Multiple shades, multiple significance, of the hijab

When a US-based television network introduced Ro’ya Zanaty, a veiled Egyptian woman, as part of its “21 and the World is Yours” programme, it portrayed her as a “combination of contradictions”.
A Western audience may find it an interesting – if not novel – story that a veiled Muslim woman listens to pop music and is willing to approach a man and ask him out.

But for many in Egypt and the Middle East, a veiled woman mixing eastern and western traditions is nothing new.

In the past two decades, young veiled women have been increasingly active in society – they can be seen in universities, cafes, sports clubs, and mixed social gatherings, hosting talk shows and commenting on everything from contemporary politics to sex education and the latest fashion sense.

And though they appear to share a common adherence to the hijab, they have been expressing themselves in different ways even to the point where the veil itself has now become a symbol of distinct religious and social meanings.

Mona Abaza, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, believes the hijab has transformed itself from a symbol of piety into a cultural mechanism, a political statement, and finally, a fashion trend.

Interesting read. Some, confirming the frequent experience of scholars facing a cultural phenomenon which religious folk think is eternal – a pillar of society for only a few decades.

I’ve noted these changes in a couple of ways, recently, here and here.

Search for rubber ducks – to help track a melting glacier


Behar alongside melt water flowing into a moulin

To help figure out what’s happening inside the fastest-moving Greenland glacier, a U.S. rocket scientist sent 90 rubber ducks into the ice, hoping someone finds them if they emerge in Baffin Bay…

The Jakobshavn Glacier is very likely the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912 and researchers focus on it because it discharges nearly 7 percent of all the ice coming off Greenland. As the planet warms, its melting ice sheet could make oceans rise this century.

What you can’t see is how melting water moves through the ice.

In August, Alberto Behar flew by helicopter to a place on the glacier where rivers of melted ice flow into moulins. They released the flotilla of rubber ducks, each labeled with the words “science experiment” and “reward” in three languages, along with an e-mail address.

The ducks, if they are found and if somebody e-mails the discovery, would tell scientists where the water ends up…

Behar said he hoped a fisherman or hunter might find a duck or the probe but so far nothing has turned up.

Never enjoyed time on a glacier, especially. Though I believe that Behar’s endeavors may offer empirical results that aid in better understanding the mechanisms governing glacier behavior.

Google Android – prepare to be underwhelmed

As I see it, the U.S. smartphone market is boiling down to two camps—the Apple iPhone camp and the RIM BlackBerry crowd. Sure, Microsoft has a whole collection of able smartphones, but no one talks about them in the hushed, awe-filled tones they use for those from Apple and RIM. Starting next week, however, we’ll have a new, upstart platform to contend with: Google Android.

The midweek announcement from T-Mobile and Google is generating nearly as much buzz as the very first iPhone launch over a year ago, though I’m not expecting earth-shattering innovation from the phone.

There will be an abundance of Web-based functionality, most of it coming via the Google pipeline.
Yes, there will be a Google apps store, but no one seems to know just how free and easy Google Android phones will be when it comes to customizability. Carriers are notorious for locking down phones. However, I have a feeling that when T-Mobile signed on to the Google Android train it promised to make its first Android phone as flexible as possible, or at least guarantee that it could download, install, and run whatever new Google Android apps come its way.
Continue reading

Estrogen flooding Quebec waterways

The Montreal water treatment plant dumps 90 times the critical amount of certain estrogen products into the river. It only takes one nanogram (ng) of steroids per liter of water to disrupt the endocrinal system of fish and decrease their fertility…

The presence and effects of estrogen residues on aquatic wildlife are well documented. However, this research is unique because it didn’t only consider natural hormones and those used in oral contraceptives – it also included products used in hormone therapy that is prescribed to menopausal women. Data indicates that 128 million contraceptive pills and 107 million doses of hormone therapy are consumed every year in Quebec.

Water samples were taken in five different spots: the Mille-Îles river, the St. Lawrence River, the two water collectors entering the Montreal treatment plant and at the exit of the plant.

According to Professor Sébastien Sauvé, ozone treatments could eliminate these hormonal compounds. He also stresses that 80 to 90 percent of antidepressants remain in the water after treatment. These molecules can have a variety of effects on aquatic wildlife. Again, ozone treatment could destroy these molecules.

But, hey – it’s just the water you drink and the fish you eat.

Marine Debris continues to accumulate into the 21st Century


Dead sea bird – stomach full of plastic

Current measures to prevent and reduce marine debris are inadequate, and the problem will likely worsen, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.

The United States and the international maritime community should adopt a goal of “zero discharge” of waste into the marine environment, and a system to assess the effectiveness of existing and future marine debris prevention and reduction actions should be implemented. In addition, better leadership, coordination, and integration of mandates and resources are needed, as responsibilities for preventing and mitigating marine debris are scattered across federal organizations and management regimes.

“The committee found that despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans,” said Keith Criddle, chair of the committee that wrote the report… “We concluded that the United States must take the lead and coordinate with other coastal countries, as well as with local and state governments, to better manage marine debris and try to achieve zero discharge.”

All nicely said, expressing appropriate sentiments. Why should we expect the fumble-fingered bureaucrats in charge to have improved during the Bush years? If anything incompetence became a new national sport.

A new administration will probably have to go back to the beginning just to re-establish a civil service that lives up to the definition. And Marine “Law” is hardly worthy of the term.

Enviro refrigerator design from Einstein and Szilard. Wha?

Actually, I’m not that startled about the design. I was a 2nd-generation tech at GE – and my father worked on fridges of this design before and during the transition to freon-based compressor styles.

An early invention by Albert Einstein has been rebuilt by scientists at Oxford University who are trying to develop an environmentally friendly refrigerator that runs without electricity.

Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer at Oxford who works on green technologies, is leading a three-year project to develop more robust appliances that can be used in places without electricity.

His team has completed a prototype of a type of fridge patented in 1930 by Einstein and his colleague, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard. It had no moving parts and used only pressurised gases to keep things cold. The design was partly used in the first domestic refrigerators, but the technology was abandoned when more efficient compressors became popular in the 1950s. That meant a switch to using freons.

Pressurised gas fridges based around Einstein’s design were replaced by freon-compressor fridges partly because Einstein and Szilard’s design was not very efficient. But McCulloch thinks that by tweaking the design and replacing the types of gases used it will be possible to quadruple the efficiency. He also wants to take the idea further. The only energy input needed into the fridge is to heat a pump, and McCulloch has been working on powering this with solar energy.

‘No moving parts is a real benefit because it can carry on going without maintenance. This could have real applications in rural areas,’ he said.

Terrific. Sometimes I wonder about how many great ideas are gathering dust because, accidentally or intentionally, the economics of the times didn’t encourage mass production?

Cheney must keep records, judge orders

A federal judge has ordered Dick Cheney to preserve a wide range of the records from his time as vice president. Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were sued to ensure that presidential records are not destroyed…

The Bush administration’s legal position “heightens the court’s concern” that some records may not be preserved, said Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

A private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is suing Cheney and the Executive Office of the President in an effort to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or handled in a way that makes them unavailable to the public…

This summer, Cheney chief of staff David Addington told Congress that the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress. The vice president presides over the Senate.

It’s become a cliche; but, not only is this the least competent administration in the history of these United States – they raise the standard almost daily for corruption.

I sincerely hope the next administration has the courage and integrity to pursue these thugs in the courts. Wishful thinking, eh?

Haredi sect in Israel “defends” morals with abuse, violence


Women abused for breaking the law – by praying out loud!

According to Menachem Friedman, a sociology professor at Bar-Ilan University, the orthodox are imposing their rules more forcefully than before and the lives of the city’s women are becoming more circumscribed, and sometimes more dangerous, as a result. Friedman grew up in an ultra-orthodox family and has been studying the Haredi for 49 years. He said the extreme atmosphere is tangible.

Self-appointed moral guardians, dubbed the ‘modesty police’ by Israel’s modern secular media, roam Jerusalem’s ultra-religious neighbourhoods enforcing the voluminous and ever growing list of rabbinical laws such as the recent decree banning the sale of MP4 players. About 100 Haredi women have taken to wearing scarves and veils to cover themselves much like Muslim women.

Yoel Kreus is known locally in the Mea Shearim area of the city as the ‘manager of operations’. He describes himself as a ‘shmira’, a Hebrew word that translates as ‘watcher of Israel’. ‘I make sure the rabbis’ decisions happen … I help you to be a moral person,’ he said.
Continue reading