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The Divine Comedy

Dante Divine Comedy

Around the World
half along our life’s path. Lost in a dark wood. Unable to find the right way…

Paradiso

Dear Beatrice…

CANTO I

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British engineers have successfully tested a key component of an engine that could power a spaceplane from London to Sydney in under four hours. The engineers have hailed it as the biggest breakthrough in aerospace propulsion “since the invention of the jet engine”.
Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines hope to build a rocket plane called Lapcat that would take off from an ordinary runway, reach speeds of around 19,000mph in the upper atmosphere and then land like a normal jet aircraft.

While still in the atmosphere, the plane’s Sabre engine would combine on-board hydrogen fuel with oxygen that it “breathes” from the air. But the air needs to be super-cooled for the engine to work.
The Sabre engine could also power a re-useable rocket plane called Skylon that could carry a large payload into space, reducing the cost of launching a satellite by more than 10 times. By using available oxygen in the atmosphere it would reduce the amount of fuel it needs to carry, so it could reach orbit in a single stage. Current rockets require costly multiple stages which are jettisoned during their ascent.

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CANTO II

A wind knitting factory: scarves produced by wind. The idea came to Dutch designer Merel Karhof who, adopting the approach of his country’s windmills, decided to apply the same concept in London where he now lives. By using wind power, a knitting machine knits from the outside towards the inside of a building. The knitted material is collected from time to time and rounded-off in individually packaged scarves. Each scarf has its own label which tells you how long it took to knit it and on which date. Merel Karhof Design Studio defines its work within the public space, uses elements that people share, from the most obvious thing like the wind, to often-ignored details like the pattern on a manhole cover. In its approach to design, the studio chooses a specific heritage and makes people experience it in a new way. A way that’s gone with the wind, I guess.
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CANTO III

extracted blood samples from the carcass of a 10,000-year-old woolly mammoth, reviving speculation that a clone of the extinct animal might someday walk the earth, if scientists are able to find living cells. But researchers say the find, which also included well-preserved muscle tissue, must be studied further to know its potential. The female mammoth’s carcass was found ‘in good preservation on Lyakhovsky Islands of Novosibirsk archipelago,’ according to a news release about the discovery by North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Siberia. ‘The fragments of muscle tissues, which we’ve found from the body, have a natural red colour of fresh meat,’ said lead researcher Semyon Grigoriev, of the university’s Museum of Mammoths. ‘The reason for such preservation is that the lower part of the body was lying under pure ice, and the upper part was found in the middle of tundra.’
The palaeontologists say they found a liquid they believe to be blood beneath the animal’s belly. Interestingly, the temperature at the time of excavation was -7 to –10ºC. It may be assumed that the blood of mammoths had some cryoprotective properties.
But other scientists caution that it is too early to know whether the sample recovered from the site is blood, or perhaps some other liquid. And as Smithsonian.com reminds us, Grigoriev caused a stir last year when he claimed to have found a mammoth’s blood marrow – a material that, if recovered, would do much more to hasten a possible clone than would blood.

Dear Beatrice, considering all the animal species that daily become extinct, the story of one that is resurrected can really be unbelievable news – almost a work of fiction, don’t you think?

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Purgatorio

Virgil what can be said of …

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CANTO I

As if they are not sheltered enough from reality. The Prince Potemkin goes to school but deception was exposed when on the 17th and 18th of June the powerful representatives of the G8 nations travelled through the villages of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, directly to the luxurious golf resort that will host the G8.

‘Down with the mask’, it makes you want to say. Yeah, because in that area, which has suffered heavily from the effects of the economic crisis, there has been some magic. And it happened in order to make it easier for prime ministers and presidents to unwind, perhaps so as not to disturb them with the sight of a decayed landscape (economically speaking): a flick of the wand and hey presto, disappeared, and hello to fake urban restyling: paperboard butchershop, cardboard bar, paperboard pharmacies cardboard buildings. Another world. Another Northern Ireland. Happy, rich. And unreal. Poverty and the recession suddenly hidden, denied, turned into toys, into cinema, into the circus of green Europe. Another version of the legend dating back to the late 1700s has Prince Grigory Potemkin,in order to impress the Empress Catherine II, who was visiting the Crimea, built homes and farms of papier maché. Then, according to legend, peasants were stage-managed to represent a happy rural family life. Luckily it seems that this particular scheme was carefully avoided in Northern Ireland. Too expensive. We need to cut labour costs.
The question is: did they really realise what the reality was from inside their luxurious fortress? Let’s keep providing them with the false reality that they have fully understood the reasons for their economic actions. I wonder if they had cake with their golf?

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CANTO II

marked only the extreme reduction of costs and optimisation of earnings as ‘not without the possibility of endangering the safety of flights.’ This is the picture painted of Ryanair by Christian Fletcher, a pseudonym of a pilot now working for the company that is the queen of cheap flights. The head of communications for Ryanair, Robin Kiely, refused to comment on the publication of the book, saying only that ‘this matter is now the subject of a criminal complaint and Ryanair won’t be commenting further.”

Fletcher’s book, titled Ryanair: Low cost mais à quel prix?/Ryanair: Low Cost But at What Price?, was released on May 24 in France. The Irish company is under fierce attack by its pilot. ‘Would you be quiet as passengers if you knew that the commander has just slept 3 or 4 hours the night before?’ the pilot writes. ‘This is to continually reign with the fear tactics of threats, intimidation and punishment,’ he complains about the corporate culture of Ryanair.

But that’s not all. According to Fletcher, the employees of Ryanair do not enjoy any ‘comfort’. The pilot also revealed the company’s obsession with fuel economy, to the point that the air conditioning is kept to a minimum, brakings are deliberately ‘brutal’ to ‘get off the runway as quickly as possible and reduce taxi-ing time.’ The company also organises an internal competition between commanders for fuel consumption and publishes a monthly ranking of the best ‘fuel-saver’, according to the author. Ryanair, Fletcher concludes, is a ‘pure financial machine, whose only vocation is to generate profits. It has no other consideration, neither moral nor social.’ Well now we understand why their personnel is always so grumpy and unpleasant. And we thought it was because they were relegated to the role of shop assistant on the flight selling you scratch cards, bus tickets, “fabulous food’, ‘delicious perfumes’, ‘electronic cigarettes’ and magazines. You name it. And they have to move as fast as they can. Courtesy just gets in the way.

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CANTO III

Cancer immunity from a naked mole rat. This hairless rodent, which lives underground, appears to enjoy complete protection against the disease, despite its unusually long (for rodents) 30-year lifespan.
Now scientists believe they know why. The mole rat’s freedom from cancer is a gooey substance in its body tissue that stops normal cells turning cancerous.
Known as ‘high molecular weight hyaluronan’, or HMW-HA, it surrounds mole rat cells and, in the laboratory, clogged up vacuum pumps and tubing. When the “goo” was taken away, cells became vulnerable to cancer triggers and started forming tumours.
In the mole rat, HMW-HA’s primary function is generating a very flexible, elastic skin that allows it to squeeze through narrow underground tunnels.
Its rejuvenating effect on skin is already well known to the cosmetics industry, which uses it in anti-wrinkle creams and injections. This suggests HMW-HA could safely be used to treat cancer.
Lead scientist Dr Andrei Seluanov, from the University of Rochester, in the US, said: ‘There’s indirect evidence that HMW-HA would work in people. It’s used in anti-wrinkle injections and to relieve pain from arthritis in knee joints, without any adverse effects. Our hope is that it can also induce an anti-cancer response.’
The naked mole rat’s unique form of hyaluronan – part of the connective material between cells, or extracellular matrix – is absent from cell cultures of other mammals, including humans, mice and guinea pigs. It has giant molecules, more than five times larger than those of mouse or human hyaluronan.
The research, published in the journal Nature, showed that mole rat hyaluronan activates a powerful anti-cancer gene called p16 which prevents cells proliferating when too many of them crowd together. Next the scientists plan to test the anti-cancer effectiveness of HMW-HA on mice, after which they will focus on human cells. I hope the naked mole rat will not be the subject of more excavation projects to dig them out of the earth.

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Inferno


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CANTO I

Michael Christian, one of the two authors of the disastrous Australian DJ fake phone call to the hospital where Catherine Middleton was admitted, has been honoured by his radio station Southern Cross Austereo as a growing talent and rewarded with a trip to Los Angeles – a decision described as ‘tacky’ by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Six months after the harshly criticised joke, in which he and another DJ impersonated Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth and which led to the suicide of the nurse, a mother of two, who had answered and transferred the call, Christian has won a national competition and was named ‘next top jock’.

‘There have been some very serious consequences of that joke and to reward a person so soon after such an event, it is just in bad taste’, said the minister. Paradoxically, only a few days ago it was learnt that the other DJ who had participated phone call, Mel Greg, was fired by the radio station. Is that because she is a woman? As if sex discrimination is a factor in the matter of pranks? Let’s hope that in la-la land they get his jokes.

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CANTO II

An 18-year jail sentence has been handed down to Swiss Eternit executive Stephan Schmidheiny in Italy. The court has also ordered compensation of 30.9 million euros for Casale Monferrato, the village in the Piedmont area where the Eternit factory is located.
Schmidheiny was found guilty of environmental disaster and malicious wilful disregard of safety precautions.
The judgment was delivered in the courtroom of the Court of Turin in front of a crowd made up of relatives of the victims. It is estimated that more than 2100 deaths are caused by asbestos in Italy. But it is difficult to make an exact count of the victims, given that the diseases linked to asbestos have a long incubation period.
The judges increased the sentence by two years compared to the original judgment, in which Schmidheiny was sentenced to 16 years in prison. This is because the manager was responsible for the Eternit plant at Bagnoli near Naples and at Rubiera close to Reggio Emilia. It is about time that some executives are made responsbile for their actions. I guess it comes with their bonuses.
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CANTO III

Half a million dollars for 45 minutes of talking: that’s what’s been paid to Bill Clinton for the event scheduled in Israel to celebrate the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres. It is a record for personal remuneration that confirms him in the role of highest paid former politician on the planet.
Speaking in Rehovot on June 17, Clinton collected $11,110 for each minute of speech from the podium. The unprecedented amount has caused controversy in Israel because the check – which has already been delivered to his William J. Clinton charitable foundation – is issued by the Jewish National Fund, which was begun in 1901 by Theodor Herzel himself. It was begun to purchase land in Israel for Jewish settlements there – and to drain the swamps and make the desert bloom. It has long been a symbol of environmental protection. In an attempt to appease the public outcry, Peres decided to abolish the ticket of $800 per person which the guests had already pledged to pay.

This type of controversy surrounding his earnings is not much-appreciated by Bill Clinton. He has averaged about $189,000 per speech for the 471 public appearances since he left the White House 11 years ago. The highest fee remains the $750,000 paid to him by the Swedish company Ericsson for action on new technologies in Hong Kong.

Clinton has already grossed more than $90 million through public speeches. When he was asked to comment on that mountain of dollars, he said: “I had no money until I left the White House, but since then I admit that I’ve gotten good.” The only former politician able to compete with Clinton on international circuits is the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in 2012 admitted that he had earned, from the day he resigned in 2007, about 120 million dollars, although largely as a result of contracts with private financial institutions.

In public lectures, Blair is a formidable competitor because they have each come to earn $400,000 a speech. In dollars-per-minute, however, the former British prime minister is still more than $1,000 behind Bill Clinton, as Blair’s personal record dates back to 2009, when a speech in the Philippines for which he was paid $308,000 netted him the equivalent of $10,000 every 60 seconds.
Why would a big company pay that amount of money for an old codger who has no power anymore? You also wonder why multinationals have such power though? How about wondering why the world is turning out the way it is?

To what other terraces of doom and pain, dear Virgil, will you accompany me…next time…

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