Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ukraine Praise

"U.S., Canada, EU hail Ukraine's anti-corruption achievements"

The Embassy of the United States, the Embassy of Canada, and the EU Delegation to Ukraine have praised Ukraine for the important achievements it has made in the fight against corruption and encourage it to continue on the path of ambitious reforms. "We applaud the impressive steps taken since the Revolution of Dignity, including the adoption of constitutional amendments on the judiciary and of anti-corruption legislation, the establishment of specialized anti-corruption bodies, and the successful launch of the electronic asset declaration system," they said in a joint statement on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9. "These measures can contribute to greater public trust in the work of state officials, and we commend Ukrainian authorities and civil society for their dedication and hard work that has made it possible to launch a credible reform process," the statement said. According to the statement, these gains are still consolidating and require the continued, focused efforts of all Ukrainian stakeholders working together to sustain and build on this positive momentum into 2017, and beyond. "We strongly encourage the independent and credible verification of submitted e-declarations. We also look to Ukrainian authorities to ensure the independence and adequate resourcing of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), the Specialized Anti-corruption Prosecutor Office (SAPO), and the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC)," the statement said.The embassies say that it is vital that the competencies and powers of these specialized bodies are fully respected by all state institutions. "We voice our support for the establishment of the High Anti-corruption Court and stand ready to provide assistance as this process is being developed. The independent and transparent selection of judges will be of key importance," they said. "We also encourage Ukrainian authorities to complete the establishment of the new Asset Recovery and Management Office (AMRO) so that this institution can commence its operations in early 2017 and fulfil its critical tasks. We stress the importance of completing the creation of the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) in a transparent manner, which can ensure its independence and credibility," they added. 

^ It's nice to see that other countries are recognizing the transformation that the Ukraine is going through while at the same time fighting rebels in the Donbas and trying to get the annexed Crimea back. ^

Polar Vortex

^  With the Polar Vortex (and the sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow) don't forget to check on those that need some extra help: the elderly, disabled and animals/pets. ^

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lights Across Canada

From the Canadian Prime Minister's Website:
"Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the launch of Christmas Lights Across Canada"

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the official launch of the 32nd edition of Christmas Lights Across Canada: “Tonight, Canadians will gather on Parliament Hill for the official illumination ceremony of the Christmas Lights Across Canada program, kicking off the holiday season. These lights illuminate our nation’s capital and provincial and territorial capitals across the country. They connect our communities and represent the values that bring us together – those of peace, unity, and confidence in the future. “This year, the Christmas Lights Across Canada tradition holds special significance as we count down towards the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. “As we share the holiday season with family and friends, let us take a moment to reflect on how fortunate we are to call Canada home. Let us also remember the brave women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces, and their families, who make incredible sacrifices for our country each and every day. “Finally, I encourage all Canadians to warmly welcome those who have recently arrived in Canada as they experience the Canadian holiday season – and a Canadian winter – for the first time. We are neighbours who look out for each other, and lending a hand to those in need is at heart of the holiday season.” Canadians from coast to coast to coast can join in on the capital’s annual gathering by watching the evening’s festivities live on Facebook. For more information, please visit: Christmas Lights Across Canada

"Déclaration du premier ministre du Canada à l’occasion du lancement du programme des Lumières de Noël au Canada"

Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau a fait aujourd’hui la déclaration suivante à l’occasion du lancement officiel de la 32e édition du programme des Lumières de Noël au Canada : « Ce soir, les Canadiens se rassembleront sur la Colline du Parlement pour participer à la cérémonie d’illumination officielle du programme des Lumières de Noël au Canada, qui marque le début du temps des Fêtes. « Ces lumières illuminent notre capitale nationale, ainsi que les capitales des provinces et territoires de partout au pays. Elles unissent nos communautés et symbolisent les valeurs qui nous rassemblent : la paix, l’unité et la confiance en l’avenir. « Cette année, la tradition des Lumières de Noël au Canada revêt d’une importance particulière à l’approche du 150e anniversaire de la Confédération, en 2017. « Alors que nous profitons de la période des Fêtes avec parents et amis, prenons un moment pour réfléchir à la chance que nous avons de vivre au Canada. Ayons également une pensée pour les courageux hommes et femmes des Forces armées canadiennes et leurs familles qui, tous les jours, font d’immenses sacrifices pour notre pays. « Enfin, j’encourage tous les Canadiens à accueillir chaleureusement les gens arrivés récemment dans notre pays et qui font pour la première fois l’expérience du temps des Fêtes et de l’hiver au Canada. Nous sommes des voisins qui veillons les uns sur les autres, et le fait de donner un coup de main aux personnes dans le besoin est au cœur de cette période des Fêtes. » Les Canadiens d’un océan à l’autre peuvent se joindre au rassemblement annuel de la capitale en regardant les festivités de ce soir en direct sur Facebook. Pour plus de renseignements, veuillez consulter le site : Les Lumières de Noël au Canada

^ This is a cool idea: having Christmas lights in the national capital as well as all the provincial and territorial capitals. ^

Everyday Shoveling

^ In the past 8 days I have had to shovel snow 6 times and more is coming (1/2-2 feet) this weekend along with sub-zero temperatures (thanks Polar Vortex.) Other than on December 25th there's no need to have any more snow this season. The only people who like snow now are shut-ins and people who live in places that don't get snow. ^

Viola Desmond Dollar

The Guardian:
"Viola Desmond, Canadian who fought segregation, to appear on $10 note"

Viola Desmond, a black businesswoman who challenged racial segregation in Canada in 1946, will be the new face of the C$10 bill, the government said on Thursday, making her the first Canadian woman to be prominently featured on a banknote. Desmond refused to leave a whites-only Nova Scotia movie theater in an incident that took place nearly a decade before Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the segregated part of a bus in the United States. Desmond was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined.The selection of Desmond for the commonly used bill will bring the role of black people in Canada’s history to the fore, according to Queen’s University historian Barrington Walker.
 “It shows that Canada is increasingly willing to acknowledge the civil rights challenges that black Canadians faced in the past,” he said. “In very short order, she will become a household name.” While the Queen of England appears on most Canadian currency, Desmond is the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulating banknote.  “Viola Desmond is a woman who broke barriers, who provided an inspiration for Canadians around social justice issues and showed that each of us individually in courageous moments can make a difference,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau.  Desmond, who died in 1965, was chosen from thousands of submissions after an open call for candidates earlier this year. The short list included social activists, an engineer, a poet and an athlete.  “Viola inspires us ... today as she inspired people years ago,” said her sister Wanda Robson, who attended the announcement on Thursday. “I’m so proud, I’m almost in tears.”  Desmond will replace John A Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, when the new bill debuts in late 2018. Macdonald will be moved to a higher denomination bill.  The Canadian government is also planning to redesign the C$5 bill and will launch another search for a new Canadian to take the place of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone prime minister. Laurier will also be moved to a higher bill.  Putting a woman on a banknote was the latest step the one-year-old Liberal government has taken to promote gender equality, a major plank of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election campaign.

^ I have taken Canadian History classes and have never heard of Viola Desmond. I have heard of Rosa Parks (who refused to give up her seat to a white person in the US) and Desmond seems to be the Canadian-equivalent of Rosa Parks. Ad for the article where it states: "While the Queen of England appears on most Canadian currency...." they are wrong. When she is on Canadian currency she is on it as the Queen of Canada - a separate crown than the Monarchy of the UK. ^

Fake Russian Terrorists

From the MT:
"Surprise ‘Anti-Terrorist’ Training Exercise Terrifies Russian College Students"

A medical college outside St. Petersburg hosted a surprise “anti-terrorist training exercise” on Dec. 3, using armed and masked individuals pretending to be terrorists. One woman in the group even wore a fake suicide bomb vest. According to reports on social media, neither the students nor the faculty at Tikhvinsky Medical College were warned in advance, and many believed terrorists had actually seized the school.  “People were in shock,” one witness wrote on the Internet. “Some went into hysterics. They faced some people to the wall, and didn’t let them use their phones. When one girl refused to give up her phone (or to turn it off), they put a gun to another student’s head and said they’d shoot, if she didn’t give in.”  According to the Russian tabloid “Life,” the training exercises were carried out by the “Patriot” Military-Patriotic Education and Citizen Training Center — an organization created by the local regional government. Pavel Baranenko, the group’s director, told Life that the college’s administration should have notified students about upcoming “safety prevention measures,” but he says there was no need to disclose any further details.  “Why should they have been warned? If you warn people, then there’s no point to the training. Children think everything is a joke, and in case of a real-life situation [like this], your colleagues [in the media] will be writing about their corpses. My job is to make sure there aren’t any corpses,” Baranenko told Life, explaining that these simulations are designed to familiarize young people with methods used by groups like the Islamic State (a terrorist group banned in Russia).  Baranenko says he believes such experiences also help prevent terrorists from recruiting Russian youths. “If somebody gets scared, that means he definitely won’t be going on social media to support them, writing about how great ISIS and these terrorists are, and that they’re fighting for freedom. They’ll lose that ‘Robin Hood’ shine. If we scared someone, all the better,” he said.  According to Radio Baltika, local prosecutors have already visited the college to conduct a preliminary investigation, in response to the reports online. Meanwhile, local officials in the regional government say they’ve received only “favorable reviews” about the training exercise.

^ This is the most disturbing thing I have heard in a long time. Terrorism is everywhere nowadays and Russia has had its fair share of terrorist attacks - including the Nord-Ost Theater attack. I understand the government wanting to make it seem realistic, but what would have happened if someone in the college had a heart-attack and died or if one of the students thought they were defending themselves and killed one of the "terrorists?" Then the authorities would be guilty of murder. This is one of those instances when there was more harm done than good. ^

New Snow

^ A major snowstorm to hit Sunday-Tuesday. ^

New England Christmas

"Is there anything better than Christmas on a northern New England mountain? I can't think of anything."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

John Glenn

From the BBC:
"John Glenn, first American to orbit Earth, dies aged 95"

As the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became a national hero. His achievement restored some pride to the US after first Yuri Gagarin and then Gherman Titov had successfully put Russia ahead in the space race. Like all of the original astronauts, Glenn had seen service as a military flyer before joining the space programme. And at the age of 77, after a career in politics he did it all over again, becoming the oldest person ever to travel into orbit.  His achievement restored some pride to the US after first Yuri Gagarin and then Gherman Titov had successfully put Russia ahead in the space race. He failed to complete the course which would have led to a Bachelor of Science degree although his college awarded him one after his earth orbit. He learned to fly just before America entered the war in 1941, and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943. He was a pilot in a Marine fighter squadron in the Pacific and again during the Korean War, when he gained a reputation for being able to attract enemy anti-aircraft fire.  After one mission he returned to base with more than 200 holes in the fuselage of his F9F Panther fighter. He was posted to the US Test Pilot School in Maryland and in 1957 became the first pilot to complete a supersonic flight across the continental US. Two years later he became one of six pilots selected for the fledgling US space programme following a gruelling series of physical and mental tests.  Glenn almost failed to make the final selection. He did not meet the required academic qualifications and was close to 40, the age that would have barred him from being considered.  On 20 February 1962, Glenn boarded the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 for a space journey that would last more than four hours and see him complete three orbits of the Earth. There was concern over his safe return after instruments indicated a malfunction on the capsule but he splashed down safely in the Atlantic just 40 miles from the target area.  His first words when he was lifted aboard a US destroyer were: "It's hot in there." Glenn received a rapturous welcome which included a ticker-tape parade in New York and a personal award from President John F Kennedy. However, this popularity proved to be a double-edged sword.  He wasn't permitted to return to space the following year, allegedly on Kennedy's orders, so Glenn turned his attentions to a career in politics in his home state of Ohio.   But he was to find that being an astronaut could be a disadvantage; people didn't seem to see him as a serious politician.  His first attempt to run for office in the Democratic primaries in 1964 failed after he was forced to give up campaigning following a fall.  But he was successful 10 years later when he won the primary and defeated the Republican incumbent to become senator for Ohio.  As a politician, John Glenn had integrity and an independent mind.  But he was a dull speaker and a poor organiser. He found it hard to delegate, and was something of a loner. His attempt to win the Democratic nomination for vice-president failed in 1976 after a lacklustre speech at the party's convention. And he lost out to Walter Mondale in his attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for president in 1984, a campaign that saw him run up debts of $3m.  He'd also had to fight off the negative image of himself as portrayed in the 1983 film, The Right Stuff, which was an account of the astronaut training programme.  Based on the book by Tom Wolfe, the film portrayed Glenn as an argumentative character and a poor team player His campaign debts were one reason why Michael Dukakis decided not to have him as a running mate in 1988 - that and the fact that he, like Dukakis himself, lacked charisma. In October 1998 Glenn, who had stood down from politics, was back in space at the age of 77 as part of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery  During his 218 hours above the Earth, he undertook experiments to examine the effect of space travel on his ageing body and allow comparisons with the data collected on his first flight, 36 years before.  But some commentators questioned the scientific value of this flight, which they felt was a political favour granted by President Clinton. Once more he returned to a ticker-tape parade and a hero's welcome from a new generation of fans. John Glenn, the astronaut, never lost his popularity.  He remained the man who had put credibility back into America's space programme and helped pave the way for the 1969 Moon landings.

^ Even though I was born decades after John Glenn went into Space I still think he did a lot for the US. He was part of the first major event in the US Space Program that would lead to the US winning the Space Race against the USSR when we landed on the moon in 1969. ^

Bang Christmas

White Christmas?

^ Last year we had no snow on Christmas. In fact we had an unusually warm Christmas with temperatures in the 60s. This year it seems we will have a white Christmas. We already have snow with a bog storm expected this weekend along with Arctic air. Of course there are a few weeks left until December 25th so it could change. ^

Nazi Pensions

From the DW:
"Nazi criminals still receiving war victim pensions"

A new report published by the German government says that a 1998 law designed to stop war pensions being paid to former Nazis has had almost no effect. The Labor Ministry says there is little it can do now. Germans who participated in the Holocaust are still receiving "war victims" pensions from the state, according to a new report commissioned by the German Labor Ministry - which says it has no intention of acting on it. The report, written by the historians Stefan Klemp and Martin Hölzl of the global Holocaust research institute, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), found that the 1998 War Victims' Assistance Act, designed to cut off benefits to Nazi perpetrators, had only resulted in 99 pension cancellations out of a possible 76,000 names between 1998 and 2013. No pension has been cut off since 2008. "The public media had great expectations in the new law," the historians wrote in the report. "It was meant to achieve justice by cancellations of war disability benefits for those persons who violated the norms of humanity during the Third Reich." Efraim Zuroff, director of the SWC in Jerusalem, described the report's conclusions as "exceptionally depressing," while Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee told the "taz" newspaper: "If you think of the coldness and arrogant distance with which many NS victims were refused pensions at the beginning, we can only call this disgraceful."  Klemp and Hölzl developed a survey they sent to all of Germany's state labor ministries, asking how many war pensions had been cancelled under the act, and how the decisions had been made. In 1998, when the law was passed, around a million Germans were claiming war pensions, and there was no provision separating out those involved in the Holocaust. ("If Adolf Hitler were still alive today, he could get a so-called 'war-victim' pension on top of his normal pension," public broadcaster ARD pointed out at the time.) Indeed, the widows of some of Nazi Germany's most infamous criminals received war victim pensions after the war. Lina Heydrich, widow of Reinhard Heydrich, a principal architect of the Holocaust who was assassinated in Prague in 1942, received his war victim pension until her death in 1985. (By contrast, the widows of the executed conspirators behind Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg's 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler often battled the courts for years to receive a war pension). A BSG ruling in the late 90s defined Nazi perpetrators as those who served in Auschwitz or on special SS missions or SS infantry brigades, and when the new pensions ruling was passed, the German government estimated that this would cover some 50,000 people - though the SWC has since counted 76,000. Either way, there remained a huge discrepancy with the 99 pensions that were actually cut. The report found that rulings by the Federal Social Security Court (BSG) led to complications that allowed pensions to continue to be paid. In some cases confidence protection laws or special regulations covering the relatives of war dead allowed pensions to continue at least in part.  The historians also found bureaucratic issues, including incomplete records on potential suspects and a lack of personnel to follow up problems. They singled out the lack of a digitized system at the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, which keeps records of some 700,000 people considered victims, witnesses, or perpetrators. Jens Rommel, the state prosecutor who directs the Ludwigsburg office, was slightly mystified at this criticism. "I'd like to ask how it would change the result if the data was available digitally," he told DW. "Of course it would be easier for us internally to go through the data with a computer. But the result wouldn't be any different. And anyway we're just one of many authorities who can help." His office, he explained, was only responsible for providing information to pension authorities on people in its records, if they submit requests. According to the report, when the SWC historians searched its archives, Ludwigsburg found 2,600 war pension claimants on its records who may have been involved in Nazi crimes - though "in many cases their identities could not be clarified." In any case, Rommel could not say whether they were still alive or not. The Labor Ministry itself has said that it is not planning to alter the law in light of the report it published. "It should be noted that the main reason for the small number of withholdings or withdrawals - the death of the potential perpetrator - remains the case," a spokesman told DW in an emailed statement. "Since even the youngest perpetrators would now be around 90 years old, the likelihood of finding living perpetrators among the pension claimants [...] will decline from year to year."

^ This should not surprise anyone. Germany has claimed (since May 1945) that they are sorry for the Holocaust in which the Germans murdered millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children in cold-blood, but their actions speak louder than their words. They have allowed Nazis to live and work openly for decades and of course they would receive government pensions for the "good" service they did during World War 2. While they are murderers who should be in prison or, in a perfect world, put to death, for the horrible crimes they committed the German Government continues to reward them. ^

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Mail

From Yahoo:
"Holiday shipping deadlines for UPS, FedEx and major retailers"

Get your holiday gifts delivered by Christmas. Christmas is a few weeks away, which means holiday shopping is in full swing. Ordering a gift online is more convenient, but it also means that you have to pay close attention to shipping and delivery dates. After all, what good is giving a gift if it arrives three days after Christmas? To prevent this from happening to you, here are the delivery cutoff dates for major retailers and delivery carriers.

FedEx predicts it will ship as many as 25 million packages on peak days during the busy shipping season. To ensure your gifts arrive on time, these are the last days to ship so your packages arrive on or before Sunday, Dec. 25.
Dec. 16 — Last day to ship FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery
Dec. 19 — Last day to ship FedEx Express Saver
Dec. 21 — Last day to ship FedEx 2Day A.M and FedEx 2Day
Dec. 22 — Last day to ship FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx First Overnight.
Dec. 23 — FedEx SameDay City
Dec. 25 — FedEx SameDay and FedEx SameDay City
FedEx First Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx 2Day will make deliveries on Saturday, Dec. 24. A $16 Saturday delivery fee will apply per package.  

The United States Postal Services predicts it will handle 750 million packages this holiday season, up 12% compared to 2015. The holiday shipping schedule is for domestic services and guarantees delivery by Dec. 25.
Dec. 15 – Last day for USPS Retail Ground. Ground service for less-than-urgent deliveries and oversized packages.
Dec. 20 – First-Class Mail. Service for standard-sized, single-piece envelopes and small packages weighing up to 13 ounces with delivery in 3 business days or less.
Dec. 21 – Priority Mail. Domestic service in 1, 2 or 3 business days based on where the package is mailed and where it’s being sent, variety of flat-rate options.
Dec. 23 – Priority Mail Express. Fastest domestic service, guaranteed overnight scheduled delivery to most locations. Some restrictions and exceptions apply.

It’s a big year for shipping, with UPS predicting it will deliver more than 700 million packages between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve – up 14% from last  year.  The UPS Christmas schedule guarantees delivery before Christmas Eve.
Dec. 19 — Last day to ship via UPS 3 Day Select to be delivered before Christmas Day (delivery on Friday, Dec. 23).
Dec. 21 — This is the last day to ship all UPS 2nd Day Air packages to be delivered before Christmas Day (delivery on Friday, Dec. 23).
Dec. 22 — Last day to ship all UPS Next Day Air packages to be delivered on Friday, Dec. 23 — This is the last day to ship all UPS 2nd Day Air packages to be delivered before Christmas Day (must use the Saturday delivery option for delivery on Saturday, Dec. 24).

Amazon deadlines are for the contiguous US and might vary by item and shipping location. For arrival on or before Christmas.

Dec. 16 — Cutoff for free shipping
Dec. 19  — Cutoff for standard shipping
Dec. 22 — Last day for two-day shipping (free with Prime)
Dec. 23 — One-day shipping in select cities (free with Prime)
Dec. 24 — Same day delivery in select cities (free with Prime)
Dec.24 — Two-hour delivery. Cutoff at 9:45 pm (in select cities, free for Prime members).

^ I already mailed my international and domestic mail for Christmas so I'm all set. ^

75: Pearl Harbor

^75 years ago today!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2017 Almanac

Going to continue an annual tradition. Got my 2017 World Almanac today!

NORAD Santa Tracker

"NORAD is ready to track Santa’s flight"

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is celebrating the 61st Anniversary of tracking Santa’s yuletide journey! The NORAD Tracks Santa website,, features Santa’s North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, games, activities, and more. The website is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese. Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are also available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, so parents and children can countdown the days until Santa’s launch on their smart phones and tablets! Tracking opportunities are also offered on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google+. Santa followers just need to type “@noradsanta” into each search engine to get started. Starting at 2:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight. NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will stream videos on the website as Santa makes his way over various locations. Then, at 6 a.m. EST, trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to Any time on Dec. 24, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana for Santa’s location, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa. NORAD Tracks Santa is truly a global experience, delighting generations of families everywhere. This is due, in large part, to the efforts and services of numerous program contributors. It all started in 1955 when a local media advertisement directed children to call Santa direct – only the number was misprinted. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. Thus began the tradition, which NORAD carried on since it was created in 1958.

^ I have used NORAD's Santa Tracker for years. It started when I was young and had to use a landline phone to call and find out where he was to now following him around the world on the Internet. It is a great way for the American and Canadian militaries to show a little of what they can do to the non-military. ^

Snow Meat

"Snow...... the other white meat."

Elf Christmas

Malta Bans Therapy

From the BBC:
"Malta bans 'gay cure' conversion therapy"

Malta has become the first European country to ban gay conversion therapy. The bill against the practice, which aims to "cure" a non-heterosexual person of their sexuality, was voted through unanimously.  Under the new law, anyone who tries to "change, repress or eliminate a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression" will be fined or even jailed. Professionals will face heftier fines of up to 10,000 euros (£8,450/$10,700). They could also be jailed for up to a year, according to Malta Today. The bill also enshrines in law that "no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort". Malta was named the best European country for LGBT rights by advocacy group ILGA-Europe in 2015.   Gay conversion therapy has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years, but remains more popular in the US than in Europe. Its supporters claim it uses standard psycho-therapeutic and counselling techniques so people can change or reduce their "homosexual tendencies" of their own free will. But the World Psychiatric Association has denounced the practice as unethical, unscientific and harmful to those who undergo it. Two years ago, NHS England and the Royal College of Psychiatrists - along with 12 other organisations in the UK - signed an agreement which called it "potentially harmful and unethical". It has also been banned on minors in several places in the US, including California and Illinois.

^ Gay Conversion Therapy should be banned in every country around the world. I am glad that Malta has taken this step in being the first country to ban it. Now if Malta would also allow same-sex marriage they would be considered an even greater country to live and visit. ^

Merkel Ban

From the BBC:
"Angela Merkel endorses burka ban 'wherever legally possible'"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the wearing of full-faced veils should be prohibited in the country "wherever it is legally possible". At a meeting of her CDU party, she backed a burka ban in schools, courts and other state buildings. It is widely accepted that a total ban would violate Germany's constitution. Mrs Merkel was re-elected CDU leader but faces a tough challenge by the right-wing anti-immigration AfD party in next year's polls. She has seen her approval ratings slip since her decision to allow about a million asylum seekers into Germany during last year's Europe-wide migrant crisis. However the centre-right chancellor, who has been power since 2005, still retains wide support. She was re-elected Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader on Tuesday with 89.5% of the votes cast by about 1,000 delegates.   Mrs Merkel's comments drew thunderous applause from her party faithful but it will dismay those who have looked to her as Europe's defender of liberal values. German constitutional law would probably prevent the CDU from seeking a complete ban on burkas in public. Nevertheless, Mrs Merkel made her distaste for full face veils clear. In practice, very few women cover their faces in Germany. But this is about symbolism. Mrs Merkel has faced significant party and public anxiety about the integration of about a million asylum seekers. She has gradually hardened her asylum policy, making it easier, for example, to deport foreign-born criminals. And this is also about timing. Tuesday's speech in effect sets out the CDU stall ahead of next year's general election. Mrs Merkel's conservatives, like other established parties, are losing votes to the AfD. Even she admits this will be the toughest election she has ever fought.  Mrs Merkel told the annual CDU congress in the city of Essen that it was right to expect integration from newcomers. She expressed support for a proposal, outlined in August by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, to outlaw the burka or any full-face veil in public buildings.  In German culture, she said, it was not appropriate for women to completely cover their faces and the full veil "should be banned wherever it is legally possible". The BBC's Jenny Hill says it is the first time that the chancellor has made such comments in a major speech. In recent months, the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) has capitalised on a wave of anger over last year's migrant crisis, and made strong gains in regional elections. Polls suggest the AfD currently has 12% support nationally. Its success is mirrored by that of populist, anti-establishment parties in other European countries where elections are also due next year. In France - where the full-face veil has been banned in all public places since 2010 - the far-right National Front (FN) is credited with 30% support ahead of a presidential poll. In the Netherlands, where elections are due in March, opinion polls suggest the right-wing populist Freedom Party (PVV) is neck and neck with the governing liberal VVD.

^ It seems that people around Europe are starting to see that their own cultures are being threatened by allowing other cultures to impose their own beliefs on the new homelands. If a non-Muslim goes to a Muslim country (like I have) they are forced to dress and act accordingly to the Muslim code and that extends to women who most often have it much worse than men in those countries. It is only fair to expect Muslims coming to the non-Muslim parts of Europe to dress and act accordingly to Western culture. Europeans, Canadians and Americans are seeing our culture threatened (literally) with both violence, death, terrorism as well as regular day-to-day aspects and people around the Western World are starting to stand-up for our beliefs in the same way that the Arab/Muslim World has done. Merkel took a gamble with her refugee crusade and it has failed. The German people are starting to see that and question her. I think she saw Clinton's loss in the(j US as a sign that the AfD could win in Germany and so she is moving away from her refugee promise to one of protecting German culture and traditions. People have always said the US is a nation of immigrants (which is true) but the "melting pot" country has long been one of integration rather than being separate cultures (ie. people are expected to learn English and adhere to our Judeo-Christian ways.) Germany has a little bit of a different history, but in the end the Germans want to keep their German language, culture and traditions just like any other nation) as well they should. ^

Pearl Harbor Suvrivors

From USA Today:
"Pearl Harbor survivors: War is hell, even 75 years later"

Charles Hocker wanted to escape Beaver Dam, Ky. Vito Colonna was trying to help out his struggling family in Cleveland. John Gideon followed a friend into the Navy, thinking about what young men think about. "I pictured hula girls,” said Hocker. And that’s why they were American military men in what seemed like paradise — in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on a day, 75 years ago, that will live in infamy. They were so very young then, Gideon the oldest at 21. Today, for anyone who believes that time heals all wounds, that war can be left on the battlefield or even that survivor’s guilt recedes with time, listen to three nonagenarians who will, quietly, set you straight. They are from separate states, were interviewed separately and have little – and everything – in common.  “I lay awake in bed” some nights, said Gideon, now 96 and then a Navy Seaman 1st Class. “The memories still flash through my mind,” said Hocker, 92, then in the Army only because he falsified his birth certificate. “Why are you keeping me here?” Colonna, 92, then a Navy medic who was one of the few to survive the sinking of the USS Arizona, said he still asks God. “Did I do something wrong?” Coming from a family with 16 children, Colonna at age 14 found work at a Cleveland hospital during the Depression and picked up terminology and tips from the medical staff. So when he joined the Navy two years later — lying about his age — he was tapped to be a medic.  On Dec. 7, he was working below deck when he decided to take a cigarette break. A nurse replaced him. “I smoked a cigarette and all of a sudden we heard … the sound, like a pressure cooker,” Colonna said while imitating the harsh hiss and whistle from 75 years ago. “As sure as hell as the day is long, we looked up and it was a bomb that was coming down that hit the Arizona.”  Gideon was working on a motor launch when the first wave of attacks hit. “I couldn’t conceive what was happening,” he said. As he tried to get to the deck, a blast upended the boat. “I came up with the boat and I came down in the oil and burning water,” Gideon said. “It burned my clothes off, and I got back on the rig stark naked.” All three remember chaos – just total chaos. Both Gideon and Hocker said the same thing: “There was no place to hide.” Hocker says nervous soldiers sometimes fired on each other. All three remember so many bodies. “It tore the Arizona apart,” said Colonna, a retired carpenter and factory worker who lives in Sandusky, Ohio. He remembers falling, hitting the water on his back. His spine was fractured, although he didn’t know it at the time. He and others swam for the ship’s prop. “I prayed to God,” he said.  “My mind was so confused. I didn’t know where I was or what I could do.” In a matter of minutes, the teen had lost nearly all of his shipmates. “Most of them – almost all of them drowned,” he said. Gideon, a retired mechanical engineer who lives in North Fort Myers, Fla., didn’t talk about this for years, says his wife of seven decades, Geraldine. “I didn’t even know he was a Pearl Harbor survivor,” she says. “He never really talked about it until someone brought it up just lately.” Gideon has never returned to Hawaii; his wife doesn’t like to fly. Hocker, a retired vending sales and maintenance worker who lives in Louisville, Ky., hasn’t talked much about his experiences, either, but now thinks he should as a voice for others. He was seriously injured soon after Pearl Harbor and felt guilty for years, he said, that he was on the sidelines while so many died. “They killed a lot of my buddies,” he said. He is in Hawaii this week with other survivors to take part in ceremonies — the first time he has returned since the attack. Despite his injuries, Colonna went on to serve in some of the most gruesome fighting in the Pacific, including the invasion of Iwo Jima. He still can’t believe how young he was – how young so many soldiers are when they see the worst things of their lives. “I was just a young kid, a 16-year-old punk,” Colonna said.   He talks about dealing with the trauma of the war, which haunted him for years. Colonna says he also hated the Japanese people for far too long. Doctors convinced him he had to talk about what he experienced at Pearl Harbor and the battles afterward as his mental salvation. Still, he wonders why, of all those in the war, God is keeping him alive when so many other veterans are gone. Then he looks at everything he has done in his life. The former medic lost men in the field but said he saved men, too. “Honest to God,” he said, “I saved a lot of my boys.”

^ It is 75 years tomorrow since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and yet it doesn't seem that many years have gone by. Of course I wasn't born for decades after the attack, but was always taught in school about it or told from my Grandparents' generation. I guess it is one of those pivotal events in American History that no matter how long has passed since it happened or whether or not there is anyone alive who still remembers the day it will always be important to us. It not only got us into World War 2, but also got the US out of its self-imposed isolationism and helped make us a Super Power. ^

Griswold Christmas

^ This is a very funny movie that I have watched every Christmas since it came out. ^

3.8 Million Need Help

"UN: Over 3.8 mln Ukrainians in need due to Donbas war"

"The number of people in need has actually increased by 700,000 since 2016 HRP, according to humanitarian assessments. People have exhausted their savings, their ability to cope is stretched too far after more than 30 months of conflict. The suspension of social payments and pensions to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 2016 further aggravated the protection situation in Ukraine. Some 2.9 million people are believed to be in need of protection, while 3.7 million people need water and sanitation assistance, 2.2 million people need health care and 1.1 million need food assistance or livelihood interventions," the United Nations in Ukraine said in an announcement about the launch of the plan on December 5. "Humanitarian partners in Ukraine propose to complement the government-led response and other actors' humanitarian interventions with a focused and prioritised HRP, totaling $214 million to assist some 2.6 million people most in need of humanitarian assistance in 2017. Of the total requirement, activities worth $ 127 million were identified as critical priority for which early funding is crucial to ensure timely delivery of multi-sector life-saving assistance for the most vulnerable, and to ensure that key benchmarks are met, especially for winterisation and other seasonal-sensitive efforts," the plan reads. The 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine encompasses 94 projects put forward by 45 organizations, including 35 national and international NGOs and 10 UN agencies. More than US$42 million of the funding is for protection, US$33.8 million for shelter and non-food items and US$26 million for access to safe water and sanitation. "As the conflict enters its fourth year in May of 2017, humanitarian partners struggle to meet critical needs of people in an almost invisible conflict. At the same time, there is potential, particularly in government-controlled areas, to move more firmly into recovery. Simultaneous urgent action at both fronts is crucial to address real needs caused by man-made conflict," UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Neal Walker said in his comment on the launch of the plan. Read alsoVadym Chernysh: We must not reject Donbas people. The Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs, Vadym Chernysh, highlighted that plans of Ukraine's government for areas affected by the conflict include not only the implementation of development projects, but also humanitarian assistance to the population. "In coordination with international organizations, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan will help to ensure the most basic needs of the people living in both government and non-government controlled territories of Ukraine," he said.

^ People (especially in Canada and the EU) go on and on about helping refugees from war-torn countries yet they seem to do little to help the Ukrainians displaced by the Russian annexation of the Crimea or the Russian-backed War in the Donbass. At the same time the world expects the Ukraine to modernize, reform itself, end corruption, fight the rebels in eastern Ukraine and try to get back the Crimea peacefully as well as feed, house and pay for the displaced. No countries in Europe could modernize, rebuild and take care of their displaced persons after World War 2 (they needed help from the US and our Marshall Plan.) There is no such aid being given to the Ukraine and they need it. ^

China Call

From the BBC:
"White House looks to reassure China after Trump-Taiwan call"

The White House says it has sought to reassure China after President-elect Donald Trump's phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The call last week sparked alarm as the US does not have formal relations with Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province.  China lodged a diplomatic complaint in response. The White House said officials had assured China of their "continued commitment to a one-China policy". Mr Trump's phone call was followed by two tweets in which he criticised China's monetary policy and its operations in the South China Sea. Mr Trump has downplayed his conversation with Ms Tsai, calling it a courtesy call. On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was "hard to determine exactly what the aim was" behind the president-elect's actions.  But he said the US policy on Taiwan had "been in place for nearly 40 years, and it has been focused on promoting and preserving peace and stability". "The adherence to and commitment to this policy has advanced the ability of the United States to make progress in our relationship with China and, of course, has benefitted the people of Taiwan," said Mr Earnest. Beijing sees Taiwan as a province and aims to deny it any of the trappings of an independent state. It has threatened to use force if Taiwan formally declares independence.  Taiwan is not recognised by the US as an independent country and the two have no formal diplomatic relations, but it also does not recognise Beijing's claim over Taiwan. China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said US-China relations were always conducted on a "win-win" approach. "To maintain such sound momentum of development, it will take both sides to work together on the basis of upholding major principles in bilateral relations," he said.  On Tuesday, an opinion piece in the overseas edition of China's People's Daily newspaper said that "provoking disagreements with China will not help resolve US domestic problems, won't help achieve the new Trump administration's domestic agenda".
"Provoking Sino-American frictions, messing up US-China ties will also not help 'Make America Great again'," said the article by Jia Xiudong.

^ This is just another reason China will one-day own the US and the rest of the world. We allow ourselves to be China's lackey rather than the only Super Power have left in the world. We should not have the One-China Policy anymore. It may have been needed in 1979 when President Carter started it (I know most people think it was Nixon in 1972, but it wasn't) because we wanted another ally (especially a Communist one) against the USSR, but the Cold War is over and a lot has changed around the world in the 30+ years since we dropped Taiwan  - who we had been allies with since it gained it's independence from the Japanese in 1945 - for China. The US was able to have relations with both West Germany and Eats Germany in the 1980s and one was a Communist country so I don't see how we can't do the same with Taiwan and China. For not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan we still allow Taiwanese citizens to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program and yet don't do the same for Chinese citizens. Just saying. China liked it's one-policy things whether it was One-Child or One-China. They did away with their One-Child Policy and the US should do away with the One-China Policy and recognize Taiwan and China. ^

Restoring Ties

From the DW:
"First Israeli ambassador to Turkey in six years starts work"

Israel has its first ambassador in Turkey since relations were severed following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. It comes as Turkey finds itself diplomatically isolated and facing multiple security threats.  Turkey on Monday received its first ambassador from Israel since the two countries broke off ties in 2010, completing a final step of a rapprochement between once close regional allies. Eitan Naeh met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the sprawling presidential palace in Ankara, handing over his formal credentials and introducing staff. A video on the presidential website showed Erdogan, who has regularly lambasted Israel over the years, warmly shaking hands with the Israeli embassy staff. Naeh is the country's first ambassador since Israeli commandos in 2010 raided the Mavi Marmara humanitarian ship trying to break a blockade of Gaza, killing nine Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American. The incident set off a major feud between two powers that once had a close military-to-military relationship, rearranging the strategic and political landscape of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. In the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, the two countries severed ties and relations hit an all-time low. After nearly two years of painstaking behind the scenes talks, the two sides reached an agreement in June to restore relations. Under the terms of the agreement, Israel apologized for the raid and agreed to pay 18 million euros ($20 million) in compensation. Tel Aviv also agreed to allow Turkish humanitarian shipments into Gaza under the condition they first pass through an Israeli port for inspection.  Turkey agreed to drop any legal proceedings against any Israeli citizen or anybody acting on behalf of the Israeli government for the raid. On Friday, Turkish prosecutors called for any charges against Israelis for the raid to be dropped, citing the deal. The next hearing is expected next week. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's foreign policy advisor, Kemal Okem, is set to take up the ambassador role in Tel Aviv on December 12. The rapproachement comes as Turkey finds itself increasingly isolated diplomatically in disputes with the European Union and faces multiple security threats on its southern border with Syria and Iraq.  

^ Turkey has had a difficult time lately and it needs all the help it can get. That's why I think they decided to restore diplomatic relations with Russia and Israel. Regardless of the reasons hopefully, things will only get better between Israel and Turkey. There are too many bad organizations and countries in the region that are a much bigger threat to Turkey's and Israel's survival. ^

St. Nicoholas Day!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Banknote Inflation

From the BBC:
"Venezuela issues new banknotes after inflation"

Venezuela is issuing new higher-value notes to help deal with some of the practical problems of soaring inflation. A backpack full of cash is often required to pay bills at a restaurant or supermarket.
The central bank said that six new bills ranging from 500 to 20,000 bolivars would come into circulation on 15 December.  Currently the largest note is 100 bolivars and worth about two US cents. Over the past month, the currency has tumbled by 60% against the dollar on the black market. "[This] will make the payments system more efficient, facilitate commercial transactions and minimize the costs of production, replacement and transfer ... which will translate into benefits for banking, trade and the general population," the central bank said.  On Friday, Venezuela's credit card and cash machine system froze, leaving businesses unable to process transactions and having to ask for cash or to delay payment. Socialist President Nicolas Maduro blamed the problem on a cyber-attack. He maintains that the economic crisis is being backed by the US. The government last published figures for inflation in December 2015, putting it at 180%, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that next year's prices will rise by more than 2,000%. The Venezuelan economy has been hit hard by the fall in the price of oil, its main source of income. It also has had strict currency controls in place since 2003.

^ No matter what you think of a government it is never a good thing (for the citizens of visitors) in a country to have to deal with shortages and inflation. It leads to many more problems that have led to the collapse of countries in the past. I collect currency from around the world and will try to get one of these new banknotes, but hope that the inflation in Venezuela goes away (and with it the new banknotes) soon. ^

Amazon Smile

Every time I shop on Amazon I use Amazon Smile and a portion of my order is given to the EOD Warrior Foundation. If you use Amazon make sure to use the free Amazon Smile option and pick your favorite charity (maybe the EOD Warrior Foundation.)

Holiday Support


"I have decided to hibernate until there's no more snow."

^Guess I'll see everyone at the end of May. ^

Early Opening

"Opening a door on your Advent Calendar before the actual date is as sacrilegious as kicking a leprechaun in the stomach to get his four-leaf clover."

European Gift Givers

Here are the names of the different Christmas/New Year's gift givers in Europe.

Holiday Post

Here are the Post Office websites that have a holiday section or theme. Some even have a section for "Letters To Santa" or the local equivalent. The holiday season are a busy time for Post Offices and so you would think many more would have something on their websites.

1. Australia (Letters To Santa)
2. Belarus
3. Brazil
4. Canada (Letters To Santa)
5. Chile
6. Croatia (Letters To Santa)
7. Czech Republic
8. France
9. Germany (Letters To Santa)
10. Hungary
11. Iceland
12. Ireland (Letters To Santa)
13. Italy
14. Kyrgyzstan (Letters To Santa)
15. Malta (Letters To Santa)
16. Netherlands
17. New Zealand (Letters To Santa)
18. Poland
19. Serbia (Letters To Santa)
20. Slovenia
21. Spain
22. Sweden
23. Switzerland
24. United Kingdom (Letters To Santa)
25. United States (Letters To Santa)
26. Venezuela

2nd Advent

Saturday, December 3, 2016


From AMC:
"Top 20 Christmas Movies"

1. Elf
It may star Will Ferrell as a dim-witted elf, but the movie's payoff is old-fashioned, familiar, and welcome.

2 Home Alone
A game changer for the Christmas-movie category: it has action, like a zip line to the neighbors' house.

3 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Decking the halls and other traditions are all colossal failures for the Griswold family -- riotous because it hits close to home.

4 How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Boris Karloff's dulcet baritone lends sinister charm to everyone's favorite Who hater in this short, sweet Christmas special.

5 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This sixties stop-motion-animation movie is impossibly cute, right down to Sam the Snowman.

6 A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown sets out to find the true meaning of Christmas in this animated anti-commercialism classic.

7 It’s a Wonderful Life
Whether or not you have your own guardian angel hovering, the lesson here is that it's not money that makes you rich.

8 Frosty the Snowman
This holiday staple features one of the most memorably catchy Christmassy theme songs ever.

9 The Santa Clause
Tim Allen deconstructs Saint Nick -- and reconstructs his waistline -- as a hapless Santa in training.

10 Miracle on 34th Street
Uplifting without being cloying. It's no wonder that this movie is a much-beloved holiday chestnut.

11 A Christmas Story
This comedy satisfies two sets of audiences: kids (Ralphie gets his BB gun) and parents (it does exactly what they warned him it would).

12 A Christmas Carol
George C. Scott plays Scrooge in this classic made-for-TV version of the Charles Dickens holiday tale.

13 White Christmas
The follow-up to Holiday Inn is once again full of Irving Berlin tunes, with Bing Crosby providing the vocals. What's not to love?

14 Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
It's rather hard to say who's the real star of this funny live-action version: is it Jim Carrey or Dr. Seuss?

15 Holiday Inn
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire celebrate a year's worth of holidays, against a steady flow of Irving Berlin tunes.
16 The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppet adaptation of the classic story is fun, sweet, and definitely appropriate for the whole family.

17 Scrooged
The Bill Murray renaissance began with his turn as ultimate crank Frank Cross. A Solid Gold Dancers cameo helps get the lesson across.

18 Christmas in Connecticut
A war hero has Christmas dinner with the Martha Stewart-esque Barbara Stanwyck (who actually can't cook) in this holiday farce.

19 The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton's enchanting tale has all the familiar, er, bones of a holiday classic -- love, redemption, and Santa.

20 Bad Santa
Full of expletives and sexual innuendos, Bad Santa upends the feel-good tradition of holiday movies -- and it was about time.

^ I have seen all 20 of these movies. The ones in black are the ones I agree should be on this list as they are good Christmas classics. The ones in blue I don't think should be on here. I absolutely hate "It's a Wonderful Life" and can not watch it  - once was enough for me. "Mickey's Christmas Carol" should be on this list too.  ^

Disability Day!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Parton's Fund

From the BBC:
"Singer Dolly Parton sets up fund for Tennessee fires victims"

Country music legend Dolly Parton has said her charity will donate $1,000 (£797) a month to families affected by devastating wildfires in Tennessee.  The singer said she would provide help "until they get back up on their feet". "I've always believed that charity begins at home," Parton said in a video statement. At least seven people have been killed in the fires in Sevier County, Tennessee, and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Parton's Dollywood Foundation has set up a fund where people can donate to help victims of the fires.    "I know it's been a trying time for my people, and this assistance will help," she said. The wildfires came to the doorstep of Dollywood, Parton's theme park in Pigeon Forge, Sevier County.  A spokesman said guests were evacuated from some of its properties, and that several cabins and holiday structures were damaged.  Around 45 people have been treated in hospital as a result of the wildfires, and over 700 buildings have been damaged.   Mandatory evacuations are under way around Gatlinburg, a city seven miles (11 km) southeast of Pigeon Forge. Parton, 70, appeared in a public service advertisement on Sunday, asking people nearby to take steps to avoid spreading the fire. Later, she spoke of her misery at the toll the blazes had taken. "I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains, and I am heartbroken. "I am praying for all the families affected by the fire - and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe," she said. Dollywood will remain closed until 14:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Friday, while the Great Smoky Mountains - the most visited national park in the US - said it had closed all park facilities and many trails.  There is also concern for more than 10,000 animals at an aquarium in Gatlinburg, after all employees were evacuated.  The building is still standing, but "workers are anxious to return to check on the animals", the general manager of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Ryan DeSears, told local media.   Twenty-six active fires have burned nearly 12,000 acres (4,855 hectares) across the state, Tennessee's Department of Agriculture reported. Facebook has activated its safety check feature. Neighbouring Georgia, as well as North and South Carolina, are also battling wildfires after months of drought

^ Dolly Parton is doing a great thing helping those affected by the wildfires. ^

Military Holiday

Chinese Titanic

From the BBC:
"Full-size Titanic replica being built in China"

A full-size replica of the Belfast-built Titanic is to become the top attraction at a Chinese theme park.
Construction of the 269m long ship, which will be docked permanently on a reservoir in a rural area of Sichuan province, began on Thursday. The original liner, built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, hit an iceberg and sank in the north Atlantic in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people. It was on its maiden voyage from Southampton and bound for New York. The ship's story is the subject of immense fascination for many in China. Interest became particularly intense after the 1997 film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, which was hugely popular in the country.  The film's director, James Cameron, had a 90% scale replica vessel built for filming purposes, but no full-size replica has ever been built. Australian billionaire Clive Palmer announced plans to create a replica in 2012, but the project has not yet been completed. The Chinese replica will feature an interior reflecting some of the grandeur of the original, including a ballroom, theatre, swimming pool and first-class cabins - with the addition of wi-fi - and will be the centrepiece of a theme park hundreds of kilometres (miles) from China's coast.  The company first announced plans for the 1 billion yuan (£115m) project in 2014, AFP reports. Domestic tourism is booming in China, promoted by the government as a way of fuelling consumer-driven growth rather than its decades-old model of investment and industry.

^ It seems a little weird to build a full-sized replica of the Titanic, but I guess for some people it would be an interesting place to visit. I built a small Titanic for a Science class project (it had to float and be able to carry an egg across a thing of water by blowing on it) and my ship made it while many others didn't. I still have the ship. ^

New Disabled Law

From the DW:
"Activists angry as Germany passes contentious disability law"

The German parliament has passed a controversial law designed to improve the lives of disabled people. But activists say the law takes the wrong measures and doesn't go far enough when it gets things right.  The Bundestag on Thursday passed the long-gestating Bundesteilhabegesetz ("federal participation law") following months of campaigning and debate. Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, whose department conceived the bill, welcomed the new law as a "big, courageous step and nothing less than a system change" as well as part of a "series of important political milestones on the way to an inclusive society." The opposition Left party, meanwhile, was less than enthusiastic, describing the new law as no more than a "beginning" that failed to live up to Nahles' promise to help people with disabilities to engage in the job market. Too much of the law, said Left party parliamentary leader Dietmar Bartsch, would leave seriously disabled people at risk of "being stuck in a home."  The law could potentially have a major impact: some 10.2 million Germans (more than 10 percent of the population) live with some form of disability, of which 7.5 million are categorized as "seriously disabled." Designed to implement the United Nations' 2008 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the point of the law was to re-organize disability benefits in a way that aids self-determination. Up until now, the system left many disabled people worse off than those on unemployment benefits. Now, seriously disabled people will be allowed to keep a considerably bigger personal fortune and still be eligible for benefits - 25,000 euros ($26,600), and going up to 50,000 euros by 2020 - and a partner's income will no longer be taken as a factor. Furthermore, the government has also introduced new financial incentives for firms willing to employ people with disabilities.  Similarly, disability benefits will be granted regardless of where an individual chooses to live - until now, people with certain disabilities could only receive financial support if they lived in a care home. Some charities welcomed the new law - notably the large Caritas group, whose president, Peter Neher, welcomed the fact that organizations like his had been consulted. But Ottmar Miles-Paul, spokesman for the "," was very unhappy, and alleged that after some initial talks, rights groups had been shut out for nine months while the bill was drawn up. "Even though we fought really hard to get changes to [the first draft of] the law, which was very bad and very dangerous for some disabled people, and had a few successes, the law still gives the administration a chance to put disabled people in institutions," he told DW. "It's nice to talk, but if you talk, it should also have some results." "Disabled people in Germany are still very institutionalized," he added. "The new law still gives the administration the chance to say: you are too expensive and we'd rather you move into an institution. That has nothing to do with what the UN Convention says." The law has seen a tortuous, complicated birth, with the government making some 68 alterations during its conception. Pressure groups were able to affect one significant change at the last minute - canceling a plan to cut benefits if disabled people couldn't prove that their lives were limited in fewer than five of nine areas of life (this would have directly affected the sight and hearing impaired).  Despite the ministry's declared intentions, Miles-Paul believes that on some points the law actually makes people less independent. "Disabled people have a right to their own financial assistance - people with disabilities fought very hard for this - now the law gives the chance for local authorities to say: okay, you have to share your personal assistance with your neighbor or someone in your neighborhood," he said. "And this can lead to the point where you have to decide how you spend your evening together: one person wants to go to the movies, but the assistant wants to go to a soccer game." Equally, under the new law disabled people who do voluntary work have to show that friends and neighbors can't help them before they are entitled to benefits. Though Miles-Paul admitted that the new law did contain some important improvements - better counseling centers offering advice on rights and how to get into the labor market - he said these measures did not go far enough. Germany has a fairly good reputation among European countries for the participation of those with disabilities in society - its access regulations, for instance, are fairly advanced. But as Miles-Paul explained, Sweden has been more successful in getting rid of big institutions - disabled people are much more likely to live in their own homes or smaller shared apartments. "Germany is dominated by this old way of thinking in institutions," he said. "If you go to an administration, they say: this is a problem - oh, we have this institution and the problem is solved. It's much harder to find ways for people to live independently in the community."

^ I've been reading up on all of this and the whole disability system in Germany is very confusing and needs a lot of reform. I am not sure if this new law will be better or worse than what is already on the books. ^