, a political adviser to Mr Jonasson told the Daily Mail.

“At the moment, we are looking at the best technical ways to achieve this. But surely if we can send a man to the moon, we must be able to tackle porn on the internet.”

The proposed control over online access, that mirrors attempt in dictatorships such as China to restrict the internet, is justified as a defence of vulnerable women and children.

“Iceland is taking a very progressive approach that no other democratic country has tried,” said Professor Gail Dines, an expert on pornography and speaker at a recent conference at Reykjavik University. “It is looking a pornography from a new position – from the perspective of the harm it does to the women who appear in it and as a violation of their civil rights.”

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Feb. 13 and Feb. 15.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch] e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.comfor a list of continents.]

2. For RUSSIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) How many people were killed/injured as a result of the falling meteoroid?
c) How did the majority of people get injured?

3. For SWITZERLAND:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Although not stated, it is assumed the Swiss president (who is also the Defense Minister) is cutting the Patrouille Suisse for economic reasons. Do you think the Swiss government should cut this popular part of the Swiss air force? Explain your answer.

4. For ICELAND:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What reason does Ogmundur Jonasson, Iceland’s interior minister, give for wanting to stop the access of online pornographic images and videos by young people through computers, games consoles and smartphones?
c) Censorship is defined as: removing things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc. Do you think Iceland’s government attempt to censor pornography is wrong? Explain your answer.
d) Should the U.S. censor pornography on the internet?  Explain your answer.

e) For each of the following opinions, do you agree or disagree? Explain your answers:

  • In his commentary in London’s Daily Telegraph, Ed West say: “The unthinking libertarianism that people wear these days like so much political fashion holds that people are free not to take part in another’s interests; but when porn-influenced images are all over newspapers, magazines, television and anywhere where young consumers may be tempted, it gets pretty hard to avoid.”
  • In his book “The 5000 Year Leap” Cleon Skousen said:  “There are 4 areas of responsibility which belong to government. These involve the policing responsibilities of government to prevent (in addition to the other 3): Debauchery of the cultural standards and moral fiber of society by commercial exploitation of vice- pornography, obscenity, drugs, liquor prostitution, or commercial gambling.”
  • God commands us in His word: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.” (Philippines 4:8)

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Background

RUSSIA:

meteoroid is a sand- to boulder-sized particle of debris in the Solar System. The visible streak of light from a meteoroid, heated as it enters a planet’s atmosphere, and the glowing particles that it sheds in its wake is called a meteor, or colloquially a “shooting star” or “falling star”. Many meteors appearing seconds or minutes apart, and appearing to originate from the same fixed point in the sky, are called a meteor shower.  Objects larger than several meters can explode in the air and create damage. If a meteoroid reaches the ground and survives impact, then it is called a meteorite.

Around 15,000 tonnes of meteoroids, micrometeoroids, and different forms of space dust enter Earth’s atmosphere each year. (from wikipedia)

  • SWITZERLAND – THE PATROUILLE SUISSE:

    • The “Patrouille Suisse” are the premiere Swiss Air Force aerobatic display team who fly six Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighters, painted in a national color white and red color scheme.
    • In 1960 the Swiss Air Force celebrated its 50th anniversary. On this occasion a display team was formed to take part in the celebration throughout the country.
    • This team made a great impression on the public and the press started to call the team Patrouille Suisse, inspired by the French aerobatic team Patrouille de France.
    • The Swiss Federal Defense Department decided to give the team permanent status.
    • The team basically consists of six demonstration pilots, one spare pilot, two narrators and about 35 technicians, but the precise number has been variable over the years.
    • Every candidate for a demonstration pilot must have a perfect flying record and once selected, they begin training in pairs before graduating to full formation aerobatics.
    • After 30 further hours of practice formation flying, a rookie pilot is ready for team performances. (from aerobaticteams.net/patrouille-suisse-history.html)
  • ICELAND:

    The liberalization of hardcore pornography has had some disturbing social effects: not only are large numbers of young people being exposed to sexually explicit material, and many becoming addicted to porn, but pornographic themes are seeping into the mainstream too. Porn has certainly had a huge influence on fashion and music, and in some ways altered the expectations men have of women. It’s not something that can be compartmentalized. None of this is especially healthy, or exactly what the baby-boomer feminists had in mind when they dreamed of making the world a fairer and freer place.

    The unthinking libertarianism that people wear these days like so much political fashion holds that people are free not to take part in another’s interests; but when porn-influenced images are all over newspapers, magazines, television and anywhere where young consumers may be tempted, it gets pretty hard to avoid.

    But there is an almost knee-jerk hostility to any sort of censorship [of pornography], as if the censoring of arousing images can be compared to the censoring of ideas. In reality the two things do not go hand-in-hand, and hardcore pornography has become legalized and normalized across Europe just as the range of acceptable opinions has shrunk. …I don’t see anything wrong with the government criminalizing hardcore pornography – if it can.
    (from a Feb. 15 commentary at the Telegraph by Ed West)

    Resources

    RUSSIA

    The science behind Russian meteor strike
    Dr Simon Green, a space sciences lecturer at the Open University explains the physics behind extraordinary images of a meteor strike in Russia:

    Meteoroid falling over Russia caught on camera:

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