Archive for April, 2011

Watch out it’s the fashion police!

I didn’t intend to write about politics when I started this blog, I fully intended to stick to topics revolving around science. However this weeks activity in France where the burqa has now been banned have incensed me. For those of you who haven’t heard the French ban on wearing the burqa came into force today, now any woman found wearing the burqa will be subjected to a 150 Euro fine and mandatory attendance at a “re-education” meeting. I despise this law; it’s invasive, immoral and totally misguided at best. But what I despise more than this is the reaction some people have had. Here is some of the worst…

“If people want to live in our country they should abide by our culture!”

This statement strongly implies that all burqa wearing muslim women are immigrants who want nothing more than to segregate themselves from the rest of the country. Aside from this being spurious at best whose culture are we talking about? And is this about culture or fashion? I lived in Brighton for many years and have seen people wearing everything and often, nothing. In fact during my first week in Brighton I witnessed a very old man wearing an old man cap, shirt and tie, waistcoat, hot pants, red tights and knee length leather boots. This is not an anomaly! It is common in Brighton to witness odd clashes of fashion and style completely at odds with other norms in Britain such as hoodies and jeans, is this an example of Brighton not abiding by “our” culture? Why is it that if something is different or not native in origin that it should be shunned until it integrates (an Orwellian word that actually means conforms)? One news article went so far as to suggest that all muslim women who do not wear burqas are ‘moderates’ implying that those who do wear the burqa are extremist. At what point did it become acceptable in Europe to consider anyone who dresses or acts differently as extremest? If a selection of Europeans started painting their faces because of cultural reasons why should that not also be banned?

“You shouldn’t be allowed to cover your face in public”

Once a year this child is oppressed into covering it's face. Ban Ghosts

So we are going to ban hoodies, masks and helmets now are we? I accept that in some cases you should have to show your face (i.e. when engaging in an activity which requires ID) but why the hell is it the governments business if I show my face or not? As a matter of fact why is it anyone’s business what I wear?  When celebs are hounded by paparazzi and cover their face should we arrest them? Should faces no longer be blurred out on TV?

“Muslim women are oppressed”

The issue of women being oppressed is a strong one however ordering women not to wear a burqa is hardly a step forward especially as I have yet to see any evidence that the majority of burqa wearers do so under male instruction. I have a friend whose girlfriend tells him what and what not to wear. It’s ridiculous that a man of 22 can be ordered around and told which shirt he is allowed and not allowed to buy, should we ban shirts then? Tackling one small symptom is never going to get rid of the disease.

In addition I find it hard to see why there is a belief that here in Europe our culture doesn’t oppress women by demanding what they can and cannot wear. Our TV bombards us with programs featuring normal women who are then taken by some Guri, told they are doing it wrong and reborn with make-up, surgery and new clothes. Are you any more liberated if going out in jeans and a jumper results in sneers and odd looks from those dressed in less fabric than a small hanky? Anyone who believes that women in Europe can walk down the street wearing whatever they like without fear of judgement needs to get their head checked.

There’s a lot more to be said on this issue that I’m not going into now. All the arguments for banning the burqa are veiled attempts at forcing out Islam under the guise of liberation and integration. I can’t help feel that this is a bad time for our free world when the liberties that we fought to obtain are the ones we are now invoking to justify interference and oppression of our citizens. I, as a free European citizen should be allowed to wear whatever the hell I please and that freedom should be universal. What kind of world are we creating when we say it’s ok for government to pass laws over specific people like this? Is this not another example of what Niemöller warned against?


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Some rather peculiar designs

If mankind perished today and our remains were dug up by future archaeologists from another species there is one thing that would become apparent quite quickly; we love to build things. From houses to bridges, sky scrapers to motorways we tear up resources lying around us and hammer them into useful and beautiful feats of engineering all the time. Sometimes those things really are inspiring examples of what we can achieve (the Millau Viaduct is taller than most sky scrapers) others are slightly more wacky (see the Hitler house). I’ve encountered quite a lot of ideas of the years that have left me enthused, impressed, awed, disturbed, incredulous and overall gobsmacked! Here are a few that instill all of those things…

  • Alantropa

There’s not enough land so let’s build more!

In 1929 a German man by the name of Herman Sogel had a rather…interesting idea. He believed that the 20th century would see the rise of both the U.S and a Pan-Asian nation that would displace Europe to the third power block of the world (personally I think he was a little over half right, the U.S did rise and many Asian nations are becoming more and more prosperous). To combat this he wanted to turn Europe and Africa into one continent. Yup, you read that right. The continent would be named “Alantropa” and would be created by damming the Strait of Gibraltar, over the years the Mediterranean sea would evaporate lowering its level by 200 metres. The plan had many aims, according to Sogel it would take nearly a century for the project to be completed. Hundreds of thousands of workers would be needed to build the damn in under ten years with potentially millions more required to turn the growing land of the Mediterranean into fertile farmland and colonise it. Alantropa would be powered by the dam which would produce Gigawatts of energy from hydroelectricity. Sogel saw this plan as a way of ensuring co-operation and peace in Europe as well as providing economic and industrial growth (later versions of the plan involved draining some of the mediterranean into Africa to produce three great lakes to turn the desert into more fertile land).

Alas his plan isn’t without its flaws. Aside from the building logistics the dam would cause massive ecological damage to the mediteranian and whilst Sogel had peaceful intentions towards Europe he had less savory attitudes towards Africans who he saw as in the way of an Expanding Europe. Still the audacity of this plan brings a smile to my face.

Artists impression of Atlantropa (Source: Wikipedia user Ittiz)

  • Dubai City Tower

Those with a fear of heights need not apply

City or building?

Of a slightly less extreme nature but by no means less imaginary is the Dubai City Tower proposal. Over recent years Dubai has become a hotspot for extravagant buildings like this, this and this. However of all the future proposals DCT really stands out. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, stands at 800 metres (half a mile!). It is an extraordinary feat of engineering but the DCT would stand three times higher. The ‘tower’ would consist of multiple towers spiralling around each other before meeting hundreds of metres from the ground. With its extreme height the tower would not only have lifts but would have vertical trains that stopped every 100 floors. Each section of 100 floors would be a different “neighbourhood”. The plan isn’t just to build a tower but a vertical city. The DCT would be as self-sufficient as possible generating much of its own power from solar panels and wind farms attached to the outside of the towers, each neighbourhood would feature a sky atrium (domed garden) stretching between the spiralling towers to act as parks and focal areas for local businesses and communities. It’s still doubtful if this structure will ever be constructed and if it is it won’t be for decades. But this idea of arcologies (one building cities) has always intrigued me. The DCT will have everything in it; shops, homes, hospitals, schools, cinemas, hotels, offices….you name it and it will have it. Which intrigues me because of the simple odd fact that a person can be born, raised, work, marry, have kids and die all in the same building! Not that this is a desirable thing (it isn’t to me) it is merely extraordinary.

  • Space Elevator

Going up?

If you thought a mile and a half building was impressive how would you like to take a ride on a cable car….to space? The Space elevator is an old favourite of both science fiction and speculative engineering. The idea is pretty simple; at an altitude of 30,000 kilometres an object can be placed in orbit so that its orbital speed matches the rotation of the Earth. In other words an object in this ‘geostationary orbit’ would always hover over the same place on Earth. From a platform in this orbit a cable could be slowly lowered

One small step for man one giant cable for mankind

down and attached to the corresponding place on the ground, then ‘climbers’ can run up and down this cable literally taking an elevator ride to orbit. Of course in reality the project is not that simple! There is no cable material that we can use at the moment that has the strength needed however we have started to produce materials that may be future candidates. Carbon nanotubes are small tubes of carbon nanometres wide made from just one atom thick sheets of carbon. They are the strongest materials known to man and we’ve been researching better methods of making them for years, the only problem at the moment is we can make small fragments but not thousands of kilometres! How the climbers would attach and actually climb is another problem however there are competitions between universities over this kind of thing already. A space elevator is daunting but its biggest advantage is the cost cutting that it would give to the space industry, that is costs of putting something into geostationary orbit would shrink to 1% of today’s price. On a purely weight cost that would change the cost of putting an average man to geostationary orbit from £1,200,000 to £5,000! That’s a pretty good amount allowing the average person to save up to go to space, not to mention the boom that the company/country who owns the elevator would get from trade in the space industry.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about these ideas, it’s things like this that still give me a passion for science (though my field focusses on the very small which is slightly less gobsmacking to see). If you’ve come across any crazy plans yourself feel free to let me know, I’m always keen to find the next thing that with that level of wow factor!

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