Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rosetta observes fluffy fractal particles from the early solar system in comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenk

I haven't written anything about fractals in this space in a long time, but this news item deserves mention.

A news brief in today's Science magazine (Clery 2016) reports that the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has observed a population of fluffy fractal particles in the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenk, which it is studying. The particles were observed at a wide range of magnifications, from ~ 1mm to 1 µ, using three different instruments on the probe. The shapes are statistical fractals that might have formed through the gentle agglomeration of particles. They are thought to have formed in the early solar system.

You can watch to parts of the relevant presentation that was apparently lived streamed from the ESA. The discussion by Thurid Mannel starts around 28:51, but it is continually interrupted by periods during which the signal was lost.

Fluffy fractal particles from the origins of the solar system! Hot stuff!

I have embedded the video below for your convenience.

Reference cited

Clery, Daniel (2016). Rostta ends 2-year comet mission with final descent. Science 353(6307): 1482-1483.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First conviction for destruction of cultural properties at the International Criminal Court

National Public Radio (here in the United States) and many other news outlets are reporting that Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahd, the first individual tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes involving the destruction of cultural properties, has been sentenced to nine years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to orchestrating attacks on mausoleums and other buildings in Timbuktu (a World Heritage Site) while that city was occupied by a militant group associated with Al-Qaida. Such war crimes are hardly crimes of passion, but rather well-planned, deliberate tactics designed for political ends. Therefore, prosecution and punishment may well serve as a deterrent.

The destruction of cultural property appears to fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC because it is included in the Rome Statute under which the Court operates and presumably other states were unable or unwilling to prosecute. For example, in Article 8, "War Crimes," Section 2, paragraph b(ix), reads in part,
“Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives;” (emphasis added)
Similar language appears in other places in the treaty.

Let us hope that this successful prosecution serves as a salutary lesson for others who would attack and destroy the common heritage of humanity.

News discussion of consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act

The American Indian protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have been in news a lot recently, and I've been discussing it with my public archaeology class. On National Public Radio yesterday morning, there was a news report about litigation over whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properly consulted as required by the National Historic Preservation Act. This link will take you to a transcript and recording of the news report that discusses the Standing Rock Sioux's lawsuit against the Corps. It is rare to hear these kinds of technical issues discussed in such a broad public forum, but it is a good thing because, it seems to me, marginalization and discrimination thrive in the shadows when peoples are ignored or forgotten.