Antiterrorism English International Policy Politics

Idiotic, Suicidal Terrorism Is Bound To Destroy Itself

News come and go. What if Scotland Yard comes back in a few weeks’ time apologizing to everybody and anybody ever accused of masterminding a bogus terror plot

Much more important for most of us, what is the long-term perspective of present-day suicidal terrorism?

It’s that there isn’t much to fear about, because suicide-based terrorism is peculiarly idiotic, bound to destroy itself (unless we do anything egregiously wrong)

  • For the law of diminishing returns, either attacks get bigger and bigger, or the targeted population will feel habituation rather than increased fear. It’s like opening (the proverbial bonfire) with the stakes too high, and having to destroy one’s forest simply to keep up
  • There’s millions of potential victims, and one day they will surely come up with novel solutions to prevent the killings, making further attacks quite hard to organize: think the Israeli wall, think the changed tactics of the US Navy after the first round of Japanese Kamikaze pilots
  • Just like then, “the best and the brightest” in the terror organization are bound to blow themselves up. They can be substituted, but it does take around two decades to make another terrorist. In the meanwhile, ranks will be increasingly fuller of coward weasels that couldn’t stomach the suicide they themselves require of the others
  • Those people want to die whilst the rest of the world wants to live. Guess who’ll be sticking around the longest? On average, both aspirations are bound to be fulfilled
  • In the fight against relatively well-organized societies, for the terrorists the only way to victory is to get hold of weapons of mass destruction.  But even in that case, the only thing a suicidal terror organization will succeed in doing, is to eliminate itself

Instead of making the life of the many increasingly more difficult, the best thing we can do is first and foremost to get on with our lives (unless of course one is professionally involved in the prevention of terror attacks and other criminality)

English Radio Technology

The Future of Radio Broadcasting

Three non-mutually-exclusive directions for the future of radio broadcasting:

(1) So-called High Definition Radio (HD Radio), using existing frequencies for high-quality sound, simultaneous multi-programme broadcasting, digital services, etc

(2) Continent-wide Satellite Radio, like Italy’s WorldSpace, widening the number of potential listeners to anyone that understands the language, and allowing transmissions in zones where the signal is weak or intermittent

(3) Obviously, a widespread use of podcasts, and their transformation in commercial vehicles with the introduction of very short advertising (and therefore not easy to fast-forward on an iPod or equivalent)

In theory one would also be speaking about DAB, the “digital radio” fanfared in the UK, but despite years going by and an unremitting passion as radio listener, I do not see any future in an expensive technology that basically promises only a cleaner sound (and is still battling with its own million different “standards”)

English History International Politics

Oil Prices are bound to fall soon

Oil Prices are bound to fall soon…and for reasons that will appear obvious in hindsight (so why not spell them out now?):

  • Behind the recent price hikes for crude oil there is a combination of transient causes such as the Iraq fiasco, and the herd mentality that has brought many people into the Commodities markets and convinced them to buy oil alongside everybody else. When those causes will deflate, so will the oil price
  • Higher prices stimulate more research into how to extract more oil. When the market will find again its sanity, higher supply will mean lower prices.
  • Higher prices stimulate also the construction of additional refineries. These take several years to come online, and will crash the price of oil when they’ll all do at the same time: just as those miles and miles of communications cable laid down during the Internet boom of the 1990’s are behind today’s cheap cybersurfing and free worldwide calls,
  • The possibility that oil is costlier because we have just reached a peak in production capabilities is remote. Why now? Why not 10 years ago, or 20 years in the future? Why would it happen so suspiciously close to 9/11 and the crises that have followed?

The real difference this time around is that all those predictions of future doom-and-gloom will be forever available on the Internet, perhaps for a good laugh when “experts” will try to recycle themselves in the future into the “oil is a practically inexhaustible resource” camp

English USA

898 days to go

On January 20, 2009, the 44th President of the United States will finally be sworn and take office

Although it is not impossible to imagine the new guy (or gal) faring worse than President George W Bush (and friends), it is definitely not a given either

Democracy English Humanity Israeli / Palestinian Politics Sociology

Think the Unthinkable: Make Bombing a War Crime

Lives of enemy civilians have already little importance but in hypocritical declarations for the media.  

The progressive increase in the ratio between civilian and military casualties has been a sad trend during the history of war. Together with the overall rise in our weapons’ killing efficiency, it will only mean that in a few decades if not years, wars will be fought with zero dead among the warriors, and millions among the rest of humanity

Actually, the fact that wars mainly kill and maim people with no weapon, no intention to use weapons and posing absolutely no danger whatsoever to the enemy, is considered sound and sensible. It is accepted. 

But it really makes no sense


I was surprised actually this week at my relief when finally Israel soldiers marched into Lebanon, instead of just the usual rounds of military airplanes trying to “surgically” act and killing hundreds of bystanders in the process (not to mention the distorted lives of countless children living in terror of the sound of bombers flying nearby)

Finally, I thought, there will be real people fighting each other directly, not through bombs far away

And so there will be the hope that a soldier won’t kill groups of children, like an airplane pilot does: perhaps, by the mere fact that the soldier will have to look at whom he’s killing, whilst the pilot gives his soul away to a robotic murderer.


Can bombardment be anything but a war crime?

In fact, say you are a Hizbullah fighter shooting rockets towards Israel. Are you aiming them at anything in particular? If not, anything and everything is your “target”. But then what are military advantages gained in killing mothers and children, something that is bound to happen? And if there aren’t what are you doing shooting those rockets but an indiscriminate killing, a crime then against the rules of war?

Say you are instead an Israeli pilot releasing a smart bomb to destroy a building where you’ve been told Hizbullah wdfd shooting rockets from. Imagine now the bomb actually hits that building, and not one nearby. Say, tens of children are killed. Even if somebody would be able to demonstrate the military advantages gained in doing that, who is going to do that? What independent tribunal will check your behavior? And still, if you were sorry about those children, what will make you less liable than a just-as-sorry person guilty of manslaughter?

This is not limited to Israel and Lebanon. The US and other forces have periodically justified the bombings of villages in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a justified way of targeting al-Qaeda terrorists.

Just as in Vietnam, we terminate lives in order to free them


The above does not even cover the use of cluster bombs, merrily floating towards the ground while luring little children to get near them toy-like killers

What do we do with killers and people committing manslaughter in “normal” life? Why would that have to be any different in war, apart than when all the people involved in the war are consciously doing so?


What kind of civilization are we talking about: one that has learn its ways out of the Nazi’s destruction of
Guernica in Spain during the local Civil War?

Are we willingly equating ourselves to the supposedly despised Nazis? Has any other Nazi policy or strategy been accepted in any other part of life?

And yet for some reason we all espouse the idea of “total war”, where every pram and every hospital bed in the enemy’s hands is to be bombed like an aircraft carrier or a dirty-bomb production facility

Instead, for the sake of safeguarding our lives, we give the Governments we have freely elected the power of taking out somebody else’s, however innocent, however young or old. How nice to sleep soundly with our consciences bloodily clean

Truly the Pearly Gates will open only for a few elected people!


What should a State do then, to fight another State or militia? Use a “novel” approach: send infantry with the precise aim of finding, routing, destroying the enemy soldiers.

You’re going to lose plenty of soldiers (if you can’t stomach that, surrender at once): but you will concentrate your fire power onto getting rid of the enemy’s ability to harm you and your country.


How can anything else be taken as reasonable?

What would you think of a racing driver wasting fuel in knocking down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, instead of focusing on winning the race with the minimal effort?

A more complete analogy would be: what would you think of a racing driver intent at (1) knocking out down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, (2) making the other drivers’ racing easier, and (3) lining up his own mechanics for the others to eliminate?

Because bombings have always elicited a stronger fighting mood in the enemy. And any civilian that dies as “collateral damage” is an argument in favor of exploding terrorist bombs among innocent bystanders


And so the Geneva Conventions must be expanded to prohibit all kinds of remote warfare, starting with bombing, but in the most exceptional circumstances (such as the targeting of military compounds)

We must protect civilians for our own sake. Because the idea that children and the elderly can be considered legitimate targets or even acceptable collateral damage surely is repugnant to anybody but mass murderers. Because it’s our lives that are becoming more and more cheap and expendable.

We must go back to the old ways of military confrontation between military forces. Anybody touching any person not actually fighting should be considered a war criminal and treated as such


Is this feasible? We know we could win wars by slaughtering each and every one in our enemy’s population. That’s what happened for thousands of years, and yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity.

Many nations could have access to chemical arms of untold horror and killing potential. Many have used them, in World War I and up to the Second World War. And yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity too

Ditto for nuclear weapons


The only thing preventing us from seeing bombings and all other kinds of “remote warfare” for the crimes they are, is the same thing that prevented our forebears to understand that wars need have rules too: and so until the Red Cross was founded, wounded enemy soldiers were left to die, and bayonets were badly-shaped for un-necessary harm


Think the Unthinkable: Make bombing a war crime

Astronomy English Humanity Innovation Politics Science Space

How to run a successful political campaign

Recommendations For How to Run a Successful Political Campaign

As extracted from a lecture given at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 by UK parliamentarian Lembit Oepik:

The main gist appeared to be (a) get yourself prepared, (b) learn how to communicate, and most important of all (c) do not act like a True Believer, treating with disdain anybody not yet married to the cause

  • Be an expert
  • Describe a danger or issue that people understand
  • Do it with a smile
  • Don’t involve yourself in other issues
  • Keep in mind the ultimate goal: be ready for when the danger materializes
  • Clarify from the start your assumptions, the barriers on the path to success, and what organization you are going to need
  • Politically, the main goal is establishing a Task Force to get the Government to take ownership of the problem.
  • Facts and responsibilities must be clearly established. “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself
  • Prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand
  • Question yourself: why would a Government care?
  • Write to your MP asking for something to be done
  • Understand the letter will be passed to a “researcher”. Write it so as to help the researcher find the necessary information
  • For the Media, prepare a handful of established pictures and stick to those, so you won’t have to describe the basics of your problem again and again
  • Get ready for a long wait for “next big push”, when the campaign runs out of steam


Lembit Oepik has been the LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales since 1997

Officially, his lecture at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 was on the cheerful topic of “We are all going to die

Self-styled profile provided at the lecture included age, Estonian parents escapees from Stalin, a birth in Northern Ireland (admittedly, not the wisest choice for emigrating a place to), a degree, a long-standing passion for Astronomy, and being a risk taker.

His grandfather was Ernst Julius Oepik, who did NEOs NEOs (Near Earth Objects, i.e. asteroids and comets flying close to our planet)work in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was particularly unfashionable.

Lembit Oepik wanted to get the UK government interested in NEOs.

He started by asking himself why would a Government care, so that they’d take seriously the threat of an asteroid smashing against our planet

Cynically, Governments won’t be interested in “extinction level events” wiping out most of humanity: if that were to be announced, all the Government would think of is that they will not lose next election.

It’s all different with relatively small impacts: a 300m-diameter asteroid could cause catastrophic effects on the economy or social cohesion, without killing billions of people. The Government would be left with the job of patching things up together again.

How to establish then a Campaign to defend ourselves against NEOs? Oepik and his team defined their Assumptions (date is early 1999)

1. A future impact is a certainty
2. It can definitely destroy civilization without wiping out humanity
3. We are taking care of lower risks already, incidents and disaster with far easier consequences
4. The threat from NEOs is not taken seriously
5. There is no sign of any Government working on this.

(Three interesting facts as an aside:
(i) If the Tunguska asteroid or comet of 1908 had hit a few hours later, say, just on top of Westminster Abbey (similar latitude), most of London would have been wiped out
(ii) A 15-km asteroid would be enough to kill up to 90% of humanity. That would leave alive a still sizable 600 millions of us)
(iii) Whatever solution we come up about the threat of NEOs, it may still not be enough. An asteroid zipping on the other side of the solar system that gets aimed at us as if straight from the Sun, would be invisible in the glare of the stellar light, and detected (if at all) when it’s way too late)

Then Oepik listed the Barriers:

1. Governments follow “fashion”
2. Governments think about elections, voters’ fears and anything that can hurt them
3. On a human timescale, hugely-disastrous NEO collisions against our planet are rare an event. If we would be living for 100,000 years, we would witness a couple of terrible impacts. We can only expect a Tunguska event every 100 years.
4. Space is not as fashionable nowadays as in 1969

The Campaign was then organized around:

a) Goal
b) Core Proposition
c) Timetable
d) Team
e) Political Strategy
f) Media Strategy

Goal: Create a NEO task force to investigate the threat and publish a Government report with recommendations for actions

Core proposition: Present the effort for tracking NEOs as an insurance policy (comes down to around 10€ per citizen). Computations were based on actuarial risks: insurance experts can calculate the short- and long-term costs of action and inaction, for countries and insurance companies. This is easy then to compare with impact devastation, and with other risks

Timetable: Relevant Ministerial Department contacted in March 99; Parliamentary debate in April 99; Task Force established in December 99; Report published in December 2000; Actions from 2001 onwards

(Actually, finding the right department has been a challenge in itself. Oepik run into a bit of luck as the long-standing Minister for DTI (Lord Sainsbury) was personally interested)

Political strategy: Make NEO threats a public talking point. Establish facts and responsibilities. And “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself

It is also important to prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand, making sure the Government spokesman on the floor is aware of what request is going to be submitted.

Media strategy: Elicit press interest. Scare tactics are Ok in this case as the upcoming disaster is a certainty. “Near misses” by NEOs must be publicized, along with the effects they would have had had they stricken our planet.

The aim is to balance the politicians’ neglect and the media’s sensationalism, sometimes destructive irony and sarcasm.

(Oepik saw himself described alternatively as the Savior, or the Destroyer of Planet Earth, when the asteroid sporting his grandfather’s name was mistakenly thought approaching our planet)

A handful of established pictures are very helpful, as after they are distributed through the popular press, they can easily be used in the future to recall the whole issue in the minds of the readers without having to explain the whole problem all over again.

(In another case of hard luck, a “miracle” happened in the midst of Oepik’s efforts, and 2 movies came out of Hollywood on the topic of NEO threats: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, the latter with Bruce Willis. It became much easier to get the media interested)

Situation now: The Task Force was established without much of a problem, and included topmost scientists. As a positive sign of strength, Oepik himself did not have to be a member of it.

After a year, the Task Force came out with 14 recommendations. Only one of them has been implemented: the Government has pushed for NEO threats to be considered as facts, with regular coverage by the media.

Oepik is now waiting for the opportunity for “next big push”, something to get the remaining 13 recommendations back on top of the Government’s priorities.

He is also asking everybody interested in the issue to write to their own MP asking for all recommendations to be implemented asap

The evening ended with a Q&A session. Oepik re-asserted his conviction that scare tactics are in this case justified, as chances of dying because of an asteroid impact are superior to those winning the UK lottery. He wasn’t clear however on how he planned to differentiate his campaign from others also using scare tactics.

Finally, Oepik strongly recommended not getting oneself embroiled in other, even similar campaigns, so as not to lose focus

Climate Change Development English Letters Politics Science Scientific American

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-“war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science

Democracy English Technology

Mobile phones, weapons of self defence

Personal recording devices, and by that I mean especially mobile phones, will soon become a tool for reasserting our individual rights

Already now, one can record sound and even images with nobody noticing. Pictures are taken with no much of a fuss in the most unlikely of places, and whatever happens in the (connected) world, some sort of audio/video record usually tends to show up on the Internet (newsmedia are starting to make large use of user-provided content).

All you need for your mobile to become an electronic shield is some kind of wireless minicamera and a bit more memory on the phone

Your entire life will then be recordable *

And what could be there to record, as a way of defending oneself? For example: when asked for a bribery, the business person could walk into next police station and deposit the evidence of the crime.

Or when threatened by the mob, he or she will be able to throw back the threat. Or when confronting politicians that are trying to expand their sleaze empire, the “victim” will have the option of cashing in by sending the right files to scandal-hungry magazines

Elderly people will be able to show who attacked them in their house, and which carers treat them inhumanely

Children bullied at school won’t need to hide a thing, and life will become harder for sadistic teachers and nannies as well.

We’ll soon be able to literally see the last thing a murder’s victim was looking at

Even torturers will be in trouble, if they won’t take care of eliminating anything with an electronic memory: and still it may not be enough: one can imagine pictures being downloaded elsewhere continuously (it already happens with some mobile phone providers), so that even if the Bad People snatch the camera, what’s been snapped until then will be left for posterity

Expect a flurry of hi-tech bust-ups then not prepared by police. Ehi, even Robocop got out of trouble by showing what he had recorded.

And expect lots of “interesting” items appear on gossipy and even serious newspapers, mostly during the initial period, with people not smart enough to understand they are being filmed during 99% of their lives.

Things will definitely get better on several fronts for a while (and even if you’re the paradigm of honesty, just be careful about picking your nose in the street: your fame may be preceding you at your next job application)

But surely it will be no Paradise: criminals and evildoers will simply have to find a different way.

Some scandals will turn up to be elaborate hoaxes based on doctored pictures, and no doubt we will see discussions about that at trials, as entertaining as genetics during OJ Simpson’s

Still, it will be a progress. Hypocrisy will need a tad more effort to be maintained.

After all, the only freedom we are losing by getting our lives recorded, is the freedom of not having to face our individual consciences

(* How much memory? 24hx3600s/hx24pics/s=2 million pictures. Say, 320×240=76,800 pixels x 3 bytes = 230kB/pic

So one day is 230kB/pic * 2 million pics = 440 Megabytes. With a good compression rate, 200 Megabytes. Do we want to record while asleep? If not, 180 megabytes may suffice. How long before that much will be available on mobile phones? It is already. Average memory now is a bit more than 400 Megabytes)

English International Israeli / Palestinian Politics

The 2016 Middle Eastern terrorism recruitment campaign is in full swing

There’s been plenty of analysis of the current crises around Israel, both in the Gaza strip and Lebanon, surely many of them more meaningful than anything I can write myself

That said, in my not so humble opinion (also, as a student of International Relations) I can see multiple games being played, and multiple strategies on several fronts, including the international media and public opinion at local, regional and global level.

This is seldom if ever talked about on TV and in print. I find the vast majority of interviews misleading at best.

And any comment blaming the crisis on one or the other side is pea-brained, or misinformed, and even dishonest

I’ll simply list then a few ideas and issues I am mostly concerned about:

• It is apparent that nobody cares about civilian lives, especially Lebanese lives

• We have yet more confirmation that lives have different values. That looks like something everybody agrees on. During the 2000-2005 Intifada, one Israeli dead every 3.4 Palestinians. Nowadays it’s one Israeli dead every 10 Lebanese. This is supported by the fact that the freedom of one Israeli soldier has been bargained for the freedom of around 133 “Palestinian” prisoners

• We are a few lives away from the “Perfect XXI Century War”, with no military casualties at all (thus completing a trend started hundreds of years ago, when most of the dead and injured were instead military personnel)

In fact, classic military infrastructure is hardly being touched

• The phrase “disproportionate response” is disingenuous when pronounced by politicians and experts. Everybody’s response is perfectly rational and proportionate from their point of view.

The key to their “rationality” is lack of care for civilian casualties especially if Lebanese

• Israel had been preparing this for years. No major military intervention, especially when being fought on the second front, can be organised overnight. One may hazard the buildup started at least one year ago, as an alternative fighting front to keep “warm”.after the Gaza pullout

• Hizbullah had been preparing this for years too. Instead of the usual short-of-target missiles (the kind wasted around by Hamas nowadays) they have a truly impressive set of different rockets, with an underground transportation, collection and distribution network that does not care of the existence of roads and bridges. All wonders helped a lot by plenty of oil money from Iran

• Before the current crisis, Hamas was in a weak position: a failure as a Government, a failure economically, a failure politically with the Jul 26 referendum risking to delegitimise its very Charter, if the Palestinians had recognised Israel’s right to exist. Now that referendum is postponed indefinitely

• Israel was in a weak position too: blatantly unable to defend (and find) his own soldiers, sitting lamely watching Hizbullah arming itself perhaps for an invasion, and in danger of being outmaneuvered by the Jul 26 Palestinian referendum too.

The new Prime Minister, lacking military credentials, can only show himself ruthless and militaristic, giving free hand to the Generals. The difficult promise to get out of some West Bank settlements was quite risky to fulfill, so it is much easier now as it can be shelved for a long time.

The weakness of Israel’s position is confirmed every time an Israeli utters the overused words “Israel cannot do otherwise”. Hardly the stuff of a regional Power: why and when did it let itself get cornered like this?

• And Hizbullah was not in a strong position either: not yet ready for a full-scale war, with the threat of UN Resolution 1680 calling for its disarmament, always on the edge of being cancelled out by a political crisis in Tehran or Damascus, or even in a nuclear deal between Iran and the rest of the world

All in all, military and political commanders on all sides have no interest in ending the conflict in the short term. Or even medium

• Stock traders may think the same as the markets in Israel and Lebanon are not suffering as one would expect in a time of war

• Sadly this is not an intifada, fought to get oneself in best position for an upcoming permanent peace settlement. This is a war of political annihilation

• First to be annihilated is Lebanon as a State. There is no effort to defend its own citizens, for example. And Hizbullah, in theory part of Beirut’s Government, launched on a campaign on its own without agreeing or alerting anybody. In other times we could have called it a Hizbullah Protectorate, but as they have no intention to protect anything in Lebanon, the nearest similarity may be Germany during the Thirty Years’ War: a playground for somebody else’s wars

• Negotiations cannot go anywhere. There is nothing to negotiate between Hamas and Hizbullah., and Israel. One can only see them negotiating about the others’ embarking on a one-way trip to the moons of Saturn

• Anybody not directly touched by this war has little to worry about. Witness the US’s sluggish reaction: Condi Rice may go there as “early” as next week

• The fact that Iran is behind Hizbullah means not one of the states around Lebanon and Siria will want to be involved in any conflict. They would all have very little if anything to gain by intervening, and a lot to lose

• Much easier for the whole world to let the fighters pummel each other into stupidity, and get ready to make the most of whatever the outcome.

• It is hard to conceive any ending that will not see Israel getting the upper hand once again, as in every war from 1946 apart from 1956 and 1973 (perhaps!)

• On the other hand, just like the 1982 invasion helped create Hizbullah, the 2006 war will mean yet another terrorist recruitment campaign “supported” by Israel

The terrorists of 2016 that is.

In an alternate, happier reality, Israel is showing the strength of its democracy by actually caring at least a iota about civilian Lebanese (not just in words; but then, in this universe the UK and USA have taught the lesson, with their disregard for Iraqi lives). Hizbullah is showing the strength of its Islamic credentials by allowing compassion to all civilians, rather than none.

Hamas and Hizbullah have learnt that there is no point complaining if the lion living next door starts mauling your children, after you hurt him, poke him and finally woke him up. And at least one Leader of non-violent attitude is helping all the inhabitants of Historical Palestine to learn to live together.

In a different alternate reality, also happier than ours, the international community is going to stop the unstoppable war by drying up its financial resources. Nobody can shoot if they don’t have the money to buy the bullets. And enough people are thinking there, how idiotic is to pass one’s hate down to their innocent offsprings

But this is what we’ve got. As Steve Hackett wrote and Phil Collins sang for Genesis 30 years ago:

Let’s skip the news boy (I’ll make some tea)
Arabs and the Jews boy (too much for me)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate – oh lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation’s fate.

English Family Morabito

Remembering Charles Morabito, PoW 25084 at the Berga slave camp

It all started for me whilst reading the IHT, with a NARA photo of Charles Morabito’s then-grave at Berga:

Now I know Charles was a very unfortunate Prisoner of War, sent to a deadly slave camp in the last months of the war. The PBS pages about the documentary “BERGA: SOLDIERS oF ANOTHER WAR” list him as prisoner #25084, with rank PFC

He may have been of the 106th Infrantry Division, but it is not a given. I’m still looking for details

Development English International Policy

Limits to Front-End Beneficiary Participation in the Development Process

Prepared for the course “Development in Practice”, Birkbeck College, London March 2006


The global sustainability debates, a turn towards a deliberative/communicative academic approach to Development [15], disillusionment with traditional blue-print planning [9]: these are some of the reasons behind the ongoing popularity of Front-End Beneficiary Participation, i.e. the involvement in a project, long before its design stage, of the people that are going to benefit from it (the Beneficiaries, communities and individuals).

With a group approach, FEBP can in theory encourage self-reliance among Beneficiaries [3][16][9], guarantee wider reach and involvement, and achieve “higher production levels“, a “more equitable distribution of benefits” and a reduction in recurrent costs “by stressing decentralization […] and self-help” [16], apart of course from helping in the adoption of innovations and even supporting social peace [12].

However, to fulfill its potential, FEBP must allow Beneficiaries to move up the Ladder of Citizen Participation, beyond tokenism [2] to let them have an effective say in the definition, control and verification of what is done, and how. But who really has that “power“? For example, what are the consequences of internal power dynamics [9] among Beneficiaries? With the above in mind, FEBP’s limits are evaluated here with the help of published literature and an analysis of the experience of Concern.

A Development Organization: “Concern

Started by Irish priests after the Biafra famine of 1968, Concern is a “non-governmental, international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering“, with as goal the “elimination of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries” [8]. Its Beneficiaries are typically living in extreme poverty in States in the bottom forty of the UN Human Development Index; often in a rural setting, dependent on agriculture, lacking essential services in health and education and denied fundamental rights [1]. Emphasis is on lifestyle improvements sustainable without “ongoing support from Concern” [6], and on the promotion of gender equality [8].

Projects (covering Health, Basic Education, Livelihoods, HIV/AIDS and Emergency Response) focus more on matters of necessity than efficient use of resources [1]. The work is organized “directly with beneficiary groups or “a wide range of intermediate organizations” [5] in alliances such as FairTrade and MakePovertyHistory. Usually, research is carried out by answering questions such as ‘Does this [proposal] fit our mandate?’, ‘Can we intervene?’ (security, skills, funds, relationship with host government), ‘How much should we spend?’ and ‘How should we intervene?’ [4].

Results: The Limits of FEBP

FEBP at Concern – For Concern, FEBP is fundamental, “not only important but imperative” [1]. As stated in the Project Cycle Management System and several policy papers [1], any analysis “should include the involvement of those living in poverty” [4]. The actual implementation depends on targeting –scale, level and mechanism of involvement [6] – and is usually achieved through the following tools [1]:· Participatory Rural Appraisal, with local knowledge, analysis and plans [17]· Participatory Learning and Action, with local people learning their “needs, opportunities, and […] the actions required to address them” [14]· Community-Based Participatory Development, i.e. engaging existing structures

· Gender and Development (GAD), seeking the “participation of women and women’s groups at every stage of the process” [1]

· Goal Oriented Project Planning (ZOPP), with the involvement of all stakeholders

· Rapid Rural Appraisal, interdisciplinary teams with local involvement [11]

· Other tools of best practice depending on appropriateness and skills

Methodological Limits Concern’s attention to GAD reveals how important issues of power are in the techniques of FEBP. In fact, Participation runs paradoxically the risk of disempowering people “already without a voice” [7], for example if the Development Organization approaches the Beneficiaries just as yet another “interest group” lobbying its way to being listened to and catered for [10]. Additional problems relate to on Development workers’ lack of awareness of participatory principles and methods [1], combined with a plethora of not-easy-to-select available tools. There are also the usual difficulties with “issue remoteness” (Beneficiaries don’t get involved unless policies/actions have an immediate impact in their lives) [9]; and “consultation fatigue” (projects ask too much and too often to and from their participants) [10]. Any implementation of FEBP is also bound to the particular Organization that is sponsoring it, to the Project that will be designed [9], to the Community whose participation is requested; and by the natural, human resistance to change of the Development workers, their cultural baggage and their linguistic abilities. FEBP may also suffer from uncertainties on “what is a group” and the “group’s” internal cohesion / homogeneity (the “myth of community”) [9].

Beneficiary-side LimitsThe outcomes of FEBP approaches are in fact greatly influenced by complex psychological group dynamics [9], such as exchanges (between the community, its members, the Development Organization and other “actors”) of their “relative power”, the capacity to control, influence, and decide. For example, as FEBP is done through groups, certain individuals may feel less prone to fully participate, if they don’t see that as part of their contribution to the society. The community itself could feel inclined to express its “needs” in terms of what the particular Development Organization is expected to deliver.

Poor, poorly educated, poorly skilled, subsistence-farming beneficiaries may also not have enough time or other resources, to become fully aware of participatory principles and methods, and to dedicate the appropriate amounts of time to FEBP. And on top of the usual cultural/linguistic barriers, Beneficiaries have to deal with the unfamiliar terminology of institutional language and the jargon of Development [9].

Mitigation The shortcomings of FEBP restrict its possibilities, leading at times to “formulaic”, “religious” [9] applications of “rigid” methodologies [1]. Participation could transmutate in political co-option: “talking” a previously-neglected community (often, its already overburdened female members), into providing cheap labor [9].Good Participation evidently depends on Good Governance of FEBP, starting from lessening the consequences of power dynamics: by giving due consideration to the “relative bargaining power” of the Participants, Beneficiaries included [9]; by delegating decision-making to a local level [1]; and by building close personal relationships with individuals, not only communities [9].

Knowledge, effectiveness and flexibility can be improved via a “Lessons Learned” process: with FEBP appraisals and improvements as ongoing tasks; with their results pushed out to the whole Organization; and with the replication of successful participatory programmes [1]. “Lessons Learned” must also include the spreading of the awareness of the limitations of FEBP itself, and lead to the exploration/investigation of alternatives [9].


In the face of its many advantages Front-End Beneficiary Participation has specific limits and is no panacea for the efficient and effective development of communities:

· Limits of FEBP come both from the approach taken by the Development Organization; and from the conditions of the Beneficiaries themselves

· Issues include Power, Awareness/Information, Flexibility, and Culture

· When limitations are native to FEBP, improvements or alternative approaches should be considered

· A continuous re-evaluation of methodologies an increased attention to individuals may help overcome some of those constraints


[1] Deering, K. (UK Head of Partnership Development at Concern Worldwide UK) (2006) Personal correspondence with the author.

[2] Arnstein, S. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 34: 216-225

[3] Chambers, R. (1984) Putting the last first. London: Longman

[4] Concern Worldwide (2000) How Concern Targets Countries for Poverty Elimination. Dublin

[5] Concern Worldwide (2001) Capacity Building Policy. Dublin

[6] Concern Worldwide (2002) Concern’s approach to emergencies. Dublin

[7] Concern Worldwide (2004) Programme Participant Protection Policy. Dublin

[8] Concern Worldwide (2005), Policy Statement. Dublin

[9] Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (2001) “Introduction”, in Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (Eds.) Participation: the New Tyranny. London: Zed Books Ltd.

[10] Croft, S. and Beresford, P. (1996) “The Politics Of Participation”, in Taylor, D. (Editor) Critical Social Policy: A reader, London: Sage, pp175-198 (cited in Cornwall, A., and Gaventa, J. (2000) From users and choosers to makers and shapers: Repositioning Participation in Social Policy. IDS Bulletin 31 (4): pp 50-62)

[11] Crawford, I.M. (1997) “Chapter 8: Rapid Rural Appraisal”, in Marketing Research and Information Systems. (Marketing and Agribusiness Texts – 4). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[12] De Soto, H. (1989) The Other Path: The Economic Answer to Terrorism. New York: Basic Books

[13] Healey, P. (1997) Collaborative Planning: shaping places in fragments societies. Basingstoke: Macmillan

[14] International Institute for Environment and Development (2003) What is Participatory Learning and Action?. London: IIED

[15] Mbiba, B. (2006) Participation: The ladder of citizen participation and limits to participation. Lecture Notes

[16] Van Heck, B. (2003) “Why Participation and What are the Obstacles?”, in Participatory Development: Guidelines on Beneficiary Participation in Agricultural and Rural Development. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[17] World Bank (1996) The World Bank Participation Sourcebook, Appendix I: Methods and Tools. Washington, D.C.

Climate Change English Environment International Herald Tribune Letters Policy

Ethics and Coal

Is this sad or cool? I just had my seventh published letter on the pages of the International Herald Tribune (June 28, 2006)

“Coal’s False Promise”

Jeff Goodell indulges in circular reasoning when he writes that the biggest problem with coal is “what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives” (“Coal’s false promise to America,” Views, June 24).

If coal is abundant and available, as Goodell reports, surely there are fewer reasons to worry about the end of cheap oil? And if coal causes environmental problems because of antiquated extraction and burning practices, isn’t the problem one of improving those technologies and processes, rather than abandoning coal altogether? 

One is left with the impression that the campaign against coal is just another moralizing enterprise, taking advantage of purported shortages to corral us into living a “more ethical” life.

Maurizio Morabito Orpington, England

I will blog about the other six letters published so far (and all the ones never printed), but for now a list is available by searching for “maurizio morabito” at this link

English Football Humor World Cup 2006

WC wisdom

a. if you cannot score you cannot win

b. if you beleve your midfield is the strongest in the world, it isn’t

c. it is easier to simulate than to suffer a foul

d. if you want to fall it is far more convenient to do it in the opponents’ penalty area

e. putting a defender at just one of the goalposts is not enough

f. defending by using the offside rule depends on all the defenders being awake and aware of their surroundings

g. it is better if your goalkeeper has previous familiarity with the rounded thingy everybody else is kicking around

h. lots of goals against a weak team are no evidence of greatness

i. referees’ influence on the result cannot be underestimated

j. if Blatter speaks in the morning against touching the ball with one’s left hand, use the right one

Development English Humanity Policy Politics UK

Free the Poor from Social Housing

Why would the poor remain poor?

Surely even they must be able to understand the obvious advantages of being rich? And so is it right to treat them with condescension, as a fellow member of a mailing list once wrote “If they're born into and stay there, then they stay there by choice”?

Choice? What choice?

People born in squalid conditions, "educated" in squalid conditions and inhabiting in squalid conditions…aren’t they obviously less likely to take advantage of opportunities for the mere fact that they simply cannot see them?

Because they have seen few of them in the past, have been "taught" to live in squalid conditions, have had little exposure to people that "made it" (apart from successful drug traffickers and other gangmasters)

Not to mention the fact that "opportunities" are hard to take advantage of when the daily struggle is how to avoid having one's apartment taken over by crazed drug addicts

There is some data showing that in the UK the people of Afro-Caribbean descent less likely to be poor nowadays are the ones whose families were unable to get a flat in those gigantic housing complexes for the poor (that have since then turned in labyrinthine no-law areas)

For more than a decade after blacks began to arrive in Britain in large numbers, they were excluded from public housing and occasionally from private rented accommodation too. By 1971, 44% had bought properties. Fortunately for them, many of those properties were in central neighbourhoods that have seen enormous price increases. […]

Many of those who fought their way into public housing, on the other hand, have become stuck in the inner city. Having been placed disproportionately in high-rise blocks, surrounded by criminality and malfunctioning schools, they lack the means of advancement. Black women's finances are not helped by a rate of lone parenthood that is more than twice the national average.

I say, let’s destroy asap all old-style social housing projects. Redistribute the people in the real world, as intermingled with other social strata as possible. And especially at the beginning, help their children 24/7 to find a way out of what life has taught them so far.

A tragic result that should make us think twice about the bovine application of simplistic socialist ideals

Borders Culture English Geography Letters

Borders that matter

From "A Muso Duro" (Marco Belpoliti, La Stampa, 20 June 2006 (in italian)):

In truth the geographic divide in the Italian Peninsula is not between the North and the South, but between East and West. The Italian "Boot" is more tilted than it appears in classrooms' maps, and it is possible to travel from North to South on the Adriatic side without crossing any mountain: from Venice to Bari there is no separation clear border, apart from the Po, which it is not a true dividing line between North and South (are Emilia and Romagna regions of the Italian South?). The geographers have explained to us for a long time that the true geographic difference in Italy is that between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian sides, even if it is obvious that the cultures follow the "geographic quotas", and the differences between the villages placed East or West of the Appennini are never clear-cut

This is not just a phenomenon of the Appennini

Think of the Alps, where cultures have diffused among the mountains: therefore distributing themselves across the watersheds, instead of considering those like border lines

Mountain chains all over the planet (look at the Caucasus, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains), looking to the modern eye like "natural borders", have been demonstrated time and again as lines of union, and not of separation

A "geographic border" with more important social consequences exists, and it is the border between those within easy approach of great ways of communication, and those far away or on the periphery: the wealth of the Po Valley instead of the history of poverty on the surrounding mountains; the powerful economy of the close-to-Europe Italian North, instead of the perennial crisis of the faraway Italian South; and looking at other countries, the opulence of Paris and London instead of the marginalization of their peripheries

English Letters National Geographic Science Skepticism

Inaccurate reporting on the National Geographic Magazine

Just got acknowledgement from the National Geographic Society of some inaccuracy I have found on one of the articles published on their famous Magazine

The article is Gretel Ehrlich's "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", published in January 2006

Ms. Ehrlich writes: "[…] By the time the light fades about 11 p.m., we head toward shore […] About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief — in a few hours the sun will swing east again.[…]"

In fact, from the context of the article we know the above must have happened on the 19th or 20th of March ("[…] March 21, the vernal equinox and our fourth day on the sea ice […]"). So near the spring equinox, when as we all know there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness on the entire globe (Greenland included).

This puts into doubt the midnight fading sun reported above


To check the actual situation, I used the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's tool, that can be used online starting from

I entered the location for Qaanaaq (the town where Ms. Ehrlich was reporting from) as Longitude W 69deg 00min, Latitude N 77deg 40m

I assumed also that Qaanaaq, like the rest of Greenland, uses GMT-2 as its time zone

These are the results

Saturday 19 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:56
Sunrise                   08:36
Sun transit               14:44
Sunset                    20:55
End civil twilight        22:38

Sunday 20 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:39
Sunrise                   08:21
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:54
End civil twilight        22:38

Friday 19 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:46
Sunrise                   08:26
Sun transit               14:36
Sunset                    20:49
End civil twilight        22:32

Saturday 20 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:37
Sunrise                   08:19
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:56
End civil twilight        22:40


From the above it can be argued that, contrarily to what reported by Ms.Ehrlich:

  1. The light faded to below-twilight levels between 20 and 30 minutes before 11pm
  2. Accordingly, about midnight the sun was not visible, instead than being "a red horb hanging at the horizon"
  3. Nights were not brief (they were lasting between 11h20m and 11h40m)

Notably, conditions as reported by Ms. Ehrlich can be experienced in Qaanaaq around April 12

Monday 12 April 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Sunrise                   05:03
Sun transit               14:29
Sunset                    00:04 on following day

And it is not a problem of time zones. With the Sun transiting at 2h30pm, Qaanaaq's clock appears to be already 2 hours ahead of the local solar time


In summary, Ms.Ehrlich has incorrectly reported seeing a sunset much later than when it happened

This would be a minor accident in any magazine other than the National Geographic. However, as that publication is presumed to be a factual reporting of what happens in the world exactly as it happens, one can only hope that their editorial processes will be improved to catch elementary mistakes like the one above

Climate Change English Humor Science Space

Climate change in the Solar System: Earth, Mars…and now Jupiter!

(first published on May 5, 2006)

After doomed Earth, populated by evil sinners driving devilish gas guzzlers, and Mars, where "deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near the south pole have shrunk for three summers in a row", here comes more evidence for Climate Change

This time's Jupiter!

Possible explanations:

1. Ghoulish oil companies have been making a larger mess of the Solar System then previously thought

2. There's lots of SUVs around, and I mean LOTS

3. Hot air from major scientific and political institutions talking about upcoming disasters, has been contaminating ever larger portions of the interplanetary space

4. There is a climate change clique with mental health problems, and they see evidence of global warming everywhere, including pictures of Jupiter and crop circles

5. All those NASA probes to the planets were launched mainly to carry millions of tons of CO2 and give Martians and Jupiters a good heath haze


6. Current warming trends on planet Earth are related not much if at all to human activity

Feel free to pick the one you find more likely

Climate Change English Humor Science Space

New Evidence about Climate Change

(first published on Sep 21, 2005)

scientist also say that deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near the […] south pole have shrunk for three summers in a row. They say this is evidence to suggest climate change is in progress

I say, let's reduce the amount of cheap flights now, before more gullies are formed!

Antiterrorism English Humor Policy

London Metropolitan Police’s secret Gillette Squad

London, 14 Jun (MNN) – In an unexpected turn of the events, Sir Ian “Shoot-The-Innocent” Blair, London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has admitted today that a special, ultra-secret police squad codenamed “Gillette” has been behind the botched anti-terror 4am intervention of security forces in the house of honest, beard-sporting Londoners

During the course of the interview, Sir Ian repeated several times that, although weeks of controls had not revealed anything more suspicious in that house’s kitchen than pepper-enhanced Vindaloo sauce and broccoli, still the two men targeted by the operation were grooming the wrong kind of facial hair


They had to be stopped and shot^H^H^Hgently interviewed in nice secret service prisons^H^H^Hfirst-class hotels, if only to protect the purity of the English maxillar landscape, and the sale of razors..

In unrelated news: an unidentified Metropolitan Police Commissioner has defended the proposal to offer a Caribbean holiday to anybody remotely suspected of being a terrorist, because caught while either preparing a bomb, or threatening to sue the Police, or not shaving appropriately, especially from the lower lip downwards

English Humanity Innovation Moon Space

W.W.W. MOON? The Why, What and When of a Permanent Manned Lunar Colony

Presented at the Human Future and Space Symposium – 28 Apr 2004 – The British Interplanetary Society

(an edited version has been published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol. 58, No. 3/4 March/April 2005, pp 131-137)

The aim of this presentation is to define the basic reasons, means and timescale for the establishment of a permanent, manned lunar settlement. Going beyond a review of the vast existing literature on the subject, the underlying goal is a call into action (=launches) to all people and organisations involved and interested in the exploration and use of the Moon:
· the BIS
· the Planetary Society
· all Moon-related Societies (such as the Artemis Society)
· every single Lunar and Planetary scientist and
· for reasons that frankly should be obvious to everyone, also the Mars Society



This work is structured into three main sections, plus introduction and conclusions:
· Why go to the Moon? What are the reasons for sending humans?
· What are the technologies needed? Where will the settlements be located?
· When will the human race go back to the Moon? And when can we expect a permanent lunar settlement to be established by?


A few points of note to explain the main assumptions: first of all by "human settlement" it is intended a self-sustaining permanently-manned colony, inhabited not only by scientists and astronauts. In the sense of being opposed to the idea of a "lunar outpost", the structure must be as far as possible from the old concept of "habitable tin cans" ('a la International Space Station).
Furthermore, there have been centuries of Moon-based dreams, for the past five decades or so with some technological flavour [1]. Practically, we do have the Apollo missions, with an equivalent extra-vehicular activity of around 7dd field work at most (more like 3 days, mostly by non-scientists) [2]. Apart from that, and some Soviet missions, it has all been a matter of dreams. The present work aims instead to be all about being pragmatic in the extreme, keeping also in mind that there IS an obvious conflict-of-interest: as one of the Author's goals is to be a member of the lunar settlement; thus helping oneself while helping humanity make use of the Moon.

Issues and Obstacles

Pragmatism means starting from the obstacles between us and the permanent lunar settlement. Very briefly, where is the interest in a new lunar adventure? [3]:

· There is no shortage of grand plans on paper (for example a Lunar Hilton Hotel) and of good ideas about living on the moon, left to collect dust whilst new projects are sketched (thus lowering ever more the likelihood that any of them is put in practice.
· Whatever plan is put forward, it will have to cope with the fact that space flight has always served a political mixture of civilian and military purposes [3]. And when the Apollo lost its political rationale, it was fully cancelled [4]
· A recent example is the amount of duplicated efforts in the R&D for the ISS, or the sorry story behind the stored "GoreSat" having had the wrong sponsor at the wrong time
· At this point in time, there is no political "lunar constituency" [5]. Some quote "Been there, Done that": since Apollo has shown that we can achieve the goal of reaching the Moon, there is little reason to do it again
· Despite earlier ideas there is no strategic military importance in a Moon base [1]. And the scientific environment has not been united (as reported for example by Spudis [6] about the Clementine Mission, and in the obnoxious, baffling "Mars vs. Moon" saga)
· Finally, the attributes usually associated the Lunar environment include hostile, harsh, extreme and dead. As a consequence it is generally believed that it is "very difficult to set up a base there" [7]. In other words, the Moon IS seen as a single patch of rather uninteresting desolated land. It can be explained with the dominating grey hues from the Apollo surface TV transmissions, but still as we will see it is based on a misunderstimation of all the Moon can provide.


The establishment of a Lunar colony will include challenges beyond the resolution of the issues listed above:

· Permanence implies a sustainable Lunar economy. But without practical experience the field of lunar economics can only remain in the theoretical space
· There is a non-zero chance that simply the return will be indefinitely postponed. What will that mean [8], and how can we minimise that risk?

Pragmatism on the other hand cannot mean keeping a negative outlook. Let's remember that whatever task we want to achieve, it is by all means much simpler than what presented at the time when President Kennedy promised to land a man on the moon and return him safely within the decade [9].

WhyWhat makes the Moon unique? What are the reasons to go back to our natural satellite, and why with humans? For some reason, those reasons are not actually obvious, despite countless books, articles, conferences in the past.

One could argue that if the reasons were that clear, somebody would have done it already.


There is something that really makes the Moon a unique place in the whole Universe: the Far Side, permanently shielded from Earth by hundreds of kilometres of rock. There is no other place anywhere else that combines radio silence from the cacophony of terrestrial transmission and access to atmosphere- and ionosphere-free skies in the absence of a magnetic field.
The lunar Far Side is thus one of the best places to investigate what is invisible to terrestrial astronomy, that is most of the EM spectrum [10][11]. One example is in the very-low frequency bands [12], where we literally have never collected any data at all.
An advantage of using the lunar surface over orbit-based telescopes is also the possibility of setting up large interferometers without having to develop extremely precise formation-flying controls.
Another example that has been suggested is neutrino astronomy, especially with energies between 1GeV and 10TeV, where the background noise is reduced on the Moon compared to the Earth, Whole-sun neutrino observation would be possible [13], a rather important activity given the somewhat still quite open-to-debate theories about the amounts and types of solar neutrinos.

Lunar, Terrestrial and Solar studies

Obviously, a settlement on the Moon would also provide a great opportunity to understand more about the Moon itself. After all only a few acres have been explored in detail, so there is still plenty that needs to be studied. We miss information both about peculiarities (what is exactly the bright soil at "Reiner Gamma" made of?) and the overall conditions on the Moon (e.g., if the Moon's rocks have been formed in absence of water, what was/is the composition of volcanic gases [14]?). By having a lunar settlement, we can understand that and more, without having to bring rocks and samples back to Earth [15].
Those studies need not only have a local relevance. Apart from the Moon being as good a base as any for the discovery and tracking of Near-Earth Object, due to the amount of data collected during the 1960's the Moon is THE reference for planetary science [16] [17], a differentiated body with significant episodes of volcanism and plenty of crater types, where very little (if anything) is changing now.

There are even open Earth geology questions that can be better answered on our natural satellite. We do have a practical result in this field already. The post-Apollo mainstream lunar origin theory (an impact between proto-Earth and a Mars-sized body) does explain the excess iron in our own siderophile mantle [18].
One of the most interesting, relevant and important questions to ask on the Moon is, has Earth undergone recurring asteroidal/cometary "bombardments"? This has also biological consequences. Whilst traces are hard to find on our planet, the verdict should be well preserved in the lunar soil, starting with the impact crater frequency curve [19][20][21].
The same lunar soil's regolith contains also an at-least-billion-year-long record of the solar activity [22] [23] [24] that would help a lot in the understanding of the behaviour and evolution of our star. Just as well, buried regolith deposits are expected to preserve traces of the very young Sun [25]. Still, no need to stop there: the regolith of permanently shadowed craters at either Lunar pole may contain our best chance to read about the history of the Galaxy.

Exploration/exploitation of the Solar System

Thanks to its low surface gravity, the Moon can be considered a natural interplanetary spaceport. It is much less energy-consuming to go from there than from the Earth to any place in the Solar System (apart from terrestrial surface), including, paradoxically, to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) [26] [27].
The Moon can then become a source of materials for the exploration and exploitation of the Solar System [28], including the classical example of asteroidal mining.
Given its proximity to our planet, launch opportunities occur quite often, a matter of weeks compared to years to reach even NEO's: it appears then logical to test stuff such as landing gear and autonomic robotic exploration on the Moon instead of waiting months and months to get the right alignment just to launch towards another planetary body [29].
Economical to reach, economical to land onto and depart from, and with frequent launch windows, the Moon's main strategic scientific and technological value may indeed lie in where it is [30]: "near but not here".
As an example, the Moon is a much better place than Earth to bring back Martian dust and rocks in a Sample Return mission, as chances of contamination of the specimen by Earth living organisms would be dramatically reduced (just as the risk of any Martian life to roam unchecked our planet) [31].

Geopolitics of the Moon

But even if the Moon is indeed unique for certain undertakings, our only effective example of its exploration is the 1960's Space Race between the USA and the USSR, when the "why" was purely a matter of political prestige to be gained by one superpower over the other.
We all know that race was won by the Americans. Little more than twenty years later there was no USSR left at all. From our 2004 point of view it can be argued that the USA effectively sealed their commanding status over the rest of the world by achieving the Apollo 11 landing.
If that is true, the first nation to return to the Moon will then either keep or destroy a huge chunk of American prestige.
If the next moonwalker will NOT be an American, commentators will have enough to seriously start talking about, and people to seriously start believing into witnessing the "End of the Empire". Just like in 1969, it is obvious that the entire geopolitical situation on Earth will appear wholly different if, for example, a local Chinese crew were to welcome in 2030 the first NASA manned mission to the Moon since December 1972.
Curiously enough, the present stalled situation, with the American Lunar capability dismantled and the potentially Moon-bound Saturn V machines gathering rust in open-air museums for political reasons, strongly resembles the 1400's Imperial Chinese Navy, destroyed by the Emperor after having explored (and effectively subjugated) much of the Indian Ocean decades before the Portuguese [32].
We all know that "race" was won by the Europeans. Little more than three hundred years later there was no Chinese imperial dominance left at all.

Social significance

Those apparently heartless political calculi of national prestige are (also) based on the very tangible social impact of "adventurous" manned space flight (i.e. the one where the astronauts effectively do go somewhere apart from orbiting Earth).
No better evidence about it could come than from Buzz Aldrin's own words when being shown a recording of the TV broadcast of the first lunar landing: "We [Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins] missed the whole thing". Grown-up commentators became so emotional to literally have to wipe off their tears in front of the first examples of planetary-wide audiences. The USSR's Pravda couldn't help printing the news in its front page, however small. Space exploration with humans is an endeavour that fascinates and enthuses all of us. It brings hope and shows that it is possible to "do the impossible". Generations have been born already for whom the proverbially impossible "flying to the Moon" is a reality.

Those generations are as sophisticated as any, though. As shown by the cool reception of President Bush's space initiatives, it will be much harder to convince them to go back to the Moon without a very healthy dose of pragmatism.

Humans or Robots

As quite often heard, humans ARE indeed costlier and riskier than robots. Environment control is easier in an automatic probe, there is no need to carry food not to recycle waste, etc. etc.
Still, in the history of Lunar exploration it would be hard to argue the unique advantages that humans bring to fieldwork [33] [34].
Take for a start Apollo 16: it was a mission conceived, designed and organised to collect volcanic rocks from an area consensually believed to be volcanic. It wasn't, but the astronauts were quickly able to focus themselves on collecting what was needed to understand the local soil [35]. Would it have been the same for a robot programmed specifically to investigate volcanic rocks?
Another example: the so-called KREEP rocks, unexpected, new and enigmatic collections of Rare-Earths [36]: would a rover (even as sophisticated as those in use in the XXI century) have been able to bring that back? Just as for Apollo 17's "orange soil", hardly a feature of any orbital mapping or automated lander's photograph.
Robots, of the kind feasible in the foreseeable future, can only do what they are programmed to do, so they will only examine and report according to their limited set of instructions…consider the Galileo space probe, designed to study Jupiter: as it passed by Earth in the early 1990's, it managed to get only hints of the existence of biological life (as gases in the atmosphere) and technological activity (as radiowave emissions).
Combine this with Mark Twain's musings: "there is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.". Years can be wasted (and important data remain uncollected) simply by building and sending robotic probes built around the wrong conjectures.
The only practical way to discover and understand something new (apart from chance) is by sending people [37].
We can generalise that people are needed where research would otherwise be prohibitively difficult [38]. And as the recent debate about repairing/upgrading the Hubble shows, humans are still too hard to substitute when there is the need for a complex upgrading or repair of instruments. From a Moon base, astronauts would be well placed to reach the new generation of telescopes built for one of the Sun-Earth Lagrange points [38]. Sure, their presence may degrade the natural lunar vacuum, but even with minimal precautions we have reasons to believe it will still be better than on Earth [39]. Finally, a Moon settlement is an alternative rest/rescue station from LEO operations [40].

Commercial Moon

Clearly the full-scale colonisation of the Moon may start and be much encouraged if feasible commercial reasons could be defined.
We have already mentioned the mining of materials for LEO and for solar system exploration: this could include the rather easy-to-extract lunar soil oxygen [41], ready to be sold to space transportation systems unwilling to carry it all from Earth surface. There has been much talk for years about extracting the exceedingly rare Helium-3 from the lunar soil as clean fuel for nuclear fusion reactors [42], but this may be classified as a non-reason as the first customers won't materialise for five or more decades.
Given the fascination astronautics has with the public, with the right kind of infrastructure in place there will undoubtedly be lunar movies, documentaries (e.g. IMAX's documentary about the ISS). And if costs for Earth launches and return trips will be lowered by a factor of 10 to a 100, tourists [43] will be able to start travelling to a Moon offering new kinds of sports, the chance of flying using one's own strength, and acrobatic shows featuring "impossible" feats. Furthermore, it will be in a low-g environment that would benefit all and especially those helped by hydrotherapy.
We do have an example of a one-g town built out of nowhere and quite good at self-sustainment at one-g, and it is called Las Vegas.
In the wake of plots of lunar land allegedly being sold on Earth, a market for memorabilia is expected, including moon dust, moon rocks, but also recovered items such as Apollo 16's forgotten film.

Legal environment

Short of transforming the Moon into some kind of frontier town, the settlement there by humans and the development of a lunar economy will need a legal framework agreed and understood by people and nations and companies alike. We will analyse this in next section. For the time being let's consider some legal reasons for going to the Moon.
In fact, many points about the legal conditions of all space activities need to be clarified, and historically those clarifications have come out from specific initiatives. For example the American effort at flying a satellite during the International Geophysical Year 1957 was sponsored by the government as a way of setting a precedent regarding over-flights [3] (and it worked). However trivial it may appear, there is an ongoing court case about the right by a certain company to claim ownership of the surface of asteroid Eros, and as such to be able to collect "parking fees" from NASA, that landed there one of its probes. Not to mention (at least for now) the Lunar Embassy, self-proclaimed owner of all planets and satellites apart from Earth, and the counterclaim by somebody asking for an "illumination fee" as sole owner of the Sun. Hardly stuff worth involving some Supreme Court somewhere, and yet the simple fact that all of this may even happen is the clearest sign that legal precedents and agreements need to be set.
And the longer they will not be, the less serious the whole idea of space travel will appear.


As yet nobody has been on the Moon for more than 30 years. All the reasons above have been somehow effectively nullified by counter-reasons. Among those, changing political climates especially in the United States (there is little if anything worth mentioning about other nations anyway). Bush Sr.'s space initiative was rapidly forgotten by the newly instated Clinton. And of course we are living in the shadow of Nixon's decision to concentrate on developing the Space Shuttle thereby making obsolete the successful Saturn V and shortening by several hundred thousand miles the range of manned space travel.
For years much has been done about humanity's fascination with (if not obsession about) finding life [44], thereby undermining all plans about returning to the Moon. Maybe it is only now that the idea that one needs not promote a single target for astronautics to expand: let's hope that NASA's exploration culture will not become a version of "All eggs in One Mars". On the side of lunar and planetary scientists there have been few examples of effective, politically aware and timely pressure on. At the time of the cancellation of Apollo 18 and 19, it can actually be argued that had the scientists lobbied Senators and Representatives early enough with the strength displayed when protesting against the decision, one or both those missions would have actually happened.
Or perhaps it was the Apollo era to be uniquely special. Within this interpretation, before and after Apollo the Moon [45] has simply been neglected because [46]:
– too close
– too easy
– too dead
– too "well-known"

WhatTechnical areas that will have to be dealt with to establish a permanent lunar settlement include travel and construction technologies, but also organisational, financial, legal and political aspects. Also, who do we expect will inhabit the Moon? And where will the settlement be built?
The following section analyses some of the issues involved: anyway, as the Apollo experience shows, what will actually happen will depend on circumstances simply unforeseeable (e.g. Saturn's S-1C's size being dictated by the make-up of the factory where it was going to be built [47]), including apparently insurmountable problems that will be solved when necessary.
As such, the minutiae of the technical details are not warranted the attention given instead to the overall outline of the what.


Given the accumulated experience it may appear more likely to be NASA leading the way towards a return to the Moon. President Bush's plan described in December 2003 does indeed call for a manned mission after a series of robotic rovers. It remains to be seen if this plan will go the way of so many others: clearly there is still a difference between recurring, partisan calls to space and a grand vision outlined as a fight for national survival by a young, prematurely killed President. With NASA following orders more than leading consensus on space exploration, it will be a hard call for presidential staff changing every 4 or 8 years to maintain the same policy about space flight for many years in a row.
How about forgetting the politicians then? Private space travel [48] is likely to be somewhere in the middle of its infancy, with the famous X-Prize perhaps going to be won by 2005 or 2006. Some companies are already planning cargo flights to the Moon and appears ready for the undertaking as soon as the right number of clients is achieved: Transorbital's Trailblazer and Orbital Development's MoonCrash. Definitely primitive stuff compared to a 1969 human landing, but no doubt progress will be made quickly were a viable entrepreneurial case be made (or found…), for example in providing services to the lunar settlement, starting with a detailed lunar map.
Space travel aside, a lunar settlement will have necessarily to be tested at first as a terrestrial mock-up [49]. For the beginning it may be appealing to simply re-use ISS technology, with slight changes to accommodate a non-zero gravity environment. But the endeavour will be viable only by development of ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilisation): in other words, transport the building machines, not the goods [50]. Several studies indicate that lunar regolith can be used for construction, apart from extracting basic materials such as oxygen and iron. Water for making lunar cement and other manufacturing purposes may come from polar craters if confirmed (and if reachable): otherwise there may be a case for a thorough investigation of available small-size, water-rich NEO's.
Surface and local transportation of goods and people may involve ballistic trajectories on the airless Moon, and/or building of regolith-resistant railroads. It is also not difficult to imagine way-stations on Lagrange points acting as transmitters for some kind of lunar GPS (low-orbiting satellites not being viable due to uneven mass concentrations Mascons near the lunar crust)
Other important details include telecommunications (likely of the photonic variety wherever possible); power generation and distribution, with polar or orbital solar generators perhaps as first tests of microwave energy transmission across vast distances before implementing that technology on Earth.


Much has been made of the fact that of 12 moonwalkers so far, 11 were not scientists (and the only one has been effectively sent at the last available opportunity). Apart from the very beginning, it will be difficult to maintain such a disparity in favour of professional astronauts. Next to the scientists there will likely be other service personnel (again, not only astronauts), all of them likely in monthly or quarterly shifts. With the settlement becoming more suitable to human habitation, visionaries/entrepreneurs will then lead the way to tourists, explorers, TV crews, etc….and to dubious characters, including bounty hunters (why expect men on the Moon behave much better than on Earth?)

Organisation & Financing

If the settlement will not be almost entirely devoted to political considerations, it will be run by an international public/private consortium [51] among all those entities aiming at benefiting from using the Moon. There are several possible examples on Earth, such as having a "Lunar Port Authority" or even a Lunar Economic Development Area [52]. It has been proposed to finance the enterprise by issuing bonds, however in general creative and effective ideas in this field (short of getting the taxpayer foot the vast majority of the bill) are still in short supply.

Legal and Political structure

It has been argued that if Intelsat is the appropriate precedent, there are no additional legal problems for lunar profiting [53]. However, as said above there are several possible legal hurdles to pass, including the "land ownership titles" sold by the "Lunar Embassy" to around 40,000 clients.
However idiotic the situation may appear, only a small percentage of the 40,000 would be enough to warrant some huge legal headache to any Lunar Port Authority, unless the related treaties are amended according to common sense.
Other legal bounds make much more sense. It should be clear to everybody working on the Moon that the unique local environment should be left as much untouched as possible [54], at least for scientific reasons [55].
This is a rather difficult endeavour. Apart from conservation of the historical sites, the extremely tenuous atmosphere is easy to be disturbed. It was for example doubled in mass by the exhausts and leaks of the Apollo missions.
It should also not be dismissed the call for the "conservation of the regolith": after all it has taken billions of years to "create the regolith"…as such it shouldn't be simply considered raw material or disturbing garbage. Again, it is all going to mean a revision of the international laws and politics about the Moon. At last, we may even get a new Lunar Treaty [56].

As for the local decisional structure, the best example appears the flexibility of the Antarctic base [57]. Hopefully certain ideas about social engineering, like attempts at founding the "perfect community" on the Moon, will simply remain on paper (or rather isolated)

Physiological considerations

It has been computed [58] that on average a maximum 20% of time should be spent by humans outside the protection of a minimum 4 meters of regolith. This should not be difficult to achieve, and there is anyway a good deal experience on the physiological needs of people, thanks to the work on the ISS.
Debates flare at times on the effects on muscles and bones of low-g compared to the known issues after long exposure to zero-g: a continuative presence on the 1/6g Moon would answer many questions, with implications including the planning of human activity in the 1/3g of Mars.
Some consideration (again not wholly unrelated to a Mars trip) should be also given towards making the atmosphere of the base as dust-free as possible [59]

Location of the settlement

Everything considered, the initial location is likely to be polar or equatorial, the only areas where orbit access is every 2 hours [60]. Traverses between pre-delivered rest-stations (like in Antarctica) could be organised to explore more [61].
And while it is true that in general an equatorial base would be easier and safer to reach from Earth, on the other hand a polar location is preferable, as it means smaller temperature variations, and probably water, with half of the sky (maybe even the Sun) continuously visible [62] [63]

Underground Habitable Structures

A particularly interesting area of study concerns the establishment of inhabited structures several meters below ground level.
Those are ipso facto shielded from both cosmic rays and UV radiation. There is little cross-contamination with the surface. They are protected from impacts, and harder to sabotage. The bedrock is easily accessible, for example to anchor equipment. More lightweight materials can be used and construction much simplified. Plastics need not be protected from UV degradation. Finally, such a structure is repeatable in the establishment of colonies and outposts anywhere in the Solar System.
On the Moon, underground structures could be housed, at least initially, in one of the "lava tubes" [64][65], of which there are many [66], some hundreds of meters long and with 10 meters or more of roofing material. Given the relative size with similar features on Earth, it may even be expected whole huge cave-like "tubes" to be available somewhere on the Moon. Alternatively, there have been already investigations on melting-while-drilling techniques [67], or even excavation through detonation (given the absence of water in the rocks, it is expected that the roofs of artificial caves will not collapse as it would happen on Earth) [68].

P.O.L.E. Peak Of Light Eternal

The P.O.L.E. concept (Peak Of Light Eternal, poetic licence taken) combines the advantaged above in the establishment of an underground polar settlement.
Possible locations depend on a detailed mapping of the polar regions: for the time being they may be the rim of the Peary Crater, or the flanks of the Shackleton Crater at the lunar South Pole. An earlier version was described as a 5-mile-long structure, 3200ft wide and 1600ft tall [69].
With plenty of space available, P.O.L.E. inhabitants would live in large Earth-like caves illuminated as if in the full glare of the Sun. They would not have to continuously look at the Earth outside their windows, and would not experience as much "longing back home" (as for example some Apollo astronauts). They would not be reminded of the Moon "desolation": still, the Earth, the lunar surface, the far-side would be available at short distance.

WhenThe science of astronautical forecasting is very imprecise, with grand targets being notable mostly for their continuously postponed delivery targets (again, the only exception is Apollo). Using past timescales as guidance, there is all the chance that we are in for a very long wait. How can we speed things up?

Current Initiatives

The latest "American President" Plan includes an Orbiter in 2008 and a Lander in 2009 [70]. It should be noted that at least 5 years are expected between the decision and the landing, despite several orbiters and several landers having been sent toward the Moon already (and despite several rovers having landed or getting readied for a Mars landing). General consensus is to send robots to explore the surface, without people at least for another decade [71]. On the private front, Transorbital appears ready to go as soon as the financial situation is right, and others are claiming to be more or less near a launch.

Lessons from past estimates

But it is hard to believe in any published timescale of space exploration as for decades almost every estimate has been proven very wrong, starting from several American President space initiatives (including the Space Shuttle), all the way down to grand promises by folded companies (e.g. Luna Corp, Applied Space Resources).
Truth is that without the USSR there is no race [72], so aims are achieved too late and over budget…if they are achieved.

Infrastructure development

All in all, we can only expect (very) long timescales.
Even if a minimal infrastructure has to be thought-through and readied, there is no sign as yet of an effective long-term exploration planning. For example the Martian satellite Deimos is a neglected body despite its extremely easy accessibility [73] and the fact that Mars exploration and a manned Mars mission are generally considered much more interesting [74] for the public than anything the Moon can offer.
If the politically baffling, even naïve Mars First vs. Moon First debate will be considered a zero-sum game both goals will suffer, with the Lunar projects being most neglected.
And yet, consider also that Mars Society's brilliant efforts and high visibility have brought lots of attention but little practical return on their ultimate goal: there is no plan for a manned Mars trip for a long time to come.
How much more difficult a Lunar equivalent, as evident in the sadly sterile campaigning by moonwalkers Aldrin and Schmitt?

The above can only suggest an even slower implementation of any return-to-the-moon plan. We can reasonably assume that, in the absence of another version of the Space Race, either between nations or between corporations, there will not be any attempt at human landing, let alone at starting the construction of a lunar base before the end of next decade.

Timescale shortening

With forecasting after 2020 as true as meaningless, and too many reasons to go to the Moon to simply consider the whole situation hopeless, let's give a target for the establishment of a permanent manned settlement by 2069 as a tribute to Apollo 11.

Still, there is the possibility of accelerating things by carefully using the acquired experience. A good example is the Clementine mission, designed and built by a small team in 20 months instead of several years.
Even if carrying "sub-optimal" experiments [75], Clementine has shown what can be done when delivery time is key. In general, the less the effort in developing new technologies for new missions, the shorter the time-to-launch (compare to Clementine the years wasted in developing the never-flown X-33).
One may even argue that nothing will really happen as long as Astronautics remains the realm of untamed R&D, with every new mission breaking new grounds: it would be interesting to see if research engineers will prevail over scientists and entrepreneurs [76]. In the meanwhile we can acknowledge that the only means to reach the ISS is the rather old technology of the Soyuz.

Side-effects of long timescales

With long timescales expected, we have to consider how the situation will look different several decades into the future.
Robots will of course get better. Advancement in robotics and telerobotics could effectively nullify some of the "why" points, decreasing the chances to develop the human colonisation of outer space by removing some weight from the whole concept of manned space exploration.
From this point of view a push for having humans explore the Solar System as soon as possible, starting with the Moon, is of the outmost importance.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine any robot becoming better than a human in field studies and the investigation of the unknown.

ConclusionsSome open issues still need to be solved. What will be the economy of permanent settlements? How often do we want to use the Moon? (This would have consequences on the choice of expendable vs. reusable vehicles). What will be the security needs of a Lunar base? (a whole new subject to investigate)

Negatives considerations remain aplenty. Sarcastically, some have said that we should go to the Moon by stacking up all the papers written about how to go to the Moon: or perhaps, all future attempts will be buried by their own bibliography.
In the meanwhile humans are developing astronautical experience by working in the wrong place, disturbing zero-g experiments in LEO instead of exploring beyond Earth orbit [77]. The Space station is replicating the Shuttle in over-promising, over-running and under- (or even un-) delivering.

All more the reason to consider the "why" the most fundamental point about establishing a permanent manned colony on the Moon.
The "what" is anyway heavily subordinate to the "reasons". The "when" depends on our capability at making an effort to achieve our goals instead of developing technologies for their own sake.

As such it is important to prioritise lunar action over plans and studies: enough with optimal missions, big probes, complex new, perhaps too advanced technologies…

Just do it!

As it is hopefully going to happen thanks to initiatives such as the Artemis Society and SpaceFuture's space tourism plans.

Is that going to herald a cultural change in the public space industry as well [78]? Will all the people, societies, companies involved in Space be able to build public interest into a long-term solar system exploration plan, postpone if not outright stop public squabbling and get into the business of actually going to the Moon?

With robots able to do and humans able to explore, and years needed simply to wait for a launch window outside the Earth-Moon system, lunar astronautics may as well be a way of keeping astronautics going instead of waiting for uncertain Mars missions while wasting away making LEO orbits.

Perhaps one day this will finally start to happen: maybe an innocent will rise and people will say, in the words of Bridget O'Donnell, "she didn't know it couldn't be done, so she went ahead and did it"

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Climate Change English

Fools and Global Warming

Open Letter to Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog 

Dear Richard

As much as I appreciate your blog for its reporting of the Environmental Wars conference, that I quite sadly was unable to attend, I find the "Jesters" entry more than a bit shameful, with all its unwarranted ad-hominems

If you really believe in an upcoming Climate Crisis, it makes no sense to cloud the debate with your unfunny attempts at humor.

They'll just elicit just as (un-)funny remarks on other blogs and website, about the "close-minded fools" of the "global warming lobby", and so on and so forth

iow, they won't take you or anybody or the planet's climate anywhere

They could actually be used by some to "demonstrate" that the "global warming lobby" has no arguments

Trusting you won't give up your day job for stand-up comedy, I'll keep looking in your site for more substantial opinions by you

Climate Change English Environment Politics Science Skepticism

Climate Change & The Skeptics Society – first impressions

The Skeptics Society has just held its Environmental Wars conference, to "debate about whether human activity is actually changing the climate of the planet"

Best links to get information about the conference appear so far to be:

Flipping Point, an article on Pasadena Weekly

The Skeptics Conference section of the DeSmogBlog

Jonathan H Adler's "The Environmental Wars" Conference on his The Commons blog


As a long-time Climate Change skeptic, I can only be glad to see that no less a skeptic than Michael Shermer had been unwilling to jump on the CC bandwagon, until a few weeks ago. So there is no need to provide evidence that I am not paid by evil Oil companies to air my views: especially when I doubt the more catastrophical claims

In any case: having literally read it all, my impression is that the debate remains as polarized as ever, with each side seeing what they want.

At the end of the day, it may go down to a communications issue.

Some people simply refuse to be cajoled into intellectual submission by scare stories and depictions of upcoming disasters.

Some other people think those disasters are coming but are failing to identify how to communicate it without resorting to “the end of the world is nigh…repent!”.

And so, after realizing their message is not being heard as expected, the latter group try to coherce the former a little stronger, with several insults thrown in the process

So here's my plea to all Climate-Change-is-awful-let's-act-now People: Please change your ways at communicating. This is no way to conduct an intelligent debate. And it is no way to obtain results

If you guys and gals really believe to be right, find a way to get things done.

And stop asserting that "the debate is over". It doesn't work, either.

Culture English History International Politics

What’s wrong with David Irving

Writes Michael Shermer on the May 3rd, 2005 edition of the eSkeptic newsletter (titled “Enigma: The Faustian Bargain of David Irving”)

If you really want to silence David Irving, treat him with silence.

I agree with that, up to a point: because the matter with Irving could be interpreted as an issue of freedom of speech, and as such it deserves clarification.

Should people fighting for such a freedom organize what Christopher Hitchens called a Fair Play for Irving Committee?

Maybe not.

And I disagree with Mr Shermer, who in response to the Austrian authorities decision to imprison Irving, recommended to “let David Irving go” in the March 2nd, 2006 eSkeptic newsletter (“Giving the Devil His Due”)

Again to Shermer:

The enigma emerges from the fact that he is, at one and the same time, brilliant and bellicose, deviously clever and devilishly deceptive—a man who “coulda’ been a contenda” but instead morphed into a pretender…it is a great waste of a great talent. How and why did this happen?

In my opinion, Irving’s self-deception began when he entered the Magic Circle [i.e., the surviving former Hitler confidants]. […] Hitler, he explained, “had attracted a garniture of high-level educated people around him. The secretaries were top-flight secretaries. The adjutants were people who had gone through university or through staff college and had risen through their own abilities to the upper levels of the military service.” These Hitler confidants were well-educated and they spoke highly of their Führer. Who was Irving to argue?

As an example just look at the story Dr. Shermer himself reports at the bottom of that same newsletter “Post Script on Irving & the Eichmann Papers”: in which it is explained how Irving found a way to deny the existence of a direct order by Hitler for the Holocaust in face of a very clear phrase written by Adolf Eichmann in his memoirs: "The Führer has ordered the extermination of the Jews"

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to deceive

English International Politics UK USA

A great chance to get out of Iraq

…or at least start packing?

Having achieved a major propaganda coup by eliminating fabled enemy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, shouldn't the USA and Britain take advantage of the situation to get out of Iraq?

It is apparent that both Governments would rather do without troops in that country, and gain a lot electorally even just by announcing the start of their withdrawal

But it is also said that they need some face-saving situation, not wanting to appear weak in the eyes of their enemies (in Iraq, and elsewhere)

That situation is happening right now. There is an apparent result achieved, and for quite some time no insurgency attack will be able to counterbalance it


With the American elections looming against an extremely unpopular President, and Blair unable to prevail in the polls even against vacuous David Cameron, we can only hope they will realise what a great opportunity they have to stop making being part of the problem in Iraq, and to stop sending their soldiers to un-necessary deaths

Business English Sociology

Natural Sleep, anybody?

Some may already know that I hardly need more than 4 hours of sleep every night, apart from peculiar circumstances.

Sometimes I think with appropriate training I could be able to shorten that time to 2 hours: and if I could switch to power-napping (15 minutes every 3 hours or so), I’d do it without much of a thought (but sadly, without much of a family around me either…)

Having had to deal with countless criticism about this supposedly harmful behaviour, I can only be pleased in reading this comment on one Op-Ed’s by Alex Beam on the International Herald Tribune:

In his 2005 book "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past," historian A. Roger Ekirch […] argued that the transition from old-fashioned "segmented sleep" to today's continuous sleep pattern hasn't helped mankind. "There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind," Ekirch wrote. Up until the invention of artificial lighting, he noted, men and women went to bed earlier and woke up in the middle of the night to smoke a pipe, make love, or analyze their dreams.

Segmented sleep, that’s what’s healthy and “natural”: not 8 or 10 hours in a row

English Humanity International Politics

Petroski’s Cycle or Humanity’s Oblivion Spell

History will never teach us anything

This is a rather sad characteristic of Humanity, not just Engineering as identified by Henry Petroski in Success Through Failure (reviewed by Steven Cass in "Learning from Failure", IEEE's Spectrum, June 2006)

[…] a sequence of significant bridge failures […] have occurred at roughly 30-year intervals since 1847, when metal began replacing stone as the material of choice for crossing spans.

And it's not just bridges that exhibit cycles consisting of long periods of success punctuated by disaster: spacecraft, nuclear power plants, and other highly engineered artifacts have followed a similar pattern.

In his latest engaging and readable book, Success Through Failure, design guru Henry Petroski analyzes this cycle and other flaws in the things around us to show that the old truism "nothing succeeds like success" is in fact a recipe for doom.[…]

I do agree it’s a matter of memory. 30 years or so is less than a generation nowadays.

Look outside design and engineering, for example at the mostly manufactured Gulf of Tonkin Incident that escalated the Vietnam War in 1964 and the mostly manufactured evidence of WMDs in Iraq culminating in the invasion in 2003.

What's apparent is that despite the lengthening of the human life, nobody seems to recall the mistakes of the past

And so avoidable calamities, wars, genocides are bound to stay with us

Nothing new under the sun, until we will free ourselves from this evil spell

English Policy Politics USA

Pizza parlors vs. Child pornography

What is more important: investigating "terrorist" leads in pizza restaurants, something with only the tiniest of chances of being anywhere relevant, or fight child pornography?

Why, in an increasingly more distorted world, pizzas come first, of course! 8-(

Opinion: Why NSA spying puts the U.S. in danger

[…] FBI agents working real and pressing investigations such as organized crime, child pornography and missing persons are being pulled away from their normal law enforcement duties to follow up on NSA leads. Nobody wants another 9/11, of course, but we experience real crimes on a daily basis that, over the course of even one year, cause far greater loss of life and damage than the 9/11 attacks did.

There are children abused on a daily basis to facilitate online child pornography, yet I know of at least two agents who were pulled from their duties tracking down child abusers to investigate everyone who called the same pizza parlor as a person who received a call from a person who received an overseas call.  There are plenty of similar examples.[…]

Development English International Politics Sociology

Do services degenerate faster in an informal economy?

In conventional thinking, there are many advantages in living in a formal economy, where entrepreneurs and laborers work together according to established rules agreed by everybody through the involvement of the State.

This is supposed to guarantee fairness and more recently, a widespread care system centered around protecting the poorest, most vulnerable and the most elderly members of the society

On the other hand, a more or less completely informal economy is the day-to-day experience of hundreds of millions if not billions of fellow humans, especially (but by no means only) in so-called emerging and developing Countries.

In an informal economy, certain types of income and the means of their generation are “unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated.”

It is usually a sign that the State is locally very weak. So income (including salaries) is received without paying taxes; work arrangements do or do not follow lawful standards, there is no apparent provision for old-age pension

And more often than not, one has to have cash at hand to guarantee speedy treatment of one’s issue for example in a state court: in what we call corruption

However scandalous to the average well-disposed thinker, this is a system that a) is very widespread and b) appears to be working more or less smoothly. In fact, there is an element of trust: however small or big the bribery, it would not get paid if the service would then not be provided

This obviously applies to specific cases. You can call it “salary informalisation”, where things get done quickly only when the “customer” pays directly into the pocket of the employee on the other side of the counter, rather than through the State for example via taxes.

Other circumstances are completely different: think of the police officer that threatens to impound the car unless offered money; the politician cutting 15% on a nation’s foreign contracts, “otherwise they won’t get signed”

These are two different kinds of corruption. The former is about asking additional money in order to provide a service. The latter is greedy intimidation into paying in order to avoid getting oneself into a dangerous position. This is far worse, as it sucks money away with very little to show in return

Corruption as parasitical intimidation is what stiff sentences and worldwide campaigns against corruption should concentrate on

What are the drawbacks then of the more benign kind of corruption, the “salary informalisation”? At first glance, it is quite tempting to accept it. If (and when) it works, it is much more efficient than having to deal with a far-away incorporeal entity called “the State”. Even fairness can be far superior than in the formal economy, as rules are ready to be renegotiated and can be bent to be just in every occasion, not only as described by the necessarily incomplete Law.

The problem is of course in those two words: IF and WHEN. An informal economy works well only as long as there is no excess of abuse on one side or the other: otherwise the requisite of fairness disappears, and we fall back in the “corruption as greed” trap.

And in fact, is not that what too easily happens when the Rules and the Laws are not enforced appropriately, exactly when the State is too weak to do so? Worse, the usual cures evolved the world over can be worse than the malady: as soon as “Groups of Mutual Help” arise to protect the members against unfair treatment, their intentions are hijacked turning them into Mafias, with further damage to the economy

This is not a necessity. But an informal economy is simply too fragile: its services may disappear at the whim of the providers, and organized crime can only thrive without a clear, enforced set of rules called the Law

An informal economy can never be considered a good, healthy economy

Development English International Policy Politics

What’s wrong with Development Studies?

It is hard to think “Development Studies” (“DS”) as a proper “science” at the moment.

In fact, the one thing that comes out clearly of a rapid analysis of the evolution of DS thinking, is that most if not all “Development Breakthroughs” look much like a “flavour of the decade” list rather than solid processes valid most of the time

Here’s a quick review:

  • 1950s “Development” substituted colonialism as a way for Western countries to keep control and a presence, also against the Communist threat
  • 1960s “Rising income with own growth”. Huge investments in infrastructure. Large loans from private sources, but growth did not take into account distribution
  • 1970s Focus on poverty and “basic needs” with redistribution. Further borrowing
  • 1980s Switch to aid as poverty of people and States became entrenched. World Bank and IMF pushed for Structural Adjustment Programs. Start of NGOs
  • 1990s “Development” started to include non-financial indicators (Freedom, Democracy, Environment Damage). Focus on participatory programs.
  • 2000s Idea of the State back in focus. “Development” as power dynamics, considering also Women and Universities

What shall then we make of today’s mantras of DS such as Beneficiary Participation, Gender Issues, etc etc?

Obviously I am not suggesting they are not worthwhile and appropriate.

But what’s out there to indicate they will not simply be substituted by new fads, in a few years?

And of course the big counterpoint is that the one and only thing that has changed, ever, is the “Own Interest” of the most powerful countries, ready to defend it no matter what (and no matter what their stated intentions on getting people out of poverty)

This is doubly disturbing, if we consider that at the end of the day enormous resources will keep being wasted in following the latest fashion, rather than in making people get out of a life of poverty and high risk

A thorough rethinking of the whole field of Development and Development Studies is in order

English International Politics

Support Iran’s nuclear rights

or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb

By all means let Iran build their own nuclear bombs in the open

  1. To argue against that sounds very hypocritical when done by the USA or worse, the UK and France
  2. Nobody in Iran is going to use the Bomb against Israel or anybody else unless attacked. For three reasons: 1) Israel is too big to be brought down by a single nuclear bomb; 2) the missile will surely destroy a whole lot of Palestinians too, and perhaps the Dome of the Rock; and 3) immediate massive retaliation by the US would remove Iran from history
  3. There is a long history of attacks against Iran in the last 3 centuries or so, and no occasion at all of Iran being the attacker
  4. They are going to get it anyway. As a known Israeli intelligence expert recently remarked, they’d be fool not to
  5. Chances of a bomb falling into al-Qaeda hands are minimal. Again, any use of any bomb would cause massive US retaliation, obviously against the provider of the Bomb if it were Iran
  6. It is much better to get nuclear facilities “in the open” rather than hidden away
  7. Anybody trying to seriously damage the Iranian nuclear program now would have to kill lots of innocent bystanders in giant bombing campaign(s) (presumably a few H-bombs would do, but again, there is no attacking use for a nuclear bomb)
  8. Talks of sanctions by the UN should be set aside for decency reasons, after the terrible Iraq Embargo fiasco (and embezzlement)

If only everybody would stop threatening Iran, there could be some serious start of negotiations. But the present situation is simply too convenient for all sides. I guess it’s always dangerous when the “enemies” strongly agree on the fact that God is on their side