Tycho Brahe Heat-1X: successful launch of danish spacecraft!

June 3, 2011

– Our mission is very simple. We are working towards launching a human being into space.

Today at 16:31 (GMT+1) , the two danish amateur rocket scientists Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen (founders of the non-profit organization Copenhagen Suborbitals) successfully launched their first standing-room-only spacecraft Tycho Brahe Heat-1X, named after the danish astronomer. The rocket reached a height of about 2.8 km. The rocket was launched after the first attempt on sept. 5 2010, which failed.

Congratulations from here!

Interview: New Scientist

Unparticles, Unpolitics, and Their Possible Signatures

December 11, 2007

“Unparticles” and “unpolitics” are two seemingly unrelated concepts which you might never have heard about before, so let me start by explaining the first one.

So, what is an “unparticle”? In particle physics it has recently been suggested by Howard Georgi, that there exists “stuff” which cannot be thought of as particles:

Unparticle Physics 

but nevertheless could be observed at the LHC accelerator in CERN, due to start in 2008. He calls this stuff “unparticles”. This is an intriguing and controversial idea, since our world seems to be well-described in terms of particles.

The idea of unparticles comes from the principle of scale invariance, meaning that the physics of a system remains the same regardless of a change of length (or equivalently energy). Such a scale transformation looks like x -> x’ = (e^s) x. A theory of particles can only be scale invariant if the particles have zero mass and charge: A scale transformation multiplies the mass with a rescaling factor raised to the mass dimension. The standard model of particle physics is surely not scale invariant; the photon, for example, is massless, but its charge is non-zero. However, it is possible that there is another sector of the standard model, the “unparticles”, which interacts so weakly with the known particles of the standard model that they have not been observed; and which is exactly scale-invariant. It is difficult to describe the detailed physics of such a sector, but important characteristics at low energy can be derived from scale invariance. One important consequence is that unparticle stuff will look in the detector like a non-integer number of invisible particles. For example, it could happen that 3/7 particles were missing in the detector. Such an observation would be a very clear sign of something interesting going on!

While you might need a 2 billion EUR detector like LHC to discover unparticles, “unpolitics” is easy to recognize. But, what is “unpolitics”?

While following the general election in Denmark in Nov this year, I thought that a new term, unpolitics, should apply to one of the parties, called New Alliance (Ny Alliance). However, I later realized that such a term already existed, but used as meaning “apolitical”, or “not being concerned with politics”. This is not exactly how I am going to define it. 

 Ny Alliance (New Alliance) is a danish political party which was founded in May 2007 by Naser Khader and two others. Naser was a member of the Social Liberals Party, but wanted to counter the influence of the right-wing and xenophobic Danish People’s Party. At first, this project gave New Alliance a lot of momentum, and early opinion polls indicated that they could secure 12 out of 179 seats in the Parliament. In the November election they only managed to get 5 seats, and a times it was uncertain if they would be able to be represented at all. Why was this so? One of the main reason, I think, is that New Alliance is a typical representative of what I will call “unpolitics”.

Unpolitics is “stuff” in the world of politics, which is represented by political persons, but which not really can be thought of as politics. In unpolitics, the most important elements are often popular persons, but with no, or just very few, really new ideas. One idea of New Alliance was to reduce the income tax to 40%; a member even suggested that the 40% could be experimentally implemented on Denmark’s third-largest island. This proposal was quickly abandoned. Another idea is free food for school children. New Alliance has been notoriously slow in formulating a detailed party program. When asked about concrete political questions, the typical answer was that such an answer could not be given, since they represented a “new” approach towards danish politics. Their main reason of existence just being to counter the influence of another party. In reality this did not happen. 

Therefore, a possible signature of unpolitics is this. Unpolitics is scale invariant: at every scale – large and small – you don’t find any “stuff” of politics, just popular persons.

References: Howard Georgi’s two papers on unparticles, hep-ph/0703260, and 0704.2457 [hep-ph]

Fogh, Lies and Videotapes?

January 26, 2007

Our Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen does not fancy a certain documentary film which was shown on Danish national television in December 2006.

And you can understand why. At least if you remember, that Denmark is at war in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.

“The secret war” (Danish: “Den Hemmelige Krig”) is about the fact that during the war in Afghanistan in 2002, Denmark handed over prisoners to the US soldiers (at least on one occation — the 18th of March, 2002) even though USA would no longer respect the Geneva-convention, and possibly that the Danish Government, led by Fogh Rasmussen, did not reveal this to the parliament.

A memo [PDF] by Donald Rumsfeld, 19th of january, 2002, states that

[…] Al Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defence are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

This was known publically soon thereafter. On the 28th of January, 2002 in the New York Times:

Vice Pres Dick Cheney and Defense Sec Donald H Rumsfeld say war captives in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will not be designated as prisoners of war, regardless of what decision administration makes on Sec of State Colin Powell’s request for review of how Geneva Convention on captives’ rights might apply; […] Cheney says convention does not apply to captives because they are not conventional soldiers, but terrorists operating outside internationally accepted norms;

In this way, the movie rightly questions the basis for Denmarks participation in the so-called “war against terror” in Afghanistan.

Fogh Rasmussen flatly rejects an independent investigation of the events in Afghanistan in early 2002, and as to whether the Geneva conventions has been violated. On the other hand he ask for an investigation as to whether the Danish national television, DR, made any factual mistakes in the movie.

Double standards, anyone?

Danish People’s Party: Xenophobics and Nazis ?

August 20, 2006

The Danish People’s Party (in Danish “Dansk Folkeparti”, or just DF) is a populistic anti-immigration right wing party known for its extreme Islamophobia, directed towards individuals perceived to be either Arab and/or Muslim. (I’ve written about DF earlier here).

DF currently has 22 seats in the Danish Parliament (out of 179), making it the third largest political party in Denmark. Its extreme success has meant that prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen politically has been completely dependent upon the DF; for example the government has passed extremely restrictive asylum legislation. However, unlike similar parties the DF has been careful in its foreign connections, and has been at pains to moderate its language, even though in reality obscure racist-like as well as “Islamophobic” statements by members of DF are very common.

Apart from moderating its language, the DF has also – at least publicly – tried to moderate its group of members. And for obvious reasons. Here is a very recent example:

According to an article in the Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, local presidents has welcomed nazis as members of DF. Ekstra Bladet called the presidents of 13 randomly chosen local party societies. Four out of seven presidents did not mind having Nazis as members, and three out of six presidents would accept people who were members of the extreme right wing and nationalistic group “Dansk Front”, which DF officially opposes.

(You can understand why; according to The Danish Security Intelligence Service, “Dansk Front” has connections to the militant neo-Nazi network “Blood & Honour”; see here).

Does this mean that being a member of “Dansk Front”, or in other ways supporting Nazism makes you more welcome in the Danish People’s Party? At least “off the record”?

Life in a Cartoon

February 9, 2006

First of all, I want to express my warmest thanks to a good friend, Lubos Motl, from Harvard University who has supported the Danes in the question about those stupid cartoons; see his posts about this here, here and here. I think there are many central points about politics where Lubos and I don’t agree. But at least we would never burn each others flags if we were to disagree…

Update: my friend Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance also has some interesting comments about the cartoon controversy; there are also some interesting comments at Mkhaela’s New Blog and at Random Platitudes.

And now to my central points: The bad news:

* On Saturday furious Syrians set fire to the Danish embassy (as well as the Norwegian one) supposedly as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad spread.
* Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday instructed the commerce ministry in Tehran to review trade ties with all European countries involved in the cartoons affair.
* Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday it has summoned Denmark’s ambassador to the ministry “to lodge a strong protest and demand immediate action by the Danish government against the newspaper.”
* Furthermore, calls for a mass boycott of Danish products in Arab states continued Saturday.
* Demonstrations against the caricatures also occurred in Baghdad; Khartoum, Sudan, and the Palestinian territories.
* On Sunday, Muslims protesting caricatures of Islam’s prophet set fire to a building housing the Danish consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, as security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to stop the protesters. Subsequently, the Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.
* On Monday, hundreds of Afghans clashed with police and soldiers during demonstrations against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Four people were killed and at least 19 wounded.
* More demonstrations have also appeared on the West Bank, in Niger, in Tehran and in Sarajevo.

How could it go so far? Basically, Denmark is at the eye of the storm after the cartoons that Muslims demonstrators find offensive, first appeared in a Danish newspaper. You should know, that actually the controversy began last September – more than four months ago – when 12 drawings of the Muslim prophet were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (which I still think was a rather stupid and immature thing to do). It gained strength in January, when a Norwegian newspaper reprinted the drawings. This Norwegian Christian newspaper was one of the first newspaper outside Denmark to publish the cartoons. They have now appeared in papers in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Poland.

The drawings have touched a raw nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. However, as far as I know, there is nothing directly in the Qu’ran which inhibits depictions of the Prophet. And, as I’ve said before, the Prophet has been depicted several times earlier in Arab history. So why has the reactions in the Islamic world been far out of scale to any offense given? How many of these demonstrations have actually been “spontaneous”? And how many were initiated by governmental control? How many demonstrators have actually seen the twelve original drawings? Or were they upset by rumors that some of the drawings depicted the Prophet as having sex – in whatever way it was, since I’ve never seen those false drawings which have nothing to do with the original cartoons? And if this is true, then who was interested in giving a completely wrong impression of the Danish press – or the Danish people in general for that matter? Did it serve as a political cause for obtaining more personal power? Has it served the purpose of helping the millions and millions of Muslims who are in no way interested in internal as well as external political conflicts?

Let us return to the question of why some Western countries have supported Denmark and some have actually not. What about one of our most important allies – the United States, you might ask? The US also stepped into the row, but initially – at least not for me – in a satisfactory way: “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said recently. “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.”

In this way, the US response actually has contrasted with European governments, which have tended to acknowledge tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted papers’ rights to print the cartoons. Well, I guess the main reason is that the US government is trying to improve its reputation in the Middle east – and for obvious reasons.

Yesterday, however, president Bush pleaded for an end to violence triggered by drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and also said that press freedom should be exercised with sensitivity. “We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press,” Bush said. And furthermore, that: “I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property, protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas”.

However, there are also some good news:

* In Denmark, a network of moderate Muslims established on Saturday condemned the attack on the Danish embassy and urged restraint. Naser Khader – on of my personal heroes in this case – the first immigrant member of the Danish parliament and who initiated the group, said: “It is terrible. This is no longer about the cartoons, the situation is out of control. I cannot take enough exception to it”.

The network issued the following statement:

Declaration by the newly founded “Moderate Moslem”-Network, passed on saturday 4. february 2006, during an assembly held at the Danish parliament, as a response to the drawings of the Prophet Mohammed.

We declare, today, that now is the time for dialogue, rather than digging trenches. We call on the Moslem countries, the Danish imams and the government to enter into dialogue, to settle this conflict, so that we may again meet on a friendly footing, and ensure that exchange of views and experiences across cultural, religious and geographic boundaries can continue.

As Moslems, we are the proof that Islam and democracy are not incompatible.
It is our hope that our example here in Denmark will make Moslems around the world react and follow our lead. Only by uniting, can we change the fundamentalistic picture of Islam that the many extremists have drawn with violence.

* UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently said that the violence over the cartoons wasn’t justified.
* And the government in Lebanon apologized and the press urged an end to cartoon riots.
* On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the violent protests that have taken place against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as “completely unacceptable”. Blair also said that he spoke with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, where the cartoons were first published, to offer him Britain’s full support and solidarity. Blair furthermore stated, that “the attacks on the citizens of Denmark and on people of the European community are completely unacceptable, as is the behavior of some of the demonstrators in London over the past few days”.
* On Tuesday a statement by the United Nations, European Union and the world’s largest Islamic group urged an end to violence. “Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam,” said the statement released by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the EU chief Javier Solana.
* And finally – as mentioned above – on Wednesday, president Bush called upon governments to stop the violence and protect the lives of diplomats overseas.

Furthermore, you should know that there are many things about Denmark which we should be proud of: As for example, the freedom of the press (Denmark is currently ranked #1 together with eight countries like Finland and Norway, while for example, the US shares a spot at #22, Turkey is at #113, Indonesia is at #117, Syria is at #155 and North Korea at the very bottom: #167), the father of quantum, Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, physicist (and a very good candidate for a Nobel Prize in Physics) Lene Hau, the Carlsberg and Tuborg beers, the LEGO toys, the Stokke stuff for babies, the Bang & Olufsen audio and video products, Danish cheese, the movie The Idiots by director Lars von Trier, The Celebration by director Thomas Vinterberg, Babettes gæstebud by Gabriel Axel, Novo Nordisk medicine (which for example has helped millions of people with diabetes mellitus), Ecco shoes, Danish porcelain, world-famous poet Hans Christian Andersen, writer Karen Blixen (sometimes known as Isak Dinesen) and Martin Andersen Nexø, astronomer Tycho Brahe, physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (who invented electromagnetism), Jørn Utzon (well you know, the opera in Sidney…), actress Connie Nielsen, drummer Lars Ulrich from Metallica, painter Asger Jorn and Peder Severin Krøyer, composer Carl Nielsen, architect Arne Jacobsen and of course the famous PH-lamps as well as many other things.

What would you have added?

Where are you now, President Bush?

February 7, 2006

I’ll leave this post empty as something else seems to be…

Is Denmark Really Xenophobic?

January 31, 2006

Let me be honest. I have no doubt in my mind that Denmark these days is one of the most xenophobic countries in western Europe; one of the worst xenophobic parties in the western world, Danish People’s Party (which I’ve talked about before) is the third largest party in Denmark; the Danish government has cut down on immigration; Denmark is currently involved in a major political and diplomatic crisis because of satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, etc., etc. (however, this situation is of course not directly related to the fact that xenophobia appears to be widespread in Denmark as well as in other European countries and the Danish population is not in any way responsible for this foolish publication of some cartoons – more comments about this below).

But can the relative xenophobia in the European countries be measured?

If there is one place where you – in principle – always can find the answer, its Google. So, I tried to search for the word “xenophobia” together with the name of certain countries. Here is how many hits Google returned:

1. 569.000 for xenophobia And france (60,7 million)
2. 558.000 for xenophobia And germany (82,4 million)
3. 352.000 for xenophobia And italy (58,1 million)
4. 341.000 for xenophobia And england (60,4)
5. 242.000 for xenophobia And austria (8,2 million)
6. 228.000 for xenophobia And sweden (9,0 million)
7. 206.000 for xenophobia And belgium (10,4 million)
8. 198.000 for xenophobia And portugal (10,6 million)
9. 180.000 for xenophobia And norway (4,6 million)
10. 169.000 for xenophobia And denmark (5,4 million)

The number in the parentheses is the population of the country in question. Maybe not so surprisingly, France and Germany top the list with Norway and Denmark taking last places, which actually surprised me. We all know about the problems with attitudes towards foreigners in France and Germany (and we should not forget the riots in the suburbs of Paris last month).

What if we look a relative index, which I more or less randomly define as the number of hits in thousands divided by the population in millions? Then we observe something completely different: Norway and Denmark top the list with Austria coming in at third place (which might not be too surprising for obvious historical reasons):

1. Norway 39.1
2. Denmark 31.3
3. Austria 29.5
4. Sweden 25.3
5. Belgium 19.8
6. Portugal 18.7
7. France 9.4
8. Germany 6.8
9. Italy 6.0
10. England 5.6

It is a strange historical fact that Norway also published the satirical drawings of Muhammad from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. To conclude, in my mind, Denmark is not only xenophobic but also relatively xenophobic…

However, I also want to make the following completely clear: Liberty of expression is fundamental to our society. And I resent fanaticism in any form.

Concerning the cartoons mentioned earlier (and which are not really directly related to the question of how xenophobic Denmark is), there is a large amount of stupidity on both sides (for example has Prophet Muhammad been depicted several times earlier in history, both in the Western and the Arab world, see here, and therefore the question can not just be about depicting Prophet Muhammad; my guess is that it is much more about frustration and internal political conflicts). The question is not about the Prime Minister acting against freedom of expression. And the question should not, I think, be about politics (I don’t like mixing up religion with politics even though that might be impossible in principle). The question is about respecting other peoples beliefs – even though maybe only 0.0001% of the people demonstrating against Denmark have actually seen those satirical drawings…

Update: The origins of xenophobia in Denmark are analyzed by a Danish historian at Random Platitudes (this is, by the way, an excellent blog).