Saturday, January 28, 2006

In Memoriam

Twenty years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off, killing its crew.

The cause was a rubber "O-Ring" which couldn't cope with changes in temperature, despite the crucial need for it to expand and fill a gap in a joint. The story of the investigation is covered in great detail by legendary physicist Richard Feynman in his book "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

AFTERTHOUGHT: I thought it only fitting to remember all those who have died in space programmes. Wikipedia has an article on this here.

I guess it is a measure of communication technology that I heard of Challenger when I woke up and turned on TV-AM on ITV; whereas I saw the Coloumbia disaster as it happened on Sky News. The Coloumbia was lost 1 February 2003.

One comment after the Coloumbia went something like: flying a shuttle looks routine, but it's not - space flight is still a dangerous business.

Friday, January 27, 2006


One of the memorable moments on "the Sky at Night" was when Patrick Moore attempted to show the first live pictures of Saturn, in the 50th programme. The sky was, predictably, overcast. Looking back years later, Sir Patrick remarked: "It wasn't meant to be a comedy programme, but it turned out that way."

I can sympathise with him a bit. Saturn is at conjunction today and...I cannot see diddly because there is a huge fog bank obscuring the sky. Maybe it will clear, but maybe it won't.

I guess I shall have to look frustratedly at the Celestron 4 1/2" Newtonian reflector telescope and enjoy the pic of the day above. Pic of the Day is a lovely internet resource provided by NASA.

This pic by two amateurs, using a CCD camera attached to a 12" scope, reveals a white spot in the milky cloud band above middle; i.e. in the southern hemisphere of the planet, since telescopes invert images. The spot is a storm, analogous to a thunderstorm.

UPDATE: I got up at half three this morning and the sky was beautifully clear; however the temperature must have been around minus 15 degrees Celcius. Whilst I love astronomy, I do like being warm! I went out again at 7 am and used my 7x50 binoculars to catch Venus and Jupiter.

NB: The budding astronomer, for example a child you might like to introduce to astronomy, has two MUST pieces of equipment: warm clothes and a 7x50 pair of binoculars. The latter beats cheap-o superstore scopes (which are crap) whilst temperatures do drop at night and freezing toes and ears will put anyone off observing.

The challenge of Israel and Palestine

Hamas have won the elections to the Palestinian Parliament. The challenges here are manifold.

Israel is never going to give recognition to a Hamas government - the result will probably be unilateral action by Israel in securing its borders. Internationally, Hamas won't be recognised either unless they give up the gun and persue a settlement, normally seen as the two state solution, via the political process; that seems unlikely as Hamas have announced they will continue "the armed struggle" in response to actions by Israel.

Actually, those challenges are for the capitalist politicians. The challenges for the socialist are unifying Palestinian and Israeli workers on the basis of their class position, which necessitates the rejection of nationalist and religious positions and the adoption of the world socialist position.

The socialist position goes way past the two state solution, which is common currency on the left. An independent, sovereign Palestine is a Capitalist Palestine all the same. It will have all the galling features that characterise Capitalist nations everywhere. State building is in fact historically bound to the development of the capitalist system. Socialism means the end of nations and the creation of one world and one people.

Congrats to me!

I mentioned earlier that I have been busy with a synopsis, looking at the phytoextraction of heavy metals from Danish soils. The oral presentation was yesterday.

I made a pig's ear of it as I did the old mistake of poor timing, so I got into time trouble and had to rush at the end. There were a few questions I couldn't answer in the questions' session too. Still, I am happy as I passed, receiving the Danish equivalent of a Grade C.

A few factoids from my work:

- generally, heavy metals aren'¨t a serious problem in Denmark, the exceptions being city areas and around metal works;

- the metals, in terrestrial environments, that receive most attention are: lead (from the petrol of the past; lead, like others, binds tightly to soil particles), cadmium (it's in fertiliser), copper and zinc (added to pig feed for growth and then spread on fields via fertiliser), mercury (from old treatments of corn), and arsenic (which is polluting drinking water)

- Denmark doesn't have the facilities to treat soils polluted with heavy metals, so the soils are excavated and disposed of in landfills

- phytoextraction is very new here, however willow has been tested and received favourable reviews; it can also be used as a bio-fuel, which has the added bonus that this fuel is carbon dioxide neutral (i.e. there is no net emission of CO2 because the trees absorb the atmospheric CO2 which is then released again upon combustion)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Apropos Copper

I mentioned that copper might be an indicator of metal reources in future. Just out of interest, check out the following page which gives a market analysis of copper.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Nuclear Option

The symbol in the picture is that used by the Movement on Energy and Environment, OOA - it says: "Nuclear Power? No thanks."

Denmark has to this day been nuclear free (so imagine the scandel over the American B-52 Stratofortress bomber, loaded with four hydrogen bombs, which was forced to crashland at the Thule airbase in Greenland back in 1968).

The symbol is used around the world now but owes its origins to a girl in my hometown of Aarhus who drew it in 1976. There is a house in the city centre that has this as a mural on one side.

Crossing the North Sea, and Nuclear Power stations are back on the energy agenda. The Independent has a useful overview of the reasons why in its online edition today.

One choice reason for investing in nuclear is that Britain doesn't want to rely on gas imports, 80% of which would come from Russia, with all the security implications that has given what has happened with the Ukraine. It's a good reason of capitalism - with its nation states and never ending tensions.

The paper's leader is also about nuclear power, or rather the waste from it. Britain has 2.3 million cubic metres of the crud and they have no idea where to get rid of it.

I've never been an all out opponent of nuclear power. Finding sources of energy for the future is an important and pressing problem. If it was possible to find a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste and if it is possible to make sure you don't get another Chernobyl, then....It's a mighty big "If" though. I don't like the idea of Nuclear Power under capitalism.

The use or otherwise of nuclear power would be something for consultation of the whole people in socialism.

NB: The New Labour energy review mentioned that lots of energy is wasted because of stand-by buttons. That wasted energy has its carbon dioxide cost too. So - turn off the TV or PC. Today's moral trip! It makes sense on the electricity bill too to save here.

But whilst the review members highlight this senseless waste of energy, I doubt very much that they will highlight the structural waste of capitalism, which we socialists have pointed out on a fair few occasions. Energy is used on a variety of commodities and jobs that only make sense in a capitalist context because those things make the system work. Example: the Kilowatt Hours guzzled by "the City" in its daily business of moving bits of money about via computers.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Apropos the security implications of gas from Russia, the spy "rock" and Russian anger at British support to Russian NGOs highlights the spook goings on.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Practical Socialism

Pieter Lawrence is a member of the SPGB and who has been involved in the party's Production for Use Committee. He has a website where he discusses some of his ideas. Worth a gander.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

How Sonar is Disorientating Whales

Following on from Paula M's comment below, I noticed the Independent leads today with a story on sonar and its effects on whales.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Follow Ups

As temperatures dip, people in the Ukraine are starting to die. All because the gas got cut off. See Bill's post.

A Conservative M.P., Mr. Shapps, will be raising the issue of DNA registration by the police next week following revelations that some 24,000 youths have been registered despite never committing a criminal offence or being convicted. The Government has supported this registration, though. See John's post.

Save the Whale!

Willy probably doesn't have much of a chance - The River Thames is not a good place for a 20 foot, 2 ton northern bottlenose whale, which inhabits the Atlantic and feeds on squid.

The reaction has been curiousity and hopes that he does make it.

But what of the threats to the whales, I mentioned in the blog before? I also cannot help but remember actor Pete Posthlewaite's line from "Brassed Off" which went something like: if this lot were whales you'd be up in arms, but they're not - they're just humans without an ounce of hope left.

Paddy Shannon's observation in "Capitalism and Other Kids' Stuff" (see the links) rings so true: people react towards what's under their nose because that's natural, but move it away and out of sight then it becomes politics.

It's necessary to make the links. Willy is worth saving, as are his fellows. If the life of a whale is worth saving, what of the people who we'll never meet who live with hunger? Action against global warming is urgent, as the impacts it will have on plankton will have disasterous effects on whales and humans.

Making the change requires politics. But not this cause, or that cause, this reform or that reform. The politics must be one that goes to the root of matters - it must be the politics of revolution.

UPDATE: I've just heard Willy died a few minutes ago. Poor thing.