April 22nd, 2012


The wandering hands of Pol Van Den Driessche

Belgium (or at least the part of it that cares about Flemish politics) has been consumed with interested over the last week in the affair of Pol Van Den Driessche, a right-wing politician and former journalist running for mayor of Bruges in October's municipal elections, who has been accused of sexual harassment of his professional colleagues. (Thanks to liliaeth for alerting me to the story.) We have had the usual depressing circus of his political allies defending him against "baseless" attacks, and even five female colleagues writing an open letter stating that they had never experienced any intimidation from him. (If I had been advising Van Den Driessche on his PR, I would have counselled against orchestrating this letter.)

My linkspam for today includes a first-person account from Liesbeth Van Impe, a top political journalist from one of the main Flemish newspapers, published yesterday. It is worth translating in full:
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This morning Pol Van Den Driessche announced that he is leaving politics because of the effect of the accusations on his family. It includes this apology:
...wil ik mij oprecht verontschuldigen tegenover vrouwen die mijn gedrag als grensoverschrijdend hebben ervaren. Ik heb dit toen niet zo aangevoeld en als dit vrijpostig of kwetsend overkwam: dat was nooit mijn bedoeling.

I sincerely apologise to women who experienced my behaviour as crossing their boundaries. I did this when I was less sensitive (aangevoeld - has also implications of raised consciousness), and if this came across as impertinent or offensive, that was not my intention.
So that's the end of the Van Den Driessche affair; but far from being the end of the issue.

Space exploration rejected by French voters

Holding a glorious tenth place out of ten candidates in today's presidential election in France is Jacques Cheminade, with support somewhere around a stupendous 0.2% of the total vote, who perhaps coincidentally was the only candidate with an advanced policy on space exploration:
For thirty years, space policy has been suffering from an economic logic based on short-term gain, and from lack of understanding by a hostile public opinion which considers it too expensive, unnecessary, fanciful and emblematic of a spirit of unlimited conquest. Faced with this regressive vision of a finite world, we need to revive what is proper to man: the deep desire to constantly push the limits of the known, the enthusiasm to discover new principles of the universe and use it to drive the long-term economy and improve the world for generations to come.

My Proposals
  • Demand that the budget of the European Space Agency (ESA) be immediately tripled, and staff a large worldwide space program with a budget of $500 billion, of which $150 billion for Europe and $40 billion for France. Space should not be a military issue but the horizon of a common humanity able to renounce war.
  • Launch a major scientific and cultural education project, and introduce modules on space and astronomy in our schools, in collaboration with countries elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world taking similar initiatives.
  • Install a more effective space warning system, against the intrusion of asteroids or comets in Earth's atmosphere.
  • Initiate programs to build third-generation space transports, and the industrialization of the Moon, which is a future platform for Mars and the rest of the Solar System.
  • Using programs already developed in electronics, computers, hybrid flight control systems, new refractory materials, thermal protection in general and mechanical and aerothermal constraints to go first to the moon, and from there to Mars.
  • To shorten future trips between Earth and Mars and beyond, develop nuclear propulsion (propulsion by a miniaturized controlled thermonuclear fusion device).
A major space program is impossible in the current economic and cultural system, which is why we must change the system.
That's the summary; the full policy can be found here. (Apparently the printed version of his full electoral platform runs to 368 pages.) As my father once said, "One can learn something of the tendencies in a society by observing on which particular fringe of it the lunatics break out."

Cheminade is now considering whether to give his supporters guidance on whether to support Sarkozy or Hollande in the second round on 6 May. France is waiting with bated breath.