NASA to hold teleconference about “Conditions On And Surrounding The Sun”

A week or so ago, in “Ice Age Predictions are premature“, I discussed some speculation resulting from observations of the current solar cycle end.  However it’s undeniable that we’re learning a lot about the operation of the sun that we didn’t know.  Just two years ago, NASA’s solar physicists were predicting that the next solar cycle, Solar Cycle 24, would be a very active one, and the first sunspot of the new cycle, in January. 2008 (recognizable because of its location and reversed polarity) was greeted by the Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel as conforming to their predictions.  But sunspots since then, apart from a few stragglers from Cycle 23, have been extremely sparse, defying predictions.  Something unusual is definitely happening, although the current solar minimum is far, far from matching the decades-long minima of former centuries as yet.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, NASA and ESA have announced a teleconference for Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, about recent solar measurements from the two agencies’ joint Ulysses mission.  The solar wind is apparently at a 50-year low.  “The sun’s current state”, they report, “could result in changing conditions in the solar system.”  The briefing will be held at 0630 GMT (1230 EDT), Tuesday.  The panelists are Ed Smith, Dave McComas, and Karine Issautier of the Ulysses project, and Nancy Crooker of Boston University.

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China Arnold and the gulf between Ohio and the UK

Last month I wrote about the tragic case of China Arnold.  As I remarked, in UK law the mother in such a tragic case would probably not even be charged with murder.  It is not humane or realistic to charge mothers with capital crimes for killing their infant so soon after the birth of the infant, and UK law provides a specific partial defence against such a charge, effectively translating it to a manslaughter charge.  I think this is a very humane and sensible law.

Infanticide is an especially emotive crime, and this case because of the manner of killing was especially emotive.  Nevertheless the jury could not agree to the death penalty, though the state prosecutor pressed hard for it.  The judge sentenced China Arnold to 25 years without parole on Wednesday, September 3, 2008.

As fate would have it, the UK is currently reassessing partial defences to murder, including infanticide.  It’s illustrative of the gulf that exists between the two English-speaking states, Ohio and the UK, that the review recommends the retention of, and strengthening of, the defence of infanticide.  It is a recognized problem that sometimes the mother’s condition leads her to deny the offence, resulting in a murder conviction despite the availability of the infanticide defence.  A shortened appeal process is recommended, as well as  powers granted to the trial judge to order a mental assessment after the murder conviction with a view to reviewing the case.  But in Ohio, a mother whose case would have been a textbook manslaughter case under the UK infanticide law narrowly escaped execution.

Access to abortion by US minors reduced by crippling state laws

The anti-abortion organizations are crowing about a major victory in the United States.  Where parental involvement laws have been introduced, access to abortion by minors has been crippled, resulting in reduced abortion rates in those states.  On average the abortion rate in the state falls by nearly 14% when such laws are introduced.  Parental consent laws cripple access to abortion more than parental notification laws.

The organizations are actually pleased by this appalling result.  Meanwhile the rest of the world makes steady progress towards more liberal abortion laws.  In 2007, Mexico City and Portugal legalized abortion for the first time.  Victoria’s upper house is currently considering a law to take abortion off the Crimes Act.  The Abortion Law Reform Bill comfortably passed the lower house. In India, the federal government is considering extending the cut-off date for abortions from 20 weeks to 24. In Span and Kenya, more liberal laws are being considered.  The Spanish legislation is promised “before July, 2009”.

Kenya is reconsidering its abortion law

Kenya is reconsidering its anti-abortion law, which dates from 1897.  Abortion is common in Kenya but, mainly because it is illegal, many abortions are conducted in unsanitary conditions with serious risks to the mother’s health and even her life.  A proposal by women’s rights groups in May, 2008 sparked a national debate.  The Reproductive Health and Rights Bill 2008 was drafted by the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers and the Coalition on Violence Against Women.

There is strong opposition to abortion in Africa–South Africa has been the only state so far to modernize its abortion laws, and now it has laws comparable to those in Western Europe.  If Kenya manages this modernization in the teeth of opposition from the Roman Catholic church, great progress will have been made in emancipating women from the slavery of forced childbirth.