Roots of Terrorism

An article on terrorism wrote for another project on 2015-11-15

Terrorism did not show its hideous face to the world for the first time in 2001 but that year the impact of terrorism became globalised, like most other things. It started a chain reaction which now threatens Europe more than any other region on Earth mostly because of geographic proximity to the epicenter. The word implies extreme fear as a means to an end. But why would a group / an individual want to instill these negative emotions upon a collective?

The people behind such behavior could range from rational, psychopaths, irrational and emotional and instinctive individuals. The rational type is not unlike a general giving an order to a group of young soldiers to take part in a battle with little chances to be won. The irrational element has many underlying structures, one of these structures could be religion. In all cases these individuals are not opened to dialogue and consider their actions warranted.

Traditionally, but not always, terrorist attacks target symbols of authority like the Pentagon in 2001, the Reichstag fire in 1933 but also army barracks, police stations or anything related to state authority. Other targets are purely symbolic in nature and meant to either attract attention, give a warning or as revenge. These could be landmarks like the Twin Towers, parts of Palmyra and the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Finally, the most devastating attacks on society are those done in public places like schools, theaters, public transport stations, concert halls, etc. These are not landmarks, are usually unknown to those outside the area, and have no link to any form of state authority. These are sadly the easiest of targets.

The recent events in Paris are an act against humanity, part of a wider range of cases that do include attacks in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria that are not known in Europe or to which Europeans are not emotionally bound. This implies that the emphasis some will try to place on Islam and its role is fundamentally false and risks to intensify a conflict that normally should not exist in a developed society, religious conflict.

The roots of terrorism run deep in time towards antiquity or even beyond. There is a relative consensus that the first terrorist incident was the case of the Sicarii Zealots when in the 1st century CE Jews tried to expel the Romans by attacking them with daggers concealed in their cloaks. A pre-modern fight for independence. But even in Assyrian times the use of fear and terror was a weapon, usually used by the ruling class, as we learn from Gustave LeBon. These are nonetheless only a symptom of the root cause.

What about antimatter

Antimatter, the stuff that powers science-fiction ships could in the future power anything, from your grandchild’s smart house to his child’s career in a space academy. Even though, in terms of large scale energy sources, the world is concentrated on getting fusion power working, antimatter is the next logical step to be taken in the 22nd century.

Incipient scientific concepts regarding a different kind of matter have been proposed from late 19th century by people like William Hicks and Karl Pearson, the first proposing a type of matter with negative gravity. Negative gravity was also on the mind of Arthur Schuster in 1898 when he coined the term “antimatter”. Three decades later, in 1928, Paul Dirac realised the possibility of anti-electrons which will be observed and renamed as positrons by Carl D. Anderson in 1932.

The way in which antimatter can be used in producing energy can be described as follows. Antiparticles have the same mass as particles of “normal” matter but have opposite charges. When particles from both types of matter come close to each other they go through a process called “annihilation”, releasing high energy protons in the form of gamma rays and neutrinos. The power released is immense but one of the problems in harnessing it is that all that power is being released at the same time.

In 1955, Ernst Lawrence at the Bevatron succeeded in creating and detecting an antiproton and after five years in another experiment he detects an antineutron. Another five years passed and in 1965 in an experiment held at the CERN and also at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, scientists create the first anti-deuterium, a nucleus made from an antiproton and an antineutron. We must now give a definition of the antineutron because while protons and electrons have a positive and respectively a negative charge, their “antagonists” have the opposite. A neutron has no net electric charge and thus an antineutron also has no net electric charge, the difference is in their baryon number given by their quarks. An antineutron has antiquarks and quarks need a whole different article to be explained.

It was only in 1995 that another breakthrough was made in the field with the creation at CERN of 9 antiatoms of antihydrogen. As part of an ALPHA experiment held in 2011 at CERN, scientists succeeded in trapping 300 antiatoms for over 16 minutes. This important development paves the way for even longer trapping periods, necessary for making antimatter a viable energy source.
The financial aspect is almost as breathtaking as the physics involved. Creation of a gram of antimatter is expected to cost around 45 trillion euros, to keep things in perspective the cost of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are believed to be around 3.5 trillion euros (just an estimate) while all criminal activities in 2009 alone generated around 2.5 trillion US dollars (1.5 trillion euros) according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Going back to things that matter, scientists working at CERN and in all similar centers across the world are true heroes and should be treated as such because they show humanity her true face, seeking, exploring, trying to understand in all the ways possible.

The downside would be that such great power could very likely be used first in the military. To frame this picture I found an old article dating back from 10th November 1963 in an obscure newspaper called Victoria Advocate. There, it is written that the Soviet military leadership was looking to build bombs in excess of 160 megatons with the writer proposing antimatter as a way to do that. In reality the most powerful weapon ever tested by the Soviets (and the largest in the world) was the Tsar Bomba and it had around 57 megatons.

While a 45 trillion euros gram of instant death is far-fetched even for the military the threat of accidents happening is very real. This is a debate our grandchildren would probably have. One of the greatest unsolved mysteries in physics is the asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe.

Well up above the tropostrata
There is a region stark and stellar
Where, on a streak of anti-matter
Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller.

Remote from Fusion’s origin,
He lived unguessed and unawares
With all his antikith and kin,
And kept macassars on his chairs.

One morning, idling by the sea,
He spied a tin of monstrous girth
That bore three letters: A. E. C.
Out stepped a visitor from Earth.

Then, shouting gladly o’er the sands,
Met two who in their alien ways
Were like as lentils. Their right hands
Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.

– Harold Furth, “Perils of Modern Living” – Furth had been an american architect and scientist interested in thermonuclear fusion, he died in 2002. This poem is the only one he published. The New Yorker, 10 November 1956.


Romanian Life 02 A Walk in the park

My daily way to work leads me through a park situated next to Romania’s Palace of Parliament (People’s House), a gigantic building and a tourist magnet that I became somewhat acquainted to as a child. Situated on a hill and surrounded by ample green spaces (which you are not allowed to walk on) and a wall that says all there is to be said about the people presently working in the building.

Next to this wall there are some garbage bins where I usually throw away what remains of my cigarette after smoking it on that improvised shortcut through the grass. Two Fridays in a row I saw a black bag next to a particular garbage bin and a man parked a few meters next to it, after throwing away my cigarette I happened to look at the man while he, with a smile, shook his head in approval. I like to think that I gave that guy a new hope for staying in this country but there may be other motives for this bizarre non-verbal communication (*).

The political crisis in Romania was ignited by an unexpected decision taken, apparently solely, by the leader of my country’s largest party, the Social Democrat Party. Unlike most other democracies, our political environment is momentarily shaped by an open conflict between various “intelligence” (secret services) groups.

The public discourse regarding interference from occult or obscure groups of interest permeated many aspects of daily life:

mass-media: some journalists openly exposed this dangerous situation but nobody knows without doubt who is undercover, there is someone though, Robert Turcescu. After he acknowledged he worked undercover for many years (and brought proof) he went silent for a time only to enter politics together with former president Traian Băsescu later. Some other journalists tried to minimize this case (Cristian Tudor Popescu) and I believe they did that for a reason.

health-care: Hexi Pharma, a company linked to SRI (Romanian Intelligence Service), who’s owner died in a strange car accident <<it is believed>> after his company was accused of deliberately diluting hospital disinfectants and thus resulting in high numbers of hospital-acquired infection. These hospital-acquired infections had been greatly discussed in the media prior to the event.

education: a system of doctoral degrees was created through plagiarism. Example 1: your work was handed to someone else but afterwards you had the choice of accepting the work done by another but by doing so you became a pawn. Example 2: groups of people got academic degrees through theft, not through ”exchanges”, these cases have been easier to prove.

politics: this is probably the main area of operation for obscure groups and members of the ”intelligence”, no other way to advance without ”being advanced”.

various other economic spheres: after de coup in 1989 former ”securitatea” members entered capitalism and exchanged their ideology for money, some tried to help but most succeeded in profiting from other people’s naivety, search Sorin Ovidiu Vântu.

The present political crisis has its roots in this entangled mess of intrigue, interests and corruption that plagues Romania since 1989 if not before that, going deep into our communist past.

* inserted for narrative purposes

Inorogul și copila, 2012, oil on canvas, 2012, 110 x120 cm by Ștefan Câlția

Romanian Life 01 Introduction

Hi, I am a Romanian, born and raised in Bucharest and this will be a journal I’ll try to keep for my English speaking readers. If you have any questions regarding our culture, history and politics or if you are simply curious about life in the East, I’ll try to do my best in presenting and explaining all of these things. Welcome to Romanian Life.

As much as we would like to think otherwise, we Romanians aren’t exactly the most cultured people in Europe and while your contacts here might prove the opposite, a simple walk on the lesser cosmopolitan roads of Bucharest will offer you a glimpse of the real Romanian, the average one, and his daily routine. Things greatly improved from the time I was a kid and most public places got a revamp according to modern urbanistic rules, I watched places transform into public squares and parks filled with outdoor activities from their prior state of almost abandoned green spaces or run down buildings. The human factor sadly did not keep pace and some people began to destroy what was fixed.

I plan to talk about the ugly as well as the beautiful things you can find here and just hope it will not evolve into a travel series.

One thing to keep in mind when coming to Bucharest is the traffic, we love our cars out of necessity because public transport is simply deranged, not downgraded but actually deranged, the number of madmen you will find on buses is staggering and while the reasons vary from traumas during the ”transition” period to actually being a ”job” forced upon him/her by a local gangster, the authorities never, and I emphasize this, NEVER do a thing. People in this capital also choose their cars also because of the poor public transport network with few metro lines and slow tram lines while a serious lack of parking spaces, there are over 1.3 million cars and around 400 thousand legal parking spaces, do the math, makes the city look not only crammed but also dirty and polluted.

Things are really not that dark, just like anywhere people get used to the shortcomings and life finds places where it can grow in harmony. My country gave to the world its share of great minds, too bad we don’t seam to appreciate them that much and many made a name for themselves among foreigners.

Among my favorite composers and one of Romania`s greatest is Ciprian Porumbescu. He was born in Bukovina in 1853 and died in Suceava in 1883, he is best known for his Ballad for violin and string orchestra. More about him next time, until then enjoy this recording made by the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra from Vienna with a Romanian, Ion Scripcaru, playing the violin.