March 31, 2006

More Fun With Mail 

Look at what I got today:

The worst thing is that there are people who actually fall for this stuff (no, I'm not a customer of this bank). Wisen up, folks! It's a cheap trick to steal your login information, and thus your money!

The sender's IP is located in South Korea (what a surprise); part of the Boranet ISP and owned by a certain Dacom Corporation. And a well-known source of spam mail.

I guess I can have my pint of beer now, sure that I've done my daily good deed.

Comments (0)

Civil Wars 

Wellington commented on my yesterday's post saying:
I cross my fingers, but I do agree. A while ago I stopped posting about the Iraqi "civil war" (although I keep monitoring it) exactely because I'm convinced the situation is not crumbling as so many seem to think.
I've been thinking about this whole situation for a while, and now I can write down my conclusions.

I think that many, especially those on the anti-war side, are using the expression "civil war" regarding Iraq as a code-word to further their own agenda. There are also people using this term perfectly in good faith, anyway.

Before using meaningfully an expression like this it is necessary to define it properly; otherwise it becomes just another nearly meaningless code-word thrown around (that's what happened to terrorist/terrorism). I know it sounds terribly relativistic, but I think the concept of civil war is strictly related to Western society and institutions.

Civitas is a Latin word meaning "city" (see the common root?), as in city-state; and not only as a physical place, but also as its society and institutions of the city-state. Cives are its citizens. While war was a rather common occurrence between different city-states (and kingdoms etc), the life of cives was normally peaceful, and disputes between them were settled relying on the rule of law and governmental authority.

Civil war then means war within the civitas (and by estension, all kind of states): an exceptional and unusual condition when the cives directly use violence against each other to settle their disputes - in general but not only, power over the whole city-state or parts thereof. An important discrimination factor is that during a civil war, otherwise peaceful citizens take up arms or at least support the active fighters; criminal activities are generally excluded from this scenario because they already operate violently outside the rule of law. As it happens frequently, a state of civil war is a matter of kind and degree, and its borders are pretty blurred.

The American Civil War is known in Italy as the Secession War (Guerra di Secessione), and I think it's a quite accurate description: the Confederation wanted to secede from the Union and form another indipendent entity beside it rather than gain control of the whole United States (at least as far as I know). However, we can see secession wars as a category of civil wars.*

But what about a tribal society, as it exists in Iraq (and much of the Middle East and Central Asia)? Tribes live in a perennial state of struggle against each other, that sometimes becomes open conflict. The ideas of a state, government and rule of law are hazy and have lower priority than tribal loyalty and interests.

The "western" concept of civil war does not fit well to a tribal society, I think. Lee Harris uses the expression tribalist anarchy:
In tribalist anarchy, there is no central government, no central security force, no central army. There is no Leviathan in the form of a state that can stand above the feuding tribes and that can force them to stop their feuding -- and force them, often, through acts of spine-tingling ruthlessness, the way that all modern states have historically crushed all those within their territory who
persisted in tribalist feuds.

Under conditions of tribalist anarchy, instead of there being one centralized power, power is disbursed and diffused through the tribes themselves. The result is that there is no higher power that can restrain the power struggles that begin to erupt among the various competing tribes. There is no state-controlled professional army, made up of soldiers who have sworn to put loyalty to the state above loyalty to their differing tribes, and whose gut loyalty is, in fact, loyalty to the state. Instead, there are only informal and spontaneously generated militias or paramilitary groups, each of which is permeated with the tribal spirit, just like the boys in a gang. Each, that is to say, makes up an Us, and looks upon the rival gang -- or tribe -- simply as Them. If you are not one of us, then you are one of them -- and that is enough to make you my enemy.
I think this is a good description of the phenomenon - but unfortunately the use of civil war to indicate any form of violent struggle within a state is so radicated that I don't see it going away anytime soon. Though, the news cycle made its course and now there isn't much talking about the Iraqi "civil war".

* Italy, since the Unification in 1861, had its own civil war: it began in 1943 when Mussolini, backed by the Nazis, instituted the Saló Republic controlling most of the North and lingered until 1948 with the Communists taking revenge upon the ex-Fascist and priests and innocents caught in the mess. Several thousand people were killed in those reprisals (and some weapons caches from that age still exist).

Comments (2)

March 30, 2006

Filler #4 

I'm trying to begin writing my thesis, and mourning the departure of a motherboard that accompanied me through the last couple of months of experiments, so I don't really feel like writing lengthy, deep posts.

But I spotted something today. On 30 March 2006, Associated Press (through MSNBC) says:
Not so many weeks ago, this was a conflict with straightforward, if brutal, terms. Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists used car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bomb belts and sniper rifles to target U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians — mainly Shiites, the newly ascendent majority after years of Saddam Hussein’s oppression.

Terrorism with different focus
Those groups still operate and still kill. But their war has been dwarfed by the shadowy and incipient terrorism stalking the capital of Baghdad and its adjoining provinces. Or perhaps — as some Iraq officials believe — the insurgents simply switched their targets, moving from American and Iraqi troops to targeting businesses and Iraqi civilians as a way to cause chaos or to fund their work.
And it goes on for quite a while on a shall we say, less than triumphalistic tone.

But people who know something about war and conflicts (the bloggers Wretchard and Steven Den Beste, just to name a couple of name - but could not find the relevant links) are well aware of the fact that the decline of terrorist and guerrilla movements passes through a phase of criminal activity. Crime is something that revolutionary formations use most often for their own financing: the Red Brigades did it; IRA too; the Jihadis as well. The Colombian FARC are equally into Marxism, drug trafficking and estabilishing their own (failed) sub-state. And at its height the Mafia in the USA (and Italy too) had aspects in common with guerrilla movements. The border between ideological fighters and organized criminals is quite blurred.

But with dwindling commitment to the cause when victory slips further away, crime and the money it procures becomes an end in itself. Rethoric can still be used to make things look a little more respectable - "This is not a bank robbery, but a redistribution of the wealth unjustly accumulated by the burgeois exploiting the proletarians!" - you know the drill. After all, why bother with big complex things as politics when you can just live awash in money paying some lip service to higher ideals?

Of course, being most terrorists (and especially jihadis) quite well armed and accustomed to the use of violence, their criminal actions will be ruthless and bloody. However, this latest shift in Iraq seems much more a predictable phase of the decline of the insurgency rather than something new and unexpected.

Comments (1)

March 28, 2006

Legge di Murphy 

Tu passi due o tre settimane a localizzare le piccole ma intollerabili perdite che rendono il tuo sistema ad altra pressione inutilizzabile. Finalmente ti rendi conto che le guarnizioni e sigilli delle valvole si sono usurati. Va bene, per duecento sterline (questi non sono rubinetti da lavandino, gente) il produttore delle valvole ti fornisce un paio di kit di ricambio: un pomeriggio a farsi le dita nere con lo speciale lubrificante al solfuro di molibdeno, e le valvole tornano come nuove. Il tuo sistema ora è tornato a funzionare benissimo, e quindi procedi a pieno ritmo con le misure di adsorbimento.

Cosa può capitare di brutto?

Il cumputer che serve a registrare i dati di pressione e temperatura può piantarsi all'improvviso, per non riavviarsi più. E non per un problema noioso ma non troppo difficile di software. Oh no, si tratta di un settore d'avvio corrotto sul disco rigido - se non, nel caso peggiore, della morte del controller IDE. Così, invece che andare a lezione di Karate, ero impegnato a scambiare dischi rigidi fra un computer e l'altro per salvare quantomeno i dati che ho raccolto fino a ieri. E che due palle.

Parlando di cose più interessanti per il grande pubblico, abbiamo Berlusconi che di nuovo dimentica i principi della diplomazia, e dichiara in pubblico che ai tempi di Mao in Cina i bambini venivano bolliti per farne concime (che, se mi consentite, sarebbe un modo molto inefficiente di usare carne fresca). I cinesi si ufficilamente si irritano e Prodi dichiara che Berlusconi discredita l'Italia. Quello che Prodi non chiarisce è se pensa si tratti di bugia propagandistica, oppure di dichirazione inopportuna. Nel secondo caso, gli posso dare ragione. Nel primo, no.

Ma alla fine, per me uno che prima viene insultato da Chirac e poi attira le ire del governo cinese (che non è uno scintillante esempio di liberalismo) sta facendo qualcosa di buono...

D'altra parte pure Tremonti sembra essere ossessionato da Cina e cibi proibiti, e ci informa che:
Il problema del rapporto con la Cina è questo: ci stanno mangiando vivi. Le merci che vanno in Cina hanno i dazi cinesi le merci che arrivano in Europa, no. Io voglio per molti anni i dazi e le quote nel nostro Paese[...].
Di reciprocità dei dazi in uno scenario di guerra commerciale si può discutere - ma ha poco a che fare con il libero mercato. Non si può pensare che le imprese italiane (ed europee) competano con quelle cinesi sul sui prezzi; quello che possiamo fare è puntare sulla tecnologia, sui prodotti di qualità, ad alta tecnologia ed alto valore aggiunto. E prosciutto, che sembra attirare un certo interesse dalla Cina e potrebbe aiutare a risolvere i problemi di carestia citati sopra...

Comments (0)

March 27, 2006

Reality and Perception 

This is something I've been mulling for quite some time - and while this article does not pretend to be either complete or conclusive, it serves to explain some of my opinions.

It should be clear after even a cursory examination of history that people most often act on the basis of perceptions and opinions, rather than hard facts (one reason is that in many cases a collection of hard facts needs to be placed within some kind of framework in order to make sense).

Yesterday I was reading a paper about vampire fiction and folklore: the ignorant and superstitious peasants intepreted certain natural aspects of decomposition as sign of vampirism, and thus killed the corpse a second time with the traditional wooden stake. In more recent times, ivory-tower intellectuals howled rabidly against science (causing the now-famous Sokal Experiment) and a few weeks ago crowds of Muslims around the world rioted violently as a reaction to some cartoons depicting Mohammed.

While there are differences of degree and kind between these phenomena, they also have common ground: they're all about perception. Post-modernists deny the existence of an objective reality, and say that only subjective perception matters.

But the height of perception is indeed offence. Physical injury and economic damage can be measured and quantified, but offence is completely subjective. Offence is what anyone says it is. On a webforum years ago, some moron posted a message similar to "I'm looking for a woman willing to have hot sex", only in more explicit terms. A girl posted a very indignated reply, basically stating that the guy in question shouldn't write offensive stuff like that. I replied her that she could easily ignore the rude moron and surely doesn't have to sleep with him - and for this she accused me of being a phallocrat.

Yes, I agree with the idea that it shouldn't be like that, and adult people should be able to take decisions on a rational basis and considering the hard facts. Skeptics are the ones trying most hardly to do so. It is largely a matter of degree; there are people who can look at 90% of things with a rational eye, and others completely lost in world of mysticism, symbolism an conspiracies.

However, I am a realist: this is the harsh reality and we'd better deal with it before trying to change it (it can be argued that our brain is wired in a certain way, as well). Perceptions do matter even more than facts, like it or not.

One reason not to be enthusiast about direct confrontation (added later- ed.) is that when you pit frontally worldview against worldview, what you get is millions dead and ravaged countries. Yes, sometimes it is necessary because a different worldview is so unrelentigly hostile and dangerous that it has to be destroyed - else it will destroy the others.

But war is not a lovely thing, and success in war always comes at a high price. When possible, it is better to try and convince people that their worldview is erroneous, and their perceptions are utterly divorced from reality. A change of beliefs is generally the result of an inner, private process of soul-searching that starts with asking questions. This process is often triggered by external events like exposition to different ideas and environment, but it proceeds internally. Try to tell someone "Mate, your most deeply held beliefs are bullshit!"; can my Christian readers imagine how they would react if a militant atheist did something like that to them? It would end in an argument at the very least.

Yes, you can break a man by brute force, but that's far from an ideal solution: some will still bear resentement, and others will be so damaged to be dysfunctional.

The conclusion, tho, is that I have no universal rule to write. I can only say, pragmatically, that each case must be considered an analyzed largely on its own.

Comments (1)

March 26, 2006

The March for Free Expression 

So, here's the meat of the demonstration, finally.

The manifestation. Yes, it's not huge,
but it wasn't a pleasant day in London either.

Some indipendent signs

One of the official signs

One of a couple of Danish flags. Regulations say that foreign flags
cannot be held high in Trafalgar Square

The Cartoons of Doom

Hard to see, but the guy in the centre
holds an "Infidel Bloggers Alliance" sign

I like this one

Plenty of cops

These two nutty guys did not agree with the demo's points,
but no-one bothered them

I arrived just in time hear the two last speakers, and the points they made are that free expression is a most fundamental right, and true freedom of speech cannot exist where it's forbidden to offend some "protected minority". They also insisted that threats and violence against people expressing peacefully their opinion are inadmissible. Among frequent applause from the crowd.

A more detailed recount of the events is available here, together with discussion of future initiatives and events along the same lines.

Update: Actually, it appears that the black dissenter was forced by the manifestation's stewards and/or the Met Police to take down an effigy of Blair with a swastika around his neck. And there is a big debate going on at the organizers' website about the role and actions of a speaker from the Muslim Action Committee. I didn't see her so I cannot really weigh in. Though Peter Risdon seems to be a little too much apologetic and soft-spoken towards MAC (but he also wants to keep things diplomatic, possibly).

Update 27/03: Wretchard has more pictures and commentary of the events that preceded my arrival at the manifestation (yes, now I feel guilty for having been a slob) - in particular the not so liberal attitude of the Met Police. I also left a comment over there linking to this very post.

Comments (7)

A Teaser 

Yes, I went to the Freedom of Expression demonstration. I arrived late because I overslpet due to a hangover...

But I've got the pictures, and pretty soon I'll post about it.

I also went to see an exhibition about the Chinese emperors at the National Gallery, and now I'm thinking about the Mongols (Chinese and Mongols had a long conflictual history, but it brought some cultural mixing. It's along an complex history).

Somebody stop my curiosity!

Comments (0)

March 22, 2006

Fun With Mail 

I haven't received any hate mail or ramblings of people who do not like my opinions, but today something weird arrived in my mailbox:

Subject: drinkme

A conduct can be pathological or non pathological (phisiological), no external or middle case is expected. 90% of the people who killed a parent is declared mentally healthful, this means: non pathological conduct, phisiological conduct (genetic or non genetic), good doctor, not vector of functional or anatomical suffering.

Medicine is an exact science, jurisprudence is an exact science. Enemies and friends: of the mental hygiene only, war between doctors isn't expected value. "Fighting with islam against the devil" : this information is harmless and profitable.

Siegmund Freud lies not knowing to be lying: he is a conceptual pedophile who says children has sexual attraction for parent (edipus) and that mind is partitioned in 3 parts (ego superego es). False premiss brings wrong result: like Freud says, cognitive error is associated with pathological conduct, biological group self-destructive activity.
"Your parent acts with you like with friends": the medical doctor must suggest this or enhanced reflection to the habitants, for excluding non-genetic behavioral epidemics. Slapping child is a crime and a mania, like by the general rule, "if child doesn't born genetically stupid, handicapped, diseased, socially dangerous". Habitants of the planet kill gays but children don't born gays, habitants corrupt and kill children doing a "sacrifice to the devil": this non genetic epidemic is familiarly but not geneticaly transmitted.

With baptism christians forgive themselfs from god's sentence. If vegetarian diet gives longer and better life than non-vegetarian diet, non-vegetarian diet is alimentary behavior pathology. Eating another human is a behavioral disturb; a cow has 96,5% dna perfectly matching with human dna. I am racist: i think animals is inferior race, so i don't have to eat cadavers, thing that induce a phisiological genetic reflex : vomiting.

You are authorized by the author to the use u think is necessary, please forward. This is a final version or close, you will be excluded from future mailing. Refeer to email's header for contact information.
I can't make any sense of this bloviating, really. I suspect it has been written by a non-native English speaker - with a far from good knowledge of this language.

However, this message was sent to a long list of addresses (probably phished - there is a "fake_email@fake_email.com" among them) and comes from an ee@mhpea.org; IP WHOIS says:

inetnum: -
remarks: INFRA-AW
descr: Telecom Italia SPA
descr: Provider Local Registry
descr: BB IBS
country: IT
admin-c: INAS1-RIPE
tech-c: INAS1-RIPE
notify: *************@telecomitalia.it
mnt-by: INTERB-MNT
changed: **********@telecomitalia.it 20040831
source: RIPE

role: Interbusiness Network Administration Staff
address: Telecom Italia
address: Via Paolo di Dono, 44
address: 00142 Roma
address: Italy

This host is apparently a SMTP server (smtp-out13.alice.it), and listed in the Distributed Sender Blackhole List. You've got to trust Telecom Italia to keep their own shop tidy, eh?

I couldn't find much more info about this weird message: another blogger got it as well, and it appears in a few more forums/websites dedicated to weird stuff.

We'll wait and see.

Comments (3)

Pane Per i Loro Denti 

I fascisti rossi, sempre fedeli alla linea, tentano di nuovo di usare la forza per silenziare politici (nel caso Berlusconi, in persona) che la pensano diversamente. Ma questa volta, hanno trovato pane per i loro denti:
LA PRIMA CARICA - Gli incidenti sono iniziati intorno alle 17.30 quando dalla piazza che fiancheggia il teatro Carlo Felice sono volate due bottiglie e della farina lanciate da alcuni giovani per contestare l'arrivo del premier alla manifestazione elettorale di Forza Italia. La protesta iniziale, animata da circa 200 contestatori, è stata subito rintuzzata dalla polizia con una piccola carica e qualche manganellata. I poliziotti in divisa antisommossa hanno poi condotto via un uomo che aveva raccolto un coccio di bottiglia rotta e stava per scagliarlo. Prima dell'arrivo del premier, un gruppo di giovani manifestanti con la kefiah al collo ha tentato di oltrepassare le transenne di metallo poste per delimitare l'ingresso al teatro. Le forze dell'ordine hanno usato le stesse transenne per spingere via i contestatori.
Ora, sia ben chiaro che per mei cittadini hanno il diritto fondamentale di riunirsi per contestare ogni politico, anche con parole pesanti. Ma non hanno alcun diritto di usare la violenza; quando si comincia a lanciare oggetti si passa un limite. E non c'entra che le bottiglie forse erano di plastica e la polizia in tenuta antisommossa; é il gesto in se che conta. Voi non lanciate oggetti e non tentate di forzare gli sbarramenti, e potete manifestare (non posso impedirvi di portare la keffiah, ma per me é l'indumento piú stupido che esista). Semplice.

Ma i sinistrati spesso sembrano duri di comprendonio, quindi:
LA SECONDA CARICA - Un altro momento di tensione si è avuto quando un gruppo di manifestanti si è fronteggiato con il cordone delle forze dell'ordine e una ragazza di 15 anni è stata colpita dalla manganellata di un carabiniere all'arcata sopracigliare. Ricoverata all'OBI (Osservazione breve intensiva) dell'ospedale Galliera, la ragazza, accompagnata dal padre, è stata sottoposta a una Tac cranio-facciale. , che ha dato esito negativo. Nessuna frattura ma un trauma cranico, lividi e lesioni, per le quali è stata medicata con numerosi punti di sutura. Rimarrà comunque in osservazione per 24 ore in ospedale.
Anni fa lo slogan era "Contro il potere, lotta dura senza paura". Ora si é trasformato in "Contro il potere, punti di sutura". Vuoi fare la giovane e coraggiosa contestatrice? Allora non lamentarti se poi qualcuno ti prende sul serio e ci rimedi una manganellata.

Ma la perla arriva ora:
BATTIBECCO- Finito il comizio, lasciando la sala il presidente del Consiglio ha poi battibeccato con un giovane che gli ha gridato da dietro il cordone di protezione di polizia e carabinieri: «Evviva Vittorio Mangano!» (personaggio legato a Cosa Nostra, conosciuto - attraverso le cronache giornalistiche che hanno seguito gli iter processuali che lo hanno visto coinvolto - con il soprannome di stalliere di Arcore - Ndr). Berlusconi si è fermato, è tornato sui suoi passi, si è avvicinato con foga al giovane, gli ha puntato l'indice contro e gli ha detto: «Tu non ti puoi permettere, tu sei un coglione!».
Per me, questo giovane ha diritto di dire quello che ha detto, ma pure Berlusconi (e chiunque altro) ha diritto di rispondere per le rime. Il non reagire é un dis-valore postmoderno; gli uomini non si lasciano offendere impunemente.

Comments (0)

March 20, 2006

Ham to the East 

More funky search phrases!

This one from China - precisely, someone in a company called Zhejiang Shuanghui Foodstuff Co.,ltd:

"parma ham processing martial"

Hey, it's all well and good if the Chinese are interested in this delicious product. China is a rather large market for the ham producers...

But what does "martial" have to do with it? I really can't imagine.
Apparently this guy (or gal) also used the Google automatic translator to translate the ever-popular November 2004 page of this blog into Chinese. Maybe this strange search phrase is a result of a translation cock-up.

Other visits are Italians curious about ammonium nitrate and ANFO; Americans and Singaporeans seeking Italian rude language; a Korean wanting to know more about "boar attack woman" and even a few rather normal things and links from other blogs. Ah yes, this is just in: in the deep American Midwest, there is someone using a Mac and desperate to know all about "polipropilene (misspelled like that) breasts".

What kind of demographics am I catering to??

Comments (0)

March 19, 2006

Analysing Religion 

In the last few days, I encountered a couple of discussions that touched the issues of what is the "true" form of a religion; what in the end determinates the general features of a religion and how deeply the majority of believers know their Holy Writ and theology.

One such discussion is at Kevin's place, and he being an atheist has no problems in dissecting any and all religions. And of course the reply is that some Christians behaving badly do not make Christianity bad.

Another of these discussions started at LGF, and predictably it soon degenerated into the usual bash-Islam fest where the signal was lost amidst the noise of the shriekers.

As an aside, I think that calling Islam a "satanic cult" or something like that is quite stupid. Yes, it has cultic elements, but I've read of an imam saying that Christian women are "satanic" because they do not go around covered from head to toe.
And guess who is the bad guy for the Satanists (those with pentagrams etc)? Yes, the Christian god. So in this context "satanic" becomes an epiteth flung back and forth with no real descriptive or explanatory value.

Back on the main topic...
There is no doubt that the Holy Writ on which a particular religion is based has an important role in shaping it. The principles, the words of god are written there.

Yet, there are many examples of religions being practiced in a manner quite different from what is in the Holy Writ (for the better or the worse).

I think that ultimately the true form of a religion depends strongly on the consensus of its followers. It is as the majority say it is, and the minorities can either accept it or separate and start their own religion (and often this process is far from peaceful).

Religions are at least in some part hive-minds, where collective behaviour and beliefs emerge from the summation of the behaviour and beliefs of each individual, able to observe the others and communicate with them - communication is a fundamental factor. To quote SDB:
Likewise, there are ways in which hive-minds seem to exhibit behavior which is strongly similar to the ways in which "real" minds behave, even though there really isn't any single "mind" as such in the sense of a single central brain processing data and making decisions. In colonial insects the queen often has somewhat more influence than any other single member, but she doesn't actually rule the colony in any real sense, and when soldatos migrate the queen doesn't decide where they'll nest or where groups of ants will forage. It's rather the case that those decisions of the hive-mind are an emergent result of the collective behavior of a huge number of individual ants who can and do communicate with one another, or observe and react to how others are behaving.
Notice that the consensus I mentioned above is not necessarily explicit, like signing a manifesto or statement; often it's implicit or even subconscious.

However, individuals within a religion (or ideology) are not always free; not infrequently a tyrannical majority or a supremacist minority coerce nearly all the followers into some behaviour and beliefs not all would take if given the choice. The ruling class is unwilling to relinquish even small amounts of power and control, and dissent is not generally encouraged - sometimes actively repressed (it is possible to group these last considerations under the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy feature).

In the case of Islam, I have read stories of people who learnt to recite part or even all of the Koran - but without knowing Arabic. They didn't know what their prayers meant, and some were horrified to discover the true content of some passages. This is not very dissimilar from when the Christian church used Latin as its languange, thus effectively excluding the peasants from having direct access to the holy books and doctrinary discussions (some prayers and chants are still in Latin, and that is cause of hilarious mistakes and misunderstandings).

The real problem then is not whether Islam can evolve or not; it is what will take to convince a sufficient number of Muslims to change their views (of course some think that there is no need for a change in the first place. I strongly disagree).

Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

Some More Activism 

Via Winds of Change, I found this blog: March for Free Expression.

They are organizing a rally in support of freedom of expression, especially against the Islamic assault, at Trafalgar Square, London, 2pm of Saturday 25th March 2006 - with this statement of principle:
The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.
I think I'll be there.

Comments (1)

March 16, 2006

Essere Giovani Dentro 

Ritagliando qualche minuto fra un esperimento e l'altro, ecco cosa ho trovato oggi:
BERGAMO - Lo famo strano? L'hanno fatto. Che cosa infatti la coppia stesse facendo a bordo di quell'auto che zigzagava pericolosamente in piena provinciale i vigili hanno potuto solo immaginarselo. Soprattutto dopo che se li sono trovati davanti seminudi. E non erano nemmeno dei ragazzini: 59 anni lui, 70 lei.
Che dire... un uomo un mito. Da grande voglio essere come lui.

Parlando di cose serie - anche se non meno inconsuete, beccatevi questa: la DARPA sta tentando di inserire dispositivi micro-elettromeccanici in larve di insetti, in modo che l'insetto volante adulto possa essere pilotato a distanza ed usato per intercettare conversazioni e/o esaminare l'aria alla ricerca di esplosivi ed altre sostanze. Difficile? Senza dubbio, ma si tratta di una ricerca con grandi potenzialitá. E questo é solo l'inizio della cibernetica...

Aggiornamento 18:25 GMT: (Il mio apparecchio per l'adsorbimento si sta raffreddando, mentre ho un'altra corsa di prova sul GC) Le notizie delle quali posso e voglio fare a meno:

- Stefania Nobile (mai cognome fu piú inadeguato), figlia di Wanna Marchi, si dá al porno.
Tenterá poi di smerciarlo tramite televendite truffaldine?

- Un sito Internet offre la possibilitá di seguire in tempo reale gli spostamenti delle star.
Ho sempre pensato che il momento migliore di Maradona fu quando sparó ai paparazzi...

- Pamela Anderson usa una tetta per prendere appunti. E Kate Moss compra un vibratore d'oro.
Di sicuro c'é molto piú spazio lí che nel suo cervello. Gioielli di cattivo gusto, cocaina... le manca solo un Range Rover tamarrato con stereo da 15 000 W.

Perche ho scritto ció? Bé, mi sto annoiando qui in laboratorio, ed i miei esperimenti non vanno benissimo. Quindi voglio far soffrire pure voi, ahahahah.

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March 12, 2006

Look There 

I still get a number of visits by people searching for Italian swear words, Italian swearing and the like.

Well, if that's your interest, go here and you will be contented.

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March 11, 2006

Buone Notizie 

A Milano, i soliti squadristi di sinistra ci dimostrano ancora una volta la loro dedizione alla libertá e tolleranza mettendo a ferro e fuoco qualche via della cittá (intendiamoci, non che io abbia molta simpatia per chi inneggia al Duce e mostra simboli fascisti).

Ah, per il Corriere: un ordigno abbastanza potente da ferire con le sue scheggie quattro agenti in tenuta antisommossa é una bomba e basta, senza carta.

Comunque, ecco il dettaglio che mi scalda il cuore:
CALCI E PUGNI AI MANIFESTANTI - La rabbia della folla sconvolta si è riversata su alcuni manifestanti, quando sono stati fermati dalle forze dell'ordine. A stento gli stessi agenti sono riusciti a salvarli da un vero e proprio linciaggio: gruppi numerosi di persone li prendevano a calci e pugni urlando «ammazzateli», mentre gli uomini delle forze dell'ordine cercavano faticosamente di caricarli sui furgoni. Un signore anziano che ha partecipato all’aggressione ha motivato così la rabbia: «Hai visto che cosa hanno fatto? Stanno distruggendo tutto. Se avessi avuto un coltello l’avrei usato».
Solo un coltello? Meglio un calibro 12 caricato a pallini fini e sale grosso: a distanza ravvicinata costituisce un argomento abbastanza persuasivo.

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March 10, 2006

Signal Reacquisited 

I was watching NASA TV online, and the signal from MRO has been reacquisited right on schedule. Good.

Now all the technicians look happy and cheerful, so I'd say that everything is OK. Very good.

Yes, the mission manager is almost extatic now. The whole team did a great job.

And goodnight now.

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March 09, 2006

Hardcore Science 

Sod the politics, and let's talk about some cool scientific stuff!

The Sandia Z Accelerator is a brute of a machine built for the explicit purpose of producing flashes of X-rays of extremely high power - a matter of terawatts for nanoseconds*. This machine has broken record after record in its operation, but recently it achieved something absolutely astonishing: a plasma temperature exceeding 2 GK - billions of degrees, much hotter than the core of stars. And, even more interestingly, an energy output as X-rays considerably higher than the energy input. This energy must come from somewhere, and the researchers involved hypotesized that micro-scale turbulence in the compressed plasma causes intense viscous heating. Yes, also plasma has its own viscosity. Now, I'm no expert of plasma (I produced a bit of it years ago, when I closed a circuit with a short piece of thin steel wire, plugged it into a 220V mains socket and flicked the switch: the wire exploded with a loud pop and a small violet fireball.), but I know that high-temperature plasma is involved in nuclear explosions, astrophysical phenomena and fusion reactions that could be used to produce energy.

In a completely different field, Italian and other researchers discovered new organisms and divisions of bacteria in a particular habitat at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The place is known as the Bannock basin, and it's a depression in the sea bottom filled with brine (close to 30% w/v NaCl). Naturally, there is an interface between this brine and the seawater above: in this 2.5 m thick layer, a rich and diverse bacterial ecosystem lives receiving methan from below and sedimenting particulate from above. This discovery is interesting in itself, but it has more implications: there probably is liquid water underneath the ice layer covering Jupiter's moon Europa, and conditions similar to the Bannock lake-seawater interface may exist there too. Moreover, bacterial and enzimatic processes are interesting from an industrial standpoint, but their drawback is delicacy: if the process conditions deviate even slightly from the correct setting, entire bacterial cultures or enzyme catalyst can be severely damaged. Bacteria living in these extreme conditions, on the other hand, will be less delicate.

Update 10/03: Boy, you can't finish an article about science that some other new discovery or invention pops up. And fortunately so.

The Cassini spacecraft has observed a plume of water and other substances erupting into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus, and a hot spot at it south pole. A plume - or geyser - means that liquid water is present under the icy surface, and a hot spot means energy. Together with the rock forming Enceladus, these are ingredients that may produce life - even if just microrganisms.

Finding lifeforms out of Earth would mean that life does not need the particularly mild conditions of our planet to emerge: the universe is therefore full of life, and other intelligent species will be out there, somewhere. However, such a discovery could also open another huge interrogative. If microrganisms eventually found on Titan, Europa or Enceladus are radically different from the Earthly ones, it means that they just evolved locally**. But what if those lifeforms were similar enough? Coincidence or common origin? And what common origin, then?

Later today, beginning at 21:25 GMT, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will begin its orbital insertion manouvre: it is a delicate stage, because if the spacecraft does not decelerate enough or it's too far from the planet, it will slingshot around Mars and be lost; if it decelerates too much or gets too close, it will plunge to the surface and be destroyed. We will know in a few hours how it goes. The MRO carries a sizable array of instruments, among them a high-resolution (1 m) camera; a ground-penetrating radar (this one produced in Italy); a sounder for atmospheric/weather observations and and infrared/visible spectrometer for identification of the minerals on Mars' surface.

* This means an energy in the kJ range. The reason for the existence of the Z Accelerator is to reproduce the conditions encountered during nuclear explosions without actually detonating nuclear devices.

** Go on, try to make sense in discussing these matters using Creationism or Intelligent Design models...

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March 07, 2006

The Falling Bullet #2 

Now the time has come to complete my short treatise on the infamous free-fall bullet meme. Here are the data of our Kalashnikov bullet, and of the Winchester .22 short as a comparison: I think the .22 short is at the lower end of the lethality scale.

7.62 x 39
Weight: 7.97 g
Muzzle velocity: 710 m/s
Muzzle energy: 2010 J
Mainly steel

.22 short
1 gain = 64.8 mg
Weight: 29 gr. (1.88 g)
Muzzle velocity: 1095 ft/s (333.8 m/s)
Muzzle energy: 393 J

As I anticipated, the most difficult thing is to estimate the drag coefficient of a bullet falling freely in air. This website reports a Cd of 0.15 for subsonic 7.62 x 51 Nato bullets (fired from a gun); a projectile will probably fall butt first and thus be less aerodynamic; however I used Excel to calculate the terminal velocity for the Cd values of 0.1, 0.15, 0.2 and 0.3. The formula I used is:

vt = sqrt( 2 m g / ro Sr Cd )

m Bullet mass, kg
g Gravitational constant, 9.81 m/s2
ro Air density, ~ 1 kg/m3
Sr Reference area: cross-section of the cylindrical part of the bullet, 4.56*10-5 m2

And the results are:
Cd vt(m/s) K(J)
0.1 185 137
0.15 151 91
0.2 131 68
0.3 107 46

(Ain't got time to perfect the formatting, chaps) So, even with a Cd as low as 0.1 - which is rather unlikely - a free-falling Kalshnikov bullet would have roughly 1/3 of the energy of a .22 short, at a little more than half the speed.

I would say that this is not enough enough to kill an adult human, and neither a child. It would probably causes bruises, like heavy hail, and maybe somewhat more serious wounds in unfavourable circumstances.

Update 08/03: This US Navy document places the minimum lethal energy at 100 J. I rest my case: free-falling Kalashnikov bullets are unlikely to kill.

Update 12/03: I asked Kevin to weigh in, and he pointed me to a series of posts at Wadcutter: the guy over there did much more sophisticated calculations, but arrived to similar results - confirming the truism that the right mathemathical model is the one that gives usable results without being overly complicated. Huckel managed to make certain molecular quantum mechanics calculations simple (as far as matrix algebra goes) and rather accurate, by discarding some features that give better results but at the expense of much greater difficulty.

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March 05, 2006


How would aliens look like? I bet many have asked themselves this question, either as daydreaming or as a more serious intellectual exercise.

I am fairly convinced that there is life on other worlds. There is no real proof (yet), but seeing how stubborn and adaptable is life on Earth, I suppose that simple organism can be found also on other planets or bodies. We aren't even sure we know all the forms life can take on Earth, actually. The variety of possible alien lifeforms is infinite.

But if we talk about intelligent and technologically capable aliens, that may travel across the stars and eventually pay us a visit, the field is much more restricted. Let's consider Earth again: there are thousands of species of vertebrates (not to mention all the rest), but only Homo sapiens sapiens developed structured language(s) and writing, mastered science and technology, philosophy and metaphysics. Our closest relatives, the chimps, are a long way behind us on this road. Another point to notice is that modern humans are the product of one particular evolutive history - but there is no real compelling reason for us to be exactly like we are.

So, I think it would make more sense to think about what characteristics space-travelling aliens must possess. Building ships for space travel is by no means easy, especially if these ships have to carry a living crew. It takes advanced phisycs, chemistry, materials science and mechanical engineering to design and build one - plus of course all the advanced mathematics behind all this. If those ships use anything nuclear (which is a distinct possibility), also quantum mechanics becomes necessary; even excluding the much vaunted faster-than-light flight.

The notation used by an alien race would be radically different, but the concepts must be there. For example the hexagon is not just an human abstraction, but it's a figure encountered often in nature - the benzene molecule, the quartz crystals. I think that someone already said that mathematics could be the true universal language.

Thus, our aliens must have a few fundamental features:

- A well-developed nervous system.
This may or may not require a central brain in the body, and alien societies may even be hive-minds; however single individuals must be quite independent if they have to conduct an interstellar mission.

- Sensorial organs.
But exactly what senses, is too difficult to say. It depends from the evolutive history of each particular species: for examples, humans are fairly limited in this regard; other earhtly animals can sense electro-magnetic fields, infrared rays and ultraviolet light.

- Complex, high bandwidth communications
For this purpose humans use audio-visual coding (speech and writing), but these aren't strictly the only systems available. Other species may have evolved the capacity to project complex images without the need of supports; or may use chemical messengers (I don't think this is very likely, but that's just me). It is even conceivable that some aliens may be able to communicate directly with each other using electro-magnetic fields - sort of telepathy.

- Manipulator limbs
These are required to manipulate objects. There is strong evidence that in humans the development of erect posture, hands and brain has been strictly interconnected. However, the bone-and-muscle uman hand is not the only tool for the job; aliens may have any number of prehensile tentacles with or without pincers or claws; another possible and very practical feature would be morphing limbs that can take a variety of shapes.

None of these carachteristics requires an antropomorphic body, or our human bi-simmetry. Actually, it's very likely that an alien race would look very different from us - unless humans and some aliens are related for some unknown reason. It is very improbable, but not physically impossible that aliens may have tampered with the course of evolution on Earth and thus originated mankind.

However, the fact that most alien sightings describe them as rather humanlike is another reason to be skeptical for me. The pointed questions would be others: why these aliens do not send unmanned probes first - and why we never found the remains of such probes landed in the past? Why would these aliens be so shy? If they truly are so advanced technologically, our best weapons would be no real threat to them. And if they wanted to observe us unobtrusively, they did a quite poor job. Why aliens do not attempt to communicate with us thorugh more "official" channels? They should be smart enough to figure out how our society works. If they wanted to conquer us, why not send an assault fleet and vaporize all resistance with high-power X-ray lasers and antimatter bombs?

(Ok, thinking about it, they may be post-modern and politically correct aliens. You may nver know)

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March 03, 2006

Senti Chi Parla 

[...]un ministro italiano fascista che ha usato un linguaggio razzista[...]
Muammar Gheddafi in persona. Come diceva quella canzoncina: Mi manca il senso del pudore...

In altre notizie, Berlusconi ha riscosso un enorme successo in America con il suo discorso al Congresso. Fonti anonime e di fiducia hanno intercettato una comunicazione interna all'Unione, che posso pubblicare in esclusiva.
** Comunicazione Interna **

Da: Romano Prodi
A: Divisione Ricerca e Sviluppo
Oggetto: Sviluppo Strumenti Retorici.

2 Marzo 2006

Il discorso di Berlusconi al Congresso americano é stato senza dubbio una carnevalata - come ben sappiamo dall'alto della nostra superioritá - ma quegli stupidi yankees ed il popolo italiano ignorante e pecora ci sono cascati come al solito.

Purtroppo devo constatare che i sistemi da voi prodotti per arrampicarsi sugli specchi nel tentativo di screditare Berlusconi (di nuovo, perché il popolo ignorante e pecora non si accorge della nostra superioritá, dimostrata dal produrre un programma di 280 pagine) si sono rivelati molto meno efficaci del previsto.

Pertanto, vi invito caldamente a sviluppare dispositivi in grado di permettere l'arrampicata su superfici molto piú liscie dei normali specchi da bagno e camerino di prova. Il tempo a disposizione prima delle elezioni é, come ben sapete, ridotto.

Cordialmente vostro


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March 02, 2006

Decisione Strategica 

Poco tempo fa, é stato pubblicato l'ormai famoso appello "Per l'Occidente" (in English, too), promosso da Marcello Pera ed un gruppo di persone decisamente multietnico.

Io non sono totalmente d'accordo con il contenuto dell'appello, e la ragione principale é che il manifesto enfatizza particolarmente il ruolo dei valori giudaico-cristiani. Sicuramente questi valori sono stati importanti nella storia, ma sono anche stati rielaborati pesantemente coll'Illuminismo e liberalismo classico; la democrazia repubblicana e liberale non é strettamente cristiana, diciamo. E da un punto di vista personale, io non sono religioso.

Peró d'altra parte condivido il messaggio di fondo: la vita in Occidente (parola che non ha una definizione precisa) non sará perfetta, ma é di sicuro molto migliore che in qualunque altro posto - e migliore di quanto si sia mai visto nella storia. E vale la pena di impegnarsi e lottare per l'Occidente.

Fra i bloggers italiani, Robinik ha ottime argomentazioni per sottoscrivere l'appello anche se non si é totalmente d'accordo; Wellington d'altra parte dimostra come si puó essere fermamente pro-occidentali anche senza sottoscrivere.

Che fare? Alla fine, ho optato per una decisione strategica: sottoscrivere.
Perché aderendo all'appello si dá maggiore forza a questo ed a tutti i movimenti pro-occidente; si rinforza il meme ed aumenta la visibilitá di queste idee. Nel sistema liberale poi ci sará modo di risolvere pacificamente le divergenze. Ma nella teocrazia islamista o nella soffice oligarchia tranzista questo non é possibile.

Aggiornamento 3/03: Astrolabio ha scritto un altro appello per l'Occidente, questo decisamente orientato verso i valori del liberalismo classico. Alef invece parla dell'appello contro l'Islamismo proposto e firmato da una dozzina di intellettuali europei - in buona parte apostati o mussulmani liberali (qui in inglese).

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