Economic, Bangladesh, International, Technical, Astrophysics, Advanced science

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is

An education in sexism

The culture of casual sexism in schools has long-term detrimental effects on girls.
Growing up, it was not uncommon to find teachers calling on female students because the length of their skirt was “inappropriate” and could “distract” or “excite” their male peers, while boys wearing shorts which were the exact same length walked by without a second glance.

It took me years to realize that comments like these are not only unfair, but are also perpetuating rape culture through the sexualization and objectification of young girls — who, from as young as five or six, are being taught that if they show even a glimpse of their knees or shoulders, they are “asking” for male objectification and harassment.
Unfair dress-coding is only one example of the many acts of casual sexism that female students experience at school on an everyday basis.

For instance, female students are often told to ignore derogatory comments from their male peers by on-looking teachers, who wave off their complaints with a laugh, before telling them that “boys will be boys” or that “he’s only doing it because he likes you.”
There have been countless times when PE teachers have called on a “strong boy” to demonstrate to the class, or when a math teacher asked if a “smart young man” would be able to help solve the problem — discounting the dozens of girls in the class who were just as, if not more, capable.

While boys are praised for taking on leadership roles, winning awards, and receiving excellent grades, girls who are ambitious and hard-working are often told to stop “showing off” and to shy away from compliments, rather than accept due credit for their achievements.

Even in relatively progressive schools, this contradiction exists, and the reality is that in most schools, girls don’t automatically receive the credit they deserve from teachers and other students — but instead, have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to prove that they deserve recognition for their accomplishments.

It is crucial for schools to recognize that teaching young girls their achievements aren’t as valued as the male peers’ when they are younger not only limits them academically, but also has detrimental long-term effects, impacting their drive, ambition, and perception of themselves in the future. This culture of sexism that exists within our schools is perpetuated when students begin to internalize the comments made by their superiors and, whether consciously or subconsciously, begin to perpetuate this cycle of sexism themselves.

By high school, a large number of my female classmates were too afraid to challenge a classmate’s opinion, take on leadership roles, or even participate in class, out of fear that they would be labelled as “bossy” or a “know-it-all” by their peers. Furthermore, many female students who had participated in STEM activities in middle school drop out of these activities by high school, because they’ve been taught that there’s no point in participating in something that boys are just naturally “better” at.

It is the responsibility of schools to acknowledge that these latent prejudices exist, and that they are — whether consciously or not — being perpetuated by their students and faculty on an everyday basis.

Sexism and discrimination within schools has been an issue for decades, and is one that is not disappearing any time soon, and one that needs to be brought to light in order to end the cycle of systemic gender bias and discrimination that exists today.


Diya Kraybill is a freelance contributor from Singapore.

Cultural, Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

Is Britain heading towards a ‘banana state’?

A ‘banana state’ or ‘banana republic’ is generally perceived to be a state where the government is blatantly dysfunctional, wobbly and very vulnerable; the politicians, particularly of the ruling party, become self-serving, corrupt and utterly negligent to national interests; national economy becomes dependent on foreign capital and investment (often American’s exploiting local conditions) and relies on few agricultural products, particularly banana (hence the name ‘banana republic’); the weather is warm that makes its people subservient and docile. Britain now satisfies, for all intents and purposes, most, if not all, of these criteria.


Let us examine these four criteria sequentially. The present government under the premiership of Theresa May is distinctly dysfunctional and wobbly. Boris Johnson, the arch-Brexiteer and a loose cannon of zero intellect, used to dish out national policies on the hoop when he was the foreign secretary. His motive was that the government would find it extremely difficult to ditch ideas, however useless or dogmatic, of the foreign secretary. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland having only 10 MPs had to be bought over by Theresa May for the staggering sum of one billion pounds to prop up her knife-edge administration in parliament. Now Jacob Rees-Mogg, ex-hedge fund manager and presently the leader of the so-called ‘European Research Group’ (ERG) (a shameful pressure group financed by foreign donors) and viscerally anti-European and arch-Brexiteer, is the back-seat driver and vicious sniper to the prime minister. He sets terms for the prime minister and tries to control the Brexit policy on the strength of 50 or so Tory MPs in the ERG. The government can hardly be more dysfunctional and vulnerable due to such crooked self-serving bigoted MPs.

The government exists with all the paraphernalia of ruling the country, but without any strategy, mission or vision. It relies on anti-European hysteria, snappy slogans, and populist narratives. When Theresa May came to power within a month following the most disruptive and destructive EU referendum in 2016, she said at the steps of 10 Downing Street that her government is going to work for everyone, she will prioritise ‘not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged but the working people’, she boastfully (rather beastly) declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’. These were nothing but cheap political slogans, just as typical banana republic politicians would resort to. She is in power but not in authority.

Even more stark demonstration of the banana republic is the egregious pronouncement of promises by ministers, even by the prime minister and other powerful politicians of the ruling party. These promises are made to get support of the general public (in election, in referendum etc) but knowing very well that these promises are only empty words, just bluffs to the public. These promises are not achievable and the politicians would get away without being made accountable.

Politicians of Britain have become self-serving, tribal and opportunistic, relegating national interests to nonentity. David Cameron, the prime minister between 2010 and 2015, had to give in to the demands of right-wing xenophobic imperialist elements of his party and produced ‘Bloomberg Speech’ in 2013, where he promised to give a referendum to the public by 2017 regarding UK’s continued EU membership. It was the most self-indulgent disruptive promise made to satisfy the rogue elements of his party at the expense of national interests. Self-interests and tribalism cannot go deeper than this.

After David Cameron’s announcement of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, political jostling, tribalism, lies and deception all broke loose. Boris Johnson, the then MP and ex-Mayor of London (elected twice), along with Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for justice, Ian Duncan Smith, the then works and pensions secretary and many more politicians of the ruling party gave fictitious and egregious promises to the general public and the deplorable, illiterate and semi-literate public clung on to those promises. They promised to put back additional £350 million per week to the NHS, if UK leaves the EU. ‘The future is bright’, ‘take back control’ (from Brussels), ‘British Parliament is sovereign’, no more ‘unelected representatives’ would make our laws, etc were the thunders of these self-serving dogmatic opportunistic politicians. They also fabricated millions of phantom immigrant Turks waiting outside the borders to come to the UK, if UK remains in the EU. Although all of these pronouncements were blatant lies, the Electoral Commission was impotent to put a stop to the falsehood and the referendum proceeded with these lies.

Barack Obama in the dying days of his administration tried to warn British public of the consequences of leaving the EU. But then the Brexit politicians led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove screamed loudly complaining against ‘American interference’ in British internal matters. But when Donald Trump interfered only a few days ago and advised the prime minister, in no uncertain terms, to leave the EU without a deal and sue the EU, the Brexiteers found nothing wrong in that! Tribalism and racism are obviously deep rooted in Brexiteers minds.

America had aggressive stance towards other states right from the end of the WWII. America, Britain and Russia, the victorious Allied Powers, were at par in 1946. But then as decolonisation proceeded, Britain started to decline in political, economic and military spheres and America started to step in with ‘ethical and moral’ flags in those countries to fill the vacuum. Very soon, America ditched those moral pretence and started outright domination of those countries and became de-facto masters of these countries.

Britain invented ‘special relationship’ with America in order to remain as a super power or at least pretence of a super power. Britain benefited from American political support, American offer of nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines etc in return of accepting American hegemony. Special relationship remained especially advantageous to America and made Britain especially subservient to America.

All American and British governments since WWII had tried to gloss over this ‘tilted special relationship’ until the reality television show presenter and street brawler Donald Trump spilled the beans. He explicitly told British prime minister to break off ties and negotiations with the EU (as he declares EU is America’s foe) and start negotiations with America, even though America recently imposed 25% tariff on British steel. The ‘special relationship’ has in effect become a master-servant relationship. If America manages to prise Britain out of the EU, its dominance over Britain, in economic and political fields, will be permanent. Britain’s ‘banana republic’ status will become rock-solid, similar to other banana republics in the Caribbean.

While America is pulling Britain to subservience, there is a very strong bunch of xenophobic imperialist Tory politicians who are hallucinating of bringing back the second era of British colonialism and ‘rule Britannia’ status! Boris Johnson went to India, Myanmar and other ex-colonies deluding that he would get the reception and imperial status of colonial foreign secretary. Liam Fox, Brexit international trade secretary, claimed that making a trade deal (probably with ex-colonies) is the easiest thing in world history! However, in over two years as the international trade secretary he managed to get not a single trade deal! Banana republic ministers are all puff and froth, no substance.

The last but not the least aspect of banana republic is the warm weather. The warm weather has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that it somehow helps to produce a good football team. A team when nobody, not even the team players themselves, expected to perform well, they went as far as the semi-final in the world cup in Russia this year. It may be that the warm weather makes human joints more supple and flexible, muscles stronger and resilient than they would otherwise be the case!

However, there is a negative aspect of the warm weather. People become mentally blank and vacuous; they lose their capacity to critically analyse issues. Otherwise, how could millions of people take Boris Johnson’s imbecile comment that the ‘future is bright’ for the UK (on leaving the EU) to be true, when the economy is undoubtedly going to suffer very adversely? How could people become so emotive and bigoted when Nigel Farage showed a photo of long queue of migrants to assert that they were all waiting to come to Britain? People lose their basic human sense in the warm weather and that probably makes them behave like lambs?

It is a shame and highly deplorable that a great power like Britain with educated mass can so easily be persuaded by populist and bigoted politicians to cause such a self-harm to satisfy the interests of these dogmatic politicians by voting to leave the EU. This Brexit is likely to be, unless halted immediately, the sharp decline of British power and become a ‘banana state’.

– A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Environmental, Life as it is, Political

Well done, Sir!

Dhaka trafficThe The on-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JAHANGIR HUSSAIN.On-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JGIRIN

There are iconic pictures that sometimes capture an age, define a moment in history, exemplify beauty, tragedy, or joy, in ways otherwise impossible to evoke. Who can forget the naked, screaming Vietnamese girl fleeing the napalm attack on her village in 1972; the Chinese man standing in lonely defiance in front of a column of tanks at the Tiananmen Square in 1989; the Times Square kiss; or the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima, heralding the end of WWII?

The picture published in The Daily Star on June 7 on Page 3 of a police officer pleading with a flag-bearing car to not go the wrong side of the road certainly does not have the same drama or historical resonance. But it is remarkable nonetheless for it not only portrays the exemplary integrity of the officer but also reveals a subtle but stark truth about our political realities. The first gives us hope, the second makes us cringe.

We can be justifiably proud of the fact that an officer could, on his own cognisance and authority, exert the supremacy of law and insist that even the privileged classes follow the standard procedures established for everyone else. This is most reassuring. Moreover this took place in a posh area. The people who live or visit here are the ministers and secretaries, power brokers and high rollers, the insiders and deciders. This is where wealth and power seduce each other, and remain locked in intimate, if illicit, embrace.

These are not people used to hearing the word “no”, or being stopped, or being told that they are engaging in an illegal act, or being made to feel accountable for their actions, or (heaven forbid) being asked to correct their behaviour or reverse their decisions. Power in Bangladesh is usually defined, and often expressed, as the ability to flout the law and face no consequences, or as Erich Segal had put it in Love Story in a slightly different context, “never having to say you are sorry.”

Thus, driving on the wrong side of the road becomes a metaphor of our political times. It is an “in your face” raised middle finger which indicates both an entitlement that is casually assumed, and an attitude that is sneeringly demonstrated.

The reason the picture acquires such enormous significance is because it contradicts our typical experiences and expectations. We are not generally used to the rule of law being duly respected and publicly enforced. In these matters we are more likely to being disappointed and, sometimes, outraged. We read of the increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings in the country where those entrusted with enforcing the law take upon themselves the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner all rolled into one. We also see pictures of stricken family members holding up photographs of people who have “disappeared”.

Some of these supposed “victims” in both groups are/were presumably horrible individuals who deserve to be removed from our midst. But, no amount of public anger and frustration about supposedly “bad people” can, ever, justify the suspension of the human rights and liberties guaranteed in the constitution. We must never forget that the concept of democracy entails a nation governed by law, not a nation governed by “men” (however well-intentioned the latter may be).

The public confidence in the rule of law is also a bit shaken by the lack of enthusiasm in bringing the full force of the law against the high and mighty. There are the bank-swindlers, the land-grabbers, forest-cutters and water-polluters, the money launderers, the drug kingpins, the local “investors” who park their money in dodgy deals and shady holdings abroad, the real estate scammers, the tax evaders, the corrupt contractors offering shoddy work at inflated prices, and the ubiquitous “gatekeepers” of the rentier state who command its resources and extract payment for services to which citizens have a right. These people are not particularly concerned about being “caught” and, in fact, flaunt their (mostly ill-gotten) wealth in rude and taunting swagger.

Moreover, the citizens see inordinate delays in the investigation of crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. In the last several years alone the murders of young Taqi in Narayanganj, college student Tonu in Comilla, journalists Sagar and Runi in Dhaka, and many progressive bloggers and social media activists, remain shrouded in ambiguity and confusion.

Crimes against women and minorities are particularly vulnerable to foot-dragging and seeming indifference. The attacks on temples and ashrams, or communal violence in Ramu in Cox’s Bazar, Shantia in Pabna, Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria, Thakurpara in Rangpur, or Longadu in Rangamati, have not seen much prosecutorial headway. Similarly, of the 4,541 allegations of rape brought to the much-vaunted one-stop crisis centres over the last 16 years, only 60 have been found guilty. And when one is both a woman and “indigenous” (e.g., Kalpana Chakma who was abducted in 1996), the wait for answers can be long and cruel.

The clogged and sluggish nature of the legal system was revealed in the law minister’s own statement in Parliament in January 2018, when he indicated that there were more than 3.3 million cases pending in courts, with more than 476,000 in the High Court Division and 16,565 in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. More importantly, almost a million cases have been languishing for more than five years. Not only does this provoke the old dictum of “justice delayed is justice denied” but it also indicates a court system almost overwhelmed by the pressures put on it.

There are also some public concerns about the use of law enforcement agencies as partisan instruments serving the agendas of particular governments, rather than as autonomous institutions serving the interests of the State. Cases may be initiated or withdrawn because of political considerations (even indemnifying entire classes of crimes committed at certain times), and judicial orders may, at times, be held in abeyance. In an unprecedented affront to the Courts, it is even possible for an individual, who had been duly charged, convicted and sentenced for a capital crime by the legal system, to receive a political pardon and then be spirited out of the country in the cover of darkness.

But this litany of criticisms and complaints should not blind us to the fact that most law enforcement personnel are generally honest, dedicated and competent. They toil in thankless, often dangerous tasks, are usually overworked and underpaid, and receive little appreciation even when they take huge risks and make personal sacrifices to uphold the principles of law and justice. Moreover, the system has to contend with a colonial legacy which had defined its structures and priorities; struggle with inadequate resources, training and incentives offered to it; and function within a larger moral environment which neither rewards nor encourages integrity and talent. To expect these people to be saints, when most others around them are not, is both unrealistic and unfair.

However, it is undeniable that there are some widespread anxieties and scepticism about the rule of law in the country. It is in this particular context that this picture is so memorable and the officer so heroic. He serves to reaffirm our faith in the system, and reminds us once again that there are honourable people in law enforcement willing, and daring, to do the right thing.

The only aspect of the photograph that is bit awkward, but which also speaks volumes, is that the officer has his hands folded in front of him in a traditional gesture of submission and forgiveness-seeking. Sir, it is the occupant of the vehicle who should be assuming that posture, not you. The law is on your side. So are we. Stand tall.


The author, Ahrar Ahmad is the director-general of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation.


Cultural, International, Life as it is, Political

US quits UN Human Rights Council

Nikki Haley says council is ‘protector of human rights abusers’ that targets Israel in particular and ignores atrocities elsewhere.


The US is withdrawing from the United Nations human rights council, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday, calling it a “cesspool of political bias” that targets Israel in particular while ignoring atrocities in other countries.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said she had travelled to the council’s headquarters in Geneva a year ago to call for reforms, to no avail. “Regrettably it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley told reporters at the state department. “Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council.”
She added: “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny and the council continues politicising and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.” “For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.”

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, expressed regret about the US withdrawal. The organisation’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a tweet: “Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

Haley argued the US had spent a year in pursuit of reforms while the council’s flaws deepened. She pointed to the election of the Democratic Republic of Congo to council membership in the past year, despite the US reform campaign, as proof that the body could not be fixed. She also noted the council had failed to hold a single session on Venezuela, which is a council member, or Iran, despite its ruthless crushing of opposition demonstrations. “When a so-called human rights council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” the ambassador said. Haley also pointed to the continued existence of “agenda item 7”, a permanent fixture on the schedule, exclusively devoted to the discussion of rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said the US decision to leave was “regrettable”.
Johnson, who had called on Monday for agenda item 7 to be reformed, said in a statement: “The United States’ decision to withdraw from the human rights council is regrettable. “We’ve made no secret of the fact that the UK wants to see reform of the human rights council, but we are committed to working to strengthen the council from within,” the foreign secretary added.

However, Haley criticised countries that expressed concern about the council but remained members, suggesting those countries lacked courage. “Almost every country we met with agrees with us, in principle and behind closed doors, that the human rights council needs major dramatic, systemic changes. Yet no other country has had the courage to join our fight,” she said.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley, said: “Too many commitments have gone unfulfilled. President Trump wants to move the ball forward. From day one he has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another, and that’s precisely the problem at the human rights council.”

The Trump administration had been signalling its intention to leave the council for some months, but the announcement came while the US itself is under intense criticism for its own human rights, because of the administration’s policy of forcibly separating young children from their parents when apprehended on the Mexican border.
“Trump’s withdrawal is especially disturbing given his persistent praise for despots and dictators with abysmal human rights records, not to mention his administration’s cruel mistreatment of immigrant families seeking asylum,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.

Advocacy groups accused the US of withdrawing from its global obligations to protect human rights.
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.
“The UN human rights council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel. Like last time when the US government stepped away from the Council for similar reasons, other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure the Council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

(The Guardian report, dated 19 June 2018)