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Queen honours civil liberties and astro-boffins

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Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, has been nominated for a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the Queen's birthday honours list. She is being recognised for her services to human rights.

It is always fun to try to read things into the birthday honours list: to use it as a lens to peer into the personality of the Queen - or rather, the committee which actually puts the list together. And when someone like Chakrabarti makes the list (and with a CBE, no less) it is tempting to interpret it as a subtle message from one corner of the establishment to Blair and his ID card loving set.

Chakrabarti issued a statement saying "I hope it will send a timely signal that far from being disloyalty, democratic dissent is a positive civic duty. I take it as an invitation to protest even more in the future."

As well as civil liberties, another of El Reg's favourite topics gets some royal recognition, as two astronomers make the list.

Radio astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell is to be made a Dame in recognition of her 1967 discovery of pulsars. Bell made the discovery during her doctoral research at Cambridge.

She and her doctoral adviser initially tagged the signal "LGM" for little green men, suspecting that the signal could be from another world. As we know now, pulsars are in fact small, but extremely dense, fast-spinning neutron stars. Some are thought to be remnants of the explosive death throes of a star at least eight times as massive as our own sun.

In general, a pulsar is about the same mass as our sun, but is a mere 20km or so across. When they are born, they tend to spin very rapidly, courtesy of conservation of angular momentum, but they slow down over the course of a hundred thousand years or so. Less glamourous than little green men, perhaps, but still an active and interesting area of astronomical research, 40 years later.

Dr Heather Couper, the TV stargazer from the 1980s, is up for a CBE for her work on the Millennium Commission. Couper's web page says that "although a scientist by training, she has spent the last 20 years working entirely in the media".

This is not Couper's first honour. In 1999 the International Astronomical Union named asteroid 3922 "Heather", after her.

Tim Berners-Lee, knighted in 2004, is up for a British Order of Merit. Salman Rusdhie is also on the list, as is Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna). What we should read into this, we are not sure. ®

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