RAS-STFC joint communique

January 13, 2008

Last Wednesday I zooted down to Londinium for an informal ad-hoc meeting of senior astronomers with STFC bosses Keith Mason and Richard Wade. It was Chatham House rules, which means no quotes; but we therefore made a point of arriving at a statement we could all agree on. Enjoy.
Meanwhile Stuart over at the Astronomy Blog has a summary of recent parliamentary debates.

My Dad Dated a Martian

January 13, 2008

Funny how things suddenly join up sometimes : in this case, Egypt, Mars, War, and Disease.

I was reading one of my Christmas presents – The Book of General Ignorance . On page 103 there is a discussion of what colour Mars really is, finishing, out of the blue, with the statement that “Cairo, al-Qahirah, is Arabic for Mars”. Coo. Really ? However, a quick Internut search on “meaning of Cairo” revealed several baby-name-choosing web sites, eg. this one which all agreed that Cairo means “Victorious”. Indeed, the Cairo tourism website says Cairo is “The Triumphant City”. Furthermore the very reliable Nine Planets site told me that the Arabic for Mars is Al-Merrikh. And this web site agrees.

So those clever GI folk got it all wrong ?? But this guy thinks Cairo means Mars too… Unfortunately he’s a crank. Oh dear. GI folk got suckered ?

My Dad in Cairo, 1939 Just then Child No.3, Dylan, comes in and asks if we know anybody who has memories of the Second World War, so he can do his homework. “See that photo of a man in a fez ?” I ask. “Thats your grandad. He fought in the war in North Africa. He’s dead now but I remember his stories. I’ll tell you some.” So I do : some of them are funny, some of them are horrific – noise, bombs, death, bodies. I wonder just how far to go. War is exciting and depressing; glamorous and disgusting. Dylan has enough stuff and goes. I am left kinda vibrating but to him its just some homework.

War. Oh hang on, I have been making silly assumptions. Are we talking Mars=planet or Mars=god of War ? Did the Egyptians, like the Greeks, associate the red planet with War ? Finally, after a bit more hunting, I track down the answer. This page told me that Al-Qahirah is the ancient Arabic name for Mars .. and finally a magazine called The African Executive explained it all. Here is a quote:

The name Al-Qahirah literally means “The Subduer,” though it’s often translated as “The Victorious.” The origin of the name is said to come from the appearance of the planet Mars during the foundation of the city. The planet Mars, associated with destruction was called “Al Najm Al Qahir” in Arabic, from which the name of the city was derived. However the legacy of the name evolved into the title “Qahirat Al Adaa” meaning “subduer of the enemies”. This title was given to the city as many armies were destroyed in attempts to invade Cairo or defeated elsewhere by troops sent from Cairo.

So Cairo is Mars after all. As I absorb this, I remember another story I didn’t tell Dylan. My Dad met a nice Egyptian girl and took her on a date. He thought some Museums would be good, and found one puzzlingly called “The Museum of Hygiene”. As they climbed up a spiral staircase, Jack was embarassed to find them going past increasingly graphic naked statues, culminating in a statue of a man with his penis falling off.

It was the Seven Stages of Syphilis. My Dad really knew how to show a girl a good time.