torsdag, september 30, 2004

Hey, yes you, keep those gloves on!

Katherine of Obsidian Wings, who has thoroughly documented the Maher Arar scandal, alerts us that "the Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition".

If you believe in the "iron hand" approach, read this, this, and this.

This is a problem not only in the USA. This practice is forbidden by the CAT, but many western governments that do not want their prisoners in "kid-gloved" hands have breached it. The best way to enforce the convention is the public noticing the foul play at hand and sharply telling politicians to lay it off. You know what to do.

söndag, september 26, 2004

Sun Day

I was walking home this morning by sunrise. Perfect dawn.

fredag, september 24, 2004

Elections won't stop resistance to occupation

Earlier this spring, there was hope in some quarters that the end of Iraq's administration on June 30th (well, 28th actually) would dampen the insurection.

This could have been, if only the description "new sovereign interim government" was not so much doublespeak.

The Allawi government tried to distance itself from the US, but has been forced to retract every initiative that didn't please the American ambassador ( those pleasant to the occupation authorities but of a dubious democratic nature didn't elicit any commentary, much less opposition).
This week, as Allawi was visiting the US, he didn't do much to change this impression of beeing a poodle on a tight leash by sounding like an echo of Bush's delusional statements about how safe Iraq is and only troubled by a handful of terrorists.

More importantly, his visit has put some focus on the up-coming elections in January next year:

- how elections maybe would have to be suspended in parts or the whole of Iraq

- how Iraqis won't have much choice besides a 'national unity list' of exile parties

- how the Pentagon is planning a December offensive to pacify the most rebellious areas enough to hold elections.

Personnaly, I doubt the result of the latter will be much different than the fighting in Fallujah and Najaf earlier this year. As for the elections, what is satire in America, as in Rob Corddry's "Delayed Election", will be reality in Iraq. So strangely enough, most Iraqis will continue both the insurection against Allawi and to view him as a Quisling.

måndag, september 20, 2004

Periwinkles, ticket-Tinas, hostages, and the hijab

Recently, Le Monde reported that Nora B., a 'periwinkle' (French for 'meter maid') was suspended because "she showed up at work, on August 25, with a thin hairnet holding her hair and hiding her ears, beneath her cap. [...] She explained that she followed a religious obligation".

I had a talk on the phone with Karin Hebel, of the Stockholm City Real Estate & Traffic Administration, and asked her if a lapplisa ('ticket-Tina') would be allowed such a garment. She answered that they hadn't an official policy as the case hadn't arised, but that they had had theoretical discussions and as long as the cap was clearly visible, with the veil beneath, it would be ok to wear one.

Very pragmatic, as expected, though showing up at school in a chador is beyond the pale.

Why no such pragmatism in France? Because 'the Veil' threatens 'la laïcité', considered one of most important heritages of the 1789 Revolution. There has also been concern on how peer pressure in Muslim areas forces girls to wear the hijab to avoid been regarded as 'dishonourable' (or more crudely 'whores'), and is seen by many primarily as a women's issue. Others argue that the real feminist thing is to let every woman decide for herself; and last but not least, there is the question of whether this discriminates France's largest minority. Such a mix of issues, each in and by itself very sensitive, led to anxiety about a 'hot September' when school was due to resume.

The kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq changed all that. Muslim organisations, both in France and abroad, compactly denounced the kidnappers' demand that the ban be abolished, instead bringing unity to the country. The terrorists, seeing how this was badly backfiring on them, handed over the hostages to another group, raising hopes that their release will be imminent.

So, all's well that ends well? For the moment, at least. That doesn't make the ban against 'conspicuous religious symbols' a good idea. It's very controversiality made it a highly dubious proposition, and it's only by a fortuitous turn of events that France has avoided a tearing national debate, and that may have been only postponed. Its practical application can also lead to delicate predicaments: what if one of Nora B's non-Muslim colleagues wore the same hairnet as a fashion accessory? Whatever the rights or wrongs of the ban in principle, in the real world it's likelier to create more problems than it solves.

söndag, september 19, 2004

Hard to kill in the Dead Sea

Everyone with a passing interest in biology knows that bacteriae can be tough critters; they have been found thriving in the core of nuclear reactors, inside antarctican rocks, and down in the Earth's crust several kms beneath the seafloor, among other places. Basically, you find them everywhere on Earth that is not molten rock.

Now Nasa reports of insights in DNA repair gained from Dead Sea archean Halobacterium (via the Agonist). Add this to the Mars rovers' clues of martian water with the Allan Hills meteorite, which is less than 0.5 billion yrs old (when Mars most certainly had the same climate as today), and next in the news will be actual living martian bugs.

Not so fast, says I. First, there are certain doubts if there ever was water on a global scale on Mars. Personnally, I find the "long-winded Mars Model" (word doc with pictures) much more elegant in explaining the floodvalley-like and other martian geological features. Second, the magnetite in the ALH 840001 meteorite could well be abiogenic; it then becomes a question of which process, biogenic or abiogenic, is more probable.

But whatever the propitiousness of Mars for the genesis of life in the early solar system, or its eventual survival to this day, one thing is clear. Life can spread through space. In fact, life appears so early in Earth's history that it is hard to see how it could had it made through the then common impacts huge enough to melt the entire planet's surface every few million years, unless bacteriae could survive on splinters that fell back after a while, when conditions were again liveable.

One could set up a function, similar to the Drake equation, P=N*fB*fL*fS*fT*fA where:
P: Probability of finding life on a solar system body.
N: Number of meteorites leaving earth's orbit
fB: fraction captured by body's gravity field
fL: fraction of them having life on them
fS: fraction of bacteriae that survive journey
fT: fraction of bacteriae that survive landing
fA: fraction able to adapt to local conditions
If someone more mathematically inclined and more astronomically knowledgeable is interested in putting some figures in this formula... let me know! Some of the most interesting bodies are Europa, Callisto and Titan (where Huygens is scheduled to crash on Jan. 14, 2005)

This would mean the panspermia theory is correct, if nothing else in the sense that Earth is the origo of life's dissemination through the galaxy.

fredag, september 17, 2004

The chain of command is out of the loop

One sure sign that a military campaign is not going well is when the officer corps openly criticizes the conduct of a war. And there has been a lot of criticism, from field commanders to the highest generals*.

The American military has a very strong tradition of unquestionably obeying civilian authorities. The number and seriousness of officers (as well as intelligence people) speaking up should really make those authorities pause and reconsider, especially since the military is supposed to be one of their most supportive constituencies. Sadly the Bush administration seems to have developed its own kind of bunker mentality.

*as well as grunts, but everybody knows that 'theirs is but to do and die'.