Monday, January 23, 2012

Signs of life: Alien ‘scorpions’ found on Venus?

Are we still alone in the universe? Well, if a Russian scientist is right, a Soviet probe already solved one of humanity’s greatest riddles by discovering alien life on a neighboring planet - three decades ago. 

­While generations of stargazers dreamed of little green men on Mars, a recently published article in the Russian Solar System Research (Astronomicheskii Vestnik) magazine says a Soviet probe may have actually captured images of alien life on Earth’s scorching sister Venus back in 1982.

The article, penned by Leonid Ksanfomaliti of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, presents a detailed analysis of a 126-minute panoramic video recording made by the Venus-13 landing probe.

“Without going into the present conception that life would be impossible on Venus given its conditions, we can take a long shot and say that the given morphological characteristics allow us to assume that certain objects [registered on the planet’s surface] have qualities of living beings,” the researcher claims.

The article mentions three distinct objects: “a shape shifting disk,” “a black patch” and something resembling a “scorpion” which all exhibited signs of life.

Professor Ksanfomaliti said the objects, which measured between 0.1-0.5 meters, were constantly moving over time, making it difficult to explain them away as mere technical glitches.  

Most interesting was the appearance of the ‘scorpion,’ whose movements were recorded a full 26 minutes before disappearing.

Ksanfomaliti also says the probe’s noisy touchdown on Venus' surface probably scared off other otherworldly critters, which explains why nothing similar was captured in subsequent recordings.

The scientist had an inkling the video showed something potentially spectacular back in the 1980s, but opted to remain silent at the time. But based on a new wave of research dedicated to Earth-sized planets outside of our solar system, Ksanfomaliti decided to mull over the old data.

He plans on publishing further results of his findings in upcoming articles.

However, Aleksandr Bazilevsky the laboratory chief from the Russian Academy of Science’s Geochemistry Institute, says that while Ksanfomaliti is “a true, serious scientist,” his theory is “flawed.”

“The life forms we are familiar with are protein-based and they would never survive on Venus,” Bazilevsky says.

“We know life forms capable of surviving at pressure of 100 bars on the seabed, and creatures living at the maximum temperature of +150 C in underwater volcanoes. But the temperature on Venus exceeds +500 C.”

Iran: Stuck between U.S. and a hard place

If war with Iran is to be avoided, then negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group have to succeed. 

Turkey has already offered to host any talks, and Iran has said it’s ready to attend. It also seems likely that the P5+1 will also be willing to proceed. But with no date having yet been set despite tensions running so high, U.S. President Barack Obama should be willing to offer to go the extra mile and hold bilateral talks with Iran during any negotiations.

Yet doing so won’t be easy. Although the situation is delicate enough to make it well worth Obama’s while, Republican presidential candidates have been breathing down his neck demanding that he take a tougher line.

And they aren’t alone - allies the U.K., France and Israel have also been pressing him, meaning Obama’s room for maneuver would likely be limited even if such talks take place.

Either way, negotiations are about give and take. So just what exactly would Obama be able to offer?

At the least, he would probably offer to lift some of the current sanctions against Iran. At the most, he could also offer a modified version of the October 2009 Geneva deal. But this time, instead of Iran shipping out 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for nuclear fuel (as was the case in Geneva),  Iran could be asked to ship out 100 percent of its 20 percent enriched uranium. This could be in addition to at least 75 percent of the remaining stock of uranium enriched at levels below 20 percent.

In return, all the shipped LEU would be turned into nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which would allow it to make medical isotopes. Such a high percentage of LEU being shipped out would ensure that the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wouldn’t have sufficient LEU to make a bomb, if he were indeed inclined to try in the next year or so.

But what would Obama want from Iran in return?

At a bare minimum, the Obama administration would likely expect immediate answers from Iran to all outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency queries, which would probably entail immediate access to all sites of interest to the IAEA.

And what about Iran?

For Khamenei, it’s not going to be easy to offer much. On the one hand, he’s facing crushing economic and diplomatic pressure from Obama, the likes of which he hasn’t seen since becoming supreme leader. Should he ignore it, the Iranian economy, the health of which is crucial to the survival of the regime, could collapse.

On the other hand, the supreme leader is facing unprecedented problems at home. The regime is divided, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad becoming a more divisive figure every day. One has to ask how much longer Mahmoud Bahmani, the current head of Central Bank, will put up with him before resigning.

More importantly, Khamenei's position and policies are being questioned and criticized both directly and indirectly - in full view of the Iranian public - by former officials who have ties with conservative factions.

A good example is a recent opinion piece by Adm. Hossein Alaei, the founding father of the Revolutionary Guards Navy and former IRGC Joint Force chief. In his article, he mentioned some of the Shah’s regrets after he lost power, such as not allowing people to demonstrate peacefully and shooting demonstrators. Hardliners saw this as an indirect criticism of Khamenei and a warning against him that he’s making some of the same mistakes.

Alaei’s opinion piece was condemned in the press (including the IRGC’s publication Sobh-e Sadegh), and demonstrations took place outside his home. But this op-ed was followed by further criticism of Khamenei’s position by Emad Afrugh, a former member of parliament who is believed to be close to the “principalist” faction. During a live interview he criticized the fact that the position of the supreme leader can’t be challenged by the public.

For decades Khamenei has portrayed the United States as Iran’s enemy. So how can a leader whose regime is apparently scared of Barbie dolls (having banned them over fears of a Western cultural invasion) reach any kind of deal with Obama that could end up helping him win the 2012 presidential election?

Iranian hard-line revolutionaries take pride in arguing that Ayatollah Khomeini destroyed Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances with the U.S Embassy hostage crisis in 1979. Will Khamenei want to go down in history as the man who helped Obama stay in office? How could he justify this to his hard-line supporters without creating even more infighting?

For years, Khamenei has stonewalled efforts by presidents Rafsanjani  and Khatami (and to a lesser extent Ahmadinejad) to improve relations with the U.S., even by reportedly rejecting a recent U.S offer to set up a hotline in October 2011. Khamenei’s ideologically driven animosity and hostility toward any improvement in relations with the United States has been a major factor in his calculations. And the anti-U.S. card has also, until now, served him well as a way of securing legitimacy at home, a necessity given that Khamenei had weaker religious credentials than his predecessor.

All this means that Khamenei isn’t in a particularly enviable position. He’s stuck between Obama and a hard place - with very little room to maneuver in between.

Bid to Topple Govt : No room for bigots

Chief of general staff says religious fanatics tried to misguide pious army officials in a planned way.


There should be no room for religious fanaticism in the army, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Md Mainul Islam said yesterday.

Speaking at a seminar titled “National Security Strategy for Bangladesh”, he also warned that those who were behind the recent “coup attempt” to topple the government would be tracked down, private television channel ATN Bangla reported. 

Lt Gen (retd) ATM Zahirul Alam was the keynote speaker at the discussion, organised by Centre for Security and Development Studies (CSDS).

Some former senior officials including ex-army chiefs were present at the seminar, held at the Retired Armed Officers Welfare Association (Raowa) Club in the capital.

A number of speakers there advised that the government form a National Security Council.

Referring to the latest developments in the army, Lt Gen Mainul said some religious bigots had tried to indoctrinate the pious officers in a planned manner. They were so clever that they had targeted the religion-fearing officers to execute their coup plot. He cautioned that these kinds of schemes must not be allowed to succeed.

“We all are pious, and the meaning of our secularism is [that] each and everyone will follow their own religion but no one will intervene in others' religion,” Mainul observed.

But unfortunately, he added, there are layers in the religion. Besides those pious, there are layers such as Dharma Praan, Dharma Parayan, Dharma Bhiru (pious, god-fearing) Goda (dogmatist), Dharmandho (zealots) and Dharma Babosayee (someone who exploits religion for something sinister). 

"In the army, we can accept Dharma Praan and Dharma Parayan, and if we can provide some knowledge to those who are Dharma Bhiru, they too can come along with the first two layers. But it's not fair to leave space for Dharmio Gorami, Dharmandho and Dharma Babosayee in the institution. The time has come to speak out about these and by saying these [we] will have to keep the organisation on the right track," Mainul said. 

Meanwhile, sources in the army said they were carrying out an investigation from a broader perspective to unearth the details of the “coup attempt” and the plot to assassinate the country's top leadership including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Kadar sues ex-Khilgaon OC

Dhaka University student Abdul Kadar sued former officer-in-charge of Khilgaon Police Station Helal Uddin on Monday for torturing him in custody and filing false cases against him. 

He filed the case with the same police station in the noon.

The move came in line with recommendations by a probe committee of the law ministry and an order from the High Court, said Anwar Hossain, deputy commissioner (Motijheel Division) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

Earlier in the day, a Dhaka court acquitted Kadar, who was tortured in police custody last year, of a carjacking case.

Metropolitan Magistrate MA Salam passed the order following an appeal submitted by Detective Branch (DB) of Police Inspector Abdur Noor, also investigation officer of the case.

Abdur Noor filed the petition before the court after submitting a probe report in the case on Thursday and appealed to it to exempt Kadar from the carjacking charges.

Another court in the city will pass its decision on January 26 on the probe report submitted by DB Inspector Mohammad Shahjahan in connection with a robbery case filed against Kadar with Khilgaon Police Station.

The cases were filed after Kadar was picked up by Khilgaon police from the capital's Segunbagicha around 1:30am on July 16.

The carjacking case in which Kadar was implicated was filed with Mohammadpur Police Station on July 14, two days before his arrest.

Kadar, a student of biochemistry and molecular biology, said he was walking to his DU dormitory when police detained him.

On November 3 last year, Kadar was relieved from another case filed with Khilgaon Police Station for possessing sharp weapons.

He said police made the arrest and tortured him in custody even after he had shown them his identity card. Helal even chopped the calf muscle of his left leg with a cleaver, Kadar told a court in July.

Police also tried to implicate him as a robber although a departmental probe later found him innocent. The probe also found that police had tortured Kadar, falsely charging him with robbery and carjacking.
Following a media outcry, the High Court on July 28 ordered the inspector general of police to probe the incident.

Kadar was released on bail on August 3.

A HC bench also ordered the IGP to suspend three officials of Khilgaon police including Helal for torturing Kadar in custody.

OC Helal, Sub-inspector Alam Badsha and Assistant Sub-inspector Shahidur Rahman were closed on July 29.