Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Hagia Sophia - Cathedral, Mosque, Museum, Mosque

The Hagia Sophia is in the news again as Friday prayers were held there for the first time since Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum in 1935. Erdogan is playing to his base of strident nationalists and pious Muslims by making this move which is unpopular at least in all Christendom.

Erdogan misrepresents history of Hagia Sophia

Turkey says it will not touch anything but simply cover the Christian stuff during prayers. Which is better than the Turks did in 1453, when Mehmed II aka Mehmed the Conqueror, captured Constantinople, changed the name to Istanbul, and ended the Byzantine Empire once and for all. The Cathedral had no meaning to them but just to show who was now in charge they promptly built 4 minarets, one on each corner, and destroyed or plastered over anything remotely "Christian" looking.

My pictures from 1999 turned out to be of the Blue Mosque which I also visited, so I am borrowing a couple from Wikipedia. I did not take enough pictures that day.
By Arild VĂ¥gen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Christophe Meneboeuf - Own work The full series about Istanbul: Photos of Istanbul More of my work on my photoblog:
The Hagia Sophia was build in 537 by Emperor Justinian I as the Echumenical Patrirchal Cathedral of Constantinople (along with Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria). After the Great Schism of 1054, Christianity was divided into Catholic under rome and Orthodox under the Patriarchs of which Constantinople was the greatest.

Constantinople was not easy to capture. The Crusaders captured the city in 1204, looted and destroyed it to some extent. The Byzantines recaptured it 60 years later. The urks tried several times to take the city so it was a matter of pride to eventually capture it. They were not kind to the defenders and massacred a great many of the inhabitants. Once the dust and blood settled, the surviving clergy fled to Moscow which now considers itself the Third Rome and the intelligentsia fled to Venice, providing a major boost to the Renaissance.

For anyone interested in the decline of the Byzantium Empire and the fall of Constantinople, I suggest reading Roger Crowley's 1453: the holy war for Constantinople and the clash of Isma and the West.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Why have masks become the hill to die on?

The government regulates many activities for the common good. Usually after a certain amount of fuss and resistance they are generally accepted by all but a few hard heads. Seat belts, helmets for bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, signal lights, stop signs and stop lights, smoke alarms, and the list goes on. So why the visceral refusal to wear masks? Even in the 1918 Flu epidemic.

My own hypothesis is this: The regulations that are accepted more or less protect not only you but me also. So I have a vested interest in following them. Masks have been sold from the onset as protecting the other person from you but not necessarily protecting you. There is a certain type of personality that sees no reason to inconvenience themselves in the slightest to provide a benefit only to someone else.

Instead of raging against the pandemic, they rage against "tyranny".

I suspect that the resistance to gun-control is much the same. Why should I "give up" my guns just to save someone's kids from being killed in a school?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Topsoil, rainfall and the magic of water

Two pictures showed up on my FB news feed this past week. One is this meme which has been around several times and which as a farm boy, still at heart, I have to agree with. The depth of the topsoil may vary as does the rainfall but without them we could not grow food. Agriculture and livestock production are merely the harnessing of these along with capturing sunlight to produce crops, meat and milk.

The other picture that caught my eye was this one of a swimmer just before breaking the surface tension of water. I found a couple more to go with it. Water is an amazing substance.  It is the stuff of life itself (without water you can't make coffee or whiskey but I digress). It was considered one of the four elements: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water.

The properties of water were covered in highschool and again in Chemistry 101 but after 55 years, I had to look it up again. Encyclopaedia Britannica to the rescue ( Water (H2O) has an atomic weight of 18 and ought to be a gas with a boiling point of -100C. However hydrogen bonding gives water in all phases some very unique properties.

Ice floats on water, it does not sink, which is different from other solids which sink as the liquid turns solid. That means life is sustained beneath the ice in rivers, ponds and lakes that do not freeze to the bottom.

Water is as close to the universal solvent as one is likely to find.
In addition, the hundreds of chemical reactions that occur every instant to keep organisms alive all take place in aqueous fluids. Also, the ability of foods to be flavoured as they are cooked is made possible by the solubility in water of such substances as sugar and salt. Although the solubility of substances in water is an extremely complex process, the interaction between the polar water molecules and the solute (i.e., the substance being dissolved) plays a major role. When an ionic solid dissolves in water, the positive ends of the water molecules are attracted to the anions, while their negative ends are attracted to the cations. This process is called hydration. The hydration of its ions tends to cause a salt to break apart (dissolve) in the water. In the dissolving process the strong forces present between the positive and negative ions of the solid are replaced by strong water-ion interactions.

At high temperature and pressure, "supercritical" water will dissolve non-polar substances such as toxic wastes so they can be destroyed safely.

Far all chemistry nerds reading this, the Britannica article is not very long and well illustrated. For the rest, raise a glass of water and toast the magic of covalent bonding on which life as we know it depends.